Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Return Of Classic French Fare

 Before dishes became trendy, they were considered elegant. Their ingredients weren't the flavor of the month.They were time honored and tested. This is true with French fare. Many foodies and gourmets have forgotten that this type of cuisine was the gold standard of all cooking whether it was prepared at home or in a restaurant.

This was the subject of Jeff Gordinier's article in today's New York Times Dining section. He discovers the classic Gallic dish, Tournados Roussini ,a dish that has been missing from most  menus for quite some time, The tournados are tender filet mignons topped with a small slice of foie gras . They are served on buttered rounds and then anointed with a sauce of veal broth , truffle juice and Madeira. The dish was created during the Golden Era of French cuisine by either the culinary giants, Marie-Antoine Careme or Auguste Escoffier. It is a rich dish that was pure heaven to Mr.Gordinier.

Sadly enough only a few French restaurants offer this dish named after the opera composer, Gioachino Rossini. The famed Manhattan Le Bernardin as well as Benoit restaurant in New York City offer Tournados Roussini only during the Christmas holidays. The trendier, Le Sirene in the West Village makes them on a regular basis. The famed modern French chef,Daniel Boulud bases his to die for burgers on them. Hopefully these lush treats  will be back on more menus, despite the price (even for lunch they're around $55.00).

Tournadoes Roussini are a throwback to a more elegant time in dining. Hopefully modern foodies and gourmets will want this amazing dish back in their lives. As with all good dishes, it transcends time and trends.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

White Chocolate Defined

Mention chocolate and everyone thinks of either the dark or milk chocolate kind. Yet there is white variety and it's just as tasty and interesting as its' brown cousins.It's also pretty versatile too, ending up in everything from cookies to candy treats.

What is white chocolate? It is  actually a kind of chocolate, made from milk,cocoa butter, and  sugar along with vanilla and other flavorings.It doesn't have any cocoa solids. Cheaper varieties have the cocoa butter replaced by vegetable fats, sometimes giving it a kind of "lardy" taste. White chocolate first debuted right after World War One and made by - who  else -Nestle Chocolates. The first bar was from Switzerland and called Galek.A New Hampshire candy company, M&M  were first made to mass produce it  in the States. The first solid bar of it was called "Alpine White" and was made in 1949.The candy has been an Easter basket staple since the late Forties and early Fifties.

Since the Nineties white chocolate has been important in both baking and candy making.For a different spin add white chocolate chips or chunks to dark chocolate cookies. Its' smooth, faintly vanilla taste cuts the dough's intensity. White chocolate can also be used as frosting whether it's combined with whipped cream or added to a butter cream. The sweet is also  used for holiday candy making too. White chocolate  can be combined with toasted coconut to make haystacks or used to enrobe pretzels.It can be tinted however a lot of food coloring has to be used to get  richer hues

White chocolate may not have the fame and even  fortune of its' cousins, dark and milk yet  it is a  good  treat for any candy lover .It has a delicate flavor that's perfect on it's own or combined with other s. White chocolate is a nice alternative when chocoholics are craving something different and exotic,

Monday, February 27, 2012

Queen Of Tarts

Tarts are one of the most elegant desserts out there yet they're not popular. They're usually considered too prim or fussy - or even worse not trendy enough. Yet tarts can be an classy addition to any afternoon tea or a lovely way to end a dinner party. They are also simple to make, not requiring too much work. Tarts are also versatile, with a variety of different fillings and even crusts.

Tarts are basically shallow individual pies that have no top crust. They are usually baked in individual metal or ceramic shells however muffin tims can be used. A tart crust is the same as a pie crust's using just flour, lard and ice water. A butter crust can be made too for a richer tasting crust that would go well with a dark chocolate filling, Pre made crusts shells can also be made and these are perfect for puddings , fresh fruits and even ice cream.

Tarts can be filled with almost everything and anything, Custard is usually the filling of choice however you can also fill them with fruit and ice cream.  Most home chefs prefer an instant pudding yet a  stove top egg  custard is easy to whip up., Fruit filling is also popular, especially cherry . As with regular pies you can use either fruit in season or canned.  Pecan pie tartlets are also good too and can be made the same way as the pie, using chopped pecans and corn syrup. Treacle tart ,that British favorite is perfect for afternoons teas. It is made simply with golden syrup, breadcrumbs and lemon juice.

Tarts are a lovely way to end a dinner or a great accent to an afternoon tea. They are versatile and delicious , different from other desserts.Best of all they are classy and elegant and not in the least bit trendy.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mashed It All Up

What is the best side for roasted chicken ,pot roast or meat loaf? A big scoop of something mashed. it doesn't always have to be mashed potatoes .Any other root vegetable can be subbed in. The end result is a nice creamy side that goes well with the main meal. Most people would prefer just mashed potatoes with their meals.After all mashed potatoes go great with anything from roast poultry to something homey like meat loaf.It's great for absorbing gravy and adds a smooth texture to the meat's sometime dry one.Some home chefs agonize about what kind of potatoes to use.Simple baking ones are the best.Mix with one cup of milk and two to three tablespoons of butter. For a richer taste cut the milk to one half and add a half cup of whole cream. You can also toss in the skins for flavor as well as taste.They're supposed to be good for arthritis too. If you want something a little different,sub in sweet potatoes. These go well with ham and compliment the meat 's saltiness.Prepare them the same way you would regular mashed potatoes.You can add a drizzle of honey to bring out The tuber's sweet ,earthy taste.Turnips are another alternative that are tasty mashed.They're a little less work than regular mashes ,with the milk omitted.They're cooked in salted water and then after being drained ,mashed with butter ,a dash of sugar and a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper. Also tasty are mashed parsnips which are made the same way as the turnips.Cauliflower can also be made this way too. In fact it is a favorite in the Obama White House. A side of something mashed is always good with dinner.It lends a creaminess to the meal and is good with everything from gravy to butter. Try the classic mashed potatoes or another different veggie like sweet potatoes ,turnips,parsnips or even cauliflower!

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Warm Relaxing Drink

Modern life can be so stressful.  There's running here and there along with daily problems and chores.It makes relaxing almost impossible. Thank heavens there is a nice hot cup of something to help soothe frazzled nerves and overactive minds. It can have a shot of booze or just  be something as plain as steamed milk. Either way they can help melt away all the problems of the day.

Some people  reach for a hot toddy for comfort. This is a classic that is a great comfort on a cold rainy night.(or right at home in any ski lodge).A hot toddy is basically whiskey mixed with warm  or hot milk. Sugar or honey along with cloves,  lemon or cinnamon are also added for taste. The ratio of alcohol to milk can depend on the person.If; it's been a bad day , then add more whiskey , if not , half a shot glass can do it. Hot buttered rum is another classic , perfect for a winter's night. It;'s only rum with the addition of hot but not  boiling water. A pat of plain or cinnamon spiced butter is added along with a cinnamon stick. Again how strong it's made is up to the individual.

For those who want just a simple cup of something hot, think about herbal teas. Chamomile tea is not only soothing it's good for an upset stomach.Another tea to try peppermint. Even its' aroma is decidedly comforting comforting .Teas can also come in a variety of combos too with different herbs and flowers mixed in. An alternative is a decaf  flavored coffee . Just  remember don't pour in any sugary creamers otherwise this could lead to sleeplessness. The most classic drink is hot milk. Warm up a cup of milk. Some add vanilla and nutmeg  along with just the tiniest bit of  sugar to amp up the taste. Just keeping it plain actually is the best bet.

A hot drink is the best way to end a busy day.Curl up with any  mug or cup of something warm and tasty right before going to bed. Try something with a kick or not to soothe those frazzled nerves.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Hot Curry For A Cold Night

These are the nights for a fiery curry to warm us up after a chilly day out. It's like a quick vacation to a warmer climate where there are fragrant spices wafting through the air,It melds the familiar and exotic into a tasty dish that anyone will like. Not only that it;s an escape from the all too usual stews and chilis usually made around this time of year.

Curry was the topic of  David Tanis's City Kitchen column in yesterday's New York Times Dining section. He creates a lamb curry that anyone from chef to novice can easily make.It's marinated lamb chunks  that have been flavored with garlic, tumeric, and cumin along with cayenne for heat. The spices should be ground with a microplane so their full flavor can be appreciated. The mixture is then browned in the traditional  Indian butter ghee in a Dutch oven. Onions are also  added for some sweetness  as is a ground cinnamon stick.

Mr.Tannis suggests a carrot  raita as a side dish. This is a traditional Indian yogurt full of more rich spices and a blend of flavors. Raita calls for mustard seeds that have been heated in hot oil until they pop.  Garlic and  cumin are also added along with the grated carrots , fresh mint , chives and cilantro. For a cooler version to counteract the curry's fire  try a simple cucumber based one that is devoid of the spices but imparts a clean , refreshing taste. Another authentic touch is adding basmati rice or Indian bread such as naan to scoop up the curry.

A lamb curry is a different spin on the traditional winter dishes such as stew and chili. Its' spices and flavors evoke  warmer climes and bright colors a, contrast to the season's drab landscape. It has a different kind of heat that perfect for these chill winter nights.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tibetan Taboo Treats

Today is Ash Wednesday in the Catholic and the Protestant churches.It's a time when we forego meat for today and every Friday until Easter.In some ways this practice reflects the Buddhist belief of going vegan. This is no more evident in Tibet a culture that does frown at times on meat eating. However , surprisingly enough Tibetans love to sneak this forbidden fruit , especially for Losar ,their New Year festivity starting today.

This was the subject of an article in today's New York Times Dining section. The piece, written by Dining regular, Julia Moskin, tells of that Tibetan treat momo.These  dumplings are made with two rarities to the Tibet region - wheat and beef. Yak meat is used here in the States to give it more flavor however most momos are made with just regular beef. . Onion and cilantro are added to make it more flavorful a nd juicy. After the first bite, the dumplings are  then dipped into a hot , fiery chili paste and are eaten as either an appetizer or as a regular meal..

Tibetans also celebrate Losar by having chicken too. (although, again this is frowned upon by the strict Buddhists monks and nuns who follow the religion),It is usually stir fried along with peppers, purple  onions and red chili paste.It is eaten with a puffy white steamed bread.Other dishes for Losar include deep fried dough twists called Khapse (not unlike some of the pastries that the Europeans made for yesterday;s Carnevale);s drunk with Po Cha a kind of tea broth made with strong tea, yak butter sugar and salt.Rice is never used, because of it;s association with China.

Tibetans , like us have religious beliefs that they usually adhere to. Once in a while however they do enjoy a forbidden treat like a plump juicy momo. After all their celebrations,, like ours revolves around food and what better than a steamed and spicy dumpling!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mardi Gras Foods!

Today is Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras It's also known as Carmevale throughout Europe too..It's a time of good eating before fasting for Lent. The foods are as lush as the many parades and parties being held today. Each part of the world celebrates differently yet they do have one thing in common: deliciousness.

Shrove Tuesday is more of a British tradition.It was day for housewives to get rid of all the eggs butter and milk that their households possessed hence the pancakes. There are even pancake races where women (and now men  - remember Prince William and his then fiancee Kate Middleton participated in one last year?) run to a finish line flipping the cakes.Pancakes can be fun, especially when they're drenched with butter and syrup. Mardi Gras is a bit more wilder. Beignets , those fried puffs of dough are served as are King Cakes. These are cinnamon roll type cakes decorated with the Mardi Gras colors of gold , green and purple. There is also  the traditional stew called Jambalaya and Etouffee which is a seafood gumbo, made with either crawfish or shrimp.

Carmevale is huge in countries like Germany and Italy. The southern Germans such as the Bavarians and Swabians make a deep fried doughnut that's then dredged in powdered sugar. The recipe has a few variations and is even popular among the German American Pennsylvania Dutch as well as the Mennonites. The Italians make something similar with Marsala wine and it's kind of a cross between crostoli and the fastnacht doughnuts. This is from the heavily Austrian influenced Trento Aldige region. They also make rice fritters which is like fried rice pudding dipped in powdered sugar.

It is the time to enjoy sweets and treats throughout the world right now, Mardi Gras lets everyone has the "last hurrah" before Lent. Enjoy them whether they be a spicy jambalaya or sugary fastnacht doughnuts,buttery pancakes or crispy fritters.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Salt makes up most of our diets, surprisingly enough.We use it in everything from caramels to fries. However as we all know the white stuff can be bad for us , we can change our habits.We can wean ourselves off NaCl by using other spices and even a form of salt itself. It may take willpower but the end result is worth it. Flavor can come in a variety of ways.There are spices, herbs and even veggies that will enhance any dish. Try using onions or onion juice when making burgers or meat loaf.Lime or lemon juice can be used for chicken.Even orange juice can be used in making dressings for slaws and salads more delicious. Spices are a must . Try cumin or chili for livening up everything from eggs to stews. Also giving everything a little dash of pepper creates a burst of flavor as well.Think herbs too ,from the tried and true oregano to mint for rubs or marinades. Even though salt should be taboo adding a small amount of it can bring some liveliness to bland dishes. Be judicious and add only a few flakes. These are more intense in taste than regular grains so only a small amount will do.Get into the habit of buying sea salt over regular salt. There are many different varieties from lavender infused to the famed black tinted one.Also using sea salt will get you into the good habit of using less regular salt in restaurants and fast food joints. Going salt free may seem easier than what foodies may think. All it takes is creativity and willpower. it's the first step for a healthier diet and healthier life.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bibi'z Elegant NJ Dining

Elegant dining and New Jersey usually aren't used in the same sentence. However there are cities,such as Westwood, Red Bank , and Westfield that are known as restaurant towns. Westwood has several excellent places. one is Bibi'z an eatery that combines style with culinary savvy. I had the chance to eat there last night with friends. the vibe is Village trendy without the snobbery.There is a slant on Middle Eastern cooking .Hummus and lamb feature in the appetizers as the last is also prominent in the main courses too. The lamb appetizer I had was excellent. It was two small and meaty Tbone chops ,perfectly grilled. the inside was just tender to the point of melting in my mouth.I also had Bibi'z soup of the day, a bouillabaisse that had what tasted like duck and chicken in it. friends had the shrimp and braised lamb shanks ,which were said to be excellent. Of course the champagne we had with our meal added another special touch.It was the California Roederer Estate which was very brut Bibi'z dessert menu was as elegant as the rest of their menu.I could not resist their small bowl of jasmine infused sabayon over a trio of berries .It was delicate and creamy ,denser from the usual egg rich froth. The tiramisu also very good.What I also liked Bibi'z attention to their tea and coffee. I had the choice of seven or eight different flavors. With it came a small tray of additions such as lumps of both brown and white sugar ,a small flagon of honey and tiny lemon wedges. My friend's cappuccino came with the same sugar along with small bowls of shaved chocolate and ground cinnamon. New Jersey is known for its' raucous diners with their big platters of comfort food.However there are, small elegant restaurants - bistros really - that serve four star foods .Bibi'z is one of them. Bibi'z is located at 284 Center Ave., Westwood New Jersey 07675 go to www.bibi' for reservations and to see the entire menu

Friday, February 17, 2012

Four Legged Foodies

who would think that our cats and dogs eat better than us? Surprisingly it's true' especially in America where animals reign supreme in people's hearts. In fact they seem to be getting a wider variety than some of us. They also seem to enjoy a four star meal better than any can of tuna or chewed up bone. This was the subject of an interesting article in yesterday's New York Times Home section(why it wasn't inWednesday's Dining section is a mystery). William Grimes wrote the piece and even assembled his own test kitchen. The dinners, especially, the dog food ,looks amazingly like ours with it's bits of potatoes and peas. other meals have prawns, chicken with brown rice,eggs ,kale and even garlic.Animals have always loved table scraps so it almost seems natural that their foods are based on them.Pet food companies such as Merrick and the giant,Purina, are planning more human like dishes . Already they've recently introduced chicken pot pie and beef brisket to great success. How are cats and dogs liking them.Mr.Grimes did his own taste test with three of each. The cats loved the brand Tiki Cats Manana Luau flavor which has ahi tuna with tiger prawns in tuna sauce.Although cats love anything fishy (as cat parents like myself will tell you),these devoured it with gusto.There was also a creation that involved chicken and beef in pumpkin soup that kind of got them excited.The dogs were treated to Fromm Family Foods shredded pork with carrots ,peas and potatoes. This was eaten with relish and ended up in cleaned bowls.Feelings were mixed about a Peking duck flavor and French country cafe duck as well. We love our cats and dogs so much that we give them the best and tastiest foods. It means we have turned them into furry doodies with discriminating tastes. However ,they are worth it.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wintry Twists On Two Old Favorites

Winter can be a time for experimenting with favorite foods. There's nothing like tweaking to create a new or better dish, one that is satisfying for  dinner.  Yesterday's  New York Times Dining section does just this. it offers a really interesting spin on chili and also on a summer classic  - fennel. They're a variation of their classic selves  and variations that liven up chilly grey days.

The first is a lamb chili. Melissa Clark decided to add this usually Middle Eastern meat to the classic Mexican in her A Good Appetite column, She added some Gallic flair by using white beans , as they do what French lamb stews as opposed to the usual red ones.Also more jalapeno was added to give the mild meat some bite. Cumin and coriander were also thrown in, perhaps a nod to the meat's strong Eastern Mediterranean background. She served it not with sour cream but with yogurt made form ewe's milk. The result was a chili both earthy and light .

The article directly below it, David Tanis' City Kitchen was about that all time summer fave fennel. Fennel is a great licorice flavored root, perfect for dipping in a vinaigrette. Here he bakes it, in a fennel al forno. He briefly blanches the chopped root and then bakes it with Parmesan,  and mozzarella cheeses along with peperoncino, garlic and surprisingly enough fennel seed to accentuate its' sweet , resonant flavor.It's  the perfect dish for vegetarians or as a side to any chicken or pork loin. Remember that any vegetable - and not just fennel can be made this way. You can try an onion or even a potato al forno for something different.

One classic dish and one classic root get comepletely different twists. The result may sound shocking but in fac they're delicious.Creating these new dishes are a perfect way to chase away culinary winter doldrums.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Le Chien Chaud

Hot dogs and France are rarely used in the same sentence. However one French chef is making this German American standard haute cuisine.It may take some convincing but the food snobbish French may warm to this standard.

This was the subject of an article in today's New York Times Dining section. Elaine Sciolino had the lucky chance of interviewing hot dog fanatic and three star chef Yannick Alleno. Even though he creates some of the worlds' best dishes Chef Alleno prefers a New York dog above all else. He dcided to bring this love back to Paris and tweak up the recipe. The result is a gourmet version and a much tastier one. Instead of the traditional pork, he uses veal and renames the dog veau chaud or hot veal. Veal is his signature meat. He has made some amazing dishes such as his famous tete de veau. The hot dog will be in the same tradition with , delicate ground veal , held together with a gelatin as opposed to is also cooked in a vegatable broth full of savory leeks, carrots and cloves.

The dog is then served in a crusty mini whole wheat baguette and slathered with a gribiche. This is a light sauce that can be made with capers, cornichons and of course, mustard. I'm sure other variations will follow. The veau chaud could be served inside an elongated puff pastry or even grilled for a bistro dog. Whether it will be as popular as steak au poivre or crepes remains to be seen.

Veau chaud may take a while to catch on in both cities.However once it does, Americans may forget about their traditional weiner. TheFrench may take it to heart too, making it as beloved as their croque monsiuer and croque madames.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Best Romantic Meals Ever

Romantic meals are not only for today, Valentine's Day but for all year round. A home cooked meal is a good  way to celebrate anything from an anniversary to a weekend without the kids. The best part is that it doesn't have to be an elaborate one. Sometimes just a simply made dish says it all - "I love you."

Everyone thinks that the more elaborate the prep, the better the meal. Not so. Sometimes just grilled chicken or pork chops is the perfect meal for two.Make these more exotic and romantic by adding an easy pilaf or couscous as sides. Another way to go is homespun. A small or indvidual shepherd's pie  is a lovely dinner as is fried chicken, gravy and biscuits .Want fun? Then think dimsum - Chinese dumplings filled with favorite meats and veggies. These can be fried or steamed.Whatever way they're fun to make and eat - especially with chopsticks.

Some people love to create an elaborate meal for their beloveds. Pasta is always a good choice .It's a sensual feast .with delicates aromas and flavors. There's nothing like a homemade fettuccine with a creamy Alfredo sauce or spaghetti with a lush, Bolognese sauce. For something different try a linguine with clam sauce.It's the perfect romantic meal no matter what the season. Cornish hen is another good dinner for two choice.It can be served elegantly with a wild rice stuffing and new potatoes.A small roasted duck is also great for dining in.Have it with a plum sauce and sauteed veggies.

Today is definitely the day for a homecooked romantic meal. However a romantic meal can be made any time of the year. After all love is year round  - not just one day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Homemade Valentine's Treats

There's nothing like loving from the oven. This is never more true on Valentine's Day when any kind of sweet can capture a beloved's heart. Nowadays it;s easy to whip up a batch of this or a tin of that in just few hours. Home bakers and candy makers can also show their creative flair too and allow their loved  ones some unique homemade goodies.

Any baked good is always appreciated. There's nothing like homemade chocolate chip cookies to finish off a romantic meal.if there's no time to gather up ingredients just get a stick of pre made cookie dough. After they're done cooling , dip them in microwave melted chocolate for added decadence. Heart shaped sugar cookies again are a fun dessert and they can easily be iced with pre made frosting, Sweet, coy or even suggestive messages can be written on them as wel. Better yet turn these treats, into sandwiches. Make an easy ganache of dark semi sweet chocolate and heavy cream  . After it cools then spread on the cookies and assemble. Tartlets are also fun to make and you can fill them with everything from fruit to nuts to dulche de leche.

Don't forget homemade candy is another great Valentine's Day gift. Fudge is easy to make and there are so many variations to play with. Try a few drops of mint extract for chocolate mint flavor. Add walnuts or almonds for a truly nutty fudge. For a fruitier version, toss in some dried cherries or blueberries. Haystacks are another fun and super simple gift to make. Melt any kind of  chocolate , add toasted coconut(it can be toasted  in a toaster oven) , mix together, and then drop spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Pretzel rods are also a yummy sweet and ,again, they're easy to create. Take average sized pretzel logs, dip in either melted caramel first or just any kind of chocolate, then roll in either chopped nuts or pink, white and red sprinkles. 

Homemade gifts are always appreciated. Whip up something decadent and sweet for your sweetie this Valentine's Day. They'll enjoy that it was made especially for them with love.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

How To Make Your Dishes Crumby

Want to jazz up that average piece of chicken breast or pork chop ? Add a  coating savory crumbs.The transformation is amazing, turning a bland piece of meat into something special.Crumbing  isn't only restricted to meats. Veggies can be given a golden glow too. Either way it results in a more flavorful dish.

The average  crumbing usually consists of bread crumbs and some variety of herb  for added flavor. Most peopleusually buy them already ground up and seasoned with either Parmesan, oregano or rosemary. This is great if you haven't the time to make your own. However making them opens the door to all sorts of different varieties. There can be pumpernickel, for an earthy, taste that would go well with pork, Ground baguettes work for shrimp and chicken, A healthier version would be ground up whole wheat bread or rolls. . If you want a smoother coating then opt for the Japanese pangko. This is just crumbs made without the crust included. It results in a lighter, airier coating, perfect for tempura and veggies. Some also use cracker meal which again givers a thinner, crispier coating than regular bread crumbs.

Crumbing is one of the easiest techniques used to improve meats and veggies. It starts off with one or two well beaten eggs depending on how  much you're  going to coat or crumb. The bread crumbs should be on a separate plate , in a small mound.At this point  if you want to add salt and pepper you can. As the plates are being set out, heat either oil, butter or a combination of the two for frying.  Coat the meat tor veggies completely and then dredge in the crumbs . Shake to remove any excess and then fry until golden. More bread crumbs will probably have to be added to the mound . Some restaurant and home chefs swear by first refrigerating the meat or veggies  for thirty minutes  straight after coating. It supposedly creates a more even surface. Also make sure that the oil is hot( not smoking hot though) because higher temperatures seal on the coating.

Make your chicken , pork chops or veggies.chops crumby if you want them to stand out. Adding a layer of crumbs, enhances the taste and makes it special. Crumbing makes food golden literally and figuratively!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Baked Pastas Winter Comforters

Cold weather calls for hearty pasta dishes. The problem is that now that  it's February , everyone is kind of tired of th e usual spaghetti or fettucine. Ravioli doesn't cut it anymore either.It's time to step it  up a bit with baked pasta. This is just as fillingand delicous as the boiled but with added texture and flavor.

The most popular and well known baked pasta dish is lasagna. Every southern italain has their own family recipe handed doen for genrations. A true lasagna is made with not a pure tomato sauce but a bechamel one with butter and cream Tomato is added later for flavor and color. It is made usually with chopped beef and spinach along with the creamy ricotta cheese. This last is used a a binder.The dish is then layered with boiled lasagna noodles or sheets and baked.Lasagna can have variations. It can be made with a combo of beef and pork or strictly vegetarian. This  last  can have layers of zucchini and eggplant  interspersed with the noodles and cheese.

Manicotti is another baked pasta that's perfect for a winter's dinner. These are giant shells (not to be confused with lumarche - the snail shaped pasta from Italy) that are filled with a mix of ricotta  and again ,spinach. Chopped onion is also thrown in to give it more dash.For another variation, nix the  spinach and add chopped Italian sausage and herbs such as rosemary and oregano.  For a less troublesome pasta dish consider baked ziti, . This is layered tubular pasta , combined with ground beef  and a mix of beaten egg and ricotta altough some recipes call for sour cream instead. It is then topped with spaghetti sauce and grated Parmesan  cheese before baking for 45 minutes . Ziti is a great covered dish to bring to anyone's house or to a church supper.

Winter calls for hearty pasta dishes. Instead of making the traditional boiled,  take it a step further. Bake a pasta dish that's not only nutritious but satisfying and warm.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Rebirth Of Mead

Mention mead to anyone and they'll cringe. The drink brings up wince worthy visions of cheesy Renaissance fairs and lame costumes.However this centuries old drink is having a renaissance on its' own. thanks to mead producers and fans.It's not that honey drink served in a plastic cup and eaten with ye olde corn dog.It's a refreshing change to traditional wines, full of the taste of meadows and flowers.

The drink was the subject of an article in yesterday's New York Times Dining section. Michael Sanders, new to the section, interviewed various mead manufacturers. There have been some great innovations in the industry in the last few years. Traditionally the honey has to be boiled and sterilized before it's allowed to ferment with water. Then filtering occurs however this can cause sediment to happen. Most modern mead makers agree that filtering should be nixed to produced a smoother, clearer looking liquid.Another change is the honey being used. Autumn and winter honeys call for alfalfa and barley while  spring and summer ones call for apple blossom. In the past, any honey was used, no matter what time of year it was.

Usually mead has a caramelized honey flavor however now it can be as sere and flinty as an unoaked  Chablis. Some  meads can even taste like prosecco, that fruity, light sparkling Italian white wine. Some can even be as rich as a lush chocolate dessert. Added secondary flavors, such as sage, saffron, fruits and juniper berries are being thrown into its' making to give it complex undertones. There are also mead cocktails where the drink  mixed with other liqueurs. Some bartenders combine  it with apple flavored brandy or cranberry bitters for a fruity play on the traditional.Others blend it wth stronger drinks like mezcal  and this causes the two flavors  to balance  out each other.

Mead is not that cheesy  Renaissance fair staple. It's as complex as any grape based wine and just as flavorful. Try it just to taste a modern approach on a centuries old drink.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Slow Eating Movement

We have a tendency to gobble our meals. There's not time to really savor our food, hence we tend to eat more of it, to make up for the quick rush of taste. A much better way is eating slower. Relax and enjoy what;s on our forks and spoons. Surprisingly enough it will lead to less eating and less calories.

The "slow eating movement" was today's lead story in The New York Times Dining section. The piece , written by regular Jeff Gordinier, explains why we should relish our food. The longer we take to eat, the less we will have to eat. It's just a matter of stop the gobbling and wolfing and enjoy every savory morsel. This is what Buddhist monks and nuns do. There is even a reminder chime to let them know it's time to stop. Chewing literally comes to a standstill. Flavors are tasted - really tasted for their components of salty and sweet, sour and hot and then silence ensues. This also stops the eater from wanting more. It  creates a more calming experience.

Anyone can recreate this atmosphere at home or even in their favorite fast food joint. First click off the TV and any other electronic device. Nowadays we tend to bring our I Phones to the table .Don't. Indulge in conversation with the people around you. If you're with family, consider silence. Concentrate on the meal and its' components. Another good idea is chew twenty-five to thirty times. We often swallow after only five or six times and then move on to the next bite.Again, don't. Chew it slowly, appreciate the time and effort that went into the meal as well as the primary and secondary flavors.. Also make up a pretty table. Use flowers and candles as calming influences when you dine , especially around supper time.

We tend to eat and run way too often these days. It's time we break this horrible habit and get back to appreciating our meals. Eat slow. Take time to enjoy good food.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Versatile Breadstick

Nothing beats the breadstick for versatility. It can be a great accompaniment to any soup or salad.It's perfect for dipping into tomato sauce It's great as part of an appetizer or hors oeuvre tray. These tasty little sticks can be used for almost everything, including just a low calorie snack.

Breadsticks were first invented in the 1400s in Torino Italy. A palace doctor, Don Baldo di Lanzo, a doctor was trying to tempt a Savoy prince into eating. He worked with the palace chef, Antonio Brunero and came up with grissini, feather light sticks made from ghersa, a Piedmontese bread‘ . The child so enjoyed them that they became a palace staple and later an Italian one. True grissini is different than the average breadsticks. They are still feather light and deliciously crackly.. They’re perfect, either dipped in olive oil or wrapped with a slice of salami or mortadella . Grissini are easy to make. They’re a mix of just wheat flour , olive oil, water , baking powder and salt. Baking time is just fifteen minutes. Save the stale ones for making “zuppa di montagna” a favorite Piedmontese winter dish. These are breadsticks baked in chicken broth with a topping of Swiss cheese.

Breadsticks grew fatter on arrival to the States. They also became rounder and more or less, resembled mini baguettes. This made them perfect for dipping into pasta sauces as well as a perfect light bread to be served with antipasto. Nowadays there is a soft chewy, version, drenched in oil and garlic. These are perfect for dipping into sauce or soup, These softer , larger ,variety can also be used as the base for sandwiches. You can even make this chewier kind at home, thanks to Pilsbury or just get them hot and fresh from any Pizza Hut or Target.

Breadsticks can be in any form and served any way. Have the original grissini, dipped in light olive oil or broken up in a minestrone. Try the American versions if you want a fun lunch, complete with a tasty, tomato sauce. Either way, they are a true treat.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Warm And Yummy Breads

There 's nothing like a hot roll or bun on a cold morning. Even better is when they come straight from your oven or toaster oven. Making these warm and yummy treats is easy. All you have
The dough is usually premade and it just takes a few minutes to bake. After that get out the hot coffee and butter and enjoy a special breakfast.

Pilsbury is the granddaddy of all frozen buns and rolls. They still make their popular ready to heat cinnamon rolls , this time with the extra kick of Cinnabon cinnamon. If you want to make them more decadent , add some raisins or even almond slivers before baking, You can also add little pats of butter for a moister , buttery taste. You can also take frozen biscuits and brush them with a mix if melted butter , cinnamon and sugar to get a lighter version. A fun breakfast treat is making monkey bread using these too.. Coat with cinnamon and sugar and bake together in a ring.

If you want from scratch rolls and buns, then use the classic Bisquick. With this you can create anything form hot muffins to scones. Even better is that the recipes allows you to add fruit such as dried cranberries, cherries and raisins. It also allows you to regulate the size of the bun. You can make super ones or tiny ones , depending on your family’s tastes. Flavorings can also be tempered to suit what everyone likes. Any Bisquick product is easy to whip up. Biscuits only take fifteen minutes to make and five minutes to bake.
A hot roll or bun is the perfect antidote to a frozen morning. There’s nothing like its’ fresh taste and warm, melting texture .It ‘s a nice way to chase away. those AM chills.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Super Healthy Super Bowl

Tomorrow is one of America's biggest food days after Thanksgiving.  That means everyone from New York to LA , from Maine to Hawaii are going to be stuffing themsleves silly. It's a day when calories and pounds are crazily packed on. However Super Bowl Sunday can be  a day to be careful and eat with a watchful eye.

Most fans don't realize that they can have just as much fun with some healthy choices as they can with unhealthy ones.For example, that staple wings can be even better for you if they're baked or roasted. You do  have to use olive oil for moisture but that's it. The result is even better than fried wings  with tender meat and a crispy skin coating.Another Super Bowl must have are sliders. Most foodies love theirs  made from pure beef or pulled pork on buttered and toasted rolls. A much healthier alternative is turkey burger or pulled chicken. Of course you can sub in veggie burgers and there is even a vegan version of pulled pork that tastes exactly like the real thing. Sub in  unbuttered whole wheat buns for white for more goodness.

Most fans would agree that pizza is one of the best heart healthy foods to eat during any game. Yes and no.  Pizza can be healthy if the toppings are roasted veggies or even chicken. However everyone loves theirs piled with pepperoni and sometimes steak. Some companies and privately owned pizzerias offer ones with double stuffed crusts that ar e just super  loaded  with cheese. Keep the game pizza simple, with an option of onions , peppers and mushrooms as toppings. A pie also tastes better with extra sauce as opposed to extra cheese. Also suppliment that slice with salad. You won't reach for a third or fourth slice if you have greens with the first or second.

Tomorrow is a big food day however make it a healthy eating day. Make choices that are winning. You'll score one for the home team your body if you do.

Friday, February 3, 2012

SuperBowl Battle Wings Vs Ribs

 There's a big battle that will be brewing this Super Bowl Sunday. No, it won't be Giants beating up Patriots fans or vice  versa. It's wing lovers against rib affectionados. These two football game staples always cause controversy over which is better and which is THE dish to serve.

Both wings and ribs are tasty. They're greasy (if cooked wrong), salty, spicy and  flavorful. Yet which one is better? Calories wise wings are a tad less  healthier for you. One wing is only 94 calories however most people will devour at least twenty or thirty which means close to two thousand calories. A rack of baby ribs are 250 calories however most big eaters will crunch through three or four racks by the time the fourth quarter comes. However the chicken does come with the healthy benefit of celery sticks (albeit they're dripping with ranch dressing).

What about flavor? Chicken wings can be made with a host of different sauces and marinades. The Wing Zone,a fast food joint specializing in them offers at least twelve different coatings , ranging from the  very mild to the very hot.Ribs also can have a plethora of flavors  and also can be either dry rubbed or marinaded.Unlike wings which only comes in chicken (although I'm sure there are turkey ones waiting to be discovered), they can be from  beef or pork cuts . There is the fat factor as well and there is more mess with ribs  than with chicken wings.

What will you have on Super Bowl Sunday. Wings or ribs?Or will you be diplomatic and enjoy both?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Philly's Spin On Doughnuts

The City of Brotherly Love isn't normally associated with doughnuts. Philadelphia is the hometown of cheesesteaks and scrapple - not the classic sweet snack. However there's a new bakery in town not only serving them but also pairing the doughnuts with chicken wings! Yes, chicken wings and not the typical cup of coffee are served with them.

New York Times Dining  editor,Pete Wells, got the lucky chance to review Federal Donuts for his Critic's Notebook column yesterday. This newest addition to the Philly eating scene has a wide melange of flavors . These are an inspiration. Flavors are a cinnamon apple walnut mix to a pina colada that is made with fresh pineapple and coconut. There is also a passion fruit one uniquely coated with poppy seeds along with doughnuts infused with lavender and sea salt.  The treats are cake style which , in other bakeries mean leaden lumps of dough. Federal's baker,Michael Solomonov, makes them light and fluffy. Some flavors can be quick fried so diners can eat themwhile they're still hot..

What is unusual is that Federal also serves up a mean basket of fried chicken too, Theirs  has more of a Middle Eastern than Southern vibe. The cook who helps dusts the meat with a dry version of harissa , the North African mix of chilis , garlic and cumin, Another exotic flavor is za'atar, a Middle Eastern blend of herbs and sesame seeds. Of course there are the usual chili garlic and honey ginger for traditionalists. It's a definite departure from the usual donut shop extras like crullers and bear claws.

If you're in Philly, take advantage of this unusual bakery and stop in for both dinner and dessert. You'll not only fall for delicious chicken but for uniquely flavored doughnuts. Federal Donuts puts a new  and extoric spin on an old classic dounut shop.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Kitchen Kids

Are foodies born or made?Is it nature or nurture that creates baby gourmets? It could be a little of both, especially if parents permit their young ones discover the joy of cooking. Letting them loose in the kitchen and allowing them to cook family meals can not only be a learning experience but also a fun adventure .

This was the subject of the De Gustibus column in today's New York Times Dining section. The piece written by Leslie Kaufman, shows how a teen and a pre teen have become young gourmet chefs. It started with the idea of her and her husband swapping cooking chores with her sons' cleaning up ones.The result is a good lesson in not only cooking but nutrition as well. The boys  not only have to  plan the meals  but also come up with ideas for healthy fare that is beneficial for the entire family.End results? Proud kids and even an even prouder mom. Oh, and some delicious suppers too,

Ms. Kaufman doesn't just let her kids make the usual kid friendly fare like grilled cheese and hot dogs. She lets her boys explore the varied and educational world of international cooking. One night resulted in a shepherd's pie topped with homemade mashed potatoes. Another dinner was an exotic chicken satay. Her eldest even tried his hand at complicated Vietnamese dishes, one called cho which involved pouring a highly seasoned broth over raw steak strips and noodles.Of course Ms Kaufman does go over the menus beforehand to make sure that the chosen dishes are not overly fried or too difficult.

It's a good idea to let kids explore the kitchen at a young age. Doing such not only teaches them about creating a meal but its' nutritional value as well. It also introduces the little ones to the world of good eating.