Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Year In Review Foodwise

What did the year soon to be past contribute food wise? What were the new tastes and treats that stunned us for the last twelve months?What did we like  and what did we go "Ewwwww" over?

Food wise we had a Mid East summit. Za'atar and harissa seemed to be the stars of 2015. Everyone went crazy over the first, a mix of different spices such as sumac (not the poisonous kind)thyme, marjoram and oregano. Toasted sesame seeds is added for crunch as is seas salt. It is then mixed in with olive oil and served with another 2015 fad, the had rolled bagel. This is not the big New York puffy kind that kind of looks like a butt (sorry , but it does) A real Israeli bagel looks like a big circular pretzel.It is torn into bits and then the ends are dipped in the za'atar and oil.The bled can also be used in cooking veggies along with being sprinkled on salads and scrambled eggs. North Africa gave us harissa. a spicy paste that goes well with veggies or lamb. This is soaked red chili peppers mixed with olive oil, garlic and salt. A trio of spices, cumin, coriander and ground caraway seeds round it out and temper the heat.

Artesanal foodstuffs went amok. Hipsters throughout Brooklyn started their own food companies, from pickles to bacon. Entrepreneurs who have Smith Brothers beards  are churning out handmade goodies in old Brooklyn factories that were probably churning out the same products 160 years ago. Flea markets  were the battleground for these food makers as they vied to get hip foodies attentions and taste buds.Despite at how annoying it is, the movement is actually a good thing. Artesenal baby foods led to some of top manufacturers like Gerber and Beechnut to create preservative free ones along with ones featuring more avocados and squash. The homemade movement has also influenced bread companies as well. Our stores sell much more whole wheat and whole grain now than they ever have done. Even companies like Stop & Shop have their own artesenal foods like crackers and cereals,

What will 2016 bring? We'll find out tomorrow .Foodie Pantry has some interesting predictions.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Celebrating with Hopping John

Note: This is a milestone for Foodie Pantry.It's our 2,500 blog entry. I can't believe it . It has really changed my life and I have an old friend, Pete Burley and his business partner, Mitch Rappel to thank for this. I was coming up with different ways to promote their new sports drink, Fyxx Caffeinated water and they had suggested a blog. Look back and you will see the first article is about Fyxx. I though that would be it- just one blog entry -  but I got hooked - and hooked and hooked. So onto the 2500th -----

New Year's is a time of tradition and celebration. Food and its' symbolism figures into it  big time. One of the most traditional is hopping John.It is a dish from the Deep South , made with the ingredients of the region.It promises both luck and deliciousness with just one bean.

Kim Severson wrote about this holiday must have in today's New York Times Food section.It is made from the simple cow pea or as we all know it the black eyed pea.It was the great botanist, George Washington Carver who studied them and improved them to create a  stronger , hardier legume.Unfortunately what is sold in the stores is not that.It's a similar looking buff bean  grown in California , and as Ms, Severson puts it "is to the cowpea as iceberg is to lettuce".Get the real kind for your New Year's celebrations, the ones with a history as old as this country's The black eyed pea which is really a bean, originated in west Africa, brought over by enslaved Africans. Luckily the plants are hardy and can take to any soil that they're planted in. They sustained both livestock and people who were too poor to afford other foods.Another plus is that they were kind of like manure in the sense that they put nitrogen into fields, enabling other crops to grow.They also can exist without a lot of water, making ideal in the sometimes drought riddled South. Seeds have been passed down through generations of families, with that comes colorful names like turkey craw, red ripper,washday old timer and whipperwill.

All these varieties surprisingly have different flavors. Crowder peas, so named because they crowd in the pod, are big and meaty so they mix well with rice. if you want a creamy mash  then go with the bright and delicate  cream variety.One rare one with a history, is the Sea Island red pea, first cultivated in the 1600's . It was first cooked into a ruddy gravy in the Carolina rice fields,It  is  also now being revived  as well to go into modern skillets and pots..These peas have different flavors. The pink eye purple hull ones taste like artichokes, and these will probably be the next foodie craze in the New York area. The beans are already hitting our northern markets. What can be made with black eyed peas?||?Ms. Severson give the recipe of purple hull peas with mustard greens in smoky potlikker. This last is  a variation of the phrase pot liquor, the liquid leftover from cooking and is used kind of like a cross between a saute and a gravy.Smoked turkey legs and wings or smoked ham hocks add more flavor along with mustard greens. This is also highly spiced dish, with the addition of chopped garlic and a red hot chili pepper. Bay leaves , allspice and thyme give it an earthy herbal tang  while a tablespoons of sugar tempers the whole recipe.. Ms. Severson serves it with a homemade cornbread, truly Southern with the addition of buttermilk and bacon grease. My recipe is a little simpler. Cook them  in salted water and add butter and  more salt. The beans' starch mixed with the first creating a creamy sauce, perfect with slices of fresh , hot ham or fried chicken,

Have a plate of hopping John to bring you good luck in the New Year. You can try the spicy version or my delicate one. Either way, eat them to enable a money filled 2016

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Home Chef's Resolutions

These are the days for resolutions. Home chefs should have a few of their own. Like life itself, foods, and nutritional needs are constantly changing. No one can stagnate. It's the most dangerous thing to do, especially when it comes to health needs. Change is good, especially in the kitchen.

One of the most often heard New Year's resolutions is eating healthy. In order to do so, you have to shop and cook healthy too. This requires a slight overhaul in a home chef's shopping habits. Any snacker can tell you the exact aisles for soda and snacks. If you're this type, look to memorize where the good for you ingredients are. Be more familiar with your store's produce section. Nowadays, they're so big,it's like having a farmer's market at your fingertips. Try the more exotic veggies every now and then. Buy those tomatillos or breadfruit. The web has a ton of recipes for them so you won't be so at sea when you bring them home. Another idea is bringing home the veggies that are the least liked and cooking them in a more appetizing way. Kids hate Brussels sprouts? Then seduce them with a platter of sprout chips, crispy baked Brussels sprout leaves that have a sprinkling of olive oil and sea salt. Make more Mexican or Italian food. These are the most healthiest and also the most tastiest. Tacos can be made low cal by adding grilled fish or chicken along with fresh sliced tomatoes and lettuce.Nix the sour cream and just add homemade salsa and guacamole. Quesadillas can be made  with soy cheese and low calorie sour cream . Pasta is always a favorite. Use soy crumbles instead of beef for a better, heart healthy version.Also try whole wheat pasta and different types two to three times a week .

Another resolution is expanding your kitchen and knowledge. Look at your appliances, especially the smaller ones and see if they;re up to snuff. If not, take advantage of the January white sales to pick up a replacement. 2016 may also be the year you may want to expand your kitchen or get new cabinets. Meet with a remodeling rep now because it will probably be around early spring when the remodeling happens. Also be prepared for this, Look at different magazines and websites, talk to family and friends who have had their cooking areas redone  along with researching contractors and checking out their backgrounds.This is the year to expand cooking knowledge too. There is a whole wide world of cuisines out there , just waiting to be discovered. Now is the time to go globe trotting culinary style. Buy cookbooks, go to restaurants , take cooking classes. Doing all this is a great way of expanding your knowledge. Another resolution accept mistakes and failures. Cooking new dishes  will take an infinite number of times.It will not be perfect on the first time. It could be but , prepare for  some failure. Also try new methods . Buy a sous vide or a mandolin. It'll open up your repertoire with a few more recipes.A sous vide will give your tender meat dishes the family will love and the mandolin can help in creating extra crispy home made potato chips or perfectly formed slices for scalloped potatoes. it;s also the year to finally buy that pasta or ice cream maker too, or a different kind of grill for the ultimate barbecue.

Yes, these are the days for resolutions, Make ones that will make you and your family feel better  and expand your culinary knowledge. Make this new year  a year of growth!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Fishing For Something Tasty

With all these holidays a happening it's nice to try something more refreshing like fish. Unfortunately most home chefs stick with the familiar, salmon, tuna, and cod. Some adventurous home chefs will try a bluefish or striper that caught by a friend or neighbor  however that's the extent of it. Yet there are some other types out there that might be worth considering.

Jeff Gordonier wrote about this in last Wednesday's New York Times Food section.(I had wanted to write about this earlier but got waylaid by Christmas and all the good food and recipes that come with it). Most fish have been over eaten and overfished by us  which leads to screwing up the ocean's environment. Not only do we live by the aforementioned species. we also gobble down way too much - close to 85 percent. shrimp, followed by pollock and tilapia.It;s time to try the lesser known  fish and many chef's across the country are doing just that.Many of them are looking to their child
hood fishing trips with dad or grandpa for inspiration. At Rose's Fine Foods in Detroit, the traditional Great Lakes Fish Fry is made, using a pan fried lobe of brook trout with a large blueberry pancake, a nod to the blueberry pies served as dessert at lake front fries. The trout along with the lesser used bluegill and smaller fish is what the chefs, cousins, Lucy de Parry and Molly Mitchell serve. Chef Michael Psilakis uses the porgies he grew up with in his restaurant MP Taverna.He cooks them in the delectable Greek style with lemon and herbs. He also cooks whitebait, a fish he and his dad used to catch , keeping them fresh n seawater and then dredging them in flour before a quick fry up

Some fish can be downright exotic. Home chef's should not worry about this though. The end result is still a tasty dish., this  philosophy,  make the Village island themed restaurant Norman's Cay popular. Chef and owner Ryan Chadwick takes the demon of Caribbean waters, the lionfish , removes it's venomous spines and the simply grills it in oil. It even has a following, so much so that there is a supply problem with them. Chaya, a trendy Los Angeles Japanese restaurant is where
 outliers and the exotic reign . Their sashimi is made from beltfish and  red cornet, standing in for the over fished cod. another Los Angeles Japanese restaurant N/naka , chef Niki Nakayama sources local California waters for the elaborate and traditional Japanese ten course tasting meal, kaiseki. SoCal's Huntington Beach's Slapfish offers just that  - slapfish, in the most common of dishes  - fish and chips; entrepreneur and chef Andrew Gruel  wants to take other lesser known fish such as hoki, a fish in the hake family and California rockfish, a prehistoric looking creature with Betty Boop eyes and make them more common than scrod.
.More and more of these exotic local beauties will be coming to a fish market nearby thanks to Dock To Dish, a coast to coast organization that helps fishermen come to chefs with lesser known species. This proves to be a boon to those on a budget.because these are usually cheaper than their more popular cousins.,

Treat yourself to lighter fare with the more cost effective lesser known seafood. You'll get to experiment with different varieties of fish. any of these work perfectly in tried and true dishes.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Holiday Detoxing With Leftovers

As we all recover from our Christmas feasting and look forwards to our New Year's calorie splurges. However too much eating and drinking can do  number on anyone.It's time to call in those leftovers from yesterday to help. Yes, you can repurpose that Christmas ham and turkey into something yummy and healthy.

A good breakfast is the key to starting the day off right. We all have the tendency to have a holiday starter of cookies or a slice of cake . Resist.  The one Christmas treat, oranges are the exception. Nothing beats a glass of fresh squeezed juice but also there 's nothing greater than starting a day with slices of sunshine. There' chock full of Vitamin C and fiber, two much needed ingredients for a healthy system.Panettone and pan d'oro are also a nice way to start the the morning. Just have them sliced and toasted  but nix the butter. They're rich enough to eat on their own. If you do want something extra think a fresh fruit salad with  pears  and apples mixed with oranges and bananas. This last is a nice idea to make with that first shipment of Fruit Of The Month Club that many of you did receive as gifts. Leftover ham can be turned into amazing omelets or perfect fried up with eggs. Just go easy with it Maybe make one slice with an egg for a good breakfast or chop in a scant half cup when making a fritatta.Cut off all fat before cooking.

Speaking of that ham, it's good just minced in a big salad.Make it a bit player so the salad keeps its' nutritional value. Use whatever leftover veggies too, like green beans, broccoli and mushrooms from your antepasto. Leftover turkey is a blessing .It's a  low calorie meat that can be made into a variety of yummy  dishes. A simple salad with turkey slices is a great lunch or brunch dish. Add some dried cranberries and baby spinach leaves for some variety. Have a simple sandwich using slices of a hearty grain bread and low calorie mayo. Toast the bread and make a sumptuous but good for you club sandwich (Nix the bacon of course). A simple turkey consomme is another cleansing dish , perfect after a week of serious feasting.Just keep in mind it's a complicated soup despite its' simplicity.It does require clarification using egg whites and cheesecloth. However it is worth it , simply because of its' richness and plainness plus you get rid of most of the bird.. Sweet potatoes , usually, loaded down with calories, can be turned into a healthy leftover. Have them reroasted in the oven, with a drizzle of olive oil and just a sprinkle of sea salt for a tasty side. They can also be repurposed into part of a vegan stew as well.

The holiday brings us tons of delicious savories and sweets. Repurpose them to create healthy dishes to help you detox during the holiday season.It's  nice way of having leftovers.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Happy Happy Merry Christmas!!!!!

Merry Merry Christmas!!!!

Eat well, drink well, enjoy the treats of the day!!!!!


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve Treats

This will be a short entry tonight, it being Christmas Eve. This is the night for treats. If you're Southern Italian, you will be starting to feast on the thirteen fish, each representing Jesus and the Twelve Apostles. If you;re Northern Italian. French , or even  Cajun, you're getting ready to pop the champagne for  the Reveillion and have something sweet to celebrate the Lord's birth. If you're German , you're enjoying gingerbread  and Springele cookies as you're opening presents and setting up the Christmas tree.

Most importantly you are eating good food with family or friends, now a luxury in most parts of the world. Say a prayer for those who do not have the treat of lobster or wine or even cookies.Just trying to get milk for their children is a battle. Be lucky yours have enough to set out a glass for Santa tonight. Also thank whatever deity you worship that your little ones have nutritious food such as veggies and meat, pasta and fruit for their meal tonight and for the rest of their childhoods.

It is a night to celebrate our Lord's Birth .It is also one to count your blessings of abundance - a true gift .

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Perfect Christmas Breakfast

One of the best things about Christmas morning is a cozy family breakfast together.  There;s nothing like sitting down and sharing a sumptuous and yummy special treat. A breakfast casserole is the perfect dish for this It has the best AM foods like bacon eggs and bread along with some other flavorful ingredients. It is the perfect start to a holy day and holiday.

Melissa Clark gave her recipe for it in her A Good Appetite column today's New York Times  Food section. It's similar to strata with a few tweaks..It's an easy bake for novice home chefs and a break from the usual holiday morning fare for more experienced cooks.There is a ratio of  one egg to one cup of dairy to a cup of cubed bread However there are so many variations, to try any one is a good combo. Start with the bread. As per Ms. Clark, the lighter the loaf, the more ethereal the casserole. A good choice is the airy French brioche, followed by the honey sweetened challah,good white bread (think straight from the bakery or Pepperidge Farm sandwich white) and a light whole wheat bread.Stay away from the ones that are too hearty, seedy or grainy, She uses toasted  croissants that have been oven toasted for only five to ten minutes.Try  to get good croissants if you can at this late date.. Au Bon Pain has the best but Dunkin Donuts and Stop and Shop have good ones too. Just remember that the staler it the the more the read will absorb the custard. Another way of having  crispy bread is toasting it in a very hot oven  (NO toasters ,please). This will dry it out and also give it a deep caramelized flavor.

This recipes calls for a lot of eggs, eight in all. Ms. Clark also suggests just using the yolks for a truly custardy texture, along with three cups of milk and one cup of heavy cream. You could also just add all milk or all cream however the combination of the two adds to the casserole's silkiness.A quarter of a pound of Italian sausage is added however you could also use maple infused breakfast ones , cubed ham or cooked bacon (or if you want all of them) . Gruyere is a must  and if you can get the smoked for the intense flavor. It's grated so it blends in perfectly into the dish. sauteed and roasted vegetables can be added too. Try spinach, mushrooms or cherry tomatoes. If you want potatoes, then serve them on the side as extra crispy hash browns or plank fries.I think they'd be a bit too much in this dish.Ms. Clark even recommends adding bits of dried fruit such as figs or apricots. Have the figs simmered in port or the apricots in white wine first to make them even more tastier.It's a nice shot of boozy sweetness amidst all the savory. The recipe does call for scallions and sage for flavoring, You could also sub in rosemary and oregano if you're tossing in the tomatoes and Italian sausage.Everything is place din a buttered casserole dish and baked the next morning.

Make this yummy and easy breakfast casserole Christmas morning. It's a nice treat after present opening and gift giving. It's warm and cozy , just like the holiday itself.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Annual Christmas Checklist

 Successful Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners begin with well stocked kitchens. These meals are not ones to improvise with or sub in anything last minute.Everything  should be on the ready. There should not be any hiccups or snags. The meal , albeit  sometimes a difficult cook and roast,should go easily without any drama.

By now most home chefs should have the main dish, namely the roast. Make sure that it's enough for your guests. Two servings usually work per person .If you feel you'll come up short then get a second  roast. Also have make sure you have every ingredient for your sides. Have extra cans of faves such as green beans and corn. If you haven't shopped yet, then get larger versions of what you normally buy.After all you'll not only need that olive oil for salad but you 'll need it for sauteing vegetables as well. Not only will you need more olive oil but it also pays to have extra margarine and butter , both for cooking and the table. Keep enough chicken, beef or vegetable stock on hand too It's just as valuable as a stuffing ingredient as it is for gravies. Flour is the backbone of any dinner. It is used in making roues as well as the chief ingredient for baked goods. You may think that eggs are only good for that Christmas breakfast. You're partially right, however they're also needed for binding stuffing  as well along with being those yummy appetizers deviled eggs. Remember that hard boiled eggs are also  part of the stuffing in stuffed celery too and they  make a nice addition to any salad.

What else should you have ? The basic condiments. Salt and pepper are used in almost everything, and salt even more so because of baking. Brown and white sugar is also needed. Brown sugar is needed for  rubbing onto ham as well as for candied yams. It can even be added for color to roast beef gravy. Make sure you also have filled spice jars too. Chive and dried scallions go well  in homemade mashed potatoes along with being good sprinkled on green beans. Keep in ind that you have to have cinnamon too. It 's vital in any sweet potato dish as well as gracing dessert cappuccinos.If you run out of it, don't fret Nutmeg can sub in or it if you're in a pinch. Another inventory to double check is your beverage one. You should have a basement  full of different kinds of soda and flavored waters to suit everyones' tastes.Get the kids Simply Fruit Punch to drink with their holiday dinner.It's a nice alternative to sodas and has a refreshing mixed fruit flavor. Holiday desserts stretch out into two and three hours so have plenty of coffee and tea on hand for sipping. Make sure you have a few different flavors of teas so guest can have a choice. There should be equal amounts of decaf and caf as well as espresso shots for those who have a long drive home. A nice tough is having two or three flavored creamers on hand too.

A well stocked holiday kitchen is key to a successful dinner. Make sure you have everything and you don't run out. Christmas Eve and Christmas are not the times for culinary disasters. Enjoy the holiday and holiday cooking.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Pistahcio Chewy Bites A Healthy Stocking Stuffer

Want a healthy bite to put into everyone''s X-Mas stockings? Then try Setton Farms' Chewy Pistachio Bites. These are a better treat than all those Christmas candies and cookies. They're also a great respite from the rich holiday bites we're all indulging in right now.

Setton Farms is a California based pistachio farm located in the lush farming area northeast of Los Angeles. It is unusual in the sense that it is a Kosher farm where it is not only checked by an onsite rabbi but also must follow the strictest food regulations. The company is known primarily for its' dried fruits and nuts.such as pears, pineapple, almonds and walnuts. Setton also produces several different types of plain and flavored pistachios from unsalted to salted to jalapeno, garlic and chili lemon.Now there;s a brand new treat, pistachio chewy bites. These are a tasty respite from the heavy, sugary holiday fare.They're a mix of heart healthy mix of pistachios and dried cranberries held together with agave syrup.They're gluten and dairy free. Each chew is 105 calories with 60 fat calories and th best part is they're loaded with nuts!.

You'd expect something this good for you to be not so tasty. Wrong ! These are the best tasting chews  I've had in a long time! The pistachio's mild nutty flavor is the perfect foil for the cranberries' tartness and the agave's sweet syrup flavor. The texture is a fun chew too and a quick bite. It'll make a great stocking stuffer , giving those Santa pops and chocolate coins a run for their money. After the holidays  they'd be perfect in gym bags and lunch boxes. The chews are a better alternative  to that three o'clock candy bar or doughnut too. They're also a nice dessert too or a great nibble when you're craving something sweet.Surprisingly they can be turned into savory and sweet recipes, from a spicy Mediterranean couscous to popcorn balls. If you really want decadent party treats then dip them in semisweet chocolate and let them harden. The Chewy Pistachio Bites can be bought at A&Ps ,Shop Rite, King Kullen, Wegman, Lucky's and a few other supermarkets. 

This holiday season give your body a healthy gift of Setton Farms Chewy Pistachio Bites. These are super yummy and super good.Try them now as an alternative to all those sugary cookies and candies.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

One Dough , A Million Cookies = Well Almost

We're knee deep in the middle of Christmas cookie season. Family and friends demand a variety worthy of a top bakery. What happens if you don't have the time to get all those ingredients? Not to worry. There a wonder dough that can produce an array of fancy and delicious gems.

Basic cookie dough is a holiday baker's best friend.It's taking two sticks of softened unsalted butter,a cup of sugar, one egg and two teaspoons of vanilla extract. The dry ingredients are flour ,baking soda and salt. It's the usual creaming and beating the moist ingredients first and then adding the dry ingredients .If the dough is a little sticky add a bit more flour to keep it smooth. Form the dough into two balls, wrap each in plastic and refrigerate for two hours. Home bakers can also sub in whole wheat flour for the white for a slightly healthier treat/ Just be warned. The whole wheat cookie won't have the snap that the regular one will. It will be slightly more denser and a bit chewy..You may want to make the icing now too. Again it's a simple recipe of one cup of powdered sugar, two to three tablespoons of milk and one teaspoon vanilla.Combine all ingredients until smooth. There may be some powdered sugar  lumps but theses can be beaten out with a fork. Tint with food coloring or homemade natural food coloring.The last may take some time which is off putting  along with unusual ingredients such as squid ink(!) and matcha powder, also off putting.

After the dough has been thoroughly chilled for one hour it's now time to have fun. One of the prettiest cookies to bake is the stained glass one. Put  a handful of unwrapped Jolly Ranchers - one flavor at a time  - and put between two sheets of wax paper . Smash to bits with a mallet or rolling pin. Use large and smaller versions of a cookie cutter. Cut out the larger forms and then use the smaller ones to cut the middle on baking sheets covered with foil. Spoon the crushed candy in the middles and bake for four or five minutes, until candy centers melt and the cookies' edges brown. Candy cane cookies are another fun treat.It's simply tinting one dough ball pink  while leaving the other ball plain.Roll each color  into four inch ropes and twist to form spirals. Bend the top to resemble a cane and bake until set for nine minutes. Another fun cookie are the chocolate dipped ones. Roll dough into a log and then slice into rounds. After the cookies bake and cool down , either melt semisweet chocolate chips in a double boiler or in the microwave.(the double boiler is the better method.)Dip one end in and place on waxed paper to harden. For more festive treats, do a second dip in red and green sprinkles. These cookies can also be cut into shapes and decorated. Use flaked coconuts for snowmen and the fur on mittens and boots. You can also do a thin white layer of icing and dust with red  and green or silver and gold sanding sugar.

Don't fret if you don't have all the ingredients for cookie baking. Use the basic recipe and then let your creativity go wild. You'll have a variety of different cookies to show off to demanding friends and family.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Gift Yourself

T'is the season to give lush food gifts and fun gadgets.Everyone deserves a culinary treat , whether it's a favorite food or a something that will make cooking and baking easier. That includes yourself a reward just for getting through this harried holiday season.

It was David Tanis piece on strip loin in Wednesday's New York Times Food section that got me thinking and drooling. It's one of the things.that I would love to gift myself with - a tender strip sauteed in a blend of olive oil and Kerrygold butter (another Christmas gift to myself).Mr Tanis serves his infused with herbs such as rosemary and thyme along with roasted potatoes and horseradish along with a bunch of watercress. Mine would be French bistro style, with crispy homemade pomme frites and crusty French bread to sop up the juices. Another treat - lobster at Bahr's in the Atlantic Highlands. This is the ultimate Christmas gift to oneself. It's a plump boiled lobster with butter sauce and a side of rice. Of course their home made biscuits alone are worth the ride down. If you can, you can make your own lush seafood dinner at home.Treat yourself to some scallops in white wine or sole meuniere. If you;re craving simple fare then head to your favorite Wendy's or Jake's Wayback for a burger or dog, fries and a soda/or malted.Need a refueling of sugar? Indulge in Godiva or Rocky Mountain chocolates. Treat yourself to some homemade walnut fudge, or a plate of just from the oven Pilsbury Slice and Bake chocolate chip cookies with a tall glass of cold milk. To destress from the season's craziness, think a hot cup of herbal tea, pajamas and your favorite book. Sometimes the best self gifts are the simplest ones.

Home chefs are always on the cutting edge and front line . There are some interesting gadgets out there that should be in everyone's kitchen. A good set of knives is one of them. If you feel like your old set is getting dull or you don't have the complete set, get a new one .These usually have everything from deboners to filet knives. Many places such as Williams-Sonoma and Target have them on sale right now too..You can also get yourself a fun gadget  such as a Sno-Cone maker or a cotton candy machine.If you have the room then think about a taco shell warmer. This does come in handy for Mexican food lovers.Pizza lovers would swoon at the Cuizen Pizza Box oven which looks exactly like a delivery box with a cheesy cartoon of an Italian chef on it.It has revolving plate that ensures a perfecctly crisp and even hot crust. A fun for yourself gift is the breakfast sandwich maker that cooks everything, meat , egg and English muffin together for a tasty morning nosh.The best thing about it is that the parts disassemble and everything can be thrown into the dishwasher or kitchen sink for easy cleaning.I would love to treat myself to the space age looking Fago Spoutnik microwave. It's a new kind of round quick cooker that looks like that roly poly little robot from the new Star Wars movie.. The lid is a purple see through dome that allows you to watch your food get nuked. It has four cooking modes , a revolving turntable for even cooking and a light that changes from white to blue signalling the food is ready. Heck, forget all that. It just looks so darn I must have it cute. Unfortunately it's only sold in Europe right now but hopefully it'll come to the states soon.

This is the season to give. Give yourself some luxurious food or a fun appliance or gadget. You know what you want. Go for it before it sells out!.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Lush Slice Of Timpano

The pasta pie timpano is the perfect dish to make for a cozy holiday pary.It's an impressive layering sort of like lasagna and torta rustica all rolled into one. Each slice yields up a melange of meats , veggies and sauces, a filling trio of good flavors and textures.

Melissa Clark decided to try her hand at making this gem of Italian cooking adding tweaks here and there.Timpano should sound familiar to Big Night Fans, the 1996 movie about two brothers running an Italian restaurant at the Jersey shore in the Fifties.It is crown shaped dish, filled with everything good.Its' origin is Neopolitan and it means kettle drum, thanks to its  shape.  The shell has to be made from pasta. Ms Clark recommends using precooked lasagna sheets will will leave a visible seam however purists may want to make their own sheets to have a flawless top. If you do make it via the machine, then think of tinting the dough red and green This can be done by separating the dough into two equal parts and tinting one half with half a cup of beet juice and the juice from.cooked spinach leaves for the green.If you want a lovely  deep golden color use egg yolks only .

The filling can be varied, however Ms/ Clark gives a pretty good mix of ingredients.She uses sausages  and salames or procsciutto for the interior. You can also use chopped meat or meat balls.A true timpano also has eggs in it but she subs it the more colorful and healthier roasted squash. Broccoli rabe is a must, both for its burst of color and flavor. as as one onion for sweetness. Ironically there';s also more pasta in the filling, usually penne regatta, but rotelli , plain or tricolore, could easily be subbed in.Cheese is de rigeur and Ms Clark uses buffalo mozzarella and fresh ricotta. This gives the pie both chewiness and creaminess.It has to be moist too, so you 'll need one 28 ounce can of tomato sauce along with a sprig of basil mixed in..Red wine is added too although if you want you can omit it.Nutmeg and a pinch of red pepper flakes are thrown into the mix to round it out. Keep  in mind this is a labor intensive  recipe. The squash has to be roasted for forty minutes while the broccoli rabe has to be sauteed first in a garlic infused oil. The penne also has to be cooked as well and if you make the pasta sheets extra work too.The finished product is worth it, though.

Timpano is a yummy pie, perfect for a holiday party.Every slice is a rich mix of flavors and textures. Try your hand at it for some good eating.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Times Top Ten List

It's that time of the year when lists come out and the New York Times Food section is no different.  Today's issue is no different. The best recipes, drinks and restaurants are listed along with the hottest food terms of the year. It's an interesting look at how treats and toddies influenced the year that was.

What are the top recipes of the year? Ones that I would certainly like to try, There is roasted chicken provencal, a melange of thighs and wings roasted with shallots, lemons and garlic in a vermouth bath infused with herbes de Provence,Chicken is also top again, this time with an Mediterranean flavor.,oven roasted chicken sharwanaIt 's an easy fix of piling the sliced meat onto a platter and decorate with salad and topping. It's a fun light New Year's dish after heavy holiday feasting..It's tahini gracing chopped cucumbers and tomatoes along with parsley, olives and feta. Fried eggplant also adds flavor along with hummus swirled with harissa. Pile it on pita for a sandwich/salad mash up. Summer pasta with zucchini,ricotta and pasta was also popular.It's just a simple dish that you could even make now using frozen squash.There's also another  refreshingly simple dish - salmon with anchovy garlic butter. Capers are also added for a zesty saltiness but it's really the anchovy butter that makes it sing.Three cup chicken , a famed Taiwanese braise of thighs and wings in a dark and pungent sauce.Some of the other recipes were a quick fresh tomato sauce and the only dessert to make it was summer berry buckle.

What drinks made the list?Auslese.It a German riesling made from very ripe grapes and oomphed up with Botrytis cinerea. Sherry ,an old fashioned classic  has also cracked the list.As per the Pour column writer, Eric Asimiv, it has an almost oceanic taste thanks to the note of saline and iodine. He also praises the moderately priced wines such as the 2014 Mojo cabernet franc from Shinn Estate, a famed Long Island producer. The Southern Rhone gives the tasty blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre. Another favorite was the 2013 trocken riesling fermented from grapes grown on limestone..The stone was reflected in the notes,stony, chalky and floral. Try these at the city's top restaurants.There's Gabriel Kreuther, named for the chef., is an homage to all dishes Alsacian, with its'rustic tarte flambees and liverwurst. Superiority Burger, the make is a  kind of a misnomer, is another yummy fave catering to vegans and vegetarians. Fans rave about the tofu Philly cheesesteak along with a sugary white sweet potato topped with chopped pickles, serranos and tarragon. Of course Momofuko Ko is right up there; New Yorkers love their boxed sushi and uni or sea urchin with chicken. Mexican food is also number one with Manhattanites  as seen in Cosme.with real Mexican tortillas along with celebrations of traditional dishes.

These are the lists to guide you to good eating and dining along with good drinking. It's a nice culinary salute to 2015. It's was an interesting year, flavorful and tasty in so many ways.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Your Choice Of Holiday Sides

One of the treats of the holiday table is the vast array of sides. From jewel toned cranberry jelly to home bowls of stuffing, holiday feasters can enjoy a wide range of flavors and textures,Best of all most holiday roasts can go with a wide variety of sides.These could be healthy or decadent, yet all delicious.

Sweet sides work well with poultry and pork. Cranberry jelly or chutney goes well with both turkey and capons. For more adventurous home chefs. you can make your own cranberry jelly.This is an easy mix of fresh cranberries cranberry juice, lemon and maple syrup (!) first cooked over a high heat and then a lower one for only ten minutes  or until the mixtures thickens into a jelly. Chutneys also work with fowl and they can be ladled over the meat too for added flavor. Try an apple mango one with a melange of cubed Gala apples and mangoes ,blended with dried apricots  and spiced up with mustard, cloves and black pepper. Pork and hams always benefit with the addition of sweet sides. Grilled , unadorned pineapple rings work with both these meats. You can add a very small sprinkling of sea salt to give it a boost of savory. Apples are another excellent accompaniment. You can try homemade applesauce  to go with a pork loin roast or better yet , a warm apple and onion salad with the addition of freshly fried bacon and a tablespoon of brown sugar. Apples can be sliced into a stir fry, cooked with kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Add some apple cider vinegar for tartness and walnuts or pine nuts for crunch. Sweet potatoes are the ultimate sweet side. Instead of layering them with marshmallows, turn them into tasty fries for the kids or a creamy , buttery mash with a drizzle of maple syrup on top.

There are many savory sides to try as well. Stuffing is always in demand, especially if you have turkey. Make it interesting by using nothing but pretzels for a tastier side. Eggs  and sour cream bind together three cups of pretzel sticks that have been soaked soft in hot water. Onion powder is then added to the mix for more flavor. You can also make it in the traditional stuffing way, with sage and onion being first cooked with celery and then adding in the pretzels. Mind , this has to be cooked on it's own and not in the bird. Another fun side is Yorkshire pudding, perfect with any roast beef or London Broil. It's an easy recipe.It's four eggs, and equal amounts of milk and flour. What makes these tasty popovers sing are the meat drippings. mixed into the batter. They're wonderful, loaded with roast beef slices and gravy. For something a bit more healthier, try the classic string beans almondine.You can use fresh if you can find them or frozen green beans along with almonds browned in butter or margarine. Brussels sprouts are another emerald gem, perfect for the holiday table. Simmer in hot salted water until tender but firm. Drain and then dress with melted butter and a liberal sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Of course no meal would be complete without potatoes. You could have them in a mash but enrich it by adding sour cream and chives or the skins for added nutrients. Scalloped ones are a supremely elegant addition to any dinner or holiday lunch.its just taking sliced potatoes and baking them in a creamy roux.

Sweet and savory sides will add oomph to any holiday meal. They're good ,complementing the main roast or just wonderful on their own. Make one or make them all for a special treat.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Your Holiday Roast Your Way

With Christmas and New Year's only weeks away , its' time to think of the the man dish, the roast..Many home chefs freak out at the idea of it. There;s so much prep, and pressure to cook it correctly and give family and guests , moist juicy slices. The best way of dealing with this is picking a roast that fits the skill level. That way there's a delicious roast, with little or no mistakes.

Neophyte home chefs should look into roast chicken for their first holiday meal. It's the simplest meat to roast and the finished product is always a good one.It only takes an hour to make and prep time is almost nil. You can just rub it with butter, salt and pepper and then pop it into the oven. Herbs such as rosemary and thyme accentuates the flavor even more and you can also add a squeeze of fresh  lemon or orange juice before adding the seasoning. If you're having more than five you could get two chickens or better yet  a capon or gelded rooster.An eight pound one does take two hours to cook and there is some basting required. Yet it's not that difficult and a first time roaster can do it.Fish is another easy roast. Go for a bronzino or a trout, s slim fish that cooks up easily. It can be seasoned with ginger, garlic and Asian sesame oil for an Oriental flavor, Give it a Mediterranean flair with chopped parsley, and red peppers along with salted capers and garlic. Bring the Caribbean to the holiday table by giving the fish a paste bath of ginger, garlic clove and allspice.Roasting time is only thirty minutes so there's no worry about it drying out or constant basting.

Intermediate home chefs may want to try leg of lamb for their Christmas or New Year's dinner.Again it's an easy roast of only thirty minutes. Most cooks usually make it with a rub of garlic and rosemary. There's even a thin gravy of  red wine, diced onions and chicken stock liberally laced with rosemary, chives and parsley.It can also be made Greek style with lemons and oregano. It should be bone in roast so you can get that extra taste/ If you want a more well done meat then roast for another half an hour or hour more.Roast beef or London broil is another good main dish for intermediate chefs to make.It's an easy seasoning  of just salt and pepper, and olive oil. Small slits are made throughout the meat for garlic cloves. Roasting takes two to three hours. The meat is cooked in a very hot oven at 375 degrees F for the first half hour to brown it, then at a lower 225 degrees F for the last ninety minutes.This gives you enough time to make the sides and gravy  too.Intermediate and experienced chefs may want to try something grander for Christmas dinner such as turkey.It's an elegant way to celebrate even though it can be a bit of work. Home chefs should roast the bird breast side down for a moister meat.It should be roasted on a bed of layered celery for a more delicious and flavorful gravy. Butter should be rubbed all over the outside for tender meat.It should be basted every so often. This makes the skin cracklier and crispier  and then it should be tented with aluminum foil.The bigger the turkey the more times it needs to cook. A small eight to twelve pound bird takes three hour, one double the size at sixteen pounds takes a whopping six to six and a half hours to thoroughly cook.

Don't freak out at making the holiday roast. Pick the one that fits your experience level and run with it. You'll come out with a memorable and delicious Christmas or New Year's dinner that will be perfect.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Griling in December

The temps should be frosty with Jack Frost nipping at our noses and chestnuts roasting on an open fire.Thanks to global warming however, we can still grill two weeks before  Christmas. Take advantage of these warm days and make use of the grill. T'is the season - to get the dogs and burgers out and roast them on an open fire.

Before you star grilling, take time to get everything ready. Utensils and charcoal may be have been put away around Labor Day or at the very last early October. Make sure you have enough briquettes for cooking, because it's the rare grocery store that sells them now, If you don't have any, don;t despair. Use twigs,preferably from fruit woods such as apple, cherry or plum. You can also use oak or chestnut twigs too. Avoid silver maple and birch, because the twigs flame up in a second and become too hot too fast.Even though it's probably been only two months since you last used your grill, check all lines and tanks. Make sure everything is working properly or you could wind up with a disaster on your hands. Thoroughly scrub the grill  to make sure the last of the summer meats is gone. Also make sure you you have  all your utensils, from roasting prongs to tongs ready. Word of warning, if it's too windy, think about holding off barbecuing, The gusts could cause an up draft  that will spell danger (and possibly singed eyebrows to say the least) You can grill on a slightly breezy day, Just keep a safe distance from the  house.

Winter meats can work on any grill. Think about roasting duck sausage for cassoulet.It'll give it a nice woodsy smoky flavor that will add to the stew..You can also cook other sausages too, such as beef and  pork, These would be a nice side dish with spaghetti or angel hair pasta, giving the dish an earthier taste.Chicken is usually considered a summer dish but you can still grill one, using the spatchcock method for thorough roasting. Turkey, the bird of the moment , can be grilled, even without using the butterfly or spatchcock method. It's just letting the bird sit for an hour to thaw out and then tie the cavity closed , evenly spread out the coals before roasting. It'll make for even cooking. Use a roasting pan and center it on the grate. Remember to keep adding briquettes as  the bord cooks. Have a meat thermometer at the ready. The bird's temperature should be cooked at 165 degrees Farenheit.. The entire process should take two to three hours or each pound takes ten minutes for cooking. Try the winter meats - pork and beef. Take advantage of this warm weather, to roast up a pork loin.It's an easy prep . Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper, and then placed on a lightly oiled grill. Cook over indirect heat for only thirty minutes. The internal temperature should read 145 degrees Farenheit. This is also the perfect time to grill a London Broil.It's is a quick grill with the meat cooking up only seven to ten minutes on each side.

Take advantage of the warm weather and grill.It's a nice way of cooking summer faves and satisfying those cravings. Roast up your favorite meat and enjoy!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Holiday Breads

One of the best treats of the holiday is a home baked bread or a tray of rolls.There are so many to choose from, from panettones to cinnamon rolls. They're a bit more work than the average bread or Christmas bake but so worth the work. They provide a tasty breakfast when opening presents or a nice snack before bedtime,

Panettone is one of Northern Italy's greatest holiday gifts. It is a yeast bread that will take forty-five minutes to completely bake,The traditional ones have a healthy mix of raisins and citron but you can also add cut dried apricots , pineapple and cranberries. Some home bakers add dark chocolate chips too for more flavor.Another favorite is the Veronese bread pan d'oro or golden bread.. It's egg and butter rich , and like it's fancier  cousin they need starters. This is similar to sourdough stater and can be either liquid or powder. Pan d'oro requires three different kinds of dough along with cocoa butter to give the crumb airiness.It's a very eggy one, requiring five large eggs to give it that rich, golden also requires overnight proofing and special molds to give it that "tall star" look. An easier recipe is pan dolce. It's a simpler version of panettone but there's also a dash of Sherry added along with anise and orange flower water., Like fruit breads, raisins and currents are added , but also pistachios and pine nuts for added savoriness and crunch,Across the Alps comes stollen, the German holiday bread.It's a yeast bread that uses honey instead of sugar. Raisins and citron are added after they're soaked in rum..Almonds and mace spice the dough while the filling has more spice in the form of cinnamon, sugar and butter.Again it's a dough that has to be proofed but only for a scant thirty minutes this time.

Holiday rolls and buns are always fun. Nothing beats waking up to a batch of hot, gooey cinnamon rolls. Many home bakers balk at the idea of making them from scratch but they're not as labor intensive as many think they are,It's still a yeast recipe that requires proofing. Butter and egg are added to a simple yeast dough for richness. The filling is cinnamon (I'd recommend buying Cinnabon's Makara cinnamon for this) .The icing too is easy/ Its a simple milk and powdered sugar one that can have the addition of butter or even coffee to vary the flavor.The Swedes welcome in the holidays with Saint Lucy 's Day and flavorful saffron buns.Despite the savory spice the buns are sweet,  thanks to the addition of currents or raisins.. They're known as lussebulle, and are baked in the traditional S shape. This is a bit of a labor intensive recipe for novice bakers but it still can be done to produce yummy tea rolls. The milk and saffron have to be cooked together first and then the yeast is added to it.Cardimon seeds are also used for more spice. The dough may be a bit dense thanks to the addition of  sour cream or  quark.(a Northern European version of cottage cheese). A simpler bun recipe is the British Chelsea bun, made similar to a cinnamon bun but with a filling of currents , raisins or apricots . They're sort of like the Pennsylvania Dutch sticky bun, much beloved in South Jersey (strange , I know but the recipe is popular in Atlantic and Cape May Counties)The Chelsea bun dough only takes an hour to rise  and then it's kneaded again and then baked. A simple glaze is then poured over the buns.

Holiday breads and rolls are not only fun to eat but a fun challenge to bake. The result is a yeasty, sweet treat, perfect for the holidays. Slather on a big gob of butter and enjoy.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Chowder And Rice Fritters

Despite the warm weather, it's a great time to make chowder and finish up with fried sweet rice balls. Yesterday's New York Times Food section had two recipes that would be great for the mid December lull and the end of Hanukkah,  One is a spicy soup from David Tanis in City Kitchen while Melissa Clark gives us a recipe beloved by Italian Jews in her Good Eats column.

On to the chowder first.  David Tanis gives us a spicy meat and potato kind that could work now or on a cool Spring or Summer day,It starts with fish. Mr Tanis used  smoked sablefish, a milder tasting fish for the base. Home chefs can use it but can also try any smoked fish such as whitefish, sturgeon, haddock or even eel or mussels.He sweats the onions first, then chorizo and cubed yellow fleshed potatoes (namely Yukon Gold). Leeks are also used to intensify the onion flavor and then the fish is added. Cut it into cubes and add with piquillo peppers. The last is fiery capiscum that adds heat and color to the broth , elevating it from just another seafood chowder to something special. Chopped cilantro is added to the finished product. for more color,giving it that holiday green and red contrast. This could be served at a tree trimming party along with an olive salad . Crusty Spanish bread, pan  de horno, drizzled with olive oil would also be a perfect mate to this soup. You could even float toasted slices of it on top of the chowder.. Mr. Tanis recommends an Iberian sherry or even a hearty Madeira to serve with it.

Melissa Clark gives us a variation of latkes that works for both Hanukkah and Christmas parties.They're rice fritters, a kind of arancini riff on the Sicilian savory classic rice ball.The recipe comes from Edda Servi Machlan''s 1992 cookbook "The Classic Cuisine Of Italian Jews" and features the chewier arborio rice than the regular minute kind.. The fritters also have pine nuts and raisins in it as well as a cheese center, similar to arancini. Ms. Clark punches up the raisins by soaking them in a warm brandy bath for twenty minutes.However these also have a hint of savoriness with the addition of thyme leaves and Parmesan cheese.. These rice patties do require more work than the average potato pancake,. A slurry of water and flour has to be made as a paste to hold the rice around the cheese and raisin the after . panko bread crumbs are the coating to give it the rice that nice crunchy crispness. The fritters are then fried in grapeseed oil.followed by a light sprinkle of sea salt. You can eat them straight from the fryer or even nibble on them an hour later.

If you want to liven up the December lull along with the last nights of Hanukkah, then make this chowder and rice fritters. They're an exciting departure from the usual. Try them for some fun eating.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Memories From Jacques Pepin

Jacques Pepin is one of the world's greatest chefs. He has contributed so much to the culinary world., giving us classic French recipes along with classic sound advice. As he turns eighty, he reflects on that in a special article in today's Food section of the New York Times, It's insightful and interesting, much like the chef himself

As with his fellow Frenchman, Marcel Proust, Chef Pepin, recounts his food memories, through taste and smell. He even calls to mind that moment when Proust's beloved madeleines bring the author back to his boyhood summers at his aunt's house in Normandy. The combined flavor of them mingled with the tea that they're dipped in, bring to mind, the heat of those summers, the family cook , the garden and finally the entire seaside town of Combray. Such is the sensual power of food. Chef Pepin has the same moments, many of them, in fact as he calls up his earliest culinary memories.He is, after all, a child of a restauranteur, He knows the power of a flavor or aroma. However his first strong memory was not in his mother's eatery but at  farm where he stayed during a school vacation. realizing he missed his mere, the farmer let him milk a cow,. The taste of warm, foamy , fresh milk seared into his memory, and forever shaped the way he looked at food.From there he waxes lyrically about his family's dishes, as he writes, our family recipes  are what shape us as people. They mold our tastes and define how we cook.It's obvious with Chef Pepin. He recalls his mother's treatment of fresh picked fingerling potatoes(skins that were simply rubbed off by gentle caressing and then sauteed in butter until crisp) and his Aunt Helene's chicken in cream sauce.

His life in America has also shaped his palate as well as his cooking style. Chef Pepin lives in Connecticut but has worked in some of the best kitchens in New York City. His recipes are linked to his local markets, in his town of Madison and the nearby town of Guilford. Eggs from a vibrant Jamaican named Nathalia also are part of the mix..He also credits a farm in Hammonnasset  for fresh peas and the Lobster Landing in nearby Clinton CT for lobster. The markets of his native southern France figure large in their influence, especially the ones from Provence such as Arles, Avignon and st. Remy. Seasons are another influence as well. He lovingly recalls the sensations and food that make up the year. Summer is walking in cool grass , picking up mushrooms or along the shore , gathering up tiny fish to be fried.It's picnics with a Gallic twist, lobster, corn, and fried chicken along with lukewarm tomatoes and cooled white wine , celebrated on the Hammonnasset River, Fall is the aroma of baking apple tarts, making cider, and the flavor of Concord grapes and his favorite holiday's Thanksgiving turkey.Winter brings him back to 1959 when he first arrived in New York City and smelled that Manhattan street classic roasted chestnuts.It's also the comforting aromas of bean stews and homemade split pea soup made with ham, along with cheese fondue. There is also fond remembrances of the holidays with oysters and foie gras, chocolate truffles and homemade caramel candies.

Chef Pepin could be considered the Proust of our age. He has such beautiful memories of the foods , flavors and aromas that have shaped his life. Every one should have those fond  and warm remembrances.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Books For Your Home Chefs

Cookbooks are always at the top of every foodie's and home chef's gift list. It's always great to get any type of cookbook. .They can expand horizons and introduce chefs to new skills and dishes. There are so many out there , that it's easy to make a choice .Give one that celebrates Mexican cuisine or one that celebrates SoCal cooking.

This past Sunday's New York Times Book section, Holiday Books issue suggests many good books to give (and also treat yourself to a couple); There are several ones that reflect certain cuisines . If your foodie loves the exotic eastern Mediterranean foods then gift them with Zahav:A  World Of Israeli Cooking(Rux Martin/Howard Mifflin  ) written by chef Michael Solomonov with Stephen Cook. Zahav is one of Philadelphia's hottest restaurants, featuring delicious Israeli food and the cookbook is a reflection of that. Recipes include tahini sauce and harissa, that flavorful blend of spices.If your home chef has a thing for all things Scandinavian , then The Nordic Cookbook
(Phaidon Publishing, $49.95) is for him or her. Author Magnus Nilsson offers traditional and modern recipes from such diverse areas as Finland and Greenland = although your home chef may want to think twice about cooking a cute puffin stuffed with cake recipe. Mexican food buffs will surely enjoy Lesley Teller's Eat Mexico:Recipes From Mexico's City Streets Markets and Fondas (Kyle Publishing $24.95).It has steak flautas along with the recipe for the ultra decadent Mexican hot chocolate, champurrado.

Home chefs who appreciate simple cooking and the chemistry   behind it will love unwrapping The Food Lab:Better Home Cooking Through Science (Norton $49.95). It explains everything from temperature to food safety to labeling.The science of browning, rising , emulsifying and marinating is also parsed out  There is also The Laws of Cooking And How To Break Them (Flatiron $35) by Justin Warner, a fun books that has laws like law of peanut butter and jelly  where fat complements sweet and the law of coffee, cream and sugar - bitter compliments sweet  The book also has how to repurpose used marinade into a tasty gravy by boiling it,Mark Bittman fans should appreciate his Mark BIttman's Kitchen Matrix (Pam Kraus/Crown $35) He celebrates chicken done a variety of ways namely using the paillard method of cooking. Women Chefs Of New York (Absolute/Bloomsbury $35) which features the recipes of such chefs as April Bloomfield, Missy Robbins, Sasha Miranda and Sawako Okochi along with Gabriel Hamilton. Her recipe for sardines cornichons and Dijon mustard on Triscuits could work for any holiday party or a snowy night in..California cuisine lovers may appreciate Travis Lett's GJelena Cooking From Venice California (Chronicle $35). Recipes include grilled kabocha squash with mint pomegranate pesto and rye rags(!??) with sausage , mushroom  fennel along with rustic corn grits served with mushroom sugo and poached eggs.

A cookbook is a wonderful holiday gift.Home chefs and foodies alike will enjoy the surprise of receiving a book that will educate them as well as expanding their culinary horizons It's a present that keeps on giving,

Monday, December 7, 2015

Hanukkah Party Time

Today ii the second day of Hanukkah, the festival of lights. It's a time to celebrate , and of course eat fun treats.As with any other holiday., it's celebrated differently throughout the world. There are some yummy treats that work well at any Hanukkah party.

The holiday is known for homemade latkes or potato pancakes.These symbolize the miracle of the festival when the last jar of oil not touched by the Greeks lasted for eight days - hence the reasoning whythe holiday lasts for that long. Latkes are usually made with grated potatoes mixed with onions.This is the traditional way however you can also make them with mashed potatoes..This creates a creamy middle yet it still has a nice crispy, crunchy crust. You can add shallots and parsley  for more flavor and color. another way of adding color is making latkes with root vegetables.Mayim Bialik (Amy Farrah Fowler on "The Big Bang Theory") has an excellent recipe for this in her cookbook, Mayim's Vegan Table (Lifelong Books Publishers). Carrots ,zucchini and red pepper make the batter festively colorful while matzoh meal and egg are the binders. You can use a real egg instead of the egg substitute. Sweet potatoes can also be turned into latkes They're basically made the same way as the regular ones with one more egg added.These can be served with yogurt and sour cream or plain yogurt.

Another Hanukkah favorite is sufganiyot , another treat deep fried in oil. It's a kind of  yeast jelly doughnut. that actually originated in North Africa. The recipe is a hybrid  from the Ashkenazi Jews who resettled in Israel who combined the recipe with their ponchke one, a type of Berliner. The original recipe called for two pieces of dough sandwiching a blob of jam and then deep frying it. A better way is making the dough and frying it first and then filling it with a syringe. The filling is usually strawberry or raspberry jam. Dust with powdered or granulated sugar.You can fill them with salted caramel or dulce de leche.If you're having a party you make want to think about baking dreidl cookies. These are just a basic sugar cookie dough rolled out to look like the four sided top. Ice it with the familiar symbols of nes, gadol,haya and shan. If you want a more substantial dinner then make the traditional brisket with carrots and potatoes.You can also serve with meat with latkes.Noodle kugel is another nice dish that could go sweet or savory. It can be served as a meal or as a dessert, depending on the ingredients.

Hanukkah is a time of good food and good eating. Fry up a batch of latkes for a fun crunchy treat or a jam filled sufganiyot for a bite between games. Enjoy this festive time with festive sweets and savories.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Pre-Party Ready

Now that the holiday party season has officially kicked off , party goers need to know one thing.Don;t go to any soiree or tree trimming party hungry. It pays to have a mini meal before hand. You'll feel better along with not getting drunk so quickly on an empty stomach.

One of my pre party rituals is always having a cup of simple vegetable broth and a few crackers before hand. This satisfies me until I actually eat again which is usually late .A cup of hot , steamy broth is also fortifying.I'm satisfied along with knowing I won;t wolf down all sorts of rich party foods later on . Nothing is more uncomfortable than the after effects of gorging on an empty stomach . Most nutritionists also recommend eating other low calories snacks such as raw carrots and celery sticks, Having a snack of these three or four hours before the actual feast will help you keep sated.If you want more protein spread a dab of peanut butter on the celery . It can also go on crackers too. Cheese and crackers are another good go to pre festivity snack as are grapes.If you know you;re eating very late - anywhere from nine PM to midnight, then think about heating up a light soup for yourself. Any vegetable soup is good or even a ramen noodle soup. They;'re light  and filling, able to stave your appetite until the later hours.

Another plus about eating early is that it helps with not getting drunk. If you have a boozy night ahead then plan on carbo loading before hand. Again , a cup of Ramen noodles is probably your best bet. It's mild but filling. You can even add a beaten egg to it for more protein.Pizza surprisingly is a pre partier's best friend, but this may be too much before a big do. Try a simple grilled cheese or better yet a sandwich filled with one or two slices of any kind of cold cut. instead Also just a toasted muffin, bagel or English muffin will  help in you absorbing that run punch or champagne cocktail. Surprisingly a baked potato is another good mini meal before all that holiday punch.Potatoes are pure starch which can easily absorb the alcohol.Just make a simple one, butter on top with salt and pepper, Leave the cheese and chili for another day. Ddespite what the old wives tales say, drinking milk before boozing is not a good idea. The alcohol will curdle it on your stomach leaving you nauseous and ready to hurl. Keep away from it and ice cream.

Eating before a big holiday party is a must.  Have a small sandwich or a cup of broth You'll feel better and won't arrive hungry, ready to gobble down anything.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Healthy Holiday Cookies

Many think it's as rare as actually seeing Santa Claus or even an elf? What is it? A batch of healthy holiday cookies.Is there such a thing? More importantly what would they taste like?Well, there is such a thing and healthy good for you cookies actually are flavorful.

Many home bakers and cookie affectionadoes blanch at the very notion of a healthy holiday treat. After all Christmas is supposed to be a time for indulgences with buttery rich shortbreads and icing laden gingerbread men. Yet you don't have to give up flavor for a tasty plate of goodness.One of the most popular to bake during this season is the sugar cookie. One sub in white flour with spelt. along with coconut or evaporated cane sugar.Home bakers could sub in the healthier brown sugar, however this makes for a very chewy sugar cookie. Most holidays ones have a snap and crunch to them.Use a butter type spread such as Earth Balance sticks. They are non dairy yet have a buttery taste.Unfortunately the icing does have to have confectioner's sugar to create a smooth paste, however you can add skim milk or make an icing using macadamia nuts and shredded coconut.Peanut butter cookies are another holiday fave. You can sub in maple syrup for refined white sugar Applesauce can be added too along with organic peanut butter. Chocolate chip, that holiday cookie platter must have can be remade into something healthier.One, you can sub in carob chips for chocolate ones. Another sub in  -oatmeal flour  or whole heat for an extra chewy bite.Again use coconut and sucanat -which is whole cane sugar that hasn't been refined.

Of course it wouldn't be Christmas without the classic snickerdoodle. This time they can be a good for you indulgence, with the addition of organic sucanat and using Earth Balance  faux butter .sticks. Use a  lot of cinnamon when making these because the spice can help in lowering blood pressure as wekll as aiding in combating stomach flu. Oatmeal cookies are a must have. These can be made as healthy as possible., with whole wheat flour and honey along with brown sugar. An egg is used as a binder although there recipes that do use applesauce as a binder instead. Raisins are the preferred extra but you can also add dried cranberries for color and more flavor, along with dark chocolate chips. What would Christmas be without the classic gingerbread men and house?. You can still bake these  but with a better for you spin.. Use whole wheat pastry flour instead of white, coconut oil for butter and the oil dark molasses for white sugar.The last is high in potassium, iron,Vitamin B calcium and magnesium.You could use royal icing to decorate or a glaze. As for the gingerbread house, sub in healthy decorations rather than candy. Have an almond decorated roof along with Craisins around the windows and doors.Shredded coconut can be sprinkled on top to simulate snow. Another fun idea with the molasses is using it to make classic molasses snaps, using whole wheat flour and egg whites.

Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as a healthy Christmas cookie that is delicious. You can make a whole slew of them, including the classic gingerbread house. They're a treat that's good for you.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Foodie Gifts Foodie Fun

The gift giving season is upon us. It's the time of year to stress about what would be the perfect gift. Luckily foodies and homes chefs are the easiest people to buy for. There's always an interesting food or new gadget that's sure to please them. That's what makes shopping for them so much fun but shoppers do need a guide This helps in selecting the right gift.

Yesterday's New York Times Food section knows this and supplied readers with a two page gift guide in their holiday section. There are some interesting ideas that are sure to please everyone. Candy canes are front and center in this  and they're in both traditional and very non traditional flavors. Hammond's Candies of Denver Colorado produces the old fashioned peppermint kind along with sugar plum and birthday cake flavors. (however  be warned one candy cane is $2.95 and $30.00 for a dozen) Anglophiles and butter lovers will go mad for English toffee.from Littlejohn's Candies. This Los Angeles fave also has bacon caramels for the Paleos in your life  as well as fudge in a variety of different flavors.Tired of sweet, then try unami and spicy Gochuan Korean Hot Sauce ,a hot chili paste that's sweet, spicy and savory. It's not just for bulgoki but for adding zest and zing to ribs, burgers and dogs.For something truly different try Scourtins the savory butter cookie with the addition of a briny olive paste.(!) Lark Fine Foods bake them in their Essex Massachusetts facility.They're known for their interesting pairings such as burnt caramel and rosemary in the company's other cookies.If you have a true meat lover in your life then gift him or her with Nodine's Smokehouse bacon sampler. It has the German influenced juniper infused bacon along with garlic flavored and the classic apple wood smoked one. Get nut lovers pecans from Cleveland Organics for both nibbling and baking,

The guide has some intriguing gadgets for home chefs.A sweetly  old fashioned  one is the Chef Time from Piq.This is an ultra cute kitchen timer with a toque wearing chef's mustache sporting head on top. Messy home chefs and home bakers will appreciate the sturdily made apron from Les Toiles de Soleil. It's pricey at $75.00  but it's made of a durable cotton that will last through splashes and washings.It's in a bright striped pattern that will liven up any kitchen Innovative chefs will appreciate the Spiralizer from Kitchen Aid.. It's the size of a mixer and comes with four different peelers. You can not only make carrot ribbons with it but also peel and slice apples along with coring and slicing.Another must is a set of thirteen wooden spoons from Dura Artisans. These are hand carved beechwood from India and are all different sizes and spoon shapes. If your home chef craves elegance then surprise them with a classic looking cabbage leaf bowl from Williams -Sonoma.It's a beautifully crafted bowl from Portugal with a special commemorative stamp celebrating the store's centennial. If your home chef s more the Pioneer Woman kind of cook then  thrown in a triangle dinner bell from Schoolhouse Electric. It's a high end gift at $65.00 but a fun one that will last years.

This holiday season give your special foodie, home chef or home baker a unique gift. Using the Times Food Holiday guide , you 'll find the right present that will be thoroughly enjoyed. It's just a little help that will go a long way in the marathon that is the holiday shopping season.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Times Holiday Issue

For the last three weeks  the New York Times Wednesday section has been offering helpful hints and recipes regarding Thanksgiving.Now they're helping home chefs and bakers tackle the onslaught of holiday baking and cooking. There's also a guide to gift giving but that'll be for tomorrow. Today it's all about the bake.

The big guns of the Food section, Julia Moskin, David Tanis, Martha Rose Shulman and Joan Nathan give us the skinny on both sweet and savory . Even the front page has a lovely picture of chocolate reindeer cookies (and of course the lead one does have a red nose.)The recipe is on the next page, dark chocolate espresso snap that only needs royal icing because the flavor is so intense. A California reader, Mari Pfeiffer sent it in and it's from Great Cookies Cookbook by author and teacher Carole Walter. You could even make them and then hang them on the tree as ornaments.Martha Rose Shulman who often contributes healthy recipes to the Tuesday science Times gives us gluten free cookies. Hers are meringues and haystacks, traditionally flour free treats. The meringues are heavily laced with chocolate which cuts the cookie's sweetness.They're a nice departure from the traditional flour ones, providing the right amount of crunch and chewiness. Haystacks are a fun treat,This variation has sugar, butter, evaporated milk and salt cooked in a saucepan and then rolled oats , shredded coconut and vanilla is added.It's then mixed and spoonfuls are dropped onto parchment paper or cookie sheets to cool.

Julia Moskin, David Tanis,and Joan Nathan give us the savory side of holiday baking. Ms.. Moskin has ideas and recipes for different types of challah for the Hanukkah meal.Everyone knows it as a golden braided loaf with a sweet taste  however this is the Ashkenazi, Eastern European Jews, namely the ones from Hungary , version. Sephardic Jews, from Spain make a crunchy rounded loaf, redolent with sesame, caraway and cumin seeds. It's perfect with just honey or dipped into a spicy tagine. The North African and Middle Eastern Jews bake    plain ones with just a touch of sugar and a bit more spices. Another Hanukkah favorite is latke, those crispy fried potato pancakes celebrating  the miracle of the temple.Joan Nathan gives us her aunt's recipe which involves mashed potatoes instead of the usual grated ones. She also adds dill, parsley and shallots for more flavor. They're fried in the oil of the moment  - coconut oil.. This potato puff kind retains more of the vegetable's flavor  as opposed to the grated latke which has an oilier taste. David Tanis  contributes yummy onion tartlet recipes that work at any holiday party. It's a simple butter crust ,faintly lemony thanks to a dash of lemon juice. The topping is caramelized onions and a covering of Gorgonzola or blue cheese.You can sub in a milder cheese like Fontina if the other is too sharp. He also recommends using the dough recipe for galettes and other savory tarts.

Home bakers will love this issue. There are some great recipes, from the chocolate snaps to the onion tartlets to try. Everything is the perfect treat for the holidays ahead!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Great American Holiday Bake Show

Can something very very English translate to American? Sort of, as we've seen in a variety of TV shows that originated across the pond. There's another reincarnation, this time an American version of The Great British Baking Show. It highlights some of this country's best amateur bakers with an Yankee twist.

There has been some criticism regarding the show which airs on ABC Monday nights at ten PM. The hosts husband and wife Ian Gomez (he of Cougartown) and Nia Vardalos of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding " fame  chat and banter with the judges, Mary Berry, imported from the British show and Johnny Iuzzini ,a renowned pastry chef and former head judge on Top Chef : Just Desserts. Gomez and Vardalos don;t have the plummy, highly witty panache that the British hosts,Sue Perkins and Mel Gieidroyc. These ladies would fit right in with Jeeves and Wooster with their puns and sarky asides, along with their Pythonesque silliness. Sadly the Gomezes are more like your neighbors , offering help along as with lame jokes. Even "Ready, set, BAKE!!!", the show's "Tally Ho"  comes off as a weak mew  where their Brit counterparts shout it exuberantly. The format is the same., three bakes an episode, starting off with a signature, followed by a technical, then the showstopper.. Mary Berry is the same on this four week competition, as she is on the British ,a  kind of sweet but crackly Home Ec teacher. What is missing is the beefy sexiness of Paul Hollywood along with his sharp tongue. He is the perfect foil for Ms. Berry, tart to her treacle. Johnny Iuzzini is good as a judge, offering suggestions, but he's kind of like the sycophant assistant teacher, trying to cozen up to Ms. Berry for a promotion,.There's no smoldering fire there  to bake anyone's cake. Mr. Hollywood was a judge on a similar American spinoff, The American Baking Competition with Jeff Foxworthy back in the summer of 2013. That interpretation was just a little more livelier.

What about the bakers themselves?Are they as personable as their British counterparts? Yes,.as with the British mother ship, the bakers come from all over the country , offering a wider range of regional sweets and accents than the original show. They're not as catty or as backstabbing as other American reality show contestants. They're more like students attending an elite baking class ,. This makes watching the show addictive and refreshing . The bakers are all so nice, you find yourself rooting for all of them. The Yanks  face up to the challenges with the same , grace courage and determination as their English counterparts. Gomez and Vardalis joke with them, although it's not the same as Sue and Mel. The couple also tell the audience about each contestant's signature and show stopper bakes,with the same story book graphics, that explain designs and ingredients to the viewers. The challenges are interesting with the bakers coming up with gingerbread pagodas and Eiffel Towers (well this is the holdiay competition after all). There is a top baker chosen by Mary and Johnny and sadly one baker has to go home. The setting is done in an airy tent in the middle of a lush field where contestants are also interviewed.

Will Americans cozy up to The Great American Holiday Baking Show? ABC is probably hoping so, however diehard fans will still watch the original British one. It's a semi sweet treat that's fun for foodies to watch.