Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Marble Cake To Do

The second day oof the baking extravaganza commenced. As often as I write about baking to be honest I haven't made a two layer cake in over thirty-two years. To be honest I can see why.

The bake started out OK.
Of course I went to my go to cake mix brand - Duncan Hines. I can;'t say enough about how consistent their cakes are. This is my first foray into two pan baking. I used I Can"t Believe It's Not Butter to grease the 8 inch circular pans. These are the best to bake with.

Marble cakes requires two packages, One is a yellow cake mix, the smaller white one is the cocoa powder that is to be mixed with a cup of batter

Below is the chocolate batter swirled with a knife in the batter. You can use a knife, I used a Slushie spoon which gave the two layers a nice swirl effect.
See/// The upper picture is the baked layers, Even the raw batter looks cool.
Now comes the fun part., Home made chocolate buttercream icing.
Again to be honest I borrowed from a few recipes on line and cobbled them into my own.
The most important ingredient is butter and I used the best  - twelve tablespoons of Kerry Gold
Second most important is the cocoa.I used Hershey's baking powder .abotu a cup to create a rich , fudgy flavor.

To give it smoothness and flavor I used Stop & Shop's whole cream. about  half the carton and two tablespoons of Neisnen Massey vanilla. I could have added sea salt to balance out that sweet, but that may create too much of a contrast. The icing was a pain to blend, even when using an electric mixer.
My kitchen and self were coated in this.
The end result was pretty good - a very smooth  and creamy fudg elike frosting that held its' own. I used an icing knife which is a must have for any home baker.
It looks like a giant Dingdong doesn't it?
his is the perfect cake and frosting for a fun get together. It is labor intensive but worth it.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Second Big Baking Extravganza

Today was the start of the second holiday extravaganza. Since the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies were such a success I decided to try y hand with the Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix. I made a double batch because the oatmeal chocolate chip ones basically went overnight (thanks to friends - not me.)

This is the mix
These are the eggs.

You can see the two eggs peeking out from behind. Two sticks of butter were also needed. Again I used the best - Kerry Gold and microwaved them for only five seconds this time as opposed to ten. The reason, so they wouldn't get all melty and runny when I would take them out of the microwave.Bad idea. It took Herculean strength to mix the two sticks with the two eggs and two packages of mix. I seriously thought of putting the whole thing into the microwave to melt the butter but that would also cook the eggs. I just had to add extra muscle.
Truth be told it was the hardest dough to work with, by far. I had leftover Christmas sprinkles so they also went into tthe batter for some color and fun

Since I like the bigger cookies, I used tablespoon sized balls.
I also had help, from my girl, Sunny..
Here is the finished product. 100, yes 100 Christmas funfetti sugar cookies. that took just two cookies trays(used repeatedly and three hours.
Would I do this again? Only with help from friends and family.
Tomorrow it's tackling  marble cake with choclate buttercream icing . Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Monkeying Around With Bread

One of the items on my New Year's must bake list is bread. I haven't baked a loaf or roll since high school -yikes - and would like to start up again./One recipe in yesterday's New York Times intrigued me. Monkey bread. It looks like a fun bake for when friends stop over.

Julia Moskin wrote about this popular loaf that is only about thirty or thirty-five years old. It was Nancy Reagan, former First lady of the nation and California that made this Golden State creation popular. Mrs. Reagan's recipe called for a dinner roll recipe in which two layers of  butter dipped dough balls were placed in a pan and baked. Beaten egg was brushed over the surface to give the top layer a burnished brown color.This version could be used for breakfast with the rolls slathered with butter or jam or a Sunday lunch or weeknight dinner where the rolls could be dipped in gravy. Thirty years later extra's have been added . One of the first combinations were sugar and cinnamon, taken from Hungarian coffee cake that many bakeries made at the time.American home bakers have gone crazy and creative with the recipe. There are savory versions that feature pepperoni in one recipe, while peanut butter figures prominently in another. There's even a gorilla bread that includes cream cheese and canned buttermilk biscuits/ Pastry chef Claudia Fleming of  The North Fork Table and Inn  on Long Island's North Fork gilds her with a maple bacon glaze.

Ms. Moskin  prefers a simple version, opting for the modern classic. Hers is one with  the sandy sweet filling of a cinnamon roll and the coating of pecans and caramel of a sticky bun. It also has the plump majesty of a Bundt cake, resembling an edible crown. It will also be a scratch bread. She advises not using those buns such as Pilsbury's.. It may be an easy and convenient way to make the bread however keep in mind that there will be  that salty flavor, a dough loaded with preservatives and a funny chemical aftertaste. Ms. Moskin uses fellow Food writer, Melissa Clark's, of  A Good
Appetite column bread recipe. It seems simple enough  It's a basic white bread dough. There's no need to go on a hunt for a starter. There are no long risings or unfamiliar flours. It can even be transformed into a pull apart garlic bread with melted garlic butter for the coating and Parmesan cheese and parsley for the filling.As with any bread recipe , it is a labor intensive one.that involves a lot of kneading and proofing. The caramel sauce Ms Moskin gives looks like a fun and tasty one, especially with the addition of a  lot of heavy cream and butter.

Monkey bread is definitely on my radar in the New Year. A sweet version would be great for breakfast or brunch. A savory version would be great alongside pasta or homemade soup. Either way it'll be an interesting bake,

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Maine Shrimp Drought

Once again global warming is ruining how we eat. This time it's the Maine shrimping industry that's being hit. What that translates into is shutting down fisheries and locals losing jobs. It also means that the taste of Maine shrimp will be a memory.

Mary Pols who's more into sustainability than cooking and a regular contributor to Down East wrote this extensive and in depth look into her native Maine's  shrimp industry.It's the main story in today's New York Times Food section. This won't be the first time the industry will be closed. It first happened in 2014 when regulators shut down fishing. The hope was that the shrimp would reproduce enough to replenish the waters and jump start a local industry that was ion the verge of dying. Now the fisheries are being closed through the upcoming year - and it's not the fault of local fisherman. Rather it's climate change - and in effect - all of us that are responsible for this problem. To the average person Maine waters may still seen chilly - even in the summer but water temps have been rising four and a half degrees since 1906. This results in poor egg production and even poorer survival rate for shrimp larvae. Fisherman still want to bring them in. After all, they reason, why not reap what's left?There's also a plus in all of this. Prices for them will rise thanks to the scarcity which means a bigger profit.

Maine shrimp isn;t really widely known outside the state. They're a very small breed, usually used in shrimp cocktails, soups and shrimp salads. They similar to Oregon shrimp in color - a bright reddish pink and size.  Many Downeasters prize it, using it in all sorts of dishes. There have always been cookbooks written about it, the first starting in 1906 with the Proved And Tested Cooking Receipts by The Ladies of The Universalist Society of Rockland. The dish reflected the times, shrimp a la creme, a dish similar to Lobster Newberg. Local home chefs even canned it.Politicians tried to raise its' profile as did Everett F Greaton, the executive secretary of Maine's Development Commission and a booster of all Maine products.He served Maine apples stuffed with the crustaceans (!!) to the governor of the time. Mind, you this was back in 1942.More modern recipes include the roadside favorite, deep fried shrimp served piled high in a paper tray and doused with ketchup. For home chefs interested in cooking Maine shrimp, be warned. They are very expensive.Prices can range from $70  fro just two pounds!use them in bisque or salads, They're not really good for kabobs or as an hors d'ouevres.

Maine shrimp are just the latest victims in the climate change disaster. Hopefully the ban starting January 1st will help in saving them. However, it's up to us to also try to preserve them.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Boxing Day Repurposing

Today is Boxing Day - usually referred to as Christmas' sad sibling. It's the day when leftovers from Christmas rule and that means cold turkey, ham, or prime rib sandwiches . However those leftovers can be repurposed into tasty and hot dishes  that are so delicious , they'll overshadow yesterday's meal. It's just getting creative with what's in the fridge.

One of the best renditions of leftovers comes from the Great British Baking show judge, Paul Hollywood.His is a take on Chelsea Buns a kind of cinnamon bun. This one is both sweet and savory thanks to the addition of leftover shredded turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. The dough is a surprisingly sweet  which actually works well with the other ingredients .It's rolling the yeast  dough out into a square,letting it proof. and then spoon and spread out the cranberry sauce first. It's then sprinkling on the shredded turkey and crumbled stuffing.The dough is later rolled like a jelly sponge and cut into pieces. Place the rolls, swirly, side up in a deep roasting pan or baking tray. Let it go through a second rise for an hour before baking it at 400 degrees Farenheit. You probably can do the same with shredded ham too but instead of cranberry sauce, try a layer of mustard for some kick.Another of Mr. Hollywood's recipe is a Boxing Day pie made with the same ingredients as the buns, turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, done in layers. The crust is a hot water crust.I don't see why this can't be done with leftover ham and possibly scalloped potatoes.

Another way of getting rid of that holiday turkey or ham is turning it into a tasty salad. For the turkey mix it with mayo, celery and tarragon. Serve it on warmed croissants for a lovely lunch. The same can be done with the ham,  Ham salad can be served on pretzel rolls for a hearty lunch or even dinner.Ham can also be repurposed in homemade pea soup. Definitely save the bone for this. Prime rib is an elegant meal the first time its' served. It becomes a hearty ingredient as it transforms into leftovers.Try making a hash with it. Add any leftover baked potatoes,preferably Idahos along with a chopped white onion and celery .You can also use leftover mashed potatoes too. Rosemary and parsley are added for more flavor.  First the onion and celery are sauteed in butter, then the meat and potatoes are added along with Tabasco and ketchup.everything is cooked in an eight inch saute pan for only a couple of minutes. The pan is then transferred to a 450 degree Farenheit oven for ten to fifteen minutes. Serve with fried or sunny side up eggs. You could also turn the leftover prime rib into a soup.Combine with cubed potatoes and fresh sliced mushrooms with two cups of beef stock.Serve with crusty , buttered rolls for a hearty soup on a cold day,

Boxing Day doesn't have to mean cold leftovers. Turn yesterday's feast into hearty tasty dishes. They'll be tastier the second time around.

Monday, December 25, 2017

A Christmas Full Of Flavor

Today is Christmas and one of the things everyone remembers is the flavors and aromas of the day. who ca forget the salty ,sweet taste of a ham or the spiciness of a gingerbread man? This is the day for home chefs and home bakers to create the best memories for their families.I will always remember my Mom's swan cream puffs, the delicate shape of the swans"necks and the airy vanilla creme filling I will never forget her German style ham, with the crunchy crackling crust along with the family recipe potato salad, made crunchy with the addition of celery.

Never be afraid to make  memories and lasting impressions in the kitchen It's the sign of an excellent cook and baker.


Saturday, December 23, 2017

Your Last Minute Christmas Dinner Check List

This is probably the most hectic weekend of the year. Home chefs are probably stressing about the big Christmas Eve dinner tomorrow or the one  on Monday >Now is a time to good to write up a list and check it twice - to ensure a hassle free meal full of good food and good cheer,.

First of all make sure all the holiday table linens are clean and up t snuff.If you want set the table tonight or tomorrow. Enlist your bored teen or tween to roll up the napkins and slide the  napkin rings on them. . Also check the good silver or gold cutlery to make sure that nothing is tarnished. The same goes for the matching ladles and serving spoons. Once you've done that it's time to assess the pantry and fridge.Do you have enough butter for both cooking and the table? Ditto for the margarine. Do you have enough spices such as sage for the dressing if you're serving turkey and cloves for the ham?
If you're making bked beans from scratch is there plenty of brown sugar or molasses? Are you low on garlic,or oregano? Now is the time to run to the store to get them.Make sure you have enough canned veggies if you;re going that route for sides. Eggs always factor into the holiday cooking equation too, whether as an ingredient or the star of a holiday brunch or breakfast. Buy enough so that you don't suffer a shortage..As far as rolls, they'll keep so get them now if you haven't already  The ham and the turkey should have been bought already. Waiting until the last minute could result in getting a smaller bird or  a canned ham as opposed to a fresh one.

Seafood has to be bought fresh if you're planning to celebrate Christmas Eve the  Southern Italian  way. However shrimp can be bought frozen and then thawed out.It can be done by either letting it sit in the fridge for twenty four hours or placing them in an airtight bag and running hot tap water over them.If you're planning on serving them as an appetizer, then also make sure you have enough shrimp cocktail sauce or the ingredients to make your own. Another question is  - do I have the proper pans for roasting? if not  now is a good time to head to the grocery and pck up a disposable f oil one (you can buy the read deal after the holiday during the January white sales) Make sure that your carving knives are all honed and sharp. The next step is looking over the smaller pots and making sure you have enough to cook the sides.Also check the sizing on your microwave ones too. You may have to use the old nuke machine if you don't have enough burners. For those planning a Christmas buffet make sure your sterno cans work, If one or more has dried out , then get new ones today. Luckily they can last twelve to fifteen years.

Keeping abreast of your Christmas dinner is important. it will make for smooth prep and cooking.. It's one less headache you have to deal with during a busy day in the kitchen.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Baking Extravaganza Day Two Cookies

Today was the cookie extravaganza. I went the quick route using a mix . To be honest I haven't baked cookies in  a long time so I was a tad rusty. Honestly, there were a lot of mistakes and hair pulling moments.

First of all I microwaved the butter - again the good Irish butter Kerry Gold.Do it for 10 seconds.It lets the butter get soft while still maintaining its' shape.

This is the mix, the Betty Crocker oatmeal cookie one. It requires the butter one egg and a tablespoon o
of cold tap water. It was a hard mix with me adding I Can't Believe It's Not Butter to get
it somewhat malleable.I added mini chocolate chips, the Stop & Shop brand to make it that much special
These are the two sheets I used. One is a mega sheet I just bought at Target.You can't see the details, but the surface is pebbled to create a better heat flow around the dough.The other is my Mom's old cookie sheet that has been through a lot.
Unfortunately I misread the directions and instead of teaspoon sized ball I used the tablespoon size instead. The first batch came out somewhat raw.and chewy.. Subsequent batches were then scaled down to the proper size. They burned It was a headache of a bake, although the cookies came out somewhat O.K.They were baked in a 375 degree Farenheit oven at ten to fifteen minutes a batch.

They look relatively fine, they taste yummy but next time I will make oatmeal cookies from scratch . I don't like the mixes.

So that was my two day , tiring but a learning experience. Next time I will space out the baking. Two days in a row is just too darned much.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Bakezilla Day One

Today was Day One of my holiday baking extravaganza. I forgot that cupcake making is a lot like childbirth. You tend to forget the agony and pain until you start the process again.It was definitely worth it, despite the battle with the icing.I enjoyed making the Christmas funfetti cupcakes. As you can see from the pictures, they're even pretty sans the topping. I may just try naked cupcakes for Valentine's Day.

Here's the batter with the sprinkles. Most recipes call for 1/2 cup .I used a little more for a really dotted effect.The cake batter was Duncan Hines's lemon cake mix.The lemon gives it some bite and kick
It kinds of looks like a beaten egg with red and green pepper bits.

These are the sprinkles  used, bought from my Stop & Shop's bakery department.
This is the festive cupcake paper, also bought from Stop & Shop. They're pretty and fun, and the reason I went with green icing. - to provide a nice contrast.
These are my beauties baked. You can see how pretty and colorful they look without the icing.I may try the "naked" look for Valentine's Day (the cupcakes - not  ME  of course)

These are the ingredients for my favorite cream cheese icing. I went upscake  and used Kerry Gold Butter instead of the usual spread. I also added a splash of  whole milk to make the icing creamier
Four cups of confectioner's sugar was used. This was right after I creamed the cream cheese and  butter together. I microwaved the butter beforehand for thirty seconds to soften it.It really helps.

Two teaspoons of vanilla gives it flavor. I prefer Neisen Massey. They're is the best and purest form of the essence.
I used a lot of green food coloring from McCormick, It looks like a kale leaf snuck in there.Luckily  it spread and became a festive leafy green

These are the finished gems. I added a puff of more icing after I spread on an initial layer with my icing spreader (a must have for any home baker)>The puffs were added with my 
Wilton decorator gadget.I am a proud cupcake mama but my babies are gorgeous.!

These are a  lot of work but there is a certain amount of fun there.Tomorrow I tackle cookies!!!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Holiday Breakfast Treats

Holiday breakfasts should be just as grand as the main meals. They should be flavorful and fun, the perfect meal to start the day, especially with relatives or friends staying over. They could be sweet, savory or both.

Yottam Ottolenghi wrote about breakfasts today in the Wednesday section of the New York Times. It's basically an article about finding the right foods for his young sons. It can be frustrating , especially when trying to create a nutritious and flavorful first meal. In order to do such, Chef Ottolenghi has to use the weekends which offer the luxury of time. An extra hour can let anyone create a well thought out breakfast and give one  time to really concentrate on the meal. His first recipe is maple-cardamon saffron sticky buns. These are yeast based and that may scare some home bakers. The buns are the standard saffron ones and the kick comes from the icing made from maple syrup and cardamon.It is made in a monkey bread formation of eight dough balls stuck together to form a ring.They're pulled apart later. The syrup is made by crushing the cardamon and discarding their pods.. This  is mixed with a vanilla bean paste, melted butter and maple syrup.It's cooked into a thick syrup and then brushed over the newly baked buns. Chef Ottolenghi suggests serving them with clotted cream, but try them with butter and fleur de sel.

The other dish is potato hot cakes with cheddar cream and salsa verde. This is a perfect Christmas or New Year's Day breakfast. The hotcakes are like latkes or potato pancakes.He recommends using Yukon Golds, slicing them and first crisping them in a 450 degrees Farenheit oven . After baking ,the skins are then discarded and the meat is mashed. Lemon juice, two eggs and seasonings are added. They're then fried in olive oil , again, similar to latkes.They're topped with sunnyside up eggs and a cheddar sauce. This is made by mixing the cheese with sour cream. It's finished off with a salsa verde, a green sauce made with chopped parsley and tarragon. Capers are added for saltiness and tang  and garlic is added for more flavor. It's then ladled onto the eggs and hotcakes, giving them color. I don't see why some leftover Christmas ham can be slipped in between the eggs and hotcakes It would definitely make them more substantial. Chef Ottolenghi also suggests scattering mustard seeds on top too. If not, try a slight dusting of some sea salt and freshly ground pepper. If you want to  make it a tad healthier, use egg whites instead of the whole egg and use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

These are perfect breakfasts for any holiday brunch or breakfast.  Try them for a tasty and substantial first meal. They are a great way to start a winter's day.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Eating Clean

The holidays mean rich and fatty foods. There will be more drinking and feasting of fat laden snacks and sugary treats. It can do a number on the stomach - not to mention the liver and pancreas. The best way to combat this is clean eating. Think simple and nutritious as opposed to decadent and opulent.

Breakfast is a good meal to start clean eating. A simple bowl of oatmeal is always filling and welcome on a hot morning. The same goes for farina. Save the fancy Eggs Benedict or cream cheese stuffed French toast for Christmas or New Year's Day mornings. Citrus is in season too, Think about starting the day with a juicy orange , grapefruit or pomelo. This last is a Chinese grapefruit about the size of a small bowling ball and it is chock full of Vitamin C. It also makes a good snack during the day and can be used even in salads and dressings. A refreshing winter breakfast is a fruit salad, made with apples, pears and any of the citrus fruits out now. Serve it with a soothing, detoxing tea such as chamomile or peppermint. If you can, try to avoid anything  that's loaded with caffeine. It will just dry you out, leaving you thirsty all day.Another good breakfast drink is fresh juice.Use your juicer to create tasty apple and orange juices. More refreshing and more natural than the store bought kinds.If you have to buy juice, go with the Simply Orange and Simply Apple. Theirs is the most purest.

Lunch and dinner should be just as simple and clean. One of the best lunches or dinners is the Mann's Nourish Bowl. Think a hot salad, chock full of tasty veggies, risotto, or cheese topped with  sauce. I love these, They are delicious, filling, and only three hundred calories at the most.Their Montery Risotto bowl is a flavorful and satisfying blend of kale, kohlrabi and butternut squash married to risotto, topped with a creamy roasted garlic sauce. Any of these can be served with a simple steak, chicken breast or fish filet. Another idea is a simple vegan meal of beans for protein and one or two greens such as kale or spinach. Salads are a great way of eating healthy. Keep away from the creamy dressings and extras such as bacon bits and sugared nuts. Have a simple one with a plain vinaigrette full of spinach and tomatoes . For color add cauliflower, carrots and red, green and yellow bell peppe strips. If you want texture and crunch, go for a bowl of  plain almonds. They're high in zinc and potassium along with Vitamin E.  Snacks and holiday cookies are also drenched in fat and calories. Same thing with those potato chips and dip. Go with Melba toast along with almonds. Both satisfy that need to crunch. Have a plate of  fruit, especially tangerines, for those sweet cravings

Eating clean will help get rid of that holiday bloat. Stick to nutritious vegetables and fruits along with lean meats They make for a healthy diet that will definitely get you through the lush season of eating and drinking.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Miracle Of The Instant Pot

Like toys, kitchen gadgets go through a popularity phase too, especially during the holidays. This year, it's the Instant Pot, a home chef's best friend.It is the newest must have in the kitchen arsenal .

The genius behind this is Robert Wang and the Times Monday Business section featured him. He has created the godsend of modern appliances. The Instant Pot can do everything from make chili to ferment yogurt.It is easily programmable which is why so many home chefs, especially novices, love it. The Instant Pot has many pluses. It is made completely from stainless steel so there's no  questionable plastic interiors to worry over. It traps the aroma inside the pot, promising a more flavorful creation. It has lids that are both left and right handed friendly. There are several different models, such as the duo in seven which has everything from a rice and porridge steamer to a yogurt maker and warmer. The deluxe model, the Duo Plus 9-in 1 has that and a sterilizer. It also has a choice of settings, from less, normal and more.It also has the handy Keep Warm setting  that makes sure the foods don't get cold. There's also the Ultra 10 in1 which has a setting to create soft pudding like cakes along with a saute and searing setting.What is truly fascinating is the Instant Pot with the Bluetooth which can be set from your tablet or phone. It also cooks food up to seventy per cent faster than the other pots.

The pot became an instant success thanks to Amazon. Mr. Wang was also very shrewd because the Instant Pot test units  were sent to two hundred influential chefs, cooking instructors and food bloggers (why not me???) Good reviews and recipes appear on line, drawing the attention of foodies and home chef. What is also amazing about the product is that the inventor and investors raised the money themselves. Wang was only a lapsed home cook when he created the better version of a crock pot..He tried to start his own tech company after being laid off from telecom and tech jobs. What he created to now revolutionize modern cooking. It was different from other pressure cookers because it has sensors that keep the cooker from overheating or exploding under pressure. There is even a cookbook , written by Coco Morante, who also has a blog dedicated to the Instant Pot. After seeing the website and reading the recipes, I'm kind of hooked on it myself. I'm pricing them along with figuring out that the Mini Instant Pot would be perfect in my kitchen.I could make my Mom's famous chili along with her sauce.It would be perfect making steamed butternut squash and mashed potatoes too.

Robert Wang has created a genius invention. The Instant Pot is revolutionizing  how we cook . It is more than a fad and trend. it may be hot but it is also  a modern kitchen neccesity.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

My Big Christmas Baking Extravaganza

 I am in full baking mode this year. Blame it on The Great British Baking Show and The Great American Baking Show for making me want to have a three day event where I will be creating the trifecta of holiday baking  -cupcakes, brownies and cookies. It'll be the most baking I've done in years, but I'm looking forward to it.

The cupcakes will be the star of the show. I plan on using Duncan Hines lemon cake mix and turning it into Christmas Funfetti cupcakes. This is where you add half a cup of sprinkles to the batter. This creates a fun and pretty polka dot look. Many home bakers are getting on the trend and making these for birthday parties and showers. The tubular jimmy kind has to be used. The tinier rounded sprinkles just don't cut it. I bought mine at Stop & Shop. They always have large tubs of them, left over from their own baking. The  icing will be my favorite cream cheese one dyed a festive green and decorated with  what else  - more red, green and white sprinkles.If this works out I may try pink and red Funfetti cupcakes for Valentine's Day. The icing will be elevated - I'm using  the good  Irish Kerry Gold butter to kick it up a notch. I am thinking of using it in a champagne buttercream icing  for a friend's birthday.

As for the cookies and brownies.the cookies are from the Betty Crocker packaged mixes. Fingers crossed that it works out well, because I have yet to use that brand thus far. It is an oatmeal one that I am going to amp up with mini chocolate chips. It should be very buttery tasting, Again I will be  using the Kerry Gold butter which will work well with the oatmeal. If these are successful I will move onto the brand's sugar cookie mix. The brownies are my go to, Duncan Hines dark chocolate brownie mix. I love this mix. Use two eggs when making it and the brownies come out perfectly cake like. with  a tender moist crumb. Home bakers can add  crushed peppermint candy or walnuts for a fun spin. The company does have a decadent brownie line (which my store unfortunately does not carry) .The various  mixes have walnuts, caramel and even large milk chocolate chunks along with peanut butter pieces added to them. If you want to jazz up the regular ones, think of serving them with eggnog or peppermint ice cream and Stop & Shop's Limited edition peppermint whipped cream.

My oven will be working overtime this week. I can;t wait to bake and share these experiences with you. It'll be fun   and actually better than any baking competition, British or otherwise.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Flying Solo

I miss my Mom - and not because it's the holidays. I miss her cooking and baking experience, insights, how she used to be the taster for my savory and sweet dishes. I miss her telling me about family recipes and the stories that go with them.

Losing a mother is the worst pain anyone can go through.Losing a cooking buddy is also hard. I now have to ask my brother if he remembers certain steps in family recipes, handed down from our Italian and German great-grandmothers.Take for example pascoi. This was actually our great grandfather's dish, a stuffed cabbage roll from his area of San Maurizio Canavese outside of Turin. It is an elaborate cook. Savoy cabbage leaves are filled with raw or uncooked polenta and then tied up with simple sewing thread. They're then fried in a mix of garlic, butter and olive oil. My brother had forgotten this step. Luckily I remembered it, The polenta had to get cooked somehow before pickling. The  pickling itself requires red wine vinegar along with garlic and savia. The question is what is the ratio of the vinegar to the salvia, a cousin of sage. Could I use sage instead? Unfortunately there is noone to ask except maybe our cousins who still live in San Maurizio. That begs another question - do they make it?

The loss is also felt when I make her famed chili. This is a  recipe  that all her cousins wanted and made - none coming close to the perfection of hers.I have changed the recipe slightly - ever so slightly with the addition of dark honey to temper the tomatoes' tang.I also add more chili powder , a tablespoon more. It gives the chili a more vibrant color and amps up the flavor.My Mom had tasted it  as I took over the kitchen in the last few years.I would always ask jokingly "Is it better than yours?'
and she'd reply "What do you think?" I made a show of shaking my head no .and say "Nah. It'll never be as good as yours." The same with her tomato sauce. I made it last week and felt it didn't hit the mark . For one thing, I had to add granulated sugar because I didn't have any honey (and again dark honey works much better in a sauce than white sugar. it adds depth - but that's for another post). and used a larger can of tomato sauce. The ravioli were drowning in the sauce.If my Mom had been around she would have chided me for not using a smaller can  -which I now realize I have to do the next time I make sauce.

I miss my Mom more than anyone could ever imagine. I miss my cohort in the kitchen.It is a brave new world for me amidst the pots and pans, herbs and spice. She would want me to conquer it.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Best Of The Grapes 2017

Not only was this the year for good food and good restaurants it was also the year for good wines. They came from all over, from Portugal to France, to Italy. These are the perfect wines for giving
 and feasting during this holiday season.

Eric Asimov gave his top ten choices for 2017.Not surprisingly, they're all imports. For those looking for a red that can go with everything from an elaborate crown roast to a humble minestrone choose the 2015 Rosso Viola from the Luciano Saetti vineyards.It's also great for those with allergies because it's made without any sulfur dioxide , the common  stabilizer used in more commercial wines.It's dry, earthy and meaty.thanks to the salamino grapes that make it. Aligote grapes figure in the Roulots wineries offerings. According to Mr. Asimov, his are exceptional. There's a freshness to them , along with a saltiness . The wine is manufactured from the historic Burgundy region  Another wine he likes come from the Bergerac region in southwestern France. The area, Pecharmant, is home to the Britsh mystery writer, Martin Walker, author of the Bruno mysteries. He and Mr. Asimov shared a 2005 Pecharmant from Tireand, with another literary connection. The owner is Francois Xavier de Saint Exupery is the cousin of Antoine de St.Exupery, author of  The Little Prince. The wine itself  is changing, losing its' fruitiness to more complex and richer flavors.

Portugal was a destination for the Asmovs and they took advantage of the country's great vineyards and wines.He tried a glass of the classic Madeira, Blandy's malmsey 1992. Even though it's quarter of a century old it's still considered a baby. Most can last for decades and even centuries.It was without the usual cloying sweetness, the flavor having an acidic complexity.Mr. Asimov also tried a classic one made from nebbiolo rose grape.It had been popular at one time , being planted in the vineyards of Barolo and Barbaresco.It was a pale colored wine , Barbaresco Podere del Pajore, fermented in 1970. Unfortunately the producer no longer exists and also has been said that the nebbiolo rose grapes never existed either.(although I did more research on line and found out it does exist and you can buy something similar, the Lei Li Rose 2014, not in Piedmonte but in Jerone Arizone (!) of all places. For those planning a winetasting party this holiday season, pair these wines with Melissa Clark''s gougere's cheese puffs filled with pancetta and sage. The recipe is flexible,Add anything you want , from anchovies and extra cheese to olives. herbs and garlic.

This holiday season try these wines. They are perfect for gift giving or dinners.Try them and taste why they the best of the year.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Best of 2017

This is the time of year when the best of lists come out. The New York Times Food section is no different. Today's issue features some of the best eateries, whether they're large or small along with the Food section;s most asked for recipes. whether you eat out or dine in, these faves are worth trying.

New York City and its' boroughs have always had a thriving restaurant scene.Both restaurant critics ,Pete Wells and Ligaya Mishan weigh in on their choices. Mr Wells favored the grandma pizza at Loring Place.Usually this is heavy and the thick  crust is rubbery and sodden with oil. Not chef Dan Kluger's who bakes up one with a airier crust , and a pie bursting with flavor.Another favorite is the polenta at the Union Square Cafe.It's what everyone's nonna would make. - light and fluffy.Other palate pleasers were the mussels at Office NYC and crispy layered potatoes at White Gold Butchers.Ligaya Mishan usually covers the smaller eateries in the outer boroughs in her weekly column Hungry City. One unusual fave is Queens Night Market  The stalls offer such treats as curried Malaysian burgers and tender mouth watering Bolivian beef heart. It's also cheap with all entree costing under six dollars., thanks to market creator John Wang.If you want indoor dining then head over to Bayside, Queens to try Mama Lee's lion head meatballs,,a yummy mix of pork and cabbage.Another must try is the Bangladeshi restaurant Neerob. There is chicken heated in a pan of sweet-hot masala. They also serve fish gilded with turmeric along with pink hardboiled eggs nesting in rice and moong dal.

For those who prefer to eat in, Julia Moskin lists and has the most popular recipes of the year. One is the famed Yottam Ottolenghi's blueberry,almond and lemon cake. This is the perfect antidote to all those spicy and chocolatey holiday tortes. Readers have varied the recipe with them using raspberries, cherries , apricots and plums. Fans of the Food section also went wild over British chef Jamie Oliver's chicken in milk, a spin on the traditional roast pork and milk.It's a combination of sweet and savory due to the marriage of cinnamon and garlic.Lemon and sage are also added to round out the flavor.Another favorite chicken recipe was the baked chicken tenders from Alison Roman.It's oven baked instead of being deep fried .It still has crunch thanks to the meat being dipped in panko crumbs. The accompanying dip is Greek yogurt mixed with chives, parsley and olive oil. You can pan fry it if you want, however for that deep fried taste.The most popular recipe is Julia Moskin's best black bean soup.Unlike other recipes that are usually sludgy and bland, this one has a fine, creamy texture and fabulous taste.It has heat and kick , thanks to adding jalapeno peppers and garlic.There are also carrots and onions thrown into the mix as well, to give it a nce vegetal taste.

Whether eating out or staying at home, the Food section has the best of the year Visit, some of the restaurants mentioned. If not try this year's favorite recipe in your kitchen.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

New Spins On An Ancient Holiday

Tonight starts the ancient holiday of Hanukah, the festival of lights. it's a time of presents , games and most importantly feasting. Many used tried and true family recipes, but there's nothing wrong in trying them with fresh spins.

Lakes are always associated with this Jewish holiday. The oil that they're fried in has come to symbolize the miracle of the oil lasting in the temple for eight days (hence the eight branches of the menorah too). The recipe is a basic one, using shredded potatoes, usually Yukon Gold and grated onions.  You could sub in any root vegetable for the spuds. Try parsnips for a different spin. They  have a sweet carrot like flavor that would go well with sour cream or even apple sauce.Even turnips can be used for the tasty treats, just remember to use the smaller ones. Larger turnips tend to have a woody taste while the smaller ones have a sweet pleasant taste. Both can be combined with potatoes for a mellower taste Another idea is sweet potato latkes. Add cinnamon and brown sugar to the recipe to make them more of a dessert treat..As for the sour cream itself, you could jazz it up with a small dab of wasabi or cayenne pepper. For a milder flavor, try a drizzle of dark lavender infused honey. Looking for less calories? Then sub in Greek yogurt which has a lighter, cleaner taste than pure sour cream. A fancier idea is creme fraiche. For more decadence, top with a small sliver of salmon or a tiny teaspoon of caviar.

For a bigger crowd think brisket. It's versatile and can be prepared in a variety of different ways. Serve it slow cooked in Coca-Cola. The soda's sweetness is tempered by the addition of  ancho chili powder and paprika as well as red wine.If this may be too sugary, then think coffee braised. This does have some sweetness too, but it's only a quarter of a cup of brown sugar to two cups of brewed coffee.For a fun Hanukah party consider brisket sliders. These are easy to make, with shredding the meat and mixing it with a spice infused tomato puree.These can also be grilled  like barbecue, with a sweet sauce thanks to one made with honey. Cayenne pepper and smoked paprika stop it from being too candylike. Any form of brisket can be served with the latkes for a heartier meal. How to finish ? With the Israelial Hannukah specialty  - sufganiyot, or jelly doughnut. It's usually filled with raspberry or strawberry jelly, but any other flavor will do. Another fun twist is adding cocoa powder to the dough . Filled with a rich jam or marmalade, this makes a decadent holiday treat. You could even dust the doughnuts with cocoa powder after frying.

Hanukah is the festival of lights . Make the holiday brighter with tasty latkes or brisket, Make it sweeter with homemade sufganiyot. Enjoy these new twists for an ancient holiday.

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Thyme To Cook

Thanks to Hamilton ,people, especially home chefs and foodies are curious what our founding fathers and mothers ate. There is a new cookbook out that delightfully shows not only what our Colonial ancestors ate but also what the Puritans put together.  A Thyme To Discover is a fascinating look back into kitchen history.

Tricia Cohen wrote this little gem while Lisa Graves illustrated it in rich, antique colors. Ms. Cohen has written several historical cookbooks for Skyhorse Publishing.She has covered Medieval feasts as well as the unofficial Poldark recipe book (definitely buying  that!!!) She writes about  the earliest period in American history , and there is even mention of both the light side and dark side of the Columbian Exchange. Europe, Asia , Africa ,and the Americas benefited from the exchange of various foodstuffs such as livestock and bananas along with  an coming here while the New World gave the rest of the world, tomatoes, and potatoes. Sadly diseases were just as easily traded as food.There is a timeline from the Pilgrims to the Colonial Era with some references, especially Abe Lincoln. stretching into the 1800s what I like about the book is that Ms. Cohen gives  a lot of credit to the indigenous people.There are many pages dedicated to the Wampanoag tribe who coexisted with the Pilgrims and Massasoit , the Grand Sachem or Healer.He , along with the famed Squanto helped the settlers plant and harvest so that they could thrive.

Keep in mind these are not exact recipes but modern takes on them. The meager  pea soup that the Pilgrims ate on the Mayflower has been updated to include mint for flavoring, along with spinach , garlic , leeks and creme fraiche.Indigenous fruit such as the pawpaw have been replaced by bananas in a cookies with a maple glaze. History foodies will appreciate the venison with blackberry sauce over wild rice cakes.different eras have recipes that reflect the food. As more colonists got molasses and flour, baking took off in the new country. She doesn't include recipes for such treats as flummery and syllabub but she does have the Sally Lund cakes recipe, which was a fave of George' Washington as well as its' etymology , from the French soleil et lune,  There are also recipes from some of America's earliest companies such as King Arthur flour and Jim Beam Brewery.(use both in the Bourbon Oatmeal Raisin  cookies!). There are also pages dedicated to the famous Foodie of the Revolution, Ben Franklin ad his funny write up about gout. The Presidents, from Washington to Lincoln are also represented and of course, there is a beef stew with apple brandy in honor of not Alexander Hamilton, himself, but to his mother who ran a provision shop selling apples. The Spanish influence is also mentioned , with a spicy chipotle, cinnamon chocolate pot de creme recipe.

A Thyme To Remember is a great holiday gift for the foodie with a historic bent. It shows how America survived and thrived along with  fun recipes to try.It's a great  and tasty
way to celebrate our heritage