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

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Best Salt On Earth

Salt is a crucial part of cooking and baking.Selina Naturally knows this and has produces a variety of different sea and river salts that elevates savory and sweet recipes to pure gourmet levels. Best of all there is a wide range of them to experiment with and have fun creating unique dishes.

The company was formerly known as The Grain and Salt Company, started by Belgian born Jacques Delangre a doctor, in 1976, and actually sells much more than just sea salt or fleur de sel.You could also buy all natural body and hair products along with sea salt for animals (yes, they need a tiny pinch of it - but check with your vet first before you buy).There's also coconut ghee and raw honey as well as monkfruit sweetener and cassava flour for all natural baking.They even sell beverages such as coconut water along with soups such as the Paleo bone broth.Selina naturally also makes  health and body products, geared for men and women's health as well as for weight loss and electrolyte balancing. However the company is primarily known for its' salts.It has branched out in river salts ,which are taken from subterranean rivers. The owners harvest their salts from off the coasts of ,France, Spain ,Guatamala,Portugal,  and Hawaii. To be honest, every kitchen needs a shaker of Selena Naturally salts and you can also buy those at the site too.The family who owns the company has also come up with a sea salt cook book, perfect for those who are new or leery about cooking with too much salt.

This company has the most amazing array of salts. I love their liquid salt from their Fossil River collection. This has several flavors such as cucumber, garlic and truffle. I used the garlic to make a garlic bread that was lighter than the usual loaf  because the bread was spritzed with an infusion of garlic. It was also lightly salted, which heightened the taste. There is also a cucumber infused liquid salt that can be used lightly on salads.Another favorite is the Fossil River salts that are mixed with everything from herbs to rose petals!  This last one I can see sprinkled on shortbread to heighten the buttery taste as well as for decoration. Selina Naturally also mixes their salts with Szechuan pepper and regular peppercorns separately. This is perfect for sprinkling over any meat, whether chicken or steaks  for some kick. Try the wasabi and sesame infused salt over fish and tempura for an interesting meld. of tastes.  There is also a grilling salt that would go well over any rib eye steak along with their applewood smoked salt. Sprinkle some of this over ribs to bring out the meat's unami. .Celtic Sea Salt also has salts blended with dried rosemary that can easily be added to any homemade tomato sauce along with garlic salt  (again reserved for making garlic bread ) and celery salt, perfect for salads.

Selina Naturally has the best array of sea and river salts. Use them to heighten any savory or sweet recipe. They bring a delicious and nutritious kick of flavor to any dish

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Dazzle of Paul Hollywood

Yes, it's that time of year when all home bakers go into a frenzy about what to make for the holidays.ABC knows this and rolls out their annual baking show, The Great Holiday Baking Show, based on the UK's The Great British Baking Show. It even has that main attraction Paul Hollywood, he of the piercing blue eyes and stinging criticiques.

The show is on ABC every Thursday night , with two back to back hour long episodes starting at 9PM. Fans of the original will love this and it features bake loving Yanks from all corners of the country. There was even a priest, Father Kyle, who was sadly booted off Episode Two.Like the original every episode features a signature bake, a cake or cookie they might make for family and friends, a technical bake that features a challenging recipe from the judges and the final - a show stopper, something that would bring gasps if if were made at home. The judges in the past were Mary Berry and Johnny Iuzzini who returns this year with Hollywood. Paul Hollywood 's background is that of being the son of a baker who eventually owned a chain of bakeries in England. Paul, himself, became a baker, working at several five star hotels in the UK and on Cyprus. Iuzzini is also a pastry chef , from the Catskills region in New York State where he learned how to cook and bake as a child. He also attended the CIA, the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park where he specialized in Baking and Pastry Arts. The hosts are chef Ayesha Curry who has written several cookbooks and forer football player and media personality Anthony Adams,

The show lacks the wit and sparkle that the British version had under Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. Ayesha and Anthony are likeable enough,  especially Anthony when 'he's cadging candied cherries off contestant Cindy Maliniak. They do add to the show especially when they interact with the bakers and are a nice foil to Paul's snark. Yesterdays episodes featured making naked cakes. which are layers cakes with just fillings and iced top layers.These  were pretty in their own messy ways,but I feel that British bakers would have handled the challenge better. The second hour featured everything yeasty. This is where the bakers got truly creative , especially with the first one which featured doughnuts . They reflected the contestants backgrounds. The episode's show stopper was a sweet bread with different fillings and decorations. Again the bakers became truly creative with flavors reflecting  Hector De Haro's Mexican heritage and Vallery Lomas' Louisiana's influenced King Cake, Hopefully upcoming episodes will feature more Christmassy  challenges like mince pies and cookies. They did have to recreate a log but it was more of a sponge cake.

Will the American holiday version  stand up to the British? Hopefully it will .It is entertaining and inspiring to home bakers , longing for a challenge

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Star's Recipe

Hollywood is so filled with stars giving out such high falutin advice,it's nice to see one that has down to earth, homey suggestions. That star is Valerie Bertinelli and she  has written a great new cookbook. I'ts perfect for home chefs who want old fashioned recipes with a twist.

Valerie Bertinelli's Home Cooking (Oxmoor House Punlishing) is one of those definite must give Christmas gifts for the home chefs in your life.Ms. Bertinelli is no glam star pushing juice cleanses and impossible to find ingredients  turned into questionably healthy dishes made by her private chef.. She's one of us, shopping at her local farmer's market, reinventing classic childhood dishes and celebrating her family's long culinary tradition. I've always liked her as an actress.I love her as a fellow home chef. Our great grandparents are from the same area in Piedmont, in northwestern Italy. I wish she would have added more Piedmontese dishes such as vitello en tonno,  veal in tuna sauce and fileto Piedmontese, filet mignon awash in bagna cauda.It's sort of surprising that she has no sabayon recipe either. It would have been interesting to see her take on it, since the recipe varies from town to town. Still she does have her mother's risotto recipe (made with pork instead of the traditional chicken giblets) and the soothingly refreshing granita. The book is divided into breakfast, main dishes and sides. There are also sections on cocktails which look fun to make and nibbles such as the brown sugar Sriracha bacon bites. Her  recipe introductions are like her, so warm and welcoming,  that you feel a friend has written them.

Ms. Bertinelli cooks like a real person. Her breakfast section includes a mix of sweet and savory. Breakfast enthusiasts will love her Overnight Almond Apricot Muesli, a happy marriage of oats , spices dried fruit and nuts along with her take on a fritata, created with egg whites,arugula, tomatoes and goat cheese. The main meals are amazing. Steak enthusiasts will love the dish her husband, Tom came up with It is a steak rubbed with a blend of espresso granules and chili powder and topped with a generous pat of butter.Her barbecue chicken wirh spicy BBQ sauce will be a summer must have or even a tail gate classic.Ms. Bertinelli also has old school dishes such as her mother's chicken pot pie , elevated to gourmet level with the addition of cremini mushrooms and tuna noodle casserole with potato chip topping - a sure winner with the family. I love her bucatini pasta with wilted spinach and lemon marscapone sauce. Lemon is her favorite flavor and it pops up quite a lot. It's also in her desserts. End any of her meals with the delicate lemon-raspberry panna cotta or her English lemon cake, There are plenty of fun recipes for snacking and entertaining. Party givers will love her microwave potato chips and her mom's batter dipped onion rings along with the recipes for s'mores popcorn and peanut butter chocolate pretzels.

Valerie Bertinelli's Home Cooking is the best holiday gift a home chef could want. It's filled with homey and delicious recipes that are sure to be family classics. Buy it for the cooks in your life or for yourself.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Your Perfect Gingerbread House

One of the staples of the holiday is a gingerbread house. It is as ubiquitous as Santa, and cookies. It is also the dream of every home baker to create the perfect one. Unfortunately, it's one of the hardest baking projects any baker can tackle . However, there's a guide to help build that perfect house.

Luckily Julia Moskin becomes our Property Brothers in today's holiday issue of the New York Times Food section. She has got the former White House pastry chef, Bill Yosses, to give some tips as well as a cut out pattern to create the perfect house. (Keep in mind that the recipe is printed on the pattern for the house's front and back while the decorating tips are printed on the pattern that will make up both the house's sides and roof). Guests and especially the baker will want to nibble on the creation so the gingerbread itself has to be tasty. Chef Yosses suggests adding orange and lemon zest to cut the spiciness. Also a pound of butter also helps,giving it more of a butter cookie vibe. The spices are there - in heaping teaspoons, mostly ginger and cinnamon  which ,along, with molasses , give the cookie its' rich deep tan color.The pieces are baked in batches. The dough has to be refrigerated overnight before baking and it needs three days to a week to dry out for construction.. The walls will have to be rebaked for fifteen minutes when the candy windows are added.This is done by cutting out a circle and placing crushed hard candy in the middle. Again the suggestion is using one color for the window although you can use two ot three colors for a festive stained glass look.

The hardest part is the decorating and assembling. The icing will also act as the glue that holds the whole thing together. It is royal icing, made with a pound (!) of confectioner's sugar , two egg whites and one teaspoon of lemon juice. The egg whites will give the icing the stiffness it needs to hold everything together. The lemon juice gives it that crisp whiteness that makes lovely snowflakes and and snow dusted tiles. Putting it together will be the hardest part. Have help at the ready. Chef Yosses recommends using thick sealable one gallon plastic bags for the icing instead of the traditional pastry bags..Luckily you won't need any special tips, Just snip off a corner and use your dominant hand to guide the lines. Two bags are needed for construction and decoration. For constructing snip a hole measuring 3/8 ths of an inch while the decorating bag get's a 1/8 th of an inch opening. rest the bag in your palm and manipulate the opening with your thumb and forefinger. Decorating can be done in the traditional manner or with brightly colored candy like Gumballs and gum drops.. Assembling will be the hardest part . It starts with a steady wooden board or even an inexpensive cutting board. You can also go to an art store for a canvas painting panel. Use a can, mug or jar to prop this up. Make sure that the front wall sits inside the side walls. When the four walls are in place, then carefully (what else?) place one roof slab. This may slip so  add more icing and prop it up with a  ramekin or small glass. Wait until the icing dries before placing the other side.

A gingerbread house is a real thing of beauty not   home chef's unicorn. Do it properly and it will be the highlight of your holiday and baking career/It is easier than you think so go bake that house!.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Flying Solo Without The Master

Today was my first big cooking day without my Mom's help. It was dicey to say the least and I made a vat of sauce for two simple helpings of ravioli. I have to get used to this  - cooking and life without her.

We were never one of those families who write down recipes. We figured if you've made it more than enough times, then it was engrained in your memory.It becomes a part of you. I had thought this but realized I was wrong. I do need our family recipes written down. Sadly, they all went with my Mom. I will never get the exact measurements for our Piedmontese stuffed cabbage rolls, pescoi That will have to be made from memory and what my brother can remember. As for the sauce, luckily there are recipes on the net that I can follow. The sauce was smooth, not rich however thanks to the inclusion of sugar. I use my own spin  dark honey in homemade sauces. As usual I panicked  simply because I sauteed the garlic too resulted in burnt cloves and popping oil. I also added way too much sauce which would have been perfect had I made two or three pounds of spaghetti.Instead it was only four helpings of ravioli.

For those of you who scoff at writing down family recipes, don't.. Write down everything, keep them on index cards. Staples still sells these. You can also type them up and print them out to create a family cookbook. (This is the perfect holiday and bridal shower gift). If you can include a picture of the dish do so. Write down exact measurements. A pinch of something for you is a dab for someone else  . Make sure the measurements are exact, from a 3/4 of a teaspoon to 1/8 of  a cup. Also make sure the ingredients are the exact same ones. You can't sub in cinnamon for coriander or use an oat flour for a white one. Variations can be included,especially if there are allergies running through the bloodlines.Also give credit where credit is due. My Mom's apple pie recipe was taken by a few in-laws and it became their signature dish, with their branches giving them the acclaim. If Nama made the nutmeg Snickerdoodles, add her name, with the first and last name, and possibly the date it was first made. Include any family history regarding it too,Stories get lost from generation to generation.

I'm flying solo these days. I hate it. I wish my Mom and I had written down our family recipes.I need exact measurements with exact ingredients.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Eating Your Feelings

This time of year brings a cornucopia of feelings. We're either stressed out from shopping, tired from all those parties or even "Hangry" at ourselves for indulging in too many holiday goodies. Luckily there's a new book that helps us eat ( yes, eat!) through our feelings. This new diet will help us and our bodies feel better.

The food and inspirational blogger Lindsey Smith has written, this funny and insightful book, Eat Your Feelings : The Food Mood Girl's Guide to Transforming Your Emotional Eating with recipes (Wednesday Books 2017).It's definitely the must have and must give gift for anyone that has issues with diets and moods. Ms. Smith is one of us, She eats junky food, she scrimps to save calories, the book could have been written by anyone, from millennial to baby boomer. The first half of the book offers explanations of why we eat what we eat. It even includes ancestry as one of the reasons for our tastes in food - not surprising  because genetics affects every other part of our lives. What I love about this book is how she parses out what makes us eat, how hormones and moods influence our meal and snack choices. Cravings are also spelled out  and it helps that she explains why they happen as well as the recipes that will help ease them.A big plus in the book is how not to rely on the scale but on our jeans.If they're too tight, then diet.Another bonus is how to create your food mood for the day. This includes making your bed right away along with planning the night before and setting your intentions.Comncerned foodies will also like the food additive descriptions and how they can mess up lives and diets.

Yes, this is a recipe book, but it also has explanations of every fruit, vegetable, nut, and grain. It's an excellent guide to bring to the supermarket. It's a great way to plan out meals and snacks. Another plus is the basic cooking guide that even the most novel of novice chefs can follow.  She also has a flavoring guides for the most popular cuisines, right now, from Italian , Chinese and Thai to Greek, Indian and African.The recipes themselves are grouped according to what they can do. If you're feeling sad then make peanut butter chip banana ice cream or dark chocolate sea salt brownies (that would cheer up anyone) There is also spinach lasagna soup to lift spirits too, Feeling exhausted and tired this holiday season? Then whip up a happy quinoa bowl full of mood boosting grains, cinnamon and blueberries or fun mini quiches made with an almond meal-Parmesan cheese flour. Boredom can be relieved with a quick nut butter fudge or a falafel burger with za'atar fries. This is the time of year when many feel stressed or anxious.Make  cookie dough contraband  complete with chocolate chips or a warm soothing bowl of comforting coconut curry to combat those feelings. Hanger pains get soothed with chunky monkey banana bites or the more filling roasted cauliflower mash,

Lindsey Smith had come up with the perfect recipe book.Eat Your Feelings is a great way to eat healthy and to train yourself not to always rely on food. It is fun and insightful - the perfect book for those who want to improve their lives and moods.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Fix it And Forget it Cuisine

It is the busiest time of the year, with holiday planning and shopping. Many home chefs feel like they have no time to cook a decent  for their families. Luckily there's a new cookbook out  and it involves slow cooker cuisine.

Fix It And Forget it Cookbook, Revised & Updated 700 Great Slow Cooker Recipes (Good Books 2017) edited by Phyllis Good is a great book for any home chef who relies heavily on their slow cooker for all sorts of meals. This is a very straightforward book. There's no introduction or explanation of slow cookers and pressure cookers. There's only an equivalence chart in the back with a short must have appliance and gadget list. The book goes straight into the first section, appetizer, snacks and spreads right away, This is a compilation of all sorts of recipes from all over the US, sent in by various home chefs.This is a simple book, with relatively uncomplicated recipes. It would make the perfect gift for the novice home chef, especially the college student who has just gotten their first apartment, The ingredients also are not fancy. It's what anyone , anywhere can find on their supermarket shelves in any of the fifty states. There are some fun chapters on bread that show a slow cooker gingerbread and hot drinks such as fruit punch and even hot chocolate. One thing that is lacking is that there should be a guide about what brand of slow cooker to buy, along with the difference between  pressure cookers and  slow cookers.

The recipes are charmingly American. Think your aunt's favorite recipe or a church potluck supper. There are sections on beef,pork, chicken, turkey and seafood.Stews reign supreme here and there are several recipes featuring  classic beef stew. For some variety there's a sweet-sour beef and vegetables.  Roast recipes are also popular and novice chefs can create slow cooked ones to impress their family and friends.Ribs are at their best when slow cooked and there are a few good recipes for barbecue spareribs and pulled pork. Chicken recipes take a turn back to the 1950's with a simple coq au vin recipe and one that features the creamy and comforting chicken ala king. Sides can also benefit from a turn in a slow cooker and. Ms. Good has several baked bean ones. There are also a section on vegetables that feature glazed carrots and carmelized onions along with corn stuffing balls and cheesy corn. Potatoes have their due here and there are all sorts of ways to cook them from scalloped to even baked potatoes in foil. Slow cooked desserts are usually baked apples - and yes they're reprsented here along with pudding cakes in different flavors like apple, lemon and chocolate. You can also make various dessert sauces too in a slow cooker.

The Fix It And Forget It Cookbook  is a must have for any busy home chef. It also makes a nice holiday gift for the novice home chef who just bought a slow cooker. The recipes are easy but filling, the perfect combination during these busy days,

Friday, December 1, 2017

Teterboro's' Restaurant Row

Mention the town Teterboro to anyone from North Jersey and they'll say  "That's where the airport is." Now  it's home to an exciting row of chain restaurants. These are a welcome arrival to those living in southern Bergen County, giving us new eateries to try and enjoy.

For years' the southern part of New Jersey's most prosperous county  had mostly privately owned restaurants, offering the usual Chinese or Italian fare. Once  in a while an all you can eat buffet cropped up.Thnaks to the tearing down of the old Bendix Building , acreage opened up in this busy section of the Garden State. Wal-mart and CostCo took over and in front of them two , smart, shiny new strip malls. Locals can now enjoy everything from pizza to halal, from Japanese to frozen yogurt. There are even two chain restaurants , one the famed Texas Roadhouse and the other is BJ's. These are great burger and steak places that also offer pasta and tacos. I have yet to visit these but they 're on my must see list. I'm especially looking forward to Texas Roadhouse , known for their sumptuous steaks and  their cactus blossom, their take on the Bloomin onion. Their rattlesnake bites, namely jalapeno poppers also look intriguing while . their steaks are very impressive looking too.

I have eaten at most of the smaller restaurants, starting with Habit Burger. I reviewed it a year ago when it first opened, and was not happy with the result. I am planning on returning to see if they improved their recipe. One of the better eateries there is Sarku, a Japanese fast food place that features teriyaki along with sushi. Their shrimp and beef is excellent as is their chicken. Another good place to eat is Blaze Pizza where everyone gets an entire , freshly made pie I have to admit I did have reservations about this place, thinking it would be just blah generic stuff . Boy, was I wrong. The pizza tastes exaclty like the ones I've had in Italy. . Just a perfect marriage of sauce, cheese and crust. I also love the cherry soda they serve too.. The Halal Guys are another tasty stop,with pitas filled with chicken and tahini. They also have very good falafel too. The meal ends with a trip to Panera Bread. Nothing beats their cappuccino and holiday mitten cookies. That's another place I want to try for lunch too. There's also Sixteen Handles which has the best frozen yogurt and toppings. Try their Chocolate Brownie with a big blob of whipped cream.

If you're in southern Bergen County, visit the new Teterboro Lamding. Yes, you can shop at the Wal-Mart and CostCo, but try the wide variety of restaurants that are there. They are fun and different, perfect for a meal out.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Panettonne That Holiday Classic

The classic big boxes are standards right now in supermarkets and gourmet stores right now up until the New Year. They store gold of a sort,  panettones , those delicious buttery breads filled with everything from candied cherries to chocolate chips.Its' complicated recipe is now becoming an obsession with American bakers.

Tejal Rao wrote about this holiday must have in yesterday's New York Times Food section. The recipe was usually the domain of expert Northern Italian bakers , thanks to its' complexity . According to Ms. Rao, it is wildly sensitive , demanding and occassionally infuriating. It is a yeast dough , after all and that is not always easy to deal with in baking.It is a high maintenance dough . The end result should be an airy crumb that can be pulled apart with the ease of pulling apart cotton candy It should be sweet and light ,melting on the tongue.It should be as weightless as cake and have a slight tang like sourdough. Many Italian bakers begin with lieveto madre the starter.Some recipes don;t call for this,Jim Labey of the Sullivan Street Bakery  has a recipe that calls for less sugar which also means no starter . The home baker can just make a simpler version of it called pan d'oro or golden bread. It's essential a panettone without all the  mixing and baking drama.

Prosperous households made the bread as early as the Medieval Period.. Even back then there was an obssessive amount of attention being paid  to technique and ingredients. Over the years as it became mass produced, it took on the qualities of a mass produced, perfumed sponge. One American baker from San Francisco, Roy Schvartzapel has elevated the recipe after tasting an artesenal one. It has a wispy  texture, melting instantly in his mouth and he recreated it with the help of Italian baker Iginio Massari outside of Milan. He makes small batches of it to sell. Other bakers have tried , some have relegated their doughs to the garbage. Screw up on it and it becomes trash. Everything about the panettone has to be perfect, from the fermentation to the timing, to the temperature, from the emulsion to the starter. Even as something as straightforward as mixing can have pitfalls. Maybe the best bet is taking the slices and turning it into a yummy bread pudding that starts off with toasting the panettone slices  and then covering them with an eggy milk mixture.It's then baked in a aluminum tented pan for forty-five minutes. The end result is a  puffed, golden treat , perfect for a holiday dessert.

Good home bakers should try this Italian treat. It can be a challenge but worth it. If not you can always buy it and turn it into a tasty bread pudding.