Saturday, April 29, 2017

Baby Foods

Notice something about your foods? Like they're getting smaller?That's because they are. As palates are expanding, dishes are shrinking.Portions are getting tinier and tinier.

The trend may have started with White Castle , the favorite East Coast hamburger chain.They introduced mini hamburgers called sliders.These were small sandwiches that were quarter of  the size of a regular hamburger. The chain sold bags of a dozen by the dozen. They were great for kids because they fit in small hands and weren't overwhelming to eat. It took restaurants and diners a long time to catch on.It's been only the last twenty years that most eateries are now offering them. Now they come in all different styles from pulled pork to chicken to even crab cakes. Sliders are easy to make at home. Just use freshly ground meat such as ground chuck to make a smaller, meatball sized burger. As for the rolls ,King's Hawaiian Rolls are the perfect size for creating these mini marvels. As with regular hamburgers , served with a slice of cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomatoes. The rolls can also be used for making grilled cheese sliders along with mini versions of Sloppy Joes. You could even do a breakfast one with eggs, cheese, and bacon. To get a compact eggs, cook them in them in egg poaching rings for the perfect miniature.

Other dishes are getting smaller. Many restaurants are serving timbales of rice and polenta with a smattering of stew or gravy. Again home chefs can make these at home using timbale molds and cooking the grains into small shapes. They are a perfect way of introducing the kids to more sophisticated tastes without them wasting food. Try polenta timbales in a puddle of chicken cacciatore or pork with mushroom gravy.. Rice timbales can be the perfect base for salmon or sole in lemon butter sauce. Timbales can also be delicately fried baskets of dough, filled with quiche or the onion custard used in the Swabian dish zweibelkugen, onion pie.They can also be filled with spinach and mushrooms for a spin on a classic Julia Child recipe, spinach tart. These make great hors d'ouevre's but an even better main brunch dish, especially with a side of fruit. Fruit itself can be turned into miniature delicacies, thanks to melon ballers and sharp knives. A lemon or orange filled with fruit salad is a fun way to start or end a meal.Apples can be hollowed out too and filled with a mix of minced apple, caramel and crushed walnuts for a tiny but tasty end to a meal.

Baby sized versions of favorite dishes are always a fun and novel way to eat. Try  a plate or  sliders
or an lemon bursting with fruit salad. You'll then realize good things really do come in small packages!!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Leeks On Toast - Pure Heaven

Leeks are flavorful and fragrant. They're a cousin of garlic, hence their strong taste and aroma which adds to any dish. Imagine cooked ones on toast, dripping with butter and Parmesan cheese. This is one of my family's favorite recipes, coming from my great aunt's in-laws from Biella, Italy. Leeks on toast have been one of my all time favorite ones, one I could eat it every few days if I could.

Leeks are an easy cook. They are expensive though , being almost nine dollars for just a bunch of three.They have to be thoroughly rinsed in cold water  to get the sand out(they grow best in sandy soil - for those who want to add them to their vegetable garden). Wash for two to three minutes. They then need to be cut into half inch pieces and then cooked in salted water for about twelve to fifteen minutes. They'll look like this
They're kind of soupy looking but there's a reason for it. but let's get to the recipe first. There will be a portion drained and reserved for the toast. This is about a cup of drained leeks,. Drain the excess water back into the pot. 
As the leeks are cooking, toast eight slices of white bread. Any good sandwich  bread such as Pepperidge Farm will do the trick. Once toasted, place the slices on an ungreased cookie sheet. Evenly spoon cooked leeks over the slices, followed by a liberal sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and a fat knob of butter. Bake for ten  minutes in preheated 325 degree oven Farenheit. 
This is the finished product

They are bites of pure pleasure with the almost garlicky greenness of the leeks married to the melted butter and baked Parmesan. It's seriously the most perfect taste!

As for those leftover leeks and water,wait until they're cooled, then drain. Keep the leeks for leeks on toast or soups. Keep the leek water for soup. It's more flavorful than vegetable stock and would be a great addition to potato soup or even making an onion soup with it. Some home chefs add potato peels to it for more flavor and depth - that's up to you.

Leeks are the most wonderful veggie on earth. They're fragrant and flavor. Use them for vichyssoise or better yet, spoon them on toast and bake them with butter and Parmesan cheese for a truly yum moment!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

It's Asparagus Season!!!

\One of the best things about late April and Spring is that it's peak season for one of nature's most delicious veggies - asparagus. This flavorful spear is excellent grilled or par boiled, served in soup and salad. It's also a wonderful canvas to work with, using lush ingredients to create a special dish.

David Tanis wrote about it inhis column  City Kitchen yesterday's New York Times Food section. This is asparagus season and there are many different types. He reminisces about eating the wild variety which grew along an irrigation ditch on a California ranch. It has the same look, taste and texture as the cultivated kind, It's more feral,  and not really wild, being indigenous to Europe.There's also white asparagus, big in Germany at this time of year.What's coming into the farmer's market this year is not coming from there but from Peru. They are tasty but take a bit longer to cook. For many home chefs in North America, the quick cooking green variety is the most preferred.It does come in different sizes., from pencil thin to jumbo fat with a nice medium in between. Any size should have smooth, shiny skin and tightly closed tips. Asparagus is versatile and can be served raw, charred or the preferable parboiling. The best way is simmering the stalks in salted water, drained at the right moment and served warm.

There are some good recipes included. Mr. Tanis gives us shaved asparagus salad with ginger and sesame. This may take some getting used to  since it's using the raw spears.It's pealing each one with a vegetable peeler and then cutting the asparagus into very thin - but  not paper thin - slices.Think the width of a thinly sliced onion.. They're then placed in a salad bowl and seasoned with salt and pepper.The dressing is a fiery mix of jalapeno, rice vinegar , ginger and garlic. Brown sugar is the surprising sweet factor. He also gives us the exotic dish of charred asparagus with green garlic chimmichurri sauce. It's first making the sauce which consists of chopped  parsley and chopped green garlic.Oregano and olive oil are also added. You do need the pencil thin asparagus that will be cooked on a grill or in a very hot cast-iron pan.It needs to be lightly oiled and salted first.It should not only be charred but burnt and blistered first. After cooking the sauce is poured on top of it.It's then topped with crumbled feta.The last recipe is steamed asparagus with pistachios and browned butter. It's just steaming the spears and then making a brown butter sauce that has the added zing of lemon juice. The asparagus is quickly bathed in it and then pistachio nuts are sprinkled onto the buttery spears.

Take advantage of the abundance of asparagus right now. Try it in a variety of different ways , from raw, to charred  to just simmered and served with a butter sauce. All are delicious.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Salt Tricks

Salt is one of  the most important seasonings. Without it, our foods, both savory and sweet would be blah creations.Yet many home chefs don't really know how to use it or how to vary with different types. There's so many uses and different ways to salt food - and not necessarily with a sprinkle of NaCL.

Samin Nosrat, now a regular contributor to the Wednesday's New York Times Food section wrote about it today,Many home chefs are afraid of salt, fearing it for health, but sometimes fear adding too much can ruin a dish.Yet it is needed as the great chef James beard, once asked "Where would we be without salt?" To be honest , stuck with bland , unexciting food. Salt's relationship with food is multidimensional. It has its own particular taste  while balancing and enhancing the flavors of other foods.That's why it's even needed in baking because it enhances the cake's main flavor and sweetness.Does this mean throwing all cares to the wind and increase our salt intake? No, according to Ms. Nosrat, it means we have to learn how to use salt better. Add it in the right amount at the right time in the right form.Also just don't add a pinch at the beginning of cooking a dish and then forget about it. A dish must be tasted throughout its' cooking. The mantra is taste and adjust. Just use small pinches instead of handfuls as to not have too salty a dish.

Many home chefs use different types of salt but don't really know what they are. Common table salt is small and dense , making it very salty. Thanks to the added iodine, it has a slightly metallic taste. It also contains anticaking agents to prevents clumps from forming or dextrose a form of sugar to stabilize the iodine. A better choice is kosher salt and the best brands are Morton's and Diamond Crystal,  the same companies that make table salt. These are perfect for sprinkling over foods. The crystals are actually hollow and crumble easily. Sea salt is the trendiest and it's what's left behind when sea water evaporates.Sometimes classified as solar sea salt, there are the unrefined and more expensive ones such as Maldon, fleur de sel and sel gris, These come in flakes and should be used as more as decoration for lettuces or, caramels or even atop cupcakes. Don't toss a handful of this into the pasta water. Use everyday salt for that. As for salting, it's all about the wrist wag.Ms.. Nosrat suggest grabbing the salt in an upturned palm, then letting it shower down with a flowing wag of the wrist.

Cooking and baking need salt to be tasty and layered. Pick out the salt needed . USe it wisely and accordingly so that dishes will pop with flavor.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Proper Washing Up

One of the lost kitchen arts is properly washing up after a meal. nhome chefs have no clue about how to hand wash china or stemware. Everyone, home chef or not, should have some knowledge of it. It will come in handy , especially if the dishwasher goes on the fritz or they move out of their mom's house,

One of the first things to consider is what dish detergent to use. Dawn is one of the best.A little goes a long way so one bottle can last to two months, even if you wash dishes three times a day. Not only, that it's gentle , with a line that features skin softening ingredients along with ones that features blends of scents that act like aroma therapy when you wash dishes. They also have a free and clean line that has no perfumes or dyes.Another good one is Seventh Generation that is all natural, Stop & Shop also has a good dishwashing soap too, that is gentle yet strong.The next step is donning rubber gloves to protect hands and nails. This is good if you've just had a manicure and don't want to ruin it. The gloves can be bulky though, and they can cause dishes and glasses to slip and break.Now the icky part - cleaning off those orts of food. Use a fork and just scrape everything into the garbage or directly into the backyard compost heap.. This prevents clogging which can lead to an expensive visit from the plumber later on. Fill the sink with hot water.It has to be very hot yet tolerable. Hot water not only sanitizes germs, but also helps in degreasing pots and pans.

Now you're all set to load the sink. Put the bigger items in first so they can soak. These are the plates, mugs and items such as pots and pans that are caked with food. Start with the silverware. It's the germiest snce it's goes in people's mouths. Plunge one piece at a time into the water while vigorously scrubbing it. Study it before putting it in the drying rack.If there's still food on it, rescrub. Use your fingers or steel wool to get it off. Wash other items such as cups and glasses that also come into contact with mouths.Regularly change the water because it will get dirty fast. Now it's time for the pots and pans., Add a little more soap and water to pans that still have burnt food stuck onto them and allow them to soak.Afterwards dry utensils, dishes, pots and pans with a clean dry  terry cloth dish towel. Some people prefer microfiber towels. They do wick away moisture very quickly and wash and dry faster than regular dish towels. The feel though, is funny.I prefer terry cloth because it 's gentle on plates and glasses surfaces and they wash and dry just as nicely as the microfiber. You can also let dinnerware air dry too. Remember to rinse out your sponge too, as well as cleaning the sink to rid of it of any food bits and soap. If the sink is dirty, bleach it ..It could easily get stained from red wine, coffee and tea being dumped in it before hand,

Properly washing dishes and utensils may be a lost kitchen art but it's a vital one. It pays to know how to clean dirty plates and glasses.Use time honored methods for sparkling results.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Lettuce Dilemma

We now have a food crisis in the States, Thanks to the horrid drought season out in California, letuce is becoming not only scarce but expensive.This is also happening in Britain where even tomaotes are becoming rarer and rarer.There is definitely going to be a impact on how we shop and how we eat? What can be done?

The shortage has been going on for a couple of months now, since mid-February. Many home chefs have seen it with the expensive price tags on ordinary heads.A head of iceberg lettuce is a whopping  $6.00 while romaine fetches as high as $8.00. Prices have quadrupled since the bad growing season (which can easily be blamed on global warming) in California, which has gone from severe drought to severe flooding. The wild weather swings naturally would impact lettuce's growing season along with the growing seasons of   other crops such as cauliflower and broccoli.There is now talk of an upcoming peach shortage too, thanks to a cold snap that affected  peach orchards and newly  flowering trees.Luckily the Spring planting is just starting here in New Jersey and other Eastern Seaboard states. That means locally grown greens , veggies and fruits will be ready  - and better priced in the upcoming months.

What to do in the interim, though? You can still have salad but think other veggies kale is one of the few greens that is still affordable. Use it instead of iceberg or romaine .It makes an excellent Caesar salad. Add any chicken or shrimp to turn it into a main dish. Tomato are relatively cheap now, especially the vine ripes and grape varieties. Slice them up, add chopped cilantro and garlic along with olive oil and it's a nice starter or side to chicken or steak. Onions are also inexpensive . An onion salad is another idea  is grilling them and drenching them in a vinaigrette. You can even add crispy bacon to it for some color and crunch.Fresh peppers make an excellent salad base as well. Again  use them fresh or grilled for a technicolor greens dish. Use  red, green,and yellow ones along with corn niblets for a variety of fiesta salad.Peppers and tomatoes blend together well too. Try a bell pepper and grape tomato one. with a zingy dressing.

Yes, we're in the middle of lettuce crises. Don;t be bothered by it/ They 're plenty of sub ins that you can use until the local crops start springing up.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Foodie Footprint

Today is Earth Day, the day when we have to honor our planet as well as cleaning up our land and water. Yet foodies and home chefs can honor the planet all year round as well as reducing their carbon footprint.

One of the best ways to cut down on energy and pollution is buying local. This is easy as we head into the Spring planting and summer harvest season. Many groceries such as Stop & Shop, Acme and Shop Rite, here in New Jersey all by from local family farms. However, they also buy from South American and Mexican farms out of season too. Try to avoid these when you can. Another good place to source locally ground fruit and veggies is your local farmer’s market. They should be opening soon in cities and towns across America and offer a wide and delicious variety of garden variety and even unusual produce. Farmer’s markets are also great places to buy honey and all natural baked goods from family owned apiaries and bakeries , along with cheese and butter from local dairies. Of course the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint is planting your own. Add more green to the environment by growing tomatoes and lettuce along with onions and carrots. Include some herbs too  to add zing to your organic meals. One of the most impactful gestures is canning. Preserving your fruits and vegetables for eating during the winter is a great idea. You don’t have to rely on foreign imports when winter comes. Just go to your pantry and pull out the green beans or cherries you preserved back in July and August.

How do you make your kitchen more energy efficient? Use your microwave instead f your oven. It takes less energy to cook food because the appliance uses heat to cook the food not the atmosphere around it as a traditional oven would. A microwave can save up to eighty per cent of power used to cook or warm up meals in an oven. Yet many eschew microwaves because of the health controversies surrounding them. This is fine because there are ways to make a stove and oven more energy efficient. Just make sure that the flame is fully underneath the cookware. This also applies to electric stoves too.Also use appropriate size pans for the job. Oversized ones will eat up too much energy and heat. They’re also cheaper too.Another must-do is don’t pose in front of the open fridge , wondering what to eat or drink.It accounts for up to seven per cent of refrigerator’s energy used. Opening the door lets warm air in which makes the fridge’s compressor has to drive it out while returning to a normal temperature for storing food.Decide what you want before you open the door.Also have an organized one too. Rooting around in it is the same as posing in front of it.Put the more popular items up front and don’t overload both the top and bottom.

Foodies can also do their part in saving the planet. Buy local. Be resourceful .Most importantly  - DON’T waste energy when you cook or store food!

Friday, April 21, 2017


Cake is one of the best things to come out of a home kitchen. There's something soothing and satisfying as well as fun about freshly baked layers with or without icing. It's fun using a mix but also fun attempting an old fashioned scratch cake. The end result is always delicious.

As soon as my new oven was installed I bought mixes, from brownie to cake ones. I love Duncan Hines and have had nothing but luck with them, knock wood. As everyone knows last week was the Easter Cupcake Extravaganza. I baked twenty-two devil's food cupcakes, topped with that yummy, creamy cream cheese frosting, the recipe coming from the All Recipes site. To be honest it was a bit too much with the topping along with the candy bunny sprinkles I bought at Target. Devil's food is elegant and should not be gaudied up . I realized that as I took the first bite. The next time the cupcakes (or cake) will be just left alone , save for a light dusting of confectioner's sugar. My next foray will be lemon cake with  - what else a lemon infused cream cheese frosting. Will I ever try Pillsbury and Betty Crocker cake mixes? Pillsbury has pineapple and strawberry flavored mixes that look intriguing. As for Betty Crocker, I may try their cherry chip and Red Velvet. Their flavors aren't that much different from Duncan Hines, though. Duncan Hines has a wider variety such as marble cake along with blue and pink velvet cake mixes.They also have an orange supreme cake which looks way too tempting.

Scratch cakes are also on my baking horizon. There's always been a controversy regarding them. Of course scratch cakes don;t have that chemical cocktail of preservatives and flavors. They do
 taste better, Butter and chocolate ones are richer tasting,making the cake eater crave another piece right away. You do need to add baking powder and granulated sugar as well as milk , salt and vanilla.Scratch cakes can also allow home bakers to be a bit more creative, subbing in almond extract for vanilla or adding fruit to the batter. I would love to try a marble scratch cake that was popular in the Eighties.My Mom and I used to bake it a lot and it was wonderful. The marble veins were dense and gooey with chocolate. The recipe itself came from the New York Daily News and unfortunately, despite the vastness of the Internet, the recipe isn't found anywhere.There is a Martha Stewart recipe which also calls for buttermilk. It's more of a pound cake, which is still good and to me, a perfect cake for summer.I may try my hand at it , just for the sake of trying it.

Cake baking is surprisingly a personal matter. Many home bakers, like myself, have definite favorites and will always stick with them. Cake is not just cake. What it is depends on the mix and brand along with how the baker makes it.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Life in Food Carts

They are a staple of many cities and office campuses. They can provide a variety of tasty foods, from breakfast to even dessert that are cheap and quickly cooked. These are the food carts or lunch boxes and owning them as well as working them is as difficult as owning and working in any restaurant. Yet, they are one of the most popular occupations, especially of immigrants.

Food contributor and former restaurant reviewer Tejal Rao wrote about this little known but ever growing segment of the food industry in yesterday's New York Times Food section. For hipster foodies thinking this is a great life, having a food truck is more than hard work. They represent a dedication to a job that is back breaking and bone wearying. Bad enough the day starts off with hiring someone to drop off the cart or worse  hitching the carts to their cars if the vendors own them and looking for a parking spot big enough for both vehicles.Then there are the turf wars with other vendors.Another problem is the bathroom. One vendor, Kabir Ahmed, a Bangladeshi immigrant has to wait until his partner arrives to reileve him so he can escape to the Target across the street. Then there's the labyrinth of health codes and violations to avoid or that's the end of the business. The end of the day may provide profit but it also provides an aching back and sore feet.

Does owning a food truck have any benefits? It is a great way of getting one's cuisine out to the masses along with catering to loyal regulars.Mr. Ahmed creates twenty dishes from Biryani to all American hot dogs. To make the first he fries onions until they're translucent. He drops a variety of herbs and spices, from star anise to bay leaves into the mix along with a spoonful of garlic paste and ghee. The chicken is the last to go into the savory stew and then the rice is cooked. This too is created an extra special with dried papaya and plums added to the boiling water. Mr. Ahmed adds a soda to the meal , with all it costing only six dollars.It would cost double if it were served in a nearby restaurant. His take home pay at the end of the day is $125 or $625 a week. A yearly salary is only a little over $32,000 - not much for living in the New York metro area. There is the cautionary tale of a cart owner making a whopping three grand a day but he worked himself into sickness and has no one to take care him.Mr. Ahmed would rather have colleagues to help him out. while making less money

A food vendor's life may seem like a dream to any creative foodie or even young chef.Yet it's a dream with a few nightmares.attached. If you want it ,go for it, just be warned.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The ABCs Of Pasta

One of the most basic kitchen needs is pasta.It is versatile as a main dish or as a side. Yet many home chefs have qualms about making their own.Yet this basic is so basic to make.

The mechanics of pasta making was featured in today's New York Times Food section.Samin Nosrat walked readers and pasta lovers through the ABCs. It's pretty easy and can be made with or without a pasta machine. The ingredients are basic, having been used by the best pasta makers for centuries.It's all purpose flour , two large eggs and three egg yolks along with the semolina for dusting on afterwards.It is a matter of mixing and needing to make a manageable dough.You can make it with herbs. This requires a half cup of finely chopped herbs such as parsley, chives chervil, tarragon a d basil in any combination or just use one such as basil. Whole grain pasta is a tasty and healthy alternative.Use spelt, whole wheat or farro sifted in the white flour (match a cup for a cup).Saffron .s big right now and it would be amazing with a sauce of chicken livers, similar to risotto Milanese.It does require a large pinch of saffron ground into hot water to make a saffron tea. The tea then has to be cooled and the eggs whisked in.The flour is then added into make a paste. Green pasta can also be created , simply by adding spinach leaves.They needed to be wilted first and then pureed.

Creating the sheets is super easy and fun if you have a pasta machine.Yet it's also easy if you have to use a rolling pin.It's first lining three baking sheets with parchment paper and semolina. Cut off a quarter of it, rewrapping the remaining dough.Use the heel of your hand to flatten the dough into a circle.Now use a rolling pin to stretch it.Continue rolling it, moving the rolling pin a quarter of an inch after every roll out.The finished sheets can be stacked on top of each other.Just dust each one with the semolina flour before layering. Cutting the sheets is easy and fun, with all the possibilities ahead of you.Invest in a pasta roller if you are planning on making a lot of it.It's just a matter of slicing the sheets The next step is separating and fluffing the noodles and then seprating them into nests.You can also use a very sharp knife. Just remember to cut in half inch increments for tagliatelle and fettucine and three quarters of an inch for papperdelle. Homemade pasta can be refrigerated and even frozen. Store pasta in single layer sheets on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap/ For freezing, do the same, with putting nests of pasta on a parchment line baking sheet until rock hard. Then transfer to freezer bags . They can be cooked in boiling salted water for four to seven minutes.

Homemade pasta is not that daunting to make.It's fun an a snap to create.Try it and enjoy.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hole In The Wall Cuisine

You see them  in strip malls and on city corners.They look inviting - even enticing.What are these seductive eateries? Hole in the walls. Do they serve good dishes? Surprisingly , yes.

For the fussiest foodie, dodgy joints are the absolute no-no.However, if the restaurant has a good health rating an A or even a B to B+, then it's perfectly OK to visit. Even if these aren't convincing enough, study the traffic coming in and out.If there are many people going in and staying then you know it's good.Of course, you've probably checked out Yelp too, however some restaurants are not on it.If that is the case, then ask diners what they ordered and if they liked it. Many diners are neighborhood regulars who eat at the restaurant three to even five times a week. They will tell you what they like, what to avoid and what specials are good. Your nose should be another indicator of what to order. If it smells good and makes your mouth water, then order what ever's on the grill Some even have buffets where you can choose what looks tasty. Follow other diner's cues and choose what they're putting on their plates. Bakeries are a lot easier, because all the goods are on display and the help is always eager to answer any questions about the cakes and cookies

One of the benefits in hole in the wall cuisine is that it expands your palate. Many Thai restaurants are, like DD Thai of Rochelle Park NJ, situated in small strip malls.They may look like nothing, but once inside, they're little gems of glamour.There are plush banquettes and glittery chandeliers, while serving a varied and delicious menu.It's where I fell in love with their pad se ew, along with their traditional Thai salad with that mouth watering peanut dressing they put on their salads.I've eaten at strip mall Italian restaurants where they feature gnocchi and risotto, and they're made just as delicious as the same dishes cooked in fancier Manhattan restaurants.  yes, you can get pizza , spaghetti and calzone here but then they offer more sophisticated fare to more adventurous diners. Strip malls can also hold such exotic fare as Ethopian and Ghanian restaurants along with Indian buffets where biryani and naan is served.These prove a boon to those tired of the usual hamburgers and fries or pizza and soda. Another fun facet of these "hole in the wall places" is that they're not afraid to experiment, There are many "fusion restaurants" that feature Chinese and Mexican on the same plate or soul food married to Jamaican cuisine. These definitely expand a diner's palate and introduces him or her to a wider variety of dishes and tastes.

Home in the wall cuisine is an adventure. Fnd the right restaurant and you go on a culinary adventure. Try it. It'll be a fun visit.

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Quick Herb Guide

Spring brings the urge to plant an herb garden .Home chefs want to add a sprig of this or a few leaves of that .Yet many have no clue as to herb usage. The will add bay leaf to pizza or dried rosemary to ice cream.A good knowledge of herbs is vital to cooking good meals.

Rosemary and oregano are the most popular and most used.Rosemary is a fragrant plant with a variety of uses, from cooking to the medicinal.It is one of the pillars of Italian cooking, going into everything from sausage to pizza.A flavorful tomato sauce relies on its sprigs for some depth.It can also add zing if added to pizza or calzone crust.Oregano is another staple of not just Italian but also  Greek and Eastern Mediterranean cuisine.It gives marinades an earthy green flavor.It can also be put into olive oil for a fragrant oil , perfect for drizzling over slices of French and Italian can also be used in Eastern Mediterranean dishes too such as the trendy za'aatar along with savory and thyme.Surprisingly these versatile sprigs can also be used in various desserts.Imagine a coffee cake sprigged up with both oregano and thyme.Honey paired with it makes an awesome ice cream, both subtly sweet and herbal.They can even be baked into lemon cupcakes for a jolt of fresh springy flavor!

Tarragon is the herb most used by the French.It is one of my favorites and I use it in both my chicken and egg salads.It's flavor is a milder version of the stronger anise.It also is vital in creating the perfect Bernaese sauce along with herb rice and broiled fish such as tilapia and halibut.Cilantro is an easy herb to grow as well as being versatile.The sassy green leaves add dash to any salad and would be great in a chicken marinade.It can also add some zing to grilled veggies too as well as being a staple in Mexican cooking.Cilantro is actually the younger version of coriander, another versatile and necessary kitchen herb.It's excellent in exotic cuisines such as Indian and Morroccan, giving color and zest to curries and tangines.One of the sweetest and most delicious is chive. This is the season for them, as they grow abundantly in yards and even parks. The wild variety has an onion-y sweet taste . Yes , freshly chopped chives are good on baked potatoes , add color and flavor to sour cream but they're also good mixed in with cream cheese and dressings. Try cooking them with carrots in a yummy butter sauce.

Grow herbs.Just understand their uses and what foods they'd enhance.Use them correctly and you'll create deliciously tasty meals.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Easter Cupcake Exravaganza

Easter is here and I wanted to do something fun yet familiar. Of course I chose cupcakes with that sinfully yummy cream cheese icing that I got from All Recipes' web site. Here's how it went down :

I used Duncan Hines' Devil's Food cake mix which is a little more intense than their average ones I 've previously used. The cupcakes had to be baked  five minutes more because of the batter's density.
I used the cute bunny and chick cupcake papers from Target.

This is raw
This is baked.

Here is that great icing being made.
I added two tiny drops of McCormack's food coloring red, (looks like the icing got cut and bled)

More blending with the electric mixer to get this blushy  shade of pink.

And voila! - Sprinkle on candy bunnies also for Target!!


Friday, April 14, 2017

A Thoughtful Good Friday

Good Friday is a day of reflection about life and what one should do with it. It's also a day to think about improving other's lives and the surrounding world.

One way is, as always, donating to your local food pantry .This could mean buying cans of food and boxes of cereal, but they more obvious is apportioning your garden and growing extra fruit, vegetables and even herbs This way families, especially those with children will get the nutrition, vitamins and mineral they so desperately need for growing.  There is also nothing like the taste of fresh produce to improve any dish or dessert too.

  The way to improve your world is to try to buy local and shrink your carbon footprint. Luckily, we are coming into the Spring growing and summer harvesting season. It will be easier to buy fruit and veggies from local farms and farmer's markets. Also joining organizations to help clean up land and waterways is another good deed. We can also push for turning our abandoned factories and warehouses into urban farms, where not only is there food but also jobs.

Today is a day of reflection. Think about what you can do to improve the lives and world around you. Then act on it.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

An Ambrosial Cake

One of the best warm weather salads is ambrosia.It's a sweet concoction that usually finds it way to backyard barbecues and picnics. Take it one step further and transform this classic dish into a cake. It then becomes truly worthy of its' name - ambrosial food for the gods.

Melissa Clark wrote about it in her A Good Appetite Column in yesterday's New York Times Food section. I think it would be an excellent end to an Easter dinner, the cake's sweet fluffiness being a great foil to a salty ham and potato salad. Ambrosia, for those not familiar with this American classic, is a sweet salad that can be served before, with or after a meal. It's mostly made during barbecues or family buffets and every family has their own spin on the recipe. It's made with a heavy dose of tropical fruit, some kind of frosting and plenty of flaked coconut.Some go heavy with the  fruit, going  heavy with the orange slices and pineapple chunks along with adding extra banana slices. A few home chefs like the idea of crunch so pecans are thrown in while others turn their ambrosias technicolor with the addition of maraschino cherries Whipped cream is usually blended in but yogurt can be used as well. Of course, there's the flaked coconut that's added in by the cup (or cups).Imagine all this  modified in a cake with a tangy curd filling along with a slug of coconut rum.It's iced in a fluffy meringue and then doused with sweetened coconut flakes.

The ambrosia element is modified. Ms. Clark decided on fewer elements and uses them with a slight difference than from the original recipe. She skips the cloying pineapple and banana but keeps the zingy citrus, going for seedless clementines over mandarins and oranges.She juices them to go into a tangy curd that will be used as the cake's filling. She suggests if you like the pineapple and banana, then add them but only to the filling to get the taste, The flour used is all purpose  and there's only a tablespoon of baking powder added for leavening. It's a rich, eggy cake employing four of them.There's also a stick and a quarter of unsalted butter to give the crumb a  golden color.The filling is again a curd, zested up with clementines and a third of a cup of lemon juice. the filling is butter rich too  with a stick of unsalted butter used .The whites from the filling's yolks can go into making the frosting, a sweet fluff made over a simmering water bath.The frosting has to be immediately put on the cake and then press the coconut flakes on the sides and  top. You can decorate with sliced clementines and strawberries.

Ambrosia cake is the perfect cake to serve on Easter Sunday. It's a rich blend of butter cake, fruit and curd, wrapped in a sweet and light marshmallow coating. Serve this dish  - that's worthy of the gods/

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lamb The New Easter Dish Again

Easter cooking can present a dilemma to many home chefs. Will they go with the traditional ham or try  lamb , another truly traditional main course? That's the conumdrum facing many. Ham is delicious and can provide with enough leftovers for a week. Lamb,  is rich tasting, marrying ancient and modern times together. It's also becoming trendy thanks to a more adventurous American palate.

Kim Severson explores the two in her column in today's New York Times Food section. She herself grew up on Easter ham dinners, thanks to a mother who was raised on a dairy farm that also raised pigs. Serving ham was a no brainer.It also provided her family with more than enough leftovers for a variety of different dishes, from sandwiches to pea soup.However it is time to try lamb. It's making a comeback with a newer generation who are into Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes and flavors. Most older Americans have an aversion to the meat ,preferring beef and pork. One of the reasons why is that US soldiers were fed rations of lamb because the meat was so abundant. There were fifty-six million sheep  in 1946. Now there is only about six million.Lamb chops themselves,  are still considered a luxury item, only being served at high priced restaurants or special dinners at home.Leg of lamb can be tricky to cook and many home chefs just cooked it and slapped some mint jelly on it, hoping for the best.Today lamb is gaining in popularity with people buying lamb shanks,
lamb necks, and ribs.There is even a lamb ham that's also gaining in popularity these days.

How should you cook lamb? Ms. Severson goes back to her Italian roots and tries a Roman style Spring lamb with sugar snap peas. She gets three pounds of young lamb from the shoulder or the leg and  cuts it into uniform two inch cubes. After seasoning the cubes with salt and pepper, they're cooked in lard or olive oil. it's an easy cook, putting the cubes in batches and sauteing them. Rosemary and garlic are added along with sifted flour. White wine or Champagne is poured in along with water. It's simmered for an hour. At this point take some of the sauce from it and mix it with four large anchovy fillets (it reminds me of fileto Piedmontese - where anchovies are cooked with steak juices to create a mouthwatering sauce). The sauce is then poured back into the pan and over the lamb cubes. Ms. Severson throws in a  sugar snap pea salad with Calabrian peppers and fennel. This is a spicy accompaniment with a dressing made from the peppers and their oil.Lemon zest, shallot and garlic are also added along with fresh lemon juice.The snap peas are julienned while the fennel is thinly shaved. Shaved pecorino is then sprinkled on top. I would add fingerling potatoes roasted in garlic and olive oil  to round it out.

Ham may be associated with Easter but lamb now is giving the traditional meat its' run. It is versatile and delicious, perfect for the holiday. Try it and taste its richness and lux flavor.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Cook On A Hot Tin Roof

What happens when an early heat wave arrives? Don't cook. Adopt a summer attitude when it comes to cooking and baking. Look more towards lighter fare and less time in the kitchen. Wipe off the grill and get it fired up.. It's too hot to cook indoors..

An unexpected burst of high temps leaves most home chefs flummoxed . After all, they've planned a week of dinners and even lunches that require preheating the oven and roasting or cooking.Air conditioning should be turned on full blast but if you don' t  have it installed yet take heart. The microwave is your best friend during these times. If it can be microwaved do it. Those meat pies and pizzas can be zapped quickly instead of  baking in a hot 375 degree F ovens. Even preheating can be bad because it turns a kitchen into a proofing drawer. Most meat pies take almost an hour  to thoroughly cook up - which means being stuck and eating in a steam bath. Another idea is to just get cold cuts and make sandwiches along with getting premade salads. If the cold cuts don;t cut it  for you nitrates , then buy a whole roasted chicken or ribs at your local grocery. Acme now has roasters that are already cut into pieces and Stop & Shop has bags of fried chicken.

If the temps get too irritating, then get out the grill. You can still grill those steaks and salmon you planned  on cooking in the oven. They may even taste better than what you originally had planned for them originally. Marinate them in teriyaki  or barbecue sauce. The roast chicken and Cornish hens can even be put on the barbecue.. They do need to be spatchcocked or split open for grilling. Even if you planned on cooking a small turkey, it can be spatchcocked or butterflied and cooked on the grill as well. As for those veggies, put them in foil packets next to the meat. It's an easy fuss-free way of cooking them during an early heat wave. Add butter or olive oil along with herbs and spices to the packets. Again this may be better than what you originally had planned.A grilled dinner leads into a grilled dessert. It's never too early for s'mores. Some stores are already pushing the components so take advantage of that. Try something fun, like subbing in dark chocolate for milk  chocolate or chocolate graham crackers for the regular. You can also have grilled fruit kabobs, using apple and pineapple chunks along with grapes.

Don't let a heat wave leave you hot and bothered. Be cool - and keep your lunches and dinners the same way. It'll be a breeze to make - and to eat.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Warm Weather Prep

The temps are going to hit the 80's  and that means one thing - outdoor eating! It's time to gear up for barbecues and picnics. Before you say goodbye to indoor cooking and eating, there's a few things to consider

It is time to set out the grill. Before you roast anything, take a long look at your old one. Try it out. Does it still work?If anything seems off or faulty then start looking at new ones. Lowe's and Home Depot have pre-season sales so now is the time to buy a name brand. Also, if you feel you need a bigger one, then switch out before they become more popular and your choices become limited. If you're happy with your old one, then it's time for cleaning. You should have grill cleaning tools to help along with soap. If you want to go all natural, baking soda and/or distilled vinegar should do the trick. Buy grill cleaning wipes too.They will help in cleaning those hard to reach nooks and crannies. Also buy an ash shovel, a stainless steel scooper and scraper which removes any of last year's residual ashes.Check all energy sources too. Buy a new tank of butane or check cords and wires if you have an electric grill.This is also the time to add on to the grill. Think about a condiment basket where you can store sauces , ketchup and mustard along with grill pans and heating tents.

That other outdoor activity - picnics are on people''s minds too as the temps heat up. As with the grill, look at your cooler and decide if you need a new one or will keep the one you have. If you were unhappy with a smaller one, then upgrade to a larger , rolling one. This is perfect for the park or the beach and is excellent for camping. It not only keeps drinks and water cool, but also salad containers too. There are also insulated picnic baskets too. These fit comfortably in any trunk or back seat. Again this is perfect for sandwiches, snacks and drinks.There are also picnic tote bag which packs a smaller meal for two or three people. Another aspect to think about is what kind of containers to buy. You could go with Tupperware which is pricey but durable.  - think a life span of over ten years but you can go with cheaper ones from Target,,Wal-Mart and even grocery stores such as Acme and Stop & Shop. For a more environmentally friendly basket , also consider melanine plates and utensils instead of styrofoam and paper plates and cups.These can be bought at Target in fun colors and patterns.Have plastic utensils too and reuse these, instead of throwing them out.

It's the season for eating out . Fire up the grill and get the picnic basket ready.It's time  to food al fresco again.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Just Desserts For Your Holidays

Everyone obsesses about the Easter and Passover dinners  - what to serve and how its' going to be cooked. Yet dessert is just as important . It provides not only an end to the meal but the time to really relax and chat with family and friends. There should be just as much thought put into it as the main meals.

Easter can be a time of  gravity or fun.  An easy idea for a cross is buying  five pound cakes and arrange in a cross shape. It's then decorating them with white buttercream icing and marzipan flowers. Craft shops do sell cross cake molds so making one is doable. It's usually double the amount of batter and icing.Another religious themed cake is the Easter lamb. You need a special mold for this which can be bought at any kitchen store along with a dense pound cake batter. Ice with buttercream and coconut to simulate the lamb's wooly coat along with colored icing for the eyes, ear interiors and nose.  Another idea is just a regular round cake decorated with buttercream or cream cheese icing lilies. Then there is the fun shaped egg, bunn,,y and carrot cakes. Bake these in a simple chocolate or vanilla or for whimsy  - carrot. Decorate an egg cake with colored icing, pastel sprinkles (which can be bought at your local grocery or Target) and colored sugar.. A bunny cake can also be coated in flaked coconut for a fuzzy look. If there are kids, then think fun cupcakes iced in Easter colors. You can do a two color swirl on top for extra fun or turn the cakes into mini baskets. This requires green icing for the grass. Use red string licorice or green pipe cleaners for the basket handle and of course, jelly beans for the eggs.

Passover presents a different but exciting challenge - baking without flour.  There are many cakes and cookies that are flourless, and would work well ending any seder. For the first night, you may want to try a show stopper. Think a chocolate sponge made with ground almonds and ten eggs to give it a chewy , sweet density. A real crowd pleaser would be the Passover brownie cake, made with finely ground matzoh which many cooks use  to create all sorts of baked goods.It, too, is rich in eggs, using five along with a cup and a quarter of almonds.Passover cakes can even be layer cakes and there is a seven layer one created from  not surprisingly - matzoh sheets. It's creating a kind of mousse with eggs, melted chocolate margerine, and sugar and spreading it on layers of  kedim soaked matzoh. This is made with raw eggs, so be careful with who it's served to. Macarons are another holiday tradition. It's creating airy puffs from egg whites, and white sugar along with desiccated coconut. You can go trendy and use aquafaba - bean water.It's the protein rich water that chickpeas are canned in and since it has the same make up as egg whites can be made into a glossy meringue . The bean flavor dissipates with cooking and the finished product is a glossy , light as a feather treat.

Easter and Passover are all about the traditional foods. Just remember to just make dessert as important as the min meal. It can be serious or fun,. but always full of sweetness and flavor.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Easter And Passover Catered Or Home Cooked?

Nothing beats a holiday with a table full of food and tradition especially the. Easter and Passover ones. With them comes the question of catered or home cooked? Would it better and easier on the home chef if the whole brunch or dinner was cooked? Or are family recipes important and vital in keeping up tradition?

Easter may be the easier dinner - especially in the States - to have catered. Every family has different traditions. Southern Italians and Greeks are the most traditional, cooking and baking foods and bread recipes that have been passed down for centuries.Everyone else usually just makes ham and a few sides.Some groceries such as Acme and Stop & Shop will work with you to create the perfect holiday dinner. They'll offer sliced ham and/or turkey along with sides such as potato  and macaroni salads along with throwing in a festive Easter cake.Easter brunch is always popular and there are shops and caterers who will bring in such brunch favorites as quiche, scrambled eggs and even French toast.Of course, all of this can be made at home and there is a lot of control as to the ingredients. If you don't want an elaborate Easter meal, then think of a German style one.It's a roast ham with do it yourself potato salad and handcrafted baked beans. All these are labor intensive but the homemade taste is worth it. Dessert can be a simple lamb, bunny or egg shaped cake, and again these can be baked on Holy Saturday.

Passover is a bit trickier because there are strict family traditions involved.  Some Kosher markets can cater the entire menu, creating even better versions of tsimme  - a sweet stew of carrots and dried fruit and charoset - the sweet paste of apples, cinnamon, and raisins, symbolizing the mortar used in building the pyramids. Many caterers will offer such traditonal dishes as kugel but with a hip twist such as broccoli and spinach added.The main courses could be an entire brisket or roast chicken or both if you're hosting a crowd. caterers can also supply chopped liver and gefilte fish too. yet there is something in making decades old family recipe too.Relatives may want the family version of charoset which is not only rich in flavor but also stories too. They also make want just your matzoh ball soup, because of the way you make the balls or because you add scallions for bite and color. Unlike Easter, Passover lasts  a week and you could easily cook one night and have the second night seder catered. It's up to you and what you can handle.

Catering or home cooked? What makes for a better holiday meal. It's up to you and what you want.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Hippie Food Gone Establishment

Just as boho defines fashion these days, it is also spreading into our cooking and eating habits too. Those natural seeds and grains along with fermented brews are becoming more mainstream than Twinkies and cheeseburgers.It's a definite trend but one with good and lasting results.

Christine Muhlke wrote about this in her article in yesterday's New York Times Food section.Ms. Muhlke ,a writer for Bon Appetit magazine, explored how food once thought of as "hippie" is becoming big in kitchens and tables all over the US. Like yoga, meditation,and the uber counterculture symbol, Birkenstocks, crunchy granola food  such as granola, itself, along with almond milk and kombucha tea are in more homes. Many have embraced the clean eating movement where kale reigns supreme and is included in almost every recipe. The question is why now. It could be that we're all tired of this technology and virtual reality and want something real eapecially in our eating t.Chef Geraldo Gonzalez, chef of the Manhattan eatery, LaLito, feel people may be moved to seek out the more restorative and "actual foods.They want the mouthfeel, aromas and flavors to connect them back to reality. His own recipes are what he terms "hippie Chicano" such as vegan chiccharrones and cucumber salad with brown mole vinaigrette.This is an alternative to all those bad foods such as meat dairy and starch, ingredients that cause brain fog according to Chef. Gonzalez

The "hippie" eating movement is also a backlash to the meat heavy, super-masculine style restaurants, according to another chef,Alissa Wagner, one of the owners of Manhattan's Dimes.Eating more natural and more green is a definite protest.Another reason she feels, is that diners are also more educated in how they eat and knowledgable about where their food comes from.Of course, restaurants are quick to jump on this trend. There is Tartine Manufactory in always food forward  San Francisco. It is a blend of roast beef sandwiches with green farro and roasted carrot salad.New York has just introduced abcV , created by Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten for the abc furniture and home goods store Its' menu hightlights organic all vegetable dishes such as a ramen noodle soup made with Meyer lemon and curry leaf boullion with pea shoots and beech mushrooms and spinach spaghetti with broccoli, and kale, Cookbooks are also featuring crunchy granola recipes. Such big names as Martha Stewart  and Wolfgang Puck are jumping on this trends with books devoted to healthier and more all natural cooking. The rock star of vegan restaurants, the famed Thug Kitchen is also coming out with another cookbook that makes eating quinoa and teff uber hip.

All this hippie eating has good benefits.We'll all hahve heathier bodies and habits if we go back to fermnted and whole grain foods. It's not just a trend but a way of life too.