Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2020 Trends

Now that a new year - and new decade is about to start people have started to wonder what will be the trends? Will we give up meat entirely? Will global warming affect our diets? What will be the latest gadget? The latest must have foods?

To be honest it's hard to predict what this decade will bring. It will possibly have something to do with climate change and us being more aware of our carbon footprint. We may be embracing more local farming by 2025 and much more locavore dining. Seasonally grown foods such as cabbage and potatoes in the winter and tomatoes and squash in the summer may replace us buying avocados and apples in January and cauliflower in July. Amazon may play a part in how we food shop and eat. There's supposedly talk and plans from the company itself that it will build big box stores throughout the US. As we all know you can buy almost anything on the site. An Amazon store will probably do the same. That means we can buy clotted cream from the United Kingdom and rice noodles from China in the store. It also means we can hopefully choose from a plethora of cooking and baking items and gadgets,Hopefully this doesn't mean the end of such local groceries like Piggly Wiggly and Stop & Shop.

As for the upcoming trends, I think more and more fast food chains like Wendy's and Mc Donald's follow in Burger King's footsteps and sell Beyond Meat, Beyond Burgers and Impossible Burgers. It's been successful for them as it has for Dunkin (formerly Dunkin Donuts),and KFC bringing in more customers and dollars.This may spread to college and university cafeterias as more and more students turn vegan or go vegetarian.Will high schools and grammar schools adopt this trend?Maybe in Canada and Europe. I can't see it happening it here until the end of the decade.More households may try either the Beyond Meat or Impossible Burgers for a healthier , greener lifestyle.Will international trends impact how we eat in this new year? Foodies have run the gamut internationally, from Nouvelle Scandinavian where moose and lingenberries were served over lichen to Vietnamese pho with American add ins like pepperoni and sliced hot dogs. Maybe there will be a trend towards Latin American food? Or possibly more Mediterranean foods. This was the decade of za'atar, the lovely mix of green spices and harissa, the spicy blend from North Africa.

What will these Roaring Twenties bring to the table? Will they bring us more sustainable foods? Or more home grown? We shall only see.

Monday, December 30, 2019

A Quiet New Year's In

New Year's,especially this one, is a time to celebrate. How to ring in not just a New Year but a new decade? With a quiet night at home. Somehow it's just better than getting all gussied up and eating at a too fancy restaurant or at a too boozy party. Home is where the celebrating begins.

You can just serve hors d'ouevres or appetizers or go for a full on sit down dinner. The thing is to make both choices easy and fun. For hors d'ouevres , think about buying the trays of mini  spinach pies or mini quiches.Another idea is creating flatbread rounds tops with bruschetta and shredded mozzarella. Top it with pepperoni and olives, anchovies and sliced peppers. A charcuterie board is another fun option .Everyone can create their own sandwiches. Go to your local deli counter. Order ham , prosciutto, mortadella and salami. If you want you could add in slices of turkey and chicken, and possibly some tuna in olive oil for a more Mediterranean vibe. Also have slices of hard cheese as well as some gooey soft ones. Think slices of smoky Gouda and sharp cheddar with gooey Brie and Camenberts. As for breads, you can't go wrong with a few crusty baguettes , sourdough boules and shiny rye loaves. Pumpernickel would go well here too.Add some pickles and olives for nibbles. As for drinks - champagne and hard cider are your best bets. You could also have white and red wines too for those who prefer it.

As for  sit down dinners, fondue or bagna calda are fun ways to get together at a table. Fondue is an easy cook. It's a tasty mix of Gruyere and Emmenthaler cheeses with kirsch, a clear colorless brandy made with Morello cherries.If  this is too strong then use dry white wine. Cornstarch can be added to thicken it. Have plenty of crusty french bread cut into cubes for dipping. Again you can serve champagne with this for a festive flair. A Piedmontese treat - and something I grew up on is bagna calda. This is an infinitely delicious dish translated into hot bath starts out with melting olive oil and butter together along with garlic. Usually a tin or about twelve anchovies are added. You can add more if you want that rich unami flavor. We had always used Savoy cabbage which adds a sweetness and also chunks of semi broiled London Broil. The beef and the fish together are heavenly, especially if you put the pieces on Italian or French bread. Have more bread to sop up the sauce until there's nothing left. Another variation of this is fileto Piedmonese with bagna sauce topping steak served on buttered toast. This is an easy but tasty dinner party dish. Serve with a crisp salad and a good red wine.

The best New Year's Eve is a quiet one. Have it at home away from the maddening crowds. Serve up hors douevres or a hot dinner for a delicious, memorable evening.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Emergency Fridge

This is the time when colds and viruses hit. it can be debilitating, especially when either one comes on strong. You can't get out of bed. You barely can head into the kitchen and cook. This is the time for emergency stock ups. Have your kitchen ready when you can;t go to the store.

Two of the most important items to have are bouillon cubes and soups. These are the easiest to heat up and the easiest to get down. Plus there's nothing like hot liquid to soothe a sore throat. Another plus about bouillon cubes is that they can be used as the base for many heartier soups you can make. Bouillons are light and make a good snack too besides being for lunch or dinner. Add a few Saltines if you're up to it.It makes the cup more substantial and you won't feel so hungry afterwards. Any kind of soup is a good addition to your emergency stock up. Campbell's newest addition, Well Yes! has a wide variety of choices (this is my go to soup now), from tomato basil to roasted chicken with wild rice. These have a lovely homemade taste that's just comforting. What goes with soup? Crackers, Have plenty of Saltines on hand. These are tasty with a cup or even lightly spread with butter or peanut butter.Bread is another must have.A plain slice of toast is always welcomed when you're just coming back from a decreased appetite. Stick with loaves. Baguettes and rolls will become stale too quickly,

Another must have when you're sick is apple sauce. The pectin in it helps alleviate diarrhea and the sugars gives the body an energy boost. Make sure you have cinnamon to add to it. Bananas are another fruit that should be on hand. It replaces potassium lost from vomiting and diarrhea along with helping to strengthening the stomach lining. It's also an easy snack for the kids too. What else should you buy in case you get sick? Rice. It also calms the stomach if you have the flu.It's also one of the easiest foods your family can cook up and it can be used as a side for many dishes like stew. You may also want to buy frozen foods such as pizza and French bread pizza. It's a simple cook, one that even your tweens and teens can do. You can also have easy to saute foods such as chicken breasts or flank steaks, along with such versatile veggies as tomatoes and peppers. These last can be  cut, diced, and sliced and added into a variety of different dishes. Since you'll be feeling dehydrated along with just having a dry throat , get your favorite juices along with cola. The last really does help with upset stomachs and can settle any disturbances It also is just good as a semi frozen slushie when your throat feels extra sore. Teas are a must too. Stock up on your favorite blends. You will be drinking a lot of cups of them.

Don't be stuck with an empty fridge when you're sick. Stock up beforehand on the basics that you and your family will need. That way you can stay in bed and nurse  a bad cold, flu or sore throat.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Breakfast Treats

The holidays are still with it and with them, long lazy breakfasts with the family. what better to celebrate this time together with a fun and tasty breakfast dish. Savory or sweet, it's a nice relaxed way to gather with the family.

Melissa Clark knows this and featured tasty breakfast dishes in her Christmas Day A Good Appetite Column  in The New York Times Wednesday Food section. These recipes are perfect for any winter weekend or for a New Year's brunch. There are savory and sweet along with a side that could even see its' way to dessert with a light supper. What is great about all of them is that they're simple enough to put together, especially if you're still fuzzy minded from the night before. The one that intrigues me the most is her take on oatmeal. She turns it into an oatmeal lace cookie with six tablespoons of butter sauteing the oats. Cardamon and cinnamon are added for spice  and then water, heavy cream and salt. This luscious combination is then baked for forty minutes. There's some stirring and more butter (!) is dotted on before baking for another fifteen to twenty minutes.You could serve it with more cream (yes!) and crunchy sugar. Guaranteed, there will not be any leftovers.

Another show stopper is a savory Dutch baby. Usually these giant popovers are sweet, being made with apples and cinnamon. Ms. Clark goes the savory route here. Bacon and Camembert flavor it , a perfect combination. There's also chives and Parmesan for more flavor boost.Many home chefs may have reservations about making the Dutch baby, because it's all about the puffy presentation. Yet it's an easy make with this savory pancake being baked in a skillet. Another savory dish, that could even work for lunch.It's baked eggs with creme fraiche and smoked salmon. It's the classic  two baked eggs in buttered rameklns with the cooked creme fraiche poured over them. The creme fraiche is cooked first with shallots for flavor. Smoked salmon and dill tops off each cup. With these savory dishes Ms. Clark offers a sweet-salty side of broiled grapefruit with flaky  sea salt and brown sugar. This is an easy cook,It's just sliced grapefruit sprinkled with brown sugar along with being drizzled with melted butter and honey. After a quick broil, serve with flaky sea salt. This would be a nice end to light lunch or dinner too.

Breakfasts during this holiday time should be rich and flavorful. It doesn't matter if they're savory or sweet, as long as they're delicious. Try making one or two for family and friends.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Carrying On Tradition

Traditions are what connect us to our ancestors and the essence of who we are. Culinary traditions are even more binding, tying us to the dishes our antecedents made. It is more so in the Japanese and Japanese-American communities. They not only revere their ancestors but carry on with ancient recipes.

Hannah Kirschner, the creator of Sweets And Bitters, a combination of blog and cookbook, wrote about the Sasaki family for yesterday's New York Times's Christmas Day Food issue. The Sasakis have been here for over a century, first arriving to the Seattle area in 1908.The city was a boomtown then , catering to young men looking to make a fortune< He only went back to Japan once  to acquire a bride,Hisaye, They raised four kids who carried on their traditions as well as taking lessons in the art of Japanese flower arranging - ikebana as well as taking Japanese lessons. Their lives were disrupted by  the interment camps of the Second World War. Everything related to their nationality was banned, especially the foods.It changed after the war when they could return to traditional foods , using the  laquered natsume, the wooden canisters used in tea ceremonies. Cousins have come over to use their grandmother's fans to cool the rice used in the dishes. For a while in the Nineties , the family stopped with the celebrations yet a cousin , Ron Sasaki, brought it back. He bakes a snapper or rock cod to symbolizing the return to the homeland . His father did the same thing for earlier family dinners

The New Year's foods are comforting as with the ozoni, or mochi soup. Mochi is a big thing right now. The Sasakis use the plain however, not the sweet usually associated with ice cream. There's also Japanese veggies such as mizuna, Japanese mustard greens and golf ball sized satoimo or taro root.Mirin , a kind of sweet rice wine is added along with yuzu the lemony Asian citrus. Chicken and kamaboko, a kind of steamed fish cake add the flavor too and protein. Rice is always present in Japanese cooking.Mochi rice, a more glutinous version is used in sekihan, red bean sticky rice. This dish is usually made the day before with adzuki,, a mung bean that sort of looks like a kidney bean. It is labor intensive with the rice having to be rinsed several times. The Sasakis also make Nishimi  dashi braised vegetables with chicken. This is a light stew that has all the best of Japanese veggies. There is daikon, the long , white radish used generously in Japanese cooking and kabocha squash. Shoyu, or Japanese soy sauce is used here for flavoring.

Culinary traditions define who we are. They have been defining the Sasaki family for 111 years. The dishes, lovingly made with the same ingredients their ancestors used, tell who the family is.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

A Christmas Full Of Treats

Happiest of Christmas to my readers from all over the world. Hopefully you h.ave had the best of your family's recipes and a plethora of Christmas treats and goodies.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Very Merry Christmas

The holidays are for making your favorite foods. I made my Mom's famed tomato sauce with the best pasta in the world - Garofalo's.
Have a very Merry Christmas and always thank the God  you believe in for the good food and good company at your table.

Merry Merry 

Monday, December 23, 2019

And Then There's Plan B

Most of the times the best of holiday plans get messed up. That's kind of what happened to me when I just didn't have the time to bake, frost and decorate my Winterscape Cake. What happens when the best of menu plans go awry? Quickly leap to Plan B.

Every home chef should have an alternative plan ready to be deployed. I did, with this
Aldi's dessert saving panettone trio which has three minis : Classic, Tiramisu and Cranberry.  These can easily be toasted and served with marscapone or butter. If I didn't have these I might have tried Nigella Lawson's no churn salted caramel ice cream. This is just mixing dulce de leche with whole cream and flavoring with bourbon and flaky sea salt (think Malden's).I could also whip up a quick chocolate mousse using Cool Whip and Instant chocolate pudding. It's an easy dinner - penne with crockpot sauce so the meal in itself is flavorful. Dessert would only be gilding the lily. Just remember that whatever sweet you have  around can be made into some kind of dessert. Trifle is the easiest. You probably have most of the ingredients. Just add a good slug of brandy and it's a boozy fun end to a Christmas meal.

The same philosophy goes for the main meal. There are ways to fix a holiday cooking mistake. Those hams or beef roasts sometimes get burned. Cut away the burned part , cut up the roast into pieces and continue cooking. If the entire thing is completely charred then first put the pot into a larger pan than it. Fill this with ice cold water  to cool it and after a while taste the meat. If it's still bad, then emphasize the sides as the main meal. Rummage through the freezer quick or ask a guests (Namely family and friends who will help out in a pinch) what they have. You may have to cobble together frozen burgers and nuggets but at least it's something. If you still want to serve the main dish, then cut away as much as the burnt  roast as possible then stir fry it with veggies such as tomatoes from the salad or the Brussels sprouts. Add a dash of some flavorful spice like turmeric or cumin to minimize the burn taste. If your holiday turkey  is too dry then boil up some chicken bouillon with butter and pour over the bird to moisten up the meat. If the gravy is horrible add chicken broth to give it more flavor. Sides nor up to par? Sprinkle with Parmesan to make  them more palatable. Another idea just serve more salad with the along with plenty of bread.

There always has to be a Plan B when it comes to holiday baking and cooking. Just be prepared for whatever your kitchen and fate throws you. You can get through it and still have a pretty tasty holiday dinner.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

It's Cookie Time

There's a reason why some home chefs hate holiday  baking. It's just hopping back and forth out of the kitchen every ten minutes to get  batch after batch out of the oven. The end product is worth it though.

I did cheat and use my go to Betty Crocker's Cookie Mix.
As you know I'm more of a Duncan Hines baker than a Betty Crocker one but I find her cookie mixes to be easy to make and delicious too. Of course they're not scratch cookies but you can add your own spins on them. This year is it was a dash of cinnamon. I wanted the cookies to be more festive with red and green sprinkles but couldn't find any . At all. I decided on cinnamon to give them a snickerdoodle vibe without all that extra sugar.
The mix only requires one egg and a stick of butter or margarine. I used I Can't Believe It's Not Butter for a semi vegan cookie. After about ten minutes of a good beating the dough was ready to be dropped onto the sheets.
I used parchment paper which makes the baking process that much more easier (however make it a point to reuse the sheets at least two or three times. Parchment paper is silicon based and does not break down in landfills. Reuse the sheets afterwards anyway you can.).As you can see I dusted plain cinnamon on the unbaked drops.This required pinching cinnamon on each one from a cupped palm full of cinnamon.
This is the first, rather pale batch.

This is what the entire batch looked like.
As you can seen some were more heavily dusted than others. The taste was lovely with the cinnamon on top and I know I'd make them this way again.It was just batch after batch after batch. The end result was thirty-six cinnamon dusted snaps - a pretty good yield.

If you're up to it make your Christmas cookies. If you're using a mix put your own spin on them to make them yours. it'll result in a lot of work with a very tasty end product.

Friday, December 20, 2019

A Slice Of Wine Country Wine Country Table

Amidst all the holiday stress it's nice to escape, especially to a region where wine rules. For those of us who can't take a quick trip there's Wine Country Table With Recipes That Celebrate  California's Sustainable Harvest that salutes all wines and produce Californian,. It is a gorgeous combination of a coffee table book and cookbook. The pictures are amazing . The recipes even more so.

Janet Fletcher wrote this interesting book (Rizzoli Publishing 2019) on the various sections of the California vineyard regions. It is a beautiful collection of pictures worthy of just looking at but also worthy trying out the recipes. Ms. Fletcher has written a variety of other cookbooks, from Yogurt : Sweet and Savory Recipes For Breakfast Lunch and Dinner to Fresh From The Farmer's Market.  She has won  a James Beard award for food journalism as well as teaching cooking and cheese appreciation classes across the country.(She also writes a  column on cheese for Specialty Food magazine and has created her own weekly blog Cheese Planet). Her descriptions of the various regions from the Napa Valley to SoCal are lush and inviting. The accompanying photos are too. I loved just looking at the pictures of the wineries and fields along with the beautifully photographed dishes. Another reason to like the book is that it's not just grapes. Ms. Fletcher also includes sections on pears,plums, asparagus , and even olive oil along with other California crops. These are incorporated in the many recipes too. Flowers are included too,  as mentioned in the Resendiz Brothers Protea Growers. The protea is a spiky pink flower that grows exclusively in the California desert.The book is also good for those planning Spring wine tasting trips because wineries are highlighted in great detail. I would love to visit the Francis Ford Coppola Winery which also has movie memorabilia to view along with good  on site restaurants and a relaxing pool.

The recipes reflect each area and the crops harvested there. The section on pears has an interesting mixed chicory salad with pears and blue cheese. I want to make a variation of this for my Christmas Eve dinner.Since California is home to the Gilroy Garlic Festival, Ms. Fletcher includes a  Gilroy garlic and potato soup, another must make , that has Spanish smoked paprika and saffron perfuming and flavoring it. Of course avocados figure in this as well. There are three recipes, each perfect. One is Dungeness Crab and Avocado Toastados, a nod to California's Mexican past along with Grass Fed Burger with Avocado and Chipotle Mayonnaise and Scallop Crudo with Avocado and Pink Peppercorns. The states multi-ethnic groups are also represented in these recipes. There is pho, the Vietnamese soup, brought by the many Vietnamese immigrants who settled in 1980's California and pizza, a nod to the many Italian vintners who brought the industry to the state. Desserts are here as well. A refreshing dish would be the strawberry sherbet with sparkling wine recipe. It's a frozen slush of strawberries and kirsch splashed with sparkling wine. I would love to try the apple galette with honey ice cream and the Zinfandel poached pears with marscapone cheese. A plus to all the recipes is the suggestion of what wine would go best with them.

Wine Country Table: With Recipes That Celebrate California's Sustainable Harvest is the perfect escape when winter and the holidays become too much. Relish the lush pictures of fields of California's best crops, read about the different recipes and wineries. Enjoy this book - this literary vacation from 
all that stress.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Chiles Under Fire

New Mexico is famed and known for its' chiles. They define the state, and provide it with most of its' income. Unfortunately the crop is now under pressure thanks to climate change. Like so many other crops , it's under the threat of climate change.

Amelia Nierenberg, a regular contributor to The New York Times  Food section wrote about this dilemma in yesterday's Food issue. Chile peppers have long been a New Mexican product, like what blueberries are to Maine and peaches to Georgia. Now climate change is threatening the crops grown in the Hatch Valley area. Excessive heat , a symptom of it, can blister the fruits' delicate skin and interrupt the growth cycle.  The temps have gone from 95 to 100  - too scorching for the plants. They must have hot - but not excessively hot  - day and cool nights, usually 55. Other crops have moved to cooler climates but trying to transplant the chiles will prove hard. The only terrain that can give them a dichotomy of temperatures is a mountainous one which is what the state is. The only other state that comes close is Colorado , which  is directly north and has the highest mean elevation of all the states. Many chili farms have moved there already. However there are problems. Colorado's water and soil are different than New Mexico's. Purists can taste the difference in flavor and texture.  The Hatch Valley grown ones are crisper and more balanced in taste.

The chilis aren't the only peppers in trouble in the state where there are 150 other varieties grown. There have been problems for the Pueblos and Rio Grandes kinds to name a few. There have been droughts. In 2018 the Elephant Butte reservoir  was only at three per cent capacity. Even the Rio Grande which divides the state in two, had its' riverbed cracked in some places. The lack of water has caused crops to wither. Luckily there was a snowy winter and a cooler spring which led to the reservoir to have a twenty-five per cent capacity. It is, however , just a band aid, New Mexico is at the top of what's known as water insecure states.There will be a time when water won't be accessible to the state's population, whether for residential or commercial use. Already eighty to one hundred per cent of the state's water supply is used. Some farms have switched to pumping water from underneath, relying on aquifers. Yet that's too expensive and too salty which could ruin the peppers taste. What will the future hold? Ninety-five year old June Rutherford, doyenne of Franzoy Farms and recently crowned queen of The Great New Mexico Chile Taste Off feels the era of New Mexico chiles is over with. The crops are not as flourishing as they were in her father's time.

Could a crop gain endangered status? That may help the New Mexico chiles. If not they will be  rare   - and expensive - and will chili lovers be able to afford them?

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Holiday Desserts Go Big Go Sweet

Forget the cookie board at any holiday party. These are sweet little ornaments but they're 're not as substantial as a cake or trifle. A hearty holiday dinner requires a hearty slice or scoop of dessert. There are some great endings that can top off any turkey or ham dinner.

Alison Roman, a regular Food section contributor wrote about these amazing and toothsome desserts in today's New York Times issue. She gives us four holiday desserts - strangely without the yummy Buche de Noel, the chocolate sponge roll made to look like a decorated forest log. Still , her choices work  - not just finishing a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day meal, but also at New Year's Eve party and New Year's Eve buffets. What is great about them is that they're fuss free. No special icings. No fancy decorations or split time baking where you have lower or raise  oven temps. They're kind of old fashioned recipes with an updated twist. Ms. Roman creates a salted chocolate pudding with a whipped sour cream. This is a homemade one with bittersweet chocolate  and cocoa powder, six whole eggs and heavy cream to give it richness and flavor. As with countless other homemade puddings  cornstarch is the thickener. The pudding would be good on it's own , but it's layered with sour cream blended with heavy whipping cream and any kind of snap cookie. You could use plain Christmas sugar cookies, but there are also ginger snaps and those famed chocolate wafers. These are layered to create a memorable trifle. Eat it the day you make it so you get the crunch of the cookies.

The other desserts include a sunny cheesecake with an easy graham cracker or vanilla wafer crust. The cake is enriched with your choice of either full fat  Greek yogurt or sour cream. Juice is added and it can be either grapefruit, lemon, lime or orange. Grapefruit would be a nice original touch.The zest is also used for more zing. There may be some leftover filling so you may want to create mini cheesecakes with it. Citrus slices and flaky sea salt  are scattered on the finished product for a festive look.For a fun  treat, try the Boozy Cherry Walnut Tart. This is a treat topped with bourbon soaked cherries and chopped walnuts. The crust is the classic butter one, that tastes like a spritz cookie. The filling is toasted walnuts, butter and one large egg. Flour binds us so it will have a cookie like quality to it. Top with more walnuts and cherries. It would be great served with vanilla ice cream. Some traditionalists will want gingerbread. Liven up the dessert table with Ms. Roman's Golden Ginger Cake. This is a mix of freshly grated ginger and cinnamon. The cake is made a sunny yellow with the addition of turmeric, It's also very buttery and sweet  thanks to the addition of 3/4 of a cup of butter (!) and molasses.Buttermilk mixed with either coconut or vegetable oil is added for a silkier batter. A cake like this only requires a blob of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream to highlight the spices.

Keep the cookies for tins and holiday teas. Create satisfying puddings, tarts cheesecakes and cakes. These are definitely  great endings to any Christmas ham and turkey, filling and delicious as the main courses themselves..

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Microwave Dilemma

Modern appliances do not last . I found that out with my Hauer microwave  which I bought in 2016 . This is it

And this is what happened to it.

It was a burn mark that caused the interior paint to peel off. Leaving it like this is dangerous. Not only will radiation will seep into the food but it can cause sparks which lead to fire . There are two solutions,either spray with microwave paint or a new one. I tried four stores for the paint but to no avail. It was time to go shopping. 
That was a headache. I went to where I originally bought the Hauer at Lowe's. Surprisingly they don't have the variety they once had. It was disappointing at the lack of variety. It was off to Teterboro's  Wal-Mart which only had the floor model. of the Frigidaire. if you know anything about North Jersey during the holidays,. you know that every, road  mall and parking lot is a traffic jam around the holidays. Luckily a sales rep called the Wal-Mart in Garfield. They had the Frigidaire model that I wanted. It was crazy crowded, but the trip was fruitful!!! Success at last!!
Tomorrow it's going to be put up and christened. Hopefully it'll last longer than its' predecessor. I don't want to go through this every three years.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Are You Christmas Ready????

Christmas is a week away. Are you all set for another holiday meal? Do you have enough for your baking extravaganza? Are you Christmas ready?

The most important question is do you have your main meal planned out?  By now you should have your ham if you're planning on serving it. With it should come a good supply of cloves and pineapple. You can always buy the ginger ale for it the day before or use the brown sugar left over from baking for a sweet rub. As for the turkey, you have a few days leeway time. It can be bought as late as the 22nd or 23rd.  Yams can also be bought on the weekend too along with potatoes and onions. Once you have the dinner sorted out , it's time to reevaluate the linens. Are they OK after Thanksgiving? Are there any stains that need to be washed out again. Then use baking soda on them and a good wash and rinse through the washing machine. This also applies to those linen napkins too, Be careful , though, when you're dealing with hand embroidered or heirloom dinner linens. These will have to be presoaked in the tub and then gently wash in either the tub or sink. Try to use something gentle such as  The Laundress' The Baby Detergent,It's meant for baby clothes but it also can be used on delicate vintage fabrics too. Another must is checking the silver and glassware. Make sure everything is polished along with being tarnish and crack free. If you're wine glasses or tumblers aren't up to par, then head to your local store like Target or Macy 's for a new replacement set.

The second big kitchen to-do is the whole holiday baking. Since we're now so close to the holiday, you can buy the ingredients right now when the stores have them on sale. Take advantage of this, especially if you have a lot of baking to do. Buy up the cookie mixes if you don't have the time or experience to create scratch ones. Betty Crocker has some good flavors, like peanut butter and oatmeal.Also  stores like Stop & Shop has sales on cake and brownie mixes, perfect if you want to make more substantial treats like cupcakes and brownies. If you are making scratch cookies and cakes, make sure you're stocked with a variety of flours such as plain flour and gluten free for those with allergies. Flavorings are used a lot during this time. Keep an eye on your vanilla, almond and peppermint extracts. If they're looking a little low , then it's time to bring in new bottles. The same goes for the sprinkles and nuts too. You should also be well stocked when it comes to all the sugars. Not only does granulated sugar go fast during this time, but also confectioner's , light and dark brown sugars. Buy your eggs and butter close to the day you start baking. The fresher they are, the better they'll perform. This is also a good time to assess your cookie sheets, cookie cutters, and cake pans. Make sure you also have parchment paper for some butter cookies and meringues. Do you have enough tins to hold them? If not , buy a few festive holiday ones and even platters to serve them on.

Christmas is a week away, Be ready. Be prepared.  That way it'll make holiday cooking and baking easier - and better.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

A Very Vegan Christmas

Christmas is the time for good will towards all and that includes animals. For a more sympathetic and Franciscan holiday think about going vegan and vegetarian. It's surprisingly easy to do  -not to mention delicious with the right foods and treats.

What do herbivores eat for the holidays? I'm asked that all the time , as I cook and bake in a vegetarian household. (I'm not one myself and I will allow myself dairy , eggs and meat/seafood from time to time). For main meals  some kind of tofu pr plant based "meat" is the star. Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers have expanded the range of no meat recipes. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out my local Stop & Shop had all different kinds of plant based meats, including Beyond Burgers meat loaf and sausages. Even Stop & Shop itself has their own version of the faux meat which is exciting. The chopped "meat" can be made into a fancy loaf and decorated with grape tomatoes, olives and peppers. You could also make a meaty vegan lasagna, perfect for a crowd as a second course. Tofurkey has these little "hams" that have an amber ale glaze or just plain. There 's some fancy recipes regarding them, with one giving it the Hassleback treatment. This is slicing the ham and stuffing the slits with rosemary and tart apples. it's served on a variety of veggies like carrots and fingerling potatoes. Tofurky also gives us their famed tofu turkey loaf and feast package. There is a breadcrumb and rice stuffing in their loaves, while the feast comes with gravy and even a cheesecake.

Many feel that seafood is a luxury, perfect for a lush Christmas Eve or Christmas Day meal. Gardein which has excellent vegan meat like their turkey and gravy and chicken strips offers crab puffs. These mini balls are a perfect way of starting off a meal and have relatively the same ingredients as the real thing. Onions and peppers along with a hint of garlic give them that extra flavor, associated with crab cakes. Vegan Essentials, a great site for all things vegan has some good fish and seafood substitutes. I recently made their Match Meat brand  crab cakes. They were just as good as the real thing, especially with the seafood taste and crumbly texture. One large cake can satisfy one person and they're perfect with a salad and a light side. There's also a nice lemony aftertaste thanks to addition of lemon juice in the recipe. Vegan Essentials also sells "lobster chunks" by Loving Hut which I ordered for Christmas and am excitedly. anticipating their arrival.They're made with konjac root, an herb found in Asia. The lobster supposedly tastes like the real thing so I will have plenty of melted vegan butter on hand. For real luxury there is Caviart, a faux roe that's made with seaweed.

Vegans can eat well for the holidays. There's a wide array of faux meats and fish that can satisfy any taste. The best parts is that no animals were harmed in the making of the Christmas meal.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Your Great American Christmas Bake Off

It's that time of the year. Spice is redolent in the air. Mixing bowls are filled with icing and ovens are full of cookies. Yup, it's The Great American Holiday Baking Show. Paul Hollywood, he with the icy blue stare is back, frowning and smiling  - and ultimately charming not only his bakers but America as well.

ABC or local New York Channel 7 is airing this for three consecutive Thursdays between nine and eleven PM.It ends the day after Christmas, a time when , frankly, people are sick of anything baked and iced. Mr. Hollywood is the anchor of this with Sherry Yard replacing Prue Leith and the great Mary Berry. Ms. Yard is no hack, She is a pastry chef who has won the James Beard award three times for her amazing pastries and was pastry chef at Wolfgang Puck's Spago in Los Angeles. She kind of reminds me of Berry, with her chic outfits and cooking teacher demeanor. To inject humor there is Baby Spice, Emma Bunton and former Chicago Bear , Anthony "Spice" Adams (get the connection there?) They're not as sharp and witty as the original hosts , Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc but they do offer some levity. The program is the same with three different bakes with themes. There is the signature bake - a challenge for the bakers to show off their recipes, followed by a technical bake. This is usually a classic recipe  that has a series of steps omitted. The bakers have to guess what was omitted and add it in. The third bake is the showstopper. This allows the bakers to show off their skills and talent. In the past it had been gingerbread houses and cakes in the shape of elaborate mushrooms and cheeseboards.

One thing that is different. The Yanks are flown to the UK instead of Hollywood and friends coming to the states. They're baking in the picturesque Iver Heath , a Buckinghamshire town seventeen miles west of London. That alone is worth the trip and I hope the bakers all got to enjoy some sight seeing as well as experiencing English country life. The bakers come from all different backgrounds and states. There is even a priest  along with a research scientist, a former FBI agent and a chemist with a Harvard degree. That alone is an interesting mix. I watched or tried to watch the first episodes , as hard as they were to see  on a wonky DVR. The very first signature bake was an exciting one - an olive oil cake. To be honest I've always shied away from this recipe, deeming it too dense, and maybe too oily a bake. Yet seeing the bakers creating them and putting their own personal spins into the recipes has made me change my mind. Some added cranberries  while others added apples or grapefruit. The technical challenge was an angelfood cake with a passionfruit curd filling. I'm sure there will be cookie and cake challenges along with a fruit cake one.

If you're a big fan of The Great British Baking Show and Paul Hollywood's icy blue stare, then this is the show for you. It's also inspiring - filling your heard with more than just sugarplums. Look at the challenges and see if you can recreate them.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

A Sweet Hanukkah Treat Churros

This is the season for  sweet, tasty treats. Hanukkah is one of the holidays that give the reason to make and indulge in homemade goodies. One, churros, is hitting the holiday tables, sharing the spotlight with latkes and suganiyots - jelly doughnuts. Is it an unusual choice? Not really if you know history.

The recipe was featured in yesterday's New York Times Food section. Joan Nathan, know for her Jewish cookbooks and documentaries about Jewish cooking  wrote about this crunchy and sweet choice. The idea is not as crazy as it sounds. Many Sephardic Jews , the ones from Spain, brought the recipe with them to the various outposts of the Spanish Empire. They were made in the Caribbean , mostly in Cuba and found their way to tables in Columbia and Costa Rica.  Ms. Nathan uses Genie Milgron's recipe for them, which includes anise for flavoring It is taken from Ms. Milgron's cookbook Recipes Of My 15 Grandmothers: Unique Recipes And Stories From The Times of The Crypto-Jews During The Spanish Inquisition. Ms. MIlgron was born and raised a Catholic in Cuba but traced her family's origins to pre-Inquisitions Jews in 1405.  Her ancestors  were raised  as crypto-Jews, practicing Jewish customs and traditions while converting to Catholicism. Some of the recipes are the original but churros are the Spanish influence.

Ms.Nathan tried the recipe several times, making the churros with a friend who dream of owning a churro truck. The first attempt was like a choux paste with eggs and butter whipped together into the dough. Don't use this. Opt for the simpler one which is just two cups of all purpose flour mixed with one and a half cups of Pernod or similar anise liqueur. There's also a cup of granulated sugar and a tablespoon of cinnamon, the traditional flavoring for churros. If you think the cup and a half of Pernod is too much for any treat, the liqueur is boiled down with one and a half cups of water and a teaspoon of kosher salt. It's removed from the heat and cooled so the flour can be added to it.Blend with a wooden spoon until the batter resembles wet cement and is well blended. To get that ridged look, the dough is placed inside a pastry tube fitted with a large French star tip. The dough is then piped into six to eight inch length pieces and fried in canola oil. The oil should be heated to 350 degrees Farenheit. Fry them for six minutes or until golden brown. Ms. Nathan supplies a  homemade strawberry sauce made with frozen strawberries , brown sugar and vanilla. You could use dark chocolate or dulce de leche for a richer dipping sauce. Caramel also works too.

Churros are a fun and different Hanukkah treat. They're an easy make and fry, perfect for using the symbolic oil to create a fried and crunchy sweet. Try them for a new twist on a traditional holiday.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Best of The Year

Was 2019 a good year food wise? It was the year Beyond Beef hit our tables and palates We found ourselves trying different foods and rediscovering the classics. There were some good restaurants and wand much loved recipes that made 2019 special. Maybe it was a very good year.

That was the idea of today's New York Times Food section. Many of the contributors and even readers weighed in about this last year of the teens. Pete Wells, the paper's restaurant critic. If you're in New York for the holiday season, please try some of his recommendations. Odo is one of his three star favorites. This is a kind of fusion restaurant that features soba waffles and Wagyu beef burgers (there's also veggie and chicken ones too).There's also a sushi bar at this trendy Flatiron District eatery. Another three star fave is Rezdora , creation of famed chef, Stefano Secci, who spent time working for another famed chef, cerebral experimentalist  Massimo Bottura. Mr Wells raves about the interesting uovo ravioli which spurts egg yolk when you cut into them and the handmade maccheroni al pettine, that's raked with a comb , made that way to have the sauce adhere to the pasta. It too is in the Flatiron  District. Another fusion restaurant, Llama San is the third three star eatery which nods constantly to Peru and Japan. nThe star dish is the nigiri, a hand rolled ball of rice with a duck breast draped over it. Another three star is Benno, created by Jonathan Benno, which features such lush dishes as risotto with truffles along with caviar and lobster dishes.

Home chefs also had their favorite recipes. The top number one dish was the vinegar chicken with crushed olive dressing. Alison Roman came up with this turmeric laced chicken baked on a sheet pan. Crushed Castelvetrano olives make up the sauce. Samin Nosrat gives us the second most popular ,a thrice (!!) washed salad that has five different kinds of lettuce and a honey, garlic, and Dijon dressing. It was inspired by  Via Carota, Insalata Verde. Pork lovers nominated the pork chops in lemon caper sauce which is also spiced with thyme and parsley. A Hawaiian dish, Huli Huli made it to number four. It originated in 1954 when a Honolulu businessman, Ernesto Morgado served a group of farmers chicken that had been marinated in teriyaki sauce. The sauce has been updated to include ketchup, soy sauce, and light or dark brown sugar. Garlic and ginger give it spice and bite as it's grilled for half an hour on a hot barbecue. It's worth dragging out the grill for this tasty dish.If you prefer a more indoor dish, then try number five, creamy chickpea pasta with spinach and rosemary. Alexa Webel created this blend of chickpeas, heavy cream, garlic, shallots and spinach. The chickpeas are browned first , and then half are removed   to break down and thicken the sauce. It can top either spaghetti or bucatini.

Was 2019 a good year in food. Yes. There are some good eateries and recipes out there that will definitely please the palate. Visit these three star restaurants  Cook these top five dishes. Enjoy what made this year a good food year.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Beyond Meat Beef

There's a big controversy over a little - well - mid-sized burger. It seems the beef lobby is having problems with Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger. Accusations are running wild, with questions about the integrity of this latest food trend. Are they valid?

It was the topic of an article in today's New York Times Science section. Anahad O'Connor , who writes about consumer health and national news  for the Times delved into this burgeoning fight.
 There is even a heavy advertising campaign by the Center of Consumer Freedom, a public relations firms with ties to the meat industry. The ads call the Beyond Burgers as "ultra processed imitations" and casting aspersions about what's in  it. The burgers have even been compared to dog food with the question of what's in it. Meat producers are taking this fight to lawmakers. At least twenty-five states have introduced bills making it illegal to use the words "beef" and "meat" on products made from plant products. This also includes meat that's been cultured in a lab. The bills also calls for Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger to put the word "imitation" on all their packages. Missouri became the first state to pass the bill which was initially proposed by who else - the Missouri Cattleman's Association.
As you can tell I'm a big fan of the Beyond Beef burgers, having made them for tonight's dinner. They are not dog food. just an alternative to unhealthy meat and  lifesavers in a vegetarian household. They're made from canola and coconut oils, rice protein and potatoes. Beet juice  extract is added to give them that red meat look. The Impossible Burger is somewhat similar in composition but has the addition of heme - an iron containing compound from soy. it enhances the meat flavor of the patties. The burgers may have the same amount of calories but are close to nothing when it comes from cholesterol and saturated fat. They're also high in sodium with 370 milligrams of salt  in the Impossible Burger and 390 in the Beyond Meat . A regular beef patty only has 75 milligrams. My advice - don't eat them that much. Have a burger or any any other plant based "meat" two or three times a month. There are many meatless alternatives out there from bean dishes to recipes that are made from fresh veggies. Save the plant based burgers for special meals.

There should be no controversy when it comes to Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers. Buy them at your local Burger King (and watch other fast food chains come out with them) or grocery markets. Enjoy them. They are good for you if eaten in moderation. They're also delicious to the point of addictive. Try them today and see.

Run  free, little Honey, run free, angel.

Monday, December 9, 2019

A Very British Christmas

Somehow Christmas and England go together. Maybe it's because that one of the best Christmas stories of all, "A Christmas Carol" is set in London of the 1840's , written by that great British writer, Charles Dickens. Or maybe it's because some of our culinary  traditions have come from there. Whatever it is, recreating a very British Christmas is easy to replicate.

The British are big on turkey. It's mentioned in "A Christmas Carol" with Scrooge having a boy buy the biggest turkey in the market for the Cratchit family. You could easily make this, if you're not sick of the Thanksgiving leftovers. If not, the Brits love ham and a good beef roast. The last is always served with the mouth watering Yorkshire pudding. This is kind of like a giant popover being made with ,eggs ,water and flour. A half cup of pan drippings from the beef gives it a buttery , rich flavor. Serve it heaped with slices of the meat. Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes round out the meal. Of course it wouldn't be a holiday meal with out mince pies. This may not be for some thanks to the suet or beef fat added in. You can omit it if you want, and just leave in the dried raisins, currents and various peels such as candied lemon and orange. What to drink with all of this? A sweet port wine has been gracing British Christmas tables for three centuries.it originally came from Northern Portugal, from the Douro Valley.It was during Britain's early 17th century battles with France that they discovered this sweet, rich brew, They hated anything French , including wines and turned to Portugal for them. Of course sloe gin is a must , both on Christmas and on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.

The Great British Baking Show Master Class  shows have introduced us to a variety of holiday treats. One luscious one is Tunis cake, popular in the northern part of the country. It is a Madeira cake, another holiday bake topped with a thick layer of chocolate ganache. If you want to go full on British Christmas , then think about a steamed pudding. This is an elaborate make with fresh breadcrumbs baking powder and suet blended with raisins, currents and candied lemon and orange peels. Baking soda is added to give the pudding rise and flour is used for body. it's more of a steamed fruit cake, boosted up with  brandy. The batter is poured into a buttered or greased pudding bowl. It's then steamed for six hours in a hot water bath.It's served with brandy butter, a mix of butter, confectioners sugar hot water and brandy. This can also be served with mini mince pies too. Trifle is another fun British dessert that graces holiday tables. It's a boozy mix of Madeira or pound cake, cream, sherry, English gelatin and strawberries. (you could use Jello if you're in the states), Sometimes the meal also ends with a plate of rich Scottish shortbreads.

A British Christmas is a fun one. The dinner will make you burst. The desserts are just as rich and filling. It's a memorable way to celebrate the holiday  - with a Dickensian kind of flair.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Your Decorating Dictionary

This is the season that screams for all sorts of fun, icings , frostings and decorations . Yet do you know what goes with what and what kind of candy decoration works? It pays to be knowledgeable about what you're putting on those baked treats. It makes not only for a tastier treat but also for a prettier one too.

Before you rev up the mixer for frosting, know the differences between icing and frosting. Icing is thinner and glossier , usually reserved for some cakes, breads and buns like hot cross ones.It is perfect for topping sugar or lemon cookies. It's usually made of any kind of milk , confectioner's sugar and corn syrup. An extract, whether vanilla, almond or fruit such as lemon or orange is added for flavor. It's easy to tint. A thicker, maybe more manageable version is royal icing, used primarily in England but gaining popularity here. This is usually made with egg whites, confectioners sugar, and vanilla, however a healthier and safer version is made with aquafaba or the bean water from chickpeas. It's just three ingredients - that and confectioners sugar and some kind of flavoring. You can tint it the same as the regular royal icing. Frosting is heavier thanks to the addition of some kind of  butter, margarine, or shortening. This is perfect for cakes and cupcakes and can be tinted in any color and piped to look like ruffles and rosettes. Both icings can be frozen if you make too much or are planning a second batch of treats. There are also glazes. These are for reserved for Bundt cakes and sweet yeast breads and rolls. A basic ones has butter, confectioners sugar and enough milk to thin it out for an almost watery consistency. It can be flavored like icing , but most home bakers usually add in vanilla or lemon/ orange.

Now the extras. There's so many - what comes first? For the best and simplest designs just tint or dye the icings and frostings. You can use the old fashioned liquid food coloring however the best results come from gel food coloring. It has a glycerin or corn syrup base which makes it thicker and won't ruin the consistency of the frosting or icing. Of course there has to be red and green sprinkles which can be baked into cookies or sprinkled on cakes cupcakes and even buns. A prettier effect is sanding sugar , especially the silver which sparkles like snow in the moonlight.  What is sanding sugar? It's dried out sugar syrup and then the leftover granules are screened and colored. You could create it at home using the British turbinado sugar and gel food coloring. You could try it in red and green to be sprinkled over icing or frosting. Another elegant decoration is a sprinkling of silver dragees, These can be pretty on butter cookies but also on iced snowflake sugar cookies. Serious home bakers usually apply them with tweezers but you can use your fingers. You can also buy gold and pearl dragees too. Chopped nuts are a classic decoration. There's such a big choice from walnut chips which look sweet on brownies or slivered almonds that go well on butter or lemon ones. Candy also works. Mini candy canes are always fun on cupcakes and crushed ones can grace anything from brownies to fudge to cookies.

Holiday treat decorating is always fun. Just know what you're using for the prettiest and tastiest cakes, cookies, breads and brownies. It makes it easier to ice and frost , sprinkling, painting,  and glazing,

Friday, December 6, 2019

Target's New Line Good And Gather

Target is always a fun place especially for foodies.  It's one of the most exciting places for finding different and new brands. Now the store has introduced a new line Good & Gather, which features tasty and organic foods.

The line was actually brought out in September however I discovered it when I bought their pretzels about a week ago on my annual Thanksgiving run.

This new line has 650 (!) new products and six categories from beverages to pantry. What is good about the line is that the products are made without high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and colors and no synthetic colors. It's a perfect brand for parents wanting their kids to have healthier foods without any harmful side effects. There's also enough variety that little ones - and big ones won't get bored. Good and Gather has some fun choices. It can provide you with a whole meal and dessert to boot. You can buy the basics like their butter and milk along with fresh fruit and veggies to create wholesome dishes.

As with anything Target I love it. The pretzels' ingredients are all organic and they're a bit chunkier than the average pretzel stick, perfect for the crunch factor. Other crunchy snacks I want to try is Good and Gather's  unsweetened mango strips and coconut chips. I think their baked pita chips and sea salt veggie straws will be making an appearance at my holiday party table.Their chocolate infused almond butter is definitely on my radar as is their strawberry-rhubarb jam, both perfect on toasted brioche bread. Good and Gather has lunch and dinner choices too. I want to try their  burrata lemon zest ravioli, a combination of lemon and four cheeses. I can see serving them with a lemon butter sauce for  a lighter take on a traditional dish. The ravioli also come stuffed with tomato , mozzarella and basil for a classic flavor.  The shredded chicken looks interesting and too good to pass up too.Another must try is their sparkling water. Target has put together some interesting pairings such as cranberry -citrus and blackberry-raspberry along with ginger peach and coconut pineapple. Their watermelon sparkling water looks refreshing too.

Check out Good and Gather while you're holiday shopping. Target's new brand can supply you with your Christmas dinner and holiday party fare. They are yet another in house brand to love.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

A Holiday Buffet Of Sandwiches

Forget the canapes and mini bruschettas. Nix the pineapple and bacon sticks. Finger sandwiches are the way to go for your holiday party. They can be fun; they can be elegant. Most of all they are filling and tasty - two musts for any party food. Serve them and you'll have happy guests.

David Tanis was of this mindset when he created a variety of different sandwiches for his City Kitchen column in yesterday's New York Times Food section. His inspiration was the famed Nora Charles, Dashiell Hammett's heroine, portrayed by the great Myrna Loy. Nora and her husband, Nick, played by William Powell solve crimes in the glamourous Art Deco Thirties. During one wild Christmas party  she calls room service to order up a whole flock of sandwiches. This can work today. Mr. Tanis offers a whole flock of tasty ones that will suit everyone's tastes. They're tiny bites of flavor that can be prepared throughout the evening. The ingredients are interesting and guests as well as hosts will feel satisfied after three. It's also prudent, especially if you intend to also serve buzzy drinks and punches. Imbibing on a full stomach will cut down the threat of them getting buzzed or sick too quickly .Another plus, guests can bring home extra sandwiches or they can be served the next day for lunch (although there may not be any left). Just remember the bread is the most important part. Get Pullman or rye loaves. Challah and sourdough boules work too as do good brioche buns. If you can't get these, fall back on King's Hawaiian rolls that work for a vast variety of sandwich bases.

Of course there is the traditional sandwich. Mr. Tanis pairs steak with peppery watercress and jalapeno. on small whole wheat or brioche buns To moisten it try sweet butter (French and unsweetened) and sour cream. He also makes an egg salad without mayo! How does he do it? With olive oil combined with good green Spanish olives, scallions and celery. To give the mix more color  there's red pepper and parsley for a Christmas-y vibe. It's served on sliced, buttered challah bread (you could toast it if you want) and arugula. Anchovy can be added as can capers. There's a riff on the classic date and nut bread with cream cheese. The dates this time are in the cream cheese mixed with a little lime juice. Mr. Tanis recommends using soft juicy dates and natural cream cheese (which you can find at Wegman's). If you can find the last , then sub in ricotta cheese. Crispy salted rosemary herbed pecans are sprinkled on top to offset the sweetness. There is also my favorite croque monsiuer which is spiked with Dijon mustard. You have the choice of using Emmanthal, Gouda or Monterey Jack. Mr. Tanis tops it with a bechamel sauce but you can omit this if you want. These are also baked  which is traditional and served warm. If they do get cold, a quick heat in the oven will revive them.

As Nora Charles would say, have a flock of sandwiches at your holiday party. A small plate of different ones will make any guest happy. They're fun and festive , but best of all filling. Just make sure your Asta* doesn't steal a few.

 * Asta was the Charles' faithful terrier in "The Thin Man" series.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Baking Book For Holiday Bakers

No matter how good a home baker you are you still need inspiration and guidance, especially for the holidays. There are some interesting new pastry books out there now that can help.  They'll turn your holiday dessert table into a table from The Great British Baking Show.

Melissa Clark, the creator of the New York Times Food section's weekly column, A Good Appetite, reviewed and rated these interesting books. Thanks to America's obsession with all shows baking  like the aforementioned  The Great British Baking Show and Nailed It. Home bakers are upping their game. There is no such thing as quick and easy. It has to be elaborate and different. Recipes do reflect the times. Ms. Clark has noticed how trends affect the recipes in all the books. She has counted at least ten call for matcha  powder which is even in pound cake and ancient grains such as teff. einkorn and rye in the book from Tartine's pastry chef.. The biggest change is the use of gluten free flours and how far those recipes have come. This is clearly evident in Elisabeth Pruett, Tartine's pastry chef and co author of  Tartine: A Classic Revisited that she wrote with Chad Robertson. Chef  Pruett is a celiac sufferer  herself, kept  it to herself as she created the restaurant's famed tarts and croissants. Now the gluten free recipes shine such as her chocolate cream pie with oat crust. It was a big hit in Ms. Clark's household with her daughter and the daughter's gluten allergic friend wanting seconds.

The other cookbooks shine too.Another restaurant pastry chef, Margarita Manke's Baking At Republique which feature mostly French pastries and one coconut tapioca soup recipe honoring her Filipino heritage. Another  pastry chef, Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery gives us Pastry Love:A Baker's Journal of Favorite Recipes.  The book has ethereal recipes such as Japanese cotton cheesecake and fun ones such as Super Bowl cupcakes and cinnamon bun popcorn. If you want to embrace Midwestern baking then look to Shauna Severn's Midwest  Made: Big Bold Baking From The Heartland whick features such family favorites as Swedish flop cake  and the light lemon angel pie. There is even a recipe for the buttery and much loved favorite Kringle. Pastry cookbook veteran and Food section contributor, Samantha Seneviratne's  The Joys Of Baking: Recipes for a Sweet Life  has classic recipes such as pain au chocolate zinged up with the addition of Earl Grey tea. For those home bakers who want just simple recipes  check out Odette Williams Simple Cake: All You Need to Keep Your Friends and Family In Cake. Her milk and honey cake, a buttery layered one is rich with dark honey and butter milk. A simple homemade whipped cream tops it and honey is drizzled on top for decoration.

These are the books that will help elevate any holiday dessert table. They go a step further than just the usual cookie recipes. It's time to step up the baking game with these sweet books.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Snowstorm Scrounging

Any sudden snowstorm can throw anybody for a loop/ There's the craziness of trying to get home on icy roads along with unexpectedly being snowed in. What happens when you can't go to the store? Scrounge. It's time to get creative in the kitchen.

Every home kitchen should have the basics - bread, milk, and eggs.Of course these three make up the backbone of any French toast recipe but they're multipurpose on their own. Bread can be used to make croutons for soup, along with the crumbs being used as thickener for soups, stews and even gravies. Toasted bread drizzled with oil and grated cheese makes for a tasty lunch or dinner. Keep in mind that any Italian or French bread is the perfect base for French bread pizza. If you don't have pizza sauce ,  drained stewed tomatoes can do the trick. Pita bread is another versatile bread that can have a variety of uses in a pinch. Yes you can stuff it with salad, veggies and meats for a quick, low calorie lunch or even dinner. It can also be turned into a grilled cheese pocket. Raid the fridge for any kind of cheese, from cheddar to mozzarella along with  ham or Taylor ham to stuff into the pitas. This is a great snack ,especially when you're stuck indoors, watching movies. Also they make great breakfast pockets too.Fill with eggs, ham or bacon.It's the perfect breakfast before tackling shoveling snow.

Milk is another multipurpose ingredient. Use it and whatever fruit you have around to make smoothies. Apples and pears, usually not associated with the drink, can be tossed in if you don't have the usual bananas or strawberries. If you have any leftover pumpkin puree from Thanksgiving, blend it into a pumpkin spice smoothie, a nice change up from the berry based ones. Yogurt is also versatile too. Add fruit bits or chocolate chips for a fun dip with any kind of shortbread or plain vanilla or chocolate snaps. If you do run out of milk during a sudden snow storm, then hit your freezer. Melted vanilla ice cream can be used if you need it for coffee or cereal, however be warned. The melted stuff can be a breeding ground for bacteria because the sugar in it feeds the microbes. Use it sparingly. Eggs can be your best source of protein if you have no meat in the house. A favorite is the Italian frittata. Use any leftover veggies to create a delicious breakfast , lunch or dinner. Also break into your spice rack for extra flavoring. A pinch of turmeric or garlic salt elevates any egg dish. You could also make scrambled eggs with the addition of tomatoes , peppers or onions too.

Sudden snowstorm happening? Don't panic. Scrounge around your kitchen. You'll be amazed at what you'll come up with - delicious dishes that will be family favorites and classics.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Your Holiday Baking Goals

Now that it's December , it's time to start thinking about goals - namely your holiday baking ones. What do you want to achieve. The perfect array of cookies? Delicious pies and cakes? Traditional fruitcakes or airy mousses? It's all up to you.

First of all, any goal requires a plan. With baking it's simple. Make sure you have enough flour and sugar along with mixes, milk , eggs and butter. Also make sure your cookie cutters  and cake pans are up to par. If not go out and get yourself some new ones. Make sure you have extras such as a sieve or strainer for sifting confectioners sugar as well as for dusting onto baked goods. A pastry brush comes in handy , especially for brushing breads and rolls with melted butter or beaten egg.Also  have or get a ruler. This is important when you're making the pieces for gingerbread houses and you have to have exact measurements. I can't stress how crucial it is to have a roll or two of parchment paper. This is  a must if you/re baking certain cookies and definitely meringues. Holiday cupcake papers should also be part of your holiday baking plan. You know you're going to bake at least two dozen whether for a family or school party. Now is also the perfect time to test out your cookie press, making sure that one, the barrel isn't cracked and two, that the press still works. Make sure you have the holiday imprint discs too for those candy canes, angels, wreaths and trees. This is the time to assess baking extras and frills. Do you have to go out and get candy decorations? White and dark chocolate for dipping cookies into and for drizzling onto  surfaces? Do you have any sanding sugar left over from last year - and it's good to use for three to five years.

Now that you have your arsenal loaded, the next question is what to bake. I've been asked to bake  whole gingerbread families  including their dogs. Of course these families require housing. I know from my Mom baking  them, gingerbread houses require a certain level of skill, to bake, assemble and decorate. I know I can't handle the first. It would just be non-stop baking, while putting everything else on hold. I plan on just buying the kits (I have about three to four houses to "build" and frost). Luckily Target has Wilton's Ready To Decorate gingerbread houses that are not also already baked but assembled. All you have to do is just put a few icing swirls here and there, outline the windows and doors, and ice the roof. The kit also has extra silver and gold candy discs to create a front path.My one goal is a simple and elegant one : a two layer chocolate cake with a peppermint buttercream icing, dusted with silver sanding sugar. The only fanciness will be how the icing will be piped. I'll be looking through Carey Madden's great book Buttercream Basics : Learn The Art of Buttercream Decorating for inspiration for the cake's sides. I've also been asked to make scratch cookies and I'm thinking peanut butter blossoms and cookie press cookies in pink and green.

This is the time to think about your holiday baking goals. What do you want to achieve this season? Some elaborate masterpiece or a family classic? It's all up to you and what you can handle.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

My Vegan Pumpkin Mousse

It may have been  Black Friday but for me it was still Thanksgiving weekend, a perfect time to make the much anticipated vegan pumpkin mousse. How would it turn out? Would it be as delicious as promised? Most of all would it hold its'  shape?

Again I got the recipe from the Feasting On Fruit blog. This is what I started with :
The recipe called for two cups of  Soy Delicious coconut milk, yogurt, however I doubted its' consistency so I made it semi-vegan with the addition of Siggis Icelandic yogurt which is more like a creme fraiche.
This is the pureed pumpkin I use . Everything was doubled because I wanted to make this for three to four people. I used one and a half  cans of the pumpkin puree.
It was mixed with the coconut yogurt first along with this.
Two tablespoons of pumpkin pie spice and 3/4 of a cup of maple syrup. There was also 3 teaspoons of vanilla added for flavor.
This is what it looked like combined.
It just looked too runny. Time for Siggis which also lightened the color as well as giving it some body.
 Siggis Icelandic yogurt is very much like creme fraiche , however it left the mousse with a decidedly tangy sourness. Time for more pumpkin spice and maple syrup. I added a dash more spice and a small glug of syrup.
This is the finished product. It looks more like a pumpkin pudding and with a few more drops of maple syrup and another sprinkle of pumpkin spice, it was tasty,

As for the extra pumpkin  above  i'm freezing it and i'll go into our family's Piedmontese pumpkin soup.
This is the final product.
It is delicious and a nice alternative to pumpkin pie. I just added a frill of whipped cream and a dusting of more pumpkin spice. 

This pudding like mousse would make an interesting dessert for the holidays or for any time of  the year. I may try it in tart shells for mini pumpkin pies. It's an easy make and a tasty one too.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Black Friday Kitchen

If there's ever a time to restock your kitchen it's this weekend, starting with today , Black Friday. There's so many deep discounts that that it pays to replace the appliances and gadgets that you have. Get to your big box stores, malls or internet for some good deals that will benefit your holiday cooking and baking.

One of the biggest and most important items to buy for your kitchen is an air fryer. It really is a time saver and makes cooking dinner that much easier. Right now Target has their air fryer brands such as As Seen On TV (which is what mine is) on sale for half price - only $69.97 instead of the regular full price of $129,99. I can't  begin tell you how vital one is  to cooking. It's something that will get used four to five times a week. Target also has the mini fryer at $39.99 along with other version that can fry up to three and four quarts at prices under $60.00 Another big item on sale right now is the Instant-pot. This another must have for any kitchen and if you don't have one now is the time to buy. Again Target seems to be the go to store for them. Their pricing is amazing, with the store slicing off thirty dollars off of most prices.If you don't feel like leaving the house or waiting for Cyber Monday., then check out Amazon. They too are having a sale on some of the Instant Pots offered. The sales prices are not as good as Target's but you can still save anywhere from $20 to $80 and shipping is free if you have an Amazon Prime subscription.

One of the best stores to shop at for  kitchenware is Macy's . You can buy a variety of much needed gear at very good sales prices. Calphalon is now priced $200 below its' usual sales price. One lavish set has everything a home chef needs from a ten inch frying pan, a five quart Dutch oven with lid and two sauce pans. That kitchen classic, Pyrex is also discounted. Macy's has their mixing bowl set on sale for just $27.00 instead of the usual $47. This is a must buy because you can not only use the bowls for leftovers but for mixing cookie dough in this upcoming holiday baking season.Even Pyrex measuring cups are a few dollars off and again these are important in the kitchen all year long.Martha Stewart has long been a standard at one of the US's oldest department stores. Now all her baking utensils have discounts that novice and pro bakers would love. Her non stick doughnut pan is only $5.99, perfect for those who want to bake those yummy rings for holiday brunches. The madeleine pan is twenty dollars off  at only $11. This is a great gift for those enamored with French pastry. The spatulas and cake pans are also discounted. Cookie makers  should buy the OXO cookie press at only $29.99 The designs include Christmas themed ones with wreaths trees and snowflakes.

Take advantage of  this Black Friday weekend and Cyber Monday  to restock your kitchen. The deals are incredible and perfect for the home chef looking for bargains. Start shopping now.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thank You For The Food

As we become more and more woke - we need to give thanks where's it much needed - the indigenous people. They fed our earliest settlers and received only racism and loss of land in return.We need to be grateful for not only their sacrifices but also for their  contributions to our varied  American table.  They showed us  how to grown and collect squash, corn and maple syrup, They gave us salmon and wild turkey, tomatoes and potatoes, cocoa , avocados and coffee.

Yes, we should be thankful for having food on our tables and leftovers in the fridge. We should also be thankful for the first Thanksgiving and what the indigenous tribes generously gave us.

A  happy and thoughtful Thanksgiving to all, whether here in the States or those Americans around the world.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A Very Helpful Thanksgiving Guide

Once more the New York Times  Food section has a helpful Thanksgiving guide for tomorrow and even the days afterwards. It's a good issue to have, especially if you need help with the bird or the leftovers.There's also a great article on how to set the table, with help from designers and just ordinary families.  Take a look and take from it what you can.

One of the best pieces is about how to set a lovely, meaningful table. One of the most interesting is from Peter Shire, a painter, sculptor and furniture designer in Los Angeles. His table is graced with cactus shaped candle holders or cact-o-labras, The tablecloth is a brightly cherry red and white striped Mexican oil cloth supporting  handmade plates and gelato bowls. Other hosts such as Agustin Hernandez of Portland, Oregon has beautifully handmade doilies in all different colors on his table. Abbye Churchill, another artist, out of Brooklyn, New York also has her own hand crafted woven place mats from cotton handspun from dead stock textile waste and hand crafted ceramics. The most elegant settings come from Dr. Guna Raj of Dallas and Kerry Moody of New Orleans. Dr. Raj's table is the showpiece.It was shipped to Chicago where she lived in 1983, this wedding gift is inlaid with semiprecious stones by descendants of the artisans who built the Taj Mahal. Of course it also has her wedding china, from Noritake too. Mr. Moody has elegant antiques on his table, from belle epoque damask napkins to 1790's silverware. The Syrian immigrant family, the Rawas Family of Richmond California decorate their table simply with a lace tablecloth and a lovely tea/coffee set.

Of course there are articles about food. One of the most interesting is the Butterball Hotline one, written by Kim Severson. She visited the center where America has been calling since 1981. From November 1st until Christmas , fifty Butterball experts answer questions through live calls, emails, and live chats about everything turkey. One of the men first hired in 2013, Bill Nolan talked a newly widowed man through his first Thanksgiving cooking alone. He spent half an hour coaching the man, the day before the holiday  recounting the story with tears in his eyes. If you do need help you can reach Butterball through the hotline, website and even Alexa! (The New York Times has something similar and you can call in and possibly get advice from Melissa Clark!!) Another article features the ubiquitous Thanksgiving must have Jello. Julia Moskin wrote this interesting article about the history of gelatins in the US - we have Tom Jefferson to thank for them. There's also a recipe for a cherry lemon cream mold that features the likely or unlikely pairing of Jello and sour cream. Consider it a retro dish. Then there are the leftovers. Melissa Clark's column, A Good Appetite, is devoted to what to do on Friday. You can make turkey barbecue sandwiches or stuff pita with the meat. Add cucumbers, and tahini for a Middle Eastern vibe and halved cherry tomatoes for color. Then there's the turkey Cubano, a riff on the classic Cuban ham sandwich , complete with Swiss cheese and deli ham or prosciutto. Mayo, mustard and melted butter along with pepperoncino peppers round it out.

This Food section is a the perfect one to keep. You can get ideas for tomorrow's and even Christmas's tables, along with Jello and leftover ideas. It's a good guide for this holiday season and beyond.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Are You Ready

Thanksgiving is only two days away. Are you ready to handle the year's biggest day of cooking? If not, it's time to assess what you have and also take a break.

By now you should have almost everything. The turkey should be in the freezer and on the way to defrosting tomorrow. The ingredients for the sides should all be bought too. Have you thought about the vegans and variations of that lifestyle? Have you bought the almond and soy milks and whipped creams? What about the family and guests with allergies? Keep in mind that the almond byproducts may cause trouble to those with nut allergies. Stick with soy milk and coconut milk whipped creams. Do you have the ingredients for everyone's favorite dishes?Make the green bean casserole without the fried onions on top and there may be a riot.People love and even swear by tradition. Thanksgiving Day is not the day to get arty or creative with the green beans or any beans for that matter. At best a new twist on a classic recipe may be met with a wrinkled nose and a polite "No, thank you." At worst a tantrum and someone leaving the table with their plate full of just turkey and gravy. Also make sure that you've bought the right amount of wine (although someone may bring a bottle as a gift) along with soda, juice and seltzer for kids and non-drinkers.

As for yourself, use tomorrow as a day off(or at least until it's time to bake the pies). If you have the day off from work, then treat yourself. Have lunch out, whether it's at your favorite cafe or fast food joint.  Feast on the Popeye's chicken sandwich, treat yourself to Dunkin Donut's new Beyond Meat sausage patty sandwich. Go for the mani and pedi, with a huge cup of hot or cold Dunkin's or Starbucks. Hang out at Panera's with a croissant and their signature hot chocolate. Just relax and don't think about the day until the day happens. Dinner should be easy too. It's actually the night when the most pizza is ordered throughout the US. Order the double pepperoni and sauce. Or go for sushi or burgers - whatever make you and your family happy. If you're still antsy about Thanksgiving, you could bring out all the linens and steam or iron them. Doing either is surprisingly relaxing. The spouse and kids can also help by polishing the silver and making sure the crystal sparkles. Most importantly get to bed at a reasonable hour. Sleep is your best friend , especially when you have to be bright eyed and bushy tailed the next morning. End the night with a soothing mint or chamomile tea (I"m loving the Nana mint teas from Wissotzky Teas) to get you drowsy and sleepy.

Are you fully ready for the Super Bowl of cooking? If not, make yourself ready but don't  sweat it. No meal  - not even Thanksgiving itself - is worth worry and angst.

Monday, November 25, 2019

My Big Fat Tofu Thanksgving

At almost the midnight hour I found out that I'm cooking this year's Thanksgiving luncheon/dinner. Of course it's all going to be vegan with vegan sides. It was a last minute thing but I had the menu in place.  Sort of.

The main course was going to be Gardein's turkey cutlets with gravy but they were nowhere to be found. Luckily this came on my radar.

It's suited more to Christmas but beggars can't be choosers. It's already marinaded in vegan amber ale and supposedly  has a smoky flavor like the real thing. After a 24 hour thaw it's in the oven for an hour at 325 degrees F. I may sheet pan it with some yams.
                                                 The sides will be simple. I bought Aldi's Loaded Mashed potatoes which is flavored with fake bacon (hopefully vegan ) sour cream and cheddar.
This is an instant cook that just requires milk. Then as I researched a dementia diet, I came across a string bean almandine recipe that peaked my interest.
It'll be steamed green beans with almonds sauteed in lemon butter sauce scattered on top. That sounds too good to pass up.

As for dessert, a pie for just two people is just too much. Yet we still want that pumpkin pie flavor. I found a vegan pumpkin mousse on the blog Feasting On Fruit. It seems easy enough, combining pumpkin puree and coconut yogurt mixed with pumpkin pie spice and maple syrup.
I'm excited about this the most. It sounds exciting and if it works out well, then it will be a fall standard in my house. The website has other vegan recipes that look intriguing and you may see my version of them in the weeks to come.(especially for X-mas cookies).

This is what awaits me on Wednesday - for the mousse and Thanksgiving for the vegan ham and sides. As with any meal I just hope all goes well. As the pros say if you can ace Thanksgiving you can ace any meal.I hope I can.