Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Corned Ham For Easter

One of the constants right now is the holiday dinner. For many Christians it's ham on Easter, a comforting reminder of happier years and hope for a better holiday next year. Southerners can appreciate the rare corned ham, a specialty of Maryland and South Carolina

Brett Anderson, a restaurant critic and regular contributor to the New York Times wrote about this  rare Southern classic in today's New York Times Food issue. Traditional corned ham is nothing more than  fresh ham that's been cured in salt. It's found in St. Mary's County in Maryland, a peninsula between the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River where it's used for stuffed hams. It's also found in eastern North Carolina where hog farming has been the backbone  of the economy for generations. It's one region where it's still common for people to serve unembellished ham for the holidays. Some Carolinians boil their hams and them use the  rich broth, also called pot likker to cook sides like collard greens. Many slow roast the hams too. They get them at local Piggly Wigglys but many of an older generation corned the hams themselves.

You can make corned ham at home.  Just remember it's going to take up a lot of fridge space which is precious nowadays. (you can buy one on line from It will take ten days so  maybe it can work as an after Easter dinner. You will need to put a ten to fifteen pound ham in a roasting pan and cutting incisions in it, namely around the shank and hip bones.  Stuff  as much as  kosher salt as you can in them. Its' then soaking the ham over night in  half of inch of water. Afterwards press parchment paper into the meat and seal the whole thing with aluminum foil.Cook it in a 325 F degree oven for twenty-three to twenty-five minutes per pound . A fifteen pound ham would be roasted for six and a quarter hours.Ninety minutes before the final cooking remove the foil and parchment. Turn up the oven's heat to 375 degrees F and return the ham to it.The intense heat will turn the top layer of fat into the added treat of a covering  like crackling.The best part is the leftovers. You can use the meat and bones in everything from pea soup to ham salad. You can even make a corned ham Reuben toofor a fun lunch or dinner.

Corned ham is a treat anyone can make at home. Celebrate Spring or time with your family with a home corned one.It's a great addition to your cooking repertoire.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

World Health Day A Day To Eat Healthy

Today is World Health day where we celebrate nurses and midwives around the world. We could also take the day to consider our own health and eating right. We have been indulging in too many snacks and too many pre Easter goodies It's time for a healthy infusion of vitamins and minerals.

A lot of us have been living off of canned food.Let's face it. It's easy to store and easy to heat up. It's not time consuming to make, especially in these days of endless Zoom meetings and home schooling.Many soups are high in sodium ,plus preservatives. Most  soups are high in salt. A better bet is homemade soup. If you have chicken or turkey bones boil them into a stock. You can also use leftover meat and the  skin for a richer flavor. There should also be celery, onions and carrots for more taste. Use all of the celery, including the leaves and the tops. You should also have parsley too along with salt and pepper. Simmer for about four hours. Chicken stock can also be cooked in an Instapot and crock pot too. You can put whatever you want in it, from  ditalini to orzo along with sliced tomatoes, more onions and celery.  Shredded chicken or turkey is always good too.  As for chicken itself, it's tempting to buy up the frozen fried chicken, but a better choice would be chicken cutlets if you can find them (you can always get frozen) and bread them yourself using a light egg wash and a dredging of spiced flour. Fry in the air fryer for a lighter but still crispy crunch.

Snacks are also a big concern right now. How many of us have ripped into endless bags of chips right now. They are tasty, especially if they're served with a rich sour cream dip. Yet you can make them healthier by buying bags of the baked chips along with Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. You can flavor the dip with onion or garlic powder or even chopped scallions for a different kind of flavor. Another healthier indulgence is pretzels. They're salty and crunchy but without all the calories. Plus pretzels can be put into all sorts of fun treats too, from sundaes to topping cupcakes. Tortilla chips and salsa are another good for you bite. Salsa can also be home made with sliced tomatoes, onions and jalapenos. Add fresh pineapple for a tasty different spin.A second healthy dip is guacamole, and again to give it an entirely different flavor, try cherry tomatoes instead of plum tomatoes to blend with the avocados. Sweet snacks are everybody's downfall right now. Yes, we all love those sandwich cookies, but try fruit  - even if' it's just an apple a day  with some cookies. Have fun fruits like grapes for the kids. These are fun nibbles , especially after a hard day of home schooling. Strawberries and pineapple chunks are also good and fun - especially if you have a vanilla Greek yogurt dip.

It is World Health Day, and we should honor all those brave nurses and midwives especially right now. Yet we should use the day to remind ourselves to eat healthier during this time inside. We'll feel better with better food in us.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Make And Freeze

if there's ever a time to make and freeze it is now. It pays to create a few dishes ahead of time or ones that will generate a lot of leftovers. All you have to do is just pop these  into the microwave or toaster oven. Doing this will save up time for meetings and schooling.

One of the easiest make and freeze is lasagna. It can be made even easier with no boil lasagna noodles and canned sauce. You can create an easy tomato sauce using your crockpot or Instapot and adjust the seasonings to your family's tastes. As for the meats try sliced sausages or ground beef. Once the ingredients are layered and baked , then it's time for freezing. Wrap it tightly in Saran Wrap first then aluminum foil .It can be refrigerated for a day and frozen for up to a month. Remember to thaw out the lasagna in the fridge before reheating it.It tastes better reheated in the oven so bake it in a  400 degree F oven for an hour. Another easy make and freeze is spaghetti and meatballs. Since this is a popular  dish make double for dinner. Let the kids enjoy it now and have it as another dinner or even lunch a few days later. Again you can have homemade or store bought sauce. Meatballs freeze very well, which is a plus. Freeze in Ziploc bags or freezer friendly containers. Keep in mind to wait for the pasta to cool. Freezing hot or even still warm foods can cause other freezer foods to melt or thaw. Remember to put the date you froze them on the begs.

Another food to think of freezing is turkey. You may want to have it as your Easter dinner for a fancier dinner. It's great for leftovers because there's so much you can do with it. Just remember to make sure the turkey and sides are completely cooled before you put the leftovers in the freezer. The meat should first be wrapped in freezer paper or foil and then sealed in air tight plastic freezer bags. Be quick about this - all packages should be placed in the freezer right away. As for the sides like mashed potatoes and green beans put into airtight freezer containers or plastic freezer bags. One of the most versatile meals that can be frozen before and after cooking is meat loaf.In fact some home chefs believe that freezing a meat loaf before cooking increases its' flavor. For first freezing, form the loaf and then wrap it very well in Saran wrap, then place in an air tight freezer bag. It can keep up to six months in there so you may want to make a few for the weeks ahead. The loaf should be thawed out in the fridge the night before cooking. As for freezing the left over slices, put in freezer containers and store for later use.

 Making and freezing  is your best bet if you're busy with Zoom meetings and home schooling. It frees you up for the more important sides of home life these days. Create now, cook later for easier living.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

The Flavor Of Naples

One of the best comfort foods to have is any dish from Naples. The recipes are redolent with rich spices and freshly picked and made ingredients. It is worth revisiting the cuisine and the solace it brings.

Every Neopolitan family has a recipe for tomato sauce. They may all seem the same yet each family recipes varies sometimes slightly - sometimes a lot.One favorite recipe involves the inclusion of pork in the "meat" sauce.Usually called Bolognese by fancier restaurants many Southerners  just call their meat and it can have anything from sausage to ground chuck. Some add pork, usually lean ground into it too for more flavor. It give the flavor a sweeter, richer taste. You can also add pancetta or as it's occasionally  called Italian bacon. It's actually pork belly that's been cured  like bacon then cold smoked, or partially cooked. It melts into the sauce and gives it a richer flavor. Of course, the most important part are the tomatoes themselves. Many use fresh when they're in season, but most home chefs usually go for San Marzano ones. What is the best one here in the States? Surprisingly a panel of New York Times Food and the online zine Wire Cutter picked Target's Market Pantry sauce as the best. You can also try Muir Glen along with Stop & Shop Nature's Promise Organic Sauce and tomato paste.

Neopolitan kids go wild for mozzarella in carrozza. These are a kind of grilled cheese- croque Monsieur sandwich that's filled with gooey, melted cheese. It starts with white bread and mozzarella.  You can cut off the crusts if you like. The sandwich is then cut in half and dipped into a bath of beaten egg and a sliced garlic clove. The next step is dredging the triangles into breadcrumbs and frying in a quarter of an inch olive oil. Fry until the crusts or ends are brown and the cheese is oozing out. You can use the homemade sauce for dipping for a kind of pizza taste. To vary it , slather a layer of pesto on the mozzarella or add a slice of prosciutto or a couple of anchovies. Anchovies also figure in a savory zeppoli. (Some Neopolitan home chefs also put a bit of prune with this for a sweet -savory flavor). Zeppoli are usually a sweet treat , dusted with powdered sugar after being deep fried. However they can also be savory , with a simple dough of flour, water and yeast. The dough is proofed for two hours then rolled into balls. An anchovy filet is placed in the center and then the balls are fried in six cups of oil. Serve the golden puffs with hot homemade sauce.

There is nothing like Neopolitan comfort food. It is soothing and savory, perfect for these times. Create their best recipes for a delicious lunch,dinner or even snack.

Per Rose Russo Garguilo. Mille grazie per avermi insegnato alcune delle migliori ricette.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Shopping Days These Days

These days are unprecedented and it's scary to even think about going out food shopping. This one pleasant task has become a frightening trip into the unknown. Luckily there are tips to stay sane .

Even in better days, a shopping list is handy . Many phones have a Note app that lets you create lists. There's no need for the old school paper ones. These can be easily added to and can be deleted after shopping (Or kept). Remember to sanitize your phone when you come home if you do take it out after coming home. Always ask yourself what are the basics that you need. Are you low on rice? Or pasta? These go fast and it pays to buy a few sacks of rice to keep you going. These will last for a month and rice is a versatile base. Try to buy a variety of pasta - think rotelli and spaghetti along with smaller pieces like ditalini which are perfect for soups. How many boxes should you get? As many as you need. Families with kids should buy more. Kids love a good soothing spaghetti dinner and it is a comfort during these crazy times. Cereal is also a must, especially if you have little ones. Three or four boxes should be enough for a week or two, especially if you ration them. The same goes for the hot cereals such as oatmeal and farina. With this comes milk, so buy three or four containers of it.

Other basics are beef and poultry but these can be hard to find. Some grocery stores like Acme and Wal-mart have roast chicken that you can pick up when you want a treat. There may some shortages on fresh cuts and cutlets. Think about packaged and frozen meals. Also consider frozen fish as well . The kids will like fish sticks every now and then. This is also the time to go vegan because vegan products seem to be plentiful. Gardein is always in stock and they have an excellent choice of faux meats. Their hamburgers taste like the real thing and they're great as patty melts or plain. Everyone will like their chicken tenders which have the same crunch and taste as the real thing. Beyond Burgers and Impossible Meat are also great and taste very much like beef. As for veggies and fruit should you get fresh? If you can yes. Everyone appreciates a fresh apple or a bowl of cherry tomatoes. . Just remember to wash all fruits and veggies for twenty seconds with cold water before storing.  Also when you get the food home remember to decontaminate it. Wipe all plastic containers and cardboard boxes with disinfectant. Do it outside and transfer the cleaned products to uncontaminated or untouched bags.

A grocery store visit isn't what it used to be.It's essential but risky. Take all the precautions you can , and shop wisely. Get what you truly need and get it in multiples. Make your shopping list last a week or two during these unprecedented times.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Easy Bread For The Holidays

There's nothing as comforting or as steady as tradition. That includes matzoh for Passover and breads for Easter. We need them to complete seders and dinners. what better way to carry on tradition than to bake them ourselves. It'sa way to calm ourselves and connect with our pasts.

Melissa Clark knows this and offered a matzoh recipe in her A Good Appetite column in yesterday's New York Times. You can still buy matzoh in the stores, There are boxes of it but you can also make it at home if you don't want to go out or there are shortages in your area. Matzoh is an easy bake because it's just water and flour. Ms. Clark suggests also adding whole wheat flour for an earthier taste along with sprinkling the tops with flaky sea salt. You can also add cracked pepper or other spices.One important ingredient is olive oil  which give a richness in both flavor and body. You'll need about two cup of flour, kosher salt and only a quarter cup of whole wheat flour. A scant quarter cup of olive oil is also blended in along with a half of cup of water. The dough is rolled out to the thinnest possible thickness. You can aim for rounds but if they're too hard, then settle for oblongs. Transfer each to a cookie sheet and prick with a fork.  Sprinkle with the flaky sea salt.The matzohs only take seven to twelve minutes to bake, until they're golden and lightly browned in spots. Roll out  following batches as the first are baking.

An Easter dinner, no matter, how small , can also have a loaf of bread. Krysten Chambrot, a senior staff editor at the Food section wrote about these also in yesterday's issue. There are different recipes beginning with one for novices, and working all the way up to seasoned bread bakers. Beginners can try their hand at Mark Bittman's no knead bread. It's a simple recipe of bread flour and instant yeast . It's just takes a long while to proof  - about twelve hours or more. If you have trouble with yeast, then try the non yeast type. Food section regular  contributor, Florence Fabricant gives a beer bread one, that's sweet, thanks to the addition of sugar and beer. Make a loaf or two for the holiday and serve with sliced Easter ham. From there go for the enriched breads. These are the loaves that have egg and honey in them, which are the basis of many traditional Easter breads. A good holiday bread is an enriched savory focaccia recipe taken from the famed Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. Olive oil and minced rosemary flavor it.  It's cut into squares - perfect for a family Easter brunch and for the leftovers the next day. You will need a stand mixer and a dough hook to knead the dough.

Baking matzoh and bread is a soothing holiday tradition. Bake some in these stressful times for comfort and to relieve the uneasiness of these uncertain times.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Holidays In The Time Of Hardship

With April comes holidays along with the foods and traditions that shape them. Yet how can we celebrate together when we're so far apart? That's a good question with several answers.

Priya Krishna wrote extensively about this in today's New York Times Food section, Luckily we have Zoom and Skype so there can be virtual Seders, and Easter dinners along with Persian New Year and Ramadam. Rabbi Doug Kahn,a Reform rabbi in San Francisco is doing a virtual Seder this Passover with his wife Ellen. The group has been asked to email each other their favorite holiday recipes so they're all on the same page . The hardest part, however, is the afikoman , the piece of matzo that's usually hidden in the house for children to find.Rabbi Kahn will carry his computer through his house, going through each room. People have to guess where the piece is hidden. The same can be done for Easter, Families can have virtual brunches or dinners together. They can even make candy together as Marley Griggey of Cincinnati , Ohio is doing with her family members. This is a family tradition this graduate student will pass down to her own young children. Her husband, Phill, who works overnight at Target, also helps in getting the traditional ham and eggs both hard to get right now both for cooking and dying.

The Persian New Year  or Nowruz is also very big. It is a time when there ceremonial dishes to be cooked and shared. It's in full swing right now , starting on March 19th. It's a thirteen day celebration where people throw parties and set up haft-sins. This is a collection of seven items like garlic and vinegar that symbolize hope for the new year along with dishes such as sabzi polo ba mahi, fish with herbed rice. Katayoun Kishi, an Iranian living in Atlanta had to pare down her festivities. Her haft sin had to be cut down because of shortages and there were no sweets because the bakeries were shut down. As for Ramadam, many of the dinners have been cancelled. Hassan Chami, a Detroit pharmacist  and owner of the restaurant Terry Melt,usually runs the Ramadam Food Festival, an event where there are forty vendors including himself. It's where the city's sizable Muslim population communally breaks their fast. The vent has to be cancelled but the money he donated is going to local hospitals to buy much needed supplies. along with giving free food away to hospital workers.

This year follow these examples to make the best of your holidays and holy days. It will be different but still celebratory. Make it a tasty one , still full of good memories.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Missing Your Restaurant Favorites

Everyone is missing their favorite fast foods and restaurants right now. It is tough because we're all sheltered in place . Yet we can make the most of a situation by recreating some of our favorite take outs at home.

One of the most missed is a hamburger. If you can get patties (try shopping early in the morning when the stores first open and supplies are in) then turn them into Whoppers and Big Macs. Add double the amount of meat along with lettuce and tomatoes along with pickles and sliced onions. As for the special sauce, it;s just a mix of mayo , ketchup , horseradish and mustard. Take a half cup of mayo and blend with a third of a cup of ketchup. It's then adding one fourth cup horseradish, and one fourth cup mustard. Also mix in one tablespoon white sugar or honey and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Keep in mind you can use this sauce for leftover cold meat loaf too. As for the fries, many stores have already sold out but you can make your own fries. Try to get Russet potatoes because they're the best and the meatiest. It's first cutting them into one quarter inch discs and then into one quarter inch sticks. Fry them in canola or vegetable oil. If you're using  an air fryer , then soak the uncooked fries in water for a whole hour. Dry them toss them in oil and salt and then put them in a 400 degree F air fryer for twenty minutes.

Of course everyone is missing their tacos and burritos right now. It's so easy to recreate a Taco Bell burrito. The filling is an easy mix of beans, tomato paste and chopped onions cooked together. What gives the filling its' zing is a tablespoon or two of red wine vinegar. Chopped cheddar cheese is added to the mix along with cumin and chili powder. Tacos are an easy make and you can fill them with a variety of different add ins. Use beans or chicken or any leftover meat or fish. Cook these fillings up with some sliced jalapenos and chili powder, top with homemade guacamole or sour cream along with sliced cherry tomatoes and shredded lettuce. You can even make a healthy one with such veggies as broccoli and cauliflower mixed with sliced carrots and green beans. Many love teriyaki and the sauce is easy to make. The base is soy sauce with a variety of different ingredients blended in. There's water , honey and brown sugar beaten into the soy sauce along with rice vinegar , sesame oil, ginger and garlic. Cornstarch is also added for thickening. Keep in mind any meat or veggie can be cooked with this flavorful sauce. Try tofu one night and salmon on another. serve with scallion rice which is an easy mix of chopped scallions cooked with rice boiled in either chicken or vegetable broth.

Everyone is missing their favorite restaurant and take out dishes right now. Try to recreate them with tasty replicas from your kitchen. You may just make them as regular dishes in the future.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Cooking Lessons

With parents acting as teacher these days, it's a good time to teach the little ones about the aspects of cooking. Being in the kitchen can show the little ones everything from match to foreign languages to history. 

One of the best lessons comes with baking.It's an exact science that requires measuring. Even the little ones can be shown the difference between a tablespoon and a teaspoon. They can learn how to measure out flour and sugar along with learning how to calculate how much milk, water or oil goes into a recipe. Baking teaches them that adding too much or too little of an ingredient can alter a baked good's flavor and texture. Cookie dough can  show them how divvy it up to and how much to use to get the recommended two dozen. This can also apply to cooking although most recipes are looser with exact amounts.  Fruits and veggies can also be helpful in teaching kindergartners up to second graders addition and subtraction. The same can be said of cookies and candies, but the other choice is healthier. Also you can create flashcards based on measurement charts. It's a great way of teaching them how to double up or decrease a recipe.

Cooking teaches us about languages too. Start with something they know like pizza which is Italian for pie, Work your way to the different pastas which are usually named for the objects they resemble. For example orrechiete is shaped like little ears. From there you can learn about the face knowing that the big drinking straw pasta bucatini is from mouth or boca and that the flat spaghetti linguine comes from the word for tongue - lingua. If your tweens and high schoolers are into French , then let them create some recettes francaise.It's easy to make homemade pomme frites or French fries in the air fryer along with those delicious croque monsieur. Get creative  with this ham sandwich that also has Gruyere cheese as a layer. Add a creamy bechamel sauce or turn it into a Mornay with the addition of shredded Gruyere. This can also be applied to other cuisines like Chinese, Thai and Indian. History  can also be used in the kitchen. Delve into the back stories of such dinner favorites as pot pie or roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Explore the meanings of such classic American foods like cookies and grits  - where did they're names come from and how long they've been around.

The kitchen is a great classroom. Kids can learn math , languages and history just from one cooking lesson. Create cooking classes today for lifelong knowledge.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

A Fun Meal In Guacamole With A Twist

These are the days when a fun meal is needed. There's nothing like a guacamole and chips for dinner. It's a simple mix that's easy to make and tasty to eat. That's what we need right now. That's where my version of this Mexican classic came in. There's a a twist to it though.

It starts with avocados. I was able to get some really nice ones at my local Acme.
I used four and mashed them (save the pits for growing indoor avocado trees).
Most times I usually use regular tomatoes however I'm kind of leery now about using any exposed produce. I bought  packaged grape tomatoes instead and was pleasantly surprised by the sweetness they added.
Add as much as you want. I used eight cut in half.
Then olive oil for smoothness. I always recommend this.
 Sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Of course onion powder which is less potent than onions themselves You can use the real deal if you like their texture and bite.
Everything was mashed down with a potato masher which gave the guacamole a nice texture between silky and chunky.
I had mine with chips but you can put this with tacos or on burgers if you want. I added more tomatoes to my serving and just ate it plain.

This is just one fun meal to keep up our spirits right now. It's comfort food that 's also makes for enjoyable eating. Make a bowl for the family, and bring out the chips.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The State Of Shopping Today

The way we shop has changed overnight. It's become a foraging expedition to be sure. Yet you can be savvy about what to buy. It's just knowing how to do it in without spending too much time in the store.

Know your store inside and out .It helps to map out your plan before you go (and hopefully you're only making shopping trips one or twice a week with a three day distance between). This will get you through quicker and out to your car faster. Figure out what you'll be making for four to five days in advance. If it's chili, then get plenty of red beans and tomato paste and stewed tomatoes. You should have pasta already  but if you don't get that and the ingredients to make sauce. Also include more staples such as milk, cheese , juice, and cold cuts along with frozen dinners too. Of course stock on the other essentials that make life somewhat easier. Get everything in one fell shop. Don't feel so bad if you have to buy some products in multiples. This reduces any additional trips back. It may seem hoggish but not so much if  you buy say two or three packs of teabags or three boxes of spaghetti. If you see it , basically buy it. Of course always have a pair of latex gloves ready to put on, and a mask if you feel more comfortable.

Keep in mind that there will be shortages for the basics. Chicken and beef have been going fast and it's almost impossible for the stores to keep up with the demand. Go for the vegan kind instead. Gardein has some very good chicken strips and tenders that the kids will love. The last is good with barbecue sauce and tastes like the real thing. Beyond Burgers does have great burgers and they can be turned into Whopper and Big Mac look and taste alikes. Don't fret if there's no more pizza. There seems to always be Green Giant's Cauliflower crust pizzas. I usually buy the plain ones and then load them up with favorite toppings.The crusts are a bit labor intensive. meaning you have to bake them for sixteen to eighteen minutes before you put the toppings on. The end result is good though. A tasty pizza with a super thin crust. Oatmeal is another item that seems to be scooped up in a second. Don't be alarmed if your favorite brand isn't there Sub in with the store brands or those little cups which do the trick quite nicely. Also get steel cut oats which can be used in such recipes as oat bread and oatmeal cookies.

The grocery store now is a lesson in quick foraging. Know what you want , buy enough to last a few weeks and leave. It's an aggressive kind of shopping for a new era.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

A Tomato Test

A can of tomatoes is our kitchen's best friend right now. It can be used for sauces, stews and soups during our duration inside. Which is the best as far as taste and texture? Let the experts tell you.

Sara Bonisteel a senior editor  and food writer at the Times, asked the same questions and gives us answers in yesterday's  Food section. Anything canned is your kitchen's best friend right now. There was a tasting long before the pandemic happened. Writers from the the papers' NYT Cooking section and its' subsidiary had an extensive taste test. Michael Sullivan , a kitchen writer at Wirecutter chose a dozen canned brands to sample. Keep in mind that even though these can usually be found at groceries and big box stores, now there are more shortages. Mr. Sullivan developed a ranking system that is based on color, flavor, sweetness, acidity, overall appearance and texture. They were first sampled raw from the can and as part of the famed chef Marcella Hazan's famously simple four ingredient sauce. Many cooks have prized the San Marzano kind grown in Italy as the ideal. There was only one kind with this, Most were San Marzano's grown in Italy. The panel included Mr. Sullivan, Ms. Bonisteel,Alexa Weibel, a recipe editor at NYT Cooking, Ligaya Mishan, the Hungry City columnist. Other panelists were from Wirecutter's Marguerite Preston, Marilyn Ong and Winnie Yang.

Which were the best? Surprisingly Target's Market Pantry made the best. Tasters found the taste to be pleasing with Ms. Weibel describing the flavor as "forward, bright and fresh". The two others were Bianco DiNapoli Organic Whole Peeled. It's the most balanced tomato as far as sweetness and acidity.Add basil and it's the best brand for any Italian recipe.Another top brand is San Merican SMT Whole Peeled. According to Ligaya Mishan the tomatoes were pleasantly firm without too much bite.  Then there were the Better Than Average. These were Cento Certified Peeled Tomatoes and Hunt's Whole Plum Tomatoes. The first had a delicate texture and the tasters found that the liquid, more than the solids had a more tomato-y taste. The second had a nice balance of sweetness and acidity. The brands that were voted just average were  Whole Foods 365 Organic Peeled Tomatoes and Rega Rega San Marzano Tomatoes. The least surprised me because one I use a lot and recommend was panned. This was Muir Glen Organic Whole Peeled Tomatoes. The tasters found the tomatoes overly acidic and sour but I never had that problem with them. Other least favorites were Organico Bello Whole Peeled Tomatoes, Bella Terra Organic Whole Tomatoes and Contadina Whole Roma Tomatoes With Basil,  the last especially not good to extra panelist Julia Moskin.

These tomatoes represent the best and the least favorites of the panelists. It may be different for others, depending on their tastes. Try them and see. Any can of tomato sauce is worth testing these days.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Easy Comfort Food

This is the time for easy recipes from the pantry. Even if you're new to cooking there are some simple recipes you can whip up like a pro. They're tasty , relying on what you have stocked up. Another plus?   They're not labor intensive so you can spend time home schooling or working from home.

This was the subject of Melissa Clark's article in today's New York Times Food section. She also has some recipes on The Times live blog if you'd like to visit. The dishes, some are riffs on old favorites, keep perishables in mind. Some do ask for fresh ingredients but that's only if you have them handy. Subs are also welcome too.One recipe is pasta with canned tuna, anchovies and capers. Ms. Clark recommends using a twirly kind of pasta like spaghetti, linguini, or the thicker, chewier bucatini but any will do.It's then sauteing the anchovies with oil and garlic. Capers give it a salty tang but you can also use canned olives if you don't have the first or don't like them. Another dish revolves around that perpetual pantry staple. It's dried red beans. Use salted water with enough salt in it that it tastes like a mouthful of the ocean. Another flavoring is  garlic cloves , along with a celery stalk - but you can use celery salt too.  Throw in a Parmesan rind or a hunk of smoked meat. Bacon would be good here or do as Ms Clark does, throw in keilbasa. The base can any grain from rice to polenta. There is also a soup recipe.It uses the sturdy stock of root veggies such as rutabegas, turnips, carrots and even radishes. Toss in any fragrant allium like onions and throw in some herbal sprigs. Add bay leaves and a base of cold water Add some greens such as kale or spinach along with the cubed and peeled root veggies. It's then pureed and garnished with anything from a drizzle of olive oil to red pepper flakes.

Sweet recipes are also represented here. Ms. Clark gives us the ultimate comfort treat - coffee cake. It could be your snack after a work session or breakfast with a big mug of coffee. The topping is the best part and the first part made.It's melted butter, rolled oats and flour, each a quarter cup. Add in brown sugar and cinnamon. You can toss in other spices such as cardamon and allspice for some zing. The batter is a simple one , enhanced with some kinds of fermented dairy product. You can employ anything from sour cream to creme fraiche however there's also milk or non dairy yogurt acidified with a tablespoon of lemon juice. Fruit can be added to the batter such as pineapple or fresh blueberries. For a subtler flavor grate in some lemon or orange. Oatmeal also gets an upgrade. It's baked in a casserole dish with some peanut or almond butter and some cinnamon. Serve with cream and some maple syrup or just with bananas.  There's another pantry dessert, this time by another Food section contributor, Margeaux Laskey. It's a made in a pan chocolate cake that's made from scratch with cocoa powder. It's an easy bake  little chefs will love making in one bowl. Add some chocolate chips and dust with powdered sugar.

The pantry is your best friend these days. Use it to come up with satisfying meals and treats. It'll get you cooking and baking amazing recipes you and your family will love.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A Comforting Cookbook The Pinewood Kitchen

These are the times for comfort food , that's both soothing and comforting. A new cookbook, My Pinewood Kitchen: A Southern Culinary Cure (Health Communications 2020) may be the small antidote we need right now. There are some tasty dishes that can help us cope.

Mee MCCormick wrote this fascinating book which offers all sorts of recipes that can help with boosting the immune system. She herself has had an interesting life full of highs and lows. In th e meanwhile she wound up with such debilitating conditions as Hashimoto's disease , celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Her recipes for Pinewood Kitchens, part of a farm, started by Samuel Graham, a free thinking farmer in the 1830. He created a kind of utopia where all men and women were equal in rural Tennessee. Chef McCormack brings her health background into her cooking and into the book. There are sections on the importance of adding berries and nuts into the diet and how they can help the body . another section, which many cooks and chefs ignore, is devoted to seaweed. She also emphasizes the importance of probiotic foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut and how they're very important in a diet. The many recipes reflect this.Chef McCormick also weighs in on sugar and what you can use in it's place - namely honey or coconut sugar , the last contains such nutrients as  zinc, iron , and calcium. She also recommends  monk fruit sugar It 's an all natural sugar first made by Buddhist monks in Southeast Asia and has no calories or carbs.

I like this cookbook a lot. There are sections from breakfasts (which comes later in the book) along ones on soups, main courses, sides and dips. The vegetarian ones are great for those cooking in a meat free home kitchen. The tempeh bacon is especially appealing , because it can also be made into a crunchy snack. It'll would also work well with Chef McCormick's falafel burger recipe. Since this is a Southern cookbook, there is a recipe for fried chicken. It's a healthier version sans the flour, being dipped in cornstarch for the crispiness. Cayenne and paprika give it color and bite. There are also collard greens along with black eyed pea croquettes, a different spin on the Southern classic. Okra is also here in fritter, roasted and pickled forms. She celebrates her Italian heritage with a tomato free (!) sauce for pasta. Miso or tamari along with kuzo root and umbeboshi vinegar give it that rich taste. Chef Mc Cormick does like tomatoes and she has an excellent tomato soup recipe, a perfect balm for these times. The breakfast recipes are interesting too, especially the breakfast tacos, made with scallions and zucchini along with bacon and eggs. Her breakfast smoothies  are rich with fruits and berries along with mushroom powder used to boost the immune system. I like the gluten free desserts, which are her family's pignoli  or pine nut cookies to a spin on the Southern classic pecan pie. She also had a healthier version of pumpkin pie too.

We need  healthy comfort food during these troubling and crazy times. Mee McCormick's My Pinewood Kitchen : A Southern Culinary Cure is just that. She provides us with great recipes that are good for our bodies and souls.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Pantry Creations

By now and in the weeks to come we've exhausted our pantry and comfort food recipes. It's time to come up with new spins and new ideas. Get your creativity on.

Beans are a pantry staple and surely we've used many recipes with them in this short time. There must be many families settling down to chili right now. It's a great crock pot fix , especially during these days of working and schooling from home. A new spin is white chili, This requires chicken, if you have it , any kind of white beans and mild green chili. Corn kernels can be added to along with mild green, red and yellow bell peppers. It can be topped with avocado and sour cream for extra flavor. Don't worry about it being time consuming to make. It can be made in a crockpot. Mix everything in the morning and let cook by and be read by the afternoon. Another bean dish is hummus. This is an easy make and recipes can be tweaked for some fun variations.Instead of making it solely with chickpeas , add some cannellini beans for a more buttery flavor and smoother texture. Many of the recipes do add tahini, but you don't have to if you can't find it. The same thing goes for olive oil. Use vegetable oil as a sub in. Garlic is always present in any hummus but if that's too strong, then think finely minced onions or onion powder.

Beans can also be used in salads along with other leftovers. Think a kidney bean and tomato salad or  a variety of different beans in a tangy vinaigrette. These both are wonderful sides for burgers and nuggets. You probably have a wide variety of canned veggies right now too.  That famed holiday dish , green bean casserole can easily be made as a main course. Luckily it can also be made in a crock pot or Instapot. It's taking a can of green beans and another pantry staple a can of chicken soup. It's cooked with any kind of milk, along with seasonings. It's usually topped with frizzled onions but you can use Funyuns if you have them.Eggs and canned veggies can also work together. Any diced or pureed tomatoes can be blended with beaten egg and garlic to create the northern Italian classic, pomadori e uovi, tomatoes and eggs. This is a wonderful lunch or dinner , especially served on large crusty slices of Italian bread. You can also use tomatoes in an impromptu shakshouka. This is poached eggs in a spicy sauce that also has peppers and onions along with onions and peppers.

Comfort dishes can be boring. Shake up the pantry with some tasty spins on classic dishes. You'll love them and so will your family.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Can Supplements Save Us

There's been a lot of back and forth about different supplements halting the coronavirus. Do they work? Don't they? What to take? That's the big question.  What's the answer? Truthfully there is none.

I found this one supplement at my local Walgreen's. It's Zarbees, a black elderberry based immune booster.
The company was started by Dr. Zak Zarbok a pediatrician, who started the company with  the idea of all natural cough syrup for both his patients and his kids. The company also manufactures vitamins and supplements for good health and good sleeping.There is also all natural sinus sprays and respiratory syrup.  I thought I tried the immune support. It's not bad tasting and is full of Vitamin C and zinc.It also has elderberry which helps to lessen the effect of the virus. The last keeps the immune system strong which is what I - and everyone need right now. Of course it also helps to isolate myself and get good nutrition and rest along with constant hand washing. Will it help? l can only hope.

You'll probably heard about colloidal silver slowing or even killing the coronavirus. It's all bunk and it's dangerous too.Chronic exposure to it can lead to argyria where the skin turns a silvery blue along with being damaging to the eyes and possibly the bloodstream. Don't fall for any of the hucksters selling it on TV on on online.  There is some new research showing that turmeric helps in boosting the immune system, yet researchers aren't sure why yet. You can take turmeric supplements (Now only at Wal-Mart. GNC stores are closed) however you can also get it in your store's spice section. It has a wonderful flavor and can be used as an accent for everything from beans to veggies. Make a point to use more of it in your cooking. You could add a multivitamin to your diet if you haven't already along with Vitamin C and D tablets.  These also help in boosting the immune system.

Is there a magic bullet supplement that will help in staving off the coronavirus. There needs to be more research on this new and deadly virus. Once the research has been established then, researchers and scientists can delve further in what can prevent it from happening.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Your Best Bake

Now that we're globally quarantined, it's time to bring out your best baking pictures and recipes. We need to show what we have and how we're conquering - yes conquering - this pandemic. We have the time, we have the flour, eggs, and butter, Let's do it. Send me your pix.

It could be a birthday cake.

A cake with fondant decorations

                                     A Greek bread (thanks Eva D.for this lovely pic)
                                                         Cinnamon rolls
                                                                   Loaf breads   
of course cookies.

Show us and this hungry world your best bake. Have fun with it. Now GO to it!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Beans A Good Pantry Staple Part Two

Beans are now an important part of our pantries as we stock up in unprecedented numbers. It's a great source of protein and they're flavorful. Yesterday we covered Melissa Clark's bean guide that was in yesterday's New York Times Food section. Today there's ways of cooking the traditional way or the easier method of using a crockpot or pressure cooker

This is a great keeper article because Ms. Clark offers how to soak and spice them.  They can be a quick soak or an overnight if you have the time - which now you do.  Spicing them is fun. If you like fiery  add chili powder for a quick chili. Want a taste that's more like pasta e fagiole? Then add some garlic and onions along with cooked celery. Beans can be cooked in a variety of different ways. The easiest is on the stove top. This is putting your beans in two inches of water and simmering over a low flame. Give them a gentle stir every now and then and remember that DON'T boil them. This can cause their skins to burst , creating either mushy or unevenly cooked beans. Dried beans will either  cook quickly for ones such as red lentils which only take fifteen minutes or a slow cook of three to four hours. This is for chickpeas and lima beans. If you're preparing them, then allow for time, such as starting in the early afternoon. Remember to save the water or aquafaba from the chickpeas. These are the vegan sub in for egg whites and you can create everything from vegan mayo to meringues and marshmallows with it.

The other methods are easy. One is using your slow cooker, Again as with the stove top method cover your beans with two inches of water or broth and salt to taste (although go easy on the salt if you're using broth, because it's already heavily salted) Set the setting on low and cook on low for about six hours. Ms Clark warns about kidney beans that need to be extra cooked ten minutes over a stove top before cooking in a crockpot.It makes them more digestable. Your pressure cooker also works well for cooking beans.Place soaked or unsoaked ones in again, about two inches of water. Add salt and any aromatics such as garlic or celery and some neutral oil such as peanut, canola or safflower . This last is to prevent any foaming  from clogging the vent. Remember to make sure you do not fill the pressure cooker to the brim. Only go halfway. Fill to the halfway mark instead. Cook at high pressure for anywhere between five to ten minutes for small beans such as black eyed peas, lentils and split peas. Chickpeas will take up to thirty five to forty minutes longer.. You'll know they're done by their tenderness.Store the beans in their liquid for five days. Do not freeze them because they can go mushy.

This is the time for pantry stocking. Have a few bags of beans on the ready for all sorts of dishes. They 're tasty and delicious as well as healthy and nutritious for you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Beans A Good Pantry Staple Part One.

One of the best foods to have in your pantry right now is a can or bag of beans. These versatile legumes can get us through this quarantine, thanks to their tastiness and versatility. There's so many ways to cook them and they're easy ways too.

Melissa Clark gives us the definitive bean guide in today's New York Times Food section. Everyone should be stocked up on them. They are the ultimate pantry food, standing in for meat - if we come to the dire crisis of meat shortages. Beans are also the perfect food. They're gluten free, along with being the best protein source for vegans and vegetarians. Another plus is that if you're soaking dried beans you can save the broth.It's a rich vegetarian broth that can be used for any kind of soup. Another plus is that it can freeze up to six months. Canned beans are an easy cook. Just open up a can and use in whatever recipe. As for dried beans, they're a little more labor intensive.First of all, Ms Clark, advises check the harvest dates. Dried beans can last up to two years however they're best cooked a year after harvest. Also always rinse to remove stones (!) twigs and leaves.Always leave time for soaking. If you're pressed for it, then switch to lentils which don't require soaking. As for soaking, again you soak them overnight,or quickly The difference is that overnight soaking doesn't boiling like quick soaking. You could also not soak them, just cook them longer.

Ms. Clark also gives suggestions for seasoning. There's good old salt and pepper.Add the salt in the beginning of the cook for a better flavor. Fresh ground pepper is also a good addition but you can also use such spices as cumin, coriander and even cinnamon. Chilies and chili powder work well in flavoring them as does allspice. You can also toast the spices first before adding the beans and water. Another flavoring agent? Herbs and aromatics. Try rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage leaves. Don't be afraid to toss a bouquet garni into the bean water. What's known as soft herbs such as cilantro, basil, parsley, and chives can be chopped up and sprinkled on cooked beans for garnishing and color. Keep in mind that aromatics such as garlic and onions along with celery, carrots and ginger can add really rich flavor to any bean dish.Remember to add them in the beginning of cooking. Of course what would make any bean dish tasty is cooking them in either chicken or vegetable broth instead of water. Don't put in too much salt because the broths already have them. Of course meat such as bacon and ham add wonderful smoky taste to beans , especially to pinto, cranberry and white ones. Again, add the ham or bacon pieces at the beginning of the cooking. When they're done , cut the meat into pieces for serving.

Beans are the perfect pantry food. They're great to store and versatile for any kind of dish. Stock up on them for the long haul ahead and get creative with how to cook them.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Still Celebrating St Patrick's Day

Even though we're all shuttered in right now, we can still celebrate St Patrick's Day. It's just having some ingenuity and imagination. A party is what we need right now so go to it.

It may be a little late for some foods but you can try tomorrow. There is corned beef and cabbage, an Irish-American dish that's easy to make. If you're busy with the kids, think a crockpot one ,flavored with beer. You can also make this for weekends for a festive change up from the usual. You can also grill it if you have your barbecue ready, Use a dry rub of cinnamon, mustard seed, ginger and cloves along with ginger and dill. You can also brine it in dark beer for a marinade. This is sweetened and spiced with brown sugar, pickling spices and onions along with garlic and cold water. If you've already had your corned beef and cabbage, then start tomorrow with corned beef hash. The kids will like this, especially with scrambled eggs. Just chop the meat and saute it with some onions and potatoes .  Create some nests in the hash for making eggs sunnyside up. As for the cabbage, try the traditional bubble and squeak which is frying up the greens with potatoes in butter. Serve with crispy bacon or even eggs for a different kind of brunch and lunch.

Irish soda bread is another must have for the day. Since everyone is inside , baking is easy and a great past time.It's a simple make, thanks to the recipe not using yeast,It's baking soda that gives the loaf its' rise. The recipe also uses buttermilk and egg too and is sweetened with raisins or currents. Think about turning  any leftovers into a tasty bread pudding. This is  a rich decadent bake, complete with heavy cream and eight eggs. You can also add cinnamon and cardamon for more flavor along with  freshly squeezed orange juice and zest. More raisins or other fruit such as blueberries can be mixed in. Any good bread pudding deserves a topping and you can top this one with a store bought or homemade caramel topping.. Once you've mastered the bread you can move on to Irish soda bread muffins and scones. The muffin recipe has some slight modification. Baking powder is added in this recipe to give the muffins some rise along with the addition of carraway seeds. Sugar is dusted on top for sweetness.  You can also make the scone version and serve them warm from the oven. There are even Irish soda bread cookies .It's the same recipe save with only using one egg. They sort of look like flat little scones and I guess you could put some butter on them.

We may be quarantined. Yet we deserve a party with good  food. Create a St Paddy's one with traditional tasty foods.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Good Stress Eating

These are truly stress inducing times. Many of us feel eating helps to alleviate this non stop anxiety. The problem is we tend to eat the bad stuff - which can drive down our immunity. What to eat during these crazy days? Healthy!!!

Funny enough there are still snacks on store shelves. It's tempting to grab a few bags of chips and candy to get through these days. You can  - everyone does deserve a treat  now and then but limit what you eat. A better choice are tortilla chips and salsa. You can even make your own along with guacamole for a healthier choice. Homemade salsa requires sliced tomatoes , diced jalapenos, garlic and onions. If you like your dip mild, omit the jalapenos. Add finely diced pineapple and bell pepper for a different spin. Guacamole is another easy healthy dip. It's a blended mix of mashed avocado, Roma tomatoes (or any kind if you can't find them)along with cilantro and diced onions. You can sub in onion powder for the last if you find onions overpowering. Scallions are also milder but add a sweet onion flavor to the guacamole. Another healthy choice? Popcorn - of course and it will be welcomed for all these upcoming movie nights. If you can, get the Colonel Popper which is usually sold on Amazon. This lets you cook up a better bowl with olive oil and sea salt instead of the usual microwave packets laden with additives.

Anything sweet is especially alluring when you're stressed to the max. It's so easy to reach for those M&Ms and Junior Mints. Look, these are crazy , unprecedented times when all hell may break loose with the next day. Pop a small handful of these into your mouth to feel better and then focus on something a bit more nutritious. You still can have chocolate - but think about the darker kinds.These help boost your immune system thanks to the phenolic compounds which boost the effects of such Vitamin C and E along with the caretenoids. What is great about 80 o 90 percent cacao  is that the flavors can vary, with such interesting notes as raisin and coffee. Fresh fruit is a must during these times. Grapes are always a good nibble and kids love them. These tasty little  globes are full of resveratrol which helps fight inflammation. Keep in mind that wine also has this so knock back a glass or two to help you cope. Sliced apples and pears are also good sweet snacks. Dip apple slices in almond and peanut butters for a tasty savory-sweet treat. Strawberries are also good , especially dipped in dark chocolate however they're also great dipped in wildflower honey too.

These are the times for stress eating. Try to make those nibbles healthy with good for your snacks and sweets. These days are tough. You deserve a treat. Make it a healthy one.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

You Tube - Your Culinary Sanctuary

 Everyone is basically house bound with all these worldwide quarantines. It's a crazy time that may get crazier. The best way to alleviate the anxiety and boredom is looking at how  to videos. It's not only a great way to pass time but also learn hacks and lessons.

For true old school comfort check out any of the Julia Child videos.Her show ran on PBS from 1963 to 1972. She was a ground  breaker with being the first woman with an extensive cooking show as well as introducing Americans to the art of fine French cooking. You can learn everything from her, from the basics as making a good Gallic omelet to creating a flavorful onion soup. There's something soothing about her teacher's voice and the way she meticulously explains techniques. Later episodes have her working with another great chef, Jacques Pepin. Theirs is a harmony that's amazing.Again it's like taking a master class in cooking. There's also that famed Dan Ackroyd Saturday Night Live  darkly funny imitation that will make you laugh during these trying times. Other chef videos to look at are again, are Jacques Pepin, Lidia Bastianich, and Gordon Ramsey. If you like the older classics, then definitely watch The Two Fat Ladies and The Galloping Gourmet starring Graham Kerr for the camp and the valuable hints.

Some of my favorites are the cake decorating and the cooking and baking hacks. There are some truly amazing decorating videos out there. Some  show decorating as simple as just pressing a spoon against buttercream and then spinning the cake stand for smooth concentric circles. Others show you how to create everything from a bouquet of fondant  flowers to a cake topped with a white chocolate Mardi Gras mask complete with chocolate feathers. Be warned. You can be mesmerized by these for hours. The food hack ones are also interesting. Definitely tune into 5 Minute Hacks. This seems to come from Britain. Healthy foodies will be go made for the how to make your own pickle chips while egg enthusiasts will experiment with hard boiling their eggs with a lemon slice. Doing such softens the egg shells and makes for much easier peeling. There's one on fried avocado slices that looks interesting to try from their 35 Crazy Food Hacks video.

If you're bored or anxious then turn to You Tube. You'll enjoy the soothing tones of master chefs and go wild for the eye opening hints. It's what we need during these uncertain , crazy days,

Friday, March 13, 2020

A Tasty Twist On Macaroons

Passover may be three weeks away but it's always good to think about what to serve ahead of time. One of the most traditional American foods is the coconut macaroon. This flourless treat has been gracing tables for decades. Now there's a new twist on this much beloved cookie.

Coconut macaroons are always a treat  and now Manischewitz has two new flavors, Cold Brew Earl Grey and Birthday Cake.

I like these new flavors.

The Earl Gray one has a delicate flavor - not overpowering and perfect for after dinner or a snack with  - what else - a  steamy cup of Earl Gray.
I also like the birthday cake.It has more of an almond-y flavor with the surprise of multicolored sprinkles inside. It was a bit sweeter than the Earl Gray flavor but not too sugary sweet.

Both are perfect as desserts for the seder and for gift giving. Manischewitz also has other updated flavors such as red velvet, chocolate chip mint, carrot cake and hazelnut chocolate chip. There are also the traditional flavors too such as almond, coconut, chocolate and chocolate chip.

This is the time to start thinking about hope and Spring holidays such as Passover. Think about the addition of Manischewitz's latest flavors, Cold Brew Earl Gray and Birthday Cake to your holiday table. They're a fun  delicious treat, perfect for family and guests.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

My Take On Keema

Yesterday I wrote about Tejal Rao's variety of Indian dishes she had published in The New York Times Food section. One stood out to me -keema, spiced meat. I had to try it but I added my own spin on it.

Ms. Rao's recipe called for a variety of spices including garam masala and chopped ginger. i modified it to just curry powder, cumin and chili powder.

As far as adding onions, they're really not liked in my house  so I subbed in chopped scallions.

These were cooked with olive oil and the spices. I used four Better Boy tomatoes instead of the called for Roma kind.

The recipe calls for pureeing these ingredients in the blender after cooking for a few minutes. I felt it would be too soupy so I just mashed everything with a potato masher which worked nicely.

I used only two cloves of garlic instead of the recommended five, finely mincing them.
Then it was adding 13 ounces of Gardein'
s meat crumbles and a cup of water. More curry, chili and cumin were added along with a good dash of salt and freshly ground pepper. Ms. Rao recommends
serving it with rolls or the Indian bread roti. I made brown rice which worked with it.

I would make this again , possibly using the Hyperabadi recipe that calls for peas along with adding the fresh ginger for heat. Maybe I'd also add potatoes and lentils too. You can also sub in ground beef, turkey, chicken or lamb for a more traditional taste.

Keema or spiced meat is a great way to introduce yourself and your family to Indian cooking. It's tasty and can be adapted to your tastes and likes. Try it today.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Many Dishes Of India

Indian cuisine is having a moment right now thanks to Holi, the Spring festival along with the Trumps' trip to the subcontinent. Then there's the question of India's true identity with powerful waves of Hindu nationalism . Even though Islam is also a part of the history, it and its' culture are being suppressed almost to the point of eradication. Yet nothing can hurt its' multifaceted cuisine. Indian regional cooking is as strong as ever.

Tejal  Rao, a regular contributor wrote about this and offered a variety of recipes in today's New York Times Food section. Ms. Rao herself has Gujarati and Konkani roots,  her family coming from India's west coast. She has created a good array of recipes representing all of the country and recipes garnered from home chefs outside her family. What is great about her selection is that they are welcoming to the home chef new to Indian cuisine. They're great for anyone who loves all aspects of the cooking as well as looking for something unique to cook. You may have to find some of the ingredients at Indian groceries but the trip is worth it because it will help broaden culinary knowledge. Ms. Rao does include some family recipes such as keema or spiced ground meat. This is an interesting easy dish made with ground beef, red onions and ground Roma tomatoes (I plan on making this tomorrow so it will be the subject of tomorrow's entry).It has a fiery mix of serrano chilies, cayenne pepper and garam masala. It's served with Indian bread roti but you can also use naan to sop up the gravy

The other dishes Ms. Rao provides are representative of all the different states of India. There is toor dal Gujarati style made with split yellow pigeon peas with Roma tomatoes and peanuts. The tempering or sauce is made from ghee, an Indian staple of clarified butter, fresh curry leaves, and cinnamon, Chilies  and mustard seed also give it flavor along with a pinch of asafoetida a resinous gum.Lamb biryani is included and this is a dish most restaurants make.It is part of India's Muslim heritage, a richly spiced dish of lamb, bombarded with spices served with onions over basmati rice. Lamb chops or a shoulder of lamb is used , cut into pieces and marinaded with finger chiles, garlic and ginger.Onions and tomatoes are added to this. Yogurt spiked with mint, cilantro, coriander, cumin and chili powder is then added to the mix and the lamb is marinaded overnight in the fridge. There is also saffron milk, an easy blend of whole milk, saffron threads and cilantro layered onto the meat and rice.The southwestern area of Karnataka gives us carrot salad or gojjara kosambari. It's sweetened with coconut and sugar and fired up with serrano chile along with cumin, white sesame and black mustard seeds.Moong dal or cooked lentils can be added too.Ms. Rao also adds a roti recipe too, perfect of any of these recipes.

India is having a moment right now with Hindu nationalism and warring with its' Muslim heritage as well. These recipes help to unite in a way as well as introduce people to the cuisine. It represents every aspect of the pluralism of Indian life and its' heritage.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Holi Cooking

It's the middle of Holi, the fun Indian festival where Hindus celebrate the  coming of Spring. It is also a festival of delicious tasty savory and sweet dishes. You too, can celebrate, with easy dishes that will definitely make you smile.

Indian food has many benefits especially now. There are recipes chock full of turmeric - which is used as an anti- inflammatory remedy along with cumin  an immunity booster which helps in destroying powerful germs. It is also a tasty cuisine, full of fire at times and spice. Holi has some of the best and most flavorful dishes. Remember if you can't buy some of the ingredients at your local grocery , then definitely visit an Indian grocery. Try making the crunchy and fiery dal kachori, fried puffs of dough wrapped around a mix of dal, or ground lentils, chilis and garam masala. This last can be found in your grocery's spice section and can be used for other dishes such as grilled chicken or  sprinkled on veggies. The balls are then fried in vegetable oil. I guess you could use an air fryer in this for less oil and more crunch. An easy no cook one is papadi chaat, popular in northern India. The dish starts out with the Indian bread papi, small Indian breads that can be bought at any Indian grocery story and even Wal-mart. They're similar to pita bread and layered with cooked potatoes and chickpeas. Curd is layered on top of this, You can make curd  at home or sub in plain Greek yogurt, Top with green mint mixed with coriander along with cumin and chili powder.

Sweet treats and drinks are also a big part of Holi. You can try rice pudding or kheer that has the added flavor of ground almonds and cardamon.  Add stevia instead of sugar if you want it a bit healthier and top with cinnamon . Another sugary treat are the filled pastries called gujiya. They're filled with dried fruit and khoya  - a kind of cooked milk.  You can also give them an American twist by stuffing them with dark and white chocolate or apples and cinnamon. Some Indian families fill them with anjeer or figs along with coconut and pineapple. The dough is a simple one made with water and flour along with ghee , clarified melted butter. These can be washed down with thandai, a sweet,creamy drink made with  boiled milk mixed with sugar. A ground to a powder mix of white peppercorns, fennel seeds, melon seeds and cardamon pods is blended in for flavor and fire. Rose petals are added for more sweetness. The boiled mix is put into the fridge for two to three hours before serving.  You can also have a sip of the traditional lassi. It's kind of like a milkshake, made with milk, honey and yogurt. Sugar, honey and some kind of fruit such as mango or strawberry is swirled in along with ice for a cool treat.

Celebrate Holi with home cooked and home made Indian food and drinks. It's time to enjoy the happiness of this colorful holiday with friends and family. Do so with a wide array of spicy and sweet treats .

Monday, March 9, 2020

Comfort Food For Now

With all hell breaking loose around us, it's the best time to cook and bake those dishes and treats near and dear to our stomachs and hearts. It is definitely time for a slice of meat loaf or a big chocolate chip cookie. Indulge in what you want.

Luckily most of our comfort foods can be home made. There's no need to go out to restaurants and fast food joints. It's easy to make your version of Quarter Pounders and Whoppers at home. You can use Beyond Burgers for a healthier spin. Load it up with slices of onions, pickles and an easy to make version of special sauce.This is a mishmosh of mayo, French dressing and ketchup spiked up with white vinegar and dill pickle relish, Your side? Air fried French fries.  Get a few Idaho or Russet potatoes for the crispiest and meatiest. For real comfort, think Tater tots wrapped in bacon. You can also air fry these to get rid of all that bacon grease. Of course most people turn to meat loaf and mashed potatoes for their comfort foodsThink about amping it up some with the addition of sliced portabella mushrooms and wrapping it in bacon for a truly flavorful bite. Add a rich mushroom gravy spiked with with cremini or baby bella mushrooms and a good  jigger of sherry. To add to this try cream cheese mashed potatoes. These are the same recipe as basic mashed potatoes but have the added creaminess and cheesiness of the cream cheese. There's also garlic powder for more flavor. Spoon tons of gravy over them or just plop scoops of butter on top.

Of course comfort foods also mean sweets too.  Giant chocolate chip cookies are the perfect bake and comfort food. They have the perfect combination of butter, chocolate and brown sugar. You can add walnuts along with pecans too. Another comfort bake are M&M cookies. These are great made with the dark chocolate M&Ms. Whip up a batch  and enjoy them with a good book and a cup of your favorite tea.Another great comfort cookie? Peanut butter. Again, it's a fabulous mix of peanut butter, butter and brown sugar. Dip baked ones in melted dark chocolate for the ultimate peanut butter cup taste. Of course nothing beats cupcakes,You can have fun with these too. Imagine devil's food ones piled high with a minty buttercream, then topped with chocolate sprinkles. Or bake butter cake ones frosted with mounds of fudge frosting. Cupcakes are great to bake and ice during a quarantine because they are labor intensive and can help you pass the time when cabin fever sets in. Ice cream , for some is another sweet comfort food. A scoop is nice but jazz it up with some hot fudge and whipped cream.Create a tin roof sundae with a layer of Spanish peanuts and a few maraschino cherries. You could also throw all of this in a waffle cone for some fun.

Yes, you should eat healthy during these stressful times but also treat yourself to some really good comfort food. Have a dinner of burger and fries. Bake those cupcakes and cookies. Indulge yourself. Think of it as a remedy for these anxiety filled days.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Fourteen Days In

There's so much talk of quarantine and basically life shutting down these days. It brings the question - what do you do for those two weeks - especially if you have kids? It boils down to  eating healthy and  creatin enough projects to keep everyone relatively happy.

The Coronavirus is part of the common cold family. It is stronger and deadlier yet it can be buffered by having a boosted immune system. Think of the cold diet, foods that can help alleviate the ailment. Try to have plenty of colorful veggies such as tomatoes, peppers and different kinds of squash. Onions and garlic are also must haves. Make a big pan of ratatouille which can be made in double batches for freezing and later eating. Another healthy dish is crockpot tomato sauce, made with fresh tomatoes and garlic, the last the more the better. Serve with whole wheat pasta for a different healthier spin. Since you may be stuck in with kids of all ages, you may want to have some fun food plans in place.Spaghetti is one dish.Pizza is another. It's so easy to create a healthy pie.Use liberal amounts of olive oil as a first layer before you put on any sauce. It's good for colds and sore throats so you may want to incorporate more into your cooking. A pizza needs a good sauce. You can buy the already made ones or make it on your own. Add a healthy array of toppings, from slices peppers to roasted garlic. Mexican food is another healthy cuisine. Make sure you add potassium rich avocados which help in boosting the immune system along with tomatoes and a variety of beans.

Besides cooking healthy foods , a quarantine period can mean time to clean the kitchen if you're up to it. Cleaning the fridge helps. You can finally throw out those moldy cheeses and salads that you though the family would finish but didn't. It's also time to take stock of what you have and what you need for a healthier household. Make sure you have plenty of fruit  - actually more of that than cookies for the kids. We all know that oranges are great for colds and flu. They're rich in  Vitamin C and all those antioxidants. However apples are also good for treating all sorts of sicknesses. They're rich in flavonoids - which treat inflammatory problems. Another plus is that there are so many different kinds, from the sweet Mount Fuji to the deliciously tart Granny Smiths. Kids will love dipping apple slices in almond or peanut butter. These butters can be made at home for a fun family project. Both taste better homemade and it gives the kids a lesson in creating organic.Keep sweets at a limit. If the kids want to bake cookies, then stick to all organic recipes, one that call for whole wheat or nut flours and all natural sugars. As for candy - think healthy nut clusters loaded with raisins and dark chocolate chips. These are easy to make and they'll have fun making them.

Get ready for quarantines and having the kids on a full time basis. It means staying at home and eating healthy.  It means fun and nutritious projects with the kids.  Learn from this time together.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Stockpiling Your Kitchen

There's all sorts of strange stories out there concerning the Corona virus. One odd one is about stockpiling various food stuffs in case there are shortages. That's the strange part - what shortages, especially here in the States. Is this some kind of media made panic or should we be worried? Then there's the other question, if this is true - what do we stockpile?

There's some small buzz in grocery stores in the New York City area. I heard today that water and salt are being grabbed off the shelves at local Wal-marts in the Northern New Jersey area. Storing water is kind of strange. It's not as if our supply or local reservoirs are being threatened with bio-warfare or they're compromised. The salt makes sense, People are being told to gargle, presumably by their healthcare providers. Doing such will kill some of the virus bacteria and it will also bring the bacteria to the surface of gums, tongue and teeth. It's then should be washed out with a strong mouth wash.As far as other foods, milk and eggs are also at the top of the list. It's sort of similar to what people buy before a big blizzard with the exception of bread.The United Kingdom has a bad case of stockpile fever. Brits are clearing the shelves of their local supermarkets, fighting over pasta, rice and long life milk according to the BBC.It is obviously worse in Hong Kong where life - and trade has ground to a halt.

It hopefully isn't that bad here. We may have problems with hand sanitizer and liquid hand soap. Again, that' s understandable. Yet if we do have shortages, what do we buy to survive? The best bet is all canned foods such as canned veggies and fruits. These are versatile to use in a variety of different dishes, from omelets to stews. Despite what you've heard from some natural food advocates canned  produce can be just as nutritious and vitamin packed as their fresh versions. However, try to eat as much of the fresh stuff while you can. If you do feel a bit panicky about shortages, then freeze fresh fruit and veggies.Don't worry about it losing its' nutritional value. Fruits and veggies start breaking down after a whole year in the freezer.  Your grapes and broccoli are still OK for a week in the deep freeze. Meats are another foodstuff that can be frozen for a year or two. Cereals last six to eight months while oatmeal lasts a year and a half if you want to stockpile on them. If you're in a warm weather zone, then consider starting a veggie garden. You'll always have fresh produce which helps in fighting any illness. Also buy and plant melon seeds and berry plants.

Should we listen to the crazy rumors and start stockpiling? That's up to you. If you feel better then get a few extra cans now and then. Just don't go wild and and into a frenzy of over buying.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

A Spin On Cassoulet

One of the most comforting of all foods is the French winter classic cassoulet. I'ts a hearty but sometimes labor intensive stew that is a melange of meats and beans. It can be tiring to create however there's a new spin to make the dish easier.

David Clark realizes this and gave it his twist in yesterday's New York Times Food section. His column, A City Kitchen has this new recipe along with a first course and a neat dessert. It is the duck that stands out , though. He slow roasts duck , serving it with mashed white beans sizzled herbs and olives. It's more of an Italianate spin than French. There is rosemary which the original recipe does not have along with green and black olives. As for the duck, Mr. Tanis suggests using only the legs and recommends the Moulard breed, a plumper hybrid of the every day duck. The legs are topped with peppery arugula leaves dressed with lemon and salt. To change it up a bit sub in broccoli rabe. Instead of putting everything into a cassoulet pot or Dutch oven, use a sheet pan for the legs to achieve a nice, crispy skin and tender moist flesh, similar to confit. The beans are still cooked with onions as in the original recipe along with cloves and garlic. They're then mashed with some of the bean liquid and resemble mashed potatoes. (A potato masher is used for this). You could even serve these with roasted chicken too.

As for the first course, Mr. Tanis decides on seafood, namely clams.They're simply steamed and then served with a garlic parsley butter and lime for zing. The butter is actually used for escargots  - snails - but work perfectly with  the clams. It's a mix of unsalted butter, freshly chopped parsley and garlic. The blend is then melted and cooked with lime zest and lime juice. The clams themselves, little necks, are cooked with leeks and white wine.Another alternative is raw oysters on a half shell. As for the dessert, Mr. Tanis goes somewhat light with ricotta paired with a  rhubarb , ginger and cardamon sauce.It's a spin on the Mediterranean treat of the cheese drizzled with fresh honey. Ginger and cardamon  pods are cooked with sugar and water to form a spiced syrup. About a pound of rhubarb is used for this. If you're wondering where to get it so early in the season, check Wal-Mart or Whole Foods. The mix is served on a wedge of ricotta and decorated with pine nuts or pistachios. As for what wine to serve with the whole dinner, try any of the reds such as Tuscany's Chianti Classico or Brunello de Montalcino.

If you're craving cassoulet but don't want the hard work, consider this recipe with or without the first course and dessert. It's an easier way of enjoying duck and beans . This is a simple cook with a deliciously complex flavor.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Real Recipes Fake Meat

Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers are truly taking the country by storm. They're all over , from our supermarkets to our fast food joints. Now one chef and food scientist tackles recipes involving them, making these beef substitutes even more desirable. Home chefs will love them.

J Kenji Lopez-Alt, food scientist and creator of the trendy restaurant , Wursthall, wrote about his attempts and observations for today's New York Times Food section. Chef Lopez-Alt did a lot of testing. In fact, in the last two years his team has tested thousands of pounds of the faux beef. His first instinct was to use techniques he uses on beef such as smashing. This is taking meat balls and then pressing them on a hot griddle. It's done by using a stiff spatula, letting them sizzle for a minute for a minute or so. The patty is then scraped off using a razor fitted wallpaper remover. It cooked well, as the Maillard effect came into being. The only problem? The taste. There was none along with the juiciness. I've never had this problem, cooking them on a small grill, for two to three minutes on each side. It may be that I also use a good amount of either I Can't Believe It's Not Butter or real butter. Chef Lopez-Alt narrows it down to this : burgers are flavorful and juicy thanks to fat and fat soluble organic compounds. The beef fat melts contributing to the sizzle and the moist inside.Coconut oil is the main fat in the Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers and it cooks out quickly. It leaves them dry (???) and vegetal tasting.

One interesting experiment Chef Lopez-Alt was cooking fifteen blocks of the Impossible meat on a vertical rotisserie in the style of the Turkish doner kebab, a street food popular  throughout most of Europe and, extremely well liked in Germany and Scandinavia. The meat is seasoned with garlic, oregano, chilis along with sumac, often used in Turkish cooking. The meat is molded into a classic cone shape and threaded on a rotisserie spit and rotated slowly in front of a flame. It worked up to a point, when the meat sloughed off the spit. Yet the sandwiches made with it were delicious served with sumac seasoned onions, tomatoes and arugula, There was the sauce, that went with it, a combination of yogurt and garlic. Chef Lopez-Alt also cooks with the crumbles , the ground version of these burgers and is satisfied with the results.It's excellent in creating such Asian dishes as dan dan noodles and mapo tofu. I'm making a variation of the first tomorrow using Morning Star Farms crumbles which I know, from experience is always delicious and meaty.  The recipes given are a vegan cheese burger and a vegan chili which Chef Lopez-Alt fires up with a mix of ancho chilies, New Mexico and California ones. He also includes the Turkish kebab one where Beyond meat is refashioned into logs and fried in either grape seed or canola oil. He also gives the recipe for the sumac onions and the spicy dressing too.

Will Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers replace real beef? Hopefully, but don't count on it. There's a lot you can do with them, but they're still not the real thing. There's will always be a need for the real thing no matter how the fake meat industry improves its' product.