Sunday, December 30, 2012

Holyoke Holiday Irish Soda Bread

2013 is only a day away and already the calender is crowding up with things to do, places to be, and people to see. 

January will see me hooting and hollering as we celebrate the second term inauguration of President Barack Obama. 

February will be a frenzy of activity between Groundhog Day, Chinese New Year and Valentine's Day prior to the winter doldrums setting in and I get serious about using that time to plan this year's work projects.  

Before you know it, March and St. Patrick's Day will be here. And anyone who lives in western Massachusetts knows what that means...the Holyoke St. Patrick's Day parade!

Here's a challenge for my friends of irish ancestry: If you can manage to convince me there's better St. Patrick's Day parade than the Holyoke St. Patrick's Day Parade, I will bake and overnight my version of Irish soda bread to your door in plenty of time to accompany your traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner. 

Or better yet, come to Massachusetts to attend the parade and I will set a place at our table for you!

4 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter flavored shortening (or margarine)
1 cup eggnog 
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 egg
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons whole milk

Preheat oven to 365 degrees F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper, lightly spray parchment with butter flavor cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and shortening. Stir in dried cranberries. Mix in eggnog, vinegar and egg to make a soft, moist dough. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured board. Divide dough into two equal rounds and knead lightly (five or six times each). Place rounds on prepared baking sheet leaving adequate expansion space between each round. In a small bowl, combine melted butter with the milk; brush loaf with this mixture. Use a sharp knife to cut an 'X' into the top of the loaf.

Bake in preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Ethiopian Kapusta?

Cooking fabulous cabbage dishes crosses just about every cultural divide. From continent to continent, cabbage is a cross-cultural culinary staple. It’s inexpensive and with a few added ingredients, you can whip up delicious and healthy main entrees, sides, and even dessert. If you’re daring, Hungarian Sweet Cabbage Strudel makes for an interesting sweet treat.  

Cabbage is an economical vegetable; easy to find in any supermarket and it gives you a big nutritional bang for your buck. Cabbage possesses phytochemicals including sulforaphane, which studies suggest help protect against cancer-causing free radicals, and indoles, which help metabolize estrogens. Packed with vitamins K and C, it’s also an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6, folate, manganese and Omega 3 fatty acids.

Farmer Paul’s cabbages are early this year. Our entire garden has had an accelerated harvest because of the heat. There’s only so many golumpki I’m willing to roll in an evening and with two kinds of cabbbage this year, I needed to find a few new recipes. This tradidional Ethiopian dish fit the bill. And oh boy, is it tasty!

1/2 cup olive oil
4 carrots, coarsely grated
1/2 onion, finely grated
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 head cabbage, shredded
5 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup canned vegeatble broth 

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook the carrots and onion in the hot oil about 5 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, cumin, turmeric, and cabbage and cook another 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in broth. Add the potatoes; cover. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until potatoes are soft, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Simple food at it's best!

This panfried smashed potatoes recipe is my interpretation of the flattened lemon oregano potatoes served at Oleana in Cambridge. Chef Ana Sortun’s cookbook, Spice, is sold at the restaurant but alas has no flattened potato recipe. So here’s my version, and of course, me being me I added my own twist. Crunchy potato skin, spicy oregano, flavor-boosting parsley, freshly cracked black pepper, course ground sea salt and a squeeze of lime…every ingredient plays a big part in the flavor department. 
By the way, I loved the restaurant and the food was amazing. Thanks to my pal Amy for introducing me to Oleana's magical garden patio dining experience. I am not at all sorry about buying the cookbook. There are lots of great Arabic influenced dishes worth trying. Judging from the looks of our backyard garden, the eggplant souffle recipe on page 265 will come in handy by the middle of next week!  
1 1/2 pounds skin on whole baby white or gold potatoes 
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh chopped oregano (1/4 teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon fresh chopped parsley (1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 whole lime
fresh ground sea salt and pepper to taste
Generously cover potatoes with cold water in a 3 quart pot and add dash of salt. Boil until almost tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain potatoes. Transfer to a baking sheet and lightly crush to about 3/4 inch thick with a metal spatula. Careful to keep potatoes more or less intact.
Heat oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Transfer potatoes with the spatula to skillet, sprinkle on oregano and parsley, then lower heat to medium-low. Cook, turning once, until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes on each side. Season with salt and pepper. Cut lime into 6 wedges. Squeeze juice of two wedges over potatoes just before serving, garnish with remaining lime. Serves 4.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

One potato, two potato, three potato, yum!

The history of food has always fascinated me amd the wide variety of recipes from countries spread around the globe using basically the same main ingredient. Potato salad is a universal party food and different versions are served at different temperatures. Most potato salads are served at room temperature or chilled, though a popular German recipe is served warm.

In the United States we like our potato salad refrigerated in advance and served chilled. Mayonnaise is a favorite ingredient.
Brazilian potato salad is called batata calabresa, named after a spicy ingredient, the pimenta-calabresa -- a South American chili pepper. 
Bulgarian potato salad is made with potatoes, leeks or onions, oil, salt and black pepper.
Slovakian potato salad is part of the traditional Christmas meal as a side dish to fish. It contains potatoes, carrots, green peas, pickled cucumbers, celery, yogurt, eggs and onions. 
German potato salad is generally prepared with vinegar and oil, rather than mayonnaise, and bacon bits and served warm. 
Italian potato salad is made with green beans and red onion slices and dressed with olive oil and vinegar.
Romanian potato salad is made with potatoes, eggs, onions and olives.
At my house, we like this Three Potato Salad and we like it just the way most Americans like their potato salad -- served cold and accompanying anything grilled outdoors!

1 pound small red Bliss potatoes
1 pound small Yukon Gold potatoes
1 pound sweet potato
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons fine chopped celery
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Dash of salt (season to taste)
Wash all the potatoes. Peel the sweet potatoes and the Yukon Golds. Do not peel the red. 
Cut into chunks, place in a large pot ot salted water.  Cook on medium high until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and cool to room temperature.  In a small bowl, mix the mustard, mayonnaise, lemon juice, pepper and celery until well blended. Fold into the cooked, cooled potatoes and season with salt. Refrigerate at least two hours before serving. Serves 6.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Berry Berry Good Streusel Ginger Muffins!

It all started with an impulse purchase of a Southern Living Almost Homemade magazine. Pictured on the cover was Lemonade Pie and the promise of the recipe on page 77 was too irresistable.

Up to now, I balked at the temptation to create an “almost homemade” recipe of my own and hate to admit giving in. Once you try my Berry Streusel Ginger Muffins I think you’ll agree, there might be something to this lazy cooking style rage. No berries on hand? No problem. Substitute dried cranberries instead of fresh raspberries in the recipe. If you are a ginger fan, these are the best muffins ever.

By the way, I haven’t tried Lemonade Pie yet. But on page 15 -- OMG! There’s a heavenly recipe for Blackberry Mojito Punch. The issue is on sale until July 13, 2012.

One 14 ounce boxed gingerbread mix
1 cup orange or apple juice
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon unsalted butter or margarine
2 tablespoons biscuit mix
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons raw quick oats
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup chopped honey roasted pecans
1/2 cup fresh raspberries 

Start by making the streusel. Blend together butter, biscuit mix, sugar, quick oats, and ground ginger. Once streusel mix is nice and crumbly, toss in 1/4 cup honey roasted pecans and set aside. Keep berries separate.

Now it’s time for the muffin batter. Using one box of gingerbread mix. Add juice, eggs and baking powder. Thoroughly mix with a wooden spoon about two minutes until battter is smooth.

Evenly distribute batter into lined 12 piece muffin tin. Drop 3-4 berries on top of batter (do not mix in) sprinkle a generous tablespoon of streusel on top of the berries.

Bake 18-20 minutes in an oven preheated to 350 degree F. Let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan, cool another 10 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to mingle. Good warm or fully cooled to room temperature.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Perfect Grilled Burger Every Time!

Nobody needs convincing that a juicy grilled cheeseburger is summer’s favorite All American party meal.  One juicy bite will have them belting out America the Beautiful on this Memorial Day weekend. But anyone who thinks crafting a classic burger is as easy as slapping down ground meat on a grill has another thing coming. 

My spouse AKA Farmer Paul is grill master around our house. Read on for his ten top tips for making perfect burgers and start this year’s backyard cook-out season with a surefire success.
1. Buy Good Meat
Ground sirloin steak or rib-eye with a meat-to-fat ratio between 75-25 and 80-20 makes the best tasting burger ever. Never assume the leanest meat is the best. It'll be as dry as cardboard by the time you're done grilling it!
2. Chill the Meat First
Before you even form the patties, put the meat in the fridge for a half hour or so.  Getting it colder helps it stay fresh while you work it into The Perfect Patty. Wash your hands thoroughly and rinse those squeaky clean hands in cold water before working with the meat is also helpful.
3. Form the Perfect Patty
Start with one pound of meat. Pull the meat apart into 4 equal pieces, then pat down into a patty on a hard surface with one hand while forming the rough edge with the other. Your patty should be about 3/4 to 1 inch thick. Don’t over handle the meat, it will toughen it up. Push your thumb into the center of the meat to make about a quarter-inch deep dimple. The burger will be perfectly flat when they're finished cooking. After you've formed your patties, lightly cover with plastic wrap and put them back in the fridge to cool down again for 30 to 45 minutes.
4. Use the Right Buns
Keep in mind the bun forms more than half the burger. Buns about 4 inches to 4-1/2 inches round are generally good. You don't want a super-thick burger overhanging the buns -- but just the right size to get a taste of every element; burger, bun, and toppings in every bite. If you’re super ambitious, try making your own with a good brioche dough recipe and artisan bread topping (King Arthur’s Flour catalog -- $6.95 a bag). 
5. Seasoning
Never ever salt your meat before grilling. Salt dries out the juices and dries out the meat. For people who just can’t live without salt, have it available at the table. But feel free to generously pepper to your heart’s delight. Try using a mutil-color ground pepper mix, each has it’s own distinct flavor and adds a certain zing to the meat! 
6. Preheat the Grill
Hot, hot, hot! You want to sear the meat really quickly so you have nice color on the outside and a juicy pink center. Get the gas grill temperature to 500 degrees F before laying down that first burger.  If using traditional charcoal, if you can put your hand lower than six inches above grill and not feel the heat It’s not ready yet!
7. The Perfect Grill Technique
Here's the secret to a nice juicy burger: After you get the first sear, do a quarter turn, leave it alone for a little longer -- 4 minutes for medium rare, 5 minutes for medium on that first side. Then flip it and leave it another 3 minutes for medium rare, 4 minutes for medium. Do another quarter turn, let it get its marking, then take it off the grill. Don’t push down on the patty while it is cooking. One flip. Period. Though I don’t recommend a well done burger, add an extra minute to each side for anyone who prefers the meat brown all the way through. 
8. Put on the Cheese Before It Leaves the Grill
Add cheese after your last flip or turn, while the burger's still on the grill. It'll start to melt slightly and be nicely oozing by the time it gets to the table. Try breaking out of the usual American-cheddar-Swiss triad of cheeses: Think gruyere, blue cheese or camembert.
9. Rest the Cooked Burgers
After you take it off the heat, let the burger rest and redistribute its juices for a minute or two -- just like you would a steak. The first juicy bite will be worth the wait!
10. Be Creative with Toppings
Everyone's got a different idea about what tops the perfect burger. In addition to the traditional mayo, ketchup, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles -- try at least five or six other, less common options. Consider wasabi mayo, BBQ sauce, jalepenos, chopped sweet gherkins, shredded cabbage, hummus or horseradish.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mom's Day at home!

I've done my share of being treated to brunch at a crowded eatery, standing in a long line waiting for a table with the sounds of my family's grumbling stomachs all in the name of a Mother's Day treat. Restaurants are just too damned busy on Mother’s Day and I love to cook. 

Best deal of the century is that I cook, we all eat and they clean up while I sip a second cup of tea and post this recipe, adapted from last month's issue of Food Network Magazine.  

Mom's Day Brunch Puff
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
4 tablespoons chevre (goat cheese crumbles)
2 tablespoons grated swiss cheese
4 eggs
3 strips crispy crumbled bacon
2 crisp steamed asparagus spears cut into one inch pieces
Fresh ground sea salt and course ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Cut the pastry sheet into four equal squares. Scrunch the corners to form 4 rounds. Place on parchment lined sheet and prick entire pastry dough with a fork. Bake in oven about 10 minutes. Remove baking sheet and allow pastry to cool 5 minutes.

If the centers have puffed up, prick with a fork some more to deflate the puff in the centers. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon chevre crumbs in the centers of each and 1/2 tablespoon of finely grated swiss along the edges. Crack an egg into the center of each puff; season with salt and pepper. Top each with bacon crumbles and asparagus pieces. Return to the oven 10-12 minutes, or until egg whites are set. Garnish plates with fresh fruit.  Yum!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Classic Crepes Suzette with a Twist!

I have never attempted Crepes Suzette but today was Crepes Suzette Day.  Quiet Sundays are good days to try something new, there's no real pressure to succeed. I set out the simple ingredients I needed to recreate the storied and delicate classic French dessert. The usual flambe is fueled by Grand Marnier or the equivalent orange liqueur.

Roadblock number one: no orange liqueur in the cupboard. There was, however, a brand spanking new bottle of Limoncello.

Second problem: Don't know about you, but I'm too nervous to go starting anything on fire in my kitchen, I leave that sort of thing to the professionals. Since I'd already tossed classic out the window with the Limoncello twist, I decided to create my own non-flaming version of the sauce.

Third issue: No vanilla extract but I did have almond extract. Another ad-lib. The results were astonishing!

1 cup flour
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cup milk
1 pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon unsalted butter to melt in the skillet

1/2 stick unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1 lemon, juice and grated rind
1/3 cup Limoncello liqueur 

Make the crepes:
In a bowl, mix the flour, eggs, milk and salt with a whisk until just until smooth. Add almond extract and whisk just enough to blend. The batter should be the consistency of light cream. Let rest (covered) in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours (preferably overnight).

Melt the teaspoon of butter in 8 inch saute skillet pan and set over medium heat. Pour about 1/4 cup batter into pan and swirl until the pan is coated. Cook crepes until the top begins to look dry, about 60 seconds. Using a silicone spatula, loosen edges and flip. Cook the other side about 30 seconds.

For Sauce:
In small saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter. When foamy, add sugar and stir until dissolved. Add liqueur, grated zest and juice; bring to a simmer. Add thinly sliced fruit: pineapple, banana, or apples. Turn heat to low.

Place one crepe on a dessert plate and drizzle one tablespoon of warm sauce. Fold the crepe in half and and drizzle again with warm sauce. Fold crepes in half again, drizzle more sauce and top with the fruit. Enjoy! Serves 4-6.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Strawberries with Panache, I mean Ganache!

Chocolate ganache sounds awfully intimidating. It's really just heated heavy cream poured over solid chocolate and with a pat of sweet butter melted in for richness.

You can use your favorite chocolate: milk, dark or white but keep in mind, better quality chocolate equals better quality ganache. I’m fond of Guittard.  There are many good brands available. Buy the best you can afford – it’s worth it!

Once you’ve tried these ganache filled beauties you’ll be hooked. Typical chocolate dipped strawberries just won't cut it anymore!

2/3 cup heavy cream
8 ounces bittersweet or dark chocolate
1 tablespoon sweet unsalted butter
2 teaspoons Frangelica or other hazelnut flavored liqueur
24 large strawberries
3 tablespoons ground hazelnuts

Chop the chocolate and place it in a stainless steel or pyrex bowl. Heat the cream until just simmering. Pour it over the chocolate in the bowl. Let sit for a minute. Using a rubber/silicon spatula, combine the cream and chocolate with smooth strokes from the center outward until smooth. Add the butter and liqueur and continue to stir until smooth. The ganache will thicken as it cools and can be stored in the refrigerator for several days before use.

Take your ganache out of the refrigerator about an hour before use. Transfer the ganache to a piping bag with a wide tip. Finely grind a handful of nuts in a mini-processor for dipping.

Hull your berries using a small paring knife to create a V-shaped opening in each berry. Fill the holes to the top with the ganache. Dip the chocolate end into the ground nuts. Place finished product in a lidded storage container and refrigerate up to 12 hours before serving.

It tastes great with amaretto and ground almonds, too.

For a non-alcoholic version and an elegant twist to the classic peanut butter and jelly combo, try adding 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter to the chocolate and cream eliminating the sweet butter and liqueur. Dip the ends into ground peanuts.