July Fourth Firecracker Strawberries!

July Fourth is one of those holidays that you don’t want to show up empty handed if you have been invited to somebody’s home. It’s also a difficult holiday to figure out what you should bring. The obvious watermelon or ice cream sundae fixings seem a little mundane.

Earlier this year I was doing research for another article and came across an idea that I was spot on, Firecracker Strawberries. They are a perfect addition to any gathering. Strawberries are a no brainer this time of year since they are at their peak. What makes them a firecracker is the addition of pop rocks. This is such a fun and easy thing to do with the kids.

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Firecracker Strawberries

Wash and dry, completely, at least 2 strawberries per person. I am making 100!

Melt 2 cups (1 bag) white chocolate, or white candy wafers, over a double boiler. If you are using white chocolate chips you will need to add 1 tablespoon Crisco (shortening) per 2 cups of chips. This will help your chocolate melt smooth.

Working quickly, dip each DRY strawberry ¾ way up in melted white chocolate, then dip the tip into blue pop rocks*. Set on wax paper to set completely.

That’s it! You should have the cutest red, white and blue strawberries ever. I found some blue or red, with stars, cupcake liners. I’m going to serve my strawberries from those. Too cute!

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*I ordered my pop rocks online, but you can get them at most candy stores like Sweet Factory or Rocket Fizz.

Judge Not, Lest You Be Judged

My daughter had mononucleosis the last two weeks of the school year.  This certainly caused a lot of stress in our home.  I spent quite a lot of time on the phone with teachers and counselors trying to get extensions, exceptions and retakes arranged.  As a result, I was given the unique task of videotaping my daughter’s culinary I final.  You may think, “How fun!”, but it was harder than I thought it would be.

I have taught both my daughters to cook, but not in a formal, culinary, way.  It was always, watching me cook, or making some “family” recipe or something special. I have never approached teaching my daughters to cook  from an instructor perspective, but now I was being asked to watch another teachers work.  It was eye opening to say the least.

I do not want to admonish the teacher, at all.  I have never taught 40 kids at one time. Nor do I ever want to. I spent the hour of videotaping, biting  my tongue.  I wanted to rescue her from mistakes.  I held my breath, terrified that she would cut her finger off, as she moved the knife towards her, rather than away.  Did she wash her hands as often as she should have? Did she change cutting boards? Is that dice bite sized? It was daunting!

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By the end of this week, she had received her grade and ended the year with an B in the class (good thing!) and a high B on the final.  It just goes to show that, as parents, we are much harder on our kids.  I am proud of the work my daughter did.

The recipe she cooked was for Bengali Chicken Curry with Rice.  This project was originally assigned as a group project.  Since my daughter wasn’t in class, the recipe was written without her.  When I tasted the recipe, I thought it was good, but could use a little refinement. The photo is of the original recipe, then I offer my changes.  Happy cooking and remember to practice your knife skills!

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Untitled

 

Bengali Chicken Curry with Rice
Print Recipe
This recipe comes from West Bengal and is a colorful and flavorful one pot meal. Be sure to dice all your vegetables to the same bite size. It will make it easier for your diners to enjoy a perfect biteful!
Servings
2 dinner entrees
Servings
2 dinner entrees
Bengali Chicken Curry with Rice
Print Recipe
This recipe comes from West Bengal and is a colorful and flavorful one pot meal. Be sure to dice all your vegetables to the same bite size. It will make it easier for your diners to enjoy a perfect biteful!
Servings
2 dinner entrees
Servings
2 dinner entrees
Ingredients
Servings: dinner entrees
Instructions
  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet, over a medium high heat; add the onions and bell pepper. Cook until translucent, stirring often, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and ginger and continue stirring. Reduce heat to medium flame and add tomatoes. Stir and cook until tomatoes are soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Season with cayenne, curry, garam masala, turmeric and cumin. Stir in reserved tomato juices.
  4. Add the chicken, potates, and stock; Simmer and stir occasionally until potatoes are tender and chicken is no longer pink, about 20 minutes.
  5. Spoon Chicken mixture over cooked rice and garnish with cilantro.
  6. Serve Hot
Recipe Notes

There should be plenty of juices that have thickened from the potatoes.

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New Orleans or N’awlins

Oh my goodness! Over Memorial Day weekend while you were barbecuing, crab boiling or just laying back, I was eating my way through New Orleans!  It was oh so yummy.  lucky you I have taken pictures, reviewed everything and even dug out an old recipe to share with you.  So sit back, loosen your waist band and start reading.

I started the weekend at John Besh’s restaurant Luke. We were able to book the back for our party and the eating ensued. We started with fresh P&J oysters, the crispy brussels sprouts, flamenkuchen and the crab hush puppies. While I thought they were all delicious, the “hush puppies” were more fritters than hush puppies. For dinner we had the Luke Burger, Shrimp and Grits, the Crab BLT, and the market fish.  The grits were amazing!  They were just the right amount of creamy with enough texture to feel the “grit” of the corn. The desserts were okay but to be honest we were so full, it didn’t matter.

Red Fish Meuniere, with crabmeat
Red Fish Meuniere, with crabmeat
Shrimp and Grits
Shrimp and Grits
Soft Shell Crab BLT
Soft Shell Crab BLT

The next day we went for a airboat ride and saw the alligators so it seemed only right that we went to “Daisy Dukes” and had an alligator po’ boy.

Wally Gator
Wally Gator

It was a good thing we did because we were having hotel banquet food.  It was okay as hotel food goes, but we were left unsatisfied at the end of the night.  It was late so of course we headed over to Cafe du Monde for beignets.  It turned out to be the great powdered sugar war of 2015!  Beignets are absolutely heavenly! A couple of tips: eat the beignets hot, they lose something as they cool. Have the chicory coffee.  You can get it hot or iced and do the cafe au lait.  Delicious!

Jambalaya
Print Recipe
A Louisiana Creole dish that came from the Spanish and French influences in New Orleans. It is very similar to a Spanish Paella.
Servings
11 cups
Servings
11 cups
Jambalaya
Print Recipe
A Louisiana Creole dish that came from the Spanish and French influences in New Orleans. It is very similar to a Spanish Paella.
Servings
11 cups
Servings
11 cups
Ingredients
Servings: cups
Instructions
  1. Combine seasoning mix ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. In a large stock pot or dutch oven, melt the chicken fat over medium heat. Add 1 1/2 cups onions, 1 cup of celery,and 3/4 cup green bell peppers. Cook until the vegetables are caramelized, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The onions should be a rich dark brown, but not burnt.
  3. Add the hame, sausage and remaining onion, celery and green bell peppers. Continue cooking and stirring for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, garlic, tomato sauce, bay leaves, seasoning mix and Tabasco. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Turn the heat to high, fold in rice until well mixed. Add the stock, cover pot and remove from heat. Let stand, covered, for 15 minutes. Return to medium heat and cook, covered, until rice is tender, about 10 minutes.
  5. Serve with crusty bread and cold beer. Enjoy!
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New Orleans Tastebud Tours

While I was in New Orleans, I had the pleasure of doing a walking tour of food and history.  We used a company called Tastebud Tours and they were great.  Here’s a little food and history lesson for you.

We met at Little Vic’s to start our tour. Lindel was our tour guide and she certainly knew her stuff! She is a native New Orleans who just happens to be ahi story teacher for her day job. It was great to listen to her tell us he history with such passion.

Muffuletino at Little Vic's.  They use a cabbala bread.
Muffuletino at Little Vic’s. They use a cabbala bread.

Little Vic’s was chosen for their muffuletino. It their version of a traditional muffuletta. These sandwiches are usually layered with mortadella, salami, mozzarella, ham and provolone topped with an olive spread. Long story short the owner of Central Grocery, in New Orleans, noticed his patron struggling today the ingredients separately while balancing on a rate. They really didn’t have time to relax since they had to get back to work. He suggested slicing the bread open and making a sandwich. The thick braid bread they used proved hard to bite into as a sandwich. The Grocer created a new bread, called muffuletta that had the flavor they were used to but a softer consistency. The olive sale was key because they would often let the sandwich sit in the sun to warm the cheese. A mayonnaise based dressing would spoil but the olive spread just gets better with the heat.
We had a quick history lesson on the difference between a Cajun and Creole. Cajuns are Acadians. They descended from the French settlers. With all the different accents, it got boiled down to Cajun. The Creoles were more descendant from the Spanish settlers and there was a great Caribbean influence, as well.

Jambalaya!
Jambalaya!

Next we were off to The Coffee Pot for some authentic jambalaya. It is important to note that the super spicy food often associated with New Orleans cuisine, is not necessarily an accurate representation of what really happens there. The heat is much more subtle and should hit your mouth just at the back of your tongue. The recipe I shared in my previous post I’d from Paul Prudhomme and is a little spicier. It is tomato based.
Next we tried Gumbo. Gumbo originated as an African soup that was cooked up by the slaves in New Orleans. On their day off they would go up to Congo Square to congregate culturally. This is where jazz started, too. Typically, they would bring what they had been given by their owners/employers to throw into the mix. While there are many versions. The African version uses okra as a thickener. We tried both a tomato base and fish based. I personally liked the tomato base better but they are equally great.
We made or way to Johnny’s for Po’ Boys. These sandwiches are traditionally beef,but are a pretty simply composed submarine sandwich. They get there name from a sandwich shop that was owned by two men that used to be streetcar conductors. When the streetcar conductors went on strike in 1929, the former colleagues would come in to the shop and asked if they had a free sandwich for a “poor boy”. Withe dialect in New Orleans it wasn’t long before it was shortened. We were served traditional roast beef Po’ Boys. They were delicious! The line out the door is clearly an indicator of the popularity and reputation of Johnny’s.

Fun at Cafe Beignet!
Fun at Cafe Beignet!

Our last stop was at Cafe Beignet, just off Bourbon Street for just that, beignets!! They were delicious.
I hope you have enjoyed this little tour of New Orleans. I did!!!!

Last Minute Memorial Day Entertaining Idea!

It has been a busy year at my house and now summer is almost upon us. I hadn’t really thought of putting anything together for Memorial Day, since I will be away at a wedding. However, I did get a lot of requests for something that can be thrown together quickly and still be great. I have the perfect plan!

When you think about Memorial Day most people think about the traditional beginning of the summer and thus BBQ season. This year it has been a little cooler than usual in my hood, so a barbecue doesn’t really seem appealing. How about a taco/burrito bar theme? This is great because my recipe is mostly done in the slow cooker and you can use the guacamole recipe from my Cinco de Mayo post. I like this particular recipe because it frees me up to be with my guest, not in the kitchen.

Slow Cooker Lime/Beer Shredded Chicken
Print Recipe
Chicken breasts are slow cooked in lime juice and beer with lots of herbs a garlic that gives a great flavor. This is good base for tacos, burritos, salads and all sorts of things.
Servings Prep Time
4-8 people 5 minutes
Cook Time
6-8 hours
Servings Prep Time
4-8 people 5 minutes
Cook Time
6-8 hours
Slow Cooker Lime/Beer Shredded Chicken
Print Recipe
Chicken breasts are slow cooked in lime juice and beer with lots of herbs a garlic that gives a great flavor. This is good base for tacos, burritos, salads and all sorts of things.
Servings Prep Time
4-8 people 5 minutes
Cook Time
6-8 hours
Servings Prep Time
4-8 people 5 minutes
Cook Time
6-8 hours
Ingredients
Servings: people
Instructions
  1. Chop your herb(s) and wrap in cheesecloth to make a bouquet garni. This step is optional. My family doesn't like to see the herbs, so I use this method.
  2. Drizzle olive oil in bottom of slow cooker.
  3. Add the chicken and pour lime juice and beer over. You may need more to cover.
  4. Throw in your garlic, salt, pepper and herbs.
  5. Cook on slow for 6-8 hours. You can cook on high for 4 hours if needed.
  6. Using two forks, shred chicken while it is still hot.
  7. Serve as a filling for tacos, burritos, salads or get creative. Enjoy!
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Mother’s Day Red Velvet Cake!

Ever since Steel Magnolias hit theaters, in 1989, the world seems to have taken notice of Red Velvet Cake.  That movie was a great Mother/Daughter story and I thought this recipe would be a great way to honor all the mothers out there for Mother’s Day. Given my interest in history, I wanted to know how this recipe came to be. The women in my family tell a story of trying to keep things appealing and flavorful during the depression. During that time, cocoa powder was scarce and expensive. The rich, dark brown chocolate cakes that were at every celebration suddenly were more gray than brown and didn’t have the full chocolate flavor most people were used to.

Necessity is the mother of invention and many women set out to make this treasured recipe work. Natural fruit and vegetable food colorings were still a novelty on the market. Many bakers experimented with beet juice, teas and even tomato juice to get a color that would appeal to the eye without changing the flavor profile, too much. Soon enough that bright red color was what you saw when you first cut into a many-layered cake.

Recently, I was heard Giada De Laurentis explain a scientific version about alkaline, acid and alkali causing a chemical reaction. My head is spinning just writing it down. It is intriguing but way too much science for me. I’ll just go with needed a better color.

The other complication that was left by using less cocoa powder was the subtler chocolate flavor. You could definitely still taste the cocoa, it just wasn’t as pronounced. To give the cake a flavor punch, the women of the day used a cream cheese frosting. The contrast, of the white frosting and multiple red layers, offered great eye appeal and who can resist a well-made cream cheese frosting?

Eventually, artificial food colorings were introduced, commercially and Red Velvet Cake was off to the races in popularity. Many hotels, including the Waldorf Astoria, claimed their versions as “World Famous”. For my taste, our family recipe is the best!

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Be sure to not over bake the cake. It will continue to cook, a little, after it is out of the oven. The toothpick tester may not be completely clean, if you use that method. Be sure to make it your own by adding your favorite decoration or garnish. You can use beautiful fresh berries or even some red cake crumbs on the outside of the cake. Enjoy and Happy Mother’s Day!

Mother’s Day Red Velvet Cake!

Mother’s Day Red Velvet Cake!

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 box powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    For The Frosting:
  • 8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 box powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Grease and flour 3, 8″, cake pans then line the bottom of each with parchment. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Beat shortening until light and fluffy. Gradually add in eggs and sugar.
  3. Blend in food coloring and vanilla.
  4. In a separate bowl combine flour, salt and cocoa powder.
  5. In another bowl stir together buttermilk and white vinegar, then add baking soda. This will bubble up.
  6. Alternating add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture to sugar and shortening mix. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl.
  7. Pour evenly into prepared pans and bake for 20 – 25 minutes.
  8. Cool completely before frosting.
    Frosting Instructions:
  1. Blend all together until smooth.
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Tu necesitas trator algo nuevo! Cinco de Mayo edition.

If you don’t speak Spanish, that is try something new! Cinco de Mayo is this week and most of us are planning some sort of celebration, especially here in California.  A quintessential ingredient for any Mexican fiesta is Guacamole.  By definition guacamole is avocado sauce, but it has been americanized over time and is more a dip than a sauce.

There are lots of really good remade guacamoles on the market.  I propose that if you have any time at all that you try something new and make it yourself.  I get constant compliments on my “homemade” guacamole and I have an excellent shortcut.  I use store bought pico de gallo!

The basic components of guacamole are avocados, lime juice and sea salt.  That’s about all my kids would want in it.  My version is a little more complex but you can totally jazz it up.  Pico de gallo (pico) is chopped tomatoes, onions, jalapeños and cilantro.  It’s pretty easy to see where the variations and creativity start to play.

I like my guacamole on the chunky side so all I need is a fork and bowl.  You can use a molcajete, which is basically a Mexican mortar and pestle. If you like a really smooth guacamole, you can use a blender or food processor.IMG_3181

I smash my avocados but leave them somewhat chunky.  Then I add about 2 tablespoons of pico per avocado and mix it well.  I continue to add the juice of half a lime and even some reserve juice from the pico.  I add sea or kosher salt, a little at a time.  DON’T over salt.  Boom!  You’re done.

As I said earlier, there are all sorts of ways to get creative.  You can add cotija cheese or more heat.  Garlic is a nice addition too.  If you don’t like cilantro, use mexican oregano or basil.  I found a couple of ideas online that sound great, too.  Try adding sour cream for a creamier guacamole with a little tang.  I love the idea of adding toasted nuts for some crunch.  A traditional nut would be pepitas, but use your favorite.  If you want a smoky flavor, try roasting your tomato and jalapeño before chopping them.  Most importantly, make it your own and enjoy!

The Survivor’s Tree

I know I wrote of the 9/11 memorial and how moving it was. To be honest, I can’t get it off my mind. The museum was beautifully designed and curated. The rooms, the items chosen and the footpath were all very respectful and honored the victims and survivors in an authentic way.

There was one item that has really stayed with me, though; the Survivor’s Tree. It is a Callery Pear tree. This tree was discovered long after the dust settled. Even with broken and burnt branches, this living thing found a way to survive. The tree was transplanted and rehabilitated and then moved back to its original location as a constant reminder of our countries resilience.

The Callery Pear tree does not actually bear fruit. You probably have seen one, recently. Right about this time of year these trees get beautiful white blossoms that smell horrible. It is nature’s trompe l’oeil. I want to honor the Survivor’s Tree and all it now stands for, in the only way I know how. I created a recipe, a stuffed and baked chicken breast. The recipe includes pears as a reminder of that tree. I added arugula to remind us of the bitterness and a honey balsamic drizzle to remind us that even in tragedy we can find the sweetness in life. I hope you will make it, share it, enjoy it and always think of that tree and all it represents.

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Survivor's Pear Stuffed Chicken Breasts

  • 4 chicken skin-on, boneless chicken breasts
  • 2 small Bosc pears, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1/2 cup gorgonzola cheese crumbles
  • 2 cups arugula, cleaned and rough chopped
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey, divided
  • 2 Tablespoons Balsamic VinegarScreen Shot 2015-04-19 at 7.20.23 PM

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Pound the chicken breasts so that they are 1/2″ even thickness.  Season with Salt & Pepper.

In a small bowl combine pears, cheese and arugula.

Spread stuffing mixture over center of breasts.  Roll up and secure with twine or toothpicks.

Brush with 2 tablespoons of the honey.

In a cast iron skillet (or other oven safe skillet) heat olive oil and brown chicken on all sides.

Transfer skillet to preheated oven and bake for an additional 25 – 30 minutes, until cooked through.

While chicken is cooking whisk balsamic vinegar and remaining honey  together.

Serve chicken over additional arugula, dressed with honey/balsamic dressing.

9/11 Memorial and Museum

I know that this is a food blog and it will be, tomorrow.  However, today my family and I toured the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. If you haven’t been, yet, go.  If you’ve only been to the memorial make the effort to go to the museum.  The architecture of the memorial and the two reflecting pools is amazing.  They are not only beautiful, but honor the victims in such a meaningful way, by using the actual footprints of the two towers that collapsed. There was lots of awe at all the artifacts that were preserved and lots of tears at the stories and just the plain magnitude of what happened to our country that day.  So simply, here are two pictures to share and I will write more about food tomorrow.

The Last Column.
The Last Column.
Trying to Remember to the Color of the Sky on That September Morning
Trying to Remember to the Color of the Sky on That September Morning

This Week in New York!

This week I am in New York for a Spring Break/College tour trip. New York is always a good excuse to try some new restaurants and see everything the city has to offer. To that end I will be posting a brief blog each day.

Last night, we ventured out to Brooklyn for an Italian dinner. I can’t imagine being in New York and not eating Italian but wanted the opportunity to try a different restaurant. We went to La Nonna, on a Yelp recommendation. It did not disappoint!

When we arrived we were greeted and sat immediately. Alex, our waiter, came over the table and let us know that there were quite a few specials tonight. As he described them, each one sounded better than the last. We settled on starting with a Margherita Pizza, then a fresh Caesar Salad. The pizza was good, but the Caesar salad was out of this world. I could tell the dressing was fresh made and what I loved was that you could really taste the olive oil, not just the garlic or anchovy. It will inspire me to re-work my own Caesar dressing.

To be clear I am not reviewing this restaurant but if I were, I would tell you it is worth the trip across the bridge. This is a family owned restaurant. Anna Morena, the owner came by our table and introduced herself. She was so excited that we had chosen her restaurant via Yelp and gave us a little snippet of her and her husband’s story. I feel like I have a friend in Brooklyn now. I apologize for no pictures. However, the food was so good it was devoured before I remembered.

Today we are off to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Book of Mormon and some more good food, and I promise pictures. See you later!

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