Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Halloween Horror

I had planned to share with you the happy adventures of dipping apples into gooey homemade caramel and luscious bright red sugar. When finished, the candy apples would glisten like rubies on the table while the rest would sit draped in an irresistible layer of soft, chewy caramel. Well, it didn’t quite turn out that way. I wanted a treat, but got a trick instead.

This is what should NOT happen when dipping caramel apples.
While I could just hide under a blanket and call myself a ghost, I’m going to be honest and share all the sticky details of my apple dipping horror show. Although often concealed in the spotlight, conveniently cut and edited until only the perfect parts are showing, kitchen mishaps happen to all of us—sometimes even despite the most valiant of efforts. This is how we learn.

Lined up on their wooden sticks, I had ten apples prepared for the plunge: five were destined to be candy coated, while the other five would go for a swim in the caramel. (P.S. Finding sticks was a project in itself; after searching through several grocery stores, I ended up buying an instant caramel apple kit just for the sticks inside.)

The recipes for each of the sugary shellacs made enough for twelve apples so I cut both of them in half. As they bubbled away on the stove, it seemed as though things were going smoothly. Not for long: ending with a sink full of sticky pots, a melted spatula and enough frustration fuming out of me to liquefy another, my fun fall project had suddenly morphed into an all-out Halloween nightmare. Insert: blood curling scream.

Homemade caramel-dipped apples had been on my mind since coming across Alice’s recipe on her blog, Someone Who Bakes. I could already taste the creamy caramel that was engulfing each of the apples in her photos and immediately bookmarked the recipe. Check out the post here to see how these should come out. While cooking the caramel it looked just as it ought to; stirring away, I imagined light strings of caramel floating behind my apple lollipop as I pulled away from each bite. If only…

After pouring the caramel out to cool, I realized that something was wrong. It was getting too hard too fast. Only a few apples had the chance to be dipped before the caramel refused to stick, just sliding off at every attempt. It tasted good though! Once set, it was like a rock—CRACK—the caramel shattered under the immense pressure that it took to even cut through it. I blame all of this on not having a candy thermometer. I thought I could get away with it, but when it comes to melting sugar to the proper temperature you can’t just wing it; a few degrees can make a big difference.

At least the candy apples came out decent. I ended up only having enough red sugar syrup to dip two of the intended five apples, but those lonely two looked pretty damn fine. Hard and sticky enough to potentially break teeth and crack skulls, they passed the test in comparison to any candy apple I’ve ever tasted. But were these measly couple of triumphs worth all of the red gunk that was caked at the bottom of my pot, dripped into the burners, and spotted along on the counters? Not really! The disaster with these was more in the mess than the end result.

I don't know about you, but I thought that was a pretty scary story. Until I get a candy thermometer and can give these another try the right way, I’m good just buying my candy and caramel apples!

The survivors. Warning: looks can be deceiving, caramel is inedible.
*Tip: If you find yourself caught in a sticky situation and have something sugary glued to the bottom of a pot, fill the pot half way with water and bring to a boil--everything with melt away and you can just pour the mess down the drain.

Happy Halloween!

Candy Apples:
Woman’s Day, October, 2010

Yield: 12

- 12 small red delicious apples
- 12 clean twigs, thin wooden dowels or candy sticks
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup each light corn syrup and hot water
- ¼ tsp liquid red food color

• Line a large baking sheet with nonstick foil or parchment paper. Wash and thoroughly dry apples; remove stems. Insert twigs firmly into stem ends.
• Combine sugar, corn syrup and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; stir until sugar dissolves. Attach a candy thermometer to side of pan, continue to cook, without stirring, until mixture reach 250 degrees F (wipe down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush occasionally to prevent crystallization). Continue to cook until 300 degrees F, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove syrup from heat and swirl in food color, tilting saucepan, until blended. Let mixture settle for a minute until bubbles slow down.
• Holding an apple by the twig and tilting pan, dip and swirl apple until coated. Lift apple and gently twirl over saucepan, letting excess drip back into pan. Place on prepared baking sheet, twig up. Repeat with remaining apples.
• Allow apples to stand at room temperature until candy coating hardens, about 1 hour. Candy apples can be made up to 1 day ahead and stored at room temperature.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Smashing Pumpkins

Stepping over and around a labyrinth of twisted vines, I begin my search to find a face among a crowded patch of pumpkins; which of these large orange squashes will provide the canvas for the funny, geometric expression of my jack o’ lantern?

Some tall and skinny, others short and round, character waits to be carved into every stature. Randomly stopping at the most promising jack o’ lantern hopefuls, I disturb their sunning for a thorough inspection of poking, prodding and utter violation in search of hidden bruises, holes and signs of rotting. I continued to probe the field until finally, I spotted the pumpkin that I would fashion a personality and place into my window sill; it was if it had been waiting there all season, especially for me. Like the headless horseman, I tucked the bright orange “head” under my arm and started home, leaving all of the rejects in my dust.

Carving pumpkins for Halloween is one of my favorite traditions at this time of year. I look forward to the pumpkin picking process, designing a face, and even pulling slimy orange guts out with my hands; it’s all part of an annual project that helps encourage the Halloween and autumn spirit. For the past five years, my boyfriend and I have been carving jack o’ lanterns together. We’ve done happy faces, scary faces, and even two different faces that interact. This year, I wanted to challenge myself with something I’ve never tried before: an illuminated pumpkin. You know those pumpkins that aren’t perforated but have crazy intricate designs shaved into their skin so that the light inside just glows through?

I am so impressed by what some people can do with a pumpkin. Real artistry, craftsmanship, and creativity are required to sculpt detailed portraits and spooky scenes into lowly winter squash. I had a vision to chisel a Day of the Dead-style skull or “sugar skull” into my pumpkin, but otherwise had no idea what I was doing. My goal was to successfully execute this project and prove that it can be simple enough for anyone to do. I did a little internet research, picked up some tips along the way, and even bought a special tool at Michaels:

Pumpkin carving tool found at Michaels. On one end, there is a small knife for intricate carving;
on the other end, there is a specially designed skin peeler and scraper.

The rounded edge of the tool is pushed down along the lines of your design to peel the skin off of the pumpkin. The flat edge that looks like a rake is used to scrape the already-peeled lines to make them deeper and/or thicker.
Other than knives, actual workman’s tools like a router are used in serious pumpkin carving. Of course, having the right tools for any job is imperative for ease and success. With this being my first try at making an illuminated pumpkin, I wanted to stay away from the power tools and keep everything as simplistic as possible; my little pumpkin carver thingy actually proved to be very helpful!

Once you are equipped with the right tools, the next step is to find a good pumpkin and get your design on paper. We were lucky to find a perfectly head-shaped pumpkin and my boyfriend is a great artist so he was able to draw up the sugar skull in only a few minutes. If you are not artistically inclined, you can print a simple black and white, thick-lined design from the computer.

1) After you’ve drawn up or printed out an image, cut it out and tape it onto your pumpkin.

2) Using the tip of a small knife, poke holes along the lines of the image through the paper and into the pumpkin. Make sure that the holes are close together and are moving in the same direction as the lines. When you remove the paper, you may need to retrace over the lines with a marker to help you to see the design more clearly.

3) Cut off the top of the pumpkin and remove all guts and seeds. Scrape the inside of the pumpkin right behind where the image is placed so that it’s thin enough for the light to come through.

4) Using the proper tool, peel and scrape the pumpkin skin along the lines of the image.

5) Clean pumpkin and apply Vaseline to carved areas to seal in the moisture and keep it from quickly rotting. Place a candle or bright flashlight inside, turn off the lights, and watch your pumpkin glow!

So proud of how this turned out!
I have always thrown my pumpkin seeds out after carving, but this year, I saved and roasted them. I attempted to make three different varieties: salt and butter, cumin and chili, and sugary maple cinnamon. Sadly, the sugary maple cinnamon got lost during battle, burnt to a blackened crisp in the belly of my oven. The others came out fine; I just wasn’t sure how to eat them.

When confronted with whole roasted pumpkin seeds, I didn’t know if should eat the entire thing, shell and all, or crack it like a sunflower seed and only eat the pepita inside? So, I Googled it! Turns out you can eat them whole if you want, but it’s preferable to remove the tough outer shell first.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds: cumin and chili; butter and salt.  
The gravestone is Godiva chocolate!
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds:

Yield: ½ cup of each variety

Salt and Butter
- 2 Tablespoon butter
- 2 teaspoon salt
Cumin and Chili
- 2 Tablespoon butter
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
• Preheat oven to 400 degrees
• Melt butter; in a small bowl, pour melted butter over pumpkin seeds and mix with salt/spices. Spread seeds out on a parchment lined sheet tray and cook for 15 minutes. Check occasionally and mix at half way.

Our traditonal jack o' lantern. Looks like he thought that he was going to be left out this year!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Spooky Skull Cookies

Ding Dong.

"Trick or Treat?"

Welcome to the doorstep of my blog. Halloween is almost here and I have a treat for you!

With a sweet tooth as big as my head, I always look forward to the treats of the spooky season. As a kid, I'd proudly trek home on Halloween with both my trick or treat bag and my veins weighed down with as much sugar as each could handle. I would then dump all of my candy on the living room floor and meticulously sort it out. With an excitement compared to what I feel today when walking into Dylan’s Candy Bar, I would look over my sugary accumulation with glutinous fulfillment. As if each confection were gold, I took stock counting and organizing every piece. No missing candy would go unnoticed and no wrath would be held back from anyone who dared sneak something that I like. To this day, I will share anything with anybody, but don't touch my candy!

Everywhere you turn at this time of year there are cute and ghoulish edibles to be found, all with creative presentations perfect for parties or any spooky table setting. This past week, I've seen everything from cheese ball ghosts and human finger cookies, to graveyard cupcakes and ice cream cone witch’s hats. Martha Stewart has some of my favorite recipes and ideas. While there was plenty of inspiration, coming up with my own Halloween-themed treat was a bit of a challenge. It seemed like everything I could have imagined had already been thought of!

With both skulls and Halloween colors in mind, I eventually thought up these chocolate short bread cookie sandwiches with peanut butter buttercream filling. Using a regular round cookie cutter, skull shapes are formed by simply pinching in the sides a little bit past the center of the circle. A smaller round cookie cutter makes the eyes, and then a knife is used to cut out a triangle shape for the nose and a slit for the mouth. You can play around with the faces but even if you make them all the same, you’ll notice that they all kind of take on their own little personalities when baked.

Soon a masquerade of princesses, superheroes, and ghouls will be crunching up your driveway on fallen colored leaves in search of a treat. Be prepared to satisfy the sugary solicitation of your fiendish friends, big and small, with these spooky skull cookies.

Spooky Skull Cookies:
Yield: about two dozen sandwich cookies
Chocolate Short Bread Cookies
Recipe by Maria Helm Sinskey, Food and Wine
- 2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Peanut Butter Buttercream (about 1 cup)
Recipe by Martha Stewart Living, January 2004
-2/3 cup natural, creamy peanut butter
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
- Fine salt (optional)
• For the cookies: in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Add the vanilla, and then beat in the cocoa on low speed. Beat in the flour and salt; the dough will be very soft. Divide the dough in half; wrap each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.
• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll dough out to ¼ inch on a lightly floured work surface. Using a round cookie cutter, stamp out cookies. You can continue to re-roll the scraps, and stamp out more cookies.
• A little past the center of each of the cut out circles, pinch in to make a skull shape. Transfer the cookies to parchment paper–lined baking sheets. On half of the skull shapes, use a small round cookie cutter to make eyes. Use a knife to cut out a small triangle for the nose and a slit for the mouth. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until firm. Let cool.
• For the buttercream: cream peanut butter and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed. On low speed, mix in sugar until combined, then beat mixture on high speed until fluffy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Add salt to taste, if desired.
• After the cookies have been cooled completely spread the peanut butter buttercream on top of each plain skull cookie and top with skull face cookie to make a sandwich.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Strong to the Finish, 'Cause I Eats Me Spinach!

Packed with vitamins and nutrients, delicious when cooked or raw, and as proven by Popeye, a mighty leaf that posses the power to enforce superhuman strength; the pure greenness of spinach may make a child whine with repulsion, but it makes me smile from ear to ear.

While downing a can of spinach from your back pocket might not make you suddenly invincible to a punch in the face from a behemoth-sized dude, it really does have a few super powers packed inside its leaves. Spinach not only strengthens muscles, it fights aging and certain types of cancer, helps to maintain good blood pressure, and prevents memory loss.

I got this recipe for spinach with apples, pine nuts, and raisins off of one of the menus from the culinary school where I work. The sweet add-ins and all of the different textures immediately caught my eye. This easy side dish requires no more than a few minutes to prepare, and it presents itself like colorful spinach confetti.

Spinach with Apples, Pine Nuts, and Raisins:
Recipe from New York Times, December 14, 1994

Yield: 8 Servings

- 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 1 large whole onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 large granny smith apples
- 2 pounds loose spinach
- 6 Tablespoons raisins
- 2 Tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
- Salt and pepper to taste

• Heat a large pot at medium heat. Add oil and butter, and sauté onion. Meanwhile, wash, core and seed apples; cut into small cubes. Reduce heat, add apple to onion and continue cooking.
• Trim tough stems from spinach and wash well. Add spinach and raisins to pot; cover and cook for a couple of minutes, until the spinach has wilted. Stir occasionally. Add pine nuts, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Read All about It! Cook's Book in the Newspaper

This past weekend, Cook’s Book and I had our first major debut! Beneath the bulk of the Sunday pages in Long Island/New York City newspaper, Newsday, I was profiled in “Who’s Cooking,” a long running column that spotlights a new home cook every week.

Reporter Linda Perney asked me a few questions about the blog, my interest in cooking, and background in the kitchen. Along with the brief Q & A, I got to provide a recipe and have my photo taken. In a whirlwind of clicks and flashes, busy Newsday photographer Kevin Coughlin dashed into my house and around my kitchen quickly snapping photo after photo. Look here! Click. Smile! Click. Look busy! Click, click. Before I could say “Vogue” he was onto the next assignment.

I wanted to provide a recipe ideal for the cool weather seasons. Hearty, simple, and full of great flavor, the answer was white bean and escarole soup with chorizo sausage and Parmigiano croutons. I took a classic and spun it my way. Meaty white cannellini beans and escarole, a slightly bitter green, always work very well together. The chorizo adds a little extra kick to the soup and even more substance to every bite. Parmigiano croutons are my complimentary “gourmet” alternative to saltine and oyster crackers.

Chorizo is a pork sausage that comes in both Mexican and Spanish varieties. Although the two share a name, a large dose of garlic, and hog ancestry, there are a number of differences that set the two apart. In the simplest terms, Mexican chorizo is made of fresh pork and chiles, while Spanish chorizo is prepared with smoked pork and seasoned with paprika. Spanish chorizo (the kind that is used in this recipe) does not need to be cooked. You will find chorizo in the Latin aisle or section of most large grocery stores; Goya makes a pretty good one.

After a few weekends of anxiously checking the paper, there I finally was, right in the center of the “life” section, smiling and holding up my soup. Very cool!

White Bean and Escarole Soup with Chorizo Sausage and Parmigiano Croutons:

Yield: 6-8 servings

- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 4 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 3 plum tomatoes, diced
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 pound escarole, chopped
- ½ cup white wine
- Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 2, 15.5 oz cans cannellini beans
- 4 oz/ 1 cup Spanish chorizo sausage (cured smoked pork sausage), remove casing, slice sausage in half length-wise and cut into half- moon shapes.
- Leaves stripped from 2 sprigs of thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
- About ½ loaf Italian, French, or other crusty-type bread, sliced and cut into ½ inch cubes.
- ½ cup (or more as needed) grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus extra peeled with a vegetable peeler in strips to garnish top of soup (optional).

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat; add onions and cook until translucent. Next, add tomato, garlic, and red pepper flakes and sauté until the garlic becomes fragrant--about a minute. Add escarole and cook for about 2 minutes until wilted. Add white wine. After the wine comes to a boil, add lemon juice, chicken stock, beans, and chorizo; bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Add thyme leaves and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook for 20-30 minutes, allowing liquid to slightly reduce.
• Put bread cubes onto a sheet tray and toast in the oven. Keep a watchful eye. When the bread is midway to being completely toasted, remove from the oven and sprinkle each cube with grated Parmigiano cheese. Return back to oven and finish until the bread is golden and crispy, and the cheese is melted.
• To serve, ladle warm soup into bowls and garnish with croutons and Parmigiano Reggiano strips.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Homemade Butternut Squash and Apple-Stuffed Tortellini

Homemade Butternut Squash and Apple-Stuffed Tortellini with Brown Butter Sage Sauce
I can’t handle the cold. Anything less than maybe 75 degrees and I'm “freezin’.” All it takes is the slightest nip in the air (or the air conditioner) and I’m bundled up to my eyes. I do love autumn, though; after all, I was born when the leaves were falling. With just the right amount of cool, a cozy sweater or light jacket is all you need to be comfortable. But when the wind starts to blow with a fiercer kind of chill, there’s the constant reminder that rough, freezin’ waters are ahead, mateys.

When you get to shivering, you want to eat something that is comforting; a filling meal that warms you to your core. Homemade pasta is just that. I created these tortellini with the season in mind. Filled with a mixture of apples and butternut squash, they are a delicious way to enjoy fall’s bounty. To finish, the pasta is tossed with a simple brown butter and sage sauce as not to mask all of the great flavors going on inside of the tortellini. Brown butter or beurre noisette is literally, butter that's cooked until it becomes golden brown. As the butter browns it develops a nice nutty taste.

Making the pasta dough
Dry pasta is great but like an infomercial trying to sell you towards making your own might say, the difference between dry and fresh can take a pasta dish from drab to fab! And it’s so easy! Are you sold? With fresh pasta, it’s almost as if you can just taste the extra effort that went into making it; it’s so homey. Once you've mixed all your ingredients into a smooth, elastic ball of dough make sure to let it rest, covered, for at least an hour. After being beaten up and kneaded, allowing the dough to relax and release all of its built up tension will make it easier to roll out.

I don’t have a pasta machine so I rolled my dough out by hand. You want the dough to be really thin, so it takes a little bit of muscle. It worked out fine, but I have to admit, I was wishing I had a pasta machine the entire time. Not only would it be easier, but I would have been able to get the dough thinner. Note to self: you need to get a pasta machine! I know for a fact that I would be making more pasta from scratch if I had one.

Ingredients for tortellini filling:
Roasted butternut squash, feta cheese  sauteed apples, olive oil-poached shallots, toasted and ground walnuts
The filling for the tortellini is made up of several layers: toasted and ground walnuts, roasted butternut squash, sautéed apples, and poached shallots. Feta cheese and seasonings are sprinkled in between and everything is blended together in the food processor. The shallots are poached in olive oil which softens the shallot both in texture and intensity, while also infusing the oil. You will need the oil to help blend everything together, but you should have some left over. Don’t throw it away—it’s too good! I used mine in vinaigrette for a side salad.

With all those folds, tortellini might come off as difficult, but it's really pretty simple. See?

Fresh pasta only takes a few minutes to cook. Once these come up to the surface of the boiling water, they should be done. Test to make sure.
Finished with a grating of Parmigiano Reggiano. Bon Appetit!
Homemade Butternut Squash and Apple-Stuffed Tortellini with Brown Butter Sage Sauce:
Fresh Pasta Dough:
- 1 # AP Flour + as needed
- Pinch of salt
- 4 eggs
- 2 fl oz water (or as needed)
- ½ butternut squash, peeled and cubed
- 2 whole shallots, peeled
- 2 apples (gala, granny smith, or golden delicious), peeled and diced
- Olive oil (for roasting squash, sautéing apples, and poaching shallots)
- ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
- ¼ cup walnuts, toasted and ground in food processor
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Ground allspice to taste
- Ground ginger to taste
- 1 whole egg, whisked for egg wash
- 1 stick butter
- Fresh sage leaves
• Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
• To make pasta: mix salt and flour together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture; add eggs and water to well. Work as quickly as possible, gradually pulling the flour into the wet ingredients, and stir until a loose mass forms. As dough is mixed, you may need to adjust with additional flour or water. (The pasta dough can also be mixed in a food processor or electric mixer). Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until the texture becomes smooth and elastic. Gather the kneaded dough into a ball, cover and let relax at room temperature for at least an hour.
• Toss butternut squash with salt, pepper, and olive oil on a sheet tray. Roast for 20-25 minutes in preheated oven until soft. In a small sauce pot, cover shallots almost all the way with olive oil. Bring the oil to a slow simmer and cook shallots until soft, about 20-25 minutes. When the shallots are done, roughly chop and reserve the oil. In a sauté pan, heat regular olive oil and cook apples until soft.
• To make the filling: in a food processor, combine roasted butter nut squash, roughly chopped shallots, sautéed apples, feta cheese, ground walnuts and some of the reserved shallot oil. Process until smooth. Adjust seasoning with ground allspice, ground ginger, salt and pepper.
• Divide pasta dough into 2-4 separate balls. Roll out pasta dough (by hand or with a pasta machine) into a thin sheet. Cut out squares as perfectly as possible. Lay a small spoonful of the butternut squash filling into the center of the square. Brush two of the edges with egg wash. Fold the square diagonally over the filling to make a triangle. Wrap the triangle around your pinky so that both ends meet and overlap each other; press to secure. Fold the pointed top down over the back. (Can refrigerate up to 2 days).
• In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add tortellini. When they are done they will rise to the surface--it will only take a few minutes. While the pasta is cooking, heat butter in a pan until it becomes golden brown in color. Add the sage. Toss tortellini with butter sage sauce and serve.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Edible Garden

Throughout the summer and into the fall months up until its conclusion this Sunday, October 17th, The New York Botanical Garden’s exhibition, The Edible Garden, is an elaborate display of food’s journey from the dirt onto our dishes. Made up of a series of several different gardens abundant with all plants that are edible, it is an educational marvel perfect for the food fascinated and gardening aficionados alike.

Last weekend, my long awaited visit to the Edible Garden came just in time before its close. I had never been to the New York Botanical Garden before. Located in the Bronx right across the street from the Bronx Zoo; it is an unexpected wonderland of colorful flowers, vast greenery and woods.

There was much to explore within the Edible Garden, divided into four separate “Kitchen Gardens”: an urban-friendly container garden, home gardening center with celebrity chef and trial beds, Martha Stewart’s culinary herb garden, and children’s vegetable garden. Each with a specific focus, all of the gardens are designed to promote the notion that the best, nutritious, and most rewarding way to enjoy good food is to grow it yourself.

As part of the exhibition, there are ongoing cooking demonstrations that focus on locally grown and seasonal foods. Throughout its run, there have been a number of celebrity demos and book signings. I missed Italian cook and public television cooking show host Lidia Bastianich by one day! For this final upcoming weekend, they are pulling out the big guns with Mario Batali, Todd English, and Michael Psilakis all making an appearance.

I thought that The Edible Garden exhibition was fantastic. From herbs to eggplants, as a cook, you get very excited having all of these fresh and unique ingredients sprouting up all around you. And seeing as that my gardening skills are not so hot (i.e. Garden FAIL) I was very impressed by the many possibilities of planting your own foods, especially as displayed by the container garden. While teaching me more about growing foods that I am already familiar with, the gardens also introduced me to many different plants, herbs, and strange vegetables that I only wish I could have picked myself to bring home and cook. To learn more about The Edible Garden visit:

Snapping away the entire time, I tried to capture some of most interesting and unusual plants growing in the gardens to share with you:

Conservatory with container garden.
Huge pots in front of the conservatory spilled out with all different kinds of edible plants, proving that you don’t need an actual garden to garden.

Martha Stewart's Culinary Herb Garden

Vibrant Purple Basil

Curry Plant.
 This herb smells just like curry but actually tastes more like sage.

Hot Peppers in the Trial Garden

African Scarlet Eggplant
Also from the trial garden. It looks like a tomato or squash, but it's a eggplant! They are said to be a very bitter variety, even when cooked.

Toga Eggplants in the heirloom collection of plants.
Like the most familiar of heirlooms--the heirloom tomato, the seeds of all the plants in this gaden have been past down for generations.

Lettuce Leaf Basil
The largest leaf of any basil. Great for pesto!

Purple Peas
How cool are these?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Olive You, Stuffed Fried Olives

Back in August, Giada De Laurentiis was talking about olives on the Today Show, where she is a contributing correspondent. Watch the entire segment below:

Did you guys pick up on all the flirtation going on in this kitchen? Matt Lauer, stop trying to put your moves on Giada! At the end, he presents her with a “40” that he made out of olives for her birthday. Real smooth Matt, advertise a woman’s age in fruit!

Seriously though, Giada wowed me once again here with her ingeniously delicious and simple recipe for stuffed and fried olives. I love olives, and this is something I’ve never heard of. On their own, olives are delicious. Stuffed olives? Even better. Here, Giada takes them to the next level. In her recipe, large pitted green olives are stuffed with a creamy mixture of gorgonzola and ricotta cheeses, then breaded and fried. That is just off the charts—a must try!

I’m not a big fan of gorgonzola or ricotta, so I substituted mascarpone and goat cheese. (Yes, I’m an Italian American who does not like ricotta cheese; I’m ok with it in small amounts like in baked ziti or lasagna but I won’t eat manicotti, most raviolis, or anything where it is largely abundant--I know, I’m weird). I was really happy with the way the mascarpone and goat cheese combination turned out. Mascarpone is a thick Italian cream cheese with a very mild flavor. With fresh thyme leaves and lemon zest, the cheese mixture is smooth in both taste and texture.

I must have had at least three or four olives at every stage of making these. Forget get about after they were fried and completed; I’m pretty sure that over the past two days my olive count has gone up to the late teens. It is highly recommended that you not eat this many olives, but you’ll see, they’re hard to resist! The crispy breading on the outside breaks way to the juicy olive inside, leading to the creamy cheese mixture that just melts in your mouth. With fancy toothpicks, I think these would be great as a pass around appetizer at a dinner party.

Stuffed Fried Olives

Yield: 50-60 olives

- Large, pitted green olives
- 4 oz mascarpone cheese
- 2 oz goat cheese
- 1 /2 tsp thyme leaves
- ½ tsp lemon zest
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Breading: Flour, 2 eggs (whisked), seasoned breadcrumb
• In a medium bowl, mix the two cheeses together; add thyme, lemon zest, salt and pepper until all is well incorporated. Put mixture inside of a piping bag fitted with a regular round tip; pipe cheese mixture into each olive. Bread the olives in the order of flour, eggs, breadcrumb.
• In a deep skillet, heat oil until a breadcrumb sizzles. Fry breaded olives until they are golden brown. Allow to drain on a paper towel and serve.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Cookbook Time Machine to the 1960s

Not too long ago my grandma gave me her collection of Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks, circa 1963. With crisp white pages, and barely broken-in bindings, they are like brand new. Intact as the day she bought them, there is not a sauce spot, sticky finger print, torn edge or crinkle in sight.

The books are a part of Better Homes & Gardens’ 8-Volume Creative Cooking Library. At 79 cents a pop, every week a new hard cover cookbook with a theme such as “Best Buffets,” “Lunches and Brunches,” and “Snacks and Refreshments,” would be revealed on supermarket shelves.

Looking through these books is always a lot of fun. Each page is filled with the definitive style of the era in which they were created; the photos are so retro, the recipes so characteristically sixties. It’s kind of like being transported to a different point in time. Food has a great way of being able to do that.

Salad Loaves
They sure did love their “molds” in the sixties; I can’t get over how many foods are suspended in gelatin. You name it, from sweet to savory, there is a recipe for it to be poured into decorative tiered and ring shapes, set, and sliced. With components floating around together in a gelatinous mass, salad loaves like Tuna Mousse made from tuna salad and heavy cream, and Perfection Salad with cabbage, celery, green pepper, pimento, and olives, are described as the “mainstay” of lunch and supper tables. Almost every pictured setting features one of these edible centerpieces. If you ask me, “unmold your salad” are words that should not be put together in the same sentence.

Another gelatin mold!
Aside from the molds, these cookbooks have some great classic recipes and serve as a source of inspiration. I picked out a couple of recipes that I felt were really “sixties” and gave them a try. From the book titled “Best Buffets” I was drawn to the Divinity candy, and from “Birthdays and Family Celebrations” I chose Raspberry Flips (milkshakes).

I wasn’t too familiar with divinity candy but it looked and sounded so festive as one of several recipes described as, “just the ticket for Christmas!” for a holiday dessert buffet. Very similar to a meringue, the ingredient list was really simple. Reading up on divinity, I found that it can be tricky to make. The conditions have to be just right, as with many candies, it does not get along well with humidity. It just so happened to be the most humid day ever.

After whipping up what reminded me of a nice big batch of homemade Fluff, I dropped and swirled out the egg white and sugar syrup mixture onto a sheet tray lined with wax paper to set. It almost immediately deflated. I whipped it up some more and let the mixture stand for a few minutes before I tried again. I figured if it didn’t work, I could always make some Fluffernutter sandwiches!

This time retaining its stiffness, I moved the trays into the dining room where it was cooler. The book does not give any instructions regarding the amount of time the divinity would take to set, so I looked to the internet to find that it would be about two hours. The little clouds kept their shape, but long past two hours I felt as though they were still not completely set. I put them uncovered in the refrigerator overnight to see what would happen.

In the morning, the consistency of my divinity reminded me very much of a marshmallow. It was actually quite divine, which brought me to assume that I got it just about right. Divinity can be colored and flavored in a variety of different ways. It is well known in the south for being garnished with pecans.
“The young set put on a wingding!”
The soda jerk serves his friends shakes and other sweet concoctions in classic soda glasses
The Raspberry Flips are part of a soda-fountain party menu for a teenager’s birthday. Also on the menu: sundaes, sodas, buttered popcorn, and a submarine sandwich. Using what I had on hand, I substituted strawberries in my shakes. There is no way you could go wrong with this one! Make your own "soda-fountain special" for a nostalgic dessert.


Yield: 1 ½ dozen candies

- 2 cups sugar
- ½ cup light corn syrup
- ½ cup hot water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 stiff-beaten egg whites
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
• In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt. Cook and stir until sugar dissolves and mixture boils. Then, cook to hard-ball stage (250 degrees on a candy thermometer) without stirring. Remove from heat.
• Pour hot syrup slowly over the stiff-beaten egg whites, beating constantly at high speed in electric mixer (about 5 minutes). Add vanilla. Continue beating until mixture forms soft peaks and begins to lose its gloss.
• Drop by teaspoons onto wax paper; swirl each candy to a peak. If divinity becomes too stiff for swirling, add a few drops of hot water. Allow to set in a cool, dry area for about 2 hours.

Raspberry Flips:

Yield: 6, 10 oz glasses

- 2, 10 z packages of frozen red raspberries, thawed and sieved.
- 1 quart vanilla ice cream
- 3 cups cold milk
• Add raspberries to half the ice cream; beat smooth. Add milk and blend. Pour into 6 chilled, 10 oz glasses. Top each with a scoop of remaining ice cream.