Wednesday, November 7, 2018

FrankenFood: Vegetables as "pasta," "rice," and "mashed potatoes."

      My brother-in-law does not believe in any food-related pretense.  Forget "zoodles," zucchini cut to resemble pasta. He calls it "FrankenFood." He wants the real thing or nothing.
      I am ok having an approximation of a favorite food if it will save me regret.
      Recently, I went with several family members to the Angola Prison Rodeo, a fantastic event, and let me tell you, those bulls are huge and they do not play! While walking around the grounds admiring crafts and woodworking immediatly before the events, I was standing near a mother holding a young child, maybe 2 years old. The tiny girl seemed excited to see me (a total stranger), and she wriggled, and pointed to the ground. When her mom let her down, the child ran up to me, patted my stomach, and cooed "Baby!"
      Great. "Child," I thought, "I am 60 years old. That ship has sailed!" I suppose that was my cue. I should lose a few pounds.
      Having to curb calories and carbs, I am grateful there are palatable substitutes. .
       I was never a fan of zucchini. The only way I had ever seen it prepared was sliced and boiled, and served with sliced, boiled yellow squash and boiled cauliflower. It was the mushy, flavorless "vegetable side" in every restaurant I remember as a child.
        Zucchini noodles, though, quickly sauteed, maintain their texture. They are easy enough to make with a vegetable peeler, no special spiraling gizmo necessary. Peel off the dark green skin and discard. Then just peel strips of noodle-shaped zucchini slices down to the seed core. Set aside this core to grill some other time (we like a teriyaki glaze). It may take two zucchini per person to make a serving of "pasta."  Five minutes in a saute pan with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and these veggie noodles are ready to either hold a sauce or stand on their own.
      Cauliflower is another versatile vegetable that can be readily disguised as your favorite starchy side. For me, liking cauliflower was a challenge. I remember coming home from school and having its distinctive aroma hit me as I opened the door. "Oh, man! I'm going to be going to bed hungry!" Cheese sauce was my salvation. You can hide a multitude of sins under a blanket of cheese! Crunchy, raw cauliflower on a veggie tray eventually won me over.
     For "rice," grate raw cauliflower florets either with a box grater or a food processor with a grating attachment. In a microwave safe bowl, steam the "rice" with 2-3 tablespoons water 4 minutes on high. That's all there is to it. I served this with chicken cacciatore one evening and it was a hit! Totally worked as rice.
      Cauliflower also works as "mashed potatoes." Steam cauliflower florets until tender, and squeeze out any excess moisture. In a food processor fitted with a blade attachment,  process the cauliflower with a little butter and cream until it is the texture of mashed potatoes. Don't forget salt and pepper to taste. I serve this with gravy along side meatloaf.  Delicious! For "loaded" or "twice-baked potatoes," stir in any of your favorite add-ins: sour cream (or low fat plain Greek yogurt), bacon bits, and/or grated cheese. Spoon into a casserole dish and bake until golden brown. Garnish with additional grated cheese and chopped green onion. Now, I readily admit that these "extras" are not exactly diet friendly. Moderation is key. This is also a way to ease vegetables onto the plate of a confirmed veggie hater.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Pecan Pie

     When the weather begins to feel cool, that's The Mister's cue: 1. Open the windows, and
2. Bake A Pecan Pie!
     My husband makes a fabulous pecan pie. Well, he made one today, and I was there to transcribe the process.

                          Pecan Pie
1 premade roll-out pie crust
1 & 1/4 cup chopped pecans
6 tbsp butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
3 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

     Preheat oven to 325F.
     Spray a 9" pyrex pie plate with cooking spray. Unroll pie crust into prepared pie plate, and then lightly spray the top of the pie crust. Set aside.
     Mix together the remaining ingredients,  and pour into prepared pie crust. Bake 45 minutes. The pie should be browned and "set," or, when the oven rack is moved slightly the pie doesn't "jiggle." You can embellish a slice of this deliciousness with whipped cream or ice cream, but it is not at all necessary!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Ice Cream in a Zipper Bag

     Late September in most areas means Fall, with cooler weather, colorful leaves, and aromas of pumpkin spice latte. Here in South Louisiana, it's business as usual: Temperature and humidity both in the 90's, and the only thing pumpkin spice I may be interested in is ice cream!
     Homemade ice cream was a real treat in my childhood. My earliest memory of hand-churned ice cream involved visits to my grandfather's "farm."
      Papa had 150 acres of land in rural St Tammany Parish. He called his property "The Farm" despite the fact that it grew nothing but pine trees and giant spiders. He had a small one-room house on the property, one of those World War II prefabricated "hutments" which was formerly used as housing by workers at the Higgins Shipyard. He had the tiny shack moved onto the property in 1951.
     My family and I would drive out there on a Saturday or Sunday over the summer, meet up with aunts, uncles, and cousins, and spend the day exploring the woods. A portion of the Tchefuncte River ran across the property. We would hike out with a picnic lunch to a swimming hole where Papa had created a sandy beach of sorts. Back at the little house, Papa would pull out an old ice cream maker, and all the kids would line up to take turns at the crank. The reward was a velvety, creamy dessert, well worth the labor involved.
     These days, fancy equipment takes the struggle out of homemade ice cream. Bowl inserts can be stored in the freezer. Ingredients, basic or elaborate, are added to the pre-frozen bowl, put into the machine base, and at the push of a button, the thing churns itself!
     However, you do not need fancy equipment! You can make a single serving of ice cream in a zip-top baggie in five minutes!! Pumpkin spice included! The added perk of a single serving: No gallon of temptation taking up freezer space!
            Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream in a Baggie

1/2 cup half & half
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cinnamon
1 Tbsp canned pumpkin*

Mix all ingredients together and pour into a sandwich sized zip-top bag and seal.

  Fill a 1 gallon sized zip-top bag with ice cubes and sprinkle 1/2 cup salt over the top. Nestle the smaller baggie into the ice, and seal.



 Now, shake the bag! You may need a towel, because it will get cold! Literally in five minutes, open the ice bag, remove the smaller baggie, rinse briefly under cold water to remove the salt, and serve!
The recipe can be easily adjusted. Don't like pumpkin? Use chocolate, or cookie dough, or coffee, or crushed cookies. The possibilities are endless!

*What to do with a 14oz can of pumpkin? I portion it out in 1/4 cup increments into a muffin pan, freeze, and store the nuggets in the freezer for later use. Thaw and add to pancake batter, or smoothies, or scones, or as an egg substitute in sugar cookies!

   

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Cream Scones and "Accidental" Jam

     I was making a batch of popsicles the other day. The Mr. had found strawberries and blueberries at the store, and "suggested" a frozen mixed fruit bar. Because of the abundance, I made up a double batch, and put half in the refrigerator while the first popsicles were freezing (2 1/2 cups mixed fruit puree and 1 cup simple syrup). The next day, after unmolding the pops, I pulled out the refrigerated mixture to start batch #2 and discovered it had turned into a sort of jam! Apparently, blueberries are high in natural pectin, and a puree with sugar (or in this case, simple syrup) will gel in the fridge without any other encouragement! I went ahead and froze some of the "jam" in my palettas molds as an experiment and they were quite tasty. The remainder I left as jam, and enjoyed it with fresh, warm scones.
     Scones are a delicate and delicious sort of biscuit, slightly sweet, sometimes made with currants or blueberries. They are in the "quick bread" family, using baking powder as a leavening agent, and they can be mixed and baked in about 20 minutes. Scones are part of a traditional English tea, served with lemon curd, jam, and thickened or "clotted" cream, and also make a very civilized breakfast or afternoon snack.
 
                           Scones
2 & 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 & 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cold
2 eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
*optional 1/4 cup currants, dried cranberries, or blueberries

Preheat oven to 425F. If you are using a baking stone, place it in the oven first. Combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter, using a pastry blender.


If you don't have a pastry blender, a fork will do. Mash the butter into the flour mixture until it is all incorporated and the mixture resembles a coarse cornmeal.


In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and cream. Stir wet and dry ingredients together, and add fruit if desired. The dough will be slightly sticky. Dust your workspace with flour, and turn out the dough. Dust the top with 1-2 tbsp flour, and pat the dough into a rough rectangle approximately 3/4 - 1 inch thick. Cut scones into circles or squares (or triangles for that matter).


 Brush the tops with egg wash (I save 1-2 tbsp from the egg/cream mixture) and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Place on a cookie sheet (or directly on the pre-heated stone) and bake until golden, 12-15 minutes. Enjoy while warm with lemon curd and jam! Makes approximately 8 scones, depending on size.


   

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Lemon Curd

     It's mid-August, and the grandchildren are back in school, with early mornings, brand new shoes, and sharpened pencils! 
      Almost every school morning, my Dad would walk from room to room, flipping on the lights, singing "Good morning to you!" and encouraging us with, "Rise and shine! It's another day in which to excel!"
     It was difficult for me to "rise and shine," being that I was never a morning person. I am not even a "breakfast" person. I need serious motivation to face the day. I need, well, sunshine in a jar!
     Enter Lemon Curd, a sort of lemony, creamy spread, not "curdy" at all, so I have no idea why it is called that! It is bright, tart/sweet, and smooth. I first encountered lemon curd at a traditional 3-course English tea. "Warm scones with lemon curd and clotted cream." I was frightened by the description but became instantly hooked, and not "just" with tea and scones.
     Lemon curd is delicious on warm scones, of course, but also biscuits, or toast, or to fill the thumbprint in "thumbprint cookies," or folded with whipped cream in a Graham cracker pie shell, or to spoon into plain yogurt.
     Skip the "store-bought" variety; it tastes almost medicinal. Lemon curd is easy to make, requiring only 4 basic ingredients, plus a double boiler, a whisk, and a strong arm. If you don't have a double boiler, you can use a metal mixing bowl over a 2-quart sized saucepan filled 1/3 with water, set to medium high heat.
                         Lemon Curd
3/4 cup lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
2 & 1/4 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 & 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp, or 3/4 cup) butter

In the top of a double boiler, whisk lemon juice, sugar, and eggs, stirring until thickened. Whisk in butter, 2-3 tbsp at a time until it is all incorporated. I then scrape it through a fine mesh strainer. This step is not absolutely necessary,  but I once found some bits of cooked egg white, and, well...I do have issues with texture! I pour the finished product into Mason jars and seal. Cool, then refrigerate. Makes about 3 cups.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Melon Ice pops and granitas

     Summertime in New Orleans is warm...ok, It's HOT, and humid. My hair grows in volume on most days...I call it my "Personal Hygrometer!" Offsetting the heat, or perhaps as a reward for our persistence,  snowball stands dot the city. Other cities may have "snow cones," and I have heard of but not tasted "Hawaiian Shave Ice." New Orleans Snowballs are a different thing all together, and it comes down to the ice. The New Orleans own "Sno-Wizard" is an industrial machine that churns out soft, fluffy ice perfection that cannot be duplicated.
     The local newspaper food editor a couple of years ago ranked the top snowball stands in and around the city. IMHO, the local neighborhood establishment tops them all in terms of ice quality, flavor variety, and price! There are older stands with more unusual syrup flavor combinations and "stuffing," but here's an uncompensated, no- strings-attached shout-out to Casey's of Metairie! The vanilla ice cream stuffed Orchid Creme Vanilla snowball is highly recommended!
     Snowballs cannot be made at home, related to ice requirements, but ice pops and granitas are easy and delicious. Made with fresh fruit, they are a refreshing dessert that is not terribly bad for you, either!
     Traveling with my sisters last week in Texas, we were offered a taste of Honeydew melon agua fresca, a juice made with pureed melon, agave or simple syrup, and mint. It was very sweet, and I commented that I thought it would be delicious frozen on a stick!
     Aha!
     I did not have ice pop molds at my sister's house...but we did have a watermelon... and herbs...and a blender. So, I pureed the watermelon with the basil and thyme, added a bit of sugar to taste, and froze it in a square glass dish, giving it a good stir every 30 minutes or so. The result was a delicious granita, tasting fresh and vibrant, not too sweet, and with a hint of the herbs to round it out.
     This week, I found a perfectly ripe honeydew melon. I have basil and tarragon in my yard, and remembering the agua fresca, I pulled out the paletas molds a niece gave me last Christmas.
                                 
     Now, you do not need fancy equipment. I found plastic molds at the dollar store. Wooden sticks are sold by the hundreds at craft shops. Paper cups can also be pressed into service. A gallon size zip top bag can be used as well to make granitas: fill the bag half way with your fruit mixture, close it up, and lay it flat in the freezer. Every 30 minutes or so, give the bag a good shake and lay it flat again to freeze some more until it reaches a servable consistency.
                                     

     Back to the honeydew: I first made simple syrup: equal amounts of water and sugar, simmered until the sugar is completely dissolved. While the syrup cooled, I pureed honeydew in two batches: one with basil, the other with tarragon (about 2 tbsp). I mixed separately 1 & 1/2 cups each type of puree with 1/2 cup syrup, gave it a good stir, checked for taste, filled the mold to within 1/4 inch to allow for expansion, and placed it in the freezer. I left it undisturbed overnight...I think it would take 4 hours to freeze completely.
     The pops were delicious! The honeydew flavor shined through in both. The basil combination was delightful, and the tarragon pop had a slight hint of anise that was very complementary.
     I encourage you to experiment. There is no limit to the different combinations you can make with seasonal fruit and herbs!
                                     

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Basil pesto

     Spring has arrived here in South Louisiana, and warmer weather plus seasonal rains are just what my herbs are needing. Basil in particular dislikes temperatures less than 68F.


      Basil is so fragrant, almost like a mild anise, and it lends itself to both sweet and savory. A Caprese salad is elegant simplicity on a plate. Also, search Basil-lime sorbet--you can thank me later.                                                              
     As with most herbs, fresh is best. Dried herbs lose flavor and aroma (I think the exception is bay leaf, which is actually better dried). 
     I love basil pesto. A spoonful transforms pasta, tomato soup, salad dressing. Add it to meatloaf or meatballs or baked chicken. It can also be used as a sandwich spread.

                               Basil Pesto
2 cups basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 tbsp chopped garlic
2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup shredded or grated parmesan cheese 
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or walnuts
Salt and pepper to taste 
Put all ingredients into a blender and puree until smooth. Taste for balance and seasoning. Seriously,  that's as complicated as it gets. Store it in the refrigerator. I freeze it in 1/4 cup increments in a muffin tin, and keep the resulting discs frozen in a zipper bag to use as needed.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

New Orleans Pralines

     Pecans are a gift from God. Delicious, crunchy, buttery....and a good source of vitamins and minerals. One ounce contains 3 grams of protein, less than 200 calories, and 1 net carbohydrate, making them a darn good snack.
     As wholesome as pecans are right out of the shell, we tend to embellish them. The Mister makes a very good pecan pie, and one of my sisters has a wonderful recipe for toasted pecans with thyme and maple syrup. I'll ask them later if I can share. A particular favorite of the extended family, though, are pecan pralines.
     Pralines (praw-leenz): Sugar cooked in cream and butter, yielding melt-in-your-mouth bites of heaven. Really. 7 ingredients and 20 minutes of your time is all it takes.
                                Pralines
(makes approximately 2-3 dozen depending on size)
1 & 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup half & half (or milk)
6 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 & 1/2 cups chopped pecans
     **My Aunt Toodie would make the pralines without pecans, but would then press a pecan half into each candy before it cooled. I like using chopped pecans. It "almost" insures a bit of pecan in every bite. That having been said, you can substitute walnuts if that's what you have on hand. I once also used toasted (shelled) pumpkin seeds for a co-worker with a nut allergy and they were a hit!**

     First, prepare a surface to receive the cooked confection and allow the pralines to cool undisturbed. My personal choice is a couple of silicone baking mats. Virtually indestructible up to 480F, they will protect your counters and your candy: Nothing sticks to them! My second choice is parchment paper.  Waxed paper is a distant third. The hot candy melts the wax to the point where it sticks to your counter as it cools and hardens. You could solve this by lining your counter with newspaper or paper towels but this is just one more thing to do.
     Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches "soft ball stage." This entails dropping 1/2 tsp of the candy-as-molten-lava into a cup of ice water. If the candy disintegrates, cook a bit longer. However, if you can dip your fingers into the ice water and form a cohesive soft ball out of the candy, it has cooked long enough. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir until the candy cools slightly and you can see sugar crystals form along the side of the pot and the pecans are suspended in the candy, not just floating in top.
     Now, quickly spoon the candy out onto your prepared surface, creating individual pools approximately 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Do not be concerned about perfection in shape or neatness. Your goal is to spoon out the candy before it hardens in the pan. But...if it does, no problem. Return the pot to the heat for a minute until the praline melts again and carry on.
     Allow the candy to cool and harden completely, and then store them in an airtight container. Pralines make a perfect light dessert. Broken pieces can be sprinkled over ice cream. Around holidays, I also box up pralines as gifts for neighbors.



Friday, March 2, 2018

Barbequed Shrimp

     It's no sacrifice avoiding meat on Fridays during Lent in New Orleans. Most parishes host at least one Friday fish fry during the season, and with the Gulf of Mexico "practically" in our backyard, other seafood options are endless (a few years ago, Archbishop Aymond declared alligator an acceptable Friday meal)!
     One delicious seafood preparation is barbequed shrimp. The grill is not involved--the term "barbeque" has more to do with sauce than cooking method. I have seen this dish prepared on the stove in a cast iron pan, but I prefer the broiler. Because they are cooked head on and in their shells, their natural flavor is intensified.
     Shrimp size can range from miniscule to ginormous but they are measured in "count," meaning an average of number of shrimp per pound.  For example, "small" shrimp can run 60/70-count (averaging 60-70 shrimp per pound), medium are 40/50-count, etc. For barbequed shrimp, look for "extra jumbo," or 16/20-count. Anything smaller than a 20-count will be troublesome to peel.

                            Barbequed Shrimp
2 lbs 16/20 shrimp
1 stick melted butter
2 tbsp minced garlic
Worcestershire sauce (?1/3 cup)
1 lemon
Cajun spice blend
4 tbsp cold butter
2 tbsp chopped parsley

     Preheat the broiler to 450 degrees F. I start by melting 1 stick of butter. Stir in 2 tbsp minced garlic and set aside for now.  Take 2 pounds of 16-count shrimp and line them up in a single layer in a large rectangular baking pan (head and shells intact). Drizzle them with the melted garlic butter, and douse them with several shakes of Worcestershire sauce and the juice of 1 lemon. Sprinkle them with Cajun spice blend and run them under the broiler. Watch them carefully:  As soon as they turn orangy-pink, open the oven and, using long tongs (it's HOT!), flip the shrimp over, sprinkle with more Cajun spice blend, and return them to the broiler. Once they are pink all over and the sauce is bubbling, take them out (it's not an actual sin to overcook seafood...but it should be). Divide the shrimp into a large bowls. Whisk the sauce, adding the parsley, and the cold butter one tablespoon at a time. Taste and adjust for seasoning, and then ladle this sauce over the shrimp. The shrimp can be served as an appetizer ("You peel 'em") or they can a great addition to an entree salad. Warm French bread is the preferred vehicle to mop up the delicious sauce. Be forewarned: There won't be any leftover!


Friday, February 2, 2018

King Cake!

     It seems as though I blinked and there went January! In South Louisiana, we are now in the midst of Mardi Gras season, a time of merriment and celebration from January 6th (aka 12th Night, Feast of the Epiphany, or King Day, depending on your cultural perspective) until Lent begins Ash Wednesday. The prospect of 40 days of sack cloth and ashes is enough to encourage folks to wear costumes, parade in the streets and throw strings of plastic beads....or is this just in New Orleans?
     King Cake is an iconic part of Mardi Gras season. Traditional king cake is a sweet brioche, often with cinnamon sugar folded into the center, and braided into a ring or oval shape. Once baked, it is glazed and decorated with purple (justice), green (faith), and gold (power) colored sugar.
    When my mother was young, large, formal parties were held, during which King Cakes were served, one for the women, a second for men. Hidden in the cake was a bean or a pecan. The ones whose slice of cake held the object were declared king and queen of the ball and were obligated to host the next party.
     These days, formal carnival balls are still held but king and queen of individual organizations ("krewes") are voted by membership.  In most king cakes, a tiny plastic baby is hidden under the cake in lieu of the bean or pecan (Epiphany...searching for the baby...get it?).
     King cakes now run the gamut from simple traditional brioche to the elaborate, filled with fruit, praline, or cream cheese. There are a couple of places that sell savory versions filled with sausage or crawfish. Also, although king cake is not supposed to be served until Epiphany, some heretics sell a red and green Christmas version.
     Many of our local bakeries ship king cakes across the country, and there is at least one do-it-yourself box mix for purchase....but....it is not difficult to make a delicious traditional-style king cake from scratch.
     My aunt Patty gave me this recipe and it is terrific! Originally created and shared by Chef John Folse, it is pillowy soft and just sweet enough. He adds cinnamon to the final glaze, but I think it unnecessary.

                     Mardi Gras King Cake

1 tbsp instant dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
5 cups flour
2 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 cup melted butter
1 cup warm water

Combine yeast and warm water, stir briefly, and set aside (it will begin to show signs of life and will produce small air bubbles). In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients and stir. In a second bowl, combine wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients,  including yeast, to the dry and mix thoroughly at least 8 minutes. You can also use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook if you have one. Have additional flour available, and add a bit if the dough seems overly sticky. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and set aside in a warm place to rise 1 hour until it has doubled. Because in February, there aren't too many "warm places", I use an electric heating pad, set to low, on my kitchen counter, and I place the bowl of dough on the heating pad to facilitate the rise.

Meanwhile, have ready:
1 stick of butter, melted
Cinnamon sugar (1/2 cup sugar with 1 tsp cinnamon)
Egg wash (1/2 cup milk with 1 egg, beaten)

Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface (I use a silicone baking mat) and roll it out to a large rectangle, approximately 18" x 12". Brush the dough with melted butter and sprinkle the entire surface with cinnamon sugar. Next, cut the dough into three strips along the long axis, about 4 x 18" and fold each strip in half (now 2 x 18") to encase the cinnamon sugar. Weave the dough strips in a standard braid and join the ends to form an oval or circle. Brush the ring of dough with eggwash and set aside to rise 1 hour. I leave the pastry on the silicone mat for the entire process. The mat can be slid onto a cookie sheet and go right into the oven without deflating the risen dough.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

While the cake is in the oven, prepare the glaze. Combine thoroughly:
1 lb (4 cups) powdered sugar
1 tsp almond extract
6 tbsp milk
Pinch of salt

Colored sugar sprinkles are commercially available, but if you have food coloring, you can make your own by mixing 1 cup granulated sugar and 2 drops (or so) liquid food coloring.

While the cake is still warm, drizzle with glaze and spread to cover completely. As you work, quickly sprinkle over the glaze in sections the purple, green, and gold (or yellow) sugar (as the glaze hardens and dries, the sugar sprinkles will not stick as well).
Invite friends over and enjoy! Leftovers make a great bread pudding or French toast.
              Laissez le bon temps rouler!