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The Dish

Squid is patriotic, right?

I’ve recently realized that The Twine has another serious content gap—seafood. I was fortunate enough to grow up in the Florida Keys and live the first 13 years of my life eating the freshest fish the ocean and Gulf have to offer. It’s actually been a serious challenge to find anything comparable ever since we moved north in 2004.

Since then, I’ve pretty much begged any friends or family still in the keys to freeze some of their extra catch for me, but it’s also been a learning curve to figure out how to satiate my seafood tooth with the sad frozen and ‘fresh’ offerings that are available at the local supermarket.

One of the best things I have discovered is calamari. It comes frozen, withstands the cold temperatures far better than delicate fish, and cooks up almost immediately. As much as I love fried calamari, my mom and I have discovered a less fattening and labor intensive method of cooking this mollusk: squid salad! All it takes is a bit of vegetable chopping and a quick blanch before you’re chomping down on a healthy, delicious meal.

Here’s the recipe:

Squid Salad

  • ½ jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, small dice
  • ½ red bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, small dice
  • 2 celery stalks, peeled, small dice
  • ½ yellow onion, small dice
  • 4 scallions, small dice
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 lb. thawed calamari (tubes and tentacles)
  • Juice of 4 ripe limes
  • Juice of ½ orange
  • Generous pinch kosher salt
  • Crushed red pepper to taste
  • Fresh cilantro leaves
Raw, thawed calamari.

Raw, thawed calamari.

Cut tubes crosswise into about ½-inch strips. Leave tentacles whole unless they are very large, then cut them in half.

In boiling, salted water, cook calamari for 3 minutes. Remove from pot with spider or slotted spoon and immediately drop into ice water bath to stop cooking. Cool for about three minutes, then drain onto paper towels. Remove as much water as possible.

After it's been blanched, the squid needs to be drained of water.

After it’s been blanched, the squid needs to be drained of water.

Add the cooled squid to the vegetables in a large bowl and add the lime and orange juice, salt, red pepper, and cilantro. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving in order to let the flavors develop fully.

That’s all for The Dish this week. I hope you all have a fantastic holiday weekend!

Honey-Cinnamon Ice Cream

You’ll scream for this ice cream recipe…

I decided to attempt another dessert for this week’s post. (God forbid I post another kind of soup!) This blog was seriously lacking in sweets, and what is a more classic summer treat than ice cream? Not only is there a considerable amount of history behind the origins and evolution of ice cream, but there is also some awesome science behind how it is made as well.

In all fairness to my love of soup, though, for most of my childhood, I used to drive my step-dad crazy by mashing and stirring my ice cream into a melted, soupy mess. He always preferred his ice cream to be so rock-hard that it was nearly impossible to even scoop out of the container. I suppose you could say that I finally grew out of playing with my food. Although, I consider this food blog nothing more than a formal examination of how people throughout history have played with food and created time-tested favorite dishes and masterpieces.

Anyhow, here’s your food lesson for the week:

The custard mixture must be scalded twice before freezing.

The custard mixture must be scalded twice before freezing.

The speculated origin for ice cream is China, but the actual time period is a bit fuzzy. Of course, numerous myths surrounding the origin of ice cream muddy the waters even further. As with most mainstream foods today, ice cream began as a nearly unattainable food item for only the wealthy and royal.

The biggest challenge to the spread of ice cream recipes and, therefore, its popularity, was the ability to obtain ice and then preserve it. Special icehouses were created to store ice that was collected from bodies of water and areas of high elevation during colder seasons. Here, they were stored within layers of straw and other crude, naturally occurring insulation, where the ice would usually remain frozen throughout the warmer seasons, preserving perishable food and serving as a way for people to cool drinks or make frozen treats.1

As global travel and exploration spread, so did cultural and religious beliefs. Along major trade routes, various ingredients and culinary methods and traditions followed as well.

A man in Naples, Italy, named Antonio Latini (1642–1692) was the first person to record a recipe for sorbetto (or, as we know it, sorbet). He is also credited by many food historians as the creator of a milk-based sorbet, which is considered the first “official” ice cream.2

The Kitchen Aid ice cream attachment really simplifies the churning process.

The Kitchen Aid ice cream attachment really simplifies the churning process.

Eventually, nested containers were used to freeze the custard, yet keep it contained away from the ice. Rock salt became an integral part of this process as well. Why? It has a funny way of lowering the freezing point of water. Salt is used in the outer chamber of these ice cream makers to cause chemical reactions, which melt the ice and freeze the custard.3 The warmer cream mixture essentially gives up its energy (heat) causing it to slowly freeze. The ice absorbs this heat energy via an endothermic reaction, causing it to melt. Thank you for the ice cream, science!

After arriving in the Americas (with its first mention in the 1700s), ice cream caught on with presidents and aristocracy alike.4 Industrialization eventually blessed us with reliable methods of refrigeration, which allowed the masses to enjoy this creamy, refreshing treat. Americans took it and ran, creating all manners of ice cream including sundaes, cones, sandwiches, ice cream sodas, baked Alaska, and the list goes on and on.

In this recipe, I used raw honey, grass-fed dairy products, and quality cinnamon to infuse the custard with lots of warm, rich flavors.

Honey-Cinnamon Ice Cream

(from Epicurious.com)

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cinnamon stick, 2 inches long
  • 8 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
The custard needs to be strained before churning.

The custard needs to be strained before churning.

Combine the milk and cream in a saucepan. Break up the cinnamon stick into several small pieces, and add it to the pan. Over medium-high heat, scald the milk mixture (bubbles will form around the edge of the mixture, but you don’t want it to boil). Remove the pan from the heat and allow the cinnamon to steep in the dairy mixture for about an hour.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the egg yolks until well blended, then whisk in the honey, sugar, and ground cinnamon. After these ingredients are combined, return the milk mixture to the stove. Over medium-high heat, scald it again.

Slowly add the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture small amounts at a time, while whisking constantly. Once both of these mixtures have been incorporated, return the entire mixture to the saucepan over medium heat once more. Cook for approximately 6 to 8 minutes while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. At first, it will seem thin, but then it will steam and immediately thicken. When it coats the back of the spoon, it is done. Remove the pan from the heat and strain through a fine mesh sieve into an airtight container. Mix in the salt, then cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until it is cold.

Churn the cold mixture in an ice cream maker according to the appliance’s directions. Once it is finished churning, place the ice cream in the freezer for at least two hours so that it can ripen and the flavors can develop further.

Sources:
  1. Theobald, Mary. (Spring 2010). Some Cold, Hard Historical Facts about Good Old Ice Cream. Colonial Williamsburg Journal. Retrieved from http://www.history.org/foundation/journal/spring10/icecream.cfm
  2. Avey, Tori. (2012, July 10). Explore the Delicious History of Ice Cream. The History Kitchen. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/explore-the-delicious-history-of-ice-cream/
  3. Endothermic Ice Cream (2009, September 23). Cenco Physics (Weblog). Retrieved from http://blog.cencophysics.com/2009/09/endothermic-ice-cream/
  4. Olver, Lynne. (2004). Food Timeline FAQs: ice cream and ice. The Food Timeline. Retrieved from http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodicecream.html

The Dish

About a year ago, my mom gifted me two new nonstick pans. I was excited, but couldn’t understand why she had spent the money on something I already had—two sad, cheap nonstick skillets from Target. As soon as I cooked with these pans, I realized what the fuss was about. They’re made by SCANPAN, a company in Denmark, and they are zero fuss, easy-to-clean nonstick pans like I have never seen before. The best part? SCANPAN uses recycled aluminum to make their pans, and the nonstick coating is free of carcinogenic chemicals like PFOA and PFOS. Any time I’m whipping up dinner and don’t care to spend extra time cleaning up (which is pretty much all the time), I use these pans. They work like magic for cooking eggs, which, I have to admit is another area of cooking that I haven’t quite perfected. However, with these pans I finally felt comfortable with experimenting, and they’re indirectly responsible for me attempting to perfect fried eggs. Here’s the link to their website: http://www.scanpan.eu/

The broccoli and other veggies simmering in chicken stock.

The broccoli and other veggies simmering in chicken stock.

For this week’s Dish, as usual, I have another soup recipe for you all. My office at work is perpetually freezing—two of my co-workers actually have mini space heaters under their desks—and so I’ve found that warm soup is a warm, welcome reprieve during the day. For lunch this week, I made my version of a healthy cream of broccoli soup that I enrich with nonfat Greek yogurt.

Greek Yogurt Cream of Broccoli Soup

  • 2 entire heads broccoli, stalks trimmed, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2-3 petite red potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
The soup can be blended with an immersion blender or a regular blender/Vitamix. Just be careful!

The soup can be blended with an immersion blender or a regular blender/Vitamix. Just be careful!

In the bottom of a large pot, melt the butter and sauté the carrots, celery, and onion until slightly soft. Add the garlic, sauté briefly, and then add the broccoli, chicken stock, and potatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook until all the vegetables are tender. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and cayenne, if desired. Once the vegetables are done, puree using an immersion blender, or a regular blender in batches. Stir in a dollop or two of Greek yogurt before serving. That’s all for The Dish this week. Have a happy (and vegetable-filled) weekend!

Scones

Proper baking is a form of cookery that requires some serious commitment and practice. Until this past year, if I needed to procure some muffins, cookies, or a birthday cake, I usually just bought some premade dough or a box mix from the grocery store. To my surprise, I have actually grown to enjoy baking’s finicky nature. It contrasts nicely with my ‘anything goes’ attitude with other types of cooking in general.

Rather than getting in over my head trying to perfect complex pastries or cakes, I decided to try baking something new this week: scones. I found an excellent resource from Southern Living that provided a consistent scone base to which a number of different sweet and savory adaptations can be made.

I have to admit that, as a novice, preparing the dough for baking was a bit unnerving. I soon as I had pulled out all of my ingredients and preheated the over, I realized that I had overlooked the need for a pastry blender in the recipe. I frantically called my mom asking for alternatives.

I used two forks instead of a pastry blender to cut in the butter.

I used two forks instead of a pastry blender to cut in the butter.

Although I had seen my mom’s pastry blender collecting dust in one of her kitchen drawers, I had never actually known what this goofy-looking utensil was called. The name seems a bit over-hyped, but maybe I am a product of my generation—immediately assuming that a blender of any kind involves super efficient electric-powered blades. I feel like the only place I’ve seen a pastry blender in action before was at summer camp in the pottery studio. But I digress…

The purpose of a pastry blender is to cut cold fat (in this case, butter) into the dough in order to form layers that turn flaky during baking. This “cut in” or “shortening method” of making dough is actually very important to the consistency of your final baked product, but it turns out that using two forks works just as well as a fancy pastry-blending contraption. According to Sara Phillips at Craftybaking.com:

To “cut in” in serves the function of distributing the fat particles into the dry ingredients, typically flour, and coating and lubricating flour granules. This method greatly reduces the ability of the gluten proteins [gliadin and glutenin] in the flour to create gluten when mixed later with a liquid, such as water or milk.1,2

Pretty neat, huh? Unless you anticipate making a lot of scones, biscuits, piecrusts, etc., then I don’t suggest running out to purchase yet another piece of kitchen equipment. (If you’re anything like me, it’s getting more and more difficult to find places to store everything!)

My first batch of apricot-ginger scones prior to going into the oven.

My first batch of apricot-ginger scones prior to going into the oven.

Another brief warning to you fellow scone novices as well: if your dough is crumbly, difficult to form and/or refuses to be neatly cut into wedges, do not fear! I nearly had a heart attack when making my first batch. They refused to stay in the prescribed triangular shape, and I was afraid that this week’s post would be a complete failure. My advice? Just try your best to shape them (without over-working the dough) and I promise they will turn out delicious and rustic-looking. My co-workers devoured all of the blog goodies I brought in again this week… And they even offered to provide testimonials!

Now that you’ve gotten your daily dose of food science and your baking pep-talk, here’s some background on scones:

Authenticity is a major issue that plagues these flaky treats. Even the pronunciation of “scone” is highly debated—usually between Brits and Americans (skahn vs. skohn). Regardless of how you pronounce it, your scone recipe is probably guaranteed to anger someone on either side of the pond.

The original scones are said to have developed in Scotland as rounds of oat and barley dough that were cooked atop hot griddles, and then cut into wedges.3 Much like today, these quick breads were cheap to make and contained ingredients that were usually on hand or easily accessible. As Julia Moskin states:

They were a simple combination of fat, flour and liquid, which became softer and lighter as wheat, butter and leaveners like baking soda and baking powder became widely available.3

Eventually, British scones were brought to the United States, where they underwent further transformation. With the addition and substitution of a few ingredients, decadent Southern biscuits were born. Chef Andre Geary states that there are a few main differences between British and Americanized scones: butter, sugar, and add-ins. Rather than upping the butter and sugar content in the dough, Brits prefer to eat their freshly baked scones with butter, jams, or clotted cream alongside their afternoon tea.4 As far as add-ins go, the Brits prefer to keep things simple there as well. Chef Geary mentions a few traditional lackluster options such as currants or raisins, but it’s Americans who tend to push the envelope with chocolate, nuts, and other treats mixed into their scones.

My wedges started coming together much easier on the last batch.

My wedges started coming together much easier on the last batch.

Below I have provided the basic scone recipe that I used for this week’s post and the two flavorful adaptations I tried: apricot-ginger and asiago-rosemary.

Best-Ever Scones

(From Southern Living)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup cold butter, cut into half-inch cubes
  • 1 cup whipping cream, divided
  • Wax paper

Preheat the oven to 450°. Mix the first four ingredients in a large bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender (or two forks) until crumbly. Freeze for 5 minutes.

Add ¾ cup plus 2 Tbsp. cream, and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened through.

The asiago- rosemary scone dough.

The asiago- rosemary scone dough.

Turn the dough out onto wax paper and gently press or pat it into a 7-inch round (mixture will be crumbly). Cut the round into eight equal wedges. Place the wedges 2 inches apart on a lightly greased baking sheet. Brush the tops with the remaining 2 Tbsp. cream just until moistened.

Bake at 450° for 13 to 15 minutes or until golden.

Variations

Sweet Apricot-ginger Scones:

Apricot-ginger scones after baking.

Apricot-ginger scones after baking.

Stir in ½ cup finely chopped dried apricots and 2 Tbsp. finely chopped crystallized ginger with the cream. (Don’t be afraid to add a little bit of extra apricot or ginger. The flavor is wonderful!)

Savory Rosemary, Pear, and Asiago Scones:

Omit sugar. Stir in ¾ cup finely chopped fresh pear, ½ cup grated Asiago cheese, and 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary with the cream. (I omitted the pear in this recipe, added a bit of extra grated cheese and chopped rosemary to the dough, and then sprinkled even more asiago on top to make a nice crust.)

So how do you like your scones? Lots of add-ins? Served with jam and butter?

 Sources
  1. Phillips, S. (2000). Mixing Method – Cut In or Cutting In. Crafty Baking. Retrieved from https://www.craftybaking.com/howto/mixing-method-cut-or-cutting
  2. Castro, J. (2013, September 17). What is Gluten? Live Science. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/39726-what-is-gluten.html
  3. Moskin, J. (2014, February 25). Biscuits and Scones Share Tender Secrets. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/26/dining/biscuits-and-scones-share-tender-secrets.html?_r=0
  4. The Difference Between British and American Scones: Test Cook Andrea Geary Explains. (2015) Cook’s Illustrated. Retrieved from http://www.cooksillustrated.com/features/8521-the-difference-between-british-and-american-scones-test-cook-andrea-geary-explains

The Dish

I had a fabulous surprise waiting for me when I came home from work on Friday evening. Let’s just say that I have the best mom ever. We’ve been trying to perfect pizza lately, (expect a future pizza post!) and thanks to this lovely lady, I now own my very own Emile Henry pizza stone! I am so excited to begin experimenting with it. I shall keep you all posted!

Here’s a link to the one my mom chose: http://www.surlatable.com/product/PRO-1953769/Emile+Henry+Flame+Burgundy+Pizza+Stone;jsessionid=F819A093AE7702659CD882C1A937F343.slt-app-02-p-app2

IMG_4624She also got me something that I’ve needed for a while, but haven’t really thought to buy; a trivet! To cool things, I’ve been using a rack that came with an all-clad roasting pan. Now I can cool my food in style!

I bought my mom an orange Le Creuset trivet a few years ago, and she loved it so much that she got another in yellow as well. Like everything LC makes, this trivet is as gorgeous as it is functional. I am thrilled to add another piece to my LC collection.

Last weekend I was looking through the Publix weekly ad and making my grocery list, when their crunchy Asian salad caught my eye. It looked fantastic, so I decided to make my own for lunch this week. I found a similar recipe and it turned out so well. Better yet, it was super easy to whip together and much more interesting than your typical salad. After mixing in the peanut dressing, it only got better once it sat for a little while. I did add a few slices of mandarin orange, and it would be even better with some chicken breast or shrimp on top. IMG_4634This is definitely going to make it into my regular rotation.

You can find the recipe here: http://www.onceuponachef.com/2011/03/asian-slaw-with-ginger-peanut-dressing.html

That’s all for food news this week. I’m excited to cook up a storm tomorrow 🙂 Stay posted for next week’s recipe, and have a happy Father’s Day, everyone!

Jambalaya

This week I had some trouble deciding what to cook for the blog. I wanted to try something other than traditional French cuisine, but couldn’t settle on another culture or region, or even on one kind of protein. That was when jambalaya popped into my head. It’s spicy, hearty comfort food that can be made with a mish-mash of your favorite meat and seafood. Best of all, it’s cost-effective and can easily feed a crowd (not that I really have a crowd to feed).

While I was wandering through Whole Foods on Sunday night to purchase everything I needed, it occurred to me that my recipe only called for 4 ounces of chicken, 5 ounces of Andouille sausage, and 12 shrimp. Way to get specific, Emeril!

Initially, I had gone straight to the prepackaged meats section, where I realized that I’d end up buying way too much meat for this recipe. I ended up checking out the butcher counter instead, where I easily purchased one large chicken breast and two links of Andouille. I ended up saving myself a nice chunk of change.

This tip may seem like a no-brainer for some, but we are so conditioned to gathering pre-packed food at the supermarket, that unless we need something special-ordered or can’t readily find what we need, we don’t even speak to the butcher. It used to be that having a good relationship with your butcher or fishmonger was the only way to get the best cuts of meat or the freshest seafood.

As a young lady living alone, I am constantly trying to find ways to make appropriate portion sizes, cut down on my grocery bill, and minimize food waste. Usually, I’m pretty uncomfortable when speaking with the butcher (or buying any unfamiliar cuts of meat) because I find the terminology super confusing. I’m happy that I finally moved out of my comfort zone, and maybe now I’ll learn something new!

That’s enough on my butcher counter epiphany. Here’s your run-down on the history of jambalaya:

The 'Holy Trinity' of bell pepper, onion, and celery.

The ‘Holy Trinity’ of bell pepper, onion, and celery.

As with many dishes, the precise origins of jambalaya are unclear. Over the centuries, countless cultures ebb and flow, mixing together around the world. Places like Louisiana develop into vibrant melting pots, producing remarkable cuisines that can’t easily be tracked back to a single source. Plausible theories abound, and legends and folklore end up becoming “fact.”

One of the most popular explanations for the origin of jambalaya cites jambon, the French word for ham, and yaya, a supposed African term for rice. Although this is a creative theory suggesting it began as a ham and rice dish, many experts have discounted it. Comparisons of jambalaya to Spanish paella, West African jollof rice, and the French-Provencal “jambalaia,” or fowl, vegetable, and rice stew, confuse things even further.1, 2

A few years ago, culinary historian Andrew Sigal conducted a fascinating and extensive study into the origins of both the word jambalaya and the culinary dish. After a great deal of research, a decisive answer still was not reached, but Sigal leaned toward a Provencal origin for the word and a collective cultural origin for the dish. As he puts it:

The recipe might have been created or named in Europe, Africa, or America, and the creators might have been French, Occitan, Spanish, Acadian, Native American or African.3

The 'Holy Trinity,' vegetables, and rice just before the chicken broth is added.

The ‘Holy Trinity,’ tomatoes, and rice just before the chicken broth is added.

Regardless of its ambiguous geographical, cultural, and linguistic origins, pinning down an “authentic” recipe for jambalaya can be equally as frustrating. Enthusiasts disagree over whether tomatoes should be included, what kind of rice to use, how much of the holy trinity should be added, and which proteins belong in this dish.

Ultimately, the argument over certain ingredients and cooking methods has boiled down (no pun intended) to two separate camps: red and brown. The “city” or New Orleans version of jambalaya is usually red, due to the addition of tomatoes—a hallmark of Creole cuisine. On the other hand, the brown version is more prevalent in rural areas of Louisiana since it is typically cooked in a cast-iron pot, which lends itself to more thorough caramelization of the ingredients. This produces the brown color that is then absorbed by the rice.1

The meat and/or seafood isn't until the rice is nearly done cooking.

The meat and/or seafood isn’t added until the rice is nearly done cooking.

I have adapted the following recipe from renowned chef Emeril Lagasse, but make no claims about its authenticity! I left the tails on the shrimp for a bit more flavor, added an extra dash of Lagasse’s signature spice blend, and, as usual, doubled the veggie content. I hope you like your jambalaya hot!

Cajun Jambalaya

(Adapted from Chef Emeril Lagasse’s Jambalaya episode of The Essence of Emeril)

  • 12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails attached
  • 4 ounces chicken, diced
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Creole seasoning, recipe follows
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 3/4 cup long-grain rice
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 5 ounces Andouille sausage, sliced
  • Salt and pepper

Combine the shrimp, chicken, and Andouille sausage in a bowl with the Creole seasoning, and mix by hand until the meat is thoroughly coated.

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat and sauté the onion, pepper, and celery for about 3 minutes. Next, add the garlic, tomatoes, bay leaves, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir in the rice, and then slowly add the broth.

Reduce the heat to medium, and cook for approximately 15 minutes, or until the rice becomes tender, but is not yet fully cooked. At this time, add the shrimp, chicken, and sausage, stirring well, and cook for another 10 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through.

The finished product!

The finished product!

In the recipe above, I suppose you could use your favorite creole seasoning mix. However, this was a great blend, and I can’t wait to use the leftovers for other recipes! (FYI, this makes a whopping 2/3 of a cup of seasoning)

Emeril’s ESSENCE Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast):

  • 2 ½ tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
Sources:
  1. Bienvenu, M. (2011, September 15). Jambalaya shows both sides of Creole and Cajun influences. The Times-Picayune. Retrieved from http://www.nola.com/food/index.ssf/2011/09/jambalaya_shows_both_sides_of.html
  2. Dry, S. (2009, January/February). Jambalaya. Louisiana Life. Retrieved from http://www.myneworleans.com/Louisiana-Life/Winter-2008/Jambalaya/
  3. Sigal, A. (2007). Jambalaya by any other name. Petits Propos Culinaires, (84), 101-119. Retrieved from http://www.sigal.org/culinaryhistory/jambalaya/Jambalaya_by_Any_Other_Name.htm

The Dish

After a thoroughly busy week at work, I decided that I should try a new drink recipe tonight. Fortunately, with a little digging, I found a fairly simple recipe for white sangria that seemed promising. I had the citrus, basil (thanks, mom’s herb garden!), white wine, and orange juice on hand, and all I needed to procure was a bit of brandy. Even luckier for me, it turns out that my mom unknowingly had a dusty bottle of brandy hidden away in the very back corner of her liquor cabinet. Tonight’s end of the week treat was practically free! Well… sort of…

SANGRIAWhat really drew me to this recipe was the white wine base (I’m slowly warming up to reds), the citrus and herbal notes, and the lack of chunky, floating fruit pieces. Sliced fruit may give sangria some lovely flavor, but I’m not a fan of spending a bunch of money and time on fruit just to soak it in perfectly good wine. Also, trying to drink my booze through fruit salad isn’t really my jam.

If you’re looking for a quick and easy adult drink for a day by the pool or an afternoon on the beach, this recipe is perfection. Just be sure to have everything chilled and plenty of ice on hand to stave off the heat!

Here’s the link to the recipe: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/thai-basil-sangria

Earlier this week I had a kind of revelation. A little over a year ago, I happened upon a “healthier” pumpkin pancake recipe online that I figured I would be crazy about. The only catch was that it used chickpea flour instead of regular AP flour in order to boost the protein content. Chickpeas are one of my favorite foods (I’ll eat them straight out of the can any time), and I wait all year until it’s autumn and I can start savoring pumpkin-y goodness in all forms; therefore I figured this would be a new favorite.

Of course, I did a major no-no and made these pancakes for the very first time for a guest. My best friend had moved states away months before, but was back in town visiting briefly, and I promised her a fantastic pumpkin pancake feast before her flight home. To my horror, what I ended up serving her can only be described as “bean pancakes.” They were awful, but she never even hinted at the fact that they tasted as if I had literally mixed garbanzo beans and pumpkin, plopped them on the griddle, and served them to her with maple syrup. (This is one of the reasons why she is an incredible friend!) We laughed about it eventually, but I have had this sorry bag of leftover chick pea flour lingering in my pantry for over a year now. Until…

FullSizeRender-2The other night I had a serious craving for pizza, but no tomato sauce, yeast for dough, or mozzarella on hand. Rather than ordering out, I decided to try my hand at making a yeast-less pizza dough. After I found a decent-looking recipe, I figured I’d attempt to hide a bit of my useless chick pea flour in the dough by substituting it for about 1/3 of the AP flour that was called for. It was absolutely delicious!

Instead of the usual tomato-based pizza formula, I used some leftover pesto for sauce, and for toppings, I added some sliced garlic cloves, plenty of red pepper flakes, a couple of chopped kalamata olives, feta crumbles, and some grated Romano cheese. For an entirely experimental snack, this flatbread turned out surprisingly well. I can’t wait to try it again when I have real sauces and toppings available!

Do you have any cooking experiments that ended up being complete duds? What about unexpected hits?

That’s all for The Dish this week. Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Savory Breakfast Strata

If you’ve never heard of strata, you’ve seriously been missing out. It is one of the most simple, delicious, versatile, and affordable options for breakfast, brunch, or a potluck. Strata is basically a fancy name for a savory bread pudding so named for its alternating layers (strata) of bread, custard, cheese, and various other toppings. The following recipe is one of my favorites, but strata can basically be made with any coordinating combinations of vegetables, cheeses, meats, and herbs that you prefer.

I assembled this one in a flash after dinner on Monday and put it into the fridge to soak overnight. Tuesday morning I woke up a little earlier than usual to take it out, let it warm up on the counter, and then bake it in the oven before heading off to work. My coworkers loved it, and my boss even washed my casserole dish and wrote me a thank you note! I think I may have to make another one very soon since it was such a hit. (Unfortunately/fortunately, the dish disappeared so quickly that I didn’t have time to take hardly any pictures!)

Now here’s your weekly dose of food history:

One of the earliest known strata recipes supposedly comes from a 1902 cookbook by Juniata L. Shepperd entitled Handbook of Household Science.1 Oddly enough, this cheese strata recipe does not include eggs, which are characteristic of most (if not all) contemporary versions. Nonetheless, I’m bound to fall in love with anything featuring copious amounts of cheese, so I suppose I can find it in my heart to forgive Ms. Shepperd for her omission.

As I mentioned above, strata is basically a variation on bread pudding, which has an interesting history. Like many popular dishes nowadays, bread pudding had humble origins. European lower classes in the 11th and 12th centuries repurposed stale bread into “poor man’s pudding” or bread pudding to make the most of their meager resources.2 Even in today’s recipes for bread pudding and strata, using stale bread is crucial so that it adequately soaks up the custard that is poured over it. Custard has a more complicated background, but many food historians are of the opinion that the custard we are familiar with today originated in the Middles Ages, typically as a filling for pies, tarts, and other pastries.3

Regardless of whether you’re making any version of sweet or savory strata or pudding, remember to let your imagination (and sometimes your pantry) guide you when it comes to choosing toppings. Anything goes!

IMG_4470Sausage, Fontina, and Bell Pepper Strata

(adapted from Bon Appétit, June 2009)

  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 ½ cups whole milk
  • 2 cups sliced green onions
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • ½ cup finely grated Romano cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 pound hot Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 1 large red bell pepper, halved, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 1-pound loaf rustic French bread, cut into ½-inch slices and allowed to sit out briefly
  • 2 ½ cups coarsely grated Fontina cheese (or even more, if you prefer things extra cheesy)

Butter the bottom and sides of a 13×9-inch baking dish. Whisk the first 7 ingredients* together in a large bowl, and season well with freshly ground pepper.

The assembled dish, prior to setting and baking.

The assembled dish, prior to setting and baking.

In a large nonstick skillet, sauté the sausage and bell peppers, making sure to break up the meat well. Once the sausage is cooked through and the peppers are brown in spots, remove from the heat.

In the prepared baking dish, arrange half of the bread slices in the bottom, and then pour half of the egg mixture over the top. Sprinkle with one cup of the Fontina, then add half of the sausage/pepper mixture. Repeat this layering process once more. Use the final ½ cup of grated Fontina to sprinkle over the very top.

Allow the ingredients to stand in the dish for at least 20 minutes, occasionally pushing on the bread to encourage it to submerge. (I recommend covering it with plastic wrap and placing it in the fridge overnight with a few small plates on top to aid the bread in soaking up the custard.)

When you are ready to bake the strata, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake until golden brown, approximately 1 hour. If you let the strata set in the fridge, you may want to remove it to the counter prior to baking in order to take the chill off the dish and reduce the baking time. If the top begins to brown too quickly, cover the dish with a GREASED sheet or two of aluminum foil so that the cheese doesn’t burn or stick to the covering.

* I have noticed that when I buy bigger loaves of bread, the designated amount of custard in this recipe (first 7 ingredients) may not be enough. If your strata seems dry after soaking briefly, just whisk together another couple of eggs and a few splashes of milk and cream and pour it over the top. It won’t hurt anything, and it’ll ensure that your strata will turn out moist and not so bready.

Sources
  1. Shepperd, J. L. (1902). Hanbook of Houshold Science. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=HTRDAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA241#v=onepage&q&f=false
  2. McFadden, J. (2008, January 23). Bread pudding originated in 11th century as frugal dish, but has become trendy dessert. The Daily Gazette. Retrieved from http://www.dailygazette.com/news/2008/jan/23/0123_pudding/?print
  3. Olver, L. (1999) The Food Timeline. Retrieved from http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodpuddings.html#bread

The Dish

I am sincerely loving my new job and being back home. Although I was nervous about this decision, the proximity to my mom and ability to reconnect with old friends has made my choice entirely worthwhile. One of the great perks of moving back home is that my mom is less than a five-minute drive away. Our schedules are a little different, so we’ll take turns dropping off odds and ends and groceries at each other’s places throughout the week when we’re in a pinch or need some company. It’s pretty much the best.

The herbs for this bouquet garni (and most, if not all other recipes) come from madre's little garden.

The herbs for this bouquet garni (and most, if not all other recipes) come from madre’s little garden.

My mom has a small balcony off of her kitchen on the second floor of her condo where she grows a few pots of herbs and a small key lime tree. On my way home from work last week, I decided to swing by and cut a few handfuls of fresh herbs for my osso buco rather than paying for old, wilted bundles at the grocery store. I didn’t think much of it at the time, especially since one of Florida’s notorious afternoon thunderstorms was quickly approaching, as I was trying to decide how much I needed off of which plant. I shoved my fragrant, green loot into a paper bag and somehow made it home without getting rained on.

A few days after cooking the osso buco and posting my recipe, my mom called me and asked if I had noticed anything going on with her parsley while I was pilfering her herb garden. I told her about how I was in such a hurry snipping sage, rosemary, chives, thyme, etc., that I hadn’t had time to notice much of anything other than the menacing black clouds drifting closer and closer to the porch.

The youngest caterpillars are dark with a white stripe. From afar, they look a bit like bird droppings...

The youngest caterpillars are dark with a white stripe. From afar, they look a bit like bird droppings…

“Well… I asked because I think the caterpillars are back,” she said.

Around this time last year, I wasn’t taking graduate courses over the summer and had decided to come home and intern for a few months. It just so happened that my mom’s miniature herb garden became covered in what appeared to be small bird droppings, but upon closer inspection they proved to be tiny caterpillars, or the larvae of the Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly. Each species of butterfly favors a particular kind of plant on which to lay their eggs, and the Eastern Black Swallowtail prefers plants in the carrot family. This includes dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s Lace, and, of course, parsley.

Last year I was able to see them absolutely decimate my mom’s once lush parsley plants, grow into huge, fat caterpillars, and then quietly inch away to form their chrysalises in solitude. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to see the butterflies emerge and fly away, but I’m hoping that I get the chance this year, because they’re back!

Here you can see a few freshly formed chrysalises and one plump caterpillar still gorging itself on what is left of the parsley!

Here you can see a few freshly formed chrysalises and one plump caterpillar still gorging itself on what is left of the parsley!

This is only the second year that my mom and I have had our humble herb porch transformed into a butterfly nursery, but second to fresh herbs for roasting a chicken with, this is the best thing to come out of it so far.

I admit that this post isn’t directly food-related, but I consider it to be another prime example of the benefits of growing your own herbs and having them on hand whenever you need them. They are pretty much always in better shape than anything you can find at the store, and if you take care of them, most varieties will last quite a long time (so long as no butterflies decide your plants are the prime spot for spawning the next generation!)

This particular caterpillar migrated onto my mom's rosemary and has positioned itself to form its chrysalis.

This particular caterpillar migrated onto my mom’s rosemary and has positioned itself to form its chrysalis.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted on the butterflies’ progress. Have a splendid weekend, everyone!

Artichokes 101

Get to the heart of the art of cooking and eating these odd vegetables.

One of the best parts of moving back home to Naples, Florida, is having some more sophisticated food choices at my fingertips. I have already publicly confessed my love of chicken wings two weeks ago in The Dish, but I am really excited to have access to restaurants that serve something other than college town pub food or discount sushi (something that really shouldn’t exist). Now all I need is a spare moment away from work, cooking, and blogging to grab a friend and chow down!

Bricktop’s, a favorite lunch spot of mine here in town, happens to serve grilled artichokes with aioli dipping sauce as an appetizer. Even after ordering this dish countless times, I still can’t believe how something so simple can be so delicious. Frozen artichoke hearts are a staple in my kitchen, but I had never actually prepared fresh, whole artichokes before. So, this week I decided to try something new! (Also, truth be told, my bank account took a bit of a hit after last week’s decadent osso buco post, so I was looking for something a little easier on my wallet and my waistline.)

Sadly, as a young adult still stuck in the apartment stage of life, I’m not currently able to own a grill. In lieu of grilled ‘chokes, I decided to try both steaming and roasting them. After a bit of research, it was very clear to me that most people are seriously intimidated by these prehistoric-looking flower buds. The truth of the matter is that they couldn’t be easier to prepare.

IMG_4394Here’s a bit of background info on artichokes:

Although they are available pretty much year-round, the peak season for artichokes is spring. Nevertheless, I’m afraid I may have bought the very last of this season’s crop at Whole Foods earlier this week. All of the photos accompanying artichoke recipes online show crisp, vibrant green buds, but the ones I brought home—the only four left in the entire store—had very little in common with their more glamorous counterparts. They were still very tasty, regardless! A friend of mine opted to be my guinea pig this week, and I think we both decided that the steamed version was our favorite.

As I mentioned, artichokes are actually immature flowers of a species of thistle plant. The rigid ‘petals’ surrounding the artichoke are actually called bracts, and they help protect the flower inside from harsh weather and pests (like hungry, aioli-wielding humans).1 At the base of each bract is a bit of edible flesh, and deeper within the artichoke are the renowned heart and choke.

Be careful not to confuse the two! The heart is very tender and flavorful, while the choke is fibrous and will leave you feeling like you tried to swallow a handful of sawdust if you accidentally eat it. After peeling away (and savoring) all of the heartier bracts, you will be left with a stem and/or base with some softer, smaller petals. Upon removing these, you will see the fuzzy choke. Remove all of these fibers, and underneath you will find the prized heart!

Artichokes are suspected to have originated in the Mediterranean, although they quickly became popular and spread throughout the world over the centuries.2 Interestingly enough, nearly 100% of all commercially produced artichokes in the United States are grown in California.3 Scientists believe that the contemporary globe variety of artichoke actually descended from wild cardoons, which are also a part of the thistle family, but spikier and altogether more bizarre looking.2

However, the ancient Greek origin story surrounding the beloved artichoke is a bit more dramatic. It is said that the god Zeus fell madly in love with a mortal woman named Cynara, seduced her, made her a goddess, and brought her back to Mount Olympus to live with him. (Doesn’t sound too shabby, eh?) But poor Cynara became lonely and began secretly returning home to visit her family. Of course, the almighty Zeus eventually caught her sneaking around. This angered him so much that he banished her from Olympus and turned her into an artichoke.2 Leave it to the ancient Greeks to think up a scandalous and soap-opera-worthy origin story for an edible thistle bud…

:O artichoke style

:O artichoke style

Now that you’ve got a bit of background on this mysterious vegetable, here’s some practical information as well:

Basic Artichoke Prep

Before you start tackling any kind of recipe using whole artichokes, it’s important to know how to clean and prepare them. These tend to brown quickly once you start working with them, so try not to start your prep until you’re ready to pop them into the oven, onto the grill, etc. If you’re worried about your artichokes browning, or trying to get your prep done ahead of time, have half a lemon on hand to rub along the freshly trimmed areas in order to prevent oxidation. Here’s the skinny on ‘chokes:

  1. Like any kind of produce, rinse your artichokes well with cold water.
  2. Remove any small straggler leaves or unsightly dangly bits along the base of the bud and the stem.
  3. Cut about an inch off the top of the bulb.
  4. If you wish to keep the entire artichoke intact, trim a quarter inch off the stem and use a vegetable peeler to remove the fibrous outer layer. Otherwise, remove the entire stem.
  5. If your artichoke has small barbs at the end of each petal, use a pair of kitchen shears to snip off these sharp points.

Your are now ready to become an artichoke master!

Steamed Artichokes

(Adapted from ‘How to Cook and Eat an Artichoke’ by Elise Bauer on Simply Recipes)

  • 4 artichokes, washed and prepared as stated above
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 lemon, halved, plus juice
  • A few tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Black peppercorns (optional)
Artichokes near the end of the steaming process.

Artichokes near the end of the steaming process.

In a large pot, add a couple inches of water, the garlic, a few pinches of salt, the bay leaf, oil, and peppercorns, if using. Squeeze the juice of one lemon into the pot, and add the juiced halves as well. Bring this mixture to a boil.

Once boiling, insert a steamer basket into the pot and place the artichokes on top. If you are not using a basket, simply place the artichokes stem end up in the pot. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer.

Allow the artichokes to steam for 25 to 45 minutes depending on their size. When done, the outer leaves at the base of the stem can be removed easily.

Simply Roasted Artichokes

(From Chef John on AllRecipes.com)

  • 4 artichokes, washed and prepared as stated above
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ good olive oil
  • Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a bowl, gently spread the petals of each artichoke apart and drizzle the olive oil and lemon juice over the tops of the buds.

Insert a paring knife into the middle of each artichoke in order to create a small space. Insert a garlic clove into each cavity, and then season to taste with salt.

Roasted artichokes make me smile!

Roasted artichokes make me smile!

Wrap each artichoke tightly with a piece of parchment paper, and then again with a piece of foil (or two). Place the artichokes on a sheet pan and bake for approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes.

I recommend serving the cooked ‘chokes warm with aioli or your favorite dipping sauce. What is your favorite way to cook and eat artichokes?

Sources
  1. Harrison, M. (2011, March 9). Bracts: Leaves, Petals, or Something Else? Dave’s Garden. Retrieved from http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/3156
  2. Rupp, R. (2014, November 12). The History of Artichokes. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2014/11/12/artichokes/
  3. California Artichoke Advisory Board. (2015). Retrieved from http://artichokes.org/
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