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Thursday, January 31, 2008

WTSIM.....Torronutella Semifreddo Terrine!

When Johanna from The Passionate Cook announced that the theme for the January installment of WTSIM was Terrines, I was a bit bummed. Not because I didn't think it was a good theme, and not because I don't like terrines, but because I had the perfect recipe to use for a terrine...and I had just posted about it a few weeks before! I'm talking about my Salmon Mousse. It would have made a great terrine, perhaps combined with a layer of shrimp or crab mousse and maybe an asparagus mousse in between.

After I kicked myself for not being psychic and pouted a while, I strained my brain to figure out what I could make to fit this theme. I must confess my repertoire of terrines is a bit thin, but I really wanted to participate, so I put on my thinking cap and tried to figure it out.

It wasn't until about a week later that the light bulb switched on and I came up with what I thought was a great idea. Last Saturday morning, I was lazily passing some time browsing around downtown in our little historic district, when I stumbled upon the cutest shop/cafe tucked into a tiny side street. It is called The Sarasota Olive Oil Company, and it is fabulous! I'm not going to tell you too much about it now, because I'm already planning to build another whole post around it. (I was THAT impressed!) What I will tell you is that, amidst all of the wonderful oils, vinegars and fresh pasta products, I found a huge basket filled with authentic imported Italian torrone. This discovery truly excited me, because I adore torrone. I'm talking about the traditional, crunchy kind that shatters into a mouthful of sticky, sweet, almond-y splinters when you bite into it. Not very good for the teeth, but great for the soul!

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For those who haven't had the pleasure of indulging in this delicious treat, torrone is a nougat confection made from egg whites, honey, sugar, and nuts. It is said that torrone originated in Cremona, Italy in 1441, when it was concocted to commemorate the wedding of Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria Visconti. The sweet was molded into the shape of the Tower of Cremona or Cremona Torrione, hence, it was christened "torrone". It is traditionally served by the Italians during the Christmas season, particularly on the feast of San Nicola (Saint Nicholas).
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With a few bars of that wicked good stuff in my hot little hands, I left the shop. Both my mind and my heart were racing a little bit. I knew just what I was going to make for my terrine entry - a torrone semifreddo!
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A semifreddo is a type of frozen dessert. The literal translation for semifreddo is "half cold". It is called this because a semifreddo almost always contains ingredients such as biscuits, candied fruits, or nuts, that don't usually freeze solid. Since it not really an ice cream it doesn't need to be churned in an ice cream machine. All it needs is an long rest in the freezer.
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Now, delicious as this would be on its own, I also felt that I needed to have another layer on my terrine, for a contrast of color and texture. This second layer should also contain some kind of nuts, and should preferably be Italian in nature. Well, I had two jars of Nutella sitting in my Bermuda Triangle of a pantry, so I decided to break out one and make a chocolate - hazelnut semifreddo too. I mean, what could be more quintessentially Italian than Nutella? I decided to call my creation Torronutella Semifreddo Terrine. Pretty catchy, huh? Believe me, it sounds a lot more aristocratic than it really is!
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I did a little trolling for recipes on the web and came up with a number of good ones. For my torrone semifreddo, I chose a recipe from the doyenne of Italian cooking, Marcella Hazan. (Did I ever tell you that I've met her - several times? She lives in my town and shops at the same Italian specialty store that I do!) My recipe for the chocolate-hazelnut semifreddo was taken from bits and pieces of several different recipes that I found, mostly so that I wouldn't have to go back out to shop for additional ingredients. ..

Essentially, what I did was make both recipes independently and freeze them together to form the terrine. I prepared the torrone semifreddo first and let it freeze up overnight. The next day, I made the chocolate-hazelnut version, spread it over the frozen torrone layer and froze it again. I wasn't able to find hazelnuts anywhere, so I used roasted pistachio nuts instead. Crushed pistachios are commonly used in all kinds of Italian pastries, so I felt okay with that.

In order to ensure pain-free unmolding, I lined the mold with plastic wrap that hung over the sides. That way, I could just lift the terrine out in one sinfully sweet, chunky, creamy hunk of frozen heaven. I dressed the terrine up with a little chocolate sauce for the pictures, but it really didn't need it. Both of the layers harmonized beautifully together and it was marvelous on its own!

Both of these recipes make more than you'll need to fill your mold. I froze the extra in smaller ramekins, so that the family could indulge without having to wait for me to photograph my entry.

I'd like to send my thanks out to Johanna for hosting this month's WTSIM event, and for extending the deadline for submissions.
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Torronutella Semifreddo Terrine

For the Torrone Semifreddo:
(Adapted from Marcella Hazan)

6 ounces hard Italian torrone, with almonds

6 eggs
6 tablespoons sugar
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon dark rum
A pinch of salt
1/2 cup carmelized almonds (1/2 cup sliced almonds and 2 tbsp. sugar)
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Line a a freezable loaf pan with a long sheet of plastic wrap, making sure that it hangs over the sides at least 3 inches. Set aside.
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In a small saute pan, add almonds and 2 tbsp. sugar. Saute over high heat until sugar starts to carmelize and the almonds are toasted. Spread out in the bottom of the terrine mold. Set aside.
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Use a sturdy chopping knife to cut the nougat into small pieces, then grind it to a granular consistency in the food processor.
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Separate the eggs, keeping only four of the whites.
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Pour the yolks into a mixing bowl, adding all the sugar. Whip them until they form a foamy mass.
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In another bowl, preferably a chilled steel one, whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks.
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Add the whipped cream, the rum, and the ground nougat to the beaten egg yolks, mixing well to distribute all the ingredients uniformly.
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In a clean bowl, whip the four reserved egg whites together with a pinch of salt until they also form stiff peaks. Fold them gently into the egg yolk, cream, and nougat batter.
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Pour the mixure into the mold, cover with the overhang of plastic wrap and place it in the freezer for at least 8 hours or overnight.


For the Chocolate-Hazelnut Semifreddo:

(Adapted from a mishmash of recipes)



4 large eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 jar Nutella, divided
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 tbsp hazelnut liqueur (I used Frangelico)
1/2 cup roasted pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped
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Heat Nutella in the microwave for about 10-15 seconds to soften it up. Set aside.
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Place eggs and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Place mixing bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk until the eggs are warm, about 2 minutes.
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Place the bowl in mixer stand. Using the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and tripled in volume, about 5 minutes.
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Add two thirds of the Nutella and mix on low speed until blended. Gently fold in whipped cream and chopped hazelnuts.
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Scrape mixture into into the mold and spread evenly over the torrone layer. Spoon remaining third of the Nutella lengthwise down center of the mold letting it sink into semifreddo.
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Cover top of pan with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 8 hours or overnight.
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To serve, lift the terrine out of the mold using the plastic wrap overhang. If the terrine sticks, place the mold on a dish towel soaked in very hot water for a minute or two. This should soften the terrine a bit and make it easier to unmold.
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Cut the semifreddo into 1 inch slices and serve on dessert plates with the garnish of your choice.
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Enjoy!


Monday, January 28, 2008

Sunny Skies, Lemon Pies and.....Fruit Flies?

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Last month, I survived my first Daring Bakers challenge. Yes, I finished my Yule Log on time and lived to tell about it. To refresh your memory, I had some major plumbing issues and wasn't able to use the water in my kitchen for the two weeks before Christmas. It was a huge mess, and I almost had to miss the challenge because of it. With twenty-four hours to go before post time, I worked like a madwoman on crack to create that Yule Log from start to finish, decorate it, photograph it and post about it. Holy Mother of God! I'm breaking out in a cold sweat just thinking about it!
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This month's Daring Baker challenge is being hosted by Jen from The Canadian Baker. She chose Lemon Meringue Pie as the subject of the challenge and provided a recipe from Wanda's Pie in the Sky, by Wanda Beaver. I was psyched! I really enjoy LMP and it is one of Mr. SGCC's favorite desserts.
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Since this recipe didn't look to be overly complicated, I felt comfortable waiting a few weeks before I took a shot at it. I needed to let the dust settle (literally) from the Holidays and the unfortunate events leading up to them. Even though I had never made a lemon meringue pie before, I was familiar with the individual components of the recipe which are a shortbread crust, lemon curd and meringue. After all the drama of the last challenge, I was sure that this one would be a breeze.
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About two weeks ago, I woke up to a glorious sunny day. It was cool and bright and dry - perfect for baking and photographing a lemon meringue pie. As I was making my morning coffee, a little black speck whizzed by me. I was still half asleep. I must have imagined.....Wait, there it is again! This time, the speck landed on my cup. It was.....a bug! Ugh! I got another cup and started......Hey! What the......! Another little whizzer just dive-bombed in my coffee! And another one just tried to fly up my nose! Gross!!! I took a look around the kitchen and there were lots more little black flying specks. They were all over the place. And they were fast little buggers too! Most of them seemed to be congregated around the food. Oh shit! Fruit Flies!!!
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Ugly little sucker, isn't he?
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Now, I have to confess that right about then, I was beginning to understand what Job must have felt like.
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After I called the exterminator, and ran around my kitchen swinging a rolled-up newspaper a hundred and fifty times, I started zesting my lemons. So far, so good. Then, I juiced the lemons. Okay.....no, wait.....oh no! Fruit flies in the lemon juice. All right. I. Will. Remain. Calm. I'll just grab a few more lemons and.....uh oh......is that a fruit fly stuck in the butter? Yup. Oh, who was I kidding? That lemon meringue pie was not going to happen. Not that day, anyway.
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I put everything away and did the only thing I could do under the circumstances. I went shoe shopping.
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Later that day, the exterminator explained to me that there really wasn't anything he could do about the fruit flies. (Hmmph!) He said that they probably hitched a ride home with me from the market on the bananas or apples I had recently bought. The offending apples or bananas probably were covered with microscopic fruit fly eggs that had hatched in my kitchen. Lovely! He suggested that I set off a few bug bombs in the house. Of course, I would also have to set off a few more five or six days later after the rest of the eggs had hatched. Wonderful.....and unacceptable. There was no way I was going to fill my house up with clouds of poisonous gas, not once, but twice! There had to be another solution. Believe it or not, the answer was sitting in my Inbox.
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My mother-in-law is always sending me emails with all kinds of fascinating flotsam and jetsam from around the web. Thanks to her, I've learned that Coke can strip the paint off my car, that there are toxic levels of lead in my favorite red lipstick, and that leaving a glass of apple cider vinegar mixed with a little dishwashing liquid on your kitchen counter will get rid of fruit flies.
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I don't know about the first two, but the third one is true. Within an hour of setting out that vinegar concoction, I found at least a dozen drowned fruit flies in the glass. Woo hoo! Success! I figured that if one glass was working so well, three or four would be even better. It took several days, but I am happy to report that my house is now "fruit fly free"!
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With new resolve, I set about conquering that thing which is Lemon Meringue Pie!
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I have to honestly say that everything went pretty smoothly for me while making this pie. My crust came together very nicely. In fact, I thought it was one of the easiest crusts I've ever worked with. The lemon filling was thick and smooth. It looked like liquid sunshine. My egg whites whipped up into gorgeous, billowy white clouds of meringue. I couldn't wait to put it all together and bake it.
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I had read about the trials and tribulations that other DBers had while making this pie. Some had runny lemon curd that refused to set, while others had shrinking or weeping meringue. I was a little nervous, especially about the meringue. I thought for sure that I would have trouble with it. That glorious, sunny day that I spoke about earlier was long gone, replaced with several damp, cloudy and humid ones. Someone up there must have taken pity on me because of the fruit flies, because my meringue was pretty close to perfect. It was beautifully browned, with little swirls and peaks. There was no shrinkage or weeping. I would have liked it to have been a little bit higher, but hey, I wasn't going to complain about that. I could hardly wait to take it outside for pictures!
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Later that evening came the moment of truth. Pretty is as pretty does, but did the pie taste good? I thought it was delicious. The filling had just the right balance of tartness and sweetness, with a true lemon flavor. The meringue was light and fluffy inside, with a tiny bit of chewiness on the outside. Mr. SGCC gave it two thumbs up. Believe me, that isn't faint praise! I would definitely make this one again.
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Lemon Meringue Pie
from "Wanda's Pie in the Sky" by Wanda Beaver
Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie
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For the Crust:

3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/3 cup (80 mL) ice water


For the Filling:

2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract


For the Meringue:

5 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar
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To Make the Crust:
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Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt. Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.
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Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.
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Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.
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To Make the Filling:
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Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.
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To Make the Meringue:
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Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.
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Enjoy!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Crying in My Soup: Zucchini Vichyssoise

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Last weekend, my daughter attended her first Cotillion. It was a very big deal. She's gone to lots of parties before, and many of them have even included, dare I say it, boys! But, this was different. This was a formal "affair" in a fancy ballroom, with dinner and dancing and high heels and lipstick. In her stunning dress, with her hair and makeup perfectly done, she was a vision. I hardly recognized her. What happened to my little cherub, with her tumbling curls and sticky fingers? In the blink of an eye, she grew up.
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As her father and I dropped her off and watched as she joined the others inside, I felt a tug at my heart. "Wait!", I wanted to shout, "Come back! I'm not ready for this!" But, I didn't. I bravely smiled and dutifully waved as she strutted her stuff into that ballroom. (I didn't even have any stuff to strut when I was her age!) Of course, Mr. SGCC was no help at all. He looked more miserable than I was.
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Sigh! It's going to be a loooooooong next couple of years.
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Waiting for us back at home, was a lovely quiche and this rich, velvety vichyssoise. Oh yes, and two HUGE glasses of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc - French, of course!
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I'm always looking for creative and inspired ways to serve vegetables. So many times, they seem to be an afterthought to a meal. This recipe is one that I like to make often, because, while it does make a bit of a statement, it isn't complicated or time-consuming. This vichyssoise can be served hot or cold, which makes it a great make-ahead or left-over dish as well. Dress it up with a dollop of creme fraiche and zucchini curls.
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One word of caution, though. If you're crying in your soup, ease up on the kosher salt. You won't need as much!
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Zucchini Vichyssoise
Adapted from Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten
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1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon good olive oil
5 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (4 to 8 leeks)
4 cups chopped unpeeled white boiling potatoes (8 small)
3 cups chopped zucchini (2 zucchini)
1 1/2 quarts homemade chicken stock or canned broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons heavy cream
creme fraiche, for garnish
Fresh chives or julienned zucchini, for garnish
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Rinse leeks well with cold water. They can be very sandy. Pat with paper towels to dry.
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Heat the butter and oil in a large stockpot, add the leeks, and saute over medium-low heat for 5 minutes.
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Add the potatoes, zucchini, chicken stock, salt, and pepper; bring to a boil; then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
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Cool for a few minutes and then process through a food mill fitted with the medium disc. Add the cream and season to taste.
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Serve either cold or hot, garnished with chopped chives and/or zucchini.
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Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Food for Thought: Pasta e Fagioli and "Wish Flowers"

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When I first decided to enter The Skinny Gourmet's Food for Thought event, I had grand ideas about what fabulous dish I would enter. Growing up in a big Italian family certainly left me with plenty of material to work with. We were constantly surrounded by food - literally immersed in it. Almost every family memory I have involves sitting around somebody's table behind mountains of pasta, gravy meats and cannoli. There were conversations going in every direction, competing for prominence, and instead creating a sort of controlled chaos. After dinner, the important issues of the day, as well as any pending life-altering decisions were always discussed by the adults at the table, with cups of dark, steamy espresso and Stella D'oro cookies to fortify them. Those were messy, noisy and wonderful times!
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With all of that to draw from, I suppose I experienced some kind of sensory overload. You see, while I think very fondly of all those large, raucous family gatherings, the memories I hold dearest to my heart are the quieter, simpler ones. The food wasn't nearly as elaborate or exciting, but so much more precious because it meant one on one time with people I loved.
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My grandfather was a gentle, unassuming man. I never heard him raise his voice to anyone, but when he spoke, everyone listened. Born and raised in the Italian countryside, he loved to garden. Living in a small, two family house with a concrete backyard in the Bronx made that a little difficult. Grandpa worked out a deal with a guy who owned some empty lots a few blocks away. He would maintain the lots by cutting the grass and weeding, and in exchange, he would get to plant his own vegetable garden there. Everyone called it "Papa's farm".
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When I was little, he would take me by the hand and off we'd go, to Papa's farm, to gather the daily harvest. I would help him pick the tomatoes, peppers, corn and the rest of the bounty, but mostly, I would hold the basket. Of all the things he grew, the one that intrigued me most were the dandelion greens. To a five year-old, dandelions were little yellow flowers that grew wild in between the cracks of the sidewalk or on those tiny patches of grass along the road. When they got old, the yellow flowers turned into little fluffy, white pom poms. We called them "wish flowers". Stumbling across one of those ethereal orbs was a treat. We'd pick them, make a wish and bloooowwww. If all of the little white tufts flew off into the air, your wish would come true. Yes, dandelions had their purpose, but...they were weeds! You don't eat weeds, or do you?
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While the dandelion is considered a weed by many, the plant does have a place in the kitchen. The leaves can be eaten cooked or raw in soups or salads. They have a slightly bitter taste, and are similar in nature to mustard greens. The leaves are high in vitamin A, vitamin C and actually contain more iron and calcium than spinach. Growing up, I ate my share of salads made with dandelion leaves. I just never knew that they came from my "wish flowers"! I really wanted to make a dandelion salad for you, but alas, dandelion leaves were nowhere to be found around here, and believe me, I searched! I do occasionally see them at Whole Foods, and I buy them whenever I do. Then, I eat my salad, drink a nice glass of wine and "wish" that Grandpa could be here to share it.
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As quiet and low-key as my grandfather was, my grandmother was feisty and outspoken. I spent an awful lot of time with her when I was a young child. Those were the days before pre-school became a popular option for working parents. My parents ran a pretty nice-sized business back then. Sometimes, they would take me to work with them. Many times, however, they would drop me off with Grandma, to spend the day roving from one adventure to another.
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One of our favorite things to do was go grocery shopping. She would grab her fold-up shopping cart and we'd head for the bus stop. I found public transportation very exciting back then. Go figure! Anyway, in those days, if you were Italian and lived in the Bronx, you went to
Arthur Avenue or Morris Park when you needed to do serious food shopping. We'd work our way down the avenue, visiting the bread stores (not to be confused with the pastry shops), the fish markets, the pork stores, the homemade pasta stores, and an assortment of of the other highly specialized food venues. Every vendor knew her by name. "Buon giorno, Signora!" they would call out as we entered each shop, "Come siete oggi?" She would smile and nod and then get down to business. My grandmother was a master negotiator. Yessiree, she could be one tough customer! When Grandma's cart was full, we'd get back on the bus and go home to survey our "loot".
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If I had to choose one of my grandmother's favorite "go to" dishes it would have to be pasta e fagioli. She used to make it at least once weekly. I think that was because it's a quick, easy and inexpensive dish to prepare. Whatever the reason, I loved it. I remember many times, when my parents had to work late, it was just the two of us in her little kitchen, eating bowls of "pasta fazool", as I called it.
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Pasta e fagioli literally means pasta and beans. Depending on your recipe, it can be either a thick, stewy dish or more like a soup. My grandmother's version was the former. It is a very simple, rustic dish made with tomato sauce, onion, garlic, cannellini beans and, of course, pasta. Cannellini beans are very popular in Italian cuisine. They are a creamy white bean similar to Great Northern beans. They have a mild flavor which enables them to blend in perfectly with many different dishes. In many areas, such as mine, it is difficult to find fresh or dried cannellinis. So, for this dish, I used canned beans. This is okay, because frankly, I think that my grandmother usually did this as well. It drastically cuts down on your cooking time and doesn't compromise the taste at all. Just make sure to drain and rinse the beans really well. As for the pasta, ditalini pasta is the only kind that my grandmother ever used and that is good enough for me!
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After dinner, Grandma would bring out the cookies and the espresso or "black coffee", as she called it. She'd put a thimble-sized serving of coffee into a cup of milk for me. I felt very grown-up sitting at the table with my Grandma, drinking black coffee and chatting. At some point, we'd end up in her tiny living room, sitting on a plastic slipcovered sofa, watching the
Dean Martin Show until I fell asleep.
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Although, my grandmother is long gone, I still carry her with me to this day. I wish she could have shared the milestones in my life, like my marriage to a wonderful man and the birth of my beautiful child. I wonder what she would have thought of these things. Somehow, I think she would have approved.


Pasta e Fagioli
1 lb ditalini pasta
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups marinara sauce (Fresh is best, but any good quality jar sauce will be fine.)
1 cup water
2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
grated Parmesan cheese
chopped fresh parsley for garnish
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Put a large pot on the stove to boil. When boiling, cook the ditalini until al dente, about 10-11 minutes. Drain.
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Meanwhile, in another large pot, heat olive oil and saute onion over medium heat until soft. Add garlic and saute a few minutes more.
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Add marinara sauce and water and simmer for about 10 minutes.
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Add beans and continue to simmer until heated through.
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Add pasta and mix well. If the sauce is too thick, add a little of the pasta water to thin it out a little, if desired.
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Serve in a large bowl with grated cheese and parsley sprinkled on top.
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Enjoy!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Thank You Well Fed Network and Slashfood!

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Whew! What a week this has been. Some really nice things are happening to me and my little blog these days. I'm not running around dodging the paparazzi or anything, but I am pretty excited about my news.
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First of all, yours truly has been invited to be a contributing author for the Well Fed Network. WFN is a popular stop among foodies. It is a compilation of 14 food and drink related blogs, focusing on providing high quality and informative topical content. The WFN is the brainchild of Cate O'Malley of Sweetnicks, and she is the managing editor of the network.
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I will be writing for two of their excellent sites, The Cook's Kitchen and Paper Palate. As a matter of fact, three of my articles have already been published here, here and here! I can't tell you how happy I am to be a part of the Well Fed Network!
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As if that wasn't enough, one of my photos has been chosen as Slashfood's Daily Food Porn. OMG!!! Can you stand it? Last night, when I had my first chance of the day to breathe, I clicked on the site for my daily "Slashfood fix". I was mindlessly scrolling down the page, when I saw a picture that looked familiar. "I took a shot just like that.", I said to myself.........
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HUH! Wait a minute! THAT IS MY PICTURE!!! HOLY #&*#! I'M FOOD PORN!
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I almost fell off my chair. Then, I did a little happy dance around the room. I could have sworn I had wings on my feet. I think I may have even hit a high C or two!
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Now, this may not mean that much to a lot of you, but the whole picture taking thing has been my greatest challenge since starting this blog. It wasn't long ago that I wrote this post here, where I shared (ranted, actually) my complete and total frustration over my photography skills. I was ready to give up. Thankfully, several of you were so helpful and encouraging with your comments, particularly Helen, Jen and Jaden, and I decided to persevere. So yes, for me, this is a Very. Big. Deal! Here is a little token of my thanks, ladies.
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Of course, I had to celebrate such a momentous week. What better way to do this than with a sticky, gooey, creamy, chewy dessert! This flan recipe was given to me by my aunt many, many years ago. It is the most requested dessert at all of our family gatherings. It is truly decadent. I adore it and I hope you will too.
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Fantabulous Flan
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1 cup plus 3 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tbsp cornstarch
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup assorted tropical fruits, diced into small bits for garnish
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Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
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For the Caramel:
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Combine sugar and water in medium, deep, heavy-duty saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved, about 2-3 minutes.
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Increase heat to medium-high, and boil, without stirring, until caramel is a medium brown color, about 10-15 minutes, depending on your stove.
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Quickly pour the caramel over bottom and sides of 12 six-ounce custard cups or a flan mold. If the caramel hardens, soften it up a minute over low heat.
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For the flan:
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Combine the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, cream cheese, 3 tbsp. sugar, cornstarch, eggs and vanilla in a blender. Blend until smooth.
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Pour mixture into prepared cups or mold. Arrange in a large roasting or baking pan.
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Pour hot water in the pan until it is about 1 inch deep. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool for about 30 minutes. Chill for several hours or overnight.
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To unmold, run a sharp knife around the rims and gently shake to loosen. Invert onto your serving plates.
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Enjoy!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Chocolate Silk: Variations on a Theme

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What would you say if I told you that I had a recipe for a luscious, elegant dessert that you could be proud to serve at your fanciest dinner party? And, what if I told you that this luscious and elegant dessert is so versatile that it can be made in several different flavor combinations? Are you curious yet? What if I also told you that this same luscious and elegant little dessert can be ready to serve in five minutes flat? Unbelievable, right? Well, believe it. It's called Chocolate Silk, and it's creamy, dreamy and delicious!
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The ingredients in the basic Chocolate Silk recipe are ricotta cheese, cocoa powder, sugar and cream. After that, you can pretty much add any other flavoring you want. I've given you a few suggestions below, to jump start your imagination.
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My mother used to make a version of this dessert for me when I was little. Instead of cocoa powder and sugar, she just mixed a cup of ricotta with a packet of Swiss Miss hot chocolate mix and a little milk. In her mind, it was a healthier snack option because it was made with cheese. Not as sophisticated as Chocolate Silk, but I loved it anyway!
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Years later, when I was pregnant, I developed gestational diabetes. I used to make this dessert with sugar free Swiss Miss and lowfat milk. It wasn't quite as rich and creamy, but it was still a very satisfying treat. Thank God for that! Who wants to deal with a dessert-deprived pregnant woman!
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The versions shown in the pictures are the original Chocolate Silk and the Mocha Silk. Other variations I've tried are Chocolate-Orange Silk, Chocolate-Raspberry Silk and Chocolate-Hazelnut Silk. Anything that goes well with chocolate will work in this dish. Throw caution to the wind! Experiment! Go crazy!
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Chocolate Silk
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1 32 oz container ricotta cheese
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on your taste
1/4 cup heavy cream
dark chocolate shavings and whipped cream for garnish
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Combine all of the ingredients, except the garnishes in the bowl of a food processor. Process a minute or two until the mixture is smooth, like silk.
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Ladle in pretty glasses or cups and garnish, if desired.
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Serve and enjoy!
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Variations:
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Mocha Silk
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Follow original recipe above, adding 2 tablespoons of instant espresso powder to the mixture before processing.
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Try chocolate-covered roasted coffee beans as a garnish.
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Chocolate-Orange Silk
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Follow original recipe for Chocolate Silk, adding 1 tablespoon of orange liqueur (Cointreau or Grand Marnier) to the mixture before processing. You could also swirl in a bit of candied ginger chips too.
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Try candied orange zest or ginger chips for a garnish.
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Chocolate-Raspberry Silk
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Follow original recipe for Chocolate Silk, adding 1 tablespoon of Framboise liqueur to the mixture before processing.
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Garnish with fresh raspberries and chocolate shavings
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Chocolate-Hazelnut Silk
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Follow original recipe for Chocolate Silk, adding 1 tablespoon of hazelnut liqueur (Frangelico) to the mixture before processing.
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Melt a few tablespoons of Nutella in the microwave and drizzle on top.
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Garnish with toasted, chopped hazelnuts.

Enjoy!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Steamy Kitchen's Jap Chae - Tweaked

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Several months ago, Jaden from Steamy Kitchen posted a recipe for Jap Chae, or Korean Glass Noodles. One look at her tantalizing photo of the dish was all I needed to prompt me to try it for myself. I have tried many of Jaden's recipes and she hasn't steered me wrong yet!
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To me, the recipe was perfect as it was, but to Mr. Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy (alias Mr. SGCC), it lacked one essential thing: MEAT! Yes folks, Mr. SGCC is a Caveman. He requires meat (sometimes fish) at every meal. If he doesn't get it, he grunts and groans and starts beating his fists against his chest. I knew that if I was going to serve Jap Chae at my table, I was going to have to make some modifications.
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I googled Jap Chae and came up with some interesting options. Many Korean cooks add scrambled egg strips to the dish. That sounded pretty good, but it wasn't meat. I also found that very thinly sliced beef was a very popular addition. That sounded good too. Unfortunately, my charming, yet "opinionated" teenaged daughter does not eat red meat. If I used beef, there would be all sorts of pouting and carrying on. Who needs that? No, I would have to save the beef version for one evening when she is at the mall. No problem. She is almost always at the mall these days!
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I finally settled on something that would work for everyone involved - ground pork. Pork is meat, and it's not red. I had all the bases covered. The only problem is that ccoked ground pork is kind of ugly. It has that kind of unappealing, grayish cast to it. Hmmm. Not good for the photos. What could I do to jazz things up a little? Ah ha! Shrimp! Cooked shrimp is pretty. I love shrimp. Shrimp is photogenic. And, shrimp goes really well with pork. Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner!
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First, I browned the pork and added a little bit of the soy sauce and sugar mixture to flavor the meat. Then, I removed it from the pan and quickly stir-fried the shrimp until it was almost cooked through. I tossed the shrimp in with the cooked pork and set it aside. After that, I followed the original recipe pretty faithfully. I did customize the vegetables a bit. I used shitake, oyster and enoki mushrooms. I couldn't find the wood ear kind. I also used 1 1/2 times the amount of seasoning sauce and added a little mirin (rice cooking wine) to it, to compensate for the pork and shrimp. Jaden did recommend cutting the noodles into shorter lengths to make them more manageable. Unfortunately, I forgot to do that. It was okay, though. We all had fun slurping them up, a la I Love Lucy, and whipping them around the table at each other!
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I have to say, the dish was awesome. The noodles had a slight snap to them and the vegetables were just barely crunchy. I have made this dish several times since, mixing it up a little differently each time, and it is always fantastic. I did eventually try it with the sliced beef and it was great that way too.
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In the end, the Caveman was happy, the smark aleck, (Um, I mean "opinionated") Child was happy, and that, Dear Readers, makes me happy!
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Jap Chae with Pork and Shrimp
Adapted from Jaden's Steamy Kitchen
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12 oz dried Korean sweet potato noodles
1 lb ground pork
1/2 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 medium onion, thinly sliced (can use pre-sliced)
1 cup julienned carrots
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 scallions, cut into 1” lengths
3 cups assorted sliced mushrooms (shitake, oyster, button)
1/2 lb spinach, washed and drained
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp mirin
3 tsp sugar
3 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
Cooking oil as needed
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Fill a large stock pot with water and put it up to boil. When boiling, add noodles and cook for 5-6 minutes. Check for doneness near the 5 minute mark. The noodles should be soft but still firm. Drain and rinse with cold water. Toss with 1 tsp of the sesame oil. Use kitchen shears to cut noodles into shorter pieces, if desired. Set aside.
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Mix soy sauce, mirin and sugar together in a small bowl. Set aside.
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In a wok or large frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp cooking oil until hot. Brown ground pork until no pink remains. Drain meat and put back in the pan with 1 Tbsp of the soy sauce mixture. Cook a few minutes more until liquid is evaporated. Remove and set aside.
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Saute shrimp for a minute or two until they turn pink. Remove and add to pork.
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Saute onions and carrots, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, scallions and mushrooms, fry another 3-4 minutes.
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Add spinach, noodles, pork, shrimp and soy sauce mixture. Toss well and fry 2-3 minutes more until noodles are cooked through.
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Turn off heat and toss with sesame seeds and remaining 2 tsp of sesame oil.
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Enjoy!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Kickin' Chicken


Ever notice that all kids seem to love chicken nuggets? I mean reallllly loooove them? My five year-old nephews do. In fact, they eat them almost every day. Why is that? What is so alluring about a dried-up lump of pressed mystery meat, battered and fried within an inch of its life? It can't be because they taste so great. Most of the kinds I've tried taste a lot like damp cardboard. Gross! McDonald's Chicken McNuggets aren't too bad, but have you ever wondered what they do to those nuggets to keep them moist? Ew! I've read that young children have more taste buds than adults do. Also, those unadulterated, little taste buds are said to be much more sensitive than our older, worn out ones. Maybe that's it. Maybe my mouth is missing the chicken nugget taste buds.
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Just for fun, I checked out the ingredient lists and nutritional value labels of some of the more popular brands of chicken nuggets. The ever popular McDonald's Chicken McNuggets boasts the following ingredients:
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(WARNING!!! Reading this list may cause your eyes to bug out and your hair to stand up on end.)
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"White boneless chicken, water, food starch-modified, salt, chicken flavor (autolyzed yeast extract, salt, wheat starch, natural flavoring (botanical source), safflower oil, dextrose, citric acid, rosemary), sodium phosphates, seasoning (canola oil, mono- and diglycerides, natural extractives of rosemary). Battered and breaded with: water, enriched flour (bleached wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), yellow corn flour, food starch-modified, salt, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate, calcium lactate), spices, wheat starch, whey, corn starch. Prepared in vegetable oil ((may contain one of the following: Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, partially hydrogenated corn oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness), dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent)."
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Whoa! What the hell is dimethylpolysiloxane!!!!!
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Have I made you sick yet? Just wait!
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A 6 piece portion of Chicken McNuggets contains 15 grams of fat, which is 54% of the total calories. Banquet's frozen chicken nuggets contain 13 grams of fat for 5 measly nuggets, and only 12 grams of protein. Tyson's version ups the ante to a whopping 18 grams of fat against a mere 14 grams of protein. Huh! You mean these chicken nuggets have more fat in them than actual protein? Why then, do they even bother to call them chicken nuggets? Why not call them artery-clogging, coagulated fat nuggets?
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Do you really want your kids to eat this stuff? Do you want to eat it yourself? Would you even want someone you didn't like to eat it? NO, NO and.....well, maybe (but that's between you and your therapist).


If you'd like to learn more about the journey your food takes up and down the food chain, take a look at The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan. It is a fascinating and eye-opening treatise on the way Americans eat and how it has evolved over time. You'll never look at a Chicken McNugget the same way again!


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So, what do you do when your kids turn their noses up at your exquisitely prepared coq au vin and demand chicken nuggets instead? Try my Krispy Kickin' Chicken Strips! They're made with real chicken, lowfat buttermilk, Panko and packaged salad dressing mix. I use Hidden Valley Ranch mix, which is fat free, but any similar product would work just as well. If you don't like buttermilk, you could substitute lowfat yogurt instead. The Panko crumbs give the chicken a crunchy, but light texture.

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These chicken strips take very little time to prepare and are a much healthier alternative to those other things. They taste great, with no dimethylpolysiloxene in sight!
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Oh.....and if your kids are still skeptical, just tell them they came from McDonalds.


Krispy Kickin' Chicken Strips
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1 1/2 lbs chicken tenders or chicken breast cut into 1" strips
2 tbsp. butter, melted
1 cup low fat buttermilk
2 cups Panko crumbs
1 package Hidden Valley Ranch Salad Dressing Mix
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Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
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Add salad dressing mix to Panko and mix well.
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Coat chicken in buttermilk. Then, dredge in Panko mixture.
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Place on a baking sheet coated with non-stick cooking spray. Drizzle the melted butter over chicken and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden.
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Serve and enjoy!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

HolyCrapTheseAreAmazing Cookies

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Let me start right off by saying that no, that is not the official name of these cookies - but it should be. Their official name is Peanut Butter Corn Flake Balls. That's a decent enough name. It is accurately descriptive. However, it comes nowhere close to describing the flat out, mind-blowing awesomeness of these sticky, gooey, creamy, chewy little blobs of edible bliss! How did they end up being called HolyCrapTheseAreAmazing Cookies, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. It's because that is pretty much what everyone says the first time they bite into one of these decadent little guys.
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The first time I ever ate one was when my daughter was in the second grade. Each year, from the time she was in kindergarten through the fifth grade, I had the dubious distinction of being the Room Mother for her class. A Room Mother is a mom who is in charge of taking care of all of the "extras" for the class that the teacher doesn't have the time or inclination to do, like collecting for the teacher's gifts, lining up chaperones for field trips and of course, organizing class parties.
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Anyway, that particular year, her class had a Halloween party, and one of the moms brought these cookies. Now, being a Room Mother often requires you to make certain sacrifices, one of which is taste-testing all of the snacks, just to make sure that they are okay for the kids to eat. Really! It says so in the Official Room Mothers' Code of Conduct. Okay, I made that up, but if there was an Official Room Mothers' Code of Conduct, I'll bet the whole "taste-testing" thing would be in there.
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So, I ate a cookie. As my eyes were rolling back into my head, I groaned out loud and spontaneously exclaimed, "Holy Crap! These are amazing cookies!" From then on, they have elicited the same response from everyone I've served them to.
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The recipe for these cookies so simple that a 4 year-old could make them. Since I don't happen to have a 4 year-old at my house, I made them myself. (Although, I have been told that I act like a 4 year-old sometimes. I wonder if that counts?) There are only four ingredients - five, if you decorate them with chocolate drizzles, like I did. From start to finish, they take about fifteen minutes to make.
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Make them. If you do, your family and friends will be worshipping at your feet. Trust me!
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Holycraptheseareamazing Cookies
Print Version
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Ingredients:
(Makes about 3 dozen cookies)
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1 cup sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1 jar (18 oz ounce) peanut butter, crunchy or smooth (I like creamy.)
6 cups corn flakes
3 oz good quality chocolate of your choice (I used Scharffen Berger Semisweet 62%.)
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Preparation:
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Combine sugar and corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Place over medium-high heat and stir until the mixture comes to a full boil.
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Remove from heat and stir in the whole jar of peanut butter. Mix well.
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Add corn flakes to a large bowl. Pour peanut butter mixture over corn flakes and mix well, taking care to coat all of the corn flakes.
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With a tablespoon or cookie scoop, scoop out and form into 1-2 inch balls, depending on your preference, and place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or wax paper.
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Put the chocolate in a small bowl and melt in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Stir until smooth.
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Drizzle the melted chocolate over the cookies.
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When cooled, eat these cookies with reckless abandon. Be careful, though. We wouldn't want anyone to get hurt!
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Enjoy!