Heirloom Meals: Savoring Yesterday's Traditions Today

Sunday January 31, 2010

Carole’s Concoctions:
Crepes a la Matt - Nutella Heaven Part II

When Matt Finnerty, my step son, found jars of Nutella in the pantry he immediately asked me if I knew how to make crepes. And I answered with a sly smile, "But of course!!"

"Well, okay," he said, "so let's make them." Such exuberance cannot be resisted.  And I love the fact that a 14-year old has developed a taste for crepes with Nutella spread on them. He had them when he was in France with his Mom and 2 sisters and hadn't seen Nutella since then. Just the very sight of Nutella brought his memories of a big fat french guy making large fluffy crepes with Nutella. He said they were, "the best!!" Matt wanted to get right down to making them ASAP. What I had to explain is that crepe batter must be made ahead -  it needs to sit for a few hours so the flavors meld and the flour hydrates.

We made the batter on Saturday afternoon. We made the crepes on Sunday after a vigorous snow shoe outing - so we earned them!!

Crepe recipes are actually quite easy. Flour, water, melted butter, milk, sugar...



Here's the recipe:
1 cup flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup skim milk
1/4 cup half and half
3 large eggs
2 Tbsp melted butter
lemon zest from one lemon

Blend all ingredients. Store covered overnight.

Using a well-seasoned crepe pan or non-stick 5-6" frying pan, heat on low-medium flame, brush pan with canola oil or melted butter. (I usually do a tester before I really get started to make sure pan it hot enough etc.)  Then ladle the batter into the pan and swirl it so it spreads into the entire surface. Cook until the edges start browning and top seems dry.  I use a fork but a spatula would do the trick as well to loosen the edges.  Then flip the crepe and let it cook for a few seconds. (I find this is a feel sort-of-thing - you just can tell when it's ready!!)

Matt took each crepe as it came out of the pan and spread Nutella on it.  He ate several on the spot and took the rest back with him to his Mother's house to delight in at a later time.

I don't know about you but there is NOTHING more satisfying than making food that makes people happy!! Thank you Matt!!

Sunday January 24, 2010

Carole’s Concoctions:
The Organized Cook - Must Haves in your Pantry, Spice Cabinet and Fridge/Freezer

I realize that sometimes the obvious is not so obvious.  And for me, it is very obvious to keep certain items on hand at all times in my kitchen so I can whip up breakfast, lunch or dinner.  I also have a very organized mind when it comes to cooking and menu planning.  While I do enjoy grocery shopping, I know it is chore for some. So I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on weekly menu planning and then provide a list of items to keep in your larder.

I generally do my shopping on Saturday morning.  The first thing I do is look in my pantry, fridge, and spice cabinets for items that I am "out" of that I need to replenish.  Then I think about meals for the next 6-7 days. What did we eat last week?  Will I be traveling this week and need to make extra so there are plenty of leftovers for Jim?  I like to eat a balance of meat, poultry, fish, pork and lamb with leafy greens and vegetables. I decide that we'll eat lamb, shrimp and chicken this week.  Then I think about how I might want to prepare them.  Right now it's winter and I love to make stews and braises.  Lamb works up nicely in a stew.  Shrimp would be perfect cooked in a risotto and chicken breasts can be done several ways but I know I don't need to decide.  If you can tell, these three meats will probably provide six nights of dinner.  My shopping list has the three meats, any vegetables that accompany the main meals - for the lamb stew - potatoes and green salad; for the risotto, broccoli or spinach; for the chicken, a green vegetable or two, some root vegetables etc.  To then re-invent the left-overs, I would make polenta with the lamb stew night two; I might add some asparagus to the risotto for night two; and with the chicken, I might turn it into a stir-fry - onions, garlic, peppers, diced chicken and rice.  My shopping list grows out of my menu.  But I don't need to buy everything because I already have many of the building blocks.

Here's the list of must-haves for every organized cook:


Spice Cabinet
Salt ( regular, kosher and sea salts)
Pepper (ground and pepper corns)
Nutmeg
Cinnamon (ground and sticks)
Crushed Red Pepper
Cayenne
Cumin
Bay Leaves
Tarragon
Thyme
Curry Powder
Chile Powder
Cardamon
Coriander (ground and seeds)
Paprika (smoked, spicy, plain)
Vanilla (extract and beans)
Sage
Marjoram
Ground Ginger
Cloves (ground and whole)
Molasses
Honey
Cocoa



Pantry
Flour
Sugars ( granulated, light and dark brown)
Powdered Sugar
Oats
Cornmeal
Pasta
Rice (white, brown, risotto)
Canned Tomatoes
Canned Beans (chick peas, cannellini, red kidney)
Lentils and Split Peas
Chicken Broth and Bullion Cubes
Bread Crumbs
Mustard
Vinegars ( red wine, cider, rice wine, tarragon, champagne)
Oils (olive, canola, sesame)
Shortening (I found some non-transfat organic)
Raisins
Chocolate Chips


Bittersweet Chocolate bars
Potatoes (russett and sweet)
Onions
Garlic
Shallots
Coffee (beans and instant)




Fridge
Milk
Half and Half
Heavy Cream
Butter - sweet
Eggs
Plain non-fat yogurt
Mayo
Cheese - parm, romano, mozzarella, goat, cheddar, ricotta
Capers
Olives
Lemons
Limes
Freezer
Bread
Organic Frozen Spinach, Corn and Broccoli
Nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans)
Phyllo
Puff Pastry
Chicken Breast
Sausage
 
 
 

Monday January 04, 2010

Carole’s Concoctions:
A Meal for the New Year

I don't know about most of you but the holiday season seemed long, replete with parties galore and food a-plenty. This is not an overt complaint, just an observation. And for me, I am looking to eat on the lighter, healthier side as we march into the new year and decade.

So, what to eat? What not to eat? I remember this dialogue between my Mom and Nana when we were little, as they, too, were sick of cooking, eating all the impossible to resist goodies and undoubtedly feel as loagy as I do at the end of the season. I think this is where all the religious fasting rituals have evolved. I grew up a practicing Catholic so we were always giving something up for Lent, eating fish on Fridays, etc. I'll stop digressing and get to the point - I'm ready to dine on less fattening meals.

One of my goals for this blog in 2010 is to actually report the "meals" I make as frequently as I can, the inspiration and photos and recipes.

Our Monday night meal:
Broiled Salmon with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and rosemary
Steamed Asparagus
Mixed Greens and cherry tomatoes tossed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and some goat cheese.



I didn't use a recipe.  I just concocted.

Saturday December 26, 2009

Carole’s Concoctions:
Feast of the Seven Fishes or Two in Our Case!!

Well, I made it....the cooking and eating frenzy of the past 2-3 days is over for now. I reflect on all the food my Nana used to make from the scores of baked goods to the multiple course dinners. As you already know I am half Italian and those are the traditions that I carry forward. As a young girl, I remembered my grandfather bringing home the salt cod and soaking it for what seemed like days, resulting in bacala (baacaaala as they pronounced it). And let me tell you, it was gross. As an adult, I still can't seem to stomach it. So sadly, those memories will only reside with me...although, I think there is a salt cod story to be told. My Nana also made stuffed calamari in "gravy" (code for "tomato sauce" in Italian-American households) and served over spaghetti. Add fried scallops, flounder, shrimp cocktail and I am sure some other fishes. This was the Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes.

Now that I am the lucky hostess for my family and friends, I can only take the feast so far, as I think it's important to enjoy what you eat.

Our Menu:

So I decided to make a lobster risotto and fried calamari with a caesar salad to celebrate Christmas Eve.  We had 14 people in total - it was simply lovely!!

Lobster Risotto

2-3 1.5 pound lobsters (have them steamed at the fish counter to save you a step)
7 cups chicken broth (heated)
1 stick butter
1 cup of shallots or onions
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup white wine
1 cup parmesan cheese (grated)
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon freshly chopped thyme
1/4 teaspoon of fresh pepper

Remove meat from lobster, cut into bite-sized pieces.

Heat butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, add shallots and cook until tender.  Stir in rice and stir until coated with oil about 2 minutes.   Add the wine and stir until the wine is cooked off and absorbed. Add the broth one ladle at time, stirring constantly until the broth is absorbed.  (My Mom's hint:  It's time to add more broth when your spoon creates a track in the rice.) Continue adding broth until rice is fluffy, tender and creamy.   Next add the parmesan, lemon juice, pepper and thyme.  And finally, add the lobster until warm.  Enjoy!!  This will serve 6-8 people.

Click the photo to watch a very homemade video:

Saturday December 19, 2009

Carole’s Concoctions:
Homemade Hostess/Holiday Gifts on Newschannel 13

When I was a making caramels, struffoli and spiced nuts yesterday and then packaging them prettily for the segment, my thoughts were all over the map..."hope they taste good - but wait - you can't taste things on TV, well then they have to look GOOD - oh, dear, I have to package all these goodies I just made..."  And of course it is that anxiety and adrenalin that propels me and prepares me. It's like studying for a final exam - if you are prepared, you'll do OK.

And, so I present you with my most recent TV spot. I had a blast. Thank you Mom. Thank you Jim for assisting me. Couldn't do it without my "wing men!!"
 

Click the photo to watch the show:

Friday December 18, 2009

Carole’s Concoctions:
Recipes for Newschannel 13 (Albany NY) - Saturday Morning 12/19 - Hostess Gifts

Here are the recipes for the spiced nuts, struffoli and caramels that I am (have) packaging(ed) on TV tomorrow morning December 19th at 8.40 - tune in if you can.  I will be posting video tips later along with the segment clip as well.  Wish me luck!!  Good night for now!!




Struffoli
 
Growing up in a three generation household with my Italian grandparents was a gift.  My Christmas time memories are so vivid.  My grandmother set up a round folding table with a green wool skirt with a beautiful green and red embroidered linen topper where she displayed all her Christmas treats.  I would sneak in and “steal” a ball off her honey wreaths and pray she wouldn’t notice.  I’m sure she knew but she never let on....
 
3 cups flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Zest of 1/2 orange
Pinch of salt
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla or grappa or limoncella
canola oil for deep frying (about 2 cups)
 
2 cups honey
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
 
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center and add eggs and vanilla.  Slowly incorporate using your fingers.  Gather into a ball and let rest for about 30 minutes at room temperature.  Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat (to test temperature - toss small piece of dough - when it sizzles vigorously - it’s ready!!) Grab a golf ball sized ball of dough and roll it between your hands so it forms into a rope about 1/3” in diameter.  Then cut rope into 1/3” pieces.  Fry the balls in batches.  Place on paper towel to absorb excess oil.
 
Once the balls are done, begin making the honey syrup.  Heat the honey, sugar and water in a large saucepan over low heat until the sugar is dissolved then turn up the heat until the liquid boils and bubbls.  When the foam dies down and the mixture has darkened (all takes about 4 minutes +/-), take off the heat and add the fried balls.
 
Using a slotted spoon, remove honey balls and arrange on a lightly oiled piece of wax or parchment paper.  My grandmother used a glass to form the center of a wreath and put balls all around and then sprinkle with candied fruit or nuts.  She brought the struffoli wreaths to all her friends and relatives when they visited them during the holidays - a lovely tradition!!
 
 
 
Spicy Curried Walnuts 
 
These have been in my Mom’s and my stable of winners for years.  They make excellent bar treats, great hostess gifts and are fantastic in a salad.
 
1 lb walnut halves
1/2 cup sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
 
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
 
First you need to blanch walnuts for about a minute in boiling water. Drain and toss well with sugar and oil. Let stand for about 10 minutes.
 
Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper. Spread walnuts in a single layer and place in the middle of the oven. Check and turn the walnuts every 7-10 minutes until golden. I find the process is about 25 minutes but be careful - one extra minute can turn your golden nuts black. Remove golden nuts and put in a large bowl. Mix all spices and then toss with the warm nuts. Spread nuts in a single layer to cool. Once cool, store in a sealed container and Enjoy!!
 
 
 
 
 
 
Christmas Caramels
 
I am inspired this season to be a mad baker and maker of yummy edible gifts. I've got my plan and I will share with you as I prepare each goodie. But for whatever reason, I decided to go off my list when I was paging through December's Country Living Magazine and make Butter and Cream Caramels and yes they are an indulgence extraordinaire. I'll need to go for a good long jog to keep these off my hips...but what are the holidays if not for eating lots of amazing food!! Here's the recipe with my comments and tweaks, of course!!
 
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup light corn syrup
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
canola oil for greasing
candy thermometer
 
Line an 8 x 8 pan with foil and brush with canola oil.
 
In a medium saucepan over high heat cook the sugar without stirring until it begins to melt and boil at which time you can stir slowly with a metal spoon until melted (about 1 minute). Remove from heat and add cream. The sugar will harden almost immediately. Then add in the butter and corn syrup. Attach candy thermometer and return saucepan to stove over low heat, stirring occasionally for around 30 minutes until mixture liquefies. (This is a challenging spot as it seems as though it will never happen and then it just does.) Once that happens, turn the heat up and cook caramel mixture until the thermometer reaches 238 degrees F.
Remove from stove and stir in the vanilla. Then pour into prepared 8 x8 pan. Cool caramel for at least 30 minutes, lift from pan, remove foil and place on an oiled cutting board. Using an oiled knife, cut caramel into 1" squares. (I found it worked best when the caramel had sat for a while on the cutting board and when I ran my knife under hot water and then oiled it - the caramel did not stick to the knife.)
Wrap the individual pieces in 4 x 4 wrappers and then package them in a larger plastic bag with pretty ribbon.

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