Category Archives: AMERICAN CLASSICS

MOM’S PARTY BAKED BEANS

Memories make foods taste better, that’s a fact.  Case in point are these simple baked beans that my late mom used to parade out for BBQ’s in the Summer and special occasions where she was the “caterer”.  Now before you go getting food snob on me I must tell you that these are made with canned beans.  If that offends you..this is not your recipe.  HOWEVER I will tell you that they are fantastic and unless your tastebuds just do not care for American baked bean dishes, you HAVE to make a tray of these.  Delicious and addictive.  Now truth be told it’s not EXACT to my Mom’s.  It’s close.  My Food Snobbery actually embellishes the dish without recipe OVERKILL.  I think Mom would be proud, happy, and like them. Basically I don’t add anything different then she did, but I add more of a few things.  Now keep reading and you’ll find out.  Back in May for Memorial Day my sister Liza made them.  I saw the pan and of course got a lump in my throat wishing my Mom was in the kitchen with us.  “These are Mommy’s party and BBQ in the back yard cabana (it was a screened in porch deal) Baked Beans aren’t they?” My sister replied, yes they are.  They had that deep rich color with the bacon top that Mom’s did. Unmistakably these were Mom’s.  For some reason, you don’t make these for just a  nightly dinner.  Instead they are festive…party buffet food…Summer BBQ in the backyard food.  I’m sure there are foods/dishes that you all love that remind you of a now gone loved one and memories of good times.  In my very ItalianAmerican home this version of American Baked Beans meant a good time or big party was happening.  Oh, I also changed the brand of beans, Mom used Campbells..most available, most popular.  This was in the pre Bush’s Beans days… B & M was the most expensive competition. My wife LOVES B & M so for a family party last week I made a tray using the B & M beans.  So I’m not straying from her formula..too much.  AND here’s the proof..my sisters saw them and said …”AHHH MOM’S!!”  Then confirm too (as if my own tastebuds are not the last word  LOL), my 46 year old nephew PROCLAIMED, “Wow, Grandma’s Baked Beans..it’s been too long..Spot on Uncle Pete”.. Just an FYI, when Mom made REAL BAKED BEANS, not for parties or BBQ, she’d soak the dry beans and layer them with salt pork and other ingrdients and in a New England Bean Pot, covered into the oven they’d go for hours.  That’s a different dish of hers.    OK, let’s cook.

 

MOM’S “PARTY” OR BBQ BAKED BEANS

TIME: 2 hours                   SERVES: 8-10

12 STRIPS OF BACON

1 MEDIUM VIDALIA ONION (SWEET) DICED

2 28 oz CANS B & M BAKED BEANS (no, i’m not getting sponsored here, it’s what I use, so….if you like use any other 28 oz cans of beans)

2 TBS BROWN MUSTARD

1/4 cup KETCHUP

1/8 CUP BROWN SUGAR

1 TBS MOLASSES

1/2 TSP TABASCO SAUCE

1 TSP WORCHESTERSHIRE SAUCE

2 TSP REAL MAPLE SYRUP

Start by pre heating your oven to 300 degrees F.   Dice 5 slices of the bacon and in a cast iron or heavy pan, saute’ the bacon on medium heat.  When you see bacon grease rendering into the pan then add the onions.  Stir well to make sure the bacon grease is on all the onion.  Let this slowly cook until the bacon is just about to the crisp stage and the onions are soft. Takes at least 15 minutes, more or less.

Remove from the heat when it looks like that picture above and drain off all that residual bacon fat.  Let it rest.  In a bowl or simply the baking pan you’re going to use add everything else except the remaining bacon strips and blend well.  THEN fold in the bacon/onion mixture.  Top with the bacon strips.    

Now into the oven for 1 1/2 hours.  TIP: place the pan on a sheet pan.  JUST in case there’s bubbling and spillage, this tomato and sugar and bacon blend will make a nasty mess if it hits the bottom of your oven. The sheet pan is insurance.  Pay your premium!!

When the pan looks like the picture below, you are done.  Resist the urge to move it along with a higher oven temp. Your BAKING the beans. They will taste and feel different than if you simple heat them up out of the can.

Let the hot beans sit for 15 minutes at least before serving.  Now, here’s one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE things to eat.  See those bacon strips?  They are ridiculously amazing…is that even proper grammar?  I don’t care.  It’s amazing. Make sure you sneak a few before the rest of the diners get to dig in.  You made it, you deserve it.  I can probably show you when my Mom used to slap my hand when she’d catch me lifting a strip before they were served.  My sister and I would always fight over them.  If you notice in the ingredient list there is no SALT or PEPPER  added.  Why? You are using canned beans in tomato sauce cooked with Pork, salt, seasonings, etc.  You are using bacon which releases salt into the baking beans.  Ketchup, mustard,Worchestershire all have salt so DO NOT ADD ANY MORE TO THIS DISH.  The sweet caramelizing of the dish balances the salty in it..IT’S FANTASTIC. Maybe because it’s a direct link to MOM? or simply because it just tastes that good?? I conclude, it’s both.  Happy Cooking.

 

 

 

POTATOES O’BRIEN…IRISH-AMERICAN RESTAURANT FOOD

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I appreciate the potato only as a protection against famine; except for that I know of nothing more eminently tasteless.Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Hmmm…while Brillat-Savarin is one of the culinary world’s historical icons, his view of the potato was pretty low.  Don’t always follow everything an expert tells you is the message to be learned here!  Is there any food that you could possibly think of that is more deliciously nutritious, universally loved, accessible to all, and easier to cook into more recipes than there are days in the year?  A native of the Americas, this potato is grown all over the world and factors in every cuisine.  That’s quite unique to most foods so I like to give it a little praise when I can, sorry Brillat-Savarin,  you’re wrong on this one. Today we will talk about a favorite Potato dish of mine, POTATOES O’BRIEN.  Google it.  There are thousands of recipes and stories about it.  Let’s get to the heart of this delicious American dish, starting with…point of origin.  It’s a  story lost in the annals of American food history.  Could be Boston.  Might be New York City.  Most legends name Manhattan as the point of invention so I’ll run with that premise.

The dish is not Irish but does work well into an IrishAmerican St.Patrick’s Dinner, or any time of the year since a restaurant cook nicknamed “BEEFSTEW  O’Brien” is said to have created it in the late 1800’s at a Manhattan restaurant he worked in.  Legend states that he was tired of serving the all brown HASH BROWNED POTATO and decided to throw in some BLING for color and additional flavor.  Green Bell Peppers and Pimentos along with onions were tossed in the skillet with the browning potatoes, cooking in bacon grease.  Sidebar here…animal fat creates the best crisp texture and color in a fried potato…think fries cooked in duck fat..lush, crisp, fantastic.  But, go one step further, and add some diced bacon to this dish.  Now we are talking.  OK, note to my vegan and vegetarian readers…remove the bacon and bacon fat from this dish and using a vegetable or coconut oil you can create a wonderful meatless O’Brien.  See, Potatoes are for everyone!

This potato dish is quite versatile as well, perfect as a breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner menu item.  Make it when the mood strikes and it works great for outdoor grill/bbq meals, with meat, vegetables, or seafoods.

TIME: 1 hour                           SERVES: 4

3 tbs. bacon fat or vegetable oil
1/8 cup diced  bacon (optional, but WAY better when added)
1 12 lb. boiled and cooled  potatoes, cut small cubes or chunks
1 small onion, DICED
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, DICED
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, DICED
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper seasoned to taste
2 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
Heat 2 tbs.bacon fat in a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron for nice heat conductivity. Add the diced bacon and let this take on some color.  Give this at least 5 minutes. Now add the onions and peppers, season with salt and pepper, and let them cook till soft, about 10 minutes.  With a slotted spoon remove the bacon, pepper, onion from the pan and reserve in a bowl.   Add the last tbs. of bacon fat to the pan and when it is hot again over a medium flame/heat toss in the potatoes, season with salt and pepper and LEAVE THEM ALONE for at least 8 minutes.  Now give the pan a gentle shake, with a spatula turn the potatoes over and let them brown an additional 8 minutes on the other side. Don’t panic..not an exact process, you are just trying to get a nice crust on all sides of the potatoes best as you can. Now add the bacon, onion, and peppers gently into the pan and mix with the potatoes and sort of press the whole thing down into the pan with your spatula without smashing the potatoes. Let this cook for 5 minutes. Turn onto a serving plate and garnish with the parsley, and a light seasoning of salt and pepper.  Done. It’s amazing…
    Want an eye catching dish?  fry or poach a few eggs and top them on the finished Potatoes.  I think we are doing Beefstew O’Brien’s dish justice here.  Happy Cooking!!  BTW, some full disclosure here..the day I took this picture, there was no parsley (shocking) and green pepper in the house, so, that’s why the picture is missing the GREEN.  Just imagine it’s there, work with me here…LOL.

 

ST.PATRICK’S DAY CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE

 

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Growing up there was always an excuse to throw a party, make a special meal…o it wasn’t always a party, life growing had some rough patches too.  However the overall picture always brings to mind large groups of family and friends, special decorations, music, and foods to mark the occasion.  By now you know what my ethnic background is but on the 17th of March each year my Mom would transform the dining room into a wee bit o’Blarney for St. Patrick’s Day.  Living in NYC, with St.Patrick’s Cathedral and the

St.Patrick’s Day parade as cultural landmarks, one could not escape the Erin Go Bragh pins, the Kiss Me I’m Irish shirts, the bar crawls, the scents of Corned Beef and Cabbage wafting from people’s homes.  Staten Island did and still does have a huge celebration in honor of the patron saint of Ireland along Forest Avenue, chockablock with Bars and restaurants, many owned by people of Irish decent.  Tradition was (is) to follow the parade route keeping in step with the bagpipers and going from one bar to another.

At home Mom decorated in the typical bright green colors associated with St. Patty’s Day.  Tablecloths, crepe paper streamers, napkins, plates..everything screamed it’s St. Patty’s Day.  The center of the table would have a vase filled with carnations dyed green.

It was a real festive day and after I started going out with my girlfriend, Debi Cooney

(yes, she’s Irish) my mom would always invite her widowed dad, John Myles Cooney over for her corned beef and cabbage, boiled parsley potatoes, homemade Irish Soda Bread, slices of rye bread, brown mustard, beer, whiskey, shamrock cupcakes, Irish coffee and Irish crème.  Mom always invited him (he became my father-in-law) over for this special day, he got a huge kick out of it he would tell me…”she’s more Irish than what my own family does”, and laugh.  We looked forward to the St.Patty’s Day greeting card Mom and Dad would send us every year after we got married.  I wish more people would follow my Mom’s example and learn and share in other ethnic groups holidays.  Since our children were born in China I am very open to celebrating and learning about all the world’s celebrations and the traditions and foods that are part of them.  Isn’t that more fun than just waiting for your “own” holidays every year?  I think so…stpats 008(One of the many St.Patrick’s Day greeting cards my Mom sent to my wife and I every year.)

Well here’s my gripe with lots of ways Corned Beef and Cabbage is prepared.  It’s one of the fattiest and toughest cuts of beef, the brisket.  Whether you are a bubbe in a Yiddish family, or a Romanian, or an Irish American, if the brisket it not cooked long and slow you will have a tough, fatty and greasy piece of meat.  To often I’ve had corned beef out, especially at some bar restaurants (think Blarney Stone, Pig & Whistle) where it’s just not braised long enough.  You have a mouthful of salty chewy grizzle and meat that doesn’t break up no matter how long you chew it.  What’s the problem and what’s the secret?  It’s all the cook’s fault.  Boiling Brisket should be a capital offense.  It’s the quickest way to toughen up those meat fibers and they only will again relax after a long long simmer in water that is not allowed to boil.  Long cooking gets all the heat and moisture deep into the brisket and begins that process where every piece of connective tissue is broken down into melt in your mouth goodness.  This principal is paramount in making Pot Roasts too.  And like a good soup or stock your braising liquid should be well seasoned full of bright and spicy flavors, sweet, sour.  The other death to your St. Patrick’s Day corned beef is when it’s improperly served, meaning, you didn’t take the time to trim it of all the fat that NOBODY will or wants to eat.  Surest way to keep you from eating corned beef ever again is to put a big floppy piece of corned beef fat in your mouth when you’re not expecting it.   This will put you off from eating this traditional meal FOREVER.  St. Patrick does not want to see that.  He wants you to enjoy this meal that honors his memory. stpats 018How could I write a St.Patrick’s Day blog without one of the most IRISH pictures I took when Deb and I visited the country of Ireland in August of 1982.  This was taken outside of the Derragarra Inn in County Cavan on the way from Northern Ireland to Dublin.

Lastly, for those who are sticklers for authenticity (I count myself in this OCD like group) Corned Beef is not even remotely Irish as in from Ireland.  It’s an Eastern European meat processed  like pastrami, from those parts of Europe that what miserable winters and needed ways to preserve the meat from the fall.  NYC being the initial entry point for most of those waves of immigrants invariably would have various ethnic groups living side by side with each other.  The Eastern Europeans pastrami and corned beefs were commonplace in those early immigrant years.  The Irish that came in those early days were pretty much dirt poor and the meat that they simmered with cabbage was a big piece of bacon, not an American bacon, but Irish bacon, more like a cured pork loin.stpats 002

Corned beef, braised with cabbage and potatoes has since become almost as American as apple Pie (although the origins of that may be in merry olde England or France) and certainly a cornerstone of Irish-American cuisine.

 

CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE THIS ITALIAN-AMERICAN’S WAY

 

Corned Beef, about a 4 -5 lb. piece, (flat cut is the nicest for an even cut)..this will feed about 4-5 people…this is one piece of meat that really shrinks as it cooks…and MUST be cut thin to really enjoy it..i hate big fatty chunks of it…Place the corned beef in a large pot and cover it with water plus 1 cup of beer, 1/4 cup of Bushmills, Tullamore Dew, or Jamesons’, must be real Irish whiskey.  Add 1/2 cup of honey, 2 bay leaves, 2 chopped onions, 6 of the large outer cabbage leaves, torn, peppercorns, 4 whole cloves, 3 smashed cloves of garlic, 1 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. salt, 3 tbs. brown sugar, 3 tbs. mustard. 3 chopped celery stalks, 3 chopped carrots.  Add 1 head of cabbage, cored and quartered to the pot.,handful of fresh dill. Blend, bring to a boil, then simmer for 60 minutes per lb, covered.stpats 004

Now you have plenty of time to cook the rest of the meal.  Cube 6 medium sized redskin potatoes. Boil them in plenty of salted water to which you have added 1/2 onion, and 3 smashed garlic cloves.  Cook till done, this takes about 15 minutes

or when a fork or knife will easily slide through a cube.  Gently drain them.  Add 1/4 stick unsalted butter (or get somestpats 024Kerrygold Irish butter if your store sells it…)to the pot.  Dice together 1/2 a red onion and 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley together.

Add them to the butter, it will be melting from the heat of the pot, now add the potatoes, some salt and lots of freshly cracked black pepper.  Keep stirring this and the potatoes begin to “smash”, you will be left with a pot of smashed well seasoned potatoes…don’t over work them, the’ll just turn into mashed potatoes with skins.  Cover and just reheat gently when ready to serve.

The corned beef  needs to sit in its braising liquid for a good 5 hours (even better if you do it the day before and reheat it, then slice it) before you slice it.  If you can push your finger through the meat, it’s done.  Firm Corned beef has no place on your plate.  This is brisket, the same rules apply.stpats 020

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Serve the cabbage quarters on the side, add a little butter if you like, but they are seasoned and savory enough from all that stewing in the meat braising liquid. Cabbage is a tough hardy vegetable..it will stay together for this long cooking.  You want fork tender cabbage, this isn’t Cole Slaw.

And here is Cook O’A Food Obsession with his St.Patrick’s Day Spread…stpats 029

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!   Gaelic for…St. Patrick’s Day Blessing On You!!

TOASTED RAVIOLI FROM ST.LOUIS

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American cuisine is a mashup of practically every food culture on Earth.  There’s nowhere else that can boast so many layers of immigrant cuisines that make up the very complex notion of the United States of America.  Take one immigrant group..the Italians.  They came in droves to the USA in search of better lives and many times fleeing abject poverty and oppression.  Wherever the Italian settled in the USA there was lots of employment and it  certainly did not stop in NYC or the other usual suspects.  Italian immigrants settled all over the US and one midwest city, St. Louis, Missouri was certainly no exception.  Italians from the far North, from Milan and Lombardia  were the majority but there were sizable immigrations from Sicily and other parts of the south.  The Milanese settled in the area still called the Hill and the southern Italians settled along the river.  Eventually the river area was fully claimed for warehouse and businesses and the old Italian enclave there was destroyed and scattered the rest of St.Louis’ downtown Italians around the area.  Notable St.Louis Italians are Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola, American Baseball greats.  Many of the displaced Italians moved up to the Hill which is still a great place to walk around and sample some of St.Louis’ particular brand of Italian-American food.  Like the TOASTED RAVIOLI.  It’s just a fried ravioli served with sauce.  I’m sure you’ve seen them in places other than St. Louis, but here they are called TOASTED rather than Fried (which is what you’ll see elsewhere). They are generally a locally or house made meat, parmigiano, spinach and other vegetable filled small square.  One of the finest versions, and the one used in many of St.Louis’ eateries is made by the Mama Toscano Company.  They contain an old family recipe of Beef, pork, spinach, carrots, onions, celery, Parmigiano and eggs and they are fantastic.  For those outside of St.Louis you can order on line.

http://mamatoscano.com/store/

Back to the Toasted Ravioli story…During an evening in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s the new cook at Oldani’s, now called Mama’s on the Hill mistakenly dropped some ravioli into hot oil. The owner tried to salvage them with some Parmigiano on top…and so the story goes, and so the legend goes.  I love to have my Toasted Ravioli (they are on EVERY MENU in St.Louis, Italian and non-Italian restaurants) at Charlie Gitto’s “Pasta House” downtown.  It’s the epitome of an old school Italian American restaurant.  It’s a movie set.  It’s just perfect.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Now doesn’t that say old school?  Family owned, local workers and a mix of traditional Italian American food with the St.Louis twist.  Meat Ravioli with that greens and beef filling are more “Northern”.  To “Milanese” a dish is to flour, bread and fry it.  So you see those characteristics here in the “toasted” ravioli.  The addition of the Marinara to dip in is most likely a Southern Italian influence.  Together they make a fantastic appetizer, a party food, a first course or an entree.  More importantly the dish is a living legacy of an immigrant story coming to the United States.  Let go to St.Louis now and make some TOASTED RAVIOLI.

SERVES: 4-6                                TIME: 45 minutes-1 hour

3/4 to 1 pound small  square  FROZEN MEAT Ravioli
3 large  organic eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups milk or half n half
2 cups  plain breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh  Italian parsley
1/2 tsp. oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Mix the cheese with the breadcrumbs, oregano and parsley, and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

1/2 cup sifted flour
Marinara sauce, for dipping. about 3 cups

Lay out in pans or trays one with flour and one with the breadcrumbs. Dust the ravioli with the flour, then into the egg letting excess run off, then fully coat in the breadcrumbs completely covering them.  Lay them out on a baking tray.  When completely done place them into the fridge to stay cold.  Heat a heavy pan with high sides, a cast iron pan works great for this, with about 2 inches of oil.  Bring to 400 degrees if you have a thermometer or test with a cube of bread.  It will “dance”  (i love that..lol) and start to toast immediately if the oil is at the right temperature.  Make sure you have pans with paper towels or racks over them and take the ravioli out of the fridge.  Now start frying.  This should take about 1 1/2 minutes total..and they need to be turned after the first minute to make sure they don’t burn.  Only add about 5 at a time or you will reduce the oil temperature too much and then they don’t cook evenly. Serve with extra chopped parsley and Parmigiano over them along with a small cup of warm Marinara.

 

There…done.  Just like Charlie Gitto’s, Mama’s, Kemoll’s, and all the other classic and new restaurants in St.Louis do.  Enjoy this recipe.  SIZE IS EVERYTHING.  Stick with the meat…stick with the regular square size, not the big round ones or the tiny soup ones.

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Buon Appetito!!

 

 

 

OLD FASHIONED APPLESAUCE CAKE

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It’s almost sinful to call something OLD FASHIONED today but I’ll gladly use that term to describe this sinfully delicious APPLESAUCE CAKE I made.  What makes it so good?  Attention to sticking to a tried and true formula that will spark all your memories of applesauce cakes of your youth.  If you don’t have that shared history it’s time to make Applesauce cake memories of your own.   As always I reach into that memory box of mine and pull down from it’s shelf the aroma of my mother’s Applesauce cake.  This isn’t technically hers because I never knew how she made it.  Mom had lots of apple cake recipes.  Crisps, PanDowdies, Cobblers, Pies, Loaves, Cakes.  Some were a blend of All purpose flour and other pantry staples,  some were part of that BISQUICK family of cakes, others were simply using a commercial Spice Cake mix and adding apples.  Her Applesauce cake, unlike mine, was made in those Round Tube Pans.  Peppery, spicy, warm and aromatic, she sometimes added diced apples to applesauce batter and would glaze it.  There’s an idea,  a glazed one but I’d add diced crystallized ginger to the top.  Back to the style that I make..it’s baked in a rectangular pan and cut into squares.  It can be frosted, left plain, glazed, or a simple dusting of powdered sugar.   Out here in Monmouth County New Jersey where I live we have a few really nice “farm” and gourmet markets with in house bakeries.  One of them,  Delicious Orchards of Colts Neck N.J. makes a delicious apple spice cake with a white icing on it that is just about one of my favorites.  If you want to make homemade applesauce for this cake recipe I am giving you, this is the Delicious Orchards recipe:

Delicious Orchards Applesauce

 

Or you can simply use your own or a good brand.    My cake uses the spicy mix of my mom’s with the white icing of Delicious Orchards, but I do a basic Cream Cheese Icing.  It’s awesome.  I must tell you, I screwed up when making this.  The crushed walnuts and the raisins get folded in after you have finished the batter.  Well…even with the bag and box of the two ingredients RIGHT NEXT TO THE MIXER, I was so excited to get this cake made…um…they are still not in the cake.  Still delicious.  I wound up just sprinkling some of the crushed walnuts over the frosted cake.  It’s a win-win regardless of including the fruit and nuts or not.  Successful recipe anyway.  I base my recipe off of the Land O’Lakes Applesauce cake recipe with a few changes.  Ready to bake?  Let’s go…preheat that oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 13 X 9 ” pan well, then lightly flour it.

Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar, I used Vanilla Sugar  (see note on bottom)
1 1/2 cups applesauce
1/2 cup Butter, softened
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons Vanilla Paste or Extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup  raisins dusted with some flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
ICING
1 stick butter (1/4 lb)
8 oz REAL Cream Cheese Not a spread, the bar type
3 cups Confectioner’s Sugar
2 tbs. Vanilla Paste (or 1 1/2 tsp. extract)  PLEASE USE THE REAL STUFF, NOT IMITATION
1/8 Tsp. salt
Add all the ingredients into the Mixer bowl for the cake EXCEPT the raisins and nuts.  Mix on low till all is well blended scraping down on the sides.  Then beat on High Speed stopping to again scrape down the sides until the batter is smooth.  Now fold in the nuts and the raisins.  The flour you shook the raisins up with helps to suspend the raisins in the batter and keep them from sinking to the bottom.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. The sides should have pulled away a bit from the pan and the center will be springy when done.  Let this cool COMPLETELY on a rack for 3 hours.  I hurried the process by sticking it out the window and right into the 30 inches of snow that came up to the sills of the kitchen windows.  Chilled that cake RIGHT down.  LOL…but one doesn’t always have a quick chill handy like that, so wait the 3 hours.  applesauce cake 005  Can you smell that?? It’s spice heaven.  NOW, onto the icing.  While your cake is cooling or while you were baking it, add the butter and creamcheese to the mixing bowl and slowly cream the two.  When they are blended start to slowly increase the beating to medium and slowly add in the sugar and the salt.  Add the vanilla and beat on high until it’s completely blended and it of nice firm consistency.  Place in a cool spot, covered until your cake is ready to frost.
Simply frost the top till it’s all covered.  Crumble toasted walnuts over the top if you like.
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applesauce cake 003  I used the paste and you can see the Vanilla Beans in the frosting.  Delicious. CHILL THE CAKE FOR 1 hour before serving.  Then slice into squares and serve.  It’s amazing.
So, here’s the note about Vanilla Sugar..I was in Central Europe this Summer and of course was picking up ideas and recipes.  Almost all of their sweet baked items use Vanilla Sugar which is simply made by slipping a whole Vanilla bean into a canister of regular sugar.  Let it sit for 5 days before you use it.  Keeps for a long time and the vanilla essence is really great.
Now time for a glass of milk or a nice Black Coffee (only black for me thank you) and a square of my Applesauce Cake.  Happy Cooking!!
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SWEET N SOUR RETRO MEATBALLS…MEMORIES FROM MOM

newyears16 001  The hardest blogpost to compose is the first one of the year.  So many are  profound, dripping with sweet sentiments, hopes for the year ahead…so, after a day of getting stressed for absolutely nothing the idea came to me.  It’s New Year’s but blog a recipe that is “non-holiday specific” but works well for New Year’s Eve.  How do I know that?  I know that because my Mom used to make this, a close version to the one I make every New Year’s that we were home.  She also made it for all of her and Dad’s cocktail parties  before their VFW dinner-dances and affairs back in the 60’s and 70’s.  This whole recipe is RIGHT out of a MadMen script.  I’ve A FOOD OBSESSIONED it up a bit, leaving some of Mom’s RETRO ingredients right where they should be.  They cannot be changed.  They are the underlying taste of this recipe.  I’ve made this with fresh pineapple and mandarins. Omitted the Maraschino Cherries. What made the dish so….MOM…and wonderful was gone.  So I went back to the original canned Pineapples, in their own juice…Maraschino Cherries with that almondy cherry taste…and the unique taste of the canned mandarin.  I did change the size of the red peppers in the sauce…Mom’s were a chop..too much pepper.  I fine dice so they basically add flavor without getting in the way.  I am thinking like the amateur food historian I think I am (I said I THINK I AM, lol) and i’m going to say the genesis of this type of meatball recipe comes from that late 50’s early 60’s fascination with the American notion of POLYNESIAN culture..  Trader Vic’s, Hawaii Kai…these were trend setting restaurants from San Francisco to New York City.  “Exotic” ingredients like soy sauce, sesame oil, curries were being mixed into typical American bar foods, like meatballs and chicken on sticks, Beef on sticks.  Truth be told nothing in the Polynesian food culture ever was this sweet or sour at the same time.  Add a Pineapple to your cooking, you were soooo Polynesian.  Stick some palm trees and the hanging monkeys on your drinks with some umbrellas, that was 60’s retro “Oriental-Polynesian” food and drink to us on the mainland unless you were of Polynesian or other Asian extraction.  Then you knew better but fed Americans these sweet and sour concoctions at the eateries, but maintained your real food culture at home.  Today we live in a much better time to be eating…we know the difference and we appreciate both versions when done right.  Sweet and Sour meatballs to many mean Ketchup and Grape Jelly in the crockpot with a simple seasoned meatball.  Let me take you to BALI HAI…to BORA BORA…to RARITONGA….thru the eyes of the 60’s…vv6 Some memorabilia from those days..from the Trader Vic website.  The American-Polynesian cuisine was full of fruity syrups and tastes.  Trader Vic sold a sweet and sour style meatball in their restaurants.  I was fortunate to have been to a few before they changed or closed.  Mai Tai anyone??   Let’s travel from a Trader Vic or Hawaii Kai into my kitchen with my Mom watching us recreate one of her “specialities”!  Trader Vic’s may have called them PUPU meatballs…PUPU signifying an appetizer.  You can make these as a PUPU or as a main dish. over fluffy steamed Jasmine rice with a bit of chopped cilantro in the rice.

 

MAKES: 36 or so MEATBALLS                    time: 1 1/2 hours

 

MEATBALLS:
    • 1 1/2 lbs  ground beef and  ground pork blended together
    • 2 large eggs, beaten
    • ½ cup PANKO breadcrumbs
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 tsp. Sri Lankan or Madras Curry
    • 1 tsp Sesame Oil
    • 3 diced strips of  bacon and 1 medium onion, diced, sauteed till the bacon is cooked and the onion is soft
    • 1 ½ teaspoon Soy Sauce
    • 1 finely minced garlic clove
    • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
    • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
    • 1/2 tsp. sambal olek or ground chile garlic paste
    • 1/2 can drained crushed pineapple
    • flour for dusting
Sauce:
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 (14 0z) cans of crushed pineapple (less 1/2 cup of the drained for the meatballs above)
  • 1 can Mandarin Oranges
  • 2 tsp. finely minced red peppers
  • 1/8 cup Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/8 cup ketchup
  • 1 (14 oz) can pineapple tidbits
  • 1/8 small bottle of maraschino cherry juice plus 10 cherries
  • pinch of cloves, nutmeg, ginger

First let’s dice that bacon and onion.  In a large skillet cook them down until the onions are soft and the bacon is cooked and add the sesame oil. Now add the breadcrumbs and let them soak those bacon drippings and get a little toasty. Add the garlic. remove from heat. Let this cool.  Now add the dry spices and blend well.  In a large bowl add the eggs. Then the breadcrumb mixture and the pineapple.  Mix.  Then add the meat and work until it’s a homogeneous mixture.  Form into about 36 walnut sized balls, you may get more. Then roll in flour.  Fry them in a lightly oiled non stick pan till browned on all sides.12459533_10205459127099976_1330698243_n  Cook the meatballs in batches as you need room between them all so they don’t STEAM. STEAMING is not an optimum cooking method for meatballs.  Keep the meatballs on a platter, lightly covered with foil while you are cooking the balance of them.  Done?  Good.  Time to make the aromatic sauce.  In a saucepan, gently heat all the ingredients except the cornstarch.  Bring this to a boil, REDUCE to a simmer.  In a bowl whisk together about 1 ladle of the simmering sauce and while whisking slowly add the cornstarch until it’s smooth.. Then while stirring the sauce with a whisk slowly pour in the cornstarch and lightly whisk till blended.  Bring to a slow boil and then stir and lower to a simmer.  Keep stirring until the sauce is thickened.  Now Add the meatballs to the sauce, or place them in a baking dish and pour the sauce over them.  Let this cool down and then tightly wrap and refrigerate when totally cooled down overnight.  You can reheat them in the oven, at 350 Degrees F covered for 25 minutes.  Or into a crockpot to keep warm.   Or on the stove pot, just stir them gently.  Your finished product will look like this: 001 How good does that look?? Like 1965?? I think this will change your mind from the frozen bags of meatballs heated thru in a ketchup and grape jelly sauce.  I’m not knocking that..but I think this recipe will make you happy.

 

 

SHRIMP AND CLAM CHOWDER…SEAFOOD HEAVEN

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A big bowl of warm chowder…works on a dock overlooking the sea in the Summer and it works next to a roaring fireplace in the Winter.  It’s an all seasons food so enjoy this one all through the year.  New England Clam Chowder is just about one of the best things…EVER but this is a little different..it’s a creamy soup with potatoes, vegetables, fresh dill, Hungarian Paprika, Onions, Sherry, Butter, and SHRIMP AND CLAMS.  It’s an elegant dish.  Make it for a fancy dinner or it’s wonderfully casual to..jeans and T-shirt time infront of the TV.  A little bit about some of the ingredients.  If you’re not using dill in some of your cooking, let this start you off.  It’s not just for flavoring pickles.  The Paprika should be SWEET HUNGARIAN.  SZGED is a good brand to look for, most Supermarkets do sell it so I’m not promoting a ridiculously tough ingredient to find.  Why Hungarian?  It’s way more aromatic than the cheaper PAPRIKA that just says PAPRIKA on the label.  There’s also a hot Hungarian paprika, don’t use that one in this.  For the Shrimp, if you can, use Wild Caught U.S.Shrimp and the clams, fresh that are shucked and chopped, liquor reserved.  When these items are not available, find the freshest shrimp you can and use a good prechopped fresh clam or a good canned variety.  Doxsee is generally a safe canned variety.  So, into the kitchen we go to whip up a pot of SHRIMP AND CLAM CHOWDER….you are going to love this.

BTW, don’t think that this is an all day affair….you’re going to be shocked…in an hour you will be enjoying this.

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SERVES: 4                TIME: 1 HOUR, about
3 tablespoons Unsalted butter
1 medium onion, fine dice

1 peeled and diced carrot

2 medium stalks of celery, fine dice
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Sherry (Harvey’s Bristol Cream is really nice in this!)
2 1/2 cups homemade chicken broth or an organic/fat free low sodium boxed broth
2 tbs. tomato paste

1 1/2 tbs. SWEET HUNGARIAN PAPRIKA

Kosher Salt and black pepper to taste

1/2 tbs Tabasco Sauce or 1/8 tsp. ground cayenne or chiles
2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, coarsely chopped
18  clams,steams,  shells discarded, clams chopped, liquor reserved or 1 cup chopped clams
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, organic is richest
2 tbs freshly chopped dill

In heavy sauce pan heat the butter.  Add the onions, carrots and celery, pinch of salt and pepper.  Cook this on medium till the vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes, careful not to let them brown. Simply lower the heat if you see any of that happening.clamshrimpchowder 001 Add the 1/2 the dill. Heat for 2 minutes.  Now sprinkle the flour over the softened vegetables.  Add the paprika.  Whisk gently and let this cook until a roux is formed around the vegetables.  Cook an additional 1 minute or so..then add the sherry.  Whisk till blended and bring to a boil.  The whole thing will begin to thicken up. Whisk in the tomato paste.  Then whisk in the tabasco and the chicken stock.  Make sure it’s ALL well blended.  NOW bring this to a boil for 2 minutes..then reduce to a simmer.Let this cook for 10 minutes.  Keep Stirring. Now add the potatoes and cook until they are fork tender, takes at least 10 minutes. Only when you’ve tested the potato and it’s done. then you will whisk in the cream and the paprika.  Add the shrimp and clams with their liquor and simmer this for 6 minutes.  Taste for seasonings.  Adjust.  clamshrimpchowder 003 When the soup is of “chowder” consistency you can shut it off.  Stir in the remaining dill.  Now let it sit for at least 1/2 hour..TIP..make the soup..put it to the back of the stove..serve it an hour after you are done.  Let those flavor marry each other, but certainly, you can eat it before you wait another hour…I like letting it “meld” first.  Another option is to serve each bowl with a small spoonful of sour cream in the middle…ahh very rich, but very delicious.

Serve this with nice soft dinner rolls or biscuits..with sweet butter.

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