Archive for November, 2007

Platanitos Cronch

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

This is a Frito Lay snack food sold in Colombia. Some friends who visited the country were kind enough to bring the bag back for me as an example of the snacks available there.

It is a very straight-forward snack; the ingredients are plantains, vegetable oil, and salt—basically the plantain version of a potato chip, but much less greasy than Lay’s potato chips tend to be. I really enjoyed the flavor, and if I ever see its equivalent sold in the states, I’ll be certain to pick up a bag.

2 Ways Not To Need Paper/ Aluminum Muffin Cups

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

For several months now, Aurora and I have made all of our cupcakes and muffins with the same cupcake cups, washed and used repeatedly. No, we haven’t figured out a way to re-use the aluminum ones—we’ve been using individual silicone cups. When we celebrated an early Christmas over Thanksgiving with my parents, we received a second option to reuse: a silicone muffin tray.

Both options are rated to 500F, make a dozen standard-sized muffins or cupcakes, and are cleaned using soap and water. The ridges in the muffin cups make them slightly more difficult to clean than the smooth-sided muffin tray, but on the other hand the muffin cups store in a smaller space. Either is a terrific way to work on eliminating “disposable” from your kitchen vocabulary.

The food in progress in the photo above is my pumpkin/cranberry cupcake, shown below iced and decorated with cranberries in homemade cranberry sauce.

Top Photo: Johanna Sharrard

Can You Tell Me What Kind of Squash This Is?

Monday, November 19th, 2007

Jesse—Can you please try to help me identify a squash I recently got? It never occured to me to take a picture of it before I cooked it, and now it’s just a frozen flat light orange hunk labled “George P’s mystery squash,” but it is wonderful: very sweet and smooth textured after a run through the biggest holed disk in my food mill. It was smaller than a butternut, oval shaped, kinda yellow in color and with green stripes. I’ve seen similar looking stuff in the grocery store but the sign says that is a varient of spaghetti squash, which I know I don’t have.

I know exactly what kind of squash you had, it was a delicata!  I’m 99% sure, anyway.  You can verify by going to the article I wrote about squash for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and seeing if it looked like the squash at the bottom of the top photo.

Apple Varieties I’ve Had This Year

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

We’re getting to the end of local apple season.  Most orchards still have some available, so stock up now to help get you through the winter.  If you find yourself inundated with apples, a pot of applesauce is a great way to use up many at one blow.  This year has been a good one for me in terms of scouting out varieties of apples.  It started out poorly–I didn’t get to the orchard in July or August and as a result missed both the Lodii (the best applesauce apple I’ve yet found) and Rambo (the second best; early apples tend to make great sauce).  I’ve made up for lost time, though, thanks to my new job as a demonstration chef that has allowed me to travel the Pennsylvania countryside.  I’m documenting the apples I’ve used this year to perhaps inspire you to get out to an orchard and try a variety you’ve never had before, and also to inspire me next year to try an even wider selection.

  • Lodii–Two grew on my Lodii tree.  I used them, but only for a tart; not for sauce. 
  • Macintosh–par for the course, widely available, but still a good apple
  • 20-ounce Pippin–large, green, somewhat tart though also soft in texture.  Not a good eating apple but great for cooking, especially pies
  • Cortland–very white flesh, somewhat soft in texture, but makes great pies.  matches well with Pippins
  • Northern Spy–I wish I’d gotten a bag of these, too; but the place where I got the cortland and Pippins only took cash and I had to choose two of the three to buy.  I sampled it but have noi recommendations on its use.  I list it mainly because it’s on my priority list for a larger quantity next year.
  • Red Delicious–among my least favorite apples.  Mushy and mediovcre, but it comes in my CSA box.  Honestly, I wish the farm had a wider variety of tough to find apples rather than locally grown versions of supermarket favorites like this one and
  • Golden Delicious–OK to eat but better for cooking with
  • Golden Supreme–Better for eatingthan golden delicious by far.  Similar in appearance, though the Supreme tends to have a bit of a pink blush to it when it gets fully ripe
  • Unknown–By far my favorite CSA apple was a pinkish apple.  The farmer doesn’t know its variety because the trees were labeled as Golden Supreme when he received them.  Crisp and sweet, I wish I knew what it was called.   
  • Stayman Winesap–purchased from a roadside stand featuring an honor box, this batch was a little bit wormy, but the variety is very tasty and cooks well.  If you do wind up with wormy apples, don’t discard the whole apples.  It’s easy to cut around the worms/ worm damage to use the portion of the apple that is unharmed.  Really, the presence of the worms indicated to me that these were likely the only apples (including organic) that I ate that weren’t dosed with large amounts of pesticide.  And, yes, organic produce is treated with pesticides, just not synthetically created chemicals.  Naturally ocurring doesn’t necessarily mean healthful, though–for instance, one of organic apples’ most common pesticides is copper sulfate, which is rather noxious and definitely poisonous (that’s why it kills insects).

The apple I seek and have sought for years is the Gravenstein, the juice of which is available from whole foods, though I’ve never found the apples themselves.  If you have apple tales of your own or know about where to get Gravenstein Apples, let me know!

More About Squash

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

It has come to my attention that the recipe for the pumpkin-cranberry cupcakes that I posted yesterday may seem at first blush to be complicated; mainly because of the prepared winter squash–a step that turns the recipe into something one might feel they couldn’t prepare without making special arrangements beforehand. “Why am I going to go through the trouble to roast and mash pumpkins?” is, perhaps, a somewhat common reaction. Or, “What, like I’m just going to have that on hand?”

Neither question is, to my sensibilities, reasonable. The answer to the former is, “for the same reason you ought to go to the trouble to make your own applesauce, because the stuff that comes out of a can sucks!” (a line perhaps best delivered while wearing a curly, red-haired wig); and to the latter, “Well, why not? It’s easy to do in bulk, it freezes well, and once you have it there’s so much you can do with it: muffins or cupcakes, pies, ice cream, custard, cookies, soup, souffles, fritters….” Squash is extremely versatile, tastes good, and is high in both potassium and vitamin A. If you don’t like peeling it first, you don’t necessarily have to. And here’s another way to cook it down.

If you spend one day cutting and cooking down a large amount of squash, you can reward yourself with pumpkin-based treats the whole year: there’s no better reason than that.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Cupcakes with Apple Cider Buttercream

Friday, November 9th, 2007

I’ve made a couple of batches of these lately and everyone I’ve served them to has agreed that they’re very good, though the folks with whom I work insisted upon calling them muffins instead of cupcakes. Truth be told, I’m not sure where the muffin-cupcake line is drawn, but in my mind once it’s got frosting on it, it’s a cupcake. Unfrosted, though, these could easily serve as breakfast muffins—but if I were cooking them for that purpose, I might ease back a bit on the sugar: using only 1 cup instead of a cup and a half of maple syrup.

If the maple syrup is a bank-breaker for you (as it would be if you’re trying to buy maple syrup in the grocery store), you’ve got two options: either buy your maple syrup in bulk (1/2 gallon or more) from a wholesaler or a producer, thereby getting a better price; or substitute brown sugar for the maple syrup. Under no circumstances should you substitute imitation maple syrup, which, quite frankly, is crap: maple flavored corn syrup, ick!

The cranberries are probably my favorite feature of this recipe. They steam in the batter and come out plump and sweet. A little shopping tip for you: stock up on cranberries now and freeze them right in their package, then enjoy fresh cranberries the whole year.

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Which Utensil Should Be Used?

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

I am having a cocktail party and will be featuring a whipped potato bar. I know that it is considered proper etiquette to eat mashed potatoes with a fork, but in this case (serving the potatoes in a martini glass) would you go with a dinner fork, salad fork, or teaspoon?

In this case, the martini glass serves as a de facto bowl, thus I say you should use a spoon. Whether Emily Post would agree with me, I’m not sure. My basic thought on the subject is: if you’re eating it out of a bowl, you probably want a spoon; whereas if you’re eating it from a plate, you probably want a fork. While there are exceptions to the rule, it answers the conundrum correctly 19 times out of 20.

Gingerbread Waffles with Sweet Fall Fruits

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

The more I cook, the more I realize that the best results follow from understanding the concepts, methods, and ingredients, and applying that knowledge; as opposed to using exact recipes every time.

True, when it comes to baking, much has to be measured precisely.  But even then, it’s the ratios of basic ingredients that must remain constant, with wide variations possible based on additions or changes to flavoring ingredients.  Such was the case with the gingerbread waffles I made today.  I took a basic waffle recipe and added a good bit of cinnamon to it—perhaps a couple of teaspoons; about 1/8 as much each cardamom, ginger, and allspice; plus a shaving of nutmeg and a good shake of maple sugar–probably a couple teaspoons of that, too.

While I was cooking my waffles and putting them in a 200F oven to keep warm, I heated up some of the sweet butternut squash, apples, and cranberries I had made last night.  To make it, I sauteed half of a butternut squash (diced) in about 1/3 cup of butter.  When the squash was starting to soften, I added three peeled and diced apples, a good cup of cranberries, and about a half cup of brown sugar.  I let the mixture simmer until the cranberries were soft and starting to pop.

We had it as a slightly sweet side dish with our dinner, and saved the leftovers.  Upon reheating, the mixture seemed to be a bit too dry to serve as waffle topping, so I added maple syrup until it had a good flow to it, and spooned it over waffles for service.

Combine a tasty autumnal breakfast with an extra hour of sleep and a game of backgammon over breakfast, and you’ve got the start to a happy day.