Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Touch of Maine for Christmas

When I was 19, I planned my first trip and I chose Portland, Maine. Being from Texas it was definitely the closest I was going to get to "the end of the world." Besides that, I wanted to experience the difference in the cultures. Obviously being that far North there were bound to be plenty of differences. While I was there I fell in love with the lifestyle, scenery, the sounds of the water, the stone streets and of course their food. Which brings us to this post on my blog. I recently became aware of a candy that originated in Maine, due to the high production of potatoes. This candy is called "Needhams" and is deemed by some as the "Unofficial Candy of the State of Maine.  The basic ingredients to this candy includes but is not limited to mashed potatoes, confectioner's sugar, vanilla extract, butter, and coconut. I made them today and am proud to say they turned out fabulous! Definitely makes the list for Christmas traditions.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Broccoli with a little Cheesiness on a Healthier Level

Ok, so many people love cheese with broccoli. I never fully cared for it myself. I guess because I knew I loved cheese but I hated broccoli and so I had a very serious love/hate thing going on for mixing two together. I disliked the combination so much, that when my mother made her Broccoli Chowder Soup I would take a strainer and place it over my bowl to catch all of the broccoli. 
As I have gotten older my taste buds have "matured" so to speak. Now that I can handle the combination of the two. I have come to notice that almost always the cheese used with broccoli (or any vegetable for that matter) is Velveeta, Cheese Whiz or american cheese. Always a processed product that actually has no real cheese in it. Just because it is yellow does not mean it is cheese. That said, I have been wanting to incorporate more vegetables in my meals for me and my husband. I grew up eating them, and I like most of them. 
I had a large package of fresh broccoli in the refrigerator that was starting (underlined so you understand that it was quite there yet) to lose its vibrant green color and take on a slightly pail limeier green color (obviously not have too much longer of a lifespan). I didn't want just steamed broccoli, it's just too boring. So, I did some quick research for a healthy cheese sauce. I found something rather quickly, once I sifted past the first  ten or so links that contained the processed recipes. So here it is. 
I paired it with Chicken Pot Pie and Mashed Potatoes
Steamed Broccoli with Cheddar Cheese Sauce
4 cups of broccoli florets
1 T butter
1 T flour
salt and pepper, to taste
1/8 to 1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese (or other cheeses would be amazing too, basically whatever you have that is not processed)
Steam broccoli in about an inch of water for 4-5 minutes. Just until crisp/tender. Pour out the water immediately. 
In medium pan, melt butter. Whisk in flour and seasonings. Gradually add milk and stir till thickened. Add cheese, stir till melted. Immediately pour over the broccoli.
You can serve in the pot together, or you can leave the broccoli plain and let people pour however much cheese they want over the broccoli.


Last Minute Groom's Cake

So, this past weekend I had a last minute cake request for a groom. They wanted Red Velvet Cake and Whipped Cream Icing. They didn't care how big it was or how I decorated it. So, obviously I had a lot of lead-way with this cake. Always a plus! I have noticed too much variation in Red Velvet Cakes, as far as the decorating part goes. Almost always, it's plain white icing, nuts pressed into it or cake crumbs. I decided to be a little different and pour chocolate ganache over the top. This would add a little "zing" to the cake and take away from the plainness of whipped cream icing. I wasn't sure how long the cake would be sitting out, so I was worried about doing just whipping cream and powdered sugar (like I always do). So, I researched the Stabilized Whipped Cream Icing and found a recipe I liked. It definitely helped with "weeping" problem that can happen after sitting out to long. It was way fluffier than normal.
Stabilized Whipped Cream
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 T cold water
1/3 cup powdered sugar
In large bowl, combine cream and vanilla. In small saucepan, evenly sprinkle gelatin over cold water; let stand 1 minute to soften. Cook over medium-low heat until gelatin completely dissolves, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes (do not boil). Remove from heat.
With mixer at medium-high speed, immediately  begin beating cream mixture. Beat about 1 minute, until thickened  and soft peaks just begin to form. Beat in powdered sugar, then beat in dissolved gelatin in a thin steady stream. Beat until stiff peaks form but mixture is still soft and smooth; do not over beat.
Yield: Almost 4 cups
 

Note: In whipped cream frosting there are far less calories then in a buttercream or cooked frosting. There are only 30 calories per serving in this recipe as opposed to the 75-100 calories per serving for other recipes.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ragu .... Yes, It is real. No, it is not the gross stuff that comes in a jar.

Here is food for thought.....literally. Ragu is typically known as a meat sauce served over noodles. Oh! Wait! I take that back. Ragu is typically known as that stuff that comes in a jar and that almost every American household has in their buggy of groceries when they go shopping. Real Ragu is a meat sauce served over noodles. You can make this sauce using most any combination of meat. You can use solid beef, turkey, Italian sausage or even by mixing several of these together.  Historically even horse meat has been used (not that we are going to try that in our sophisticated kitchens.) Anyways, back to the subject at hand, Ragu. You can make just a regular sauce and add lots of meat to it or you can cook the meat first with a mix of different seasonings and diced vegetables before adding the tomato sauce. Either way, it sounds yummy and certainly clears up with misunderstanding of what "Real Ragu" is. I still haven't gotten past the jarred, ready-to-go sauce. So many choices right there on the shelf in hands reach, Old World Style, Chunky, with Meatballs, Robust 7-Herb or just the regular. In any case, you won't be finding that in my pantry. There is set flavor in all of them and none compare to "Real Ragu."

Ragu
Real Ragu!
(Photo Credit: ItalianFoodForever.com)

Italian Soda

Here is a thought, Italian Sodas originated in the United States, not Italy. I suppose the reasoning behind the title "Italian Soda" is "One claimant to the introduction and increased popularity of Italian sodas is Torani: Rinaldo and Ezilda Torre brought recipes for flavored syrups from LuccaItaly" (Reference: Wikipedia).
This is kind of a pointless blog, but I was sitting here during the lunch hour and wondering where Italian Sodas originated from. Mainly because I like Italian Sodas, yet rarely drink them and the title spurred me to think that they aren't even from Italy. So, there you have it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cream Tuna Over Toast, A True Food Memory

Cream Tuna Over Toast, everybody's grandmother or mother have made this for their kids and grandchildren.  Yet, somehow there is always somebody that hasn't heard of it. This was a favorite quickie meal that my mother made for me and my four brothers while growing up. It was filling, went a long ways and though it may sound a little "fishy" it always tasted amazing!
Today, I decided to make it for my husband. He gave me the famous "sideways stare," that was questioning if I was still sane. I reassured him that it was good, and continued to reassure him as he walked away with a full plate and turned up nose. Turns out, he liked it. I would love to say that he "loved" it but I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth.
I have researched Cream Tuna quite a bit, and have come up with very little details on its origin. I do know that it was common to make during the WWII period. It gave the household with limited food the ability to make protein go a long ways.
So, here it is. No cream soup bases and no quick routes, because it's already quick enough.
Cream Tuna over Toast

1/2 c. butter + 2 T
1/2 c. flour
4 c. milk
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp sage
3 regular cans of tuna, drained
3 boiled eggs, chopped or mashed
2 stalks of celery, chopped finely
bread, for toast (preferably a thick crusty bread)
Melt 2 T of butter of medium heat. Once the butter starts bubbling, add the celery and saute till tender. Set aside.
Melt the remaining butter over med-low heat until melted, being careful not to heat too high and burn it. Add the flour and stir until it starts ‘sizzling’. Gradually add milk and whisk till thickened.
Add tuna, seasonings, egg and celery. Stir well. 
If you would like to save on milk, you can do 3 parts milk to 1 part water (with the recipe above, that would be 1 1/2 c. milk and 1/2 c. water) but I would not try half water and half milk.
Toast bread and pour Cream Tuna over it. 
There you have it, a simple and amazingly tasty dinner that takes very little in ingredients and time!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Little Cuteness for Halloween

So, I love Halloween. Not the ghoulish and gross and part, but the cutesy, yes cutesy side of it. The pumpkin carving, the vibrant shades of orange, yellow and gold, the adding of pumpkin to every recipe you can think of, kids coming to the door and asking for treats and keeping Jack O' Lanterns lit on the porch. The list could go on forever, but I will stop there. You get the idea. In honor of Halloween I made cupcakes. I never buy cake mixes. I just prefer not to use them. Occasionally, it is necessary and usually quite enjoyable. Still, I have always preferred starting from scratch. So, I made a basic chocolate cake recipe that amazingly enough made exactly 24 cupcakes and lovely and very even 2 dozen. The icing was the hard part for me. I love icing, especially cupcake icing. There is nothing like the simple perfection of perfect cupcake icing. Too often, however, the cupcake icing that you end up with tastes too much like shortening, has that "greasy" texture, coats your mouth with that film that is so hard to wash out, or it is just far to sweet! Typically I opt for a icing recipe that requires no shortening. I prefer butter in that instance. Though, butter can sometimes overwhelm too. I researched icing recipes for a good bit and came up with the following:

Vanilla Buttercream 
Makes enough frosting for 2 dozen cupcakes
1 cup (2 sticks) of unsalted butter, room temperature
9 cups of powdered sugar
1/2 cup of milk
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
In an electric mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment or if you don't have an electric mixing bowl use a large bowl and an electric mixer, mix the butter until smooth and creamy (a few minutes).
Add 4 cups of the sugar, the milk and vanilla and on low speed mix until combined.
Add two more cups of sugar and on low speed mix until light and fluffy. Gradually add remaining sugar.
The icing came out to the perfect texture and sweetness. You may feel that the icing is not quite thick enough at first, but just give it a few precious minutes, and it will stiffen just enough to be considered perfect. However, don't wait for the icing to stiffen before piping it or spreading it onto the cupcakes that have been screaming "ice me, ice me and make me moist!" since they came out of the oven.
I bought 2 packages of the Wilton candy pumpkins and some black sugar sprinkles for the final effect.
Happy Halloween!