Category Archives: Food Thoughts

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year celebrations from early childhood took place at my maternal great grandmother’s house. My grandmother lived with her mother and father in the Logan section of Philadelphia in a semi-detached house that if I stood in the third floor back room on a chair, I could see Willie Penn’s hat. Back then, no building in Philadelphia could be higher than the William Penn statue on top of City Hall in Center City. They had a box full of flashy and colorful party hats, noise makers and horns to ring in the New Year. Our family is small in relation to other families. My sister and I were the only children present as my cousins that were about our age lived in Harrisburg, PA area. Our Cousin Ken, Cousin Marion, Aunt Alice, Uncle Wilfred, our grandmother, great grandparents and our parents were there on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the new year. We would play what they referred to as parlour games why waiting for the feast at midnight. When it came close to midnight my sister and I would hand out the hats and noise makers. I think, we listened to the count down on the radio. The feast consisted of cold cuts which we made our own sandwiches on various types of breads. Dessert was dark chocolate and banana ice cream. The chocolate needed the banana as a compliment as it was extremely rich, and the banana was almost too sweet without the chocolate. Mixed together they were amazing. Great memories!

Palmiers

Palmiers are the size of monkey ears.

Palmiers should be called monkey ears.

When I was a youngster, My Dad introduced me to elephant ears which became my favorite confection. There was a bakery down the shore on Long Beach Island, a barrier island at the Jersey shore. The bakery created the most amazingly tasty and extra-large elephant ears. My Parents would rent a house every year on the island for two weeks and the elephant ears was a traditional treat that I always looked forward to. I was invited via email to submit an entry to the Epicurious Holiday Cookie Contest, as an Epicurious Community Table blogger. After reading the requirements I looked at the existing recipes. I chose the Palmiers recipe to make and photograph. The original recipe was featured in the 1999 edition of Epicurious. I baked them 7-1/2 minutes then flipped them and cooked them an addition 7-1/2 minutes and it worked out perfectly. Every oven temperature is different, so one needs to make cooking time adjustments based on the performance of their oven. The end result produced a caramelized crunchy outer coating with a soft center. I made two batches which I gave my Dad 1/2 of. It brought back wonderful memories for both of us.

 

Thank You For the Air Pump

As I was wrapping gifts for my family this morning, I realized I didn’t have a large enough box for one of the items. I went out to the garage to see if I had any boxes out there that would be suitable. After looking around, And not seeing anything, I opened our upright freezer and saw a box of frozen chicken pot pies. I removed the pies which were individually boxed, and basically stole their heavy cardboard box. Brought the chicken pot pie box in to the dining room where I was wrapping and the item fit in the box perfectly. I started laughing to myself, remembering what happened last Christmas. We celebrated a second Christmas down at our younger daughter’s house in Delaware since she and her family missed the main celebration of Christmas with us in New Jersey. We brought with us all of the gifts from my parents, my sister and her family, as well as our gifts too. We had hot pastrami sandwiches from a local deli, and MIL had soup. We had a great time and our grandson enjoyed all of the gifts he received. After we left and went home, our daughter wrote thank you notes to everyone. She wrote a thank you note to my sister for an air pump that was given to her DH. He placed it in the garage to use in warmer weather. When my sister received the thank you note and read about the air pump, she called my Mom and asked her if our parents gave an air pump? My Mom told her she didn’t give one either. So then they called me and we didn’t give him an air pump either. We gave him a bottle of gin in a blue-bottle. My sister said, she gave him a bottle of gin too. So I called our daughter, and asked her if they had two bottles of gin. She said no, so there was a second mystery afoot. What happened to the other bottle of gin? I had our daughter K. look through all of the empty boxes, but to no avail. At this point, I can’t remember exactly why K. looked into the air pump box? She called me to tell me that she found the bottle of gin, as it was in the air pump box out in the garage. So then I called Mom and my sister and informed them that my sister had indeed given K.’s DH an air pump. Well she had forgotten all about using the box her air pump was in. We all had a great laugh! I actually am notorious for repurposing boxes for gifts. And it is wise, to open every box, as what is on the label on the outside isn’t necessarily what is inside.

A Four Letter Word is SNOW!

Snow storm last Winter.

Snow storm last Winter.

I grill year round, even during Winter nor’easter. When nor’easter storms come up the coast, we almost always get a lot of snow. On the other hand, if storms come from the West, the snow band dumps heavy snows in the Western and Northern suburbs of Philadelphia. In the Delaware Valley which consists of the Tri-State area of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, any depth of snow promotes fear of being snowed in. Even though in my life time, I can only remember being snowed in about three or four times. The mere prediction, or even slight chance, causes a run on the supermarkets. Milk, bread, eggs, snacks fly off the shelves, as well as beer and liquor from the liquor stores. I try to stay away from supermarkets if snow is mentioned, as they become a real madhouse. However, upon an occassion I am forced to go as I am out of something. This coming Winter the rumor is that we are going to have a bad Winter with lots of snow storms, which means the supermarket owners will be happy!

Cookie Exchange

Boxed cookies to be taken to the cookie exchange.

Boxed cookies to be taken to the cookie exchange.

I have never been to a cookie exchange. Last year, I had been invited to one but it was cancelled due to lack of interest. Of course the month of December is a very hectic time of year. So part of an exchange is bringing cookies to exchange. So I bought my tickets for this event back in September and I decided o make Amaretto balls. The only problem is, I can’t go, so my daughter J. will go in my place with my ticket. I am still making the cookies for the event for her to take. I am making one of my favorite cookies – Amaretto balls. The key is to make them ahead of time, so they have time to cure. They are tasty freshly made, but if they are stored in a metal cookie tin, this treatment causes the Amaretto to really pop. My DH’s Aunt M. was known for her bourbon balls that she made every year for Chanukah. She would grind her nuts very, very finely. The first batch I made was at 1:00 AM, three nights ago and because everyone else was sleeping, I decided to grind almonds in our sunroom to help cut down on the noise. The only problem, is I couldn’t get them as fine as I needed. I made the balls anyway, but had difficulty making them into balls. So the next night, I made a second batch which had a mixture of almonds and pecans. I was able to grind them more finely then the first batch, however, I usually buy almonds ground at the local Amish market. While helping out at our flea market, I asked MIL to fetch me that kind. So tonight I attempted to make another batch of the balls, this time with the extra fine ground almonds. The fine ground almonds is the secret to success. Okay, the real secret of success is having all of the correct ingredients. I ran out of vanilla wafers, so I decided to sub crispy rice cereal for the cookies. It did not work to make the Amaretto balls, however, it does make a great adult ice cream topping. This week I will post the recipe for the Amaretto balls just in time for the holidays as well as the ice cream topping.

Amaretto Balls

Ingredients:
2 cups vanilla wafers (pulverized)
1 cup almonds (very finely ground)
3 tablespoons bakers cocoa
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon Amaretto extract
1/4 cup Amaretto Liquor
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar (colored) or colorful sprinkles for dipping

Directions:
1. Mix vanilla wafers, almonds, cocoa, corn syrup, brown
sugar and Amaretto together thoroughly.

2. Place mixture in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

3. Make approximately 1″ in diameter balls.

4. Roll them in colored sugar (I used white) or sprinkles
and place them in a metal tin lined with wax paper.

5. The longer they cure, the stronger the Amaretto will shine. (I cure them for at least 24-hours before serving.)

Yields: 24 balls

 

 

 

Jerky

Jerky in dehydrator

Jerky in dehydrator.

For great beef jerky one must have a decent marinade. However, the secret ingredient for jerky is not an ingredient at all, but the way it is sliced. DH and I have tried numerous techniques to slice the meat just right. The cut of the meat also has some baring on the procedure too. In the past I always have bought beef brisket, as that cut of meat was the right shape and it had a 1/8″ layer of fat for each slice. We love a touch of fat on the jerky as it has so much more flavor that way. In fact, both DH and I will go though the bag looking for finished jerky with a strip of fat on it.

Unrelated to the process of making jerky: The beef brisket reminded me of a funny story. My FIL (Father-in-Law), would always cook a beef brisket as a pot roast which were always delicious. As a newlywed at the time, I decided that I wanted to make a pot roast to surprise DH. (I might also add, that my DH and his family are Jewish, and I am not). My family, never ever used briskets. So I went to the store and picked out a brisket. Nowadays, I have no idea what I was thinking when I was cooking that pot roast, since if I remember right, I just cooked it in the oven as is, with no liquid. It was a doomed effort from the beginning. Well I roasted that brisket for two-hours, three-hours, four-hours, then I tried broiling it and it never browned. I decided that my oven wasn’t working right. Or was it? It was certainly a puzzle? Well, I finally had to yank it out and see what was up with it? Oh, I was successful in surprising DH, but not as I had imagined. We both looked at the pathetic hunk of meat…that is when DH discovered it was a corned beef brisket! That thing was never going to brown, ever! We both had a good laugh about it!

Back to the jerky… Lately, I have been buying beef chuck roasts, which also have become my favorite cut for pot roast as well. DH and I bought a chuck roast from the local butcher and asked for it to be chipped, and I even told him, we were going to make jerky with it. When we arrived home and I prepared the marinade, the meat was in reality, too thick for what we wanted it for. DH sliced it thinner with difficulty. So we considered that who experience a bust. Finally, I got the idea to semi freeze the meat to make slicing easier. It works to a point, however, the meat is still not uniformly cut, so the drying process takes longer for the thicker pieces. Last night, I was looking for ideas to give DH for Chanukah / Christmas, and up popped a meat slicer. Hmmm? I’ll let you know how that goes…

Mystery of the Vanishing London Broil

London broil

London broil sliced on the bias. Photo by Deborah Kaplan.

From the moment I met DH in high school geography class to present day, he has always played little practical jokes on me. Keeping that thought in mind…Back in 1980, I marinated a 4 pound top of the round London broil in the refrigerator overnight. So the next night at 5 pm when I got home from work, I placed it on the broiling pan, discarded the marinade, and seasoned the meat with garlic. Turned the broiler on which unlike my broiler now was in a drawer underneath the oven. I then placed the broiling pan with the London broil on top into the drawer under the broiler. I then closed the drawer and set the timer for 6 minutes. DH came out of the shower and went in to the kitchen to get a drink. I went into the great room to set up our TV trays so we could watch the news while eating dinner. He came back in and sat down to look at the mail. The timer went off and I opened the drawer and the London broil was gone! I screamed at DH, “WHAT DID YOU DO WITH THE LONDON BROIL??” He said, he didn’t do anything with it. I yelled, “YOU DID TOO!!!” DH replied that honestly, he didn’t do anything with it. Of course I didn’t believe him at all. So he finally got up and came in the kitchen to look for it. First he looked in the oven, then the broiler, then like he thought I might be absentminded, he looked in the refrigerator. I told him that I had definitely put it in the broiler and now it was gone! So he took the drawer out completely. He then got a flash light and peered in. Only then did he see that the meat had slid back and fallen down the back, on bottom of the broiler. Apparently it was too thick. It went in fine, but when I opened the drawer, the London broil got caught on the top of the broiler. This caused it to be pushed off the broiling pan landing in the back. DH was able to fish it out. We ended up washing it and cutting off the part that was touching the bottom of the broiler. Back behind the drawer was disgusting! We don’t think it was ever cleaned since it was first installed in that apartment. By cutting off that part, it was just enough to fit in the broiler perfectly. It turned out great.

Defrosting the Bird

Defrosting turkey in the water method.

Defrosting turkey in the water method.

In 35 years of marriage, I have roasted at least some of 35 turkeys and probably 100 whole chickens. So with that said, I have defrosted most of them in either of three ways. The first way, is to take the bird out of the freezer, and place it in the refrigerator so it can defrost totally which typically takes a couple to several days, depending on the size of the bird. The other way is to take it out of the freezer and place it in a tub of cold water, which helps to keep it cold yet defrosts it at the same time. The water is changed often. The third way is to do a combo of both methods. Most times, I do the combo method. This particular story is about defrosting a chicken. I took the chicken out of the freezer, filled up a large pot of water and placed it in it to defrost for the recommended time. Then, I took it out and placed it in the refrigerator as I planned to stuff and roast it for dinner the next day. The next day came, and I unwrapped the chicken. I looked at it with a perplexing look, as it was an odd shape, which I mentioned to DH. Then I went to retrieve the neck and giblets bag out of the breast cavity. The darn thing was still frozen!  So I placed it back in the refrigerator and we went out for burgers. DH told me I planned it that way, so we could go out for dinner. Of course he was just teasing me, so the next day when it came time to prepare the chicken for the oven, I took it out again. And that chicken was still partially frozen! I could see and feel the giblets bag but couldn’t get it out. So, DH said to me, that I should let him try since his Dad had been a butcher originally, before going into poultry sales. DH couldn’t get it out either, so he went to the garage and got pliers and vice drips which he boiled to decontaminate them. Then I held the chicken and he pried it open and he was able to pull everything out. I changed my mind on stuffing it and decided to make a beer can chicken instead. Only then did I realize I had the chicken upside down the whole time. DH had pulled everything out through the neck hole. This story makes me laugh just writing about it. I’d like to say this happened when I was first married which would be a newlywed blunder, but no, it was a couple of years ago. I just do not know, what I was thinking? Happy Thanksgiving and I hope you all don’t have any kitchen antics!

Thanksgiving Sharing

For most of our married life DH, our two daughters and I would alternate between DH’s Parents’ celebrations for Thanksgiving and mine. My FIL would create the menu and cook for the crowd of some 20-people. The whole bird on the carcass was never seen as he pre-carved it and placed it in chafing dishes or on platters. Everything was served family or buffet style, depending on how many people were there. The turkey was always very juicy which probably was due to his superior cooking ability and that it was a Kosher bird. I loved his stuffing recipe although I have only a vague memory now of how it tasted. As the years went by, DH’s sister took over the cooking of the feast. And when she owned a seafood restaurant in South Jersey, she would have the gathering there. She would not only cook a turkey or turducken, but other meats as well like venison, elk, ostrich, shellfish and various fish. She was always trying something new. Unless, you actually cook such a feast as this, the average person doesn’t realize all of the expense involved. I have heard of some people charging attendees so they aren’t footing the whole bill which can run in the hundreds of dollars. There are mixed feelings about it for sure. In our families typically everyone brings something, usually a dessert. My DD#1 always makes a delicious deep dish pumpkin pie and I bake bread. Since DH’s sister and her DH have moved out to Arizona full-time, we now have two Thanksgiving celebrations, our own and at my Parent’s house. Since 1979, every other year we would celebrate the holiday with my Parents, Sister and her family and our daughters. Thanksgiving at my Parent’s house was and is very traditional with the bird carved at the table by my Dad, served on good china with crystal goblets. The feast is always the same, and if they dare change anything, the family traditionalists will squawk NO! Then they will lament about it all year. So with that said, changes to the menu never occur. Their menu is always turkey, stuffing, candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes with giblet gravy, jellied cranberry sauce, either green bean casserole or broccoli drizzled with cheese sauce and cole-slaw. Pumpkin pie, chocolate cream pie, coconut custard pie or ice cream for dessert. I might also add that for the last 4 years we have celebrated Thanksgiving with them on Black Friday as my niece is a flag twirler at her high school in Central Jersey, and the school has a football game on Thanksgiving proper. As a result, DH, DD#1 and I often have our own Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving, and this year is no different.

Tangine Cooking

My tangine.

My Tangine has a lovely design on it which I love! Photo by Copyright 2014 Deborah Kaplan

On a popular food website during the last several years, I became involved in a forum where other home-cooks were interested in the flavors of the NA*ME (North African/Middle Eastern) region. In doing so, that is where I came in contact with concept of cooking with a Tangine. So when our daughters asked me for an idea to give me for my birthday, I suggested a Tangine. I was also picky, as I wanted one with a design rather than one that was a solid color. So back in February of this year, at my birthday, I received this beautiful Tangine cooking vessel. The only problem with it, is it came with no directions on how to use it.  I searched the Internet and found that it is common place for Tangine vessels to be sold without any directions on how to use them. What I found was a big debate as to whether or not the top should have a vent hole or not. Mine has a vent hole and the ceramic interior also has a clear glaze. A lot don’t have the glaze and therefore need to be conditioned or cured before use. I thought I would be placing it in the oven, however I wound up using it on the stove top on a low flame. Some suggested using a diffuser: I did not, mainly because I didn’t have one. Then there was the time issue? I decided to jump in with both feet and I have to say the recipe I created came out delicious! DH and MIL also raved about it. I cooked three chicken thighs, which I browned first in a non-stick skillet. In my research, I did find out that the Tangine should never be used with high heat. After dinner, DH placed it in the dishwasher which I said no to, so he hand washed it. Since the dishwasher uses hot water plus a heating element, I didn’t want to risk causing the Tangine to crack.