Tag Archives: food

Confined Confection

For the past few weeks, it feels as if I’ve been camping out in my own kitchen. To acclimate a four-legged family member to our home, we gated off and puppy-proofed that room. We may come to regret the kitchen location, but it seems to make sense for the baby who needs easy access when heading outdoors on quick notice.

Already named “Denver” before he joined us, this puppy’s routine around the kitchen finds at least one of us playing with him, brushing his chocolate-brown coat, teaching him to sit with miniature milk bones, or bumping into each other while opening the refrigerator to search for treats for the trainers.

Now that Denver’s entertaining himself for longer stretches of time, he runs loose around the corner into the butler’s pantry—a safe puppy play environment with no carpets or butler to be found.

Denver, like our older dog Cammie, loves tiny pieces of raw carrot, which make great little training rewards for warm, furry creatures. A more mature pet now, Cammie trained with carrots starting at 8 weeks old and they remain her favorite puppy perk. It’s impossible to bring an orange bunch into the house without her waiting patiently in hopes that one will fall to the floor.

Though the carrots serve as rewards, tiny dabs of butter work well as diversions. When we were training Cammie, she wanted to nip at everyone, and we learned from a devoted dog lover to curb her mouthing and nipping habit with a slather of chilled butter. Within 48 hours, she received countless praises and stopped the nipping. We’re keeping the butter to a minimum with Denver, and he nips when seeking attention or alerting us to his needs. A little sweet creamy butter even helps prevent the rest of the household from nipping at each other, too.

Minimized gooey butter cake tasteWhen a cake appears around our place, we’re suddenly all on our best behavior. Just as with puppies, where behavioral experts advise to have a toy ready at all times, it could prove beneficial to have a slice of cake ready at all times for people. If there’s a stick or two of quality butter on hand, use them to make this dense cake-based crust that holds a gooey layer of cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar.

If you can call it traditional, original gooey butter cake may be made with basic staples stocked in home kitchens. Quality butter and cake flour are worth the extra effort of rounding up, though any will do to turn out a rich gooey butter cake. In St. Louis, where locals claim to have created the confection, commercial bakeries offer the cake laced with everything from chocolate chips to key lime. The recipe shared here resembles the original.

Gooey Butter Cake

Crust

1 cup sugar

2 cups flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder1 stick unsalted butter, melted

2 eggs, beaten

Filling

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups powdered sugar

Topping

¼ cup powdered sugar

  1. Sift dry crust ingredients together. Add beaten eggs and melted butter and stir until thoroughly mixed. Press thick, sticky dough into greased 9 x 12 baking pan.
  2. Mix cream cheese with eggs, butter, vanilla and powdered sugar. Beat at medium speed 2 minutes. Pour over unbaked dough.
  3. Bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees until puffy and golden. Cool completely and dust with remaining powdered sugar.

 

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner, Cook On: 1 part chaos, 2 parts calm

First published by The Highlands Current

Share Some Luck with Spinach Pie

By Mary Ann Ebner

There’s something organic about bring-a-dish gatherings with few rules to pull people together for musings on more than food. We all know someone who cringes at the mention of a potluck. He or she may avoid edible uncertainty, but that’s part of the point. Bringing something you love can spark fresh perspectives for companions.

The starting point, at a minimum, should be a dish that can be served on a plate and eaten with basic utensils. Even without rules, it’s unlikely everyone will bring their signature dessert, but worse things can happen besides a table loaded with sweets. There’s usually a taste or two for everyone, with a range of gluten-free, vegan and carnivorous recipes.

Years ago, when I worked at a campus radio station, it was announced that the year-end party would be a potluck. The general manager and engineer were full-time employees, but the rest of us were students with limited cash flow. We spent little time or money on cooking, and when we dined out it was usually at the Stagger Inn over pitchers of beer and platters of potato skins. That was high-end nutrition compared to the microwavable sandwiches peddled from campus vending machines.

As potluck day rolled around, our lack of money and cooking experience didn’t stop us from covering a couple of desks with an assortment of contributions. At least three salads turned up, along with a fruit pie that was probably stocked from the freezer section, although its creator chose not to say.

The fruit pie was popular, but the most sampled dish was a bowl of blackberry Jell-O. It wasn’t spiked (or so we were told) or topped with whipped cream but represented the willingness to take part without making a fuss over ingredients and temperatures.

Shared meals not only spread the work around but bring communities together — the best payoff. Fresh spinach is a reliable crowd pleaser and does its work in simple or lavish recipes. This variation of spanakopita is essentially spinach pie made with phyllo sheets, which are easy to use but require quick work to prevent them from becoming brittle. If you find a few triangles left over, wrap them up. They’ll taste even better the next day.

Potluck Spinach Pie

16 servings

3 eggs
3 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 small red onion, chopped
3 to 4 bunches fresh spinach, trimmed
1 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup roasted sunflower kernels
20 sheets phyllo pastry, thawed
3 tablespoons butter, melted
sea salt
black pepper

Lightly beat eggs with fork in mixing bowl, stir in ricotta and Parmesan, season with salt and pepper, set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Sauté onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add mushrooms. Cook over medium heat 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add to ricotta mixture.

Cook trimmed spinach in remaining olive oil until leaves wilt. Season with salt and pepper. Remove spinach from pan, drain and chop. Stir into ricotta mixture along with fresh parsley.

After all other ingredients are prepped, unroll phyllo sheets and cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel during assembly. Butter large baking pan and layer two sheets of phyllo dough over bottom of pan. Brush layer with butter and sprinkle with sunflower kernels. Repeat with three more layers. Spoon the spinach ricotta mixture over the top layer. Sprinkle with sunflower kernels. Cover with phyllo layer, brush with butter, sprinkle with sunflower seeds and repeat to use remainder of sheets. Brush top layer with butter. Using a serrated knife, cut into squares, then into triangles. Bake until golden, about 40 minutes.

First published at The Highlands Current

Cook On: 1 part chaos, 2 parts calm, text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner

World Culture Across the Table

Leonora Burton of The Country Goose in Cold Spring brought her own tastes from Wales to New York’s Hudson Valley, but she caters to a wide range of food preferences. Find your world market and explore culture through cooking.Minimized world of tastes copy

Choose your filling

minimized-hamantaschenHamantaschen are three-cornered treats stuffed with many favorites—prune, apricot, poppy seed or cream cheese fillings. The traditional pastries of Purim, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the defeat of the villain Haman, taste great any time of year. Make hamantaschen and test a triangle or two before curious neighbors smell the delicious aroma and drop in with an appetite.

Wrap and Roll

Puffy golden egg rolls may top plates at all-you-can-manage buffets or come with beef and broccoli servings to go, but when we rely only on these sources, we’re missing out on a joyous do-it-yourself meal.

Takeout offers convenience on busy days, but cooking Chinese food at home can bring on even more flavor. As the Chinese New Year approaches, falling on Jan. 28 this year, make room for a meal of Chinese cuisine or at the very least a Chinese-American recipe without ready-to-eat containers.

For the last few years, it’s been my good fortune to attend festive gatherings to welcome the holiday. The menu typically includes two to three versions of stir-fry, steamed and fried rice, dumplings, tofu with sesame, wontons and those crunchy yet tender treats known to some as spring rolls and to others as egg rolls.

Though contemporary fans of Chinese food may use the terms interchangeably, my Chinese cooking inspiration refers to her family’s carefully wrapped creations as spring rolls. No Chinese New Year feast would be complete without them as a favorite side that can easily stand in as the main attraction.minimized-make-your-own-spring-rolls-copy

Unraised sheets of dough wrap around a filling of chopped vegetables like cabbage, carrots, onions, celery and mushrooms while some variations include mung bean threads and pork or shrimp.

Tradition holds that spring rolls shared among family and friends trace their origin to the Chinese New Year to signify the renewal of springtime based on the lunar calendar. The term egg roll may be accurate for thicker wrappers made with egg, popularized by restaurants beyond the Chinese mainland during the last century. Other Asian cuisines claim their own varieties, and whether you call them egg rolls or spring rolls or shape them more squarely than roundly, those who pause to argue about names or misnomers could turn to find the platter empty.

Fresh spring-roll skins prepared with flour, salt and water may taste best, but you’ll find me assembling spring rolls with wheat-based ready-made wrappers sold in packages of 20 to 25 pieces for around $2. Local markets stock super-thin wrappers that fry up lightly and crisply.

minimized-spring-roll-filling-copyWhen using even the best ingredients, this easy endeavor can flop without proper technique. For her fried spring rolls, my guide in all things Chinese raises the heat and stirs swiftly when cooking the filling. She generously fills the wrappers and recommends rolling them tightly not only to keep the filling in, but to keep the frying oil out. Though she teaches the study of Chinese language professionally, spending far more time in a classroom than a kitchen, she’s very much at home sharing the joy of spring roll preparation and appreciation.

Find a little happiness in the new moon with this simple recipe. Serve with citrus sauce or plum preserves.

Spring Rolls

Yield: about 20 spring rolls

1 pound ground pork
8 to 10 stalks scallions, chopped
1 medium-sized cabbage, shredded into small strips
1 cup shredded carrots
2 cups mung bean vermicelli (rinsed, uncooked and cut with kitchen scissors into small pieces)
salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 package 25-count spring roll wrappers (skins, shells)
canola or vegetable oil
1 to 2 beaten eggs for sealing wrappers

  1. Brown pork with scallions over medium heat. Add cabbage strips, stir and cook on high heat to warm through completely. Lower heat to medium, stir in carrots and cook additional 2 minutes. Add mung bean vermicelli and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Season with 1 half teaspoon salt and a few twists of pepper. Drain any excess liquid to minimize moisture. Cool cabbage mixture completely to prevent wrappers from breaking while filling.
  2. To fill and shape rolls, lay a small stack of skins on a work surface with one corner of the skin pointing to you. Spoon a thick row of filling across the base of top skin, below its center. Fold bottom corner up and over filling, hold firmly and fold over left and right corners to opposite sides in envelope style. Complete rolling and brush the final corner with egg. Fold corner over to seal.
  3. To fry, use a 12- to 14-inch pan that allows oil to cover bottom to a quarter inch. Bring oil to high temperature before adding spring rolls individually. Just as pan is full, turn the first one, and then one-by-one turn the others in the order they went into the oil. Once rolls have all been turned, remove them in the same order and place on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil, allowing space between each roll to preserve crispness. Serve whole or cut diagonally.

First published by The Highlands Current

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner

 

 

 

Companion Crops

When savoring good company — with friends, family or even pets — we all benefit. The same goes for favorable food match-ups, from eggs with bacon to soup and salad. Even though a fine panini capably stands alone, a marriage comes together when a sandwich joins a side dish. Burgers with golden fries may not make the wisest nutritional coupling, but there’s a little love trying to breathe through all that cholesterol.

minimized-roasted-root-vegetables-with-quinoa-copyWhen a serving of noodles looks deserted on a plate or halibut needs a partnership, consider winter’s survival foods: an array of root crops. As plate companions, they turn a solo helping into a harmonious meal. Mashed, baked, roasted or even pickled, these seasonal staples keep us going when temperatures dip. With December’s first measurable snowfall recorded, winter offers a generous choice of main course and side vegetables.

Along with a host of other farmers at the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market, Cheryl Rogowski of Rogowski Farm grows a range of crops to carry the community through springtime’s arrival. Since 1955, her family has grown heirloom vegetables in Pine Island in the black-dirt region of Orange County. The area consists of thousands of acres of fertile organic soil, turning out cool weather vegetables like sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots and parsnips.

minimized-cheryl-rogowski-with-parsnips-copyAs Rogowski arranged baskets of vegetables flecked with that rich black dirt, she helped a shopper select a pound of bright orange carrots. Like many of her customers, she relies on root vegetables for family meals in cold weather. “I love roasting root vegetables,” Rogowski said.

And what this farmer serves at home, she offers at the market. “We’ll have carrots all winter long,” she said. “We’ll also have turnips through winter and we’ll have parsnips probably through February.”

Carrots stay in play throughout the year, but other root crops like rutabagas and turnips are sometimes overlooked during their peak season.

As for parsnips, they add a dash of spice. “I call them the elegant carrot,” Rogowski said. “They also make an insane parsnip cake, and I just substitute them for carrots.”

Parsnips, which resemble carrots in shape, have tan-colored skin and creamy flesh. They boast a woody texture and taste spicy while producing a honeyed aroma when roasted.

When selecting parsnips, look for firm choices with no cracks or blemishes. Rogowski recommends roasting them as you would prepare baby potatoes (425 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes), tossed with a generous amount of oil and seasoned.

“I let the vegetables do the work,” she said. “With potatoes, I’ll add some rosemary, but with the others, they just need a bit of olive oil and sea salt and I finish them with fresh parsley. Come January and February, you need that burst of green.”

Root crops call for little else save a toss or two during roasting. If properly scrubbed, carrots and parsnips don’t necessarily need peeling, though peeling away a thin outer layer encourages a crisper charred finish.

Turnips roast nicely but also serve as constant companions as a ubiquitous pickled side on Middle Eastern menus. I can’t bring turnips home without pickling a few to produce lifit. While my husband lived in Syria during his doctoral studies in 2010, he ate lifit nearly every day alongside a serving of stewed beans. Around our home, the bold pink slices serve as a faithful companion to beans, rice or grilled lamb but lately as a reminder of life itself and the fragile world in which we live.

As 2017 begins, may you enjoy roasted, mashed or pickled root vegetables and share a plate with those you cherish most.

minimized-lifit-pickled-turnips-two-copyQuick Lifit (Pickled Turnips)

1½ to 2 pounds turnips (peeled and sliced)
1 small beet
1 mild pepper pod
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup water
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup white vinegar

Boil beet in small saucepan of water until tender. Cool, peel and quarter. Mix water and vinegar and set aside. Place turnips in sterilized quart jar. Add beets, pepper pod and teaspoon of salt. Pour vinegar mixture into jar to completely cover vegetables. Seal jar, label with date and refrigerate seven days, agitating jar for a minute every other day. Lifit will turn bright fuchsia, thanks to the beet.

By Mary Ann Ebner, first published by The Highlands Current

 

All-Purpose Pasta

Although average strands of spaghetti dressed with a homemade sauce typically fill the dinner plates at our house, there’s no argument that to appreciate the beauty of true noodles — prepared with eggs, flour and a little olive oil — you need fresh pasta.

For fine pasta selections, like the hand-rolled pasta at Manhattan restaurant Felidia, it’s hard to beat what culinary pros create with dough. It’s completely unlikely that the pasta from my own kitchen will ever measure up to the delicate egg pastas turned out at Felidia, but every now and then I attempt to roll my own dough.minimized-beating-eggs-in-bowl

Purchasing high-end dried pasta that’s perfect in flavor and texture is another option. A couple of weeks ago, my family dropped in at the newest location of Eataly, the gastronomic store, at 4 World Trade Center. Lidia Bastianich, who created Felidia, has a hand in Eataly, along with her son, Joe Bastianich, and chef Mario Batali. Besides its selection of fine pasta, Eataly includes a restaurant and gourmet marketplace stocked with spices, oils, olives, bread, cheeses, wine — anything imaginable to create an “Eatalian” dinner.

Shelf after shelf of perfectly packaged nests of noodles filled me up even before I tasted (and devoured) the agnolotti during dinner. Long pastas, short pastas, pastas for soup, little pillows of pasta and thick, ridged and hollow pastas were all within reach. It’s an inspirational place.

With so many shapes and sizes to choose from at groceries like Foodtown in Cold Spring — including selections of gluten-free rice- and corn-blended noodles — it’s convenient to buy ready-to-cook pasta. But making basic egg pasta dough isn’t all that taxing. It’s not essential, but a pasta-making machine might simplify the rolling and bring more fun to the task with its hand-cranking mechanism.

If you don’t have a machine, roll out dough by hand and slice pasta with a knife or pizza cutter. Rolling dough as paper-thin as possible results in beautiful ribbons, but appearance is not all that counts. The texture and width of a noodle determine what type of sauce pairs best with it.

For thoroughly indulgent egg pasta, use only egg yolks. Gather a couple of ingredients and a rolling pin and turn out fresh sheets of dough. My daily dining partners favor a thicker fettuccine-type noodle that holds up under a layer of stout red sauce. It tastes good any time, but especially on a dark winter’s day. This time of year, as colors change and autumn leaves fall, the pasta serves as a bed for a hearty mix of vegetables anchored by acorn squash. The real work comes with the squash, and once you’ve managed to peel its firm skin, you’ll probably find the pasta prep painless.

Sautéed Squash

1 large acorn squash, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, diced
½ sweet onion, diced
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
2 cups hominy, rinsed
⅓ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste

Mix olive oil with spices over medium heat. Add onions, celery, carrots and squash. Cook until tender. Add hominy. Mix thoroughly and season with salt and pepper. Serve over pasta.

Pasta Dough

Serves 4 to 6

2½ cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil

Place flour in mixing bowl (if especially coordinated, pour the flour directly onto work surface) and create a well in the center. Crack eggs into the well and slowly beat eggs. Mix in olive oil and gradually work eggs into flour. If necessary, add a tablespoon of water to moisten. Knead dough until smooth. Finish kneading on flat surface. Form a ball of dough, cover and let dough rest 30 minutes. Slice the dough into sections, dust with flour and, using a pasta machine, pass the sections through flat pasta rollers. Lightly flour pasta sections after each pass. Repeat, adjusting the width for a thinner sheet. Once desired thickness is reached, pass dough sheets through cutters. If hand-rolling, roll dough to thin consistency and cut into desired types.

Bring a large pan of salted water to boil. Drop pasta into water little by little and cook uncovered until pasta rises and floats. Test a noodle to make sure it’s tender and done before removing from the cooking pot. Toss with sauce, vegetables, or top with light butter and finish with freshly grated cheese.

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner, first published by The Highlands Current