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A Taste Of Old Mexico To Enjoy Anywhere: Frozen Tamales Image

Noelia Garcia grew up helping her mother make and sell tamales — those golden packages of cornmeal and spices steamed in cornhusks and tied like little presents. In Mexico, tamales are always made fresh, but Garcia figured her neighbors in her adopted state of Minnesota could use these steaming packages any time they wanted. And that is her gift to Minnesota: frozen tamales with the authentic taste of Mexico.

The Author


Ben Bartenstein

Ben Bartenstein reports for Round Earth Media out of St. Paul, Minn. His writing also appears on the websites for Minnesota Public Radio and Macalester College. Ben is active in the Asian American Journalists Association. Next year, he'll be reporting from Spain and Morocco.

Today, her Minneapolis tamale business, La Loma Tamales, produces Oaxaqueno tamales with spicy red sauce inside; tamales with a mole sauce of chilies, nuts and chocolate; and a dessert tamale filled with pineapple and raisins. That’s not to mention her signature chicken tamales with a green sauce of serrano chili peppers, onions, garlic and tomatillos. All are the flavors of Garcia’s childhood.

Growing up in Mexico

It’s a childhood Garcia remembers lovingly, even though it’s been 17 years since she last saw Quebrantadero, the tiny village where she grew up buying gorditas in the plaza, preparing for fiestas and sleeping in her family’s dirt-floor adobe house.

“We slept three or four kids in one bed, everybody in the same house, seven brothers and sisters, my mom, my dad, my grandma and grandpa,” says Garcia, 40. She and her friends loved to play on a little hill, la loma in Spanish, and that’s what she named her company.

“When you’re a child, you don’t care that you don’t have shoes. You’re just innocent and happy,” she says. “For me, it’s transporting myself to a place and bringing something from where I grew up to this place.”

Quebrantadero was her entire world until, at age 16, she met Enrique Garcia, age 17, and fell in love. What they did next surprises even Noelia. “We got married on Friday and we came to the United States on Sunday,” she says. “In a small village, there is nothing else to do.”

The Garcias long to revisit Quebrantadero, which they left nearly two decades ago. They can’t go back across the border until they resolve their immigration status, which they are working hard to do. In the intervening years, Enrique has lost his mother, grandmother and an uncle. He has had to miss all three funerals.

Shortly after coming to Minnesota, Enrique heard that a bakery in Minneapolis needed workers, so that’s where they headed. It was 30 below zero the day they arrived. “I remember we went to the bus and we kind of showed our hands with the coins, because we don’t know the value of the coins,” Noelia says.

Neither spoke English, but they got jobs and worked long hours. In the evenings, Noelia started cooking tamales to sell at a Mexican restaurant. Those tamales, based on her mother’s recipes, caused a sensation. Eventually, the demand proved too much for the small kitchen in the couple’s home.

Selling tamales … and coffee

In 1999, the Garcias quit their jobs and opened a tiny restaurant in Minneapolis’ busy Mercado Central marketplace. The landlord had one requirement for the renters of the 80-square-foot kitchen: They had to sell coffee. Although neither Noelia nor Enrique knew how, they agreed. “We bought a coffee machine and people trained us on how to use it,” Noelia says.

Today, they have one of the busiest spots in the Mercado, regularly selling 5,000 to 7,000 tamales during the holidays. A full-blown restaurant at Minneapolis’ Midtown Global Market followed.

Largely thanks to the Garcias, Minnesotans’ taste for tamales has expanded like luminarias on a winter sidewalk. The couple’s wholesale business sells frozen, handmade La Loma tamales to grocery stores and restaurants throughout Minnesota. It took a year to get the license for the tamale factory. The reason? “The health inspector didn’t know what a tamale is,” Noelia explains.

In recent years, the couple added downtown locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul and a seasonal stand at TCF Bank Stadium. This past summer they debuted at three local farmers markets.

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Noelia and Enrique Garcia turned a family pastime of making tamales into a revered restaurant and frozen food business. The couple opened their first La Loma location in 1999. Credit: Ben Bartenstein

Noelia loved math as a child, but her parents didn’t have the money to send her beyond eighth grade. Once La Loma was established, she earned her GED and went to college to study business. Now she has started a scholarship fund so her employees’ children can attend college, too. For Noelia, La Loma is not just a business — it’s a community of family and friends who take care of one another, much like in the Mexican village of her childhood.

“This country has given us a lot, but we also suffer a lot,” Noelia says. “For 17 years, I didn’t see my mom, and I don’t know if someone can pay that. But my kids grew up here, we’ve got a really successful business, and I got to go to school. It’s kind of a balance. You cannot have everything.”

Although she has been separated from her mother for years, Noelia feels close to her in the kitchen. She based La Loma’s signature chicken tamales in green sauce on her mother’s recipe. It’s a taste of what her fans can get at her Twin Cities restaurants, wholesale store and the St. Paul Farmers’ Market.

La Loma’s Mexican Chicken Tamales in Green Sauce

Prep time: 1 hour

Cook time: 2 hours

Total time: 3 hours

Yield: 30 servings

Chicken and green sauce preparation

Yield: About 36 ounces

Ingredients

3 pounds chicken, cut into pieces

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 pounds tomatillos

8 serrano chili peppers

1/2 onion

4 cloves garlic

4 cups of water

Chicken bouillon to taste

Directions

1. Add the chicken and salt to water and simmer for 30 minutes. Once the chicken is cooked, shred and set aside.

2. Boil the tomatillos, serrano peppers, onion and garlic in water. Once the sauce ingredients are cooked, discard the water and process the sauce ingredients in a blender with the chicken bouillon until smooth.

3. Add 12 ounces of the sauce to the shredded chicken, and reserve the remaining sauce (about 24 ounces) to use in the dough mixture.

Tamale dough

Yield: About 30 portions

Ingredients

1 ½ pounds cornhusks for tamales

5 pounds tamale dough

About 24 ounces green sauce

1 pound lard or vegetable oil

Directions

1. Soak the cornhusks in water for 10 minutes. Wash the cornhusks and allow them to drain.

2. Mix the dough, green sauce and lard or oil together. Knead the dough until it obtains a uniform texture.

3. Press a small, 4-ounce ball of dough and spread evenly onto the cornhusk.

4. Add the desired amount of meat and sauce on top of the dough and wrap with the corn husk.

5. Once you have finished assembling the tamales, place them in a tamale steamer and steam for 2 hours.

6. Serve immediately.

Main photo: The La Loma tamale is made from scratch out of corn dough and filled with chicken, serrano chile peppers, tomatillos, onions and garlic. Credit: Ben Bartenstein

Ben Bartenstein, based in St. Paul, Minn., reported this story for Round Earth Media.

Portions of this story first appeared in Mpls. St.Paul Magazine.

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Texas Chili Tweaked For A Christmas Meal Image

Although red is the color of Santa’s suit, poinsettias and Rudolph’s nose, a “bowl of red” is probably not what springs to mind when you contemplate Christmas dinner.

But chili has many selling points as a holiday repast. It’s a one-pot meal that can feed a crowd, and it tastes best when made a day or two in advance — meaning that even the cook can relax and enjoy the feast. And although I never imagined that chili would grace our Midwestern holiday table, I thank my lucky Lone Stars that the official dish of Texas made its way into my life and onto our extended family’s Christmas menu.

It happened as a happy confluence of events. The first part has a history that probably goes back to our ancient ancestors. Traditionally, butchering of large animals was done in the early winter, after they had eaten their fill all spring, summer and fall, and before the lean times of winter. And in pre-refrigeration days, if you butchered in winter when the whole world’s a gigantic freezer, your meat would keep for months.

My father follows in the well-trodden paths of his Dutch and German forebears, who also butchered animals every winter. And so in early December he sends a few of his grass-fed cattle to the meat locker a few miles down the road. A couple of weeks later, we are bringing home boxes of frozen beef, wrapped in white butcher paper. Sometimes there is not quite enough freezer space for everything, so we use some of the meat right away.

But it wasn’t until I started sharing my annual quarter of beef with my Texas-born boyfriend that the Illinois-beef-meets-Texas-chili marriage was made. I assumed that such an odd coupling must be a first, but it was actually made more than a hundred years ago, in 1909, as I discovered on Linda Stradley’s excellent site, “What’s Cooking America.”

Different spelling

Stradley notes that in Springfield, Ill., an hour or so down the road from my father’s grazing cattle, people take their chili very seriously. “They even spell it differently than the rest of the United States,” she notes. “This peculiar spelling of ‘chilli’ in Springfield originated with the founder of the Dew Chilli Parlor. Legend has it that the Dew’s owner, Dew Brockman, quibbled with his sign painter over the spelling and won after noting that the dictionary spelled it both ways. Other folks believe the spelling matches the first four letters in Illinois.”

That’s the first I’d ever heard of Dew Brockman, who may or may not be a long lost relative, but I am sure he would agree that the Brockman family Illinois beef and Texas chili are a heavenly match. Cuts from well-used muscles such as arm, shoulder or chuck roast love the long, slow simmer with the secret chili spice mix. We also add some spicy pork sausage and a few slices of fatty bacon to carry the flavors that gradually intensify over the four to six hours of simmering. By the time we take the pot off the fire, the spices permeate not only the meat, but the whole house, with warmth and good cheer.

I do realize that any talk of Texas chili, particularly made in central Illinois, and with pork added, is bound to get me into trouble. (At least we don’t add beans!) Chili tastes are regional, personal and often inflexible. But Christmas is a good time to put partisan bickering aside and enjoy a big beefy bowl of red with or without pork, or beans.

We spend most of Christmas Eve making the big pot of chili for about two dozen relatives to enjoy on Christmas Day because, as the writer John Steele Gordon notes, “Chili is much improved by having had a day to contemplate its fate.”

And its fate is to be enjoyed by the holiday crowd, including a red-clad Santa, whose belly shakes when he laughs like a bowl full of chili. 

Christmas Chili

This version of the Texas classic tastes intensely of its two main ingredients, beef and chili powder. But it also has some pork, onions, carrots, garlic and a can of crushed tomatoes because we like the way those ingredients round the flavors out. You are welcome to keep or delete them as you wish.

Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 5 hours
Total time: 5 hours 45 minutes
Yield: About 20 servings — and even better as leftovers

Ingredients

7 tablespoons chili powder (Gebhardt’s brand preferred) (about 1 tablespoon per pound of meat)
2 tablespoons each of cumin and cayenne
3 tablespoons oregano

Salt and pepper

3 to 3½ pounds arm, shoulder, chuck or sirloin roast
2 pounds hanger steak
1½ pounds cubed steak
1½ pounds spicy pork sausage (chorizo, jalapeño, andouille etc.)
6 slices of fatty bacon, chopped fine
3 medium onions, chopped
4 medium carrots, chopped very fine
8 garlic cloves, smashed or minced

6 hot peppers, 2 each of habanero, serrano, jalapeño peppers, diced, seeds and all

1 large green pepper, diced

2 bottles of peach or apple flavored beer
2 cups beef or chicken broth, plus 2 tablespoons miso paste (red or brown) to add umami
1 (16-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons masa harina (optional)

Directions

In a small bowl, mix together the chili powder, cumin, cayenne, oregano, and salt and pepper.

The roasts and steak may be cut into bite-sized cubes while slightly frozen, making in unnecessary to cut up the braised cuts once they’re done. Trim the beef of any excess fat and season heavily with the spice mixture. Sear on all sides in a heavy skillet. Set aside.

Put the chopped bacon in a very large, heavy pot or Dutch oven, and allow the fat to melt. Brown the onions and carrots in the bacon fat until soft. Then add the garlic and peppers and cook for a few more minutes. Deglaze the skillet with the beer. Add the broth, miso and tomatoes. Then add the browned meat, and enough broth or beer to cover the meat.

Cover the pot and cook slowly for 4 to 6 hours, until the meat is falling-apart tender.  If you have masa harina, stir it in to help thicken the chili and add a bit of flavor. Cook for another 20 to 30 minutes. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or chili powder if needed.  Remove from heat. Chill overnight and reheat for even better flavor.  Serve with white rice.

Lady Bird Johnson’s Pedernales River Chili

Lady Bird Johnson would share this quick and simple Texas chili recipe with her guests.

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Yield: About 10 servings

Ingredients

4 pounds chili meat (coarsely ground round steak or well-trimmed chuck)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
6 teaspoons chili powder (or more, if needed)
1 ½ cups canned whole tomatoes
2 to 6 dashes hot sauce, or to taste
2 cups hot water
Salt to taste

Directions

Place meat, onion, and garlic in a large heavy pan or Dutch oven. Cook until light in color. Add the oregano, cumin, chili powder, tomatoes, hot sauce and 2 cups hot water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for about 1 hour. Skim off the fat while cooking. Salt to taste.

Main photo: Texas-style chili. Credit: iStock

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Queen Of Puddings Is A Royally Good Christmas Treat Image

Holidays have long inspired traditions, and, for me, nothing inspired them more than Christmas. Many of my family’s traditions were passed down from Mom Skanes, my maternal grandmother, whose Christmas joy belied her otherwise solemn demeanor.

Her house was the center of our celebrations. It sat on an island that, in winter, was overwhelmingly bleak. My grandfather painted the clapboards bright green to temper the slate sky and ocean, and at Christmas, when snow draped the eves and red lights shone from every window, the house beckoned us inside to celebrate.

Mummers, too, sometimes took part in the celebration. Wearing flour sack hoods or more elaborate and less frightening masks, they re-enacted a Newfoundland, Canada, tradition still observed then in isolated communities such as ours, of going from house to house in disguise, demanding glasses of rum and slices of fruitcake. Some, like Marley’s ghost, dragged chains behind them, slapping the links against doors for entrance but, if they wanted my grandmother’s bread pudding, they had to leave the chains outside. They would do so gladly for a taste of the Queen of Puddings.

British pudding recipes have withstood the test of time

Variations of Mom Skanes’ refined “bread soaked in milk” pudding date back to 17th century Britain, and one version in particular, Monmouth Pudding, was an early version of the one she made. Both consisted of layers of meringue, jam and bread soaked in milk (or milk and cream).

Her recipe came across the ocean to Newfoundland with her English ancestors. A story also accompanied the recipe on the journey, that of a duke tasting the pudding and declaring it the most delicious thing he’d ever tasted.

Although she told the story from time to time, Mom Skanes put no stock in such a fanciful tale — although, secretly, I think she thought any duke would have been lucky to taste that pudding. We commoners certainly understood our luck as we offered up our bowls and begged for more. At Christmas, though, there was no need to beg, because there was always plenty.

She served the Queen of Puddings after our traditional Christmas Eve supper of lamb chops, mashed potatoes and molasses bread. While my parents and grandparents lingered at the table, I took my pudding into the den, curling up in my grandfather’s big chair where I so often fell asleep to the sound of music on the radio. On Christmas Eve I was too excited for the sound of hoofs overhead to fall asleep, and, besides, there was pudding to get me through to the next treat.

I ate it in layers, starting with the meringue, which I slurped off the spoon, filling my mouth with sweetness. Then I ate the raspberry jam and bread custard layers together. Although it was terrible manners to lick the bowl, I did, and the telltale signs of guilt lingered on my chin when my grandmother came to check on me. On that night, however, instead of chastising me, she simply marched me upstairs to wash my face and hands.

Mom Skanes was generous with food throughout the year, but at Christmas she went out of her way to make sure there was enough, not only for family and friends but, more especially, for neighbors in need. She baked for weeks leading up to the holidays, often with me perched on a stool at her elbow, watching as she measured and sifted, mixed and stirred. She creamed butter and sugar for cakes by hand but whipped egg whites for the pudding with an electric mixer that whirled around the bowl, making a cloud of white that rose higher and higher. Soon, I thought, it would float up to the ceiling, but instead, it ended up on top of the pudding’s raspberry jam.

The pudding was the last thing she made, and on Christmas Eve morning, with Bing Crosby dreaming of the “White Christmas” beyond our windows, she began by slicing and then buttering stale bread. After layering the bread in a baking pan, she made the custard, allowing it to soak into the bread before carrying the pan to the oven, me trailing behind to make sure she didn’t spill anything. The pan was so heavy that her strong arms shook as she took it from counter to oven.

Soon the aroma of vanilla filled the kitchen and, later, when the jam and meringue had been added and the pudding returned to the oven, I was charged with watching through the glass as the meringue turned golden.

The Queen of Puddings was delicious, but some loved it most because of its lightness, a lovely change from the dense and heavy fruitcakes of Christmas. I loved the meringue the most because of the magical way my grandmother transformed egg whites into a cloud; for a while, I thought it was a skill only she possessed.

For Mom Skanes, the pudding was a way of using up stale bread, because she couldn’t abide wasting food that was a blessing. There was something else she loved about the pudding, though: It was refined and, serving it softened, for a little while, what could be a hard life on that bleak island.

I still make the Queen of Puddings on Christmas Eve, carrying on her tradition, making it as much for the memories it evokes as for its taste. Like the little girl who ate the meringue first, curled up in her grandfather’s chair, I still slurp it off my spoon and fill my mouth, again, with sweetness.

The Queen of Puddings (Mom Skanes’ recipe)

Queen of Puddings. Credit: Sharon Hunt

Queen of Puddings. Credit: Sharon Hunt

Prep time: 25 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Total time: 65 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

For the bread pudding:

1 cup whole milk

1 cup table cream (18%)

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup granulated sugar

5 slices white bread, crusts removed

1/4 cup melted butter

1 cup raspberry jam

For the meringue:

4 egg whites, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.

For the bread pudding:

1. In a medium saucepan, add the milk, cream and vanilla. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is light and creamy. Slowly whisk the egg mixture into the hot milk and cream, whisking constantly until the egg mixture is incorporated. Remove the pan from the heat.

2. Brush both sides of the bread with melted butter. Place the bread evenly into the bottom of a greased 2-quart baking dish.

3. Pour the custard mixture over the bread. Use a fork to gently submerge the bread so the liquid soaks into it.

4. Place the baking dish into a roasting pan (or another large, high-sided pan). Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to reach halfway up the sides of the baking dish.

5. Carefully place in the oven and bake until the pudding is set (the bread will be firm when pressed with a fork), about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven.

6. Increase the oven temperature to 375 F.

7. In a small saucepan, warm the raspberry jam. Spread the jam evenly over the bread pudding.

For the meringue:

1. In a large clean bowl, add the egg whites. Beat using an electric or hand mixer until soft peaks form.

2. Add the cream of tartar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

3. Gradually add the sugar and beat until all sugar has been added and the meringue is thick and glossy.

4. Spread the meringue evenly over the jam layer. Bake until the meringue is golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Note: The pudding can be served hot or cold.

Main image: Queen of Puddings. Credit: Sharon Hunt

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Out of Alsace, Gluten-Free Christmas Cookies Image

At this time of year we’re always looking for recipes for gluten-free sweets, especially cookies, as more and more of our friends have forsaken flour. I always turn to my French pastry guru, Jacquy Pfeiffer, with all of my baking questions, even though I know that the Chicago-based, Alsatian-born pastry chef is not a gluten-free kinda guy. But he doesn’t need to be to offer an array of Christmas cookies that everyone can enjoy, whether they tolerate gluten or not. His moist, chewy almond-meal cinnamon stars (zimsterne), are among the most iconic of Alsatian Christmas cookies and date back to the 14th century, long before people even knew what gluten was, let alone gluten free.

There are several other gluten-free cookies in Pfeiffer’s Alsatian repertoire. He did not have to invent these recipes, or make traditional cookies gluten free by working with special flours or ingredients and changing formulas. They just don’t happen to contain flour. Among my favorites are his coconut macarons, or rochers, incredibly addictive morsels made with lots of unsweetened coconut, egg whites and sugar. They are the easiest cookies in the world to make: You mix together the egg whites, sugar and coconut with a very small amount of applesauce or apricot compote (whose fruit pectin absorbs and retains moisture), and stir the mixture over a double boiler until it thickens a little and reaches 167 degrees F (75 degrees C). Then you refrigerate the batter overnight. The next day you scoop out the cookies and bake them until golden brown. They keep well for weeks, so you can begin your Christmas baking way ahead of time.

lemon mirror cookies

Lemon mirror cookies. Credit: Paul Strabbing

Lemon mirrors, macarons and more

Other cookies that I find irresistible and always make at this time of year so that all of my friends can enjoy them are called lemon mirrors. They are delicate, nutty cookies with a meringue base enriched with almond flour, an almond cream filling (the original recipe for the almond cream called for 1 teaspoon of flour, but that small quantity was easy to swap out for cornstarch), and a lemon icing. They’re called mirrors because the final glaze makes them shiny and reflective.

The coconut macarons and lemon mirrors are not the only gluten-free cookies in Pfeiffer’s repertoire. Think macarons. Those iconic French cookies are made with almond flour, egg whites and sugar, without a jot of wheat. But they require a little more time and practice to make than the two Alsatian cookies here, and by now you are probably ready to get those cookie plates going. So get out your baking sheets and your whisks, and leave your flour in the cupboard.

Jacquy Pfeiffer’s Coconut Macarons

It’s best to mix up the batter for these cookies the day before you bake and let it rest overnight in the refrigerator. They are naturally gluten free, with no flour in the batter.

Yield: 3 dozen cookies

Prep time: About 15 minutes

Resting time: Overnight

Baking time: 15 to 20 minutes

 Ingredients

100 grams (about 3) egg whites, at room temperature

160 grams (3/4 cup) granulated sugar

100 grams (about 1 1/3 cups) unsweetened fine coconut flakes

10 grams (2 teaspoons) apricot compote or applesauce

1.5 grams (scant 1/4 teaspoon) fine sea salt

Directions

Day 1:

1. Create a double boiler by pouring 3/4 inch of water into a saucepan and placing it on the stove over medium heat.

2. Place all the ingredients in a stainless steel mixing bowl that is larger than the saucepan, and mix them together with a whisk. Reduce the heat under the saucepan to low and place the bowl on top. It should not be touching the water. Stir continuously with a whisk — not like a maniac, but stirring all areas of the bowl so that the egg whites don’t coagulate throughout the mix into small white pieces. Stir until the mixture thickens and reaches 167 F/75 C. Remove from the heat, take the bowl off the pot and wipe the bottom dry. Scrape down the sides of bowl.

3. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the mixture, taking care to lay the plastic right on the surface of the batter so that it is not exposed to air. Cover the bowl as well and refrigerate for at least two hours or preferably overnight.

Day 2

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F and arrange the rack in the middle. Line sheet pans with parchment or Silpats and, using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop, scoop the coconut mixture onto the sheet pan leaving one inch in between each cookie and staggering the rows. Each scoop should be leveled so that all the cookies are the same size and bake the same way. Bake the cookies for 15 to 20 minutes, one sheet pan at a time, until golden brown. Allow to cool on the parchment before removing.

Note: Another way to make these cookies is to pipe them onto a sheet pan with a 3/4-inch star tip. A smaller tip will not work, as the coconut likes to clump up. Pfeiffer also likes to pipe them into small 1 1/2 by 1 1/2-inch pyramid shaped silicone Flexipan molds, then bake them right in the molds. To unmold, let them cool for a full hour. They will come out easily when they are completely cool.

Jacquy Pfeiffer’s Lemon Mirror Cookies

Here’s another naturally gluten-free cookie. The only flour required is almond flour.

Yield: 40 cookies

Prep time: 1 hour (assuming ingredients are at room temperature)

Baking time: 15 minutes, plus 15 minutes for glazing the cookies

Ingredients 

For the almond cream:

100 grams (approximately 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon) skinless almond flour

100 grams (approximately 1 cup) confectioners (powdered) sugar

6 grams (2 teaspoons) cornstarch

100 grams (7 tablespoons) French style butter, such as Plugrà

Pinch of sea salt

3 grams (3/4 teaspoon) vanilla extract

60 grams (1 large plus 1 to 2 tablespoons) beaten egg

20 grams (1 tablespoon plus 2 1/4 teaspoons) dark rum

For the icing:

50 grams (approximately 1/2 cup) confectioners (powdered) sugar, sifted

12 grams (2 teaspoons) fresh lemon juice

For the meringue cookie base:

50 grams (approximately 1/2 cup) confectioners (powdered) sugar

50 grams (approximately 1/2 cup) almond flour with skin

100 grams (about 3) egg whites

Pinch of sea salt

Pinch of cream of tartar

10 grams (2 teaspoons) granulated sugar

For the topping:

50 to 100 grams (scant 1/2 to 1 cup) sliced almonds with skin

100 grams (scant 1/4 cup) apricot jelly

Directions

Before you begin: Bring all ingredients to room temperature.

1. Make the almond cream. Sift together the almond flour, confectioners sugar and cornstarch. Tap any almond flour that remains in the sifter into the bowl.

2. Make sure that your butter is at room temperature. Place the soft butter, sea salt and the vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle and mix at medium speed for 1 minute.

3. Turn off the machine, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and add the almond flour mixture to the machine. Mix at medium speed for 1 minute. Gradually add the egg and mix at medium speed until it is incorporated, which should take no more than 2 minutes. Add the rum and mix until incorporated. The cream should look shiny and creamy. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch tip and set aside.

4. Make the sugar icing by mixing together the confectioners sugar with the lemon juice. Set aside.

5. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line one or two sheet pans with parchment.

6. Make the meringue cookie base. Sift together the confectioners sugar and almond flour onto a sheet of parchment paper.

7. Place the egg whites, sea salt and cream of tartar in the bowl of your standing mixer and whisk together for 10 seconds on medium. Add the sugar and whip on high for 1 to 2 minutes, until you have a meringue with soft peaks. Using a rubber spatula, gently and carefully fold in the sifted confectioners sugar and almond powder until the mixture is homogenous. Make sure that you do not over-mix. Over-mixing the meringue mixture will make it soupy and the baked cookies will be gummy.

8. Using a bowl scraper, carefully transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a 3/8-inch round tip. Do this gently so that you don’t deflate the mixture. Pipe 1 1/2-inch rings onto the parchment-lined sheet pans, leaving 1/2 inch of space between each cookie and making sure to stagger the rows. Sprinkle the edge of each ring with sliced almonds.

9. Pipe the almond cream into the center of each ring.

10. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown.

11. While the cookies are baking, warm the apricot jelly in a small saucepan just until it becomes liquid. Keep the apricot jelly warm over the lowest heat possible so that it won’t seize up. If this happens just warm it up a little more and it will become liquid again.

12. Right out of the oven, brush each cookie with the apricot jelly, then right away with the sugar icing. Allow to cool completely before removing from the parchment paper.

Main photo: Jacquy Pfeiffer’s coconut macarons. Credit: Paul Strabbing, recipe and photo courtesy of Pfeiffer’s “The Art of French Pastry.”

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It’s Time To Take A Healthful Approach To Sugar Image

Dear Surgeon General,

We need your help, Vivek Murthy. You’re now our nation’s top doctor and we need you. Sugar is a problem. We love it. We consume literally tons of it. But it doesn’t love us back.

In fact, our sugar habit is making us sick. You’re the one person in the country we can look to for a full diagnosis. We need you to step boldly into the conversation and assemble all the facts. Just as your predecessor did when he weighed in in 1964 on smoking.


This year marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Surgeon General’s first authoritative report on smoking and health, rightly considered a landmark in public health. Since that first report in 1964, there have been 31 more Surgeon General reports on the effects of tobacco smoking. Motivated by these reports, the percentage of Americans who smoke has dropped from 42% in 1964 to 18% in 2012 — still too high, but a real change. Excellent work! Now, it’s time for the Surgeon General to issue a new report. We think it’s sugar’s turn.
In the 50 years since the tobacco study, there has been one report (in 1988) from the Surgeon General on health and nutrition. Over the last 26 years, the science of nutrition and health has advanced enormously. Thanks to modern research and data techniques, today we know a lot more about the impact of our eating habits on our health than we did 50 years ago. In particular, we need you to take a close look at the effects of the skyrocketing levels of sugar we consume.

Andrew Rosenberg is director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Credit: UCS

Andrew Rosenberg is director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Credit: UCS

As part of a growing body of scientific evidence, we now know that added sugar in America’s diet has a huge impact on public health. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease — driven by high sugar consumption without the essential fiber that accompanies naturally occurring sugar in fruit — afflicts an estimated 31% of American adults and 13% of children. Excessive sugar consumption is also linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes, affecting 16 million and 26 million Americans respectively. And the trend lines for our kid’s future are even gloomier.

More than 19 teaspoons every day

The average American consumes more than 19 teaspoons (82 grams) every day. That’s two to three times the recommended daily limit. Worse still, our overconsumption of sugar is fueled by healthy-seeming foods that hide sugar —  products such as yogurt, tomato sauce and bread — behind synonyms such as barley malt, agave nectar, corn syrup and 61 other innocuous sounding names. Sugar is added to a whopping 74% of packaged foods.

And if that wasn’t enough, Americans are bombarded with slick advertising for products high in sugar. Advertising that is enormously well-funded (about $7 billion annually) and targets vulnerable populations such as children. It’s designed to manipulate the choices we make throughout our lives.

Pallavi Phartiyal is program manager for Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Credit: UCS

Pallavi Phartiyal is program manager for Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Credit: UCS

Overconsumption of sugar and its strain on our health and health care system need national attention. There is a momentum building across the country to address this problem. Berkeley, Calif., just passed the nation’s first tax on soda. The Food and Drug Administration recently advanced a proposal to include an “added sugar” line in the ubiquitous Nutrition Facts labels. And the dietary guidelines advisory committee, a panel of experts that advise the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, after considering the latest scientific evidence, supports an added sugar label. These are all glimmers of momentum. But you, Surgeon General, could be the engine that roars ahead.

When we have questions about our health, we go to the doctor. We need you, America’s top doctor, to help us understand the impact of added sugar on our health. It’s time for the Office of the Surgeon General to commission a report on a public health issue affecting so many Americans.

Doctor, can you help us?

Main photo: The average American consumes more than 19 teaspoons of sugar every day. That’s two to three times the recommended daily limit. Credit: iStock

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Malpoas: An Indian Twist On Latkes For Hanukkah Image

If celebration food is the determining factor, Hanukkah has to be one of my all-time favorite holidays. I have yet to meet a fried food I didn’t love, and the ever-popular latke calls my name, especially on nippy days like these.

Offer me a holiday that offers a reason to indulge in crispy potato pancakes and doughnuts, and my food fantasy is complete.

Over the years, I have had a few latke recipes that I have created, like this loaded variety or another with a blend of harvest roots. Depending on the meal, I pair them with foods throughout the year.

Last year, however, I actually set out to explore Indian foods that might work on a Hanukkah table for a guest who was visiting. Hiam, a young Jewish man and an intern working with my husband, stayed with us for a couple of weeks at a time that happened to coincide with Hanukkah.

His father, he told me, was born of half-Indian descent in what is now Mumbai in India, and had later moved on to various places before finally setting here in the United States. He had told Hiam many stories of India, leaving his son with a romantic view of the country and a deep wish to visit it one day. On my table, Hiam was hoping to find foods that would take him a little closer to his goal.

He wanted to celebrate Hanukkah with some foods that would be symbolic of the holiday and Indian in character. He mentioned to me that his family often enjoyed Indian lentils, or dal, with pita bread, and his father had a recipe for curried cauliflower, so his request was to sample something beyond that.

A Jewish community in India?

India has a small but long-established Jewish community in parts of eastern, western and southern India, so finding Jewish cuisine in India is not such a foreign concept. Nahoum and Sons, located in the center of Kolkata’s historic New Market, is a well-established and third-generation bakery of Jewish heritage. It still carries confectionery that represents traditional family recipes and unique savories.

I scoured through some heritage cookbooks, to grant Hiam his wish. Certain recipes, such as a roasted chicken and a potato creation called Chicken Makallah, or the stuffed creations called dolmas, have likely found their way onto Indian tables by way of Jewish influence.

None of these seemed to fit the Hanukkah bill of celebrating fried foods.

Fashioning a latke out of tried-and-true Indian food

So I was back to creating a festive meal from my tested and tried staples. The Indians love their lentil fritters called vadas or chickpea batter coated fritters called pakoras. These provide loads of options for the seeker of fried indulgences. I scoped out my two favorite recipes that are perfect for any celebration and well-suited for those looking for easy and unusual festive recipes.

The first recipe is for a traditional crisp pancake called malpoa, which actually offers you something in between a doughnut and a crepe. I like to top the malpoa with seasonal fruit, and this variation has an apple and pistachio topping. It is important to serve these hot. The syrup can be made ahead if you wish and brought to room temperature.

The second recipe is a classic Bengali onion fritter that I make as onion rings, as this rendition works best with my children. The distinct element of this recipe is the addition of nigella seeds, which add a unique flavor and pretty speckled appearance to the rings. These onion fritters are a well-loved roadside food in Bengal — hot and crisply fried, wrapped lovingly in newspaper bags.

Apple Malpoa – Indian Pancakes with a Cardamom, Apple Pistachio Topping

(Recipe adapted from “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles,” Hippocrene, 2012)

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: 15 medium-sized (5-inch) pancakes

Ingredients

For the syrup:

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

For the apple pistachio topping:

2 honeycrisp apples, diced, skin on

1/2 cup crushed pistachios (pecans can be used, if desired)

1/2 teaspoon crushed cardamom

1/3 cup coconut milk

For the pancakes:

3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds

1 to 2 whole black peppercorns

2 cups commercial evaporated milk (about 2 large cans)

1/3 cup ricotta cheese

1 1/2 tablespoons semolina

3/4 cup all-purpose flour (enough to bind the batter)

Oil for frying

Directions

1. To prepare the syrup, place the water and sugar in a heavy-bottomed pot and cook on medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until it reaches a consistency thick enough to lightly coat the pancake when soaked.

2. To prepare the apple-pistachio topping, preheat the oven to 375 F.

3. Lightly toss the apples, pistachios, cardamom and coconut milk.

4. Bake for about 15 minutes.

5. To prepare the pancakes, dry roast the fennel seeds, cardamom seeds and whole peppercorns for a few minutes.

6. Grind the roasted spices to a coarse powder.

7. Blend the evaporated milk, ricotta cheese, semolina, and flour until a smooth batter is formed. The batter should be slightly thicker than buttermilk.

8. Stir in the roasted spices.

9. Heat some oil in a skillet. Add 2 tablespoons of the batter for each pancake and spread slightly. When browned on one side, turn over and brown on the other side.

10. Remove from pan and place into the syrup and let soak for 5 minutes. Serve warm, topped with a small amount of the apple, allowing 2 pancakes per serving.

 

 

Bengali Onion Rings. Credit: Rinku Bhattacharya

Bengali Onion Rings. Credit: Rinku Bhattacharya

Onion Rings with Nigella Seeds – Gol Piyaji

(Recipe from “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles”)

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

4 medium onions, tops removed and peeled

3/4 cup chickpea flour

1/2 cup water

3/4 teaspoon nigella seeds

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder

1 teaspoon black salt

Oil for frying

Cilantro to garnish, optional

Directions

1. Cut the onions into 1/2-inch-thick rounds and separate into rings.

2. Mix the chickpea flour and 1/2 cup of water into a thick batter; the consistency should coat easily. Stir in the nigella seeds, cayenne pepper powder, and black salt; mix well.

3. Heat some oil in a wok or deep skillet until hot enough for frying.

4. Dip each onion ring in the batter and fry until crisp. You may fry 3 or 4 rings at a time, depending on the size of the wok or skillet. It is important not to have the rings touch each other while cooking. Remove rings from the oil and drain on paper towels before serving.

Main photo: These apple malpoas, crisp fried pancakes, offer an Indian twist to latkes served for Hanukkah. Credit: Rinku Bhattacharya

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Christmas Eve Pasta Is A Sweet Treat Image

In Italy, besides special holiday cookies and cakes like panettone, pasta is served for dessert, especially on Christmas Eve. Italy has a long tradition of serving sweetened pasta for dessert. Back in the Renaissance, pasta was a luxury food, reserved for special occasions, and paired with other luxury foods like sugar and cinnamon.

Each region of Italy, from north to south, has a different specialty recipe.

Macaroni with walnuts, maccheroni con le noci, a mound of luscious pasta tossed in a sweet dark chocolate sauce topped with grated chocolate and walnuts, is served in central Italy, especially in Lazio and Umbria. For centuries, the nuns at the Monastery of Santo Spirito in Agrigento, Sicily, have been selling couscous desserts seasoned with pistachios, cuscus dolce siciliano al pistachio, dense like rice pudding, with deep pistachio flavor. It’s usually served topped with grated dark chocolate and pomegranate seeds, which makes for a pretty green and red Christmas color theme.

Macaroni With Chocolate Walnut Sauce (Maccheroni Con Le Noci)

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

10 ounces pappardelle or other wide noodle

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped, plus more for garnish

1 cup finely chopped walnuts

3 tablespoons rum

Zest of 1/2 lemon

Ground cinnamon

Freshly ground nutmeg

Honey

Directions

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions.

2. Drain, return to the cooking pot, and, off the heat, immediately toss with sugar, chocolate, walnuts, rum, zest, and pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. Toss well, until the sugar and chocolate dissolves.

3. Serve topped with grated chocolate and a drizzle of honey.

Pistachio Couscous (Cuscus Dolce Siciliano al Pistachio)

From “Pasta Modern” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) by Francine Segan

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

Salt

1 cup couscous

1/2 cup shelled pistachios

1/4 cup blanched almonds

Ground cinnamon

4 to 6 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 ounces dark chocolate

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds or other fresh fruit or dried fruit

Directions

1. Bring 1 1/4 cups water and a pinch of salt to a boil in a medium saucepan, then stir in the couscous and remove from the heat. Cover and let rest 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and let cool to room temperature.

2. Meanwhile, grind the pistachios and almonds in a small food processor until very fine and powder-like. Add the nuts and a pinch of cinnamon into the couscous and stir until well combined. Sweeten to taste with 4 to 6 tablespoons sugar.

3. Serve topped with grated dark chocolate and pomegranate seeds or other fruit.

Main photo: A mound of luscious pasta is tossed in a sweet dark chocolate sauce and topped with grated chocolate and walnuts. Credit: Garofalo Pasta Company

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From Gifts To Baking, A Zester Daily Holiday Image

Many lucky people reach a point in life where the last thing they need is more stuff. That’s why choosing the right kind of Christmas present — or holiday experience — can be the best gift of all.

Food is perfect, of course. Things to create food are handy, too. Then there is the gift of time together, the very point of a holiday and something that can be achieved with just the right kind of party.

Here’s a collection of Zester Daily stories to provide some ideas to brighten everyone’s holiday. The notes are directly from the contributors. Click on the links for each story.

Gifts

Maple-Nut Fudge: Easy as Pie for Holiday Gifts by Charles Perry: As we slide into the holiday season, my mind turns toward maple: maple syrup, maple frosting — and maple fudge.

United States of Artisans: 51 Edible Holiday Gifts to Send by Emily Grosvenor: You can’t go wrong with edible gifts at the holidays. Edibles send strong messages of sharing, goodwill, pride-of-place and uniqueness, while not cluttering up the recipient’s house for the rest of their lives.

5 DIY Edible Gifts to Impress Everyone on Your List by Sue Style: Christmas is for sharing, and some of the best gifts to share are the ones you’ve made yourself.

Need a thoughtful gift idea? Try These Cookbooks by Clifford A. Wright: Shopping for a great Christmas gift once meant hours of driving and parking, but with today’s Internet shopping, it’s easier.

Turmeric Candy: Give a Gift of Health and Drink to It, Too by R. Eckhardt and D. Hagerman: By now, you’ve probably heard about turmeric: the yellow-orange rhizome native to South Asia recognized for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Sweets

Mince Pies: Where’s the Beef? by Clarissa Hyman: “Mince around the World” is probably one of the worst names ever for a cookbook, yet it was discussed in all seriousness by an editor of my acquaintance a few years ago.

A Fruitcake Everyone Will Love (Really!) by Julia della Croce: I never understood the aversion to fruitcake until someone sent me one of those clunkers that the humorist Russell Baker said he deplored, dating from a Christmas dinner when a small piece he dropped shattered his right foot.

A Trio of Italian Cookies for the Holidays by Francine Segan: Here are three unusual Italian cookies that you can make ahead for the holidays, each with a special featured ingredient.

Buttercrunch Lets You Slow Down, Enjoy the Moment by Kathy Gunst: The part of the holidays that always makes me feel warm and loved are the traditions my family has established.

Sugar and Spice: Italian Confetti by Francine Segan: Italians sure like to sugarcoat things. They’ve got a sugarcoated something or other for almost every occasion.

Caribbean Black Cake Will Leave You Wanting More by Ramin Ganeshram: It would arrive each year by the first week of December: a brown paper parcel from Tobago.

A Fruitcake Recipe That Finishes With a Big Bang by Louisa Kasdon: Like many people, I thought fruitcakes — like Twinkies — came wrapped and packaged and were the kind of food that goes into the fallout shelter with you.

Cantucci: Tuscany’s Classic Cookie by Francine Segan: Cantucci, crunchy almond biscotti, are a Tuscan classic.

Celebrating Christmas — and Fruitcake — in East India by Rinku Bhattacharya: In India, December comes with the spirit of Christmas throughout the country.

Entertaining

How to Throw a Flawless Holiday Dinner Party by Clifford A. Wright: It is joyous to watch people have a good time and set a table for sparkling conversation and good food.

Holiday Menu Makeovers That Flip Ho-Hum to Yum by Francine Segan: Do you have menu monotony? Are you cooking the same recipes over and over again?

Pozole: A Go-To Party Food for Las Posadas by Karen Branch-Brioso: For nine nights leading to Christmas Eve, Mexico celebrates las posadas: singalong parties to reenact Joseph and Mary’s biblical pilgrimage to Bethlehem and their near-fruitless search for shelter before Jesus’ birth.

The Dinner We All Want for the Holidays by Barbara Haber: I am thinking about having an ecumenical holiday party this year to bring together friends of varying religious and ethnic persuasions and am enjoying the challenge of coming up with an inclusive menu.

Main composite image: Zester holiday favorites. Composite credit: Karen Chaderjian

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