Cooking – Zester Daily Zester Daily Fri, 05 Jan 2018 10:00:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Making Cabbage Cool Again With Two Hot Recipes /cooking/making-cabbage-cool-two-hot-recipes/ /cooking/making-cabbage-cool-two-hot-recipes/#comments Thu, 04 Jan 2018 10:00:05 +0000 /?p=60091 Pirjati Zelje (braised cabbage). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Cabbage is the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables: It doesn’t get any respect. It gets a bad rap. Cabbage never gets mentioned as one of the hip vegetables like kale. It’s not a super-vegetable like broccoli rabe. It’s not an adorable vegetable like baby Brussels sprouts. It’s not a “cool” vegetable. It’s stodgy and old-fashioned. I mean, they make sauerkraut from it.

All those cooler vegetables just mentioned, though, owe their existence to cabbage. The big green head we associate with cabbage today was not always what cabbage was. Today there are hundreds of varieties of cabbage that have developed from the progenitor cabbage, called the wild cabbage, including the many forms of cabbage and further horticultural developments such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoliflower, broccoli rabe and kohlrabi.

Botanists divide the cabbage into five groups. It is the head cabbage, green, red, crinkly-leafed or Savoy cabbage, that I’m speaking of. But there are some 400 varieties of head cabbage.

The cabbage is probably native to the Mediterranean, but in Roman times the head cabbage we think of as cabbage today did not exist. The Romans had only leafy cabbage, probably kale. There are some obscure references by Roman naturalists Pliny and Columella to what has been taken by some to be head cabbage. These descriptions refer to heads of the plant being a foot in diameter, but it is not at all clear whether this refers to a compact headed cabbage that we know today or is simply an expression referring to the above ground portion of the plant.

The wealthy citizens of Rome, in the period after Cato the Elder (mid-second century BC), thought of cabbage as poor people’s food as we know from the description in Juvenal’s satire when he described the difference between the food that the patron ate, namely olives to garnish an excellent fish, and the food of the client, who finds cabbage in his “nauseous dish.”

It seems that the head cabbage we know today was developed in Germany in the 12th century. Soon it would be the single most common plant in the medieval garden.

Cabbage rolls. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Cabbage rolls. Credit: Copyright 2018 Clifford A. Wright

It’s not a popular vegetable today, but it is a vegetable that does draw the curious cook. The most obviously intriguing thing to do with cabbage is to separate the leaves and then stuff them by rolling them up. There are many great preparations for cabbage from sauerkraut, to kimchi, to coleslaw, and every culture has a recipe for stuffed cabbage. Here are two recipes for cabbage lovers from cabbage-loving Slovenia and Croatia, next door to Italy.

Braised Cabbage

Cabbage is a very popular vegetable in the Balkans, served raw, in the form of sauerkraut and cooked in a variety of ways. In the northern part of the former Yugoslavia, today’s Slovenia and parts of Croatia, cabbage may be cooked with sour cream or tossed with noodles and smoked bacon. In Bosnia or Montenegro, it might be cooked with tomatoes. This recipe from Slovenia is typically served as a bed for a roast duckling.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 55 minutes

Yield: 4 servings


4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons tomato paste mixed with 2 tablespoons water

1 cup dry white wine

One 2-pound green cabbage, cored and sliced as thin as vermicelli

15 peppercorns

8 juniper berries, lightly crushed

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste


1. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then add the bay leaves and cook until they begin to sizzle. Reduce the heat to medium and very carefully add the tomato paste and wine, which will spurt and splatter rather dramatically.

2. Continue cooking for a minute then add the cabbage, peppercorns, juniper berries and thyme. Mix so the cabbage is covered with sauce.

3. Add the lemon juice and continue to braise over medium heat until the cabbage softens, 6 to 8 minutes.

4. Reduce the heat to low, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the cabbage is completely soft, about 45 minutes. Correct the seasoning and serve hot.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

These cabbage rolls are a winter specialty known as arambašici in their home of Sinj, a town near the Dinaric Alps on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Traditionally, this casserole of stuffed cabbage leaves is made from a whole head of cabbage that has been prepared as sauerkraut. Each sauerkraut leaf, or as in this recipe cabbage leaf, is stuffed with beef, pork and bacon, and flavored with lemon zest, onion, garlic, cloves and cinnamon. Each roll-up is separated from the other with pieces of pršut (Croatian prosciutto) and smoked tongue.

Arambašici can be made with fresh cabbage leaves or grape leaves, too. My recipe uses fresh cabbage, which is the easiest to find and is what a cook from Sinj would use in the summer. Many cooks also like to make the casserole in the evening and then reheat it the next day, and you should consider doing that as it is delicious.

The casserole cooks a long time so the meats are very tender and the cabbage leaves become silky. The smoked bacon, smoked pork, smoked tongue and prosciutto can all be picked up at the deli counter of most supermarkets.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 4 hours

Yield: 20 to 26 rolls, or about 6 servings


1 large green cabbage (about 2 3/4 pounds), central core removed

1 1/4 pounds boneless beef neck meat or beef chuck, finely chopped

5 ounces smoked bacon (preferably) or lean slab bacon, finely chopped

2 ounces beef fat (suet), finely chopped

6 ounces boneless pork shoulder or neck meat, finely chopped

2 large onions, chopped

3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

Grated zest from 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter or beef fat for greasing

One 4-inch-long beef marrow bone (optional)

1 ounce smoked pork (any cut), finely chopped

2 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced into strips

2 ounces smoked tongue (optional), thinly sliced into strips

1 cup water and more as needed


1. Heat the oven to 300 F.

2. Remove and discard any of the outermost leaves of the cabbage that are blemished. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, salt and plunge the whole cabbage in and cook until the leaves can be peeled away without ripping, about 10 minutes. Drain well and, when cool enough to handle, separate the leaves carefully, setting them aside.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the beef, bacon, suet and pork. Add the onions, garlic, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix well with your hands.

4. Arrange a cabbage leaf in front of you with the stem end closest to you. Place 2, 3 or 4 tablespoons (depending on the size of the leaf) of filling on the end closest to you, then roll away once, fold in the sides and continue rolling away until you get a nice, neat package.

5. Continue with the remaining cabbage leaves. Arrange the cabbage rolls side by side, seam side down, in a lightly greased 13- x 9- x 2-inch casserole (you may need to use two casseroles), making sure you leave some room for the beef marrow bone. Sprinkle the chopped smoked pork over the cabbage rolls.

6. Place the prosciutto and smoked tongue slices (if using) between the cabbage rolls. Pour the water over the cabbage rolls and cover with aluminum foil. (The casserole can be refrigerated at this point to bake later.)

7. Bake until the cabbage rolls are very soft, slightly blackened on top and bubbling vigorously, about 4 hours.

8. Serve hot or let cool to room temperature and serve as an appetizer the next day.

Main photo: Pirjati Zelje (braised cabbage). Credit: Copyright 2018 Clifford A. Wright

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Which Sauce For Which Pasta? /cooking/which-sauce-for-which-pasta/ /cooking/which-sauce-for-which-pasta/#comments Wed, 03 Jan 2018 10:00:29 +0000 /?p=59368 Vintage pasta label. Credit: Courtesy of Gerardo di Nola Pastificio, Naples

We’ve come a long way since the days when Americans thought Italian cuisine meant spaghetti or ziti in rivers of “marinara” set on red-checkered tablecloths. Even if mistaken notions persist about what genuine Italian cooking really is, we’ve embraced every new pasta that has come our way (think squid-ink fettuccine or agnolotti al plin), and we’ve become more sauce savvy, too. Amatriciana and puttanesca are commonplace in restaurant and home kitchens alike, and “carbonara” is a household word from New York to Nebraska. Arrabbiata, cacio e pepe, aglio e olio — you name it, we love them all.

Nevertheless, the canon of pasta-and-sauce pairings has remained something of a mystery outside the borders of Italy. The immense number of different shapes is daunting to us foreigners; out of sheer exasperation, we find ourselves asking, “Why so many?” There are “priests’ hats,” “wolves’ eyes” and “horses’ teeth,” “church bells,” “little loves” and “kiss catchers.” It is not enough to make pasta bows (farfalle); there must also be little bows (farfallette) and much bigger bows (farfalloni). There are not only small reeds called cannelle, but also very small reeds, large smooth reeds and large grooved reeds. Some shapes have more than one name (penne lisce and mostaccioli, for example, are one and the same).

A 19th-century graphic depicting rival pasta makers. Credit: Courtesy of Julia della Croce

A 19th-century graphic depicting rival pasta makers. Credit: Courtesy of Julia della Croce

The roots of this maccheroni madness go back to the fierce rivalry among dried-pasta manufacturers in 19th century Naples, where the southern Italian pasta industry mushroomed during the Industrial Revolution. At one point about 1,500 pastifici competed for business, engaging in price wars or introducing ever-newer products to lure customers to their brand. But probably more than anything, the seemingly endless variations reflect the expansive nature of the Italian people — their imagination and love of show.

The American versus the Italian approach

Americans are characteristically laissez-faire about pairing rules. James Beard once told me that he saw no reason to be bound by tradition; he believed we ought to be inventive with pasta recipes. By contrast, the Italians are always mindful of the pairing principles derived from a long history of pasta eating. Over the centuries, tried-and-true guidelines have emerged, based primarily on the ingredients in the dough and the architecture of each resulting shape — hard wheat or soft wheat, dried pasta or fresh, long or short, smooth or ridged. Various pastas absorb and combine with sauces in different ways depending on their wall thickness, density and structure.

Meanwhile, sauces — condimenti, as the Italians call themhave inherent texture, flavor and color attributes. The foundation of most is olive oil or butter, given body with tomato purée, meat, vegetables and/or cheese. The art of pairing can probably best be explained by herding all the unruly strands and little shapes into three separate tribes, as it were — each with their own swimming pools or sauces. (Here we will concern ourselves with dried pasta alone.)

Golden rules for pairing dried pasta and sauces



Capelli d’angelo (“angel hair”), cappellini (“fine hair”), vermicelli (“little worms”), fedelini (“very fine noodles”): Use all in broths or broth-based soups. The latter two, being thicker, are suitable for light, sieved tomato sauces, but none of these long, lightweight pastas can support dense cream-based or meat sauces.


Spaghetti, spaghettini, spaghetti alla chitarra (“guitar-string spaghetti”), mezze linguine (“half linguine”): This group is sturdy enough for olive-oil sauces such as aglio e olio as well as tomato- or brothy seafood-based sauces that easily slip along the surface.


Linguine (“long tongues,” aka bavette), perciatelli, bucatini, fusilli bucati lunghi (“long hollow coils”): Because these shapes have more weight than those in the previous subcategories, they will all support a relatively unctuous sauce such as basil pesto, but they are also sprightly enough to consort with sauces suited to medium-weight long pasta. By tradition, linguine is inexplicably inseparable from fish or shellfish sauces, though fluid tomato sauces make a pleasant match, too.

Spaghetti with fresh tomato and basil, a classic pairing. Credit: Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Spaghetti with fresh tomato and basil, a classic pairing. Credit: Copyright 2018 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales


The tubular shapes have relatively thick walls, which make them sturdy enough to support not only chunky tomato-based sauces with or without meat, as well as cheese or cream preparations. (Diagonal cuts are especially handy in this regard.) Despite the versatility of these shapes, the size of the ingredients in accompanying sauces should be kept in mind. For example, wide tubular cuts are big enough to trap meat bits and vegetable chunks (think rigatoni with broccoli and anchovies); not so in the case of petite variants such as pennette (“little quills”). Tubular shapes are also ideal for baked dishes because they hold their shape and firmness during a second cooking in the oven.

Anelli (“rings”), ditaloni (“thimbles”): Ideal for pasta e fagioli and other bean soups because the ring shape nests cannellini beans, lentils and such.

Penne (“quills”), penne rigate (“ridged quills”), penne lisce (“smooth quills”), pennette, rigatoni: These go with olive oil- or butter-based vegetable, meat and tomato sauces and also with cream-based concoctions. Olive oil-based sauces stick to ridged shapes better than to smooth ones. The slimmer pennette are best matched with light vegetable or tomato sauces containing, say, wild mushrooms or eggplant (though traditionalists wouldn’t dream of making pasta alla Norma with anything but spaghetti).

Quirky shapes

Farfalle (“butterflies”): Their delicate “wingspan” suits them to light sauces based on either olive oil or butter, as long as there are no big obstacles in their flight path.

Fusilli, fusilli corti (“short fusilli”), tortiglioni (hollow “spirals”), radiatori (“radiators”), gemelli (“twins”) and various twists: Shapes like these are designed to trap cheese and ricotta sauces or unctuous nut sauces, such as pestos. Ragù and other meat sauces love to collect in their coils, too.

Strozzapreti (“priest stranglers”): These handmade dried forms call for tomato, meat and sausage sauces.

Conchiglie (“shells”), riccioli (“curls”), ruote (“wheels”), lumache (“snails”): Short and stubby shapes such as these work well with hearty sauces featuring meat, vegetables, cheese or cream.

Main photo: Vintage pasta label. Credit: Courtesy of Gerardo di Nola Pastificio, Naples, reprinted from “Pasta Classica: The Art of Italian Pasta Cooking,” by Julia della Croce

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‘Cut Off’ The Old Year With Japanese Soba Noodles /cooking/cut-off-old-year-japanese-soba-noodles/ /cooking/cut-off-old-year-japanese-soba-noodles/#respond Wed, 27 Dec 2017 10:00:44 +0000 /?p=59436 Toshikoshi Soba With Kakiage Tempura. Credit: Hiroko Shimbo

After moving to the United States, I was fascinated and eventually hooked by the way Americans welcome the new year. There were New Year’s Eve parties peppered with all kinds of excitement: sexy dresses, endless champagne, playful party props, dancing, counting down the seconds and kissing whomever is near while listening to “Auld Lang Syne.” None of these elements — except counting down the seconds — exist in our Japanese tradition. I was brought up in a culture in which welcoming the new year is a spiritually refreshing traditional event, packed with ancient superstitions and customs, that extends from the end of the old year into the first three days of the new.

In Japan, New Year’s Eve is as important as Christmas Day in Western countries. It is a solemn moment for us to reflect on ourselves, looking back at the past year. What kinds of sins and mistakes did we commit? Did we do anything especially good? By identifying these elements, we try not to carry bad luck into the new year. We also try to complete unfinished tasks. The new year must be a fresh start, without unwanted baggage from the old year. During this period in the Shinto religion, we observe a change in the god of the year. At the end of the year, we express thanks to the departing god for protection during the past year. On the first of January, we welcome a new god and ask for his favor in the new year.

Nearly all the Japanese population eats soba (buckwheat noodles) on New Year’s Eve. This is one of the superstitions involving new year culinary traditions. When you visit Japan at this time of the year you see signs at restaurants and food stores, many of them written on handmade washi paper with bold ink brush strokes, notifying customers that they will offer Toshikoshi soba, the buckwheat noodles especially eaten on Dec. 31. Toshikoshi soba itself is really nothing special as a dish. It is actually the same soba noodles consumed during the rest of the year.

The tradition of eating soba at the end of each year goes back to the latter part of the Edo period (1600-1868). Because buckwheat flour does not have gluten, the cooked noodles break apart easily. Hence, our superstitious ancestors concluded that eating soba at the end of the year helps to cut off bad luck and bad omens that plagued us during the old year.

If you want to test this superstition or at least participate in a delicious tradition, here is one important reminder: You need soba noodles made from 100 percent buckwheat flour. Japanese and Asian stores in America, and even some American ones, carry soba noodles, but many of them are made from a combination of buckwheat and other flours. These noodles won’t break so easily, so they won’t separate you from last year’s bad luck!

Soba meets its match

Tempura is a perfect accompaniment to soba. My mother prepared a feast at the end of every year, but simple soba noodles with shrimp tempura were the highlight of the meal. The live shrimp were sent to us by one of my father’s patients as a thank-you gift on Dec. 31 for as long for as I can remember. After eating the tempura and soba, all of us were certain of a very healthy, good year.

After the meal, close to midnight, we would head to the nearby Buddhist temple, where the priests performed a special service welcoming the new year for the community. A large bonfire, created for the warmth and for burning old talismans and any unwanted documents from the past, brightened up dark, cold environment. As we watch the fire and listened to the temple bell tolling 108 times, our past sins and errors were dispelled so we could to welcome the fresh start for the new year. People quietly greeted each other with “Omedeto gozaimasu” (Happy New Year), and the voices and people soon disappeared into the dark in every direction. Each headed to enjoy brief sleep before the next morning’s pilgrimage to a Shinto shrine to make the new year offering and prayers. This was followed by the huge New Year’s Day festive feast, Osechi-ryori, a meal packed with additional symbolic and good fortune food items.

If you want to enjoy an important part of our tradition, here is the recipe for Toshikoshi soba. As I mentioned, make sure to secure 100 percent buckwheat noodles for this special occasion. The tempura accompaniment here is called kakiage tempura. Chopped shrimp and vegetables are deep-fried in the form of a delicious pancake.

Dozo Yoi Otoshio! (Please have a good end of the year!)

Toshikoshi Soba With Kakiage Tempura

Adapted from Hiroko’s American Kitchen

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings


Canola oil or vegetable oil for deep-frying

1/2 cup frozen green peas

1/2 cup eggplant, finely diced

1/2 ounce kale, julienned

5 ounces peeled and deveined shrimp, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons tempura flour or a blend of 80% cake flour and 20% cornstarch

3/4 cup cold water

14 ounces dried soba noodles (preferably 100% buckwheat noodles)

5 cups hot noodle broth

1 tablespoon grated ginger

1 tablespoon scallion


1. Heat 3 inches of the canola oil in a heavy skillet to 350 F. Place a slotted spoon in the oil and allow it to heat to the temperature of the oil to prevent the batter from sticking to it.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium heat. In a bowl, toss the green peas, eggplant, kale and shrimp with 2 tablespoons of the tempura flour. In another bowl, mix the remaining tempura flour with the cold water. Stir with a fork until smooth. Add the tempura batter to the shrimp mixture and mix with a large spoon.

3. Using the large spoon, scoop 1/4 of the shrimp mixture from the bowl and pour it into the slotted spoon that was warming in the oil. Immediately lower the slotted spoon into the heated oil and submerge the shrimp mixture. Leaving the spoon in place, cook the mixture (kakiage) for 1 1/2 minutes or until the bottom side is cooked. Using a steel spatula, remove the kakiage from the slotted spoon and let it float free in the oil. Cook the kakiage for about 4 minutes, or until lightly golden, turning it a few times during cooking. Transfer the cooked kakiage to a wire rack set over a baking sheet and let drain. Repeat the process for the remaining batter.

4. While cooking the kakiage, cook the soba noodles in a boiling water for 1 minute less than the suggested cooking time on the package. Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse them under cold tap water. Drain the noodles and keep them in the colander.

5. Prepare a kettle of boiling water. Pour the boiling water over the cooked noodles to re-warm them. Drain the noodles and divide them into bowls. Bring the noodle broth to a simmer in a medium pot over medium heat. Pour the hot broth into the bowls. Divide the kakiage tempura among the bowls. Garnish with the ginger and scallions and serve.

Main photo: Toshikoshi Soba With Kakiage Tempura. Credit: Copyright 2017 Hiroko Shimbo

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Lift Heavy Holiday Meals With Tangy Squash Salad /holidays-wrecipe/lift-heavy-holiday-meals-with-tangy-squash-salad/ /holidays-wrecipe/lift-heavy-holiday-meals-with-tangy-squash-salad/#respond Tue, 26 Dec 2017 10:00:20 +0000 /?p=76407 A butternut squash salad is a nutritious and satisfying alternative to heavy holiday plates. Credit: Copyright 2016 P.K. Newby

To balance indulgent eats with healthier choices during the holiday season, add this big salad for supper featuring roasted vegetables, cranberries and toasted walnuts topped with a zingy maple-dijon vinaigrette to your repertoire. Butternut squash is the seasonal darling that takes eaters from autumn through the winter in a variety of tasty ways, whether baked and stuffed or as the basis for succulent soups and stews.

Whatever dish you’re making, roasting is a great way to coax the flavor from Cucurbita, and the starting point for this recipe. The sweet cubes come together with onions, cranberries, walnuts and a zesty dressing to create a delectable array of flavors and colors.

This salad makes a fun side, though for me it’s often a stand-alone supper when served over a bed of hearty greens, a “big salad” suitable for the colder months of the year. It works beautifully with fresh cranberries instead of dried, too: Just roast alongside onions, perhaps with a bit of sugar, unless you want a punch of tartness. Perhaps try adding white or cranberry beans for a protein and energy boost, or top with crumbled goat or blue cheese for a sumptuous finish. Make it your own, and enjoy this meal all winter long.

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

You can serve this salad as a side, but it also makes for a great stand-alone supper. Credit: Copyright 2016 PK Newby

You can serve this salad as a side, but it also makes for a great stand-alone supper. Credit: Copyright 2017 P.K. Newby

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 35 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: Serves 2 as a main dish, or 4 as a side


8 cups butternut squash, cubed

1 cup walnuts, toasted

1 large onion, large chop (about 2 cups)

1 tablespoon rosemary, finely minced

1 1/2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, separated

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to season

1 cup dried cranberries

Chives, for garnish

4 cups greens (kale, arugula, mustard, etc.) (optional)


4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon shallot, finely minced

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon maple syrup

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 tablespoons walnut oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste


Preheat oven to 475 F. Toast walnuts in oven while it is heating, about 5 minutes, until deepened in color and fragrant. Meanwhile, cut squash in large cubes and give the onion a large chop. Mince rosemary.

Place squash on a large cookie sheet. Drizzle with 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Toss together the onions and rosemary with the remaining 1 teaspoon of olive oil on a separate sheet. Place both in fully heated oven and toss the vegetables on the pan after 15 minutes, then continue cooking another 10 to 20 minutes until soft and browned in spots; the onions will take a shorter time. Remove both from oven and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, shallot, mustard, maple syrup and olive oil, then slowly drizzle in walnut oil, whisking to thicken. Season with salt and freshly cracked pepper, taste, and adjust ingredients and seasonings as desired.

Mix squash together with the onion and rosemary mixture and spoon onto a platter. Scatter with dried cranberries and toasted walnuts. Drizzle with vinaigrette and garnish with chives. Serve on a bed of greens, if desired, and pass additional dressing around the table.

Serve warm or at room temperature. To view a cooking video of a similar recipe, click here.

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Snake-Shaped Christmas Cake An Umbrian Tradition /cooking/snake-shaped-christmas-cake-umbrian-tradition/ /cooking/snake-shaped-christmas-cake-umbrian-tradition/#respond Sat, 23 Dec 2017 10:00:24 +0000 /?p=58367 Torciglione (Holiday Almond Meringue Snake). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Perugia is the more important of the two provinces of Umbria and in culinary terms is most famous for its chocolates. Perugina, the chocolate firm founded in 1907, makes chocolate kisses (baci) famous throughout Italy and even in the United States. It’s also the historic home of a novel Christmas cake.

A variety of sweets are made around Christmas such as pinoccate, little diamond-shaped sweets made of sugar and pine nuts, hence their name. They usually are made “black” with chocolate or “white” with vanilla. Locals say that the small cakes were made by Benedictine monks as early as the 14th century and are served to end lavish Christmas feasts.

A simple syrup is made until rather dense and then the same weight of pine nuts as the sugar is added and poured onto a marble slab to be shaped as one makes peanut brittle. The diamonds are cut and cooled, with half of each piece being chocolate and half vanilla. They are then wrapped in black and white pairs in festive and colorful Christmas paper.

Another Christmas delight from Perugia that is a bit easier to make is the symbolic eel or snake-shaped torciglione (twisted spiral) Christmas cake. The Perugina say it is shaped like an eel to represent the eels of nearby Lake Trasimeno, while others attribute a more symbolic meaning rooted in pagan times. The Greeks saw snakes as sacred and used them in healing rituals; the snake’s skin shedding was a symbol of rebirth and renewal, an appropriate symbol at the time of the birth of Christ.

Torciglione (Holiday Almond Meringue Snake)

In most of Umbria, but in particular around Lake Trasimeno in the province of Perugia, torciglione is a Christmas and New Year’s Eve sweet. It is also sometimes called a serpentone or biscione and it’s made as a symbol of luck. It is claimed that this sweet was developed in the 19th century by a master pastry cook, Romualdo Nazzani, who opened a cake shop in Reggio Emilia and created some magnificent sweets, such as biscione, which means “snake.”

This Christmas cake is made with an almond base and meringue topping decorated with candied peel to represent the eyes of the snake. In Christian iconography, the snake can represent temptation as it was in the Garden of Eden. Eating the snake is thought to bring luck.


Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes

Baking time: 40 minutes

Yield: 8 servings


1 pound whole blanched almonds, toasted and chopped

3/4 pound (about 1 1/2 cups) sugar

2 tablespoons rum

Zest from 1 lemon

3 large egg whites, beaten until stiff

3 tablespoons pine nuts

2 coffee beans

1 candied cherry


1. Heat the oven to 325 F.

2. In a bowl, mix the almonds, sugar, rum, lemon zest and egg whites until a dense consistency.

3. On a buttered parchment paper-lined baking tray form the mixture into the shape of a snake. Place the pine nuts over its surface. Put the coffee beans in as eyes and the cherry as a tongue. Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes.

 Main photo: Torciglione (Holiday Almond Meringue Snake). Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

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Out of Alsace, Gluten-Free Christmas Cookies /cooking/alsace-gluten-free-christmas-cookies/ /cooking/alsace-gluten-free-christmas-cookies/#respond Fri, 22 Dec 2017 10:00:12 +0000 /?p=58119 Jacquy Pfeiffer's coconut macarons. Credit: Paul Strabbing

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


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


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


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


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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Turmeric Candy: Give A Gift of Health & Drink to It Too /cooking/turmeric-candy-give-gift-health-drink/ Sun, 17 Dec 2017 10:00:25 +0000 /?p=57753 Candied turmeric provides a gift for friends -- and for yourself. The simple syrup left over from the candied turmeric recipe makes a wonderful flavoring for cocktails. Credit: David 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.

The ingredient in Indian and southeast Asian cuisines that colors curries and other dishes gold, turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a staple in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines. Studies suggest that the rhizome may be helpful in treating osteoarthritis, viral and bacterial infections, stomach ulcers, cancer and other conditions.

I’ve known of turmeric’s usefulness in treating the common cold since 2008, when I stumbled upon sugar-coated slices of the rhizome at the central market in Hoi An, Vietnam. I’d been nursing a scratchy throat and runny nose for three chilly, drizzly days. When a vendor heard me cough, she pushed a bag of candied turmeric in my direction and motioned toward my throat and red eyes. I ate several slices then and there and intermittently snacked on the turmeric for the rest of the day. By morning, my sore throat was gone. By day two, I felt good as new.

A Not-So-Common Cure for the Common Cold

Over the last few years I’ve incorporated turmeric into my daily diet, usually combined with green tea, ginger and lemongrass in the form of a powerhouse infusion. I drink the refreshing, slightly spicy and astringent elixir iced, as a preventive. I haven’t suffered a cold since late 2011.

So this Christmas, I’m giving friends the gift of good health in the form of jars of candied turmeric slices (and making extra for myself to carry with me on travels). The lovely orange flesh of the rhizome has a slight bitterness that proves a wonderful foil for a coating of white sugar. To increase the snack’s healthfulness, I add black pepper — believed to increase the body’s ability to absorb turmeric’s beneficial ingredient, curcumin to the simple syrup in which I poach thin slices of turmeric.

An Unexpected Extra That You Can Tip Your Glass To

At the end, I’m left with a bonus: a beautiful, astringent-bitter simple syrup that makes a great flavoring for cocktails.

Like ginger, turmeric peels most easily with the edge of a spoon. The rhizome stains anything it touches (wear an apron) and will leave a dark orange, tacky goo on your spoon and knife. To remove it and the color that’s left on your hands, cutting board and other kitchen surfaces, wash with a kitchen cream cleanser.

Look for fresh turmeric at Whole Foods and other specialty grocery stores, gourmet markets and southeast Asian and Indian groceries.

Candied Turmeric

Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes to peel and slice the turmeric plus up to 6 hours to dry the turmeric slices.

Cook time: 20 to 25 minutes

Yield: 3/4 to 1 cup candied turmeric slices

Thin slices are paramount here, as is allowing ample time for your turmeric to dry after poaching. Rush this step and you’ll end up with unattractive clumps of sugar and rhizome.


3/4 pound fresh turmeric

1 cup water

3/4 cup sugar, plus 1/3 cup for tossing the poached turmeric


Prepping the turmeric:

1. Break any small knobs off of the main turmeric root and use the edge of a spoon to peel the skin off of all of the rhizome pieces. Use a paring knife to peel away any stubborn bits of skin.

2. Rinse the peeled turmeric and slice it as thinly as possible into coins and strips.

To candy the turmeric: 

1. In a medium saucepan, heat the water. Add 3/4 cup sugar and stir to dissolve.

2. Add the turmeric, stir to submerge all of the pieces and bring the syrup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer briskly until the turmeric slices are tender but not limp, about 25 minutes.

3. Drain the turmeric in a colander or sieve placed over a bowl, then transfer the turmeric slices to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet or piece of foil or parchment paper. (Set the turmeric syrup aside to cool and use to flavor sparkling water and cocktails.) Arrange the turmeric slices on the rack so that they do not overlap and place in a well-ventilated spot (underneath a ceiling fan is ideal). Allow the turmeric to dry until the slices are slightly tacky but no longer wet, at least 3 hours and as many as 6 hours, depending on the temperature and ventilation in the room.

4. Toss the turmeric slices in 1/3 cup of sugar until coated. (Don’t throw away leftover sugar; it’s delicious in tea.) Store the turmeric in a clean, dry jar or other container. If you live in a hot, humid climate you may need to refrigerate it to keep the sugar from dissolving.

The Orangutang

Yield: 1 cocktail

Syrup and orange juice make this pretty and potent bourbon cocktail a little bit sweet. Campari and turmeric add a nice astringent-bitter edge; lemon juice adds a hint of tartness.


2 ounces bourbon

1 ounce Campari

1 ounce orange juice

1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) turmeric simply syrup (see Candied Turmeric recipe, above)

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Orange slice, for serving


Pour all of the ingredients except for the orange slice into a cocktail shaker. Add a handful of ice. Shake and pour the cocktail and ice into a short glass. Garnish the rim of the glass with the orange slice.

Main photo: Candied turmeric provides a gift for friends — and for yourself. The simple syrup left over from the candied turmeric recipe makes a wonderful flavoring for cocktails. Credit: Copyright 2017 David Hagerman

How To Cook A Perfect Holiday Roast /cooking/technique-cooking/how-to-cook-a-perfect-holiday-roast/ /cooking/technique-cooking/how-to-cook-a-perfect-holiday-roast/#respond Sat, 16 Dec 2017 10:00:14 +0000 /?p=76534 A well-sourced holiday roast doubles as a conversation piece. Credit: Copyright 2016 Lynne Curry

These days, many of us are weighing the impacts and ethics of meat eating in general. So the prospect of buying and cooking a holiday roast is more daunting than ever. Here’s a guide to navigating today’s meat markets and making a centerpiece roast worth celebrating.

Source quality beef

The single most important decision to make is what beef to buy, because flavor is largely predetermined before the roast goes into the oven. Quality beef is strongly correlated with the cattle’s quality of life: Did it live on pasture, even during its final 120 days eating grasses? Did it live without stress — especially right before slaughter? Other considerations include the animal’s age at the time of slaughter (the current thinking is that older animals yield tastier meat) and how the meat was aged (dry aging is preferred over wet aging) and for how long.

In other words, the source is central, and an organic or grass-fed label alone isn’t enough information to go on. Although some supermarkets curate their meat departments to feature cuts from the most sustainable producers, ranchers in every state sell their beef directly to customers either at the farmers market or online. And even if you can’t find locally raised beef, some of the most acclaimed producers in the country, such as White Oak Pastures and Alderspring Ranch, can ship a roast straight to you.

Spend carefully, eat consciously

With better beef, smaller portions are your best bet. Credit: Copyright 2016 Lynne Curry

With better beef, smaller portions are your best bet. Credit: Copyright 2017 Lynne Curry

Of course, you’ll spend far more for humanely treated, pasture-raised and well-aged beef. But for a number of reasons — including concerns about animal welfare, environmental impacts and health — most experts today agree we should all be buying the best meat and eating less of it in any case. Plan on 4 to 6 ounces of cooked roast beef per person, then load up on side dishes: roasted or pureed vegetables and winter salads not only balance the plate visually and nutritionally but help reduce costs per serving. A stuffed and rolled roast is another strategy that also offers high presentation value.

Tenderloin is the old standard, known for its tenderness more than its flavor. But there are many other excellent — and far less expensive — cuts, from bone-in rib roast to strip loin, that help support small, independent ranchers who need to sell whole animals, not just a single popular beef cut. This year consider the holiday roast beef from a whole-animal perspective, and you may discover a new favorite. Here’s a list of five roasts I recommend, along with general cooking information.

Roasting techniques

Allow plenty of time for proper seasoning. Credit: Copyright 2016 Lynne Curry

Allow plenty of time for proper seasoning. Credit: Copyright 2017 Lynne Curry

There are three essential steps to roast beef: seasoning with salt, cooking to the correct temperature and resting. Generously salting a well-sourced piece of meat 24 to 48 hours before cooking it is the only advance preparation required. Meanwhile, you can concentrate on determining the best roasting temperature for your chosen cut.

The classic high-heat roasting method — putting the roast in the oven at 425 F, for example, and then reducing the heat to finish cooking — is not ideal for less tender cuts like sirloin tip and top round. Slower roasting at 350 F and below ensures more even, controlled cooking for all types of cuts. You might also try my “genius” roast recipes, which use the reverse-sear technique: cooking the roast at a low temperature and then blasting the heat for the last 10 minutes.

The rest is actually the final stage of cooking. Factor in an extra 30 minutes and reserve counter space to let the cooked roast sit undisturbed. While you finish preparing the rest of the meal, the meat will reach its final temperature — often at least 10 degrees higher than when you removed it from the oven — and the juices will redistribute through the roast.

Roasting tools

You’ve heard before that a thermometer is essential for roasting beef. This is because you cannot determine doneness just by sight, as I painfully learned the year I roasted an 8-pound top round to an even gray-brown for my entire family! Temperature tells all.

There are handy, inexpensive probe models with alarms, though I depend on the pricey but lightning-quick Thermapen. Bear in mind that thermometers don’t think, so you must monitor the roast while you attend to other tasks. Your roast, its shape and size, your oven and a host of other factors determine how long it will take to cook, but the roasting guide below is a good reference.

Finally, you don’t need any special knife to slice roast beef. Once the roast is well rested, any sharp chef’s knife — so long as it is at least 8 inches long — will produce even slices of what could be your most beloved roast beef dinner ever.

High-heat roasting Recommended beef cuts Time per pound Internal temperature to remove from oven Serving temperature after 20- to 30-minute rest
475 F to 500 F Very tender, boneless and small roasts, including tenderloin, shoulder tender and tri tip 8 to 10 minutes per pound 120 F for rare, 125 F for medium-rare, 130 F for medium 128 F to 132 F for rare, 133 F to 137 F for medium-rare, 138 F to 142 F for medium
350 F to 375 F Tender and larger roasts (bone-in or boneless), including rib roast, strip loin, top sirloin, or the modestly tender sirloin tip 18 to 20 minutes per pound 120 F for rare, 125 F for medium-rare, 130 F for medium 128 F to 132 F for rare, 133 F to 137 F for medium-rare, 138 F to 142 F for medium
Slow roasting
275 F to 300 F Any roast, but especially the less tender, lean roasts, including top round, eye round and bottom round 28 to 30 minutes per pound 120 F for rare, 125 F for medium-rare, 130 F for medium 128 F to 132 F for rare, 133 F to 137 F for medium-rare, 138 F to 142 F for medium
200 F to 225 F Tough roasts, including chuck roast and brisket 2 to 2 1/4 hours per pound 185 F to 200 F  185 F to 200 F (no rest required)
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11 Gifts From Nature That Foragers Love To Share /foraging-2/11-gifts-from-nature-that-foragers-love-to-share/ /foraging-2/11-gifts-from-nature-that-foragers-love-to-share/#comments Wed, 06 Dec 2017 10:00:43 +0000 /?p=76578 Rose hips. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wendy Petty

For foragers, calls to return to meaningful holiday gifts can be easily answered by turning to their well-stocked pantries. Presents made from wild foods are often easy to put together, budget-friendly, and are infused with the love of something handmade. With a little creativity, you can use the wild wonders you already have at hand to delight your friends and family with anything foraged, from porcini salt to elderflower cordial. Take some inspiration from the following list, wrap it in a beautiful jar or tin and a bow, and you will be certain to give gifts that will be enjoyed this holiday season.

Infused Salts and Sugars — Combining a precious wild ingredient with salt or sugar can be an economical way to introduce your loved ones to wild flavors. Wild mushrooms combine beautifully with salt, as do some aromatic plants such as elderflower and wild mint. Nutrient-dense seeds such as evening primrose and nettle also combine well with salt. Bakers will delight in sugars flavored with everything from spruce tips to sumac.

Spice Blends — Making an unforgettable spice blend can be as simple as tweaking one ingredient in a well-known mix, such as adding beebalm (Mondarda fistulosa) to za’atar in place of oregano. Alternatively, you can make a spice mix using herbs only found in your region, something that really speaks to the place you live.

Pickles and Preserves — Jams and jellies, whether entirely made from a wild ingredient or blended, make especially nice gifts for folks who feel nervous about foraged foods. Pickles made from wild goods can be wonderful for more adventurous friends and family. There are certain people for whom strawberry knotweed jam may be a better gift, while others would love the thrill of trying knotweed pickles.

Baked Goods

Cream scones with wild currants. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wendy Petty

Cream scones with wild currants. Credit: Copyright 2017 Wendy Petty

Baked Goods — Who could turn down homemade scones studded with dried currants, snickerdoodles rolled in juniper sugar, or cattail pollen shortbread? Cookies, cakes and breads become truly special, something that could never be purchased, with the addition of just a single foraged ingredient.

Gift Certificate for Homemade Wild Foods Dinner — If you are a forager, there may be no better way to introduce novices and aspirational wildcrafters to wild flavors than cooking dinner for them. Bold new flavors and unfamiliar foods can seem less intimidating when cooked, served and explained by the person who picked them.

Kitchen Medicine — Many wild foods are deeply medicinal in addition to tasting delicious. Elderberry elixir, which is excellent for aiding the body in fighting viruses, can be made by filling a jar one-quarter full with dried elderberries, then filling it the rest of the way with half honey, half alcohol of choice. Chopped wild onions mixed with honey make an excellent cough syrup. Fire cider is a popular cure-all made by combining ingredients like horseradish, garlic, onions, chiles and wild herbs like beebalm with vinegar.

Wild Seeds — If you love a particular wild plant and want to ensure it keeps growing, tuck seeds into a hand-illustrated envelope, or make them into a seed bomb by wetting a 1:1 ratio of compost and clay, and encasing seeds inside a ball of it. Use caution however, and make certain you aren’t propagating invasive species.

Tea Blends and DIY Kits

Mouse ornament with wild tea blend. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wendy Petty

Mouse ornament with wild tea blend. Credit: Copyright 2017 Wendy Petty

Tea Blends and DIY Kits — You can put together all-wild tisane blends using ingredients such as nettles, rosehips, mints, even include some popped or ground seeds. Or, package each ingredient in a separate container for a choose-your-own-adventure tea set. Don’t be afraid to combine wild ingredients with black, green or other varieties of tea.

Dried Fruit — If you have surplus dried fruits in your pantry, this is a snack that few would turn down, young or old. Depending upon the fruit, it can be given plain, dipped into chocolate, turned into fruit leather or soaked in a flavorful liquid like watered-down cinnamon and honey and dried a second time.

Infused Alcohol or Shrubs — For cocktail lovers, there can be no better gifts than alcohol infused with wild ingredients, wild syrups and shrubs. Stick with classics like elderflower cordial, or get creative and combine any number of wild fruits or flowers into drink bases. Try crabapples and star anise in brandy. Mix wild rose and strawberries with vinegar and sugar syrup to make a sunny shrub. Put mushrooms in vodka for advanced mixologist.

Specialty Ingredient Plus a Recipe — If you have a wild ingredient that your loved ones are eager to try but unlikely to harvest and process on their own, you can give it to them ready to go. For example, give them enough acorn flour to make acorn brownies, along with a handwritten recipe card.

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Pop-Tarts Get Adult Treatment With Lobster /chefs-wrecipe/pop-tarts-get-adult-treatment-with-lobster/ /chefs-wrecipe/pop-tarts-get-adult-treatment-with-lobster/#respond Sat, 02 Dec 2017 10:00:27 +0000 /?p=76210 Lobster Pop-Tarts in a Duralit toaster, Barton G. Los Angeles. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

On special occasions and holidays, we want great food and we want fun. For chef Attila Bollok at Barton G. Los Angeles, every day is a celebration because all the dishes are visually extravagant or slyly clever. In his kitchen at Barton G., Bollok showed me how to prepare his signature dish, lobster Pop-Tarts. The perfect dish for special events and holiday entertaining.

In the busy kitchen, Bollok is a chef who keeps his cool even when he and his staff are preparing food for as many as 400 dinners. Moving quickly around the small space, he always refers to his colleagues as “chef” and always says “please.”

That temperament might have come from his Hungarian grandmother who taught him how to cook when he was a young boy. But his good-natured cool also comes from the confidence born of solid training with culinary greats. As a teenager he did an apprenticeship at La Caravelle. He learned fundamentals at the French Culinary Institute (renamed the International Culinary Center). He worked side by side with David Burke at Fishtail and Comme Ça and Scott Conant at Scarpetta.

When Barton G. Weiss, the creator of the original Barton G. in Miami’s South Beach, was looking for a classically trained French chef who could help him launch a restaurant in Los Angeles, Bollok was ready for the challenge.

Serious food, served with a big order of fun

Chef Attila Bollok holding Lobster Pop-Tarts in his kitchen at Barton G. Los Angeles. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Chef Attila Bollok holding lobster Pop-Tarts in his kitchen at Barton G. Los Angeles. Credit: Copyright 2017 David Latt

When Bollok walks into his kitchen at Barton G. Los Angeles, he puts on his apron and a party hat.

In his kitchen there are the usual stock pots, knives, cutting boards and utensils. Look above the stainless steel counters and you will see brightly painted metal pelicans and green mini-Tiki statues staring back at you. Next to his chef’s knives and ladles there are rows of giant forks, swords and candy-colored Duralit toasters.

Out in the dining room, complimentary bread arrives at the table looking like DayGlo doughnuts. The Diamonds Are Forever cocktail comes with a liquid nitrogen vodka popsicle stirrer. The Rakes and Ho salad is plated in a mini-wheelbarrow. The Great American Steak arrives with a 2-foot-tall fork stabbed into its properly charred flesh. If you like sweets and you order the Marie Antoinette’s Head — Let Them Eat Cake, a mannequin’s head arrives with a 2-foot-high cotton candy hairdo on a plate of mini-cakes and ice creams.

Yet even when creating food with a theatrical flair, Bollok is a serious chef who talks passionately about locally sourced ingredients and keeping food interesting with a play of textures and balanced flavors.

Bollok enjoys the way his dishes balance whimsy with quality ingredients. His lobster Pop-Tarts look like plump versions of the jam-filled toaster Pop-Tarts kids eat for breakfast. But cut them open and out tumble moist lobster pieces coated with luxurious herb-scented béchamel, an adult treat, for certain, and a lot of fun.

Barton G.’s Lobster Pop-Tarts

In the kitchen at Barton G. Los Angeles, lobster meat on béchamel sauce and Gruyere cheese on phyllo sheets moistened with clarified butter to make Lobster Pop-Tarts. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

In the kitchen at Barton G. Los Angeles, lobster meat on béchamel sauce and Gruyere cheese on phyllo sheets moistened with clarified butter make lobster Pop-Tarts. Credit: Copyright 2017 David Latt

Written out, there are a lot of steps, but in the video Bollok shows how easy it is to prepare his lobster Pop-Tarts.

Cooked and frozen lobster meat can be purchased from fish markets and in some upscale grocery stores. For best results, Bollok suggests the extra effort of cooking a live lobster and extracting the meat. That way you will also have shells to make quality lobster stock.

Making lobster stock is not difficult. Once you have steamed the lobsters by submerging their heads in boiling water and cooking them for 15-30 minutes depending on their size, extract the meat and reserve. Place all the shells in a pot with carrots, garlic, celery and onions. Add water to cover and simmer the shells with the aromatics for 30 minutes. Strain and discard all solids. Reserve stock to use immediately or freeze in an airtight container for later use.

So you can work assembly-line-style, place all the ingredients on a counter or large cutting board.

The delicate phyllo sheets can dry out, so once they are removed from the package, cover them with a damp kitchen towel.

Prep time if cooking lobsters and making stock: 1 hour

Prep time if using cooked lobster meat and prepared stock: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time if cooking lobsters and making stock: 1 hour 30 minutes

Total time if using cooked lobster meat and prepared stock: 40 minutes

Yield: 9 Pop-Tarts

For the lobster béchamel:

1/4 pound unsalted butter

1/4 pound all-purpose flour

2/3 quart whole milk

1 cup stock, preferably homemade lobster stock or store-bought clam juice or 1 tablespoon powdered soup base with water added to taste

1/4 pound Parmesan cheese, finely grated

1 ounce fresh chives, washed, minced

1 ounce fresh tarragon, washed, minced

Kosher salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the Pop-Tart:

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter to create 1 cup clarified butter

1 box Athens brand phyllo dough

1/4 pound Gruyere cheese, thin sliced into 2-inch by  3½-inch strips

1 pound lobster meat, roughly chopped

1 egg yolk, beaten


1. Make roux by heating butter, being careful not to brown, and adding the flour. To avoid clumping, sprinkle flour in small amounts into hot butter. To make a “roux blanc,” whisk flour into butter to incorporate, being careful not to brown. Once flour is incorporated and there are no lumps, whisk in milk.

2. Add stock. For 5 minutes, stir well and simmer to thicken. Use a heat-proof spatula to remove any sauce sticking to the side of the pot. Wisk together with sauce. When finished, the béchamel should be smooth, without lumps.

3. Sprinkle in Parmesan cheese and whisk over heat to incorporate.

4. To cool the béchamel, place ice cubes into a small stainless steel mixing bowl, then spatula the hot sauce into a second small mixing bowl. Place the second bowl on top of the ice cubes. Use a spatula to fold the sauce into itself to cool evenly.

5. To keep herbs green and fresh tasting, once the béchamel has cooled, sprinkle on the chives and tarragon and incorporate. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Spoon béchamel into a pastry bag, seal, refrigerate and reserve.

6. Place butter into small saucepan over low heat. After the butter melts, skim the solids off the top and discard. Reserve clarified butter at room temperature.

7. Before assembling, heat oven to 375 F.

8. Place all Pop-Tart ingredients on a counter or large cutting board to create what chefs call mise en place. That way, you will be able to create the Pop-Tarts quickly so the phyllo sheets will not dry out.

9. Place the phyllo sheets on the counter. Cover them with a damp towel so they do not dry out. On the video, Bollock demonstrates all these easy steps.

10. You will need a total of six large phyllo sheets for each set of three Pop-Tarts. Work with two phyllo sheets at a time. Lay the two sheets on a flat surface. Paint the top sheet with melted clarified butter. Make sure the entire sheet is painted with butter, even the edges. Lay the next two sheets on top of the first two. Paint with melted butter. Lay the next two sheets on top and paint those.

11. Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut the six stacked sheets into three sections. A ruler might be helpful so the Pop-Tarts will be the same size.

12. Work assembly-line-style to build three Pop-Tarts at the same time. Lay a piece of Gruyere in the middle of the top phyllo sheet.

13. Pipe 1 to 2 ounces of béchamel on top of each piece of Gruyere. Use more or less béchamel, depending on how moist you want your Pop-Tarts.

14. Add pieces of lobster meat on top of the béchamel. Line the pieces straight so when you fold over the phyllo sheets, the packet will have a perfect rectangular shape.

15. Fold the phyllo sheets the long way on each side of the lobster. The overlapping sheets should cover the lobster.

16. On each end of the folded packet, trim off 1 inch of the phyllo. Seal the long seam of the phyllo packet by brushing on melted clarified butter.

17. To create a rectangular Pop-Tart shape, lay a chef’s knife against the end of the lobster filling. Bend the end of the phyllo packet against the knife and press down on the packet to create a clean fold. Do the same on the other end. The result will be a fat rectangular, Pop-Tart shape. Where the two ends are folded together, press gently so they seal.

18. Turn each Pop-Tart folded side down. Brush the top of each Pop-Tart with beaten egg yolk to create a golden crust.

19. Gently lay lobster Pop-Tarts on a baking tray painted with clarified butter or on a sheet of parchment paper or a nonstick Silpat sheet. Place in preheated 375 F oven 10 to 12 minutes. Do not turn over. Check after 8 minutes to make certain they are not burning. Once the Pop-Tarts are golden brown, they are done.

20. Serve hot from the oven.

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