Wednesday, February 28, 2024

When Winter Gives You Lemons.

According to the Department of Agriculture (USDA), citrus fruits grown in North America are in their prime during the winter season.  They are loaded with vitamins A, B-complex and C which promote healthy skin and eyes, support the immune system, and boost energy levels.  Their colors are brighter, for example the blood orange, and flavors are more intense and sweeter.

During the winter months, with the lack of sunshine bringing overall moods down, a bowl of colorful citrus fruits will elevate your mind, body and spirit.

Back on July 19, 2023, I gave you information on lemons, and a recipe for Lemon Fruit Scones.

Since this is about winter fruits, the lemon that is the tastiest is the Meyer lemon.  Originating in China, it was brought to the United States, in 1908, by Frank Meyer.  Who was Frank Meyer?  He was a plant explorer, or what we refer to today as botanists or botanical photographers and painters, and worked for the USDA.  He traveled to, on a three-year expedition, China, Korea, Japan, Manchuria, and Siberia with the goal of finding unusual plants that had health benefits.  Meyer found growing, in most Chinese households, a dwarf lemon tree whose fruit was used medicinally and culinarily.  Bringing samples back to the USA, and after much testing, the lemons were found to be high in yield, hardy in winter temperatures (as low as 22F), and sweeter than regular lemons. 

Oh, here’s a little tidbit about Frank Meyer that was not widely known at that time.  His name was actually Frans Meijer and had immigrated from the Netherlands in 1875.  Having difficulty finding work, he “Americanized” his name, and quickly became a greenhouse gardener for the USDA in Washington, DC.  His life story and adventures are documented in Isabel Shipley Cunningham’s book, Frank N. Meyer: Plant Hunter in Asia. 

Besides being sweeter which means the inside fruit can be eaten as is, the skin is a deeper yellow with a floral scent, so can be used in baking (when lemon peel is called for).  Which brings me to a copycat recipe I developed for Olive Garden’s Italian Lemon Cream Cake.  I know, I know, since my own culinary specialty is Italian cuisine, how did we end up at an Olive Garden?

It was one of those all day in Grand Junction days, we were getting the “hangries”, and Italian sounded good, so what the heck!

For dessert, we tried the Italian Lemon Cream Cake and it was something between a lemon mousse cake and a crumb cake, but put altogether as one.  For one of his birthdays, Roy asked if I could recreate the cake, and after much trial and error, success!  A little tip for a happy marriage, make sure to keep the spouse’s tummy very happy as well.  So, let me introduce you to my copy cat recipe for Italian Lemon Cream Cake, and this certainly will put a smile on any grumpy winter face.

By the way, Olive Garden discontinued this dessert, so now you will have to try my recipe to see what it is all about.  I believe you will enjoy it, especially if you like lemons.

 


Italian Lemon Cream Cake

Ingredients:

The Cake

1 (18 1/4 oz.) package French Vanilla cake mix

1 1/4 cups water

1/3 cup oil

4 egg whites

Lemon Cream Filling

1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened

2 cups powdered sugar

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. lemon extract

3/4 cup whipped cream (homemade or canned; do not use a tub brand like Cool Whip)

Crumb Topping

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup powdered sugar

5 Tbsp. cold butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Garnish

powdered sugar

Preparation:

Make the Cake: Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 10” spring form pan with nonstick baking spray; line bottom of pan with baking parchment paper. In a large bowl, mix together cake mix, water, oil and egg whites until smooth. Pour batter into pan; bake for 40-45 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Let cake cool for 10 minutes before removing spring form. Let cake completely cool before cutting into two layers.

Make the Filling: In a large bowl, mix together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, lemon juice and lemon extract till smooth; fold in the whipped cream; set aside.

Make the Crumb Topping: In a medium bowl, cut the butter into the flour, powdered sugar and vanilla until little crumbs, about pea size, form. Refrigerate until ready to be put onto the cake.

Assemble the Cake: Flip top layer of cake onto flat dish; repeat with 2nd layer and remove spring form bottom and parchment paper. Flip 2nd layer back onto another dish, so cut part is facing up. Frost 2nd layer with half of the lemon cream filling. Flip the top layer onto the 2nd (cut sides together); frost top and sides of cake with remaining half of filling. Press the crumb topping onto sides of cake and evenly over top.

Refrigerate cake for 3 hours before serving. Sprinkle powdered sugar over cake for garnish.

Makes 10 servings. 

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Taste is a Matter of Balance.

Balance; the equalizing of two items, whether the same or different, so that they are perfectly aligned on a scale.  While that is a simple concept when it comes to a tangible item, not so easy for emotions and feelings.  That is when you have to deal with good vs. bad/evil, light vs. dark, likes vs. dislikes; issues are either black or white.  Balance is a gray area, the mixing of the black and white to form a smooth, even concept.  Some folks are afraid of the negative aspects and try to live a life of "happy, happy, joy, joy"; ignoring the negativity and hoping it will just go away.  Unfortunately, it is not that simplistic.  The holding in creates a pressure that builds up till it explodes, and that is why we need balance in our lives; to keep from exploding.

So, what has this to do with cooking?  Eating, while being a necessity, should be an enjoyment; taste and texture should be a pleasure for the mouth.  However, some folks like their food to be painful, and I often wonder if this is actually how they enjoy it, or is it more for showing off to their peers.  Take "hot wings"; the chiles that can be added to sauces to coat the wings have heat measured by mild, medium, hot, super-hot and atomic.  Personally, I enjoy mild to medium; anything hotter puts my mouth in pain, and I cannot taste the item being eaten.  To me, that is a loss, not a pleasure; the balance between the heat and taste of the sauce is important to me.  But that is me, and when it comes to "hot wings", it is whatever floats your own personal taste boat.

 

The origin of the original buffalo wing recipe began in 1964, at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York.  The bar owner, Teressa Bellissimo, created the dish due to necessity.  However, husband Frank states that this was to get rid of a chicken wing order accidentally delivered to the bar.  Son, Dominic, though claims that, being the good mother Teressa was, made a midnight snack for he and his rather drunk friends who were craving hot snack food.  She deep fried the wings as it would be quicker than roasting, and the skin would become especially crispy.  Covering them in her own special sauce, they were served with a side of blue cheese dressing and celery sticks.  Why?   That is what she had available, and it has well stood the test of time, and many a plateful eaten. Whichever story is true, the wings became a world known appetizer.

The main ingredient, the wings, should always be crispy; mushy, fatty skin just does not have a good mouth feel.  Crispy wings also hold the sauce better.  Always toss the wings in the sauce after frying as the hot oil will only leech the sauce off the wings.  If you want the skin with some type of extra seasoning, do so, but then dredge the wings in flour before dropping into the hot oil.  The skin will still come out crispy, and the seasoning will remain on it.

The traditional dressing served with wings is bleu cheese, but nowadays, ranch is a popular choice.  While the dressing is used as an enhancement by some, most use it to tone down the heat of the hot sauce (raises hand to guilty on all counts).

Remember PJ’s on Center Street, in Monticello?  Now they did buffalo wings the Anchor Bar way, and were the best around. It even had a sweet and spicy version that was out of this world too; oh, and the fries, so good.  Sure do miss that place, and, sometimes, change is not for the best.  Thatzza Pizza, on Main Street, does wings, but baked in the oven, so if you want really crispy, ask them to bake them longer.  However, if you do not mind the drive to Dove Creek, Banger’s Bar and Pizza has one mean selection of wings, with or without bones. The House Bourbon sauce is our personal favorite; they need to jar and sell it; along with their housemade potato chips!

 

Thatzza Pizza Mild BBQ Wings

Banger's Boneless Wings in House Bourbon Sauce.

 

 Traditional Buffalo Wings

 (Original recipe from the Anchor Bar, Buffalo, New York)

Ingredients:

2 and ½ lbs. wings (12-16 whole wings)

½ cup Louisiana hot sauce (Frank's is the brand when sticking to tradition)

½ cup unsalted butter or margarine

1 1/2 Tbsp. white vinegar

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/8 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Dash of salt

Preparation:

Split wing at joint, clip tip off if not done already, pat dry.  Deep fry at 350F for 10-12 minutes, drain on paper towels.  To make sauce, mix together hot sauce, butter, vinegar, cayenne, garlic powder, Worcestershire and salt.  Put wings in bowl, add sauce and toss till wings are completely coated.  Serve with bleu cheese dressing and celery sticks.

For those of you that have to have the wings baked in the oven, 425F for 45-60 minutes; until thoroughly cooked and crispy. Turn at least once during baking.

Want a different taste to your wings, try these popular alternative sauces:

Barbecue

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 Tbsp. catsup

1 Tbsp. oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/2 tsp. ginger

Put all ingredients into small saucepan; bring to boil on high heat.  Lower heat to low and let sauce thicken; about 15 minutes.

Teriyaki

1 tsp. minced garlic

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup honey

1 (12 oz.) bottle Teriyaki sauce

Put all ingredients into small saucepan; bring to boil on high heat.  Lower heat to low and let sauce thicken; about 15 minutes.

Chipotle

1/2 cup chipotle sauce

1/2 cup butter

2 Tbsp. honey

Put all ingredients into small saucepan; bring to boil on high heat.  Lower heat to low and let sauce thicken; about 15 minutes.

Honey Mustard

1/2 cup honey

1/3 cup Dijon mustard

Mix two ingredients together.

Honey Bourbon BBQ

2 Tbsp. brown sugar, packed

2 Tbsp.  apple cider vinegar

½ cup ketchup

¼ cup honey

½ cup bourbon

1 tsp. corn starch

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

Mix brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, ketchup, honey, bourbon, cornstarch, garlic, and Dijon mustard to a medium sized saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. Turn the heat down and simmer for 15-20 minutes; stir occasionally to keep from burning.

Apologies to all the Super Bowl fans reading this article, I fumbled on getting this out before the game, not after.

Mary Cokenour

 

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Cooking Lesson with Two Home Chefs.

In my recent article reviewing Home Chef, the main reason I gave this product a try was due to not always wanting to cook from scratch.  While that was my personal goal, it did not end up being that way. 

It came to pass that I found ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, on sale, at the local market.  This was a great opportunity to purchase a double quantity, and make two trays of lasagna.  One tray would provide dinner, and a multitude of lunches during the week.  The other tray was wrapped up in foil, placed in the freezer, and would be consumed sometime within the next six months.  It took me a good three hours to prep all the ingredients, that includes homemade meat sauce, build up the trays, bake one, and freeze the other.

Lunch time comes around and Roy happens to say the last thing I want to hear, “Are you going to make those flautas you got from that food company?”  Count to ten, breathing in slowly, exhaling slowly, turn to face him and, “No hunny, you are!”  Oh, the look on his face…priceless.

However, I have to give the man credit, without flinching, he actually said, “Fine, but you have to watch me, and make sure I’m doing it right.”  Agreed!  So, while Roy became the home chef, I simply became supervisor, and, of course, demonstrator of technique if necessary.  My knife skills far exceed his, in the kitchen, and on the battle field.  I will leave that last sentence for you all to ponder over.

 

 

 

 

 

While the instruction card stated prep to cooking to dining time was 40 to 50 minutes, the company probably expects “home chefs” to be experienced and fast.  Not so with a beginner, and it took a good 1 and ½ hours before lunch was served.  Yes, Roy did follow the recipe card, but even the instructions, with photos, perplexed him a bit.  I did assist by showing, with half the tomato, how to slice and dice for salsa quality; large chopping for the spinach, and minimal slicing of the green onions.  Adding the seasonings, browning the chicken and making the finishing sauce he did on his own, and quite well.  Rolling the flautas was a challenge at first. He did not understand which end of the filled tortilla needed to be “folded over”.  I explained that, instead of making a burrito, pretend to make enchiladas, and the challenge was overcome!

 

She only had to show me, how to use the knife, once!



Browning the chicken.

"What the heck is this saying!?!"

 

 

Roll up the tortillas.

Place in skillet to brown.


 

Both sides browned.

Now, this recipe from Home Chef, is a fusion of Mexican and Italian tastes.  The pesto and mozzarella cheese are essentially Italian, and, well, we both did not see the point of the mixing of these two cuisines.  Oh, do not get me wrong, the meal was good, but nothing we would ever want to make again.  That is, using the ingredient list provided by Home Chef.  We discussed what flavor over or under whelmed the rest of the dish; what ingredients would have provided a better, tastier, meal.  So, we are keeping the recipe card, but will be playing and creating.

Overall, Roy said he enjoyed the experience, and now has a much better understanding of what I do, in the kitchen, and why I am an excellent home chef.  He will not be trading me in, for meal kits, any time soon.

 

Creamy Pesto Chicken Flautas

(Note: Recipe and directions are from the Home Chef recipe card received with Meal Kit.)

 

 Ingredients:

12 oz. Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts

6 Small Flour Tortillas

1 Roma Tomato

2 oz. Basil Pesto

2 oz. Baby Spinach

2 oz. Cream Cheese

1 oz. Shredded Mozzarella Cheese

2 Green Onions

¼ oz. Flour

½ tsp. Poultry Seasoning

Preparation:

Step 1: Prepare Ingredients and Make Salsa.

In medium sized bowl, coarsely chop spinach.  Separate green from white on green onions, and thinly slice green onions.

Core tomato and cut into 1/2" dice. (Note: the tomato in the kit was not ripe and bitter; sprinkling salt over it helped with taste).

Add white part of onions to spinach.   In another mixing bowl, combine tomato, green part of onions, half the pesto (reserve remaining for sauce), a pinch of salt, and 1 tsp. olive oil. Set aside.

Step 2: Prep and Cook Chicken

Pat chicken dry and top with 1 tsp. olive oil. Season both sides with poultry seasoning and a pinch of pepper.   On medium-high heat, brown chicken; remove to bowl and shred.

Mix shredded chicken spinach, white part of onions, shredded cheese, and a pinch of salt until spinach begins to wilt.   

Step 3: Assemble the Flautas

Place tortillas on a clean work surface. Place, in center of each tortilla, generous helping of chicken/spinach mixture.

Fold tortilla over filling, tucking long edge under. Roll tortilla and place seam side down. Repeat with remaining tortillas

Step 4: Cook the Flautas

Place a medium non-stick pan, over medium heat, and add 2 tsp. olive oil.

Working in batches of 3, place flautas in hot pan, seam-side down. Cook until browned on one side, 2-3 minutes. Replenish oil if necessary. Gently roll to opposite side and cook until browned, 2-3 minutes.

Remove to plate, repeat with second batch of 3.

Step 5: Make Sauce and Finish Dish

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine softened cream cheese, flour, remaining pesto, and 1/3 cup water.  Microwave, 15 seconds a time and stirring in between, until smooth and heated through, 45-60 seconds.  If too thick, add water, 1 tsp. at a time and up to 1 Tbsp., until desired consistency is reached.

Plate dish as pictured on front of card, halving flautas, if desired, and topping with sauce and salsa. Bon app├ętit!

Mary Cokenour