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Plan ahead –how much time will you spend on this recipe?

10 Aug

Even if you can fix a recipe, should you take the time to do it? Here’s a lesson that I have to learn over, and over.

We planted a grape vine years ago because it looked nice on our picket fence.

grapevines with grapes

our grapevine - find the grapes if you can

Then lo and behold, grapes appeared this year and I couldn’t resist trying to use them.

grapes from grapevines

our grapes - tiny, seeded, and meant for wine

Instead of doing a reprise of the famous Lucille Ball “recipe” for wine – which is what I should have done, I roasted the grapes.

First mistake – I used a recipe for ripe, seedless red grapes and substituted tiny, seeded red grapes that weren’t all ripe.  When I made recipe before, following it, the result was divine. This time result was weird mush that had seeds throughout.

So – did I give up?  No way. I looked for quick cake recipe, and figured that I would use the grapes (put through sieve, with sugar) as a jam-like filling.  An hour later, I had my cake.

Did the grapes make a luscious filling?  Not quite – second mistake. There wasn’t enough grape filling and it was missing a bit of something. But never fear, I wasn’t done yet.  I added chopped fresh mint, some blueberries, and a few tablespoons of blueberry preserves. By now the salvage operation had taken another half hour and the kitchen was a mess.

Then I split the cake in two and put in the filling. Then I added a glaze on top of the cake. What began as a quick, no fuss, roasted grape adventure ended with a 2-layer filled and iced cake.

Was it worth it?  Time-wise maybe not.  The roasted grape recipe takes 15 minutes to prepare and uses 1 pan. The cake adventure took about 2 hours and used the original pan for the grapes, a cake pan, several bowls and the mixer, and a bunch of extra ingredients.

But I have to admit, that the cake made an unexpected and delightful summer dessert!

cake with grape-blueberry filling

2 hours later, we had cake!


What’s the best way to reheat pie – microwave, toaster oven or regular oven?

10 Aug

Have a slice of leftover pie in the fridge, just begging to be warmed up and devoured?

strawberry rhubarb pie, waiting to be re-heated

strawberry rhubarb pie "fresh" out of the fridge

Summer is the best time for all kinds of luscious pies. Sure, it is difficult to leave a good slice of pie for tomorrow, but sometimes it does happen. Then, you have the quandary of how to recapture that “fresh out of the oven” warmth.

Learn from the sad lesson of my loyal taster and husband, Kevin, this past week. Last weekend, I experimented with rhubarb for the first time and ended up with a yummy strawberry rhubarb pie.  Kevin secreted one piece in the back of the fridge.  When he pulled the leftover pie out and popped it into the microwave two days later, guess what happened? He got rubber crust and mushy filling.  Tragedy!

Now you know – don’t microwave pie.

Sure you can find web sites that claim reheating pie in a microwave is fine – but if you don’t trust me, try it. Or check what the veritable microwave queen, Barbara Kafka said in her landmark book, Microwave Gourmet “…starches in wheat flour … absorb liquid in the microwave oven; they tend to turn gluey… The baking problem is compounded by the tendency of eggs to become rubbery quickly in the microwave oven.”

So be smart – use a toaster oven or regular oven preheated to 350 degrees (maybe 10 minutes– or a bit more if the pie is straight from the fridge, but be careful on timing) – for re-warming pie.

Then when the pie crust is crisp again and just warm enough, add a scoop of ice cream and you’ll be in heaven.

Using lemon skin to add flavor

4 Aug


add lemon skin, also known as rind, peel or zest, to add flavor

Adding lemon taste usually means adding lemon juice. But what if you don’t want to add liquid?  You can use the skin (also called the rind, peel or zest) of the lemon – a wonderful ingredient when baking or cooking seafood or veggies. You can add lemon zest by grating it (isn’t “zest” such a lovely term?) or by cutting it in thin strips.

To grate or cut – that is the question. The answer as to which to do depends on how you want to use the lemon zest. If you want the zest to disappear into the other ingredients, then grate it. If you prefer to see it as a visible component of the finished dish, then cut it in thin strips.

How to grate lemon zest?

  • First, choose the right gadget – a grater. There are several types. The most common types are shaped like a box, a flat rectangle, a cone type, and a barrel. For lemons, the easiest one to use is a flat rectangle made of metal.
  • Then, wash the lemon with running water and dry it.
  • Now the moment of truth. Hold the grater on a plate at about a 45 degree angle and (to catch the zest) move the lemon up-and-down the grater once or twice. Don’t grate past the yellow part – the white skin underneath (the “pith”) is rather bitter. Then turn the lemon slightly to a fresh spot and repeat until you’ve got the right amount of zest.
lemon skin or rind or peel or zest grated

how to grate lemon skin or rind or zest

How to cut lemon rind?

  • The gadget – a carrot peeler.
  • Clean the lemon. (Don’t skip this unless you like eating something that has been sitting unwashed on the grocery produce counter and then rolling around unwashed in your refrigerator.)
  • Make it happen. Shave the lemon rind off the lemon in strips.

    lemon skin or rind or peel or zest shaved

    using carrot peeler, take skin/rind/peel/zest off the lemon

Take the strips and cut them as thin as you would like. Usually you want very narrow strips (1/8 of an inch perhaps) so that the taste of lemon is not overwhelming when someone eats a piece.

lemon skin/rind/ peel/zest shaved and cut

after you shave off the skin/rind/peel/zest, cut it into very narrow sticks

And did I mention how elegant and delicious dark roast coffee or expresso is with a small piece of shaved lemon and just a tad of sugar?

lemon skin/rind/peel/zest with expresso

just the way I've enjoyed expresso in NY's famed Little Italy

What are spices good for anyhow?

28 Jul
Spices used in cooking

Photo: Library of Congress

True confessions time.  Our family lore is that my father’s ancestors were spice merchants.  In fact my own father was in the spice business for a while. But I grew up in a spice-challenged household. When my mom set up housekeeping, she got spices but I never saw her use any of them except cinnamon.  She kept spices so long that when she moved after my own kids were born, I found her spice shelves filled with containers that she bought when I was a kid.

If you like well-spiced food – or just love a few foods that must use more than salt and pepper to give them that delicious oomph you crave, then let’s get down to business.  Not all spices give food a hot taste – some are delicate but when used properly, give recipes an unmistakable and delectable smell and taste.There are many spices to learn about and many types of cuisine for which spices are indispensable.

Here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Learn how to use a few spices at a time.
  • Decide which ones to learn about based on what type of food you like. Find recipes for dishes you crave and see what spices they use.
  • Spices typically lose their “punch” over time, so don’t buy them in large quantities unless you know that you are going to use them in the next few months.
spices sold in bulk

Spices sold in bulk Photo: Adam Baker