Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mohawk Valley's Riggiefest

When my daughter and son-in-law moved to Utica, NY I first heard about "riggies". This pasta dish is unique to the upstate New York area. Riggies are actually rigatoni with chunks of chicken and green peppers lightly covered with spicy marinara sauce. We tried it for the first time last weekend. It was very good and makes a great dish for a crowd. Rigatoni is one of my favorite pastas because it brings back memories of the next-door neighbors of my childhood.

Last weekend was also the 5th annual Riggiefest, a cook-off between restaurants, and lots of sampling. This year there was also a home cooking champion. All the proceeds from the community supported event benefit the YMCA of the Mohawk Valley.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cheesecake and More

For my grandson's christening we served cheesecake from Manny's Cheesecake in Utica, New York. It was hard to choose between the different flavors. We finally settled on Amaretto with sliced almonds which means we had to pass up chocolate, chocolate chip and raspberry and could also have had fruit toppings. I was surprised that the cheesecakes had no crust and they came in 6 different sizes.

There were also fruit turnovers, cookies and tarts. I can't resist almond crescents made with almond paste. The photo is of a vanilla pustie which is a pastry with a custard center. The pastry was a combination of a sweet roll and pastry. They also came in chocolate and peanut better. The unusual texture with the creamy filling was a hit with me.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Fabulous Brunch

I'll be in upstate New York this weekend visiting my daughter and her family. On Sunday we're haveing a few friends over for Brunch. Here's a easy recipe from my friend Sheilah Kaufmann. Who doesn't like chocolate?

What combination could be better than chocolate and cherries! This is a quick, easy, and elegant dessert. From UPPER CRUSTS: Fabulous Ways To Use (Tired) Bread by Sheilah Kaufman

1 teaspoon butter
3 stale croissants
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon Cassis (or vanilla)

Generously butter a 9x9-inch baking dish.
Cut croissants into 1/ 2-inch pieces (as best you can) and scatter cubes, chips and cherries into prepared baking dish.
In a large bowl whisk together sugar, cream, eggs, and Cassis until sugar dissolves.
Pour sugar/cream mixture through a sieve into prepared baking dish.
Gently push down cubes so they absorb the egg mixture. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.*
Preheat oven to 350F.
Bake for 40 minutes or until center is puffy and golden. Serve hot.
Serves 6.
*If in a rush, skip chilling. Instead pour only half of egg mixture in, push down to absorb; wait five minutes before pouring on some more but not all, leaving tops of cubes just above liquid line.

UPPER CRUSTS: Fabulous Ways to Use Bread--cooking teacher, cookbook author, and food editor, and culinary lecturer, Sheilah Kaufman, features one of America’s favorite comfort foods as the main ingredient. Specializing for 40 years in taking the intimidation out of cooking and entertaining--this delightful new collection, published by Capital Books, offers easy-to-prepare recipes for simply delectable appetizers, salads, soups, vegetable and main dishes, desserts and more for elegant celebrations and warm family gatherings. “… with homey and surprising flavors like these, you may end up buying bread just to let it go stale," said Claudia Kousoulas, Appetite for Books.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Can you believe what you read on labels?

Today's edition of the Star Tribune has a feature "Label Fables" which is great topic. Recently my husband has been drinking Cherry 7-Up with antioxidants. I feel strongly that this is misleading information. Sharon Lehrman, a registered dietitian in St. Louis Park, provides a counterpoint.

Although Cherry 7-Up has a minuscule amount of antioxidants, it is also high in potentially damaging ingredients- such as aspartame. Twizzlers claim to have no fat- that's true- but they are high in sugar and artificial colors. Vitamin Water is "expensive sugar water with vitamins".

The healthiest foods are foods without labels- that is , fruits, vegetables, fish and other protein foods. Give it some thought before your look to processed foods for health claims!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Eating Out

Earlier this week I had dinner at Heidi's Restaurant in south Minneapolis. My friend and I each ordered an appetizer which we shared and they were fabulous. We had a carrot filled ravioli with basil and a colorful beet salad with endive and fennel and a beet reduction There was some soy sauce in the dressing which was a happy surprise. Both were beautifully arranged but the restaurant was too dark to take a good photo. We both ordered the night's special a grilled halibut served with a "haupia cake". We asked about the haupia cake and our served described it well but I found out I didn't like it. It was like a coconut custard breaded with panko crumbs and fried. The halibut was cooked perfectly. Now that halibut is back in season I order whenever I can.

Today I met a friend at The Baker's Wife, also in south Minneapolis. We sampled three items and found them interesting. A caramel cake was filled with a firm cream cheese filling and a little caramel sauce. I liked the Almond Tart the best- a cakelike filling with ground almonds was surrounded by a tender pastry. My friend said the Chocolate Filled Muffin was very good and loaded with chocolate flavor. The prices were really low and it was an old-fashioned bakery with charm.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Some Thoughts on Eating Healthy in Restauratns recently published the results of a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research that examined the effect of nutritional labeling on food choices in restaurants. When nutritional information was provided for items that contained a claim to "great taste" consumers didn't change their choice because they expected items that taste great to be higher in calories. Most of us don't realize how many calories are in food consumed in restaurants and would change our selections with the numbers in front of us. Start by reading the nutritional info available in fast food restaurants. Some burger contain an entire days worth of calories.

Here are some tips for making wise choices when eating out. Choose broiled or grilled entrees as opposed to sauteed, and ask for sauces to be omitted or served on the side. I always ask for salad dressing to be served on the side as most salads contain too much dressing for my taste. Ask to replace French fries with a vegetable or plain baked potato. Avoid emptying the bread basket and dip bread lightly in olive oil as opposed to butter. It helps if you don't arrive so hungry that you eat everything is sight.

Friday, April 10, 2009

What is Sustainability ?

Last week at IACP the topic of one of the keynote sessions was sustainability. Dan Barber, whose restaurant in New York city relies completely on organic foods produced by local farmers, stated that good natural systems are actually very simple. He spent most of his time talking about fois gras (a touchy subject these days) He traveled to Frane to spend time with a goose farmer who doesn't force feed his geese but rather treats them gently and feeds them differently to fatten their livers just before they are killed. He said that we tend to "take more, sell more and waste more" and the we need to look to nature for solutions.

Walter Robb, the CEO of Whole Foods, discussed Whole Foods approach to making "natural, organic" food available to all. One definition of sustainability is "to develop and fulfill the needs of the present without compromising the environment". Whole Foods are looking for simple, healthy, fresh, clean and local sources. Everything depends on the interaction of the customer, chef, seller and farmer.

I am in favor of using organic foods and local foods but don't think this is a way we can feed our population or the starving millions. In MN is it is impossible to rely completely on local foods because our growing season is short. We need to find creative solutions.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Cooking Class with Anne Willan

When I was in Denver at IACP last week I took a class from Anne Willan, the founder of La Varenne Cooking School. Her class, French Country Cooking and the Centennial State, related to the IACP theme "Pioneering a Sustainable World". At the beginning of the class she talked about the effect of geography on local foods and culture. She stated "you should get a sense of place on the plate". Country cooking is all about living off the land.

The discovery of French regional cooking really began in the early 1900's when a foodie was sent out on the road and told to drive until he wore out his Michelin tires. Today chef's are still competing for those coveted Michelin stars.

For class she prepared Daube of Buffalo with Green and Black Olives, a one-dish meal related to a Provencal daube. Braised Chicken with Colorado Beer is her interpretation of a classic dish from northern France. We also enjoyed a taste of Vineyard Baked Beans, using dried kidney beans, and finished with a robust red wine. These are not American baked beans!

A bouquet garni was in all of the savory dishes. She uses bay leaf, fresh thyme and parsley, tied in cheesecloth. when I asked she said that bay, thyme and parsley are the standard but other possible additions are oregano and celery leaves.

We ended with a "Quick Tart Tatin". She prepared with pate sucre by hand on the counter top, working the butter and egg yolks into the flour until the dough formed. The filling consisted of gala apples cut into 1/4 inch cubes and cooked in a buttery caramel sauce. Because the apples weren't peeled, they turned a delicate rosy pink as they cooked. When the apples were cooked they were spooned into the prepared tart shell. I liked the idea of making the small cubes that cooked quickly but she had the students from Johnson and Wales doing all her chopping and prep. I'd be doing it myself.

"Never warp pastry dough in plastic wrap to chill it, because it sweats" and then you have to add flour to work with the dough. I have always wrapped pastry dough in waxed paper and now I know why!

Here is a link to her web site.