On Oranges and All Things Citrus
Oranges are something I have always enjoyed. I have eaten them off the tree since I was young and have eaten them from unripe to dried out old. When you get an orange or any citrus for that matter, that is ripe, there is no better flavor in the world. The best orange comes right off the tree. Pick a ripe fruit, cut open in the cool winter sun and consume it right there. It is so juicy that the fluid runs down your forearms as you eat. Flavors abound, the sweetness and tartness explode in your mouth. [Read the rest of this entry…]
Is your family tired of the same old meals? Are you looking for an easy way to turn your old favorites into something special? Lucky for you there is one secret and easy to use ingredient that can help give some class to almost anything you serve.
You might think this magical secret ingredient would be hard to find or cost a lot of money, but it isn’t. In fact it can be found right in your local grocery store for under $5.00.
So what is this wonderful food that will transform your meals?
Frozen puff pastry. You know, that stuff that you probably never bother to use because it thought it was only reserved for Greek desserts and looks to delicate and difficult. Well it’s not, in fact, puff pastry is quite easy to use and very versatile and it’s a wonder why it is one of the most overlooked foods you can use to cook with.
Frozen puff pastry is easy and economical, it handles beautifully and needs no additional prep. It can be used to give a gourmet flair to a variety of staple meals and it works great every time.
From your Friday night family pizza to that Sunday roast lamb, puff pastry can add a bit of class to any meal and make you look like a gourmet chef.
Of course, you might be most familiar with puff pastry when used for desserts. It can be used with a variety of fillings for a light, delicious dessert. When you server a puff pastry dessert your guests will think you spent hours baking when you can whip up something like this fruit tart in about 20 minutes.
1. Thaw 1 sheet of puff pastry and cut into 4 pieces
2. Put 1 tablespoon of fruit into the middle of each of the 4 pieces
3. Fold the opposite corners of the pastry into the center and pinch together with your fingers.
4. Glaze the tart with a milk and beaten egg mixture
5. Sprinkle the top with sugar
6. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes
For variations you can add different fillings or make a while pie using one whole puff pastry sheet for the bottom and another one for the top – either in a pie dish or just flat on a cookie sheet.
There’s no limit to what you can do with puff pastry. Use cookie cutters to cut the pastry into interesting shapes – glaze and bake then use to garnish almost any dish. Put them on top of soups and stews or casseroles. Use them on chops or with eggs. The only limits are your imagination!
One great use for puff pastry that even the kids will love is to make little mini pizzas by cutting the pastry into rounds and cover each round with grated cheese, sauce and veggies. You an also use them to make little appetizers – use different shapes and top them with chili sauce, crab mix or anything you want.
Cooking with puff pastry is quite easy but there are a few things you need to be careful of in order to get them perfect every time. One of these things is to make sure you cook them at the right temperature. You should, of course, follow the directions on the package but most ready made puff pastry “puffs” at around 400 degrees F. Also, you must only give it a light glaze since if you add too much on it will cause the pastry to become soggy and not rise successfully. A light brushing of the egg wash with a pastry brush is all that is needed for perfect puff pastry.
So now that the secret is out, you better rush to the supermarket and stock up on puff pastry before it’s all gone!
Lee Dobbins writes for Online Gourmet Foods where you can read more articles about gourmet foods and fine cooking.
Know Your Ingredients – Sweet Potatoes
What has as much fiber as a bowl of oatmeal, almost twice the Vitamin A of carrots, more potassium than a banana, and is a good source of Vitamin B6 and Manganese? The sweet potato! Surprised?
The sweet potato is one of the healthiest foods in the Southern diet, achieving super food status for its powerful antioxidants and carotenoids that protect the body against cancer, heart disease and boosts the immune system.
One large sweet potato has approximately 162 calories, compared to 278 for a regular baked potato. It is naturally low in sodium and fat.
Of course, the problem is that most sweet potato recipes tend to drown them in butter and sugar. But this no longer needs to be true. Sweet potatoes are gaining attention of chefs and home cooks for their delicious flavors and outstanding nutrition.
How to Use Sweet Potatoes
Healthy Baked Sweet Potatoes
Baking or microwaving is one of the easiest ways to use sweet potatoes. Simply cook them the same way you would an Idaho potato. When it comes time to dress them, get a little creative. Instead of butter, try topping them with a sprinkle of cinnamon and top with a spoon full of pineapple tidbits. This is a healthy way to enjoy the flavors of sweet potato casserole, without the fat and sugar.
To Bake Sweet Potatoes:
Wrap each potato in foil and place in a 400 degree oven for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and slit open. Stuff as desired.
To Microwave Sweet Potatoes:
Wash the outside of each potato and prick the skin in several places with a fork. This will allow the steam to escape without rupturing the skin. Place on a microwave safe plate and microwave on high for 8 minutes. Press the potato, it will yield easily when done. If it is still hard, microwave for 2 more minutes or until done. Cooking times vary with the size of the potato and the power of the microwave.
The Perfect Cake
By Diane Watkins
The perfect cake is easily recognizable. It’s shape is perfectly symmetrical with a golden brown crust. It has a feathery velvet texture. It is moist and light. The taste is pure heaven. You can certainly recognize a perfect cake, but can you make one?
When making a cake it is important to follow the recipe exactly. If you try to skip a step you may have less than desirable results. Skip the sifting step and your flour will be heavier than it should, creating a heavy, dry cake. Over-mix and your cake will be tough and chewy, more like a good bread.
So, what are the steps in making a good cake? Lets explore these separately.
The Right Ingredients
First, use the right ingredients and measure carefully. If the recipe calls for cake flour, you will have best results with cake flour. All-purpose flour can be substituted, but will not make as tender a cake.
Beat the liquid ingredients well before combining with the dry ingredients. Once the dry ingredients are added, the cake should be stirred gently, unless the directions tell you otherwise. If your cake is course and dry, or has tunnels, you have probably over-mixed.
All-purpose flour has a higher gluten content, and this will affect your results. Also realize that all-purpose flour varies according to the region of the country it is produced. Southern brands of flour are a softer gluten than those in the northern US. If you must substitute all-purpose flour for cake flour, either use a southern product, or use 2 Tablespoons less per cup of flour suggested.
There are three different leavening agents used in cake making. Baking powder, baking soda, and air. Occasionally, you may see a recipe calling for yeast, but this is not the norm. If the recipe does not call for either baking powder or baking soda, then your leavening agent is air and your beating step is very important. Pound cakes, sponge cakes, and angel food cakes all use air as their leavening agent. Many cakes use a combination of leavening agents, including air. Beating the cake at the suggested speed for the appropriate time listed will beat in the air and make your cake light.
Baking powder also comes in different varieties, including regular and double acting. If your recipe specifies a variety, be sure to use the one called for. Most recipes that call for baking soda require buttermilk, lemon juice, or vinegar. Do not substitute regular milk for buttermilk without adding acid, as it is necessary to activate the baking soda and make the cake rise.
Shortening, Oil, and Butter
Again, using the correct shortening is important. If substituting, be aware of the liquid content. Everyone is aware of the need to decrease the liquid when using oil, but you may not know that butter contains more liquid than shortening, requiring an increase in volume and a decrease in the liquid added to the recipe.
Choose the correct size and shape of baking pan. The batter should almost fill the pan, without any spillage or bulging. Baking times and temperature will be dependent on the pan size. A thinner pan may need a higher temperature to bake the cake without drying it out.
Prepare the pan as directed. Most recipes call for the pan to be greased and floured. A piece of waxed paper or parchment paper cut to fit the bottom may be placed in the greased pan if desired. This will aid removing the cake when done. If using the paper, grease the bottom and sides, place the paper into the bottom and then flour the sides if directed.
Baking the Cake
Preheat the oven as directed. Starting in a cold oven, or too hot an oven will affect the rising and browning of the cake. A cake started in a cool oven will not allow the cake to rise sufficiently before the crust forms and the cake may fall. Too hot an oven may cause a crack to develop, and the crust might harden and over brown. The cake should be placed in the center of the oven for best heat distribution. Be aware of your oven, if there are hot spots in your oven you may need to adjust.
The cake is done when it is lightly browned and it springs back when lightly pressed with the fingertip in the center or when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and dry. The cake will have begun to shrink away from the sides of the pan.
Follow the recipe on removing the cake from the pan. Some cakes can be removed immediately, some need a 5 minute rest, and others must be allowed to cool completely in the pan. Proper attention to this detail will prevent repairs caused by the cake sticking to the pan and tearing.
Using the proper ingredients, mixing well at the proper time, and careful baking will produce a light tender cake that you will be proud to serve. Follow the recipe, understand the reasons behind the directions, and you, too will have the “knack” for cakes.
Making biscuits is a skill that all good southern cooks should master. There is nothing more satisfyingly southern than a light flaky biscuit with gravy or homemade jam. Biscuits are quick and easy to make and economical as well.
The secret to good biscuits is in the mixing. [Read the rest of this entry…]