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Saturday
Apr302011

Secret of Health

When Africans first came to South Carolina, they brought one of their most valued posessions with them--a handful of benne (sesame) seed, which they believed held the secret of health and good luck. 

Planted near the slave quarters on the early plantations, benne became a traditional part of "The Old South."  Cooks in the "Big House" kitchens knew just how to use this rich honey-colored seed to make delicious and exotic concoctions.  One of the favorites, Benne Wafers, are still popular today.

Old South Benne Wafers
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Stir flour, sesame seeds, salt and baking powder together in a medium bowl.  Add to butter mixture and mix until fully combined.

Drop with a teaspoon onto parchment-lined or well-greased baking sheet, far enough apart to allow spreading while baking.  Bake in preheated oven until golden and crisp, about 7 to 10 minutes.  Finished wafers should be about the size of a quarter.

Makes about 3 dozen. 

Did You Know:  Sesame seeds (Sesamum indicum) are a good source of manganese and copper, as well as calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc and dietary fiber.  These seeds also contain two unique substances: sesamin and sesamolin, that belong to a group of special beneficial fibers called lignans, believed to have a cholesterol-lowering effect in humans.

Wednesday
Apr272011

Creamed!

Nestled in Vermont's beautiful Green Mountains, the Vermont Butter & Cheese Company has been making delectable European-style specialty cheese and butters for more than 25 years.  When they began, goat cheese, mascarpone and Crème Fraîche were relatively unknown to most American palates--and they were rarely found on even gourmet menus.  Today they boast a burgeoning following.   Having fallen in love with their products while living in Vermont, I am estatic they now have a broad distribution. 

But Vermont Butter & Cheese did not stop at standard fare...they continued to develop and perfect new French-influenced products, such as bonne bouche, quark and Coupole.  (Bonne Bouche, French for "good mouthful" is a hand-ladled aged goat cheese with a sprinkling of poplar wood ash.  Quark is fresh curd drained in cheese cloth and then lightly whipped for a soft texture.  Coupole has a dense texture, a fresh milky taste and an intriguing constrast between the strong ripened flavor of the rind and the delicate fresh taste of the interior.)

Vermont Butter & Cheese makes products with exceptional quality.  Their cream comes from the farmers of the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery (Ben & Jerry's and Stonyfield Farm buy St. Alban's Creamery milk.)  Their farmers pledge to produce milk and cream that is free of growth hormones.

All of the Company's products have won numerous awards, including multiple SOFI statues, the "Oscar" of the food world.

I developed this potato recipe to highlight the amazing flavor and smooth texture of the Vermont Butter & Cheese Company's Chèvre.

Chèvre Potatoes Anna
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, preferably russet
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cups mashed potatoes
3 ounces soft Chèvre (goat) cheese
2 tablespoons chopped chives
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Generously brush the bottom and sides of a 9-inch baking dish with melted butter.  Wash and peel the potatoes.  Slice them very thin and immerse them in cold water, allowing them to soak for 3 to 5 minutes.  Drain the potatoes,  place them on paper towels, and pat dry. 

Brush each potato slice butter.  Arrange a layer of potato slices in the bottom of the baking pan, overlapping them slightly.  Spread a layer of mashed potatoes on top.  Sprinkle evenly with crumbled goat cheese and chopped chives.  Season lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Repeat layering process, ending with a layer of the sliced potatoes.

Cover the baking dish with buttered foil, place in the middle of the oven and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake until potatoes are tender and top is golden brown, about 25 more minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

Did You Know:  pH is the measurement of acidity.  Fresh chèvre is a lactic curd cheese that has a low pH, giving it a distinctive tangy flavor.

Friday
Apr222011

Bunnies & Baskets

 

Meringue Bunnies & Baskets
2 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
food coloring, preferably paste-style
mini chocolate chips

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating at high speed until stiff peaks form.  Mix in vanilla.  Fold in small amount of food coloring (pink for bunnies, yellow for baskets).  Transfer to a pastry bag with large plain tip or a medium plastic food-safe bag with one corner cut away to create a small opening. 

Pipe the meringue onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  For bunnies:  Pipe the meringue mixture into bunny shapes about 3 to 4 inches longstart with an oval base, about 2 1/2 inches long; top with a round head; add ears on each side of the head.  For baskets:  Pipe the meringue into a 3 inch circle; continuing pipe around the outer edge of the circle to create the riased edge of the basket.   Bake at 225° F for 1 1/2 hours.  Allow to cool on a wire rack.  For bunnies:  While the meringue is still warm, but not piping hot, add 2 mini chocolate chips face down for eyes, and one face up for the nose. (Or use one pink nonpareil candy dot for each nose.)   For baskets:  cool completely and fill with jelly beans or other egg shapped candy.

Makes about 1 dozen.

Friday
Apr152011

Here's the Rub

Seasoning your food directly with a bold blend of spices and herbs is a quick and easy way to transform grilled meat, poultry or seafood from good to amazing!  Dry rubs showcase fresh or dried herbs and ground spices.  There are a broad range of ready-made spice blends or rubs on the market. 

Or mixing your own rub is simple--and you can tailor the flavors to your family's tastes.  Crushing the spices, seeds and dried herbs slightly will help release the flavors and remember that freshness counts--most spices and herbs lose their oomph after about 8 months.

Basic Rub
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon paprika

In a small bowl, mix together all ingredients, crushing the dried herbs while adding.  This is a great balanced rub that goes well with a host of meats and poultry.

Mexican Rub
2 tablespoons groundChipolte Chili Pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

In a small bowl, mix together all ingredients.  This rub is particularly well-suited for beef and pork.

Grilled Chicken Fans with Creamy Pesto Sauce
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Basic Rub
1/4 cup prepared pesto
1/4 cup cream

Preheat grill to medium-high heat.  Season chicken lightly with basic rub; cover and let rest 15 minutes.  Grill, covered, over direct heat for 5 to 6 minutes per side.  Remove chicken from the grill when it reaches 160 degrees internal temperature, as measured with an instant-read thermometer.  Thinly slice chicken 3/4-way through and place on individual serving plates, fanning the slices. 

Meanwhile, combine pesto and cream in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and stir until heated through.  Spoon over edge of each grilled chicken breast.  Garnish with fresh herb sprig, if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

Tuesday
Apr122011

Fat Toads

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for toads & frogs--as a young girl I raised a pet frog from a tadpole.

That combined with my weakness for cajeta, made including Fat Toad Farm in my Vermont farm tour a must.  The family owned and operated farm (named for its prolific population of plump toads) is picture-perfect Vermont--green grass, fresh air and healthy lively animals.  They make a variety of lucious fresh goat cheeses, as well as to-die-for goat milk caramels or cajeta.

Cajeta is a sweet milk caramel eaten all over Latin America and Mexico.  One of the hallmarks of an outstanding cajeta is the quality of the goat's milk.  No surprise then, that Fat Toad Farm Goat's Milk Caramel is so exceptional.  Superior goat's milk combined with organic sugar, slow-cooked/caramelized over the stove using traditional methods.  End result: Decadently rich, distinctive caramel sauces in four flavors: Original, Vanilla Bean, Cinnamon, and Coffee Bean.

How to enjoy?  ...sneak a spoonful straight from the jar...enliven breakfast--stir into oatmeal or yogurt or spoon over waffles and pancakes...drizzle on or under ice cream, pie or grilled fruit (pineapple is my fav)...try as a dip for fresh fruit or toasted pound cake...sandwich between 2 cookies and roll the edges in finely chopped nuts or shaved chocolate...stir into coffee, hot chocolate or warm milk...the possibilities are ENDLESS!

Fat Toad Caramel Apple Bread Pudding
2 Golden Delicious or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored & chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 loaf brioche-style or bakery white bread, about 1/2 pound-size loaf
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 8-ounce jar Fat Toad Farm Goat's Milk Caramel (Cinnamon or Vanilla Bean)
Optional Garnish:  fresh whipped cream

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Butter six 8-ounce ramekins or custard cups and place in a large baking or roasting pan.  Cut bread into 1/2 to 3/4-inch pieces.

Whisk together cream, eggs, sugar, salt, vanilla and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add bread and toss to coat.  Spoon a scant tablespoon of caramel sauce into each ramekin. Top each with a layer of chopped apples and then about 1/3 cup of the custard bread mixture. Add a second layer of sauce, apple and custard bread mixture.

Carefully place the prepared pan on the center oven rack. Fill pan with hot water to within 1/2 inch of ramekin tops. Cover the entire pan with aluminum foil. Cook 20 minutes. Remove foil; cook 20 minutes more. Remove pan from the oven and carefully remove ramekins.  Cool 5 minutes.  Loosen the edge of each ramekin using a pairing knife and turn out onto individual serving plates which have been drizzled with Fat Toad Caramel Sauce.  Garnish with fresh whipped cream, if desired. 

Makes 6 servings.

For more information about Fat Toad Farm visit http://www.fattoadfarm.com  Their products make wonderful gifts (yes, I AM hinting)--offered in a variety of sizes & packaging, including distinctive wooden boxes.

Did You Know:  Milk from any animal is designed to meet the nutritional needs of its young.  The nutrient composition of cow's & goat's milks are similar--though while cow's milk has higher levels of vitamin B12 & folic acid, goat's milk is richer in calcium, B6 & niacin.

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