Thursday, June 27, 2013

Easy Idea for 4th of July Entertaining: Ice Cream Bar Bonanza

Looking for a quick, no-fail dessert idea for the 4th of July or any other entertaining occasion this summer?  Consider an ice cream bar bonanza.

I was introduced to the ice cream bar bonanza at a book club that I was in years ago.  At one of the meetings, for dessert, the hostess opened a bunch (and I mean bunch!) of ice cream bar boxes, dumped them on the table and let the group go at it.  We all felt like kids again, almost as if we were gathered around the ice cream truck, money in-hand, waiting to get our favorite treat.

We had a barbeque last summer and it turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year. It called for an ice cream bar bonanza so I got a big cooler, dumped in a bunch of ice and a large assortment of popsicles, ice cream bars, you name it!

Here are some tips for your own ice cream bar bonanza:
·        Go for variety and quantity
·        Go for a mix of retro (Otter Pops anyone?), favorites (for me that’s Its Its and drumsticks) and something new that you have been wanting to try
·        Get a mix of full-size and fun-size treats
·        Get more than you think you need
·        Store and serve in a big cooler with LOTS of ice

Then, just step back and let your guests dig in.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Power of Salt & Pepper

Salt and pepper are really simple seasonings and it hardly seems worth mentioning them. But they are so powerful it seems negligent not to mention them. So, let’s discuss.

Don’t be afraid to use salt and pepper.  Even if a recipe does not call for salt and pepper take a minute and consider if it will add to the dish (I am talking mainly about cooking here rather than baking). Take meat and poultry for example. I have not encountered a piece of meat or poultry that was not improved by sprinkling it with both salt and pepper. On both sides. Why both sides? Because you eat both sides! I learned that in a cooking class, no joke. Anyway, no matter what the recipe says, I always start by salting and peppering my meat and poultry. And don’t be stingy, sprinkle away! Vegetables too.  A little salt and pepper goes a long way here. And eggs! Eggs need salt and pepper.

Consider two easy upgrades for your salt and pepper that will bring benefits to your daily cooking:

·        If you don’t have one already, invest in a pepper grinder. I am partial to copper pepper grinders.
·        Toss your regular salt and use kosher salt.

Looking for more ideas for upgrading your salt & pepper?

·        Try a special salt such as Hawaiian salt, sea salt or grey salt. To learn more about gourmet salts go here and here.

·        Consider trying truffle salt the next time you grill meat.

·        Try Florida Pepper which is a citrusy pepper that is wonderful on vegetables.

·        Consider the fragrant long pepper next time you fill up your pepper mill.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Lobster Many Ways

I just got back from a quick trip to Martha’s Vineyard. It’s very pretty there – the beaches are beautiful and the houses are immaculate, with pretty flower boxes and/or potted flowers out front.  But enough about that, let’s talk about the food. Specifically, lobster.
Lobster rolls are the way to go in this part of the world and there is a debate about the best way to make a lobster roll.  They are typically served either hot with butter or cold as more of a lobster salad with mayonnaise.  In the name of research, I tried both.

First up, a hot lobster roll with butter from Menemsha Fish Market. This featured 1/3 pound of lobster, served hot with butter on a roll. We opted to add a cup of lobster bisque on the side.  If you are looking for the pure taste of lobster, this is the way to go.  The lobster was fresh, a bit sweet and yummy.  The squeeze of lemon was just enough seasoning. The bisque was so-so. It was a bit greasy and not as flavorful as it could have been.

Next up, a cold lobster roll from Edgartown Seafood. This featured less lobster than the hot one, but there was still a lot of lobster. The roll was pretty much the same (In both cases, the roll was a whimpy white bread roll – I was longing for a nice brioche roll).  Fortunately, the mayo content was light, just enough to moisten the lobster. It was a nice sandwich but it needed salt or some sort of seasoning.

The verdict? If you are looking for a pure lobster experience go with the hot roll and commit to spending some serious money to get one with plenty of lobster (the lobster roll + bisque at Menemsha Fish Market was $22.99). Otherwise, you can get the cold one (they are usually cheaper). But if you ever get the chance and can try both do it.

I also tried several other forms of lobster.  A whole lobster (also from Edgartown Seafood) was nice but a bit difficult to eat. We got it cooked and cracked but lacked the tools in our hotel room to properly eat the lobster. If I were to do that again, I’d make sure to bring some tools.  We got bisque with that lobster too and it was fairly flavorful and had a good amount of lobster meat.

Fried lobster from Sandy’s at Plymouth Beach (we were headed back to Boston by this time) was a bit dry and maybe not the best use of lobster.   Their cold lobster roll was quite good though.

Have you ever had a lobster roll? If so, do you prefer hot or cold?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Try This: Long Pepper

I took a cooking class in Italy a few years ago and not only learned to make homemade pasta and focaccia bread but was introduced to a pepper called long pepper. What is long pepper? Well, as you can probably guess from the name it’s called that because the peppercorns are fairly long – some are about two inches long. Tastewise, it has less heat than regular pepper. It’s more fragrant too. After we got home from Italy we tracked down long pepper online (I am not sure I have ever seen it in a store).
Over time, it has replaced common black pepper at my house. I like it better because it’s more mellow and flavorful than regular black pepper. I also like that is does not have as much heat.

One thing to know, due to the large pepper corns you’ll need to break them up a bit before they go into your pepper grinder. I use a mortar and pestle do to this. You could also put the long pepper into a plastic bag and hit it with either the smooth side of a meat cleaver or a hammer wrapped in a towel.

Have you ever tried long pepper?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Great Kitchen Tool - Microplane Grater

Today I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite kitchen tools – the Microplane grater. It’s my go-to tool for grating hard cheeses such as parmesan and romano , zesting citrus and grating carrots for coleslaw.  I have had mine for at least 10 years and it shows no sign of slowing down, it’s still as sharp as ever. Speaking of sharp, I have grated my fingers more than once on it, so be careful when you use it.
I love how easily the Microplane grates the toughest of foods into light, fluffy bits.  Clean up is easy too, it goes into the dishwasher. 

What are some of your favorite kitchen tools?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Looking for a perfect pizza wine? Try Barbera!

This photo is neither wine nor pizza. I took it at a truffle fair in the
Piemonte region of Italy (Barbera comes from Piemonte.) and thought
it was a nice photo to share.
Last week I wrote about pizza on the grill. This week I want to share a great wine that goes well with pizza – Barbera!  What is Barbera you ask? It’s a grape type (or “varietal” in wine speak) not a brand.  The grape is originally from Italy and there are many wonderful Barbera wines from there, but some American wineries also make it and those wines are definitely worth a try.

Why is Barbera a good pizza wine? First off, it’s got good acid. This makes it pair well with pizza. Actually instead of the word “pair” I should say “stand up to it” since pizza typically has some pretty strong flavors and it can quickly overwhelm  a wine.  It will go pretty well with your pasta and red sauce too. Second, it’s usually a fairly inexpensive bottle of wine.  I don’t know about you, but I never seem to feel that pizza really deserves a great bottle of wine.  So, finding something that pairs well with pizza and is priced well is a winner in my book.
I have listed below some Barberas that are tried and true. I will warn you that wine distribution is a funny thing and you may not be able to find these in your area. What to do?  Go to a wine store you trust, pick up a Barbera or two, grab a pizza and find your own perfect pairing.

Michele Chiarlo:
Fontana Fredda:

This Barbera costs a bit more but is very worth it if you can find it:
Aldo Conterno:


What is your favorite pizza wine?