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Archive for February, 2017

RECIPE: Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes, Homemade Chocolate Cherries & Cherry Liqueur

George Washington never chopped down a cherry tree, but you can still celebrate his birthday (either Presidents Day or his actual birthday, February 22nd) with something cherry.

Here, we have three options: chocolate cherry cupcakes, chocolate cherry cordials, and cherry liqueur (the last one you can make today, but you need several weeks for it to infuse. It will be ready by Mother’s Day.

The first recipe was developed by Jen of the website Baked By An Introvert. She notes that “This recipe was inspired by my favorite candy, chocolate covered cherries.”

The chocolate cupcakes have a “surprise” filling of cherry preserves; and the buttercream also has some cherry preserves for color and flavor. You can use plain buttercream if you prefer, tinted pink.

Prep time is 20 minutes, cook time is 20 minutes.

Before you start baking, make it a point to look at all the wonderful recipes on BakedByAnIntrovert.com.

RECIPE #1: CHOCOLATE CHERRY CUPCAKES

Ingredients For 20 Cupcakes

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup black cherry preserves or regular cherry preserves
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon kirsch (cherry liqueur)
  • Optional garnish: chocolate-covered cherries with stems (purchase or make)
  • Other garnishes: Hershey’s Kisses (unwrapped), fresh stemmed cherries in season, brandied cherries (recipe)
  •  
    For The Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 3 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup black cherry preserves (substitute red cherry preserves)
  •    

    Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes

    Bowl Of Pink Frosting

    [1] Pretty as a picture: chocolate cherry cupcakes from Baked By An Introvert. [2] If you want to play against the cherry filling, tint plain buttercream pink or make this pink champagne frosting from Wicked Good Kitchen.

  • Substitute for preserves: red food color to tint frosting pink, or this pink champagne frosting recipe
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F, line 12 muffin cups with paper liners (or 20 muffin cups, if you have two pans). Set aside.

    2. BEAT in a large bowl until fluffy the oil, butter and sugars. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla. In a separate bowl…

    3. WHISK together the dry ingredients: flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Gradually add it to the wet ingredients, along with the milk. First add some of the dry mixture, then some milk, then some dry mixture, repeating as necessary and beating after each addition. The contents should be well blended.

    4. SPOON 2 tablespoons of batter into each paper cup. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean (with only a few dry crumbs). Remove the cupcakes from the pan(s), and cool completely on a wire rack. When cool…

    5. CUT a small well in the top center of each cupcakes, using the point of a sharp knife. Fill but don’t stuff the well with cherry preserves, and replace the top portion of the cupcake. (Nibble on the well pieces or keep them in a plastic snack bag to toss on ice cream or yogurt.)

    6. MAKE the frosting. Using a hand mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until fluffy. Gradually beat in the confectioner’s sugar; then beat in the cream until the frosting reaches your desired spreading consistency. Then beat in the preserves or food color to tint pink. Garnish and serve.

    TIP FROM JEN: If the frosting becomes too loose or curdled looking, add more powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time until the frosting comes together again.

     

    Chocolate Covered Cherries

    Chocolate Dipped Cherries

    Kirsch

     

    RECIPE #2: CHOCOLATE-COVERED CHERRY CORDIALS

    Making chocolate-covered cherries is as easy as dipping strawberries or other fruit in chocolate: Melt the chocolate, dip the fruit and let dry.

    However, if you want to make cherry cordials—with the cherry floating in syrup, here’s a recipe Taste Of Home (photos #3 and 4).

    Prep time is 25 minutes plus chilling.

    Ingredients For 36 Pieces

  • 2-1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 jars (8 ounces each) maraschino cherries with stems, well drained (we placed them on paper towels, too)
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate (quality chocolate or chocolate chips)
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the sugar, butter, milk and extract in a small bowl. Knead until smooth and pliable. Shape into 1-inch balls and flatten each into a 2-inch circle.

    2. WRAP one circle around each cherry and lightly roll in your hands. Place with stems up on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Cover loosely and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

    3. MELT the chocolate and shortening in the microwave; stirring until smooth (the shortening helps the chocolate adhere to the cherry). Holding onto the stems, dip the cherries into the chocolate, allowing the excess to drip off. Place them waxed paper until the chocolate is set. Store in a covered container. Refrigerate for 1-2 weeks before serving, to allow the flavors to meld.

    RECIPE #3: MAKE CHERRY LIQUEUR

    You can’t have it today; it takes 40 days to infuse (photo #5).

    But here’s how, from Balkan Lunchbox.

    ____________________
    Captions For Photos:

    [3] Make your own chocolate covered cherries (photo courtesy Taste Of Home).

    [4] It’s more than dipping fruit: You create the almond-nuanced syrup inside the chocolate shell, too (photo courtesy Choclatique).

    [5] Finish with homemade cherry liqueur (photo courtesy Balkan Lunch Box).

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: King Cake & Milk Punch For Mardi Gras

    Mardi Gras 2017 falls on Tuesday, February 28. It always falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

    Celebrating the Carnival season, Mardi Gras (French for Fat Tuesday) has been a state holiday in Louisiana since the 19th century.

    WHAT’S MARDI GRAS?

    The Carnival season begins on or after the Epiphany or Kings Day (January 6th), and culminates on the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday refers to the practice of eating richer, fatty foods the last night before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday.

    Mardi Gras is sometimes referred to as Shrove Tuesday, from the word shrive, meaning “confess.” But the idea of rich foods is far more appealing.

    Why “Carnival?”

    Centuries ago, Catholics in Italy started the tradition of holding a wild costume festival right before the first day of Lent. It stuck, engendering huge Carnival events elsewhere, including New Orleans and Rio de Janiero.

    In New Orleans, parades and other celebrations begin the extended weekend before, starting Friday, February 24th.

    You don’t have to go all-out to celebrate, or even prepare a Jambalaya Bar for friends and family.

    Instead, invite them to drop by for a slice of King Cake, a glass of milk punch, or both.

    You can buy a King Cake—the traditional Mardi Gras buttery yeasted sweet cake, or make one with the excellent mix kit from King Arthur Flour. It includes the yeast cake mix, almond paste, white icing mix and decorating sugars.

    BYO plastic baby: Per, tradition the person who gets the piece of cake with the baby (or coin, or other token) gets good luck all year!

    IMPORTANT: Never bake anything plastic in a cake; it will melt and render the cake inedible (and for all we know, it can catch fire). The technique is: after the cake is baked and still warm (and more pliable), insert the good luck token into the cake from the underside, before icing.

    Here’s more on the history of King Cake.

    TO DRINK: MILK PUNCH

    Milk punch is in the category of drinks made with milk or cream: Brandy Alexander, Classic Ramos Gin Fizz, Grasshopper, Irish Coffee, Mudslide, Pink Squirrel, White Russian, and many others (hey—another idea for a themed cocktail party: cream-based cocktails).

       

    King Cake Mardi Gras

    King Cake Kit

    King Cake

    [1] [2] [3] These King Cakes were made from a mix kit from King Arthur Flour. The rectangular shape isn’t traditional, but you can be as creative as you like.

     
    Milk punch combines brandy or bourbon* with milk, sugar and vanilla extract, typically garnished with grated nutmeg. It is served cold and usually has nutmeg sprinkled on top.

    FOOD TRIVIA: sugar was added to cocktails to cover up the taste of the alcohol, as was milk.

     

    Milk Punch

    Nutmeg and Microplane

    [4] You can serve milk punch in whatever glasses you have (photo Michelle Banovic | Atwood Hotel | Chicago. [5] Don’t forget the nutmeg. We have a special nutmeg grater (like a peppermill for nutmeg); but you can use your Microplane (photo courtesy McCormick).

     

    It was popularized in the 17th century by Aphra Behn, one of the first English women to earn her living by her writing. At the time, all types of punch were served from a punch bowl.

    The milk punch of the era was made with cream curdled with lemon juice. Those recipes gave way to milk punches that use(d) fresh milk or cream, like egg nog—which is a milk punch enriched with eggs.

    Milk punches—egg nog or other—became holiday and celebratory traditions (for example, Mardi Gras).

    In modern-day New Orleans, milk punches vie as brunch drinks with the Bloody Mary, created in 1940 in New York City Bloody Mary history.

    There are as many recipes for milk punch as for anything else, but for Mardi Gras we serve up the recipe from Brennan’s, a favorite New Orleans restaurant since 1946.

    For a 17th-century-type recipe, try Benjamin Franklin’s recipe. He used brandy and included lots of lemon juice (which curdled the milk).

    MILK PUNCH RECIPES

    This, and other cognac-based milk punches, often use Napoleon brandy, a designation for a brandy or cognac aged at least five years. Feel free to use VSOP; with all the cream and sugar, the nuances of the Napoleon will be covered up.

    If you don’t like or don’t have brandy, you can substitute bourbon, rum, whiskey and even tequila.

    RECIPE #1: BRENNAN’S BRANDY MILK PUNCH

    Ingredients Per Drink

  • 2 ounces/4 tablespoons brandy or cognac
  • 4 ounces/1/2 cup half & half
  • 1 ounce/2 tablespoons simple syrup† (recipe)
  • 1/4 ounce/1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Garnish: freshly grated nutmeg
  •  
    Plus

  • Cocktail shaker and ice
  • Preparation

    1. COMBINE the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.

    2. SHAKE vigorously and pour into a chilled old-fashioned glass. Garnish with nutmeg.

    RECIPE #2: BRANDY MILK PUNCH

    Here’s a recipe from New Orleans Online that uses more milk and less sugar.

    Ingredients Per Drink

  • 2 oz brandy or bourbon
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon powdered sugar
  • 3 ice cubes
  • Cracked ice
  • Garnish: freshly grated nutmeg
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the brandy, milk, and sugar with the ice cubes in a cocktail shaker, and shake until frothy (about 1 minute).

    2. STRAIN into a double-old fashioned glass filled with cracked ice. Sprinkle with nutmeg and serve.
    ________________

    *Some people prefer gin, tequila or other spirit.

    †We prefer less sweetness, so reduce the simple syrup.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Food For Presidents Day

    Presidents Day is Monday, February 20, a mashup* of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12th) and George Washington (February 22nd).

    You can’t, of course, sit down to a meal with a president; but you can have some of his favorite foods. You can find the favorite foods of each president here; plus some highlights below.

    George Washington said about food: “My manner of living is plain, and I do not mean to be put out by it. A glass of wine and a bit on mutton are always welcome. Those who expect more will be disappointed.” He enjoyed meats, including steak and kidney pie (also a favorite of Ronald Reagan), fish and a wide variety of fruits and nuts; and beer was brewed at Mount Vernon.

    However, at a Presidential dinner guests would find roast beef, veal, turkey, ducks, fowls, hams, and other meats, along with puddings, jellies, oranges, apples, nuts, almonds, figs, raisins, and a variety of wines and punch. Martha Washington’s recipes include fruit cakes, sugar cakes (like cookies), carraway cakes, spice cakes, marzipan cakes, cheesecakes, lady fingers, macaroons, gingerbread, custards, pies and tarts [source]

    Breakfast was simple: eggs, hoe cakes and rice waffles, along with coffee and tea, breads and toast. What about cherries? He did, indeed, love them; and no doubt enjoyed them in preserves, jellies and pies. [source]

    Thomas Jefferson may be our most epicurean president. He developed a passion for French cuisine while Minister to France, and became fond of pasta and other foods while traveling through Europe. Yet, Jefferson retained his liking of local specialties: baked shad, crab, green peas, sweet potatoes, turnip greens and Virginia ham, among others. He is also known for his wine cellar.

    He brought back to America a French-trained cook, the first pasta machines and waffle irons; and served the first julienned fried potatoes (e.g., French fries).

    Abraham Lincoln ate what was put in front of him. During the day, he grazed on coffee, apples and other fresh fruit. He could make a dinner of bread and cheese. A teetotaler, no alcohol was served in the White House (which drew private grumbles from guests).

    He did have two favorite dishes: chicken fricassee with biscuits, and oyster stew or oysters any style; and enjoyed a dessert of apple pie. He was also fond of bacon. Here’s more about his food preferences.

       

    Steak & Kidney Pie

    Oysters On The Half Shell

    CAPTION.

     

    Eisenhower enjoyed stews and was a staunch meat eater, which was typical for his time. He knew how to cook, and liked to make his own beef soup. One of his favorite desserts was prune whip (here’s a recipe), although he enjoyed the more popular apple pie and rice pudding.

    Kennedy was not a big eater, but he liked the standards of the day—lamb chops, steak, baked chicken, turkey (white meat) and mashed potatoes. He also was fond of seafood, baked beans and corn muffins; when he ate dessert, it was something chocolate. Lunch was often soup, a sandwich and fruit; his favorite soup was fish chowder. Like Lincoln, Kennedy was a small eater and often had to be reminded that it was dinner time.

    Johnson favored Southwestern, Mexican and especially barbecue cuisine—not unusual for a Texan. He also loved a meal of chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes. He despised fish. His beverage of choice: Fresca. Breakfast often consisted of creamed chipped beef on toast and a cup of tea. For dessert: banana pudding, tapioca pudding or German chocolate cake. Johnson was also fond of canned peas and sweet potatoes topped with toasted marshmallows. Here’s a recipe [source]

    LBJ was a big man who often ate ravenously. Texas Governor John Connally said: “Most of the time he had no manners. He’d eat off the plate of either person on either side of him. If he ate something that he liked and they hadn’t finished theirs, he’d reach over with his fork and eat off of their plate.” [source]

    Nixon, a weight watcher, he often had cottage cheese and fruit for lunch; he is famous for snacking on cottage cheese and ketchup. He started each day with a breakfast of fresh orange juice, half a grapefruit, cold cereal with skim milk and coffee. He loved meat loaf for dinner—a fact that engendered so many requests that the White House had the recipe printed on the back of the letterhead they sent to consumers. Here’s a recipe. [source]

     

    Prune Whip

    Sweet Potato Casserole

    Monkey Bread

    [2] Both George Washington and ronald Reagan enjoyed steak and kidney pie, a classic British dish. Here’s a recipe from Gordon Ramsay.

     

    Gerald Ford was a hearty eater who preferred American staples: bacon burgers, casseroles, liver and onions, pot roast, spaghetti and meatballs and spare ribs. He rarely ate dessert, but when he did, lemon pudding and butter pecan ice cream were favorites.

    Jimmy Carter was not a big eater, but he enjoyed down home, southern-style dishes such as pork chops with corn bread stuffing, grits, baked and fried chicken. His favorite vegetable was eggplant; he also liked butternut squash, collards, kale and okra. It’s not a surprise that the former peanut farmer enjoyed snacking on peanuts.

    Ronald Reagan liked chicken and beef dishes and hearty bowls of soup. Although the nutrition-conscious First Lady focused on fiber-rich foods and dishes with a minimum of fat and cholesterol, Reagan shared George Washington’s enjoyment of steak and kidney pie. He loved macaroni and cheese, too (here’s his personal recipe).

    For breakfast, he might be treated to monkey bread, a Hungarian sticky coffee cake so-called because one pulls apart the pieces as a monkey would (it’s original Hungarian name is aranygaluska, which literally means golden dumplings). Here’s a recipe.

    For dessert, Regan liked brownies, chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, ice cream and pumpkin pecan pie. He liked snacking on jelly beans—especially the licorice ones (he had Jelly Belly make up a red, white and blue mix for the White House—in fact, the blue jelly bean color was created for this purpose!). Chocolate chip cookies were another favorite snack.

     
    George H. W. Bush loved snacking on pork rinds and popcorn. He adored hot sauce. But he is better known for what he didn’t like: broccoli, which his mother served every day. He also refused to other crucifers, such as Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

    Clinton loved to eat, from fast food to Tex Mex (chicken enchiladas, tacos, to ribs cheeseburgers, fried chicken and roast beef. For sides, he prized his mother’s sweet potato casserole and corn pudding. He put jalapeños on his cheeseburgers. For dessert, carrot cake, ice cream, lemon chess pie and peach pie were often on the menu. After leaving office, Clinton became a vegetarian for health reasons and became a vegan. (And he looks great!)

    George W. Bush liked Tex-Mex and beef tenderloin—not surprising for a Texan—plus comfort foods like warm biscuits and chicken pot pie. He and Mrs. Bush liked spicy foods, and wanted Southwestern and Tex-Mex as often as possible, with huevos rancheros for breakfast on Sundays; and deviled eggs for snacking. For lunch, George W. liked a BLT, grilled cheese sandwiches made with Kraft Singles and white bread, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and occasionally, a burger.

    Barack Obama cites pizza as his #1 favorite food; his go-to in D.C. is the deep dish cornmeal crust pizza at Pi Pizzeria (with original locations in St. Louis). He is also a chili fan, a dish that Michelle Obama converted to turkey instead of beef. He likes salmon for dinner and snacks on almonds or trail mix. Also a burger buff, he has been known to bring foreign guests to Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington, Virginia.

    ________________

    *Initially two individual holidays were for celebrated in government offices in the District of Columbia, on the actual birthdays, February 12th and 22nd. It was expanded to include all federal offices in 1885. State government offices, including schools, followed suit, followed by banks and other businesses. In 1971, the Washington’s Birthday holiday was shifted to the third Monday in February and combined with the Lincoln’s Birthday celebration to allow federal employees a three-day weekend.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Eat Something Presidential

    Presidents Day is Monday, February 20, a mashup* of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12th) and George Washington (February 22nd).

    You can’t, of course, sit down to a meal with a president; but you can have some of his favorite foods. You can find the favorite foods of each president here; plus some highlights below.

    George Washington said about food: “My manner of living is plain, and I do not mean to be put out by it. A glass of wine and a bit on mutton are always welcome. Those who expect more will be disappointed.” He enjoyed meats, including steak and kidney pie (also a favorite of Ronald Reagan), fish and a wide variety of fruits and nuts; and beer was brewed at Mount Vernon.

    However, at a Presidential dinner guests would find roast beef, veal, turkey, ducks, fowls, hams, and other meats, along with puddings, jellies, oranges, apples, nuts, almonds, figs, raisins, and a variety of wines and punch. Martha Washington’s recipes include fruit cakes, sugar cakes (like cookies), carraway cakes, spice cakes, marzipan cakes, cheesecakes, lady fingers, macaroons, gingerbread, custards, pies and tarts [source]

    Breakfast was simple: eggs, hoe cakes and rice waffles, along with coffee and tea, breads and toast. What about cherries? He did, indeed, love them; and no doubt enjoyed them in preserves, jellies and pies. [source]

    Thomas Jefferson may be our most epicurean president. He developed a passion for French cuisine while Minister to France, and became fond of pasta and other foods while traveling through Europe. Yet, Jefferson retained his liking of local specialties: baked shad, crab, green peas, sweet potatoes, turnip greens and Virginia ham, among others. Asparagus became widely available during Colonial times, and was a particular favorite. He is also known for his wine cellar.

    He brought back to America a French-trained cook (James Hemmings), the first pasta machines, Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese and waffle irons; recipes for ice cream (not yet popular in the U.S.) and served the first julienned fried potatoes (e.g., French fries). He popularized foods from the humble (macaroni and cheese) to the elegant (Champagne). When Jefferson took the Oath of Office in 1801, one of his first priorities was finding a French chef for his kitchen.

    Abraham Lincoln ate what was put in front of him. During the day, he grazed on coffee, apples and other fresh fruit. He could make a dinner of bread and cheese. A teetotaler, no alcohol was served in the White House (which drew private grumbles from guests).

    He did have two favorite dishes: chicken fricassee with biscuits, and oyster stew or oysters any style; and enjoyed a dessert of apple pie. He was also fond of bacon. Here’s more about his food preferences.

    Skipping ahead to more recent times:

    Dwight Eisenhower enjoyed stews and was a staunch meat eater, which was typical for his time. He knew how to cook, and liked to make his own beef soup. One of his favorite desserts was prune whip (here’s a recipe), along with the more ubiquitous apple pie and rice pudding.

    John Kennedy was not a big eater, but he liked the standards of the day—lamb chops, steak, baked chicken, turkey (white meat) and mashed potatoes. He also was fond of seafood, baked beans and corn muffins; when he ate dessert, it was something chocolate. Lunch was often soup, a sandwich and fruit; his favorite soup was fish chowder. Like Lincoln, Kennedy was a small eater and often had to be reminded that it was dinner time.

    Lyndon Johnson favored Southwestern, Mexican and especially barbecue cuisine—not unusual for a Texan. He also loved a meal of chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes. He despised fish. His beverage of choice: Fresca. Breakfast often consisted of creamed chipped beef on toast and a cup of tea. For dessert: banana pudding, tapioca pudding or German chocolate cake. Johnson was also fond of canned peas and sweet potatoes topped with toasted marshmallows. Here’s a recipe.

    LBJ was a big man who often ate ravenously. Texas Governor John Connally said: “Most of the time he had no manners. He’d eat off the plate of either person on either side of him. If he ate something that he liked and they hadn’t finished theirs, he’d reach over with his fork and eat off of their plate.” [source]

    Richard Nixon, a weight watcher, often had cottage cheese and fruit for lunch; he is famous for snacking on cottage cheese and ketchup. He started each day with a breakfast of fresh orange juice, half a grapefruit, cold cereal with skim milk and coffee. He loved meat loaf for dinner—a fact that engendered so many requests that the White House had the recipe printed on the back of the letterhead they sent to consumers. Here’s a recipe. [source]

    Gerald Ford was a hearty eater who preferred American staples: bacon burgers, casseroles, liver and onions, pot roast, spaghetti and meatballs and spare ribs. He rarely ate dessert, but when he did, lemon pudding and butter pecan ice cream were favorites.

       

    Steak & Kidney Pie

    Spaghetti With Asparagus & Parma Ham

    Oysters On The Half Shell

    Prune Whip

    [1] Enjoy a steak and kidney pie in honor of George Washington. Here’s a recipe from Gordon Ramsay. [2] Jefferson was an epicure but without the pasta he brought back from Europe, it would have taken us that much longer to enjoy this American favorite. He also loved asparagus. Here’s a the recipe that combines both, from Umami Info. [3] Oyster stew or oysters on the half shell would please Lincoln (photo courtesy Whole Foods Market). [4] Ever had a prune whip, an LBJ favorite? Here’s a recipe from Taste Of Home.

     

    Corn Muffin

    Sweet Potato Casserole

    Monkey Bread

    [5] JFK enjoyed a corn muffin at breakfast—although he never saw a corn muffin “surprise” like this. Here’s the recipe from Betty Crocker. [6] Sweet potato casserole was a favorite of Clinton, Johnson and Kennedy. Johnson liked his topped with toasted marshmallows. Here’s a recipe. [6] Ronald Reagan liked monkey bread. Here’s a recipe from Dishmaps.

     

    Jimmy Carter was not a big eater, but he enjoyed down home, southern-style dishes such as pork chops with corn bread stuffing, grits, baked and fried chicken. His favorite vegetable was eggplant; he also liked butternut squash, collards, kale and okra. It’s not a surprise that the former peanut farmer enjoyed snacking on peanuts.

    Ronald Reagan liked chicken and beef dishes and hearty bowls of soup. Although the nutrition-conscious First Lady focused on fiber-rich foods and dishes with a minimum of fat and cholesterol, Reagan shared George Washington’s enjoyment of steak and kidney pie. He loved macaroni and cheese, too (here’s his personal recipe).

    For breakfast, he might be treated to monkey bread, a Hungarian sticky coffee cake so-called because one pulls apart the pieces as a monkey would (it’s original Hungarian name is aranygaluska, which literally means golden dumplings). Here’s a recipe.

    For dessert, Regan liked brownies, chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, ice cream and pumpkin pecan pie. He liked snacking on jelly beans—especially the licorice ones (he had Jelly Belly make up a red, white and blue mix for the White House—in fact, the blue jelly bean color was created for this purpose!). Chocolate chip cookies were another favorite snack.

    George H. W. Bush loved snacking on pork rinds and popcorn. He adored hot sauce. But he is better known for what he didn’t like: broccoli, which his mother served every day. He also refused to other crucifers, such as Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.

    Bill Clinton loved to eat, from fast food to Tex Mex (chicken enchiladas, tacos, to ribs cheeseburgers, fried chicken and roast beef. For sides, he prized his mother’s sweet potato casserole and corn pudding. He put jalapeños on his cheeseburgers.

    For dessert, carrot cake, ice cream, lemon chess pie and peach pie were often on the menu. After leaving office, Clinton became a vegetarian for health reasons and became a vegan. (And he looks great!)

    George W. Bush liked Tex-Mex and beef tenderloin—not surprising for a Texan—plus comfort foods like warm biscuits and chicken pot pie. He and Mrs. Bush liked spicy foods, and wanted Southwestern and Tex-Mex as often as possible, with huevos rancheros for breakfast on Sundays; and deviled eggs for snacking. For lunch, George W. liked a BLT, grilled cheese sandwiches made with Kraft Singles and white bread, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and occasionally, a burger.

    Barack Obama cites pizza as his #1 favorite food; his go-to in D.C. is the deep dish cornmeal crust pizza at Pi Pizzeria (with original locations in St. Louis). He is also a chili fan, a dish that Michelle Obama converted to turkey instead of beef. He likes salmon for dinner and snacks on almonds or trail mix. Also a burger buff, he has been known to bring foreign guests to Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington, Virginia.

    ________________

    *Initially two individual holidays were for celebrated in government offices in the District of Columbia, on the actual birthdays, February 12th and 22nd. It was expanded to include all federal offices in 1885. State government offices, including schools, followed suit, followed by banks and other businesses. In 1971, the Washington’s Birthday holiday was shifted to the third Monday in February and combined with the Lincoln’s Birthday celebration to allow federal employees a three-day weekend.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: DIY Jambalaya Bar

    For Mardi Gras—February 28—try a new take on food bars (a.k.a. buffets): DIY Jambalaya.

    Jambalaya is a delicious, spicy, main course consisting of rice and practically everything else in the refrigerator! It’s a great way to use favorite meats and veggies (shrimp, peas, carrots, bell peppers). You can start from scratch; for a family night, using leftovers is more than acceptable.

    Jambalaya is also an economical and easy way to feed a large group—Super Bowl Sunday, Oscar parties, even outdoor fêtes.

    But, as a creation of New Orleans, we like it best for Mardi gras.

    JAMBALAYA HISTORY

    Jambalaya originated in Louisiana. Creole jambalaya, called red jambalaya by the Cajuns to differentiate it from their take—sprang from the French Quarter of New Orleans, the sector originally inhabited by Europeans.

    Jambalaya was an adaptation of paella by the Spaniards, most of whom could not afford saffron (an essential paella ingredient) due to high import costs. Tomatoes were substituted to color and flavor the dish.

    French Creoles introduced jambalaya to the Cajuns of southern Louisiana, who rarely used tomatoes (it’s swamp country). Instead, they browned the meat for color and smoky flavor and referred to their recipe as brown jambalaya.

    The word “jambalaya” is a combination of the Spanish jamón or the French jambon, meaning ham, and another word; however, what word that is can be controversial.

  • You may read that the word is “aya, African for rice.” But there are no rice varietals in Africa with names like “yaya,” “aya,” or “ya.” “Ya” in Mambila (the language of Cameroon and Nigeria), and “y?” or “yala” (among the Grusi and Lyela peoples of Burkina Faso) refer to another grain, sorghum.
  • A better explanation may be the combination of jamón/jambon and paella: It doesn’t take too close a look to notice that jambalaya is an adaptation of paella, using white rice instead of saffron rice. Jam-paella or jamb-paella = jambalaya.
  •  
    While there are different recipes for each dish, both paella and jambalaya incorporate chicken, ham, sausage and seafood.

    Since jambalaya could be made economically in big black cast iron pots for crowds*, it became popular for large events, including church suppers, weddings and political rallies.

    The recipe evolved to seafood-only versions, meat-only versions, and vegetarian/vegan recipes. One of the benefits of a jambalaya bar is that each person can customize the dish as he/she wishes.

    The easiest way to make the rice is to use Zatarain’s Jambalaya Mix. Alternatively, use plain white rice with cajun seasoning from McCormick, or other brands.

    Thanks to Olivia Manning and Zatarain’s for the suggestion!

    RECIPE: JAMBALAYA BAR

    This recipe makes five dinner-size portions. Multiply it for a larger crowd. Don’t worry about leftovers: leftover Jambalaya is delicious (even cold!).

    Ingredients For 5 Servings

    Cooked Proteins (Total 1.5 Cups)

  • Andouille or other smoked sausage, sliced
  • Ham, cubed
  • Chicken, cubed or sliced
  • Shrimp, peeled and deveined shrimp
  • For an all-shellfish jambalaya: scallops, mussels, oysters, shrimp
  •  
    Vegetables

  • Green bell peppers, cubed or sliced, cooked
  • Heat: hot sauce, red chile flakes, sliced jalapeños
  • Onions: sliced cooked onions, raw green onions (scallions)
  • Red bell peppers, cubed or sliced, cooked
  •  
    Rice

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 package Zatrain’s Jambalaya Mix, Original
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MIX the water and rice mix in a large saucepan until well blended. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low; cover and simmer for 25 minutes or until most of the water is absorbed and the rice is tender

    2. REMOVE from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving and place on a platter or individual serving plates. Bring to the table with the add-ins.

       

    Jambalaya

    Jambalaya Bar

    Zatarain's Jambalaya Mix

    Cajun Seasoning

    King Cake

    [1] A pot of Jambalaya, served at the table (here’s the recipe from Gimme Some Oven). [2] Deconstruct the ingredients for a Jambalaya Bar (photo courtesy Olivia Manning | Zatarain’s). [3] Zatarain’s Jambalaya Mix. [4] You can use Cajun seasoning to flavor plain white rice (photo courtesy McCormick). [5] Yes, please! It’s easy to make a King Cake with the mix kit from King Arthur Flour.

    ________________

    *One of the charms of paella is the crispy rice crust that develops at the bottom of the pan, called soccorat. You can’t get soccorat from cooking in a large kettle. Paella is cooked in a wide, shallow pan with a layer of rice on the bottom. At the end of cooking, the heat is turned up to create the crust. Socorrat derives from the Spanish verb socarrar, to singe.

     

    Sazerac Cocktail

    Sazerac de Forge 1811 Cognac

    [6] The Sazerac Cocktail, a New Orleans specialty (photo courtesy Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse). [7] A bottle of the original Sazerac cognac, currently for sale for €12,500 at Old Liquors.

     

    WHAT TO DRINK? A SAZERAC!

    Beer and Jambalaya are natural companions, but you might like to start the event with a round of one of New Orlean’s signature cocktails, the Sazerac.

    Developed in the 1830s, the Sazerac is a New Orleans variation of a cognac or whiskey cocktail, named for the Sazerac de Forge et Fils house of cognac with which it was originally made, plus rye.

    As the story goes, the cocktail was first mixed at Antoine Amédée Peychaud’s apothecary on Royal Street. With his own bitters—still called for in the recipe— Peychaud’s bitters, served friends a cognac cocktail made with his own bitters (you can make your own too—here’s more about bitters). It was then popularized at Sazerac Coffee House, a saloon on Exchange Place in the French Quarter.

    The primary ingredient in the cocktail was switched from cognac to rye in 1870 and an absinthe rinse added, due to changing tastes; the recipe remains so today, but you can go back to the original—or make both recipes to see which you prefer.

    It is one of many descendants of the Old Fashione. The absinthe and Peychaud’s bitters make it unique to New Orleans.

    Bartenders of today use rich simple syrup (2:1 sugar:water ratio instead of 1:1) instead of the sugar cube.

    Ingredients Per Drink

  • 1/4 ounce absinthe (herbsaint)
  • Crushed ice
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 1-1/2 ounce rye or cognac
  • 3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters (you can substitute Angostura—both are made from gentian)
  • Garnish: lemon peel
  •  
    Preparation

    1. RINSE a chilled old-fashioned (rocks) glass with the absinthe, add crushed ice and set it aside.

    2. STIR the remaining ingredients in a shaker over ice and set it aside.

    3. DISCARD the ice and any excess absinthe from the prepared glass, and strain the drink into the glass. Garnish and serve. Optionally, you can serve the drink straight up.

     
    MORE MARDI GRAS RECIPES

    Cocktails

  • Purple, Gold & Green Cocktails—the colors of Mardi Gras
  •  
    Mains

  • Easy Gumbo Recipe
  • Gumbalaya—a cross between gumbo and jambalaya
  • Shrimp & Grits
  •  
    Desserts

  • Beignets
  • King Cake Mix
  •   

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