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FOOD FUN: Green Bean Wreath

Deck the halls with…green beans!

You can serve this green bean wreath in several ways:

  • Crudités, with raw or blanched fresh green beans and a bowl of dip in the center.
  • Salad, raw or blanched, tossed in vinaigrette.
  • Steamed, and tossed with salted butter and fresh herbs (basil, dill, parsley).
  •  
    RECIPE: GREEN BEAN SALAD

    Choose the smaller beans: They’ll be sweeter and more tender. Long, thicker beans have been left on the vine too long, and can be tough and tasteless.

    Fresh green beans should be tender enough to eat raw, and should have a crisp snap when you break them apart. If they’re rubbery and bend, pass them by.

    Depending on the other sides, plan for 4-8 servings per pound of beans.

    Ingredients

  • Green beans, trimmed and blanched or lightly steamed
  • Red onion, small dice
  • Dijon vinaigrette
  • Grape or cherry tomatoes, halved (red or mixed colors)
  • Fresh basil leaves, shredded (chiffonade) or other herb, chopped
  • Optional: anchovies, halved in a mustard vinaigrette, garnished with quartered hard-boiled eggs.
  • Garnish: large red bell peppers for the “bow”
  •  
    For The Vinaigrette

  • Olive oil and wine vinegar in a 3:1 proportion
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  •  

    Green Bean Wreath

    Green Bean Salad

    [1] Green bean and bell peppers crudités wreath from Between The Bread | NYC. [2] Re-arrange this green bean salad into a salad wreath (photo courtesy Keys To The Cucina).

     
    Preparation

    1. MAKE the vinaigrette. Toss the green beans and onion with the vinaigrette and refrigerate in a covered bowl to let the flavors meld.

    2. CUT the bell peppers into even strips. Wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Then…

    3. DRAIN and mound the beans onto a serving plate in the shape of a wreath. Decorate the wreath with the tomatoes and anchovies and sprinkle with the herbs. Arrange the “bow” at the top or bottom.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Cotton Candy Cocktail

    Cotton Candy Cocktail

    Cotton Candy Cocktail

    Spun Sugar Dessert

    [1] Top a cocktail or mocktail with cotton candy (photo Jeff Green | Barbara Kraft | Arizona Biltmore). [2] Soft drinks, shakes, and so forth can get the cotton candy treatment (photo courtesy Aww Sam). [3] Spun sugar, the predecessor of cotton candy (photo courtesy Food Network).

     

    December 7th is National Cotton Candy Day. In different parts of the world, it’s known as candy cobwebs, candy floss, fairy floss and spider webs, among other names.

    THE HISTORY OF COTTON CANDY

    The father of cotton candy was spun sugar. In the mid-18th century, master confectioners in Europe and America learned to hand-craft spun sugar nests as Easter decorations and elaborate dessert presentations.

    According to The Dictionary of American Food and Drink, the debut of the product we know as cotton candy took place in 1897 in Nashville.

    Candymakers William Morrison and John C. Wharton invented an electric machine that allowed crystallized sugar to be poured onto a heated spinning plate, pushed by centrifugal force through a series of tiny holes.

    In 1904 at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, Morrison and Wharton sold the product, then known as “fairy floss,” in cardboard boxes for 25 cents a serving. Though the price equaled half the admission to the Fair itself, they sold 68,655 boxes!

    Here’s more cotton candy history.

    COTTON CANDY AS A DRINK GARNISH

    For those with a sweet tooth, cotton candy is a fun garnish for cocktails, mocktails and other non-alcoholic drinks.

    Caterers love the idea, as do some mixologists. Some mixologists create “magic” at the bar or table, presenting a glass of cotton candy, then pouring the cocktail over it.

    Check out this YouTube video and this fun recipe. The cotton candy disappears “like magic”.

     
    THE COTTON CANDY COCKTAIL

    Match the cotton candy color to the drink, or create contrast.

    Here are some recipes to start you off:

    Cotton Candy Daiquiri

    Garnished Shots

    Multicolor Cocktail With Multicolor Cotton Candy
     
     
    For a drinkable dessert, garnish a glass of sweet wine.

    You can find many more online, including a Pinterest page on cotton candy cocktails.

    TIP: You don’t have to add an ice cream scoop-size ball of cotton candy. Sometimes, less is more.

     

     
      

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    FOOD 101: It’s Repeal Day, Drink Some Real Gin

    On December 5th, in the spirit of Repeal Day—the repeal of the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution—raise a glass to your federal right to drink alcohol.

    In the winter of 1919, Congress passed the 18th Amendment, outlawing the production and consumption of alcohol in the United States.

    The original intent was to put an end to social misconduct, crime and family crisis—since on payday, too many breadwinners would squander much of their paychecks at the saloon, leading to brawling, inability to pay for rent and food, aggression at home, etc.

    Alas, instead of creating a better society, the law engendered the growth of organized crime, which was happy to bootleg, provide protection to speakeasies, and so on.

    Those who wanted to party at home found a way with bootlegged spirits, bathtub gin (which could cause blindness), and other horrors.

    After thirteen years of living with Prohibition, the 18th Amendment was repealed on December 5th, 1933 under the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt*. The date has been referred to as “Repeal Day.”

    So celebrate your freedom from bathtub gin with one of the…

    TOP 12 GIN COCKTAILS

  • French 75, with champagne, lemon juice and simple syrup.
  • Gibson, a gin Martini with a cocktail onion replacing the olive.
  • Gimlet, with lime juice and simple syrup.
  • Gin Rickey, with lime juice and soda water.
  • Gin & Tonic, with tonic water.
  • Gin Fizz, with lemon juice, sugar and soda water.
  • Martini, the original made with gin, dry vermouth and an olive garnish.
  • Negroni, with Campari and sweet vermouth.
  • Pink Lady, with egg white and grenadine.
  • Tom Collins, with lemon juice, simple syrup and soda water.
  • Salty Dog, gin and grapefruit juice with a salt rim.
  • Singapore Sling, with benedictine, benedictine, bitters, cherry heering, Cointreau, lime juice and pineapple juice.
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    BATHTUB GIN: WHAT WAS IT?

    Gin was the predominant spirit in the 1920s. After the Volstead Act (which led to the 18th Amendment), bathtub gin was “of necessity” created in actual bathtubs or other large containers. The alcohol to make it was either purchased from bootleggers or from legitimate medical suppliers, which sold denatured or wood alcohol.

     

    Gin & Tonic

    Caviartini

    The Gin & Tonic, photo [1] (courtesy Drizzle And Drip) and the Martini, photo [2], courtesy Petrossian, vie to be the most popular gin drink in America. We’re wild about Petrossian’s Caviartini® garnish, caviar cubes made exclusively by the company.

     
    By mixing wood alcohol with other flavorings, such as the juniper berries that flavored real gin, and allowing the mixture to steep in a tub for hours or days, the wood alcohol became more drinkable.

    Many gin cocktails were created to cover up the less-than-ideal flavor of bathtub gin.

    Actual distillation requires a closed distillation apparatus; it can’t be done in an open container like a bathtub.

    The process for converting wood alcohol into a drinkable form was not always reliable, resulting in batches that were poisonous, often leading to blindness and even death: About 10,000 people died from drinking bad alcohol during Prohibition.

    ________________
    *Not everything was rosy after the 19th Amendment was passed, repealing Prohibition. Prohibition gave way to the start of the Great Depression in the early 1930s. Constitution trivia: The 18th Amendment is the only one to be repealed; a total of 27 have been ratified. The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, known as The Bill Of Rights, were ratified together in 1791.

      

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    FOOD FUN: Snowman Cake Or Cookies

    Snowman Cake

    Melted Snowman Cookies

    Snowman cake. This is actually a stacked cookie from Lila Loa, but we baked three cake layers instead. [2] Melting Snowman cookies (photo courtesy Pillsbury; here’s the recipe).

     

    If you don’t celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, or other year-end holiday, you can still have a special seasonal cake.

    Make one with a nonsectarian snowman or snowflake motif. These work for New Year’s Eve, too (perhaps with a sparkler or two).

    Snowmen are easier; snowflakes require some serious piping chops.

    This photo is actually a stacked cookie from Lila Loa. We love the idea.

    But we needed a cake. So we baked and stacked three graduated cake layers.

    We made lemon pound cake* layers with coconut frosting (vanilla frosting topped with coconut).

    Of course, carrot cake, chocolate cake, red velvet or any flavor you prefer would be just as nice.

    MORE TASTY SNOWMEN

  • Snowman California Rolls (sushi)
  • Snowman Cheese Ball
  • Snowman Fruit Bowl
  • Melting Snowman Cookies
  • Snowman Cupcakes
  • Snowman Latte
  •  
    ________________
    *We wanted a dense, easy-to-cut cake rather than an airy one with a delicate crumb.

     
      

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    RECIPE: Skillet Cornbread

    Skillet Cornbread Recipe

    New England Open House Cookbook

    Corn Bread Squares

    [1] The earliest cornbread was made in a skillet: Rectangular baking pans were not yet in use. This recipe is courtesy [2] the New England Open House Cookbook by Sarah Leah Chase. [3] Corn pone, also called hoe cakes and johnny cakes, was the immigrant European’s version of the Native American cornmeal flatbread. [4] Today cornbread is most often cooked in a rectangular pan, like this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

     

    Serve this skillet cornbread for breakfast with eggs.

    Or serve it for lunch with a bowl of hearty soup and/or a salad.

    The recipe is from the New England Open House Cookbook via Vermont Creamery, which used its exquisite cultured butter and crème fraîche. Chopped scallions create a piquant counterpoint to the rich dairy.

    The garnish is optional, but adds excitement to an already yummy dish. Crème fraîche or sour cream, plus fresh chopped scallions, are a delightful finish.

    We have three more cornbread recipes for your perusal:

  • Buffalo Chicken Cornbread With Blue Cheese Salad
  • Queso Fresco & Scallion Cornbread
  • Marcus Samuelsson’s Jalapeño Cornbread (video recipe)
  •  
    RECIPE: SKILLET CORNBREAD

    Ingredients

  • 1-1/3 cup cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1-3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup buttermilk (you can make your own—see footnote*)
  • 2 eggs
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup fresh corn, cut from the cob
  • Optional: 1-2 tablespoon fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • Optional: 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh jalapeños, mixed red and green, or to taste
  •  
    For The Garnish

  • 8 ounces crème fraîche (you can make your own) (substitute sour cream)
  • 2-3 scallions or fresh herbs (basil, chives, cilantro, parsley, sage, thyme), chopped
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 375°F. Mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl.

    2. WHISK together in another bowl the milk, buttermilk and eggs. Pour in the melted butter and stir well. Add these wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir till combined. Gently fold in the corn kernels.

    3. POUR into the prepared cast iron skillet. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until done.

    4. TO SERVE: Top with crème fraîche and a sprinkle of scallions.
     
    ________________
    *To make buttermilk, just add a tablespoon of distilled white vinegar to a cup measure and add enough milk to make an even cup. Let stand five minutes.

     
    THE HISTORY OF CORNBREAD

    Corn, which originated in what today is Mexico, was turned into flatbread–the tortilla—in its native land. Leavened breads were not indigenous, and the concept of raised bread wasn’t known until the arrival of the Spanish.

    As corn spread from Mexico northward, it was cultivated by Native Americans across the southern region of what is now the United States. When European settlers arrived, they learned to cultivate and cook corn from the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek.

    The North American natives had also learned to make another unleavened cornbread, in the form of flat oval cakes or loaves. Mixing cornmeal and water, they cooked the batter in hot ashes.

    The Europeans called it cornpone, or pone. Pone is a shortened version of the Virginia Algonquian word for bread, appone; although pone is fried cooked gruel rather than flatbread (the fine points can be argued, but not here and now).

     

    The immigrant Europeans added some salt and fried the mixture in lard in their skillets. Skillet breads, pies, etc. date back generations before people had home ovens, much less baking pans. Everything was cooked over a fire in a cast iron pot or a skillet; or in some towns, in a central community oven.

    In parts of England, hoe was a colloquial term for griddle. The tale that hoe cakes were cooked by field workers on their hoes over a fire is a story perpetuated but not substantiated.

    The fried corn batter is also known as hoe cakes and johnnycakes. Today, outside the South, we call them corn pancakes.

    Here’s a recipe for hoecakes and for johnnycakes; the photos are below.
     
    Johnnycake is similar, The modern johnnycake is found in the cuisine of New England, A modern johnnycake is fried cornmeal gruel, which is made from yellow or white cornmeal mixed with salt and hot water or milk, and sometimes sweetened

    The immigrants adapted cornmeal to their European recipes: bread loaves and muffins, corncakes, fritters, hoecakes and pancakes, liquor, porridge and so on. Most people had little cooking equipment. The skillet served multiple purposes, from frying to baking.

    Cornbread became popular as the main ingredient for a dressing or stuffing with fowl (the difference: stuffing is cooked inside the bird; dressing is cooked in a separate pan).
     
    What Is Cornmeal?

    Cornmeal is produced by grinding dried raw corn grains. The finest grind is used for baking, a medium grind for porridge and polenta, and a coarse grind for grits. Raw corn kernels spoked in hot water and an alkaline mineral like calcium hydroxide is called hominy (pozole in Spanish) and ground and mixed into masa harina, the dough used to make tamales and tortillas.

    Cornbread can be baked or fried, even steamed. Steamed cornbread is more like cornmeal pudding or mush, moist and chewier than a traditional bread. Here’s more on the evolution of cornbread plus early cornbread recipes.

    One thing to note: Originally cornbread did not contain sugar. As disposable income increased, this expensive ingredient was added as a variation, to make cornbread more like a cake.

    Unfortunately, more and more sugar was added until cornbread became an overly-sweet, simple bread. That’s fine if you want cake; you can serve sweet cornbread with berries and whipped cream.

    But if it’s bread you want, lose the sugar. We prefer to add whole corn kernels for sweetness, or enjoy cornbread as a savory bread.
     
    CRÈME FRAÎCHE, MASCARPONE OR SOUR CREAM?

    When should you use which? Here are the differences.

    Here are the differences.

     

    Corn Pone

    Johnnycakes

    Original Corn Plant

    [1] Hoecakes. Here’s the recipe from the Wall Street Journal (photo Christopher Testani | Wall Street Journal). [2] Johnnycakes come in different shapes—flatter, plumper, individual or the size of an entire skillet. Here’s the recipe for these pancake-syle johnnycakes from About.SouthernFood.com. [3] Who would have imagined that the wisp at the left evolved into the plump ear of corn we know today? Here’s the whole story.

      

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