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Cinco de Mayo Tabasco Parfaits

In Desserts, Creams & Sauces, Fun Foods, Holidays On May 1, 2011 0 Comments

Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for “fifth of May”) is a holiday that was created by Mexicans living in California. It is not a Mexican national holiday, but instead, commemorates the Mexican army fighting the French at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862. Although this battle was not a victory for Mexico, Cinco de Mayo symbolizes Mexican heritage and pride.

I’m celebrating this holiday by going to a “fiesta” and contributing these Tabasco Parfaits which combine Tabasco® Spicy Pepper Jelly and the French dessert “parfait”. The pepper jelly’s “bite” adds a nice surprise to the strawberry gelatin and overall flavors. My dessert unites Mexico and France – peace at last!

Active prep time: 20 to 25 minutes
Inactive prep time: 2 hours (chilling in refrigerator)
Makes: 10 parfaits (4 ounces each)

Ingredients:
One 3-ounce box lime Jell-O®
One 3-ounce box strawberry Jello-O®
3 tablespoons Knox® gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
One 10-ounce jar Tabasco® Spicy Pepper Jelly (red label)
One 8-ounce package Cool Whip®, thawed per package directions
10 lime or orange chewy candy wedges (substitute with 10 wedges fresh lime)

1. Place contents of lime Jell-O in a 1-quart bowl and stir in 1 cup boiling water until Jell-O is dissolved. Add 1 cup cold water and stir; set aside.

2. Place contents of strawberry Jell-O in a 2 or 3-quart bowl and stir in 1 cup boiling water until Jell-O is dissolved. Add 1 cup cold water and stir; set aside.

3. Fill 10 glasses or ramekins each with ¼ cup lime Jell-O liquid (glasses or ramekins should look 1/3 full). Place in freezer to set, about 18 to 20 minutes (check after 15 minutes to make sure they do not freeze).

4. Once set, top lime Jell-O with some Cool Whip (to fill the middle third of the glass) and transfer to refrigerator.

5. In a drinking glass, stir together the Knox gelatin and 1/2 cup cold water; let rest 5 minutes. Stir the gelatin mixture and the spicy Tabasco pepper jelly into the strawberry Jell-O.

6. Place the bowl with the strawberry Jell-O mixture in freezer to set, about 20 minutes, or until the Jell-O has thickened and looks lumpy (it should not set completely).

7. Using a 1/4-cup measure, pour the partially set strawberry Jell-O mixture over Cool Whip in each glass, filling it to the rim.

8. Place the parfaits in freezer to set, about 15 minutes; transfer to refrigerator for 1 hour or overnight.

9. Garnish each parfait with a lime or orange chewy candy wedge.

Note: Tabasco® Spicy Pepper Jelly is available at most supermarkets or online at the Tabasco® Country Store – http://countrystore.tabasco.com.

Text and Photograph © Nancy DeLucia Real 2011
“Fiesta” theme decoration by © Amsan, Inc.

Vegetarian Calamari

In Fun Foods, Vegetables On April 9, 2011 2 Comments

While growing up in Southern Italy, I became an apprentice to my “Nonna” or grandmother, aka the “maestra” or master chef of the town. Although I learned how to prepare the peninsula’s finest cuisine, my focus was on the bounty from the “orto” or garden. I never liked some of the seafood delicacies that the cooks in the Campania region are so famous for. Among these are fried calamari.

Because my Nonna knew I didn’t like those rubbery circles that pretended to be crispy, she would go to her orto, pick fresh cauliflower and turn it into golden nuggets. She would then smile at me and say, “Ecco i tuoi calamaretti vegetariani” or “Here are your vegetarian fried calamari” – made exclusively for me!

This appetizer is fun to eat with a sweet pepper spread*.

Prep time: 25 to 30 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients:
1 fresh cauliflower (about 1-½ to 1-¾ pounds), leaves discarded and florets cut into 2-inch pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour, for coating cauliflower florets
2 to 3 large eggs
¾ teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups vegetable oil, for frying

1. Rinse the cauliflower florets and put them in a 4-quart saucepot. Cover florets with cold water. Set saucepot on a stove burner and bring to a boil.

2. Add ½ teaspoon salt, and boil, uncovered, on medium heat until cauliflower florets are crunchy-tender when pierced with a fork, about 4 minutes.

3. Gently drain the cauliflower florets and set them aside in a glass or porcelain bowl to cool, uncovered, about 15 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, put flour in a shallow, 8 or 10-inch bowl and set aside.

5. In another shallow, 8 or 10-inch bowl, beat 2 eggs with ¾ teaspoon salt and black pepper; set aside.

6. When cauliflower florets are cool, coat them first with flour, shaking off excess, and then roll them with two forks in the beaten egg (heat the oil as you do this).

7. In an 8 or 10-inch skillet or a deep fryer of the same circumference, heat the oil on high setting. Test by dropping a tiny amount of beaten egg – if it sizzles and rises, the oil is ready.

8. Immediately lower heat to medium and fry the cauliflower in batches. This is a quick process (after a few seconds of frying, gently lift bottom of a floret to check if it is golden); turn once and fry other side until golden.

9. Drain fried cauliflower (Vegetarian Calamari) on a dinner plate lined with paper towels.

Serve immediately with sweet pepper spread.

Note: Vegetarian Calamari can be made early in the day and stored in a baking dish and covered with aluminum foil. Set on a counter until ready to serve.

At serving time, heat oven to 350˚F. Warm the Vegetarian Calamari, covered, about 20 to 25 minutes and serve warm.

*Suggested spreads: Peloponnese Sweet Pepper Spread®, found in gourmet supermarkets; and Zergüt Mild Ajvar® (made with sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, garlic and onions), found in Middle Eastern or International gourmet food stores. Both brands are reddish-orange in color.

Text & Photograph ©2011 Nancy DeLucia Real

Tortilla & Nutella

In Breads, Crêpes, Pancakes & Puddings, Fun Foods On April 2, 2011 3 Comments

One of the best things in every culture is the food, right? I’ll start with my own – we Italians can’t live without Nutella®, a chocolate-hazelnut spread that is served with bread and caffè latte at breakfast time. In Mexico (also in Mexican restaurants in California and yonder), warm, flour tortillas are used as bread alongside breakfast, lunch or dinner. Filled with savory ingredients, tortillas can turn into a satisfying pick-me-upper whenever one has the munchies.

Years ago, I gave tortillas and Nutella® a green card (or permanent residence) in my kitchen. Now, can you guess what happened one day when I was craving a chocolate-filled crêpe, but only found tortillas and Nutella®? You got it.

Get ready to enter chocolate bliss the moment you taste this anytime-treat.

Prep time: 3 to 4 minutes
Serves: 3 to 4 minutes

Ingredients:
Two 8-inch* flour tortillas
4 heaping tablespoons Nutella®

1. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet set on medium heat, warm the tortillas through (turn them over once in a while to prevent blackening) – about 2 minutes.

2. Transfer the tortillas to a flat surface such as a dinner plate or a cutting board.

3. While still warm, quickly drop 2 heaping tablespoons of Nutella® on one-half of each tortilla and fold the plain tortilla half over the Nutella®.

Serve immediately.

*Note: Larger flour tortillas can be substituted – just be sure to double the Nutella®!

Text and Photograph ©2011 Nancy DeLucia Real

Corn Pudding with Coconut Sauce (B’baw Poat – Cambodia) – Vegan

In Breads, Crêpes, Pancakes & Puddings, Fun Foods On February 27, 2011 2 Comments

Recently, I’ve been preparing to teach a culinary course related to the J. Paul Getty Museum’s exhibition on Cambodian sculptures. When I first viewed the small-scale, bronze sculptures of Hindu and Buddhist deities (hailing from Angkor, the ancient capital of Cambodia), I was captured by their refined elegance.

I’ve also quite impressed with the cuisine of Cambodia. Eternally possessed by a sweet tooth, I decided to share this  pudding made with fresh corn and coconut sauce – B’baw Poat. Enjoy it as a quick breakfast, snack or dessert.

Active prep time: 25 to 30 minutes
Inactive prep time: 10 minutes (for cooling)
Makes: Six to eight 1/2 cup Servings

MAKE THE PUDDING:
3 ears of fresh corn, kernels sliced off with a knife (yield 3 cups)
-OR-
3 cups frozen yellow corn kernels (slightly under 16 ounces)
3 tablespoons pearl tapioca
2-1/2 cups cold water
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. In a 4 or 5-quart saucepot, combine all ingredients and stir.

2. Cover and bring to a boil. Uncover, and cook on lowest heat setting for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally (pudding should gently simmer as it cooks). For a thinner consistency, stir in a small amount of water.

3. Cook an additional 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. The pudding is done when you can see the white centers or dots of the tapioca pearls.

4. Cover saucepot and remove from heat; let stand 5 to 10 minutes.

5. Transfer pudding to six 1/2-cup glass bowls or porcelain ramekins.

6. Immediately cover with plastic wrap and set aside to cool to room temperature; then refrigerate.

MEANWHILE, MAKE THE COCONUT SAUCE:
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds (for topping)

1. In a 1-quart saucepot, combine all ingredients except for the sesame seeds. Mix well until mixture is smooth.

2. Bring mixture to a boil, uncovered. Boil and stir 1 minute over medium-low heat, until mixture thickens slightly.

3. Strain the sauce into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside to cool.

4. At serving time, spoon a little sauce over individual puddings and top with some sesame seeds.

Note: B’baw Poat can be served lukewarm or cold. It will keep in refrigerator 3 to 5 days.

Text and Photographs ©2011 Nancy DeLucia Real

Hot Mac N’ Cheese Wheels

In Fun Foods, Pastas, Rice & Legumes (Beans & Grains) On January 21, 2011 2 Comments

Yesterday, I received lots of compliments on this classic American dish. I must say that my gourmet colleagues and friends at the museum definitely have “the palate”. As stated by one Mac N’ Cheese connoisseur, Lilit, “First, I tasted the Parmigiano, then the Gruyère … and the sharp Cheddar, which lingered – BTW, I love Gruyère.” When I asked Jen (another expert on this dish) if the Cheddar stood out too much, she stated, “That’s what I really liked about it – the sharp Cheddar taste!” Noelle, an initiator of the Mac N’ Cheese rage at our workplace, chimed in with, “Your Mac N’ Cheese was to die for! And the hint of jalapeño was perfect!”

I softened the blow on the jalapeño by adding a mere tablespoon, but I normally triple the amount – hence the name of this fabulous dish – Hot Mac N’ Cheese Wheels. So when you get the wheels rollin’ on this recipe just tweak it your way and have fun!

Active prep time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Gruyère cheese
1 pound pasta (short variety)
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely minced white or brown onion
1 to 3 tablespoons finely minced jalapeño pepper (optional)
1/3 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
1-1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup milk (whole or 2% reduced fat)
Dash ground nutmeg
Ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup chopped green onion or chives (for garnish)

1. Preheat oven to 350˚F.

2. In a 5-quart mixing bowl, combine the Parmigiano Reggiano, Cheddar and Gruyère cheeses. Reserve 1 cup for the topping.

3. In a 5-quart saucepot, bring 4 quarts water to a boil.

4. Stir in the pasta, 1 teaspoon of the salt and cook, uncovered, on medium heat 8 to 9 minutes or until pasta is “al dente” (crunchy tender) – do not overcook.

5. While pasta cooks, melt butter in an 8-quart saucepot on medium-high heat. Immediately stir in the onion and jalapeño pepper and set heat on medium.

6. When onion is translucent, quickly whisk in the flour followed by the cream and milk.

7. Bring cream-milk mixture to a simmer, about 1 minute.

8. After 1 minute, whisk in the cheese mixture (minus the reserved portion), the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, nutmeg and black pepper.

9. Using a wooden spoon, stir the cream-cheese mixture until it comes to a simmer.

10. When cream-cheese mixture comes to a simmer, gently fold in the cooked and drained pasta to combine.

11. Carefully transfer the macaroni and cheese mixture to a buttered 10 X 13-inch baking dish – sprinkle top evenly with reserved cheese.

12. Place baking dish with macaroni and cheese on a rack set in center of oven and bake 20 minutes.

13. After 20 minutes, change oven setting to “broil”.

14. Broil top of macaroni and cheese for 5 minutes or until the Hot Mac N’ Cheese is golden brown.

Serve immediately, garnished with green onion or chives.

Wine pairing suggestion: chilled Pinot Grigio, Bordeaux (whites); or Malbec, Bordeaux.

Note: If the cheddar cheese flavor is too strong for you, replace it with 1/2 cup Gruyère or Mozzarella cheese.

Pasta in photo: DeCecco® Rotelle (Italian for “wheels”).

Text and Photographs ©2011 Nancy DeLucia Real