Appetizers 101(Beginning of Series)

Appetizers. What image comes to mind? Many people have no idea what an appetizer actually is.
The word “appetizer” actually means the obvious, something to whet the appetite. These are intended as a not-too-filling taste of foods to get your body and mind in gear for a really big meal, usually a sit-down, formal dinner. The phrase “Hors d’oeuvres” has the same meaning. But few people now use them that way.

(We’ll discuss finger-foods, as well.These are more, eat-as-you-go, munch and socialize. They are more hearty, more of a meal…more like tapas.)

“Tapas” has entered the world as the Spanish version. However, tapas and the New World version, ‘Bocas’ and ‘Botanas’ can also be combined to make a full meal, more on the order of a light buffet.

“Anitpasto”,(literally:before [the] pasta), is a light food served while sitting at the table as a first course in a big Italian meal. It is also meant to stimulate the appetite. We’ll see examples in a later post.

Every canapé is an appetizer, but not every appetizer is a canapé. “ Canapé” comes from the same root word as “canopy”, and so a canapé consists of something on top of something.

Examples: Caviar on a water cracker is a canapé; a skewered bean curd ball is not. Squirt cheese on a Ritz is a canapé; a cocktail wiener is not. (NONE of these will be discussed in this series, I can assure you.)

Everyone needs to know how to come up with a few decent appetizers. You don’t see yourself having a sophisticated cocktail party? Maybe you never will, but you don’t ever have to, and you never know when you might be in the position of having guests who gather and need something to either tide them over until you all eat,(your place or going out), or just need something on which to nibble to keep them from fainting while you talk or have a meeting.

Think of family and friends in your house or others for the holidays. Everyone smells the food cooking, but not all is ready or you are waiting for the family members who are late coming in…and there are always family and friends who are late. Tide the early ones over and wow them simply with the ideas I offer.

You may sometime be invited to a gathering where you are asked to take an appetizer and as I brought up before, you don’t want to take a plate of brownies like a non-foodie friend did.
Keep these in mind:

Idea #1: Keep it simple. Don’t think you have to use caviar or paté de foie gras. In fact, never use caviar and paté de foie gras.

Idea #2: Look into your own repertoire of recipes…is there something that can be made in a smaller version or cut-up or spread that can be a single or two-bite offering?
[Examples in past blog posts here include the recent Coconut Chicken (Sept. 2014), Fish Tempura or Mini Codfish Cakes (March 2013),Worcestershire Chicken (Oct. 2012) or Ranch Chicken (Sept.2012), Mini Baked Tomatoes (Oct. 2013), Mini Twice –baked Potatoes (March 2013)]

Perhaps you have another seared meat recipe, meatball or meatloaf recipe that is a hit?  Marinated tofu? Anything that is tasty and can be skewered on a toothpick? Think outside the roasting pan.

Idea#3: Unless you know for certain that everyone gathering will have the same dietary needs and tastes, make an assortment or appetizers that include low-carbohydrate and nut, dairy and/or gluten-free offerings. It can be easy with the guidelines I will offer.

Are there any questions or any type of recipe you’d like to see?

I will be back very soon with recipes and pictures. I was told by several readers that my post on the NuNaturals Give-Away was too long and so it was ignored by them. I’ll keep the posts shorter and closer.
I want to thank everyone who entered and stopped by to comment here or on the Food ,Friends, Family Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TonetteJoycefoodfriendsfamily?ref=hl
 

See you soon!

Back With New Recipes and A Give-Away!/NuNaturals Products

Dear Friends and Family,
I am so glad to be back with you and am touched by all of you who have kept in touch, commented or even to those of you who  took time to ‘like’ my posts. I send back the love!

I now find myself in need of revamping my diet to drastically reduce my carbohydrate intake. I have a couple of chronic health concerns that I have never let get me down,(and know that I have been extremely blessed not to have the complications many others experience), but my recent diagnosis of Type II Diabetes has thrown me for a loop.

I will continue to cook much of the way I had previously for others, and partake of most in modest portions. Let it be known that Diabetes is NOT caused by sugar consumption; I put mine down to genetics and possibly the fact that I became quite out-of-shape. It is not because I over-indulged in goodies or rich food, but the fact that I became sedentary because of the other health problems. That is the main reason why I took a long hiatus from this blog; I had many family concerns and a limited amount of energy  and, well… I thought of you, cooked and took pictures but even though the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak. Now, I have good care, more energy and am searching for more ways to enjoy food, friends and family.

This will not become a diabetic cooking blog. Nor will I often be touting products.
I have always stressed here the importance of being aware of people’s dietary needs and restrictions .I will continue to offer vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and other alternatives within many recipes, but I will continue to keep the blog ‘main-line’.

With new diagnoses and new medications, I am feeling very much better and am more active. Since I have a sweet tooth, cutting my sugar intake had been very hard on me. The American Diabetes Association suggests using sugar in moderation, I find that it takes up far too much of my carbohydrate ‘choices’. I missed my sweet teas and coffees most, since my carb allotments are better spent on good foods with carbs, such as fruit, grains, beans and legumes…(.and an occasional cookie or piece of cake!)

I’ve always believed that artificial sweeteners are detrimental to one’s health. Frankly, they give me headaches. Over the years I have searched for a natural sweetener for others who had problems with sugar, or who wanted to avoid white sugar, and for those who preferred more natural foods.

Many use honey, but that is not a wise choice for diabetics and also not for vegans. Many whole-food people use maple syrup. I cannot imagine having nearly everything taste of maple, and it, too, is a blood-sugar spiker.

Brown rice syrup was at one time touted as a good alternative for sugar in diabetic diets, but it was learned that it behaves in one’s system much like high-fructose corn syrup…again, not a good choice. Then everyone seemed to jump on the agave bandwagon, but it was found that it does spike blood-sugar and it can cause miscarriages . A time-tested natural sweetener that works so far for me is stevia.

Just as I feared I would be diagnosed with Type II diabetes, I entered a contest for NuNaturals on the blog “Bam’s Kitchen”  If you have not visited Bobbi Ann, please do yourself a favor. She is an American who lives in Hong Kong. Her recipes are wonderful, her stories are fun, her advice is sound and her pictures are beautiful. Go see her.BAM’S Kitchen

NuNaturals healthier alternatives

NuNaturals healthier alternatives

NuNaturals is a company of stevia-based products and they have been a blessing to me. This is the first contest I have ever offered and I would not do it if I had not won a generous amount of their products first, and tried them for myself. In their letter which arrived with my winnings, they offered me the opportunity to run a contest on my own blog. I immediately started trying the products and believe me, if I had not found them useful, I would not be offering them to you, and FOUR of you will win a package of four NuNatural products, plus a bonus gift. The contest is open to all,( world-wide), and everyone will get a 15% discount when ordering online with a discount code listed below. The discount is good until the end of the year,(2014).

NuNaturals stevia-based products are great! They are natural and free of artificial ingredients, including colors and flavors. The contain no Aspartame, Saccharine, Sucralose, High-fructose corn syrup, or sugar. They contain no soy, yeast, wheat, milk and gluten, so they are useable in almost every diet; diabetic, gluten-free, vegan, etc. It is made without preservatives and from no genetically-modified sources. The company prides itself on being “green”, which we can all feel good about.

Stevia is derived from the stevia plant and is highly sweet. It needs to be used sparingly and if you have experienced bitterness with it, you have probably used too much. If you resign yourself to a moderate, gentle sweetness, it is wonderful. However, it cannot always be substituted for granulated sugar in many recipes, since texture and volume are not the same. Still , I think that you will find the recipes I have developed using products from the NuNatural line will satisfy your need for sweetness without the carbs or calories of conventional sweeteners. NuNauturals has designed their products to reduce bitterness.

The contest is open world-wide and four winners will receive:
One 50-count box of NuStevia White Powder SteviaNuStevia 50 Packets Top Angle
One bottle of their New Cocoa SyrupNuStevia Cocoa Syrup
One bottle of their New Simple SyrupNuStevia Simple Syrup
One bottle of their incredible Cherry-Vanilla Stevia LiquidLiquid Cherry Vanilla
These four products have a full retail value of $54.00 plus, you will also receive
A Bonus Gift

The liquids and syrups are very concentrated and a small amount goes a very long way. Still, I asked Ron Redding , the “Sugar-Free Poppa” of NuNaturals, if they would be offering smaller sample bottles and he assures me that the idea is already in the works. I encourage you to look for them in the near future and experiment with their wonderful flavors.

I also have a bottle of their Mint Cocoa Syrup, Lemon Stevia Liquid, Mint Stevia Liquid, Orange Stevia Liquid and a jar of their NuStevia No-Carb Blend, and I love them all.
My NuNaturals arrived with a sheaf of recipes, too. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I will offer a number of easy no or lower-carb suggestions and recipes.(The NuNaturals stevia-based products are no-carb or have miniscule amounts which, when substituted for sugar and many other sweeteners, makes all of  the recipes ‘lower-carb’.)

One easy way to use NuNaturals is to substitute the Simple Syrup for honey or brown-sugar and water in my Chicken Wing Recipes,(January 2013 Archive).
I have every intention of substituting a little Stevia Powder in my Cranberry Relish (original recipe in the November 2012 Archives),
And I will be doing much more experimentation. In the meantime , I offer these mostly low-carb, simple recipes, including drinks, breakfast, snacks a main-dish, side dishes and dessert:

Easy Smoothie [Vegan; Gluten-free,Low Carb]

Banana Smoothie  with NuStevia

Banana Smoothie with NuStevia

I cup of Almond (or other) milk
½ banana, a peach, a plum, a ripe pear or apple
2-3 drops of Cherry Vanilla NuStevia Liquid
Blend. That’s it!
You would not believe how good this is!

Alternatives: Banana with NuStevia Chocolate or their Chocolate-Mint….mmmm!

Or simply mix a couple of drops of a NuStevia Liquid and a sprinkle of the White Powder Stevia to any unsweetened milk for a real treat.

A Ridiculously Easy Refreshments
A couple of drops of NuNaturals Cherry Vanilla, Lemon or Orange Liquid in ice water; delicious! Add a couple of drops to iced  tea or coffee. (Trust me; it’s delicious! The liquids blend and the powder dissolves instantly even in drinks with ice.)

A

Healthier Lite Yogurt [Gluten-free,Low-Carb]
I make my own, healthier version of ‘lit’ yogurt,(Greek-style and regular), by buying plain yogurt in bulk and adding a few drops of NuStevia liquid, sometimes with fresh or low-sugar fruit.(Water or juice-packed). No artificial ingredients and you control the flavor and carbs.

Easy Flavored Hot Cereal [Vegan and Gluten –free options,Lower Carb]
Cook Cream of Wheat or Oatmeal with milk of your choice and add a couple of drops of any NuStevia liquid in fruit flavor. Add fruit, fresh or dried, and/ or nuts, if desired.

A Very Quick Nut Snack [Vegan and Gluten-free,Lower Carb]

Delicious NuStevia -flavored Nut Snack

Delicious NuStevia -flavored Nut Snack

I took ½ cup each of almonds, pecans and walnuts. Add a couple of drops of NuStevia Orange Liquid and a slight sprinkle of NuStevia No-Carb Blend and tossed them. Fanstastic!
[ I imagine that an addition of low-carb cereal, (like an unsweetened Chex), or plain popcorn would make a nice addition to the mix, as well as making it a bit more filling.]
My 30 year-old firefighter son visited and asked, ”What do you have on these mixed nuts, Mom?!” He promptly ate half of them; it’s a good thing I had shot the picture just before he came in! He has no dietary restrictions but he does like to eat healthy foods. He was thrilled with them.

Dips [Gluten-free and Vegan options, Low-Carb]

Easy No-Carb/Low-Carb Dip

Quick and tasty low-carb/no-carb dip with NuNaturals

Quick and tasty low-carb/no-carb dip with NuNaturals

Use a few drops of NuStevia liquid in sour cream, plain or vanilla yogurt or vegan sour cream (Tofutti is one), to make a nice dip for fruit and vegetables.

Spread or Filling [Gluten-free, Vegan options,Low Carb]
A few drops of any NuStevia Liquid mixed into cream cheese or medium tofu to make a nice spread for crackers, toast, rice cakes or as a filling . BE SPARING, as the flavors are very concentrated .Start out with just 2-3 , blend and adjust to taste. You may thin it with any type of milk, (coconut is very good in this), and add a bit more sweetening with a few drops of the NuNaturals Simple Syrup. You can add pureed fruit if you’d like.
Adding the Chocolate Syrup with a couple of drops of Orange NuStevia liquid is divine! Use the fruit flavored ones to fill dates or dried apricots…try the chocolate-orange in mission figs.

Compote [Vegan; Gluten-free,Lower Carb]
A staple in the fancy boxed lunches I used to cater from my bakery/restaurant was a compote made in a slow-cooker for a short time,( or it can be cooked very slowly for a very short time on a stove-top). Here is the recipe, and the NuStevia alternatives:
2 sweet apples, cored and sliced in eights
1 pear, cored and sliced thinly
6 cherries, pitted and quartered
1 Tbsp. melted butter or margarine
1/8 tsp. white pepper
¼ tsp. ground ginger
½ cup walnut pieces
½ tsp. Vanilla plus 1-2 Tbsp sugar
OR
10 drops NuStevia vanilla or Cherry-Vanilla
Warm thoroughly and cook only if you apples are very firm; have them retain their shape
Serve warm or cold. Make a great presentation with a dried fruit,( stuffed as above), on top.

Whipped Cream /Flavored Butter [Gluten-free,Low Carb]

Sweeten and flavor cream with NuStevia

Sweeten and flavor cream with NuStevia

No-carb sweet flavored butter with NuStevia

No-carb sweet flavored butter with NuStevia

In a November 2012 post I told the story of making Caramel Whipped Cream for cookies which worked well, but then I re-whipped it and it made Caramel Butter, which was a fortuitous accident. I did the same with the NuStevia liquid. It made Tasty Whipped-Cream, but whatever I did wrong, it wept, so I beat it again and it became a lovely Fruit-flavored Butter ,(this one was Orange, but it could be any flavor.) Try it!
Simply add a couple of drops, (sparingly) of NuStevia Liquid and whip-away!(it is better if you let it sit until the chill is off the cream to make the butter.) You’ll have a wonderful, no-carb spread.

Coconut Balls [Vegan; Gluten-free, Lower Carb]

Sweet but refreshing Coconut  Balls with NuStevia

Sweet but refreshing Coconut Balls with NuStevia

1 cup flaked unsweetened coconut
Opt: 2 oz. ground nuts,(Almonds are a good choice. Want to add a little zip? Use wasabi almonds!)
2+ Tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk, (NOT Cream of Coconut).More may be needed if using nuts.
1-2 packets NuStevia white Stevia powder , I packet +1/2 tsp. NuNaturals Simple Syrup, or use NuStevia No-Carb Blend
½ tsp. ground ginger
Place in a covered container and shake to moisten. Let sit refrigerated for several hours to several days. Roll into balls. Chill again.

Rice Balls [Vegan, Gluten-free,Lower Carb]
(A great way to use left-over rice)
1 cup cooked rice
¼ cup ground nuts
½ tsp. NuNaturals Simple Syrup
3 of drops of Lemon NuStevia liquid
Roll into balls and chill. These are not too sweet and quite refreshing!

For thirty years I have been making a version of this recipe for special dinners; carrots in a sweet, buttery-orange sauce. Now, I discovered a quick, lighter way to have a similar flavor to enjoy more often:

Sweet but refreshing Coconut Balls with NuStevia

Orange-Glazed Carrots [Vegan; Gluten-free,Lower Carb]

No-carb Orange Glazed Carrots with NuStevia

No-carb Orange Glazed Carrots with NuStevia

2 cups hot, cooked carrots, (baby carrots or sliced, boiled in salt water until tender or use canned)
2 tsp. NuNaturals Simple Syrup
5 drops NuStevia orange liquid
½ tsp ground ginger
2 tsp. melted butter or margarine,(optional)
2 tsp. brandy,(optional)
Place carrots in pan and warm. Sprinkle the remaining ingredients over them, fold gently,(be especially gentle if using canned carrots).Warm thoroughly. Serve hot, or can be served cold if using baby carrots alone or with additions as an appetizer.(More appetizer recipes to come.)
Another favorite in my bakery/restaurant or with family and friends has been my Cole Slaw. My original dressing uses granulated sugar, but I have been making a great deal of a stepped-up recipe:

Broccoli Slaw (Gluten-free; Vegan options,Lower Carb]

Carb-free sweet and creamy Broccoli Slaw made with NuStevia

Carb-free sweet and creamy Broccoli Slaw made with NuStevia

2 cups of shredded cabbage,(preferably red)
1 ½ cups of shredded carrots
1 cup of shredded broccoli (This is a great use of peeled broccoli stems. Use the florets in other dishes or steamed alone)
Dressing:
Mix separately; ( this will not be as much or as creamy as some versions of cole slaw. Double the recipe if you prefer a lot of dressing ). Toss over mixed shredded vegetables.
2/3 cup mayonnaise of Vegoniase
½ tsp. paprika

1Tbsp finely diced onion
1 ½ tsp. celery seed
1 Tbsp. vinegar,(any type. Cider vinegar makes it tastier than white; Balsamic makes white cabbage a bit dark but ,OH, the flavor! White Balsamic is also an excellent choice, as do pear or raspberry infused vinegars)
½ tsp Stevia powder (or to taste; I like mine sweet)
½ tsp. NuNaturals Simple Syrup

Coconut Chicken* [Gluten-free, Lower Carb]100_2549
(I have been meaning to post a recipe for coconut chicken , but I’m glad I waited, because I have improved the recipe. In the original I called for sweetened coconut)
Prepared coconut (as for coconut balls; may omit nuts)
2 lbs chicken breast strips
2 Tbsp. Olive or other light-flavored oil
“Bread” the chicken with the prepared coconut. Place in pan in hot oil and brown over medium heat, making sure the chicken is cooked through. If some of the coconut falls off, simply retrieve it from the pan and sprinkle it over the cooked chicken. (This may be baked. Spray the chicken with “Pam” or other olive-oil cooking spray.)

*Same recipe can also be applied to  making Coconut Shrimp (use large shrimp)

Optional Sauce: [Vegan;Gluten-free]
½ cup unsweetened coconut milk (Originally recipe called for sweetened)
½ tsp. ground ginger
Dash of salt
1/8 tsp any NuStevia powder
Simmer and reduce to thickened state. Spoon over chicken.
-OR-
Cut chicken strips into bite-sized pieces and pierce with picks. Add sauce on side as dipping sauce.

Turn low-carb Coconut Chicken into appetizers

Turn low-carb Coconut Chicken into appetizers

I have developed a lighter, sugar-free version of my Rice Pudding recipe (November 2012 Archives)
Rice Pudding [Vegan; Gluten-free,Lower Carb]

Enjoy lower-carb, vegan Rice Pudding with NuStevia

Enjoy lower-carb, vegan Rice Pudding with NuStevia

1 ¼ cups cooked rice
1 ¼ cups plain unsweetened almond milk, (rice milk or soy milk)
1 tsp. NuNaturals Simple Syrup
7 drops Lemon or Vanilla NuStevia liquid
Cook slowly and fold gently until the milk is thick and mostly absorbed into the rice, (do not make it dry).
Optional additions can be 1/3 cup currants, raisins, nuts, dried fruit. Pina colada version includes unsweetened pineapple tidbits,(drained) and unsweetened coconut.(You may need to adjust sweetness.)

Years ago I ran across a recipe for a Greek dish that a favorite restaurant served. I had left them half-way across the country and was thrilled to find it. The recipe called for vast amounts of sugar, milk, butter and eggs cooked with farina,(Cream of Wheat) and wrapped in filo leaves. It is technically a dessert, but hearty enough for a food. I have experimented and come up with a lighter, faster take on it that I love for breakfast.

Farina Custard [Vegan, Lower Carb]

Sweet Farina Custard made  with NuStevia

Sweet Farina Custard made with NuStevia

½ cup farina,(Cream of Wheat)
2 cups milk, (any kind, plain and unsweetened; I prefer almond)
[basically 1 part farina to 4 parts milk to adjust the recipe]
½ tsp (or to taste) Stevia powder
Opt: ¼ cup ground nuts
Cook slowly, stirring very often, until stiff.
Place in bowl to chill. Top with fruit. Sprinkle with NuNaturals Simple Syrup and or Stevia powder.
For a change of pace or for the gluten-free needs of some friends, I offer Polenta Custard, which can be made basically as above, but I’m posting a pineapple-coconut version:

Pina-Colada Polenta Custard [ Gluten-free; vegan options, Lower Carb)

Gluten-free , sweet Polenta Custard for breakfast or  dessert

Gluten-free , sweet Polenta Custard for breakfast or dessert

½ cup corn meal, (NOT self-rising)
2 cups coconut milk
1 tsp. NuNatural Simple Syrup
¼ tsp. NuStevia powder
Cook slowly, stirring almost constantly , until very thick. Chill.
Layer with pineapple tidbits , prepared coconut ,(see Coconut Ball recipe above) and

Sweet Dessert Cream [Vegan; Gluten-free,Low Carb]
Beat:
½ cup mascarpone, low-fat cream cheese or silken tofu,
coconut milk (1/4 cup? Test consistency),
and sweetened with NuNaturals Simple Syrup or Stevia powder to taste.
A few drops of Lemon or Orange NuStevia liquid, optional
You could also layer this with unsweetened apple sauce, dried fruit bits, fresh fruit or berries and/or nuts

This is far from a comprehensive list, but it’s a start.

Now, here’s what you need to do for the contest. Remember, it’s opened to everyone, world-wide.
I will leave the contest opened until October 1, 2014.
NuNaturals requested one requirement to enter:

(The links are being temperamental. If they  won’t work, please  cut and paste them to your browser)
Go to Facebook and “like” NuNaturals’ page:

https://www.facebook.com/NuNaturals    Requirement]

and while you’re there
“like” my Food, Friends, Family Facebook page

 https://www.facebook.com/TonetteJoycefoodfriendsfamily?ref=hl       [for an  Extra entry]

 If you don’t Follow this blog, please do so [for an Extra  entry]

Leave a message below, telling me what you have done  and please leave an email address so that I can contact you if you win.(If you don’t wish to leave an email address publicly, please leave a message here and message your email address to me privately through the “Food, Friends, Family” Facebook page.) I will contact the winners and give them 72 hours to get back to me with their home address or forfeit the prize to another entrant. Please note that NuNaturals needs an actual physical address for you to receive your prize;( the prizes cannot be delivered to P.O. Boxes).

Everyone is a winner, as NuNaturals has offered a 15% discount to all of us until December 31, 2014 if you order and enter this code: BLOG1214
It is very easy to use, just log-on to their site:www.nunaturals.com, or call 1-800-753-4372
International # 541-344-9785
Their staff is friendly and competent.

They have many, many products including other natural sweeteners. I just ordered a fair amount of Xylitol ,(another natural sugar replacement), from them and cannot wait to start experimenting with using it in cooking and baking.

Remember that their products are HIGHLY concentrated and to be used in minute amounts, usually by drops and fractions of teaspoons.

Please feel free to spread the word to  you friends,(and readers, if you’d like).

So, what are you waiting for?
(Any questions?)

Are You Still With Me?

Dear Friends and Family,
I know it has been some time since I last posted and I have missed all of you. I am looking forward to giving more advice to those who are insecure about cooking and entertaining and to those who need help with special diets. I also hope to continue to inspire fellow “foodies” with ideas of their own.

If you have any questions about food or diets, any questions about making entertaining easy and fun for you as well as your friends, family or even those you do not know well, please feel free to drop me a line here or at my Facebook page ,

Tonette Joyce, Food,Friends, Family on Facebook

I intend to continue offering main-stream recipes, as well as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, low-carb and healthy alternatives. Please let me know if I can be of any special assistance to your specific needs.

When we last met I promised a series on appetizers and I assure you that they will be coming very soon, before the holidays. Everyone needs to know how to make at least the simplest of appetizers and canapés,( and to know what the difference is!) I promise that you will be able to make a nice selection, or just one or two, not to be caught like a non-foodie friend of mine who was invited to an up-scale affair at her husband’s new job. They were all to bring appetizers and she refused my help; instead, she took a plate of brownies. Her brownies were well-known among her friends and family, but that wasn’t what was expected of them. I promise you that most of what I will show you will be almost as easy as aerosol cheese squirted on a Ritz, but a whole lot more impressive in that you made unique offerings yourself.
We also may be covering new ideas, more guests and maybe a giveaway or two.

Thank you for hanging in there with me and I promise to be back very soon with a real post. Please pay me a visit!
Tonette

Gluten-free for those who can’t have traditional crust and don’t want to bother with alternatives, for those who just don’t like crust and for those whose crusts just won’t work out, (see my previous post of easy crusts!), I offer this alternative: Pumpkin Pie Pudding

I was just plain tired of working on fancy crusts to have the grandkids eat around it, so here we have :Pumpkin Pie Pudding: Same double batch of filling in both the pie and the pudding. (If the color seems a bit dark, it is because I made the pumpkin from scratch, in a slow-cooker. I don’t recommend it if you are pressed for time! It also uses a lot of energy to make. It is not cost-efficient.)

Just take pumpkin pie filling and place it in a deep baking dish , then, (very importantly), place the filled dish into a larger, deep baking vessel filled 2/4 to the top of your pudding with water ; I used a roasting pan. Bake @ 375F for about 40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Pumpkin Pie Filling/Pudding

1 large can of plain , cooked pumpkin

2 eggs 1 cup of sugar 11/2 cup of heavy or whipping cream or canned milk,(evaporated, or for those lactose intolerant, unsweetened coconut, almond or rice cream)

2 teaspoons ginger

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon cinnamon

* If you do not have all of the above, make up the difference with allspice OR use 1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Bake as above

I think you will be pleasantly surprised. Happy Thanksgiving to my US f Friends and a Happy Day to All!

You Can Make Pie Crust and Savory Pastry/(Vegan)/Chiffon

Thanksgiving is approaching in the United States and with Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, many people are in the mood for PIE.
Most people like pies. Many people dislike pie crust and even more hate or hesitate to try to make their own. We’re going to try to dispel both of those dislikes with a choice of several homemade pie crusts, which can be made vegan, and made ahead of time.

I am going to ask you to try more than one of these, as one person can have a completely different ‘touch’ from another and some just may not come out right for you, although one or another may very well become your signature crust. My mother made incredible Oil Pastry with which she made quite a name for herself. I, on the other hand, professional though I became, cannot do it justice. Maybe you will have better luck. However, I consider the other recipes fail-proof.

Done right, each of the pastries,(except the Graham cracker one), become flaky and fine. And most,(again, not the Graham cracker one), can be used for pot pies, meat pies, hand-held savories and appetizers, quiches, baked brie, etc. But I promise you, they are easier than you think and most are freezable.

You can’t crimp? My mother deftly did hers perfectly but I never had the patience to practice. I can’t take credit for the idea, but I have been cutting out edging with small cookie/pastry cutters for 30 years. Now, that is almost all you see on TV and in magazines. It is attractive and easy. Here is one example:

Use small cookie cutters to make easy, beautiful edging on your pies

Use small cookie cutters to make easy, beautiful edging on your pies

You can use any shape of cutter to suit the pie or occasion, (as I used shamrocks in the photo),be they leaves or apples for apple pie, leaves or pumpkins for …you get the idea. You can make egg-shaped ones around a pie for Easter, turkeys for Thanksgiving, dreidels for Hanukkah…again, use your imagination, but I suggest you have at least a small, all-purpose leaf-shaped cutter. With that, you can’t go wrong.
If you want a top crust, you can always use a bigger cutter and overlap the cut-outs.

Roll the crusts out to a consistent and thin round shape. You want to start in the middle and roll your way out, .Press gently at first and go from the middle outward. Roll on at least four directions.
There are mats you can buy to roll dough on, or you can use wax paper or parchment paper. If you use wax paper, you will have to put two sheets overlapping on the bottom; you can move one sheet around on top.This method is best used to the Oil Pastry.
For the others, I use a well-floured , large wooden cutting board. Be sure to flour your rolling pin. If it sticks to your pastry, rub all the stuck dough off with flour before attempting to roll again, or it will just keep sticking.(Do not wet the rolling pin until you clean it when you are finished.)
I inherited a marble rolling slab and matching rolling pin from my aunt. many people swear by them as they can be chilled so that pie crust, (and other dough), will not become loose or stick; it will be more delicate without the use of much added flour when the pastry is rolled. If you are that much into pastry, you won’t need my advice! If you need to read this, stick with added flour.

Move the crust carefully into the pie plate . This is best done by gently folding the dough into quarters and placing the folded point in the middle of the plate. If you use wax or parchment paper, you can invert the crust flat right over the plate. Do not stretch the crust; it will shrink as it bakes. Gather the over-hanging pastry up to the edge and crimp all the way around, then cut off the excess with a sharp knife .If you are going to cut shapes for the edges, cut all around the edge with a sharp knife, then re-roll the pastry a bit thicker and cut shapes. Overlap them around the edge. Press them together.(You may need to slightly dampen your fingers with water to get the cut-outs to stick together but do not over-wet the pastry.)

Before we get started on the recipes,, a couple of them will call for butter , margarine or shortening to be “cut into” flour. This means to incorporate the fat into the flour until it is evenly distributed; it should resemble corn meal. This is the best way to get a flaky crust and there are many ways to make it come about: with a pastry cutter, sometimes called a pastry blender:

A simple pastry cutter or pastry blender  helps make flaky crust

A simple pastry cutter or pastry blender helps make flaky crust

You can also use a fork, or two knives, (cutting through the flour with both hands simultaneously), or a food processor.

If you need a pre-cooked shell, that is, if you want to put a filling in it that does not need to be baked, you will need to weigh down the pie crust when you bake it to prevent it from shrinking a great deal and lifting up in the bottom. There are pie chains and pie weights you can buy, but generations of bakers have successfully used dried beans. Bake the pie shell at 350F until the desired shade of brown is obtained and when cool, remove the beans, weights or chain.
There are also pie guards available, but I use aluminum foil, in strips, placed lightly over the edges of my pies for the first half of the bake-time. This keeps the top edges of the crust from over-cooking and possibly burning while the rest of the pie bakes , and the crust browns on the bottom.

I prefer to use clear glass,(baking glass, that is Pyrex , tempered glass, etc), to make sure that I can see if the pie is browning on the bottom.

Oil Pastry:

This recipe is the one my mother always used and everyone raved. This one can easily be made vegan.

½ cup + 1 Tbsp. cooking oil (*see note)
¼ cup milk [can be almond or rice]
2 cups flour
½ tsp. salt

Measure oil and milk into one container; do not try to mix.
Mix the flour and salt; add the oil and milk quickly and mix thoroughly.
This pastry is best rolled between sheets of waxed paper, or can be rolled using extra flour, which will make it a bit tougher. This makes a delicate crust, but can easily be patched.

*Note: My mother always used vegetable oil. Unless you plan on using this for savory (non-sweet) fillings, please do not use Extra Virgin Olive Oil; it is too ‘olivy’. My personal opinion is that grapeseed oil is too oily for this recipe and canola oil is not oily enough . Nut oils would be a good alternative, especially for sweet pies.
Please see the post just preceding this one on Oils.

“No-Fail” Pie Crust

A friend of mine offered me this recipe and a ‘frisbee’ of one. The recipe makes 4 crusts and she would make a flattened ball ,(her “frisbees”), wrap and freeze the ones she did not use; and so do I.

4+ cups of flour, spooned gently into measuring cups
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 ¾ cups vegetable shortening [* see Note]
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 egg ( or your favorite vegan egg replacer…use prepared replacer mixed thickly or extra finely ground flaxseed .This will alter the consistency of the crust, which is quite elastic with egg)
½ cup water.

Stir together flour, sugar and salt. Cut in shortening. Mix the water, egg or egg substitute and vinegar into the flour mixture all at once. Mix thoroughly and divide into fourths. Wrap and chill before using, or freeze in an air-tight bag.
This pastry is too soft to use without pre-chilling. Roll carefully after chilling on well –floured board.

*NOTE: Use pure vegetable shortening, not lard or ‘pre-creamed’ shortening that contains animal fat. If you are concerned about hydrogenated fats, there are non-hydrogenated shortenings on the market, although they are expensive. I found them perfectly suitable , although they make a softer crust that becomes ‘loose’ faster. Chill well.

Old World Crust
This crust is easy and forgiving, you don’t even have to use a pie plate. This is the best choice here for savory fillings. I use this recipe for everything from Rustic Tarts to pot pies to Baked Brie en Croute,(recipe will be in an upcoming series on Appetizers.) For tarts, I sprinkle the inside of the pastry with sugar and then sprinkle a bit on the top before I bake them:

! cup of flour
6 oz cold butter (or margarine for vegan)
1 oz. cream (rice-based or coconut can be used; coconut good for tarts)
½ tsp salt
[egg wash, (beaten egg) to brush on the outside, if you'd like, or brush with melted butter or margarine]
Cut or process the butter into t he flour; add egg and salt. Can be rolled on floured board and used immediately. (This one you will want to roll a little thicker than the others.)

The above recipe can be enriched with a bit of sour cream, mascarpone and /or silken tofu; more flour may be needed.

If you wish to use the above recipes for non-sweet fillings, you can add cracked pepper and/or herbs that compliment the rest of the recipe. Use a light hand in adding extra flavors, however.

Now, here is a recipe that is almost a NON-recipe. Graham-cracker crust is so easy, you’ll be amazed. Vegan Graham crackers are available and with the use of margarine, you are on your way.

Graham Cracker Pastry Crust

I packet (8) Graham crackers, crushed, (Use a food processor or place the crackers in a plastic bag and roll with a rolling pin until they are crumbs)
or use 1 ½ cups Graham cracker crumbs
[Vegan Graham crackers are available]
½ cup melted butter or margarine

That’s it. Mix these. You’re done.
(You may use cinnamon Graham crackers if you feel it will compliment your filling)

This can be pressed into the bottom and sides of a pie plate or in the bottom of a baking dish. If you need to bake your filling,(custard, pumpkin, etc.), then fill and bake. If you are going to use a non-baked filling,(whipped cream filling, pudding, ice cream, etc.) then pre-bake the crust @ 325F for 15-20 minutes; watch that it does not burn. There is, of course, no reason to weigh this crust down.

Although Graham cracker crust is unsuitable for fruit pies, you can add a layer of fruit or filling over a layer of custard or other thicker layer. Graham cracker crust is THE choice for chilled and ice cream pies.
Homemade Pie for the Non-baker
Here is a dessert that can stand alone or can be placed in a pre-baked Graham or other crust. Trust me, it’s a hit.

Chiffon is an easy, homemde dessert that can stand alone or make a delicious chilled pie

Chiffon is an easy, homemade dessert that can stand alone or make a delicious chilled pie

Chiffon

1 package, (regular size), flavored gelatin [Strawberry or strawberry-banana is a favorite in my family, as is peach, but any favorite flavor will do; lime is refreshing.]
1 cup boiling water
3 ounces of Neufchatel (low fat) or regular cream cheese, softened
1 cup whipping cream
1 Tbsp sugar

Add the gelatin to the boiling water and mix well to dissolve. DO NOT ADD ANY MORE WATER; it will be double-strength. Immediately add the softened cream cheese and dissolve. You can use a beater for this. Chill until thick and semi-set.[If it becomes solid, you can microwave it for 30 seconds on high or place in a basin of hot water. Beat with a mixer until smooth]. Whip the cream with sugar until it is very stiff. When the gelatin is chilled and semi-set, add the whipped cream to it. Do not add the whipped cream to the mixture when it is thin and cold.
Fold the cream in gently with a flat spoon or spatula. Now it can be placed in your pie crust and chilled,(or in a serving bowl, in individual bowls or shaped in a gelatin mold. To mold, chill it until very firm and set. Place it in a basin of warm water for a few minutes and invert unto your serving plate.)

If you are still unconvinced that you can make a homemade pie, or just need something nice but fast, try something like this:

Individual homemade 'pies' like this one made quite an impression with little effort.

Individual homemade ‘pies’ like this one made quite an impression with little effort.

Homemade Pie for the Non-baker

Although I used brandy snifters, believe me, they are just as good in any other type of container, including clear plastic cups.

Pie in a Cup
All you do is place a prepared Graham cracker crust layer, place custard, fruit curd, pudding, etc. over the crumb mixture. Add fruit or berries if desired. You may top with whipped cream or other topping.
Some suggestions:
Apple, pear, peach slices cooked with honey,(or sugar),ginger and or cinnamon. Add or top with crushed nuts.
Or use pie filling. Add vanilla and/or nuts.(Almond is good in cherry filling)
Cooked or fresh berries with custard.
Whip cream cheese , mascarpone or silken tofu with fruit curd or pie filling. Top with more filling or curd.
Lemon or other fruit curd with whipped cream or ice cream.
Ice cream and whipped cream layered and frozen.

Chiffon

(All of these will work in a Graham cracker pie crust, as well).

You have made individual pies and you will make an impression.

Sliced fruit , a sprinkling of sugar, a bit of butter and you have a  beautiful dessert made with easy Old World Pastry

Sliced fruit , a sprinkling of sugar, a bit of butter and you have a beautiful dessert made with easy Old World Pastry

Rustic Tarts

One recipe Old World Pastry

1 ½ cups thinly sliced pears or apples
3 tsp. butter or margarine
add’l Tbsp melted butter or margarine
1 Tbsp. Sugar,(can be coconut sugar)
beaten egg for egg wash, if desired
1/8 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, if desired

Roll the dough to a consistent thinness of 1/8 inch ,(no thinner).
Place on a buttered baking sheet or pie plate, (or line with buttered parchment paper.)
Place sliced fruit in the middle, add nuts, if using. Sprinkle with the sugar and dot with the 3 tsp. butter.
Gently bring the sides up to almost meet in the middle and press close to the filling.
Brush with beaten egg or melted butter or margarine.
Sprinkle with sugar.
Back @350F for approx ½ hour or until browned.

I hope all of you who celebrate have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Any questions?

Oils; For Cooking,Dipping and in Recipes

Several months ago I gave a recipe here which required Olive oil. I specified “not Extra Virgin”. Tamara Leigh, The Kitchen Novelist, visited and asked why. (If you have not visited her site, please do yourself a flavor favor! Her recipes are one-dish complete and are often a bit more upscale than mine, but easy to prepare and as beautiful as they are flavorful! Click here:Tamara Leigh:The Kitchen Novelist

I explained why I asked for non-Extra Virgin Olive Oil, (or to borrow Rachael Ray’s term “EVOO”), and promised Tamara that I would do a post about different types of oils, their qualities and the best types to use in or with different foods.
Tammy, this one’s for you!

And there are many types of oils. Here is just what is in my local supermarket and believe me, in a big city there must be even more to choose from:store oils 1store oils 2
And even more, above the Italian section:store oils 3

We will start with Olive Oil:
The both major types of Olive Oil, “Pure”,( or “Virgin”) and “Extra Virgin” available in America today are milder than those of the past, as modern tastes demand. My sister, who has only recently tried her hand at cooking, called me a short time back and wanted to know why the Olive oils she has been buying do not have the same strong flavor that we knew as kids. Her question was, “When did they start ‘virgining’ olive oil?” She had no idea what she was talking about. Let’s see if I can enlighten her and everyone who needs to know.

“Extra Virgin Olive Oil” is made from the first pressing of olives. This, contrary to what most articles and cooking shows tell you, does not make it “best” for every use. EVOO is greener than ‘Pure’ Olive Oil; it contains particles of the fruit. The flavor is strong. Prove it to yourself by comparing the taste of the two. If you do not like to use Olive Oil, it is probably because you have only been exposed to Extra Virgin Olive Oil. EVOO adds a flavor to whatever it is added to or is cooked in it. It has a distinctive flavor and even if you love it, it does not always compliment the other flavors in a recipe. If, and only if, you like the flavor, it is good in salads and dressings, as something in which to toss pasta to keep it from sticking,(I prefer butter or margarine), or to bake fish in,(coat the pan or foil and pour over the fish , with or without herbs.) It also burns very easily; you don’t want to fry in EVOO, ever. I do use it in some recipes, if I want the taste of EVOO in, say a meatless sauce, but I seldom add I t otherwise. My mother NEVER used in cooking. Enough said.[Notice that I did not say "marinara " sauce. Marinara does not mean "meatless"; it means "of the sea". Most do not contain fish, clams, what have you. That is a pet peeve of mine!]

“Pure Olive Oil” is now what they are calling what was once always labeled as “Virgin” Olive oil; it is sometimes simply labeled , “Olive Oil”. This oil is from the later pressings of the olives. It is clearer, with a cleaner flavor, if any at all. It is suitable for all types of cooking and in recipes, although I do not use it in baking anything other than, at times, breads or savory,(non-sweet), pastries. It is also not suitable for deep-frying, as it will burn easily, although not quite as easily as EVOO.

There is a difference in quality of Olive oils but if you are getting most of your information from me, most of the time, the price will guide your decision.
I will admit to being partial to Italian Olive oils, after all, my extended family in Italy had olive groves (!) I always buy Mediterranean Olive oils, if Italian is not in my budget. The prices vary. Unless there is a sale on the smaller sizes that makes it worth while, I buy it in the gallon can.(Watch your unit pricing; bigger, although usually, is not always the best buy.) All oils will tell you the country of origin, you just have to read the label carefully. My local supermarket’s brand, (and other “bargain brands”), vary from which countries the oil(s) originate. There is a code on the can: A= Italy, B=Spain, C=Greece, D=Tunisia, depending on which sources were least expensive and/or available to them at the time of packaging. Today the “pure” Olive oil was a “D”,(Tunisian), while the top of the EVOO was stamped: “A, B, C”; ( a blend of Italian, Spanish and Greek oils). Next time, who knows? But I have used them all  with no problem whatsoever.
[Personally, I do not trust the cheaper oil from China. We have had too many recalls of foods from there and too many times have they been caught violating standards. Our government has little control and too few inspectors. I buy no foodstuffs from China.]

I did splurge for a better, smaller bottle of Italian EVOO to use for dipping oil, (to be discussed below), and in certain recipes, (as by drops in cream cheese-herb filling for stuffed olives; the recipe will be upcoming in post on appetizers. You need to know how to make hors d’oeuvres and appetizers. Yes, you do.)

BEWARE of “Lite” or Light” Olive oils. These are ‘watered down’ ,(diluted),with lesser oils, such as Safflower oil and sold at an inflated price. If you don’t like the flavor of EVOO, don’t use it, or mix it with other oils yourself.

Olive oil is food. It is healthy. If you are following a healthy diet,(and I hope you are), still use it in moderation, along with all other fats, but please use it.

As with off-brand Olive oils, “Vegetable oil”,( the least expensive oil on the supermarket shelves), is often a mix of whatever oils are available to the bottler, although the main ingredient is usually Soybean oil. The cheapest ones may contain Cottonseed, Corn, Sunflower, Flaxseed oil or Palm oils. I have no problem with using them for almost any recipe. Flavor is almost non-existent in them, so they don’t interfere with the flavors of your recipes and are some of the best for adding to sweet breads, muffins, cakes, waffles and other recipes calling for oil. They have a high-smoke point ; they can take high temps, so they are good for cooking and deep-frying.

Peanut oil is THE best oil for deep–frying. It will not smoke and therefore, it is the only oil that is allowed to be used for cooking on submarines. It is also good in baked goods, both sweet and savory; it adds a very slight taste that I find enhances many recipes.(If you pop corn the old-fashioned way, made with Peanut oil, it is delicious!) Some people with peanut allergies are able to eat foods made with or cooked in Peanut oil, although I would err on the side of caution if a person is not sure if it will kick up their allergy. I use it extensively. (I also buy this in the bargain size…and on sale when I can!)

Almost all Corn oil is a by-product of solvent extraction. The Corn oil is then highly processed, but there is still often a lingering taste. Although it has a high smoke-point, using it for frying increases the transfer of flavor. Again, the flavor can be an enhancement, but not always.

Canola oil is not, technically, ‘vegetable’ oil. It is made from highly processed rapeseed. It is less oily than Vegetable oils and frankly, I am not impressed with it. (There is some concern about its erucic acid content.)

Safflower and Sunflower oils are light oils,good for salads and within recipes. They have a medium-high smoke-rate but are quite expensive. I don’t know anyone who fries, (deep fries), with these oils.

Grapeseed oil is just that, oil made from grapeseeds, often  those of Chardonnay.It is a lighter oil, (much life Safflower), has little taste, and has a fairly high smoke-point, so it is often used in stir-frying.It is very good in salads and can be used in many of the same places I suggest for Nut  oils, (see below),and anywhere you would use Vegetable oil, although the price is much higher.

I have friends in India who swear by Coconut oil and use it not only for cooking and eating, but for skin care. I find it bland, although my husband eats it as a spread,( it is semi-solid  at room temperature). It has a mild taste, but it will impart its flavor into foods. I think it enhances many cookie and cake recipes, or to cook Coconut Chicken,(recipe will be posted in the future), but if anyone does not like coconut or may be allergic, it may not be a good idea to use it. Coconut oil also has a low smoke-point; do not use it to deep-fry.

Nut oils, such as Hazelnut, Walnut, Almond, etc. are very expensive…and very delicious!
They are fantastic on salads, or drizzled on fish before baking. They are good by drops in cheese fillings for dates, in spreads and dips, or in baked goods. Although they are very costly, little is needed. (These may affect people with nut allergies.)
“Truffle Oil” is Olive or Safflower oil infused with truffles…and terribly expensive. Buy only if you really know and like truffles. Use as Nut oils, or for dipping.

Sesame oil is VERY strong flavored. You should add it one drop at a time to flavor your cooking oil when making Asian or some Easter European-inspired foods. It is good, (in minute quantities), in cheese spreads, cheese balls or salads, including chicken salad, especially if you use sesame seeds in the recipe.

Also on the shelves you will find flavored oils. These are oils that are infused with herbs, alone or with spices. Some are Chili infused. These are generally Olive , Soy or Safflower oils that have been heated and had the desired flavoring items added. After some time, they were strained and bottled. Some are called “Dipping Oil”, and the herbs &/or spices remain in the bottle. They are often tasty, but you may get sticker-shock! You can easily make your own. To infuse flavors takes a couple of steps,(heating, adding, waiting, straining, but it’s worth it). “Dipping oil”, however, is a matter of simply adding whatever flavors appeal to you and which compliment the rest of your offerings. Here is a simple sampling:dipping oil 1

What is shown is a better Extra Virgin Olive oil with a little salt and basil,(dried , with a fresh sprig, because I had it; it isn’t necessary.)I added salt and a little parsley. The other has salt, cracked black pepper,(any would do), garlic granules, and ground rosemary. Use any dried herbs you like. Examples: Italian seasoning, (usually made of basil, parsley, marjoram, oregano, rosemary and thyme,[no sage!]) Mix or match any you have of these or other herbs.. Add garlic or onion powder. If you use garlic or onion salt, omit salt; if you are avoiding salt, do not add it at all. (“Mrs.Dash” or other non-salt additives, used alone, will work.) You can add a dash of dried lemon peel, or hot pepper flakes. If you have dried sweet peppers and or tomatoes,(flakes), you can add them, with or without finely diced olives.
Let your cabinet and your taste decide!

Try adding a splash of Thai Sweet Chili sauce, or Sesame oil,(either, alone) to your oil.
Again, if EVOO is too strong for you, use a good grade “Pure” Olive oil or any other better oil, (such as Safflower or Sunflower oil).

Traditionally, Italian bread is used to dip; French bread is acceptable, as are multi-grain types. Gluten-free breads are usually hearty and can easily be used.
Slice the breads thinly or pull the middle out of your Italian/French bread or rolls. Make the pieces big enough to pick up but small enough to avoid ‘double dipping’ . And don’t be afraid of them getting stale, as you want them slightly-to-very dry; damp bread is not good.
Try one or more before your next sit-down dinner or when family and friends gather; it is a perfect vegan snack or appetizer.

Keep all oils out of sunlight and away from heat. Do not store over your stove or next to your oven, so that the heat will not spoil them and because cooking oils are, of course, quite flammable. We don’t want any terrible accidents.
Since I usually buy the largest sizes of some oils, I keep a small bottle,(pint or quart), ready at hand and keep the rest in the coolest spot I can find, a cabinet against an outside wall in the Winter and then move them to near an A/C vent in the Summer!(It gets hot here.) You can keep them under refrigeration but many oils solidify and are hard to use or measure. DO keep Nut, Sesame and Truffle oils in the refrigerator. These spoil quickly if not kept very cool and you will probably use them sparingly over time. They will last much longer this way.

Do not use rancid, (spoiled) oil. You will be able to tell the difference by smell or by taste.

Did I cover everything? Are there any questions?