Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Blogging for Books: "Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning"

Timothy Snyder's "Black Earth" is a haunting reminder of how fragile the balance of our society and how important it is that we remember these historical events. In a time when our country seems more divide than ever and the echo of intolerance can be felt in our daily lives, this texts provides a warning of how we can choose to avoid following in the footsteps of the Nazi movement.

The book begins by providing the historical framework for Hitler's rise to power and what his objectives were in "cleansing" the German culture while silently increasing the country's geographic footprint. He follows through the movement of the German power and how Hitler was instrumental in providing the background to the effort. Snyder then draws the parallels to the present and where our culture stands in terms of still being influenced by Hitler's teachings and the Nazi movements, including our views on intolerance and even areas of science.

This book is an important examination of the Holocaust and outlines the recipe for which Hitler was able to rise to power. There are times that this book felt repetitive or like it may have been missing additional information, but it was, overall, a solid read and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history or looking to learn more.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Succulent Lobster Stew

Being a born and raised New Enlander means that there are a few assumptions that you could make about me and my family: we know a thing or two about cold weather, some of our "r's" sound like "ah's" and we know our way around seafood... more specifically, lobster. 

Though eating seafood in our region is normally synonymous with summer, this past Christmas I decided I wanted to do something different than the traditional ham but would still have the "comfort food" feel that the holidays are all about. This dish does take a some prep/sit time in order to develop the perfect flavors. This recipe also lends itself to some creativity by adding other seafood and even cream to make it a chowder. 

Being on the coast, I have the privilege of being able to get my seafood super fresh; literally as it is coming into the docks. However, that being said, I did not cook all of the seafood that I used myself, but it was still fresh. Though the price of live lobster was decent, it was more cost effective to get a couple live (for the stock) and purchase a knuckle and claw mix that the fisherman has packaged and flash frozen within the last day or so. Though this is borderline sacrilegious and I can heard the audible scoff from every "true," salt of the sea New Englander, I swear it is legit and you will thank me later. I used a 1# package in addition to the meat from my two lobsters. 

First thing is first, preparing the lobster. I purchased two 1.25# (chicken) lobsters. You can use hard or soft shell depending on your preference and your budget. I believe these were unbeaten... so had more meat that a soft but not as tender (supposedly). I steam mine so that I do not dilute the flavor of the lobster, plus there is less water in the shells when you open them. Any good Google search will yield proper handling instructions. 

After they are cooked, I set mine aside to cool while I prepare the stock. SIDENOTE: If you are not familiar with cooking lobsters, take care not to overcook them by watching for them to turn bright red. They will continue to cook while they cool. You will harvest the claws, tails, knuckles,and any other portion you have patience for, and put them in an airtight container to store in the fridge until the very end before serving. Reserve the bodies and shells for the stock. 

Using the large steaming pot that I used for the lobsters (if I were to guess, I would say it holds at least 2 gallons of liquid), I begin adding the ingredients for my stock:
  • Large onion, quartered
  • 6 stalks of celery, cut into 1" pieces
  • 4 large carrots, cut into 1" pieces
  • 4 c water (will add more later)
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • heavy pinch of saffron (optional)
  • 1 tsp onion powder (sweeter than onion)
  • 2 TB chicken stock base (not cubes) *you are welcome to use seafood, if you can find it*
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter, cubed
A couple things to note here: you will notice in the picture below that I have the steamer insert in pot to make it easier to remove the solids when the stock is done. Next, you may notice that I did not include salt or pepper. That is because the salt in the base will guide you when the soup is assembled later and too much salt will ruin the stew, trust me, and you don't want pepper to overpower the delicate lobster flavors. Finally, this probably goes without saying, but I have to. PLEASE was your vegetables. You don't need to peel them, but make sure that the dirt and sand don't make it into your final product. You won't be able to pass the "grit" as having come from the lobsters. They are too classy for that.

After all of these have been added to the pot, add the lobster bodies/shells to the pot and fill to the upper rim with water. Bring to a boil and reduce to half. You will leave this to cook for several hours/most of the day. Be sure to keep an eye on it an taste from time to time to see if it is missing anything. It is okay if the flavors do not have "depth" because it will marinate overnight to give it the married flavors in the finished product. 

Once it has cooked down enough, strain out and discard the solids. You are going to put it in the fridge so chill and develop flavors overnight. You are welcome to make and serve this the same say, but you patience will be rewarded if you can stand to wait!

The next day an hour and a half before serving, you will return your stock to the pot and add these ingredients to your stew in intervals after bringing to a boil:
  • 2 large white potatoes cut into bite sized pieces - reduce to a simmer, wait 15 minutes before adding:
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds - Wait 15 minutes before adding:
  • 3 stalks of celery in 1/4" slices - Wait 15 minutes before adding:
  • 1 bag of sweet frozen corn. This will significant drop the temperature of the stew, which is okay because you do not want it to be scalding when you add the lobster. 
This is the time to taste and make final adjustments like adding salt or white pepper as well as test the done-ness of your vegetables. To prepare your lobster meat, pull out claws and set aside. Cut up your tails into decent sized pieces and halve your knuckles. Once the rest of your stew has the right taste and has warmed back up, add your prepared lobster (minus claws). Wait another 5-10 minutes and you are ready to serve! This makes AT LEAST 8-10 good sized servings. You may need more claws for garnish or forgo all together and include in the stew if serving a large crowd. Either way, this is guaranteed not to disappoint!

I plated mine, as seen below, by placing a claw across the top as a garnish. I know that this seems like a lot of waiting but this was by far one of the best stews I have ever had and it is too good not to share. 

The real fun part, is that you can make this recipe your own by changing the base, adding a milk based rue at the end to turn it into a chowder or changing up the vegetables. The options are endless!


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Delicious Banana Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

My family LOVES bananas, especially my youngest. She would eat nothing but bananas if we let her. One of the many reasons that her nickname "Monkey" is so fitting. This is why I am always perplexed that we always have a handful of overripe ones. Typically, I would make banana bread, but we still have some in the freezer from the last round, so time to get creative... or at
least make something that isn't in a loaf pan. LOL. 

These cupcakes are the perfect snack: crispy on the outside and moist, fluffy goodness on the inside. The frosting is soft and tart like you would expect from cream cheese while but also sets and slightly crusts to hold its shape. These will definitely please the banana lover in your household. 

What you will need:
3 overripe (black) bananas                                           
1/4 c apple sauce (oil)                                                  
1/3 c brown sugar                                                         
1/2 tsp salt                                                                    
1/3 c sour cream                                                           
1 egg                                                                             
1/2 tsp cinnamon                                                       
1 tsp baking soda                                                          
1 tsp baking powder
1½ c flour

3 oz cream cheese (cold)
3 Tb unsalted butter (cold)
1/3 c brown sugar
pinch of salt
1⅓ c powdered sugar (sifted)
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 Tb milk
3 Tb sour cream

Now get to it...

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Sift together your dry ingredients for cupcakes and set aside
  3. Mash bananas up until most of the chunks are gone or small then add apple sauce, brown sugar, salt, sour cream and egg. Mix until combined. 
  4. Fold dry and wet mixture together. This is a thick dough and will be lumpy so be careful not to over work because it will make the end product tough. 
  5. Divide dough into 12 lined cupcake molds and bake 18-25 minutes. They should have a springy top but should not have a dark center "spot." Let these cool in the pan for at least 5 minutes. (This helps ensure there are no raw middles while avoiding the possibility of over baking). 
  6. Make sure these are cooled completely before frosting. 
For the frosting, use a cool mixing bowl (put in the fridge to be sure). Make sure to scrape the bowl often.

Beat the butter with salt until creamy (you may need a hand mixer because of the amount rather than using your stand mixer) and then add brown sugar. Continue to beat until fluffy but sugar wont be fully dissolved. Add the cream cheese and cinnamon and continue to beat until mixed.

SLOWLY add the powdered sugar. The frosting will first become course and mealy as the sugar is added and will thicken as the sugar and wet ingredients incorporate. Add vanilla and. if still mealy, add milk in small batches. It should look like a think paste at this point and you should beat on high until the volume increases and the color lightens (about 5 min). 

Frosting is ready to pipe now, but if you need it a little thinker you can let sit on the fridge. After piping, it should crust over in 30 minutes or so. Hope you enjoy!