Category Archives: Nibbles

Falafel, Origin Uncertain

I recently visited a local Mediterranean style restaurant, Mediterranean Cruise Cafe – http://www.medcruisecafe.com – and enjoyed the delicious falafel, among other tasty dishes.  That scrumptious meal inspired me to search for a falafel recipe.  I admit, until I started researching recipes, I was ignorant and didn’t know that falafel was essentially a garbanzo bean fritter (croquette in international settings).  I learned fava beans are also used in many parts of the world and may have been the original primary ingredient.

Wikipedia sources note that the origin of falafel is unknown and somewhat controversial.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falafel
It is thought to have originated in Egypt.  In modern times (did I really write that?), falafel is considered a street food or fast food and often served as a sandwich.  It seems the question of origin has been so passionate that it has generated accusations of copyright infringement.

I was delighted to discover that creating falafel is quite simple, especially if you bake it, rather than the traditional method of deep frying.  End result – baking is healthier and just as tasty!

I discovered various falafel recipes in my search.  Most included flour and some included baking powder.  I did find my preferred baked falafel recipe on the about.com internet site.  http://video.about.com/mideastfood/Baked-Falafel.htm

Baked Falafel

•1 – 15 oz. can garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas)
•3 cloves garlic
•1 small onion, diced
•3 Tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
•2 Tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro
•1 tsp. cumin
•1 tsp. coriander
•Juice of 1 lemon (about 1 Tbsp.)
•1/2 tsp. kosher salt
•1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
•2 Tbsp. flour
•1 tsp. baking powder
•2 Tbsp. olive oil

Start by preheating the oven to 400 degrees.
Drain the chickpeas in a colander and rinse well.
Place the garlic in a food processor, and pulse a few times to chop it roughly. Now add the onions, the chickpeas, the parsley, cilantro, cumin, coriander, and lemon juice to the food processor. Add the salt, the red pepper flakes, flour and the baking powder.
Cover and pulse until the mixture is well combined. You don’t want a complete puree, just a mash, sort of like the texture of a chunky hummus. Now, drizzle about a tablespoon of the olive oil onto a baking sheet.
Form the falafel into 1-1/2-inch rounds and flatten slightly with your fingers. Place on the oiled baking sheet. When you’re finished, brushed the falafel with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Bake in the preheated oven 15-18 minutes until golden brown on the bottom.
Turn, and return the falafel to the oven to bake another 5-7 minutes until browned on the other side.

When I made this recipe, I did not measure the olive oil on the pan and used an olive oil spritzer to coat the tops of the falafel patties.  It was definitely not enough olive oil and the cook time was much longer.  I think the longer cook time was due to using canned garbanzo beans.  You may have a different experience with dried beans.  Use best judgement on olive oil and monitor the baking.  If the patties are not getting firm, increase cooking time and/or add olive oil.  I had to do both.

I mixed up a yogurt-cucumber dressing for the falafel, but it is not my favorite – too bland.  I will share a recipe when I find a good one.

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Is the Original Chex Mix recipe truly the original?

No, it’s not!  The current “original” recipe includes bagel chips and seasoned salt.  Bagel chips did not exist in the 1950s, when Chex Mix was invented.  I’m fairly certain the seasoned salt blend had not yet been invented, either, but I cannot find any data to support my theory.  Chex Mix was a staple and a tradition in my family’s holiday treat collection.  I remember being very impatient about how long it took to make, since you could smell it in the oven after about 25 minutes.  I admit, when I made it tonight, I dipped into it before the instructed 60 minutes of baking was completed! Chex cereal was introduced in 1937 by Ralston Purina.  By 1952, recipes for “Chex party mix” appeared on boxes of Chex cereal.  It is reported that, in 1955, the wife of a Ralston executive in St. Louis served the snack at a holiday function, which launched its popularity.  Apparently, the invention of television spurred creativity in developing recipes for  snacks that could be enjoyed without interrupting television watching.  The commercially packaged versions of Chex Mix came about in 1985.  While the commercially packaged product can serve as an emergency fix, it does not compare to the oven roasted version.   A few years ago, I consulted my mother to find the true, original recipe; or, at least the one she used when we all were kids.  She did use pretzel sticks, which I always found very annoying.  The inside of my mouth was continually stabbed with the pretzel ends.  Seriously, how could a mom do that to her children?  I chose to replace the sticks with tiny twists – oh, so much safer! Here is Chex’s current link to the Original Recipe http://www.chex.com/recipes/the-original-chex-party-mix/4698168d-747c-4f96-8f7a-521736e49071

Here is the recipe from my mother.  When you compare them, you immediately notice the difference in the amount of butter or margarine.

Original Chex Mix – circa 1965-1975

1 cup butter
4 Tb Worchestershire sauce
3 tsp celery salt (another missing ingredient in the current original recipe)
3 tsp onion salt
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp garlic salt
1 lb Virginia peanuts
4 1/2 cups Rice Chex
4 1/2 cups tiny twist pretzels
4 1/2 cups Corn Chex
4 1/2 cups Wheat Chex

In case it is not obvious, Chex Party Mix is not Weight Watchers friendly.  However, it is one of my favorite indulgences and a weakness.  I delayed making it until I knew I could get it out of my sight quickly.  I will be packing and shipping much of it and storing the rest well out of my reach.  I had 3 large handfuls this evening!

If you choose to use the oven instead of the microwave, follow the instructions on the Chex cereal boxes.  Be sure to melt the butter and stir the seasonings in before adding cereal, etc.  Bake at 250 degrees for one hour and stir every 15 minutes.

Nothing as Cool as a Cucumber

This is the first year I have successfully grown a cucumber to maturity and harvest.  I have little full sun exposure in the yard, so, this year, I chose to plant the cucumbers in a container.  I selected a variety that is specifically designed for small spaces (Spacemaster).  I made a fresh and yummy cucumber feta salad with the first harvest.  I also used some of my abundant mint crop, so I’m feeling just a bit more self-sustaining today than usual!


Cucumber Feta Salad
Cucumber, diced small
Scallions or any onion variety, chopped
Kalamata olives or any olive variety, chopped
Olive oil
White wine or champagne vinegar
Mint, fresh chopped
Feta cheese, crumbled
Black Pepper,  ground

Combine all ingredients and toss.  I did not measure amounts, but I think a proportion of 2:1:1 – cucumber:onion:olives – is a good start.  Otherwise, just toss and surprise yourself.

If olives aren’t a favorite, try replacing them with fresh tomatoes.  The result will still be delicious!

Salmon and Cucumber – Good Eating!

Awoke this morning to a few, wet inches of April snow.  It was a delightful scene, but somewhat unsettling for the middle of April.  No need to panic, it should disappear in the next day or two.

I am working to incorporate more protein into my diet, so I cooked an Atlantic salmon fillet today (0.73 lb raw with skin).  I purposely cooked it late this morning, so it would be ready when I was hungry for it and wouldn’t have to wait.  I recommend this tactic for people with limited time and a desire to eat more healthy.  So many negative food choices are made when a person is really hungry and feels desperate.  I know, I’ve been in that place more times than I can count.
 
I coated a pan with a thin layer of olive oil and made a small bed of coarse sea salt for the salmon.  I placed the fillet skin side down on the salt, seasoned with ground pepper, a bit of salt, and dried dill weed.  [It impresses me that the dill plant offers its seed and foliage and flowers for culinary use – quite efficient.]
I then used an olive oil mister (required kitchen tool) to give the fish a light top coating of olive oil.  I cooked the salmon at 350°F until I was able to flake it with a fork – about 25 minutes.

I had a few midday nibbles on the fish, but separated the flesh from the skin and put most of it (the flesh) in the refrigerator.  As I went about daily tasks, I thought about what I would do with the salmon.  I considered a salmon and cream cheese dip, which is delicious, but would tempt me to pair it with a sumptuous French bread or gourmet crackers.  Breads and baked goods are my food weaknesses.  I find them difficult to limit.  I decided upon a fresh and Spring-like combination of salmon, cream cheese (fat free, in this case), and cucumber.  It was definitively satisfying with no bread-guilt.

For the rest of the meal, I wanted something a bit more substantial, so I made Creole-seasoned baked sweet potato fries.  Incidentally, there is confusion in the USA about the difference between a sweet potato and a yam.  They are not the same and my mother had an amusing story about just this subject last year.  I admit, I’m not sure which one I actually cooked.  The root was definitely firm, but the cooked product was soft.  Here is a Library of Congress link that explains the mystery.
http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/sweetpotato.html

The Creole seasoned sweet potatoes were not an original idea, as the local co-op makes and sells them in the deli.  Again, I used a light coating of olive oil in a pan, cut the orange sweet potato in strips, seasoned with Tony Chachere Creole seasoning and ground black pepper.  I baked them at 375-400°F for about 45 minutes.  I prefer more crunch than mush.

It was a great meal, but I did consume the entire salmon fillet in a single day!  Oh, well, it is certainly better than consuming an entire loaf of French bread in a single day and I believe I have met my omega-3 oil target values for the day.  I partnered the salmon and sweet potato fries with a Sauvignon Blanc from Nova Wines – Marilyn Sauvignon Blonde.  It is moderately priced and quite good.

Empanadas – Wrap Your Favorite

An empanada is a small half-moon or triangular shaped pie, filled with meat, seafood, vegetables, or fruit.  It can be baked or fried.  The name is derived from the Spanish verb, empanar, which means to surround with bread.  Empanadas are hearty and portable, which make them the perfect snack or lunch.  Empanadillas are smaller versions of empanadas and are often served as tapas (appetizers).

Empanadas are commonplace in Southern Europe and Latin and South America.  The little pie traces its roots to Spanish Galicia and Portugal.  Empanadas are believed to be descended from the samosa, an Arabic meat pie.

I was introduced to Argentinian empanadillas more than two decades ago, in Spain.  My friends and I were enjoying post-siesta vino and cerveza when the establishment owner offered them as tapas.  They were marvellous!  The owner went on to explain a bit of their history and their popularity in South America.

I reacquainted myself with empanadas this week.  I was browsing the Weight Watchers internet site for new recipes and landed on one for chicken empanadas.  Memories flooded in from my first encounter.  I searched beyond the Weight Watchers site for more empanada recipes and found a myriad of variations in fillings and dough.  The Wikipedia entry describes a few of them.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empanada

The dough is about as simple as it gets – flour, salt, some type of fat (oil, shortening, lard, butter), and some type of liquid (water, milk, chicken broth, vinegar, wine).  Many recipes also include eggs.  Other ingredients include baking powder, sugar, and corn flour.  Dough preparation is like pie crust, biscuits, or any other pastry dough.  I decided to use my grandmother’s baking powder biscuit recipe (see below) with two ingredient modifications.  I eliminated the sugar and replaced half of the white flour with whole wheat pastry flour.  I also rolled the dough quite thin (1/8-1/4 inch), so I could cut 4 inch circles.  Delicious!

Canned diced tomatoes and legumes are staples in my kitchen and I happened to have a mixture of diced tomatoes, green chilis, garbanzo and black beans (with cumin, chili, and chipotle) in the refrigerator.  I decided that would make a fine base filling.  I sautéed some minced garlic, green pepper, and green onion and combined with the tomato mixture.  I cut up a few precooked shrimp from the freezer and added that to the mixture.  I cooked it long enough for the ingredients to warm.  Be sure to cook down the mixture to evaporate any excess liquid.

Cut the dough into 4 inch circles.  Please an ample tablespoon of filling in the center of the dough circle.  Use water, if necessary, to seal edges.  Fold dough in half and crimp with fork tines.  Brush with egg white, if desired.
Bake on baking sheet at 400°F for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

I found the following cheese empanada recipe during my search and thought it looked and sounded fantastic.
http://www.boliviabella.com/empanadas-de-queso.html

Next experiment will be a dessert empanada – apple, pear, or both!

Grandma’s Baking Powder Biscuits
12-16 biscuits
450°F
Ingredients:
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup shortening
2/3 cup fat free milk

Preparation:
Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Cut in shortening until flour looks like pellets.  Form a small well in the middle of the flour and add milk.  Stir quickly with a fork, just until dough forms a wet ball.  Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together.  Knead gently with heel of your hand five to ten strokes, just enough to bring dough together.
Pat dough to 1/2 inch thick.  Cut biscuits straight down – no twisting.  Bake on ungreased baking sheet at 450°F for 10-12 minutes.

I Miss Real Pizza … Do I??

It has been over four months since I have eaten what I consider to be a real pizza.  I drool over thick crust and multiple cheeses.  Neither of which is Weight Watchers Points Plus-friendly.  The satisfaction ratio just hasn’t been high enough for me to enjoy my favorite ingredients – pepperoni, green pepper, onion, mozzarella and romano cheeses – on traditional, hand-tossed crust.

I discovered flatbread pizza and believe I may be converted.  Flat-Out Light Original is a staple food in my home.  I started simply, a few spritzes from the olive oil sprayer on the flatbread, black beans from an open can in the refrigerator, and reduced fat Mexican cheese blend.  Bake in the oven at 400°F for 10 minutes or until the cheese browns.  Voilà!  The finished product is filling and doesn’t put a person in the hole with weekly Points Plus.

I now prepare a revised version of my favorite – turkey pepperoni, reduced fat mozzarella, green pepper, onion – sauce is optional.  I find I prefer it with no sauce, just the olive oil on the flatbread.

Sure, it has taken me almost 5 months to get to the point where I wonder if I really do miss the thick crust with traditional pepperoni and extra cheese.  At some point in the next few months, I’ll try the old-fashioned version again and measure the satisfaction ratio.

Caramels – Love to Eat Them, Like to Make Them, Hate to Wrap Them

I am stimulated by new adventures and challenges.  Therefore, I decided to make caramels for the first time in 2009.  I performed the standard Google operation and a multitude of recipes resulted.  I selected one, based on subconscious criteria.  I already had the one tool I needed – a candy thermometer.  I purchased it a few years ago at an estate sale. 
Taking a trip off topic, estate sales are marvellous places to find quality kitchenware, books, dinner and serving ware, and furniture, at very reasonable costs.  My sister is the master of estate sales and once suggested I bid on an antique accountant’s desk.  The desk was made by a Boston cabinetmaker, Stephen Smith, in the middle 1800s.  Mr. Smith invented the roll-top desk.
http://www.capecod.edu/files/nickerson/stephen-smith.html
Much to my and everyone’s surprise, I won the bid and now sit at that desk.  Thanks to my mother’s husband and my brother for moving the grand piece of furniture from the estate sale to my home.
Now, back to the caramel experience.  The 2009 caramel cooking adventure was a success.  The caramels were so fantastic that my super-cook mother was impressed and made the same recipe today.  During the cooking, I was a bit annoyed by the time required for the caramel mixture to reach 240-250 degrees Fahrenheit, but stayed with it until the end.  There is chemistry involved, here.  I never did take a formal chemistry course, so I cannot explain it in detail.  However, my uncle and godfather, a semi-retired chemistry teacher, did recently educate my mother on the two temperature plateaus in making peanut brittle.  I know caramel has at least one temperature plateau, which occurs between 210 and 220 degrees Fahrenheit.  It takes *forever* to get above 220.  [I’m not recognized for my patience.]  When I made the caramels in 2009, I didn’t have a chance to cut and wrap them, so I took them to my mother’s house.  She proceeded to take care of the post-cooking processes.
It’s now 2010 and I found an intriguing gingerbread caramel recipe from Martha Stewart.
http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/gingerbread-caramels
I proceeded with the cooking process and experienced the same frustration with the temperature stall.  However, there is a feeling of satisfaction when you watch the color of the mixture darken and thicken.  It’s exciting.  Due to lack of patience, I did turn up the temperature a bit too high, but the caramels do taste exactly like gingerbread.  They are just a bit harder than the ideal.
About that wrapping — I have little patience for tedious tasks, so the thought of cutting the caramel and wrapping all those little pieces was ominous.  I finally took on the challenge with the butcher knife and cut the caramels.  I need improvement on size consistency.  I started wrapping the pieces in plastic wrap that I cut to size, but quickly grew tired of that exercise.  I wished I had thought to purchase pre-cut wrappers.  I decided to try the little paper cups used for candy boxes.  In theory, it was a great idea, but they do not stack well.  I finally went with tearing wax paper into appropriately-sized pieces to wrap the caramels (my mother’s suggestion, of course).  I might outsource the wrapping next year…