Alabama Gazette - The people's voice of reason

Southern Cuisine for July

 


When I want to introduce a recipe, I tell a story about how I found or why I use the recipe. It is a roundabout way to the topic I want to discuss. However, there are times when the story has a very thin line that leads to a recipe or a topic. This is one of them. There are many ways to make your experiences in a kitchen enjoyable, rewarding, and shareable. Start by using simple recipes and healthy ingredients. Here are two ways to include your friends and family, especially your children, in preparing everyday meals.

Some years back, I was doing a presentation on cooking calamari to a class of fifth graders. What do you do with five pounds of raw dissected calamari but cook it? After the demonstration, the teacher asked the students if they had any questions for “Chef” about cooking in general or being a chef. They did, of course! One of the questions was, “Why did you start cooking?” Now trying to be funny and lead into another story, I said,...

...“I started cooking because I am hungry when I wake up in the morning.” That did not quite compute to a group of fifth graders, so I had to explain. I have always been an early riser and but not my parents, especially on weekends. If I wanted something to eat when I got up, I had to cook it myself. One of the appliances my parents would let me use by myself was a 12-inch Westinghouse electric skillet. It was the perfect size to make four pancakes. Since there was no Bisquick or other baking mixes available where we lived, I made the batter from scratch. My father usually made the batter when we were going to have a weekend family breakfast. I learned his recipe and used it for my pancakes. Most of the time the pancakes looked like pancakes, but sometimes they did not act like pancakes. They would be so dense; they were better drink coasters than breakfast food.

As soon as we moved back to the United States and discovered store bought baking mixes, the scratch made pancake batter was another outdated memory. Now with the concern people have about what is in the foods they eat, scratch made bread, biscuits, waffles, pies, cakes, and even pancakes are gaining popularity. An argument I hear about the store bought mixes is shelf life and convenience. Read the ingredients of a store bought baking mix and ask yourself if you really want all of them in your body. In addition, I have eaten baking mix pancakes that brought back memories of drink coasters! A common mistake when making pancakes is over-mixing. When the directions tell you there will be some lumps in the mix, leave some lumps in the mix! Do not make up the mix and then put it in the refrigerator waiting for the sleepyheads to get up and come to breakfast. Do not store the baking mix in the refrigerator. The cold will deactivate the baking powder and your pancakes will be coasters.

We will begin with a simple scratch made pancake batter.

SIMPLE & GOOD PANCAKES

INGREDIENTS

Two cups White Lily® Enriched Bleached Self-Rising Flour

Three tablespoons sugar

One-cup milk

Two large eggs, lightly beaten

¼ cup melted butter

Yield: about 6-9

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Pre-heat lightly oiled griddle to 400F.

2. Combine flour and sugar in medium bowl.

3. Combine milk, egg in small bowl.

4. Add liquid ingredients to flour mixture and stir to just combine.

5. Add melted butter and stir just until well blended (batter will be lumpy).

6. Ladle ¼-cup batter for each pancake.

7. Flip once when bubbles appear in batter.

8. Serve when golden brown.

Note: I add the melted butter after the other ingredients are mixed; adding the butter to the milk is like trying to combine oil and water. In addition, the milk is cold and you want the butter melted for easier mixing. It may seem like a trivial matter but it works.

Different flours will produce different pancakes. “White Lily” is soft wheat flour whereas “Gold Medal” is hard wheat flour. A much lighter consistency is noticeable when using soft wheat flour in biscuits and bread.

What I want to point out is that a recipe from Betty Crocker for pancakes, using Bisquick, stills calls for the addition of sugar, baking powder, milk, oil, and eggs. The latest price I have seen for a 6-pound box of Bisquick was $6.72 for six pounds. The “White Lily” was $2.72 for 5 pounds. So what are you gaining?

TIP OF THE DAY:

If your recipe calls for the addition of herbs, spices, and nuts, remember to either TOAST, ROAST or BLOOM them first. For whole seeds and nuts, swirl them around in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until you can smell the aromatic oils. Use them whole or grind in a spice grinder (a coffee grinder that you do not use to ground coffee) or in a mortar and pestle.

Roast your ground spices in a thin layer on a dry sheet pan a 400 degrees for 4-8 minutes or until their color darkens. Blooming your spices calls for you to put your spices in hot oil at the bottom of your pan and cook for a few minutes until they are fragrant and then finish the rest of the recipe in that pan. I use this method in my Tex-Mex recipes.

I made my monthly trip to Trader Joe’s and they were displaying fresh homemade mozzarella sticks. The cheese was fresh and had a nice snap when you bit into it. It was a little salty, but they took it right out of the packaging and served it. Rinsing off the liquid from the packaging would have reduced the salt. The key word here is “homemade”. I am willing to bet that the cheese was not made in someone’s home kitchen. However, using the ingredients listed on the package, you can make this cheese at home.

Making cheese is a good family activity, and it can be as fast and almost as easy as making pancakes. A stainless steel pot, some measuring spoons, cheesecloth, and a dairy thermometer (reads up to 220 degrees) is the only equipment you need. Paneer cheese and Queso Fresco are the easiest cheeses to make. For Paneer all you need milk and lemon juice or vinegar. The recipe for mozzarella is a bit longer only because temperature plays an important part in the cheese making. Also, some pulling and kneading give mozzarella its springiness. I am including the recipe for mozzarella because it is a familiar cheese and is more versatile. The steps are heat, stir, wait, heat, stir, wait, and eat. Your children can still help with making mozzarella.

They can read temperatures, mix and by using a palette knife, they can cut the curds. Be careful when handling the cheese because of the high temperature. And like most recipes, having your utensils and ingredients at hand makes for an easy go at it. Also read the recipe and become familiar with all the steps.

What better foods to celebrate in July than National Baked Bean Month and National Hot Dog Month. So try your hand at any of these celebrated foods this month; Beans 'n' Franks (July13), Barbecued Spareribs (July 4), Fried Chicken (July 6), Pecan Pies (July12), Corn Fritters (July 16). and do not forget my favorite day, July the 21st, National Junk Food Day.

MOZZARELLA

Total Hands-On Time: 30 min

Yield: About 1 pound

INGREDIENTS

1-gallon whole milk not ultra-pasteurized

1 1/2 tsp powdered citric acid dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water

1/4 tsp liquid rennet diluted in 1/4 cup cool water (if using rennet tablets, follow conversion instructions on the package)

1 to 2 tsp cheese salt (not iodized)

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Slowly heat the milk to 55 degrees Fahrenheit in a stainless steel pot. While gently stirring, slowly add the citric acid solution to the milk, and mix thoroughly.

2. While occasionally stirring, raise the temperature of the milk to 90 degrees over medium-low heat. The milk will begin to thicken like yogurt in about five minutes.

3. Remove from heat and in forward and backwards motion, gently stir in the diluted rennet. Do this for 30 seconds. Let stand, covered until milk sets, 5 to 10 minutes. Slice the milk curd with a palette knife into ¾-inch cubes. Stir curds gently but leave cubes intact.

4. Return pot to the heat; cook at medium stirring gently until temperature reaches 109 degrees. About 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

5. Scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon and put in a colander over a bowl. Press the curds gently with your hands, squeezing out as much whey as possible. Pour saved whey back into the pot and heat to 175 degrees.

6. Shape the curds into several small balls, rolling them between your palms. Put them, one at a time, into a ladle, and dip them in the hot whey for 5 to 10 seconds. Then gently fold, stretch and knead the cheese over and over (as in kneading bread) with your hand. (You will want to don rubber gloves at this point, as the cheese will be extremely hot.) This distributes the heat evenly throughout the cheese, which will not stretch until it is too hot to touch (145 degrees inside the curd).

7. Repeat this process several times until the curd is smooth and pliable; knead in the salt after the second time. The cheese is done if it stretches like taffy. If the curds break instead of stretch, they are too cool and need to be reheated.

8. When the cheese is smooth and shiny, roll it into balls or logs.

Though tasty warm and fresh, it can be stored in the refrigerator after it has cooled and then wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.

The is the hot and humid time of the year and it is very important to remember rules for safe foods. Pay attention to the time that food is left out of refrigeration and the temperature that it is stored at. The same goes for your body. Do not stay in the heat for long periods at a time. Get plenty of rest and drink plenty of water.

 

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