Picnic Pork Roast

Normally one of the most reasonably priced roasts in the meat case of any super market is a pork shoulder roast. This roast is cut from a pig’s front legs above the feet and up to the shoulders. The top part of this roast is called the Boston blade roast or Boston shoulder roast and below this cut is the picnic shoulder roast. Both of these roasts are good examples of how delicious and succulent a tougher piece of meat can be if cooked correctly.

A high priced roast like Prime Ribs of beef or a Chateaubriand can and should be cooked rare or medium rare as they are cut from the section of an animal that doesn’t  get much movement and this is why they are so tender. However, a shoulder needs to be active to allow the animal to move, this muscle becomes strong and tougher and needs special skills to make it palatable. The key is slow, very slow and very long and moist cooking methods. In this case, a long time means at least six hours or more and the moist heat method means cooked in a slow cooker, braised or baked covered with foil to maintain the juices from its rendered fat. Depending on the style of cooking you chose, the meat can be seasoned with a dry rub made with some of the many herbs that complement it or brushed with a mixture of olive oil and Worcestershire sauce before being covered with foil or put into a braising liquid. Garlic cloves and fennel make a good bed on which to lay the roast for cooking. After the initial six hours cooking time, a bouquet of vegetables should be added to the pan and allowed to cook in the juices of the roast.

Some of the meat can be carved from this roast in the traditional way, the balance is difficult to do because of the way the bones are located. That is one reason why it should be cooked long enough to just pull the meat away from the bones. This meat is then called pulled pork, which makes a popular sandwich when barbecue  sauce is added to the meat.

Like any pork roast, red cabbage, sauerkraut, baked apples, applesauce and caraway seeds enhance its flavor. Leftover meat can be used for pork pot pies or pork chow mein and even the bones can be used for a flavorful stock for split pea soup.

When plated with braised or baked vegetables, this roasts is an attractive meal to grace any table.

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Flounder – A Delicate Flat Fish

Flounder is a generic name that covers the family of flat, lean-meated fish. These flat fish that have both eyes on the same side include black back (winter flounder), dab ( yellow tail), fluke ( summer flounder) and the soles which are grey, lemon and Dover. These whole fish usually only weigh around two pounds, but its most common market form is thin fillets that are ready to cook.

By starting at the small end, these thin fillets are very easy to roll. The inside area of these rolls can be stuffed with vegetables like asparagus, or spinach, diced fish such as scallops or shrimp or just a bread stuffing similar to the one used to stuff large baked stuffed shrimp. Sautéed mushrooms, celery, onions and bell peppers add flavor, texture and color to these stuffings. After the fish rolls have been baked for about thirty minutes in a 375 degree oven, they can be served topped with a rich, creamy sauce like Moray, Newburg, or cheese or just a plain drawn butter and lemon sauce.

If you wish to fry flounder, the best way is to dip it in milk and then lightly dredge it through flour, before slowly and gently frying it in drawn butter until both sides become golden brown. The flavor of a fried fillet can be enhanced by drizzling it with drawn butter and a drop of lemon juice. Sprinkling the top of the fillet with fresh chopped parsley and paprika and a lemon wedge will give it a finished appearance. Because flounder is so thin and has such a delicate taste, it is not recommended to deep fry it with a standard breading. Even ketchup or tartar sauce might distract from its delicious flavor.

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Pineapple- A Popular Tropical Fruit

Pineapple can be used and served in many ways or forms, including hot or cold. Its juice can be drunk alone or used as a base for cocktails, which are often served from whole pineapples. The acid content of its juice makes a delectable marinade, which tenderizes and adds flavor to many food items, especially pork and chicken. Sweet and sour dishes often contain a sauce made with pineapple juice and served with chunks of pineapple.

A pineapple and a pineapple bird filled with other fruits.

The easiest way to peel fresh pineapple is to use a French knife and to cut it down its sides.  If you cut deep enough you can also remove all the small brown pits, but this is very wasteful. The best way is to take the time and cut them out individually. Fresh pineapple has an enzyme that can interfere when making some types of jelly and gelatin desserts, but canned pineapple does not contain the same enzyme.

Ever since the Dole company started growing and canning pineapple in Hawaii around the year of 1900, it has grown in popularity. Canned pineapple can be purchased as crushed, chunks, sliced or just its juice. You can find these forms in heavy or light syrup and natural pineapple juice. As canned pineapple is ready to eat right out of the can, it can be quickly added to a breakfast cereal dish or added to salads for extra nutrition, color, and texture. Some types of cottage cheese and yogurts have pieces of pineapple mixed in with the products.

Hams can be decorated with pineapple slices that have a cherry in its center and brown sugar and cloves for more seasonings. A crushed pineapple and raisin sauce that has been thickened with corn starch is frequently served with a ham entree. This hot sauce added to sliced cooked carrots makes them an attractive and tasty vegetable dish. Even pizzas are now topped with pineapple chunks or after these chunks are soaked in Kirsch ( a liqueur), they can be dipped in batter and deep fried. These fritters make a good hor d’ oeurve to serve at cocktail parties.

It is a favorite to use in desserts. Crushed pineapple has been a topping of many sundaes and parfaits. It is also one of the main ingredients in a made from scratch carrot cake, pineapple pie or tart.

My favorite way to use a pineapple, is the wonderful presentation it gives when used fresh and whole. Once it is cored and the fruit removed from its shell, it makes a festive bowl in which to serve a fresh fruit salad or even a chicken or shrimp salad with extra pineapple chunks. People not only judge food by its taste, but by the way it looks. Nothing looks nicer than a pineapple bird, which if filled with delightful morsels.

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Arugula: Also Called ‘Salad Rocket’

This green leaf vegetable is similar to spinach as it can be served hot or cold, but it does have a stronger and more peppery taste than spinach. Also, like spinach, it will wilt when cooked and become reduced in volume. Its nutritional value is the same as spinach, which is a good source of iron, vitamin K and it’s low in calories. Vitamin K is known for increasing bone and brain health.

Arugula – a.k.a. Salad Rocket

Its leaves look like dandelion leaves. Like dandelion greens, it should never be used raw alone, but instead accompanied by other salad greens. Just adding a little arugula to other salad greens will really add zest to a salad.

Whether you are going to use it hot or cold, arugula should be washed to remove any dirt and any tough stems should be discarded. Only purchase arugula that has rich green leaves without any yellow ones. The sprigs of arugula that have smaller leaves are milder and those with larger leaves have a stronger peppery taste.

Arugula is delicious sautéed in olive oil with minced onions, shallots or garlic or used in stir fries. This combination can be used as a side dish or as an addition to rice pilaf, soups or as a topping for grilled fish or chicken.

For a very unique and interesting salad, combine fresh, raw arugula and basil with nasturtiums flowers. These flowers, which have an almost cinnamon flavor will add lots of color and taste to the salad. Toasted pecans, almonds and pine nuts add flavor and texture to a blend of salad greens that contain arugula as well. These salads are so flavorful that only a light and simple dressing such as olive oil and balsamic vinegar is needed.

The flavor of arugula complements many cheeses like parmesan, feta, gorgonzola and blue cheese when used together in salads. Gruyere cheese melted with arugula makes a good grilled sandwich. Besides cheeses, it also complements chicken and tuna salads and makes a great bed on which to serve them. Need a garnish? Use arugula instead of watercress for many entrees.

It is a good complement for sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and other fresh garden vegetables or as another ingredient for pesto. However as you use arugula, you will find that it adds zest, flavor and color to any dish.

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Bay and Sea Scallops

There are two sizes of scallops, the larger are called sea scallops and their smaller relatives are bay scallops. Bay scallops are considered tastier than sea scallops and can be eaten uncooked. When eaten uncooked, sea scallops are usually served with lemon juice. They are so delicate that the acid in the lemon will actually ‘cook’ them. Sea scallops can live for many years, but the life span of bay scallops is usually less than eighteen months.

bay and sea scallops on a bed on spinach with sauteed mushroms

Like clams and oysters, scallops are bivalves, which means they are from the mollusks family. Mollusks have a two-part shell that can open and shut. Scallops, however, are the only mollusks with primitive eyes, which are located around its gill rakes. Sea scallops are harvested by dredging boats. Bay scallops can sometimes be found in sea grass during low tide.

The ‘scallops’ found in most fish departments at super markets are actually only the adductor muscle of the shellfish and because they have been shucked from the shell the roe has been discarded. Every scallop has only one adductor muscle. There are approximately two hundred sea scallops muscles in a gallon and four hundred and fifty bay scallops. Bay scallops are about a half inch in diameter while sea scallops are normally an inch and a half in diameter.

Once cleaned, the sea scallop’s beautiful shell makes a perfect baking and serving dish and is often used for the classic Coquille St. Jacques dishes. Sometimes mashed or duchess potatoes are piped from a pastry bag around the edge of the serving shell to keep any sauces inside the shell. This procedure is called a tinker’s dam.

Coquilles St. Jacques means Sea Shell of St. James, who is the patron saint of shell fishermen. The scallop shell was worn around the fishermen necks as a symbol for him. Any scallop dish can be called Coquille St. Jacques.

The large size of the sea scallop makes them perfect to be used on a brochette or shish kebab. Wrapped in bacon and broiled or baked, they make a delicious hot item to be served at a cocktail party. Bay scallops are a good addition to a seafood Newburg dish.

Sea scallops are often served breaded and deep fried and served either by themselves or in a combination with other fried fish called a fisherman’s platter. They are much tastier when broiled gently and lightly in butter as this method seals in their delicate flavor.

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Nuts, Nuts, and More Nuts

In a recent article written by Scott Smith for the Associated Press, he states that the soaring value and demand for California nut chops are making them a target for thieves, who are stealing them by the tractor truck load. This nut boom has led to farmers tearing out their vineyards and replacing them with nut producing trees. A truck’s cargo of nuts is valued at over $100,000.

You can find nuts and their products everywhere. Bags of peanuts are sold at ballgames and dishes of salted peanuts are on bars for patrons to enjoy. For years, children and adults have enjoyed listening to chestnuts pop open as they are roasted by an open fire during the Yuletide season. Any bakery will have showcases filled  with desserts, breads, pies, cookies, cakes and sticky buns that feature nuts. Without nuts, the number of flavors and types of sundae toppings found in ice cream shops would be limited.

Nuts offer flavor, texture, color and shapes to culinary preparations. Besides their nutritional value they add interest to salads, vegetables, stuffings and entrees. Most children love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but chopped nuts can be added to many other salad sandwiches like egg salad. They are a great addition to waffle or pancake  batters. Many candy bars offer a variety of nuts and of course there is the popular peanut brittle candy. In an expensive box of chocolates, many pieces will contain different types of nuts.

If you purchase nuts in their shell they will stay fresher longer and will be more reasonably priced. After removing the shells from almonds or pistachios, you may want to remove the inner skin too.  This can be easily accomplished by letting them set a minute or two in boiling water and then removing the skin by rubbing. Shelled nuts, stored in a tightly sealed container will last a long time if stored in a freezer. Nuts freeze exceptionally well.

Some nuts, like macadamia, are very expensive, but they are a value because of their taste and the benefits that you receive from their proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Most have a high fat contain, so are also high in calories. In fact, eating more than a handful of nuts before a meal, might spoil your appetite.

When nuts are used in a recipe, their presence should be known by your guests, as some people are highly allergic to them. Servers in restaurants should be aware of all menu items made with nut based products in order to inform customers who inquire.

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Fennel

Fennel is a garden plant, which is related to the carrot and is from the parsley family. It is available from autumn through the spring season. Its bulb, stem, leaves and seeds are all used in culinary preparations.

The white bulb should have any brown or damaged outer layers removed before using. After the bulb is cut in half down the middle from the stems to the base, remove the hard core part and cut the balance into strips. These strips can be added raw to sandwiches or salads to give them a crunchy texture. This slightly licorice tasting vegetable is delicious sautéed in butter and braised in chicken stock. Serve it with freshly grated Parmesan cheese or other braised vegetables like carrots. It will give other vegetables a unique flavor that you will never find in a plain canned vegetable.

Its foliage looks like dill with the same kind of feathery leaves and is actually used like dill as a garnish or to flavor egg or fish dishes. It is especially good with salmon, sea bass and scallops. It also complements chicken, turkey and pork meals and combines good with fresh rosemary.

Fennel stems can be cut small and added to soups and stews. Its seeds are oval and yellowish-brown and are used in the preparation of salad dressings, breads and cookies. They can be added to the cooking water for added flavor of licorice when cooking broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or cauliflower.

A roast pork meal with braised fennel and carrots.

This plant , which is sometimes called fresh Anise, will change the taste of your cooking from ordinary to extraordinary.

 

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Citrus Fruits

Citrus is a variety of flowering shrubs and small trees that yield fruit that contain a high quality of citric acid. They are a good source of vitamin C, but the citric acid gives that a very sharp and sometimes sour taste.

Lemons and limes are mostly used for their juice, but their zest or grated outer skin adds flavor to many cooked dishes. Be careful not to zest too deeply as you will get some of the pith or white membrane, which is very bitter. Lemons and limes are also widely used as a garnish for entrees and also for cocktails. On a hot summer day, many a family will serve a pitcher of iced lemonade as an afternoon treat. In the days of wooden sailing ships, the British navy rationed limes to sailors stave off scurvy. This is why sailors were referred to as limeys.

For breakfast, grapefruits are commonly cut in half and eaten out of its skin with a spoon.  Grapefruit wedges are added to fruit cups and first class restaurants serve a half of a grapefruit broiled with brandy as a dinner appetizer. Grapefruit juice along with orange juice are a common breakfast beverage.

One of the most popular citrus fruit is the orange, whose family ranges from the small Kumquat to the large Navel orange. The small orange kumquats are featured on many relish tables or used as a entree garnish. Navel oranges, tangerines and clementines are often added to a brown bag lunch as a fruit that is easy to peel and eat.

In cooking, oranges are used in glazes for vegetables like beets and carrots or sauces for entrees like chicken. Duck is usually served with an orange based sauce called Bigarade. Oranges are also used as a flavoring for frostings and in cake, cookies, bread, custards and chiffon pies. Mandarin oranges, which can be found canned, are used in several salads. Serville oranges, which are bitter, are used for confections or candied orange peel.

Two very expensive desserts that are served in fancy restaurants are the whole mandarin orange and the Clementine, which have had lots of simple syrup and vodka inserted into them before they are poached and the Crepe Suzette. Any restaurant that features table-side cooking will be proud to offer this delicious crepe dish cooked with orange zest and the orange and cognac liqueur called Grand Marnier.

Orange Chicken

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The Feathery Fresh Dill

The feathery fresh leaves of dill and its delicate flavor complements cottage cheese, cold beets and cucumbers, eggs, fish dishes and most garden salads. Fresh dill added to mayonnaise, sour cream or yogurt makes a nice dressing for many items. When used with cooked vegetables it should be added near the end of the cooking time. Green beans, peas, cauliflower and summer squash are some of the vegetables that fresh dill enhances. It is also widely used in many European countries with dishes that contain cabbage or sauerkraut.

Fresh dill has more flavor than dried dill weed and should be used whenever it is available. It cannot be grown successfully indoors as it grows over two feet tall, but it is a nice addition to a vegetable or herb garden . It grows well when started from seeds and should be planted next to cucumbers, but not carrots or tomatoes.

Fresh cut dill is available year round  in most produce sections of super markets and will stay fresh for over a week or more if stored in a glass of water in the refrigerator. it can also be stored in the freezer in a tightly closed container. Frozen dill isn’t as good as fresh dill, but it is still better than the dried dill.

Dried dill seeds are a light brown color and are oval shaped. They give the name and taste to the very popular dill pickle. They are also used on larger items like potatoes or roasts like lamb.

Dill’s name comes from the word dilla, which means stomach soother and insomnia reliever. If experiencing halitosis, chew a sprig of dill, which will sweeten the breath.

There is little waste with a dill plant as even the stem is used to flavor soups like cream of tomato. Breads, crackers and some cookies also use dill as one of their ingredients. Dill can be combined with parsley and used as a garnish too.

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Potatoes, Potatoes and Potatoes!

There are about a hundred ways to prepare potatoes for serving, but most are just a slight variation to the basic three of boiling, baking and frying methods. The time it takes to cook any potato depends on its size or the size that you have cut or shaped it. The same principle applies to the amount of butter, seasoning , cream, milk or other ingredients that you use to prepare it. By adding a small amount at a time, you can achieve the desired taste and consistency. A general and easy rule of thumb is to use long potatoes for baking and frying and round potatoes for boiling.

 

Boiled potatoes can be cooked peeled or in their skins and peeled after cooking using gently boiling water. When they are finished cooking, cover them with melted butter and sprinkle them with fresh chopped parsley and they are called PARSLIED POTATOES or add springs of mint to the water while cooking and serve with diced mint and they are now MINTED POTATOES. Cold boiled potatoes, sliced or diced, blended with a dressing become POTATO SALAD. This mixture can be enhanced by adding hard boiled eggs, celery, diced onions, and bacon bits. Chopped parsley and paprika sprinkled on top can be the finishing touch. Sliced boiled potatoes can be sautéed in butter and these become LYONNAIS POTATOES by adding sautéed onions to them. After boiling, drain and dry them then mash and beat until smooth with the addition of butter and cream or milk and you have a nice MASHED POTATO dish. These can be turned into DUCHESS POTATOES by adding a slightly beaten egg and a drop of nutmeg. Now they can be piped through a pastry bag to form attractive mounds or to be used for a boarder for meat platters. Brush the finished form with melted butter or a little more beaten egg and brown in a 400 degree oven or carefully brown under the broiler. Duchess potatoes that are shaped like a cone or ball and breaded can be deep fried as CROQUETTES or just formed like a patty, dusted with flour and pan fried for an OLD FASHIONED POTATO. Duchess potatoes with Parmesan cheese blended with it and baked in a buttered pan with slices of Swiss cheese melting on top are called PARMESAN POTATOES.

SCALLOPED POTATOES are peeled, uniformly thin sliced, raw potatoes that are baked in a Béchamel sauce until tender. Chopped parsley and bread crumbs can be their topping. When cheese is added to this dish it becomes AU GRATIN. Several different types of cheese can be used, but experiment until you find the one you like best or even a combination of them.

BAKED POTATOES should be scrubbed and dried before baking. The potato should also be punctured to allow the steam to escape so that the potato won’t explode in the oven. Baked potatoes are delicious served with sour cream or butter. Twice baked potatoes are baked potatoes that have had the pulp removed from their skins, doctored and then restored back to the skins and baked again until golden brown. Some suggestions for the doctoring process are to mash them and add eggs (duchess style), a variety of cheese, mushrooms, vegetables like spinach or asparagus tips, diced cooked ham or bacon and to garnish with paprika or chopped parsley. Some restaurants rub bacon fat of the skins of the potato before baking to add more flavor.

FRENCH FRIED POTATOES are normally 1/2 inch thick square potato sticks that are deep fried in grease at 375 degrees until golden brown. The main trick is not to crowd the pan so that the potatoes can brown evenly. This can be accomplished by blanching several batches before the final cooking. Blanching means to cook until tender, but not browning them. That way it doesn’t take long to finish the browning time. Variations are shoestring potatoes, potato sticks, straw potatoes and cut in slices potato chips.

Sometimes just changing the shape of the potato makes it a more attractive dish. Use a melon ball cutter to form raw potatoes balls which can be sautéed and served with chopped parsley, which are called CHATEAU POTATOES. These can be rolled in a little meat glaze before sprinkling on the parsley and they are now called PARISIAN POTATOES. It is not the name of the potato type that is important, but it’s presentation, taste and the way it complements the rest of the meal. It is easy to be creative with potatoes.

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