The Kooky things I’ve been up to, Spring always means change…

I had the opportunity to interview Ryan Eleuteri of Charleston Mix Bold n’ Spicy Bloody Mary Mix, and the interview is online here. This is the first of a series of local business articles for Eat This Charleston, and I’m pretty excited about it. Next will be a baking company, cooking supply company, an ice creamery, a creole food business, and cocktails. A lot of these people are transplants and they’ve enriched our local landscape in ways we hadn’t imagined.

In other news, we are in the process of moving to a nearby island next month. This is our first permanent residence, so I am pretty excited about it too. The packing, recycling, donating, scanning and shredding has been quite an effort and the simplest of objects can bring back a host of memories.

Originally what I planned to do with the BK blog in March has been shelved for the future. And what I am doing as March slips away and April arrives will appear in the next few days. But it was inspired by my own recent events rather than calendar events.

‘Sometimes you can celebrate, or ‘kookify’, things that are not typical party occasions

What is…strata?

If you’ve ever wished for a near-effortless breakfast on a weekend morning, strata fits the bill. You do the bulk of the work the night before, refrigerate it. The next morning, get that early cup of coffee and pop it in the oven for a little over an hour. Once the late risers come into the kitchen, it’s typically ready for serving.

Strata is a tasty dish made of layers of egg, bread, and heavy cream. It is combined in a porcelain casserole dish, left to marinate overnight in the refrigerator, then baked for about an hour. For added flavor, the strata can also include vegetable and meat layers.

These are the recipe steps:

  1. Mix together eggs and cream and set aside.
  2. Omnivore option: Cook ham or bacon and set aside, save its drippings in a jar or bowl. Once the drippings have cooled, add them to the egg mixture, or cook the vegetables in step 3 in the drippings.
  3. Saute onions and set aside. Any other desired vegetables are sauteed and set aside.
  4. Cut day old bread into cubes.
  5. Spray or grease a casserole dish, then add a layer of bread cubes at the bottom.
  6. Add a layer of shredded cheese, then meat, then vegetables. Repeat with another layer of bread, then cheese, then meat, then vegetables. Repeat again if needed.
  7. Once the layers have stacked 3/4 of the way up the insides of the dish, the egg and cream liquid is poured over the entire thing.
  8. Place clear plastic wrap or aluminum foil over the dish, and refrigerate it overnight. The next morning the oven is heated to 350 degrees F, and the dish is baked for about 65-80 minutes.
  9. Leave the dish to cool for 15 minutes, then serve immediately.

The term strata means “layers” in Latin; it is sometimes spelled “stratta”.

The earliest recorded strata recipe was for cheese strata, and it’s hard to imagine now, but it was egg-free. When it does contain eggs, strata is much like fritatta or quiche, without eggs, it more closely resembles bread pudding.

Strata was re-popularized by a 1984 cookbook entitled The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook.

Five Reasons To Own a Kooky Sheet, for Non-Kooky Reasons

There are multiple reasons that you should own a kooky sheet that don’t involve kookys. Here are five, but expect more to come. For each one, it is advisable to wrap the kooky sheet in foil for the easiest cleanup. As an added bonus, the foil is recyclable.

1. Roasting garlic whole for use on pizzas or in garlic mashed potatoes. Place full bulbs of garlic with their tops sliced off, with cloves exposed, onto the foil. Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees F.

2. Curing meats in the fridge that are covered in herbs, paste, and non-runny seasonings, or a dry marinade. Cover the kooky sheet in foil, wrap the meat in plastic wrap to hold in moisture to keep it from getting dried out.

3. Roasting vegetables. Drizzled with olive oil and seasoning of your choice, the taste of less- appealing vegetables like broccoli or Brussels sprouts are given a makeover. You would typically bake these vegetable for about 40 minutes at 400 degrees F. If you are not a vegetarian, bacon and it runoff can be drizzled over the vegetables before roasting; if you are vegetarian, a garlic and herb dressing can be drizzled on top, instead.

4. Baking homemade flatbread pizza, using homemade bread, storebought pita , or naan breads. The toppings are all up to you.

5. Slicing bread or desserts. If you don’t have a clean cutting board handy, a kooky sheet can be used for a flat surface to slice bread, brownies, baklava, or any food, with a manual (as in non-electric) knife.

Why is….white asparagus white? How does it get that way?

“White asparagus is white because it was always denied light.”

A process called etiolation (ee-tee-uh-lay-shun) is why white asparagus is white. Etiolation means concealing a plant with dirt or other matter during its entire growth process. As you probably remember from middle school science class, plants need light to create chlorophyll, the fluid that  makes them green. As you may have guessed at this point, white asparagus has no chlorophyll.

White asparagus has a different–some say milder–taste than green asparagus. Both have high vitamin and mineral content, but the green has slightly more nutritional value. The white has higher sugar content and consequently, higher calories.

What are some excellent ways to prepare asaparagus, whether it’s white or green?

Here are some ideas:

  • Steam it in a steel colander for about five minutes
  • Roast it on a cookie sheet for 20-minutes at 400 degrees F, then top with butter and lemon juice, sea salt, or grated parmesan cheese
  • Grill with olive oil and lemon juice
  • Boil it in a pot where the spears can stand vertically, with the tips just over the water surface, with some sugar and salt
  • Fry it in oil

NOTE: You may wish to peel your asparagus before cooking and eating it. Peeling is recommended for the white variety, but with the green, it is optional.

To peel an asparagus spear, hold the spear by its floret (tip) with one hand while guiding the vegetable peeler down the stalk with your other hand. For a visual demonstration, see this video on Youtube.

Be sure to trim or snap off the very bottom of the asparagus before cooking–it is tough and inedible.

What is….colcannon?

Colcannon (pronounced “kawl-can-ohn”) is an Irish specialty that mixes 2 food staples together: mashed potatoes and kale or cabbage. Other ingredients can include leeks, onions, spring onions (aka green onions, scallions, and once they’re chopped–chives), milk, cream, butter, salt, and pepper. Colcannon is a side dish in Irish style pubs in the USA. In its native territories, it is served with Irish bacon or boiled ham.

Colcannon even has its own song, also called “Colcannon”. Irish folk artist Mary Black has a version on her 1999 “Song for Ireland” album.

Irish bacon, like Canadian bacon, is from the back rather than the belly of a pig. I will have to feature in a future post.

We Americans probably don’t think how close we get to colcannon when we order “smashed potatoes” at a restaurant with our steak or burgers. For those that don’t know, American restaurant style “smashed” potatoes are baked potatoes all mashed together with their typical toppings like cheddar cheese, yellow onions or chives, butter, bacon, salt, pepper, and sour cream. Mmm, delectable. The Pioneer Woman Cooks! blog did a demo here. Her cookbook arrives March 13, BTW.

What do vegans put on their potatoes? It’s another question, for another time.

PS-Icing Stamp Kookys, an addendum to the Stamp kookys series…

For someone with little frosting/icing experience, Stamp Kookys gave me a bootcamp tutorial. As promised, I am sharing some notes about my experience.

For decorating these kookys, the following supplies were used:

Just some notes:

  • Betty Crocker cookie glaze is awesome for making white background or white trimmed stamp kookys. If you are imitating a stamp or artwork with a white border, glaze the kookys top surface. Let it set for several hours at room temperature or cool it in refrigerator. Then frost on the background color, and lastly, add the remaining art on top. Add any writing last.
  • If you want to frost a lot of kookys with detailed artwork, mix all the frosting colors first. You can mix up the kookys, but don’t bake them until just an hour before frosting. Cool them, then work on them one by one. Try to work as fast as possible without cooling kookys too many times in the fridge; kookys get limp from the temperature fluctuation and tend to crumble at the edges.
  • Edible markers only work on kookys covered in a hardened glaze; you cannot write on whipped frosting even if it has stiffened in the refrigerator. For most of the stamp kookys, I used a toothpick and carefully applied whipped frosting for all the writing. The only exceptions for Love and Ribbons I used writing gel for the main script artwork. For the tiny dates on stamp kookys, I used black whipped frosting on 2008 All Heart, and a black edible marker on the others.
  • Writing gel never quite sets up solid and matte, so don’t plan on using it and then layering something else on top–it will be a goopy, ruined mess. You might as well mix the two together, then ice them onto the desired surface with a piping bag and tip. Frosting supplies for very small jobs are hard to find; this is why I used toothpicks and “freehanded” it.
  • Whipped frosting takes longer to dry than glaze does,  it cannot be written on because its not solid, just stiffer.
  • If proportioning a design into a smaller space is too hard to “just wing it”, try drawing it in a visible but concealable color using edible ink markers, then frost over those guidelines.
  • Wear clothes you don’t mind getting messy and possible permanently stained, this is a lot like house painting or art painting.
  • Based on this project, it is impossible to make your own hot pink frosting using liquid food coloring–you get hot coral, hot puce, and if you try to deepen it with a little blue, a murky burgundy. Just buy the Wilton paste in an acrylic canister, or use the Cake Mate Glitter Pink in a tube with a hint of red food color and the cupcake icing in the mousse can. I used Betty Crocker. but Wilton also has cupcake icing in a can. Crocker’s are more pastel, Wilton’s are more rich, fluorescent hues.

St. David’s Day: Red dragons, Daffodils and Welsh Rarebit

Would you know what today’s (3/1/12) UK Google doodle was about, without looking up the answer? Most Americans probably wouldn’t, even though quite a few of us have Welsh ancestry over here. Today is St. David’s Day, it is the National Day for Wales and Welsh people.

This blogpost aims to give St. David’s Day its due by discussing its history, food and festivities.

March 1st is the anniversary of David’s death. In his lifetime, this humble monk provided a crucial tip to Welsh soldiers fighting off the Saxons. During battle, it was hard to tell who was the enemy and who was not; both sides were dressed in the same clothes. David advised his fellow Welsh to put a leek on their hat or uniform for differentiation. His suggestion changed the course of the battle, and the Welsh won. This is why the leek is a symbol of Wales.

Running a close second for national symbols is the yellow daffodil flower. “Daffodil” and “leek” are very close words in the Welsh language–leek is “Cenhinen”, while daffodil is Peter’s leek, or “Cenhinen Pedr”. Just looking at the two plants, they both grow from bulbs and have veiny stiff stalks for greenery. They also flourish in colder Northern climates. In the daffodil’s defense, though, it is more attractive, better-smelling, easier to find, and easier to make a corsage/boutonniere out of than a leek!

In addition to daffodils, food, costumes, concerts and parades are a big part of St. David’s Day celebrations in Wales. If you search Youtube for “St. David’s Day”, parades in Cardiff show children and women in red and black plaid, a multitude of Welsh flags featuring the red dragon, people dressed as red dragons, and women and children wearing the native costume.

Some of the foods eaten all week, which was February 25th through March 1 this year, include:

  • Cawl ( pronounced “cowl”, rhymes with “howl”) is a red meat-based broth soup featuring leeks, rutabagas (aka “swedes”), parsnips, carrots, cabbage, celery, and parsley.
  • Laver Cake is a seaweed and oatmeal cake cooked with bacon lard; it is served at breakfast.
  •  Welsh Rarebit is a fondue-like cheese topping poured over crispy toast. It consists of melted Welsh cheddar, dry mustard, worcestershire sauce, paprika, cayenne, eggs, butter, flour and beer.
  •  Welsh Cake is a pan-cooked spice cookie with currants or raisins in it.

I am eager to try making Welsh Rarebit myself this year.

Whatever you end up doing today, have a Happy St. David’s Day (**and all that jazz**)!

TRIVIA: ‘*It’s not unusual* to have Welsh ancestry in the US. As of 2008, the US Census Community Survey reported an estimated 3.8 million Americans had a Welsh surname, and .6% had some Welsh ancestry. ‘Even if you didn’t have recent stats to reference, I think we can all agree that names like Jones and Davis are pretty common.                                                  ‘Being part Welsh myself, I have a dream of visiting Wales in the near future. To quote a film about a famous daredevil, **if you don’t follow your dreams, you might as well be a vegetable**.

PS-You might be wondering what all the asterisks were for in this post. Each one is a riddle about a famous Welsh actor or singer. Can you guess who it is? If not, the link takes you to something they’re famous for–a song, a movie performance, or both.