Oct 26, 2012

National Dessert Month - Part 4: Finger Food Favorites

The final installment of our National Dessert Month celebration concludes our list of America's Top 10 Favorite Desserts with two of the country's most cherished hand-held desserts, accompanied by recipes from our brand new cookbook, Guilty Pleasures.

9.  Chocolate Chip Cookies

The chocolate chip cookie is arguably America’s favorite cookie. The recipe was accidentally created in 1930 by Ruth Graves Wakefield, owner of the Toll House Inn in Wakefield, Massachusetts. While attempting to make a batch of chocolate cookies, Wakefield added bits of chocolate to the batter; however, instead of melting, the chocolate pieces remained in tact, and the chocolate chip cookie was born.

The cookies were wildly popular amongst Wakefield’s customers at the inn, and she went on to publish the recipe in 1936 in her cookbook, Toll House Tried and True Recipes. The recipe was an immediate hit in homes all over America, and the chocolate chip cookie’s popularity skyrocketed.

Our recipe for “The Best of All Chocolate Chip Cookies” is a scrumptious update to the classic cookie, adding oats, cinnamon, and walnuts to the mix, making for some very luxuriant morsels.

10.  Brownies

Perhaps the main reason why Americans are so enamored with brownies is because they possess the softness of a cake and the chewiness of fudge all rolled into a neat little square that packs a huge chocolate punch. Interestingly enough, that is also the main reason why brownies were invented in the first place!

The origin of the brownie dates back to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Bertha Palmer of the famous Palmer House Hotel requested that the hotel chef develop a cake-like dessert that could be easy eaten from lunch boxes for ladies attending the fair. The chef created the first ever brownies, which were an immediate success. To this day, the hotel still produces these brownies, using the same exact original recipe.

Recipes for brownies began to appear in American cookbooks at the turn of the century, and instantly became a nationwide favorite. Hopefully, our recipe for “Best Ever Brownies” will become one of your favorites! 

Oct 25, 2012

National Dessert Month - Part 3: Fruitfully Delicious

Who says that eating fruit has to be boring? Part 3 of our National Dessert Month celebration continues our list of America's Top 10 Favorite Desserts with our country's most beloved fruit desserts, accompanied by recipes from our brand new cookbook, Guilty Pleasures.

7.  Apple Pie 

Apple pie is a widely-acknowledged American icon, embodied in the expression “as American as apple pie.” However, this succulent pastry originated amongst the Europeans some centuries before it appeared in the New World. Recipes for apple pie in England can be traced all the way back to the 14th century. Dutch apple pie can also be traced back to 17th century Holland.

European settlers brought their love of pies with them to the New World. Various fruit pies were immensely popular amongst the colonists, and records indicate that the apple pie was a popular treat in Delaware and Pennsylvania in the late 18th century. In the 20th century, apple pie became a symbol of American pride and prosperity, likely resulting from the pastry’s enduring prominence.

Today, quite a few variations of apple pie are available to tantalize our taste buds, but we are somewhat partial to the Southern fried version. Our recipe for “Fried Apple Pies” is sure to make your mouth water!

8. Cobbler 

Perhaps the saying “American as apple pie” should be altered to say “American as fruit cobbler,” because this classic dessert is as thoroughly all-American as any dish could ever hope to be!

The cobbler’s origins begin with the dawn of American history in the British colonies. The early settlers were unable to make their traditional suet puddings due to a lack of ingredients and cooking tools, so they created a dish involving a stewed filling topped with biscuits or dumplings. This new dish acquired the name “cobbler” due to the top crust resembling a cobbled street.

While the original cobblers were prepared in both sweet and savory varieties, the dish finally became primarily a dessert in the 19th century. Today, there are many variants of the traditional cobbler (fruit filling topped with a thick crust), such as a fruit crumble or a brown betty. Admittedly, we’re rather partial to our recipe for “My Favorite Peach Cobbler,” which is sure to become a favorite of yours as well! 

Oct 24, 2012

National Dessert Month - Part 2: Rich & Creamy

Part 2 of our National Dessert Month celebration continues our list of America's Top 10 Favorite Desserts with some of the nation's most cherished rich and creamy desserts, accompanied by recipes from our brand new cookbook, Guilty Pleasures

4. Ice Cream 

The origins of everyone’s favorite cold and creamy treat can be traced back to China around 200 B.C. The Chinese developed a frozen dish consisting of rice and milk that would later evolve into a more recognizable interpretation of ice cream as the concept spread westward, throughout the Arab world and eventually into Europe. The first documented recipes for ice cream began to appear in England in the 18th century and consisted of a frozen mixture of sweetened cream and fruit.

Quaker colonists can be credited for bringing ice cream to the New World. This dish was immensely popular amongst the colonies and was even a favorite treat of the Founding Fathers’, which perhaps aided the longevity of its popularity. In the 19th century, the United States began mass production of ice cream, solidifying it as a staple amongst American desserts.

Today, you can find just about any flavor or variety of ice cream imaginable in the United States. You can also enjoy ice cream in a multitude of ways, from ice cream cakes to milkshakes, or even our recipe for “A Little Touch of Heaven,” a delicious mixture of ice cream, cookies, and preserves!

5. Crème Brûlée 

Despite what our mothers told us, most of us secretly like to play with our food, and what dessert could possibly be more playful than crème brûlée? You get to use a blow-torch, and then you get you get to break into it with a spoon! That’s pretty wild for such a fancy-sounding dish.

While the exact origins of crème brûlée (which literally translates as “burnt cream”) are unknown, most food historians believe the dessert was developed in either France or Britain. The first documented recipe for crème brûlée appeared in a French cookbook from 1691. The dish eventually became known as “Trinity Cream” or “Cambridge Burnt Cream” in Britain after a specialized version of the dessert was introduced at Trinity College in Cambridge in 1879.

In regards to the dessert in the United States, some records show that Thomas Jefferson enjoyed serving crème brûlée to guests at the White House. The recipe appeared in many magazines and cookbooks throughout the mid-20th century, but the dessert saw an immense resurgence in popularity in the 1980s after it became a special menu item at the famous restaurant Le Cirque in New York.

Since then, many versions and adaptations of this delicious custard have been developed, such as our “Milk Chocolate Banana Creme Brulee,” a modern and luxuriant update to the classic recipe. 

6. Cheesecake

No “favorite desserts” list would be complete without cheesecake, that sinfully decadent treat that makes mouths water everywhere.

The story of cheesecake begins 4000 years ago in ancient Greece. After excavating cheese molds on the Greek island of Samos, archaeologists believe that the concept of the cheesecake began on that very island. Historical records also indicate that cheesecake was served to the original Olympic athletes and was also a popular wedding dish. This early Greek cheesecake, however, differed vastly from our own modern version, consisting of a mixture of flour, wheat, honey, and cheese.

Cheesecake eventually spread to Europe thanks to the Romans, and for several centuries, the Europeans began to create their own variations of the dish, such as Henry VIII’s chef who added eggs, butter, and sugar to the mix. However, it was the United States that transformed the cheesecake into its current form. After the invention of cream cheese in 1872 and its mass production in the early 20th century, cooks began to implement this yummy new ingredient as the main component of cheesecake.

New York-style cheesecake, often considered by Americans to be the most traditional form of the dessert, was created in the early 1900s by Arnold Reuben, who was also the creator of the classic sandwich that bears his name. Reuben concocted the recipe after sampling a cheese pie at a dinner party and attempting to replicate it.

The cheesecake has remained so beloved in the United States that today there exist numerous variants of the dish, such as Turtle Cheesecake and Pumpkin Cheesecake, as well as our own scrumptious “Amaretto Cheesecake,” an elegant and over-the-top dessert that will have your guests immediately hooked. 

Oct 23, 2012

National Dessert Month - Part 1: America's Favorite Cakes

If you are in need of an excuse to indulge, we’ve got you covered. October is National Dessert Month, and there is no better way to celebrate this momentous (and delicious) occasion than with a few decadent morsels from our new Recipe Hall of Fame cookbook, Guilty Pleasures.

Most red-blooded Americans possess a pretty powerful sweet-tooth which has resulted in the dessert becoming somewhat of a national institution. Our desserts are more than mere after-dinner treats. We take our desserts seriously, and in doing so, the United States has catapulted a vast array of sweet indulgences into culinary stardom.
To celebrate National Dessert Month and to inspire you to whip up some all-American classics for friends and family, we have compiled a list of America’s Top 10 Favorite Desserts, which are truly the best of the best.

Part 1 of our Top 10 list features America's Favorite Cakes: 

1.    1. Chocolate Cake

While many people consider it to be their all-time favorite cake, not many are sure when the first chocolate cake was concocted. However, it was likely created after Dr. James Baker discovered a technique for making cocoa powder in 1764. A few years later, he established Baker’s Chocolate Company and began to sell his chocolate, earning him a place in history as the founder of America’s oldest chocolate company. Even today, Baker’s chocolate can be found in kitchens all over the country.

Over time, many scrumptious variants of the chocolate cake have evolved in the United States, such as German Chocolate Cake – and yes, you read that correctly; German Chocolate Cake is a purely American institution! The recipe was developed by a Texas housewife who incorporated Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate (named after Sam German, who developed a dark baking chocolate for Baker’s in 1852) into the mix, and the cake became an instant hit.

For one of the best traditional chocolate cakes you’ve ever tasted, try our recipe for “My Chocolate Cake,” and you’ll understand the title – because you won’t want to share!

2. Carrot Cake

Perhaps the reason why carrot cake is such a popular dessert in the United States is because consuming vegetables with our cake makes us all feel a little less guilty. Regardless, it’s still a mighty tasty treat.

Surprisingly enough, carrots have been used as an ingredient in cakes since the Middle Ages. Because sweeteners were so costly and scarce in medieval Europe, cooks would add carrots to sweeten desserts, taking advantage of the carrot’s naturally high sugar content.

Many people credit rationing in World War II Britain for inspiring the revival of the carrot cake, as carrots were one of the few widely available foods. In the United States, however, the cake became immensely popular around the 1960s as a novelty item and has remained one of Americans’ favorite desserts ever since. If you’d like to discover why, try making our recipe for “The Best Carrot Cake Ever,” a rich, moist cake topped with decadent cream cheese icing.

3. Cupcakes

Cupcakes have remained an immensely popular treat in the United States for a number of years, and for good reason. There’s just something so satisfying about the special feeling evoked by having a small, personal-sized cake all to yourself.

The cupcake was likely developed in America in the late 18th century, as the first appearance of a recipe for tiny cakes was in Amelia Simmons’s 1796 book, American Cookery. The term “cupcake” can also be traced back to 1828, documented in a cookbook by Eliza Leslie. These delicious morsels remained a common treat in the United States for many years as well as Britain, where they are known as “fairy cakes.”

In recent years, the cupcake has become more than a mere fanciful dessert, evolving into a full-fledged industry. Throughout the first decade of the new millennium, cupcakes experienced a massive resurgence in popularity as cupcake shops began to open up all over the United States. Since then, there have been numerous cookbooks and even television shows devoted entirely to the cupcake appearing nationwide.

For a unique twist on this American favorite, try our recipe for “Self-Filling Chocolate Cupcakes” that feature a simple and scrumptious surprise inside!

Oct 9, 2012

United Tastes of America: Delaware's Culinary Tradition

As one of the Mid-Atlantic states, Delaware is of course renowned for its fantastic seafood. However, there’s so much more surprising information about Delaware’s culinary history than meets the eye.
Delaware was settled by the Dutch and the Swedes early in 17th century and fell under English rule in the latter half of the century. A number of German settlers also populated the area, providing the colony with even more cultural diversity. All of these nations have enjoyed a culinary tradition of rich and hearty foods which ultimately impacted the cooking practices of Delaware. Meat and dairy products were widely consumed as well as sweet pastry items, often incorporating the tantalizing fruits of the New World.
Chicken is without a doubt the most important fowl in Delaware. Now, to eliminate confusion, while Delaware is known as the Blue Hen State, the Blue Hen Chicken’s historical association with the state isn’t a result of its widespread consumption. Rather, the Blue Hen was used for cock fighting, a sport frequently enjoyed amongst the soldiers of the American Revolution. The Blue Hen Chicken continues to be bred in Delaware today and is the official state bird.
The most important chicken in regards to Delaware’s culinary tradition is the broiler chicken. The broiler chicken industry began in Delaware in 1923 with a woman named Cecil Steel who found herself with an overwhelming surplus of young chicks. In order to eliminate this problem, Steel decided to butcher the chickens at a young sixteen weeks, meaning that the chickens would be smaller and able to cook more quickly. Steel called her chickens “broilers” because of the quicker cooking time, and they became a huge hit. So today, chicken remains one of the most widely consumed foods in the state of Delaware.
   Peaches are a particularly important crop for Delaware. The area’s early Scandanavian settlers were highly intrigued by this new and delicious fruit and began to grow peach orchards. Peach production only increased over time, and in the late 19th century, Delaware was the biggest peach-producing area not only in the United States, but also in the entire world. Unsurprisingly, peaches have become a primary staple of Delaware cuisine, and peach pie is one of their most beloved desserts.
Due to its coastal location, the fishing industry in Delaware is huge, making seafood a state-wide favorite. Delaware’s preferred fruits of the sea are weakfish, the state fish, and crabs. Weakfish is also known as Sea Trout and is a popular fish along the entire U.S. Atlantic coastline. The fish can grow to be very large (one meter long with a weight of 19 pounds!) and provides a significant amount of food to Delawarians. Crabs, however, are a particular favorite in Delaware, the blue crab being one of their most harvested and consumed foods. No beach party in Delaware would be complete without steamed crabs and ice cold beer!

Mar 20, 2012

Fearless Risotto

Simply hearing the word “risotto” is enough to strike fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned chefs.  This dish is renowned for being complicated and temperamental with the slightest mistake turning an elegant masterpiece into a pot of starchy mush.  Truth be told, however, risotto is actually not that complicated to master.  

For those who are unfamiliar with risotto, it is a creamy Italian rice dish, and making risotto is one of the primary methods of cooking rice in Italy.  Think of it as a savory stove-top rice pudding, if you will.  The most wonderful aspect of this dish is that it is incredibly adaptable, and many different varieties of risotto can be made.  It is a wonderful year-round dish as well; it can be made rich and hearty in colder months and light and refreshing in warmer months.  It can also be served as a side dish or as a main course – any type of seafood makes a wonderful addition for a main-course risotto!

In recent years, risotto has gained popularity in the United States, mainly as a staple in many fine restaurants.  Unfortunately, though, many home cooks fear even attempting this dish due to its complexity.  While risotto does require an ample supply of patience to prepare, the steps to making this Italian delicacy are actually quite simple, contrary to popular belief.  All that is required of the home cook are the proper ingredients and knowledge of the proper steps.

First, let’s talk rice.  Not just any rice can be used for risotto.  You need to start with a starchy, short-grained rice.  The most typical variety of rice used for this dish is called Arborio rice, which fortunately these days can be found in most supermarkets and is pretty affordable.  In a pinch, some varieties of short-grained Asian rice (sushi rice, for instance) can be used. 

Next, you must consider wine.  Some types of risotto use red wine, but for the risotto that is typically prepared in the United States, white wine is preferred.  Don’t worry about trying to find a fancy, expensive wine; any old dry white wine will do (Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio have served me well in the past).  

You will also need a good amount of broth or stock, usually chicken or vegetable.  Finally, there’s the Parmesan cheese.  You may want to go for a higher quality Parmesan than the stuff in the shaky-bottle, but don’t feel like you have to break the bank with top-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Any “good” grated Parmesan cheese will do.

Now, let’s discuss the cooking technique.  First, I recommend pre-measuring all of your recipe’s ingredients beforehand, as it tends to make the process significantly easier.  In regards to the proper cooking vessel, all you really need is a large pot – I’ve found that an enamel-coated dutch oven is perfect.  You will want to have your broth or stock already heating on the stove in a different pot, as it needs to be warm when you add it later. 

All risotto recipes begin with chopped onion (and occasionally garlic) cooked on low to medium heat in butter or olive oil until soft and translucent.  Then, you add the rice, and give it a good stir to make sure all the grains are coated in the cooking fat.  Next, add the wine, and cook the rice until the wine is completely absorbed. 

At this point, you will want to raise the temperature to medium or medium-high heat. This is when you begin to add the broth or stock.  Add one or two ladlefuls at a time, and as with the wine, cook until the liquid is absorbed.  Give the mixture a few good stirs every now and then to ensure that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom, but don’t feel the need to stand there and continually nurse it.  Then, you simply continue adding the broth or stock, one or two ladlefuls at a time, until the rice has reached a creamy consistency and is tender to the bite.  Once you’ve reached this point, add your Parmesan cheese, and your risotto is complete!

So while this cooking process can be a bit tedious, you can see that all in all, it’s not that hard! Now, armed with the proper knowledge of this delicious dish, you can begin the adventure of making risotto right in your own kitchen.

We have provided two risotto recipes from our database for your cooking enjoyment.  The first is a variation on a traditional risotto called a “risotta.”  If you are still nervous about attempting a true risotto, this recipe is perfect for testing the culinary waters.  Skillet Chicken Risotta is a very easy, flavorful, hearty dish using simple ingredients that are simmered until completion.

The second recipe, Maryland Risotto, is a more traditional version of a scrumptious seafood risotto.  This recipe includes saffron and tomatoes to give it a vibrant flavor, as well as succulent shrimp and crabmeat, putting this dish over the top!