Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Passing Panzarotti

The Panzarotti 
(deep fried pizza turnover)

I cant for the life of me figure out what happened to the panzarotti. Where did it go? When I was growing up in the Philadelphia area they were everywhere. Deep fried pizza treats that were delicious beyond compare. I remember my dad getting them from an Italian place that only made fried chicken, panzarottis and pizza.  I remember this being damn tasty stuff that these fryer people had. The Jersey shore boardwalks the aroma of panzarottis swimming in the fryers. On a Wildwood beach day I remember the decision between a panzarotti and a taylor pork roll sandwich for lunch being a tough choice. Taylor pork roll is gone from the boardwalk too. But that is another story. 

So like the St Louis's fried brain sandwich the panzarotti is going the way of the dodo. Perhaps because of the diet craze and the all out witch hunt fear and loathing of fat. I dont know? But whatever happened, subsequent generations of Philadelphia residents and tourists will miss out on this once great treat. 

When I want to relive my memories of the panzarotti I make them homemade. It is the only way to get one without going to Italy.


Will make a few large panzarottis or several small ones.

1-1/2 cup flour (preferable bread flour)
1-1/2 cup pastry flour
1 egg
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoon of yeast
1 cup of warm lukewarm water

Add the yeast and sugar to the warm water. Stir and place the cup into a secondary bowl. Let it sit in a warm place for a half hour or so. The yeast will activate and foam up. The secondary bowl will catch the over flow if there is any as the yeast wakes up.

Add the flour to a large bowl with the other ingredients. mix in the egg and oil. Then gradually add the yeasty water. Mix each time after adding a little liquid. After it forms ino a nice ball that is not to wet and not too dry knead it over a few times and form it under into a ball. Then cover it with a damp kitchen cloth and set it in  warm place to rise. After it has risen, "punch it down" and form it into balls about twice the size of a golf ball.  Cover with the damp towel and set them to rise again.


Left over gravy or marinara sauce will work great. If not make plain old pizza sauce. You do have your own pizza sauce recipe, don't you?


Grate some nice mozzarella, provolone, Parmesan, locatelli alone or in any combination. 

When the balls of dough have risen again clean and prepare a section of the counter for rolling. 

*Here is a great cooking tip. When rolling any dough for frying never flour the counter and rolling pin. This will add lots of loose flour that will come off in the oil and burn very quickly and can make your food have a burnt taste. Instead use cooking oil. Pour out a tablespoon of oil or so and rub it around with a paper towel where you will roll. Then with the paper towel wipe down the rolling pin.

Now take te balls of dough one at a time and roll them out to about twice the dimensions of the desired panzarotti size. Take your time and try to make them as round as possible

 Spoon on the sauce taking care not to get it near the edges as tis could interfere with the joint when you close it. A rupture can happen in the oil and the cheese and sauce will come out making a big mess. You can put other fillings as well. Sausage, peperoni, anchovies, spinach, mushrooms. Almost anything, but I would suggest if this is your first time having panzarotti to try it it unfettered with just sauce and cheese. Then try other things later.

Now fold the dough carefully over the top and seal the closure very well. Use a fork to crimp it closed. Set them on a lightly oiled surface while you get the oil ready. 

*Here is another great cooking tip: The best way to get great results with deep frying is to use lard. That is rendered pork fat. We get pork fat from a Mexican grocery store. I use it when I am getting serious about deep frying anything. Pork lard hits the right temperatures and is the right viscosity to get the best frying action. What most people don't realize is that when these conditions are right the food will drink up very little of the fat that it is being fried in. There is a reverse osmosis action so to speak. This isn't the case with vegetable oil so things fried in it tend to be soggy not crispy. 

If you are not going to use lard veg oil is good, peanut oil even better. Heat up over medium high heat an iron frying pan or something with at least an inch of oil in it. Carefully place the panzarottis in the oil with a spatula if need be. Be aware of splashing hot oil! IF you have a deep fryer that allows you to immerse the entire panzarotti that is great. 

 Fry it until it is golden to dark brown and there are blistering bubbles on the doughs surface. 
Very carefully turn it and fry it on the other side. 

Give this a try, I promise you will love The Panzarotti. They are a delicious slice of fading Philadelphia culinary history and my childhood as well.

Maybe one of these days I will post on the Fried Brain Sandwich. 
Something sounds so right about that.    


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Dont Fear The KEFIR


 What is kefir?  Well, simply put it is a fermented milk product that is sort of a distant cousin to yogurt but far different. It is an ancient beverage that is very refreshing and considered by many to be VERY healthy, mostly because of the plethora of pro-biotic bacteria. 

The word kefir, which originated in the Caucasus Mountains, comes from kief which translates to 'good feelings' no doubt from the sense of "well being" one can feel after drinking this beverage.  It is creamy, sour, and slightly effervescent. it can be described as having notes of lemon and beer in both aroma and flavor. Among all of the healthy bacteria contained in kefir from its fermentation process it also has alcohol. Yep alcohol! Depending on the milk that is used and how long it is fermented up to 3 percent alcohol can develop. 
Not to shabby.

 Much like with yogurt or almost any food, the commercial kefir that is available in the store is only a mere shadow of the real thing. The only way to get the real thing is to make it yourself. It is very easy to do and the only thing you will have to get is fresh, healthy kefir "grains" and some fresh milk.You an either get the grains from a friend that may be making kefir at home or you can buy them. I highly recommend  using organic milk at the very least. Commercial milk is bad for your kefir grains and no doubt bad for you. We use only raw milk in our house and it works great for making kefir. 

 Kefir grains that were just strained from a batch and ready for the next

Lets talk for a minute about kefir grains. They are not actually grains in the cereal sense of the word. They are just called grains because of the granular appearance that they take on. They are grain like, kinda? What they are actually is a biological mass made up of protein, amino acids, lipids and polysaccharides. 

These enclosed bodies are created buy a symbiosis of yeast and bacteria which don't ordinary get along in nature. so it is kind of interesting. They not only create the bio-matrix structure they are also  encapsulated within it. So, literally they build this house together and live within it peacefully. Cant we all just get along? 

    Section view of a kefir grain

Kefir is easily made at home like it has been for thousands of years by putting kefir grains into fresh milk in a nonreactive container. Glass or some kind of pottery crock is best. Don't use metal or plastic. The grains need oxygen to do their thing in the fermentation process so don't cover with a lid. Instead cover the glass jar with a some cheese cloth or a towel to keep out dirt or any bugs that may wonder by. Tie it on with some string or use a rubber band. Set it in a dark place at room temperature and 24 hours later you will have a mild kefir, two three or more days, up to a couple of weeks it will get stronger and stronger, more sour, more alcohol content and with more pro-biotic culture. 

 It is important to note that after three weeks there is  the risk that the grains will die because they have exhausted the nutrients they derive from the milk and they essentially starve to death. The kefir grains can be removed to a new batch and the existing batch can be further fermented. I have had kefir in the cabinet for over 4 months and it was still drinkable though very strong and very hard to describe in flavor.One of the reasons kefir grains have been so prized over the centuries is their use in the preservation of milk for storage without refrigeration.

The grains will live indefinitely so changed over with milk on an ongoing basis by straining the finished product and adding new milk they will go on and on making you as much kefir as you desire. If you want to take a break simply put them in a small amount of milk and cover them with a towel tied on top into the fridge. Change over the small of amount of milk they are in every two weeks or so to "feed" them. They will sort of hibernate. When you are ready to make kefir again just take them out and add them to the desired amount of milk. They will wake back up.  

  Kefir under fermentation

When kefir is fermenting it can be kind of scary looking. It separates and even movement can be spotted. Don't be alarmed by this because after it is strained it mixes right back  together into a creamy consistency with a whisk.

After the Kefir has been strained from the grains and whisked back together it can be stored in the refrigerator indefinitely. It is alive. You could actually even store it in the cabinet at room temperature and let it mature. There are ways to make cheese with it!

The best way to enjoy kefir in my opinion is blended with ice and fruit or honey, even maple syrup. You can make just about any kind of kefir shake your imagination can come up with.

Kefir blended with ice, fresh strawberries and honey

There are MANY widely accepted claims about the health qualities locked within kefir.
Certainly one benefit is the pro-biotic bacterial cultures that will build up in your digestive track if you consume it. Your body needs this flora of healthy bacteria to help with digestion and perhaps a good deal of other things.. There is something we are loosing in our world of convenience, sterilization, pasteurization. It gets worse with sanitizers and antibiotics too. They kill bacteria indiscriminately when used and the good guys get killed too. Ever wonder why there is so much lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, peanut and food allergies? When I was a kid everyone ate peanuts. It was almost a requirement. Nobody had a peanut allergy. Maybe the chemicals we put in commercial food is less of a problem than the stuff we have taken out.

 Kefir, it is a super food and has been consumed for thousands of years. It is not just a refreshing beverage, it is a scientific experiment that you can drink!

Give it a try! Let me know if you need some kefir grains. 



Sunday, May 25, 2014

Pain Perdu


Pain Perdu in french means "lost bread". In France like in many countries they don't throw away stale bread. They make something with it. Croutons, bread crumbs, fritattas, the list goes on and on. This is no doubt because the bread is so good they can not bring them selves to throw it in the trash. 

One way to save bread is bread pudding or as they call it in France Pain Perdu. Which by the way is how I believe the American french toast came about. Some cook didn't have any bread pudding left so they faked it with bread in custard pan fried, could be? .There are all manor of bread pudding made all over the world. The variations are endless with the base of stale bread baked in an egg custard. With the addition of nuts, raisins or other fruits you can make a traditional bread pudding that is quite a nice old fashioned desert.  You can change it up from time to time and end up with something completely different. In the Caribbean they make bread pudding with coconut milk custard as one example 

Pictured above is banana bread pudding that I made with leftover plantain bread. The plantain bread was semisweet and had dried fruit and nuts in it. I made a lot of the plantain bread and there inevitably was some left over. You can make bread pudding from not just bread but, banana nut bread and zucchini bread, things like that, corn muffins even cake.

You can follow this recipe to make banana bread pudding even if you are using regular bread, or you can change it just about anyway you want. It is a very flexible concept that you should base on what you have leftover and on hand, including amounts.

Banana Bread Pudding

  • 4 yellow ripe bananas (Peeled and sliced into half inch thick pieces.)
  • 10 to 15 pieces of bread cut into 1 inch squares.
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon of cinamon
  • 1 cup of light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 cup of clarified or regular butter

First off put a pan on a medium burner and get it hot add about a half inch of cooking oil for frying. 
 Fry the banana slices a minuet on each side until they are soft and slightly browned. Remove them to a plate and set aside. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a bake pan wide and deep enough to hold the ingredients. Place the bread slices evenly on the bottom of the bake pan. 

In a large mixing bowl add the rest of the ingredients and whisk them together vigorously. The idea is to not only mix well but get a lot of air in there. 

Pour the custard over top of the bread in the baking dish and then place the fried banana slices evenly over the top. 

Place it carefully into the oven and bake it for 20 mins or so until the custard is set and it is browning on top. A tooth pic stuck in the middle should come out clean. 

Serve it with some maple syrup drizzled or a dollop of whip cream. 

We love bread pudding in our house and we make it all different kinds of ways. 

Whatever you do don't throw that stale bread away!!!!

Sunday, May 4, 2014


 Sure it sounds like some kind of shouted Italian profanity in a mafia movie but it is not. It is a delicious staple dish from Puerto Rico made with fried mashed plantains. It is comparable in its preparation and use to mashed potatoes.  The name sounds African and no doubt it was brought to the Caribbean by the Africans who are known for making several types of mortar and pestle smashed starchy dishes such as fufu.

 Mofungo served with Puerto Rican style pork stew and rice and beans.

Mofungo can be served all sorts of ways, stuffed with meat,  topped with shrimp and garlic sauce or served along side of fried fatty pork to name a few. It is versatile and delicious but most of all it is very easy to make and serves as the perfect accompaniment to any Puerto Rican dish.It is just another great way to enjoy plantains.

To make mofungo you will need some green plantains.It is important that they are green and unripe. If you use ripe yellow plantains it will work but you will end up with a different dish entirely.

Following is a recipe for basic mofungo. 

  • Green plantains. (one per person) 
  • Garlic
  • Salt and pepper
  • Water
  • Lard or butter for adding to the mash
  • Lard or cooking oil for frying. 
First start buy peeling the plantains. Peeling green plantains can be a  bit of a challenge but with a little practice you will be a pro in no time at all. Take a sharp knife and slice through the skin from the stem to the but on two sides. Stick your thumb into the sliced skin and carefully pull it away making sure not to pull away the meat as well.

Then slice the plantains into one inch thick long slices and fry them the same as if you were going to make toastones.

 Fry them for about five min on each side until they are turning slightly brown, then remove them and strain them on a paper towel.

Put them immediately into a bowl and begin to mash them with a potato masher or the back side of a slotted spoon. It is very important to mash them while they are still hot.

Add some salt and pepper, garlic to taste. Also add some pork fat or butter. Mash the mixture until it is coarse and holding together. Also add a bit of water as needed to make a softer finished product.

At this point it is ready to form into a ball, or push it into a small bowl to make the desired shape for serving. At this point you could stuff it with ground beef or pork, even shrimp or crab meat.

I prepare each serving and set them aside while I prepare other dishes for the meal.

When it comes time to serve them, brush it with a little lard or butter and put them in a preheated 400 degree oven until they are warm ad soft nside and starting to get a bit toasty, golden brown on the outside.

Serve them up with your other dishes and you will have a authentic Puerto Rican meal.


                               VIVA LA PUERTO RICO!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Thit Kho To

 Vietnamese Clay Pot Roast Pork

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I absolutely love Vietnamese cooking. It is a simple yet exotic style of cooking that is beyond comparison. I am indeed grateful to our Vietnamese immigrants who brought this grand style of cooking to the US and I want to learn as much about it as I can. Thit Kho To in this cooks opinion is a VERY special dish and yet it is so very simple to make. 

With several not so hard to find ingredients anyone can make this dish with ease. There are a couple of steps that may at first glance seem complicated but don't be put off. With a little practice you can make this authentic old world, melt in your mouth,Vietnamese dish that will amaze your fellow diners.

Thit Kho To is typically made in a clay pot like this one. But don't worry if you don't have one. You can use a dutch oven or any pot with a lid that is oven safe. 

  • 2 lbs boneless pork butt or shoulder cut into two inch square pieces.
  • Water from one green coconut. (You can find them in almost any Asian grocery store.)
  • Three tablespoons of Fish Sauce
 Lets face it, many westerners are turned off by fish sauce. The smell makes it understandable. But when you learn how to use it and what it actually adds to your food you will change your mind. 
  • 4 or 6 scallions chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 cup of caramelized sugar 
Caramelized sugar is a common ingredient in Vietnamese cooking. It is also found in other types of cooking and it is a very useful ingredient. After you make it it stores well in a jar in the cabinet. If you are like me and as with fish sauce you will find yourself using it in other types of cooking as well. Making caramelized sugar is not hard to do at all. You just can NOT walk away from it while it is on the stove.

Place a pot with one cup of water and one cup of sugar on a burner set on high. As it begins to boil be very careful as it becomes fantastically hot and sticky. Bring it to a boil and watch it. I have to reiterate, Do NOT walk away as it will change very quickly and become a burnt mess in no time at all.  It will boil and the water will begin to evaporate.

As the water evaporate it will become just boiling sugar. Gradually it will start to turn brown.

 Very soon after this it will turn dark brown, with hints of red like wine. Then remove it from the burner.
Now very carefully add about a half cup of water. Be very careful because there is a violent reaction when cool water comes in contact with the molten sugar. Once the water is added return it to the heat and stir it until all is blended with no lumps of caramelized sugar.

The finished product will look like this.

 Dark and very reflective. 

Now take what you will for the Thit Kho To and pour the rest in a jar to use later. It will keep forever. Literally. 

To prepare the Thit Kho To place the meat in the pot with all of the dry ingredients and toss it around until the meat is well covered. Pour over the green coconut water, fish sauce and caramelized sugar. 
Cover with a tight fitting lid and put it into a preheated oven at 400 degrees. Cook for about an hour and remove to to check. Turn the meat over if need be put the lid back on and return it to the oven. This time turn it down to about 300 degrees. Cook it for another half hour or so. The meat should be well cooked and tender to the point of almost falling apart. 

Serve it with a salad, jasmine or better yet broken rice and some Jasmine tea.

Grow a pair, and don't fear the FISH SAUCE!