For the Love of Granitas

Strawberry Granita from Vaccaro’s in Hunt Valley, MD (Photo Credit: Monica Johnson, MultiCulturalCookingNetwork.net.

In Baltimore, the undefeated standard for a cannoli is Vaccaro’s. And that’s where I went, one warm summer night for a nice little treat. Of course I got the cannoli, but I also saw so many lovely flavors of Granita…I just had to try one.

Yum! Yum and Yum! It didn’t disappoint. As my tastebuds had a flavor party, it really reminded me of my childhood, growing up in Brooklyn eating Italian Icees from the pizzeria. Granitas are Sicilian in origin, but are available throughout Italy. The semi-frozen dessert is made from sugar, water and usually a wild card fruit ingredient or flavoring.

The texture is coarser than sorbet because of the way it’s frozen and manipulated during the freezing process. The wonderful thing about granitas is that it’s so easy to make. With just three ingredients, I took my shot at making a watermelon granita for myself (using frozen watermelon).

Strawberry granita from Vaccaro's in Hunt Valley, MD.
MCCN Editor, Monica Johnson’s watermelon granita. (Photo Credit: Monica Johnson)

Watermelon is just one choice. Let me Bubba Gump some of the other options: wild strawberry, mandarin orange, mint, jasmine and granitas made with any number of juices. Lemon juice is a popular choice. Chocolate granitas are also a popular choice that originated from the port city of Catalina, Italy.

Check out this watermelon granita recipe from LiveEatLearn.com.

The “Zemo” Global Snack Effect

Don’t take candy from strangers! Baron Zemo tempts child with Turkey Delight

“Turkish delights…they’re irresistible!” And with those words we go down the rabbit hole with Marvel character’s Baron Zemo on episode 4 of The Falcon and Winter Soldier. It appears his words were correct (Spoiler Alert) as he used the snack to lure a poor little girl into giving him information. Okay, so yes this is still the Multi Cultural Cooking Network. It’s not The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode review. However, upon viewing the episode, I started to wonder about various snacks from around the world.

Turkish Delight
Turkish delight (Photo Credit: Pixabay)

As you might imagine the origins of Turkish delight candy is from Turkey. The Turks call it lokum or lokma. The confections are made from a gel of starch and sugar. It is infused with fragrant flavors like rosewood, lavender, lemon and Bergamot orange. Many versions include fruit or nuts. They are also used as wedding favors.

Make your own Turkish delight with this recipe from the Spruce Eats.

Halva
Halva (Photo Credit: Pixabay)

Let’s travel to Northeastern Africa and the Middle East to find our next snack. Halva is widely eaten in Egypt and countries like Iran, Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan among others. However, it’s also eaten in European countries like Greece as well.

Halva is a Middle-Eastern sesame candy usually made from tahini (sesame paste). The recipe will either be nut/seed-based or flour-based. Traditionally, the nut/seed-based halva, which is the more common version, is sesame-seed based and made with heavy cream, sugar or honey.

Halva can also be made from sunflower seeds as well; although, this is more a European way of making it. A flour-based halva recipe may use flour/semolina, butter, sugar and water. But keep in mind, recipes change from country to country or region to region. In modern times, ingredients like cocoa, pistachio and other dried nuts or dried fruits may be included. Make your own halva! Try this FromtheGrapevine.com recipe.

Prawn Crackers

Southeast Asia is full of interesting food and prawn crackers is one of them. Prawn crackers are made by mixing prawn, tapioca flour and water. This mixture is rolled out, steamed, and cut in thin slices, and to eliminate the moisture, it is often sun-dried before deep frying this mixture in extremely hot oil.

Because it is prepared with tapioca flour, the snack is gluten-free and grain-free. It is a light, aromatic, fluffy snack. When homemade, you can avoid some of the additives and colors that are added.

Prawn crackers’ history runs deep. We’re talking 9th and 10th century deep! The snack is mostly associated with the Malaysian and Indonesian cultures. It’s known in Indonesians as krupuk udang and in Malaysia as keropak.

These crackers are eaten in China, where they tend to color them with colors like white, pink and blue. Vietnam calls it Bánh phồng tôm, which is made of ground shrimp, sometimes mixed with cuttlefish (which is touted to have a taste somewhere between octopus and squid), arrowroot flour, tapioca flour, onion, garlic, sugar, fish sauce, cracked black pepper and salt.

The prawn cracker is not widely available in the states or Europe, but may be served in some Asian restaurants in the U.S. and Europe.

Variety is the spice of life

William Cowper (poet)

Even though this article was inspired by a villainous Marvel comic character’s love for Turkish candy, It’s still cool to learn about different snacks from around the world. You aren’t going to find all of them at your local international store. (Although, you should go in, support and expand your horizons.) But what if you could not only learn about the snacks but receive international snacks as well?

In doing a little research, I found a website called SnackCrate.com, which ships a supply of snacks over 20 full-sized snacks from countries around the world. The service is for a fee monthly.

It ships with a fun-fact booklet, games and a music playlist. How cool is that for a gift to give to your little niece, nephew or your favorite foodie? Granted, these snacks are going to be more along the lines of junk food, but come on…junk food is our guilty pleasure every once in a while. Find out more about Snack Crate on their website.

At the time of this article, Snack Crate listed some of the following snacks on their website:

Don Tacos

A Japanese take on Mexican tacos

Kamekame

A chewy gummy candy inspired by Japanese ramune soda. It starts out with a punchy sour taste and is followed by a fizzy sweetness.

Jammie Dodgers

A shortbread biscuit with a fruity jam filling that’s been around for over 50 years in the U.K.

Maple Lollipops

A quintessential Canadian lollipop, made with 100% pure maple syrup.

Argentina’s Empanadas de Vigilia

Argentina is really well known for their beef; however, you’d be surprised what you can find out with a little digging. When perusing around the world wide web, I wanted to find out if Argentina had an asado for Easter (traditional barbeque event in South America) like the Christmas Asado. And what do you know? They do.

We won’t get into all those details. That’s another article for another day, but my big “get” was that the beef-loving country loves their seafood too, especially during the Lenten season. A large percentage of Argentinians identify as Catholics so the 40 day period during Lent is meatless. All the more reason to switch out the beef/pork in their empanadas and make the traditional empanadas de vigilia.

The empanadas de vigiilia are meatless and will include options like seafood. Tuna or white fish are popular and some recipes may have veggies like spinach. A real favorite is the empanada with Roquefort, which is a blue mold cheese from France, made from sheep’s milk. The Roquefort empanadas are blended with walnuts for a savory treat.

By Thesupermat – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39709529

The empanadas de vigilia are typically eaten before Christmas and it is also traditionally eaten before Easter Sunday. Now, when Easter Sunday comes around, it’s time to grab the whole slab of beef. Meatless is over! But more than that..it’s a celebration of Resurrection Sunday and the Easter asado is on! (I told you I’m not writing about that now.)

Argentine Atun Empanadas Recipe (Tuna Empanadas)
Photo Credit: Flickr
Ingredients

1 tablespoons oil
onion, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cans (5oz each) tuna
1 tomato, crushed
10 empanadas tapas (discs) for baking (preferably puff pastry dough)
1 egg, beaten

See the full recipe on Que Rica Vida

What In the World is for Breakfast? (Japanese Soufflé Pancakes)

What in the world is for breakfast? Pancakes are in my top 5 favorite foods ever. So when you say pancakes, crepes or flapjacks, I’m definitely listening. When you say Japanese soufflé pancakes, you have my whole ear. Japanese soufflé pancakes are not new, but they have become all the rage in Japan in the last several years. The thick and airy soufflé pancakes are often eaten for breakfast and for dessert as well.

If you are wondering how the soufflé pancake is different from your everyday, normal, on top of the griddle pancake. The difference is mostly in the treatment of the egg. In the recipe for soufflé pancakes, egg whites are whipped into a meringue and added into the pancake mixture. Meringue isn’t the easiest to make; however, trial and error is how some of the best recipes have been made.

Japanese souffle pancakes are on some restaurants menus in the U.S. One such establishment is Gram Cafe and Pancakes in San Francisco, which has a vast array on their menu (including a matcha, hazelnut chocolate and a tiramisu pancake). Do a quick Google search and you’ll find where Japanese souffle pancakes are offered near you. In the meantime, check out the Just One Cookbook website to learn how to make the Japanese soufflé recipe yourself. See the ingredients below.

Ingredients

2 large eggs (50 g each w/o shell)
1 ½ Tbsp whole milk
¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ cup cake flour (If you’re using a cup measurement, please follow this method to measure. Otherwise, the amount of flour tends to be more than you need. You can make your Homemade Cake Flour.)
½ tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc) (for greasing the pan)
2 Tbsp water (for steaming)

Three ‘I’m Not Cooking Today!’ Recipes

I wouldn’t say I’m dramatic when I’m suffering from a cold, but let’s just say my energy is down; therefore, I may not want to communicate with my stove. So my recent visit to cough and sniffle land got me thinking that I need to have some additional “I’m not cooking today!” recipes on deck.

The recipes wouldn’t just be for the occasional sick day; the purpose would also extend to the “I just don’t wanna” day as well. Now, I’m not advocating being lazy but, sometimes you just need a day. I found a few goodies so feel free to add these to your list too.

Antipasti Salad

The Italians had it right. What a way to start off the meal! Just get some fresh veggies, cured meat, cheese, olives and a vinaigraitte and your in business. Here’s a recipe for antipasti salad from Inforum.com.

Photo Credit; Flickr
Pesto and Prosciuitto Zucchini Linguini

When the warmer weather hits, the last thing you want is to be bogged down with the heaviness of carbs. Pick up some zucchini linguini or use a spiralizer. Here’s the best part…you don’t have to cook it. Keep it light with this Pesto and Prosciuitto Zucchini Linguini recipe from Tasty.co.

Photo Credit: Arctic Peninsula (Flickr)
Cucumber Avocado Blender Soup

Gazpacho gets a lot of the shine but there are other cold soups you can enjoy as well. What happens when that fresh crisp taste of cucumber blends with the creamy, earthy, buttery taste of avocado? You get a rich, but not too heavy, flavor palette. Try the Cucumber Avocado Blender Soup recipe from Purewow.com.

Photo Credit: s’4’s World (Flickr)

LocalBites Puts Live Stream Cooking Classes in Your Hands

Host or post! The explanation could be a little more nuanced but that’s a good starting point to describe what the website, LocalBites, does. It allows you to host your own livestream cooking class or post your signature recipes along with the “where to” information to find the ingredients locally. It also incorporates live stream cooking classes from over 200 professional chefs.

It’s all very social…a point, which is hammered home on the website. The aim is simply “cooking made social.” LocalBites founder, Hiroshi Tashiro, is very passionate about this and understands the desire and motivations for people to learn new recipes.

Originally from Japan, Tashiro admits that upon moving to the U.S. he has become very interested in learning how to make American recipes. He also noticed that he was not the only one who was interested in stepping out of their personal cultural recipe zone. He had also been asked about his knowledge of Japanese recipes by some of the people in his circle.

Visionaries see a need then work out the solution to meet the need, and that’s how LocalBites was born. Tashiro calls it a “social experience.” The website is just the first step in connecting people through food, culture and proximity. Check out the video to learn more about Tashiro’s future plans for the site, how to post recipes or host a live stream class on LocalBites.

North East’s Peaceful Retreat

Before I start this article, let me say that I am totally and unabashedly biased. I absolutely love going to Sandy Cove Ministries in North East, MD. It’s a Christian retreat that offers an opportunity for people to enjoy the sights of Maryland’s beautiful peninsula. The property offers three square meals in buffet style. Most importantly, Sandy Cove Ministries is a place where connecting with Jesus is the ultimate goal.

In between connecting there are activities galore to partake in such as kayaking, canoeing, zip lining, camping, finding a quiet place to study or read the word of God. There is even a prayer room. If you love vegging out…just claim one of the many Adirondack chairs overlooking the beautiful piers and water. And if you want to attend a Sandy Cove event, see their calendar.

Grab your family! Make it a girls or a guys weekend or go by yourself! Here’s another great perk! If you are in the military, Sandy Cove offers a program called Operation Oasis for those who have been recently deployed. For more information, about Operation Oasis, visit the Sandy Cove Ministries website.

Maryland’s Smith Island Cake

(Photo Credit: Flickr)

It’s the official cake of Maryland and it’s a beaut! The Smith Island cake is a multi-layered cake, which ranges between six to ten thin layers frosted in between. A well-made Smith Island cake has pencil thin layers that are executed flawlessly.

Thin layers of cake used in the making of a Smith Island cake. (Photo Credit: Smith Island Baking Company Facebook page)

The original version of Smith Island cake has a chocolate buttercream frosting. During the 1800’s when this dessert was sent out with the watermen, it was frosted with fudge to increase the longevity of the dessert. Now there are many different variations of the Smith Island cake like red velvet, double chocolate, vanilla buttercream and many others.

Smith Island cake is named after Smith Island, Maryland, an island on the Chesapeake Bay that is only accessible by boat. If you don’t happen to have a boat on hand, never fear, there is a a ferry that departs from Crisfield, Maryland. Although the cake is made in other places in Maryland, the most popular place to get the Smith Island cake is on Smith Island at the Smith Island Baking Company.

If you are feeling like your chances of getting a slice of Smith Island cake is highly improbable, don’t count yourself out yet. The renowned bakery delivers nationwide. If you would like to make a Smith Island cake, see the ingredients and recipe below.

Cake Ingredients

2 cups sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, chunked
5 eggs
3 cups unbleached flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
1 cup evaporated milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup water

View the frosting ingredients and the full Smith Island Cake recipe on the Maryland Office of Tourism website.

When Harry Met Sally over Paprikash

Sometimes I’m good at looking up an unfamiliar word when I hear it, but other times not so much. When I heard the word “paprikash” in the scene from When Harry met Sally—you know the conversation about too much pepper in the Paprikash—I just took it as a funny conversation and just let it lie. (I know all of you When Harry met Sally fans probably caught that reference.) So when I was looking up foods from different cultures, I settled on Hungary. That’s when I ran into paprikash. I will admit, it took a minute or two to funnel through the useless trivia in my mind to remember where I first heard the word. And imagine my nerdy surprise to connect the dots after all these years.

Paprikash comes from the Hungarian word for paprika. The dish can be cooked as a stew or sauce but some of the principle ingredients include meat, onions, sour cream, Hungarian peppers are also used, and most importantly, don’t spare the paprika. No, really! You know how you just dash it over your deviled eggs and then set in the cabinet for another few months? That’s not how they use it in Hungary. It’s their national spice and there are eight grades of Hungarian paprika.

A true Paprikash will get its red color from the abundance of fresh paprika but often times in America, tomatoes or tomato paste is used. Chicken is the most popular of the Hungarian paprikash recipes. In many cases, the chicken is quartered and served with Nokedli, which is similar to German spaetzle.

Photo Credit Wikipedia

Paprikash is also served as beef, veal and vegan options as well. So whatever you do, stick with the peppery paprikash, you can partake in the pecan pie later. I had to throw in just one more When Harry Met Sally reference to justify the name of the article.

See the video below for a quick recipe for chicken paprikash from Hungarian food writer and author of the Budapest Bites, ZSofia Mautner.

Fun Fact

Another movie reference to paprikash can be found in Captain America: Civil War. It happens when Vision makes paprikash for Wanda to lift her spirits.

The Restaurant Dessert Menu Dilemma

First things first, I’m not complaining. Many restaurants do a great job with their menu offerings. Some are niche, some are all things to all people. Whatever’s clever! However, so much of what’s offered on dessert menus are not clever. It’s often downright trite. And I wonder why your basic neighborhood, and chain restaurants for that matter, don’t up their game with a different assortment of desserts.

Again, not looking to complain but seriously there is only so much apple crisp, fudge brownie with vanilla ice cream, apple pie a la mode, carrot cake or cheesecake one girl can stand. I would love to see something lively, fresh and new on a restaurant dessert menu. I would love to have something I can be excited about for that after-the-meal coffee and dessert conversation with friends. Here’s the other thing, I don’t want to have to dine at a $50 per plate restaurant for a better dessert option to be open to me.

Photo Credit: Engin Akyurt, (Pixabay)

Did I mention I’m not complaining? Just sort of thinking out loud. You understand. It’s a dilemma; nonetheless, my head is not so far up in the clouds that I don’t realize that there are reasons for these decisions.

Maybe, I’m an anomaly. Maybe customers are just fine with their choices; therefore, there’s no need to make any changes or dump much needed funds for the sake of creativity or trying something new. Mais non, mes chéries, I don’t give myself that much credit. There are millions upon millions of people who enjoy a good dessert and a good portion adopt the name “foodie” so I’m sure this comes all the way down to finances.

The restaurant business is hard enough as it is without your demanding customer wanting you to satiate their out of the ordinary dessert cravings. In fact, a 2015 Washington Post article by Roberto Ferdman stated, “There are many problems with dessert, but it all starts with one pretty simple truth: The restaurant industry is a place of razor thin margins, and dessert tends to offer one of the thinnest.”

So what’s the solution? Who knows? After all, nobody wants to place more burdens on overburdened restaurants. Some restaurants may decide more dessert choices could be a game-changer. A 2019 article by The Fork titled 10 Desserts Ideas to to Add to Your Menu, gives some great ideas.

Perhaps, for those who really want to enjoy a bonafide taste of extraordinary, a more direct approach is needed. You could skip the dessert menu for the more extensive options found at your local bakery. It might help spread the wealth when it comes to the bottom line.

A good local bakery will have more sweet treasures than you could dream of. Just think of the tarts, the tortes, the macarons, the eclairs, the cupcakes, the struedel, the streusel and so much more.

Photo Credit: Photo of bakery by Sony Ilce (Pixabay)

Of course, you can’t bring your own dessert to a restaurant but if you plan ahead, you can do coffee and dessert from the comfort of your own home and even invite your friends. I don’t know about you but I’m thinking this could work out for everyone.