Jim Angleton, who put his stamp on some of South Florida’s best-loved homespun restaurants like Jimmy’s Eastside Diner, The Ranch House, Smitty’s and Neighbors, wanted to share a variation on tsoureki, the Greek Easter bread that I recently featured.
The recipe I use calls for mahlepi, a spice with citrusy flavor. Angleton, however, flavors his tsoureki with masticha, a liqueur with a taste similar to anise, made from the resin of an evergreen that grows in Greece.
We are both right: You can find as many recipes using mahlepi as you can using masticha, so it is simply a matter of taste and tradition. Perhaps it depends upon the region of Greece in which the bread is made; areas closer to Italy or Turkey may be more likely to use mahlepi.
While we were chatting, Angleton took me back to a Cook’s Corner column from 1990.
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“You published my Chocolate Mess dessert, and for three months the orders at Jimmy’s flew in for entire pans of it. My gosh, I still remember the power of Linda ...”
I couldn’t resist passing along the recipe again — as good now as it was then.
Angleton certainly was way ahead of culinary obsessions. He didn’t want tap water in his creations (“too many chemicals”) and used butter with a low water content and chocolate high in cocoa butter.
Reader question: Dulce de Leche
Q. For many many years my mother made dulce de leche by boiling a whole can of sweetened condensed milk in a pot of water, letting it cool some, and then taking the lid off with a can opener. But now the can has a pop off lid and she is afraid it will not work right. I told her you would know the answer.
A. For many years, even before the new pop-off lids became popular, the producers of sweetened condensed milk have been warning consumers not to make dulce de leche by boiling the whole can. Though our mothers always did it that way, the safest method is to simply bake the milk in the oven and avoid any explosions or steam burns. (You can also do it in the microwave, but I like the texture and caramelization better from baking.) Making caramel this way is incredibly easy — it needs no added ingredients or careful monitoring — and once you’ve made it you’ll be addicted.
You’ll be tempted to just grab a spoon and eat it like a pudding, but you can use the caramel as a dip for just about anything — and of course it is wonderful ladled still warm onto ice cream or rice pudding. By the way, the method works just as well with the reduced-fat version of sweetened condensed milk, that’s what I used to make the batch in the photo here.
I love learning new tricks that help make dishes healthier, so found the just-released 400 Calories or Less cookbook by Sara Wells and Kate Jones (Shadow Mountain, $21.99) intriguing. “Eating is about satisfying a hungry mind, not just a hungry body,” they write. “We’re programmed to want to feel satisfied after eating food. So our book is not just low-calorie recipes; it’s about providing ingredient alternatives to traditional foods . . . to trigger the brain and body into a perfectly satisfied feeling.”
The authors, who write the popular blog Our Best Bites, looked for ways to make low-calorie meals that don’t scream deprivation. In the pasta dish here, for example, the “trick” is using pasta-size strips of zucchini to cut back on the amount of fettuccine needed to make a full bowl, and mixing fat-free cream cheese with the high-flavor profile of real parmesan so the sauce does not taste like diet food.
I did not mention the dish was a healthy version of a fat- and calorie-dense Alfredo when I served it, and no one seemed the wiser.
Send questions and responses to LindaCiceroCooks@aol.com or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.
Zucchini Ribbon Pasta with Creamy Lemon-Basil Sauce
8 ounces fettuccine noodles
1 medium zucchini
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
10 ounces grape tomatoes (about 2 cups)
3-4 cloves finely minced garlic
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
3 1/2 ounces fat-free cream cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 cup loosely packed basil, chopped
1 tablespoon or more fresh lemon juice
Cook pasta according to package instructions. While pasta is cooking, cut ends off zucchini and slice along the length, cutting the zucchini into about 1/8-inch slices. Cut each of those slices into long pieces, about the same size as the fettuccine. Set aside. Heat a medium size skillet to medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add tomatoes and a dash of kosher salt and a few cracks of black pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes, until tomatoes start to burst and look blistered. Remove from pan and place in a small dish. Cover and set aside.
Add remaining olive oil to the pan and add garlic. Stir constantly on medium-low heat for about 30 seconds. Add chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and use a spatula to scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Simmer 1-2 minutes and then reduce heat to low. Place cream cheese in a microwave-safe bowl and soften 20-30 seconds, until it can be easily stirred smooth. Ladle a couple spoonfuls of the chicken broth mixture into the cream cheese and stir to combine. Once the mixture is smooth, add it to the pan with the remaining broth mixture and whisk until smooth and creamy. Add parmesan, basil and lemon juice and stir to combine. Taste sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. (Lemon lovers can also squeeze in extra lemon juice at this point.)
When pasta is just about done, add zucchini strips to pot (so they’re cooking with the pasta). Boil about 2 minutes, or until tender. Drain zucchini and pasta and combine with sauce. Gently toss in tomatoes. Garnish with additional basil if desired. Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 329 calories (18 percent from fat), 6.7 g fat (2.5 g saturated, 2.7 g monounsaturated), 12 mg cholesterol, 17 g protein, 50 g carbohydrate, 3.2 g fiber, 380 mg sodium.
Source: “400 Calories or Less,” by Sara Wells and Kate Jones (Shadow Mountain, $21.99).
Smitty’s Chocolate Mess
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 cups spring water
4 ounces fine-quality unsweetened chocolate
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
7 ounces fine-quality unsweetened chocolate
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Pinch of salt
4 medium, ripe bananas at room temperature
3 cups heavy whipping cream
Powdered sugar to taste (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup Hershey's chocolate syrup
Butter and flour a 9-by-13-inch or two 8-inch cake pans. To make the cake: In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the white and brown sugars with the water. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Pour into large bowl. Add chocolate and butter and let sit. After 20 minutes, when slightly cooled, stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat the eggs into the chocolate mixture at medium speed until combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat at medium speed until smooth. Pour into prepared pan. Bake about 25 minutes at 350 degrees, or until top springs back when pressed. Cool the cake in the pan for 25 minutes, then invert to cool completely on wire rack.
To make the frosting: In a medium saucepan, bring the whipping cream and sugar to a boil over moderately high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until liquid reduces slightly, about 6 minutes. Pour mixture into a medium bowl. Add the chocolate, butter, vanilla and salt. Set the bowl in a large bowl of ice water. Using a medium whip or electric mixer, beat frosting at medium speed until thick and glossy, about 5 minutes.
To construct the dessert: Cut the bananas into 1/2-inch thick slices. Whip the cream until stiff, adding confectioners' sugar to create a sweet, real whipped-cream mousse. If you own a pastry bag, use with a star tip to create a delicate look.
Pour half the chocolate syrup erratically around the bowl. Break the cake into pieces. Make one layer in bowl. Strew the banana slices onto the cake. Pour more chocolate syrup onto the cake-banana mixture. Pipe the whipped cream into the cracks and crevices. Continue layering until you reach the rim of the bowl. Pipe a circle of whipped cream around the rim of the bowl. Quickly spatula the frosting onto remaining cake, crumbling as you do so. Then roughly glob the mixture on top of the cake so it actually seeps into the layers of cake and banana. Refrigerate until ready to serve; remove 5 minutes before serving. Use a large spoon to glob this outrageous Chocolate Mess mixture into individual serving bowls. Serves 10.
Per serving: 1160 calories (56 percent from fat), 76 g fat (47 g saturated, 21.7 g monounsaturated), 234 mg cholesterol, 10.8 g protein, 125 g carbohydrate, 7 g fiber, 664 mg sodium.
Source: Cook’s Corner archives from a recipe by Jim Angleton.
Easy Dulce de Leche
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Pour the condensed milk into a glass pie pan or shallow baking dish. Cover the pie pan with foil. Place the pie pan in a larger pan and add enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the pie pan. Bake until the milk turns caramel-brown, about 1 hour, checking from time to time to make sure there is enough water in the pan. Remove from oven and whisk any lumps away. Let cool; it will thicken even more. Store in refrigerator. Reheat in microwave, about 1 minute on high, or serve at room temperature. Makes 1 cup.
Variations: After you’ve taken the dulce de leche from the oven you can stir in dark rum or vanilla if desired. Or make it salted caramel by adding coarse salt.
Per serving: 122 calories (24 percent from fat), 3.3 g fat (2.1 g saturated, 1 g monounsaturated), 13 mg cholesterol, 3 g protein, 20.8 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 49 mg sodium.
Source: Linda Cicero for Cook’s Corner.