Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks
Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The DaVinci Cole(slaw)

Yes, I know the name is hokey, but this recipe for raspberry coleslaw is delicious, I promise. And its moniker is quite appropriate, given this recipe’s inspiration and secret ingredient.

I am a huge fan of the DaVinci Gourmet Syrup product line. (Ha, I bet you thought I was going to say The DaVinci Code. Nope, never read the book nor saw the movie).

DaVinci’s syrups are a high quality ingredient that can be used in the kitchen in so many different ways beyond flavoring coffee and sodas. No other brand of flavored syrups is close, especially when it comes to some of the fruit flavors. I find these syrups so versatile that my cupboard usually contains 8 -10 different flavors at any one time.

Two years ago I was surfing the DaVinci website and saved a few interesting sounding recipes, one of them, for raspberry coleslaw. When I finally decided to make raspberry coleslaw, I consulted that recipe. It called for some ingredients that I didn't have on hand and some ingredients I didn't want in my coleslaw. I also thought the ratio of vinegar to mayonnaise was too high, so I ended up creating an entirely new recipe. About the only thing left of the original recipe is its inspiration!

I truly love this coleslaw, as do the people to whom I’ve served it over the past two years. Although it contains raspberry vinegar, the DaVinci raspberry syrup adds an additional layer of intense berry flavor as well as providing some sweetness. The sweet/tart contrast, the raspberry flavor, the delicate crunch of the cabbage, and the tiniest hint of sweet onion, not to mention its pretty pink color, make this salad shine. It is the perfect complement to barbecued spareribs.

Inexpensive sources of the DaVinci syrups are T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and Home Goods, all three owned by the same company. The large 25.4 ounce bottle is only $5.99, several dollars cheaper than anywhere else.

Lydia’s Raspberry Coleslaw

1/2 head green cabbage
2 tablespoons grated onion
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 cup raspberry vinegar
2 tablespoons DaVinci Gourmet Raspberry syrup
salt and pepper to taste

Slice the cabbage very thin, using a mandoline or similar tool. In a medium bowl, toss together the cabbage and onion.

In a small bowl blend remaining ingredients until smooth. Pour dressing over cabbage and toss until well combined. Chill for several hours, stirring occasionally. Like any coleslaw, this shrinks considerably over time.

Yield: 4 - 6 servings

Check out the other recipes for the Monthy Mingle barbecue!

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Crab Pretzel

Q. How can a restaurant charge $10 for a soft pretzel?

A. They make it a crab pretzel!

In the past year I've noticed restaurants and bars around here in south central Pennsylvania promoting an appetizer called a Crab Pretzel. I had been wondering what all the fuss was about so I finally tried one.

A Crab Pretzel is a stadium soft pretzel, so huge it covers an entire dinner plate, topped with creamy crab dip, sprinkled with cheese, and then broiled or baked until hot and golden.

The sweet crabmeat, creamy flavorful sauce, gooey cheese and the chewy/crisp pretzel are a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. It was so large and filling that three of us shared one. This is a fun appetizer or snack to serve at home while watching movies or a sporting event.

This dish originated in Baltimore (where else?), then became popular all over Maryland, and has now crept north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Since my first Crab Pretzel I’ve tried several different versions at restaurants in both Maryland and Pennsylvania, with widely varying quality. The version at Silver Spring Mining Company, who claims it is the originator of this creation, seems to be the best, loaded with crab and very flavorful.

I wonder if Crab Pretzels are popular or even known elsewhere. This appetizer is such a clever and interesting twist on the soft pretzel that I can almost imagine the national chain restaurants and bars picking up on it and adding it to their menus as the latest new appetizer fad. Watch out, wings! Here comes the Crab Pretzel.

Although on further thought, I’m sure the chains would scrimp on the quantity and quality of crab in an attempt to improve their bottom line, ruining the dish. And fresh crab is not readily available everywhere. No, this is best kept a regional dish.

This recipe is from one of the two restaurants claiming to be the original creator. For optimum results, this should only be made with fresh Chesapeake Bay crabmeat. Don’t even bother using canned crabmeat.

"Original" Maryland Crab Pretzel

From The Silver Spring Mining Company as found at
and modified for clarity of instructions

  • 1 monstrously large unsalted soft pretzel or four regular ones
  • 3 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1 pound sweet claw crab meat
  • 1 pound shredded cheddar and jack cheeses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place cream cheese in oven for several minutes, until softened.

Place cream cheese in a large mixing bowl and add Old Bay, onion powder, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco and blend until smooth. Fold in crabmeat. Place mixture in a piping bag with a large round tip. Pipe mixture evenly over pretzel(s).

Top pretzel with shredded cheeses. Bake in oven until desired color and crispness

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006
A Tale of Two Chips

While I often complain about the lack of epicurean excitement in this gastronomically unsophisticated area of central Pennsylvania, I must admit we do have one culinary claim to fame. York County is The Snack Food Capital of the World! Yes, that’s right! And that is exactly how it is promoted to the few tourists who find themselves here.

We have potato chip factories, pretzel plants, cookie bakeries, candy confectioners, popcorn producers, Frito fabricators, Dorito mills, cheese curl creators, and tortilla chip manufacturers.

This is not hyperbole. In the morning when I head out the door to go to work the air is often perfumed with the sweet fragrance of cookies baking from the mile-away cookie factory. When I arrive at work I typically find that the nearby potato chip plant has laced the air with the twin aromas of the dieter’s undoing; hot oil and fried potatoes.

Being surrounded by such an embarrassment of snack food riches, I recently felt obligated to explore them. Many of these companies offer free tours so one day I made a reservation to tour the Martin Potato Chip factory.

I’ve never been a big fan of potato chips. I can take them or leave them. More often than not they are oily or too salty or their texture resembles greasy cardboard. Worse are the simulated impostors, like Pringles. Those counterfeit wafers in chip’s clothing bear no resemblance to genuine potato chips; not in flavor nor shape nor texture. Perhaps this preponderance of low quality potato chips explains the popularity of dip!

But I had high expectations for Martin’s chips. They have a very positive reputation among the local population here; a population I trust must know their chips, living as they do, in The Snack Food Capital of the World.

Martin’s signature product is their Kettle Cook’d chip, sliced a tad thicker than conventional chips, fried in soybean oil and hand stirred. Their recent claim to fame was on the Food Network, appearing in the Top 5 Presidential Snacks episode. Martin’s Kettle Cook’d chips have been the official potato chip of Air Force One through many presidential terms, favorites of Democrats and Republicans alike.

A newer offering in their product line, Kettle Gold Chips, is promoted as their premium “healthier” chip. They are cooked in sunflower oil, which gives them a golden hue, and seasoned with sea salt.

Donning hair nets, we started the tour. As factory tours go, this was a good one. Unlike some other tours which offer views of the manufacturing process from high up above and behind glass walls, we were right there on the plant floor, observing the entire process from the delivery of the potatoes all the way through to the packing of the finished product. But I’ll skip all those interesting technical details and get right to the best part of any food factory tour - the tasting.

That day they were cooking their Kettle Gold Chips. When we approached the area of the plant where the chips had been salted but not yet packaged, the tour guide scooped up a tray of fresh warm chips and passed them around. Having been teased for the past 30 minutes by the delicious scent of frying potatoes, I couldn’t wait to try them.

I grabbed a handful of the golden potato slices, each one unique in its curves and furls. They were still warm and lightly dusted with very fine sea salt. I placed one in my mouth and gently pressed it between my tongue and upper palate until it crushed into pieces. The first sensation was the warmth of the freshly fried chip, and then the light oil coated my mouth, lubricating my taste buds for the flavors to follow. Next was a subtle saltiness, then finally the rich potato flavor. I chewed the crunchy chip and swallowed. Wow! Was it really that good? I had to try another to confirm it. It was!

I’ve always believed that texture is as important in the eating experience as flavor and these chips had it all. I couldn’t stop eating them. I was won over.

A few weeks later I was thinking about those chips again, wondering if that exceptional eating experience was due more to their just-cooked freshness than anything else. Maybe all chips taste that good right out of the fryer. Or perhaps it was the uniqueness of the Kettle Gold Chips with their special processing in sunflower oil and the sea salt. I had to know, so I went to the local grocery store and purchased both styles of Martin’s Kettle Cook’d chips for an at-home taste test, uninfluenced by the fragrant aura of the factory.

With the very first bite of the grocery store’s Kettle Gold chips I was disappointed. They didn’t taste at all like the fresh warm chips I tried at the factory. I sampled the traditional style chips with the same disappointing results. Both types still had an amazing crunch, but the real potato flavor was gone, replaced by an oily taste; not oily in texture, but oily in flavor.

With my theory about freshness sadly confirmed, I next compared the two styles of chips to see if I had a preference. Although very similar, there were some subtle differences. After tasting a few Kettle Gold chips I sampled a couple of the traditional ones. I seemed to prefer the latter. Then I went back to the Gold style and decided I actually preferred those. As I sampled back and forth between the two I realized I always preferred the ones I tried last. Perhaps my palate quickly tired of one style so the next style, with its subtle differences, stimulated my taste buds again.

My oven happened to be on at the time so I tried warming the chips for a few minutes in an attempt to recapture their original warmth. The heating improved them a little bit but they were still just mere shadows of their fresh factory floor selves.

The moral of the story when it comes to potato chips is, freshest is best!

At this point I suppose I should experiment with making homemade potato chips and share the results here. That will be a future post.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Banoffee Tart

I am continually surprised and delighted by the discovery of interesting regional dishes of which I had been previously unaware. Despite my life-long reading of cookbooks and food magazines, supplemented by regular visits to food and cooking web sites, there are always new little treasures that appear suddenly in my culinary consciousness, offering new opportunities in the kitchen.

Banoffee Tart is a case in point. Despite a vacation trip to London a few years ago, prefaced by my research into her special foods (including such delicacies as mushy peas and jellied eel pie), I only recently discovered Banoffee Tart.

I was doing some research on an ingredient that Latin Americans call “dulce de leche” or “cajeta”. I had known about this stuff for years but had never tried making it. Dulce de leche is a rich thick caramel sauce made by boiling an unopended can of sweetened condensed milk for hours.

Simple enough, but that process is not recommended by the manufacturers of the canned milk due to of the potential danger of explosion. I always scoff at warnings like that, believing they are driven more by fear of liability and its associated costs rather than true safety concerns. However, I do personally know a woman who such an explosion, covering one arm and part of her chest with second and third degree burns. She spent years receiving medical treatments.

One of the major manufacturers of sweetened condensed milk around the world, Carnation, produces cans of already processed Dulce De Leche and makes them available in many countries, such as South Africa, where it is labeled, Treat Caramel. I don’t understand why this product is not available in the U.S. and other countries, but until it is, people will continue to turn sweetened condensed milk into dulce de leche by boiling the cans.

It was while I doing research into all the various ways to make this special caramel sauce (including oven, microwave, and pressure cooker) that I stumbled upon Banoffee Tart. In Great Britain, the caramelized milk is called toffee, and it is the major component in a wildly popular dessert there called Banoffee Tart. The tart is made of bananas layered with the caramel toffee and topped with mounds of whipped cream, often flavored with coffee. Upon reading about this dessert, I could immediately taste that combination of flavors and textures in my mind’s mouth. I quickly decided to make it a reality.

I found several different recipes for Banoffee Tart, with various permutations. As the base recipe for my Banoffee Tart, I settled on the original version from The Hungry Monk, the restaurant that invented this delightful dessert. I made some changes based on appealing variations I found in other recipes and then further adapted it to the unavailability of certain British ingredients here in the U.S.

My Banoffee Tart was as delicious as I expected it to be! I used a graham cracker crust instead of the pastry crust used by The Hungry Monk. Several other recipes I found used a crumb crust made from digestive biscuits, which are not available here, but I sensed that the sweet flavor and crunchy texture of a graham cracker crust would be very complementary to the smooth bananas, sweet thick caramel, and creamy topping.

A few interesting notes about this recipe. The final method I chose for turning the sweetened condensed milk into the caramel uses a pressure cooker. I believer that this is not only safer than the traditional method, but much quicker than any other method (30 minutes versus hours).

I stabilized the whipped cream topping with a tiny bit of unflavored gelatin, a trick I learned from my dessert heroine, Maida Heatter. Not only does it allow the whipped cream’s texture to remain fluffy for a long period of time without separating or running, but when piped through a pastry bag with fancy tips, the patterns hold up well. If you plan to serve this right away, you may skip that step.

Banoffee Tart

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons melted butter

1 can sweetened condensed milk, turned into caramel toffee (see note below)
3 – 4 ripe bananas

3/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 tablespoons cold water
1 1/2 tablespoons confectioners (powdered) sugar
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso coffee powder
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Chill a medium bowl and the beaters of an electric mixer in the freezer.

Prepare Crust:

In a small bowl stir together the graham cracker crumbs and sugar. Stir in the melted butter with a fork until evenly distributed. Press crumbs firmly and evenly into a pie dish. Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Bake until pie shell is firm, golden, and fragrant, about 10 – 15 minutes. Cool.

Prepare whipped cream topping:

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small heatproof custard cup. Let stand for 5 minutes to soften.

Place all but 3 tablespoons of the cream in the chilled bowl. Add the sugar and instant espresso. With chilled beaters, beat until the cream holds a very soft shape. Let stand briefly while you melt the gelatin.

Place the cup of softened gelatin in a little hot water in a small pan over low heat and let stand until the gelatin dissolves.

Remove the dissolved gelatin from the hot water. Quickly stir in the reserved cream and immediately, with the mixer running, add it to the whipped cream. Continue to beat until the cream is stiff, but do not overbeat.

Assemble the pie:

Spread the caramel toffee evenly on the bottom of the pie crust.

Cut the bananas in half and then slice again lengthwise. Arrange bananas, cut side down, in a single layer on top of the toffee, cutting the pieces to fit as necessary. I like to start by laying a banana piece along the outer edge of the pie, with its curved side following the curve of the pie dish. Then I continue that way around the pie in concentric circles, cutting banana pieces to fit as necessary.

Spoon half of the whipped cream topping over the bananas, making sure to cover all the bananas (this prevents them from turning brown). The remaining half of the whipped cream topping may be spooned over in decorative mounds and swirls or piped through a pastry bag with a decorative tip.

Allow to chill for several hours before serving.

Note: To quickly and safely turn a can of sweetened condensed milk into toffee caramel sauce, use a pressure cooker. Remove the labels from a few cans (may as well do a couple at a time), place in a pressure cooker and cover with water by two inches. Seal cover and bring to high pressure. Cook at high pressure for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow pressure to decrease naturally. Cool cans to room temperature before opening.

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