Cooking

Each of the six items arranged on the traditional Passover Seder plate has a special significance to the retelling of the story of Passover.

By Rabbi Aaron Benson

Rabbi Aaron Benson

Weeks of preparation will pay off in the homes of many Jews when they begin to celebrate the holiday of Passover, which begins the night of April 10 this year and lasts for eight days after that.

Passover is reportedly the most observed Jewish holiday for American Jews. This means that most Jews in the United States will attend a Seder meal (the festive meals held on the first two nights of Passover), refrain from eating leavened products (called chametz in Hebrew) and will eat matzah, the special unleavened flat bread associated with the holiday. All of these observances commemorate the Jews’ release from slavery in ancient Egypt. This theme, freedom from slavery in Egypt, shapes the Passover holiday and still has a lot to tell all of us today.

At the Seder meal, some Jews sing a song that contains the line, “once we were slaves and now we are free people.” Catchy as the tune may be, the message does not accurately convey the spirit of Passover in the Jewish tradition. For Jews, freedom from slavery in Egypt is not freedom to do anything and everything one wishes to do. It is, as our religious laws teach us, so that we may serve the values and principles of our tradition, so that we may take up the obligations of leading just and thoughtful lives without the excuse that anyone else’s will might constrain us from doing what is proper.

As said, this is a concept that has universal application today. How often do we confuse “freedom” with having no responsibilities, no cares, no obligations but satisfying ourselves? When we let this become our philosophy of life, we are not freeing ourselves; we are in fact enslaving ourselves to our appetites and our desires. This is not true freedom or anything close to it.

Passover teaches us that freedom is the freedom to take on responsibility, to stand up for what one believes in, to not leave it to others to tell us what is right and not to leave it to others to do what is right either, but to do it ourselves. Perhaps that is why so much work goes into preparing for Passover — to be truly free isn’t easy, in fact it is hard work, but the rewards, like those that come from having a house ready for the holiday, are well worth the effort.

Happy Passover and best wishes.

Rabbi Aaron Benson is the rabbi at North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station.

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

By Barbara Beltrami

Ah, consider the lowly peanut relegated in most culinary estimations to its more popular descendant, peanut butter. True, you seldom see it on a restaurant menu or even in a cookbook. In western cultures it hardly bears mentioning unless you’re talking about something to munch with your martini. In eastern cultures, however, the peanut, also called the ground nut, plays a larger role in native cuisine.

The recipes below will give you a taste (pun intended) of how the peanut figures into both the western and eastern food cultures and exhibit its versatility according to traditional preferences.

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

For the marinade:

½ cup coconut milk

1 teaspoon curry powder

2 teaspoons fresh minced garlic

2 level teaspoons brown sugar

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

²⁄₃ pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch strips

For the peanut sauce:

1 cup coconut milk

1 tablespoon curry powder

½ cup peanut butter

²⁄₃ cup chicken broth

¼ cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon soy sauce

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt to taste

DIRECTIONS:

For the marinade: Stir together the first six ingredients. In a medium bowl, toss with chicken, cover and refrigerate for two hours. If using wooden skewers, soak in hot water until ready to use.

For the sauce: In a small-medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, combine coconut milk, curry powder, peanut butter, chicken broth and brown sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes until heated through. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice, soy sauce, cayenne pepper. Add salt to taste (You probably won’t need much). Set aside to keep warm.

Meanwhile heat grill to medium high, remove skewers from water and wipe dry, then thread marinated chicken onto them. Grill 5 minutes per side or until golden brown and cooked through. Remove to platter and ladle warm peanut sauce over them. Serve with rice and vegetable slaw.

Peanut, Carrot and Mango Salad

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups grated carrots

½ cup chopped roasted salted peanuts

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1-2 teaspoons sugar

One green chile pepper, seeded and diced

¼ cup red or yellow bell pepper, minced

2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

Salt, to taste

One mango, peeled and diced

DIRECTIONS: In a medium bowl, combine the carrots and peanuts. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, chile pepper, bell pepper and cilantro. Combine with peanut and carrot mixture. Add salt and mix again. Fold in mango. Serve immediately with chicken or lamb.

Peanut Brittle

Peanut Brittle

 

YIELD: Makes one pound

INGREDIENTS:

Butter for greasing pan

2 cups sugar

2 cups roasted salted peanuts

DIRECTIONS: Grease low-rimmed baking sheet. In a heavy skillet combine sugar with 2 tablespoons water. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture boils. Steadily, continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture turns golden (it happens pretty quickly!). Stir in peanuts and immediately pour and spread mixture onto greased baking sheet. Allow to cool half an hour, until hard. Then break into uneven, asymmetrical pieces before serving with coffee or tea.

By Kevin Redding

Students from across Long Island donned their aprons and unleashed their inner Bobby Flay’s and Julia Child’s last Saturday for a chance to win big at the fifth annual Junior Iron Chef competition at Whole Foods in Lake Grove.

Set up like a high-stakes Food Network show, middle and high school students from various Suffolk and Nassau County school districts treated the cafeteria section of Whole Foods as their cooking arena, with each team of three to five young chefs chopping and sauteing their ingredients, divvying up their tasks in an assembly line of excitement and nerves in their attempt to beat the clock.

WEHM DJ Anthony Cafaro tastes Team Wholly Guacamole’s dish titled Avocado’s dish. Photo by Kevin Redding

As a group of judges surveyed each workstation and breakfast and lunch foods sizzled in the pans, a large crowd of supportive parents, grandparents, siblings and strangers cheered on their team of choice. All the while, DJ Anthony Cafaro, from WEHM, served as the event’s emcee, interviewing the chefs at work and taste-testing each team’s dish. “Oh my God, that’s really good,” Cafaro said as he took a bite of a middle school team’s Breakfast Sushi, a crepe packed with strawberry filling and bananas and served with chopsticks. “You know what, you can’t really tell from the first bite,” he winked as he ate some more.

Hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, the one-day event, described as “part ‘Chopped,’ part ‘Iron Chef,’ and part ‘Food Network Challenge,’” gives middle and high school students the opportunity to work together to complete a recipe of their choosing in under an hour.

As per tradition, the friendly competition also encourages healthier food options by eliminating certain ingredients like meat, fish or nuts and challenging the young chefs to create new healthy vegetarian or vegan-based recipes, including United States Department of Agriculture commodity foods like beans, grains, fruits and vegetables, that use local ingredients provided by Whole Foods and could be easily implemented into school cafeteria menus.

A team from Sewanhaka High School prepares a dish during the competition. Photo by Kevin Redding

According to Cornell Cooperative Extension’s 4-H youth Development Director Vicki Fleming, who helped get the event off the ground seven years ago, “If you handed a salad to a kid they might not eat it, but if they make it, it might entice them to try it.” Fleming said she got the idea for the event from a similar junior chef competition that’s been taking place in Vermont for more than 10 years. When Gary Graybosch, prepared foods team leader at Whole Foods, took his department on an educational field trip to Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Suffolk County Farm in Yaphank, members of the organization said they expressed an interest in holding such an event but were unable to find the proper location. It didn’t take long before Graybosch volunteered the cafe section of the store.

“This is great for the community, the kids love it and the parents love it,” Graybosch said. “It teaches the kids how to work together and teaches them how to communicate because they’re not just texting each other, they actually have to speak [to each other] when they’re cooking, so it’s good.”

The 13 middle school teams that competed in the first competition round had to create a breakfast dish while the eight high school teams in the second round had to concoct a lunch dish and implement the event’s mystery ingredient — raspberries — revealed on the day of the event by Graybosch. Elementary school students set up their own tables of treats and smoothies around the store as well. Cafaro, who’s emceed the event since it started, said after the first year he told the organization he’d “do this forever.”

“It’s so great, the kids are unbelievable, they’re doing stuff I can’t even do, and the pro chefs they have as judges are even blown away by some of the skill and levels of talent they have,” he said. “When we started this, there was no real big kid competitions and now there are so many of them — it’s kind of blowing up.”

The judges take some notes as they make their rounds in the cooking arena. Photo by Kevin Redding

Among the 12 judges who graded the dishes based on flavor, health value, creativity and presentation was 14-year-old William Connor from Northport, a contestant on “Chopped Junior” this past fall, and 13-year-old Kayla Mitchell of Center Moriches who was a contestant on the third season of “MasterChef Junior.”

Seneca Middle School’s team Super Fresh Breakfast Boyz from Holbrook won first place for the middle schools for the second year in a row for their Guacamole Sunrise Stack. Students Andrew Battelli, John Durkin, Dom Strebel, Nick Strebel and Hunter Ziems and coach Mary Faller made up the team. Despite a griddle shutting off in the middle of the competition,  Durkin said he and his team were able to persevere. “We had to work together to get through that and we managed to come together and cook it and it came out good,” he said. “[The experience] was very fun overall. We met up and practiced from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. every morning before school for about a month and  half.”

Wholly Guacamole from Sagamore Middle School took second place. Students Molly Grow, Sydney Harmon, Emily Mangan, Sara Ann Mauro, Abigail Weiss, guided by coach Lindsey Shelhorse, won the judges over as runners up with their Avocado’s Nest.

Cow Harbor 4-H Club’s Original French Toasters also grabbed third place with their Banana French Toast with Fruit Syrup. Coached by Kim Gulemi, students Emily Brunkard, Jolie Fay, Ally Gulemi, Alexa Meinen and Stephanie Stegner were awarded for their blend of blueberries, strawberries, syrup and whipped cream.

The Tiger Lilies of Little Flower in Wading River took first place for the high schools for the second year in a row. Coached by  Jennifer Quinlan, students Gianna D’arcangelo, Russell Diener and Alex Mora won with their Lentil Quinoa Kale Broth Bowl. The dish featured a blend of onion, garlic, celery, carrots and tomatoes.

From H. Frank Carey High School in Franklin Square, the Red Hot Chili Peppers secured the second place spot with their Vegetarian Chili. Students Lynn Abby M. Bigord, Akira Jordan, Isabella Legovich and coach Alexandra Andrade made up the team.

Coming in third place were Babylon High School’s BHS Foodies, the ultimate competition underdogs, with their Lentil Shepherd’s Pie. Consisting of Sean Cosgro, Emilie Leibstein, Sophia Levine-Aquino, Hayley Swaine and coach Jenna Schwartz, the team showed up not realizing they had to bring their own equipment. So they approached Graybosch and asked if they could borrow “a pot, pan, chef knife, peeler, and pretty much everything,” according to Cosgro. “We felt so unprepared and so we were so surprised that we placed,” Cosgro said. “I made a lot of ‘Rocky’ references to my group the entire time, saying ‘I feel like we’re the complete underdogs, we’re sort of inexperienced, and this’ll be our ‘Rocky’ moment if we win.’”

Italian Meatballs

By Barbara Beltrami

It seems as though there are as many kinds of meatballs as there are ethnicities to create and cook them, and like most cuisines they make use of flavors that come from ingredients indigenous to the area from which they originate. Surely meatballs, along with so many other dishes, flavors and culinary creations, have become one of the favorite dishes brought to this country by immigrants and fused into what we’ve come to think of as our own cuisine.

Perhaps the most popular are Italian meatballs simmered in a savory tomato sauce; but there are also Swedish meatballs, flavorfully topped with their pale gravy. These are only a few of the many ways cooks over the centuries have rolled ground meat into tasty orbs. No matter your own ethnic origins, these little round treasures from far away places are sure to please your palate.

Italian Meatballs

YIELD: Makes 8 to 10 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 pounds ground beef, pork or one pound of each

4 large eggs, beaten

2 cups unflavored dried bread crumbs

2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon each fresh flat leaf parsley, basil, and oregano (or 1 teaspoon each dried)

One clove garlic, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

One 28-ounce can tomato puree

One 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, pureed with their juice

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

One whole onion, peeled

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine meat, eggs, bread crumbs, cheese, herbs garlic, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Dipping hands into cold water occasionally, roll mixture into balls the size of a golf or Ping-Pong ball and place on baking sheet with half an inch between them. Bake until brown on top, about 15 minutes, turn and bake another 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat tomato puree and plum tomatoes to a simmer, add oil and onion and stir. Gently drop browned meatballs into sauce and stir to submerge them. Simmer or cook on low flame 2 to 3 hours, until sauce is somewhat reduced and thickened. When ready to serve, add salt and pepper to sauce, if needed, and remove onion. Discard or save for another use. Serve with pasta, crusty bread and a salad.

Swedish Meatballs

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup minced onion

1 cup unflavored bread crumbs

1 cup milk

1 pound ground beef

½ pound ground pork

One egg

One onion, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup flour

¾ cup cream

DIRECTIONS: In a large skillet melt two tablespoons of the butter and sauté the onion until golden brown. In a large bowl, soak the bread crumbs in the milk, add the meat, egg, onion, salt and pepper, and mix thoroughly. Dipping hands occasionally in cold water, shape the mixture into meatballs the size of a golf or Ping-Pong ball and roll in 3 tablespoons of the flour. Reserve one tablespoon of the flour for later.

Melt remaining butter in skillet and brown the meatballs on all sides over medium heat. Shake the pan or nudge the meatballs with a spatula so they retain their round shape. When browned and cooked through, remove and set aside to keep warm. Combine the reserved flour with the cream and with a wire whisk stir gradually into the pan juices. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently until thickened. Pour over meatballs and serve hot with noodles.

Middle Eastern Meatballs

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound ground lamb

½ cup minced onion

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint or 1 teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1½ teaspoons grated lemon zest

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

½ teaspoon finely minced dried rosemary

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon dried coriander

1 cup plain good quality Greek yogurt

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 450 F. Mix lamb, onion, mint, cinnamon, lemon zest, salt and pepper, rosemary, and ½ teaspoon cumin. Roll into 16 meatballs and bake, turning once, about 15 minutes per side, until browned. Meanwhile mix yogurt with remaining half teaspoon of cumin and coriander. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with rice or couscous, sliced tomato and cucumber and baked eggplant.

By Bob Lipinski

“Irish diplomacy is the ability to tell a man to go to hell so that he looks forward to making the trip.” (Irish saying)

Bob Lipinski

Before you begin cooking the corned beef, you will need some good old-fashioned pants-slapping music. Naturally, the Irish Rovers or Clancy Brothers would be a great choice. Now, the best songs to listen to include “The Unicorn,” “The Orange and the Green,” “Goodbye Mrs. Durkin,” “Black Velvet Band,” “Donald Where’s Your Trousers,” “Bridget Flynn,” “Lilly The Pink,” and “Harrigan.”

To help celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, here’s the scoop on corned beef.

The term corned beef has nothing to do with American corn, but rather an English term from the seventeenth century, for curing and preserving a brisket of beef in salt, which at one time was in the form of pellets (or grains of salt), called corns. Today “corning” is the term used to describe the process of curing a brisket of beef by steeping it in a pickling solution.

Here’s what I use to cook corned beef. Photo by Bob Lipinski

Corned beef, a staple of all Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations, is generally cooked by steam, although some cooks prefer to boil, bake or even microwave it (ouch, when you see the electric bill.) I have found that steaming the corned beef in a tall pot used for steaming clams minimizes shrinkage, maintains moisture and cooks in less time than other methods. Be certain the bottom of the steamer pot is filled with water, plus the pickling spices, which are often packed with the corned beef. (You can use a tablespoon of pickling spices, available in the supermarket if needed.) Do not trim off any fat pre-cooking; it adds to the moisture. Cook according to the package or your butcher’s advice. To keep the corned beef tender after cooking, let it rest for five minutes before serving. Now, remove any excess fat. To avoid stringy, cooked meat, be certain to slice against the grain.

Between the Irish music, the parade up Fifth Avenue and eating chunks of Irish soda bread, I enjoy beer on Saint Patrick’s Day. Everyone has their favorite and the most popular Irish beers are Beamish, Galway Hooker, Guinness, Harp, Murphy’s, O’Hara’s and Smithwick’s. However, my favorite is Guinness Foreign Export Stout, available only in four-packs. Guinness Stout is relatively low in carbonation and should ideally be served at 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you prefer wine, my suggestions for white wines are chenin blanc, gewürztraminer, pinot blanc, riesling and sylvaner. Red wines are barbera, Bardolino, Beaujolais, Chianti and pinot noir. Equally fine is rosé, white zinfandel and a blanc de noirs sparkling wine.

Bob Lipinski, a local author, has written 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com.) He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com or bkjm@hotmail.com.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

By Barbara Beltrami

Corned beef and cabbage may be the go-to dish to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but you certainly don’t have to be Irish to love it. In fact, I have seen people who normally wouldn’t go near a vegetable with a 10-foot pole devour cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, and I once knew a vegetarian who confessed that she renounced her vows once a year to eat corned beef.

As with so many holiday meals, the leftovers can be great with definitely a sandwich the next day — thin slices of corned beef between slices of good rye bread slathered with mustard or an open-faced sandwich topped with Russian dressing, sauerkraut and melted Swiss cheese for a mouth-watering Reuben. Corned beef and a few boiled potatoes from the original meal can morph into corned beef hash topped with a nice runny-yolked egg or eggs Benedict on a bed of corned beef hash and capped with hollandaise sauce.

And don’t forget the Irish soda bread. Breakfast, lunch, dinner or in between, it’s that other St. Patrick’s Day traditional fare that you don’t have to be Irish to love.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Corned Beef and Cabbage

YIELD: 6 to 8 servings with leftovers

INGREDIENTS:

4 to 5 pounds corned beef brisket plus accompanying spices

One medium cabbage, cut in thick wedges

6 to 8 pared or scrubbed medium potatoes

6 to 8 pared carrots

2 whole peeled onions

DIRECTIONS: Rinse corned beef under cold water. Place in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then cook for two minutes. Reduce heat and remove scum from top of water. Add spices provided. Simmer 3 to 4 hours or until it is tender but can still be picked up with a fork without falling apart. Add vegetables and cook over low heat until they are tender but not soggy. Remove vegetables and set aside to keep warm. Remove meat and slice across the grain. Serve with horseradish or mustard and Irish soda bread.

Corned Beef Hash

Corned Beef Hash

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 to 3 cups diced cooked corned beef

2 to 3 cups diced cooked potatoes

One small onion, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: Heat oil in a medium skillet. Combine next four ingredients. Then add the mixture and spread evenly over pan. Cook over low heat without stirring until brown on the bottom. Slide or flip onto plate. Serve with eggs, pickles or salad.

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

YIELD: 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2½ cups flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

1/3 cup raisins or dried currants

¾ cup buttermilk

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a cookie sheet. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. With pastry blender or two criss-crossed knives cut the butter into the dry mixture until it resembles fine crumbs or meal. Stir in raisins or currants and just enough buttermilk so that dough leaves sides of bowl. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead one to two minutes or until dough is smooth. Shape into round loaf and place on cookie sheet. With a floured knife cut a half-inch deep X into top of loaf. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with butter and any of the above-mentioned recipes or toast it and serve with butter or jam for breakfast.

Banana Walnut Bread

By Barbara Beltrami

Rich in fiber and potassium, bananas are considered a healthful addition to most diets and a quick and satisfying snack. However I don’t usually get excited about them. If I do condescend to eat one, it must be just this side of ripe, firm with just a touch of green near the ends. On the other hand, my husband loves bananas that are just this side of rotten, soft and brown and begging for a visit from fruit flies. Those are the ones I use in recipes.

All that being said, I must confess that there are a couple of versions of bananas that I sometimes actually get a craving for. One is a banana on a popsicle stick, dipped in chocolate sauce and put in the freezer. Try that for a summer treat. Another is banana walnut bread, a comfort food if there ever was one. A third is Bananas Foster, a caramel-y dessert made with split bananas cooked with butter and brown sugar in a skillet, a heavely topping for whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. And how about banana-butterscotch cookies, a (somewhat) healthful goody that can be especially appreciated and popular with even the younger set of avowed junk foodies. Come to think of it, maybe I do like bananas!

Banana Walnut Bread

This recipe comes from one of those spiral bound cookbooks put out by some organization that my mother belonged to many many years ago. Although it is torn and tattered, I still cherish it for this recipe and a few others.

Banana Walnut Bread

YIELD: Makes 10 to 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

½ cup shortening

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, well beaten

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 ripe bananas, mashed

¼ cup chopped walnuts

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan. In large mixing bowl, combine shortening, sugar and eggs. Sift together the flour and baking soda and add to wet mixture. Stir in bananas and walnuts. Pour into greased loaf pan and bake one hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm with butter, cream cheese or jam and hot tea or coffee.

Bananas Foster

This dish originated in New Orleans in the 1950s and is traditionally made with a rum flambé. Playing with fire makes me nervous so I leave out the flambé part and just add a splash of rum to the bananas in the skillet right before serving.

Bananas Foster

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

Half a stick of unsalted butter

4 bananas, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise

1½ cups brown sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

2 ounces rum (optional)

One pint vanilla ice cream or 1 pint heavy cream, whipped

DIRECTIONS: In large skillet melt butter over medium heat. Gently add bananas; cook over medium heat until golden, about two minutes; gently turn and cook other side until golden, about two minutes. (Don’t worry if they break; they’ll still taste wonderful!). Remove from skillet and set aside to keep warm. Add brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt to skillet and cook, stirring constantly, over low heat about two minutes. Turn off heat, add rum to skillet, if using, stir, and stand back in case it flames. Return bananas to skillet and gently spoon sauce over them. Place a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream in four dessert dishes. Top with bananas and sauce and serve immediately with vanilla wafers or ginger snaps.

Banana Butterscotch Cookies

I’ve had this recipe a long time, and as with so many old recipes, I can’t remember who gave it to me. There’s something about the combination of bananas and butterscotch that is absolutely intoxicating, especially as the cookies are baking.

Banana Butterscotch Cookies

YIELD: Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies

INGREDIENTS:

2½ cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¾ cup white granulated sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

²⁄₃ cup unsalted butter

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Two very ripe bananas, mashed

2 cups butterscotch chips

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease cookie sheet. Sift together the flour, salt, baking power and baking soda. Cream together both sugars and the butter until light and fluffy. Mix in eggs and vanilla and combine with dry ingredients. Add mashed banana and butterscotch chips and stir in thoroughly. Drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheet and bake 12 to 15 minutes. Place on rack to cool before serving.

MELTology owners Nick Mauceri and Kevin Muller. Photo by Kevin Redding

With the newly opened MELTology in Mount Sinai, two young business partners and former Friendly’s employees bring their fresh, experimental take on a classic comfort food to the North Shore.

The cafe-style sandwich spot, serving variations of grilled cheese, among other standard items like burgers and chicken sandwiches, marks co-owner Kevin Muller’s fourth — and most ambitious — venture in the restaurant business.

Menu options at MELTology include various grilled cheese mash-ups. Photo from MELTology

After his first restaurant in Selden, Simple Smoothie Cafe, buckled under the pressures of surrounding competition in 2012 — with nearby Tropical Smoothies and Red Mangos making his “no-name brand” obsolete — the 30-year-old Patchogue resident drove up and down North Country Road to get a grasp of what foods were most popular among locals, while brainstorming what new flavors he could bring to the area.

“I was losing big time, and I had to figure something else out,” Muller recalled, saying he had to go back to his old job at Friendly’s just to pay rent month after month while his first business went under. “I was just thinking ‘what can I do differently?’”

Just a few months later, after crafting his own spin on his grandmother’s Italian crepes recipe, Muller found great success with Crazy Crepe Cafe, bringing all variations of the traditional treat to four different locations: Selden, Mount Sinai, Smithtown and Lake Ronkonkoma. In the midst of that, he also opened up an East End food truck business in 2016.

Alongside Crazy Crepe manager and former Friendly’s co-worker Nick Mauceri, 25, Muller recently decided to convert his Crazy Crepe in Mount Sinai into MELTology, to try and reach a different market and more of the general public.

“We paired up the grilled cheeses with the dessert crepes and it works really well together, and [in a few weeks] we’re going to bring our burgers from our food truck and combine that to make grilled cheese burgers … we love seeing the place packed and everyone enjoying the food,” Muller said.

MELTology is located at 5507 Suite 16 Nesconset Highway in Mount Sinai. Photo by Kevin Redding

Mauceri, who said the MELTology idea started back when they worked at Friendly’s and were experimenting with the food chain’s super melt sandwiches, can’t believe how quickly the community has taken to the new restaurant — even despite its Friday the 13th opening in January.

“Luckily, everything went off without a hitch [opening day],” he said. “It’s something that’s catching on really quickly, but we couldn’t have known that it was going to be this fast. We get a great sense of pride from it, especially when you get to talk to people who say they’re really enjoying what they just ate.”

According to the owners, such menu picks like the “Chicken Parm Melt” sandwich, made up of melted mozzarella, chicken strips and marinara sauce on parmesan-crusted sourdough bread, and the “Sweetness Melt,” which features applewood smoked bacon and maple syrup, sets MELTology apart from similar sandwich spots in the area.

Kevin put himself through college at SUNY Polytechnic Institute while working, climbing the ladder from employee to general manager, and saving money to start his own business, he said, and has utilized his business degree well. With Crazy Crepes, Muller did all his own training, made his own menus and even did all the marketing.

John Muller, Kevin’s father, called his son a “workaholic.”

MELTology will still have Crazy Crepe desert options on the menu. Photo from MELTology

“I’m very proud of him, obviously, and for someone who started with only a couple thousand dollars and is now running and owning four restaurants, he’s doing really well,” John Muller said. “He’s entrepreneurial — owning a business is something he’s always wanted to do.”

MELTology, located at 5507 Nesconset Highway Suite 16, is open 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Menu items range frlom a classic grilled-cheese sandwich ($4.95); chicken parm melt ($6.95); and “Kitchen Cinque” sandwich, a multilayered melt of Parmesan-crusted sourdough, melted Cheddar, Gruyère, American, pepper jack and apple-wood smoked bacon with a slice of tomato ($6.95). Sides like mac & cheese ($2.50) and soup ($3.99/cup, $5.99/bread bowl) are coming soon. Crazy Crepe sweet crepes that have made the menu include the Dirty Banana, Oreo Crepe, S’mores Crepe, Peanute Butter Cup Crepe and Apple Pie Crepe. Prices Range from $6.95 to $7.95. Milkshakes in vanilla, chocolate, nutella, oreo and peanut butter cup are also available ($4.50).

Takeout can also be ordered online.

For more information, call (631) 509 0331 or visit www.meltology.

Do your kids love to cook? The Chai Center, 501 Vanderbilt Parkway, Dix Hills will hold a cooking class, Kids in the Kitchen, for children ages 8 to 12 on Tuesdays, March 7, 14 and 21 from 5 to 6 p.m. Learn how to make some great kid-approved dishes such as personal pizzas, waffles and cookies in a large state-of-the-art kitchen. Fee is $20 per class, $55 for all three classes. Advance registration is required. Register online at www.thechaicenter.com or call 631-351-8672.

Banana Oatmeal Muffins with Chocolate Chips

By Barbara Beltrami

I like to think of muffins as healthful cupcakes. Basically individual-sized quick breads, they seem to be synonymous with comfort and warmth and coziness and goodness. According to Wikipedia, the word “muffin” first appeared in 1703 as “moofen,” possibly a derivative of the low German “muffen,” the plural of small cake. That sounds viable. Whatever their derivation, they’ve become a staple of the roster of edibles that Americans have come to think of as the companions for their coffee or tea, the takeout breakfast goodies that make getting up in the morning a worthwhile exercise.

Like many good-for-you foods that I write about, muffins can be adaptable to what you have on hand and what your tastes dictate. Below is a basic recipe for sweet muffins to get you started. I’ve also included a couple of my favorite muffin recipes that are a little different from the basic one. I can pretty much guarantee that when you slip these into the oven on a cold winter morning, the aroma will elicit smiles and maybe even a little conversation from the usual grumps and grouches.

Basic Sweet Muffin Recipe

YIELD: Makes 12 muffins

INGREDIENTS:

¾ cup whole wheat flour

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

2½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup milk

½ cup honey

One egg, well beaten

1/3 cup oil

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 F. Stir together both flours, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, thoroughly mix milk, honey, egg and oil. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients and add liquid mixture. Stir until just moistened. Let rest for one minute. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin pans two-thirds full. Bake 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve with butter, jam, honey or cream cheese.

Banana Oatmeal Muffins

Banana Oatmeal Muffins with Chocolate Chips

I don’t remember where this recipe came from — I just know I’ve been making it for years and it’s always a hit. Sometimes I add a cup of chopped nuts or chocolate chips; sometimes I don’t.

YIELD: Makes about 14 muffins

INGREDIENTS:

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

One egg, well beaten

½ cup milk

1/3 cup oil

2/3 cup mashed ripe banana

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 F. Stir together the flour, oatmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, mix the egg, milk, oil and banana and add to dry mixture. Stir until just moistened. Let sit for one minute. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin pans two-thirds full. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve with butter, honey, jam, peanut butter or cream cheese.

Pineapple Ginger Almond Muffins

Pineapple Ginger Almond Muffins

With the tang of the pineapple, the zing of the ginger and the crunch of the almonds, these muffins are especially good with tea, but great with coffee too.

YIELD: Makes 16 to 18 muffins

INGREDIENTS:

2½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¾ teaspoon powdered ginger

One egg, well beaten

1 cup buttermilk

¼ cup oil

½ cup dark molasses

1 cup finely chopped canned pineapple, well drained and patted dry

1 cup toasted crushed sliced almonds

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 F. Stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, cinnamon and ginger. Mix egg, buttermilk, oil and molasses and add to dry ingredients. Stir until just moistened. Gently fold in pineapple and almonds. Let sit one minute. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin pans two-thirds full. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve with butter, cream cheese, jam, honey or yogurt.

Suggestions and tips: Add half a cup to one cup of any of the following. (If adding more than one ingredient, adjust amount of each accordingly.)

Chopped walnuts, almonds or pecans

Raisins or other dried fruit(chopped)

Pared, cored and grated apple or pear

Berries

Chocolate chips

For a nice surprise, fill muffin cups with half a cup of batter, add a heaping teaspoon of jam or brown sugar, then top with remaining batter.

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