Thursday, February 28, 2013

Valley of the Jolly (crunch-crunch-crunch) #AGiantSurprise #spon


Sweet Potato Chips
Quick! Who says "Ho ho ho!"

No, not the guy in the red suit. I'm talking about the guy in green leaves. You know, the Green Giant.

I was pretty excited to get to sample some brand-spanking-new Green Giant products. I mean, I grew up with the Giant in my mom's kitchen cupboards. I have to admit that I was enthralled by the commercials. Something about a huge green guy being the caretaker of vegetables really tickled my imagination.

These days, the Jolly Green Giant is a little more modern than when I was a kid. Check out the videos here. I loved the Green Giant of my childhood, but I have to admit that he's even cooler now.

Even as a kid, I loved vegetables. Pretty much all of them. Yeah, I was the weird kid who liked all the vegetables that no one else liked.

So I was more than happy to take an offer from the jolly green fellow. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Green Giant is now making snack foods. And I had high hopes.

The first bag I ripped open was multi-grain sweet potato chips with sea salt. The first thing I noticed was that these chips weren't overly salty. There was enough salt, but not so much that I felt like I was at a salt lick. I could taste the sweetness of the sweet potato an they were nicely crisp. They didn't last long, but I've got to say that they'd be great with a sandwich or with creamy dip.

Roasted Veggie Tortilla Chips
I was skeptical about the Roasted Veggie Tortilla Chips. I'm usually a purist about my tortilla chips, but one bite of these and I snagged the bag out of my husband's hands.

Dang, but they were good. Tons of cheese flavor, and a nice corn flavor with other flavors in the background. Red and green peppers are pretty high on the ingredient list, and that's one of the things I thought I tasted.

Most of the time, I use tortilla chips as a vehicle for guacamole, but I could be very happy with these chips on their own. Not that there's any evidence of that. Nope. None.

Ate all the evidence.

Yup, it's a pretty amazing talent, right?

Speaking of which, the Green Giant is unveiling surprise talent. Check it out here.

But back to the chips. Yeah, They're gone. But they were good while they were here. These are supposed to be targeting the healthy snack market, which makes sense. For those who want the details, here ya go (direct from the company):
  • The Green Giant™ Roasted Veggie Tortilla Chips – Zesty Cheddar Flavor are made with real vegetables, 17 grams of whole grain per serving (48g are recommended daily), and are naturally flavored.
  • The Green Giant™ Multigrain Sweet Potato Chips – Sea Salt Flavor are made with real sweet potatoes and made with 14 grams of whole grain. Plus, they contains 40 percent less fat than regular potato chips*!
  • *Green Giant Multigrain Sweet Potato Chips (6g per 28g serving) have 40 percent less fat than regular potato chips (10g per 28g serving).
For more information check out Green Giant's Facebook page.

And if you want to show off your surprise talent, go right on over here.

Thank you to The Green Giant™ for being a sponsor. Show the Giant your surprise talent atwww.facebook.com/greengiant

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mocha-Nana-Smoothie - it's lighter than you think #lighticedcoffee

This drink reminds me of a lovely cocktail served onboard a cruise ship ... ah, I can remember the tropical breezes. And the sunburn. Ouch.

That on-board cocktail was only served poolside, because that's where the ice cream drinks were made. Yup, it was almost a milkshake. Thick, rich ... and it required quite a few laps around the deck to work off.

This one is much lighter since it's not made with ice cream, and the light iced coffee has fewer calories than the original version. Good deal, right?

If you wanted to, you could make this a more adult beverage with the addition of some coffee or chocolate liqueur, and maybe even serve it in pretty cocktail glasses for an after-dinner treat. But as it is, it's a great morning smoothie or an afternoon refresher.

Have you ever made a smoothie and wondered why you end up with chunks of ice, no matter how long you blend it? The trick to getting a smooth smoothie using ice cubes is to blend the ice cubes first, all alone - then add the liquid and other ingredients. If the ice comes to the party last, you're more likely to end up with bits and chunks of ice, rather than a smooth, thick drink.

I thought this was perfect with the mocha-flavored iced coffee, but the vanilla would be just as nice.

Mocha-Nana Smoothie

1 cup ice
1 cup International Delights Mocha Light Iced Coffee
1 banana, peeled and cut in chunks

Place the ice cubes in your blender and blend until you have "snow."

Add the banana and International Delights Iced Coffee and blend until the banana is obliterated and the mixture is smooth and frothy.

Serve immediately. A straw would be appropriate. Little paper umbrella isn't required.

With fewer calories and less sugar, International Delight Light Iced Coffee lets you enjoy MORE of what you love! For more fun ways to break up your day, visit ID's new online games today for a chance to win sweet prizes and coupons to use on your next purchase.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of International Delight. The opinions and text are all mine.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sourdough Bread - a measureless recipe

When it comes to baking, common wisdom says you have to measure everything precisely.

I only partially agree. If you want to replicate a recipe, you must measure precisely. But you can change things up and still get a good result. It won't be the same thing, but it might still be good.

The more you know, the more you can change. That's how many new recipes come about. It's also how some recipes go horribly wrong.

When it comes to making bread, measurements are all about ratios. But again, you can mess with the ratios and still end up with a good product.

A simple bread doesn't have a lot of ingredients - flour, water, yeast, and salt are the four most common components. There are some saltless breads, however. And yeast doesn't have to be commercial yeast. So that leaves flour and water.

And let me tell ya, bread dough has a pretty wide range of what's acceptable in terms of that water/flour ratio. Even better, it will TELL YOU whether the proportion is right. If you can knead it, you're in the right ballpark. If the dough is too wet, it will be a sticky, messy batter. If it's got too much flour, it will take way too much effort to knead.

There are some breads that are very, very wet, but you needn't worry about that at the moment.

One reason why it's good to learn how to make bread without strict measurements is that if you're working with sourdough starter, you don't always know what the hydration of that starter is. So you don't really know how much more water or flour you need to add.

Another advantage is that if you happen to mis-measure a bread recipe or if you run across a bad bread recipe, you'll know how to recover.

While this recipe doesn't require strict measurements, it's helpful if you can eyeball the amounts. It would still work if you eyeballed two cups where one is asked for, but you'd end up with a ginormous loaf of bread.

So here we go.

Sourdough Bread

About 1 cup of sourdough starter (eyeball it)
Flour (as needed)
Water (as needed)
Salt (about 1 teaspoon)

Put the starter in a large bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer). Add flour and water, in about equal amounts, to double the amount of dough in the bowl. Stir to incorporate the flour and water into the sourdough starter. This should be a batter-like consistency. If it's thicker than brownie batter, add a bit more water.

Cover the bowl and set aside until the batter is full of bubbles. Depending on your active your starter is, this could take an hour or two, or it could be an overnight or all-day process. It doesn't matter how long it takes, it's important to let it take all the time it needs.

If your starter gets bubbly and it's an inconvenient time for you to continue, just put it in the refrigerator and continue later.

When the batter is bubbly add about a cup of flour and about a teaspoon of salt and stir it in. If you have a stand mixer, now's the time to start kneading with the dough hook. If you're going to knead by hand, flour your work surface and turn out the dough.

Knead, adding flour as needed, until you have a smooth, soft, silky, elastic, bouncy dough. If you've made bread before, you know what consistency you're looking for. But generally it should be denser than batter and soft enough to hand-knead easily. It shouldn't be gummy and sticking to everything, but it shouldn't be so dry that it refuses to absorb more flour as you knead.

Form the dough into a ball and return it to the bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap. Let it rise until the dough has doubled in size. This can take as little as an hour, or it could be a loooong time, depending on how lively your sourdough starter was.

Again, if you need to stall the process, you can refrigerate the dough. If you need to speed it up a bit, put it in a warm(ish) place, like in your oven with the light on.

When the dough has doubled, turn it out, gently deflate it, and form it into the shape you like. Seal the seam and place the loaf on a parchment-lined baking sheet (or if you prefer, you can sprinkle the sheet with cornmeal).

Cover the loaf with plastic wrap and set aside until it has doubled in size. This should take about half as long as the previous rise. Again, you can slow the progress by refrigerating the dough, or speed it up by finding a warmer place for it to rise.

About 20 minutes before the loaf has finished rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

When the loaf has doubled, remove the plastic wrap, slash as desired, and bake at 350 degrees until the loaf is nicely browned and it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Remove the loaf from the oven and let it cool completely on a rack before slicing.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Herbivoracious-Inspired Grilled Cheese

So, everyone seems to be talking about Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin, right? Okay, maybe it's just the people I hang out with, but I've heard a lot of buzz about the book. Must-have and all that stuff.

Well, okay, I like vegetables.

So here's me paging through the book, looking at all the beautiful recipes, and I get stuck on grilled cheese of all things. And it's not so much the recipe as it is a new technique that's got me all boggled.

We all know that the best part of a grilled cheese sandwich is the warm, melty cheese, right?

Hah! That's what you might say if you've eaten a grilled cheese sandwich but you've never cooked one. Because cooks know that the best part is the crusty browned bits of cheese that ooze out of the sandwich and get all crisp in the pan.

Those browned bits NEVER make it to the serving plate because the cooks snag 'em and eat 'em. Because they're sort of odd almost-burned pieces, and who wants that, anyway, right? Yeah, right. Cooks steal 'em because they're the best part.

So Michael Natkin decided to expand upon that browned-bit idea in a very ingenious way. His recipe calls for specific cheeses, which I'm sure are marvelous. But I didn't have them on hand, and I absolutely had to try this. With the cheese I happened to have.

And YOU can try it with any grilled-cheese worthy cheese you happen to have on hand. I like colby cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches, but I've been known to stray. Use anything you like. Add stuff to the interior, like I did with my scrambled ham and egg grilled cheese, if you like. Or make it plain.

But you have to try this. It's brilliant.

Herbivoracious-Inspired Grilled cheese

Butter, for cooking - about a tablespoon
Two slices bread
Pile of grated good-melting cheese (enough to generously cover one slice of bread, plus a little more

Melt the butter in a nonstick pan on medium heat and place the slices of bread in the pan. Pile the cheese one one slice, reserving a small handful. Let's say 1/4 cup(ish). Flip the uncheesed slice of bread onto the cheesed side and press down.

Cook on medium heat, flipping the sandwich as needed, until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted.

 Now comes the genius part. Pile the reserved cheese next to the sandwich in a shape similar to that of your sandwich. Let it melt. When the edges begin to brown just a tiny bit, flip the sandwich over onto the cheese. The cheese will adhere to the sandwich. Oh yeah, now we're talking.

Continue cooking until the cheese is nicely browned and crisp.

Serve hot.

Devour.

Repeat as necessary.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Creamy Carrot Soup for #SundaySupper

In my house, soup is often inspired by what's in the refrigerator that I need to use up. Sometimes it starts with a stock, or sometimes it starts with the extra vegetables I bought.

This time, it was inspired by my juicer.

Do you juice? Do you hate throwing away the usable pulp? Me too.

In this case, I had a whole bunch of carrot pulp left after juicing a LOT of carrots. I knew I could do something useful with that pulp. Or, really, it was more like shredded carrots. Sort of dry shredded carrots, but still good stuff - enough flavor left, plus the good fiber that would add body to my soup.

If you don't have left over carrot pulp from a juicer, of course you can use shredded carrots. Or, heck, chop them if you like. Your soup will be more carrot-y, which isn't a bad thing.

The ginger here was a late addition when I made the soup. After it was nearly done and I tasted it, I knew it needed a "warm" spice. I considered nutmeg, mace, cinnamon and cumin. All of those would have worked, but in the end I chose ginger. But I didn't want this to be a carrot-ginger soup. The ginger isn't particularly discernible, but it does add that warmth I was looking for. Like I said, I added it at the end, as an adjustment, but it makes more sense, recipe-wise, to add it earlier.

The other thing this soup needed was a bit of acid, which is why I used the creme fraiche garnish. It's not just about pretty presentation. Sour cream would also work, if you don't have creme fraiche. But really, creme fraiche is easy to make at home. So go for it.

Creamy Carrot Soup

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups shredded carrot
8 cups water
3 red potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup diced celery
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon salt (plus more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
Creme fraiche* (for garnish)

Melt the butter in a stockpot or large, heavy-bottomed pot. Let it cook until the solids in the butter begin to brown, then quickly add the carrots and stir. Add the water, potatoes, celery, garlic, salt, thyme, and ginger.

Cook at a simmer, stirring as needed, until the vegetables are very tender. Blend the soup with your stick blender (you could also do this in batches in a regular blender, but that wouldn't be a lot of fun.) The soup should be very smooth. If the carrots can still be seen in bits, continue cooking and blend again. It took about an hour before my carrots were completely smooth.

Add the evaporated milk and blend once more. Taste for seasoning. Add salt, as needed.

Serve hot, with a garnish of creme fraiche on each bowl. You can have more creme fraiche at the table, if you like, so people can add more as needed.

*Check here for my creme fraiche recipe.

This recipe is part of the weekly #SundaySupper, and this week it's all about soup. Go check out these awesome blogger and their soup recipes!

Do The Chicken Dance (chicken - or other poultry - soups)

Chicken Tortellini & White Bean Soup at Flour On My Face
Chicken Gnocchi at Dinners, Dishes and Desserts
Chicken Cheese Soup by There and Back Again
Chicken Tortellini Soup by Country Girl In The Village
Chicken Soup with Leeks, Onions and Fennel by Shockingly Delicious
Family Style Tablescape featuring Chicken Tortilla Soup by An Appealing Plan
Yucatan Chicken Lime Soup (Sopa de Lima) by The Weekend Gourmet
Chicken Meatball, Spinach and Orzo Soup from Gourmet Drizzles
Ground Turkey and Vegetable Soup at The Messy Baker
Cheesy Chipotle Chicken Sausage Chowder by Cupcakes and Kale Chips
Chick-Fil-A Chicken Noodle Soup by Family Foodie
Chicken Vegetable Noodle Soup at Cupcakes and Pearls
Healthy Bean and Sausage Soup by Momma’s Meals
Smoked Sausage and Wild Rice Soup at Mama, Mommy, Mom

Where’s The Beef (Beef Soups)

Chili with Black Beans by That Skinny Chick Can Bake
Vegetable and Beef Soup by Supper For a Steal
Swabian Beef Spaetzle +1 Soup (Gaisburger Marsch) at Galactosemia in PDX
Bacon Cheeseburger Soup by Small Wallet, Big Appetite
Beef Pho Soup by No One Likes Crumbley Cookies
Frijol con Carne by MarocMama
Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef and Noodle Soup) by Neighborfood

Pass The Pork. Please (Pork or Sausage Soups)

Louisiana Caldo by Catholic Foodie
Sweet potato and Spanish chorizo soup at My Cute Bride
Soft Tofu Soup (Soondubu Jjigae) by Hip Foodie Mom

Under The Sea (Seafood Soups)

Shrimp Miso Noodle Soup at Pescetarian Journal
Szechuan Fish Soup by The Urban Mrs.
New England Clam Chowder at Cindy’s Recipes and Writings
Hearty Okra Shrimp Gumbo Laced with Coconut Oil by Sue’s Nutrition Buzz
Bacon and Shrimp Bisque at Big Bear’s Wife
Lobster Bisque by Peanut Butter and Peppers
Chinese Fish Maw Soup by My Trials in The Kitchen
Thai Curry Coconut Mussel Soup by Noshing With The Nolands

Eat Your Veggies (Chock Full o’ Vegetables Soups)

Not-So-Mini-Strone at The Foodie Army Wife
French Onion Soup by The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen
Spicy Sweet Potato and Corn Soup at Magnolia Days
Creamy Cheddar Potato Soup at Daily Dish Recipes
Rather French Onion Soup by What Smells So Good?
Broccoli Cheddar Soup by Hezzi D’s Books and Cooks
Cream of Ancho Chile Soup from La Cocina de Leslie
Pasta e Fagoli Soup at Cravings of a Lunatic
Miso Soup by Crazy Foodie Stunts
Vegetable Consommé with Semolina Dumplings – Grießknödel at Masala Herb
Vegetable Medley Soup with Broccoli and Leeks at Chattering Kitchen
Smoky Kale and Tomato Soup with Garlic Croutons by The Wimpy Vegetarian
Coconut Corn Chowder at Mangoes and Chutney
Make Your Own (Gluten Free) Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup at The Meltaways
Ital Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup at The Lovely Pantry
Chunky Vegetable and Barley Soup at Curious Cuisiniere
Corn Soup with Crispy Tortilla Strips at Ninja Baking
Jalapeno Beer Cheese Soup by The Hand That Rocks The Ladle
Wild Mushroom Soup at Food Lust People Love
Creamy Carrot Soup at Cookistry
Vermicelli Soup by Damn Delicious
Country Split Pea Soup with Bacon and Potatoes at girlichef

Some Don’t Like It Hot (Chilled Soups)

Chilled Strawberry Soup at Juanita’s Cocina
Bread and Tomato Soup – Gazpacho Style at Vintage Kitchen Notes

Of course once you have seen all of the recipes for the day, you’ll not want to miss our #SundaySupper conversation on twitter each Sunday. We tweet throughout the day and share recipes from all over the world. This week we will be sharing out special soup recipes!

Our weekly chat starts at 7 p.m. ET and you do not want to miss out on the fun. Follow the#SundaySupper hashtag and remember to include it in your tweets to join in the chat.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Brown Sugar and Sour Cream Waffles

I have to admit that Bob and I were never big breakfast eaters. Sometimes we'd go out for breakfast on a weekend, but at that point we were probably up for a couple hours. And someone else was doing the work. Otherwise, breakfast was a hit-or-miss affair. Coffee for sure. Then maybe toast or something simple. Maybe leftovers. Or cereal.

Nothing very complicated. And sometimes nothing at all.

But since he's come home from the hospital, we've had breakfast every day. Since he still can't eat a lot at a time, it's important for him to eat more often. Breakfast, lunch, dinner ... and snacks. And sometimes a late-night snack.

But yawn ... I'm not all that perky in the morning. We've had French toast a few mornings, but anything more complicated than that needs to wait for lunch. I'm not going to be making crepes or flambeing things until I've stopped yawning and blinking and trying to make sense of the world.

But ... but ... I'm getting tired of scrambled eggs.

So I pulled out the waffle maker. After breakfast. After I was awake and functional. Because waffles can be made and reheated. Heck, they can even be frozen. I figured these would be ideal for the days when I wanted something really really easy.

And let's be honest. Whipping up this batter is also easy. Particularly if you use self-rising flour.

Brown Sugar and Sour Cream Waffles

1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) self-rising flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Measure the flour into a mixing bowl and set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and eggs. Beat with an electric mixer until they're bubbly and look a little lighter. Add the milk, vegetable oil, sour cream, and vanilla. (Measuring tip: Use a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. First measure the cup of milk, then add the oil. Then add the sour cream. It will sink into the liquid and the liquid level will rise in the cup. No need to dirty more than one measuring cup!)

Beat the mixture until it's well combined, then add this to the flour in the other bowl. (Note: baking wisdom tells you to add the wet to the dry and that's what I did. If you want to throw caution to the wind and add the dry to the wet, I'm not going to stop you.) Mix until everything is incorporated. It's fine if you have a few little lumps, but you don't want big blobs of dry flour in the middle of your waffles.

Cook in your waffle maker according to the manufacturer's directions.

Serve immediately or let them cool before storing or freezing. You can reheat in a toaster or microwave, whichever you prefer.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Whole Foods Friday: Oatmeal Bread

It's pretty amazing that uncooked rolled oats completely disappear when baked into bread but that's exactly what happens. You see little flecks of color, but that's about it. The flavor of the oats in the bread is also very mild - it adds a bit of character to the bread, but no one's going to tell you the bread tastes like granola.

This bread has a nice crunchy crust coming out of the oven, but if you want a soft crust, place a clean kitchen towel over the top of the bread as it's cooling. After you store it in a plastic bag, the crust will soften, anyway. So if you like that crunchy crust, enjoy it on that first day.

I kneaded this bread using my stand mixer, but you can also knead it by hand if you prefer. Hold back some of the flour from the recipe to flour your work surface, otherwise you risk adding too much during kneading.

Oatmeal Bread

1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups (9 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Put the oats, water, yeast, and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer and let it stand for 10 minutes to let the oats soften a bit. Add the bread flour and salt and knead with the dough hook until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Add the butter and knead until it is completely incorporated. If you have room temperature butter, that's good, but the stand mixer will have no trouble incorporating refrigerator-cold butter, so don't worry about that.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until the dough has doubled in size, about 50 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Flour your work surface and turn out the dough. Knead briefly, then form into your preferred shape - round or oval. Place the dough on the prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size - about 25 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

When the dough has doubled, remove the plastic wrap Slash the top of the loaf as desired. Bake at 350 degrees until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped in the bottom - about 30 minutes.

Remove the loaf from the oven and let cool completely on a rack before slicing.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.

Whole Foods Friday: Blueberry, Cherry, and Oat Muffins

We all know that more fiber is good for us, right? When it comes to baking, usually that fiber comes from whole wheat. But oats are a good alternative, and sometimes they're a better alternative. They're lighter in color in baked goods, and the flavor is milder, so they can be more appealing to people who haven't fully embraced the idea of whole grains.

I made these muffins with a combination of dried blueberries and dried cherries - about 2/3 blueberries and 1/3 cherries - but you can use any proportion, or any dried fruit that you like. I've recently decided that I like dried fruits better than fresh in muffins. The flavor is more concentrated and they're sturdy, so you don't end up with squished fruit in the muffins.

Some recipes call for hydrating dried fruits before baking. I might do something like that for a more delicate baked good, like a cake. But muffins are more robust, and they can handle the more dense fruit. Of course, if your dried fruit has been sitting around for a while and it is too chewy, you can certainly opt to hydrate the fruit before baking.

These muffins were only tested at high altitude - if you're cooking at sea level, you might need an extra teaspoon of baking powder beyond what's provided from using self-rising flour. Up here (gasp, gasp) at about a mile high, these rose nicely, but didn't over-rise, which is always a worry. And the texture was perfect.

Blueberry, Cherry, and Oat Muffins

1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) self-rising flour
1 pinch salt
1 cup dried blueberries and cherries (any combination you like)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup creme fraiche*
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and spray a muffin pan (with 12 regular-sized muffins, not the giant ones) with baking spray. Or, if you prefer, line with cupcake papers.

Obliterate the oats in your food processor until you have a fine powder. It's fine if there are a few bits, but it should be mostly powder.

Combine the obliterated oats, self-rising flour, salt, and dried fruit in a medium bowl.

In a separate bowl whisk together the sugar, creme fraiche, oil, and egg. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients, and stir until it's combined.

Portion the batter into the 12 muffin cups in the pan.

If the oven hasn't quite come up to temperature at this point, no worries. Just wait for it.

Bake at 375 degrees until the muffins are golden brown on top, they spring back when gently touched in the center, and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean - about 18-20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the muffins to a rack to cool.

*Home made creme fraiche is easy. Here's my method.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Gadgets: Clip & Drain

The other day, I was straining some spaghetti and watched in horror as a good handful of noodles wriggled past the strainer and into the sink.

Okay, the sink was clean enough, but most of 'em went down the drain, and there's no five-second-rule for that.

Two days later, the Clip & Drain ($11.95) showed up. It's a simple idea - you clip it to the edge of your pot, and you have both hands free for pouring. The shape of the Clip & Drain makes it work with a huge variety of pot sizes, from small to pretty darned big.

With pots on the far ends of the size spectrum, the fit wasn't quite as good as for the mid-sized pots, but it was good enough to keep my spaghetti from going down the drain.

Although I like using this thing for draining potatoes, pasta, and vegetables, I found it even more useful when I was straining some stock. Maybe it's just me, but that usually ends up being a mess since it's the liquid that needs to be saved. With this, it was pretty easy to just strain the stock into a storage container and toss the remains that were left in the pot.

I can't say how long the clip part of the Clip & Drain will last, but it seems pretty sturdy, and it grips the pots firmly. I was a little bit skittish the first few times I used it, thinking that if it slipped off, I'd lose a whole pot of vegetables, but it held firm.

The curious thing about this product is that no one thought if it before. It's a genius idea, and it works really well.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It's almost over: #TopChef (and how to revive an inactive sourdough starter)

The Top Chef finale is coming soon - it's on Wednesday, February 27 at 10/9c - and I'm ready to make my prediction for the winner.

Drumroll, please ...

I'm predicting it will be Brooke. 


She started off feeling like an underdog, but has gained confidence and has won quickfires and challenges.. In the quickfire in the Even the Famous Come Home episode, she made an apple crostata with cheddar cheese in the crust.

I mean, really, that's something I might make. In fact, there's a good chance I will make something similar soon. Hmmmm. Maybe that's why I like her - because her cooking style fits so well with mine. When she was talking about the judge's comment about her crostata, she said, "It never really feels like a compliment when you're in a room full of chefs and you've made the 'homey' dish."

But she ended up winning the quickfire. So "homey" wasn't so bad after all.

I also like her because she didn't get involved in a lot of the drama. During the Restaurant Wars episode, when the chefs were at the Judges table there were fireworks between Kristen and Josie, but Brooke didn't get involved.

One of the judges asked, "How did the day go for you, Brooke?"

She answered, "Quickly."

Another one of her dishes that I really liked was the raised chicken from the Glacial Gourmet episode. That was another dish that I could imagine making at home. I mean, I've made braised chicken before. Many times. Recently, even.

She doesn't like boats or heights or confined spaces, but deals with them all. I get it. I don't like heights, either. I completely get it. But she didn't let that stop her. When she was in a helicopter in the Glacial Gourmet episode, you could see how scared she was at first, but then she finally opened her eyes and enjoyed the scenery.

And then later, she said how much she loved the scenery. Go, girl! And then she had a blast dogsledding. That really looked like fun. That was one of my favorite little non-cooking moments in the season.

And then she won the quickfire and got immunity in the next challenge.

The dish she made sounded pretty crazy to me = lamb-stuffed squid. The judges loved it and it was the first time I remember her stepping that far out of her usual comfort zone. Although I thought the dish was a little crazy (and I'm still not sure if I'd like it) I liked that she could have slacked off since she had immunity, but instead she went with something madly creative. Of course, it also could have gone horribly wrong, but it didn't. And she ended up winning a Toyota Prius.

Nobody's ever offered me a car for my cooking. How about you?

My favorite challenge - the one that I would have loved to cook along with - came in the Kings of Alaska episode. The chefs all made sourdough bread. I love making bread, and I love sourdough. I've got NINE different sourdough starters in my refrigerator right now. Some are relatively young, and one of them dates back to the 1800's.

But enough about me. Brooke made a sourdough that included dill. And she won the challenge..

Sourdough Tip:
How to Revive an Inactive Sourdough Starter



I've done a lot of posts about sourdough, including a step-by-step, day-by-day tutorial for getting a starter going. It uses nothing but flour and water, and although no system is foolproof, it has worked for me over and over.

BUT. Sometimes a starter doesn't get lively enough. Sometimes it bubbles but never rises up in the jar. Or sometimes you store a starter a little too long, and it it gets really, really sleepy. And it doesn't want to wake up.

Then what do you do? It's a question I get asked A LOT.

And the answer is pretty simple.

Throw out all but about a tablespoon of starter. You don't have to throw out the "discarded" starter. you can add it to a yeast dough for flavor, or add it to a quickbread for flavor, or add it to pancakes or waffles. The point is that you don't want to use it to grow your starter. You just want that one little tablespoon.

If the jar that you keep your starter in is particularly nasty-looking, you can take that tablespoon and put it in a clean jar.

Then, begin feeding the starter aggressively, doubling the amount each time, and feeding 2-3 times each day. After 2-3 days, you should have a very lively starter that's ready to use. And since you're doubling each time, you should have plenty to use.

And that's it. You should be ready to bake, just like a Top Chef.

I think my next sourdough will include dill, just like the one Brooke made. Yup, I like the way that gal cooks!

Who's your favorite? Who do you think will win?

I'll be hosting a Top Chef Twitter party on Tuesday, February 26 at 1 p.m est - that's the day before the finale. Follow me (@dbcurrie) on Twitter and you might want to follow @BravoTopChef too. Look for the hashtags #TopChef and  #winTopChefswag and join the party to win some stuff! No registration needed.

Get the party started!

Tweet this: Save the date: @dbcurrie + @BravoTopChef will be hosting a #TopChef Twitter chat on 2/26 at 1pm EST. #winTopChefswag


Content and/or other value provided by our partner, Bravo.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Breakfast for Dinner: Ham and Scrambled Egg Grilled Cheese #3SI #spon


There are a lot of days when I need to put together a quick meal. Sure, I love the complicated recipes where I can spend the day peeling, chopping, stirring, tweaking ... but those are for days off.

Most other days, I can afford some time in the kitchen to do put together something tasty. Maybe there aren't any fancy garnishes, but it's well thought-out and nicely presented.

And then there are those days when I'm running like a maniac to get dinner on the table ten minutes ago.

The simplest dinners are the breakfast-for-dinner meals, usually something like scrambled eggs and toast. That's sort of a last-resort, can't-think-of-anything-else meal.

But it doesn't take much more effort to make this sandwich, and it's definitely more creative than simple scrambled eggs. Even better, it can be made in one pan, so cleanup is easy. Some pickles or chips or sliced tomato on the side would be great. Or, if you've got the extra two seconds, a simple green salad.

My favorite cheeses for grilled cheese sandwiches are yellow cheeses somewhere in the continuum between American cheese and a non-aged cheddar. As much as I like cheddar cheese, it doesn't melt the way I like in a sandwich like this. Swiss or pepperjack would also work well.

For the ham, this is the perfect use for left over baked ham, but you can also use deli ham, if you prefer. I like slightly thicker slices, but just about anything will work.

As far as this new butter with canola oil, it's got a few advantages. It's soft and spreadable, it tastes good on its own (I was really surprised when I tried it on bread), and since there's oil with the butter, it has a higher smoke point than straight butter. It doesn't have any strange ingredients - it's just cream, canola oil, and salt.

I've been using Land O'Lakes butter as my standard everyday for a long time, and I can remember my mother buying it, so obviously it's been around for a long time.

Ham-and-Egg Grilled Cheese

2 tablespoons Land O Lakes® Butter with Canola Oil (divided)
1 cup diced ham
2 eggs
4 slices bread
4 slices cheese

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a nonstick pan on medium heat. Add the ham and cook, stirring, just until the ham warms slightly. Add the eggs on top of the ham, and break the yolks. Stir to combine whites and yolks and ham. Continue cooking until the eggs are cooked through.

Transfer the scrambled ham and eggs to a plate or bowl and set aside for a moment.

Wipe out the pan - you don't need to clean it completely - just get rid of the egg bits that might burn.

Add the second tablespoon of butter to the pan. Place all four slices of bread in the pan. (If they don't all fit, you can do this one sandwich at a time.) Place a slice of cheese on each slice of bread.

Place half of the egg mixture on each of two slices of bread, then top with the un-egged slice of bread and cheese. At this point, the cheese should be lightly adhering to the bread.

Continue cooking, flipping the sandwiches as needed, until the bread is nicely toasted and the cheese is melted.

Serve hot.

The author was compensated by Land O’Lakes for this post. All opinions are my own.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Spaghetti Sauce in the slow cooker

My husband loves spaghetti. How much? Well, while he was in the hospital, I made spaghetti a few times. I'd cook half of a 1-pound box and it would last me at least four meals. AT LEAST. And that's with plain tomato sauce - no meat.

I made that same amount of spaghetti along with a sauce that included 1 pound of meat. And I gotta tell ya - what I had left after one meal wasn't even a full serving. And I wasn't the one who ate the extra. This makes me VERY happy, because Bob needs to pack on some weight, and his stomach needs to stretch.

I'm doing the best I can stuffing him with food.

This sauce was perfect for a day when we had a few other things to do during the day. In the slow cooker, I didn't need to worry about stirring. I used a home made tomato sauce, but if you want to make this, you can certainly use canned sauce.

The giardiniera was purchased, and it's not a spicy version. The brands I buy are Greco or Vienna - I'm sure there are others.

Slow-Cooked Spaghetti Sauce

1 medium onion, medium dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons Red & Green dried bell peppers (Penzey's)
1/2 teaspoon wild fennel seeds (from Marx Foods)
1 tablespoon Cantanzaro herbs (Savory Spice Shop)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 cup mild giardiniera
1 quart tomato sauce

If your slow cooker has a browning setting, you can do all of this in the slow cooker. Otherwise, you can brown the meat and cook the vegetables in a separate pot and add them to the slow cooker. I'll assume your crockpot has a browning setting.

Put the onion, garlic, beef, dried bell peppers, fennel seeds, Cantanzaro herbs, and oregano in the slow cooker. Cook until the beef is cooked through and the onions and garlic are softened. Stir as needed to break up the beef an keep from burning the onion and garlic.

Add the giardiniera and tomato sauce. Set the slow cooker on low and cook for four hours - or as long as you like - a little more or less isn't critical.

This makes enough for 1 pound of pasta. It freezes well if you don't use it all.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

SDS Tilapia

Hmmm. That title sounds like it should be the name of a boat.

But it's not.

Remember the Secret Dipping Sauce recipe I published a while back? I used it to cook chicken then. Now, I used it to make fish, and it couldn't have been easier.

The recipe for the secret dipping sauce is here.

SDS Tilapia

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 tilapia filets
1 cup Secret Dipping Sauce

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan on medium heat and add the onion. Cook until the onion is softened, then add the secret dipping sauce an lower the heat to below a simmer.

Cut the fish into bite-size pieces. Add to the saute pan. Cook, stirring as needed, until the fish is cooked through.

Serve over rice.

Or, this would be a great filling for tacos.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Gadgets: The Tea Stick


There must be a bazillion tea-infuser devices on the market, and among them is the Blomus Tea Stick ($20). The design is modern and the idea is good. You press a plunger, insert the end into your loose tea, and it should fill the tea stick's container. Release the plunger, and the tea is neatly contained.

It works well if the loose tea you're using is the right size. Big leaves and chunks won't fit.

When it comes to infusing, the tea stick is pretty tall, so it's fine if you drink your tea in a mug. If you're using a short, fat teacup, this isn't going to work so well.

My pet peeve when brewing tea is that I don't want bits and pieces in my tea - I want a clear liquid without bits of leaves floating on top and gritty bits on the bottom. The tea stick doesn't spew bits the way my poorly-designed tea ball did, but small bits escape through the holes.

I like the way this tea stick looks, but I'm less enthusiastic about the function. With some teas - the ones that had pieces just the right size - this worked perfectly. With other teas with larger or smaller bits, it was much less successful.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Hot Chocolate Malt Ice Cream

This is a "cheater" ice cream recipe that uses a few purchased products instead of being completely from scratch. The only cooking you need to do is to heat some milk to dissolve the hot chocolate mixture, and you can do that in the microwave, if you like..

The hot chocolate mix I used is the type that you'd add milk to, rather that one that just requires water. Use your favorite mix - it adds a lot of flavor to the ice cream.

The resulting ice cream is rich and very chocolate-y with the flavor of malt in the background.

I won't tell anyone you cheated.

Hot Chocolate Malt Ice Cream

1 cup milk
1 cup hot chocolate mix
1 3.5 ounce package instant chocolate fudge pudding mix
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup malted milk powder
2 cups half-and-half
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Heat the milk - not quite to the boil - and add the hot chocolate mix. Stir to combine.

Meanwhile, combine the instant pudding, sugar, salt, and malted milk powder in a bowl. Stir to combine. Add the half-and-half and vanilla and stir to combine. Add the hot chocolate mixture and stir well.

Cover the mixture and refrigerate until fully chilled.

When the mixture is chilled, churn it in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

This recipe plus that recipe equals ... Candy!

First there were the chocolate covered oreos.


Then there were truffles.


I decided to melt the left over white and red chocolate together to get a pink coating.

And then I rolled up some of the extra ganache I had left from the previous batch of truffles.

I chilled the heck out of the truffles and then coated them with the pink chocolate.

And then I sprinkled just a little bit of kosher salt on top.


Done. Yum.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bread with a Heart - for Valentine's Day

How cool would it be to cut into a loaf of bread on Valentine's Day and find a pretty pink heart?

Yup, I thought it would be cool, and I wanted to do it without any food coloring.

The heart idea was new, but I've been working on this general concept for quite some time.

I've seen cakes with designs inside- hearts, squares, circles ... and I thought it would be pretty cool to do the same thing with bread.

Of course you can put two different types of dough together. But it's awfully hard to get the dough to keep the shape you're looking for.

It's hard enough to get it to behave when you're trying to make a bread sculpture like my bunny bread.


But when you're trying to keep a shape or pattern inside the loaf, it's even harder.

Here's one from a long time ago, where I was trying to make a smiley face.


As you can see, it's didn't work very well. I've tried a few other things, but none of them looked good enough to blog about. I mean, think about it. You make a simple swirl bread and it never comes out as a perfect spiral. Stuff inside moves around a lot as the bread rises. And it's worse when you're using two different types of bread, like rye and white. They don't rise at the same rate. It's really hard to control what they're going to do inside the bread..

But then I thought, "why not put a baked shaped bread inside some dough?" that's how the cake makers do it. They embed cooked shapes in the batter, and they bake it. Sounds easy enough, right? It should work for bread, rights?

Here was my first try. It's supposed to be a heart.


It's not dead-center in the bread, but that doesn't bother me. That adds to its personality.

The problem that you don't see is that the two different breads didn't join up very well. The heart falls out. Don't you just hate it when your heart falls out?

I also wasn't thrilled with the shape of the bread insert. Unless you look really closely, you can't tell that it's supposed to be a heart. And then I also decided that I didn't like the color of that heart. I wanted more contrast.

My second loaf looked wonderful coming out of the oven, but as soon as I cut into it, I could see that there was a huuuuge problem.


Oops. I knew what I did wrong. But, see the heart shape? It looks a bit better here. That was an easy fix. I just cut the notch a little deeper so it looks more like a heart.

This is what the shape looked like coming out of the mold I baked the bread in. See, it's a heart, but it could be a little more defined.
It was a lot pinker before I baked it the second time inside the bread. The color faded. Bummer. But I had ideas for fixing that, too.

Finally, after a number of tries (you don't want to know how many), I found a formula that worked.

Valentine's Bread

Pink Dough:
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup lukewarm water
2 1/2 cups (11 1/4 ounces) bread flour
1 tablespoon beet powder*
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter

White Dough (for one loaf):
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup lukewarm water
2 1/2 cups (11 1/4 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter

For assembly:
1 egg white, beaten with a tablespoon of water

For the pink dough:
Combine the yeast, sugar, water, flour, beet powder, and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer. Knead with the dough hook until the dough becomes elastic. Add the butter (it's fine if you add it straight from the refrigerator - the machine can handle it) and continue kneading until the butter is completely incorporated and the dough is smooth, shiny, and elastic.

Form the dough into a ball. Place it back in the bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rise until doubled in size, about an hour.

When the dough has doubled in size, remove it from the bowl and divide it in half. Form each half into a log that will fit into one of your canape bread molds.** Or, if you're only making one loaf, you can use the second half of the dough for buns or a small loaf of bread.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Coat the dough with baking spray or a light coating of oil before you place it in the canape mold. Place the dough in the mold, cover the ends, and let the dough sit until the dough has risen enough so it nearly fills the mold to the top. It's fine to open the mold to peek. It should take about 30 minutes.

Place the filled mold(s) on a baking sheet and bake at 325 degree for 35 minutes, until the bread is baked though. It's normal for some of the dough to ooze out of the ends of the mold - don't worry about that.

Remove the bread from the oven, take the ends off the mold, and cut off the excess that overflowed the mold. Slip the bread out of the mold and let it cool on a rack. If your bread mold is similar to mine, cut a v-shape in the notch of the heart to enhance the shape. Or, if you like it the way it is, leave it as-is.

Slip the bread back into the mold and place it in the freezer for at least an hour. It's fine to continue the next day (or a few days later) if you prefer. Freezing accomplishes a few things, but one important thing is that it makes the bread hard enough so you can wrap the white dough around it firmly without squishing the design.

For the white dough:
Combine the yeast, sugar, water, flour, and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer. Knead with the dough hook until the dough becomes elastic. Add the butter (it's fine if you add it straight from the refrigerator - the machine can handle it) and continue kneading until the butter is completely incorporated and the dough is smooth, shiny, and elastic.

Form the dough into a ball. Place it back in the bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rise until doubled in size, about an hour.

When the dough has doubled in size, remove it from the bowl. If you're using a heart mold cut off one piece of dough that you can roll into a rope and fit into the notch in the heart.

If you're making another shape (like the flower shape in the photo on the right) ), cut off enough pieces to fill any notches or valleys in the shape you're using.

Knead the remaining large piece of dough briefly, then flatten it into a rectangle that will be large enough to wrap around the bread baked in the canape mold. The edges on the long side should be kept thicker to compensate for the point of the heart. For other shapes, the rectangle can be an even thickness.

Remove the dough from the freezer and brush it all over with the egg white. Place the rope you rolled into the notch in the heart, then place the heart point-side up on the dough rectangle.

Wrap the dough around the bread and seal the seam, making sure there's enough dough around the point. Flip the dough so the pointed end of the heart is at the bottom. Shape the dough into an even log-shape.

Spray a 9x5 loaf pan with baking spray and place the dough in the pan, seam-side down. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise until the dough rises about an inch over the top of the pan. Since you've cooled the dough with that chilly bread in the center, this will take longer than normal - 90 minutes or more. The dough should feel puffy and if pressed with a fingertip, it shouldn't spring back.

About 30 minutes before the dough is fully risen, preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

When the dough has risen, remove the plastic wrap, slash the top of the loaf, and bake until the loaf is nicely browned, about 45 minutes. Remove the loaf from the pan. If the sides an bottom are still paler than you like,  place the loaf directly on the oven rack and bake an additional 10 minutes.

Let the loaf cool completely on a rack before slicing.

*The beet powder I used came from Whole Foods. You can probably find it online or at a store that sells bulk spices. If you like, you could use food coloring, instead.

**These are the canape molds I have. If you don't have molds, you could bake a regular loaf and carve it into your preferred shape.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Chocolate Truffles with wheat germ? Why, yes!

I don't think I've ever heard the words "wheat germ" and "chocolate truffles" in the same sentence, but when you think about it, it makes sense. Wheat germ has a slightly nutty taste, and it would add texture to a smooth truffle. And it looks right.

I'd like to say that I came up with the idea myself, but I actually got it from the folks who make Kretchmer's Wheat Germ. Go figure, huh?

What I thought was interesting was that they have a honey-crunch wheat germ. I haven't tried it yet - heck, I haven't had time to go look for it yet - but it sounds intriguing.

I added a pinch or two of salt to the wheat germ coating. Very nice. Give it a try.

Dark Chocolate Truffles with Wheat Germ
Recipe courtesy of Kretchmer's Wheat Germ
Make 30-32 truffles

A decadent piece of chocolate is the perfect way to top off a meal and stay satisfied without overindulging. It’s also a really nice gift to bring to friends. These truffles are made with dark chocolate which we’ve heard is “good for us” and rolled in wheat germ instead of cocoa for a nutty richer depth of flavor.

8 ounces good quality bittersweet or semi sweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons Kretschmer Original Toasted Wheat Germ or Kretschmer Honey Crunch Wheat Germ

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Place chopped chocolate in a medium-sized bowl.

Heat cream to a gentle boil in small, heavy-duty saucepan. Remove from heat and add then chocolate. Stir until mixture is smooth and chocolate is melted.

Refrigerate for 25 to 30 minutes or until mixture is thick enough to form into balls.

Using a very small ice cream scoop, about the size of a teaspoon or a melon baller, drop rounds onto the cookie sheet. Shape or roll into balls; coat with Kretschmer wheat germ. (Note: if chocolate becomes too soft to shape, put it back in refrigerator until it is cold enough to manage.)

Store in an airtight container in refrigerator. Remove at least 15 minutes before serving so chocolate has a chance to come to room temperature.
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