Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pork Stew (Guisado de Puerco)

One of my absolutely favorite cuts of meat is pork shoulder. As a roast, as country ribs, boneless, whatever. It's a tough cut that takes some time to cook, but the result is super-tender meat that's never dry. Or maybe you have to work really hard on it to get it dry.

This time around, boneless country ribs were on sale (Wheee! I love a sale!) and I decided to do a stew.

Meanwhile, I had peppers left over from some Marx Foods challenges. I've entered a ton of them, and many have included dried peppers. So I rooted around in my basket o' dried peppers and emerged with some puya peppers and some New Mexico peppers.

And then for the fun of it, I used some blue potatoes from Frieda's Specialty Produce. I was curious whether the potatoes would color the sauce, or whether the sauce would color the potatoes. Both are pretty strong colors.

Pork Stew with Peppers

2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into cubes
1 can beer
3 dried New Mexico chiles
3 dried puya chiles
1 green pepper, cut into chunks
1 onion, diced
5 small purple potatoes, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1 teaspoon oregano (Mexican, if you have it)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt, to taste

Put the pork in your slow cooker and add the beer plus one can of water. Cook on low until the pork is tender.

It's hard to say exactly how long this will take - it depends on the pork you bought, how large the pieces are, and how hot the "low" setting on your slow cooker is. Figure about 4 hours and cook it longer if you need to.

You want it fork tender, but you'll be cooking it longer the next day, so don't cook it until it's falling apart.

Refrigerate the pork, with all the liquid, until well-chilled. I usually let it sit in the refrigerator until the next day.

The next day, put the pork back in the crockpot along with the green pepper, onion, potatoes, oregano, tomato paste, and salt.

Put the dried peppers in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let the peppers soak until they are softened.

Remove the stems, seeds and ribs from the peppers, and puree until smooth. If you need some liquid to get the peppers pureed, use some of the chilled liquid from the pork.

Pass the pepper puree through a fine strainer to remove errant seeds and bits of skin, and add it to the slow cooker.

Cook on low until the vegetables are cooked through - about an hour. Taste and add more salt, if needed.

Serve hot. I like it over rice.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Morning Smoothies

I've been posting smoothies on Facebook, but I figured I'd post 'em here, too. Because why not.

These are just a few of the ones I've been making for breakfast. Maybe one of them will inspire you.

Strawberry Smoothie

Hand full of strawberries hulled and rinsed.
1 6-ounce container Wallaby Yogurt 0%
Wallaby yogurt container full of fruit juice blend

Blend-o-rama.

Drinkie, slurpy, drinkie.

The berries were the last of some fresh berries I bought. I'm guessing about 1/2 cup. The juice mix will remain unnamed. It wasn't great on its own, but it worked in the smoothie.

It was a little bit tart, but I'm okay with that.

Did you know that this is THE YEAR OF PURPLE?

I didn't know that either, but that's what my new BFFs at Frieda's Specialty Produce told me when they shipped me a whole bunch of purple food.

Mmmmm. Purrrrrple.

One of the things they sent was a 100% juice product with acai. The label says its a M.O.A.B. superfruit blend (Most Optimum Antioxident Beverage).

I don't know if I feel better, but it tastes pretty good.

Today, it went into my ....

Purple Smoothie

1 10.5 ounce bottle M.O.A.B
1 6-ounce container Wallaby Yogurt 0% Greek yogurt
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup.

Blend until frothy.

Slurp, slurp.

Is my tongue purple???

Okay, here's a question. What's your favorite PURPLE food?

Now for something NOT in the "Pink" Family

A lot of the smoothies I make are pink. Raspberry, cherry, strawberry - or a purple-y pink like the one with the acai juice. This time, the drink is a little more in the creamy pale yellow camp, but it's still packed with flavor. I like this one so much, I might repeat it tomorrow.

Or maybe not. I might change my mind before then.

BMPV = Banana Mango Peach Vanilla

1 banana
1 cup Silk Fruit & Protein Mango Peach
1 cup Chobani nonfat vanilla yogurt
1 teeny pinch salt

Blend it like you mean it.

Even though the yogurt is thick and the banana is solid and the Silk stuff had some body to it, when this was blended it was still of a nicely drinkable consistency.

Purple on the Outside

Besides the juices I got from Frieda's. I also got some purple passionfruit. They're only purple on the outside, though. I used one in a smoothie.

Passionfruit Banana Smoothie

1 banana
Pulp from passionfruit
1 7-ounce container Fage 2% yogurt
1 cup whole milk
Pinch of salt

Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

I've started posting some recipes on my Facebook page. Some are repeats of what's here on the blog, others are recipes that probably won't be posted here.

You can find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/cookistry. Stop by and say "hi!"

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Croissants with Morel Duxelles

Okay, maybe the mushrooms aren't quite duxelles, but I liked the rhyme. And when you're in your kitchen, you can certainly make a true duxelles. There are plenty of recipes online.

I used a duck egg here because 1) I had them from the farmers market and 2) I wanted to make these really rich. A chicken egg will work just fine.

Croissants aren't terribly hard to make, but they do require some time and some work with a rolling pin. This recipe is a little bit easier than the traditional method, since it uses a food processor in the first stage.

The smaller bits of butter also make the dough easier to roll, so there's a little less work involved. I'm not going to lie to you and say that this is as easy as making cake from a mix. But c'mon, it's home made croissants. People will think you're magical if you make these.

Croissants are always best on the day they are made. they lose the shattery crispness in the crust when you store them. They're still good. Just not as great a the could be.

Easy(er) Croissants with Morel "Duxelles"

For the croissants:
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup cold milk
1 small(ish) duck egg (about the size of a chicken egg - or use a chicken egg)
11 1/4 ounces (2 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick salted butter, cold
1 stick unsalted butter, cold
Eggwash:
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
For the "duxelles":
1/2 ounce dried morel mushrooms
1 tablespoon butter
Pinch of salt

Put the yeast, water and sugar into a medium bowl and stir to combine. Set aside until it begins to get foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the milk and egg, and beat lightly to break up the egg and combine it all.

Put the flour and salt into your food processor, and pulse to distribute the salt. Cut each stick of butter into tablespoon-sized pieces. Put all of the pieces into the food processor with the flour and pulse about 10 times to distribute the butter and break the chunks just a little. You don't want small pieces as you would for pie crust; larger chunks are preferable.

Add the flour and butter to the liquid in the bowl, and fold gently with a spatula until all the flour is moistened and it is well combined, being careful not to break up the butter. The butter should still be fairly hard at this point. The dough will be very wet; don't worry about it. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

The mixture can be used the next day, or kept refrigerated for an additional day if you aren't ready for it.

When you are ready to roll, flour your work surface generously, and have more flour standing ready. Turn the dough out onto your work surface, sprinkle some additional flour over the top You can be generous here, and form it into a rough square.

Working quickly, roll the dough out to an approximate 16-18-inch (sort-of) square. You don't have to be precise. Because the dough is fairly wet, it should roll easily, but it might be a bit sticky. The point here is that we need to flatten those bits of butter, so this first roll is more about getting that butter flatter and more pliable.

Add flour as needed on top and underneath to keep it from sticking any time during the process. At first, you might need a bit of flour. Later, a light dusting will suffice.

Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter. Then fold it in thirds again, to make a square.

Do this again three more times. Use flour as you need it and work quickly. If it's really hot in your kitchen and you feel the butter starting to get melty-soft, you can stop and refrigerate the dough. If the butter melts, you'll never get the layers you're looking for.

After the last fold, put the dough into a plastic bag and put it into the refrigerator for at least an hour, or up to three days.

Meanwhile, make the mushroom mixture:
Fill a small pot with a couple inches of water. Heat to a boil and then turn off the heat. Add 1/2 ounce of dried morel mushrooms an let them soak until they are softened.

Remove any tough or rubbery bits - I found that the "stem" bit was often just a bit rubbery. Chop the mushrooms into small bits. You could use a food processor, but we're not talking about that many mushrooms.

Heat the butter in a pan and fry the mushroom bits for a minute or two, then let them cool. If you're not using them right away, refrigerate until you need them.

When you are ready to make the croissants, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

The dough may have risen while refrigerated. After an hour you won't see much action, but if you left it refrigerated for longer, you will see that it rose a bit.

Flour your work surface and roll the dough into a circle about 14 inches in diameter.

Cut the dough into 8 pie-shaped wedges.

Pull the outside edge so that it's at least 8 inches wide and pull the dough lengthwise so it's about 10 inches long. It won't look like a perfect triangle any more - it will be more like the side view of a golf tee- but that's okay.

Take the prepared mushroom mixture and spread it over the surface of the triangles, leaveing a little edge uncovered on all sides.

Starting at the wide end of each triangle, roll the dough toward the the point.

Place the finished croissants on the prepared baking sheet with the point underneath. Curl the dough into a crescent shape.

Leave room on the baking sheet for the croissants to rise as they bake. These are pretty big croissants. you might as well put 4 on each sheet, so the have plenty of space.

Cover them with plastic wrap and set aside for 45 minutes. They won't rise much at all, but they should feel puffy instead of firm, and when you gently push on the side of one, the indent should fill in very slowly instead of bouncing back. Brush the croissants with the egg wash.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, until they are golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool.


This recipe was written for the Marx Foods 5th annual Morel recipe contest. For this contest, people were asked to bake with the morels. We were each given a sample of dried morels to work with.

The contest is now open for voting. Cast yer votes RIGHT HERE.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Whole Foods Feasting: Israeli Couscous Pilaf

Israeli is good warm or cold, and this pilaf is a perfect example of that. It's meant to be served warm, but the leftovers are just as good at room temperature or cold.

This makes a pretty large amount - about 2 quarts worth of pilaf, so it's great for parties, potlucks, or large families. You can halve the recipe if you're feeding fewer people.

The container of couscous I bought was about 11 1/2 ounces, but a little more or less isn't going to be critical. The couscous I used was a tri-color version, but plain Israeli couscous would be fine, too.

The herbs here make this a good match for pretty much any roast - chicken, beef, or pork.

Israeli Couscous Pilaf

About 12 ounces Israeli couscous, cooked
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 onion, diced
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon dry thyme
1 teaspoon dry savory
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 small zuchini, quartered lengthwise, then sliced

Cook the couscous according to package directions, or you can also cook it like pasta, in boiling salted water. Drain well.

While the pasta is cooking you can prep the rest of the ingredients and begin cooking. The couscous only takes about 10 minutes to cook.

Add the olive oil to a large pan over medium heat. Add the red bell pepper, onion, and salt and cook, stirring as needed, until the vegetables are softened.

Add the capers, thyme, savory, and black pepper and stir to combine. Add the zucchini and continue cooking until the zucchini is cooked to your desired doneness (I prefer it al dente for this).

Add the cooked couscous and cook for a minute or two more.

Serve hot.

This post was sponsored by Whole Foods.

#ILoveAvocados for Cinco de Mayo Sweepstakes

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Avocado App. All opinions are 100% mine.

If you’ve read my blog at all, you probably know that I have a serious love affair with avocados. Me, guacamole, and a spoon. *swoon*

Oh yeah, and I share with my husband. 

And we use chips, too. Or put guacamole on sandwiches or nachos. Or slice the avocado and layer it with tomato and mozzarella and drizzle with a little lemon olive oil. *swoon* again.

And now Cinco de Mayo is around the corner, so it’s the perfect time to go crazy with avocados.

There's an app...

There's an app for that ...
But avocados aren’t just avocados. There’s an Avocado app for iPhone, Android, and web users that’s sort of like a personal messaging system. 

Two people sign up for a joint account, and you message between the two of you. No one else can see the messages, so there’s no risk you’ll message a Facebook friend to pick up a quart of milk and then wonder when hubby shows up empty-handed.

Or, you know, whatever messages you want to send to your sweetheart. These days our messages are more practical than they might have been a few (many) years ago. But this is a cool way to keep in touch.

Photo Sweepstakes

But that’s not the end of Avocado love. For Cinco De Mayo, Avocados from Mexico and Avocado will be hosting an I Love Avocados For Cinco De Mayo sweepstakes

The prizes are nice. And, yes, I’m entering. I’ve got lots of avocado recipes to choose from.

The first place winner gets $1,000; second place gets $500 and third place gets $250. All three also get a copy of the premium version of the Avocado app.

Meet me on Twitter
We didn't have cell phones back then. 
And there’s one more thing. On May 7 from 3-4 p.m. eastern, there will be an #iloveavocados for Cinco de Mayo Twitter party hosted by @Avocado and @guacgrl. Check it out for a good time and good food. 

I’ll be there, too, hanging around and maybe juggling some avocados. Find me at @dbcurrie on Twitter.

Here’s a recipe to get you thinking. It’s a cross between guacamole and salad. Appropriate eaten with chips, or as a side dish.

Avocado Salad

1 tomato
1/2 green pepper
1/4 cup lime-pickled red onion (see instructions below*)
1/4 cup cilantro
12 pitted black olives
2 ounces chevre
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 avocado
2 teaspoons lime juice

Dice the tomato and green pepper and add to a medium bowl. Cut the pickled red onion into similarly-sized pieces and add to the bowl.

Chop the cilantro roughly and add it to the bowl. Cut the olives in half or slices (your choice) and add to the bowl. Break the cheese into pieces and add to the bowl. Sprinkle the salt on top and add the lime juice. Mix well.

Scoop the avocado flesh out of the avocado and add it the bowl. Mix gently. The goal is to mix the ingredients without breaking up the avocado too much.

Serve chilled.

*To make the pickled red onions, peel, quarter, and slice one red onion. Stuff it into a pint jar. Add a pinch of salt and enough fresh lime juice to cover all the onions. Refrigerate the onions until they are evenly pink. You can eat them sooner, but they’ll still have the onion “bite” to them.

 photo b58c3aa5-dc72-4281-a6ab-8816b01b7ab5_zpse92c1fc2.jpg

Want more? 

Check out the Cinco De Mayo recipes on the Avocados from Mexico website.

Visit Sponsor's Site

Friday, April 26, 2013

Whole Foods Feasting: Israeli Cousous Salad

Have you ever looked at Israeli couscous and wondered what to do with it? It's an interesting product - little balls of toasted pasta, and the one I bought was a tri-color version. The colors weren't vivid, but that's fine. The subtle color variations were nice.

The directions for cooking the couscous suggested cooking it like rice, in a small amount of water, but I'd suggest cooking it like pasta, in a larger quantity of boiling salted water, and draining ti when it's done.

The problem with cooking it like rice, particularly at high altitude, is that you need to have exactly the right amount of water or you'll have to add more water, or you risk having it stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.

I used capers because I like them, but the bonus is that capers are about the same size as the couscous, so they look like another color of the couscous.

Just like other types of pasta, Israeli couscous is good warm or cold. I made a hearty cold couscous salad with garbanzo beans (chickpeas) that makes a nice salad with an entree, or it can be a light lunch, I also made a warm version, like a pilaf, with cooked vegetables. It's perfect as a hot side dish, but it also works at room temperature or cold,

The couscous I bought came in a package of about 11 1/2 ounces, but a little more or less isn't critical.

This makes a lot of salad - about 2 quarts - which would be great for a party or potluck. Halve it if it's for a small family dinner. This keeps well, and I think it's even better the next day, after the flavors have melded.

Israeli Couscous Salad

About 12 ounces Israeli couscous, cooked
2 16-ounce cans garbanzo beans
2 tomatoes, diced
1 green pepper, diced
2 tablespoons capers
1 onion, very small dice
1 tablespoon dry oregano
1 teaspoon dry marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dry rosemary
1/4 cup lemon olive oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1/2 ounce chevre
1 can (6 ounces. drained) pitted black olives, sliced
Salt, as needed

When you're prepping the vegetables, cut the onions very small, and the rest of the vegetables in a slightly larger dice.

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir. I like to add the pasta while it's still a little warm, which helps it absorb the flavors. Taste for seasoning and add salt, as needed. Since the olives, capers, and cheese are salty, and the pasta is cooked in salted water, you might not need more salt.

Refrigerate until needed, and serve chilled.

This post is sponsored by Whole Foods.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gadgets: Ball Dry Herb Jars

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a bit of a storage issue with herbs and spices, particularly when I buy in bulk or dry my own garden-grown herbs. I end up using random jars and containers that used to hold something else.


That works well enough (and let’s face it, it’s the cheapest option), but those odd-shaped and sized jars don’t make for a neat spice cabinet. And then there’s that fun game when I have jars and lids and I can’t find the matching pairs.

Although it’s not the most innovative product on the planet, the new dry herb storage jars from Ball ($6.95/4) are pretty handy. They’re small – just 4 ounces (1/2) cup – and the lids have a build in shaker top. If you want to dig in with a measuring spoon, the opening is the same size as a regular canning jar, so it’s a wide enough opening for pretty much any standard measuring spoon.

The jars themselves can be used for canning – but not with the lids. But, hey, if you use the little jars for canning, you can use the shaker lids on your other canning jars.

I think that’s the thing I like best about the jars – there’s no need to keep track of which jars fit which lids – any standard (not wide-mouth) – jars I have can be turned into a shaker-top jar, and I can use the little jars with regular lids. 

Samples were provided by the manufacturer for a review on Serious Eats.

Have you changed your oil? I mean your cooking oil!

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Pompeian. All opinions are 100% mine.

There was a time when I had a collection of cooking oils that could have been used to deep fry an elephant. The problem was that every recipe I read seemed to call for a different oil, and I wasn't sure why some were preferred over others.
 photo PMPNGrapeseedbottleF2_NewLabel_zpsc8e278d3.jpg  photo Screenshot2013-04-12at25040PM_zps5776d459.png  photo PompeianMedBlend_zpsdc396a3b.jpg
These days, I still keep a variety of oils on hand, but I have narrowed down the list quite a bit. I like olive oil for its flavor, but then I like to have another oil on hand that I can use for high-heat cooking, or for recipes when I want a more neutral-flavored oil.

A good choice for that high-heat oil is grapeseed oil. It's becoming easier to find these days, and I was pretty happy to see that now Pompeian has a grapeseed oil as well as a grapeseed-olive oil blend. The great thing is that Pompeian is a brand that's pretty readily available at the stores where I shop.

To help promote both the grapeseed oil an the new blend, Pompeian and Hungry Girl are challenging bloggers to re-imagine a recipe that uses butter or vegetable oil, and instead use Pompeian’s Grapeseed Oil or OlivExtra Premium Mediterranean Blend.

And it's not just a fun challenge -one blogger will win an all-expense paid trip to BlogHer Food ’13 in Austin, TX June 7-8. Plus, their recipe will be featured with Pompeian throughout the event.

To enter, bloggers need to post a recipe with a photo on their blog, then go to Pompeian’s Time to Change Your Oil App on Facebook to share a link to their blog, then enter contact info and click submit. It's a pretty simple entry, and we bloggers are always creating recipes, right? And just for entering, Pompeian will send bloggers a voucher for one free bottle of Pompeian oil.

But seriously - an all-expense paid trip to BlogHer Food - that's a pretty big prize, right? I've never been to a  blog conference, so for sure I'm entering this one.

While grapeseed oil is something I've only started using (relatively) recently, apparently it's been "a chef secret for decades,: according to the folks at Pompeian. They say it's got health benefits similar to that of olive oil,  but it's a little more versatile for cooking because it has a milder taste and a high smoke point.

Like I said before, sometimes I want to cook on high heat or I want a mild flavored oil. 

Her'e's a recipe for Smoky Fried Chickpeas to get you started:

 photo FriedChickpeas_zps8fbb7bd7.jpg

Smoky Fried Chickpeas

Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS
1 cup Pompeian Grapeseed Oil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
3/4 tsp. salt
2 large cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest
2 tsp. smoked paprika

Preparation
1. Dry chickpeas thoroughly with paper towels.

2. Using a candy thermometer, heat oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high until it reaches 355 degrees. Add chickpeas, zest and thyme to pan in batches to avoid overcrowding. 

3. Fry chickpeas for about 5 minutes or until deep golden brown. Remove to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with paprika and salt. Serve immediately.

So, blogger friends, what do you think? Would you like to win a trip to BlogHer Food? Are you going to enter?
Visit Sponsor's Site

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Vegetable and Goat Cheese Frittata

I might be just a little bit addicted to frittatas. They're so versatile. You can add so many different ingredients. You can serve them warm or cold. You can add meat or leave them vegetarian. You can serve them plan or with toppings. Mild or spicy. They are breakfast, lunch, or a side dish.

This time of year, I'm getting giddy about fresh local produce, even though there's not that much available yet. But that's okay. I'll take what I can get. Spinach is readily available, and there are tomatoes from the local hydroponic farms.

I used a frozen vegetable mix for the frittata, but you can use a single vegetable, if you prefer. If you like the vegetable with eggs, it will work in a frittata.

Vegetable and Goat Cheese Frittata

5 eggs
Pinch of salt
Several grinds black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups mixed frozen vegetables
2 ounces chevre
Small hanfull baby spinach
1/2 fresh tomato, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the eggs, salt, and black pepper in a medium bowl.

Melt the butter in a 10-inch cast iron pan on medium heat. Toss in the frozen vegetables and cook, stirring as needed, until they're cooked to your liking. Add the chevre, and mix it around a bit - you have you choice here of mixing it in completely, or leaving it a little less-mixed so you have little bits of chevre in the frittata.

Add the baby spinach an stir until it wilts. Add the eggs and tomato. Stir to even out the vegetables in the eggs and cook without strring until the eggs are mostly cooked on the bottom, but still jiggly on top.

Put the pan in the oven an continue cooking until the top is no longer shiny and the eggs are no longer jiggly.

Remove from the oven. You can serve from the pan or flip it out onto a plate.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

5-Second Salad Dressing

My buddies over at 37 Cooks scored some olive oils from a company called Sciabica, and I'll be doing some official 37 Cooks posts about it later.

In the meantime, I whipped up a little salad dressing to give it a simple taste test. Frankly, I could be happy with a vat of this dressing and the heck with other recipes. It's got a nice lemon background without being too tart. Reminds me of a dressing that a little mom-and-pop diner used to make when I was a little salad-munching kid.

Alas, I will be cooking with it later. Or baking. Or whatever I come up with.

Meanwhile, salad.

5-Second Salad Dressing

Pinch of salt
Pinch of sugar
1/2 teaspoon dry oregano
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons Sciabica lemon olive oil

Put the salt, sugar, and oregano in a small lidded container. Add just a teeny splash of water to moisten the oregano and give it a little swish. This helps rehydrate the oregano. Let it sit while you hunt for that bottle of sherry vinegar that you know you have somewhere.

Or, use red wine vinegar or even white balsamic vinegar.

Add the vinegar and oil and shake until the dressing is emulsified. Serve over the vegetables or greens of your choice.

This makes enough for two largish salads - like two romaine hearts worth of salad. Depending, of course, on your affinity for dressing.

Did you know that May is National Salad Month, and May 1 is Dole National Salad Day? Yep, this salad is just what you need!

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Republic of Tea "Be Active"

I received another package of goodies from The Republic of Tea as part of my participation in their TEAm. I soooo wanted to come up with a recipe, but I ended up sipping my way through all the flavors as plain hot tea. The information that came with the tea mentioned that they'd make great iced teas, too. And I agree.

But the freakish cold weather we've been having made me want warm drinks.

If I was drinking them cold, I can imagine they'd work well as a base for a punch with the addition of some fruit and fruit juices. Or maybe some slushy drinks with lots of ice.

But oh, no. We had a blizzard here. In April.


So I drank hot tea. A lot of it.

Here's the scoop on the most current shipment:

They said, "This month we encourage you to Sip and Get Active with The Republic of Tea’s line of premium Be Active Teas! With a base of organic green rooibos sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms, these five herbal blends are designed for people with active lifestyles so that they can steep, ice and enjoy on the go."

I wasn't going anywhere. A tree ate my car.


So I hunkered and huddled and heated my tea.

No, I'm not going to start writing Seussian poetry. Now on to the tea.

I was kind of excited about this batch of tea because I like herbal teas. Which aren't really tea because there's no actual tea leaves in them. But whatever. Language is flexible and herbal teas are yummy. And different. With a lot of variations, because when you're not restricted to brewing tea leaves, you can mix and match a whole lot of things to come up with some fun flavors.

So here we go:

They said: "Get Active Tea (Herb Tea for Endurance) offers smooth and aromatic, flavor notes of vanilla that are accented by the tangy citrus of holy basil and natural orange flavor. This tea helps increase energy, stamina, endurance and promotes resistance to stress while antioxidants help protect from free radicals. Ideal for power walks, golf and light workouts."

I say: Yes to the citrus, but it wasn't like a lemon tea. This also includes sarsaparilla and licorice root so there's a more earthy flavor to it. This was my second-favorite of the bunch. I don't know if it made me more active, because I was mostly trying to stay warm. Remember that blizzard? Yeah, well, my furnace also decided to take a little vacation. I drank a LOT of hot tea.

But I digress.

They said: "Get Limber Tea (Herb Tea for Flexibility) offers bright and fruity notes with a hint of spice, lemongrass, orange peel and pineapple flavors. This tea helps to reduce joint swelling and inflammation, enables mobility and helps the body adapt to physical stresses that can cause pain. Ideal for pilates, tennis, yoga, and plyometrics."

I say: I don't know if I felt more limber, but this was a nice tea with a hint of ginger along with the citrus. The turmeric gave an interesting flavor. That's not something I normally associate with tea, but it worked well. Now that I'm thinking about it, an infusion of this would make an interesting poaching liquid for seafood. Maybe I'll give that a try.

They said: "Get Burning Tea (Herb Tea for Metabolism) offers the tangy sweetness of Sea Buckthorn with the spiciness of zingy chili pepper, cinnamon and ginger. This tea assists in accelerating metabolism, enhances caloric burn rate and fat oxidation and helps strengthen stamina and endurance. Ideal for cardio, boot camps, running, weights and spinning."

I say: This was my favorite and I've used up most of the tin already. It had a nice, spicy flavor, but the chili pepper wasn't a burn-your-mouth sort of thing. If I didn't know it was in there, I might not have been able to detect it. The ginger and cinnamon was nice.

I could see using this one in a hot mulled wine or maybe infusing it into milk that you'd use for cake. (so much for the idea of burning calories...) A mix of this tea and apple juice would be pretty good, too.

They said: "Get Hydrated Tea (Herb Tea for Refreshment) offers citrus notes of fruity hibiscus, black limon (dried lime) and black currant. This tea helps boost levels of rehydration and refreshment and is full of antioxidants and electrolytes. Ideal for hiking, surfing, bikram yoga and running."

I say: I love the flavor of hibiscus, so this was a sure winner. Hibiscus reminds of of raspberries, and I love chilled hibiscus teas. As soon as the weather makes it worthwhile, I'm going to cold brew some of this for sure. Did I feel more hydrated? I don't know. I've been drinking so much tea lately, I don't think I'm in any danger of drying out any time soon.

They said: "Get Restored Tea (Herb Tea for Recovery) offers notes of caramel and coconut sweetened by dates. This tea, abundant in antioxidants, helps recovery by rebalancing acidity, increasing oxygenation and helps protect from toxin absorption. Ideal after any physical activity and/or at the end of the day."

Ah, here comes the coconut. I despise coconut. But you know what? I didn't taste coconut. This one's got carob and chicory and to me it tasted vaguely of chocolate and maybe slightly nutty. It's also got ramon nuts. I have no idea what those are or if I tasted them at all, but maybe that's where the nutty flavor came from.

I normally drink my tea plain - no sweeteners or milk. But I think this one would be a good candidate for adding a bit of milk or cream. Or maybe infusing it into warm milk and then adding some cocoa powder and sugar to make a crazy hot chocolate.

So there we go. Five teas and their tasting notes.

Have you tried any of these? Do you drink tea for flavor, or do you look for teas with health benefits? What's your favorite herbal tea flavor? Tell me, I'm curious, and I'm always looking for different teas to try.

Along with my teas, the folks at The Republic of Tea also sent me a nice sports bottle to carry my chilled tea with me on-the-go. Like, when it gets warm enough for me to want to carry a chilled beverage with me.

Not today.

If I was a good blogger, I could have offered you a code where you could have gotten a free bottle with a purchase, but this post is waaaaayyy too late for that.

I'll get yer code next time, I promise.

This post was sponsored by The Republic of Tea as part of their TEAm program.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Black Olive Truffles. Yes, you read that right!

This may be the recipe that makes you think, "Donna's gone over the edge." But bear with me a few seconds. This makes sense. Really it does.

A while back, I read in some food publication that if Food A pairs well with Food B and Food B pairs well with Food C, then you can guarantee that Food C will pair with Food A.

At the time, I tried to think of combinations that would break this rule. But I couldn't Sometimes the combination of Food C and Food A was a little un-obvious or unusual, but it always worked.

So when Kitchen Play launched a menu using Lindsay Olives and asked people to add one more course to the menu, it got me thinking. About crazy things. Because, you see, they already covered the amuse bouche, bread, salad, appetizer, and entree.

You see what's obviously missing?

Yes, dessert. With olives. Oh my.

And my mind went immediately to chocolate. Well, it goes there a lot. Usually not with olives. But I wondered if this could be the combo that would break the A-B-C food rule. Olives pair well with nuts (there are almond-stuffed olives, right?) and nuts pair well with chocolate. Therefor, olives have to pair with chocolate.

Right? Right!

I let my official taste tester sample one, and he was quite impressed. He actually asked how many of them I made. So, yeah, it works.

It's not as weird as it seems. Olives are fruit, after all, and the mild saltiness of the olives goes well with the chocolate.

And I kept the nuts, too. Because why not?

I'm thinking that pistachios would also be a good nut for stuffing into the olives. Maybe I'll give that a try next time. Because, oh yes, there will be a next time.

Black Olive Truffles

Lindsay Naturals pitted black olives
Marcona almonds
Chocolate, melted

Drain and dry the olives. You don't want a wet surface. Let 'em sit on a paper towel for a while. Stuff a nut into the center of each olive.

If the nuts are too big, cut them in half or whatever needs to be done to make them fit. It's fine if you have a bit poking out, but olives aren't elastic. If you try use a nut that's too big, you're just going to tear the olive.

Dip the olives into the melted chocolate. I used a semi-sweet. Use whatever you like.

Note: I'm really terrible at doing this and making the resulting candy look uniform. But whatever. They all have their own unique charm. Or that's what I tell myself.

Place the dipped olives on a plate and shove them in the refrigerator to harden the chocolate.

Serve soon. I have no idea how well these keep. So make as many as you're going to serve in a day or two.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Whole Foods Feasting: Kitchen Sink Cookies

If you're looking for a different sort of cookie, this is it.

Sure, there are chocolate chips and nuts - that's pretty normal. But then there are chopped graham cracker that add texture and bits of pretzel that adds crunch and salt.

You can bake these right after mixing them, but I think the texture improves with an overnight rest. The dough can be held for several days in the refrigerator, so you can bake a few cookies at a time, rather than baking them all at once.

Kitchen Sink Cookies

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate)
1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans
1/2 cup graham crackers, cut it rough 1/4 pieces
1/2 cup pretzel sticks, chopped or broken into smaller pieces

Cream the butter, and sugar together in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the salt, baking powder, vanilla, and egg. Beat until well combined.

Add the flour and mix until well combined. Add the chocolate chips, nuts, graham cracker pieces and pretzel pieces. Mix until the ingredients are well distributed in the dough.

Gather the dough and wrap it in plastic or place it in a plastic bag. Refrigerate overnight.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a small scoop (#40 is perfect) or a spoon, portion the dough into approximately 2-tablespoon balls an place them on the prepared baking sheets, leaving space between them.

Bake at 350 degrees until the cookies are lightly browned around the edges, about 18 minutes.

Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool.

This post is sponsored by Whole Foods.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Whole Foods Feasting: Light and Lemony Cookies

I'm changing the name of my sponsored Whole Foods posts from Whole Foods Friday to Whole Foods Feasting so I can change the posting date when it makes sense to do so. Nothing else is changing though.

I think the best tool for mixing cookie dough is a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. If you don't have a stand mixer, you can start the process with a hand mixer, but at some point the dough will probably be too stiff for the mixer to handle, then you'll need to switch to hand mixing.

The great thing about living in Colorado is that even in summer, the temperature usually drops enough to do a little baking in the evening. And a batch of cookies doesn't take long to bake, so the oven doesn't have to be on for a long time.

Light and Lemony Cookies

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon water (as needed)

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attacment, cream the butter and sugar. Add the salt. lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Beat until incorporated.

Add the flour and mix it in. If the dough doesn't hold together, add water as needed, a teaspoon at a time. I added a tablespoon.

Gather the dough together and wrap it in plastic, or put it in a plastic bag. Refrigerate overnight.

When you're getting ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it warm up a bit as the oven preheats.

Use a teaspoon-sized scoop or small spoon to portion the dough into balls. Place the balls on the prepared baking sheet, leaving space between them. They won't spread a lot, but they will spread a little. Flatten the cookies with the palm of your hand.

Bake the cookies at 325 degrees until you see that they're lightly browned at the edges - about 15 minutes.

Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Makes about 36 small cookies.

This post was sponsored by Whole Foods.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Gadgets: Mastrad Silicone Egg Poacher Cups

Poaching eggs isn't all that difficult, if you practice for a while. And by a while, I mean you're going to eat a lot of misshapen and broken poached eggs.

And then there's all that wispy white stuff that comes off the eggs in the water and makes a mess.

The secret to getting rid of that wispy stuff is to, well, get rid of it. On Serious Eats, Kenji explained the method using a fine-mesh strainer. Michael Ruhlman sells a special egg-draining spoon for the same purpose.

But here's the deal. If you don't have super-fresh eggs, you'll lose a lot of the white. Or, as my husband said when I served him poached eggs made that way, "Why are these eggs so small?"

If you don't have super-fresh eggs and you don't want to lose half the whites, egg poaching cups might be the answer. I tested a pair of silicone egg-poaching cups ($7.99/2) from Mastrad and I have to say they worked pretty well.

Technically, you're not poaching the eggs since they're not cooking directly in the water, but for many people the point of a poached egg is that it's not fried in fat.

The silicone cups I tested stood upright which made it easy to load the eggs and have them ready to go, and they have detachable handles so you can gently place the cups in the hot water and retrieve them when the eggs are done. The cups float, so you need enough overhead clearance in the pot to cover it with a lid so the eggs get a nice steam bath. In about six minutes, they're done.

Unlike poached eggs, you can add seasoning before cooking, which is a bit of a bonus.

A few times when I used these, I had a bit of egg white sticking to the silicone, but it wasn't tragic. If I needed absolutely perfect eggs, I might be tempted to cheat with a drop of cooking oil or melted butter. Shhh, don't tell anyone.

Overall, I like these things. Is it a cheat? Heck yeah. But unlike someone who works in a restaurant, I'm never going to poach enough eggs to be 100 percent confident that I'll get decent-looking poached eggs. A minor quibble is that these are sold in 2-packs and I'm betting most folks would want 4 or more.

These aren't total uni-taskers. When you're not poaching eggs, use 'em for mise en place or little baskets for small items in your kitchen.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Milk Salted-Caramel Sauce

Caramel is pretty simple to make, and the benefit to making your own is that you can customize it to your taste. Most caramel sauces include heavy cream, but how many people keep heavy cream sitting around all the time? Milk, on the other hand, is a little more common.

For the sugar, I used cane sugar from Florida Crystals. who is sponsoring this post.

Cane sugar is sort of an odd name, because pretty much all the commercial sugar you buy is made from sugar cane. But sugar that's labeled  "Cane Sugar" is usually a different sort of product. It's usually less refined and it retains some of the molasses rather than being pure white.

The cane sugar made by Florida Crystals is a very pale cream color and has a subtle molasses flavor rather than just being just plain sweet like white sugar. It pours and measures just like white sugar and can be used in any recipe that uses white sugar.

I've been using a lot of cane sugar when I make bread, so when the folks at Florida Crystals contacted me, I knew it was a product I could work with.

But this time around I decided to make something that really showcased the sugar.

This sauce doesn't include any corn syrup, so it's more likely to start getting grainy as the sugar re-crystalizes as you store it. You can re-melt it to smooth it out if that happens, but your best bet is to just use it up quickly. It's great on ice cream or drizzled over cake or pie or fruit.

I was particularly fond of this sauce drizzled over some fresh strawberries and topped with some whipped cream.

This recipe makes a pretty small batch - about a half-cup, but since it's so simple to make, you don't need to cook up large vats of it. It's nice hot, warm, room temperature, or cold.

Milk Salted-Caramel Sauce

That's Bourbon Vanilla Ice Cream, if you're wondering.
1/2 cup Florida Crystals Cane Sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Combine the cane sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed pan (use a larger pot than you think you'll need - this will bubble up a lot, and you won't be happy if you have to clean melted sugar off your stove) and cook until the sugar melts and the mixture becomes clear. Continue cooking until it comes to a full boil.

Add the butter and salt (how big of a pinch depends on how "salty" you want your salted caramel. A small pinch will enhance the flavor without it being salty at all. use your own discretion) and stir until the butter melts.

Add the milk and stir until it'x combined. Let it come back to a boil and let it cook for a minute or two. Turn the heat off and add the vanilla extract and stir. If the mixture seems curdled, crank up the heat and let it cook a little longer, stirring as you cook.

The sauce will seem thin when it's hot, but it will thicken considerable as it cools and it will thicken even more if you refrigerate it. If it's not as thick as you like, you can cook it longer to get it to the consistency you like.

Serve hot, warm, tepid, cool, or cold. It's good any way you use it.

Refrigerate any leftovers.

If it's important to you, Florida Crystals are made from US-grown sugar cane, and the cane sugar is available as organic or natural. I used the organic version for this recipe. Check the website for all the varieties.

This post is sponsored by ASR Group/Florida Crystals. All opinions are mine.

Milk Salted-Caramel Sauce on Punk 
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