Thursday, July 31, 2014

What's missing here?

Hint. Hint-hint. What could I possibly be giving away?
Are you used to seeing gadget reviews here every Thursday?
Or did you dread seeing them?

Well, either way, I've got good news for you. I've started a new review blog, and you'll find all my gadget posts over there, and my reviews over here.

The review blog has had a "soft opening" as they say in the retail world. I've put up a few posts.

But tomorrow, August 1, 2014, is the GRAND OPENING of the new blog, complete with a really, really, really nice giveaway.

So be sure to check that out.

And as always, recipes will be here.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Kouign Amann AKA that crazy pastry

Why do I do these things? Oy.

When my blogging buddies at 37 Cooks hooked up with Bob's Red Mill, it was a no-brainer for me. I probably have flour in my veins at this point. I can bake bread with my eyes closed. Possibly even in my sleep. Cookies and pies and cakes and muffins and quickbreads are my friends.

So when it came time to decide what to make for the challenge using flour, what did I sign up for?

Not something simple. Not something I'd made before. Oh no. *shaking my head*

I decided to make kouign amann - something I've never made ... and in fact, I've never even tasted it. I don't even know how to say it.

After reading about it and reading recipes, I saw that it was basically a laminated dough, like croissants, but with a lot more sugar. How could that possibly be bad?

I found a whole lot of recipes online. There were more or fewer folds, more or less sugar, more or less butter ... in other words, not a whole lot of agreement. I looked at recipes from The Kitchn and at David Lebovitz, and a few other sites.

I took what I read, along with my own experience with croissants, and came up with a recipe. Some sites suggested that you could add a dollop of jam to the top, or chocolate inside, or other flavors. I decided to add cinnamon to the sugar layer. Because I like cinnamon.

My first attempt was good, but my second was better. Some of the recipes I looked at suggested adding the sugar to the butter or pouring the sugar on top of the butter. The first time around, I poured about half the sugar on top of the butter and used the other half as a layer between folds.

See the layers of cinnamon sugar? Mmmmm....
The second time, I layered the sugar between dough layers and left the butter alone. I found that the sugar made some nice layers, and since I had added cinnamon, you could see the layers. It was much nicer than when the butter was mixed with sugar.

Like croissants or pie dough, the key to making this recipe is to make sure the butter never gets too soft. It needs to be soft and pliable enough to roll, but not so soft that it begins to incorporate itself into the dough. If it's done right, you get buttery, flaky layers.

But even if it goes wrong, it's not all bad. You end up with a very buttery sweet dough, rather than layers.

To keep the butter at the right texture, it helps to be working in a cool room, but if that's not possible, the next best thing is to work really quickly and refrigerate the dough whenever the butter seems to be getting squishy rather than being pliable.

If that means you refrigerate after each fold, then that's what ya gotta do. If the butter isn't getting squishy, then you can refrigerate just when the recipe suggests. If you're working in an unheated igloo, then maybe you don't need to refrigerate at all.

It also helps to use a high-quality butter that doesn't melt into a puddle at room temperature, but I've made croissants with pretty much every butter you can imagine, from the cheapest store brand to boutique brands. Many people suggest using European butters. Or, you could go completely crazy and make your own butter.

Or not.

I've also fiddled around with the baking temperatures. The recipes I looked at ranged from 400 degrees to 350 degrees with baking times ranging from 25 to 45 minutes.

The deal is that you want a high heat for the water in the butter to turn to steam and help puff the pastry. So the higher baking temperature makes sense for that. I normally bake croissants at between 400 and 375 degrees.

But, on the other hand, we've got a lot of sugar that can burn. The scrap pieces that I cooked at 375 degrees were painfully close to having a bitter burned sugar on the bottom, and they were protected by a baking sheet AND silicone muffin cups. A few minutes longer, or an upward temperature fluctuation could have been a problem.

And after all the work involved in these, I really didn't want to end up with burned sugar that needed to be scraped off.

So, I decided to bake the second batch starting at a high temperature to get the puff, with the remainder of the baking time at a lower temperature so the dough would cook without burning the sugar. I opted for turning the heat down to 325 degrees, which meant a longer baking time, and a golden-brown rather than a brown exterior. The sugar was caramelized on the bottom (and stuck to the baking sheet) with a golden brown color and no hint of burning.

In retrospect, it might have made more sense to put a silicone baking mat in the bottom of my baking sheet. That way, the melted sugar that formed a sheet could have been peeled off and snacked upon. Despite the fact that the sugar was fiercely stuck to my baking sheet, cleanup wasn't terrible, though. After a little soak, the sugar melted right off the baking sheet.

Kouign Amann

For the dough:
1 cup lukewarm water
2 1/4 teaspoons Red Star* active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
3 to 3 1/4 cups (14 5/8 ounces) Bob's Red Mill all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the butter layer:
8 ounces butter (salted or unsalted; your choice)
For the sugar filling:
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Plus more sugar for dusting:
Figure about 1/2 cup additional sugar
A little extra butter (because you can)

Combine all of the dough ingredients (starting with 3 cups of flour) in the bowl of your stand mixer and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. The dough should be just a little firm - not soft, loose, or sticky. If you need to, add more flour. I used all of the extra 1/4 cup. You might need more. The dough should still be bouncy and not dense.

If you don't have a stand mixer, you can knead by hand, if you prefer.

When the dough is elastic, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until the dough has doubled in size, about an hour.

While the dough is rising, put the butter in a zip-top plastic bag and center it in the bag. If you have two 1/4 pound sticks, place them side-by-side. I used a 1/2 pound block of butter. Use your rolling pin to first pound the butter, then roll it to form a square about 9 inches square. This doesn't need to be exact. Do your best. And it doesn't matter if it's not a straight-sided square. We just want to start with something thinner than a block of butter.

Refrigerate the butter until it's needed. It's very important to keep the butter cold throughout this process.

When the dough has risen, flour your counter top and turn out the dough. Form it into a rough square, then use your rolling pin roll it to a 12-inch square. Get the butter from the refrigerator and peel off the plastic. Place the butter on the dough square so the points of the butter square are pointing towards the sides of the dough square.

Like this:

It doesn't matter if everything isn't perfectly square and even. Fold the dough flaps on top of the butter to enclose it completely.

Use the rolling pin to roll the dough to approximately 12x16 inches. It's fine if it's not exact. The only time this dimension is actually important is the final roll before cutting. I'll warn you.

Keep your work surface floured as much as you need to so the dough doesn't stick to the counter or rolling pin, and if you see any bits of butter poking through the dough, sprinkle some flour on the butter to cover it.

Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter. (Do people fold letters any more? Okay, like a tri-fold wallet, then.)

If the butter felt soft and the dough was sliding on top of it during the rolling, STOP and put the dough on a baking sheet, cover it, and put it in the fridge to firm up, about 30 minutes. If the butter didn't feel squishy or slippery, make one more roll and fold exactly the same way, then put it on a baking sheet, cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. You can leave it longer. An hour is fine. Tomorrow wouldn't kill anything, if you happened to have a grocery shopping emergency and you needed to go out for a long while.

But, we want to eat these soon, so try for the 30-60 minute window.

Flour your work surface again. Mix the 1 cup of sugar with the tablespoon of cinnamon and have that standing by. Roll the dough to 12x16 inches as before. With one of the longer sides of the dough facing you, sprinkle about half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture on the right 2/3 of the dough, then use your rolling pin to press the sugar into the dough a bit. You don't need to be exact - this is dough, not brain surgery.

Fold the left, un-sugared flap of dough over the middle third, then flip that over the final third of sugared dough. In theory you could flip the sugared part over the center, but at this point the sugar is a little loose on top of the dough, so it's better to go the other direction.

Again, if the butter felt soft and slippery, refrigerate NOW. Otherwise roll, sugar, and fold as before. Then cover and refrigerate the dough for another 30-60 minutes. If any of the sugar-cinnamon mixture spilled out of the dough, just scoop it up and sprinkle it on top of your dough.

First batch - testing the baking options.
Now we need to decide how to form the kouign amann. On my first try, I used 4 English muffin rings, 4
smaller rings that I had made by cutting the top and bottom out of bamboo shoot cans, and 4 jumbo silicone muffin cups.

Pastry rings are apparently traditional, and provide a crunchy bottom crust. If you use silicone muffin cups (or some people use a jumbo muffin pan), you'll have a sticky caramel-like bottom, sort of like what you'd get from sticky buns.

I did like the sticky-bun bottoms when the KA (kind of tired of typing that name) were warm, but they were a little goopy to store and the sugar was more chewy than crunchy. I liked the ones baked in the rings better. But I wouldn't turn down either one.

So, on batch #2, I made 6 in the muffin rings, and 6 in the shoot can rings. Place your rings on a baking sheet. (Here's a suggestion that I didn't try yet: use a silicon baking mat in the bottom of the pan for easier cleanup and to let you peel off the crunchy sheets of caramelized sugar that oozes out of the pastry rings.)

Most of the instructions I read suggested buttering the rings, but I sprayed mine with baking spray because that's a whole heck of a lot easier.

Yeah, I'm making ridiculous pastry that takes two days, but I don't want to butter some pastry rings. Go figure. But then, just because I wanted to, I added a tiny sliver of butter in the center of where each pastry ring was sitting. I mean, why not?

Beep! When the time is up, dust your counter top with sugar and place the dough on top of the sugar. Sprinkle the top of the dough with more sugar. Yes, you're dusting with sugar rather than flour this time around.

Once again, roll the dough to 12x16 inches. This time we're serious about the size. Actually, roll it slightly larger that 12x16 so you can trim all the edges. Sprinkle with more sugar as needed to keep the dough from sticking. And, well, to add more sugar. I used another 1/2 cup, total, by the time it was all done.

Trim the edges of the pastry so you've got a nice even rectangle that's 12x16 inches. Now, cut the pastry lengthwise into three 4-inch strips, and cut the three strips each into four 4-inch squares. You should have a total of twelve 4-inch squares.

Fold the four corners of the first pastry inward and stuff it into your pastry ring, muffin cup, or whatever you're using. Keep going until all the pastry squares are settled into place. If you have any extra sugar on the counter, you can gather that up and sprinkle it on top of the dough in the rings. Cover the whole pan with plastic wrap or slide it into a large plastic bag and refrigerate overnight.

Have a nice little rest, Kouign Amann!

Even the scraps are tasty!
Meanwhile, you have those scraps, don't you? Hehe. I piled mine into 2 silicone baking cups with a dab of butter at the bottom. I let the rise, then baked them at 375 degrees until they were golden and toasty, about 25 minutes.

And then they disappeared.

'scuse me, I seem to have some sugary crumbs on my fingers...

When you're ready to bake the real batch of Kouign Amann, take the dough out of the refrigerator and give it 30 minutes or so to take some of the chill off. An hour is fine, particularly if your house is cool.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the plastic wrap and put the KA in the oven and then lower the temperature to 325 degrees. Bake until they're a lovely golden brown, about 45 minutes. (They'd cook faster at 350, and I think they might be safe from sugar-burning at that temperature, but I haven't tried that yet. Maybe the next batch.)

Remove the pan from the oven and let the pastries cool slightly (just until you can handle them) before moving them to a rack to cool completely. Whatever you do, don't leave them on the pan to cool, or they'll weld themselves to the pan and you'll be very, very unhappy.

These can be served warm or at room temperature. They're best on the day you bake them, but I wouldn't turn one down if it was a day or two old.

*If you're using a brand of active dry yeast other than Red Star, let it dissolve in the water for a few minutes before you add the flour; if you're using Red Star, you can add it all at once and just start mixing.

Thanks to Bob's Red Mill for supplying flour via 37 Cooks.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Nutella Ice Cream

I am not one of those people who goes weak-in-the-knees over Nutella. I like it fine, but I don't swoon. I don't crave. I don't hoard.

But it seems like I usually have some hanging around, since I tend to use it in recipes.

This time, I had a jar left over from a hazelnut-chocolate taste testing I did, and ice cream seemed like a perfect use for (most) of the rest of the jar.

This is an extremely simple recipe; just mix, chill, and churn.

A stick blender comes in handy for mixing the ingredients for this ice cream, if you want them completely blended. The result is a smooth mixture and more uniform color.

You can stir or whisk by hand, but if you do that, you're likely to end up with a freckled ice cream, which can also be interesting.

Either way, this ice cream is pretty darned good.

Nutella Ice Cream

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
1/2 cup Nutella (or other chocolate/hazelnut spread)
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients and whisk or stir until combined - or use a stick blender for a smoother blending of the Nutella.

Refrigerate until well chilled, then churn according to your ice cream maker manufacturer's instructions.

Note: If you have a compressor-style ice cream maker, you can churn this immediately after mixing. If you have an ice cream maker with a freeze bowl, it's a good idea to chill thoroughly before you churn.

Want more ice cream? Check out these creations from bloggers participating in ...


Monday, July 28, 2014

Basic Pasta Dough - great for cavatelli!

I had to test a cavatelli maker, so I needed pasta dough. This is the one I made. This would be just fine for other types of pasta, as well.

Pasta Dough

Fresh, home-made cavatelli.
3 cups (13 1/2 ounces) of all purpose flour
1 egg
1 teaspoon of salt
About 1/2 cup of water

Combine the flour and salt, then add the egg. Then add the water until the dough no longer has dry bits and it can come together in a ball - the actual amount of water you'll need, depending on the flour you use. You're looking for a firm but kneadable dough.

Knead the dough until smooth, then wrap the dough (or place it in a plastic bag and seal it) and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. You can let it rest at room temperature for an hour ... maybe longer. But if you need to let it sit around for a long time, refrigerate it.

Roll the dough as needed, and cut to the desired shape.

Want to know about Fante's Cousin Elisa's Cavatelli Maker maker I was testing? Go check out my new review blog.

AND ... I'm gearing up for a really great giveaway. Keep your eyes peeled!


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Gluten-Free Labeling - yea or nay?

This bread is not gluten free. Nope. Not at all.
There's been a backlash against the gluten-free community lately, particularly regarding the labeling of foodstuffs as gluten-free.

Let's get this straight. I'm not gluten free. I'm more of a gluten glutton, if we're being truthful. But I have friends who are gluten free. Some, because it's life-threatening. So I get it. I sympathize. And I hope I never, ever have that diagnosis.

While the usual grumblings about gluten-free are about the folk who are vaguely gluten free but don't know why, the latest rash of gluten-grumblings has been aimed all over the place. Among other things I've heard lately are:

  • Why are so many products labeled gluten free? Shouldn't it be obvious?
  • Why are so many products labeled gluten free? Those people should read ingredients on the labels!
  • Gluten-free labeling is just a marketing ploy!!!
  • Why do gluten-free oats cost more? It's not fair because I don't need gluten free!
  • Why are there so many gluten-free products taking the space of food I want to eat?
  • Why should restaurants accommodate gluten-free people? Gluten free people should stay home!
  • Gluten-free people shouldn't be eating processed foods and junk food, anyway.
  • Gluten free people should make their own food from scratch so they know every molecule that's in it.

Let me address these one at a time.

Labels? Shouldn't it be obvious?

Well, maybe. But the problem is that many foods suffer from cross contamination. If a factory processes potato chips in the same facility where it makes pita chips, there could be an above-the-limit level of gluten on those potato chips, even though potatoes don't contain gluten.

Those people should read labels!

I'm pretty sure they do, but ingredients listed on the labels only indicate the things that are actually put into the food. The labels might not indicate that the food is processed in a facility that also processes wheat products. Some labels do include allergy warnings, but not all of them do.

Making it obvious that something is indeed gluten free is a convenience for gluten-free people and those who feed them.

Marketing ploy!!!

Marketing! It's my book! On AMAZON!
Yes, I agree. But then again, pretty much everything on a food container is a marketing ploy, from the colors of the labels, to the shape of the container, to the words used. Gluten-free is a big market, and companies are making it clear that they have products for that market.

I mean, why wouldn't they?

There are plenty of items that are labeled fat-free, sugar-free, lower calorie, hormone-free, reduced sodium, antibiotic-free, nitrite-free, or dairy-free. There are companies that put the number of Weight Watcher points on their labels. There are plenty of products that carry symbols indicating that the products are kosher.

We label milk to point out that it's pasteurized (or possibly ultra-pasteurized) and we label foods as organic, cage-free, wild-caught, natural, or free range. We now show the country of origin for meats, and some stores indicate the country of origin for fruits and vegetables. And now, people are asking that foods be labeled to indicate the presence of GMOs.

So, why are some people getting so ... vocal ... about gluten free labeling?

The presence of gluten is a serious issue for people with celiac disease. Which of those other labels carries the same heath impact?

Gluten free costs more!!!

Yes, sometimes gluten-free anything does cost more. In order to keep certain foods gluten free, some companies had to build (or maybe remodel) facilities in order to keep the gluten free processing separate from any gluten-containing products. Depending on what they're processing, that need for separateness might include putting restrictions on their suppliers or shippers, and that might also cost more.

Some gluten-free products shouldn't cost more. If something is naturally gluten free and it's already processed in its own facility, then there shouldn't be an added cost for labeling it gluten free. Unless, of course, the company is paying for certification. But from what I understand, that's not actually required.

So, yes, sometimes it costs more, and there's a reason. Sometimes it costs more because companies are taking advantage of the market.

My space!!! My space!!!

Maybe there are gluten-free products that are taking the place of conventional products. But not always. There are gluten free flours and meals (like rice flour or almond meal, off the top of my head) that are sometimes displayed in a separate gluten-free section, but those have been available for quite some time and they have uses besides gluten-free cooking.

On the other hand, there are gluten-free baked goods and mixes taking up some shelf space that could be used for gluten-laden products. But there are plenty of things in every store that I don't buy. A few more is no big deal.

Gluten free people shouldn't eat out!!!

Um, why? Vegetarians, vegans, and people who keep kosher eat out. People who are allergic to shellfish or peanuts eat out. People who don't like spicy foods, or fast food, or fried foods ... they all eat out.

People who are seriously affected by gluten need to be careful of what they eat and where they eat, but I don't see how having gluten free items in a restaurant harms me in any way. There are plenty of things that are naturally gluten free, like, oh, let's say meat. Or salad (without croutons). Or vegetables. If a restaurant is willing to pay attention to cross contamination to accommodate gluten-free customers, it doesn't affect my dining experience one little bit.

No junk food!

Well, we should all reduce our consumption of junk food, but I'm not perfect. And I doubt my gluten-free friends are perfect either. I see no reason why they shouldn't have safe snacks. Simple as that.

Make everything from scratch!!!

Yeah, right. Remember that part about not being perfect? It would be lovely if every person had the means, motivation, skills, desire ... whatever it takes ... to make their own food from scratch every single day. Maybe there's someone out there who does that right now. But have they always done so? Will they always be able to do so?

While cooking from scratch all the time is a great thing to aspire to, it may not always be practical - or possible. I don't see how it hurts anyone to accommodate the growing population of people who have to - or even want to - eat gluten free.


My gluten-free friends aren't mutant aliens that should be hidden in a closet and not allowed to eat among the rest of us. And, let's face it, sometimes it's just one person in a family who is gluten-free. Should the rest of the family go out to dinner and leave mom at home? Or always leave one kid at home when you go visit relatives during the holidays? Or bring mom or the kid, but don't let them eat anything except some carrots and hummus you brought from home?

This about this: while the folks who are gluten-free tend to know what they can and can't eat, what happens when the gluten-free child is invited to a friend's house for a play date? Should mom trust everyone else to know what's safe to cook? Or should the child never visit anyone else's home?

Heck, what happens if a gluten-free person comes to my house? With as much flour that flies around here, cross-contamination is a real risk. For a dinner event, I'd clean and scrub and de-gluten my kitchen as much as possible to make it safe to grill some meat and roast some vegetables.

But if a neighbor dropped by unexpectedly with a gluten-free friend in tow, I'd be a LOT happier opening a fresh bag of gluten-free corn chips and a couple of containers of gluten-free dips, because I would know for sure that those products were safe. Pretty much anything else in my kitchen might have suffered cross-contamination - and that includes the block of cheese or the home made salsa.

Are you looking for some awesome gluten-free recipes and gluten free blogs? Try these:

Boulder Locavore
Creative Cooking Gluten Free
Gluten Free Baking
Elana's Pantry
Art of Gluten Free Baking
Recipe Renovator
Gluten Free Doctor
Gluten Free Girl
Fearless Dining
The Fit Habit
Liz the Chef
Jeanette's Healthy Living
Erin Brighton

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Best High-Altitude Hard Boiled Eggs EVER!

Hard boiled eggs shouldn't be difficult. But sometimes they are.

Before I moved to Colorado, I could boil hard-boiled eggs with no trouble. Heck, I didn't even need to time them. It was an instinctual thing. I'd think, gee, I'll bet they're done. And they'd be done.

Then I moved to high altitude. And, well, I could still hard boil an egg. I just couldn't boil them right. I tried every possible version of boiling, simmering, leaving them in hot water with the lid on. I changed the timing, the pot, and the amount of water.

I tried salting the water, and I tried adding baking soda to the water. I tried old eggs, very old eggs, and fresh eggs.

And no matter what I tried, and even if the center of the eggs were slightly undercooked, I always ended up with a green ring around the yolks. Always.

And let's not talk about the perils of peeling. Sometimes I'd get the eggs to peel cleanly, but often the peels stuck and the eggs were ugly. And that was totally inconsistent. I always boiled extra eggs, because it was a good bet that at least some shells would stick. But there were always some that were perfectly fine.

Then, I tried steaming the eggs. I read an article that suggested that 12 minutes was perfect, but that was written by someone at sea level, and I live at just about a mile high. I knew the timing was probably going to be a bit off, so I pulled out one egg at 12 minutes to test it. The inside was set, but not as done as I liked. So I continued cooking. At 16 minutes, I tested another one, and it was cooked evenly to the center, and absolutely no green ring around the yolk.

Even better, every single egg peeled very, very easily.

Just what I wanted.

Have you tried steaming eggs? You should!

Psssst! Hey! Wanna know a secret?

Look up. No, not at your ceiling. Look up at the tabs at the top of this page. See the very last one, labeled Cookistry Reviews? If you click that, it will lead you to my brand new review blog!

Go! Check it out! I'll still be here, cooking.

Friday, July 25, 2014

100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die #GSOBFoodie

Photo courtesy of #GSOBFoodie
This is a little ... offbeat. So bear with me a sec, and it will come into focus.

This about an exhibit called The Art of Alabama Food Exhibit that is based on a list of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die.

The exhibit has been on display in New York, Atlanta, New Orleans, Birmingham and is now in Orange Beach, Alabama. It features 36 photos of the foods listed.

Obviously, I'm not in Alabama - or any of those other places either - but I have friends participating. So I was asked to help promote the exhibit and participate in a Twitter party where YOU could win stuff from the exhibit and the restaurants. See how much I like you?

The prizes include goodies from restaurants on the 100 Dishes list. These could include things like special bottled sauces or Tervis tumblers, as well as Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism swag. I'm not sure exactly what, but surprises are fun, right?

So, join me at the Twitter Party:

When: Friday, July 25, 2014
Time: 5:30 – 6:30 p.m., central time zone
Official Hashtag: #GSOBFoodie

If you're in the neighborhood, the exhibit is at The Compleat Studio, The Wharf in Orange Beach. Beside the photo exhibit, there are food tastings from local culinary festivals (including the National Shrimp Festival), cook book signing and ice sculpting.

Bloggers participating in the Twitter party (beside me) are:

Jay Ducote from Bite & Booze (He's at the event! Lucky him!)
Susan Benton, 30A Eats
Milisa Armstrong from Miss in the Kitchen
Heather Scholten from Farmgirl Gourmet

More about Gulf Shores and Orange Beach:

100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die:

LA Caviar and Cheeseburger in Paradise: Lulu’s @LuLusHomeport
WipeOut Burger: The Hangout @thehangoutGS
Royal Red Shrimp: King Neptune’s @KingNeptunes
Farmer’s Omelet and Mexican Garbage Nachos: Tacky Jack’s @TackyJacks1
Grouper Ponchartrain: Shipp’s Harbour Grill
Sea Bass Wrapped in Banana Leaves: Cosmo’s Restaurant
Shrimp & Grits: Ginny Lane Bar & Grill
Mango Salsa Grilled Chicken Salad: The Southern Grind @TheSouthrnGrind 
Smoked Mullet: Bimini Bob’s @Bimini_Bobs

This is not a sponsored post - I just thought you might be interested. I received swag for my participation the Twitter party, but mostly I'm doing it to help out some friends.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gadgets: Zoku Quick Pop Maker

Realistically, you can make ice pops in paper cups with wooden skewers for handles, but that's probably not as fun - or as trendy - as using a Zoku quick pop maker. They come in sizes to make one, two, or three pops at a time.

I tested the single quick pop maker ($25.99), but the instructions said they all work the same way.

The ice pop maker goes into the freezer, just like an ice cream maker bowl or those ice packs you stuff into your cooler. When you're ready to make the ice pops, you take the ice pop maker out of the freezer, put the chosen liquid into the mold, insert one of the provided plastic sticks, and wait.

It takes about five minutes for the liquid to freeze, depending on what, exactly, you're freezing and how many pops you've made in the same mold. You can freeze up to three ice pops in a single mold before you need to shove it back into the freezer, and each one takes a little longer to freeze. If you've got three kids, you might want to get the ice pop maker that freezes three at a time, because otherwise the last kid is going to be waiting a long time.

There are some limitations as to what you can freeze - plain water will stick. Although why you'd use this for ice, I don't know. The mixture needs to have the right consistency, but that still leaves plenty of options. My favorite was root beer. The carbonation affected the way it froze, leaving interesting streaks of color in the pops.

While this is no doubt marketed for families with kids, you can also freeze some adult beverages into ice pops, as long as the alcohol content isn't so high that it thwarts freezing. But at worst, you're scooping a slushy out of the ice pop maker. And that's not really so bad.

The instructions talk about customizing the ice pops with slices of fruit or by layering different flavors, or sucking out the center of the pop before it's completely frozen so you can fill it with a different flavor. There are also add-on kits for customizing and decorating the pops. I'm not nearly that crafty, but it could be a lot of fun for kids to make their own special pops with fruit and juices.

Since this doesn't have any moving parts, it should last for quite a long time unless it's dropped or abused; it's not dishwasher safe. There are replacement parts available if you happen to lose the extra parts.

The product was supplied for the purpose of a review on Serious Eats; this was previously published on Serious Eats.

Just so you know, Gadgets posts will be changing a bit. I've been re-posting my reviews from Serious Eats, but the column there will be much different. However, I love reviewing kitchen gadgets, so I'll continue doing reviews. They might be different ... and they might be posted somewhere else. We'll see ...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Baileys Ice Cream - a guest post at Cravings of a Lunatic #BoozyDesserts

Ah, Baileys Irish Cream ... how I love you. It's such a lovely dessert cocktail, all on its own. Chill and serve.

But ... I can't leave a good thing alone, so I churned some Baileys into a batch of ice cream.

And then I used MORE Baileys to make a caramel sauce.

Yes, I'm wild and crazy.

And then, because I have no decency, I sent the whole shebang over to Kim at Cravings of a Lunatic to use as a guest post.

Well, okay, I didn't email her the actual ice cream. Just words and photos.

So, gawk at this photo of the caramel sauce. Ooooh, thick caramel sauce, ready for drizzling. Or for eating right off the spoon. We don't want to talk about how many times I did that.

And then take a closer look at this ice cream layered with caramel. Pretty ice cream, flavored with Baileys, along with a deeper-flavored caramel with Baileys. It's a match made in ... uh ... a glass.

And then when you're done gawking, go visit Kim for the recipe. Because I know you want to make it!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Slow Cooker Cheesy Southern Grits

I love grits more than a person should love such a plain, homey dish. Sometimes I even get fancy and call the dish polenta, instead. I like plain grits with a little butter, cheesy grits with extra cream, spicy grits with peppers, grits with mushrooms, tomatoes or herbs... and I like them served as a side, served as breakfast, or served under shrimp, stew or tomato sauce.

Yeah, pretty much any way.

So when I saw a recipe for creamy cheesy grits in the book The Southern Slow Cooker by Kendra Bailey Morris, I knew I had to give it a try. The idea of tossing grits into a slow cooker and letting them cook unattended is pretty appealing.

These grits are supposed to cook for 2-3 hours, but I jump started them a bit by starting them on a higher temperature. I've got a Ninja slow cooker, so it's got a few extra cooking settings that let me crank up the heat fir the beginning of the cooking. Then I turned it down to finish the cooking.

Since the Ninja's interior is nonstick, I didn't bother spraying it with cooking spray. If you've got a slow cooker that has a ceramic insert, maybe you should spray - I don't know if it helps, really. I'd think that it would mix in if you do any stirring. But I don't know. Maybe it's worth doing.

This book suggests adding the grits to the water and letting it sit for 5 minutes before cooking, then skimming off any floating bits of grits. I'd never done that before. Most recipes I have call for whisking grits into hot liquid, so that floaty stuff wouldn't be floating.

So, skim or don't - whatever you think is right.

Creamy Cheesy Grits
Adapted from The Southern Slow Cooker by Kendra Bailey Morris

1 cup chicken broth
3 cups water
1 cup stone ground (not instant) grits
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt (plus more to taste)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (plus more to taste)
1/4 cup cream, half-and-half, or milk
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Pour the chicken broth and water into your slow cooker, then whisk in the grits. Add the butter, salt, and pepper and cook on high until the grits are cooked to your liking - figure 2-3 hours.

Add the cream (or milk or half-and-half) and the cheese. Stir and cook another  5 or 10 minutes. If the grits are too thick for your liking, you can add more liquid. If you want them a little thicker, continue cooking with the lid off.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Pasta with Farmers Market Produce

I was browsing through the book Keepers, looking for an interesting recipe to make, when I happened upon a pasta recipe that looked really interesting. I thought I had all the ingredients, so I embarked.

And then I came to a screeching halt. The recipe called for fresh mozzarella, and all I had was the brick mozzarella. Not even close.

And then things really went off the rails as I changed things and added more ingredients. I'm really happy with this (heck, I ate two bowls for lunch) but it's really nothing like the original, except that it's a pasta dish with fresh tomatoes and some other stuff.

I do plan on making the original recipe one of these days. It's actually pretty close to something I already make, but it's always worthwhile checking out someone else's recipe.

If I make this again (or even the original) I might tone down the garlic a bit. I'm thinking I might gently poach a couple of cut cloves of garlic in the olive oil, so the oil gets the garlic flavor, then discard the garlic or use it for something else. As it is, the garlic is pretty bold.

I got the Ultragrain spagetti from Hodgson Mill with a bunch of other goodies they sent me quite a while back.

The pasta is supposed to be a healthier version, since it includes whole grains and quinoa rather than being 100% white flour. It was a little brown(ish) before it was cooked, but after it was cooked, I doubt most people would notice any difference at all.

Meanwhile, I'm working with Pompeian on a series of posts, so I had a bottle of their Arbequina olive oil open and ready to be used. During a recent tasting, I thought this one was the mildest and smoothest of the varietals, but with more olive flavor than a light olive oil. It worked really well in this pasta dish.

I was not required to post about the Ultragrain pasta, and this is not one of the official Pompeian posts, but since I used 'em I figured I'd mention them. I'm nice like that.

Pasta with Farmers Market Produce
Inspired by Keepers

6 ounces (1/2 package) Hodgson Mill Ultragrain Spaghetti with Quinoa
1/4 cup Pompeian Arbequina olive oil (more as desired)
1 clove garlic
2 scallions
1 large beefsteak tomato
1 small zucchini
1/2 cup chopped kalamata (or other) olives
6 ounces feta cheese
1/2 cup loosely-packed basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Leaves from 2 large springs thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water.

Meanwhile, assemble the rest.

Put the olive oil in a large bowl. Mince the garlic and add it to the oil. Slice the scallions thinly - the white and tender green parts - and add that to the bowl. I had red scallions, but the more usual white ones are fine.

Cut the tomato into bite-size chunks and add it to the bowl. Slice, dice, cube, or otherwise cut the zucchini into bite-size pieces. I cut mine in quarters, lengthwise, then sliced it into about 1/4 inch slices.

For the olives (make sure they're pitted) you can leave them whole, slice in half, or just chop randomly and roughly. I used a mix of pitted olives from the salad bar that included both Kalamata and green olives, but use what you like.

Give the mix a little stir.

Cut the feta into bite-size chunks. These will tend to break up after the pasta is added, so you can leave them a little larger than you want the end result to be. Add them to the bowl, then add the basil, parsley, and thyme. Grind on a few generous grinds of black pepper. Hold off on the salt for a bit - the feta and the olives are both salty, so you might not need more.

When the pasta is done, drain it well, then add it to the vegetables in the bowl and mix well. The oil, juice from the tomatoes, and the feta that breaks up will form a sauce. The longer the pasta sits, it will absorb the liquid. Add more oil, if you like.

This can be served immediately as a warm dish, or at room temperature, or chilled as a pasta salad.

If you do serve it chilled, for sure the liquid will all be absorbed by the pasta, so you might want to dress it with a bit more oil before serving, or it might seem too dry.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Stone fruit (really) small-batch jam

We're not big jam-eaters around here. At least not to the point where I need to preserve huge batches of the stuff.

But sometimes jam happens. In really small batches. Just enough for a jar to stash in the refrigerator. Because, really, that's about enough.

Not only do we not use enough jam to make large batches sensible, I like to flit from flavor to flavor, depending on what fruit is in season or what I'm in the mood for.

Recently, it was stone fruit I wanted to preserve. I had a few angelcots that were just slightly ripe. And then there were a couple mango nectarines that were bruised and wouldn't have lasted long enough for me to devour.

Mango nectarine (left) and three angelcots.
I got both of them from Frieda's Specialty Produce, a company I like to think of as the world's quirkiest CSA. They send me stuff and sometimes I write about it. Most of the things they send are unusual. Like the angelcots. They're a cross between apricots and angelfish.

No, that can't be right ...

I guess what they really are is white apricots that are really sweet and delicious. I ate most of them as soon as they arrived, but I had a few left over when the mango nectarines landed. To me, the nectarines didn't taste like mangoes, but the color inside was the color of a mango. So there ya go.

After blanching, peeling, pit-removal, and chopping, I had about a cup of fruit. Not nearly enough for a traditional batch of jam, but just enough to play with.

Angelcot and Nectarine Jam

1 cup peeled, pitted and chopped nectarines and apricots
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
1 teaspoon instant pectin
2 tablespoons water
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make peeling easier, blanch the fruit - dunk them in boiling water, then plunge into cold water. The peels will slip off easily.

Add the fruit, sugar, lime juice, pectin, water, and salt to a saucepan. Cook, stirring as needed, until the sugar dissolves, the fruit breaks up, and the mixture thickens. Very ripe fruit will turn to mush fairly quickly, while less ripe fruit will hold its shape a little better. Whether you want it all smooth or a little chunky is up to you.

Taste (let it cool a bit on the spoon before you sample) and add more sugar, if you like. I wanted a jam that was tart, so I didn't add more. Cook just long enough to let your additional sugar dissolve.

Take the jam off the heat, add the vanilla extract, and stir to combine. Transfer to a jar or other container and refrigerate.

I thought this was particularly good dabbed on toast along with a bit of cream cheese. It would also be a great filling for thumbprint cookies.
Small batch stone fruit jam

Friday, July 18, 2014

Mushrooms with Rave Reviews

I cook with liquor quite often, so when I heard that a company called Rave Review! had created a line of spirits with cooking in mind, I had to try them. I knocked on their (virtual) door and they very graciously sent me some samples.

The different liquors are blended with flavors and spices, and the company said that they're specially blended to hold up when cooked. So, okay then.

And, if you want to mix a cocktail with them, that's fine, too.

Me, I wanted to set something on fire. I mean, why not?

I haven't tried all the products yet, but I'm working my way through them. Besides the bourbon that I used for this recipe, they also have brandy, rum, and hops. So far, so good.

Have you tried these? What do you think? I have ideas for the brandy and rum, but I'm a little stumped on the hops. What would you do with that one?

Mushrooms with Rave Review! Bourbon

1 tablespoon butter
1 pound button mushrooms, sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Splash of Rave Review! bourbon
Sour cream or creme fraiche, to taste

Yeah, this recipe is a little sketchy in terms of amounts, but it's all about your taste. So, have fun with it.

Melt the butter in a skillet large enough to hold all of those mushrooms. Add the mushooms along with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Cook, stirring or tossing (I've been flipping and tossing everything lately, but stirring is fine) until the mushroom lose their liquid and then most of it evaporates and you see that some of the mushrooms are browning a bit.

Take the pan off of the heat and add a splash of the bourbon. Just a splash. Not a big glug. If you insist on measurements, then a tablespoon or two will be fine.

Return the pan to the heat and tilt it a bit and the vapors should catch fire.

WHeee! Fire!!! Whooo Hoo! We have FLAMBEEd!

Let the flames burn themselves out. It won't take long.

Now, wasn't that fun?

Add a dollop of the sour cream or creme fraiche and stir it in. You can add as much as you like. You can opt to barely coat the mushrooms, or let them swim in some sauciness. Stir/toss to combine and serve warm.

Disclaimer: I was sent products at no cost. A post was not required.