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Summer Eating: Toss it Together!

The other day I was ready for lunch but didn’t know what to have. I had a few ripe avocados (not “guacamole ripe,” still semi-firm), a couple of tomatoes and some cut up mangoes in the fridge. I’ve had mango salsa before, but decided to try just cubing the ingredients, tossing in some bleu cheese (which you will have guessed by now is a fave!) and grinding some fresh pepper over the mixture. I probably should have drizzled a little vinaigrette over it, but ended up putting a blob of bleu cheese dressing on it instead. It was so pretty, I had to take a picture!

How pretty is this? Very!

This was before the dressing so you could see the colors clearly. And the taste? Delish! This is one small avocado, a smallish tomato and 2 spears of mango. (Trader Joe’s has sliced mangoes in the fridge case for pretty cheap – worth it if you’ve ever tried to cut up a slippery mango and dropped it or something…not that I have…I’m just saying it’s a possibility…) I put maybe a tablespoon of bleu cheese crumbles and ground a few turns of pepper on it before tossing. A tablespoon or so of dressing topped it all.

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Posted by on August 9, 2011 in Information, Recipe, Uncategorized

 

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Breakfast is My Favorite Food: Banana Waffles

I am the first to admit that breakfast is my favorite food. Muffins? Yes, please! Eggs Benedict? Sure! Scones? I’ll take two to start! Bacon? >drool< It will come as no surprise that waffles are frequent menu items for our weekend breakfasts!

I recently had a over-ripe banana languishing on the counter – not enough to make bread or muffins, but just right for Banana Waffles!

Banana Waffles on a sunny Sunday morning!

The original recipe (from AllRecipes.com) called for bananas sliced onto batter in the waffle iron and did not include any oil. That is a recipe for disaster, waffle-wise! If your waffle sticks to the iron, it is no longer a waffle; it is a scramble. We made the recipe the first time as written, except that I mashed the banana and added it to the batter. When we opened the iron to remove the first one, both the top and bottom plates had waffle attached – not good! Lesson learned, we added canola oil for the next one. This made a very light, fluffy waffle! It had to be removed carefully – it clung to the bottom plate, but I was reluctant to add more oil. I’m guessing that this is due to the banana. (Note to self: write a paper on: The Transitive Properties of the Mashed Banana When Added to Waffle Recipe) By using a fork and teasing onto a large spatula, I avoided creating a scramble. The photo is from the second time we made the Banana Waffles – a sunny and warm Sunday morning! Breakfast on the veranda, anyone?

Banana Waffles

  • 1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsps. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 banana, mashed
  • 1/3 c. canola oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c. milk

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mash banana in small bowl, add milk, oil and egg; stir to combine and break-up the egg. Use a wire whisk to stir the wet ingredients into the large mixing bowl; stirring until well blended. Heat/prepare waffle iron according to manufacturer’s instructions. Add recommended amount of batter to the iron and cook until done. Remove carefully (as described above) and serve with butter & warm maple syrup.

Important Note: Your waffle will only be as good as the waffle iron you use! Please see my review of the Caphalon No-Peek Waffle Iron. Best. Waffle. Iron. Ever. I highly recommend this product!

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2011 in Information, Recipe

 

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How Do You Cook Corn on the Cob?

Yum! Fresh Sweet corn! One of the best flavors of summer!

Summer is here and one of the best things about this season is readily available fresh produce! Berries, peaches (soon, I hope!), green beans, peas, summer squash and corn on the cob – to name a few. Since I had some corn over the weekend, I thought I’d ask around to see what other people do with their sweet corn.

Do you boil or grill? Do you nuke it? Eat it raw?

How do you serve it? Do you use basics – butter, salt, pepper? Or do you experiment with other toppings? Do you use those little corn holder thingies or tough it out? Do you have those little corn shaped plates?

My way to cook sweet corn is simple. I husk the corn, removing the silks and breaking off any natural “handles” so it will fit into my pot. I put them in a pot of water, cover and bring to a boil. And then I turn off the heat and let stand in the hot water for at least 10 minutes to heat through. That’s it! We have those cute little plates – got them for a wedding gift, back in the day – but don’t always use them. I don’t use the holders – I think my fingertips are made of asbestos or something! We tend to go with straight butter (low-fat margarine, really) and salt and pepper. Basic, classic summer sweet corn!

Your turn! Tell me how you cook and eat your sweet corn…I’ll be waiting right here!

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2011 in Asking for Feedback, Information, Recipe

 

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Searching for Inspiration…

Two things you should not do at a grocery store: 1) Go when you’re hungry and, 2) Go with the intent to become inspired. Actually, there are many more things you shouldn’t do – pilfering and nudity both spring to mind – but perhaps we can cover those things in another post… Mind you, I have gone to the grocery store hungry and in search of inspiration and it usually does not end well. Junk food leaps into my cart and I finger the chocolate bars near the check-out with obvious yearning. Inspirational choices usually end up being something frozen or deli purchased and – while not all bad – that’s not really cooking, is it? In the best of all possible worlds, I like to head to the store with a good list, including meal planning notes – and a fist full of coupons.

A good start is to check the weekly ads of your local grocery stores. You can figure out what types of ingredients are available for the best price that week. Next, find a good recipe website. I really like All Recipes.com. It has a good search engine for helping you find recipes and reviews. If you put in “chicken” and “rice,” for example, you get 399 recipes to choose from! The reviews are invaluable as these are written by real people with varying degrees of cooking skills who tell what substitutions they may have made, how it turns out and whether they will use it again. You are certain to find something that will work for you and your family. They also have an iPad app that is fabulous (and, even better, FREE!) so that I can use my iPad as a recipe book – very cool!

Brown Rice & Broccoli - Parmesan cheese on top - yum!

If you are fortunate enough to live near a Central Market in Kitsap, Snohomish or King counties in Washington, it is actually feasible to stop in and find inspiration at their Culinary Resource Center (the store in Kitsap county has the center located in the produce). They have chef’s preparing samples of some of their wonderful tested recipes with ingredients found in the store. If you don’t live near any, don’t despair! They have a website with all their recipes available for printing on the Culinary Resource Center page. The recipes cater to all levels of cooking and include a variety of ingredients. My husband and I were in the store recently and taste-tested their Brown Rice and Broccoli recipe – very tasty! I grabbed a copy and gathered the easily located ingredients to make for an upcoming event and it went over quite well! The recipe is here.

The great thing about both of these sites is that you can print out the recipes for future use – no need to try and find it again on the web. All Recipes.com also allows you to keep a “recipe box” to store favorites when you set up a free account. I usually print them out and put them in plastic sleeves in my large recipe binder – it works better for me. Central Market’s site will help you set up a shopping list, but I don’t think you can actually save the recipe on the site. If you live in the area, you can buy one of their special binders to keep the recipe cards organized with the included category dividers.

There are many other options for cooking inspiration – cooking blogs, foodie tv shows, etc., but these two sites should help you get started – who knows what else you might find! If you have a favorite recipe site/source, please let me know what it is in a comment below!

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2011 in Information, Recipe

 

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Knots of Tasty Goodness: Soft Pretzels

I enjoy baking, but my husband also loves to bake, so I let him. He was out of town for a few days recently and I had the hankering to attempt yeast dough. I haven’t made a bread-type thing in…forever! I decided I would try making soft pretzels and pulled out my trusty iPad with its All Recipes app and did a search on pretzels.  (If you don’t use allrecipes.com as an inspirational source, you really should!) Several recipes showed up and I read them over along with reviews by those who already tried them. The dough recipe was pretty basic – some flour amounts varied and made more or less of the finished product. I chose to use a recipe that made 12 large pretzels and to use a suggestion by one of the reviewers to boil each pretzel in baking soda water prior to the last rising. Some of the recipes had the pretzels dipped in a warm water/baking soda mixture and others didn’t have the baking soda bath step at all. This step seems a little scary, but it actually was surprisingly easy – but I am getting ahead of myself!

The dough recipe: Dissolve 1 pkg. active dry yeast (.25 oz) in 1 ½ c. warm (110 degree F/45 degree C) water (I used a candy thermometer – who knew I had one of those?) along with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1 1/8 teaspoons of salt in a large bowl. Stir in 3 cups of flour. Turn out onto floured surface and knead for about 8 minutes or until uniform and elastic. The dough is sticky, so keep sprinkling flour on your surface as you knead to keep it from sticking. Form into a ball. Spray a large mixing bowl with non-stick spray and place the dough ball into the bowl, turn once to coat with the spray. Cover with a tea towel and set it aside to rise for 1 hour or until doubled.

Side note: If you don’t have a silicone mat for working your dough, you should dash out and get one. While you are at the cook’s store, get some silicone mats that will fit your baking sheets. They are the best thing ever when baking cookies, scones, pretzels. Easy to clean – like washing a lasagna noodle – and nothing sticks. Go ahead – go buy some. We’ll wait….

After dough has risen, turn it out onto your surface again. It will still be a little sticky but I did not have issues with it sticking to my mat. Cut the dough into 12 equal (more or less) pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 2 ft. long – like a Play-doh snake. While you are rolling the first snake, bring 4 cups water and 4 tablespoons baking soda to a boil and keep at a simmer throughout this step. Back to the snake – when your snake is the right length and fairly uniform in width, form into pretzel shape. (Make a “U”, bring the arms of the “U” down and cross them near the bottom of the curve.

Boiling pretzel - it's floating on the surface so it is ready to remove.

Gently drop your pretzel into the simmering soda water. It will sink to the bottom. When it rises to the top and floats, remove it with a large slotted spatula, draining the liquid, and place on your baking sheet. (PS If you don’t have the silicone mats, you will have to use parchment paper – otherwise these guys stick like crazy!) I had to reshape my pretzel a little for the first couple, but easily got into a rhythm of keeping half an eye on the simmering pretzel while rolling out the next snake. It went fairly quickly and soon I had 2 sheets with 6 pretzels on each. Let the pretzels rest for 20 minutes, uncovered.

Two sheets of lovely pretzels, resting for 20 minutes

As was suggested by one of the reviewers, I brushed them all with a beaten egg so they would be shiny. (after they were all rested and refreshed) One baking sheet of pretzels was sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar, the other with sea salt. I baked them at 450 degrees for 12 minutes with the racks positioned in the center of the oven. I switched the sheets around halfway through so they would brown more evenly. Cool on a baking rack, store in an air-tight container.

Pretzels with sea salt - fresh from the oven!

Another side note: Did you know you can get little spice grinders filled with cinnamon-sugar, sea salt, pepper corns, etc.? McCormick makes them and they are very handy to have around. Look for them in the baking aisle of your local grocery store amongst the spices. They also make good stocking stuffers for your favorite foodies.  (You’re welcome, McCormick)

This was my first foray into the pretzel-making habit and I feel almost qualified to open a soft pretzel stand – that’s how easy they were to make.

Cinnamon-Sugar pretzels - just a touch of sweetness!

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2011 in Information, Recipe

 

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A Work in Progress: Raspberry-Balsamic Reduction Sauce

I’ve had two fabulous meals at restaurants lately that inspired me to give reduction sauces a shot. I had the Chicken Marsala at The Main Street Ale House in Kingston that was so wonderful that I came >this< close to licking the plate. The other was Apricot Chicken at – of all places – The Olive Garden in Silverdale. Again, there was very nearly a plate-licking incident.

Both of these dishes had chicken breasts that were pounded nearly flat. OK – I have a breast-pounding mallet

Surely this device will pound a chicken breast nice & flat!

that looks like it could stop a moose in its tracks which I keep in the car for protection. Or in case I’m suddenly underwater and need to break a window. With the chicken breasts between 2 sheets of plastic wrap, I commenced pounding (with the smooth side of the mallet) until they were flat and the size of a salad plate. And, hey, it was fun! I sprinkled them with thyme and fresh ground pepper on both sides and put a little sea salt on one side only before cutting them into manageable sizes for grilling.

As I said, I never made a reduction sauce before and I didn’t want to muck up my experiment by actually researching the concept. Pshaw! So this is what I did:

  • In a large, deep sided skillet (large because I needed to add the grilled chicken later and I hate
    Raspberry Balsamic Reduction Sauce

    See - reduced by half!

    washing dishes) I melted 1/2 c. of seedless raspberry jam over low heat.

  • I added 1/3 c. balsamic vinegar, 3/4 c. apple juice (I used a small juice box of 100% juice), fresh ground pepper and 1 tbl. dried onion (handy for sauces when you only need a small amount of onion). I bumped the heat up to medium-high so it would come to a boil.
  • Once it was boiling, I reduced the heat to a simmer until it reduced by half and the chicken was ready to go in. I tossed in some fresh raspberries for color.
  • I coated the chicken in the sauce and let it simmer for 5 or 10 minutes so the flavors would meld.

It smelled like heaven and was very pretty to look at. Not to mention, quite tasty!

See how pretty?!?

Remember that this is a work in progress and that I had never made a reduction sauce before. My husband begged me to put the recipe on my blog so here it is! If you have made a reduction sauce before and what I am doing is horribly, horribly wrong, please let me know.

But if something this delicious is wrong, I don’t wanna be right!

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2011 in Information, Recipe

 

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Chicken Basics: Roasting a Chicken

The wonderful aroma of a roasting chicken is a “comfort smell,” I believe, and is such a simple dinner that I blush to say that I don’t do it very often. All it takes is a little planning because it does take one and a half to two and a half hours to roast. Plus, there are usually leftovers that can be used for other dinners – such as Rice Bowls or Mediterranean Chicken (to be posted later – watch this space!)

I like to get about a 4 lb. whole fryer – preferably locally provided and/or free-range – and these can cost anywhere from .88/lb. to 1.99/lb., depending on specials and availability. I use a lot of rosemary when roasting my chicken – it adds to the flavor of the meat and it is one of my favorite “aroma-therapy” fragrances. I have a large rosemary bush in my yard that thrives on the benign neglect that I lavish upon it. I cut several branches to use as a “rack” to keep it off the bottom of my roasting dish and a few extra to stuff here and there in the chicken.

A small rant to begin: Why do they no longer put the nasty giblets and neck in a little bag? I hate trying to get those gooey things out!

The Pan: You will need a pan or dish with high sides that will fit your entire chicken – bits that hang over the edge will drip into your oven and could cause a fire. This equals “Not Good.” I have a nice oval-shaped Pyrex dish that is about 3 inches deep – 1.8 liters (almost 2 quarts). I always spray the dish with non-stick spray – we don’t have a dishwasher and it just makes for an easier clean-up.

Chicken Prep: Remove the chicken from it’s wrappings; remove and discard the giblets/neck (see rant above). Rinse the chicken inside and out with cold water. Drain and pat dry the skin. Place in the pan, breast side up. As I said, I use rosemary branches as a rack to keep the chicken off the bottom of the pan, but you could use thyme branches (although it would take a lot!), celery ribs or carrot sticks instead. It keeps the chicken from swimming in the fat while it roasts (the backstroke, I believe). Using actual stuffing in a chicken is kind of an exercise in futility because you won’t have enough stuffing in the chicken to make more than 2 servings and it will be pretty greasy, so I usually shove a couple of rosemary branches in the cavity. I also loosen the breast skin, using “foo d scissors” to cut the membrane in the center so there is a nice “pocket” to stick a little more of the he rbs. I a lso use those handy “food scissors” to cut off the tail and fat flaps at the tail end of the chicken – every little bit h elps, right? Here are the “food scissors” that Pampered Chef carries (we have an earlier version that we use daily!) I drizzle a little olive oil over the bird and rub it around – an oil massage! – and then a little fresh-ground sea salt and pepper.

Betty Crocker Cookbook c.1980

Roasting : I use my ancient Betty Crocker Cookbook’s roasting guide to determine oven temperature and total cooking time, but here is a link to an online guide that is exactly the same. The 4 lb. (or so) chicken I usually get takes about 2 hours at 375 degrees. Preheat your oven and have one of your racks centered. I don’t often tie the legs together – if I have the right kind of string, I will, but as long as the bird fits in the roasting dish, it’ll be fine. Check on your bird after an hour to make sure it isn’t over-browning – put some foil over it, if need be, and remove for the last 10 minutes. Can you smell that?!!? Is your mouth watering yet?!!? At the end of your cook time, you can check the internal temperature by inserting a meat thermometer into a thigh or breast – don’t let it hit bone – and seeing if it is 180 degrees or more. If the legs are all splayed out and real loose looking, you should be safe without checking the temperature. Let it rest outside of the oven for about 10 minutes before yelling, “Come for to eat!” Refrigerate left-overs.

My family descends like locusts on roast chicken, so I don’t have any photos of a chicken that I actually have touched, but I found this nice photo in Microsoft Clip Art – and it is surrounded by rosemary, so I figure it’s close enough!

 

Roast Chicken courtesy of MS Clipart!

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2011 in Information, Recipe

 

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