Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cranberry Apple Pie

As Thanksgiving approaches, my thoughts veer towards turkeys, pumpkins and of course, cranberries. Cranberries belong on the thanksgiving table. They are native to North America and were introduced to European settlers by the Indians. The Indians ate the "crane-berry", which supplied them with vitamin C and used the dark red berry for dye. They called them crane berries because the blossom and vine looks like the neck of a sand hill crane.

Unfortunately, cranberries often grace the thanksgiving table in the form of a tin can, ripples and all, plopped out onto a serving dish. I think this jellied sauce does an injustice to the pungent berry and is the cause of their under-appreciation. I have a favorite cranberry sauce that I make every year that is nothing like the canned jelly. The cranberries are cooked in ruby port, which produces a savory sauce, and uses dried figs for texture and sweetness. It goes wonderfully with turkey, stuffing, and even pork. Still, no one tries it without prompting, and when they do partake, it's a very small spoonful. Then the usual response is, this is cranberry sauce?

I completely understand the aversion to cranberries, although we never had canned cranberry sauce... Growing up in central Wisconsin, much of my extended family and neighbors were cranberry farmers. Since we usually received gifts of berries at harvest time, Cranberries were on our table year round, not just for the holidays. The jar of sauce would be poured into one of my mom's crystal serving dishes and most of it minus a couple of spoonfuls would return to the jar after each meal. When I went to a friend's house for dinner whose family lived on a cranberry marsh, my mom would tell me that I should be polite and eat the cranberries if they served them at the table. It was a lot to ask of a 7 year old. Strong, pungent, and sour, these sauces were straight cranberries with a little sugar. Then Ocean Spray started marketing Cranberry juice blends and the prices of cranberries went up and more and more cranberry bogs appeared around the neighborhood. Today, my parents' farm is an island in a sea of cranberry bogs. All because someone figured out that cranberries taste best when blended with other fruits.

My mom and dad still get crates of cranberries from relatives and neighbors, so when my sister came to visit a few weeks ago, my mom sent along a gallon size bag of cranberries, freshly picked from the neighbor's marsh! I plan on making the above mentioned sauce for Thanksgiving and possibly a very small batch of the more classic sauce for the purists. With the rest of the berries, I am taking free reign to mix them as I please with other fruits, blend them into breads, and make some sweets, like this cranberry apple pie...

This pie is sweet, yet tart and is the perfect companion to vanilla ice cream.

Cranberry Apple Pie

Double pie crust for a 9 inch pie (Click here for my butter crust recipe)

1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 medium baking apples cored and sliced (about 3 cups)
2 cups whole fresh cranberries or frozen cranberries, thawed

2 Tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Mix togther the sugar, flour and cinnamon.

Into a 9 inch pie pan filled with the bottom half of a pie crust spread one cup of sliced apple, then cover with the sugar and flour mixture. Layer one cup of cranberries again covering with the sugar and floud mixture. Repeat layers ending with the apple slices. Dot the top of the filling with the butter then top with the pie crust. Seal the edges of the crust, flute and cut slits in the top to allow the steam to vent.

Place the pie on a cookie sheet so the filling doesn't spill onto your oven floor, then place in a 425 degree oven. After 15 minutes of baking, place a pie ring on the fluted edges or cover the edges with strips of aluminum foil to prevent from over browning. Set the timer for an additional 25 minutes. The pie is done when the top crust is lightly browned and the filling starts to bubble through the slits in the crust.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Sweet Treats: Peanut Butter Eyeballs

I married into a family of Buckeyes, the Ohio State kind. As a Wisconsin Badger, I've taken a lot of crap through the years as the Buckeyes climbed to the top of the sports rankings. In anticpation of the two teams meeting on the field or on the court, my father-in-law without fail tells me he's going to have "badger stew". So when I ran across the recipe for Peanut Butter Buckeyes a few years ago, I couldn't resist making them for a chance to devour their mascot.

When I was trying to come up with some scary homemade candy ideas for Halloween, the recipe for the peanut butter buckeyes seemed to be the perfect starting point for making eyeballs. The buckeyes are a sweetened peanut butter filling rolled into balls, then partially covered in semi-sweet chocolate. For the eyeballs, I painted an iris on the peanut butter filling and replaced the chocolate with white chocolate for the whites of the eye, then added a chocolate chip for the pupil. The plain white seemed a bit bare, so I painted on some blood vessels with red food coloring. Not bad for a little experimentation.

Next time I think I will try using mini chocolate chips - I think they would make more realistic pupils and would be easier to press into the cold peanut butter filling.

Peanut Butter Eyeballs

2 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cups smooth peanut butter (preferably all natural, containing no hydrogenated oils)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt (or 1/2 teaspoon Diamond kosher salt)

6 ounces white chocolate, broken into pieces

Food coloring, a small clean paint brush, mini chocolate chips

In a medium bowl, stir together powdered sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt until combined. Roll mixture into 1 inch balls and place on a wax paper lined baking sheet that fits into your freezer. Paint blue, green, and brown iris on the eyeballs using food coloring. Place a few drops of the desired color on a small square of waxed paper, then dabbing the paint brush into the food coloring, paint a circular iris on each peanut butter ball. It doesn't have to be perfectly round, as the white chocolate will form the outer border of the iris.

Melt the chocolate in a small bowl set over a small pot of simmering water. Remove from heat.

To dip the peanut butter balls into the chocolate, stick a toothpick into the center of the iris, then swirl into the chocolate, leaving the iris visible. Allow the chocolate to set. Remove the toothpick and place a mini chocolate chip in the center of the iris, covering the hole left by the toothpick. To make them extra ghoulish, paint red blood vessels on the whites of the eyes using the paint brush with red food coloring.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Recipes for Homemade Halloween Treats: Mint Meltaways

Halloween is fast approaching, and I have been working on improving some old recipes for homemade Halloween treats. I never buy packaged cookies. Almost every label of a packaged cookie indicates that they contain partially, or now fully hydrogenated vegetable oils. They have to- the hydrogenation keeps them from spoiling on the shelf. But even before the evils of trans fats were realized, I rarely ate a cookie from a package. I stick to the mentality that they are too easy to access if you buy them- you must want them badly enough to go through the trouble of making them from scratch- that's right, no mixes either. Having said that, I am going to contradict this ideal by using packaged cookies in the recipe- a sleeve of graham crackers is in the bottom crust. To make them completely trans fat free, you could either make your own graham crackers or, you could buy trans fat free crackers from Trader Joes or a trustworthy natural food store, double checking the ingredients for partially hydrogenated oils. Unfortunately, hydrogenated fats could be lurking in the ingredients without specifically being listed...

On a recent trip to Safeway, I found that their "honey Graham crackers" indicate they have "0g Trans Fat Per Serving" right on the front of the box. Well we all know that doesn't mean they used no trans fats, there is just less than half a gram per serving. I checked the side of the box for the ingredients and found "interesterified" oil. Wondering what in the heck that was, I brought the box home to investigate. Turns out "interesterified oil" is fully hydrogenated oil mixed with un-hydrogenated oil and no that does not make it partially hydrogenated and so technically there are no trans fats. It still sounds unhealthy to me. Perhaps my best option would be to recreate the crust from scratch, but for now I will publish the recipe using the graham crackers. It is only a trace amount of hydrogenated oil and these are really good!

Mint Meltaways are a triple layer dark chocolate and mint bar cookie that my mom used to make every year for the St. Patrick's day bake sale at my grade school. They were appropriate for that occasion because the middle layer is a bright green. It happens to also be the spooky green of a witches face, which is why I like them for a Halloween spread. The peppermint makes them an easy choice for a fast Christmas treat or for a Holiday cookie swap, so if you don't get around to making them for Halloween, you've got two other Holidays these will be appropriate for.

I was tempted to try bittersweet chocolate for the topping, but it just isn't as good. The bitterness of the unsweetened chocolate contrasts with the sugary sweetness of the mint frosting. Also, an easy way to make graham cracker crumbs without getting a food processor dirty is to place them in a ziploc bag and use a rolling pin or heavy glass to crush them into crumbs.

Mint Meltaways

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup sugar
Dash of salt
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup sweetened coconut (I used Angel Flake)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon peppermint flavoring
2 cups confectioners' sugar
pinch of salt
Green food coloring

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

To make the crust, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat in a medium saucepan. Stir in sugar, salt, egg, and vanilla. Add the cracker crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Mix well and press into a prepared 13 x 9 inch pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature and then place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

For the frosting, beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the food coloring until it is the green of a witches face. Spread over the cooled crust and then refrigerate until the frosting has set.

Melt the unsweetened chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and immediately pour over the cooled layer of frosting, spreading to cover the bars with a thin coat of chocolate. Refrigerate until the chocolate has set and cut into squares.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Recipe: Easy Lasagna

There is nothing like Lasagna to feed a crowd or to have on hand for out of town visitors, especially when the visitors are your sister and her two teenage sons. When my sister, Marcy, visited in March I made two lasagnas- one sausage and one spinach. In response to her request for the recipe, I promised to blog about it. At the time, I was 6 months pregnant, so I hope she doesn’t mind that I am writing this almost 7 months later-I’ve been a little busy.

Basic lasagna, as we know it, usually includes noodles, a tomato sauce, and a Bechamel sauce. Bechamel is also known as white sauce, and it consists of butter, flour, milk, and salt. This is an “easy” recipe for Lasagna that instead uses eggs mixed with cheeses. Fresh homemade lasagna noodles would be the ultimate choice for any lasagna, but since this is an easy version of the classic, store bought noodles will do just fine. I particularly like Barilla’s “oven ready Lasagne”.
These perfectly flat noodles are extra thin and unlike those with the squiggly edges, are more like homemade. The very best part is you do not need to boil them first. They come in a smaller box, so do a double check at the store to make sure you’re buying the right ones. (The last time Lou was sent to the store to pick up noodles, he came home with Barilla’s other lasagne noodles, which require boiling before assembling.)


One package lasagne noodles, cooked as directed on package if required.

Tomato Sauce:
Olive Oil for sautéing
1 yellow onion, diced
4 to 6 (depending on size) crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
1 16-ounce can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil

Cheese Sauce:
3 eggs
2 Tablespoons sour cream or nonfat plain yogurt
1 teaspoon salt or 2 teaspoons Diamond kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper (black pepper works too)
1 15-ounce carton ricotta cheese
½ pound mozzarella cheese, grated
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

Extra grated parmesan cheese for the top.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and coat the sides and bottom of a large baking dish with olive oil.

Heat some olive oil in a sauté pan. Add the onion and mushrooms and sauté until soft. Add the garlic and cook, stirring for about a minute. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, dried oregano, and basil. Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, breaking tomatoes up.

While the tomato sauce is simmering, beat the eggs in a medium sized bowl. Add the sour cream or yogurt, salt, pepper, and ricotta and stir until blended. Then stir in the grated mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.

To assemble, first spoon some of the tomato sauce into the bottom of the baking dish. Then layer the noodles, followed by the cheese sauce and then tomato sauce. Repeat layers ending with tomato sauce and top with additional grated parmesan cheese. If using the oven ready noodles, you’ll have 4 layers, each consisting of 4 sheets of pasta, alternating the direction of the noodles with each layer. They may overlap slightly and will spread out to fill in the gaps when baking. If using boiled pasta with the squiggly edges, you’ll have 3 layers, each consisting of 3 noodles, all layed out the long way.

Italian Sausage Lasagna:
Add one pound cooked and crumbled Italian sausage on top of each cheese layer. We like the spice of hot Italian sausage.

Spinach Lasagna:
Blanche ½ pound fresh spinach in salted water. Drain well and chop. Add to the cheese sauce mixture along with a couple pinches of ground nutmeg.

This is a very satisfying meal to have waiting for you in the fridge, but the best place for it might actually be the freezer. You’ll have an arsenal at the ready when you unexpectedly do not have time to cook for yourself or to give to a friend or family member who is in need of some home-cooking. You can freeze an uncooked, assembled lasagna or you can fully cook the lasagna first, allow to cool, then cover tightly and freeze whole or in smaller portions.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Parisian Crepes

Crepes are classic Paris street food. After burning calories getting intentially lost in the winding streets of the great French city, I've often found a creperie with a corner window that slides open to take the hungry tourists' orders. Sometimes I'd choose savory with "oeuf, fromage, et jambon" (egg, cheese and ham), sometimes sweet with Nutella and banana, always with buerre, "oui, merci", I'd say, as they put a large pat of butter on the hot steele under my crepe. They'd wrap the filled pancake in paper after folding it into a cone for a hand held edible treat. I'd walk down the street, butter dripping down my chin (one time even onto my jacket) as I continued on to discover even more.

When I want to relive these memories, I whip up a batch of crepe batter and fill the thin pancake with egg, ham, and some good and strong tasting, easy melting cheese. I recently used a 4 year aged white cheddar that my parents brought while visiting from Wisconsin- it was delicious.

I find a hand whisk is the best tool to use to first blend the dry ingredients, then whisk the egg into the melted butter, and then lastly to blend all the ingredients together. By using the method below of combining the egg and the butter first, you prevent the butter from solidifying when trying to blend it into the dry ingredients along with the cold milk.

Parisian Crepes

1 1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (or 1 teaspoon Diamond Kosher Salt)
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 eggs
2 cups milk
optional: 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (for dessert crepes)

Mix together in medium mixing bowl or batter bowl the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Microwave the butter in a measuring cup or small glass bowl just until melted. Add the eggs to the melted butter and whisk until combined. Add this egg and butter mixture to the dry ingredients along with the milk. Add vanilla if making sweet dessert crepes. Whisk until smooth.

If planning on cooking your fillings in your crepes, have them ready to go before you start the next step. For my savory crepes, have eggs, sliced ham and grated or sliced cheese on stand-by.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Pour enough batter to coat the bottom of the hot pan, swirling to spread the batter. If using a 12 inch skillet, this will be about 1/2 cup. For dessert crepes, I would use a smaller pan. Cook until the batter appears solid and the underside is just starting to brown. Slide a large spatula under the crepe and flip it over.

For my favorite savory crepes, immediately crack one egg onto the cooked side of the crepe. Salt and pepper the egg to taste, then spread the egg around, breaking the yolk, to cover the crepe. Add the siced ham to one half the crepe on top of the egg and the cheese to the other half. When the egg is almost fully cooked and the cheese is starting to melt, flip the cheese-covered half over the ham and brown the outer side of the crepe to the desired depth. When fully cooked and heated through, crease the folded crepe down the center, folding in half again so the semi-circle is now a cone shape. These can be kept warm in the oven until ready to eat.

If planning to fill the cooked crepes with prepared fillings, cook until the other side is browned and then stack the cooked crepes separated by waxed or parchment paper. Fill with desired ingredients and roll or fold burrito-style.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Click for article: 4 major popcorn makers to drop toxic chemical

When you think about it, it's really amazing how the food industry has taken something as simple to make as popcorn and basically contaminated it by packaging it for the convenience of making it in a microwave. Some added oil, chemical flavorings, and a microwave, and Voila! you have fake butter flavored freshly popped corn. The fake butter flavor is now feared to cause cancer. I can't say I'm surprised. That stuff has no similarity to butter or even margarine for that matter. It doesn't take a genius to realize there is nothing natural about it. I suppose now people will be wishing they hadn't sold their popcorn poppers on that rummage sale so many summers ago.

For those who have forgotten how to pop corn the old fashion way, all you need is heat and corn. If trying it on the stove top, add a little oil along with the unpopped kernals. Keep a cover on the kettle and shake it continuously so the corn doesn't burn. Take it off the heat when the corn stops popping. If you'd prefer to follow a recipe, you're in luck: I found this one for "Plain Popcorn" on epicurious.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cottage Cheese Rugelach with Walnuts

I found this recipe on epicurious after Lou made a request for cookies and I realized I had cottage cheese that needed to be used up. (One of the great things about using Epicurious is you can search by ingredient.) Rugelach are like little crescent rolls that in this case are filled with a brown sugar/walnut mixture. If you are reluctant to make a rolled cookie, this is a great recipe to try. The dough at first may seem a little sticky, but after being refrigerated, it is very easy to work with. The dough calls for just three ingredients- Cottage cheese, margarine, and flour. The obvious change that must be made here is to use butter instead of margarine. Because, as you should well know after reading this blog, we do not use margarine in anything- and if you forget why, just remember simply that margarine is not natural and more specifically, the trans fats will eventually kill you. I replaced the margarine with unsalted butter, which I always use in baking and cooking so I can control the salt content. This required an addition of about 3/4 to 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, which would equal about 1/2 teaspoon table salt. I tasted the dough to determine this. If you use salted butter, you may not need to add any salt as one stick of butter contains about 1/2 teaspoon on average.

With the above substitution and addition of salt, these came out to be some top notch cookies. They are dangerously easy to scarf down, and as I've just determined, make for an excellent breakfast treat with your coffee- like a mini danish. Here's the recipe, revamped:

Cottage Cheese Rugelach with Walnuts
(based on this recipe from Bon Appetit, March 1996)
2/3 cup small-curd cottage cheese
2/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/2 teaspoon table salt

1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (about 2 ounces)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Egg wash:
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk

Mix cottage cheese and 2/3 cup butter in a medium bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in flour and salt until dough is smooth, about 1 minute. Divide dough into 2 balls. Flatten into disks. Wrap each in plastic; freeze until firm enough to roll, about 10 minutes, or place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine brown sugar, walnuts, cinnamon, vanilla and 3 tablespoons margarine in a food processor. Blend until almost smooth paste forms.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll out 1 dough disk on lightly floured surface to 10-inch round. Spread half of brown sugar mixture evenly over. Cut round into 16 wedges. Starting at wide ends, roll up wedges. Bend ends in, forming crescents. Place on ungreased heavy baking sheet. Repeat rolling, filling and shaping with remaining dough disk.
Beat egg and milk to blend in small bowl. Brush glaze over crescents. Bake until cooked through and light brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and cool. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Friday, June 08, 2007

Chocolate Pots de Creme

When there are fresh strawberries in my house, there is usually Angel Food Cake. And, when there is Angel Food Cake, there are unused egg yolks. As we sliced into the light spongy Angel Food Cake and prepared to devour it with fresh strawberry topping, Lou asked me why you never see Angel Food Cake in restaurants. Good question, I thought, but didn't know the answer to it. Perhaps it is just too common? Lou asked if there would be a good use for the leftover egg yolks in a restaurant...I replied, yes easily, for we often see creme brulee on a menu, which is basically baked custart and uses only the yolk. Lou's question reminded me that I myself had meant to use the leftover egg yolks for Pots de Creme, custards baked in individually sized ramekins. Pots de Creme are the antithesis of Angel Food Cake (which Lou thinks is healthy because it contains no fat, never mind all that sugar). Pots de creme are virtually all fat.

To make this decadent dessert, I would only need some whipping cream since I had the other three ingredients- yolks, sugar, and some very fine chocolate that I had bought on my trip to Chamonix, France in February. (Good quality chocolate is key to this dessert.) The following day, I purchased a pint of heavy whipping cream and set to work, very little work, for this is one of the easiest desserts on earth to make...

Chocolate Pots de Creme

2 cups (1 pint) heavy whipping cream
5 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, broken into pieces
6 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and heat a tea pot of water to simmer for a hot water bath.

Rinse a medium saucepan with water, then add the cream to the pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. (By rinsing the pan with water, there will be a small shield between the cream and the pan that will keep the cream from scorching.)

While the cream is coming to a simmer, stir the granulated sugar into the egg yolks in a large bowl until blended. Set aside.

When the cream has reached a low simmer, remove from heat and break the chocolate into the cream. Stir until completely melted.

Whisk a small portion of the chocolate mixture into the yolk mixture to temper the egg, taking care not to "cook" it. Add the remaining chocolate mixture whisking continuously.

Pour the custard into six 3/4 cup custard cups. Place in a flat-bottomed roasting pan and add the simmering hot water until it comes halfway up sides of cups. Bake until the custards are set around the edges but still soft in center. (they'll move slightly when shaken) About 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the cups from the water bath and chill in the refrigerator, uncovered until cold. If making ahead of time, cover with plastic wrap- they'll keep for a few days covered and kept chilled.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Easy Strawberry Freezer Jam

Each year, I look forward to strawberry season. I've been well aware of this time of year since I was about 3 feet high. My mom would return from the garden and announce the berries were ripe for the picking, with a sample in hand to taste. She'd gather some ice cream pails and we'd start our journey down to the garden, (which being only 3 feet high, seemed like a long ways) passing by the blooming lilac bushes along the driveway, taking in their essence. My mom would make note that on the way back, we should cut some branches to put in vases for the table. We'd harvest what seemed like an endless supply of strawberries which was lucky for me, because no one seemed to notice that I ate more than went into my pail. This was an exciting time for a little girl on the farm- ripe strawberries on the vines meant it was time to celebrate, it meant it was summer. The Wisconsin sun dried up the spring rains and it could go to work on the newly planted garden and crops. Soon there would be cucumbers and beans and fresh peas that we would eat straight from the pod.

When the fresh strawberries were long gone, we still enjoyed fresh strawberry taste in what seemed an endless supply of strawberry jam. My mom's jam is not the same dark strawberry preserve you can buy off the shelf in the store. This is bright red, real strawberry-tasting freezer jam. It's kept in the freezer, so the berries do not need to be cooked and the jars do not need to be sealed by processing with heat-the key to its fresh taste.

These days, I don't garden much, unless you count a few herb plants. I lack my mom's green thumb and time. Luckily, that doesn't mean we have to go without strawberry jam. When strawberry season rolls around, which I look forward to each year, I count on the local farmers to bring some quality berries to the market. To make good jam, you've got to start with great strawberries. On Saturday, Lou and I went to the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market with the mission in mind to find some great tasting organic berries. We found some at Ella Bella Farm's stand. The berries were not too big, were red all the way through, and gushed with juice. Not at all like the flavorless, over-sized conventional berries with fibrous centers that you find in the large grocery stores that have been engineered to be transported for miles and even across states. These were the berries of my youth.

To make the Easy Strawberry Freezer Jam, you'll just need a little patience for de-topping all those berries, some sugar, pectin, and possibly some lemon juice- depending on which pectin you purchase. I like to use Sure-Jell Premium Fruit Pectin. Whichever pectin you choose to use, the key is to follow the directions that come with it for "freezer jam", because the amount of sugar needed varies with the brand and variety you use. Some include citric acid -those that do not will require you to add some lemon juice. I use a stiff pastry blender to cut through and mash the berries. A potato masher would work well too. A food processor would take the elbow grease out of this process, but beware not to overdo it. The jam is best when there are some nice chunks of berry. Stir well to make sure the pectin and sugar are thoroughly mixed with the crushed berries. Oh, and don't over look your freezer space. The jam will last a month in the refrigerator, but I like to make enough to last us until next year's strawberry season, so make sure you have room to store it. For containers, I use 8 oz. jelly jars that you can find at the hardware store- they are the perfect size, although Lou can sometimes dust one in a week. You can also use plastic storage containers.

After the jam is made, go find some lilac blossoms or buy some flowers. Because there's nothing like fresh strawberry jam in your fridge and flowers on your table to remind you it's summer.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

All Bran Muffins

When I was a kid, I remember making All-Bran Muffins from the recipe on the side of the box of All-Bran cereal. That was the only reason my mom bought the cereal- no one seemed to like to eat it straight. Not to be confused with All-Bran flakes, when you pour this cereal in a bowl, it looks like a bird's nest of tiny twigs, so as you can imagine, it's a little "rough" and of course, high in fiber.

I found a similar cereal at Trader Joe's called "High Fiber Cereal"-catchy, huh? The classic "front of the box" cereal picture of the contents in a bowl with some milk and of course fresh strawberries (which the cereal manufacturers seem to think you can get any time of the year) reminded me of the classic All-Bran. I picked up a box and decided to find the recipe.

Apparently, there's a new version of the old All-Bran muffin recipe. Not sure why they'd change something that tastes so good...but I easily found the classic one we made years ago. I did make one change for the better. Instead of using all-purpose flour, I use white whole wheat flour, made from white wheat as opposed to red wheat and often found under the label "Whole Wheat Pastry Flour". I've made the recipe three times in the last two weeks and the muffins do not make it past 2 days in this house. Lou's been scarfing them down in threes.

All-Bran Whole Grain Muffins

2 cups All-Bran Cereal or Trader Joe's High Fiber Cereal
1 1/4 cups milk
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Diamond kosher salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Butter a standard 12-muffin tin. If it's a non-stick pan, you can butter the bottoms only.

In large bowl, combine cereal and milk. Let stand for 10 minutes or until the cereal is soggy.
Meanwhile, stir together remaining dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. When cereal has sufficiently softened, add the egg and oil and stir well. Then, fold in the flour mixture and stir just until combined.

Fill the prepared muffin tin and bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Stinky Cheese

Today I had little time for lunch so I went to a deli across the street from my work (yes, I have a day job) that sells cheap sandwiches. I also had very little cash on me, so it served me well in my limited time, limited money state. As I was waiting for them to take the hot pastrami out of the microwave for my pastrami and swiss cheese sandwich on wheat, another customer ordered white bread with mayonaise and cheese. When asked which type of cheese she would like, she chose American. Who in the world orders a white bread sandwich with mayo and cheese? I thought she must be someone who has no spirit of adventure and no regard for the wonderful flavors of real food. I thought she probably has never gone to France and eaten stinky cheese...

On our recent trip to Chamonix in February, we ate plenty of stinky cheese and filled our condo's refrigerator with the local varieties. It was so odorous that some of our crew complained of how bad the refrigerator smelled to the point that we decided to put it outside on the patio table. To me, sure it smelled stinky, but it also smelled delicious, savory, even mouth-watering.

The reaction of my non-stinky-cheese eating friend reminded me of my youth when I was taught to grimace at the smells of my dad's German Brick. We called it Dad's stinky cheese. In fact, my mom put it on a separate plate from the rest of the cheese, so it wouldn't "contaminate" the others. I probably wouldn't have liked it as a kid-back then, Cheddar was too strong for me. I ate lots of Colby.

For Christmas this year, my parents sent a big box of Wisconsin cheese. They asked us if we wanted anything in particular, and we mentioned Limburger. The Wisconsin Dairy State Cheese Company in Rudolph, Wisconsin sells some top notch stuff. They sent us two blocks of it and one of German Brick. On first glance, I thought, that was the stuff I don't like...that's Dad's stinky cheese after all. I wondered why they'd send me this, was it a mistake, was Dad missing his cheese? My grown up rationalization overtook those childish thoughts and I realized that they probably figured if we eat Limburger, which can smell pretty ripe, we'd probably like German Brick too. And so we dug into it. Wouldn't you know it, we liked it better than the Limburger! It was an excellent cheese- if only I'd tried it earlier.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Beringer's Wine and Cheese Pairing

This weekend, Lou and I were in Napa for a pre-Valentines wine tasting getaway with some friends. One of the high-lights was a break from the ordinary wine tasting: a wine and cheese pairing at Beringer Vineyards. In fact, the pairings went beyond what wine to drink with which cheese and dug to the roots of why the pairings work. We started with the basic flavor components of sweet, sour, salt, and savory. Apple represented sweet, lemon sour, salt for salt, and accent dissolved in water for the savory, or Umami, component. On the first round, we took a sip of Sauvignon Blanc, then a bite of the apple, and another sip. The Sauvignon Blanc was comparably sour. Doing the same with the Cabernet Sauvignon, we found it to be more tannic. This exercise was repeated with the other flavor components as we observed how our perception of the flavor of the wine changed with each. Finally, we squeezed the lemon slice over the remaining apple, then salted it. The balanced bite brought the wine back to the way it originally tasted before we allowed food to alter it's flavor. Then, we experimented with cheeses- Brie, fresh Chevre, Havarti and Blue were our specimens and for each we found a match. My favorite being Blue with Port. Yum... I recommend you DO try this at home and I've attached a link to learn more from Beringer's website. Of course, you'll be taking quite a few sips, so don't do this before driving or operating heavy equipment. Or, you could do as many wine aficianados do and spit. Of course you still get to eat the cheese!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sydney's Fast Food

On our recent trip to Australia, we were surprised to see so much fast food, particularly in Sydney. McDonald's and Hungry Jack's, a franchise of Burger King, were everywhere. As you can imagine, when you're traveling out of the country, you'd like to eat something local, something healthy, and most importantly, something you cannot get at home. As you probably well know, I don't even eat fast food when I'm in America, let alone Australia and so I was a bit disappointed to see how prevalent it was. It was also apparent the affect the fast food was having on the health of the population- Sydney was full of overweight Australians. I looked up the data on the World Health Organization's website and found that Australia has overweight and obesity rates comparable to Canada and the UK, none quite as high as the US.

We couldn't take a walk without seeing another corporate giant, Starbucks, and a new competitor, McCafe, taking its share of the coffee market. I had never seen a McCafe before, so when I saw the glass case from the sidewalk filled with sweet treats, I almost walked in to see what they had to offer, then I saw them...the little Ms, all in a row, arch after golden arch signifying this little cafe was no small pastry shop, it was in fact a franchise of the McDonald's corporation. I turned around, declared it was McCafe! and Lou laughed at me for almost being fooled into patronizing my "arch" rival.

Thankfully, we still found a few small, local cafes to have lunches of meat pies and other old fashioned Australian goodies you can’t get in the US. Unfortunately, these small cafes weren’t nearly as busy as those fast food joints.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Port O'Call, Port Douglas

Two days in Cairns was enough for us. The Great Barrier Reef was amazing off this part of the coast, but we weren’t thrilled with the accommodations we had in Cairns, so we thought why not consider checking out another part of Queensland. We had heard much about Port Douglas- a sleepy town with not much night life, but then we had also heard about its quaint, little town feel. When we found out that the reef tour boats went to different parts of the reef in Port Douglas than they did in Cairns, and since the Great Barrier Reef was the whole reason we were in this neck of the woods, off to Port Douglas we went.

Our ride into Port Douglas was with the hotel courtesy shuttle with the Port O’Call. Our driver was extremely hospitable, telling us everything there is to know about the route between Cairns and Port Douglas. He slowed down by the creek where you could see Crocodiles swimming around and tried to point out a kangaroo eating by a tree near a road side field, but unfortunately, we could not spot him. Our accommodation was, as Lou put it, “a luxurious, full-service budget hotel”. The Port O’Call gave us 30% off any food on the first day of our stay, so after an extremely hot day in the tropics checking out the local beach and having lunch at the main street restaurants, we decided to take a dip in the pool, have a rest, and try the hotel’s outdoor restaurant.

What luck. This self service restaurant where you order at the bar and pick up the plate to take back to your patio table when they call your number was an absolute gem. I ordered the Seafood Platter which consisted of the freshest sea scallops, succulent shrimp, and crisp calamari all sautéed and served alongside a fresh green salad topped by a huge filet of seared barrundi, a white fleshed fish. The seafood was as fresh as I’ve ever tasted and was cooked to perfection. Lou had the pan fried barrundi served with mashed potatoes and blanched broccoli. There was not a single morsel left on his plate. Had they been open on New Years Eve, we may have done what we would normally never do and actually eat at the same place twice.