Monday, January 31, 2011

Olive Oil Fennel Pollen Muffins


I am finally getting around to using the fennel pollen sample that my friend Jenn Erickson gave me around the holidays.  It's not that I haven't had all sorts of ideas; I think I was hoarding it until I knew I would have more.  So now that my order of a full ounce of pollen came in, I'm free to create!  I whipped up some olive oil fennel muffin this morning for breakfast.

4 eggs
3/4 C organic granulated sugar
2/3 C olive oil (use a good quality, extra virgin olive oil)
1 T fennel pollen
1-1/2 C white whole wheat flour

1 T baking powder
1/2 t pink Himalaya salt


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prep your pan - either butter a loaf pan or use lined muffin tins.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl for about 30 seconds. Add the sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is frothy.  Continue beating and drizzle in the olive oil slowly.  Gently fold in the fennel pollen.  In another bowl, mix the dry ingredients - flour, salt and baking powder.  Stir the flour mixture into the egg-oil mixture just until it is combined. Don’t overmix, or the cake/muffins will be dry and tough.

Pour batter into pan(s) and bake 45 minutes, or until a knife blade stuck into its center comes out clean.  Let the cake cool a bit before popping it out of your loaf pan. Eat warm or at room temperature.  As this cake doesn't keep well, you'll want to eat it the day you make it or the next day.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mushroom Meatloaf

Whenever I ask the boys what I should make for dinner, it inevitably involves meat.  This afternoon, while we were walking around Trader Joe's, Riley decided on meatloaf.  Meatloaf is so easy; all you need is meat, a binding agent, and some fun flavors.

In this case, I used 2 pounds of 96/4 grass fed beef, 1 egg, 1/2 pound of sliced crimini mushrooms, 1/2 C diced onions, 1 T unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 t anise seeds, 1 T dried oregano, 1/2 t ancho chili powder.  Blend all the ingredients together until they are well-mixed.  Press into a buttered loaf pan and prick the top with a fork.  Spread the top with barbeque sauce* and bake at 350 until the sides of the meat pull away from the pan.  Serve with more barbeque sauce.

*Barbeque Sauce
1 C organic ketchup
1/4 C water
1/4 C lead-free balsamic vinegar
1/4 C brown sugar
3 T olive oil
2 T paprika
1 T ancho chili powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t cayenne

Mix all ingredients together in small saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer till thickened.

Tuesday Night Supper Club

FLAVOR FEATURE, January 2011: Anise

All month long, I've been blog-hopping through linky parties.  What a fun way to see what other people are crafting and cooking!  I've even linked up a few of my recipes. 

One idea I really liked on one blog was a monthly spotlight ingredient.  So, here's my take on it.  Once a month I'll pick a flavor, tell you a bit about it, and give you some recipes - both sweet and savory - that utilize it.  Hope you'll follow along, get inspired, and get cooking.

My pick for January: ANISE SEED

What is it?
Anise Seed is a graybrown oval seed from Pimpinella anisum, a plant in the parsley family. It is related to caraway, dill, cumin, and fennel. 

What does it taste like?
It smells and tastes like licorice.

Around the world...
Europeans use anise in cakes, cookies, and sweet breads. In the Middle East and India, it is used in savory soups and stews. Its licorice-like flavor is popular in candies and anise oil is used in liqueurs.

Some ideas from Culinary Adventures with Camilla...
Cioppino, a savory seafood stew
Sopa de Hongos y Nopales, a mushroom-cactus soup
Torta Di Nocciole Piemontese, a hazelnut cake
 
Get creative and get cooking!

Beehive Cake on the Brain


Almost a year ago I stopped by Patisserie Bechler in Pacific Grove to pick up a beehive cake; they were closed and so I opted for something else. The name must have intrigued him, because today Riley asked me to make one.  "Mom, can you make that cake that you were going to get from the bakery by Caledonia Park after JustRun last year except the bakery was closed, remember?"  Yes, that is seriously how his mind works.  It sounded like a good challenge for this rainy Sunday.

Never having made one, I started with Basque Boulangerie Cafe's beehive cake recipe on the Food network website and promptly made some changes.  And here's how you know it's a success: all three of the boys are licking their plates.  No joke.

Part I: The Cake
2 C white whole wheat flour
1/2 t pink Himalaya salt
1 package active dry yeast
1 T organic granulated sugar
1/4 C warm milk
3 T butter, melted and cooled
1 egg

Sift flour and salt together into a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour. Add yeast and sugar to the well. Blend milk, cooled melted butter, and egg; let sit for 2 minutes to soften yeast, whisk yeast and liquid ingredients to dissolve yeast. Gradually whisk or beat in flour until well-blended. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead in enough flour only until dough is no longer sticky. Continue kneading approximately 5 to 7 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Cover dough with a towel or plastic wrap and let dough rest approximately 30 to 45 minutes.  During this first rise, make the custard.

Punch dough down. Roll or pat dough into 9 inch, greased pan. Prick dough all over with a fork. Spread cooled honey almond praline over dough. Let cake rest and double in height approximately, 45 to 60 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  During this second rise, make the praline.Bake until golden approximately 20 to 25 minutes.

Part II: The Custard
2/3 C organic granulated sugar
4 T cornstarch
4 egg yolks
2 C milk
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/4 C water
2 C heavy cream
1/4 C sugar
2 t pure vanilla extract

First place the sugar and cornstarch in a small to medium pan. In a bowl, mix the egg yolks and milk together. Whisk them into the sugar and starch mixture in the pan. Cook this over low heat and gradually increase to a medium heat bringing the mixture to a boil. The mixture will bubble slowly. Whisk this bubbling mixture for 3 to 4 minutes and remove from heat.

Soak the gelatin in a 1/4 cup of warm water for 5 minutes. Add gelatin mixture to hot custard and whisk. Set aside to cool in a clean bowl. Cover with plastic to keep mixture from crusting and refrigerate until cool.
After mixture has cooled, whip cream, sugar, and vanilla to medium peaks. Fold whipped cream into cooled custard.  Refrigerate until ready to fill split cake layers.

Part III: The Praline
The recipe calls for almonds, I still had hazelnuts from last week's trip to the farmers' market.  I think I prefer hazelnuts' more pronounced flavor.

1/2 stick butter
1/3 C organic granulated sugar
1/4 C raw honey

3/4 C hazelnuts
 
Melt the butter, add sugar and honey, cook until bubbly and beginning to turn into a caramel sauce. Remove from the heat and stir in the hazelnuts. Let this mixture cool.

Part IV: Putting It All Together
Cut cooled cake in half to make 2 layers. Drizzle raw honey over bottom layer. Top with the custard mixture. Place the top layer over the custard and refrigerate or freeze for several hours to firm up custard before cutting.  Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Whoops!  Didn't read that part about letting the custard firm.  Mine definitely wasn't firm.  Next time.

Xocolatl

 From what I can gather, xocolatl is made with chilis, unsweetened cocoa powder, vanilla, spices, and water.  So I rehydrated a dried chili in hot water.  When it softened, I scraped the pulp and seeds into the water and discarded the skin and stems.  To the pepper-water mixture I added unsweetened cocoa powder, a splash of vanilla, a dash of cinnmon.  I whisked it smooth and brought it to a boil.  Then I reduced the heat and simmered for about 5 minutes until it began to thicken.  I served it in  thimble-sized cups...just in case.  The verdict: "It's not too bad, Mom, it is bitter water.  Now, can you add some sugar, please?"

Food Histories'R'Us

Some people's children read novels, some read comic books, mine read histories of food. Go figure! The nut doesn't fall far from the tree. And we are all nuts for food, apparently.

Riley checked The Story of Chocolate out of the library this week and has been telling us all about how the Mayans fermented the cocoa beans, how Daniel Peter and Frederic Nestlé (but he prounouces it to rhyme with trestle) invented milk chocolate, and how M&M is named for (Forrest) Mars and (Bruce) Murrie.  At least he knows me well enough to know that if he asked for a package of M&Ms the answer would be 'no.'  Instead he asked if I could make him some xocolatl, the spiced Aztec hot chocolate.


The Mayans made chocol haa; the Aztecs, after they conquered the Mayans, made xocolatl.  Xocolatl comes from the Aztec language, xococ meaning sour or bitter, and atl meaning water or drink.  Bitter water.  That's a far cry from our milky hot chocolate drinks, but he's adamant: "Make it exactly the way it says in the book."  Okay fine.  Here goes...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Chocolate-Beet Loaf Cake

I have seen lots of different recipes that substitute beet juice for red food coloring in a red velvet cake, but a few attempts later, my cakes are still as brown as can be.  So, I am waiving the white flag on that and just calling it a chocolate-beet loaf.  Whatever its color, this is a moist, delicious end to a beet-filled evening.


2-1/4 C white whole wheat flour
1/2 C salted butter
1-3/4 C organic granulated sugar
1/2 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 C organic beet juice
2 large eggs
1 C fresh ricotta cheese
1 T pure vanilla extract
1 T pomegranate balsamic vinegar
1 t baking soda

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Butter a loaf pan.

With a hand mixer, cream butter and sugar until lightened in color and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.  Add ricotta cheese and beet juice to the mix. Using a spatula, gently stir in flour, cocoa, and baking soda.  Stir in vanilla and pomegranate balsamic vinegar.

Batter should be somewhat thick.  Pour batter into prepared cake or loaf pan and bake for approximately 50 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

504 Main

Beet-Asiago Gnocchi

With one large beet in my fridge and a beet-themed dinner in the future, I decided to make a beet-asiago gnocchi for dinner. Most people roll their gnocchi dough into a thick straw and cut the gnocchi; in Italy I was taught to hand-form them, so mine look less uniform.

For this batch I used 1 large beet and about 10 small Yukon gold potatoes. Scrub the beet and potatoes then towel-dry. Roll them in olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and roast in a 350 degree oven until they are fork-tender. Let cool slightly. Rub the skin from the beet. I leave the skin on the potatoes, but feel free to peel yours if you don't want the texture.

Using a potato masher, begin to smash the potatoes in a large mixing bowl. Shred the beets into the potato mixture and keep mashing. Add two pats of butter, one beaten egg, and mash until smooth. Stir in 1 C of shaved asiago. Then mix in flour, slowly, until you get a medium (not stiff, but not too sticky either) dough. Usually I add about 3/4 C by the time I'm done.

Using about 1/2 teaspoon of dough, with floured hands, I form a ball and flatten it slightly with fork tines.  I cook the gnocchi in chicken stock for added flavor.  Once your broth - or water - has come to a boil, gently drop the gnocchi in the pot.  They will float when they are cooked.  Because this is a fresh pasta, it cooks very quickly, maybe a minute or two.  Remove the gnocchi with a slotten spoon and place in a colander to drain a bit more.
To highlight the subtle flavor of these gnocchi, I served them simply - with a sprinkling of sea salt, drizzled with olive oil and pomegranate balsamic vinegar, and a bit of shaved asiago cheese.  Buon appetito!

*10/31/2013 Update: Linked to Carole's Chatter Beet Linky Party*

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Dinosaur Kale-Arame Salad

 
 Kale is a leafy green vegetable that belongs to the Brassica family, a group of vegetables including cabbage, collards, and Brussels sprouts that have gained recent widespread attention due to their health-promoting, sulfur-containing phytonutrients.  So, dinosaur kale is good for you and has a cool name.  The name initially helped sell this to the boys who thought they were eating dinosaur skin.  Now that they've had it several times, it's just like spinach; they love it!  This is a tasty - and quick - salad or side dish that we eat quite often.

I buy dried organic arame from WholeFoods, but I'm sure you can find it other places.  Rehydrate according to the package directions.  While the arame is soaking, blanch the kale till bright green and tender.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together minced garlic and ginger, raw honey, and a splash of olive oil.  Add the arame and kale and stir to coat.  Season with soy sauce and sesame oil.  Add diced tomatoes and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Tuesday Night Supper Club

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

NC-17 Cookie Cutters for Some Spicy Valentines' Cookies

OK, these are not safe for work, or kids.

And if you're easily offended, you've been warned.
 
These are not family-friendly cookie cutters; but they are the perfect cookie cutter for my KEEPIN' IT SPICY Valentine basket for my hot hubby. I'm uncertain what kinds of cookies I'll make, but I am certain that there will be black pepper, cayenne, cardamom, curry, and ginger involved. Recipes to come.

Monday, January 24, 2011

XOXOX - Hogs and Quiches - XOXOX

On busy week nights, I love an easy one dish meal - protein and veggies all in one pan - quiche and lasagna are two of our family favorites. 

Tonight I whipped up this quiche: pancetta, broccoli, carrots, green beans, and two kinds of havarti. The great thing about this is its versatility; you can use whatever combination of vegetables, meat, and cheese that you have on-hand, top it with beaten eggs, bake till firm, and - voilà! - quiche.

The greatest challenge is a flaky, buttery crust. Here's my recipe...

5 T cold water
1/2 C butter
2 1/2 C flour
1/2 t salt

Mix the salt and flour together with a whisk. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender until you have a coarse, nearly uniform mixture. Make a well in the center and add the ice water. Mix with a fork until it comes together into a dough ball. Knead a few times, only until the dough is smooth. Extra kneading will make the crust tough instead of crumbly.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Roll the dough to about 1/8 inch thick and form the crust.  Prebake the crust for 20 minutes before filling it and baking the quiche.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Torta Di Nocciole Piemontese

Inspired by my bounty from Tony Inzana's farmers' market booth, I decided to make a traditional Torta Di Nocciole Piemontese, a hazelnut cake from the Piedmont region of Italy.

1 T baking powder
3 eggs, separated
1 C organic granulated sugar
8 T melted butter
1 3/4 C white whole wheat flour
2 C raw hazelnuts, chopped
4 T milk
1 T pure vanilla extract
1/2 t anise seeds
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the baking powder with the egg yolks. Fold in the melted butter, then add the sugar, flour, hazelnuts, anise seeds, and milk.  The batter will be very thick.  In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until thick and stiff. Gently fold the whites and vanilla into the batter.

Pour the batter into a buttered round pan. Place in oven and bake between 35-45 minutes until cake is lightly browned.

Serve with a cordial of Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur) while still warm.

Inspired by Rick Bayless's Sopa de Hongos y Nopales

When searching for a recipe in which to use my cactus paddles, I came across Rick Bayless's recipe for Sopa de Hongos y Nopales (Mushroom-Cactus Soup with Roasted Tomatillos), published in From Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen (Scribner, 1996).  The title of this post is accurate; I was inspired by the flavor combinations in his recipe but completely diverged to create my own version. 

And the verdict: all three of my boys devoured their bowls.  Jake even said that it was "red book worthy."  I have a red journal into which I've been tucking family favorites for the past ten years.  So, I'll say this was a successful culinary adventure.

Rub three cactus paddles, two red bell peppers, and four tomatoes with olive oil.  Roast in a 350 degree oven till the skin begins to char and pull away from the meat, about an hour.  Let cool and rub off the blackest parts of the skin.  Slice into 1/2" squares.

In a large souppot, brown minced onions, shallots, and garlic in a pat of butter and a splash of olive oil.  Add the sliced cactus, red bell peppers, tomatoes, and 2 C of sliced crimini mushrooms.  Add three crushed tepin chilis, 1 T of dried oregano, and 1 T anise seed.  Pour in 4 C of chicken broth, 1/2 C of beer, 1 can of black beans.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer till the soup begins to thicken.

Serve with thick slices of bread.

A Hazelnut by Any Other Name Will Taste Just as Good!

Also at the Marina farmer's market this afternoon: Tony Inzana of Inzana Ranch & Produce out of Hughson.  I have no idea where Hughson is, but given the 209 area code, I'm guessing he and his nuts are from the central valley.

Riley walked up to the booth and, to my horror, stuck both hands into a bin of hazelnuts, rustling the nuts and rolling them in his fingers.  I had flashbacks to my first time at a market in Rome when I realized that you do not select your own produce; you tell the vendor how much you want and he or she selects for you.  Whoops.  Thankfully, the woman realized I was a foreigner and apt to make a major market faux pas.  We later became friendly as I frequented that market on a daily basis while getting groceries for the Nuzzo family.

A quick glance at the man in the apron assured me that he wasn't bothered by Riley's hands in his goods.  So, I smiled at the man, walked over there and started talking to Riley about the nuts.  "These are hazelnuts." 

"Mom," Riley interrupted, "the sign says 'Filberts.'"

Same thing.  Sort of.  Turns out both are nuts from the Corylus (kind of like an oak tree) family.  'Hazelnuts' are from the Corylus grown in the north-west United States, while 'Filberts' are typically the nut of the Corylus grown around the Mediterranean.  I suspect that these are really hazelnuts.

Tony seemed pleased at the boys' curiosity and, along with my purchase, gave the boys each a hazelnut, a pecan, an almond, and a walnut...still in the shells.

Pulling out my culinary crystal ball: I see a Torta di Nocciole in my future!

"You've NEVER bought these before!"

Walking through the farmers' market in Marina this afternoon, I was picking through a pile of dinosaur kale when I heard a squeal of delight.  "Mamma!" Dylan exclaimed "You've NEVER bought these before. Can you buy this?!"  He was excitedly gesturing at a pile of prickly pear paddles.  Ummmm...okay. 

One of my cardinal rules of motherhood: if a child asks to try a new food, buy it!

So, we picked three medium sized paddles, firm to the touch and a gorgeous shade of green.  Riley offered: "Mom, I don't think you have to cook them at all.  Survivor Man just ate them raw."  Nope, I'm going to cook them.  Now I just need to figure out a recipe...

Fresh. Organic. Cuban. The Babaloo Food Truck.

Fresh. Organic. Cuban.  Those three little words caught my attention on the brightly painted Babaloo food truck at the Marina Farmers' Market this afternoon.  So, naturally, we picked up lunch after we bought some veggies. 

We tried the El Cubano - pulled pork, white rice, black beans, plantains and a delicious hot sauce - and today's special, The Duchess - beef brisket, a Cuban slaw, white rice, and the same hot sauce. 

The only Cuban food I've ever cooked was a Fricase de Pollo for Brian's 36th birthday; it's hard to believe that was three years ago.  But given the the boys practically licked their plates I might have experiment with some more Cuban recipes.  I love my adventurous eaters!

Christmas in a Stein

I was going to bake a Guinness gingerbread cake for dessert for Brian's HOPy Birthday Dinner, but decided to serve marscarpone cheese on bits of chocolate instead.  A dark chocolate with sea salt.  A dark chocolate with chipotle.  And a chocolate mousse-filled dark chocolate.  I paired this final course with a dense, spicy, sweet lager named after Santa Claus. 

Jake and I discovered Samichlaus a few years ago and it's been a favorite ever since.  Samichlaus is only brewed once a year on December 6th, St. Niklaas Day, then it's aged for 10 months.  The original Samichlaus was brewed by Albert Hürlimann for almost twenty years until the brewery closed in 1997.  Three years later Schloss Eggenberg, in collaboration with the original Hürlimann brewers, reopened the brewery and began to produce Samichlaus using Hürlimann's special recipe.  Think Christmas in a stein!

A Trio of Wursts

Not sure that beer and cheese alone would be enough for dinner, Jenn went to Mecca Deli in Marina and picked up several varieties of German sausages, some precooked and some for the grill.  We tried bierwurst, that doesn't actually contain any beer but is usually served with beer; weisswurst, a white sausage made with veal, pork, heavy cream, white pepper, ginger and lemon; and Nürnberger Rostbratwurst with its distinctive marjoram and caraway seed flavoring. I served them with dollops of a German mustard made with apple juice.  Due to the way veal is produced, I typically don't buy or eat it.  But last night was a tasty exception!

Havarti + Coney Island Lager

It's a not a party without a Dane.  But since one of my favorite Danes is pregnant and around the globe in Denmark...and my other favorite Dane doesn't drink beer, two kinds of Havarti had to suffice!

Pale yellow, smooth, and creamy.  I thought Havarti's hidden intensity was a nice match for a hoppy pilsner.  I served a plain Havarti and a dill Havarti with Coney Island Lager from Shmaltz Brewing Company in San Francisco, California.

L'Chaim!

Chevre + Red Barn Saison Ale

Saison ("season" in French) is the name originally given to refreshing, low-alcohol pale ales brewed seasonally in farmhouses in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium, to refresh farm workers during harvest season.  Lightly spiced with organic ginger, orange peels, black pepper and Grains of Paradise (Melegueta peppers), Lost Abbey's Red Barn Saison Ale matched a blueberry chevre perfectly.

No Cooking Involved

I realized, as I was setting the table for Brian's HOPy Birthday dinner, that for the first time in the history of having people over for dinner I wasn't cooking anything.  No burners were touched for this beer-cheese-brat-Smurf bash. 

Why Smurfs, you ask?  I don't really know.  All I know is that my now thirty-eight-year-old friend was lamenting that his childhood collection of Smurfs had been dropped off at Goodwill by his mom.  That was enough to spawn a Smurf-themed party.  And I couldn't resist this little guy - a Smurf with a stein.  What do you think his name is?  Tipsy Smurf?!?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Caffeine = Cam's Drug of Choice

Anyone who doubts that caffeine is a drug has, clearly, never had a Red-Eye from Acme Coffee Roasting Company in Seaside. I typically don't feel any effects from coffee; I just love the taste of good, strong coffee. And I fervently resist corporate coffee unless someone gives us a $50 gift card for Christmas...then I grudgingly set foot in the store, knowing that it's bad coffee, but it's free.

Acme's Red-Eye is a different story: a cleaning-inspiring, energy jolt in a cup. So now that I've had my drug, I'm off to clean the house like WonderWoman.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Hop-y Birthday for Brian

Have you ever played that game where you think of the first word that comes to mind?

Spaghetti and...meatballs.
Peanut butter and...jelly. 
Beer and...pretzels!

For Brian's 38th birthday celebration, I decided to eschew the typical combination of wine and cheese and embrace a less-common pairing: beer and cheese.

I'll dish on the exact matches tomorrow, after the soiree, but I found an article and a little cheatsheet from the BeerAdvocate that helped a lot.

Sharp Cheddar with Pale Ale
Feta with Wheat Beer
Mascarpone with Fruit Beer
American Cheese with Pilsner
Colby with Brown Ale
Gorgonzola with Barleywine
Gruyére with Bock Beer
Swiss Cheese with Octoberfest Beer
Parmesan with Amber Lager

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Twinkies, Take II

If you're been following me for awhile, you might remember that last February I attempted homemade Twinkies for the birthday dinner of a wise-guy friend of mine.  To this day I don't know whether he actually likes Twinkies or was simply telling me that in order to watch me attempt to make them.  Both are possible.

Never having had a Twinkie and refusing to buy a Twinkie posed a challenge in actually replicating that, dare I even call it, cake.  That paired with the fact that no one could give me a definitive answer on the actual flavor combination of a Twinkie, made that baking endeavor quite a culinary adventure.

Not one to be twarted by laughter - my choice of whole wheat flour did result in lots of belly-laughs from my dinner guests - I've decided to try again this year.  I am still not going to buy a Twinkie for comparison.  But I did purchase a "cream canoe baking pan."  I think that Twinkie must be a trademarked name, but, seriously "CREAM CANOE" does not sound very appealing.  One promising thing: the cream canoe baking pan comes with a filling injector kit.

I'll keep you posted on my Twinkie attempts of 2011.  But I still have unanswered questions...none of the recipes I found online agree - on any point!  Help.

1. Is a Twinkie made with white cake, sponge cake, yellow cake, or something all together different?

2. Is a Twinkie filled with whipped cream, vanilla cream, buttercream, pudding, or - the recipe I personally liked, but know it cannot possibly be the true filling - a marscarpone-vanilla cream?

3. Would you think that the most important characteristic of a Twinkie is the taste or its shape...or both?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Unleaded Balsamic, Please

When I saw a call from an unknown cell phone this morning, I answered it, not knowing how it would change my morning. My mom was probably standing in Trader Joe's, looking at the Prop 65 warning posted by the red wine and balsamic vinegars, having flashes about her daughter giving her grandkids lead poisoning through their salad dressing. She must have borrowed a cell phone - she doesn't own one - to call me and demand to know whether or not I was serving her grandkids leaded balsamic vinegar.
"I don't know what you're talking about. I haven't gotten a bottle of balsamic from Trader Joe's in a long time. I've been using the $40 bottle of pomegranate balsamic vinegar that you bought me."

Did I know that balsamic vinegar came with a lead-warning? Nope, not a clue. What am I going to do with that knowledge? What I always do: research, read, read some more, then act on a reasonable conclusion.

From my reading it appears that out of the fifty states, California is the only one who has these warnings posted. For instance, other WholeFoods grocery stores in other states do not have the warning labels on the exact same products. Lucky us. Yes, truly, lucky us. I think I'm grateful to live in a state with so many fruits and nuts; at least we're informed fruits and nuts!

"Minute traces of lead" doesn't seem like it should cause worry. But when I looked at the parts per million of lead in the vinegar in comparison to the parts per million that are allowable in drinking water, it was double the amount in some brands...and even more in others. That was enough to spawn a search for certified lead-free balsamic vinegar. And I found it. Eureka!
O Olive Oil is based in Petaluma, California and produces "California Balsamic Vinegars." Click here to read about their vinegars that tested out at levels more than 30 times lower than even the rigorous safe levels established by California’s Proposition 65.

So, I searched around, looking for the best prices and ended up ordering a trio - O California Balsamic, O California White Balsamic, and O Port Balsamic - for myself and trio for my mom.

I can't wait to get my order. I doubt that the taste will be perceptibly different. Maybe it will. But I will be thrilled to know that I made one more choice towards healthier eating for myself, my love, and - most especially - for my mom's grandkids!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Marriage Rule

Though this isn't a recipe or instruction on how to make anything, I thought I'd share this...just in case you didn't know this rule. Out of the mouth of babes!

Riley: "Did you know there's a rule to marriage, Mommy?"
No, what is it?Riley: "You have to marry a pretty girl?"
What about a smart girl?
Riley: "Nope, a PRETTY girl...and she has to know how to cook."
Who told you that?
Riley: "Dylan. Daddy knows the rule, too."
Dylan: "Yep, that's the rule. Every boy knows it."

So, am I pretty?
Dylan: "Yes."
Is Nonna pretty?
Dylan: "Nonna is...what's the word?"
Nonna: Old?
Dylan: "Yes, but you're cute for your age!"

Once I stopped laughing hysterically, we had a little chat about what is really important in life.  So, now my future daughters-in-law will be smart, pretty, and good cooks!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Drunken Chocolate Fondue

You can't have a fondue dinner without a fondue dessert. And what's the quintessential fondue dessert? Chocolate fondue, of couse. And what's better than melted chocolate? Chocolate and booze!

I chopped up bananas and apricots, peeled clementines, and rinsed blackberries to accompany this quick and easy chocolate fondue...

Chop dark chocolate and place it in a saucepan. Cover the chocolate with enough heavy whipping cream so that it's completely submerged. Cook over a low heat, whisking until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Stir in a splash of liqueur before serving. Tonight I used Amaretto, but I've also used Kahlua and Frangelico.

Fondue Fun

While putting away the last of the Christmas bins, I came across my fondue pots. So, I wiped them clean, picked up what I needed at Trader Joe's, and served a cheese fondue for dinner. The boys liked the idea of dipping, dunking, and twirling, but didn't really care for the bitterness of the beer. Oh, well...more for me and Jake!

Easy Cheese Fondue
1 bottle of beer (I used Carlsberg tonight)
1/2 brick white cheddar cheese, cubed
1/2 brick Gruyere cheese, cubed
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Bring beer to a simmer. Roll cheese cubes in flour. Add cheese to the beer and stir until melted. When all the cheese has melted, stir in salt and nutmeg. Serve with cubes of French bread and grilled sausage coins.

Coriander in Your Ale, Anyone?

Anyone?!? Me! I am a complete sucker for any unusual brews.

When I saw this - Barbar Winter Bok - sitting on the counter at one of our favorite breakfast spots, I bought a bottle for later. It was the perfect complement to our cheese fondue tonight.

Brewed with honey, coriander, and citrus peel, it was spicy, citrus-y, malty, and moderately sweet.

We have a new favorite! Cheers.

Sashimi-Age?

After watching Bear Grylls, from "Man vs. Wild," voraciously tear the raw flesh of a trout with his teeth, my eight-year-old asked, "Mom, when will I be 'sashimi-age'?"

"What is 'sashimi-age?'" I asked.

He explained, "You know, I can drive when I'm 16. I can drink wine when I'm 21. At what age can I eat sashimi?"

"Oh, you're probably old enough to eat sashimi. You can try it next time we go for sushi."

"Can we go to Ocean Sushi, then? Today?!?"

Okay. I never argue with a trip to Ocean Sushi Deli. So, on our way back from a hike at the Pinnacles, we lunched at Ocean Sushi and Riley tried his first pieces of sashimi.

The verdict: he didn't care for tuna or salmon; he didn't want to try octopus; he didn't have a chance to try yellow-tail because Jake downed those; but he liked the squid. Baby steps.

Phew...my sashimi bento is safe, at least for a little bit.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Coconut Ginger Muffins

I was intrigued by a friend's post about moffins (mochi + muffin = MOffin), woke up excited to try them, and realized that I had used all of my rice flour a few weeks ago. Bummer. So I decided to make some coconut flour muffins instead. They're more like a coconut custard in the shape of a muffin. And they might need some sugar if you want a sweeter treat. But they were delicious!

1-1/2 C organic coconut flour
1C butter, melted
12 eggs
4 T ginger syrup
1 t salt
1 T ground ginger
1 T pure vanilla
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground nutmeg
2 t baking powder
sweetened coconut flakes for the top

Blend together eggs, butter, ginger syrup, vanilla, and salt. Combine coconut flour and spices with baking powder and whisk thoroughly into batter until there are no lumps. Pour into cupcake liners or a greased loaf pan and sprinkle sweetened coconut over the top. Bake at 350F for 40 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on rack.

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