Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Keep Brown Sugar Soft

March 3, 2015

I finally got the last of the missing s’mores back on Friday, over 2 1/2 weeks after they were sent via the USPS’s 2-Day Priority  service. The good news: They traveled well. All 4 were still intact, and looking as though they were just packed. The marshmallows were still soft. The bad news: so were the graham crackers.

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I thought they would have been close to petrified by now; dried out and hard as a rock. Instead, the marshmallow made the cookies soft. In fact too soft. I tried to figure out what happened and then it hit me!

Storing brown sugar with marshmallow is a great way to keep it soft.  Since my graham crackers contain a high percentage of brown sugar, it would make sense that the marshmallows in the s’mores added moisture,making the cookie soggy, instead of dry.

While it’s not the optimum situation for a s’more, it is the perfect solution to keeping brown sugar from hardening.

I’m sold.

photo: Glasshouse Images

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Unrecipe of the Week: Matzo

March 2, 2015

With Passover just around the corner, I wondered why nobody ever made their own matzo. I mean, the stuff from the box is just shy of being cardboard. Surely, I could do better, right? Maybe.
Ever the kitchen adventurer, I decided to try my hand and it to see if was worth the effort.

I began by researching recipes. While there were a few different variations out there, the basic premise was to use flour and water to form a dough. While flour is not permitted during Passover, it is used in the making of matzo. As the story goes, our ancestors were rushing to escape the evil Pharaoh by hightailing it out of Egypt as quickly as possible. Therefore, the bread did not have time to leaven, resulting in a flat cracker, which became known as matzo.

When making matzo to commemorate Passover, it must be made from start to finish within 18 minutes, or it is no longer acceptable to eat during the holiday.

Ready, set....GO!

Ready, set….GO!

I assembled all of my ingredients and utensils and waited for the oven to preheat to 500 degrees. When the oven reached the ideal temperature, I set the timer and got to work. The first batch did make it through in the time allotted, but since this was also an experiment in getting the recipe and technique right, the subsequent tweaked versions were done more slowly. I also do not recommend stopping to document the steps on Instagram, which took precious minutes away from the process, and left my phone a bit gooey.

I opted to use a blend of white and whole wheat flours, sifted together with a little kosher salt. I used 2 cups of flour to one cup of water, and mixed the dough by hand.

Knead the dough into a ball

Knead the dough into a ball

Once it was mixed and kneaded for a few minutes until it achieved the desired consistency, I divided it into about 8 pieces. As I kneaded and rolled the dough, I continuously added a little flour to keep it from getting too sticky.

Cut into small balls

Cut into small balls

I tried using a rolling pin, and ultimately opted for putting the dough through the flattening gears of my hand crank pasta machine. I tried cutting it into crackers with a biscuit cutter, and tried baking it in a long sheet. The matzo gets pricked with a fork to keep it from puffing up in the oven.
The small crackers were not easy to cut, as the dough tended to snap back a little when the pieces were so small. I thought they might be good for making matzo brittle s’mores if they were precut, since it is hard to cut regular matzo evenly without it breaking. They never got quite brown enough and frankly they seem a little bland.

VERDICT: Not really worth it

VERDICT: Meh! Not really worth it

Verdict: not really worth it. (Although I will see how they do when slathered in toffee and chocolate!)

 

Now we're talking!

Now we’re talking!

Next, I tried to brushing the long flatbreads with olive oil and sprinkling them with coarse kosher salt and a little basil before baking. That seemed to up the matzo game considerably. Topped with a little chopped tomato and basil, and perhaps a bit of Parmesan cheese, these could be the perfect Passover pizza. Slathered with a little artichoke dip, or maybe some hummus? SInce they can be made in 18 minutes, with few ingredients, they could be a viable anytime snack base. I think we may be on to something here!

While not matzo in it’s purist form, these flatbreads do conform to the criteria necessary to make Passover matzo, and should be acceptable to eat during the holiday.

So, do you think it’s worth trying to DIY matzo for the holidays?

On your marks, get set…..GO!

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Table Settings

February 24, 2015

 

 

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Table setting can be tricky. It always amazes me that people who reached adulthood don’t know which side to put the fork on. This is probably because they have experienced incorrectly set tables for most of their lives. Even restaurants don’t always follow protocol.

Have you ever been seated at a round table and not known which bread plate is yours? Most people don’t, and wait awkwardly for someone to use a plate and follow suit. Often, it is the wrong plate, but at least everyone has one.

A long time ago I stumbled across this little trick and it solved that problem instantly.

With your palms separated and facing one another,make a circle with your thumb and index finger. The hand on the left will look like the lower case letter “b” which stands for bread plate, and the right hand will form the letter “d” for drink. It’s a great way to remember that your bread plate is on the left and your glass is on the right side of your plate.

Now for the rest of it:

The fork goes on the left, and the knife goes on the right side of the plate. The spoon goes next to the knife.  If there are multiple forks and spoons, they are placed from the outside in, in the order you will use them. Therefore, the salad fork is on the left of the dinner fork, and the soup spoon would be on the outside of teaspoon, at the far right.

If you have dessert cutlery set at the beginning of the meal, it is generally placed above the plate.

The napkin is traditionally placed under, or next to the fork, but it is often placed on top of the plate decoratively.

Bon Appetit!

photo: Glasshouse Images

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Washing Their Hands of It All

February 20, 2015

 

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The Republicans have long argued that there is too much government regulation in the world for their tastes. The latest “onerous” business mandate to be the bone of their contention is hand washing.

Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina suggests that restaurant owners should have the option of posting signs saying ” We don’t require our employees to wash their hands when leaving the restroom,” in lieu of the current sign that does require clean hygiene.

First of all: Gross. Second of all: Doesn’t he  have anything more important to deal with? Third of all: Gross.

Proper hand washing protects us from the spread of fecal-oral pathogens which can contaminate our food. Allowing restaurant workers to have the option to transmit disease and infection to customers through poor hygiene is ridiculous and dangerous.

Tillis does acknowledge that hand washing is important, but feels it is the restaurant owners perogative to decide if they want to risk people boycotting their establishments due to questionable sanitation or not.

Is it just us, or is having to have a sign stating that employees didn’t wash their hands just as much regulation as having one that requires they do?

While this isn’t meant to be about political party affiliations, it is about politicians spending tax dollars to discuss policy that is ridiculous, unnecessary, potentially harmful to their constituents, and did we mention GROSS?

photo: glasshouse images

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Give It Up

February 18, 2015

It is February. It is freezing in most of the country. Those New Year’s resolutions seem so far away, even if it has only been 6 weeks.

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I don’t know about you, but my resolve has weakened a bit. It started with broken cookies. (Insert shameless plug: those homemade graham crackers from indigo jones eats are amazing!) With a double boiler full of melted dark chocolate on the stove from morning until night, I confess that I took to dribbling a little on my fat free Greek yogurt in the morning. Without going any further, I will just state that you would be amazed at what tastes great dipped in a little chocolate.

There have been birthday dinners, followed by an extreme desire to stay in and binge watch series on Netflix and Hulu.

Something has to give, and I think I just found it.
Today, Christians observe Ash Wednesday,which marks the beginning of Lent; a period of “fasting” which extends until Easter Sunday. This is typically a time when they give up something they enjoy for 40 days. Although this time frame is longer, Sundays appear to be fair game.

While I am not Christian, and do not wish to exploit a meaningful religous practice, the idea of giving up something for Lent is kind of appealing to me. It is a good long period of time to let a bad habit go, be it a food, drink, or doing something we know is not good for us. Why not designate this period as a non-denominational time of cleaning up our collective acts? My list of things I could give up is a little longer than usual, but picking just one, and commiting to it could make a big difference in my life.
The idea that it takes 21 days to form a habit has been widely disputed by experts, but certainly 40 days should be enough to at least get on the right track, right?

So who’s with me? What are willing to give up for 40 days to get on track for a better, healthier lifestyle?

photo: glasshouse images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Brown Sugar 101

February 17, 2015

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We love the taste of brown sugar. It has a rich, mellow flavor that adds depth to our homemade graham crackers and deliocous cheesecake crusts. Recipes generally specify which type of sugar should be used: light or dark brown, confectioner’s or refined white sugar, which is usually just listed as sugar. So what’s the difference?

To make sugar, fructose is combined with glucose. The juice is filtered to extract the plant matter and is boiled down, forming a thick syrup.
The syrup is then spun in a centrifuge to separate out the crystals, which become what is commonly referred to as raw sugar. The rest is molasses.

If the molasses are boiled again to remove the next level of crystalized sucrose, it becomes second molasses, and if done again, it creates third molasses, or “blackstrap molasses.”

If the sugar crystals are not refined further, they will become brown sugar. Continued refinement will result in pure, white sugar.

Commercial brown sugar is often made by adding back molasses to refined white sugar.

If you are baking and discover you are out of brown sugar, it is possible to create your own at home. You may even find it superior enough in flavor to get into the habit of making it yourself.

All you need is plain, white granulated sugar and molasses. It’s best to use pure, dark, unsulphured molasses, which are free of additives. Blackstrap molasses can tend to be a bit bitter for this use.

Start with a cup of plain, granulated white sugar. For light brown sugar, pour 1 tablespoon of molasses over the top of it, and for dark brown sugar add 2 tablespoons of molasses. Mash this together with a fork, until it is fully combined. Use your fingers to break up any lumps that appear. If you are mixing large quantities, you can use the paddle attachment of your stand mixer to do this.

It’s best to use it right away, but you can store it in a tightly sealed container as you would store bought brown sugar.

photo: glasshouse images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Confectioner’s Sugar

February 10, 2015

 

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Sometimes when we’re baking, we realize at the last minute that we are out of a key ingredient. Although we always read through the recipe first, when there are others in the house, things are not always where you left them.

If you run out of confectioner’s sugar, or powdered sugar, as it is commonly called, do not panic.. Before you head out to the store, read this post.  You can transform regular granulated sugar into confectioner’s sugar with the pulse of your food processor. 

Confectioner’s sugar is simply regular sugar that has been ground into a fine powder. The term 10x on the package, refers to the sugar having been ground 10 times, to achieve it’s light consistancy.

Commercial brands typically contain cornstarch to keep the powdery texture shelf stable. If you are using it right away, you may omit the cornstarch.

To make confectioner’s sugar from granulated sugar:

Place one cup of granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cornstarch (if using) into the bowl of the food processor or blender. Process until the sugar turns to powder.

Pour the powdered sugar through a sieve to remove clumps and store in an airtight container.

Photo: Glasshouse Images “Come Alive” collection

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Unrecipe of the Week: Honey Roasted Chickpeas

February 9, 2015

 

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I am always looking for a snack that is healthy, not processed, and low in calories and carbs to satisfy my crunchy, salty, sweet cravings.

I’ve spoken before about my addiction to Trader Joe’s trail mixes. They almost fit the bill. That is, if I could stop at just a tiny little handful. I cannot. They are my crack.

Chickpeas are an often forgotten health food. They are high in protein and fiber, and are iron rich. One half cup of chickpeas contains 134 calories, and 7 grams of protien.

This recipe takes these little gems and roasts them up to a delicate crunch. The spices add a little heat, and the honey provides just a touch of sweetness. While chickpeas do contain a reasonable amount of calories, they are filling enough to allow me to stop after just a handful or two. They are easy to make and keep well in the refrigerator, so you can grab a few when the afternoon munchies take hold.

Spicy Honey Roasted Chickpeas

Rinse a large can of chickpeas and spread them on paper towels to dry. They need to be dry before cooking or they will stay soft.

Mix 2 tablespoons or so of cumin, garlic salt, and paprika together in a large bowl. Add about a 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, depending on how hot you like things. Add a couple of tablespoons of a nuetral flavored oil, such as canola, grapeseed or sunflower seed oil, and 1 large tablespoon of honey. Mix well. Stir in the chickpeas and toss to coat.

Spread the chickpeas on a rimmed baking sheet covered with parchment paper and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 or 40 minutes until crisp. Shake the pan every 10 minutes during baking to roll the chickpeas around, allowing them to brown more evenly.

Allow to cool slightly, and enjoy!
Store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator if you are not going to eat them right away.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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There’s No Such Thing As Zero Calories

February 4, 2015

Lately, every health site seems to have an article about negative calorie foods, or zero calorie foods. It’s the percieved magic bullet to weight loss. Looking at lables can be a bit deceptive. There is a lot of wiggle room here, so let me define what makes something fall into that category.

4665700087_compA negative calorie food implies that your body uses more calories to digest it, than is present in the food itself. According to the Mayo Clinic, your body uses 5-10% of it’s energy to digest food and store it’s nutrients, making this plausable in theory. However, no reputable research supports this concept. The high fiber and water content as well as the low calorie counts of food such as celery, cucumbers and lettuce make them smart choices for those trying to lose weight, whether or not those calories are negated completly.

A zero calorie food could potentially have more than that. The FDA allows manufacturs to state that the food is calorie free if it has less than 5 calories per serving. If you only use one serving, it won’t make much of a difference in your weight, so while mildly deceptive, it’s really no big deal. That is, if you only use one serving.

A woman in Nebraska is suing Parkay spray butter for false advertising claims. It seems that the fat free, calorie free product actually has 832 calories and 93 grams of fat in an 8 oz. container. The woman in question consumed two bottles a week, before realizing something was up.

A 1.2 pound bag of Splenda contains 1,100 teaspoon sized servings. It also contains 2,200 calories per bag, and 96 calories per cup. That’s a lot of nothing, isn’t it?

More importantly, these faux foods are made up of potentially harmful ingredients. Chances are, if you “can’t believe it’s not butter,” it’s because it’s not.

While drowning your diet friendly vegetables in mock butter isn’t that common (is it?) using more than the 5 squirts recommended on the label probably is. And many people I know, use 2 Splenda’s in their coffee or tea, and consume many cups per day.
While these items do have less calories than their counterparts, they have many more reasons to avoid them.

Bottom line: There’s no such thing as a free ride.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Funnels

February 3, 2015

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Funnels are a useful kitchen tool, but one that not all of us have. I mean, how often do you use a funnel?
No worries! There are several options that you do have laying around the house.

When looking to transfer something like rice, or beans into a smaller container, or even pour flour into the running mixer, simply take a clean envelope and cut a hole in the corner, just large enough for the item to pass through.

For oil, or liquid items, roll a piece of parchment paper into a cone, and set the small end into the cup or bottle you are transfering to. Small quantities of liquids shouldn’t soak through paper, if you pour carefully. This also works for dry ingredients.

If you have a wider opening in your container, pour the ingredients into a pitcher, and then slowly pour from there.

When you’re done, toss the faux funnel into the trash, and enjoy your mess-free kitchen counters.

photo: Glasshouse Images

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