Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Its The Pits

January 18, 2016

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We’ve written about food waste here before, even documenting a weeks worth of efforts in trying to reduce ours.  So often, the parts of our food that we discard are among the healthiest.
We, and every other food writer and healthy eating guru has waxed poetic about the glory that is an avocado. The versatile fruit is delicious, sliced, diced, and smashed. Avocado toast acheived cult-like status in last year, and it can even be used as a substitute for butter in vegan baked goods. But did you know that the seed contains over 70% of the avocado’s antioxidants? Neither did we!

To reap the benefits, place the avocado pit into the food processor and grind it into a fine powder. Add it to your morning smoothie, or sprinkle on oatmeal or add to salad dressing for a jolt of antioxident rich fiber.

To read more on this subject, head over to One Green Planet.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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The Herbivorous Butcher

January 14, 2016

Just because you’ve given up meat, it doesn’t mean you are relegated to a life of lettuce, grains and beans.

Herbivorous Butcher - Vegan Chili Cheese Dog

This month, Minneapolis will be host to the first ever vegan butcher shop. Yep, a vegan butcher shop.

Called the Herbivorous Butcher, the shop will sell a range of plant based items that have the look, texture and flavor of real meat, without the animal cruelty.

Siblings Aubry and Kale (for reals!) Walch raised over $50,000 with thier Kickstarter campaign to help them bring their vegan delicacies to the mainstream public.

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Their offererings include vegan takes on Italian sausages, pulled pork, maple glazed bacon and BBQ ribs, as well as classics like filet mignon, corned beef and meatballs. All are prepared in small batches, using sustainable and cruelty free processes.

Stay tuned for their grand opening January 23.

Photos courtesy of the Herbivorous Butcher

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Clean As You Go

January 12, 2016

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It is easy to make a big mess in the kitchen. Pots, pans, utensils, mixing bowls… they add up fast! Not to mention all of the ingredients spread out on the counters.  All that clutter can cause a bad case of kitchen chaos. Cooking, and especially baking is a methodical process. It becomes almost impossible to acheive perfection in a messy kitchen, and cleaning up becomes a chore that is unpleasant enough to drive you straight to Seamless. ( For non- New Yorkers, that means take-out!)

Here are my tips for dealing with the colossal mess that comes with cooking and baking for a crowd. Trust me on this one people. I just made 200 pink marshmallows. It doesn’t get much messier than that!

Start with a clean slate. Put away the clean dishes, wipe down the counters and empty the sink before you begin. Starting clean makes it easier to find things, and to have ample room for the task at hand.

Take out all of your ingredients. Rummaging through the cupboards with sticky hands is not the way to go. Suddenly, everything is sticky and will require you to wipe down things you wouldn’t normally have to. It also helps make sure that you have everything you need before you get started.

Wash the dishes as you go. When you are done with something, put it right into the sink to soak. Once you finish that part of the project, wash them or put them into the dishwasher. Don’t leave the mixing bowls from the cake in the sink, only to find you don’t have room to wash the lettuce for salad. It will also help you keep tabs on where things are. If you need to reuse a bowl or utensil for something else, it will be clean and ready for you.

Keep up with the wiping up! If something spills, wipe it up as soon as you can. Not only will it keep your workspace tidy, it will avoid cross contamination of foods. It is also easier to wipe up something fresh, than to try to clean it up later when it becomes dry and crusted onto things.  Been there. Done that. Not fun.

For me, cooking and baking should be a calm experience. When all hell breaks loose in the kitchen, it takes the joy out of the process. It almost always shows in the end result too. Do your self a favor, and clean as you go. Its worth it!!

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Even Baking

January 5, 2016

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True confession: I hate my ovens! Many years ago, when I researched appliances for my kitchen, I read that electric ovens bake more evenly than gas. Gas however, is far superior for a cooktop. For these reasons, I opted to put in a gas range, and two electric ovens, which is quite unusual in New York City. I chose Viking, which had high ratings at the time. I even bought mulitple racks so that I could bake 6 sheets of cookies at a time. I hoped I would see a big difference from the standard issue gas oven I had been using. Yep, I saw a big difference and it wasn’t pretty.
Just after our big renovation was complete, we hosted Thanksgiving dinner. The dining table was delivered the day before, as were a sofa and chair for the den. My kitchen was glistening and new, fully upgraded and ready to be broken in with this fall feast.

The turkey was placed in the bottom oven and I used the top for the side dishes and desserts. At 9:30 pm, I cut the still uncooked turkey into pieces and popped it into the top oven to finish cooking. What a fiasco! After many checks, the Viking people have assured me that the temperature of the ovens is correct. It turns out, that after extensive research,using an architect, interior designer and visiting appliance showrooms, nobody mentioned that New York City doesn’t have the appropriate voltage for electric ovens. If one oven is in use, the second one doesn’t have enough volts to come to temperature and stay there. Pre-heating is a nightmare, as it takes easily half an hour to heat up. To make matters worse, the temperature control panel erased after a few cleanings, and the self-clean function doesn’t seem to work anymore. For a high end and expensive product, they are a huge source of disappointment. For a baker, they are a nightmare!

For better or worse, these ovens are my ovens, so I have learned to navigate my way through the undercooked, the burnt to a crisp and the unevenly baked items, one tray of ruined cookies at a time. My burden could become your bonus, as I have aquired all kinds of ways to try to alleviate the problem of uneven cooking. Since no oven is perfect, and few ovens are exactly the same, these tips could come in handy even for those of you who don’t suffer from oven issues.

Baking Tips for an Erratic Oven:

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Set the timer for a few minutes less than the recipe states. Check to see how the food is cooking and adjust the time or temperature accordingly. This means catching the cookies before they burn, covering the cake that is browning quickly but still raw inside, or noticing that one side of the pan is cooking faster than the other.

Rotate the pans. When I am baking, I sometimes notice hot spots, where cookies might burn on one side of the pan, while the others are perfectly fine. Also, the bottom of my oven is where the heating element is, so keeping cookies as far away from that as possible keeps the bottoms from burning before the tops are done. Rotating the pans among the different shelves as well as turning them around prevents any one part from living in the hot zone.

Go undercover. If a cake, pie or other item is getting very brown while the rest still needs some quality time in the oven, cover it loosely with aluminium foil. This stops the browning on the outside while allowing the inside to keep cooking.

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Adjust the temperature as necessary. Sometimes, I think a hotter temperature might be required than that in which my oven is set. Othertimes, I find baking with convenction at a slightly lower temperature allows for better circulation, and more even cooking. This is the case with some thinner cookies, where I want them to fully bake in the center, without becoming overly colored around the edges. Going to 325 degrees with convection vs. 350 or 375 degrees with normal baking can make a big difference.

Keep the oven door closed. Opening the oven door to check on the food frequently, allows the hot air to escape, and can alter the way the food is cooking. A quick glimpse here and there is often critical. Frequent checking, not so much. In my case, this problem is exacerbated by the quick loss of temperature, requiring that bottom heating element to kick into high gear to try bring things back to normal, thus burning my cookies in the process. Try to avoid opening the oven door until it is necessary.

While most people think of baking as an exact science, dealing with my erratic ovens has taught me otherwise. Learing how to watch out for over or under cooking, feeling the texture of dough or learning how to adjust flavors takes experience but is often necessary to get a superior outcome. It is sometimes a matter of a minute between perfectly baked and burnt to a crisp. Practice makes perfect!

PHOTOS: Glasshouse Images

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That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles

December 29, 2015

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Is it time to step away from the cookie jar? I’m looking at you here, who has been a prolific baker and has enough cookies to feed the neighborhood, or gain 5 pounds snacking on them. Or you, who recieved an abundance of homemade love in the form of sweet treats.

Why not repurpose them into a delicious crust for pie or cheesecake. Similiar to a more traditional graham cracker crust, cookie crusts are easy to make and don’t even require baking. Simply process the cookies into crumbs, and add melted butter to create a simple, press-in( no rolling!) crust for future treats. Plain, un-iced sugar or shortbread cookies work well, as do chocolate, or gingerbread cookies. Feel free to add a little cinnamon, spice and everything nice to the plainer options if you wish.

For every 2 cups of cookie crumbs, add 3 tablespoons of melted butter and press into a pie plate, cheesecake pan, or even a rectangular pan for delicous bar cookies. You can even freeze it to be filled and enjoyed at a later date. You’ll have a new, almost effortless dessert for a future meal, and save yourself from slipping into a sugar coma now.

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Unrecipe of the Week: Gnocchi

December 28, 2015

We were so excited to receive the Gjelina cookbook for Christmas this year. It is filled with simple, delicious vegetable and grain-centric recipes from acclaimed chef, Travis Lett.

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We tried the ricotta gnocchi tonight, and it was recieved with rave reviews. Like any dough recipe, this requires using your sense of what the dough should feel like, vs. a hard and fast recipe to follow to a tee. The result was light, pillowy gnocchi that we devoured with nothing more than a pool of pomodoro sauce and some Parmesan cheese. The best news: it didn’t take much more than 30 minutes to create. Go ahead and give it try…we’ll guide you through the process.

Ricotta Gnocchi adapted from Gjelina:
Spread about 1/2 cup of flour onto the counter in a circular shape. Top with 1 pound of strained ricotta cheese. ( we used part skim from the grocery store.) and then top that with another 1/2 cup of flour. Sprinkle it with a pinch each of salt and ground nutmeg.

Using your fingertips, lightly mix the flour and ricotta and gather it into a mound with a well in the center. Add 3/4 to one whole egg,which has been lightly beaten into the well, and combine it with a fork until it is roughly held together. Using a bench scraper, gently fold the dough repeatedly until it has come together into a ragged mass. Sprinkle it with small amounts of flour and delicately knead the dough, adding more flour as you go until it comes together into a ball. Delicate is the operative word here, and the more assertively the dough is handled, the more the gluten will develop and make your gnocchi tough, or gummy in texture. Handle the dough as little and as gently as possible to attain the results outlined above.

Wrap the dough in plastic and let it sit about 20 minutes.

Cover the surface with flour and gently shape the dough into a large disk about 1″ thick. Cut the disk into strips.  Take each strip and roll it into a log about 1/2″ in diameter. With a knife, cut each strip into 1″ segments, and press the tines of a fork into one side of each piece. Don’t flatten them with the fork, just create an impression. Place the pieces of gnocchi on a sheet pan and sprinkle lightly with flour until ready to use.

Boil a large pot of salted water. Place the gnocchi into the pot and cook for about 2 minutes until they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and toss them in the sauce of your choice. Keep sauces on the lighter side, so you don’t overpower the gnocchi. We recommend a simple pomodoro sauce, or even butter and sage or basil and Parmesan cheese. Serve while hot and enjoy!!

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Brining

December 15, 2015

Another cooking confessional: I have never brined my meat or poultry. I have always felt that it was a messy, unnecessary step in the process. Until yesterday.

I had a catering project that was overflow from another cook who couldn’t handle the quantity requested at the last minute. We communicated briefly about recipes and plating so that it would not be blatently obvious when the guests opened their lunches and discovered that they were the same but extremely different. One of the dishes being served was a sliced chicken breast, which she said she was brining for two hours and baking with a garlic and paprika rub. Simple enough.

I got up and brined the chicken breasts in the morning before cooking them. I was skeptical. I honesty didn’t think it would make a bit of difference. I was wrong. The chicken was extremely tender and juicy. I had a couple of extra pieces that I removed from the brine and refrigerated until dinner time. My husband remarked that I should buy my chicken from this butcher all the time, as it seemed superior in taste and consistency. I am a brine believer now! 

So what is brining and how is it done? Read along…

Brining is the process of soaking meat or poultry in salt water for a period of time to lock in moisture before cooking. The salt in the water serves to denature, or break down some of the protein bonds in the meat, and allows the water to become trapped between the fibers, making it more hydrated before it is cooked. Depending on the size and amount of time spent in the brine, the food will weigh 6-8% more, due it the amount of liquid it has absorbed.

While a large turkey might benefit from an overnight brine, smaller portions will become water logged if left to soak too long.  A couple of hours for a large amount of skinless, boneless chicken breasts ( I was serving 30 people) was perfect. Even 30 minutes would make a difference. If you place the breasts in the brine while the oven heats and you get the rest of the meal prepared, it will be well worth the extra effort, and not take too much extra time.

How to Brine:
Use 1/4 cup of kosher salt for every quart of warm water. Place the food into the mixture so that it is just submerged but not swimming in the brine, cover it and place it in the refrigerator. You can add herbs, lemon juice or other flavors to the mixture if you like, but for a short brine, it won’t have that much effect. When you are ready to cook the meat, remove it from it’s bath, pat it dry with paper towels and you’re good to go!

Word of warning: Raw meats and poultry have potentially harmful bacteria that can make you and those who eat your food very sick. Be sure to wash the brining dish and disinfect anything that the brining water came in contact with. I put my dish on a baking tray to catch any drips to avoid contaminating other things in the refrigerator.

Happy Brining!

Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Spice Rubs

December 8, 2015

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Spice rubs are a great way to infuse flavor into meats and poultry. While many commercial blends are available, you can make your own using the herbs and spices that suit your taste and your specific recipe.

Here are a few tips to using seasonings:

Brush your meat or poultry with olive oil or butter to give the spices something to stick to.

Mix your seasonings in a small bowl before you start. This will allow for much more even distribution of the spices.

Remember that uncooked meats carry the risk of foodborne pathogens, such as E.coli and salmonella which are destroyed when cooked. When handling raw meats, be sure to clean everything that the meat or poultry and their juices might have touched. Using a small bowl for seasonings allows you to “double dip” without contaminating everything by touching various spice jars with the hands that are also touching the meat. Just remember to throw out the excess after you are done, to avoid spreading the bacteria to other foods.

Massaging the seasonings into the meat allows it absorb better, giving you more flavor. Even salt and pepper benefit from a little rub.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Bananacolypse Now?

December 7, 2015

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Word on the street, (ok, in the blogosphere,) is that bananas are becoming an endangered species. This sets off a mild feeling of panic, as what is morning without bananas? Bananas are the base of most smoothies, taste great on oatmeal, make delcious breakfast breads, and are the perfect vehicle for slathering with almond butter. Thus said, this rumor begs investigating.

The scientific journal PLOS Pathogens has conducted a study, which predicts that a fungus called Panama disease will bring about the untimely demise of the banana.

There is no known treatment for Panama disease, which was previously contained in parts of Asia. It has currently spread to Pakistan, Oman, Jordon, Lebanon, Mozambique and Northeast Queensland, Australia. The disease is slow spreading, so it may take awhile to get to Latin America, where most of our bananas are grown. The last time the disease eradicated crops was when it was discovered in Taiwan in the 1960’s where it took 55 years to do it’s damage.

In the meantime, consider swapping parsnips as a substitution in baked goods. The root caramelizes to a sugary sweetness like bananas, and were used during the Great Banana rationing in England during WWII.

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: How To Salvage a Burnt Cake

December 1, 2015
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Don’t cry over a burnt cake.

You know the old saying about how the cobbler’s kids going shoeless or something like that? Well this baker’s dessert game at home has been suffering. The other night, I popped a simple bundt cake into the oven and forgot about it. Since it needs to bake for 1 and 15 minutes, I knew it had a ways to go when I remembered it. The question was, how far? The answer: a little less far than I thought. The first sign was when the cake came out of the pan with a chunk missing. Ok, I thought, I will serve it sliced. Nope, that wasn’t the solution. It was a little dark all around.

The inside, while perhaps just a tad drier than I would have liked, was acceptable. What to do?

Way too lazy to make another one, I was determined to make this one work. (Note of apology to any of my dinner guests who might be reading this. You were worth a better cake. Really, you were.)

I ended up slicing the cake, and used a biscuit cutter to cut circles out of the inner cake. I discarded the dark, outer crust and pretended it never existed. I used the cake to sandwich whipped cream and drizzled it with chocolate sauce. I had purchased some icecream and strawberries to puree into a coulis, but never actually got that far.( I really was a lazy hostess!) I am going to assume that all is well that ends well, as there wasn’t a bite of cake left after the meal ended.

The moral of the story: Be resourceful. There is a solution to every problem. Next time this happens to you, cut the good parts into an interesting shape, or chunks, and top them with icecream, whipped cream and fruit, or a great sauce. Layer them in a cup parfait style, or soak the cake in sweet wine or liquor for a take on trifle. Your guests might just think you made something extra special, on purpose. Oh yeah, don’t forget to smile when you serve it!

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