Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Softening Butter

July 30, 2019

 

Many recipes call for softened butter. Soft butter integrates into cake and cookie batters more easily than cold butter, which is ideal for biscuits, scones and pie crusts.  It’s often assumed that the butter should sit out for hours until it is so soft it no longer holds its shape. The reality of the situation is that for many items, the butter reacts best when is at about 65 degrees F.

Butter at this temperature still holds its stick shape but is pliable enough to blend into your dough or batter easily when using a mixer. It is also cool to the touch, but not cold.

This temperature can be achieved by allowing the butter to sit out for a bit, or by helping it along. Placing it in the microwave for a mere 10 -15 seconds takes stick butter from refrigerator hard to cool and pliable in no time. Be very careful not to leave it in longer, or the edges will start to melt, which affects the texture of your baked goods. While microwave strength may vary, it shouldn’t take more than just a few SECONDS to take your butter to the proper temperature and get you ready to bake in no time.

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Public Service Announcement

April 16, 2019

This is a public service announcement or at least a post that is designed to protect my mental health:

May I respectfully ask that before you post something derogatory about someone you have never met, just because it suits your political agenda, that you fact check it first?

Social media, ok Facebook, has become a hotbed of memes and reposts from people who identify with one political party or the other.  As I scan my feed, my heart rate increases faster than it does on a four-mile run. My blood starts to boil and a tightness forms in my chest. All because of posts that attack total strangers and defend the truly egregious behavior of others. I read them all with my mind as open as it can be, and then I fact check them. Guess what? Most of the truly troubling ones are incorrect. #fakenews

It is so easy to take things out of context or to hang on to falsehoods as the gospel truth if they reinforce your theories. So please, take a moment to check if they are real facts or “alternate facts” before you post them.

Could you also please stop politicizing all the things that aren’t the least bit political?  The college bribery scandal? Not political. Plane crash? Tragic, but still not political. Bad things happen that have nothing to do with being a Democrat or a Republican and everything to do with being a bad person. Let’s address them as such.

If you choose to post malicious memes, true or false, please don’t intersperse your feed with religious prose and other tropes that paint you as a wonderful caring human being who loves all God’s children. It is inconsistent with the rest of your behavior and makes you look disingenuous. Pick a lane.

You may be asking yourself why I don’t simply un-follow the people that trigger me. The answer is that I believe it is important to know that these beliefs and attitudes exist. It is important to see both sides of the story and not just dismiss things that I don’t agree with. That is why I fact check anything that doesn’t sound quite right to me, regardless of who posted it and what it is about.

Social media has given us a forum to say whatever we want, whether it is true or false, naughty or nice.  It has allowed hate, bigotry, and vengeance to seep out of our pores and onto the page without a second thought. It’s allowed us to take as fact anything we see and agree with, without questioning its provenance. As a nation, we are more divided than ever and will continue to be so if something doesn’t change. We more easily accept bad behavior from friends, family, colleagues, and clients than ever before because we see our leaders behaving badly and getting by with it. As children, we were taught that two wrongs don’t make a right. As adults, we need to live that truth.  If we want our society to do better, it starts with us showing respect to one another, rather than showing disrespect to our political rivals.

So please, think twice before you fill your feed with malicious attacks against your political foes and ask yourself if this is representative of the person you want to be perceived as. If the answer is no, the delete button is at the top right-hand side of your computer.

Thank you. That is all.

Self Care | Self Aware

March 1, 2019

glasshouse images

Over the past year or so, there has been lots of buzz about self-care. It is portrayed on social media as a personal indulgence with photos of influencers laying in bubble baths, perfectly pedicured toes poking out of the foam, glass of rosé clasped in a perfectly manicured hand, and $100 sheet mask on their face. Later, we may glimpse the post-mask application of expensive serum, followed by a night cream made from the placenta of a rare goat, eye cream, and lash enhancer. #metime

Or maybe it’s the “much needed” girls weekend, always at a (comped) high-end hotel, fueled by fancy cocktails and #OMGsomuchfood. Or a low-key take of an expertly rumpled bedscape, with a requisite pile of fluffy pillows, an impeccable cheese plate, and more rosé. #netflixandchill

But for the rest of us mere mortals with real-life responsibilities, the concept of self-care looks a bit different.

Generations of pre-millennial women have been programmed to put family and career obligations at the top of their list, placing their own needs at the very bottom. Sometimes self-care takes on a more mundane persona, with attending to one’s basic needs being as good as it gets. This really hit home for me this week, when a work obligation had me at 18 hour days, scrambling to keep up with the requests of a very demanding group. At 4:30 one afternoon, when I hadn’t yet taken a sip of water, let alone eaten anything since my 6 a.m. start time, it occurred to me that sometimes self-care is simply making sure our basic biological requirements are met. There is a reason why the airlines request that in the event of an emergency, you put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. We aren’t any good to anyone else if we treat ourselves so poorly we can’t function properly. Healthy eating, exercise, and a good night’s sleep shouldn’t be seen as a luxury, it should be a necessity. Sure, sometimes we all have to do what we have to do. But on a regular basis, we shouldn’t have to be so run down that we make ourselves sick before we step back and take a break.

Although a #sponsored bubble bath at a chic spa sounds glamorous, and being waited on hand and immaculately pedicured foot would be even better, in my world, a 20-minute power nap and a cup of tea will have to suffice. #reality

Healthy Lifestyle Trends for 2019

January 30, 2019

We are just a few weeks into the year, and it’s not hard to spot some trends that will influence us in 2019. While most are not exactly brand-spanking new, the rate in which they are becoming mainstream demands our attention. Here are a few that we can’t ignore.

Glasshouse Images

Celery Juice:

Celebs and fitness influencers have taken to Instagram to tout the benefits of celery juice. Advocates claim that drinking 16 oz. of pure celery juice on an empty stomach, (made from one whole bunch of celery stalks) will miraculously aid digestion, help you lose weight, lower blood pressure, reduce cancer risk and fight inflammation. While the jury is still out as to whether or not these claims are true, celery is low in calories and high in vitamins and nutrients, so it certainly isn’t harmful if you want to give it a try.

glasshouse images

JOMO:

We all know the acronym FOMO, which stands for the “fear of missing out.” This year, it’s all about JOMO; the JOY of missing out. Where in the past we vowed to “lean in”, this year we are opting to “lean out”. Expanding on the concept of self-care, which is highly focused on self-indulgent “me time” activities, such as massages, facials, candlelit baths and meditation apps, this trend allows us to feel good about not doing anything at all. Think pajamas and fuzzy slippers, vs. luxury spa-wear, and popcorn vs. champagne and caviar.

Glasshouse Images

The Return of the Treadmill:

Don’t call it the “Dreadmill” anymore! High-intensity intervals are a challenging and effective way to log miles. We’ve been addicted to Spin class for years, and now it’s time to take that concept to the treadmill. Coached group runs are growing in popularity, and are a great way to build speed and endurance, interspersed with periods of active recovery. Peloton, who live streams cycling classes on their state of the art bike has just added a treadmill to their arsenal of exercise equipment, accompanied by a library of content for coached runs. I personally have a love|hate relationship with Equinox’s Precision Run class, where an instructor takes you through a series of intervals and elevations, based on your own personal record speed. (Spoiler alert: It’s HARD!!)

 

Fast | Casual | Healthy:

These are the buzzwords that define a growing trend in the restaurant business. Fast food giants are being challenged by casual spots that specialize in healthy fare. Look for organic grab and go, free of gluten, preservatives and added sugars, with a focus on sustainability. The price tag is commensurate with the higher quality so don’t expect to find dollar meals at these places. It is certainly an idea that has been around for a couple of years, but the sudden growth of this concept makes it notable.

 

Streaming:

We have been streaming things for years, but our appetite for watching what we want, when we want it, is only getting bigger. We all subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, like it is a basic human need. The fitness world is following suit in a big way. In addition to the above mentioned Peleton, others have entered the home workout market, with companies like Mirror getting into the act with individualized, interactive workouts streamed live into your living room. Think virtual, rather than digital. Many others offer digital on-demand subscription services for just a fraction of the cost of a gym membership. Need to check out for a bit? There’s an app for that! Guided meditation apps, such as Headspace, are available to help you shut down and recharge, right on your phone. Counterintuitive, or genius?

Glasshouse Images

CBD Oil:

Many states are legalizing marijuana, but in the meantime, a derivative, CBD oil is turning up virtually EVERYWHERE! Look for this THC-free extract to help promote relaxation in your cosmetics, foods, drinks, and candles.

Eva’s Play Pups

Immersive Experiences:

We are seeing a surge in popup, immersive experiences. From the Museum of Icecream, which premiered a couple of years ago, to today, a new crop of one of a kind experiences has emerged to delight us. Amex launched its “Live Life Experience” in Toronto which includes hidden rooms, an adult foam pit, mythical creatures, and a giant ramen bowl. “The Color Factory” currently features 20,000 square feet of interactive and colorful installations in collaboration with top artists providing the ultimate Instagramable experience. Last fall, New York’s Greenwich Village was home to “A Human’s Best Friend,” which boasted 8 rooms of dog-centric adventures for you and your pup, including a group of real live dogs available for adoption. Living for the ‘gram doesn’t come cheap though. The Color Factory costs $38 per person, and the price of admission for a Human’s Best Friend was $39 for a person and a pup and $29 for each additional human.

Glasshouse Images

The Next Big Vegetable of Note:

Cauliflower has taken over for the last couple of years, popping up in everything from pizza crusts, and Buffalo-style bites, to its appearance on fine dining tables across the country. Finally unseating its predecessor kale, cauliflower’s versatility gave it real staying power. It’s too early to be sure, but it might just be rainbow carrots that emerge as the big winner this year. The carrots, in their gorgeous range of colors, are popping up in every new cookbook that I touch. West African flavors, such as rose harissa and dukkah, elevate them to cult status. Others are talking about mushrooms, both for their umami flavor and meaty texture, as a stand-in for animal products, as well as for their adaptogen properties. Kelp is another sea vegetable that is getting a lot of hype. Let’s see where the greenmarket takes us on this one.

Glasshouse Images

Paring Down |Tidying Up:

Organizational guru Marie Kondo is famous for her books on the art of tidying. Her new show, “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” premiered on Netflix a couple of weeks ago, and set off a new fury of purging and organizing among viewers. Ridding oneself of things that don’t “spark joy” is a concept taking the Netflix-viewing nation by a storm this month. Since we are now content to stay inside and lounge around streaming content, we might as well do it in a clutter-free and serene environment. So light up that CBD candle, put on your sweats, stream the new show to inspire you, sip some celery juice, and get organized!

 

Life Is Short. Eat The Damn Cookies

December 2, 2018

These chocolate chippers were a winner with chunks of hand-cut chocolate and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt

This week, I devoted a few days to recipe development for cookies and muffins that did not contain any refined sugars or gluten. After spending a full day baking, tasting and tweaking, I stumbled upon a few conclusions.

Although it is possible to create really good items despite the restrictions, I’m not sure they are actually healthier than their conventional alternatives. Although I only used natural ingredients and avoided artificial sweeteners, including Stevia ( which is naturally derived and then processed making its purity questionable) my stomach has been bloated and gurgling ever since.

Gluten-free flour blends are high in carbs. Most include various rice flours, tapioca flour, sorghum, and potato starch, and require something binding to replace the gluten. This is usually the addition of Xanthan gum, which is derived from a fermented, inactive bacteria. For those looking to follow a low-carb lifestyle for weight loss and energy, removing the gluten doesn’t lower the carb count.

These cinnamon streusel muffins could be a good base for add-ins and held moisture better than the loaf cake version

Store-bought gluten-free flour blends have varied calorie counts, ranging from 400 calories to 587 calories per cup depending on the contents. White, all-purpose wheat flour comes in at about 455 calories per cup.

Coconut nectar sugar is the sweetener of choice. Purported to have a lower glycemic index than white or brown sugars, it still is loaded with fructose and is similar in calories to refined white sugar. Honey and pure maple syrup have more nutritional value, but also are high in fructose, and can weigh in at a greater calorie count than conventional sugar.

Maybe some apples would help these keep moist and fresh for a longer period of time

While many people have health issues that prevent them from enjoying foods containing gluten, for the rest of us, there may be no value in avoiding it. I am guilty of eliminating foods from my diet, whether for vanity or perceived good health, but I try not to replace them with faux versions. Diet soda is actually worse for your health than the real deal, although I would strongly advocate for passing up soda in general. If you are eliminating food groups ( i.e. gluten or refined sugar) and eating a lot of replacement foods, especially those with processed and fabricated ingredients, it might be affecting your health in a negative way. In my case, too many cookies were simply too many cookies, regardless of what might be in them.

These were a winner. RIch and fudgy!

The moral of the story: Life is short. Eat the damn cookies.

Food Fixations

November 2, 2018

Lately, everyone and I mean everyone, has a food thing. Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, no soy, no sugar, Paleo, Keto; the list is endless. As a caterer, my job is made a bit more challenging while trying to adhere to all the guests’ dietary issues. As a former trend forecaster, I believe it is going to become even more prevalent, with more restaurants and catering companies (it me!) creating special menus to work around it all. With party season upon us, the owness is on you, as a host to ensure that all of your guests have something they can eat. Here are a few of my pro tips for entertaining in the age of the restricted diet.

 

 

Ask your guests if they have any dietary restrictions.  

If you know what people can’t eat, it is easy to plan around them. Every dish doesn’t have to adhere to one person’s diet, but you can certainly make sure to include at least a dish or two that they can eat and enjoy. If you are hosting a small dinner party with someone who doesn’t eat gluten, you may want to rethink that pasta-centric menu and choose something else. As a caterer, I often ask if it is an allergy or a preference. I would never try to trick someone into eating something they don’t want, but if it is an allergy, I need to take extra precautions to make sure that the offending ingredient is kept far away from the other foods. That means that I can’t put the gluten-free cookies on the same tray as the conventional ones, or more importantly, that I need to clean the kitchen completely between preparing items that use the allergen, and those that don’t.

Plan a menu that has lots of choices so that those who are eliminating food groups, or just trying to eat more healthfully can find things to enjoy.  

Plan a varied menu with options to suit any diet. This is easier to do than you might think, especially for a buffet or cocktail party. A good host will make their guests feel comfortable. If you are inviting a dairy-free friend to a wine and cheese party, add some fruit and vegetables to the tray for variety. Gluten-free? Those same vegetables can take the place of crackers. A varied menu is more interesting, and a carnivore might welcome some creative vegetable dishes too.

Think about what your guests CAN eat, and less about what they can’t. 

The elimination of multiple food groups can be daunting to a host. Try to reframe the issue and concentrate on what your guests can eat. Often it boils down to vegetables, fruit, healthy fats and lean or plant-based proteins. Use this as the centerpiece of your menu planning and feel free to add grains, carbs, sweets etc. around it for the guests who are able to partake.

As a guest, let your host know in advance of your dietary requirements, especially if a meal is involved.

At least if they decide not to provide anything that suits your diet, you will not be offending them when you choose not to eat. Be gracious about it. Don’t just provide a list of items you have eliminated and expect them to be banned from the party. You can eat healthfully and not come off like a diva. Tread lightly and don’t expect everyone to eat Tofurky for you. (‘Cause that stuff is nasty!)

If you are going to an event that you know is going to be problematic for you, offer to bring a dish that everyone can enjoy with you.

Thanksgiving is a perfect example of one of those meals. Families take their traditions seriously, and many may balk at adjusting their menus for just one guest. ( Or many guests with dueling requests.) Bring an interesting salad or a non- cheesy, sugary, marshmallow-topped side that fits your dietary requirements. Who knows? It may just become a new tradition for your family!

Don’t be a pusher.

As a host or a fellow guest, don’t try to push foods on those who don’t want them. “Just a taste” is a rude and manipulative gesture to those who wish to abstain, as is a grand announcement of their food choices. Putting other guests in an awkward position and making them feel uncomfortable is unacceptable. Don’t do it.

Making your guests comfortable shouldn’t make you uncomfortable.

Catering to guests’ dietary issues shouldn’t make entertaining more difficult or unpleasant for the host.  Opt for some simple additions or changes, and get on with your cooking. You shouldn’t have to make multiple versions of things or tailor the entire party around one person or group of people. (See Tofurky comment above.) That said, I have I taken a single portion of many Thanksgiving sides and used margarine instead of butter, or eliminated sugar or nuts to feed a guest with restrictions. In doing so while I was cooking, I gave the guest a special version without much additional effort on my part and gave the rest of the group what they wanted. That gesture of compliance was greatly appreciated.

Food is something that brings us together and preparing it can be an act of love. Don’t lose sight of that as you enter party season, dietary issues and all!

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Fall Color play: Magenta Foods

September 20, 2018

This morning, as I skimmed my Instagram feed, something caught my eye. Beautiful, magenta foods, heralding the beginning of fall in a not so typical way. Instead of being bombarded by the usual pumpkin spice avalanche, these deep, rich hues, all artfully photographed, set my imagination on fire!

Check out these talented Instagrammers for more.

via Safran_rot Instagram

via Okuprin Instagram

via Cloudy Kitchen Instagram

And, apparently, great minds think alike:

Yep, this one is our beet hummus served at an event a few nights ago!

Do you follow us on Instagram? @indigojonesnyc

 

Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Shower Power

June 12, 2018

I often see people posting about using items for purposes other than those which they were intended for. The disposable shower cap is one such item. Although they are normally found in hotel bathrooms, this tip might cause you to move yours to the kitchen.

The lightweight plastic cap with an elasticized edge is perfect for covering bowls at a picnic. But it’s usefulness doesn’t stop there. Not only does it keep the flies out of the food until it is ready to be eaten, it can also keep your food fresh. Once you remove the cover, fill it with ice and set the bowl in it to keep your food at a safe temperature. The elastic edge will grip the bowl and hold the ice in place. When the party is over, you can toss it, or better yet, rinse it off and use it again next time.

* Disposable shower caps can also be purchased inexpensively at most health and beauty aid stores near the hair color.

photo: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Saving Avocado

May 22, 2018

We’ve all been there. One day your avocado is a rock, and then before you know it, it’s a mushy grey ball. What seems like a brief window of perfect ripeness comes and goes so quickly, it’s easy to miss. What can you do when the whole bag is suddenly ripe all at once and you can’t possibly eat them all before they go bad? Keep reading to find out!

When we saw this avocado saving hack on Well + Good last week, (via @leefromamerica ‘s Instagram stories)we knew we had to share it.

Lee mashes up the ripe avocados and presses them into a silicone icecube tray to freeze for later use. Drop a cube into a smoothie, or thaw it to spread on a sandwich. Be sure to wrap it well, pressing the plastic wrap right onto the avocado mash to help keep it airtight and prevent browning. That’s one less avocado for the compost bin, and more to enjoy ” on demand”!

photo: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Multi- Wheel Cutters

May 1, 2018

I am not a big kitchen gadget fan. I prefer to use multipurpose tools to get the job done. Why spend money and kitchen storage real estate on a boiled egg slicer you rarely use, when a knife works just as well? Avocado pitter anyone? The list goes on and on.

This item, however, is more of a pro tool than an infomercial worthy gadget. It is a multi-wheeled cutter attached to an expandable base, useful in getting your items cut into perfect, equal pieces. It’s ideal for brownies, blondies, and other bar cookies, and useful in cutting even strips of dough for lattice tops and puffed pastry cheese sticks. While some are stronger and sharper than others, even the lightweight version will at the very least score the surface, giving you a line to cut along for even bars of any size. They vary drastically in price, but for a home baker with perfectionist tendencies, an inexpensive version works just fine.

We have this one.

 

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