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.

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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!

Check out our new food site: indigojoneseats

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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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Cake Keeping

April 17, 2018

“Your cake will only last as long as its quickest expiring ingredient.” – Craftsy

This quote popped up on my feed earlier and gave me pause.  While the cake itself may last a while, the fillings, frosting or decorations may not. Once that buttercream, cream cheese icing or fruit filling starts to go, the whole cake needs to follow.

Consider the ingredients when determining the shelf life and storage of various foods. Donuts may sit out indefinitely, but cream filled crullers or eclairs should go in the refrigerator, and be tossed after a couple of days. Use this tip to safely determine the proper storage and expiration date for all the food you may have on hand.

photo: Glasshouse Images

 

 

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Softening Brown Sugar

March 13, 2018

I store my brown sugar carefully in an airtight container to avoid it hardening, yet, somehow, I have a  large canister of hard and lumpy brown sugar on my hands. All is not lost, as brown sugar can be brought back to life by softening it in the microwave.

Simply place the hard sugar in a microwave safe (glass is ideal) bowl and drape it loosely with a wet paper towel. Cook on high for about 30 seconds, and check to see if it is softened. If it isn’t ready, stir it and repeat this operation in 20-second intervals, re-dampening the towel as necessary until it reaches the desired state. Avoid letting the wet towel touch the sugar to keep it from melting. The sugar is ready to use when it is soft, easy to pack into a cup, and free of clumps.

photo: @indigojonesnyc 

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Composting 101

March 7, 2018

New York City is taking a stance on food waste and has begun to roll out what will eventually be a mandatory composting program.  For those of us new to the composting world, here are a few do’s and don’ts to help make the transition smoother.

Why compost?

When food waste is mixed into our regular garbage, it sits in the landfills and gives off greenhouse gasses. When composted, our organic waste can be used to add nutrients and improve soil quality for our street trees, parks, and urban farms.

 

What do I compost vs. recycle vs. toss in the garbage?

Compostable items are food scraps, such as vegetable and fruit peels, tea bags, coffee grounds and egg shells. Dry food items including bread, cereal, and pasta, are also compostable. Animal products, including meat, bones, and feces, as well as other greasy products are not. It is still important to separate glass, plastic and the like for recycling, and non- compostable food waste as true garbage.

How do I avoid getting fruit flies or vermin from my kitchen compost, and prevent my kitchen from smelling bad?

While there are plenty of compost bucket options at all price ranges out there, it’s not really necessary to purchase something. A large yogurt container with a tight-fitting lid, a big mason jar, or even a zip-lock bag works fine. If you don’t have easy access to a drop off point or your building is not providing a communal compost bin for its tenants, you can put the food waste in the freezer to eliminate odors as the waste starts to break down until you can get it to the compost site.

Doing the right thing for our planet is not always the easiest choice, but it certainly is the best choice. If your building is not yet part of the compost program, here is a list of drop off points around the city so that you can participate in the meantime.

https://www.grownyc.org/compost/locations

photos: Glasshouse Images

 

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The War on Common Decency

December 28, 2017

The “War on Christmas” was a newsworthy subject this year, with our President and many others striving to bring back the term “Merry Christmas”, instead of the more general “Happy Holidays.” In my opinion, if someone wants to wish me well, I don’t really care how they state it, as long as the sentiment is genuine. Merry Christmas, Eid Mubarak…it’s all good. Furthermore, there are many holidays during this time period; Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza and New Year’s Eve, to name a few and saying “Happy Holidays” is an easy way to wish someone good tidings for all of them.  Last time I looked, Christmas was considered a holiday, just as mustard and ketchup are considered condiments. But I digress.

 

I spent the last days leading up to Christmas frantically shopping. This was because I spent the last months leading up to Christmas frantically working, seven days a week, often until 1:00 am or later.

The stores in New York were surprisingly quiet. In only one store, out of at least 8, some of which I visited twice, did anyone ask to help me. In every store, when I left or checked out, I wished the sales associate a happy holiday. Not one initiated the greeting.  Were they so confused as to what was politically acceptable that they chose to skip the gesture completely? Or is it more? I left a comment on a Facebook thread about this, and initially received an outpouring of validation, shown by strangers hitting the “LIKE” button. Then, the inevitable Debbie Downers popped out, deriding me for shopping late when the poor, tired sales associates wanted to be home with their families. ( If I wasn’t shopping, would the store have closed?) One asked me if I had the compassion to tell them that I was thankful for their service when I know they must be tired and missing their families. Remember, this is a person folding sweaters in Zara, not a soldier fighting a war overseas, or a nurse ministering to my every need. But, if you must know, I thanked the few that interacted with me profusely, smiling all the while. Call me old-fashioned, but getting paid to work in a retail store means that while you are there, it is your job to help customers and represent the store at it’s best. (You can read my thoughts on that here.) And yes, I have done it, thank you very much, and while exhausting, I found it much easier than the work I currently do. But I digress yet again.

Here is my point: There was no war on Christmas. The constant clashing of ideals and what it means to be a decent human have given us all battle fatigue this year. Common decency seems to have often gone by the wayside.  If someone wishes you well, smile and return the sentiment. If you aren’t sure what to say, use an over-arching greeting. If you are offended by the term Happy Holidays, instead of Merry Christmas, I would take a moment to examine your priorities. In a year that divided us as Americans so severely, we all need a smile and a pleasant greeting. Is that too much to expect?

photo: Glasshouse Images

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