Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Rinsing Rice and Grains

August 8, 2017

When cooking rice and grains, most people just put them in a pot with the requisite liquid and follow the directions for cook time. There is a crucial step that is often over looked, and that is rinsing.

Rinsing grains dates back to a time and place when they weren’t processed and boxed like they are today. While most grains purchased in the USA aren’t considered toxic, they could benefit from a good rinse.

Rice: Giving rice a rinse takes off some of the surface starch, resulting in a less sticky end product. Many also notice debris in the rinse water, especially when the rice came from the bulk bins rather than a box. Imported rices, such as basmati and jasmine may have talc, or powdered glucose on them to make them appear cleaner looking. Looking cleaner, and being cleaner are two very different things, and it is advisable to rinse the talc off before cooking.

Other grains, such as quinoa, farro and barley benefit from a rinse, not only to remove debris, but to remove any saponins that may still linger. While domestically packaged quinoa has been treated to remove the dangerous coating, residual saponins are the source of the unpleasant and bitter flavor that sometimes occurs in cooking quinoa.

Rinse the grains either by running them under water in a fine mesh sieve, or by submerging them in cool water, straining them, and resubmerging them in fresh water until no more debris floats to the surface.

Soaking grains (and legumes) cuts down on the phytic acid, a compound which can make these foods harder to digest. Soaking also jumpstarts the process, cuts down on cooking time and tends to yield a better texture.

Taking the time to rinse grains is akin to taking the time to rinse vegetables. Well worth the extra few minutes for a safer, and better outcome.

photo: Glasshouse Images


Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder

August 1, 2017

They are both white powders whose roles are to help your baked goods rise. They are often in similar packaging, and although they look the same, and have similar end uses, they are very different. I’m talking about baking powder, and baking soda.

Trust me, I have tossed multiple batches of scones because I grabbed the wrong container. While they looked ok, albiet a little more bronzed than usual, the taste of two tablespoons of baking soda is not the same as the required two tablespoons of baking powder.

Baking soda, is a base mineral, which when combined with acids produces carbon dioxide, and in turn, bubbles. Remember those grade school volcanos, where you mixed baking soda and vinegar to create an eruption?
In baking, it is usually something a bit less overtly acidic, like brown sugar, yogurt, buttermilk, lemon, or even pumpkin, that creates the more subtle reaction. The acid also interacts with the gasses to counteract that bitter, almost metallic taste that my scones had. Things baked with soda are usually crisper and more browned that those made with powder.

Baking powder, on the other hand, consists of baking soda, cream of tarter ( or another dry acid), and cornstarch. Most commercial baking powders are double acting. This means that the leavening is activated the first time it comes in contact with liquid, and the second action is heat activated. This allows it to be used without other acidic ingredients, without the nasty aftertaste.

Recipes sometimes call for a mixture of both products. This is usually the case where you don’t want to neutralize all the acidic flavor, such as when making buttermilk pancakes, but don’t want the bitter soapy flavor that comes with it. The delicate balance between the two, create the rise, keep the tang, and reduce the bitterness.

Remember that both of these products have a shelf life. Be sure to check dates to insure that the leavener of choice still has the power to lift your baked goods. To tell if baking powder is still fresh, you can place a 1/2 teaspoon in a bowl and add 1/4 cup boiling water. If it bubbles up, it is still good.  To check the freshness of baking soda, place a spoonful into a bowl, and add a little lemon juice, or vinegar. It should produce bubbles if it is active.

Also note,that batters relying on baking soda should be baked as soon as possible, where baking powder based batters and doughs can usually wait to be baked, as some of the “poof power” is heat activated.

Confused? We hope not, but just in case, the most important take aways here, are that these items are not interchangeable, and must be fresh to do their jobs. Oh, and if you are like me, to always look twice to make sure that you have the right cylander in your hand before you scoop!





Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Getting Under Our Skin

July 25, 2017


I am mesmerized by all of those short little cooking videos. The ones where the entire recipe gets prepared and cooked in about 30 seconds. Today, as I was watching one from Food + Wine, showing New York restaurant Made Nice‘s chef prepping their chickens for roasting I had an epiphany.

It is fairly common for recipes to suggest rubbing some butter or tucking herbs under the skin of poultry before roasting to let the flavors really soak in, crisp the skin, and keep the meat moist. The problem is, it isn’t so easy to really get under there and get the mixture well dispersed. When I saw this chef using a pastry bag filled with herb infused butter to get under the skin, I had a major “aha!” moment.

The technique involved filling a pastry bag fitted with a large tip with very soft herb butter. The chef inserted the tip under the skin at the farthest point, releasing the contents as he slowly pulled the bag out, and then quickly massaged the area to disperse the herb butter evenly under the skin. It also allowed him to get into the harder to reach spots, such as the legs and wings.

This genius trick could totally change my poultry roasting game!  I can’t wait to try it with my roasted garlic and mustard herb butter.

Thanks Made Nice! 

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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CocoNOT Oil

June 21, 2017


The American Heart Association just released a study, showing that coconut oil may not be the health food we thought it was.

Touted to be the wonder oil purported to soften skin and hair, possess antibactierial properties and help us lose weight, coconut oil is being reconsidered as a coco-NOT.

The new study shows that the high saturated fat content of the oil raises LDL cholesterol  and contributes to heart disease. Experts believed that the saturated fat in virgin coconut oil reacts differently in the body than that of animal sources, but there is now evidence to the contrary.

Just as a point of reference, coconut oil contains a whopping 82% saturated fat, much higher than butter ( 63%) and beef fat, (50%). So while the ADA doesn’t dispute the other qualities that make the oil healthy, they equate the high saturated fat content with health risks far greater than the benefits.

The recommended consumption for saturated fats is about 5-6% of your daily calorie intake, which equates to somewhere around 120 calories, based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Other plant based fats, such as canola, sunflower seed and olive oil are shown to be much healthier choices. But before you toss that jar of coconut oil, you may want to continue to use it for hair and skincare, as well as dental care, and antifungal wound care.

photo: glasshouse images


Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Blind Baking

May 30, 2017

Sometimes, we want to bake our pie or tart crusts before filling them. This can be done when you want to use a no-bake filling, one that is cooked on the stovetop, or to partially bake the crust if the filling is one which bakes faster than the crust. This process is referred to as “blind baking.”

To blind bake a crust, line it with aluminum foil or parchment paper, being sure to get the paper into the edges. Fill the lined crust with pie weights*, and bake covered for about 12-20 minutes, depending on the recipe and the oven temperature.

Once the crust has started to harden a bit and become less pliable, it is safe to carefully remove the lining and weights, and place the tart back into the oven to brown.

The concept of baking the crust this way is to emulate the weight and density of the absent filling, thus helping it hold it’s shape and prevent extreme shrinkage.

I generally trim the tart crust before blind baking, but last night, I was watching the contestants on the Great British Baking Show make cream filled tarts. Most of them left the dough untrimmed and hanging over the edges of the pan, and then trimmed it after it was baked. This accounted for shrinkage, and ensured that the crust came up to the top of the pan evenly each time. While some of theirs had a bit of a raggedy edge after baking, I found that trimming it after the first bake is a nice compromise, as the dough is softer and easier to trim without cracking and crumbling. This could work for a tart that is baked with the filling as well, just pulling it out part way in for the trim, and then placing it back in the oven to finish baking.

Be extra gentle when taking a blind baked tart from the ring…it tends to be more delicate than it’s filling baked counterparts.

*I use dried beans as weights, but rice or other grains that won’t burn or pop are also fine. You can purchase commercially made pie weights for this purpose at kitchen stores as well. I keep my beans and reuse them for this purpose only.

photos: Spencer Jones |Glasshouse Images

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Mermaids and Unicorns

April 10, 2017

First there were rainbows; multicolored foods such as bagels that took a perfectly good item and made it gimmicy and in my opinion, unappealing. But, what do I know? Those rainbow bagels made The Bagel Store in Brooklyn famous. Rainbow grilled cheese and even a rainbow burger quickly followed.

Just when you thought it was safe to eat foods in the colors that nature made them, the Mermaid and Unicorn trend hit. Similar to the rainbow trend, this go ’round features pastel hues and a more etherial, read: less regimented presentation.

Mermaid Toast:

via Kite Hill Foods

via Geewoonsanne

Unicorn pancakes:


via Amy Shock

and waffles:

via justlike_hannah

Breakfast may never be the same again!

via justlike_hannah

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Eating On The Road

March 27, 2017

Traveling can wreck havoc on your diet. Take it from me, who just completed the last few days of a Whole30 while on a New England college tour.

We spent a few days last week, visiting a colleges with my 17 year old daughter. Having reached the final lap of my 30 day elimination diet; one which I have previously done twice before, I was pretty confident that I could get through this. This round was the easiest. I knew the ropes, and I didn’t have any cravings. I had settled into the boredom of it all, and since I was feeling pretty good, I just kept trudging through it.
The diet is extremely restrictive, yet when you are in charge of your own eating destiny, it’s not so bad. Lean protiens ( I don’t eat red meat but it is allowed) such as fish, chicken and eggs, vegetables and fruit are the mainstay of the program. No dairy, no grains, no legumes, no alcohol or sugar seem like foods easy to avoid, right? Well, that all depends on where you are.

We set the itinerary so that we never needed to drive more than 2 hours at a time, and scheduled one or two visits per day. We usually tried to get to the next destination early so that wouldn’t be in a panic looking for the admissions office, or finding parking, and then planned to get something to eat nearby. Since most of the schools were on spring break, there were few dining options open on campus. What was open was pretty sad. Grab and go options included tired sandwiches, (no bread, and no to many of the fillings and condiments) yogurt (dairy) and sometimes, if we were lucky, a wilted salad, or some fruit. That salad often had cheese, and croutons. Not so appetizing, or compliant.

I often ended up running to the meeting with just a cup of tea and toughing it out til the next break. One morning, we were evacuated from the hotel due to a fire alarm, and drove to the nearest cafe to wait it out. It was a charming place, filled with beautiful baked goods and not much else to choose from. Breakfast was a pass once again.

Timing between info sessions and tours always ended up being tighter than planned. A one hour tour could stretch to 75 minutes, and an info session could be followed by questions, leaving no time at all for lunch before getting to the next destination.  A big problem, when you didn’t get breakfast either!

Determined to stay compliant for these last few days (did I really want to blow it on day 29 with something I didn’t even enjoy?) I made the concession of eating just a banana, or a tiny little side salad without the requistite balance of protein and fat, just to survive. When we did have a little time, the choices in many of these towns were not easy to maneuver on Whole30. Lots of pasta, pizza, a little Chinese food ( no soy!) and a lot of fried, cheesy and meaty options. No wonder why the “freshman 15” is a real phenomenon. I have to admit, that even when not on Whole30, many of the food options were not for me.

At dinner, I combed local menus trying to find one in which I could come close to finding something  I could eat, and more importantly wanted to eat. One night was a salad without cheese, croutons or bacon with a vinaigrette dressing instead of the creamy blue cheese offered. On other nights, there was a simple chicken option that I requested without the risotto, pasta or mashed potatoes it came with, and they graciously added vegetables instead. They were slathered in butter, but at that point, beggars can’t be choosers!

The moral of this story is an obvious one: be prepared! When visiting new places, especially those in small towns, you don’t know what you are going to find. If grabbing a slice of pizza or a quick sandwich works for you, that’s great. Enjoy it! Even when not on Whole30, I tend to want to be more selective about my food. Some might call it fussy, or downright obsessive, but if you take care of your body, it will take care of you. Next time, I will plan ahead and bring portable snacks to tide me over when a fresh and healthy meal isn’t available. (Or splurge on something worthwhile…stale pizza is NOT ever worthwhile in my book! ) Here are a few suggestions that are easily portable, and don’t require refrigeration, which will be in my bag on the next loop:

Fruit: Apples, bananas etc. You can pre-wash a few pieces of fruit and wrap them in plastic wrap, so they are ready to eat regardless of where you might be. If you can find squeeze pouches of unsweetened applesauce, those are also a great choice.

Packets of nut butters: Whole30 doesn’t allow peanut butter (which I HATE anyways),but they do allow almond and cashew butters. While an opened jar of nut butter should get refrigerated, Justin’s makes single serve packets that can be tossed into your bag and are easy to eat. Just don’t get tempted by the white chocolate or maple versions, which are against the rules.

Nuts: It’s amazing the protein jolt that a handful or two of nuts can provide. Bring your favorites along for a great snack, or to add to that sad little cup of fruit or lettuce to up the nutritional ante. Word of caution: nut calories add up fast.

Jerky: I don’t eat meat, but there are some high end jerkies around that people swear by. Krave is thought to be one of the best, as it is all natural and free of additives, both of the chemical and the sugary variety.

Bars: Most protien bars are sugar bombs, and aren’t too dissimilar to a candy bar. Kind bars are good for you, but not Whole 30 compliant. If you are just being health conscious, they open up a world of great options.  Some Larabars are sort of Whole 30 compliant, although they fall into the area of pretending to be something you shouldn’t have, made of ingredients you can have; a no-no on a regime that is trying to change your relationship with food. The plan stresses eliminating those things for the 30 day period, so that you aren’t sustaining cravings for foods that aren’t good for you. So, although that bar doesn’t contain any banned ingredients, if it is pretending to be a cherry pie, and that defeats the purpose of the program. However, if you aren’t on Whole30 and just want a healthy snack, these can be a great alternative, and viable Whole30 emergency food (if you can find them! )

Anyone who has done Whole30 will tell you that it’s all about meal planning and food prep. Having the right ingredients and the right whole, fresh foods at the ready makes the process so much easier. The same holds true if you are travelling, especially if you are not in a large metropolitan area that has row after row of food shops and restaurants.

I have finished the official plan, but hope to stay compliant with pre-meditated “cheats” that are well worth calories, and potential food hangover that follows. I’m thinking there is a glass of red wine in my not too distant future, and I hope to savor every drop!







Unrecipe of the Week: Beet Hummus

March 13, 2017



Rainbow carrots, beets and radishes, ready to roast. I bet those carrots would have made a delicious hummus too!

Once again, I am in the throes of Whole 30, a healthy elimination diet that is geared towards breaking up with the foods that may be inflammatory to you for a whole 30 days, in effort to better your health, and change your relationship with food. Similar to the Paleo diet, it encourages you to eat fresh, whole foods and eliminate grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, alcohol and anything processed. That pretty much leaves you with fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, with a few nuts ( not peanuts!) thrown in for good measure. Unlike the Paleo diet, any form of sweetner, or foods that are compliant, but resembling other foods, are out of the question. Read: alternative grain pancakes, breads or pastas etc.

Most of the time, it’s not so bad, but as the days wear on, it can get a bit dull. Couple that with not being a meat eater and it gets really dull. I thumb through recipe books to find interesting vegetable dishes, and dismiss many of them for having a non-compliant ingredient. Beans, grains, a little crumbled cheese or a drizzle of honey disqualifies the dish from Whole30 compliance. I’m not dying for a pizza, or a cookie; just a new texture, or flavor profile to break up the monotony of it all.

Today, I made a roasted beet hummus accompanied by a pile of raw vegetables to dip in it. The creamy consistancy, the beautiful magenta color and the jolt of tahini hit all of my senses in new way. It’s a great snack, and pairs well with a simple piece of broiled salmon, or a bowl of cold shrimp. Tahini, made of sesame seeds, is also a source of plant based protein. Although hummus is traditionally made from garbanzo beans ( chick peas), it is much like making pesto, where the main ingredient is easily changeable with interesting results.

Beet hummus with carrots and celery

Beet Hummus:

Scrub and trim 3 or 4 beets and toss them with olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.
Roast for about 1 hour at 375 degrees until they are easily pierced with a fork.

Once they are cool enough to handle, rub them gently to remove the skin. Place the beets in the bowl of the food processor with a clove or two of garlic, about 1/4 cup of tahini, and the juice of a lemon. Blend until smooth. Taste to correct flavors.
Beets vary in size, so you may need to add more tahini, lemon, salt or garlic depending on your taste.

Serve drizzled with a little olive oil and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds as a garnish if desired.


Check out our post on Cauliflower Hummus for another variation.

Photos by Glasshouse Images and indigo jones.

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Caramelizing Without a Blow Torch

March 7, 2017

Writing Kitchen Tips Tuesday gets tough after awhile. It is hard to come up with legitimate tips to share, week after week without running out of them. I just saw a video clip of this one, and it is definitely one we don’t all know and use on the reg.

When making things like meringues and creme brûlée, chef’s use a small kitchen blow torch to caramelize the sugar on top. I have placed things under the broiler in a pinch, but it takes constant watching, turning and stealth speed to make sure it doesn’t burn.

But what if you don’t own a small blow torch?

via Food Network

This tip, from Jeff Mauro of The Kitchen on The Food Network, uses a metal measuring cup to do the job. Sprinkle sugar on top of creme brulee, flan or even a lemon tart, heat a flat bottomed measuring cup on the stove, and carefully, using a pot holder to grab the hot handle, press the cup down on the sugared surface. You will hear a big sizzle, signaling that the sugar has melted and is fully caramelized.  Viola! A crisp caramel top without using any special equipment at all!

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Best Laid Plans

February 9, 2017


I am currently in the midst of a pink marshmallow nightmare. My fingertips have little tiny cuts on them, and all the scrubbing and soaking is not getting the chocolate out from under my fingernails. It’s Valentine’s Day, and I am happily inundated with orders for mostly heart shaped sweet treats. This morning, it took a little internal pep talk to get me up and out and ready to dive back into the task at hand. Here are a few of the tips and tricks I’m using to get through the latest holiday rush: (BTW, wasn’t the last holiday rush just a few weeks ago?)

These tips work whether you are shipping hundreds of s’mores, or planning a dinner party:


Mis en place: You’ve heard me mention this before, and although it has a little different format in this case, the concept still works. Mis en place, is a French term for “putting everything in it’s place.” For many chefs, that means having all of the washing, chopping and even some of the measuring done in advance. In this instance, that meant that I pre-ordered or puchased my ingredients ahead of time, and made all of my different doughs, (which can live nicely in the refrigerator for a few days) early in the week so that I just need to roll and bake them along the way.

Categorize: Rather than fill the orders one by one, I have been trying to make all the like items at once where possible. That means that all the fortune cookies are done, and I am finishing what I hope will be the last of the hot chocolate sticks, before starting the s’mores. Since my product is perishable, and there is a singular “due date”so it pretty much has to be done over the course of just a couple of days.

All the retail orders got shipped last week, and any orders that didn’t request waiting for Valentine’s delivery have been moving through, but it feels like for every order I shipped, 3 more grew back in it’s place. ( NOT COMPLAINING!)


Pick the most daunting task and get it done first: Right now, the hot chocolate sticks are my kryptonite. I have made a ton of them, and wiggling the chocolate out of the heart shaped cutter is slow and messy process. This morning, I am committed to getting all of the heart shaped ones finished off and packaged so I can move on to the next. Since I cut most of them last night, it’s just busy work that will feel so fulfilling once it is complete.

Make a list and check it twice. I keep going back through the orders and double checking them. I am down to the last 24 or so, but in checking them carefully last night, I realized that many of them not only had multiple items, but also multiple quantities. Because my individual elements (marshmallows, hot chocolate, dough etc. ) need to be made and allowed to set for many hours before using them, I need to make sure I am not caught short at the last minute. That means, don’t just check, but break it down. I figured out how many more marshmallows I needed across the various items, how many batches of chocolate, or dough, etc. For a dinner party, it might equate to how many onions and garlic cloves you can dice at once to be used across several dishes. Work smart.

Don’t put off for tomorrow, what you can do today. At midnight, when I finally finished up, I forced myself to replenish a couple of batches of marshmallows and some hot chocolate so it would be ready to use in the morning. I am so glad that I did. It frees up the pans for the next batches, and gives me something to work with without having to wait several hours to use them.

Give yourself the satisfaction of crossing things off that list! Somehow, crossing things off, or shipping things out and having the order leave the queue is very satisfying, and takes a little stress off as the list gets shorter.

Take mini breaks to keep productivity high. Check email, read the paper,have a snack,  or even take a 15 minute nap when you need it to keep yourself going for long periods of time. Sometimes hitting your personal reset button is all it takes to get refreshed and reinvigorated.

Promise yourself a treat when it’s over. Have something to set your sights on, even if it is as simple as sleeping in, having a glass of wine, or binging a new tv show. Give yourself something to look forward to, to keep you moving towards your goal.

What do you do to get through big projects at work or at home? Tell us in the comments.

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