Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Kitchen Organizing

January 13, 2017

The end of the year was a whirlwind for me, with 20 hour days in the kitchen and frenzied shopping for ingredients. Lack of time, and lack of patience, brought on by lack of sleep, left my kitchen in a state of disarray. It was technically clean. Scrupuously so. But when you get hit on the head with falling items everytime you open a cupboard, and you don’t have anymore canvas bags because you couldn’t fully unpack the groceries from the prior trip, it’s time to regroup.

I have a decent sized kitchen by New York City standards, and I have extra storage for serving pieces and sets of dishes. I even have an extra refrigerator, which is a godsend during busy times. Yet, my kitchen itself lacks a real pantry. With the need to always have stocked quantities of flours, sugars, nuts, dried fruit and assorted forms of chocolate, being organized so I can actually find what I need is a must.  Once I started buying flour and sugar in 50 pound bags, I knew it was time to retool my kitchen storage.

Canisters:

Canisters from Bed Bath and Beyond

Canisters from Bed Bath and Beyond

I was still using the set of terracotta cannisters that I got as a wedding gift. They were not only too small, but they weren’t airtight. Flour and sugar was constantly spilled on my shelves, and grimy fingerprints were visable, even if they were properly wiped down each night for hygiene purposes.

The fix: Large stainless steel canisters with latched lids now hold all-purpose flour, sugar and brown sugar. I will be returning to the store to get medium sized ones for wheat flour, and confectioner’s sugar. They sanitize easily, seal tightly, and are big enough that I am not lugging a huge bag around to refill them every hour. I can also get a large measuring cup into the canister to make scooping and measuring a breeze.

Wire bins:

Wire bins from Bed Bath and Beyond

Wire bins from Bed Bath and Beyond

I buy dried fruit and nuts in quantity, but often in small bags from Trader Joe’s. Those bags were all over the place, no matter how hard I tried to keep them organized.

The fix: Simple and inexpensive wire bins are the perfect size to hold all those bags, as well as boxes, and bags of chocolate. I can just reach in, or pull the whole bin out to find what I need. A piece of parchment as a liner allowed me to coral a selection of small items used for decoration, such as food coloring, sprinkles and candy melts.

Glass jars:

Glass jars for everything!

Glass jars for everything!

Open bags and oversized boxes can spill, or take up valuable space.

The fix: Pouring things into appropriately sized glass jars allow me to store things like spice blends, chocolate shavings and small, usable amounts of various salts and specialty sugars. They are reusable, free of BPAs, and easy to clean. The fact that they are transparent, makes it easy to see what is inside.

Labels:

Not my kitchen! But a girl can dream, right?

Not my kitchen! But a girl can dream, right?

Is it seasalt, or kosher salt? What percentage of cacao is that chocolate? Marking the jars and canisters makes it easy to tell.

The fix: While you could get nice labels to put on things, I have found that the chef’s trick of using tape works fine for me. Often, restaurants label foods in the refrigerator with blue tape to not only mark what is inside, but to note the date it was prepped to ensure freshness. I like plain old masking tape and a sharpie to mark my containers. It peels off easily, and provides a broad surface to write on.

My kitchen won’t be winning any design awards, and nobody will be saving photos of my cupboards on Pinterest. But they are now very organized and servicable, and got that way with a very meager investment.

Not my kitchen either. This person doesn't really cook. I'm sure of it!

Not my kitchen either. This person doesn’t really cook. I’m sure of it! But their pantry does look nice!

Now, if I can just keep it this way, I’ll be in good shape~

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Eggplant Gender

January 10, 2017

Two Eggplants in Round Bowl, High Angle View

Today’s tip comes from a client of mine who shared a tidbit learned when he studied at the CIA.

( The CIA he is referring to is the Culinary School of America, where he studied to be a chef, not a spy, he quickly pointed out.)

It seems there are both male and female eggplants, and the taste is different among the two genders. Who knew?!

via Plant-based Paradise

via Plant-based Paradise

The female eggplant has a long brownish slit-like indentation at the bottom. The male’s marking is more round. The male eggplant has less seeds and tends to be less bitter, making it a better choice for cooking, especially for dishes that are not heavily sauced.

Thanks for the tip, Bob!

photos: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Thursday: Dried Fruit

December 8, 2016

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What exactly is Kitchen Tips Thursday, you may be asking? It’s when I am too busy to get the post up in time to call it Kitchen Tips Tuesday! Better late than never, right?
Today’s tip is about using dried fruit in baking. Before you stop reading, this isn’t just about fruit cake. In fact, I have never made a fruit cake, nor have I even considered it. I do however make delicious scones, and oatmeal walnut cookies, both of which use dried fruit in different ways.

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For the scones, the dried fruit (usually cranberries, but sometimes raisins, currents, dried cherries, dried blueberries or combination there of) are tossed in flour before being mixed into the dough. This is to keep them separated, and prevent them from getting sticky. This technique is often used in muffins when the fruit is fresh, as in the case of blueberry muffins, for example, to allow the fruit to disperse within the batter, rather than drop down to the bottom. Both of these items have heartier dough, and allow the fruit to become imbedded into the scone or muffin, thus protecting it from the heat of the oven.

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The opposite is the case for the cookies. My recipe calls for the dried fruit ( they use the classic raisins, but I make mine with cranberries) to be soaked in lightly beaten eggs and vanilla for an hour before getting added to the dry ingredients. This makes them plumper and prevents them from sucking the life out of the delicate cookie dough during baking. A very dry raisin will try to seek hydration from the moisture in the cookie, and it can also end up almost petrified after baking dries it out further. This method takes a bit longer ( get it started and go do something else for an hour) but it is well worth it for the end result.

Happy holiday baking!!!

photos: Glasshouse Images

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How To Host A Successful Thanksgiving

November 21, 2016
The Jones Family

The Jones Family

When one of my favorite websites, The Kitchn, invited me to participate in their Thanksgiving video series, I jumped at the opportunity. But the real magic happened when my family wandered in, and reluctantly joined in on the fun.

While the content is as promised, what puts a smile on my face is seeing my family together as we really are; raw, authentic and very happy. In a time when many are feeling isolated, disenfranchised and afraid, looking at my multi-cultural and multi-racial family, gives me great joy, and for that I am thankful. This Thanksgiving, do not let fear or hatred cloud your thoughts. Family isn’t just about gene pools; it’s about love. I hope you can feel ours in this video.

This is us…

http://www.thekitchn.com/videos/p8Kj7Vly

Tips For Cooking the Best Thanksgiving

*Sorry, I can’t get the video to embed. Please click on the link to view.

Thank you Rebecca and team at The Kitchn + Apartment Therapy for letting us be part of your series.

Holy @#$%!!! Thanksgiving Is Next Week!

November 17, 2016

So here I am, the master of Thanksgiving organization, coming to the realization that I am a little behind the proverbial eight ball. If you are in that boat with me, no worries, there is still plenty of time to catch up.

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This kind of looks like me, but it’s not.

This week’s challenge, is to make grocery lists, and then break them down by perishable and non- perishable. Non- perishable items, (defined as those with a long shelf life that won’t go bad, such as flour, canned or packaged goods etc.) should be purchased as soon as possible, to get that chore out of the way. Don’t assume you have flour, or baking powder, just because you always do. Check and make sure you have more than enough. This is not the time for quick jaunts to the supermarket in the midst of cooking. Check, right down to the salt and pepper. You will thank me for this later.

If you are at all like me, break those lists down by store. I go to a variety of different places to get what I need. You may be able to do one stop shopping and skip this step. If so, lucky you! I am legit envious. If you have a car, I’m positively green with envy!

1635400409_compOrder your turkey. If you have never had a fresh turkey, please give one a try. It costs more, but the flavor and juiciness is beyond comparison to a frozen bird. And they aren’t factory farmed, injected with hormones, and fed GMO grains. It simply tastes better, is better for you and in some strange way, better for the turkey. I am in New York and use DiPaula Turkey Farms, who have pickup locations at various Farmer’s Markets around the city. I go to Union Square.  Local butcher shops usually have them as well but they all require pre-ordering.

Did you get your dishes and linens organized last week? I didn’t either. If not, do it this week. We have a large group and actually had to purchase another folding table to accommodate them. But I haven’ t checked for napkins and chairs yet. Don’t wait.

Are your linens clean and ironed? Turn on the TV or Netflix, pull out that ironing board and do it now. Trust me, you don’t want to do it Thursday. Even better, get someone else to do it now. ( If you live in my house, you know who you are!)

 

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Now for the fun part; the cooking!
I rarely freeze food, but a few things actually benefit from their stay in cold storage. Make them this weekend, and they will be your best friends, ready and waiting when you need them, and don’t have time to make them. These items include pie and tart crusts, which I roll and freeze well wrapped in the pans I plan to bake them in. For my pie toppers, I cut the strips, braids and shapes ( leaves and flowers) in advance and freeze them on a baking tray. Once this stuff is frozen, you can stack them, making room for other items. You can and should, bake these while frozen. It cuts down substantially on crust shrinkage and adds little or no extra baking time.

Biscuits also freeze well unbaked, and are great to make in advnce. Freeze them on a cookie sheet, and then toss them into a freezer bag until needed. These also go into the oven frozen.

This is the one I'm serving. I added a few homemade croutons. Cube the bread and freeze it now!

This is the one I’m serving. I added a few homemade croutons. Cube the bread and freeze it now!

If you make soups, they also freeze well.  If you are planning a cream soup, leave the dairy out until the last minute. Freeze the non- dairy soup, thaw it in the refrigerator, and then once it is heated prior to serving, mix in the cream. I do a butternut squash and pumpkin soup without cream, and then add a dollop of creme fraiche to each serving, It’s an elegant touch, and allows you to really taste the seasonal flavors and not cream. It’s less rich before a heavy meal.

Think about decor. Will you be doing flowers, candles or some elaborate thing with pinecones and gourds? Figure it out now. Buy the candles, bleach the pinecones and decide where the flowers are coming from, and what you will put them in. If you are making placecards, you can do them now. I actually print out menus every year. ( I know,  it’s a bit much, but it’s only once a year so why not?) Don’t feel pressured by Pinterest. It’s ok to order flowers, or grab them while you’re in Trader Joe’s. If your is anything like mine, you will be standing in a check out line that snakes to the front of the store, allowing you to pick them up while you’re standing there anyways.

I am off to take my own advice, and get this underway, before the pie orders come in and I’m overwhelmed again.

Next up: Cooking and setting up for the big meal. Get your pre-work done, and get some rest while you can.

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Thanksgiving Prep: List Making

November 8, 2016

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Now that election day is here, and we can begin to cleanse our palettes of all the nastiness and hatred that accompanied it, it’s time shift our focus to THANKSGIVING! With only 16 days to go, there are lists to be made, and pre-work to be done, to make the big day way less stressful than political campaigns we just lived through.

Over the next 2 weeks, we will be sharing our preparations with you, so you can get ready for the Superbowl of Cooking right along with us.

Today’s project is a big one, but it sets us up for success. It’s all about planning and making lists.

First, grab yourself a folder; real, or digital and mark it “Thanksgiving 2016”. Whatever lists you make, and recipes you gather will live in this folder.

Start your list making:

First and foremost, make a guest list and invite people however you choose. Emails, phone calls or letter pressed invitations are all fine. Make this as casual or as formal as you like. Keeping a guest list will allow you to have an accurate headcount so you are sure to have enough food, drinks, placesettings and chairs for everyone that is coming. And if your house is like ours, be prepared to take in a few “Thanksgiving Orphans “at the last minute.

Next, plan the menu. Write down every course, and if you are sharing the cooking with some of your guests, assign dishes to each of them now. Put their name next to the dish they are reponsible for right on your menu so you don’t need to worry about it.

Gather your recipes. Now is the perfect time to pull out all of the recipes you will be using for the meal. Many cooking websites and magazines are overflowing with Thanksgiving recipes, so if you want to try something new, or you don’t have a favorite recipe for something, now is your chance to do a little research. Place the recipes into your folder as you find them.

Now that you have your menu and headcount, it’s time to check to see if you have all the serving dishes, utensils and place settings to accommodate everyone. Think about table cloths, napkins and extra tables and chairs if necessary. Check for serving dishes, and oven to table dishes for things that require them, Arrange to borrow what you don’t have, or go out and purchase it now, before things get hectic. Trust us, you don’t want to be scrambling around at the last minute, when you need to be home cooking. You know where we are going with this one: make a list of what you need and plan to get it all by the end of next weekend.

Once all of your lists are made, place them in your Thanksgiving folder. We will be referring to all of this later in the week.

Happy Planning!!!

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Unrecipe of the Week: Eggplant With Yogurt + Pomegranate Seeds

October 19, 2016

epicurious

Last week, I was looking for a few great side dishes that were hearty enough, and interesting enough for a vegetarian to eat in lieu of the racks of lamb that I was serving to the carnivores. After searching through famed chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s book “Plenty,” I stumbled upon his recipe for roasted eggplant with a buttermilk yogurt sauce, topped with za’atar and pomegranate seeds. It fit all of my criteria and then some. It was special enough to stand on it’s own. It had seasonal elements, was healthy, and full of flavor. The cool buttermilk yogurt sauce was smooth and creamy against the texture of the roasted eggplant, and the pomegranate added a touch of sweet crunch. The fact that it came together quickly was a bonus. It’s no wonder that Mr. Ottolenghi chose this for the cover recipe of his book!

roasted eggplant

roasted eggplant

Roasted Eggplant With Buttermilk Sauce adapted from “Plenty”:

Split 4 small eggplants vertically. Brush with olive oil until the pieces are fully saturated. The oil eggplant will absorb the oil, so be liberal with it. Sprinkle the halves with thyme leaves and salt and pepper. Roast in a 350-400 degree oven for about 30 minutes until the flesh is soft and they are nicely browned. Allow them to cool slightly.

For the sauce, whisk together 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt with about 8 or 9 tablespoons of buttermilk and 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil. Stir in 1 clove of garlic, minced as finely as possible, or pressed in a garlic press, and a pinch of salt.

To serve, spoon the sauce over the eggplant halves, sprinkle them with za’atar* and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle with olive oil and enjoy!

*Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice mix. It is available at specialty markets, and it is also easy to make at home.

Za’atar:

Combine about 1 tablespoon each of oregano, ground cumin, salt, pepper, and sesame seeds. Many people also use sumac, but I didn’t have any and I didn’t miss it!

Photo: top: Epicurious | bottom: indigo jones

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Food Saftey For Power Outages

October 18, 2016

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With all of the storms we are experiencing this season, power outages are probable in many parts of the country. How that effects food safety can be determined by a little logic, and a simple trick.
Should you experience a power outage, it is important to open the freezer and refrigerator as little as possible, to avoid letting any warm air in, or allowing the cold air to escape. If the power outage is not too long, it’s possible that some of your foods can be saved. Keeping a thermometer in the refrigerator is the best indicator of potential spoilage.

The safe temperature in a refrigerature is below 40 degrees, and below 34 degrees for fish. If the temperature outside is in that range, you are safe place your food items outdoors; properly wrapped, of course. Although the freezing point is 32 degrees, the freezer should be kept at zero degrees or below for optimum storage saftey. Frozen foods should be only kept outdoors when the temperature is more extreme, and the foods are well protected. Freezer burn occurs when the food is exposed to cold air, not temperature.

Lately, the internet is buzzing with this tip, and it is one worth sharing.
When a storm is imminent, freeze a cup of water, and place a quarter on top, and leave it in your freezer.

When you open the freezer, if the quarter is sitting on top, it means the water didn’t thaw and the food you had in the freezer likely didn’t thaw either.

If the quarter is at the bottom of the cup, that indicates that the water thawed, forcing the coin to the bottom. Partial thawing would have allowed the coin to submerge, and then refreeze, placing the coin elsewhere in the cup.  In either case, the food in the freezer should be thrown away to avoid causing illness.

If you have a way to cook during the power outage, via a gas stove or an outdoor grill, it is the best way to salvage frozen food that is thawing. Just remember to eat it and toss the leftovers, , as the cooked food will require refrigeration.

It is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to food safety.

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Sow Your Oats

October 6, 2016

Oatmeal is a breakfast staple. We have instant oats, overnight oats, oatmeal bars, and good old fashioned Quaker oats in the iconic cardboard canister.

Oatmeal is a great way to start the day, as it is full of healthy fiber, and protein. Classic toppings tend to err on the sweet side, with fruit, nuts, and brown sugar being the most popular. This can cause spikes in blood sugar, and depending on how much of sweet stuff you are using, it can turn your healthy breakfast into a calorie bomb.

Maybe it’s time to rethink the oats, by creating savory versions that are filling and nutritionally balanced. These taste so good, you might want to consider oatmeal for dinner!

Cookie+ Kate topped thier savory oats with an egg and a pile of greens.savory-steel-cut-oatmeal-recipe

Healthy Nibbles and Bits mixed in peppers and onions before adding white cheddar cheese and topping it with an egg.

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The Full Helping’s mushroom, kale and miso oatmeal has us drooling!

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The Mija Chronicle’s oatmeal has a Thai influence, using peanuts, cilantro and ginger as flavoring.img_80491

Healthy foodie Mark Bittman tosses scallions and soy sauce into his morning oats, as he pursues his goal of eating a vegan diet by day, and carnivorous one by night.

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The Oatmeal Artist uses butternut squash in their take on the concept, as well as other versions on their oatmeal exclusive blog.

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I’m inspired! What will you add to your oatmeal?

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Greasing + Flouring A Bundt Pan

October 4, 2016

Often, recipes call for greasing and flouring the baking pan. Normally, I line my pans with parchment paper, but in the case of bundt pans and other elaborately etched cake pans, parchment is not an option.

It is critical to get not only the butter or oil, but the also flour, into every nook and cranny of the pan, to ensure that the cake comes out easily,without chunks of flour on it, or bare spots where the cake got stuck to the pan. This can take a bit of shaking and patting, in an attempt to get the flour evenly distributed. It’s not foolproof, and can be a bit messy.

indigo jones eats | sour cream coffee cake

indigo jones eats | sour cream coffee cake

I use cooking spray to grease my pans, as it gives the best light and even coverage. I am not a fan of the baking spray that also flours the pans. It tends to glob up a bit, and gives less than stellar results.

Celebrity chef Alton Brown has a genius solution to this dilemma, and it is one I intend to use myself. He sprays the bundt pan with cooking spray (I like to use coconut oil spray) and then puts the flour in the bottom of the pan. Next, he covers the pan with plastic wrap, and secures it with a heavy duty rubber band. Then, he turns it upside down and shakes vigorously until the pan is perfectly and evenly coated. No mess, no wasted flour, and even better, no clumps or bare spots.

Thanks Alton!!!

Photo: Glasshouse Images

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