Sunday, June 29, 2008

Daring Bakers' Challenge: Danish Braid

This month's Daring Bakers' Challenge is hosted by Kelly of Sass & Veracity, and Ben of What’s Cookin’? and is Danish Braid. Have you ever made croissants? This is nearly the same intensity in folding and turning and rolling. Time-intensive, but so worth it!

I didn't have any problems with butter oozing out or falling out in pieces, but I had a tiny little advantage in that I've done this before, numerous times in culinary school. We made danish and croissant until our hands cramped! I love the result of that effort, though.

I chose the apple filling for mine, and the recipe can be found HERE or HERE. If you do try this yourself, keep in mind that sealing the edges of the dough around the butter before the first fold helps it to stay put. Also, the chilling time in-between can be more than 30 minutes depending on the weather in your area. Humidity plays a huge factor in all baking, so keep and eye on that, as well.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

LOK/CWA Challenge

This isn't due until Monday, June 30th, and I am not allowed to submit anything, but I did take up this challenge on myself and wanted to share what I did for inspiration in case anyone needs it.

This month's challenge was based on one that Chef Eric Ripert also faced. You can read about his challenge HERE, but I'll sum it up for you. Unlike the challenge that we've put up, his challenge was to make meals using food from a 99 cent store that sold more than dry goods. The store happened to be Jack's 99-Cent Store where one can evidently purchase things like cheese tortelloni, gumball-size mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, frozen crab cakes, canned coconut milk, jasmine rice and salmon filets.

My local Dollar Tree doesn't have a refrigerated or frozen section, so my choices were severely limited. Meat, for instance, was a toss up of potted meat, Vienna sausages, chicken salad or Treet, Armour's version of Spam.

There was quite a bit of pasta to choose from, but I swore that I wouldn't take the "easy way out" with this and cook up spaghetti. Although the challenge doesn't state this, I was determined not to use any pantry items. I always have Balsamic vinegar on hand, but I wanted it for this challenge, so I bought it instead of using my own. I also really wanted Parmesan cheese for the entree, but because it wasn't sold at my particular store, I went without.

Here are the 15 ingredients I did purchase:

Left to right:

Roasted red peppers, California ripe olives, green olives stuffed with pimiento, marinated mushrooms, chicken bouillon, white rice, Balsamic vinegar, Mandarin oranges, Treet (2 cans), collard greens (2 cans), chocolate stars, raspberry preserves and pear halves.

Not a lot to work with, but I figured it out as I went and hoped for the best.

Here's what I made:

My appetizer was Roasted Red Peppers with Marinated Mushrooms and Olives. I drained the liquid from the olives and peppers and tossed everything with the mushrooms and their liquid (which had some nice chunks of garlic in it) and baked it for half an hour. This is a spin-off of an appetizer I make often where I toss several types of olives together with olive oil, garlic and herbs and then wrap in foil and bake. This was close, but not nearly as good. It was OK, but I won't be making it again.

My entree was Treet canned "ham" marinated in mandarin oranges and balsamic vinegar and then baked. I made a "risotto" from the chicken bouillon and rice. Keep in mind, this is risotto in method only; the ingredients are nothing like what is necessary for really good risotto. I also served collard greens. I was so intrigued by the fact that these were there in a can that I couldn't let it go and gave in and bought them. Collards and ham or bacon go very well together, so I figured with the "ham" they wouldn't be too bad. This whole plate was rather yucky. The rice took on the traditional creaminess of risotto, but powdered bouillon made it so salty that it was hard to eat. The "ham" was mushy so I sliced it and then pan fried it to add a bit of a crust to it and that helped a little. The collard greens? Well, they're canned and I like my collard with a little crunch left, so these weren't good to me at all. The flavor was a bit bland as well.

Dessert! Well, this may be my one redeeming dish. I baked the pears in their liquid and then melted the chocolate stars, warmed the raspberry preserves and topped off the pears. Not only was it pretty, it wasn't half bad tasting!

So, this was my foray into a completely non-fresh meal and I'm thankful it's over! The total for 4 meals was $15. The june CWA/LOK Cooking Challenge can be found HERE.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Product Review: Mott's

We had a chance to try out Mott's for Tots juices and Mott's Plus applesauce recently and this is what we thought.

When my younger children drink juice I usually cut it with water at a rate of about 50/50. Mott's for Tots has already done that for me. We had apple and fruit punch and the kids sucked them down like every other juice box we've ever tried. As far as they were concerned, it was just the same, in fact I think they asked for it a little more often than mom's doctored juice. For us, thumbs up!

If you check out their website, there are Printable Coupons for $1 off two Mott's products for kids.

  • Available in multi-serve bottles, as well as nine-packs of individual juice boxes
  • Four delicious flavors to choose from
  • Convenient pre-diluted juices, made of 100% juice and purified water
  • 40% less sugar than regular juices
  • No artificial sweeteners
  • 100% vitamin C

  • *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
    Mott's Plus applesauce isn't necessarily for kids, but they all tried it and loved it as well. I like the flavors and the added health benefits of each. I didn't get to do it yet, but I bet baked goods made with flavored applesauce would be a good thing. I'll keep you posted on that! This was another thumbs up from us!

  • No added sugar
  • Harvest Apple flavor fortified with calcium
  • Pomegranate flavor fortified with antioxidants
  • Cranberry Raspberry flavor fortified with fiber
  • Product Review: Frito Lay's new Pinch of Salt Snacks

    Frito-Lay recently unveiled a new line of snacks called Pinch of Salt.

    The new Pinch of Salt line checks in at 30 to 50 percent less sodium than the original snacks at 75 mg per one-ounce serving. They come in four types: Lay’s Classic Potato Chips, Ruffles Potato Chips, Tostitos Tortilla Chips and Fritos Corn Chips.

    We tried the Ruffles Potato Chips and we really liked them. I have one kid who couldn't keep her hands off of them and I thought they tasted far more potato-ey (I know that's not a word) with less salt - that's a good thing! We didn't miss the salt at all and I'm looking forward to trying the other flavors, as well.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008

    Veggie Wednesday: Hummus and Tomato Melt

    Hummus and Tomato Melt
    Hummus and Tomato Melt

    We all have things we eat that we love but are for some reason afraid to share. Maybe people will think it's 'weird' or maybe it's just too simple to be thought of as something that anyone else would eat. This is one of those things, and I'm not sure why I haven't shared it. I'll give in and share this time.

    I have these often for lunch or a late breakfast. More often than not I use plum tomatoes and the hummus and cheese varies. This was today's breakfast (shared with two small noseminers).

    Hummus and Tomato Melt
    Printable Recipe

    1 whole wheat pita or flatbread
    2 Tablespoons roasted red pepper hummus
    3 slices ripe tomato
    2 Tablespoons shredded Monterey jack/Colby blend cheese
    Mrs. Dash Garlic and Herb seasoning

    Spread the pita or flatbread with hummus, top with tomatoes, sprinkle with cheese and add Mrs. Dash to taste. Heat in the microwave until cheese is melted - my microwave takes 1 minute to do this.

    Monday, June 23, 2008

    Royal Foodie Joust Entry: Gingered Pork Wontons

    This month's Royal Foodie Joust ingredients had me excited at first; and then I had too much time to think. I got to the store today and told my oldest daughter what the three ingredients were and asked her opinion on them. She drew a blank as well as I because of the butter.

    You see, the three ingredients are ginger, apricots and butter. I've been baking quite a bit lately and didn't feel like a pastry was in the cards for me, so I was going a savory route. The butter ... the butter kept throwing me. Salad; no - what would I do with the butter? A steak with gingered butter; nah, not inventive enough.

    So, my frustrated eldest sighed and said, "OK, pretend it's a 'Quick-Fire'." If you don't watch Top Chef, you won't know what that is. It's the short segment at the beginning of each episode where the chefs are given a quick assignment and a short time-span in which to finish. I laughed and told her that after an hour and a half of milling around Whole Foods I would be disqualified.

    I feared my cries of, "I am SO in this month!" would be all for naught and I would have to sit this one out.

    Then, as we walked past the wonton wrappers, instant inspiration struck and I raced off for the rest of my foodstuffs. Here, then, is the culmination of all that angsty brain work. By the way, each and every one of my kids thought these were just the best. I think they're pretty good, too.

    Gingered Pork Wontons with Apricot Plum Sauce
    Printable Recipe

    16 ounces ground pork
    1 inch peeled ginger
    2 cloves garlic
    3 tablespoons brewed soy sauce
    2 tablespoons sliced green onion
    48 wonton wrappers
    oil for frying

    Mince together ginger and garlic until it almost forms a paste.
    Mix this with pork, soy and green onion.
    Drop a teaspoonful of pork mixture on each wonton and close diagonally, sealing with a small amount of water. Fry each in hot oil until golden brown. Serve with Apricot Plum Sauce.

    Apricot Plum Sauce

    4 tablespoons butter
    1 inch peeled ginger, cut into 4 thick slices
    1/2 cup dried apricots, diced
    3 black plums, pitted and diced - skin on
    1 tablespoon honey
    1/4 cup orange juice
    1 tablespoon fresh cilantro - minced

    Melt butter over very low heat.
    Add ginger and simmer until fragrant - about 5 minutes.
    Toss in apricots and plums, stir and continue simmering until apricots are soft and fruits begin to caramelize.
    Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
    Once cooled, puree with honey, orange juice and cilantro until smooth.
    Run through a fine sieve and reheat just until warm.

    Some days there's nothing that satisfies better ...

    There's Still Time!

    There's still time to join in on this month's Lots of Kids/Cooking with Anne Cooking Challenge! You don't want to miss this one, it's a challenge that Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin himself faced (OK, he had a little more leeway).

    You can check out all the details HERE or HERE. Have fun!

    Sunday, June 22, 2008

    Cream Puffs

    Cream puffs (profiteroles) are one of the many wonderful inventions given to the world by the French. They are at once elegant and simple. The best part of a cream puff is the fact that they are so easy to make. So easy that I really should make them more often.

    Pâte à choux is the basis of any cream puff and is like no other dough. It is a soft and light pastry dough also used to make eclairs, beignets and gougères to name just a few.

    A mere 4 (5 if you count salt) ingredients make one of the most delicious and widely recognized desserts ever. How easy is this process? Let me show you...

    The four ingredients: 4 eggs, 1 cup flour, 1 cup water, 1/2 cup butter.

    Melt butter (in that same heavy, pitted aluminum pan).

    Add water and bring to a boil.

    Pour in all the flour all at once with a 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

    Stir until a ball of dough forms. Remove from heat for 5 minutes.

    Add eggs, one at a time, and mix with a wooden spoon (or a blue rubber spatula) until completely mixed in. Do this quickly so the eggs don't cook.

    Drop dough onto a lined and greased cookie sheet (I like parchment, but ran out - foil works fine) by heaping tablespoonsful. I got 14 little ones this time, but the recipe really calls for 10.

    Baked for 30 minutes in a 400 degree F oven, these are the finished puffs. Let them cool completely before handling.

    Cut in half and fill with your choice of cream. Here, I used vanilla cream. Top with sliced strawberries and a little more cream to hold the top on.

    Chocolate cream and strawberries.

    I cheated on the cream end, using pudding mix made with 1 cup of milk. Once the pudding set I whipped a cup of heavy cream stiff and then folded it into the pudding. Cheating or not, it was actually very good.

    Friday, June 20, 2008

    Brain Food, Anyone?

    While I normally do reviews for food products and the like, I was given the chance to try out several software titles geared toward building and maintaining intelligence. I'll be 40 in August, and while that itself isn't normally a concern as far as memory loss is concerned, I take care of 8 other people daily, and that coupled with age can wreak havoc on your mind.

    So, I decided I'd accept these games and give them a whirl. I really like these. I've sat here for several hours since I received them and played games, taken tests and learned.

    I took IQ and Career Aptitude tests and what I really like about them is you don't just get a 'right' or 'wrong' answer; you're actually told what the correct answer is and why. For an inquisitive type like me, that's a huge bonus. It also is fundamental to learning.

    Beyond Core Mind Builder and Core Mind Builder Pro, I also was able to test a copy of corefx Three Level; FUN! The kids are having a blast with this one. It takes basic computer drawing to a whole new level with more stamps, drawing mediums and extras than I've seen on any software of this kind.

    Check out the website for more info and demos.

    Do I feel smarter? Yeah, a little. I mean, I've only been looking at this for a few weeks, but my guess is that if you have time to set aside a few times a week for a month or so, you'll definitely be building some serious brain power!

    Thursday, June 19, 2008

    Taffy Apple Cheesecake Pie

    Taffy Apple Cheesecake Pie

    This was a winning recipe in the Pillsbury 36th Annual Bake-Off of 1994 made by Mary Ann Sasso of Franklin Park, Illinois. I made it way back then and several times since. I don't do it too often because it is rather time-consuming for a pie and there are a lot of ingredients. I wanted to post it anyway with photos so that maybe someone else will see it as not-too-difficult and give it a try.

    Melting butter with brown sugar - my kind of multi-tasking.

    Adding sliced apples.

    Apples cooked until tender and slightly caramelized.
    Cream cheese and brown sugar.

    Half of the caramel mixture added to the cream cheese mixture.
    Half of the caramel mixture added to the apples.
    Pecans and chocolate chips. I know the recipe calls for 'finely chopped chocolate chips', but to me that's like trying to stab a Super-ball without holding it down.
    Apples in the pie crust.
    Topped with chocolate chips and pecans.
    Topped with cream cheese mixture before sending off to the oven.


    Taffy-Apple Cheesecake Pie
    Serves 8-10
    Printable Recipe



    2 tablespoons butter, or margarine
    1/2 cup brown sugar, light, firmly packed
    4 medium apples, cored, thinly sliced, about 5 cups
    21 caramels, unwrapped
    1/4 cup cream, half and half
    8 ounces cream cheese, softened
    1/2 cup brown sugar, light, firmly packed
    1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
    1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    1 egg

    Single pie crust

    1/2 cup milk chocolate chips, finely chopped
    3/4 cup pecans, finely chopped

    8 ounces whipped topping
    1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice


    In a skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar stirring constantly.

    Add apples; cook and stir 12 to 15 minutes or until apples are
    caramel in color and tender.

    Set aside.

    Drain if necessary.

    In top of double boiler or in medium heavy saucepan over low
    heat, melt caramels with half-and-half until mixture is smooth,
    stirring frequently.

    Keep warm.

    In small bowl, beat cream cheese and 1/2 cup brown sugar
    until light and fluffy.

    Add 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, vanilla and egg; beat
    until blended.

    Prepare pie crust according to package directions for one-
    crust filled pie using 10-inch deep dish pie pan or 9-inch
    springform pan (refrigerate remaining crust for a later use).

    Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

    Fold half of caramel mixture into cream cheese mixture.

    Add apple mixture to remaining caramel mixture; mix well.

    Spoon apple caramel mixture into crust-lined pan.

    In small bowl, combine topping ingredients; reserve 2
    tablespoons mixture.

    Sprinkle remaining mixture over apple mixture.

    Top with caramel cream cheese mixture, Bake at 375 degrees F for 35 to 45 minutes or until deep golden brown and filling is set.

    Cool completely.

    Refrigerate 30 minutes or until cold.

    Fold 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice into whipped topping.

    Pipe or spoon mixture onto pie; sprinkle with reserved 2
    tablespoons topping.

    Store in refrigerator.

    Tip: to prepare caramel filling in microwave, in small microwave
    -safe bowl, combine caramels and half-and-half.

    Microwave on HIGH for 1 1/2 to 2 minute stirring once halfway
    through cooking.

    Stir until smooth.

    Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    Veggie Wednesday: Grow Your Own - III

    My garden is coming along nicely, if a little slowly. We don't get a whole lot of sun in the backyard, but I won't let that deter me from growing what I can. Here are some photos of what's going on out there:

    This is baby leaf lettuce. I start them out close together, and when it's time to thin them, the baby lettuces are the perfect size to harvest and eat. I let the rest stay in the ground until they're big enough to pick.

    Zucchini plants doing well. I'm hoping the earwigs leave it alone this year.

    Parsley on the upward climb. I can't wait for this to really get going.

    A brand new green bean. These have come a long way since that first week!

    While I'm out checking on the garden and minding my own business, this furry little guy starts chattering away at me and seeming very annoyed that I'm anywhere near his home. He just needs to stay away from my greens.

    Wednesday, June 11, 2008

    Veggie Wednesday: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

    Have you seen Mark Bittman's newest tome? This thing, like all his previous works, is huge. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is 996 pages of every little thing you would ever possibly need to know about vegetarian cooking - and then some.

    In his usual casual and non-preachy style, Mark Bittman shares the basic, the not-so-basic and everything else in this fabulous all-you'll-ever-need-to-cook-vegetarian resource. It's not wordy, fluffy or filled up with extras; just straightforward and honest.

    There aren't any full-color photos, but rather simple and effective line drawings placed throughout the book to help demonstrate techniques. I know it's hard to believe such a large book could in any way be simple, but it is. It's not more than you need to know, and certainly not less. Oh, and the recipes? Delicious; as expected.

    In summation, just two words: Get it.

    Monday, June 09, 2008

    Restaurant Review: Outback Steakhouse

    Before last night, I had never been to Outback Steakhouse. I know; How is that possible? Our server actually laughed and didn't believe me at first, but it's true. So, when I was offered a gift card to try it out and give a review, I jumped at the chance. It's OBSH's 20th Anniversary! Twenty years, and I hadn't been there. It was high time I stopped in to check it out.

    We went to the Outback Steakhouse here in Bethlehem, Pa and this is how our dining experience rated.
    Scaling is 1 for Poor and 5 for Excellent so the total Perfect Score for any restaurant would be 25.

    Parking - 5 - Keep in mind it was a Sunday evening, so we basically had our choice of parking spots.

    Ambiance - 4 1/2 - The only thing keeping this from a 5 was the lighting - it was a little dark, but that's a good thing when it's just two of you. Everything was clean and shiny and I wasn't bothered by other conversations going on in the restaurant, so the sound aspect was good.

    Service - 4 - This would have been an easy 5 if the service had been consistent. We had the nicest waiter - Jarrett H. - but we didn't have him the whole time. We had three other servers drop off various parts of our dinner and they were all super nice so they get a solid 4 for service.

    Food - 3 - I really, really wanted this to be a 5, especially after the appetizers. My companion had Grilled Shrimp on the Barbie and I had Gold Coast Coconut Shrimp. Both were excellent, perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned and at just the right temp. The grilled shrimp came with a remoulade sauce that was very good, but my companion said the shrimp were so good as-is that he didn't even need to salt them, and that's saying a lot since he's a real salt-oholic. The Creole-marmalade that came with my shrimp was to-die-for and my companion kept stealing it to put on the bread that was served with our drinks (which was also awesome). I was so wowed, that I expected it to continue on to the entrees.

    I ordered Grilled Shrimp Caesar Salad and my companion ordered the Bacon Cheese Burger with Swiss Cheese, medium-well. He was going to order medium, but when the server said "a little pink inside", he changed his mind and went for a bit more done.

    When my salad came, it looked odd and I couldn't figure out why at first until I realized that there were no croutons- a must for Caesar and also part of the menu description billed as "hand-cut". I did eventually find them all buried in a little pile under one side of the salad. I don't know if the dressing was bottled or not, but there was so much garlic in it that it was very hot. I love lots of garlic, don't get me wrong, but I won't be breathing near anyone for a week, and that much garlic in a Caesar isn't the norm.

    My companion didn't do so well on the burger front, either - his burger was too done and dry and he only ate about half of it. I was thoroughly bummed out because they had started so strong with the appetizers.

    Pricing - 4 - We ordered cheaper meals, so our total was $57, but if we'd actually ordered a steak from the steakhouse, our total would have been that just for entrees. So, for this cheap Scot, the pricing for value gets a 4.

    Total for Outback Steakhouse? 19 1/2 out of a possible 25.

    The bottom line? I'd go again, but I'd order a different entree, and go with my own instincts about burger doneness.

    OBSH Gift Card provided by Charlie Kondek of MS&L. This is not a paid product endorsement.

    Sunday, June 08, 2008

    My Favorite Food Magazine

    I read a lot of food and cooking magazines and while I like many of them, I truly love Saveur. Here are just a few of the reasons why:

    1. They vindicate me and strip away my guilt;

    I can now proudly say that I have been washing mushrooms for years.

    I no longer feel like a lazy git for being happy about my Christmas gift of an Electric Carving Knife ('First' article by Dana Bowen).

    2. Their photos make me want to dive into the page and eat through to the other side.

    3. They scour the planet to come up with the most unusual out-of-the-way wonders ever.

    4. The cookbook reviews have caused me to buy several new books; this can be seen as good or bad, depending on my fiscal situation at the time.

    5. The recipes. I don't even know where to start. You must go and have a look for yourself. From the familiar to the obscure, and everything in-between.

    6. There is no fear in sharing recipes that use lard, publishing an entire issue about pasta, steak or butter, or revealing regional snacks that may not be very good for you, but are too good not to share.

    7. The Saveur 100 issues.

    They are a magazine after my very heart. There isn't one article I don't read, and each captivates me and takes me somewhere new or calls to me with a familiarity that feels like a well-worn and much-loved blanket. If I'm not learning from the pages within, I'm nodding in agreement and astounded that there are others alive that think about food the way I do. I'll never stop reading.

    Wednesday, June 04, 2008

    LOK/CWA Cooking Challenge for June, 2008

    The newest Lots of Kids/Cooking with Anne challenge is up! This month is the Dollar Store Challenge. Check out the rules for this event HERE or HERE. Good luck!

    Monday, June 02, 2008

    Sunday Dinner - Al fresco!

    Under a honey locust tree, no less. If you have one of these horrid trees in or near your yard, you'll be wondering what on earth I was thinking yesterday. Well, it was a day-after-the-storm day, which means sunny skies and light winds, perfect weather. I couldn't let it pass by without a picnic, but I didn't want to drag the entire family somewhere only to spend the whole day chasing the two youngest kids away from every imaginable danger.

    So, we took the dining room table outdoors (not doing THAT again for a decade) and set it up on the lawn. As soon as we set it down it began raining tiny little green things - the little green things that are covering the top of the shed and car and obscuring my garden. Yes, those little things. They make you itch. They come with little green bugs attached sometimes. They are not good.

    We traipsed back indoors to find something to cover the eating area with. We finally found a large sheet and thin ropes and went about setting it all up. That done, I finished off our loverly dinner and we ran from door to table before anything could land in the food. We were successful. We were proud. And then the wind blew.

    Ah well, we picked and swept and blew our way through dinner and everyone went away full and content (and itchy).

    This is what we supped on:

    Fried Chicken (mom's recipe)
    Roasted Red Potatoes
    Vidalia Onion Pie
    Cucumber Salad
    Homemade Coleslaw (Well, isn't everything I make homemade? I write a food blog! Redundant, no? Onward...)
    White Sweet Corn
    Rhubarb Crumble with Vanilla Custard

    Vidalia Onion Pie

    Chicken and Red Potatoes

    Kids lovin' the outdoor dining!

    Recipes are linked where necessary, and this is the onion pie:

    Four Corners Vidalia Onion Casserole
    Printable Recipe

    3 cups finely chopped Vidalia onion
    3/4 stick unsalted butter
    1/2 can cream of chicken soup
    2 eggs
    1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese - grated
    hot sauce, pepper, dill, parsley and creole seasoning - all to taste
    shredded sharp cheddar cheese - enough to cover each layer
    single shallow pie crust

    Lightly brown onions in butter in a large frying pan. Stir in soup, eggs, Parmesan and seasonings. Layer the pie crust alternately with several layers of onions and cheddar - ending with cheddar. Bake at 325 degrees F until cheese is light brown - about 1 hour.

    **I did this with an unbaked crust and sliced the onions rather than chopping. It was DELICIOUS!