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Thursday, December 22, 2011

In Search of Powdered Sugar

A couple of weeks ago, my cousin called while making gingerbread men in need of a last minute icing. Her problem - she had no powdered sugar. Flash forward 2 hours, I got to thinking that I bet a lot of people run into this issue. It could possibly be a pandemic this time of year.

Given that I knew a solution, who was I to not share it with the masses? Well, the Norwegian butter epidemic hit and I forgot...but now I've remembered.

So, what are you to do when you have no powdered sugar and you simply *must* have it?

Whip out your coffee grinder or food processor, pour in some granulated sugar and grind or process it into a powdered sugar oblivion making your own, of course.

This will take about 3-5 minutes depending on the amount of sugar and the quality of your blade.

Now, my cousin owns neither grinder nor food processor so her gingerbread men attended the party sans-clothing, but that's besides the point...
Powdered Sugar (aka Confectioners' Sugar, Icing Sugar)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Settling the Dispute - Yam vs. Sweet Potato

As it is the season in which they shine most brightly, let's settle this dispute once and for all. Allow me to clarify - A yam is NOT (bolded, underlined and italicized just for clarity) a sweet potato.

A real yam, found frequently in Africa, can grow up to 8 feet long. The story goes, African slaves brought to America recognized our sweet potato as similar in appearance (albeit typically much smaller) and called it "yam".

So, the next time your great aunt offers you some of her famous "candied yams", try to hold back your urge to pronounce  her a liar and fraud.
this fine fellow is holding an actual yam

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mission Impossible: Unique Holiday Gifts

It's been raining in Houston the past couple of days, and yesterday, as I left my parking garage at work, my first thought was "Yay! The trees will be so happy and I get a free car wash. Win-win".

What's so odd about this is that not even 3 months ago, I was leaving my office building in New York cursing the rain that thoroughly soaked me as though my umbrella was just some sub-par accessory.

No matter where I live, I can positively say that my favorite activity alongside a wintery storm trying to outdo Noah's flood, is baking. Given the mass amounts of snow and rain that are set to sweep the nation these next two weeks, I think you'll love it too.

Perusing the countertop this weekend, I realized a couple things. For starters, my family has some incredible friends who provide the best of tried and true holiday treats every year given the hoard of cookies, nuts, and chocolates (which will be the death of me, but don't worry, I'm accepting). That said, the very last thing I want to do is go up against my best friend's snack mix, or my aunt's sugar cookie, or even those addictive little chocolate turtles that call for me day and night.

So, here I find myself, having made two holiday goodies I've never received and daring you to gift them. Trust me, if you can get them out of the door, they will not only vie for the most unique holiday treat your friends receive, but also the most mouth-watering.

THIS is Food 52's Pine Nut Brittle with Rosemary. Oh yes, you read that correctly. I'm putting the nut you use in pesto alongside an herb you use in fried chicken, and I'm still telling you it's a delectible treat.

Aren't you just brimming with intrigue already?

Recipe Ease: Let's put things in perspective. THIS is a candy recipe. Candy recipes typically involve stop watch accuracy, candy thermometers (don't even get me started, they're terrifying), and the teensiest window of time in which a perfectly nutty and caramel toffee turns into yuck. Now that I've sufficiently terrified you, allow me to assure you that this recipe involves none of the above. While THIS is not necessarily as easy as one, two three, it's certainly not rocket science.
Has Lindsey gone all Pioneer Woman on us and started taking pictures of prep-time? Of course not, but might I suggest you prep all your ingredients prior to beginning so you're not runnin' round like a chicken with her/his (hey guys) head cut off trying not to burn your candy
Yumminess: Get ready to have your mind blown to shreds. I know, you're thinking "sure, it sounds all sophisticated, but this is one of those fancy schmancy desserts that makes you wish for fruitcake". Well, you think wrong dear reader because what you will be thinking after trying a bite is "sweet gods of the baking world, this is one of those sweet treats that fills an empty hole in my heart I didn't even know was there". THIS is that perfect combination of salty-sweet - nutty, creamy, spicy and salty all in one.
Does your sugar look like this shortly after it starts melting? Never fear friends, this is a GOOD thing
Health Benefits: Did you see how much sugar is in THIS recipe? That's correct - 2 cups. This is not skinny and if you're like me and have somehow made it onto sugar's sh*t list, just stay away...or maybe just take a nibble, but just one, seriously. In other news, if you're following the fad or truly inflicted, this will fit quite well into a gluten-free diet without the necessary purchase of funky flours.
See? About 2 minutes later, it will look like this
Shortly thereafter, this caramely, cognac sugary goodness will appear
$$$: Pine nuts are not in the "bread and butter" price range unless you live in Italy. THIS is definitely not your wallet-friendly option, but allow me to provide alternatives so as not to deprive you of the glory of a savory-sweet candy. You can use de-skinned almonds, chopped cashews or macadamia nuts in the same quantity. Just make sure that these larger nuts are piece size.
spread toffee - no need for it to be even as you'll be breaking it up shortly
Best in Show-worthy: Is it obvious? I'm so wretched at hiding favorites, but just in case you're blind to my favoritism, THIS is it.
I package it in a leftover nut jar (it's only 1/2 a regift), but you can use a festive box or even carnival popcorn funnel
I put it in a little faux-glass container, wrapped it in cellophane and stuck a big candy cane with a gold bow...mason jars work too

THAT is Smitten Kitchen's Hot Fudge Sauce in all of it's chocolatey, close your eyes and say "mm" glory.

Recipe Ease: THAT is definitely a perfect go-to when you have 30 minutes to whip up a fabulous hostess gift. It's a two pot recipe, and as long as you watch your chocolate from burning, it's full proof.
Double broiling - a heat-proof (VERY IMPORTANT) bowl over boiling water in a saucepan
Yumminess: You all know my feelings on chocolate. I like to think of it as a great love and not an addiction, but call it what you will. Depending on what flavor additive you use (I went with vanilla but think that peppermint extract would be perfectly festive), THAT will taste subtley of it and rich, not too-sweet chocolate. It's ideal because I often find chocolate fudge recipes to be too sweet to actually put on top of already sweet ice cream. No worries here - you will be able to gorge for quite a bit longer. THAT is coat the roof of your mouth creamy.
like magic
Health Benefits: ...antioxidants?
not the prettiest part, but when adding the chocolate to the water, add slowly and don't fret over the bubbles and foam
$$$: If you're like me and you keep chocolate around the house, you won't need to purchase anything at all, yet another reason this is a great last minute gift.

CAUTION: during cooling period, it may be found irresistable to certain people such as fathers from who you inherited your chocolate addiction armed with sugar cookies 
Best in Show-worthy: THAT is the perfect gift for all chocolate lovers, for people you may not know too well (who rejects chocolate in full, I ask you!), for families, children, or your chocoholic girlfriends looking for a fix.

If you're looking for ANOTHER option, a chocolate dipping frenzy is a great go-to. It's perfect for doing with kids, those entirely void of any kitchen skills, or those in need of both a watch and wallet friendly gift.

Chocolate Covered Everything
Fixins
whatever you have in the pantry including but not limited to:
- peppermint sticks
- pretzel sticks
- potato chips (seriously life changing)
- graham crackers

2 cups of chips including but not limited to:
- 2 cups of milk chocolate
- 2 cups of white chocolate
- 2 cups of butterscotch chocolate

1 cup of add ons including but not limited to:
- 1 cup ofcrushed peppermints
- 1 cup ofsprinkles
- 1 cup ofmini marshmallows
- 1 cup ofM&Ms
- 1 cup ofchopped Ande's mints
- 1 cup ofchopped dried fruit
- dashes of spicy peppers or salt

Melt the chocolate per brand's melting instructions (some will require a fat such as butter and others will not).

While melting, line 2 baking pans with parchment or wax paper

Dip sticks/chips/crackers into your chocolate choice and coat in your choice of add-ons. Then place on the baking pan and repeat.

You may put the pan in the fridge or freezer should it need to set quickly but don't put peppermint in as it will get tacky.

While these are particularly suited for giftees of the younger set, I dare you to find anyone with strong feelings against them.
I gift them in a wine-bottle bag stuffed with gift tissue
Are there any other unique or tried-and-true holiday gifts you know of as either the gifter or the giftee?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Zen in the Kitchen - Holiday Cookies Yogi'd

Come tomorrow, we'll have our next duel and as our (not so close) poll looks thus far, it shall be homeade holiday gift vs. homeade holiday gift. It's going to be intense.

While I have no intention of providng you with yet another cookie recipe, I came across these glorious  yoga cookie cutters that would go perfectly with ANOTHER.
does eating one of these count as "having your daily dose of yoga"?

I am a thorough believer in tricking the body. As the great Fran Drescher once shared, the body cannot tell the difference between one and two slices of pizza if they are stacked on on top of another. Taking it one step further, if your not-so-healthy cookie is in the shape of a yogi, does the body know?

No, but seriously, have you ever seen anything so brilliant?



Thursday, December 15, 2011

Breakfast for Dinner

Did you know that the English word "dinner" comes from the French word "disnar" which means "to break the fast" (aka "breakfast")?

"Is this some entirely not funny joke our linguistic ancestors played on us?", you may ask, to which I will now respond "no, it is not".

In fact, dinner used to be eaten at around noon, as the first meal of the day and also the largest. A lighter meal came later in the afternoon, appropriately called supper for reasons I'll share in another post if you're lucky.

Eventually, more meals were added earlier in the day, but as opposed to switching the name, they left it as is. To this day, this little known fact (or at least little known to me) frustrates French-speaking English learners and may, or may not, add to their overall frustration with the Brits and Yanks.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Great Norwegian Famine

I like history. To be clear, I really adore history. To clear it up further, I discuss my baby sister's world history projects with her not because I'm a fabulous big sister and role model (feel free to argue this), but because I love discussing hundred years old scandals. Sometimes, I read old history textbooks, and I'm currently lapping up every word in a book called "The Middle East, a History".

Now that's cleared up, allow me to clarify that this post is not, I repeat not, about a Norwegian famine hundreds of years ago. Nor is it metaphorical. The Norwegians, who top the rankings in both public and personal wealth, are currently experiencing a textbook famine of the butter variety.

See? Forbe's says so here.

I've never had a reader from Norway, so I say we all celebrate our ample butter supplies with the below cranberry apple butter recipe courtesy of The Flying Biscuit in Atlanta, where butter abounds. Vive le beurre!

Fixins'

  • 2 cups of dark brown sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 cups cranberries
  • 10 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced


  • Simmer first 6 ingredients in saucepan. Add cranberries and cook until they begin to pop. Maybe hold off on putting on your celebratory butter ensemble until after this step.

    Add the apples and cook until tender. Then, cream in food processor or mash with potato masher.

    Enjoy, and if you feel like doing a happy dance, I totally support you.


    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    Like a Rolling Pin (Only Not)

    In college, I set to make out my first pie crust sans my mother's amply supplied kitchen. In addition to realizing how much nicer it is to work on beautifully smooth and infinite granite islands instead of the minimal cracked plaster subsitute college counters, I found myself faced with quite the obstacle - a mound of pie dough and no rolling pin.

    Now, while we're all unique in many ways, I'm quite certain I am not in this predicament.

    Never fear fair readers because I have solutions for you.

    Turning back to that fateful day three (how is that even possible?) years ago, I wrapped an empty wine bottle in wax paper and voila, a transformer of the culinary kind came to be.

    Other options are to take just about any empty and dry long liquor bottle and follow suit.

    Why empty, dry, and long?

    Empty because you need even weight and sloshing liquid is not your friend. Dry because we all know that too much moisture a bad pastry does make, and long because you want to cover maximum surface area with the greatest of ease.

    Why wax paper?

    To keep your pastry from sticking to the glass/plastic/other smooth surface.

    If you happen to have baseball-aficionados around, one of their mini souvenier bats works even better. Might I just suggest that you give it a thorough cleaning first?

    The folks at atypyk were clever enough to combine the two

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    A Bite, a Ball, and a Bevy of Ladies and Gents - Holiday Cookies Explored

    This weekend was the first weekend in months where I haven't been scheduled every moment of every day, so following a birthday celebration of one of my nearest and dearests Friday evening, I set to baking most of Saturday and Sunday.

    I thought long and hard about pitching this gingerbread man recipe against that one, or his sugar cookie against hers and ultimately, I decided you might find it more useful to be presented with a variety of not necessarily similar cookies for your choosing.

    There are 3 things THIS, THAT, and ANOTHER have in common this week.

    1. They are all very easy (never fear a stovetop!) and quick to produce
    2. They are under 100 calories a piece
    3. They are beyond delicious in every way you'd want a holiday cookie to be

    We'll start where I started, with THIS, Good Housekeeping's Shortbread Bites. These adorable little 1x1 inch cookies are perfectly festive, attracting the younger set, but one bite into them by the first adult will reveal an addictive, buttery concoction that you just can't quite quit.
    My Army of Bites Pre-Bake
    Recipe Ease: With a mere 4 ingredients, THIS makes Claire Robinson's pie look like a brain scratcher. THIS is a great one to include children in the baking process or to whip up when you have less than an hour to spare prior to your party.
    This Texture = Time to Get Your Hands Dirty
    Yumminess: These will sneak up on you, that's for sure. You'll remember your first bite and 15 bites in, wonder where they all went. We're not looking at an incredibly sophisticated flavor, but it's buttery and delectable and those crunchy nonpareils add just the bite to shake up the otherwise one-note texture. I don't know about you, but I've never been one to find any incredibly flaky pastry resistable.
    How to Form Your Rectangle In a Mess-Free Fashion
    Health Benefits: Okay, as you'll see, THIS is primarily butter. Butter and a few other ingredients that don't find themselves on the top ten healthiest of the healthy list. However, each one of these teensy bites will set you back a mere 40 calories, and in my world, that's Miracle of Hannukah-worthy.

    $$$: Like all low ingredient recipes, THIS should require no additional purchases, unless you're me and insist on both Hannukah (blue and gold) and Christmas (red and green) themed versions.

    Best in Show-worthy: THIS is not the type of cookie you want to bring to your uber sophisticated party, nor is it something with which you will demonstrate your extreme culinary prowess. THIS is perfect for childrens' parties, family gatherings or other casual get-togethers, but trust me, whether the median age is 5 or 50, they'll disappear in minutes.
    Snowquakes in Texas
    THAT is Country Living's Double Chocolate Snowquakes, and I must confess I made these in large part because I was entirely intrigued by the chutzpah a recipe-maker must have to call a simple Chocolate Snowball recipe a SnowQUAKE recipe. Well, I surrender happily to the elves at Country Living who have indeed created a Chocolate Snowball that will rock your socks off, Snowquake-style.

    Recipe Ease: THAT does require more work time and snooze time than THIS. I am not typically one to go for recipes that necessitate "resting" time for the baked good. They can rest when they're dead as far as I'm concerned (which I would like to happen sooner rather than later). However, the steps are quite easy to follow and I used my one hour holding period as an opportunity to walk it out 'round Memorial Park.
    This is what creamed butter looks like, yep, keep whipping

    Yumminess: Chocolate Snowquake indeed. Be prepared upon first bite to have your world rocked, your core shook, [insert other appropriate metaphors for total droolworthy awesomeness here]. THAT is decadence taken to a new level.
    I rolled out all the balls, put them in the fridge for a hot second, and then rolled in powdered sugar

    Health Benefits: If the yumminess factor hasn't already sold you, this will - SEVENTY CALORIES! Yes, that's right, I just committed a writer's sin and both all caps-ed you and exclamation marked you all in the same sentence. I think it was worth it, don't you?
    After the Blizzard of a Powdered Sugar Variety

    $$$: THAT is most definitely pricier than THIS, however, as far as a chocolatey dessert goes, it requires nothing more than good old American Hershey chocolate chips and cocoa powder. Bang for your buck, guaranteed.
    Maybe not for Santa, to avoid a powdered sugar beard and mess by the fireplace

    Best in Show-worthy: THAT is definitely an attention grabber. People levitate towards its chocolate-y goodness and after the first person takes a bite, they'll live up to their name...an earthquake will ensue by the mass number of people rushing the dessert plate.

     Given that it is the holiday season, I felt extra generous and thought I'd provide ANOTHER sweet treat for you and yours. I'm happy to introduce one of the very first recipes I invented all on my own. I like to call it My Gingerbread Army. This recipe came about after mass levels of frustration with the amount of spice and kick in other gingerbread man recipes. ANOTHER has nearly double the spice you'll find in most recipes and requires no "resting" time per my previous note of hatred.

    They are deliciously spice packed and come in at only 75 calories a piece.

    My Gingerbread Army

    The Fixin's
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/2 cup unsulphered molasses
    2 tsp ground ginger
    1 tsp allspice
    2 tsp cinnamon
    1 tsp cloves
    2 tsp baking soda
    1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
    1 egg beaten
    3.5 cups flour

    To Do
    In saucepan, heat the first six ingredients to boiling over medium heat and stir

    This is what boiling spices look like

    Remove from heat and stir in baking soda.  Don't be scared as it will foam up and lighten in color.

    Stir in butter until melted. Then stir in the egg.

    Add the flour until dough forms.
    dough formed in saucepan

    Then knead dough on floured wax paper until combined in a round shape.
    dough formed via kneading

    Roll out to 1/4 inch and cut with cookie cutters of your choosing
    dough rolled to 1/4 inch

    Bake approximately 12 minutes at 325 degrees and enjoy
    Pre-tan

    Friday, December 9, 2011

    The Very Important December 9th

    As you may or may not already know, today is not only lovely in every way because it is Friday, but it is also National Pastry Day.

    So make sure you save some room to honor all our fallen pastries of past, present and future.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    Tea for Two

    and two for tea...

    There's nothing cozier on a cold day than snuggling up on the couch with a cup o' tea, or even a whole mug for that matter.

    While I adore green tea for both its flavor and it's superwoman-energy powers, it tends to give me rather uncomfortable heart palpitations. Given my hatred for coffee until quite recently, the cold New York days had me searching for an alternative beverage to provide both the necessary warmth and energy I required to make it through a real, true-blue (literally, I turn blue) winter.

    In walks chai, rhymes with 'pie', tea. A quick history and nutrition lesson for you: chai is Indian in origin and as with most of my favorites, health benefits abound.

    It's loaded with antioxidants, benefiting your heart and your lungs, increases your metabolism and alertness, promotes digestion, and improves circulation and your immune system. All this in a favorite mug of your choosing  (mine has a daisy on the bottom).

    Here's a fabulous recipe for two to not only encourage your awakening culinary prowess but also to put $4 back in your pocket that Starbuck's otherwise would've taken.

    2 cups water
    1 tsp of cardamom pods, whole (or 1/2 tsp cardamom dried)
    1/2 tsp of cloves, whole (or 1/4 tsp cloves dried)
    1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, ginger, black peppercorns, and allspice
    2 black tea bags
    1 cup milk (soy, cow, goat, almond, etc)
    honey or sugar to taste

    In a saucepan, put in water and all spices and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the tea and milk and cook for 10 minutes longer.

    Strain into mug/cup and enjoy...with Mary Poppins.


    Wednesday, December 7, 2011

    Bowled Over - Secrets to a Skinny Soup

    I have been known to subsist solely on soup and yogurt for days on end during the cold months. If I'm completely up front, this has also occurred during the hottest of months as well. What am I to say other than that I love it?
    masterpiece in the making
    And, who doesn't love it? Whether it's your mother's chicken noodle with a case of the sniffles, your father's tomato soup and grilled cheese on the coldest of nights, or your grandmother's matzoh ball soup every Passover season, soup has an incredibly strong tie to memory.

    I'm happy to say that both soups below will not only be added to your repertoire for easy, memorable meals but that they won't damage your waist-line in the meantime.

    THIS is Ellie Krieger's (aka The Food Network's go-to guilt-free chef du jour) Tuscan Vegetable Soup.
    I love anything categorized as 'healthy' that lets me eat cheese

    Recipe Ease: What would you call a recipe that takes 10 minutes to have in the pot from the moment you stepped foot in the kitchen? I would call it THIS but you may also call it easy.

    Yumminess: Let's be clear, you're not going to bite into this and call it decadent because it's not. You will take your first spoonful, shrug up your shoulders, close your eyes and smile. Because, what THIS is, is a refreshing, multidimensional flavor meal. Looking for added flavor? Allow me to suggest a teaspoon of wasabi powder, a tablespoon of lemon juice, or a couple splashes of cinnamon. Add all your favorite veggies (or in my case, all the veggies with less than 24 hours til the wilting gods arrive). It's not plain, it's versatile...a blank canvas.

    Health Benefits: THIS is loaded with vitamins from all the vegetables you add, protein from the beans and chicken stock, and low in sodium assuming you select low-sodium broth. Calorically, for a whole cup and a half, you're only 150 calories in. While it does provide a serving of protein, eight grams is typically considered the minimum in a serving. That said, the extra fiber from all the veggies are sure to fill you up as well.

    $$$: I had every ingredient in my fridge, but even if you don't, you needn't have deep pockets for this recipe.

    Best in Show-worthy: According to everyone but me (I really do hate this whole losing thing), THIS is our winner this week. Bravo Ellie.

    THAT is Bon Appetit's French Lentil Soup, a lentil recipe sans curry, a rarity in this legume's world.
    That is balsamic vinegar, not squid's ink. Don't worry. 

    Recipe Ease: While THAT doesn't require a culinary degree, it does involve a few more steps, one of which is a blender. WARNING: do not put soup-er hot soup in the blender. It will explode. You're welcome. 


    Yumminess: THAT definitely has a more sophisticated flavor. It's perfect for nights alone, with family, or even as a piece in your dinner party. THAT is thicker than THIS as well.

    Health Benefits: THAT comes chock full of vitamins from the vegetables. The lentils perform double duty, adding fiber and a full 11 grams of protein. You'll find THAT to be more filling for less quantity than THIS for only a measly 35 calories extra in one cup.

    $$$: THAT requires a little extra effort as you may find yourself, like me, lacking in lentils of the kermit variety. Additionally, we're dealing with more ingredients than THIS which does add to the final bill.

    Best in Show-worthy: It's beautiful and entirely filling all on it's own, but alas, as I mentioned previously, THAT just doesn't quite take the cake.

    Given that it's cold, and I've had soup every day this week, I thought I'd take the opportunity to introduce you to a very dear friend of mine who has warmed me on the coldest nights, kept me busy at my most bored, and even gone so far as to feed friends and family.
    Please meet the most glorious tomato soup of all time (bold claim, I know)
    I've really never had better in ANOTHER. It's spicy, creamy (in a lactose-free way), and wraps you up in that warm "forget about your bad day and the wretched weather and eat me" way.

    Fixin's
    2 tbspns margarine or a quick spray of butter
    1 chopped onion
    2 chopped carrots
    2 chopped celery stalks
    3-4 cloves minced garlic
    1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
    1 28-ounce can fire roasted tomatoes
    3 cups vegetable broth
    2 bay leaves
    1 tspn tabasco
    1 tspn red pepper flakes
    a dash of salt and pepper, respectively

    To do
    In a large soup pot, melt the butter and cook veggies and garlic for around 4 minutes.

    Add all other ingredients, stir, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes covered. Remove bay leaf.

    Either let cool and put in blender until smooth by 1/2 cups, or, (the much easier and more fun method) use an immersion blender until it's smooth. I personally like a few chunks of celery or carrots. It's like finding treasure. (Please note that I was the child that squealed over veggies)

    To enjoy, either eat as is, add parmesan, or slices of avocado.

    My favorite is to add a dollop of greek yogurt.

    Stay warm this week wherever you are, unless you're in a warm environment, in which case, I really don't care to hear from you.

    xo
    L

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    Baby It's Cold Outside - Solution Orientation

    Since my great trek back down south, today is the first bone-chilling, fireside-lingering, hot cocoa-sipping type of day. And I am lovin' it. Never a fan of the cold, I must admit that the first few days really do put a skip in my step because it means that the holidays are here. And the holidays mean much more than presents (no seriously). The holidays mean everyone everywhere is a little bit cheerier, and very few things make me, a person often accused of smiling too often, happier than being surrounded by holiday-infused people.

    We had a tie this week. My sincerest apologies to all of my most competitive readers. Due to said temperature drop down here in Texas, I am officially proclaiming skinny soup as our winner. Hurrah!

    Stay tuned tomorrow for our two skinny soup skirmish during which I promise to provide tasty, nutrition-packed and most importantly bone-warming options for you.

    If you have any soup variety you're dying to see, let's hear it.

    In the meantime....

    Monday, December 5, 2011

    Undercover Cook - Sushi Edition

    Did you know that while dining at most American sushi restaurants, you are actually being served a food color + horseradish paste in place of wasabi?

    Horror of all horrors, I know.

    wasabi root prior to meeting the microplane

    Friday, December 2, 2011

    Salt, More Than Just an Additive

    Did you know that at different times throughout history, salt has instigated wars, built monuments, and been a form of currency all while enhancing the flavor of food for billions?

    As a matter of fact, the oft used idiom "any man worth his salt" can trace it's origin to ancient Rome and Persia when men were paid with the beloved mineral (note - salt is not a spice or an herb).

    Even our modern word for payment, "salary", finds it Latin roots in salt (aka sal).

    These days, it finds its most common usage in the culinary arts, but don't forget, it doesn't just work in savory dishes. Add a dash here and there to your sweet treats and you'll be sure to notice the flavor enhancement if not the empty cookie jar.

    How to shake things up? *pun intended*

    Add flavor to your salt. My favorite is citrus salt.

    Combine 1/2 cup salt, 1/2 tbspn of lemon zest, 1/4 tbspn orange zest, and 1/4 tbspn lime zest and voila.

    To make it last longer or to package as a gift, place above on a baking sheet in a 225 degree oven for 2 hours, cool, and store

    salt mine - I bloat just looking at it

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    Ginger 101 (no, not of the Lindsay Lohan variety)

    As I've mentioned previously, and as anyone who has known me for more than a week or so can attest to, I adore ginger.

    And, you should too. Not only is it tasty, but health benefits abound.

    Most people know that ginger is the go-to natural ingredient for upset tummies of any variety. This includes morning sickness, stomach virus aches and pains, and most apropos for the current season's encouragement of overeating and rich food/drink embibing.

    What you may not know is that it also serves to diminish ovarian cancer cells, stave off colon cancer, reduce inflammation, and provide both migraine and PMS relief.

    Don't you love it even more?

    In it's natural state - yum
    Let's discuss ways to get it in your system. If you're thinking savory, there's always the pickled ginger many eat with sushi, and it's also a fabulous addition in ground spice form to stir fries or marinades for chicken, beef, pork, or fish.

    If you're in the market for something sweet, tis the season. There's gingerbread in both loaf and man form, or my absolute favorite, gingersnaps.

    On the off chance you're feeling really crafty, you can also follow suit with yesterday's post and infuse your vodka with 1/2 a cup of diced ginger for 3-5 days. This is so tasty with pear or apple juice and soda water.

    Any other favorites? Please do share.

    My favorite

    Wednesday, November 30, 2011

    Vodka Vednesday

    It's hump-day, and I, like many, need a beverage of the adult variety. How about you?

    As I'm clearly into lists these days, I've decided to illustrate the gloriousness of alcohol during the holidays.

    1. Hostess/Host presents
    2. Holiday gifts to people you may not know too well (just be sure they don't take issue with it)
    3. Fancy schmancy holiday drinks so everyone thinks your the host/hostess with the most/mostess
    4. Hot cocoa by the fire? Why not this instead?

    If you're like me, and perpetually cold once the thermostat gets below 80, you're always in search of new ways to warm up. Of course, there's no better way to warm up than with food or drink. There's coffee, tea, soup, stew, and my new obsession, flavor infused vodka.

    It makes your  presents prettier, your party drinks fancy schmancier, and once you start going, the possible varieties are endless. You can infuse with berries, citrus, cucumber (so refreshing), and spices such as lemongrass, ginger, or even peppermint.

    My new favorite, however, is jalapeno. To make it holiday appropriate, I've decided to entitle it "Jolly Jalapeno". Just go with it.

    1 750 ml bottle of your favorite flavorless vodka
    6 jalapeno peppers, deseeded (the idea is to taste it, not burn your tastebuds off)

    Chop up the peppers, add them to the bottle and let it sit for around 3 days. You may either leave the peppers in, or strain and enjoy.

    
    a jalapeno who is clearly jolly



    Tuesday, November 29, 2011

    To Smoothie Or Not To Smoothie

    I don't know if you're aware, but in the world of nutrition, smoothies are a seriously controversial subject matter. Some sing their praises as the detoxer of all detoxers, your own catered cocktail, packed with whatever it is your body is 'lacking', the perfect meal replacement. Others cast it as an evil diet buster, calorie-packed but leaving your tummy empty as ever, leading the 'do not consume' list.

    I, on the otherhand dare to suggest something different: *gasp* moderation.

    Smoothies can be wonderful in many ways, and please allow me to count a few of them for you.

    1. a quick and refreshing snack
    2. a breakfast option for early morning eating haters
    3. a fabulous way to dispose of excess fruit and veggies
    4. a seriously more delicious method by which to consume necessary vitamins and nutrients
    5. an excuse to drink with a Crazy Straw

    On that note, let's get started with THIS, Self Magazine's "Smoother Bikini Body" Smoothie, a fruity, chocolaty, potassium-packed, bloat-buster.

    Recipe Ease: It's a smoothie. It truly doesn't get much easier. Although, I will note that not everyone has acai berry frozen smoothie packs or raw cacao powder lying around the house. If you find your pantry smoothie pack and cacao-less, might I suggest substituting 2-3 tbspns acai juice and un-raw cacao powder (think Hershey, but don't you dare use the sweetened kind).

    Yumminess: THIS truly does taste like chocolate covered cherries and banana, however there's no getting away from that slight after taste all protein powders leave for you. As for texture because apparently there are the watery smoothie followers and the creamy smoothie followers, THIS is most certainly of the watery variety.

    Health Benefits: THIS smoothie gets down to business. With the anti-inflammatory powers of cherries, the bloat-busting, potassium-packed powers of bananas, and the glucose monitoring impact of cacao, it really does the trick. We're also dealing with a mere 276 calories, a whopping 10g of fiber and 13g of protein. In my book, this makes for a great snack and a filling, albeit light breakfast.

    As far as acai goes, unless you've been living under a rock for the past year or so, it's the latest and greatest superfood. Claims range from its assistance with weight loss, cancer-fighting properties, and anti-aging properties. Here's what everyone concedes to: the teensy tiny acai berry is jam-packed with antioxidants and one in particular, anthocyanin. This antioxidant is found in most berries and is known for it's fighting prowess against free radicals and life's stressors. I, personally, am all for fighting life's stressors in both a figurative and literal sense.
    acai looks suspiciously like it's cousin, the blueberry
    $$$: Smoothies are not only waistline friendly but also pocketbook friendly and THIS is no exception.
    Best in Show-worthy : THIS is surely a tasty smoothie that will keep you full while easing the bloat and guilt of any holiday feast. If you're after taste sensitive, however, might I suggest THAT?

    THAT is Women's Health Magazines Rise and Shine Smoothie.

    THAT has neither pistachio nor cinnamon, but it IS pistachio colored
    Recipe Ease: Again, as far as making things from scratch, it doesn't get easier than a smoothie. Don't have canned sweet potato? ANOTHER option is to use canned pumpkin (not, I repeat, not pumpkin pie filling but plain-jane canned pumpkin).

    Yumminess: My mother and I like to play a form of an impromptu word association game I call "Who Can Pick the Very Best Adjective to Describe What We're Currently Eating?". We tied with THAT smoothie because in the exact same moment, "refreshing" was deemed the perfect descriptor. Please note, conceding to a tie is not easy for me as I primarily prefer winning, but I digress. Seriously, I think it's the avocado that provides that certain something. I could guzzle it. Texture-wise, it's like a milkshake, so maybe I couldn't technically guzzle it but this is where the aforementioned Crazy Straws come in handy.

    Health Benefits: Avocado is magical. I can think of only a limited naturally occuring foods that taste sinful while they actually happen to be on nearly ever superfood list out there. I think I'm alone in my belief that strawberries and artichokes qualify.

    Avocado is not only rich in that debloater of all debloaters, potassium, but it also happens to contain minerals that encourage your body to absorb more beta-carotene and lutein (think- skin, hair, nail, beautifiers) which just so happen to be found in our second ingredient, sweet potatoes. Isn't that a happy coincidence?

    Comparing THAT to THIS, we're now looking at slightly more calories, 291, about half the fiber, 7g, and slightly less protein (although still a full serving for breakfast), 9g.

     $$$: If you're like me, THAT will require less purchases as I happened to already have everything at home. Clearly that doesn't make it free in the grand scheme of things, but as far as my daily expenses go, it does.

    Best in Show-worthy: Tada! THAT is just such a winner, and that pretty mermaid green color just so happens to be very 'in' right now too.

    Do you have any go-to smoothie recipes? Instant debloaters? Fabulous uses for avocado?

    Don't forget to take the new quiz, just up there to your right.

    And, most importantly, have a loverly week.

    L

    Monday, November 28, 2011

    Recovering

    Now that I'm nearly fully awakened from my food-induced coma, I think it's the perfect time for a recap.

    The whole clan decided that Claire's pie was the hands down winner, having nothing to do with the filling and everything to do with the crust which was deamed "heavenly".

    How are you handling your leftovers? We make panini's of every shape and size.

    Another go-to of mine is to heat up some soup which I always keep frozen in portion-sized containers and pour in a melange of the leftover vegetables.

    Not only is this a fabulous use of leftovers, but it's also a waist-line friendly option. I, for one, am still hesitant to put anything on without ample amounts of elastic, and my scale has gone into winter hibernation for at least a week or two. I read recently that the average person does not gain more than half a pound at Thanksgiving, but I'd rather not be the one to prove this theory wrong.


    Given my faith in everyone's over-indulgence this past week, I've settled upon antioxidant packed recipes this week in the purest form of a detox, the SMOOTHIE (yum).

    I'm not particularly one to replace a whole meal with pure liquid as I'm quite the fan of chewing, but replacing a usually salty snack with a debloating drink is quite doable for most, I'm sure.

    Tonight, we'll pitch Self Magazine against Health Magazine and see what power-packed liquid snacks they have to offer.

    Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    Two-fers Tuesday, Part Two: Battle of the Southern Belles

    When I was little, I spent insane amounts of energy trying to keep myself from reading the last chapter in books. I absolutely ruined a couple of The Boxcar Children books when my willpower caved. That said, sometimes knowing the ending made the rest of the book even more enticing. This is one of my favorite parts about baking. When reading a recipe, knowing how it turns out makes the "how-to" all the more intriguing.

    The end of this story is really simple. We have two show-stopping, delightfully simple pumpkin pies that are traditional enough to incite palate-nostalgia and unique enough that you won't have to go up against your mamma's.

    THIS is Paula's recipe, Apple Butter Pecan Pie. As you'll notice, she doesn't provide a crust recipe. This irks me just a tad. Not to say that I'm a hater of pre-made ingredients across the board or even pre-made crusts for every occasion, but in my (incredibly humble) opinion, it's Thanksgiving, if you can't bring out your rolling pin once a year, I might cry a bit. Now, I completely understand the stigma against crusts. For something that is technically a vehicle for the flavor-packed filling, why would you want to spend inordinate amounts of time on it? And for that matter, chefs, bakers, and even Food Channel stars spend unnecessary amounts of time focusing on the horrors of adding too much water, too little water, 'working' the pastry too much, 'working' the pastry too little...exhausting.

    Well I am here to provide you with a full-proof, I repeat, full-proof, all-purpose crust recipe.

    (makes 2 9-inch crusts)

    I swear I made it 
    Tip #1 (aka the key to all pie crusts) - all ingredients must be as cold as the refrigerator can make them but not frozen.

    1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    1 tspn salt
    1 tbspn sugar
    1/3 cup vegetable shortening
    1/2 cup ice water

    Tip #2 - use a food processor.

    Put flour, salt, sugar in food processor and pulse a couple times. Pulse in the butter and vegetable shortening until the butter and shortening are the size of marbles.

    Gradually pulse in the ice water until the dough begins to form a ball all by itself! (Herein lies the glory of the food processor).

    Tip #3 - some boring Sunday early in November, make a double batch and freeze it. You too can get a pie in the oven in 20 minutes flat.

    Voila!

     Recipe Ease: from collecting ingredients to putting the pie in the oven, this took all of 15-30 minutes. It doesn't get easier. Leave it to Ms. Dean to allow any lady to feel like a culinary goddess.

    Yumminess: the apple butter intensifies the flavor beyond all belief. This is way more than a pumpkin pie. This is Autumn in a pretty pastry package.

    Health Benefits: It's Paula, just don't think about it. Need to rationalize? Pumpkins are incredible antioxidants. That's all I've got...go eat the pie and hop on the treadmill tomorrow.
     $$$: THIS is more expensive than THAT, primarily because of the apple butter. I promise it's worth it!

    Best in Show-worthy: For all you traditionalists out there, this is what you're looking for. Sure, it's pumpkin pie on flavor steroids, but it looks like the pumpkin pie you know and love from your childhood...in a chicer, yummier, spice-filled way.


    that rich molasses color comes from the fact that we literally packed every ounce of possible flavor in there

    THAT is Claire Robinson's Ginger Pumpkin Tart recipe. If you're not a borderline obsessive Food Network-phile, Claire is the newest spunky host to grace the screen. To be honest, she annoyed me a bit at first. As I consider myself a southern girl, I tend to judge new TV personalities on the validity of their 'southerness' and boy howdy did I give her a hard time. Somewhere in the middle of a Claire marathon that I may or may not have been aimlessly glued to, she grew on me. And, I think she'll grow on you once you try THAT recipe. 

    Recipe Ease: did you see the name of her show? Did you count the ingredients? That's right, there are 5, including the pinch of salt. There isn't easier. 

    Yumminess: the flavors in THAT are nothing but traditional. It's nearly all pumpkin. The texture, on the other hand, is almost mousse-y as opposed to the standard custard. It's lighter, airier and less dense than your standard pie. Also, that gingersnap crust adds the exact flavor snap for which you're looking. 
    Health Benefits: definitely the winner. 
     $$$: see THIS 

    Best in Show-worthy: look at that beauty. It's a pale orange with a caramel colored crust, and removed from the tart tin, it looks nothing like your momma's. 
          eat me                                     



    There are countless (an)OTHER recipes.

    Remember my recipe for the chocolate-y dumplings to make with crust scrappings? This is it. Why does it have a chunk taken out of it already? Jon and I couldn't manage to wait to take a picture before devouring at least half of it.

    Jon came up with the brilliant idea to use the apple butter instead of melted butter. Just do it.

    To keep on theme with my 'waste not, want not', what are some options if you have extra filling?


    secret family toffee recipe...maybe one day I'll share
    Above, ANOTHER option is to put the leftover filling into ramekins, filling them up 3/4 of the way. Bake at the same temperature as the pie calls for around 15-20 minutes. The top will start to crack. Let it cool to your desired temperature, put a dollop of whipped cream and some toffee candy.


    ANOTHER route to take with the ramekins is to dollop with ice cream and sprinkle with crumbled gingersnap. I added a whole one in there under the pretense of 'showing what was in it'...truthfully, I just love any excuse to eat gingersnaps.

    Do you have any alternatives to the traditional pumpkin pie? Any uses for leftover yolks, egg whites, filling, or crust? Please do share!

    Happiest and healthiest Thanksgiving wishes to you and all of yours.