Archive for the 'home cook' Category

Eat Your Peas!

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

I was a picky kid, skilled in the art of avoidance. When Mom tried to make me stay at the table and eat my peas, or try just one bite of the sweet potatoes, I didn’t exactly make it easy on her.

Try as she might, my stubbornness persevered and I entered adulthood with a meager diet. Throughout college I found myself tempted to try new things – after all, my metabolism was slowing down, and avoiding veggies wasn’t doing me any favors. For the most part, I enjoyed what I tried. And then I met the cucumber. I tried it, it failed, and I set it to the side of my salad plate for a few more years.

Eventually, I came across an article on how a child must be exposed to a new food 15 times before accepting it. Realizing I was as picky as a nine year-old, I conducted an experiment. I chose to revisit the friendly cucumber. I had inexplicably disliked it, even though it seemed perfectly harmless (those peas are another story).

Fifteen times I hesitantly ate those cucumbers, through the gags and the wrinkled faces. Amazingly, as I approached number 12, it didn’t seem so bad. But I still thought, eck, this won’t keep. Wrong I was…

Today, cucumbers are one of my favorite foods. I like cucumber slices in my water. I pile my salads high with them. Heck, one of my favorite snacks is cucumber slices dipped in tzatziki, a sauce made from yogurt, garlic, and, get this, more cucumbers!

So, why this stroll down memory lane? A colleague sent me a blog post from The Guardian (UK), in which the writer overcomes a similar aversion to horseradish. (She also notes a popular hatred for cilantro – something I never could understand as I tend to eat it by the bucketful.)

It made me think that my own child-inspired method wasn’t far off the mark – aren’t we all cranky nine year–olds when we really don’t like something?

I’m proud to say that over the years, I’ve developed an “I’ll try anything once” philosophy when it comes to food. (I mean, I’m not the next Andrew Zimmern or anything, but I am a bit more adventurous than your av-e-rage bear.) But, this article has me thinking I should give some things a second shot. First stop – those putrid peas.

How I Love to Try Something New!

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Just this past Friday, I read a great article in Nation’s Restaurant News on innovative flavors in foodservice soft-serve. Among the flavors mentioned, olive oil intrigued me most, especially since it had proven as the best selling for one restauranteur.

So, on Saturday night, when our waiter mentioned olive oil as one of the home-made gelatos available at Philadelphia’s Pizzeria Stella, I was sold.

While the other ladies in our group opted for chocolate or hazelnut (which were amazing themselves), myself and one other brave friend ordered the olive oil. We each received one perfect scoop swimming in a small sea of yellow-green oil. The taste was creamy, sweet, fatty and fruity, and reminded me of (solid) spreadable olive oil I have sampled in the past.

olive oil gelato

What struck me most, though, was that it seemed the perfect base for more…. like an alternative to vanilla, but a bit less complex.

Almost the entire table sampled our olive oil gelato, and I saw some mixed faces and reactions. From the “well, it tastes just like olive oil,” to “no, I don’t like that at all,” and the “wow, that’s not as bad as I thought.” (I’m pretty sure that last one was a compliment.)

Despite the reaction from our friends, although most of them liked it or were ambivalent, myself and my adventurous ordering buddy were pleased.

“Meatloaf, smeatloaf, double-beatloaf. I hate meatloaf.”

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

I love that scene from A Christmas Story, when the little brother, Randy, won’t eat his dinner, and Mother and The Old Man have to rely on a combination of threats and games to get him to take a bite.

I love it because I was that kid. In fact, Mom and I once held a two-hour staring match over a forkful of peas. I still hate peas.

Sure, I was a picky eater. There’s no question about that. But sometimes, I think I was just bored with the options. Never again will I eat chicken baked in cream of mushroom soup – it was delicious, but I’ve had my fill for a lifetime.

Recently, I read an article from Reuters that stated the average mom in the UK relies on a rotation of nine meals to feed her family. Just nine! While the study was performed in the UK, I’m sure results in the USA wouldn’t be that far off.

Explanations were all pretty similar – time constraints, picky eaters, and expense. Most moms stick with what their families know and love, rather than waste time or money on something that may not go over well. Others also admitted to cooking two meals – something for the kids early in the evening, and a different meal for mom and dad, later at night. Most common are true comfort foods – spaghetti Bolognese, roasts, casseroles, stews and pizza.

When hubby and I first got married, I was on a mission to increase my repertoire. Pre-wedding, our weekly menu consisted of take-out, chicken and stuffing casserole, chicken tacos, and the occasional pasta night. To fight it, I forced myself to try one new recipe a week. Some were complicated, some were not. Some made it onto our regular menu, and some more, did not. The effort may have tapered off, but today we have seasonal favorites, quick options and more drawn-out weekend fare, and more importantly, vegetables! We may average more than nine, but there are definitely items we eat every 10 to 14 days.Meatloaf Cupcakes - mini meatloaf topped with whipped potato "frosting"

It’s important to add a little variety, but I certainly understand how hard it can be most nights. That’s what makes kit meals so important. Allowing minimal effort, but still a sense of self-preparation, kit meals allow many home cooks the advantage of trying out new foods, hopefully at a low cost. Comfort foods are great most nights, but exotic options can help to freshen things up. Take a look at ethnic cuisine, like Thai curry, tamales, and chicken tangine, to create more variety for your consumers.

There are also ways to deliver variety in prepared foods, while tapping into those conventional recipes that everyone loves. At the 2009 Innovation Roadshow, we featured Meatloaf Cupcakes – mini-meatloafs with whipped potato “frosting.” We varied the meatloaf itself, with Italian herb and carmelized onion flavors, and further extended options with the potatoes, in butter parmesan and brown sugar cinnamon sweet potato.

Just a little creativity and flavor can help consumers get out of a food rut!

A Sad Summer for Tomatoes

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

A Jersey girl, born and bred, you may think that a love for Jersey Tomatoes was in my blood. Not true for many years, as I was never a fan of a tomato that wasn’t sauced or ketchuped. But with maturity came appreciation, and before I knew it, I was trolling the farmer’s market for the perfect plant to take home.

With a practically sunless yard, I set forth for a potted garden of herbs and tomatoes on my deck, each year gaining new insight and passion for those few but beautiful plants. This year, I planted three tomato plants to fill my small, sunny domain. Three plants – three varieties. One – my very first heirloom tomato plant, grown from a seedling gifted to me by our own Chef Julie Snarski – as of this weekend has grown over six feet tall.

But a little bit ago, I noticed some yellow spots forming on the leaves of one of my plants. Having read about late blight, a devasting crop disease, over a month ago, I worried, but quickly dismissed my fears, assuring myself it was simply a lack of sun. But as tomato after tomato from my most fruitful plant began to show greasy, black rings, and the plant itself looked lifeless, I knew it was more. I sacrificed my faithful plant, by fire of course, in order to save my precious heirloom, which has only now started to fruit.

As I wait for my heirlooms to grow, I’ve begun to notice some spots on the leaves that were closest to my blighted plant. Fingers crossed, I will harvest a few precious homegrown heirlooms before the blight takes its toll. And, I’ve moved my third plant as far away as possible (which is sadly, only a few feet).

But I am not alone, as late blight has devastated commercial and backyard farmers all over the east coast. Even domestic goddess Martha Stewart lost 70 percent of her crop that included 50 varieties of tomatoes! Her photos will break your heart…

Everything Old is New Again…

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Just the other day, I read that both Sun-In and Zinc Oxide are back in for the summer. Now right there are two things that I never imagined to see in my beach bag again.

But then there are classics that endure – like macaroni & cheese. I actually used to hate the stuff…but with a husband that practically lives on the blue box, I’ve not only grown to appreciate it, but love it.

So when I recently read about Good Tastes Kitchen’s Mac & Cheese of the Month Club, I began to drool. Customers can sign up for one, three, six or 12 month subscriptions that deliver “Bliss in the Mail.”

Ranging from the typical All American variety, to Cajun, Pancetta & Pea, or even Pumpkin & Sage, recipients explore seasonal and ethnic flavors through and American classic.

And while the price seems, admittedly, a little high, each month feeds a family of four for a total bill comparable to a casual restaurant. So that you can enjoy it in the comfort of your own home, with your orange hair, and your neon green nose!!!

Bartender, can I have a brew?

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

From the evolution of molecular mixology to the rebirth of cocktail classics, bartenders are literally setting the bar a bit higher. Bartending has evolved into a culinary profession. At upscale establishments, bartenders are referred to as “mixologists,” creating bitters and tonics from scratch, and experimenting with infusions and tinctures (alcoholic extracts made from herbs).

Modern mixologists, or bar chefs as some are referred to, will source ingredients for their drink menus as they do the rest of the menu – focusing on seasonal and fresh ingredients, visiting farmer’s markets, locating exotic ingredients, handcrafting the above mentioned bitters, tinctures and infusions, squeezing fresh fruit juices on a daily basis, and stocking precious and obscure liquors.

Seeking to educate their patrons, and rid their glasses of the overly sweet appletinis and lemon drops, modern mixologists work with a combination of esoteric ingredients, science and creativity.

But with a downturned economy, and an increase in at-home entertaining, how is the average consumer expected to keep up? Syrups and drink mixes are always helpful, but can sometimes lack the panache or versatility of a bartender’s arsenal. There are, of course, exceptions, and one of the most innovative products we’ve spotted recently is Tea Forté Cocktail Infusions.

With added visual appeal – it looks like a pyramid tea bag with a leaf for a string – Tea Forté literally brews a cocktail. And the flavors? Well, they’ve got us really excited. Lavender Citrus blends white tea with lavender, bergamot, grapefruit and violet. Lemongrass Mint combines lemon myrtle and spearmint. And Silkroad Chai merges black tea with cardamom, ginger and cinnamon.

And as for versatility, a great example is the Lemongrass Citrus, which is said to work well with Gin & Tonics and Mojitos, aside from custom recipes.

Of course, Tea Forté doesn’t just do cocktails – they’ve got a whole line of tea and iced tea bags, but this cocktail line truly shines. And now, I’m feeling inspired…and thirsty…

Total Utilization at Home

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

A few months back I wrote about the comeback of head-to-tail eating. Inspired, but not quite so adventurous myself, I’ve attempted a little total utilization on my own, sans-animal innards.

More and more, I’ve been breathing new life into leftovers – not just reheating, but creating new meals from them. When recipes called for egg whites, I tried desperately to find something else to bake that would use the yolks. But a few weekends ago, my practiced methods came together like kismet!

On Mother’s Day weekend, I decided to bake an Angel Food Cake for mom – her favorite. My first, and successful, attempt (thank you Good Housekeeping cookbook!) used a dozen(!) egg whites. I sat the yolks aside, determined to find a use for them as I prepared my next concoction – limoncello.

Homemade Limoncello

The making of limoncello is a weeklong endeavor, and with a friend’s birthday the following weekend, it was time to peel the lemons to steep in grain alcohol for his homemade present. Of course, once the lemons are peeled, they must either be juiced and used immediately, or trashed. So, I juiced the lemons, initially with plans to freeze said juice, and again, set it aside.

With the cake baking, and the booze brewing, I flipped through my favorite cookbooks for an idea, and found the answer in my ever-trusty Magnolia Bakery Cookbook. Huzzah – lemon curd!! The recipe called for exactly 12 egg yolks (hooray) and a cup of lemon juice, along with lemon extract. With no lemon extract in site, I figured the 1¼ cups of lemon juice would suffice. It could not have turned out more perfect!!! For Mother’s Day, we indulged in Angel Food Cake with Lemon Curd…but my story is still not quite over.

The following weekend, while finishing the limoncello recipe and getting ready for the party, I realized I still had some residual lemon curd that needed to be consumed STAT! Well, I had just enough left, combined with exactly the amount needed of heavy whipping cream from my husband’s Tres Leches birthday cake (also from the week before), to make a Lemon Icebox Pie to bring along. Thank you again Magnolia Bakery!

Phew! Yeah, it was a lot of work. And while I realized why I probably hadn’t conducted a kitchen marathon such as this before, I felt such a sense of accomplishment and pride that not one ingredient went to waste in my refrigerator, and I made a lot of people happy.

How many books would a cookbook cook, if a cookbook could cook books.

Friday, March 6th, 2009

I’m a gal that loves my cookbooks. And I have more than a few, covering subjects from chicken to gelato, and chefs from Rachel Ray to Jamie Oliver.

And I’m not alone. Over the past 10 years, cookbook sales have doubled, driven by Food Network faves Paula Deen and Rachel Ray. And these days, those books that focus on comfort foods are topping shoppers’ lists.

So when I spotted this article from Restaurants & Institutions this week that announced some of spring’s newest releases, I was interested to see which were hitting trends in consumer behavior.

‘wichcraft: Craft a Sandwich into a Meal-and a Meal into a Sandwich (Clarkson Potter, March), by Tom Colicchio

I don’t know about you guys, but sandwiches have become a weekly cost-savings dinner in our household. Chicken salad and grilled cheese are getting a little old though – time for some new ideas!

Laguna Beach Farmer's Market
Creative Commons License photo credit: Island Life

Eating Well in Season: The Farmers’ Market Cookbook (Countryman Press, April), by Jessie Price and the editors of Eating Well

If you have not yet heard the term “locavore,” listen up. Consumers are increasingly concerned about the impact their choices are making on the environment. Not to mention the fact that locally grown produce can often be cheaper, and help support a farmer in your area. As a volunteer at my local farmers’ market, I can tell you that this movement is growing.

Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects (Ten Speed Press, June), by Karen Solomon

Sales of basic ingredients are on the rise, as consumers cuts costs by spending a little extra time cooking from scratch.

 

Well, that’s just a few of the new offerings. Other topics include timely ethnic – Asian barbecue and Indian cuisine – which help consumers recreate that restaurant experience at home; recreating classic recipes; and molecular gastronomy.

Are you a fellow cookbook collector? Do you use them regularly? What’s your favorite or most used? I’d love to hear from you! (My personal favorite is the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook - best chocolate buttercream ever!)

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