An Update!

8 Mar

Hello readers.  Here’s the deal – this blog is in the middle of a reboot because I’ve realized that I have gone about this whole “learning to be a foodie” thing the wrong way.  What I’ve been up to lately is writing for an online food magazine based in Philadelphia, Table Matters – and we have re-thunk our readership and how we approach things.  The magazine has realized that our audience has shifted a bit and we’re now writing for the mid-20s want-to-be foodie, which I am!  It’s actually why I have this blog.  Cool, huh?  Anyway, I’ve become the sort-of “condiment queen” where I demystify scary ingredients that people might feel they can only use once, which is great because I’m learning about these ingredients as I write my pieces.  Essentially, I feel like I’m better becoming a foodie by parsing out the pros and cons to ingredients rather than posting random recipes like I feel I have been doing so far.  What I’m going to start doing with this blog is linking my published articles to the site and then creating recipes to accompany them for you readers…  In the meantime however, here is my first published piece on truffle oil, it’s a spin from a previous blog post on truffle oil from this site!  Another piece I’m about to publish is a spin on my fish sauce piece, so when that gets published I’ll link that as well.  In my next article I’m tackling rose water (and I’m actually going out to buy my bottle this weekend!  Yay!) and when that is finished I’ll post it along with some recipes for you…so we can better involve into foodies together. 🙂

 

http://tablematters.com/2013/02/21/my-trouble-with-truffle-oil/

 

Much love, always!

What’s the Deal with Detox?

22 Jan

So I’ve been away for a month for a reason…let’s say for research.  Really, I’ve been doing research.  Once the holiday season is over, raise your hand if your inbox and La-De-Dah “lady magazines” are full of articles about detoxing after the holidays.  Right, that’s what I thought.  Now, raise your hand if you’ve attempted to detox after the holiday season?  You should be ashamed.

I’ve received twenty one, (yep, 2-1) emails and magazine covers pitching new detox routines, so here’s the deal: I’m tackling this whole “detox” thing and what it means.  How to do it right, how to do it wrong, and how to do it deliciously.

THE 4-1-1

It may come as no surprise that “detox” is short for “detoxification,” also known as the process of clearing your body of harmful toxins and icky bits that come from eating crap…usually for an extended period of time…like the December-January transition period.  Ideally, you get your body and your overall self back into a revitalized and well-working order again, so you can stop feeling sluggish, bloated, and all-around nasty.

THE NO

If a detox program comes in a bottle or pill with a price tag attached, PUT IT THE HELL DOWN!  Just like an old family pet, shed a few tears and then quickly euthanize the idea.  Wait, was that harsh?  The point is, you can’t expect a miracle juice or acai pill to shrink your waistline or tremendous feelings of guilt.  After doing some reading, this is actually the worst way to get back into the swing of things.  Many popular (and pricey) detox regimens have you use drink mixes and a small dose of produce to reboot your system…only problem is that your system doesn’t actually need rebooting!  Unless you have some serious organ failure (in which case you should probably at the hospital instead of reading this), your body doesn’t need spinach and algae liquid to cleanse itself…it does it automatically!  Imagine that you’re a parent, and you’re trying to tell your stubborn toddler that they need help dressing themselves.  “I can do it myself!” little Sally screams, as the shoves her pants onto her head and has a sock hanging off of her ear…we won’t talk about the underwear she’s using as a makeshift shirt.  That’s like your body, only unlike the toddler, your body does actually know what it’s doing.  What ends up happening is you smother your toddler, or in this case, your body with too much love and end up gaining weight and becoming even more unhappy than you already were.  Sally ends up becoming an addicted unwed mother, you go to sleep every night with hunger pains, and you wish you would have just chilled out and not tried anything drastic.

Wow.  Well that got real depressing real quick.

Point is, don’t think you know better than your body.  Juice and pill (calorie-restrictive) regimens end up starving your body and send your metabolism running into survival mode…afterall, I’d think you were dying too if you cut out all major sources of carbohydrates, protein, and fiber.  Yes you lose weight, but it’s surface-level water weight.  Keep detoxing for longer than a week or so, and you end up compromising your muscle mass too.  Thinking of getting in good hard workouts while detoxing?  Good luck with that.  (I take no responsibility for you passing out while maxing out on those killer bicep reps, bro…try drinking something other than water and powdered grass)  I hope I’ve made it somewhat obvious at how sketch these diets are; for an added bonus, the majority of the juice and pill plans have never even seen collaboration with an MD, DO, RN, or nutrition or dietetics expert.  Healthy, right?  Perhaps you are feeling better after consuming nothing but liquids for a week, I’d like you to think, are you really feeling better or are you just too dizzy to notice you feel like hell?  Fatigue, muscle ache, nausea, and a ridiculous lack of energy are all side effects of these programs that can leave you feeling just as bad as you did when you ate your weight in red meat and gravy at Grandma Gretchen’s over New Years.

THE YES

Good news though – there are actually smart ways to detox.  Better yet, they involve REAL food!  Oh happy days!!!  Feeling better is 50% about getting back into a normal and healthy routine with healthy foods, and 50% feeling good about what you’re putting into your body.  Your thought process is just as important as the food you eat.  Would you feel great eating split-pea colored water that smelled and probably tasted like grainy dirt?  Point made.  The key to smartly detoxing is easy: remember the food groups!  It sounds lame, but you seriously just need to remember what your original good sources of nutrition are: poultry, leafy greens, brightly colored fruits (which is pretty much all fruit), whole grains.   It’s your basic pyramid.  To detox well is to simply eat smart, keep track of your portions and stay away from heavy dairy, refined flour, and fried anything.  Your oven is your friend, drink plenty of water, and the brighter and more interesting your plate looks, the better!

Instead of spending mucho money on fancy drinks, head over to the store, buy some chicken and spinach, and have a great and flavorful salad for lunch for the week.  Make sure your dinner every night contains at least one vegetable (not covered in butter), and become best friends with wheat berries or brown rice.

The recipe I have for this post is something that contains the benefits of whole grains (quinoa), the healthy oils of nuts, and the fruity punch of oranges.  It’s sweet and savory, and I loved it (and my husband kind of dug it too)!  I found it on Prevention.com, and they actually have a really great slide show about clean eating and detoxing with real food.  In all my scowering, this was the one site I felt best about when it came to good and healthy advice.

Honey Quinoa w Text

Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 1/2 Cups Uncooked Quinoa
1 Tablespoon Honey
1/3 Cup Fresh Cilantro (finely  chopped)
1/3 Cup Honey Roasted Peanuts
Juice of 1 Fresh Orange
2 Teaspoons Orange Zest
2 Scallions (thinly sliced)
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Pepper

1. Start by cooking the quinoa according to package instructions.  At times, the recipes will leave you with some water left over in the pot, so if that happens, put your cooked quinoa sit in a strainer, pressing down with a towel or cloth to squeeze the liquid out.  Be careful though, this stuff will be hot.

2. Transfer to a large bowl as soon as possible (once liquid-free).

3. Add honey and gently toss with the quinoa to combine.  Cover the bowl and set aside for 10 minutes to allow the honey to soak in.

4. Combine all of the remaining ingredients into the bowl and mix together.

5. You can either serve warm as is, or chilled as part of your lunch for the week.

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Without going too much into this recipe (because I really want you to try this one for yourself), you can add or take away from this as you’d like.  I ended up using honey roasted almonds instead of the peanuts, no harm no foul.  I also added come cooked chicken breast once so my husband could make a complete meal out of it.  Where you can take this, only you know.  Side dish, main dish, or even a scoop on top of some mixed greens in lieu of a mayo-laiden tuna salad, the ultimate point is this: a good detox recipe contains fresh ingredients that you can have fun with and use in a variety of ways.  You shouldn’t have to worry about too many oils or butters…  Keep spices (like the cilantro) fresh for the best flavor possible, and you’ll never feel like you’re eating “diet” food.  Believe it or not, combining veggies and fruits into grains can get pretty fun and damn tasty – so consider this recipe a jumping off point.  You can also consider this recipe an introduction into the blank slate that is quinoa.  Combine this amazing grain with feta, tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and a bit of red wine vinegar and you’ve got a mediterranean bowl of love.

Just start thinking of your favorite foods and ingredients and see where it takes you! 🙂

 

In the meantime, stay away from kelp drinks and starving yourself…   Detox wisely, and remember that the best way to lose weight or feel better, is to eat!  (And for the love of God, let your body do its job by itself!)

 

Much love,

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A Simple Sweet for the Last-Minute Loafer

23 Dec

Before you start cursing me out because you’re in a massive pickle over what to bring to your Christmas party tomorrow or your family get-together on Christmas Day, and it’s taken me so long to post…take a major breather.  Why?  Because I’m about to save your ass.  I posted this on the later side for a reason, because I have a feeling that at least 25% of my reader base will either (1) have waited until the last minute to think about baking something for Christmas, (2) have gotten guilted into bringing something to a party, or (3) just realized the extent of their holiday entertaining also covers a morning or early afternoon brunch coffee/tea thingy and need something to provide.  Worry not, we’ll get right to the point.

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This recipe consists of three basic ingredients: sugar, cinnamon, and frozen puff pastry sheets (that you can find anywhere), although you can harken back to my classic blank-slate approach and whittle it down to one basic ingredient, the humble puff pastry.  I’ll go more into the versatility of this ingredient and the options you have here at the end of the recipe.  For now, we’ll cover a simple confection that takes little effort and close to no time at all.  A bonus, you say?  Of course!  To make things even better, this recipe has a French name, so you can sound extra fancy when you tell people what you’ve slaved over😉

Palmiers w Text

1 Package of Frozen Puff Pastry (thawed, there should be package directions on thawing)
1/2 Cup Sugar
2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
Zest of 1 Orange (optional)
1/2 Tablespoon of Ground Vanilla Bean (or the seeds from one bean) (optional)

1. Combine sugar, cinnamon, orange zest, and vanilla bean in a bowl

2. Sprinkle 1/2 of the sugar mix onto your work surface, laying the puff pastry on top of the sugar*

* Depending on your puff pastry, your package may contain two separate sheets.  If this is the case, use 1/4 of the sugar mixture on each side of each sheet of puff dough

3. Sprinkle the remaining sugar mix on top of the pastry

4. With a rolling pin, roll over the puff pastry – this rolls the sugar mixture into the dough on both sides.  Roll the dough, maintaining its even rectangle, until it’s about 1/8 of an inch thick

5. Roll up the puff pastry dough.  This can be done a few ways (you can Google some pretty impressive designs): you can either start from one end and just roll it up (so the inside looks like a spiral), or you can roll the two shorter length sides in towards the center, which could make a sort-of heart-shaped design.  Either way, make sure you roll them as tightly as possible!

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6. Wrap these rolls in plastic wrap and let chill out in the fridge for at least 30 minutes

7. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees

8. Cut the dough into slices that are around a quarter-inch thick. Lay the slices onto parchment-lined sheet trays and bake for 12 minutes, turning the slices over half-way through the cooking time**

** Yes, when you turn them, they will seem loose and droopy…it’s the nature of the beast and what you get for such and ingredient-simple recipe

If you really want a heart shape, give their sweet little middles a pinch once you get them onto the cookie sheet

If you really want a heart shape, give their sweet little middles a pinch once you get them onto the cookie sheet

9. After the cooking time (they should look golden brown), remove from the oven and allow them to cool on the baking sheet for about five minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack and allow them to cool completely before serving

Now, they might not seem puffy or flaky enough – but jut allow them to dry and all will be well.  Promise!

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Not bad, huh?  So now for the versatility…  You can do anything with puff pastry, especially if you want to stick with these lovely spiraly thingies…  You can stick to a plain cinnamon sugar filling, or you can add citrus zest to plain sugar, or you can add ground vanilla to any combination of things too.  I’ve even known people who have done sugar and pumpkin pie or apple pie spice.  Sugar and cocoa powder could work, you could even add come chile for a bit of a kick!  These clearly don’t need to stay sweet either, I’ve seen numerous recipes that combine grated parmesan cheese with dried parsley and oregano – or any Italian spice really!  Essentially, get creative, come up with a filling, and take it for a spin!  I mentioned Google before, and I’m sure if you searched for palmier fillings you’d find a giant list of things as well.  I’d like to think that the possibilities with this are endless.  (And the best part about some of these basic fillings is that it’s stuff you should already have in your pantry…minus maybe a piece of citrus fruit and the ground vanilla bean).  Puff pastry can be found in all grocery store freezer sections…normally by the Cool Whip and frozen pie shells…it can even be found at Walmart and Target superthingies, guaranteeing that you’ve got 24-hour access.

Poor lil' naked orange...

Poor lil’ naked orange…

That’s literally all there is to it.  I know this post is on the shorter side, but it needn’t be any longer really!  To sum everything up, it’s a basic recipe and requires very little effort on your part…it has a fancy French name, and the flaky puff pastry gives these morsels a consistency that makes them appear really blood-sweat-and-tears-worthy.  To emphasize the EASE of this recipe, I’ll say this…  It was my first time working with puff pastry and although at times it seemed as though the recipe wasn’t turning out right (which I point out in the recipe above), it ended up working out fine!  I think the dough and sugar also makes them a really neutral dessert or snack for picky or hard-to-impress eaters.  I think kids will like the sugary crunch, and adults might enjoy the variety of filling possibilities.  My puff pastry came in two sheets, so I actually filled one with just sugar (as my “base line”), and the other with the cinnamon/sugar/orange/vanilla mixture.

If you want a taste evaluation, my husband actually tried the orange ones…well, I gave him no choice…but he totally dug them!  He was surprised that it wasn’t a cookie (the texture is what got him), but once he was past that he said they were great and tasted like those cinnamon rolls that come with the orange glaze.

My husband has now eaten puff pastry…watch out world!  The next thing you know, he’ll be so sophisticated that he’ll wear his three-piece suit to the grocery store.

Okay, so maybe puff pastry won’t turn you into Man or Woman of the Year…but you get what I mean.

Remarkably fancy.  Unbelievably simple.

So for those of you who need that quick dessert fix for the last-minute holiday party or get-together…here you go.  So bang these out, have yourself a glass of wine or heavily-spiked eggnog, and pat yourself on the back, because you are officially golden and ‘in like Flynn’!  (I got that phrase from someone…so I hope I’m understanding it and using it correctly…)

Merry Christmas from the E.Foodie.

Much love,

Because it’s Salty, Crunchy, Gooey, Healthy, and Made with Love

12 Dec

Okay – so just to get it out there – I’m at major odds with WordPress right now.  I’ve had this post ready to roll except for the pictures for the last two days, and for one reason or another I’ve been interrupted from finishing this post.  So I planned on editing my photos and finishing this post tonight, which I’m doing, but when I went to add my pictures, I have discovered that my post is no more.  Essentially, two days worth of blog magic are gone and I must start from scratch.  I like writing, and I’m kinda digging it right now, but I must warn you – I have dilated pupils from an eye doctor’s appointment, and I’ve been drinking copious amounts of club soda…so to say that I’m under the influence right now is probably an understatement.

Moving on.

This weekend I was super digging into making my own Italian food, and that’s just what I did (using the term “Italian” loosely of course).  At first, I was just looking for some red sauce and noodles…but then I got sucked into Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations Naples episode, and well…yeah.  It wasn’t long before I had myself completely overwhelmed with pasta options, sauce options, vegetable options, and copious amounts of proteins to accompany each…my poor man friend (husband) was left to free fall into a pit of possibilities.  What we settled on is the recipe below, and yes, I did make my own pasta (which I will touch more on later).   Turns out, it was way more complicated than my original “red sauce and noodles,” but screw it…it was damn fun to make and even more fun to eat.

Poached Egg and Kale Pasta w Text

(Serves 2)
Recipe Link

Pasta (however much you need for you and your eating buddy)
2 Large Eggs
8 Leaves of Kale (about 2 really packed cups)
2 Cloves of Garlic (one minced, one thinly sliced)2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
1 8oz Package of Mushrooms (thinly sliced)
1 Small Onion
0.25 Cup Pepitas (pumpkin seeds…you could also use pine nuts or sunflower seeds)
Any Grateable Italian Cheese*

* Don’t think too hard about this…just pick a cheese and use it.  Hell, you can totally even use the shaky parmesan stuff that you find in those big containers.  I went to the store looking for maybe a pecorino romano or a wedge of aged parmesan, but I stumbled on a sample piece of parrano…which a nearby sign mentioned was a grateable Italian cheese slightly more punchy (my word, not theirs) than a parm.

1) Heat the 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan

2) Once the pan is heated, add the clove of minced garlic, allowing it to cook for a minute or two

3) Add the onion, stirring occasionally until it is cooked and translucent (this is also where you can add the mushrooms and let them cook down a bit if you’d like)

4) Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for your pasta

5) Begin to add kale by the handfuls to the sauté pan, stirring with each addition to incorporate the onion and garlic fully.  Once all kale is added, mix in the sliced garlic

6) Cook your pasta while your kale finishes wilting

7) Once the kale is done and the pasta is working, begin to simmer water for your eggs, poaching them when ready

8) To assemble, toss the kale/vegetables with the seeds and cooked pasta, adding salt and pepper as needed…adding a bit of olive oil if you need help getting your vegetables to stick to your noodles.  Top with the poached egg, and shavings of cheese

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Pause –

BRIEF MESSAGE: Curious about the link under the serving size?  It’s a recipe sheet!  I’m giving that a whirl so that it’s easier for people to print out recipes or view them on their iThingies so you don’t have to worry about navigating around pictures and such.  I will tell you though that on the recipe page, the mushrooms and onions and pepitas are listed as “optional” only for the reason that pasta, cheese, kale, and egg yolk probably taste amazing all by themselves as well.

Resume –

Okay so yes, I’ll admit, this is a 3/4 burner project – one for the kale and vegetables, one for the pasta water, and one for the eggs…but to me, it was totally worth it.  Now, before you start panicking about poaching eggs I will remind you that this blog has seen poached eggs once before…check out the post here…which also coincidentally begins with the adjectives “salty” and “crunchy.”  Coincidence?  Or divine…um…something divine?  Definitely the latter of the two.  Anyway, moving on, check out the post, which starts with a YouTube link of Alton Brown (a la Good Eats) on how to poach eggs…ever since that episode I have yet to screw up an egg (that I’m willing to admit), so I suggest you totally give it a try.  The beauty of this recipe is the cutting of the poached egg, as it innocently sits atop your pasta, and having the yolk drip down and mingle with the onions, kale, cheese, mushrooms…oh my hold crap I’m drooling.  Although that could be a side effect of the dilated pupils.  No?  Whatever.  But anyway, it mixes with your pasta and creates this lovely, gooey, velvety sauce and it’s pretty much the best thing ever.

Wanna know something even better though?  The man friend doesn’t like onions or mushrooms.  Doing a double-take?  Totally.  I used two ingredients that he doesn’t care for in this recipe…and I didn’t even make an attempt to hide them…and he ate everything and thought it was bangarang!  Sounds like a success to me.  Perhaps a small one, but hell, baby steps.  Whether his tastes are extending to other unthinkable vegetables or everything just tastes better covered in sharp cheese (completely possible), he said he had “no complaints” and would eat it again.  Seriously?  I feel like I could run a marathon.  Kinda.  Not really.  Dilated pupils, remember?

Seriously, I feel like an anime character right now.

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What were we talking about?  Oh right…this recipe.  OH OKAY…about the pasta…  Yes, I made my own pasta.  Admission, I do have a pasta attachment for my mixer, but lucky for you the night my man friend and I made this we couldn’t find it.  We made the pasta literally by hand – he rolled out the sheets of dough super thin, and then we cut them into thin strips and let them breathe until the noodles were ready to boil.  Typically, I do use my pasta roller, but that’s mainly because I’m short and it’s hard to get proper dough-rolling leverage on my counter tops; but you CAN do this by hand and I’m not just saying that.  It’s completely possible!  It’s nothing to be afraid of because pasta recipes are fool proof…just keep in mind that when you roll out the dough and cut it info strips or pieces, you make them relatively thin because they increase in size when they hit hot water.  Big noodles are great, don’t get me wrong (I love pasta and carbs more than I love world peace on some days), but they have a tendency to sit in your stomach like lead sinkers.  It’s not a make-it or break-it kinda thing, it’s just something to be aware of.

On the pasta note, I have discovered  that my extra noodles would make an excellent Christmas gift (since the holidays are upon us).  If you’re wishy washy about your pasta making skills or the thickness of your pasta, do what I did, and cut them into smaller pieces for someone to use in say a chicken noodle soup.

If you’re looking for the pasta recipe, it’s in my recipe sheet at the top of the page…you can also easily find it online if you Google search “KitchenAid pasta recipe.”  Don’t quote me on this, but I think it’s something like two eggs, four cups of AP flour (or two AP and two semolina), maybe two tablespoons water, some salt, and maybe a quarter cup olive oil.  Knead the crap out of it with more flour if you need to, let it sit in the fridge for at least an hour, and then when you’re ready to work with it allow it to “thaw” for fifteen minutes.

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What you’d do in this case, is take any left over pasta dough you might have, cut into small pieces, and then let them dry overnight.  Then you can package them up and gift them away…feeling accomplished and super amazing since I guarantee that your neighbors have probably never seen such a thing before.  Pasta (especially these cute little square dumpling things I made up) really is super easy, and honestly I dare say it took less time and mess than decorated sugar cookies.

Since we’ve transitioned to holiday gifts, that’s also the focus of my next post.  Whereas last year I posted my sugar cookie recipe and then royal iced the crap our of those suckers, this year I’m taking a much simpler approach.  Our next recipe is kind of a cookie kind of something else, way easier than mixing flour with room temperature butter and some sugar and mixing it all together (which I suppose can sound pretty easy on its own).  What is this miracle recipe, exactly?  You’ll just have to wait and see. 😉

Much love,

 

Oh – and by the way…Happy 12-12-12…or something.

We’re Back! With Candy!!

2 Dec

Hello all!  I know it’s pretty hard to tell, but I’m super stoked to be back on-blog.  A lot has happened over the last six months and I’ve never been so busy – not that it’s necessarily an excuse – but seriously I’ve never been busier.  Let’s take a look – I’ve managed to get married, hold down a full time summer job, continue a part time internship at a hospital, participate in four research projects at school, train for and run a half-marathon (my third), participate in a dance performance for charity, maintain my GPA, become addicted to spin classes, and have applied to nine graduate schools…I still have four more applications to do, but they’re almost done.  I don’t know how that sounds to you, but looking back, it’s enough to make my nose bleed.

But hey, we’re all about moving forward and that’s what I intend to do!  My culinary tastes have shifted to a slightly healthier scale, however fear not, I still love a good ole’ fashioned hotdog covered in cheese sauce (so rest assured you have not subscribed to a vegan blog).  On that note though, I do plan on trying to show both my parents, my husband (HOLY COW I’M MARRIED), and other people that healthy food doesn’t have to be tasteless and gross.  I know that sounds cliche and a lot of people say things like that, but seriously, that ‘healthy food’ stereotype is still around.  Not cool.  On that note, since my man is trying to hop aboard the USS Health, he’s becoming more open to foods that he might not have eaten otherwise.  Success!!  Seriously.  Success.  He’s totally digging scallions, quinoa, squash…things he wouldn’t have eaten a little bit ago.  He also fell in love with tomato jam, figs, and prosciutto on our honeymoon when we ate at a swanky Italian restaurant…he ended up having some jazzed up crab carbonara that was amazing and he enjoyed a few complicated ingredients that I don’t think he’s heard of before.  We’re heading to NYC for our six-month anniversary, so we’ll see how that venture goes (however I don’t think we’ll be eating anywhere too crazy, with him in grad school and me applying, we’re poor as hell).

Anywho – moving forward – take two.  Foodwise, I’ve been experimenting lately with my arch nemesis…candy.  It took me an entire Christmas break three years ago to master nut brittle, and that is something that most people consider easy!  I found an amazing apple cider caramel recipe that I managed to pull-off…but to me, it seemed fool-proof…not starting with the classic caramel base of many dry cups of sugar, heat, and a prayer.  I’d like to point out though, that there is nothing wrong with a fool-proof candy recipe.  If you can find one, STICK WITH IT!  Because they are few and far between.  Not necessarily.  Barks and brittles are fairly easy, but I’m launching myself into the world of candy thermometers and exact cooking temperatures, so may the force be with me.  I’m also going to point out that yes, I do understand the irony of working with candy and my previous paragraph about eating healthy…but in my defense, I bring all my creations over to the Writing Center at school and make them eat it.

The recipe that I have is, I will admit, not for the faint of heart.  I got the recipe on my third try and with that all I have to say is: make sure amounts and temperatures are exact!  However if you are smart (which I haven’t been lately), you’ll follow everything to a T and get it right the first time.  I’ll talk more on my failures in a bit.  If you like Mounds candy, you’ll like this.  If you like coconut, you’ll love this.  It’s essentially a coconut and sugar candy that I got off of a FoodNetwork TV show.  The chef is Aarti Sequeira, and while I don’t watch her show or make her schtuff, I saw this on Best Thing I Ever Made’s holiday gift episode and thought her candies were super cute and adorable.  And I love coconut.  Like whoa.  Plus, the other items on that show were glorified Linzer cookies (yawn), homemade maraschino cherries (which were awesome, but they’re super fancy and I wouldn’t know what to do with them), and chocolate covered cereal…by Chef Jacques Torres…yep…Mr. Chocolate is contributing chocolate covered Cheerios and Corn Flakes to this episode.  Facepalm.

MOVING ON!  The recipe, which can be found here, is actually called coconut toffee…and according to Ms. Sequeira, “toffee” (in India) is just a word they use to describe all candy and not necessarily like the toffee that we are familiar with here in the States.  Because I don’t have cardamom, an ingredient called for in her recipe, I have just chosen to call my recipe “coconut sugar candies” since essentially that’s the best way I can describe them.  If you have cardamom laying around, I advise you add it, and let me know how it goes. 🙂

Coconut Sugar Candies w Text

1 1/2 Cups Sugar

1/2 Cup Water

1 1/2 Cups Dried, Unsweetened Coconut*

1 Tablespoon Ground Cashews (optional)**

Food Coloring (optional)***

* If you’re having trouble finding this, walk away from your baking aisle and head over to to organic and natural section.  I found that my searching and hoping in the baking lane just gave me sweetened and slightly moist flakes…like the stuff you’d use for macaroons.  Over where they have the agave and gluten replacement flours in the healthy section of the store, I was able to find straight up, dried, unsweetened coconut.  Warning: Like baking vanilla and ChocoBake, try to keep yourself from eating this as is out of curiosity…it’s kind of gross. 

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** I went ahead and did this because I love cashews, had some in the house, and decided to go for it.  If you have access to bulk foods, this is perfect because you can just take as much as you need.  I found that food processing ten cashew nuts was more than enough to give the tablespoon that I needed.

*** You can do this or leave the candies white.  On the show, Aarti dyed hers a pale pink, which is what I tried to do until I realized I used neon food coloring…  She used the liquid drops, two drops, for this recipe.

1. Line an 8×8 or 9×9 brownie pan with parchment or wax paper.  What I found works awesome is if you rip yourself a piece of parchment, and then cut it in half down the center lengthwise…laying the two pieces in the pan covering the sides

2. Add the sugar and the water to a medium saucepot over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar melts and forms a 230-degree syrup.  If you need help with the temperature, either use a candy thermometer, digital thermometer, or head on over to her recipe (link provided above) for a thermometer-less way to get your sugar to the right temperature and consistency.

3. Once the sugar is to temperature, remove it from the heat

4. Stir in your food coloring until it is mixed completely

5. Add in the dried coconut and the cashew powder, stirring until fully combined

6. Pour into your papered pan and allow to set for an hour until removing it and cutting into pieces

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You might think that the recipe doesn’t seem that hard, and I suppose it isn’t if you’re careful…  Here’s what I mean:
You’re firstly going to want to carefully place your candy thermometer.  The first time I tried this recipe, my thermometer was too far away from the center of the saucepan, causing it to read a temperature lower than it actually was, and I overcooked the sugar which thickened too much and really dried out the coconut.  My second attempt accidentally had my thermometer touching the bottom of the pan, which caused me to end up with a temperature warmer than actual and I ended up getting coconut flakes floating in sweetened water and NOT the slight syrup that we’re going for.

If you eyeball the measurements of the ingredients you might also be in for trouble, if you add too little coconut then the recipe will end up not thick enough and if you add too much coconut your recipe will be too dry – neither of which set up properly and will leave you with serious PTSD.

Speaking of PTSD, you’re going to want to be careful, careful, CAREFUL when working with your hot sugar.  Don’t – DO NOT – stir your liquid syrup and then lick your spook or touch it with your finger, or place your fleshy body parts anywhere near the hot syrup.  You would probably be psychologically scarred for life, and I can say that, because I’m a psychology major.  It’s easy to forget, even with a thermometer’s reminder, just how hot this liquid is.  Allow me to remind you – OVER TWO HUNDRED DEGREES.  Working with sugar is never for the clumsy or chronically ditzy because you can seriously burn yourself or ruin your cooking utensils…more emphasis on bodily injury of course.  Granted, there are a lot of times when I’d lose my underwear if there wasn’t elastic holding them onto my butt, but when I work with sugar I make sure it has my undivided attention and I take precautions to not knock anything over, drip anything anywhere dangerous (like onto the burner…no bueno), or burn anything or anyone.

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On that note, I urge you to give these a try if you do dig coconut – please don’t let me scare you away.  (But seriously, don’t hurt yourself, I’m not responsible if you do)  I do think this would be adorable to package and give away for the holidays, and I also encourage you to try making these with some other spices and extracts.  My mom even wondered what they’d taste like with a chocolate coating or drizzle.  Hmmm…

So here it is, reviving the blog with a pink (yes), candy (yes), recipe (yes).  I figured I’d start with a sweet note since I got such a lot of reception with my Christmas sweets posts last year.  I am happy to return back to the blog scene and hopefully we can make many more food memories together.  I’m so very pleased to end this post saying “See you later!” because I’m not going to be leaving you hanging for another six months.  I hope to see you in just under a week – I get the house to myself this weekend, so let the foodie experiments begin…again. 🙂

Much love,

You can now place a face with the posts!

You can now place a face with the posts!

I Leave You in Good Hands…AND He’s Got Wine! (A Guest Post)

26 May

Hey guys!  So we have ourselves a guest post today!  His name is Josh, and he’s a Master’s candidate in the English department at Southeast Missouri State University…my Alma mater.  We were roomies for two years and then knew each other for a year and a half before that.  He’s my bridesman in my upcoming wedding, therefore his is awesome.  If you like his guest post today, bounce yourselves on over to his blog, The Mind of an English Major.

Sorry for the random intro – but here’s why I’m choosing to invite a guest to EvolutionaryFoodie this week: I’m realllllly busy, this recipe is realllllly awesome, and this is reallllllly convenient for YOU if you need a simple (yet impressive looking) dessert for any boring-ass picnics that you have to sit through this weekend.  Let’s face it, someone’s burgers are going to taste like lighter fluid, someone else will end up with botulism from Aunt Sally’s mayo-based potato salad that sat outside for too long, and someone else will blow everyone away with an amazing trifle that will make the charred meat and constant trips to the bathroom SO worth it.

 

 

So without further ado…

 

 

The last time I was invited to a get-together, I showed up with a bag of pita chips and a container of pre-packaged hummus.  It wasn’t bad, but I thought it was somewhat lame.  I love cooking for other people and the only reason why I showed up with pre-made stuff was because the previous semester was going through its death-throes and I was being tossed about in the aftershocks.  The idea of actually creating something was way more than my overtaxed brain could handle at the time.

So, when I was invited to another soiree, I decided to actually put effort into my edible contribution.  As a kid, my favorite part of any pot luck was the desserts.  A table groaning under the weight of vats of fruit cobbler, gooey cakes, and bowls of frothy wonderfulness was the closest thing to perfection in my mind—it still is, actually.

And so, I set out to make something frothy and delicious.  I found the original recipe online and modified it to suit a larger group of people, since this works best at family gathering or group parties.

This recipe is so easy to make, it’s ridiculous, yet all your friends will ooh and ahh over how wonderful it is, especially when you explain in detail what it is: “Fresh strawberries in a red wine reduction, lemon pound cake squares and lots of whipping cream.”  All your friends’ eyes will go wide and they’ll look slightly horrified (but also impressed) that you would go to SO MUCH trouble to make such an ELABORATE dessert for them.  At which point, you just smile and enjoy the heaps of adulation you will receive.

What I love about the strawberries is that they are incredibly multipurpose.  You can serve them on cheesecake, use them as an ice cream topping, or serve them on shortcake.  The trifle itself is more a vehicle for the strawberries.  The possibilities are limitless.  I’d also be curious to experiment with different wines and see how they work (or don’t work) with the strawberries.

The following recipe serves about 12-ish.

You will need:

3 cups semi-sweet red wine (a Zinfandel, Shiraz, or even a Cabernet would work gloriously)

1 cup granulated sugar (2/3 of a cup for the reduction, and 1/3 for the whipping cream)

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 quarts sliced strawberries (a pound of whole strawberries, if they’re all fully ripe, should give you about two quarts (8 cups) of sliced strawberries

1 lemon-flavored pound cake (roughly a pound or so)

1 and a half pints of whipping cream (don’t use the aerosol stuff since it deflates and develops a skin that looks like white brain matter after sitting in the fridge for a while; it still tastes fine, but it looks icky.)

A few strawberries for garnish (if you so desire)

Don’t go crazy deciding on a red wine.  It doesn’t have to be an expensive wine at all.  You’re looking for something uncomplicated, slightly fruity, and smooth without a whole lot of bite.  I used a Robert Mondavi Zinfandel (on sale for about 9 dollars) and it worked gloriously.  Rancho Zabaco, another California Zinfandel, would work well, too.  Also, if you send someone out to pick up the wine for you, or if you’re not a huge wine fan in general, remember to get a red Zinfandel.  I asked the nice person as the grocery store where the Zinfandel was and they directed me to the boxes of white Zinfandel, which horrified me just a little bit.  While you can definitely pair this dessert with a white Zinfandel (a sweet, fruity, chilled, pale rose-colored wine), you want to cook with a red.

Rinse and slice the strawberries and set them aside in a bowl.

In a 3-5 quart saucepan, pour the wine and the sugar and set to high heat.  Don’t be timid.  Bring the wine mixture to a boil and boil the heck out of it for 5-7 minutes, stirring gently.  Your goal is to boil the wine down to two cups’ worth.

Then, remove the sugared wine from the heat and add the vanilla and the strawberries and stir it all together.  Let this delicious-looking mixture cool for about an hour or so, stirring occasionally.

You may have to resist the urge to taste the strawberries because they look (and taste) crazy delicious.  The strawberries will soak up the wine reduction and the wine reduction will soak up the strawberry flavor.  Basically, the whole thing just gets better and better.

One important note (and this may just be something that I alone freaked out about): the wine reduction won’t set into any kind of syrupy glaze.  It will get a bit thicker, but it will remain liquid.  I kept expecting it to set and had the horrifying realization that I may have completely screwed everything up…but then I calmed down and realized that it was doing exactly what I had told it to do.

While the strawberries are cooling, cut up the pound cake into 1” by 1” cubes.  You can set them into larger pieces if you want, but I found that the smaller pieces worked better.  Also, you can use regular pound cake in place of the lemon, if you want.  I found that the lemon flavor doesn’t overpower the dish and works very well with the strawberry flavor.

When done, set them aside, and prepare the whipping cream.  1/3 of a cup of sugar, a pint and a half of whipping cream, a bowl, a mixer: you know the drill.  Beat until soft peaks form, yadda yadda yadda, easy peasy.

 

Ideally, you would serve this dessert in a 4 quart straight-sided glass dish (to show off the glorious layers), but if you don’t have a glass dish, you can stick with a good ole’ Rubbermaid bowl.

 

If you are serving this dish for company, I’d suggest springing for the glass dish, because it’s pretty.  If you’re bringing this to a casual BBQ with friends, go with the plastic option.

The layers go as such: pound cake, strawberries, whipped cream.  Don’t skimp on the cake layers because you want them to absorb the wine reduction.  When spooning the strawberries onto the cake layer, be sure you get a good amount of the wine reduction along with the strawberries.  The final top layer should be whipping cream.

After everything’s layered up, loosely cover the trifle and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.  Then, when you’re ready, garnish with either sliced or whole strawberries however you see fit, and prepare to flabbergast your guests.  Remember to scoop down when serving so you get all the layery goodness.

And you’re done!

More than One Apology

16 May

So two apologies need to be addressed with this post – one to you, the reader, and the other to my dear friends Jack and Jill.

We will address you first…   So apparently planning a wedding (32 days, by the way), being a full-time student, being a research assistant, marathon training (yup), and researching in preparation for a thesis project takes a lot of time.  Who knew?  Although I’m sure it’s no excuse, and it won’t heal the pain in your heart and repair your feelings of abandonment right away, all wounded will be mended and the sadness will recede just like your father’s hairline.  We can fix this relationship and make it work, I promise.  Layman’s terms, I’ve been crazy busy and haven’t had time to cook, let alone blog about it.  The only typing I’ve been doing has been responding to student papers (as I am a writing center tutor) and typing papers of my own.  Did I mention I’m trying to plan a wedding?  After this post I would like to continue blogging, but the reality is my next post could be anytime between next week and four weeks from now…  BUT in the interim I have a game plan to keep you foodies motivated and inspired to cook.  More on that later.

Jack and Jill…my dear friends.  Although our friendship was brief, I feel no one can understand my quite like you did.  You completed me.  Though I brought about your (un)timely demise with a knife between the eyes, know that I meant well and ultimately had the best intentions.  I’m sorry it had to come to this and I can only hope that in our next life you will be able to forgive me.

Jack and Jill
5/12/2012

Yep.  You guessed it.  I cooked lobster.  LIVE lobster.  Living, breathing, squirming, panicking lobster. I finally did it, I’m a murderer.  Granted, I almost threw up several times and I needed a serious amount of cheering from my fiance, but the deed has been done.  It was delicious.  It was horrifying.  I’ll be doing it again, I’m sure.

I literally followed Ben Starr’s YouTube video throughout the entire process…so here’s the link that got me though it all (I will give you no recipe for actually grilling lobster, it’s seriously all in here):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bv64KvY-i5U
I’m not really going to go too too much into the cooking of the lobster, because it can depend on the weight of the lobsters and whether you’re just boiling them, boiling with the intention to bake, or boiling with the intention to grill (AND because I feel if I get too in-depth I’m going to start dry heaving again…).  My best advice would be for you to either ask the guy at your fish counter for his expert opinions, or to follow along with the Ben Starr video and adjust your boiling time more or less depending on the weight of your lobsters.  Another thing to note: Ben feels it’s heinous to cook lobster over a gas grill…and for as much as I love Ben Starr, a charcoal grill is just not at my disposal.  I grilled using a gas grill, and I feel everything turned out nice and tasted good.

Since this is a simple grilled lobster, and doesn’t require too much instruction or really a “recipe” that you need to follow, I’ll just kind of walk you through how I got through everything and give you the recipes to the components of my dish.  I served it with regular grilled corn and oven-roasted baby potatoes.

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The main component of this recipe is the BUTTER I used/concocted:
2 sticks Unsalted Butter
2 tablespoons Fresh Chopped Parsley
1 teaspoon Garlic Salt

1. Allow the butter to come to room temperature

2. Combine the garlic salt, butter, and parsley with a spatula, spoon, finger, or item of your choice

I used this butter for not only the lobster, but brushed it on the corn as well right before I served it, so it has many purposes.  Feel free to play around here and mix the butter with any spices you’d like (paprika, basil, fresh garlic, etc.)

I treated the POTATOES the same way you’d treat any normal baby roasting potato…tossed in olive oil with salt and pepper (I added some more chopped parsley), baked for 40-50 minutes in a 450-degree oven.  I didn’t do exact measurements here, I’m sorry. 😦

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GRILLED CORN needs to soak in water for about 25 minutes to prevent it from drying out once you put it over the flame.  After you soak, pull back the husks and pull out the silk (leaving the husks intact).  Brush the corn with a bit of olive oil and then they are ready to grill.  Grill the exposed corn just long enough to get your lovely grill/char marks, and then remove them from the direct heat (either by turning one side of the grill off, moving them away from the coals, or placing them on the rack that some grills have on the inside).  Now, you can do one of two things: recover the corn with its husk (husk will be HOT) and keep them cooking in the grill for 15 minutes, or leave the corn exposed and baste with butter or olive oil every few minutes to prevent drying.  I basted with my butter mixture.  T’was awesome.  Also remember to rotate your cobs (how does THAT sound?!?!) and keep the husks from touching direct flame.  We’re trying to keep the corn from drying out, but the husks will dry (just because that’s how the world works) and you don’t want to start this big epic fire because your dry husks went all California Wild Fire on you and got too close to the flames.

ImageAside from the Ben Starr video, what I ALSO did was flavor the water that the lobster’s boiled in.  A technique I saw somewhere in mess of Lobster How-To videos I watched on YouTube to mentally prepare for this.  I basically flavored the water the way you would for a stock: enough salt to keep the water tasking like the ocean, a two whole carrots (per pot), two whole stalks of celery, and half an onion.  I ended up reclaiming this water as lobster stock when all was said and done (bisque, risotto, you name it).  If you have questions about that, let me know.  Overall, I don’t know just how much flavoring the water with the veggies really helped the lobster in the end, but I feel fancy and everything turned out well…so I’ll do it again next time!  AND I feel that the vegetables gave Jack and Jill some company in their final moments…which brings me a bit of comfort (or something).

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Since this blog is all about learning experiences, here are a few brief notes about cooking lobster and technique you will find on the internet:

1. YES, do put them in the freezer for at least a half hour to put them to sleep.  DON’T take them out and start futzing with them before you transfer them into the boiling water.  I made this mistake and my lobsters were more ‘awake’ than I’d like and they fought me when I tried to get them into the pot.  This resulted in me screaming “OMG he’s in pain!  He’s in pain!” and choking back the urge to throw up all over the place.  I also felt like a horrible person

2. YES, some people do enjoy the lobster tomalley (i.e. the guts), so if you know of someone who does, I recommend slicing the lobsters in half for grilling just the way they are.  If you’re even the slightest bit nauseous DON’T slice the lobsters in half in whole form.  “Remove” (i.e. somewhat brutally twist off or separate) the claws and the tail from the body, discard the body, and then slice the tail in half.  I thought I’d be fine, until I sliced the lobsters clear in half, saw the guts, and once again, choked back the urge to vom.

3. If ever so forcefully hitting the claws with the butt of your knife doesn’t work to crack them, YES, use a nutcracker.  Please DON’T start getting angry with an exposed knife and slippery and rounded surface (i.e. the claw), bad things could probably happen.

4. This did not happen to me, but DON’T remove the claw-bands until the lobster is dead.  When I was cutting them off post-boil I realized just how tight and tough those rubber bands are, and for good reason!  So YES, do leave them on, for your own safety and ease of cooking.

5. Realize that YES, boiling the lobster will kill them and once they’ve turned red, they’re dead.  When you take them out of the water, they will make weird noises (steam escaping) and you’ll see lobster juice spill out, but DON’T let it fool you.  The juices are normal, as are the noises.  You’ve come this far, don’t back down now!

In the event you need some encouragement, don’t forget that you just have to show them who’s boss.

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Moving right along – that’s my tale – and I have lived through it.  Coming up next we have a GUEST POST!  By a good friend of mine who is going to be in my wedding.  He make a trifle with sponge cake and a red wine reduction.  I’d say more, but you’re just going to have to stay tuned.  ;)   Also coming up is a grilled, rum and brown sugar-soaked pineapple sundae.  So those should keep you tied over until I may find the time to blog again.

Love you ALL!

Jack and Jill McLobster
5/12/2012