July 29, 2008

Kitchen Notes - A Berry Good Idea!


I just read this tip on the CHOWHOUND website and thought of all the berries that could be saved from the compost heap if I passed it on to you. Check out the whole thread for more info.

"Just put the unwashed berries in a glass jar, screw the lid on, put in fridge. Posting because I can't be the only bozo who forgot this excellent tip from a few years ago. It really really works. If you missed it there are a bunch of threads, e.g. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/301817Search for rworange's posts, she experimented a lot."Posted by: Aromatherapy Jul 19, 2008 07:08AM

July 28, 2008

Cooks and Cookbooks

My friend and I were visiting in my kitchen the other day when she said she would love to have a cook more than any other kind of help around the house. Just coming up with something for dinner, she lamented, day in and day out, for a husband and two small children gets to be a chore. All she needed, she said, were some good ideas and recipes for a few new meals to satisfy everyone, and she might enjoy cooking more. "Well," I said, "that big bookcase full of cookbooks is just a few steps away and might be a good place to start your search!" It was one of those slap-your-forehead moments when we both realized something incredibly obvious.

Would you want a cook, if you could have one? I'll admit that there are a lot of times when I would be tempted, but what would I do the rest of the time? Hang the cook on a hook in the pantry?

After my recent week of dining my way through Chapel Hill, Pinehurst and Southern Pines, I know that life would be better if someone cooked for me and I ate seafood everyday -- and believe me, I could -- especially when the serving size is inverse to the size of the restaurant bill. It's amazing how a three or four course meal, with wine, can leave you pleasantly satisfied -- and probably a little lighter at the end of the week -- if the food is light and the portions are reasonable. I guess the weight would disappear, right along with my wallet! Turning the cooking over to someone who could create light and delicious meals for me everyday would be a big help!

In real life, not vacation life, I'd like to eat lighter all the time. Another "Aha! moment" and there I was standing in front of the my own bookcase. I've got wild sockeye salmon, fresh from Alaska, in my freezer and the Co-op stocks several good fish choices too. My friend, Anna, also tells me she finds nice frozen fish at Aldi's. If I invested a little time in finding a few fresh and simple recipes, I could be a "new cook" in my own kitchen, and follow my own advice!

Cooking doesn't need to be complicated or time-consuming everyday. Summer is a great time to take a vacation from cooking and maybe spend a little time researching and getting in touch with your inner cook. Assuming you've come here for some inspiration in answering the "What's for dinner?" question, my library is at your service.

Cooking 1-2-3, by Rozanne Gold - How would you like to make great meals with only three ingredients? This books has simple recipes for everyday cooking, and even some for more sophisticated tastes.

Fast Fish, by Hugh Carpenter - A cookbook full of wonderful fish recipes and beautiful pictures to tempt you. I would love to eat like this everyday!

More Chicken Breasts, by Diana Rozas - Have you ever heard a chorus singing "not chicken breast again" at the dinner table? Here are some recipes for fresh ideas with chicken to make your taste buds sing.

Fresh and Simple 5 O'clock Grill, Better Homes and Gardens - Recipes for year-round fresh food from the grill, every night of the week, most requiring little or no embellishment to become a complete meal.

Keep It Simple
, Bon Appetit - A novice cook might argue with the term simple here, but there is no doubt that these are delicious recipes for simply prepared fresh foods. There are detailed instruction, with pictures, and lots of good tips for specific techniques. All in all, this might be the perfect place to look for recipes to take you to the next level.

Grill Every Day: 125 Fast-Track Recipes for Weeknights at the Grill
, Diane Morgan - OK, I'll admit I appear to be obsessed with the grill, but it is summer! This is a terrific book filled with enough vegetable and fruit recipes to please the non-meat lovers when it's grill night. Also includes lots of recipes with international flavors.

The Best American Recipes 2005-2006, by Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens - Although American cooking may be a little difficult to define as a cuisine, there is no doubt that it extends beyond hamburgers, hot dogs, and apple pie. The recipes in this series of cookbooks -- yes there are others! -- are culled from sources like magazines and newspapers and represent the best of the best, at least in the opinions of McCullough and Stevens, who are two people you can truly trust in these matters.

Many of the books on this list are still in print and available at local bookstores. For older titles, just glance over to the right-hand column where you can find all these books and more. I buy a lot of my cookbooks used from Amazon.com and I couldn't be happier with them. It gives me access to a wider variety of recipes, saves me money, and finds a good home for deserving books.

Check out some books like these, and maybe you will find a new cook in your kitchen when you return from some well-deserved vacation time.

July 26, 2008

You're In For A Treat!

SEASON TO TASTE
(My monthly food column for Heartland Women)
July 2008

I like dessert, but it is not my favorite part of the meal. There, I’ve said it! I’ve always been more interested in the savory or salty flavors of a meal than I am the sweet stuff at the end of it. Cakes and pies are nice, and I do like chocolate a lot, but I am not a “save room for dessert” sort of girl. Dinner is dinner – or supper, if you like – and that’s a good thing all by itself, or at least I think so.
That being said, I do enjoy a sweet treat every now and then. A treat though, something that is an unexpected pleasure and apart from any meal. No stringy, chewy pot roast or mushy, malodorous Brussels sprouts are required to get to a treat.
My ideal treat is something special, something that lingers on your palate and in your mind for a long time. Something like . . . a Sunday drive with your family that seems aimless until you are sitting on the wall at the Dairy Queen with a Buster Bar . . . running countless boring errands with your mother until you are hanging over the side of the ice cream freezer at Kelly’s little grocery trying to find a fudgesicle . . . clutching a warm, shiny dime in your palm as you chase after the ice cream truck . . . walking with friends (and no parents) for five whole blocks to Murdale shopping center for a frosty root beer with a scoop of vanilla at the dimestore soda fountain.

Now those are treats! They happen when you least expect them . . . or save you from boredom . . . or reward you for just being you. And, upon reflection, it seems that summer has always been one of the best times for treats. After all, it’s hot, you have more free time, and there is that intangible feeling of freedom that makes everything a little sweeter in the summer.

In any case, summer is just made for making and enjoying treats and, in case you missed the hidden message in my little trip down memory lane, the very best treat of all, especially for summer, is – ICE CREAM! And what kind of ice cream would I be talking about here? Yep, you guessed right again. I’ve got the scoop on homemade ice cream and it’s your treat for July!

The first tip I have for churning out your own homemade ice cream is a word of caution. Some ice cream recipes call for raw eggs and, in case you’ve been living under a rock for a while, consuming raw eggs can put you at risk for salmonella, which is found in about 1 out of every 30,000 eggs. In the interest of safety, you should substitute eggs pasteurized in the shell, or a product like Eggbeaters, in place of fresh eggs in ice cream recipes. This will assure safety, without really comprising flavor or texture. It is also safe to use fresh eggs, if they are cooked to 160 degrees before freezing, as in a custard-style ice cream. The good news though – it is OK to swim right after you eat ice cream!

The next tip is a matter of preference. If you enjoy softer ice cream, then you’ll probably be happy eating yours as soon as it finishes churning. For a firmer texture, though, scoop the churned ice cream into a covered container and place it in the freezer to firm up before serving. An oblong, reseable plastic storage container is perfect for rapid freezing and easy scooping. By the way, my favorite scoopers are OXO, for nice round shapes, and Wilton, for it’s wider, paddle-style shape.

Equipment is important, so start with a good ice cream maker. I really like my Cuisinart 1 1/2-qt. electric ice cream maker because it is fast and simple to use. The opening at the top of the cover makes it easy to add big pieces of fruit or chunks of things like candy bars, just as the ice cream firms up. Armed with a good recipe for vanilla and one for chocolate, and your favorite add-in ingredients, your frozen confections could rival Ben & Jerry’s creative flavors. Just don’t forget to make up a wacky name to go with it!

If you are into serious nostalgia, then find a 4-quart hand-crank White Mountain freezer – the Cadillac for homemade ice cream purists. Throw in lots of ice and a bag of rock salt and give everyone who wants a treat a turn at the crank. It might even be ice cream before you can say “4-qt. hand-crank White Mountain freezer.”

For those who are very serious about ice cream and small appliances, there are some professional models for home use, with a bigger price tag, of course, like Cuisinart’s Supreme Commercial Quality freezer.

Why make your own ice cream, you say? As with anything else, ice cream just tastes better when you use good, fresh ingredients and skip all the preservatives and extra air pumped into most commercial brands. You can create or search out a good recipe and adapt it to suit your food preferences or dietary restrictions. Team it up with fresh fruit, or pie, or whatever you like. Drop a scoop into a cone, a cup of coffee, a soda or a blender. But just in case you want a little more embellishment, here are a few other delicious ideas to take even homemade ice cream to another level.

~ A waffle cone maker for big, crispy cones to hold your creamy concoctions is a match made in heaven!

~ Soda fountain-style sundae or banana split dishes make every scoop a party and they are easy to find, even if a real soda fountain isn’t.

~ Waffles make wonderful ice cream sandwiches. Create your own in different flavors, or use frozen waffles from the store with any flavor of ice cream.

~ Martha Stewart sells cookie cutter ice cream sandwich makers – of course! Use a jelly roll pan to make brownies, cookies or cake and cut them in pairs. Then fill the stacking tube with one cookie, ice cream, and the other cookie and press into a sandwich. Once assembled, just wrap and freeze.

~ Cakes made in multiples or different shapes can also be layered with softened ice cream for party-size ice cream cakes for all sorts of festive themes. Simply alternate layers of cake, ice cream, and fruits or fillings, in a tall pan or dish and freeze. Then work fast with the frozen ice cream cake to add frosting and decorations and freeze again before serving.

~ Even fancy-sounding desserts, like profiteroles, are nothing more than pasty puffs stuffed with scoops of ice cream and artfully drizzled with a sauce. Baked Alaska is simply frozen cake and ice cream, topped with meringue quickly browned in a hot oven before serving.

I’ve collected some recipes to get you started making your own ice cream. I also highly recommend Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book, if you are serious about good ice cream. It is my personal ice cream bible – yes, it really has recipes for some of their most popular flavors! David Lebovitz also has a new book, Ice Cream, Sorbets, Granitas and Sweet Accompaniments, that promises to become my second ice cream bible. Everywhere I turn, I find rave reviews for his Salted Caramel Ice Cream recipe. Salt and sweet together – I can’t wait!

I could go on and on about the endless possibilities for homemade ice cream, but I’ll leave a little space here for others. If you crave more information about all things ice cream, or if you come up with an outstanding ice cream treat of your own, stop by my blog at – coracooks.blogspot.com.

Smile – it’s summer and you’re in for a treat!

BERRY GOOD ICE CREAM
1 pt. fresh sweet raspberries or blackberries
1 to 1 1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. fresh lemon
1 1/2 c. heavy or whipping cream
1 1/2 c. half-and-half

Combine the raspberries, 3/4 c. of the sugar, and lemon juice in a bowl. Cover and set aside for 2 hours, stirring every 30 mins. so the sugar dissolves completely. Pour the heavy cream into a mixing bowl. Whisk in the remaining sugar and continue whisking until completely blended. Pour in the half-and-half and whisk to blend. Drain the juice from the raspberries into the cream mixture and blend. Mash the raspberries (or process through a food mill, if you want to remove most of the seeds) and stir the berries into the cream mixture. Transfer the mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze following the manufacturer's instructions. Makes about 1 1/2 qts.

MELON SORBET
Adapted from Southern Living magazine
3 c. water
1 c. sugar
4 c. chopped cantaloupe or watermelon

Bring 3 cups water and sugar just to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Cool. Process sugar syrup and cantaloupe, in batches, in a blender until smooth. Cover and chill 2 hours. Pour mixture into the freezer container of a 1-gallon ice-cream maker, and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. Makes about 2 qts.

PEANUT BUTTER ICE CREAM
1/2 pt. heavy cream
1/2 pt. half & half
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. peanut butter (chunky or smooth - you choose!)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Optional – coarsely chopped and frozen peanut butter cups

Place the cream, sugar and peanut butter into a small/medium saucepan and heat gently, stirring until smooth and the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and cool. When cool, stir in the vanilla extract. Pour mixture into ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. When mixture has thickened, add frozen peanut butter cup chunks, if desired.

BROWNIE ICE CREAM SANDWICHES
Brownie mix – choose your favorite and make enough for two 8-in. square pans
1 qt. ice cream –any flavor
Optional garnishes - 1/4 c. mini-semisweet chocolate chips, sprinkles, chopped nuts, crushed peppermints, etc.

Cut aluminum foil or parchment paper long enough to fit bottoms of two 8-in. square pans, allowing a 2-in. overhang on each end that will help to remove whole brownie from pan. Lightly coat foil with cooking spray. Prepare brownie mix according to package directions and bake. Cool brownies completely in pans on a wire rack; freeze in pans for 2 hrs. Leave one brownie in pan and spread 3 c. ice cream to cover it. Remove other brownie layer, and peel away foil; place over ice-cream layer, and press gently. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours, or overnight. Remove from pan, remove foil, and cut into quarters. Cut each quarter diagonally to form 8 triangles. Dip sides of brownie ice cream sandwiches in your choice of optional garnishes. Serve immediately, or place on cookie sheet and return to freezer to serve later. Individually wrapped ice cream sandwiches can be stored for several days in the freezer.

VANILLA BEAN FROZEN YOGURT
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments by David Lebovitz
1/2 c. sugar
3 c. plain whole milk yogurt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean

Split and scrape the vanilla bean; add the seeds to the sugar, yogurt and vanilla extract and blend until sugar is dissolved. Refrigerate mixture until thoroughly chilled. Pour yogurt mixture into the ice cream freezer and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions.

GRANDMA GONZ'S ICE CREAM
1 1/3 c. sugar
2 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
4 c. half & half, scalded
4 eggs, slightly beaten
4 tsp. vanilla
chocolate syrup (optional)

Mix sugar, flour and salt in the top of a double boiler.
Then slowly add scalded half & half, forming a smooth mixture. Once mixed, cook 5 to 10 minutes over hot water stirring constantly. Stir small amount of hot mixture into slightly beaten eggs. Add egg mixture to remainder of hot milk in double boiler and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly until thick. Strain this mixture to remove any cooked bits of egg. Chill, and then add vanilla (and one bottle of chocolate syrup if you're making chocolate). Put mixture in ice cream freezer and follow directions on freezer for freezing ice cream.

STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM
4 c. fresh strawberries
2 c. regular sour cream
1 c. heavy cream
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 pinch of salt

Wash and stem strawberries; cut berries into small pieces.
In a blender, combine the strawberries, sour cream, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla and salt and process until smooth, scraping sides, if necessary. Pour the berry mixture into the chilled canister of your ice cream maker. Freeze the berry mixture according to the manufacturers instructions. Makes 1 quart.

SANGRIA SORBET WITH FRESH PEACHES
Adapted from Room for Dessert by David Lebovitz
3/4 c. sugar
6 tbsp. water
1 c. zinfandel (or other red wine)
1 1/2 c. orange juice
1 tbsp. triple sec
grated zest of 1 orange
fresh peaches
2 tbsp. sugar

Heat the sugar and water until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add the red wine, orange juice, triple sec and orange zest. Chill thoroughly and then freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Peel and slice fresh peaches. Toss peaches with sugar and let sit at room temperature until sugar melts, then refrigerate until ice cream is ready. Place one scoop of sangria sorbet in a martini or wine glass, top with sliced peaches and serve immediately. Makes 4-6 servings.

MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP ICE CREAM
2 c. milk
2 c. heavy cream
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 t. vanilla extract
3/4 t. peppermint extract
3 drops green food coloring (optional)
1 c. chopped or shaved semi-sweet chocolate

In a large bowl, stir together the milk, cream, sugar, salt, vanilla extract and peppermint extract until the sugar has dissolved. Add food coloring, if desired. Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker, and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. After about 20 minutes, add the chocolate chips to the churning ice cream. When the ice cream has thickened, about 30 minutes later, spoon into a container, and freeze for about 2 hours before serving.

MOCHA TOFFEE CRUNCH ICE CREAM
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. half & half
6 oz. German sweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
1/4 c. very strong brewed coffee
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 Heath candy bars, chopped
1/2 c. chopped pecans - optional

In a saucepan, combine the egg, sugar and salt. Gradually add half & half. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture reaches 160 degrees and coats the back of a metal spoon. Remove from the heat. Whisk in chocolate; then add cream, coffee and vanilla. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Fill cylinder of ice cream freezer; freeze according to manufacturer's directions. When ice cream mixture begins to firm up, add the candy bars and optional nuts. When ice cream is finished, place in freezer for 2-4 hours before serving. Note: try other candy bars or nuts!

FUDGESICLE ICE CREAM
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2/3 c. chocolate syrup
2 c. heavy whipping cream

Stir together the sweetened condensed milk and the chocolate syrup. In another bowl, whip the cream until stiff and then fold into the chocolate mixture. Pour cream mixture into the canister of ice cream freezer and process according to manufacturer’s directions. When ice cream is ready, spoon into a freezer container and place in freezer for several hours until firm. Makes about 1 qt. Note: Try freezing this in popsicle molds for homemade fudgesicles!

LEMON BUTTERMILK SORBET

1/2 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp. grated lemon zest
1 1/2 c. sugar
4 c. buttermilk

In a medium bowl, combine the lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar and buttermilk. Refrigerate for about 4 hours; process in ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer ice cream to a covered container and place in freezer until firm. Makes 1 1/2 qts. Note: This is an excellent ice cream to serve with fresh fruit or fruit pies.

July 24, 2008

Pickles, Peaches and Perfect Days

I woke up this morning to an eerie silence. As I gathered my thoughts, a chorus of birds began chirping merrily and I had the feeling I might still be dreaming. After another minute or so, I got up and walked downstairs to investigate this unnatural silence that allowed singing birds to be heard so clearly from inside the house. More silence. What could it be? A power failure? I walked into the kitchen and cast an eye toward the thermometer, as is my morning habit, and was stunned at what I saw. The temperature in the house was 69 degrees . . . but the outside temperature was 66 degrees!!!! I ran to the door and threw it open! Indeed, a chorus of birds was singing and the heat pump was silent. I did a happy dance on the deck . . . at least in my mind, there was dancing. How could this be? It is not even my birthday yet and Mother Nature has delivered this wonderful gift of a cool, dry, clear day in July. I love Mother Nature!

Perhaps this glorious day is a reward for my efforts yesterday. I made pickles! Just the refrigerator kind, but still pickles. Kenny and Phyllis brought me a bunch of cucumbers this week and they just begged to be pickled . . . so I did it! And today, if I've still got a few peaches left from a bunch that Jeff and Gail picked over the weekend, I may pickle them too. No one likes pickled peaches, or spiced as they are sometimes called, except me, but what the heck. It was kind of fun, in a pioneer woman sort of way, so I may just continue to preserve summer's bounty for that day in the dead of winter when I'll reflect on a perfect summer day in July, when the weather was cool and dry.

Speaking of summer, I've been caught up in the whole summer vacation thing and neglected my blog postings for too long. In fact, I've had a "dry" period of my own as far as writing goes, but I should be back up to speed soon. Even the muses seem to take off in the summer it seems. There are food related items to share from my recent travels to Iowa and North Carolina. And in a few days, I'll have a column to post from my regular writing gig with some good summer recipes. But as for today, it's time to stop and enjoy the cool, dry air and take a few more pictures of the happy flower faces in the garden.

REFRIGERATOR BREAD AND BUTTER PICKLES

1/2 onion, thinly sliced
2 - 3 c. pickling cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 c. water
1 c. cider vinegar
1 1/2 c. sugar
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. celery seeds
1/2 tsp. pickling spice

Wash and dry cucumbers, but do not peel. Slice cucumber to desired thickness - about 1/8" is good. Combine onion and cucumber slices in a clean jar(s). Add the remaining ingredients together in a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about minutes to blend flavors. Slowly and carefully pour the hot pickling liquid over the onion and cucumber slices, completely filling the jar. Allow the pickles to cool to room temperature before topping off with any remaining pickling liquid. Refrigerate pickles and they will taste great in a couple of days, and will last in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Makes 2 pints.