Thursday, April 26, 2012

One Crazy Weekend

Have you ever had a weekend that was so bad it took you nearly 4 days to talk about it? A weekend where everything that could possibly go wrong did? A weekend that you hope you never have to relive?

This past weekend was exactly that kind of weekend for me. I'm still not even sure where to begin telling this story.  How about with my mother's unscheduled surgery (don't worry she's ok) on Thursday.  Or the over-turned tanker on the only road leading out of town.  Forcing us to spend nearly 5 hours sitting in a parking lot. How's that for together time.

Then there's the plumber that showed up for his 10am appointment on Friday and was still working on what was supposed to be a minor job Sunday night.  Did I mention the missing house keys oh and the dent in the car from accidentally backing into a tree?  Believe me when I tell you; this is just the tip of the iceberg.

To me the worse happened on Sunday night when we finally had time to cook a decent meal and realized we didn't have some of the key ingredients. I had made these yummy sausage and spinach filled ravioli's and the plan was to make a butter sage sauce for them.  Pretty hard to do without sage. Talk about being frustrated.

At this point I was ready to throw in the towel....give up entirely and just go to bed. But the foodie in me kicked in and I was able to salvage at least one aspect of the weekend. I took stock of what we had on hand...which wasn't very much and put together a cool little sauce. I diced up our last tomato and sauteed it in some olive oil.  I added some white wine we had in the fridge and some small pieces of mozzarella. (yes, we just happened to have mozzarella)  I cooked this all down, added some grated Parmesan and made a nice gooey cheese sauce.  Not exactly butter sage but yummy....and after the weekend I had yummy is all that really matters.

Monday, April 16, 2012

So Many Savory Spice Shop Spices; So Little Time....

Do you get overwhelmed when you walk up the spice aisle of the grocery store?  Do you know how to use things like extracts and salts in recipes?

Well the Virtual Potluck group has embarked on a journey and we'd like to take you along.  We have partnered with the Savory Spice Shop and have cooked our way through every section of their store.  Each of us focused on a different category...mine is extracts.

We hope that by the time you are done reading all 12 of our posts you will have a better understanding and appreciation of spices and how they can be used to change the ordinary to the extraordinary when cooking.

What is going to make this event even more fun for you is that each blogger is offering a cool Savory Spice Shop gift set from their specialty.  That means 12 different gift sets, to 12 different winners.  So be sure to visit the entire group.  I guarantee you it will be worth it. Here's a look at what you can win...see below for details on how to enter.

So let's get started....I told you my focus is on extracts.  Why extracts?  Well I love to bake and extracts are a way to enhance the flavor of baked goods without changing structure.  So technically you can start with one basic recipe and by just switching out the extracts have a different product each time.

The Savory Spice Shop has a great line of extracts all of which are gluten free and contain no added sugar. They use only the best essential oils and naturals flavors and guarantee their extracts to be bake and freeze proof. Which means there's never a loss of flavor.

When I started browsing through the extract section online I'll admit I was a bit overwhelmed...there is quite a large selection of flavors to choose from.  So to make it easy on myself I decided to start with the finished product.  I knew I wanted to do a cake sundae of sorts...and I knew that chocolate had to be involved.

This helped a lot...I decided to randomly choose 3 flavors that would work well with chocolate and go from there. My picks: cherry, almond and pistachio. The first thing I did when my extracts arrived was taste them. This might seem odd but I needed to know what to expect before I could start using them. I was not disappointed. Each one of them had a very distinct flavor not chemically like some extracts i've tasted in the paste.

 I decided I was going to find a way to use all  three in my recipe; and I did.   That is how I came up with my spumoni sundae.  It's  layers of chocolate cherry cake and pistachio ice cream topped with almond whipped cream. 

Spumoni Sundae

The Chocolate Cake

9 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ cups cake flour
 ½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup water
½ cup whole milk
2 teaspoons cherry extract

 Adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

 Butter two 9″ x 2″ cake pans and line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper.

Sift together the cocoa powder, cake flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a bowl.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, or by hand, beat together the butter and sugar about 5 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated.

Mix together the water, cherry extract and milk. Stir half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, then add the milk mixture. Finally stir in the other half of the dry ingredients.

Divide the batter into the two prepared cake pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool completely.

The Pistachio Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 teaspoon pistachio extract
2 drops of green food coloring (optional) 

Pour 1 cup of the cream into a medium saucepan and add the sugar. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod into the saucepan and add the pod to the pot.

Warm over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add the remaining cream, the half-and-half, and the pistachio extract.

Add green food coloring if using.

Chill mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, for at least eight hours or overnight.

When ready to churn, remove the vanilla pod (reserve the bean for another use), then make in your ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Freeze on a flat sheet pan

The Almond Whipped Cream
1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 sugar

Place your mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer for about 15-30 minutes. Then place all the ingredients in the cold bowl and beat until stiff peaks form.

If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate.

The Assembly
Using a cookie cutter the size of your cup cut pieces of chocolate cake and pistachio ice cream.  Save the excess for another use. Press cake and ice cream into glass. Gently pipe whipped cream on top. Garnish with crushed pistachios if desired.

*****Contest Details*****

There's several ways you can win:

1. Go to the Savory Spice Shop Facebook pageclick the Virtual Potluck link, and choose an extract from the extract section that you would like to try...come back here and let me know what it is (mandatory)
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Like the Savory Spice Shop on Facebook come back here and tell me you did
4. Follow me on Facebook
5. Comment on one or more of the other VP bloggers and let me know
6. Follow @SavorySpiceShop on Twitter...let me know

Contest ends midnight EST on Saturday 4/21/2012

Good Luck!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Eat Well with Fresh & Easy

As part of my 2012 Build A Better Me Project I have been making an effort to "Eat Well".... literally.  Over the past few months I have been periodically testing various products from Fresh & Easy "EatWell" line.  For those of you that don't know Fresh & Easy is a UK based food store located in Arizona, Nevada and California. Their primary goal is to provide high quality, nutritious food at reasonable prices.

In 2010 Fresh & Easy came out with their EatWell line, in response to customer feedback for more nutritionally balanced meals.  In return each product contains 25% of the daily value for calories, fat, saturated fat and sodium based on a 2000 calorie diet.  And like all Fresh & Easy products, they contain no artificial colors or flavoring, no high fructose corn syrup and no added trans fat.

No more excuses for not eating healthy, the EatWell line includes well over 60 grocery items and fresh meal options.  There is something for everyone.

So what have I tried so far?  And what are my thoughts?

EatWell Mango dried at the peak of freshness.  They make a wonderful snack.
EatWell Organic Oaty-O's Cereal...a take on Cheerios. Kind of bland but great as breakfast bars.
EatWell Fresh says it all.  Loved every variety I tried.
EatWell Vegetable Medley...another great freeze dried snack.
EatWell White bread.  Your standard  bread.
EatWell Instant Oatmeal.  Yum! even got my hubby eating this one.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

I Wish I Knew How To Quit Him.....

It’s not that I don’t want him anymore or that I don’t still find him totally irresistible…because I do. He dominates my thoughts with his yumminess and I find myself constantly dreaming of our next encounter. But I know our relationship is not healthy and I'm trying hard to make 2012 all about being healthy.

All of  this sneaking around in the kitchen, stealing little tastes of him whenever I can; it cannot be good. I need to get serious about this: my one vice. So what do I do? How do I break myself from the hold he has on me?

Everything in moderation is what I always say. Let's face it I will never want to give him up completely and hopefully I never have too. So maybe instead of making my favorite Nutella Swirl Pound Cake or Nutella Blondies on Easter I will indulge in my honey with these cute miniature somewhat healthier Nutella Nests.

Photo courtesy of Leah Bieszczad

Coconut Nutella Nests
(recipe courtesy Leah Bieszczad)

14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Beat egg whites until frothy. Then mix in the condensed milk, salt and vanilla. Fold in coconut.

Drop the batter onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper in shape of nests. (Add more coconut if the dough is hard to shape)

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.

Once cooled, put a dollop of Nutella in the middle of macaroon and add candied eggs

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Chicken with Artichoke Hearts, Olives & Caper; Lodge Cast Iron CookbookGiveaway

Regardless of all the changes that have been made to modernize cookware one product still stands the test of time....cast iron.  And Lodge has been a leader in the cast iron cookware industry since 1896.  Lodge is a family owned company and the only domestic maker of cast iron.

What's so great about cast iron cookware?  For one thing they are a relatively inexpensive and high preforming kitchen tool that if cared for correctly lasts a lifetime.   And you can cook just about anything in them.  To prove that Lodge has put together a wonderful cookbook; The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook.  This book is a treasure trove of timeless yummy recipes.  (be sure to scroll down to find out how you can win your very own copy)

One of the higher quality cookbooks I've seen in a long time, The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook includes over 200 recipes from notable chefs. You'll also find stories throughout that have been passed along through generations. It's a cookbook I think everyone should have in their collection.  Want to learn more about this cookbook head over to 30AEats for a Virtual Potluck round up of recipes. 

One of my favorite recipes in this book is Bon Appetit contributing editor Dede Wilson's Chicken with Artichoke Hearts, Olives and Capers.  Served over rice this is an easy to make hearty meal the entire family will love.

Chicken with Artichoke Hearts, Olives and Capers

2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/2 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 can artichoke hearts, quartered
1/4 cup green olives, cut in half
2 tablespoons drained capers
fresh flat-leaf parsley for serving

Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Heat the oil in a 5-quart cast iron Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown chicken, 4 minutes total.  Remove browned chicken pieces to a platter.

 Add the garlic and thyme and cook 1 minute. Add the wine and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen browned bits and incorporate them into the liquid. Stir in the tomatoes and vinegar.

Return the chicken to the pan and add the artichokes, both kinds of olives, and the capers. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the chicken is done, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve.

*****Want a copy of the Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook to add to your collection?  Here's what you have to do:****

Leave a comment on this post and let me know your thoughts on cast iron.  For an additional entry comment on one of the other VP posts and come back here telling me you did.  

Contest ends midnight EST 4/8/2012.  Good Luck!