Friday, December 21, 2012

Made With Love: The Meals On Wheels Cookbook

By: Jennifer Giralo

I’ve had the recent privilege to read Made with Love: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook. Meals on Wheels Association of America aims to help feed seniors in need every day. With celebrity contributors such as Paula Deen, Kurt Warner, and Dr. Maya Angelou, every page of this cookbook had its own personality to match an equally unique recipe. It kept my eyes reading and my mouth salivating.

With the holidays here and the nights getting colder, I chose to try Phyllis Diller’s Chili. Just like Phyllis’s work as an actress, her chili recipe was full of variety and spice. This chili was so easy and fast to make, and I loved every bite. The chili can be topped with cheese and sour cream, or simply eaten on its own.

I'd be interested in a vegetarian version of this chili made with non-meat crumbles instead of the ground beef for a lighter taste. Also, I did not add as much of the juices as called for; I like a thicker chili.

Feel free to leave a comment of your unique chili additions or substitutions.  You can follow Made with Love on Facebook and Twitter.

Phyllis Diller’s Chili
Serves 4-6

1 tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1 lb ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
10 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
½ tsp garlic salt
½ tsp onion salt
2 tsp chili powder
Tabasco, to taste
1 (28-oz) can chopped tomatoes
2 (15-oz) cans kidney beans undrained

In a large-heavy bottomed pot, warm oil over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until beef is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic, and cook until vegetables soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in seasonings and tomatoes, and reduce heat so mixture is at a simmer until chili begins to thicken slightly, about 20 minutes. Stir in kidney beans and their juice and simmer an additional 10 minutes. Taste to adjust seasonings, and serve.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Eating Whole Foods: Cinnamon Stars for the Holidays

We have a quirky little gym in our office building complex; and when you go there as much as I do you get to know people really well. The ladies I see everyday, on the gym floor, are no longer just acquaintances but most definitely friends.

We are of course encouraging and supportive of each others fitness goals; but it's not always about working out.  When we get into that locker room, we do what girls do  Yes, we talk about fitness and healthy things but we also, share recipes, talk about favorite restaurants and often times bring in food samples for each other.

That's how I got my first taste of Zimtstern, a traditional German cookie baked during the holiday season. Shaped like stars and topped with a meringue icing, these cookies were so delicious I knew I had to include them in my cookie tray this year.

I was able to get the recipe translated from my gym buddy Iris and immediately saw that there was at least one ingredient I wasn't sure where to buy....vanilla sugar.  And although I know I can make almond meal by finely grinding almonds I just didn't want to.  Iris, being the kind person she is, brought me in some of hers.

So I ventured out to Whole go to place for harder to find ingredients.  Instead of wandering aimlessly around the store I decided to go directly to Customer Service to inquire about the vanilla sugar.   That's where I met Dan, who suggested I try vanilla powder, mixed with sugar.  So I did; and it was perfect. One teaspoon of vanilla powder mixed with one cup of sugar. Kudo's to Dan and Iris for helping put together this recipe.  

Check out Whole Foods for those hard to find ingredients on your list.  Win a $25 gift card to get you started. Details below.

Zimtstern (Cinnamon Stars)
(courtesy of Iris)

2 egg whites
10.5 oz / 300 gr. ground almonds or almond meal
1 ¾ cups / 7 oz / 200 gr. powdered sugar
1 teaspoon / 4 gr. vanilla sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Separate the egg whites from the yolk (save yolks for another recipe)  Beat the whites until hard. Slowly add the sifted powdered sugar and continue to beat until you have a nice creamy consistency.

Put 60g (about 5 tablespoons) of the mixture in a separate bowl (this will be your glaze).

Now add the vanilla sugar, cinnamon and almond meal. Depending on how sticky the dough gets you may not need to add ALL of the almond meal. It's best to mix the dough with your dough hooks or hands.

Dust your workspace with powdered sugar and roll out the dough about a third to half inch thick. Cut out the stars place them on a nonstick baking sheet and glaze them.

Bake at 250F for 25 minutes.

****Whole Foods Gift Card Give Away**** 
Leave a comment on this post.  Let me know what you would buy at Whole Foods if you won. Contest runs through 12/29/2012

Want additional entries:
1. friend me on Facebook and leave a comment here letting me know you did
2. Like Whole Foods on Facebook also leaving a comment here
3. Tweet about the contest on Twitter and link to me

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Give A Gift; Change A Life.. *GiveAway*

By: Jennifer Giralo

Ever wonder what contribution you can make to those in need? 

Around this time of year, I hear stories on the radio of people receiving help with their bills, toys for their children, and a little something for themselves for the holidays that they could never dream of affording. The family receiving this generosity is overwhelmed and is completely thankful. Besides making me a little emotional before work, hearing these stories helps me to become a more grateful person, taking pleasure in opportunities and freedoms that I have. It makes me want to be a part of another person’s story, similar to the radio. It makes me want to share what fortunes I have.

One of the most rewarding gifts I have given was a pair of shoes to an 8-year-old girl in need of some running shoes. I chose her name off of a tree in a store and bought her the shoes she had wanted for the holidays. I handed her request and the shoes to the customer service desk, and they took care of the rest. 

I recently discovered an even easier way to donate to people in need this holiday season. In their 17th year, World Vision helps offer people an opportunity to give specific donations to families all over the world, including the United States. You can even make a donation in someone else’s name as a gift.

On their website, World Vision allows monthly or one-time donations of any amount. What I found most interesting was the lists of needs in other countries: medical, education, clean water, clothing, animals, sporting equipment, arts and crafts, orphan funding, and food. 

One goat is $75 and gives a steady supply of milk, cheese, and yogurt to several hungry families.
You can make a huge difference with any amount donated. For example, you can buy $600 worth of school supplies for $50.

As a token of appreciation for visiting the World Gift Catalogue online, I’m giving away a unique set of two hand-carved wooden serving spoons (approximately 11”). These are as unique as the people you’d be helping with a donation.
You can visit their website at, or call their toll-free number (888) 511-6511 for more information on how you can help.

Contest Details:  

Leave a comment on this post by 12/24/2012 for a chance to win these lovely spoons.  for an additional entree you can follow World Vision Gift Catalog on Facebook   Please leave an additional comment here letting me know you did so. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

RumChata...Be Honest...You Want To Know More

By The Food Hunter

What is this beverage they call RumChata?  The drink that only takes one sip to leave you wondering why you've never had it before.  Well it's an imported Carribean rum with a twist of cinnamon, sweet cream and vanilla.

Good enough to stand on it's own but also excellent when featured in a mixed cocktail.  It even pairs well with both coffee and hot chocolate.  Many describe it as tasting like Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.  I've never had the cereal so I can't vouch for that; but I can tell you it's got the most pleasant cinnamon taste about it.

Want to try some for yourself?  Leave a comment on this post by midnight 12/20/2012 to be entered to win.
For additional entries...

1. Like The Food Hunter on Facebook; come back here and tell me you did
2. Like Rum Chata on Facebook; leave another comment letting me know.

That's it.  Good Luck & Cheers!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Lidia's Favorite Recipes...A Cookbook Give Away

I get asked to review cookbooks from various chefs all the time, but there are two chefs in particular I've been waiting on; Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich.  It's no secret that I love everything these two make and to review one of their books is a dream of mine.  Well about a month ago this dream came true; I was sent a copy of Lidia's Favorite Recipes to review.

Let me just tell you I was super excited when the book showed up in my mailbox.  I started flipping through it almost immediately.  I say almost because first I had to call everyone and share the good news....I'm reviewing Lidia!

As the title states Lidia's new cookbook is a collection of her favorite recipes.  Having all of her previous cookbooks, and cooking from them for years now, I was somewhat concerned that I would've already made everything in this book.  I quickly found there was no need to worry.

There are over 100 recipes; including some old standbys like: Butter Sage Pasta Sauce and Braised Pork Ribs with Rigatoni, (two things I make a lot).  And a bunch of new recipes I haven't tried; like the Octopus and Potato Salad.

Lidia encourages her readers to cook for friends and family; and includes many crowd pleasing recipes in a very straightforward format.  Sections in the book include the standards like: Salads, Pastas, Meats, and Desserts and some extras like Sauces, Sandwiches and Pizza.

Having the book for a little over a month now I've already made 5 new recipes my favorite being the Baked Polenta Layered with Mushroom Ragu.  It's a lasagna of sorts made with polenta instead of pasta, that can easily be prepared in advance and served family style. The complexity of flavors, from the mushrooms and cheese, makes it something your guests will absolutely love.

****Now here's the fun part.  I am giving away a copy of Lidia's new cookbook to one lucky reader. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post.

Want some additional entries?   Follow me on Facebook or Twitter and leave a separate comment for each.

Contest ends midnight December 19th.****

Baked Polenta Layered with Mushroom Ragu

1 batch Basic Polenta, freshly made (see below)
4-6 cups Mushroom Ragu (see below)
2 tablespoons soft butter for the baking dish
1-2 cups Fontina, shredded
1/2 to 1 cup grated Parmigiano

Basic Polenta
4 cups water, or use half milk for a richer taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1½ cups coarse yellow cornmeal

In a medium cast-iron saucepan or other heavy pot, bring all ingredients except cornmeal to simmer over medium heat.

Very slowly, begin to sift corn meal into the pan through the fingers of one hand, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk. (This operation will be greatly facilitated if the meal is scooped by the handful from a wide bowl.)

Gradually sift remaining meal into the pan, continue to stir, and reduce heat to medium low. Continue to stir until the polenta is smooth and thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan as it is stirred, about 30 minutes.

Discard bay leaf, pour polenta into a serving bowl or onto a wooden board, and allow it to rest 10 minutes. To serve from the bowl, dip a large spoon into hot water and scoop the polenta onto individual dishes, dipping the spoon into the water between scoops. To serve from the board, cut polenta into segments with a thin, taut string or knife and transfer to plates with a spatula or cake server.

Mushroom Ragu

2½ pounds fresh mixed mushrooms, small and firm
½ ounce dried porcini, soaked in 1 1/1 cups warm water
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary, a tender stem about 4-inches long
1 sprig fresh sage, with 4 big leaves
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup shallots, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
⅓ cup tomato paste
1 cup dry Marsala
freshly ground black pepper
4 cups hot turkey or vegetable broth

Squeeze out the soaked porcini and slice them into pieces about 1/4-inch wide. Strain the soaking water and keep it in a warm spot.

Clean, trim and slice the fresh mushrooms into moderately thin slices, barely 1/4-inch wide.

Tie all the fresh herb sprigs together with piece of kitchen twine or enclose the leaves in cheesecloth.

Put the oil and butter in the big skillet (or other saucepan) and place over medium heat. When the butter melts, dump in the onions and shallots and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and stir well. Heat the onions to a slow sizzle and cook for 6 minutes or more-stirring often-until they're soft, wilted and shiny, without any browning.

Pour all the mushrooms into the pan-both the chopped porcini and sliced mushrooms-spread and toss them in the pan. Sprinkle another 1/4 teaspoon salt, drop in the herb bouquet, toss briefly, raise the heat a bit and cover the pan. Cook covered for about 3 minutes-shake the pan now and then- to sweat the mushrooms.

Uncover and continue to cook over fairly high heat, stirring frequently, as the mushrooms shrink and the liquid evaporates, 5 minutes or more. When the pan is dry and the mushrooms begin to brown, clear a hot spot, drop in the tomato paste and toast it, stirring, for a minute or so, then stir it into the mushrooms.

When everything is sizzling and browning again, and just starting to stick, pour the Marsala all over. Stir constantly as the wine thickens and evaporates. When the mushrooms again start sticking to the bottom, pour in the warm mushroom water and 2 cups of the hot stock. Bring to an active boil, stirring up any caramelization on the pan bottom. Lower the heat to keep the sauce bubbling gently all over the surface and cover the pan. Cook for about 20 minutes, occasionally stirring and adding stock to keep the mushrooms nearly covered in liquid; expect to add 1/2 cup or so. Adjust the heat to keep the perking steady but not too rapid.

Uncover the pan and cook for another 20 minutes, maintaining the simmer and adding stock as needed. When mushrooms are thoroughly tender and the saucy liquid thickened-but not too condensed-the sauce is done. Remove the herb bouquet and discard it (after you scrape off all the good sauce). Taste and add salt, if needed, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Use the sauce immediately or let it cool. Store it in the refrigerator for a week or freeze, for use within several months.

Putting it all together
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and set rack in the center. Butter a 9x13" baking pan or 12" cast iron skillet. Use more butter on bottom if you want to unmold the dish to serve. 

Pour in half the polenta and spread it evenly in the bottom of the pan. scatter 1/3 cup of the shredded cheese over the top and sprinkle with 4 tablespoons of the Parmigiano. Pour 2 cups of the Mushroom Ragu over the polenta and cheese and spread evenly. Pour on more than half or the remaining polenta and spread.  Top with some of the cheese and sauce. 

For the top layer, spread the rest of the polenta, more sauce and cheese. Set the pan on a cookie sheet and bake for 45 mins to an hour or more.  Until the top is deeply colored and crusted. Let cook for a few minutes before serving.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Roasted Tomato and Pesto Soup

By Jennifer Girallo

I always thought making soup was difficult; something for level 200 chefs, and that it took at least a week to simmer. I quickly learned this is not the case when I was asked to review 300 Sensational Soups by Carla Snyder and Meredith Deed.

The book supplies readers with several simple soup recipes, 300 to be exact, and everything in between like creating the stock to the little tortilla strips on top! Spoiler alert: there are dessert soups in the back!

I chose to create the Roasted Tomato and Pesto Soup, and I was really surprised at the simplicity in the recipe. Not only was it easy it was delicious and something I could eat over and over.

This dish went well with some warmed bread (see A Bread-Time Story). What I really loved was the hint of pesto on top. This added an extra layer of flavor for sure.

Soup is inexpensive and can last all week if eaten as a starter. Or can satisfy a family for dinner. This recipe in particular made my whole apartment, all 4X4 of it, smell warm and fresh.

Now, on to the dessert soups!

Roasted Tomato and Pesto Soup
Serves 6

6 cups cherry tomatoes
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped onion
¼ tsp hot pepper flakes
1 can (28oz) diced tomatoes, with juice
4 cups chicken stock
½ tsp dried thyme

1. Preheat oven 450 degrees. On baking sheet, combine cherry tomatoes, 2 tbsp (25 mL) of the oil, salt and pepper; toss to coat evenly and spread in a single layer. Roast in preheated oven until tomatoes are shriveled and have brown spots, 35 to 45 minutes.

2. In a large pot, heat butter and the remaining oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and hot pepper flakes; sauté until onions start to brown, about 10 minutes. Add canned tomatoes with juice, stock, thyme and roasted tomatoes, including liquid on baking sheet; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes.

3. Using an immersion blender, or in a food processor or blender in batches, puree soup until smooth. Return to the pot, if necessary. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.

4. Ladle into heated bowls and swirl a dollop of pesto into each.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Blue Star Cookware...A Review

Yes, good quality pots and pans DO make a difference when cooking. Just before Thanksgiving I was sent an 8 piece collection of Blue Star Cookware to review.  Let me just say that with all of the holiday prep I had ahead of me this set could not have come at a better time.

Blue Star makes all it's cookware from professional grade stainless steel which allows for optimal durability and consistent heat conductivity. The pans truly made preparing my holiday meal a breeze. One of the best things about the Blue Star Cookware is that the handles don't get hot. I love this feature as I am often in a hurry and grabbing at the pots with my bare hands.  

Prior to this review I had never heard of Blue Star, but after doing a little research I found that not only do they sell cookware they also sell one of the best gas ovens,  professional grade,  for the home.  The ranges come in various sizes and colors; so there's no need to compromise on what you want. My favorite are the red ranges...this would look awesome in my kitchen....hint hint.

I would love to try one of these pro-appliances at home...but until that time I will be happy with my Blue Star Cookware.  If you are looking to upgrade I would highly recommend checking them out.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Trail Mix Snack Bars: Brown Bag Series #8

By: The Food Hunter

Snack bars are fun to make and even more fun to eat. They are portable on the go food that packs a lot of punch into a small space. I came across these bars in a new cookbook called Clean Eating For Busy Families, by Michelle Dudash and I am loving them. They can easily be made in advance and stored in the fridge for an on the go pick me up.

One nice thing about these bars is that they are easily adaptable. You can switch out the nuts or the fruit for something different every week. Or add some nut butter or maybe chocolate chips to spice things up a bit.

Quick Fix Trail Mix Snack Bars
 (adapted from Clean Eating For Busy Families)

1 cup raw cashews
¼ cup dried tart cherries or other dried fruit
1 cup toasted pepitas
½ cup raw sunflower seeds
1/3 cup raw sesame seeds
3 tablespoons flaxseed meal
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300/  and coat a 9X9 pan with cooking spray.  Finely chop cashews and dried fruit in the food processor.  Put  into a large bowl.   Add pepitas, sunflower and sesame seeds flaxseed and salt. Stir to combine.  In another bowl microwave honey for a few seconds until warm. Drizzle hoey and vanilla over the nut mixture and stir until completely incorporated.  Pour the mixture into the pan and spread evenly.  Back until golden about 20 mins.  Cut into bars. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Bauducco Panettone Recipe and a Give Away

It's officially the holiday season; that period of time from Thanksgiving till the New Year where you find yourself eating things you normally wouldn't eat. The time where you easily justify all this eating by saying it's the holidays and my diet will start in January. Yes we all go there...every year and even though we swear we won't this year it's not going to be any different. Trust me on this one.

So what better time to try Panettone.  You know Panettone; that large cupola shaped bread, in elegant boxes seen on the store shelves this time of year. Originating from Milan this sweet bread is normally studded with candied fruit and raisins. I've also seen them made soaked in rum or with chocolate chips. Panettone gets its domed shape because the dough is made to rise 3 times or almost 20 hours before it's cooked.

I never made my own Panettone and I don't think I will now that I've found Bauducco Panettone.  A few weeks back I was given one to try and it was delicious; I loved it.  The texture was soft and airy, exactly the way it's supposed to be. The taste was sweet and buttery and not to overbearing.  It's wonderful on it's own: maybe toasted, maybe not....maybe even with a little butter.  Perfect for breakfast; but makes a nice after dinner treat too.

Want to try a Bauducco Panettone....I'm hosting a giveaway. Three lucky readers will get one of these delicious breads delivered to their door.  See contest details below. Just in case raisins aren't your thing Bauducco also makes a chocolate chip Panettone

The one problem with Panettone in our house is it's's big and there's only two of us.  So after a few days of straight up deliciousness I was looking for new ways to eat it.  (Never once did sharing it with a friend occur to me.)  I googled leftover Panettone ideas and came up with lots of recipes...nothing seemed appealing.  A Twitter follower suggest doing a trifle. That sounded interesting. Something with Nutella maybe? My mind started racing with the idea.  And before I knew it things started developing in the kitchen and the Nutella Panettone Trifle was born.

Nutella PanettoneTrifle

For the Mousse
9 ounces Nutella
1 cup heavy whipping cream, very cold
Chill your mixing bowl and whisk attachment until cold. Beat the heavy cream until it forms soft peaks. Mix in the Nutella.

To Assemble
Cut your Panettone into pieces. Line the bottom of your trifle dish.  Pour Nutella mousse on top. Continue layering in this fashion until all used. 

***Contest Details***

Leave a comment on this blog for a chance to win one of three Bauducco Panettone.  That's all you have to do.  Contest ends midnight 12/10/2012. Good Luck!!