Wake Up and Smell the Coffee!

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My dear hubby and I recently made a road trip that included a week’s stay at a cute apartment in Lancaster, Pa. that we secured through Airbnb. I could probably talk endlessly about how cute it was and how nice our hosts were…but that’s not what I want to do today. Enough to say ( for now) that I highly recommend both Airbnb and Dennis and Alicia’s ” charming downtown cottage”, located above a very cute, artsy store.

Our hosts filled the fridge with lots of treats and provided a kitchen fully stocked with dishes, utensils etc. Most importantly, they had a coffee maker and coffee. Ah…my kind of people! I love coffee but this was not a brand I recognized, and I was going to have to use a vintage percolator coffee pot. Jeez, my mom used one of those! Me, I’m a Keurig kinda gal, so I made the first pot of brew in nervous anticipation.

First, the apartment filled with a wonderful aroma! Second, it looked dark and rich.  My first taste was an absolute delight! Rich, full bodied…..delicious …..and probably one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had. Because I wanted to source this coffee so I could have it at home, I started researching it using the website on the package.

One Village Coffee, based in Pennsylvania, is a flourishing community of growers and roasters. The coffee has been seasonally harvested & roasted to order. “From the farmer who has been paid a fair wage, to the roaster (us) who has meticulously sourced and handcrafted each blend & single origin, to you the faithful coffee drinker: we are One Village. We are working together to better our families, the world, and ourselves.” (I’m quoting from the back of the package, which, by the way, is compostable).

After seeing their website, I became very interested in learning more about the source of this great coffee. Organic, fair trade certified….you’re pushing my buttons…I needed to know more.

Ketiara is actually a women lead coffee cooperative in Sumatra, started by a wife of a coffee bean grower in 2009, and had 38 members to start.  ( woo hoo! You go girls!) They joined the Fair Trade movement in 2011 and restructured to only include the small farmers, not the big commercial enterprises. Their numbers are now around 1979 members and are all about making sure  everyone involved in the growing and harvesting process receives fair treatment and compensation. The co-op sells the beans to a local exporter who wholesales to roasters like One Village,to roast and package,etc.  and they now sell around 70 metric tons a year. That’s a lot of beans, I think! I am fascinated by this whole business….and love the notion that by buying this coffee, I am supporting women in their effort to provide a better life for their families. Empowering women, preserving the forests and the land, supporting families and educating everyone along the way….doesn’t it make the future for our children and grandkids seems brighter? Just saying….

Toodles,

Silly food pic:

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Cherry Pickin’…Sorta!

Hi All,

Not too long ago I visited my family in Seattle. It’s always fun because not only is Seattle a rockin’ place, but I get to see my 18 month old grandson, Jordan.

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What’s not to love about that face? He’s really cute and very smart….

Ok, I digress! His mom and dad are really into eating healthy so a lot of his food is natural and organic. While there this time, mom was fixing fresh cherries and removing the pits. Now you know I’ve never met a tool I didn’t like, so I was fascinated by the pit remover tool she was using. I’d never seen one before, so this was new to me and I was anxious to give it a try. Who knew? It might be a must have for my ever growing kitchen tool collection!

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Looks like something out of a Medieval torture scene, doesn’t it?

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Lining it up was a bit tricky. But that’s just me.

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Squeeze!

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Tah Dah!

It does work, and I think if you have little kids and choking on pits is a concern, this is the tool to have. I’ve since seen several other pit removing tools, some fancier, some plastic, etc…but this is functional and easy to clean, and for folks like me, easy to use. Did I run out and buy one? Nope. But then, for me, part of the fun of fresh cherries is the ability to suck on the pits for a while, and I don’t have any little kids in the house. Just Zack and Zoey, my furry children.

Toodles,

Silly food pic:

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Back in the Kitchen!

I haven’t been able to spend any time in the kitchen lately due to a lengthy – one month, actually – trip to Europe, so I’ve neglected this blog shamefully. I’m back, and though more trips are in the plans, they are not long, so I will be cooking and trying out all sorts of equipment. In fact, yesterday I bought a new small electric tool! You just can’t have enough tools in the kitchen, right? I will give it a try in the near future and will report back.

Just because I wasn’t actually cooking doesn’t mean I wasn’t paying attention to food. I was able to sample food from several countries and I loved all of it, but I think my favorite was a Belgium Waffle we ate in Belgium. While on a tour of Bruges, we wandered off the beaten path and found a little hole in the wall that offered the waffles. It only had two seats at a small counter and the proprietor was a nice young man who seemed very pleased to have customers! The menu offered a large variety of waffles but I stuck to the basics….and I was not disappointed. It was yummy, crispy and delish! I love Belgium Waffles and this one took the cake! (pardon the pun).

Take a look!

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I do have a waffle maker, so I think I’m going to try to duplicate this at some point. Need to do my research because this is no ordinary waffle! And I also want to duplicate the look of ecstasy you see here!

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I will be cooking again this week, so let’s talk later!

Toodles,

Silly picture:

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Candied Peanuts

imageThe last couple of weeks have been incredibly busy. You know what I mean – you have to set an alarm to get up early every morning, and you’re buzzing around all day only to come home late and then you have to cook dinner! Then you fall asleep sitting on the couch, get up and go to bed, only to start all over the next day. That kind of week.

Anyway, one night I had to make a pie for a desert the following day, and in keeping with ” that kinda week” , I forgot to buy a key ingredient – honey coated peanuts.  It was too late to run out and get some so I had to improvise. I made candied peanuts. The recipe is below….but it was really easy and if I can do it, so can you. Truthfully, I think they tasted much better than the ones you buy in the store.

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I started with dry roasted peanuts….make sure you don’t use the salted kind.  Then I mixed all the ingredients together in a medium pan and bring to a boil. Keep cooking until the sugar appears dry and coats all of the peanuts.

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Remove the peanuts and spread on a parchment lined cookie sheet and allow to cool. And there you have it! Easy Peasy. You can serve as a pre dinner munchie or use them as an embellishment like I did on this pie.

imageHere’s the recipe:

1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts

2 tbsp sugar

2tbsp water

1/4 tsp salt

Combine all the ingredient in a medium pan and bring to a boil. Keep cooking until the sugar looks dry and coats the nuts.

Lower the heat and cook until the sugar turns amber in color, then cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from pan and spread on a parchment  lined cookie sheet and allow to cool. There you have it! Give it a try!

Toodles,

Silly food picture:

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Roasted Red Peppers

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I love roasted red peppers. My mom used to make them for holiday dinners and I anxiously awaited that grand meal every year. I’ve always been intimidated by the idea of making them myself…. not unusual since , until recently, most cooking intimidated me. I’m getting braver as I add and conquer new challenges in my kitchen but I still felt that buying a jar of roasted red peppers made more sense than actually making them. I didn’t know how easy it was!

If you’ve been following this or my other blog with my partner Karren, America’sTest Chicken, you know that we’ve been focusing on Indian cuisine. It’s been fun learning about the culture and food! One of the cookbooks we’ve been using regularly challenges us to make many ingredients from scratch and a recent recipe included roasted red peppers. I decided to accept the challenge and set out to make my own using the biggest, most red peppers I could find. Here’s how it’s done:

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place the whole peppers on a sheet pan and place in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the skins are completely wrinkled and the peppers are charred, turning them twice during roasting.

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Remove the pan from the oven and immediately cover it tightly with aluminum foil. Set aside for 30 minutes, or until the peppers are cool enough to handle.

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Remove the stem from each pepper and cut them in quarters. Remove the peels and seeds. If you’ve really charred them and then cooled them down, they should peel very easily.

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Now my recipe called for slicing the cooled peppers into several long pieces and storing until you’re ready to add to the dish but if you plan on serving up a plate of these beauties, place the peppers in a bowl along with any juices that have collected. Discard the stems, peels, and seeds. Pour the oil over the peppers and cover with plastic wrap. You can keep them in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Give it a try, you won’t be sorry!

Toodles,

Silly food pic:

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Flour Power

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The photo above is what the end result looked like when I made Aloo Parantha – otherwise known as potato chile bread. I’m not going to go into the recipe or how to make it because I’m actually going to make another attempt at making these in the very near future and will publish the details probably on the next Americas Test Chicken.  The reason for the repeat attempt is to show you how it should be done, without the part where I stumbled through the first try. And stumble I did!

First of all, never ever (make that never, ever, ever) blindly follow a recipe when it tells you to add liquid to a flour mixture to achieve a soft, pliable texture. Please, please test the texture first. I felt like a kindergarten kid at the crafts table for most of the afternoon. After adding just four tablespoons of water to the flour mixture, as instructed, I had what was pretty close, I’m sure, to that glue we all made for our paper crafts! So I added more flour….still a sticky mess…. I added even more flour….a little better. However, trying to roll the ball into a flatbread shape proved impossible with the mixture sticking to the rolling pin and everything else in the vicinity.  (and yes, before you ask, I had flour on the rolling pin and the counter.) So I added more flour. No joy!  Still more flour…now I’m wondering how this could possible taste like anything but paper mache glue.

I will stop here. By the time I was finished and had achieved the texture required, I had used nearly a half of the bag of pastry flour. The recipe only called for 1/2 cup and “little to dust with”. hahahahahahah!

Here’s what the “little to dust with” looked like!

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Need I say more???

Imagine how I’m looking forward to another attempt!

Toodles,

Silly food pic:

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Fire it up! Home Made Curry Blend

If you’ve been following my other blog America’s Test Chicken, written by me and my partner in all cooking crimes, you know we have been cooking Indian food of late. Last week we did a basic chicken curry that required a curry blend. Now if you don’t have time to make it yourself, look for Madras Curry blend in your grocery store. However, I made the blend my self, and I’m here to tell you….there’s absolutely no comparison!

Most of the recipes call for the blend to be added to whatever you’re stir frying so that the vegetables can act as a cushion to prevent the spices from being burned. If you add the spices to a preheated naked pan, or hot oil, you risk getting  burnt flavors and unappealing aromas.

chickencurry4Here, the spices are added to garlic and onions.

After searching high and low for an adequate spice grinder, I settled on an inexpensive electric coffee grinder. (I needed one I could use for pods, seeds  and bark and twigs! ) It also needed to have easy access and be easy to clean. This worked just fine.

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Here’s the recipe:

2 Tablespoons coriander seeds             1/2  teaspoon whole cloves

1 Tablespoon cumin seeds                      12 – 15 dried red cayenne chiles, stems discarded

2 teaspoons black or yellow mustard seeds

1 teaspoon black peppercorn                1 teaspoon ground turmeric

Place the coriander, cumin, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves and chiles in spice grinder and grind them to the consistency of finely ground black pepper. Stir in the turmeric, which will yellow the blend.

You can store the spice in a tightly sealed container away from light, heat and humidity  for up to 3 months.

Honestly, give this a try. It’s fabulous! And…if you stick your nose in it, like I did, it’ll clear your sinuses!

Toodles,

Silly food picture:

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Not Your Mother’s Pressure Cooker

I’m always looking for new experiences and with that in mind, my partner in all cooking crimes, Chicken #1 (aka Karren) and I signed up for a cooking class at the BergHOFF culinary center.

The menu included  Roast Beef in the Pressure Cooker with Red Wine Sauce. Now I don’t know about you, but I remember my mom’s pressure cooker. You know, the one with the little metal thingy on top that rattled and jiggled as the steam built up! We were all intimidated by the big noisy pot sitting on the stove and the cautionary warnings “let the steam out first or it will explode!” Explode????

I’m sure we all have tales – I know I do – of horror stories involving these scary cooking appliances, so when I saw this on the menu, I was a little afraid. Ok, more than a little….but I figured Chef Toni knew what she was doing.

First we browned the roast in the pot, then added ingredients (I won’t go into all that here) and with a twist of the lid….set the cooking in motion. Yes, I said “with a twist of the lid”. That’s all there was to it. When the cooking was done, lower the heat, the steam automatically reduces, and with another twist of the lid, you can remove your yummy food.

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This slick and shiny looking instrument is a wonder. I’m sure there are lots of good brands out there, but since this was my first experience with the new kind, I can only speak to this brand.  The roast was done in 15 minutes! Now isn’t that every cook’s dream??? My mind is full of possibilities.

It’s not noisy, nothing jiggles and I think I definitely want one!   Check one out!

Toodles,

Silly Food Picture:

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Boil,Boil, Toil and Trouble!

Well, I’m not actually making a Shakespeare – like brew here, but I do want to talk about boiling water, particularly when making rice. Since our other blog, America’s Test Chicken is doing a series on Indian food, rice is going to be front and center…so I wanted to share a new (to me, anyway) trick. Chicken #1 has been at this a lot longer than I and has a couple of published cookbooks (A Travel for Taste)  so I learn at the feet of the master! Anyway, while we were testing a couple of ways of cooking rice, the water and rice were starting to boil over. I don’t know about you, but I hate it when that happens! Particularly because I have one of those glass stove tops (black, of course) and I really, really hate cleaning it!

Back to my story – so while I’m scurrying around to stop the spill over, Chicken #1 gave me her Master Sensei look and said, “you know, if you put a wooden spoon across the top, it won’t boil over, grasshopper”. Ok, she didn’t say grasshopper, but you get the gist.

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Cool huh?

While I’m on the subject of wooden spoons, have you ever wondered how to get rid of stains and odor left behind? The spoons are usually so porous that they absorb spices and onions and the like easily, (think organic acids) and simple washing doesn’t fix that. Since we can’t just throw them into the dishwasher, here’s another little tip I learned. The magic of baking soda! Make a little mixture of baking soda and water and it will neutralize the acids. Your spoon will be odor free! TahDah!

That’s it for now, happy cooking!

Toodles,

Silly food pic:

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It’s a New Year! Eat Gum Drop Cookies!

Yup, I’m a day late (and a dollar short). Call it the holiday hangover. No, not a hangover from too much alcohol, but rather from food. Cooking it, baking it, and, of course, eating it. After the New Year was properly rung in, I left on a 9 day cruise where someone else did all the cooking and baking while I did all the eating! Holy growing waistline, Batman!

Well, it’s a new year, and I’m on to healthier waters. Americas Test Chickens are taking on some international foods starting with Indian cuisine, always a healthy option with lots of veggies and tons of interesting spices. I’ll provide some insights and helpful hints to accomplishing those recipes including testing some new equipment and some low fat alternatives. And maybe….just maybe…I’ll join Weight Watchers so I don’t have to buy a new wardrobe. I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, I want to tell you about a not – so – minor victory I had over the holidays. First, a little history. Many years ago, my late mother – in – law used to bake these wonderful gumdrop cookies. My whole family loved them, and every year for Christmas she would gift a giant box of them to my father, who was particularly fond of them. She passed that recipe on to me (I’ve included it at the end of this posting) but for years my efforts could not produce the same puffy results as she had. They always turned out flatter than a pancake! Then one day in December, while baking cookies with a couple of friends, I mixed a batch and got ready to bake them. However, we decided to take a lunch break so I threw the bowl in the fridge. I think it was refrigerated for a little over 30 minutes before I finally put them on the cookie sheet to bake. Much to my surprise, these cookies turned out perfect! Refrigeration is apparently the key. I proceeded to refrigerate every batch prior to baking and they all turned out beautifully! Victory! Mystery solved!!!!

 

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So here’s the recipe: Remember, refrigerate the batter prior to baking – at least 30 minutes.

Gum Drop Cookies

1/2 cup butter      1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar (firmly packed)

1 egg                         1tsp vanilla

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 tsp double acting baking powder

1/2 tsp salt              3/4 cup quick cooking oat meal

1/2 cup chopped gum drops  (buy small ones, they’re easier to cut)

1/2 cup nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheets. In mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugars. Beat in egg and vanilla until fluffy. Gradually add flour, baking powder and salt. Continue to mix until well blended. Stir in oatmeal then nuts and gumdrops. (refrigerate!) Drop batter by the tsp on cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Bake 12 to 14 minutes.

From my house to yours, have a happy and prosperous New Year.

Toodles,

 

Silly food pic:

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