Monday, May 29, 2006

Waffles all day long
Recently I received a waffle maker as a gift – one of the few small electrics for the kitchen that I had not acquired, but one I had been meaning to get for quite some time.
Lately, we’ve been purchasing frozen blueberry waffles from Whole Foods, and thought at nearly $3 pop, it would be much more economical – and fun – to make the waffles ourselves. After all, nothing beats the flavor of homemade waffles.
The great thing about making waffles, is that you can make them just like you like them – with blueberries, or without. With whole wheat flour or with a pumpkin spice batter.
The other great thing about waffles is that they can be enjoyed all day long. They can be made ahead of time, and frozen until ready for use. Then, pop them in the toaster to defrost and heat up.
Now that we have our own waffle maker on hand, we’ll be using it for much more than breakfast waffles. We love to experiment, so they’ll be a handy snack for the kids in the afternoon when topped with peanut butter, or for a more indulgent snack, I’ll fill them with ice cream to make ice cream waffle sandwiches.
Experimenting is great too. We’ll add unsweetened chocolate to the batter, or nuts, fruit, spices (such as cinnamon) or even coconut. In addition to whole wheat waffles, try sweet potato waffles, pumpkin spice, or even yogurt and fruit.
There are a wide variety of waffle makers available, so I thought I’d offer up some suggestions on how to choose the right one for your needs.

Features to consider:
Variable Browning Control: allows you to select the desired waffle texture – higher for waffles that are crisp on the outside and moist on the inside.
Indicator Light: tells you when the waffle maker is ready for baking, and one that lets you know when the waffle is ready. Some makers have an audible tone that signals when it is time to fill the waffle iron, and when they are properly baked.
Multifunctional: My VillaWare waffle maker includes three interchangeable plates – one for waffles, another for pizzelles, and a third for making grilled sandwiches. With a cone form, you can even transform the pizzelles into ice cream cones.
Stay cool handles: important especially when kids are around. The Cuisinart Waffle Dippers has stay-cool housing.
Nonstick surface: for preparation of waffles with minimal fat, and for easy removal.
Design: They run the gamut from squares, hearts and circles to Belgian waffles, waffle sticks, Mickey Mouse and more. In addition to the design of the waffles, some makers are designed to catch overflow batter, keeping it from dripping outside the machine and onto the counter. Cord storage is important, and a stand-up design that lets you store it standing on end in small spaces in the cupboard.

It is recommended that a waffle maker have at least 1,000 watts of power to ensure good, fast baking.

Models to consider:
VillaWare - This company has been making waffle irons for years, and currently have around 15 or so models in their repertoire, including the classic Mickey Mouse shape and also a Cinderella version. The one I have is the InterBake 3 which has three sets of plates to make deep pocketed waffles, sandwiches and pizzelles. It is pretty straightforward, not having any bells and whistles, although it does come with nonstick surface, stay-cool handles and easy to remove plates. It retails around $50.
Cuisinart offers a range of waffle makers, including the Traditional Waffle Iron, 6-slice Traditional Waffle Iron, and Waffle Dippers.
Features include a red power on indicator light, locking latch to keep the unit closed while baking and storing, nonstick plates, convenient cord wrap. Cuisinart has a six-setting browning control that allows you to customize your waffle preferences from light to dark. The 6-slice Traditional Waffle Iron and the Traditional Waffle Iron have stay-cool handles, and the Waffle Dippers has stay-cool housing. Six-slice Traditional Waffle Iron ($120), Traditional Waffle Iron ($60) and Waffle Dippers ($80).
KitchenAid ProLine Series Waffle Baker– For those who truly love not only eating, but making them. This powerhouse of a waffle maker is a double-sided baking unit that rotates (upside down) so that both the lower and upper plates are coated for even cooking. The waffle baker makes two, 7 ½ inch diameter by 1 ½” thick Belgian waffles. The machine is truly a professional and comes with a hefty price as well - $349.99.
Chef’s Choice Belgian Waffle Pro (850) – makes four deep-pocket Belgian waffles at once in a quick 1-1/2 – 2 minutes. Features include a ready beep, nonstick surface, automatic countdown timer, sleep mode, hast heat up and quick recovery for continuous preparation. It also features a baking system that lets you adjust the baking time and temperature for customized waffles. It retails around $140. Chef’s Choice also has the WafflePro express (840), Waffle Pro (830) and Pizzelle Pro.

That should be enough to help you enjoy waffles morning, noon and night.
Until next time, enjoy Food, Family and Friends

Monday, May 15, 2006

This past week was filled with preparations for Grayson's third birthday party. I do have to say that things weren't as hectic as I thought they would be, even with 14 kids RSVP'd -- meaning that with parents, we'd be entertaining about 30 people. We opted for an hour and a half party, and hired someone to sing for a half an hour. That would keep the kids entertained, but they still needed to be fed.
Something simple and delicious was what I sought to create. I didn't want to spend my days before the party, and time during the party making food and serving it. I wanted to add a personal touch with some homemade items, but didn't want to go overboard and offer tons of options. So I decided on making two pizzas, along with an Asian noodle salad. I made the pizza dough the night before, so all I had to do in the morning was bring it to room temperature, then form the crust, put on the toppings so it was ready to plop in the oven when needed. The noodle salad, which took about 15 minutes to make the night before, required only to be placed in a bowl for serving. Bottled water, juice and lemonade for drinks, a simple fruit salad, and I had myself a party.
My son loves fish, so I did an Internet search for fish molds/pans and found easy directions on how to make the fish cake myself - no need to buy a mold that I would use only once or twice. Using a recipe pulled from a Good Housekeeping Cook Book, I made the cake a few days early, wrapped it in plastic wrap and foil to keep it fresh and moist, all I needed to do was to frost and assemble the cake the day before the party. Initially, I was going to make the frosting, but as my mother pointed out, there was no need to add an extra step onto the process. I bought canned frosting and colored it blue. The creation of the fish wasn't as time-consuming as I thought it would be, and after about 45 minutes, the fish was completed frosted and assembled. It was the star of the show for my son. He wanted to look at it all the time. The night before the party, he told his Dad "tomorrow, I can eat the fish cake."

I guess the point of the story is that making a memorable party, one that you remember and your guests do as well, doesn't take a lot of time or money. Simple, straightforward recipes go a long way. Your friends will appreciate the personal touch.
Until next time, enjoy Food, Family and Friends.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Last Sunday, my husband and I headed north to wine country for a Slow Food event. There, Michael Pollan spoke about his current book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, in addition to espousing his thoughts on the Slow Food movement. (
Pollan spoke of the many lessons he learned while writing the book, including the unsustainable nature of the industrial food chain and how, in its existing state, cannot continue as is. As well, he touched on his belief that the organic food movement has become splintered - to include the small local organic farmers, and the big, mega organic farmers. He admits that natural foods supermarkets, such as Whole Foods, have done a great job at furthering the organic food movement, especially among mainstream America, however, he feels that they are falling short. Citing the San Francisco Chronicle article Green Giants (which ran the same day), Pollan pointed out the 'problems' (in his opinion) of the current state of the organic movement. He is an advocate of eating locally, as opposed to heading to the supermarket - natural food markets included. As more supermarkets offer organic foods, the organic agriculture system is becoming big business, with the size of many organic farms becoming quite large - even industrial in scale. His suggestion was to shun the supermarkets (as much as possible) and purchase at a local farmer's market. As he puts it, "foraging for food is one of the pleasures in life." And to that point, he couldn't stress enough the virtues of the local farmer's markets.
By eating locally, we create important relationships with the community and the natural world - as well as the family. As he spoke, our minds were swirling with thoughts on how we could make this work within our family. On occasion we head to the market, but find the convenience of Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and the local Safeway much more conducive to our busy lifestyle.
While it didn't take Pollan to apprise me of the fact that many children are unaware of where their food comes from, or what it looks like in its unprocessed state, but it did bring it to the forefront now that I have children.
It may require a bit of effort in the beginning, but I believe that once the habit of shopping at the farmer's market is established, it can become just as convenient as going to the supermarket. It may take a bit of menu planning - to understand which produce each season brings, but soon it will become a habit. It is a great way to reconnect yourself with the food world - the seasons of produce and the people in your community who produce these wonderful goods. It is also a great way to introduce children to the world of food - where it comes from, what it tastes like. And, it is an ideal opportunity for your children to take part in menu planning, food gathering, preparation, and the joys of eating.

We'll be heading to a market this weekend - exposing our children to the food, the smell and the farmers who work in our community. Yes, we will still frequent the local Whole Foods, but at least it is a start . . .

Until next time, enjoy Food, Family and Friends (and Farmers, too!)