Sunday, December 05, 2010

Quinoa Croquettes

As researchers often say, ‘Quinoa is close to one of the most complete foods in nature because it contains amino acids, enzymes, vitamins and minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.’  I guess I can see why the Incans referred to it as the ‘grain of the gods.’
Yes, I love quinoa -- with its nutty, somewhat toothsome bite. And, whenever I have it I just can’t get enough. Problem is, I don’t prepare it often enough.

Yes, I have one favorite quinoa recipe that I weave into my weekly menu planning over at . . .  the Quinoa with Spicy Pintos, but, for all its goodness and a taste that I love, I just haven’t added many quinoa recipes to my weekly menu.
However, one afternoon last week, when I was scavenging through my pantry and fridge to see what I could prepare for the twins (other than peanut butter and jelly), the quinoa caught my eye. It jostled a memory of an appetizing picture that recently caught my eye while thumbing through Anna Getty’s Easy Green Organic, so I dug it out to see what it was all about.
Within 20 minutes, I had a delicious lunch of quinoa croquettes that I couldn’t get enough of – of course, the girls didn’t want to touch it. That’s OK, because that meant there was more for me to enjoy.
I did share, however, with Greg, when he returned from his meeting – only enough to ensure that I had some leftovers for lunch the next day. As for the twins . .  well, I caved and gave them peanut butter and jelly. Their loss.

Quinoa Croquettes with Cilantro Yogurt Sauce

Cilantro Yogurt Sauce
1 large bunch fresh cilantro, stemmed
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup ume plum vinegar
1 small white onion, quartered (about ½ cup)
2 cups plain yogurt
1/3 cup olive oil

Quinoa Croquettes
1 cup quinoa, washed thoroughly
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated on medium holes
1 small zucchini, grated on medium holes
1 scallion, finely chopped (white and green parts)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
6 sprigs fresh parsley, stemmed and minced
1 large egg
¼ cups all-purpose flour
Grapeseed oil for cooking

To make the sauce, combine the cilantro, soy sauce, vinegar and onion in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Stop the motor and add the yogurt and olive oil. Blend until creamy. Transfer the sauce to a container with a lid and refrigerate for at lest 1 hour.

To make the croquettes, combine the rinsed quinoa with 2 cups of water in a small pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the water is completely absorbed. Remove from the heat and transfer to a medium bowl to cool

When cool add the carrot, zucchini, scallion, garlic powder, salt, parsley, egg and flour. Mix well. Using your hands, form the mixture into patties about ½ inch thick and 2 inches in diameter.

Pour just enough oil into a large skillet to cover the bottom of the pan, and heat the oil over medium heat. Working in batches, lay the quinoa cakes in the pan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. When the cakes are golden, turn them over and cook until the second side is golden. Add additional oil as needed, and remove any brown bits that accumulate in the pan as you cook.

Remove the cakes from the pan and place them on a plate lined with a recycled brown paper bag. Serve hot, drizzled with Cilantro Yogurt Sauce. Or put the yogurt in a bowl for dipping. Top the cakes with grated carrot and zucchini.

Serves: 6 as a starter
Source: Anna Getty’s Easy Green Organic, Chronicle Books

For more great recipes and articles, visit us at Family Eats.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Dealing with My Garden Guilt

As I step into the backyard, it looks different. Sure, the kids are still there playing on the swings. The balls, hula hoops, and sand toys are scattered around the yard, and the weeds are overtaking the few patches of grass. But as I look to my left, the summer garden is gone. The tomatoes have been pulled, the strawberries are no longer popping up, the beanstalks and peppers are missing, and the apples have stopped falling off the tree.
But all is not lost. Lonely in the corner of the bed, the pumpkin vine still grows strong and 5 medium-sized pumpkins are still hanging on.

In the kitchen, I have pears in the freezer, one last cucumber in the crisper, and a bucket filled with green tomatoes that has yet to ripen. We have truly enjoyed the abundance from our first-ever backyard garden, but I have to admit that it has been a challenge to keep up with the bounty – to use what it produced before it went bad
To help us deal with some of our over-abundance, we filled a box with pears and left it in the teachers’ lounge. With hundreds more, we traded pears at the backyard exchange, distributed to local food shelters, made them into pear pocket pies, pear tarts, and created a delicious pear and gorgonzola pizza. Yet there, next to the door, sat a bucket of fully ripe pears beckoning me to do something with them. When I finally got around to it, I was too late, the bees took over and the pears had already become a soft mess.
The same was true for the tomatoes – We sat waiting and waiting for the tomatoes to arrive. When they did (late this season), we couldn’t keep up with them. We picked baskets full each day. I made tomato sauce, tomato soup, sautéed them up for dinner, baked and drizzled with balsamic and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Our friends looked at us wearily when we offered some beautiful heirlooms for their family, “No thanks,” they would say with an apologetic smile, “but our neighbors just gave us a bunch.”
I was determined to use them all, so I searched online for more recipes, and in an attempt to get the kids to eat more, I made a big deal at the dinner table, “Oh remember when you planted these seeds in the Spring? I guess these are your tomatoes, Keely. Go ahead, try them!”
Still it wasn’t enough.
I felt a hurt in my heart when something turned bad, because after all our effort (OK, mostly Greg’s efforts) I allowed something to rot, to mold right there on the counter, unused, and unloved.

But I still have one more chance . . . the pumpkins!

We grew some. We bought some. We carved some. We still have some.

The carved pumpkins have already melted into a pile of mold, but there remains a handful sitting on the table, keeping a bit of the Fall spirit in the home until we need to make way for our Christmas decorations.

I can’t let these pumpkins - nurtured from tiny seeds and protected from the neighborhood deer - reach the same fate that the carved ones did; the same fate that some of the tomatoes reached . . . moldy, unused and tossed in the garbage.

So, I’m ready to get cooking.

All varieties of pumpkins are edible, but the Sweet (pie) pumpkin is the one that is the most flavorful for cooking. These cooking varieties have shallower fluting and more spherical. They have thicker walls and are generally smaller than carving pumpkins. When comparing same-sized pumpkins, cooking pumpkins feel heavier than common carving pumpkins. They have a deeper flavor and added sweetness.

Cooking a pumpkin isn’t something that I often do, so I pull out my much-referred-to Melissa’s Great Book of Produce by Cathy Thomas (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.) in search of pumpkin cooking tips. Here’s what I found:

“To cook flesh, cut off stem end with a sturdy knife. Scoop out membranes and seeds with a sturdy spoon (reserve seeds for roasting). If not baking whole, but pumpkin into wedges, then peel and cut into chunks.
To cook flesh, boil or braise trimmed chunks in a small amount of water or broth, or steam trimmed chunks. Puree, if desired. Pumpkin chunks can be brushed with a vegetable oil or olive oil, then grilled.
To use as a container, scoop out the seeds and membranes. Use raw or bake on a sturdy, rimmed baking sheet at 325 degrees F until the flesh is tender.”

Yes, I know, buying canned pumpkin is so much easier, but I guess my decision to use our homegrown pumpkins to make something delicious is part of the process of alleviating some of my garden guilt.
Next year, perhaps my garden guilt therapy should include a bit of canning. Until then, I’m off to enjoy some Pumpkin and Parsley Risotto Cakes, straight from the garden.

Pumpkin and Parsley Risotto Cakes

When preparing risotto for risotto cakes, ensure the mixture is slightly drier than when you serve it as a main course. To serve traditionally, as a wet dish, increase stock by ½ cup.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ cups risotto rice
½ cup white wine
3 cups hot chicken stock
1 cup grated raw pumpkin, skin and seeds removed
¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and ground black pepper
2 tbsp corn meal

Heat oil in a medium-sized pot. Add onion and garlic and cook gently for 5 minutes. Stir in rice.

Increase heat and add wine. Allow wine to evaporate then add stock, pumpkin and a little salt. Once stock boils, reduce heat to lowest setting, cover and cook for 15-17 minutes, stirring until rice is tender and creamy. Mix in parsley and cheese and adjust seasoning to taste.

Spoon mixture into greased muffin pans or shallow oiled tray. Flatten top evenly, scatter corn meal on top of risotto and lightly pat down. Chill for at least 5 hours.

When ready to serve take mixture out of muffin pans or, if it is on a tray, cut into small shapes. Heat oven to 400 degrees F, and brush or spray risotto cakes with a little oil. Place on an oven tray and cook for 10 minutes or pan fry for 5 minutes.

Makes about 24 cakes
Source: Savour Italy: A Discovery of Taste by Annabel Langbein, Graphic Arts Center Publishing.

For more delicious pumpkin recipes, visit Family Eats.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rethinking My Full Disclosure Policy

I’ve always been a full disclosure kind of girl. That is, when it comes to feeding my kids. I’ve been a Mom for almost 7 ½ years. And, during that time, I can count on one hand the number of times I attempted to hide a vegetable or something I wanted my kids to eat in the food I prepare for them. Needless to say, I’ve never been a fan of Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious cookbook, which is filled with secrets ways of getting kids to eat good food. Why hide a carrot by pureeing it beyond recognition and then spoon-feed it to your kids? They’re unknowingly chomping it down in a sauce and never getting the opportunity to learn how to experience the different flavors and textures of foods. Sooner or later, you’ll want to stop hiding the food, and you’ll be left to fight the carrot (or whatever food) battle with them. My mantra is to let the kids know what they’re eating. Let the kids crunch on a carrot, not one hidden in a sauce. Put food on their plates, meal after meal. They may not eat it the first time, the second time, or even the tenth. But most likely, they eventually will.

However . .  today my full disclosure policy left me with half-eaten muffins scattered throughout the house (see photo at left). You see, I made Sweet Potato Muffins. To me, they were delicious. But when I answered the “What’s for snack?” question at school pick-up with full disclosure: “I just made sweet potato muffins,” I realized the kids thought differently. Their silence let me know that perhaps I was a bit too honest. My hopes were further dashed at home when I saw their faces as they grabbed the muffin and brought it cautiously to their mouths.

I do have to say, Addison gobbled them up without a complaint. Keely started to eat one, but like the other two, she quickly realized that this just wasn’t the muffin she had hoped for. They were moist, they were almost creamy in the center, just like the kids like. The problem was that those sweet potatoes weren’t in the only form my kids will eat sweet potatoes – fries.

I now sit here wondering if I hadn’t fully disclosed the muffins as ‘sweet potato’ muffins things would have been different. If I had stretched the truth and said something along the lines of “Halloween spice-flavored muffins,” would they have gobbled them ALL up. I may never know the answer to this question because my kids have a very strong food memory. If I tried to slip these muffins past them within a 2-year period, they would see through my ruse.

It’s now the morning after, and the same pile of half-eaten muffins sit on the counter, yet I’m not ready to trade in my Full Disclosure Policy for the Deceptively Delicious Policy. I will, however, be sure to add an addendum to my approach*

 * if required, use the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy.

Don’t let my kids dissuade you from trying these. I like them, Greg likes them, and Addison likes them . . . and that’s 50% of my household.

Happy baking!


Sweet Potato Muffins

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
¼ cup light olive oil or canola oil
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1/3 cup low-fat yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
¾ cup shredded carrot
½  cup mashed roasted Beauregard, Garnet or Jewel yams
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees G. Place paper liners in the cups of a 6-cup muffin pan.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt. In another bowl, combine the oil, sugar and egg. Mix in the yogurt and vanilla. Stir in the carrot and sweet potato. Add the wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients, and mix just until blended. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling them to the top. Sprinkle 1 tsp sesame seeds and a few pumpkin seeds over the top of each muffin.

Bake 22 to 27 minutes, until the muffins are lightly colored and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in the pan, then un-mold, and cool completely on a wire rack.

Makes 6 muffins

Source: 12 Best Foods Cookbook, by Dana Jacobi, 2005 Rodale

Monday, October 18, 2010

aka peanut butter and chocolate treats

As a native Ohioan, I can declare, “I’ve from the buckeye state.” Usually, I get blank stares when I say that, followed up with, “What the heck is a buckeye?”
It doesn’t really matter, but in short, the buckeye is a nut from a deciduous tree (of the same name) from the Horse chestnut family. That’s all you need to know.

Now, on to more important things . . . the buckeye treat.
Anyone who hails from Ohio, knows what I mean. Buckeye Balls are little chocolate and peanut butter balls that are addictive homemade versions of peanut butter cups.

They’re easy to make, and even easier to plop in your mouth.

Just be warned: They’re addictive.

Buckeye Balls, aka peanut butter and chocolate treats.

Source: a tattered recipe dug up from who-knows-where, inspired by a college friend from Columbus, home of the Ohio State Buckeyes.


1 stick butter (softened)

1 1⁄2 tsp. vanilla extract

3⁄4 cup creamy peanut butter

1 lb powdered (confectioners) sugar

12 oz. package of semi-sweat chocolate chips

1 tbsp. butter, margarine, or vegetable shortening (vegetable shortening is preferable)

1. Combine 1 stick butter, vanilla, and peanut butter in mixing bowl. 
Continue mixing as you slowly add in the sugar 
(amount may vary  - more or less – until the mixture can be easily formed into balls without being sticky)

2. Form 1” to 2” balls with the dough and place them on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Chill the peanut butter balls for at least 2 hours.

3. After balls have chilled, combine the shortening and semi-sheet chips into a double boiler.

4. Using a toothpick (or small skewer) pick up the peanut butter balls and dip them in the chocolate. Leave a portion of the balls un-submerged because the candy should resemble the buckeye nut (refer to pictures)

5. Place onto a greased cookie sheet, and chill until chocolate coating has hardened.

Enjoy! And, as always, join me at Family Eats, where we reconnect with the food we eat and the family we love. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Hot Potato Post
(as in, Dropped Like a, How to Play, and How to Make)

I entered, I played, I played hard, I played by the rules, I got cut. That’s the story I hear again and again from my FoodBuzz friends who participated in the 2010 Project Food Blog competition.
After I got dropped I vented, I posted. Now I find myself drawn to all those other ‘venting’ posts appearing in my inbox. A common thread within each is the feeling that we’d all been dropped like a hot potato. The email of rejection is short, curt, to the point - something along the lines of “your participation is no longer required in this contest.”
I like how Zomppa explains the feeling of participating and then being dropped like a hot potato. Here is a snippet from a recent Zomppa entry entitled,  “Dear Foodbuzz: French Apple Tart”

“And for what?  For a letter of rejection?  During this 3-week period, you did NOTHING but tell us how much you wanted us and then, BAM!?  All of the sudden, we aren’t good enough?  You get a little taste of us and then you decide we don’t suffice?  Somehow, we just don’t do it for you anymore?”

Yeah, I’m with you Zomppa.
In the moments after the arrival of the email, I felt like I had just been dumped by a boyfriend . . . given no explanation as to why we were no longer compatible, why we were no longer together, why we couldn’t continue in this relationship. After all, I did exactly as you asked. I gave back to you with all my energy and focus (I planned, I wrote, I snapped pictures, I pushed aside life-as-usual for you, I voted).

Actually, I’m  over this breakup. Yes, I have minor pangs of jealously when I see you courting someone else, but it is clear, you want to play the field. I’m happy to have my freedom back. I’m happy to blog about what I feel like blogging about. I’m happy to make it through a meal without taking a photograph of it.
But,  I’m still drawn to you. I’m not totally over you. And maybe, just maybe, if you’re good enough, and you make some changes, I'll take you back next year.
In the meantime . . . today, I was inspired to create by Zomppa’s post.  In the spirit of the current PFB challenge: Picture Perfect (step-by-step photo tutorials), I dedicate the following two Hot Potato tutorials to all of those PFB contestants who have been dropped like a hot potato.

Version One - Hot Potato Game

Yes, I know, this isn’t food related – but perhaps it will serve as a great dinner party game.

2 or more players
1 potato
music to taste (make sure it can be easily paused and restarted)

1. Gather players in a circle – standing or sitting.

2. Hand one person the potato and start the music.

3. Players pass the potato to their neighbor. Play continues until the music is stopped.

4. Person holding the potato when the music stops is holding the ‘hot’ potato and is now out of the game.

Note: Some are good sports - Addie says "Darn!"

Warning: Some people get upset.

5. Continue game until one person is left. Winner is the player who has never been left holding the potato when the music stops.

Have Fun!

Version Two - How to Make a Hot Potato


Toppings – such as butter, sour cream, cheese, salt, pepper, chives, bacon . . . your choice.

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

2. Scrub potato; then pat dry.

3. Pierce skin of potato with something – knife, fork, skewer, kitchen shears, drill bit  . . . your choice. (notice, we reuse our skewers!)

4. Place potato on baking sheet and put in preheated oven. Bake for an hour or more until aforementioned piercing implement can be easily inserted into the potato.

5. Remove from oven and slice lengthwise down the center. Be careful, it’s a Hot Potato! Top with toppings of your choice. I choose butter, salt and chives. However, I don't have any chives today, so to add a bit of color, I chopped up some leeks.

Hey, potato lovers remember to celebrate potatoes on the following days:
* September is National Potato Month
* March 14th is National Potato Chip Day
* July 13th is National French Fry Day
* February is Potato Lovers Month
* August 19th is Potato Day.

As for all current and past  PFB contestants (except one luck winner), celebrate your own personal Dropped Like a Hot Potato Day – mine was October 1st.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Reacquainting Myself with the Oreo Cookie

Oreo cookies are an American favorite that have remained virtually unchanged since they were introduced to us in 1912. Today, the original cookie has become an icon of our childhood days, and has provided Nabisco with an opportunity to build upon that Oreo cookie empire. Now we have more than 60 Oreo SKUs to choose from, including things like Double Stuf, Golden Oreos, White Fudge Covered with Chocolate Creme, Minis, low-carb Oreos, Halloween with orange crème, and limited edition football-shaped Oreos for tailgate parties. There is an Oreo for every occasion.
And, if you are looking to enjoy the flavor of Oreos outside of the cookie experience, there is a world of recipes that allow you to do so – from piecrusts, to mixing them Cool Whip, or deep-fried Oreos. If that isn’t enough, you can also find the Oreo ‘flavor’ in a host of packaged goods including Oreo-flavored cereal, Oreo cookie ice cream, and even a Japanese Oreo Matcha candy bar.
With all that Oreo cookie goodness surrounding me, I have to admit that I can’t remember the last time I ate an Oreo cookie. Am I un-American? Or just turned off by what can be found on the ingredient list?

Sugar, Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine
Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Cococ (Processed with Alkali), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Whey (from Milk), Cornstarch, Baking Soda, Salt, Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier), Vanillin - an Artificial Flavor, Chocolate.

Yep, that’s what an Oreo is made of, and that list of undesirable ingredients just doesn’t sit well with me.
Actually, I don’t think it sat well with my brother either. I can still vividly remember the day nearly 35 years ago when he downed a whole row of Oreos. That night, he got sick . . . all over me ;-(
Needless to say, I haven’t been a big fan of Oreos since . . . until the other day.

A care package arrived from Mom. Among the craft supplies for the kids, Halloween decorations, and pictures from their latest European trip, was a small container of homemade Oreos.

They didn’t last long. The homemade version tasted just as I had remembered, only better. And, while they probably aren’t the healthiest treat to keep around, the recipe offered me a version of the store-bought variety that I could live with.

This weekend, I am once again becoming an Oreo fan, except this time around, it’s the homemade version. And, I may even make an extra batch and send them to my brother. (This time, I will keep my distance).


Makes about 30.

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. baking powder
1 ½ cups sugar, plus more for flattening cookies
10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature

Vanilla Cream Filling

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Into a medium-size bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy, about two minutes.  Add egg; beat to combine.  With mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture; continue beating until dough is well combined.

3. Using a 1 ¼ inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets about two inches apart.  Dip bottom of a glass in sugar; press to flatten cookies to about 1/8 inch thick. (You may need to carefully remove dough from glass with a thin metal spatula.)

4. Transfer to oven, and bake until cookies are firm, about 10 to 12 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through.  Transfer baking sheets to wire racks to cool completely.

5. Place cream filling in a pastry bag fitted with a piping tip, and pipe about 1 tablespoon filling onto the flat side of half the cookies.  Place remaining cookies on top, and gently press on each to squeeze filling to edges.  Filled cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to two days.


Makes about 1 cup.

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup solid vegetable shortening
3 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and shortening until well combined.  With mixer on low speed, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, and continue beating until light and fluffy, about two minutes.  Add the vanilla, and beat to combine.  Set aside at room temperature until ready to use.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Our Luxury Dinner Party
(AKA The Would-Have-Been PFB #3 Post: Had I Made the Cut)

  This past Friday, as 12 o-clock rolled around, I stopped changing the kids’ beds and ran to my computer. I logged on to see if that coveted trophy would be attached to my Project Food Blog profile. But alas, it wasn’t. I was bummed, wondering how I missed the mark. I was confident (in a non-conceited way) of my efforts and my post, and had felt pretty sure that I would at least make it past this round.
  But I didn’t have time to wonder why and cry over not making the cut . . . I had to jump into action. That’s because I had followed the advice of the Food Buzz editors, who suggested that it would be a good idea to start planning for the next challenge, the Luxury Dinner Party, in the event that I’d make it to the next round.
  I obliged and now I had a fridge full of food, seven friends coming at 4:30, and a little girl sitting in her kindergarten class making place cards for our dinner table. I wiped away my tears, got a hug from my husband, and promptly headed back into the kitchen. There were sweet potato fries to be made, apple bunuelos to get in the fridge, and chimichurri sauce to be whipped up.
  Tonight it would be a South American inspired ‘luxury’ dinner. Notice that I place luxury in quotation marks. That’s because I need to clarify just what luxury means to me.

  When posed with throwing a luxury dinner party, it was the word luxury that made me cringe. You see, when I think of luxury, two words come to mind – time and money; neither of which I have much of at the moment.
  For those who don’t know, I’m a mom of four young children ages 7, 5, and a pair of 3 ½ year old twins. To me, luxury is the opportunity to go to the bathroom without having someone burst through the door asking for something (cat included). Luxury is getting the kids to bed early enough so I can spend a few moments alone with my husband before I plop into bed totally exhausted. Luxury is finding the time to remove the final bit of toenail polish that I had applied during my self-pedicure three months back. Luxury is  splurging on ice cream for the kids on a warm Saturday afternoon. Now, that is what I call luxury.

  But, my trusty Webster’s New World Dictionary revealed something else.
Luxury is:

1. the use and enjoyment of the best and most costly things that offer the most physical comfort and satisfaction.
2. anything contributing to such enjoyment, usually something considered unnecessary to life and health.

  My response to definition No. 1: I don’t have the luxury to consider enjoying the ‘most costly things.’ Without going into much detail, the economy has wreaked havoc on us, and I’m on a strict budget. I have set my weekly food budget so there would be no caviar, high-priced wines, or expensive cuts of meats. I couldn’t blow my weekly food budget on Friday night’s meal – I had a family of six to feed the rest of the week.
  And, as for the ‘physical comfort and satisfaction' that Webster’s notes, well the best I could even ask for is the quiet I seem to get when I drag the pile of laundry into the living room to be folded – the kids immediately find something else to do, far away from the laundry.

  When planning this Luxury Dinner Party, I had to keep the following in mind: I didn’t have the luxury of toiling away in the kitchen for hours, preparing a multi-course meal for friends. I had school drop-off and pick-up, soccer practice, religious education, playdates, weekly meal-making, lunch making, etc. etc. etc.
And, while I dream of the luxury of an adult-only meal, let’s face it, at $20 an hour for a nanny, I wasn’t going to pay someone to come watch the kids while I sat with adults in the other room. Heck, my guests have kids too. And, when it comes right down to it, we didn't want to exclude them.

  Now on to definition No. 2: I had a problem with “usually something considered unnecessary to life and health.” I see nothing unnecessary about a meal enjoyed together. In fact,  a meal together is a luxury we enjoy each and every day at breakfast and in the  evening as we face each other around the dinner table and discuss the day’s events.

  To find a definition I could relate to, I had to read the third definition listed in the dictionary's luxury entry:
3. the unusual or emotional pleasure of comfort derived from some specific thing.

  My response to #3 – I agree. Eating a delicious home-cooked meal with family and friends definitely provides me with an emotional pleasure.

  So, I guess the results of my Luxury Dinner Party would be representative of how I defined luxury.

  I set to planning the meal – inspired by the warm late September nights, I opted for something outside – where the 8 kids could roam free, and the adults could keep an eye on them from a safe, quiet and relaxing spot on the patio.
  My menu would be South American in theme and would include empanadas, sweet potato chips and chili lime tortilla triangles for appetizers followed by a grilled skirt steak topped with chimichurri sauce, roasted corn with chili lime butter, and mashed sweet plantains. For dessert, it would be apple buneulos, using the apples from our backyard.

My menu consisted of foods I could prepare a few days ahead of time – such as the empanadas, and easy to prepare dishes when the guests were on hand – such as the grilled steak and corn or the roasted plantains. I assured myself that I would have the luxury of sitting down with my guests and enjoying the meal.

 With the adult menu set, I began to think about what I could serve the kids that would fit in with the so-called South American theme. I thought a roasted chicken with the mashed plantains and corn would do. But, as we were discussing the party plans early in the week, Nicole wrinkled her nose at my suggestions.
  It was that cute little nose wrinkle that got me thinking.
  With 8 kids to be at the party, they surely outnumbered the adults, so why shouldn’t they have a say in what they eat? With an age range from 3 to 7, there was a good possibility of a mutiny when it came to dinner. I could just see it now, just as the adults were sitting down to dinner, the kids would scream, “Yuck, I don’t like the mashed plantains,” or “I only like chicken that is crispy.” I would then be obliged to find something to settle the kids down and fill their bellies. (Actually the $20 an hour nanny is sounding pretty good right now!)
  Since the goal was to allow the adults to enjoy a sit-down meal with each other. So, why not let the kids decide on their menu? As long as it wasn’t hamburgers, pizza, spaghetti or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I was OK with what they chose.
  My kids started to run down their favorites: lasagna, Tigaroni (AKA rigatoni with cauliflower and baked breadcrumbs on top), and Sloppy Joe’s.
  Then, Nicole screamed, “Black meat!” (FYI: Black meat is what they call the meat for tacos).
  “Yes,’ the other three chimed in.
  So black meat it would be. Grayson then inquired, “What about appetizers? We can have empanadas, but how about fruit on sticks, too?”
  Then, Addison reminded us about dessert. “I want candy cherries for dessert.”
  "Yes,” said Keely, “Candy cherries on ice cream!”

  And, so it was. The kids menu was decided upon. Now, they moved into action.Nicole had seen me playing around with the menu template to be used in Challenge, #2 so she wanted to make a menu. She pulled out the easel and began to write down the kid’s menu. (Notice the Buick Lacrosse logo on it.)

  Then on Wednesday evening as as I made my way into the kitchen to make the empanadas, the kids arrived one by one to help Recently I had made 200 lamb empanadas for the San Francisco Lamb takedown contest, so they were well-versed in the process of making an empanada. As I rolled out the dough, Grayson pulled up a chair and began to place teaspoons of filling on the dough then folding it over and crimping the ends. Nicole arrived, followed by Addie and Keely.   Everyone had the chance to make a few before heading off to sleep.

  As Friday neared, the excitement did as well. My kids love parties. They love being involved in the planning and preparations so on Friday afternoon, after school pick-up, they jumped into action. Grayson helped set up the kids tables, then set both the adult and kids tables.

  “Mom, are we eating alfresco?” asked three-year-old Addison, who knew the word ‘alfresco’ from one of her Fancy Nancy books. Nicole was in her room carefully planning what she would wear, and the Keely continued to ask again and again whether I had purchased the candy cherries for dessert.

  The guest arrived, the drinks were poured and the kids ran off together while the adults sat back and relaxed . . . we had captured our luxury. As darkness fell and the kids ran around out back playing flashlight tag, the big kids reveled in our last few moments of luxury – a glass of wine and good conversation  . . . with other adults.

  As I see it, I serve up a luxury dinner party every night – we plan the meals, make them from scratch and sit together at the table discussing the day’s events. And this past Friday evening was no exception.
  In the end, I may not have advanced to compete in the Luxury Dinner Party challenge, but I am comforted in the fact that my family – and friends – consider me a winner.
I successfully completed the PFB Challenge #3, the Luxury Dinner Party – even if I’m no longer an official contestant.
Now on to planning our next party, the Annual Everage Pumpkin Carving Party! Bring your pumpkins, carving knives and your appetite!

Thanks to all who voted for me during the past two Challenges, in particular to those who posted encouraging words on my Royal Asian Meal post. Good luck to all those who are still in the race!
I hope you  keep reading Edible Tidbits, and take the time to visit the Everage 6 at, where we connect with the food we eat and the family we love!

Apple Bunuelos
Source: Nuevo Latino, Douglas Rodriguez 

2 cups butter
6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 stick cinnamon
½ tbsp unflavored gelatin
1 ½ tbsp cold water
¼ cup boiling water
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp sour cream
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup vegetable oil, for frying
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup heavy cream, whipped

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the apples and the cinnamon stick and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, dissolve the gelatin in the cod water. Stir inn the boiling water to dissolve thoroughly. In a separate mixing bowl, gently beat the egg yolks and the sour cream together. Stir in the gelatin mixture.

When the apples are tender, fold into the gelatin mixture. Transfer to a clean bowl, let cool, and refrigerate overnight.

Remove the apple mixture from the refrigerator and make 35 to 40 small balls using a melon baller or mini ice cream scoop. Place the flour in a bowl, roll the balls in the flour, and refrigerate again for 10 to 15 minutes.

When ready to serve, heat the vegetable oil to 350 degrees F in a large pan or skillet. Roll the balls once more in the flour, then in the beaten egg. Roll in the flour a final time and fry in the hot oil until golden brown, about 3 minutes, turning to fry on all sides.

Drain the paper towels, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, and serve immediately with whipped cream.

Yields 6- 8 servings

Monday, September 27, 2010

PFB Voting - and Our Favorite Granola 

Voting for Project Food Blog Challenge #2: The Classics is now open. Voting continues until September 30th, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time. Visit the PFB site and vote away. There are lots of great entries, but be sure to read my entry, A Royal Asian Meal (and vote for me). Inspired by a visit to Thailand almost 10 year ago, I decided it was time to step up to the plate, and cook some truly authentic Asian dishes – not my Westernized adaptation of Asian classics.
This weekend while I was focused on cooking and blogging my entry for the contest, I was a bit negligent on my usual weekend ‘duties.’ This morning the kids were complaining that we didn’t have any granola in the house – so, instead of explaining to them why I just didn’t have the time this weekend, I got cooking so I wouldn’t have to hear any more complaints.
This is one of our favorite granola recipes, adapted from an Alton Brown recipe I found a while back. Very easy and extremely satisfying.

Breakfast Granola

3 cups oats
1 cup slivered almonds
¾ cup shredded coconut
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp. dark sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp maple syrup
 ½ cup vegetable oil
¾  tsp salt

Mix oats, nuts, coconut and sugar in a bowl
In another bowl, mix maple syrup, oil and salt

Thoroughly combine both, then spread out on a cookie/baking sheet. Bake in a 250 degree F oven for one hour – or until brown – stirring every 10 minutes.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Royal Asian Meal

    On to Challenge #2: The Classics. We’re challenged to get out of our comfort zone and try a classic cuisine we’re not so familiar with preparing.
    There is no wavering here. Without a doubt, without another thought, I know I want to capture the authentic and vibrant flavors of Asian cuisine.
    Like so many Americans, inspiration for attempting new meals in our own kitchens comes from travel. Almost a decade ago, Greg and I spent nearly three weeks traveling the back roads of Thailand in search of great adventures and great food.
    As we traveled from the islands of the south to the northern corners of the country, we marveled at the gold-gilded wats and the hieroglyphics on caves, rode tuk tuks and long boats, had monkeys sit on our backs, then sat on the back of an elephant. Along the way we ate like royalty. We eschewed fancy hotel food for street food, floating market food and local favorites. We ate the way the Thai people ate.
(view a bit of my inspiration)

    We enjoyed a truly authentic experience, an experience that, for the past decade, I have tried to replicate here at home. My attempts have failed miserably. Not so miserable that we can't eat the meal. By miserable, I mean they lacked authenticity. My efforts have lacked the full-flavored, exotically authentic experience we enjoyed on the streets of Thailand.

    I ask myself, why?
    Well, probably because in order to authentically recreate a meal, you need the proper recipe, the proper ingredients, proper tools and proper techniques. I think I have failed on all accounts.

    I’ve a Westernized version of chow mein my Mother gave me. I often substituted my olive oil for the sesame or peanut oils listed in recipe. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I didn’t even have a wok. And, when it came to preparing the meal, I often relied on my own cooking techniques rather than taking the time to learn the techniques of Asian cooking that make the meal come together.
    When I think about it - I guess I had only been sticking my big toe in the Asian waters. This time I needed to jump in and immerse myself in the cuisine.
    I promptly dug out my authentic Asian cookbooks – the ones that previously served as bookends to my dog-eared Italian cookbooks – and began searching. I dug up Barbara Tropp’s The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking (William Morrow), Martin Yan’s Culinary Journey Through China (KQED Books & Tapes), Helen Chen’s Easy Asian Noodles (Wiley) and David Thompson’s simply titled, Thai Food (Ten Speed Press).
    I spent a good amount of time reading and re-reading recipes. I was in search of great tasting, satisfying recipes, but I needed to find something that wouldn’t set me into a frenzy in the kitchen with excessive preparation, AND wouldn’t set me into a frenzy at the table – when the kids refused to eat it. All the while, I needed to keep in mind the elements of creating authentic cuisine – proper recipes, proper ingredients, proper tools and proper techniques.

Proper Recipes

    For this challenge, I only considered those cookbooks that offered authentic Asian recipes. Naturally I was drawn to Thompson’s Thai Food, with his vibrant photos and exciting stories of Thailand's colorful culinary history I was drawn into the recipe and transported to Thailand. I chose the Grilled Bananas with Grated Coconut and Salt because it was reminiscent of the day Greg and I spent eating our way through the streets of Chiang Mai -- where there were no bowls or paper plates, just street food  wrapped in leaves or a fruit’s own skin.

Proper Ingredients

    Any chef will tell you that you can’t prepare an authentic meal without a bit of authentic ingredients. It’s the terroir, the history of a place, the techniques in creating that food or ingredient, that make up a dish. Therefore authentic ingredients are essential. So, when I looked for a little Asian snack and came across Yan’s Honey-Glazed Nut Snacks, a Chinese-style nut brittle, I was excited. The snack’s key Asian ingredient is the Chinese five-spice. This spice encompasses the five taste sensations – sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and salty – and when used appropriately in this snack it creates the savory sensation of umami! Not only for this recipe, but for all four I was making, I needed the proper Asian ingredients. Off to the Asian Market I went.

Proper Tools

    During a discussion I had with Helen Chen a while back, she talked about essential Asian kitchen tools, including the electric rice cooker (or her porcelain rice cooker), a bamboo steamer, a stainless steel skimmer, and the wok. As she explained it, “The wok wasn’t immediately popular when it first became widely available in the U.S. This was because it’s design was not conducive to use on American stoves, which had flat surface burners set relatively close together.”
    It wasn’t until her mother, Joyce Chen, invented the original flat-bottomed, stir-fry pan in the late 1960s, that the wok became a popular piece of cookware throughout the U.S. “In addition to flattening the bottom of the pan to enable it to work on Western stovetops,” she explained, “the pan was smaller and included a long handle, making it more convenient for Western cooks.” This stir-fry pan, often called the Peking Pan, or a traditional wok is required to create a host of Asian recipes, including my choice, Helen’s own recipe, Beef and Broccoli on Crispy Noodle Cake. Not only would it require me to FINALLY add a wok to my collection of cooking tools, but it gave me a new perspective on noodles – pan fried instead of boiled. (It also gave me the ability to sell the meal to the kids as a crispy Asian pizza.)

Finally, I needed

Proper Technique

    The process of stir-frying requires quick movements,  deep-frying requires a precise oil temperature, and dumpling making requires a bit of finger dexterity. I needed some insider tips to ensure my Shao-Mai Dumplings wouldn’t fall apart during steaming. (After all, it was my first attempt at any Asian dumpling recipe).
    I read and re-read Tropp’s recipe, technique notes, and studied the drawing of what the dumpling – complete with its empire waste and carrot crown - should look like. I employed her four-finger approach as I lifted, rotated, and poked the dumplings repeatedly until the wrapper was securely pleated around the filling. Thank you Barbara, I’m sorry it took me so long to ready your words of wisdom.

The Results

    I have to admit that I had a perception that Asian food is complicated. Most recipes have a long list of ingredients, and even longer set of instructions that I hesitated even considering making an Asian meal. This time around –prepared with the proper recipes, proper ingredients, proper tools and proper techniques, the dinner was truly a success (with only a few of the dumplings falling apart). My previous notions are dispelled. Even before the meal was set on the table, I was pleasantly surprised – and so was Greg. There was a calm coming from the kitchen. There was no frenzy, no yells for kids to get out of the kitchen, no second guessing my choices – just excitement over what I was creating – and just as much excitement eating it.

    A sign outside one Chiang Mai wat reads, “Practice is better than theory.”

    As a result of my recent experience, I am dedicated to "Authentic" practice.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Thank You, Dear Husband

Since posting my first entry for Challenge #1 of Project Food Blog, The Wild Ride of a Blogger, Baker, Tradition Maker, I’ve been in a kind of daze. A daze trying to catch up on all those things I pushed aside last week while trying to get my entry in on time.

I’m not usually a procrastinator, but it seemed as if I was this time around. I probably wrote and trashed a few thousand words before I decided on the focus of my entry. But, I guess that is me. I have a track record of writing, rewriting, trying again and again until I get down on paper exactly what I want to say. I’m the same way when it comes to cooking and baking. If I don’t succeed, I’ll try again.

That’s what happened last week, in the middle of my “I-have-to-think-of-a-focus-for-my-post” flurry, I made Galette Vieux Perouges – or, Lemon Sugar Bread. The cookbook had been sitting on the counter for several days now, and I had to break away from writing and get some frustration out in the kitchen. Unfortunately, it just added to my frustration.
From the start, the dough just didn’t feel right. Even after letting it sit to rise, it remained just a lump of dough. Still, I continued through with the recipe not wanting to dump the whole thing in the garbage. I flattened it out, zested the lemon and sprinkled sugar on top. Then, in true multitasking talent, I went to the office to catch up on emails and look over Greg’s shoulders as he sat toiling away on editing my video for my blog entry. You see, Greg is the master of the video. (He was also the master of frayed “I shouldn’t have decided to do this,” nerves of his hyper wife.)
While I was standing, staring over my husband’s shoulders, hoping my presence would make things go a bit faster, I totally forgot the bread.
 “Sh**!,” I yelled, and sped off, hurdling over one of the kids who was sitting on the floor, and headed for the kitchen. Burned crust, I was despondent. Mumbling a few words to myself, so as not to teach my children such vulgarities, I tossed it on the stovetop and walked away.
Shoulder’s slumped, I walked back to the office where my hard-at-work husband assured me it would all come together. But he had not yet seen the burnt lemon sugar bread.
I had to go for a walk. When I returned, the entire family was chomping away, happily, at the less-than-perfect lemon bread. I felt a bit better, as they all begged for more.
“Really?” I asked, wondering why they would even attempt to taste something so unappealing. Love, I guess – or hunger, as it was nearing dinnertime.
As the evening progressed, things got better. Greg continued to plug away at the video, compressing then uploading to YouTube, three separate times (because each time I’d see something I’d want to change).
Saturday evening as I went to bed, I was exhausted but assured that he would make that one last spelling change on the video and upload it for the third time. He was also in the middle of baking bread for the family-- something he miraculously found the time to do.

The next morning, there sat 4 loaves of beautiful bread on the counter.
A smile came to my face, and I realized that all of this support – help in getting the video together, help in calming my nerves, help in calming my frustration over the burnt bread, help in making bread for the family – that he needed to be treated to one of his favorite meal.
That evening it was grilled cheese. Yes, I said, grilled cheese. But this just isn’t any grilled cheese, it’s the Tyler Florence variety made with smoked mozzarella and pesto and accompanied by my oven baked sweet potato fries with maple syrup/barbecue sauce dip. He was very happy and grateful for the meal.
Then, as a treat for the entire family – myself included – it was a delicious Chocolate Pear Tart made with pears from our own backyard.
What a great ending to a hectic week.

Thanks, Greg, for all your support.
[And, if I make it to the next round, all that I will ask of him is to eat my Classics creation – of course, with a smile on his face. If I don’t make it to the next round, he gets to join me in the kitchen, as we continue to attempt the challenges on our own.]

Voting is almost complete - so be sure to cast your votes.

Chocolate Pear Tart

Serves: 8

Make pâte brisée
1 ½ cups flour
1 egg yolk
3 tbsp sugar
¾ tsp salt
7 tbsp unsalted butter

Sift flour onto a work surface and make a large well in the center. Pound the butter with a rolling pin to soften it. Put the butter, egg yolk, sugar and salt in the well. Work together with your fingertips until partly mixed. Gradually draw in the flour with a pastry scraper, pulling the dough into large crumbs using the fingertips of both hands. If the crumbs are dry, sprinkle with a tablespoon of water. Press the dough together. It should be soft, but not sticky. Work small portions of dough, pushing away from you on the work surface with the heel of your hand, then gathering it up with a scraper. Continue until the dough is smooth and pliable. Press the dough into a ball, wrap it and chill for 30 minutes or until firm. Can be refrigerated overnight, or frozen.

4 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 ripe dessert pears (about 1 lb)
2-3 tbsp sugar (for sprinkling)

For the custard
1 egg
1 egg yolk
½ cup light cream
½ tsp vanilla, or tsp kirsch

10-11 inch tart pan

Butter the tart generously, then sprinkle with sugar. Make the pâte brisée and chill it for 30 minutes. Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thick and line the tart pan.

For the custard, beat the egg, egg yolk, cream, and vanilla until thoroughly mixed.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Sprinkle the bottom of the tart with the chopped chocolate. Peel and thinly slice the pears crosswise; flatten the slices lightly. Arrange them in a flower petal design on the chocolate so that slices overlap. Spoon the custard so the surface of the pears is coated. Note: The custard should be visible between the pear slices. Sprinkle the pears with sugar.

Bake the tart well down near the base of the oven so the bottom cooks, 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F and bake until the crust is brown and the custard set, 15-20 minutes longer. If the pears are not caramelized, brown them under a hot broiler for 2-3 minutes.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Let’s Rock the Project Food Blog Vote!

After much anticipation, voting for the first-ever interactive blogging competition has commenced. Project Food Blog (PFB), an entity of Food Buzz, is an innovative online culinary blogging throw down where thousands of Food Buzz Featured Publishers compete in a series of culinary blogging challenges with the chance to be named Top Blogger.

After years of declining participation in the kitchen, Food Buzz, the brains behind the 2010 Project Food Blog Competition, inspired thousands of home cooks, professional cooks, and radical foodies to join together and share experiences. Now their culinary joys and sorrows are all exchanged in one awesome venue,
Launched this year, PFB has quickly established itself as the premier blogging competition, bringing together the young and old, the home cook and professional chef all with one common goal . . . to blog about food.
This installment of PFB brings more than 1,800 Featured Publishers to the intersection between food and the online culture, and asks them to pen their experiences related to food and beverage.
With a mission to identify and develop blogging talents, and inspire bloggers to reach new culinary heights, PFB encourages established bloggers and newbies alike, to go head-to-head in this all-out, rough-and-tumble blogging competition.
For the very first PFB Challenge, bloggers were asked to create a post that defines them as a food blogger and makes it clear why they have what it takes to be the next food blog star. They’ve wrestled with answering what makes their blog unique and sets them apart from other food blog brands. Some may say it is their foolproof recipes, others their mouthwatering photos, and still others their perspective on family meals. 

Voting for the first challenge commences 6AM Pacific Time September 20th and continues through 6PM Pacific Time September 23rd.
Contestants will be voted on by Foodbuzz Featured Publisher peers and rated by a panel of judges including: Dana Cowin, Editor-in-Chief of FOOD & WINE Magazine; Nancy Silverton, Founder La Brea Bakery, Co-owner Mozza; and Pim Techamuanvivit, Author of and The Foodie Handbook.

Only 400 winners advance to the second round, including one lucky Reader's Choice winner who earns auto advancement to the next challenge (solely based on Reader votes; not applicable in the final round). Winners will be announced 12PM Pacific Time September 24th.

In the end, there will be only one crown, but all participants are considered winners. They love what they do, and their efforts are supported by family, friends, and those online Food Buzz colleagues who have read and listened to their blogging with an open and understanding ear.

The power of the wooden spoon is in your hand – vote today, and support your PFB Featured Publishers. Get started browsing entries immediately. Visit the Edible Tidbits profile and Vote on the Wild Ride of a Blogger, Baker, Tradition MakerToday!!

Together, Let’s Rock the PFB Vote!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Wild Ride of a Blogger, Baker, Tradition Maker

This is my first entry for the Food Buzz Project Food Blog Contest and I’ve 1,000 words to explain:

What defines me as a food blogger;
Why do I have what it takes to be the next food blog star; and
What makes my blog unique and sets me apart from others.

Well, let me see . .

Would it be the recipes?
I have good recipes, tested recipes, and flopped recipes. But let’s face it, EVERYONE has recipes.

Would it be that I blog about what REALLY happens?
My blogging is about real-life adventures, but I’ve read blogs about 50th anniversary dinner mishaps, about landing a sought-after reservation at the latest celebrity chef’s restaurant, and the everyday successes of getting a meal on the table.
Let's face it, we ALL have adventures.

Would it be that I blog with conviction?

A successful blogger always blogs about what he/she believes in. That’s why we’re blogging, isn’t it?

Would it be that my blogging is therapy?

You bet! Blogging is my own little therapy group, a bit of rehab for the weary mom, an online cooking club, and a ‘you won’t believe what just happened’ outlet. I’m a Mom of four young kids, I don’t get much time for a bit of adult interaction, so I need an outlet, and I need the connection and the community of like-minded bloggers.
Let's face it, most of us Food Buzz bloggers use cooking and blogging as therapy.

Would it be that my blog is timely, relevant and interesting?

In the age of instant gratification, instant messaging, and real-time Twittering, it better be timely, it better be relevant, it better be interesting – otherwise, some wisecracking reader will blog a rant about you and make it go viral.

So, if I had to explain what it is that makes my blog stand apart from all the others, I would say that I don’t need the 1,000 words that the Food Buzz editors gifted me for this entry.

One word will suffice:


OK, OK, OK, I suppose I should give a bit of explanation. (And use up those 1,000 words I’ve been given).

Here goes:
Experience, hmmm . .
“Practical knowledge, skill, or practice derived from direct observation of, or participation in, events or in a particular activity; the conscious events that make up an individual life.”

Yes, I’m sporting a BA in magazine journalism and a MA in Communications, and have a 20+ year writing career under my belt. But I’m talking about experience.
Real-life, down in the dirt, living-the-life-that-you-write-about experience. You know, the kind that lives deep in your soul, and affects all that you think and do.
That practical knowledge and participatory experience that you won’t find in a textbook, cookbook, or on a Google search.

Just like so many food bloggers, my family had a big effect on how I view food. For me, it was a wonderful experience. Food and family were intertwined. We gathered for baptisms, dance recitals, and baseball games. We enjoyed homemade birthday cakes, chicken soup at Grandma’s every Sunday, and traditional Czech bread during holidays. There was mincemeat pie for Thanksgiving and carved watermelon baskets for the Fourth of July.
I grew up, went to college, and moved away from home (maybe not in that order). But still, whenever I came home, a home-cooked meal and the family were there waiting for me at the table.
I was truly happy living within my own little familial food and traditions microcosm. But then, one day, I landed a job that would rock my so-called “experienced” world.

For the next 12 years, as editor of a specialty food industry trade magazine, I traveled the globe learning about the food, culture and traditions of people around the world.

It was a wild ride that offered me the opportunity to more fully understand
the connection between food, family and friends. They are experiences that live with me every time I step into the kitchen, or get behind the computer.

These are my experiences . .

So, there you go.

Through it all, I’ve learned that the experience of food is what makes it special.
It is my life experiences – as a child, as a writer, as a wife and mom – that I bring to my blogging. Edible Tidbits a collections of “Recipes and Ramblings fit to be eaten,” . . . or should I say, ‘fit to be Experienced.”

Join me on my journey. Follow me at, and on my own website where we “Reconnect with the food we eat and the family we love.” And, don't forget to click on my Project Food Blog profile (at right) to vote for me!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cookbooks Take Me Away!

The girls were playing school and Addie asked for some help finding a book that she, the teacher, could use. “I need a book with no pictures, only words,” she said to me, as she handed me La France Gastronomique (Arcade Publishing, 1991), the book she had removed form the shelf. “This one has too many pictures.”
I pulled down another book, and as I handed it to her, the French cookbook fell open revealing a beautiful shot of Gougeres. Sitting aside the delicious-looking pile of cheese puffs was a bottle of Chablis--all awaiting me in Burgundy. My heart began to long for France. I paged through the book and found one taste-tempting recipe after another.
Then I smelled the meatloaf in oven and wondered why, with such great recipes on hand, I was once again making meatloaf, mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables for the family. Now, there is nothing wrong with a little comfort food now and then, especially when everyone in the family will partake in that meal, but I had a treasure trove of cookbooks just awaiting to be rediscovered.
As I paged through Gastronomique, I remembered the countless times I visited the country, stopping to reminisce a bit longer on one particular trip. It was 1996 and I was in France for cooking school. The trip would take me from Paris, down to Arles where I, along with 6 friends, would spend the week in a small cooking school. Along the way we visited Aix, Avignon, and Lyon gobbling up fancy dinners, perusing daily markets, and picnicking on the hills for our Fourth of July celebration.
At the school, we honed our basic skills and learned some new ones that I have never used since (i.e. skinning a rabbit). Our mornings were filled with the market and instructions, and our late afternoons were filled with pastries and Pastis 51. In the evening we enjoyed the meal we prepared ourselves, coupled with good wine and lots of memorable conversations.
This cookbook transported me to France, and made me want to capture some of that beautiful tradition here in my home. I said, “Yes” to the photo of the baker in Ancy-le-France showcasing his honey spiced bread (yes to the bread, not the baker). I then grabbed a kale leaf (which was sitting on the counter) and placed it as a bookmark for the Chocolate Pear Tart. I found several recipes I wanted to whip up immediately, but this was only one of my hundreds of cookbooks.
Dreams of India, Italy and Greece awaited, while Charlie Trotter, Douglas Rodriguez and Martin Yan all beckoned me to expand my culinary horizons.
Tonight, I have to thank my dear little Addison for asking me to find her a book. In the process, she has reawakened my desire to create something new in the kitchen -- to travel the world in my kitchen. After all, with a family of six, traveling the world in our kitchen is much more affordable than hopping on a plane. Sure, it may not be the real thing, but it definitely will be a vacation from my everyday meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
Go ahead, I beg . . Cookbooks, take me away!

Gougeres (Cheese Puffs)

Makes 9-10 large gougers
Pate a choux made with
3/4 cup water,
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 cup flour
3-4 eggs,

4 oz. finely diced Gruyere cheese
1 egg, beaten to mix with ½ tsp salt (for glaze)
1 oz grated Gruyere cheese (for sprinkling)

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a baking sheet. Make the choux pastry
Cut the butter into pieces. In a small saucepan, gently heat the water, salt and butter until the butter is melted. Meanwhile, sift the flour on to a piece of paper. Bring the butter mixture just to the boil (prolonged boiling evaporates the water and changes the proportions of the dough). Remove from the heat and immediately add all the flour. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for a few moments until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan to form a ball. Beat for ½ -1 minute over a low heat to dry the dough. Beat one egg until mixed and set it aside. Beat the remaining eggs into the dough, one at a time, and beat thoroughly after each addition. Beat in enough of the reserved egg so that the dough is shiny and just falls from the spoon. If too much egg is added, the dough will be too soft and not hold its shape.

Once the pastry has reached the desire consistency, beat in the diced Gruyere.
Transfer the dough to the pastry bag and pipe 2 ½-inch large mounds on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the puffs with egg glaze and sprinkle with grated cheese. Bake in the oven until the gougers are puffed and brown but still slightly soft inside, 30-40 minutes. Gougeres are best eaten while still warm, but they can be baked up to 8 hours ahead. Keep them in an airtight container and warm them in a low oven before serving.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Channeling my Inner Vegetarian

I grew up in a meat and potatoes family. T-bone steaks, meatloaf, Sloppy Joe’s, and beef stroganoff, were mainstays on the table. We enjoyed pork chops, pork roasts and fried chicken. Fish made its appearance during Lent, and vegetables were a canned variety taking a minor role aside a huge portion of potatoes or rice. That’s the way things were in the 70s. Meat on the table every night was a sign of a successful middle class family life.
Fast-forward 30 years and meat remains a mainstay on the table (and on the grill, in our cars, at the restaurants we frequent). No longer a status symbol of middle class wealth, consumption of beef is driven by its low cost and extreme availability. In fact, in 2009, the average yearly consumption of red meat, including beef,pork, veal and lamb was at 106.3 pounds per person. Even when vegetarians are factored into this number, the poundage is still staggering.
The USDA recommends that individuals consuming 2,000 calories eat 5.5 ounces of lean meats and beans each day (although this varies by gender and age). It is obvious that the 106 pounds of red meat Americans eat annually is leaps and bounds above what is recommended.
Sure, consuming red meat, especially beef, is a good way to fulfill recommended daily allowances of protein while providing our bodies with vitamin B12, iron, and zinc, but eating too much beef, which has a high saturated fat content, has been shown to increase the incidence of breast and colorectal cancers, as well as cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure and cholesterol.
My health (and that of my family) has a lot to do with our cutting meat consumption. Not only the saturated fat issue, but also the health implications of consuming meat and poultry treated with antibiotics and growth hormones is quite upsetting to us. Beyond our own health, I also weigh in the fact that the production of meat is a big polluter of the environment.
But, to be honest, cost is a big reason we have cut back. While conventionally reared meats are sold at low prices, our choice for more natural and non-chemically enhanced options can be expensive, especially when feeding a family of six.
Whatever the reason is - the cost, our health, or the health of our environment - Americans are paying a bit more attention to the amount of meat consumed each week. To that end, programs such as Meatless Mondays have taken hold.
Lately I’ve taken a more active role in seeking vegetarian meals to incorporate into my rotating mix of recipes. Nothing too radical for our egg-loving, cheese-eating family, just a gentle switch from seven days a week, to five.
In the process, I easily mastered a healthy entourage of meatless pasta recipes including Spaghetti Alla Piemontese, Pasta Fresca, and Eggplant Parmesan to our mix. As for seafood, we add an offering or two every couple weeks, but since I’m not a fan of seafood, I find it hard to add it into the mix more frequently. So, that leaves me to turn to to veggies, grains and beans.
How fitting because this is Whole Grains Month. I can find inspiration on the Oldways/Whole Grains Council website, in addition to digging around in my cookbook collection.
Yesterday, it was Mollie Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest and Vegetable Upside-Down Cake. I enticed the kids’ inner-fairy fantasies and asked them to bring their fairy dust and wings to dinner, as we were venturing into the Enchanted Broccoli Forest. I whipped out the cookbook and showed them a picture of what I was talking about, and they were definitely excited.

The results were less than enchanting. I’m attributing a big part of the mishap to the distraction of Keely’s top-of-her-lungs screaming (because I hadn’t planned a play date with her friend), just as I was trying to prep and prepare both dishes at once. As a result of this distraction, I put the upside-down cake in the oven to bake without adding the shredded cheddar. By the time I realized my mistake, it was too late. My heart dropped as I realized that the cheese, the one ingredient that just might entice them to eat the dish, sat on the counter.

Dinnertime came, and so did the complaints. I send a big Thank You to Greg for gobbling up both dishes, a high five to Grayson for trying both dishes (although he left the 'cake' on his plate), and a low five for the girls who wouldn’t even put the cake on their plates. Thank goodness I has some of those garbanzo beans waiting in the wings to help fill the gap.

Tonight, instead of trying to channel my inner vegetarian, I’m on a quest for some inner Zen. The kids will get their favorite pasta dinner, and I’ll get some peace.

Here’s hoping the vegetarian vibes are with you (at least once a week).

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Great Gnocchi Incident

I shouldn’t have done it. I shouldn’t have made if from scratch. I should have had done a bit more research. I shouldn’t have had a meltdown.
But it happened, and I’m sure it will happen again.
Now as I look back, with a few days between the now-famous gnocchi incident and my
clear mind, I can see exactly what went wrong. Poor planning, relatively stressed out mood, and a way too late start.
It was just that tub of ricotta sitting in the fridge, just ready to reach its sell by date, and a desire to make this recipe that has long been on my list of things to do.
As I gathered ingredients, the kids heard noise in the kitchen and quickly arrived to see what was up.
“What are we having,” Keely’s favorite line.
“Gnocchi,” I said. What immediately followed was a linguistics lesson – how to get the right sound out of their mouth.
The twins eventually lost interest in the lesson, and wandered off to play. But Grayson was pulling up the chair ready to help. He was a big help making the dough, but since it took very little time to put together, he was antsy waiting the 30 minutes for it to chill.
When that time arrived, I moved everything to the kitchen table, and set up cutting boards for Grayson, Addie and Keely – Nicole was taking a late afternoon nap.
We each floured our boards the floor, the table and our clothes. I then divided the extremely sticky dough and began to roll it out.
With time ticking and the kids screaming, “I want to roll it out,” I instinctively just added more and more and more flour.
Eventually, I was able to roll it out with the kids begging for their own to play with I cut off a bit and handed the twins some, and gave Grayson a bigger piece to cut into the 1” pieces.
As I was trying to make the dough manageable, a thought kept creeping into the back of my mind . . . the kids are just not going to eat this –especially since they can see green (i.e. spinach) in the gnocchi. But I had to move on, time was ticking, flour was spilling, dough was sticking and water was boiling.
I think the biggest distraction was the time. You see, I need dinner served at a certain time so I can escape afterwards and get a swim in before I give Greg a hand getting the kids down. It’s a well-oiled time schedule that I desperately need to work in order to get a little exercise in and relieve the day’s bottled up stress. (you know, the ‘It’s summer and all four kids are at home waiting to be entertained while I’m trying to meet a deadline for an article” stress)
Greg popped in for a moment to take some photos of the gnocchi-making experiment. He left just as I was moving to the stove to start cooking. Three minutes, small batches of 15 gnocchi pieces. I plopped the first 15 in the water, and set out to clean up the kids. By the time I turned around, the water was a murky gnocchi color, and I could only fish out a handful of indistinct blobs.
The stress began to rise. I put more in the water, as the clock was ticking, and I set to clean up the table and ready it for eating. Back of the mind was knocking again, “They’re going to take one look at this and scream, ‘I don’t’ like it. What’s that green stuff?’”
I moved forward, without thinking this through, and once again, a handful of blobs I’m not sure I would eat, were fished out of the gnocchi broth.
Reaching full frustration at this point, I said a few under my breath, then barked at Grayson, who was innocently standing by waiting to help me, to go get Daddy.
By the time he arrived, I was in full crazed mode – dinner was a mess, I was seeing my relaxing swim time disappearing, and there wasn’t much in the fridge that I could whip up as a back up meal.
As Greg swooped in, he ordered me to get away from it all. After a few more minutes of madness pacing around the kitchen, I eventually retreated to the bedroom. When I returned, I was still upset about the failed attempt at gnocchi, but glad things were out of my hands now. Grayson quickly came to my side with a card reading “I’m sorry you’re feeling sad,” and a picture of perfect, un-melted spinach gnocchi(seen above). In a further attempt to make me feel better, he kept reassuring me that he was going to taste it.
We sat down to dinner, gnocchi with a bit of fresh tomato sauce. As expected, Nicole stuck her nose up at the whole things. Surprisingly, so did Addie. But Grayson and Keely dove right in and ate it up. Of course, whether Greg liked it or not, he obliged by finishing his meal.
In truth, it wasn’t all about the failed gnocchi attempt. But I think the failure just was the last straw in what was a stress filled day. It is hard to focus and enjoy the process if something is eating you up from the inside. It should have been fun – even if it didn’t turn out. Cooking is constantly trial and error and you can’t be discouraged by one failed attempt.
Believe it or not, but I’m ready to jump back into gnocchi-making. This time around, I’ll make sure I have set aside the proper amount of time to make them, and I’ll always, always have a backup.

Oh, by the way, here is the recipe:

Sabrina’s Gnocchi

These light-as-air gnocchi are nice with either Fresh Tomato Sauce or Gorgonzozla Sauce.

Fresh Tomato Sauce, heated
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
12 oz. spinach, trimmed (1 cup cooked)
12 oz. ricotta, well drained in sieve
2 eggs
½ cup grated Parmesan
pinch grated nutmeg
½ cup flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 cup mashed potato
salt and ground black pepper

Prepare tomato sauce, then make gnocchi:
Heat oil with garlic and spinach. Cover and cook for a couple of minutes until spinach has wilted. Squeeze out all liquid and chop finely. Combine with other ingredients, season to taste.
Chill mixture for 30 minutes. Turn out onto a well-floured board. Divide into 4 (mixture will be very soft but just manageable, if it is too sloppy to handle, add a little more flour).
Use extra flour to roll each piece into a 1-inch thick log about 16 inches long. Cut each into 1-inch pieces. Roll in a little extra flour to prevent sticking. Cook about 15 at a time in a large pot of salted boiling water for 3 minutes. Scoop out with slotted spoon and transfer to a serving dish. Keep warm.
When all gnocchi is cooked, spoon hot tomato sauce over and serve.

Hot Tomato Sauce
Puree 1 lb. 4 oz. sweet tomatoes, chopped; 1 large clove garlic, peeled; salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Transfer to a pot, add 8-10 torn basil leaves, simmer for minutes.

Serves 6
Source: Savour Italy: A Discovery of Taste, Annabel Langbein, Graphic Arts Center Publishing