Thursday, February 25, 2010

Baking Essentials

I'm on something of a baking kick lately. I am not sure why, exactly, but I do find a great deal of peace in baking something yummy. Baking requires you to slow down, to take your time and work through a process. And once you're done, you end up with great smells coming from the oven and (hopefully) something delicious to munch on. Baking is exact, but it's like a marriage of chemistry and magic. And that's always fun.

There are a ton of gadgets and do-dads that make cooking easier, but here is my list of absolute baking essentials:
  • Measuring tools: at very least, you should invest in decent measuring cups and spoons. I prefer stainless steel because they seem more official. They also clean up easily and seem like they'll last longer than plastic (that's just my humble opinion). You'll also need something to measure liquid. For this, I like Pyrex glass measuring bowls. I have several different sizes of these and I recommend you get a 1-Cup, a 2-Cup and a 4-Cup for your kitchen. Remember: the Pyrex measures can go into the microwave, so they're super handy. Plus the large size allows you to mix up batter which is convenient. I've tried the angled liquid measuring cups, but I don't think they're very accurate or easy to use.

  • Decent scale: You don't have to spend a ton of money on this, but like I said earlier in the week, using a scale to weigh your ingredients is faster, easier, and more accurate than measuring by volume (that said, you'll still need to get decent measuring cups and spoons!).

  • Quality pans: Spend a tiny bit more (and go to a more specialized kitchen store) and get heavier pans that seem more sturdy and less likely to warp over time. You'll want (at very least) a normal sized cupcake pan (or two), 8 or 9-inch round cake pans, a brownie pan, and a loaf pan. I like the professional line of products by Chicago Metallics because they're reasonably priced and good quality. Nordicware also rocks.

  • Sheet/Cookie pans: Again, I really think it's better in the long run to invest in good quality stuff. Buy at least two half sheets and you should be set.

  • Cooking racks: I have two wire cooling racks, but I really think I should get one or two more. They're useful for cooling, but you can also put them inside your half sheets if you're cooking stuff like chicken (it lets the fat drip away from the meat--I do this when I cook chicken legs/wings in the oven). I am not a big fan of the stacked cooling rack, though they save counter space...I suppose.

  • A decent mixer: I take it for granted that everyone has a Kitchen Aid mixer in their house--probably because I think everyone should have one. I got mine for a high school graduation gift, and I adore it. I use it constantly and can't imagine not having one. If you don't have a Kitchen Aid, at least invest in a decent electric hand will save you hours of mixing by hand.

  • Good bowls: Use whatever you like, but make sure you have a decent set of bowls. I have glass, stainless steel, and melamine bowls and each serves its purpose. I am not a huge fan of ceramic bowls--they tend to chip and don't stand up for the long haul.

  • Spoons, scrapers, etc.: You can never have enough wooden spoons, rubber spatulas, or stainless steel tongs, in my opinion. You'll also want a good whisk and a bench scraper in your collection.

  • Rolling pin: I prefer a rolling pin without handles. I rarely use my rolling pin because I have yet to become an enthusiastic pie/pastry maker. But still, it's good to have one around because using a wine bottle to roll out dough only goes so far.

  • Pastry brushes: I can't stand silicone pastry brushes for baking, but many people swear by them. I always have a couple brushes around--in different sizes.
This should get you started, but this is just a bare bones list. There's a ton of other stuff that could be mentioned, but I'll save that for another time. What's your favorite baking tool? Leave a comment and let us know!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cookbook Corner: Country Suppers - Simple, Hearty Fare for Family and Friends

My Mom discovered this cookbook when she and Dad lived in Brandon, Vermont. She sent me a copy hoping that I too would be able to share in the flavors of small towns, country houses and warm fires on cold, snowy nights.

The illustrations in the book are by Warren Kimble, Brandon's resident artist. I know that I think of Vermont every time I have a dish from this cookbook!

What To Expect: A 9 page introduction on stocking your cupboard, 245 pages of recipes and 2 pages of mail-order sources (so you can bring a bit of Vermont to your table). As the title says, this book is full of hearty food - perfect for fall and winter meals, especially when you have people over to share with.

Also throughout the cookbook are sections called Country Tips and Tales, these are funny little bits of wisdom like "Dandelion juice rubbed on a wart will make it disappear, said by some old wives". This was after a recipe for Dandelion-Stuffed Chicken Breasts, p. 54-55.

Of course being a true Vermont cookbook, there is a section devoted to recipes using maple syrup. This book also really focuses on ingredients that are abundant in Vermont.

Best Recipes:
  • Herb-Crusted Roast Beef, p. 10-11
  • Vermont Boiled Dinner, p. 14 (AKA Corned Beef and Cabbage - just in time for Saint Patrick's Day)
  • Beef and Cheddar Pie, p.18 - This is by far the family's favorite recipe. If you try it, double the biscuit dough crust - it just doesn't make enough following the recipe.
  • Smoked Ham Hock and Pea Soup - Lydia and Mom would not like this, but Dad and I love a good pea soup.
  • Buttermilk Bread, p.116
  • Spiced Apple Butter, p.206 - I love apple butter on English muffins with coffee.
  • Almond Pumpkin Cake, p.214 - This sounds delicious, but I haven't made it yet!
Complaints: No pictures of the food and this is not a book for 2 eaters (unless they are very hungry or you want a lot of leftovers).

Deliciousness Scale: 4 spoonfuls of yum out of 5 - thanks Mom!

Details: Country Suppers - Simple, Hearty Fare for Family and Friends by Ruth Coustineau, ISBN 0688152236

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Measuring Up

Quick question: when you bake, how do you measure out your ingredients? Do you use measuring spoons and cups (measuring by volume), or do you use a scale (measure by weight)?

Until recently, I always brought out my mismatched measuring cups and banged up measuring spoons to make sure I had the right amount of ingredients. I filled cups with flour, scraping off the excess with a knife. I used my Pyrex measuring cup to dole out a cup of milk, a 1/2 cup of water.

But now? Now I've found a better way.

Thanks to my sister for buying me an awesome birthday gift, I am making a big switch. Instead of measuring out ingredients, I am going to--when possible--weigh them instead. According to the baking gurus (the folks over at King Arthur Flour), weighing out ingredients is much more accurate. Apparently, measuring cups can, by law, vary up to 12%. I never knew that before, and in some cases, that 12% might make the difference between a light fluffy cake and one that's more like a hockey puck.

The scale my sister bought me is from Salter, and it lets me do a lot. I can put my Kitchen Aid mixing bowl directly on the glass scale, turn it on, add a few scoops of flour, and get an accurate read (in ounces) on the digital display. I can also switch the scale from ounces to fluid ounces if I am measuring liquids. I think measuring by weight is not only more accurate, but also faster, easier, and less of an ordeal.

If you're really into baking, you should consider making the investment and buying a quality scale. It will change the way you work! And, if you're interested, here are some common conversions:
  • All-Purpose Flour (1 Cup): approx. 4 1/2 oz. (this can vary depending on what kind of flour you're using. Refer to the conversion chart that comes with your scale.
  • Granulated White Sugar (1 Cup): 7 oz.
  • Brown Sugar (1 Cup): 8 oz.
  • Butter (1/4 Cup/4 Ts): 2 oz.
  • Honey (1/2 Cup): 6 oz.
  • Almonds, Whole (1/2 Cup): 2 1/2 oz.
  • Almonds, Sliced (1/2 Cup): 1 1/2 oz.
  • Chocolate Chips (1 Cup): 6 oz.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Perfect Cure?!

The flu has been making its presence known in our household this weekend. So there has been a lot of Tylenol, Kleenex, and chicken soup to ward it off.

I love Mom's homemade chicken soup and she always makes it whenever someone isn't feeling well; this weekend, it has been on the stove for most meals as my Dad has been in bed. So here is the recipe for Mom's cure-all.


1 cut up chicken
2 1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp basil
1 bay leaf
4 medium carrots
1 can pear onions, drained
1 cup fine noodles, uncooked
1 tbsp dried parsley leaves
  1. Wash chicken. Place in large kettle and cover with water. Add seasonings.
  2. Bring to a boil then simmer, covered 1 1/2 hours or until chicken is tender.
  3. While chicken is cooking wash and peel carrots, slice into thin slices. Make sure onions are drained.
  4. When chicken is done, remove it, along with the bay leaf from the stock. Skim off as much fat as possible from stock.
  5. Bring back to boiling, add carrots and onions, simmer uncovered 45 minutes.
  6. While vegetables are cooking, remove bone and skin from chicken, cut chicken into bitesize pieces.
  7. When vegetables are done, add noodles and chicken. Cook 10 minutes longer.
  8. Remove pan from stove and cool and refrigerate until next day.
  9. Skim off solid fat, heat slowly and sprinkle with parsley.
You can add any vegetables that you like - I usually add peas, celery and mushrooms. Also, you can make this and eat it in one day.

I love this soup with crusty bread and a glass of wine. Although if I am sick, that glass of wine becomes a glass of ginger ale.

Even if you are super healthy, this is a classic recipe and a delicious meal; enjoy!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Devil Made Me Do It

My birthday was a couple of days ago and I must say that as an adult, it's hard to think of things to ask for. So when the family asked me for a list, I could only think of kitchen things. I asked for (and got) good quality cake pans, spring form pans, stainless steel mixing bowls, and a killer kitchen scale. It makes a difference to have higher quality things to work with!

To test out my new goods, I whipped up a Devil's Food Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting. This recipe is from King Arthur Flour's Baking Companion. I followed the recipes to the letter, but I have a few suggestions on how to improve things.

  • 12 Tablespoons butter (1 1/2 sticks--I use unsalted butter for baking. This should be at room temp)
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt (use normal table salt--not kosher or sea salt--for baking)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 4 large eggs (these should be at room temp)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk or water (I use whole milk for baking)
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Grease and flour (or use cocoa powder instead of flour so you don't get any white residue on the outside of the cake) two 9-inch or two 8-inch cake pans (this can also make a 9 x 13-inch sheet cake or about 24 regular sized cupcakes).
  3. In large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, salt, baking soda, and vanilla until fluffy and light, about 5 minutes. You should really let your mixer do it's job here. Give it time to fully incorporate the ingredients.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and cocoa.
  5. Add eggs to the butter mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition (again, let your machine have time to fully incorporate each egg).
  6. Slowly blend 1/3 of the flour mixture into the creamed mixture, then 1/2 of the milk, another 1/3 of the flour, the remaining milk, and then the remaining flour. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally. Also, you may want to give the mixture a final stir by hand.
  7. Pour the batter evenly in the prepared cake pans. Tap the pans on the counter a bit to help settle the batter.
  8. Bake the cakes for 30-35 minutes (longer for sheet cake, a bit less for the 8-inch or cupcakes) or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the sides of the cake begin to pull away from the pan.
  9. Remove cakes from oven and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before removing them from the pan.
  10. Let cakes cool completely before frosting.
  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 cups (1 pound) confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk (you may need to increase the milk to up to a total of 10 Tablespoons)
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the peanut butter and vanilla.
  2. Add confectioners' sugar in three parts, alternating with milk, stirring until the frosting is smooth and spreadable.
  3. Frost cake as desired.
  • If you don't want the peanut butter frosting, pick whatever you like best.
  • Next time I make this cake, I am going to add some instant espresso to the mix to really bring out the chocolate flavor.
  • I used whole milk, but I wonder if buttermilk or sour cream would give the cake a bit more tangy-ness. I'll have to give that a try!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chicken Coconut Casserole

For dinner Monday night, I needed to make something that I could basically heat and eat and also be homemade. On Sunday, I decided to search through the freezer and cabinets for ingredient ideas. I found some chicken breasts on the bone and shredded coconut in the freezer and shitake mushrooms, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, coconut milk and an onion in the pantry. I also had some 2 day old leftover garlic & onion bread and about a third of a carton of half-and-half and some mushrooms in the refrigerator. I then turned to my spices and came up with a chicken coconut casserole.


I boiled the chicken in water and seasoned it with salt and dried chilies. Then I removed all of the fat, bones and skin from the meat and cut up the meat into bite sized pieces. Next I chopped the onion and mushrooms. Then I heated up some vegetable oil in a large pot and added the onions; I also added 2 cloves of chopped garlic and cooked it until the onions were translucent.

Once the onions were cooked, I added spices (ginger, turmeric, fenugreek, Thai seasoning and salt), water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, shitake & white mushrooms, half-and-half, and coconut milk. Stirred it up well, let it just boil and then turned it down to simmer. Lastly, I added the cooked chicken and let the mixture simmer for about an hour.

While the chicken mixture was simmering, I made a cup of Thai Jasmine rice and cut up the leftover bread into small cubes. I preheated the oven to 350 and toasted the breadcrumbs & coconut for about 12-15 minutes.

When the rice was cooked and the breadcrumbs & coconut were toasted, I poured the chicken mixture and rice into a large casserole dish and added the topping. I then covered it up and put it in the refrigerator.


On Monday, I preheated the oven to 425 and cooked the casserole for 45 minutes. Dinner was served with brussel sprouts, Hawaii rolls and a nice glass of dry Riesling. It was very easy, I used up some staples and everyone like the coconut flavor of the dish!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Keep the Home Fires Burning

Valentine's Day was Sunday, and many people went out to celebrate the Hallmark holiday in fancy-schmancy restaurants. My husband and I are never ones to follow trends, so instead of eating out, we opted to spend the evening at home. We cooked a dinner together and had a lovely, quiet night.Not knowing what we wanted to have for dinner, we made a pit stop at the Safeway and wandered around aimlessly. We spotted a display of pre-measured, pre-packaged spices on recipe cards from McCormick (called McCormick Recipe Inspirations). My husband was intrigued, so we grabbed the packet for Rosemary Roasted Chicken and Potatoes (they also have packets for Quesadilla Casserole, Apple Sage Pork Chops, Garlic Lime Fajitas, Spanish Chicken Skillet, and Shrimp and Pasta Primavera). We also snagged some chicken and small red-skinned potatoes and headed for home.
My husband is not a cook. He amazing at many things, but cooking is not one of them and that's ok. But he decided that he wanted to help put dinner together. He diced up the potatoes and tossed together the chicken pieces and potatoes with the pre-measured spices and some oil. It was super easy and he had fun getting his hands dirty.
The dinner cooked up quickly and easily and resulted in moist chicken with crispy skin and tender but pleasantly crunchy potatoes. The seasoning was excellent and the meal was perfect. I know it's a gimmicky product, but I must say that the McCormick Recipe Inspirations card was a good find. The recipe on the back can be used over and over with the spices I have in my pantry. Sometimes when my hubby and I go on vacation, we rent a house at the beach. I could see packing one of these Recipe Inspiration cards with us to make for an easy but yummy meal on the fly.

While at the grocery, my husband requested that I make up a batch of Red Velvet cupcakes. Who am I to deny my husband something sweet on Valentine's Day? After we prepped the chicken, we whipped up Red Velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting for dessert. I use a recipe from the food blogger at Vanilla Garlic. Click here to get the recipe for yourself. These cupcakes are super delicious, so I highly recommend you check it out.

I hope you all had as nice of a Valentine's Day as we did!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Treat Yourself To Something Good!

One of my favorite meals out is breakfast. I always feel like I am treating myself to something special when I start the day off with breakfast out! No matter where you live, you can always find a good cafe, dive or diner that can serve up some up some good grub!

This past Thursday, I took the day off of work to be able to attend my son's Valentine's Day party. I got him up and ready for school, dropped him off at school and came home. My Mom usually does this routine, but I was able to give her the morning off and let her sleep in a bit. I thought that it would be nice to treat her to breakfast out, so we headed to Patty's Eggnest in Mill Creek, WA.

This was my first visit to Patty's Eggnest (and it won't be my last) and my Mom's second. Mom had French toast with a sunny-side-up egg and bacon. I had the cornbeef hash with eggs-over-easy, hashbrowns and English muffin and we both enjoyed a few cups of coffee with our meal. The tables all had 2 different types of freezer jam - strawberry and raspberry and tasted great on my English muffin.

It wasn't a fancy restaurant, but it was delicious, the service was good and the price was very reasonable too! I was full until dinner. We both enjoyed our meals and more importantly, the time we spent together! On my next visit, I want to try the eggs and gyros with pita and tsaki sauce!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Video Killed the Cookbook Star?

My first culinary love was cookbooks. I used to paw through my mom's books and become enchanted with the photos of food and the idea that a book could help you become a killer cook. As I grew up, I watched food shows on PBS. Now, of course, there's the Food Network. I'll get to that later, but I still like to watch food shows--when I'm not watching reruns of Law and Order, that is.

My absolute favorite foodie television comes from the people over at America's Test Kitchen. I think it's their nerdy approach to food that I like so much. They spend hours and test dozens of recipes to come up with the best way to make whatever dish they're focusing on.

The America's Test Kitchen folks also do Cook's Country--a show shot in a lovely New England farmhouse that centers around down-home American food (like the best mac and cheese, the best pork chops, etc.). They take their time and explain why they altered classic recipes to make them work better.

The America's Test Kitchen people do two other things I love: 1) they test kitchen equipment and 2) they do a ton of taste tests. They're not snobby to their approach. If they're testing out skillets, they'll try a wide range of products from super cheap to insanely expensive. They're fair and thorough, and you can really trust their advice.
The hosts all have good chemistry with each other, so they're fun to watch. Christopher Kimball is a nerd in the highest degree (he wears bow ties, after all!) and Jack Bishop, the food taste tester (the one on the left, smiling in the photo above), is one of my favorite food tv personalities of all time. I have no clue why!

America's Test Kitchen also sells books, magazines, and hosts websites that act as companions to their shows. In my humble opinion, they blow the Food Network out of the water.

I'll get to the Food Network soon enough--there's plenty of good, bad, and mediocre to examine on that channel, but in the meantime, if you want good foodie porn, tune to your local PBS and check out America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country. You'll be fully satisfied!

Oh, and if you have opinions on it, tell me: what's your favorite food tv to watch?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cookbook Corner: The Southern Living Cookbook

May 2006 edition

This is my favorite cookbook. I have given it as a wedding present, shared many recipes and use it as my ultimate bible. Whenever I need an idea, this is the first place I look. I also use it often for its appendices, especially conversions and cooking times.

I have an older copy that is out of print - I think my Mom gave me this when I went to college (a long time ago). My copy has all sorts of stains, creases and spills throughout it. Every time I open it up, it makes a nice "sticky" noise

What to expect: 495 pages of recipes, 3 pages of Vegetable Cooking Charts and 4 pages of Appendices. This book starts off with cooking basics like napkin folding and setting the table, then moves in to appetizers & sandwiches, beverages, breads, cakes & frostings, cookies & candies, desserts, eggs & cheese, fish & shellfish, food preservation, meats, pasta, rice & cereal, pies & pastries, poultry, salads & dressings, sauces, soups & stews and ends with vegetables & side dishes.

I really like the extra information that each section offers. For meats it has all the different cuts and cook times, while the bread section gives tips on yeast breads & flour to use. If you are stuck, have food questions, or just want to learn tricks, this book has it all.

Oh yeah, it also has over 1000+ recipes, pictures and illustrations through it!

Best recipes:
  • Spinach Dip in Cabbage (I use a hollowed out sourdough round loaf instead), p.31
  • Blueberry Streusel Muffins, p.76
  • Monkey Bread, p.93
  • Pot Roast with Sour Cream Gravy, p.291
  • Vermicelli Pie (I make this with leftover spaghetti), p.341
  • Cream Puff Pastry (my favorite recipe in the book - I stuff them with ice cream & Dove chocolate sauce), p.372
  • Chicken Breasts Lombardy (my second runner up), p.392
Complaints: Squirrel Fricassee, p.331 - Ha ha! No really, this is an actual recipe - it is probably pretty good too, if you like squirrel.

Deliciousness Scale: 5 spoonfuls of yum out of 5!

My review is based on my 1987 version of this book. ISBN: 848707095. If you can't find this version, you can find the current version, ISBN-13 9780848731144.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sushi Bowl

Our family is not made up of football fans. As such, we never watch the Super Bowl and could really care less about all the pigskin hoopla. While most of America was sitting home watching commercials--I mean football--we went out for sushi. But not just any sushi, no. We went to Blue C, the home of sushi on a conveyor belt.

I know conveyor belt sushi is not unique to Blue C--hell, it's all over the world--but Blue C's atmosphere make it so much fun. When you go in, you slide into an extra long booth and have your beverage delivered to you. You mix up wasabi and soy sauce to your taste and then let the real fun begin.

Throughout the entire restaurant, a conveyor belt snakes past booths, carrying on it color coded plates, each topped with a plastic dome. Under the dome are all sorts of yummy options: different variations of raw and cooked rolls, gunkan and nigri, hand rolls, teriyaki, katsu, salads, tempura, and, when you're all done with your meal, the yummiest puff pastries. You get to eat as much (or as little) as you want, and the color coded plates tell you how much each plate costs.

As a bonus--or perhaps to make the whole experience more kid-friendly--Blue C sells funny Japanese toys that are a must. They also project anime or street scenes of gothy Japanese kids in Japan.

One of my favorite things about Blue C is the bathroom. Since they're playing up their Japanese-ness, all of the Blue C locations have Japanese hand dryers in the bathrooms. If you haven't seen or used a Mitsubishi Jet Towel, you're missing out (click here for a post I wrote about them on my now defunct personal blog).

Even if you're not a sushi fan, a trip to Blue C will put you in a good mood.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mongolian Eats

This weekend I managed to completely avoid cooking anything at all. I was in the kitchen for a total of 10 minutes - just long enough to place already cooked food on plates and to make coffee and tea. I had meant to cook a pot roast and blog about it, but Lydia reminded me that it was Super Bowl Sunday and a perfect time to go out to dinner (she is writing about our yummy meal out). Friday night, Lydia and I decided to cheer on the Washington Stealth, our professional indoor lacrosse team (the best in the league too). Before the game, we kicked around various restaurants and decided that Chang's Mongolian Grill would be the perfect accompaniment to the game!

The Food Line on a Friday!

Chang's is always a fun place to go. It is very reasonably priced (cheap), you can pick out food any combinations you want and it is all you can eat. The only thing you have to worry about is the possibility of a crowd - waiting for a table or waiting for your food to cook. The premise is you order your drink, pick a soup (hot and sour or egg flower), then grab a bowl or 2 and head to the food line. There, you add all sorts of meats, vegetables, noodles and sauces and then you hand it over to the cook where they cook it in front of you on the Mongolian grill. For dinners, they have all sorts of meats and seafood - lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, pork, fish, squid, and shrimp (lunches don't have the seafood options).

Noodle Yum!

Lydia and I usually start out with 2 bowls, one for the meat and one for the rest. After it is cooked up, you can top it off with sesame seeds, chili flakes, soy sauce, plum sauce and/or chili sauce. Once back at the table, there are rice wrappers and rice to complete your meal. We both like the sesame seeds on top. Lydia likes to wrap hers up in the rice wrappers with a little plum sauce, while I like hot off the grill with a bit of plum sauce. We both skip the soup too - it is not very flavorful and we like to head right to the line!

To end the meal, they also offer soft serve vanilla ice cream and a fortune cookie - both are included in the price. Again, we opted out of the ice cream and chose the fortune cookies instead!

We hit Chang's at the perfect time on Friday - we got there at about 5:45 pm and did not have to wait at all. By the time we left, there were lines to get a table and lines to go through the line and have everything cooked up. We headed to the Stealth game, where the Stealth beat the Minnesota Swarm and kept their undefeated record. Another fun night out!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Football Party Hearty!

We're not football fans in our family, but I know many of you will be parked in front of the TV on Sunday watching the big game...or the big commercials. I got this message in my inbox and thought it was filled with some great ideas (not to mention another kick ass chili recipe!) to add to your collection. Enjoy!

Football Party Hearty!
by Susan Burke March, MS, RD/LD, CDE

If you’re an armchair quarterback, sitting around drinking brews and sodas and chowing down on fatty wings, chips and dips won’t help you make the cut. Score a nutritional touchdown and serve some healthy snacks while rooting your team on to victory.

Here are some quick tips for healthy football-friendly fare and a chili recipe that’s a sure winner:
Always choose baked chips instead of fried. Tortilla chips and potato chips come in different baked flavors and saves up to 30% of the calories of fried chips.

Serve bean dip instead of regular sour cream dip. Only 46 calories per three tablespoons compared to more than double for full-fat sour cream.

Nuts are nutritious, but they add up quickly. Serve a giant bowl of air-popped popcorn sprayed with butter-flavored cooking spray and sprinkled with dehydrated butter granules…I like Butter Buds or Molly McButter. Delicious with only 60 calories for three cups, only a trace of fat and about 10 grams of sodium. Save 280 calories, 28 grams of fat and 330 milligrams of sodium over the regular microwave popcorn.

Replace fried mozzarella sticks with chicken skewers. They’re really popular and always great party food. You can buy them already prepared (especially at warehouse grocers), and save 188 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 546 milligrams of sodium over the same sized portion of fried cheese.

Serve a healthy submarine sandwich. Whole-wheat hero rolls give you that extra added fiber and nutrition (not to mention taste!) compared to white bread. Layer on turkey breast, lean roast beef or lean ham, shredded lettuce and tomato slices; slice into 2 inch portions and serve with sliced onions and pickles.
Keep the calories low by using low fat mayonnaise, and naturally low-calorie ketchup and mustard. Fat-free dressings should be offered…the new varieties are so good, you won’t miss the fat.

Imbibe with caution, because those brews add up! One regular beer ranges between 150-200 calories; instead serve light beer…only about 100 calories per bottle. A 5-ounce glass of wine has about 100 calories, as does one ounce of alcoholic spirits such as vodka, gin or scotch. Serve a variety of diet sodas, flavored club sodas and keep a big cooler with individual bottles of spring water.
Any dried dip mix will do, but instead of regular sour cream, add ½ cup of nonfat sour cream, ½ cup of nonfat mayonnaise, and ¾ cup of diced fresh tomatoes, ¼ cup of chopped green onion, and ¼ cup of chopped ripe olives, rinsed and drained. Mix and refrigerate for ½ hour before serving.

Crudités: everyone like crunchy veggies, especially with a tasty dip. Buy pre-washed and cut-up veggies and you’re ready to go…zero prep time. At half time, get up and do 100 jumping jacks!

Susan’s Weight-Wise Chili Recipe
Homemade Chili with fresh vegetables herbs and spices

1 lb of 97% lean ground beef or turkey or firm tofu, drained
1 onion diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, seeded and diced
1 tsp olive oil
1 ~28 ounce can tomato puree (no salt added)
1 ~15 ounce can each kidney beans, white beans, and pinto beans-rinsed and drained
3 small-medium baking potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
2 Tbsp chili powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
2 cups water


In a large, nonstick saucepan over low-medium high heat, heat olive oil. Add garlic and cook until just softened.

Add the onion and pepper and cook 2 more minutes; then add the ground meat or crumble in the tofu: cook about 5 minutes.

Drain off fat if using meat; add pureed tomatoes, canned beans, potatoes, seasonings, and water.

Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for approximately 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

For thinner chili, add a cup of broth, wine or water.

Serve with a tossed salad.

Registered and licensed dietitian Susan Burke March, MS, CDE, is the author of Making Weight Control Second Nature: Living Thin Naturally,” which offers a wealth of practical information, tips and strategies for people who are serious about taking control of their health, fad-free, for life.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Yum for Breakfast...or Any Time!

My mother stole this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis and all I can say is: Thanks, Mom!

If you're looking for an easy, super yummy recipe for something that can be eaten for breakfast on the run (or for a middle of the afternoon pick me up), give this one a try.

The ricotta cheese makes the difference, so use the best quality you can find. Don't substitute vanilla extract for the almond. The almond gives these muffins more depth and a much better flavor. And the sliced almonds on the top toast as the muffins cook, so they'll be crunchy, toasted and super nutty. This really is one of my favorite muffin recipes.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar or more as needed for sprinkling
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup thinly sliced almonds
  1. Directions Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl to blend.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup sugar, butter, and lemon zest in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the ricotta. Beat in the egg, lemon juice, and almond extract.
  4. Add the dry ingredients and stir just until blended (the batter will be thick and fluffy).
  5. Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups.
  6. Sprinkle the almonds and then the remaining 1 teaspoon of sugar over the muffins.
  7. Bake until the muffins just become pale golden on top, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Easy Peasy Pasta Sauce

Do you ever have those days where you want comfort food, but don't have the energy to put in to cooking it? Well I had this over the weekend and I had my Mom asking me to make dinner for the family too. I felt like I couldn't say no, yet I didn't want to put in hours cooking for the family. So, I went with an old standby - Spaghetti Sauce, pasta, crusty bread, salad and a nice bottle of wine!

First off, I got some fresh pasta - it cooks quickly (usually under 5 minutes) and is delicious. In this case, I used tortellini stuffed with chicken and cheese. Then I got a bag of salad - super easy and just enough for the family. I doctored up the salad with some carrots, mushrooms, cranberries and croutons and finished it with a blue cheese vinaigrette.When I was shopping for ingredients, I stopped to talk to the "Bakery Lady" at Safeway and she gave me a sample of their garlic-caramelized onion bread. It was crusty and delicious and I thought it would go well with pasta - so I bought a loaf. It also went very nicely with a bottle of Gnarly Head Zinfandel too!

So I normally make a meat sauce using ground beef, but I wanted to try something a little different and I used ground chicken instead. I thought that the chicken would also compliment the tortellini - I was right! So here is my very quick recipe for spaghetti sauce - please add or subtract whatever you like and remember, the longer it cooks the better it is!

Spaghetti Sauce
1.25 pounds ground chicken
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, diced
1 cup Marsala wine (or water or chicken broth)
1, 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1, 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1, 14.5 ounce can tomato sauce
1, 6 ounce can tomato paste
6-8 mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon oregano
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon basil
salt & pepper to taste
  • Over medium high heat, brown the meat and drain the excess fat. Add the garlic and onion and cook until the onions are translucent.
  • Add all the other ingredients and turn the heat down to a simmer.
  • Cover and cook for at least an hour (I like to cook this all day)
If you don't use Marsala wine, you might need to add some sugar (1/2 tablespoon) to sweeten up the sauce.

Everything turned out wonderfully and I got credit for a home cooked meal! We also had enough for leftovers, so the sauce got to cook a bit more and bring out more of the flavors. Another deliciously, yummy meal!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Turning Japanese (or Chinese, or Korean, or...)

Living in the moist Pacific Northwest, we're surrounded by some awesome international--Asia, specifically--grocery stores. Even though I am not entire sure how to cook with some of the ingredients found in these stores, it's still fun to take a trip to a more exotic place without ever leaving the state.
If you're ever in the greater Seattle area and are wanting to see something more unique than the Space Needle or Pike Place Market, check out these Asian grocery stores: UWAJIMAYAThis is the granddaddy of Asian grocery stores in the Seattle area. It's located in the International District in downtown Seattle and is a fun place to spend an afternoon. The produce section is filled with fresh, interesting, and inexpensive products like Japanese eggplants, gobo, nappa cabbage, lemongrass, and durian fruit--most of it grown locally. The seafood department is eye-opening. They have sea urchins, geoducks, and super-fresh fish (and fish parts). If you're a ramen noodle fan, Uwajimaya is your place! There's a full aisle devoted to the noodles. Every time we go, we try to find some intriguing new snack or sauce to try out back at home.


As a bonus, the Seattle store also has a great variety of plates and bowls. The housewares section has been scaled back a bit over the years, but there are a lot of rice cookers, sake sets, tea sets, Asian personal care items, etc. to browse through.

Also attached to the Seattle store are an Asian bookstore and a good-sized food court. You really could spend a lot of time at Uwajimaya!

If you venture north of the city (closer to where we live!) you can visit the brand-spanking-new Hmart in Lynnwood, WA (right across from the Alderwood Mall). Hmart also boasts a food court, a large produce section, an extensive frozen food area, decent meat department, and fresh seafood.

Unlike Uwajimaya, Hmart offers a kimchi bar, a section of store-made entrees you can take home and eat, and a natural foods section. If you go on the weekends, there are several tables where women give out samples of noodles, soup, pork belly with various sauces, etc. The number of sample stations rivals Costco at times! There's even a guy inside who sells these yummy puffed rice cakes made fresh as you watch (and if you watch for a second, he'll give you a free cake--yum!). I've seen many "strange" ingredients for sale at Hmart. They even had balut eggs one day (not my taste, but whatever!).

There are plenty of other Asian markets around our area, but these are the two best that I know of. I love being able to take an international food journey without the need for a passport!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Surviving the Week

Being a working Mom, I have to get up early (usually at 5:30 am) everyday - including the weekends (Hockey!). In order to survive, I start my day off with lots of coffee. Now being from Seattle, you might think that means a trip to Starbucks every morning - well not so! Lydia turned me on to the wonders of a Keurig coffee maker and the joys of having fresh brewed coffee in seconds. This along with my Green Mountain Coffee Club membership makes mornings tolerable! I have found that the seasonal blends are my favorite and that when they are not available, either Lake & Lodge or Caribou Coffee are delicious options! Keurigs also make a nice hot chocolate and tea too. And yes, from time to time I do run off to Starbucks for a mocha!

Once at work, I rely on my Coconut Chai Tea for both its soothing aroma and its caffeine. I have found that I am quite spoiled with my Keurig coffee and that the options at work are good, but the tea is not as acidic and always makes my office smell exceptionally good! I usually get compliments on the wonderful smell and I am happy to share the goodness of a warm cup!
For lunch, I usually have a most delicious Lean Cuisine (can you hear the sarcasm?). Every once in a while though, I treat myself to a gyro and greek salad from First Hill Bar and Grill - a dive with wonderfully delicious food! I find myself craving these and whenever one of us starts talking about feta or gyros, the whole lab ends up placing an order! Most of my techs prefer the french fries with their sandwich, but I love the Greek salad dressing and extra feta cheese that comes with the salad. My mouth is watering thinking about the first bite - yum!

As I look at the start of another week and month (happy February), I also look forward to breaks in the day to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and the possibility of a fresh, hot gyro!

Please share your tasty treats that help you make it through the week too - I always love trying something new!