Saturday, November 24, 2012

Whiskey Sour

(Image from

The whiskey sour. I've had only three in my life, but I'm pretty sure they're going to stay near the top of my mental Favorite Cocktails list. I love the combination of sweet, sour, and that kicky whiskey bite. Sadly, most bars use sour mix, which is mostly high-fructose corn syrup, and for people throwing parties, picking up the mixer bottle from the supermarket is much easier than trying to juice that many lemons. But my goodness are you missing out by not making whiskey sours from scratch. The good news, however, is that they're really easy with a little preparation.

Whiskey Sour

1 1/2 oz. bourbon whiskey
1 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice*
1/2 oz. simple syrup**
1 maraschino cherry

Use a jigger to measure ingredients into a shaker and pour over ice in a rocks glass, or simply measure right into the glass and stir. Garnish with the cherry.

*By squeezing two lemons by hand, I got about 4 oz. of juice. So figure about half a lemon per drink. You may get more juice by using a juicer. Take shavings of the lemon peel for additional garnish if you like.
**To make simple syrup, simple combine 1 part water to 1 part sugar in a saucepan and heat on low, swirling occasionally, until sugar is melted. Put aside to cool and then transfer to a pourable container. I poured it into a labeled squeeze bottle, and it worked great. I've made great simple syrups with both plain granulated sugar and raw cane sugar.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Roasted Broccoli and Vegan Whipped Cream

Two things today, because they're both so good.

1. Roasted Broccoli
My mom has always grown her own broccoli and frozen it, so as a child I ate a lot of broccoli. I've always liked it, but it never turned my life around or anything. I just thought that was broccoli's fate: to be good, but never revolutionary.

Until I realized something.

We were cooking it the wrong way.

Until a few months ago, the only way I had ever eaten broccoli was raw or steamed. Either cold, firm, and kind of grassy-flavored, or steamy, mushy, and... still grassy-flavored.

And then I discovered the joy of roasting. Roasting brings out a level of sweetness in broccoli that I never knew existed. Adding a bit of sugar to the dressing caramelizes and crisps the delicate crowns, and a splash of fresh lemon wakes up the whole dish. THIS broccoli has literally turned my life around, because I don't know if I will ever steam broccoli again. THIS broccoli is revolutionary. I recommend following this recipe with just a few modifications: use only 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and add 1/4 teaspoon of sugar. Be sure to toss the broccoli with the oil and seasonings to thoroughly coat each piece. Place on a baking sheet lined with foil (clean up is so easy--sometimes I don't even have to wash the pan). Lemon is optional, but boy is it good.

2. Vegan Whipped Cream
Don't worry, I'm not actually going vegan. But I do recognize the benefits of eating less dairy, and some people can't eat dairy at all, lest they suffer an upset stomach the rest of the day. For these people, this little trick is a dream.
Buy a can of full-fat coconut milk and store in the refrigerator overnight. Open the can and scoop out the top solidified layer, leaving any liquid in the can (save and use in smoothies or whatnot). Whip the solidified coconut milk with a hand or stand mixer until thick and fluffy. Add powdered sugar to taste. You could use a natural sweetener, but I do recommend using something dry, or the cream may get too soupy.

I am ridiculously impressed with the texture of this cream. It's thick and luscious, virtually like real whipped cream in almost every way. The only caveat here is that it does taste like coconut, so if you're a coconut hater, this may not be for you. Fortunately, I learned to like coconut some years back, and even though I'm not giving up dairy any time soon (or ever, let's be honest), I'm really excited to have an interesting, flavorful alternative to whipped cream. Tonight, I'm serving it with homemade chocolate pudding.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Easy Dessert: Donut Ice Cream Sandwiches

Need a dessert for company? (Or, let's just be honest... need a dessert for your Friday night alone?) Don't feel like cooking? Still want something awesome? Would rather not break your calorie bank?

I've covered all those bases.

Donut Ice Cream Sandwiches
Approximately 260 calories each!
  • Plain Entenmann's donuts (if you choose sugared or frosted, calories go up)
  • Any flavor ice cream, slightly softened (I chose chocolate)
  • Chocolate chips (or white, or peanut butter, or whatever)
Slice donuts in half. Scoop about 1/4 cup ice cream onto half of the donuts; top with other half. Smooth ice cream edges with spoon. Freeze sandwiches for 30 minutes. Put chocolate chips in a freezer storage bag, and microwave on high in intervals of 30 seconds, until you can squish and melt the chips with your hands. Remove sandwiches from freezer and drizzle melted chips on top. Refreeze for at least 1 hour before eating; less time will result in a still delicious, but melty sandwich. (If you have a particularly cold freezer, allow to sit on the counter for 5 minutes or so before eating.)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Meadow Tea

When I was young, my mom would take us to my aunt and uncle's old farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania to pick peppermint, spearmint, and wooly leaf tea in their creekside meadow. All kinds of mint grow very well in moist, well-drained locations, which makes meadows, which often have a water source of some kind, excellent harvesting locations for wild mint.

Once home, my mom would boil water in three of her largest pots, steep the tea, sweeten it to taste, and pour it into old glass milk jars purchased from a local dairy. While there was tea in the refrigerator, we hardly drank anything else. It is one of my favorite beverages, and one of the most refreshing drinks for summer. Various people have asked me how to make meadow tea, and the truth is that everyone's procedure differs, but I'll try to give you the gist here.

Meadow Tea

  • One bunch peppermint, spearmint, or woolly (apple) mint (about as much as you can hold in one hand, and a combination of mints makes the best tea)
  • Approximately 64 oz. water (more if you have a particularly large bunch of leaves, or much more if you have shopping bags full like my mother)
  • Your choice of sweetener (white sugar, raw sugar, and honey have all worked well for me; I imagine agave would be good too)
In a large pot, bring water to rolling boil. Immediately remove from heat. Toss in the bunch of mint and steep for 5-10 minutes. Remove leaves and discard. Sweeten to taste. Pour while still hot into heavy glass storage containers. When cool, refrigerate. Tea should taste fresh for up to 2 weeks.


Additional notes:
  •  I know some people will want a specific amount of sweetener to add. I can't help you there. The level of sweetness is the most variable part of this recipe. Some little Amish ladies make their meadow tea as sweet as Southern sweet tea, which is entirely too much for me. Others use honey and others hate honey. Use whatever you find most palatable, and add gradually, tasting as you go along. I recommend sweetening while the tea is still hot, and stopping just short of where you'd like the sweetness to be, as I find the drink seems sweeter when cold.
  • If your hot tea has a lot of sediment in it, let it sit for a few minutes and then ladle out into your containers. The dirt will settle to the bottom, and the boiling water will have neutralized any harmful elements. Especially if you collected your mint from a natural meadow or organic garden, you shouldn't have any issues, and bugs rarely bother mint plants.
  • I've never tried adding fruit or any other herb to my mint tea, as the taste is too nostalgic for me to meddle with, but you should totally go for it. My first picks would be strawberries, raspberries, or lemon balm. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Discount Grocery

I write this post with one sole purpose: to get you to find and visit a discount grocery store near you. I have a long history of visiting "scratch-and-dent" stores with my mom, some of them way off the beaten path, like that tiny Amish shop in eastern Iowa that didn't have any electric lights. Right after getting married, though, it was enough work to think about just stocking my own pantry and refrigerator with the resources I had close at hand, so it's been only recently that I've ventured beyond our local big-chain grocery stores.

Lucky for me, I don't live in Iowa anymore, so even though I didn't find a huge selection of discount grocery stores when I searched online, I did find one gem: BB's Grocery Outlet, with several locations in the southeast PA area. It's definitely the biggest discount grocery I've seen, and the most comprehensive. The milk is regular price and the produce is passable, not amazing, but still, they have milk and produce along with aisles and aisles of dry goods. Even though I have no prejudice toward generic products, what I particularly like at BB's are their numerous high-quality, name-brand items. We're talking Yoplait Greek yogurt w/ granola topping for a quarter a piece. Softsoap handwash for a dollar. Even a Martha Stewart all-natural carpet cleaner spray for less than two dollars.

I could keep going, but the most persuasive way to do this is to show you a picture:

This glorious load cost me...

wait for it...

Fifty dollars and change.

Just in case this still isn't clear (maybe you don't do large grocery trips very often, or maybe you cook too infrequently to know the relative cost of groceries), let me break this down.

Buitoni fresh four-cheese ravioli: At Giant, $4.49. At BB's, $1.79.
Fresh limes: Giant, $.50 each. BB's, $.25 each.
Kraft veggie macaroni and cheese: Giant, $1.50 each. BB's, $.50 each.

As far as high-quality, name-brand items go, this pile also contains:

Hilshire Farm smoked bratwurst
John F. Martin cheese dogs (quality local meat brand)
Townhouse Flatbread Crisps
Kleenex tissues
Turkey Hill chocolate milk
Terra sweet potato chips
Scott select-a-size paper towels
Post Great Grains cereal
Cascadian Farms organic frozen strawberries
Snapple Sorbet Pops
Annie's Naturals goddess dressing
Kotex product
Stubb's beef marinade

If I'd had the energy, I would have been tempted to go to Giant and price everything out to really wow you, but instead I'll give you a rough estimate. My best guess is that for this batch of groceries, I would pay between $80-$100 at most of our local grocery chains. And I took it off BB's hands for $50.

A few tips for shopping at discount grocery stores:
  • First, find one. Google "discount grocery" with your zipcode, or ask that Mennonite lady down the street. If Google fails and you know no Mennonite ladies, ask a hippie.
  • Plan to spend a substantial amount of time shopping. Discount groceries are notoriously unorganized, and you will likely have to sort through shelves of mismatched products to find the gold.
  • Save discount grocery stores for stock-up trips, not quick errand runs. The potential inconsistency of the merchandise and long lines of insane, cart mountain, I-only-come-out-of-my-house-once-a-month-to-feed shoppers may frustrate you if you need to get in and out.
  • Keeping the first two tips in mind, I recommend taking time to browse. Don't write a store off just because you don't see useful products on first glance. Poke around, shove things aside. Because discount grocery stores are not as pristinely organized as regular grocery stores, sometimes the good stuff is hiding. That being said, I do recommend choosing a store that, on first glance, looks like they use some kind of organizational structure.
  • Check dates! Only two or three items in my pile above were just slightly past their Best By dates, and since I've read plenty about how those dates are conservative, I deemed them just fine. I did see plenty of product that was wildly out of date, however. Just be conscientious.
  • Don't settle for bad food just because it's cheap. This will ruin your diet and enjoyment of food. I am sometimes tempted to buy food that's not very healthy or flavorful just because it's that darn cheap. But no matter how many Hamburger Helpers I walk out with, the price isn't going to make them taste any better. If you have to choose between settling for a mediocre-looking version of an ingredient you need or paying full price at a normal grocery store, suck it up: buy the better product. You're saving enough money elsewhere with those 45 packs of crackers for FIVE DOLLARS!!!

Friday, May 11, 2012

No-Knead Bread

I followed the now-famous recipe provided to The New York Times by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery for no-knead bread, and created this beauty.

Can't wait to crack into it tonight and pair it with a cauliflower-cheddar soup, a bottle of wine, and good company! I'll post more after tasting.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Top 3 Someday Recipes, Vol. 1

New blog feature! I spend a lot of time looking at food blogs (often via Tastespotting) and find lots of recipes that I want to try "someday." I usually save a lot of these through Pinterest, but it might be nice to link them here as well, for your benefit.

Top 3 Someday Recipes

1. DIY Instant Vanilla Pudding Mix from BrownEyedBaker

2. Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes from Handle the Heat

3. Slow-Cooker Saucy Chicken Thighs from Cully's Kitchen

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Coconut Oil, Inside and Outside

I've been reading some lately about the benefits of coconut oil, both as a topical skin moisturizer and as a diet supplement. I won't go into all that now (but click here for the gist). Today, I made a trek to the natural foods store and picked up the ingredients for homemade whipped coconut oil body moisturizer. It turned out really well, and I'm definitely going to start using it on a daily basis to moisturize face and body and remove makeup.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Soft-Boiled Eggs

Soft-boiled eggs: easy and elegant. Soft-boiled eggs are "slow food"--they take time to savor and enjoy.

Fill a medium saucepan with an amount of water that will cover egg(s) by about an inch or two. Bring to a low boil (180 degrees is ideal). Slowly lower refrigerated egg(s) into the water with a spoon. Set a timer for 6 minutes if you want a white that's just barely set and a completely liquid yolk; 7 minutes if you like a little more solidity. Try to keep water at 180 degrees, or just simmering. When the timer goes off, remove eggs and place in serving cups, pointy side down. Serve with toasted pieces of bread. (To eat, crack in a circle around the top with a knife and remove carefully, picking off any stray pieces of shell. Salt and pepper and dig in.)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Food Trends I'm So Over

I work part-time at a bookstore, and we have a huge newsstand, and we're allowed to read magazines on our breaks. Hence, I browse through most of the major food magazines on a regular basis: Food & Wine, Saveur, The Food Network Magazine, Fine Cooking, Cook's Illustrated, etc. (Saveur is my favorite, by the way--truly engaging, educational food writing.) So, with this incessant food magazine browsing combined with an unhealthy interest in restaurant menus, I consider myself fairly well-versed in food trends. And there are trends, if you didn't know. Flavors go in and out of style like clothing fashions. Example: Cupcakes are five minutes ago. All the cool kids are now eating macarons.

And there are a few trends that I'm really just done with. I'm sick of seeing them, I'm sick of eating them, I'm sick of their being my only options on dessert menus. Time to branch out, folks! Here are a few food trends I'm so over.

1. Red Velvet everything.
We GET it--it's a pretty color. But that is IT. It's practically flavorless, or at least has much less flavor than something that's a brilliant crimson should have. Just in case you are unfamiliar with the ingredients of red velvet cake (cupcakes, cake balls, cheesecake swirled with cake, oh god make it stop) and think it must be something exotic to be so popular--it's not. It's a lightly cocoa-flavored, heavily colored cake. That's it. And red velvet, it's time for you to go.

2. Molten chocolate cake.
I get why these are popular, particularly in middle-class restaurants: they're so ridiculously easy, and yet look fancy enough to warrant a hefty price tag. They're simple to make ahead of time and pop in the oven or microwave. And don't get me wrong--they're delicious. But they're old news. I'm sure they're still extremely popular with restaurant customers, so we may not see them go for a while, but please. I'm begging you. Have some creativity. Have the courage to axe the molten chocolate cake.

3. DIY name-brand products.
This is a picture of homemade Oreos. And I've made them. And they were good. But they weren't Oreos. Because Oreo is a brand name, and the reason they taste so distinctive is because Nabisco spent years and loads of money refining their manufacturing process so that every red-blooded American knows what an Oreo cookie should taste like. Sure, we can make a healthier, fresher product in our home kitchens, but we can't replicate that process, and therefore, we can't make them taste exactly right. And I'm not sure that I care. Because when I crave an Oreo, I don't just want a cream-filled chocolate cookie. I could make that myself. What I want is nostalgia. I want that Oreo to taste exactly like it did when I was six years old. The same goes for Pop-Tarts. I know full well that Pop-Tarts are perhaps one of the worst processed foods you can put into your body, so I tried the homemade version. They were rich, sweet, and buttery--but they didn't taste like a Pop-Tart. And sometimes--not often--but sometimes, I want a Pop-Tart, and making one does not count. It has to come out of that blue box and foil wrapper! It has to taste the same.

I'm conflicted about this one, because I'm all for people cooking for themselves and finding healthier, less-processed alternatives to store products. But when it's things like Oreos and Pop-Tarts, which you shouldn't eat on a regular basis, not even the homemade ones, I think we've gone a little overboard on the DIY mania. Just because you can doesn't mean you should. Sometimes, the time you save by ripping open a package of Oreos and pouring a glass of milk is worth even more than the accomplishment you feel by making it yourself. Give yourself a break. You are not Martha Stewart; you are not paid to cook. Cook what makes sense and buy what you can't replicate.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lime Cupcakes with Blackberry Buttercream

A combination of factors led to these cupcakes.

1. After making that raspberry buttercream, but knowing I could make it better, I was obsessed with creating a new berry buttercream, and the bag of organic blackberries in my freezer that I had purchased on sale for smoothies were just sitting there waiting for me.

2. I love lime. Always and forever.

3. Perhaps most importantly, I just watched 5 episodes of DC Cupcakes, a TLC program that showcases a cupcake shop in the capital. I find the scripted banter, escapades, and arguments particularly annoying on this show, but I sat through it for the cupcakes. As cupcakes go, these seem decent to me. I like that the frosting is standardized and the decoration minimal; these are signs that flavor is what matters to this bakery. And, inevitably, after watching hundreds of dozens of beautiful cupcakes being baked, decorated, sold, and shipped, I couldn't get cupcakes out of my mind. I had to prove that I could make a cupcake at least as delicious and whimsical as those two Greek sisters are doing in DC.

So I did.

Lime cupcakes with blackberry buttercream.

I followed the Tender White Cake recipe on the back of the King Arthur cake flour box, substituting fresh lime juice and zest for the almond extract. I can't imagine a more perfect white cupcake recipe. It's a gorgeous sponge whipped up with plenty of butter and egg whites, which makes the mixing process easier because you don't have to be so worried about overbeating.

I cooked the blackberries over medium heat until they broke down into a sauce. I strained them, and then beat the syrupy purple juice with a lot of butter this time, since the lack of butter was the problem in the raspberry recipe. I've made "dump icing" pretty much my whole life, so I just whipped the butter, whipped in the blackberry concentrate, and then added powdered sugar until I liked the consistency.

I did it. They are amazing. And my photos aren't bad this time, either! Take that, DC Cupcakes.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Raspberry Buttercream

As soon as I saw this recipe online, I knew my day would not pass before I had made it. My sister and I have been obsessed with making raspberry coulis for some time now--watching that magic tool, the fine-mesh strainer, turn seedy sauce into smooth ruby liquid. We've used it on pavlova, cheesecake, and coeur a la creme, but before this recipe, I hadn't considered the possibilities of whipping it with fat and sugar into a luxurious, tangy buttercream.

Courtesy of Brenda of A Farmgirl's Dabbles, I give you...  

Raspberry Buttercream.

  • 1/2 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 12 oz. raspberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3-1/2 c. powdered sugar
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 to 2 T. milk, if needed to thin out the frosting   
Cook the raspberries in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently until the raspberries are broken down into a sauce. Pour the sauce through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds, and then pour the raspberry sauce back in the pot. Simmer until the sauce reduces to a 1/4 cup. It will be a very rich red and concentrated sauce. Set aside to cool. With a mixer, cream the butter with a paddle attachment on medium high speed about 2 minutes, until lightened in color and a bit fluffy. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar, the 1/4 cup of cooled raspberry sauce, lemon juice, and salt. Mix until smooth. Add another 1-1/2 cups of powdered sugar and mix until smooth. If you want the frosting less stiff, add some milk, 1 tablespoon at a time. 

Frost whatever you wish! (Shown in this post on a prepared Dr. Oetker organic brownie mix.)

Edit: After tasting and re-tasting this recipe, and observing how it held up overnight, I actually wish I would have listened to my instincts and made this a truer buttercream by adding another stick of butter. Yes, another complete stick. If you look at a variety of buttercream recipes (like this and this), you'll find that if you're using over 3 cups of powdered sugar, the recipe should also contain at least 1 cup of butter, and this raspberry recipe only contains a 1/2 cup. Adding more butter would make the icing fluffier and more melt-in-your-mouth, though you might have to store it in the fridge. As it is, it's delicious, but extremely pasty-sweet because of the excess of powdered sugar.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Break From Food: DIY Home Decor

I have to be honest and say that I'm mostly posting this on my food blog because I want to be able to pin it on Pinterest. It'll probably get me some traffic, too. But primarily, I want to share this idea, because it's awesome!

I recently visited someone's home for the first time, and saw this clever wall hanging in their living room that consisted of a bamboo rod hung with pieces of twine. Clipped to the twine with mini clothespins were Valentine's Day cards per the recent holiday. I loved the rod + twine + clips idea, and envisioned it with branches of silk flowers instead of cards and photos. This afternoon, with the help of my nice husband, I accomplished the vision.

Silk flowers are so expensive, so I only bought two branches of faux apple blossoms. I think I need a few more to make this look more filled in; better yet, real branches. Still, it's a big improvement on a bare wall.

I pulled off several sprigs and hung them separately.


I love that this was so easy, relatively cheap (under $20 for all materials, excluding hammer and nails, which we already had), and completely versatile: you can change out the flowers/branches based on the holiday or season, add photos, cards, garlands...anything lightweight and clippable, really.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Joys of Pinterest

I'm back! I'm back! We'll see how long this lasts.

I've been cooking like a boss, but haven't worked blogging back into my routine yet. Many of my recipes have been sourced from Pinterest, which is a wonderful and addictive photo-website aggregate that allows you to post any items you find online and sort them into categories. You follow friends, preferably ones whose style you appreciate, and see a mixed collection of their "pins" on your main page. I think the reason why recipes posted on Pinterest are so appealing is that many of my friends are attracted to simple, tasty, budget-friendly options like I am. Most of the recipes originate from home bloggers, as opposed to Food & Wine or other similar lofty publications. I'll briefly review several of the recipes I've tried through Pinterest below.

Homemade Coffee Creamer
I try to always keep half-and-half around for coffee. Milk just doesn't cut it, especially since I usually buy 1%. Recently, I noticed that Coffee-Mate has introduced a Natural Bliss liquid creamer, made with only milk, cream, and sugar. I liked the fact that it was real dairy and had the convenience of already having the sugar included and dissolved. It was, however, too sweet for me. By the time I had added enough cream to my liking, my coffee was cloying. Then Pinterest came to the rescue! A lovely woman who specializes in organic cooking posted a recipe for homemade coffee creamer on her blog. This is, essentially, the same idea Coffee-Mate had, but even better, because you can use raw sugar or honey and sweeten and/or flavor to taste. Brilliant. I adapted her recipes by making a small amount of simple syrup with organic sugar. I then added a cup of whole milk and a cup of heavy cream and heated until the mixture started steaming. I added a teaspoon of vanilla, allowed to cool, and now my efforts at besting Coffee-Mate is sitting attractively in my refrigerator, just waiting to be added to my Dark Sumatra.

Homemade Pop-Tarts
This recipe haunted me until I had a chance to try it. I would find myself daydreaming about making it. I've had a long-time love affair with one of processed food's worst offenders, the classic iced Strawberry Pop-Tart. The idea of making an improved version myself was tantalizing. This recipe takes some time and elbow grease, but I like that you need to freeze the tarts before baking; it keeps them fresh and you can prepare as needed. The tarts are delicious, but they are extremely rich. After eating two, it was almost like I could feel the butter in my stomach, if that makes any sense at all. It was like eating a giant Christmas cookie, which is essentially what it is--a shortbread dough stuffed with jam. So, while they are flaky and buttery and wonderful, I wanted the filling to be tarter and the pastry to be cakier, like a real Pop-Tart. I would consider making them again, but not as a Pop-Tart substitute, since they didn't quite fulfill that craving.

Teriyaki Meatball Bowls
I saved the best for last. This recipe is phenomenal: easy, attractive, and delicious. If you don't normally cook Asian cuisine, the recipe may be expensive at first, but you should really consider keeping rice vinegar and sesame oil around--there's no way to replicate those flavors with any other ingredients. And once you've cooked fresh Asian food yourself, you may wonder why you ever dialed that Chinese takeout number in the past. I used ground turkey for my meatballs for an even healthier option, and they were great. Other than that, I followed the recipe to the letter. The husband's response says it all: "Add it to the rotation!"