Archive for November, 2011


I was never a fan of cranberry sauce, but I had only been exposed to the canned goop. I always thought I didn’t like cranberries, but I do like craisins, so I must like them on some level, right? Last year I “needed” to make fresh cranberry sauce. Why? Who knows! Maybe it’s because they look so pretty and festive in the produce aisle. Anyway, much to my surprise, the fresh cranberry sauce was incredibly simple to make, and really quite good! 

This year I bought 2 bags of fresh cranberries and tossed them in the frig waiting for inspiration to hit. I finally decided on cranberry sauce again, to be used for sauce and for a dip. If we had eaten turkey for Thanksgiving, this would have been our cranberry sauce. We had Honey Peach Pecan Pork Roast instead, so no extra sauce was needed. But I wanted cranberries anyway, and since I was the chef du jour, we were having cranberries!

I put my son-in-law to work stirring the sauce (click for the recipe), and told him to try a bite of candied ginger. If you haven’t tasted it, candied ginger is quite strong, with a heat that creeps up on you. He wasn’t so sure he liked it (but I enjoyed his reaction!) so I trimmed down the amount I put in the sauce. Now that the family has been “baptized” with candied ginger, I’ll add more next time!

Between the cranberries and the blueberries, the result was a beautiful, dark berry mixture with orange and ginger accents. To serve it as an appetizer, I poured it over softened cream cheese, and put out some crackers.

This sauce works well as a condiment to turkey, chicken or pork; as a dip with cream cheese and crackers; or as a schmear for bagels or English muffins.

Get yourself some of those beautiful berries and let me know how you like it!

Try it as a condiment for turkey or pork; as a dip over cream cheese; or as a schmear for bagels or English muffins.

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The Tale of a Whale

Patty, my Very Special Friend, got married recently. Patty, or Happy Patty as my son calls her, is a former coworker with a quirky sense of humor and a unique laugh that makes everyone around her laugh with her!

Patty and I have shared meals at various venues over the years, but my favorite was probably our dinner at an ice cream place. Our conversation ran the gamut of subjects, and I think we were there for 2-3 hours — long after our ice cream was gone.

When Patty asked me to make the groom’s cake for her wedding, I was honored! I love participating in the celebrations of friends, and this was sure to be something out of the ordinary. Patty and her special man, Brian, asked me to create a replica of a cake from an episode of The Simpsons. I don’t watch the show so before I agreed to do it, I asked for pictures. It looked like something I could handle, and I was in!

I mixed up a triple batch of vanilla cake plus lots and lots of frosting! I can never judge how much frosting I need, so copious amounts of blue and white were mixed up. In fact, I had so much frosting left over, I took some to the office with the cut out portion of the cake, and still had enough left over for my grandkids to use. 

I’m proud to say the whale cake was a hit with the happy couple — so much that despite requests from my co-workers at the reception, Brian wouldn’t allow it to be cut for the guests at the reception. I hear the whale got eaten up at the family brunch the next morning, but I think he would have enjoyed a trip to the Keys with the honeymooners, don’t you?

I was thrilled to have a small part in Patty & Brian’s special day. I wish years and years of happiness to this wonderful duo!

 

If you don’t notice the ground flax seed and toasted wheat germ in the dessert, I don’t have to point it out, right?

I made apple crisp for Thanksgiving. I know I’m supposed to be all excited about pumpkin stuff this month, and even made a Pumpkin Spice cake for some friends. But pumpkin’s not my flavor. I prefer gooey chocolate desserts, but since we’d planned a heavy meal I was looking for something lighter. I considered pie, but I don’t like crust. I like filling and topping, though, and apple crisp is just that – filling and topping! Mom’s in for the holiday, and she bakes a mean apple pie so I knew making a healthier version could be a challenge. 

I started with a Better Homes & Gardens Fruit Crisp recipe and added my own touches. Because I’m tweaking to my taste, it’s a little different every time I make it, but it’s basically the same – if that makes sense. (Click for the recipe.)    

Because I love the topping so much, I doubled that part of the recipe. The more, the merrier when it comes to the good stuff, I say! The recipe doesn’t call for any spices mixed with the apples, but I like a lot of flavor so I added plenty of warm spices.

Fruit crisp doesn’t require much flour, so I used the recommended amount. I considered switching the white flour for wheat, but crisp topping is dry enough with white flour so I left that alone.  

Instead of adding all the oatmeal the recipe calls for, I substituted some ground flax seed and toasted wheat germ. Both provide an extra nutritional boost and a nice, nutty flavor. Toasted wheat germ is vitamin- and mineral-rich and high in protein, a good addition to yogurt or many baked goods. Ground flax seed can be a bit grainy, so it’s best used in something that has texture such as a crisp topping or things with oatmeal in them. One of the main components of flax is lignan, which has plant estrogen as well as antioxidants.

Warm apples, fall spices, pecans & coconut. Mmmmm...

Did my version pass the test? It looks, smells, tastes and acts like a “normal” crisp. In fact, it’s delicious! Mom liked it, too! Did Mom notice my sneaky ingredients? Nope. Will I tell her? We’ll see!

Now if you’re still stuck on the fact that I made a fruit dessert instead of something super chocolaty, don’t worry – I’m still me! This weekend I’m making Eggnog Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (that would be the full fat eggnog, not that lightweight stuff). And as I write this, I’m staring at a picture of a caramel and pecan covered chocolate cake. Dessert #2 for Saturday? Perhaps…

I mashed up a white vegetable…

I’ve never been a fan of cauliflower, so I have no idea what possessed me to buy a head of that white stuff.

After staring at it for several days, and it not cooking itself, I decided to cook it up. I keep hearing mashed cauliflower tastes just like mashed potatoes, but I’m not a believer. I decided to check it out.

I put the cut cauliflower florets into a pan, covered them with water, and added some chicken base for flavor. I boiled it, then boiled it some more. I lost track of how long it took, but I think it was about 10 minutes. When I could easily smoosh the cauliflower with a fork and tongs, I removed it from the heat. (Click for the recipe.)

Now the point of me eating mashed cauliflower instead of glorious mashed potatoes is to eat fewer calories and pretend I’m being healthy. At least I think that’s what I was thinking when I bought the thing. So here’s where the “healthy” part comes in.

I used the tongs to transfer the cauli to my mixing bowl. I added 1/4 cup of the cooking water (remember, it has chicken flavor in it) and put the mixer on low. As the steam rose from the bowl, I caught a whiff — and remembered one of the reasons I don’t eat cauliflower. It stinks! I knew if I was going to actually EAT the finished product, it would require some seasoning.

I have some Penzey’s spice mixes in my pantry that were just perfect. I added some Garden Salad Seasoning and some Fox Point Seasoning and kept mixing. Both seasonings are fairly mild, but would provide some great flavor to the cauli, as well as help mask that bitter smell. To make it a bit creamier, I added a little bit of butter. That’s it. No milk or cream, no excess of butter, very little fat. Nice and simple.

Since I was serving the cauliflower with well-seasoned Italian Chicken Bundles (recipe to come), I only wanted to lightly season it. If I was serving this with something less robust, I would probably kick the spices up a notch or three.

I realize not everyone has these particular spice mixes in their pantry, and that’s OK. You might have some other combination spice mixes that would work well with the cauliflower. Open your jars and take a sniff. If they seem like a good match, then add in a teaspoon or two. Start easy – you can always add more, but you can’t take it out! I’d also recommend adding a couple tablespoons of parmesan cheese, because cheese makes everything better!

The finished product wasn’t as smooth as mashed potatoes, but might have been if I’d used my food processor. And in my opinion, it doesn’t taste “just like mashed potatoes”, but it was definitely edible. Score one for healthy eating!

Now… what am I going to do with that crown of fresh broccoli?

When my daughter was small she used to “help” me in the kitchen. She needed to see everything I was doing, and get right in the middle of it all. She loved making food as much as I did.

Tish was especially helpful with fruit bowls – 2 pieces in the bowl, 1 in her mouth, 2 in the bowl…  She’s grown now but we still share that love, and almost every meeting includes food of some sort. Tish has blessed me with grandchildren and now I have the opportunity to share my love of food with them!

Cooking and baking with children should be fun and stress free. Simple things are best, as depending on the age of the child, their motor skills and attention span are limited.

Today we made Ham & Cheese Breadstick Focaccia and Frosted Cakes. Both recipes were perfect for splitting into two portions, allowing the Cutie Patooties — Liela, 5, and Lily, 4 — to each make their own.

I suggested strawberry cake, but the girls vetoed that and asked for chocolate. Almost brought a tear to my eye, I was so proud of their decision! We made a basic boxed mix, and the girls had fun adding ingredients and turning the mixer on and off. The highlight of the cake was the decorating — I had a lot of frosting and a house full of sprinkles, so I put those on the table and let the girls loose. Every type of sprinkle was used on each cake, much to the delight of the girls. They proudly took their sugar masterpieces home and ate them for dinner! 

For the focaccia, I modified a recipe from the Pillsbury.com website: http://bit.ly/uuX4HN. This recipe has very few ingredients and is difficult to mess up, so it’s perfect for small hands or inexperienced cooks. Liela likes ham, so I cut deli ham into thin strips to use in place of the bacon called for in the recipe. Each girl got a can of breadstick dough. I helped them unroll it and spiral it around, with ham between the dough strips. We topped it with Italian seasonings and shredded cheddar/ Monterey jack cheese and popped them into the oven. We dipped the finished focaccia in honey mustard sauce, but BBQ sauce would have been equally good. Liela didn’t like it much but couldn’t really say why; Lily, Tish and I enjoyed it. 

This is a great recipe for feeding a crowd. We used about 2/3 of the dough and still had two good portions. It’s quite good for how simple it is, and can be modified to suit any taste. I think it would be delish with pepperoni in the bread, garlic powder and shredded mozzarella on top, and warmed pizza sauce for dipping.

Our choices were a success! Here’s to many years of sprinkles and smiles shared with the Cutie Patooties!

Quinoa for dinner!

Orange Ginger Chicken, Quinoa, Stir Fry Veggies.  See? I CAN cook healthy food!

I was craving chicken over rice with some type of sauce, but couldn’t quite put my finger on the type of sauce I wanted. Quinoa sounded good too, and it’s so versatile I knew I could make a pot to use for several meals. So I grabbed a bottle of sauce from the pantry, pulled out some fresh ginger, garlic, onions, celery, carrots & cabbage, and cooked up some deliciousness!

Normally I season quinoa when I cook it, but this time I wanted to use it for both sweet and savory dishes, so I cooked it up plain.  I let the sauce from the chicken and veggies season it. Later this week I’ll make a sweeter version by adding almond milk, fruit and warm spices.

If you’re not familiar with quinoa, you should give it a try. It’s considered a super food — a complete protein source, good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus, gluten-free, and considered easy to digest. For only 220 calories for 1 cup, it provides essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals.

Quinoa’s versatility makes it ideal for salads, pilafs, porridges, breads, or just about anything else where you’d use a grain. There are all kinds of recipes online, so pick one and try it — I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

Welcome to Munchie’s Mind!

 I’ve been blogging for a while, but not about food. Instead, I’ve been sharing my thoughts about karate. Now it’s time to blog about my other passion – food!

Food. I love it. I love to eat it, make it, talk about it, read about it. After all, what’s not to like? Well, besides all those silly calories!

Playing in the kitchen is my relaxation. My refuge. The place where my creativity can come out and play.

I’m a writer of boring stuff by day, karate student by evening, baker & cook when I get the chance. Fifteen years in the food service business only endorsed what I already knew — food is my passion. If I could cook and bake all week and get paid for it — would I? I’m not sure. I don’t ever want to get to the point where “playing” in the kitchen becomes “working” in the kitchen, a chore. So for now, I bake for family, friends & co-workers for celebrations — birthdays, weddings, baby showers — and just because there are ingredients in my kitchen just begging to be transformed.  

Over the years I’ve been influenced and inspired by many people. They’ve encouraged me to bake up sugary goodness, courageously been my guinea pigs for new recipes, and (thankfully!) eaten my food so I wouldn’t eat it all.  These are my stories of the people in my life and the food I associate with them. You’ll notice it’s mostly baking, thanks to my sweet tooth. But I’m working on learning to love healthy food as well, so hopefully you’ll see some of that, too!

Here we go!