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Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year Drinks

It's almost New Year's Eve and, although Champange is nice to drink at midnight, you have to drink other things until then.  Here are some nice--and a little unusual--adult beverages (from Food Network Magazine) for you to enjoy tomorrow night (or any time).

CIDER PUNCH (serves 6)
4 cups apple cider
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
Pinch of salt
1 orange (or more for garnish)
3/4 cup apple brandy or bourbon
  • Combine cider, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a saucepan.  Halve the orange; squeeze the juice into the pan and add the peels.  Bring to a simmer, then reomve from the heat and let steep 10-15 minuts.  Strain into a pitcher and add brand or bourbon.  Chill at least 2 hours or overnight.  Serve in tall glasses on the rocks or reheat and serve warm in punch mugs.  Garnish with orange slices

COCOA COLADA (serves 4)
2 (14-oz) cans coconut milk
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
8 oz milk chocolate, chopped
Coconut rum
Toasted coconut
  • Bring coconut milk and water to a simmer over low heat.  Add sugar and chocolate.  Whisk to melt.  Spike with rum to taste and garnish with coconut.

1 cucumber
1 1/4 oz gin
Splash fresh lime juice
Splash simple syrup
Chilled seltzer
  • Slice a piece of cucumber and reserve for garnish.  Pell, halve and seed the remaining cucumber.  puree in a blender until smooth, then strain through a fine mesh sieve.
  • Fill a highball glass 3/4 of the way with ice.  Add 2 oz cucumber puree, gin, lime juice and simple syrup.  (To make a batch of simple syrup, simmer equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves, then cool.)  Fill the glass with seltzer and stir again.  Garnish with the reserved cucumber slice

8 cardamom pods
4 (4-inch) cinnamon sticks, broken
12 whole cloves
1 can (11.5 oz) frozen cranberry juice concentrate
4 cups merlot or other red wine
1/3 cup honey
Cranberries and orange slices for garnish
  • Cut a 6" square from a double thickness of cotton cheesecloth to make a spice bag.  Pinch the cardamom pods to break.  Center the cardamom, cinnamon and cloves on the cheesecloth, bring up the corners and tie closed with clean kitchen string.
  • In a slow cooker, mix juice concentrate with water according to the directions.  Stir in wine and honey; add the spice bag.  Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours or on high 2-2 1/2 hours.  Remove and discard the spice bag.  Ladle the punch into glasses and garnish.

Have a safe, fun and delicous New Year's Eve!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Think About It

Hi.  I hope all of you who celebrated Christmas had a great one.  Now we turn out sights to the new year.

Many folks begin the new year with a desire to eat healthier and lose weight.  Most experts know that probably the best way to lose weight is by simply eating less.  But that's easier said than done, right?  Especially with holiday party tables filled with goodies and restaurant serving sizes enough to feed a family.  How do you eat less with these and other roadblocks?  One recent study shows that it could be as easy as using your imagination.

Does it work for ice cream?
 An article in Time discusses this study--that seems to show that imagining you are eating can help to reduce the amount that you actually eat.  The study used M&Ms and cheddar cheese for their test subjects.  Those who imagined eating a bunch of these items--not just imagining the smell and taste, but really thinking of the sensation of chewing and swallowing them--desired less of them when they were offered the real thing.  Those who imagined eating less than other (some were told to imagine eating just 3), were hungry for more of the real stuff than those who imagined eating more (others were told to imagine eating 33). 

Could it really be that easy?  Or is it just a bunch of psychological hooey?  Read the article and see what you think.  Hey, it couldn't hurt to try, right?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I just want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.  May your holiday be overflowing with a nice Pinot Noir...um, I mean, with fun, family and friends.  May your stockings be stuffed with a nice Sausage and Dried Cherry Stuffing...sorry...with goodies that will bring a smile to your face.  May you look in the eyes of children and see a slice of juicy turkey breast...really, I'm sorry...the joy and innocence that we wish that we could have at all ages.  And may you be filled with peace...es of rich, dark chocolate. 

Well, it's the thought that counts!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2011 Trends

As we head toward the start of a new year, we inevitably have to look at what's going to be hot in the coming year.  Movies, sports, politics...and food.  So, according to a few articles that I've read--and the "experts" that wrote them--here are some of the food trends for 2011.
  • Food trucks.  They're pretty hot right now in most major cities, but the thought is that food trucks will be even a bigger hit next year.  They'll use social media to let folks know where they'll be and when; what their specials are, etc.  Food truck "rodeos" will bring together a bunch of trucks in one spot in a sort of mobile food court.  And brick-and-mortar restaurants will begin to have food trucks to spread their fare beyond their walls.
  • Speaking of restaurants, more small restaurants will be opened on a shoestring budget by couples and friends who are passionate about food.  These folks will do everything--cooking, hosting, bookkeeping--to make their place survive.
  • Pie.  I love pie.  And apparently, many think that in the coming year, pie is the new cupcake.  Savory, sweet, traditional, deep-fried, hot, cold--you name it.  
  • Restaurants will feature fried veggies that we're not used to being fried: cauliflower, Brussels sprout chips and turnip chips.  Hey, if it gets people to eat them...
  • South American, Japanese and especially Korean cuisines are on the rise.  Look for blends of cuisines, too.  Things like Korean tacos.
  • People are tired of penny-pinching, so there will be more splurging on food-related activities, be it on ingredients or high end restaurants.
  • With the popularity of pork belly (and things like bacon, that come from it) the price has gone up.  So chefs are looking for a cheaper alternative--such as goat and lamb belly.  
  • Technology will take a bigger role in the food industry--from on-line features to the use of technology in restaurants.
  • I don't know if you'd call healthy eating a trend, but more and more people are working to eat better. Not the goofy food trends that show up now and then--simply eating well-balanced meals; more fruits and veggies; limiting sugar and processed food. Now there's a trend that needs to stick around.
  • Specialty restaurants will show up more--those places that feature burgers or mac & cheese or some other item almost exclusive.
So at the end of 2011, we'll have to take a look back and see how many of these trends still are around.  Are there any trends that you'd like to see in the coming year?  Let's hear about them! 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Eating Tips

Finding the perfect tree.
You may have seen the email that's been going around, but if not, I'll pass on some of these important tips for eating at the holidays.  That way, you can put them into practice soon.

  • Avoid carrot sticks.  Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing about holiday spirit.  In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately.  Go next door where they're serving rum balls.
  • Drink as much egg nog as you can.  You can't find it any other time of the year, so drink up!  Who cares if there are 10,000 calories in every sip?  It's not like you're going to turn into an eggnogaholic or something.  It's a treat, so enjoy it. 
  • If something comes with gravy, use it.  That's the whole point of gravy (just ask Mary Beth and her family).  Pour it on.  Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes.  Fill it with gravy.  Eat the volcano.  Repeat.
  • Do not eat a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating.  The whole point of going to a holiday party is to eat other people's food for free. 
  • Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year's.  You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do.  This is the time for long naps to conserve the energy you'll need circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of egg nog.
  • If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don't budge.  Have as many as you can before become the center of attention.  If you leave, you may never see them again.

Hanging his favorite ornament--a moose from Maine!

  • Same for pies.  Apple, pumpkin, mincemeat.  Have a slice of each.  Or if you don't like mincemeat, have 2 apple and one pumpkin.  Always have 3.  When else do you get to have more than one dessert?  Labor Day?
  • Fruitcake.  Granted, it's loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all costs.  I mean, please!  Have some standards!
Now let's get out there and eat!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Scones with a Passion

Need a unique Christmas gift?  How about some wonderful baked goods from J. Scones in Doylestown?  Check out my post on Bucks County Taste and find out about all the great items they sell there and the driving force behind this gem--the passion of chef/owner Jodi Schad for making the best baked goods. 

Without doubt, I had the best scone I've ever tasted when I visited there.  You have to stop in!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Eat Like a Reindeer

We all know about chefs who like to use any and every part of an animal in their cooking.  But what about what goes into the animal?

According to a Wall Street Journal article, one of the newest (and strangest) ingredients in some gourmet restaurants is hay.

Yes, hay.  The same stuff we saw Santa's reindeer eating the other night at Christmas Candy Lane at HersheyPark.  They seemed to be enjoying it.

Dinner's ready!
Now, hay is just grass, after all.  But it's dried grass.  And that just doesn't sound all that appetizing to me.  In the article you can read how some hay-users use it for flavoring during smoking or things like that.  It also tells of those who use hay as a flavoring in creme brulee and whipped cream.  I don't know about that.

Hey (no pun intended), I'd try it.  I'm just saying that it isn't something that I think would taste that great.  But then Santa's reindeer eat it.  Can't be that bad, right?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Maine Locavore

You've heard me and others tout the idea of eating locally grown, produced and sold foods.  They're more nutritious, more flavorful, better for our environment and better for our local economy. 

But eating a totally locavore diet is not easy.  Think about it.  Say you wanted to eat food only produced in Bucks County or even Eastern PA.  What things would you not be able to use?  Salt and pepper.  Olive oil.  Peanut butter.  Certain spices.

Well, a 27 year-old woman from Maine, Katherine Creswell, decided to eat only food produced in Maine for a month.  It was such a success, that she's decided to try it for a whole year. 

Read an interview with her in the Boston Globe.  It's pretty impressive that she did this.  She did have to cheat on one item...soy milk (she's lactose intolerant). 

So, are you going to give it a try?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pom 101

This is Jake's favorite time of the year.  Sure, there's the whole Christmas thing.  But food-wise, it's the season for one of his favorite foods:  Pomegranates!

These fruits are available around this time of year and it's worth the wait.  When really ripe, they are a little sweet and a little tart, crunchy, incredibly nutritious and very versatile.  They're as good on ice cream as they are on a salad or with roasted meat.  Jake (and I) think they're best simply popping them in your mouth.

But if you're not familiar with a pom, it can be a bit intimidating.  So I'm here to help.  Here's how to pick out and get the seeds from a pomegranate without any stress.

First, picking out a ripe one is extremely important.  Like many other fruits that have lots of juice (citrus and watermelon, for example), you want to pick a pomegranate that feels heavy for its size.  An underripe pom is depressing--no juice, no flavor, not even much color.  But a ripe one is filled with deep red seeds just bursting with juice.  They literally pop in your mouth as you eat them.

So once you have a nice heavy pom, wash it off and then cut the top and bottom off--just a thin slice.  Try not to hit many seeds.  Then, using a sharp knife, score the skin--dividing the pom into quarters.  Again, don't cut so deep that you hit the seeds.  Just the skin needs to be scored.

Next, fill a bowl (big enough to hold your poms) with cold water and let the poms sit there for about 5 minutes or so.  That will help to soften the skin on the inside and make it easier to break apart.

Now it's time to remove the seeds.  Gently break the pom apart where you scored the skin.  The scoring will make it much easier to do this.  Once open, you'll get your first glimpse of the little gems inside.  Using your fingers, gently force the seeds out of their "sockets" and let them drop into the water.  The seeds will sink to the bottom and any of the white pith will float.  If you see any pith at the bottom, you know that's a seed with some pith still attached. 

Take your time!  If you are too rough or try to go too fast, you'll end up with exploded seeds.  Make sure you're not wearing a nice new white shirt just in case.  You'll get the hang of it after a little while.  If you turn the section of pom that you're working with sort of inside-out, the seeds will stick up a little bit and be easier to remove.  In a way, it's like picking a crab--just less messy and a less work.

Once you have removed all the seeds, remove any floating pith in the water with a strainer or your fingers and you should be left with a bowl of sunken treasure.  What I do next is strain the water out and put them in a salad spinner to dry them off.  I store them in an airtight plastic container with a paper towel on top to absorb any excess moisture.  I keep them in the fruit crisper in the fridge.  Pomegranate seeds freeze extremely well, too.  Put them in a zip-top freezer bag and lay them flat in the freezer until the seeds are frozen.  To use, just take out what you need and use--they will thaw very quickly.

So, are you going to try a pomegranate now?  Go ahead.  You'll be glad you did.  A little work is involved, but it's worth it--and it's actually kind of fun!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It Was 30 Years Ago Today...

As hard as it is to believe, today marks the 30th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon.  (Can I really be that old?)  I distinctly remember that day--actually, I remember the next day.

I was only 13 years old, but, probably thanks to my Aunt Steph, was a huge Beatles fan.  As usual, Dad woke me up and had WAEB-AM on the radio in the kitchen.  We both heard the news report part-way through:  "...shot 6 times."  We didn't know who it was who was killed.

When I got to school, before home room, we all gathered in the gym.  It was there that I heard that it was John Lennon who had been killed.  Even at that young age and 10 years after the Beatles broke up, we knew that it was kind of an earth-shaking event. 

I guess his life ending as it did--in violence after he finally had come to peace with his life and gone back into the recording studio--adds to his legend.  But it sure makes you wonder what he might have done in these last 30 years. 

At the risk of being sappy....

And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Holiday Food That's Good for You!

Candy, cookies, pies, gravy, stuffing, egg nog, cocktails.  So many tasty stuff that we enjoy at the holidays are not so great for us.  How about a traditional holiday food that people have been using as medicine for hundreds of years?

The cranberry.

Native Americans used cranberries as a way to fight infection--both eating them and by making a paste from them to cover a cut on the skin--using them as an antibiotic.  When settlers from the Old World hit the rock in New England, they found these little red berries all over the place.  Of course, they didn't taste so great--pretty sour. 

But that was good as far as they were concerned.  They believed that sour things counteracted too much salt in the body.  And they thought that too much salt (from the sea, mostly) caused scurvy.  So they ate limes and, eventually, cranberries, to avoid coming down with this terrible disease.  Today we know that sour fruits are high in Vitamin C, a deficiency of which causes scurvy.  Whatever the reason, the New World settlers ate up the cranberries.

These days, more studies are being done on compounds found in cranberries (and other fruits).  We know that these berries (as well as a number of other fruits, including blueberries) are full of antioxidants, which help to slow the effects of aging and memory loss. 

Read more in this NPR article.  Especially fascinating is the information about blueberries and their effect on memory.  There are some nice cocktail recipes in the article, too.

So enjoy your cranberry sauce with your holiday dinner.  It just might help you to keep some of those holiday memories longer!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Use Your Brain to Feed the Hungry!

I read in the paper today about a website called Free Rice, which is part trivia game, part learning experience, part charity.

                               Courtesy of FreeRice.com.
In a nutshell, you answer trivia questions (you can choose the subjects) and with every correct answer, 10 grains of rice are donated by the site sponsors to feed the world's hungry.  If you answer correctly, the questions get progressively harder.  If you answer incorrectly, they back off a little bit. 

At first I thought that it was a little gimmicky--10 grains of rice?  Big deal.  But in the course of about 5 minutes, I had donated hundreds of grains of rice.  You multiply that by the many people playing the game and you've got a load of rice.  At no cost to you except the use of some brain matter.

I read how it costs about 25 cents to feed a hungry child enough to give them their daily nutritional needs.  Then I think about all the food that I've written about lately--Thanksgiving, farmers' markets, Maine lobster, etc.  We can take a few minutes out once in a while to help feed the billion people in this world who need food. 

It's free and it's fun!  Let me know what you think about it.