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Monday, January 30, 2012

The Original Ham-Burger

I made a very tasty burger over the weekend that I thought I'd share with you.  It's kind of unusual (no beef), very easy and really yummy.

It's from Ted Reader's Hot and Sticky BBQ cookbook.

Makes 12 burgers

1 lbs ground pork
1 lb (1/4" thick) slice smoked ham or back bacon, diced
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tsp ground dried sage
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
12 burger buns
1/2 cup melted butter
  1. Preheat grill to medium-high.
  2. In a large bowl, combine pork, ham, onion, garlic, mustard, parsley, black pepper, red pepper, sage, cayenne and salt.
  3. Form into 12 equal-sized patties.  (A flatter burger will cook more evenly and faster than a more ball-shaped burger.)
  4. Grill burgers 4-5 min per side for medium-well.  (They will be dry if you overcook.)
  5. Brush buns with melted butter and grill cut-side down until crisp and golden brown.
  6. Top with your favorite cheese, veggies, mustard...whatever you want!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Eat Well for Less

For most of us, eating well is important.  But in these economic times, saving money is just as important.  So how can we continue to eat healthy, delicious meals while not emptying our bank accounts?

In a December article from NPR, chef Michel Nischan of the Dressing Room restaurant in Westport, CT gives his tips for frugal meals that taste great.  While some of the examples used in his tips may not translate to the home cook, his ideas are on target.
  • Buy in season.  While it's a bit harder to do that in our area this time of the year, it's still possible.  Wintertime farm markets are popping up locally.  In the supermarket, look for fruits and vegetables that are grown closer to home if you can.  By all means, during the growing season, buy your fruits and veggies at a farm market--they're more nutritious, better tasting and will usually last longer.  Best of all, grow your own produce if you can.  That will save loads of money throughout the year.
  • Buy in bulk.  In the article, the chef uses the example of buying a 24 lb bag of grain--a little more than a home cook would need.  But buying dry goods like flour, grains, etc in larger quantities will always save you money.  Join a club shopping store like Costco or buy from the bulk aisle at the supermarket. 
  • Herbs and spices add "zing".  This is very true.  Grow your own herbs (easier in the spring and summer, but you can grow them indoors, too) and add them to pretty much everything for a burst of flavor and freshness.  In fact, a great way to cut down on salt in recipes is to add fresh herbs--both bring out the flavor of foods.  Garlic adds loads of flavor, too.  The same goes for spices--cinnamon, cayenne, cumin, pretty much any spice you like.  Not only do they add flavor, but they're also healthy.
  • The chicken thigh secret.  Chicken thighs usually cost much less than breasts and are moist and flavorful.  They're great for marinating--picking up the flavors and moisture really well.  They can't always be used interchangeably with breasts and their cooking time is usually longer, but they're a cheaper way of serving flavorful chicken.  And you often can find them boneless and skinless.
  • Not every meal requires meat.  There are many who feel that no meals require meat, but for those of you who are carnivores, try cutting costs by eating 2-3 meatless meals each week.  There are plenty of places where you can get your protein--beans, nuts, etc.  And meatless meals can be just as flavorful as dishes with meat--sometimes even more so!
Here are a few other tips from me:
  • Clip coupons.  Yes, it's a pain to take the time and to organize them.  But you can save loads of money if you do it.  For example, we pretty much never buy breakfast cereal unless it's on sale and/or we have a coupon.  Be a smart shopper.
  • Shop on the perimeter of the grocery store.  Not only are the foods on the perimeter of the store healthier--produce, meats, seafood, dairy--but they're cheaper than the stuff in the inner aisles. 
  • COOK!  Eating frozen meals, pre-packaged foods and eating out all the time will cost you a fortune.  This food is full of fat, sodium, cholesterol and ingredients that you can't understand without a doctorate in chemistry.  Buy the foods that you need and use them.  I feel that's one of the biggest benefits of a personal chef service--I only buy the ingredients that are needed for the dishes I'm making for you.  No more buying things and having them go bad in the back of your fridge.  That's just throwing money into the trash can.
Do you have any other ways that you save money while trying to eat well?  Let me know!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Garlicky Potato Soup with Parmesan Toasts

Snowy weekend days are perfect for a nice, hearty, steaming bowl of homemade soup.  Here's the soup I made this past weekend.  It's from Cook's Country magazine, is very easy and quick (about half an hour) and tastes great.

Garlicky Potato Soup with Parmesan Toasts
Serves 4

1/4 c Parmesan cheese, grated
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
Salt and pepper
1 (6-inch) piece baguette, cut into 8 sliced on bias
3 scallions, white parts minced, green parts sliced thin (keep them separate)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 c low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 c heavy cream
1 1/2 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2" pieces
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475.  Combine Parmesan, 2 Tbsp butter and 1/2 tsp pepper in bowl.  Spread butter mixture on 1 side of baguette slices.  Place bread, buttered side up, on rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden brown, 6-8 min; set aside. 
  2. Meanwhile, melt remaining 1 Tbsp butter in Dutch oven over medium heat.  Cook scallion whites until softened, about 2 min.  Add garlic and flour and cook until fragrant, about 1 min.  Stir in broth, cream and potatoes and bring to a boil.  Reduce to medium-low heat, cover, and cook until potatoes are tender, 10-12 min.
  3. Working in batches, process soup in blender until smooth, 1-2 min.  Return soup to pot.  (I used an immersion blender to puree right in the pot.)  Season with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with scallion greens.  Serve with Parmesan toasts.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Swiftlet Spit

Caviar, Wagyu beef, black truffles, Dom Perignon.  All these foods come with an amazingly high price tag.  But perhaps the most expensive food in the world is something made by birds--specifically, a cave-dwelling member of the swift family called the swiftlet.

Swiftlet nests on a cave wall.
How, you may ask, do birds make this food?  Well, what do most birds make?  They make nests.  Yes, these nests are made from the congealed spit of the swiftlet.  Hungry yet?  For hundreds of years, the nests have been the food of Chinese royalty. 

Most famously used in Birds Nest Soup, the nests turn to a jelly-like consistency when soaked in liquid.  They are 60-70% protein, so despite their somewhat gross origins, they're fairly good for you.  The health of your bank account is another story.

These nests are sold for around $5000/pound and are a multi-billion dollar business in Asia--selling in countries that traditionally eat them, but also to Asian restaurants in the US and other Western countries. 

Birds Nest Soup
Swiftlets build nests in caves where they use bat-like sonar to navigate in the darkness.  Harvesters must scale the dangerous cave walls to pull the nests off the walls.  This has put the bird population in jeopardy.  And that's why some dealers go to great lengths to protect the birds and still use their nests.  Structures have been built to mimic the caves--regulated heat and humidity, bird poop splattered on the walls and amplified bird sounds to attract the birds to come and build.  The nests are only harvested after the eggs have hatched and the chicks have flown away. 

After harvesting, the nests are cleaned of feathers and other bird remnants.  This is painstaking, tedious work all done by hand.  All this adds to the great cost.  Even crumbs that break off of the nests during cleaning are collected and sold. 

So do you have a big celebration coming up?  A wedding or anniversary?  Come on, spring for some birds nest soup! 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Super Food

Since the Eagles didn't make the playoffs this year, I've been reluctantly watching the playoffs (rooting against teams more than rooting for others) and counting the days until Spring Training.

Still, football fans all over the country are looking forward to February 5, Super Bowl Sunday, for football, usually-disappointing commercials, getting together with friends and FOOD!  Super Bowl Sunday has become arguably the biggest food day in the US next to Thanksgiving.

In the recent 3rd annual Supervalu Snack Down Survey, about 75% of the respondants said that they were going to be preparing and serving food to guests for the Super Bowl.  And what are their favorite things to eat?  32% said dips and spreads.  23% enjoy chicken wings.  Pizza and salty snacks tied with 14%.

There are always those creative folks who tie in the food with either the teams playing in the game or their favorite teams: deep-dish pizza for Bears fans, brats and beer for Packers fans and, of course, Philly cheesesteaks for us Eagles fans. 

So that gets me thinking what should be served for the 4 remaining teams.  First, 49ers vs. Giants.  Sourdough bread, dungeness crab and maybe Ghirardelli chocolate for San Fran and swamp water and radioactive rats for New York (I'm not a Giants fan).  Perhaps crab cakes vs. lobster for Baltimore vs. New England. 

Photo courtesy of browneyedbaker.com.
For whatever reason, chili seems to be a classic Super Bowl food to me.  Hot and spicy on a cold winter day.  Goes great with a beer and munchies.  Easy to serve. 

Why not have Dinner's Done make a big pot of delicious chili for your Super Bowl party?  I can make it in your Crock Pot and, depending how far ahead of time I make it for you, you can freeze or refrigerate it and just heat it up for the big day.  I can make you typical Texas-style chili or unusual versions like Mole Chicken Chili (that's moe-lay, not the little blind critter) or New Mexican Red Pork Chili.  Each serves at least 6-8 (as an entree--more with other food) and costs $50, which includes the ingredients.  Not only will is give you great food to serve, but free up more time for you to make some other goodies!  Just give me a call or email me if  you're interested!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Evolutionary Cooking

Could cooking be a big part of what gives us our human-ness?  According to an article in ScienceNews, it very well could be. 

Some scientists believe that what made Homo erectus the species that eventually evolved into us is that they began to cook their food.  The article says,
This seminal event had huge implications for hominid evolution, giving the ancestors of modern humans time and energy for activities such as running, thinking deep thoughts and inventing things like the wheel and beer-can chicken.
Cooking...So easy even a caveman can do it.
Courtesy of Taste the Fear.com.
The article goes into the fact that Homo erectus had smaller teeth than their ancestors, which some scientists think proves that they had learned how to soften their food through cooking.  (Others believe that this was because of the use of tools--that teeth didn't need to be used as tools or weapons, as someone in the comments stated.)  Still, the theory is interesting for us foodies.

One of the comments makes a point, which I think is a great one.  That perhaps the most important thing that cooking did was help to kill bacteria and parasites that in turn, helped to lengthen the lives of our great-great-...great-great grandparents. 

Just one more reason to keep on cooking--to keep us from extinction! 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How Alton Brown Lost It

For those of you who have been Food Network watchers for many years, you know who Alton Brown is.  For those of you who don't know, AB is the host of the long-running series Good Eats where he uses science and humor to tell you all about foods and cooking.  He's also the host of Iron Chef America among other things.
AB loves his oily fish.

It might be obvious to some AB fans that he's lost some weight lately (Mary Beth thinks too much).  Anyway, here's a short video that explains how he did it--using a number of lists of things to eat: every day and at least 3x/week and, maybe the hardest, 1x/week.  And, of course, the list of things not to eat at all.

I guess you have to watch the full Good Eats episode to find out the "whys", but his ideas are always based on science and probably work if you follow the rules.  I really should try it.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Crying in the Kitchen

No matter who you are--novice or CIA grad--if you chop onions, your eyes will get irritated and you'll end up crying.  It's a real pain, isn't it? 

Why does this happen?  Basically, onions absorb sulfur from the ground and keep it in their cells.  When we break the cells with our knife, the gasses are released and they mix with the moisture in our eyes.  And that irritates the eyes, making us cry to get rid of the irritant.

Effective?  Maybe.  Disturbing?  Oh yeah.
But we're just not going to stop using onions, right?  They're the basis for so many dishes--one of the major ingredients used all over the world in all types of cuisines.

There are lots of "remedies" for preventing onion tears.  I just found an article from the food section of the Huffington Post that gives 8 of them.

Some of the suggestions make you look goofy--wearing onion goggles or chewing bread while chopping.  Some of them are just wasteful--cutting out the "gassy" parts of the onion (about 1/3 of the bulb).  And there's the old wives' tale of burning candles while chopping. 

I was glad, though, to see that the list includes what I have always believed was the only way to truly stop the tears--use a very sharp knife.  With a sharp knife, you don't smash the onion's cells (and push out the tear-causing gasses).  The less trauma you cause to the cells, the less gas escapes and the less tears will run down your face. 

Check out the list--have you tried any of them?  Do you have any to add?  Let me know!

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012 Trends

As we move into the new year, there's always a tendency to look back at the previous year and ahead to the coming year.  There are a million people out there giving their thoughts as to the food trends for 2012.  Here are just a few:
  • French Fry Menus.  Restaurants will specialize in fries with menus that allow diners to choose what gets fried and the toppings or sauces that will be served with it.
  • "Creative" ice cream flavors.  I personally don't see this as a coming trend.  If you've been to Owowcow Creamery or other artisan ice cream shops, this seems to have been going on for a while.  Remember the ice cream flavors I ate in Bar Harbor this year?  (Click here to refresh your memory.) 
  • Classic comfort foods will continue to be popular and be "gussied" up.  Things like fancy burgers and mac and cheese will be on the rise (although this seems to have been happening for a while as well). 
  • Simplicity.  I've always believed that if you use great, fresh ingredients, you don't have to do too much to them to make them delicious.  Some prognosticators think that more people will realize that throughout 2012.
  • Better Kids' Menus.  I really hope this is a trend.  Having a 5-year old, I see all the kids' menus.  And most of them are terrible--hot dogs, mac and cheese (usually Kraft from a box), burgers, chicken fingers.  Why can't a kid have their choice of something delicious and creative?  One of the best kids' menus we've seen is at one of our favorite places, Cafe This Way, in Bar Harbor, ME.  They have grilled shrimp, quesadillas, fish, pasta, etc.  I hope more places take up that trend.
  • Restaurants will list the sources of their ingredients.  With more people interested and involved in where their food comes from, eating locally, etc, I think this would be a great trend.  Some restaurants, Earl's Bucks County, for example, do that now.  Here's hoping more will do it, too.  It's not only informative, but kind of fun to see where your butternut squash or veal originated.
  • Korean, Thai and Scandinavian foods will rise in popularity. 
  • More people will use coupons--both for buying groceries and for restaurants.  Why wouldn't you?
  • Restaurants will offer smaller portions to tap into customers desire to eat less and more healthy.
  • On the other hand, some say that a donut craze will sweep the food landscape.  Fine with me!
  • Some "diets" or items previously thought to be healthier will be scrapped in favor of more natural and tasty options: butter instead of margarine, healthy fats instead of fat-free, etc.
  • And what I think might be the best trend of all: family dinners will prevail over activities that keep families from eating together.  For kids, this is a great thing.  Studies prove year after year that kids who eat the majority of their meals with their families do better in school, use less drugs/alcohol and have better relationships with their parents.  (Personal chefs make this really easy to do!)
So those are some of what people are saying will be happening in the food world in 2012.  Check out what some of 2011's trends were in my post from last year.  A few seem to have materialized.

Here's to a healthy and tasty 2012!