Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ease the Thanksgiving stress


Taste of Home has a new cookbook and its magazine is always good for ideas. I’m  loving these easy tips for a great gathering:
            * Gravy Glitches: If your gravy is runny, slowly stir cold turkey or chicken stock into a bit of cornstarch until it’s dissolved. Then gradually whisk it into the simmering gravy. Lumpy gravy can be poured into a blender for 20-30 seconds. You can also whisk in turkey or chicken stock—just a little at a time—until you get the right consistency
*      Crank up the Cranberry: Make whole berry cranberry sauce according to the directions on the bag of fresh cranberries—it’s just berries, sugar and water. Whomp up the flavor when you take it off heat by stirring in a little orange marmalade or jalapeño jelly.
*   Give the Kids’ Table VIP Status: Use place cards for each kid. Ask a fun uncle or aunt to eat at the kids’ table, then enjoy as they all giggle through the meal. You’ll wish you’d sat there, too!
*     Revive Soggy Stuffing: Spread it on a cookie sheet and bake at 350° for 10 minutes. If the stuffing is still mushy, then stir and bake it for an additional 5 minutes.
*     Disguise a Cracked Pie: Chocolate! The solution to many of life’s problems. Melt together 1 cup chocolate chips and 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream, stirring until smooth. Pour over cooled pie and chill until set. Hint: You really should try this even if your pie doesn’t have cracks. 
*    Make the Fluffiest Potatoes: The key to super-fluffy mashed potatoes is to make sure they’re dry before mashing. Once the potatoes are cooked and drained, put them back in the pot, cover it up, and let them dry for 1 to 2 minutes. The drier the potato, the fluffier the mash.
 galore! You can even put gravy in a smaller, 2-quart slow cooker. It holds beautifully for up to an hour on the warm setting.



Oh the flavors
The UV Vodka flavor concoctors have got it going on. I’m going to try UV Salty Caramel Apple ASAP. But now I’m enjoying a little something they call Sugar Crush. It’s a sweet, sweet mix-in for the holiday season.
UV Vodka is made with all-natural ingredients and now there’s some limited-time-only seasonal treats. Look for UV Salty Caramel Apple, the sought-after UV Sriracha and the topical UV Sugar Crush. So they may sound a little “girly.” I did a taste testing with “girls” over 60 and the four of them were very impressed with their Sugar Crush shots. Play with the following and create your own:


Not Your Mama’s Bloody Mary:
1 part UV Sriracha Vodka
3 parts Bloody Mary mix

Stir and serve with your favorite Bloody Mary garnishes.


Haute Hot Toddy
1 part UV Salty Caramel Apple Vodka
1 cup hot Apple Cider

Stir and garnish with a lemon, cinnamon stick and / or cloves.


Tropi-Candy Cosmo
1 part UV Sugar Crush
1 part cranberry juice
1 part Peach Schnapps
1 part orange juice

Rim glass with sugar. Shake ingredients with ice and streak into a martini glass.
Garnish with an orange slice.

Pools and more
Even if you don’t have a pool, visit Larry Tyson, who just hosted an opening of Achtwoo Pool & Spa Pros on East Parkway in Groves. They’ve expanded from Bridge City and Galveston, bringing a wall of very interesting barbecue tools, like flexible skewers. Can you envision a sort of necklace of meat and mushrooms on your grill? I was partial to torches and bird feeders fashioned into oversized, colorful metal flowers.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Let's begin with Pumpkin trending


The scent of burning leaves and baking pies have always accented the fall season for me. I didn’t mean to combine those two and scent my kitchen with the aroma of burning pecans. I love them toasted, and these got a little over done.
Oh well, I still have the pumpkin vodka to smell.
My sampler’s gave a hearty round of praise for Crop’s Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka, dubbed “The Essence of Autumn.” If you’ve missed this second year of intense pumpkin marketing, you may want to jump in with this one, which puts the imbiber in the mind of roasted pumpkin and baking spices. Makers have employed professionals to mix up some ideas. In my humble experience, I’m going to say these blends should be able to cure what ails you. It may sound like an unusual paring at first. But listen to what Top of the Hub’s head bartender, Arley Howard does with it for New Englanders with his Pumpkin Ginger Cooler. He notes how well this seasonal vodka pairs with most fall-style dishes.
  In Florida, which has a milder season, like we do in Texas, mixologist Nick Nistico appreciates the combination of Crop’s exquisitely spiced vodka and spicy rye with a seasonal twist on a julep and even tries it in a piña colada. Here’s what they do:

Crop Organic Pumpkin Ginger Cooler
(Arley Howard)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 lemon slice
Nutmeg
2 parts Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
1 part ginger liqueur
1 part sour mix
Ginger ale
In a highball glass, muddle brown sugar with lemon and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Add ice, Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka, ginger liqueur, and sour mix. Shake contents and then top with ginger ale.

Plymouth Rock Julep
(Nick Nistico)
2 parts Rye whiskey
1 part Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
½ part cinnamon syrup
5 dashes Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters
Swizzle all ingredients with ice and then top with crushed ice.  Garnish with a candy-corn pumpkin and grated cinnamon.

Pumpkin Cocktail
(Nick Nistico)
1 part Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
5 dashes bitters
Top with pumpkin ale.

Pumpkin Collins
(Nick Nistico)
2 parts Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
1 part fresh lemon juice
1/2 part simple syrup
Shake with ice and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon wheel dusted with cinnamon.

Dessert Mash-Ups
Dorothy Kern has a blog called Crazy For Crust. She must be always thinking of new things to do with that, and now we can all enjoy “Dessert Mash-Ups: Tastey Two-in-One Treats including Sconuts, S’morescake and Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie.”
The names, the photos, the concepts. These are amazing ideas. She’s has a fun way of writing and sharing her ideas. Here’s some of what comes out of her head:
* She makes “dippers”  for sweet things by stamping shapes from pre-made pie crusts and sprinkling them with sugar.
* Pair with Tiramisu Dip
* Next time you make your own peanut butter, whip some Oreos into it.
* Cake Batter Blondie Bars, because the author thinks sprinkles should make your day.
* Chocolate Chip Cookie Toffee Bark. I have to stop here.


Tuna in the outdoors
StarKist Tuna Creations has Outdoors Pouches now. They’re done up in camouflage print, so you know they can be eaten outdoors. They worked just fine indoors in my lunchbox. Keep them in a drawer and you can rip open the pouch and enjoy seasoned tuna with one more friend and a half of a friend. That’s right. There are 2.5 servings in this pouch, but at 60 calories a serving, I sure downed the whole lot of the Sweet and Spicy version featurings onions and peppers. I liked the lemon version even more. It’s quick and easy and good. Thanks, Charlie. Meet you for lunch next week.


Cookies ease addiction?
Here’s why Nothin But Foods  reports they’ve launched a new cookie. Loyal customers report that the traditional granola bars are SO addictive they’ve wanted something smaller and lower in calories to get their fix.
So here come Nothin' But Two Pack Cookie with half the calories of the  traditional granola bars. I’ve been tasting as many varieties from this line as I can and have a tough time picking fave flavors from peanut butter banana chocolate and cocolate coconut almond.
I made a breakfast sandwich of cherry cranberry almond and Canadian bacon and took ginger lemon cashew for a walk.
The labels show the tempting product and let you know this company is 100 percent natural and goes wheat, gluten and GMO free on products. They’re all delicious, even if you don’t require these dietary needs.
ddoiron@panews.com

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Butter in your coffee and turmeric in your tea


 
Southern Living community has your back in the kitchen
I can’t describe “The Southern Living Community Cookbook: Celebrating Food & Fellowship” better that its own press release.
It’s billed as “the equivalent of a brimming recipe box plus the scribbled notes and whispered secrets of over 200 treasured dishes.” It brings readers the best hometown cooks, recipes and stories to the table. I’ll add that the images of vintage cookbook covers, including ones that were on my shelf, will help bind the generations. Read this with grandma, and cook for each other.
A book for all seasons, try  Candied Bacon Bites for snacks with bourbon or Champaign, Herbed Lemon Egg Soup, Green Tomato Sandwich Spread and Milk Punch sprinkled with nutmeg. Mini Pecan Pies and Spiced Pecans are a few offerings for you Texas Pecan Festival lovers. Here’s a super-easy one that is sure to get a conversation going.

Margarita Olives
From the kitchen of Park Kerr, El Paso
1 pound pitted kalamata olives, drained
3 ounces pimento-stuffed green olives, drained
3 ounces pickled Serrano or jalapeno peppers, drained
One fourth cup tequila
One fourth cup lime juice
2 tablespoons orange liqueur
One fourth cup finely chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh orange zest
Stir together all ingredients in a large bowl or glass jar. Cover and chill 8 hours. Return to room temperature before serving.

Sur La Table
My Aunt Stella Belle’s turkey salt and pepper shakers have been my sole Thanksgiving décor for years. This year I’ve added two small glass leaf dishes from Sur La Table. They can hold everything from your morning vitamins to a taste of dessert with colorful flair. A mini marble and glass cloche will be a year-round focal point to keep cheeses and other edibles fresh and stylish. The domed lid adds a vintage touch to your holiday table. But please, use these accents even if dining alone. They will lift spirits and aid digestion. Sur La Table has classes, temptations and something like 600  products geared to coffee lovers. Visit stores as close as Houston.  


Pumpkin Update
Oreo cookies have jumped on the pumpkin bandwagon with a spiced pumpkin filling between two pie crust-colored cookies. I couldn’t help but notice a woman at restaurant bar with a package sitting beside her. The Oreos weren’t on the menu. It seems one of the employees had them and shared with a regular. I approached the woman in a friendly manner and expressed surprise at the product. Well, she offered me one and I accepted. The three of us deem this cookie delicious. They didn’t mind me sharing this experience so readers would know about pumpkin Oreos, but they got shy about sharing their names.


Test tube and turmeric teas
What better way to experiment with teas than from test tubes? The Spice Lab Gourmet Spices offers a rack of 11 or 12 tube sets including British Teas, Asian Teas or Infused Teas, showcased in a handcrafted wooden base of reclaimed Colorado pine or sustainable bamboo. Each tube holds enough for 2 to 3 pots of tea. I just keep pulling off the cork from Smokey Maple to inhale. Of course, they are delicious, too. This is the best season for a hot pot. Enjoy these treats on days when you aren’t scheduled for the upcoming holiday gatherings.


How many of  you already have turmeric in your pantry? (I did!) How many of you were putting it in tea? Not me. Numi Oganic tea’s non-GMO and Fair Trade Certified Teas presents the first full line of this sort of premium turmeric-focused blends, which are earthy, robust and, of course, golden orange.
Kin to the ginger root, the powder is a favorite in curries. It’s used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine and now people are talking about curcumin, the medicinal compound in turmeric, associated with relieving pain and arthritis, decreasing blood clots, preventing cancer, strengthening digestion, detoxifying the liver and healing skin wounds.  Turns out it’s a superfood and I’ve enjoyed this admittedly acquired taste in a tea that makes me feel like a world traveler. I imagine myself in cool cafes, gathered around family tables and relaxing in exotic gardens as I enjoy these flavors:

Three Roots
Blending earthy turmeric, spicy ginger, and sweet licorice, Three Roots transports your senses to an exotic Indian Bazaar.

Golden Tonic
This uplifting blend of turmeric, lemon verbena and dried lime mingle for an exhilarating dance.  Golden hues of turmeric have an earthy sweetness as the zesty citrus notes soar and enliven the senses.

Fields of Gold
The mellow richness of turmeric, the sweet calming notes of chamomile, and the lively zest of lemon myrtle reside in Fields of Gold.

Amber Sun
With a radiating, smooth richness, this blend of turmeric, rooibos, vanilla beans and a hint of cinnamon offers mellow apple notes with a sweet peppery zest.

Coffee Blocks
All you coffee-dependent folks passing Facebook memes about how you couldn’t do without your coffee, have you tried it with butter? I’m speaking of adding butter to your coffee to bring out the flavors. No, you don’t have to do it yourself, Coffee Blocks has done it for you. Keep the little cups in your freezer and dissolve them, nay, froth them, in hot water. I put mine in the blender and my mother loved it. It’s best with a sweet pairing. We paired with berry and white chocolate cookies I whipped up from Mason Jar Cookie Company,
That was breakfast. Now, back to this coffee deal. Butter. It works. Go to coffeeblocks.com and try it, then take your own photo of your experience and tag it @coffeeblocks.
Oh yes, bet it would be good with something pumpkin.
ddoiron@panews.com

Sunday, October 26, 2014

'Dishing Up New Mexico' offers enchanting ideas


 
‘Dishing up New Mexico’ offers enchanting ideas
Due respect to peppers — which can be stuffed with lamb, flavor Café Diablo or perk up a cucumber frozen pop — are given in a picture-recipe book that will have you headed west.
“Dishing Up New Mexico: 145 Recipes from The Land of Enchantment” is Dave DeWitt’s love letter to the state’s land, people and the food they create together. Chickpea and chorizo stew, blue corn chicken taquitos and Lusty Mustard-Slathered Chicken Breasts sound as good as photos of farmers’ markets, grazing livestock and panoramic sunsets look. This book even offers our weekly Pumpkin Update, with a recipe for curry pumpkin soup (rum optional).  The following recipe is versatile:

Double  Pepper-Infused Strawberries
One fourth cup tequila
2 piquin chiles, crushed
4 pints of strawberries, hulled and halved (about six cups)
2 teaspoons freshly-ground black pepper
one half cup orange juice
 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Fresh mint springs, for garnish
Pour the tequila over the chiles in a small bow Soak for 1 to 4 hours before straining. The longer you leave the chiles, the stronger the flavor will be.
Combine the strawberries, pepper, orange juice, vinegar and infused tequila in a bowl and toss well. Cover and chill for at least three hours, stirring occasionally.
Spoon the mixture into 6 small glass bowls and garnish with mint springs before serving.

Cluck ‘nMoo
With a name like that above, can you guess what you’re getting into? How about a very nice frozen burger that’s perfect for celebrating National Kale Day. Yes, that’s a thing. Look it up.
Cluck ‘nMoo combines grass fed beef and chicken with Kale for a burger that has 52 percent less fat than USDA data for ground beef. I tried my first one with great success, serving creamed corn as a dip for blue corn tortilla chips and chopped white onions. It was a quick and delicious meal. So it’s easy, and good and I suppose that could get me crowing and kicking.

Chipotle Bloody Marys
Organic ginger puree, shitake mushrooms and tamarind go into Powell & Mahoney’s handcrafted cocktail mixes. Sip ‘em slow to pick up on the subtle flavors. I’ve told you I eat peppers for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so Chipotle Bloody Mary Mix is perfect for another meal: Brunch. There’s a sriracha and a “regular,” and suggestions for garnish include celery stalk, slice of lemon, pickled long beans, olives, salami, grilled shrimp or a slice of crispy bacon.
Here’s the deal. Makers suggest these make great tailgate beverages. If you know anybody tailgating like this, please call me. This stuff is very nice. I didn’t know they like it so spicy in Vermont.

McCormick has your gluten-free back
Gluten-free turkey gravy and chili mixes, three-spice packs including flavors fo Rosemary Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Carrots and skillet sauces (how about Taco with Chopotle?) are among some new packets. McCormick must have had Southeast Texas in mind with Zesty Garlic Shrimp as a flavor option.
ddoiron@panews.com

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Some fall flavors and fantasies

 
Some fall flavors and fantasies
Did you know you can pour, powder and paste on your vanilla this fall?
Nielsen-Massey  has amazing options for icing, beverages and main dishes. Start with a sprinkle in your morning coffee. If you like to play with your food, explore all their options. Their fine powder must be inhaled first every time you open the jar. Then it goes in all kinds of goodies. Here’s one:


Chewy Macadamia Nut Cookies

6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened

2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Powder

2 eggs

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

one half  teaspoon baking soda

one half teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup chopped macadamia nuts


Cream the butter, brown sugar and vanilla powder in a mixing bowl using an electric mixer on a medium speed until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add the flour, baking soda, salt, cream of tartar and cinnamon and mix well. Stir in the macadamia nuts. Chill for 2 hours. 

Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Coat an insulated cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray. 

Shape the dough into 1 inch balls and place on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. 

Makes 3 dozen 

When preparing bakery items such as cookies, here's at tip to enhance the flavor intensity of your product: cream the vanilla into the butter or shortening and sugar first. This step encapsulates the vanilla and helps prevent flavor loss in low mass/low moisture/high heat cookies.


Menu tease
My mother passed me a menu card from a friend’s travels because she thought you Culinary Thrill Seekers would enjoy hearing about it. We don’t know the year or the place, but we would like to sit down to The Royal Marriage: black mushroom consommé accompanied with dumpling delicacies. Later there’s The Willow’s Melody: a delightful lotus seed pudding in strawberry sauce. 


Pumpkin update:
Krusteaz has a new Pumpkin Pie Bar mix that was ready in just a few minutes. The skill required to fashion this yummy crowd-pleaser was minimal and the payoff was huge. When warm, people were convinced there was chocolate in there. The flavor actually comes from a gingerbread crust. Amazingly, there was still some left when it had cooled properly and it was still a hit. My favorite was the crispy corners, so I paired with a soft-center lover.

Sandwich Mondays
Get on board. It’s a thing. Do you crave the convenience of lunch meat but shy away from preservatives? Hillshire Farm is making it pretty easy on us with the new Naturals line: Slow Roasted Turkey Breast, Honey Roasted Ham, Hardwood Smoked Turkey Breast and Black Forest Ham. What I got was quick meals of salads, wraps and omelets without artificial ingredients, preservatives, colors or added nitrates, They come in reusable plastic boxes that are easily stacked to keep your fridge orderly. That makes it a triple hit with me for taste, health and ease of use.
ddoiron@panews.com

Monday, October 13, 2014

Bring on the hummus

 
Bring on the hummus

I was literally in the kitchen prepping some homemade pumpkin hummus when my husband was in the next room telling me had containers of lemon, garlic and traditional versions of Cat Cora’s new product. I love each and every one of them. It’s not hard to make hummus, but go ahead and let Cora do what she knows. Cat Cora’s Kitchen by Grecian Delight Foods has given us three winners. Here’s what she says about it:

“My hummus recipes draw inspiration from my Greek heritage, with flavor twist I’ve picked up throughout my culinary career,” said Cora. “I’m so excited they will be available via grocer giant HEB in the Lone Star state.”
They’re all so good, but I think lemon will remain my favorite.
You can get Traditional, Smooth & Creamy Garlic, and Smooth & Creamy Lemon, a version that’s topped with jalapeno peppers. I’ve been using it as salad dressing, dipping sugar snap peas in it and doing the cracker thing.

Celebrity Chef Cat Cora is best-known for her role as the first female Iron Chef on Iron Chef America and since has co-hosted Food Network’s Melting Pot and America’s Best Cook as well as Bravo’s Around the World in 80 Plates. Her namesake Cat Cora’s Kitchen operates at the Houston Intercontinental, the Salt Lake City and San Francisco Airport Terminals.

Pumpkin alert
Remember last year, readers, when there was a new pumpkin story every week? Retailers want us to play that again, because pumpkin abounds. Krusteaz has new flavors out including a pumpkin spice muffin mix. I played with that, adding flax seed, subbing banana for the egg and adding Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Powder, a luxury any baker can afford. In just a few minutes the reward of pumpkin made my breakfast.



Kickers
The easiest way to go from plain to flavored is Kickers, packets of natural favors with real fruit. Got cottage cheese or yogurt? Make them chocolate peanut butter or strawberry banana. Oatmeal gets apple cinnamon and pancakes can go for maple banana cream. Mix and match to flavor oatmeal, cereal and smoothies.

125th anniversary
McCormick has an anniversary edition of pure vanilla extract and suggests you may want to play with that and Thai a Kitchen Coconut Milk, subbing a can for the oil and water of your favorite cake mix. Let's do it. Get to McCormick.com for ideas, like "naked birthday cake."
ddoiron@panews.com

Monday, October 6, 2014

Don'tcha love being Southern?

 
“Super Fast Southern”
I love being southern. The new book “Super Fast Southern” helps interpret our flavors and ways for those who maybe would like the taste of crawfish but don’t have time for a full-on boil.

This Southern Living Book covers Asian food, mac and cheese with bacon, chicken fried steak and shrimp kebobs with blackberry and mango. It’s all over the culinary map and I want to take that trip. The maque choux features slices of okra; instant gazpacho uses bloody mary mix; and the BLT Benedict includes an egg and avocado-tomato relish. Quesadilla variations include Greek, with feta and olives.
I love being a southerner. Don’t forget Bonuts, little fried biscuit dough bits covered in powdered sugar. Or, try deep frying your Moon Pie.
Here’s how to get a quick taste of crawfish in your week:

Spicy Crawfish Dip
3 tablespoons butter
one half cup finely chopped onion
three fourths cup finely chopped celery
 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
 2 tablespoons salt-free seasoning blend
one half teaspoon ground red pepper
 8 ounces peeled and cooked crawfish tails, chopped
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
In an 8-inch skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Cook onion, celery and garlic in butter 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender. Add seasoning blend and ground red epper. Cook and stir 30 seconds longer.
In medium bowl, mix vegetables and crawfish tails. Add cream cheese; stir gently to combine.


Pumpkin is pervasive
Thanks for the flavors. Thomas’ Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice English Muffins and Bagels and Thomas’ Limited Edition Cranberry English Muffins and bagels are at markets and mass stores, like Walmart, this fall. Use them as the base for breakfast and dessert with your own spreadable ideas from gourmet peanut butter and pepper honey to cream cheese and chocolate. I love them. Let me know what  you come up with.

Larry’s Southwestern Sauces
Down in Groves, Larry’s means crawfish. This other Larry in Austin is getting famous for all-natural Mexican cooking sauces for artisan tacos, burritos, enchiladas, chicken and more. I tried the mole sauce with eggs for breakfast, though it’s designed to pour over meat and bake for an hour. Serve that with rice, corn or tortillas. My simple egg mole was appreciated for nuanced flavor so early in the morning.
The Chipotle and Ranchero jars are also vegan and gluten-free and good for very quick accomplishments. Summon your friends and get the fiesta going.


Had me at Hershey’s
I wasn’t even looking for it, but it found me. A box of Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate instant pudding mix had smooth, creamy stuff ready for me with a few moments of blending. It just asked me to give it cold milk. I just had instant milk, and even that worked out blissfully good. So, now you know.

ddoiron@panews.com