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.

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.

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 for ideas, like "naked birthday cake."

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.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

School lunch options and Louisiana tastes

Pack that school lunch right
Packing lunches for my daughter, with unusual flavors, unique packaging and fun notes is one of the things I miss most about that baby being all grown up.
Parents today can take a few tips from a new APP from Merilee Kern, called 'Kids Making Healthy Choices' based on her award-winning illustrated fictional children's book, “Making Healthy Choices ­ A Story to Inspire Fit, Weight-Wise Kids." Here’s some tips for a healthy, happy meal:
*  Lean meat, such as shaved ham or turkey, on whole grain bread or in a wheat wrap with some lettuce, low/fat free cheese, and a touch of low-fat/fat-free mayonnaise or mustard is sure to please…and nourish. 

*  Even the quintessential children’s sandwich, PB&J, can be made in a healthy way these days. Many peanut butter brands now offer low-fat and low-sodium versions.  That, coupled with an all-fruit, sugar-free jelly on whole grain bread makes this school cafeteria staple a guiltless pleasure. 

* Tuna fish is jam packed with oh-so-beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids.  When mixed with low-fat mayonnaise, diced apple, and, if your child likes, a bit of onion and served in a wheat pita  
* One the side? Low-salt pretzels; fat- and sugar-free yogurt or cottage cheese; celery sticks filed with low-fat/low-sodium peanut butter; any kind of pre-washed fresh fruit (nature's gift to humanity); dried or dehydrated fruit, such as raisins; apricots, pears, apples, roasted or raw almonds, walnuts or peanuts (not oiled or candied); low-fat string cheese or chunked low-fat cheese; and even baked chips or healthy pita chips in moderation are all great choices. 

* Skip the sugary juice box and send along a bottle of water instead to get your child in the habit of working toward his/her optimal fluid intake (experts recommend one consume about .5 ounces of water per pound of body weight).
 After school:
* Potato Chips/Fries - Cut the potato in the desired shape (round, rectangular, oblong, etc.).  Fully coat with egg whites.  Season with a touch of salt or other herbs as desired. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.  Serve with sugar-free catsup. 

* Popcorn: Air pop popcorn and on it drizzle a moderate amount of powdered butter substitute, light parmesan cheese, or even honey for a tasty twist. 

Mexican Bean Dip:  Drain and food process two 14-ounce cans of black beans.  Add three fourths of a cup of fat-free salsa and half of a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce and blend until completely smooth.  Top with a dab of fat-free sour cream, fat-free cheese, diced tomatoes, chopped green onions, etc. as desired. 

* Fruit Smoothies: These are a warm weather staple that can, and should, be enjoyed year-round.  While fruit smoothie recipes abound, it need not be a complex process.  Simply blend, in amounts to your personal liking, either plain or flavored fat-free/sugar-free yogurt with skim milk, ice cubes, and either fresh or frozen fruit chunks. For added sweetness, you can add a touch of honey or an artificial sweetener, such as stevia. Blend and enjoy.

Louisiana good
If you could make a meal with Louisiana products you love, what would your menu be? I’d love an oyster poor-boy with crispy Zapp’s kettle chips and an Abita beer. Tabasco is on the side and some Community Coffee is welcome to follow. This month’s Thrive Magazine, based out of Lake Charles, La., features snippets on some of our favorite flavors from across the border. It’s the cover story for September.

New look for  classic crackers
Some Lance® cracker sandwiches have new looks. Whole grain crackers with real peanut butter, cheddar and sharp cheddar  are fresh from their boxes in time to fill lunchboxes across the south. Did you know Lance has been around for more than a century and the stuff coming out of Charlotte, N.C. uses real cheddar and pb? I don’t remember ever going nuts over cracker sandwiches until I tried these. But if you have, let’s say temptation issues, over snacks like these, consider this: I opened a package of six and crumbled two up to top two eggs for two breakfasts. Then I had two more with a salad for lunch. The other two stayed fresh in a plastic food container, ready for another day. Yes, I realize most snackers would wolf down the package in a few minutes, but these wheat guys are worth savoring. Lance Toasty crackers have improved peanut butter flavor with more eco-friendly packaging. I’m very much enjoying a round of crackers.
Also look for Lance® Xtra Fulls and Bolds and variety packs.  These guys are also responsible for the coveted Lance® Captain Wafers Crackers Variety Pack.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Moms really are the best cooks

I just ran across “Mothers are the Best Cooks,” a collection of recipes by St. Jude’s Mother’s Day Out and Preschool Families, Staff and Friends. That’s my church, St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Community in Beaumont. I love a good spiral that’s full of good stuff from people you know. Now’s the season for orange food and this one from the book features sweet potatoes in a savory way with another favorite of mine, corn. For information on  the book, call St. Jude Mothers Day Out at (409) 866-4722, ext. 238.

Basil Pecan Sweet Potato Bake
Susan Wilkerson
3 15-ounce cans sweet corn, drained
1 half cup Half & Half
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 fourth teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 fourth teaspoon ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1 half cup chopped pecans
In medium mixing bowl, combine all ingredients, except pecans. Blend with mixer or food processor, transfer to prepared 9- by 9-inch baking dish. Smooth the surface. Top with chopped d pecans. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove cover and bake another 10 minutes.

Whataburger lets you take the sauce home
Breaking news from Whataburger and H-E-B , two Texas favorites. The stores are selling bottles of sauces for you to dress up your veggies, burgers and fries they way you might if you were under the orange, pointy roof. Here’s what I’m trying on eggs, baked potatoes and romaine lettuce:

Peppercorn Ranch
• This one-of-a-kind ranch makes everything better. Loaded with cracked peppercorns, it adds a rich flavor to sandwiches, salads and much more.

Creamy Pepper Sauce
• A unique blend of peppers and spices, this sauce was made famous on Whataburger’s Patty Melt and goes great on just about everything.

Jalapeño Ranch
• This spicy, kicked-up ranch was made famous on Whataburger’s Monterey Melt. Great as a dip or dressing, the tasty blend of spices and jalapeños goes great with chicken, beef and pork.

Honey Mustard
• This sauce is a delicious combination of sweetness and tanginess, perfect for dipping chicken strips or adding flavor to salads.
There are other Whataburger condiments in the stores, but that doesn’t keep people away from their favorites in restaurants.

Take a powder every morning
Instead of your aromatic, hot brew, you could have a teaspoon of coffee powder to wake you up. Navitas Naturals has launched an organic green coffee powder that it mixes into smoothies and desserts to offer a mild flavor and an energizing antioxidant-rich superfood from raw, unroasted Arabica beans.
They’re handpicked in Peru to arrive at your table. I blended some into banana-matcha smoothies every day for a week and felt great. Did you know this product existed? I did not, but I trust Navitas Naturals to travel the world and keep me healthy. Here’s some caffeine and dietary fiber from an unexpected source. Add it to flours and other beverages, especially those with chocolate. Makers say that due to its effect on metabolism, it is often used as apart of a balanced weight management program.

This powder is certified organic, non-GMO, raw, kosher and gluten-free. Unlike other green coffee in the marketplace, Navitas Green Coffee Powder is free of fillers, binders and excipients. Offered in a multiple serving 4-ounce resealable pouch for a SRP of $14.99, Navitas Naturals Green Coffee Powder and other Navitas products are available at

Hemp snack
How is your hemp snack like mother’s milk? In this case, goodies from Nutiva, the world’s leading brand of Coconut, Chia, Hemp & Red Palm organic superfoods, this reference means more than these bites are healthy, sweet and comforting. Billed as an anytime treat, Nutiva’s new O’Coconut products are made  from lightly sweetened organic, fair trade coconut and have only 60 calories each.
I like the crunchy staying power of O’Coconut Classic and O’Coconut Hemp & Chia with l nutty flavor and the nutritional benefits of Omega-3s. Carry some with you on your hike or errand trip. I love them, and here’s what the makers say about their makeup: 
“Coconut oil is about 50 percent lauric acid, a nourishing medium-chain fatty acid found in mother's milk. Each O’Coconut snack boasts a 1.5 teaspoon serving of coconut oil.  All Nutiva coconut products are made from fresh coconuts and are certified organic and verified non-GMO.”

Monday, September 15, 2014

Had me at "Bourbon & Bacon"

 “Bourbon & Bacon”
The title is enough. The publisher, Southern Living, gives it a respectable boost. The book, small, hard cover and thick, just feels good in your hand, like a chunk of salt pork with just the right amount of fat, feels heft on your fork on a morning with the nip of fall in the air.
Morgan Murphy fills us in on “The Ultimate guide to the South’s Favorite Food Groups,” the subtitle of the missive “Bourbon & Bacon.”
My mother saw the book before I’d perused it and immediately marked pages with amazing photos for her to try. Sure hope I’m invited that day.
I’m already a fan of Morgan Murphy’s writing. We think the same way about good food and the adventure of finding it. Readers, look forward to instruction on the likes of:
Cornbread Dressing with Smoked Bacon and Pecans; Bourbon Candied Bacon; Tennessee Bacon-Cheddar-Ale Soup; and Loaded Baked Potato Dip.
Here’s something unexpected:
Butterscotch-Bourbon Sauce
Author’s note:  Now this may look a tad fattening, and ok, it is. But think on it; It’s an all-natural, easy-to-make dessert sauce that would be killer over some homemade vanilla ice cream ( if you want to go whole hog).
1 and one half cups firmly-packed light brown sugar
one half cup butter
three fourths cup whipping cream
three tablespoons bourbon
Cook brown sugar and butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, three to four minutes or until butter melts and mixture is smooth
Gradually stir in whipping cream. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly three minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in bourbon. Cool 20 minutes.

Chocolate Tea
Numi Organic Tea’s Indulgent Tea line features four kinds of chocolate that is your chance to enjoy in a warm or cool serving of liquid that will transport your mind while saving you calories and cash. Well, you can add honey or milk if you like, but I find little room for improvement with fair trade blends such as chocolate mint. Opening a box full of tea bags smelled like a chocolate pie was in the oven.
With temperatures about to drop – please, fall, come on – these are the kinds of flavors that you sip, inhale for aroma, and feel the warm mug in your hands. Numi is working all my senses. Chocolate Earl Grey includes organic orange peel, vanilla bean and bergamot oil, all organic. Rooibos has honeybush. Chocolate Spice offers a depth that merits exploration.
Look for these in stores this fall or visit While tea often goes with sweets, these flavors are the treat in itself.
Fall smells like apple pie
Studies show it’s as American as apple pie to eat pie for breakfast, according to those who promote Thomas’ Limited Edition products. Guilty. So now that we’re looking for a touch of fall in the air, consider Thomas’ Apple Pie English Muffins and Bagels. I paired gourmet peanut butter one day and a spiced butter the next, while my husband fashioned them into pepperoni sandwiches after late meetings. We’re big into playing with our food here. He noted a good texture on both makes. I like my toasted crisp and enjoyed the flavor of real apples. Get yours through October.
Thomas’ is offering some apple pie trivia to go with your meal:

·         36 Million Americans identify apple as their favorite pie flavor
·         Pie was not always only America’s favorite dessert – in the 19th Century, fruit pies were actually a common breakfast food eaten before the start of a long day
      ·         35% of Americans say they’ve eaten pie for breakfast

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mason jars pack your salad

Oh sure the Mason jar salads look beautiful. But are they practical? Everybody’s talking about the layered Mason jar salads, with levels of red radish, dark green spinach, purple onion.. whatever you like. What’s the best source for how to really pack that Mason jar salad tight, with dressing on the bottom and little air for it to settle?
How about “Mason Jar Salads and More,” by Julia Mirabella. This illustrated book will make you long for Sunday evenings, when you can pack your spinach/radish/quinoa; or tortellini with basil pesto, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella in beautiful jars for all next week. Or maybe those handy jars will hold your smoothies, or fried rice or squash risotto. The main thing is, you have a cure for “sad desk lunch.” I’m in. These recipes are clever and unexpected. Blueberry and corn? Never would have thought of it. But I read this book cover to cover and went in the kitchen to play with what I had. Experimentation is, after all, encouraged. I layered tomato vinaigrette, then canned fave beans, iceberg lettuce, some blueberries (why not?) and a boiled egg. Two wide-mouth jars of this will go with me to work this week. Can’t wait to fill more jars.
Update on the above: Regarding the blueberries here, I chose poorly. The rest fared well.

More on Masons
Mason Jar Cookie Company makes layered master pieces you must commit to disassemble to create more masterpieces, like Berries ‘n Chocolate oatmeal bake. Gosh, food looks so good in Mason jars that this company even puts their pancake mixes in pouches that look like jars. This past weekend I whipped up buttermilk chocolate chip as well as cranberry orange pancake mixes to appreciative audiences. They turned out beautifully, and these are not things I normally make well. Thank you MJCC.
Thumbs up here. I regret that I ate so many pancakes I have to hold on sampling the baked goods, but at least I get to look at the layers in the beautiful jar for a while.
Other temptations in the line are Chai Cappuccino, Salted Caramel, and Triple Chocolate. Want yours vegan or dairy-free or gluten free? They can make it for you.
now available in gluten–free blends as well. Add your own fresh dairy and eggs, or substitute. You can tricks). Available in the Signature Glass Jars or Iconic Jar-Shaped Pouch OR customize and design your own blend and even name it on the label. Its like having your name linked to Mason. Go for it this holiday. It’s designer gifts you can eat.

The Protein Bakery
Blondies with walnuts; cookies with peanut butter, chocolate chips and oatmeal; brownies thick with goodness… I sampled some of these outrageously healthy options from The Protein Bakery and then took a long walk. Boy, did I feel smug walking past drive-thru windows and hearing people order calorie-laden breakfasts.
The Protein Bakery, 20 W. 20th Street in New York City, has been around 10 years, baking dietary fiber into tasting treats and impressing the likes of Oprah. Me, too, now. Here’s why makers say you ought to try them:

·      High in muscle-building protein
·      All treats are individually handmade in small batches
·      High dietary fiber to satisfy hunger
·      No wheat flour, which means very low in gluten
·      Trans-fat free
Visit to learn more about why and how they were developed, and how popping them in the microwave yields new layers of enjoyment.