Sunday, October 27, 2013

Prawn plans & pumpkin news

Prawn plans
I love exploring the Vietnamese Markets in Port Arthur. I checked out at one with a can of minced prawn in spices, for about $1.15 and the woman at the counter asked my plans for it. I told her I planned to warm it and serve it over steamed rice with a slow-cooked egg in the center.
She approved, and I felt like an insider. It was colorful and delicious with a few green onions from my garden sprinkled on top.
This particular brand of minced prawn, and there are many, included spices like peanut, chile, lemongrass, sugar, garlic, onion and (too bad) MSG. I plan to keep one in the pantry because it is a super-quick way to jazz up noodles and rice to make you feel like you’re in a restaurant.

Fresh 20
Stock up on 20 fresh ingredients and plan your next several meals for a happy, healthy family. Melissa Lanz profiles her own and other families are doing fine enjoying seasonal fresh foods like a cultural fusion of red beans and quinoa. I love what fall menus bring in “The Fresh 20” cookbook, but I can look forward to winter with mushroom polenta and cabbage pork stew.
Lanz even makes her own ketchup (that tastes like tomatoes) and tortillas. She shares how in this beautiful book. The photos convince you that you can do this, too.
Here’s another twist: Strawberry Gazpacho with Feta Cheese Crostini and spring rolls in a bowl so you can cut out that pesky rice paper step.
For this week’s “Pumpkin trending” update, try her pumpkin hash, pumpkin shepherd’s pie or roasted pumpkin. Here’s one with another vegetable you may not think of:
Radish Butter ( to serve with flatbread and steamed artichokes)
12 to 16 red radishes
2 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 fourth teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add all but 2 radishes and boil for 10 minutes. Thinly slice remaining two radishes.
Drain the radishes and place into a food processor or blender. Pulse to puree, then add the butter and salt and pulse to blend.

What’s the buzz?
Bottle tops look like bee hives and a beekeeper-hive-bear scene plays out in the bottle of a new liquor that is sweet on fall nights. Bärenjäger, the original honey liqueur, introduces Bärenjäger Honey & Tea, a blend of premium honey and tea liqueur; and Bärenjäger Honey & Pear, a delightful combination of premium honey liqueur and Williams pear brandy. With an old world feel and taste, sippers will realize they’ve hit a serious blend that’s not like the colorful nightclub fluff. Don’t play with this stuff.
Of the two, my favorite is Bärenjäger Honey & Tea, made from all natural ingredients and no artificial flavors. The new spirit offers an herbaceous nose, a sweet black tea and honey taste and a long finish of lingering black tea notes, makers say. I served it in a tall shot glass with an oversized blackberry soaking up the golden fluid.

Bärenjäger Honey & Pear is made with generous amounts of pure, real honey and high quality pear brandy sourced from Germany. The brandy is distilled exclusively from Williams pears, which are highly aromatic and flavorful. It put my tasters in mind of a high-end cough drop, and we all know people who like that sort of thing. It’s soothing and comforting.
Look up this brand and learn all about bears, too. In the 15th century, beekeepers and farmers made a mead-like moonshine to aid hunters attract bears and lure them from their dwellings.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pumpkin is trending

My mom and I have been joking about noticing pumpkin flavored everything this season and I think I “won” when I heard the Car Talk brothers joke about something like pumpkin spice brake fluid on NPR. I think I could mention pumpkin in every column for the rest of the year, so if you see me out, tell me what you have experienced.
Pumpkin crème brulee, in an adorable little canning jar, showed up in the dessert book discussed below:

Vegan Desserts
Unless you routinely have bacon with your pie, vegan desserts sounds on track. But remember, you won’t be cracking eggs or softening butter. Pie is a lifestyle, author Kris Holechek Peters shares in the book “Vegan Desserts in Jars.” Anyone can soften up to a little Mason jar of s’mores, raspberry brownie bombs and lemon blueberrys scone domes. I hear the raw pecan pie is very rich and Peters can make a “meringue”  of wonders.
Many recipes begin with a ganache from non-dairy versions of chocolate chips, coconut oil and milk. Elvis is in a jar, so you better let out this peanut butter and banana heavenly mix.

 A cup of donut
It’s true, knowing a great coffee is in the pantry can motivate you to hop out of bed. Dunkin Donuts ought to get some kind of science and humanity award for getting the flavors of jelly and chocolate glazed donut flavors into a coffee. I’m telling you, Dunkin Donuts new Bakery Series Coffee delivers a tantalizing aroma and the warm flavor of your favorite pastry without caloric guilt. It could be a new habit, though. Blueberry Muffin is one of my favorite flavors in the flour edition. It’s great as a coffee, but I might pick Caramel Coffee Cake as my favorite in a cup. Old Fashioned Donut is another option. Everyone I have served these to can’t seem to believe all that flavor can get into coffee beans.

Bring on the truffles
I’m pretty good at rationing out good things, so I don’t eat a box full at a time. My husband had already tried Organic Velvet “melty silky goodness” dark milk chocolate truffles and black truffles in dark chocolate before me. Before I’d had even one, he asked for more. What the heck, he’d just mowed the lawn. When I finally popped a ball and let the chocolate wall melt, exposing the promised melty stuff inside and all resistance was futile.
Before I finished that one bite, all I could think of was that husband over there was two truffles ahead of me in this one life we live. I laid down the law. Only one of each kind within a 24-hour period. It’s too good.

Alter Eco Foods has infused organic ingredients, adding pure lauric acid-rich coconut oil, instead of palm kernel oil, to fair trade chocolate. Packaging is compostable. When this box is empty, by the end of the day I write this, it can go in my garden compost. Guess what. These flavors are just the launch. More flavors are coming.

Coffee with your rum cake?
Tortuga Caribbean Rum Cakes offer a taste of the islands that often showed up at Port Arthur’s Cayman Fest activities. If you miss those festivals, order up a little coconut cake. Thank goodness for mail-order shopping and not messing with a good thing. News to me, because I’ve never been on a cruise, is that there are coffee beans, too. Tortuga selections have been lauded in “Porthole Cruise” magazine for nine consecutive years as Best Cruise Souvenir and in 2013 was named Greatest Caribbean Gift.
A burlap  sack encases a bag of 100 percent Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee beans. Mornings are made better with a quick grind and a rich brew that will take you back to the islands if you’ve been there. In my case, the fantasy is a projection. I aim to enjoy this coffee on the beach some day. It’s plenty good right here in my Texas kitchen.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Taco tips and Spanish flavors

Taco tips
In Southeast Texas its pretty much always taco time, but others celebrated Oct. 4 as National Taco Day and Ortega hosted a National Taco Day Twitter with ideas. I just tried some Ortega shells and salsa of the mildest nature and used Ortega seasoning to flavor black beans and white cheese for the filling. I didn’t miss the meat on this variation. They suggest a fish taco with cabbage and tangerine slaw, which sounds like a dish easily ordered on the streets of Austin. Here’s one more idea:

 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons  Ortega Taco Seasoning Mix (or 40% Less Sodium Taco Seasoning Mix)
1 fourth  cup water
1 can Ortega Black Beans, drained
2 garlic cloves, minced
1  package fresh spinach leaves, washed
1 fourth teaspoon  salt
1 can Ortega Diced Green Chiles
8 Ortega Taco Shells  or Ortega Fiesta Flats (they look like little boats)
Crumbled feta cheese
1 bottle Ortega Taco Sauce

1.         In a large skillet, heat half of the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes, until the onions are a rich brown. While the onions cook, heat the beans in a small saucepan.
2.         Stir the taco seasoning mix and water into the onions, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more to thicken. Spoon the onions into a serving bowl and set aside.
3.         In the same skillet, increase the heat to medium-high and add the remaining oil. Cook the garlic in the hot oil for 10 seconds, just until it’s fragrant, then add the spinach leaves, a handful at a time, stirring and adding more as they wilt. Sprinkle with salt and diced green chiles and continue to cook until the spinach is tender, 3 to 4 more minutes.
4.         To serve, mound beans, spinach and onion in taco shells or Fiesta Flats™ and top with crumbled feta and taco sauce.
Makes 4 servings.

Spanish Olive Oil
I’ve read you should stock the best olive oil you can afford. Carbonell, which I’m told is Spain’s top brand, has a distinctive flavor that sets it apart from Italian “extra virgen” varieties (that I also love). The lovely lady on the label looks like she’s enjoying it as much as I do. I use olive oil for lots of things that I used to use butter for, like cooking eggs, and Carbonell is a flavorful option that is affordable and has some flair. This bottle was so good that I began craving new ways to cut back on every other seasoning so I could taste the oil even more. For recipes like the following, visit

Apple and Mango Marinated Chicken

1/2 cup Carbonell Extra Light Olive Oil
4 cleaned free-range, boneless chicken breasts (cut into 3-inch strips)
2 cups fresh apple cider
2 cups mango juice or your favorite equivalent
(guava, pineapple or blend)
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
additional kosher salt and
black pepper for seasoning after the marinating process


1. Remove any fat and cartilage from the chicken breast and cut into small 3-inch strips.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together juices, salt, pepper and Carbonell Extra Light Olive Oil.
3. In a glass baking dish, container or resealable plastic bag, lay the strips of chicken in the marinade and let them sit overnight for maximum results.
4. Remove the chicken from marinade and season both sides of the chicken with a pinch of kosher salt and black pepper (50/50 blend).
5. Heat outdoor or indoor grill to high and place strips on it, quickly grilling each side. Do not overcook the chicken as these little strips will cook in about 3-5 minutes total cooking time (remember some of the acids from the juices have broken down the chicken already).
6. Remove cooked chicken from the grill and place in a new clean container.
7. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and let chicken rest (it will continue to cook slightly). Serve over a simple salad or roasted corn salad.

New Iberia means Louisiana to me, and until I heard of Iberia, makers of ethnic and Latin cuisine foods, I never made the connection to the Iberian Peninsula of Spain and Portugal. Iberia features basics from rice, beans and olive oils to foodie finds such as aioli, blended oils, paella packets for Spanish, Latin American and Caribbean dishes. Their mission is to brand source authentic, fresh ingredients from the original climates in which they grow, like making oil from olives hand-picked in Spain and seasoned with South American peppers.
Ibera sent a sample of premium select Spanish Queen Olives stuffed with Garlic and I’d like to say “one’s a meal.” I’d also like to say two are even better.
You can see right through the jar that these guys have taste and they just look so beautiful and ripe. Just maybe, on Halloween, I can go savory with these olives instead of wiping out the candy corn.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Falling for pumpkin flavors

Everybody’s talking about pumpkin this year. I’m even hearing men  who are not professional chefs express love of punkin’. They’re going way beyond the classic pumpkin pie and graduating into soups, snacks and beverages. Pumpkin Spice limited edition bagels and English muffins from Thomas’ are an the shelves through early December. This bagel experience was one that will stand out in my mind. I loved it fresh, without a single embellishment. Then I started in on these to breads with  garnishes such as Canadian bacon and fried egg.
Read on for another pumpkin pleasure:

Autumn in a bottle
Do you want to look at the amber liquid sparkling in the sleek bottle boasting the Crop Harvest Earth Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka label? Or do you want to invite your holiday guests to autumn in a bottle? Go ahead and share. It tastes like it sounds and it smells even better. The pumpkin joins Crop’s quartet of original vodkas, Artisanal, Cucumber, Tomato and Meyer Lemon.
I’m planning to keep a reserve to top desserts and spice coffee during this cooler season. Why, I’ll bet it even goes good with pumpkin pie. You think?
Makers suggest it on ice to experience the seasonings. Other ideas from the pros:
“At tailgating parties before football games, mix it with cola--the bitter-sweetness of the cola complementing the richness of the vodka. For a grown-up Halloween treat, shake this golden-hued spirit with Irish cream liqueur over ice. It’s a creamy, drinkable version of pumpkin pie topped with fresh whipped cream. After an afternoon of raking leaves, reward yourself with a hot toddy (recipe below) or with coffee or hot cider­ spiked with this flavorful vodka--all delightful ways to warm up on a brisk autumn day. Start your Thanksgiving meal with any of the cocktails listed below and the holiday is guaranteed to be festive.”

These autumnal cocktails are created by Esteban Ordonez of International Cocktail Group and Burning Waters Cantina in downtown New York City.

Great Pumpkin Manhattan

2 parts Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka 

1 part sweet vermouth 
2 dashes orange bitters
Garnish with an orange peel
Pour ingredients into a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir well and strain into a chilled martini glass.

Pumpkin Toddy
1 and one half parts Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
1 part freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice
one half part honey
4 parts hot water
Lemon wheel and a cinnamon stick for garnish (optional)
Build all ingredients in a heat-resistant glass or mug, lightly stir and serve immediately. Garnish with a lemon wheel and cinnamon stick (optional).

Headless Horseman
1 part Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka
1 glass pumpkin ale
Drop the Crop Organic Spiced Pumpkin Vodka into the glass of pumpkin ale and enjoy.

Naan Pizza contest:
Just when my whole family was hungry for naan, I found Tandoor Chef Garlic Naan with other frozen meals like Palak Paneer and Pad Thai. Oh, it’s crazy good. If you like these flavors at restaurants, you’ll love this stuff. Enough said. Now, here’s an invitation from makers: In celebration of National Pizza Month, Tandoor Chef < <> > , the leader in restaurant quality, all natural frozen Indian cuisine, has launched its Naan Your Average Pizza Party Contest. Through Oct. 31, consumers are encouraged to vote for their favorite flavor of Naan Pizza at <>  <> . Consumers will also be asked to share what they think the next flavor of Naan Pizza should be.

Tandoor Chef offers five different flavors of Naan Pizza including, Roasted Eggplant, Margherita, Cilantro Pesto, Spinach and Paneer and new Jalapeno Naan Pizza.

Pukka is my new word and new tea. The health- and flavor-loving herbal tea creators named their brand Pukka, the Hindi word for genuine and authentic. They want you to have a “pukka’ cuppa. The brand has been popular in the U.K. and now we can get it. I’ve been boiling up lemongrass and ginger, mint green and blends featuring ginger, lavender and ginseng. I would never have believed there was something called Three Fennel, with sweet, wild and, I guess, regular fennels. After Dinner is a perfect name for one with organic fennel, chicory and cardamom. That fennel flavor gives the signal that all other snacking is done for the day. This flavor is official. Perfect Day combines whole leaf tea with ginseng and licorice, which is another flavor that fills one up and curbs cravings. I’m being “pukka” with this review.

Stamba means pillar in Hindi. Stability and support drive this brand offering capsules of suprfoods that different cultures and generations have used for healing, vitalizing and rejuvenating qualities. Maccak acai, maqui, turmeric, ginger and green algae are some ingredients from the “riches of the plant kingdom.” I love this kind of stuff and I know a fit woman who is a believer that superfoods help her stay fit. Sound better than a bunch of artificial chemicals. Makers say Stamba is “Crafted to maximize benefits, STAMBA provides raw, organic nutrient density and complexity to support your body’s innate capacity to thrive.” Okay, I’m also a sucker for the violet glass bottle with the wooden top. It’s almost time for New Year’s resolutions. Are you keeping yours from this past year? Maybe you can put your resolve on a stamba.