Saturday, November 29, 2014

Janis Joplin's thoughts to ponder

Janis Joplin’s thoughts to ponder
I’m spreading out the leopard, polka dot and reindeer patterns of FreshTape, and these words come to view, that I recognize:
“Don’t Compromise Yourself. You’re all you’ve got.”
This quote belongs to Port Arthur’s own Janis Joplin. 
They’re one of the thoughts on this pretty amazing new product that perks you up as you peel off the tape to seal packages of  food for your pantry, like chips or spice packets, as well as frozen food, like spinach you should be sneaking or blatantly adding to just about everything. Happy organizing, from, me, and I guess, Janis.

Chestnuts not roasting
My mom had whole chestnuts one time and each year when the nut comes up in popular song, she never fails to mention how difficult they are to peel.  So, I’ve never bothered.
Italy is now doing it for us.  Chestnut Hill Tree Farm of Alachua, Florida, has spent the last 30 years leading the way to re-establishing the Chestnut Tree in the United States, after blight had wiped most trees out by 1950. And now they’re bringing artisanal products from Northern Italy, sold at select Whole Foods Markets.  I’ve tried Chestnut Sweet Cream, which is kind of a Nutella-like experience for toast and Chestnut Flakes, which make an interesting crispy topping for sweet and savory treats. There’s also a flour. 
So Mom’s going to try chestnuts again. Here’s a kind of weird thing I made from experimenting in someone else’s kitchen: A ramekin full of lightly cooked egg, topped with blue cheese and cranberry relish, then topped with chestnut flakes. Just crazy enough to work.  

Southern Christmas
“Christmas All Through the South”  is from Southern Living, so that there says it all. From a Hearty Picnic in the Pines with skillet-fried chicken to lucky New Year’s oyster spreads, is a big, thick book showing how it’s done. Laden tables, lighted landscapes and our mossy, waterside, outdoor vistas we love fill this book. Besides the photos, there’s the writing, then there’s the recipes. If you can’t be with family, you’ll read this and make a new family of friends so you can make one of these parties. It’s not all about showing off, it’s just how hospitality is done down here. This book takes you across the south and across time with memories of how we all used to slow down and appreciate this season.
I’m a huge rosemary fan, so this virgin drink popped off the pages for me:
Rosemary-Scented Cold Cider
Pick up a jug of fresh-pressed cider for optimum results with this refreshing drink.
5 cups apple cider
4 fresh rosemary sprigs, 4- to 5-inches
2 cups cranberry-apple drink, chilled
2 12-ounce cans ginger ale, chilled
1. Bring cider and four rosemary springs to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 3 minutes. Remove from heat; let cool to room temperature. Cover and chill 8 to 24 hours. Remove and discard rosemary sprigs.
2. Combine cider and cranberry-apple drink in a pitcher or thermos. Add ginger ale just before serving.
Darragh Doiron proudly shares her Culinary Thrill Seeking adventures with Port Arthur News readers.

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
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.

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 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.