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My Kitchen Gadget Addiction

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See how nice and neat these egg and avocado slices are? Because gadgets!

Confession: I have a kitchen gadget addiction. I hoard everything from the tiniest garlic chopper to counter-hogging “small” appliances like the air fryer. I have a particular weakness for the little plastic single-purpose thingies that are among those celebrity chef Alton Brown despises and rants against in this hilarious video.

He’s right. I know he’s right; all you really need is a great knife. It’s just that he’s coming from the perspective of someone who’s had years of training and experience wielding pointy kitchen utensils, probably drinks less wine than I do and is definitely not perimenopausal, which lends a charming unpredictability to all of my endeavors, kitchen and otherwise.

I used to be firmly anti-gadget, constantly battling clutter in my too-small kitchen. Somewhere along the way my resistance evaporated and here I am, contemplating a cake pop maker.

Here are my current favorite kitchen gadgets in order of favoriteness. (Note: These are just little handheld gadgets, the gateway drug to small appliances and mixer attachments, which are posts in themselves.)

OXO avocado slicer. Yes, I own the exact same gadget that appears in the above video. I eat a lot of avocados. They present varying degrees of cooperation ranging from mushy to underripe, and if you’re dealing with an uncooperative, underripe avocado, pulling the pit out and trying to peel the skin off with a knife can be time-consuming and, for me at least, dangerous. Enter the OXO avocado slicer. It has a perfectly adequate yet not life-threatening blade on one end—the kitchen version of kindergarten scissors—and a slicer on the other end that gets all of the avocado out of the peel in nice thin slices, perfect for toast. Even when you want chunkier pieces for a salad or smoothie, the pit remover in the middle is a great way to avoid accidental amputations.

KitchenAid egg slicer. This is basically the same thing as the strawberry slicer in Alton’s video. I saw the cute red gadget on the wall at Target and grabbed it mostly because it was cute and red. Then I realized how much fun it is to slice eggs and other things as well: Strawberries and olives are frequent flyers. Sure, slicing with a knife is not hard, but this is more fun and satisfies my obsessive-compulsive desire for neat, same-sized slices.

Lekue microwave omelet maker. I picked this up at Publix on a whim when we were eating low carb, which meant making a lot of mini “quiches” in muffin tins for breakfast. I was tired of cleaning the muffin pans, and sometimes we’d run out of mini quiches before the end of the week. I thought it would be nice to throw some eggs and veggies into the microwave for a couple of minutes. It’s been great for those (many) times that I don’t get around to advance go-breakfast prepping.

Genius Nicer Dicer. I own a much simpler, older version than the kit they offer now, but same principle. It’s another great gadget for OCD foodies because it cuts perfect little same-size squares, which make a beautiful mango salsa, for example. The smaller size is perfect for dicing hot peppers without getting the oil all over your hands. It also dices onion neatly (as opposed to the food processor. Or me.) and eliminates all the crying.

Avocado Toast

1 slice Ezekiel 7 Sprouted Grains Bread, toasted
1/2 tablespoon Chosen Foods Coconut Oil Mayo (or your favorite mayo; I just like this one)
1/2 ripe avocado, sliced thinly
dash Penzey’s Sunny Spain seasoning

Spread mayo on one side of toast. Slice avocado and fan across toast. Sprinkle with Sunny Spain seasoning.

2 Great Recipes Using Cauliflower Rice

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Cauliflower rice works great in Jambalaya.

In my last post  I shared how I make cauliflower rice that’s more al dente and less cruciferous-crunchy than other recipes I’ve tried.

You: Why are you still talking about this? I hate cauliflower.

Don’t worry; I won’t keep trying to push cauliflower on you if you’re staunchly pro-starch. That would be dysfunctional. Besides, I’ll be busy trying to get my husband to like bacon so I can make this meatloaf. However, if you’re on the fence, haven’t tried cauliflower rice yet or just learned how to make it and aren’t sure what to do with it, here are some ideas.

Cauliflower rice is perfect with stir-fries, especially with a few healthy sprinkles of coconut aminos (or soy sauce, if you’re not avoiding soy and sodium). But try throwing it into a Cajun recipe and the cauliflower flavor takes a backseat to the spices. You may not scream, “You’re lying! This is rice!” but you’ll save a lot of calories and carbs without feeling like you’re choking down a bowl of vegetables.

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Nutritional information from http://www.calorieking.com.

You can also sub pureed cauliflower for the grits in your favorite Shrimp and Grits recipe. I like this recipe for Deep South Shrimp and Sausage from Cooking Light. Serve it over cauliflower pureed with a tablespoon of butter, an ounce of half and half and a half cup of shredded Parmesan cheese.

If cauliflower’s working for you and you want to step up your game, you can try cauliflower pizza crust or cauliflower tortillas. I’ve only tried the pizza crust once with modest success. You have to make sure to squeeze as much water out of the cauliflower as possible to make it work, and you need to let it cool first so you don’t burn your hands. I may have skipped that last part. Ouch.

And then there’ s cauliflower “steak.” Okay, here I have to draw the line. Not even the most imaginative application of umami-inducing seasonings is going to make me look at a slab of cauliflower and confuse it with sirloin. That said, roasted cauliflower can be a great thing. Clean Eating offers up its take on cauliflower steaks here.

Jambalaya with Cauliflower Rice

1 recipe Cauliflower Rice 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups chicken broth or stock
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 ounces andouille sausage, chopped
2 tablespoons sliced green onions

Prepare cauliflower rice and set aside.
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 6 minutes or until lightly browned. Stir in bell peppers, paprika, salt, oregano, ground red pepper and black pepper; sauté 1 minute.
Stir in broth and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes. Add shrimp, sausage and cooked cauliflower rice; cover and cook 5 minutes. Sprinkle with green onions.

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry with Cauliflower Rice

This recipe (minus cauliflower rice) is from Paleo Grubs, where it’s called Simple Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry. It’s delicious and not difficult, but since it involves more than 5 ingredients and chopping and mincing, not including the cauliflower rice, I deleted “simple” from the title when I saved it to my recipe planner.

1.5 lbs. sirloin, thinly sliced
4 tbsp coconut aminos, divided
4 tbsp red wine vinegar, divided
3 tbsp chicken broth
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp arrowroot flour
1 tsp honey
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
4 carrots, diagonally sliced
3 tbsp coconut oil, divided

1 recipe Cauliflower Rice

Place the sirloin in a small bowl with one tablespoon each of red wine vinegar and coconut aminos and toss to coat. Let marinate for 15 minutes at room temperature.

Meanwhile, whisk together 3 tablespoons each red wine vinegar, coconut aminos, and chicken broth. Stir in the garlic, ginger, arrowroot, honey, and sesame oil. Prepare a separate small bowl with 1 tablespoon of water and set it next to the stove along with the garlic sauce.

Melt 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place the steak in the skillet in a single layer. The meat should sizzle; otherwise the pan is not hot enough. Cook for 1-2 minutes per side to brown, and then transfer to a bowl.

Add the remaining tablespoon of coconut oil to the skillet. Stir in the broccoli and carrots, cooking for 2 minutes. Add the water to the skillet and cover with a lid. Let cook for 2-3 minutes, then remove the lid and cook until all of the water has evaporated.

Add the garlic mixture to the vegetables and stir to coat. Add the beef back into the pan and toss until the sauce thickens and everything is well coated. Serve immediately over cauliflower rice.

 

Kinder, Gentler Cauliflower Rice

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This recipe for Cashew Chicken is an excellent reason for cauliflower rice.

About a year ago, my husband and I did a 30-day Paleo challenge.

  • Pros: Lost some belly fat, found great new healthy recipes.
  • Cons: Lots of planning, prep and cooking, not super travel-friendly, not cheap. Also not supposed to have dairy or alcohol. More on that later.

For the uninitiated, the Paleo Diet is based on what humans ate before the Agricultural Age and way before our current era, the Additive Age. The theory is that the human body wasn’t meant to process agricultural products, especially now that the food production industry has turned even originally healthy foods like grains into bionic alien pseudo foods. You’re supposed to eat clean, grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish and organic produce and avoid processed foods, grains, legumes, dairy and refined sugar.

I eventually failed dairy because coffee and cheese, but I definitely felt better without grains. Now I just try to eat Paleo during the week with limited dairy. Also not sure which era was when we learned about fermented grapes, but I’m pretending that happened.

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A house divided: Not everyone was on board with the Paleo plan.

The first thing you’ll learn when you go Paleo is that there are a lot of recipes out there trying to make something good you used to eat, like pasta, out of a vegetable you’re not that attached to, like zucchini. That low-carb classic, faux mashed potatoes made with cauliflower, is still around. Rice is another Paleo problem, and people have turned to cauliflower to solve that, too.

At first I was not a fan. Rice is a starchy comfort food, so, ideally, it shouldn’t break your teeth. Most recipes say pulse it in the food processor until it’s the size of rice, then saute it in oil, but all I got was warmer, oilier, mostly raw cauliflower.

I found that partially steaming the cauliflower first results in a softer, more rice-like texture.  Here’s how I make it now:

Cauliflower Rice

1 head cauliflower, cored and chopped
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon coconut or olive oil
Salt and pepper

Place the chopped cauliflower in a microwave-safe dish with 2 tablespoons of water. Cover and microwave on high for 8 minutes. Remove immediately, uncover and allow to cool.

Place 1/2 of cooled cauliflower in a large food processor and pulse until it resembles rice. Repeat with remaining cauliflower. Heat coconut oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add cauliflower to skillet. Saute 5 minutes or until desired tenderness. Add salt and pepper to taste.

(Note: When this post was first published, cauliflower rice was a new thing. Now you can find pre-riced cauliflower in the produce section, which takes you right back to the non-steamed, too-crunchy problem. However, now there are also bags of cauliflower rice in the frozen vegetable section, which you can just throw in the microwave, and they are a win. I like Green Giant. The bags are small, though, so I usually use two.)

 

‘Puh-men-uh’ Cheese, Please

pimento_cheese_by_laurie_sterbensIt’s late at night and you’re snuggled up in bed with a good book, hoping to fall asleep after a few more pages, when the character goes into a restaurant and orders something delicious, or worse, goes to her kitchen and bakes. So then you’re laying there in bed, all comfy and cozy but thinking, mmm, cookies sound good. You try to keep reading, but before you know it you’re out of bed, ransacking the kitchen and WHO ATE ALL THE OREOS, DAMN IT?

Snack danger lurks in all types of fiction, but the cruelest genre by far is the culinary cozy, a sub-sub-genre of mystery fiction in which the amateur sleuth may be a caterer, a coffee shop owner, or owner of a bakery. Authors of culinary cozies don’t just tempt you with descriptions of delicious foods; they often include recipes. Not only do you have to get out of bed—they expect you to cook!

The most recent book that set me off chasing a craving was Fatal Reservations by Lucy Burdette. The main character, food critic Hayley Snow, orders pimento cheese as an appetizer in a Key West restaurant. Being from the South (located somehow thousands of miles north of Key West), I do know a little something about pimento cheese. As a  child I consumed gobs of the gelatinous orange store-bought concoction known as puh-men-uh-cheese, on Wonder Bread or similar. It seemed a fine thing at the time, but then I grew up, married a New Yorker who wouldn’t understand, and forgot all about puh-men-uh-cheese.

That is, until friend’s party a couple of years ago, where she served up a big bowl of what she referred to as pimento cheese. This was not the pimento cheese of my childhood. This was freshly shredded cheddar and jack cheeses, the tart bite of chopped pickles, held together with good mayonnaise, not that sweet salad dressing stuff. Served with celery sticks and/or crackers, it’s an easy appetizer to throw together in your food processor to serve at a party (or when your latest read demands a salty, cheesy snack). You can find that recipe, from NPR, here.

Lucy Burdette, aka bestselling mystery author Roberta Isleib, shared “Lucy Burdette’s Pimento Cheese Two Ways” on mysteryloverskitchen.com. She graciously answers a lot of questions here.

How to Make Eggless Homemade Ravioli

Uncooked ravioli squares lined up on parchment paperRecently I’ve had a couple of people ask me how to make homemade ravioli. Okay, it wasn’t all that recently. It was before the holidays, when I typically make a lot of ravioli. However, during the holidays I generally don’t have time to do anything more than make the ravioli and post a show-offy picture on Facebook, then collapse from exhaustion. Now that I’ve recovered, I thought I’d share my totally non-expert thoughts on making ravioli.

Though I’ve been known to make occasional random batches of ravioli here and there year-round, we have a tradition of having it on Christmas Eve at our house as part of our Feast of the Two Fishes. (This is based on the Italian tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, but as we are a small family and only two of us are part Italian, we’re down to two fishes. Actually, they are usually crustaceans and bivalves, if you want to be exact, but hey, at least we have a tradition.)

I’m not sure when this got started, but clearly it was sometime after I learned to make ravioli, and then found a really good butternut squash ravioli recipe, courtesy of Emeril Lagasse. I usually pair it with broiled shrimp and scallops with just a touch of Cajun seasoning on them.

As I said, I’m no expert in pasta making. From what I’ve been able to determine so far, my ancestors hailed from every western European country except Italy, so I’m not sure where I got my affinity for Italian food. If you want to learn about ravioli from an expert, check out this video from Laura Schenone, author of The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and FamilyThe Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and Family (Norton, 2008). I also highly recommend the book.

To paraphrase the book jacket, Schenone has clearly mastered “… the mysteries of pasta, rolled on a pin into a perfect circle of gossamer dough.” That’s not how I do it, and to be honest, I’ve never had anyone fall out of his chair raving about how gossamery my pasta is. However, they do gobble it up and ask for more, and my way is a bit faster and easier, so I’ll share it. Note: My son is allergic to eggs, so I use Mario Batali‘s recipe for Eggless Pasta.

Things You’ll Need

Before we get started, I’d just like to say a thing or two about ravioli molds. I have a ravioli mold that makes a dozen medium-sized ravioli at a time. It’s easier than cutting them out individually and pressing them together, but the drawback is that it sometimes allows for air pockets. These are considered uncool among the ravioli crowd, I believe because they can cause the ravioli to break open. A friend tried a ravioli stamp and wasn’t crazy about it. My dream tool would be a ravioli pin like the one Schenone uses in her video. But then we’re getting into rolling-out-circles-of-gossamer territory, so it may be a while.

Instructions

First, make your filling. If you make the full recipe for Batali’s pasta, you will have enough for a batch of butternut squash pasta and a batch of another. I make cheese (recipe below). You can also halve the recipe for lesser occasions.

Next, make the pasta. The traditional method calls for piling your flour in the center of a cutting board, making a well in the center and adding your water (or eggs, if using) a little at a time, stirring with your hands, and then kneading. My method calls for piling the flour in a large food processor and adding water a little at a time with the processor running on a low speed. As soon as it comes together, take it out and divide into two balls. Cover one and set aside. Knead the dough by running it through the pasta machine on the widest setting 8-10 times. Cover and set aside. Repeat with remaining pasta. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 10 minutes at room temperature.ravioli2 (2)

To fill the pasta, roll it through the pasta machine at increasing settings until it is thin but not so much that it won’t hold filling. I usually stop at level 4 or 5. Lightly flour the pasta mold and lay the dough across it. Use the plastic thingy that comes with the mold to make indentions for your filling. Using a small (teaspoon-sized) cookie dough scoop, fill each section. Cover the ravioli with another section of dough. Seal the ravioli by rolling with a rolling pin, starting in the center of the mold and working outward. Flip the mold over and gently remove the ravioli. Place the ravioli in a large dish sprinkled with cornmeal (I also use wax paper between layers). Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Chill in refrigerator until ready to cook.

To cook, simply drop in boiling water until ravioli floats to the top. Many people recommend salting the water for various reasons. I’m going to leave that up to you.

Cheese Ravioli Filling

Makes enough filling for 1/2 of Mario Batali’s Eggless Pasta recipe.
8 ounces ricotta
4 ounces shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 tablespoon chopped parsley
Pinch nutmeg
Mix ingredients in food processor or by hand.

Cranberry Compote is Quick, Delicious and Healthy

glass bowl filled with cranberry compote

A compote made with fresh cranberries is not only beautiful on your holiday table but is packed with antioxidants. It’s also quick and easy to make.

I made it through a crowded grocery store with a 6-year-old in tow and was finally at the finish line—the checkout lane—with all the ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner when the cashier picked up my bag of fresh cranberries and asked me, “Did you know these are buy-one-get-one-free?” I did not know that. I hesitated a moment. I didn’t want to be that person who holds up the grocery line.

But I only hesitated a second before telling her, “I want those.” I still had a lot of items on the conveyor belt, so I was sure I could get to the cranberries and back before she was finished. Besides, you can only get fresh cranberries through December. It was worth the risk of social disapproval to score an extra bag. Actually, now I’m wishing I’d gotten more.

The thing about cranberries is that, due to their high acidity and naturally high levels of antimicrobial compounds, they’ll keep for a long time. Toss a bag of fresh cranberries in the fridge and they’ll stay fresh for up to two months. They’ll keep in the freezer for up to a year.

I have to confess I’m a fairly recent convert to cranberries. Growing up, I never could understand the purpose of that canned purple stuff that appeared at Thanksgiving. My mother made a cranberry mold with orange and walnuts, and that was a little better. But as far as I was concerned, cranberry sauce was an extra that took up valuable real estate that would be better used for more stuffing and gravy.

Nutritional Superfood

Then, a few years ago, I discovered how easy fresh cranberries were to cook and how much better a fresh compote tasted than that purple can-shaped lump. I also became aware that cranberries are a nutritional superfood. Cranberries have long been known for their ability to prevent urinary tract infections. According to the Cranberry Institute, cranberries have been shown to contain more antioxidant phenols than 19 commonly eaten fruits. These and other phytonutrients may help protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases. They also have lots of vitamin C.

… And Pancake Topping!

After I began making homemade cranberry compote, my husband and I discovered that, as good as it is with Thanksgiving dinner, it’s even better as a topping for pancakes. Some people eat it on sandwiches, though I haven’t gone there yet. However you use it, it’s so easy to make and so healthy that it’s worth stocking up so you have have cranberries throughout the year.

My favorite recipe adapted from the Cranberry Orange Compote in “The South Beach Diet Parties and Holidays Cookbook” by Arthur Agatston, M.D. (Rodale, 2006). The South Beach recipe is sugar-free, calling for a granular sugar substitute, but I’m a little wary of artificial sweeteners. I’m also wary of the insulin-spiking effects of sugar, so I have in the past split the difference and used half sugar, half Splenda. These days I’d probably go with half sugar, half stevia.

Cranberry Orange Compote

Prep time: 5 minutes   Cook time: 10 minutes
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup water
1/2 cup granular sugar substitute OR 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup granular sugar substitute

Place cranberries, zest, cinnamon and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until berries have popped and compote has thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sugar substitute to taste. Serve at room temperature. (Can be made up to one week ahead and refrigerated in a covered container.)

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