Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fall Cooking: Beef Stew and Homemade Bread

Feeling under the weather today, I was craving a heart-warming (and house-warming) meal of beef stew and fresh, crusty bread. It helped that for most of the day it was pouring rain so I didn't step foot outside - which is good since it's actually 70 degrees out and still a little to warm for stew... but in my stuffy, congested head, it was a perfect day for it.

Stew is great because it's easy to have all the ingredients at any time. I buy wholesale stew meat and freeze it one -to-two pound portions in plastic bags so I always have it on hand, like I do carrots, celery, onions and potatoes.

Tonight I made Beef Porter Stew - a recipe I saw on the Today Show last year - that is rich, hearty and delicious. As usual, I tweaked a couple of things.

First, I ignore the cooking times a little and let it cook until the beef is so tender it can be shredded using a spoon with minimal effort - stew should not be eaten with a fork and knife. Sometimes this requires adding a little extra liquid near the end so that it doesn't get too thick and stick to the bottom. My enamel cast-iron dutch over conducts heat well over an open flame and tonight it took just over 3 hours to cook. I also used sweet potatoes instead of parsnips because that's what I had on hand, but parsnips give a slightly bitter contrast to the saltier stew which is actually quite tasty.

As for my bread... well, I slept most of the day away and didn't really have time to put a lot of effort into making bread but I really wanted a hot, buttered piece of crusty bread. Enter: Multigrain English Muffin Bread. All I can say is YUM about this quick, no-need-for-kneading bread that has all the nooks and crannies that are perfect for melted butter. I will be making this in double batches from now on.

Pleased to enjoy!

Beef and Porter Stew
By Chef Michael Lomonaco, Porter House New York

Serves 6 to 8


1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 pounds beef chuck stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, diced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 bottles, 24 ounces, American Porter –rich dark ale, or any beer
2 cups low-sodium, beef broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 parsnips, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 large red bliss potatoes, washed and diced
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper


1. Put the oil and butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and heat it over medium-high heat. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Add the beef to the pot in a single, not-too-tightly-packed layer and brown the beef well on all sides, approximately 8 minutes total. Transfer the beef to a plate and set aside. This may be done in batches to brown all the beef evenly.

2. Add the onion and butter to the casserole and cook until golden and caramelized, approximately 15 minutes. Sprinkle the onions with the flour and stir to combine well.

3. Return the beef to the casserole, add the porter ale, beef broth, tomato pasted diluted in 1 cup warm water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer 1 1/4 hours.

4. Add the carrots, parsnips, celery and potatoes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Return to a boil then simmer for 45 minutes before serving with toasted or grilled country bread.

Multigrain English Muffin Bread

Taste of Home Complete Guide to Baking


1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast

1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees to 115 degrees F)

1/3 cup whole wheat flour

1/3 cup quick-cooking oats

1/3 cup wheat germ

1 tablespoon sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cornmeal


In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Add whole whet flour, oats, wheat germ, sugar, salt and 1-1/4 cups of all-purpose flour; beat until smooth. Add enough remaining all-purpose flour to form a soft dough. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch dough down (no not knead). Shape into a loaf. Coat a 9-in. x 5-in. x 3-in. loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and sprinkle with half of the cornmeal. Place loaf in pan; sprinkle with remaining cornmeal. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.

Monday, September 21, 2009

When life gives you bananas, make banana bread

I'm not sure when my love affair with banana bread began but I do recall that when I was in high school, we had "cake day" once a week at which point one of us would bring in cake to eat at break. Eventually, cake evolved into banana bread and I spent many nights trying various banana bread recipes to share with my classmates until I found the recipe that produced a dense, moist, bananaful bread. Since then, I have found a couple of other favorites, including Low-fat Coconut Banana Bread with Lime Glaze which doesn't taste at all low fat.

But the old standby - tried and true, full of banana goodness - is a blueberry banana bread recipe I tweeked from the Southern Living's 1981 Annual Recipes cookbook. One change is that the original recipe calls for shortening but I've found only unsalted butter gives it the richness I like. While I do like some recipes that call for canola oil, it's true that butter makes everything better.

My husband has caught on that I "accidentally" buy too many bananas - more than we can eat before they begin to get soft and freckly. He, who will eat anything including brown bananas, now knows that those bananas are NOT to be eaten as they are, but to be preserved in bread (or frozen for bread to be made at a later date). I can't think of a more perfect way to eat bananas!

Blueberry Banana Bread
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups mashed bananas
1 cup flour
1/2 cup quick oats
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar together, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add bananas and mix until smooth.
Combine the dry ingredients; add to creamed mixture, stirring until just moistened. Stir in blueberries.
Pour batter into a greased and floured 9x5x3-inch loafpan. Bake for 60-70 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove to wire rack to cool (if you can resist cutting into it immediately). Yield: 1 loaf

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Food in America: The Reality

A recent op-ed in the LA Times by Charlotte Allen brought to light the current challenges facing Americans when it comes to eating sustainable, organic foods in this country:
Just in time for the worst economic downturn since the Depression, here comes a new crop of social critics to inform us that we're actually spending too little for the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the furniture we sit on and the gasoline that runs our automobiles.
Never mind that U.S. job losses these days range from 200,000 to 500,000 a month, that foreclosures are up 32% over this time last year and that people are re-learning how to clip newspaper coupons so as to save at the supermarket. Dire economic circumstances don't seem to faze these spending enthusiasts, who scold us for shopping at supermarkets instead of at farmer's markets, where a loaf of "artisanal" (and also "sustainable") rye bread sells for $8, ice cream for $6 a cup and organic tomatoes go for $4 a pound.
As a dietitian, I appreciate this
piece. I've encountered too many of these food critics, including a crop of dietitians, in the last several years who have a completely unrealistic perception of how the American people live. My beef with the push to eat foods with a marked-up price tag and the "organic" label is that often they are not truly organic. Like anything else, food processors and producers have seized the marketing opportunity to grab more sales... which is not a bad thing, as long as you know what's facing you at the supermarket.

Supermarkets aren't alone in this. I've been to my share of farmers markets that "import" their foods from wholesale warehouses like Costco and sell them at a premium as "local". Have you ever stopped to think about what can actually be grown in your neck of the "local" woods? Americans are easily taken advantage of because most of us have no idea what seasonal foods are or what different growing conditions are necessary. It's just impractical to think that you can get all your foods from within 100 miles of your house, especially living on the eastern seaboard like I do, or that all your food can be organic. This is not California.

In fact, last year when I purchased some "organic" New England" apples from Trader Joe's I found worms were still living in them. For some, that might be okay but I prefer to keep my protein separate from my fruit. Not to mention these foods often don't keep nearly as long - rotting food can be costly to families. I've come home with organic food that has gone bad 2 days from it's purchasing date, only to be thrown away along with my money. Visit any U.S. produce farm and you'll find that most "conventional" produce growers use very minimal pesticides (READ: pesticides = added cost to farmers) and instead opt for natural integrate pest management techniques whenever possible. The main difference is that these growers don't jump through the hoops and pay the added cost to become certified "organic" and pass that cost on to you.

As a new mom (and former food marketer), I see how especially susceptible moms are to the guilt that these "cheerleaders" impose. Unfortunately, you don't always get what you pay for. I often tell my friends to avoid falling into the trap of only eating "organic" and to shop smart. How do you shop for your family without feeling guilty if you don't spend $8 on a gallon of milk?
  • Read labels carefully - here are the USDA guidelines for what those labels really mean.
  • Do your homework - did you know that the hormones found in milk are naturally occurring? The same level of hormone can be found in conventional and organic milk, meaning there's no difference between the two but the price. Look for both sides of the story before you commit to one product.
  • Look for what's in season - in-season produce is going to be more affordable, going to taste better and will have likely traveled less than if it's not in season. While some are grown in the U.S., many exotic fruits like bananas (yes, the number one fruit in the U.S.), pineapples and mangoes likely come from another country.
  • Mix convenience with fresh - it's inevitable that we'll eat some processed foods no matter how hard we try not to out of sheer convenience. Canned and frozen fruits and veggies are often less expensive than fresh and keep for longer - and they have the same nutritional value as fresh. Keep them on hand when your favorite produce is out of season and feel good about the fact that your family is getting good nutrition! My favorite quick meal involves making a stir-fry of a micro-steamer bag of mixed veggies, rice, and frozen chicken - frozen meat is easier to slice then and can be thrown right into the wok with your favorite sauce. Toss the cooked veggies in at the end and serve with rice.
  • Plan ahead - If you're making your favorite meal, double the recipe and freeze the rest in single-serve containers. Homemade "processed" foods always win out in taste!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

An apple a day... and you know the rest

It's apple season - finally! August was a bit painful when it came to picking fruit - the seasonal summer fruits were waning and seemed better fit for baking than for eating fresh (not that I'm complaining about eating peach-blueberry crisp or strawberry bread). Or maybe I was just excited for the apples to hit supermarket shelves and that's why all the blueberries tasted sour. So now that they're here, I've begun hoarding... Two weeks ago I visited Stribling Orchard in Markham, VA and stocked up on MacIntosh, Granny Smith and Honeycrisp apples. Today I paid a visit to Hollabaugh Orchard in Biglerville, PA and acquired some more Honeycrisps, as well as a few Jonagolds and Galas. And I now over nearly 30 pounds of fresh picked apples in my refrigerator.

Apples are great because they keep so well in the 'fridge - after 40 days in the produce drawer, many apples will still taste fresh, as long as they haven't been stored next to onions which leave a lasting impression on any fruit. But if you think that you'll never make it through 30 pounds of apples in 40 days, they're also a very versatile fruit that can be used in main dishes just as easily as desserts.

So what am I going to do with 30 pounds of apples? Many will be eaten out of hand, especially the Honeycrisps, which are almost too delicious to use in any recipe - a cross between a Macoun and Honeygold, biting into one is like taking a sip of fresh apple cider. But the Macs made a delicious crisp (that was not watery, thank you very much) and the Granny's were perfect in Sunday's apple-oatmeal pancakes. Tomorrow I think I'll try apple-bacon popovers for breakfast and chicken apple curry for dinner.

Now accepting must-have apple recipes - send them my way if you got 'em!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sweet Potato Pancakes

I am a big fan of breakfast. BIG. Every weekend I make pancakes. And while blueberry are the time-tested favorite around here, I am always up for trying something new. For me, making pancakes is an art, and one of the few I've perfected. In fact, I could probably devote an entire blog to my adventures with pancakes but I'll file that thought away for a rainy day. In the meantime, I'll tell you about this week's latest pancake creation that came about, once again, as a result of my son's affinity for bread and vegetables in masquerade.

Case Study #2 (see Sweet Potato Salad for #1): my son is still refusing sweet potatoes (as well as several other vegetables) as of late. This week I opened up a can of Glory's Sweet Potato casserole as a last ditch for vegetables on a there's-a-tired-boy-and-not-enough-time-to-cook evening. I've never had sweet potato casserole from a can but when I bought it months ago, I thought it might be a nice alternative to baby food. He tried it, I tried it, and quite honestly, I couldn't blame him for not wanting to eat it: overly sweet, weird aftertaste, it just didn't hold a candle to fresh sweet potatoes or a homemade casserole. After all, it was in a can.

But I hate waste so I saved it, determined to do something with it. I contemplated a sweet potato quick bread and muffins, but both required more effort and more fat than I wasn't interested in at the time. And so the next day, at 2 p.m., I made a batch of sweet potato and raisin pancakes, still thinking it would be a great way to sneak those fruits and veggies into my son. Moreover, what's great about these pancakes is that they are made with whole-grains, are low in fat, and are an easy make-ahead meal - I freeze them so they can be popped in the toaster for a quick breakfast or anytime snack.

Sweet Potato and Raisin Pancakes


1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup wheat flour
1 T sugar (*omit if your sweet potatoes contain sugar)
2 t baking powder
1/2 t cinnamon
1 cup low fat milk
2 T melted butter
1 egg beaten
1 cup canned or mashed sweet potatoes
1/4 raisins


Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In another bowl (or large glass measuring cup) combine wet ingredients. Words of wisdom: be careful not to add the egg to hot, melted butter or you'll have scrambled eggs. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until just moist. Do not over mix. Let batter sit for 5-10 minutes.
Lightly coat your griddle with cooking spray or butter. To give your 'cakes that buttery taste without all the butter, quickly rub the griddle with the end of a stick of butter just before pouring batter. Pour batter on and cook until bubbles begin to burst. Flip the cakes and cook until golden. Top your pancakes with yogurt and/or syrup for a delicious wake up call. You will have approximately 12, light and fluffy pancakes in no time flat.

Friday, September 11, 2009

My Little Moka Pot

The latest in my favorite kitchen tools: the Bialetti Moka Pot. After my formerly awesome Cuisinart coffee pot began taking 4+ hours to make a pot of coffee, I decided to invest in this $20 stovetop coffee maker that is wildly popular in Europe and elsewhere. Filled with espresso, it makes 10 oz and is the perfect pot for my weekday morning cup of joe. And since treating myself to a "fru fru" coffee drink at Starbucks is a) cost-prohibitive now that I'm no longer employed and b) more effort than it's worth with a toddler, I splurged on the Bialette Cappuccino and Latte set - complete with a milk frother - and a 3-pack of vanilla Torani Syrup on Amazon. While it's not considered to be a true espresso maker, every morning is a treat with a vanilla latte better than anything I can get at Starbucks (and I used to work there).

While I love, love, love this little pot that's perfect for my little kitchen, the one thing I'm still searching for is the perfect espresso bean. I'm trying to avoid the temptation to buy Illy coffee because I fear it will be an expensive habit to break. So I have tried Lavazza Espresso and Trader Joe's Espresso - both okay but not the best I can do, I'm sure. Tomorrow I'll be opening a pack of Lavazza's Crema e Aroma espresso beans (another deal on Amazon)... I almost can't wait to wake up in the morning, just to see if my wish for the perfect bean has been answered. To be continued...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sweet Potato Salad

I never thought it could happen to me: my almost-one-year old son is a picky eater. The weird thing is as picky as he is, he is also quite the gourmand. He's not into baby food or "plain" food - he doesn't and never has eaten what he's "supposed" to eat. Take, for instance, that in his short little life he's begged for jambalaya, gobbled up veggie frittata, and loves nearly all mexican food. But if I put peaches (from my defunct peach cobbler) or (heaven forbid) carrots in front of him they're immediately thrown on the floor after one bite (which is also spit out). We grew out of pureed foods in one week and went right to quesadillas when he was only six months old. So in order to get this guy to eat healthy, if at all, I need to make those veggies flavorful and preferably, hidden.

Case Study 1: after he refused oven roasted sweet potato fries (um, YUM), I decided to try creating a sweet potato salad with those fries. I searched for a recipe on-line but didn't have all the ingredients to make any that I found so... I improvised. I roasted a red pepper on an open flame, finely minced some shallots, and whipped up a tangy mustard dressing to bring it all together, served room temp and topped with fresh parsley and parmesan. And surprise, it was a hit with both my boys.

Sweet Potato Salad

3 peeled, chopped sweet potatoes
1 red bell pepper
1 T minced shallot
2 T champagne vinegar (or any other vinegar, but this is a lighter, sweeter vinegar)
1 T grainy or Dijon mustard
2 T good quality extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Parmesan or Romano cheese
Fresh Parsley
(*note, all measurements are approximates as I didn't use any measuring utensils - season to taste!)


Preheat over to 425 degrees or start the grill. Toss sweet potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper - layer on a baking sheet for roasting or, alternatively, lay directly on grill. Roast until tender, about 25 minutes. While potatoes are cooking, place red pepper over an open flame - either on the grill or stove top - and roast until skin is blackened, turning frequently. Once pepper is sufficiently roasted, place in bowl and immediately cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 10-15 minutes - this will steam the pepper, making it easier to peel off the skin - and gently peel. Once peeled, deseed the pepper and chop. Add to medium sized bowl, along with potatoes. Whisk together shallot, vinegar, and mustard - slowly add olive oil while briskly whisking to create an emulsion. Add salt and pepper to taste. Gently toss dressing with potatoes and peppers. Top with shredded Parmesan and chopped parsley. If you can hold off, let it sit at room temperature for while so the flavors can meld. But if you can't resist and must eat it immediately then... Enjoy!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Perfect Bridal Shower Cupcake

Recently I hosted a bridal shower for a dear friend of mine. I wanted the shower to be similar to afternoon tea, complete with dainty finger foods and champagne (note: no one drank the tea). I'm not normally a huge fan of cake but based on the ghastly reaction I received from my Maid of Honor when she asked what kind of cake I wanted at my own shower and I responded with "fruit tart," I wanted to be sure we had a cake in some form. Apparently this is appropriate "shower etiquette." So I set out to find The Perfect Bridal Shower Cupcake. And I think I found it... but not on the first try.

About the time I began planning the event (for a bride who is an event planner, no less) my mother gave me a cupcake cookbook with pictures to die for. After salivating over each page, I decided on the most girly and yet indulgent looking cupcake: the Frou Frou cupcake. The surprise is that it doesn't have chocolate - I dare say a staple among the female species and sure-fire winner- but instead is a delicate raspberry-coconut cake covered in coconut cream cheese frosting and topped with toasted coconut and raspberries.

Thankfully I planned to make the cakes ahead of time, "just in case," and freeze them unfrosted if they turned out well. I'm not sure if it was the suffocating heat and humidity that day or a mistake along the way, but the cakes didn't rise at all and looked and tasted more like a dense fruit cobbler. The husband found them to be buttery-rich and very tasty, but they weren't exactly what I was going for. So I headed back to the store for more ingredients and "just in case," I picked up a couple boxes of Trader Joe's Vanilla Cake mix with madagascar bourbon vanilla flavor.

Running short on time and energy with my almost-one year old in tow, I decided to cheat n use the cake mix, and adding raspberries and coconut to the batter. OH MY GAWD. Perfectly light and fluffy cakes, and the bourbon vanilla bean was a fantastic flavor addition and one I'm not sure if I could recreate on my own without some pricey ingredients. And then there was frosting. When I do eat cake I generally avoid the frosting but this homemade cake paint was To. Die. For. All together the constructed cupcake was a hit and friends are still talking about it... but shhh... they don't know it came from a mix!

So I'm including the original recipe from Cupcakes by Pamela Clark. Perhaps you'll have better luck with Frou Frou than I did, but if not, there's always T.J.'s cake mix!

Frou Frou Cupcakes

1 stick butter softened

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup Self-rising Flour

1/2 cup shredded coconut

1/3 cup sour cream

5 oz frozen raspberries

Cream cheese frosting

5 T butter softened

12 oz cream cheese softened

2 tsp coconut extract

3 cups powdered sugar


1 cup flaked coconut, toasted

15 fresh raspberries halved

1. Preheat oven to moderate 350 degrees. Line 6 hole texas or 12 hole standard muffin pan with paper cups.

2. Beat butter, sugar and eggs in small bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy.

3. Stir in sifted flour, coconut, cream and frozen raspberries. Divide mixture among cases, smooth surface.

4. Bake large cakes about 30 minutes, small cakes about 20 minutes. Turn cakes onto wire rack to cool.

5. Make cream cheese frosting.

6. Remove paper from cake, spread cake sides with frosting

7. Roll sides in coconut and then spread frosting on top surface and top with raspberries.

Cream cheese frosting:

Beat buttter, cream cheese and essence in small bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in sifted icing sugar.

Fruit Crisp: Lost Cause or Ripe for Perfection?

Last night I attempted to make a fresh fruit crisp with peaches and blueberries. Most crisp recipes are generally the same - they involve brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, oats and a little lemon juice - and this was no exception. Because it's summer and I don't want to heat up my whole house, I baked in my little toaster over at 450 until the top was brown and the peaches were soft. Thinking I'd finally made a good crisp, I dug in... only to find a half inch of liquid at the bottom of my dish. Absolute disappointment.

This is not the first time this has happened, and I know I'm not the only one it's happened to but... WHY?? I've set out to find the answer, preferably before I go apple picking this weekend an have a bounty of apples to make crisps. Is this a lost cause - should I switch to a more involved cobbler - or is the art of making a crisp ripe for perfection?

All suggestions on the matter are welcome... So far I have had two suggested possibilities: one being not enough butter, the other being a need for cornstarch. Thoughts?