Monday, February 22, 2010

I am having an affair.....

Olive oil, you have been good to me. For many years you have been my culinary companion, and I will only look back on the time we spent together with great fondness. But, I have found somebody else. I have been sneaking around with grapeseed oil and I am beyond infatuated.

If you haven't cooked with grapeseed oil yet, go on and buy your self some. What I love most about cooking with grapeseed oil is that it has a relatively high smoke point, approximately 420 °F (216 °C), so it can be safely used to cook at high temperatures. This oil has allowed me to sear some serious meats and the oil never burns, and those gorgeous caramel brown sear marks on the meat......well, they make me shiver with excitement.

Let's talk about the taste. It has a clean, light taste that is described as 'nutty'. Nutty, but fresh. I love the robust, rich flavor of a good olive oil (especially for dipping bread), but man, this is a nice change. It allows the flavor of food to really seep through and it's not clouded by anything else.

Oh yeah, and did I tell you how healthy this stuff is? Brings the good cholesterol up, and the bad cholesterol down. Even more so than olive oil.....I am hooked.

Bottom line is that olive oil may need to sleep on the couch a while. Me and grapeseed will be in the bedroom for a bit longer. Oh, and if you are ready to fall in love too, then you should check out Wildtree for their grapeseed oil. A bit more expensive than olive oil, but SO worth it!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Undercover Brother uh....Sisters

I promised photo documentation from my undercover trip to Taste of Home last week. Finally the PC/laptop/networking gods have allowed me to do so. Please note the test kitchen cook in the background baking away.

Frequently asked questions regarding Taste of Home's test kitchen.....

Do you even know how excited I was to read this.....test kitchen staff sometimes get to bring home food and have their families test it out. Not sure if anything is better than going to work, doing what you love, and then bringing home the goods and voila....dinner. Please pay me to make dinner for my family. You don't even have to pay me that much.

This is CJ. She has the job that I want, she has the white coat I want to wear, and she has perfectly coiffed hair that I would like as well. I sent her a card last week thanking her for spending so much time chatting with us, and casually mentioning this blog. Wonder if she is reading this? Wonder if she will ever tell me the name of those ridiculously awesome peanut butter cookies she is holding. Wanna see a better picture of them? Ok.....

Here they are. They are better tasting vs. looking. They are so good that I won't show you the picture that was taken after eating them. I look like I'm in a happy peanut butter coma with a pregnant belly. A true testament to the tastiness (alliteration, anyone), but my vanity will not allow the upload.

So, I thank my girl, Karri, for suggesting this trip. I had a great day and feel a baby step closer in making true contact with the folks "up there" at TOH.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Food made with LOVE

Make your sweetie something delish tonight. Stir in some crazy love and don't forget to ask for a big juicy kiss afterwards! Happy V day!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I didn't handcuff myself to the building.....YAY!

Well, I took my little trip to Greendale to visit the Reiman Publications (Taste of Home) Visitors Center, with my cohort in crime, Karri. I was beyond excited to walk through the doors and all plans of funny stalkerish pictures in front of the building fell to the wayside as I spied the Test Kitchen through the windows.

First, let me tell you that the lovely gal at the reception desk was uber informative and absolutely charming. Taste of Home, you did a great job hiring this gal. If my memory serves me correctly, I believe her name was Diane. She told us of all we could see within the Visitors Center, gave us tips for fun places around Greendale, and also event plans at Taste of Home VC that would allow me access back (without a Code Red button being pushed upon my entry).

My two main draws at the Visitors Center were: 1. The Test Kitchen 2. The TOH Outlet Store (ridiculous deals were had ladies, be VERY jealous).

My heart started palpitating as we approached the Test Kitchen. There was one woman baking away. Thank goodness it wasn't bread, because we all know my feelings about bread now, right? She was in the midst of baking an award winning peanut butter cookie. Another cookie, "The Minnesota Muncher" was already displayed outside of the kitchen's window for browsers to sample. Yes, we had one, it was delish and dang right it should be, because it won 1st place out of 34,000 submitted cookie recipes.

The cook within the Test Kitchen was named CJ, she had beautiful blonde hair, looked like she really enjoyed working there, took the time to chat with us, and didn't seem annoyed by our million questions. This is the kicker.....SHE DOESN'T HAVE A FOOD SCIENCE DEGREE......she has a marketing background. People....there is HOPE! I believe that Karri had to drag me away before I came right out and told her that I needed to have her job.

We then did some shopping at the store, came back up to the Test Kitchen to chat some more with the lovely CJ, and she let us try the peanut butter cookie. That was my kind of cookie. I heart peanut butter something fierce. CJ even showed me which recipe it was within the TOH cookie cookbook, but somewhere between the sweet flavor explosion that was going on in my mouth and majorly coveting CJ's job in the cute as a button test kitchen, the name of the cookie has escaped me. This I know, the name of the cookie had Peanut Butter in it. I thought for sure I could find it when I got home, but much to my disappointment, a search for peanut butter cookies on the TOH website yielded over 500 results. Looks like I have a reason to go have coffee with CJ so she can set me straight, right?

Remember above, when I mentioned the "Minneosta Muncher" cookie. Well, the gal who won with this recipe decided she didn't want it published without monetary compensation. Good on TOH that they didn't fold! Personally, I would be thrilled if my recipe beat out 33,999 others and I just might have the gumption to have the ingredients and directions tattooed on my forehead. CJ hinted that I may be able to find the recipe on the internet (she herself doesn't even know it....she gets the premixed ingredients to this cookie delivered to her so the recipe stays top secret).

While I was more of a fan of the nameless peanut butter cookies, my compensation prize to you is the recipe for the MINNESOTA MUNCHER. Yep, I found out. Now, it's yours and you can go bake these and know that everyone will love them as they are award winning yummies:

Minnesota Munchers

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder (or could use baking soda)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup English toffee bits (use more if desired)
1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350*. Line cookie trays with parchment paper (or spray with cooking spray). Cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Combine dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt and stir into the creamed mixture. Stir in milk chocolate chips, semisweet chocolate chips, toffee bits and pecans. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto the greased cookie sheets.
Bake 10-12 minutes in preheated oven. Allow to cool slightly on baking sheet before transferring to wire cooling rack.

Cannot guarantee that this is EXACTLY the recipe, but fairly certain this is close based on the ingredients listed.

Pictures will come soon. We are having some major issues with computer networking, printers and downloading capabilities at the moment over here. So yeah, another little nugget of hope in my quest. Glad I went, and hope I don't wear out my welcome over there or find myself in a position where I'm given a nickname such as "Wide-Eyed Weirdo Stalker Girl".

Monday, February 8, 2010

Guess where I'm going today.....

Going to the Test Kitchen of Taste of Home today. Only a tour though. Do you think if I do cartwheels and some good ole cheerleading moves they will take notice of me?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Taste of Home Herbed Onion Focaccia

So I faced my fears, and went ahead and made bread for the first time EVER the other day. I referred to my special issue of Taste of Home "Recipe Card Collection" and found a recipe for some beautiful looking focaccia (see pic above, courtesy of Taste of Home). First to the good news. The focaccia was AMAZING. Light and airy but full of flavor. Everyone loved it. Now to the bad news. My personality does NOT mix with break baking. For pete's sake, you have to let this stuff rise for hours, your hands get all gooped up with all the kneading, and after investing all this time in watching this dough baby grow, it just may deflate after all. I'd say that for the anal retentive and patience challenged home cook, skip the bread making bit. The agony of potential defeat by bread made me feel anxious and fidgety until I bit into the first chunk smothered with butter. Then I started feeling a bit more zenned out....

Are you ready for my pics now.....


That's what I'm talking about. Pretty good for the novice, aye? Not as pretty as TOH's, but I was pretty pleased with myself.

Herb Crusted Focaccia
12 Servings Prep: 40 min. + rising Bake: 20 min.
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1-1/2 cups warm water (110° to 115°), divided
1 teaspoon sugar
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons salt
4 to 4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
1-1/2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1-1/2 teaspoons small fresh sage leaves or 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
1-1/2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano plus 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
additional olive oil, optional
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Add sugar; let stand for 5 minutes. Add 4 tablespoons oil, salt, 2 cups flour and remaining water. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.
Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. 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. Divide into three portions. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Shape each portion into an 8-in. circle; place on greased baking sheets. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Using the end of a wooden spoon handle, make several 1/4-in. indentations in each loaf.
Brush with remaining oil. Sprinkle with green onions, rosemary, sage and oregano. Bake at 400° for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire racks. Serve with olive oil for dipping if desired. Yield: 3 loaves.

I substituted the green onions for dried onions, and it turned out delish as well. I also changed the recipe to use olive oil vs. canola oil because olive oil brings it up a notch, wouldn't you say? So, everybody go out there and bake some bread. Maybe your personality is suited for bread making. I'm kinda sad that I've discovered myself to be within the instant gratification sub-group of foodie/cook. I think I'd rather pay the $5 for an awesome artisan loaf and use the hand-clenching nervous hours that I'd waste staring into the oven to whip up something that I could dip the bread in.

I also ask for forgiveness in this post coming out so late. My dumb PC has crashed and not until last night did my hubby show me how I can transfer all pics from my camera to this ridiculous laptop that I hate working on.

If anyone has an EASY, no rising bread recipe, send it my way!!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Can I just say.....

I am not born to make bread. I just washed my hands of the sticky dough that has been rising forever and I'm not even sure if it has risen enough. Now it has to be seperated so it can rise some more. This breadmaking dealio is not an undertaking for someone with patience issues. The reward better be tremendous.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Caramel & Sea Salt Brownies

I swore that I would have bread pics up today. Tomorrow, I promise! Ya see, yesterday was my son's birthday and I spent the day in the kitchen cooking up a Mexican storm and needed a day off because we have so many leftovers and would feel guilty making bread when those tortillas were sitting there saying "eat me". It was my kiddo's request that we have tacos for his birthday and I kicked it up a notch with the following menu:
-shredded lime chicken tacos
-cilantro, cilantro, cilantro, cilantro salsa (I LOOOOOOOOOVE cilantro)
-sweet corn tamale cakes
-refried beans
-all the sour cream, cheese, tomatoes, onions, & lettuce one's heart can desire

He didn't want a cake, he wanted brownies. Easy enough. I felt like a cop-out not baking some multi-color, multi-level Darth Vader birthday cake so I thought I would at least try to get creative with the brownies. I made Caramel & Sea Salt brownies. After the initial, "salt on brownies? Why would you ever think this is a good idea?", everyone had one and there was a resounding thumbs-up.

Caramel & Sea Salt Brownies

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

5ozs unsweetened chocolate
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
3 eggs
1 ¾ cups sugar
1 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ tsp of sea salt
¾ cup walnuts (optional)
1/4 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
1 cup caramel sauce (I was originally thinking I would make this from scratch but pulled a Sandra Lee)

8” square buttered baking dish

Melt unsweetened chocolate and butter in microwave for approximately two minutes. Stir to completely dissolve chocolate. Add sugar and mix until you can’t see granules. Beat eggs and vanilla with a fork, add to chocolate and sugar mixture, and stir until glossy and smooth. Mix in chocolate chips, 1/2 tsp. salt, and walnuts. Stir in flour until everything is mixed evenly together. Pour 1/2 of batter into buttered baking dish. Top this batter with the caramel sauce spread evenly over the entire surface. Pour remaining batter on top and sprinkle with 1 tsp of sea salt. Bake approximately 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out smooth.

Kind of like a turtle brownie with extra salty caramel. I think sweet/salty things are my favorite when it comes to flavor combos. If you have any good suggestions of fantastic sweet/salty recipes, send them my way. Must run, the chocolate covered potato chips are screaming for my attention.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dough Re Mi

I love crusty bread. I wish I didn't like it so much. If good bread is on the table, I could care less about the calories and the carbs. That being said, I am afraid to make bread. I even have a bread maker somewhere in my basement. I attempted making a loaf once, it didn't turn out, and I retired that sucker. My friend, Chester the Jester, is a pro at bread making. He makes it sound so simple, doesn't use a bread maker, and turns out wonderful, artisan breads that could be found in the chicest cafes in the world. I think I am going to have to get over secretly hating people oh so slightly because they have mastered an art within the culinary world. At least I will pretend to. Not only is Chester so kind in his promise to teach me the basics of bread making, but he has kindly contributed the following piece:

Bread Baking, An Introduction

The aroma of freshly made bread baking in the oven excites the senses and causes one to involuntarily salivate in anticipation of biting into a big piece of warm dough....perhaps slathered in butter. It is an aroma that permeates too few homes as many people have bread making anxiety. And yet nothing could be simpler than to make a hot, moist loaf.

Why the anxiety? Basic bread is 5 simple ingredients. Water, flour, yeast, a bit of sugar to help the yeast, and salt. There is nothing particularly complex about putting the 5 together. And once one learns the art of making a simple loaf, the incredible versatility of bread and bread making can be explored. To the basic ingredients can be added different types of flours, spices, herbs, cheese, fruit, olive oil....the possibilities are endless. The shape of the loaf can also be played with.....standard, french, round, braided, etc. And let's not forget the finished can be eaten bare, with butter, cheese, meats, jams and jellies.

In addition you impress the hell out of a lot of people when you explain that you make your own bread. So why the anxiety? As with all human endeavors, our species takes a simple concept....five simple ingredients...and makes it complicated.

There are now endless types of flour, numerous kinds of yeast. The Alton Browns of the world talk of internal temperatures, the inconsistency of ovens, the chemical reactions that are going on as the yeast explodes. Crust envy is analyzed and explained. And various bread making machines are introduced, a step backward in my opinion. And there is the problem with kneading. People are afraid to knead, they don't know how to do it and feel inadequate. Fear not. Kneading is a pleasant, even exciting experience. How often do you get to stick your hands into a hot, gooey substance, and with a few flicks of the wrists and the meat of your palms bend it to do your bidding? Trust me, you'll find it difficult to stop once you start.

The beauty of bread is that it is a basic food that everyone loves. A freshly made loaf disappears immediately if there is anyone in the vicinity when it leaves the oven. And bread freezes well if you wish to stock up. Those looking for a good common sense bread baking book can do no better than Beard on Bread by James Beard. It has simple but delicious recipes. And it even teaches the three different ways to knead. He has a recipe for an easy French Loaf which I have revised a bit. It will make two French loaves. French loaf bread pans are helpful but not necessary as the bread can be baked on a cookie sheet with corn meal spread on the sheet to prevent sticking.

Ingredients: 1 pkt dry yeast, 1 tsp sugar or honey, 2 cups warm water, 1 TB salt (garlic salt works as does garlic power if you want some garlic flavor), 5-6 cups flour. (I use one third whole wheat and two thirds white).

Place the sugar or honey in a large bowl, add the water and mix, and then add the yeast and watch it go to town (2-5 min). Mix the flour and salt and add one cup at a time, mixing with a large wood spoon. Note the amount of flour is not exact. Mix the flour until the dough is stiff (it is a sticky glob) and remove from bowl onto a lightly floured bread board or counter. Knead until the dough is smooth. As you knead you will be adding flour as necessary. Place in a buttered bowl, cover with a towel and let it rise until it roughly doubles in size (one and a half to two hours)
Remove from bowl, shape the loaves (long and slender) and place in bread pan or on sheet. Make three shallow slices on top of each loaf, place in a cold oven, and bake at 400 degrees until done 35-50 minutes later depending on the oven etc. Remove and eat.

Once you master the basic recipe, you can create your own variations. You can add a cup of warm olive oil, half a stick of melted butter, rosemary, basil, garlic powder, feta cheese, and even olives for a more exotic loaf. Note that an increase in liquid will mean more flour.

My comments: The last paragraph scares me. Don't tell me that I can add a cup of warm olive oil to bread and not how this effects the increase in flour precisely. That's it. I am overcoming my fear of baking bread and going at it. Within 48 hours there will be a picture of bread on this blog that came out of my oven (yeah, not store bought and being warmed in the oven). Keep posted for my throwdown with bread.