Archive for the 'Baking and Cooking' Category

Venn-Diagram Menu Planning

Venn Diagram Menu Planning
 

OR: The Dinner Party That Wasn’t

Once upon a time, there was a world where everyone could eat everything and anything, and menu planning was simple. Times changes, people aged, digestive systems changed and one day we woke up to the fact that whereas we picked our food from Column A, they picked their food from Column B. Some preferences were due to life-threatening allergies, some due to digestive issues, but no matter the source, we all had very specific dietary preferences and needs.

I’ve mentioned our ‘gang of 8’ on this blog before – 4 couples who have been getting together for decades (more than one decade lets me use that phrase). We started with only 2 food requirements: vegetarians and no nuts. Then we added kosher/kosher-style. Then we started with planning for diabetes and high-blood pressure (no salt). Add in gluten-free, low-carbohydrate and I think we’ve got all of the requirements. To date none of us have needed to avoid nightshades but that would not surprise me in the least should it need factoring in. Just for fun, 4 of the people do not drink alcoholic beverages at all.

Couple A are meat eaters, but avoid gluten and carbohydrates. That tosses side dishes like pasta & rice, bread, and potatoes but it also tosses many high-carbohydrate vegetables. Couple B are vegetarians (NOT Vegan, thank goodness). They like carbohydrates and gluten. 🙂 Couple C have the severe nut allergy – puts her in the hospital. He can’t eat nut products either because should he kiss her with nut residue, off to the hospital we go. Couple D prefers kosher style and needs sugar-free desserts. What is a hostess to serve so that everyone feels like they have a variety of options and no one feels deprived???

I love to bake. I wanted to bake French bread and make desserts for my dinner party. I’m not all that big on potatoes but my husband loves them. I thought I’d bake gluten-free bread, but apparently gluten-free flour is still too high in carbs for Couple A. They WILL eat products with almond flour or coconut flour but see footnotes on couple C. Anything I baked would either kill Couple A or Couple C. *grin* I finally decided that I would bake with gluten, and Couple A would have their gluten-free cheesecake for dessert (which of course Couple C could not touch because the crust would be made with almond flour). Here is the final menu – I get to bake, my husband gets to cook, food for everyone and no one should be going hungry.

Appetizers:
cheese board with crackers and vegetables.

Dinner:
home-baked gluten-full French bread
roasted brussel sprouts
steamed cabbage/broccoli/cauliflower
spring salad
potatoes au gratin (which does NOT mean in cheese)
Cornish game hens

Dessert:
gluten-free cheese cake
apple-cranberry tart (sugar free)
sugar free brownies

It should have worked. It would have been a great dinner. Too bad I was too ill to make it happen. And as I am still too congested today, and now my husband has congestion and is coughing, we cancelled the make-up date too.  See everyone for the Superbowl party in 3 weeks!

A Day in the Kitchen

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Rustic Apple Cranberry Tart (from thebakingpan.com)

Saturday was a gray, dull wintery day. I needed an escape. I contemplated driving down to the shore to look at waves, but decided it would be too cold and windy to get out of the car. I thought maybe escaping to the bookstore and finding a good, “real” book would be fun. So I headed to the mall. As I drove I thought that maybe I should have picked pampering instead – maybe I should have gone to the Korean spa and luxuriated in saunas and hot tubs. I was already almost to the mall, though, and didn’t feel like turning back. I remembered that there had been a hair salon for years at the mall. I decided that if it was still there I’d treat myself to having them wash and dry my hair. 🙂 They were indeed still there, and HUGELY busy and bustling. I explained I just wanted a little pampering and they took me right away. Maria trimmed my hair and dried it so that all the waves and curls showed up. She even flipped my part to hide the roots that needed coloring. *grin* I felt ‘human’ enough after that to head over to Sephora and pick up the moisturizers I needed. Fortified with pampering and lotions I headed home to continue indulging myself.

There was a time when the idea of spending a day in the kitchen would have been considered obligation, not indulgence. That was pre-new kitchen. We are still both loving the kitchen. I had 2 recipes I’d wanted to try – one for lentil soup and one for a cranberry apple tart. I’d also been craving more French bread after posting about breads. 🙂 I got home, had a bite to eat and set to baking.

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I started with the French bread. I really like this bread. It’s got substance and is chewy. It’s not all air and crust. I think that a “proper” French bread is SUPPOSED to be airy and crust, but mine does not come out that way and I’m glad. I’m not sure if I’m rolling it too thick, or some other deviation but I don’t care. I like how MY loaves come out. My husband likes them too so this recipe is a keeper for us. I forgot to brush the crusts with egg white before I put it in the oven, so these were not quite as shiny as the last loaves. They still tasted delicious. 🙂

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Next I started on the cranberry apple tart. I’d found this recipe when I was looking for desserts for Thanksgiving dinner. I thought it could easily be switched to be sugar free, even gluten free if it turned out that was necessary. Someone else was bringing pies, however, so I put the recipe aside. I’d picked up some Granny Smith apples at the farmers’ market specifically for this tart. I ended up using 3 of those and one stayman (winesap) apple. I used the Sukrin Gold brown sugar substitute. I was a little impatient while making the crust. I knew I was using more ice water than I do usually but it did come out fine. I chilled it in the freezer instead of the refrigerator because I was not going to have a lot of time to let it chill. The dough was a little sticky when I rolled it out for the pan, but it held together and was tasty. One of the tricks I’ve learned recently is to use a grater to add butter to my crusts and biscuits. In the past I’ve cut tablespoons of butter into the flour, and then used a pastry blender to chop it further. Grating the butter saves me so much time and effort! I love this little hack. I tried it on margerine but it doesn’t work – margerine is simply too soft. Maybe it would work better if I froze the margerine first, but that probably has other consequences.

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Once I had the tart in the oven I started on the lentil soup. I’ve learned to read the comments on online recipes. I’ve gotten some helpful tips from other cooks. The first comment on this recipe was quite long and detailed, about doubling ingredients, adding a few things, but saying that the soup came out great. I decided to make the soup by following those comments (after all, anyone who adds port to the soup is cooking on my track, to mix several metaphors *grin*). Of course I modified it, because that’s the whole point of cooking, is it not??? Since I’ve actually made lentil soup before, this was not going to be a case of follow first and then tinker. I knew where I wanted to end up. I didn’t have port but I did have sherry and used that. I only used 3 carrots, not four. I used 1.5 cups green lentils and 1/2 cup red lentils. I used my immersion blender to break up the chunks of carrots and tomatoes (from the canned diced tomatoes – I did not have crushed tomatoes). After all of that, it still seemed just a tad too tame for me. I took a look at my red lentil soup recipe and added some cumin and chili powder for a little heat. Once I did that I was satisfied with the flavor.

I think I made a successful meal. *smile* The tart was half-gone by bedtime. The soup is nearly all gone today, only a day and a half later. The bread – well, there is one hunk of bread left from the 2 loaves. I guess I need to get back in that kitchen soon and indulge again. 🙂

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mmm mmm good.

Two Out of Three’s Not Bad

2 cranberry scones

I’ve been doing a bit of baking over the last several weeks. I’ve been having bread cravings. I tend to limit my intake of carbohydrates but when the calendar moves to fall, my body argues with my resolve. The first deep-seated trigger is the football on TV. For some reason my brain flashes back to the very first apartment with my then-fiance now-husband. I baked a batch of yummy brownies and we sat there munching them as we watched football. Apparently that imprinted me with football-fall-brownies. This year my inner voice is demanding fresh bread, and it doesn’t always want to wait for the weekly grocery shopping.

biscuits ready for baking

gluten free biscuits ready for baking

One quick fix for the bread-craving is to bake biscuits. I have good biscuit recipes. Biscuits are fast and easy and yummy. Back in October I was having a group of friends over for ladies-lunch-in-the-sukkah. One of my guests does not eat gluten. I was serving the red lentil soup and wanted biscuits with that. I did some looking at gluten-free recipes to see if there was any reason I needed to use a gluten-free recipe instead of merely substituting gluten-free flour in my usual recipe. There wasn’t, but I did come across a recipe that sounded delicious – Cauliflower Garlic Bread. It looked fantastic as well. I saved the recipe and one cold weekend day I made the bread. It looked great and smelled terrific. It tasted alright as well, although not quite as wonderful as I’d hoped. I don’t think I got the proportions correct or I did not bake it long enough. The ends of the loaf were okay but the rest was way too moist. We ate some of it that night, but ended up tossing the remainder. 😦 If I were to make it again I would tinker with the seasonings and definitely bake it longer than I did.
cauliflower garlic bread sliced

The next bread event was a yeast bread, not a batter bread. I had some brie in the house as well (another temptation to which I succumbed while shopping) so I looked for a french bread recipe. I remembered that I’d made a yummy french bread a few years ago but didn’t remember what recipe I had used. I found a recipe claiming to be the BEST homemade French bread made in 90 minutes. That convinced me! 🙂 That recipe lived up to its claim. Okay, maybe I did not make the BEST bread ever but it was delicious, fast and easy! Often yeast breads annoy me because they require repeated effort (mix, rise, punch, shape, rise, bake). The first rise/rest for this bread was very short so it was basically ready for the next step by the time I’d finished cleaning up from the mixing.
French bread

This morning I woke up craving scones. I love the combination of cranberry and orange. I mix them in with my apple pies as well. I have a scone recipe that is very tasty for plain scones, and works if I toss in cinnamon and cinnamon chips, but I thought I’d take a look at a recipe tailored for the cranberries. I had a bag of cranberries handy (it IS the cranberry season after all). I found one that included orange zest. I scanned the ingredients and directions, compared it to a few others, and knew this one would work for me. Oh my my my!!! These scones are FANTASTIC!!!!! My only change was using fresh cranberries instead of dried. I chopped them in the grinder with some sugar to absorb the liquid. I don’t actually use sugar anymore. I use a product called Tagatesse, which is a sugar substitute. But that’s a discussion for another post – my search for sugar substitutes for baking. For now – I’m going back to pour another cup of coffee and another scone. (They’re going fast.)
cranberry orange scones

Watermelon Radish

watermelon radishes

I was searching all over for the White Balsamic Vinegar that I like – Bellino Italian White Vinegar. I went to Shop Rite, Whole Foods, Wegman’s, Stop & Shop, Trader Joe’s, and even, as a long shot, Walmart. I was prepared to find it online when Shop Rite returned it to the shelves. Yay!!! As is my wont, I did check out the fresh produce in many of those stores – you never know what will look appealing and special. I was in Whole Foods when I saw “Watermelon Radishes“. I LOVE radishes and snack on them all the time. I’ve found the large organic ones are almost sweet as well as tart and crunchy. I’d never heard of a watermelon radish. I did what you would do – pulled out my phone and did a search. 🙂 I bought 4 of them. They are indeed an absolutely gorgeous color inside. The ones I had were a bit firmer and perhaps less flavorful than some of the regular red-and-white radishes, but they were still very tasty. I munched on one as a snack, and tossed the others into a green (and now pink) salad. For your viewing pleasure, and as a suggestion for enjoyment if you encounter them in your store, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Watermelon Radishes!

Yet Another Summer Salad

garlic and zest cracked wheat salad

Mediterranean Cracked Wheat Salad from http://www.garlicandzest.com

The weather is definitely cooling. It’s still summer, but we hear and sense Fall approaching. I know this because my husband and I are both back in the kitchen cooking. 🙂 He wokked two meals last week and I made another summer salad. Once the humidity dropped last week I felt energized sufficiently to tackle a new recipe. I decided to make the Mediterranean Cracked Wheat Salad. I’ve made tabouli before, usually from a box mix. I’ve also bought it pre-made from the store. I’ve never done anything fancy with it. As I mentioned in my Wheatberry Salad post, I have always shied away from “things” in my food. I also mentioned that I seem to be overcoming that attitude, thank goodness!

This cracked wheat salad is the last of the recipes I saved at the start of the summer, when I was searching for tasty, healthy food that wouldn’t require heating up the kitchen. This recipe called for boiling some water, but that was it for ‘cooking’. The rest was chopping and combining. I wasn’t able to pull anything from my garden for this salad. I’d already snacked on all of the grape tomatoes and I discovered that caterpillars were embedded in my parsley. Given all my support for butterflies, I abandoned my parsley to the caterpillars and used dried parsley. (If I identified the caterpillar correctly, it will be a black swallowtail, which makes sense.)

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Black Swallowtail caterpillars are welcome to my parsley


I had to substitute on the peppers as well, since I did not find pepperoncini peppers at the farmers’ market. I used jalapeno peppers. I’d like to try again with the pepperoncinis because jalapeno is still a bit hot for my taste. My husband, however, loved it. My other change was to ditch the olives. I don’t like olives. I knew I’d just pick them out of the salad, I wouldn’t eat them, and if I didn’t tell my husband that they were missing he’d never know. 🙂 No olives. I loved the taste and look of the julienned radishes. That’s something that would have never occurred to me. See – learning new things. I followed the instructions to only pour some of the dressing on the wheat/vegetable mixture. When I decided it need more dressing, rather than pouring or spooning it on, I used a fork. That way I was getting mostly the ingredients in the dressing and not much of the oil and lemon juice. That kept the mixture from becoming soggy yet it all got some of the dressing. Next time I will probably reduce the olive oil and juice.

This passed our taste test! We are both enjoying it, it’s going fast. It was easy to make, very clear directions which anticipated things such as liquid remaining after the wheat had been absorbing the directed amount. Definitely another keeper for the kitchen files!

Thanks again to Lisa at Garlic & Zest for sharing the recipe!

Wheatberry Salad

Several weeks ago when it was too hot to cook and I was looking for cool salads, I saw a recipe for Wheat Berry Salad. Whole wheat, cracked wheat, bulgur wheat, tabouli, couscous – they are so similiar and it’s hard for me to figure out if they are the same thing or different. Wheat berries, on the other hand, triggered a pleasant memory. Many, many years ago our friend invited us to dinner in her sukkah. She’s an excellent cook. Her background is Iranian, and she often serves food that I would normally not eat if I were not a guest. *grin* My mother brought me up to be a well-behaved polite guest – you eat what you are served. 🙂 Our friend served a wheat berry salad. The reward for being a polite guest is that sometimes you learn to like something new, that you never thought you’d like. So when the wheat berry recipe popped up in my search, I decided to save it and try it.
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Following this recipe meant first I had to find wheat berries. After trying several local stores I ordered them (and some cracked wheat) online. (The cracked wheat is my next new venture – stay tuned.) The recipe also calls for things that in my past I would have told you I don’t eat, and would have been cause for tossing the recipe. That would include nuts and dried fruit. I don’t like “things” in my food. *grin* Or so I thought. Anyway, I made the linked recipe just as it stands. It is DELICIOUS. I love the texture and the flavors. I think it will work well in fall, too, because of its harvest colors. My husband and I both made large inroads into the bowl of wheat berry salad. Definitely a recipe to keep and repeat!

Thanks to:
Wheat Berry Salad, Recipe courtesy of Ellie Krieger, Posted on the Food Network website

What to Eat When It’s Just Too Hot

coleslawAt last, summer is here. In NJ that means the 3 Hs – Hazy, Hot, Humid. Hot is fine with me. Hazy is tolerable although not preferred. Humid is only good when the temperature is below 85. Above that – we all melt. I guess I am truly aging. There was a time when the humidity didn’t really bother me all that much. Now even I, child of the hot sunshine, find that hot & humid is uncomfortable.

I was working from home last week for several reasons. I had a lot of meetings and if I work from home, I don’t need to use a headset – I can use the laptop speakers instead. chickpea saladAfter a few hours, any headset is annoying. The company office is air-conditioned of course. And while many are perfectly comfortable with that, I am always freezing if the sun is not beating on the windows there. It was not – it was rainy and hazy on the non-rain days. There were some other good reasons to work from home as well, but those 2 top the list.

Working from home means that I can get up and walk about between calls. I can do chores during my usual commute time, and during lunch. I was possessed by the salad genie and for 2 days I created summer salads. Three of them could be made without any heat, and for the 2 that needed some cooking, I turned on the fans and dealt with it. 🙂 When I rested on the 3rd day I had a fresh green tossed salad, lentil salad, chickpea salad, coleslaw, and a pesto pasta with broccoli.

It’s always fun to watch the food creations come into being, but it was even better because I could walk out to the front garden and clip whatever herbs and lettuce I needed. pesto pasta salad My brother-in-law gave me the simplest most tasty recipe for coleslaw: shredded lettuce & carrots, mayonnaise, white balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, and basil. I like my coleslaw dry, not wet. I find that 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise mixed with the vinegar is enough sauce for me. I walked out to the garden and clipped 3 types of basil to add to the mix, instead of using dried basil. It was delicious. I know it was because my husband devoured nearly all of it within 2 days. 🙂 (He doesn’t seem to care for the lentils. That’s fine – I LOVE the lentils.)

I used the basil, dill, lettuce, lemon balm, and parsley fresh from the garden as well. Fresh herbs definitely make the flavors pop. Lentil saladWe have a farmers’ market every week in town, so we went up to the market and got fresh onions, fresh garlic, cucumbers, tomatoes, bread and pickles. I had a chance to use the salad bowls I’d made many, many years ago when I was still “doing pottery”. They seemed the perfect touch. Dinner was a delicious stuffed bread with fresh veggies and salads. A perfect summer meal when it’s just too humidly hot.


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