Friday, January 29, 2010

Valentine Lunch, Bento of Love, Heart Shaped Box?

I was overcome with love for my two little girls this week and I had to express it somehow.  Hopefully my expressions will be remembered by my children always.  This little Pre-Valentine was made like this...

A bunch of washed edemame pods are topped with cherry tomatoes cut into heart shapes with a sharp knife.
Deep Red Chilean cherries are sliced in half and pitted, then covered with sprinkles of hearts picked out of a box of Kashi Heart to Heart cereal.
A bed of romaine heart lettuce is laid beneath heart shaped roast beef and muenster sandwiches.  The sandwiches were easily cut with heart shaped cookie cutters. 

Maybe this will inspire you to share some food love with someone special.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Comfort Food, Tuna Noodle Casserole

I have mixed luck with Tuna Casseroles.  Either the pasta isn't cooked right, the topping is weak, or there just isn't enough tuna.  Today, determined to cook a winner, I decided to take the best parts of several Tuna Noodle Casserole recipes and create a version of this traditional dish that was delicious yet not too fattening.  I used fresh vegetables to improve the nutrition in this dish.  The veggies not only added a health boost, but were also one of the tastiest components of the casserole.

This Tuna Noodle Casserole was yummy, however, the pasta was still a bit al dente for my taste.  The remedy is a different type of pasta like egg noodles, or to cook the pasta first, then add it to the mix.  I decided not to precook the pasta because I wanted to keep the process simple and have fewer dishes to wash.  If you want a better casserole, you'll precook the pasta and wash the dishes.  Anywhoooo, other than slightly hard shells, the casserole was pretty tasty.  Here is the recipe.

Tuna Noodle Casserole
Serves 6 people

Olive Oil Spray
1/2 Large Onion (or one small one)
1 Cup Chopped Carrots
1 Cup of Green Beans, either fresh or frozen ones that have been defrosted
3 Cups of Pasta (Egg Noodles, Shells, Macaroni, or any short cut pasta)
2 Cans of Tuna; drained and rinsed (I used 7oz cans)
1 Can of Fat Free Cream of Mushroom Soup
1 Can of Cream of Celery Soup
1 Cup of Milk
Dash of Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Salt (Optional)
1 Cup Grated Sharp Cheddar
1 Cup of Panko Crumbs
1 Tbsp of Parmesan Cheese
Parsley Flakes

Spray a large pan with the Olive Oil Spray. 
Saute the onion, the carrots, and the green beans in the pan until the onions are soft and slightly browned. 
Preheat the oven to 350 Degrees.

Pour the vegetable mixture into a 9x13 casserole pan. 
Add the Pasta, the Tuna, the two cans of Soup, the Milk, the Pepper and Salt.
Mix these ingredients well with a spoon, so that the liquid fully covers all of the pasta.

Sprinkle the Cheddar Cheese evenly over the mixture.

Sprinkle the Panko Crumbs over the Cheddar.

Sprinkle the Parmesan over the Panko.
Sprinkle the Parsley Flakes over the top to make sparse flecks over the crumbs.

Bake at 350 Degrees for 30-35 minutes.

Enjoy your casserole! 

If anyone has the Weight Watchers Tools and wants to build out this recipe, I would be really interested in knowing how many points this has on their site.  I calculated it out on a nutrition site and ended up with these numbers...

For Serving 6 people with this recipe, per serving you get:
307.2 Calories
14 Grams of Fat
2.6 Grams of Fiber

I calculate that on my WW calculator to be about 7 Points a serving.

Friday, January 22, 2010


My friend Magda has started a blog about her experience growing up during the last years of Communism in Poland, beginning with a chapter on food, so I thought I would offer this small addendum from my time as a foreign student and as a research fellow in Cracow in 1987 and 1989.

This is my last ration card from the final days of meat rationing in Poland in 1989. You would take this to the meat store, and the cashier would clip out the little blocks ("bloczki") for various quantities of meat, beef or veal with bones, or canned meat, corresponding to your order. Names for cuts of meat seemed mostly forgotten or were not in use except for the tenderloin, so most people in the meat line would point and ask for "this piece" or "that piece." Paper was also in short supply, so I remember once going home on the tram carrying a bleeding chicken in my hand with a small square of paper underneath it. No one thought this unusual. More experienced shoppers placed food that bled or dripped at the bottom of their net shopping bags that everyone carried at all times in case of a sudden opportunity to purchase some rare commodity.

As a student from the U.S. I was not particularly wealthy by Western standards, but the U.S. dollar had enormous buying power in Poland in 1989, where the average worker's salary converted to $35 per month in black market dollars (a value that was remarkably consistent in virtually all Communist countries worldwide at the time, according to one sociologist that I knew). That meant that I could afford to go to farmers' markets that offered better meat and didn't require bloczki, practice my language skills with the market women, and I gave away most of my ration cards to friends.

We also had these ration cards when I attended the summer language school in Cracow in 1987, and since our tuition was paid in foreign currency, meals were particularly lavish by the standards of Communist Poland, which meant that we were served way more meat than anyone really wanted. I don't think that most of us realized what a luxury this was, at least not until a few weeks into the program after we had eaten at the local milk bars, a few private homes, and maybe one or two of the better restaurants mainly for foreigners. While we were certainly sheltered from the worst effects of the regime in our dormitory, glimpses of the underlying reality would occasionally break through. Waitresses in the cafeteria brought out the food demanding, Bloczki proszę! ("Ration cards please!"), in the only tone in which such words were spoken, and they would clip whatever was needed for the day.

I was not overweight at the time, but I think I lost eight pounds that summer on a diet that included frankfurters for breakfast.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cheddar Bay Biscuits

I'm home, it's raining, it's time to make the clone of Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits as found in Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Restaurants 2

Well, almost as found in Top Secret Restaurant Recipies... 
The original recipe includes Bisquick and Whole Milk.  I lightened it up a tiny bit by using Heart Smart Bisquick and Fat Free Milk.  I used just as much butter as the recipe called for, though, and I used regular Cheddar Cheese.  It tastes pretty good.  I may try and make a truely low fat version of these Biscuits.  If I do, I will post the recipe.  For now, you'll have to get your own book.

Here's a link:

Now I am just playing around with my Macro Lens.  Mmmmm, looks good close up.

Gourmet Mom Posts Penguins!

I was browsing the Flickr Recipes to Share Photogroup and came across a very cool blog called Gourmet Mom on the Go. There are so many great ideas on her website that I just may have to incorporate a few into my girls' Bento Boxes.

Yesterday's recipe was one that I saw pretty recently at a party of a Penguin loving friend, Olive Penguin Snacks!  I don't want to steal her pics, but I do want to share the Penguin Love, so check out her site when you get the chance.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Grandson of Food's Blueberry Pancakes

Grandson of Food has stepped up in the Family of Food kitchen brigade from Sous Chef des Smoothies to Sous Chef de Pâtisserie, so this morning we made some blueberry pancakes using the iSi ThermoWhip. He thinks the whipper is great for pancakes, because it makes them lighter, but it's tricky to get the consistency thin enough to spray without clogging the whipper, yet thick enough to hold all that extra air--or nitrous oxide as the case may be. We use a ratio by weight of one part egg to one part flour to one part milk to make a batter thinner than a typical pancake batter, but thicker than a crepe. For each egg, add 1/4 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. superfine sugar, a pinch of salt and a dash of vanilla. The amount of batter made with one large egg will yield about four thick 5-inch pancakes.

Don't have a scale? Get a scale! It's much easier than measuring by volume, and modern baking books often give ingredients by weight. If you bake by weight, your recipes will scale up or down more accurately, and you don't have to wash all those measuring utensils. For these pancakes, just put a bowl on the scale, tare the scale, break the eggs into the bowl and note the weight. Hit "tare" to zero the scale, and put in the same weight of flour, hit tare again, and pour in the same weight of milk.

As the Sous Chef de Pâtisserie demonstrates in the photo above, it is important to mix all ingredients thoroughly and get all the lumps out, so that they don't clog the nozzle of the whipper. Observe the manner in which he holds the bowl with his non-whipping hand to make the most of each stroke of his fork. If you've got lumps, you can strain the batter before pouring it into the whipper. We use a one pint ThermoWhip, but the iSi GourmetWhip should work just as well. Charge with two cream cartridges, shaking two or three times after each charge. Heat up a pan or a griddle to medium high heat and lubricate with a little clarified butter or vegetable oil.

Hold the whipper straight upside down, give it one good shake to concentrate the batter at the nozzle end, and release it slowly in a controlled way onto the griddle or pan. If it clogs, try closing and releasing the valve again until the clog clears, or invert it and shake it again.

For blueberry pancakes, toss a few blueberries on the wet batter after spraying it onto the griddle. Flip when browned on the bottom and cook until done. Enjoy with butter and Grade B maple syrup (it has a lot more flavor than Grade A), if desired.

UPDATE: Just to see what would happen, we left some batter in the ThermoWhip overnight and found that it thinned out a bit and was much less likely to clog, and also the pancakes developed larger bubbles to create a somewhat different texture. Both were good, but the original texture was more like a fine sponge while the pancakes from the batter that sat overnight felt airier. A week later the batter preserved in the canister under nitrous oxide was still good and maintained this same texture that it had after sitting overnight. (15 January 2010)

Friday, January 8, 2010

What Knives are the Best?

A friend recently asked for knife recommendations. Weigh in! You can leave your comment on what your favorite is at the end of this post.

This is what I use almost exclusively, the Mercer Santoku. The little impressions in the blade side keep meat from sticking to the knife when slicing. I picked it up at Chez Cherie when I took a cutting class (Blog Post Here). The other little thing I picked up at this class, which has been very valuable, is this little sharpener. A swipe before cutting keeps my knife sharp.

My brother has posted several great posts about his sharpening techniques.
Check them out here (Knife Post Link)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Loving This Flickr Photo Group

Flickr has a group called "Recipes To Share"  Every photo in this administrator approved group has a recipe attached.  As of this evening, there are 20,677 items in this pool.  That means that there are 20,677 recipes shared there as well, searchable by tag.  The best part of it all, you can see how the recipe turns out.  This is an incredible resource.  I added a bagel shot from last week's post and hopefully it will be chosen to be added to the group. 

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Cookbook Review - Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2

It is time to share some early impressions of one of my Holiday Present Cookbooks.  Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2 by Todd Wilbur is... so far so good.  I don't know that Mr. Wilbur absolutely nails every clone, but the three recipes that I have tried so far have all been winners in their own right. 

First I tried the Applebee's Tequila Lime Chicken Recipe.  I didn't  blog it because I had to alter the recipe. I didn't have all of the ingredients listed in the recipe, heck, I didn't even have lime, however, even with a few substitutions and a fresh lemon, this recipe was really delish.  I can't wait to try the real version now that I have limes and Liquid Smoke. 

One thing I took away from the Tequila Lime Chicken recipe that will probably serve me in other ways, was how to quickly make Tortilla Strips from Tortillas.  Stack 8 6inch Tortillas (I only had 4 in my test), cut in half and then stack the halves and cut into thin strips.  Fry the strips in 2 Cups of preheated oil in a large skillet for 3-5 minutes.  Salt lightly and cool on paper towels.  The kids loved the homemade tortilla chips.  They were fresh and light, quite superior to store bought chips.

The second recipe I made was The Houston's Chicago Style Spinach Dip.  This was the weakest of the recipes so far, but it stood up as a decent spinach artichoke dip.  I am hesitant to blame the recipe though, since I mistakenly used marinated artichoke hearts and the recipe called for un-marinated ones.  I will try this one again.

Lastly and most represented pictorially, I made the Original Pancake House Apple Pancake.  Twice...  Well, technically three times, since today's batch was a double.  I have never had the Apple Pancake at the Original Pancake House, but this recipe is wonderful.  Other than using skim milk instead of whole, I have followed this one properly.  I made it two ways, once with Heavy Cream and Milk and once with Half and Half as an alternate suggested in the book.  Both versions are fine, but the Heavy Cream version is tough to beat. 

The Apple Pancake recipe is a bit time consuming, a Cuisinart is handy to slice the apples and you'll have to start the recipe early enough to wait an hour for the first step to cool. Also, you will need to flip a 475 degree pan like in the tartin recipes we have posted in the past. No matter how many times you tell yourself don't grab the hot pan... you may end up with second degree burns (ask Husband of Food).

All that aside, the results of this recipe are fantastic.  One pancake is enough for two people or two adults with a toddler or two.

I do recommend this Cookbook, just be prepared for long lists of ingredients and be flexible enough to substitute when you don't have that 1/4 tsp of liquid smoke.

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