Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Grain Foods Foundation and Ted Allen Launch the Bread Art Project to Benefit Feeding America

Create Bread Art and Help Feed the Hungry!

One in eight Americans is struggling with hunger and more than 36 million are at risk of hunger. Given the troubled economy, consumers across the country are facing the difficulty of providing for their families, and many have turned to relief agencies to put meals on the table. The non-profit Grain Foods Foundation and Food Network host Ted Allen have teamed up with Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief organization, to provide up to one million pounds of food for those in need.

Feeding America is seeing a 30 percent increase in demand on its food banks nationwide compared to just one year ago. To alleviate the increased pressure on these important resources, the Grain Foods Foundation recently launched the Bread Art Project at gowiththegrain.org, where consumers can create a personalized piece of bread art – at no cost – by uploading a favorite drawing or photo, or designing a new one using a digital slice of bread as the canvas.

For each piece of bread art created, the Grain Foods Foundation will donate $1 to Feeding America . One dollar provides seven meals or four bags of groceries to the 25 million people served by food banks annually.

“The diversity of those affected by the hunger epidemic is astonishing, and it is an honor to be participating in such an extraordinary campaign to help our neighbors in need,” Allen said. “Combining three of my passions – food, art and philanthropy – for a worthy cause is a recipe everyone can agree is in good taste. I encourage everyone to take part in this initiative, which is a free and easy way to help provide healthy meals for struggling families.”

The more bread art consumers create, the more meals Feeding America can put on the table for families across the country. Consumers can also view bread art from around the country and check out some of Allen’s own designs as they take a virtual tour of the gallery of giving at gowiththegrain.org.

“Bread and grains not only provide many of the essential nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy,” said Judi Adams MS, RD and president of the Grain Foods Foundation, “but this spring, they’ll also help put food on our neighbors’ tables.”

For those families looking for help with their own kitchen cutbacks, choosing the right foods to fit your budget is important in providing healthy meals with long-lasting benefits.

“Bread and other grain foods are nutritious and affordable, and should continue to be an essential staple in Americans’ grocery bags,” said Allen. “Plus, they just taste good.”

Allen has also developed tips and recipes for stretching dollars at home. For this information, or to make a personalized piece of bread art, visit gowiththegrain.org, where consumers can join the effort to help fight hunger.
About Feeding America (formerly America’s Second Harvest – The Nation’s Food Bank Network)
Feeding America provides low-income individuals and families with the fuel to survive and even thrive. As the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity, our network members supply food to more than 25 million Americans each year, including 9 million children and 3 million seniors. Serving the entire United States, more than 200 member food banks operate 63,000 agencies that address hunger in all of its forms. For more information on how you can fight hunger in your community and across the country, visit feedingamerica.org.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Coloring Designer Easter Eggs Without an Egg Dying Kit

Coloring Designer Easter Eggs Without an Egg Dying Kit

We think we came up with some pretty fabulous egg designs. Just about everything we used to make the eggs in the basket above is in the photo below. You'll find detailed directions, as well as a list of supplies for the individual designs by following the links. While we utilized various techniques to achieve the results you see, all of the eggs have one things in common, the basic egg dye recipe.

Egg Dye Recipe
Why buy packaged egg coloring kits when you probably already have everything you need right in your pantry?

To make a rainbow of egg hues, you can use either liquid or paste food coloring, although I find using paste gives extra bright and, depending upon how large a dab of paste I use, more intense color.

You'll need a separate cup for each color, large enough to hold an egg and the liquid. Dissolve a dab of paste food color, or about 6-8 drops of regular liquid food color, in 1 cup of hot water. Stir in 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar and your egg dye is ready to go!

Egg Dying Tips

  • Before you can color Easter eggs, you'll need to boil eggs, click here for how to instructions for making perfect hard boiled eggs.
  • Covering your work area with plenty of newspaper or other paper makes clean up afterward a snap -- just gather up the mess and throw it out in one fell swoop.
  • An empty egg carton makes a good drying rack, but liquid tends to collect at the bottom so use caution when lifting eggs out of the drying rack and blot the bottoms carefully with a dry paper towel so the color doesn't run
  • Making sure eggs are completely dry between color coats is probably the one most important tip for great Easter eggs - absorbent paper towels, used to carefully blot the eggs, can help finish the process
  • Wearing rubber gloves will help your fingers avoid getting stained with food coloring -- and they will regardless of how careful you are.
  • If you don't want to color boiled eggs, you can also use hollow egg shells in which the contents have been "blown" out. Follow this link for directions on how to make blown eggs.
  • After Easter use up all those egg with the recipes at this link: Top 10 Things To Do With Leftover Easter Eggs
Designer Easter Egg Designs (click links or photos for complete how-to instructions)

Abstract Eggs (pictured right) -- Who knew that a jar of rubber cement could help you make such great looking Easter eggs?

All-Natural Onion Skin Dyed Eggs -- No dye necessary here, onion skins do the work for these natural look Easter eggs.

Banded Eggs -- Various sized rubber bands help to make Easter eggs with bands of stripes criss crossing their surface.

Dinosaur Eggs (pictured left) -- The clever use of ordinary cheesecloth gives these eggs a unique dinosaur-like appearance.

Sticker Stencil Eggs -- A few supplies from the stationary store (or your desk drawer) can help make egg dying easy and stylish.

Marbled Eggs (3rd picture down from top of this post)-- This design creates unique marbled colored Easter eggs -- no two are ever exactly alike!

Spatter Dyed Eggs (pictured below) -- The kids love to do this one -- all it takes is some egg dye, an old toothbrush, and a small stock or skewer.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tips for Eating on the Cheap While Traveling - Thrifty Thursdays

Good food doesn't have to be expensive, nor do you have to settle for fast food while traveling. I firmly believe that food is a MAJOR part of the travel experience, so I'd never expect you to skimp on quality. You can save a substantial amount on your food budget and still have a great time by keeping these handy tips in mind.

If you have additional tips for eating on the cheap, I'd love to hear about them, please post them to the comments section at the end of this post!
  • If you're going to splurge at an expensive restaurant, lunch is a good time to do so. You can often get the same famous food at a significantly lower cost. Since most health experts agree that eating the largest meal of the day in the afternoon is a good idea, you'll be doing more than your pocketbook a favor.
  • Many hotels (especially in countries other than the US) and all B& B's include breakfast as part of the room price. Take full advantage of this and fill up so you won't have to buy food until lunch (or depending on your personal metabolism, dinner).
  • Eat where the locals do. Casual restaurants with a large local clientele are like to be high quality and low cost.
  • Eat in ethnic neighborhoods (this tip works in the US or abroad). You can get some first class feasts for very little money in ethnic neighborhoods. Using my hometown of Los Angeles as an example, travel to Korea Town, China Town, Little Tokyo, Thai Town, or in nearby Orange County, Little Saigon, for incredible food at coffee shop prices. Do I detect an Asian theme here? Don't worry, there are Mexican neighborhoods all over the City of Angels serving dirt-cheap but delicious authentic South-of-the-Border cuisine. There are also plenty of Ethiopian, Cuban, Indian, Argentinean, Armenian, and Moroccan eateries along with just about every other ethnic group under the sun. That's one of the things about living in or visiting a large city that's so wonderful. Take advantage of the ethnic neighborhoods in whatever cities you visit for great food at bargain prices.
  • Carry snacks and drinks. Having some snacks like granola bars, trail mix or even fresh fruit along can help save a lot over buying them from street vendors and convenience stores.
  • If you're traveling by car, stock up on bottled water and other drinks at the supermarket or discount store. A six-pack here will often cost the equivalent or even less than the price of a single bottle from a convenience store or street vendor.
  • These days you can't carry a bottle of water onto a plane because of "security" concerns. But you can carry an empty bottle that you can fill from the water fountain once you clear security.
  • Drink water with meals. Even without alcohol, soft drinks, coffees and teas can add a substantial amount to your check (especially in countries other than the US). Drink free water with the meal (as long as you're in a country that it's safe to do so). Buy soft drinks at markets instead.
  • Carrying along an immersion heater is great for making coffee, tea or instant hot chocolate in your hotel room. It can also heat instant soup or boil water for other purposes. This inexpensive travel accessory is sold at anywhere travel goods are sold.
  • Have picnics! You can save a bundle by having impromptu picnics. Whether they be a late night snack in your hotel room or a full romantic meal against a spectacular backdrop like the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel Tower, picnics are a boon to the budget conscious traveler.
  • Make a portable picnic pack -- it's light and takes up hardy any space. This way you can take advantage of local delicacies from the markets, bakeries and wine shops, without paying restaurant prices. Click here for how-to instructions for making a portable picnic pack to stash in your suitcase, backpack, or vehicle.

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday. In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog (after Thursday) for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere. Visit anytime to learn how to participate too.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Creating a Perfect French Cheese Tasting Plate

If one place could be christened “the Land of Cheese,” it would surely be France! Gourmet fromage is a grand tradition here, and practically every region has its own influence on the types and tastes of the world’s best cheeses. A great way to bring this refined dairy delight home is with a cheese plate, a delicate arrangement of cheeses perfectly tailored to your meal. There’s one for practically every occasion! Did you know cheese can be healthy, too? You can discover more secrets of French cheese here, but remember: the best way to taste these iconic delicacies is at their source in France!

The Fromage Plate is a celebration of the remarkable diversity of French cheeses—a cheese plate made with the Cheeses of France captures the abundant variety of flavors, textures, colors and aromas that characterize the “taste of place,” or terroir, unique to each region.

How to Create the Perfect French Cheese Plate
Whether you are planning an hors d’oeuvres party, a wine and cheese menu or after-dinner tasting, it’s easy to create a delectable and beautiful Fromage Plate when you follow these simple tips:

  • It’s about quality not quantity — your Fromage Plate should showcase anywhere from 3 to 5 cheeses.
  • Plan on 4 to 6 ounces of cheese per person.
  • Choose a variety of cheese styles, from creamy soft to hard, and milk types, from goat to sheep to cow’s milk-based cheeses.
  • For peak freshness and flavor, shop for cheese close to your event.
  • Ask the experts for help...your local fromager can suggest complementary flavors and textures to create a harmonious cheese platter.
  • Bring cheese to room temperature before serving (approx. 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the size).
  • Arrange cheeses in a clockwise fashion from mildest to most pungent and complex.
  • Experiment with different shapes for a stunning visual presentation.
  • For the best fromage plate sampling experience start with the mildest cheese at 6 o’clock and continue around the cheeseboard.
Pairing with Food
  • Slice apples or pears into thin wedges and arrange with selected cheeses.
  • Include figs, blackberries, golden raisins and dried apricots for a sweet, exotic complement.
  • Add a healthy crunch with a variety of nuts.
  • Go gourmet with quince paste, plum butter or chutney on the side.
  • Drizzle a little honey on pungent cheeses for a dash of sweetness.
  • Offer toast points, fruit and nut crostini or thin slices from a baguette.
  • Remember, the cheese is the star. If serving crackers, select mild styles that won’t compete with the cheese.
Pairing with Wine...and More!
  • French wines, both red and white, from the same region as your cheeses are a natural choice. Ask your sommelier or wine merchant for pairing suggestions.
  • In general, pair a mild cheese with a lighter, milder wine and a more robust, stronger cheese with a bolder wine.
  • Beer, cider...even coffee and liqueurs also complement The Cheeses of France.

Signature Fromage Plates from maître fromager Max McCalman, author of The Cheese Plate
Max McCalman is one of the world’s foremost experts on cheese. He is the author of The Cheese Plate, the definitive book on the art of creating the perfect cheese course, and a James Beard winner. Max is also the Dean of Curriculum at Artisanal Premium Cheese and the maître fromager, (or cheese master) at the acclaimed restaurants Picholine and Artisanal in New York City.

Max has created a huge variety of cheese courses, exclusively designed around The Cheeses of France, for nearly every occasion throughout the year -- including holidays and special events, as well as those times you just want some good cheese. Click here for all of Max's signature Cheese Course recommendations and explore the flavors of France through French cheese.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

More on Freezing -- Thrifty Thrusdays

Thrifty Thursdays Week #4 -- More on Freezing
I received an email after last week's post about the Top 10 Things To Do With Ice Cubes Trays (Other Than make Ice) thanking me for the tips. the reader said she didn't even know you could freeze things like mashed potatoes or fresh herbs. That email prompted me to revisit our Freezing Primer at FabulousFoods.com. Below are highlights that will keep you up to date on what you can (and more importantly what you can't) freeze successfully. You may know a lot of this information, but some of it will probably surprise you. You can find the full article online here including tips on storage space and freezing containers.

The Basics of Freezing

What To Freeze and How to Freeze It

Baked Goods - In general, the lower the moisture level in your baked goods, the more successfully they will freeze. Well wrapped bread will keep for about five months in a freezer. You can also freeze bread dough for a month or two before baking. The same goes for pizza or other yeast doughs. If you know you are making yeast dough to freeze, add a little extra yeast to your recipe.

Unbaked pie crusts freeze well as do unbaked fruit and meat filled pies, so you might want to stock up and get ahead when making these. Add a little extra thickening agent to fruit pies destined for the freezer.

Unfrosted cakes will keep for months -- again well wrapped is the key. You can freeze a butter cream frosted cake as well, although other types of icing tend to separate, especially those made with egg whites and/or brown sugar.

In all cases, cool baked goods completely before freezing or they will end up soggy.

Prepared Foods - Soups, stews, many sauces (spaghetti sauce comes immediately to mind), unbaked pies (see baked goods), casseroles, lasagna etc. freeze well. Freezing may affect some spices, so it's a good idea to check and re-season, if necessary, when cooking previously frozen food. As always, wrap and cover well before freezing.

Eggs - Many people don't know you can freeze eggs. You can store whole eggs in plastic containers (cracked open and with the whites and yolks stirred together) or store egg whites and yolks separately. Raw egg yolks will need to be broken and stirred with either 1/4 teaspoon salt or 3/4 teaspoon sugar for each 1/2 cup of egg yolks or else they will turn to a "gummy" consistency. Cooked egg yolks, on the other hand, freeze beautifully. The reverse is true of egg whites: raw are just fine (freeze in ice cube trays, one per cube), but cooked egg whites will change texture so much they will not be at all appealing.

Vegetables - Most vegetables will need to be blanched before freezing (putting the cut veggies in a pot of boiling water for about 1-2 minutes). After blanching, plunge the vegetables into cold water to stop the cooking process. Wrap and freeze when completely cool. Vegetables will keep in the freezer for about six months. The blanching step will help preserve the veggie's texture, otherwise expect mushy waterlogged veggies upon thawing.

Fruits - While frozen fruits do retain their flavor, be aware that the texture of many frozen fruits will become softer --think of frozen strawberries as opposed to fresh. Add some sugar (to fruit that will be served uncooked after freezing) or simple syrup (for fruits that will be cooked after being thawed) as this helps to retain the fruit's texture when freezing. Fruit will keep in your freezer for about a year.

Meat - Trim any excess fat from meat before freezing, as the amount of time meat will stay fresh in a freezer directly correlates to the amount of fat in it. Less fat equals longer freezer times. Also, the more saturated the fat (for instance beef has much higher saturated fat than fish) the longer it will keep). Wrap meat well. If you're going to use the meat within a week you can get away with freezing it in the Styrofoam, plastic wrapped grocery tray it came in. Any more than that, re-wrap it to prevent freezer burn. Beef and lamb chops, steaks and roasts safely keep for about a year. The exception to this rule comes if the meat is ground, as in hamburger, in which case plan to use it within about 4 months. Pork will last about six to eight months and sausage can go for about three months.

Poultry - It's a good idea to remove poultry innards before freezing (although they can be frozen together). Never stuff and freeze raw poultry, as you risk salmonella contamination. Whole chicken and turkeys will keep for about a year. Chicken and turkey parts, ground poultry, as well as whole duck and goose will last about six months.

Fish - Scale and clean fish before freezing (this step is probably done for you if you got your fish at a grocery store). As with meat, the higher the fat content in your fish, the shorter the time it will keep well in the freezer. Oily fish will keep for about three months and leaner fish will keep about six.

Dairy Products - The higher the fat content in dairy products, the better they freeze. Milk products that are under 40% butterfat will separate, but heavy cream does well. You can freeze butter with no texture changes, but remember, fat can go rancid even in a freezer, so never keep it for more than two months.

Cheese - Freezing does change the consistency of most cheeses, making it more mealy and crumbly, although the flavor remains intact. If you plan to grate or melt your cheese, this textural change won't matter much. If you plan to slice your cheese, it's best not to freeze it. Softer cheeses such as cream or cottage cheese do not freeze well at all, although surprisingly, most cheesecakes will do fine in the freezer. Blue cheese, Roquefort and gorgonzola are usually served crumbled so they freeze well and should keep for about six months. A little of these strong cheeses goes a long way, so they're handy to have in the freezer for quick "flavor pick ups" to add to recipes. Well wrapped firm cheeses such as cheddar, gouda, Swiss etc., should keep for about six months in your freezer. Hard cheeses like Parmesan and romano will keep for about a year.

If you have a large block of cheese (why does the Albert Brooks movie Mother come to mind?), cut it into manageable chunks, before freezing in order to cut down on thawing time.

I like to freeze bags of shredded mozzarella so that I can remove the amount I like at a moment's notice. Shredded cheddar or other firm cheeses are also handy, and they are a lot cheaper to buy in bulk. "Mother" was right about that, Albert, although I only keep this cheese for use in cooking. Otherwise, fresh is always better.

Sauces - Tomato sauces and the like do very well in the freezer. Mayonnaise and mayonnaise based sauces, however, will separate. Sauces (or even custards) thickened with flour or cornstarch don't freeze well, but those thickened with arrowroot or tapioca do.

Herbs - Don't throw away leftover fresh herbs. Wrap them in Ziplock® bags and freeze them. Be sure to blanch leafier herbs like basil. Sturdier herbs like rosemary freeze exceedingly well.

What Not To Freeze
Some foods just don't do well in the freezer. Vegetables with high moisture contents like lettuces, celery and cucumbers will thaw limper than a rag doll. Some dairy products like cream cheese or cottage cheese, cream, milk, mayonnaise, custards, cream fillings or meringues will not freeze well because they will separate or curdle. Ditto for food made with gelatin. Fried foods will likely turn soggy or rancid when frozen.

Thawing Food
The safest method of thawing food is slowly, in your refrigerator. For this method allow about 8 hours per pound of meat and about 4 hours per pound of poultry, and about 6 hours per pound of fruit or vegetables.

You can speed up the process by about 1/8 the time by submerging the food (still wrapped) in a sink full of COLD water. You can also use the defrost feature on your microwave oven.

Never allow meat or eggs to defrost on the counter top. This is an invitation for bacteria to grow and can result in food poisoning. Baked goods and most fruits, on the other hand, can thaw at room temperature. With the exception of baked goods, most food should not be re-frozen (and even baked goods will become drier with repeated freezings).

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday.
In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog (after Thursday) for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere. Visit anytime to learn how to participate too.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Favorite St. Patrick's Day Recipes, Links, and Trivia

It's almost St. Patrick's Day and we're ready. below you'll find lots of links to our favorite Irish recipes, as well as links to fascinating history and trivia about this holiday. So click away and have a Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!

Who is St. Patrick and why does he have his own holiday?
Click here to explore the history of St. Patrick's Day, plus get trivia that will give you a Cliff Clavinesque scope of knowledge about St. Pat's Day (some jokes are just for me).

St. Patrick's Day Quiz
Test your St. Patrick’s Day holiday knowledge and impress your friends down at the pub with your expertise! Click here to play.

Savory Irish Recipes to Celebrate St. Pat

The Sweet Side of St. Patrick's Day
St. Patrick's Day Drinks Click here to access ALL our St. Patrick's Day recipes. crafts, and articles.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Thrifty Thursdays #3 Top 10 Uses for Ice Cube Trays (Other Than Making Ice)

Thrifty Thursdays is a blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday.

In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog (after Thursday) for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere. Visit anytime to learn how to participate too.

Thrifty Thursdays Week #3 -- The Top 10 Frugal Uses for Ice Cube Trays (Other Than Making Ice)
Sure making ice cubes in your own freezer makes green sense, as it eliminates the packaging and transportation impacts of commercially made ice. But did you know that making ice is just the beginning of the versatile ice cube tray’s uses? Click the links below for our Top 10 favorite ways ice cube trays can help you to use all your kitchen ingredients. Once your cubes are frozen, dump them into a zipper top plastic food storage bag for easy access (and to free up your trays for more freezing tasks).

You’ll no doubt come up with uses of your own for ice cube trays, and if you do, please add them to the comments section at this page and share them with everyone.

1. Leftover Coffee or Tea
Good coffee and tea is expensive, never throw out the leftovers again. Instead, freeze leftover coffee or tea in ice cube trays. Use the cubes to chill iced teas or coffee without watering down your drinks. You can also use coffee flavored cubes in coffee smoothies or to make coffee house drinks like iced mochas.

2. Leftover Wine
Never waste even a single drop of wine. If you can't quite finish that bottle of vino, freeze the leftovers in an ice cube tray. Small amounts of wine are handy for sauteeing without fat, for adding small bursts of flavor to all kinds of dishes, making marinades or salad dressings, or deglazing pans and making pan sauces.

3. Juices and Cold Drinks
If you have kids, you're probably already tired of throwing out have full glasses of juice or other cold drinks. Instead, freeze the leftovers in ice cube trays, then use them next time to chill the kid's drinks without diluting (works well in lunch time thermos bottles too). Or use the juice cubes instead of ice cubes to boost flavor and nutrition when making frosty fruit smoothies.

Freezing juice is also a good way to get use out of fruits that might be getting too ripe before you can eat them or whenever you find a good clearance at the store on juiceable produce. Squeeze juice from lemons, limes, or oranges. If you have a juice extractor you can extend this concept to all kinds of produce -- carrots, apples, tomatoes, etc., etc. Use later in cooking or for making drinks r smoothies.

In addition to serving as nutritious drink chillers, small amounts of juice, especially citrus juice, are handy for making salad dressings, marinades, or deglazing pans and making pan sauces. Use vegetable juices in soups or in place of water to add extra flavor and nutrition to rice or couscous. You can also use vegetable juice for some of the cooking liquid in beans.

4. Stocks or Broths
Many times a recipe will call for a partial can of chicken, beef, seafood, or vegetable stock. Freeze the leftovers in an ice cube tray. Even those of us who make homemade stocks will find keeping ice cube sized frozen portions handy for sauteeing small amounts of food without fat, poaching small pieces of fish or chicken for a quick healthy entree, or deglazing pans and making pan sauces. Many stir-fry recipes use small amounts of stock as one of their sauce ingredients as well.

5. Fresh Herbs
Fresh herbs can add amazing flavor to a huge variety of dishes, but too often then go bad before you can use them all. Instead, chop up fresh herbs before they soil and freeze in ice cube trays (1-2 teaspoons per cube) along with a small amount of water. Pop a cube or two as needed into soups, sauces, dressings, marinades, etc. The herbs won't look as pretty as they did in their fresh state, so they won't be good garnishes, but they will still impart fabulous intense flavors.

6. Leftover Fruit
You can freeze all sorts of small portions of leftover fruits, from overripe peeled banana chunks, to berries, mango, melons -- you name it. Sometimes fruit may discolor a bit when frozen (bananas especially won't look pretty), but it works fine in smoothies -- keeping the drink frosty like a milk shake without adding fat or sugar. The small ice cubed sized portion makes it easier on your blender.

In addition to smoothies and milk shakes, use frozen fruit to make granitas, or to hold fruit for use later on in breads or muffins, fruit sauces, ice creams, sherbets and sorbets, or other recipes that don't depend on fruit being fresh.

If you have a baby, you might also puree fruit to make wholesome homemade baby food. Freeze in ice cube trays and defrost just the amount you need, when you need it.

7. Leftover Veggies
Freeze small portions of cooked veggies in order to have a handy side dish another time, to add them later to soups and stocks. I also find this tip handy for veggies like chipotle or other chiles, where you usually only a fraction of the amount that comes in a can. Freeze the rest in ice cube trays for portions that better suit a typical cook's needs.

Mashed potatoes also freeze well, and small frozen potato cubes can be handy for thickening soups and sauces, as well as to reheat and eat as a side dish for the kids.

If you have a baby, you might also puree cooked veggies (definitely NOT the aforementioned chipotles, but mild veggies) to make wholesome homemade baby food. Freeze in ice cube trays and defrost just the amount you need, when you need it.

8. Tomato Paste, Tomato Sauce, Etc.
Tomato sauce is another one of those ingredients that often comes in a can that is much larger than what you'll need for a recipe. Freezing the extra in an ice cube tray will give you small portions for the next time or two you need this ingredient. Freezing leftover tomato sauces (like marinara) is also handy. Use for quick pick ups for steamed veggies or simply cooked chicken or fish, or to dress a side dish of pasta or rice.

9. Pesto or Tapenade
Pesto sauce, made from fresh basil, garlic olive oil and seasonings, or intense tapenades (made from olives, or sun dried tomatoes), freeze well and because they're so intensely flavored, the small ice cube sized portions are usually plenty to flavor a recipe of pasta, veggies or whatever else you're imagination conjures up. Having cubes of these intense "sauces" means you're never more than a few minutes away from a flavorful gourmet meal that will taste like you spent hours on it.

Quick appetizer suggestion -- mix pesto or tapenade with cream cheese and or goat cheese for a baguette spread, top with roasted red peppers.
10. Baby Food
If your baby doesn't finish the jar, freeze the leftovers in ice cube trays. Later defrost the small amount you'll need. You can also puree cooked fruits and vegetables to make homemade baby foods. Again, ice cube trays make the perfect freezing vehicle as you'll have small individual portions.

Click here for details on making homemade baby foods.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Marvelous Mead!

Did you know?

Tradition held that giving a bridal couple a "moons" worth of honey-wine or mead would ensure a fruitful union.

What do you get when three chemical engineers from the Oak Ridge National Security Complex get together and pool resources to pursue their collective favorite hobby? Some marvelous mead. Yes mead.

For those who haven’t visited a renaissance fair in the last 20 years, mead is a type of honey wine.It’s thought to be the oldest alcoholic drink known to man and many ancient cultures believed it possessed magical properties. But John Cosgrove, Hal Jennings, and Bill Chase, partners in Tennessee’s first and only meadery, Anderson County’s Shady Grove, while dedicated to reviving the ancient Magic of Mead,” take a scientific and well practiced approach to their craft, relying on both tradition and innovation when it suits their needs. Every bottle of Shady Grove mead is hand-crafted and their sparkling meads are bottle-fermented using traditional Methode Champenoise, yet modern state of the art equipment helps them along the way.

What began as a labor of love for these three friends has turned into a full fledged business. It takes a lot of time, effort, attention and resources to make mead. Fifty gallons of raw unfiltered honey goes into every 250 gallons and it takes 6 to 8 weeks for the 1st fermentation; 4 months overall.

Not surprisingly, Shady Grove’s sparkling meads are popular libations at many a renaissance wedding, and they provide a refreshing change of pace to traditional sparkling wines at any celebration. Not overly sweet, the honey provides a nice soft undertone to offset the grapes that are added to the honey water before fermenting.

You’ll find many varieties of “Melomels” or fruit flavored meads in both sparkling and still varieties at Shady Grove. If you plan on visiting the area, you can stop in to the meadery’s modern tasting room and sample all the varieties of mead produced there. More often than not you’ll find John, Hal and/or Bill behind the bar , spreading their enthusiasm for mead and answering curious questions from their guests. Be sure to call or visit the website first, as they’re not open every day.

If you can’t make it to the tasting room, check out their website for information on where to buy Shady Grove retail and which restaurants are including it on their menus.

Click here to access our full feature on things to do and see in Oak Ridge/Anderson County, Tennessee.


Shady Grove Meadery is located at 709 Norris Freeway in Lake City, Tennessee 37769. Phone 865-426-4900 or click to www.ShadyGroveMead.com.

For more information about visiting the Oak Ridge area in general, visit the Oak Ridge Convention and Visitors Bureau website at www.OakRidgeVisitor.com.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Thrifty Thursdays -- Homemade Granola

Thrifty Thursdays is a new blog event created by my fried Amanda Formaro from Amanda's Cookin' blog. I've agreed to participate, so look for a frugal themed post here each Thursday.

In addition to reading my posts, be sure to visit Amanda's blog (after Thursday) for a round-up of all the thrifty home and cooking tips and recipes that came in this week from folks around the blogosphere. Visit anytime to learn how to participate too.

Thrifty Thursday #2 -- Make Your Own Granola
Sure you can find all kinds of granolas in your supermarket cereal aisle, but it's much less expensive to make your own, not to mention you'll control the amount of sugar and fat that goes into your granola and you'll know that your homemade version will contain no unnecessary additives, preservative or high fructose corn syrup.

Making granola at home is also lots of fun. Think of the recipes below as jumping off points. Don't be afraid to substitute, add, and subject to make your perfect granola blend. You can even get the family involved with everyone making their own favorites. Granola makes a healthy, wholesome snack, so why not get the kids involved?

I've been making granola using my oven for years, but I recently discovered that the slow cooker also does a good job (see recipes below). While you can't quite "set it and forget it" like most slow cooker recipes, it is more forgiving than the oven if you forget to watch carefully or stir frequently.

So what can you do with your homemade granola? Of course you can pour milk over it and eat like cereal. It also makes a great portable snack to tote along in backpacks, briefcases, and lunchboxes. Sprinkle it over yogurt or fresh fruit salad. Or see some of the recipes below that use granola as an ingredients.

Homemade Granola Recipes
  • California Walnut Granola (pictured top of this post) -- Did you know that walnuts are one of the healthiest foods you can eat? Walnuts are the only nut that contain a significant amount of omega-3 fatty acids. No other nut even comes close.
  • Coconut Pecan Granola -- This not too sweet granola adds a delicious crunch to yogurt, makes a delightful topping for fruit crisp and is also perfect on its own.
  • Slow Cooker Good Morning Granola -- Making granola in a slow cooker is easy and better than in the oven because it cooks more evenly and doesn't burn.
Recipes Using Granola as an Ingredient
Granola on the Go

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Making Cajun Boudin Sausage

NEW IBERIA, LOUISIANA, USA -- One of the things I liked best about staying in Cajun Country is the way that folks shop for food. It's quite European in style, with visits to the bakery for bread and pastries, visits to the farmer's markets for produce, and visits to the boucheries for meats.

One of the stops on many a Cajun shopper's weekly list is Legnon's boucherie, known not only for its selection of quality meats, but also for its boudin and cracklins.

For the uninitiated, boudin is a sausage traditionally made from pork, pork liver, rice and spices; and cracklins are fried pork skins. Any self respecting foodie wanting to experience Cajun Country will want to try both.

A good place to obtain these Cajun delicacies is Legnon's in New Iberia.

Legnon's makes over 900 pounds a day of the traditional Cajun sausage and about 200 pounds a day of its nouvelle variation, Crayfish Boudin, made from -- you guessed it -- mud bugs. Both sausage varieties have a surprisingly mild flavor, as rice balances out the stronger flavors of pork (or crawfish) liberally seasoned with salt, cayenne pepper, parsley, and green onions.

Legnon's is also legendary for its cracklins. Before you turn up your nose at the thought of fried pork skins, let me state that Legnon's cracklins bear no resemblance to the packaged pork rinds you get at the supermarket. These are dark brown, ultra dense and crisp, have a flavor of crisply cooked bacon, and are completely addictive.

Ted Legnon (pictured right), owner of the family run enterprise, generously agreed to show us how they make Legnon's famous pork boudin. The most amazing thing about the experience to me -- boudin neophyte that I was -- was the speed of the sausage making process. While a lot of time goes into cooking the pork, once the ingredients are mixed together, Legnon's can produce 400 pounds of boudin in just 30 to 40 minutes!

Making Boudin Sausage

1. Before the sausage process can even begin, the pork is cooked for about 4 hours. It is then strained and sent through a meat grinder.

2. The juice from the meat is then mixed with cooked rice, then everything is mixed together.

3. Spices and seasonings are added to the mixture -- salt, cayenne, pepper, parsley, and green onions.

4. In preparation for the sausage making process, natural hog intestine casings are kept in water at the ready.

5. The end of the casing is fitted over the end of a machine. A foot control pumps the pork and rice mixture into the casing. Experienced employees like Angie Fontonette (pictured top of this post), who has worked for the Legnon's for years, know just when to pinch the casing to form the individual boudin links.

6. It all happens at lightning fast speed, mere seconds to fill a casing and tie off the ends. Angie can make about 400 pounds of boudin in about thirty minutes.

Visiting Legnon's Boucherie
You can find Legnon's Boucherie at 410 Jefferson Terrace in New Iberia, LA 70560. While they don't have a web site, you can call them at 337- 367-3831.

Travel Highlights of Cajun Country
Click here for our full feature on the Lafayette, Louisiana area. Explore the fascinating history of this area and the Acadian people as well as check out some great attractions and restaurants.