Friday, November 18, 2011

Tools, Tips, and Techniques: Tips for a Happy Thanksgiving

Hosting Thanksgiving this year?  Here are a few tips to help make your day a success.

Make lists for everything - for shopping, for what to do the day before, and for what to do the day of Thanksgiving.  This will relieve the stress of having to remember everything.  Include even the little things like take the butter out of the refrigerator half an hour before dinner, etc.  Tape or clip the lists somewhere they are visible and easy to refer to.

If your turkey is frozen, make sure you leave plenty of time to defrost it.  Allow at least one day of thawing for every 4 pounds of turkey.  For cold-water thawing, allow at least 30 minutes per pound. And don't forget to remove the giblets before cooking!

Now is the time to get out your Thanksgiving tablecloth and napkins.  Check that they are clean, ironed, and that you have enough of everything.  Take inventory of other table decorations, candles, etc.

Clean out your refrigerator a couple of days before Thanksgiving.  Eat up or throw out all those leftovers to make room for the new ones!

Set the table the day before thanksgiving, and decide what serving dishes you will be using.  Label serving dishes with post-it notes, so you know what will go in each one.  Put out serving utensils also, allowing a few extra if your guests are bringing dishes.

Recipes often suggest placing your pie or tart on a cookie sheet while baking in case it bubbles over.  This does avoid a big mess in your oven, but unfortunately you end up with a very messy pie dish that is stuck to your cookie sheet and needs to be cleaned up before presenting to your guests.  This Thanksgiving try placing the cookie sheet on the shelf below your pie dish.  It will still catch the drips, but your pie dish will be a whole easier to clean up.

Short of room in your oven or on your stove top?  Put your slow-cooker to good use.  Cook your mashed potatoes, stuffing, or vegetables ahead of time, then keep them warm in your slow-cooker.  You can transfer it to a serving dish at the last minute, or leave it in the slow-cooker insert if you are serving buffet style.

If you have made dishes in advance that need reheating, use a post-it to label the dish with the instructions.  This saves hunting for the recipe at the last minute, which undoubtedly you won't be able to find.  It also means that if things are getting a little crazy at the last minute, anyone offering to help can prep your dish with minimal supervision.

And most importantly:  Remember that the day is not about perfection.  It's about sharing a feast with family and good friends, and appreciating everything we have.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Any other good tips?  Please share :)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tools, Tips, and Techniques: Making and Freezing Basil Pesto

I’m sure it won’t be long before that first frosty night is upon us, so now is the time to do something with your basil plants, as that frost will be the end of them.  It's a shame just to let them go to waste, so a quick and easy solution is to make pesto.  This freezes well, and if frozen in small quantities it can be pulled out and put straight into recipes, or defrosted at a moment’s notice.

The only thing I do differently if I know I will be freezing the pesto rather than using it right away, is to first blanche the basil very quickly in boiling water.  This is an optional step, but it does help to preserve the beautiful green color and the fresh flavor, and it only takes a few minutes extra.

I like to freeze the pesto in ice cube trays and then transfer it to a larger container or freezer bag, that way I can pull out one or more cubes whenever I need them.  The pesto can be kept in the freezer this way for 6-8 months.

Of course we think of pesto mostly as being used in pasta dishes, but here are some other ways to use this versatile sauce:

  • Use it on its own or mixed with mayonnaise as a spread on a chicken, salmon, or roasted-vegetable sandwich
  • Stir it into vegetable soup to add an Italian flair
  • Thin with water and vinegar for a salad dressing
  • Mix with mayonnaise and/or sour cream to make a dip for vegetables or chips
  • Stir into mashed potatoes or rice  
  • If you are a baker, add to bread dough, biscuits, savory muffins and cornbread

Pesto is traditionally made with Parmesan cheese, but it freezes better without it.  You may not even notice it’s missing, but you can always add a bit of grated Parmesan after the pesto has thawed, or if you are adding the pesto to pasta, it’s easy enough to add some grated cheese at the same time.
When using nuts in a recipe, it is always good to toast them first (unless they are going to be in a baked topping).  This really brings out their "nuttiness."  You can sometimes find pine nuts that have already been toasted, which will save you a step.  If not, they can either be toasted in the oven or on the stove top. 

To toast them in the oven, preheat the oven to 350 deg F and spread the nuts out evenly on a rimmed baking sheet;  Toast them until they are golden and fragrant, tossing once.  Check every couple of minutes after the first five, as they will easily burn. 

 If you do not wish to turn on the oven, put the nuts in a dry skillet and cook over a medium heat until they are golden brown, stirring frequently.  Again, one minute the nuts are still pale, and the next they can be burnt, so don’t walk away from the stove if using this method.
Let the nuts cool completely before adding to the pesto.
Here’s how to make the pesto (recipe courtesy of Everyday Food)
Basil Pesto (makes about 1 ½ cups)


8 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves (4 ounces)
1 cup toasted p
ine nuts (see instructions above for how to toast them)
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Bring 4 cups salted water to a boil; add basil, and submerge with a spoon. Immediately drain in a colander. Rinse with cold water until cool, then pat basil completely dry in paper towels.

In a food processor, combine nuts, basil, and garlic; season generously with salt and pepper. Process until nuts are finely chopped.

With machine running, pour oil in a steady stream through the feed tube; process until smooth.

To freeze, spoon pesto into an ice-cube tray (2 tablespoons per cube). Alternatively, place pesto in a piping bag (or Ziploc bag with corner snipped off) and pipe equal amounts into ice-cube trays. 

Cover with plastic wrap, freeze for a few hours or overnight, then transfer cubes to a container or resealable plastic bag. 

Defrost pesto at room temperature, about 20 minutes (or at 30-second intervals in the microwave). Mash with a fork before using in recipes. If adding to pasta or soup, cubes may be added while still frozen and just stirred in until thawed. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Whole Foods Market, Folsom - Grand Opening

Shopping at Whole Foods for a foodie is rather like a kid going to Toys 'R Us - so much fun but a little overwhelming.  Stepping inside the Folsom Whole Foods however, was like going to Disneyland!  So much to see, I didn't know where to start. 

Now of course the only problem with Whole Foods is that sometimes the prices can seem like you're at Disneyland also, but I did splurge on a couple of things, and as I was browsing I took pictures of the beautiful displays and some of the new products they feature.  I have to say that everything looked amazing, and I was impressed with how much work must have gone into preparing the store for the opening.

First I stumbled upon what I thought was the bulk grain department.  But looking closer I discovered that these were in fact grains for beer making. 

Along with the grains, you can purchase all your other beer making supplies here - yeasts, thermometers, books, etc.  What a great Christmas idea for the beer drinker in your life - a big basket containing everything needed to make that first brew.

Moving to the other side of the store, I came across this fancy storage area housing the organic bulk grains.

There are bulk olive oils and balsamic vinegars,

bulk honeys and agave syrup,

and bulk legumes. 

Make your own nut butters,

Even chocolate peanut butter!

Then I moved on down to the deli and prepared foods area.  First I came to an antipasto bar, marinated peppers, artichokes, pickles, etc.

More antipasto and fabulous olives

Amazing salad bar - look at the incredible rainbow of colors

Pot pie bar, yum!  Chicken pot pie, mushroom and vegetable pot pie, and clam chowder pot pie.

Now here's a fun idea - a 'make-your-own-trail-mix' bar.

Sushi made fresh every day,

and cheeses from all over the world.

Look at this beautiful Parmesan Reggiano display.

Prepared meals, ready for you to take home for dinner.

Back over by the wine I found these bulk nuts.

And at last... dessert! 

These Coco Pops were interesting.  They are a little like a rice cake, but larger and flatter - about the size of a corn tortilla, and are made with whole grains.  Very low calorie and low fat.  A friend of mine was asking if they were gluten free, but I didn't look at the ingredients and nutrition labels.  So if anyone knows the answer to this, or can give more detailed information on the nutritional value, please comment.  Thanks.

I did try a sample, and although I'm not a big rice cake fan, the Nutella that they spread on my piece certainly made it quite tasty ;)

They are made fresh in the store every day, in a machine that resembles a popcorn maker.  Here is a quick video showing the Coco Pop machine in action - fun to watch!

Beautiful produce,

and pumpkin trees - who knew? 

Many other pretty flowers,

and of course a fall pumpkin display outside the store.

So have I whet your appetite?  If you live in the Folsom area, be sure to stop by for a visit.  You don't have to buy your week's groceries here, but be adventurous and pick up a few items that you wouldn't normally purchase - just to try.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tools, Tips, and Techniques: Poachpods®

There is nothing more delicious and comforting (in my humble opinion!), than warm, rich, runny egg yolk soaking into a crisp, fresh-out-of-the-toaster, buttered English muffin.  Or on top of a plate of grilled asparagus.  In fact, a poached or fried egg on the top of just about anything is pretty yummy. 

Now of course the correct way to poach an egg is to drop one into a pan of simmering water and let it cook free form.  But most people find it easier to use some kind of poaching pan.  Now I love my egg poaching pan, because it can cook up to six poached eggs at a time, but it always seems to be an awful lot of work for just one egg.  So when I found these little poachpods® in a kitchen store in Truckee a couple of months ago, they seemed to be the perfect solution.

They are made of silicone, so can be used on the stove top, or in the microwave or oven.  In fact they are heat resistant to 675 deg F.  They come as a set of two, and each 'pod' is designed to hold one egg. 

To poach an egg; spray the poachpod® with cooking spray and bring about an inch and a half of water to boil in a deep fry pan or small saucepan.  Reduce the water to a simmer, crack an egg into the poachpod® and float it gently in the water.  Sprinkle a touch of salt and pepper on the egg if you like.  Cover the pan with a lid and cook in simmering water for 6-7 minutes or to the desired firmness.  Use a slotted spoon to remove the poachpod® from the water.

To remove the egg from the poachpod®, the instructions say to run a spoon around the egg edge, then flip the pod inside out and gently push the egg out.  I was scared to do this!  I was sure I would end up breaking the egg.  Instead, I used a small metal spatula, or what we call a palette knife in England.  It's very thin and flexible so it is perfect for running round the edge of the egg and easing it out gently.

I haven't used my poachpods® for anything other than eggs yet, but they can also be used to bake flan, frittatas, cakes, or other baked goods.  Or what about using them for molded chocolate or chilled desserts.  They will sit on a cookie sheet, or you could put them in a water bath if you are making custards.  If you have other ideas, please share them.

My favorite part about these little guys is the easy clean up.  Look how clean they are after they have been used.  They are top-rack dishwasher safe.  Just place a dishwasher rack prong through one of the holes in the poachpod®.  Or hand wash them in hot soapy water.

Poachpods® cost $10 for a set of two, and can be purchased online from Fusion Brands or Amazon (where actually they are currently only $7).  Retail stores such as Le Gourmet Chef, Whole Foods, and Bed, Bath and Beyond also carry them.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday's Fave Five - I'm grateful for...

A blogger friend of mine posts five things she's grateful for every Friday.  She has talked me into doing the same so here goes! 

1.  Cooler days!  Summer is drawing to a close and today is only supposed to get to about 80 degrees.  It's almost noon and just 72 outside, so I'm planning on keeping the windows open all day - no air conditioning!  My dog Tally is also loving being able to wander in and out as she pleases.

2.  My son Chris has a new place to live.  He needed to be out of his current home by today.  The place he had lined up earlier in the week fell through and he and his two new roommates were scrambling to find somewhere.  They were able to find a house that fits their needs in Alameda and they can move in right away.

3.  I didn't have to pay at WeightWatchers this morning!  I have managed to stay at my goal weight so I am free!

4. I am grateful for the person who left a big bag of apples on my doorstep yesterday (my neighbor I think).  A sign that fall is truly here.  I can almost taste the apple pies, cakes, and butter that are most definitely in my future!  What else should I make with them?

5.  My stepdaughter - it is her birthday on Tuesday.  Happy Birthday Christi!  Plus, I am grateful for the precious grandson that her and her husband Al have given us - I got to babysit him for a whole day this week!