Jan 31
icon1 Jennifer | icon2 Beverages, Cookbooks, Desserts, Recipes | icon4 01 31st, 2011| icon3No Comments »

With the very real threat of nearly two feet of snow being dumped on my community over the next two days, I’m settling in for the duration.  The kids will likely be home from school, and they can play in the snow all they want.  We have a huge yard, and I have a great view from the kitchen patio door.  I will happily make hot cocoa for them, but I’m planning something a bit more interesting for myself!  This could be a lengthy hibernation, so I’ve armed myself with two books of warm deliciousness by renowned chef and cookbook author Rick Rodgers: Tea And Cookies: Enjoy The Perfect Cup Of Tea–With Dozens Of Delectable Recipes For Teatime Treats and Coffee And Cake: Enjoy The Perfect Cup Of Coffee–With Dozens Of Delectable Recipes For Cafe Treats.

Tea And Cookies features 13 teas and 9 cookie recipes, while Coffee And Cake offers up 11 coffees and 10 cakes, so we’ll have no shortage of combinations to try while riding out the storm.  And when the snow stops flying, I can look ahead with Rodgers’ Spring Gatherings: Casual Food To Enjoy With Family And Friends!

Jan 26
icon1 Jennifer | icon2 Cookbooks, Desserts | icon4 01 26th, 2011| icon3No Comments »

I have a fondness for fun cakes.  I tried to do something special for each of my kids’ first birthdays, even though I sometimes took the easy way out, skipping the baking step and using frozen pound cakes for my medium.  But I have a genuine appreciation for fun, pretty, or inventive cakes, which is why I enjoy TLC’s Cake Boss  so much.  Here are some of my own attempts:

 

Pound cake regatta

 

Pound cake fire engine

 

Sheet cake Larry the Cucumber (Veggie Tales)

Sheetcake graveyard with the Scooby Gang

They’re not perfect, but the kids completely loved them, and that’s what is important to me.  Ever striving to improve my techniques, I thought I’d turn to the Master Baker himself, Buddy Valastro, so I consulted his book  Cake Boss: Stories and Recipes from Mia Famiglia for inspiration.  And inspiration is what I found!  A fourth-generation baker, Valastro tells his tale by way of his parents’ stories and the traditions passed down to him, literally and lovingly, by “hand.”  He rounds out his narrative with plenty of recipes and photos.  I know I’ll never achieve Cake Boss perfection, but it sure is fun to try!

Jan 21
icon1 Jennifer | icon2 Uncategorized | icon4 01 21st, 2011| icon31 Comment »

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a shesconnected community manager, working on a Kobo project.  Since I began using the Kobo ereader, my reading habits have completely changed for the better.  As much as I love to read, with four kids sucking up all of my energy, I was finding the only time I could actually do it was after I had gone to bed.  We all know what happens then, right?  Yes, 10-15 minutes, and I would be out cold with a book on my chest.  If I was lucky, I’d wake up to turn out the light before my hands fell asleep and the book hit the floor!

But since I got my Kobo, I’m reading tons more because it’s always with me.  It’s so light and portable, it has a home in my purse instead of on my bedside table.  I never miss an opportunity to read, whether it’s in the carpool line, waiting for an appointment, or hanging out in the kitchen while making dinner (one of the only times everyone seems to leave me alone at home!).

This week, something very exciting happened for Kobo.  My little friend had a featured role in NBC’s The Office, when Darryl resoved to read more, but then felt like he had to hide his paperless ereader from everyone, since he works for a paper company.  As usual, the show was hilarious, and Kobo got lots of great exposure.  In case you missed it, you can see the entire episode, “The Ultimatum” here.

Well everyone enjoyed watching Darryl sneak around with his Kobo so much, that the concept of a contest tied to the idea was born!  You could win one of four Kobo ereaders or 10 free ebooks by visiting Kobo’s facebook page and commenting on the post, “What are you ereading in the Office?”  If you’re feeling REALLY creative, take a picture of yourself hard at work in your office, and submit it under the Photo Contest tab.  Soon, you could be sneaking around your own office with your own Kobo! 

(This post in no way endorses slacking off at work.  Proceed with such risky and possibly career jeopardizing behavior at your own risk!)

Jan 17
icon1 Jennifer | icon2 Cookbooks | icon4 01 17th, 2011| icon3No Comments »

A very dear friend of mine had cancer long before I ever knew her.  She had a complete hysterectomy at 35 and some kind of recurrence in her 50s.  I can see that it pains her to remember, so I’ve never asked for specifics.  But one subject on which she speaks freely and with great enthusiasm is the diet that she feels has kept her healthy ever since.  She cut out all meat and processed foods, and very rarely indulges in the wonderful baked goods that she still regularly turns out for family and friends.  She also looks for ways to incorporate superfoods into her everyday routine, and drinks some of the vilest looking concoctions I’ve ever seen.  So when I stumbled across SuperFoods Rx by Steven G. Pratt, M.D. and Kathy Matthews, I couldn’t help but take a look to see what they have to offer on the subject.

I was under the misconception that super foods were hard to find, exotic produce that could only be purchased in specialty stores or sent away for from faraway lands.  So I was very happy to find that Dr. Pratt’s list includes many foods I already eat and actually enjoy:  apples, avocados, beans, blueberries, broccoli, cinnamon, dark chocolate (yay!), dried super fruits, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, honey, kiwi, low-fat yogurt, oats, onions, oranges, pomegranates, pumpkin, soy, spinich, tea, tomatoes, turkey, walnuts, and wild salmon.  

SuperFoods Rx  examines how each of the superfoods acts as a “nutritional powerhouse” to help reduce your chances of developing certain common ailments, letting you know what to eat to prevent such things as osteoporosis, cardiac ailments, obesity, high cholesterol, and cataracts, among others.  The book also includes superfoods recipes created by Chef Michel Stroot of the Golden Door Spa.  I’m currently checking out one that will make my friend’s Superfood Smoothies more palatable (or at least not so gray/green and chunky looking!).

Jan 13

No one has to ask my kids twice if they want pancakes. Or cookies. Or cupcakes. Or pretty much anything sweet. Combine their passion for goodies with their obsession for Star Wars (my three boys range in age from 10 to 6, and “obsession” is putting it mildly), and just try and keep them out of the kitchen! I really wish I had discovered Williams-Sonoma’s line of Star Wars products before Christmas, but fortunately we have some birthdays right around the corner.

The cookie cutters are beyond cool, and you can choose from two sets at $19.95 each:  Heroes & Villains, or Vehicles.  Unfortunately, I’m not a very talented decorater, so the kids might have to settle for the general shape and a lot of imagination!  Also available, and much more likely to be used regularly in our house, are the Star Wars pancake molds

Let’s not forget the importance of our tools.  It would hardly be seemly to flip our Star Wars pancakes with anything but a Darth Vader or Storm Trooper Flexible Spatula ($12.95 each).

And of course, our little intergalactic chefs must look the part while hard at work in the galley.  The Star Wars Kids’ Apron  is available with ($24.95) or without ($19.95) personalization and even comes in adult sizes so no one has to feel left out.

Also available from Williams-Sonoma are Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire Cupcake Decorating Kits ($12 each) and Vehicle Sandwich Cutters ($19.95).  Enjoy them much you will.

Jan 10
icon1 Jennifer | icon2 Desserts | icon4 01 10th, 2011| icon3No Comments »

Over the course of our relationship, my husband has done some seriously touching things that show me how carefully he pays attention and how thoroughly he cares.  For instance, we had been dating only a short time when I found out that my favorite toothpaste was being discontinued.  I’m disturbingly brand-loyal, and had bought up the remaining few tubes I had found locally. That year for Christmas, I unwrapped a heavy box from him to find 26 tubes of my beloved toothpaste for which he had scoured the entire Chicagoland area.  And this was well before the Internet era in which he could have ordered online.  Hey, I don’t need jewels or grand gestures when I have a guy who understands my dental idiosyncracies, and I’m not kidding!

He likewise respects my dark chocolate obsession, and any time he finds some unique brand or variety out there, he snaps it up for me.  Dark chocolate Raisinettes?  Yum.  Dark chocolate Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups?  You bet.  Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout?  Yes, yes, yes, please!  (I also love dark beers.)  So how on earth could I pass up The Chocolate Therapist: A Users Guide to the Extarodinaty Health Benefits of Chocolate by Julie Pech?  Well, I couldn’t, so it’s the latest addition to my rapidly growing Kobo ebook collection.  After all, it’s not every day you get to learn about all the wonderful ways one of your favorite vices is actually good for you!

Somehow, chocolate isn’t as guilt-inducing when you see a list of ailments it can help, with the research to back up the claims.  The Chocolate Therapist also offers sections on wine and chocolate pairings, chocolate resources, and comic relief in the form of  “Where Do You Hide Your Chocolate?”  And just so you know, I have several carefully concealed hidey spots, but I’ll never tell.  And I also have a husband who truly looks out for my “health” and well-being!

Jan 6

Who only cooks once a month?  Someone with a personal chef?  A person who works in a restaurant?  Certainly not a busy mother of four Bottomless Petes who routinely insist that I, you know, feed them!  Well Mary Beth Lagerborg and Mimi Wilson insist that it can be done.  According to them, you can grocery shop one time, do all your prep work at once, and stock your pantry and freeze enough to feed your family every day for an entire month.

Does anyone else remember those meal prep places that were all the rage a few years back?  I went a couple of times, and it was pretty neat.  You’d gather a bunch of friends, choose from several menu selections, and read off of a recipe card as you dumped ingredients into plastic bags and containers to take home and freeze for future consumption.  Everything was prepped and ready for you to assemble.  My friends and I discussed the possibility of getting together on our own to do something like this, maybe once a month. How great it would be, we imagined, to have a ready supply of pre-made meals to draw from on those crazy evenings when baseball practice, Cub Scouts, and gymnastics all seemed to converge at once, resulting in exotic dinners of peanut butter and canned soup!  Alas, we never figured out how to do it.

But now I’ve discovered Once-a-Month Cooking:  Family Favorites, and I’m newly inspired!   The aforementioned Lagerborg and Wilson have even trademarked their Once-a-Month Cooking system, so it must work, right?  I’m learning all about their cycle method, whereby you shop for either monthly, bi-weekly or seasonal cycles, do all your prep in one day, and voila!  A freezer full of well-planned and balanced meals!  I can’t wait to get started.  The way I see it, buying in bulk for these mass prep sessions will not only save us money because we’re buying in bulk, but also because we won’t be making gratuitous trips to the grocery store, where we’re naturally tempted by all kinds of costly impulse items.  But the absolutely best part is that I don’t have to figure out how to do any of this on my own, because I have the book to lead me, every step of the way. Who’s with me?  C’mon!

Jan 4
icon1 Jennifer | icon2 Desserts, Recipes | icon4 01 4th, 2011| icon3No Comments »

I know it’s not really cooking, but I love a quick dessert that basically entails dumping a bunch of ingredients together, mixing and refrigerating.  It’s especially handy to have something you can whip together quickly for those spur-of-the-moment invitations that crop up from time to time.  Here’s my winter stand-by:

PUMPKIN MOUSSE

1 lg. can of pureed pumpkin (NOT pie filling)
1 sm. package instant vanilla pudding mix
1 sm. tub of Cool Whip
Cinnamon (start with 1 tsp. and add to taste)

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate. Serve with graham crackers or other small cookies for dipping.  We’ve been using Honey Maid Spongebobs and chocolate Mini Teddy Grahams for kid appeal.  And believe me, they belly up to the bowl when Spongebob can go diving into the Pumpkin Mousse!

Jan 2

Living in the midwest, we don’t cook outside anywhere near as often in the winter, and I really miss the taste of grilled food, as well as the expanded menu offerings that come from outdoor cooking.  So when I stumbled across the Nathan’s Reversible Stovetop Grill & Griddle while Christmas shopping, I just couldn’t pass it up.  And yes, that’s Nathan’s as in Nathan’s Famous Frankfurters, sponsors of the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog-Eating Contest in Coney Island that my family can’t miss watching in horrified admiration every summer! 

We took our new Nathan’s Grill/Griddle on a test run today for lunch.  On the menu:  Nathan’s hot dogs (natch) and Johnsonville Sweet Italian Sausage.  The Grill/Griddle fits over both front and back burners of our gas stove (the only cooking surface not compatible is glass) and distributes the heat evenly.  Although the hot dogs cooked pretty quickly, the sausages took more than twice as long as they typically would on the outdoor grill.  But I liked how the grease was channeled away from the meat, and 40 minutes later, we thoroughly enjoyed our summer-style lunch in the middle of winter.  Afterwards, clean-up was a breeze on the non-stick surface.

On the flip side of the grill is the griddle, which holds further appeal for us.  Making breakfast for a family of six is no small endeavor, and the expanded surface of the griddle will make for much faster pancake production.  The box even depicts pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage and potatoes all cooking simultaneously on the griddle surface, but that’s a challenge for another day.  So far, Nathan’s Famous Reversible Stovetop Grill & Griddle gets a thumbs up from my family, although I hope it will be quite a while before any of them can down 50 hotdogs in a ten-minute sitting!