Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A new twist on lemonade

One of the best tips I picked up from a cooking class is to use dried lavender flowers to fancy up some lemonade. The lavender adds a floral aroma and a slightly sweet flavor.

An easy way to use it is to use brew some lavender to create a lavender lemonade.
 You just follow your favorite lemonade recipe (or the back of the Crystal Light box, in my case) except you replace the water with this:
1. Boil the amount of water needed for your lemonade
2. Add 1 - 2 TBSP of dried lavender depending on your taste to the boiling water.
3. Turn off the heat and allow the lavender to steep in the water. The longer you steep - the stronger the color and flavor will be. Lavender flowers impart a brown color so you may want to steep less unless you are using the pink lemonade mix.
4. Make the lemonade using the recipe.

One variation is to use half the water for your lemonade recipe to make a super concentrated mix. Then, when you are ready to serve - add back in half the amount of sparkling water or club soda. For instance, if you want a gallon of sparkling lavender lemonade - you only use half a gallon of water to make the mix. Then you add back in half a gallon of sparkling water/club soda when you are ready to serve.

Another variation is creating a lavender lemonade sorbet:
Lavender Lemonade Sorbet
4 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 lemon, zest of
1/4 cup lemon juice, fresh
2 -3 teaspoons lavender
1.  Over medium heat mix all ingredients together and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes
3. Refrigerate 4 hours or until well chilled.
4. Strain mixture and pour into an ice cream maker. Freeze according to manufacturer's directions. If you don't have an ice cream maker, you could put into Popsicle molds or add some ice and blend into a slushee.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Chick Lit - Why Pre-Ordering Books Matters

How Jennifer Weiner, Jen Lancaster and Stacey Ballis got me buying books again

Seven years ago, I stopped buying books. I moved to a city with a great library hold system. I could request all the hot new books and have them in my hands in a matter of months – and they were free.  I blogged about the ones I liked. I tried out cookbooks and even bought a couple of those that I couldn’t live without. Then, I started following Jen Lancaster and  Jennifer Weiner on twitter. Their recommendations turned me on to great authors: Alison Scotch Winn, Caroline Leavitt, Sarah Dessen, Stacey Ballis, Libby Bray , Liz Moore and the list goes on. I read their books and tweeted my delight.  And they tweeted back! It was thrilling to get an immediate answer from authors whose works had transported me to a different place or even back to times in my life with a whole new perspective. Following these women on twitter also opened a door into the publishing world.

In the past year or so, Jennifer Weiner has written about the bias against women in literary publications. She’s noted the gender disparity in the selection of books reviewed by the New York Times and the degradation of literature branded “chick lit”.   Initially, I found this annoying. Who cares? I am a person. I am reading your books. The people who are putting you on the best seller list don’t seem to care about this disparity. I don’t choose books based on reviews in the New York Times because I find the NY Times pretentious and irrelevant to my life. I want to punch people in the nose who say, “I saw in the Times yesterday….” But then I figured, these reviews must somehow be very very important. I was just missing it.

Then author Stacey Ballis spelled it out for me in her blog. Reviews matter because pre-orders matter. Pre-orders determine the size of a print run and the resources a publisher will put into promoting a book. This is a big deal in general and a very big deal for new authors or authors who haven’t previously appeared on the bestseller list. Now I got it. The bias in these literary publications could be quashing the dreams of these incredibly talented women authors simply because a lot of women read their books. That pissed me off. Thankfully, Jennifer Weiner, Jennifer Lancaster and Stacey Ballis have given me an opportunity to do something about it by recommending great new authors early enough that my pre-order can help make a difference. So I have started buying books again and if you value great books written by great woman authors may be you should too.

Jennifer Weiner tweets @jenniferweiner & blogs at http://jenniferweiner.blogspot.com/

Jennifer Lancaster tweets @altgeldshrugged & blogs at http://www.jennsylvania.com/

Stacey Ballis tweets @staceyballis &  blogs at http://thepolymathchronicles.blogspot.com/  
You should PRE-ORDER her new book Off the Menu. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How to make pasta from scratch

This week I attempted one of my 2012 Kitchen Bucket List : Making Pasta from Scratch.

Check out the video for the process.
NOTE: This is the first video my husband and I have filmed like this so be gentle! Also - if you grew up with homemade pasta - my methods may be a smidge different. I went for quick and easy.

I decided just to wing it. I had heard on a cooking show that you just take 100g of flour to one egg mix it, let it rest, and roll it out. That's exactly what I tried to do. I measured the flour into a bowl. It seems that everyone digs a hole in the middle for the egg and then stirs it around until the flour and egg combine. After I did that, I noticed that my dough seemed a little dry so I added olive oil until it came together. I kneaded it four or five times on the cutting board.  Then I let it put it back in the bowl with a towel on top while I assembled the ingredients for the pasta dish I was making:

Linguine with Chickpeas and arugula from Everyday with Rachel Ray Magazine.

I didn't have arugula or lemons so I changed the recipe just a bit.

2 TBSP butter
1 red bell pepper - diced
1 can of chickpeas rinsed and drained
3 cloves of garlic - minced
1 tsp of dried pepper flakes (or to taste)
3 tsp of salt (2 tsp for the pasta water and 1 tsp for the dish)
Greens - anything Swiss chard, spinach, arugula. I like the super greens packages that supermarkets are carrying these days.
Grated Parmesan

It took me about 10 minutes to pull that together. Then I put a pot on medium high heat so that it would be close to boiling when I was ready for it. Also - set out your bowls. At the bottom of each bowl, place a handful of greens.

Then I took out the dough and began rolling it with a rolling pin. I rolled it until it was as thin as I could get it. I cut it into strips that were narrow enough to fit through the KitchenAid Pasta Attachment about about the length I wanted my noodles to end up.  Then I just fed it through - starting on setting one, then two, then three. At this point,  I switched to the cutting attachment and cut the pasta into noodles. I carefully laid the noodles side by side on the edge of a bowl so they wouldn't clump together.

Now, if you don't have a Kitchenaid don't worry. Just roll out the dough as thin as you can and use a knife or cookie cutter to make the noodles. Call them "rustic" and everyone will think you are a super chef!

While the pasta was drying out, I turned up the heat on my water and added 2 tsp of salt.  I sauteed the chickpeas and red peppers in the butter for about 5 - 7 minutes - until the peppers softened. I added the garlic. Now the water was boiling, I added the noodles. The noodles only take 2 - 3 minutes to cook. Seriously. You'll notice a slight change in the noodle's color. Use tongs or a strainer to take the noodles out of the boiling water and put it into the pan with the chickpeas. It's okay if some of the pasta water drips in - this will help make a little sauce. Add the pepper flakes and 1 tsp of salt. Stir everything together for a couple minutes. Take the pan off the heat. Spoon the mixture into your bowls and then add Parmesan to the top. Let it rest for 2-3 minutes before serving. This will allow the greens to wilt a little bit. 

This dish is great. The  dried peppers spice up the meaty chickpeas and the greens and peppers help balance both. The homemade noodles make a huge difference.

Storing the extra uncooked noodles: First you'll need to dry them out. I laid out each noodle on parchment paper or wax paper on my dining room for just over an hour. They will feel dry like the ones you get from the store. Place into a Ziploc bag and refrigerate or freeze.

Verdict: THIS WAS SO EASY! I feel silly having been intimidated for so long. I'll definitely be making more!

Friday, June 1, 2012

My summer kitchen "bucket list" 2012

Hello Everyone!!

I know it has been a while. The other day I was looking at this blog and saw that it has had over 10,000 page views! I was more popular than I even realized. The food posts have been the most popular so I am going to revive it for the summer with my Summer Kitchen "bucket list" 2012.

This summer I am going to attempt to complete these culinary feats and live to write about it:

1. Roast a whole chicken - I am going to start with the infamous boyfriend roast chicken and go from there.

2. Make pasta, polenta, and bread  from scratch  - A friend gifted us her pasta maker attachment for our Kitchen aid so many months ago and I can't believe I haven't tried to use it yet! To see my adventure making pasta, click here.  Plus polenta and bread have such inexpensive ingredients and so expensive to buy prepared in comparison I feel like I need to at least try to make it.

3. Find 3 more soup recipes I like - I make carrot soup at least twice a month during the fall and winter. I need to find a couple more go-to soup recipes before we turn orange.

4. Perfectly poach an egg - A successful brunch event depends on it!

5. Figure out quinoa - How to pronounce it, how to cook it, what exactly it is. Let's just say quinoa is a big mystery in my life.

6. Create a smoothie that I like that doesn't cost more to make than it does to buy it  - I am not a huge fan of fruit. I do like a good green drink, but buying the ingredients to make 16 oz costs more than just pulling a bottle off the shelf.

7. Make a souffle - I have made pseudo-souffles, but it's time to find a good old French recipe and see what happens.

8. Figure out a signature fish dish - I have a signature chicken dish (butter chicken) and a signature soup (carrot). It's a crime that I actually live near the ocean and don't cook my fish. 

9. Figure out how to freeze my own skillet meals - I spend a good chunk of change on those skillet meals in the freezer section. It seems like I could figure out how to make a few myself.

I'll write here about how it goes and what I learn.

What's on your bucket list this summer?