As I sat outside this weekend enjoying the last bit of warmth we may have from the summer, I noticed the abundance of green tomatoes we still had clinging to the vines in our garden. I tried to focus back on the book I was reading, but the green tomatoes stuck in my brain. Finally lunchtime rolled around and I decided to fry up a few small ones. I picked them off the vine and washed them up in the house. I sliced them thickly and breaded them, as I’d been taught, and fried them up golden and yummy, inevitably burning a few. (This always happens when I make fried green tomatoes. I don’t know why…it just happens.) I poured myself a tall glass of iced tea and devoured a few hot slices. I was very pleased with how they turned out. They were so good, that I even decided to take a plate outside to my mom. (She’s become my official taste-tester.) She took one bite and proudly declared that they tasted just like my great-grandmother’s. My great-grandma used to serve them with milk gravy, but I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into the tomatoes, so I ate them without. I don’t know what it is about this time of year, but it seems that I always get a craving for them at the end of every summer. They are one of my favorite things to make to celebrate the end of a good season. What are your favorite foods to cook during this “in between” time of year? How do you make the most of your end of season produce?
September 25, 2008
September 17, 2008
My eldest nephew is quite the adventurous eater. No, he’s not Anthony Bourdain adventurous, but he is more of an epicure than some adults I know. What do I consider adventurous? Well, he enjoys sushi as well as spicy foods, and he isn’t shy about bumming a bite or two from other family member’s plates, regardless of what they might be eating. Of course, if he were a teen, this might be considered the norm, but my nephew is only 4. Another great example of his mature tastes would be his favorite dessert: Key Lime Pie. That’s a pretty sophisticated taste for a four-year-old, though I don’t blame him; It’s one of my favorites too. Even though I would love to take the credit for introducing him to the world of great cooking, I cannot. I have to give credit where credit is due. My brother and sister-in-law are quite the adventurous eaters (and fantastic cooks) in their own rite and have managed to instill in their son a wholesome respect for good food.
Of course, I’m sure it helps that there are a number of adventurous eaters in the extended family as well. Then again, maybe we were just raised to be that way. My own mother is an adventurous eater and together with my father, she devised a very smart way to get all of us kids to try new things without letting dinner develop into a tantrum-fest. It was called the “Thank You Portion.” My Mom and Dad never made us eat anything we didn’t want, but they would ask us to politely take a “Thank You Portion” of whatever it was that was being served. (We thought, at the time, that it was just a way for us to be courteous to the cook.) The portion could be as small as a bite and if we didn’t like it, we didn’t have to eat it, but regardless of our opinion it was always to be followed with a “Thank you” to the hardworking chef. Of course, it also served to give us a chance to try new things, without any serious commitment on our parts (or wasted food!) To this day I still try “Thank You Portions” when I’m at a potluck or picnic where I don’t recognize dishes. I’ve found that, more often than not, I actually like the mystery foods and end up going back for more. How do you get your kids to be more adventurous when it comes to eating or trying new foods? How adventurous are you?
September 12, 2008
Rating: 5 Stars
Best Feature: It has a compressor! You can make ice cream until the cows run away.
The Low Down: I have an older model Cuisinart ice cream maker. It employs the double walled bucket filled with freezing fluid. You place the bucket in the freezer for a minimum of 24 hours prior to use. It worked well enough, but you could only use it once before you’d have to place it back into the freezer for the next use. If you wanted to make ice cream on a whim, you were out of luck. Also, if your ice cream didn’t freeze enough to your liking, you couldn’t do anything about it. After approximately ½ hours use, the freezing liquid contained in the bucket warms too much to freeze anymore. Also, most ice cream recipes require that you heat the milk or cream to incorporate the sugar. So, most recipes need to be refrigerated prior to being placed into the ice cream maker.
Then along came Cuisinart’s Ice-50 ice cream maker. This baby has a compressor! Although, not the first to use a compressor, it is far less expensive than its predecessors. There are no buckets to freeze! The auger that mixes your ice cream mixture also moves at a slower speed. This is important if you want a more dense and creamy dessert. I made a simple vanilla ice cream recipe and the finished product was similar to gelato. The ice cream this machine made was far superior to my old machine. The compressor is also of a heavy duty commercial quality. The timer can be set for 60 minutes, but I found it usually did the job in 35-40 minutes. That’s not bad for 1.5 quarts of ice cream. There aren’t many parts; the metal container, the auger contraption and the lid. The lid is see through so you can keep an eye on the ice cream’s consistency. You may also want to add ingredients towards the end of the process. There is a small ingredient spout just for that purpose.
Bottom Line: A compressor style ice cream maker at this price, it’s a steal! The quality is backed by a 3 year warranty too. The ice cream is definitely superior to other bucket style makers. When my current maker finally kicks off, I’m going to treat myself to this one.
Tip/Recipes: Although a recipe book does come with the Cuisinart Ice-50, do purchase another. There are several different ways to make ice cream; such as Philadelphia style, custard and gelato. Philly style uses cream and sometimes milk, but no egg. A custard style uses egg and becomes thicker and a little gummy for my taste. Gelato is traditionally slower churned and most often uses milk instead of cream. In some recipes corn starch is used as well. Don’t stop at ice cream though! I made an awesome 3-melon bomb last year for the 4th of July. It was very easy to make, although it took several days since I had to freeze each flavor separately. The recipe uses simple syrup and fruit puree. You spray a large bowl with non-stick coating then place plastic wrap over this so that it sticks to the bowl. Then, you would make one of the melon sorbets and fill the bottom of the bowl to level and freeze. Then, make the next sorbet and place it atop the first and level and freeze. Finish with the third sorbet and freeze until you are ready to use. Remove the sorbet bomb from the bowl and slice crosswise and serve. A watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew melon sorbet bomb made a really nice looking dessert.
September 5, 2008
Rating: 5 stars
Best Feature: Makes an incredible espresso
The Low-down: Let’s discuss the art of making espresso. First, you need the right beans. In my opinion, the right beans would be a full-city roasted blend of Colombian, Guatemalan, Costa Rican and a Kenyan. Of course, every coffee lover has an opinion as to what is best. So get your own beans! Grind your beans at the correct setting on your burr grinder (blade grinders won’t work well for espresso) just before brewing. Measure 14 grams of ground coffee (usually equal to 2 tablespoons) and place them into the brew basket. Tamp the grounds at 28 psi (pounds per square inch) and make sure the grounds are level. To get an idea how much pressure 28 psi is, practice using your tamper on your bathroom scale. Also, use only a metal tamper, the plastic variety tends to bend and break. Once you’ve figured out the proper tamping pressure, load the brew basket into the espresso machine. Press “go” and allow anywhere from 20-30 seconds to brew 1.5 ounces of espresso. If your espresso brews in less than 20 seconds, the coffee will be weak or under brewed. If the espresso brews longer than 30 seconds, your coffee will be bitter and over brewed. Alas, there are many variables in this process that will change the outcome of your espresso. If you understand all of the processes, you are well on your way to becoming an espresso purist. Of course, if you’re like me, you haven’t got the time or the patience in the morning to go through such a process. You need your coffee now and you needed to leave for work 10 minutes ago.
That’s where the Nespresso system comes in oh so handy. The Nespresso system uses a hermetically sealed pod to brew an unbelievably good espresso in very little time without hassle. I leave my machine on 24/7, so it’s ready to go every morning (it takes less than 2 minutes to warm if it were off). In a matter of 25 seconds I have a perfect espresso. There is no messy grinding of beans, no measuring and no cleaning. Also, you won’t have to worry about where and how to store your coffee beans, as these pods are hermetically sealed to hold their freshness for 6+ months! Did I mention that the espresso was awesome? This espresso is as good, if not better than, what you get from the best coffee shops! It’s one heck of a lot cheaper and more convenient as well. However, there is a problem that I have encountered. I find myself drinking it way too often.
The Nespresso D90 is the basic machine. I call it the “shotgun” machine, because you load the espresso pods in the top and close the lever just as you would a shotgun. Once loaded, you press a button and wait until the correct amount of coffee is dispensed, then hit the button again to stop the brewing process. Then, you pull open the lever and the spent coffee pod is dropped into a waste receptacle inside the machine. You are now ready to load again.
Although, the D90 makes a great espresso, it cannot froth/steam milk. This is strictly an espresso maker (there are 2 types of pods, espresso and lungo. The lungo are meant to brew 4-6 ounces and have a more course ground coffee that creates a milder brew similar to an Americano). If you like cappuccino/latte, there are other Nespresso machines that will froth/steam. There is also the Nespresso Aeroccino. The Aeroccino is a separate electrical component that will heat and froth or steam milk in less than 60 seconds.
Bottom Line: An incredibly easy way to make great espresso. The machine is affordable and the coffee costs about $0.47 per espresso. That’s 1/3 the price of an espresso of equal quality at a coffeehouse. If there was one fault with this machine, it would be that you cannot buy the pods in a store. You must order via internet, standing order or by phone (a 1-800 number). I view this as a convenience. The coffee is roasted and packaged just days before shipment, so the freshness is unbelievable. Also, the coffee will arrive at my door within 48 hours, guaranteed. I don’t have to leave my home to buy my coffee!
Tip or favorite recipe: If you like cappuccino or latte, don’t hesitate, get the Aeroccino, it’s amazing. Also, if you like a flavored cappuccino or latte, add the flavoring to the espresso, then pour the milk down the center of the cup. This allows for the crema and flavoring to mix with the frothed milk to form a wonderful first sip!
Some of the earliest memories I have are of helping my mom out in the kitchen. In our house, everyone was expected to pitch in and as soon as I could reach the kitchen table, I was helping her with a variety of tasks. Over the years I managed to grow from being just an “official taste-tester” to my Mom’s right hand in the kitchen. Of course, being the youngest in a family with four kids, I have probably played the role of sous-chef for her the longest. She has taught me so many different things about cooking, but I think the most important thing was the idea that everyone could help. She always tried to get all of her kids involved in preparing dinner, with each of us assigned tasks based on our age and skill level. This was how I learned to bake cookies, shuck corn and even can tomatoes. Thinking back, she ran a pretty tight ship and probably would’ve made an excellent Executive Chef. I think that these early introductions to food prep have helped make me a better home cook today. I think it has also been a factor in how and what I choose to eat as an adult. How old were you when you first got into the kitchen? Or how young were your children when you got them involved?