Posts from the ‘Supplies’ Category

Visit to Japantown with My Brother, Part 2

Super Mira grocery store is devoted to Japanese and organic foods. Their assortment of local organics and gluten-free items was very impressive. I was totally amazed that they have the S&B gluten-free Curry Prince roux mixes, which I previously talked about here*. I’m so glad they carry so many local products instead of importing everything from overseas; I was pleasantly pleased to see so many packages of organic foods that I have seen at Whole Foods, Oliver’s and Community Market up here in Sonoma County. This means the foods are fresher, which hopefully also makes the prices much more reasonable (actually rather decent) for the store and their customers. They had bakery counter and fresh made-to-order sushi, too. The service people were very friendly, and the store is really neat and clean. The store has a blog, where they post current sales, recommendations and other information, which is written half in Japanese, but they do have a good number of helpful pictures.

Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop is a bakery located inside the market and has been in business for 38 years! That’s a really long time, considering the relatively quick lifespans of so many businesses in Japantown, especially so close to the malls. Unfortunately, we visited Japantown on a Sunday, so the bakery counter (along with several other shops in the area) was closed and bakery cases empty. Although I definitely cannot eat any of their creamy glutinous baked delights, there are several enticing pictures and reviews from Yasukochi’s happy customers over at Yelp, absolutely raving about how great they are.

In Super Mira’s sauce and curry section, I found the S & B “Curry no Ohji-Sama” sweet curry roux mixes that I previously posted about in this entry, to which I recently made a correction regarding the gluten content. When I looked at the list of ingredients on the red and blue boxes, I found that both of them are gluten-free. I bought one of each to try them out (I will try to post the cooking and taste test results later). The directions on the back of both boxes say to add lean beef or chicken, onions, carrot and potato, but I’m sure you can add other meats and/or vegetables if you prefer. The red box holds a vegetable curry, which is vegan as far as I can tell (There are pictures of vegetables on the front, and the English language sticker says “no meat contained”). The roux bar provides six servings, each 70 calories, without any significant nutritional value other than 590mg (24% of your daily needed) sodium. The blue box doesn’t not have a picture on the front that suggests a particular flavor, so your guess is as good as mine unless you can read Japanese. The ingredients the blue box does list non-calcinated shell calcium (perhaps to boost the otherwise rather insignificant amount of vitamins and minerals), which therefore makes the sauce non-vegan. This boxed mix also serves six, each serving has 60 calories and 560mg sodium (23% of your daily value). Although multiple locations carry the red boxed mix, I’m under the impression that the blue one is pretty popular, too; I bought the last one in the store. Remember, you can always create more serving, add nutrients and dilute the sodium by adding more vegetables, liquid, meat, nuts, seeds, grains, noddles or what-have-you than the directions call for. Let me know what you come up with.

Nijiya Market never ceases to amaze me. It has a huge selection, which now features lots of local and organic products (not just imports). I was pleasantly pleased to find taiyaki (grilled sea bream fish-shaped waffles or “cakes” filled with nut butter, fruit, sweet bean paste, pudding or ice cream) in the freezer section. I kind of want a taiyaki maker for myself to make my own ice cream sandwich fish; they are very popular treat in Japan and taste scrumptious. Imagine eating ice cream on a regular waffle cone, except the light crispy waffle completely surrounds the semi-soft ice cream center instead of the cone just serving as the ice cream holder that your hands from cold and stickiness. It’s so good! Some types of taiyaki have various fillings (sometimes one or two fillings per fish-shaped cake) or batters, like brown sugar, green tea, chocolate, strawberry or vanilla. I found some gluten-free recipes! One recipe includes red bean filling, and the other uses blueberry filling. Here’s a video that shows how to make the non-ice cream ones. You can use it as a guideline and substitute one of the bean-based fillings for ice cream if you want to; just refreeze the taiyaki once they are done cooking.

Anyway, there was a whole section of furikake (rice seasonings); the three I bought now brings my collection up to five varieties (shrimp, bonito fish, seaweed, mixed vegetable and beefsteak plant; the salmon one is also very good) in my cupboard . I’m not sure if it’s because they are the most profitable sections in the store, but there are multiple aisles devoted just to confections and snacks, more than I anticipated. After the company’s focus on and attention to organic foods, I found the shear quantity kind of shocking. Is it due to all the visiting tourist customers wanting a quick snack that there’s so much junk food? I don’t think the people living and working in the Japantown neighborhood actually buy that much unhealthy food to warrant the huge amount in the store, but maybe I’m just being presumptuous.


One of the newest food features is the market’s huge refrigerated section of freshly-made, ready-to-go bento-style boxed lunches and noodle soups that they make onsite. I was very impressed with the variety of dishes available, all garnished in rainbow of color. I don’t know why I didn’t noticed them before, but Nijiya Market is actually a chain of stores that specializes in organic produce and products and publishes their own free Japanese foods magazine, called Gochiso, that started back in 2005. The seasonal and annual issues are printed in Japanese, Chinese and English language versions with lots of full-color Nijiya Market Ricephotographs, articles on health, certain ingredients and certain types of dishes, like onigiri or maki. Nijiya also has an online store, where they sell their own lines of organic rice and flours. Who knew there are that many organic varieties commercially available? I couldn’t help staring at them in awe and wonder when my brother and I were in the store. I wonder what the customary uses are and what the flavors and textures are like for all of the rice types…, but I know I can eat them all! Nijiya Markets also has its own food blog with recipe entries in English and Japanese, which is really cool, as they post a new one about every two weeks.


Kissako Tea is a cute little booth or kiosk that sells a nice variety of dumpling-style wagashi (bite-size Japanese desserts); here’s a fantastic blog that is almost entirely devoted to Japanese dessert recipes. I love mochi! Traditionally, the dough was made out of rice that was steamed and then beaten smooth, but now finely ground rice flour is mixed with water to make dough and then steamed. Either way, since mochi manju (“beaten rice dumpling”) dough is naturally gluten-free, I can eat it! Fresh mochi is soft and kind of stretchy if it is made with steamed rice. The dough is really sticky, so it’s dusted with starch made from corn, arrowroot or potatoes. Steamed mochi dough is usually dyed with naturally tinted ingredients, like cacao, fruit juice, green tea powder or ground mugwort to create muted or pastel colors and sweetened with sugar or honey. Manju is either solid rolled dough with mixed-in flavor (reminds me of squishy marshmallows) or filled with something sweet, like ice cream, bean paste, chocolate, gelatin, nut butter, etc. To me, filled mochi are seem like a cross between jelly-filled gummy candy and fruit-filled marzipan. Make sure you keep your soft mochi tightly wrapped and refrigerated if you aren’t going to eat them right away, otherwise they will harden as the dough dries.


Kissako makes two different kinds of kushi dango (skewered dumpling clutster), which consist of three or four round steamed mochi manju threaded onto a bamboo skewer, like a kebab. There are lots of different kinds of dango in Japanese cuisine. Mitarashi kushi dango is made with four small solid white mochi manju covered with mitarashi sauce, which is a simple gluten-free soy sauce drizzle with mirin. Botchan (or bocchan) kushi dango is made with three medium dark red bean paste balls that are covered in sugar-sweetened pink, white or yellow, and green  glutenous rice doughs that are mixed respectively with sweet red bean paste, nothing (for white) or egg yolk, and green tea or mugwort powder (these powdered yield different shades of green) for color (if you make your own at home, you can adjust the amounts of add-ins to adjust the color intensities) and usually dusted with starch or flour. The kushi dango that I ordered were absolutely perfect. I was extremely impressed. Although Kissako makes all of their mochi in San Jose (from what I remember), the dumplings were soft and moist with stretchy dough and very smooth bean paste filling. I liked the dango so much, I couldn’t help buying a second one to enjoy later in the night.


For those of you who are gluten-free, watch out! Not all manju are gluten-free; only mochi manju is made with rice. There are several recipes that look like mochi that actually contain wheat. These are also steamed or baked dessert dumplings filled with sweet pastes or creams.The only way I can tell the difference is by looking at them. Mochi is generally dusted and has a semi-transparent texture if the dough is steamed, whereas baked mochi is very shiny on top. Wheat-based manju has a flatter or more matte texture when you look at it. (I’m not sure if this hold true all of the time, but from what I have seen, wheat dough manipulated into decoratively shaped manju seem hold their intended structure better. The sames might instead denote the artisan’s skill level or the use of certain kitchen tools…, but I’m not sure. Does anyone know?) If the manju is coated in sauce or drizzled with something sugary, there’s really no way to tell what you’re looking at. In this case, do not be afraid to just ask the sales clerk directly. There are lots and lots of mochi, manju, and other wagashi confections out there. Personally I am unacquainted with most of them, except for a scant few that I only recognize by sight, not by name.


Kaissako Tea makes their teriyaki chicken, salmon, picked plum, seaweed, and beef onigiri (rice balls with fillings) in fresh at their booth all day long, which is a relief, since all of their flavors are so popular. If they run out of a certain kind, just ask them to make more for you. My brother got a teriyaki chicken rice ball to snack on, and I got a seaweed one. Both flavors tasted really good (he let me try a bite) and satisfying. They were all pretty big, which was a surprise, as they were really cheaply priced at only $1.75. They way the Kissako Tea folks made them was different to me, since they used a mold to sandwich a layer of seasoned vegetables or meat between two layers of steamed rice (and to save time). I’m used to making them by shaping a bowl-shaped pocket out of rice with my hands, filling the pocket with stuff and packing more rice on top and shaping the onigiri into pyramids or spheres. I have also seen onigiri with the seasoned fillings just mixed in with the rice that is then shaped. Either way, after shaping them, the slightly sticky rice balls are wrapped in small nori seaweed sheets, like a taco, so that they are easier to eat without getting your hands all sticky. Kissako’s onigiri, as well as all of their other treats, would pair very well with many of their green tea selections. I wish we had had time to sit, chat and munch on our treats while sipping hot tea, but it was getting rather late. Instead, we chatted and snacked on our way back to the car, so that we could arrive at my house at a reasonable hour.

*The previous article I read about the Prince Curry mixes was incorrect. The red and blue boxes are both gluten-free, containing sorghum instead, only varying in flavor.

Easy Chicken Tastada Salads

This meal totally felt like cheating. It was way too easy and quick, but I’m glad it was. I can’t eat too late into the night and go to bed right after dinner due to my acid reflux issues. Without time to go to the store or cook anything more complicated, I’m glad we had all of the ingredients to make these. It was a relief to not have to really think about making dinner after a long day of helping my mom at work.

We used my parents’ non-stick tortilla bowl makers, which I had never seen or heard of before. They are amazing! I remember making tostadas when I was younger with flat tortillas that were crisped in an oiled frying pan. (Now mind you, those are really good and provide a sense of nostalgia.) It’s neat to make your own restaurant-style bow

ls without frying; it’s much healthier, too.  Here is a recipe at eHow.com that uses a large metal bowl in the oven as a mould. Another method to make the bowls is in the microwave if you don’t have baking moulds; the tortillas need a little bit of oiling though.

Easy Chicken Tostada Salads
Serves 8 to 10

Salad Ingredients
8 – 10 8″ Guerrero King-Size Gluten-Free White Corn Tortillas
Store-Bought Whole Rotisserie Lemon and Herb Free-Range Chicken, boned, shredded
1  14.5 oz Can Spiced Black Beans, rinsed, cooked to tender in 1/3 C water, strained
3 Small Hass Avocados, skinned, pitted, sliced
1  Lemon or Lime, juice of (1 T)
2/3 C Daiya Pepperjack Style Shreds, optional
2/3 C Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds, optional
2/3 C Queso Fresco Cheese, shredded, optional
6 C Mixed Lettuce Greens, torn into bite-size pieces
1 Handful Red Fingerling or Cherry Tomatoes, halved
1 Handful Golden Cherry Tomatoes, halved
1/2 Cucumber, horizontally halved, sliced
3 Scallions, trimmed, sliced
Favorite Jarred Salsa and/or Hot Sauce of Choice
1  2 1/4 oz Can Pitted Sliced Black Olives, optional
Italian or Mexican Spice and Herb Vinaigrette, optional

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place the tortillas into 2 or 4 non-stick tortilla bowl-shaped shell makers, depending on how many came in your set, on a large jelly roll baking pan or cookie sheet. Bake the tortillas for 15 minutes. Once they are crispy, let the tortillas cool for 5 minutes before  transferring them to a cooling rack or trivet. Repeat baking the tortilla shells in batch until you have enough shells.

In a small bowl, toss the avocados and lemon or lime juice together. Set the avocados aside. Mix the cheeses together in a medium bowl with a fork. (I had to fluff ours, since my brother shredded the cheese the day before and chilled it in the refrigerator in a covered bowl.) Set the cheese aside. Toss the salad ingredients together, from lettuce to scallions,  in a large salad bowl. (I accidentally added the avocado to the to the salad, so I tossed the whole salad in lime juice. After mixing the salad together, we found it hard to find the avocado, since it shifted to the bottom of the bowl with other heavier ingredients.)

Line up your layer bowls to assemble your tostada salad bar. This way everyone can layer the chicken, beans, cheese, salsa, hot sauce, salad, avocado, olives and dressing on their shell as they prefer. (I spooned my salsa on top of my salad layer, where as my parents like theirs between the cheese and salad layers.) Have each person start with a tortilla bowl shell on their plate and then proceed through the line. This is much easier than placing all of the bowls at the dining table and serving every bit family style.

I know I listed a bunch of different options; you can include as many or as few in your tostada salad bar and in your own tostada as you like. Although I like many of the ingredients listed above, I have to limit my consumption of them, so no cheese or salsa fresca for me. (Just in case, I also took a special digestive pill before eating, too.) You can also make yours as spicy or mild as you prefer, too, depending on which spices, salsas or sauces you use.

Although it’s bad for portion control and my metabolism, I had not eaten for several hours while helping my mom at school, so even though I ate my tostada salad slowly, I was still hungry afterward. I think I made the smart choice. In lieu of having a whole other tostada or a sugary dessert, I ate more of the green salad with some of the salsa verde and Italian dressing mixed in. This salad was tasty, satisfying and exactly what I needed. It’s always better to fill up on vegetables that are full of nutrients than carbohydrates late in the day unless you plan on exercising soon after you eat them anyway, or so the fitness and nutrition specialists tell me. 😉

I hope you enjoy this recipe, like my family did. How do you make your tostadas? What garnishes do you sprinkle on top of yours? Which quick and easy meals do you make that only take a few minutes to make? What do you make for yourself and your family when you are tired and pressed for time?

Things I Love Most in My Kitchen Right Now: Part 3

I love my Ninja Master Prep Food Processor!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was another outstanding wedding present from my friends Jessie and Trish (as seen in this post about MacNCheese).  The Ninja Master Prep is awesome. I use this bad boy all the time.

I’ve never used the Magic Bullet   But the Diana at Culinary Therapy loves hers.  That’s guacamole in there, btw.

I’ve used a food processor like this one, but much, much older and clunkier.  I was not a fan of all the hard to store sharp bits.

I use my Ninja at least three times a week, if not three times a day.  Today I used it to chop pecans for banana bread and chop olives for pasta salad (mexican inspired pasta salad with corn, olives, fresh tomatoes, taco seasoning, mayo, and Frank Hot Sauce, for those interested).  I use my ninja for garlic all the time and it still doesn’t smell like garlic.  Onion is also great to chop in here, since I usually cry from chopping onions myself.  Its great for pureeing soup or making smoothies, too.  My next big projects for it are going to be hummus and pesto.  I think why I really like this so much more than my blender is I can get every little bit of my food out of it.  My blender has a section in the bottom under the non-removable blades that just holds stuff.

Do you have a food processor?  Is it collecting dust or whirling away?  What is your favorite use for a food processor?

(No, I am not getting any money for writing this, or any previous post in which I love something.)

Things I Love Most in My Kitchen Right Now: Part 2

Even more basic than pepper, I love my new massive wooden spoon.

My husband and I got it from some dear friends for part of a wedding gift.  I don’t think it was on our registry, but Andrew knows I love to cook (we were room mates years and years ago, so he’s seen and tasted first hand).  With the spoon came cookie sheets, some darling measuring spoons (since I can’t have too many), and a lovely handwritten recipe for cookies.

I use this spoon all the time.  When it comes time to bake, I haven’t usually thought to take out butter ahead of time.  I try to microwave it just a bit, but its still usually hard.  This mighty spoon does the trick.  The thick handle is so easy to get a great grip on.  There is nothing flimsy about this spoon.  I can really beat the heck out of whatever it is that I need to mix up.  Its also nice for mixing up my pasta salad stuff, since it has a nice big part that isn’t the handle.  I have no idea if there is a specific name for the “bowl” end of a spoon.  Do you know?

Anyways, having a great utensil makes cooking that much easier and more enjoyable.  Do you have spoons or spatulas that need replacing?  Knives that need sharpening?  Wooden cutting boards that need a wipe of mineral oil?  Take a look at your tools and make sure they are in great working order for your next cooking adventure.

What’s your favorite cooking tool?

Things I Love Most in My Kitchen Right Now: Part 1

There are some things in my kitchen that are rocking my world right now.  Basic as they may be, I need to sing their praises.  Today:  Freshly ground pepper.  Yep.  Basic.  My dad bought Alex and me a simple Archer Farmers Pepper grinder from Target for Christmas.  But as basic as it is, I’m so in love with it.

Darn if I can find an image of an Archer Farms Pepper Grinder online and I am feeling too lazy to go take  a picture of mine, so you get to see practically the same thing by McCormic.  I am bummed its not a refillable grinder.  Next year I’ll have to add something like this to my Christmakah list:

Image Source.

 

Alex’s mom did give us a ratchet grinder for Christmakah, and there is no reason I couldn’t put pepper in it.  But I sort of want to use it for rock salt or just milling other spices, since I made so much chai at home.

No matter what method you use, freshly ground pepper is much, much more fragrant and delicious that already ground, been sitting in your cabinet for 4 years because you bought it at Costco, pepper.  Using great ingredients is a way to make a good cook into a great cook.  Pepper is a basic ingredient that goes into a lot of my cooking.  If you aren’t already using a pepper grinder, why not give one a try?  Does anyone who does use a refillable mill have a suggestion on the best peppercorns to use?  I’ll probably end up just buying mine from the bulk section at Oliver’s Market.

Christmas Spritz Cookies

On Friday night, Anise got together and made Christmas spritz cookies with lemon powdered sugar icing adapted from her mom’s “The Great American Cookie Cookbook” of 2001. It’s a fantastic book, and I want a copy. We converted the recipes to gluten & dairy free, and it will be very easy to make them vegan (see my note below).

Earlier that night I went to Ross, the overstock store, and found some great kitchen gadgets that I’ve been wanting for a while and priced less than on Amazon. I found new spritz cookie dispenser with 16 cookie stencils, a frosting dispenser/decorator with five different tips and a vegetable spiral slicer for making vegan noodles! I was shocked, amazed and absolutely tickled pink. Yea! What great finds! Then I went to the local book store next door and found the newish Gluten-Free Cake Mix Doctor cookbook also for a terrific price. Ha, ha! I felt accomplished, and we hadn’t even started baking yet.

Spritz History
-Spritzgebäck is a traditional German and Scandinavian Christmas cookie have been made by parents with and for their children. There are several different family recipes out there that have been passed down through the generations, eventually coming across to America as people emigrated from northern Europe.
-According to McCalls Magazine’s (December 1994) article, “America’s Best Holiday Cookies”, spritz cookies became widely popular throughout Europe by the 16th century. Germany, Sweden and Norway each had their own recipe versions: respectively Spritzgebäck (buttery), Papparkakor (spicy ginger) and Krumkake (lemon and cardamom). The Dutch brought them to North America in the early 17th century.
-Spritzen is German for to spray, squirt, extrude, shoot, inject (like into a mold). Gebacken means baked. The umlauts over the “a” in Spritzgeback makes it plural. (Thank you Leo German Dictionary – http://dict.leo.org/)

If you want a more traditional full look to your cookies, do not use apple sauce or other purees. You have to use a whole cup of butter for the cookies to spread out. Otherwise your cookies may look a bit pokey where they detached from the dough mass in the press. The cookies should come out buttery, stiff, dry and fragile.

Christmas Spritz Cookies
Yields:
about 5 dozen

Ingredients
2 ¼ C Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour
½ tsp Xanthan Gum
¼ tsp Sea Salt, crushed small
1 ¼ C Powdered Sugar
½ C Apple Sauce, at room temperature
½ C Coconut Butter or Canola Oil Spread, softened (not melted)
1 Large Egg, shelled, at room temperature*
1 tsp Almond Extract, non-alcoholic
1 tsp Vanilla Extract, non-alcoholic
Green Food Coloring, as needed, optional
Red Food Coloring, as needed, optional
Candied Red and Green Cherries or Other Fruit Bits
Assorted Decorative Candies
Assorted Decorative Sanding Sugars
Powdered Sugar Icing, optional

*or 1 Golden Flax Egg or White Chia Egg (1 T ground seeds mixed with ¼ cup filtered water; use more water if needed to obtain egg-like consistency)

Directions
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In medium bowl, stir flour, gum and salt together. Set aside. In large bowl, cream sugar, apple sauce and butter with an electric hand mixer until fluffy. Mix in the egg and extracts. Gradually add about a quarter of the flour mixture at a time, thoroughly beating after each addition to smooth out any lumps. You may need to add some extra flour a little at a time, since gluten-free flours tend to make doughs more sticky and wet.

If you want colorful cookies, divide the dough into two bowls. Tint half of the dough green and the other red, adding enough dye to create the shades you want. Baking the dough will not significantly affect the colors.

Coat your hands with flour. Fit the cookie press with the first stencil plate. Fill the dispenser with dough using a your fingers or a spoon. We found it easier to use our fingers, so that we could more easily fill up the press and get out all of the air pockets. Put the plate and cap on the end. Press the dough onto your ungreased cookie sheets with about an inch between the cookies. You can switch plates half way between each batch or whenever you run out of your first color; we ended up using four different stencils. Don’t take too long between pressings though; this dough really started drying out much faster than I wanted. At this point, you can decorate the cookies with fruit and candies or wait until after baking and icing them.

Bake the cookies on the center oven rack for 10 to 12 minutes or until set. Cool the cookies on wire racks. (I kept breaking the wreath cookies, since the dough didn’t spread enough.) Prepare the icing, if you are using it. Pipe or drizzle (like we did) on the icing. Decorate with candies and sugars. Eat them or hang them on your tree.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Note: You can also press out long curls or tails of dough, kind of like churros, and either cover them in sprinkles, powdered sugar or dip them in melted chocolate once they are cool. Over in the ChefKoch (Koch means cook or chef.) forum there’s a topic, called Frieda’s Favorite Spritz Cookies. It’s in German, but there are some nice pictures.

Additional Spritz Flavor Ideas (from What’s Cooking America)
Almond Spritz – Substitute more almond extract for the vanilla extract.
Caramel Spritz – Substitute the powdered sugar in the dough with brown sugar. Use the dark brown cane sugar for a richer flavor.
Chocolate Spritz – Add 2 ounces melted room temperature unsweetened chocolate to the creamed sugar, or substitute ¼ cup cacao powder for ¼ cup flour, adding the flour mixture to the sugared eggs as normal.
Coffee Spritz – Add a tablespoon instant coffee and ¼ cup chopped pecans to the sugar mixture.
Lemon Spritz – Substitute a tablespoon of lemon juice for the almond extract, and add a teaspoon of lemon zest.
Lime Spritz – Substitute a tablespoon of lime juice for the almond extract, and add a teaspoon of lime zest.
Orange Spritz – Add a tablespoon of orange zest to the flour mixture.
Peanut Butter Spritz – Only use 2/3 cup of butter or spread, and add ½ cup peanut butter.
Marbled Spritz – Fill half of the tube with one dough color or flavor along one side and another color or flavor along the other side. (I tried marbling by adding the two dough colors in layers, which didn’t work too well, but that might have been due to the dough drying out and stiffening up.)
Here are even more recipes at Cooks.com.

Powdered Sugar Icing
Yields:
about 2 cups icing

Ingredients
2 C Powdered Sugar
2-3 T Non-Dairy Milk, more necessary
Food Coloring, as needed

Directions
In a small mixing bowl, mix the sugar and milk with a spoon until smooth, adding a little bit of liquid at a time to reach your desired consistency. Add more milk if the icing is still too thick. If you like mix in food coloring to reach the shades you want to use to decorate the cookies. Make sure you pipe or drizzle only few cookies at a time before sprinkling on the sugars and candies or else the decorations will not stick. This icing dries rather quickly.

More Icing Flavors (From What’s Cooking America)
Rum Icing –
Substitute the milk with ½ tsp rum extract and 4 tablespoons filtered water.
Lemon Icing – Substitute lemon juice for the milk.
Vanilla Icing – Add a teaspoon non-alcoholic vanilla extract to the plain icing.
Apple Icing – Substitute the milk with 2 to 3 tablespoons of apple juice and 1 to 2 tablespoons of filtered water. Start with 2 tablespoons of juice and one tablespoon of water; add one more tablespoon of juice or water, depending on your preferred flavor strength. (This can also be done with other juices.)

We had a ton of fun making these cookies. Which versions have you tried?

Spiral Apples

When I was little, one of my favorite places to visit with my folks was a great organic farm in the Central Valley, called Blooming Gales Apple Ranch, I think (it was a long while ago). They had all sorts of apple varieties that they grew on site. I loved to visit with and feed the horses and chickens. They had a very impressive shop inside an old barns, where they sold apples, nuts, pies, turn overs, juice, cider, apple chips, a myriad of apple themed items, and local produce. Their apple pies and turn overs were made from scratch with lots of love and care and were absolutely delicious. One year my mother, grandmother and I even went to one of their annual fall apple harvest fairs, which was lots of fun.

Theirs was the first unfiltered apple juice I had ever had, and for years we would visit just to buy it and maybe a pie or two. I’ve been hooked on unfiltered apple juice ever since. Thankfully I have found three local organic companies that make bottled unfiltered apple juice, one in Chico and two in Sebastopol (Nana Mae’s Organics and North Coast Apple Products), which I can get at some of the local organic markets in town. My husband also likes it, so unfiltered is the only kind of apple juice I buy now.

The neatest thing about buying Blooming Gales’ apples was if you wanted, the owners made apple springs right in front of you to snack on. They had a classic peel-core-and-slice spiral apple cutter that clamped down to their table. I loved watching the apples being peeled and cut and then playing with the springy apple coils. For sentimental reasons, amusement and general apple slicing, I’ve wanted a turn crank spiral apple slicer that attached to the kitchen counter. I had never really found one for a decent price until last month, when Anise and I were shopping around and looking at some local stores. Well, low and behold I found a great slicer that does everything I wanted for cheap! After a few tries we figured it out and must have peeled and sliced a whole pound of apples. It was so exciting, and I only nicked my fingers twice. Thank you Anise for all of your help! I had so much fun.

Last weekend was the annual Christmas party for one of the local children’s mentoring organizations at my husband’s masonic lodge, so my husband got out the apple slicer (he must have also cut up a pound or so) to practice earlier on in the week. He really seemed to enjoy himself. We discovered that firm apples are definitely needed for the slicer, otherwise only the corer works, leaving the apple turning literally to your hands instead of just using the crank shaft. The morning of the party my hubby cored and sliced two to three pounds of apples for the kids, who all had a tasty lunch and great fun. Success!

Dragon Fruit: Sadly, no Dragons

Dragon Fruit is strange.  Alex saw one at Oliver’s the other day and really, really wanted to try it.  He loves fruit and he loves dragons.  What a great combination!  Except, this beautiful, colorful, interestingly named fruit tasted kind of… bland.  I know, I was shocked!  Alex described it fairly accurately  it is reminiscent of a Costco Poppy Seed Muffin.  Its soft, sweet, and has little black seeds in it.  Just make the muffin more “wet” and you’ve pretty much got it. Very disappointing.

It had such promise!  The name alone, the vibrant red with neat flappy bits on the outside, the surprising white with black on the inside.  Like no other fruit.

I do really like this picture of the orchard I found. They grow well in Thailand, Vietnam, Central America, and cam be grown in places like San Diego or in greenhouses.  Its a beautiful plant if nothing else.

Wine, Bread, Cheese, and Sunshine

Wine, bread, cheese, salami toscano, sunshine.  What a wonderful combination!  My dear friend Sarah was over yesterday and we feasted!  We had crusty sourdough and some funny crackers called Raincoast with fig and olive in them.  Gruyere was a lovely counter to the runny, soft, gooey, delicious cheese we had.  I have to go back to Karen at Oliver’s in the cheeses to find out what it was I greedily consumed.  Really easy to spread, really decadent.  I got blueberries that we didn’t get to, but we did snack on dried apricots.  The wine was good, something red from Spain.  A plastic cork, which I’m not a fan of, mostly because I want enough cork for a cork board.  The salami was like some Alex and I had at our Second Reception.  Its Salami Toscano, and I love the big white bits in it.  Not sure I want to know what that is, it probably isn’t great for me.  Yep, the internet says it is not good for me.  Oh, well.

Now, get off your computer and go make yourself a picnic and get out in this strangely warm and beautiful weather!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

P.S. Did you notice I figured out how to link text to webpages?  I’m so cool… 😉

Chicken and Vegetable Meatloaf

I wanted to make a healthier meatloaf with lots of vegetables in it. At one time I made a delicious one for my husband and I, but last night I couldn’t find the recipe. I didn’t want to completely wing it (no pun intended), so I dug around and used a few recipes (1, 2, 3, 4) I found online as guidelines. I also wanted to use what I had in the house.

Generally I try to use organically grown or raised foods. I also avoid dairy products, wheat (and or gluten) and egg yolks due to allergies. In October I tried being vegan, mostly succeeding, since I’m not really supposed to eat meat either (too bad it tastes so good). The only exception I made was eating fish about four times. At the beginning of this month I reintroduced meat into my diet, only eating it during one meal a day and being otherwise vegan. Honestly I am feeling much better than before my “diet” when I was eating meat more often. I still think I would feel even better if I didn’t eat meat daily, since my stomach usually lacks the enzymes to efficiently and effectively digest meat. (Mental note: pick up digestive enzyme supplements.)

This meatloaf is actually dairy and wheat free. If you want, it should be rather easy to make it without eggs by using flax or chia “eggs” instead*. Either way, I hope you enjoy it. Sorry I didn’t take many pictures. (We were entertaining guests. It wasn’t done until midnight, and we were in a hurry and starving.) Keep in mind that when I served up the portions, I cut it into six rather large pieces (four and an half square inches), but you could cut it smaller to serve with salad or a side of veggies.

Chicken Vegetable Meatloaf
Serves 6 – 9

Ingredients
1 T Olive Oil
1/2 Sweet Yellow Onion, peeled, chopped
2 T Garlic, peeled, minced
1/2 C Vegetable Broth
1/2 tsp Black Peppercorns, ground
1 tsp Sea Salt
2 Brunches Broccoli, finely chopped
1 pkg Frozen Mixed Vegetables, chopped
3-4 Stalks Celery, chopped, optional
2 Medium Carrots, chopped, optional
1 lb Ground Chicken
1 lb Pesto or Italian Chicken Sausage, removed from casings
1 Egg or 2 Egg Whites*
1 1/2 T Italian Seasoning
1/2 T Herbs de Provence
2 tsp Mustard Seed, fine ground
2 T Gluten-Free Teriyaki Sauce
1 1/2 T Gluten-Free Worcestershire Sauce
1 T Apple Cider Vinegar

Directions
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 13x9x2 inch baking dish with foil, and lightly coat the foil with oil.

Saute the onion and garlic in oil until the onions turn clear. Add the broth, vegetables, salt and pepper and cook the mixture on medium heat for 8 minutes. (You can add herbs and spices now or later, depending on how strong you want them to taste.) Set aside.

Meanwhile in a large mixing bowl, hand mix the meat, egg, herbs, sauces and vinegar. Mix the vegetables in the meat.

Transfer the meat-vegetable mixture to the prepared baking dish. Smooth the mixture to evenly distribute it in the dish. Cover the loaf with foil, and bake it for 30 minutes. Uncover the meatloaf, and bake it another 30 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the middle (do not touch the thermometer to the bottom of the dish) reads between 160 and 170 degrees F. Remove the dish from the oven to cool for 5 minutes. Portion the meatloaf as you like. Serve and enjoy.

Note: You can wait until the meat is fully cooked to use the teriyaki as a glaze on top instead of adding it to the meat mixture earlier on, if you like, for a different texture and color.

*Typically flax or chia (yes, the same seeds used on chia pets) eggs are made by mixing one tablespoon of either kind of seed (I prefer ground for a smoother texture) and three tablespoons on water. If you want a more yellow or golden color to your eggs, use golden flax seeds. If you aren’t worried about the eggs affecting the color of your dish, go ahead and use brown flax or chia, which I have found only in black with white speckles and turn gray when ground up.

One of the reasons it took so long to make this dish is that one of my meat thermometers broke. I’m very glad I had an extra one to double check. If it takes longer than an hour to reach 160 degrees F, definitely double check. I highly recommend having a back-up cooking thermometer! In addition, I also recommend testing your oven with an oven thermometer before hand to learn how to trick your it into cooking at the right temperature; many ovens out there are inaccurate to varying amounts in either direction. So be careful. I ended up baking the meatloaf for at least an extra hour.