Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gift Ideas for the Foodie in Your Life

A few people have asked me recently what gift they should get the foodie in their life. I think I have become an expert on this because I cook and bake all the time and, thanks mostly to my roommate, my kitchen is pretty much stocked. Therefore, I know what is fun and practical to have in the kitchen. So here are a few ideas for gifts that will be worth the money (no matter your price point) because they will be appreciated AND USED by any foodie you know.

High Price Point:
Keurig Coffee Maker
(Yes they are expensive, but people buy them for a reason. Fast, no filters, no coffee grounds everywhere, and it's versatile. Coffee, tea, coco all in one machine.)

Shun Knives
(If someone on your list has asked for "chef quality" or just "good knives" this is the way to go. Shun, the Japanese knives endorsed by Alton Brown and Guy Fierri, are what I use and they are the real deal.)

A LeCreuset "French Oven"
(My Dad calls these "the Cadillac of pots" so again if someone wants "chef quality" or "good pots" and you want to REALLY impress them, LeCreuset is where it's at.)

Moderate Price Point:
Calphalon Nonstick Grill Pan
(My fav item in the kitchen year round. Don't forget the tongs!)

Collapsible Colander and Mixing Cups
(For your foodie tight on space. Get the colander here and get the mixing cups here or in the Williams Sonoma Store. When I lived in NYC and had little to no drawer and cabinet space, these things saved my life!)

A Personalized Apron
(A guy on facebook asked if giving a woman an apron is sexist. Well a guy gave me an apron w/ my name on it and he scored extra points with me. So my answer to his question was NOPE! As long as it's special.)

Collection of Exotic Spices
(Go to your fav specialty foods store and buy bottles of good quality: cumin, chili powder, paprika, Herbs de Provence, and saffron. Put them all in a pretty gift bag. FYI I put this in the moderate price point because at approx. $10 each, this can get pricy but a great gift nonetheless)

Low Price Point:
Bottle of Good Quality Extra Virgin or Infused Olive Oil
(A true cook can never have enough. Get it from a specialty foods store and put it in a christmas wine bag)

A Microplane Grater
(A must for any kitchen. Good for new foodies b/c old foodies probably already have one)

Gift Card to Williams Sonoma, Trader Joes or Whole Foods
($10-$25 denominations will be appreciated TRUST ME)

Bottle of Wine
(For Red I recommend: Beaujolais Nouveau, the quintessential Christmas Wine. For White I Recommend: Relax Riesling, the most widely available, best tasting, twist off white wine your $10 can buy)

Dry Ingredients for Cookies
(Stay tuned for my next blog post where I will show you how I layer all the dry ingredients for cookies in jars and give them as gifts. All the receiver has to do is add the wet ingredients in a bowl, mix and bake. It's a cheap gift that everyone loves!)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Do you have to have money to eat healthy?

Several weeks ago, I got into a friendly debate on twitter surrounding this question: Do you have to have money to eat healthy? I say yes and no. Yes, you have to have some money, but do you have to be rich to eat healthy? Absolutely not! Now, I base this response off of my own experience. I am a full time teacher, making a modest salary so I can't afford organic groceries from Whole Foods on a regular basis but I do budget about $200 a month for groceries and have been able to maintain a pretty healthy diet with that. I utilize sales at my local supermarket and I also utilize the everyday affordable prices at Trader Joes, my favorite store ever. Because of my thriftyness when it comes to groceries, most of my meals are homemade (or semi-homemade), never fried, with plenty of vegetables and healthy proteins. So when I saw a discussion about money being linked to healthy eating, I chimed in sharing my view that it is possible to eat healthy on a budget.

However, a good friend of mine disagreed. She told me that she was unemployed and consequently broke, so she had almost no budget for groceries. She confessed that her budget could be as low as $2 a meal so she was reduced to eating things like ramen noodles just to survive. Now, I like ramen noodles just as much as the next person. But to know that ramen noodles is a staple in my friend's diet is just is too much for me to bear. The sodium alone is off the charts, not to mention it has absolutely no nutritional value.

After learning this information, I began to worry about my friend and she has been on my mind ever since. And this question: "Do you have to have money to eat healthy?" was constantly popping up in my mind. Not to mention it's the start of a new year and with all of America trying to eat healthy, loose weight, and "get moving," I wonder is money really the main factor keeping some people from getting on board. Are we too broke and is healthy food too expensive? Or are we lazy and/or lacking the will power to give up our big macs and fried foods? OR do we just not have enough options for dishes that are both healthy and affordable? Well, I think it's the latter and at the end of our debate my friend told me that although she was pretty firm in her belief that you needed money to eat healthy, she would entertain any ideas and/or tips that proved the opposite.

So my resolution for the new year is to give her, and anyone else who is interested, some cheap, healthy dishes that would help maintain a nutritious, balanced diet. I also decided that, besides being cheap and healthy, these dishes should be quick to make and any leftovers should freeze well. These two factors are important because the friend, whose name will be revealed shortly, also has some health issues which is something that we have in common. I have been battling Crohn's Disease for the past 5 years, and she has a similar disorder, so I know first hand that when you are having a flare up, you don't feel like cooking but yet you have to eat. And you want what you do eat to be delicious, comforting, and be full of fiber and nutrients to boost your energy and (lets be honest) move your bowls. Therefore, I think it would be great to have leftover dishes in the freezer so that when we are not feeling well, healthy, comforting food is just a few microwave minutes away as opposed to making ramen or ordering take-out that we can't really afford and shouldn't be eating anyway.

So stay tuned to this blog for a few recipes that I call HFC: Healthy, Fast, and Cheap. Healthy to keep us looking and feeling our best, fast so that we have no excuses, and cheap to help us all through this recession. First up, I've got Avier's (Stop Eating Ramen Noodles) HFC Chicken and Vegetable Soup and my HFC Black Bean Soup.

I also will be posting some tips that will be useful to any cook whose on a budget and/or trying to eat healthy. They're just a few things that I learned while trying to create these Healthy, Fast, and Cheap meals. It definitely wasn't an easy undertaking but perhaps if I teach you what I know now about thrifty grocery shopping, it will be easier for you to be successful.

Lastly, while you all are waiting on my posts, I would love to hear what you think about the subject. Do you think you have to have money to eat healthy? Do you think that healthy is synonomous with wealthy? What are your experiences with grocery shopping on a budget? Your stories and opinions will not only help influence by blog posts, but also the cookbook I am writing. Can't wait to hear from you!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Citrus Flavored Cheesecake

When I was testing the recipe for Red Velvet Cheesecake, I made about a million plain cheesecakes. Once I finally felt like I nailed it, I decided to start testing different versions of the cheesecake to get some variety. This one was the first one I tried, and it got rave reviews at two different parties. What makes this cheesecake special is the orange zest and Grand Marnier, an orange liquor, which gives it a fresh and festive flavor. I personally think the orange is perfect for the holidays but if you are more of a lemon fan, you could substitute lemon zest and Limoncello for a different citrus flavor.

Now this recipe is super easy and almost full-proof but there are two things that you must do to ensure success. Tip #1: Make sure ALL the ingredients are at room temperature. When all the components are soft and at the same temperature, they combine so much easier in your mixer and the end result is smooth and velvety as opposed to lumpy. Tip #2: This cheesecake has to refrigerate for at least 6 hours, so plan accordingly. I always make it the night before I want to serve it and let it refrigerate overnight.

I served this cheesecake with mixed berries that I sprinkled with sugar and a spoon full of the Grand Marnier, but the cake is so rich and delicious that it can be enjoyed by itself too. Happy Holidays!

Cheesecake Crust:
25-30 Graham Cracker Squares
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 stick of butter, melted

Cheesecake Filling:
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3 yolks, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
    • 20 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
    • 1 1/4 cups sour cream, at room temperature
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 3 tbs. Grand Marnier
    • Zest of 1 orange

To make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, grind graham crackers and sugar. Add the butter and pulse until moist; the mixture should look like wet sand. Then press it into the bottom of a spring form pan and bake for 20 minutes. Set it on the stove to cool while you prepare the cheesecake filling.

To make the filling: Reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees. In a medium sized bowl whisk together your liquid ingredients: vanilla, eggs, egg yolks and heavy cream and set aside. Then, using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, mix the sour cream for 1 min. Then, add the cream cheese, a few chunks at a time and mix until combined and smooth. Next, add the sugar and mix until well combined (about 2 minutes). Now it is time to pour in the liquid ingredients a little at a time; pour in a little, let mix until combined and then pour in some more. Once everything has blended, stop the mixer and add the orange zest and Grand Marnier. Turn the mixer back on for about 30 seconds or so, to let that citrus flavor incorporate. Then, pour the batter into the spring form pan on top of the graham cracker crust. Place pan into a large roasting pan and pour hot water around it. (See picture below. I usually use an entire tea kettle full of hot water). Put the cheesecake into the 275 degree oven and let it bake for 90 minutes. Now ovens are different so what you are looking for is the cheesecake to not giggle at all when you gently shake the pan. If it giggles in the center let bake for another 10-15 minutes.

Once it's done, refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight. Then slice and enjoy!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tortellini Soup

It's officially fall! For some, this time of year represents impending doom; the hint that winter is on it's way. But for me, fall is my favorite time of year. The temperature changes from hot to cool, you've got football, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. Fall to me is always the season for family, fun, and of course FOOD!

And there is no food that is more enjoyable in the fall than a hearty, hot bowl of soup. Now, let me be clear, I can make and eat soup year round. But it's during the fall and winter that simmering a big pot of soup all day and having your house smell amazing feels the most comforting. Well, this soup recipe will do the trick, but it does not take all day. In fact, it can be made in under 30 minutes so it's a perfect weeknight meal when you are in the mood for warm soup. Enjoy!

1-2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large handful of shredded carrots or 2-3 carrots, cleaned and chopped
Salt & Pepper
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
1-2 handfuls of frozen peas
1 pkg. (9oz.) cheese filled tortellini (I used Buitoni Three Cheese)
chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish

Heat olive oil in a soup pot over med. to high heat. Add onion and sauté for 3-4 minutes, then add garlic, followed by the carrots.  Add salt and pepper to taste and sauté for another 5 minutes or until carrots are soft.  Next, pour in the two containers of stock and bring to a boil. Add tortellini, peas, check the seasonings and add additional salt and pepper if necessary. Boil for approximately 5 more minutes or until all the tortellini are floating at the top.  Turn off heat, stir and ladle into bowls. Top with a couple pinches of flat leaf parsley.

Monday, February 21, 2011

THE ULTIMATE Red Velvet Cheesecake

Yes, the rumors are true! I have mastered the infamous Red Velvet Cheesecake. Inspired by The Cheesecake Factory but created with my own personal flair, my version of Red Velvet Cheesecake is rich and sweet perfection. It is a layer of plain cheesecake topped with a layer of red velvet cake and finished with white chocolate cream cheese frosting.

It is a vision to see but the pictures will never live up to the taste. So until you can taste it, here are my best pictures to showcase one of the best things I have created in the kitchen. And from the pictures you can get a pretty good idea of how I make it.

Oh and I am sure Tyler Florence has copyrighted "the ultimate" title. But I have to borrow it for this. If there was any cake that deserved to be the "the ultimate" cake to me, it's this one!