Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kitty Tuna

So named, because it's yellowtail tuna, and, I saw it on Kitty's blog this morning.

Kitty Tuna! Nyuck, Nyuck, Nyuck.

My favorite recipe from ANY food blog is one in which I realize "Say, I have all of those ingredients. I can make this right now."

My second favorite recipe is when I say "Hey, I have everything except (insert one missing ingredient)."

Most others are "Man, that looks good. I should bookmark that."

Kitty's recipe on My Husband Hates Veggies (once she returned from being AWOL that is), was a second-favorite category. I had everything but the tuna, it looked great, and best of all, it had a sure-fire testimonial: She made it THREE TIMES in the short period of time her husband was gone. That must have been good eating because I would have had a lot more confessional meals to share.

I won't repeat Kitty's recipe here, but I'll mention my minor adaptations:

1) When mixing the dressing ingredients in step 1, I wanted it to emulsify somewhat, so, I used my bullet blender cup, and, added about a two-inch long squirt of wasabi from a tube.

2) I forgot to add the chopped cilantro to the dressing, so I added it afterward, on top of the tuna, with the avocado.

3) I used Schezwan pepper salt to season the tuna steaks, for a bit of added zest.
4) I didn't have a lime, but I had 3 key limes and used those.

Delicious! Top Notch and a sure-fire repeat. As easy as she promised, too.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Post in Two Parts: Anelletti with Bolognese and a Mystery to Solve

Part 1: The Meal

I'm not much into tomato based pasta sauces. They bore me, but I'm on a mission to clear out my pantry and stop buying so much stuff on impulse. Cook from the pantry. Cook from the pantry. I had pasta and sausage leftover from earlier in the week, various tomato based things, and some parmesan, so I decided to give it a go.

I know that bolognese is supposed to be thicker and creamier than marinara, and I got a notion to make my sauce less acidic and more creamy by stirring in a bit of fat-free half and half, and while it did change the texture and smoothness to something I like, it just doesn't rock my boat. Oh well. Leftovers now gone so I can continue to move on and clear out my pantry.

Part 2: The Mystery

Alright, #$%%^&amp! who stole my garlic knots?! Last night I made soup. I had a package of garlic knot rolls. They come 8 to a package. I heated TWO. I carefully sealed the box back up, and put them away. I was alone. No family, no friends, no boyfriend. He lives 1.5 hours away and doesn't drop in unannounced anyway (we are old fashioned that way, even after 10 years together). Even if he ever did, he would NOT go into my kitchen and steal 6 garlic knot rolls. He's an insufferable health nut. He would demand to know why I had them in the first place.

So where are they? I looked in the fridge. The freezer. The cupboards. The counters. The trash in case I put them in the bin by accident. In the stove. In the toaster oven. In the microwave. On top of the fridge. On top of the freezer. Do I sound like Dr. Seuss, yet?


I even went into my clothes closet and bathroom to see if I had them in my hand and wandered off absent minded and set them down. No dice.

I am going to go wash this dish, and then tear my house apart. I will solve this mystery, because you know what worries me?! I admit it. My building staff. I've come home and found things in weird places before, food missing, a magazine I *know* I left by the bed only 6 hours before, gone. I never have any damn underwear, either. WHY do I constantly have to buy new underwear? Where do they go?

Please. Please. Do NOT let some weirdo with a house key, be letting himself or herself into my house, to eat my garlic knots and steal my panties, or steal my garlic knots and eat my panties.
Especially because they are new and I like them so much.

And I'm talking about the garlic rolls.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pumpkin Black Bean and Lentil Soup

Absolutely delicious. Let's get that out there right now. I'm pleased with myself.

In Northern California we're in that in-between period of Spring where you'll venture out one day in your linen dress and sunglasses and embrace the sun, and the next day in a head scarf and warm jacket, leaning into the wind. Today is one of the chilly days and I wanted a pot of soup (although I'm one of those who can appreciate a pot of soup year round, and I love soup for breakfast).

I wanted black bean soup, and went hunting for a quick and easy recipe. I browsed several ideas and then landed on an interesting flavor combo for pumpkin black bean soup on Blackberries and Lobster. That blog, in turn, got the inspiration from Smitten Kitchen. I ran with the flavor idea, and only when I finished, and came to collect the links for this post, did I even realize that one of my last minute inspirations -- adding sherry -- was already on Smitten Kitchen's recipe.

I think this not-sweet flavor marriage of pumpkin and vegetables is just outstanding. I'll be happily eating this for the next several days because try as I might, I just cannot make a small batch of soup. I become this crazy soup alchemist, stirring, adding, tasting, experimenting, until I have a full cauldren. For that same reason, sharing my scratch soup recipes can be difficult. I don't measure, I season to taste, I add things at random. Anyone who loves making soup and reads foodie blogs will appreciate that soup is a very personal thing and is fully customizable -- just take the ideas, if you like them, and run with it.


  • 1 - container of Trader Joe's Mirepoix (about 1 cup each of chopped celery, onion, and carrot)
  • 1 - 15 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed free of bean goo
  • 1 - 15 oz can of petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 - 15 oz can of pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 pouch of Trader Joe's Beluga Lentils (about 1 cup)
  • 1 large can or box of broth (chicken, beef, or vegetable)
  • garlic
  • olive oil
  • cooked bacon
  • Penzey's spices a-plenty (I used loads of cumin, smokey blends, green blends, and finally, some roasted schezwan pepper salt of my own blend)

Coat the bottom of the stock pan with a quick swirl of olive oil. Add the entire container of mirepoix, or, 1 cup each of chopped celery, onion, and carrot (assuring the carrot is a small dice). Add several garlic cloves, chopped cooked bacon (I used three slices of pre-cooked, cold bacon, snipped with scissors into small bits), a good handful of spices (I used loads of cumin and several blends from Penzey's) and saute all until the onion is tender, the bacon has rendered a little fat, but the garlic has not browned.

Add the can of tomatoes, stir, and bring just to a simmer.
Add the drained black beans, stir, and bring back to a simmer.
Add the can of pumpkin puree, stir, and bring back to a simmer.

Using a stick blender, gently pulse about half of the veggies in the pan. I like some texture, so I wanted some pureed until they were pulpy, but left most of intact.

Begin to add some stock to cover the veggies, and bring back to a simmer. Continue to add stock in increments until the flavor and texture is as you like it.

Add 1 cup of fully cooked lentils. I used tiny black "Beluga Lentils" which are from Trader Joe's and fully cooked.

Simmer the soup, adding or adjusting spices as you do so. Taste about a thousand times because you can't believe how tasty this combination is.

Finally, to finish, add a healthy splash (perhaps a 1/3 of cup for me) of California Sherry.

Serve as you wish, topped with croutons, or served with cornbread, or even a dollop of sour cream would be lovely. This was a really low-fat soup, combined a few SuperFoods (I'm trying to consume several each day, in this case lentils and pumpkin), was a snap to make, and, most of all was economical -- my canned items came from the dollar store (the stock, the pumpkin, the tomatoes, and the bleans).

Slurp away.

Lame Series: Sugar Free Apricot Orange Cake

Orange Apricot White Cake

Sometimes you just want a bite or two of something sweet, and not an enormous or full-sized dessert. Enter "Small Batch Baking" which is really a nifty little cookbook devoted to recipes which make very small quantities of your standard desserts. A recipe which makes 2 oatmeal cookies, or 4 cupcakes, or, this small white layer cake (made sugar free by me), cooked in empty tuna fish cans (I warshed 'em and took the labels off, but left one full can in to show scale). Overall, I've been very pleased with the book, but this entry doesn't do the book justice. It just demonstrates how lame and pitiful I can be.

This dessert classifies as lame because a) I didn't make the frosting. I tried the relatively new Pillsbury Reduced Sugar Icing and it was kinda fake tasting (gee, how shocking); b) I baked it in a toaster oven so it got a little dry; c) I spread no-sugar orange apricot fruit spread inside and made a royal mess; d) I didn't bother covering all the sides but I did manage a quick grating of orange zest to up the gourmet factor. Lame.

Resources: Small Batch Baking Cookbook
Flickr Group: Lots of photos of small batch items that are NOT lame.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Anelletti with Sausage, Spinach, and Mushrooms

I was inspired by the delicious looking pasta cooked up by The Kitchn (why is it spelled this way? Someone clue me in) and set about assembly of all the ingredients for a Sunday pasta supper. I must say, this is a rarity for me, and it DID make the job simpler. I'm notorious for doing things out of order (eggs ready before the toast, dish fully assembled before I remember the mushrooms, and so on), so getting everything out and neatly assembled in advance was new. I felt so grown up.

That said, I have to be candid and say that while it was simple, decent, homey -- it wasn't terribly flavorful. Maybe the sausage? I dunno. All I know is, the best thing about the dish was the mushrooms, and that's doesn't say much for the Italian sausage or other ingredients.

Will I eat the rest of the bowl or make it again? I don't know, the jury is still out. Have to think about it, or try it as a leftover. This is my adapted version of the recipe:

1/2 pound of anelletti (purchased from Trader Joe's)
1 cabrese (somewhat hot) Italian Sausage
A few ounces of mild or sweet Italian Sausage
big handfuls of mushrooms
big handfuls of spinach
3 garlic cloves
olive oil
pasta water
Parmesan cheese

Prepare the anelletti pasta (boiling in salted water for 10-13 minutes) and set aside, reserving a few ladle fulls of pasta water. Roughly chop up the sausage and thoroughly brown, adding sliced garlic and mushrooms toward the end of the browning process. When the mushrooms are cooked and sausage is browned, check for the fat level. I didn't need to drain off much -- I probably drained off 1 tablespoon and kept about 1 tablespoon in the pot. Add the spinach leaves and toss until completely wilted. Add cooked pasta, and a ladle of pasta water if you feel it needs a bit of moisture (I did). When combined, add a handful of Parmesan cheese and toss until melted. Serve, seasoning to taste with pepper and/or additional cheese.

For dessert:

Sliced strawberries topped with fat free lemon yogurt, Meyer lemon syrup, and walnuts.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Well how cool is this?! Blogging with a Purpose

What a nice way to start the morning! Robin Sue at one of my favorite blogs, Big Red Kitchen, included me in her list of "Blogging with a Purpose" awards, bestowed by fellow bloggers (not necessarily foodie blogs, I learned). Robin did some research and I'm going to steal her efforts and post 'em right here: award started back in April 2007 by Eric Novak who wanted to start a Christian award to recognise bloggers' hard work and purpose, then was amused to receive his own award three months later! The very first few went to a few homeschoolers. Then they sent them on to their friends, who sent them on to their friends, and now the award has come my way, then on to some of my picks. I love how the Internet can connect so many people in such a short time.

I was especially tickled because it means someone besides my sister reads this blog (and I think she only does so when I remind her), and, I'm really new on the food blogging scene and I participate almost with a certain level of embarrassment. I am not an accomplished cook (although my recent short ribs meal, a first attempt, was stellar), I am FAR from an accomplished photographer, and until my boyfriend recently took pity on me by giving me a digital camera, I was using my cell phone camera for heaven's sake. In my mind I'm a brilliant food stylist of course. I "see" wonderful food styling photographs in various spots of my house. In reality I have the worst light imaginable, underwhelming equipment, and not a whole lot of patience. I could never, EVER work for Cook's Illustrated because I'd say "Oh that's fine. Just eat it!" after the very first batch. And then get fired.

I just hope one day the enthusiasm and skill will meet up and combine DNA. Hasn't happened yet, but hope springs eternal. So, until then, I just keep reading other blogs and taking inspiration from them all.

To that end, there are rules which accompany the award and here they are:

1. Awarded parties must nominate five people who have not received the award; 2. The blogs which receive the award must serve some purpose; 3. In a post about the award, one must link back to Blogging with a Purpose; and 4. Awarded parties must post the award banner on their site. The banner must remain linked to this site.

Candidly, some of the "rules" are a little difficult to follow, although Number 2 amuses me. I'm going to write to my each of friends and say "I'd like to nominate your blog but I can't, because it serves no purpose."

As for the others, it's not that I'm a rabblerouser or buck administration, but I can't be certain whether a) the nominees have ever been nominated and/or received the award before, without combing through archives and b) Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman, who was proposed to be a Republican nominee for the presidency in 1884, responded, emphatically: "If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve." Accordingly, I'll happily nominate some blogs I enjoy, but, like General Sherman, one can't force them to accept the honor, post banners, link back, or do anything. They may just click "delete" when they see my email.

On with the nominations:

1. The Grub Report was one of the first blogs I started to follow, several years ago. Stephanie Vander Weide Lucianovic writes about the San Francisco Bay Area scene, her forays into cookbookery, her cranky customers at the Ferry Building Cowgirl Creamery, and, stuff which annoys her on television. She qualifies for "blogging with a purpose" because Stephanie, a former fine arts and photography book editor and thereafter a graduate of a culinary arts school, shares her expertise with her "Chef is In" section. A few years ago a friend and I had a vital question about sticky balsamic vinegar, and she researched and gave us the information we needed. She also taught me the best-ever way to roast corn and was the first person who inspired me to roast cauliflower (she said it tasted like candy and I wanted some too), which is now in regular rotation. I guess I'm saying she got me to eat veggies the proper way -- which is blasted to heaven in an oven and tossed with olive oil and sea salt, which leads me to ...

2. My Husband Hates Veggies , written by Kitty. Her husband hates veggies. He also shares a number of traits with MY boyfriend (which at first had me worried and suspicious but I got over that). Kitty blogs with a purpose because she takes on the daunting task of trying to improve a man's eating habits by sneaking in veggies and other worthy fare. She calls them Veggie Fake Outs. Now, having said that, I'm sorry, I cannot indemnify her if and when she is sued by BOTH authors of recent veggie fake out cookbooks, The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious. They just need to get the hell over one another -- like once a cupcake cookbook has been published, there can't be another cupcake cookbook shortly thereafter? But I digress.

3. PostSecret. I visit this blog every Sunday. It truly blogs with a purpose -- I can't think of a bigger impact for a blog than letting people anonymously share funny, poignant, or sometimes outrageous secrets, which connect us all in the collective cosmos and make us feel like no matter how weird we are, someone else out there understands completely, and no matter how wounded we feel, someone will care. That said, PostSecret has never published my secrets (I've sent two), and one was a doozie (involving office garbage cans) which my sister insisted I send in. Oh well. However, witness the recent "secret" shared by a young man who was so lonely, he prayed his phone would ring now and again and he'd get voicemail (he'd never received a voicemail message. He shared his number and was flooded with calls from well wishers across the United States. It made him cry. That made me smile for him.

4. Stuff White People Like. I am not politically correct, okay? I'm not a racist, either. I laugh at all races, creeds, small children, and stupid pet tricks, all the movies by Christopher Guest, Blue Collar Comedy Tour and Kings of Comedy with fervor. So, I nominate this site because I work for a lawyer. He's really mean. Sometimes he makes me want to cry. I need to laugh every single day or I'll cry, and this site helps. A sample:

White People Like Paris Flea Markets. The Paris flea market
contains many authentic treasures from Europe’s past, including furniture, art, and various knickknacks. Though many white people could acquire these products through the internet, by purchasing it at the Paris flea market they are able to tell their friends “Oh, I found that at the Paris flea market. Have you been? It’s life changing, I swear I wish I could move to Paris.” It is considered good form to ask them more questions about their item. Once they say a word in French such as “magnifique” or “quelle chance!” the conversation topic has run its course, and they will like you for not correcting their pronunciation.

5. Recipes that Get You Laid. If this isn't a Blog with a Purpose, I don't know what is. I know, probably very uncool to nominate this for an award which has Christian values as its genesis, but, please read the intro to number 4.

Finally, thanks to Robin Sue, I will now forever refer to my recipes as ... "From the award- winning Warm Olives Blog", and, I get to create an "Awards" category. So, thank you for that. Oh, I need to re-do my header, now to reflect my new status!

Have a nice weekend, folks!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Spaghetti with Browned Butter and Mizithra Cheese

I remember reading a gothic horror novel when I was 13 years old, and it is one of my earlier memories of food being a great "character" in a novel (another was the Old Black Witch making Blueberry Pancakes in her tearoom).

In the horror novel, the protagonist had rented a big scary mansion in Tuscany for the summer and of course all manner of miserable things happened to her, but, in between hauntings, she described her meals in great detail. The first meal she made in her big Tuscan kitchen, surrounded only by her cardboard moving boxes, was spaghetti with butter and pepper. She didn't have tomatoes or basil, but thought "Just a little browned butter and ground pepper will do." I remember thinking "What? That's just buttered noodles." But you know, it made me realize that a simple recipe is still a meal, and I made myself buttered noodles when my Mom was out of eyesight and couldn't stop me.

Fast forward to the past ten years, one of my present-day favorite "simple pasta dishes" was a simple dish from an always-reliable but not terribly chi-chi pasta restaurant in California -- "Old Spaghetti Factory" in California. They toss spaghetti in browned butter and just top it with shredded mizithra cheese, a very dry greek cheese. There is a copycat recipe here, although, I think the quanties called for are wayyyy off. I barely need any butter or cheese. Just enough to dress the pasta, topped with ground pepper. The method is pretty dead on, however.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Almond Joy Bundt Cake

I recently tried Nutella for the first time and I'm a convert. To quote the eloquent Kitty at My Husband Hates Veggies, Nutella really is the bomb diggity. It was on sale at Long's Drugs 2-for-1 so now, of course, I need to make Nutella desserts. This is a cake to take to the office tomorrow, a fast and easy concoction inspired by pantry staples and my jar of Nutella.

I mixed a white cake mix according to package directions, but added a healthy dose of almond extract to taste. I removed one cup of almond cake batter to a small bowl, and mixed in 1/3 cup of Nutella, and 1/4 cup of coconut. I set this aside, and into a bundt pan, I poured 1/2 of the remaining almond cake batter, and then spread dollops of the Nutella Coconut cake batter on top, running a knife through to marble somewhat. I topped this with the remainder of the almond cake batter, and baked according to package directions. When it was baked, I drizzled it with more Nutella and a sprinkle of coconut shavings. You could mix almonds into the Nutella layer, or even in the base of the pan so as to make into the crust, but I kept it simple with almond extract.

Update 04-14-08:
Well, it is a success. They like it! Hey Mikey! (Then again, what WON'T coworkers eat?)

I am a Braised Short Ribs Rock Star

Braised, fall apart roasts scare me more than yeast breads scare others. I've ruined more good cuts of meat by cooking it improperly than I care to count. Still, I was a "Cooking in the Kitchen with Kate" mood this weekend, for sure. It was the first weekend I didn't have a) the flu, b) a bad tooth following root canal and c) too much work to do at home. Add to the mix the fact I reorganized and set up a more professional looking kitchen this week (I had one of those moments laying in bed where you think of a great idea, and the next morning you are in line at Home Depot at 7:00 a.m. to get the materials), and all the pieces were in play -- I was going to cook up a storm.

Having already made french toast for breakfast, and a loaf of white sandwich bread in the afternoon, I watched an old episode of Paula Deen's show and she made a dish of braised short ribs. She made it seem so easy, and I've seen them on so many blogs recently, I really wanted to try a few short ribs. I immediately went out to the store, bought some ribs, and trolled the blogs looking for inspiration.

Ultimately I decided on an easy braised-in-a-dutch-oven version I found from an anonymous chef at the Food Network, and adapted it from there. When it came out of the oven tonight, I was a short rib rock star. The dish turned out VERY well (with one exception noted below) and I'll be sure to try this again in the future -- albeit in a colder month. Northern California was really warm and beautiful this weekend and you can't really pull off wintery dishes like this when butterflies and hummingbirds are flitting past you on the way out of the grocery store.

I only cook for 1 or 2 at most, so all my amounts are ballparked by me as I go along.


4 short ribs
1 handful of shredded carrot
1/2 of a chunked onion
3 garlic cloves
Sprig of rosemary
2 slices of pre-cooked bacon
1 tablespoon of olive oil
seasoned flour
1/2 cup red wine
2 cups beef broth

Step 1:

Chop up 1/2 an onion, 3 garlic cloves, some rosemary, some carrot, and set aside in a bowl. Season a few tablespoons of flour, and dredge the short ribs in the flour. In a heavy dutch oven, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a few pieces of snipped bacon, and heat until the bacon has rendered and the oil is hot. Add the short ribs, turning and browning each side.

Step 2: Remove the browned short ribs to a platter, and, add the reserved vegetables to the pan drippings, sauteing lightly until they are soft.

Step 3: Deglaze the pan with a healthy glug (I used about 1/2 cup) of red wine.

Step 4: After the pan has deglazed, pour into 2 cups of beef broth and bring the dish to a hard boil.

Step 5: After the vegetable broth has reached a boil, turn off the stove, and add the short ribs, assuring the liquid has come up at least half way up the sides of the ribs. Put the lid on the dutch oven, and put in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 2 hours.

Step 6: After 1.5 hours, I checked and took off the lid. After 2.0 hours, it was fully browned, tender, and about to fall off the bone (but didn't).

Step 7: Prepare your favorite side dishes. For me, I made a simple mound of garlic mashed potatoes, and, hot brussels sprout slaw (pan fried shredded spouts, seasoned and served hot). Mound it up, baby.

So damn good. Every component was delicious. The ONLY change I'd make next time, is to trim up and off some of the fat from the ribs. None of the recipes I read said to do so, but honestly, there was so much fat in the pan, and thick pieces on the rib, that I really didn't want to fish my veggie mixture out of the pan because it was all under at least an inch of fat. I would hope that trimming that back wouldn't ruin the tenderness of the meat. There must be a happy medium, right?

P.S. The pan cost $39.99. The short ribs cost $3.99. That is SO me -- buying an expensive pan to cook the cheapest cut of meat imaginable. But I look at it as an investment. I still need to make that No Knead Bread. So NEEDED this pan.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Mini Brioche French Toast

So Damn Good

Mini Brioche French Toast

Looks like a huge plate of it, doesn't it? Nope! Made with a leftover brioche dinner roll.

1 small brioche dinner roll
1 egg
1 teaspoon fat free half and half
1 dash of nutmeg
2 pats of butter spread
2 tablespoons sugar free maple syrup
1 teaspoon powdered sugar

Beat the egg, half and half, nutmeg and any other spices you like, slice the brioche dinner roll and dip into egg custard, and sautee in a pat of butter spread until golden brown. Top with another pat of butter spread and SF maple syrup.

My friend Dottie in PA has always recommended the sugar free maple syrup from the East Coast based Waffle House chain. I found a bottle online and purchased it, and boy, was she right. That stuff is just plain AWESOME. No fake flavor whatever, and no nasty after-effects of the sugar alcohols.

As soon as my bottle is gone, Dottie, I'm afraid I'll need to send you on an errand. :)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Simple Suppers: Wild Turbot and Roasted Asparagus

Wild Turbot and Asparagus

Simple pan-sauteed fish (Wild Turbot), enhanced with Penzey's brand Northwood seasonings and lemon; Roasted Asparagus with smokehouse pepper and thyme. Simple and delish!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Creamy Rice Pudding

Yesterday was Session 4 (of 5) in my Root Canal Therapy. I needed comfort. Last night I made homemade Basmati Rice Pudding ... sugar free and fat free. It was EXCELLENT.

This recipe is adapted from the book I loved to read as a young child (all the wonderful illustrations and stories are marvelous): Margaret Rudkin's 1963 Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. I lost this book at some point in my youth and have no idea what became of it -- something I always regretted. I was beyond delighted to find my childhood favorite cookbook in a thrift store this week, and I've made it a personal challenge to honor it by actually cooking from it on a regular basis.

  • 1 cup fat free milk

  • 1 cup fat free half and half

  • 8 teaspoons of basmati rice, rinsed and cleaned

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 cup Splenda

  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

  • 1/4 cup of raisins (optional)

Butter a pyrex dish or clay casserole pot, as shown (this was the only added fat, so it's not REALLY fat free, but oh well). Clean and rinse the rice, and spoon into dish. Cover with all ingredients. Stir. Bake at 325 for 3 hours, stirring several times to incorporate the rice as it swells.

Notes: The photo above was taken after just over 2 hours. I ate it creamy and warm at this point, but cooking it another 50 minutes made it thicker and firmer, but still very creamy. It did not brown. Also, I thought it could use less sweetener. I would use less than 1/4 cup of sugar next time, or even just as bit of honey or agave syrup or something similar.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Losing My Nutella Virginity

Photo courtesy of Siladeth @ Flickr

Nutella: Fancy chocolate condiment, or just a big batch of frosting in a jar?


I've finally tried Nutella. I'm 48, by the way, so I'm very late to the Nutella game. I never much craved it, because, I've never much craved anything chocolate. Oh, I like chocolate well enough, but ::gasp:: chocolate bores me. Always has. I'm the gal who will order the creme brulee EVERY time, or the bananas foster, or the caramel cake. I never, EVER order the Molten Lava Chocolate Cake or Death by Chocolate dessert. :::Yawwwwnn:::

There are both psychological reasons and culinary reasons, but mostly, it's just because chocolate always tastes like ... chocolate. Vanilla, on the other hand, can take on a whole HOST of flavors, and act as both the star (beautiful vanilla beans scraped into heavy cream and eggs, oh my) or just the back up (any dessert is improved by a dash of vanilla extract -- and lately I've added a splash of vanilla extract to my steel cut oats -- excellent).

I learned this young. My father used to take the entire family on long road trips every summer as part of his job, so we were forever having a picnic lunch in the park, snacks in the car, and fruit stand pit stops. Mostly out of a love of snacks and picnics -- my Dad was always game for either -- but we were a big family in a car traveling over the nation's highways for hours at a time. Sometimes you need to throw cookies at the barbarians in the back (that would be me and my siblings) to shut them the hell up.

On one particular trip, my Mom took over the wheel for awhile, and my Dad sat in the front seat with a bag of gas station candy: Coconut Haystacks, to be exact. A combo of chocolate and vanilla in a big cellophane bag. He reached in and held out a haystack over the seat to four kids in the back seat.

"Who wants chocolate?" He said.

"Me! Me! Me!" yelled everyone in the car, in unison. Now, with four kids, his wife, and himself, a handful of chocolate haystacks was not going to divide evenly, or go very far, and he liked chocolate for himself.

My Dad was a smart guy, and crafty. Witness this Mark Twain-esqe / Tom Sawyer like moment:

"Okay, but, I'm saving the vanilla for Kate...she likes those best and those are for her. The rest of you can share the chocolate."

That was me. Ohhhhh, I DO like vanilla best. Don't I? Yes, I must, because he just said I did.

Wait. Do I? When did this happen?

Then I realized this was a ploy -- to keep the peace. My Dad was sending me a message, that he needed me to be less selfish, ungrateful, than the other children. Less bad. I was selected to be the good child. The most loved child. The child who took the minority selection, thus helping my Dad keep peace in the car, and have his own favorite. I was the good girl if I was The Vanilla Girl. I remember giving my Dad a VERY meaningful look (as meaningful as someone perhaps 7 or 8 can give anyone else who probably doesn't have a clue he's receiving said meaningful look):

Yes. I accept this role. I will help you with this. I will be the good girl, the best child, the most loving child, because I will help you keep the peace with coconut haystacks.

"Yes Daddy! I want the Vanilla."

"Good girl."

See? There it was. Proof. I WAS THE GOOD GIRL IF I LIKED VANILLA BETTER. "So that's how this game is played" I thought to myself. "You other losers in the back seat don't have a clue I'm the favorite, now. Hmph." I quietly and smugly chewed vanilla coconut candy mountains. I would keep this information to myself as not to hurt them unnecessarily.

Thus began my life long preference for Vanilla-Anything, which pretty much has stuck with me all these years, and prevented me from having little, if any, desire for Nutella. Shrug. Meh. A big jar of chocolate goo. And it tastes like hazelnuts? Pass. The only experiences I've had with hazelnut flavor, which were both very unpleasant, was a) a big bowl of hazelnuts at my grandmother's house which had gone rancid and had worms, and b) hazelnut flavored syrups and non-dairy creamers. That stuff is noxious (as are most non-dairy flavored creamers), so I consequently associated anything both chocolate AND hazelnut as being doubly noxious.

Today, I made a piece of toast and reached into a jar of tiny restaurant paks of jams to search for a peach jam. Drat. Gone. But here was a tiny picnic sized single-serving of Nutella. It was probably 2 years old, but who knows, I thought it might still be good, and didn't someone once tell me to use it on toast, first? Yes, they did. May as well try it and get it over with. And tried it I did.

You know what? It's pretty good. First, I tasted no fake nut flavor, so we're okay on that score. Second, it isn't greasy or heavy, it's thick and creamy, which is good. It didn't separate, it was fully incorporated. Which is also good. It doesn't take like pale flavorless milk chocolate, OR, dark dark chocolate (I admit I'm not a dark chocolate fan). For being two years old (which is kinda scary that it was still perfect), this Nutella stuff is, all and all ... NOT bad at all. I think it would be good swirled in muffins, as I've seen on so many pretty blogs, or inside a croissant if that's your thing.

But, let's be clear: This is NOT a condiment.

I admit it's pretty tasty, but, you chocolate fiends are kidding yourselves, because you know damn well Nutella is just a big jar of frosting; a big jar of soft spreadable candy bar, and you are BAD, BAD, BAD children for pretending otherwise.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Low Fat Lemon Blueberry Muffins

I suck.

I complain about muffin flavors pretty much every time my boyfriend and I visit a coffee shop. You visit a coffee shop or bakery, you want a muffin for breakfast, and you are always presented with the same boring flavors:

Apple Cinnamon (my least favorite)
Blueberry (works in a pinch, but it's not inspired)
Chocolate (who are we kidding, it's a cupcake)
Banana Nut
Lemon Poppyseed (occasionaly makes an appearance)
Carrot (occasionaly makes an appearance)

Where are the interesting flavor combinations? Where are the coconut and pineapple muffins (the best muffin I ever had in my life was in the Kansas City airport; light as a feather, bits of pineapple, coconut, and I think mac nuts -- it was ethereal), the apricot chutney muffins? The curried cranberry and pecan muffins? The Cherry Vanilla? It's so easy to use some flavor imagination, and yet no breakfast joints break out of that muffin rut. They can dumb down to popular choice. Fooey on popular choice.

I recently purchased a couple of muffin cookbooks from a thrift store (because with more than 100 cookbooks, I didn't have nearly enough, and I'm positive not a single one of those 100+ cookbooks had any muffin recipes in them so I needed these new books), and set about finding some interesting flavors. They were to be had, for sure.

So what did I do? What mold did I shatter with my gourmet muffin madness?

I made Lemon Blueberry, because I had blueberries on hand, and some meyer lemons.

As I said ... I suck.


1 - 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 - 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup low fat milk
1/3 cup canola oil
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon lemon extract or 2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup blueberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 cup of Meyer Lemon Simple Syrup (optional)

Combine first four dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and make a well. In a seperate bowl, beat wet ingredients (except blueberries) until thoroughly blended, and pour into the well in the flour mixture. Mix very gently until moistened. Toss blueberries with 2 tablespoons of sugar, and add to batter. Sprinkle with lemon zest, and mix very gently to incorporate the berries. I spooned the batter into paper lined mini muffin tins. Bake at 400 degrees F for 14 minutes or until muffins are golden brown.

Optional step: When the muffins were fresh and hot, I brushed them with Meyer Lemon Simple Syrup to glaze the tops.

Verdict: Tasty, but not very interesting. The muffins stuck to the paper -- I think next time I'd spoon them into a greased tin. Also, next time I'll break out some peaches and ginger and go for broke with new flavors.
Skill: None.
Repeat: Who am I kidding? Probably yes. Blueberry is the boyfriend's favorite and he's a) younger and b) cuter than I am, so I am a slave to his every whim.