Archive | Budget RSS feed for this section

About Onions, Folklore, Facts, and French

26 Jan

Onions

It is a rainy day in sunny Southern California and that makes me think about warm and comfy food. Amazingly, French Onion Soup keeps popping up into
my mind. The funny thing about French onion soup is that I haven’t always had such warm a fuzzy thoughts regarding it. As a matter of fact, my 8 yr old self didn’t want any part of it. I can remember having a terrible cold and my father, (who of course I idolized, I was daddy’s little girl), who I would make
great efforts to please, announced that onion had medicinal qualities and that some onion soup would be just the thing.

I decided that this was the time to draw a line in the sand and not one drop of the magic elixir passed my lips. However, my mumble, mumble, let’s just say older self does not agree. I guess that I am not alone in this change of heart toward the onion as I remember reading once, on the magazine they give you in the pocket of the seat in front of you on the plane, that in the US we consume approx 20 lbs of onions a year per person! That translates into 450 semi- truckloads of onions, at least that is what the National Onion Association says on their website http://onions-usa.org/all-about-onions/consumption.

The reason that this little-known fact stuck with me is because I read this while on my way home from visiting my mother for Mother’s Day where we had prepared a surprise brunch for the entire family that included, you guessed it, French Onion Soup along with Tortilla Soup, Waldorf Salad, and Caesar Salad.

All this came to mind recently as I read a post that talks about the folklore or maybe even an urban legend, surrounding onions and their medicinal properties. It is an interesting read especially since it is flu season. You can check it out here http://markraysolar.wordpress.com/ and decide how much is true and how much is wishful thinking.

For those of you who would like to try a little French Onion Soup right now, either because you love it or because you want to test my father’s theory, I have included this recipe that I found at http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/french_onion_soup/.

It is easy and well worth the time that it takes to create this golden brown treat and is much more cost-effective than ordering it in a restaurant. The secret here is to cook the onions to a golden brown, slowly, to help them release their sweetness. If you or those you are preparing this soup for have gluten-intolerance I suggest that you substitute Glutino Bagel Chips for the cruton of French bread , baguette, traditionally used to help support the melted golden cheese that rests on top. Or, you can do without it if you do not mind the possibility that the cheese might sink a bit.

Ingredients:

6 large red or yellow onions (I prefer yellow)

Olive oil

1/4 teaspoon pf sugar

2 cloves garlic, minced

8 cups of beef stock or chicken stock (I prefer beef), or a combination of the two (traditioanlly the soup is made with beef stock)

1/2 cup of dry vermouth or dry white wine (I prefer white wine)

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon of dry thyme

salt and pepper

8 slices of toasted French bread (I prefer Glutino gluten-free bagel chips, no need to toast, for me, baguette for others)

1  1/2 cups of grated swiss Gruyere with a little grated Parmesan cheese ) I prefer very thin slices and sometimes use Muenster cheese)

Method

In a large saucepan, saute the onions in the olive oil on mendium high heat until well-browned, but not burned, about 30-40 minutes )or longer).  Add the sugar about 10 minutes into the process to help with the caramelization.

Onions cooking

Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute.  Add the stock, vermouth or wine, bay leaf, and thyme.  Cover partially and simmer until the flavors are well blended, about 30 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Discard the bay leaf.

onion soup pot

To serve you can either use individual oven-proof soup bowls of one large casserole dish (I prefer paper cups if the meal is informal and finish in the microwave making clean up easy).  Ladle the soup into the bowls of casserole dish.  Put in the broiler for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F, or until the cheese bubbles and is slightly browned (if you use the microwave removes when cheese melts, it will not brown).  Serve immediately.

onion soup cup

Gifts for Mom that She’ll Love and You Will Love to Make

8 May

Make Fabulous Gifts for Family and Friends (this includes you)!

In honor of Mother’s Day I am revisiting a post from the past.  It offers a wonderful opportunity to share fun family time with your kids while creating a gift that any Mom would  love. You can substitute your favorite essential oils for the ones used below.   Have fun, and Happy Mother’s Day in advance.

What is better than a gift that you enjoy giving as much as others love receiving it?  Well, if you love the feeling of accomplishment that comes with making something that is just as wonderful as what you might buy at an expensive spa then read on.  This is a project that also creates a great opportunity to share a magical “quality time” experience with your kids or grand kids.

There are many spa recipes available for things such as foaming bath salts, sugar scrubs, salt scrubs, even lip gloss, made with easily found ingredients.  What makes these projects so special?  Well, they create an affordable luxury that is a very personal gift that can be tailored to the preferences of the receiver.  It is an experience that children, especially teenaged girls,  love to take part in and best of all you have control of what goes into it. If  you have you ever tried to  read the label on bath products out loud you know what I mean.

I would like to share a very simple recipe that I made recently for a friend who was suffering from a cold.  I modified a recipe found in First for Women Magazine  February 21, 2011 issue  inspired by a product offered by the famous Bliss Spa called Bliss Spa’s self-warming Hot Salt Scrub.   They chose ingredients for this based on their restorative properties.   Eucalyptus essential  oil, which contains cineol and camphor, and rosemary essential oil, which also contains camphor, are selected to help clear mucus.  These essential oils also have antiseptic properties helpful in killing bacteria.  In addition, they have the properties of increasing circulation and creating warmth.  This opens the pores allowing antioxidants in the  grape seed oil to be absorbed easily by the skin.  This scrub is great for use in the shower however, I try not to use it near my feet as the oil can make the shower a bit slippery.

The recipe calls for 1 cup of  coarse kosher salt, 1 cup grape seed oil, and 10 drops each of rosemary essential oil and eucalyptus essential oil.  Mix together and place in a resealable jar.  Personally, I use less oil about a 1/2 cup oil rather than a full cup.  To create a luxurious gift package  finish  the jar with a whimsical or elegant ribbon.

As always, take precautions when working with essential oils and closely supervise children to prevent accidental injuries.

To use, rub the scrub on chest area  and arms (on dry skin).  Breathe in the vapors.  When the shower is steamy, get in and rinse off.  Carefully, step out and dry skin briskly with a soft towel.

This is fun to create and fun to give and will definitely help you stretch your gift giving budget.  It is a great idea for a family project.  You could even invite a few of your favorite friends over for an evening of fun.  Have everyone bring a resealable container and a couple of yards of ribbon to mix and match.  You supply the ingredients and the recipe.  At the end of the evening everyone will leave with fun memories and a fabulous spa treatment to enjoy.

A Visit From the Coupon Fairy

30 Apr

 

I was thinking the other day about little surprises that brighten up your day.  Things like a genuine compliment, the sound of children laughing, someone letting you into traffic.  Well, today I was bestowed with a visit from the coupon fairy.  I don’t know if you have ever had the pleasure of meeting a coupon fairy.  I met one today while grocery shopping.  I was in the check out line and the lady behind me asked me if I had gotten 2 boxes of fruit popsicles.  I told her yes I had and she handed me a coupon for $1 off!  She said she had decided not to get fruit popsicles and didn’t want to waste the coupon.  It was amazing how good it felt to have someone share that gesture of kindness.

It got me thinking about when I was much younger and living in the Midwest.  Times were a little tight back then and many of the grocery stores had a little table with a raised lip sitting in the entryway where people would place any extra coupons that they had.  When you walked in the store you could take a look through the coupons and see if there were any that you could use that day and take them.  On the way out you could drop off any coupons that you hadn’t used or extra coupons you had clipped.

I had though about talking to my grocery store manager about this old idea but I could see that the potential obstacle of a pile up of expired coupons might not be appealing as it could become another task added to an increasingly long list of things to do for workers.

I was talking about all this with a friend and they told me that they liked to practice a stealth version of a visit from the coupon the coupon fairy.  If they have extra coupons they would leave them on the store shelf on top or next to the item the coupon is for.  Then when someone comes along who is shopping for that item, POOF, they get the tiny little sunshine feeling of a happy surprise that comes with a random act of kindness.

Now this sounds easier to do than talking the manager into a coupon exchange table.

Does anyone else have a story about seeing or being a coupon fairy?

A Tale of Two Cookies – Peanut Butter That Is

29 Mar

Old-fashioned or Flour-free. Either way this is a love story.

So what do you do when you have 4 jars of peanut butter in the cupboard waiting to be eaten?  Because of my last blog post, Peanut Butter Throw Down, this is exactly what I am facing today.  The first thing that comes to my mind is to make peanut butter cookies.  I have a recipe that I got years ago, from a wonderful baker.

It really reminds me of simpler times.  So much so that I have never recopied it from its yellowed piece of paper with its instructions typed in that font that all manual typewriters sported in the 70’s.

It makes a sweet, crisp cookie that disappears quickly.  It does make a lot of cookies and they do freeze well but I never seem to be quick enough to sneak any into the freezer.

They are very easy to make, do not require any hard to find ingredients, and make a good old-fashioned kid and husband friendly cookie.

Recipe is for 50 cookies using a #30 dipper

1 ½ c. Shortening

1 ½ c. Peanut Butter

1 ½ c. White Sugar

1 ½ c. Brown Sugar

3 Eggs

3 c. Flour

1 ½ tsp. Baking Powder

1 ½ tsp. Baking Soda

¾ tsp. Salt

  1. Combine shortening, peanut butter, sugars, and eggs.  Mix thoroughly.
  2. Add dry ingredients.
  3. Use a #30 dipper and drop cookies 2″ apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  4. Flatten with a fork dipped lightly in flour. Make a criss-cross pattern.
  5. Bake at 375° for 10-12 minutes.
  6.  Cool for about 10 minutes on the parchment paper.  Do not move them prior to this because they will crumble if not allowed to set.  You should have a nice crunchy but light cookie to enjoy.

Definitely use parchment paper.

As promised this is a tale of two cookies.  Why?  That is because I recently started eating a gluten-free diet.  As you can imagine, that makes desserts more challenging, and cookies almost non-existent.  Imagine my delight when I found a couple of wheat free-cookie peanut butter cookie recipes as I searched for ways to use up my four jars of peanut butter.

I do not remember the exact moment that recipes became more of a suggestion and less of a blueprint, but because of this I had to read all the recipes, consider the hundreds of comments people had made about them, experiment, and here is the result.

I am going to include a few tips about techniques because when cooking gluten-free, getting good texture can be tricky.

They are also very easy to make, do not require any hard to find ingredients, and make a good old- fashioned kid and husband friendly cookie and your “gluten-free” friends and family will love you.

Recipe is for 25 cookies using a # 30 dipper

(Easily doubled to make the 50 cookies yield as in the first recipe but if you want to experiment start with the smaller batch.)

No flour, no butter, no shortening.

As always check all ingredients yourself for gluten if you have Celiac’s disease as traces of gluten are in many foods.

1 c. Peanut Butter

1/2 c. White Sugar

1/2 c. Brown Sugar

1 Large Egg (room temperature for a fluffier cookie)

Pinch of Salt (I prefer sea salt)

1/2 tsp. Vanilla (omit if you require completely gluten-free for those with Celiac’s)

1 tsp. Baking Soda

1. Combine all ingredients except the peanut butter.  Beat until well mixed.  Add peanut butter slowly.  Mixture becomes thicker as you continue to beat.

2. Chill the firm dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or longer.  (If you are cooking with kids you might want to skip this, as their interest might evaporate, but go ahead and place the dough in the refrigerator while waiting for the first sheet of cookies to bake.)

3. Use a #30 dipper and drop cookies 2″ apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

4.  Flatten with a fork.  If you use a rolling motion rather than pressing down with the fork you can flatten the cookies without the fork sticking.  This does take some practice and this dough tends to be crumbly so if you feel more comfortable you can dip the fork in powdered sugar.

5. Bake at 350° for 8-10 minutes.

6. Remove from oven, sprinkle lightly with sea salt if you like the contrast of salty and sweet.   Cool for about 10 minutes on the parchment paper.  Do not move them prior to this because they will crumble if not allowed to set.  You should have a nice crunchy but light cookie to enjoy.

Wait for it...cookies must cool or you will see how the cookie crumbles.

Two and a half cups of peanut butter down, three and a half cups to go.  Anyone have a favorite peanut butter recipe to share?

Peanut Butter Throwdown

5 Feb
English: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, m...

Image via Wikipedia

It is time for the second installment of Store Brand or National Brand and today we are going to have a peanut butter throw down.

For those of you who missed the first post in this series, we decided to do some blind taste tests of food items that we buy on a regular basis.  The idea was to test the national brands against generic or store brands to see which items were the best value based on the balance of quality v price.  Of course, these are subjective concepts so we wanted to also provide a little insight into why we preferred one product over another.  We tested four items in this category and would love to hear from you about your own blind taste tests of these items or the store brands that you have locally.

The blind, side by side tasting rated each on taste, texture and overall satisfaction. We would then rank each as A. The Best, B. The Same Quality, C. Acceptable But Not as Good, D. Not Acceptable.

This tasting consisted of four brands of peanut butter, two national brands and two store brands, Skippy, Peter Pan, Stater Bros. and Best Value (Walmart).   All were crunchy style.

The thing that really stood out to our tasters in this challenge is that we really did not notice much difference in the taste of the peanut butters eating them on a day to day basis, but when they were tasted side-by-side there was a noticeable difference.

Our panel found that the Peter Pan brand had the best texture, describing it as velvety although all the tested brands had a nice smooth texture, cost  .16 oz.  The Skippy brand was described as overall OK and was described as lightly salty with a different kind of finish, cost  .19 oz.  The Great Value brand was described as overall OK but too salty,  cost  .11 oz.  The Stater Bros. brand was described as having a spoiled taste, cost  .14 oz.

When we tallied up the scores we found that we had a clear winner chosen as best by all the tasters, just as we had in the first taste test of cottage cheese.  This time it was Peter Pan peanut butter which was surprising because it was not the brand that any of us bought for our families.  In this test all tasters agreed on the second place also held by Skippy and rated as acceptable, and the third place held by Great Value, also rated as acceptable.  Another surprise was that Stater Bros. brand was the clear last choice of all the tasters who all found it to taste spoiled and gave it a rating of unacceptable.

This is what we found but we invite you to share your thoughts of your own blind, side-by-side tasting.  If you would like to use the score sheet we created, just request it in the comments and we will send you one.

Store Brand or National Brand…This is the Question

5 Oct
Trader Joe's West Hartford

Image via Wikipedia

I do not know what camp you belong to but I find that most people live in the national brand camp or the store brand camp.  In other words, we have a very strong belief that there is a huge benefit of some  kind associated with the consumption of either a familiar brand name product, or with a lesser advertised store brand.  Often this preference is something that has been passed down from one generation to another and like many “traditions” the real reason we do this is less because we know that it is the better choice, and more because it is the way we have always done it.

Recently, motivated by the new economy, I decided it might be interesting to test these assumptions.  Of course, only you can decide what qualities a thing must meet to make it a “value”. We decided that it would be fun to do some head to head, blind taste tests with set criteria to see if our product choices and our “values” matched when we removed our label bias.

We chose three brands of the same product and did a blind, side by side tasting rating each on taste, texture and overall satisfaction.

We would then rank each as  A. The Best  B. The Same Quality, C. Acceptable But Not as Good, D. Not Acceptable.  Of course for some people price became a consideration in making this distinction.  So here we go.

The first tasting consisted of three brands of cottage cheese, Kraft Simply, Trader Joe’s, and Great Value.  All were 4% Milk-Fat.

As we sat down to do the tasting, we were chatting about cottage cheese generally and a comment was made that all cottage cheese was about the same, just something you eat because it supposed to be good for you, not something that you eat because it tastes good.  I, on the other hand, am a fan of cottage cheese, and feel that not all cottage cheese is created equal.  This was going to be interesting.

The mood was amused with a touch of seriousness as we all focused on the characteristics of the white blobs before us.  It is surprising just what you can notice about something when you focus on it.  Talk of graininess, creaminess, tang, and finish floated around the table reminding me of wine tasting parties.

Our panel found that Great Value Brand was creamy with a nice firm texture, and had good flavor, cost = .12 per oz. and had less sodium.  The Trader Joe’s Brand was found to be a bit watery, but had a nice tangy flavor, cost = .10 per oz. and had more calories.  The Kraft Simply was described as dry, grainy, and was found to have an unpleasant after taste, cost = .12 per oz.

When we tallied up the scores we found that we had a clear but surprising winner.  Great Value Brand was chosen as The Best by two tasters and as the Same Quality as Trader Joe’s Brand by the third.  Trader Joe’s Brand was rated as Acceptable but not as Good by two tasters and as you already know, as the Same Quality as Great Value by one taster.  The Kraft Simply was rated Not Acceptable by all three tasters.

Even more interesting was the reaction of one of the tasters when they discovered that they had chosen the  Great Value Brand (Wal-Mart) as a clear winner.  They said  “Oh, It really is the best.  I just wish that they paid their ladies better.”     They seemed sold on the quality, but somewhat sadly so.  It will be interesting to see what cottage cheese makes it into their refrigerator in the future.

This is what we found, but we invite you to share your thoughts of your own  blind, side by side tasting.  If you would like to use the score sheet we created,  just request it in the comments and we will send you one.

Popcorn!

26 Aug
Popcorn NIH

Image via Wikipedia

In the words of James Brown “I don’t want all that mess…just give me some popcorn.” http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4131422760421767776# (for the uninitiated, here is the Godfather of Soul himself singing Popcorn.)  That is what was going through my mind the night  I finally decided to  do some research on popcorn.  I love popcorn. (James Brown is kind of fun too.)  I love to pop a bag of popcorn into the microwave and 2 glorious minutes later start the enjoyment of nibbling one unique kernel of popcorn at a time until they are all gone.  However, I really do not care for the chemical taste that microwave popcorn has ( is it getting worse or is that just me)?  So I had gone back to the “old school” way, getting out a heavy saucepan, pouring in the oil, adding the popcorn, shaking the pan, pouring the popcorn into a bowl, adding he salt, eating the popcorn, cleaning  the greasy pan and dishes. 

 Tastes great, but it brings us back to “I don’t want all that mess…just give me some popcorn”.   I liked the idea of an air popper, but really who needs another giant appliance to move out of the way  each time you need a casserole dish or mixing bowl?  I thought I had heard something about being able to make your own microwave popcorn so I decided to take the time to hop on the internet and google it.  I went to allreceipes.com and what I found made me feel like I was the last person on earth to know about how to make my own microwave popcorn!  But just in case you are one of the few  who have not yet discovered this secret, I will continue.

First of all the recipe is elegant in its simplicity.  Poporn, oil (or no oil, perfect for our recipe for snack mix), small paper lunch bag, and salt,(or no salt) or your favorite seasoning.  Just think of the possibilities!  No fat, no problem. No gluten no problem. No sodium, no problem.  This is endlessly adaptable to almost any dietary restriction.  And the preperation is no problem.  Place all items, except the bag, in the bag, fold the top of the bag down, pop until the pops are 2 seconds apart.  Nothing could be simpler, however it seems that the devil is in the details.

I really love this recipe.  Almost as much as I loved sifting through the 183 comments about this recipe.  You can check this amazing discourse out for yourself here http://allrecipes.com/recipe/microwave-popcorn/detail.aspx but I will give you my take on it here.  Most loved it and shared their special ways to seal the bag, season the popcorn or deal with the unpopped kernels.  However, there were some who complained that they burned the popcorn, some that complained that they filled the house with the smell of burnt popcorn and even someone that complainted that they burned up their microwave!

All I can say is that this recipe is much like raising a child.  If you give it your undivided attention for just a little while, you will soon be rewarded with the ability to relax and completely enjoy it.   Once you have the basic formula down you can add the  details that reflect your personal preferences.

Okay, I will have the last word.  Mix popcorn kernels with  small amount of olive oil,  just to coat,  in a resealable plastic container.  The oil is just to make the salt stick better.  Add salt, to taste (you can always add more after it is popped).   Add three level tablespoons of mixture  into the paper bag and fold the top down 2 times.  Put in microwave fold up, not on side.   Give it your full attention because microwave times vary.  When it starts slowing down to near 2 seconds between pops remove from microwave.  Best to stop before all kernels are popped as you can recycle them back into the plastic container with the remaining  popcorn mixture.  Open the bag, kick back and enjoy!   Place your plastic container with your new popcorn stash in the refrigerator for the next time.