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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

Cheesecake, Gluten-Free, Woo-Hoo!

7 Aug

Gluten-Free Cheesecake

 

About a year ago I discovered that I have a sensitivity to gluten.  That day my world changed.  At first it seemed that it had changed for the worse.  I could not imagine not enjoying a crusty piece of french bread, buttery pasta, or even a simple peanut butter and honey sandwich.  These were among the things I counted as real pleasures in my life.

As I waded into this new gluten-free world I began to discover that gluten is hidden in the most unlikely places.  Just about any processed food can contain gluten and it is not as simple as finding what type of food is likely to contain gluten, you must also check each brand.  I found this out one night after we had just finished eating.  My husband had done the grocery shopping and fixed dinner, I really am lucky in that way.  Then came the headache and soon after the other discomforts that I have now learned to recognize as my body’s reaction to gluten.

I couldn’t figure it out.  We had eaten nothing that had caused a reaction before.  Later that night, I was taking out the trash and noticed that the empty can of green enchilada sauce used in our chicken dish was a different brand than what I usually buy.  I pulled it out to take a look at the list of ingredients and there it was, gluten.  Oops.

However, I must say that this story demonstrates just how much my world has actually improved even without my favorite breads, pastas, and my this and thats.  I feel so much better now, most days I don’t miss them, at least not too much.

Having said that, you can just imagine that having a baked dessert can present a challenge.  So a year later, I am so thrilled to discover a recipe for cheesecake that has a gluten-free crust and does not use flour as a thickener in the filling.  I share it here for all of you who have gluten-sensitivity or children who benefit from eliminating gluten from their diets.  This is so good that everyone in the family can enjoy it, even those who do not need to restrict gluten.
One word of caution.  When using oats, some people with gluten sensitivities can have a reaction if the oats are processed in a facility that also processes  wheat.  There are gluten-free oats (labeled) available or you may want to just use the almonds and some almond meal in place of the oats.

Just a heads up, there were two things that I did not have handy that you will need for this recipe, cheesecloth and the wider heavy weight sheet of foil wrap.

Also, flavor and texture is best if cheesecake is refrigerated overnight.

Crust:

1 1/2 cup    Oats (gluten-free oats)

1/2 cup       Chopped almonds

1/3 cup       Brown sugar

1/3 cup       Butter – melted (5 1/2 Tbls)

Heat oven to 350°.

Grease 9″ spring form pan.

Combine all ingredients, mix well.  press firmly on bottom and 1 1/2 inches on the sides.  Bake 18 minutes.  Cool in refrigerator.

While crust is cooling make the filling.

Filling:

20 ozs.    Whole milk ricotta cheese, drained (2 1/2 cup)

1 – 8 oz    Cream cheese (at room temperature)

1 cup       Sugar

1 Tbls     Cornstarch

4               Large eggs, at room temperature

Zest of 1 Lemon

1 1/2 tsp Pure vanilla extract

To drain ricotta cheese:

Place ricotta cheese in strainer lined with cheesecloth and suspend over a bowl.  Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

To make filling:

In large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth, add ricotta cheese and sugar, beat until smooth.  Beat in cornstarch, add eggs one at a time beating about 30 seconds after each egg is added. Beat in lemon zest and vanilla.
Pour filling into cooled crust.  Use large sheet of foil wrap to wrap the outside of the spring form pan to protect the cheesecake in the water bath.
Place spring form pan in large roasting pan and pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come about half way up the side of the spring form pan.

Bake for about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes or until the top of the cheesecake is nicely browned and the center of cake moves slightly when the pan is gently giggled.

Remove from water bath and cool on a wire rack.  After cooling about an hour remove from spring form pan.  Cool in refrigerator 6-8 hours or overnight.

Enjoy!

Intensely Blueberry, Blueberry Sorbet

28 Jul

This post is for my youngest kidlet, the granddaughter of  The Queen of Everything Money (my sister).  My sister just discovered that the baby LOVES blueberries.  She can not be trusted near a container of blueberries, so they must be hidden and doled out to her in less than lumberjack-sized portions.

(If anyone knows what that you call the granddaughter of your sister, great niece?, grand niece? Please let me know.)

This is a recipe for blueberry sorbet that has an intense blueberry flavor.  It does not take a lot of this to satisfy a craving for blueberries and it is, of course, naturally gluten-free with relatively low amount of added white sugar (more about that to come in a later post).

I found the recipe on Simply Recipes, here is the link to original recipe,  how I made it follows:

Ingredients:

5 cups fresh (or frozen) blueberries, rinsed, stems removed

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup honey

1 Tbsp (fluffy) lemon zest

2 teaspoons lemon juice (less than original recipe)

pinch of salt

Directions:

1.  Place the blueberries, sugar, honey, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt in a large bowl.  Stir to coat blueberries with the sugar.  Mash with a potato masher.

(I actually combine step 1 and 2 by using an immersion blender, much easier.)

2.  Put the mashed blueberries into a blender and blend for a couple of minutes until smooth.

(Be careful while processing the blueberries unless you just love the color purple.  They will stain your clothes, your countertop, your floor, or just about anything you allow them to stay in contact with for any length of time.)

3.   Place a sieve over a large bowl and working in batches, press the mixture through the sieve using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. This will catch the tougher and larger pieces fo lemon and blueberry peel.

Pour into sieve

$.  Chill the mixture for at least an hour in the fridge.  Then process following the directions of your ice cream maker.

(The colder the mixture is when putting it in the ice cream maker, the smoother the texture of the  sorbet.)

You can eat right away of put in freezer for a few hours to further firm the texture.

Makes a little less than a quart.

Another tip that came with this recipe was to add a tablespoon of two of corn syrup to the mix to prevent it from becoming too hard if stored in the freezer.  The longer its is in the freezer the harder it becomes.  Most others recommend the addition of a similar amount of alcohol maybe vodka or a complimentary liqueur, but because this is for family consumption, corn syrup, while not my favorite thing, sounds like a better choice.  I do not add either because it never hangs around long enough to need it.  (Here is where you will have to use your imagination because I was not fast enough to get a picture of the finished sorbet before it disappeared.)

For those of you who do not have an ice cream maker, good news, you can still make sorbet!  It involves freezing the mixture in a shallow baking dish in the freezer, then blending in a food processor or blender.  For the step- by-step process as well as more recipes and great tips click here to visit Busy in Brooklyn.

Happy 4th of July!

3 Jul

Happy 4th of July!

Photo credit: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/Eating_Drinking_g369-Child_Eating_Ice_Cream_p10052.html

I wish everyone a happy 4th of July.  I hope that you all have the opportunity to spend time with friends and family and enjoy the freedoms that we have been given as citizens of the good old United States of America.

When I think of the 4th of July there are a few things that always come to mind.  Fireworks, food on the grill, watermelon, and ice cream.  Because I am now the proud new owner of an ice cream freezer it seems that nothing is safe from becoming a frozen treat but for this holiday I thought I would share about the all-American favorite, vanilla ice cream.  This post will have something for everyone to enjoy as it includes a fun kids hands-on (or impatient adults) 10 minute version of the treat as well as a great grown-up 2 day custard-based version for more discerning palates.

First the fun. No ice cream maker required!

This was found on allrecipes.com.  Check it out to read the comments as many questions you may have will be answered there.

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Speedy-Ice-Cream/Detail.aspx?prop31=3

                   Ingredients 

  •                     1 cup half-and-half cream
  •                     1/4 cup sugar
  •                     1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •                     4 cups coarsely crushed ice cubes
  •                     3/4 cup salt

            Directions

In a small resealable plastic bag, combine the cream, sugar and vanilla.  Press out air and seal.  In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the ice and salt; add the sealed small bag.  Seal the large bag; place in another large resealable plastic bag and seal.  Shake and knead for 5-7 minutes or until cream mixture is thickened.  Serve immediately or freeze.

Note: many comments suggest that you rinse of the salt from the outside of the bag before opening and serving.

This is a perfect activity if you have a few kids at your holiday gathering.  It is something of a group activity, as everyone is making ice cream, but each can individualize their ice cream with a flavor addition like fruit, or chocolate chips, chopped candy or anything your imagination can create.

The ingredients listed are for the amount of one person so be sure to have enough on hand to make one for each kid.  3 kids = 3 times the ingredients list.

Now for the long version.

The basic recipe for this also came from allrecipes.com.  You can check it and all the comments out here http://allrecipes.com/recipe/creamy-vanilla-ice-cream/detail.aspx but I will share my version with you below.

            Ingredients

      •                     2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
      •                     1 cup sugar
      •                     1/4 teaspoon salt
      •                     2 1/2 cups whipping cream
      •                     2 cups half-and-half cream
      •                     1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract

                    Directions

In a heavy saucepan, combine the first five ingredients. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat a metal spoon and reaches at least 178 degrees F.  Heat slowly being careful not to scorch.  Remove from the heat; cool quickly by setting pan in ice and stirring the mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight. When ready to freeze, pour custard and vanilla into the cylinder of an ice cream freezer. Freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions.

    Note: I have a 1 1/2 quart Cuisinart  ice cream freezer and although it looks like this amount will fit comfortably in the machine it does expand and will eventually overflow as it freezes.  Best to separate into two batches and freeze first one half, then the other to save yourself a mess.

Sorry, no pictures, but you can imagine the good parts and save yourself from the rest.

If you try either one of these please let me know how it went.

Happy 4th to all!

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.