The following list, courtesy of the Environmental Working Group, can help us all spend our organic food dollars more wisely:

The Dirty Dozen

Also, here is a “recipe” for homemade produce wash (courtesy of re-nest.com):

1 cup water
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon baking soda
20 drops grapefruit seed extract

Combine all ingredients in a large container. Then, transfer to a spray bottle with a pump. Spray mixture on produce (avoid using on mushrooms), let sit 5 to 10 minutes and rinse.

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Firstly, let me acknowledge that this blog post is not about cooking.  It is, however, about serving food.  Sort of.  This is a recommendation for a product that has really changed mine and my newborn daughter’s life.  I am talking about My Brest Friend.

My Brest Friend

This is a pillow used specifically for breastfeeding.  I am usually not a fan of single-use items and was *extremely* hesitant to purchase this item.  But when my daughter and I were having difficulty breastfeeding due to poor positioning, my husband went out and bought My Brest Friend for us.  We are so glad he did as we have not had any trouble since.  This pillow helps my daughter maintain proper positioning and latch and  supports my back, helping me maintain good posture, reducing back, neck and shoulder pain.  Before my husband bought this for us, I was sure I’d have to call a lactation consultant for a house call.  I’m so glad my husband spent $40 on this pillow before I unnecessarily spent $200 on a house call from a lactation consultant.

I can not recommend this product enough.  If you, or someone you love, are having difficulties breastfeeding, give My Brest Friend a try.  It can really improve your breastfeeding experience.

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And again, I have a wonderful excuse… My baby girl has arrived!!!

I am going to keep this post short as my newborn daughter is bound to wake up, screaming for my awesome custom-made milk.  That is, after all, all I’ve been producing lately.  I’ve been lucky to have an awesome husband (aka Baby Daddy) who has been cooking – and cleaning –  for me.

No, I have not been cooking, but as a ravenous breastfeeding mama, I have been eating.  Lots.  My favorite food these days?  Hot dogs.  You see, I wasn’t allowed to eat hot dogs while I was pregnant due to the risk of listeria.  But now that I am not pregnant?  You can find me in line at Gray’s Papaya, which is conveniently located on the same street as my daughter’s pediatrician’s office ;)

I am looking forward to all of the previously banned foods that I’ve missed so much… raw milk cheeses, runny egg yolks, smoked salmon, medium-rare steak, oysters on the half shell.  Oh my, I am getting hungry just thinking about it!

Now, as for cooking… I suppose I will have to get back in the kitchen at some point.  And when I do, I hope it’ll be blog worthy.  My husband, daughter, cat and I are moving to a larger apartment at the end of the month and my birthday is coming up so I am hoping to receive some new kitchen gadgets to occupy my new, expansive counter tops.  If I do, I will be sure to at least post about what goodies I make with said kitchen gadgets.

Well, thanks for sticking around.  I will try not to be a stranger.  Until next time…

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Tonight is Baskin-Robbins’ annual 31 Cent Scoop Night!  In conjunction with this event, Baskin-Robbins will be donating $100,000 to the National Volunteer Fire Council’s National Junior Firefighter Program.  Stop by your local Baskin-Robbins tonight between 5:00pm and 10:00pm for your 31 cent scoop and help support this very worthy cause!

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As kids, my brother and I loved it when our mom would make sloppy joes for dinner.  Of course, she would make her sloppy joes using the canned sauce mix (you know the one) and she would always serve her sloppy joes with a side of potato chips and French onion dip.  To our juvenile palates, this meal was delicious.  But, I tell you, it’s a real miracle my brother and I did not grow up morbidly obese.

Recently, I was looking for a way to get my sloppy joes fix without having to resort to using the canned sauce mix.  I wanted to incorporate fresh vegetables and avoid ingesting all the artificial stuff that tends to lurk in those canned products.  Here is what I came up with:

Homemade Sloppy Joes

Makes 8 sandwiches.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
1 medium red bell pepper, diced small
1 medium green bell pepper, diced small
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
2 pounds extra-lean ground beef
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup Barbecue Sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons hot sauce (I use Frank’s RedHot)
8 hamburger potato rolls

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat.  Saute onion and peppers until tender, about 4 minutes.  Add garlic and saute 1 minute more.

Homemade Sloppy Joe's

Add ground beef to vegetables and cook until beef is completely browned, breaking up any large chunks.  Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, barbecue sauce, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce.  Stir until well combined and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.

Homemade Sloppy Joe's

Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Serve on toasted rolls.

Homemade Sloppy Joe's

As an alternative to my mom’s side dish of choice, you could serve these sloppy joes with oven-baked sweet potato fries and a side salad.

This meal is sure to please kids of all ages.  I hope you’ll give it a try… you may never go back to the canned stuff again.

Enjoy!

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Last Tuesday, I had the great honor of attending an event at the Desiron Gallery in SoHo, featuring the super sexy Electrolux ICON line of kitchen appliances.  The appliances were expertly demonstrated by none other than The River Cafe’s Chef Brad Steelman.

We started the evening with passed hors d’oeuvers: Curried Lobster Salad on Lentil Wafers with Micro Cilantro, Seared Tuna with Avocado/Seaweed/Wasabi Mayo and Duck Breast with Rhubarb Reduction.  As I am “with child”, I was only able to sample the lobster salad, but it was delicious.  Based on what I heard from others, the seared tuna and duck breast were just as tasty.

Our dinner was made before our very eyes by Chef Steelman and his sous chefs.  Using the induction cooktop, Chef Steelman made Spring Asparagus Risotto.  He makes it ultra-light and vegetarian by using water rather than chicken stock (good to know!).  For our next course, we enjoyed a Colorado Lamb Roast, which was seared on the induction cooktop and finished off in the wall oven.  The roast took all of 12 minutes to cook.  What?!?  It was simply amazing.  For dessert (my favorite course at ANY meal) we had a luscious Chocolate Molten Cake which Chef Steelman baked in the high speed oven in… 4 minutes!

I’m telling you, the Electrolux ICON line of appliances is a dream come true for the cook who has better things to do than stand around waiting for a pot of water to boil.  I encourage you to check out the Elecrolux ICON website and try Chef Steelman’s recipes.  Everything is sure to please!

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When my husband and I moved to New York, we no longer had the “luxury” of having a microwave oven.  We had one when we lived in Northern Virginia but left it behind when we moved to NYC as we knew kitchen counter space would be extremely limited.  We have gotten along quite well without this modern convenience and we barely ever missed having one except for when we had a craving for popcorn.  Yes, as artificial as it is, we only ever ate microwave popcorn.  I once tried to cook Jiffy Pop but I burned it.  Then we got to the point where we would only have popcorn when we went to a movie theater.

I started to think, “Geez, what did people do before microwaves when they wanted popcorn?”  When I was a little girl (pre-microwave ovens) my parents had a hot air popcorn popper.  Well, I don’t have one of those and I am not about to go buy one.  I tend to agree with Alton Brown regarding single-use kitchen items.  When space is at a premium, as it is in our apartment, I need my kitchen equipment to be multi-functional.

So, I did some experimenting and taught myself how to make stove-top popcorn.  It really only took 2 tries to get it right.  (The first time, I used too much oil and took the pot off the stove too soon, leaving a ton of unpopped kernels behind).  The second time, I got it right.  Here’s how I do it:

Stove-Top Popcorn

Using a large heavy-bottomed 8-quart pot over medium-high heat, heat just enough canola oil to generously coat the bottom of the pot (about 1 tablespoon).  Then add enough popcorn kernels (I used Arrowhead Mills Organic Popcorn) to form a single layer in the bottom of the pot (about 1/2 cup).  Shake the pan well to coat the kernels in the oil.

Stove-Top Popcorn

Cover the pan.  Once the kernels start to pop, occasionally shake the pot from side to side/front to back  to make sure that the unpopped kernels stay settled at the bottom of the pan and the popped corn does not burn.  When the popping has slowed significantly, remove the pot from the heat and carefully remove the lid away from you (beware of escaping steam!).

Stove-Top Popcorn

Pour popped corn into a large serving bowl, top with your favorite popcorn toppers (melted butter, fine sea salt, Parmesan cheese, chili powder, finely chopped fresh herbs, what-have-you) and toss well to evenly distribute the deliciousness.

Stove-Top Popcorn

Now, pop in a DVD of choice and enjoy some fresh, hot, all-natural homemade popcorn!

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I just returned from my OB appointment and I learned, much to my dismay, that I gained 5 pounds in 2 weeks!  I am only “supposed” to gain 1 pound per week, so this is not good news.  I have to admit, I have been indulging in cookies, cake and ice cream these last 2 weeks so I was not exactly surprised by this news.   But, my weight gain thus far has been moderate so I am not in any trouble with my doctor.  Phew!

I was going to make brownies this weekend but now I know that I have to behave myself and rely on dried fruit to get my sweet fix.  Yes, I could still make the brownies for my husband to enjoy, but who are we fooling?  If I can manage to gain 5 pounds in 2 weeks, I think we all know that I am not strong enough to have homemade brownies in the house without devouring them.

Fear not, for I have not forsaken you, Dear Reader.  I will still give you the recipe.  I just won’t have any photos to show you.

Fudgy Walnut Brownies

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for the pan
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (Ghirardelli’s 70% Cacao Extra Bittersweet Baking Bar works nicely)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350F.  Brush a 9-inch square baking pan with butter.  Line the bottom and 2 sides with parchment paper, allowing a 2-inch overhang on the 2 sides.  Brush the parchment paper with butter and set pan aside.

In a small bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt; set aside.

Place butter and chocolate in a large heat-proof bowl (stainless steel or glass) set over a large saucepan of simmering water.  Heat butter and chocolate, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes; remove bowl from pan.  Add sugar; mix to combine.  Add eggs; mix to combine.  Add flour mixture and walnuts and mix just until moistened, being careful not to overmix.  Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth the top.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 45 to 55 minutes.  Cool in pan for 30 minutes then, using the parchment paper overhang, life brownies out of the pan; transfer to a rack to cool completely (still on the parchment paper).  ONce completely cool, use a serrated knife to cut brownies into squares.

Enjoy (on my behalf)!

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Apricot Cornmeal Cookies

I tested these cookies on my colleagues of the New York Metro Chapter of the US Personal Chef Association last night and they were a hit so now I am ready to share the recipe with you!

These cookies are deliciously light, not too sweet, and really beautiful.  These are an “icebox” cookie so once you’ve made a batch of dough (you may even want to double the recipe) you can have freshly baked cookies any time you please.

Apricot Cornmeal Cookies

Yield:  About 3 dozen cookies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
5 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature (use a high-quality butter such as Plugra)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heaping 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots

Whisk the flour, cornmeal, salt and baking powder together.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth.  Add the sugar and continue to beat for about 2-3 minutes until the mixture is light and pale.

Add the egg and yolk and beat for another minute or 2 until the egg and yolk are incorporated.  Beat in the vanilla.

Reduce the mixer to low speed and steadily add the flour mixture, mixing only until it has been incorporated.  Turn off mixer and add chopped apricots.  Finish mixing the dough with a rubber spatula.

Turn the dough out onto the counter and divide in half.  Shape each half into a log, about 2-inches in diameter, and wrap in plastic.  The dough must be chilled for at least 2 hours before use.  (Well wrapped, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen up to 2 months).

When ready to bake, center the rack in the oven and preheat to 375F.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Use a sharp, thin knife to slice cookie dough into 1/4-inch thick rounds and place the rounds on the baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between each cookie.

Apricot Cornmeal Cookies

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the sheet at the midpoint.  The cookies should feel semi-soft/semi-firm and they should not color much, if at all.  Remove the pan from the oven and let the cookies rest 1 minute before carefully lifting them onto a rack to cool to room temperature.  Repeat with the remaining dough, cooling the baking sheets between batches.

Enjoy!

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… But are they safe to eat???

I’ve noticed that since the peanut/salmonella scare started, every recipe that looks appealing to me has peanuts or peanut butter in it.  I am craving peanut butter like never before (yes, I am pregnant, but still).  Since I am eating for two and salmonella poisoning would be catastrophic for me and my growing family, I am steering clear.  But once the dust has settled, these are the recipes I’m planning to make.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

This is one of my husband’s all-time favorite desserts.

1 (14oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 (8 oz.) container frozen non-dairy whipped topping, thawed
1 (6oz.) Oreo pie crust

In a large bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk and cocoa powder; mix well.
Add peanut butter and mix well.
Fold in whipped topping.
Spoon mixture into crust.
Cover pie and freeze 6 hours.
Garnish as desired and serve.
Freeze leftovers.

Puppy Chow for People

A yummy sweet treat to snack on.

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
7 cups Kellogg’s Crispix cereal
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup powdered milk

Melt the first 3 ingredients together in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring to combine.
Pour mixture over the cereal in a large mixing bowl.
Combine the powdered sugar and powdered milk in a clean paper grocery bag and shake to mix.
Put the coated cereal in the paper bag and shake very well to coat the cereal.
Put Puppy Chow for People in a large serving bowl and watch it disappear!
*** Do not feed this recipe to puppies! ***

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Bread Pudding

I wrote this recipe for my friend, Jordan, who is a chocolate/peanut butter fiend.

1 1-pound brioche, crust trimmed, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups chopped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
8 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped, melted
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F.  Position rack in center of oven.
Butter a 13x9x2-inch baking dish.
Place bread cubes and chopped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in buttered baking dish in an even layer.
Whisk eggs, heavy cream, milk, sugar, melted chocolate and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl.
Pour custard mixture evenly over bread cubes and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Let stand for at least 30 minutes, occasionally pressing bread cubes into custard mixture.
Bake until pudding is set in the center, about 40 minutes.
Cool slightly; serve warm.

Enjoy!

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