The Dirty Dozen

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.

Kid-Friendly! Homemade Sloppy Joes

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!

How To: Make Stove-Top Popcorn

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!

Apricot Cornmeal Cookies

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!

Iowa Corn Pancakes

Iowa Corn Pancakes

One of my favorite breakfast foods is pancakes.  While my husband makes awesome chocolate chip pancakes for me every weekend, occasionally I like to treat him to one of my specialties… Iowa Corn Pancakes.  I found this recipe 10 years ago in one of my favorite cookbooks, Best of the Best from Iowa.  These pancakes taste like a cross between corn muffins and buttermilk pancakes.  As such, I like to top these pancakes the same way I top my corn muffins… with sweet cream butter and honey.

I encourage you to try this easy recipe; I believe it will become one of your favorites too.

Iowa Corn Pancakes

1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk, approximately
2 Tbsp melted butter

In a large bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients together well.  In a small mixing bowl, combine the eggs and 1 cup buttermilk, mixing well.  Add the egg/buttermilk mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well.  Add the melted butter to the mixture and mix.  Little by little, add the remaining buttermilk to the mixture until it is the proper thickness for cooking.  I find it takes almost the whole second cup of buttermilk to get the right consistency.

Iowa Corn Pancakes

Heat skillet over medium heat.  Add a small amount of butter (or other preferred fat used to prevent sticking) to the skillet.  Add enough batter to make the size pancakes you prefer.  Cook first side approximately 2-3 minutes or until golden brown.  Flip pancake and cook another 1-2 minutes or until second side is golden brown.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.

Iowa Corn Pancakes

Iowa Corn Pancakes

Serve pancakes with your favorite toppings (butter, honey, maple syrup, apple butter, berry compote, what-have-you).

Iowa Corn Pancakes

Enjoy!

6-Week Raisin Bran Muffins

My mother makes this recipe in the winter although I think it is great all year round.  I guess she makes these muffins in winter time because they are so hearty and soul-warming.  They are a yummy grab-and-go breakfast, perfect for eating at your office desk while checking your overflowing email inbox.

One of my favorite food bloggers, Diva at Beach Eats, once asked me why these muffins are called “6-Week” Raisin Bran Muffins.  A very good question, Diva.  Here is the answer: this recipe makes such a large amount of batter and the batter stays fresh for up to 6 weeks in the refrigerator.  Of course, I’ve never managed to keep the batter around that long as I bake a small batch of muffins every night so that my and my husband’s breakfast is fresh and ready to go to work with us every day.

6-Week Raisin Bran Muffins

1 (15oz.) box Raisin Bran cereal
3 cups granulated sugar
5 cups all-purpose flour
5 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs, beaten
1 quart buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix cereal, sugar, flour, baking soda and salt in an extra large bowl.  In a separate large bowl, combine oil, eggs and buttermilk; mix well.  Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and mix well.  Fill muffin cups 2/3 full and bake for 25 minutes.  Remove muffins from pan and cool on a wire rack.

Store unused muffin batter in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator until ready to use.  Batter will last up to 6 weeks in the refrigerator.

Enjoy!

6 Week Raisin Bran Muffins

6 Week Raisin Bran Muffins

6 Week Raisin Bran Muffins

6 Week Raisin Bran Muffins

6 Week Raisin Bran Muffins

‘Tis Potluck Season!

One of my favorite dishes to make for a potluck supper is a rice casserole that my Grandmother Alexander used to make for large get-togethers.  I don’t really know the name of it, I just always refer to it as “my rice casserole”.  The name (or lack thereof) does not really do it justice, though…

This delicious side dish is a real crowd pleaser.  I’m always especially amazed at how much the men-folk enjoy it.  This recipe is extraordinarily easy to make and can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled as necessary.  The recipe may seem to require a lot of butter but keep this in mind — I’ve actually reduced the amount of butter by half; my grandmother used to use a whole stick!  If you make sure to always have the ingredients in your pantry, you can whip up this dish anytime you please.

Rice Casserole

Serves 4

4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 cup long grain white rice
1 10.5 oz can condensed French Onion soup
1 10.5 oz can condensed beef consomme (not broth)
1 4 oz can sliced mushrooms, drained

Preheat oven to 350F.  Combine all ingredients in a 2 quart casserole dish.  Bake for 45 minutes.  Enjoy.

Happy Holidays!

Rice Casserole

Rice Casserole

Tracy’s Homemade Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce

I was not able to enjoy my favorite cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving as my in-laws were in town and they took my husband and I on a Chinese food bender for the entire weekend.  So, this MSG-free weekend, I made my favorite condiment of all time:

Tracy’s Homemade Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce

1 (12 oz.) bag of cranberries, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
Zest of 1 medium navel orange, finely grated

Put all ingredients in a large saucepan; stir to combine and loosely cover.  Cook over medium-high heat until the liquid starts to boil and the skins of the cranberries start to pop.  Stir, loosely cover and lower heat to medium and allow mixture to bubble for about 10 minutes.  Stir yet again, and turn heat to low.  Simmer 10 more minutes or until mixture has thickened.

Cool, cover and store in the refrigerator.

Cranberry Sauce

Note: I make this sauce the day before I want to start using it as it seems to be one of those dishes that tastes better the next day.

This sauce is delicious with pork, poultry, brunch and dessert.  I even sneak a spoonful of it and enjoy it all by itself.  I love the ruby-red color, the chunky texture and the way it smells and tastes like the holidays.

Enjoy!