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Last Minute Budget Holiday Gift Ideas

20 Dec

Howdy!

It never fails: Five days until Christmas and one of two things always happened to me; I either ran out of money, time or both. I always forgot to give a gift to my dog walker, the neighbor who took in my mail if I forgot to, or to that customer that always remembered my birthday.  So, I  would always reach into my bag of tricks and produce a hand-made gift that always seemed to mean more to the recipient than anything I could buy. You can do the same thing without spending too much time, money or both!

1) Do you have a signature dish? Do you have a killer lasagna recipe? Do people salivate at the mere thought of your spinach dip?  Give a coupon that promises you will make the dish for them at a later time.

2) Another variation on this theme is to make your famous ( or infamous) BBQ sauce, Sugar cookies or other treats and creatively package them as gifts.

3) Instead of giving gift cards, give gift certificates toward your recipient’s favorite restaurant. Times are tough, and people are foregoing eating out in order to save money. They will appreciate the chance to get out of the house.

4) If your friend or family member loves  a good Bloody Mary, make your own mix. Package the mix in a mason jar and present it along with a small bottle of vodka for a homemade Bloody Mary kit. Here is a great recipe that I’ve had success with. I developed this recipe some 15 years ago when I worked at a funky little bistro in Federal Hill.

Bloody Mary Mix

1 32 oz. bottle of tomato juice

Juice of two limes

2 tsp celery salt

1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

2 tbl. prepared horseradish

1 tbl. Worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 tsp. sugar

1 1/2 tsp. Old Bay (optional)

Mix together and package in either 12 oz. or 16 oz. mason jars and decorate with ribbon. Makes just about 3 – 12 0z. jars or 2 –  16 oz.

Here’s an easy sweet treat you can make for friends and family and the kids can help with this. I have loved chocolate covered pretzels since I was a kid and are cheaper to make than to buy. The sweet and salty treats can be made ahead and dressed up with colorful ribbons

Chocolate covered pretzel rods

I box pretzel rods

1 1/2 lbs.  good quality semi-sweet chocolate

1/4 cup heavy cream

2  to 3 cups of crushed candies such as peppermints, heath bars, mini peanut butter chips or  chopped nuts of your choice ( peanuts, pecans, walnuts).

Put together a double boiler by using a medium-sized pot and adding about 3 inches of water.  Using a metal mixing bowl; place the bowl inside the pot, making sure the bowl does not touch the water. Set aside.

Chop up candies and/or nuts and place on separate plates. Take a sheet pan and cover  the bottom of the tray with either with parchment paper, foil or plastic wrap and set aside. Sort through the pretzel rods and remove the broken ones.

Chop up chocolate into uniform pieces and place in metal mixing bowl.  Add  the cream to the chocolate. place bowl back on the pot and turn on heat to medium and simmer. Stir chocolate mixture until chocolate and cream are melted .Turn heat to low.

Arrange an assembly line  as follows  pretzels, chocolate, candies or nuts and covered sheet pan.  Dip a pretzel into the warm chocolate and using a fork, coat completely. Remove coated pretzel with a fork and allow excess chocolate to drop off. When the dripping stops, roll pretzel in the candy or nuts and place on the covered sheet pan. Repeat until all of the pretzels are covered. Refrigerate until the coating sets.

Wrap 5 or 6 rods with  colorful plastic wrap and a decorative ribbon.

The point is to give from the heart, not from the wallet. Your homemade gifts will be greatly appreciated.

I will post more ideas tomorrow!

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Vegan Sweet Potato Bisque

12 Nov

The  cooler weather is settling in on the eastern seaboard. The leaves are turning vivid colors of yellow, orange and red and the nights are getting crisp. My brain is still fried from our super-hot summer, but I am finally open to the change of seasons. After all, it is mid-fall and it is the perfect season for my silky-smooth vegan Sweet Potato Bisque.

Bisque you say, Culinary Chick? I thought that bisque was traditionally made from seafood!

You are correct!  Traditionally a bisque is made from seafood, utilizing the trimmings  from shellfish.  The French didn’t waste anything, and came up with a technique which extracted every ounce of flavor by  sauteing the trimmings and mirepoix , simmering them in stock, adding various flavorings,  passing them through a fine sieve and finally adding a bit of cream to add a rich and silky finish to the soup. I utilized the same techniques here to achieve the desired texture: I wanted the soup to glide over the tongue and not be encumbered by bits of vegetables. It’s a bit of work, but well worth the effort!

Vegan Sweet Potato Soup

4 tbl. olive oil

2 cups peeled and diced onion or leeks*

1 ½ cups peeled and diced Fuji, Gala, Jazz , Golden delicious or Honey Crisp apples

1 Tbl. fresh grated ginger

2-2½ lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and diced ( about 3 or 4 medium to large )

2- 2 ½ cups carrot juice ( available in produce isle; I used Bolthouse Farms)

3 ½ cups vegetable broth ( make your own or use Swanson Vegetarian Vegetable Broth)

½ tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. curry powder

¼ tsp. ground nutmeg

2 tsp. ground black pepper

2 cups unsweetened almond milk (optional)

In a heavy-bottomed stockpot over meduim heat,  heat up the olive oil. Add the onions and apples and saute, stirring occasionally until onions are transparent and apples begin to soften, about seven to eight minutes. Do not brown; if starting to brown, turn down heat and add a bit of the broth.  Add ginger and saute until fragrant; about two minutes. Place the peeled and diced sweet potatoes in the pot and add the broth and  carrot juice. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to low. Add cinnamon,  nutmeg, curry powder, salt and pepper. Simmer for 30 minutes uncovered or until potatoes are soft. Turn heat off and let stand for 20 minutes.

In small batches, process the vegetables and broth in either a blender or food processor until smooth. Place pureed soup through a fine-mesh strainer and force through with a ladle or spoon until all the liquid is extracted. Discard the pulp** and repeat until all the soup is strained. Return to pot and add almond milk and adjust seasonings to taste. Serve warm with crusty bread and salad as a lunch or a light dinner. Serves 6 to 8.

* If using leeks, cut off the green stalks and root end, saving the white part. Split the leek in half lengthwise,  dice and float the leeks in cold water. Allow the leeks to soak for 20 minutes, occasionally agitating to water to loosen the grit . Remove the leeks from the water with a slotted spoon and discard the water. Run the leeks  in cold water in a colander  for a minute and drain. Proceed with the recipe.

**I saved the pulp and gave it to my doggie in her meal. She loved it.

Tandoori-style marinade

20 May

Okay hipsters; I’ve worked on a marinade that will give you great results on the  Foreman-style grill, outdoor grill or oven  . I got the idea from my boss who wanted a recipe for tandoori chicken. I reminded her that although I love all things east Indian; I had no clue about how to make the famed dish. What I did know was this: Tandoori marinade involved yogurt, ginger and garlic and some spices. So I did some R&D over the last two weeks and came up with a recipe that was flavorful and easy.  It is a hybrid of a traditional tandoori marinade in that I added some ingredients that weren’t in any of the recipes I saw.

So, what is tandoori you may ask? Tandoori, like chowder is synonymous with  the cooking implement that its cooked in. Chowders and tandoori are named for the vessel they were traditionally cooked in. Traditional tandoori is cooked in a clay oven, or tandoor. Over time, the cooking implement and the dish became one. This is great for chicken, lamb, pork and beef.

Enough for 2 lbs. of meat

6 ounces of plain yogurt (fat-free is okay)

1 ½ Tbl. chopped fresh garlic

2 Tbl. grated fresh ginger

1 Tbl. fresh lime juice

2 Tbl. chopped cilantro

1 tsp. sea salt

1/2 tsp. coarse grind pepper

2 Tbl.  mild red curry paste

1 Tbl. tandoori seasoning ( see note)

1 Tbl. seeded and chopped jalapeno (optional)

2 drops red food coloring (optional)

Chop and measure all ingredients before assembling. In a glass or other non-reactive bowl, mix all ingredients together and refrigerate before use.

For chicken (legs) and turkey: Remove skin from chicken and cut slashes on both sides. Rub marinade into meat, making sure the marinade enters the slashes. Marinate for at least four hours, no more than 12 hours. 

For lamb. pork and beef: Trim off excess fat around meat, leaving  1/4 inch of fat on the meat. cut deep slashes into meat and rub marinade in. Marinate for at least six hours, no more than 12 hours.

For  skinless chicken breasts: Follow directions for chicken legs and marinate no more than 3 or 4 hours maximum.

If using a Foreman-style grill: Preheat grill and place meat on grill, making sure not to crowd grill and cook according to the recommendations for your grill make and model.

Outdoor grill (gas ): Prepare grill to cook over indirect heat. Spray grill grates not over heat with cooking spray. Preheat grill with top closed. Drizzle meat with a bit of olive oil and cook  meat over indirect heat, turning only once or twice  until you’ve achieved desired doneness.

Charcoal grill: Prepare grill for indirect cooking method. When coals ash over, place grill grate over coals, spray grate surface not over heat with cooking spray. Cover grill until hot, then place meat on sprayed grill surface. and grill, turning once or twice until you’ve achieved desired doneness.

Oven: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Place chicken on cookie sheet and drizzle  lightly with olive oil. Cook in oven for 30 minutes, then check for doneness. Cook longer if necessary.

Note: You can purchase Tandoori seasoning  in your grocer’s spice section or online.

The CDC expands Romaine recall

13 May

The  current Romaine lettuce recall  was expanded to include the state of Tennessee as the state confirms several cases of E.Coli exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Michigan, Ohio, New York and Tennessee have a combined total of 23 confirmed cases of E.Coli. Another seven persons are listed as having probable exposure to the bacteria. Most of those affected are between the ages of 13 and 31 years of age. The recall includes lettuce sold to food service distributors and does not include lettuce sold on retail outlets.

Romaine Lettuce Recall

8 May

Ohio-based Freshway Foods issued a recall of romaine lettuce Thursday because of possible E-Coli contamination, according to a FDA.gov press release.

The lettuce, packaged under the brands Freshway and Imperial Sysco was distributed to wholesalers in the following states: Alabama, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.  The lettuce was also sold to Kroger, Giant Eagle, Ingles Markets, and Marsh for use in their in-store deli counters and salad bars.

The lettuce was not sold in retail pre-packaged bags or salad mixes and isn’t affected by the recall.  E-Coli is commonly found in the lower intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals and the organism is commonly an indicator of fecal contamination.

For more information, visit http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm211131.htm

Gastronomic Monstrosity: Spleen Sandwich

5 May

I was perusing my second-favorite ( only to Facebook) website on Monday when I ran across this article written by The Atlantic’s own Tejal Rao. The article entitled, “Spleen, It’s What’s for Dinner” awoke me from an otherwise comatose day in front of the boob tube. You must read this article, if simply to digest my favorite line from this superbly-written hysterical account of the writer trying a spleen sandwich at the urging of her culinary curiosity:

“After a few bites I lift the bun to peek and the sandwich yawns an ancient, meaty stink.”

Sweet Jesus, What the eff????!!!!!

This was THE BEST article I’ve read in awhile.  I gotta tell you; I’m recharged again just reading Ms. Rao’s adept descriptions and wry sense of humor.  I’m going to try and read all of her  articles whenever I can.

Oh for those of you who need to see this in action, I’ve posted this just for you:

I’ve eaten haggis before, and lived to tell about it. I think I’m gonna pass on the spleen.

Enjoy!!

The Responsibilities of Stewardship

1 May

Merriam-Webster defines stewardship as ” the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care”

Well. if you like Gulf shrimp, Blue Crab, Snapper, Marlin, Swordfish, Grouper, Stone Crab, Oysters  and a host of other culinary delicacies from these waters, we aren’t doing a great job of managing our natural resources.  I am saddened and angry that our thirst for oil has once again threatened the perilous balance of nature.  I believe that in our quest for black gold, we time and time again trash the environment. You know what folks? It may take weeks or month before we cap off the pipeline that is spilling between 5,000 barrels a day in some reports, to 25,000 barrels a day in other reports.

And meanwhile, we are killing the wildlife and destroying miles and miles of fragile wetlands that support the fishing industries in this area and impacting the livelihoods of thousands of people who depend on fishing for a living. I can’t fathom why we would allow drilling without a way to stop leaks when and if they occur.

I’m not a mental giant. I’m just a person who likes the environment and had made an indirect living from it.  I don’t have answers; I just have questions.  I just want us to act like the stewards that God, Buddha, Jehovah or Allah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster made us.

We have to. It’s our home.