Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hot Mulled Cider

Nothing quite says holidays like the smell of hot mulled cider.
For me that means Christmas
A big pot of cider on the stove simmering.  This gives your home such wonderful holiday fragrances. And the good thing is it's very easy to make.

First, of course, you need cider.  The better the cider the better the taste. I often will mull a whole gallon.

Put your cider in a big pot, preferably a stainless steel one,  like a stock pot. Turn on the heat. There's a couple more things that you need to make this drink.

First, of course, is cinnamon. Then cloves. And one more spice that really adds to the flavor. That's allspice.

Now, it;s important that you use the whole spice. For all three, the cinnamon stick, the cloves and the allspice--use the whole spice, not the ground version. How much? I don't have an exact recipe written, but I usually usefour or five small cinnamon sticks, a couple of pinches of cloves and four or five balls of allspice.

Throw this in the pot with the cider.  I also like to slice an orange and then cut those slices in half and add these while the cider is simmering.

 Bring the cider to a boil and then turn it down. Simmer for a half hour, Your house will smell great and you'll jave a great hot drink.

To make this even better, add a little bourbon or dark rum to each cup of cider.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Facon It: What to do with meatless bacon

Fake bacon comes in a wide variety of styles and textures. Once you try them and find the one you love, you need to know how to use them best. Though my personal favorite is the Morning star farms fake bacon, I choose to use Upton’s seitan bacon  (my second favorite) because it is GMO free and it's a local Chicago based company as well. Here are some great ways to use your fake bacon.

Looks different than real bacon, but makes a great BLT!

1.     1. Eat the fake bacon along with some eggs (or scrambled tofu), potatoes and toast for breakfast. Or chopped up and added into an omelet.

2.     2. Put cooked fake bacon into a BLT or better yet a FBLT (Fake Bacon Lettuce Tomato).

3.     3. Add crumbled fake bacon into a quiche along with Swiss cheese and fresh ground nutmeg. This dish is called Quiche Lorraine a very traditional North Eastern French baked egg pie.

4.     4. Add chopped fake bacon onto baked potato skins with cheddar cheese, sour cream and scallions for vegetarian version of this popular tailgating food.

5.     5. Chopped fake bacon can be added to any salad for a crispy, salty kick.

6.     6. Add cooked fake bacon to a grilled cheese sandwich.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A new take on a classic chilled soup: White Gazpacho

I know most of you are probably familiar with the traditional red gazpacho, made with tomatoes. But have you ever tried a white gazpacho? If not, then you're in for a great treat. Like the red gazpacho, it is served chilled. It makes a great first course for a dinner party or as a soup shooter appetizer for a cocktail party.

The base ingredients for this white gazpacho are cucumbers, green grapes, almonds and bread. For this version I have made it both vegan and gluten-free and it turned out fabulously. This soup is so refreshing and clean tasting. Try it today for a unique twist on a classic chilled soup.

White Gazpacho

5 cups English (seedless) cucumbers, peeled and cubed
2 ½ cups seedless green grapes
1 cup blanched almonds, lightly toasted
1 ¾ cups gluten free white bread, cubed and crusts removed
1 Tablespoon fresh garlic, chopped

1 cup vegan creamer (I used So Delicious Dairy Free coconut milk creamer)
¼ cup sherry vinegar (white vinegar is fine too)
¼- ½ cup fresh lemon juice
½- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon honey
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons walnut oil (optional)

Toasted almonds
Sliced green grapes
Chopped fresh chives

Put cucumbers, grapes, almonds, bread and garlic into Vita-Mix or other high-powered blender and blend ingredients till well combined. Blend from slowly from low to high till nice and creamy.

Then add the vegan creamer, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, honey and oils. Blend till creamy; adjust seasonings to your taste. Chill in refrigerator at least 30 minutes and up to overnight. Serve chilled in bowls topped with toasted almonds, sliced green grapes and chopped fresh chives.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A peach a day keeps the doctor away........

I think it’s cocktail time. Summertime is still upon us and peaches are ripe and in season. It’s a perfect time to both eat a deliciously ripe peach and to make a refreshing peach cocktail. 

Peaches have vitamin c and are a great natural source of the minerals potassium, fluoride and iron. And why not drink in all that!

 I love this cocktail because it’s full of the real peach goodness and not just a peach-flavored alcohol. The mint and lemon give it the perfect kick in flavor. You can use either a whiskey or bourbon for this recipe. So mix up one of these Sassy Peach Cocktails today and sit back, relax and ENJOY!

Sassy Peach Cocktail

½ peach, cut into slices
3-4 mint leaves
1 lemon wedge
1 oz. water
½ oz agave syrup
2 oz whiskey or bourbon
dash bitters

Combine and muddle peach, mint, lemon, water, and agave in shaker. Add whiskey and ice and shake. Pour cocktail into old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with a peach slice and a mint spring.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An exploration in faux meat part deux: Bacon edition

People love bacon. Here in America especially. Heck, I think they give pigs varsity letterman jackets in Texas, don’t they? From burgers, to breakfast, chocolate dipped and an accompaniment to almost any sammy, the average person in the US eats about eighteen pounds a year. I think I just heard my heart let out a groan. So, how should we trim the fat?

There are meat-free alternatives to bacon out there. My friends and I sampled three different products last night while sipping on rosé wine (It does pair quite nicely with salty soy strips, oddly enough) and out of the three there was definitely a clear winner and loser.

So, if you are a bacon enthusiast  looking for a healthy change, someone who abides by the vege-code or have a religion that doesn’t allow you to partake, you can put bacon back on the menu. Ok, the hoof stops here. Let’s begin the exploration:

Lightlife Smart Bacon - First off, how dare you? Secondly, how dare you!? This was not great. “A hippies, unshaved armpit,” are the eloquent words my friend used to describe. I’m well aware that none of these are going to taste like the real thing but this was borderline inedible. It was visually unappealing, mealy and dry. It does get points for color, though. Small victory. There is nothing smart about eating this bacon.

Upton’s Naturals Bacon Seitan - This product wasn’t too shabby, actually. I was slightly deterred when I took it out of the packaging, but the finished product was nice. The texture was satisfying and it has a good taste to it. Unfortunately, the taste, although meaty, didn’t resemble bacon flavor. Still enjoyable. My friends and I dubbed this product the, “Uppity Whole Foods Mom.” I’m not sure if it’s because that’s where I bought it or if we were making our way through that rosé bottle. I would for sure by this product again.

MorningStar Bacon Strips - Hot dog, we have a weiner! Hmmm, I guess it would be a soy weiner . . .  Anywho, this was the clear gold medalist. It tasted like bacon, and had a texture and shape that had some semblance of the real thing. Only one disparaging comment is the color, which was very much pink. It looked like candy. Taffy to be specific. Once you get past the color, you can visualize throwing it into an omelette and some of your other favorite recipes. The good news? I discovered this is also Chef Simone’s favorite bacon alternative as well!

I hope you enjoyed this edition of my faux meat exploration. It isn’t impossible to enjoy some of your favorite foods guilt-free, you just have to know where to look. Do you hear that sizzle? That’s the sound of you bringing home fake bacon! Enjoy.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lemon Meringue Tartlets

Today is August 15th and it’s Lemon Meringue Pie day. What a glorious day. My favorite pie has always been Lemon Meringue. My grandmother always made it and it was amazing. I love the sweet and tart combination of flavors of the lemon curd and meringue. Citrus desserts have always been my favorites.

I also love the idea of tiny desserts. So I transformed my favorite pie into a bite-sized dessert--lemon meringue tartlets. It has three parts to it. You can make your own lemon curd, or just buy it at the store. Then you make the dough and finally the meringue topping.

For the Lemon curd, here is the recipe that I feel works best. Also if you want to make the lemon curd dairy free, feel free to substitute in a vegan butter instead of real butter. The lemon curd placed in jars is also great as little gifts.

Lemon Curd Recipe
  • 3 oz. (6 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer; about 2 min. Slowly add the eggs and yolks. Beat for 1 min. Mix in the lemon juice. The mixture will look curdled, but it will smooth out as it cooks.

In a medium, heavy-based saucepan, cook the mixture over low heat until it looks smooth. (The curdled appearance disappears as the butter in the mixture melts.) Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 15 minutes. It should nicely coat the spoon. Don't let the mixture boil.

Remove the curd from the heat; stir in the lemon zest. Transfer the curd to a bowl. Press plastic wrap on the surface of the lemon curd to keep a skin from forming and chill the curd in the refrigerator. The curd will thicken further as it cools. Covered tightly, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week and in the freezer for 2 months.

Once you have this made, set it aside till the tart shells are backed.

Pie dough recipe
  • 2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1/4 cup cold vodka
  • 1/4 cup cold water (you can just do ½ cup cold water if you don’t want to use vodka)
Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Once you have the dough, you can roll it out and use a round cookie cutter to cut out the little shells. You place them into a mini muffin tin, press to the sides and bake for about 10-15 minutes at 375 till they are lightly golden. Let them cool. Take them out and place onto a baking sheet.

Meringue recipe
·       4 egg whites
·       6-7 tablespoons sugar

In a mixer bowl, whip egg whites until foamy. Add sugar gradually, and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.

Once the shells have cooled, fill them with the lemon curd. I like to use a piping bag with a plain tip to fill them evenly and quickly. Then top each filled shell with the meringue in a nice decorative pattern. I recommend using a pastry bag with the star tip for the meringue.

Once they are all filled, place them back into a 350 oven for 3-5 minutes, just till the peaks of the meringue are slightly browned.

These are some of my favorite little bite-sized desserts that are good for a cocktail party or even a children’s birthday party. Everyone will love these cute mini lemon meringue tartlets.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Masked Gourmand: Dangers of Gourmet Camping

You might not think of this as being ideal camping fare but I rarely go camping without including this on my menu. The dish I am speaking of is risotto.

The first time I remember making it when I went camping was with my mother a few years back.  We had set up camp and had done what we thought was an admirable job of setting up our kitchen. Well, it wasn't as good as the set up I have now, Cabela's camp kitchen, but it was okay. 

The first night I made risotto.  And oh, it was good. Very good. But we weren't hungry enough to finish it all so I packaged it up and put it in one of the coolers, along with the rest of the hunk of Parmesan cheese I hadn’t used.

We were awakened in the middle of the night with a clatter. No it wasn’t Santa on the rooftop. But you guessed it. We were being visited by raccoons.
By Darkone (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
For those of you who haven’t camped, you may not know that raccoons are nature’s garbage disposal service.  They raid campsites nightly, looking for any available food items to scavenge.

Well, I knew that, and believed that I had safely secured my food.  Packing it away in coolers with tops well closed.  I also put garbage in bags in the trunk of the car.

But the middle of the night clatter proved my wrong. 

We rushed out of the tent, flashlights blazing, and chased the varmints off.  They left so quickly they had to leave behind their haul.

We assessed the damage. They had broken into my plastic container of herbs and spices.  No damage. Nothing taken.  They had also managed to open a cooler and guess what they took?  The leftover risotto. And, on top of that, they had grabbed the extra Parmesan cheese. 

We dubbed these coons as gourmands, for sure.  And the rest of the camping trip we put many weighted things on top of the coolers so they COULD NOT get in.

So, that’s my risotto camping story and this is how I make it.  This is where the cast iron skillet is essential.  You can make this over a camp stove or a campfire.

What you’ll need for a basic risotto recipe:
Arborio rice
Vegetable or chicken stock (or bouillon cubes)
Onion or shallots
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Optional: fresh chopped herbs to throw in at end

To start, heat olive oil and butter in the skillet and saute chopped onions (actually I prefer shallots) until softened, 2-3 minutes. DON'T let them get too dark. (You can add minced garlic here as well).  Season with salt and pepper. The saute 1 cup of arborio rice for a 1-2 minutes, stirring often.) Then de-glaze the pan with a cup of dry white wine.  Cook off for a minute or two. As that cooks down, make sure you have the stock nearby. I prefer to have it heated up a little.

Add stock after the wine cooks down and continue simmering the dish over medium heat, stirring often.  Add half cup to cup at a time.  You will probably use 3-5 cups of stock.  This simmering process should take 20-25 minutes.

When it's soft enough, and I like a softer risotto, add a half stick of butter a cup of grated Parmesan and mix in.  Whip up so it's nice and creamy. Add fresh herbs if desired, such as basil, thyme, oregano. This brightens up the dish.

Then serve.  And eat it all down or the coons will get it!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Fish are Jumpin'

Gershwin said it well.
            Summertime and the livin' is easy
            Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high

And since this month celebrates catfish, in our national food holiday index, I thought it might be good to revisit one of my favorite catfish recipes. 

Yes, it’s the Blackened Catfish episode from FOODGASM.

So, maybe you don’t have time to check out whether the fish are jumpin’, but you can shuffle down to your fish market or even your local supermarket, and put some catfish in your basket for a lovely meal this weekend.

Mangoes are nicely in season, so pick up a couple as well, and make my mango salsa.

You can find the recipe in an earlier post.

Yes. Now that’s good eatin’.  Go catch some fish, and have a Foodgasm this weekend.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why I Can't Cook Breakfast: Gourmet Camping Part 5

I guess I shouldn't try to make breakfast when camping.

It will never be breakfast. It will always come out around lunchtime so I might as well just plan that I am always making brunches.

So my breakfast was a little fruit and some juice.  Then a 45 minute hike. Then, yes, brunch. That meant lighting a fire--partly to keep the bugs at bay. And starting to work in my kitchen.

I had intentionally brought along enough shrimp for a couple of meals, so I planned for some barbecued shrimp for this brunch. To accompany this a delight--cheese grits.

The shrimp I marinated for a while, as the fire was settling.

The grits I starts on the stove, cooking the grits and milk and a little salt.  When it was done I added the cheese, and since I made it rather runny, it was a good dish to set over the coals to cook down some more. And, while the shrimp was grilling, I sauteed a little spinach with garlic to go along with the grits and shrimp.

On the side, I sliced fruit I had brought along.

Ah. A lovely brunch.  Made me just want to sit down by the fire and close my eyes. For just a minute.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Use That Fire: Gourmet Camping Part 4

After 20 miles of biking, I was ready for food. Especially since I hadn’t eaten since brunch.  So hungry, I had to have an appetizer first.  And I happened to have a few avocados and some chips.Oh, and some onions, tomatoes, Serrano pepper, cilantro, and yes, a few limes.  So it was guacamole and chips. The drink was a watermelon daiquiri.  Served in mini martini glasses.

Oh, camping can be so good. 

After the appetizer, I was refreshed and ready to tackle dinner. And the menu was grilled corn, baked potatoes, grilled salmon and grilled shrimp.

Now ordinarily I wouldn't have cooked salmon and shrimp at the same time, but I hadn't made it to the shrimp the night before, so I needed to cook it.

 The marinade for the wild caught salmon and shrimp was the same and pretty simple. It was olive oil, fresh dill, lemon juice, shallots, kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.

For the corn, I soaked the ears, removed the silk inside and then wrapped them in tin foil. I put them on the grate over the hot coals to cook for at least 30 minutes (depending on your fire and the heat of the coals). For the potatoes, I poked them, rubbed them in rosemary oil and sprinkled them with kosher salt. I then wrapped them up and placed them with the corn to cook over the coals. The time depends on the size of the potatoes and the heat of the fire. Cook till it's nice and soft on the inside. With potatoes it's always best to cook them longer. The taste only improves.

We also had a nice herbed butter which we used for both the grilled corn and potatoes. This was was tasty and oh so filling. I believe we both slept quite soundly that night. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Going for Smoky: Gourmet Camping: Part 3

Brunch. One must have at least one brunch while camping. That is one of my rules.

That means hopefully that you let yourself sleep in. Then get up slowly. Make coffee. Then leisurely go about making a meal.

Eggs. Definitely. Veggies. Of course. And some cheese in there of some sort.

This trip, I decided a frittata would be just the thing. If you’ve never made a frittata, it’s the easiest thing. It’s rather like an omelet but easier.

You start with eggs, whipped up with a little water, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then you need to decide what to put in the frittata.  I scrounged through my cooler and came up with red onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, a little spinach and some feta cheese.

First I sautéed all the veggies, then I poured in the eggs and topped it off with the feta. The first stage of cooking a frittata is the lightly cooking the eggs (and additional ingredients)) gently on the stove top. For about 5 minutes. At home, that would be the signal for me to slide it into a heated oven for another x minutes.  But it was camping, so I slid it on top of a grate over glowing coals.  And topped it with some foil so this would “bake.”

That brings up mention of the most important item I always bring on a camping trip—a cast iron skillet. No problem to go from stove top to the campfire.

But my frittata wasn’t going to be happy alone, so I cubed potatoes and sautéed them with some rosemary oil and onions on the stove. Then I transferred them to an old square metal baking pan to finish their cooking covered with foil (over the wood fire) while I started on the frittata.

How long you leave things over a burned down wood fire, depends on how hot your fire is, and how far away your grate is from the fire.  You want them, of course, roasting, not burning.

To top off my frittata, while it was roasting over the coals, I reduced some balsamic vinaigrette—that means gently cook it down until it thickens and sweetens.  This I drizzled over the finished frittata.

This I had to accompany with  a mimosa.  Cranberry juice and champagne.  I brought along champagne splits—small bottles of champagne such as Korbel sells.

 And then to taste.  The verdict?  The frittata was very good. A little smoky flavored added to the whole palate. And the roasted rosemary potatoes?  Fantastic.  Or foodgasmic, as I would say.

Now time for a bike ride, need to work off that delicious brunch!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Kitchen Sink: Gourmet Camping Part 2

I confess.

I don't travel light.

My mother tells me I remind her of her mother, who, mom claims,  would take everything but the kitchen sink when she went camping.

Well, I have one-upped grandma. I do bring the kitchen sink.

I am a chef, after all. And even in the wild, or the not so wild as this state park was, I have to have enough of my tools there to be able to throw down some great meals.

So here's my set up.

This is a Cabela's camp kitchen.  And this all folds up to 34" x 7.5" x 20" and fits into a nice carrying case.

Here to the basic structure, I've added not one, but two camp stoves.  It just doesn't seem possible to cook on only two burners, so I go for four.

The kitchen sink I mentioned?  It's under the center black surface, which can be removed. But, to tell you the truth, it's not the easiest to use, so I just use it for additional storage.

Of course when I'm camping, I bring a small knife kit with cooking utensils, and a small spice kit as well. And a cutting board or two. I also bring a few nesting bowls and prep bowls. And some old cooking pans.  A cast iron skillet--I wouldn't go camping without one.

I haven't yet devised the perfect dish washing scenario.  But the double dishpan method seems to work until I find a better solution.

Enough about the kitchen. What you want to know is what comes out of the kitchen. I'll tell you more of that in the next post.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Not Like When I Was a Kid: Gourmet Camping Part 1

Camping! For some people the very thought of it send chills up their body. Bugs. Things that make sounds in the night. Only a thin layer of fabric separating you from the elements – and from the world.

But for me camping has pretty much always had positive memories.  I remember going camping with my mother when I was a preteen.  Something about that camp stove and the special camp cooking set that mom always lugged around was magic. Oh, that and the fact that she would bring the individual box cereals for breakfast. That was the only time I got sugared cereals!  A special treat.

I always loved camping and being outdoors. You seemed to always sleep so soundly with the sounds of nature. I also love the smell and feel a roaring campfire. It's so nice to sit around a hot fire and feel so cozy. Also s'mores, I love toasting marshmallows. I remember my Grandfather teaching me the proper way to perfectly brown the marshmallow so that the inside was gooey and the outside lightly crisp.

So I still love camping.  But I have to say, my approach to camping has changed. It’s now what I might label as gourmet camping. Yes, that all the down and dirty get your tent put up, sleep on the ground (OK, it’s a luxurious air mattress now).

BUT with fantastic food.

One of the things I have learned on a camping trip is that you must not expect too much from the first meal.  If you’re like me, you always leave later than expected. And it always takes longer than anticipated to construct the camp site.

So on my latest camping trip, I quickly jettisoned the planned meal and went with something simpler . . . yet ever so tasty.

Part of the food was prepared.  My mother had made the day before some fresh gazpacho and brought it along.

So after we had erected tent, cooking canopy, located wood and washrooms, and locked up our bikes, we were tired and hungry. So gazpacho was a great start to a simple meal.

The gazpacho, one of my favorite dishes that mom makes, comes with an avocado and red onion garnish!  And, we just happened to have a few tortilla chips along, so these went along well.

And, we had some leftover spicy sangria with grilled fruit, from my appearance on WCIU’s "You and Me This Morning".  Ahhh. Perfect combo.

Still hungry but not wanting to cook too much, we warmed a couple of baguettes—a gluten-free one for mom, over the fire. And then “baked” brie.

Eating baked brie with bread and fruit was always a favorite simple meal for my mom and me. I just put the brie wheel in a baking pan (best to use an old one that you don't mind putting on the fire), wrapped tin foil of the top and put it on the grate over the fire to cook/melt. It's best to keep turning the pan to make sure the heat gets all around. Cook till the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Hot bread. Baked brie. And freshly sliced fruit.  Simple. Satisfying.  What I hadn’t expected was what a wonderful smoky flavor the Brie would take on in this process.

By this time it was dark.  There weren't that many dishes to do since we hadn’t cooked much. So soon we could crawl into sleeping bags for the night.  Tomorrow the real cooking would begin.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Summer Drink

There's lots of things I think of  when summer comes along for drinking. Iced tea. Lemonade. Mojitos. Margaritas.

Doesn't mean you can't drink them in other seasons. But summer is a perfect time for drinking.
And that's how I feel about sangria.  So here's a rerun of my Spicy Grilled Fruit Sangria.

And here's the recipe.

Spicy Grilled Fruit Sangria

Spicy Grilled Fruit Sangria

750ml bottle of a spicy red wine (Syrah, Shiraz, Tempranillo)
4oz orange liqueur
4oz brandy (plus additional for fruit to soak in)
4oz-5oz. spiced simple syrup (recipe below)
2 cups grilled chopped fruit (see below) macerated in additional brandy and/or liqueur
2-4 dashes of hot sauce ( I prefer Cholula hot sauce)
In large pitcher, pour in the wine, orange liquor, brandy, and spiced simple syrup. Add in the grilled fruit, a few dashes of the hot sauce and refrigerate till cold. To serve, pour sangria over ice in wine glasses and enjoy!

Fruit for Grilling

(These are just suggestions, feel free to enjoy any local and/or seasonal fruits that you like)
Lemons, oranges
Cut your choice of fruit into slices. Put into oiled grill or greased grill pan. Grill the fruit till it has nice grill marks. Take off of grill and chop into bite sized pieces. Put fruit into bowl with some additional brandy. Let sit for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight in the refrigerator. This will let the fruit soak up the brandy.
Spiced Simple Syrup
1 stick cinnamon
2 full pieces star anise
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
1/4 tsp. red chili flakes
½ tsp. chopped crystallized ginger
½ c honey
½ c water
Put all the ingredients in a small pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Strain, then use as desired.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sometimes it’s just fun

I decided to try this just for fun.

I spied a photo on the internet of what claimed to be a watermelon cake.  Covered with whipped cream and fruit and slivered almonds.

Great, I thought. I can do that.

So I cut up a watermelon on a rectangular log shape (Cutting off the rind).

Then I whipped up some whipping cream.  I’ve shared my version for a special whipped cream on an earlier blog post.  I did some substitutions, however. Instead of sugar, I used agave syrup  (1/8 to ¼ cup, depending on how sweet you want it).  And instead of the ginger cream I used before, I substituted a few drops of orange blossom water.

NOTE: It may be a little challenge to locate the water.  If you are in the Chicago area, you can purchase it at Caputo’s Fresh Markets.

Here's a couple of hints about making this. When you've cut your watermelon log, put it in the fridge for a half hour or more.  The surface needs to dry off a little so the whipped cream will stick well. Also, once you have the whipped cream on, put it back in the fridge (or freezer if you are in a rush) and let it set up nicely.  Then store in fridge until time to serve.

The result?  It was pretty. It tasted good. And it was a light end to a meal. Maybe something to try on Fourth of July. Or any of those other picnics coming up this summer.

This is a great light dessert. Perfect to satisfy the gluten intolerant, the dieter, the person avoiding sugar.  Now,  I admit. This wasn’t vegan.  The version I made.

But it easily could be, by following the recipe to make whipped coconut cream topping. That I posted earlier.

Happy picnicking.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: Jiro Dreams Of Sushi

I'm a huge fan of sushi, so I was instantly drawn to the title of this movie: Jiro Dreams of Sushi. On top of that, the title has sort of a whimsical food feel to it. I also choose this movie because of some friends rave reviews of it.

 Jiro Dreams Of Sushi is a 2011 American documentary about master sushi chef Jiro Ono who is the 85-year-old owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a three-Michelin star restaurant in Tokyo, Japan.

 The film starts slow, but draws you in with the vivid imagery of the sushi and the passion of Jiro for the sushi.  He has been making sushi for most of his life--it is his destiny. I was just drawn in by the amazing dedication to his craft and how much time and energy goes into each piece of sushi. His sushi is in essence very simple, yet so much preparation, time and energy goes into each piece. The people working for him (one of whom is his eldest son) work so hard to produce food that is to his liking. They work to please him more than anything.

It is a simple film and easy to follow. But it full of beautiful moments filled with unique music that helps to focus the simplicity and beauty of the sushi. The sushi, the fish is the main focus of the film, even though it is about Jiro.

As a chef, I am drawn to the amazing simplicity of his dishes and how completely delicious they taste and the amount of time it takes to prepare them. Each ingredient is poured over with skill, time, love and passion. In this film, less is truly more, both about the sushi and the man. He is great and small, but Jiro just works to make the sushi great.

Also, I am amazed at the age of this chef (85) and that he is still going and that it is his life to make sushi, to constantly make it better.  Jiro is always trying to improve his craft and he feels it is his duty to do so. This humbles me and inspires me to do more.I have done some work with sushi, but very little and I know it takes years and years to even perfect the making of sushi rice and more for the sushi preparation.

My personal first attempt at making sushi years ago.

For a meaningful, tasty, serious, and beautiful story about sushi and life you must watch Jiro Dreams Of Sushi. It is a movie that will change your life or your view of food, hopefully for the better. Also, it will leave you wanting to order sushi on grub hub or dash out to your favorite sushi restaurant immediately after the film.  

This film is available both on Netflix as a DVD or can be streamed online through both Netflix and Amazon Prime.  Happy watching!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sandwiches: what's on the outside?

What do I miss most about my old life? Back in the days when I could eat gluten? Well, I have to say it must be sandwiches. 

I began to realize, when I started my lifestyle change, that I ate sandwiches often. And liked them.
That all came to a screeching halt when I reluctantly gave up gluten. But then I started missing them.

Oh, for sure, I found I could have a lettuce wrap with tuna salad or egg salad, as a sandwich substitute.  But I have to be honest. It's always a bit messier.

So I began looking for gluten-free bread that would make a good sandwich.

The first thing I noticed is that many of the loves were, shall we say, rather petite!  Small square loaves. And they didn't taste very good, even if I toasted them.

Well, and that's another thing I missed on occasion. A nice slice of toast to slather with my homemade apple butter.

So after experimenting with loaves by companies like Schar, Food for Life, EnerG, Kinnikinnick Food, and Glutino, I circled back to the company I highlight last post: Udi's.  And especially Udi's Whole Grain Bread.

And guess what?  I'm not the only one who thinks that.  A taste test by Huffington Post ended up with Udi's Whole Grain on top!

So that means I can still have a slice of toast or a sandwich on occasion--and enjoy it!

If you are exploring gluten-free breads, have you found one you thought was great?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Who Needs the Girl Scouts: Sandwiches to Go Nuts About

IT’S COOKIE TIME! I love to find fun, warm baking projects in the winter to help warm the whole house up. On top of that, I was having a total sweet tooth moment. I looked in my pantry and there it was…peanut butter!

As you know, now is the time for those tempting and addicting Girl Scout cookies. My favorite cookies were the peanut butter sandwich cookies (of course).

So I decided to give myself a challenge. Why not try to make them both vegan and gluten- free, so all my friends could enjoy them? And they turned out awesome! 

They are soft and chewy and quite decadent. These are super easy to make and a perfect way to make a vegan/gluten intolerant friend very happy-- or just about anybody happy. I recommend enjoying these with a nice big frosty glass of almond milk, or your favorite milk. 

Makes about 12-15 cookies


1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup oat flour (you can make this by pulsing oats in a food processor till it’s more flour-like)
1 tsp baking soda
teaspoon salt
¼ cup water

1.     Preheat oven to 350 F
2.     In a mixing bowl, cream together peanut butter and brown sugar till creamy (about 1 minute).
3.     Add in vanilla and beat for 1 more minute.
4.     In separate bowl combine oat flour, baking soda and salt.
5.     While mixing peanut butter mixture, slowly add in flour mixture till crumbly. Then add in the water and beat till combined. Do not overbeat the mixture.
6.     Line sheet pans with either silpat mats or parchment paper.
7.     Roll dough into round balls, about 1- 1 ½ tablespoon of dough each.
8.     Then taking a fork, do a criss cross pattern on top of each dough ball to flatten out and give it a neat pattern.
9.     Bake 8-10 minutes. Make sure to not over bake these.
10.  Once fully cooled, pipe or spread vegan peanut butter frosting on the bottom side of a cookie*
11.  Then place another cookie, bottom side down on top of the frosting to form the sandwich cookie.
12.  ENJOY!

*For best results, I recommend only adding the frosting right before you serve them. The unfrosted peanut butter cookies will last for about a week in the refrigerator and about a month in the freezer. But really, I don’t think they will ACTUALLY last that long without being gobbled up.


1 cup vegan margarine (I like to use Earth Balance)
½ cup creamy peanut butter
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3-4 tablespoons almond milk ( any non-dairy milk will work too)

1.     In mixing bowl, cream together the margarine and peanut butter till it’s nice and creamy.
2.     With the mixer going, slowly add in the powdered sugar.
3.     Then add in vanilla. Then add in the almond milk and mix till it has a nice soft whipped consistency.
4.     Now it’s ready to make the peanut butter sandwich cookies.