My New Favorite Condiment!!!

So I recently discovered a new condiment and I am ADDICTED with a capital ADDICTED.  So much so that Jeff asked me if I plan to put it in everything I cook!

calabrian chile paste

What is it?  Calabrian Chile Paste! It is made by crushing Calabrian peperoncino (dried peppers) with olive oil.

It has a kick, but in a great way.  And it is a terrific flavor enhancer.

So far I’ve used it in Pasta with Vodka Cream Sauce, Baked Shrimp Scampi and as part of a sandwich spread mixed with mayonnaise and orange marmalade.  But trust me, those recipes are just the beginning a beautiful friendship!

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find it locally YET; however I’m working on Dan at The Kitchen Shoppe!  For now, the best deal I’ve found is online at Nordstrom’s and the best part – free shipping!

If you love spicy foods, you’ve got to give it a try!  And if you’re not a big fan of spicy, a little bit will boost the flavor of ho-hum recipes.

What’s your favorite condiment?

Stonewall Kitchen: Butter Chicken Simmering Sauce, etc.

Toward the end of our vacation (about which I have not yet written) Jeff and I went to Stonewall Kitchen in York, Maine.  We had been there previously, but it had been some time so we thought we’d take a quick spin through Stonewall again…

Well, that’s funny….a quick spin….it’s nearly impossible to take a quick spin because there is so much to look at and so much to buy and even some pretty yummy food to eat in their café!

When we arrived at the Stonewall campus, I made a beeline for the cooking school. It’s the cook in me and the cooking instructor in me….I like to see what other instructors are doing and where they’re doing it!  And I surely was not disappointed.  They have a beautiful school.

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After spending a few minutes checking out the classroom, we wandered past the huge windows that allow you to look into part of Stonewall’s bottling operation.  It is pretty mesmerizing to watch all the jars on the conveyor belts whizzing along.  If I squinted my eyes and belted out (in my head of course) “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, shlemiel, schlemazel, hasenpfeffer incorporated.  We’re gonna do it!” I could pretend I was watching the line at Shotz Brewery.”  But as usual, I digress……

Shotz Brewery

I stole a few moments to relive my childhood and then we moved on to the beautiful retail store via the gorgeous grounds.  After the first lap of the store we decided we’d put together a gift basket for Macy’s gracious caregivers and for my mom and dad who were watering our hanging flower baskets in our absence.

We had a lot of fun selecting things for each of these gift packs and considering what the folks receiving the gifts would enjoy.  Jeff and I each selected items for the gifts and tried to work within a theme for each one – although I have to say that in the end both gifts ended up to be a mishmash of things we thought sounded delicious and that was OK!

We gave our gift items over to the talented young woman who arranged them and made them look beautiful and we began wandering the store in search of a few things for ourselves.  Since we were hungry and the café, which was just a few feet from where we were standing, was soon closing we decided to put the shopping on hold and have a little snack – ok, more like a late lunch.

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I asked about the size of an order of mac and cheese and was told it was small – enough for a taste – which is just what I had hoped.  Jeff ordered a BLTA (BLT with avocado).  When the gal behind the counter delivered the food – which looked amazing – to our table she offered an “apology.”

She explained that since it was nearing the end of the day, the chef made a much larger portion of mac and cheese than would normally be served.  How can you complain about that?  NO APOLOGY NECESSARY! It did take a considerable amount of self-control to eat just a little and save the rest because it was sooooo good.  But it was very rich, which helped.

Jeff’s sandwich was also delicious…very fresh and flavorful.  But after helping me with a bit of mac and cheese he was too full to finish the whole sandwich, so we wrapped part of the sandwich and most of the mac and cheese in To Go containers and put them in the cooler.  They made for a great lunch the next day when we were travelling to Rhode Island!

Here are some miscellaneous snaps of our time at Stonewall Kitchen:

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With full bellies, we resumed our shopping and found a few things we wanted to bring home.  One was hand soap in Stonewall’s Lake House scent. As soon as I smelled the soap I knew I had to bring some home because it reminded me of one of my favorite things about Maine – the smell of balsam.

Another thing we tucked into our bag was a simmering sauce for Butter Chicken.  Butter Chicken (also known as murgh makhani) is an Indian dish of chicken in a mild curry sauce.  I thought it would be good to have this simmering sauce in case we found ourselves in need of a fast, easy dinner.

Tonight was just that night!  Having tested recipes much of the day yesterday and planning to test recipes much of the day tomorrow, I have to admit I didn’t really feel like cooking anything too involved tonight after work.  But we did have chicken in the fridge and some jasmine rice in the pantry so Butter Chicken was the perfect solution to the age-old “what’s for dinner” conundrum.

It was so very easy to make this recipe.  I cut the chicken into cubes, browned it in batches and, while the chicken was browning, I started the rice.  After all the chicken was beautifully golden brown I put it all back into the skillet and added the jar of Butter Chicken Simmering Sauce.  The chicken simmered for 15 minutes, which was perfect timing – when the timer rang the chicken was done, the rice was finished cooking and Jeff was walking through the door!

Butter Chicken Jar Butter Chicken

We sat down to dinner of Butter Chicken over jasmine rice and it was delightful – the chicken was juicy and the tomato-based sauce was thick and flavorful with just enough spice.  I have not previously eaten Butter Chicken so I have no basis for comparison; but based upon my experience with this Stonewall product, I will definitely order this next time I’m in an Indian restaurant and I’ll probably play with the recipe at home too.

There’s just one problem with the Stonewall Kitchen Butter Chicken Simmering Sauce – it’s gone.  I wish we had bought more!  Fortunately, we carry Stonewall products at work and perhaps I can convince Dan to order some of this simmering sauce (and some of the other simmering sauces) for the shop!

Stonewall Kitchen’s Butter Chicken Simmering Sauce + a few minutes prep time + a pan of jasmine rice = a delicious, fast dinner!

The Gift of Blue Apron

Several weeks ago a lovely couple came into the shop.  They were staying in a nearby hotel and were (1) looking to occupy some time and (2) hoping to get a recommendation for a good spot in Carlisle for dinner.

They explained to me that they were on their way to JFK to catch a flight to Paris and that the front desk clerk had recommended Hoss’s for dinner.  So what’s wrong with this picture?  Recommending Hoss’s to someone on their way to a Paris vacation is like recommending StarKist Tuna to someone looking for caviar.

So I asked what kind of foods they liked and what kind of experience they were hoping to have and then I recommended a few different places – none of them chain restaurants.  Now I know, there are those of you out there who will only eat at a chain restaurant when you’re travelling – I know you’re out there, but I certainly don’t understand you.  When I am travelling, I love to eat in one-of-a-kind restaurants that I cannot find at home.  Even when I’m at home I am not likely to eat at a chain restaurant – I like to experience a local chef’s riff on the food I eat and, even better, I love to eat local foods – you know, foods that you can only get or that are just better than “normal” in that place – like Maine blueberries when you’re in Maine, maple syrup when you’re in Vermont, etc.  That’s not to say that blueberries and maple syrup aren’t good in other places, but they’re bound to be spectacular in Maine and Vermont respectively.

Anyhooooooooooooo……

I talked with the couple about many things – the products in the shop, food and being foodies, travel, etc.  We had a pleasant conversation and then they went on their way with the names and addresses of several Carlisle restaurants.

The next day I received a lovely ‘thank you’ email from the wife for the recommendations along with the gift of three Blue Apron meals. If you’ve not heard of Blue Apron, (1) are you living under a rock? and (2) you can visit Blue Apron for additional information.

Prior to receiving this gift, I had heard about Blue Apron from several people and read about it on several blogs and websites.  The first person to tell me about Blue Apron was my orthopaedic doc.  Jeff and I were meeting with him and he told us he learned about it from his son.  He went on to explain how it works and told us about his experience.

Well, kind of like when you’re shopping for a new car and end up seeing that model of car everywhere you look, after hearing about Blue Apron for the first time I started seeing and hearing about it everywhere. And I wanted to try it.

Now, with this generous gift, I was able to try it at no cost – how sweet is that!?! And the timing was terrific – Jeff and I schedule our Blue Apron delivery for the week we returned from vacation, which meant no meal planning and very little grocery shopping when we returned from vacation!!!

The day after we returned home was filled with laundry and errands…and fortunately a visit from the UPS driver (or maybe it was the FedEx driver) with our Blue Apron delivery.

Everything was packed in a cardboard box that housed a cooler.  Each ingredient was individually packaged (in a zip top bag or clamshell or tiny bottle) and we received exactly the quantity needed for the recipe – for example, the recipe for Stir-Fried Ginger-Basil Chicken called for 2 Tbsp. of Ponzu Sauce.  We received exactly 2 Tbsp. in a tiny squeeze bottle neatly labeled and ready for use.

I unpacked all the ingredients, saved the packaging for later use and organized everything by recipe and by refrigerator vs. non-refrigerator items.  That way when it was time to make each recipe I didn’t have to go through all the ingredients again.

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The following are my impressions, in no particular order:

  1. Blue Apron is a great way to ensure that you don’t waste food because you only get what you need for 2 servings (or 4 servings if you specify and pay for 4 servings). I can’t tell you how many times we’ve wanted to make a recipe and had to buy wwwaaayyy more of an ingredient than we needed and ended up not using it before it went bad.
  2. Blue Apron is a great way to try new ingredients without having to buy a large quantity of them that may go unused.  Back to the Ponzu Sauce as an example.  If I wanted to try Ponzu Sauce in a recipe and had to get it at the grocery store, I’d likely have to buy a 10 oz. bottle – even if I only need 2 tablespoons of it.  With Blue Apron I was able to try cooking with Ponzu without buying a whole bottle and possibly never using again.  Some of the items I received from Blue Apron that I hadn’t previously used in my cooking include: Ponzu Sauce, coconut milk powder, and Shishito peppers.
  3. Although there is still some work involved in meal preparation, having the majority of the measuring and all the shopping done for you saves considerable time.  Now, I’ve talked to folks who aren’t as well-versed in the kitchen as Jeff and I are who think some of the recipes are complicated, but I have to say that I think they are mostly easy to follow.
  4. In spite of my comment in number 3, some of the directions could be clearer.  While I don’t think the techniques are difficult, I do think some of the instructions could be clearer.  For example, one of the steps in one of the recipes we made read, “cut the eggplant into 1-inch-thick rounds on an angle.”  Now, had I not had some experience in the kitchen I might have been baffled by this instruction – because when you cut the eggplant on an angle – no matter how you slice it (pun intended) – you will not end up with a round.
  5. Blue Apron can help with portion control and calorie pre-planning.  If portion control and calorie counting are issues for you (as they are for many, including me), Blue Apron just might be your answer  Each recipe tells you how many people it serves and the approximate number of calories per serving.  If you stick to one serving, you could look at the calorie count in advance and plan your other meals accordingly so as not to exceed a particular daily calorie intake.
  6. This next statement has to be couched because it will not be true for everyone when you factor in other things.  I find Blue Apron to be expensive when you calculate the cost per meal (of course, my trial was free so I’m certainly not complaining).  I can feed two people a nutritious meal for less than $20 and you probably can too.  However, if you’re not at the grocery store as much as I am and you have to make a special trip and you factor in the cost of your time, then you may not find it expensive at all.  And/or, if you hate meal planning or just don’t take the time to do it until 5 minutes before dinner and you end up eating the same thing(s) over and over again, you may think the expense is worth it.  Again – saying Blue Apron is expensive is not necessarily a fair statement when you consider other factors.  For me, it is.
  7. This is another impression that other people may not share; however I found it difficult to fit all three meals into a week because I also test recipes for future classes several nights of the week.  I know it’s a good problem to have, but I had to really be purposeful about cooking my Blue Apron meals before the perishables perished.
  8. Sometimes you get things you don’t like. While you can specify certain dietary restrictions, you cannot control all the ingredients you receive.  For example, one of the recipes Jeff and I made was Seared Salmon & Panzanella, which included cucumbers.  While neither of us is what I would consider a picky eater, we don’t particularly care for cucumbers…so I left them out.  It would have been nice to have something different in the salad, but without a trip to the store (or to the garden) a replacement wasn’t readily available.  Also, then I was left with a cucumber that I didn’t want to waste and for which I had to find a home.
  9. Each dish comes with an 8.5″ x 11″ “recipe card” with photos, instructions, nutritional information, special ingredient info, etc.  This is a very nice feature.  Particularly in that it allows you to recreate those recipes you really enjoy!
  10. This may sound nitpicky, but I couldn’t find an option on their website for odd-numbered families.  Having spent the last 20+ years cooking for two the majority of the time, worrying about an odd-number of people in the family isn’t an issue for me; but it is for some.  You’d end up spending more money than you had to and having leftovers or eating more than one serving.  For many this wouldn’t even be a blip on their radar, but I know there are those of you out there who hate leftovers!
  11. Although it didn’t take me long to separate the ingredients into piles by meal, it would have been nice if they had been grouped in separate bags within the larger package so that I didn’t have to spend the time separating ingredients. The “knick knacks” (or smaller ingredients) were separated by recipe, but the fresh veggies and meats were not.

The following are some pics of Jeff and I putting together one of the meals:

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While I am so grateful for the opportunity to try Blue Apron and the experience was surely a good one, in the end we decided that it’s just not the right fit for us in this season of our lives.  However, I can definitely see where it would be a great option for other people – people who don’t like to cook or plan meals, people with schedules that don’t have them at the grocery store and/or in the kitchen as much as my schedule does, people just learning to cook, etc.  My sister and her husband use and love Blue Apron – it fits well into their lifestyle. I do think Blue Apron would make a nice gift – particularly for folks in an especially busy season of life.

Blue Apron

So, a special thanks to the travelling-to-France-and-staying-overnight-in-Carlisle couple (you know who you are) for this generous gift.  I am grateful for the opportunity to try Blue Apron and will definitely keep an eye on their website from time to time to see what changes they are making that would make them a better fit for us. And who knows what kinds of changes may be coming down the pike in our lives that may make Blue Apron a good fit – what’s that old saying”? If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans!”

Have you tried Blue Apron?  What were your experiences and impressions?

 

 

Product Review

Yes, I KNOW this is a food blog and not a health and beauty or personal care blog; but when I find a product that really works, I just can’t resist writing about it!

I LLLLOOOOVVVVEEEE bath products and lotions….I mean really love…..like verging-on-obsession love.  I like being pampered and I love different natural scents (not the manufactured kind so much).  In fact, I think it would be fair to say that over the years I have spent my fair share (perhaps more – much more – than my fair share) on health and beauty products.  If you asked Jeff, he’d probably roll his eyes and confirm my obsession.

That being said, I also think it would be fair to say that many lotions don’t actually do what they claim they will.  Oh, they smell good.  And they’re slippery when you first put them on.  But after a while (depending on the lotion it may be a short while), that just-lotioned feel goes away.

And recently the three enemies of the skin joined forces – particularly against the skin on my hands.  “Enemies?” you ask.  “What enemies?”

There are three specific enemies to which I refer: 1) age, (2) cold weather, and (3) frequently having your hands in hot water. Oh sure, there are probably more; but these three had made my knuckles so dry they felt like sandpaper.  My skin was scaly and ashy. And my hands actually hurt where they were cracked and raw.

Of course, I turned to THE BIG BASKET OF LOTIONS (TBBOL) I keep next to my bed.  If you’re a lotion addict like me, you’ll recognize that there are some “really good” products in the basket – products that I did not skimp on when purchasing them.  Each morning and night (and several times in between) I would slather my hands with a selection from TBBOL, but within moments my hands would be dry again. It’s fair to say that I was frustrated.

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Then last week I was waiting for my mom to finish getting ready to go visit my dad after his recent surgery.  This COULD be a point at which I digress (as I so often do) because sometimes it feels like I spend half my life waiting for my mom to finish getting ready; but I will not digress. Not today.

While I was killing time, I asked Mimi (my mom) if she had any hand lotion, which is somewhat comical because I get my addiction to lotions and potions from her.  She handed me a bottle of lotion and I must admit, I scoffed a bit when I saw it.  I mean, after all, it was [gasp] a drugstore lotion. [Insert names like ‘SNOB’ and ‘ELITIST’ here]. As they say, beggars can’t be choosers; so I rubbed some of the lotion from the big blue bottle over my hands.

Although it felt very smooth and it smelled good – not perfume-y, but fresh and clean – I knew I needed to wait a while to make my final judgment (which, if I’m being honest, I did not expect to be a good one).  But on our drive to the hospital, which is about 45 minutes from home, I realized my hands weren’t stinging like they had been and when I felt them, they still felt smooth.

Once we got to the hospital I promptly forgot about the lotion.  We had our visit with my dad and, when he was ready for some shut-eye, we made a plan for lunch. Before we left for the restaurant, I used the restroom and, of course, washed my hands.

I fully expected my hands to feel dry after using the institutional soap in the restroom.  But they did not.  In fact, they still felt smooth.  Uh oh….my preconceived ideas may have been (as Fonzie would say) wwww-rrrr-ong.

After lunch and before getting into the car for another 45 minute drive, I used the restroom and washed my hands again and was astonished to find that my hands still were not exhibiting the signs of dryness they had been prior to using the lotion.

Since that day last week, I purchased a big blue bottle of the lotion and have been using it faithfully.  I am happy to report that my hands no longer feel chapped.  They no longer look like the hands of an 85-year-old woman (no offense to 85-year-old women, but I am not one).  They’re soft and smooth and don’t look a day over……ha, you thought I was really going to type my age?

Seriously, what a great experience!  I changed my perspective on “drugstore lotions.”  Perhaps not all of them; but definitely this one.  So what is it?

Nivea Smooth Sensation Body Lotion for Dry Skin with Shea Butter & Hydra IQ (whatever that is).  At Target, it cost $5.39 for 21 fl. oz. AND it came with a 0.17 oz. Mint & Mineral lip balm (which I have not yet tried).

Nivea Smooth Sensation

Having spent thousands of dollars on lotions over the years, I am more than pleasantly surprised that a good quality lotion can be affordable!!!  This product gets 5 m’s out of 5!

5 ms

It’s a great value.  It delivers on its promise. It doesn’t have an artificial scent. And it came with a freebie!

The Most Comfortable Bra I’ve Ever Owned….Seriously!

OK, there are those who will read the title of this post and think, “Well, she’s finally gone over the edge.”  And there are those of you who will read the title and think, “Bra, did someone say bra?” (These will probably be the guys and just mentioning the word ‘bra’ means I’ve lost their attention).  And there will be those of you who think, “No way!  There’s no such thing as a comfortable bra!

Well – I don’t think I’ve gone over the edge YET and those of you whose attention I’ve lost are best left to their private thoughts and I would have agreed with you about there being no such thing as a comfortable bra until I found this one!

In the last week I’ve had to transport food a few times and I have relied on this bra for assistance.  Stay with me here…..I promise I haven’t lost it and I will make a connection.

I’ll use this as a shameless opportunity to remind you that I recently became a great-aunt to THE CUTEST BABY IN THE UNIVERSE.  And as a result I’ve made a discovery…..if I bring food to the new parents, I get uninterrupted baby time!!!  It’s a great discovery. Most assuredly not a new discovery; but one on which I fully intend to capitalize!!!

The Cutest Baby in the Universe

The Cutest Baby in the Universe

I also had the pleasure on Sunday of hanging out with friends (some long-time friends and some new friends – and I’m blessed by all) in the woods.  We met at our friends’ “cabin” and everyone brought a dish to contribute to the feast.  We had a great time eating and talking and hiking in a beautiful setting provided by gracious hosts.

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For all the food transport I did, I put into action a great little tool – the PotBra.  It’s such a simple device that you’ll kick yourself for not thinking of it.  The PotBra is a silicone band designed to “keep your lid on tight!”  And it delivers on that promise.

I used it to transport chicken soup in a Le Creuset French oven.  Because the PotBra does not create a seal on the vessel, I covered it with plastic wrap before placing the lid on top.  I easily secured the PotBra to the lid and the handles of the French oven.  I put the pot on the floor of my car and drove about 20 minutes (some over hill & dale and some on the highway) to my destination.  I did not lose even one drop!!!

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I also transported a Baked Potato and Bacon casserole in my small Nesco Roaster.  This time, because (1) I had already seen the PotBra in action, (2) I was transporting something thicker than soup and (3) the interior roasting pan was hot, I did not cover the roaster with plastic wrap.  I simply put the lid on and secured the Pot Bra to the lid and handles of the roaster.  Again, I had no spills or messes in the car!!!

I would highly recommend this product for several reasons:

  1. It’s compact and easy to store.
  2. It is silicone and therefore can withstand heat and is easy to clean.
  3. It delivers on its promise.
  4. It’s made in the U.S. – in Texas.
  5. It stretches to fit many sizes and shapes of cooking vessel.
  6. It is truly the most comfortable bra I’ve ever owned!

Witch Finger Grapes

Where is this imaginary curve and how do I always seem to be behind it?  Or maybe I’m not really behind it, but simply feel like I am!

On a recent trip to Wegmans, I was perusing the grape selection and came upon a variety I had not seen before.  Without looking at the price (first mistake), I grabbed a bag and put them on the scale.  I punched in the code, looked at the screen and nearly had to go in search of the closest AED.

So I pared down my bag of grapes, reweighed it, excitedly pressed [PRINT] and waited for my label to come out of the printer.  While I bagged my remaining produce and walked the aisles of the store I wondered about the dark purple – almost black – grapes.

When I got home, I put away my groceries and washed all the grapes I had purchased – red, green and the exotic witch finger beauties. I then prepared them to roast….I put them in a single layer on a sheet pan, drizzled them with olive oil, gave them a toss and sprinkled them with a fine dusting of salt and pepper.  I slid them into a 400 degree F oven and set the timer for 30 minutes.

Of course, I did sample a few of the new beauties as I was washing them and getting them ready to put in the oven.  They are DELICIOUS!!!!  Pleasingly sweet without a trace of bitterness or tartness.  But not overly sweet.  And they DO look like fingers…..they’re about twice as long as regular grapes and have a bit of a curviness – like around the knuckles in a finger.  Oh, I can see them on a Halloween-themed fruit tray!!!witch fingers

 

Why was I roasting the grapes?  To try in a new recipe, of course.  I’m working on a Maple Planked Brie with Roasted Grapes and Grilled Crostini.  I love roasted grapes on focaccia, so why not on other things?

As I waited for the grapes to roast, I began my research with a Google search for ‘witch finger grapes.’  I guess I could have looked at the label on the bag and started with the name of the; but it didn’t  register with me that the bag had a label until I clicked on the first link returned by my search.  That link was “Witch Fingers® – Grapery.”  Upon arriving at their home page, I realized I’d seen their logo on the bag.

Their website has pics of the grape varieties they sell, including the one I borrowed above for this post.  (You know I won’t take credit for pics that aren’t mine.)  They also have descriptions of the grapes and some other interesting information, including an Availability Calendar which shows that Witch Fingers are picked late-July through late-September.  You can also search for stores in your area that carry Grapery products or click the ‘Grapery Direct‘ link to buy right from the grower.

If you see Witch Finger grapes in your store and you have a few extra dollars in your grocery budget, I would encourage you to give them a try!  At more than twice the price of other grape varieties; they may not make it into your cart every time you see them, but they will make a nice treat!!!!

As it turns out, Grapery has only been around since 1996 and the first Witch Fingers weren’t released until 2011; so maybe I’m not as far behind the curve as I thought.  After all, Central PA is not known for being groundbreaking when it comes to new products!

PS.  The opinions expressed in this post are my own.  I did not receive any compensation from Grapery for what is written above.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia!

In the last two years I have learned to love chia seeds, which I had previously considered “out there” food.  If you haven’t tried them, don’t knock them yet; but be weary….using them can go wrong if you’re not careful.

My mom and dad drink smoothies EVERY morning for breakfast and the ingredient list includes, among other things, chia seeds. Unfortunately, although the smoothies are really tasty; if you don’t drink them almost immediately they thicken A LOT…I mean sooooo THICK you could spackle cracks in plaster with the contents of the glass.  You see, chia seeds can absorb up to 10 times their weight in water (which forms a bulky gel).  And when you grind them (as in put them in a smoothie in the blender) they seem to gel a lot more quickly.

So, why use them?  The ability to absorb so much liquids has at least two benefits: (1) they can help keep you hydrated, and (2) they can keep you feeling full longer!  They are also easy to hide in recipes – I’ve sprinkled them on oatmeal and in salads, added them to baked goods, mixed them into smoothies (after pouring the smoothie out of the blender), added them to bread crumbs when coating or topping recipes, etc.   They are quite versatile.

What are chia seeds?  I know you’ve heard of Chia Pets (the original is shaped like a sheep) and have seen a myriad of chia products over the years, including Chia Mickey Mouse, Chia presidents, Chia Hello Kitty, Chia Mr. T., Chia Homer Simpson, and most recently Chia Willie from Duck Dynasty.  That’s what chia seeds are – they are the seeds you soak in water and spread on the terra cotta figurine. But beyond that, they are edible seeds that date back to Mayan and Aztec cultures, where they were a staple food.  They are unprocessed and considered a whole-grain food.  Unlike flax seeds (which I also hide in recipes), can be absorbed by the body.

I am not a doctor, so I will not go into all of the health benefits of chia seeds because I cannot back up any statement I might make with scientific fact, but if you google “chia seeds” you will find more than 5 million hits.  I would highly recommend you rely on the information you find on reputable sites only and that before modifying your diet with chia seeds or anything I or other non-physician/non-nutritionist bloggers recommend, you discuss the changes with your doctor.

So, what can you do with chia seeds?  The possibilities are endless, but I really enjoyed this post from BuzzFeed Food.

Additionally, some recipes I’ve developed and love are:

If you try any of my recipes, please let me know how they turn out!!!

We had a revised version of the black bean and red lentil sliders for dinner last night and they were so yummy!  We had to revise them because we didn’t have black beans – so we used red beans.  And we made them burger sized instead of slider sized.  Remember – recipes are just guidelines (unless you’re baking)!!!

So, chia seeds – I would encourage you to give these little seeds a try.  As with all new things, you have to keep an open mind and possibly try them more than once before you develop a taste for them or learn to hide them in delicious recipes for your own good!

I know, the Chia Pet may have given chia seeds a bit of a bad reputation; but chia seeds aren’t only for entertainment value.  They’re good and good for you!!!

Wow Bacon!

Recently I had the opportunity to try a new microwave tool – the WowBacon.  The timing couldn’t have been better.  Just a few days before I received the WowBacon I cooked a few slices of bacon in the microwave on a plate lined with paper towels with iffy results.

Wow Bacon! in Package (800x385)

It’s only fair that I tell you that I RARELY use my microwave for anything other than heating my coffee in the morning.  In fact, for about 14 years Jeff and I didn’t own a microwave. And we probably wouldn’t own one now except it was already in the house.  We don’t have anything against microwaves, we just got so used to not having one that we learned it was something we could live without.

During the “No Microwave Years” we did crazy things like heat leftovers in the oven or on the stove, cook bacon in a pan on the stove top or a sheet tray in the oven, and boil water in a pot.

But – as often happens – I digress!

Anyway, back to the WowBacon.  It is REALLY easy to use.  The instructions on the package are very easy to follow and accurately written.

Package Instructions (800x434)

You simply remove the lid and the cooking vanes or cooking rack, slide the bacon onto the vanes, reattach the lid to the vanes, place the vanes into the container and clip the WowBacon shut.  Then you put it in the microwave and depending on the wattage of your microwave you cook the bacon according to the time on the package.  I found that to get my bacon crisp I needed to cook the bacon one minute longer than the recommended time.  I have a 1000W microwave and the bacon was done in about 5 minutes.

WowBacon Out of Package (800x530)

WowBacon Open (800x530)

Cooking Rack (800x434)

Bacon Slices on Cooking Rack (434x800)

Bacon After Cooking with over a quarter cup of grease (800x485)

The bacon was easy to remove from the vanes and the WowBacon cleaned up VERY easily in warm, soapy water.  FYI, it is dishwasher safe.  The thing that amazed me most about the WowBacon was the amount of grease that cooked out of 6 slices of bacon.  After I removed the bacon from the vanes, I poured the grease into a measuring cup and was surprised to find that over 1/4 cup of fat cooked out of the bacon.  That’s amazing!

Cooked Bacon (800x530)

Bacon After Cooking with over a quarter cup of grease (800x485)

Although I appreciate the ease of use, the quick cooking time and the amount of fat I was able to remove from my meal; there are two downsides. First, I found the taste of the bacon wasn’t nearly as good as when I cook it in the oven or on the stove top.  I don’t know if it’s because so much fat came out of the bacon, if it’s microwave cooking in general or if it’s a product of using the WowBacon.  I much prefer the taste or traditionally cooked bacon, but if you need bacon cooked quickly or if you are crumbling the bacon into a recipe (rather than eating just a slice of bacon with eggs) the WowBacon is definitely a great tool. The second downside is that you can only cook 6 slices of bacon at a time.  If you have a family of four and want to cook bacon for breakfast, you’d have to do two rounds of cooking with the WowBacon and in that time you could just about cook it on the stove top or in the oven.  Of course, you’d have more mess than with the WowBacon.

Overall, I’d give the WowBacon 3 M’s out of 5.

I was able to make a bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich with pesto in just the time it took to cook bacon.  Because I didn’t have to watch the bacon on the stove top, I was able to multi-task and cook the bacon and egg and toast the bagel all at once.  The pesto was already made and I just put a slice of cheese from the fridge on the sandwich.

Bacon, Egg and Cheese Sammie with Peso (800x530)

The WowBacon lead to WowBreakfast!!!

Have you tried the WowBacon?  What are your thoughts?

A Much-Needed Product

Some of you may be surprised to hear (read) me proclaim that I am a stickler for cleanliness (ok, Mom, you can stop laughing now)…..at least when it comes to my fridge.  Not only do I get frustrated when my fridge is cluttered – you know what I mean, a bit of this. a dab of that, all in tiny containers that get pushed to the back and promptly forgotten only to be discovered later when they are beyond the science experiment phase – but I also hate it when it’s dirty.  The crumbs and pieces of fruit stems and spills make me anxious.

It feels like I’m always cleaning out the fridge.  And when I do, I throw away the old paper towels that were lining the shelves on the door and the fruit/veggie/lunchmeat bins.  I can’t imagine how much money I’ve spent over the years buying paper towels that catch the drips and spatters in my fridge.  Recently I discovered Fridge Bin Liners.  Perhaps I am behind the curve and you know about them already.  But if you don’t, you should.

They are made of a machine-washable fabric that absorbs spills and excess moisture.  You can cut them for a custom fit for your fridge bins, drawers and shelves.  And they are reversible – plain white on one side and a fun fruit/veggie pattern on the other.  The package I purchased is from envision home and includes three liners that are 12 x 24 inches wide.

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So when I cleaned out my fridge on Black Friday (no, I was NOT out shopping), I was excited to try out the fridge bin liners.  They were easy to cut to fit – I am not too terribly anal retentive so I didn’t spend time measuring, I just eyeballed it and they fit quite well.  And I’m happy to tell you that I had VERY LITTLE waste.  I was able to line all the shelves on the fridge door, two veggie bins and the small cold-cut drawer – all with only a few tiny unusable scraps.  I would like to line some of the shelves – especially those where I store juice and taller jars like pickles, etc.  Next time I’m at the Kitchen Shoppe, I’ll be adding another package to my shopping basket!

The good news is you can buy them from the comfort of your own living room by clicking this link.

This product falls under the category of “why didn’t I think of that?”  They are affordable and solve a problem much better than paper towels because they are washable and reusable.  While I won’t go so far as to say (write) that I’m looking forward to the next time I need to clean my fridge, I will say (write) that when it is time to clean the fridge again I will be happy not to be wasting paper towels.  And I do like seeing the cheery print when I open the fridge door…….oh no, the last thing I needed was another reason to open the fridge!!!!

How often do you clean out your fridge?  BE HONEST!

I have received no compensation for this product review.  The thoughts above are strictly my own.

A New Gadget – GEFU Spirelli

Oh My Goodness! If you eat gluten-free, you are going to LOVE this gadget!!

Let me start by saying that I have not been paid for this review.  The following are MY ideas about the product.

Those of you who are regular readers know that I am not necessarily a “gadget person.” At least not just for the sake of owning gadgets.  Because I don’t have a lot of space in my kitchen, I only buy things that do more than one job – and only after careful consideration.

I have owned this gadget for just over 24-hours and have already made a fabulous Asian Carrot Salad, Fried Sweet Potato Shoestrings, and a delectable Zucchini Pasta with Lemon Sauce.  For diversity of use, I give this gadget 5 M’s.

The gadget…..The GEFU Spirelli.  With the Spirelli you can cut thin or thick “ribbons” of veggies that can be used in many different applications – including as a pasta alternative.  There are two cone-shaped ends (making it look sort of like an hourglass) with blades in them – one for thin ribbons and one for thick ribbons.

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Let me warn you, however, that I had to go out to youtube and some other websites to learn the proper way to use it because the package instructions left A LOT to be desired.   The youtube video was helpful, but it wasn’t until I read a few users’ comments re: the Spirelli that I fully understood how to use it.

Relying only on logic, it seems as though you should try to hold the vegetable you are Spirelli-ing at an angle against the blade and turn the gadget; however you insert your veggie straight into the cone and twist the veggie with even pressure.  The Spirelli comes with a guard/lid/food holder, but from my experience and from what I read it is not very functional.

I tried a few carrots before I got the hang of it.  Once I mastered using the Spirelli I moved on to sweet potatoes and was able to get one ribbon of sweet potato that was 5-feet long.  I’m not sure when you’d ever need a 5-foot long ribbon of sweet potato, but it was impressive nonetheless!

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I tried a zucchini from my garden that I had in the fridge, but it was (1) too wide in diameter to fit into the Spirelli and (2) a little too mushy.  I even tried cutting the zucchini lengthwise so that the width was right, but it was simply too soft to work.  So I texted Jeff and asked him if he would mind stopping at the grocery store and picking up a zucchini on his way home.

Last night, as an accompaniment to pizza, I made Asian Carrot Salad by Spirelli-ing some rainbow carrots from the garden and adding a tasty peanut vinaigrette, green onions, sesame seeds and some chopped salted peanuts. Mmm mmm mmm!

Tonight for dinner I made Zucchini “Pasta” with Lemon Sauce and it was delicious.  I used the Spirelli to cut my ribbons in under 60 seconds.  Then I sautéed them in a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil.  While they were cooking I looked up Giada DeLaurentiis’ recipe for Lemon Pasta and adapted the sauce to the ingredients I had available.  Can I just say mmm mmm mmm?  Wow.  Since I’m not eating gluten-free, I found that a light sprinkling of seasoned bread crumbs gave the pasta a nice mouth-feel.

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For ease of use, I give the Spirelli 4 M’s out of 5; however for instructions to help you learn how to use it, I’d give it only 2 M’s out of 5.  If the instructions were more explicit, I would have been up and running a lot more quickly and would have avoided becoming frustrated with the product.  I must admit, the foot-stomping-brat in me was ready to throw it down and yell; but after a few minutes on the internet I was de-frustrated!!!

Overall I’d say the Spirelli will remain in my gadget drawer for a long time.  I can see myself using it over and over again.  Although I own a mandolin, I have never had luck julienning carrots on it.  The Spirelli makes that task soooo easy.  And anything that helps me turn vegetables into a pasta substitute is a good thing.  As much as I LOVE pasta, it’s not something I want to (ok, well I DO WANT TO, but I know I shouldn’t) eat frequently.

This is a terrific addition to your gadget drawer and overall I would give the GEFU Spirelli 4 1/2 M’s out of 5!

Spirelli Review GraphicHave you tried the Spirelli?  What do you think?  What have you made with it?

Asian Carrot Salad

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: salad carrots

Ingredients

    For the Salad

    • 6 carrots, julienned
    • 6 green onions, sliced thin
    • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds
    • 1/3 cup chopped salted peanuts

    For the Dressing

    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • 2 Tbsp fresh ginger root, grated
    • 1/2 cup olive oil
    • 1 Tbsp sesame oil
    • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
    • 1/2 cup soy sauce (low sodium is best)
    • 3 Tbsp honey
    • 2 Tbsp creamy peanut butter
    • Sriracha to taste

    Instructions

    For the Dressing

    Mix together all ingredients EXCEPT the olive oil.

    When the dressing is well combined, SLOWLY drizzle in the olive oil while whisking briskly to create an emulsion.

    Check for seasoning.

    Add salt and pepper if needed (keep in mind, the soy sauce is very salty and the Sriracha will add heat).

    For the Salad

    Toss together the julienned carrots, green onions, and sesame seeds.

    Toss with enough dressing to coat (save remaining dressing for use on other salads)

    Sprinkle with chopped peanuts.

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    Zucchini “Pasta” with Lemon Sauce

    by mmm mmm mmm

    Ingredients (Serves 4 – 6)

    • 6 Medium Zucchini, julienned with Spirelli cutter

    For Lemon Sauce

    • 2/3 cup olive oil
    • 2/3 cup grated parmesan
    • 3 lemons, zest and juice (about 1/2 cup juice)
    • salt and ground black pepper to taste
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

    Instructions

    Saute julienned zucchini in olive oil over medium heat for approximately 10 minutes.

    While cooking zucchini, whisk the lemon juice and parmesan in a large bowl/ Slowly drizzle in olive oil while briskly whisking to create a smooth emulsion. Add a hint of salt and pepper and half the lemon zest and chopped parsley.

    Toss the pasta with enough lemon sauce to coat. Sprinkle with the remaining lemon zest and parsley.

    *If you’re not eating a gluten-free diet, a dusting of seasoned breadcrumbs gives the pasta a nice mouth-feel!

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    Mama Needs a New Pair of Shoes!!!

    Shoes?  Really?  You’re going to write about shoes on a food blog?  Why yes, I am.  I know it seems like a leap; but it really does tie in with food, if only loosely.

    Recently I wrote about a trip to Say Cheese!, an interesting restaurant/cheese shop in West Reading, PA.  I was there for a meet-up with my blogger group.  The event was sponsored by Fit in Clouds, an innovative shoe company. They sell “portable flats & flip-flops that provide instant comfort to tired feet.”  At the meet-up, each of the bloggers received a coupon for a free pair of shoes.  Exciting?  To this girl who loves shoes, absolutely!!!!

    I rushed home from the meet-up and immediately got on my computer to order my free pair.  And although Fit in Clouds provided the shoes for free, they did not pay for my comments – those are solely mine!

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