Monthly Archives: April 2010

Nuts About Almonds

Ah, almonds. Natural, blanched, toasted….sliced, chopped, slivered, ground, or whole—all good, so so good!

There are countless ways to cook with almonds. They can be added to  your favorite salads; sprinkled over vegetables; stirred into cake, cookie and muffin batters; used to coat chicken or fish; ground into nut butter; well, the list goes on and on. But, perhaps the simplest and best way to enjoy almonds is as a snack straight from the shell.

Joe keeps a large container of almonds in the studio, and after the three of us “catch up” with a cup of coffee and treats from Stew Leonard’s (believe me, it’s the best part of the day), I head straight to the almonds for a great big handful!

According to the Almond Board of California, almonds are cholesterol-free and just a handful a day may help you maintain a healthy heart and healthy cholesterol levels. They are also an excellent source of vitamin E,  and a good source of fiber. So why not make your heart happy and pop a few almonds into your mouth each day?  You (and your heart) won’t regret it.

p.s Let me know what your favorite almond recipe is!

Cathy

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Pop ’til You Drop!

Some of the most fun we’ve had in the studio of late was a recent shoot we did for The Popcorn Board. We photographed  (and sampled!) a variety of pop-a-licious recipes for their website redesign. We shot popcorn snack mixes, popcorn balls, popcorn pie, popcorn bars, and more. It seemed like the popping never stopped! Our hands-down favorite recipe was the Popcorn Con Pesto. Warning: it’s highly addictive!

Popcorn Con Pesto
Makes about 5 quarts

5 quarts popped popcorn
1/2 cup  butter or margarine
1/2 cup pine nuts (optional)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon dried basil leaves, crushed
1 teaspoon dried parsley, crushed
1 teaspoon garlic powder

– Put popped popcorn in a large bowl and keep warm.

– In small saucepan, melt the butter; add pine nuts, Parmesan, basil, parsley and garlic powder.

–  Stir to blend.

– Pour over popped popcorn, stirring well.

Heather

Recipe courtesy of the Popcorn Board

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Filed under Snacks, Entertaining, Popcorn

Berries, Balsamic, Brown Sugar…

Who would ever think that strawberries, balsamic vinegar and brown sugar would be a tantalizing flavor sensation? I was skeptical when I was introduced to this at a shoot a few years back.  I vividly remember an account executive, from a public relations firm representing strawberries, arriving at the studio with cases of beautiful ripe strawberries, aged balsamic vinegar and brown sugar.

She rinsed the berries, and proceeded to pour the vinegar and brown sugar into separate small bowls.  She told us to pick a berry, dip it in the vinegar, and then the sugar.  I thought to myself, there’s no way I am going to like this! I have to tell you I was more than pleasantly surprised.  The flavor combination was unbelievable.  The robust, slightly sweet zing of the vinegar combined with the sweetness of the berry and the brown sugar—well, it’s beyond yum. It’s a unique taste sensation you will not soon forget. Try it!

Hint: For the best flavor, use a good-quality aged balsamic vinegar,  turbinado sugar, which is a raw cane sugar  such as Sugar in the Raw from Hawaii, and the freshest local strawberries you can find!

Serve these as an appetizer or dessert. And let me know how you like them!

Cathy

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Filed under Appetizer, Berries, Dessert, Sweets

Do You Fondue ?

I used to think fondue was a throwback from the 1970’s.  Remember those bright-colored earthenware pots with those tiny little forks? But fondue is not just a throwback anymore. Last week, I was in Trader Joe’s desperately  looking for a quick, but interesting appetizer to serve to last-minute guests.

In the cheese section, I happened upon a package of Swiss Beer Fondue that just called for heating and serving. Perfect!  I don’t have one of those vintage bright-colored pots but, having a food background, I knew I didn’t need one.  I figured I could heat the fondue in the microwave oven or in a double-boiler just before serving and it would be fine.  And sure enough, it was.  I served the fondue in small ramekins and when it needed to be re-warmed, I just put it in the microwave for about 15 seconds.  I served the fondue with chunks of warm crisp sourdough bread and fresh veggies.  Perfect with a cold beer or glass of wine. And my guests loved it!

If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s in your area (you poor soul!), I have noticed pre-packaged cheese fondue in the produce sections of supermarkets.

Another way to “fondue”  is to make a dessert fondue.  Dark, milk or white chocolate fondues are delicious served with strawberries, pound cake or angel food cake cubes, biscotti, ladyfingers, marshmallows, banana chunks, pretzel rods, and more.  Flavor the chocolate with your favorite liqueur or extract.

Here’s a quick recipe:

Easy Chocolate Fondue

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

1 cup heavy cream
12 ounces chocolate (semi-sweet, milk, bittersweet, or white), chopped
2 tablespoons favorite liqueur (such as Chambord, Grand Marnier, or Creme de Menthe) or 1/4 teaspoon favorite extract flavoring (optional)

– Heat cream in small heavy saucepan over medium heat just until small bubbles appear around edge of pan.  DO NOT BOIL.

– Remove pan from heat; add chocolate and stir until chocolate is melted.  Stir in liqueur, if desired.

– Serve warm directly from pan.  If fondue gets too thick, thin with 1 tablespoon heavy cream.

Tip

– For a Mexican favor, using the darker chocolate, add  1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon and 1/8 tsp. ground red pepper. Olé

Cathy

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Make Your Own Granola

What is granola anyway?  Those yummy sweet clumps of crunch.  I never really thought about it until we decided to photograph a healthy breakfast image and developed our own recipe for it.  Granola is typically a mixture of oats, dried fruit, nuts and a sweetener such as honey or maple syrup, baked and broken into those “sweet little clumps.”  It can be served as cereal either hot or cold, eaten as a hand-held snack,  or sprinkled over yogurt, ice cream or fruit.

I am a real maple syrup fan, and if it were just for me, I would have developed the recipe using all maple syrup, but I decided it would be better to round out the flavor by using both honey and syrup.

Tips

– Use old-fashioned rolled oats, not quick cooking or steel-cut oats.

– “Add in” ingredients are endless.  Start with the base granola recipe of oats and sweetener, then add your favorite extras.

– Be creative with add-ins and spices! Try dried fruits such as cranberries, blueberries, apricots, apples, raisins, dates, & pineapple. Also experiment with nuts, flax seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, shredded coconut, chocolate chips, and candy bits.  Choose from spices such as ground cinnamon, ground ginger, ground nutmeg, or ground cardamom.

– Nuts should be added to the oat mixture before baking, as this will toast them, bringing out their flavor.  Dried fruit will taste fresher if added after the granola is baked.  Chocolate chips and candy bits should be added after granola has baked and cooled.

– If adding spices to your granola, add them into the warmed sweetener (honey, maple syrup) before pouring it over the oats.

– Recipe can be made with just honey or just maple syrup depending on your taste buds.

– To store, place cooled granola in a storage container with tight-fitting lid.

Here’s the recipe!

Makes about 7 cups

1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup unsweetened shaved coconut

– Preheat oven to 275F. Place oats in large bowl.

– In small microwave safe bowl, microwave  honey, maple syrup and cinnamon on MEDIUM until warm about 15 seconds. Pour over oats and toss until well coated.

– Spread oat mixture evenly on baking sheet. Bake 25 to 30 minutes just until it starts to turn golden in color.

– Cool in pan on wire rack.  Break into small pieces. Transfer to large bowl and stir in cranberries, apricots and coconut.

– Store in airtight container up to 3 weeks.

Cathy


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Brownies are Brown, Violets are Blue

Every spring, I look forward to the two-week window I have to enjoy the bounty of violets that appear in my yard. One of the advantages of not applying pesticides to my lawn is that I have lots of edible, colorful wildflowers. Violets, with their sweet heart-shaped leaves and delicate lavender petals, add a welcome splash of color to green salads and are perfect for garnishing appetizers and desserts. Simply pick the blossoms and cover them with a damp paper towel until ready to use. Violets are gorgeous when paired with chocolate—here they are with my favorite brownie recipe, Baker’s One Bowl Brownies, a no-fail recipe I make way too often for my waistline!

Heather

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Another Simple Skillet Dinner

Apologies for the lack of blogging—the holiday weekend was busy!  Anyway, I am a big fan of one-pot cooking whether it be in a skillet, a pan or a pot.  One-pot recipes are easy, quick, & versatile, plus the flavor combinations are endless.  You can start from scratch or with a packaged product such as rice, pasta, or vegetables.  During the week, I like to make dinner as easy as possible, especially since I spend my work day making and styling food!  Tonight, I am starting with Zatarain’s Red Beans and Rice (8 ounce package).  The Zatarain’s products are full of flavor.  They’re a great platform for other ingredients.  I have one pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined, that I am tossing with a little olive oil and Cajun spice blend (any spice blend will do; there are so many intriguing blends on the market).  Saute the shrimp in a large skillet until they turn pink; remove from skillet. Add rice mix with the amount of water package suggests, and cook according to directions.  At the last-minute, stir in the cooked shrimp and serve!!  It’s that simple.

Tips

–  Sauté chopped onions, red or green peppers (or even jalapeno peppers) after the shrimp is sautéed and removed from skillet.

– Stir in a small can of corn to add color and texture.

– Use any protein you like—strips of boneless chicken, pork or beef, sliced andouille sausage, crumbled Italian sausage, chopped ham, scallops, or cubed tofu.

Cathy

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Filed under Main Dishes, Rice and Beans, Shrimp, Skillet Dinner