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Friday, August 31, 2012

Product Review - Orville Redenbacher's Ready to Eat Popcorn



Recently I received a free sample of Con Agra Foods new product, Orville Redenbacher Ready to eat Popcorn.  Everyone’s heard of Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn – popcorn kernels and microwave popcorn.  So when I heard about this new product I thought what a great add-on to this already well -known brand.
My family has a love affair with popcorn.  It’s a go to night time snack. It’s a go to afternoon snack.  So to have a trusted brand like Orville Redenbacher in a ready to eat form, well it was just perfect for us.  There are times when you want a snack right now, and this ready to eat popcorn comes in some pretty great flavors.  




Con Agra sent me a sample of the sharp white cheddar.  I have to say I’m not usually big on flavored popcorn because it can be overly flavored and messy to eat.  This popcorn had just the right amount of cheddar flavor without getting your fingers stained.  The kernels (just like all Orville’s popcorn) were large and according to the bag 30% fluffier.  It’s a snack you can feel good about giving your kids since it’s a whole grain snack.
My daughter liked the sample so much she went and bought several bags and she is a popcorn connoisseur!  For a convenient, lightly flavored, tasty, healthy snack try Orville Redenbacher’s new ready to eat popcorn.  It’s a snack you can take anywhere with you, no microwave required.

You can find Orville Redenbacher’s Ready to eat Popcorn in the snack aisle at your local supermarket or grocery store.  It comes in other flavors -  Farmhouse Cheddar, Signature BBQ and Kettle Corn.  Try them all!



The opinions of this product are my own.
The sample provided by ConAgra was a free sample supplied to me by them for my opinion.



Monday, August 27, 2012

Ratatouille Fresh from the Garden













It’s time for another installment of Summer Fest. This week is eggplant. Now I’m not a huge fan of eggplant but I do like vegetable stews, one in particular – Ratatouille, which contains mushrooms, zucchini and eggplant with tomatoes, onions, garlic and green peppers. The result is a flavorful, simple to make dish that is perfect for any night of the week.  Leftovers can be served over rice for a quick and healthy lunch.
As always there will be a list of other fantastic recipes using eggplant, so be sure to read all the way to the bottom so you don't miss any of them from this talented group of bloggers/cooks.




This ratatouille recipe comes from the Culinary Institute of America Cookbook I received when I took a class there last year.  I will have more recipes from this cookbook when I start my “cookbook of the month” review series.  The CIA cookbook has a great selection of recipes from different cuisines and uses techniques that range from simple to advanced, but more about this cookbook in another post.  Right now let’s get to the ratatouille!




This is a one pot meal which makes it perfect for a weekday or weekend meal. It's quick cooking so it helps to have all your ingredients ready to be added.  A recipe like this one is good for practice  knife skills, since there is a lot of chopping involved.  The fresh herbs added to this dish gives it a fresh flavor that compliments the fresh veggies.  Not one of the veggies are the star of the show, but if you like one vegetable more than another you can always add more of it.  This dish is a great use up for all those farmer’s market finds at the end of summer when there seems to be an abundance. 

To make ratatouille you’ll need
2 T olive oil
3 T minced garlic
2 cups chopped yellow onions
1 T tomato paste
¾ cup chicken broth
4 cups chopped eggplant
1 1/3 cups sliced zucchini (quartered lengthwise before slicing)
1 cup quartered mushrooms
1 cup diced green peppers
2 cups chopped tomatoes (peeled and seeded)
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped basil
Salt and pepper as needed

Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until aromatic, about 1 minute.  Add the onions and sauté until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and cook over medium heat until it deepens in color and gives off a sweet aroma, about 1 minute.  Add the broth and stir to deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits from the pan bottom.
Add the eggplant, zucchini , mushrooms and green pepper and simmer until the vegetables are tender but not falling apart, 10 to 12 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes and continue to simmer until the tomatoes are heated through, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the parsley and basil.  Taste, season with salt and pepper then serve.


As promised here's the list of more eggplant recipes.
Feed Me Phoebe:   Grilled Eggplant Baba Ganoush
Jeanette's Healthy Living:   Asian Grilled Eggplant With Soy-Sesame Sauce
And Love It Too:  Slow-Cooker Paleo Eggplant Parmesan
Big Girls Small Kitchen:   Homemade Baba Ganoush
Made by Michelle:   Eggplant Zucchini Muffins
Cooking With Elise:    Stuffed Eggplant
Virtually Homemade:   Layered Ratatouille la Ratatouille
Napa Farmhouse 1885:   Roasted Eggplant and Peppers Dip
HGTV Gardens:   Garden-to-Table: Eggplant
Thursday Night Dinner:   Eggplant Flatbread
Healthy Eats:   Going Meatless With Eggplant
Devour:   Giada's Rigatoni With Eggplant Puree
Cooking With Books:   Sriracha and Honey Eggplant Rice
FN Dish:   Eggplant: Champion of the Meat-Free Meal

Who knew eggplant was so versatile? Have a favorite eggplant recipe? I'd love to hear it. Be sure to leave it in the comments below!



Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Summer Fest- Grilled Peaches with Ginger Caramel Sauce and Pound Cake















Time for another installment of Food Network's blog - FN Dish.  This week it's all about peaches.  To me nothing says summer like the smell of a fresh, ripe peach. The aroma is intoxicating!  And I know I'm not the only one that feels that way - so be sure to read all the way to the bottom for more links from the fabulous Summer Fest bloggers.






The recipe I chose to make combines two of summers greatest things - peaches and grilling.  Don't worry if you don't have a BBQ grill, an indoor grill will do just fine!  Nothing gives food the flavor that cooking it on the grill does, even if it is indoors.

The best way to pick a peach is to smell it.  I know, I know it looks weird to hold it up to your nose and sniff, and if your nose actually touches it you feel obligated to take it.  But it's really the only way to get a good peach.  It should smell unmistakenly like peach.  The peach should have some give to it with no blemishes.

This recipe is simple, but oh so flavorful with the addition of the ginger caramel sauce.  If you don't want the sauce, that's fine.  But be sure to have some ice cream handy, home made or store bought  doesn't matter.

To make Grilled Peaches with Ginger Caramel Sauce and Pound Cake here's what you'll need:

3-4 ripe peaches, medium size
3/4 c sugar
2 teaspoons grated ginger (more or less to taste)
2 T butter
splash of cream
salt
store bought ice cream (or home made)
store bought pound cake (my favorite cake)

Makes 6 servings.

Slice the peaches in half and lay them on a low- medium heat grill.  This will work great after you've grilled your main course and the coals have burned down a little.  You don't want the grill or grill pan too hot or the peaches will burn.


Cook the peaches just until they are warm, soft and caramelized.

For the Ginger Caramel Sauce





Add the sugar to a skillet on low heat.  Keep an eye on the sugar, it can go from caramel to burnt in an instant.  Swirl the pan occasionally to allow the heat to distribute.  Once the sugar starts to caramelize add the grated ginger.  Swirl again to combine.  Once the sugar is caramel color add the butter and cream.  The pan will sizzle so beware.  It's okay!  Stir to combine and set aside.

To assemble:
Slice the pound cake and place on the grill just long enough to get some grill marks and warm it through.



Place the pound cake on a plate.  Top with the grilled peaches, a scoop of ice cream, then drizzle with the caramel sauce.












That's it! A simple dessert that will "WOW" your cookout guests!!  And a delicious new way to enjoy peaches.


Have a favorite peach recipe? Looking for a new way to enjoy this summer time favorite fruit?  Then look no further than the list below for more creative, yummy recipes.....

HAPPY SUMMER FEST!!





Jeanette's Healthy Living:   Peach Blackberry Arugula Salad
Cooking With Elise:   Streusel Topped Peach Muffins With Peach Butter
Heather Christo Cooks:   Peach Coconut Pancakes
Ingredients, Inc:   Easy Peach Pie
Dishin & Dishes:   Peach Lacquered Chicken Salad
Big Girls Small Kitchen:  Easy Peach Limeade
Napa Farmhouse 1885:   Fresh Peach and Coconut Cake
Daily*Dishin:   Caramelized Grilled Peaches
Delicious Lean:  Smokey Peach Chipotle Grilled Chicken
Thursday Night Dinner:  Peach Shortbread
Sweet Life Bake:    Jicama Tortilla Salad With Peach Dressing
I Am Baker: Cilantro Peach Salsa
Zaika Zabardast:  Donut Peach Quesadilla
And Love It Too:  Peachy Coconut Streusel Muffins
Daydreamer Desserts:  White Peach Margaritas
Cooking Channel:  4 Savory Uses for Peaches
Healthy Eats:  What to do With Overripe Peaches
FN Dish:  Peaches Move to the Big Kids' Table


Friday, August 10, 2012

Menu Sampling at Comfort Kitchen





I was invited to a menu sampling at one of Saratoga’s newest restaurants – Comfort Kitchen, which is located in the Marketplace downtown. To me the name “Comfort Kitchen” is a little bit of a misnomer. When I think of comfort food (being from the south) I think of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, chicken fried steak, biscuits and gravy, chicken and dumplings. Not burgers, tots and salad.  But I guess it’s a North/South thing. And I do have to say that the menu we sampled was the “summer” menu. For southerners summer menus consist of BBQ, potato salad and sweet tea.

 The crowd consisted of other local food bloggers. I really love it when I’m in a room full of people who photograph their food before they eat it. Makes me feel normal.

 Parking downtown is always at a premium especially during track season so I ended up parking about 3 blocks away in a garage.  Made it easier for me to maneuver my huge SUV and I didn’t have to try to squeeze into a tiny spot on the street.  As I was walking, it occurred to me that Saratoga is a microcosm of a large metropolitan city.  It was after 7 pm so the sidewalks were lined with diners at the many restaurants and bistros along Broadway. Clothing racks were still outside some of the shops, and families, couples (old and young) were walking the sidewalk. But I think the one thing that I like the most about walking along Broadway on a summer’s evening is the street performers.  There is such a wide range – from the guy playing the Barney theme on his banjo, to the woman playing classical music on her violin.  It’s all these things – and more that make Saratoga a thriving mini-metropolis.

Comfort Kitchen is in the Marketplace in a former cupcake bakery.  But as owner Rory Moran said, “there’s no cupcakes here.” Instead you will find comfort food in many forms, from hamburgers and mac and cheese to tater tots and cookies and milk.  



Our first sampling was tater tots (which are deep fried) with different sauces.  One of the sauces is called their awesome sauce, which they use on their burgers also. Awesome sauce is their version of a secret sauce  (although I did get a few of the ingredients: ketchup, mustard, siracha, honey, vinegar)   It’s a little spicy but not too bad.  Another sauce is their house made blue cheese that they serve on their cobb salad.  




We were then served the veggie burger.  I had high hopes for this patty made from local zucchini, carrots and black beans, but I found it to be spicy and then topped with another spicy sauce –chipotle aioli  and pickled red onions just made it too much. Even though it was topped with a couple of slices of avocado I think it needed more balance of another cooling agent like  sour cream.  I like spicy food, although I’m the first to admit, I’m pretty wimpy. But there is a difference between spicy and just plain unpleasant, and this burger fell closer to the latter than the former.



Then it was onto what I would call the main event, the basis for many a comfort food meal –burgers and mac and cheese.  Here I would have to say Rory gets it right.  The burger is made from a custom ground blend of meats that are freshly ground for the Comfort Kitchen. The burger is served with American cheese (a classic) along with Awesome sauce and house-made bread and butter pickles on a potato roll. 
The burger is cooked in a cast iron skillet, the way Rory's mom (and mine) used to.






The mac and cheese is made to order. I think any restaurant that makes anything to order should get “props” and this mac and cheese deserves them!  It’s made with a four cheese blend that is creamy and a little unusual with the addition of rosemary, (I’m not sure if it was in the herbed bread crumbs or in the sauce itself). I was a little apprehensive about the rosemary because it’s such a pungent herb but here it worked.  The mac in the mac n cheese wasn’t the usual (and comforting) elbow macaroni but cavatappi which is a cork screw shaped pasta. This large pasta makes it actually easier to eat because you can pick them up with your fork one at a time.





Rory told us a little bit about himself and his vision for the restaurant.  He has worked in restaurants most of his life, one of them being Max London’s.  He hopes to create a farm to table type restaurant using the best of what local farmers have to offer while still bringing customers back to memories of their childhood table.  By using local ingredients Comfort Kitchen is able to serve a fresh spin on classics.  I guess being from the south myself I was a little surprised by what Rory thinks of as “comfort food.”  Southerners think fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits and gravy -- not really burgers and salads.  But there is enough on the seasonally changing menu to satisfy anyone’s need for comfort. Who doesn’t remember coming home after school to a plate of cookies and a glass of cold milk? Comfort kitchen offers cookies baked daily.



For dessert we were promised something special – ice cream sandwiches.  Yeah, I know, they’re all the rage these days, but I make ice cream for a living and after all the spicy food I just wanted something chocolate.  Instead we got vanilla cookies with strawberry ice cream.  The ice cream wasn’t really ice cream but custard. When I asked Rory how he made the ice cream he said it was heavy cream, sugar, vanilla, eggs- that’s a crème anglaise (the base for custard) that is then cooked, cooled and then put into an ice cream maker.  Frozen custard is usually rich and thick with a smooth texture. Unfortunately this ice cream wasn’t rich, thick or smooth. It was icy and the unsweetened berries made the flavor less than pleasant.  But like I said I make ice cream for a living, so I’m spoiled.

To recap:

PROS:
Comfort Kitchen specializes in fresh, local ingredients
Most of the food is made from scratch
It's a "gem" in Saratoga and fills a niche

CONS:
In some respects the dishes aren't ready for "prime time"
Veggie burger is too spicy to eat.
Prices are a little high for food I make at home all the time.





So if you are, then stop by Comfort Kitchen and give the menu a try. I'd like to know what YOU think.