Posts Tagged ‘Entertaining’

Unless You’re Careful, Those Spuds Can Be Duds

Thursday, May 12, 2011
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Although the tasty salad mentioned in the blog post below (http://blogs.charlestondailymail.com/foodguy/2011/05/09/pricey-pinenuts-kicked-to-the-curb-for-now/) rocked, the Potato, Spinach and Leek Fritatta was only so-so. Not bad, just not exceptional.

I kinda suspected that would be the case before I even made it. I blame the potatoes. It would’ve been much better without them.

As I sauteed the leeks in butter, added a little fresh garlic and tossed in some spinach, a wonderful aroma filled the kitchen. Amy even came over to sneak a taste, saying, “Oh, that’s SO good!”

But after I added the potatoes and eggs, topped the think with breadcrumbs and cheese, and baked it to what should’ve been savory perfection, the flavor kinda fell flat.

I blame the potatoes. Potatoes have no taste and can easily suck the life (and dilute the tastes) of other ingredients in a dish.

Oh sure, they’re great fried to a crisp and dipped in ketchup … or baked in cream and cheese … or whipped with garlic and butter. But unless you prepare and pair them up with some pretty strong flavors, they don’t do much for the ol’ taste buds.

After The Great Fritatta Fiasco, I ran across a similar recipe that called for using bread instead of potatoes as the “filler” needed to give the fritatta a little heft. You’d have the same flavor-sucking problem there, unless you used cut-up garlic toast or some sort of herbed bread — which might be pretty good, actually!

Pricey Pinenuts Kicked to the Curb, for Now

Monday, May 9, 2011
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I’m all for splurging on a primo ingredient to make a recipe really sing — especially for a special occasion – but even I have to draw the line at $8 pinenuts.

We invited my wife’s mom over for a special Mother’s Day brunch this past Sunday for a Potato, Spinach and Leek Fritatta with a few grilled sausages served on the side. I wanted to make a nice salad to accompany the meal, so I ran to Kroger for some fresh greens, goat cheese and dried cranberries that I planned to toss with a homemade honey balsamic vinaigrette. I thought a few toasted pinenuts would add a nice nutty crunch, so I reached for a bag and …

Spent the next few seconds trying to catch my breath!

Pinenuts have always been on the pricey side, but $7.99 for less than a handful was too much for me to handle. So I grabbed some chopped macadamia nuts instead (hey, only a buck!) which made for a really nice — and wallet-friendly — substitute.

We enjoyed them so much, in fact, that our beloved pinenuts may take a backseat until they come down a little in price.

The salad rocked, by the way, and here’s what I whisked together to dress it …

HONEY BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE

  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Honey
  • Dijon mustard
  • Pepper

The proportions depend on how much you need and how sweet, salty or tart you want it. I started with about 1/4 cup olive oil, then added a tablespoon (maybe two) of vinegar, a squirt of honey, a small dollop of mustard and a few turns of the pepper mill.

Super Bowl Snacks: Watch game score AND your food score

Wednesday, February 2, 2011
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In case you missed it, my column in today’s Daily Mail offered some healthier game-day snack suggestions for this weekend’s Party of all Junk Food Parties – the Super Bowl. Things like making turkey sliders instead of cheeseburgers, serving veggies and dip instead of chips and drinking flavored seltzers instead of beer.

Although we all know that last one is just crazy talk.

But here are a few more suggestions from NuVal, a new nutritional scoring system that factors in 30 different attributes of foods (from fiber to folate) to give it a score from 1 to 100 on the Nuval scale. The higher the number, the healthier the food. These NuVal scores are starting to show up on some supermarket shelves nationwide, though none in our area yet, listed right next to the item’s price.

Here are some suggested “nutritional trade-ups” to help raise your NuVal snacking score this Sunday …

  • Some refrigerated dips, such as hummus or guacamole, can benefit from their protein, fiber and vitamin E. Fresherized Foods Wholly Guacamole, for instance, scores a 59, a very high score for the category.
  • Gringo Green Mountain Salsa Scores a 9 and Newman’s Own Black Bean and Corn Salsa scores a 48.
  • Don’t let terms like “fat free” or “fruit dip” fool you. T Marzetti Dill Fat-Free Veggie Dip scores an 11 on the NuVal scale, and the cream cheese fruit dip gets a lowly 2.
  • All chips are not equal. While barbecue potato chips rank in the low single digits, other regular-brand chips score in the mid-20s. While “baked” chips score higher, the difference in score may not always justify the difference in taste. Lay’s Baked Potato Chips, for instance, score a 24. Regular Lay’s? A 23.
  • Don’t assume pretzels are more nutritious than potato chips. Rold Gold Pretzel Rods score a 14, while Cape Cod 40% Reduced Fat Chips score a 31. It’s also possible to find chips that score relatively high. If you don’t mind skipping the salt, Garden of Eatin Blue Tortilla Chips score a 52, the highest score in the category.
  • If you’re looking for better nutrition than chips or dips can provide, why not go with some nuts? Whole natural almonds score an 81 and Flavorite sunflower seeds rank a 52. Even Planters’ Honey Roasted Peanuts come in at a respectable 29. Others however, such as toasted corn nuts, are way down in the single digits.
  • If you’re craving a football game staple like buffalo wings, TGI Friday’s Frozen Buffalo wings come in low at 14, while Morningstar Farms meatless “buffalo wings” fare better at 29.

For additional game-day suggestions or to learn more about the NuVal scoring system, visit http://www.NuVal.com/Shop/trading.

T-Minus One Day and Counting … Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock

Wednesday, November 24, 2010
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 OK, we’re at T-minus one day and counting.

The menu is planned, the shopping is done and the big bird is thawing. There’s really not much left to worry about at this point. Except trying not to kill your guests.

Food poisoning is serious business and reported cases often spike around the holidays. Here’s what you can do to avoid spending your holiday laid up in bed – either yours or one at the hospital …

  1. Wash your hands often, especially in between handling foods that are dry and wet. 
  2. Before preparing food, carefully clean counters, cutting boards and utensils with hot soapy water. Repeat cleaning in between recipes, especially if you have raw meat or leafy greens on the cutting board, both of which can carry salmonella.
  3. Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
  4. If you purchased a turkey fresh and not frozen, refrigerate it immediately. For a frozen turkey, allow lots of time for it to thaw – about 2 hours of thaw time per five pounds of turkey. Thaw a turkey a high walled pan placed in the refrigerator, and do not let the water touch any other food.
  5. It is safest not to stuff a turkey, but rather put herbs inside the cavity to season it. If you must stuff, use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the stuffing which must reach 165° F. Stuffings with meat or shellfish (oyster) ingredients are risky. Always cook these on the stove top or in the oven, and not in the turkey.
  6. A significant risk of food poisoning comes from undercooking the turkey. You can’t tell it’s done by how it looks! While recipes give you hints about testing for “doneness,” such as a golden brown color or seeing juices run clear, these may not be accurate. The only way to make sure your bird is cooked sufficiently to be safe to eat is to measure the internal temperature with a meat thermometer. It must reach 165 degrees F.
  7. It may not be in mom’s recipe, but bring gravy to a full boil before serving.
  8. Keep cold food like salads, Jell-O molds and salad dressing refrigerated until just before serving. Once dinner is over, refrigerate leftovers. If food has been sitting out for two hours or more, it may not be safe to eat.
  9. Use pasteurized eggs in homemade recipes.
  10. After eating, take the remaining meat off the bird and store in a shallow container in the refrigerator. Don’t put an entire carcass into the refrigerator — it won’t cool down quickly enough.

So how do you know if those cramps you’re feeling are innocent indigestion or something more sinister?

Food poisoning can cause fever, stomach pain, vomiting and/or diarrhea, often leading to dehydration. These signs usually appear within six, but up to 48, hours after eating or drinking a contaminated food or beverage. For the elderly, children, infants, pregnant woman and people suffering from compromised immune systems, food poisoning can be severe. When in doubt, get it checked out.

Maybe It’s Time You Just Picked Up the Phone …

Tuesday, November 23, 2010
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Still haven’t settled on a menu or picked up your turkey for Thanksgiving Day? You’re SERIOUSLY running out of time. Unless you thrive on stress, you may want to let someone else do your dirty work …

A few great local restaurants (Bridge Road Bistro, South Hills Market & Café) were offering pre-made holiday feasts you could order ahead of time, pick up Wednesday and take home to reheat on the big day. But those ships (i.e. deadlines) have sailed.

You may still have time to grab a Bob Evans carry-home Farmhouse Feast featuring a variety of almost-like-homemade holiday favorites. The hearty meal comes complete with your choice of a slow-roasted whole boneless turkey breast or sliced boneless ham, bread and celery dressing, mashed potatoes with gravy, buttered sweet corn, green beans with ham, cranberry relish, rolls, a loaf of pumpkin bread and a pumpkin pie with whipped topping.

Call, stop by a restaurant or order at www.bobevans.com now through December, or while supplies last.

A few local hotels (including the Marriott and Embassy Suites downtown) are also serving Thanksgiving Day buffets. Just be sure to call ahead for more information and reservations.

Cross Wine Shopping Off Your Thanksgiving To-Do List

Sunday, November 21, 2010
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Although it’s a wee bit early to start any Thanksgiving cooking, you can go ahead and cross wine shopping off your list today.

Few things stress out hosts more than the pressure of pairing perfect wines to complement the food they’ll be serving. Lucky for them, a traditional Thanksgiving menu is so varied in flavors that a complex (or even a specific) wine is not really your best bet. There are several simple reds AND whites that should work out just fine.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • White: German Rieslings are usually crowd-pleasers because their sweetness appeals to those who don’t think they like wine, yet they are subtly nuanced enough to be appreciated by more experienced wine drinkers. I still prefer a creamy and buttery Chardonnay, but a sweet Riesling or light Pinot Grigio will usually please more of the masses.
  • Red: The Gamay grape goes well with turkey, so look for a nice Beaujolais from France. (It’s light and fruity enough to please most without offending any.) Beaujolais Nouveau is the most prevalent you’ll see, but splurge a few dollars more for a better cru Beaujolais, like Morgon and Fleurie.
  • Sparkling: A festive bubbly is fun, and the touch of sophistication it adds leaves no doubt that you’ve gathered for a special occasion. Champagne (France) is nice, but don’t overlook a less-expensive Prosecco (Italy) or Cava (Spain) either. In fact, you could try both for the cost of a single bottle of decent Champagne.
  • Worth a Splurge: When you have the urge to splurge on some fabulous fruit of the vine, a big red is always a great choice. Opus One is a popular choice, but will set you back about $200. You could buy four or five really nice bottles for that price, so I’d go that route instead. Just explain what type of wine you like and let a knowledgeable employee or friend point you in the right direction. As for a high-end bubbly, there’s pricey Dom Perignon and Cristal, or the more reasonable – but still highly regarded – Veuve Cliquot.
  • And for Dessert: Choosing a dessert wine can be tricky, but Ports are a perfect winter treat with bottles running the price gamut – from $15 to $100-plus. My pick is a richly decadent Sauterne, a fortified French dessert wine that tastes of fine brandy and butterscotch more that straight sugar. Delicious!

How to Cook Thanksgiving’s Guest of Honor – RIP.

Friday, November 19, 2010
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Yesterday we talked about buying your big Thanksgiving bird. Today, let’s discuss cooking that bad boy!

Here’s some advice from the venerable Old Farmer’s Almanac Everyday Recipes (and me) on how to roast it to earn raves:

  • Position your oven rack so the turkey sits in the lower third of the oven. If you’re cooking it in a bag – which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND – be sure you allow enough space above so the bag won’t touch the heating elements and burst as it inflates during cooking.
  • Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. This low-roasting temperature results in a juicier bird.
  • Remove the neck and giblets from the body cavity, drain any juices and rinse the bird thoroughly under cold water. Drain, blot it dry and set it aside to let it reach room temperature.
  • Stuff the turkey (if you wish) and then truss it: Take a 4- to 6-foot piece of cooking twine and tie the legs together at the ankles. Run the twine around the thighs and under the wings. Pull tightly and make a knot around the excess flesh where the turkey’s neck used to be. Trussing the turkey into a compact shape helps to ensure that it cooks evenly and makes it easier to carve.
  • Place the turkey on the oven rack in a pan deep enough to collect any juices that may run off during cooking. (You’ll want to save these to make awesome gravy later!)
  • Lightly brush the bird with melted butter or oil, then generously season with salt, pepper and your favorite herbs – either on the skin’s surface or, better yet, underneath it between skin and meat. (Just gently ply the skin away from the meet with your fingers, and slather your herbed butter mixture inside to better infuse the meat.) And don’t be stingy with the seasoning, either. Turkeys are big and their meat is dense, so they can withstand (and need) lots of flavorings.
  • Roast the turkey, basting with the pan drippings every 40 to 60 minutes. If you’re using a cooking bag, you don’t have to do this. Yet another reason to use the bag – less work, moister meat!
  • When the skin is golden brown, after approximately 1 to 2 hours, shield the breast with a tent of aluminum foil, shiny side out. To prevent over-browning.
  • Thirty minutes before the end of the roasting time, begin taking the turkey’s temperature with an instant-read meat thermometer in both the thigh and breast areas. Continue doing this in 15-minute increments until the thermometer reads at least 180 degrees in both areas.
  • Remove the bird, cover with aluminum foil and let sit for 30 minutes. This allows the juices to retreat back into the meat, making it easier to carve. (And tastier, to boot!)

Drinking for a Good Cause

Monday, November 15, 2010
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If you’re gonna drink this holiday season, you might as well do it for a cause …

Gallo Family Vineyards has joined up with Meals on Wheels of America to raise awareness for hunger relief by offering a way for people to help feed American seniors and families in need – all while celebrating with their own friends and loved ones.

Between now and the end of the year, Gallo Family Vineyards will donate $5 to Meals on Wheels for every Gallo wine cork sent in. The company’s goal is to raise $25,000 by Dec. 31. That’s 5,000 corks, so get to sippin’!!

Corks should be mailed to Corks to Fight Hunger Donation, P.O. Box 1154, Grand Rapids, MN 55745-1154. Visit www.everycorkcounts.com to learn more.

‘Tis the Season … for Eating!

Friday, November 12, 2010
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As I mentioned in this week’s column (http://charlestondailymail.com/foodandliving/TheFoodGuy/201011100361) the holidays are a great time for family gatherings, heartfelt gift-giving and, especially, overeating. With office parties and tailgates and potlucks – oh my! – even the most vigilant of calorie-counters can lose their way.

Fortunately, you can adopt a few easy habits to help limit the damage:

  • Eat a substantial snack before going to a dinner party. I know eating before eating may not sound like a sound diet strategy, but it’s the same advice behind the concept of not going grocery shopping when you’re hungry.
  • Cut calories wherever possible. For example, replace regular cream cheese with the reduced-fat variety and you can shave more than 2,000 calories and 120 grams of fat from a typical cheesecake.
  • Give seconds a second thought. Wait 10 minutes before having a second helping. The delay can help keep you from eating too much before your stomach realizes it’s full.

So enjoy the holidays, just don’t ring in the new year with a Santa-sized midsection.

A Holiday Cooking Hotline to Save the Day

Monday, November 8, 2010
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The holiday season is here, and if you’re looking for a great resource to find fresh ideas for at-home entertaining, Turning Leaf Wines is offering a toll-free hotline to save the day.

At 877-TLWINE-3 (or 877-859-4633), you’ll hear automated tips offering instant entertaining advice from experts on everything from how to pair wine with your meal to what to do when 20 people RSVP to your dinner party when your table only seats 10. They’ll even suggest ways to incorporate prepared foods with your own to help ease the stress of entertaining.

And from 2-8 p.m. on Nov. 20-22, during that crucial weekend before Thanksgiving, the hotline will feature live access to a trio of experts including Turning Leaf winemaker Nicole Hitchcock, lifestyle and entertaining expert Robyn Moreno, and wine expert Maureen Petrosky. They’ll be available to answer questions about wine pairings, menu ideas and even what to do with your leftovers.

The hotline is open 24 hours a day through Dec. 31.