Kitchen Tips – Don't Warp Your Pots and Pans!

My first year out of college was also my first year in law school. I didn’t have a lot of extra time (or sanity), so I frequently made breakfast for dinner. Eggs and pancakes kept me going through the long and lonely nights!

It was also during this time that I realized if I immediately ran the pan under cold water after removing my eggs, I could save oodles of time on clean up. The egg residue wouldn’t cling to the sides of the pan, and I wouldn’t have to do any scrubbing (or, more likely, I wouldn’t have to watch the pans stack up in the sink until I ran out of room to turn the faucet on).

I also quickly realized that drastic temperature changes, like moving a very hot pot or pan immediately from the stove to cold water, is an excellent way to warp it. D’oh!

Pots and pans are expensive. Learning how to care for your cookware and utensils (I’m sure we’ll get to caring for utensils in a future Kitchen Tips post) can save you a lot of time and money in the long run. Here’s a great article from About.com called 10 Ways to Ruin a Nonstick Pan.

Also, be sure to read the packaging when you first buy a pot or pan; certain makes and models will have specific instructions – copper bottom cookware, stainless steel and clay or enamel cookware all have slightly different quirks.

Good luck!

Welcome Back Spring – Black Bean Spring Salad

Spring arrived a few weeks ago and we’re finally beginning to feel the warmth that it promises (and I so dearly miss). With the change in weather comes a change in the meals that make it to our plate. True, in this day in age one could practically eat whatever he/she desires any time of the year (strawberries in winter? no problem), but I personally think there’s something harmonious about eating with the season instead of against it. Oh, and it’s cheaper.

The Delicious Ingredients

With warm weather comes colder meals; and salads are probably one of the most commonly known cold meals. Today’s recipe isn’t a traditional leaf salad, but one with legumes taking center stage; so it’s an excellent source of protein. I wish I remembered where I came across this delicious recipe. The vegetables and beans work well together visually as well as tastefully and the addition of lime cools the fires of the jalapeno allowing it to do its thing. I. Love. This. Salad.

Black Bean Spring Salad

Black Bean Spring Salad

4 cups cooked black beans (2 cans drained)
1 can kernel corn; rinsed and drained
1 jalapeno pepper; seeded and minced
3 plum tomatoes; chopped
1/2 red bell pepper; diced
1/2 red onion; diced

4 tablespoons sherry vinegar
juice of 1/2 lime
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper

Mix all the ingredients together and enjoy. Best served chilled.

Two thumbs up to Anna at Cookie Madness for including on her site an archive of “Go-To” recipes. I found myself there last week as I was looking for ideas for my brother’s birthday cake. His birthday isn’t until this Saturday, but because he happened to be home for Easter I had to improvise.

My brother seems to really enjoy Cool Whip based desserts (pumpkin pie that has a layer of Cool Whip – which we refer to in the family as “Silly” Pumpkin Pie, Million Dollar Pie, Banana Cream Pie, etc.) as well as desserts that have a lot going on – like fruit, nuts and coconut. He’s not interested in things like rich chocolate cake or red velvet. Apparently there are a lot of people like that out there, but I’ve never really understood them myself. Luckily Anna had tried and tagged pretty much the perfect cake.

hummingbird cake


Hummingbird Cake
is Southern Living’s most requested recipe ever! First published in 1999, it combines chopped bananas, crushed pineapple and pecans for a unique and delightful cake. In 2001 they even posted a Lightened Hummingbird Cake, which cuts down on the sugar, eggs and oil, and removes the pecans entirely. Hummingbird Cake is also made without the assistance of either an electric beater or stand mixer (but sorry, I did use one for the frosting!).

I went for the original, non-lightened version, but I did change the frosting. The Southern Living recipe recommends a cream cheese frosting and, while I love cream cheese frosting, it just felt all wrong for this cake. I like cream cheese frosting on fairly plain, rich cakes. The Hummingbird Cake has so many neat flavors that I thought cream cheese frosting would just make it thick, unnecessarily dense and take away from the other things going on.

As you might have guessed from my comments above, I decided to use a Cool Whip based frosting. I added just a tiny bit of fat free cream cheese to the Cool Whip to give it a little thickness. Even though the cake recipe doesn’t call for it, I also added coconut (I was already so close to the Million Dollar Pie recipe that my brother loves that I figured, “why not?”).

I had to spread my frosting a little thin so that I’d have enough to cover this entire three layer cake. I’d probably recommend adding a little extra Cool Whip so that you don’t have to worry about skimping, but I’m so glad that I changed the frosting from the original cream cheese. It really left the emphasis on the cake, while giving it a little “oomph” and adding oh-so-delicious coconut. If you’re shopping for cake ideas for someone who doesn’t love decadent cakes, you have GOT to make this!

hummingbird cake slice


Hummingbird Cake Recipe
from Southern Living

Coconut Cool Whip Frosting

2 oz. fat free cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered/confectioners sugar
1/4 cup milk (I used skim)
8oz. fat free Cool Whip, thawed (plus a little extra)
1-2 cups shredded coconut (start out with 1 cup and add more as desired)

In an electric or stand mixer add cream cheese and beat until softened. Slowly beat in sugar and milk. Now, fold in Cool Whip (do not beat!) using a spoon until fully incorporated. Stir in desired amount of coconut.

Growing up, my mom was always really into Easter every ear. We did it all; the easter baskets, the egg hunt, the big easter meal… She didn’t stop making my sister and I search for eggs until some time in middle school. I still remember my father telling me “Just find the eggs. Do it for your mother.” She always did get a kick out of it.

One of the traditions we also had was a yellow lamb cake she’d bake and decorate. She’d even dye shredded coconut green for the grass. This tradition died some time ago but came back this year. Alas, we did not have shredded coconut and couldn’t justify the thirty minute drive to the market (my mom lives in the boonies); and there was some…. difficulty removing the lamb from the pan which required some decorative gluing….. but it was good to see all the same.

Easter Lamb Cake

I hope you all had a great Easter.

In Search of Energy – "Soldiers" to the Rescue

My husband and I are trying (I repeat, “trying”) to get into a gym routine and be more active on a regular basis. As you might imagine, this is a difficult task for someone who takes as much pleasure in baking (and eating) as I do! But I’m fairly certain I’m not the only person who struggles with that, right? (I’m hoping for a chorus of “Amens” here!)

eggs, before boiling

I was thinking about foods that I could make that might raise our energy level while being somewhat light and not weighing us down. I was also considering what to do with those hard-boiled eggs leftover from Easter. This also led me to remember something that my mom used to make on occasion when I was little.

My mom called them “Soldiers,” but a quick googling of “Soldiers” plus “hard-boiled eggs” led me to an odd dish from the UK where buttered strips of toast are dipped into soft-boiled egg yolk.

hard-boiled eggs

There actually are some similarities between what my mom refers to as Soldiers and the UK version – I wonder (and will have to ask) whether this recipe is something that was passed down and changed throughout generations like a game of telephone.

cubed bread

In any event, this really hit the spot! Eggs are a great source of protein, especially if you don’t eat meat. As long as you enjoy eggs in moderation (like most things), you shouldn’t run into any issues with cholesterol. I’m not sure exactly how to describe the taste – it’s a very simple dish with the egg yolk and pepper being the two flavors that jump out most distinctly to me. As a kid I remember thinking it was just a really fun thing to eat. It’s definitely light and is great to enjoy either an hour before a workout or after.

soldiers


“Soldiers”

serves 2

3 large eggs
4 slices of your favorite bread, ends cut off
butter or margarine
salt and pepper, to taste

To hard boil the eggs – Place the three large eggs in a medium saucepan and add cold water until eggs are just completely covered. Set to high heat. When water with eggs starts to boil, remove the pan from heat and cover with a lid. Let the pan sit for about 12 minutes. Run eggs under cold water to cool. Cold hard-boiled eggs are easier to peel.

To peel eggs, roll on a flat surface (like your kitchen counter) with the palm of your hand, pressing down gently. When the shell cracks it should be fairly easy to peel off. When eggs are peeled, cut into cubes.

Stack slices of bread and trim off ends. Butter one side of each slice and cut bread into cubes. Add to a medium size bowl and then add egg pieces. Season generously with pepper and add a bit of salt. Toss to combine and serve.

Scenes From Easter

Hello, hello! I hope that, if you celebrated it, you had a Happy Easter! For my husband and I, it was filled with lots of food and family!

heather-gb_easter 2009

Since I got the new camera a few months ago, I can’t help snapping away at everything. The little decorations that appear on the Easter table at home were no exception.

heather-gb_easter 2009

I always love my mom’s Easter table setup and place settings. We typically do Easter brunch instead of dinner.

heather-gb_easter 2009

She made a tasty new grape punch this year. In the past we’ve had mimosas or smoothies.

heather-gb_easter 2009

We have some really neat Ukrainian style eggs that have been in the family for years.

heather-gb_easter 2009

They’ve been hollowed out and are very delicate. I believe they were decorated by my aunt and cousin, who are both very talented at it.

heather-gb_easter 2009

I also learned that the family cat, Emma, loves to pose.

emma

She wouldn’t stop rolling around and showing off in the sun patch.

heather-gb_easter 2009

Easter is not complete without the kielbasa.

heather-gb_easter 2009

When we moved to Virginia years ago, we eagerly embraced the southern tradition of ham biscuits. The biscuits are brushed with stone ground mustard; they’re my favorite.

heather-gb_easter 2009

After Easter brunch it’s time for Easter baskets.

heather-gb_easter 2009

We finished off with a sneak peak at the baby bird that hatched in the wreath on my parents’ front door.

heather-gb_easter 2009

Kitchen Tips: What Is Marinating?

Marinating does two things: enhances flavor and tenderizes food. It can be applied to just about any type of food: meat, poulty, fish and even vegetables. The goal is for soak/immerse the food in your marinate for a time, allowing the food to absorb the oils, sugars etc. On top of this, if your marinade contains an acidic component, this will break down your food.

Marinating times vary, but be careful not too marinate too long or your food will become stringy or mushy; especially with tender foods. Always check the instructions/recipe, but a good rule of thumb is 2-3 hours for cubed meats and 12-24 hours for whole pieces ranging from 5 to 10 pounds. Always refrigerate while marinating and if working with non-vegetarian items never reuse your marinade that wasn’t cooked.

It’s a good thing holidays only come once a year, because every holiday comes with decadent array of goodies that are oh so bad for you. Grandma’s easter eggs are no exception. God, I love these things, but god are they bad for you. I suppose the coconut eggs are slightly better for you, but really, once you’re in this stratosphere of unhealthy food, does it really matter?

Coconut Mix

There’s not much I can say that I didn’t say yesterday. These things aren’t really complex; they are awesome in their simplicity. I prefer the coconut a bit. Make them, share them, enjoy them.

Coconut Easter Eggs

Grandma Bachetti’s Coconut Easter Eggs
1 bag sweetened shredded coconut
1 stick butter
5 tablespoons evaporated milk
2 tablespoons vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar

Mix the bag of coconut, butter, evaporated milk and vanilla in a stand mixer under low speed. Slowly add the powdered sugar to avoid the dust cloud effect. Scrape down the sides occasionally and continue mixing until well combined. Taking about two hand fulls, form an egg in your hands and set on a baking sheet with wax or parchment paper. These will be a it wetter/stickier than the peanut butter eggs, but you shouldn’t have much trouble. If you do, add more powdered sugar.

Put your eggs in the fridge to chill while you prepare your ganache. When the ganache has cooled but still liquidy, pour over your eggs and let harden back in the fridge. Enjoy.

My grandmother was the glue on my father’s side of the family. Every so often for one reason or another the Bachetti’s would gather at her home in Front Royal; catching up with people we probably hadn’t seen since the last get-together. My grandmother would send letters, make phone calls… do what it took to keep the family together. As a boy I never recognized all the work she did behind the scenes. When she passed away we didn’t just lose her. We lost our family.

Lotta Peanu Butter

When you grow up you make your own family, your own tribe. You meet people, you build something, you foster a community, a support system, an ecosystem of love. These are made in part by your blood but also by others you meet in your life. When my grandmother passed away the “looser” family members in each person’s tribe started to slip away, and I’m sad to say no one took up the reigns. I don’t remember the last time I talked with my uncle.

Mixing Peanut Butter, Butter and Powdered Sugar

Eventually I learned that most relationships can’t survive without upkeep; not the ones that really matter at least. Without attention they wither and eventually die. Most don’t take much. A letter, a phone call, a photo over e-mail. We all have our ways one one of mine is of course food.

Grandma's Peanut Butter Eggs

Every Easter we would visit my grandmother and every Easter she’d have for us these delicious peanut butter and coconut eggs. Oh, how I loved them. A few years ago I took up her tradition, making them for my friends and family. The recipe is amazingly simple. If this Easter has you thinking about rekindling some past relationships, consider these as a possible method.

Grandma's Peanut Butter Eggs covered in chocolate

Grandma’s Peanut Butter Eggs – Makes approximately 8 eggs
2 lbs peanut butter
2 sticks butter; room temperature
5 tablespoons evaporated milk
2 tablespoons vanilla
4-5 cups powdered sugar

Mix the peanut butter, butter, milk and vanilla together in a stand mixer on low speed. Slowly add the powdered sugar (to avoid a sugar cloud), scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Don’t worry about over mixing, there’s no flour to over mix. The peanut butter should start pulling away from the bowl, but still stay together. Try balling it in your hands. If it sticks, you need more powdered sugar.

Grab approximately two handfuls and shape into an egg. Place on a wax covered baking pan. Let chill in the refrigerator while you make your ganache (grandma didn’t have a chocolate ganache recipe and honestly neither do I). Pour over your eggs after ganache has cooled but is still liquidy. Let harden in fridge and enjoy.

Food Photography – Perils of Life as a Chocolate Bunny

my butt hurts!

Hope you enjoy my recreation of a favorite Snorg Tee in celebration of Easter this coming weekend. This one has always cracked me up, and I don’t mind a little cruelty to chocolate bunnies (mwhahah)!

They were very good models.. Mmmmm!