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Archive for May, 2012


For some reason I’ve been into graham crackers lately.  They’re just so good as a snack or dessert with a glass of milk, or dunked into a cup of tea.  So I had a box of Honeymaid graham crackers in my cupboard.  And then I ate them all.   And kept forgetting to get more at the store.  So I just decided to make them!  I was chatting with my friend Ellise Pierce (author of Cowgirlchef.com and a new cookbook of the same name) and she said, “Wait! I have a recipe!”  So she sent it and I made them!  Now I’m going to tell you this:  you need time.  Yep, lots of time for chilling the dough in between steps.  That is the secret to crispy, light crackers.  Which are really cookies, if you ask me.  And I hit a couple of speed bumps along the way, but hey, that’s how you learn, right?  Want to try them?  You should; they’re good.  And S’mores season is almost here!  Ready?  Come on…

Okay, here’s what you need:

INGREDIENTS

1 C wheat flour (I used white whole wheat flour from Trader Joe’s)

1.5 Cups plus 2 Tbl regular all-purpose flour (white flour)

1 C brown sugar

1 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp salt

1 stick (8 Tbl) butter, frozen, and cut up into small cubes

1/3 C. honey

5 Tbl milk (I used 1%; am sure you could use any percent!)

2 Tbl vanilla

3 Tbl white sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon, mixed together for sprinkling before baking

Alright, let’s do it:

1) In a Cuisinart or bowl with a pastry cutter thing (also known as two knives, one in each hand), combine both flours, the brown sugar, baking soda and salt.  Whiz it up so it’s all mixed together.  Now add the cubed butter and pulse it just so it like a coarse meal, like this, on the right:

2) Mix up your honey, milk and vanilla in a small bowl or measuring cup and pour that in, with your Cuisinart on (if you’re using one), until it comes together as a dough.

3) Now, lay out a big piece of plastic wrap on a cutting board and gather up that dough and put it in the center.  Mash it out with your hands into a large rectangle about an inch thick  (just do your best here; it doesn’t have to be perfect).  Pop another sheet of plastic on top and slide that whole sucker into the fridge for two hours (or in the freezer for one hour – but I don’t have that kind of room in my freezer).  Mine looked like this (sorry, it’s a little unappealing in color, but at least you see how it looks).

4) Time to make the crackers!  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Take your dough out of the fridge and cut it in half.  Put one half back into the fridge to stay cool.  With the other half, on a well-floured board, roll it out thin, to, like, 1/8-inch thickness.  Try to keep it rectangular (I had to trim off edges; I just gathered the scraps back up and made another fat rectangle to put in the fridge.)  Now, using a knife, cut your crackers.  They swell a bit in the oven, so I recommend a 2 1/2- inch or 3-inch square.  Alternately, you could use a cookie cutter in any shape you want – go crazy!

5) Pick up the crackers and put them onto a baking sheet with either a Silpat mat (those non-stick, rubbery kind of things; love them) or parchment paper.  Give them a bit of space between each other.  Aaand, it’s back into the fridge again, for 30 minutes (or the freezer for 15 minutes).  During this time, you could roll out the second half of the dough and get that ready for chilling if you want.  Also – mix your white sugar and cinnamon in a little ramekin or dish.

6) Time to bake!  Get the crackers out of the fridge, and get a fork.  Prick them on the surface (not all the way through) – just like you see the dots on store-bought graham crackers.  You could make designs if you want!  Now, liberally sprinkle cinnamon sugar on each cracker (be generous, the flavor it adds is great).

And into the oven!   Now – here’s where I stumbled a bit (yes, burning an entire tray of them; no judging).  So, I  recommend 12 minutes, and then rotate your baking sheet and do another 10 minutes.  Check them – they burn quickly, and all ovens have their own personality.  When they are golden brown, take them out, onto a cooling rack.  Et voila – you have homemade graham crackers!

I made two batches, and I froze the rest of the dough, so I’ll let you know that turns out.  Store these in an airtight container and they should last for at least a week.  I love them for breakfast, with coffee.  I love them with a dollop of Speculoos (see my Ode to Cookie Spread post!) or peanut butter, I love them dunked into a glass of milk.  And I think they’d be great  dipped into yogurt, or crumbled on top of ice cream, or as part of a yogurt or ice cream parfait.  Or as a crushed up and mixed with melted butter for a pie crust!  In fact, I’m considering making graham cracker ice cream.  I could go crazy with these things!  Let me know if you make them and how they turn out.  Bon appetit!

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Hi Food Friends!  Last Sunday I went to the 2012 National Restaurant Show, at McCormick Place here in Chicago (site of next week’s NATO Summit – more on that later).  My mission was simple: hunt for the coolest new restaurant and food trends I could find.  Except it wasn’t so simple!  The show is HUGE!  More than 58,000 people attend, and the exhibit floor is MASSIVE!  Undaunted (and with super-comfy shoes on), I dove into the food fray to bring you my favorite cool food finds. Ready? Here we go!

1) Smoked Basmati Rice.  It was so freaky! The aroma of the raw rice was super-smoky, but cooked, it had a very mild smoked flavor – barely discernible, even.  It was delicious!  Because let’s face it, plain rice can be a little boring.  This would add real interest to a meal.   Love!

2) Real Ginger Ale. OMG, you have to find this stuff: Fresh Ginger Ale.  It is DIVINE!  Yes, it’s soda pop and it’s filled with sugar, but it’s made with fresh ginger, and it has an amazing ginger bite – you get the sweetness and heat of ginger all at the same time – so delish.  And it comes in several different flavors — jasmine, passion fruit, pomegranate/hibiscus and original.  Slightly obsessed.  I imagine this would be extraordinary with a shot of good tequila.

3) Grain Chips & Crackers.  Wow – this stuff was cool.  This company, Mediterranean Snacks, makes (and imports, I think) all sorts of cool snack foods made from non-traditional ingredients.  First there were lentil chips in flavors like rosemary, cucumber dill, sea salt and cracked pepper, which are all gluten-free, packed with protein from the lentils (and garbanzo and adzuki beans, which are also in there) and they’re baked, not fried.  What’s not to love?
But they also had these really cool crackers, Le Pain des Fleurs, made with quinoa, chestnuts and buckwheat.  They’re a French product, and more like a crispbread, with a very light texture.  They’re also gluten-free, and they were delish – I think you can find them at Whole Foods, but the Riega Foods web site has more stores.

4) Ubons BBQ Sauce – Okay, so barbecue sauce isn’t new per se, but I’d not seen this family-owned brand before, and the woman at the booth (“Princess Barbecue”) was so delightful, I had to share.  The family is from Yazoo City, Mississippi (how can you not love a town called Yazoo City?) and the sauce is really good  with a deep tomato-y and vinegar-y flavor, and I thank them for the bottle they gave me.  The family is rather famous for competition BBQ events and I can tell there’s a lot of passion for BBQ behind this product.  It’d be good on most anything — chicken, burgers, French fries, baked potatoes – and in a bloody mary!

5) Microgreens!  Yes, I LOVE microgreens!  If you saw my last post about Cuisinart resort in Anguilla, you know I learned a lot of hydroponic farming, and these tiny green beauties are all grown hydroponically (without soil; in just a water medium).  So I encountered the guys from Koppert Cress, based on Long Island and we played a fun game: they gave me a piece of microgreen, or cress, and I tried to identify it.  It was fun!  The Popcorn Shoots?  Shut up – tasted just like fresh sweet corn.  But it was the Szechuan Button that really blew my mind. I put a tiny piece of this tiny yellow flower on my tongue and let it sit for a few seconds.  Then – POW! – it was fizzy, almost Champagne-like, then it was spicy hot – like an acid trip going on in my mouth!  Completely cool!  They suggest using it in a cocktail, or on top of ice cream or sorbet – which would be awesome – or as a palate cleanser, in between courses.  You have to visit their gorgeous web site for more info – I’m a little obsessed with these guys.

6) Tequila Beer.  Yes!  Tequila (my spirit of choice, always) and beer ( love beer), living together, in the same bottle!  WHAT? And to make it even freakier (but in an good way), this Amigos beer comes from the U.K. Now, I give the U.K. plenty of credit for excellent beer, but tequila?  What the what??  And it was good!  Really good!  A little sweet (there’s a hint of lime in here), a little hoppy – overall a beautiful combination. Forgive me, but I cannot remember if they said it’s available in the U.S. yet or not, but if you see it, get it.

7) Kru Vodka.  Okay, so I’m a tequila girl when it comes to spirits, but vodka is my back-up.  And when I saw these cool aluminum bottles, I had to stop and learn more.  It’s distilled in Holland, and it’s got a really great, clean flavor.  And the packaging is kind of brilliant – these shatter-proof, reusable bottles keep the stuff super-chilled – and you can re-use it for water or whatever when you’re done.   It tastes like a super-premium vodka, but the price is really modest – I think it’s only like, $16 or $17 for the 750-ml size (a standard, full-size bottle).  Bravo!

8) Dazbog Coffee.  Yep, Russian coffee.  What?  Well, it’s the product of two Russian immigrants who, yes, fled their motherland for a better life – in the U.S.  So they started making coffee.  And it’s good.  Strong (as I would expect – I mean, nothing wimpy comes from Russia, right?) and rich.  They have their own coffee shops in some U.S. locations (Colorado, Wyoming, Maryland), and they said they might have a shop in the Chicago area soon (can they take on my beloved Intelligentsia?).  Their colorful, bold packaging drew me to their booth, but once I got the whole Russian thing, I had to know more.  I’d definitely buy this at retail.

Okay, so there’s the top eight things I ate (and drank).  If you went and saw, drank, tasted anything you loved, let me know about it!

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Hi Food Friends:  I’ve been away for a while — in the Caribbean!   It happens every single March:  I am overcome by an immediate and powerful craving for a get-away.  To a beach. With blue, blue water, soft sand, palm trees and colorful cocktails.  And since I’ve becom such an avid food freak, I also need a place that has FANTASTIC FOOD.  Not always so easy in the Caribbean, where most food has to be imported and the focus is often on other things.  But then.  I found it!   CuisinArt Resort, on the beautiful island of Anguilla!  Did I have to get up at 3:30 a.m. for a 5:45 a.m. flight to get there?  Yes. Did it take almost 12 hours to get there, door-to-door?  Yes.  But I am happy to report it exceeded every expectation — especially the food!  I mean, look at this place!

It is indeed owned by the Cuisinart company (reportedly the CEO wanted to build a private home on Anguilla but there was some mix-up with local laws and Cuisinart Resort is the result).  So – with an owner like Cuisinart, the place comes with certain expectations, right?  Especially when it comes to food and bev.   And I’m happy to report that it delivers .

First of all, many Caribbean island are made of nothing but molten lava, so they can’t grow fruits and vegetables.  So everything winds up getting imported from North America or Europe, via St. Maarten.  And it takes days to get it to these remote islands.  So to solve that, Cuisinart has its own 18,000-square-foot hydroponic farm, where fresh tomatoes, lettuces, peppers, eggplants, herbs, cucumbers, bok choy, microgreens and more are grown – and harvested daily.

Knowing how excited I was about this mash-up of Caribbean paradise with first-class food,  my fabulous travel agent, Julie, at Rex Travel, talked to the people at Cuisinart and and they very generously arranged for a private tour of the hydroponic gardens and a Japanese cooking class at their newest restaurant, Tokyo Bay!

After breakfast on Monday morning, we met up with Dr. Howard Resh, who is a world-renowned pioneer in hydroponic farming.  The man is extremely knowledgeable and has really changed the way that food can be grown locally in arid and often non-arable Caribbean islands.  If something is grown hydroponically it means it is grown in water, without actual soil.   So Dr. Resh and his team tend to hundreds of plants, feeding them with nutrient-filled ocean water that they desalinate through reverse osmosis.  Below you see Dr. Resh lifting one of the rafts that the hydroponic lettuces grow in.  They harvest 125 heads of tender, delicious butter lettuce a day for salads.

In fact, when we arrived in our junior suite, there was a lovely spread of meat and bread and tomato tapenade and a bowl of sweet, sweet cherry tomatoes from the hydroponic farm – SO GOOD!  I have to say, it was really fun to meet Dr. Resh and get a first-hand look at how hydroponic farming works.

But time was passing and we were due at our sushi-making class at 10:30!  We hadn’t even gotten to the beach yet and I was having so much fun!

We met Chef Ken Lin, who joined Cuisinart just recently, when it opened Tokyo Bay in early 2012, which serves authentic Japanese fare, including sushi and teriyaki dishes and they also have a teppanyaki table, where chefs cook on the flat-top  right in front of you.  We ate dinner there twice (once at the teppanyaki table and once we just had a sushi festival.  Oh, and those wok-seared edamame, with a fiery chili heat – divine!)

I was excited because I’d never made sushi, and I’m starting to like sushi more and more.  Chef Ken was super nice, and somehow we managed to turn out some pretty decent California rolls, using amazingly fresh and beautiful ingredients.  Then we made teriyaki sauce (soy sauce, mirin (sweet Japanese sake), chicken or vegetable stock and corn starch) and chose the protein we wanted (I picked salmon, Suz picked Wagyu beef).  Then we made the weirdest thing: mochi.  It’s this funny, super-sticky dough made of sweet rice flour, coconut milk, water and sugar.  You microwave it and stir the hell out of it and then, while its warm, shape it into dumplings or ravioli-type shapes and pop a piece of filing in the center (we used chocolate, green tea gelee and red bean paste) and wrap ‘er up,  Then you let them cool and you eat them!  That dough was one of the weirdest textures I’ve ever worked with — stretchy, hot, SO STICKY – but it was good!

While devouring the results of our class, we met Food & Beverage Director Fabio Petrone, who is one of the most charming staff members we encountered at Cuisinart.  So friendly, so funny, always wanting to know if we were enjoying ourselves, always offering us something or other.  He oozed charm and  hospitality!

After our lunch, we finally hit the beach.  Seriously?  This is real – it’s THIS beautiful.  The staff will set you up with an umbrella, lounge chairs and towels and chilled bottled water, and every afternoon about 3 or so, they stroll the beach with trays of sorbet and these amazing little pistachio biscotti.  Aahhhhh.

And I think you know we got THIRSTY on that beach!  My drink of choice wound up being the Frozen Mojito, made with tons and tons of fresh mint, from the hydroponic farm.  And it wasn’t over-sweet, either (the downfall of many a Mojito).  And the bartenders at the Beach Grill, Sam and Karen, were terrific (sometimes sharing “over makes” with us from the blender, so we could try different drinks).

I will say we took yet another cooking class on our last full day, with a lovely Caribbean chef named Diane, and we made a delectable lunch of Punpkin Soup, Creole Mahi Mahi (normally she uses Red Snapper, but that was out of season) and Pineapple Upside Down Cake, and while it was fun, it was a four-hour endeavor and we were kind of jonesin’ to get to the beach, but we did have fun.

Overall, I give Cuisinart Resort one  million stars, for getting it all right: a beautiful, beautiful resort on one of the most gorgeous and friendly Caribbean islands I’ve been to AND a fantastic focus on food.  You should go. Like, now.  Thank you to everyone at Cuisinart for a perfect vacation (which I paid for – full disclosure – with the exception of the private hydroponic tour and Japanese cooking class, thank you very much to Cuisinart for those two special experiences.)

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