Category: Resource

Kicking the Sugar Habit in 2017

I recently decided to cut back on sugar. Man, was I in for a surprise. Dude, EVERYTHING has sugar. And LOADS of it! I’m posting my videos hella late, but I’ll be keeping you guys in the loop. I fell off the wagon yesterday, but I’m doing better! Just watch. And lets talk on social media!

Thanksgiving Prep… Never Feel Overwhelmed Again!

"The Turkey" by Antony Quintano (CC)
“The Turkey” by Antony Quintano (CC)

For many home cooks, Thanksgiving dinner is one of the most stressful meals of the year.  This year, however, can be different thanks in part to these 7 Thanksgiving Cooking Hacks from the team at Chef Works, the leading supplier of culinary apparel for chefs and home cooks alike.

 

7 THANKSGIVING COOKING HACKS

1. Create a timeline and master grocery list

Cooking a meal for a lot of people can be quite the challenge. To help make the process easier, you can spread out parts of the meal and cook it throughout the days leading up to it. By the time your Thanksgiving guests arrive, you’ll have everything ready sans the extra stress and clean up.

Start by making yourself a cooking timeline and a master grocery list several days before the big day. Not only will this allow you more time to enjoy your family and friends, but it also gives you wiggle room for mistakes and ensures that you won’t be making last minute grocery trips because you forgot an essential ingredient.

 

2. Prep ahead of time

One of the biggest challenges on Thanksgiving Day is juggling multiple dishes at the same time.  Instead of trying to do everything at once, take a look at your menu and see what can be done ahead of time including:

  • Pie dough. Make your dough far ahead of time and freeze it. That way all you have to do is thaw it in the refrigerator overnight and you have homemade piecrusts to impress everyone the next day.
  • Turkey stock and gravy. You can easily go to the butcher and get all the turkey extras you need (necks, wings, etc.) to make your homemade stock that you will use for stuffing and side dishes and freeze it weeks in advance. The same goes for gravy, which is usually the most stressful part to make with everyone breathing down your neck anyway. Making gravy ahead of time gives you plenty of time to pay complete attention to the process (we all know that stepping away from constantly stirring the gravy can mean disaster) and give you time to strain it so that you don’t have bits of anything in it. Plus, gravy freezes well, so all you have to do is reheat it Thanksgiving day.
  • Casseroles, soups, and roasted vegetables. When creating your menu, consider items that can be done a day or two ahead of time then reheated just prior to the big meal including corn, green bean, and/or sweet potato casseroles; creamy squash or carrot soups; and roasted root vegetables and/or Brussels sprouts.  And if refrigerator space is limited, simply store them in an ice filled cooler until they are ready to be reheated.
  • Prepping vegetables. Cut down on the prep time Thanksgiving Day by chopping all of your vegetables, peeling all of the potatoes, and sauté the stuffing ingredients ahead of time.
  • Add frozen butter to the dough. Adding cold butter to your pastry or biscuit dough rather than melting it or softening it to make it easier to mix in is what makes the end result deliciously soft and flaky. However, “cutting in” cold butter is the ultimate pain. Instead, use a cheese grater to grate frozen butter into your flour.
  • Skip peeling the potatoes. My family doesn’t serve mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving, BUT… One of the most tedious tasks that usually ends up with peels flying all over the kitchen no matter how careful you are, peeling the Thanksgiving potatoes is not necessary. Boil your potatoes with the peels on, then once they’re cooked, “shock” them by dunking them in ice-cold water and the peels will slide right off when you rub your hands over them.

3. Cook your turkey outdoors

We all know how precious stovetop and oven space is before holiday meals.  This year, consider cooking your turkey on the grill or in an industrial fryer (grilled turkey with citrus-herb salt and sage butter here).  Not only does this free up a large amount of room in the oven for side dishes and desserts, the smoky flavor from the grill will be a welcomed surprise for all of your guests. And who doesn’t love fried meats?

 

4. Tape all your recipes to your cabinet doors

Printing out all of your recipes and taping them to your cabinet doors not only gives you a visual of what still need to be done, it’ll save precious minutes as you won’t be searching for recipes online, in cookbooks, and elsewhere. Plus, this makes it easier for others to jump in the kitchen and help.

 

5. Ran out of butter but have heavy cream?

It’s crunch time and you suddenly realize that you’re out of butter.  No need to panic, however, as you can make your own as long as you have a jar, heavy cream and salt. Watch this video to learn how.

 

6. Have your emergency contacts ready

Okay so Thanksgiving is rarely an absolute disaster, but there are definitely moments of panic and second-guessing throughout the day. Have this list of holiday hotlines on hand if you need a quick answer about your Thanksgiving dinner preparations. From turkey preparations to how to store and what to do with leftovers, these hotlines can help you out in a pinch (especially if you’re the stubborn kind who doesn’t like to ask family for help).

 

7. Don’t forget about your slow cooker

Your oven will be getting a workout and you might be panicking about getting all your dishes heated in time for dinner. Slow cookers are an excellent and out-of-the-way cooking option for veggies, mashed potatoes, or cranberries. There are plenty of Thanksgiving recipes for slow cooker casseroles, so don’t let this space-saver go to waste!

 

I you have tips for how to make Thanksgiving dinner prep much easier, send them to me via twitter or facebook! Talk to you soon. Until then remember life is good; eat it up!

Never Clean Your Grill Again… Cookina Reusable Grilling Sheets

courtesy of 5WPR
courtesy of 5WPR

When I first heard about Cookina Reusable Grilling Sheets I was really curious. I love using parchment paper and liners when baking; it saves so much time in the cleanup process. I seriously hate doing dishes. The dishwasher is one of my favorite kitchen appliances, but certain items aren’t dishwasher safe– namely the grill. And since cleaning the grill can be cumbersome, I’m so grateful to have these Cookina Reusable Grilling Sheets to avoid that messy process.

When the sheets came in the mail (sent from Cookina’s reps) I was super excited. I thought the packaging was really cool. Not the box per se, but the fact that it comes rolled up and with a reusable metal ring to help you store it neatly and discreetly among your other grilling accessories as well as a scouring pad to help you clean it.

After grilling chicken wings, chicken tenderloins, sausages and vegetables, I have to say that i’m pretty pleased with the sheets. While I was unable to get grill marks on my food (I’ll keep you posted on whether it happens on the next use), the food was evenly cooked. And afterward the grill grate was still perfectly clean.

My only unanswered question is about how long the sheets last: how many uses one can get out of one sheet? I think they’ll last at least an entire season of grilling if not longer. Either way, the price is worth sparing yourself the grief of cleaning the grill grate for the time being.

I would absolutely recommend the Cooking Reusable Grilling Sheets. They are available at Home Depots, Ace Hardware and the Cookina website. I’m so glad to have the sheets. I’m not a grill master, but I imagine this is going to make grilling meats and veggies that much simpler.

How-To: Big Brunch/Tiny Kitchen

In all the confusion, I took no photos. This one is from Clemens & Vogelsang (Lumberjack Breakfast)
In all the confusion, I took no photos. Clemens Vogelsang (Lumberjack Breakfast)

This year I celebrated my birthday all weekend in small patches. I didn’t hit a landmark number like 21, 30 or 40. So I thought that hosting something at home would be an easy, low pressure option. When I hosted my “Globeleza Party” for Brazilian Carnaval in February, the hardest part was getting our tiny apartment ready for our 20 guests. Of course I worried that people wouldn’t like my feijoada, but I wasn’t stressed about food prep– I knew exactly what to do.

This year I decided to cook my favorite meal of the day: brunch. I kept the menu simple, but for some reason I STILL got behind. I invited everyone over for a 1:30pm meal followed by pool time. BUT we didn’t actually eat until after 4pm– so we missed the sun at the pool. I was so embarrassed. Thank goodness for my love who managed the grill and for my girl Gretta who kind of took over in the kitchen while I hosted my guests. Apparently I can drink and cook at the same time, but I cannot TALK and cook at the same time. Ah ha!

Anyway, this experience reiterated some things I knew all along, but clearly didn’t adequately consider for this event. Key learnings: (1) Timing is Everything. (2) You WILL Need an Assistant.

I knew that I needed to do SOME food prep ahead of time. I purchased the ingredients early on Saturday morning and that night I chopped five pounds of potatoes. But I didn’t anticipate that everything else would take forever. Cooking brunch for me and my love takes NO TIME. Cooking for 12 people is a bit more. I should’ve known this, but the concept clearly didn’t register completely. So this is what I will do next time:

MENU (recipes coming soon):

french toast

roasted herbed potatoes

assorted chicken sausages

roasted mini bell peppers

spicy scrambled eggs

scrambled eggs with veggies (mild)

mixed fruit

 

The Night Before:

  • wash and chop potatoes
  • wash and prep peppers (remove stems, seeds and such)
  • wash fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, mint)
  • thaw veggies for the scrambled eggs (that makes it easier)
  • slice bread (the bakery should be able to do that for you at purchase, but just in case they can’t)
  • chop fruit (remove stems, seeds and such)
  • PLAN where you will serve the food–  I generally set up the food in the kitchen so people can serve themselves and all other space in the small apartment can be used for seating and dining

The Morning of Event:

FIRST begin your potatoes

  • 1(a) herb and spice them with olive oil
  • 1(b) place in oven for roasting (the thinner the layer, the faster they will cook)

SECOND fire up grill and cook sausages (you’ll need the oven and stove top for other things)

THIRD mix the fruit in special bowl and add any special ingredients if you choose [like fresh mint], cover and re-refrigerate

FOURTH roast your mini peppers

FIFTH begin your french toast

  • 5(a) make your french toast batter in a big bowl
  • 5 (b) soak your bread (multiple batches at once)– I had to use disposable roasting trays to accommodate all the bread
  • 5(c) grab every surface you can cook on and heat butter for cooking– I had a nonstick pan on each eye of my stove (i should have also used my electric cooktop too)
  • 5(d) as each slice is cooked, place and stack it in a roasting pan

SIXTH once the potatoes are done, turn the oven down to 200 degrees (or as low as 150), cover and place all cooked food (so far) in the oven to keep warm until you are ready to serve.

SEVENTH begin your eggs

  • 7(a) set up two nonstick pans on the stove
  • 7(b) whisp both batches of eggs together with your fresh herbs
  • 7(c) with a little olive oil and salt, saute mixed veggies in one pan
  • 7(d) when veggies are done, pour half the eggs over the veggies and scramble
  • 7(e) add cayenne or whatever spicy ingredient you choose the remaining eggs, whisp again, then scramble in second pan.

Yes, it seems like common sense, but without an exact game plan, you might find yourself behind the eightball as guests begin to arrive. Especially if some of your friends come early “to help”. And remember, you don’t want the food to be kept warming in the oven for a long time– the texture of breads and meats will start to seem stale. So it is important that you time it right. I say about 1.5 to 2 hours ahead of time, put your potatoes in the oven. They can warm for a while and still be good. 

I hope that these key learnings will make your big brunch more successful than mine. I’m looking forward to a do-over pretty soon! Anyway, happy dining. Remember: life is good, so eat it up!

 

The Coffee Nerd… My Official Coffee Handbook/Cookbook

image001I’ve never been a morning person, but I have an unconscious routine each morning, which unfortunately includes hitting the snooze button at least once. I get up, I brush my teeth and head straight to the kitchen. Not to grab breakfast, but to begin a completely necessary ritual: My Daily Coffee.

 

I don’t start my day without a cup of joe. Whether I’m in the mood for instant (I’m a fan of Starbucks VIA) or espresso (I have a kettle for that), I start that process almost as soon as I wake up. The best is when my love is home and gets the morning going with the french press. Good times.

 

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a book that details everything I could ever need to know about something I already love! The Coffee Nerd should be call the official coffee handbook. It’s perfect for those like me who love it and even those who don’t really get the big whoop. Those people would be surprised at how many different flavor categories there are in the bean world. Not to mention all the different drinks you can make!

 

This book lays out flavor palettes and how they are affected by the various roasting techniques. It even gets into all the different ways to brew it– including all the fancy shmancy beverages you see on coffeeshop menus. There is even a glossary for quick reference in the future.

 

If you are even the least bit curious about what makes a great cup of coffee, this book would be an excellent addition to your cookbook collection. While, no, it is not technically a “cookbook”, it does offer measurements for grinds-to-water ratios (milk, cream, etc)– so you can experiment at home. Or you can read up about something and go let a barista (a professional coffee maker) do what they do best. Your choice!

 

And if you’re like me, pick up this book and find a whole new bag of reasons to love coffee. You’ll be able to confirm what you suspected about it and discover things you didn’t know.

 

Its an easy read because it gets right to the point! Much like a good cup of coffee, it will energize you to get out there.


Author Ruth Brown, an Australian-born journalist and writer, currently works as the arts and entertainment editor at The Brooklyn Paper, and previously worked as an editor and reporter at Willamette Week in Portland, Oregon—a city known for its coffee.

The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook… Fancy Eats for Everyone!

Cooking a meal that satisfies everyone at the table is hard enough. Harder still, is to prepare something that transports them to another era. That is exactly what the writer of the Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook wanted to create; a resource for making meals that invoke images of an english manor and compel the epicure to affect Victorian manners.

cover
cover

Downton Abbey is one of my favorite shows. I’ve followed it ever since it debuted here in the U.S. And the dinner scenes featuring the Crawley family are some of my favorites. My father also loves the show. His favorite character is the kitchen maid turned assistant cook Daisy, for specifically the dynamic of her relationship with Mrs. Pattmore, the head cook. I’m partial to the storyline of Lady Mary and her many suitors.

Anyway, in nearly each episode there is mention of some delicious dish which I have either never heard of or never tried. And now, finally, there is a way for me to experience the grandeur that is dining at Downtown Abbey. The Unofficial Cookbook is not part of the PBS experience, but it is a nice way to supplement the DVDs, books, jewelry and other merchandise surrounding the show.

Author Emily Ansara Baines has worked as a professional baker and caterer, most recently in New York City. Like me her favorite show is Downton Abbey. And in my opinion, she has created the ultimate in gourmet experiences for home cooks who seek to emulate their favorite show. I tried a few recipes and I actually danced in my kitchen for each one. However, this is NOT a book for an inexperienced cook. For some of these recipes I’d have to call my Cousin Chef (deets on him coming soon) for some help. So if you’re not someone who is used to cooking very involved meals, with lots of detailed steps and you don’t know how to prep veggies like leeks and artichokes– you may find this book a little too advanced.

Dishes like vichyssoise, canapes, crumpets, osso buco, beef  wellington and such… Just think about that.

Anyway, the book is broken into multiple courses for upstairs and down, with recipes inspired by every character! And its not just sit down dinners, there are recipes for hors d’oeuvres, bites for tea time and more!

I’m so glad to have this book in my arsenal. My plan is to hold on to it and try a few more recipes to tide me over during the hiatus. And then when Season 6, the final season of Downton Abbey premieres, I’ll host a dinner party of at least five courses! Its going to be a jolly good time! Cheers!

Dadgum That’s Good!… A Barbecue’s Best Friend

a review of John McLemore’s latest cookbook “Dadgum That’s Good! And Healthy”

dadgum FINALFRONTCOVER (2)When this book came my way, I had no idea how things would go. With no grill, zero experience with a smoker and minimal comfort deep frying foods—I was convinced that I would either ruin the food or severely injure myself (and maybe both). To my surprise and delight—neither horror occurred. In fact, I was lauded for my” mad skillz on the grillz”…. (yes, that’s a direct quote).

John McLemore has written more than a couple of cookbooks. But this time he decided to take some of his family’s signature dishes to a new level with healthy eating as the main focus. He proves that you can have an amazingly flavorful meal and still maintain your figure!

In flipping through the book you may not immediately notice, but majority of the recipes require a smoker. A VAST majority. So unless you own or intend to own a smoker—this ain’t the book for you. However, there are some good recipes for grilling and frying—and that was the direction I chose.  You may also want to make sure your kitchen is stocked with a few other tools as well. A food processor is not listed as a necessity, but I noticed that this was needed for more than one recipe. So just take your time looking through to make sure you can actually make the dishes.

Flipping through you may also appreciate the ground that the book covers. From details about smoking temps and times to the nutrition. In addition to calorie count for each recipe, he also includes tips for how to make some of the recipes even healthier. I can dig that!

My homie DJ Bigg H threw a Fall Shindig and I knew this would be the perfect opportunity to try a few of the recipes I was set to review. He has a slow-cook grill as well as very cool family and friends. I chose three recipes; one vegan, one vegetarian and of course, MEAT.  I won’t pretend there are many vegan options but I was pleased to see grilled brussel sprouts alongside salsa verde skirt steak. I decided to go with grilled balsamic portabella mushrooms, grilled zucchini and jerk chicken. Not exactly cheap eats, but more affordable than the brisket I considered.

I almost never follow recipes exactly, giving everything I prepare a little DineWithDani flavor. But for this, I wanted to remain true to John McLemore’s vision. So instead of settling for the dried rosemary in my cabinet or the frozen chicken thighs in my freezer, I bought fresh everything at the market on the morning of the barbecue.

The prep wasn’t hard or lengthy really. The marinades were almost too easy. Authentic Jamaican jerk has a reputation for being laborious. While preparing the marinades, I’ll admit that I was underwhelmed with what I tasted. But I let the jerk chicken and balsamic mushrooms marinate while I got dressed. Shortly thereafter, I packed my icy cooler and got on the road. The whole way driving I was thinking, ‘please God let this be good. I don’t want these people to think I can’t cook.’

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The Secret of My Success… Sweet Auburn Desserts

Sweet Auburn Desserts by Chef Sonya Jones

This was the first cookbook I was ever asked to review and I took that very seriously. So I’ve had the book for a long time and I’ve tried several of the recipes. And I have to say this book is the REAL DEAL. If you want to learn how to make moist pound cakes, southern style banana pudding, bread puddings, pie crusts and classic cookies– you’ll want to invest in this book. Sweet Auburn Desserts.

The author, Sonya Jones, and her bakery on Auburn Avenue in downtown Atlanta are known for a delicious sweet potato cheese cake. Yes, you read that right. And yes, it is everything you think it is! This treat was my introduction to the Sweet Auburn Bakery.

While hanging out at the Sweet Auburn Festival, I heard a young man yell “Girl, you know you want this!” I turned my head laughing, sure he wasn’t talking to me. He was. But he was right. He was holding up a slice of a dessert. I rarely give in to my sweet tooth, but I found him so funny that I decided to see what he was talking about.

It turned out that his mother owned the bakery he was sitting in front of and she had made this particular dessert, for which she is “famous”. Of course I questioned what he meant by famous. He then showed me photos of his mother with all manner of celebrity; politicians, musicians, actors, etc. I asked if I could have a sample. I was denied. As there were no samples, I bought a $5 slice of the famous sweet potato cheesecake. I ate it about 30 minutes later while walking around the festival.

The thing is, I’ve never really been that into desserts. Of course I like something sweet, but I’ll choose a chocolate martini over chocolate cake any day. I like pies (especially cherry and sweet potato), but cakes never really moved me. And cheesecake only served to confuse me. Its cheese, its cake, but kinda like pie. I left it alone usually. Only once in my life have I ever had that ecstatic experience with a dessert that so many women describe, but that came many years later. Another post.

My experience with Sonya Jones’ sweet potato cheesecake was like no other. I ate my slice slowly. I even considered saving half of it for later, but I proved completely undisciplined by eating the remainder in my car. I sat there wondering when I’d return to Auburn Avenue. I had to have more. I had to share it with my mom. I went back to purchase a few more things. And I fell in love.

A few months later, I got an offer from the publisher to review her cookbook. And here we are. If you want to impress your friends and family– GET. THIS. BOOK. My family thinks I’ve mastered the pound cake. I’m constantly asked to make them. And I don’t mind!!

One tip: Read the entire recipe before beginning. Some desserts require two recipes; one for the crust and the other for the filling. I wish you happy baking. Thank you Pelican Publishing! I look forward to more!!

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