Tip of the Week

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Dessert: Quick & Easy Pumpkin Pie from Scratch

This is the time of year that I look forward to Pumpkin Pie; it's my favorite dish at Thanksgiving.  There's just something about Pumpkin and Cinnamon that excites my taste buds, but I'm not a big fan of the pie crust. So when I make pumpkin pie from scratch, I skip the traditional pie crust entirely and make a quick graham cracker with a twist crust.  This really simplifies making pie from scratch and you can easily impress your friends and family with a homemade pie.  Oh, and I love using my food processor for this recipe.

1 1/2 cups of graham cracker cookies - ground (preferable homemade)
1/2 - 3/4 cups of pecans - ground
1 tbsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1/2 cup of brown sugar (if you want a sweeter crust)
about 1 stick of melted butter

2 eggs, beaten
16 oz of pumpkin puree (preferably homemade)
3/4 cup brown sugar
pinch of salt
2-3 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 cups half-and-half

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2.  Combine all ingredients, expect butter in a food processer and process until ground crumbs.  See picture.
3.  Slowly add butter and mix by hand or in the food processor until crumbs start to combine.
4.  Grease pie dish and press crumbs into the bottom and sides of dish.  Bake for about 5-10 minutes in the oven.  Do not let the edges burn or become too dark.
5.  Combine all filling ingredients in a bowl and mix.
6.  Pour into cooled pie crust.  Bake 15 minutes.
7.  Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for about 45 minutes or until the center is set and knife in the center comes out clean.
8.  Allow to cool and serve.  Can be made a day ahead

The edges turned out slightly 'burned'

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fried Fish Sandwich

Every once in a while I like to batter some cod and make one of two choices - fish tacos or fish & chips.  This time I created a little twist as I was inspired by an episode of Sandwich King on the Food Network.  Now I have three choices when I batter cod - tacos, fish & chips or sandwich.


Sandwich & Fish Batter:
2 portions of cod (any size of your choice)
1 bottle of beer - preferable dark beer
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
pinch of salt
Spice mixture - Ancho-Chili powder, Chiptole Chili powder, Chili powder, Paprika, Cumin, and a pinch of Cayenne (all to taste or about 1 tsp each)
Salt & Pepper
Canola Oil
2-3 radishes - sliced thinly
Green leaf lettuce
Fresh baked bread, sliced - Pugliese or Sourdough works best

Tartar Sauce:
2-3 Dill pickles, chopped (you can substitute Bread & Butter or Sweet if you prefer)
1 teaspoon capers, chopped
1 cup Mayonnaise
1 tsp ground mustard powder
juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt & Pepper

1. Salt and Pepper your cod portions.  Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven.
2.  Mix all dry ingredients for the batter, then add beer.  Whisk until blended and no lumps.
3.  Oil should be about 350 degrees.  Dip cod 1 portion at a time in the batter and carefully place in oil.  Fry, flipping once until golden brown.  If you use a dark beer the batter will be darker.
4.  Drain both fried pieces on a rack placed in a baking tray.  (see picture)
5.  Meanwhile mix all ingredients for Tartar sauce.  Allow to chill in the refrigerator.
6.  Slice bread and radishes.
7.  Assemble sandwich and enjoy!

A side of fries

Salt & Pepper your Cod portions

The Batter with spices

Homemade Tartar Sauce

Hot Oil! - Use Caution

Tray with rack to drain fried foods - Works great!

Sliced fresh bread

Assembling the Sandwich - radishes on the left, Tartar sauce on the right

Sandwich and fries - Dinner is served

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Deep Dish Pizza

I always make pizza at home these days, but do not normally go for a deep dish pizza.  I find deep dish pizza to be a bit more "work" than just making my normal pizza dough.

Here's what I used to bake my deep dish pizza. 

Deep Dish Pizza Kit (find at online retailers)

For the pizza dough you can find recipes for specific deep dish pizza, but I just use my normal pizza dough and add a little medium or course grind cornmeal.  The cornmeal gives the dough a little more of a bite or crunch and that's what I like about a deep dish pizza.

Add toppings, sauce and cheese (not in that order) - and the pizza is ready for the oven.

Deep Dish Pizza dough

Time to eat!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Baked Banana-Kahlua French Toast - 2 Recipes

This recipe came about because I had some leftover loaves of Banana-Kahlua bread in my freezer.  Freshly baked this version of traditional banana bread is delicious, but I wanted something different.  I've tried stuffing the bread slices and making french toast that way, but without marscarpone or cream cheese this wasn't an option.  My next idea was baked french toast and viola - a yummy dessert recipe and no food wasted.  So there are two recipes, one for the banana bread (which is great on it's own) and the baked french toast.

Banana-Kahlua Bread:

Ingredients -
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 stick of butter at room temperature or 1/2 cup of applesauce
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 ripe bananas
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup kahula
1/2 cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet or dark)
1/2 cups nuts (walnuts work best), optional

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Mash ripe bananas in a bowl and add buttermilk, kahula, and vanilla.  Mix until combined
3.  In a separate bowl add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Whisk to combine.
4.  In another bowl, whisk sugar, eggs and butter together.
5.  Combine flour mixture and banana mixture slowly to the sugar mixture.  Mix until combined.
6.  Add chocolate chips and nuts (if desired). Stir until combined, do not over stir.
7.  In a greased loaf pan, add half of the batter.  Makes two loaves of bread.
8.  Bake loaves for about 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean.
9.  Remove from oven and cool.  Then remove from pan.
10.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  To freeze a loaf, allow to cool then wrap in foil and place in a ziplock bag.  Keeps in the freezer for 2-3 months.  Defrost completely before serving.

Baked French Toast:

Ingredients -
1 loaf of Banana-Kahula Bread, sliced
6 eggs
3 cups whole milk
2-3 teaspoons ground cinnamon (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Instructions -
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Grease a large baking dish and place sliced bread in the dish.  Layer the slices.
3.  Mix the other ingredients together.  Pour over the slices.
4.  Bake in the oven for about 40-45 minutes.

Tip of the Month: Substituting Ingredients when cooking

I am finally able to sit down and post my November tip, though it's a bit late when I usually post at the beginning of the month.  Since Thanksgiving is just days away, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about cooking and substituting ingredients.  The Fall and Winter are always times of year that I bake more, partly because I don't like to have the oven on when it's hot outside.  On cooler days, the oven can warm the house and I don't mind that.

There are many reasons why you might want to substitute ingredients in a recipe, here are the one's I find to be more common, but by-no-means all of them:
       1.  Cannot find the specific ingredient
       2.  Do not have the ingredient in your pantry (and do not want to go to the store)
       3.  Want to include a healthier ingredient
       4.  Do not like a specific ingredient
       5.  Allergic or food-sensitive to a specific ingredient

No matter what your reasoning is, let's figure out how to substitute and not drastically alter a recipe or the flavor.  For baking you can easily substitute ingredients like butter and oil and you do not need to change measurements.  If you have a cup of butter or oil, substitute 1 cup of unsweetened applesauce or cooked pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix).  I've used applesauce in place of butter and oil in many baking recipes, and just recently tried substituting pumpkin for butter in a whoopee pie recipe.  The pumpkin was a great substitute, especially since I was making the whoopee pie's for Halloween.   Applesauce and pumpkin make cookies, muffins, breads and the like moist and are great choices for vegans.  I haven't come up with a great alternative to eggs, if you are looking for a truly  vegan substitution.

Creamed Pumpkin and sugar

Whoopee pie with pumpkin substituted for butter

Now I wouldn't recommend substituting applesauce or pumpkin if you are making any pie crusts or pastry dough.  For those I still use butter and I might try coconut oil, but that will be for another day.

For cooking, I substitute or exclude ingredients depending on the what the recipe is.  For instance, I recently tried Giada's Orecchiette with Roasted Fennel recipe, but did not have any sun-dried tomatoes.  I could have substituted purely sun-dried tomatoes that were not in oil, however I did not have those either.  So to make sure I still had a tomato flavor in the dish, I simply added about a cup or so (to taste) of marinara sauce.  The result was fantastic and I think I might always make this recipe with the substitution.   In other cases you can substitute different cuts of meats or even types of meat.  I often substitute chicken breast for recipes that call for chicken thighs or drumsticks.  Other times, when I cannot find an ingredient, for instance harissa paste, I found a recipe to make my own and used that as a substitute.  Sometimes if can be a simple substitution baby bella mushrooms for button mushrooms or vegetable stock for chicken stock.

Substituting ingredients should not be difficult and remember it is possible to substitute, just make sure you like what you are replacing.  You can find some of my "experiments" with substituting Hemp Seed Here and Here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Caramel Coloring: Is it in your food?

Caramel coloring is found in many food items you consume, as well as your pet's food.  From name brands to generic you will find 'caramel' listed as an ingredient.  Traditional caramel, if you were to make it at home, involves melting sugar until it is brown and thickened.  'Caramel' found in your food is a manufactured chemical of sugar with ammonia and sulfites, resulting in 2-methylimidazole and 4 methylimidazole.(1)

Studies have shown that lab mice and/or rats develop cancers from ingesting 4 methylimidazole.  Here is a link for one research study published in the Archives of Toxicology.  Though:

            A consumer would have to consume well over a thousand cans of soda a day
            to reach the doses administered in the studies that have shown links to cancer
            in rodents," the FDA tells WebMD. (2)

However, it is not just soda that you find this 'caramel coloring', so I believe that consumers may be ingesting more than they may think.  The only way you know if you are ingesting it (but not the amount you are ingesting) is to read your food ingredient labels.  Other research indicates that over 15,000 cancers are associated with 4 methylimidazole, though I have not spent that much time locating these studies.

California has listed 4 methylimidazole to the list of known carcinogens resulting in Soda Companies to change the formula for developing this chemical. (3)  So the next time you pick up a can of soda you can expect that the caramel coloring has been changed today, but do you still want this chemical in your food?  In your pet's food?  Do we really need this to add a color to our food?  Now that you have some information you can decide for yourself.

(1) FDA Urged to Prohibit Carcinogenic "Caramel Coloring" by The Center for Science in the Public Interest. pub: February 16, 2011. <http://www.cspinet.org/new/201102161.html> Accessed November 1, 2012.

(2) Cancer in Colas' Caramel Coloring?. by Daniel J DeNoon. pub. March 5 2012. WebMD Health News. <http://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20120305/cancer-in-colas-caramel-coloring> Accessed November 1, 2012.

(3) Coke, Pepsi to change caramel coloring recipes. Associated Press. pub. March 9 2012; FOX News. <http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/03/09/coke-pepsi-to-change-caramel-coloring-recipes/>.  Accessed November 1, 2012.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Time Change

Did you know that Daylight Savings Time began during World War I?  The idea was originally mentioned by Benjamin Franklin in 1784 and proposed in 1895 by George Vernon Hudson.

Daylight Savings Time, though sometimes referred to by other names, is used internationally, mostly among Northern Hemisphere countries  Check out this image.  That's not to say that every nation or state actually uses it.  For example Arizona and Hawaii are two states that do not follow the time change.  In Australia, Queensland does not follow either and the reasons I have heard as to why Queensland does not include the cows would become confused and the drapes would fade.  Whatever the reason is why one should follow or not, doesn't always matter because they are pros and cons to time change.  Our "spring ahead" and "fall back" is meant to give us more sunlight hours in the evenings and less light in the morning.  But is the the 'real truth'?  With the time change occurring later and later in the fall, I'm not so sure.

What do you think of time change?  Just don't forget to change your clocks today!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween!  Last year I shared some Halloween Safety Tips here.  And even made crochet-felted witch hats for my costume.   This year I think Halloween will be celebrated very differently depending on where you live (and what team you supported in the World Series).  Some of us are cleaning up or returning home after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast; some will be celebrating the San Francisco Giants World Series win; some will be preparing for the storm that will be arriving in California and others will be celebrating with candy and parties.  How will you be celebrating (or not) this Halloween?

For me, a quiet night and some baking will be how I celebrate Halloween.  The dogs each have a new toy and a bully stick from Canine Caviar to entertain them.

Canine Caviar Bully Sticks

Mini-glass pumpkins at Palo Alto's Great Glass Pumpkin Sale

Pears: A Forgotten Fall Fruit?

Pears, seem to be an under-appreciated Autumn fruit compared to Apples.  There is more variety to pears than one might think from crunchy to soft and tart to sweet.  Here are quite a few of the more common pears you might see in the stores:


I find Bartlett Pears great for snacking, while Anjou and Bosc are great for salads and baking.  A great dessert recipe for pears and wine are poached pears.  My favorite recipe for baking Pears is the Pear-Almond Tart, which I recently baked with some Bartlett Pears I had left in my fruit basket.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Pumpkin-Spice Latte at Home

Fall is probably my favorite time of year.  I love the colors of the leaves changing, the pumpkins in the fields and the chill in the air.  It's also the time of year that I indulge in a Pumpkin-Spice Latte at Starbucks, however this year Starbucks ran out of their "syrup" for this seasonal Latte.  So I was on a quest to recreate my own at home as my past attempts failed.  You can find and use Pumpkin-Spice syrups that are available during the holidays at stores such as BevMo.  I tried a couple brands, but found that I did not get the pumpkin or spice flavor that I love in a Pumpkin-Spice Latte, plus the ingredients are for the most part, artificial anyways.  I have also looked at many different recipes for coffee, lattes and the like.  Finally, I think I have come-up with a good alternative for creating my own Pumpkin-Spice Latte.


(for 2 cups of coffee/latte)
1/3 cup of purred pumpkin
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated works best)
1/2 tsp pumpkin-spice (if desired)
1 cup of milk
Brown sugar to taste (I used about 1-2 tablespoon)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
About 2 cups of brewed coffee or espresso

1. Mix pumpkin and spices together.
2. Froth milk with a milk-frother, such as Bodum.
3. Combine coffee and pumpkin mixture, whisk.  If you do not want any "bits" from the pumpkin you may want to strain it.
4. In a coffee mug pour in the coffee-pumpkin mixture and add sugar to taste.  Then add in frothed milk.
Serve and enjoy!

The ingredients & tools

Pumpkin-Spice mixture

Frothed Milk

Time to Enjoy

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Quick & Easy Mulled Apple Cider

I love the smell of Apple Cider and the spices that are used to make mulled apple cider.  Most that I have tasted are too sweet for me, so I decided to try making my own and make my house smell like Autumn in the process.  Almost anyone that purchases the necessary ingredients and follows a recipe can make their own mulled apple cider.  Let's start cooking!

1 gallon of good quality Apple Cider (unsweetened)
8 packets of Mulling Spices

1.  Bring Apple Cider and spices to a boil in a pot.  Steep for about 5 minutes.  Remove spice packets and serve.

You may use the individual spice packets to make smaller quantities if desired.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fall Gardening

By the time Autumn comes around, most gardens have been harvested and plants removed to make room for winter crops.  For me, I do not stick to a strict gardening calendar since the weather can be unpredictable.  At this moment I still have tomatoes, peppers, a few cucumbers and my cantaloupe growing in my garden.  The weather cooled down and a brief storm passed over Northern California a few weeks ago, then the temperatures rose back into the 80's and now we had a very cold storm pass over that brought snow to the Sierra's.  The 80 degree weather was plenty warm for my tomatoes and peppers to ripen, though a bit slower.  Once the nighttime temperatures stay in the low 50's and do not get above 75 degrees during the daytime, then I will pick whatever is left on my plants before digging them up.  So when I heard the weather predictions of this storm I picked the last of my pepper and tomato crop, even the green tomatoes.

Here's a tip on ripening your own green tomatoes, if you are tired of fried green tomatoes, just put them in a paper bag and allow to ripen.  I will tell you that ripened green tomatoes in a bag are not quite as good as freshly picked vine-ripened tomatoes, but they are still better than conventional tomatoes.  You can make a tomato soup with your leftover crop, check out what I did last year HERE.

Unfortunately I do not have a greenhouse of my own to grow some vegetables year round, so I have to pay attention to weather patterns.  My herbs, for the most part will continue to grow through the winter, except my basil, which I will harvest before the first frost.  I replanted my Swiss chard so that it can grow during the winter and I also added some blueberry plants to my garden.

Swiss Chard


Blueberry Plant

One more Cantaloupe on the vine

The last of my summer vegetable crop

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Brunch at my House

Brunch is not a norm around my house, but some weekends and holidays it's just worth the extra work.  I'm not a sweet person when it comes to breakfast items or brunch, so pancakes, waffles and french toast are not brunch items for me.  There's nothing wrong with them, I just find them to be great dessert snacks.  Brunch entails choices such as frittata's, quiches, omelets, potato hash or similar dishes and oatmeal.

Some of my favorite frittata's I have previously blogged about.  I even tried making poached eggs.  And for omelets I love Spinach & Cheddar or a great Huevos Rancheros.  Lately I have been enjoying the last of my bell pepper crop and have made a potato hash, sometimes called "country potatoes" at restaurants   I love to kick mine up a notch.  Here's an idea of my recipe, which constantly changes.


5-8 Red or Yukon potatoes (If using Fingerling use more)
1-2 Green bell peppers
1-2 Red bell peppers
1-2 Small Serrano, Fresno and/or jalapeno pepper (seeded and veined if you do not want it hot-spicy)
1 large or 2 small red onions (yellow onions also work)
3-4 cloves of garlic (more or less depending on how much garlic you like)
A dash of chili powder, cayenne, cumin and/or paprika to taste
Salt and Pepper


1. Wash and dice potatoes to the size you prefer.
2.  Add potatoes to a pot of water, add salt and bring to boil.  Cook until potatoes are tender or you can easily pierce with a fork.
3.  Wash and dice all the peppers and onions, while potatoes are cooking.
4.  Saute onions and peppers in another pan with a little olive oil.  When onions start to become translucent add garlic and saute for another 1 or 2 minutes.
5.  Drain potatoes when they are finished.  Now you can cook the potatoes with the pepper mixture in the oven or you can cook the potatoes in an iron skillet.
6.  If using an iron skillet, add a little olive oil and potatoes.  Allow potatoes to get crispy, stirring occasionally   Add spices to taste, salt and pepper.  Then add the pepper mixture.

Serve with scrambled eggs or a fried egg.  I love adding a bit of cayenne to my fried egg - thus the added color you see and more spice to my liking.

An alternative to potato hash would be a sweet potato hash, which I find very appealing in the winter with the added fried sage!
Deconstructed Sweet Potato Hash and Sausage
Or you could try Rachel Allen's Baked Kale Egg dish.  Simply saute some kale, add cream and bake in the oven.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Double-Chocolate Hemp Cookies

One of my favorite recipes for Double Chocolate Chip Cookies is by Kathleen King of Tate's Bake Shop.  Originally I found the recipe by watching an episode of Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten several years ago.  This has been my go-to cookie recipe ever since, I even purchased the Tate's Bake Shop cookbook and I love baking different recipes from the book.

Here is the LINK for the recipe.  Usually I follow it word-for-word and having a stand-mixer makes it so easy to mix.  The other day I decided to modify the recipe to include some healthier ingredients and see if I could incorporate hemp seed.  Substituting the butter for unsweetened applesauce reduces the richness of the butter and keeps the cookies moist.  The hemp seed gave the cookies a chewy texture, but I did not add very much the first time I tried this substitution.

On the left are the ingredients from the original recipe and on the right are my substitutions - I suggest printing  the recipe and writing in the substitutions or making a notation on the side.

1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) salted butter  - -  1 1/4 cups unsweetened applesauce (I used homemade)
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour - -  2 cups all purpose flour AND 1/3 cup hulled hemp seed

Extra cookies being wrapped before freezing

I also baked hemp brownies if you missed my previous blog recipe. Plus if you are unfamiliar with hemp seed there are plenty of great resources.  Here's a great article with other links on the health benefits of hemp seed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cemetery Genealogy Research

When I first started researching my family tree, I did not begin searching cemeteries since I had death certificates.  As you move further back in time, there will be a point where you will not find death certificates and this is where newspapers and cemeteries become necessary.  You may also want to visit or contact cemeteries so you can enter burial information in your family tree.  For my research I did both, I wanted to enter burial information and for other relatives and ancestors it is an alternative source for a non-existent death certificate.  I also wanted to document the headstones, as older headstones can become broken, damaged or fade due to the elements.

Usually I can find a cemetery office that can provide a map and plot numbers for my records, this makes cemetery research simple.  In other cases, the office has plot numbers, but no map.  For instance, one cemetery I visited had the records of where my ancestors were buried, but there was no map and staff had to take me to the location.  Even then, several headstones in the area where not maintained and were buried under 10 inches of grass and dirt.  The staff unearthed several of the headstones and found that the records they had were slightly skewed.  This experience just showed me that you should not always assume a headstone is not present, unless the cemetery office records indicate no headstone (as was my case in at Tulocay in Napa).

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ruffle Scarfs

This weekend I took a break from gardening and worked on a few of my yarn projects.  I had purchased a few different yarns that are mainly used to knit ruffle scarfs, which my Mom has been wanting me to make for awhile now.  So I sat down and found my instructions and in a day I had two completed ruffle scarfs and a third in the works.  With the right instructions (and pictures) these ruffle scarfs are fairly easy to whip up and would make great gifts this holiday season.  HERE are the instructions that I found the most useful with good pictures for those of us that are visual learners and there is even a video!  Both scarfs turned out great and now I have a basket full of finished projects that I need to weave in ends and block.  My next ruffle scarf is with some specialty yarn from my Local Yarn shop, so I will share that when it's completed.

Patons Pirouette (left) and Red Heart Boutique Sashay (right)

If you don't know how to knit, you could try this crochet ruffle scarf with Lion Brand's Homespun yarn.  The result is not quite the same since the yarn, itself, is entirely different.  However, I still love the look of the ruffle scarf, which can be made shorter or longer (the one below is longer).
Lion Brand Homespun: Crochet Ruffle Scarf