Archive for March, 2016

Christmas coffee: Special treat and comfort beverage

By

The holidays are a special time for people all over the world. One of the things that makes this time of year so unique is that people are a little less uptight and not quite so rigid in their daily activities. For example, this is the time of year when people allow themselves to indulge in treats like coffee. This might sound rather strange to the average coffee drinker, but it is something that happens during Christmas time. Even non-coffee drinkers will occasionally indulge in the phenomenon known as “Christmas coffee”. 

The actual definition of Christmas coffee varies by coffeehouse, store and individual. Some people choose to grab a cup of holiday cheer at their favorite coffeehouse and some prefer to create their own Christmas brew at home. No matter where it is brewed, or the additives put into it, Christmas coffee is a special treat that just seems to comfort people. 

The flavors

You can find holiday flavored coffees just about everywhere you go beginning in October (sometimes as early as September). Peppermint, pumpkin spice, egg nog and gingerbread are just a sampling of the fabulous flavors you can find during the holiday season. Check your local grocer’s coffee aisle or your favorite coffeehouse to see what they offer. 

For those who like to create their own brews, you can do this easily with the help of flavor extracts like peppermint and vanilla and/or ground spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Simply add the extract or spice to the coffee grounds before brewing. The aroma of Christmas coffee brewing on those chilly mornings is a pure delight!

The additives

Additives include sweetener, cream/milk, hot cocoa mix, whipped cream and candy sprinkles (usually chocolate). During the holiday season a wide variety of special liquid and powdered creamers are available to give your coffee a cheerful boost. 

Some people like to add bits of crushed candy canes or marshmallows to their Christmas coffee. Cinnamon sugar is becoming a popular way to top off holiday coffees also. It is even possible that someone, somewhere has dropped a chocolate covered cherry in their steaming cup! and let it slowly melt and mingle the flavors with the coffee. 

The mug

The final stage in creating the perfect Christmas coffee experience is the mug or cup it is poured into. If you are buying your coffee at a coffeehouse then it is more festive if it comes in a holiday themed cup. 

At home, you can choose your favorite holiday mug or just a mug that you really like. Some mugs are like old friends, very comforting. The mug may have cracks and the design might be fading but Christmas coffee wouldn’t be the same without it. 

Christmas is a time for slowing down and appreciating some of the little things, like a good cup of coffee. It is also the time when everyone, it seems, comes up with their own version of Christmas coffee. Whether you add peppermint, cinnamon or whipped cream to your cup of coffee, it goes down smooth and makes you feel good. It is doubtful that the same coffee would taste as good any other time of the year. 

For some people, the holidays just would not be the same without Christmas coffee. The flavors that make up a good Christmas coffee, like peppermint or gingerbread, are only available during the holidays. It might be wise to stock up on your favorite flavors while you can!

Birds Eye Potato Waffles

By

Now forgive me for starting off with this snippet of information but I wanted to share it with you before I forgot it!  By all accounts Birds Eye adds E464 (which is derived from a natural plant material) to control the amount of fat that the waffles absorb when they are cooking and to maintain their shape and texture. The one and only reason I found this information so intriguing was because each time I have shallowed fried Birds Eye waffles I have found that they have absorbed a substantial amount of fat and this is partially why I don’t make a habit of buying them. On the other hand, if I grill them they seem to have the texture of recycled cardboard.

So I have got my glasses on to make an inspection of the ingredients, which are potatoes, potato starch, sunflower oil, salt, stabiliser, pepper, mustard and the E 464. The ingredients seem fairly normal, nothing untoward in the list, Birds Eye have accounted for the E464 and fully explained why it is used. The product is free from artificial colorings, flavourings and preservatives too. It seems that Birds Eye have a `potato guru`, he is called Colin Wright and he selects the best seasonal potatoes from trusted farmers. One potato waffle contains95 calories, 4.9g total fat and 12g of carbohydrate.

A pack of 12 Birds Eye waffles are £1.38 ($2.10) a pack of 12 Asda waffles are 98p, so a substantial price difference there.
The waffles are always cooked from frozen, either put them on a slightly greased baking tray and then into a pre-heated oven (Gas 5) for about 15 minutes or if you prefer then shallow fry them for a few minutes either side. Admittedly they smell good when they are cooking and if I could get to grips with cooking them correctly I would be very tempted to eat them more regularly 

Thinking laterally about the situation, potatoes are rarely a low calorie option, a jacket potato is probably the healthiest and the lowest in terms of calories intake. I dont know about you but if I have a jacket potato then I need butter or spread to liven it up! Oh theres no pleasing me today!  Roast potatoes are not the ideal slimmers choice, creamed potatoes have to have milk and butter to make them 100% enjoyable, potato croquettes are pretty dry and uninteresting, boiled potatoes have as much allure as dry cream crackers and chips probably contain more fat than waffles! 

As I am writing this review there is an advertisement on the same page for a waffle maker, maybe I should log on to Amazon, buy a waffle maker and make my own instead of moaning!  If I could cook them properly I am sure they would be lovely

Choosing a Stand Mixer

By

A hand mixer is a wonderfully convenient, easy to use and easy to store small kitchen appliance. However, if you plan to do a considerable amount of baking, you may need to add a stand mixer to your kitchen appliance collection.

Stand mixers can handle a heavier dough than a hand mixer. Stand mixers also give you the advantage of having both hands free while the mixing process is going on. Once you decide you need a stand mixer, the next step is choosing the one that is best for you.

One aspect of the mixer design that you will need to decide on is whether you want a lift or tilt design. A tilt design simply means that the bowl remains stationary while the top tilts back to lift the beaters out of the bowl. The tilt design offers easier access to the bowl which is helpful when you’re adding ingredients, but the lift style is a space saver. One of the more appealing features of the bowl-lift design is that it fits under a cabinet and does not have to be moved forward in order to use it.

Generally, mixer bowl sizes range from 2 to 7 quarts with 4 or 5 quarts being the most frequently chosen options. It is recommended that a mixer provide at least six speed options in order to accommodate a variety of mixing requirements. Most mixers come with mix, whip and knead attachments.  There are numerous other attachments available depending on the mixer you select.

Metal gears are more durable than nylon gears in a stationary mixer.  However, the metal gears do make more noise than the nylon gears. Another consideration when choosing a stand mixer is the weight of the mixer.  The heavier the mixer, the less movement you will have when it is in use.  This could be a concern for you if you plan to frequently use the mixer for heavy duty tasks. On the other hand, if you plan to store your mixer in a cabinet or on a shelf, you will want to consider the weight of the mixer in regard to how easy or difficult it will be to move it from its storage place to the kitchen counter.

Some stand mixers have an overload reset button. If you plan to frequently knead heavy dough, this may be an option to consider. The safe shut off feature will keep your mixer from over-heating when performing heavy duty tasks.

If you plan to leave your mixer on the counter, you may be concerned about its outward appearance.  You have numerous colors to select from if you want to match it to your kitchen décor. However, the actual function of the mixer, the size of the bowl, the price of the mixer and the specific features it offers should be your most important concerns.  Choosing the stand mixer that fits your cooking style is what matters most.

Canned crab and cream of mushroom enchiladas

By

This is a super fast recipe that just involves mixing a bunch of things in a bowl, plopping the mix onto a tortilla (or flatbread or pita) and cooking for 15 minutes. It doesn’t get much simpler than this! This is also a very interesting recipe because it is not something one would naturally think to make. Mixing cream of mushroom and crab meat is not common. In fact, most people do not even associate seafood with the “Mexican food.” However, this recipe isn’t really Mexican and it is really good.

Another upside, canned crab meat is cheaper than the real thing and, in this recipe, tastes just as good. So save your self some money and never be afraid to cut corners.

Canned crab and cream of mushroom enchiladas

Serves 5

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cook time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

5 thick flour tortillas
1 6oz. can of white crabmeat drained
1 c. cream of mushroom soup
½ c. fresh cilantro, chopped
½ c. shredded cheese, Mexican or a blend work best
½ to 1 c. of same cheese set aside for sprinkling on top
¼ c. ready made salsa from a jar (if fresh and less liquid, use ½ cup)
Sprinkle of fresh parsley and ground black pepper
½ t. roasted red pepper oil

Directions

Mix the above ingredients together. In a sprayed or very lightly greased casserole dish, spoon about 3 T. of the mix onto a tortilla. It’s easiest to have ½ the tortilla touching the pan and the other ½ in your hand. Then, quickly roll the tortilla with the overlapping side on the pan. Pour any leftover mix over the enchiladas and sprinkle evenly the extra cheese over the top. A little salsa sprinkled on the top sparingly looks good to, but that is optional.

Bake in the oven at 325 degrees for 15 minutes or until the cheese is well melted. Let cool and serve.

Chocolate Peanut Butter no Bake Cookies

By

Looking for a quick and easy cookie recipe to keep the kids happy? Are they bored with your normal chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, or your brownies? Is the kitchen to hot for you to even think about turning on the oven? Tired of taking normal plain sugar cookies, or even worse – gasp – store bought cookies, to your family functions and gatherings? Then try these Chocolate peanut butter no bake cookies. They are always a favorite at any party of gathering this writer makes them for, and they are great to make with your kids.

You’ll need:

2 cups of sugar

6 tablespoons of cocoa powder

1 stick of butter

½ cup milk

1 ½ cup peanut butter (smooth works best as the chunky will make your cookies crumbly)

2 to 2 ½ cups of instant oatmeal, or the 1 minute cooking oatmeal.

And some wax paper for putting your cookies on.

In a saucepan combine the sugar, cocoa powder, butter and milk. Cook over medium heat until butter is melted and everything is blended smoothly. Let the mixture boil for one minute, then remove from heat. Add the peanut butter to the mix and blend until smooth again. Add the oatmeal and stir until well blended.

Laying out the wax paper on a cookie sheet, take a teaspoon full of the cookie mix and place it on the wax paper. Let sit for 20 to 30 minutes, or until completely cooled. Enjoy.

This recipe makes about 24 cookies, depending on how large you make the cookies.

For some added variations you can…

Add some chopped walnut for and extra crunch.

Use more Oatmeal for more texture to your cookies.

This writer makes smaller batches, so butterscotch, vanilla, nuts, and some raisins can be added into the cookies so everyone has a flavor they like.

Best Websites for Barbecue or Grilling Tips

By

Summer is almost here again and millions of Americans will again experience the pleasure of grilling outdoors. Almost 3 out of 4 Americans owns an outdoor grill. The average American spends 5 hours per week grilling outdoors. With so many Americans spending so much time cooking outdoors, many outdoor cooks will be looking for good barbecue tips on the Internet. This article discusses 4 excellent websites for obtaining barbecue tips online.

Best websites for barbecue tips: kingsford.com

Charcoal manufacturer Kingsford maintains an excellent website called Kingsford University, which provides a wealth of useful information for grilling over charcoal. The Kingsford University website features several videos providing basic barbecuing tips, as well as advice on how to grill beef, pork, chicken, and fish. The website also provides tips on how to prepare and maintain a charcoal grill as well as a number of valuable safety tips. Kingsford University offers good tips for cooking over charcoal in an easy to use format.

Best websites for barbecue tips: weber.com

Leading grill manufacturer Weber’s website is also an excellent source of tips for grilling on both charcoal and gas grills. Weber.com features a grilling guide which provides detailed information for grilling beef, pork, poultry, vegetables, fruits, fish and seafood, game, and lamb. These grilling guides contain charts with cooking times and temperatures for each type of food to be grilled. Weber.com also provides a good explanation of the differences between direct and indirect methods of cooking and a guide to when to use direct heat and when to use indirect heat. Weber also provides useful tips on selecting and using herbs and spices in your outdoor cooking. Weber.com is a well organized site providing a number of basic useful tips for grilling outdoors. 

Best websites for barbecue tips: smoking-meat.com

Jeff Phillips of Tulsa, Oklahoma created smoking-meat.com to spread his knowledge about smoking meats. Smoking-meat.com focuses solely on slow cooking meat over smoke. The website contains over 300 pages of information on smoking meats. The website includes advice and tips for selecting and using different types of equipment such as wood smokers (which use chunks of wood for fuel), charcoal smokers, electric smokers, and gas smokers. Additionally, smoking-meat.com contains numerous recipes and tips for smoking pork, chicken, turkey, and beef. Smoking-meat.com is a well organized and easy to use website which contains a wealth of information for any outdoor chef who enjoys preparing smoked meat.

Best websites for barbecue tips: barbecuen.com

Barbecuen.com is the creation of Houston, Texas barbeque expert Charlie McMurrey. Barbecuen.com offers comprehensive advice to outdoor chefs of all abilities and experience levels. The website offers tips and advice for using a variety of equipment such as gas grills, charcoal grills, and smokers. It also provides numerous tips and recipes for grilling all types of beef, pork, poultry, and seafood. While barbecuen.com contains a huge amount of information, the site is not as well organized as the other top websites and the number of ads found on each page can be frustrating for users. The sheer volume of quality information makes barbecuen.com a recommended website in spite of the formatting problems.

The internet offers outdoor cooks a wealth of information and tips for grilling and barbecuing. Try using these 4 sites and you should quickly be on your way to becoming a better outdoor chef.

Cakey Chocolate Chip Cookies

By

This particular recipe came about on a day when I had a terrific craving for something both sweet and chocolatey but was also low on a few supplies. It is based on a recipe I found on the back of a bag of Gold Medal flour. As I don’t like my cookies overly sweet, I reduced the sugar as well as the butter.

This recipe makes a somewhat cakey cookie that can also be made in a pie plate or brownie pan, depending on your preference.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose or unbleached white flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar (increase this to 1/2 cup if you want a much sweeter cookie)

1/2 cup butter, softened (if increasing the sugar, you should also increase the butter to 3/4 cup)

1 egg

1/4 cup milk or apple juice (plant-based milk works well)

6 oz semisweet chocolate chips

3 oz peanut butter chips (optional)

1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

1.) Preheat oven to 375 F.

2.) In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.

3.) In a large bowl, cream together the sugars and butter. This can be done with either a fork or an electric mixer. Beat in the egg and liquid.

4.) Beat in one-third of the flour mixture just until combined; repeat twice until all the ingredients are mixed together.

5.) Fold in the chips and nuts until they are evenly distributed.

6.) Drop dough by teaspoonsful or tablespoonsful onto a lightly greased or foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving an inch of space between the cookies. Flatten slightly with the back of the spoon to smooth out the tops of the cookies.

7.) Bake for 8 to 12 minutes or until the cookies are lightly browned at the edges and are nearly set in the centre. Allow to cool slightly on the pan before removing to a serving plate. If making these in a brownie or pie pan, allow to cool before cutting.

Serve alongside a tall glass of cold milk or a mug of hot chocolate.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

By

This recipe is new spin on an old favorite. Many people enjoy warm peanut butter cookies and this recipe takes it one step further by adding chocolate. Peanut butter and chocolate just seem to go together so wonderfully that it only made sense. There are several new peanut butter products on the market today that make this recipe even easier with which to have fun.

Ingredients

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup Peanut butter with dark chocolate (any brand you like, such as Skippy)

1/4 cup light vegetable oil

1/4 cup margarine

1 egg

1 1/4 cup flour

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

Directions

Mix sugars, peanut butter with dark chocolate, oil and egg in a large bowl. 

Stir in remaining ingredients and mix well.

Cover dough and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. This makes the dough much easier to work with and it helps to keep dough refrigerated in between baking batches.

Shape dough into 1 inch balls and place on a cookie sheet. Flatten with a fork dipped in sugar, making a criss-cross pattern on each cookie.

Bake 9-11 minutes or until light brown. Let cookies rest on cookie sheet for 3 minutes and then move to wire racks or wax paper to finish cooling. 

Yields about 2 1/2 dozen cookies (30)

These cookies make great snacks in lunches and a nice treat after school. Of course, these cookies are not just for the kids; adults can also indulge in the yummy goodness. Chocolate peanut butter cookies are great with milk and even coffee. This recipe is fun to include in cookie swaps and homemade food gift baskets.

A fair warning must be issued: you may end have to put chocolate peanut butter on your grocery list more often after making these soft cookies for your family!

Best way to Cook Mushrooms

By

Mushrooms are delicious cooked in a variety of different ways but the danger is that, because they are so delicate, it is very easy to spoil them in the process. We must be very careful how we firstly prepare them for cooking, in the method by which we choose to cook them and also in the length of time for which we cook them in order to eat them at their very best. This article is designed to hopefully serve as a guide to each of these processes.

There are a great many varieties of mushrooms available for us to buy or even grow ourselves at home very easily.

The most common by far in Western culture and cooking is the “Agaricus Bosporus.” This is the mushroom which most of us think of when we think of mushrooms. It is actually cultivated at four different stages of its growth, giving many of us perhaps the impression that on each occasion we are purchasing a different variety of mushroom. Picked in the early stages of their growth, they are known as button mushrooms, later as closed cup mushrooms, later still as open cup mushrooms and ultimately as large flat mushrooms, at which stage they can be as much as four or five inches in diameter.

The golden rule when intending eating or cooking with any type of mushroom is that we never wash it. Mushrooms have the physical properties of sponges and will quickly soak up the water in which they are washed, spoiling their texture and impairing their flavour. Instead, purchase a small mushroom cleaning brush or wipe them carefully with some dry kitchen towel.

If the mushrooms are particularly dirty, this towel may be slightly dampened.

It is perfectly possible to eat mushrooms raw, of course, either as part of a salad or on their own. I like them particularly sprinkled with a little malt vinegar and salt and eaten as they are. If cooking with them, however, there are three ways in which I regularly do so.

Mushroom sauce is delicious poured over poached chicken.

Finely chop about six to eight small button mushrooms and one clove of garlic. Add a mere teaspoonful of sunflower oil to a non-stick saucepan, bring it up to a medium heat and saute the mushrooms and garlic in it for about a minute.

Add one cup of cheap white wine, bring it up to a simmer and reduce by half. Add half a cup of full or double cream and bring back up to a simmer then serve immediately.

Closed or open cup mushrooms are superb in a Chinese style stir fry with such as chicken or beef and onion. Remember not to overcook the mushrooms, however. In this preparation, they should be halved down through the centre, stalk and all, and the last ingredient to be added to the wok.

The large flat mushrooms, I like to cook under a hot grill. Remove any remaining stalk and very importantly, place the mushrooms open side up on a rack under the grill for the first part of the cooking process. This is because escaping water will gather in the cup but will be drained away when we turn them over.

Cook the mushrooms for up to two minutes each side, depending upon their size, and serve perhaps as part of a breakfast with sausage, bacon and egg.

These are but a few suggestions for quickly cooking with mushrooms and I hope very much that you find them appealing and will try them out for yourself.

Buying High End Coffee on a Budget

By

Coffee lovers can’t imagine starting their day without their favorite brew. The problem is fitting that brew into an already tight budget. The is even worse if the preferred brew happens to be of a finer quality. Good quality coffee does not come cheap. 

Work it into the budget

Sit down and create a new budget. The reason for doing this is because you will need to see where you can cut costs to afford your favorite quality coffee. The other reason to redo your budget is that it is a good idea to do once in a while. You never know when something has changed and gone unnoticed since the last time you really looked at your budget. Some people get into such a habit of paying bills each month that they might end up still paying for products or services they no longer want/need or even receive. 

Believe it or not, coffee can have a place in your budget under either grocery expense or entertainment/fun. Depending on how much your favorite quality coffee costs, you may have to cut some corners to comfortably fit it into the budget. 

Trade and save

The idea is to stop doing something like having fast food lunches and save that money up until you can afford to get your coffee. It really comes down to sacrificing one luxury for another. If you are serious about your coffee, then it will not be too tough to give up those fast food hamburgers, or whatever luxury you decide to trade in for your coffee. 

Please note that while coffee is very critical to a coffee loving person, you should probably continue paying your rent and light bills. It would not be very easy to brew coffee in the dark or outside in your car! Joking aside, swapping one luxury for rich, aromatic coffee could be your ticket to continued morning bliss.

Coffee clubs

Joining a coffee club can be the answer to your high end coffee dilemma. Many clubs are available and offer higher end coffees not generally available in grocery stores or coffee shops. Generally, clubs will send you the coffee of your choice once a month or every three months. 

Perform an Internet search for coffee clubs and choose a few to learn about. Once you have narrowed it down to the one club that offers everything you want and need, then sign up for that club. Be sure to read all of the information before signing up. You want to know about prices after the introductory offer and how often the company sends out the coffee and when/how you will be billed. 

Coffee shop

If you do not brew coffee at home and opt to indulge your coffee cravings at a coffee shop, then you are probably spending at least $5 a day. By the way, that is $150 in an average month! Still, if home brewing is not your forte, then ways to help take the bite out of the coffee shop trip include cutting down to one cup a day or a couple of smaller sized cups a day. 

You might even consider changing what type of coffee you order from your favorite establishment. Some coffee drinks are more expensive than others, but the coffee itself is higher quality than most grocery store shelf coffees. 

High end coffee does not have to be wishful thinking any more. You also do not have to settle for coffee brands you do not like; all you have to do is get creative. You can rework your budget to fit high end coffee in or you can simply trade one luxury for your coffee. 

If you really want to have that favorite roast, then you may have to sacrifice something else in order to get it. If none of these suggestions will work, then you may have to search for a comparable coffee that is less expensive.