No Bunny Does it Better

Photo by Susan Wenzel

Easter is just around the corner which means it’s an egg’s time to shine!  So, I have to share my favorite way to prepare colored eggs for some bunny special.  

I usually hard boil and decorate at least three dozen eggs (one dozen per kid and one for ME!) which means there is blue and pink tinted egg salad to spare – for days.  This year, I’m excited to say, in keeping with my husband’s heritage, I found Egg-in-Wrap Polish egg sleeves available through Leemar Enterprises. They can also be found in a Polish grocery store near you.  This year's eggs are sure to be gorgeous - wrapped and then dyed coordinating colors. 

As for the coloring part, I quit buying the egg decorating kits with the cardboard punch out rings on the back of the box for dip drying the wet eggs long ago and now use regular old-fashioned food coloring in the little squirty bottles (and dry on a cooling rack set over newspaper).  The colors are brilliant and can be as varied as your wildest dreams.  The McCormick food dye we buy (Neon and Regular, if you please) has instructions on the back of the box for all kinds of brilliant and crazy colors (Stormy Blue or Watermelon Red, anyone?).  I follow them to the letter and am always pleased with the results.  (1t white vinegar, 20 drops dye, 1/2c boiling water.  Leave eggs in solution for minimum of 5 minutes for best results).

Now that you have a new, old way to color your eggs, I have to share the absolute best way to hard boil them.  I used to think I knew how but sometimes still ended up with green coating on the yolks indicating I’d overcooked them – yet again.  However, I’ve been using this fail-safe method for many years now and always have perfect results:  Place eggs in a pan and cover with one inch of cold water.  Bring to a full boil over high heat.  Remove pan from heat, cover, and let stand for ten minutes.  Using slotted spoon, remove eggs from hot water and place into bowl of ice water for five minutes.  Dye eggs a rainbow of colors and leave in an easy-to-reach location for the Easter Bunny to find and hide.

As a note, if you are not going to color your hardboiled eggs for Easter, you might still add a few drops of dye to the water to tint the eggs and ensure they don’t get mixed up with the raw ones in your fridge!

Happy dipping!

By the way, here’s what I don’t get about that rabbit, though.  The chickens lay the eggs and we cook them and color them, but he gets all the credit.  That’s some funny bunny business, if you ask me.    

Great Grains

Although my parents deny ever being hippies, I distinctly remember spending the 70’s going to the health food store, making our own yogurt, eating carob (YUCK!), and stirring up big batches of granola…lots of granola.

Unlike the disdain I had for its cereal cousin, oatmeal, I have always loved granola.  It’s portable, nutritious, and delicious.
Sometimes the brands seen in grocery stores pop up on “worst cereal lists” for their unnaturally high calories, sugars, and fat grams.  These can also be pretty pricy, and I don’t always like the combos they offer (I’m not a fan of raisins and have a slight nut allergy).  While Trader Joes carries a couple brands that are to die for – the ginger, almond and cashew is amazing and the mango, passion was so different from the norm that I had to try it and loved it – I enjoy making my own.  It’s easy and its fun, the kids can help, and I make any flavor I decide and choose organic ingredients too.  Plus, when I double the batch and need to use two cookie sheets, I am able to customize each according to personal tastes (one kid likes almonds and the other doesn’t, my husband loves raisins and no one else does).

I think I found the original recipe in the 1994 Cook’s Illustrated annual, but I’ve added and subtracted enough that I now feel free to call it my own.

I buy my oats in the bulk section of the grocery store – nice thick rolled oats, not the thin, flaky quick or instant types that would not hold their own against the add-ins.  As for those, I try to match their amount with the quantity of oats.  For example: 3 cups of oats = 3 cups of extras.

The tasty bits I mix with the oats vary by my mood, what’s in my pantry, or what looks good in the other bulk food containers.  The last bunch I made had dried cranberries, slivered almonds, raw shelled sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds.  Other favorites around here include coconut, walnuts or pecans, banana chips smashed into bits, diced dried apricots, and dates.  The fun thing about making our own granola is that the flavors are limited only by our imagination – and what won’t scorch in the oven (so far, so good on that one though). 

The following recipe makes about twelve half-cup servings, but I usually double it and end up with enough for a few weeks.  I store it in a sealed container (my Lock & Lock containers work well) in the cupboard next to the Cheerios, and it seems to last for at least that long without tasting stale.
Great Granola

3 cups rolled oats
3 cups add-ins of your choice (choose raw unsalted nuts when possible, chop dried fruits into small, uniform sized bits)
1/4c honey
1/4c maple syrup (real stuff!)
4T canola oil
½ t cinnamon or powdered ginger (optional)
1t vanilla (optional)

-Heat oven to 325 degrees
-Combine oats and add-ins in large bowl
-Combine honey, maple syrup, and oil in small sauce pan.  Heat over medium heat (but do not boil) until combined.  Remove from heat.  Add spices and vanilla if desired.
-Pour liquid on top of oat mixture.  Immediately stir with wooden spoon or silicone spatula (works best) to combine.
-Scrape contents onto parchment lined cookie sheet or jelly roll pan.
-Bake in oven for 15-20 minutes stirring every 5 minutes for even toasting and to check for doneness.
-Remove pan when granola is lightly toasted and immediately spread out evenly on parchment or a cool cookie sheet.
-When completely cooled, eat and enjoy.  Store unused portion in airtight container for up to one month.

I think when the current blend is gone, I’ll have to make my own ginger cashew granola.  I’d also like to hear what creative combinations you’ve tried!  

Change of heart

Oatmeal, goatmeal, double-boatmeal.  I hate OATMEAL!  I grew up eating pasty, plain glops of oatmeal. every. single. morning.  Yuck.

I buy it in bulk now because my children love it, my husband loves it, and even the dogs love it (sometimes I let them “prewash” the pans before loading them in the dishwasher).  So, why couldn’t I learn to love it too?
Oats are nutritious (check out what the World's Healthiest Food page has to say about them).  The bran (the outer casing that protects the germ – the part that grows) is high in fiber and including oats in ones diet is thought to prevent heart disease and lower cholesterol, so this reformed breakfast skipper vowed to try.  But, first I had to do some research.

The oats used in oatmeal are Avena sativa a member of the grass family grown for its nourishing seed.  Oats are sold for human consumption in several forms:
-Groats are hulled and cleaned whole grains.  In this case, oats.  They may be eaten as such but are more commonly found in their cut or rolled forms (oatmeal) or ground into oat flour (another story for another time). 
-Steel cut oats are whole grains cut into a few pieces that produce a hearty, chewy cereal but take the longest to prepare (upwards of 30 minutes).  
-Rolled oats (aka old-fashioned or regular) are the most common form used as breakfast cereal (five minute cooking time) as well as in baking (like my beloved oatmeal scotchie cookies!) 
-Quick oats are rolled extra thin to reduce cooking time to one minute and are best used to make pasty globs of mush (ok, ok, sometimes I use them in meatloaf, smeatloaf, double-beatloaf.)
-Instant oats are akin to parboiled rice (and are just about as flavorful, or un-flavorful, I should say).  They are rolled thin and precooked and often found individually prepackaged and loaded with sugar.  I guess that’s better than nothing, but I still won’t eat them…or the aforementioned quick oats.

While I will choke down rolled oats on occasion, I've found steel cut oats to be delicious.  A popular (but expensive) brand is McCann's Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal.  I’ve tried them and I know people who swear by them, but I find the ones in the bulk section of the grocery store to be just as good (and usually less than $1 a pound).  I will say the McCann’s webpage is packed full of great information including this cool graphic  showing how steel-cut oats are produced and seven, yes seven, different cooking methods as seen here (who knew I could use my rice cooker?  I might have to try that sometime).  

Although I’ve prepared my steel-cut oats several ways (toasted in a bit of butter and cooked on the stove top is pretty good), I'll stick with my favorite method.  It seems to be the easiest and produces the best final texture.  And, I can start it before I go to bed at night and have breakfast ready when I wake!  

Overnight Oatmeal   

-1 cup steel-cut oats
-3 cups water
-1 cup milk
-4T unsalted butter
-Optional – I let people dress up their own oatmeal after it’s cooked but any of these may be added prior to cooking: raisins, dried cranberries, figs, dried fruit, nuts, cinnamon, brown sugar, maple syrup.

Put all ingredients in a crockpot, stir to combine, set on low, and cook for 9 hours.  Easy-peasy!
(Makes 4-5 servings)

I've changed my mind about oatmeal and have included it in my breakfast repertoire. As a matter of fact, this morning I had a bowl topped with homemade granola - another totally acceptable rolled oat preparation - which I'll talk about later in the week.  (Stay tuned!)

A Good Cooker - Memory Lane Revisited

I pack my kids’ lunches and have for years because a hot school lunch just isn’t what it used to be.  While a few places are striving to make healthier options available, far too many are packed with preprocessed, prepackaged salt, fat, and crap.  (Have you seen the pink slime/school lunch story in the news lately?)  Alas, it seems there is little to no cooking involved in this heat and eat school lunch world.  

But…it wasn’t always like this.

I grew up in Columbus, Ohio and my small Catholic elementary school was treated to delicious lunches every day by a stout, happy German woman with large arms and an even larger bosom.  I don’t remember her name, but I will never forget the love with which she prepared our food…nor will I lose the memory of this one particular German dish she used to make.  

It was simple fodder – indeed it only had three ingredients – but even the most hardcore veggie hater loved it and begged for seconds.  I’m not sure of its proper name, but I found this scrumptious one pot meal on numerous German recipe websites.  They all call it the same thing I do – German green beans, potatoes, and ham. 

On Sunday, I cooked a ham – the last white-paper-wrapped package of the half-hog I purchased last spring from a local family farm – Three Sisters Beef – to clear out the deep freeze in preps for this year’s bounty.  I intended to make bean soup with the stock I made from the bone but opted to make this quick, easy, and delicious much loved dish instead.

Presenting…German green beans, potatoes, and ham!


-6 cups of ham stock (in enough water to cover, simmer the bone and any odd bits left after carving over low heat for 6-8 hours, strain, chill, and remove congealed surface fat.  Add additional water as necessary to make 6 cups.  Salt may be added to suit personal taste, but I find the sodium in the ham to be sufficient)
-3 lbs russet potatoes, scrubbed but unpeeled, cut into 1” chunks
-2 lbs frozen green beans
-10 ounces chunked ham


In 6qt. pot, in order, add stock, potatoes, frozen green beans, and ham.  (Really – just pile it in and turn on the burner.)  Bring to simmer over high heat.  Stir gently to evenly distribute ingredients.  Cover.  Reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  Serve in bowls with a scoop of broth.  Eat.  Repeat as necessary.   

The recipe may seem like it makes a lot, but my family of four can pretty much polish it off in one sitting with maybe a bowl or two left for lunch the next day.  Try it and I’ll bet even your pickiest of pickies will love it. 

If anyone comes up with the real German name, I’d like to know.   And, if anyone can remember our wonderful lunch lady’s name…I’d love that information as well.   

Favorite Food Website

I want to introduce you to one of my Favorite Food Websites.  I diligently listed it on my Pinterest page even though I really haven’t been back there since I put it all together.  (But, that’s beside the point)

I found this page by accident - or not – maybe while researching one of the many food items I’ve featured throughout the blog – however, unlike my Pinterest page, I return to it faithfully when I need a dinner idea or am in search of a tidbit of trivia.

The World’s Healthiest Food page lists 129 of what they consider to be the best of the best.  The foods were picked based on the following six points: nutrient density, largely unprocessed and void of unnatural ingredients (Where’s the Spam? Oh…), familiar to the general populace (no chayote squash or ginkgo nuts on this list), readily available country-wide, affordable, and – of course – tasty.

The WHF list is packed with common sense items - the same foods seen on many similar ingredient inventories - colorful fruits and veggies, nuts and grains, lean meats, sustainable seafood choices, and low-fat dairy items.  But, what makes WHF stand apart from the others is how they present the information.  Each of the 129 flavorful fodders has a dedicated page containing nutrition information (calories, vitamins, fiber, fats, etc.), specific health benefits, physical description of variations, tips on how to select the best items, recipes for each and even history facts (Did you know, even though some parts of the world have been enjoying bananas for some 4,000 years, they were not available in the United States until the end of the 19th century?).

The Food of the Week (there’s a new one every…well…week) is Garlic.  I learned eating it might help with iron metabolism, it contains vitamin C (who knew one ounce has 14.7% of your RDA), and was considered sacred by the Egyptians and placed in the tombs of Pharaohs.
The oodles of recipes containes on WHF are listed on one page and are all simple, quick (they boast each takes less than 30 minutes) and delicious and include ideas for meatless and meaty main meal options as well as side dishes, desserts, soups and salads.  I especially love that I can sort them by ingredients to use (I picked salmon, as I have a freezer full) or omit (say…onions) as well as nutrients required (I selected omega-3 fatty acids).  I clicked my choices, hit "submit," and was immediately presented with two salad recipes and seven fish main dishes.
Mmmmm…the Salmon, Cucumber, Dill salad recipe sounds divine…and I have a glut of fresh dill growing, so I might actually have to check it out! 

While I’m at it, why don’t you check out the website:  I’m sure you’ll find it worth adding to your Favorite Food Websites too! 

Baffled by Basil

My Thai basil is freaking out.

It has, in my experience, grown to gargantuan proportions.  I finally had to trim it back today, as it was shading the sweet basil, oregano, and sage.  Not only are the plants themselves laden with countless individual leaves, but the largest, when flattened, are near six inches long and four wide.  The problem is, they look NOTHING like typical Thai “sweet basil” (bai horapha) with its purplish stem and smaller, flatter, more pointed leaves.  (I grew “Queen of Siam” this summer and the plants were completely different from the ones I am growing now.) 

There are primarily three kinds of basil used in Thai cooking - the aforementioned bai horapha, bai kaprow also known as Thai “holy basil,” and Thai “lemon basil” or bai maeng-lak – none of which look anything like the mutant monsters in my kitchen.
These particular seeds came with my AeroGarden custom seed pod kit, so I am clueless as to the cultivar I am cultivating.  I know many plants send out two large cotyledon first (the so-called seed leaves and the first to pop out of the embryo - most evident on legumes) but my plants have dozens of the fan sized flora up and down the stem.  I almost think I am growing imposters, but they do have the wonderful fragrance and distinctive anise-like flavor – albeit noticeably milder than the traditional Thai basil I have come to love. 

I’m so confused – now I’m freaking out.  But…it’s not going to stop me from using my basil bounty – Thai or not – when I make Pattaya Shrimp tonight. 

I still think I might call the company.

To be continued…

Spicy Show and Tell

I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it!  My Spice House package just came!  I’ve been ordering from them for a few years now and remain nothing but impressed.  Not only is the product always incredibly fresh, but it is also perfectly packaged every single time.  The result is pristine looking herbs and spices that look as if I picked them myself (I wish).

I usually place my order based on the things I consider necessities and then add in a few new items I’d like to try.  Here’s what I received today:

Greektown “Billygoat” Seasoning.  I make my own gyros and tzatziki sauce and adore roast lamb, so purchasing this new-to-me Greek salt blend was a no-brainer.  (Ingredients: coarse flake salt, granulated garlic powder, Tellicherry black pepper, onion powder, Greek fancy oregano and powdered lemon peel)

I’ve been considering buying this Italian blend for some time and, now that I frequently make my own spaghetti sauce, I decided it was time.  I grow my own oregano, basil and rosemary and just bought thyme, but this mouth-watering mix contains marjoram too - all in a perfectly proportioned package.

The garlic and poppy seeds are destined to adorn my ArtisanBread in Five Minutes a Day everything bagels!  Oh, and the caraway seeds are for my Artisan Bread rye bread dough already prepped and ready in the fridge.  (Mmmmm…Reubens!)  

I rarely make a dish that doesn’t use one of these decadent duos: coriander and cumin or thyme and sage.  The chili powder too is an absolute necessity (shhh…it’s a secret ingredient in my award winning chili.)

I would never have learned about my two new obsessions if it weren’t for The Spice House.  One is the delicious in a Bloody Mary, hot to trot Vulcan's Fire Salt – a House exclusive (As we speak, I’m enjoying a bowl of vegetable soup with a little sprinkle of His Habañero Highness).  The other - Korean Black garlic – I would never had tried if it weren’t for their tasty description.  I am a garlic lover but was surprised by the rich, nutty flavor of this aged and fermented version.  It’s delicious in chicken soup but even better added to Japanese ramen broth (I prefer the fresh noodle version, bar none). 

Now that my spice drawer (yes, I have an entire drawer dedicated to the savory stuff – less the saffron which lives in a vacuum packed pouch in the freezer) is happy, so am I.  My only trouble is deciding which one to use first!