A Good Cooker’s Food Review – 2

Nutrition is out the window on this one.  I just tried Philadelphia Dark Chocolate Indulgence.  I don’t want to know if it’s good for me or bad for me – I just know it is delicious!  

I wasn’t even looking for it.  As a matter of fact, now I don’t remember what I was looking for…but I saw this yummy cream cheese spread (along with milk chocolate and white chocolate flavors) nestled in the cooler at the grocery story somewhere between the cheese slices and the cans of biscuits and knew I had to give it a try.  At $1.99 for an eight ounce tub, it seemed like a steal.  A fifty cent off coupon sealed the deal.

Apparently, this new product has a fan (short for FANATIC!!) following.  I was at the self checkout when the clerk actually RAN over to me to ask if I’d ever tried the tub-o-chocolate lusciousness before and, after I said no, proceeded to sing the praises of the white chocolate version paired with strawberries the entire time I was ringing up my groceries.

I was so intrigued by her exuberant praises that I could barely wait to get home and give it a try.  Fortunately, I had a bunch of ripe bananas ready to carry the bliss to my taste buds – and bliss it was.  The sweet (but not cloying) chocolate paired nicely with the tang of the cream cheese.  It reminded me of chocolate cheese cake (which I love dearly – not a fan of regular, though) but was far lighter in taste and texture.  It spreads easily and is fit for a snack - salty or sweet (pretzels dipped in it are to die for).  I even put a light smear on my breakfast pancake this morning.  Wow.
Will I buy it again?  Most likely.  Will I try the other flavors?  Maybe.  Should you get some for yourself?  Definitely!
(PS – I only has a handful more calories than regular cream cheese, no more fat, a little more sugar but half the cholesterol and less sodium.  Here’s how they compare per 2T serving: Philadelphia Dark Chocolate Indulgence – 7g fat, 110 calories (60 from fat), 10g sugars, 10g cholesterol, 75mg sodium.  Regular Philly Cream Cheese – 7g fat, 80 calories (70 from fat), 1g sugar, 20g cholesterol, 125mg sodium)

Spring Break Out the Fat Pants – Part 2

As promised, here’s a bit more about our Spring Break trip - a stop at the fabled Tillamook Cheese Factory.

Photo by Susan Wenzel

Tillamook cheese is sold throughout the United States, but their products are undeniably local favorites here in the Pacific Northwest – especially their award winning medium cheddar cheese.  My mother-in-law insists only it will do in her amazing chicken, broccoli, and cheese crêpes, and I agree.  So, it was only natural that I too fell under the spell of their cheese, butter, sour cream, ice cream (40 flavors – give or take), and yogurt (Baked Apple Pie and Banana Vanilla are my kids’ favorites) shortly after moving back to Washington State. 

And, after hearing what fun others had at the cheese factory, we knew a stop to see where these dairy delights were made would be included in our road trip through Oregon - and why not, travel = food in our family, right?  (When we went to Hawaii this last time, one of our first stops was the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut plantation!) 

Photo by Susan Wenzel

After our visit to VooDoo Doughnuts in Portland and a couple days staying with family near Salem, we headed west.  My kids counted off the miles that morning until they finally spied the huge yellow sign welcoming us to our next culinary destination. 

Photo by Susan Wenzel

Once inside the factory, our first stop was the self-guided tour where we saw the cheese go from raw milk (courtesy of the 100+ local farms comprising the Tillamook County Creamery Association) to blocks of curds and finally chopped into the familiar, red wrapped, two-pound loaves.  As an organic milk convert, I was pleased to learn that, while Tillamook does not offer organic products, all of the milk they use comes from cows that are NOT TREATED with rBST (a hormone injected into dairy cows to artificially increase milk production) – a fact that is good enough for me. 

Photo by Susan Wenzel

Speaking of facts, here’s an interesting one about cheddar cheese:  did you know it is naturally white and that it has to be colored orange?  Tillamook adds annatto (the seed of the tropical achiote tree used almost exclusively as a natural food dye) to give their cheddar its appealing orange tint. 

Photo by Susan Wenzel

The endless conveyer belts of cheese snaking around and around the production room floor made us understandably hungry, so we made our way to the samples…which where delicious (cracked black pepper was exquisite) but only served to whet our appetites.  Conveniently in our path was the café where we perused the menu but all opted to order the oh-so-obvious choice of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.  (I mean, really, what better place?)  

Photo by Susan Wenzel

Maybe it was the waterfall of ooey-gooey cheese pouring out from between the perfectly toasted slices of bread or maybe it was the atmosphere of eating in a cheese factory, but we all agreed they were The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwiches EVER (my stomach is growling just thinking about it) – and the soup was certainly nothing to sneeze at either – it was amazing and only made the sandwich that much better when dipped into its rich red creaminess. 

After lunch, we hit the cheese store and bought an assortment of cheesy goodies – fresh curds, Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar, Garlic White Cheddar, a big block of our favorite medium cheddar, and my true love – Hot Habanera cheese.

Just before we bid adieu to this Disney Land of Cheese, we had to make a final stop – to get Tillamook ice cream, of course.  Between the four of us, we sampled eight flavors and finally left – stuffed but satisfied. 

I didn’t really have to don my fat pants when we got home.  Thankfully all of the hiking along the dazzling Oregon Coast offset the calories – I’m sure.

Photo by Susan Wenzel

Just a Quickie

I had one pound of Artisan Bread’s challah dough that needed used by today, leftover ham from Easter (still), and tons of fresh dill (Aerogarden must be on steroids).  So…this is what I made.

Photo by Susan Wenzel

I don’t know what to call them, so I’m open to suggestions.  "Ham rolls" is not sufficient for something this decadent.  For the time being, I will call them delicious!  They were intended for breakfast, but we had to sample a couple - just to make sure they were edible.

How I did it:
-Roll out 1lb of dough into 12x18” rectangle
-Brush with 1T melted butter
-Top entire surface with 1c finely diced ham (I used the food processor), then 1/2c shredded cheddar-jack (it’s what I had in the fridge, but I suppose most any cheese will do), and finally 2T fresh chopped dill.
-Starting on a long edge, roll dough into a log. 
-Cut into nine even segments with dental floss (not mint!) and arrange in well greased 9x9” ovensafe dish.
-Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour. 
-Bake in 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes until golden brown
-Brush with an additional 1T of melted butter (if desired, but who doesn’t desire butter – in moderation, of course)
-Eat and enjoy!

Pesto, Please!

Part two of Spring Break out the Fat Pants is still in progress, but I’ve had multiple requests for pesto instead – both the dish and the recipe.  Fortunately, I also have a glut of basil and Italian parsley in my Aerogarden (yes, I still LOVE that thing!), so pesto pasta is what’s for dinner tonight and my besto pesto recipe is what’s for blog today.

Photo by Susan Wenzel

I'll be serving the pesto over Trader Joe’s fusilli pasta (I like how the sauce clings to the spirals of the pasta shape, and the flavor and texture of TJ’s fusilli is the best, bar none).  I also plan to toss in chunks of leftover Easter ham.  Yum!  

Pesto is equally delicious with pasta and peas (or just peas or just pasta), stuffed in chicken breasts, or on bread, pizza, shrimp…ok, ok, it’s good on nearly everything (but ice cream).  Pesto is as wonderfully versatile as it is exquisitely fragrant and gorgeously green. 

Here’s the how-to:

A Good Cooker’s Besto Pesto

2c fresh basil leaves (packed)
1/4c fresh flat leaf Italian parsley (packed)
3 cloves garlic
1/4c pine nuts
1/2-1t salt (more or less to taste)
1/2c good extra-virgin olive oil (I like Filippo Berio)
1/4c grated parmesan (or Romano or Asiago or any combo of the three)

-Toast pine nuts in a non-stick skillet over med-high heat until golden brown, oily looking, and fragrant (3-4 minutes).  Remove from pan and set aside to cool.
-Blanch garlic cloves in boiling water for one minute (or put them in 1/2c water and microwave for 1 minute).  Set aside to cool.
-Place first five ingredients into food processor and pulse until chopped.
-Turn on food processor, drizzle in olive oil, process until smooth scraping sides of work bowl as necessary. 
-Add grated cheese and pulse four or five quick bursts just to combine.
-Use as desired.

Photo by Susan Wenzel

Ham and Pesto Pasta: Cook 1lb fusilli as per package directions and chunk up twelve ounces of ham into 1/2” cubes.  Drain pasta, reserving 1c pasta water.  Place cooked pasta, ham chunks, and 1/4c pasta water back in cooking pan over medium-low heat.  Add desired amount of pesto (I use it all!) and quickly stir to combine.  Add additional water to achieve desired sauce thickness.  Cook no longer than 2-3 minutes more after combining pesto and pasta to preserve flavors.  Adjust salt at this time if necessary.  Serve immediately topped with an extra sprinkle of cheese if desired.  Makes 4 hearty servings or four modest servings plus one lunch-sized bowl for the next day. 

Photo by Susan Wenzel

Note: Unused portions of pesto may be frozen for up to six months – not that it ever lasts that long in my house – actually it never seems to make it to the freezer.  I usually use the whole batch in one meal, as my kids adore pesto.  When I do freeze it, I place desired portions in a square of plastic wrap and twist-tie shut.  (I use the same method to freeze leftover tomato paste in 1-2T portions or 1/4c measures of bacon grease for cornbread).

Spring Break Out the Fat Pants – Part 1

My family loves to travel.  Unlike others who plan voyages for sights and spas, we more often than not seem to travel for food.  For example, we first visited Philadelphia not to see the Liberty Bell (although we did stop by) but to decide which of the two kitty-cornered, ever-dueling Philly cheesesteak purveyors made the number one sandwich – Pat’s or Geno’s.   I have to say, after trying one “with whiz” from each, we concluded that PAT’S IS BETTER (but both are without a doubt fantastic)!  (Translation: “with” = with sautéed onions, “whiz” = with Cheez Whiz)

Photo by Susan Wenzel

Now that we live on the west coast, a whole new slew of food destinations dictate where we spend our vacations.  This year, the siren song of VooDoo Doughnuts in Portland, Oregon was strong.  Coupled with the promise of cheddar heaven at the Tillamook Cheese Factory (have I ever told you how much I love cheese?), it proved irresistible.  So, come spring break, we packed up the car and kids and headed south.

Photo by Susan Wenzel

We first heard of VooDoo Doughnuts while watching The Travel Channel’s “Donut Paradise.”  The quirky sounding flavors lured us in (Miami Vice Berry? Grape Ape? No Name?), but the promise of delicious dough cinched the deal.  One question remained, would it be worth the trip and legendary lines or was this just another overhyped tourist attraction?  We were about to find out. 

Photo by Susan Wenzel

The line was indeed as long as we were told it would be – maybe longer (it wove back and forth along the sidewalk reminiscent of the two hour wait to ride the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio).  To our surprise, it moved quickly – almost too fast to allow us to decide among the 40-some different doughnuts available that day.  Anticipation mounted as we scoped out the racks of tempting combinations, and soon it was our turn at the counter.
We perused the Captain Crunch, Fruit Loop, Rice Krispie, Cocoa Puff, marshmallow, bubble gum, peanut butter, Butterfinger, chocolate chip, purple sprinkle topped pastries and each picked one.  We left only a few dollars poorer (all but a couple varieties were priced under $2 - cash only, if you please) with four doughnuts in hand.  Here they are: 

Photo by Susan Wenzel

Mango Tango (mine!) - raised yeast doughnut filled with sweet mango jelly and topped with vanilla frosting and tangy Tang powder.  Yes, that Tang – the astronaut-endorsed orange flavored powdered drink mix

Dirty Doughnut - raised yeast doughnut topped with vanilla frosting and a heap of crushed Oreos

Maple Bacon Bar - raised yeast doughnut topped with maple frosting and crispy, salty BACON!

VooDoo Doll - VooDoo's signature raised yeast doughnut filled with raspberry jelly topped with chocolate frosting and pierced with a pretzel "pin" for poking

Photo by Susan Wenzel

The doughnuts were not, as I feared, “just doughnuts.”  Far from it, in fact.  They were heavenly!  The dough was fried perfectly crispy on the outside and sweet, soft, and fragrantly yeasty fresh on the inside.  Each additional flavor was distinct and the combinations complimented each other.  What impressed me most was that, despite the thousands of people the VooDoo bakers manage to shuttle through the doors every day, each doughnut was prepared with equal care and, as promised, a touch of VooDoo magic.  We really had found Doughnut Paradise.
Photo by Susan Wenzel

While bawdy puns prevail at this eclectic eatery, thankfully my kids were far too dazzled by whirling displays of rainbow colored pastries and diverse décor to notice.  We definitely plan to go back – next time the Memphis Mafia (fried dough with banana chunks and cinnamon sugar, topped with glaze, chocolate frosting, peanut butter, peanuts and chocolate chips) is MINE! 
(PS – Look for Part 2 – The Tillamook Cheese Factory – early next week!)