27 May 2011

Giveaway Winners

Hello, and happy almost weekend! Two giveaways were running this week, and today I pick the winners.

For the first giveaway, which was for the Le Creuset Farm Fresh Steamer Pot, the winner is...

mmalavec, 23 May, 2011 22:01

I love, love lentils! and my favorite is definitely the cake!

The winner of the Chicago Metallic Winged Baking Sheet & Cupcake Liners is...

Sharon, 26 May, 2011 09:52

Tweeted http://twitter.com/rusthawk/status/73748373009727489

Congrats, and thanks to everyone who entered! I'll be contacting you for your shipping info.

Stay tuned. Next week I decide which recipe to use as my final post, which you guys will vote for to hopefully help me win! The first 500 voters receive a free sample of lentils. I'll let you know more about that then, too.

Have a good weekend!

26 May 2011

Nutrition Now

Nutrition Now

I found Nutrition Now located next door to where I got my haircut. I hadn't heard of it before, and didn't know they had a menu. The salon had coupons for free smoothies, so I thought I'd check it out.

Nutrition Now

Nutrition Now has many different varieties of smoothies, ranging from "fun flavors" like thin mint, butterfinger, and more unique fruity combinations. These aren't just regular smoothies, though. Each smoothie contains 24 grams of protein and a blend of vitamins and minerals, so they don't just taste good, but they're also good for you.

Nutrition Now

I chose the cherry almond for today's flavor. I watched as Desie, the smoothie server for the day, prepared my smoothie using frozen cherries, protein powder, milk, and more. They don't skimp, and the smoothie has the same texture as a milkshake. It's filling, but not heavy. It's been a few hours since I drank it and I'm still not very hungry. Desie said they use their smoothies to help their customers lose weight and maintain weight loss, and having tried one, I can see how it would help.

Nutrition Now

I also received a complimentary iced tea and a shot of aloe juice. You may not know that you can drink the juice of aloe, but you can. It was smooth, light, and had a tropical essence. Taking aloe juice internally is said to help your system in a variety of ways, such as helping alleviating digestive problems, and much more. Conclusive studies are still out as to whether aloe actually works, but it's an option to try if you're faced with the choice of taking medication or seeing if a natural alternative might be a solution*. Read up on it for more info. (*Of course, if your condition is serious, take your meds.)

The tea, which I believe was a concentrated powder, offers a steady stream of energy without the spike and crash of many sugar-filled caffeinated beverages. It had a really nice flavor. It was very refreshing on a muggy day.

Nutrition Now

I enjoyed spending a few minutes talking to Desie as he prepared my drinks. We talked a little about running, nutrition, and the benefits of the products I was trying. He also told me about his weight loss, which is always a cool thing to hear about. I've never personally struggled with weight loss, but I know how hard many people work to become healthy, and it's nice to hear a success story!

Nutrition Now also offers metabolic testing and weight loss/maintenance plans. I wasn't there to try those out, but you can inquire about them if they interests you.

I enjoyed my visit, and it's worth the stop to try a smoothie out at Nutrition Now.

235 West University Drive
Mishawaka, IN 46545-1104
(574) 277-2611

Nutrition Now

25 May 2011

Chicago Metallic Winged Baking Sheet Giveaway

Hey readers!

Another sponsor of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council blogger contest, Chicago Metallic, is also hosting a giveaway. If you remember from an earlier post, I received a nice Chicago Metallic Great America Bake Sale Winged Cookie Sheet along with cupcake liners. The nonstick cookie sheet features winged sides to make transferring to and from the oven easier, and a bumped rim to prevent baked good slide offs. The pan retails at $19.99. A portion of each sale is donated to Share Our Strength's Great American Bake Sale.

There are two ways to enter the giveaway, each giving you a separate entry:
  • Comment on this post, telling what you'd bake on the cookie sheet

  • Tweet about this giveaway, linking back to this post and adding @RunningFoodie, and comment again to let me know

Giveaway ends noon on Friday. Good luck!

23 May 2011

Roasted Lentil Gravy with Prune Stuffed Pork Loin + Le Creuset Giveaway

roasted lentil gravy with prune stuffed pork loin

My third recipe for the USA Dry Pea & Lentil contest is a savory lentil gravy. The lentils are roasted in the oven along with a prune stuffed pork loin. I've had a similar pork loin for Christmas from a Lidia Bastianich recipe, and knew the flavor of the prunes would pair well with the lentils.

Pardina lentils, along with carrots, onion, garlic, and baby portobello mushrooms are added to the bottom of a roasting pan with chicken broth. As the pork loin cooks, the juices infuse the lentils with more flavor. After the pork finishes cooking, taking about an hour and a half, the perfectly cooked lentils are pureed and added to a roux made from butter and sweet rice flour. The puree is thinned with a little chardonnay and more chicken broth, and served with slices of pork loin for a tasty and unique take on a traditional Sunday roast and gravy dinner.

Recipe after the jump.

roasted lentil gravy with prune stuffed pork loin

Le Creuset Giveaway

Le Creuset, one of the sponsors of the contest, gave another Farm Fresh Stainless Steel Steamer Pan to giveaway to one of my readers. The pot is really nice to cook in, as I've had the pleasure of doing, and I'm sure you'll like it, too. The pot retails at $185 so you're getting a pretty nice treat if you win.

There are two ways to enter:
  • Leave a comment on my blog telling me what your favorite lentil recipe of mine has been so far (between the gorditas, chocolate cake, and this one)

  • Tweet about this giveaway, linking to this post and adding @runningfoodie. Comment again to let me know.

Giveaway is open to US residents only due to shipping costs. Contest ends at noon this Friday. Good luck!

Lentil Gravy with Prune Stuffed Pork Loin

ingredients -

9 ounces pitted prunes
1/2 cup orange juice
5 cloves garlic, sliced
3 pound boneless pork loin
1 tablespoon Belgian style mustard
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
sprinkle of black pepper
3/4 cup USA dry pardina lentils, rinsed
8 ounces baby portobello mushrooms, chopped
2/3 cup white onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup carrot, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
3-4 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoon sweet rice flour
1/4 cup chardonnay

directions -
  1. Pour orange juice over prunes and let sit for 30 minutes to an hour.

  2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Slice a deep pocket on the side of the pork loin, reaching to the center. Don't slice through the ends, like a sub. Stuff the pork loin with the prunes and sliced garlic, leaving 4-5 prunes out. Tie the pork loin with kitchen twine to keep the filling in place as it cooks. Place in roasting pan. Combine the mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper and spread on the top and sides of the pork loin.

  3. Roast for 15 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 400. Add lentils, vegetables, remaining prunes and soaking liquid to bottom of pan along with 1 cup chicken broth. Cook for another 25 minutes. Continue cooking for another 30-50 minutes, until the pork registers 160 on an instant read thermometer and the lentils are tender. Add more chicken broth throughout the cooking time to keep the lentils moist. Taste the lentils throughout to check on the tenderness.

  4. Remove pork loin from the pan onto a platter and cover with foil to rest. Scrape the lentils and broth into a food processor and pulse until smooth. Add additional chicken broth if needed. You should have about 2 cups. If not, pour in more chicken broth.

  5. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Whisk in rice flour and stir for 30 seconds. Add chardonnay and whisk for 30 seconds. Add lentil puree and 1 cup chicken broth. Stir to blend and simmer until heated through. Push lentil gravy through a fine mesh sieve before serving.

  6. Slice pork loin into 1/4 inch slices and serve with gravy.

19 May 2011

gluten free chocolate-raspberry cake

gluten free chocolate-raspberry mousse cake

This is my second recipe for the Lentil Contest. I wanted to test myself by creating all kinds of recipe with lentils, not just traditional types. One idea I had was to add a lentil puree to baked goods. Yes, I realize this may sound off-putting, but the lentils blend right in and are rendered tasteless, especially against the strong flavor of the chocolate. You simply end up with a healthier cake than other recipes.

gluten free chocolate-raspberry mousse cake

Start by making a lentil puree. I chose decorticated red lentils, which are lentils with their outer skins removed. They are quicker to cook and have a more neutral flavor. I chose the red lentils because they cook into a yellow hue, making it easier to blend into baked goods without changing the color much. However, this is a chocolate cake, so feel free to use any lentil variety available (as long as it's not pardina).

gluten free chocolate-raspberry mousse cake

You're looking for the lentils to be translucent. If the centers still looked colored, they aren't cooked through.

gluten free chocolate-raspberry mousse cake

Finally, the lentils are pureed until smooth. The finished consistency will be that of a pumpkin puree.

gluten free chocolate-raspberry mousse cake

I made this cake in the manner of a mousse cake. There is no leavening; rather, the cake gets its lift from the air beaten into the egg yolks, and the beaten egg whites that are folded in at the end. I used sweet rice flour for the binding, which is made from sticky rice. It has a high starch content that's good for thickening sauces and desserts. Sweet rice flour can be found in the Asian section of your grocery store. It can also be subbed out with all-purpose flour if you don't have a gluten allergy.

gluten free chocolate-raspberry mousse cake

This is the batter after the lentil puree has been added. It looks exactly like a lentil-less cake, and tastes just like it, too. Only with this version you get more fiber, protein, and iron. Aren't lentils great?

gluten free chocolate-raspberry mousse cake

Once the egg whites are folded in and the batter poured into the prepared pan, smashed raspberries are swirled on top. After the cake is baked, the center will still be quite soft. This type of cake isn't baked thoroughly so that the center stays fudgy. This requires a rest time of at least 2 hours. It's a good cake to make ahead of time. You could probably even refrigerate the cake once cooled to room temperature, too.

I admit that I had a little trouble with this cake. The first time I made it, it was delicious taste-wise, but I didn't adjust cooking temperature to account for the density the lentils would add, and it didn't quite set enough. So, to get it right, I made it again, this time lowering the oven temperature and cooking it a little longer. I also let the cake set for a few hours, which helped the cake hold up, making it easier to slice. Practice makes perfect, and it also means more cake!

gluten free chocolate-raspberry mousse cake

Gluten Free Chocolate-Raspberry Cake
Recipe by Christina Provo

Ingredients -

1 cup USA dry decorticated lentils
1 stick butter, melted
12 ounces chocolate chips, melted
6 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sweet rice powder
1 cup frozen raspberries, thawed
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Directions -
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8-inch spring form pan and dust with cocoa powder. In a medium size pot, add lentils and 2 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 12-20 minutes. Remove from heat and puree until smooth. Measure out 2/3 cup lentil puree, reserving remaining puree for another use.

  2. To prepare the raspberries, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon water; smash with a fork until smooth. Set aside. If still frozen, microwave raspberries in a bowl with 1 teaspoon of water for 15 seconds. Add the sugar and mash.

  3. In a medium bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form; set aside. In a large bowl, beat egg yolks until thick on medium high speed, about 3-5 minutes. Gradually pour in sugar, espresso powder, and salt and beat for another minute. To the egg yolks, add melted butter, melted chocolate, lentil puree, and vanilla extract. Mix until combined. Fold in rice flour, mixing just until combined. Stir in 1/3 of the beaten egg whites to lighten the batter. Gently fold in remaining egg whites, just until blended. Some streaks may remain.

  4. Pour into prepared pan. Dollop top of cake with mashed raspberries; swirl with a butter knife. Place in oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. Sides will be set but center will jiggle a little. A skewer inserted in the center will have moist crumbs. Let cool before slicing. Serve with whipped cream and additional raspberries.

18 May 2011

Mojo Chicken with Cilantro Rice

Mojo Chicken with Cilantro Rice

I haven't really been cooking much, and when I have it's been less than exciting and definitely not blog-worthy material. Yesterday's dinner was an exception, for I made mojo chicken (pronounced mo-ho). I've never heard of it before, but I liked the sound of the ingredients. I'm always on the lookout for new marinades for chicken since it makes for a simple, healthy dinner.

What is mojo? In Cuban cooking, it's any sauce made with garlic, olive oil, and citrus juice, according to Wikipedia. The recipe I'm using today didn't use any oil, but that's okay because I don't think it really needed it.

Mojo Chicken with Cilantro Rice

The main components are orange juice (it took way too many oranges to get 1 1/2 cups - I filled it the rest of the way with water), cilantro, garlic, lime juice, and ginger. After it's whisked together, a portion is reserved for serving.

Mojo Chicken with Cilantro Rice

The citrus helps tenderize the chicken, so the longer it marinates the better. I just went for a couple of hours, though you can prepare this the night before and refrigerate it in a in a gallon size ziploc bag.

I didn't follow the method of cooking the chicken specified in the original recipe, which was to first sear it in a skillet, followed by a brief stint in the oven. I just stuck it in the oven on 350 until the skin was nice and crispy and the meat registered 160. It took about 45 minutes. I poured a little bit of the marinade liquid in the roasting pan at first and added more throughout the cooking period.

Mojo Chicken with Cilantro Rice

It doesn't end there. The recipe includes instructions for cilantro rice and quick savory black beans. I don't have canned black beans. All I have are dried beans and not enough foresight. But I always have rice, and rice takes just 20-25 minutes to cook. All you do is juice a lime into cooked rice and stir it in with chopped cilantro. I added a little salt, too. Cilantro rice is incredible stuff. I've been addicted to it ever since I ate a Chipotle burrito for the first time. I don't think this is an exact copy, but it tastes good and is easy to make.

And that's what's for dinner.

Mojo Chicken from Macheesmo

16 May 2011

USA Dry Pea and Lentil Blogger Contest - Lentil Gorditas with Baja Shrimp Topping

Lentil Gorditas with Baja Shrimp Topping

Last year I participated in the Recipe Rivalry, sponsored by the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council. I had a great time creating recipes and pushing the boundaries of what I could do in the kitchen, and now I have the opportunity to join in again! They contacted me, asking if I'd like to participate for this year's contest, and I said yes. So now I'm back in the kitchen cooking unique recipes with lentils, using them in ways you might not have ever thought possible. For our participation, we received a supply of lentils and some money to cover the expenses for ingredients.

For the next two weeks, May 16 through the 30th, I'll be posting four different recipes (if I get ambitious, I might just make a few more, outside of the contest). At the end of the week, I'll choose one recipe from the featured four as my final recipe, which will then be voted upon by you guys. The recipe with the most comments be the winner. The winner receives a 10-piece stainless steel cookware set from Le Creuset.

Le Creuset

Just for participating in the contest, Le Creuset has given all the participants a lovely 2-quart stainless steel steamer set. I'm looking forward to using it throughout the challenge!

Chicago Metallic winged baking sheet

Chicago Metallic also joined in, sending a lovely winged baking sheet and cupcake liners. They have also provided a baking sheet for my readers as a prize for a giveaway, so stay tuned for that announcement.

This year's challenge has a different twist. Last year we had free reign over our recipes, but this time we were asked to create gluten-free recipes featuring lentils. I've never cooked this way before, nor do I know anyone personally who is allergic to gluten, so I had to do a little research on the subject. It may seem pretty straightforward -- stay away from wheat. But there are other none-wheat flours and ingredients that may not be processed in a wheat-free facility, thus excluding them from the list of products safe to use. For example: Cornmeal. It is gluten free, yes, but certain brands might not process the cornmeal in a wheat free facility.

Lentil Gorditas with Baja Shrimp Topping

I mention cornmeal because it's an ingredient in my first recipe. Cornmeal, or masa harina, is used in Mexican cooking to make tamale dough. It's also used to make gordita dough, a fried corn cake stuffed with various fillings. Instead of using just cornmeal, I also used lentil flour. Lentil flour is a great protein packed wheat flour substitute. If you're using it in baking, you'll need to make certain modifications. This recipe is pretty straightforward and doesn't require any extra purchase (besides the lentil flour).

If you don't have a gluten allergy and you can't find lentil flour, it can be replaced by all-purpose flour or another bean flour. I haven't tried it with just cornmeal. If it's too coarse, it might not work, so masa harina (found in the Mexican section of grocery stores) would be your next best option.

Lentil Gorditas with Baja Shrimp Topping

The dough is patted out into mini goriditas, perfect for a tapas party, appetizers, or a light dinner. They are cooked in a dry skillet until browned on both sides. They're easier to make than the fried version, and also healthier.

Lentil Gorditas with Baja Shrimp Topping
Lentil Gorditas with Baja Shrimp Topping

The other components of the recipe are shrimp, a jicama-zucchini slaw, and a mayonnaise-based dressing with salsa, lime juice, garlic, and cilantro. The flavors are vibrant, light, and fresh.

Lentil Gorditas with Baja Shrimp Topping

Once the gorditas are cooked, a little extra sauce is spread on the bottom, topped with the slaw and shrimp, then garnished with a cilantro leaf. The gordita itself is soft and flavorful, also very healthy as a snack by itself thanks to the protein in the lentil flour. This recipe banks off of the previous recipe I posted because I felt it would be a nice addition to this contest, once I made the mods to deglutenize the recipe.

Sticking to a gluten-free diet is certainly a challenge, and more so if you're hosting a party with guests who aren't gluten free. If you're looking for something everyone will enjoy, try out this recipe.

Le Creuset Logo

lentil gorditas with baja shrimp topping
Recipe by Christina Provo

Makes around 2 dozen

Ingredients -

For the gorditas -

3/4 cup lentil flour
2/3 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 1/3 cup whole milk
1/2 cup favorite salsa, pureed if chunky
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons melted butter

For the topping -

2 1/2 cups jicama, julienned
2 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
3/4 cup mayonnaise
4-5 tablespoons favorite salsa, pureed if chunky
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, pressed
1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 pound cooked shrimp, coarsely chopped, skins and tails removed
2 tablespoons favorite salsa, pureed if chunky
Extra cilantro for garnish

Directions -
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the lentil flour with the cornmeal, corn starch and salt. Whisk milk, salsa, eggs, and melted butter together in another bowl until combined. Pour into dry ingredients and whisk with a fork until mixture comes together. The texture will be thick and shouldn't be sticky. Set aside to rest.

  2. To prepare filling, mix jicama and zucchini together. In a small bowl, blend together mayonnaise, salsa, lime juice, cilantro, garlic, and salt until smooth. Add 2/3 of the sauce to the vegetables and toss to coat.

  3. In a skillet over medium heat, add shrimp and 2 tablespoons salsa to heat shrimp. Remove from heat and cover until ready to use.

  4. Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Lower to medium. Portion dough into balls using an 1/8 cup measuring cup. Place a few balls on a sheet of plastic wrap. With another sheet on top, press balls out into two inch circles, about 1/4 inch thick. Carefully remove from plastic wrap and place rounds in a hot skillet. Cook for 2 minutes; flip and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack. Repeat with remaining dough.

  5. To serve, spread a little bit of sauce on top of each gordita. Top with 2 tablespoons of the jicama-zucchini slaw. Divide shrimp evenly and place on top of slaw. Garnish with a cilantro leaf.

11 May 2011

Herdez Spicy Cornmeal Crepes with Baja Shrimp Filling

Herdez Spicy Cornmeal Crepes with Baja Shrimp Filling

Herdez is teaming up with Foodbuzz to host a recipe contest. The prize is a little cash and a basket of Herdez products. I would love to win because Herdez has a nice variety of salsas, good to eat with chips or to use in recipes.

Herdez Spicy Cornmeal Crepes with Baja Shrimp Filling

To be eligible, the recipe has to feature a Herdez product. I chose the Salsa Taquera, a smoky tomatillo salsa with red peppers. It's a little different than other salsas I've had in terms of flavor and packs a spicy punch. My recipe is a formal take on Baja fish tacos, using cornmeal crepes in place of corn tortillas. The crepe is filled with a jicama-zucchini coleslaw dressed with a spicy and tangy sauce, and shrimp.

Using the salsa in the crepes, sauce, and shrimp makes the dish spicy. The spiciness compliments the flavors without overwhelming the other tastes, though.

Herdez Spicy Cornmeal Crepes with Baja Shrimp Filling

The silky savory crepes, made with cornmeal, lend a nice textural contrast to the crunch of the slaw. I found a recipe online for the crepes, subbing in some salsa for the liquid.
Don't be afraid to try your hand out at making crepes. It's one of those recipes that seem more difficult to make than they actually are. The batter is easy to work with, and you just need to make sure that crepe is set before you try to flip it, otherwise it might tear. A nonstick skillet makes the job much easier.

For the slaw, I used julinned jicama and grated zucchini. I left out cabbage, a traditional slaw ingredient, because I felt it would have been too prominent of a taste and texture. The slaw was tossed with a simple sauce of mayonnaise, salsa, fresh lime juice, cilantro, and garlic.

I chose shrimp instead of a white fish because I like shrimp the best. Usually I cook with raw shrimp, but this time I got precooked shrimp and heated it in a skillet with some of the salsa. I didn't chop it this time, though I would next time because it makes it easier to slice once inside the crepes.

Herdez Spicy Cornmeal Crepes with Baja Shrimp Filling

This recipe would be perfect for a weekday brunch or a dinner party. The crepes can be made ahead of time and warmed in a skillet before using. I guarantee that this is a meal that will be talked about long after it's over.

Herdez Spicy Cornmeal Crepes with Baja Shrimp Filling
Crepe recipe adapted from Epicurious

Makes 4-6 servings

ingredients -

Crepes -

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Herdez Salsa Taquera
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Cooking spray

Filling -

2 3/4 cups jicama, julienned
2 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
3/4 cup mayonnaise
4-5 tablespoons Herdez Salsa Taquera
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, pressed
1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 pound cooked shrimp, coarsely chopped, skins and tails removed
2 tablespoons Herdez Salsa Taquera

Directions -
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, and salt. Whisk milk, Herdez salsa, eggs, and butter together in another bowl; pour into dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Let batter rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

  2. To prepare filling, mix jicama and zucchini together. In a small bowl, blend together mayonnaise, salsa, lime juice, cilantro, garlic, and salt until smooth. Add 2/3 of the sauce to the vegetables and toss to coat. Set aside.

  3. In a skillet over medium heat, add shrimp and 2 tablespoons salsa to heat shrimp. Remove from heat and cover until ready to use.

  4. Heat a 9-10 inch nonstick skillet over medium high heat; spray with cooking spray. Lower to medium. Pour 1/3 cup of batter onto top half of skillet, immediately tilting and rotating skillet to coat bottom. Cook for 15-20 seconds, or until top of crepe is just set. Slide a spatula underneath and flip; cook for an additional 15-20 seconds. Transfer to a plate. Repeat process with remaining batter. Spray bottom of skillet with cooking spray if needed.

  5. To form crepes, place a crepe on a flat surface. Spread a few tablespoons of coleslaw onto the center, topping with 1-2 tablespoons of chopped shrimp. Fold in sides, then fold crepe up from the bottom. Fold once more, making a tight rectangular package. Slice in half on a bias. Spread sauce onto bottom of a plate in a zigzag. Place about 4 crepe halves on each plate. Garnish with additional cilantro if desired, and serve with extra salsa.

Cuisinart SmartStick Hand Held Blender review

Cuisinart SmartStick Hand Held Blender Review

I'm a little late with this review. I received a Cuisinart SmartStick Hand Held Blender from Wayfair.com. I've wanted an immersion blender for a while now. Immersion blenders can be used to puree large batches of soup right in the pot, mix up batters, make smoothies, and more. It saves you the trouble of taking out larger appliances, and even then you still have to puree in batches.

This particular immersion blender is only $30, comes in brushed chrome and has a removable stainless steel shaft that is dishwasher safe. The body feels like plastic, but it looks nice. The motor boasts a powerful 200-watts, making quick work of whatever you need pureed to perfection. While it might be bigger than other hand held blenders, making it border on cumbersome if you prefer really small appliances, it's easy to grip and the blade can be removed to make storage easier. The larger size also makes it easier to puree soups in tall pots.The blender operates with a one-touch control, no alternate speeds. The cord is long so you can bring the blender to the pot instead of the other way around. It comes with a 2 cup microwave and dishwasher safe plastic beaker, in which you blend smoothies and other stuff. It's particularly nice because there are measurement lines.

Cuisinart SmartStick Hand Held Blender Review

I wanted to see how the blender would handle ingredients that aren't already softened, like vegetables would be in soup. I sometimes make green smoothies consisting of spinach, apples, bananas, yogurt, water (or green tea), and sweetener, so I decided to use the hand held blender instead of the regular blender, which I kind of hate getting out.

Cuisinart SmartStick Hand Held Blender Review

I made a mistake by packing the ingredients a little too tightly. The blender works best when submerged and when there's enough liquid to keep the ingredients moving. The way I packed it, the large fruit pieces were on top and all the liquid was on the bottom. A little prodding did the trick and soon enough all the ingredients were evenly blended. I'd still suggest chopping everything into smaller pieces like I did to make it easier to puree.

When you use the blender, it helps to keep the shaft submerged. Using a pulsing up-and-down motion helps cut through the ingredients, though you don't want the blender to surface because it'll spray soup or smoothie liquid everywhere.

Cuisinart SmartStick Hand Held Blender Review

I added the banana last only because I forgot about it, but it worked better this way.

Cuisinart SmartStick Hand Held Blender Review

Clean up is quick and easy. Simply press the button in the back to release the shaft and run it under warm water. I let it air dry.

Cuisinart SmartStick Hand Held Blender Review

And that's all there is to it. The smoothie was pureed evenly and very smooth. Sometimes with the blender you can still taste bits of spinach that weren't completely pureed, so that's a big plus for this immersion blender. The size of the blender is large, but that just means you can puree in even the tallest of pots and pans. I would say that this is a must-have item to own. For $30, I couldn't be more satisfied with this blender.

10 May 2011

mother's day eats

mother's day eats

Since Mother's Day usually falls around the time when May starts to warm up, I orchestrated a grilled dinner with a citrus flavored pie for dessert. The meal consisted of shrimp skewers with tomatoes and mushrooms, cheddar onion turkey burgers, Italian sausage, bulb onions, a salad, limeade for drinks and key lime pie for dessert.

The shrimp and vegetables were marinated in a simple cilantro-garlic marinade with a little paprika for added smokiness. The used a recipe from the back of a crispy cheddar onion bag for the turkey burgers (the kind of onions you use in green bean casserole). I didn't have one, but everyone said they were good.

mother's day eats

The salad was a giant antipasto-like salad with marinated mushrooms, black olives, and green olives, dressed lightly with a homemade vinaigrette.

mother's day eats

I had some extra limes leftover from dessert and used them to make limeade, which was then turned into strawberry limeade by adding macerated strawberries. Very cool and refreshing.
I followed Simply Recipe's recipe, minus the mint. I didn't strain the lime zest, but make sure you strain the lime juice because the pulp gets a little overwhelming. I doubled the recipe and used 2 cups of sugar, which ended up minimizing the tartness of the limes. I added more juice to compensate. I'd suggest starting with the lesser amount of sugar, holding back half a cup of the water you add to the sugar syrup and juice. Afterward, if you feel it needs more sweetness to offset the tartness, whip up another small batch of sugar syrup and add it to the rest of the ingredients.

As an aside, a small bag of ice costs $1.80. It wasn't just for the limeade; I made a sweetened and spiced cold brew concentrate that needed ice for iced coffees. Next time I make cold brew coffee I'll zest an orange into the coffee grounds.

mother's day eats

For dessert, I made a key lime pie which I have previously blogged about. I didn't add the egg whites to the filling this time. I used them to make an Italian meringue (using the recipe from the frosting for coconut cake I recently blogged about). Since the egg whites are stabilized by the hot sugar syrup, it holds up much better than a traditional meringue. Those usually weep and dissolve after a few days, but this one is still looking good. I beat the meringue mixture for a few minutes on high speed after the last of the syrup was added so it would be stiff. I then baked the pie (sans meringue) for 7 minutes first, then spread the meringue onto the hot filling, sprinkled with sugar, and baked for 15 minutes. The top wasn't browning like I wanted so I turned the broiler on to finish it. Next time, I'll sprinkle lime zest on the meringue before it bakes.

mother's day eats

The meringue was amazing and almost marshmallowy. In the future, I'll never make a regular meringue again.

For the crust, I par-baked a homemade coconut shortbread. I winged the recipe because I wasn't sure what I used last time and I forgot I had blogged about it. Next year, I might use browned butter in the dough.

So ends another Mother's Day with a successful dinner. It was low key and fun. I look forward to grilling some more food now that the weather cooperating.

What was the highlight of Mother's Day weekend for you guys?.

09 May 2011

Lemon Spritz Cookies with Xylitol

lemon spritz cookies with xylitol

You may have heard of xylitol before, but if not I'll sum up. Xylitol is a natural sugarless sweetener made from corn cobs or hardwood trees like birch. Emerald Forest Xylitol only uses Northern American hardwood, which differs from the majority of xylitol available on the market that uses corn cobs. I don't know exactly what the difference between xylitol produced from hardwood and corn cobs is, but if you prefer to buy from an American company, Emerald Forest is for you.

I'll give you a quote from the email I received containing xylitol facts:
Xylitol is the same sweetness as sugar, has 40% fewer calories, and 75% fewer carbs. In about 95% of recipes it is a literal sugar replacement.

Xylitol is well known in 2 specific areas - the dental and diabetic communities. In the dental community it is well known because it is proven to prevent cavities. Xylitol creates an environment in your mouth where bacteria literally cannot grow. Sugar is a fuel for bacteria growth and Xylitol is an inhibitor. With 6+ grams a day of Xylitol you will be well on your way to preventing cavities. Xylitol chewing gum, mints, and candies are primarily what you hear about from the dental side because the Xylitol disperses in your mouth over time - and we manufacture a full line of these products.

They say that xylitol acts and tastes exactly like sugar. Unlike many other natural and artificial sweeteners, xylitol has no aftertaste (though excessive use can result in a mild laxative effect).

lemon spritz cookies with xylitol

After tasting it I can say it's really not like sugar, and definitely not as sweet. It almost seems like a mint in that the taste is rather cooling as it dissolves. My test today was to see if it was a good sugar substitute in baking. I don't often bake low fat or with reduced anything because I can always eat less, but every now and again a healthy alternative is nice to have on hand.

lemon spritz cookies with xylitol

I started with a simple spritz cookie press recipe, replacing all the sugar with xylitol. Lemon zest was pressed into the xylitol to release the oils and give the cookies a burst of lemon. Since the xylitol is more coarse than granulated sugar, I wondered if it was really going to affect the outcome of the cookies.

lemon spritz cookies with xylitol

Usually after creaming the sugar with the fat (shortening, in this case), you can still feel granules of sugar if you press the mixture between two fingers. This is often why bakers use superfine sugar, though it really doesn't affect the consistency or texture much at all. However, in this case you could still feel large granules of xylitol, sort of like baking with coarse sugar (which is often used to finish a baked good as the sugar won't dissolve from the heat as easily as does granulated sugar).

lemon spritz cookies with xylitol

After adding the egg, vanilla extract, and flour, the mixture was more crumbly than I remembered it being, but still came together and went through the press without a problem.

Upon close inspection I could still see shiny crystals of xylitol in the dough. When I ate a little I could taste the crunch of the crystals, and the dough wasn't really sweet nor flavorful. Strangely enough, the lemon flavor was nonexistent.

lemon spritz cookies with xylitol

When the first batch finished baking I could tell the texture was different. The cookies seemed spongy and bendable while warm, much different than how they usually are when made with sugar. When cooled, the cookies firmed up well enough that they could be shipped. The taste was lacking, though, as these cookies weren't very sweet at all.

I would think of these cookies like shortbread -- buttery, sweet, with a flaky and sandy texture. Much of that was missing and although they did taste good, I could tell that I would eat more of them since my taste buds weren't satisfied. The cookies were also speckled. This was probably due to the xylitol leaving marks when it melted. I used xylitol earlier in a chocolate chip cookie recipe, replacing just the granulated sugar with xylitol (there was also brown sugar). The dough that was baked the same day had the speckled marks, but the dough baked the next day had smooth tops. The taste was also a little different, as was the texture. It wasn't that bad of a difference, but it definitely did not taste like cookies made with sugar. I'm sure if you were to decrease sugar consumption you might adjust to the taste of baked goods with xylitol.

Overall, I can't say I'm pleased with my experience using xylitol in baking. I might just use it in the future to replace a portion of the regular sugar. From this take, xylitol won't make your baked goods taste exactly the same, but if you need to reduce your sugar intake I'd give it a try since the benefits outweigh the negative.

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Chronicling my adventures from the kitchen to the road, and back again.

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