Tuesday, July 26, 2011

DIY Iced Coffee: Saving you money and contributing to my caffeine fix

OK - so I'm not the only blogger to be fixated on iced coffee lately.  Ahem, Recipe Girl-Marcus Samuelsson-Ree Drummond.  It must be the heat.  Or maybe we're all fed up with paying through the nose to drink such ice-choked goodness.  At least, that's where I'm coming from.  I love iced coffee as an alternative to hot coffee (obviously) or iced tea.  But when you go to Starbucks (although I lurve you ...) and you pay about $3 for a drink that's more ice than actual substance, you know you'd better find a cheaper vice or figure out a way to do it yourself.  My local Trader Joe's helped me out by devoting an entire end cap to French Roast coffee and their easy-peasy recipe on cold brewing iced coffee.  It's pretty simple:

1 lb. coffee (to quote The Pioneer Woman "the stronger, the better")
2 gallons cold water

Combine the two in a hella-large container and let sit for 8 hours. 

These are my hella-large containers.  The Pioneer Woman had way better equipment than I did.  Just sayin'.
After a Herculean amount of patience and strange looks from your husband wondering why you are "wasting" what looks to be perfectly good coffee - this is where the fun (and the mess) begins.  Take another container and use a fine-mesh strainer to separate your future iced coffee liquid from the used grounds (dregs of former glory?).

I told you this was messy ... Instead of using cheesecloth, I used a coffee filter.  And then I got frustrated and just used my fine mesh strainer sans coffee filter.  Coffee grounds will not kill me ...

And that's basically how you make iced coffee.  After all of this, you will have made 2 gallons of iced coffee that gets diluted even further when you add it to an ice-choked glass.  Two gallons of DIY iced coffee vs. what you would pay at Starbucks or even McDonalds ... that equals some pretty substantial savings.

This is what the finished product looks like.

Ignore the crap in the background ... you'd think that if I went to the trouble of staging a photo, I'd actually move junk from the shelves in the background.  Not necessarily so ...

I took a page from The Pioneer Woman's book (as well as fond memories from my time in Malta and the Thai coffee from Newey's in Mantiowoc) and added a big tablespoon of sweetened condensed milk.  Imagine what this would be like with a little Bailey's or Kahlua.  That, my friends, you cannot get at Starbucks.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Light Lemon Cheesecake Cups

Today I turn 33 years old and I have a weekend full of wonderful memories to mark the occasion.  I am blessed beyond belief when it comes to the amazing people that I have in my life!

And I'm blessed to have found this recipe from Gina's Skinny Recipes.  She has a whole website full of Weight Watchers friendly recipes and one of the things I appreciate most is that she relies on the food itself to really stand out and doesn't clog her recipes with a bunch of artificial ingredients.  This recipe uses a minimal amount of REAL sugar and a tiny amount of flour.  And it's just perfect for summer.  You can find Gina's recipe here - I did not alter a thing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A new favorite sandwich

This blog post has everything to do with getting over past food hatred and the amazing combinations you can discover after drinking too much Riesling.

First off - conquering food hatred.  Pickled beets.  I didn't even try them when I was a kid, the look of them was enough to make me declare that there was NO way that I would EVER like pickled beets.  And my mom didn't argue with me.  I now know that this was her way of keeping pickled beets to herself.  (Smart lady.)

Fast forward over 15 years and a fateful stop at one of the Amish roadside stands near Harmony, Minnesota.  I picked up a plethora of canned goods on my way to see my folks and remembered my mom's love of pickled beets - so I grabbed a jar.  And then I tried them.  And it was one of those life altering experiences that defy conventional powers of description.  So I won't attempt to tell you how wonderful they taste - they just are.  And these days, there is always a jar of pickled beets in my fridge. 

A couple weekends ago, under the influence of some really good Riesling and good times with some friends, I discovered my new favorite sandwich - toasted baguette with some softened goat cheese and pickled beets. 

And it is gooooooooood ...

OK, so wait - before you take off to the hills before getting this recipe because you think that beets taste like dirt, there's one technique I need to impart with you, because I didn't believe it worked until I tried it ... it is rubbing a baguette (or any bread for that matter ...) with pieces of crushed garlic.  I never believed that such a weird technique could impart such flavor, but it really works and is essential if you're toasting up some baguette rounds. 

Anyway - here's how to make my new favorite sandwich ...

French baguette - rubbed with crushed garlic (one clove for each side) and toasted in a 375-degree oven
Goat cheese, about 2 oz., softened and spread on toasted baguette halves
Sliced pickle beets, drained on some paper towels
Fresh cracked black pepper
Arugula or romaine (**Not shown up above)

Toast bread.  After it is out of the oven, spread with goat cheese.  Sprinkle black pepper on top of goat cheese.  Place beet rounds on bread.  Top with other baguette.  Eat, enjoy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tex-Mex Something-Or-Other

The original name of this recipe is Tex-Mex Tabbouleh, but can you have a tabbouleh if you do not use bulgur?  As with all dishes I seem to make, I start with good intentions - but when you're surrounded by idiots in the grocery store and you find yourself in the parking lot having a "doh!" moment because you forgot to pick up the bulgur, but you're not enough of a martyr to go back to said store to be surrounded by idiots, you make do with what you have.  And you make a tabbouleh that's quinoa based, as opposed to the traditional bulgur method.

I found this recipe on the Weight Watchers site.  I wanted to make this because I wanted a healthy salad that incorporates lots of veggies, but doesn't make me feel like I'm eating a ton of lettuce.  (Lettuce and I have a complicated relationship ...)  I also dig a traditional tabbouleh salad (a Middle Eastern influence of cucumber, tomato, lemon juice and mint), so I was intrigued by the idea of a Tex-Mex take on one of my favorites.  Even if I think that cilantro tastes like soap.

Yeah - I'm good for breakfast.

Tex-Mex Tabbouleh
adapted (barely) from WeightWatchers.com

1 c. uncooked quinoa, cooked 
1 cup(s) tomato(es), diced  (eyeball it ... use as many or as few tomatoes as you wish)
1/2 of a medium cucumber, diced  (note - for future attempts at this recipe, I would peel the cuke)    1/3 cup(s) cilantro, leaves, fresh, chopped  
3 Tbsp scallion(s), sliced  
1/2 of a fresh lime, juiced 
2 tsp olive oil, extra-virgin  
salt and pepper, to tasted 
1/2 tsp ground cumin  (again, add according to taste - I used a generous amount of Penzey's Adobo Seasoning)
1 avocado, Haas, diced   

Cook the quinoa according to the directions above (follow the link).  Fluff quinoa with a fork and let cool to room temperature or until just slightly warm.  Meanwhile, in a large serving bowl, combine tomatoes, cucumber, cilantro, scallion, lime juice, oil, salt and cumin.  Add cooled bulgur to bowl; toss to combine. Gently fold in avocado and let stand 10 minutes for flavors to blend.  Serve, or cover and refrigerate up to 6 hours. Let stand at room temperature about 10 minutes before serving. Yields about 2/3 cup per serving.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A moment of introspection ...

I'm not going to say that it was the hardest case I ever covered, I can go years - apparently - without thinking of this particular case that I covered at the tail end of summer 2001 and into fall 2002.  But today, as news of Casey Anthony's acquittal flashes across my computer screen - I think about a 13-month-old boy who drowned in a bathtub after his father left him there.  The dad was surfing porn and downloading music off the Internet, not knowing that his actions would have tragic consequences.

Looking at the two cases is like comparing apples and oranges.  Both are hideous crimes against children, but for the 13-month boy in my case - there was no elaborate cover up.  The efforts of my town's EMTs and police officers tried to unsuccessfully revive the boy.  The father was later convicted and although I don't remember all of the details of his sentence, one of the conditions was to write a letter to his son every year on the anniversary of his death for five years.  That would have ended in 2007 or 2008.

Out of curiosity, I Google'd the name of this former defendant that I had known.  He's still out there (he was only in his early 20s when his son's death had occurred) and the picture on his Facebook are of his two current children.  I cannot say that they are cute - this is going to sound really bitchy, but the girl looks kind of goofy and the baby needs to grow into its face in that way that new babies do.  But I hope that this fellow is now a good father.  I need to believe that people learn ...

Is Casey Anthony guilty?  It has always appeared so to me, but I haven't hung onto her case with the breathless anticipation that 25% of America did.  I am now waiting for the announcement of a tell-all book that will net Casey Anthony a few million dollars and the made-for-TV movie that will star some C-list actress as the party-mom-turned-model-defendant.  (With that long ponytail, I've been finding myself thinking more and more of the Mormon hairstyles on "Big Love."  Seriously, that goes through my head.)

My cynicism when it comes to people like Casey Anthony ... it truly knows no bounds.  I won't even write the snarky thought that went through my head when I saw that my former defendant had sprung two more children from his loins.  (OK - yeah, I will ... I was thankful to see that they looked alive.)

But my cynicism stops when I think about the victims in these cases.  Caylee, a Florida toddler and Logan, a 13-month-old who came from a very tumultuous relationship ... you're in a better place.  The rest of us will remember you with love in our hearts.  And we will continue to shake our heads at the people who brought you here in the first place. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

East Berry Trifle

I'm all about impressing people with my culinary prowess.  I like to bake.  I like trying new recipes.  I can spend hours watching Food Network and obsessing, in detail, over the most minute detail regarding Guy Fieri's hair.  (Confession:  He used to annoy the hell out of me, but I'm kind of falling for his California-foodie/surfer dude schtick.  And his hair doesn't annoy me as much any more.)

But then there are times where it's about, oh, 100 degrees in the shade and I would cheerfully give up beer if it meant that I didn't have to turn on my oven.

And that's where something like this comes in ... it looks kind of elegant, tastes amazing, utilizes convenience ingredients and allows me to keep my beer and a comfortable temperature in my home.  (And if you're looking for something patriotic on the Fourth ... well, strawberries, blueberries AND Cool Whip?  Oh yeah ... symbolic home run all in one.)

All ingredients/quantities are approximate.

1 Sara Lee Pound cake, cut into cubes
1 lb. strawberries, sliced
2 c. blueberries
2 T. instant vanilla pudding
1 16 oz container Cool Whip
zest of one lime (this part is totally optional - I was just getting in touch with my inner Giada and wanted to zest something.)

In a large bowl, mix together the Cool Whip, instant pudding and lime zest.  Take a clear glass bowl if you have one, because this is all about showing off the layers ... Put a layer of the cubed pound cake, a layer of berries and a layer of the Cool Whip mixture.  Repeat.  You can garnish this dish with berries, but I'm lazy when it comes to garnish.  Store in fridge until it's time to serve.

And speaking of Cool Whip ...