Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Go Asian with your New Year’s spread
Eric Akis thinks like I do: He thinks of Asian food for New Year’s Day. But believe me, he thinks of way more amazing things than I have experienced. Akis can convince readers they can do amazing things for themselves and their guests in “Everyone Can Cook For Celebrations: Seasonal Recipes for Festive Occasions.” If you want something new for the new year, try The Emperor’s Fried Rice, Mandarin Cranberry Tarts with Ganache, No-Fuss Yorkshire Puddings or this easy one I aim to try:
Emerald and White Jade Soup
7 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
To taste, freshly ground black pepper
2 10-ounce packages soft tofu, cut into _- inch squares
4 cups baby spinach, stems removes, leaves thickly sliced
Place the stock, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and pepper in a pot and bring to a simmer. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Divide the tofu among eight heated, shallow soup bowls. Swirl the spinach into the simmering stock and cook for 1 minute, until just wilted but still vibrant green. Ladle the soup into the bowls; serve immediately.

Beer parings
Beer and cheese is the new wine and cheese, according to Del Papa Distributing Company. They have a Beer Gourmet Program and make these suggestions:
• Bud Light with Triple-Cream Brie Cheese
• Budweiser with Aged Cheddar Cheese
• Budweiser with Aged Gouda Cheese
• Michelob ULTRA Amber with Smoked Baby Swiss and Lavasch Crackers
• Michelob AmberBock with Gorgonzola Bruschetta
• Michelob Lager with Red and Yellow Tomato, Fresh Mozzarella and anchovies drizzled with balsamic vinegar
• Michelob ULTRA with fresh melon wrapped in prosciutto ham
• Michelob Light with cheddar and jalapeno summer sausage and red grapes
Limited edition chips
I hope that folks who live far away from the South get a chance to taste Zapp’s Potato Chips of Grammercy, La. Folks in these parts love their thick, crispy flavors. VooDoo Gumbo is a limited edition kettle recipe that makers claim was an accident born when a pallet of spices dropped and made a new mix.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Plan ahead, and take time to yourself this new year
I’m always planning, even when I’m relaxing. This final week of 2009 I’m sharing ideas for a few goodies to pamper/organize yourself (to me it’s the same thing) and a few book ideas to stimulate the mind.
News fans, thanks for reading!

Wonder Hanger
While I loooovvveee hand-me-downs, I have something of a wonder going on in my closet. Almost all of the clothes in there are those I picked myself. I thank Weight Watchers for helping me slim down and I’ve been thrilled to donate my larger sizes to Missions’ Attic.
Imagine the extra closet space I have. But I’m not stopping there. My nerd, OCD obsession with order has brought me to Wonder Hanger, as seen on TV, that promises to triple closet space. Plastic spacers enable you to loop five coat hangers onto a rack that swings out when you need it. It really, really works. I love it. Now all my T-shirts and button downs can live together in color-coded harmony.
You can get 20 pounds of jackets, purses, etc. on Wonder Hanger, no matter if you use plastic or wire hangers. No matter what Joan Crawford says, my mother is sticking to wire hangers.
I’m also checking out Twin Draft Guard, a strip of the same foam used to insulate pipes in Northern Canada, that can insulate a door or window and also block fumes and noise. You’ll love this: it’s machine washable. The hanger and guard should cost you about $9.99 each at major retailers including Walmart, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond and Walgreens.

The Paraguay bath
I was thrilled to get a big block of chocolate that is actually a soap bar. The square chunk of Snow Cleansing Blend made me sing the “White Christmas” song about washing my hair and face with snow. Wembè Amazon Soul is named for the “monster fruit” of the Southern Atlantic rain forest and was born from a mother’s fascination with soap making developed through a trip to Europe. She went home and cooked up bars from local products, including mango, yerba mate, black clay, avocado, passionfruit, seaweed and coconut. She and her son expanded the business to America so we can bathe Paraguay style with exotic scents and textures. Give yourself a New Year’s treat by sampling the 16 varieties in the 2010 collection of soap bars so interesting, even your kids will beg to take a bath.

Yak Pak
Just because the Yak Pak catalogue shows hip college students dashing about town with their cool messenger, bowler and cross body bags doesn’t mean all ages can’t move their goodies around in one. In fact, the Megu is all about the Mardi Gras, even if the designers didn’t know it. It’s a Japanese word meaning blessing, and this cotton twill hobo has enough purple and green to say “let the good times roll” to Southeast Texans. Tote your throws in this hobo or go with pop florals sure to take you back to the ‘70s. I think there’s a lot of good pocket, zipper and snap detail inside.

“Fly-Fishing Secrets of the Ancients: A Celebration of Five Centuries of Lore and Wisdom”
By Paul Schullery
I sit by Mary Meaux, reporter/fisherwoman. I’ve never even been fishing, but I’ve come to recognize a “good fishing day” by the weather. This University of New Mexico Press book shares “provocative theories” and such he dug up and “current angling dogma.”
 The book shows an illustration from a German publication in the ‘20s of women soaking and washing small fleece sheets upon which cultivated silkworms had laid their eggs. Eggs would then be “awakened,” warmed and hatched so new silkworms could be raised and harvested.

“Celebrating 100 Years of the Texas Folklore Society”
Organized history buffs know where to look for the stories. Get them all together and they get to talking … or writing. In this new University of North Texas release, fans send up their famous group in collections of anecdotes and columns.
“Do we brag? You bet,” Scott Hill Bumgardner. “The stories of our diverse peoples have been derived from Vietnamese boat people, Mexican peons, healers, oilmen and more. But for me, the addition began with the society’s editor, J. Frank Dobie. Dobie brought the history and lore of Texas to life.”

“Grace” and “Roseborough”
By Jane Roberts Wood
I haven’t yet read these, but I can’t wait to tell you about them. The author lives in Argyle and set “Grace” in the east Texas town of Cold Spring in 1944, a the community waits for war to end. The other novel features a recent widow whose teen takes off and who finds her job at the Dairy Queen “grounding.” Sounds like Texas to me. The University of North Texas Press books are No. 3 and 4 in the Evelyn Oppenheimer Series.
I saved my Ten Fidy Imperial Stout for a good rye bread and deli meat sandwich and was not disappointed. Oskar Blues Brewery of Lyons, Colorado, is part of the new trend of making you laugh. The can marks itself as half-baked, fully-roasted ale that is cross-eyed, cyclopean and canupiscent. I looked up that last word and found concupiscent, meaning lustful or sensual. So I laughed and learned a new word indicating that maybe beer does make you smarter (It made Bud weiser). But I do want to share that it was rich and fragrant and satisfying, too. All the Ten Fidy products are thought-provoking.

Give to Caesar
I usually feel bad for folks who routinely dine from cardboard boxes. I tried a very satisfying line of gluten and wheat free Italian meals from Caesar’s, but I still urge consumers to put it on a plate, please. Seriously, you can imagine you’re in a restaurant with manicotti or stuffed shells with cheese in marinara sauce, or various lasagnas. Creamy ricotta cheese and rice flour noodles are in spicy sauces. It felt very filling on a cold winter’s day. May I suggest, you also use your good silver and a crystal goblet for a change.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Got $10 bucks? Make “caviar.”
Being a budget gourmet is sort of my hobby. It’s a challenge that brings poached orange scallops with mint, peppered sirloin with cranberry reduction and wasabi burgers with green pepper and parmesan into your life.
In “The $10 Gourmet: Restaurant-Quality Meals That Won’t Break Your Budget,” Canadian celebrity chef Ken Kostick offers chicken gumbo with white wine and sun-dried tomato that looks like a bowl of jambalaya, with no liquid in sight. His jambalaya with chorizo and mussels acknowledges rice is the dish’s constant and as for flavors, anything goes.
They may not be traditional, but they do look amazing. I’ve long tried to convince co-workers that being broke doesn’t mean overpriced frozen food, instant noodles and unhealthy fast food. Photos in this book could convince them. Kostic starts with a $50 pantry and inspires diners to shop fresh and seek sales for basics and accents such as this:

Mushrooms & Apple Caviar
2 cups chopped button mushrooms
1 small red onion, chopped
1 small apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 cup apple juice
1 cup vegetable stock
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
_ teaspoon dried basil
_ teaspoon oregano
Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook the mixture on low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half. Serve over pasta, rice or grilled foods.

Log on
My coworkers still remember the mushroom log I had at my desk in the old building. For one memorable week, the dark, damp log produced mushrooms you could snap off and eat.
I got the second log of my life from Gourmet & Mushroom Products of Graton, Calif, the people making fungus fun. This log produced some big ol’ shrooms that flavored a satisfying rice dish, but the best part is just watching them grow. It’s a conversation starter. Just keep your log wet and watch the little guys form. You can chop up the log for composting. Gotta love nature.

Go barefoot
While slinky silver sandals are holiday standards, revelers can go informal with Barefoot Wine’s moscato for about $8. It’s sweet with pear and lemon flavors that makers suggest can aide in your holiday cooking. Try two tablespoons in your pumpkin pie recipe. The wine, paired with fruit and cheese, could be one of the lower calorie meals of the season that feels like a splurge. Here’s a colorful one designed to brighten the holiday.

4 ounces (1/2 cup) Barefoot Moscato
2 ounces (1/4 cup) cranberry juice
2 ounces (1/4 cup) orange liquor
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) fresh lime juice
2 slices lime
Shake all ingredients with ice.
Strain into a chilled martini glass.
Garnish with lime peel.  Serves 2.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The stars at night are big and bright
Dark December nights make for the best star viewing deep in the heart of Texas. I finally understood constellations in just one night, thanks to “The Night Sky,” a glow-in-the-dark guide you take outside to help you find the sparkle in the sky. Power it up with your flashlight, then head out to view Orion, Canis Major and Andromeda. I’ve had lots of overworked guides that have just confused me, but this one is simple and just right. I’ll be flipping it over in no time for the summer sky view. Waterford Pocket Guides open a new world of science, nature, travel and language.

“Firsts: Origins of Everyday Things That Changed the World”
By Wilson Casey
Instant coffee may have been around since 1771, but Nestle produced Coffee-Mate, the first nondairy instant creamer, in 1961. Have a cup while you ponder other tidbits from this conversation-starter of a book:
• Leonardo da Vinci described and sketched the first ideas for contact lenses in 1508.
• Ancient Egyptians used henna to darken gray hair, nails and lips.
• A Chinese treatment of gum disease in 2700 B.C.E. suggested rinsing the mouth with urine.

“Personal Finance for Dummies”
By Eric Tyson
Overdrawn from the holidays?
“This book has some great tips,” my test reader told me. “There’s tips throughout the book, which make it easy to read.”
Icons point out issues of concern. Here’s some quick tips:
Use your credit card only for convenience, not for carrying debt.
Don’t buy consumer items with credit — like cars, clothes, vacations — that lose value over time.
Invest at least 5 to 10 percent of your income for retirement.
Research before you buy, especially when it comes to investments.

Libations for a toast
This New Year’s, pair potatoes with Maine blueberries. You get Cold River Vodka in flavors your guests will remember. It’s got a cool 3-D bottle that you could transform into some sort of snow globe if you were crafty, like people tend to get after New Year’s parties. Please drink responsibly.
Sobieski Truth Serum is a festive-looking drink made with Poland’s No. 1 premium vodka and cranberry tea. Cytron and vanilla are the company’s two new flavors, made with Dankowski Rye with natural vanilla and citrus flavor, which I recently tried all by themselves. It was as refreshing as our recent snow. Sobieski makers are proud of a brand that’s authentic and affordable and I’d have never thought of this recipe using the “original” flavor:
Green Concept
Sobieski Vodka
Triple Sec (Marie Brizard)
Cucumber wheels
Fresh lime juice
Lemon-lime soda
Muddle cucumber slices with lime juice in an old-fashioned glass. Add ice, vodka, triple sec and top with soda.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Work pomegranate into your Indian holiday fantasy

Photo spreads of silver dishes, elephant trinkets, golden fried and curried foods, wines and candlelit tables, I think the image of the well-stocked pantry, with rows of neatly-labeled bins and jars, is my favorite in “Entertaining from an Ethnic Indian Kitchen.” Some call Komali Nunna the Indian Martha Stewart for her attention to detail and a clear love of putting on a show. Readers will want to stage, or be invited to, every scenario in this thick picture book. Recipes include far-from standard takes on classics. Inspired by these exotic flavors, I am to soon fry banana in coconut oil and explore a range of curries. Here is one extremely easy project for your holiday table:
Pomegranate Glaze
1 cup pomegranate syrup
1 tablespoon ginger juice
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
Stir everything together in a small sauce pan. Heat over medium-low heat until heated thoroughly.
There are no further directions, but in context from the book, I’d try this on rice, meat, fruit or in a drink.

Icing on the anything
I have great tips that I never even plan to use. I know you can snip the corner from a sandwich bag of icing and improvise a piping tool, but it still sounds tedious. Betty Crocker presents cans of flavorful cupcake icing with drawing, ribbon, leaf and star tips built into the lid. You can instantly personalize cookies, cakes, etc., (even if they came from the supermarket). Picture this innovation amid children creating holiday cookie masterpieces. I know we’re not supposed to mind the mess, but hey, this product will unleash your genius and help you clean up. Go Betty.

Power to the chocolate
A decade ago I thought my friend was downright snooty with her dark chocolate ways. She liked this European style and I was fine with my American milk chocolate. Oh, how times have changed. I’m all about the dark stuff, and it’s a challenge to get that cocoa content up, up, up. Sometimes it tastes like bitter motor oil, but I love it. The dark is supposed to be better for you, in moderation, so it’s no surprise Navitas Naturals sells a brick of raw chocolate paste, packaged by the pound in a beautiful gold wrapper that looks like a gift to be placed at the manger. Suggested uses are to include it in truffles, for magnesium; desserts for dietary fiber; and energy bars for iron. I’ve been stabbing it with a knife to splinter off dark dust to eat by the spoonful. I imagine it would be good as a garnish over something with whipped cream. I have a lot of brick left. The company has sweet cacao nibs that are crunchy, dark and sexy. I want to use them as “croutons” on a spinach salad with mandarin oranges and olive oil vinaigrette.
Shaman update: Your love of chocolate can help the Huichol Indians in Western Mexico and the Sierra Madre Mountains. Shaman Chocolates supports educational and other efforts for these people who have made chocolate a part of their culture. Blend their world with your love of dark chocolate with green tea and ginger, acai, raspberries, coconut or pink sea salt. I’m just getting started with their list. Golden boxes of chocolate bits of heaven, shaped like flowers, are stocking stuffers with a cause.

Crystallized ginger is the new sugarplum fairy
It can be a candy alone or a sweet addition to cookie, breads and cake. Crystallized ginger can make your rice and fish dish go Asian or fill a baked pear or apple. Frieda’s packages a soft version of sugar-coated ginger that can take the taste back to a Victorian Christmas setting. It’s crazy good out of the bag. This flavor is as old as the emperors or as fusion forward as a drink garnish. The company has other amazing ideas. I’d love to see chocolate-dipped ginger on a New Year’s party spread or snip some into cranberry sauce. Remember holiday travelers, sailors used ginger to settle the stomach.

A good cheese
A chunk of cheese can be your meal. You’re supposed to eat dairy every day, why not make it a treat? I just tried some that tasted like candy to me. Knowledge is power. I read that cows grazing on grasses of the famous Dutch Beemster Polder in North Holland, which is 20 feet below sea level, make milk “sweeter and softer.” Pay attention Nederland cheese lovers. The blue sea clay helps cows give Beemster Premium Gourmet Dutch Cheese a butterscotch, whiskey and pecan flavor. I knew I was right. It’s cheese candy. I tried classic and X.O. alone, but I’m willing to try suggestions of pairing it with rich, red wine; pasta; salads; and sandwiches.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rauschenberg mentioned in ‘Meaningful Living’ book
Port Arthur native Robert Rauschenberg gets a nod for inspiration in a new coffee table book, “The Art of Meaningful Living,” by Christopher Brown and John Palmer
The late Rauschenberg, the internationally-famous artist, apparently said that he works with things until he is bored or understands, words which he uses interchangeably. Authors say he transcended monotony of everyday things by finding beauty in them.
The mind doesn’t have a delete button, so you can’t just empty the trash of negative self talk. Listen for programmed thoughts, but not to them, this book reads. Brown has a private psychotherapy practice in Houston and Palmer, of Houston, has contributed abstract artwork for a useful and attractive coffee table book. Thoughts on listening to your reasonable “wise mind” and quotes from great thinkers, including Obi Wan Kenobi fill the book. If you actually leave it on the coffee table, I wonder if guests can get some insight by perusing it while a hostess readies the appetizers.

Here’s some other finds to make you holiday sparkle for you and others:
Pretty as a picture
A dollar cake mix and a new poinsettia cake pan from Nordic Ware could be the hit of your holiday spread. The non-stick cast aluminum pan turns your cake, bread or mold into a big, 3-D sculpture. I can’t turn out enough creations and everyone who has seen it wants to try it. Clever and Christmassy. There’s a wreath version, too.
Walmart is advertising gifts that won’t break the bank, including:
• Paula Deen bakeware and accessories like a 3-Piece Mixing Bowl set, pie plate or measuring cup set.
• New appliances like the GE Digital Hand Mixer for $29 to make mixing easier.
• Bake for the season with seasonal cookie cutters starting at $2.50.
• Transport your goodies with Mainstays Covered Cake Pans.
Sparkle season
It’s time to pop corks, or at least unscrew caps, to lift a glass. My mother, a fan of anything that sparkles, enjoyed R. W. Knudsen’s Sparkling Pomegranate drink that turned an ordinary meal into a bit of a celebration. This fruit is showing up in everything and this one’s a keeper. It has more flavor than Champaign, though I suppose a blend of the two could keep the party going. Try it in your own recipe.

“The Sweethearts’ Knitting Club” By Lori Wilde
Here’s a spicy stocking stuffer:
I know some knitters, so I couldn’t resist a paperback romance set in north Texas about a girl’s decision to finally marry the sheriff she’s been dating for 10 years and going back to the bad boy just released from prison. The “good guy” was her public high school sweetie and the bad boy was her secret one in a town that has a tourism economy based on reuniting former lovers. Flynn is working on her mother’s dying dream, to open the Yarn Barn, but her own secret is that she can’t even knit herself. Wilde spins a yarn of racy fun in Twilight. I forgot just how racy romances are these days. Put down your needles and pick up this book.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bake a gift or try a heart-attack sandwich
Take a cake walk with Marcy Goldman, or try her Weekend in New England Cranberry Scones or Dueling-Dough Apple Pie. Whatever you choose from “The New Best of Better,” offering more than 200 classic recipes from the “beloved baker’s website,” will make your holidays brighter. They had me at bread pudding muffins (dessert or breakfast?).
This season, we may consider baking all about the chocolate and nuts, but this book covers you with everything from your own Cuban sandwich bread to pretzels and bagels, and even the sauces to go with. Try the following on pizza:
Sun-dried tomato pesto
1 28-ounce jar oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
10 cloves garlic
1/2 to 1 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Put the tomatoes in a medium bowl and add very hot water to cover. Stir for a few minutes, then drain. This softens the tomatoes and gets rid of some of the packing oil. In a food processor, combine the tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Puree until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for up to two weeks.

The funny guy can cook
Pierre A. Lamielle looks like he’s being punished … forced to eat a rutabaga … on the back of his book “Kitchen Scraps.” His acknowledgment is an apology to his parents and his goals include illustrating a children’s cookbook with his longtime man-crush, chef Jamie Oliver. If you like stories with your food consider the tale of Vinnie “Vicious Fishes” DiMare’s risotto with the fishes or the blessed eggs of St. Ben “Benny” Benedictus, a chicken herder who dreamed of a creamy sauce for his poached eggs. Amazingly funny drawings accompany this book like no other. This guy can really cook, with offerings such as Babushka Grannies’ Battle of the Borscht and Puttanesca Prostitute, but I imagine a party at his house includes way more than just culinary fun. Here’s just a wee sample to get a flavor of his style:

Heart attack sandwich
6 slices thick-cut bacon
3 eggs
4 thick slices of gleaming white fiberless bread
3 1-ounce slabs of cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
Potato chips
In a large frying pan, cook the bacon until crispy. Place the bacon directly onto a plate, and not on paper towels — we want all the excess grease.
Now, the bacon has left behind a pan full of bacon drippings. Fry the eggs in it, cooking the yolks hard to keep them from spilling out in the sandwich later. Transfer the eggs to the same plate as the bacon.
Layer the sandwich like so … bread, cheese, egg, bacon, mayonnaise, potato chips, bread … and so on, until you have three layers of filling smooshed between four pieces of bread. Using what is left of the bacon fat, fry the sandwich until it is golden brown on both sides.
Makes 1 memorable last meal.

Ice cream makers have done the math
Math and ice cream don’t mix for me, but Dryers/Edy’s Slow Churned Ice Cream has mixed up a new flavor for the holidays. Hot Cocoa has marshmallows swirled in to the blend. My plan is to go down the list and try eggnog, peppermint and pumpkin pie, as well. Makers say they’ve done the math to calculate your waistline concerns because these flavors are still “light.” It’s a good thing, because you’ll want more. I do. Portion control is the key, so you still have to read the label, but get this: A serving of Slow Churned Hot Cocoa Ice Cream has 280 fewer calories and 12 fewer grams of fat than a 16 ounce serving of traditional hot chocolate. Try it through January.

At some point, you’re going to actually crave healthy foods after this holiday season. Get FrutziO ready. The freeze-dried fruits do seem, as the space-age silver bag reads, “sinfully indulgent,” but the 100 calories offer forgiveness. Crispy Green's new Apples & Strawberries FruitziO is a suitable stocking stuffer for children and adults.