Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mustard Vinaigrette

Ever since reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, I've done a better job of really taking the time to find out where my food comes from.  I don't do the best job all the time, but I am making more of an effort.

One of the main things that's irked me is the amount of corn syrup that's in everything under the sun.  It's in ketchup, cereals, canned goods, you name it.  And one of my biggest disappointments was finding it was in one of my favorite salad dressings.  You make this whole effort to go the healthy route with a salad, and then it's ruined because of the nasty bottled gunk you put on top.  FAIL.

I paired the dressing with a spinach, cranberry
and walnut salad.

I certainly don't always have time to make my own dressing, but I thought I would give it a go with this recipe for a mustard vinaigrette simply because it seemed very hard to mess up.  And that it was.  I was pleasantly surprised with how well this turned out, although I will say that next time I'd decrease the amount of oil called for to make it a big lighter taste-wise.

The original called for all vegetable oil, but I opted for a blend of olive oil and vegetable oil.  I'm pretty sure though you could go with all olive oil if you didn't mind the different in flavor.  I also upped the amount of mustard by just a bit just because I love it so much.

I also thought of using this as a chicken marinade.....???  Maybe the leftovers can be used for such a dish!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday's Tips, Tricks and Tid-Bits ~ Crumb Coating Your Cake

If you regularly read my blog you'll know that one of my favorite things to bake is a cake.  Layer cakes to be exact.  Layer cakes used to intimidate me, but once I got used to them they have become the confection I get most excited about.  And this is mainly because I so enjoy eating them.  And tasting the batter and frosting along the way :)

One of the problems I encountered the most when I first started out was that of getting a good coat of frosting free of crumbs.  And the further along in the frosting process I got, the more the issue snowballed.  Crumbs got back into the bowl and were then just redistributed all over the cake each time I applied more frosting.  It would quickly became one, huge crumb-y mess.

The easy fix for this is to do what is known as  crumb coat.  You lightly coat the cake with a thin layer of frosting, not worrying about any crumbs that might get in the frosting at this point.  Then you stick the cake in the fridge so that the frosting will set.  When you put the final coat of frosting on the cake after it's nap in the fridge you don't have the worry about the crumbs because they are sealed in under the crumb coat.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cherry Sauce

Growing up I always loved eating those maraschino cherries out of the jar at my grandparents' home.  You know, those bright red ones that always top off an ice cream sundae?  I would eat those like candy and then drink the juice in the jar.  Kind of gross, but they were oh so good at the time!  I'll still ask for a small cup of them any time I see them at a bar alongside the limes.

While I also love those big, plump cherries you can get in the summer, I always miss them when they're out of season.  Enter dried cherries.  While they definitely can't compare to the fresh, ripe fruit, they are great for adding delicious cherry flavor to dishes and desserts.

I had some dried cherries left over from some granola bars I made the previous weekend (that post is coming soon...promise!) and decided to figure out a way to incorporate them into my pork loin that was sitting in my freezer.  I've had cranberries with pork, but never cherries.

This sauce was incredibly easy to make and I loved the different flavor the cherries lent to the dish.  It was sweet, but the balsamic vinegar balanced that out perfectly.  I served the pork with the honey glazed carrots I posted last week, but next time I'm definitely going for some mashed potatoes.

And don't be shy about adding this sauce to something other than pork.  It would work great with turkey or chicken as well (I'm having a Thanksgiving vision....).

The recipe below is just for the sauce.  I seared and roasted my pork loin and simply added the sauce over it at the end.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Substituting Butter with Spreads

In an attempt to create a healthier dish, one might be tempted to reach for a spread (aka a butter substitute) in place of the actual butter.  While this may seem like a good idea at the time, the resulting effects can be less than desirable depending on the dish.

If the recipe calls for butter solely as a flavor additive (using butter to flavor a piece of meat), then you might be okay.  But if the butter is used as the "token fat" in a dish such as a cake and will affect the texture, a spread simply won't cut it.  This is because spreads are more water and less fat when compared to butter.

Smart Balance is one option that comes to mind.  If you read the label of this product you might be surprised at what you'll find.  Smart Balance is actually an oil blend rather than a dairy based product.  So if you were to use Smart Balance in place of regular unsalted butter in a cake recipe, the result would be quite detrimental.

Let's take a look at the ingredients list for Smart Balance, shall we?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ginger and Honey Glazed Carrots

I know I may be in the minority, but I've always loved carrots.  I'll eat them raw with hummus, roasted alongside some beef, or glazed on their own.  One of my favorite ways to cook them is with a bit of butter and honey to add some just a bit of sweetness to them.  

I had seen a recipe by Alton Brown for some ginger and butter glazed carrots quite some time ago and ended up adding some honey to Alton's original take on the dish.  We were recently gifted some honey by a family friend who keeps bees (not sure what the official name for this is....would he be a bee-keeper??) and I simply couldn't pass up the opportunity to add some of this gooey goodness to the carrots.  

I was a bit skeptical when I saw that Alton's recipe called for the use of ginger ale soda to achieve the ginger taste, but I have to admit it made the dish so incredibly quick and easy to put together.  I'm sure you could achieve this same affect through the use of freshly grated ginger, but since I had just enough ginger ale left in our fridge I decided to give the soda method a go. 

And what do you worked.  The ginger flavor wasn't incredibly prominent, but it was still there.  The flavor was so great and the dish was so easy to put together that it is now my go-to when I need a vegetable side dish in the future.


PS Not sure why the carrots are flaming red/orange in the pics...trying to fix that.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Seared Scallops with Broccoli and Beans

In my quest for healthier dinners I recently decided to explore Whole Foods' website to take a gander at some of their recipes.  I've never used any of them, but I always love their hot and cold buffets, so I figured they couldn't be that bad.  I found a few recipes that looked good (chicken enchiladas anyone??), but decided to go with this dish of seared scallops just because they are simply one of my all time favorites.

I have to say that this dish was not only extremely easy to put together, but it was also out of this world delicious!  I wouldn't have thought to add beans into the mix, but they paired perfectly with the broccoli.  The only change I made from the original recipe was that I added some butter for the browning of the scallops.  Butter just makes everything taste better.  Period.

I'm thinking you could also leave out the beans and pair the broccoli and scallops with pasta if you wanted a heavier dish.  But then that would negate the healthy factor, right??  Oh yes, the whole point of this meal :)

Enjoy!  Next week I'll be blogging some a-mazing ginger and honey glazed carrots that are beyond easy, so make sure to come back and visit!

PS This recipe says it contains four servings, but I just split the whole thing in half for me and the hubby.  Unless you have the appetite of a hamster you'll realize this dish only feeds two.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My Favorite Chicken Salad

Okay, I'll have to start this post off today by admitting that until just a few years ago I had never tried chicken salad and honestly couldn't stand the thought of it.  I'm not a big mayo fan and the thought of any dish drenched in it simply did not appeal to me in the least.  And while I still don't like versions of the dish that are too "wet", chicken salad has now become one of my all time favorite staples.  I know, I know, don't knock it til you try it.

I've made several versions of chicken salad over the years, but this one is probably my favorite.  I like my chicken chunky instead of shredded, and I also like when a few add-ons such as pecans and dried cranberries are tossed in as well.  It punches up the flavor a few notches and adds a slightly different element with regards to the texture of the salad.

The below version can certainly be altered to your liking if you wish.  Add some apples, grapes or walnuts to put your own twist on it.  And make sure to keep an eye on the "wetness" factor of the salad.  If it seems a little dry add some extra mayo and dijon.  But also realize that the chicken will absorb some of the mayo mixture at first as it sits for a while.

But whatever you do make sure and follow the instructions for preparing the chicken.  I beg!  I discovered this little trick through Cooks Illustrated and I swear the chicken is more tender and juicy this way.  And if you start off with bad chicken there is simply no hope for your chicken salad, no?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tuesday's Tips, Tricks and Tid-Bits ~ Measuring Gooey Ingredients

I got the idea for today's post as I was baking my peanut butter oatmeal muffins I posted about yesterday.  You know when you have to measure something sticky or gooey (such as shortening or peanut butter or honey) and you can NEVER get it all scraped out of the cup??  And then everything else you measure sticks to the gooey mess as well?  I know, so incredibly frustrating.

And then on top of that mess you can never seem to wash it out of the measuring cup either.  It just sticks to your sponge and smears around everywhere.