Friday, December 23, 2011

A Modern (and Adult) Take on Holiday Traditions

Cropped screenshot of Rosemary Clooney and Bin...
I love the holidays.  But being that for the last nine or so years there has been no "kids" in our family, Christmas can get pretty boring.

Have no fear, the Curtis clan is here!  Over the course of the last nine years, my family has come up with a new set of holiday traditions we enjoy that don't just involve watching little ones open gifts.  Now that we do have a little one in the family, it is pretty fun to do the Santa thing, but our other traditions still exist.

  1. Shortbread with peppermint coffee.  Every year, I get out pounds of butter and make a GIANT batch of shortbread for us to enjoy with our peppermint coffee.  Shortbread is so easy to make, and granted, it's seriously fattening, but hey, it's only once a year!
  2. Port and chocolate.  Apparently, my family loves food and drink.  So we follow up every dinner with a small glass of port (our favorite is Chateau Bianca, Dallas, Oregon) and a piece of fine chocolate.  This tradition started with my grandma, whose French grandfather used to serve port on the evenings of special occasions.  We would sit in the living room with port and listen to stories about our Great-Great Grandpa and the tradition just sort of stuck.
  3. Elf Bowling.  This is a new tradition.  In fact, we are headed "elf bowling" tonight.  On the 23rd of December, we dress up in our favorite "elf" costumes (usually Christmas pajamas and a Santa hat, but this year it has turned into a sort of masquerade with my husband decked out in capris and jiggle bells, and my brother dresses as a D*ck in a Box).  Once all dressed up, we hit the local bowling alley for a little competitive elf bowling.  I do not know why dressing like an elf and bowling is so just is!
  4. Touring the World.  My brother, sister, father, and I are quite into beer.  Maybe it's because there are 13 breweries just in Bend alone (making it the No. 1 microbrew per capita capital of the U.S.), or maybe it's just that we like to pretend we know what we're talking about when we drink.  Either way, this tradition started about seven years ago when I picked up one of those "Beers from All Around the World" 12-packs from World Market.  We had fun saying, "We've just landed in Japan" as we collaboratively sucked down a Sapporo. But now that we are a little more beer savvy, we realized those beer kits are just cheap macrobrews that taste like dirt.  So, instead, we head to the specialty markets and pick out our own twelve beers, each from a different country, and enjoy tasting something new as we "tour the world."  Hard to admit, but after seven years, we are running out of beers to try!
  5. Stockings on Christmas Eve.  We used to do the whole sha-bang on Christmas day, but it's almost too overwhelming.  So a couple years ago, while trying to figure out what to do on Christmas Eve, we decided to open our stockings a day early.  You know, you just appreciate floss so much more when it's the only thing you open that day!
  6. White Christmas.  OK, OK.  Other than my husband, the men in my family hate this tradition.  But every year, on Thanksgiving night, we cuddle up with a glass of wine and watch White Christmas.  It reminds us of my Grandma who is no longer able to travel to see us for the holidays, and it lets us bring a little "piece" of her to every holiday celebration.  A night of White Christmas just wouldn't be complete without talking about how "Bing Crosby would beat his kids," (says my Dad); "Did you know their shoes were two sizes too small but they had to wear them anyway," (me); and "Oh, yeah, tell the fat one she's hungry and needs to go eat a sandwich in the middle of the night," (all the women). 
  7. Christmas Pajamas on Christmas Eve.  Ever since we were kids, my mom has insisted that there's nothing better than a new set of pajamas to wear on Christmas Eve.  But now I see there are two advantages to new Christmas Pajamas on Christmas Eve: 1) Looks good for pictures/video; 2) Elf Bowling (see item No. 3).
  8. Ten Dollar Limit.  What's the point of buying expensive gifts for each other when you are old enough to buy yourself anything you want?  But...put a $10 cap on the gift giving, and all of a sudden things get pretty interesting!  For example, this year, I contemplated making my brother a mini-me of "D*ck in a Box" using a Ken doll and mini present confetti from the craft store.
  9. Home Movies.  This is one of my favorite traditions.  My dad would always get out the 8MM film and play old Christmas movies to Christmas music as we hosted our Christmas dinner.  It gave people sitting on the couch something to watch, brought back memories of Christmases past, and was just something sentimental to do.  But the 8MM proved to be a huge pain for my dad, so five years ago, we transferred the film to DVD's.  Maybe the best Christmas gift ever.
  10. Cinnamon Rolls on Christmas Morning.  What's delious and easy to heat up on Christmas morn?  Why, Cinnamin Rolls of course.  I look forward to their sweet smell every Christmas morning. Click here for my recipe.
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Friday, December 9, 2011

7 Days of Thanksgiving Recipes - Sage Sausage Stuffing

My husband helps with the stuffing every year because he's the only one that won't eat it while he's cooking it.
Whoow!  It's been a long seven days of recipes.  Last one. This is a modified version of my mom's recipe.  I highly recommend stuffing half in the bird and cooking half in the oven to let your guests choose juicy or crunchy.  I knowing stuffing the bird is now considered "taboo", but seriously?  Is there anything better?

Mushroom Sausage Turkey Stuffing (1/2 in the bird)


1 Lb of Fresh Mushrooms, sliced
1 Lb of Sage-Flavored Sausage

1/2 Loaf of 12-Grain Bread of Bread of Choice, cubed
2 TBSP Olive Oil
2 TBSP Butter
2 Shallots, chopped
2 TBSP Garlic, minced
1/2 Onion, chopped
6 Celery Stalks, sliced
1/4 C fresh Parsley, chopped
1/3 C Mixed Fresh Herbs (sage, thyme, oregono, rosemary; light on the sage and rosemary because they can be overwhelming), chopped
1-1/2 C Walnuts
1 1/4 TSP Sea Salt
1/2 TSP Pepper
3 C Chicken Broth


Brown Sausage in a pan.  Drain and set aside. Add Butter and Olive Oil to a large pan or wok and heat over Medium-High Heat.   Stir-fry Garlic, Shallots, Onion, and Celery.  Add Mushrooms.  Add Parsley, Herbs, Salt, Pepper and mix well.  Add Sausage, Walnuts, and Bread Cubes.  Toss in pan until bread is slightly crispy.  Add Broth and mix well.  Add half to your bird, and reserve the other half in an oven-safe dish to bake later.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lettuce Wraps (Like PF Changs)

This is the recipe I most often get asked for by others who have had it at our house. While it is a great recipe for game night, a light lunch, or Asian dinner, my dad wanted to give it a try as a lunchtime appetizer for Thanksgiving. The only problem is, we filled up on delicious appetizers and had to push back dinner.

The lettuce wraps have a lot--I mean tons--of ingredients.  But the good news is, they are super simple to make once you mix everything together.  I suggest making extra "Special Sauce" and saving it so you can make more lettuce wraps anytime on the fly.

Lettuce Wraps (like PF Changs)


The Guts:
3 TBSP High-Temperature Oil
2 Chicken Breasts (boiled or sautéd; you can also opt for pork or beef).
1 C Water Chestnuts
2/3 C Mushrooms
3 TBSP Chopped White Onions or Green Onions
1 TSP Minced Garlic
1 Head of Soft-Leafed Lettuce (like Butter or Arugula)

Special Sauce:
1/4 C Sugar
1/2 C Water
2 TBSP Soy Sauce
2 TBSP Rice Vinager
2 TBSP Ketchup
1 TBSP Lemon Juice
1/3 TSP Sesame Oil
1 TBSP Hot Chinese Mustard
2 TSP of Water
2 TSP Garlic Chili Sauce (To taste; if you have a sissy mouth, don't add any.  If you like the fire, add the whole 2 TSP.  This stuff is HOT!)

Stir Fry Sauce:
2 TBSP of Soy Sauce
2 TBSP Brown Sugar
1/2 TSP Rice Vinager


Boil or sauté your chicken breasts, beef, or pork.  Chop into small pieces, about the consistency of taco meat.  Slice your water Chestnuts, Mushrooms, Onions, and Garlic.

Mix together Stir Fry Sauce.

Add High-Temperature Oil to your wok and heat over high heat.  Add Chicken, Water Chestnuts, Mushrooms, Onions, Garlic and Stir Fry Sauce and stir fry until soft on inside, crispy on outside.

Mix together Special Sauce (I use a mason jar so I can shake it up well and save the excess for later).

To make wraps, take a piece of lettuce, add the meat mixture, and top with special sauce.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

7 Days of Thanksgiving Recipes - Herb-Roasted Turkey

Ok, so it's pretty hard to screw up a turkey, right?  I mean, isn't it 20+ pounds of poultry bliss no matter which way you cook it?  The answer is probably yes, but I choose this recipe from BHG just because the presentation looked amazing.  I guess I do judge books by their cover, but luckily it worked out for me this time.  The turkey was moist and delicious.  I only have three "lessons learned":

  1. Thaw the turkey out more than 24 hours in advance when you buy a 23lb turkey so that you don't have to wait to cook it.
  2. Use an apple (not an orange like I did--the Rhine has a weird flavor) to "cork" the butt of the turkey where you put the stuffing.  
  3. I know you aren't suppose to stuff the bird with stuffing, but seriously, how good is stuffing from the bird?  Like anyone is counting calories at that point.  Reserve the fat-saving ideas for another day, but on Thanksgiving, just enjoy the damn stuffing from the bird!
Herb-Roasted Turkey 


1 Whole fresh free-range turkey
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
15 fresh sage leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 onions, quartered
1 apple, quartered
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups unfiltered apple juice


1. Rinse the turkey inside and out; remove giblets and neck from body and neck cavities.

2. Loosen skin of turkey breast. Place 2 Tbsp. butter and 4 sage leaves under the skin of each breast. Season turkey cavity and skin with salt and pepper. Place 2 rosemary sprigs, 1 onion, half the apple, and 4 sage leaves in breast cavity. Pour wine and apple juice in roasting pan; add remaining onion, apple, sage, and rosemary. Place turkey breast-side down in pan. Cover; refrigerated overnight.

3.  Remove turkey from refrigerator; let stand 1 hour at room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

4. STUFF THE BIRD and then pull the skin over the cavity and seal shut with an apple.  

5. Skewer neck skin to back. Tuck drumsticks to tail using kitchen string. Tuck wing tips under the back.

6. Roast turkey, covered until it "pops," basting the juices frequently. Uncover the turkey for the last 10-30 minutes before it pops (check out this timetable for cooking and thawing instructions).

7. Remove turkey from oven; spoon pan drippings on roasted turkey. Transfer turkey to a cutting board (reserve pan drippings for making Gravy). Let turkey stand for 30 to 40 minutes before carving (temperature of turkey will continue to rise 5 to 10 degrees), and the meat will firm up for slicing.

7 Days of Thanksgiving Recipes - The Best NY Cheesecake

This was by far the best dessert I've ever personally made.  I partly believe that's because I love cheesecake, and so I make it well, but the other part I give sole credit to my Father-in-Law's recipe.

(The Best) New York Cheesecake


Graham Crackers
Butter (softened)
Brown Sugar

3 Eight ounce packages of softened cream cheese or neufachatel cheese
1 C Sugar
1 TSP Vanilla
4 Egg Whites (beaten stiff)

1 Pint Sour Cream
2 TBSP Sugar
1/2 TSP Vanilla


Make the graham crust with a combination of ground graham crackers, butter, and brown sugar.  Press into the bottom of a spring pan and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth and well blended.  Fold in beaten egg whites.  Place over cooled graham crust and bake for 5 minutes at 475.

While baking, mix together sour cream, sugar, and vanilla.  Remove cheese cake from oven and top with sour cream topping.  Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate.  Serve topped with choice of fruit (I used cranberry topping) or sliced almonds.

Friday, December 2, 2011

7 Days of Thanksgiving Recipes - Orange-Spiced Cranberries


Cranberry and Orange Sauce

1 (12-ounce) package fresh cranberries
2/3 c sugar
1/2 navel orange (with skin), cut into 1/2-inch piece
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/4 tsp salt


In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine all ingredients, stirring frequently, until sauce is thick and cranberries pop, about 10 minutes.  Let cool to room temperature, or store in fridge up to two weeks.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

7 Days of Thanksgiving Recipes - Homemade Green Bean Casserole with Fried Shallots

This was a fan favorite: Creamy Green Beans with Crispy Shallots (it was in the November issue of Better Homes and Gardens, but I modified the shallots).  It's a homemade take on the Green Bean Casserole.  Everyone loved it and you can make it a day ahead of time.  Here's how:

Homemade Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Shallots (modified)

2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed and cut in 3-inch pieces
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick)
1 white or red onion, diced
1 pound button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 gratings of fresh nutmeg
Canola oil, for frying
9 shallots, sliced crosswise in 1/4-inch rings
1/2 cup cornstarch, sifted
1/2 cup of seasoned breadcrumbs
garlic salt (to taste)
2 eggs

1. Lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish; set aside.  
2. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to boiling. Prepare and set aside a large bowl of ice water. Cook green beans in boiling water about 2 minutes, just until bright green; drain and place in ice water to cool rapidly. Drain thoroughly.
3. Meanwhile, in very large skillet, melt 2 Tbsp. of the butter over medium heat. Cook and stir onion in hot butter about 3 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add 1 Tbsp. butter; turn heat to medium-high. Saute mushrooms about 4 minutes, until golden. Transfer onions, mushrooms, and beans to a large bowl.
4. Make the homemade cream of mushroom soup: In the same skillet, melt remaining 3 Tbsp. butter over medium heat; stir in flour. Stir constantly, about 2 minutes, until flour turns light brown. Slowly pour in the milk; cook and stir about 4 minutes, until thickened. Stir in salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Remove from heat; cool completely. Pour cooked sauce over bean mixture; stir to coat evenly. Spoon into prepared baking dish.
5. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.  Cover, refrigerate up to one day ahead of time. 

6. Meanwhile, mix in a small bowl: cornstarch, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, garlic salt. Meanwhile, for topping, pour 3 to 4 inches of oil into a deep heavy saucepan. Heat oil over medium-high heat until sizzling. Working in batches, separate shallots into rings; toss with egg, then coat with cornstarch/breadcrumb mixture, shaking off excess. Carefully add to hot oil. Fry for 2 minutes (each batch), until golden and crisp. Remove with slotted spoon; drain on paper towels.  Set aside in tupperware and store at room temperature until ready to cook.

7. When ready to cook, bake casserole for about 30 minutes at 350, until sauce bubbles around edges.  Top with fired shallots and bake remaining five minutes.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

7 Days of Thanksgiving Recipes - Asparagus Roll-Ups

So I am taking my favorite seven recipes from Thanksgiving this year and posting a new one every day. I'm going to start with the most amazing appetizer my sister made: Asparagus Roll Ups.  Simple, delicious, awesomeness!

Asparagus Roll Ups Appetizer


12 slices sourdough bread, crusts removed (use the crusts later to make homemade croutons!) 
1 (8 oz.) container whipped cream cheese 
2 tbsp fresh chopped chives 
8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled 
24 fresh asparagus spears, partially cooked 
1/4 c melted butter 
Fresh, grated Parmesan cheese 


Use a rolling pin to flatten each slice of bread.Combine cream cheese, chives, and bacon, stirring well. Spread bread with cheese mixture, covering to edges. Place 2 asparagus spears on each slice of bread; roll up, and place seam side down on a greased baking sheet. Brush each with butter, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 12 minutes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Very Merry Cranberry Thanksgiving Menu

I did it! I did it!  An entire Thanksgiving meal with not a burnt roll, soggy salad, or broken plate (however, two wine glasses and lever on the sink weren't so lucky).

We had a very quaint Thanksgiving dinner--just me, my husband, son, sister, mom, and dad.  Because it was a casual occasion, there was no set dinner time, which gave us the opportunity to take a leisurely walk down to Starbucks in the morning, snack on lettuce wraps and aspergras rolls in the afternoon, and have a 5pm (give or take a half hour) dinner.

I think the key to success for Thanksgiving dinner is:
  • Know what's ok to make ahead (cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, dessert)
  • Know what not to make ahead (turkey, salad, bread) and how to properly re-heat anything you do make ahead.
  • Pre-cut anything you can't make ahead.
  • Thaw your turkey early.
  • Don't have too many unique flavors that compete with each other.
  • Have a hungry audience so everything tastes good (i.e. lots of alcohol and don't serve lunch).
I will be sharing my favorite recipes from this meal with you over the course of the next week.  Just in time for Christmas!

The Menu:

Asparagus Roll-Ups
Lettuce Wraps
Blue Cheese, Walnut, and Cranberry Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
Herb-Roasted Turkey
Mushroom Sausage Stuffing 
Rosemary Mashers with Gravy
Homemade Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Shallots (fan favorite)
Rhodes Rolls
Cranberries with Oranges
Sour Cream Cheesecake

I found that I didn't even have to put out the fine China.  My casual dinnerware matched the Harvest decor just fine!  But it was laughable that I actually had to think to remember what side the fork, knife, and glasses go on!

I placed fabric leaves under my recycled glass plates and added gold chargers (from the Dollar Tree) for a festive look.  I can't help but laugh every time I see a charger because it reminds me of this episode of "Cribs" where this basketball player was eating off a charger and was so happy he "found these really big plates).

The table (before we messed it up).

The food (before we ate it).  Dinner was comprised of Roasted Turkey with Herbs, Rosemary Mashed Potatoes and Gravy, Rhodes Dinner Rolls, Homemade Green Bean Casserole, Sage Sausage Stuffing with Mushrooms, and Cranberry-Orange Sauce.

Mmmmm.  My husband insisted on canned cranberries (which no one ate because the homemade ones were better), and my sister insisted on Stove Top (which no one made because the homemade smelled so much better).  The only thing not homemade was the dinner rolls, which were an accident because we forgot to put the homemade bread in the breadmaker.

The crowd-winning favorite was the Homemade Green Bean Cassorole with home-fried shallots and homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup (recipe to follow in another post).
For dessert, I made a Cheesecake using my father-in-law's recipe.  It was to die for! I used leftover cranberry sauce for the topping.
I also used a Silky Pumpkin Pie recipe, but it pretty much just tasted like Pumpkin Pie.  The Cheesecake was better.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hosting Idea: Havest Pasta Bar

Short on time? Host with a Pasta Bar!
I always try to be a good host, even when I'm at odds with time and energy.  So when I find easy ways to cater great events--so I spend less time in the kitchen and more time with my guests--I want to share those ideas with others.

I realize that not all of us are cut out for hosting.  There are even days when I doubt my own abilities, especially if my son had a sleepless night or my husband worked too many hours that week.  We've all been at those awkward parties where there wasn't enough food, or the hostess never made it into the shower, or worse of all: you show up at an event where you know only the hosts and no one introduces you to the unwelcoming circle of friends.  I vow to avoid all of the above to the best of my abilities.

So, a good place to start for a new host is an easy menu so you can focus on the other stuff.  This Halloween, I found a great way to host: with pasta!
I once heard from an Italian, "the longer the noodle, the better."  I believe she was talking about pasta.  In that case, these 8' noodles from World Market are perfect for a pasta party.

It was so easy, the night before, I made three sauces plus a side of turkey meatballs: Tomato/Basil, Pumpkin Sage Sausage, and Sweet Olive Tomato.  This gave me something fresh and homemade to serve, but without the chaos of the kitchen the next day.
The key to a good pasta party is lots of options.  I had three types of noodles, three sauces, a side of meatballs and lots of toppings so each person could create and discuss their pasta masterpiece.
On Halloween, I unwrapped my pre-made sauces, reheated them on the stove, threw the meatballs in the oven, and then boiled an assortment of pastas.  I had three kinds of fancy, colorful (yet inexpensive) pastas that I purchased from World Market.  I had a long, harvest-colored spaghetti noodles, leaf-shaped macaronis, and a whole wheat pasta for the health-conscience.  Then I took little dishes and put a selection of toppings in each one: fresh basil, shredded Parmesan, fresh tomatoes, ground pepper, and garlic.  Add a bowl full of meatballs, and there were hundreds of pasta/sauce/topping combinations that could be created from this simple little pasta bar!
These pumpkin and leaf-shaped pastas from World Market gave my party the harvest flair I was looking for.
Among all the creations, the Pumpkin Sage Sausage sauce with the harvest-shaped noodles was the most popular combination.  The recipe is below.

Pumpkin Sage Sauce
 Pumpkin Sage Sausage Sauce


1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
1 pound sage-flavored sausage (Johnsonville)
4 TBSP fresh garlic
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
4 to 6 sprigs sage leaves, cut into chiffonade
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup cream or milk
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Coarse salt and black pepper
1 pound pasta
Fresh Romano/Parmigiano blend (Trader Joes)

Heat a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and brown the sausage in it. Remove sausage from pan (drain if desired). Add to pan the remaining tablespoon oil, and then the garlic and onion. Saute 3 to 5 minutes until the onions are tender.

Add bay leaf, sage, and wine to the pan. Reduce wine by half, about 2 minutes. Add stock and pumpkin and stir to combine, stirring sauce until it comes to a bubble. Return sausage to pan, reduce heat, and stir in cream. Season the sauce with the cinnamon and nutmeg, and salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer mixture 5 to 10 minutes to thicken sauce.

Return drained pasta to the pot you cooked it in. Remove the bay leaf from sauce and pour the sausage pumpkin sauce over pasta. Combine sauce and pasta and toss over low heat for 1 minute. Garnish the pasta with lots of shaved cheese and sage leaves.

PS - The side of meatballs were a real hit!  I highly recommend making your meatballs from turkey, as they absorb the taste of the sauce better than red meat.  Plus, they are so much healthier and the leftovers freeze well.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Secret Talent for Grilled Cheese

Did you miss me?  Probably not, because either a) you rarely come to this site; or b) you were one of my loyal followers which means you were also probably one of the friends or family riding the waves alongside me on a Mexican Rivera cruise last week (there was 50 of us total for my brother's wedding along the Carnival Splendor).

We got in last night, unpacked, and headed straight to bed.  Since the life of a social media consultant is not the most lucrative position in the world, I'm pretty cautious about our spending, and made sure we did not spend a penny on groceries for the week and half prior to the cruise.  So late this morning, when I realized I hadn't eaten anything more than a frozen springroll in 24 hours, I opened the fridge for some grub and this is what I found:
The story in the pantry was not much better...
Now, at this point, most people would have chosen to hit the Jack 'n the Box, Starbucks, or Deli for lunch.  But after a solid week of processed food and take out, I'm three pounds heavier and feel like crap, so no take out for me.

Luckily, I have a secret talent: Making creative food concoctions from practically nothing.  Case and point?  What do you do with pepper jack cheese, Parmesan, olive oil, a can of soup, and two slices of bread?  Make an olive oil pepper jack panini with tomoto soup!  And to be honest, this may have been my favorite grilled cheese sandwich EVER!

Olive Oil Pepper Jack Panini

Italian Bread (100 calories/slice)
Olive Oil (I have a Misto so I can use sparingly)
Pepper Jack Cheese
Specialty Salt granules (I have a seasoning salt blend from Savory Spice Shop that I LOVE)
Can of Tomato Soup
Pepper (from a mill)
Parmesan Cheese

Spritz the olive oil lightly over the inside of two pieces of bread.  Add the pepper jack cheese, and salt granules and make into a sandwich, oiled sides in.  Coat your pan with a light coating of olive oil and cook over medium high heat until pan is warm.  Add sandwich and cook approx. three minutes on each side.  Meanwhile, heat up tomato soup.  Top with fresh pepper and Parmesan.  Easy, delicious, and not-too-bad-for-you lunch.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Seven things you didn't know about coffee

Roasted coffee beans, the world's primary sour...Image via Wikipedia
So yesterday I posted an article on making the perfect cup of Joe.  Today, I wanted to follow up with some common Facts and Myths about coffee preparation.

In case you were wondering, my credentials on this topic include:
  • Fifteen years experience in the preparation and consumption of coffee
  • Membership in the Starbucks Rewards program
  • Live-in sister/Starbucks Barista
  • 10 years caffeine junkie
Seven things you may not know about coffee:
    1. Bold roast does not mean more caffeine. It describes the flavor of the roast.
    2. NEVER freeze coffee. Putting coffee in the freezer will allow the coffee to absorb the tastes of the freezer. Store in a cool, dry place instead.
    3. Grinding beans right before brewing will guarantee the best, boldest taste. Beans loose flavor as they are exposed to air.
    4. Different regions of coffee bean have different taste. Asian beans are spicier, Latin American beans are smoother.
    5. ALL COFFEE is organic because it is grown at an altitude that doesn't require pestisides.
    6. Good coffee is sifted numerous times. Bad coffee is the portion of beans sifted out. So put simply, Folders is the rejected Starbucks beans.
    7. Coffee is freshest within the first 30 minutes of brewing.
      So, there you have it.  Real tips from a real addict.

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      Tuesday, October 18, 2011

      Coffee Snob Diaries: How to make a killer cup of coffee

      It makes my mornings brighter.  It helps me get through a wild weekend when my brother comes to visit.  It's the only thing I can digest before 10am.  And, it's the perfect way to finish off a slice of pie.

      Coffee is possibly my best friend.  I love it.  I drink it by the gallon.  I know the password to Starbucks WiFi by heart.  I even have my own personalized Starbucks gift card which I frequently reload in order to get the free syrup with purchase.
      My custom Starbucks Card
      Which brings me to the purpose of this post.  If you do not like coffee, you either a) are impossible to please, b) universally grumpy, or c) don't know how to make a great cup of coffee.

      Have no fear!  I'm here to teach you how to make the perfect cup of drip coffee.

      Here's my tips for the perfect cup of Joe:

      Start with a good coffee beans.
      Coffee is a very personal thing.  Some people like bold roasts.  Some like flavored.  But I found the following to be good entertaining roasts that everyone seems to like.  The bad part?  Good coffee costs good money.  It's just a fact.  You can not make cheap cup of coffee taste good.  For best results, buy these roasts in whole bean form and store in a cool, dry place (NOT your freezer/fridge). Here are a few roasts I recommend:
      Grind you beans.
      For the best flavor, you should grind your beans just before brewing. As beans are exposed to air, they lose flavor.  For best results, invest in a good grinder that lets you select the desired coarseness.  Cheap grinders are messy, only have one setting, and don't grind with any consistency.  I used to have a Cuisinart Supreme Grind and Automatic Burr Mill I bought at Costco for $30, but it broke last month and I replaced it with a similar something else which is not similar at all and sucks.  So I recommend just getting a good one from the start.  This one is the best:

      Splurge on a good coffee maker.
      Have you ever purchased an $8 Walmart iron that leaked brown water all over your clothes and then burnt the fabric?  Well, and $8 coffee maker pretty much does the same thing.  There are two coffee makers I recommend:

      The Hamilton Beach Brew Station
      I have this coffee maker (it's my third one).  I recommend it because it has an insulated internal carafe that keeps coffee fresh and flavor consistent up to two hours.  Remember that air is coffee's enemy, giving it that bitter taste.  With this coffeemaker, each cup tastes as good as the first.

      Mr. Coffee Grind and Brew
      I've heard bad things about "Grind and Brew" coffee makers.  But I bought this one for my parents two years ago and it is wonderful!  Coincidentally, it's one of the cheapest on the market, only $56 at Walmart.  The best cup of coffee means freshly ground beans.  So why not grind and brew you coffee in one step, without the mess?  I wish Hamilton Beach would come out with a grind and brew version of their coffee pot!  That would be coffee heaven!

      Get a good filter.
      It is very "green" to get a reusable filter.  It is also very disgusting.  I understand why people use reusable filters, but who wants to deal with coffee sludge from the metal mesh filters?  This is probably the only time you will hear me argue against "green", but it's just not worth it. Instead, I recommend the natural, unbleached paper filters.  I don't know why, but they just taste the best.

      Try a French Press.
      If spending $60 on a coffee maker just doesn't justify itself, consider making "cowboy coffee" with a french press.  A good french press (I have the one from Starbucks), will set you back about $15 - 20.  French pressing brings out the natural aromas and stregnth of the coffee, because it will never burn and the flavor-preserving oils are not absorbed by the filter.  It's the tastiest way to brew good coffee.  Just remember to grind your bean on a coarse setting and invest in a good press to avoid the "sludge" effect.

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