Friday, March 28, 2008

Peep Season - A Week Late

I bought some Peeps the other day. They were there, on sale, and it was a nice, small package of five Peeps. they were the cute little purple chicks. I liked the color. Too bad I didn’t like the Peeps.

I wasn’t surprised. This seems to happen every year. The Peeps call me and say, “hey, here I am!” I buy them, I take a bite, I think about how stale they are. Were they that stale when I was young?

So, I think a lot of people have decided that the best thing to do with a package of Peeps is to play with them and have some fun. And what fun they have!

Here are some sites that are great Peep fun:
The Washington Post has an annual Peeps Diorama Contest. Here you will see creative Peeps photography at its best. Each photo is of a scene from a movie or is reminiscent of something we’ve all seen. It is really worth a visit. Try to guess what you are looking at before you read the caption on the upper left.
Here’s Peep Show II. It is the second annual Sunday Source Peeps Diorama Contest. These photos are of the 37 best entries out of over 800 entries total.
This is a photo essay of Lord of the Rings done with Peeps (The Fellowship of the Peep). I enjoyed it, and I never saw or cared for Lord of the rings.
This is a great gallery of the best of the internet peep pictures. Some of them came from my other links, but most were new to me.
Peeps for Passover photo essay. It depicts the 10 plagues with peeps. It is really creative and inspiring, and definitely fun.

This next link is not really Peeps, but a Peep-inspired set of video games:
Here you will find two fun-filled video games, Peeps style. One of them is Peep Invaders and the other one is Peepsteroids (Asteroids). I could see wasting a lot of time here, doing what I do best – procrastinate!

Lastly, here are some great individual photos:

Friday, March 21, 2008

Recipe: Scallops With Asparagus

The Great Cookbook Throw-Away

Where would so many of us be now without cookbooks? I pay homage to the wonderful chefs and cooks who create and share with the world.

But I have a secret to share with you. Psst..... I have a bit of a clutter problem. Actually, I’ll admit that “a bit of a clutter problem” is a gross understatement. And to make it worse, I have a constant battle going on inside of me, a little devil who encourages me to hate doing something about it.

Let’s put it this way. My husband, Joe, wants me to tell you that I have a high tolerance for filth and squalor. It’s true.

So, things build up, and my inner battle explodes, and I go on a rampage from time to time. A couple of years ago, my cookbooks were at the receiving end of my battle, and I through almost all of them away.

It wasn't that I had a problem with the contents, I just had a problem with their physical existence.

In my personal opinion, bookshelves are ugly. You get a mishmash of books that don’t go together. You squeeze them on these shelves. Loose papers end up between them, magazines, 3-ring binders. Then you end up with a wall that is full of uncoordinated dust-collectors, and I'm very allergic to dust.

But throwing away all my cookbooks was a good thing, and that’s because of computers and the Internet. I was already using the Internet much more than my actual books. The variety of recipes is tremendous, and just a click away. And I can copy and paste them into a Word document, and store them in the clutter-free file cabinet on my hard drive. I can even store them in multiple locations. Oh, and if I still can’t find what I’m looking for, I can do a search. It’s just great.

Not only did the computer help me get rid of the clutter and dust, but there are such great sites to visit. An original recipe is posted, and then all of the people who make it can rate the recipe and comment on it. They can tell us the things that worked, and the things that didn’t. And they can tell us about the changes they made to the recipe and make further suggestions.

My favorite recipe sites are:


This site is where all of the recipes for Bon Appetit and Gourmet Magazine are stored. They allow you to rate and comment on all the recipes. When a picture is available from the magazine they post it.

This is a recipe community where people post their recipes and pictures. Then everyone can try them out and rate and comment. And, they give you all the nutritional information. That’s cool!

A sophisticated collection of recipes. I just started hanging out here, and subscribing to the magazine. The only bummer is that you can’t rate the recipes. But I think they are trying to stand apart and I respect them for it.

A friendly recipe community. People post their recipes, others comment, rate, and even add their own photos of the finished product.

There is one other site that used to be a favorite. I’m posting it here with a warning:
I’ve been subscribing to Cooking Light for many years now. Recently, however, their online collection has been merged with their sister magazine, Southern Living. I don’t like that. If I’m searching for Cooking Light recipes, I don’t want the high fat and calorie recipes of Southern Living coming up in my search. If I wanted that, I’d go to their site. So all be warned. I am visiting this site a lot less often since they changed it.

Recipe: Asparagus in Warm Tarragon-Pecan Vinaigrette

One of the few cookbooks that survived my rampage was Vegetable Heaven by Mollie Katzen. I used it more than the others, and was unable to part with it.

The author, Mollie Katzen, had a public television show that was the companion to the cookbook. Joe and I had just moved to Nashua, NH together and I had my tiny little galley kitchen (my kitchen now isn't much bigger). She inspired me that day when she made this recipe on the show and I just had to have the book.

Over the years, I made the recipe so many times that I became confident to make it without a recipe, making slight changes to suit my taste.

Thoughts on this recipe:
  • I always look for thin asparagus. I think that it's more tender, and less fibrous. When you cut the asparagus, leave the tips in tact!

  • A time saver is to buy the already chopped and toasted pecans available at Trader Joe's. Gosh, I love those things. BTW, they do it with almonds too.

  • If I had it on hand, I'm sure that 2 Tbs. fresh tarragon would be better than the dried stuff I use.

Asparagus in Warm Tarragon-Pecan Vinaigrette
adapted from Mollie Katzen's Vegetable Heaven

One bunch of fresh asparagus, cut on a diagonal into 1" pieces
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs sugar
1/4 cup pecans, chopped and toasted
2 tsp. dried tarragon

Mix the vinegar, sugar, and tarragon together and set aside.

Sautee the asparagus on a high heat till just tender (3-5 minutes). Add the vinegar mixture. Let it sautee for one more minute. Toss in the pecans and it's ready to serve.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Recipe: Scallops and Beets and Creme, Oh My!

Food and Wine Reminds Me of Passover

I recently started a subscription to Food and Wine Magazine. I bought it to support a fundraiser and it was one in a list of magazine subscriptions that I could choose from. So far I’ve gotten two issues, and I’m enjoying them.

I’ve tried two recipes in this latest issue. It is the issue that precedes the Jewish holiday of Passover, and therefore offers a sampling of their takes on Passover recipes.

While I’m not particularly religious these days (and I’m married to an ex-catholic), I was brought up in a Jewish home, attended Hebrew School, went to synagogue almost every week, and had a successful Bat Mitzvah at the age of 13. I will try to remember my lessons from so many years ago to explain the holiday.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Passover (or Pesach in Hebrew), it is a week long (actually 8 days) holiday that commemorates the Jews liberating themselves from slavery. If I remember correctly, the story goes that God told the Jews to put lamb’s blood on their doors. Therefore when the city was raided, the sign of blood would be seen on their doors and the people inside would be “passed over” instead of killed.

Afterward, the Jews escaped to the dessert. They made unleavened bread, or matzo, because they were unable to stay in one place for any length of time and let the bread rise.

So today, Jews forgo leavened bread during the week of Passover, and therefore have a number of traditional recipes that are typical during this week. Food and Wine this month included recipes for a Potato Kugel, Matzo Ball Soup, and a version of tzimmes called Honeyed Carrots with Currants and Saffron. That is the Passover recipe I chose to make.

There are different versions of tzimmes. In general, tzimmes is an orange vegetable dish that is sweetened with honey and fruit. The type of tzimmes that I am accustomed to has sweet potatoes, carrots, and prunes. It is a heavy side dish. My mother says that her mother’s tzimmes was extremely sweet. She said she tried to make it, but it never seemed to come out right. To be honest, Mom was never much of a cook though, and I really want to get hold of that recipe now and give it a try. But until then, I decided to give the Food and Wine recipe a try.

Recipe: Honeyed Carrots with Currants and Saffron

This recipe is from Food and Wine Magazine.

The Honeyed Carrots with Currants and Saffron is a light dish. It is pleasant and somewhat sweet. I like the addition of the saffron. When I made it, I think I cut the carrots too thick and needed extra broth to cook them. Also, the currants I used were from Trader Joe’s and seem to be monster-sized. I think I would prefer smaller currants.

Here’s the recipe.

¼ cup canola oil
3 ½ lbs. carrots, sliced diagonally 1/3 inch thick
2 tsp. finely julienned fresh ginger
1 tsp. ground tumeric
a pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
½ cup fresh orange juice
3 Tbs. honey
1 cup chicken stock
¼ cup dried currants
salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large saucepan, heat the canola oil. Add the sliced carrots and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Add the fresh ginger, tumeric, and saffron and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the orange juice and honey and cook until the juice is reduced to a glaze, about 8 minutes. Add the stockand currants, season with salt and black pepper, and cook over maderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are tender and the liquid is thickened, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and serve hot or at room temperature.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I must create!

It was a super-stressful week at work. I planned a very large event (not in my job description) and it was one of those things that would build my reputation professionally and personally. So while I felt a need to be creative this week, I had to hold on to that energy.

After about 12 hours sleep last night, I woke up and started my work. It began with the flowers. A few weeks ago I tried to create a classy bouquet. But I was unhappy with it and decided it needed work. It needed more silk flowers than I had, and a different vase. I was very happy with the end result.

Isn't it pretty?

Then, onto the jewelry! A little over a year ago a friend of mine introduced me to the wold of beading. I got hooked and spent way too much money on beads. But about a month ago, one of my favorite necklaces met it’s death when it fell from the railing at the top of the stairwell. I’ve held on to the pieces, and today’s the day the necklace got tackled.

I had worked up a hunger, and was ready to make some sushi. My favorite sushi is a spicy tuna roll. This time I had sushi-grade tuna to work with and had made a nice, fresh batch of sushi rice just last night. I was ready to go!

Recipe: Spicy Tuna Roll

Rice Cookers

When I started making sushi and semi sushi I decided to invest in a rice cooker. I had flashbacks to my old college days. They used to kick us out of the dorm during the summer and leave us to find housing off campus. One summer I roomed with three Japanese students. It was funny because each of them had their own separate rice cooker, and they sat on a buffet table in the dining room, constantly plugged in. At the time, they didn't have digital readouts like this. They each had little lights on them, and I'd look at them in the dark room and they looked like little space orbs. They kept the rice at the perfect serving temperature all day long.

These days, that kind of rice cooker looks like this:

These rice cookers can cost several hundred dollars. But I wasn't up to spending that kind of money.

I did a little bit of research on rice cookers. They say to make sure to get one that is nonstick and that has a removable pan so that you can clean it easily. I ended up buying this rice cooker:

It was only about $31 on Amazon and it's nice and small (holds 3 cups of rice). It got good ratings. I've used it quite a bit now and it's perfect.

It makes cooking the rice so easy. It comes with a cup measure. Then you don't have to measure the water. You just put the inside pan under the faucet and fill it to the appropriate mark on the inside wall which is based on how much rice you are cooking.

Then you just click the button and 20-30 minutes later you have perfectly cooked rice.

Fran's Chocolates

Ordering really nice, expensive chocolates makes me feel special. Okay, I know that I’d be a healthier person if I had replaced the first part of that sentence with the words “working out at the gym,” but it’s the chocolates that do it for me. My latest thrill came from Fran’s Chocolates.

Fran’s Chocolates is impressive right from the start. Their Website ( is kept current and displays beautiful pictures of seasonal choclates. Right now Spring is approaching and their site pictures beautiful Easter baskets with pastel spring colors, chocolate bunnies, an pretty bows.

I immediately hit the truffles link. Fran’s offers milk chocolate truffles, imperiale truffles (liquid-filled), dark truffles, and a truffle assortment where I can see a few white truffles in the picture among the milks and darks.

Dark chocolate is my thing, so I clicked on the link. I was so happy to see a key to the types of truffles that come in the assortment. There’s plain chocolate ganache (in both 56% and 66% cocoa), raspberry, orange oolong tea, espresso, and single malt whiskey! I had to have that.

I also visited the link to the caramels. They offer salt caramels, milk and dark chocolate caramels, and caramel assortments; some of which contain nuts.

When you order the truffles, you can choose Occasion gift boxes that combine their different products, but I decided to get two separate boxes so I could have more of what I wanted and none of what I didn’t!

Packaging does matter when you are spending what you consider to be a lot of money on fine chocolates (when compared to choclates you buy in the pharmacy). It adds to the experience and to an immediate good feeling when you open the FedEx package. Fran’s will make you feel special. For the chocolate assortments, different assortments have different packaging. My truffles came in a lemongrass colored package with a pretty green satin bow. They also offer collections packaged in leather boxes and a washi box which has Asian designs and colors and was designed by a local artist.

As for cost, I got an 18-piece assortment for $24. I also ordered the 15-piece assorted caramels for $22. I believe my shipping was $14 for 2nd day air. I don’t have experience ordering caramels, but I can tell you the $24 for the truffles actually wasn’t a bad price. I have seen smaller chocolates for more money per chocolate in plenty of other places.

Was it worth it? YES!!!!! In general, this was superior chocolate. It’s the kind of chocolate that you savor in your mouth and let dissolve because it’s so good you don’t want to lose that flavor too quickly. The ganache on the inside is dense. You can see it’s texture in this photo:

Here’s the lowdown on the different flavors.

#1 (Oolong)
The chocolate ganache definitely has a mellow oolong flavor. It was good, but I think I like earl gray and chocolate more. But they do get extra points for the pretty little lavender petal on top. In the entire box, the oolong flavor was my least favorite.

#2 (66% Bittersweet)
The chocolate flavor is intense and somewhat fruity. I hadn’t looked at the key yet when I first tried a little nibble. As it sat on my toungue, I could note a somewhat fruity flavor to the chocolate. Is that called fruit notes?

#3 (56% Dark Chocolate)
Their ganache is so soft, sweet, and delicious. It is velvety smooth and has fantastic flavor.

#4 (Dark Chocolate Espresso)
Tastes like a cup of Starbucks inside that luscious ganache. Quite nice!

#5 (Orange)
This truffle had the perfect amount of orange flavoring. I enjoyed it very much.

#6 (Raspberry)
I like this, but I wish the raspberry flavor was a little stronger overall.

#7 (Single Malt Whiskey)
Not being a whiskey drinker, I never knew there was single malt whiskey. But if this is what it tastes like, perhaps I’ll try it some time.

Some were dark, some were miklk, some had gray salt, and some had smoked salt.

The caramel is the same in each type and it has the flavor of butter toffee. It’s an enjoyable experience and tastes fantastic!

As for the consistency of the caramels, they are semi chewy. When comparing it to something like Kraft caramels, it is very soft. But it is harder than the Charles Chocolates caramels I ordered last month. These hold their shape when cut into.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Recipe: Surimi Maki Sushi

Shipping costs when ordering chocolates online

When it comes to ordering fine chocolates online, I think that a note about shipping costs and choices is worth mentioning.

Most fine chocolatiers will force you to ship 2nd day or overnight. I can think of two reasons why. First, their chocolates are made with fresh ingredients and are meant to be eaten promptly. The other reason is that weather will damage chocolate, and when you are ordering this kind of chocolate quality upon arrival is important.

I have ordered chocolates in the summer and they have arrived in a cooler (Styrofoam and ice packets). I don't remember if they were shipped that way or if I chose to ship it that way.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Special Delivery!

Mmmmm! These arrived in the mail today. I ordered them from Fran's Chocolates in Seattle, WA. I read about Fran's in a book I recently got called The Chocolate Companion:

It's a cool little book. I'm actually reading the text and not just looking at the pictures and the star-ratings. It teaches a little about the history of chocolate, how it's produced, how to appreciate it, and then what's good. It has a directory of many of the best chocolatiers in the world. I have vowed to try samples from as many of them as possible. Fran's got a 4-star rating (out of 5 total). The four stars stand for the very best quality available.

Just so you all know, Godiva got one of the lowest ratings in the book - barely above Lindt & Sprungli's 1-star rating (good for mass-produced).

I once went to a chocolate tasting class where we learned about the ingredients in chocolate and how to distinguish the good from the bad. We did blind taste tests. We didn't know what brands we were tasting until after we discussed which were the good and which were the bad. After we all agreed on which was the worst the brand was revealed. Guess what? It was Godiva. You can taste just how bad it is when you compare it side to side (blindly) with other chocolates.

Then we compared ingredients once all the manufacturers were revealed. Chocolate, we were told, should have differing quantities of five basic ingredients: the beans (which differ in flavor and quality), cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla, and soy lecithin (an emulsifier). Godiva skimps on it's ingredients. It doesn't even use real vanilla and then charges an arm and a leg for a crappy bonbon.

Last year I read about how the FDA, regulator of the chocolate industry, was going to lower standards. Chocolate lovers were outraged. You can read the story and about the petition on the FDA here:,0,2342362.story?coll=la-home-commentary

Going back on subject, I can't wait to try my chocolates. But I will wait to write about my experience until I get to taste each type. For now, I will offer a simple, beautiful picture.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Recipe: Strawberry Pudding

Doesn't it look totally scrumptious?

I watch a few shows on the Food Network. I used to watch it more, but they have turned from a channel where you really learn about food and cooking to a bunch of shows that help you get through the week with shortcuts. And they make you see a whole lot of cleavage to do it.

These days I go to the Food Network to watch two shows: Iron Chef America and Good Eats. This is a recipe I watched Alton Brown make on Good Eats.

It just looks so delectable! I love the pretty colors, and the stacking, and how it holds it's shape. And isn't everything even better with cream on top?

I'm hyping up how pretty it looks, but it really needs a recipe overhaul in my own personal opinion. It has a whole lot of potential to be a dazzling dessert that you serve to company. And this has been such a difficult winter, and this dessert brings you to warmer, cheerier weather.

There were three problems with the recipe
  • Problem #1: the wine. The recipe calls for macerating the strawberries in a mixture of sugars and wine. It never said what type of wine to use. I used a mellow Barefoot Merlot. But even the very mellow flavor of the wine completely overpowered the flavor of the strawberries. I couldn't even taste strawberries - but I did get a good buzz. In fact, I was disappointed with my first taste, but with each taste of the strawberry pudding, the recipe got better and better.
  • Problem #2: the "clotted cream" (which you can see is whipped cream in my picture). I followed the directions, which call for straining the cream through a coffee-filter lined strainer several times. It just wouldn't pass through the strainer after the first straining. So I took the liquid that was left and whipped it.
  • Problem #3: It says there were 4 servings. Impossible! I got a scant 2. The other one was only 2/3 the size.

Even though I don't consider this recipe to be a success, I'm going to post it. I think you cna macerate strawberries without wine, and that would make this recipe better. Or maybe some smart and creative reader can make it better and let us know about their results.

Strawberry Pudding
Good Eats (Food TV)

Macerated Strawberries (recipe follows)
Clotted Cream (recipe follows)
1 Tbs. butter, room temperature
16 slices of potato Bread

Macerated Strawberries:

1 pint medium size strawberries, hulled and sliced 1/2 (325 milliliters)
bottle red wine
1/8 cup orange blossom honey
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup sugar

In a bowl combine all ingredients. Let stand in refrigerator for 2 hours. Yield: 4 servings

Clotted Cream

2 cups pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized) cream

Set a coffee filter basket, lined with a filter, in a strainer, over a bowl. Pour the cream almost to the top of the filter. Refrigerate for 2 hours. The whey will sink to the bottom passing through the filter leaving a ring of clotted cream. Scrape this down with a rubber spatula and repeat every couple of hours until the mass reaches the consistency of soft cream cheese.

To Assemble the Strawberry Pudding

Remove both ends from 4 (15-ounce) soup cans. Save 4 of the ends. Using one of the soup cans with the ends removed, cut the potato bread into 16 rounds. To avoid torn bread press straight down, do not twist. Let bread sit for 2 hours to dry out.

Butter 1 side of 4 of the bread rounds.

Place the soup cans on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Place the buttered bread round, buttered-side up, in each can. Spoon 2 tablespoons of strawberries with liquid to cover over each round. Dredge 1 side of 4 bread rounds in the strawberry liquid and place over the strawberries. (or place over them dry and spoon on the liquid with the new strawberries).

Repeat layering strawberries and dredged bread rounds until you have 3 layers of strawberries and 4 layers of bread.

Place reserved ends of soup cans on top of final round and weight with cans of soda. Refrigerate for 8 hours. Remove cans and serve with whipped cream.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Charles Chocolates

I wish I lived in San Francisco. They are a great chocolate city. I live in the boonies where Hershey’s Cacao Reserve is the best I can get. Hershey’s really isn’t the worst, but I crave something better and filled with interesting flavors.

The closest big city I have is Boston, and one of its only fine chocolate shops picked up and moved to San Francisco! I have to say, that hurt.

So I tend to order good chocolates online from time to time.

This particular time I ordered from Charles Chocolates ( It was the first time I ordered from them. Where are they from? Take a guess. Just one guess.

Scroll down while you guess . . .

You probably guessed right. San Francisco area. It’s actually across the bay in Emeryville. They do sell things across the country, but it probably won’t be their full line. I know that they sell things in Whole Foods and my favorite place, Cardullo’s in Cambridge. But it is a limited number of items.

I was exploring the Web site and I noticed the most brilliant idea they had listed. It's the PMS Collection! Ha ha ha! That's totally awesome. They send chocolates each month and you have to sign up for a certain number of months.

It was a day or two after Valentine’s Day when I decided to order some chocolates. Lucky me, they had their Valentines collections on sale! I ordered a large heart assortment that was originally $62 but post-valentine’s day it was $42. Oh, and I liked that they didn’t force me to ship using the most expensive way. I chose 3-day shipping – significantly less expensive. And since it’s winter in most parts of the country, I didn’t worry about packaging or melting.

I got a new camera, but the box was half-gone when I brought it home, so you can’t see all of the little yummies. Gone are the little nut clusters in dark and milk chocolate. I liked their small size, and they were totally delicious! Also gone were the silver hearts and the delicious fleur de sel caramels.

It took a long time to figure out exactly what I was eating. I personally think that every box of chocolates should have a little key to tell me what I’m eating. I had to do a lot of research – they didn’t make it easy. Here’s what I came up with:

Poire William Milk Chocolate Caramel

Their Web site describes these as "a rich milk chocolate caramel ganache in a 65% bittersweet circle with a splash of Poire William Liquor." It was buttery and sweet. I love the hint of the liquor.

Peanut Butter Butterflies

These were good, but so are Reese's cups. Call me crazy, but I might even prefer the Reese's cups. When I'm spending large amounts of money on chocolates, I would prefer to avoid these.


Wow! These are awesome. It was a chocolate center, but it was super soft and silky - almost as soft as the caramels. I'm glad there were two!

Honey, Lavender, Mint (not pictured) and Earl Grey

I had the mint one. It looked like these, but it didn't have a chocolate stripe going across it. The mint flavor wasn't overly sweet. It seemed like it was just picked out of the garden. It also seemed somewhat peppery, though the description didn't mention pepper.

I still haven't eaten the ones in the picture.


The different marzipan chocolates were flavored with either orange or lemon. It was very pleasant.


It had very dark chocolate on the outside and a dense chocolate ganache inside. I tasted the ginger, but I wish the flavor was a little stronger.

Raspberry Ganache

The chocolate was light and fluffy. The flavoring was perfect. I wouldn't mind having an entire box of these.

I may get some Charles chocolates again sometime. There were things that I really liked, and some that I didn't care that much for. I think I would buy more specific items rather than an assortment. Also, I'd buy them if I saw them in a store and wouldn't have to pay shipping.

Recipe: Chicken and Orzo Frittata

Hi People!