Thursday, April 24, 2014

Black and White Popcorn (G V)

While in college, I worked in a dormitory snack bar. Sometimes the place was so busy we student workers hardly had time to think.  Other times, however,  things were slow and we college students had too much time on our hands. This is when we would come up with creative food concoctions or experiments to fill the void.

 A great flavor combination I came up with was to drizzled fresh popcorn with hot fudge sauce. Wow, was it ever wonderful!

I still love the chocolate popcorn combination from those college days and have come up with a very easy way to satisfy my sweet tooth craving - Black and White Popcorn.

 Black and White Popcorn

1/2 C semi-sweet chocolate chips (divided)
2-3 squares almond bark (divided)
4 tsp shortening
6 C popped popcorn

Pop corn in a microwave and spread it evenly in two large baking pans - one layer each.
Melt 1/4 C chocolate chips with 1 tsp shortening over low heat. Combine. (do not burn chocolate).
Dip the tines of a fork into the chocolate mixture and drizzle evenly over popcorn.

Melt half the almond bark and 1 tsp shortening over low heat. Combine. (do not burn almond bark).
Dip the tines of a fork into the almond bark mixture and drizzle evenly over popcorn.

Allow chocolate and bark mixtures to harden. Gently toss coated popcorn to expose uncoated side.

Repeat melting procedure with the remaining  chocolate, bark and shortening and drizzle as above.
Allow chocolate and bark to harden.

Put coated popcorn in a container with an air-tight lid. Refrigerate. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Chicken Broth (G)

A good soup broth is an amazing ingredient. Today's canned broths vary in quality as do those made from scratch. I prefer to make my own broths as they will only contain the best ingredients.  I also like to make the most of the foods I purchase, and always make us of a chicken carcass, beef bones, left-over vegetables, or too many vegetables before they are 'past-usin'', as the saying goes.

It takes some knowledge of 'food-chemistry' to produce a great broth and most good cooks have either figured out the how-to or learned it from someone else.

Hints to get you started:

*Make your broth the same day you cook your chicken - then, you will have the broth on-hand to make a delicious soup at a moment's notice on the perfect 'soup' day.

*Always strip extra meat off of the chicken carcass prior to refrigeration. Otherwise, the bones will give the left-over meat an 'off' flavor.

*Too much liquid added to the vegetables or bones/meat will dilute the broth and reduce the flavor.

Chicken Broth


Chicken carcass or bones from breast, thigh, leg pieces. (Remove skin - discard)
                          (I only use free-range, hormone-free, antibiotic-free chicken meat)

Bay leaf

Cheesecloth, string for Bouquet Garni (optional)


Break up bones and put in a large pot. Add only enough liquid to barely cover the bones. Make the bouquet garni,  if desired, and place into the liquid.

BOUQUET GARNI - sounds fancy, but this is just a means to contain the herbs so they will not float in the liquid and be removed during the skimming process.

Put desired herbs in a little square of cheesecloth and tie up the ends with string to hold the herbs inside. Drop the bouquet into the liquid. Try to make the size of your bouquet fit the amount of liquid - 2 1/2 tsp. per four quarts of liquid.

Bring liquid up to a simmer. NO BOILING - high-heat will break down any fats. The dissolved fats will not float to the top of the broth when cooled. Not only will this make the broth less healthful, the fat particles will cause the broth to have an 'off' flavor.

Do not cover pot!

As the broth simmers, SKIM - skim off froth and other particles. Simmer bones and liquid for (3) hours.

Remove pot from heat. Strain liquid and discard bones and bouquet. Pour hot liquid into a glass container. Allow to cool. The fats will rise to the top and may be spooned out if broth is to be used immediately. Otherwise, refrigerate broth. The fat will harden and may be removed easily with a spoon or knife. Discard fat.

**Additional flavor hint: the carcass may be placed in a roasting pan, 425 degrees F, for 30 minutes. This will brown the carcass and create additional flavorful particles in the bottom of the roasting pan.
After the roasting process, place carcass in large pot. Add 1 C water to roasting pan and stir to loosen particles; add this liquid to soup pot. Continue as above.

Broth may be frozen in cubes or small containers as desired. Broth may also be refrigerated, then reheated every 5 days or so to a good simmer for 10 minutes, cooled and put back in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Spelt-Flour Pineapple and Banana Crepes

For about thirty years I suffered with serious digestive issues and had, erroneously, put the blame on dairy products. Lactaid pills were purchased by the boxfuls, Imodium was always on hand and I had to know where the nearest rest room was at all times. In addition to the distress and stress of my 'condition', it was quite painful and, at times, limited my participation in family outings.

Fast forward to a day in December of 2011 when I read a disturbing article about today's wheat which actually contains an extra 14 chromosomes when compared to the wheat of my childhood! After I read all I could find about today's wheat, I decided to eliminate it from my diet for two weeks to see what would happen. This was no small thing! I am an expert baker and homemade breads, rolls, pastas, cakes and pies were often on my menu.

Almost immediately, my digestive issues and thirty years of suffering ceased and have not returned. I threw out my Lactaid pills and Imodium. I no longer even care where the nearest rest rooms are! I am not in pain nor have I had to miss out on any activities because of 'issues'.

Quite by accident, I discovered spelt flour - while it is not gluten-free, it is an old-grain product which has not been altered genetically. I tried it a few times and had no adverse reactions!

The crepe recipe I offer is not for those who have celiac's disease, but it might be for those who have had allergic reactions, intestinal issues, clouded thinking, increase in blood sugar and increases in appetite due to the ingestion of today's genetically-altered wheat products.

Spelt-Flour Pineapple and Banana Crepes
Filling (enough for six crepes)

1 banana, cut up
1 C fresh pineapple chunks
Grated orange rind
1 T butter
2 T brown sugar


1 C whole spelt flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (Himalayan - optional)
2 tsp sugar substitute
3 large eggs
1 C milk
1/2 C water
3 T coconut oil

Non-stick spray

Filling: in a small pan, melt butter over med-low heat. Add fruit and brown sugar. Mix gently. Heat fruit mixture together and keep warm.

Crepe: Combine all ingredients up to and  including coconut oil, in a blender or Vita Mix machine. Pulse to mix well. Allow to sit for ten minutes. Heat a medium pan or crepe pan on a temperature just above medium. Spray pan bottom with non-stick spray. Ladle out a scan 1/4 cup of batter into pan and tilt pan to cover the bottom to the pan evenly. Allow to cook until the top of the batter no longer appears runny.

Loosen the edges of crepe with a spatula and flip over gently. Cook for 10-15 seconds more.

Flip the finished crepe onto a dish by simply turning the pan upside down. Continue until all the batter has been used, stacking as you finish each crepe. Spray pan each time. Makes 16 crepes.

How to fill: Place a small amount of filling mixture down the center of a crepe and fold the sides toward the center and overlap slightly. Place attractively on a plate.

Optional: finish off with whipped topping and drizzled heated fudge sauce. Left-over crepes may be wrapped and refrigerated or frozen for later use.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Filet Mignon - perfectly EASY to prepare and how to not get ripped off! (G)

Filet Mignon - the ultimate piece of tender, juicy, flavorful beef! This is not always true, however, if you do not know how to purchase beef.

Only USDA Prime is qualified to be called the BEST! Many grocery stores misrepresent their meat with confusing labels. As stated in a previous post, filet mignon is cut from the tenderloin of beef. There are only two tenderloins per animal and is very expensive especially when trimmed properly.

Grocery stores may sell meat labeled: USDA chuck tenderloin - bacon wrapped - choice. These words would lead most consumers to think the meat will be high quality, tender and tasty. The opposite is true. Chuck is not tender. Choice is not the best and the bacon wrapping is just an unnecessary frill.

Another trick is to label the meat as a filet mignon, but if the price is in the $5 range for an 8oz. piece, you can bet it is not a true filet!

Also, please don't be fooled by the huge signs which say: Black Angus. They probably are black angus beef, but the meat is not different from any other quality steer. The difference in the taste of beef will come from how the animal was fed - grass or corn. A Black Angus label will cost the consumer more, but will not guarantee anything else!

Filet Mignon
Please don't ask for well-done beef - it will be tough and tasteless! The steaks I cook are pink inside (med-rare) and very flavorful. This tenderloin, Prime  USDA filet is a melt-in-your-mouth experience and worth the price.
USDA, Prime Filets - one per person
Pepper blend
Meat rub (prepare your own or purchase a rub) optional
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Preheat a cast iron pan over high heat.
Brush each side of the steak with oil and season each side with salt and a pepper blend. Apply one side of the beef with a rub if desired.
Cook the steak, rub side down until golden - depending on the thickness of the steak 2-4 min.
  Apply rub to second side, and braise for 1-2 minutes.
Put steaks on a baking sheet and cook in oven for 8-10 (less for thinner steaks), minutes. Remove and allow the meat to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Beef - how it is graded. Filet Mignon - how to cut your own (G)

Meat markets are a mystery to most of us. We see words like choice, prime, select and probably think they will help us to make an educated meat purchase. Unfortunately, unless we are in-the-know, we don't know!

According to Prime Time Steak Houses, "...of all the beef produced in the US, less than 2% is certified as USDA Prime. Typically you will not find USDA Prime in the supermarkets since its limited supply is snapped up by fine meat buyers who sell it to upscale restaurants and wealthy consumers."

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)  grades beef we eat. Only inspected beef may carry the USDA stamp. The grading system measures the amount of marbling in the lean, ribeye portions and compares this with the age of the beef. The fat marbling determines tenderness, juiciness and flavor. The age of the beef determines the texture and flavor of the beef.  A younger beef will have finer texture and the meat will be more red. More marbling + younger beef = higher grade.
Only young, well-marbled beef will have the USDA Prime stamp. The package below was purchased at a Sam's Club. It contained a whole beef tenderloin and cost $125.00 in February 2014.

There are usually only three USDA grades of beef we would see in a supermarket, meat market or a restaurant. They are USDA Prime, Choice and Select.

Lower grades are "Cutter" and "Canner" which are the grades of beef typically found in hamburgers and processed foods. USDA Select is at the low end of the beef barrel. Be very careful: some major chain stores will try to make you believe that Select is tender and tasty - they will often market select with words like Manager's special or Special Select.

Another trick to fool customers is to use the words "prime" and "choice" without the USDA stamp or shield. And, to make matters worse, there are actually three grades of choice. So confusing!

At a recent culinary school seminar, the chef let us all in on another little secret: if a whole beef tenderloin is purchased in a vacuum wrap package, it may be held in the refrigerator for a few weeks and this will allow the natural enzymes to relax the meat fibers - even more tender meat!

There are only two whole tenderloin pieces per beef. No wonder it is so expensive! When purchased, whole, it will need to be trimmed substantially. Notice the photo below: the fat and silvery fibers will have to be removed.

  Use a very sharp knife to remove these undesirable parts and set aside. Also, trim off the large lobe of meat near the top of the tenderloin to leave a cylinder of meat which tapers at one end.

 Decide how thick you would like your filet mignon steaks to be and slice the cylinder of beef accordingly. I was able to create eleven filets from the tenderloin purchases.

 What to do with the meat/fat trimmings: I used a meat grinder and ground the trimmed meat. This gave me six nice-sized hamburgers.

*The lobe of meat trimmed from the cylinder was used to make Italian beef. This wonderful recipe will be featured at a later date as will the directions on how to cook the perfect Filet Mignon!