Good for the Budget, Better than Botox

A few days ago I read about this guy in New York City, Marco Canora. He’s a chef and says that the first 20 years of his career were fueled by caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. He has quite a story and an amazing life turnaround. He says that he owes his change of habits, health and lifestyle to something called brodo, Italian for “broth.”

Just last month, Canora opened Brodo, a take-out window on 1st Avenue in NYC. He sells broth in coffee cups with sip lids. And it’s pricey at $4.50 for a small 8 oz. cup. Granted, it is nothing close to that broth-like stuff that comes in a box at the supermarket. This is the real deal made from scratch and simmered for many hours until it is rich, dark and flavorful. This is “bone broth,” which some are now calling the new coffee.

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It’s not new. Our grandmothers knew about bone broth, that there is something awesome in good, rich soup made from animal bones. Bone broth has tremendous health and healing powers. My grandmother made it all the time.

How to Roast a Cheap Cut of Beef

No matter how inexpensive a chuck or round roast, if it turns out so tough and flavorless it’s passed to the dog, that purchase was no bargain.

photo credit: thebittenword.com

photo credit: thebittenword.com

Finally, thanks to very extensive research and experimentation by Christopher Kimball, as reported in Cooks Illustrated magazine, we can confidently purchase those cheaper cuts of beef and expect perfect results every time.

These days, with beef prices hitting all-time highs, buying the cheaper cuts of beef is one way to make our food dollars stretch as far as possible. Just know that what follows is for those of us with more time than money.

When looking for inexpensive cuts keep these three words in mind: chuck, sirloin and round.  The chuck is fattier and more tender, the round is lean and relatively tough.  The sirloin falls somewhere between the two.

Of Shame and Fruitcake

I have no pride and, according to many, no taste. I love fruitcake. Sickeningly sweet, loaded with pecans, cherries, pineapple and white raisins, heavy as a brick and about four weeks old. Yum.

For some reason, fruitcake has acquired a somewhat dubious reputation. It’s been horribly maligned and the laughing stock of the season, which as a fruitcake connoisseur, I find completely offensive.

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Critics are legion. YouTube is packed with videos of people poking fun at fruitcake in creative ways. A town in Colorado has a yearly fruitcake flinging event.

Johnny Carson famously joked that there’s actually only one fruitcake in the world, which gets passed from household to household. Other comedians glommed onto the idea in such a big way, hating fruitcake has become a widely-accepted holiday tradition. 

The Perfect Small Gift: Pie in a Jar

Over the years I’ve written about dozens of ideas and instructions for how to make every kind of “Gift in a Jar” imaginable (collected into one place here). I thought we’d exhausted the topic. Well, I was wrong. Look what I made.

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These are single-serving Mini Pumpkin Pies in a Jar. I got this great idea from our friends at Our Best Bites. And yes, I’m talking about making, baking, serving and even gifting homemade pies in half-pint (8-oz) canning jars.

Photo Credit: Our Best Bites

Photo Credit: Our Best Bites

I’ve experimented with all kinds of pies and so far, every variety has turned out great. Traditional pie recipes translate easily to these little cuties.  I’ve made double-crust jar pies with crumb topping, even cream pies. I’ve frozen them unbaked and baked them weeks later. I’ve baked them, then applied the lids and frozen them for later.  I’ve given them for hostess gifts, birthday gifts and Christmas gifts, too. These pies are just as adorably cute as they are delicious and practical!

Making Mini Pies in a Jar is easy as pie! You will need clean, sterile oven-proof jars (like Kerr or Mason), crust and filling. Half-pint jars come in various shapes. For these pies, you will want the short, squat, straight side, wide-mouth variety, like these available on Amazon

Once baked, cooled jar pies are ready to have their little lids and rings applied, then embellished for gift-giving. Or get your pies ready for the oven, then apply the lids and rings and freeze them instead. Then you can bake one at a time or as many as fresh pies as you need.

When It Comes to Food Products, What’s In a Date?

Perhaps you have noticed that some food products come with dates printed on them—”sell by Aug 01 14″ for example. Does that mean it has to be used by that date or just sold by that date? Or what about canned or packaged goods that show only a date like “2.01.14.” Does that mean you could end up in the E.R. if you consume it after that date?  

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Other food products don’t seem to have any date at all. Confusing, isn’t it. That’s why I thought today would be a good time to bone-up on food dating.

While most food processors date and code their products, the Food and Drug Administration mandates dating only on infant formula and baby food. Everything else is voluntary. Still, the food industry generally follows certain guidelines suggested by the FDA.

Phrases like “Best Before,” “Better if Used Before,” or “Best if Used By” tell you how long the product will retain its best flavor and highest quality. You will find these phrases on products like baked goods, cereals, snacks and some canned foods. The food is still safe to eat after this date, but may have changed somewhat in taste or texture.

Rotisserie Chickens to the Rescue

If you are like me—time-starved but too stubborn to give up home-cooked meals just because life can be chaotic—you need to embrace these two words: Rotisserie chickens.

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photo credit: anotherpintplease

Not exactly take out, not completely home cooked, think of a rotisserie chicken as your ace in the hole; a kitchen assistant with an extra pair of hands to help you get delicious, home-cooked meals on the table in a flash.

These days nearly every grocery store, supermarket–even warehouse clubs–offer fully roasted, hot and ready-to-go rotisserie chickens for around $5. In fact, rotisserie chickens are so readily available, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued safety guidelines for selecting and storing them.

Today I want to give you basic guidelines for what to do with a rotisserie chicken as soon as you get home. Then next week I will have several mouth-watering recipes using rotisserie chicken meat that you absolutely do not want to miss.

Cooking with Coffee

I must admit that I am not a fan of the fancy flavored instant coffee mixes. But as an ingredient in a great dessert? Oh, yes. And what better way to use leftover strong brewed coffee than in fabulous baked beans for your next barbecue or big family gather!

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Midnight Bliss Chocolate Cake

  • 1 pkg. (2-layer size) chocolate cake mix, any variety
  • 1 pkg. (4-serving size) chocolate instant pudding & pie filling
  • 1/2 cup flavored instant coffee, any flavor
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 container (8 oz.) sour cream
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 pkg. (8 squares) semi-sweet baking chocolate, chopped
  • Powdered sugar for garnish
  • Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 12-cup Bundt pan or 10-inch tube pan.

Beat all ingredients except chopped chocolate in large bowl with electric mixer on low speed just until moistened, scraping sides of bowl frequently. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes or until well blended. Stir in chopped chocolate. Spoon batter into prepared pan.

Bake at 350F for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on wire rack. Loosen cake from side of pan with spatula or knife. Invert cake onto rack; gently remove pan. Cool completely on wire rack. Garnish with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar just before serving, if desired. Cut into 18 slices to serve.

Every Busy Cook Needs This Go-To Recipe

I may be the only person in the world for whom this has happened, but I doubt it. On a whim, I invite a bunch of friends over for Sunday Dinner. Or the phone rings and just like that I need to get a meal on the table in a big hurry because company is on their way

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Those are the occasions that I run to an amazing recipe that is easy to prepare, delicious to eat and quite impressive, too. Think: Italian restaurant in a pan. While it’s in the oven I make a big salad and we’re good to go.

This is a recipe that kids love as well as adults. It’s just amazing and I bless the day that the folks at Pillsbury came up with the idea. I, of course, have tweaked the recipe bit, but I give credit where credit is due.

Because life is uncertain, you will always find a bag of Italian meatballs from Costco and several loaves of Italian bread in my freezer, a big jar of marinara sauce in my grocery stockpile and cheese in the fridge.