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Giovanni Rana Pasta and Sauces

pasta1

TORTELLONI PROSCIUTTO w/ MARINARA

I recently had the opportunity to try the new line of Giovanni Rana fresh pastas and sauces. If you live in NY or Italy you may be familiar with Giovanni. From what I read online, he is a very popular guy and has a restaurant in Chelsea Market. All varieties of pasta tasted great but my favorites were the spinach and the mushroom ravs. I don’t have an Italian grandmother but if I did I imagine her bolognese sauce would be just like Giovanni’s. I was really impressed.

pasta2

FETTUCCINE PAGLIA E FIENO w/ BOLOGNESE

ranaThe best part is that you can have dinner on the table in 10 minutes. No exaggerating. The pasta cooks in under 4 minutes.  Find the Rana products in your local safeway supermarket –refrigerated section.

Thanks Gio!

Shellback Premium Rum – Coquito Cocktail

shellback

I rarely drink cocktails but when I do it is always rum based. I love the flavor of rum so when Shellback asked me to try their new line of silver and spiced Caribbean rum I jumped at the chance. It came at a perfect time because we were hosting a Christmas Eve gathering and I wanted to serve a signature cocktail. I ended up going with a Coquito which some call the Latin version of egg nog. Ingredients include coconut milk, evaporated milk and lots of rum. Although the drink took some time to make it was well worth it and a huge hit.

coquitoSome said the smooth cocktail tasted like rum raisin ice cream. I even got a few compliments from people who are originally from Latin countries. Coquito will definitely be our go-to holiday beverage from now on!

While the weather remains chilly we will be using our spiced Shellback rum in coffee, tea and cider. However, I can’t wait for the sun and heat when I’ll be mixing up some mojitos, coladas and daiquiris with the silver. Check out the Shellback site for recipes.

Website: http://www.shellbackrum.com/

Coquito Recipe link
*I left the egg out and didn’t miss it.

Willy Wonka Ice Cream Tasting

wonka

I got a golden ticket!

I finally have time to write about our end of the summer bbq. After dinner we had a Willy Wonka ice cream tasting courtesy of Oakland based Dreyer’s. They sent me an ice chest full of their new line of wacky Wonka ice cream flavors. Fourteen of our friends tasted and ranked the creamy concoctions in order of their preference.

tasting

Here are the results:

  1. Kerfuffle Truffle, chocolate ice cream with chocolate truffles and swirls of fudge
  2. Caramel Nut Kadoozle, caramel ice cream with mixed nut brittle and walnut caramel swirl
  3. Chocolate Mintropolis, chocolate ice cream with peppermint patties and chocolate mint cookies
  4. Chipperberry Swirl, black raspberry and vanilla ice cream with chocolaty chips
  5. Chocolate Chipper Chip, vanilla ice cream with chocolaty potato chip bark and swirls
  6. Kernelpuff Caramelstuff, caramel ice cream with popped kernels, pecan pralines and salted caramel swirls
  7. Chocolate Snowflakes, vanilla ice cream with melt-in-your-mouth chocolaty flakes
The first place winner was a super chocolaty combination. We did have a bunch of chocoholics in the group which I think skewed the numbers. I was sure the vanilla with chocolate covered potato chips was going to be my favorite but it was too salty. I actually preferred the two caramel flavors. The brittle and praline were very yummy additions to the ice cream but don’t take my word for it go try them yourself. Thank you, Mr. Wonka!
A fight almost broke out!

A fight almost broke out!

Note: Wonka Ice Cream is currently sold exclusively in the Northern CA and Reno areas.

Citizen Chef Healthy Meals


A new company in San Francisco called Citizen Chef just launched a line of fast, fresh,healthy stir fry meals to prepare at home. Each package comes with cut veggies, a grain and a gourmet sauce. All you need to add is a protein of your choice and dinner is served in 15 minutes.

inside the box

When asked if I would like to try the product it was a no brainer…fast and easy are my two favorite words when it comes to cooking. Of the 3 varieties I had I was the most impressed with the Thai stir fry because I’ve always found Asian cuisine the hardest to recreate at home and this Thai Sesame sauce blew me away. It tasted just like the massaman curry that I love to order from our local Thai restaurant.

Chicken w/ Thai Sesame Sauce (fresh coconut milk, roasted sesame seeds, & a hint of ginger)

I also enjoyed the couscous in the Limone Garlic package. We are in a grain rut and always end up with rice. This was a very nice change.

Shrimp w/ Limone Garlic Sauce (fresh garlic, lemon peel, & extra virgin olive oil)

Overall I was impressed with the quality of the meals. Mike and I would definitely purchase them in the future…the only bummer is that you can only find Citizen Chef in certain Bay Area Whole Foods markets. Hopefully they get picked up nationally. See if they are in your neighborhood here.
Get a $3 off coupon here

Website: http://www.citizenchef.com/

Full Circle Organic Produce Delivery Review + $10 off Coupon


Full Circle
 launched the Bay Area branch of its produce delivery service during the first week of June. They contacted me to see if I was interested in a free trial. I get offers to try similar services often and usually I pass because I am happy with my current delivery company, but when I checked out the Full Circle website the option to not only receive fruits & veggies but other groceries caught my attention. I thought the opportunity to purchase artisan goods including:  dairy & eggs, bread & pasta, meat, seafood, jam, coffee, honey and chocolate was very unique and something I had to check out.

Box #1 with my balls of pizza dough

My first “Sprout” size box (feeds 2-3 people) arrived right on time and everything was fresh and pretty clean. Items come straight from the farm so you should expect some dirt and bugs. In addition to the produce I added 2 balls of pizza dough from the grocery. We love to make pizza on the grill in the summer. Each ball was the perfect amount for a personal size pizza. All it needed was some heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. Turned out perfect…nice thin crust.

We also made a risotto with the leeks. Insanely good. See recipe here

Box #2 came the following week and we had just about eaten everything from our first box.

Contents of box #2 with my addition of free range eggs

The baby golden beats were delicious. I just put them in foil and roasted them in the oven for an hour and they were good to go.

Beets ready for the oven

Overall, the service has been great. The produce arrived in good condition and tasted wonderful. Every new service has positive things going for them and some areas that need improvement. Here is my assessment on Full Circle

Pros:
1. Variety! Since the produce is not coming from 1 single farm but 10+ California farms there are many more fruit & veg options and you can’t beat the added grocery items.
2. Choice – usually you make an exclusion list of produce you don’t want and if one of the items is scheduled the farm will just double up or in some cases triple up on other items already in your box. At Full Circle you can login to your account and see what is coming and switch items out yourself by choosing other items that are available that week – usually there are at least 10 additional items to choose from. I LOVE this option!
3. Delivery time – boxes are delivered overnight at the same time every week so when you wake up it’s there. No need to worry about having a delivery midday and everything going bad while sitting out in the sun.
4. Customer service – the website was easy to navigate and the process from signing up to receiving goods was a breeze. Customer service has been checking in to see if my deliveries were on time, produce was in good condition and to see if I had any concerns.

Cons:
1. Exemption list – they only allow you to select 5 items to exclude. If you don’t have time to go to your account and make changes each week you may receive things you don’t like or need. I happen to have a lot of exclusions because I have several citrus trees, herbs and veg growing in my yard so 5 doesn’t cut it.
2. Delivery schedule – boxes are scheduled to be delivered automatically every week. You have to personally contact the company if you want to skip a week or place a hold on your account. Not a big deal but a little incovienent. I would prefer to be able to login to my account and make adjustments to an online calendar instead of having to send emails or make phone calls. *They fixed this issue in August!

The pros definitely out-way the cons so give Full Circle a try. Next shipment, I plan to order salmon!

Website: http://www.fullcircle.com/

COUPON OFFER: $10 off your first box. Use promo code (exp 12/13): SOCIAL10

If you decide to sign up, please let them know Nicole Whalen referred you.

Farm Fresh To You – Organic Produce Delivery Service ($10 off coupon)

ffty-box
If you were thinking about having organic produce delivered to your home here is your chance. I received a coupon code for $10 off your first shipment from Farm Fresh to You, a Bay Area delivery service. We’ve been getting deliveries from them for over 3 years and we really enjoy it.

To redeem this offer mention promo code #6164 when signing up online or by phone. Please let them know I referred you by giving them my customer id# 63355. Enjoy!

ffty_best_of_bayWebsite: http://www.farmfreshtoyou.com/

*This discount is for NEW customers only.

See my past posts about this great local company:
Our first delivery
Recipes made with our produce

Project Open Hand Peanut Butter

Project Open Hand peanut butter is all natural, trans-fat free, and contains ONE ingredient – peanuts!

Project Open Hand, a San Francisco non-profit food relief organization that provides meals and groceries to the city’s most vulnerable residents is now selling their popular homemade peanut butter to the Bay Area masses. Check out their story…

Purchase it at Project Open Hand – 730 Polk Street or SF Whole Foods markets.

Also, find the peanut butter featured in Humphry Slocombe ice cream flavor “Open Hand Fluffer Nutter” and Dynamo Donut’s  “Open Hand Peanut Buddy” donut!

Project Open Hand provided me with a sample of the honey roasted peanut butter and, WOW,  it was the best I’ve ever tasted. I decided to use some of it in a peanut butter milk chocolate pudding dessert. It turned out wonderfully creamy and soooo flavorful. If you can get your hands on some of this stuff you will be a happy camper and supporting a great cause.

Recipe link
Bon Appétit  | January 2009

Website: http://www.openhand.org/

Clearly Fresh Produce Storage Bags

I’m always looking for ways to keep my CSA greens from dying. When the manufacturers of Clearly Fresh bags contacted me with claims that they had a bag with BreatheWay® packaging technology that would help my produce last 50% longer I jumped at the chance to try it.

After looking at the bag sample I had some serious reservations that it would work because it was just a regular zip lock bag with a hole covered by a sticker.

I decided to do a side-by-side comparison with two bushels of spinach I received in my CSA delivery.

DAY 1 - Bushel #1 goes into a Clearly Fresh bag, Bushel #2 does not

The BreatheWay membrane (big sticker) acts as an Oxygen/Carbon Dioxide passageway – allowing just the right amount of oxygen in and much more carbon dioxide out permitting produce to naturally create their own ideal atmosphere for storage life extension.

DAY 7 - Clearly Fresh Spinach on left, Non-bagged Spinach on Right

Clearly Fresh Spinach - Lookin' good!

Non-bagged Spinach - Lookin' sad....

There was a clear difference between the two spinach bushels on day 7. The one not in the bag had wilted and became limp and dry. I ended up throwing out a good portion of it.  The Clearly Fresh spinach was crisp and healthy looking. It’s appearance had not not changed much from day 1. I think the pictures speak for themselves.

It really works! Clearly Fresh Bags… I thank you for the sample and so does my produce!

Website: http://www.clearlyfreshbags.com/

For a limited time visit the Clearly Fresh website and get 15% off your purchase. Use offer code: BAF15
Discount ends July 4, 2011.

5 Minute Focaccia Mix


Mike’s childhood friend, Claudia Pruett, dropped off samples of her new product called 5 Minute Focaccia Mix. We received all 4 flavors (original,rosemary,raisin,choc chip) but decided to go with rosemary for our first time.

only 3 ingredients needed: mix,sparkling water,oil

Here is a video of us making the fragrant and yummy rosemary bread.

The process was fast & easy but the end result although tasty was a little thinner than expected. Along with the mix Claudia gave us some focaccia she had prepared and it was wonderfully thick and spongy. We are attributing the difference to the rising time because she said she lets the dough rise overnight and we only let it sit for 4.5 hours. It probably needs 7-10.

Focaccia can result in a very oily texture. We wanted to try and make it a little less so we used half the amount of oil called for. The dough did soak up a lot of the oil so next time we will probably use a little more than half.

Buy the A Tavola Together 5 minute focaccia mix  here! If you’re local I’ve also seen it at the Los Gatos NapaStyle store.

Check out her cookbook too!

Website: http://www.atavolatogether.com/

Long Meadow Ranch Grass-fed Beef Club


Yes, we like meat!

As stated in my Farmstead post we were impressed with the beef served so we decided to join the Long Meadow Ranch grass-fed meat club. There are many advantages to eating grass-fed meat: lower fat & calories plus it’s rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. We signed up in December and received our first shipment in late January. Since we spend so much time in Napa we actually pick up our shipments to save the $30 shipping fee. Each delivery contains 12+ lbs. of meat and is approx. $100. We feel this is a good price for the quality. When I saw our first shipment I thought there was no way 2 people would be able to eat it all but by the time the second batch arrived 3 months later we had consumed everything.

Shipment #1 - frozen & vacuum sealed

I gotta say there is some getting use to eating grass-fed beef. It is super lean and depending on the cut can be chewy and gamey in flavor. My favorites so far have been the stir fry, lamb shanks and the NY steak (pics to come in future posts). They were delicious. Even though we used the stew meat in a slow cooking Texas chili the meat was a little dry and our bbq’d London broil was a bit tough and gamey. Overall we have been very happy with the beef. I will update this post once we have received all four 2011 shipments.

Note: Grass-fed beef cooks much faster than corn/grain fed on the bbq so shorten the cooking time by like 2-4 minutes or you will overcook it!

2011 Shipments:

January, 2011: Winter: “Stews, Soups, and Comfort”
Stew Meat (4lbs)
Lamb Shanks (4lbs)
London Broils (4 London Broils)
April, 2011: Spring: “Family Packs”
Stir Fry Strips (4 lbs)
NY Steaks (6 Steaks)
June, 2011: Summer: “Summer BBQ “
Ground Beef (6 lbs)
Hot Dogs (5 lbs)
Ranch Hand Filets (8 Filets)
October, 2011: Fall: “Holiday Entertaining”
Chateaubriand (4 Chateaubriands)
Petite Tenderloins (4 Petite Tenderloins)

Things we have made:

Texas chili made with our stew meat

London broil just off the BBQ

Join the club here: http://www.longmeadowranch.com/Clubs/Grazier-Membership

**You can also just order beef from their website without joining the club.

Recchiuti Confections S’mores Kit

We spent Valentine’s day at home again this year but I didn’t mind because we made S’mores from Recchiuti Confections. Mike and I picked up a S’mores kit last time we were at the Ferry building in San Francisco and this was the perfect occasion to break it out.

Inside the fancy box you will find 9 handmade Marshmallows, 8 Recchiuti Grahams and a Recchiuti Bittersweet 85% Chocolate Bar.

It’s a grown up version of the classic dessert that is out of the world. The homemade graham crackers are sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and the pillowy marshmallows are made with vanilla beans. You can make them in the oven (like we did since it was rainy and cold out) or you can do it the old fashioned way over an open flame.

Either way, you’ll be super happy with the results.

It’s the perfect little package. I plan on giving these out as birthday/holiday/hostess gifts this year so if you want one… invite me to a party :wink:.

Mike liked the sandwich

I preferred open face

Get yours here: http://www.recchiuti.com/109.html

Susie Q’s Brand – Santa Maria Style Barbeque Products


Just before the end of 2010 I was lucky to receive a sampling of the Susie Q’s Brand product line including the Santa Maria Valley Style Seasoning, Pinquito Beans and Red Oak barbecue chips – everything needed for a traditional Santa Maria feast. Santa Maria California is well know for its BBQ. I’ve been to Santa Maria once and the only thing people said I had to have was the BBQ, and of course due to circumstances out of my control I was unable, so I was excited to finally try the famed offerings.

The suggested cut of meat for an authentic Santa Maria BBQ is Tri-Tip so that’s what we made. First step was to get the oak chips prepped. I was unsure about using them with our gas grill but the instructions said any grill will do.

Mike then liberally seasoned the beef with the provided mixture and tossed everything on the grill. On to the beans…

The packaging on the Pinquito beans did not mention soaking the beans before preparing – so I didn’t. They bubbled away on the stove top for about 3.5 hours before they were soft and to my liking. The directions said they should be done within 2 so I think I may have done something wrong.

The results: the meat was fantastic. The simple mixture of garlic, salt, pepper and parsley was surprisingly flavorful. No A.1. sauce needed. The oak flavor was mild… I have a feeling the chips would work much better using a proper smoker. This was the first time I’d ever made beans that were not out of a can so I expected them to be like sweet Boston baked beans but they were more like a Texas chili flavor – a little smokey & spicy. Tasty and worth the long wait. Oh, and I stirred in some bacon in the end…why not?

Thank you Susie Q’s Brand for providing us with a genuine Santa Maria meal at home.

the beef

the beans

For more information about this family run Santa Maria Valley business or to get your hands on some of their products visit: http://www.susieqbrand.com/

Skillet Bacon Jam

A small sample of skillet bacon jam arrived on my doorstep just before the holidays. What is bacon jam you ask? It’s a gooey mixture of niman ranch bacon, onions, balsamic and brown sugar. Some recommended uses: as a salad dressing base, a substitute in a blt, or with cheese or fish. The product was much sweeter than I expected. You lose some of the saltiness you find in straight bacon but it’s tasty just the same. I decided to spread the bacony goodness on a grilled cheese sandwich. Mike’s response…Rockin’ Grilled Cheese. I think that says it all.

I look forward to slathering it on a burger.

Website: http://skilletstreetfood.com/

Note: I received the product mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com.

Momofuku Milk Bar Cookies

Momofuko Milk Bar, the super popular bakery in NYC, has started shipping their goods (cookies and pies) just in time for the holidays. We needed to bring a dessert to our annual pre-thanksgiving dinner for 10 and I knew this is what I wanted to get.

I ordered 4 varieties:

blueberry & cream: dried blueberries, white chocolate

compost: pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch, chocolate chips

corn: corn powder, corn flour

cornflake: cornflakes, marshmallows, chocolate chips

Here is our critique…

blueberry & cream
flavor – buttery, sugary, mild blueberry
texture – firm but moist (kinda raw dough like)
compost
flavor – oatmeal, chocolate, burnt caramel
texture – dense
corn
flavor –  smelled like corn on the cob, tasted like sugary corn muffin
texture – undercooked (in a good way)
cornflake
flavor – buttery, salty, caramel
texture – chewy with crisp edges

Everyone raved about the cookies… for days. It was hard to choose a favorite because they all have something uniquely delicious about them. So what are you waiting for? Go order some and be ready to salivate upon delivery.

Note: I ordered the cookies on a Thursday night and they arrived the following Wednesday morning using standard shipping and they stayed fresh for a full week! Yes, they did last that long —  they are super rich and need to be eaten in moderation.

Website: http://momofukustore.com/

* We did not buy a pie but I did make one earlier this year. Check it out.

Hickory Farms Gift Basket


We hosted Thanksgiving at our house this year for 14 adults and 2 kids. It was a tight fit but a successful evening with wonderful food. We were lucky to receive a Hickory Farms “Home for the Holidays” gift basket as part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program one week prior to the big day. The HUGE box of cheese, sausage, mustard and crackers was a perfect appetizer. After spending the day preparing turkey we really had no energy to make any extravagant starters so this really came in handy. All we had to do was open and plate. My favorite part was the lean, slightly peppery sausage dipped in the sweet honey pineapple mustard. I even had a little sausage sando the day after cause I’d had my fill of turkey leftovers.

You sometimes forget about Hickory Farms because they are not in the malls year round anymore but they are great gifts for friends and family during the holiday season. Check out their wide assortment of gift boxes here. Receiving this basket put a smile on my face :smile:. Thxs Hickory Farms!

What’s inside:
– 3 – 10 oz. Signature Beef Summer Sausages
– 8 oz. Big Barn Cheddar®
– 7 oz. Cheddar & Havarti Blend
– 4 oz. Three Cheese & Onion Wedge
– 4 oz. Smooth N Sharp Wedge
– 2.25 oz. Sweet Hot Mustard
– 2.5 oz. Honey Pineapple Mustard
– 2 – .5 oz. Cracked Wheat Crackers

The Spread

Note: the “Home for the holidays” box has free shipping to APO/FPO Military addresses!

Website: http://www.hickoryfarms.com/

** My Foodbuzz nominee for a holiday gift basket would be my sister. She is a mother of three kids all under age 5. She works full time as a teacher, is a super mom and really deserves a little surprise during the holidays! **

Rachael Ray Kitchen Products


I’ve been collecting different Rachael Ray cookware and tools for a couple years. I think she puts a lot of thought into the pieces she produces. My favorite is the oval non-stick pasta pot. I swear my calphalon pot with insert takes 15 minutes for the water to bubble and when I’m hungry there is nothing I hate more than a pot that won’t boil. This RR pot is thin which allows the water to be bubbly in 5 minutes. I also like that the pot top has a little pour spout so you can easily drain the water without having to use a colander. Smart design.

When it comes to the tools I like them all. They feel like they are manufactured with quality materials. Mike wanted to get the tong set because he likes to use them when browning meat in a pan. With silicone covered tongs you don’t have to worry about scratching your cookware. I like the nylon spoons because they sit right on the pot/pan. I am notorious for dropping utensils on the floor while cooking. These allow our wood floors and counter tops to stay a little cleaner.

Thanks to CSN’s cookware.com for sending me the 2-Piece Tong Set & 2-Piece Nylon Turner Set.

CSN store product review

CSN (one of the top online U.S. retailers of home and office goods) contacted me to see if I would like to review a product from one of their 200+ online stores. CSN has outlets for every product line imaginable from Bed sets and Barbecue Grills to Espresso Machines and Entertainment Centers. But I’m all about cookware.com — it has everything the home chef could possible want or need.

I decided to use this opportunity to check out a bunch of Rachael Ray pieces that I’ve had my eye on. I love the line of kitchen tools she is producing especially since they are in my kitchen’s signature green color! Keep an eye out for my review in a few weeks.

See all of the CSN stores here

PLANET BARBECUE! Cookbook Review


Steven Raichlen, the Baron of BBQ is back with a new guide to grilling around the world. Raichlen hit the road for his latest cookbook PLANET BARBECUE! visiting 60 countries on six continents to chronicle the practice of live fire grilling. His five year adventure has resulted in a glorious 638 page manual filled with over 300 barbecue recipes from around the globe.

PLANET takes you on a cultural culinary journey without leaving your kitchen… for breakfast indulge in an Argentinean steak & eggs dish called the “Buenos Aires Heart Stopper“, venture over to Belgium for a light lunch of Salmon Glazed with Belgian Cherry Beer, stop by a roadside stand for a snack of Cambodian Coconut-Grilled Corn, enjoy a Serbian Bacon Cheese Pork Roulade for dinner and finish off the night with Azerbaijan Grilled Ice Cream.

Interlaced between recipes are essays revealing Raichlen’s travel tips for each country including must try dishes and restaurants to visit. If that wasn’t enough there are also bios on some of the most famous international grill masters. The book concludes with an in-depth discussion on how to achieve the perfect live fire grilling environment at home including proper equipment and fuel to controlling cooking temps and cleaning.

PLANET takes Barbecue books to a whole new level – it is a cookbook and travel guide all rolled into one.

The first recipe we tried was Filet Mignons with Whisky Mushroom Sauce. See it here

———————————————————–
PLANET BARBECUE!: An Electrifying Journey Around the World’s Barbecue Trail
by Steven Raichlen (Workman, May 2010, $22.95).

Thank you to Workman Publishing for providing me with a review copy of this book.

Buy it here

Other Raichlen books:
The Barbeque Bible (Mike swears by this!)

Seattle’s Best Canned Iced Lattes


Seattle’s Best has jumped into the canned iced coffee market with a line of Lattes and we were lucky to receive a few samples. I am not a daily coffee drinker but I love the taste of coffee. You’ll never find me drinking a cup in the morning just for the purpose of getting caffeine in my system. I enjoy coffee as a night cap or a sweet treat (as a child and to this day my favorite flavor ice cream is coffee).  I was excited to try this new product for two reasons: I find cold java drinks refreshing and there are very few opportunities to frequent Seattle’s Best cafes in the South Bay.

First we tried the Mocha, which I thought would be my favorite, but it was not as rich as I would have liked. Next, the Latte which was smooth and milky with a hint of coffee running through. We saved the best for last…Vanilla Latte which was full of flavor. The vanilla was very pronounced and left me craving for more.

If you live in the Western U.S. stop by your local grocery or convenience store to get your hands on these cool drinks.

For more info visit: www.SBCIcedLattes.com

New Sprinkles Flavor: Salty Caramel

It’s baaaaaaaaack!  A new flavor brought me back to my old stomping grounds. See how it ranks

Nespresso Essenza C100 Automatic Espresso Maker


For Christmas my parents gave us the Nespresso Essenza C100 Automatic Espresso Maker with Aeroccino Plus Automatic Milk Frother. I  L-O-V-E this machine. In 2 minutes you are drinking great espresso without the muss & fuss. All you need to do is turn it on, pop in the capsule and push start. We made a little video to show you how easy it is.

Get yours today!

Onion Goggles


I don’t know what it is about onions straight from the farm but those bad boys make me cry. They are soooo strong. Chop some up and our whole house smells for hours. Solution…the onion goggles. Mike and I were given a pair by the Useful Things Website and we both put them to the test (but you won’t see pictures of me!). We used them while preparing two onion heavy dishes and they really worked. Not a tear was shed and they are pretty comfy to wear (imagine sunglasses with foam around the edges). My only gripe was that my nose was still running. Mike said I’d need an onion mask to fix that. The package claims they are also fog free. I guess that comes in handy if you cook in the rain.

If you can handle looking a little corny (at least these match our kitchen) the onion goggles get the job done!

Pick up a pair from the Useful Things website

Sucré


I first heard about Sucré Sweet shop on our visit to New Orleans in August. The Pastry chef  Tariq Hanna had just won TLC’s “Ultimate Cake-Off” so he was all over the local TV news. I really wanted to stop by while in town but time didn’t allow. Then 2 months later I received an email from one of their reps asking if I’d like to sample the goods. What a coincidence…. it was heaven sent.

Soon after I had my hands on a selection of Sucré chocolates. We received their Sugar & Spice collection which is handmade for the holidays. It includes 3 varieties of truffles: gingerbread milk chocolate, candy cane white chocolate and eggnog dark chocolate. Since I’m a sucker for anything eggnog I grabbed one of those immediately. I was worried that the dark chocolate was going to mask the eggnog flavor but it didn’t. It was a perfect silky bite. The candy cane was next and it had a velvety texture with a minty fresh flavor. The final offering was the gingerbread. I knew even before tasting that it would be my least favorite. I’ve never been a gingerbread fan. This was spicy and a bit more dense than the others. Mike enjoyed it but he is a “hot” guy :wink:.

We were also sent a milk chocolate bar with Sicilian pistachios and candied rose petals. I know … really unique combination. It was almost too pretty to eat. The bar itself was creamy and the nuts and petals didn’t add any prominent flavors but it did add a delightful crunch.

Good news — I’m not the only one getting a treat this year! I have been given a discount code for my readers so you can also indulge in the Sucré goodness this holiday season. For $5 off shipping use code: SPCA (expires 11/30/09).

What makes this deal even sweeter is that a portion of every dollar spent online will benefit the animals of the LA/SPCA. As you’ve seen on our blog we are dog lovers. Our Edison was a pound puppy so we think this is a great way to support a good cause. Sucré luxury chocolates would be great stocking stuffers!

To buy go to: http://www.shopsucre.com/

Foodbuzz 24,24,24: Lobster Gram

live lobsters
I’ve been c-r-a-v-i-n-g lobster. The kind of lobster I had growing up in Massachusetts when my family would hop in our station wagon and drive to New Hampshire in search of the ultimate lobster meal. Since moving to California, long gone are the days of cheap, simple lobster eats. Lobster tends to be insanely expensive and come in extreme forms. I don’t want lobster sliders, sushi rolls or mac & cheese. I’m going back to basics…I want a lobster so fresh and tasty all it needs is a little drawn butter to make my mouth water. Head, tail, legs and guts. I wanna get my hands dirty and maybe even my shirt. Lobster Gram to the rescue!

Thanks to Foodbuzz and their monthly blogging event where they sponsor 24 people to create 24 meals in 24 hours Mike and I were transported back in time to one of my fondest childhood memories. We had LIVE Maine lobsters delivered to our door from one of the top lobster delivery services on the net…Lobster Gram.

WOW! what a day…the lobsters arrived right on time and were alive and kickin’, well actually they were a bit jet-lagged initially but they perked up. I was amazed to find that they were so fresh that there was no fishy smell at all. Not even the shipping container smelled. The box comes with everything you could possibly need to create the perfect dinner: lobstergramstuffa great detailed cooking guide, lemons, butter, bibs, crackers, picks and hand wipes. The entire process of ordering online to cooking was surprisingly simple. Lobster Gram makes things fool proof. The end result was FANTASTIC! The lobster was super tender and sweet. It didn’t even need butter… but that didn’t stop us from using it!

Here is a video that shows the delivery, prep and the plunge into the pot:

To complete our crustacean feast we prepared the following sides:

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Cheddar Biscuits with Garlic Butter

Corn

Corn on the Cob with Shallot -Thyme Butter

The only modification to the biscuit recipe we made was to double the amount of garlic. They were really fast and easy to make. Awesome right out of the oven. The corn had wonderful flavor. The only change next time would be to use corn off the cob so we don’t lose all the buttery shallot goodness on the plate!

and for dessert…

tart

Apple Galette with Caramel Sauce and Vanilla cream

This treat consisted of sliced apples on top of a 5″ circular puff pastry and what you can’t see is what makes it taste so unique – under the apples is a half dollar size disc of pure almond paste. We’d never used almond paste before and a little goes a long way. Yum!

If you’ve ever considered having  lobsters delivered — JUST DO IT!! This was a totally fun and rewarding experience! I can’t wait to do it again and again and again…

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Beauty shot!

Recipe links:
Apple Galettes with Caramel Sauce
Corn on the Cob with Shallot-Thyme Butter
Cheddar biscuits

GET YOUR LOBSTERS HERE — Website: http://www.livelob.com/
$10 off coupon code: COOKMAN9   — expires 12/31/09

California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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I was recently sent a sample of a new olive oil produced right here in California! The launch of California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin olive Oil marks the first time a US brand has mass-produced high quality, fresh, affordable, everyday EVOO for the US marketplace.

I didn’t introduce olive oil into my daily diet until 4 years ago… before that I was a butter girl. I now know that EVOO is not only healthy but super tasty, so I was excited to try this fresh product.

To test the flavor Mike & I did a tasting between it and a couple other similar priced oils  — Colavita and Whole Foods 365.

Here are the results:
California Olive Ranch (100% Californian): deep green/yellow color, strong fruity nose, full bodied, distinct olive flavor with peppery finish.
Colavita (100% Italian): light yellow color, no apparent smell, medium body, mild flavor.
Whole Foods 365 (Italian/Spain/Greece Mix): light yellow color, delicate aroma, thin body, fruity flavor.

Verdict…Buy local! California Olive Ranch was the most flavorful and aromatic. In a blind taste test we would have no problem picking out the CA EVOO because its characteristics are so pronounced.

shrimpscampi

scampi pasta

Next, we cooked with it. We used it in three dishes; a corn and tomato salad, a shrimp scampi pasta and roasted cauliflower & red peppers with a caper vinaigrette. All dishes turned out delicious. The oil is very versatile.

If you’re looking for a robust oil to add to your kitchen arsenal give California Olive Ranch a try, you won’t be disappointed.

Website: http://www.californiaoliveranch.com/

The Sprinkles Challenge is OVER!

12 months, 14 visits, 40 cupcakes digested! I did it! The final rankings can be found here

the last cake

CookBook Signing

I wrote about a new cookbook, Cooking Dinner: Simple Italian Family Recipes Everyone Can Make a couple weeks ago. Well, the authors are on a big book signing tour all over the Bay Area so go out and see them. It would make a great holiday gift.

More about the book and authors Claudia Pruett & Rima Barkett:

September signing dates (they have food too!):

September 30th
Barnes & Noble
10 am – 12 pm
Westgate Mall
1600 Saratoga Ave
San Jose,  CA

September 30th
Borders
3 pm – 5 pm
Old Town/Los Gatos
50 University Ave.
Los Gatos,  CA

Dates for the rest of the year can be found here

Buy the book: Cooking Dinner: Simple Italian Family Recipes Everyone Can Make
Website: http://www.atavolatogether.com/

Black Box Wines

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I don’t discriminate even when it comes to wine… jug,bottle,box or can I will give anything a try. When Foodbuzz offered to send me a sample of the new Black Box wines I said, “bring it on!”  Black Box wines feature 9 varietals from all over the world. Each box holds the equivalent of 4 bottles for a very reasonable $22-32. I was hoping to receive a Cabernet or Riesling, but alas a 2008 Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand showed up at my door. Mike and I rarely drink Sauv Blanc as I prefer a sweeter white wine but it is the summer so on a hot afternoon we had a glass.

Here are our tasting notes
Color: pale gold
Aroma: floral, melon
Taste: crisp, dry, acidic, bitter with a metallic/tin like finish

We disliked the harsh aftertaste it left in our mouths so this was not a wine we would break out and drink on its own. It needs to accompany food. We used the remainder of the box to cook with and it was fantastic. A favorite dish was a clam linguine. I would be up for trying other Black Box wines.

Website: http://www.blackboxwines.com/

KitchenAid Pasta Attachment

making pasta

I’d seen this bad boy on Iron Chef numerous times and I wanted one, but was leery to buy it because it almost cost as much as the mixer. My parents ended up giving the attachment to Mike as a birthday gift (thanks M&D!) The 3 piece set includes a roller/kneader attachment, a spaghetti cutter and a fettuccine cutter.

It was surprisingly easy to use and worked perfectly on our first try. I totally thought this would be a 1/2 day experiment but I guess to get it done on Iron Chef in 60 minutes it’s got to be fast. I would highly recommend this purchase if you like fresh pasta.

Mike in action:

Buy your attachment here

For our first use we made fettuccine with Ratatouille since we had a fridge full of veggies. The pasta turned out wonderful. We were missing the eggplant so we added portabella mushrooms to the sauce. It was delicious. The only thing we would change next time is add more garlic. We used the extra sauce to top some halibut a couple days later. It tasted even better!

ratatouille

Recipe link

Top Chef Masters

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I hope you all watched the first episode of Top Chef Masters last night. We enjoyed it although I was a bit grossed out by the shower scene. I’m happy to say that Mike stayed awake for the entire hour which is unusual since it’s on way past his bedtime. My only hope is that host Kelly Choi gets her eat on during the season because she is a tad skinny.

As you can see we had a pre- show pizza party courtesy of Bravo (we couldn’t wait till 10pm to eat!). They provided the grub and swag. Thanks Bravo!

So what are your predictions for the winner? Without seeing all the chefs in action I’m going out on a limb and picking John Besh because of his Iron Chef experience —  Mike is keeping his choice local and thinks Cindy Pawlcyn is gonna take home the prize. We’ll see..

Leave a comment with your choice of Top Chef Master!

Washington DC Night Lights Tour

I know this has nothing to do with food but I wanted to share a cool tour we took of Washington DC at night. If you get a chance I would highly recommend the tour company OnBoard. They specialize in small tour groups (25-30 people) and if you’ve been to any monument in DC you should recognize that this is a major benefit. Most tour groups we saw were 50+ deep and forget about hearing what the guide had to say off the bus (if they even got off the bus) because there are hundreds of people (mainly loud kids) roaming around each site. This was a 3 hour tour (7-10pm) that flew by because it was filled with interesting information and even though a thunder/lightning rain STORM came pouring down on us we still had a great time. If you’re in DC for a short time this is the way to go to see it all!


*sorry the pics aren’t super clear but the rain made things difficult

Georgetown Cupcake

georgetown cupcake

This was at the top of my list of things to do when going to Washington DC. Mike’s brothers’ eldest daughter graduated (with honors 🙂 ) from Georgetown University last weekend (Good job Christine!) so we made the trek east to be part of her big day. Georgetown cupcake seems to have a legion of fans. When we arrived there was a loooong line outside the tiny shop so we decided to come back at a later time. Christine had already warned us that these cupcakes were not as good as Sprinkles so I wasn’t gonna wait in line, but I had to try for myself. On our second visit the line was gone and so were most of the flavors I wanted to try.georgetown cupcake2We ended up with lemon, carrot, toffee crunch and red velvet.  The best was the lemon. That cupcake could give Sprinkles a run for their money. What made it special was the lemon zest throughout the cake and frosting. It tasted really good even though the humidity had made the frosting melt. I would actually wait in line for another one of those…the others — not a chance.

Website: http://georgetowncupcake.com/

Buitoni Wild Mushroom Agnolotti with Balsamic Brown Butter

shroompasta

buitoni

These Buitoni Agnolotti’s (similiar to ravioli) arrived at our house as another perk of being a member of the FoodBuzz Tastemaker Program. I love mushrooms so I was psyched to try them. Picture fresh pasta filled with a mixture of crimini & portobella shrooms, cheese and garlic. All good things. To go along with them Mike and I decided to prepare a  light sauce as to not mask the flavors. Good choice because the mushrooms were not overly flavorful. The balsamic brown butter sauce was a Giada recipe and was a perfect compliment — sweet and nutty. I would definitely pick these up if I saw them in the grocery and I was looking for a quick tasty meal.

Recipe link (we substituted pine nuts for walnuts)

Vérité Wine Tasting – Pebble Beach Food & Wine 2009

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**GUEST BLOGGER: MIKE – THE WINE GUY**

I usually attend wine seminars with a bit of hesitation. Too many times I have been excited only to have my hopes dashed as I sit for an hour-long “sales pitch” of a particular winery. Nothing could have been further from the truth with the seminar “Vérité Winery – Bordeaux Blends from the Best Sonoma Terroirs” at the 2nd Annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine weekend. Why was this one of the best wine seminars I have ever attended? Simple. Vigneron Winemaster Pierre Seillan. He was affable, funny, knowledgeable and so inspirational that I wanted to start planting my own vineyard ASAP. Not only did I get to taste 8 (yes, I said eight!!) wonderful wines, but I also learned a ton.

The Vérité name comes from the French word for “truth” and Seillan believes his job as a winemaker is to bring forth the truth of the terroir. In Sonoma, he has found some of the best terroirs in the world for growing Bordeaux-style reds that knock your socks off. And is he ever picky. For each vintage he selects grapes from nearly 100 micro-crus, hand selects the oak for his barrels from 10 different forests and uses up to five degrees of toasting on any one barrel. What are micro-crus? Well, Seillan doesn’t just settle for mico-climates, instead believing that within one vineyard there could be rows of micro-crus that each have their own separate climate/terroir combination that gives the grapes in that row unique characteristics. Walk 50 yards and you will find another micro-cru.

Each year, Seillan might start 40 different wines that lead to a release of just three Vérité wines per vintage. Why does he do this? To create a well balanced, complex wine that can be cellared for decades or enjoyed the day you buy it. The process always avoids any one overwhelming characteristic to the wine, thus allowing for sustained complexity as it ages.

I think the real reason I enjoyed listening to Seillan so much is best captured by something he said at the end of the tasting. He mentioned that chemistry shouldn’t drive winemaking, but that the farmer (that’s what he sees himself as) should let the soil, wind, elevation, rain, exposure (the terroir) dictate what to do. He related winemaking to raising a child, “feed them (the vines) well, keep a watchful eye and stick to the basics.” Well, Mr. Seillan, your children have grown up to be the leaders of industry!!

Here is what we tasted. Watch out for the 2005’s… as a group they were amazing!!
Each bottle retails for ~$200

veritemoz

1998 La Muse (90% Merlot, 10% Cab Sauvignon)
Beautiful color, nice nose of chocolate and great sweet blackberry fruit with the first taste. Not too heavy, soft tannins.

1998 La Joie (70% Cab Sauvignon, 30% Merlot)
Much bigger, bolder wine than La Muse. Heavier tannins with rich dark fruity flavor.

2002 La Muse (92.5% Merlot, 7.2% Cab Franc, .3% Malbec)
Incredible nose of rich blueberry and herbs. Full bodied, yet soft on the palette.

2002 La Joie (64.2% Cab Sauvignon, 28.5% Merlot, 7% Cab Frac, .3% Malbec)
Wow!! This wine knocked me on my butt!! Big, bold and complex. Nose of blackberries and chocolate, with soft tannins and an explosion of dark, “jammy” fruit.

2002 Le Désir (52.7% Merlot, 41.2% Cab Franc, 4.5% Cab Sauvignon, 1.6% Malbec)
Wonderful berry and floral aroma with tons of juicy fruit up front. Smooth tannins leave you with a very refreshing sense.

2005 Le Muse (88% Merlot, 10% Cab Franc, 2% Malbec)
An outstanding wine. Great aroma of licorice and cherries followed by a burst of dark fruit through the middle. Tannins are a bit heavy but this wine is young.

2005 La Joie (67% Cab Sauvignon, 12% Cab Franc, 12% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec)
Another wow wine!! Great deep purple color. Incredible currant aroma and full of “jammy” dark fruit across your palette. Big, bold, well balanced, this will age exceptionally well.

2005 Le Désir (50% Cab Franc, 39% Merlot, 9% Cab Sauvignon, 2% Malbec)
Nice nose of dark cherries. This wine tastes “cool.” Very refreshing, fruit forward with a bit of spice in the aftertaste.

Lagerhead Black & Tan Turtle

blackandtan

beerturtleAfter our St. Patty’s day celebration we were left with a bunch of Guinness and Harp Lager so I attempted to make Black & Tans. I had no luck using the back of a spoon as many websites instructed. When I saw the Lagerhead turtle at Sur la Table a couple days later I thought I’d give it a try. Well, check it out. The key is to have a LARGE head on the first beverage poured into the glass (the one thing the websites neglected to mention). We have only used the turtle twice but so far it works fairly well.

Now that I know about the head it probably would have worked with a spoon… oh, well another kitchen gadget to add to our collection. Bonus: the turtle mouth doubles as a can opener.

black-tanpour

Chocolate Bouchons

chocbouchons

OMG! These are just like the real deal. I didn’t think Chef Keller would put his name on a product of poor quality. He teamed up with Williams- Sonoma to produce the iconic chocolate Bouchon mix and mold. The mix easily made 24 sensational corks.

bouchonmoldbouchonmold2

Tasty tip: If you want big Bouchons fill the molds to the top, if not fill them just a tad under the lip. The mold works great and the little bad boys slide right out.

Farm Fresh To You – Home Produce Delivery revisited

So we have been receiving deliveries of organic produce for 6 months now and we LOVE IT. We cook a lot more and eat much more healthy. I’ll be honest with you — I’m sooooo glad it’s Spring. I’m all greened out!

Here are some dishes we have made with our garden goodies (click on images to enlarge):
orecchiette-with-sauteed-greens fish-with-orange-fennel-salsa kale-gratin penne-with-spinach-sauce creamy-leek-soup pasta-with-roasted-veg ribollita spinach-with-mushrooms1

Recipe links (in order of appearance in photos above):
Orecchiette with Sautéed Greens and Scallion Sauce – kicked up buttered noodles, next time we’ll add shrooms & chicken
Grilled Fish with Orange-Fennel Salsa – yum!
Kale Gratin with Pancetta – mmm…we used bacon
Penne with Spinach Sauce – a little dry
Creamy Leek Soup – I added bacon
Pasta with Roasted Vegetables, Tomatoes and Basil – everything but the kitchen sink pasta, good hot or cold
Ribollita con Verdure – better the next day
Spinach and Mushrooms with Truffle Oil – truffle oil has an interesting flavor

If you would like to give Farm Fresh To You a try here is a $10 off coupon for your first order.

Kara’s vs. Sprinkles — Cupcake Throwdown

sprinkvskara

Sprinkles (left) vs. Kara's (right)

sprinkvskara2

View from the Top

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Check out that cake to frosting ratio

The biggest cupcake rivalry that exists in Silicon Valley is Kara’s vs. Sprinkles!

As mentioned in the past I work in walking distance to Santana row. Kara’s cupcakes opened in October. I was actually kinda excited because I currently have to travel 25 minutes to get my cupcake fix from Sprinkles. When I arrived I was surprised to find a shop the size of a bread box. There is a counter and the door. You can fit maybe two people inside comfortably. I was all jazzed to try their java and banana cakes but the employee working told me that since the store is minuscule they can only make 1/2 of the flavors you will find at other locations. I guess they don’t get the concept of making different flavors each day. I had to settle for lemon, vanilla (pictured above), coconut, fleur de sel and peanut butter.

So how did they measure up to my beloved Sprinkles? There really was no comparison between the two. Sprinkles trounced Kara’s in flavor, variety and size. Kara’s cupcakes tasted like they were straight out of a grocery store bakery (and that’s not a good thing). The cake was dry, almost flavorless and the frosting tasted like a GIANT glob of shortening. The best of the bunch was the coconut.

I really wanted the tiny cakes to be good so I could fulfill my cravings on a more regular basis but I just can’t stomach them. So sad…

Note: An in-depth Sprinkles review can be found here

Mo’s Bacon Bar

baconbar

Mike picked up this unique treat for me while browsing around the Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Company. He knows me well. The package says Mo’s bar is composed of applewood smoked bacon, Alder wood smoked salt and deep milk chocolate. I was hoping it was a slab of bacon doused in chocolate, alas it was not.baconbar2

The scent reminded me of a bacon dog treat and tasted like smokey, salty chocolate. The bacon bits were minimal and not overly flavorful. The candy paired very well with a glass of Italian red wine but what doesn’t! All I can say is that it was worth the try but not necessarily the $8.95.

Confucius says: I see strips of bacon dipped in chocolate fondue in the near future.

Website: http://www.vosgeschocolate.com/

Zagat San Francisco Dining Deals Pocket Guide

zagat

The economy is awful. Everyone is looking for ways to save money. Zagat to the rescue!

Zagat just released a dining-deals guide for the San Francisco area. The guide features 241 restaurants that serve up cheap eats (well…moderately priced). This is Zagat so you won’t find many $5 footlongs, but affordable meals from some of the best spots in town. If you’re looking for eateries with bargain prix fixe menus or an inexpensive bite this is your handbook. My favorite part was the additional section on Napa because we spend more time there than the city.

A couple of places on my list to chow down are:
Tom Colicchio’s ’wichcraft
BurgerMeister
Cook St. Helena

If you live in the Bay, this is a must have. Get your copy here

Thanks Zagat for sending me mine…

Pineapple Jerky

pineapplebig

pjerkyEver have  Pineapple jerky? Me neither, until now. I found these on Jerky.com, the home for all things jerky. When I saw them I was fascinated. Opening the packaged the aroma of caramelized pineapple wafted through the air. Each bite was chewy and sweet with a touch of tartness. A delicious and healthy treat. I could snack on these all day long.

I never knew there were so many varieties of jerky. Beef jerky better look out. Next up, Bacon jerky! Can you imagine jerky that tastes like a BLT. Dreams really do come true…

Thanks Jerky.com for the sample.

Recchiuti Confections

rechchoc2
The folks over at Foodbuzz sent me a gift just in time for Valentine’s Day. A “green box” of gourmet chocolates from Recchiuti Confections. A delicate assortment of fresh herb and tea infused chocolates. My favorites were the Spring Jasmine Tea and the Tarragon Grapefruit. I’m usually a straight milk chocolate gal but these could make me a convert. If you want to give them a try stop by the San Francisco Ferry Building. They have a S’mores kit that looks pretty darn tasty.

rech-choc-box

Tasty Tip: There is a cool chocolaty behind the scenes video on their website.

In my next life I think I want to be a chocolatier.

Website: http://www.recchiuti.com/

Amazing Taste Seasonings

chickencollardgreens

I received a sample box of Amazing Taste Seasoning packs in late December (Thanks Sara!). Mike and I decided to try out the poultry blend first. We’re always looking for easy ways to spice up a chicken breast. The seasonings can be used as a marinade or rub. It was a week night and I was starving so we applied the seasoning to the meat and quickly tossed it on the BBQ. The flavor was nice…kind of a sweet and spicy paprika. What I was most impressed with was the texture it gave the chicken. It was crispy and tasted like it had been baked or lightly fried. A dream come true…fried chicken on the grill without the messy grease!

We served the chicken atop a bed of creamed collard greens. The recipe for the greens was from the Neelys. The happiest couple on the Food Network (overly, if you ask me). It was a tasty union.

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I look forward to trying the many other Amazing Taste varieties. At 99 cents, it’s an inexpensive way to jazz up a meal.

Website: http://www.amazingtaste.com/

AeroGarden: the lettuce edition

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week 4

week 1

week 1

Check it out! A lettuce patch…I was skeptical but it worked. It took about 3 weeks to see any progress but now it’s taken over the kitchen (seriously…it’s out of control!). Once you harvest the lettuce it doesn’t look like it will continue growing but it produces a gigantic amount the first round. Unlike greens you pull from the fridge the leaves are not cold and crisp but are still surprisingly flavorful. I have grabbed a handful and tossed it with some evoo, balsamic, & salt/pepper and it was wonderful. Get your AeroGarden here.

Click here to see our herbs from the summer.

UPDATE: If you don’t cut the stalks you may get some additional growth.

Daregal Gourmet – Fresh Frozen Herbs

frozenherbs
Matt over at Daregal Gourmet contacted me to see if I wanted to try out his line of fresh frozen herbs. I of course said, “Heck Ya!”  I thought he would drop a single box in the mail but when the dry-ice cooler (Yes, cooler!) arrived via FedEx I would soon find out I had hit the herb mother-load. He sent all 8 varieties. (Thank you, Matt!)

To be honest I’d never heard of frozen herbs. I was impressed with how fresh they smelled and tasted. This could not have come at a better time. The cold weather has killed all our herbs in our outside garden and our AeroGarden is currently a lettuce patch (more to come on that soon). Having herbs in the freezer is so convenient especially since they are washed, chopped and don’t go bad for 3 years. I can totally see myself ordering some more once my supply runs out.

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Note: The first recipe we made using the product was a Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb.

Website: http://www.daregalgourmet.com/

Sprinkles Cupcake Challenge & Rankings

You’ve heard me discuss my Sprinkles obsession in the past. Now I’m taking it to a whole new level. There are 23 regularly featured Sprinkles cupcakes plus 17 seasonal and I am on a mission to try them all! My plan is to go once a month to the Palo Alto store and buy no more than 6 flavors at a time. By my calculation it will take me 12 months to accomplish the task of eating all 40. Are you up for the challenge? Join me! MISSION COMPLETED SEPT 2009 but when new flavors are introduced I add them to the list.

I adore these cupcakes but all are not created equal. Here is how I rank them…

  1. Red Velvet – super moist, the light chocolate cake and cream cheese frosting are perfect complements
  2. Banana – very moist, bananalicious!
  3. Brown Sugar Praline* –  best seasonal cake, fantastically crunchy and sweet, should be a regular flavor
  4. S’more* – simply genius… the graham cracker bottom is divine & the gooey marshmallow finger lickin’ good, pls make it a regular flavor!
  5. “The King” (banana cake/peanut butter frosting)* – I’m all shook up… the peanut butter was like skippy, needs to be a regular flavor
  6. Strawberry – hint o’ strawberry is lovely
  7. Peanut butter chocolate – soft chips, moist cake, flavors remind me of a See’s Milk chocolate Bordeaux candy
  8. Maple bacon* – they didn’t skimp on the bacon and it’s real not that fake bac-0 bits stuff
  9. Lemon – yummy light lemon flavor, dense cake
  10. Lemon meringue* – like S’more subtract chocolate add lemon
  11. Pumpkin – awesome cinnamon frosting
  12. Eggnog spice* – eggnog frosting rocks
  13. Cuban coffee* – just enough spice and great coffee flavor
  14. Salty caramel* – good caramel flavor frosting, salt on top is nice
  15. Lemon blueberry* – think blueberry muffin w/ lemon frosting – another good morning treat
  16. Triple cinnamon – advertised as a cinnamon roll, tasted more like a snickerdoodle cookie
  17. Almond dark chocolate* – flavor of a poppyseed muffin minus the seeds. I wish it didn’t have sliced almonds in it.
  18. Vanilla milk chocolate – a classic cupcake
  19. Cinnamon sugar – a cupcake with NO frosting, great for breakfast
  20. Green tea* – very flavorful NEW
  21. German chocolate* – cool chunky frosting, wish it tasted more coco-nutty
  22. Flourless chocolate*- dense yet moist, similar to a super rich chocolate brownie
  23. Orange – similar to lemon but with orange flavor
  24. Vanilla peppermint* – great combo,very festive
  25. Peanut butter chip – creamy cake, like a mouthful of peanut butter
  26. Key Lime* – very subtle lime flavor initially but has a zesty finish
  27. Orange cranberry* – tasty combo
  28. Raspberry* – solid cupcake, nice raspberry flavor
  29. Milk chocolate – not overly chocolaty
  30. Dark chocolate – didn’t think I was going to like this since I prefer milk chocolate but it was good w/ a glass of milk
  31. Caramel apple* – didn’t get any real caramel apple flavors, just spice
  32. Gingerbread* – tis the season  NEW
  33. Irish Chocolate* – wish the frosting had more Baileys flavor
  34. Vanilla hazelnut chocolate* – if you think this is going to taste like nutella…you’re wrong
  35. Chocolate marshmallow – like a ding dong but needs more marshmallow
  36. Sprinkle – for 10 yrs I expected more.  NEW
  37. Vegan red velvet – if u want a coconut cupcake get this- if u want red velvet …don’t 
  38. Pistachio* – bland NEW
  39. Coconut – great coconut frosting, cake a bit dry though
  40. Raspberry chocolate chip* – nice combo but cake was dry
  41. Vanilla- sprinkles on top were too sweet
  42. Ginger maple* – nice frosting, too much ginger
  43. Chai latte – herbal flavor with spice frosting
  44. Chocolate coconut- dry cake, didn’t like dark chocolate frosting
  45. Carrot- if you like carrot cake, you’ll like this (I’m not a fan)
  46. Ginger lemon – good on their own but a weird combo
  47. Mocha – had high hopes for this – very good mocha flavor but with the choc cake was just bla
  48. Apple cinnamon* – apple chunks…no bueno NEW
  49. Banana chocolate – the chocolate frosting masks the banana cake
  50. Neapolitan* – just tastes like chocolate  
  51. Lemon coconut – dry,dry,dry
  52. Chocolate peppermint* – too much chocolate
  53. Choco loco* – cinnamon and chocolate is not my favorite combo
  54. Black & White – really bland
  55. Margarita* – tasted like salt
  56. Summer Cherry* – tasted like cough syrup
  57. Red Hot Velvet* – frosting tasted/smelled like Dentyne gum (which I despise) & overpowered the cake

    *seasonal/ limited edition flavors / secret menu

How about you? Which flavors make you drool? Leave a comment or two…
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Book signing with Giada

Mike and I spent Sunday afternoon with celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis. Actually we stood in line for 2.5 hours and talked to her for about 30 seconds.

So, I hear about a Q&A and book signing with Giada at Santana Row for her new cookbook Giada’s Kitchen. It sounded like fun so I purchased a book from Sur La Table and with it came a ticket to the event (I had #6). This was our first book signing so we had no idea what to expect. We arrived 45 minutes early to scope things out. Since it was a ticketed event I thought there would be no more than 50-100 people allowed to see her. I WAS SO, SO WRONG! When we walked up to Sur la Table there was already a line around the corner and into the 2nd section of the parking lot (at least 150 people). So what did we do? We got in line of course. Then I sent Mike on a recon mission to see why the heck the line was so long and what happened to the Q&A. He returned to tell me that the line was for the signing and that the Q&A was at the stage set up in the center of the row and that if I wanted to see it I would have to lose my place in line. The person in line before us had ticket number 395 which she had purchased the day before so there was potentially going to be 500 + people waiting with their bag-o-books. We decided not to leave the line and take turns going to hear Giada speak. She promptly arrived at noon and did a 10 minute Q&A which wasn’t super informative because I assume her die hard fans were standing in line. We heard about her new baby, taping of the upcoming shows … typical questions. Flash forward two hours and we had our signed book and a moment with Giada. If you know Mike he wasn’t gonna just say “Hi” and take his book he needed a little chit chit time (which he took 😆). She was nice and we were ushered to the side where you are allowed to take a photo.

The day didn’t go as expected but we can scratch this off our bucket list. I will think long and hard before going to another Sur La Table signing. I really think the function could have been run better. I was happy to hear that Giada was going to stay until the very last book was signed otherwise I’m sure you would have read about a pot & pan riot in the SJ Mercury news the next day.

Foodbuzz Launches


Foodbuzz.com officially launched today! What is Foodbuzz?

It’s the first-ever community site devoted exclusively to food and dining content—an unparalleled resource for searching, surfing and sharing with fellow foodies everywhere.

Check it out if you want to have access to tons of food blogs from around the world. You can share recipes, restaurant reviews, food videos, news and photos. I have been a member since February and I love connecting with other food minded individuals.

To join you don’t need to have a food blog, but if you do I highly recommend becoming a Featured Publisher. FoodBuzz provides some great benefits like free passes to food events, advertising opportunities, sponsored dinners and every once in a while you get surprise goodies in the mail. Go here to sign up and in the referral spot please write: Bay Area Foodie http://www.bayareafoodieblog.com

Farm Fresh To You – Organic Produce Delivery Service

Over the last couple months I have heard about people/neighborhoods getting produce deliveries from local farmers. I thought it was a wonderful idea but didn’t know if it was available in my area. While perusing a fellow bay area foodies blog I noticed he was getting deliveries from Farm Fresh to You, a family run farm in Capay Valley, CA. As soon as I visited their company website and saw that they would deliver to my house I immediately signed up. By doing this we hope to start eating more fruit and expanding the variety of vegetables we consume. We just received our first regular box of organic goodies:

a view inside the box

Heirloom tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes
Red sweet peppers
Garlic
Yellow onions
Honeydew melon
Arugula
Sugerpie pumpkin
Gala apples
Asian pears
Broccoli

All this for $29 (delivery included). This should last us 1.5-2 weeks.

We were very happy with our shipment. You will see recipes using these items soon.

If you decide to give this a go, here is a $10 off coupon for your first order.

Note: this is the real deal direct from the farm so expect some dirt and maybe even a few bugs!

Website: http://www.farmfreshtoyou.com/

AeroGarden

Have you seen this gadget on a late night infomercial? Well, my dad did. He gave this to Mike and I for our wedding anniversary this year. The unit uses aeroponic technology which is

a dirt-free growing method where plant roots are suspended in air within a 100% humidity, highly-oxygenated growing chamber. Because the roots are bathed with ideal levels of nutrients, water and oxygen, plants grow significantly faster, are healthier and have a higher nutrient content than plants grown in soil

When we put the contraption together we had many doubts that it would actually work. But take a look, it is going bananas! Now, it didn’t happen overnight. It takes 3-4 weeks until you get something worth eating and the manual says it will continue to grow for 4 months. Our version came with the gourmet herb seed kit which includes basil, thyme, mint, chives, parsley and dill. At the 6 week mark the only herb that hasn’t really made much progress are the chives. The only negative to this appliance is that it has fluorescent bulbs that need to turn on for 16 hours a day and they are so bright that they light up your entire house if it’s dark. It’s like a built in security system. Other than that we love our indoor garden. It’s so nice to be able to grab the herbs and immediately start cooking since they are clean and bug free. Once the herbs are gone we are going to try the salad greens. We will have our own little lettuce patch. Get yours today!

Weeks 1-6 below (click image to enlarge)

Fun Wine

While wandering around the Vintage Wine Merchant store at Santana Row Mike and I noticed a display of wines for under $10. The low price is not what caught our attention it was the labels on two of the bottles. One was called Bitch and the other Pure Evil. As we chuckled we then saw a sign that said Bitch, a Grenache, and Pure Evil, a Chardonnay, received 90 point ratings from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

For that price and rating we purchased a bottle of each. Turns out they didn’t taste half bad. Pick up a bottle or two if you know an Evil Bitch.

Both are produced by R Wines in Australia.

Food and Wine Annual Cookbook 2008

The mailman just delivered my 2008 Food & Wine Annual Cookbook. It includes all the recipes (670) that were in the magazine over the last 12 months, nicely organized and indexed. What a wonderful idea. Now I can toss out all those magazines I have lying around the house with the tagged pages. I absolutely hate having to shuffle through a bunch of magazines to find a recipe. Food & Wine probably has been doing this for years but this is the first time I saw and payed attention to the offer. It’s loaded with great recipes.

Get your copy here! It’s on Sale!

Michael Chiarellos NapaStyle Wine Club

napastyle logo

If you’re looking for an inexpensive wine club to join I urge you to consider Michael Chiarellos NapaStyle Wine Club. Mike and I have been members for 1 year and are extremely happy with our quarterly shipments. We receive the Cucina club which includes 6 bottles (red & white) from around the world for $90! What makes this club unique is that within each box delivered are recipes to go with each wine and suggestions on what types of foods they will pair well with. These are the kinds of wines that you can open up and enjoy immediately…no need to store in a wine cellar for years or wait for a special occasion. So far we have received 24 bottles and only 1 or 2 did I not care for. Michael Chiarello is a well known chef and proprietor of a small family winery so his recommendations are reliable.

Tasty Tip: There currently is an offer for $25 off your first shipment on the website.

Website: http://www.napastylewineclub.com/

Cool Chiarello items:
Napa Stories Wine Journal
Napa Stories: Profiles, Reflections,and Recipes from the Napa Valley

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