Friday, October 31, 2008

It's Baaaaack: The best seasonal addition to coffee

Many a coffee purist would shudder the thought of adding eggnog to coffee, but not this one.

I've loved the eggnog latte for years, since my days frequenting Monorail Espresso in the nation's espresso capital. No Portland, not you. Portland doesn't wait for Halloween to dress up as Seattle.

The eggnog latte is probably loaded with as many calories as one of those Dunkin' Donuts muffins I've heard tale of (700-plus, if memory serves). I don't want those calories to end up on my tail, so I steer clear of Starbucks this time of year.

But this, this most wonderful lowfat eggnog from the good folks at Horizon, fills the void. The best way to enjoy it is to pour an inch or so into your mug and zap it up in the microwave for 10 seconds or so. Then fill your mug the rest of the way with coffee. Yum. Oh, and don't add sugar - the eggnog is pretty sweet.

Eggnog lovers, rejoyce! It's eggnog season!

Happy Halloween.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Found: Best Coffee Beans in Chicago

I was a faithful Peetnik for years. But something changed several years ago and the product, while still good, is no longer excellent. The search for a better bean ended this summer when I found a local microroaster: Metropolis Coffee Company.

I have yet to visit the actual café since Metropolis is not located in a neighborhood I frequent. The beans are available at Whole Foods, Treasure Island and the Big Apple foods grocer on Clark at Fullterton. We regularly enjoy the Spice Island (at right) a dark roast, and the Cordillera, a medium roast.

Saveur Magazine had a nice shout-out to Chitown roasters in The Breakfast Issue. In 9 Great Coffees, two of the nine mentioned were Chicago-based, Metropolis and Intelligentsia. They also liked my old standby at Peets: Major Dickason's Blend. I was disappointed Saveur had no brotherly love for Philadelphia's La Colombe Torrefaction. Their Nizza roast is fantastic.

Read here to learn how I've been brewing Metropolis at home. It's all about the French press, baby.

Every city should be so lucky as to have their own skilled microroaster. Have you found yours?

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cranberry Orange Tea Cake

When cranberries popped up at the market last week Cranberry Orange Tea Cake was inevitable. Plus, I wanted something lighter after the butter cake from last week. It's the oil-based (rather than butter based) cakes that we like so much in the Pinch kitchen.

I love this tea cake at the start of fall, with eggnog lattes on the horizon and brilliant oranges and reds coloring the arboreal landscape. It looks like autumn, doesn't it?

There's a short list of truly excellent tea breads and cakes that are just perfect this time of year. What else is on that list? Gingerbread. Rosemary Raisin Bread. Spice cake. Pumpkin cake.

I'll enjoy this last piece with some Irish Breakfast tea at teatime, as long as no one else beats me to it.

Cranberry Orange Tea Cake
Print recipe only here


2 cups flour
1 ½ t baking powder
½ t baking soda
½ t salt
¾ cup sugar
3 T canola oil
1 egg
¾ cup orange juice
Zest of one orange
1 cup cranberries, rinsed
½ cup toasted pecans or walnuts (optional)


Preheat oven to 350° F.

Spray a 8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ½ loaf pan with canola spray.

If using nuts, toast them on a baking sheet in the oven for 5-10 minutes until fragrant. Allow to cool.

Sift or whisk together dry ingredients.

Add to the bowl of a food processor the sugar, egg, oil, orange juice and zest and process to combine. If you don’t have a food processor, just whisk everything together in a mixing bowl.

Add cranberries and pulse a few times to roughly chop them up. If you’re not using the food processor, just roughly chop the cranberries by hand and add them to the liquid ingredients.

Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients, add nuts if you’re using them, and combine gently with a few swift strokes.

Pour the batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until it pulls away from the sides of the pan and passes the toothpick test.

Let cool at least 10 minutes before cutting.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Authentic Wonton Soup Made Simple

I just added Rasa Malaysia to my blogroll. The site does a fine job of writing authentic Asian recipes and food photography. If you'd like to expand your cooking repertoire to include Asian favorites it will be a big help.

I went to Rasa Malaysia recently to compare their Wonton Soup recipe to mine. By mine, I mean the recipe I adapted from Corinne Trang's Essentials of Asian Cuisine. Trang's wonton soup is light and simple and very familiar. Rasa's recipe adds fish sauce to the broth which I didn't think I'd enjoy, so I'm sticking with Trang. But do check out Rasa Malaysia, even only for the photography. It's mouthwatering.

Making Wonton Soup yesterday I was reminded how beholden I am to Imagine chicken broth. Their product is so delicate (it does require some simmering to embolden the flavor) and pure - like a great canvas. I always have several boxes on hand in my pantry.

Wonton Soup
Print recipe only here

Serves six


* 64 ounces chicken broth (I use Imagine Organic chicken broth)
* 2 t sesame oil, divided
* 2 t soy sauce
* ½ t corn starch
* 4 ounces shrimp, finely chopped
* 2 ounces lean ground pork
* 24 wonton wrappers
* 2 green onions
* Freshly ground white or black pepper

Bring stock and 1 t sesame oil to a gentle boil and simmer 20 minutes.

Combine shrimp, pork, 1 t sesame oil, cornstarch and soy sauce in a mixing bowl. Add a few turns of fresh ground pepper and mix well.


Have ready a small bowl of warm water to moisten wrappers.

Place a wrapper on your work surface and fill with 1 scant teaspoon of the shrimp/pork mixture.

Moisten fingers with warm water and paint the edge of the wrapper.

Fold the wrapper into a triangle, pressing out all the air.

Moisten the two side tips of the triangle and bring them together around the filled center of the wonton.

Place the finished wonton on a plate or tray and cover with a damp cloth. Fill all the wontons.

At this point you can freeze any wontons you won't be serving. Transfer them to a baking sheet, leaving space between them, and freeze overnite. The following day, transfer to a ziploc bag for longer storage.


When ready to serve, turn up the heat on soup to a more substantial boil and drop in 3-4 wontons per person. Add a few turns of freshly ground pepper.

Boil until the wontons float - about 3-4 minutes, and then serve.

Garnish with sliced green onions.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kentucky Butter Cake: A great tea cake for tea season

I love cakes like this one - pretty easy to produce and when it's done baking it's ready to go. Pair it with afternoon tea and you'll make whoever happens to be in your house at teatime (today it was a gaggle of girls) very happy.

Everyone should own a good bundt pan. I've got a 12-cup and a 6-cup one and think I might add a 10-cup to the fleet. This recipe, incidentally, calls for a 10-cup pan. I like my heavyweight ones from Nordic Ware, but regularly use lighter weight cake pans so don't sweat what you've got. The most critical thing is to really take care to thoroughly grease and flour the pan. And make sure to bonk the pan on the counter a few times to knock out all the excess flour. You won't be pleased to present a splotchy cake, even if your guests are oblivious minors.

A final note concerns the recipe's origin. My recipe is minimally adapted from the Baker's Cafe Cookbook. (The Baker's Cafe, of Katonah, NY, has been closed for several years.) A recipe search for Kentucky Butter Cake yielded many nearly identical recipes. The reason: the recipe won the Pillsbury Bake-Off contest in 1963 whereupon it became an instant classic and worked its way into many a recipe box.

Kentucky Butter Cake
Print recipe only here

Preheat oven to 350°

Grease and flour a 10-cup bundt pan.

Soften for 3-4 minutes in a mixer with paddle attachment:
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

Add slowly (about 2-4 T at a time, over about 8 minutes, scraping sides and bottom of bowl at least once between additions):
• 2 cups sugar

Add one at a time, mixing thoroughly between additions and scraping the bowl midway between additions:
• 4 eggs

• 2 t vanilla extract

Sift together and reserve:
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 t baking powder
• 1/2 t baking soda
• 1/2 t salt

Measure out and reserve:
• 1 cup buttermilk

Add the dry ingredients to the butter/eggs alternately with the liquid. (Scoop in about half the dry and mix on low speed until nearly incorporated, then pour in half the liquid, mixing in the same.) Repeat. Finish mixing by hand with a large spatula, carefully scraping up from the bottom of the mixing bowl and not over mixing.

Pour into prepared pan and bake about 50 minutes or until it pulls away from the sides of the pan and passes the toothpick test.

Toward the end of baking, prepare glaze (recipe below). When cake is done baking, pierce it all over with a long skewer (while the cake is still in the pan). Pour the hot glaze slowly over the top, allowing it to saturate the cake.

• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1/4 cup unsalted butter
• 1-2 T Meyer's Dark rum
• 1T water

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over low-medium heat. Swirl until butter is melted, but do not allow to boil. Pour over warm cake. Allow cake to sit for 20-30 minutes to cool, then invert onto a plate. Alternately, you can use half the glaze while the cake is in the pan and the remainder once you've inverted it. Anther nice touch: use a mesh tea immerser to dust with powdered sugar just prior to presentation.

The cake keeps well, loosely covered at room temperature, for 3-4 days.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Best Commercial Dilly Bean

Meet the best commercial dilly bean known to Pinch.

Hot and Spicy Pickled Crispy Beans have been a staple in the Pinch pantry for years. We first discovered them in Seattle when they were under the Hogue Farms label. Hogue Cellars, a Washington State winery, spun off the veggie business in 2002, selling it to the man who had been heading it up all along. So, same product, different label. And, bless us everyone, they are available nationally.

With the singular exception of trying to replicate Marija's Amazing Pickles, I don't put up veggies. I have great esteem for those who do. Nothing tops the goods from expert canners. Maybe someday I'll get my act together and put up my mom's green tomatoes, Marija's pickles and some spicy dilly beans. For the latter, a recipe via The Crispy Cook looks promising.

Until the genesis of Pinch Canned Goods, I'm with Jack; I'll trade my cow for these beans any day.


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Friday, October 17, 2008

Best Recipes for Fall

As much as I love (LOVE!) summer there's always a bit of excitement in the Pinch kitchen when a new season blows in. I've spent the last week enjoying hot tea and warm soups, and even have a batch of maple sugar cookies on the way.

I've also been writing more recipes and have added some seasonal favorites to the recipe catalog. Perusing my personal cookbook is like looking at old photos and recalling events in need of a sequel. Like going to Hawaii. Autumnal bliss only lasts so long. I'll be itching to get out of Dodge as soon as the Bitter Winter Ice Queen rears her ugly head.

Anyway, the trip down memory lane has allowed me to bring some foods back into rotation. Tortilla Soup and the always stupendous Flank Steak Sandwich are two items I haven't made recently. Fall foliage and temperatures always make Chili (shown above left) a warmly received dinner, all the better when the recipe has been pinched of unhealthy fats.

Other newly added recipes I highly recommend are Lentil Soup, a fantastic Chicken Soup with Rice and, for the adventurous shopper, Miso Soup.

Recipe reorganization within RECIPES & MENUS will help you find healthy meals for you to enjoy throughout the year. Happy soup season.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cobbler or Crunch: Biscuit vs. streusel toppings

My mom used to make this thing she called Apple Crunch. It was sort of a lazy apple pie. No crust, just sliced apples, kissed with lemon and cinnamon sugar, and topped with streusel. Baked until golden, Apple Crunch was a perfect combination of gooey apples and the crunchy oat streusel. Why don't I make this more often? Probably because of the buttery streusel.

The cobbler topping I've been making lately has a lower sugar and fat content than a streusel. Pictured at left is a peach and blueberry cobbler that I made recently. It was just incredible. Cutting down on added sugar and fat really lets the fruit be the star. I had some great peaches for this cobbler. I keep frozen blackberries on hand year-round so I can turn our a blackberry cobbler if we're in a must have dessert kind of a mood.

Berries and stone fruits go well with either streusel or biscuit toppings. It's only apples that demand streusel. Don't take my word for it - you decide. Fall fruits provide many possibilities.

To make an 8-inch square cobbler or crunch you will need about 6 cups of berries or sliced fruit. Add to the fruit the juice of one lemon, 1/4 cup of sugar (cinnamon sugar works well here) and a heaping tablespoon of flour. Toss well and taste. Add more sugar if necessary, but add it slowly. Let the sugar complement the fruit, not overshadow it.

Top with handfuls of streusel or scoops of sticky biscuit dough and bake until the fruit bubbles up and the top is richly golden.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Sous Chef Wanted? On teaching kids to cook

I’ve recently extended the offer to my school-aged children to help out in the kitchen. When they’re older they might be in charge of making dinner on their own during the week and it’ll be better for everyone if they approach that task with some tools in their kit. Cooking is a safe way for a kid to have some of the autonomy they want so desperately. And if they can be autonomous in the friendly confines of our kitchen everybody wins.

This isn’t a novel idea. The New York Times Well Blog recently published 6 Food Mistakes Parents Make. Kicking your kids out of the kitchen was the first mistake.

When I was a small child I was usually deposited in a playpen when my mother was cooking. Recently, my children and I happened upon a wooden playpen in an antiques shop. They had no idea what it was so I told them it was a box mothers put their children in. They still think I was making it all up. Like the majority of the coddled generation, my daughters hold inalienable their right to be stapled to me.

The playpen sighting made me question the necessity of culinary training for kids. This post is an attempt to answer this question: Is this business of teaching young children to cook just another example of the ways contemporary parents over-schedule our children? Is it yet another activity we thrust upon our children when what they really need is time for free play and opportunities to entertain themselves?

I welcome your comments to help me sort through the following thoughts:

Evidence it teaches independence
Teaching kids to cook is important because they learn skills that will be useful later. The 6 Mistakes author writes, "Studies suggest that involving children in meal preparation is an important first step in getting them to try new foods." Children also enjoy the opportunity for one-on-one parent interaction (the cook in charge only wants one sous chef to train at a time). It can provide a time to rehash the events of the day.

Evidence it’s just One More Thing
Remember the line from Free to be You and Me? "Some kind of help is the kind of help we all can do without?" The very fact that children are present in a household makes dinner preparation a very rushed time. The 4-5 hour window between when school lets out and when children need to be ushered up to bed is jammed with homework, after school activities, play dates and bathing. Lengthening dinner prep to accommodate culinary lessons means taking time away from those other things, most of which we’re rushing though already. Today's children are overexposed to activity. Let's give them some down time.

Evidence our mothers knew best
Remember being a newlywed, cooking as a couple? There was peace and quiet and a glass of wine. No one cried if they bonked their head and no one needed love and affection from her mommy right when the risotto needed another ladleful of broth and a good stir. Our mothers remembered, and wisely deposited us in the playpen where at least they could tend to the risotto without tripping over us.

Evidence I just don’t want to share cooking responsibilities
I’ve long been accused of hoarding all the fun cooking tasks and delegating the grunt work. After reading “He Cooks. She Stews. It’s Love.” in the New York Times I accepted the Alpha cook label. I found I was not alone in my habit of prone to giving kitchen helpers menial kitchen tasks like rinsing chicken breasts, emptying the garbage, or washing a pot so I can reuse it.

From the story:

“This, of course, is the way it works in restaurants, where the chef’s authority is nearly absolute. It is somebody else’s job to peel the carrots. And that person is expected to peel the carrots without muttering bitterly under his breath. The top-down system helps to avoid chaos, speeds the process and enforces quality control. But at home that same system can have emotional consequences.”

It’s hard to resist the urge to give my youngest a carrot and have her peel it for me to eat instead of actually doing something critical for the night’s dinner. My oldest, at nine, fully appreciates the inherent condescension of this task.

Everybody wins if I loosen my grip on the kitchen. My first attempt at training a sous chef ended up with my youngest in tears after learning how to cut an onion (the onion made her cry, not me). I should have started her off with an easier task. Our sophomore try will take place on a weekend night when we have more time. And I’ll chose an onion-free menu.

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

All the News That's Fit to Pinch

Pinch is pleased to announce the addition of a new feature. The content aggregated in PINCHED NEWS contributes to the dialog on food/diet/nutrition we love so much.

When we’re lucky, it also provides the chance to giggle at the news. As in the NY Times magazine piece “Losing the Weight Stigma,” where we are informed:

“Linda Bacon, a nutritionist and physiologist at the University of California at Davis…advocates tossing out the bathroom scale and loving your body no matter what it weighs.”

...and CHANGING YOUR SURNAME TO BACON. They didn’t mention her given name was Linda Lentil.

Seriously. Linda BACON? You can't make this stuff up.

Happy reading.

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