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nar gourmet foods {review}

April 30th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Unique food items always intrigue me, and I tend to have an eagle eye out for anything different from the mainstream offerings available. This is becoming more and more difficult, as the food scene in Minnesota has expanded exponentially to include food items from various cultures, with ethnic markets, gourmet food shops, fine spices, and artisan products of all kinds at the ready, with a willingness to drive being your only obstacle to finding what you want.

NAR Gourmet food products ~~ Kate in the Kitchen

NAR Gourmet contacted me about trying some of their unique handmade food items, all sourced locally in Anatolia, (formally known as Turkey), and embodying the rich flavors of the Mediterranean. With a North American option of purchasing their products on Amazon, NAR Gourmet can begin spreading it’s gorgeous flavors and packaging beyond the local borders, bringing these beautiful, delicious and rarely found foods to US customers.

{I have no affiliation with NAR Gourmet, or Amazon, and am not receiving any compensation for this post.
The products from NAR Gourmet were free; all opinions of them are my own.
I will not receive anything from Amazon for any purchase of NAR Gourmet products made on their site.}

First thing I noticed about these products upon opening the box was the beautiful packaging and jars. These are the kind of jars that you can wash and re-use in your kitchen, with fabulous thick, sturdy lids. I received Bergamot flavored Olive oil {the light colored oil on the right} and I absolutely loved the long, lean bottle. The oil was phenomenal drizzled on salads. It’s very light, but cleanly flavored and the taste is pure and fresh. Bergamot Oranges are grown mostly in southern Italy and France and used for essential oils; the fruit grown in Anatolia is primarily used for flavoring food-grade oils and making marmalades. 

Another oil that arrived was Pistachio oil, a deep green oil that is also wonderful on salads or drizzled over roasted vegetables. It’s flavor is rich and nutty, and it’s actually a good oil to use on your skin as well. For more kitchen uses of this gorgeous oil, check out this article on The Kitchn. One suggestion was brushing the oil on fresh apricots, then grilling them; with apricot season just around the corner, you can bet I’m going to try that.

I received two jars of marmalade- Mandarin and Apricot. The Apricot marmalade went in to a delicious tea cake recipe I found on The Yellow House, one of my blog reads. The cake was tender and delicious, with a bright spark of flavor and a sunny color. It vanished like a snowflake in July. The Mandarin marmalade was made in to Marmalade Butter on two occasions, spread on toast and pancakes with plenty of oooohs and aaaaahs to compliment the wonderful taste.

Mandarin Marmalade Butter ~~ Kate in the Kitchen

The recipe for this is simple: soften one stick of butter and add two heaping tablespoons of your favorite marmalade, then mix with a fork to combine. Adjust more or less to taste and keep tightly covered on your counter for spreadability. Trust me… this will not last long. I added a touch of Maldon Smoked Sea Salt for flavor and it did not disappoint. Try it on sourdough toast, or crisp waffles.

Other items I received were Sour Cherry Jam and Lemon Peel Preserves. These have yet to be opened, as I’m still determining the best route to use for them. The Lemon Peel Preserves have huge chunks of whole lemon rind in it. Another item, Ground Dried Tomato, has been making it’s way in to various dishes and toppings, such as mixed with olive oil and brushed on vegetables for roasting, mixed in to lentils when cooking or sprinkled over potatoes. It’s texture is soft between your fingers; I expected it to be crumbly and dry but it’s very fresh, the scent is much like sun-dried tomato, and the flavor is very subtle. A little goes a long way and I know this will get a lot of use in my kitchen.

NAR Gourmet has a huge line of products, with lots of jams, oil, spices and other food products like vinegars and teas, as well as candies and pure, natural soaps. The line on Amazon is strictly food items, and is not a full list of what NAR Gourmet offers, but there is something for every taste available there.

plush puffs gourmet marshmallows

June 7th, 2013 | Comments Off on plush puffs gourmet marshmallows

Gourmet marshmallows? How could I say ‘No’ to that?

Especially Mochachino, Maple Bacon, Lemon Meringue and Toasted Coconut gourmet marshmallows from Plush Puffs.

I was never a huge fan of marshmallows, even though I have eaten my fair share of them in my lifetime, toasted over an open flame and squished between chocolate and graham crackers, or fudge-stripe cookies (my favorite way to eat them). They were fine because I had no idea that they could ever be anything other than what they were, but I had a serious marshmallow epiphany in culinary school when we made marshmallows from scratch and I first tasted the smooth and supple texture, the fresh fluffy cloud-like taste of what they could be without all the garbage ingredients in them. Since that eye-opening day, I’ve been far less enthusiastic to a chemically laden, spongey mass-produced orb from a plastic bag.

Plush Puffs use all natural ingredients and top quality flavorings. The marshmallows aren’t just coated with flavor, it’s striped and swirled all through the fluff, and with each chew you get more and more taste in your mouth.

Even though my boy is an enthusiastic taste-tester at home, with four boxes of fluff to sample, I needed more mouths and varied opinions on these; my boy and I tend to like the same thing, and his reactions were predictable to me, so I gathered up the boxes as I headed out to my weekly Ladies Night gathering at my friend Mary‘s house, hoping for a break in our constant rain so that we could stab these babies on a toasting fork and get down to business.

Unfortunately, the moment I arrived at her house, it began to rain.

So…. in her words, we made ghetto S’mores over the gas burner on her stove.

Now plain Plush Puffs, right out of the package are phenomenal in their own right. They truly need nothing more to make them tastier. The texture is perfect and the flavors simply POP in your mouth. The Mochachino is ribboned with chocolate, rich on the tongue and perfectly balanced. Toasted Coconut is topped with browned toasty bits and subtly sweet. Lemon Meringue, my least favorite of the group, was a bit too sweet and cloying, with none of the fresh lemony taste that we all love, and it was our opinion that lemon and marshmallows simply didn’t mix all that well. The Maple Bacon left us puzzled, not sure what to think. Poked in to a stick and held over the flames, these didn’t scorch as deeply as we’d hoped, nor melt like we expected, but they did become slippery and runny enough to squish between graham crackers with various types of chocolate.

Our favorite was the Mochachino with a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup. Pure decadent deliciousness. The amount of happy groans of delight, complete with glorious eye-rolling punctuated our conversations as we toasted, squished, sampled and enjoyed.

Even the littlest lady at Ladies Night enjoyed the taste-testing.

As of right now, Plush Puffs are not available in stores in Minnesota, but you can purchase the many flavors in their online store. For a delicious treat, you really can’t go wrong.

I was provided with four boxes of various flavors of Plush Puffs Gourmet Marshmallows free of charge for sampling purposes.
All opinions and feedback are my own. 

eating in, with lynne rosetto kasper

April 4th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Lynne Rosetto Kasper is the host of The Splendid Table, radio broadcast through American Public Media on Minnesota Public Radio since 1997. She is the author of numerous books as well, like The Splendid Table, The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper and The Italian Country Table. The books are beautifully photographed and relish in the simple preparations of good food shared with others.

I was recently sent a copy of the first in her new e-book series, Eating In, with Lynne Rosetto Kasper and was once again treated to the lovely pictures and simple creations that these books offer.

Lynne’s books are comforting and so simple to explore. Never intimidating, these books urge home cooks to let go of complicated recipes and entertaining, and instead focus on easy preparations that utilize food on hand, requiring no more than a desire to make delicious meals. This new e-book series begins with what Lynne refers to as “Sunday food” delighting in “the unexpected places that a recipe can take you.” She talks about how to eat all week on recipes created on Sundays, ‘work night encores’ and the fascination in “the way a recipe keeps on giving. Each recipe is like the fingers on your hand; it can take you in so many directions, and open up so many possibilities. Each direction becomes a lesson in the power you gain when you know what’s happening beyond the written recipe.”

The book also talks about shopping tips, offers feedback on brand tasting for canned tomatoes and stock, and offers a sound bite interview with journalist Tom Mueller (‘Extra Virginity; The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil‘) about choosing a good olive oil for your home cooking. The interview itself would be worth the price of this book, which is a bargain at $3.99. I learned more from listening to Tom’s interview than I’d ever known about olive oil, and now want to find his book. You can find the information in the interview on his website as well.

I really found a lot to relate to in this book, loving the explanation of how a recipe can drive your creativity, as that is exactly how I enjoy cooking the most. I love having leftovers on hand to re-create in a new form, delighting in making more than one meal for pennies on the dollar. I appreciate all the work that goes in to her books, especially her tastings and descriptions of store brands that either delight or disappoint. Her palate is trustworthy, no doubt. I’m excited to see the next in the series, and what delicious tastes and information await.


{I was provided a code to download this e-book at no cost. All words, opinions and feedback are solely my own} 

stepping back

December 13th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

It’s two weeks to Christmas and right on schedule, we got smacked with an epic Winter storm. Almost 14 inches of snow fell over the weekend, blanketing our state and instantly changing everything from dull December to dazzling white. The internal switch to Christmas mode snapped on with a definitive click, and now I’m really eager to pull out decorations and deck the halls. I’ve always waited until a few weeks prior to Christmas to really make the house festive, and having such a beautiful white landscape to look at makes it so much easier. Last year, Christmas came and went without snow.

It rained the week before, and temperatures were mild enough on Christmas to wear a light jacket. Growing up in Minnesota my entire life, I couldn’t recall when that had ever happened. The previous year, we had magical Christmas snow that fell in huge flakes on Christmas morning and lifted my heart. Christmas decorations buried under thick, fluffy snow is a sight that renders me still, my eyes shining and wide. I could never get enough of that. Seeing them drip with rain last year was painful.

But not this year.

But it’s TWO WEEKS to Christmas. And I think I should be in panic mode but quite frankly, I’m not. Long ago I decided not to give in to the frenzy that accompanies this most beautiful of holidays, choosing instead to focus on the reason for such a blessed day. I do some baking, but these days I’m giving away the goods more than keeping them; I do set up our decorations, I do send out cards and a few gifts, I do wish to find a perfect something for Mike and Griffin, but if I don’t I can’t sweat it. Life will go on, with or without these, and there will be rain when there should be snow and each 24 hours will pass whether I choose to cram them full of glad tidings, or sit quietly in front of the fire with a glass of wine. We had a very sad loss in our family last week and our plans for this past Sunday came screeching to a halt as we gathered to bid a final farewell, among the thickly falling snow. I can’t put all that much emphasis on festive decorations and holiday jubilee when I know someone’s heart is hurting. It just pulls so much into perspective.

But we still need to eat something. And after a day of struggling over icy, snow covered roads and feeling so much sorrow, having an option for a really quick meal was so nice to have. After clearing a foot of snow from our driveway, I quickly pulled together a flatbread pizza, using Flat-Out’s new line of Flatbread Pizza Crusts. In less than 10 minutes, I had a simple dinner that filled up the hollow space inside.

Flat Outs new line of ready to eat pizza crusts couldn’t be any easier for making a quick meal. From a frozen state, you can place them right in the oven (or use a handy toaster oven, too) and they thaw in minutes. Top them in whatever fashion you love and place them back in the oven to heat the toppings. That pizza above didn’t even take 10 minutes from start to finish.

Flat-Out pizza crusts are perfect for a casual gathering, or movie night with family. Put your favorite holiday classic on… mine is The Christmas Story, or A Charlie Brown Christmas; you need little else besides a variety of pizza toppings to suit everyone’s tastes. A hot oven, and Flat-Outs three crust options- Rustic White, Heritage Wheat or Spicy Italian- and you’ve got the potential for endless combinations. While my boy could live happily with a pizza loaded with meat, Mike and I prefer lighter, vegetarian pizza. I love how we can create our own with these simple crusts, and not be so stuffed afterwards due to how light they are.

My simple recipe for an exquisite pizza was olive tapenade on the bottom, fresh mushrooms and shredded mozzarella cheese. We also have used pickled banana peppers, roasted red peppers, and kalamata olives; my boy used italian sausage and sliced pepperoni on his pizzas.




I was provided a gift card and all the Flat-Out Artisan Pizza Crusts needed by The Motherhood, 
in exchange for this post. 
Flat-Out Artisan Pizza Crusts are introduced exclusively at WalMart

white chocolate macadamia nut cookies

November 29th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

Thanksgiving is done, the month is nearly over and December looms on the horizon. Holiday plans are in full swing, decorations are coming out of storage and right on schedule, the air turned cold and brisk. There’s not much snow yet. Only enough to change the landscape from late Fall to Winter, but enough to get everyone’s thoughts on the next big holiday activity; baking. While I do a fair amount of baking year round, during the holiday season, I make more cookies than any other time of the year.

These cookies are a classic combination; soft and luscious white chocolate with buttery, rich macadamia nuts. A terrific cookie for holiday baking, or any time of the year, really. Something about white chocolate, to me anyway, speaks of winter. Maybe it’s the resemblance to soft snow, the pristine look of it, the clean taste. Not all white chocolate is the same though; in the current edition of Saveur magazine, they did a huge taste test on white chocolates and came up with some of the best available. Thankfully, Ghiradelli white chocolate made the cut, as it’s the one that’s most readily available to me.

Every Christmas season for the past few years I’ve been blessed with a gift box from
Oh! Nuts! for baking, or just decadent snacking. Oh! Nuts! has a full selection of premium dried fruits, chocolates, candy and high quality nuts for home cooks, as well as exquisite gift baskets for everyday or special occasions. Of all their products I have tasted over the years, I’ve never had anything less than stellar quality. I’m not one to purchase macadamia nuts all that often; once in a while I indulge in a small bag for ‘mouth therapy’, as they are one of the finest nuts ever that have crossed my tongue, but their price is often prohibitive, and a gift of them is wonderful. Macadamia nuts have the highest amount of monounsaturated fats of any of the nuts or seeds that we consume, and are a good source of a long list of minerals and vitamins. But go easy on them, as that fat content doesn’t come without a price, unless you use it’s oil on your skin. And don’t ever let your pup eat them; macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs.

In these cookies, those rich nuts just shine. The buttery base aside, a crunch of the moist nut next to the vanilla-sweet bite of white chocolate is, as I already mentioned, a classic combination. Based on this recipe from Joy the Baker, the end result of this cookie is a moist and tender little mass of cookie goodness. These turned out so perfectly that I almost wanted to box up the entire batch and give them away as a means to prevent me from tip-toeing into a closet with the container and nibbling them to oblivion and a whopping belly ache. I don’t know what’s worse in terms of temptation; having a sack of macadamia nuts in the house, or these cookies.

Brown Butter White Chocolate
Macadamia Nut Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, don’t even think of using margarine, shortening or fake non-dairy butter
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8  teaspoon salt
1/2 coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup white chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a medium saucepan melt the butter, swirling and stirring the butter until nicely browned bits appear in the bottom of the pan.  This may take about 5-7 minutes.  Once the butter is browned, remove pan from heat and set aside to cool a bit while you measure out the dry ingredients and set them aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer add the brown sugar and slightly cooled butter.  Beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes.  Add egg and beat for one minute more.  Add milk and vanilla extract and beat to incorporate.

Turn the mixer off, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the dry ingredients all at once.  With either the stand mixer on low, or by hand with a spatula, incorporate the dry ingredients until just mixed in.  Fold in the chopped nuts and white chocolate chips.

Scoop two teaspoon sized balls onto a lined baking sheet.  Bake for 9-11 minutes or until cookies are deliciously golden.  Remove from oven and let rest of the baking sheet for 3 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

Recipe reprinted verbatim from Joy the Baker


The only process I changed in this was to add the white chocolate and the nuts when I added the flour. I find that folding in those extras at the end makes the dough too uneven. This spreads them out perfectly.
I did not brown the butter, as I’ve had some disasters with that process and have lost my mojo on it. I know. Sad, huh?
As it was, without that step these cookies still rocked.
As stated in the post, I used Ghirardelli white chocolate, a 4-oz bar and chopped up the entire thing, using every last shred.
I also added in way more than half a cup of chopped macadamia nuts because I’m a rebel like that.
And as if that isn’t enough, I used vanilla greek yogurt in place of the milk, mostly because I had a container of it that I didn’t want to eat. (ugh….don’t buy Dannon Light Greek yogurt. Bleah)
I think it contributed nicely to the very moist end result.

I was provided with the macadamia nuts free of charge as a gift.
No blog post was expected for the offering of this gift and all words and opinions in this post are solely my own. 

baked pizza gnocchi with greens

April 15th, 2012 | 1 Comment »

It’s been almost a year since we eliminated meat from our eating. I’m ecstatic over the way I’ve felt in the last year; I’ve got more energy even when I have a terrible time sleeping; my belly is superbly happy, and my skin looks so much better. Those pesky hot flashes are only a minor occurrence these days too, and I love that part of it the most.

I love the variety and simplicity of our meals too, the ease at preparing them now that we don’t have to wait for meat to cook, and it’s been wonderful to see Griffin expand the foods he eats and also to see that he’s learning to enjoy meatless meals so much more than I ever expected. I’m really proud of how he’s adapted to the changes; he still gets his meat too, so he has the best of both worlds.

One food item that he’s still on the fence about is greens. Mike and I have come to love greens like chard, beet greens and kale, but Griffin is still wary, only eating them in dishes where other flavors can mask their tastes. He’s trying greens, at least. That’s good enough for me right now. He’s also not a huge fan of gnocchi due to the texture, and that’s too bad all around because this Baked Pizza Gnocchi dish that I created is utterly divine in every way.

Recipes inspire me in the most fascinating way. I can read dozens of them and not have a spark of interest, and yet come across one that stirs my imagination and I’m suddenly inside my head putting ingredients together and dreaming of an outcome. That happened to me recently as I was browsing through my news feed on my phone and came across an article about using chard. One recipe for a Skillet Gnocchi with Chard sounded really delicious, and my creative spark was ignited.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot more about meals with greens in them as I received an entire box of a wide variety of packaged and cleaned greens from Cut N Clean Greens to try out and it was probably the most exciting food stuff that’s landed on my door step because I just LOVE this product. It is so ridiculously easy to use greens with Cut N Clean Greens in your refrigerator. They’ve done all the work for you and the greens are ready to open and cook with. You don’t need to prep them, clean or do anything but enjoy. And for roughly the same price you’d pay for a bunch of greens, you get a great deal more yield and it goes a lot farther. Yet another wonderful thing to love about them.

(disclaimer: I received all the greens for free yet all opinions here are solely mine)

But…. back to this Gnocchi. Very simple and quick, rich with flavor and texture, this gratin came out fragrant, bubbling and with that perfect crunchy top to it. Grab a favorite pizza sauce (whether scratch or homemade) a package of shelf stable gnocchi (or…. knock yourself out and make a batch from scratch) and about a pound of good greens like chard, spinach or beet greens and give yourself about 15 minutes while the oven springs to life and heats up. It’s like pizza but it’s not; it resembles lasagna, but it’s better because it’s easier. The gnocchi become so incredibly soft and tender in the oven and it’s gorgeous enough for a special occasion, classy enough to taste like you really put out some effort.

I’ve noticed lately that when I write out my recipes here that I’m posting all sorts of side notes (in blue!) on what options you might do with your own version of the recipe. I hope this isn’t annoying. Is it? Because, here’s the thing; I don’t have the ego to think that the way I make anything would be exactly how someone else would make it. We all have our own tastes, right? We like different foods, flavors and we all have different methods, ovens that work differently, cookware and utensils that we love (go ahead, use that garlic press if it’s your way) and these recipes that slip through our computer screens in to our minds, making our mouths water, well they might mean something else entirely to another person. If I mention to saute your onions for 10 minutes and you think they should be cooked longer, or shorter, or if you don’t even like onions and don’t want to use them, then by all means, trust those instincts. Make the recipe your own. Learn the ways of your own stove, the cut of your favorite knife, dig through your cupboards and add your own flavor, spice, extra something that you love. This is how cooking should be. I’m thrilled to just be one of the stones you traverse in your own journey in the kitchen.

Baked Pizza Gnocchi with Greens

1 lb. gnocchi
1 15-oz can prepared pizza sauce (I love Muir Glen Organics)
2 small shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2-3/4 lb. greens of choice (can be beet greens, spinach, chard or kale or a mix)
1/2 c. crumbled goat cheese (for a richer taste, use ricotta)
1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
2 T. melted butter (i used coconut oil)
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. mixed fresh herbs, like parsley, thyme, basil, oregano

Heat oven to 400°. Spray a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray. Or live a little and rub butter in it.

In a deep skillet with a lid, heat oil of choice and add shallots, cooking for about 5 minutes while stirring over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, stir and cook for a few minutes, then begin adding the greens, a handful at a time and stirring so they begin to absorb some of the heat and oil and start to get a bit of wilt to the leaves. Once all the greens are in the pan and they’ve collapsed and are starting to soften, crumble in the goat cheese and stir to break it down. When it’s pretty well incorporated, add in the pizza sauce and about a half cup of water. (add the water to the can and swish to collect any remaining sauce). Stir the pan well, then bring it to a gentle simmer and cover it. Cook the greens until just tender. The timing will depend on which green you are using. Taste often so they don’t get away from you. When the greens are just tender, stir in the gnocchi, and turn off the heat. I used a mix of beet greens and chard and cooked them for maybe 10 minutes. 

Mix the panko crumbs, butter and parmesan cheese together. Scrape the gnocchi in to the baking dish and sprinkle the top with the panko crumbs. Bake in the middle of the oven until bubbly, and the crumbs have browned nicely. Mine took about 20 minutes, and I rotated the dish a few times to brown the top evenly. Once removed from the oven, allow the dish to stand about 10 minutes before serving.

KATE’S NOTES: You can divide the gnocchi between individual ramekins if you want something fancier. But please keep in mind that your baking time will be drastically reduced. I baked a few ramekins, placing them on a baking sheet lest they rise up and bubble over the top. They didn’t. (whew)

You can double this for a crowd, baking it in a 9×13 pan. That’s a lot of greens, so add them patiently to the pan.

blueberry/coconut/macadamia muffins

December 10th, 2011 | 4 Comments »

For starters, there are WAY too many vowels in this muffin description!!

But they are worth every twisted tongue and exhaustible explanation because they are fragrant, tropical and fabulous.

About a month ago I was contacted by a company called Oh! Nuts! and asked if I wanted some products to use for my holiday baking. I’d done some business with Oh! Nuts! before and was really pleased with the quality and freshness of their bulk nuts and dried fruits. Oh! Nuts! has a lot of attractive gift options for holiday giving, as well as fresh nuts, dried fruits, candy and other items for year-round baking. I highly recommend their products and can personally vouch for the quality. I was more than happy to have another chance to use some of their items.

For my personal use this time around, I requested Macadamia Nuts and Calymyrna Figs, and within a week, they landed on my doorstep. The figs are gigantic and sweet with a soft bite, and the macadamia nuts are perfectly tender and moist. I’ve been just tickled with both products and decided that before I gobble them all up in my adoration, I would at least make an attempt to bake something with them. It isn’t often you get a world class nut like macadamia gracing your pantry.

This muffin recipe has been hanging around my kitchen for some time now; originally it’s from the Fall 2006 issue of Eating Well magazine. And in a current frenzy through the recipe stack threatening to take over it’s designated drawer, I serendipitously came across it, magically having everything on hand to whisk up a batch of these to make a sunny, yet chilly December day feel a bit more cozy.

The recipe itself is without a great deal of fat or sugar, thankfully. But the muffin doesn’t suffer in the loss of theses tasty ingredients. They burst with blueberry taste, crunchy bits of chopped macadamia nuts and a hearty, nutty crumb that is moist but not at all cake like. If it’s supposed to be a muffin, I want a muffin, not a cupcake disguised as something else. With it’s crunchy streusel-like topping and tender fruit, this will be a repeat in my kitchen, a perfect means to use the frozen berries in my freezer, and to draw more warmth to our frozen landscape.

Blueberry Coconut Macadamia Nut Muffins

1/4 c. unsweetened flake coconut
3/4 c. + 2 T. AP flour (divided)
1/2 c. + 2 T. packed brown sugar (divided)
1/2 c. chopped macadamia nuts
3 T. good quality olive oil
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 T. ground flaxseed
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/8 t. sea salt
1 T. ground cinnamon
1 large egg
1 large egg white
3/4 c. skim milk
2 T. plain or vanilla lowfat yogurt
1 t. lemon extract (can sub vanilla, or coconut as well)
1-1/2 c. fresh or frozen (not thawed) blueberries

Heat your oven to 400°. Line two six-cup muffin tins with papers. Alternately, spray the muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray.

In a small bowl, combine the coconut with 2 Tablespoons each of AP flour and brown sugar with 2 Tablespoons of the chopped macadamia nuts. Drizzle this with one Tablespoon of the olive oil and stir to combine. Set aside for muffin topping.

Whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup of AP flour, the whole wheat flour, flaxseed, baking powder and soda, salt and cinnamon until well combined. In a large measuring cup, whisk the 1/2 cup of brown sugar, the egg and egg white, skim milk, yogurt and extract until smooth. Make a well in the dry ingredients and whisk in the wet until only just mixed. Add the blueberries, and the remaining macadamia nuts and carefully fold in until blended.

Spoon batter equally in to the muffin tins, then sprinkle a bit of the reserved coconut topping on each muffin. Press gently in to the batter, and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in muffin pans for 15 minutes, then turn on to a wire rack to cool completely.


Original recipe from Eating Well magazine; posted here with heavy modifications.

Oh! Nuts! provided me with both the macadamia nuts and the calymyrna figs free of charge
and without expectation of any reciprocal endorsement. Everything stated in this post are
my own thoughts and are freely expressed. 

cheese cheese cheese!!!

August 14th, 2011 | 1 Comment »

One of the nice perks of working in an upscale grocery store is that there is a gourmet cheese case, chock full of amazing cheeses that tempt me each time I walk by. The giant wheels of cheese come in and are cut down to size, often leaving behind smaller pieces that are then wrapped and placed in the ‘Bargain Bin’ where lucky shoppers can grab as many artisan cheeses as they want, often for only a few dollars per piece. It’s nice way to try out a wide variety of good cheese, without committing to a large piece that you may not like.

Once in a while I like to purchase two or three of the small chunks and take them home to savor with a glass of wine and some good crackers. I do like cheese, despite having mild lactose intolerance. It seems that the artisan cheeses, made with higher quality milk don’t tend to disagree with my belly like more mass-produced cheeses can. Recently I was given an opportunity to compare Sargento Natural Cheese slices to that of processed cheese. Hah. No brainer there. Bring on the cheese!!!

{{ DISCLAIMER~~~ Through my relationship with The Motherhood, I was provided with cheese samples, and compensated financially for providing my feedback on the product. All opinions are mine, however. }}

The cheese arrived during a busy crush time in my schedule, and languished in the fridge for a few days before I pulled it out to taste the offerings. Griffin and I bent over the cheeses, examining them closely. There were plain plastic wrapped slices, likely Kraft singles, which we’ve never eaten and truthfully, we just tossed those out. We don’t need to eat plastic cheese to know that it’s disgusting. The package of Sargento cheese was neatly sliced in perfect squares and was real, honest to goodness cheese. It looked, smelled and felt like real cheese, all in perfect sandwich sized squares in a neatly wrapped package. There were about 12-14 slices in the package. I don’t know what the retail cost of the item would be.

We both detected a somewhat plastic taste to the cheese from the wrapper, no doubt, but beyond that, this was unmistakenly ‘cheese’. We broke up the slices and ate them with some crackers, enjoying the quick snack and chatting aimlessly. I don’t tend to buy cheese in this form, preferring to purchase bricks that I can either slice or shred to my needs. This cheese, however, was flavorful and easy to use, and much much better than the individually processed fake stuff. Although my preference for cheese goes to a bit higher level than this, I did enjoy those slices, especially lingering over them with my boy, sharing a quick conversation.

Are you a cheese lover? What’s your favorite type of cheese??

when you just know

March 30th, 2011 | Comments Off on when you just know

Little in life is predictable. And this is especially true during the month of March in Minnesota. Despite the warmth and rain that melted almost all of the 90″ of snow we’ve received this past Winter (because, officially it IS Spring!) we got socked with yet another snow storm that dumped a wide range of snow depths around the Twin Cities. And, obviously, generating a great deal of complaints from a state’s population that should be anything if not aware of what March can bring around these parts.

But is is Spring, after all. The sun is high enough to melt this stuff fairly quickly. One would hope, anyway. According to my gardening journal, last year at this time, the ice was out on the lakes in my area. We aren’t even close to that this year.

My boy was on Spring Break recently. To him, a week off school is a huge sigh of relief. This kid can’t wait to get beyond the expected and into what he truly wants to do. It was also a week to sleep late, and to spend time with me, just one on one. And on a quiet Tuesday, we did just that. Mentioning I had a gift card for Panera Bread, his face lit up with excitement and I knew there needed to be no more discussion on where we would enjoy lunch that day, after a trip to the chiropractor and a quick run through Target.

I’ve never been in a Panera at lunchtime when it’s not insanely crowded, weekend, or weekday alike. People love the place, for so many reasons. At our recent Twitter party for Panera, the TweetChat room I was in was relentlessly spitting out tweets from eager participants, so many of them, in fact, that Panera was trending on Twitter that day. And I was struggling to keep up with the words speeding by my eyes. What do they love about the place? The breads. The pastries. The muffins. The cookies. The soups. The salads. The sandwiches. The breads. Everything, it seems. You look around the room, during the crowded lunch hour and you see a wide range of people who are blissed out over their meal; elderly couples sharing coffee and rolls, families with a table full of trays, napkins, drink cups, loud conversation, shouting children and parents watching their kids enjoying a good meal. I saw folks engaged in a quick business lunch, carefully brushing crumbs off the suits and skirts of the corporate world. And it was clear that my boy wasn’t the only young person radiating Spring Break happiness. The place was full of kids.

One aspect of the Panera Twitter Party that I took away was how many parents really loved the fact that Panera offered a better option for their kids than fast food joints. Kids can be so fickle with their appetites, but take them to Panera and they’ve got dozens of options to satisfy them. Who doesn’t love a bowl of Creamy Wild Rice and Chicken soup? The thick noodles in their Chicken Noodle Soup just shout out ‘Comfort food!’. And then there are sandwich options to quell even the pickiest of eaters. And of course, when all else fails, there’s Mac and Cheese, PBJ sandwiches and Grilled Cheese. You can get hot Panini sandwiches. There’s basic green salads available, and a wealth of varied options that include Thai Chopped Chicken, Asian Sesame Chicken and a Fuji Apple Chicken Salad. Calorie counts are clearly listed, yet another appealing aspect of having a meal there. People like to know what they’re eating; they like to know what goes in their mouths, how it affects them and where they stand with their food.

And of course, Panera offers a full espresso service, coffee and tea by the Republic of Tea company, which has some amazing flavors of teas. You can get fruit smoothies, made with Stonyfield Farms Organic yogurt, one of the best commercial yogurts available. And every Panera has free WiFi for surfing, or working. Then there’s that cozy fireplace to gather around when the snow falls. And falls. And falls.

Griffin and I indulged fully that day for lunch, taking advantage of a free cookie from my PaneraRewards card. For every visit to Panera, they swipe your card and the rewards start piling up. A free espresso drink. A free bagel. Free pastries. And best of all, it’s free to join. Just grab a card at any Panera and fill out the information on their website.

He always orders the same thing when he goes; a bowl of Wild Rice soup and half a Sierra Turkey sandwich. He gets chips as a side with his soup, those deliciously crunchy kettle chips that are perfect for dredging through a bowl of hearty soup. Given his slight exacting nature, he always takes apart his sandwich to rearrange the filling. “It’s more even that way.” is what he always says, plus he can remove the offensive raw onions and most of the greens. For my lunch, I ordered an Italian Combo sandwich, thick with roast beef, turkey, ham and salami (and yes, I deconstructed it to ‘make it more even’ as well.) and also half a Chicken Cobb salad. We shared a Mint Crinkle cookie afterwards, marveling at the crunchy chewy edges surrounding the soft pliable center; cookie nirvana, if you ask me. A perfect mix.

The nice thing about that sort of lunch with my boy is knowing how happy it makes him to spend time with me, and with eating food that he really loves. We could be sharing a pizza or hoagies, or tacos, chips and salsa, but more importantly, we’re sharing time together. Sometimes we talk endlessly. Other times, we’re both just content to be right there next to one another, silently appreciating the companionship. He may be a teenager that strives for his own dependence, but it also seems that the further he stretches in an attempt to gain his own footing in the world, the more he needs to know, without a doubt, that we’re there to fall back on, regardless. A lunch, a shared cookie, the menial task of running errands and managing our time during my days off, it all matters. He never needs to say anything to me about what he needs; I just know. Like I know of a good place to have a decent lunch that I’m happy to feed my teenager, the time we need together is instinctive. We gravitate towards it naturally. Like everyday people to the food they can trust.

I was financially compensated for writing this post, and provided with the gift card that bought our meal.
All comments, claims and opinions are mine, and were not influenced by Panera or it’s associates.
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it’s all about the quality

February 22nd, 2011 | Comments Off on it’s all about the quality

Can you believe it’s almost March? For me, that’s always a fun change because the very first day of March is my birthday, but almost better yet, March around these parts means Spring begins, even if it’s only the official beginning of the season. While April is the month to usher in the soft scent of Springtime, March, in one 30 day span will bid goodbye to winter and hello to the sweetness that is Spring in Minnesota. No other month holds as much promise for us, the winter and snow weary, as the coming of March.

The best part of Spring, besides the ending of cold temps and the continual snowfall is that fresh foods start the slow trickle back into our menus. The Farmers Markets open up one by one, showcasing the best of Spring fare. Although I do love the root vegetables, the slow aromatic braises of wintertime, filling the kitchen with a warmth that shutters out that wind and chill, the lighter fare of Spring, and then of course, Summer have such an appeal. Mostly though, I think it’s just because after this endless winter of snowstorm after snowstorm, I’m probably craving green in any form I can find.

If you’ve been around here, even for a brief time, you know that I’m all about the quality of my food. I like it fresh, I like it from scratch and I like it to be well made, even minimally prepared. The fancy food has it’s place, and once in a while it’s a nice treat, but honestly, I can swoon over a superbly fresh salad, lush with dark leafy greens and a palette of colorful vegetables with a simple vinaigrette sprinkled over the top.

Last month I talked about the predictable ease of enjoying the food at Panera. If I’m craving a bowl of soup, with a chunk of fresh bread to dredge through my bowl, I don’t really need to think too hard about where I can get that, outside my own kitchen.

But what I like even more about Panera is the freshness of ingredients in their salads and sandwiches. The salads snap with the crisp crunch of the lettuce, spinach, spring mix and other greens in them. The sandwiches are topped with an array of dark leafy greens instead of a boring bland iceberg or a limp green leaf lettuce. The aroma rising from the chunk of bread you twist apart to dip in your soup is lush with yeast and you can taste the flavor of the carrots in their delicious and all natural Chicken Noodle soup. The apples snap with an exacting crunch. And people love the bread at Panera so much that they’ve given all their impassioned fans a place on their Facebook page to write their very own Ode to Bread. You can see a short video on the company’s website about their passion for baking those popular loaves. I know a lot of people really appreciate the availability of the calorie content of all their menu items right there in the store, so you can make the best choices for your dietary needs. The staff is also very helpful in assisting customers with food-allergy related questions about the menu, especially helping them to determine the soup and salad items that are gluten free. And I love that they use Stonyfield Farms organic yogurt in their smoothies. That’s one of the best yogurts available.

Have you set up your MyPanera rewards card yet? They like loading a nice surprise on there when you do. I got a gooey cinnamon roll, all for free, added to mine just for beginning to use it. The more you use it, the more rewards you will receive. Who doesn’t like free? Especially if it includes their decadent baked goods.

Fresh, easily accessible and warmly predictable, a quick lunch or dinner at Panera is a good thing, all over the board.

If you’re interested in more information on how Panera finds inspiration for sourcing their ingredients, please visit this link on their Facebook page.

Do you Twitter? Follow Amy, the official @panerabread tweeter for up to date information.

I was compensated financially for writing this post. All content is my own viewpoint and opinion.