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Archive for the ‘product reviews’ Category

There are lots of perks to this food blogging business. My most treasured aspect of it is how it challenges me to be a better cook, to think outside the box and to put together something that is fresh and interesting for my readers to find. I’ve driven myself out onto a proverbial ledge before with the utter exasperation over what people seem to find interesting when it comes to food blogs, how someone’s random post can garner 5o comments when it’s just a rehash of a ubiquitous dish, and then, I’ve just as quickly had to be coaxed back to reality, pushed down into my chair and told ‘Just cook what you want, and write about what you like and forget everything else’ and so then I did, and that, my friends and readers, turns the entire project around. This little corner of the blog world is just what I want it to be. Nothing more.

Then there’s you, readers. I love your visits, comments and feedback. I do this for you and mmmmmuah….big cyber kisses! And lots of thanks. You all keep me going, every day. With every recipe I peruse, every book I thumb through and magazine pages that I absorb, I am constantly thinking  ‘Yes, but will they LIKE it? Who’s done it already? Is it something unique?’ because really, the last thing I want you to find here is the same old, same old you can come across in the staggering amount of sites that are out there. My words, and my food, should be the draw. I intend to keep it that way.

And lastly, mostly in terms of importance, there’s the free product offers that land in my mailbox. All. The. Time.

I get a LOT of offers for free product. Some of them… ok, most of them are refused. I won’t accept a product if it’s not something I would normally use at home. And if it isn’t food related, forget it. I won’t link to your tire superstore, no matter how good your prices are, and I don’t care about the resurgence of absinthe enough to warrant taking a free bottle.

Recently though, I did get some nice options sent my way.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this delicious jerky before, so when contacted a second time for more product to review, it was a no brainer. The Teen, my little carnivore, he just loves the stuff, and when he came home from school and saw the packages lying on the counter, he grabbed one and ripped it right open, gleefully pulling out a nice thick chunk and ripping one end of it off with his teeth. The boy knows how to seriously attack his jerky. He chewed contemplatively, then stuffed the rest in his mouth.

“Well??” I asked him. He swallowed again and grabbed his water glass, gulping down a mouthful. Then he turned to me with a smile.

“When they say ‘Sweet and Spicy’, they aren’t kidding!”

I was sent a sample of the Orange and Mango flavored, sweet and spicy indeed. Both have such good smoky flavor, and the jerky is firm and well made, dry but not hard, chewy and tender at the same time. The Orange taste is prominent in the first bite, with a good snap and a nice dose of heat on the tongue. The Mango is a sneaker; the flavor doesn’t really hit your mouth until you swallow your first bite. The spice dissipates and you get fresh mango all around. It sounds strange, and I am often wary of the pairing of fruit and meat, but these two work together. And if you’re at all interested in jerky, but are looking for something other than beef, they do plenty with turkey as well. Turkey jerky- it’s even fun to say!

Another offer that came my way recently was from Pillsbury, and since I’m a true Minnesota girl at heart, I do consider their offers, and they have been quite kind to me in the past. The canvas totes I received from them are the ones most often tucked under my arm when I head into the grocery store, and in this particular email, my contact wanted to send me free pajama pants. Oh hello, my easy like Sunday morning.

And that was the whole idea, to make Sundays easier. But on Sunday, we’re out the door by 8:15 for church. There’s no sitting around until noon, comfy in pj’s, cozy with a cat.

That’s for Saturday, because it’s true…….

Cute, huh? They’re 100% cotton and so big and roomy that comfort becomes my middle name when I have them on. And these are that brand of comfort that we all love, the  ‘I never want to get out of these’ kind that’s perfect for my Saturday, the day the guys sleep in while I answer the Cat Alarm clock that bounces over me at the crack of dawn.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled blogging. Brought to you in living health, with delicious aromas, by yours truly.

(oh and hey you FTC dudes?? Nobody paid me for these words, and everything I received was free. I wasn’t coerced, or forced to speak on their behalf or held at gunpoint for anything said here. And I would do it again, too)

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I’m not sure why, but I’ve been rather shy about mint in my cooking career. Did I have a traumatic experience with mint at some point in my life? The overdose on wintergreen Life Savers that I went through as a child? Why has mint not been forefront in my culinary dishes?

lemon mint potato salad 008

I haven’t an answer, but as of late, I seem to be making up for lost time on the mint appreciation. It’s been all over the place.

I love it muddled in a glass with chilled green tea poured over it. I’ve shredded it into salads and sprinkled it in pilafs. I ate some over sweet melon chunks, sighing in contentment at the contrast in flavors. It’s wonderful mixed with fresh oregano in any corn dish (hint: leftover cooked fresh corn, cut from it’s cobs needs nothing more than fresh oregano, fresh mint, a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Toss it on a salad. You’re welcome)

Mint has been a regular in my fridge as of late and I’m only just beginning to understand the reaches to which this herb can go. A huge thick bunch is about $1.50 at the grocer, and wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag, it lasts for quite some time in my fridge. The last thing I ever thought I would be doing would be eagerly and gleefully searching out recipes that will include mint. Or making them up, as it turned out. Like this Lemon Mint Potato Salad with Green Beans.

lemon mint potato salad 023

I browse hundreds of food sites, recipe sites and food information in any given week. I am always undertaking a study of food in all it’s glory from the amazing array of food blogs both stellar and odd, to the sites that talk food, culture, nutrition and diet. I know that somewhere in my browsing I came across a dish similar to this because it’s the only way I can think that it got into my brain at some point, and the mere action of holding onto a bunch of mint at the grocer made it jump front and center, to the spot where all my creativity pours out. It’s rare that I really smack a home-run the very first time creating a recipe from scratch, but this one worked. On all levels. The crunchy beans, moist potato and superbly tart and lemony dressing, with hints of mint and dijon mustard come together in a lovely symphony of simplistic eating. I was sad when I was full.

lemon mint potato salad collage

Lemon Mint Potato Salad with Green Beans
by Kate

1# ‘B’ Red potatoes, quartered and steamed to tenderness
1/2# fresh green beans, blanched and shocked to cool
1/2 c. fresh mint leaves, washed and dried
Juice of half a lemon
2 t. lemon zest
1/4 c. olive oil
1 T. dijon (or other brown, deli style) mustard
1 oz fresh goat cheese, crumbled
Salt and pepper

Place potato and beans in a medium bowl. In a small measuring cup, whisk together lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, mustard, goat cheese and 2 T. of the mint until smooth and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. It will be very tart and lemony, with a subtle mustard zing. Pour over potato mix and gently stir to coat. Serve room temperature or chill for an hour or more before serving. Top with mint leaves and extra salt and pepper before serving.

SIDE NOTE:
The kind folks at Ile De France cheese regularly send me free cheese to try at home, and I am very grateful for their generosity. The goat cheese used in this recipe is one of their offerings, a 10.5 oz chunk that is fresh and flavorful, with a subtle hint of herb and grass and a terrific texture that crumbles easily, melts superbly and whisks smooth in any number of options. It lasts for a good long time wrapped up properly. Thanks so much Ile De France!!

iledefrance

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julia child book

I was more than thrilled to be contacted by Penguin Publishers asking if I wished to receive a copy of Laura Shapiro’s bio of Julia Child to review. I love the perks of food blogging!

Just a caveat: I am probably one of the minority of the food blogging world who hasn’t jumped all over Julie and Julia: The Movie. Every review I read about the movie labeled it as mediocre, and only half worth seeing. Truthfully? I hated the book, finding Julie Powell to be a foul-mouthed, whiny and mean-spirited woman who didn’t really seem to learn all that much about her year of cooking MtAoFC except that there’s a small group of people who enjoy reading profanity laced blog posts. And it just about kills me that this caustic woman has been so readily associated with a woman of Julia Child’s standing. Reading Laura’s book makes me even more chapped about that.

The book is a quick but absorbing read. It’s barely 200 pages even with a prologue and index, and every page leaps with vivid description of the larger than life persona of Julia Child. It takes the reader through her privileged upbringing of a charmed youth, her foray into service for WWII and the subsequent meeting and courtship of Julia and Paul Child. Julia’s spirit shines in every page. Here was a woman who struggled most of her life with defining herself and making life purposeful, yet she never once backed down on her positive and bubbly outlook regardless of the situation. Julia encountered a great deal of backlash in her lifetime, and it never brought her down, never caused her to retaliate and never made her feel like giving up and settling. She strove forward in her quest to introduce real French cuisine to America, a culture that was steeped at the time in foods that often horrified her. The book tallies the enormous task of writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and the exhaustive means to which Julia prepared, tested and re-tested every recipe in the book. She fought against the conventions of French cooking, which was mostly done by men and remained firm in her belief that anyone could understand the techniques and methods that many people felt were so steeped in tradition and culture that they remained undefinable. Julia’s sense of cooking was nothing more than understanding the love behind each meal. It was never about showing off or glorifying what was going on in the kitchen; Julia wanted people to know, inherently, what real cooking was all about. It wasn’t just putting a list of ingredients together. It was about knowing what the process was behind the list, the means to bring these items together to make an incredible taste. It was science, technique and above all else, it was love.

The book also fully chronicles the love story between Julia and Paul. Paul Child, the book reiterates, was actually quite unimpressed with Julia when they first met, but as the story progresses, through snippets of letters between Paul and his brother, you see the transformation of a man from indifferent and aloof, to one who falls spellbound in love with her spirit and personality. Theirs is a true partnership and classic romance. He was the solid and dependable force behind The French Chef programs as they aired on television, helping her to create, plan and execute them to the best of her abilities. He tirelessly supported her, held her up and accompanied her through her rise to fame and stardom and was her biggest and most prominent fan, always by her side for media visits, book signings and press tours.

I love a book that leaves me feeling like I’ve just sat down and taken in a long and intimate conversation with someone. I finished the book almost in tears as it discusses first Paul’s failing health and Julia’s anguish at placing him in a nursing home, and then finally, Julia’s physical denouement, the strokes, surgeries and ill health that finally took down the indomitable spirit that was Julia Child. I found particularly touching the passage about Julia’s recovery from knee replacement surgery, and how she was finding it extremely difficult to manage the energy to get to her feet for the required therapy. Her longtime assistant instructed the therapists to bring her into a kitchen and ask her to slice some onions. Once the knife was in Julia’s hand, and the counter in front of her, she rose to her feet and began, in earnest to cut up the onions placed before her, finding the encouragement in her most beloved task to take on the difficult and painful exercises. It’s a rare book that makes me feel lonely when I finish, wanting more of the person so well defined within it’s pages.

For all of her fans, this is an easy and enjoyable read, full of insight to a much beloved culinary icon. I fully related to the sentence that claims there are two kinds of cooks in the world; those who wish to impress and those who just want to feed people. Julia loved feeding people, and cared nothing for impressing anyone. Her ego needed no stroking and she didn’t care much if no one liked what she did. All she wanted was to make them sigh in contentment over the dishes in front of them, and given her legacy, it’s clear that her life was a mission accomplished.

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I always love the free product offers that come my way due to this food blog, but the fact is, I turn down way more of them than I actually accept, mostly because the product offered just isn’t one that I would use.

This cookie dough from Pillsbury, however, is one of those that had me firmly on the fence. I decided that it would be worth a least a respectable glance, and you certainly can’t argue with ‘Free’.

Pillsbury Simply cookie dough 001

I grew up with scratch cookies that my Mom made. We never ate anything store-bought, and even now I rarely, if ever, buy store cookies. In keeping the right kinds of ingredients on hand, I can have a batch of warm cookies in about a half hour, and I know I don’t even have to tell you a thing about the superior flavor of a home-baked cookie. But this product did intrigue me because it claimed to be nothing more than your basic cookie dough- no additives, preservatives or funny chemicals that you can taste even through the glass of milk that you drink to wash down your warm cookie.

And Pillsbury delivers on that. The ingredient list reads like any recipe should- flour, butter, eggs, baking soda, salt….your basic mix. The cookies come in two flavors- Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip and I was sent two free vouchers, plus some really nice, sturdy canvas bags and a full informative press kit. My local grocer had the cookie dough on sale as well- two packages for $5.00, with each package containing 12 pucks. I bought four, essentially getting half for free.

I baked a package of each cookie right away. The day was a bit warm and the dough sat out on the counter for maybe 10 minutes before I placed the pucks on sheets and they had become quite soft.  The cookies were pretty flavorful but I detected an off flavor in the chocolate chip version, owing to what I think is an inferior chip. They aren’t bad, but when you’re used to Guittard or Ghiradhelli chips in your cookies, anything else can seem pretty bland. I did, however, really like the peanut butter cookie. I’ve always enjoyed a good peanut butter cookie but tend to be put off by the usual grainy or chalky texture they tend to have; this one had none of that, just good clean peanut butter taste.

I wouldn’t buy these for home use, but they would be a really good option for us to have on hand at our lake home for a quick treat. They’re simple to use and bake, and keep in the freezer for up to 60 days.  Price-wise, even at $2.50 per package I think it’s too expensive, coming out to be $0.21 per cookie. You can make them from scratch for pennies. The product is geared towards your everyday ‘Busy Mom’ who wants to offer home-baked taste without a fuss. As fas as pre-made products go, these are a very good option that you can feel good about serving, really the nicest and most flavorful of any pre-made cookie dough I’ve had and that’s fine if it’s your thing, but it isn’t mine. I’m happy to tell others about it though!

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