Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hot Kefir Cocoa

Already trying to answer the question, "Now that I've got a quart of kefir in my fridge, what do I do with it?" I used some in place of soy milk for a berry smoothie for breakfast this morning and then thought I'd make a little pick-me-up in the afternoon. Mmm, warm, spicy, tangy, creamy hot cocoa. So yummy--really! Kids both drank the smoothie in the morning; Linc tried the cocoa but was not a big fan. He said maybe if it was with cow's milk next time. Or marshmallows. :-)

Hot Kefir Cocoa
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup hot water
4 cups kefir (mine was goat's milk but cow will work great too)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Combine cocoa, sugar and water in saucepan. Cook on low heat and stir constantly two minutes. Don't scald it. When the sugar is all dissolved, stir in the kefir and heat gently, just until hot. You don't want it to boil or you'll kill all those lovely bacteria, and then what's the point, right? Makes 4 servings. I had leftovers and poured them back into the jar when cooled. Heated it up the next afternoon and mmmm. I'd try to use it all the first time though if you can. I'm not sure how healthy those bacteria are after being heated so many times. It was delicious though!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Kefir Culture

In researching a fiction story I'm writing (yes, I've started writing fiction again) I came across a plethora of information on kefir. The character in my story has a herd of goats and I was trying to come up with something she could sell from the goats' milk--other than milk and chevre of course. I started wondering if it was possible to create an alcoholic beverage from fermented goats milk and Googled "fermented goats milk." Well, there is a tradition of alcoholic beverages involving milk, but more interestingly, and more apropos for my story, was the information I found about kefir.

Kefir is a yogurt-like beverage derived from fermenting milk with a kefir grain (kind of like a slimy cauliflower-looking organism) at room temperature. All you need is some milk, some grains and a jar. Kefir is supposed to be full of pro-biotics and even more beneficial to your digestive tract than yogurt. Also, according to a WebMD article I read, kefir reduces the lactose content of milk so that lactose intolerant people like me can drink it. I thought I'd give it a try so I went to the health food stores we have here in town. I found kefir for sale in the dairy section but wanted to make my own. For research purposes for my story, I bought one quart of goat's milk and the powdered form of kefir pictured above for a total of $10. I had to boil the milk first, according to the package directions, let it cool, and then inoculate the milk with one of the powdered packets. Then I poured it into a clean Mason jar (thanks Mom!) and let it sit on the counter for 24 hours. It looked exactly the same to me the next morning, I have to say. But I refrigerated it for 8 hours according to the instruction and drank a glass.

First reaction? My mouth did not want to swallow. Everything in me was screaming, "Sour milk! Spit it out!" But then, when I did get it down, it was pretty good. Not a glowing recommendation for taste, I know. But I have to be honest. The description of it being like a liquid yogurt was pretty dead on for this batch. The after taste was better than the first impression. I can see mixing it with a little honey or making it into a berry smoothie for breakfast.

Now all the research I did on kefir on-line said that the powdered form and all the commercial versions you get at the stores are not the real deal. You don't get the same health benefits due to the way they have to process it in order to sell it, and it can be quite expensive. On the other hand, if you can get a hold of some real kefir grains (I found a lady in Ohio who will ship them to you for a flat $20) you'll have kefir as long as you give it milk to eat. So I'm going to try that next. Also to try: cow's milk. I have some Lactaid on hand just in case my science experiment goes awry. :-)

Oh, and BTW: Happy Thanksgiving all! I have debated about whether to post a Thanksgiving recipe but as I have gotten off scot-free from having to make anything other than a dessert this year it seemed like sheer hypocrisy. A few things I'm thankful for this year: my Feeding Four family and friends, my Kitchenaid mixer, and dark chocolate. Oh and not having to make Thanksgiving dinner. Thank you Aunt Jennifer!

P.S. I originally titled this post "Kefir Culture" because there is a quite an interesting following to kefir. Just wanted to reassure you that I'm not moving to a commune or actually starting my own goat farm. Yet.

Quick Scones

I can't help but mess with recipes. The Glazed Cranberry Sunrise scones pictured here were based on a recipe from Sandra Lee's Semi-homemade show that aired earlier this month. I loved her Mocha Chip version, although I changed it a bit. The adjusted recipe is below. You can get her original recipe on I liked the final result so much that I decided to use it as a template for making other kinds of scones. In addition to the Cranberry Sunrise version I came up with, I tried using 1/4 cup pumpkin puree and pumpkin spice to make a Pumpkin Maple scone. I was not as happy with that version though so didn't bother to post the recipe here. They looked cute but really lacked the good pumpkin flavor and color.

Also, while I was messing with this recipe I spent a writer's weekend at the beach with some friends and needed something quick to make everyone for breakfast. I didn't want to have to haul a ton of ingredients with me in the car and wanted minimal cleanup. So I mixed all the dry ingredients for the mocha scones in bags ahead of time and took coffee and creamer with me. I decided to omit the vanilla since it wasn't convenient. When it came time for breakfast, I brewed the coffee for everyone and whipped up the scones at the same time. They were a big hit and super easy. You could do this at home and keep them on hand in the pantry for Saturday mornings. Just add your liquids and egg and you're all set.

One last hint on shaping the scones. I used more like 3 cups of the baking mix. Otherwise, I found them to be too dry and crumbly. Sandra Lee had a great hint to press the dough down into a 9" cake pan and then tap it out onto the counter and cut the scones. Her recipe also called for cutting the scones into 12 slices but I like the nice big scones you get when you make eight.

Glazed Mocha Chip Pecan Scones
*Cranberry Sunrise scone alternative below
  • 1/4 cup strong brewed coffee, cooled
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 large egg lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3- 3 1/2 cups baking mix
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • strong coffee, cooled
1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2.) In a small bowl, combine coffee, cream, 1 egg, and vanilla; set aside.
3.) In a large mixing bowl, combine baking mix, sugar, chocolate chips and pecans.
4.) Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and work into a crumbly dough. On a lightly floured surface, form dough into a 9-inch disk (approximately 1/2-inch thick). Cut into 8 wedges and place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 18-20 minutes. Let cool.
5.) For the glaze, add cooled coffee one tablespoon at a time to the powdered sugar until a thick glaze is formed. Drizzle on scones. When the glaze has set slightly, lift the scones and rub the bottoms in the excess glaze that has run off onto the pan. Let set before serving.

To transform this recipe, replace the coffee in the scones recipe with 1 Tb orange juice concentrate and enough water to make 1/4 cup. Replace the chocolate chips with dried cranberries and the pecans with chopped walnuts. For the glaze, use orange juice in place of the coffee. For a richer glaze, alternate the o.j. with cream until you get the right consistency.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Wine for All Seasons: Brachetto D'Acqui

I'm in love with this wine. I followed my toddler into a Total Wine store a few weeks back (Don't ask; when he takes off I just follow). While I was trying to keep Ben from breaking everything in sight, I talked to a clerk about a beautiful red wine I had a few years ago. "It was a sparkling red," I said, wracking my brain for more information. The clerk's eyes brightened and he said, "Oh, the Brachetto D'Acqui. It's Italian, and they only make it in the early spring and fall." He hurried off and brought me back a big, beautiful bottle for a mere $16. (OK, that's more than I usually spend too, but it was for an anniversary party). Wow! is all I can say. This red wine is a crowd pleaser. I'm no sommelier, so I'll just repeat a summer 2006 review from

Brachetto has wonderful aromas of black raspberry and black cherry with notes of tar, clove and flowers such as violets or orchids. The wine is medium-bodied, generally with a trace of sweetness (a few are medium-sweet) and is usually lightly sparkling or what the Italians call frizzante. If that doesn't sound appealing enough, consider this; alcohol is low, usually 5.5 percent!

The great thing about this wine is its versatility. You can serve it with turkey or dessert or even with appetizers for New Years in place of some Asti and before the champagne. Want to take a bottle of wine to your hostess at a party? Brachetto D'Acqui will please white wine drinkers with its gentle sweetness, and the deep, ruby-red color will entice red wine drinkers to give it a try. Even a wine snob will be impressed with your good taste. Rich and I have a Christmas tradition of popping a bottle of champagne after the kids have gone to bed on Christmas Eve. I think we might just skip the champagne this year and go with one of these sweeties instead. Sante!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Almond & Anise Tea Cookies

Necessity is the mother of all invention. These cookies came about as I was trying to make traditional aniseed biscotti one night. I was home alone with the kids and in my pajamas. I already mixed the butter, almond flavoring and sugar together when I realized I was short one egg. Yeah, I thought, I could grab an egg from the neighbors but then I'd have to put a bra on. So instead, I dug out an old recipe for anise refrigerator cookies, doubled it, added in my toasted almonds and came up with these.

The aniseed gives a fragrant licorice background to the warm almonds in every tender bite. But like biscotti, Almond & Anise Tea cookies go great with the hot beverage of choice and hold up well over time. I made mine the week before last and enjoyed one with coffee tonight after dinner. Still yummy. When you double the recipe (as I have below) you have enough to mail off to loved ones for the holidays. These cookies can take the jostling, so share the love.

You don't have to love licorice to like these cookies. I made these for my hubby, who loves licorice, but I love them too. You can grind the aniseed in your food processor for a stronger licorice flavor and lighter texture. I liked the milder flavor and chewy texture of the whole seeds against the crunch of the toasted almonds. I purchased my seeds at a spice store at our local flea market. You might find it in the grocery store or you can get it at Penzey's Spices online. Or email me. I have a big tub of it and am happy to share.

Almond & Anise Tea Cookies
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 Tb almond flavoring
2 eggs beaten
4 tsp aniseed
3 1/2 cups flour (I use a mix of whole and white wheat)
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
1 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted and cooled

1.) Blend butter, sugar and almond flavoring.
2.) Add beaten eggs and aniseed.
3.) Mix flour, salt and baking powder in separate bowl and add in batches to wet mix.
4.) Mix in slivered almonds by hand.

5.) Separate dough into thirds. Place each third on a sheet of plastic wrap, parchment paper or wax paper. Form into a log and seal. Refrigerate one hour or overnight.

6.) When chilled, slice in 1/2 inch pieces and bake 400', 10 minutes. Makes 3-3 1/2 dozen cookies.

One last meal for the grill

Fall is here. The leaves are gorgeous and the nights are cool. I'm saying farewell to summer and all those fresh veggies with one last summer-time meal for the grill. We have an extended grilling season here in NC that's defined more by when our propane tank runs out than the weather. So far we're good.

This recipe comes from one of this year's issues of Better Homes & Gardens. I promise lots of fall recipes are on their way. This is baking season and it will be bye-bye veggies and hello baked goods!

Artichoke Flatbread
4 whole wheat flatbreads
2 Tb olive oil
6 cups fresh baby spinach
6 oz. herb goat cheese
14 oz. can artichoke hearts, quartered
1 chopped tomato
sea salt fresh cracked pepper to taste

1.) Brush the flatbreads on both sides with oil. Grill lightly to warm on both sides.
2.) Divide remaining ingredients between each flatbread.
3.) Return to grill for two minutes or until bottoms are browned and toppings are heated through.
4.) Season with salt and pepper.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

2010 Disney Food & Wine Festival

It's been a while since I've blogged so this post is a little delayed. Rich and I celebrated our 15-year wedding anniversary back in October while we were at Disney World with family. We had a great trip and Mom and Dad took the kids for a day so we could enjoy the Food & Wine festival in EPCOT. Coincidentally it was also the festival's 15th wedding anniversary, so we got a picture of us taken in front of a "15" sign. Not my best photo, but the only one we have. :-)

So the Food & Wine Festival takes place in the World's Showcase part of the park, where many countries from around the world are featured. Each country had a kiosk or two with appetizer-size portions of food from that region. In the photo above, we were between Mexico and Norway. We sat near a display of Viking relics while sipping a giant Margarita and listening to a mariachi band. Interesting mix.

We didn't actually eat any of the festival food since we dove the EPCOT aquarium at dinner and needed a substantial meal to carry us through. Instead, we enjoyed lunch at the Chefs de France, our favorite EPCOT restaurant. We started the meal with champagne and escargot. Typical of me, I ate it faster than I could remember to take a photo. Scrumptious. Then I had a vegetable lasagna made with crepes while Rich had their gooey baked macaroni and cheese. We ended the meal with creme brulee and profiteroles. Yumm. Great way to celebrate 15 years and highly recommend it to anyone else.

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