Bonne fin gourmet correspondence jours

According to Google translate, that says Happy Foodie Penpal Day. My foodie pal of the month can tell me if that’s right or not — she’s originally from Quebec but lives in Virginia. And she knows how to put together a great food package!

I love it!

I’ve got some Virginia peanuts, some lemon pepper pasta, several kinds of chocolate and yummy peanut butter cookies.

The cookies didn’t last long. My son and husband discovered them and ate two before I could even get a picture! Or eat a whole cookie!

Also no longer with us are the foods in this photo:

The pretzels were the first to go. I love pretzels. I used the peanuts in a pesto sauce to top the pasta Johanne sent me and I brought the beets to work. I was pretty sure my editor, a health nut, would love them, but it was surprising how many the assistant features editor had. She is one of the pickiest adult eaters I know, so when she asked to try another, I passed it over.

Maybe there’s hope for my picky son yet.

(Thanks, Johanne, for warning me about the purple tongues! I stopped one of the anchors from having one minutes before the midday news show. She waited until after the broadcast to try a beet.)

I still have the mug cake, sesame snack and candy bar hidden somewhere in my kitchen, to be devoured when I need it most. I know! I can’t believe my self-control, either!

Thank you, thank you, thank you Johanne for a great food package! Or shall I say, merci, merci, merci! (Don’t worry — we exchanged several e-mails throughout September. She knows I remember very little for studying French in high school.)

Interested in knowing more about Foodie Penpals? Here’s how it works:

Sign up here and on the 5th of every month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions.

You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal!

The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats! The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe. Use your imagination!

You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)

Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you are to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month.

Foodie Penplas is open to US & Canadian residents. Please note, Canadian Residents will be paired with other Canadians only. We’ve determined things might get too slow and backed up if we’re trying to send foods through customs across the border from US to Canada and vice versa.

If you’re interested in participating for October, CLICK HERE to fill out the participation form and read the terms and conditions. As always, thank you to Lindsay (theleangreenbean) for creating such a fun program!

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Happy Foodie Penpal reveal day!

A great big thank you to my August Foodie Penpal, Ann at Harvest Moon By Hand, for my wonderful food package.

Not only did Ann send me some fun food, she also included a description of each item in the box. Because our states are neighbors, it was fun to have new insight into a place I have visited many times.

My August package included Minnesota Wild Ride for Wild Rice Soup (she included a recipe, too); Anna’s Ginger Thins from the Gammelgarden Museum; hot cider and hot cocoa (a must for those Minnesota winters); and Naranjo orange drink mix from El Burrito Mercado in St. Paul.

Ann also included foods with a personal connection for her and her family — Hello Panda Biscuits with Milk Cream and Botan Rice Candy. Her daughters are adopted from China, so this was included to honor their heritage. (My youngest sister is adopted from Vietnam, so I understand incorporating parts of another culture into your family.)

My favorite item, though, had to be the box of Ghirardelli Chocolate Brownie Mix. This made me laugh, given that I had returned from the Iowa State Fair and the Ghirardelli Chocolate baking competition a few days earlier. Ann included it because she used to live in San Francisco, where Ghirardelli chocolate was founded. You’d think I’d be tired of Ghirardelli Chocolate, but no! 🙂

Oh, I can’t forget the super cute cupcake liners! Ann wrote “There’s really no reason that I’m including them other than I thought they were cute and they were near the brownie mixes.” That totally sounds like something I’d do!

Thank you, thank you, thank you Ann! I love everything you sent me and hope I get the chance to be your foodie penpal sometime and send you fun foods from Iowa!

The package I made for my foodie pen pal in Georgia was a bit of a challenge. Haley is gluten-free, so I wanted to find items that said “Iowa” that she could enjoy. I didn’t take a picture, but I included:

  • Apple butter from Kalona (a really cool town less than 30 miles from my house — the cinnamon rolls at the Kalona Bakery are to die for!)
  • Tiny But Mighty Popcorn (heirloom popcorn from Shellsburg)
  •  A yummy marinade from a local restaurant
  • A box of gluten-free Rice Chex

OK, the cereal isn’t from Iowa, but I saw the new Rice Check gluten-free commercial before I went to the grocery store, so I had to buy some. I hope Haley liked her package!

Have you heard of Foodie Penpals? It’s a great program started by Lindsay at The Lean Green Bean. Here’s how it works:

Sign up here and on the 5th of every month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions.

You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal!

The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats! The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe. Use your imagination!

You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)

Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you are to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month.

Foodie Penplas is open to US & Canadian residents. Please note, Canadian Residents will be paired with other Canadians only. We’ve determined things might get too slow and backed up if we’re trying to send foods through customs across the border from US to Canada and vice versa.

If you’re interested in participating for September, CLICK HERE to fill out the participation form and read the terms and conditions.

Nom, nom, nom

Jennifer loved the granola. She’s a kind person. That’s why we’re friends.

She, and her family, really loved the Chocolate-Chip Caramel Poke Cake.

That’s another reason why we’re friends.

This is a quick and easy cake to make. I’ve had some caramel sauce in the refrigerator since my daughter’s ice cream sundae party, so it was nice to get rid of that, as I have been known to grab a spoonful now and then — temptation! — but I’m not so sure I would add the drizzled white frosting the next time I make it. It didn’t add anything to the cake. If I could frost better, maybe it would have made the cake prettier, but frosting is not a talent I possess.

CHOCOLATE CHIP-CARAMEL POKE CAKE

  • 1 box Betty Crocker SuperMoist devil’s food cake mix
  • 1 1/3 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 bag (12 oz) semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
  • 1 cup caramel topping
  • 1/2 cup Betty Crocker Rich & Creamy vanilla frosting

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray bottom only of 13-by-9-inch pan with baking spray with flour.

In large bowl, beat cake mix, buttermilk, oil and eggs with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds, then on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into pan. Sprinkle with chocolate chips; press gently into batter.

Bake 35 to 43 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 30 minutes. Spray meat fork or other long-tined fork with cooking spray. Poke warm cake every inch with fork tines. Pour caramel topping over cake. Cool completely, about 1 hour.

In medium microwavable bowl, microwave frosting 15 to 30 seconds; stir until very soft. Spoon frosting into 1-quart resealable food-storage plastic bag. Cut tip off one corner of bag. Drizzle frosting across top of cake. Store covered.

Recipe courtesy of Betty Crocker Best Desserts 2011

You had a baby! Here’s some granola!

I’m not going to say that, exactly, but I did make some granola for my friend Jennifer. She had a baby last month and my copy of “The Good Neighbor Cookbook” says granola is a quick snack sleep-deprived moms can grab when the baby is fussing to keep them functioning during late-night feedings.

Cookies can be grabbed on the go too, but health experts keep telling us we can’t live on cookies alone, so I made the granola.

Was it a success?

Yes and no.

Success: I think it tastes good.

Not a success: It was not so easy to cut into bars. In fact, I may need to crumble it all up and tell Jennifer it’s to put on top of yogurt.

OK, so this food gift is no longer pretty or convenient. Thank goodness it’s the thought that counts.

(It doesn’t hurt that I made her a chocolate and caramel cake, too.)

CRANBERRY GRANOLA BARS

  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1/4 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-by-13 baking pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides.

Spread the oats, almonds, coconut, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, stirring once, until lightly golden, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Decrease the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the syrup, sugar, oil and salt, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the toasted oat mixture and cranberries and stir to coat. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan, firmly pressing down on an even layer with a rubber spatula.

Bake in the oven until golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Let cool completely on a wire rack, at least two hours. Grabbing the ends of the parchment, lift out the granola and slice into bars. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Recipe courtesy of The Good Neighbor Cookbook

What’d ya get? What’d ya get?

foodiepal stamp2 Foodie Penpals

Happy Foodie Pen Pal Reveal Day!

I received my lovely foodie pen pal package in early July and it has been killing me not to blab about all the awesomeness I received.

First, a photo:

Looks good, doesn’t it?

My packages arrived from Miranda in Tennessee. Miranda chose to honor her state by sending me a Goo-Goo Cluster and honey — both of which are made in Tennessee. She then went the homemade route, sending me yogurt covered pretzels (raspberry and blueberry) and zucchini bread (which was sooo good!). I also received two fruit leathers, which was funny because I had sent two fruit leathers to my foodie pen pal, too. Great minds, right? I also received a lovely jar of lemon-honey body scrub. I love it!

I think I lucked out with my foodie pen pal because she also included a “Health Benefits of Honey” handout. Who knew a spoon of honey can help power you through a workout?

July was my first month participating in Foodie Pen Pals and I’m already looking forward to what August will bring!

What is Foodie Pen Pals? The program is the brainchild of Lindsay at The Lean Green Bean. I can’t thank her enough for starting it and making sure it runs smoothly every month! Here’s how it works:

Sign up here and on the 5th of every month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions.

You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal!

The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats! The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe. Use your imagination!

You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!)

Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you are to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month.

Foodie Penplas is open to US & Canadian residents. Please note, Canadian Residents will be paired with other Canadians only. We’ve determined things might get too slow and backed up if we’re trying to send foods through customs across the border from US to Canada and vice versa.

If you’re interested in participating for August, CLICK HERE to fill out the participation form and read the terms and conditions.

You must submit your information by August 4th as pairings will be emailed on August 5th!

Why I cook

Using a fork to combine flour and eggs, I balance the bowl on my hip as I look over my son’s shoulder to check his homework. The dough is sticky, so I add a few tablespoons of water.

The dough came together about the same time my son understood his assignment. I knead as he works through the problems. Setting the lump of dough under the mixing bowl to rest, I join him at the kitchen table where we reviewed Southwest Asia countries and capitals. Thirty minutes later, he was finished and the dough was ready to become pasta.

I flatten the dough with a rolling pin. I shpw my daughter how to use a pizza cutter to slice the dough in thin strips. As she dies that, I crush tomatoes for the sauce. Both kids take their showers as onions and garlic saute in the Dutch oven. I add thyme and sliced carrots as my husband walks in the door. He sits and talks with me as tomatoes simmer in the pit and garlic bread bakes in the oven.

An hour later, we were in a food coma. As I washed the disges, my husband hugs me.

“I am so lucky to have you,” he said.

I love to cook. I like the feeling of satisfaction that comes from serving a great meal or making people happy with baked treats. There are days I don’t want anything to do with my kitchen, days I’m happy we live just two blocks from Panchero’s, but even more days when I’m happy to take time from my schedule to produce something for my family and my friends.

Food is personal yet social. It brings people together. It’s something everyone enjoys, even if we have completely different tastes. It’s easy to lose the joy of cooking with the humdrum of everyday like, but those moments of gratitude and happiness are worth it. I need to remember this the next time I stand in my kitchen, with no idea what to make for dinner. A few personal touches to even the generic of dishes makes the different between a meal and an experience.

Go for the experience.

BASIC PASTA

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tbsp water

In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour and salt. Make a well in the flour, the slightly beaten eggs, and mix. Mixture should form a stiff dough. If needed, stir in water, one tablespoon at a time.

On a lightly floured surface, knead dough for about 3 to four minutes. Let dough rest under mixing bowl for 30 minutes. Using a pasta machine or by hand, roll out dough to desired thinness. Use machine ort knife to cut into strips of desired width.

Boil water and salt. Cook pasta in bathes to prevent sticking. Past will rise to the top of the water when cooked.

BASIC TOMATO SAUCE

  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 Spanish onion, chopped in 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 1/4 medium carrot, finely shredded
  • 2 cups peeled whole tomatoes, crushed my hand and juices reserved
  • salt

In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot, and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as hot as thick cereal. Season with salt and serve.

I added cooked Italian sausage to my sauce. It added spiciness to the sauce; very good!

Recipe from my Italian cooking class — we tackle Mexican food Wednesday!

Cuts like a knife

Here’s how my family helped me celebrate my birthday.

My daughter, age 10, bought me a gigantic lime green pillow. It is quite possibly the guadiest and most comfortable thing I’ve ever owned. (Keep in mind I wore Troll Doll earrings in high school, so I know gaudy.)

The boy, age 12, bought me a travel coffee mug. As I hope to give up caffeine this year, it shall later be a tea travel mug.

My husband gave me a new chef knife and International Cooking lessons. Starting next week, I will spend my Wednesday nights at the local community college, learning how to cook food from France, Mexico, Italy and Japan.

I am excited about this, but I have two concerns.

1 — I am supposed to bring an apron. Do stores even sell aprons that aren’t for men who grill?

2 — My new knife is HUGE! How do I carry that into class without looking like Michael Myers?

Things I Love: OXO Good Grips

Some people are lucky to have a great father. I am blessed to have two.

My dads are without a doubt the greatest guys ever. One is known for his compassion, the other for his flirting. One hates playing board games because he doesn’t like the rules — this usually happens when he’s losing — and the other never let me win as a child, which is probably the reason why I’m so competitive today.

One of my dads grew up on a farm, so he knows how to fix anything. When I was little, I’d just hand him what was broken and wait for him to return it. Now he has to deal with phone calls such as “My garage door won’t open. Why?” and “My garbage disposal sounds funky.” I know he’ll never laugh at me — in my defense, we didn’t have a garage when I was little, so I never dealt with garage door openers until we bought our house — and so far he has been able to tell me how to fix whatever is broken.

My other dad … well, he knows a guy. Seriously, that’s his thing. He isn’t a handyman and he doesn’t want to be one. He figures people are trained for specific tasks, so they should be hired to fix electrical appliances, file taxes and paint walls. He has a guy for each task and he will share their names with people who need it.

My older sister and I like to poke fun at Dad’s “I know a guy” mentality. We also joke about his other common phrase: You get what you pay for. I agree with him for the most part, although sometimes I think he takes it too far, spending $10 on a potato peeler when a $2 one also was an option.

Then he gave me a $10 potato peeler of my own.

I’ve had this potato peeler for years and it never disappoints. It is because of this potato peeler that I shell out the extra bucks to buy Good Grip items when replacing kitchen supplies. Yes, they cost a bit more than other brands out there, but they last longer which, as Dad likes to say, saves you money in the end.

I had to buy some new Good Grips mixing bowls this week. The one I received as a wedding gift — 12+ years ago — cracked when my daughter through it on the driveway in frustration after losing an impromptu water balloon fight.

She got my competitive gene.

I was bummed. She felt bad. I give myself parenting propos for not yelling because it was an accident. And when you consider I was wanting to buy new mixing bowls anyway … All things happen for a reason.

Organization 101

Sticky notes are my friend.

I buy them by the gross when they are on sale (this is not that much of an exaggeration) and use them to tab the recipes I hope to make someday.

It is not uncommon for me to go through a pad of sticky notes in one sitting, which leads to another problem. How do I track all my ‘I want to make this someday’ recipes?

Real Simple has suggestions for this very problem. My favorite is to write the recipe title (or a name you’ll remember) on an index card, along with the book or magazine issue it is in and the page number. Then you file the cards alphabetically in a recipe box, dividing it into sections like Breakfast, Desserts, etc.

So simple! (Hence the magazine name.)

I went to Bed, Bath and Beyond last week for a recipe box and discovered that they don’t carry them. Apparently ‘Beyond’ has a stopping point. Who knew? Luckily, Hallmark was nearby and had what I needed:

From now on, any recipe I have tabbed and eventually make will be noted on an index card and filed in my recipe box. Eventually all of these tabbed pages will be index cards. The cards will also note what, if any, changes I made to the original recipe and reactions to it (mine, my husband’s, our children, etc.)

Until that happens, though, I will enjoy these cool sticky tabs Cecelia mailed me for my birthday:

Does she know me or what?

Birthday swag

Transitioning to a new marketing demographic was not as painful as I thought is would be, considering the awesome kitchen gifts I received from friends and family.

There are so many cute kitchen things out there, but I — like most people I assume — rarely buy them. I go for the practical, not the whimsy.

But all rules fly on the window on your birthday.

First up we have some nesting dolls, right?

Nope. They are measuring cups. Technically, they were a Christmas present from my parents, but my birthday is close to the holidays, so it counts. I haven’t used them yet, but I have smiled at them sitting on my kitchen counter.

My lovely little sister and her husband gave me this — a miniature flower pot. The flowers are measuring spoons.

How adorable is that?

Last, but not least, my friend Jennifer gave me these: a boomerang spoon for food fights, Chimp Sticks (chopsticks for dummies), “French Toast” (a bread stamper) and teddy bear bag clips. It was such a surprise and I love them all.

 

Getting older is nothing to be worried about when you have great people in your life. Thank you everyone!