Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Feeling All Grown Up...and a Little Lost in the Real Dot Com Sea, Introducing www.4RFood.com

Oh boy, what did I get myself into? My lovely web developer husband was kind enough to help me on my next step of the internet blogging yellow brick road and set me up with my very own dot com. I can hardly believe that I got the domain, and the site is up! Of course it is still in progress since I am learning as I go...man this stuff is complex.

Starting something completely new, that I have no mastery of, makes me feel like I ventured out of my little fishbowl for a swim in the ocean. The tide takes me away to another, disorienting, strange and different local that takes some getting used to.

So if you wanna see me baby step toward the next step in my journey, please check out www.4RFood.com, (oh my gosh, there is no Blogspot behind that, woo-hoo!) and let me know what you think!


Friday, November 12, 2010

4RFood Posting Updates

follow me somewhere new...
Hello out there! Working on my new blog 4RFood, and really enjoying it. Finally having some organization and a format to work makes me feel like my head is finally screwed on tight (for now at least...). For those of you who follow this blog, I would love you to come on over and become a follower on 4RFood!

Here are some links to the articles this week. Click on the links to get there directly. There is a Revelation about Pam Anderson, a Review of Trader Joe's pre-made pie dough, and a Rant on beige food and cavemen (troglodytes).

Again, thanks for checking it out!!!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Confessional, A New Direction 4RFood

Hello to all the wonderful people who take time to read this blog. I must take a moment to express my appreciation to you - thank you for your support, encouragement, for everything. In the time I have been writing this blog, I have learned so much, and you have been a big part of my growth as a writer, cook, and person.

But you know, there are just so many amazing food bloggers out there. Ones that take amazing pictures that make your eyes drool, post recipes every day that inspire cooking and baking, people who do that so much better than I do.

For example: Grace's Sweet Life, La Mia Vita Dolce, look at those homemade baby donuts. Please, if this picture doesn't make you want a little pink-iced sprinkled mini donut, get your eyes checked.

Image from La Mia Vita Dolce
Or this chick, Bellalimento, who makes the most amazing authentic Italian fare and takes pics that make you want to jump into the computer and eat. 

Image from Bell'alimento

I got to thinking that I am trying to fit into a shoe that doesn't fit me very well. I have recipes yes, but not all have really amazing stories behind them. Not all have gorgeous food porn images (excuse the term) to accompany. And it just doesn't really interest me to write recipes, take pictures, tell the story of me and food all the time. Honestly, my hat is off to the people who do this so well - it is not easy!

Beyond the regular food blog recipe, picture, personal story action, like the weird stuff about food, food news, cookbooks, the food bloggers that make me want to cook and bake. I get tipsy with this cool information, I want to share it.

So I got to thinking, and while I started Owl Cook to be a food blog journey to food mastery, I think it was also a path to figuring out what I am actually good at. To figure out what I may have to say that other people would find useful. To tap into the teacher in me, the learner in me, the baker and cook, but also to connect to people through this amazing world of food blogging. And really, who ever can become a food master when Julia Child herself didn't proclaim to be one?

So what is my point?

I have started a new blog about food called 4RFood which fits me a lot better. The 4 R's are Recipes, Reviews, Revelations and Rants about food. Each post will bring you the most interesting information, reviews, news, and opinions on food out there. I hope you will follow me to 4RFood, join in the conversation, and find something useful to your food life.

Again, thank you to all that have supported me through Owl Cook. Here is to allowing ourselves to find the right fit, regardless, and to a new place to be together for our food.

Lindsay Natale

Monday, November 8, 2010

Beware of Trader Joe's Imported Penne Pasta - Stow-Aways on Board

Prepare to be grossed out - yes, I know Halloween is over. This is serious. I do this for public health reasons, and because it made me want to swear off pasta and Trader Joe's for a long long long time. Doesn't that suck? Yes, yes it does.

A few days ago I made a sauce for pasta and grabbed the package of Trader Joe's Imported form Italy Penne. The water had not boiled yet, so I put down the package and then I noticed something moving. Black and moving. Lots of black and moving and some dead, black and not moving.

The completely sealed pasta bag crawled with who knows what kind of little black bugs (see picture below and fill me in if you know), made me lose my appetite. I got out my camera and shot these pictures, but the pre-flash made many of them hide (guess they don't like bright light).
I am sooo thankful that I hadn't just opened the package and poured the contents into the boiling water - how many times had I done that...not looked at pasta before pouring it in? Hundreds. I usually buy Barilla brand in the blue cardboard box, and bugs could totally infiltrate that barrier, but to my knowledge, this is the first pasta bug issue I have had. In a sealed bag to boot. Anyways people, check your pasta before you pour it into the water ESPECIALLY if it is from Trader Joe's.

I am going back tomorrow to return the bug bag of pasta and I am sure they will be as shocked as I was. On the whole, Trader Joe's is a pretty excellent place, but this pasta thing...not cool.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Best, Most Versatile, Biscotti Recipe - FINALLY!

About a million and two years ago, I told you I would post my favorite biscotti recipe, and I am finally making good on that promise! This recipe is sooooooo versitile, you can put any kind of nut (though I suggest chopping them up first), any kind of extract, dried fruits, chocolate chips, pretty much anything, and they will come out amazing. Now go be creative! 

3 eggs
1 cup of canola oil
1 cup of sugar
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons almond extract
1 cup slivered, blanched almonds
1 cup dark chocolate chips.
(option: omit the chocolate chips, and add melted chocolate to the bottoms of biscotti after baking)

1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Beat the eggs, oil, and sugar in a Kitchen Aid stand mixer until well mixed and creamy looking.
3. Add the extracts and mix until incorporated.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder, then add to the wet ingredients. Do not over mix.
5. Add the nuts and chocolate chips or whatever else you want to add :).
6. Spread the dough onto the baking sheet in two logs. Bake for 18-20 minutes. 
7. Let the logs cool and turn the oven down to 300 degrees F.
8. When cool enough to handle, cut logs into 1 inch wide pieces on a diagonal. Lay them flat on the cookie sheet. 
9. Place back into the oven for 10-15 minutes until they are hardened slightly. They will harden completely when they are cool.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Iron Foodie of 2010 - Coming Straight on for YOU!

Marx Foods and the Foodie BlogRoll are hosting a fabulous contest - Iron Foodie 2010. Let's put it this way, I can't think of a cooler moniker than being called an Iron Foodie. I am in!

Why do you want to compete in this challenge?
I love a good challenge, and a food related one takes the cake. The title of Iron Foodie 2010 alone is well worth giving it a go, but I also want to challenge myself to be creative and share my creations with the readers of Owl Cook. 

Limitations of time/space notwithstanding, whose kitchen would you like to spend the day in and why? Julia Child, Thomas Keller, Ferran Adria, James Beard, Marie-Antoine Careme, or The Swedish Chef?
Julia Child and the Swedish chef have the best chef voices of all time. It would be awesome to see them try to communicate with each other, wouldn't it? If I had to pick a chef to cook with, I would pick James Beard hands down. He was unapologetic in his personal life and career - I love that confidence and would want some of his bravado to rub off on me like garlic on a crostini.

What morsel are you most likely to swipe from family and friends’ plates when they aren’t looking?
The innermost curl of a cinnamon roll - there is nothing more scrumptious on planet earth.

Sum your childhood up in one meal.
A whole meal, huh? My grandma's mashed potatoes with evaporated milk and jello with banana slices, my mom's chicken pot pie, and grandpa's microwaved vegetables (that I never ate, but appreciated their appearance at every family dinner). Pure Americana.

The one mainstream food you can’t stand? 
Frankenstein pizza (like pizza with hamburger toppings, or barbeque sauce and chicken, or pizzones). Please, keep it simple people!

Iron Foodie 2010 | Here's Why that will be me:
MarxFoods.com -- Fine Bulk Foods The Foodie BlogRoll

After Picture of the 321 Pizza that Started with Raw Sausage

AS requested, here is a picture of a 321 Pizza baked off with sausage in the raw.  You can see how gorgeous the little morsels brown up :) This pizza also has roasted red bell peppers, capers and mozzarella cheese.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Where do you Find Good Ideas for Kids Party Foods?

Google 'Kids Party Food' and what a pathetic lump of links come up. Where are the adorable ideas? The fruit critters? The irresistible hidden veggie something-or-other? I am planning my four year old's birthday party this weekend and want to make things little eyes will be excited to see. One site suggested chicken nuggets. Originality award goes to you my friend! Kids like chicken nuggets? They like pizza? The revelations keep on coming.

Some suggestions go the completely opposite route and suggest celery with avocado dip in place of chips. Yeah right.

I finally found one with promise, Menu in a Box, but to access the recipes for the super cute food, membership is required. I don't blame them - I am getting to the point where I may just join to get some new ideas.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cool Cereal - Some Vintage Stuff...Who Ate Gremlins Cereal??

Who doesn't love a good bowl of cereal? We all have our favorite, right? Remember the one you always wanted your mom or dad to buy you, but didn't (Count Chocula!!!)? Here are some fun, REAL, cereals from the past:

This is NOT a joke. Urkel-os from 1991. Seriously? Urkel for president? What were we thinking 1991?
What year do you think this cereal debuted? Answer at the bottom...

Oh yes, very EXCELLENT! Circa 1990
What says 1984 better than Gremlins Cereal?

"I do FOOL!" says Mr. T, also 1984

For more cereal fun check out The Cereal Project. They are attempting to catalogue every cereal America every cereal we were crazy enough to buy in America.
Oh, and the Star Trek Cereal debuted in.....2009!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Mother in Law Lia's Italian Crostata- The Experience of Intuitive Baking

She's a cool chick.

Let's start out with the fact that I have never ever, ever, ever (did I say ever?) seen my mother-in-law follow written, cookbook style recipes. Lia cooks intuitively, she has recipes in her head - who needs a cookbook when you've got recipes in your head?

Her mother single handedly ran a restaurant in her hometown between Rome and the Mediterranean sea, her father expertly butchered all the meat and later performed classical guitar with the house band for the customers. 

Italian's have a birthright of food - a heritage of recipes that get passed down over and over because everyone helps in the kitchen, everyone sees how mama makes risotto, or zeppole, or a ragu. 

Fast forward to about a year ago when I asked Lia how to make her son's favorite Italian dessert, the crostata, a tart-pie hybrid with a pastry crust and a jam filling. She willingly gave me the recipe from her head, but I could tell it wasn't easy for her. 

The recipe depended on the way the dough looked, how much butter you wanted to use that day, if you felt like making it less dolce by removing some sugar, rather than standardized cups and teaspoons...intuitive baking. But in my world, baking relies on chemical reactions, precision, anything but intuition. 

About a week ago, I decided to make a crostata for Alex and the recipe kinda cracked me up. I bet it made sense when I wrote it down a year ago, but for a baking recipe it's pretty sparse, and well, indecisive (1/2 cup of milk or less, 100/150 grams of sugar...or less). Directions...what directions? How long should it cook? Mystery. 

I love it though - I love the fact that I got to be a little carefree and intuitive with baking; a true experiment of my Italian-by-marraige heritage. I had a little mason jar of my mom's winter white peach jam ready to go and felt my way through. For the lattice work, I got creative and made a spiderweb since it is October and all. 

In the end, I took it out a smidge too soon, but overall the result pleased my crostata loving husband, which, in turn, pleased me. 

Funny, Scary or Gross?

Here's lookin' at you kid!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pizza Balls - Ashley's Experience

Pizza Balls - Photo by Ashley Hamrick

Can you tell I am proud?? Here is a photo and email excerpt from Ashley Hamrick's recent email to me. On her last visit with me, I told her how to make pizza balls from the 321 Dough recipe. Here is what she said:

"I made more 321 dough today and, on the request of my teenaged-appetite husband, I stuffed the pizza pocket with more "stuff", this time making pepperoni pizza pockets... I thought I'd share this photo with you both. I ate a half of one and it was just like eating a piece of pepperoni pizza (I used only the fines ingredients -- oven-roasted farmers market  tomatoes from the oven, top-quality pepperoni and italian mozz. chz.). So amazing, gooey, and delicious!! And what a perfect thing to serve to a hungry beast! Thanks, Linds! Haven't tried the pizza yet, but that's next this week."

321 Dough - Multi-Purpose Recipe, Repost of Recipe

Pizza ready for the oven
For anyone who is interested in my 321 Super Secret Dough, here is the recipe. I hope you all try it! It only has six simple ingredients and takes minutes to make. This dough can be transformed into homemade pizza, rustic artisan-style bread, crispy breadsticks, savory flatbread, mini calzones (pizza balls), and much more. Even better, it can be made days in advance and kept covered in the fridge to be used at a later date. I call it the 321 recipe because it has 3 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons of yeast, sugar and salt, and 1 2/3 cups of water. 

• 3 Cups AP Flour
• 2 Teaspoons Yeast
• 2 Teaspoons Kosher Salt
• 2 Teaspoons Sugar
• 1 2/3 Cups Lukewarm Purified Water

1. Place the flours, yeast, salt, and sugar in a large bowl and mix with a fork until ingredients are evenly distributed. 
2. Add the water and stir with a spoon until flour mixture is evenly wet (about a minute). Cover with a clean dishtowel and let sit for about 2 hours in a draft free area. 
3. You can use the dough at this point, or store it in your fridge for later use up to four days. This much dough makes two pizzas and two loaves of bread. 
4. Preheat oven with a pizza stone inside to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. 
5. Shape dough on a piece of parchment paper. For bread, rub the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake until golden and hollow sounding (about 15 minutes). Pizza will bake in about 12-14 minutes. 
6. Other applications include breadsticks, calzones, pizza balls, rolls...the possibilities are limitless!

No kneading necessary, the rise of bread actually kneads the dough on a molecule by molecule basis. Yeast needs a certain amount of oxygen to thrive, but excessive kneading introduces too much oxygen, and oxidizes the dough. We then lose the natural flavor of the bread as the dough turns whiter and whiter. We are not making wonder bread, we are making something that looks, feels and tastes handmade. This amount of dough will make about two large pizzas and a small loaf of bread.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Two Cool Vending Machines from Around the World...Pizza Machine!?! Eggs?!?

Who knows what kind of quality you get from this pizza vending machine from Italy, but in my book it is so cool, that it doesn't matter. You pick the toppings and in three minutes a pizza, made from scratch, pops out, and you get to see the whole process through the little window. Love this!

Yes, this is an EGG vending machine! The farm fresh egg machine can be found in Japan, but also in Santa Cruz, Ca. Not sure what I think of this one, but I think I like it...

What do you think??

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Easy, yet Fabulous Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe

Hello Gorgeous

Cream cheese frosting (just typing that out gets my taste buds tingling) makes even the humblest of cakes delectable. I mean, really who thought "Yes, carrots would make a delicious cake base!" Probably someone  with a very wonderful recipe for cream cheese frosting. Carrot cake ranks up among my all time favorites, and most likely because of it's stellar ability to take a back seat to the frosting of the gods.

I have to credit the lovely Ree Drummond, Pioneer Woman, for this recipe which has become my go-to recipe for carrot cake. Why? Oh that is easy, because it is EASY. And fabulous, but mostly because of the easy.


  • 2 cups Sugar
  • 1 cup Vegetable Oil
  • 4 whole Eggs
  • 2 cups All-purpose Flour
  • ½ teaspoons Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 2 cups Grated Carrots
  • _____
  • For Icing
  • 1 stick Regular Butter, Softened
  • 1 package (8 Oz) Cream Cheese
  • 1 pound Powdered Sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Vanilla
  • 1 cup Pecans, Chopped Finely (OPTIONAL)

Preparation Instructions

Preheat oven to 350F
Mix together the sugar, oil and eggs in a large bowl. In another bowl sift together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Add to first mixture and combine. Then add carrots and mix well. Pour into a greased and floured (I just use PAM spray, but make if you can, get the spray for baking with flour in it - this cake tends to stick especially in a bundt pan) pan (bundt, sheet cake, 9 x 13 pyrex) and bake at 350F until done, 25 (sheet cake) to 50 (Bundt pan) minutes, depending on the pan you use.
Cool completely.
In larger bowl, cream butter and cream cheese. Add sugar and vanilla and blend, then mix in the nuts (Optional - I don't do the nuts in the frosting). Spread on cooled carrot cake.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ode to Coffee, Something I Never Thought I Would Love SO Much

The signs have clearly been there - my favorite ice cream flavor since childhood: Coffee (even better yet with toffee crunch pockets hidden inside), but until relatively recently I have not been a coffee drinker (babies and the lack of sleep that come with them helped the coffee gods lure me in). I passed up numerous perfectly made Italian espressi with gorgeous deep caramel colored crema rising to the top (anyone have a time machine?), but now the day hasn't begun until the espresso machine does. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Homemade Bread, My Top Tips, Part 2 - Pizza Dough

Bake pizza (and all bread for that matter) on a pizza stone - they are cheap, so just get one - they make a huge difference because they pump up your oven temperature. Pizza like the 321 Dough (click here for the recipe post) needs to be cooked at high temperature (500 degrees), and the stone can bring up your temp another 100 degrees! OH, and don't forget that parchment paper.

321 Pizza dough can be very versatile. These are breadsticks with cheese and olives, you can be very creative once you have the dough and baking process down. 

But DON'T try to make cinnamon rolls with bread dough. They will SUCK. These may look pretty, but they tasted terrible. Just take my word for it. 

You can cook an egg on pizza, in your oven. But you probably shouldn't. I did it once and one egg slid down to my bottom element and fried to a black crisp in a matter of seconds. I don't recommend using your pizza stone if you want to do this egg pizza thing. 

Whoa, This Stuff is GOOD. Highly Recommended: Celebrity International Cranberry with Cinnamon Fromage De Chevre

Over the weekend, Costco had a cheese sample extravaganza. Showing off, among other cheese, white cheddar bombs, huge wheels of golden Parmigiano Reggiano, and the most gorgeous soft white cheese encrusted and streaked with magenta cranberries spread on La Brea baguettes. We ended up buying both the white cheddar (which tasted like very young parmigiano) and of course the lovely cranberry and cinnamon fromage de chevre (which sounds sooo much better than goat cheese, right?)

Somehow Celebrity International played down the usual twang of goat cheese, maybe with the plump cranberries that encase it, and made this somewhat unusual, but delightful creation. 

EVEN if you think you would not like goat cheese fromage de chevre, I urge you to give this a try. Trust me, I never thought I would have liked this so much if I hadn't been wooed by the siren song of a free Costco sample (who can resist?). 

It would make a gorgeous appetizer for a fall dinner or even on a Thanksgiving pre-dinner cheese plate.

(Post Script - for those who care about these things, the cheese is animal rennet free, which is a plus in my book...)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Homemade Bread, My Top Tips, Part 1 - Foccacia

I have learned a thing or two about home bread making, both through glorious successes and horrific disasters. If you don't regularly make bread at home, you should try it sometime (see my 321 Dough post for a very easy and forgiving recipe, or my foccacia recipe which loves time to itself).  

Let the tips begin!
Foccacia dough is super sticky, needs very little yeast, and a lot of time to bubble up. Parchment paper is a MUST!
To get the golden crust, you need to rub olive oil all over the top until a thin layer coats the dough. Don't push down on dough that already has risen, you will lose your lift. Sprinkle kosher salt liberally - it increases flavor and crunch (but be careful if you are using table salt, a little goes a long way). 

Part 2 - Pizza Dough

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The BEST Banana Bread Recipe, EVER.

I have been eating and making banana bread longer than I can remember. Don't you just love the way baking banana bread perfumes the entire house? When the weather chills up and the bananas get their leopard spots, grab a bowl, a fork and spoon, then make this banana bread. This recipe doubles beautifully (I always double my recipe and make it in a sheet cake pan), can take any kind of add-ins like nuts, blueberries, or chocolate chips, and couldn't be easier. 

With this particular recipe, I won first place in the banana bread division at the Del Mar Fair by adding macadamia nuts to the mix. 

Best Banana Bread:

You will need two bowls, a fork and a spoon to mix. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and spray your baking pan with cooking spray.

IN the larger bowl combine the following:

1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup white sugar

In another bowl, mash 3 bananas and add them to the flour mixture. 

Crack two eggs into the banana dish and beat them until combined and add to the flour mixture.

Add 1/4 cup CANOLA oil to the flour mixture (the original recipe calls for butter, but I like the oil much better because it is less messy than melting butter and makes the bread more tender)

Take your spoon and mix everything until it is combined, but don't over mix, it will make the bread tough. 

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes to an hour, depending on the pan you use. I test it by tapping the top (when I am pretty sure it is done, that is), and it will bounce back like a cake does. 

Banana Bread Bliss!

The Unusual International McDonald's Foods that DON'T Need to Come Over

So here are a few, ahem, *unusual* international McDonald's choices that, in my opinion, they can keep. These are from Asia:
This just looks wrong - what is that yellow stuff? Why is the patty dipped in industrial gravy?
Shrimp burger...think I will pass, but the lettuce looks good.
Big hotdog in a little jacket...and a coffee? 
Another shrimp burger

For more check out Food Network Humor

Monday, October 18, 2010

McDonald's Food from Around the World, the Good Stuff

Growing up, nothing topped a trip to McDonald's for me. The colorful kids only playground, the delightfully fatty happy meal (no ONIONS on the burger though), the special toy (anyone remember the muppet babies toys??), the little swirly free kids cone, and of course the man himself, Mr. Ronald McDonald.

I loved him more than Mickey Mouse and every other kid's character put together (maybe even more than Santa). I even had a Ronald McDonald doll that blew a whistle, which now sells for $199 on Amazon, and in retrospect looks a little creepy.

1978 McDonald's Ronald McDonald 21" stuffed toy with whistle

Ronald used to show up in person at the Del Mar Fair to do magic tricks, he giggle-smiled through every kid directed commercial (I saw A LOT of those), he just made me sooo happy. Happy meals really did make me...happy.

My love for McDonald's waned, however, as my taste buds and I grew up. Now, as a mom, I have taken my kids to McDonald's for ice cream (which has always been good, though who knows what is in that soft-serve mix), and for the playground - those indoor ones are just brilliant on a hot or rainy day.  But the food? Sorry, it does nothing to tempt me....at least not here in America. Maybe if the US McDonald's imported some of these international McDonald's Menu items, I may change my mind. What do you think?

This just looks so interesting...
Cupcakes in Germany

Italian bagel sandwich from Germany
Upgraded Deluxe fries from France, Mexico and Switzerland
Italy - this burger is topped with real Italian Mozzarella

To see more international McDonald's food, check out  Food Network Humor