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 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

Friday, October 15, 2010

Minnesota - Wedded Bliss Part 3 - The FINAL Minnesota Report

The Reception of our Minnesota wedding adventure:

Toasts followed food, the DJ made the children come on the dance floor to do the obnoxious chicken dance, and then Mandy and Matt had a stunning moment. The country song, “I thought I Loved You Then,” began playing, and only Matt and Mandy existed. 

He took her waist, pulled himself to her, she reached her left arm around Matt’s back, his other arm remained a perfect right angle as he held Mandy’s hand. They looked like something classical, out of time. Matt mouthed the lyrics close to Mandy. In that space and time, they were shiny white satin, silhouetted black hat, sensible and smart boots, simple gold rings; they were everything new, and clean, but more than anything, radiantly, truly in love. 

Alex and I wandered around the farm amazed how different countryside Minnesota farm life looked from our Southern California reality. We stood near the two lane highway in front of the main house, free of cars, and looked westward towards miles of rolling corn fields. Only the buzz of cicada bugs interrupted the silence.

Walking back, two little girls approached us and said, “Do you want to see a baby cow?” The pixie girls led Alex and me through a dark cow shed labyrinth, filled with manure booby-traps, to a half door. Before us stood a mama cow licking her calf still cloudy with birth, less than an hour old. The girls magically disappeared as quickly as they came, but we stayed and stared, while the reception partied on. News of the baby cow traveled fast, however, and when Ann and Al were led through the shed to see the calf, Mr. Boise, Matt’s farmer father, stood watching the calf, making sure it would not get mixed up in the mud a few feet away, as it worked up to standing on all four legs. 

The nearly magical time at the farm wedding came to a close. Ann and Al hugged Mandy with her one open arm. Mandy held the smaller, pink booted, flower girl on her hip with ease and said smiling, “I am only allowed to have one cat, but I can have lots of babies!” 
Mandy and Matt sparkled with a bond and commitment to each other, enfolded in family understanding and strength, the tough continuity of farm life a head of them, and the promise of lots of babies. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Minnesota - Wedded Bliss Part 2 (Here is the food part...)

The Minnesota Wedding Continued:

The day before, the Boise family emptied their tractor equipment barn, loaded it with tables, chairs, purple and green favors, and a mile of white toile which hung from the rafters. The enormous barn doors opened onto views of the families 125 acres of corn fields, and encouraged whatever breeze that came by into the room.

Since we grabbed a sandwich on the way to the wedding, it took us a while to go over to the appetizer table. When I got there, I noticed some interesting cheese in addition to the more easily identified cheddar cubes. The semi-hard irregular shaped cheese, along with the cubed cheddar, happened to be fresh cheese made from the milk of the very cows on that farm. I took two plates of cheese even though I barely felt a hunger pang, I couldn't pass up the offer of homemade, home grown cheese. To wash it down, they supplied guests with a keg of locally brewed root beer.

The main course arrived by way of a ten foot long, truck-pulled trailer barbecue, and included several trays of thin-sliced, cheesy au gratin potatoes, barbecue baked beans with all varieties of bean, and most impressively, an entire roasted pig, complete with an apple in its mouth. The unorthodox wedding food pleased me beyond belief, and the home style cheddar-covered potatoes pushed it over the top.