Wednesday, December 29, 2010

FICKEN (Faux Chicken)

I was a vegetarian for over eight years of my life. During that time I became very fond of tofu and other vegetable and soy based foods. Though I eat meat now, I tend to prefer less meat in my diet, and eat quite a bit of tofu. This week I bought two different types of faux chicken (I like to call it Ficken) made from soy and vegetables to conduct a taste test.

The contestants:

Gardein - Seven Grain Crispy Tenders

Morning Star - Chik Patties Original

The challenge is on!

I first tried the Morning Star patty. I cooked it in the oven according to the directions, cut it up, and ate it with some honey and a side of steamed kale.

I thought this was pretty good. Smelled like chicken, tasted (almost) like chicken, and was pretty satisfying.

Two nights later I tried the Gardein tenders. I made three of them in the oven and had them with honey mustard (half and half - dijon mustard mixed with honey) and a cut up apple with peanut butter and cinnamon.

I made this for a quick high protein snack when I got home from an especially hard gym session, and this certainly hit the spot. The ficken strips were really good (I cooked them a couple extra minutes to make them crispier) and I preferred these over the patties (but I think both were good).

As far as the nutrition stats stacked up, I also think Gardein is the winner.

Gardein Strips (serving size - 2 strips)

Morning Star Patties (serving size - 1 patty)

Gardein has less fat and more protein (even though the serving size is small!) - I think if I were to have the strips as a meal I'd probably have 4 or 5 - which would be 180 calories, 3 grams of fat and 18 grams of protein!

Though I liked both of these and would probably buy both again, I think that the Gardein strips were tastier and healthier than the Morning Star patties. Try them for yourself and see what you prefer!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Snow Day!

There is really nothing like a good old fashioned snow day. As a kid (i.e. until I left for college) I loved the prospect of snow days. I'd always stay up extra late the night before, since I'd be able to sleep in the next morning, and eagerly watch the school closing scroll on the news, waiting for my school to be listed. I'm pretty sure I coerced my parents into allowing many school night sleepovers with friends the night before we expected a snow day.

I got back up to Nashua yesterday evening before the big storm hit and unpacked all of my wonderful goodies from Santa and my family (including lots of baking stuff I needed! A rolling pin, cookie sheets, stackable cooling racks, cookie cutters, a stand mixer, official cake tester, and several new cookbooks). I then curled up on the couch and spent a couple hours reading in front of my lit Christmas tree, followed by a wonderful nap for an hour or two. At 10:30 Pat woke me up to announce that he was not tired, and convinced me that it was a good idea to start Inception at around 11pm. Normally I would not be so irresponsible on a school work night, but going back to my childhood behavior, I felt that staying up late was justified if I'd be having a snow day the next day. I'm glad I stayed up, Inception was such a good movie! For anyone else that totally missed the boat on seeing this last summer, I highly recommend renting it now.

At 5:45 this morning I looked outside and saw that it was still snowing, the plows hadn't touched the roads in a few hours, and that our cars were blocked in by a snow wall about 3 feet high that had been created the last time the streets were plowed. I declared today a snow day and emailed my supervisor that I'd work from home instead of coming in. I reset my alarm for 8am and went back to bed!

After a few productive hours, it was time to have some fun. Pat also declared today a snow day for himself, so I had a partner in crime. I threw on several layers of Under Armour, knee-high socks, my beloved Sorel boots, my heaviest winter jacket, a pair of gloves and mittens, and a hat, and we were off on our mission: trudging to Jackie's for a breakfast/lunch feast!

Trudging in the snow to a fun destination is probably one of my favorite things to do after/during a big storm. I love the feeling of being snowed-in (as long as you're where you want to be!). Its about a 1.5 mile walk to get to Jackie's, and there weren't many other people on the road. Except plows and bobcats.

 Lots of places downtown were closed.

Jackie's was open! This has been our favorite breakfast spot since we moved to Nashua. Its a little French Canadian place that makes everything homemade and is run by the nicest people.

We ordered a mixture of breakfast and lunch items. I got one crepe with powdered sugar and lemon. It was amaaaazing. Of all the times we've been here I'd never ordered crepes, but I definitely will now! I also got a salad with (grilled) buffalo chicken, which was very good (and very spicy!).

Pat got a turkey club with fries. The club was sooo good but best of all were the fries. These are hand-cut homemade fries, and I could have eaten a whole plateful (but instead I just ate half of Pat's!).

Then we trudged back home, happy and full.

Once we got home we shoveled out our cars for about a half hour, after which I needed another treat! Snow with maple syrup! Did you ever have that growing up? It was a favorite in my family...just gather some (clean) snow and pour some maple syrup on top, and you have yourself a delicious snack!

Pat and I hit the gym for a chest/tris/ab workout, and when we got home he showed me the gingerbread cookies his mom made for me. A gingerbread angel! She is not long for this world...I'd better eat her send her to heaven to be with the rest of the angels.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Homemade Happiness

This year I made some edible gifts to give to friends and stuff my family's stockings. My favorite part of the holidays is spending time with the people I love, and what better way to someones heart than through some delicious homemade treats!? I would never turn down a pair of Cole Haan boots or a David Yurman ring if you wanted to give them to me, but I do believe that the most important things are what come from the heart. So I present...HOMEMADE HAPPINESS!

Chile Honey Butter

This is a Serious Eats find, and immediately jumped out at me as something my brother would enjoy. Jim never liked spicy food until he went to college in New Mexico, but has since developed a love for spicy dishes and tries to incorporate hot peppers as often as he can. I made a bigger batch of this butter, and also added some green chile powder (in addition to the cayenne powder) for extra kick.

  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/3 tbsp honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp cayenne powder
  • 1 tsp green chile powder
  • salt

Combine all ingredients. Whip in a blender/food processor/by hand until a smooth sauce is formed. Spoon into a container and keep covered in refrigerator.

Serving Suggestions:
  • On toast
  • Cook fried eggs in
  • In stir fry
  • On grilled corn
  • On cornbread
  • Melt and use as dipping sauce for steamed artichokes
  • Slather on chicken or fish and bake
  • In baked rice

Mexican Hot Chocolate

Another find on Serious Eats! This one I thought would be appropriate for Kristi, Jim's girlfriend. She grew up in New Mexico and also loves spicy food, and she is a coffee connoisseur. I thought this might be a nice change from coffee that would be appreciated in this freezing cold New England winter!

For the mix -
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Ghirardelli is great)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp cayenne powder
For the drink - 
  • whole milk
  • vanilla extract

  1. To make the hot chocolate mix: put cocoa powder, sugar, cinnamon and cayenne powder in a bowl. Stir with whisk until combined. Put mix in a jar or container of your choice.
  2. To make the drink - heat 1 cup milk in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until simmering. Add hot chocolate mix and vanilla extract; whisk until cocoa and milk are combined. Add remaining 1 cup milk, stirring to combine. Cook until warm, about 2 minutes. Serve.

Cookies in a Jar

I made this for my sister Laura because she is a true chocolate lover, which of course includes chocolate chip cookies! She is very busy as a third year student in a PhD program at UVA (smarty pants) so I thought that I could give her cookies in a jar so that when the craving for cookies strikes, she won't have to spend very much time preparing them before they're ready to bake. I used my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe (Pat requests these cookies on a weekly basis at this point) and put all of the ingredients in a large mason jar. 

If jarring the ingredients for cookies, try to separate the ingredients accordingly. For example - I whisked together the flour, sea salt and baking soda. I separated the chocolate chips (using Ziploc bags) because these are added in at the end, and separated the dark brown sugar because this needs to be creamed with the butter. Separating makes it easier for the baker! Now all Laura needs is 1 tsp vanilla extract, 2 eggs, and 2 sticks of butter.

Pumpkin Spiced Almond Butter (aka one of the best things I've ever tasted)

Found on this brilliant blog! The only changes I made was to reduce the baking temperature from 300 degrees to 275 (the first batch I made at 300 degrees and there was a hint of burnt taste) and also reduced the amount of canola oil added at the end from 1.5 tablespoons to a little less than 1 tablespoon. Adjust according to desired consistency.

Serving suggestions: on toast, in oatmeal, on crackers (or graham crackers!), in sandwiches, and definitely by the spoonful!

Measure 2 cups of raw almonds:

Spread almonds on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Add maple syrup and molasses.

Stir to evenly coat all almonds.

Bake for 30 minutes at 275 degrees, stirring every 10 minutes. Then take out of oven at let cool for at least 30 minutes.

I folded the parchment paper and poured all of the nuts into the food processor. I still managed to get crumbs all over my kitchen floor.

And the butterizing begins!

1 minute:
 2 minutes:

 3 minutes (large ball has formed):

 4 minutes:
 5 minutes:

Then I added the remaining molasses, maple syrup, canola oil, spices and salt.

Back to butterizing!

 1 minute:
 2 minutes:
 3 minutes:

 4 minutes:

Look at that deliciously smooth and drippy almond butter!

Transfer to jar. Then lick spatula, spoon, and anything else lucky enough to be covered in almond butter!

  • 2 cups raw almonds
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup, divided
  • 1.5 tablespoons molasses, divided
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil

  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
  2. Spread almonds on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper.
  3. Pour 2 T maple syrup and 1 T molasses on the almonds, stir so almonds are evenly coated.
  4. Remove from oven and let cool (about 30 minutes).
  5. Pour almonds into food processor and turn on. Process until nuts butterize (past the stage where a ball of dough is formed) - this will take about 5 minutes.
  6. Add in 1 T maple syrup, 1/2 T molasses, spices and salt, and 1 T canola oil (if desired for consistency). Process again until smooth (about 3-4 minutes).
I first made one batch of this almond butter, and then when I realized how delicious it was, I went back for more. The second night I made four batches...every inch of counter space in my kitchen was covered in roasted nuts! I was excited to have a nut butter factory going on in my apartment, but Pat wasn't. He doesn't like nuts (with the exception of peanuts and pistachios) and especially doesn't like it when I trick him into eating nuts (like when I told him to taste the almond butter out of the food processor after promising it wasn't nuts - he wasn't too happy!).

I also learned that mixing all of the spices together in batches was a good time saver (since I left all of the butterizing for the final step):

Filling up the jars:

And a Holiday Drink:

This "white sangria" is made with 4 cups Pinot Grigio, 3 cups Diet Ginger Ale, 1 cup Cranberry Juice, and a few cups of fresh organic cranberries. Serve over ice and enjoy!

Merry, Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones!