Same Posts, New Place!

October 20, 2011

Late this summer I was asked to write a blog for the Connecticut Post and its family of online publications.  On that new blog, which I named The Secret Ingredient after my Fairfield cooking school, I am posting the same types of recipes, tips, and product profiles that I do here on my Season to Taste blog.  However, publishing both blogs has become somewhat of a time-consuming exercise, on top of teaching all my  cooking classes.  So, for the time being, I will publish my Season to Taste entries over at the Connecticut Post.  Don’t worry—this blog will stay up so you can still access the archived recipes/posts.  If you follow me here, I hope you’ll follow me there as well!

As always, thank you for reading, and happy cooking!!

Don’t miss a post!  You can now find my twice-weekly blog,  The Secret Ingredient at:

http://blog.ctnews.com/holleran/

Product Profile: Rosemary Crackers

October 10, 2011

Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs.  It is also the only herb I have any success growing on my own, so I use it frequently.  With roasted potatoes, in marinades for meat, or scattered on top of freshly baked focaccia, in a word–delicious.

You can imagine my excitement when I discovered rosemary flavored crackers.  A hint of flavor added to my cheese and cracker platters?  Perfect.  Well, after taste-tests were completed, it was really only half-perfect.

The first crackers, or “crisps” as they are referred to on the box, were Trader Joe’s Raisin Rosemary Crisps.  As relatively new item at the store,  the pretty green box caught my attention.  The crisps look almost like mini-Melba toasts studded with various additions, including (no surprise here), raisins and rosemary, but also sunflower and flax seeds.  Sounds bizarre?  I agree…but despite its interesting set of ingredients and not-so-pretty appearance, this cracker is truly out of this world good.  I LOVE them.  They combine sweet, salty and savory flavors all at once and somehow manage to be delicious.  I love them with cheese, but they are also great for dips or just by the handful as a snack.

On the other end of the spectrum are Triscuit’s Rosemary and Olive Oil crackers.  They claim to have “natural flavor” but I found the rosemary flavor to be extremely artificial tasting.  Rosemary is actually on the list of ingredients (listed as “Spices-includes rosemary”) but in my opinion, they taste nothing like the woodsy, full-flavored herb I love so much.  I felt they made everything taste ‘off’ and my husband and kids agreed that they were just not good.  I have to say I was pretty disappointed, considering that the original Triscuits are one of my very favorite crackers.

If you’re lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe’s, I highly recommend their Raisin Rosemary Crisps.  If not, skip the Rosemary Triscuits and stick to the originals!

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Grilled Rosemary-Fig Pork Tenderloin

October 3, 2011

Pork tenderloin is a favorite in our house, so I make it frequently.  I change-up the flavorings depending on my mood, and sometimes it’s perfect grilled with nothing but a little salt and pepper.

On a recent night I was looking at my overgrown rosemary plant and decided to make use of it.  Rosemary pairs very nicely with pork, and gives it a great Mediterranean flair.  I created a simple marinade from the rosemary leaves, olive oil, garlic, and some fig-infused balsamic vinegar for a decidedly Italian flavor.  By using a ziplock plastic bag in which to marinate the pork, you can easily turn the meat inside the sealed bag, plus you save yourself the trouble of cleaning one extra dish.  And a tip–to easily mix your marinade, put the plastic bag in a large measuring cup and fold it open around the top of the cup.  This makes it easy to pour in ingredients without your bag tipping over and spilling!

The result was delicious, although you have to be careful to keep the grill temperature low, so the sugars in the fig vinegar don’t burn too much ( a little charring is preferable, in my opinion…just don’t go overboard!).  Depending on the size of your tenderloin, the cooking time could vary from as little as 20 minutes, to as much as 45, so just be sure to check it fairly frequently.  I paired the meat with some grill-roasted green beans that I drizzled with some garlic-infused olive oil and sprinkled with salt.  Delicious—-and no inside mess to clean up!

Grilled Rosemary-Fig Pork Tenderloin

Serves 4

1.5 – 1.75  lbs pork tenderloin (one large or two small tenderloins)

2 rosemary sprigs, leaves stripped off and stem discarded

1 glove garlic, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup fig balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper

In a large ziplock bag, mix the rosemary leaves, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

Add the pork and seal bag securely.  Shake the bag around so all the meat is coated in marinade.  Allow to marinate in fridge for 1-2 hours (or on the countertop for up to 30 minutes).

Preheat grill to medium heat.  Place pork on hot grates and cook until meat begins to release from grates (this could be anywhere from 7-15 minutes depending on size of tenderloin).

Turn meat once or twice until it has nice grill marks on each side and internal temperature reaches 140 degrees.

Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Optional:  boil reserved marinade in a saucepan on the stove top until reduced to a syrupy sauce.  Serve over meat.  Note–never use marinade that has been in contact with raw pork unless it is thoroughly boiled first.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Blueberry-Banana Breakfast Smoothies

September 26, 2011

One positive thing about losing power for a few days was that I was forced to do a freezer-inventory.  There were quite a few things past their prime which were relegated to the trash.  I also made a few nice discoveries, like a container of homemade pesto that accidentally got pushed to the back of its shelf.  I was also reminded that I had a few bags of frozen blueberries we’d picked earlier in the summer.  They are perfect for pancakes and muffins, but also for smoothies!  By adding them to your blender frozen, they provide the ‘icy’ part of the smoothie without having to water down the flavor with actual ice cubes.

What I love most about these smoothies is that they are both healthy and delicious, and when made with Greek yogurt and calcium-enriched orange juice, they pack the 1-2 punch (protein & calcium).  I use fat-free plain yogurt, which is high in protein and calcium, low in sugar, and adds creaminess.  Don’t worry if you’re kids don’t care for yogurt—-it is undetectable when blended with all the flavorful fruit.

Blueberry Banana Smoothies

Makes 2 cups

1 cup frozen blueberries

1 small banana

1/2 cup plain, fat-free Greek yogurt (or substitute plain regular yogurt)

1/2 cup orange juice (I prefer calcium-enriched)

Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend for approximately 1 minute, or until thoroughly combined and thickened.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

“Greek” Guac

September 19, 2011

I looooooooove guacamole.  It leaves salsa in the dust any day of the week in my book.  avocados have a fair amount of fat, but it’s healthy, plant-based fat, rather than the artery-clogging animal-based fat.  Traditional guacamole is simple–mashed avocado, salt, a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, and perhaps some jalapeno and minced onion.  Some call for freshly diced tomatoes, others call for sour cream.  I’ve made it in a wide variety of combinations and I love them all.

On a recent night I was making fish tacos and had half of an avocado in my fridge.  Knowing that small amount wouldn’t be enough, I considered how I could ‘stretch’ it a little.  Non-fat Greek yogurt to the rescue!  By adding just a touch of the yogurt, it added creaminess, tang, and smoothed out the consistency of my guacamole.  Best of all, it adds some protein and calcium, which is an added bonus.  Even my all-things-green-skeptical children proclaimed it “mmmmm–delicious!”.

Serve with tacos, on top of a burger, or simply with tortilla chips (check out my easy homemade tortilla chip recipe here).

“Greek” Guacamole

Makes 1.5-2 cups

1 ripe avocado, peeled and diced

2-4 tablespoons non-fat plain Greek yogurt (adjust to taste/desired consistency)

1/4 cup minced red onion

1 lime, juiced

1/2 teaspoon cumin

salt and pepper

By hand, mash the avocado with a fork until creamy.  Add additional ingredients and continue to mash/stir until smooth.

In a food processor, add all ingredients to work bowl fitted with the metal blade and pulse until smooth.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Double Duty Dinner Ingredients

September 12, 2011

Most people who don’t do a lot of cooking say the main reason is because there simply isn’t enough time.  It’s much easier and faster to buy prepared foods, do take-out, or eat fast food.  This convenience also comes at a cost, both to your wallet, and I believe to your health.  Prepared and restaurant foods are often loaded with sodium, fat, and sometimes preservatives.   But back to the issue of time… especially with school and activities in full swing!

If you could cook only two or three nights a week but eat homecooked meals double the number of nights, wouldn’t you?  As a self-admitted efficiency freak, this is exactly what I aim to do.  When I’m doing my weekly shopping, I try to think of how many nights I plan to cook.  Then while at the store, I see what is fresh, what’s in season, and what is on sale and decide what my entrees will be.  I also try to double up on ingredients.  For instance, if I know I need cilantro for one recipe, I’ll choose to make something another night that also uses cilantro (this way you won’t use half of it, only to have the other half rot in the back of your fridge).  I also think about how I could make two dinners in one night so I can eat one, and save one for another evening.  Here’s an example of a recent week:

Monday:  pork chops on the grill, with my roasted red pepper salad on the side (photo right).  I roasted an extra pepper, plus a zucchini and a summer squash (all done on the grill) which I then chopped and used to assemble a simple lasagna. While prepping the lasagna, I shredded extra cheese for Thursday.

Tuesday:  veggie lasagna (photo above)—only needed to bake it and make a big salad (don’t dress it so you can put leftovers into an airtight container and use again the next nights)!

Wednesday:  Pork Carnitas (leftover pork from Monday, cut into pieces and wrapped in soft tortillas with prepared salsa and shredded chesse), and leftover salad.

Thursday:  pizza on the grill, using prepared dough and the leftover tomato sauce and mozzarella from the lasagna.  (When you grill pizza it takes less than 10 minutes!)  There was still some salad leftover, so we ate that too.

Friday:  a day of rest—we went out to eat!

With this plan, I cooked Monday, Tuesday I just threw the prepared dinner in the oven, and Wednesday and Thursday I used all my prepped items to make 2 super-fast meals that took no effort at all (and is MUCH quicker than take out, and tastier too!).  I even had a few extra grilled veggies and made myself a delicious veggie panini one day for lunch(photo above)!

The key is planning ahead.  I think you’d be amazed how just a little advance planning can make a world of difference.  Give it a try!

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Blood Orange Margarita

September 5, 2011

After the recent storm, we had been two days without power and a friend and I decided to escape to the movies (where they luckily did have power!).  Afterward we went out for a much-needed and well deserved cocktail.  She ordered, what else, but a Hurricane (a mixture of rums and pineapple juice, among other things), and I chose a Blood Orange Margarita on the rocks from the drink menu.  I couldn’t see exactly what went into it, but it was delicious.  The next night, when our power had returned, I thought I’d try to mix up one of those drinks on my own.  Amazingly, I had everything I needed to make it, despite the fact that blood oranges are not in season in early September.

Many speciality and higher-end grocery stores now carry a wide variety of Italian sodas.  Limonata and Aranciata are two of my favorites, but I recently bought a bottle of Blood Orange Soda.  Slightly sweet and carbonated, it is a refreshing drink on its own.  When mixed up with a few spirits… fabulous!  It even gave me a chance to open up the really nice bottle of tequila we received as a gift!  Cheers to that!

Blood Orange Margarita

3 ounces Italian Blood Orange soda

2 ounces tequila

1 ounce triple sec

Mix together all ingredients in a highball glass, top with ice and garnish with a slice of orange.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Late Summer Salsa

August 29, 2011

In late summer, tomatoes are at their peak, so I try to incorporate them into just about every meal.  On my sandwiches, in my salads, as a salad, or in this case, made into a delicious salsa.  I used this salsa on fish tacos, but it would be good on just about anything!  Grilled steak, scooped over some crisp greens, or even just with chips.  It’s easy and delicious!

I used a colorful combination of grape, pear, and cherry tomatoes because I like their shape and they are easy to work with.  Store tomatoes on your countertop at room temperature.  The cold refrigerator can impact their flavor, but if you cannot eat them within a few days, put them in the fridge for longer storage.  I also used an avocado, which adds a creamy texture and rich flavor to the salsa. When choosing an avocado, give it a little squeeze, and if your thumb can make a slight indent, its ripe (or nearly so).  If it’s hard as a rock, choose another one, or else store on your countertop until it softens.

Late Summer Salsa

Makes approximately 2-3 cups

1 pint grape, pear, or cherry tomatoes, cut in half or quarters

1 ripe avocado, diced

1/4 cup minced red onion

1 lime, juiced

olive oil (about 1 tablespoon)

salt & pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and serve as a dip, or over any grilled meat or fish.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Product Profile: Easy Brownies and Sweet Sprinkles

August 22, 2011

I love trying new products, especially when it comes to new foods!  On a recent trip to Trader Joe’s, it was so nice to see so many new products on the shelves.  One that caught my eye was the  “Ready to Bake Brownies“, which is basically pre-mixed brownie batter that you just pour into a pan and bake.  I’m a huge fan of their Truffle Brownie Mix (which I think is the closest to homemade that you’ll get without it actually being from scratch), so I figured this was worth a try.  Not that it is particularly difficult to mix up a batch of brownies, but particularly since I was just in a beach rental house for two weeks, I was thinking how convenient this would be to bring along to a place where you may not have eggs or vegetable oil readily available (this winter, think ski house apres-ski brownies!)

The verdict?  Well, the brownies couldn’t have been easier.  Just pour into a greased 8×8 pan and bake for 20-22 minutes.  As for taste, well, I don’t like them as much as I like the TJ’s Truffle Brownies, but they weren’t bad at all, especially considering they took all of 30 seconds to prepare for the oven.  I found them a little more cake-like than I prefer (I’m a chewy brownie fan), but based on how quickly my daughter’s group of girlfriends gobbled them up, they passed the taste-test.

The other new item I picked up was the “Sugar, Chocolate and Coffee Bean Grinder“.  I had to look at it for a minute or two to even figure out what it was, but I liked the name!  Basically, it’s a little pepper grinder filled with, no surprise, sugar, chocolate and coffee beans.  The label suggests grinding it over “cupcakes, coffee, tea, buttered toast, or ice cream…”.  Since I’d just picked up the brownie mix, I thought, “or brownies!”.   I spread some white vanilla frosting on a few of the brownies and ground away, and not only did it make a pretty topping, but gave the brownies a tiny bit of crunch and extra sweetness I loved.  I think it would also be great ground over a cappuccino or latte as an alternative to cinnamon.  Okay, it’s a bit of an indulgence item, but what the heck.  Live a little.

Testing these items certainly didn’t fit in with my post-vacation diet plan, but hey, it was ‘for work’!  Enjoy!

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

Late Summer Sangria

August 15, 2011

I have vivid memories of sitting at my grandparent’s dining room table, watching my grandfather slice a peach directly into his glass of red wine.  It was his one indulgence.  Just one glass a night, but he always savored it completely.  As a kid I remember thinking it was just one of my grandfather’s quirky ways, like putting salt on his salad, but as an adult I realize he knew what he was doing (on both counts)!

Fruit in wine is a wonderful treat any time of year, but when summer stone fruit is in season like right now, it’s extra delicious.  I made a great big batch of summer fruit sangria for a party over the weekend, and it’s about as simple as it gets.  I sliced up a combination of peaches, plums, an orange and a container of raspberries and combined it with a touch of sugar and three bottles of Spanish Rioja.  I let it macerate all day long, and then right before my guests arrived I added two liters of plain seltzer water to make it a little sparkly, light, and slightly chilled.  The result was delicious, and the perfect accompaniment to my chili-pepper-inspired menu.

Toss together a batch for your next party!

Summer Fruit Sangria

Serves 6-8

1 ripe peach, 2 ripe plums, and 1 orange, sliced thinly

1 small container  blueberries or raspberries

2 tablespoons of sugar

2 – 750 ml bottles red wine (any dry wine is fine, but I prefer Rioja or Temperanillo)

1 liter seltzer

Place all the fruit, sugar and wine in a large pitcher or glass container and allow to sit for several hours.  Right before serving, add cold seltzer, and if desired, a few handfuls of ice.  Serve and enjoy!

 

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

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