ZOKU Ice Ball

IceBall_OP_Main What It Is: Seems every restaurant has its signature drink on their menu. If you are on the ball, you can, too.  With any of your favorite drinks and unusual combinations, add a point of difference with your ice cubes. Enter the ZOKU Ice Ball that makes two baseball-sized spheres at a time.

Why We Like It: Yes, it’s cool (as in chic). And there’s more. The Zoku Ice Ball creates  a sphere of ice that can chill a variety of drinks and punches, alcoholic or non. Why have a large ball? The size and round shape helps keep your drink cold longer and melts more slowly, meaning less dilution. We like how easy the molds are to use: assemble the two parts, fill with water, and place in the freezer for eight or more hours. To release each frozen ball, simply twist the device and push out the ball with your finger. Also, the two molds are stackable to save space in your freezer. Berries, fruit slices, or herb leaves, such as mint, lemon verbena, lavender, or basil, can be added to the water for flavor or decoration prior to freezing.

Details: The Zoku Ice Ball is sold in a set of 2 molds. The red-and-white silicone molds are BPA free plus phthalate-free. Sold at amazon.com, zokuhome.com, and William Sonoma. Costs $17.

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Tool of the Month: Mango or Melon Scoop

1253180_Fruit Scoops

What It Is: Summertime and the living is great fresh fruit. Mangoes and melons are in abundance in the marketplace.  Scooping out melon seeds or removing mangoes from the skin is easy with the OXO Good Grips Scoop.

Why We Like It:  The bright color is easy to find in the gadget drawer. The  melon- or mango-colored plastic scoop of the spoon is attached to an ergonomic black, soft, comfortable handle, so well known by OXO Good Grips. The shape of the scoop slips easily between the fruit and skin of the mango or into the bowl of a half melon to scoop out seeds in an easy swoop. Once scooped, what to do with the fruit ?  Eat it plain or make into a salsa, see recipe below. Makes a great hostess gift with fresh fruit and/or homemade salsa.

Details: Sold as a  two-piece fruit scoop set:   orange , the larger, and green the smaller spoon, great for kiwi or avocado. Dishwasher safe on the upper rack. The pair sells for $10. Available at oxo.com or amazon.com

Mango Salsa

1 large ripe mango

Grated peel of one lime

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/3 cups sliced green onions

2 tablespoon fresh cilantro

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Slice the mango into thirds, discard seed.  Cut  the mango into cubes, scoop into a small bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss until well mixed. Serve with grilled chicken or pork. Makes 1-1/2 cups.

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Summer Mixed Grains BLT Salad

mixed grain salad1Mixing different whole grains together, all the rage, is an easy and nutritious way to spruce up summer salads. We have combined a purchased unseasoned mix containing Texmati rice, brown rice, whole wheat orzo, and chia seeds  with a summer favorite combo–bacon, lettuce, and tomato. The mix by Rice Selects is called Royal Blend With Chia and can be purchased at upscale supermarkets or at amazon.com. Or you can make the mix of grains yourself.

1 cup uncooked Royal Blend with Chia or Homemade Grain Mix*

2/3 cup olive oil

1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh garlic scapes or 1 clove garlic, crushed

1/4 cup snipped fresh dill

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup diced Persian cucumber or seeded and peeled English cucumber

4 slices bacon, crisp-cooked, drained, and crumbled.

Lettuce leaves

Sliced  red tomatoes and halved yellow cherry tomatoes

1. Cook rice mix according to package directions; let cool.

2. Meanwhile, combine oil, vinegar, garlic scapes or crushed garlic, salt, honey, and pepper in a screw-top jar; cover and shake well.

3. Combine cooled rice, cucumber, and dill in a bowl. Shake dressing; pour about half the dressing over the rice mixture. Toss well. Cover and chill 1 to 2 hours. (Can be made ahead and chilled up to 2 days.)

4. To assemble salads, line 4 salad plates with lettuce. Arrange 2 or 3 sliced tomatoes atop greens. Stir chilled rice. Spoon about 1/2 cup rice mixture over each serving. Place a few halved cherry tomatoes around rice. Sprinkle salad with crumbled bacon. Pass remaining dressing. Makes 4 servings.

*To make Homemade Grain Mix, combine the following raw grains: 1/4 cup Texmati or basmati rice, 1/4 cup quick-cooking brown rice, 1/4 cup whole grain orzo, and 1/4 cup chia seeds. Bring 2 cups water to boiling in a medium saucepan; add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir in grain mixture. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 18 to 20 minutes, or until grains are tender.



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Frosty Strawberry Torte With Blueberry-Vin Santo Sauce

strawberry torte5With this festive make-ahead dessert, you’ll be all set to celebrate the 4th of July. It showcases the holiday colors with a frozen strawberry filling and blueberry serve-with sauce. Of course, you can show your patriotism with this dessert for many other holidays–President’s Day, Veteran’s Day, Labor Day–or any time of year.

The filling starts with fresh fruit, sugar, and egg whites that amazingly whip together to chiffon lightness, then whipped cream is folded in and poured over a crumb crust in a springform pan and frozen. We used the new square Kuhn Rikon Push Pan as our springform and recommend it for easy removal of the pan’s sides.

For Crust:

2-1/2 cups almond biscotti crumbs (about 34 to 36 four-inch biscotti)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

6 tablespoons butter, melted

For Filling:

3 cups hulled and and sliced fresh strawberries

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 egg whites

1 tablespoon orange juice concentrate, thawed

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

1-1/4 cups whipping cream

For Sauce:

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 cups fresh blueberries

1-1/3 cups water

1/4 cup Vin Santo wine or Madeira

Fresh whole strawberries for garnish (optional)

Step 1: To make Crust: Break up the biscotti into a food processor bowl with metal blade. Process on pulse until fine crumbs form.

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Step 2: In a mixing bowl combine crumbs, the 1/4 cup sugar and melted butter until well combined.

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Step 3: Press crumbs into bottom and up part of the sides of a 9-inch square or round springform pan; set aside.

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Step 4: To make Filling: Mash sliced strawberries in a mixing bowl; stir in the 1/2 cup sugar and let stand 5 minutes. Place unbeaten egg whites, orange juice concentrate, vanilla, and salt in a large mixer bowl. Add strawberry mixture. Beat on low speed of electric mixer until frothy (for optimum volume, use the whisk beater if your mixer comes with one).

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Step 5. Continue beating strawberry mixture, gradually increasing to medium-high speed. Beat 6 to 8 minutes or until stiff peaks form. (Bowl will be very full.)

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Step 6: In another mixer bowl, beat whipping cream to soft peaks; fold into strawberry mixture until thoroughly combined.

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Step 7: Turn mixture into crust in pan.  Cover and freeze  several hours or overnight until firm.

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Step 8: Meanwhile, make Sauce: In a medium saucepan, stir together the 1/2 cup sugar and cornstarch; stir in blueberries and water. Cook and stir until bubbly. Cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes more. Stir in Vin Santo. Remove from heat. Cover surface with clear plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface. Cool to room temperature. (Can be made ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature to serve.) Makes 2 cups.

Step 9: To serve, loosen edges with a straight-edged spatula. Remove sides of springform pan. With a long, sharp knife, cut dessert through center to halve, then cut in 1-1.2-inch-wide cross-slices. Place on serving plates. Drizzle sauce over each serving. Garnish with fresh whole strawberries, if desired. Makes 12 servings.




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Dick’s Crumb Coffee Cake


If you’ve ever tasted New York-style crumb cake, you know it’s the generous crunchy-crumb topping that makes the cake so fab. Nan’s brother won first place in the coffee cake category with this recipe at the 2014 Florida Strawberry Festival cooking contest. Be sure to use cake flour; all-purpose will make the cake dry.

For Crumb Topping:

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, melted

3-1/2 cups cake flour

For Cake:

Nonstick spray coating

2-1/2 cups cake flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1-1/2 sticks (1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2/3 cup buttermilk

Confectioner’s sugar, for top

1. To make the Topping: In a medium bowl, stir together the 2/3 cup granulated sugar, the brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and butter. Add the 3-1/2 cups flour and stir until well combined; let stand 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a 13x9x2-inch baking dish with cooking spray. In a large mixer bowl, stir together the 2-1/2 cups flour, 1 cup granulated sugar, baking soda, and salt. With mixer on low speed, add butter one piece at a time, beating 1 to 2 minutes total, or until mixture makes small crumbs; do not overbeat. Add eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk; beat on medium-high speed about 1 minute, or until well combined and fluffy.

3. Pour batter into baking pan, spreading evenly. Using your fingers, break up crumb topping into large pea-sized pieces. Starting at outer edges, sprinkle crumbs over batter. Bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until cake tests done with a toothpick. Cool on wire rack at least 30 minutes. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving. Cut in squares to serve. Makes 12 to 16 servings. ( Serving with strawberries, optional.)

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iCoffee by Remington

remington steam brew

What It Is: The iCoffee by Remington is a stylish electric coffee pot that brews coffee using a dramatically different and innovative SteamBrew technology.

Why We Like It: Coffee lovers take notice. A cuppa java made in the automatic iCoffee tastes divine: full-bodied, rich in flavor, low in acid, and sans bitterness. It is that simple. Unlike a drip coffeemaker that sprinkles water over the coffee grounds, the patented brewing system first pre-steams the grounds, then uses hot water jets that further steam and swirl the grounds. Using a see-through window in the front of the machine, you can actually view the jets in action. With its fine-mesh, reusable filter, there is no need for paper filters; simply clean under cold running water or on the top shelf of your dishwasher. The efficiency of this coffee-making process means you will use about 15% less ground coffee than in drip machines. An extra uplift: this machine lulls you at the start and finish of the brewing process by playing a few bars from Mozart’s “A Little Night Music;” (there is a muting option).

Details: The iCoffee by Remington is a fully automatic electric, containing six rotational hot water jets, a brew-viewing window, reusable filter, and 12-cup glass carafe. It features a 24-hour digital clock, programmable timer, and auto shut-off with 2-hour keep-warm. A little crema or coffee essence may settle in the bottom of your coffee cup. An additional filter that can be positioned on the top of the glass carafe will filter this out if you prefer. Filters and carafe are dishwasher safe on the top shelf. Black plastic with chrome accents. Suggested retail: $170. Available at amazon.com.

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How to Cook An Artichoke


raw choke

raw choke

Artichokes are one of the delicious blessings of Spring and Fall. How someone first figured out how to eat this thistle, the bud of a flower of the globe artichoke, remains a mystery. But we are forever grateful. The slow process of savoring first the leaves, then the choke, creates an experience that is fun to enjoy with family or friends, and ideal for dieters as long as any serve-with dipping sauce is low in calories.

To shop for top-notch artichokes, pick ones that are heavy and firm for their size, with leaves that cling together on the head. Artichokes mar easily but that is not an indication of poor quality. Do avoid ones with soft, brown, or black areas on the body or stem. For best storage, refrigerate artichokes in your produce drawer; do not keep them in a plastic bag as this will encourage rotting.

Intimidation is often the reason many people have never tried to eat this wonderful vegetable. The best part, you eat the leaves with your fingers. Start by breaking off an outer leaf at the base with your fingers. Dip the base of the leaf in sauce, bite down on the fleshy part at the base, and pull it through your teeth. Keep eating the leaves until you get to a closed cone or purplish tipped leaves. Remove these feathery leaves, scoop out the fuzzy core with a spoon and discard. Finally, eat the base or the heart of the choke with a knife and fork.

4 large artichokes

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. To cook: Wash the chokes. Cut the stem end off the base of each artichoke and cut off the top quarter of the leafy portion. Rub the cut surfaces with fresh lemon to keep them from discoloring. With a pair of scissors, cut off the prickly ends of the leaves. Meanwhile, heat 1-inch of water and lemon juice to boiling in a nonreactive pan (stainless steel or enamel but NOT aluminum). Stand the prepared artichokes upright in the water; heat to boiling. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 30 to 40 minutes, or until the base of the choke is fork-tender. Drain. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the prickly center leaves from the artichoke with a teaspoon; discard.

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Serve with choice of sauces for dipping leaves, see below. Makes 4 servings.

Classic Lemon Butter

1/2 cup butter, melted

1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon peel

2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Melt the butter in a small saucepan; add the lemon peel and juice. Pour into four small dishes. and serve with cooked artichokes. Makes 1/2 cup.

Green Goddess Sauce

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup plain yogurt

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as a combination of dill, tarragon, basil, and parsley

Place all  of the dressing ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is creamy. Makes about 2/3 cup.






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Fine Grinds


What It Is: Making your own spice mixture is becoming popular because it puts you in total control: You make it fresh and mix the blend of seasonings to suit your taste. The Chef Pro Wet & Dry Grinder does the job quickly, and much more. It grinds dry goods such as nuts, seeds, or coffee beans to powdery texture. It does the same with wet ingredients to whirl up hummus,  guacamole, pestos, etc.

Why We Like It: Think of this as a mini-me blender for household use, with incredible versatility. The 12-ounce blending cup fits on a powerful 350-watt motor base, with a strong stainless steel blade for chopping (careful, it is sharp). A clear plastic cover provides visibility to view the grinding or chopping. The stainless steel in the cup is inert, preventing carry-over flavors from grinding to grinding. For instance, coffee beans do not pick up chile flavor from a prior grinding of hot chilies. We also love how well it performs for both dry ingredients, such as herbs and spices, and wet, such as salsas and sauces. Lovers of flax seed and other hard grains take note: Chef Pro grinds them easily as well.  For safety, the unit will not turn on unless the cover is lined up and locked in. Food should not be pulsed longer than 20 seconds at a time. The instruction booklet includes suggested times required for grinding different foods. Scrape out food with a silicone spatula.

Details: The Chef Pro Wet & Dry Grinder has three speeds: low, high and pulse. The 12-ounce stainless-steel cup and plastic cover are dishwater safe on the top rack. The motor is 350-watt.  Comes with a one-year limited warranty. Retails for $65 to $70 at amazon.com or chefprousa.com


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Slice of Life

wusthof bread knife

What It Is: Lovers of crusty, Euro-style breads, take notice. Simply put, this is the better bread knife. The Classic Double Serrated Bread Knife from premier German knife maker Wusthof is newly designed to make for easier, cleaner, more versatile slicing. It recently won the 2014 Housewares Design Awards for “Best in Category” for Cutlery and “Bronze” for the “Best of the Best.”

Why We Like It: We’ve made more than our share of crumbly messes trying to slice hard-crusted, breads. So if this knife can slice cleanly, and no more, we’d consider it a winner. In our testing, it cut those breads as hoped—with little crumbing—time and again. Decidedly sharper than other bread knives (handle it with care), this knife delivers multiple advantages due to its unique two levels of sharp serrations on the blade. You can also consider this more than a bread knife. It clean-slices both delicate foods, such as angel and chiffon cakes, and tough-skinned foods, such as melons and tomatoes. And we found that you can make thinner slicers of food more easily than ever. The inner serrations never touch cutting surfaces, leaving the blade sharper longer. Consider this quality knife a good investment that will last you for years of slicing.

Details: The 9-inch blade of the Wusthof Classic Double Serrated Bread Knife (model 4152/23) is made from a single piece of patented high-carbon, stain resistant metal alloy. It’s quality style includes a full tang with triple riveted handle. The newly designed handle is made of a durable synthetic material called Polyoymethylene (POM) that resists fading and discoloration. Made in Germany. Hand washing recommended. Suggested retail: $145. Available at amazon.com.

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Grapefruit-Avocado Salsa

grapefruit salsa2

Winter is grapefruit season, time to enjoy new ways to enjoy the fruit’s sweet-tart flavor. We’ve always loved the grapefruit-avocado combination in salads, so it seemed logical to combine the duo in a zesty fresh salsa. We especially like it served as an appetizer with seafood, such as shrimp, or as a entree topper for grilled or sauteed fish or chicken. If you’re serving a crowd, this recipe can easily be doubled.

1/2 medium grapefruit

1 small firm-ripe avocado, seeded, peeled, and diced (2/3 cup)

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 to 2 jalapeno chilies, seeded and finely chopped

1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons snipped fresh cilantro

1/4 teaspoon salt

Cut between grapefruit sections and membrane with a sharp knife to loosen sections; scoop out sections with a spoon. Dice sections (should have about 1/2 cup), reserving juices. Place in a small bowl with juices. Add remaining ingredients; gently stir to combine. Cover and chill up to 4 hours. Makes about 1-1/4 cups.



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