Cookie Culture

Today I am the guest blogger at a fabulous blog, Whisks and Words. Dana (aka – Whisks and Words) asked me to participate in her blog party cookie swap. Super cute idea, unless you’re me and you hate baking and don’t eat sweets. But I love Dana and her blog and writing self-effacing posts, so I did it. Check it out and subscribe to her blog; she’s way better than me about posting on a regular basis, and always has great recipes and reflections. Here’s a teaser of the cookies I made:

apple spiced caramel cookies

apple spiced caramel cookies

That being said, and because I’m sure you’ve gone to the link above and read my cookie post, I present to you another cookie recipe, but this one is baking Rachel style. I found this recipe on Pinterest, (via Six Sister’s Stuff) just like the one in the other post, and also saved it for the purpose of making them for co-workers and others at Christmas. But once I made these cookies and tried them for myself, I actually LIKED them, and made them again. And ate some of them. Shocking. But that’s how good they are. And I’m almost positive I don’t just like them because there are only four ingredients and like three steps. Seriously, this is all you need to make these cookies:

This is my kind of baking

This is my kind of baking

Mint Chocolate Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 box of chocolate devil’s food cake mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c. vegetable oil
  • 1 bag of andes mints OR mint truffle Hershey kisses

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the first three ingredients together until well combined. Scoop each cookie out with a large spoon or a cookie spoon works best, you want at least a tablespoon of dough for each cookie. Round out each cookie into a ball with your hands, make a small depression on the top of the cookie ball and place 2 inches apart on a parchment lined cookie pan (or use a baking mat).
  2. Bake about 7 or 8 minutes, no longer – you don’t want to overcook these. Take them out of the oven and place your mint kiss or Andes mint on top of each cookie, then put back into the oven for 30 seconds-1 minute. Remove from the oven, and with the back of a spoon or a butter knife, gently spread the mint (which will be melty) over the top of the cookie. Let the cookies cool on the sheet, then transfer the sheet to the fridge and let the mint chocolate glaze set before eating. Or eat them immediately like I did. Whatever.

mint cookies done

These are awesome. Seriously. This is now my go-to cookie. They are headache free. The hardest part was trying to find Andes mints, which are surprisingly scant. But the mint truffle Hershey kisses were actually great here in their place.  The second hardest part was not being able to share them with the dogs.

mint cookies and dog

Not really. These cookies are for me, dogs!

What is your favorite cookie around Christmas-time, or of all-time, for that matter?

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The root of it all

I just gave myself an award for the most clever blog title ever.

i ❤ beets

It is a shame, I realized, that this blog’s namesake has never really been examined thoroughly. I think in my very first blog post I may have posted a picture of a beet dish I had done, but I’ve never really delved into this amazing little root that inspired me to make this blog. There are a few reasons that beets are the thing I happen to heart. They are available locally, they are available at several times throughout the year and many people don’t like them. Why is that a reason to make beets the central theme of a blog? Because I think I can change people’s minds. I think a lot of foods out there that deserve our attention but suffer general distaste have just been presented wrong all this time. Like the poor Brussels sprout, which I will post about later . . .

Take, for instance, my husband who insisted he hated beets. So I asked in what format he had experienced beets in the past and he said either canned, pickled or boiled to death. Well, no wonder. He also hated Brussels sprouts for similar reasons. But there is a simple answer to both of these food fears and it is this: roasting. Roasting, which uses dry, indirect and diffused heat (such as an oven) increases flavor by caramelization and the Maillard browning reaction. Essentially, roasting enhances the sugars in foods through a process called pyrolysis, which I will not get into, because I barely passed chemistry. But here is what I do know: it makes food delicious. Especially foods like beets, which already have a high natural sugar content, just waiting to be released.

Beets are also so nutritious. Here are some facts from Nutrition and You about beets:

  • Beets are a rich source of phytochemical compound, glycine betaine. Betaine has the  property of lowering homocysteine levels within the blood. Homocysteine, a highly toxic metabolite, promotes platelet clot as well as atherosclerotic-plaque formation, which, otherwise, can be harmful to blood vessels. High levels of homocysteine in the blood result in the development of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and peripheral vascular diseases.
  • They are also a rich source of B-complex vitamins such as niacin (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5), pyridoxine (B-6) and minerals such as iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium.
  • The root has very good levels of potassium. 100 g fresh root has 325 mg of potassium or 7% of daily requirements. Potassium lowers heart rate and regulates metabolism inside the cells by countering detrimental effects of sodium.

And while us die-hard beet fans can eat a beet canned, pickled, boiled, grilled or anything else, for those skeptics out here, this is my GO-TO beet recipe. I’m not sure where it originated from…I think a friend may have suggested this method and I’ve just sort of made it my own over time, I’m not really sure. My hope is that you will love it enough to make it your own, adding, subtracting and substituting to your liking.

Roasted Beet Salad with Vinaigrette

Ingredients: Beets in vinaigrette

  • One bunch beets (as seen above)
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs vinegar of your choice (balsamiq, red wine, champagne, whatever you like)
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1 tbs dried herbs (Italian, Herbs de Provence, fresh or powdered garlic or whatever else you’d like)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Cut the beets off their stems and trim off the tops and the “tails” of each beet. Clean each beet so they are free of dirt. Wrap each beet in individually in tin foil and place in the pre-heated oven, directly on the center rack. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until each beet is easily pierced with a knife. 
  2. While the beets are roasting, create your vinaigrette. The most important thing to remember here is the a vinaigrette dressing always 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. You can use any combination or any measurement (tsp, tbs, cup, etc), as long as you keep that ratio the same. Pour your oil, vinegar, shallots, herbs, salt and pepper into a medium sized bowl and whisk until they are emulsified. Set aside until beets have finished roasting.
  3. When beets are easily pierced with a knife, unwrap from tinfoil and allow to cool. Take an old dishtowel and peel the beet’s skin off with the towel – if it’s roasted to completion, the skin should slide off easily. Do this with each beet.
  4. Cut each beet in half or in quarters, if large, and cut into thin slices. Re-whisk your vinaigrette so it is well blended, then add your beets to the bowl and toss to coat. Plate, then top each serving with a spoonful of feta cheese.
Trim and wash beets

Trim and wash beets

A well emulsified vinaigrette

A well emulsified vinaigrette

Beets

After roasting, remove skin with a dish towel

Served with Greek salad, crusty French bread a Pinot Grigio.

Served with Greek salad, crusty French bread a Pinot Grigio.

If you don’t like beets like this, then I grant you the right to dislike beets. But before you file them away in things that are gross and that you refuse to eat, please try this recipe. Please. Give beets a chance.

Note: these beets were purchased from Westside Produce and Provisions where they were sourced from New Earth Farms in the Pungo area of Virginia Beach, where they use sustainable and organic growing methods. 

Shop Locally

I write a monthly column for a local publication called Tidewater Women called “What’s in Season” (you can see all my other publications and press on my MORE BEETS page). The column usually just reviews whatever local produce is around that month, where you can get it and then a few recipes on what to do with it. But for December, I was inspired to write something more . . . well, inspired. More like my holiday mantra, if you will. The column is below, in it’s entirety and can be found in its original form on the Tidewater Women Website.

Shop Locally

The holidays are upon us, and there is no escaping them. As I contemplate what I love about the holidays, I must confess that shopping is not one of my favorite things. It isn’t that I hate giving people things or that I’m not generous. It’s just that the materialism of the whole thing really weighs me down. After my 15th trip to Target or my 5th Amazon order of the season, shopping just starts to feel meaningless. What is this stuff? Does the person I’m buying for need it? Where did my money just go? What multinational, billion-dollar corporation did I just stuff the pockets of?

I know I’m not the only person looking for a more meaningful way of giving, and so I offer up a solution: shop local. There are several reasons to shop local this season. The gifts are more likely to be unique or one-of-a-kind. Shopping local helps support your local economy. It helps support an artisan, farmer, producer, or craftsman, therefore ensuring that these members of our community have a better holiday season. Finally, the gifts will seem thoughtful and creative.

My 30+ person extended family does a Pollyanna-style gift exchange every Christmas, and last year the gift I contributed was a locally themed basket of goodies, which included goat’s milk soap, locally produced wine, jam, peanuts, and other items representative of Hampton Roads. My cousin Sara ended up getting the basket, and I told her if she didn’t like it, I would switch gifts with her. To my delight she loved it! She even texted me a few months later when her soap ran out, asking where she could buy more. She appreciated the thought, creativity, and uniqueness of the gift. She didn’t mind that it wasn’t the latest and greatest piece of technology or a gift card to her favorite store or that it didn’t hold the highest dollar value. The basket of locally sourced gifts meant way more than that because it represented a half a dozen family-owned companies or producers, all being supported by my local purchases.

Here are some great ways to shop local this season. Many farmers markets are holding special holiday markets including Old Beach Farmers Market on 19th street at the Oceanfront in the Croc’s parking lot, which will have a holiday market on December 15. Additionally the Portsmouth City Farmers Market will be open every Saturday through December 22, the Smithfield Farmers Market will be open for holiday markets on December 1 and 15, and the Virginia Beach Farmers Market on Dam Neck Road is open every day, year round.

Several retail outlets also carry locally produced items, such as Heritage Natural Market on Laskin Road, Westside Produce & Provisions on Colley Avenue, and any of Taste Unlimited’s six locations. You can also sign up for Coastal Farms Co-op, which sources products from over 50 area farms and producers and uses an online ordering system with weekly drop-offs all over Hampton Roads. A co-op membership or CSA subscription would also make a great gift for the person who has everything. And while there is not a lot of variety in fresh produce at the moment, there are still wonderful local food items that make great gifts—like fresh baked bread, homemade dried herb seasoning, jams and jellies, salsas, cheese, honey, peanuts, wine, and more.

So this holiday, skip the long lines at the store and start a shop-local revolution! The person on the receiving end of your gift is sure to be delightfully surprised and possibly inspired to support, shop, and give local themselves next year.
For more information on the markets and businesses listed above, visitwww.buylocalhamptonroads.org

Rachel Burns
 is the director of Buy Fresh Buy Local Hampton Roads. Visit 
www.buylocalhamptonroads.orgwww.facebook.com/buylocalhr, and www.twitter.com/buylocalhr.

Slow Cooker BBQ

I’m from North Carolina so naturally I am a huge fan of Barbecue. And while you can’t beat hardwood smoked whole hog, for most of us that is not an option in our own kitchens (although I am still trying to convince Jeremy that there is room beside the hot tub in the backyard for a full-hog sized smoker).  But there is another option and it comes in the somewhat unexpected form of a slow cooker. Yea, there are some hard-core BBQ fans out there that will tell you that if it’s not cooked over a real hard wood fire then it’s not technically barbecue, and on some historical points I will agree with them, but for all intents and purposes this recipe gets the job done. But make no mistake – while you don’t have to cook a whole hog in a split metal garbage pail over a hickory fire, you do have to commit yourself to two days of cooking, although most of it is pretty hands-off. You also have to commit yourself to your house smelling like pork for two days. Something I do not mind at all, but which some of you may find displeasing.

Step 1: Purchase a pork shoulder. These are also often called pork picnics, or pork butts. I usually go for a 3-4 pounder because I’m not looking to cook for a huge crowd. Go bigger if you need to, just make sure it will still fit inside your slow cooker.

Step 2: The night before you want to eat the Q, put the shoulder into the crock pot with at least a liter of cola or as much as you need to just about cover it. You can use any kind of cola. I used Dr. Pepper, but I’ve also used R C Cola, Coke, Pepsi, whatever. Turn the cooker on low and let it sit overnight.

Step 3: In the morning, remove the pork from the cola, pour the cola out and wipe out your slow cooker crock. The pork will be falling apart, so make sure you get all the meat out before you toss the cola (IE- don’t throw the pork baby out with the bath water). Let the pork cool for a bit, then begin to remove as much of the fat as you can from the meat. This will require tearing the meat into large chunks. (See photo collage, upper right hand corner). Once you’ve gotten as much fat off as possible (and bones if you’ve purchased a bone-in shoulder), put the meat back into the crock pot and shred with two forks until you’ve reached the consistency and chunkiness you like. You can also chop the meat after it’s shredded if you like that texture better. Chopped vs. Pulled is a completely personal preference; the value of one over the other I will not weigh in on although many people have strong opinions here.

BBQ Collage

Step 4: Make your sauce. This is where personal preferences turn into regional BBQ wars. You are certainly welcome to go to the store, buy a pre-made jar of BBQ sauce and dump it onto your meat at this point. That is totally fine if you have a particular brand that you really enjoy. However, I have never ever ever purchased a sauce from the store that adequately represented real Eastern Carolina BBQ Sauce, so I make my own. I cannot even begin to give you real measurements of anything, but I will tell you it includes a little to a lot of the following things: apple cider vinegar, molasses, red pepper, black pepper, hot sauce, salt, garlic and onion powder, ketchup, and (secret ingredient alert!) liquid smoke. Yup. If you can’t cook it over real smoke and enjoy that hard-charred meat bark, liquid smoke will at least give you a hint of that flavor. The sauce I make looks something like this when I’m done:

Eastern Carolina BBQ Sauce

Secret Sauce

Possibly not at all like the BBQ sauce you know and love. Again, this is very regional. If you love some KC Masterpiece, I’m not judging (yes I am), just use that instead and sauce it to your liking. It should look something like this, or like something completely different if you’re using a different kind of sauce:

NC Style BBQ

This is what Eastern NC sauced BBQ looks like.

Step 5: Leave the meat in the crock pot with the sauce on low during the day. When you’re ready for dinner, check the meat, see if it needs any more sauce, then serve how you like. Again, this could be a multitude of ways, but I see no reason why you wouldn’t want it on a soft bun with home made coleslaw and a good dose of hot sauce:

BBQ Sandwich

Heaven.

I’ve taken this BBQ to several events and never get less than a dozen compliments on it. Even though it takes a good 20 hours, it’s worth it, and really is very very easy when you break it down. And the more you make it, the better you’ll learn how you like your sauce, or you’ll come up with other fun combinations. I’ve seen a recipe done like this but instead of BBQ sauce, a Cuban marinade was used, then the pork was made into Cuban sandwiches with ham and pickles and oh jeez, that’s going to have to be another blog . . .

What is your favorite kind of BBQ? Tennessee? Texas? Arkansas? Western NC? Let’s fight about it!

Return of the Ramen

I hated Ramen growing up. My sister used to eat top ramen what seemed like every day and then one day my dad told me the noodles were worms and that was IT for about 10 years. Then…I went to college. And I became a vegetarian. And a broke college student. Enter: my wormy Ramen nemesis. It doesn’t matter how much you detest something…if it’s .15 cents a package, it’s hard to deny. So I started experimenting with it and seeing if I could make it taste like something besides just noodles and it worked. I discovered all kinds of combinations that included adding frozen peas, shrimp (I ate seafood), tofu, onions, spices, sauces, and so on. And Ramen became a thing I could eat again without gagging a little bit. However, I will only eat the “Oriental” flavored ramen, I still think the others are pretty gross.

Lately, I’ve just wanted soup. Just brothy, simple, hot hot hot soup. So I pulled an old college grocery store trip, got four packs of Ramen for $1 (you used to be able to get at least 5 for $1- sheesh, this inflation is out of control!), a pack of extra-firm tofu and a bundle of green onions. I brought it home, cooked the soup according to the directions, adding a quarter of the block of tofu, diced into small cubes, in at the end with the flavor packet. Then I added a healthy splash of Sriracha sauce (I like my soup spicy!), and a little hoisin sauce. Then I topped the bowl with two green onions, snipped up with a pair of kitchen shears.  I realize this is no great culinary genius, but man was it exactly what I wanted.

Ramen

Tastes like College.

I’m definitely glad I don’t have to eat this several times a week anymore, but it’s still pretty yummy. And filling!

Here are some other combinations to try:

  • Oriental ramen packet cooked, add snow peas, shrimp and crushed mint or basil
  • Oriental ramen packet cooked, add a splash of coconut milk, bean sprouts, cilantro and ginger
  • Chicken ramen packet cooked, add canned or freshly shredded chicken, onions and a little cheese
  • Beef ramen packet cooked, add cooked meatballs and frozen, canned or fresh mixed veggies (corn, carrots, beans, peas)
  • Cook ramen noodles without adding spice packet. Drain noodles and use in pasta salad, or mixed into a cold bean salad, or drizzle with olive oil and top with fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil for a caprese ramen salad

Also, for the ramen lover in your life, this spork is obviously necessary.

ramen spork

Genius.

Too bad my sister didn’t have that back in 1992….