A homemade Starbucks pesto spread? Kind of…

Ok, I know the food at Starbucks is a little on the pricey side. But everyone has at least one favorite item from the illuminated case. Mine? The Turkey Pesto Baguette, hands down. However, the last time I slapped down that $6.75 (or is it $7.45?) , I arrived at a crucial decision: Figure out how to duplicate their delectable pesto spread – and don’t forget those dried cranberries. Hence, I present you my version, which also pairs nicely with bagel chips, Wheat Thins…pretty much anything you’d like to add some oh-so-worth-it calories to.

Turkey Pesto Spread, ala Starbucks

  • 8 oz. whipped cream cheese
    12 basil leaves, washed with stems trimmed
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Dried cranberries as desired

Mix cream cheese, basil, garlic powder, and salt in food processor until cream cheese is smooth and basil appears minced (about 30 pulses, or 45 continuous seconds). Spread desired portion (I think Starbucks uses about 2 tbs.) on baguette sandwich, topping with cranberries as desired. Transfer unused portion to storage container.

                                                                                                              

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Cornbread

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Some people may enjoy a dry bite of traditional cornbread, such as Mark Lowry, who believes that “Sugar in the cornbread is cake. When you bite into cornbread, it’s supposed to suck 90% of the moisture out of your body.” But for those who have a sweet tooth, and wish to retain their body’s hydration, this recipe is for you!

-1 cup corn meal

-1 cup flour

-2/3 cup sugar

-1 tablespoon baking powder

-1/2 teaspoon salt

-1/3 cup oil

-2 eggs, beaten

-1 1/4 cup milk

-3 tablespoons margarine

Combine wet and dry separately, then mix together. Pour into a greased 8″*8″ pan. Bake in the oven at 425 degrees for 25 minutes.

Surrounded by Snow-Line’s Cider Apple Doughnuts

As I walk in to work at Snow-Line in Oak Glen, CA, the apple cider doughnut scent that normally invites customers and lures business to this rustic barn-turned shop instead turns my stomach and squishes up my nose. It’s not that the doughnuts are anything but scrumptious; it’s simply that working full shifts constantly surrounded by the mixed smell of sugar and cooking oil can get a little old after the second day. And while you can have as many of the sugary treats as you want when working, most of us workers only resort to snacking on them when we forget our lunch. But for those not working behind the doughnut counter, the aroma of apple cider doughnuts rolling off the fryer is irresistibly tantalizing.

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photo from Snow-Line.com

And the people keep coming for those doughnuts from all over with good reason. Even the well-know southern-California PBS personality Huell Howser has visited and devoured a number of doughnuts packaged by the dozens in sleek paper white bags. Some of the visitors to Snow-Line may come to catch a glimpse of Huell Howser, but they stay for the doughnuts. The entire season I worked up at Snow-Line, only a handful of customers insistently argued that these doughnuts were anything but absolutely delicious.

The fresh, made-on-the-spot apple cider mixed into the dry ingredients provides an extra something-special to the ordinary sugary doughnut, while the cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top of the warm doughnuts sweetens up the treat even more.

Snow-Line may be only one of many little shops up in Oak Glen selling fresh apple cider (although they add an extra twist to the typical cider by adding cherry and raspberry flavoring), cutesy gifts, and various apple season items, but they are the sole provider of the apple cider doughnuts. And those doughnuts are something that, given the chance, you do not want to miss. So the next time you happen to be remotely near Oak Glen during the apple season of September to November, be sure to taste Snow-Line’s right-off-the-fryer, extraordinary deliciousness, apple cider doughnuts.

~Kristin Walder, 3/28/08

Pineapple Chicken, Better Homes and Gardens Feb. 2008

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I love the simplicity of BHG recipes. But if you’re a complex person like me, you may find it necessary to add your own complicated touch to easier formulas. So, my version of this recipe (just a slight alteration to the measurements and method) appears below. However, if you’re a by-the-book type (BOOO!), the original can be found here. My version (I figured, why not change the name too?) is as follows:

Coconut Curry and Pineapple Chicken over Rice

6 boneless/skinless chicken thighs

1 tsp. curry powder

1 tsp. garlic powder

¼ tsp. salt

2 tbs. olive oil

1 sweet red pepper, cut into strips

1 pineapple, peeled, cored, cut into strips

1 serrano pepper, cut into thin strips

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk (or light coconut milk)

2 tbs. packed brown sugar

5 cups cooked brown rice

1. Sprinkle chicken with curry powder, garlic powder, and salt. In 12-inch skillet or wok, heat oil, add chicken, and brown on both sides (one minute per side). Reduce heat to medium-high and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove chicken from skillet and set aside. Drain off fat, reserving apx. one tbs. in skillet).

2. Add sweet pepper, pineapple, and serrano peppers to skillet. Sautee for two minutes over medium-high heat. Return chicken to skillet; add coconut milk and brown sugar. Bring to a boil uncovered. Reduce heat to simmer and cook uncovered for 20 minutes (sauce will thicken as mixture cools). Test chicken for doneness, remove from heat. Serve over cooked rice. Makes 6 servings.

– Brook Flagg 4/3/08

The Perfect Hamburger

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Forthcoming sticky summer days, and lounging with friends and family in the backyard in the early evening, invite an all-American meal with the hamburger as the focal point. But sometimes a would-be tasty hamburger turns into a burnt patty topped with wilted lettuce and a soggy bun. However, those hamburgers won’t be the result if you follow some expert advice on how to cook the perfect hamburger. Stephen Ruck, a three-year professional hamburger cook at In-N-Out, one of California’s most renowned burger authorities, would of course have the expertise needed to help all wannabe hamburger chefs. he continues to cultivate and practice his expertise by cooking in his spare time for friends and family.

According to Ruck, the two key hamburger tips to remember are: freshness and quality meat. Without these important elements, you can still have a good hamburger–but not a great one.

Everything that the hamburger is composed of should be straight from the garden. Ruck recommends the freshest produce: plump, firm tomatoes, hand-leafed lettuce, onions, buns, never-frozen hamburger meat, and 100% American Grade A cheese. According to Ruck, “Wilted, soggy, mushy, and wrinkled ingredients are the worst injustice you can give to the all-American hamburger.”

The amateur cook’s temptation is to slap a fat hamburger patty on the grill until it is well-charcoaled.  Ruck gives a few key suggestions that can increase your chances of making the patty into a succulent and juicy burger. First, the meat should be of Grade A quality, and don’t use frozen patties–remember that freshness is essential. When forming the burger into a slim eighth of a pound patty, shape it so that the center is thinner than the edges, since that part takes the longest to cook. To cook, an In-N-Out secret is to place the patties onto a griddle or a frying pan that will simulate a griddle (rather than a grill) for even distribution of the heat, rather than the random cooking of flames, and season with a salt and pepper mixture.

Cook at 375 degrees until the patty begins to bubble, for exactly a minute and 20 seconds. Immediately flip the patty and apply the cheese. Ruck recommends folding over a fifth of the standard cheese square for both presentation and taste appeal, a leftover habit he developed from working at In-N-Out. At this point, the hamburger should only remain on the griddle for another three minutes, placing the top bun on top of the patty at the last minute.

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Once the patty has finished cooking, you’re ready to stack the burger ingredients. And Ruck even has a certain way of doing that. Your choice of dressing of course goes on the bun first. It could be: barbecue sauce, Thousand Island, mayonnaise, ketchup, or mustard (although the strong flavor of mustard can overpower the flavor of the meat. Because of the flat nature of the onion and tomato slices, they should go on next to balance the remaining ingredients. Compress and place the lettuce on top, then complete with the bun-topped patty and cheese.

Ruck even advises on the proper way to eat the completed hamburger–start with the double-layered cheese side first, and gobble your way through the remainder of the burger, making sure that every bite includes a taste of each ingredient for ultimate satisfaction of your great hamburger. He has a special way of making hamburgers, but there is one thing that he says, upon which every cook can agree: “In the end, it’s the freshness of ingredients that makes the biggest difference.”

~Kristin Walder 4/1/08

“Ultimate Recipe Showdown” – Promising or Pipe Dream?

With the March 31st deadline for entries into season two of Food Network’s “Ultimate Recipe Showdown” looming overhead, I have to ask: “Have you entered yet?”

Unlike many high stakes cooking competitions that put off serial entrants like myself with their elitism and loyalty to below-par recipes (Pillsbury Bake-off, anyone?), something about this one seems unthreatening– even familiar. In spite of the show’s over-the-top production, and strangely annoying banter between normally likeable hosts Marc Summers and Guy Fieti, “Ultimate Recipe Showdown” is kind of like a comfortable pair of shoes. Why?  Perhaps the reason is because, for some of us, everything about the Food Network – its shows, its hosts, and even its recipes – are like extended family.  Sure, they get on our nerves, but they’re predictable, and they offer us stability. 

The homey, unintimidating categories are a welcome change from other contests as well. For example, Season Two includes “Thanksgiving,” “American Hometown Favorites,” and wide-open “Cheesy Recipes” categories.  Even the entry form is…well, easy.  A “tell us about yourself” box?  “Describe” the preparation (as opposed to listing the steps in tightly edited sentence fragments)?  Wait a minute; is this about personality, or food? Either way, you have some flexibility here: If your recipe ‘aint so grand and you know it, rest assured that you can use the 10,000 characters you are allotted to turn on the charm, and then hope for the best.

Although the Season One contestants include several well-known past cooking contest  winners (so far, I’ve counted Camilla Saulsbury, Catherine Wilkinson, and Jenny Flake), I’ve been given a brave new hope because of “Ultimate Recipe Showdown.”  Maybe, just maybe, this show is my chance.  So, what about you?  Did you enter for Season One, will you enter for Season Two– or is this whole thing just another Food Network ploy to make normal folks like us believe we can actually cook as well as Bobby Flay?  That reminds me: “Throwdown” is about to start.

 Brook Flagg 3/28/08