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Archive for October, 2012

BOOK: 50 Simple Soups For The Slow Cooker

Make exciting soups in a slow cooker. Photo
courtesy Andrews McMeel Publishing.


Do you want to make your own soups but don’t have the time?

Make them in a slow cooker. Lynn Alley’s book, 50 Simple Soups For The Slow Cooker, is a treasure trove of delectable recipes. No slow cooker? You can use a rice cooker instead.

“Simple” soups are simple to make, but big in flavor. Some of the 50 recipes include:

  • Blue Cheese Potato Soup
  • Curried Butternut Squash Soup
  • Eggplant Soup With Cumin, Yogurt & Dill
  • Pasta e Fagioli Soup
  • Spanish Potato And Green Olive Soup

    There are also family favorites from black bean soup and corn chowder to French onion soup and minestrone. Global recipes range from Greek avgolemmono and Middle Eastern hummus soup to Japanese miso soup and Mexican posole.

    Every recipe looks so good, we’re going to start at the beginning and work our way through. At one soup per week, that’s almost a year’s worth.



    This easy-to-prepare seasonal soup can be enjoyed as a conventional soup course, as as a small “intermezzo” between the appetizer and main course (serve it in espresso cups or other small vessels) or as a dessert course—again, in a small cup as part of a larger dessert, or in a regular bowl.

    Prep Time: 15 minutes
    Cook Time: 4 hours
    Yield: Serves 4 to 6


  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 6 cloves
  • 6 allspice berries

    Apple pie soup: familiar and delicious. Photo courtesy Andrews McMeel Publishing.

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 5 large Granny Smith apples, quartered, cored, and sliced
  • 5 cups water
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons honey (optional)
  • 1/2 cup Greek-style yogurt or sour cream (we used fat-free Greek yogurt)

    1. GRIND. Using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, grind the cinnamon, cloves and allspice to a fine powder.

    2. COOK. Place the butter and apples in a 7-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 2 to 3 hours, until the apples are soft and the juice nice and browned. Mash any large pieces of apple, then add the water, spices, and raisins and continue cooking for 2 hours longer.

    3. ADD. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice and honey. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top with the yogurt or sour cream. The tartness of the yogurt is a nice counterpoint to the sweet apples and raisins.

    Find more of our favorite soup recipes.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Sugar-Free Candy Apples

    Bright red candy apples are an iconic Halloween treat—except for people who can’t have sugar.

    To the rescue is White House pastry chef Bill Yosses. Here’s his recipe for sugar-free candy apples, made with Splenda.

    Perhaps they’re what Sasha and Malia will be enjoying today.

    Find more of our favorite sugar-free treats.

    Many people in the areas struck by Hurricane Sandy will not be enjoying Halloween today. Our thoughts go out to everyone who has lost loved ones, homes and businesses to this devastation.


    Sugar free candy apples. Photo courtesy Splenda.




    RESTAURANT: Empire Room At The Empire State Building

    It could be a 1930s movie set. Photo courtesy Empire Room | NYC.


    Soaring more than a quarter of a mile above the heart of Manhattan, the Empire State Building is an Art Deco masterpiece and perhaps the world’s most famous office building.

    On May 1, 1931, President Herbert Hoover pressed a button in Washington, D.C., which turned on the Empire State Building’s lights and officially opened the now-iconic building.

    Observatories on the 86th and 102nd floors offer unmatched views of New York City to some four million visitors each year. On a clear day, they can see to New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

    But what about lunch, before or after the observation decks? The Empire State Building is surrounded by fast food outlets and Irish bars—not exactly the type of ambiance one craves after the high of spectacular views.


    Thank goodness for the Empire Room. On the ground floor of the West 33rd Street side of the building, the space, which opened two years ago designed as a 1930s-era swanky cocktail lounge, is now serving lunch.

    The menu comprises classic American luncheon favorites: popular sandwiches, flat breads and panini; salads; and a chicken breast with sautéed mushrooms, Swiss cheese, bacon and honey Dijon. For a bargain $3.00, you can add a glass of wine or a beer; or a more pricey but delicious house-designed cocktail.

    We lunched there recently and wanted to try everything on the menu. We ended up with an excellent starter (chili, a special house recipe with flavors deepened by 100% cacao chocolate and a pinch of cinnamon), the chopped salad main course (top-quality feta cheese, garbanzo beans, roasted peppers, tomato, onion and grilled shrimp) and a delightful miniature cheesecake.

    The highest compliment we can pay is that we would gladly have returned to eat the same meal for dinner. At our earliest opportunity, we’ll be back for more.


    The 3,500 square feet of brushed stainless steel, curved marble bar, tufted banquettes, glass-topped tables and Art Deco chandeliers looks like a movie set. It accommodates up to 150 guests and is often rented for private parties.


  • The official address of the Empire Room 350 Fifth Avenue, which is between 33rd and 34th Streets. If you enter through the main entrance, you’ll have to perambulate through the Art Deco lobby.
  • If you’re coming from downtown, you can save a bit of walking by turning left on Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street (or a right from Sixth Avenue) and walking down the block to the entrance of the restaurant.

    A popular cocktail lounge, the Empire Room now serves lunch. Photo courtesy Empire Room.

  • The hours are 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Walk-ins are welcome, but for a reservation call 212.643.5400.
    For more information about the Empire Room, visit



    PRODUCT: Wall Herb Garden

    Would you like a kitchen herb garden, but lack the necessary windowsill space?

    Pick up a Living Wall planter from It’s available in seven colors.

    All it needs is a wall space that’s 13 inches x 18 inches.

    Fresh basil, dill, parsley and other favorites will soon be yours for the snipping!


    Plant herbs on your wall. Photo courtesy Wooly Pocket.




    TIP OF THE DAY: Pumpkin Spice Latte & Latte Art

    Make a pumpkin spice latte at home. Photo
    courtesy Krups.


    Want to develop latte art skills? All you need is a steady hand, some perfectly foamed milk, and of course, practice!

    For Halloween and the Thanksgiving season, try this Pumpkin Spice Latte recipe, courtesy of Krups.

    Here’s the simple recipe; the technique for making latte art is below.



  • 2 fluid ounces espresso coffee
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin flavored syrup (see our
    recipe for pumpkin simple syrup)
  • 1/2 cup milk, steamed
  • 1/8 cup frothed milk
  • 1 pinch pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder
  • Preparation

    1. In a coffee mug, combine espresso coffee with flavored syrup.

    2. Pour in steamed milk and frothed milk and sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon and vanilla powder.



    Now it’s time to try your hand at latte art. You’ll need a steaming pitcher—the kind that comes with espresso/cappuccino machines—or a milk frother shown in the photo, from Krups, which creates smooth, velvety milk foam at the touch of a button.

    Step 1: Pour enough cold milk for one cup into the steaming pitcher. Steam milk with the wand deep in the pitcher, then directing the milk in a counterclockwise fashion until the liquid heats to 150°F. Or, simply push the button on a milk frother.

    Step 2: Allow the milk to sit while you add one or two shots of freshly brewed espresso to a coffee mug. Use a conventional mug with curved sides; the art doesn’t work well with squares and other shapes.

    Step 3: Swirl the milk vigorously. If you see any bubbles, tap the pitcher on the counter several times and go back to swirling the milk for 20 to 30 seconds.

    Step 4: Slowly start pouring the milk into the espresso, first in a circular pattern around the edge of the cup. Slowly move toward the center as the foam rises.


    A milk frother makes perfect steamed milk in seconds. Photo courtesy Krups.

    To create a leaf pattern: When your cup reaches half full, the foam will start to rise. Move the pitcher backwards as you pour, while moving the mug from side to side. The motion of your hand creates a leaf pattern in the top of your latte. When you reach the end of the cup, pour a small stream of milk right through the middle of the leaf pattern. Beware of using a large amount of milk; it will scatter the design.
    To create a heart pattern: Shake your hand as you would in making leaf. However, instead of moving backwards, keep your hand in the same general area, focusing on making a ringed circle.


    Here’s a video demonstration of how it’s done.

    Find more of our favorite coffee recipes and pounds of coffee information in our Gourmet Coffee Section.



    COCKTAIL RECIPE: Pumpkin Passion & Types Of Rum

    Drink a Pumpkin Passion for dessert. Recipe
    and photo courtesy Frangelico Hazelnut


    For Halloween, Thanksgiving or any time in-between, try this rum-and-vodka-based cocktail, enhanced with hazelnut liqueur and homemade pumpkin simple syrup. You can also use the syrup for pumpkin lattes, pancakes, and mixed with carbonated water for a seasonal pumpkin soda.


    Ingredients For One Drink

  • 1-1/4 ounce Frangelico Hazelnut Liqueur
  • 1-1/4 ounce Flor de Caña 7 year Grand Reserve Rum
    (or other dark rum)
  • 1/2 ounce pumpkin simple syrup (recipe below)
  • 1/4 ounce vanilla vodka
  • Garnish: whipped cream, plain or Frangelico-flavored, and ground cinnamon (see Frangelico whipped cream recipe below)

    1. Place all ingredients except garnish in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass rimmed with brown sugar.

    2. Top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.



  • 1/2 cup pumpkin purée (purée canned pumpkin)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar

    1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.

    2. Remove from heat and allow to completely cool.

    Enjoy this flavored whipped cream with chocolate, coffee, nut, pumpkin and vanilla desserts. See more flavored whipped cream recipes.

  • 1 cup heavy cream, chilled
  • 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon Frangelico

    1. Chill the bowl, beaters and cream thoroughly before beginning. Using an electric mixer, whip cream, sugar, and vanilla on medium-low speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form.

    2. Add Frangelico and continue to beat until stiff but still creamy. Makes about 2 cups.



    Rum is distilled in the Caribbean from sugar cane juice or molasses. The better rums are made with high-quality molasses, which contains a higher percentage of fermentable sugars and a lower percentage of chemicals.*

    There are different styles of rum, based on factors such as distillation technique, blending technique, alcoholic content and country style preferences. One of the easiest differentiators to understand is aging.

  • Light rum/silver rum/white rum/clear rum/crystal rum. Light rum is aged briefly or not at all. It has the least flavor, and can be filtered to remove any color. Light rum is typically used for mixed drinks.
  • Gold rum/oro/amber rum. This medium-bodied rum is generally aged in wooden barrels. Wood aging imparts a darker color (from the wood tannins) and a stronger, more complex flavor to any spirit. Gold/amber rum can be used for cocktails or sipped straight.

    Flor de Caña 7-year-aged rum is delicious for sipping or mixing. As you can imagine, the 12-year-old is even better! Photo courtesy Flor de Caña.

  • Dark rum/black rum.† A grade darker than gold rum, dark rum is generally aged longer and in heavily charred wood barrels, for even stronger flavor and roundness (the highly regarded 7-year-old Flor de Caña, for example, has a palate of dark caramel and toasted nuts and a toasted coconut finish; the 12-year-old is almost semisweet, with flavors of nougat, almond, molasses and sherry and a peppery spice and caramel finish). Because of the flavor, dark rum is typically used in recipes.

  • Cachaça. Cachaça (ka-SHA-suh) is a sugar cane distillate made in Brazil, in the style of gold or dark rum. It is the ingredient used in the popular Caipirinha (kai-puh-REEN-ya),cocktail. More about cachaça.
    Rum production is much more complex, with many choices made by the distiller to produce a specific flavor profile. Here’s a good overview of exactly what goes in to making the different types of rum.
    *The chemicals, which are used to extract sugar crystals from the sugar cane, can interfere with the actions of the yeast that fermentat the molasses into rum.

    †Black rum is so-named for its color; brown rum and red rum are dark rums described by their colors.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Turn Use Single-Purpose Appliances Into Multi-Purpose Appliances

    One of our friends won’t buy any appliance or gadget that has a single use. As a result, she has no bread maker, no fondue pot, no waffle iron.

    We emailed her this article from Caifornia-based writer Katie Waldek. She has figured out how to make those single-purpose appliance into multi-purpose ones:

    Bread Maker. Think outside the loaf to other dough-based foods: bagels, pasta dough, pizza dough, pretzels and tortillas. You can also use your bread maker to make jams and chutneys: Many models even have that setting built in, says Waldek.

    Electric Fondue Pot. An electric fondue pots can easily double as a deep fryer, says Waldek. You can control the temperature without needing a thermometer. If you’re making a big dinner and run out of burner space on the stovetop, you can use it to heat soup, boil water, etc.


    This Aroma rice cooker also functions as a slow cooker. Photo courtesy Aromma.


    Pasta Maker. Use it to roll out fondant, phyllo dough, pie crusts and wonton wrappers.

    Rice Maker. Use it to make other grains and pulses, from amaranth, beans and lentils to quinoa. Cook oatmeal and other hot cereals, polenta and soups. Your rice maker also works as a steamer for dumplings, fish and seafood, meats, potstickers, tamales and vegetables. The Aroma ARC-1000 Professional Series 20-Cup Sensor Logic Rice Cooker is also designed to double as a slow cooker (great idea!).

    Waffle Iron.W Use it to make French toast, hash browns, latkes, falafel, panini and quesadillas. On the highest setting, it can make a pizza.
    If you have additional ideas, let us know!



    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Krave Gourmet Jerky

    One of eight delicious flavors of Krave
    gourmet jerky. Photo courtesy Krave.


    Jerky was created in prehistoric times, as people endeavored to preserve their fresh-killed meat without benefit of coolers. They dried the meat in the sun.

    Today’s jerky makers use ovens; and if you’re Krave Jerky, you double-marinate the meat and slow bake it into melt-in-your-mouth tenderness.

    Then there’s the flavor, or rather, eight of them, divided among beef, pork and turkey jerky: Basil Citrus, Chili Lime, Curry, Garlic Chili, Honey Chipotle, Lemon Garlic, Pineapple Orange and Smoked Teriyaki.

    In other brands these flavors might not be so appealing; in Krave Jerky, they’re masterful. They’re the very definition of gourmet jerky.

    Check out the full review and try a sampler. You’ll likely return for stocking stuffers and other holiday gifts.

    Discover how wonderful fine jerky is with a beer, glass of wine, Bloody Mary or Martini. And take a look at recipes on the company website that use jerky as an ingredient: from blue cheese dip and bruschetta to chicken and artichokes.


    If you’re inspired, watch this video to see how easy it is to make jerky at home. Although without the secret recipe, we can’t vouch for it tasting as good as Krave Jerky.

    Find more of our favorite jerky products and other savory snacks.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Wedding Cake & Matching Cupcakes

    We’ve been to quite a few weddings and other events where cupcakes have replaced a traditional tiered cake.

    We love cupcakes, but miss seeing a cake.

    Yummy Cupcakes of greater Los Angeles (Brentwood, Burbank and Santa Monica) provides the solution by making cupcakes with a matching layer cake.

    You don’t have to save this tip for a wedding: Consider the combination for an engagement party, anniversary party, baby shower, Sweet 16 or other special occasion.

    Avocational bakers who want to bake their own special occasion cakes—or have friends who want to do it—don’t need to worry about creating a tiered spectacular.

    Another bonus: If the cake isn’t sliced at the event, it can be taken home for the next day or frozen for later enjoyment.

    Find more of our favorite cakes and cake recipes.


    For a wedding or other important party, show a small cake atop the tiers of cupcakes. Photo courtesy Yummy Cupcakes.




    HALLOWEEN & THANKSGIVING RECIPE: Pumpkin Seed Dip With Crudités & Tortilla Chips


    Mexican cuisine chef Rick Bayless of Chicago’s Frontera Grill knows about pumpkin. It’s a popular ingredient in Mexico, and pumpkin seeds, called pepitas in Spanish, are used extensively in moles and other recipes.

    For Halloween, Chef Bayless has given us his pumpkin seed dip, which he serves with crudités and Frontera tortilla chips. Note that this is a savory dip, nothing like the sweet pumpkin purée dip popularly served with ginger snaps (of course, we like that version, too).

    This dip should be enjoyed with a good beer or a glass of wine.


    The recipe can be made up to two days in advance. Makes 2½ cups of dip.


  • 1 jar (16 ounces) habanero salsa (we used Frontera brand, one of our favorites)
  • 1 cup hulled roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus a few sprigs for garnish
  • Salt
  • Extra pepitas for garnish
  • Tortilla chips
  • Assorted raw vegetables (crudités)/li>

    1. CUT. Cut the vegetables and set aside with the tortilla chips for serving.

    2. BLEND. Put 1 cup (half) of the salsa, pumpkin seeds and lime juice into a blender. Process to a thick paste.

    3. STIR. Scrape into a bowl. Stir in the remaining salsa and cilantro. Season with salt to taste.

    4. PLATE. Serve with cut vegetables and/or tortilla chips.


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