Archive for June, 2010

The Meatloaf Cupcake–It can be done!

I like meatloaf. There, I said it.

Meatoaf has a reputation for being greasy, boring, and worst of all, bland. My kids won’t eat regular meatloaf–but I must admit, there are still days when I crave it. My mother used to make the traditional meatloaf, a blend of ground round and breadcrumbs, topped with either ketchup or tomato sauce. I’d happily eat it for dinner and leftovers.

So how do you make kids eat something they loathe? Reinvent it. I mean, who can resist something that looks like a cupcake, but tastes like a meal? These meat muffins really do look like dessert cupcakes. I even serve them in cupcake papers to add to the effect.

To make these savory cupcakes, I use my favorite meatloaf recipe and then divide the meat equally into regular-sized muffin tins. Usually a standard recipe makes about 14 to 16 cupcakes. Lightly grease the muffin cups and fill to the top—remember that the meat will shrink while cooking. Allow the meat muffins to cool slightly before you try to get them out of the pan.

While the meatloaf muffins are cooling, I get to work on the “frosting.” Whip up a batch of mashed potatoes, or you can add a little more color by mixing regular potatoes (I prefer Yukon Gold) and some sweet potatoes. Make sure that your mashed potatoes are extra creamy. I use plenty of milk and sour cream, along with my handheld mixer to create fluffy, airy potatoes. Add the potatoes to a pastry bag fitted with a large-sized star tip.

Place the meat muffins onto a baking pan and swirl the potatoes on each one. (You can just spoon the potatoes onto the muffins, but for a more realistic effect, the pastry bag does the trick!) Place the cupcakes into the oven set to broil and bake until the tops are just slightly golden.

These cupcakes make for a fun meal. My kids are always begging me to make these when friends come over for dinner—their buddies think it’s cool we have dessert for dinner!

Recipe
Prep time: 40 minutes (+baking time)
Servings: 4-5
Meatloaf Cupcakes
Muffins
Ingredients

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar (optional)
2 eggs
½ cup milk
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon Tabasco
2 pounds ground meat (I use half beef, half pork)
1 1/3 cups bread crumbs or panko crumbs (preferred)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium-sized skillet pan, sauté the onion in the heated oil until they soften. Allow to cool to room temperature.

In a small bowl, mix together the eggs, milk, mustard, spices, Worcestershire, Tabasco, and vinegar (if using; I like the slight kick it gives). In another large bowl combine the meat, panko crumbs (available in the Asian foods section of the grocery store), and onions. Gently blend in the egg mixture using a wooden spoon.

Lightly spray the muffin tin cups with cooking oil. Loosely pack meat into each cup and fill to the top. Bake the muffins for 20 minutes and then check for doneness by inserting an instant-read thermometer; the temperature should read 160 degrees.

Allow the meat muffins to cool in the pan. Carefully drain off the fat and then remove the muffins to a baking sheet.

Mashed potato “frosting”
Ingredients

4 medium-sized potatoes (I prefer Yukon Gold)
1 large sweet potato
6 Tablespoons butter, melted
¼ cup sour cream
3/4 -1 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Using a grater remove the peels from the potatoes. Cut the potatoes into equal chunks about 1 inch thick. Add the cut pieces into a medium-sized cooking pan filled 2/3 of the way with water.

Once all of the potatoes are added to the pot, cook the potatoes at high heat on the stovetop. Add 1 Tablespoon of salt to the cooking water. Bring the potatoes to a gentle boil and continue cooking until they are fork-tender.

Remove the potatoes and place them into a large mixing bowl. Add half of the milk and then blend using a handheld mixer on high power. Add the butter and sour cream and then blend more. Gradually add in the rest of the milk until the potatoes become airy and whipped. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Place the whipped potatoes into a pastry bag fitted with a large-sized star tip.

Assembling the meatloaf cupcakes: After placing the meat muffins onto a baking dish, pipe the potatoes on top. Start on one end of the meat muffin and swirl around the outside and then keep swirling until you reach a tip at the top. Broil the muffins until the potatoes are just browned.

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Supertasters Need for Salt

Photo credit: Michael (mx5tx)

Supertaster too? If you tried the little paper test back in high school biology class–also know as phenylthiocarbamide (yeah, I can’t pronounce it either) or PTC–you either got a wallop of bitterness drenching your tongue or you tasted nothing. For me, I felt like I’d just licked the edge of a rancid, sour lime. Yet among a classroom of students, I still remember that supertasters weren’t in the majority. If you don’t happen to have PTC paper around, you can take a look at your tongue to give you some clues about your tasting ability–or lack of it. Not surprisingly, more tastebuds=more tasting. Your gender may also give you some clue as women tend to be supertasters more so than men. One in four people (among Caucasians anyway) are supertasters.

And what exactly is a supertaster? As the name implies, for supertasters flavors are stronger and more layered than for a non-taster. So when Penn State and the University of Connecticut researchers began looking in to who craves salt more, they expected that nontasters would be the obvious choice. Not quite. Turns out that supertasters reach for the salty foods with greater frequency than their nontaster friends, according to the research, but nontasters tend to salt their food at the table more. So, for example, a supertaster would indulge in a pile of Pringles and maybe skip salting her piece of pot roast. Whereas a nontaster might find the Pringles too salty, but generously salt her grilled chicken breast because it seemed bland without the extra sprinkle.

So why the need for salt? The researchers aren’t sure exactly, but their best guesses are that supertasters perceive flavor to the point that they need a little intensity to keep food appealing. They also point out that salt tends to cancel out the bitterness in foods so food manufacturers can easily up the salt to even out the flavor.

NPR, which recently interviewed one of the study’s authors, John E. Hayes, included revealing tidbits about salt in food–

“This all raises some interesting questions. First, since most people aren’t supertasters, why do food manufacturers add so much salt to their products? Hayes says it’s because salt is a really cheap way to add flavor.

‘It’s the third-cheapest ingredient, after air and water,’ Hayes says. ‘Chefs know that salt enhances sweetness and blocks bitterness. So if you want to push up your score in a consumer test, you just push up that salt content.’”

In the end, Hayes says it’s probably harder–but not impossible–for supertasters to suppress their genetic predisposition for salt and cut back the sodium in their diet. And there’s plenty of good reasons to limit salt intake as I’ve been learning from women’s health blogger, Sheryl Kraft. So what about the rest of you? Saltaholic supertaster or nontaster that can control your need to reach for the shaker?

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Zingy Orange Cookies

I’ve been using the same lemon cookie recipe for years—and my kids have liked them. But then a friend dropped by her version of lemon cookies and my kids were hooked. Seriously. Even my middle child requested, yup, lemon cookies instead of chocolate chip when I asked her a few weeks back what kind of cookies she wanted. I thought I’d perfected her recipe until she dropped by the cookies again (isn’t it nice to have friends that bring you cookies?!). This time the cookies were bursting with a buzzy, sweet-tart orange flavor instead of just lemon. Orange cookies. I was impressed with her improvisation, and then she let me in on a secret—her husband decided to make the cookies and opted for orange instead of lemon.

Let me just say, I love pretty much any kind of cookie, but these ones taste like a yummy version of an orange breakfast roll. When we had a busy weekend, my mom would buy those refrigerated, canned orange rolls, you know the ones that pop when you undo the paper? They always seemed to turn out either underdone or burnt, but top it with some of the gooey orange cream cheese frosting and you didn’t care. These cookies channel all that orange gooeyness, but have a tastier, chewier texture (I mean, you can’t escape that processed flavor when your baked goods come popping out of a can!).

Along with packing a punch of orange flavor, these cookies are perfect for summer. Who wants a heavy chocolate chip cookie—or even oatmeal—when the weather is getting warmer and warmer? But orange cookies…yeah, you better make a double batch!

Recipe
Prep time: 30 minutes (+ cook time about 1 hour)
Servings: 20 cookies

Ingredients
Cookies

2 Cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon orange zest
2 Tablespoons fresh orange juice (or 1 ½ tablespoons orange + ½ Tablespoon lemon)
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon almond extract

Glaze
2 cups powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons orange zest
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1 Tablespoon milk or heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (you can refrigerate the dough for about an hour, but the cookies turn out well either way). In a large mixing bowl add the butter and then blend in the sugar at high speed with a handheld mixer. Whip until fully incorporated, about 3 minutes. Add the egg, blend. Mix in the extract and the fresh orange juice.

In another mixing bowl, stir all the dry ingredients until combined. Add the zest. Put the mixer on low speed and then gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture.

Lightly grease a baking pan and add the dough by the spoonful (about 1 ½ Tablespoon in size). Bake for about 9 to 11 minutes or until just barely golden around the edges. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the pan before removing them.

Once the cookies are cool, mix the glaze. Add all of the glaze ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk until the ingredients are blended and the glaze is thick. Using a spoon add about ½ teaspoon glaze to each cookie. Let the glaze set for at least 30 minutes or more before serving.

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Look for my latest article in KIWI Magazine: Service Birthdays

Photo credit: Calico_13

With its emphasis on organic foods and healthy living, KIWI magazine is one of my new go-to places for parenting advice. In the June/July issue you can read about how to create “Birthday Parties with a Purpose” (from KIWI’s front cover) which was inspired in part by my kids’ efforts to have a different kind of celebration.

Kids’ parties are fun, but sometimes they lack, well, substance. My oldest daughter has been asking for a ‘give-back’ party this year instead of your standard bash. She doesn’t want presents, she wants to collect donations from friends to give to our local animal shelter. And as for party games, she wants to make dog and cat beds for the shelter. As a parent I couldn’t be more thrilled–she’ll be helping out someone else on her special day instead of just itching for more gifts (presents that are usually forgotten after a week anyway!).

Has anyone else tried service birthday parties with their kids?

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Rice Gets Reinvented–Sesame Cakes

Rice rules at my house—we like short grain, long grain, brown, white, sticky, Basmati, Jasmine, you name it. But I have to admit that even with all those options, rice can get, well, kinda boring. Sauce only does so much to spruce up another day of rice.

So when I ran across a recipe for rice cakes, I knew my kids would be eager to give it a try. The first time I served these cakes alongside a traditional stir-fry loaded with marinated chicken and fresh veggies. My kids went for the cakes and I ended up with a week’s worth of stir-fry leftovers. Now, I plan on the rice cakes taking center stage (or at least being a feature instead of a side) when I make them. I plan on about three cakes per person—they’re packed with rice so they fill you up fast!

Now that rice cakes have become a regular on our dinner menu, we’ve started to tweak the recipe. Often I’ll add fruit zest to perk up the flavor of the cakes and help them to compliment whatever main dish I’m serving—after all, these don’t just have to be served with stir fry. With pork, I add a little orange zest, Thai dishes meld well with a little lemon; I’ve even made Mexican rice cakes by adding lime zest, a little Chili powder and a splash of Tabasco sauce for a kick.

To add even more fun to the meal, stick a cooked bean in the middle of one of the cakes and let your kids know that whoever gets the bean gets a prize—maybe she gets to chose a special dessert after dinner or maybe he has to help cleanup all the dishes (hey, doing dishes can be a reward, right?).

I always make a big batch of the rice cakes—here’s why: First, my kids eat them at dinner, for snacks, I even freeze them to reheat later. Second, sad to say, but not all of your rice cakes will turn out perfectly. Usually, I have about three that don’t survive the flip from the top, sesame-seed coated side to the bottom. It’s just how it goes—no amount of careful prep prevents a few rice cake fall aparts. My kids are more than happy to eat up my mishaps.

Ready to reinvent your rice? This recipe takes a little work to put together, but the cakes are fun to eat for dinner or you can even eat them cold for an unusual picnic treat.

Recipe for Sesame Rice Cakes
Inspired by a recipe from Cuisine at Home magazine.
Prep time: 30 minutes (+rice cooking time)
Servings: 5 people (20 cakes)

Ingredients
6 cups cooked rice (2 cups uncooked Basmati rice)
2 Tablespoons Sugar
2 Tablespoons vinegar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon lemon, lime or orange zest, optional
4-6 teaspoons sesame seeds
4-6 Tablespoons cooking oil

Cook rice according to package directions. With my rice cooker, the ratio is two-to-one, two cups water to one cup rice. Let the rice cool to room temperature (you can also use leftover rice from a previous meal).

In a large bowl, combine the rice, sugar, vinegar, cornstarch and salt (and zest, if you’re using it). Stir with a wooden spoon or heavy spatula.

Spray a ¼-cup measuring cup with cooking spray. Press rice mixture firmly into the measuring cup and then gently release the molded cake onto a baking sheet that has been lined with wax paper. Repeat until you’ve used up all the rice—there should be around 20 cakes. Gently press a small amount (about ½ a teaspoon) sesame seeds onto each rice cake.

Heat up a large, flat-bottomed skillet or griddle. Add 2 tablespoons of the cooking oil. Cook the rice cakes with the sesame seed side down for around 7 minutes. Flip the rice cake carefully to the other side and cook for an additional 7 minutes (the cake should be golden brown). I use my fingers to flip the cakes. If you’re using a griddle you may be able to fit all of the cakes in one batch; if not, repeat with each batch of rice cakes. Add additional cooking oil when needed.

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Tempura Strawberries–Yes, you can fry fruit!

Tempura has a habit of spiralling into a fry fest when I make it. I cut up zucchini, onions, green peppers, carrots, chicken, I mean it seems like just about everything in your fridge can be dipped in batter and fried to a wonderful crisp when it’s tempura time.

I was making a batch on Saturday (promise,  I only make tempura once or twice a year because of my tendency to go overboard) and I couldn’t help but notice five lonely strawberries sitting on the counter. I took out some of the tempura batter before putting in the more savory ingredients and saved just a little to coat the berries. For the fruit batter I added coconut powder and a little extra sugar to give the tempura more flavor.

The strawberries fried beautifully–the outside batter stayed crisp while the berries inside became just gooey enough, but not mushy. I sprinkled the strawberries with powdered sugar and let my kids dig in. They were delicious.

Next time, I’d save the fried strawberries as a dessert after a light meal–tempura veggies followed by tempura fruit was a bit much. I’d also add some toasted coconut to the batter too. But as long as you’re making tempura, mine as well try something new, right? I did notice some cut cantalope in the fridge…and blackberries…

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