The Unofficial Food Critic

The Secret to Ensure Perfectly Even Baking Every Time!

The Secret to Ensure Perfectly Even Baking Every Time!

91hgCoCyVqL._SL1500_There are many factors that contribute to the perfect baked treat. Yet even with quality ingredients, proper execution and training, all these efforts can be rendered useless if your food is not baked evenly. Traditionally, the only way to create the conditions for a perfectly even bake is by using a professional, and wildly expensive, industrial oven exclusively reserved for professionals. It seemed impossible for a home baker to recreate the same conditions for quality baking with the average home oven. However, thanks to the invention of a new kitchen gadget, it is now possible to achieve the same standard of quality, created by professional kitchens, in any oven.

There is a secret that professional and amateur bakers alike are using to achieve consistent perfection in their baking creations. The secret is Silicone. Silicone Baking Mats have been one of the most wildly popular products on Amazon for good reason. Silicone is considered the ‘perfect baking medium’ for evenly distributing heat and protecting food from the intense heat of hot metal.

Popular brands such as Silpat and Artisan have been featured on Food Network shows like Chopped and Sweet Genius.

Not only do Silicone Baking Mats enhance the quality of any food baked on it’s surface, these incredible baking tools are also Nonstick which make the baking process more simpler for the beginner.

Some Baking Mats have been known to be produced with cheaper substituted materials in stead of high quality silicone. Although these mats are less expensive, they have a reputation for melting in ovens and peeling fiberglass fragments onto the bakers food. This is why the baking community stresses the importance of investing in high quality Silicone Baking Mats, despite their higher cost.

 

Baking Buddy made recent news after confirming the producer of the silicone used in their Nonstick Baking Mat was the #1 top rated silicone manufacturer on Amazon. Baking Buddy also made headlines for re-imagining the design of their Baking Mat by printing useful information, that bakers need to know, right on the nonstick surface of the silicone sheet.

Printed on the mats surface are Full Measurements, a Standard Cookie Recipe, Baking Tips, Metric conversions for volume, weight and temperature along with a ‘Cookie Chart’ that shows bakers how to modify a cookie recipe based on the outcome the baker desires. Photos of this innovative design can be seen in action here, on Baking Buddy’s Amazon Listing, along with some of the most Highly Acclaimed Verified Amazon Reviews seen for a Nonstick Silicone Baking Mat.

 

Baking Buddy also made recent news after announcing the premiere of their new Youtube Channel’s Video Recipe Series, as an additional service. Baking Buddy will be posting two new videos each week to show existing customers, and other viewer,s recipe ideas that can be created with their Baking Buddy.


Thanks to the invention of this amazing new kitchen gadget, any baker can achieve results that were once exclusively reserved for professional bakers with access to industrial conveniences. 

Sweet Freezer Pickles

Sweet Freezer Pickles

This is not your typical pickle recipe. No special equipment or ingredients are needed. This recipe produces a crisp, sweet pickle that goes well in salads, on sandwiches or as a side. The secret to the crisp texture is the sugar, so do not reduce the sugar in the recipe. This recipe works well with slicing, pickling, seedless or hothouse cucumbers.

  • 2 quarts cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced (use any variety of cucumber)
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 tablespoon salt (table salt, canning salt or kosher salt can be used)
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar

Mix cucumbers, onions and salt in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set the bowl on the counter for 2 hours. Pour into a colander and drain water from cucumber mixture. Combine sugar and vinegar. Stir well and pour over cucumbers. Pack into freezer containers or zip-closure bags. Freeze immediately. Pickles are ready to eat in 3 or 4 days. They will keep in the freezer for up to one year.

Top 100 Restaurants in 2014

Top 100 Restaurants in 2014

Steve Plotnicki and Opinionated About Dining (OAD) announce the Top 100 Restaurants in America as determined by the OAD Survey. More than 4,000 people contributed 140,000 reviews to the survey. The 2014 list celebrates a new “Top Five” with Joshua Skenes’ Saison (San Francisco) taking the number one spot from Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry; Urasawa (Beverly Hills) at number two; e by Jose Andres (Las Vegas), climbing to number three and positioning Andres as America’s most important chef; Willows Inn (Lummi Island, WA), operated by Rene Redzepi’s protege, Blaine Wetzel, making a jump from 25 to four; and Grant Achatz’s Alinea (Chicago) placing fifth. Rounding out the “Top 10″ are Masa (New York); Manresa (Los Gatos, CA); The French Laundry (Yountville, CA); minibar by Jose Andres (Washington, D.C.); and Per Se (New York).

A selection of this year’s new entries include Grace (Chicago), debuting as the highest new entry at 35; L20 (Chicago) and Uni (Boston), both back on the list after missing the 2013 edition; Commonwealth and Acquerello in San Francisco; 15 East, Aldea, and Annisa in New York; Topolobampo (Chicago); Binkley’s (Cave Creek, AZ); Herbsaint (New Orleans); and Aburiya Raku (Las Vegas).

Restaurants making significant moves up the list include Blanca (Brooklyn, NY) up 40 spots; North Fork Table & Inn (Southold, NY) up 38 spots; and Commis (Oakland, CA) up 28 spots.

“With only two returning entries in the Top 10, and many important restaurants tumbling down the list, those restaurants serving French cuisine appear to be on the decline,” says Plotnicki. “As this trend continues to grow, OAD will publish The Fresh List on May 12, further expanding the franchise to focus on American farm-to-table, regional, and ethnic cooking.”

The OAD survey taps into the experience and opinions from diners who are passionate about where they eat. The methodology assigns weight to each restaurant based on factors such as price and the diners it attracts, as well as the quantity and quality of restaurants a reviewer has visited. A full list can be found here: 2014.opinionatedaboutdining.com/us

Celebrate the Potato on St. Patrick’s Day: Potatoes can be fun to eat and nutritious

Celebrate the Potato on St. Patrick’s Day: Potatoes can be fun to eat and nutritious

While the potato is widely associated with Ireland and is a traditional St. Patrick’s Day food, would you believe that potatoes are actually native to the coast of South America? Celebrate the 10,000 varieties of the potato and learn why, when eaten in moderation and prepared in heart-healthy ways, “spuds” can be delicious and nutritious.

The nutritional potato
There should be a place for the misunderstood potato in any well-balanced diet. It’s true that white potatoes have a high glycemic index, which can raise blood sugar levels that might lead to diabetes, cancer, heart disease and obesity for some people. The secret is balance and moderation in order to gain the following nutritional benefits:
  • Vitamins and minerals - Low in saturated fat, white potatoes are rich in immunity-building vitamin C, B6 and beta carotene, and blood pressure-lowering potassium and manganese.
  • Fiber - When you eat the skins, you add more fiber to your diet, along with other B vitamins, iron and calcium.
  • Phytochemicals - It’s believed that potatoes and other vegetables that contain phytochemicals help protect your body from diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Say no to the fryer
The mild-mannered white potato can be prepared in yummy ways other than deep-frying or smothering with butter and cheese.
  • Baked fries deliver the same crunch as deep-fried, but without unhealthy saturated fat when you spray with canola oil or olive oil.
  • Experiment with seasonings beyond salt and pepper. Along with a drizzle of olive oil, sprinkle with fresh or dried herbs such as parsley, chives, sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, coriander and tarragon.
  • If you love spice, sprinkle potatoes with red pepper or green tamales, or make a salsa from tomatoes, onions, parsley and your preferred seasonings.
Yummy St. Patrick’s Day recipe
Celebrate the potato on Patty’s Day by trying the following Irish-style recipe:
Easy traditional red potato colcannon
Ingredients (yields four 1-cup servings):
  • 1 pound red potatoes washed and cut into halves
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced yellow or white onion
  • 6 cups thinly sliced green cabbage
  • 1 cup low-fat or fat-free milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper, preferably white
Directions:
Pour an inch of water into a Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Put the potato halves in a covered steamer basket over the water and cook about 15 minutes or until done. Move to a large bowl and keep warm.
Using a large nonstick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and add the onion cooking about two minutes until translucent. Add the cabbage and stir occasionally until the cabbage turns lightly brown for approximately five minutes.
Lower the heat and stir in milk and seasonings. Cover and cook mixture for about eight minutes until the cabbage is fork tender. Combine the potatoes with the cabbage mixture and mash together by hand to your preferred consistency.
This St. Patrick’s Day wear a little green, look for that pot of gold, and celebrate the potato by trying an Irish dish to create a new holiday tradition for your family.

5 Facts for Pasta Lovers

5 Facts for Pasta Lovers

Millions of people think it’s the basis of the ultimate comfort food. Just imagine that creamy macaroni and cheese or spaghetti. Pasta is not only something many people find comforting, but one look at the facts and it’s easy to see that Americans love their pasta. No matter how it’s prepared it continues to rank as a frequently consumed food for people of all ages.

 

“What’s not to love about pasta? Even those who try to cut it out of their diet end up coming back around, it’s just that good,” explains Ryan Fichter, the executive chef at Rialto, a new Italian restaurant in Georgetown. “In addition to being tasty, pasta is also affordable, versatile, and simple to work with. Even those with limited culinary experience can create a great meal using pasta as the bases.”

 

Here are 5 interesting facts, according to the National Pasta Association, for all pasta lovers:

1.    Serve up health. While there are some people who shy away from pasta believing that it is unhealthy, others are learning that it can be a part of a healthy diet. Pasta can be used as the basis of a healthy dish that is loaded with vegetables, healthy sauce, and even lean meats. Whole wheat pasta can also be a good source of fiber. Used as the basis in dish with other healthy ingredients, such as lentils, beans, chickpeas, and/or vegetables, it can become a healthy dinner option for the whole family.

2.    It’s historical. Although pasta history is believed to date back to the times of Marco Polo, and originated from the noodles eaten in Asia, it was in 1740 that the first pasta factory was opened in Venice. Pasta has a lengthy history that eventually reached American shores and in 1914, America was the largest importer of it at the time.

3.    Per person. In America, the average person consumes around 20 pounds of pasta each year. It ranks as the 6th highest per capita food consumed in the country. In fact, Americans consume 24 percent of the world’s pasta.

4.    Pasta production. While America imported the most pasta at one time, and still imports a lot, it now ranks second for pasta production in the world. Each year the country produces around 4.4 billion pounds of pasta.

5.    Affordability. On average, the average price paid in the country per pound of pasta is only $1.45, making it an affordable meal.

 

“We in America love our pasta and once you see the facts it makes it all so clear,” adds Chef Fichter. “Think about your top favorite dishes to eat. There is a good chance that pasta is one of them, if not more. It’s been around a long time and is here to stay and continue to bring comfort to many.”

“Bull’s Blood”: Is the Red Raven Gastropub catering to vampires?

“Bull’s Blood”: Is the Red Raven Gastropub catering to vampires?

The Red Raven Gastropub- soon to be opening in Acton- has released it’s long awaited menu.  Locals have been excited about the restaurant’s opening, as it’s described as

” elevated food, freshly prepared in our scratch kitchen, maintaining purveyors of local produce, sustainable seafood, and humanely raised meat and poultry as often as possible.”

The menu, however, provoked lots of comments on Facebook:

“how bout the curry squash with bulls blood. Damn place must be run by vampires.”

“Bulls blood? I’m all for trying new things but this might be a bit much”

Beta vulgaris 'Bull's Blood'Checking the menu, we see that the dish in question is “Kuri squash with house-made herbed ricotta, marcona almonds, bull’s blood, sage brown butter.”  It’s obvious to me that the bull’s blood in question is a variety of beet greens, beta vulgaris, that would be a natural complement to the squash.    While this 1840 heirloom vegetable also produces small beets, it’s usually grown for its lush and flavorful foliage.  It’s a cool weather crop that does well here in New England, and is grown by a number of local farms, making ot a natural fit for Red Raven’s mission of using local produce as often as possible.

That’s my guess- but I think we’ll need to wait for opening night to find out for sure!

Wartime Bean Counting

Wartime Bean Counting

File:Coffee Beans macro 2.jpgFollowing is the November 14 “Profile America” feature from the U.S. Census Bureau:

Thursday, November 14 th. Given what seems to be the ever-growing profusion of coffee vendors, imagine what a crisis it would be if coffee were suddenly rationed. That’s exactly what happened this month in 1942 because the war had interrupted shipments and people were hoarding coffee. But rationing lasted only until the next summer. It’s thought that coffee was introduced into America by Captain John Smith, one of the founders of the Jamestown Colony in Virginia. Its popularity jumped after both the Boston Tea Party and the beginning of Prohibition. For those who don’t make their own coffee, there are just over 19,000 coffee shops across the country, and they sell more than $10 billion worth of coffee a year.

 

While coffee is no longer being rationed, finding a great deal is always in fashion.  I’ve been paying $9.99-$12.99 for an 8-10 ounce bag of gourmet beans (I’m a coffee snob).  The other I was shopping with my extremely budget conscious daughter at Whole Foods.  She picked up a pound of their Allegro French Roast from the bulk bin.  It was $6.99 a pound, and the bin was dated- it had just been refilled that morning.  I took a chance..and WOW.  Great fresh, robust taste, lots of body…and $6.99.

I’m converted.

Are Americans still serving up family dinners?

Are Americans still serving up family dinners?

Among Americans who live with at least one family member (including a spouse or a partner), the vast majority (86%) say they sit down to a “family dinner,” with most or all of their household sitting down to dinner together, at least once a week. Furthermore, nearly six in ten (58%) report sitting down to such meals at least four times per week. However, there is nonetheless a sentiment that such family meals are in decline, with 59% saying their family today has fewer family dinners than when they were growing up.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,368 U.S. adults surveyed online between October 16 and 21, 2013 by Harris Interactive . (Full findings, including data tables, can be found here)

Looking at the number of family dinners per week those Americans living with family sit down to, differences can be seen by both generation and household composition:

  • Matures (81%) are more likely to report having four or more family dinners per week than Baby Boomers (62%), who are in turn more likely to do so than either Gen Xers (50%) or Echo Boomers (52%). The same progression is evident when honing in specifically on likelihood to have family dinners every night (61% Matures, 37% Baby Boomers, 24% Gen Xers, 23% Echo Boomers).
  • While the image of the family dinner might bring to mind parents and children gathering around the table to rehash their days, today’s kids lead busy lives – which may be contributing to the fact that those in households without children are more likely to report sitting down to family dinners every night (36% without, 26% with).

If family dinners are experiencing a downslide, it doesn’t seem to be attributable toward any negative feelings toward them – past or present. Over nine in ten (92%) family “diners” – those whose households sit down to one or more family dinners per week – describe them as something they look forward to, and eight in ten Americans (80%) have fond memories of their family dinners when they were growing up.

Along similar lines, only 15% of “diners” say that family dinners stress them out, and fewer than two in ten Americans (19%) say they tried to get out of family dinners whenever they could when they were growing up.

  • Getting out of family dinners appears, to some degree, to be a generational phenomenon, with older generations showing progressively lower levels of likelihood to have done so (30% Echo Boomers, 20% Gen Xers, 14% Baby Boomers, 8% Matures).

Family (meal) planning

When looking at how the family dinner is shoehorned into Americans schedules, some patterns begin to emerge.  Over half (54%) of “diners” say their family dinners are evenly split between weekdays and weekends, while roughly one-fourth (24%) say they do so more on weekdays. Thirteen percent say they do so more on weekends, while one in ten (10%) indicate doing so whenever they can make time, with no set time of the week.

  • Those in households with children are roughly twice as likely as those without to specify weekdays (35% with, 18% without), while those in households without children are more likely to report an even balance of weekdays and weekends (59% without, 43% with) or fitting family dinners in whenever they can make time (12% and 6%, respectively).

As to how they actually set aside time for those meals, half (51%) of family “diners” make time when they can but don’t have a set schedule, while over two in ten (22%) set aside specific days for family dinners and over one-fourth (27%) report a mix of these approaches.

  • There are some indications that pre-scheduling may help fit in more family together time, as those who have four or more family dinners per week are twice as likely as those who have 1-3 weekly to report having specific days set aside for family dinners (26% and 13%, respectively).

Family members can be both a help and a hindrance, and both sides are on display when it comes to family dinners. On the one hand, nearly two-thirds (65%) of “diners” say family dinners are usually a communal effort, with most members of the family pitching in somehow. But of course, the youngest family members can be another thing entirely, and over four in ten “diners” (43%) say that when kids are at the table for family dinners, it can be tough to get them to stay there.

What’s for dinner?

“Diners” appear conflicted on the importance of the menu. Nine in ten (90%) say that the family eating together is more important than where the food comes from, yet seven in ten (69%) say that for family dinners, it’s important that it be a home cooked meal.

Varying tastes can complicate things further still, with over a third of “diners” (36%) – and half of those in households with children (49%) – saying it’s tough to find something to serve at family dinners that everyone will eat.

Leftover butternut squash? Make risotto!

Leftover butternut squash? Make risotto!

Butternut Squash Risotto with Cabot Extra Light CheddarCabot Cheese shared this recipe for Butternut Squash and Cheddar Risotto as way to use up Thanksgiving leftovers, but you don’t need to wait until Thanksgiving to try it.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup diced onions
1/2 cup diced mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 cup white rice
2- 2 1/2 cups low fat no-salt added chicken broth
1 1/2 cups cooked and mashed butternut squash*
1/2 cup fat free half-and-half
2 ounces Cabot Sharp Extra Light Cheddar, grated (about 1/2 cup), plus more for garnish
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Directions:

1. In large sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat; add onions and mushrooms and cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and stir until fragrant.

2. Splash sherry over vegetables and let simmer for 2 minutes. Add rice, stirring to coat with liquid, and let cook until liquid is absorbed. Reduce heat to medium-low.

3. Add chicken broth 1/2 cup at a time and cook, stirring often, until all of broth is absorbed before adding more. (Add just enough of broth to make rice firm but cooked through to center.)

4. In bowl, combine squash, half-and-half and 1/2 cup cheese. Stir squash mixture into risotto. Stir until heated through. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Serve topped with parsley, plus additional grated cheese if desired.

* Use fresh squash that has been roasted, boiled or microwaved or frozen squash, thawed. Consistency should be smooth and soft. Roasted butternut squash will give the richest flavor (bake at 400°F for about 1 1/4 hours).

Restaurant.com Celebrates National Pizza Month with Local Pizzerias Across the Country

Restaurant.com Celebrates National Pizza Month with Local Pizzerias Across the Country

RESTAURANT.COM DETAILS OF PIZZA EATING / Restaurant.com Slices It Up: The Meaty (& Veggie) Details of Pizza Eating! (PRNewsFoto/Restaurant.com)ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill., Oct. 22, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — Did you know that Halloween is one of the busiest pizza selling days of the year? It ranks in the top five selling days with Super Bowl Sunday, the night before Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. And because the whole month of October is National Pizza Month, you don’t have to wait until the final day of October to enjoy a delicious pie.

There’s nothing better than the taste of a fresh pie from your local, non-chain pizzeria, where more often than not, they use only fresh ingredients. After all, when your name and reputation is riding on every slice, you’re bound to go the extra mile. That is why it comes as no surprise that 81 percent of over 1,000 respondents in Restaurant.com’s consumer pizza survey and infographic say they prefer independently owned pizza restaurants to chain pizzerias.

“Americans love pizza, and especially piping hot from the oven of their favorite local pizzeria,” said Restaurant.com President and Chief Marketing Officer, Christopher Krohn.

“Pizza is such a versatile food that each restaurant can feature its own signature style, from family favorites like cheesy pepperoni, to classic Italian tomato and basil Margarita, to creative regional interpretations like Thai peanut chicken. At Restaurant.com, we connect thousands of restaurants with new customers every day by helping diners discover delicious pizza deals wherever their travels may take them, even if that is just around the corner for a hot, tasty slice.”

To date, there are approximately 70,000 pizzerias in the United States alone. This compares to about 14,000 McDonalds restaurants that are in operation across the United States. So what is it about pizza that makes it consistently one of America’s most popular and frequently eaten foods? For starters, data from Restaurant.com’s consumer pizza survey suggests that pizza’s popularity can be attributed to its convenience (chances are that you can find a local pizzeria just minutes from where you live or work) and thanks to its endless variations, it’s usually a safe bet that everyone you’re dining with will find something they’ll like. In fact, statistics show that 93 percent of Americans have at least one slice per month.

Coupons and deals are another reason why pizza is so prominent in the United States. In the Restaurant.com consumer pizza survey, 69 percent of the total respondents said they use coupons or deals at least some of the time when ordering pizza. Fortunately for pizza eaters, Restaurant.com is the ideal place to save money on their favorite pies and find great deals!

For more stats and fun facts from Restaurant.com’s National Pizza Month Survey, visit http://thedish.restaurant.com/slicing-it-up-the-meaty-and-veggie-details-of-pizza-eating/. Visit Restaurant.com for more information about the company or find them on Facebook or Twitter @Restaurant_com.