Saturday, September 28, 2013

Garlic Herb Potato Wedges

If there's one thing every kid will eat, it's French fries, right? Or maybe mac and cheese...or pizza...or chocolate cake. (Hmm, this is starting to sound like a list of my favorite foods.) As for French fries, despite their francophile name, they are an all-American staple, especially for little ones. And while I don't mind the frozen variety, they've got nothing on these crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside garlic herb potato wedges. I've made them time and again as a pitch-perfect accompaniment to other American classics like meatloaf, barbecue pork, fried chicken, and more. The combination of herbs plus the subtle coating of olive oil make these a craveable side dish for grown-ups and kids alike. Plus, they look way fancier than the Ore-Ida crinkle cut variety that look a little too much like worms for my taste:

Save the worm fries for Halloween. Make these potato wedges anytime.

Garlic Herb Potato Wedges
(Adapted from


4 medium Russet potatoes, scrubbed and rinsed
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil, depending on size of potatoes
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed fine
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine garlic powder, rosemary, oregano, thyme, paprika, pepper, and salt. Set aside.

Cut each potato in half lengthwise. Cut each half lengthwise into 4 equally sized wedges. Place wedges in a large bowl and toss with olive oil to coat. Sprinkle herb mixture over potatoes and toss again until evenly coated.

Line a sheet pan with foil. Place the potato wedges, skin side down, on the foil, spaced evenly. Bake for 35 minutes or until well browned and crusty edged, turning every 10 minutes.

Serves 8.

I'm Mr. Potato Head and I approve of this recipe.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

7 Surprising Facts about Carbs

Carbohydrates! Brain-fueling building block or fat-building boogeyman? Friend of athletes or enemy of Paleo-dieters? To eat or not to eat, and if to eat, how much? There are so many questions swirling around the concept of carbohydrates. With so many popular diets focusing on elimination of carbs, it's easy to view them as an undesirable, if not dangerous, presence in your food.

While I can't answer all the above questions, as a dietetics student, I have been learning my fair share about this one of the three "macronutrients" required for human life (the other two are protein and fats). I won't say you should go out and carb-load yourself into oblivion, but, you know, they're kind of essential to you continuing to live, so...

See? Even the Aliens guy says so.
Regardless of how you incorporate carbohydrates into your diet, they are a fascinating supporter of the body's many functions. So for your information, here are just a few of the surprising things I've learned recently about them (and why they are so critical):

1. The brain is the only carbohydrate-dependent organ in the body. The brain exclusively uses glucose, a basic simple sugar carbohydrate, to function. And since your brain cells need twice the energy of any other cells in your body, give the man some dang glucose!

2. Some animal products contain carbs. Thought you couldn't consume any carbs from animal sources? Surprise! The lactose in milk and other dairy products is a disaccharide, which means it's a sugar, which means it's a carb.

3. The name "carbohydrate" tells you what it contains. The chemical structure of carbohydrates is a carbon backbone with hydrogen and oxygen molecules attached. "Carbo" means carbon and "hydrate" means water--H20 (hydrogen and oxygen).

4. Carbohydrates are the only fuel source metabolized fast enough to support hard exercise. For an active person, a low-carb diet would definitely not be a wise choice. With a limited supply of carbohydrates in the body, engaging in hard exercise will result in low energy, muscle fatigue, and even mental fog. 

5. Fiber is actually a carbohydrate--technically. While the body cannot digest fiber (and that's why it passes through), it is technically a complex carbohydrate, since it's typically made up of long chains of sugars. Unlike other carbs, it doesn't provide energy to the body, but it still counts as one! Who knew?

6. The dramatic weight loss at the outset of a low-carb diet is usually water weight. Your body stores carbs in glycogen in your muscles and liver. When your diet does not provide adequate carbohydrates, your body must call upon its reserves, meaning it releases the glycogen, which is bound up with a whole lotta water. As your body burns through the glycogen, the water is also released, meaning the initial "success" of a low-carb diet may not be what it seems.

7. Final word: carbohydrates are the most important energy source for the body. Your body wants to use carbs. It stores them in reserves to make you use them, even if you stop feeding them to yourself. They are utterly essential to life and health, and they contain no more calories than any other macronutrient. In short, healthy sources of carbohydrate are your friend and in my humble dietetic student's opinion, should be embraced, not avoided.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pirate Cupcakes

So I know I'm a little late in doing this, because National Talk Like a Pirate Day was last Thursday the 19th, but I'm gonna go ahead and post these adorable pirate cupcakes. Because, hey, maybe you could make them for the next Talk Like a Pirate Day, or for a child's birthday party, or because you just really, really have a thing for pirates, like one of those women at Disneyland who reportedly couldn't keep their hands off the Jack Sparrow character. (Which, in all fairness, Disney denied, but you still have to wonder.)

Anyway, speaking of Disney, the road to me making pirate cupcakes (believe it or not, this is not something that would have occurred to my thirty-something adult self) started with a Disney TV show. My two-year-old is OBSESSED with Jake and the Neverland Pirates, the mercifully much less racially inflammatory spinoff of the movie Peter Pan. (Seriously, have you watched Peter Pan any time since like 1965? NOT OKAY.) Jake and his little band of child pirates take on Captain Hook, who seems to have mellowed in the sixty years since he disappeared into the sunset with a crocodile nipping at his bottom. Now he's more of a petulant meddler than a bloodthirsty tyrant. My two-year-old constantly requests this show--and my four and six-year-old boys enjoy it plenty as well. I should also mention that months ago my four-year-old got a Jake and the Neverland Pirates play set that included a pirate hat and sword and has been inseparable from the sword ever since. He wears it tucked in the back of his shirt on a daily basis...just in case.

Recently, while I was scheduling playdates for our play group, I came upon a website that listed all the holidays in every month. "Holidays" being everything from excuse-to-eat days like National Chocolate Milkshake Day and the much less fun-sounding National Beheading Day. When I saw Talk Like a Pirate Day, I knew my kids would go nuts if we had a pirate-themed playdate. I put in on our playgroup calendar: a Pirate Picnic! Attendees were invited to meet us at the park dressed like pirates for a picnic lunch. I promised to provide cupcakes.

I found the idea for these delightful little guys on an event planning website, which has great, super detailed instructions on how to decorate these using certain frosting tip numbers, etc. I on the other hand don't have any of those kinds of supplies, so here I will give you the quick and dirty, no-Wilton-cake-master-class-required version. Even decorated using just a Ziploc bag, I think they turned out pretty darling--or should I say dARRRRling?

Yo ho ho and a plate of cupcakes

Pirate Cupcakes
(Recipes from Betty Crocker's Cookbook, Bridal Edition; decoration idea from Frilly Milly Events)


For the cupcakes:
1 c. and 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. sugar
6 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/3 c. baking cocoa
1/2 c. and 2 Tbsp. water
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1 egg

For the frosting:
3 c. powdered sugar
1/3 c. butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2-3 Tbsp. milk

For the pirate faces:
Chocolate chips
Red food coloring
Black cake gel


To make the cupcakes:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 12-cup cupcake tin.

Beat all ingredients with an electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds, scraping bowl constantly. Beat on high speed 3 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Pour into cupcake tin.

Bake 20-25 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting:

Mix powdered sugar and butter in a medium bowl by hand or with electric mixer on low speed. Stir in vanilla and 1 Tbsp. of the milk. Gradually beat in just enough of the remaining milk to make frosting smooth and spreadable. 

To decorate:

Once the frosting is made, mix 1/2 c. of frosting and 5-10 drops of red food coloring in a small bowl until desired red color is achieved. Place this frosting in a small Ziploc bag, pressing frosting down into one of the bottom corners of the bag. Squeeze excess air out of the bag and twist top shut. In the corner the frosting has been pressed into, use scissors to snip a very small hole (approximately the same size as the hole on the cake gel tube). Set aside.

Use remaining white frosting to evenly frost the cupcakes. For a smoother surface, press a clean, unpatterned paper towel over the top of the frosted cupcake. Take bagged red frosting and, starting 1/3 from the top of each cupcake, draw pirate bandanas over the top 1/3. Press a chocolate chip into the white frosting for an eye patch and draw the eye patch string and rest of the pirate face with black cake gel.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Monday, September 16, 2013

You Can Can: How to Preserve Peaches

I have such mixed feelings about social media. Even though I'm kind of addicted to Facebook (and when I say "kind of," I mean "embarrassingly, to a degree I don't even want to admit"), I hate how it has made online relationships stand in for real, face-to-face relationships. On the other hand, Facebook has the powerful ability to connect you with people you never expected to see again--even to connect you in person. Such is the case with the story of my morning spent canning peaches with Andrea.

Andrea, who I must have met around 4th grade, and I are Facebook friends. We saw each other at our 10-year high school reunion, but other than that, like most casual high school friends, haven't kept in touch. A couple of weeks ago, she posted that she was looking for someone who can can (like "preserve food in jars," not like "dance a la risqué 19th-century French ladies) and might be able to each her. I happened to comment that I had some experience with canning and would be available to show her the ropes if she ever wanted to drive out to my house. (We live about 45 minutes apart.) Frankly, I didn't expect her to take me up on it. You know, that whole "Facebook is for safe, quasi-anonymous connections" idea. To my surprise, she did--and I'm so glad, because we spent this morning putting up peaches, and it turned out great!  

Andrea with one of our finished products!
Not only was it fun to spend a morning with someone I go back so far with, but Andrea also has a little girl about the same age as mine. They spent the three hours or so bossing each other around playing while Andrea and I got to work. I'd like to think they absorbed something by watching their mommies commune with the spirits of homesteaders past.

Why peaches, you might ask? Peaches seemed a good choice for preserving in this heading-to-fall season....however, my car thermometer said it was 99 degrees at 8pm tonight, so I use the term "heading to fall" loosely. While it may still be hot as the dickens here in Mesa, peaches are on their way out. Soon they will be out of season, their prices will rise, and the moment for canning will have passed. To me, the point of canning is to strike while the fruit-price-iron is hot. Get the best bang for your buck with whatever you're preserving. That way you won't have to pay outrageous prices in order to enjoy an out-of-season food down the road. Of course, you can buy canned peaches in any season, but that's not nearly as fun as knowing you did the work of putting them up yourself!

For our project this morning, we used the directions on, but since you're already here, I'll give you the written-out play-by-play. Sorry for the lack of pictures for each step--guess I'll never be The Pioneer Woman--but hey, if I'm canning, I must be channeling the pioneer spirit! Thanks again, Andrea, for making the drive and tackling this project together!

Peach army, reporting for duty.

Canned Peaches
From PickYour


Fresh peaches
Lemon juice or Fruit Fresh


Large stock pot
Canning jars, lids, and rings


1. Select a large quantity of ripe peaches. For canning, they should be at the same ripeness as you would enjoy eating them. We used 30 yellow-flesh peaches for a yield of 12 pints. Rule of thumb is 5 peaches yields 1 quart. 

2. Wash and peel the peaches. (We tried blanching ours in boiling water to get the skins to slip off, but if the peaches are not ripe enough, this won't always work...and it didn't for us.) Cut into 1/4 inch thick slices and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice or Fruit Fresh (a canning product that protects fruits from unsightly darkening). Stir to coat all sides of fruit. This can be done ahead of time.

3. Prepare your jars by sterilizing them. If you happen to be able to run them through your dishwasher just prior to canning, they will come out sterile. Otherwise, place them in boiling water for 10 minutes.

4. Prepare your lids by placing them in a bowl of hot water.

5. Meanwhile, make a simple syrup to pack your peaches in. For our 30 peaches, we used 2 cups of sugar and 6 cups of water. Bring water to a boil, then slowly stir in sugar until it dissolves.

6. Add peach slices to the simple syrup and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes.

7. Ladle peaches and syrup into sterilized jars (a canning funnel is a helpful tool for this). Leave 1/2 inch headspace (distance from the top of the jar). Use tongs to remove lids from hot water and place on top of jars. Screw rings over the lids until firmly in place, but not overly tight.

8. Place sealed jars in a large pot of boiling water that will cover them by at least 1 inch. Boil for 20 minutes. (This is called processing and is what allows the food inside to be shelf-stable).

9. Using tongs, remove jars from boiling water and place on a flat surface where they can remain undisturbed for 12-24 hours. As the seals pull all the way down, you will hear a small pop from each jar--it's a wonderful sound that means you did it right! Leave the jars untouched and undisturbed for at least 12 hours. Then enjoy--now or later!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Chicken Tetrazzini

Here in Mesa, it's been raining. It rained for two days in a row, which by Phoenix-area standards is nothing short of miraculous. We here in the desert tend to get extra excited by rain. We tend to think of it like that old Weather Girls song It's Raining Men, if you take out the word "men," as in: 

"It's raining! Hallelujah, it's raining!" 

The reason, of course, for our unmitigated joy over the mysterious wet stuff that comes out of the sky is that (being in a desert) we don't tend to see a lot of it. I vividly remember the record dry spell of 2006. After 143 days without rain, it was as if the clouds had been saving it up and rained so hard and so much there was SNOW on Superstition Mountain. In March. When it's usually 85 degrees and you're hoping you remembered to take your sunscreen with you to the Renaissance Fair. 

The reason I remember all of this is that I was scheduled to run a 5K at the Phoenix Zoo that day, and since apparently the race planners had not considered rain a possibility, I ended up running wearing one of the black garbage bags they passed out instead of rain ponchos.
That's what I'm talkin' bout. P.S. Friends don't let friends have bangs this awful.
Garbage bag ponchos aside, I really do love the rain. And when it rains, I always crave comfort food, don't you? So last night, after almost an entire day of rain (hallelujah!) it was time for something warm, hearty, and creamy: chicken tetrazzini, one of my favorites. I didn't grow up eating this dish--in fact, I had never heard of it until my husband made it for me on my 23rd birthday. We were living in our ghetto first apartment with a tiny kitchen, irrepressible cockroaches, and the claim to fame that the management gave all new residents The Club car lock as a welcoming gift.
Welcome to your new home! We're freely admitting that thugs will try to steal your car here!
Upon tasting it, I was instantly hooked. Eight years later, this meal is still in my rotation. You might look at the recipe and wonder how it could be at all flavorful, since the only spices it contains are salt and pepper, and the other ingredients wouldn't appear to add much in the flavor department. All I can say is you're gonna have to trust me on this one. The richness of the roux (butter and flour heated to bubbling) combined with cream and chicken broth make this a melt-in-your-mouth dish that needs no additional seasoning. Additionally, it boasts the interesting trivia of being named after the turn-of-the-century opera star Luisa Tetrazzini (who looks like she probably ate quite a bit of it in her time, if you know what I'm saying). All in all, it's a perfect dinner for those rare and wonderful Arizona rainy days...when you have an opera singer on your mind. Or something along those lines.

Chicken Tetrazzini

7 oz. spaghetti, broken into thirds
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 c. chicken broth
1 c. heavy cream or 1/2 and 1/2
2 Tbsp. dry sherry or water
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cook spaghetti as directed on package.

While spaghetti is cooking, melt butter in a 2-quart saucepan over low heat. Stir in flour, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly; remove from heat. Stir in broth and cream. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute.

Drain spaghetti. Stir spaghetti, sherry or water, and chicken into sauce.

Pour spaghetti mixture into an ungreased 2-quart casserole. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake uncovered about 30 minutes or until bubbly in center.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Chocolate Butterscotch Blondie Cake

As I mentioned in my last post, someone around here had a birthday last week. (Okay, it was me.) The great thing about having your birthday right around Labor Day--or frequently on Labor Day--is that you can generally count on a three-day weekend that feels pretty much especially for your birthday. For me, any of the other three-day weekends (Memorial Day, Veterans' Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) are tinged with just a little bit of guilt for not being more patriotic and/or social justice-oriented. As in, we don't put out the American flag on those days (we don't have one--I know, I know, that's no excuse) and frankly, I don't know what I'm supposed to do for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. All the things I'm brainstorming right now just come out sounding patronizing and offensive, so I won't even mention them...yikes. 

As three-day weekends go, then, Labor Day feels like an irreproachable freebie. It was instituted in the 1880s and '90s (various states adopted it at various times) as a "national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country," according to the U.S. Department of Labor

Hey, I'm a worker! ...Or at least I was before I had kids, and now I work harder than ever, though I technically don't "have" a "job" (picture this statement with Chris Farley van-down-by-the-river air finger quotes). So, see? Like I said! This holiday's for meeeee! And you, and you, and you. Pretty much anybody who's ever had a job.

All that to say it's an ideal time to have a birthday. Thank you, Mom, for going into labor in that Wendy's drive-thru in Peoria, Illinois on Labor Day weekend 1982. You were on to something: labor on Labor Day. And I must say, this birthday was a really great day. In the morning, my husband made my favorite cinnamon pancakes (eventual blog post to come about this wonderful recipe), I went to a yoga class, got to do some shopping, and made my own birthday cake. Some people say you shouldn't have to cook on your birthday, and I'm sure that's true for people who don't really like to cook, but I certainly enjoyed making this cake. It's basically two layers of blondie brownies slathered in butterscotch and chocolate ganaches. It's like if Brownie and Cake got married and made a sweet, sweet baby. "Brownie" in the sense of "dense blondie texture," and "cake" in the sense that it's "stacked" with "frosting" (again, Chris Farley air finger quotes--sorry, I'll stop). So don't be surprised if it doesn't come out of the oven super moist and airy like a traditional cake. It might just be better.

Chocolate Butterscotch Blondie Cake
(Adapted from Annie's Eats, originally from Bakerella; chocolate ganache from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)


For the butterscotch brownie cake:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 (11 oz.) package butterscotch chips, divided

For the butterscotch ganache:
3/4 cup butterscotch chips
6 tbsp. heavy whipping cream

3 tbsp. unsalted butter

For the chocolate ganache:
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. water

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter and flour the sides of two 8-inch round cake pans. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  In a large bowl, combine the butter, sugar and vanilla.  Beat on medium speed until creamy.  Scrape down the bowl and mix in the eggs until well incorporated.  Gradually beat in the flour mixture on low speed just until combined.  Stir in 1 cup of butterscotch chips with a rubber spatula.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  Sprinkle with the remaining butterscotch chips.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Transfer the pans to a wire cooling rack and allow to cool completely before carefully removing from the pans.
To make the butterscotch ganache, combine the cream and the butter in a small saucepan.  Warm over medium-high heat until the mixture is almost boiling.  Place the butterscotch chips in a small, heatproof bowl.  Pour the cream mixture over the butterscotch chips and allow to sit for 30 seconds.  Stir until smooth. If too runny, place in refrigerator until it thickens enough to not run too quickly off the cake.
To make the chocolate ganache, place the chopped chocolate in a small bowl.  Bring the cream, sugar and water to a boil, then pour the liquid over the chocolate and let sit for 30 seconds.  Gently whisk the mixture together until smooth.  Leave the glaze to sit until it thickens a bit to your desired consistency.
To assemble the cake, place one of the cake layers on a wire rack with a sheet of wax paper.  Drizzle butterscotch ganache over the top so that it drips over the edges of the cake.  Drizzle with a small amount of chocolate ganache as well.  Lay the remaining cake layer on top of the first and top with remaining chocolate ganache so that it drips over the edges. If desired, place remaining butterscotch ganache in a squeeze bottle and use it to decorate the top of the cake--or simply use extra butterscotch chips to decorate. Transfer the cake to a serving platter.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Couscous Cakes with Feta and Sundried Tomato Salad

Don't you just love Ted Talks? I don't know who Ted is. Maybe he's the guy who started it all. Maybe it's an acronym: Teaching Eligible Dummies? Topics of Entertainment and Doom? My acronym for it would be MMFS Talks: Making Me Feel Smart Talks. I for one love feeling like I'm stuffing important knowledge into my brain while sitting in my underwear in my family room. Who's with me?

Ever since watching this Ted Talk by cookbook author/New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, I've become convinced of the need to cut back on our family's meat intake. There are so many reasons for this--(watch the Ted Talk; Bittman put it much more intelligently than I ever could)--perhaps the focus of another blog post another day, but suffice it to say that since the decision to become more or less a "weekday vegetarian," I'm always looking for solid vegetarian recipes for dinners. Or maybe you've noticed, since I have only posted one actual meat dish so far on this blog.  

I've been making this couscous cakes and salad recipe for awhile now, and it does not disappoint. Hearty and healthy at the same time--my favorite kind of dinner. Actually, the only disappointing thing is that it contains no actual cake. My kids were a little bummed about that (and so was I). Not to worry, though! My birthday is in a couple of days, so I may get around to posting an actual cake recipe very soon.

Couscous Cakes with Feta and Sundried Tomato Salad
(Heavily adapted from


For the dressing:
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. sour cream
1 tsp. finely chopped mint
4 Tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper

For the couscous cakes:
1 1/2 c. dry couscous
1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 Tbsp. dried parsley

4 eggs
Zest of 2 lemons
Olive oil

For the salad:
8 oz. fresh spinach
1/2 c. feta cheese
1/2 c. sundried tomatoes


Prepare the dressing: In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, sour cream, and mint. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Prepare the couscous cakes (can be done several hours in advance): Prepare couscous according to package directions. (If there are no directions, you can always remember that couscous has a 1:1 ratio with water. In a microwave-safe dish, pour 1 1/2 c. water over 1 1/2 c. couscous with a sprinkle of salt and microwave for 3 1/2 minutes. Fluff with a fork.) Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mash garbanzo beans until pasty. Add 1 1/2 tsp. salt, minced garlic, dried parsley, eggs, and lemon zest. Mix in cooled couscous until thoroughly combined.

Press the couscous mixture into a 1/4 c. measuring cup, smooth the top, and invert the measuring cup to release the cake onto a plate. Repeat with the remaining couscous mixture. (At this point, the cakes can be covered and refrigerated for later cooking.)

Heat 1 1/2 Tbsp. of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 5 couscous cakes to the skillet and flatten with a spatula until they're about 3/4 inch thick. Cook, flipping once, until crisp and golden brown, about 3-4 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate and cover. Repeat the process until all cakes are cooked.

Assemble the salad: On individual plates, distribute spinach, feta, and sun dried tomatoes. Top each salad with couscous cakes, and serve with dressing.

Makes approximately 15 couscous cakes, or 5 servings.