Category Archives: Product Recommendation


Happy Holidays (and last post of 2014)

Happy Holidays to you and yours! This will be my last post of 2014. We’re out of town for the holidays, spending a few days with my husband’s mother and squeezing in a quick trip to Vegas (a little perk of being an empty nester!). So I’m baking like mad even though I’ve caught the cruddy cold that’s going around. I’ve got a batch of these layer bars in the oven, using up my last jar of strawberry-rhubarb-ginger jam. I went nuts with home-roasted pumpkin, baking off some scones (a riff on this recipe, reducing the buttermilk and adding 1/2 cup pumpkin puree), a classic pumpkin bread jazzed up with some fresh cranberries (pictured next to the booze bottle below), and a batch of pumpkin yeast rolls from the King Arthur website.

One of our treats at the holidays is to order cheese from the Trappist Monks at Gethsemani Farms. They offer four varieties of their semi-soft cheese — our favorite is the Aged (aka “stinky cheese”). They make a pretty nice fruitcake, too. We love the cheese with crackers and salami, or in a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s available year-round, but it’s a holiday tradition for us.

So my last cocktail recipe of the year is **barely** a cocktail. At the end of the day nursing a cold, after a zillion cups of hot herbal tea, you really are sick of the fruity crap. But an iced cocktail is just NOT what the doctor ordered — you already have the chills! But a gentle hot toddy, well, that’s practically medicinal, right?

SAMSUNGHot Apple Toddy
Serves 1

Smidgen of butter
3 tablespoons Evan Williams Apple Orchard
Hot water
Cinnamon stick (optional)

Put the butter and liqueur in the bottom of a mug. Add hot water. Stir until butter melts. Garnish with a cinnamon stick if desired.



Healthier tweak to some old favorites

So a blogger I follow, Marisa McClellan over at foodinjars, recently published a cookbook, Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces from the author of Food in Jars. And in that cookbook was a recipe for biscuits made entirely with Whole Wheat Pastry Flour. I was skeptical. I’ve worked with whole wheat flour with real mixed results. So I filed this tidbit away for Future Investigation and ended up buying some Whole Wheat Pastry Flour by Hodgson Mill a few grocery trips later. And you know what — no longer a skeptic!

Experiment #1: My old nemesis, pie crust. I decided to go with all-butter (no lard) and sub out half of the all-purpose flour with this whole wheat pastry flour. The dough was a little persnickety upon rollout, perhaps a touch more fragile, but really not so different than the all A/P version. I made a ham-and-cheese quiche with one half, and honestly, the slight grit and nuttiness of the crust was an improvement over the all A/P version! Lots of light flaky layers, too. I froze the other half for later use. I would discourage that — the dough was VERY fragile and tore often upon roll-out. I did a lot of patching but managed to eke out a decent enough crust for an apple pie. Some flakiness lost, but all in all, a decent pie.

Experiment #2: Classic Toll-House Chocolate Chip Cookies. I went with my melted butter technique but otherwise used the basic recipe, subbing out half of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour. I have a stand mixer, so no issues with mixing. My personal taste test of raw dough revealed the merest grit and nuttiness, but an innocent bystander probably wouldn’t have noticed the difference. They baked off consistent with the full A/P version. Final product was given a thumbs-up all around. The slightest change in texture — but everyone said they wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t said something.

Experiment #3: Biscuits. Given the success of the previous two forays into WWPF, I decided to brave a half-batch of biscuits using ONLY the whole wheat pastry flour. I used the proportions and general techniques found at Mommy’s Kitchen, which is based on a Southern Living recipe. I of course doctored it up — this time with some shredded sharp cheddar. I found I had to up the quantity of buttermilk a little — the WWPF really sucked up the liquid. I also did NOT have the usual gloopy dough that I have to turn out on a well-floured board for booking (laminating?), so I formed eight small biscuits by hand, handling the dough as little as possible. Baked them off, keeping an eye on the time, and ended up with crusty-outside-fluffy-inside cheesy biscuits. Awesome alongside a basic fish chowder.

Why choose WWPF over A/P flour? Fiber, baby. One-quarter cup unbleached, all-purpose flour has about 1 gram of fiber. One-quarter cup of whole wheat pastry flour has 4 grams of fiber. For someone who’s trying to be smarter about their carb intake, fiber matters.

So, will I sneak WWPF into every baked good from now on? Probably not. But if I’m making a quiche, I might prefer the half WWPF version. And if I’m making savory biscuits on a weeknight, I might go the WWPF version since it’s less messy and slightly more healthful.


Standard caveat: This is a personal recommendation. I have been provided neither product nor compensation for this endorsement.


Another fall flavor for sippin’

Sometimes something will catch my fancy at the likker store. This weekend — it was the seasonal apple cider liqueurs. Both Jack Daniels and Evan Williams do one. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not the biggest fan of brown liquors, so I’ve been hesitant to buy these in the past. After a chat with the salesguy, who was a self-described whiskey nut, I decided to give the Evan Williams a try.

Once safely home for the evening, I poured a little in a glass for a taste. Sweet … apple-y … backnotes of fall spices. I imagine it would be tasty warm! But I was thinking more of an iced cocktail (it was pretty warm over the weekend), and I spied two orphan Shock-Tops in the back of the fridge, a Honeycrisp Apple Wheat and a Pumpkin Wheat. I don’t think I’ve ever attempted a beer cocktail, but I knew the Honeycrisp Apple Wheat had definite apple notes, so I said, what the hell. And so this cocktail was born. The two really do complement each other, and the mild bitterness of the ale tempers the sweetness of the liqueur. You’ll get three drinks out of a bottle of beer — so these really are on the milder side. But very refreshing!

As this runs a little under $10/bottle, it’s a nice addition to your fall larder.

SAMSUNGWhen Evan Met Belgium
Serves 1

3 tablespoons Evan Williams Apple Orchard
Splash of lime
4 ounces medium-bodied Belgian-style wheat ale


Put ice in a rocks glass. Add the liqueur and a splash of lime. Top off with ale. Garnish with an apple chunk if you’re feeling fancy.



Standard caveat: This is a personal recommendation. I have been provided neither product nor compensation for this endorsement.


A Taste of the Stary Kraj (Old Country)

So this weekend, I took a field trip with a dozen like-minded ChoWhounds to Orchid Cellar Meadery and Winery, just outside Frederick, Md. Our goal? To sample as many small-batch meads as the mazer (mead brewer) would pour!

Mead is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey. It is one of the oldest beverages — appearing to pre-date both beer and vinifera wine. In Poland, mead was made at home for many generations. Even my husband has made it in the past (I really should dig around that dark closet in the beach shack just in case there’s a bottle still hiding in the far corners!). The folks at Orchid Cellar are fourth-generation Polish mead brewers. They rely on traditional low-technology methods of fermentation and aging, with no artificial flavorings or preservatives added.

Meads can be on the boozy side — so probably not something you are going to guzzle. The can range from dry to fairly sweet. I wouldn’t call them subtle — they pair beautifully with sausages and cheeses. Andrzej Jr recommends serving them at “castle temp” — I like them chilled in the fridge and sipped in small portions — they warm up to “castle temp” pretty quickly. Unopened, these could keep for years. Opened and refrigerated, they should last for several months.

I purchased four varieties for my own consumption:

Melusine Dry Cyser – a fermented blend of apple juice and honey. Alcohol content ~12%, so more like a dry fruity wine. Versatile accompaniment to pork.

Beekeeper Kiwi Mead – inspired by Polish tradition of using gooseberries in mead. Alcohol content 16% – 18%. Delightful as an apertif with sausage and cheese.

Cobbler White Peach Mead – inspired by the availability of lush white peaches at a friend’s orchard in Pennsylvania. A little deeper flavor than the Beekeeper. Alcohol content 16% – 18%.

Archer Cinnamon and Clove Mead – my personal favorite. Dark and complex in flavor. Something to be savored in front of the fire this winter. Alcohol content 16% – 18%.


Their products can be purchased at the meadery, online, or at a number of retailers throughout Maryland. Please see their website for more details.

Standard caveat: This is a personal recommendation. I have been provided neither product nor compensation for this endorsement.


Sponsored Post: Muscadine Smash

I got REALLY excited when I saw that muscadines were showing up in my Backyard Produce box! I don’t think I’ve ever seen muscadines available for sale around here — so it was a blast from the past to find them in my box! Interested in learning more about Backyard Produce? Please visit their main website or their Facebook page!

A lot of folks, even those well south of the Mason Dixon line, are unfamiliar with muscadine grapes. Muscadines are native to southern North America and were grown by both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, with varying degrees of success at wine. My grandfather grew them and I **loved** the preserves my grandmother made with them. Muscadines have a distinctive musky, sweet flavor … nothing at all like the insipid green grapes you get at the grocery store year-round. It’s kind of wild — fitting as they haven’t been domesticated as long as European grapes. The skins are thick and leathery — giving you a preserve with some tooth. As I didn’t have enough to make preserves (I am kicking myself now for not ordering more), we settled for eating out-of-hand and cocktails.

The muscadines are quite subtle in this cocktail — but that wild-muskiness is complemented by the gin’s botanical notes. I’ve got just a few left in the fridge, so I might try to make a micro-batch of muscadine syrup to enjoy for the next month, possibly as muscadine soda?

SAMSUNGMuscadine Smash
Serves 1

2 or 3 muscadines, quartered, seeds discarded
1 tablespoon orange liqueur
3 tablespoons gin
Lime wedge
Ginger ale

Put the muscadines and orange liqueur into the bottom of a sturdy wide-mouth tumbler (“Old Fashioned” glass). Muddle these together, making sure to smash the grapes well. Add the gin and a squeeze of lime and stir to combine. Add the ice and top off with ginger ale. Garnish with a muscadine half.


Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Backyard Produce. I received compensation in exchange for developing these recipes. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.


Sponsored Post: Pie Leftovers

I should probably clarify that title. There is no such thing as leftover pie. There’s pie for today, pie for tomorrow, and if you are REALLY lucky, pie for the day after. Pie does not languish in this house.

What I’m really referring to is the pile of apple peels leftover after you peel apples for pie (was that even grammatically correct?). It seems so wasteful, you know? I never peel an apple to eat out of hand. I leave them on to make applesauce (and fish ’em out later). But I will peel apples for pie. And in this case, it was apples from my Backyard Produce delivery. You know I’ve mentioned them already — I’ve been an enthusiastic subscriber since May and those weekly deliveries were an absolute godsend during my convalescence from the big bathtub fall. A gorgeous box of fruit and vegetables delivered to my home every Wednesday — what’s not to love?? So when Backyard Produce was looking for bloggers to develop recipes with their produce — you KNOW I was all over it! Interested in learning more about Backyard Produce? Please visit their main website or their Facebook page!

So I got an idea — there’s still a fair amount of flesh left on the peel — guess I’m not that good of a peeler? And there’s good flavor in the cores (that’s why we leave them in applesauce). So I decided to make a simple syrup with these leftovers — trying to wring out the last bit of flavor from these glorious apples.

Spiced Apple Syrup
Yield varies

SAMSUNGApple peels from at least 4 or so apples
Cores from those same apples
Cinnamon stick, and/or
Cloves, and/or
Star anise, and/or
Ginger knob, sliced
Granulated Sugar

Wash your apples well before peeling. Put the peels AND the cores in a pan and cover with water (use the apples for pie!). I had the peels from 5 medium-sized apples and I used 4 cups of water to cover. Add whichever whole spices you are using. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the peels are pale and lifeless-looking and the cores are soft and mushy.


Allow to cool slightly, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl. Use a spatula to gently press liquid through — you’ll get a little cloudiness in your syrup but it’s worth it for the flavor! Discard the solids.

Rinse your pan. Or dirty a fresh one — your call. MEASURE the strained liquid and put into the pan. Measure an equal amount by volume of sugar and add to the pan. That means, if you had 2 cups of liquid, add 2 cups of sugar :). Even though I started with 4 cups of water, I only had 2 cups of spiced apple liquid after straining. Bring the sugared solution to a gentle boil, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar. Boil gently for 1 to 2 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature. Store covered in the refrigerator.

What does one DO with this amazing syrup? It makes a lovely, subtle homemade soda – a welcome change from the store-bought stuff. I think it would be amazing to sweeten an herbal tea. Or mixed with some lemon and hot water as a kid-friendly hot toddy. Drizzle over ice cream. Make cocktails!


SAMSUNGSpiced Apple Soda
Serves 1

2 – 3 tablespoons spiced apple syrup
6 ounces seltzer

Put the ice in an appropriate-sized glass. Add the syrup. Pour the seltzer over. Stir gently. Consume immediately!


SAMSUNGApple-Pom Cocktail
Serves 1

2 tablespoons spiced apple syrup
1 tablespoon Pama pomegranate liqueur
3 tablespoons silver rum
Lime wedge

Put the syrup, liqueur, and rum into the bottom of a sturdy wide-mouth tumbler (“Old Fashioned” glass). Squeeze in your lime and throw the wedge in. Stir to combine. Add some ice and top off with seltzer.



Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Backyard Produce. I received compensation in exchange for developing these recipes. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.


It’s NOT just because of the name

Every so often I’ve purchased a bottle of something out of Washington State’s Chateau Ste. Michelle. NOT just because of the name. I remember liking whatever I bought, but since it was pre-blog, I didn’t take notes :). I’ve always felt that if I had to pick a bottle for a hostess gift, I probably wouldn’t be embarrassed to bring something from Chateau Ste Michelle. And the wines generally get good reviews from people who know more about wine than me.

SAMSUNGTheir wines are typically priced above my self-imposed ceiling of $10, so when I saw a bottle of Riesling on sale at Giant for less than that, I grabbed a bottle (I think I paid $8.99). It was a really nice little weekday wine. I’d characterize it as off-dry — a hint of residual sugar but not cloyingly so. A medium body — this has more oomph than a pinot grigio — but not overly heavy. It’s a nice before-dinner wine — would probably pair well with fairly assertive cheeses. I think it would make a nice sangria as well — cut back on the sugar a little.

This is also my first post since my little bathtub accident. I’m on the mend, but I walk like a pirate. People are really nice to you when you are on crutches — drivers even encourage you to jaywalk. I just need a better story than “I fell into the bathtub.”

Standard caveat: This is a personal recommendation. Chateau Ste. Michelle does not know I exist and has provided neither product nor compensation for this endorsement. In fact, they’ll probably sue me if this ever gets in a search engine.


A summertime beer recommendation …

Beer really isn’t my go-to adult beverage. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m out with friends and that’s the happy hour special — I’ll drink it. Or if I’m down on the hot sandy beach and someone offers me one — I am grateful. But I wouldn’t think to plan a meal around it, like I did for this trio of Old Vines Zin, nor would I generally think to take a six-pack as a hostess gift. But I usually have some around for my beer-drinking friends.

I prefer milder beers — not too bitter and hoppy. I also like a hint of fruit in there. So I was pleased to find the Sam Adams Porch Rocker on the grocery store shelves again this summer. It’s a seasonal release, so you won’t find it year-round. A medium-bodied lager with just a hint of lemon, it’s refreshing but still a beer. It paired quite nicely with last night’s buffalo shrimp, in fact, I think I may have to try poaching some shrimp in it one day! It also is a great accompaniment to our barbecued ribs.

Standard caveat: This is a personal recommendation. The Samuel Adams brewery folks don’t know I exist and have provided neither product nor compensation for this endorsement. In fact, they’ll probably sue me if this ever gets in a search engine.


Cheese Finds

I’m a little obsessed with ethnic markets. I’m completely in love with the Lebanese Butcher, attached to the Mount of Lebanon restaurant in Falls Church. This is where I buy preserved lemons, olives in bulk, and canned favas. Buy a whole leg of lamb and have them bone it out for you — lots of meat for kabobs and stew, and even a couple of nice roasts for Sunday dinner. They have these coconut cookies up at the cash register that are INSANE (the CGP likes them better than my macaroons!). But there are a couple of MUST HAVE products I want to promote today.

They sell this olive-infused Egyptian Feta that is unlike ANYTHING I’ve tasted before. Let’s start with some nomenclature first. In the EU, “feta” refers to a very specific kind of cheese, made in defined ratios from the milk of specific animals (sheep or sheep/goat), made in a very specific geography (Greece), in a very specific traditional way. That’s the grainy, salty, crumbly cheese you think of when you think of feta. Elsewhere, outside the EU, feta frequently just means “white cheese.” So when I bought a box of this, I thought I was getting the crumbly stuff with bits of olives. OH NO NO NO … I opened the box to find this amazingly soft and lush creamy spread that tasted like oil-cured kalamata olives. Imagine the best cream cheese schmear you’ve ever had, but 100 times creamier and 100 times more infused flavor. I smear it on crackers. I smear it on flatbread with kabob or grilled sausage. I want to smear it on an everything bagel but I keep forgetting to buy them. I don’t remember the price — $3.99? $4.99? Something low enough that I didn’t flinch the first time and don’t even care now. If you love cheese and love olives — this will become your new addiction. Made with buffalo and cow’s milk. I swear it’s the buffalo milk that gives it the texture. The nice butcher at the back says he eats this every day for breakfast.


So on to another find — labna. It’s essentially yogurt cheese — kind of like greek yogurt strained even further. The texture is similar to cream cheese, but the taste is tangier. At $1.99 for a one pound tub, it’s a steal. I can’t strain my own yogurt for that price! You know what I like to eat it with — DATES. I can get a huge tub of dates for $4.99. I haven’t seen dates at that price ANYWHERE in town. These are wonderful to eat out of hand or to use in baking.



Standard caveat: This is a personal recommendation. I have been provided neither product nor compensation for this endorsement.


Wine Find – VINTJS Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel

SAMSUNGSo sometime over the winter I was in a Trader Joe’s [*] and saw their VINTJS Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, priced around $7.99. So I grabbed a couple of bottles, just on a whim. I don’t remember if this was before or after the Big Bronchitis, but we didn’t open a bottle until sometime in February. Oh my goodness — what a lovely wine! Lush, medium-bodied, and reminiscent of fruit — blackberry came to mind. Just a really lovely wine. I drank it with this down-home casserole — this is not a pretentious wine.

SAMSUNGA couple of days later we got socked with a pretty decent snowstorm. After some shoveling, I was hankering for something warm and adult. I saw the partial bottle of wine and thought Mulled Wine! So I poured the remaining wine (estimated 3 cups), one cup of cran-rasberry juice (100% juice), and 1/4 cup of sugar into a saucepan. I wrapped two tablespoons of mulling spices in a cheesecloth sachet and dropped that in. Gently simmer 15 or 20 minutes until hot and the spices are well-infused. Serve steaming hot in mugs.

[*] I swear I am not a paid shill for Trader Joe’s. But you just can’t beat them for reasonably-priced everyday wines.


Standard caveat: This is a personal recommendation. The Trader Joe’s folks don’t know I exist and have provided neither product nor compensation for this endorsement. In fact, they’ll probably sue me if this ever gets in a search engine.