Archive for May, 2010

Strawberry Cupcakes (and 5 links for Friday)

Friday, May 28th, 2010

I probably don’t have to tell you it’s strawberry season — in fact, we’re getting down to the final weeks here in Virginia, and there were reports of the first cherries of the season at the FreshFarm Penn Quarter market yesterday. We had friends over last weekend and I wanted to make strawberry cupcakes for the kids. (Ok, for all of us.) I found this recipe using fresh berries from famed Sprinkles Cupcakery via Martha Stewart, and it turned out wonderfully. The frosting, a semi-cream cheese twist, is my new favorite frosting — the husband, who doesn’t typically like cream cheese or buttercream frostings, even approved. And of course the kids were big fans, too.

Recipe: Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
(Adapted from Sprinkles’ recipe; get the cupcake recipe at MarthaStewart.com.)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), room temperature
  • 4 ounces cream cheese (1/2 package), room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons strawberry puree
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste (or extract)

Instructions: Cream cream cheese and butter in mixer bowl on medium speed until fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar, mixing on low at first, then medium until smooth. Add strawberry puree and vanilla and mix another minute. If your frosting is really soft (as tends to happen when working in a warm kitchen), chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so before frosting cupcakes. Makes enough for 1 dozen cupcakes. Enjoy!

And now, a few links for your holiday weekend … have a great one!

1.  I’ve spotted a few spring panzanellas around the food blogs. Typically made with late summer’s ripe tomatoes, these versions use what’s in season today, like asparagus and arugula panzanella from In Jennie’s Kitchen and spring panzanella from Sassy Radish – perfect side dishes for Memorial Day cook-outs!

2. Speaking of cook-outs, Borderstan has a round-up of bbq-ready recipes from DC food bloggers.

3. If you’re running out of ideas for all that spring asparagus, here are Five Ways to Eat Asparagus from Food & Think at Smithsonian.com (including my crustless asparagus quiche).

4. It’s officially soft shell season here in the Chesapeake Bay region, and Coconut & Lime has a helpful tutorial for cleaning fresh crabs if you’re brave enough to cook them at home. (Buster’s Seafood at the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market usually has them for sale this time of year.)

5. If you’re staying in town this holiday weekend, catch Chef José Andrés and his daughter Ines cooking another giant paella at the Dupont Circle FreshFarm market, 11am.

Shopping Smarter at the Supermarket

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

For those who frequently shop with young children, the goal tends to be to get in, get what you need and get out before a meltdown. Reading nutrition labels and trying to make sense of manufacturer’s nutrition claims is increasingly time-consuming. While the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is supposed to regulate misleading claims — like Kellogg’s claiming their sugar-laden cereals increased immunity — for the most part, manufacturers have free reign over how they try to sell you on their products.

nutritioniQShoppers — and its family of grocery stores, including Albertsons, Acme, Bigg’s, Bristol Farms, Cub, Farm Fresh, Jewel-Osco, and Shop ‘n Save — recently unveiled a new program to help customers make sense of the claims. The nutrition iQ program is a grading system that measures food products against seven nutrition benchmarks, and then awards qualifying products a shelf tag stating that it is a good source of whole grains, low in sodium, etc. The guidelines were developed by a health organization, the Joslin Diabetes Center — independent of food manufacturers.

At first glance, this seems like a great tool to help consumers and also to apply market pressure to manufacturers. Early testing showed that consumers did shift their purchases towards products with a nutrition iQ tag. If a manufacturer sees their market share start to slip at participating stores, one would presume they would be encouraged to change their formulas. In fact, some of Shoppers’ own store brand products don’t meet the criteria for their categories, and their in-store nutritionists are working with their manufacturers to make changes.

The labels also provide a little more credibility to claims manufacturers may make on their packaging. It’s almost comical to walk the cereal aisle and see how many of the boldly “NOW WITH WHOLE GRAINS” labeled cereals don’t, in fact, qualify for the nutrition iQ whole grains tag. It’s not that they don’t have whole grains — products also have to fall under a certain sugar threshold before they can even be considered — so they may be too high in sugar and/or have too little actual whole grains. Unfortunately, a number of cereals are still made with the same over-processed grains and then have a whole grain supplement added back. To qualify for the nutrition iQ tag, an actual whole grain must be the first ingredient.

no nutrition iQ tag here

There are no bonus points for organics, so organic soup with high salt content is not going to get a tag. Organic yogurt with a lot of sugar is also disqualified, though you may still prefer that over yogurt with high fructose corn syrup.

The program was rolled out for certain categories of foods to begin with, largely processed ones. While choosing a nutrition iQ-labeled cereal is probably a better choice than one without, I do wonder if it gives an overstated sense of healthfulness — the better choice, still, is probably to skip the cereal and eat oatmeal. But I do think third-party verification of nutrition claims is a step in the right direction.

What do you think, would a store labeling program help you choose better products? How else can we pressure manufacturers to make healthier products?

Shared with Fight Back Friday at the Food Renegade – go check out more recipes and ideas in this week’s round-up.

Disclosure: I received a free lunch and bag of groceries for attending the launch event at Shoppers, as well as a gift card which I donated to charity. The opinions expressed in this post are my own.

At the Bloomingdale Farmers Market (and Sunday BLTJs)

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

I ventured into the city Sunday to check out a new (to me) market, the Bloomingdale Farmers Market. The sister market to the 14th & U Farmers Market, Bloomingdale is open Sundays from 10am-2pm. I was lured in to visit by news of some new cheeses at Keswick Creamery. (Head over to the cheese blog to read about those!) The Bloomingdale market is a small but robust neighborhood market, one block long and featuring a terrific group of vendors.

Keswick Creamery and Copper Pot were perhaps the more well-known vendors from other markets. I picked up strawberries — the most flavorful I’ve had this season, by far — and an heirloom pepper plant from Reid’s Orchard, a Pennsylvania vendor who also appears at some of the Fairfax County markets.

I got arugula and smoked bacon from Truck Patch (who also had lovely strawberries, asparagus and eggs), and a loaf of rustic white bread from Panorama Bakery. In addition to Truck Patch, there were also lamb and goat meat vendors, a vegan baker, and another produce vendor.

And as an added perk, the market is located in front of Big Bear Cafe, so I was able to pick up a Counter Culture latte for my trip home.

Once home, I made a quick lunch of BLTJ’s — last summer’s tomato jam standing in for fresh tomatoes. (Okay, and technically it’s a BATJ, as I used arugula in place of lettuce.) And for dessert, Keswick’s decadent chocolate pudding. I think it’s safe to say the Foodie Tot is a fan.

Bloomingdale Farmers Market
1st and R Streets, NW
Sundays, 10am – 2pm
Get market updates on Facebook

(Sorta Meatless Monday) Coconut Basil Shrimp Stir-Fry

Monday, May 24th, 2010

I’m not sure if there’s an official rule about seafood on Meatless Monday, but I’ve generally avoided it thus far. Since part of the purpose of Meatless Monday is to raise awareness of the environmental impact of our food choices, I figured I’d make an exception for a farewell to Gulf shrimp. This dinner was loosely inspired by Aimee’s coconut rice, in that I had the two ingredients on the mind. The snap peas came from the farmers market, and were just as crisp and sweet as they look. And the basil was the first harvest from my freshly-potted herb planter.

Recipe: Coconut Basil Shrimp Stir-Fry

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound wild Gulf shrimp
  • 1/3 cup shredded coconut
  • 2 cups snap peas
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 4 basil leaves, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper

Instructions: Toast coconut in cast iron skillet over medium heat until lightly browned. Remove from heat and set aside. Warm olive oil in skillet and cook garlic until soft and translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add shrimp, season with salt and pepper, and cook until pink and cooked through. Add soy sauce, snap peas and coconut and cook another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and sprinkle basil over top. Serve over rice. Makes 4 servings. Enjoy!

The FoodieTots family participates in Meatless Mondays, cutting out meat one day a week for our health and for the environment. (When we do eat meat, we choose local and grassfed whenever possible.) Visit the Meatless Monday pledge page to learn more, and sign up for weekly tips and recipes you can use to go meatless, too!

Mood-Changing Meals (Pancakes with Strawberries … for Dinner!)

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

So the boy has developed this charming habit lately of coming to the table when called for dinner, taking a cursory glance at his plate, and then declaring, “I do not like that! I do not even eat that!” Sometimes, this is followed with continued whining and stomping around, other times it’s followed with him eating a few bites while continuing to protest between mouthfuls that “I do not eat this.” (Despite the obvious evidence to the contrary.)

Now, it’s been a stressful couple months in the FoodieTots household. A death in the family, a move to a new house in a new neighborhood, and of course the impending arrival of the newest Foodie Tot. The boy hasn’t been sleeping well (anyone have a cure for toddler insomnia??), and we’re trying our best to maintain some degree of patience. But after the new, longer commute home from work, cooking a meal in our not-yet-entirely-unpacked kitchen and dining room, and getting something on the table to eat, these tantrums are more than a little disheartening.

After a regrettable week (or so) of take-out/eating out during the move, I’m trying to get back on track with home-cooked meals at least five nights a week. So rather than give in to the pizza parlor temptation, Monday night I made pancakes for dinner. And not just any pancakes: big, fluffy pancakes topped with lightly sweetened strawberries and whipped cream. That’s right, whipped cream for dinner. And when the boy came stomping into the kitchen to see what horrible injustice I was preparing to dish up, the sight of the beater whirring in the KitchenAid was an instant mood changer.

(The strawberries came from Westmoreland Berry Farm this week, at the Alexandria West End market.)

Recipe: Our Favorite Pancakes with Fresh Strawberries

Notes: You can make these with half whole wheat flour. I “lightened” them up with olive oil, and sweetened the whipped cream with vanilla but no extra sugar. For the strawberry topping, I sliced a cup of strawberries and sprinkled with a tablespoon of sugar, then let stand while I prepared the pancakes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/3 cups organic unbleached flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon organic cane sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/3 cups milk
  • 1 tablespoon olive  oil

Instructions: Lightly oil skillet with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Mix the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk the egg. Add milk and oil and mix well. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined (some lumps will be left). Pour about 1/3 cup batter per pancake into the skillet, and cook until bubbles begin to form and pop around the edges. Flip and cook another minute. Serve warm, topped with strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream. Enjoy! (Makes about 12 3-inch pancakes.)

I can’t serve whipped cream for dinner every night, so please share — what tricks do you have to fight the dinner-time blues?

Shared with Real Food Wednesday hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.