Thursday, September 28, 2006

How the garden grows

I got my AeroGarden (a tabletop hydroponic garden system) and have my first crop of salad greens sprouting. It was amazingly easy to assemble the gizmo. Even though my husband offered to help, I didn't need it. The directions were clearly written with excellent illustrations to lead me along the way.

The glow from the grow lights is sort of eerie, casting a bright flood of light that keeps the kitchen looking like it's noon all day. The grow light is on 16 hours then goes off for 8 hours. Everything is automated. When the water needs to be added a light will tell me. When the nutrients need to be added a light will tell me that, too.

The unusual toy has prompted comments from the family (peanut gallery). My daughter joked that we'd be eating less salad if we rely on this as the only source.

I have to admit, it does look like a pretty small production, but the photos in the directions shows a bounty of leafy greens. Time will tell.

And, my granddaughter wondered about the price comparison of store-bought greens versus the cost of running the bright grow lights for hours.

Stay tuned for answers as I progress with my new adventure.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Here is Weblog worth making a favorite.

Consumer Reports has launced a blog called Consumer Reports on Safety The blog offers analysis of important safety issues and provides need-to-know information for keeping families safe from preventable injury or illness.

The blog is written by Don Mays, senior director for product safety at Consumer Reports, and Caroline Mayer, former Washington Post consumer issues columnist and 2006 Betty Furness Consumer Media Service Award winner.

Among the initial posts on Consumer Reports on Safety is a story offering reliable information to consumers in the wake of the E.Coli outbreak in fresh spinach.

Friday, September 22, 2006

There's little that's worse for a restaurant or commercial foodservice business than a food-poisoning outbreak. Now there's a way that commercial enterprises can test for two of the more vicious sources of food poisoning: salmonella and E.coli.

Magna Medical has developed E.coli and salmonella test strips that allow grocery stores, delis, food service operators and others in the business to spot-check cooked foods for those germs. There's also a way to use them on fresh produce, too --like spinach, according to Lowen Kamp R&D Laboratories, which ran an independent test on them.

In fact, Magna Medical general manager Robert Greenhim he said he had sent samples of the strips to Dole last year, and they decided not to buy them -- a move someone might be regretting in light of the recent E.coli outbreak from bagged spinach. "I can't talk much about this but I've been subpoenaed in the lawsuit against them in this latest outbreak," Greene said. "It's going to be interesting to see how this develops and what industry does."

For now, the strips are available only for commercial use, but they could become available for home use after further testing and development.

The salmonella strip is the easier of the two to use, and Greene says it can detect 50 of the most common and deadliest strains. The strips are submerged in food samples, and if the organism is present the strip will change color in less than 20 minutes.

The E.coli or salmonella strips cost $3.25 each.
For more information call 1-866-596-TEST (8378) or visit the Web site:

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Once a month, my husband and I gather with eight other people to share a dinner. The person who brings the entree also designs the menu and gets the recipes to the group. Last Saturday, that person was Jeff Hodges, (our bachelor member), and he selected a Cuban theme.
Pat Krieger (our bachelorette member) was assigned soup and salad detail. Her salad, Ensalada de Aguacate y Cebollas (avocado red onion salad) came with a very simple dressing recipe. But Krieger, a veteran cook, had a better recipe: Celery Seed Dressing. We were all impressed with her zippy change.
She wasn't surprised.
"Here's the recipe for the salad dressing," she wrote in a note,. "It's from Mary Mecede's 'Magic Recipes' and everyone I've served it to begs for the recipe. For the salad we had for the dinner I sliced one large red onion and added it to the dressing to marinate in the fridge. That helps take the bite off the onion. Then I drained the onions and tossed them with two sliced avocados."
So you won't have to beg, here it is.
Celery Seed Dressing
Makes 1 pint
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 cup tarragon wine vinegar
1/4 medium-sized onion
1 cup salad oil
1 tablespoon celery seed
Blend all ingredients until smooth.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


If you'd like to get a peek at what Safeway is doing to upstage the competition, plan a visit to Boulder to check out the chain's newest store. It's like a Wild Oats and Whole Foods on steroids. Within the 76,000 square feet space, the store has significantly expanded its organic food offerings, displayed its ready-made foods more attractively and added a sushi bar and demonstration kitchen. Located at 3325 28th St., it’s truly something to behold and is slated as a prototype for other new Safeways.

I've written about the Savory Spice shop in Denver and wanted to get out the word of a second location at 2650 W. Main St. in Littleton. The store stocks more than 300 herbs, spices and seasonings that are ground weekly at the original Denver location. The nice thing about this store is that you can buy as much or as little as you need, starting at a half ounce. They also have one of the best selections of vanilla beans. The Tahitian bean is my favorite. It’s plumper with seeds and has a stronger vanilla flavor than the other varieties. When I added the seeds from one bean to a boiling pot of cranberries, the aroma was amazing. It certainly elevated the flavor of the sauce, which quickly became the star of my holiday table.
Check out the Web site at

Monday, September 18, 2006

O.K., tell me I'm overreacting to the fresh spinach scare or that I'm just looking for an excuse to buy a new culinary toy, but I have just placed an order for an AeroGarden.
Some months ago I'd torn out a page from a Frontgate mail order catalog about this interesting looking gizmo. You use aeroponics, which is their term for hydroponics (the science of growing plants in liquid mineral solutions) to grow a little garden inside what looks like a space-age tabletop planter. The device makes sure the plants get the perfect amount of water, light, oxygen and nutritents.
I kept looking at it and thinking it would be fun to grow herbs during the winter. Then I saw one in action at the Cook Street cooking school in Denver and got even more interested in the idea. The chef there said they loved the herbs they were growing right on their kitchen counter top.
When the story about bagged spinach being tainted with E. coil broke last week, I decided to place my order, but instead of zeroing in on herbs I decided to get the salad greens kit. Once I get the garden set up in three weeks I should be harvesting. They say I will be able to continue harvesting for 4 to 6 months.
It costs $149 for the complete set: the AeroGarden and a choice of salad greens, herbs, cherry tomatoes or chile peppers. Additional seed kits cost $19.50 each.
You can view a video about the garden at Enter 11896 in the product search area.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Pears are in season, and you can find them for as little as 70 cents a pound on sale. The bad thing about pears, though, is that they can start to get mushy fast. Here's a quick way to use up pears that are starting to turn: pear sauce. My daughters love this stuff warm or cold, and it makes a great side dish for pork. You can also drain off some of the liquid, add a little cornstarch and use it for a cobbler or with puff pastry. And there's no need to wait till the pears get mushy: fresh-off-the-tree pears will work just as well.

5-6 Pears (if you use more, increase cooking time)
lemon juice

1. Put pears in a bowl and puncture skin with a fork in several places. Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap or wax paper and microwave for about 5 minutes. Cool slightly.
2. Remove skin (it should slip off easily, or use paring knife), stem and core. Mash pears and add cinnamon and ginger to taste. Add a teaspoon or two of lemon juice. Serve warm or refrigerate.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Fair food
No this isn't about average food. It's about the bizarre stuff eaten on fair grounds across the nation - namely food that can be held in one's hand and consumed while on the move: Food-on-a-stick.
Think of the possibilities! The obvious corn dogs and ice cream bars. But creative minds have come up with much more: Chocolate dipped Key Lime Pie-on-a-Stick, Spaghetti and Meatballs-on-a Stick or Macaroni & Cheese-on-a-Stick.
I got a press release about a Web site,, that has a video showcasing all the foods sold on a stick at the Minnesota State Fair. It's highly entertaining -- and less fattening than actually eating such delights.
Visit the site and click on archives. Then click on September 8 - video on a stick.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Nuts give baked goods a nice crunch, but a lot of people are allergic to them.
If you're among those with nut allergies,here's another way to get that crunch in your sweet treats.

Sunday's USA Weekend insert included a recipe for Chips and Dips Cookies, created by Tracy Schuhmacher and her son, Danny, 9, of Rochester, N.Y. Their tip for those who are allergic to nuts: Use pretzels.
"They're crunchy and salty," the mom said in the article. "At first, people were like, 'Are you sure those aren't nuts in there?' You can use them as an alternative in lots of recipes, like dessert crusts."

Schuhmacher's recipe, which also uses potato chips, recently won a contest sponsored by AirBake cooking products.

I did a Google search and found another recipe that uses potato chips in place of nuts - though it's not for someone with nut allergies. But I thought I'd include it, just for the fun of using unusual, salty ingredients in cookie recipes. The latter recipe, by the way, won a Betty Crocker cookie contest.

Chips and Dips Cookies
1 cup butter, room temperature
½ cup white sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup coarsely crushed potato chips
¾ cup coarsely crushed pretzels
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup white chips
Preheat oven to 350°
In a medium bowl using an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and vanilla. Gradually add the flour and mix well. Stir in crushed potato chips and pretzels. Shape level tablespoons of dough into 3-inch logs. Place on ungreased cookie sheets, 1½ inches apart. Bake 14 – 18 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Cool completely on baking sheets. Melt semisweet chocolate chips in microwave, 30 seconds at a time, stirring frequently, until completely melted, about 1 minute. Dip one end of each cookie into the chocolate and place on a sheet of waxed paper. Refrigerate until firm, about 10 minutes. Melt white chips in microwave, 30 seconds at a time, stirring frequently, until completely melted, about 1½ minutes. Dip the other end of each cookie into the melted chips and place on a sheet of waxed paper. Refrigerate until firm, about 10 minutes.
Yield: about 2 dozen.

Chip and Dip Cookies (Cookie Mix)

1 pouch Betty Crocker peanut butter cookie mix
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon water
1 egg
1 cup crushed plain potato chips
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup peanut butter chips
1 cup finely chopped salted mixed nuts

Heat oven to 375°F. In large bowl, stir cookie mix, oil, water, egg and potato chips until soft dough forms. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. On ungreased cookie sheets, place balls 2 inches apart; press each ball to flatten slightly. Bake 8 to 9 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool 3 minutes; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool completely.

In small microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips and peanut butter chips uncovered on high 1 minute to 1 minute 30 seconds, stirring every 30 seconds, until melted and stirred smooth. Dip each cookie halfway into melted chocolate mixture, letting excess drip off. Immediately dip same half into chopped nuts. Place on waxed paper until set, about 1 hour. Store between sheets of waxed paper in tightly covered container.
I loved watching the weekly episodes of "Top Chef" on Bravo last year and I'm thrilled to learn that it will have a second season starting Oct. 25. It will again be judged by Tom Colicchio. What I like about this series, compared to Gordon Ramsey's "Hell's Kitchen," is that the chefs who are facing off have professional cooking or restaurant experience. The Ramsey crowd come from all walks of life. There's too much on-the-job-training which lead to predictable failures.

So here's hoping the days fly by and Oct. 25 gets here soon. I got a look at the 15 "Top Chef" contestants in my October issue of Food and Wine magazine. Check it out, or visit to see the cast and grab some tidbits about the new season. There are some other blogs there, too, where you can add your two bits for the judges and contestants.
Winning recipes
In today's food section, we've included the winning SPAM recipe from the State Fair and a list of the names of the other winners. We didn't have room in print to run all the recipes, but the infinite space of the cyberworld allows us to do so here. Personally, I'm keeping the Peachy-Berry Pie recipe to use next summer when the peaches and berries will be plentiful again.

Ghirardelli Chocolate Championship
Kimberly Ortiz of Pueblo, 1st place, Colorado State Fair
Decadent Chocolate Delights
1 cup butter
2 cups regular oats
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups flour
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup pecans
1 bag of Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Chips
Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs and beat well. Add dry ingredients, then vanilla, raisins, pecans and Ghirardelli Chocolate Chips. Roll into balls and bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or less.
Yields approximately 4 dozen cookies.

Fleischmann’s Yeast “Best-Ever Baking” Contest
Eleanor Ward of Pueblo, 1st place, Colorado State Fair
Spicy Taco Loaf
3 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 package Fleischmann’s Yeast
Dissolve in 1/4 cup water & 1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon dried cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons Chile pequin
2 tablespoons minced smoked sun dried tomatoes
1 jalapeno cored and minced
1/4 medium bell pepper minced
2 tablespoons grated Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup milk
1 egg beaten
2 tablespoons butter
Make taco meat as desired. 1 pound of ground round and seasonings as desired.
Prepare yeast to directions. Heat milk till very hot, add butter and set aside. In large bowl mix flour, sugar, salt, garlic, cumin, cilantro and Chile pequin. Mince peppers and tomatoes, grate cheese and add to flour mixture, toss well. Make a well in middle of flour mixture than add egg, yeast and milk mix and knead dough until soft and smooth. Roll dough in rectangle shape and place taco meat and the rest of the cheese in center, cut edges to make a braid. Let rise for 20 minutes, then place in heated oven at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown. This can be drizzled with melted questo cheese. Server as appetizer in large or small pieces.
Can serve up to 10 people.

Pillsbury Pie Baking Championship
Laura Milosavich of Pueblo, 1st place, Colorado State Fair
Peachy-Berry Pie
1 package Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 cups slice, pitted, peeled fresh peaches
1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup blackberries
1 cup sugar
2 heaping tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
Additional sugar
In a large bowl, gently toss fruits with lemon juice. Combine sugar, tapioca and salt; stir into the fruit and let stand for 30 minutes. Prepare pie crusts according to directions. Line a 9 inch pie plate with bottom crust. Add filling; dot with butter. Place top crust over filling. Seal and flute edges. Cut openings in top crust to vent. Bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Sprinkle with sugar before or after you bake the pie.

Hidden Valley Ranch Family Friendly Food Contest
Dolores Vaccaro of Pueblo, 1st place, Colorado State Fair
American Ethnic Potato Salad
4 fresh Green chili – chopped fine – take seeds out
1 small can Pinto Beans – drained (plain)
4 cups Boiled – diced Colorado Russet Potatoes – cold
1/4 cup Fresh Green Pepper – chopped
3 Eggs – hard cooked – diced
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons minced Green Onions
4 oz. drained Red Pimento
1 teaspoon prepared Mustard
1 cup Sour Cream
1/4 cup Red Cider Vinegar
1 cup Mayonnaise
1 package Hidden Valley Ranch Seasoning Mix
Combine dressing ingredients and mix well together. Add dressing to cold diced potatoes and mix lightly but thoroughly. Refrigerate several hours or overnight to blend flavors. Sprinkle top with paprika. Chill. Serve on lettuce.
Optional: Garnish with tomato wedges and tortilla chips.

Best Boboli Pizza Contest
Melanie Rohar of Pueblo, 1st place, Colorado State Fair
Blueberry Dessert Pizza
1 Boboli Thin Pizza Crust
2 tablespoons butter melted
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 package cream cheese (8 oz.)
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup butter softened
2 tablespoon brown sugar
1 can 21 oz. blueberry pie filling
1 cup crushed pecan shortbread cookies crushed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place pizza crust on ungreased baking sheet. Brush 2 tablespoons of melted butter with cinnamon over the entire pizza crust, bake 5-6 minutes. Allow crust to cool.
In a large bowl, mix together cream cheese and softened butter. Add powdered sugar; and brown sugar. Mix well. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly over pizza crust. Then add an even layer of blueberry filling. Top with crushed cookies. Serve cool.

Eagle Brand Cookie Bar Bonanza
Melanie Rohar of Pueblo, 1st place, Colorado State Fair
Carmel Drizzle Bars
1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chopped pecans
In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar together. Mix in flour, baking soda and salt, until crumbly. Stir in nuts. Lightly press crumbs into the bottom of a butter 9 x 13 pan.
14 oz. Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
8 oz. package of cream cheese softened
1 egg
8 oz. chopped dates
1 teaspoon vanilla
In a large bowl, blend Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk and cream cheese until smooth. Mix in remaining ingredients thoroughly, then pour filling over the crust.
16 oz. tub of Carmel dip
Warm the Carmel dip in a glass measuring cup in the microwave for about one minute, and then drizzle Carmel over the top of the filling.
Bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely and serve.