Monday, July 19, 2010

The Buzz on Near East.

Over the weekend, I hosted a sponsored party by Near East food products!  In my hostess kit, amongst some random goodies, I was sent packages of Roasted Garlic and Olive Oil Couscous (also, I discovered that Near East is currently hosting a sweepstakes.  Enter here to win a variety of prizes including food and trips!)  I was pretty excited to see that they had sent my favorite of their couscous - the garlic and olive oil version is generic enough that you can serve it with quite a variety of main dishes.  As such, I knew I was in business and planned the rest of my menu around the couscous - chicken caponata and a shrimp with feta and tomatoes.

Truthfully, I had to apply to be a hostess and I did consider my application carefully. Ultimately,  I decided to submit my application because it truly fit with my goals of cooking meals, from scratch, with fresh ingredients.  I decided to go with a general theme of Cooking With a Busy Schedule since I know folks are often busy rushing home from sports practices and work.  Near East did send some yummy looking recipes from Chef Peter Bowen  - quite simply, I did not get a chance to test drive these recipes and I wanted to make something with which I had a proven track record (although, hot damn - those lamp chops might be in my future.) Therefore, I chose a chicken caponata because it is an excellent Sunday night dish that would reheat really well later in the week.  And, I chose the shrimp dish because it cooks quickly - if you have rushed home, you can still find time to cook it. (Both recipes can be found in Simply Mediterranean Cooking - although it appears to be out of print?  Is it a violation for me to provide the recipes online? Is there a lawyer in the house?)

Anyway -- the couscous??  Seriously, a no-brainer.  You bring the water to water to boil, throw in the couscous and accompanying spice packet, then take the pan off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes.  That's it.  If you are as leery of packaged food as I am these days, you can also rest easy - the ingredient list was simply couscous, autolyzed yeast extract, olive oil, salt, natural flavor, garlic, onions, soy protein, parsley, spices, tocopherols for freshness, soy sauce ( I have had similarly good experiences using their Long Grain and Wild Rice in my chicken divan.)  In short, their  products can make a perfect side dish to serve with a main dish made by you

Dammit.  Now, I am hungry.  Again.

Gift bags!

A party where social media was more than welcome.
Many hostesses frown upon their guest live-tweeting.  Not me.

Reason #2178943 why I am not a food photographer.
Try as I might, I never could capture how yummy this couscous was.  The fresh parsley sprinkled on top took it over the edge of Delicious.

Reason #2178944 why I am not a food photographer. 
I swear this shrimp with feta and tomatoes was utterly delicious, despite the lack of photographic proof.

This picky eater took the night off. 
Even Arun liked it! I didn't bother including Anjali's snap because that girl will eat anything and cannot be trusted.

A toast to Near East!
A fabulous time was had by all.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Buzz on "Booze Cakes" by Krystina Castella and Terry Lee Stone

I have written extensively about my inability to bake.  I try and fail miserably,  then I try again.  Therefore, when I was offered the opportunity to review Booze Cakes by Krystina Castella and Terry Lee Stone, I hesitated.  Who the hell am I to review a book about baking?  However.  While I may not be a baker, I do love reading cookbooks in general and seriously,  I just could not resist this book.  I mean, look at the cover.  Are you not craving cake right now?

I suspected this book would be chock full of luscious food photography and I was correct.  Every page is accompanied by a lovely photograph and several of the recipes feature "how-to" photographs to help you with preparation.  The book has four main sections (Classic Booze Cakes, Cocktail Cakes, Cake Shots, and Cakes with a Twist)  but I found the supplemental sections to be helpful as well.  There are recipes for homemade liqueurs and mixers (i.e. limoncello, sour cherries) and there are directions for toppings, frostings and fancy garnishes ( i.e. candied items such as cherries, flowers; flavored sugars such as lavender, herbal; specialty decorations such as marzipan carrots, meringues).

The recipes that appealed to me the most were the recipes for the English Trifle (drizzled with brandy), the Tres Leches cake (involving cacha├ža, a Brazilian distilled spirit) and the Chocolate Lava Cake (using port wine!)  In fact, including variations, there are 108 cake recipes and 32 cake shot recipes!   This book will not become boring anytime soon.

If there is a baker in your life, this would make such a thoughtful gift and I do believe an inventive baker would have fun with this book, its variations and the supplemental sections that can be used for other recipes.  Besides, if you present this as a gift, perhaps they might return the favor by leaving a cake on your doorstep?  At least, that is what I am hoping for as I pass this beautiful book to my baking friend Caroline! 

I wish I could have tried at least one recipe before posting this review - I promise to update this post with my friend's thoughts as she tries her hand at baking from this (I am curious what she will think of the Carrot Cake recipe, in particular, since that is one of her favorite cakes.)