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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Check It Out -- Pineapple Slicer

When I was in Atlanta visiting friends a couple weekends ago, my friend Laura pulled out this fun new kitchen gadget which I had never seen before -- the pineapple slicer.  It was love at first sight.  It's so simple and easy to use, less muss, less fuss, all good.

Here's how it works...

Pineapple Slicer

Cut off the top of your pineapple.

Press the pineapple slicer into the top of the bottom half (the corer part has a ridged edge).

Start turning the slicer.  It twists down into the pineapple, slicing as it goes.

When you get down toward the bottom, pull the slicer out and tah-dah!  Instant, easy, de-cored pineapple slices that you can cut into chunks or leave as rings.  Do you see all the mess there isn't!?!?!  It's great!

The neatest thing about it is that you're left with this very cool pineapple "cup."  Laura said that she was hankering to have a party where everyone drank from pineapple cups filled with tasty adult beverages, so I came up with a little something to put in them.

Island Getaway

Leave whatever juice is left in the bottom of the pineapple after you remove the body of it.  With a small paring knife, cut out the core.  Then mix together:

1 oz spiced rum
2 oz canned pineapple juice
3 oz orange juice

Pour into pineapple cup and top off with ginger ale.  Garnish with pineapple wedges and maraschino cherries, add a colorful drink umbrella and a fun straw or two.  Enjoy the islands!  Tropical delight in a fun-to-drink from cup...this is what summer is about.


I've seen two types of slicers since I started looking.  There is a stainless steel version that runs $20-$25 depending on where you shop.  Then there is the hard white plastic version (as seen above) that runs about $10.

For you Triangle locals, I actually found mine on sale at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $6.  BBB had them in both stainless steel and plastic.  Southern Season also carries the stainless steel ones.  Laura said she found hers at Kroger next to the pineapples.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Thai Dried Beef with Lime Dipping Sauce

The nice thing about having foodies for friends is that if you ask reeeeeeally nice, they can not only be talked into sharing their favorite To Makes but also into doing a guest post for you.

Here's a fun one that I think you'll like from my friend John (who before moving into IT, worked in several Triangle area restaurants).  This is one of his specialties and I thought this would make a great alternative picnic bring-along snack.  Heads up, it does take some pre-planning and time to make, but is definitely worth the effort.

So now, please, a warm welcome for John and his yummy recipe. (clap clap clap clap clap)

Thai Dried Beef with Lime Dipping Sauce

This is beef is popular in Thailand but unfortunately is not often found in Thai restaurants in America. It is easy to prepare and once the initial drying is completed, it cooks extremely quickly.

Thai dried beef is often called "Thai beef jerky" (Nue Swan) but bears no resemblance to the tough rubbery beef sold in America. The flavor of Nue Swan has a hint of sugar and spices and it’s not tough.

Serves 6 to 8

1-1/2 pounds London broil
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
Vegetable oil for frying

Makes 1/2 cup

2 Serrano chilies, finely chopped
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons fish sauce (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.


1. Lay the beef on a cutting board and slice it horizontally into slice 1/8 inch thick, slicing across the grain.

2. Roast the fennel & coriander seed in a dry wok or skillet until they are fragrant and golden.

3. Pound or grind them into a coarse powder in a mortar, blender or coffee/spice grinder.

4. In a mixing bowl or plastic food storage bag, combine the ground seeds with the sugar and fish sauce. Add the sliced beef and mix thoroughly making sure all parts of the beef are covered.

5. Cover the beef and marinate for at least 1 hour at room temperature or, preferably, overnight up to 2 days in the refrigerator.

6. Heat the oven to the lowest possible temperature (150-200°). Place the beef on an ungreased cookie sheet and put it on the center rack of the oven. Close the door and let the beef dry about 10 hours.

After drying, the beef should still be soft, and it will be slightly darker in color than it was in the beginning. In this recipe, drying refers to the surface of the meat being dry, not that the meat is completely dry throughout.

7. Heat 1/2 to 1 inch of oil in a sauce pan to 375° degrees. If you use a candy thermometer, this will allow you to gauge the temperature or you can use a commercial counter top fryer.

If any moisture develops on the surface of the beef, dry it thoroughly with a paper towel to insure that it will brown properly.

8. Fry the beef quickly for 5-15 seconds until the outer surface is crisp and barely brown and the inside is still soft and tender.

Ready to serve and dip and enjoy!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Straw-vocado Salsa

For those of you who have been scratching your head trying to figure out where Sunday's post went? what happened to Sunday's post? did I miss Sunday's post?  Gotta apologize, I ran into a little glitch on Sunday when a virus decided to eat my computer.  It only took three days and two people later, but I am back online and well.  And the computer has been stripped, cleaned and rebuilt so should be clear sailing from here.

So now back to our regularly scheduled program...

I am not a big fan of avocado or cilantro, so the fact that I loved this recipe idea and had to share it should speak volumes for the taste treat it is.  My friend Stacy made it for a party and said she got it from Cooking Light. I went online and found several variations of the same, so picked and choosed the bits I liked best, adjusted the amounts accordingly and voila!

Strawberry Avocado Salsa with Sweet Onion Pita Wedges

1-1/2 cups fresh strawberries, chopped
1 avocado, peeled and rough chopped
2 tbsp red onion, minced
1 tbsp jalapeno, deseeded and minced (about 1/2 of a full jalapeno)
1 tbsp cilantro
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
pinch of salt

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and let sit together for 20-30 minutes to allow flavors to blend.

whole wheat pitas
sweet onion sugar
spray butter

I finally found a use for one of the savory sugars I got from The Tea & Spice Shop, but you can use cinnamon sugar instead, or experiment with other types of flavored sugar.

Put the whole pitas on a cookie sheet (I used a broiler sheet).

Sprayed them with the spray butter and generously sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes. 

Remove from oven, allow to cool for a minute or two, then slice into wedges.


Did I mention this is SOOOO good!?!?

I ended using the juice from half of a small lime which was a bit more than 1 tbsp, but I really like lime and the way it opens up the flavor of the dish.

You can adjust the cilantro too.  I find cilantro tends to take over the flavor of a dish and like to tone it back a bit, but feel free to add more than what is recommended above.

If you want to add a bit of kick to the dish, then you can always leave in the jalapeno seeds.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Summer Salsas, Dips and Spreads

Its summertime and with the barrage of hot weather and high temps that means less inclination to be in the kitchen and more inclination to go the “quick-n-easy” route when it comes to eating. I had a friend that when we would be on one of our summertime craft benders, we’d just buy an assortment of dips and spreads, cheeses and breads, and call it a meal. It was filling without being fussy.

So whether you’re heading out to a picnic or chilling on the back porch with a frosty adult beverage, one cool snacking option to take under advisement is salsa.


Salsa – is Mexican for "sauce" and is a spicy blend of tomatoes, onions, and chili peppers, which can be cooked or uncooked. It’s primarily used as a dip, but can be used as an ingredient in many types of recipes (see Chicken Picante recipe at

You can get salsa in every heat variety from mild to spicy to burn-your-face-off.  There are several types of basic salsa:

Salsa cruda – means “raw sauce,” also known as pico de gallo (which means “rooster’s beak” – don’t ask me why) or salsa fresca (“fresh sauce”) and is an uncooked, rough-chopped, raw mixture of the basic ingredients.

Salsa roja – mean “red sauce” and typically uses tomatoes, onions, garlic, chili peppers and cilantro, it’s usually a blended mixture of the ingredients.

Salsa verde – means “green salsa” and typically uses tomatillos, green chiles, and cilantro as its base ingredients, also blended to be smooth like salsa roja and cooked.

Salsa ranchera – means “ranch-style sauce” and is made with tomatoes, different types of chilies, and a blend of spices, it’s usually served warm (which means cooked) and tends to be thicker than other salsas.

You also find a lot of salsa that incorporate fruit, either in addition to or in lieu of tomatoes. Some more popular salsa use mango (see Mango Salsa recipe at, pineapple, or peach…or a combo thereof.

There’s a lot of room to experiment and try your own mixtures (see Watermelon Salsa recipe at

Fresh salsa is found in the refrigerated part of your grocery store and should be used more than 5-6 days after unsealing it.

Cooked or store-bought salsa can be kept unopened at room temp for up to 6 months, but once you break that seal, it’s best to use it within a month.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dipping Oil for Bread

One of my favorite food trends is dipping oils with bread as an appetizer, especially when they're made fresh and use a really high quality olive oil.  So I decided to do a little 'sperimenting and came up with some simple combos I like.  Hope you will too.

Greek-style Dipping Oil

1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp fresh lemon zest
2 tsp mint flakes (or fresh)
1/2 tsp white balsamic vinegar
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Mix all the dry ingredients together, then put on a plate.

Pour olive oil over and stir until blended and serve with a hearty artisan loaf. (I used whole wheat and it was dee-lish).

Mexican-style Dipping Oil

1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp red pepper
2 tsp dried cilantro (or fresh)

French-style Dipping Oil

1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp tarragon
1 tsp bay leaf flakes

Italian-style Dipping Oil

1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1 tsp garlic salt
2 tsp parmesan
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil


All of the measured amounts above are just suggested.  Feel free to change any of them to suit your particular tastes.  I found for me that too much pepper in the mix overtook the flavor, but if you're a pepper junkie, then go for it.

You can also experiment with flavored oils to add another level of taste.  For example, I would use a Spanish Olive Oil for the Mexican-style.  SOO has a stronger flavor than EVOO, very fresh with a lot of vitality that would hold its own against the pepper in the mix.

You want to use kosher salt because it's coarser than table salt, but not as chunky as sea salt.  It blends well without disappearing into the mix.

If you use fresh herbs, add a bit at a time and adjust to taste because fresh herbs will have a stronger taste than their dried counterparts. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Down to Basics: Olive Oil

How about we start with a smidge of background. Olives are a crop traditionally found in the Mediterranean area and it’s believed their earliest cultivation was by the Minoans of Ancient Crete.

Olive oil was used for more than just eating. It was used for medicinal and ritualistic purposes; it was also used for skin care and as a fuel.

Olive trees have an usually long life space, some can even be measured in terms of centuries. It’s a very hardy plant and can survive with minimal moisture.

I just wanted to provide some clarification about the types of basic olive oils you find on your grocer’s shelf. Again, I use many of these, but have never really stopped to find out what the differences were between them.


Virgin Olive Oil – according to the IOOC (International Olive Oil Council, governing body of olive oil production) all virgin olive oils are produced from olives that have been processed using physical or mechanical means (i.e., washing, decanting, centrifuging, and filtering) and have not been treated chemically.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil – is also produced via the virgin olive oil production method, only it’s made from higher quality olives and considered to have a much superior taste. The IOOC has measuring standards (rated by flavor and mouth feel of the oil) to determine which oils qualify as Extra-virgin. EVOO is the best to use on salads, for dipping, and also sautéing because of the higher quality.

Refined Olive Oil – has been chemically treated to neutralize the strong taste and acid content. When cooking with higher temperatures (like for deep frying), refined oils work better than EVOO because the unrefined particles in the EVOO burn which destroys the taste.

(Pure) Olive Oil – oils labeled simply Olive Oil or Pure Olive Oil are actually a blend of refined and virgin production oil.

Light or Extra Light Olive Oil – is also a blend but has a higher ratio of refined to virgin oil.

The best oil you can have on hand is a fresh one, because over time oils will deteriorate and become stale. Sure if you’ve had an oil for a year or more, it’s still very usable, but best used for cooking and not for dipping or dressings. If an oil is really really old, it will turn rancid and you’ll want to get rid of it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Lemon Pepper Butter Cookies

So apparently I'm on a savory sweets kick, but it is fun to find new combos to share with you.  Never made these before, but I think you'll like the taste, I did!  The lemon flavor is fresh and zesty and the pepper is subtle, and they work really well together.

Lemon Pepper Butter Cookies

2 sticks butter (1 cup), room temp
1 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla
2-1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar.

Add the egg yolk, blend until smooth.  Add the egg and vanilla, beat until well combined.

Mix together flour and salt, then add mix in a half at a time until it all comes together.

Add lemon zest and fresh cracked pepper to the dough and mix until well blended.

Pour dough onto a large sheet of wax paper, roll and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

When you're ready to bake, divide the dough in half and keep half in the fridge to keep the dough firm.  To make cookies, you can either:

(1) Scoop a tsp of dough, roll into a small ball, place on the cookie sheet and press flat with the bottom of a glass (lightly floured if necessary).

(2) Roll out dough to 1/4" thick on a lightly floured surface and use a cookie cutter to shape. Because the dough is not really re-rollable-friendly, you want to get as much out of one roll as is possible.

Place cookies on a parchment-lined or lightly greased cookie sheet.

Sprinkle with sugar and then bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes. 

Immediately remove cookies from sheet and cool to room temp on a rack.

Makes 4-1/2 to 5 dozen.


If you just want a good basic lemon cookie, omit the pepper.

Instead of sprinkling the cookies with sugar, you can roll them in powdered sugar.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Down to Basics: Pepper (the spice)

Pepper, or black pepper as it’s called, comes from a flowering vine called Piper Nigurm which is cultivated for its fruit, known as a drupe, known as the peppercorn. A drupe is a fruit that consists of a seed encased in a pit surrounded by a fleshy outer skin which is actually a deep rich red when ripe. (drupe! there it is!)

The peppercorn is dried and ground then used as the spice we’ve come to know and love (the yang to salt’s ying).

Black pepper is native to India and cultivated there as well as in other tropical regions. Since ancient times, pepper was dried then ground and used both as a seasoning and a medicine.

Black pepper’s spiciness comes from the chemical piperine. It’s best to store ground pepper in a dark, airtight container because it will lose its flavor and aroma through evaporation and exposure to light which chemically alters the piperine and makes it icky and unusable. (That’s why most culinary sources recommend grinding the whole peppercorns immediately before using.)

In your culinary journeys you will occasionally come across recipes calling for different types of peppers. Let’s go ahead and take a look at those, shall we?

Black Pepper

Black pepper comes from unripe, still-green pepper plant drupes. To prepare them for drying, the drupes are briefly cooked hot water to clean them and to rupture the drupe’s cell walls which helps kick start the work of the browning enzymes. The drupes (which is really fun to say by the way) are either dried by machine or laid out in the sun until the fleshy outer layer becomes shriveled, wrinkly and darkened into the black peppercorn you see sold in stores. Black pepper tends to be the strongest of the peppers with a heated flavor and aroma.

Green Pepper

Green pepper also comes from immature drupes that are specially treated to retain their green color. Fresh green pepper drupes are used in some Asian cuisines and pickled peppercorns are simply unripe drupes preserved in vinegar (or brine). Green pepper is described as being fresh and piquant with a bright taste so go well with fruity foods, salads, salsas and fresh veggies.

White Pepper

White pepper is made from the drupe seed by itself (without the surrounding pit or the fleshy outside). To get rid of the outer parts, the drupes are soaked until they become waterlogged (usually takes about a week) and then when the fleshy part is super soft and decomposing, it gets rubbed off. The seed is then dried and ground. White pepper is usually used in light colored dishes so that it doesn’t stand out like black pepper would. And there is a difference in the taste from black pepper because of the absence of the pit and flesh (black pepper tends to be kickier).

Red Pepper

Red pepper comes from ripe drupes (which as mentioned above are red) that pickled (in vinegar or brine). The red ripe drupes are also dried using the same color-preserving techniques used to make green pepper.

Pink Pepper

Pink pepper comes from dried pink peppercorns that come from a different branch of the black pepper family tree. Their flavor has been described as delicately fragrant, sweet and spicy.