OUI Yogurt By Yoplait: A Great Yogurt or Great Marketing? …Perhaps Both?

Oui 1

I was rushing through the aisles of my supermarket as I so often do the other day, to grab a couple of things for dinner when, my eye caught something that made me stop and linger. This is a hard thing to compel me do, so I went with it. These little glass pots of yogurt had the same effect on me as the dish ratatouille had on the food critic Anton Ego in the beloved movie of the same name and I hadn’t even tasted it….yet! 

oui 7

Even at a quick glance you can immediately see how it so different-looking from absolutely every other yogurt in a world that is now yogurt mad. The variety on the shelves today is mind-blowing…from the new craze of greek-style yogurt to yogurt that is touted to flatten your belly and keep you regular. Today it is so much harder to get people’s attention in a world where the choices for positively everything border on overwhelming. Why did this simple little thing do it for me?

oui 2

I could immediately see that this jar and the packaging was meant to transport me to the days where housewives made their own jams and jelly to use themselves and to sell or give away to neighbors. Their little glass pots would have handwritten labels that were cut with those zig-zag dressmaking scissors and glued onto the glass, all sealed with a round piece of colorful cloth held on with a sturdy rubber band. And here it was again before me, this quaint and comforting image that made me feel happy and homesick at the same time.

And I knew what was happening, and fully aware that the guys and gals in the marketing department had spent many hours getting the appearance of this yogurt to make me feel just that, but I didn’t care. I decided to fall for it and grabbed a couple of jars “just to try it” The price of this yogurt alone should have stopped me ($1.49: nearly twice the price of anything I usually buy) but those little pots with their old-world feel were too persuasive.

oui 4

I noticed it was made by Yoplait, a company that was started by six humble dairy farmers in France in 1965.  It is the only yogurt I remember growing up with in Ireland, so the Yoplait company had staying power.

So…was it good? I nearly wanted it to taste ordinary and run-of-the-mill just so I could say: while packaging is hugely important (hugely!), the actual product had to win me over if I was going to buy this again. But…it was sublime.

So why did it taste so dang good? I had to get the inside scoop? I learned that pretty much every other yogurt (including the yogurt made by yoplait), is made in large batches and poured into containers fully set and ready to eat. Oui yogurt is made more like how you and I would make it (but obviously on a huge scale), where  whole milk is added to yogurt culture, sugar, and fruit (if you choose). It is then poured into  little glass jars and there it sits to set for 8 hours before it is ready to eat. (And apparently glass also preserves the integrity of the favor better than any kind of plastic counterpart). This is why it tastes homemade and as you know, homemade is always a very good thing.

oui 3

Oui yogurt does not have the “tang” that permeates the newly popular Greek yogurt. Instead, it subtly sweet with a creaminess that feels like the best ice cream in the world. My favorite flavor so far is the tart cherry. I am one of those people who needs a little something sweet after dinner and it completely satisfies my craving. And there is something so wonderful about eating out of that sweet little glass jar wih its homemade label, (and yes, I am fully aware it is just a clever representation of a homemade, handwritten label, but I applaude the idea).

Some reviewers tout all the different ways the jar can be repurposed, but there are only so many pencil and Q-Tip holders you need, and, since there is no lid it cannot really be used to store condiments like my homemade pesto or leftover dressing etc. So if you become addicted to this lusciously creamy pot of heaven, make sure to recycle the glass!

oui 5

The last word is that this yogurt is worth trying as it satisfies all of the criteria to make a wonderful eating experience: it creates a mood that reminds you of simpler days with its pretty homespun packaging, and, it tastes like a sweet treat that you perfected and made using milk from your very own cow grazing out in the pasture. This is a very idyllic take on a yogurt made by what is now one of the biggest food companies in the world (General Mills and Sodiaal) but I have to give them credit for finding a clever strategy that won me over both body and soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prepping for Christmas October 11, 2017 The Other Not-So-Common-Ingredient for your Christmas Pudding Adventure: BEEF SUET

Atora Shredded Suet 200G

I am in the process of Doing the Work so that the Christmas holidays this year are extra special. It is so true that what you put into a thing is what you get out of it. I have most definitely found out that, hoping for something to happen is very different from, making something happen. I am in the making-things-happen mode of my life right now and one of the things on my list is that Christmas this year isn’t a disappointment. I have control over so much of what happens and food plays a major role. I have experienced all sorts of Christmases, and the ones that were the most fun and memorable were the ones where I worked hard in advance. Some say that happiness can be attained by achieving a goal, but also that the end result is not an isolated type of joyous accomplishment. The joy is elevated by all the things that made what you wanted possible. In other words, the laborious task of say making something like this Christmas Pudding, becomes part of the joy. So my looking on this as a pain-in-the-butt project (and it is a little) will only serve to making me hate the whole process. What’s the point in that? When I think about the joy factor that will come with it (me carrying it beef fat_000017219051_Small.jpglit to the table after our Christmas Dinner feast, and then getting to taste it), I can make this with a very happy heart. Oops, the cornball in me is rearing its ugly head, but no apologies for that whatsoever.

 So, one of the other things you will need, that you almost positively don’t have on hand (along with a Pudding Basin/Mold), is a packet of Beef Suet. Sounds awful right? It is that magical mystery ingredient that is used to make traditional pudding-based foods such as Yorkshire Pudding, soup dumplings, chicken pot pie crust, as well as this Christmas Pudding, moist and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. It is an odd-looking and very solid slab of fat. It is unlike the fat from drippings (the fat collected from cooking something such as bacon and can be used to flavor dishes and fry with). Suet is the hard fat that surrounds the kidneys and has a very high melting point. Because of its consistency and chemical make-up, it has so many uses  It is used in products from shaving soap, lubrication for engines, to leather conditioners, as well as making a dynamite shortening for this Christmas Pudding!

chocolate toffee pudding with fresh cream and toffee sauce

Chocolate-based Christmas Pudding with Freshly Whipped Cram and Toffee Sauce

When you make your pudding, you will disperse little flakes of it through the batter (as you might use butter to make a flaky pastry). This is why it is best to grate it into the batter OR do what I do: buy it already made into little gravel-y bits that you simple mix into the batter.

You can probably find this in your supermarket (but like shopping for a Pudding Basin in person and not buying it via a website, asking where it might be/or if it is in stock, is 99% pointless. “Hello, can you tell me what aisle the beef suet is in please?”. See what I mean).

You can find Beef Suet on a short list of websites (I know Amazon carries it), but peruse your supermarket next time you are there just in case.

Turkey 1

Turkey: another labor of love at Christmas

So get your pudding basin and beef suet and we can get on with the task of making happiness happen!

 

 

 

Christmas Dinner prep October 10, 2017. What is a Pudding Basin and Where can I get One?

 

Well, if you live in Ireland, England, Australia, India even, or wherever the English have influenced culture, you probably do not need me to tell you what a Christmas pudding basin is. However, the majority of the United States (where I live now) is pretty much clueless, and that’s not me being mean. It is the cooking pot used to make a dessert made once a year, (literally).  Beyond that, unless you are some pudding-making addict, this object sits in the nether regions of your cupboard until around this time of year (I usually have to hunt for it because I never remember where I stash it).

chocolate toffee pudding

Christmas Pudding with Brandy Butter (Hard Sauce), and Fresh Cream

This is a pudding my mother made each and every year when I grew up and it was always a bit of a mystery to me. I never helped her make it. The kitchen was not very big and with six children ( yes, six!) underfoot my mother didn’t have the time or the patience to squeeze in cooking lessons on top of everything else she had to do. But I watched my mother cook for years and when she did let me cook (and it was pretty often after the ripe old age of seven), I had full reign of the kitchen. It was all or nothing: I suppose she rightly figured that two was too many cooks at one time, so she would plant me in our tiny kitchen and walk away.

I would try my hand at anything, and everything I made was my attempt at trying to make things that were staple meals my mother made or I would find a recipe somewhere and follow it to the letter. At that time there was no such thing as computers and I don’t think my mother even owned a cookbook, so I used to find recipes in my mother’s weekly magazine (I think it was called Woman’s Own?) and later I used my Home Economics school book as another source of inspiration and instruction (and in those days only girls were taught that subject, the dark ages indeed)

batter for christmas pudding

Mixing Pudding Batter

But I never got the pudding recipe. This time of the year would roll around and I would see my mother mixing flour with spices and various dried fruits, and there was that sweet smell of cinnamon, mixed with ground cloves and other mysterious sweet things that wafted through the whole house when this laden pudding cooked for hours on the stove. The only hand I had in it was every couple of weeks she would give me a bottle of sherry and I had to pour a little of it over each pudding (since she went to the trouble of making one, she decided it was just as practical to make 3 or 4!) to “cure it”. I didn’t even know what that meant…what was wrong with it that it needed curing?

I wasn’t really in love with Christmas Pudding when I was young. It was thought of as a grown-up dessert. I hated the candied mixed-peel fruit that my mother used in the batter, and the addition of sherry made me winch. No child likes the taste of alcohol and so as far as I was concerned, the sherry was the nail in the coffin. I never bothered to ask how it was made as I never though I would ever want to make it. 

Trifle for  Crappy Kitchen Goes to Italy

Trifle was my favorite Christmas Dessert growing up (this is the version I make)

Well that turned our to be wrong, so a little word of advice here: ask as many questions as you can of your parents and relatives about everything and anything, because one day they will be gone, and like me, there will be moments when you say to yourself, “why didn’t I ask about that when I had all the opportunity in the world?”

Not that I wanted to make my pudding the same way as my mother. I still do not like sherry in desserts and store-bought candied mixed peel is still a tragic way for any fruit to end its life! Suffice is to say that I have been making Christmas pudding for several years now in the spirit of my mother but with my own sensibility.

I will talk about what this pudding consists of  later but first you will need to get yourself a pudding basin! This pudding is steamed and it needs to be in a tight-as-a-drum container and withstand four to five hours of low bubbling in a pot of water, that constantly needs to be topped up. It’s a simple thing but kind of hard to find if you decide to trek around town looking for it. And forget about asking for help as no one will know what you are talking about. 

You are looking for something like this (above is a metal basin. I have this kind and it lasts forever). This one is from Fox Run Craftsmen: Pudding basin/mold

https://i2.wp.com/www.jarrold.co.uk/userdata/root/images/products/kitchen-craft/17/142/kc-basin-1pt570ml-1.jpg

Or like this. This is a Plastic Pudding Basin and is just as effective.

If you want to make this completely amazing and different Christmas dessert, this is the first step The other thing you will need and is not a common ingredient anymore), is SUET, and I will talk about that next. When you are schooled in these two not-so-common things, we can make our pudding together.

*AND I RECOMMEND A 3 PINT PUDDING BASIN*

 

 

 

 

 

Let Me Focus on Something Else: Christmas Pudding. Please Please Make One with Me!

I was driving home the other day with my daughter when she started to sing Jingle Bells out loud! “Oh my God”, I said, “please not Christmas songs already!” She said she knew it was a little ridiculous but that the song just popped into her head. She loves Christmas for all the reasons one should (okay, I know it is a religious holiday too, but am not focusing on that right now) : Family, Food, Wintry Weather and a mountain of Presents under our over-decorated garish Christmas tree. 

Christmas tree 2014

Jingle All The Way

We have had a bit of a tough year and it seemed like if I focused on this lovely final event of the calendar year, it could be a time when everything is put to rights. I think my daughter was thinking the same thing when she said right after her belting out Jingle Bells, “I want this to be a good Christmas”. I think we both simultaneously decided to pin our hopes on a time in the year that has always been magical for us all, and we could use all of that good stuff to propel us into a great 2018, or something like that…

Baby Back Ribs For Tom's Christmas Party

Evidence of Santa’s existence

For that to happen, something else would need to happen! There is a line that I have always loved and quoted (half-joking, half in earnest to get my point across during one of those annoying motherly conversations when I’m trying to make my kids understand  that nothing in life is free, or is just handed to you) from the movie Julia and Julia where she, Julia Child, and her two partners are sitting together discussing how one of the partners is not pulling her weight but is still demanding equal share when the book they are writing is published. Julia and Simone Beck, (one of the partners), are politely trying to tell Louisette Bertholle, (the other partner), that she is not doing enough to merit a third of the share of the profits. But, as Julia is talking, and being way too politic about it, Simone Beck gets exasperated and cuts through all the bull and yells in a very polite but firm tone, “YOU DON’T DO THE WORK!” Well , that ended that conversation and everyone was crystal clear.

christmas crackers

dessert would not be complete without Christmas Crackers!

So…If I didn’t feel motivated to write about anything all year, focusing on something that my daughter wanted badly, A Good Christmas, was motivation enough for me to “DO THE WORK!”

And this is the perfect time to make that very traditional dessert that you absolutely love or you absolutely abhor: Christmas Pudding. I will use food, as I have done so often, to inspire me to plan, make, and write my way to Christmas Dinner, December 25th, 2017. Stay tuned for Pudding recipe (now I need to go out to buy ingredients that I certainly never have on hand!)

getting the christmas tree

Time to Work

 

 

 

Meat Chowder (serves 6) A Great Dinner Party Main Course!

I haven’t posted a recipe in quite some time because frankly I either have made nothing that I haven’t posted already or, on a day when I made something perfectly splendid, I had not bothered to take pictures!

However, this dinner that I whipped up last night (whipped not really the right word here as it was a slight bit persnickety to prepare) was blog worthy and I knew this ahead of time so was also camera, and pen and paper ready!

Glorious Meat Gumbo

Glorious Meat Gumbo

It was wholly inspired by a Jamie Oliver recipe for meat gumbo but as usual I changed things along the way to suit what I had on hand and because following a recipe to the letter is just not necessary. I think the one thing any chef will say about having to document a recipe is how they hate having to give exact ingredients and amounts and having to be super specific with instructions. Chefs don’t cook like that in real life and nor should you. Spontaneity is usually where the magic happens! In other words, consider my recipe here as a mere guideline and let your own culinary juices flow.

This is a great dish to make if you are throwing a dinner party as it can be made ahead of time and is so easy to serve!

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What you need:

1 lb spicy sausage – cut into 1″ pieces (Italian, Chorizo, Andouille, or even a mild spicy sausage will do here)

4/5 chicken drumsticks

4/5 chicken thighs (bone-in, skin on)

1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (if you don’t have smoked, use what you have got!)

1 tsp cayenne pepper flakes

1 tsp salt

olive oil for frying everything

4/6 slices smokey bacon – cut into large strips (whatever bacon you have on hand will do)

1 med/lrg sweet onion or yellow onion – diced

1 green pepper – diced

1 red pepper  – diced

1 yellow pepper – diced

3 celery stalks – large dice or sliced

5 tbs all-purpose flour

2lbs sweet potatoes  – peeled & diced (about two large)

4 large garlic cloves – peeled and minced

6 (or so) springs fresh thyme (Jamie picked the leaves, I say there is no point as they come off during the cooking and it’s a pain to do!)

6 cups chicken broth (have two more cups on hand just in case)

Chopped parsley for garnish if you have it!

Pot of cooked basmati rice (enough for six people so about 6 to 8 cups cooked rice, which translates to about 3 1/2 to 4 cups raw)

Method:

1 – Prep Everything first!

Dice the veggies, season the chicken

Dice the veggies, season the chicken

Mince garlic and dice sweet potatoes

Mince garlic and dice sweet potatoes

2 – Season chicken with the salt, paprika and cayenne pepper flakes. Put large pan on high heat and add olive oil. Fry chicken in batches until golden brown. Remove to a plate or bowl.

Sear chicken in batches on hot pan

Sear chicken in batches on hot pan

3 – Sear the sausages. Remove to a plate or bowl.

Sear sausage pieces

Sear sausage pieces

3 – Add bacon and fry for about a minutes before adding the peppers and onions. cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat.

Saute the pepper, onion & bacon

Saute the pepper, onion & bacon

4 – Add the flour and lower heat slightly. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly.

5 – Add the sweet potatoes, garlic, thyme stalks and broth and turn heat to high. Add the meat. When it boils, lower heat and cover. Simmer for about 1 hour (until chicken is fork tender and falling off the bone). Stir occasionally while it simmers.

Add the sweet potatoes, garlic, meat and broth

Add the sweet potatoes, garlic, thyme, meat and broth

Take the meat off the bone and return to gumbo (if you don’t want to do this, don’t bother!). Let this sit for about 10 minutes before serving. Serve with rice and garnish with chopper parsley. This would also be good with a dollop of sour cream and a dash of hot sauce!

Serve Meat Gumbo with chopped parsley and a dollop of sour cream and hot sauce if you like

Serve Meat Gumbo with rice, chopped parsley and a dollop of sour cream and hot sauce if you like

 

My Favorite Rice Noodle Brands for PAD THAI and other noodle dishes

Our favorite place to eat was Thai Orchid for thier Pad Thai

Pad Thai

 The noodles you use when making Pad Thai (or Pho, or any other Asian dish) is a very important recipe ingredient, just as pasta is when making some glorious Italian dish. Here are some of my favorites and between them, you should be able to find one in your region. You can also order online (but unless you buy in bulk it is a more expensive route). These rice noodles are no more expensive (and in lots of cases cheaper) than domestic brands so you will not have to feel guilty about buying them!

Roland Pad Thai Noodle Brand

Roland Pad Thai Noodle Brand – These noodles cost anywhere from $2.49 to $3.49

 This brand imported by the Roland Company is a product of Thailand. This company is a great place to find lots of really wonderful food products from around the world.

Rice Noodles

Rice Noodles  – These noodles are Erawan Brand and this company has a huge variety of noodles that are fun to experiment with. They are great value at $2.49

I can get these noodles from a supermarket that is pretty close to me. They come in S,M or L and this refers to the width. Sometimes I like the thin variety in soups and the widest (L) works great for Pad Thai, but it really is a matter of taste and your mood.

The large style from the Erawan Brand Noodle

The large style from the Erawan Brand Noodle

The packaging is exactly the same when it comes to all of these noodle brands but each width is a different color. So, if you put this item on your shopping list and like me, send your man out to the store (no real attention span when it comes to grocery shopping), make sure to note the color of the package or this simple task will become a nightmare.

Pork Pad Thai

Pork Pad Thai

Most of the packages say to prep the noodles by soaking in warm water but I find that this isn’t enough to get the texture I’m looking for. I don’t like soggy noodles by any means but the soaking method can leave the noodles hard on the inside and sort of gummy on the outside. My method is to plunge them into boiling water and let them cook until just al dente (have a toothsome bite) and then rinse in colander with lots of cold water. I can then toss them into my pan for Pad Thai or into a cooked soup. They warm up very quickly. You will have to experiment a little, depending on the brand (then it’s a good idea to write  what worked for you).

Main ingredients for Pad thai

Some of the key ingredients for Pad Thai (scallions, beansprouts, carrots, limes and of course, rice noodles

 Also, don’t limit yourself to Pad Thai and Pho. I use rice noodles for lots of other dishes that have a tenuous at best, Asian twist (which might only be soy sauce or sriracha sauce). It is lighter than pasta and for those Gluten Free people out there it is just the ticket.

This is the medium width from the brand Asian Best distributed by EastLand Corp

This is the medium width from the brand Asian Best distributed by EastLand Corp

I hope this has taken a little of the mystery out of buying rice noodles, but if in doubt, buy a brand with Thailand’s most revered animal on the package: the elephant.

Stir-fried beef with rice noodles

Stir-fried beef with rice noodles

  Once you try noodles from a country where it is a diet stable, you will never buy domestic noodles again!

Rice Noodles

Three Elephants Brand Rice Noodles

MUSHROOM CREAM – A GREAT PANTRY ITEM. Forget Campbells – Make your own!

Who uses Campbell’s Condensed Mushroom Cream Soup as a flavor agents, or sauce enhancer?? It does have the power to add a burst of flavor to a dish but it is not some magic elixir that you cannot make and freeze yourself and have ready to use at a moment’s notice.

Passing these georgeous mushrooms in Rome made me long for my kitchen awaiting me in Cortona

 Took this gorgeous picture of  mushrooms in Rome (you can make your mushroom cream from exotic mushrooms like these, but using what you can find near you is fine too, and what I did this time around)

OR, have you ever made a stew, soup or sauce that felt lacklustre and needed a flavor booster of some kind? This can be frustrating and sometimes it ends up with you adding possibly too much salt to compensate and ruining the dish. A concentrated cube of mushroom cream is a great foil for situations like this and I am going to give you an easy recipe and a handy way to have some on hand – yeh!

add cream and stock

Making Mushroom Cream Enricher is easy and simple cream and stock

Make a big batch of this when you are in the mood to potter in the kitchen or you are trapped there watching something in the oven but have nothing to do besides. It will become a little lifesaver!

Handy cubes of mushroom cream

Handy cubes of mushroom cream

These cubes are good thawed and served over steak, lamb or chicken. They make a great filling for little vol-au-vents or a filling for little pastry appetizers. They are a good base for a sauce (just add more cream or stock to the cubes and you have an instant pasta sauce). They be used to boost and bolster the  flavor of a stew or soup (just add a cube or two and taste).

Cook for 3 hours at 275*

Adding a couple of cubes of mushroom cream to a beef stew for example can boost and enhance flavor

 

Mushroom Cream Stock Cubes (makes 32 large ice-cube-sized cubes)

You will need:

2 tbs unsalted butter

1 sweet or yellow onion – finely chopped

2 cloves garlic – finely chopped

1lb mushrooms (use all different kinds together or one kind – anything will work) – sliced

1 cup (have more on hand) heavy cream

salt and freshly ground black pepper (for seasoning)

optional fresh herbs: 1 tbs freshly chopped parsley, I tsp chopped thyme leaves

Method:

1 – Put large saute pan on low to medium heat and add a 1/2 tablespoon of the butter. Add the onions and garlic and cover with lid. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove to a plate

2 – Add a tablespoon of the butter and half of the sliced mushrooms. Season with a sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Turn heat up to high (or just below) and cook mushrooms until they brown. Remove and add the rest of the butter and mushrooms (remembering to season with salt and pepper), and continue to cook until they are done.

saute mushrooms in batches in butter until browned..

saute mushrooms in batches in butter until browned..

3 – Return the onions and cooked mushrooms back to the pan along with the cream and herbs and let it come to a simmer. Turn off pan and let it cool.

4 – When it is warm or totally cooled, add the mushrooms in batches with a slotted spoon (so as not to fill up your processor with liquid) to your food processor or blender and pulverize to a rough texture. When it is all blended, mix back into the cream and stir to distribute.

add cream and simmer for 5 minutes...

add cream and bring to a simmer.

5 – When it is cold, spoon into two ice-cube trays and place in the freezer. (I got some of the cheap plastic kind from my supermarket and they worked great). When frozen, pop them out and into freezer bags. They can be stored for up to 6 months in your freezer and used whenever you need them.

Roast Chicken with stuffing & veggies.

Can be added to your roast Chicken pan sauce

 OR

top with a sprinkle of the cheese of the gods! (parmaiagiano reggiano)

Add to pasta to make a quick and delicious pasta sauce