Saturday, October 30, 2010

Best Coffee Cake Recipe Ever!

I prepared this for a family breakfast this morning, and we were all quite impressed. While not the simplest recipe, the family consensus is that this is probably the best coffee cake we've ever tasted. It's not only moist and delicious, but the aroma filling the house while it was baking was like Christmas and Thanksgiving all rolled into one. If you take a look first at the Barefoot Contessa's recipe for her Sour Cream Coffee Cake, then I'll explain the adjustments I used successfully today.

First, we didn't have any sour cream handy, so instead I replaced about half its volume with Greek yogurt. I also added about two tablespoons of "sourdough sponge," which works well in place of sour cream in many baking recipes. The instructions call for blending the sugar and butter for quite a while, but I only did it for two or three minutes--mostly by hand.

The only regrets... We were completely out of vanilla this morning, and I forgot to use the pecans we had in the freezer for the streusel. This might be a recipe to prepare the night before, if you want to actually eat it before you have to leave the house. In our case, it didn't work for breakfast, but it made for a lovely brunch.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Quick Review of Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Israeli Style Couscous

We recently had a chance to visit Trader Joe's in Corvalis, which is about half an hour south of us. (We're looking forward to getting our own Trader Joe's in south Salem early next year.) One of the items we decided to give a try was the Harvest Grains Israeli Couscous. The packaging describes it as a "savory blend of Israeli style couscous, orzo, baby garbanzo beans, and red quinoa." Unfortunately, my cooking technique was a little more along the lines of tabouli. Depending on the family member you might choose to question, my cooking was splendid success or, according to my son, it was time to go to Olive Garden again.

First, I prepared the whole package of couscous in two cans of chicken broth, and added shrimp, red pepper, and (some of the last) colorful tomatoes from our garden. We also added a about 1/4 cup of lemon juice, 1/4 cup olive oil, as well as fresh and chopped basil and mint. If I were making it again, I'd probably not add the tomatoes. I think I'd also use this as a side and not as a main course.

While it was an interesting creation, it definitely was not a family favorite. Using it as a side and leaving out the tomatoes, though, would probably give this wider family appeal. In short, give it a try next time you're looking for something new!

I also wanted to make a mention of a second Trader Joe's product we had a chance to try. This was a clear balsamic vinegar. What an interesting product--and all around cool idea! I had never even heard of clear balsamic vinegar before, but we all found this product to taste just like regular balsamic vinegar. There seemed to me to be a slightly different "texture" than traditional balsamic vinegar, and it may have been less smooth on the tongue. That said, this might also have been an entirely subjective impression.

Using this vinegar, I noticed that it was a little difficult to tell how much was on one's food. When one is dipping bread in traditional dark balsamic vinegar and olive oil, for instance, one can easily see how much is on the bread. It's harder to tell with the clear balsamic vinegar. It's kind of a guessing game to ensure that you're using the right amount. For this reason, I think I prefer the traditional dark balsamic vinegar. However, I can definitely see some situations--e.g. salads--where the clear could be a perfect fit.