Celebrate Bastille Day – With Dessert!

 

Still relishing those mid-summer Fourth of July festivities? Lucky for you, today marks another celebration of freedom – Bastille Day! Much like Independence Day to Americans, Bastille Day commemorates the start of the French Revolution, when unarmed peasants stormed the Bastille prison and armory. What better way to commemorate their victory than to pop open some champagne, pull out the Bocce set and whip up a few delectable French desserts the whole family will love?

A French Celebration

Dessert in France is as much a part of the country’s heritage as Bastille Day. On July 14, flags line the Champs-Elysees, fireworks light up the Eiffel Tower and families gather with friends to honor the establishment of their first constitution. Needless to say, the celebration includes tremendous amounts of wine, cheese and, of course, chocolate.

From chocolate mousse to crème brûlée, French desserts are the Audrey Hepburn of baking; they have an elegance all their own. There is as much sophistication as there is sweetness in every bite. In this culture, food is to be savored, and each meal is planned with intention, creativity and attitude.

French Dessert Characteristics

In fact, the French consider cooking to be as artistic as painting, and it isn’t all about taste. While it’s true, the French have panache for pairing the richness of crème with the bittersweet tang of dark chocolate, the aroma and the presentation are equally as important. That’s what makes French food, especially desserts, so luscious– they appeal to all the senses. Traditional French desserts have several distinct qualities:

Create Your Own!

On Bastille Day, transform yourself into a French pastry chef and kick-start your celebration with Clabber Girl’s mouth-watering Crepes Chantilly. This extra special treat is a delicate and delicious French-style pancake filled with sweet fruit and decadent crème. The thin cake is dressed up with strawberries and layered with whipped topping, creating a flavorful treat perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Another sweet filling of choice is peanut butter and banana slices – maybe even with a drizzle of chocolate!

For a twist, experiment with savory flavor combinations like sun-dried tomato and pesto with grilled chicken, or spinach, bacon and mushroom. With a little creativity and practice, you’ll develop crepe-making skills that everyone in the family will appreciate.

So do as the French do, and bon appétit!

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Get to Know the Grain: Rice 101

 

Rice is a versatile pantry staple that is equally at home in a variety of cuisines from around the world. Years ago, American households were typically only familiar with American long-grain white rice. Who can forget those cheesy chicken and rice casseroles at the dinner table?

But as ethnic foods have gained popularity, Americans have embraced a variety of rice, from Arborio to sushi rice and everything in between. Let’s take a look at some of our favorite examples of this satisfying starch.

American long-grain white rice is the all-American staple. Cooked on the stove top, the rice has a dry, fluffy texture with distinct grains. Its counterpart is American long-grain brown rice, which is simply the whole-grain version, before the bran and germ layers have been removed. Chewier than white rice, it has a nutty flavor and more nutrients.

For authentic risotto, Arborio rice is a must-have ingredient. Its characteristic plump grains have more starch than other kinds of rice, which helps give risotto the creamy stick-to-your-ribs texture for which it is known.

Basmati rice is often used in Indian dishes, where it is commonly seasoned with spices like cumin and cardamom. The grains are longer, slender, and the rice has a nutty flavor and fragrance. Basmati rice should be soaked in cold water for an hour or more before cooking for best results.

Japanese-style rice or sushi rice is firm yet slightly sticky when cooked. It is often used for sushi, but is also served alongside a meal, as well.

Hailing from Thailand, Jasmine rice has long, translucent grains which when cooked, have an aroma similar to popcorn. Jasmine rice should be rinsed thoroughly prior to cooking to remove excess starch.

Like Arborio, short-grain brown rice has a higher level of the starch, amylopectin, which makes it a bit stickier than other rice. As with the American brown rice, the grain’s outer-layer of bran gives it a hearty, chewy texture.

By the way, wild rice really isn’t rice at all. Rather, it is a seed of a native North American grass variety. Often paired with long-grain brown rice, it is chewy and adds color and texture to other rice dishes.

For a quick rice side dish, we like this Toasted Rice, Almond and Cranberry Pilaf. Dotted with colorful cranberries and crunchy almond slivers, it looks fancy, but comes together in about 20 minutes. Enjoy!

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Summer Baking With Blueberries

 

Did you know that blueberries are so phenomenal that an entire month is dedicated to celebrating this super fruit? That’s right – July is National Blueberry Month and we know a thing or two about how to maximize the benefits of this tiny little fruit that packs plenty of power.

Native to North America, blueberries are not just super foods, they’re super soldiers. Studies have shown blueberries can help fight cancer, improve memory, reduce the effects of aging, decrease depression and benefit nervous system and brain health. This is all due to the massive amounts of antioxidants crammed into each little blue sphere.

The super-food breakdown:

  • Around 80 calories a cup
  • 14% of your daily fiber
  • 25% of your daily Vitamin C
  • Lowers LDL (the bad cholesterol)
  • Eating one cup each week can lower your blood pressure and rev up your metabolism

Blueberries are grown all over the Americas, from Mexico to Argentina, California to Maine. The freshest blueberries can be found from May thru October, but you can freeze them and enjoy them year round. Freezing blueberries is pretty easy, but the more thought you put into your process the quicker they’ll thaw and the better they’ll taste.

Eat them by the handful, sprinkle them in yogurt or smash them up in a cocktail. Need even more inspiration? Get creative with some of our favorite recipes, like our mouth-watering Blueberry Crumble Bars or these Gluten-Free Blueberry Corn Muffins. Why not try this simple, delicious Clabber Girl Open-Faced Blueberry Pie? It’s one of our favorites for July 4th celebrations for its vibrant patriotic color. Enjoy your month full of blueberries!

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Perfect Pie Crust At Your Fingertips

 

Let’s face it: few things are as loved and as feared as homemade pie crust.

We love it because at its best, it’s perfectly flaky, yet perfectly tender, and it reminds us of Grandma and the comforts of home. But many novice bakers have avoided mastering this kitchen repertoire staple because it has the reputation of being very difficult.

The truth is, pie crust is a little tricky, but not nearly as scary as it may seem. Let’s walk through some of the basics that will help you make a perfect pie crust from scratch.

Fats

Some people love butter, others prefer vegetable shortening, and still others swear by lard. You can use any or a combination of all of these fats. Butter doesn’t give pastry quite the flakiness that shortening does, but the flavor is much richer. Shortening generally makes the dough a little easier to handle, but you do sacrifice some flavor. Lard produces a flaky crust as well. Combinations of fats often create the best results.

Keep Ingredients Cold

Whether you opt for shortening or use Grandma’s recipe that calls for lard, one secret to flaky crust is to keep your ingredients cold. Flaky crust is created by pieces of un-melted fat rolled between layers of flour, which then melt during the baking process, leaving crispy pockets. Chill fats, water and even your flour thoroughly to maximize flakiness.

Mix Properly

Cut fats into dry ingredients before adding liquids. Using a pastry blender, a couple of forks, or the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, combine fats and dry ingredients until coarse crumbs form. Then add cold water a bit at a time until the dough holds together. Don’t overwork your dough. Too much kneading will make it tough.

Flour Thoroughly

Be sure to flour your work surface before rolling out the dough. The last thing you want is for your perfectly rolled pastry to stick to the counter top! Dust the surface liberally with flour, and rub flour on your rolling pin, as well. Alternately, you can roll crust between pieces of parchment paper.

Handle With Care

Don’t handle the dough any more than necessary. Heat from your hands will transfer to the pastry, causing the fats to melt and sabotaging your flaky texture. To safely transfer your dough to the pie plate, gently roll it up over the rolling pin and slide it off into place.

Chill Before Baking

Pie dough has a tendency to lose its chill once its been rolled, shaped and fitted to the pie plate. It never hurts to pop the entire plate, dough and all, into the freezer for one last chill. Thirty minutes in the freezer will allow the fats to solidify again and help keep the dough from shrinking once it goes into the oven.

‘Baking Blind’

For pies with a cream filling, you will need to pre-bake your pie shell, also known as “baking blind.” To keep the crust from shrinking in the pan, it’s helpful to line your formed shell with a piece of parchment paper and fill with ceramic pie weights or dry beans. Remove them before cooling.

Top Crust

Don’t attempt to put a top crust over warm pie filling. Your dough is essentially glued together with butter and water and will quickly fall apart if placed over hot filling. Also, some recipes call for an egg wash, which will give your crust an attractive shine. Another option is a milk wash, which is often paired with a sprinkling of sugar to create a nicely browned crust.

So break out your rolling pin, tie on that favorite apron and stride confidently into the kitchen. You’ve got this! With these helpful hints and a bit of practice, you’ll be serving up your own perfect pie crust in no time.

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5 Ways to Get More Veggies in Your Diet

 

We all know that veggies are good for us, and many of us probably don’t get the recommended two cups per day like we should. So how can we “veg-load” our meals? A person can only eat so much salad, right? Fortunately, there are many options for increasing your vegetable intake. These are some of our favorites.

1. Shred Your Veggies

We like to shred squash, eggplant, and other vegetables and mix them into hamburgers for summer cookouts. The veggies will keep the meat moist and juicy, while also bringing added nutrition and fiber to the dinner plate.

2. Multiply Your Measurements

One super easy way to get more veggies in your diet is to bump up the amounts of veggies in your recipe. Making minestrone? Why not double the spinach and carrots? Pizzas, casseroles and pasta are also ideal candidates for extra veggies, like this Summer Pasta Primavera.

3. Veg Up Your Smoothies

One of the great things about smoothies is that they are so flexible. You can combine any number of fruits to make a delicious smoothie, but you can also load them up with veggies without losing that fruity flavor! A handful of spinach, kale, arugula, chard or even celery leaves into a fruit smoothie pumps up the nutrients in your glass.

4. Prep Your Snacks

Make snacking on the good stuff easy with a little preparation. Wash and cut several days’ worth of your favorite veggies into snack-size pieces, and store in the refrigerator next to your favorite dip. Try Clabber Girl blogger Savory Simple’s recipe for Roasted Garlic White Bean Hummus. Be sure to stash the veggies at eye level so this healthy option is the first thing you see when the munchies strike!

5. Supercharge Your Sweets

Bake your way to more vegetable servings. Quick breads made with pumpkin, zucchini and sweet potato are great options. We love these Chocolate Zucchini Muffins and this recipe for Sweet Potato Walnut Bread. You’ll find other delicious variations, as well as treats like our Carrot Cheesecake Sheet Cake in the Clabber Girl Recipe Box.

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13 Kitchen Superstitions Plus One

 

Look out! It’s Friday the 13th and you know what that means: bad luck. Or at least that’s what the superstitious among us may think. But the kitchen is not immune to the influence of old wives’ tales and superstition. Though they vary from place to place, depending on culture, food superstitions might just be one of the things kitchens around the world have in common.  Check out our list of crazy kitchen superstitions from near and far.

Salt

Have you ever seen Grandma throw a bit of salt over her shoulder? That’s because spilling salt is considered to be bad luck, and the remedy is to toss a pinch of it over your left shoulder. Not only that, but in Greek lore it’s believed that if you sprinkle salt behind an unwanted guest, it will cause the person to leave.

Noodles

In parts of China, long noodles are believed to symbolize long life. So, it’s considered bad luck to cut noodles when eating.

Knives & Hot Peppers

It’s been said that you should never hand a knife or a hot pepper to someone, or it will cause strife in the relationship. Rather, set the items down for the other person to pick up. We don’t know about strife, but at least in the case of the knife, it’s probably safer.

Garlic

Sure, you knew it would keep the vampires away, but did you also know that European folklore holds that garlic will ward off the “evil eye?”

13 Dinner Guests

In France, it is long believed to be bad luck to have 13 guests for dinner.  So serious are the French about this that they are known to hire a professional dinner guest, known as a quatorzieme, to round the number to 14. Quatorzieme literally means “fourteenth.” How do we get that job?

Bread

European bakers often cut a cross in the top of their rustic loaves of bread. It stems from the belief that the mark would keep the devil from sitting on the loaf and causing it to fall.  We don’t know about that, but it’s probably a good idea to make sure your yeast or baking powder is fresh!

Bananas

Bananas have long been associated the bane of boats. Fishermen and sailors believe them to be bad luck to have on board.

Rosemary

Need to keep the witches at bay? A pot of rosemary at your door is said to do the trick.  We must concur, as we have a pot of rosemary and we’ve never had any trouble with witches at all!

Tea

While undissolved sugar at the bottom of your teacup means someone is in love with you, that good fortune may be quickly dashed if you put milk to your tea first.  Legend says that love never comes to those who add milk before sugar.  So stir, stir, stir your sugar until it’s all dissolved… and then add the milk.

Eggs

After cracking an egg, one must crush the eggshell.  Otherwise a witch will come, collect the pieces, construct a boat and wreak havoc on the seas.  That must be one tiny witch!

 

So right about now you are shaking your head at all of these silly superstitions from far-off lands.  Don’t think we fall for that sort of thing? What about these…

Rice

It’s pretty common knowledge that it’s good luck to throw rice at newlyweds. These days, this has given way to bubbles, birdseed, and the like. But still, you knew what we were talking about, right?

Birthday Cake

And who doesn’t try to blow out all of those birthday candles in one breath? We know we do. Every time. Because that’s the only way our birthday wish will come true. The good news is, even if we fail, hey there’s cake!

Black-Eyed Peas

Also in the good luck department are black-eyed peas, traditionally consumed on New Year’s Day for good luck in the coming year.

 

And because we don’t want any sort of French bad luck, we felt it appropriate to add one extra superstition to round out our list at an even 14…

Wishbone

Last, but certainly not least, the wishbone from our Thanksgiving turkey.  Whoever gets the big side will have her wish granted, so it’s game on once the bird has been carved, right?

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Mocha Tres Leches Cake

Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack from Muy Bueno represented Clabber Girl at Hispanicize 2014.  Her time in Miami inspired the flavors of this Tres Leches Mocha Cake.  She writes:

“I developed this dessert, because it reminds me of my trip to Hispanicize— it’s sweet, spicy, and fabulous, just like Miami. This mocha tres leches cake is rich and moist and has unique flavors with the addition of coffee and a spicy kick of cayenne pepper. What I love most about tres leches cakes is that they are sliced and served directly from the pan with no need to invert the pan. That is always my biggest fear when it comes to baking. I’ve had many cake disasters as I flipped them on a serving platter. Tres leches is very forgiving and the whipped cream over the top covers up any flaws.”

Serve a slice with fresh raspberries for a stand alone treat or a grand finale after a special dinner.

This mocha tres leches cake is rich and moist and has unique flavors with the addition of coffee and a spicy kick of cayenne pepper.

For the recipe and to see a video of her presentation at Hispanicize, click here: http://www.muybuenocookbook.com/2014/06/mocha-tres-leches-cake-hispanicize-recap/

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Fresh Ideas for Fresh Herbs

 

One of the things we love about summer is the abundance of fresh ingredients. Whether we visit the farmers’ market, or grow our own, nothing beats locally grown fruits, veggies, and herbs. Fresh herbs are a particular treat this time of year because they’re way more economical than buying a few small sprigs at the grocery store—like we had to do all winter—and they bring an intensity of flavor that simply screams summertime.

One of the most commonly used baking herbs is rosemary, and with good reason! The aroma of rosemary baked goods is enough to make us swoon, and the flavor of fresh rosemary in a savory bread is off-the-charts delicious. We combined chopped rosemary with a little lemon zest to make simple biscuits extra fresh this spring. You could also try Mani Niall’s recipe for Bacon, Gruyere and Rosemary Scones, a Clabber Girl favorite. It’s bacon, rosemary and cheese combined into golden wedges of bliss.

Chives are another summertime favorite. We love adding freshly snipped chives to some of our savory favorites like these Chive and Buttermilk Griddle Cakes. And the pretty purple blossoms make fantastic garnishes!

Though most often associated with Italian cooking, basil gives all kinds of dishes a fresh, summery flair. We love it in everything from bruschetta to pesto, but basil is also a great addition to obvious choices like focaccia, as well as these Herb Biscuits.

The rule of thumb for substituting fresh herbs in place of dried is to multiply the measurement of dried herbs by three. For instance, if the recipe calls for a tablespoon of dried basil, use three tablespoons of chopped fresh basil. But if you like your biscuits even more herby, then add a little extra! Or, double up the flavor by adding chopped fresh herbs to your butter.

Is your mouth watering yet? Same here. So make the most of the summer’s bounty of herbs!

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Graduation Party Ideas on a Budget

 

If you’re anything like us, you have a handful of graduation announcements and open house invitations posted all over the refrigerator door. Maybe you have a high school graduate this year yourself! If you’re in need of graduation party ideas, no need to search high and low for the best tips to keep costs down. Give your grad a memorable send-off while keeping the budget in line with these tips:

Pool Your Resources

One of the easiest ways to cut costs is to have a combined graduation party. A duo or trio of grads can join forces to split the party budget—and make it more convenient for party-hopping guests. It’s win-win, and this strategy will give party planners leeway to splurge on some items while still staying within the budget.

Timing is Everything

Food is likely to be the single biggest expense when it comes to throwing a graduation party. Save money without looking like a cheapskate by scheduling your party outside of regular meal times. Instead of dinner, treat guests to trays of cookies or even better, a sundae bar where they can customize to their heart’s content with sprinkles, hot fudge or candy crumbles.

Location, Location, Location

Warm weather makes it easy to host a graduation bash right in your own yard. But if you don’t have the space, consider other budget-friendly options. Local parks, community centers and churches often have facilities available to rent for a reasonable fee. And a park location will often have built-in entertainment for younger guests, like playgrounds.

DIY Decorations

Staying on budget doesn’t have to mean boring decorations. Chances are one of the best decorating options is right at your fingertips: photos. Celebrate your grad’s achievement with plenty of pictures. Photos provide a focal point, and they encourage conversation among guests. Use framed prints as table decorations. Tie it all together with dollar store frames painted in school colors. Don’t forget to scour Pinterest for more great photo display ideas!

Save on Snacks

Instead of catering, feed the masses with homemade fare. Stretch meats like pulled pork by serving with slider buns. Fill crockpots with bite-size snacks like cocktail franks and meatballs. Fill up guests’ tummies with chips and dips. Rather than a buying a decorated cake, make cake pops or cupcakes iced in school colors. Provide guests with dessert-sized plates—they’ll look full with less.

Some of our favorite graduation party recipes:

Pulled Pork

Drunken Dogs

Mini Biscuits with Shaved Ham

Cheesecake Pops

Key Lime Bars

Chocolate Butter Cupcakes

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Tips for Gluten-Free Baking

 

Whether you’re gluten-free for medical reasons or you just want to avoid the “wheat belly,” baking with alternative flours can be a challenge. There are plenty of gluten-free recipes online, but what if you want to create a gluten-free version of your grandma’s signature banana bread? These handy tips can help you do just that, or troubleshoot a gluten-free baking catastrophe.

Dry Ingredients:

  • Use a combination of gluten-free flours
  • Sift flours and starches prior to measuring. Sift again after combining to improve texture of baked goods.
  • Mix flours thoroughly before adding to other ingredients
  • In recipes which call for rice flour or corn meal: mix with liquid, bring to a boil, then cool before adding
  • To maintain freshness, refrigerate gluten-free flours and bring to room temperature prior to baking

Leavening:

  • Starch flours require extra leavening. The rule of thumb is 2 teaspoons of baking powder per cup of gluten-free flour, but you may need to reduce the amount to adjust for altitude.
  • If baking soda and buttermilk are used for leavening, add 1-1/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar for each ½ teaspoon of baking soda to neutralize acid.

Liquids:

  • Add dry milk solids or cottage cheese to recipe to improve structure or baked goods
  • Use evaporated milk instead of regular milk
  • If your baked goods are too crumbly, add an extra egg white next batch

The Process

  • Without gluten, kneading time is shorter, so take care not to over beat
  • If using a bread machine, only use one kneading cycle
  • Let gluten-free dough rest at least 30 minutes or up to overnight in the refrigerator to improve texture

Baking & Keeping

  • Bake in a smaller portions at a lower oven temperature for a longer time
  • Use dark pans for better browning
  • Because gluten-free baked goods can dry out quickly, always wrap them tightly and store in the refrigerator or freezer to retain quality
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