Saturday, 12 May 2012

Product Review: Vacu Vin Garlic Press

Several weeks ago I was sent this Garlic Press from Vacu Vin to review. Initially I thought it was similar to my own garlic press that I’ve been using which is a good quality…. but after using the Vac Vin Garlic Press I realized that this press goes above and beyond. My garlic press can be a pain scraping the pressed garlic from the bottom of the press…. the Vacu Vin has a nifty feature… a lever that scrapes the garlic from the raster. It’s design is definitely unique and very handy.

The press is made of a heavier gauge metal, it’s easy to use and clean. I would definitely recommend this garlic press over the others found in stores. While it is a little more expensive than some other garlic presses around…. It will definitely out last and out perform its competitors.

In fact, a word about Vacu Vin products…. I recently was in need of a couple of different gadgets and went to Bed, Bath and Beyond and lo and behold there were Vacu Vin products, so we decided to try them since we’ve been so impressed with what I have reviewed…. I must say we have been more than satisfied with their superior quality. They’re well made and durable. So when choosing kitchen gadgets, look to Vacu Vin and compare…. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Recipe: Shepherd’s Pie

This recipe for Shepherd’s Pie is one I’ve been making for years…. it’s perfect for using up leftover mashed potatoes. This hearty meal is always welcome to even the pickiest eaters. It’s quick to make and perfect for a winter night. Serve with some crusty bread… and maybe a small salad and you have one terrific meal.

Over the years I’ve made variations… especially when I had leftover beef stew… you can substitute the leftover stew meat and stew gravy for the ground beef and gravy… just add a little more vegetables and top with mashed potatoes.

You can use fresh or frozen vegetables…. I wouldn’t recommend canned. Mushrooms can either be canned or fresh… I use fresh.

I gave you instructions for my Creamy Mashed Potatoes… however.. you can use your own favorite recipe if you desire.

The recipe calls for beef broth… if you find you don’t have beef broth on hand… you can substitute a brown gravy seasoning packet and water. Simply sprinkle the brown gravy mix over the beef mixture and add 1 cup of water….. it’s not as good as beef broth but it certainly is good enough to serve to your family.

I hope you try this great recipe.


Recipe: Shepherd’s Pie

All you need:

1 ¼ pounds lean ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
1 small pkg. (8 ounces) fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen carrots
1 cup beef broth
1 tablespoon flour
2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
¼ cup ketchup OR 1 tablespoon tomato paste
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
¼ cup finely shredded cheddar cheese
Mashed potatoes

For Mashed potatoes:

4 large potatoes (Yukon Gold preferred), peeled and cubed
4-6 tablespoons butter
½ cup milk
¼ teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Salt to taste

All you need to do:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large skillet, crumble the meat and brown it and diced onions over medium high heat.

When meat is fully cooked, drain off any excess fat.

Add the mushrooms and continue cooking until mushrooms begin to soften (if using fresh mushrooms).

Sprinkle the garlic powder over the meat mixture and stir.

Sprinkle the flour over the meat mixture.

Add the beef broth and make sure you stir well so there aren’t any lumps of flour.

TIP: If you’re not the best at sprinkling the flour… you can add the flour to the beef broth in a larger measuring cup or medium bowl… whisk vigorously until the flour is well incorporated into the beef broth.

Add the peas and carrots, stir well.

Add the Worcestershire Sauce and ketchup (or tomato paste), stir well to incorporate.
Salt and pepper to taste.

To Make the Mashed Potatoes:

Peel and dice the potatoes… making sure the pieces are the same size so they cook in the same amount of time.

Place in a large pot with 1 tablespoon salt and cover with water and bring to a boil.

Turn down the heat and simmer the potatoes about 20 minutes or until fork tender.

Drain and return to the pot or place into the bowl of an electric mixer.

Heat the milk and 4 tablespoons butter until butter is just melted.

Mash the potatoes until desired consistency.

Add the milk and butter mixture and stir.

Add the heavy cream and stir.

Add the ground black pepper and stir.

Salt to taste.

To assemble the pie:

Spread the meat mixture in a 13 x 9 baking dish.

Spread the mashed potatoes over the meat mixture.

Sprinkle the shredded cheddar cheese over the top of the potatoes.

Place dish on a foil lined cookie sheet so if the pie bubbles over it doesn’t make a mess in your oven (mine did not bubble over).

Bake at 350 degrees F for approximately 25 minutes or until potatoes begin to brown a bit and the pie is bubbly.

Recipe: Shortbread Cookies

I love Shortbread Cookies… no doubt about it…. I will always make a beeline for them. I just love the buttery flavor.

I’ve tried numerous recipes…. recently I posted a recipe for Chocolate Frosted Shortbread Bars that are absolutely delicious. My only gripe with them is that they tend to be very light and flaky… I like my Shortbread Cookies to have a little more crunch… well maybe not crunch but not as delicate. I was given advice to add a bit more flour… so I tried it… nothing ventured nothing gained.

The result is the following recipe…. I liked the way it came out…. it had the same buttery flavor I love and the cookies held together nicely.

My recipe is a little different from most Shortbread recipes, I use light brown sugar and add a little salt and vanilla to the dough… it enhances the flavor.

You can go to the trouble of rolling out the dough and using cookie cutters or you can use a small melon ball scoop and then flatten the balls with the bottom of a glass or you can roll the dough into a log and wrap it in plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge for about ½ hour then unwrap it and slice it.

I like to do the log method but tried the melon ball scoop technique this time. Both methods were easy …. but I found that when I used the melon ball scoop method, and pressed them flat with a glass… they tended to split around the edges… they didn’t come out looking quite as perfect as when I slice them.

I recommend using a mixer to make the dough. The dough will be extremely crumbly at first, keep mixing until the dough comes together to form a soft dough.


Recipe: Shortbread Cookies

All you need:

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 ¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt

All you need to do:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper for easier cookie removal.

In a large mixer bowl, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy.

Add the flour and salt slowly beating and medium speed.

Beat until a soft dough forms.

Choose a method of cutting the cookies:

Roll the dough out and cut out cookies using a cookie cutter OR

Roll the dough into a log and wrap with plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Unwrap and cut the dough into slices OR

Using a small melon ball scoop, scoop dough unto the cookie sheet. Using the bottom of a lightly greased glass, press gently down on the balls to flatten.

Pierce cookies with a fork and bake at 325 degrees for 17-20 minutes or until edges

Recipe: Chocolate Dipped Shortbread Cookies

Yesterday I posted a Shortbread Cookie recipe. While they’re delicious as is… for chocolate lovers there is nothing better than a cookie dipped in chocolate…. and Grill already asked…no icing?? So here you have a variation that should make your sweet tooth a happy one.

I used semi-sweet chocolate chips, which wasn’t quite sweet enough for my taste…. I would rather use milk chocolate chips…. you can use any chocolate type that you prefer…

The ones in the picture are just dipped in chocolate… but if you want to get even fancier… after dipping them in chocolate, roll them in sprinkles…chocolate or colored for a festive cookie… I like to make some of these to mix into a cookie plate…. It just adds a bit of pizzazz.


Recipe: Chocolate Dipped Shortbread Cookies

All you need:

Shortbread cookies (see my recipe)
1 cup chocolate chips (any type)

All you need to do:

Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper and set aside.

Place the chocolate chips into a medium microwavable bowl.

Microwave on high for about 1 minute and stir.

Microwave again for another 30 seconds and stir.

The chocolate should be all melted and not too thick… if it’s too thick then microwave at 10 second intervals until you have the desired consistency.

Dip one side of the cookies in the chocolate and place on the wax paper-lined cookie sheet and refrigerate until set.

Another Great Give-Away!!

I’m giving away one Vacu Vin Garlic Press to one lucky winner. I posted a product review of this terrific gadget yesterday. This durable, easy to use gadget has a nifty scraper that scrapes the garlic from the raster… no more scraping with a knife. For information about the garlic press read my product review post.

I’m sure the lucky winner will love this Garlic Press. Don’t need a garlic press? Enter anyway… this would make a great stocking stuffer for someone who loves to cook….. or going to a wedding shower?… this would make a great add-on gift. It retails for just over $24.00 (US) on Amazon so this is a great value Give-Away!


All you have to do to enter is leave me a comment on this post….. you get one entry

Become a follower… you get another entry

Subscribe to Cooking Tip of the Day …. you get another entry

Refer a friend…. You get an additional 3 entries (just ask your friend to note in their comment that you referred them).

Bloggers….. mention my give-away in your blog and get an additional 5 entries!!! Let me know your URL in your comment

Indicate in your comment if you are following and/or subscribing.

Previous winners of my give-aways are eligible!

This Give-Away contest will last until midnight EST until December 11th, so enter soon and spread the word!

It’s so easy to enter… so enter today!

I'll post the winner and they can contact me at the Cooking Tip of the Day email so I can have the company send the garlic press directly to them.

Good Luck!!

Recipe: Boursin Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes

This recipe is a quick and easy hors’dourve…. my friend Shirley made stuffed cherry tomatoes for a gathering we had… she used a seasoned cream cheese… and they were gone in no time….

I like to use Boursin…. It’s easy and readily available. Now you might think cutting and seeded the cherry tomatoes is labor intensive… well it really isn’t. I did an entire bunch in about 20 minutes.

I like to add these to a variety of hors’dourves because it really isn’t too high in calorie and a nice little change from all the other finger foods.

I hope you think about adding these to your holiday party table.



Recipe: Boursin Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes

All you need:

Cherry tomatoes
Boursin Spread

All you need to do:

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and using a small spoon (I used the tip of an iced tea spoon) seed the tomato.

Using a sharp knife, cut out the center pulp of the tomato to form a hollow bowl.

Using a small spoon, spoon in the Boursin and place on a serving dish.

Recipe: Blueberry Crumb Muffins

This recipe was originally for Blueberry Crumb Cake from the Barefoot Contessa…. I love crumb muffins, cake, pie …. you name it… you put a crumb topping on it and chances are I’ll love it…. and while I like crumb cake… I wanted to make muffins… so I simply made the recipe into muffins instead of cake.

I must tell you it took two tries to get this recipe into muffins. The cake is extremely light and fluffy… which, believe me, is not a bad thing…. EXCEPT… it can make getting the muffins out of the pan all but impossible. Oh.. I got them out alright… but they ended up the weirdest shapes you ever want to see… but they tasted delicious.

You absolutely MUST use cupcake liners when making these…otherwise you can’t get them out of the pan without falling apart. Trust me on this one.


This cake recipe will rise … a lot. So when filling the muffin cups… only fill to ½ full… not the usual 2/3 full or your cup runnith over.

I coated my blueberries in a little flour.... this helps make the blueberries not sink too much to the bottom. The Barefoot Contessa doesn't do this step...

And for the record… I love her crumb topping…. I use it for recipes as well. It’s a recipe worth keeping.

Her recipe calls for extra large eggs… I had only large eggs and the recipe worked fine. This recipe rates 5 stars out of 5…. a wonderful recipe!



Recipe: Blueberry Crumb Muffins

All you need:

For the Crumb Topping:

¼ cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/3 cups flour

For the muffin:

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick)unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature (large eggs also work fine)
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon lemon zest
2/3 cup sour cream
1 ¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon flour
Confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling

All you need to do:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line muffin tin with cupcake liners.

To make the Crumb Topping:

Combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl. Stir in the melted butter then the flour. Mix well and set aside.

To make the muffin:

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a small bowl combine the blueberries with 1 tablespoon to coat them. Set aside.

Cream, at high speed, the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat with the paddle attachment for about 4-5 minutes until light.

Reduce the speed to low and add the eggs, 1 at a time.

Add the vanilla and continue beating at low speed.

Add the lemon zest and sour cream and continue beating.

Add the flour mixture while continue to beat at low speed until just combined.

Fold the blueberries in with a spatula and completely mix until the blueberries are well incorporated.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups until half full.

Drop bits of the crumb topping over each muffin pressing them into the batter just a bit.

Then add a little more crumb topping on each.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 22 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Cool for about 10 minutes then gently remove the muffins from the pan.

TIP: I use two forks to gently lift the muffins out of the pan.

Cool completely.

Sprinkle tops with confectioner’s sugar.