Category Archives: Products

One Kitchen Tool I can’t Live Without…

An Apple Peeler!

In a previous post, I mentioned how my son got us hooked on apple picking when he was in kindergarten. I wasn’t kidding when I told you he must have eaten 3 or 4 apples a day. I remember the proud expression on his face as he ate one of the apples he picked. I remember the enthusiasm in which he asked for apple after apple very clearly all these years later. I also remember how my hands hurt every night after peeling all of those apples.

Enter my new best friend in the kitchen… The APPLE PEELER

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I was shopping with a friend and telling her the apple story and how much my hands were starting to hurt. I said it laughingly, but it was true. While we were waiting in line, I happened to see the very apple peeler in the photo above. It was quite a coincidence. I didn’t think it would work very well and I figured it would be one of those things I’d end up returning. However, if what the package said was true, I’d be eating a spiraled apple in no time. In addition, it looked like a cool gadget and just like Meghan Trainor’s hit song… All About the Bass, I’m all about the cool kitchen gadget!

When I got home, I couldn’t wait to open the box and slice an apple. I placed the apple on the prongs, turned the handle a few times and voila, I had an apple sliced into rings like an accordion! It not only sliced the apple in even slices, it took the peel off* and cored it. It worked like a charm and was really very cool. I couldn’t wait for my son to get home from school, and see the magic!

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The bus pulled up, my son ran into the house, washed his hands, and asked for a snack. I sliced up an apple, put it on a plate and when he saw it, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The expression on his face was priceless. As he picked up the rings, he used two of them as eyeglasses to look through and called me the apples of his eyes!

That year I bought about 6 of them and gave them out as gifts as holiday presents, anniversary presents, as hostess gifts, if there was an occasion, you were getting an apple peeler. I think I even gave my son’s teacher one. An apple peeler for everyone! I purchased them at Bed, Bath & Beyond, but have also seen them in groceries, and sometimes TJ Maxx and HomeGoods.  It’s really a handy kitchen gadget. It makes life easier when making applesauce, or you can bake the rings and make apple chips.  I have even been known to use the slices to decorate an apple cake. If you decide to buy one, let me know how you like it. Enjoy!

*On a side note, you can leave the peel on the apple if you’d like, there is an option to do that.

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Honeycrisp Apples… What’s all the Hype?

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If you live in the Midwest, you know that last week was the beginning of honeycrisp apple season. If you live anywhere else in the country, allow me to share a glimpse of what that means…

Local farms will advertise the day “u-pick” is available for whatever produce they have available. The farms post on their websites which variety of fruit or vegetables will be available, or you can sign up for email alerts. What is u-pick, my New York friends are asking? Well, it’s exactly that. You go to a farm and pick your own apples, blueberries, pumpkins – whatever is in season. It is so much fun my friends and family look forward to it all year. I was first introduced to apple picking soon after we moved to Ohio. My son’s kindergarten class went to a local orchard and for weeks following he ate apples with breakfast, lunch, and dinner! The next year we went as a family and have been doing so ever since. Lynd’s Farm has a corn maze, farm stand with fresh baked goods, and the best fruits and vegetables you can find. I think Autumn is the best time to go. That’s when they have hot apple cider and warm doughnuts.

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Watch out Lauren, Judy’s on a mission – leave no apple behind!

Honeycrisp time is something completely different. We go to Lynd’s Fruit Farm every year. The picking is always on a Friday and the apples go fast. Some years they have been sold out by noon. My girlfriends and I have made honeycrisp picking a tradition for the past 3 or 4 years now. We get the kids off to school, designate a driver and off we go! The plan is to get to the farm before they open, wait on the car line that extends for miles, talk about which side of the orchard we should go to and how crazy we are for waiting to do this! Then for the next hour or so taste and pick the most deliciously juicy apples you can imagine and realize it was all worth it. With the first bite, you know why they are called honeycrisp. They are sweet with a hint of honey flavor, very crisp and juicy. What we always find amazing is that every tree yields a slightly different tasting apple. This year after each of us picking our 20+ pounds of apples, we dragged our bags to the car only to find the best tree when it was too late! Every year, we also learn something new from fellow apple pickers. One year we were impressed with the family who came with the wagon so you didn’t have to schlepp your apples around. The next year it was the woman with the step stool so she could reach the higher parts of the trees – genius! One of the best tips we got was from the women who had laundry baskets in their car. After picking, they put the plastic bags filled with apples in the basket so they won’t roll around in the car on the way home.

 

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My friend Judy is the apple in the middle!

I’d like to tell you that there will be great recipes on my blog featuring them, but I’m not sure there will be! For one thing, I think they are too delicious eaten as is to do anything else with them. But who knows, I may change my mind. We met a woman who came with a wagon and picked about 60 pounds of apples! She was planning on making a lot of pies. I should have gotten a little friendlier with her!

 

Just Peachy!

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A few weeks ago I attended a pie baking class. It was instructed by a woman I met at The Big Pitch in June. Her name is Sheila and she runs a local business in Columbus for food lovers. You can read more about her and her company on her website, Ala Carte Columbus.

The cooking class she held entitled “the life of pie” was very well run and informative. At one point in the class Sheila went around the room asking everyone what their favorite flavor pie is. It was mostly cherry, with a few apple lovers weighing in. I was having a difficult time narrowing down my favorite. I love cherry pie, but then again, peach is so good, and let’s not forget about apple! It was almost my turn and I committed to peach – peach it was, yummy, juicy peach. Then the little girl next to me, said her favorite was chocolate cream pie… chocolate cream pie, how could I have ever let that one slip through my fingers? As all eyes turned to me, I made a fast switch to chocolate cream pie! Chocolate cream pie – yes, that’s the winner! Of course as the words were coming out of my mouth, I was still thinking peach! No, cherry! How can you choose just one pie as a favorite?

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After we had all finished, it was noted that no one chose peach! This would not make my mother happy – she loved peach pie! I quickly asked her, how can you commit to loving only one kind of pie? It’s just not fair! One thing lead to another and Sheila mentioned how the crop of peaches was so bad this year because of the weather and yada, yada, yada, if you want delicious peaches you have to go to the peach truck. Apparently there was someone who drove a truck to Ohio from Georgia with the most delicious peaches. I immediately grabbed my phone to find their website, thepeachtruck.com, and noted it was coming to my area on August 8th. I put it on my calendar and couldn’t wait for the day to arrive.

That was three weeks ago and I have been counting down the days until finally, it was time to go pick up my sweet, juicy peaches! Yesterday I set my alarm, got myself ready and then set out on my journey. Before I left, I quickly checked their website for time and location just to be sure I was headed to the right place. Ugh! I made a mistake! They came to my area on Friday, I missed it – good think I checked! But how could that be? Then I saw that they were at another Ohio location but it was a 30 minute drive from my house. I had already committed to going, and waited 3 weeks for the day to arrive. I had to go. I grabbed my Carole King CD, jumped in my husband’s convertible and off I went! The sky was blue, it was a cool day and I was off to buy peaches! What could be better?

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I pulled into the parking lot of a gardening store, saw a tent next to a white truck filled with boxes of peaches and was excited I had made the journey. While waiting on the line, I asked the two women in front of me if they had purchased them before and they said they hadn’t. They read about it in a local paper and like me, couldn’t wait to buy them. Another woman made a joke she had come the farthest from California! The man running the stand said it was the last day for peaches and they would be back next year. I was the last person on line and when it was finally my turn, I handed Neil from The Peach Truck my credit card. There was only one size box and it was 25 pounds! Okay, I thought, I’ve come this far, peaches for everyone! I was literally the last person to buy peaches for the season. I wheeled the cart to my car, put the large sweet smelling box of peaches in the trunk and off I went. As I sang along to the Carole King song Beautiful, I started to wonder how I would ever explain this to my husband? Maybe I’ll bake him a pie before I tell him how much they cost! So now the question is turned to you… What would you bake with 25 pounds of peaches? I know my mother would bake the most delicious pie! Enjoy!

I Entered a Food Contest! Here’s the Big Pitch…

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A few weeks ago I did something that was completely out of my comfort zone. I entered a food contest! Even as I type this, I still can’t believe I did it!  Here’s the whole story… While cleaning out my emails, I came across an event being hosted by FoodStart Ohio. They were looking for the next big food product. FoodStart Ohio is a nonprofit organization supporting Ohio food entrepreneurs. Together with Franklin University and The Women’s Small Business Accelerator they held an event called The Big Pitch. It was for food entrepreneurs in Ohio with great food products.

Truthfully, I’ve secretly dreamed of entering something like a Pillsbury Bake-off! However, this was completely different than that. It was more like the show Shark Tank. The competition was to take place over two weeks. The first week was the tasting, the second week was for the 3 finalists in each category to make their “Big Pitch” to the judges. The three categories were: food products, mobile food trucks, restaurant/catering. You could participate as an entrant or attend as a voter. The attendants were people from the community who paid an entrance fee to sample the food, then vote for their favorites in each category.

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Before I continue, I should tell you I found sign-up information on the Wednesday evening, 2 days before the Saturday event! Like I do most things, I held my breath, jumped in with both feet and didn’t look back. I entered the restaurant/catering category and had to make my product for about 150 people, show how I would package it, and write a business plan. I had 48 hours to buy ingredients, bake, make flyers, get supplies, and write a business plan. Luckily my husband went to business school! I narrowed down some of my best products, chocolate shots, almond macaroons, decorated sugar cookies, and babka bites. Together with my husband and son Ethan, team Sweets by Sherri was ready to go!

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We arrived at Franklin University very early and selected our table. First we rushed to set everything up and then walked around to see who else was there. Among the other contestants were amazing foodies that made jams, hot sauce, potato chips, vegetarian soul food, chili, gumbo, cake pops and wedding cakes, buckeyes, and pierogi to name a few.

There was a lot of camaraderie amongst the contestants and the fun part was trying their food! After the first round of judging, which was based on the public’s vote, the top three entrants per category were invited back the following week for final judging. That is where the Shark Tank model came in. Each person had to pitch their product to the official judges. They were all great!

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I didn’t make it into the final three – but came close in 4th place. In all honesty what I did in 2 days amazed me! Now I can’t wait until next year – yes, I said next year! What I learned is that I have to focus more and I’m already thinking about how to do that. At the end of the day, I met a lot of great people: people that are passionate about food and the food they create, food they grow and turn into jam, food they create as part of a family, food to sustain a new wave of keeping it local. I’ll be visiting some of them and blogging about them. As for “The Big Pitch” I’ll be sure to give you plenty of notice next year so you can come out and vote for me!

Box Mix or Homemade? You Tell me!

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Is it ever okay to use a box mix for baking?

That’s a really good question. If you asked my mother, her answer would be absolutely, positively not! Of course she love to bake and was an excellent baker. When I was growing up I don’t even remember her using brownie mix. To be fair, we also lived near good bakeries so if she didn’t bake it herself, there was always a good back up plan. However, it is from her I learned it doesn’t take much more effort to make good fresh food from scratch. While I do agree with that, there are times when the ease of opening a box and adding an egg and oil to dry ingredients is quite appealing, quicker and often cheaper.

When I first moved to Ohio, I was invited to a cookie swap. I had never been to one before so I asked my friends what type of cookies I should bring. The instructions were easy, bake the kind of cookies you would like to receive. When I arrived, it was amazing to see the variety of cookies everyone baked. I made my best decorated sugar cookies and they were a huge hit! Another friend of mine baked fancy biscotti that were so yummy. All the women really outdid themselves except for one. She walked in, placed her plate on the table and said “I hate to bake – I’m not a baker!” Her first mistake was telling everyone she’s not a baker and hates it, then admitting she used a box mix. Her second mistake was that she burnt them and still brought them anyway! Clearly, using a box mix doesn’t mean you’re going home with a first place ribbon or in this case new friends!

So is there ever a time a box mix is okay to use? Yes, I think there is. I have used boxed brownie mixes on occasion, usually when I have to make 50 or 100 of them for school events. There are a couple brands that are very good but even then I add extra cocoa powder to the base, candy, extra chocolate chips, and top them with something special to dress them up for a night out on the town. One of the best ways I have found to dress them up is with homemade frosting. Please note: there is never an excuse to use canned frosting! Come on people, butter and sugar whipped till creamy! I dare you to read the label on the can and tell me why all 19 ingredients are needed for something that should be sugar and butter. I’m gasping for breath here! Rule number one, if you are going to use a box mix, everyone else doesn’t have to know! Let it be your secret! Rule number two, make them look good enough and taste good enough so people don’t know it came from a box. You can always add extra chips, vanilla extract, dried fruit, nuts or something else that you like. Rule number three, read the instructions carefully and follow them, they are written for a reason. Finally, not really a rule – just obvious, if you burn them, throw them out!

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What about cupcakes and cakes? A friend suggested I used a box of cake mix to make cupcakes. I had never done that before and was leary about it. She shouted their praises of ease and deliciousness and said they’re foolproof, just try it.

Out I went to the grocery where I returned with a box of devil’s food cake. I dumped the package into a bowl, added the wet ingredients, blended 2 minutes and voila – cupcakes! However, what they didn’t tell me on the box was that the recipe really only makes 20 cupcakes, 21 at best. Now I was 4 cupcakes short for the class! I had to go back to the store, buy another box, clean all of my baking utensils, and start allover again. Then I ended up with 40 cupcakes! What in the world was I going to do with so many cupcakes? The whole ordeal took me most of the day. Plus there are those little lumps they say will disappear but don’t. However, if you are going to use a box, here is the exception to the rule… read the book Hello Cupcake written by Karen Tack, she gives plenty of support and tricks on how to use a box cake mix so that it comes out great. I have tried her tricks and agree. So if you are decorating cupcakes to the nines, go for the box. If you are making cake-pops, go for the box. For any other reason… only from scratch!

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Here is what I look for in any prepared food. The ingredients have to be recognizable, no artificial ingredients, no hydrogenated oils, fat and sodium amounts have to be in a what I consider a healthy range and a good brand is important. I like specialty brands like Stonewall Kitchen, Barefoot Contessa, and Ghiradelli. Trader Joe’s also makes some very good box mixes. In every case, you just have to read labels very carefully and the amount of ingredients should be minimal. If you can’t pronounce a word, you shouldn’t be eating it. Several years ago, my brother-in-law Ben read ingredients on a candy wrapper at Halloween and said “carnuba wax, I think I use that on my car”! There is a lesson to be learned there!

Okay, so tell me… Are my corn muffins made from a box or from scratch?

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