Thursday, November 24, 2005

Anniversary Cakes, Ingredient-Sleuth-Style!

Ingredient Sleuth's First Anniversary -- Let Us Eat Cake! Posted by Picasa

Happy Thanksgiving -- and Anniversary!

Here it is, Thanksgiving Day 2005!

  • One year ago, November 24, 2004 was Thanksgiving Eve -- and the day that I began writing the Ingredient Sleuth blog.

    How can that full year -- and ALL THOSE WORDS -- have passed by already? It is the FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF THE INGREDIENT SLEUTH BLOG!

    A large "thank you" to all who have participated:
  • Readers who took time (that precious commodity!) to read the posts
  • Readers who took extra time to post comments
  • Authors who graciously allowed reprints of their recipes
  • Stores that allowed photographs of their premises
  • Family & friends who provided encouragement, recipes and ideas

I have enjoyed this year of Ingredient Sleuth blogging so very much!

Many thanks and Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Bon Appetit!

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Great Pumpkin Search

The Great Pumpkin Pie

Is this YOUR impossible dream?

Thanksgiving has arrived and the guests will gather soon. Pumpkin pies -- from scratch -- were baked this morning. But, there was NO flour on the counter and, better yet, none on the freshly-cleaned (for company, you know!) floor!

The company that makes Bisquick baking mix made this dream possible many years ago with its "impossible pie" recipes. The variations are many, from savory to sweet.

The impossible pumpkin pie was always a winner in my family (we just never liked those Thanksgiving morning floor clean-ups that a rolled-out pie crust invariably necessitates!). It still amazes me that the crust of the impossible pie finds its way to the bottom of the pan -- but it does!

And here, for your pleasure, is a little pecan variation that goes the usual pie "one better" for we gilders of lilies!

Impossible Pumpkin Pecan Pie

1 cup Bisquick baking mix
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
3/4 cup pecans, chopped

1 1/2 cups whipped topping, thawed, or whipped cream
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or cinnamon, optional

1. Heat oven to 350° and grease a 10-inch round (1-1/2-inch deep) pie plate.
2. Combine first seven ingredients until smooth using a hand mixer, blender or food processor.
3. Stir in pecans by hand.
4. Pour into a prepared (greased and lightly floured) pie plate.
5. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean.
6. Cool on rack.
7. If desired, blend nutmeg or cinnamon into the whipped topping or whipped cream.

Serve pie with whipped cream. Store pie in refrigerator. 8 servings.

Bon appetit -- and Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods Market Produce Department

One of the local PBS television stations in Southern California (KLCS-TV in Los Angeles) is re-broadcasting some of Julia Child's old cooking shows -- always a delight! In these episodes, Julia was the ever-willing cooking student while guest chefs and experts prepared delectable dishes.

Seeing these shows reminds me of another interview that she gave near the end of her marvelous career. The interviewer asked her how she would persuade people to eat organic products.

In her throaty warble, she said something to the effect of “Well, you know of course, I would simply tell them why I use organic products as often as possible – they just taste better!”

And there you have it! The Ingredient Sleuth has to chuckle at Ms. Child’s astute commentary on human motivations. I find it somewhat difficult to justify prying my wallet open to pay more for a product simply because it MAY be healthier. Somehow, that always seems like a long-term investment – easier to put off for the future.

But, if I know that the product in question is just going to taste SO much betternow -- my short-term gratification impulse goes immediately into overdrive. Zap! The wallet cooperates with only a faint whimper!

Whole Foods Market is capitalizing big-time on this realization. Founded in 1980 as a single, small store in Austin, Texas, this grocer is now the world’s leading retailer of natural and organic foods. There are 178 stores in North America and the United Kingdom.

The stores are large, supermarket-sized, spacious and filled with plenty of products to complete even the most-extensive of shopping lists. Whole Foods believes in local sourcing all over the world from small suppliers who are uniquely dedicated to providing the highest-quality products.

In California, for example, three suppliers were recently publicized in a Whole Foods newspaper advertisement that announced a regional “community support day” in which 5% of that region’s Whole Foods stores’ net sales was donated to California Certified Organic Farmers organization (to assist with organic certification programs, trade support and educational programs).

I really like the idea of buying products that have come from suppliers with profiles like these:

BE WISE RANCH, San Diego: A major supplier of organic heirloom tomatoes to Whole Foods, Bill Brammer has been farming organically for almost 30 years and assisted in the definition of the organic standards that define the industry today.

T & D WILLEY FARMS, San Joaquin Valley: Tom and Denesse Willey grow organic basil for Whole Foods and also specialize in organic winter squashes. They believe it is their life’s mission to educate people about the benefits of sustainable farming, so that our precious farmlands are available to support healthful foods for future generations.

WINDROSE FARMS, San Luis Obispo: Bill and Barbara Spencer began farming organically because of Barbara’s sensitivity to pesticides. For Whole Foods Market, they specialize in herbs and provide mint, basil, rosemary, dill and other seasonal varieties.

In the Whole Foods produce department, all produce offered is labeled with its geography of origin and is clearly identified as either “organically” or “conventionally” grown. Over time, as more and more organically-produced products have become available in larger volumes, the organic share of the produce complement has grown.

The stores feature foods that are free of artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners and hydrogenated oils. Bakery, meat, fish, cheeses from all over the world, ready-to-eat deli items, vitamins, wines (organic and otherwise) – ingredient sleuth heaven!

Some of my favorites:

  • organic Yukon Gold potatoes,
  • 365 (Whole Foods' private label brand) Italian sparkling mineral water,
  • sage honey,
  • free-range organic chicken,
  • Les Coccinelles (the ladybugs!) red wine,
  • nutty Emmenthaler cheese from Switzerland,
  • those organic winter squash from T&D Willey Farms,
  • tiny-and-pink lentils in bulk bins ...

is it possible to have dozens and dozens of "favorites"? For me -- yes!

Whole Foods has been included in Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” every year since 1998 and holds the #30 position in 2005. And then, to top it all off, CEO John Mackey recently began a blog ( which includes commentary on the business and social issues related to the company's role in the retail grocery industry.

At the Whole Foods Market website (, internauts can search for whatever food topic interests them. There is a huge assortment of sensible recipes there as well. There is NOT, however, an online shopping service. But, there IS a list of the current 178 locations with street addresses and phone numbers for shopping expedition preparation!

Let’s see – where’s that shopping list of mine. My closest store location is 20 miles away, in Tustin, but there are favorites to be bought – because they will just, simply, TASTE so good! So, as Julia would warble, “Bon appetit!”

Friday, November 04, 2005

Yogurt Tales

Mini Yogurts, in Glass, from Trader Joe's Market

Fast-forward to the future:

There we are, in the Ingredient Sleuth's garage one morning, California sunshine streaming in through the door's easterly windows. Hundreds of shiny reflections bounce into near-space, from the shelving that lines the walls. In some of the reflections, little rainbow-segments of multi colors flutter brightly.

Has the Sleuth finally embarked upon a career in glass blowing, using the garage as storage area for recently-created wonders? Or maybe she has gone wild at the local flea market and bought up every glass Christmas ornament that she could find?

Probably not. Most likely, she has simply continued to set aside -- just for a LITTLE while, of course! -- each and every one of those darling little yogurt pots as they were emptied and rinsed. Just too charming to toss out, those mini, glass jars. Just perfect for a handful of fresh, purple pansies or white lilies-of-the valley -- or both! You could easily picture them in the middle of a small, round cafe table, adding a flowery touch to patio dining.

How quickly time passes -- the glass jars must number one hundred by now!

Fortunately, this little vision is still futuristic. I haven't stockpiled EVERY little yogurt jar. And, even if I had, my yogurt-jar productivity would be severely restricted by my normal penchant to buy yogurt in those economical 32-ounce plastic tubs!

These little yogurts, imported from Europe, are great little treats, though. I like to savor them as a dessert, alternating time-to-time among the flavors that are available. There seems to be something about their taste that is just SO natural, somehow. They make dessert feel so, well, healthful!

Naturally, my mind has turned to producing some yogurt treats that are similar, using the contents of the 32-ounce plastic tubs. Memories of "yogurt tales" come to the surface and inspire new attempts at "yogurt management"!

I remember a television segment in which travel commentator Rick Steves tasted Greek yogurt, topped with a lovely, drippy topping of honey. Not normally one to over-enthuse about foods in his programs, typically uttering a prosaic "that's good" during tastings, Rick displayed a rather dreamy look of pleasure as he experienced the lovely contrast of flavors.

Then too, there was the episode of Huell Howser's charming TV journals (about life throughout California) in which he featured the +100-year-old California man who still made his own yogurt at home and consumed good servings of it every day. Huell looked a little surprised at the "bold" flavor of the homemade, plain yogurt when he tasted it. But, he had to marvel at the way the centenarian gentleman fielded both kitchen utensils and interviewer questions with simultaneous aplomb during their meeting! The interviewee credited, what else, the yogurt!

A closer-to-home yogurt tale grew out of one of my own personal experiences with the creamy, white milk product. The first time that I tried one of those handy little individual containers of cherry yogurt, I was SO disappointed! What an affront to my taste buds! In spite of the pretty, dark red cherry on the container, there was not a single cherry to be found! Until .... Yes, that's right. There it was, all the good cherry sweetness, at the bottom of the container. Maybe I should have read the directions before eating!

To imitate those "fruit at the bottom" yogurts that are so familiar, I like to put a spoonful of my favorite fruit preserves on the top of "plain" (read as "cheaper") yogurt. It really doesn't take much re-training, even for the Ingredient Sleuth, to stir the fruit down rather than up! That way, I can control the amount of sweetness that is added.

My favorite yogurt memory, though, is a particularly-appropriate one to share today. Around a beautiful, round, wooden dining table in La Jolla, California, a gracious and welcoming hostess fluttered with capable (and typical) ease. Florence, my downstairs neighbor at the condo complex that was my first California residence some time ago, was entertaining my mother, sister and me.

I was almost as new to California as my vacationing family. We all became "fast friends" with Florence. How could we not? Always more interested in listening than talking, Florence was (and is) an expert at drawing you out, making you feel comfortable, making you feel interesting! Undoubtedly, her career in publishing intensified those conversational skills that were, and are, so natively and uniquely hers.

The conversation flew, rapid-fire, from topic to topic. Travel, world events, art ... so much to discuss and always so little time! At dessert time, with barely an interruption to the conversation, Florence handily placed serving bowls of huge-and-juicy strawberries (still wearing their pointy green-stemmed "hats"), golden-brown-and-crystallized sugar and creamy-and-rich yogurt on the table.

As each of us dipped strawberry after strawberry into its coating of yogurt, then brown sugar, we filled the room with talk and laughter. In between, we popped strawberries into our mouths and enjoyed the wonderfully-tasty treat that I will always think of as "Florence's Yogurt Pops"!

I am happy to report that Florence and I continue to keep in touch even though we no longer live in the same city. I am even happier to report that our phone conversations are as rapid-fire and wide-ranging as ever! In addition, the emergence of the Ingredient Sleuth blog has created a new aspect of our friendship.

From time to time, Florence puts on her former publishing hat (figuratively speaking -- at least I don't THINK she has an official publishing hat!), and tells me about something "potentially interesting" that she has encountered. My blog posting regarding chocolate, for example, grew out of her call to alert me to the Field Museum's travelling chocolate exhibit in San Diego (see my post of May 27, 2005).

And so, on this November 4th, I am cheshire-cat pleased and proud to send my happiest birthday wishes to Florence. I don't know if it was the stay-young yogurt on those strawberries or not, but she is as dynamic and sparkly as ever.

"Happy 100th Birthday, Dear Florence!"