Category Archives: Pantry Products

Kitchen staples used for cooking and baking

Small Business Week Salute to King Arthur Flour

King Arthur Flour started as a family business four centuries ago, and has evolved into an employee-owned business with a world-wide footprint.  It has also done a stellar job of staying true to its small business roots.  Company employees share tempting recipes and baking tips on its baking blog, and respond rapidly and courteously to questions and an occasional complaint on its Facebook page.  A telephone hotline and online baker’s chat help home bakers achieve success.  I recently chatted online with one of King Arthur’s baking consultants while using the company’s Gluten Free Bread Mix, and the conversation was as cordial as if I had called a friend for advice.  (More on that baking experience later.)

Check out this video showcasing King Arthur’s company culture and success, then head over to my favorite biscuit recipe using King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour and try them for yourself!

1 Comment

Filed under Breads, Pantry Products

Local Folks Foods Diced Tomatoes

Image 1Local Folks Diced Tomatoes is one of Karen’s finds.  She told me about it right after the first of the year, and it has taken a while to get around to sharing it with you.  There are so many reasons to love Local Folks Foods.  Steve and Anita Spencer are seventh generation farmers on Indiana land their family has owned since 1838.  Very cool!  Their excess harvests were the catalyst for a line of all natural, wholesome foods.  The Spencers concentrated on simple ingredients highlighting the flavors of midwest America.  They also partnered with Paul Skirvin, who had many years of experience with organic and natural foods, to expand their product line.  This makes a pretty great artisan food story, but the partners didn’t stop there.  They facilitated a network of family farmers, farm cooperatives and processors throughout the Midwest, creating new outlets for family farm products.

Their focus on Midwestern flavors is complemented by their commitment to healthy ingredients.  Local Folks Foods products do not contain corn syrup, gluten, genetically modified or artificial ingredients.  They are fat free and have lower sodium levels.  The products are packaged in recyclable glass containers.  More reasons to love them!

Karen really liked Local Folks Foods Diced Tomatoes.  She found a recipe at for fettuccine with sausage and tomato cream sauce.  She tweaked the spices a little to suit their tastes, and said it was delicious.  With a cup of heavy cream added to the tomato sauce, it would just have to be good!  We chatted about how we were both using more cream in our cooking, and I told her my tweak to this recipe would be to add about a quarter cup of vodka.  There is something about cooking tomatoes with vodka that really brings out their flavor.

So we love the product and we especially love supporting American family farms. Check out Local Folks Foods website to order their products or find a local source near you.  I’m looking forward to hearing from Karen about Local Folks Foods Enchilada Sauce!

Leave a comment

Filed under Pantry Products

Lemon Sugar Cookies

I knew I would be making sugar cookies around Christmas time, and I also knew I was going to find a new recipe this year.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have a good recipe; it was just too much of a good thing.  The full recipe yields more than 12 dozen cookies.  Talk about a baking marathon!  Obviously, I could half, or even quarter, the recipe, but it was also time for a change of texture.  Instead of my usual crisp sugar cookies, I was craving some chewy ones. is my go-to source for recipe browsing, and I quickly found a recipe for lemon sugar cookies.  This pantry-friendly recipe does not require lemon juice or zest, so it had potential as a recipe box staple that didn’t require a grocery store run for fresh lemons.

Sonoma Lemon ExtractSeveral weeks ago, I shared how much we loved Sonoma Syrup Co. Vanilla Bean Extract “Crush”.  Its mellow intensity gave a simple custard incredible vanilla flavor.   On the heels of that discovery, I had picked up a bottle of Sonoma Syrup Co. Lemon Extract, and now there was an opportunity to try it.  This small-batch extract is made from California lemons using a cold-process method that produces more complex flavor.  Its aroma was less harsh than that of another brand of lemon extract I had in the pantry, and it definitely had a more complex bouquet than the national brand.  I was hopeful for the same successful outcome as Sonoma Syrup Co. vanilla extract had produced.  Reviewers of the lemon sugar cookie recipe frequently suggested increasing the amount of lemon extract, and the recipe below reflects that change.

Lemon Sugar Cookies

  • 3/4 cup butter (use the real stuff!)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons Sonoma Syrup Co. Lemon Extract
  • 2 cups King Arthur All-Purpose Unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup white sugar

In a medium bowl, cream together butter and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg, corn syrup, and lemon extract.   Stir in flour, baking soda, and baking powder.  Cover dough, and chill in the refrigerator at least 1 hour.  Preheat oven to 325°.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Roll chilled dough into walnut-sized balls.  Roll balls in remaining  sugar, and place on the prepared cookie sheet  Bake 12 minutes in the preheated oven, or until very slightly golden brown.  Allow cookies to cool on the cookie sheet for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to complete the cooling process.  Makes about 4 dozen cookies.


The corn syrup gave the cookies a satisfying, chewy texture.  The lemon extract performed as expected, yielding cookies with an intense, yet mellow lemon  flavor.  It was late afternoon when the last cookie sheet came out of the oven, so enjoying a cup of tea and a warm cookie seemed to be in order.  Now, if the dish fairy had just washed the cookie sheets while I was relaxing, it would have been perfect!

Using great ingredients in your cooking and baking makes for great taste.  Karen Campion, Sonoma Syrup Co.’s founder,  has created a stellar line of products that capture the flavors of the Sonoma area.  Make Sonoma Syrup Co. your resource for artisanal extracts, simple syrups and bar mixers, breakfast syrups, and cheese accompaniments.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cookies, Pantry Products

Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Baking Chips

There is no way to know how many pounds of chocolate chips I have baked with over the years, but I know it is many…very many.  Until recently, I used the leading national brand of chocolate chips without a second thought.  Cook’s Illustrated  is a valuable resource in understanding the science behind good cooking, and their product reviews are great for choosing the best tools and ingredients.  I was more than a little surprised to learn the chocolate chips I had always relied on were on their “not recommended” list.  Since Cook’s Illustrated did recommend Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Baking Chips, and I was already a huge fan of Ghirardelli’s brownie mixes, it was a no brainer to give them a try.

In a chip-to-chip visual comparison, Ghirardelli’s chips looked like better, darker chocolate than the national brand.  The taste test also proved Ghirardelli the better chip with smooth, clean taste compared to the slightly waxy, more artificial taste of the competitor.  I could hardly believe the difference, and couldn’t wait to try Ghirardelli’s chips in a recipe for Cappuccino Fudge I had seen on Annie’s Eats, a blog that Karen and I both follow.  I was interested in this recipe for several reasons.  My mom makes fantastic fudge that her grandchildren would probably fight over had not their parents taught them it was not nice to take fudge from a cousin’s hand, but I like fudge a little creamier than her recipe.  I like the consistency of marshmallow fudge, but the popular “Fantasy Fudge” recipe calls for 3 cups of sugar plus super-sweet marshmallow cream.  Really?  I also thought the Cappuccino Fudge recipe’s mocha and cinnamon flavors would add some depth to the chocolate.

Cappuccino Fudge

  • 1 7-oz jar marshmallow cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 12-oz package Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Baking Chips

Line an 8” square baking pan with aluminum foil; set aside. In a 2 qt. saucepan, combine marshmallow cream, sugar, cream, butter, coffee powder, cinnamon and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in chocolate chips until smooth. Pour into prepared pan. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours. Place on cutting board and cut into 36 squares.

I was thrilled with the results.  The fudge was quickly prepared and popped into the fridge, with no candy thermometer madness (thank you!).  The heavy cream and marshmallow cream yielded a very satisfying creaminess factor, and with 1/6 the sugar of the Fantasy Fudge recipe, chocolate was the flavor star of the show.

This fudge probably would have been good if made with another brand of chocolate chips, but with Ghirardelli chips, it was great.  Yes, the Ghirardelli chips are more expensive, but if I’m going to invest my time to make homemade treats, why not use the best ingredients?  I’ll definitely be buying Ghirardelli chocolate chips from now on, and I’ve also found my go-to fudge recipe!

Leave a comment

Filed under Pantry Products

Sonoma Syrup Co. Vanilla Bean Extract “Crush”

My fascination with vanilla flavoring goes back to early childhood.  I can remember helping my mom bake cakes or cookies, and always begging to open and measure the vanilla extract.  I spent more time smelling it and imagining how good it must taste than I did actually measuring it.  Mom patiently explained on multiple occasions that the alcohol in extracts were important for good flavoring, but not so much for good taste, at least not straight from the bottle.  I was really sure she was wrong, and finally convinced her to let me taste it.  After a long anticipatory whiff of the aroma, I poured a little vanilla extract into a teaspoon.  My facial expression when I tasted it immediately prompted Mom’s laughter, along with a well-deserved “I told you so!”  We also ate a lot of vanilla bean ice cream when I was growing up, and I was addicted to the flavor in those tiny bean specks.

I was intrigued by Sonoma Syrup Co.’s combination of vanilla extract and vanilla bean seeds in their Vanilla Bean Extract “Crush”.  Madagascar bourbon and Tahitian vanilla beans are the foundation for “Crush”.  This small batch product is made from beans ripened on their vines in the South Pacific, then carefully cured and shipped to California for artisan blending.  I have been using a quality Madagascar bourbon vanilla for several years, so I was anxious to compare the products.  “Crush” easily won the scent assessment, although I certainly don’t have a professionally trained nose.  My regular brand had more of an alcoholic edge to it, while “Crush” was mellow.  I could easily detect more complex aromas in “Crush”, I’m guessing from the blend of different beans.  Taste test?  Thank you, but no.  (See previous paragraph.)  The better test is how the extract performs in use.

Because I wanted something simple that would allow the vanilla flavor to shine, I chose Mom’s classic boiled vanilla custard recipe.  Whether it was the base for her meringue-topped banana pudding, the filling for my favorite cream puffs, or just served solo as my dad loved it, this custard has always been one of my comfort desserts.

Mom’s Vanilla Custard

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup flour

2 cups milk

4 egg yolks, beaten

2 teaspoons Sonoma Syrup Co. Vanilla Bean Extract “Crush”

Mix the first 3 ingredients together in a heavy saucepan.  Stir in the milk (I use a whisk).  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a boil, then boil one minute.  Remove from heat.

Pour half of the hot milk mixture into a bowl with the beaten egg yolks, beating well.  Blend the egg mixture back into the remaining custard in the saucepan, return to heat and bring just to a boil.

Cool slightly, then stir in the vanilla extract.  Pour into dessert bowls and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard.  Serve warm, or refrigerate and serve cold.

The result was everything I had hoped for.  The vanilla flavor was warm and mellow, and more intense than custard made with my regular extract.  I’ve officially made the switch to “Crush”!

As you might guess, Sonoma Syrup Co. is based in California wine country.  Karin Campion established the company in 2002, adopting the wine-crafting principle of “terroir”, understanding the special characteristics of agricultural products that result from geography, geology and climate interacting with plant genetics.  Choosing exceptional ingredients and developing artisanal blends in the company’s extracts, flavored syrups, bar mixers and cheese drizzles has netted multiple industry awards and a very nice list of retailers.  You can buy the products directly from Sonoma Syrup Co.’s website, or choose from other online and traditional retailers.  The extract gift set (almond, vanilla, and lemon) available from the company website would delight bakers on your holiday gift list!

Leave a comment

Filed under Pantry Products

Tricky Dix Mojo

Allen and I laughed when we saw this small tin of seasoning mix at Sweet Gourmet, a fantastic specialty food store in Tyler, Texas.

From the start, the marketing strategy worked because Tricky Dix Mojo definitely had our attention.  Our affection soon followed when we were offered a sample of Tricky Dix Mojo spiced toasted pecans.  It is possible we had more than one sample, and the tin went into our shopping basket.

I couldn’t wait to do some research about the origins of Tricky Dix Mojo and found it was created in Tyler by Chris and Jennifer Dixon, so kudos to them for the clever use of their name in the product!  The Dixons began developing their seasoning mix after having micheladas served in a seasoned salt rimmed glass at one of their favorite restaurants.  A year and nineteen spices later, the Dixons were happy with their blend, and Jennifer began carrying it around in her purse when they went out to restaurants.  Mojo quickly moved from a drink garnishment to being used as a meat rub, then to a spice with the super-power ability to entice children to eat broccoli!  The Dixons were inundated with requests for Mojo and an artisan food business was born.

Along with a really great product, Chris and Jennifer exhibited some marketing genius with their product name and packaging.  The spice line has been expanded and now the Dixons offer Chix Dix, Hott Dix, and Porky Dix.  The spices are available on their website, where you can also purchase your very own “Lick It Love It” t-shirt.

We enjoyed the spiced pecans so much at Sweet Gourmet, and we decided to try some at home.  I adapted the following recipe from one calling for seasoned salt, and this small batch could easily be doubled.

Tricky Dix Mojo Spiced Pecans

Preheat oven to 300°.  Place 1 tablespoon butter in a 9 x 13 oven-proof dish, and place in the oven until melted.  Add 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce and mix well.  Add 1 1/2 cups pecan halves and stir until they are coated.  Toast pecans for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon Tricky Dix Mojo (or more to taste).  Serve warm or at room temperature.


Filed under Pantry Products

King Arthur Flour

There are so many things to love about King Arthur flour that it is hard to know where to start, but  the statement at the top of the bag that the flour is milled from 100% USA wheat is definitely a plus in our book!  The company, founded in Boston, is almost as old as America.  The statement on the back of the flour bag expresses the company’s philosophy very well:

King Arthur Flour, founded in 1790, is America’s oldest flour company – and is wholly owned by us, the employees.  The business is based on three pillars:  people, planet and profit.  We do what’s right for our customers, for ourselves, and for our environment.  We are a founding B-Corporation, using the power of business help solve social and environmental problems.  We’re motivated by knowing that, every day, people like you count on our flour – on us – to make their baking the best it can be.

The company’s website is a wealth of information from recipes, baking tips, videos, and tutorials.  King Arthur maintains a baking hotline and online live chat to answer baking questions.  An extensive line of baking products and supplies is available on their website, including gluten-free selections.   They also have a company store in Norwich, Vermont.  Don’t you love this company already?

King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour is as impressive as the company itself.  For those who might not know, unbleached flour is not subjected to a chemical bleaching process.  Unbleached flour has more protein than flour that has been bleached.  It also has a more complex, robust taste.  Although some bakers recommend unbleached flour for breads and bleached flour for delicate pastries, King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour works well for most baking needs.  A pan of “from scratch” biscuits is a great way to get acquainted with King Arthur Flour.  This recipe comes from fellow East Texan Barbara Richardson McClellan’s cookbook, “From My Kitchen, Once More”, and she credits a cookbook titled “Georgia on My Menu” as the original source.

Just one final note – after making the batch of biscuits pictured above with King Arthur flour, we made the same recipe using another national brand unbleached flour.  The King Arthur flour batch was clearly superior in appearance, taste and texture.

Duke Dining Hall Biscuits

Servings – About 5

  • 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking power
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 2/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450°.

Mix dry ingredients, and cut in shortening.  (A food processor works great, but you can use a pastry blender, or 2 table knives.)  Add the milk all at once, and stir only slightly.  Place dough on slightly floured surface and knead very gently for only a few seconds.  Roll into 1/2″ thickness.  Cut with a biscuit cutter, cookie cutter or small glass, dipping the cutter into flour before each cut.  (Note:  press the cutter straight down; do not twist it back and forth.)  Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden brown.  Makes 8 – 12 biscuits, depending on size of the cutter.


Filed under Pantry Products