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Earlier this week I needed a recipe and the cookbooks in the house were leaving me flat. I needed flashy pictures of smiling men and women holding out plates of perfectly placed food, telling me how easy it is to replicate this meal and how much happier I will be once I do. So I went to the Internet.
This is something that I rarely think to do because once I log on, it's just too overwhelming if I'm not looking for a specific subject or ingredient. I thought this time, why not try brand names and narrow down the search? Their products are tried and true, the recipes are kitchen tested, and with the holidays approaching, there should be festive food ideas. Three brand name sites that I found really surprised me because they are so much more than I expected: Land O' Lakes, Pillsbury and Kraft.
Land O' Lakes, the maker of sweet cream butter, has created a practical, extremely helpful web site (www.landolakes.com) that looks professional and is full of information. Not only are there recipes and tips for entertaining, but there is also a "Baking Class" that really takes the cake. Baking can be daunting - cakes fall and candy becomes a gooey mess - but this site takes out a lot of the guesswork by showing photographs and the step-by-step process for several recipes.
Butter toffee, made with just butter and sugar, is one of their featured recipes and this time of year is perfect for giving to friends and family. They start with the most basic step - gather and check your equipment - and then show how the ingredients look at several stages when cooking and explain the cold water test for doneness (which is the most difficult part of making candy). All of the instructions are very specific, such as using a wooden spoon to stir the mixture and taking altitude into consideration, but because it's so detailed it looks easy.
There are many other useful hints at this site such as how to make the perfect piecrusts and edible ornaments, how to organize a gift basket and ship it, and descriptions of baking tools and where to find them. Also, gift tags can be downloaded and printed onto sheets of 2" x 4" labels.
Pillsbury, known for its little giggling doughboy, has a web site (www.pillsbury.com/holidays) that is really fun because it has party planning down to an art. From a catering point of view, everything that you need to know is here. There is a page that lets you select what type of party food you need whether it be brunch, appetizers, or entrees. You then choose how many people will attend and it creates a menu, a categorized shopping list, recipes and a preparation timetable. I chose brunch for twenty people and received a lovely list with photos including overnight brunch egg bake, overnight gingered fruit bowl, lemon-pecan sunburst coffee cake, petite caramel pecan rolls, assorted meats and Sunrise Mimosas (yum). I added up the shopping list (an old catering habit) and found that the food and drink for this brunch would cost approximately $7.00 per person.
The keys to enjoying a party that you are hosting are preparation and organization, which this site understands. Other holiday planning ideas include a timetable that begins two to four weeks before the party (invitations, reservations, rentals) and intricately works its way towards the big day. There are bar and food quantity estimations per person, bar accessories needed, and ten excellent ideas for making the event run more smoothly. Need to know how to carve a turkey? It's there.
One last thing to mention about the Pillsbury site; at bakeoff.com you can send someone a personalized "Best Cook Award" via e-mail, with which we had grand fun. I sent one to a friend for his bizarre ramen noodles and another to a friend that makes the best nasi goreng.
Kraft, for its large selection of packaged food, has an interesting nutrition and exercise section on its web site (www.kraftfoods.com). Alongside nutrition facts and figures, there are personalized meal and fitness plans (general, diabetic and vegetarian) generated by answering questions such as height, weight and lifestyle activity. It will tell you how many calories you need a day, plan menus, send recipes, and create a calendar for exercising. This is great if you are looking for a healthy new regimen.
I tried the personalized menu and while looking at my suggested meals for the week noticed that, except for the taco broccoli, a lot of the suggestions look delicious. Tonight's dinner is supposed to be salmon in tarragon cream sauce, which upon further inspection is a four ounce salmon filet marinated in orange juice, tarragon and brown sugar, then grilled, and the sauce is made with the left-over marinade, Madeira, and reduced fat sour cream. It sounds interesting and I am pleased to note that my snack #2 on Saturday will be ants-on-a-log (celery with peanut butter and raisins).
On-the-go people with Palm Pilots can enjoy this site even more. You can have daily recipes sent to you or enter up to three ingredients that you have and they will send a recipe, which I can imagine would be extremely helpful if you are between work and the grocery store needing an idea for dinner.
There are many wonderful cooking web sites from all over the world to pore over, many of which try recipes and give technical advice, but sometimes you must follow the advice of advertisers and try the brand names.
By the way, if you get to the Borden's web site, there is a history of Elsie the Cow and her rise to stardom.
Please email your culinary heads-ups to Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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