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Snackshot of the Day: The Big McCarbMac

Snackshot of the Day: The Big McCarbMac

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Photos of all things food and drink from The Daily Meal

The McDonald's mashup menu iten, The Big McCarbMac.

The Daily Meal's editors, contributors, and readers dig into some pretty great restaurants, festivals, and meals. There's not always enough time to give a full review of a restaurant or describe in depth why a place, its food, and the people who prepare it are noteworthy, so Snackshot of the Day does what photographs do best, rely on the image to do most of the talking. Today's Snackshot is an original Daily Meal creation, the Big McCarbMac.

There comes a time in life when everyone needs to call in sick, go to McDonald's mid-morning, order something off both the breakfast and lunch menus, and then probably just get sick for real. Here you have the Big McCarbMac. It's the classic Big Mac, with fries in the middle, and everyone's favorite grease rectangle, the hash brown. Smash it down with all your body weight, and it'll likely still be six inches tall. Good luck.

Read more about The Daily Meal's Snackshot feature. To submit a photo, email jbruce[at], subject: "Snackshots."

Follow The Daily Meal's photo editor Jane Bruce on Twitter.

Equal Opportunity Kitchen

What’s the difference between a muffin and cupcake? Well, according to Greedy Gourmet, "A muffin contains less sugar and doesn’t have icing on top". Ok, perfect - let's just enter this to the Snackshot 3 that features . "muffins".

I thought I would do something I really like doing - blog hopping. I came upon this recipe at RecipeZaar for pecan pie muffins. The comments were all raving about how they resembled pecan pie and everyone was giving it a 5 star rating. With only a few ingredients I thought I had nothing to lose by giving them a try. I'm telling you - if you have the ingredients in your house - make them now and then get ready to make a second batch. They really do have a pecan pie type of taste to them with a muffin texture. So good. They're minis and pop right out of the mini muffin tins and directly into your mouth. It's funny how that works. I had to throw them in freezer bags immediately otherwise today could easily have been a 3000 calorie day - noooo problem.

1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup butter, melted
2 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350 F
2. Combine everything in a bowl
3. Spray 2 mini muffin tins about 3/4 full
4. Bake 18 minutes


I am going to make these. I am always looking for the next greatest muffin. Thanks.

Pecan pie muffins sound great! Bookmarked to try.

mmm I love pecans! Those look great!

Pixie said.
. Could it get any easier? perfect and I have all the ingredients handy too. Also, picked up some Matzo's today too. Yeah.

April 19, 2008 10:16 AM
Grace said.
the taste is amazing, isn't it! i've almost convinced myself that i never need to make a pecan pie again.

Grace - I remembered seeing them on another site and completely forgot it was yours - my apologies for not crediting you too for this recipe. It is pretty wonderful - and so easy.

I *adore* pecan pie but never want to go through the trouble of making it. These sound perfect!

I'm having such pecan pie cravings lately!

These sound good. I think I have just the muffin to contribute to this event :)

These sound yummy ! Will have to put them on my "to do" list :)

How did you know my favorite pie was pecan??
Well, now I have to make these. :0

Yum I saw these on Bake or Break and saved the recipe. I can imagine how addictive the mini ones would be.

Those muffins sound great! I must try them out :)

Giz. What about my diet? How can you post about Pecan pie muffins now? Well, since weekends are free diet. maybe I should start baking and try your delicious madalenas :D Your words convinced me.

I love pecan pie - so I want to try these right away!

These sound tasty! I love muffins and I had wondered what's the difference between them and cupcakes. Mind you I've had muffins with icing before and cupcakes without icing too.

Yum - another great muffin recipe! I adore pecan pie, so I want to give these a go.

Game Day Snacks: Pulled Pork Sliders w/ Cider BBQ Sauce

Support the independent voice of Houston and help keep the future of Houston Press free.

Football season is here! I could not be more excited to throw on a jersey, stress over my fantasy team and get a nice buzz while watching the games every weekend. But equally as important -- the food!

These Pulled Pork Sliders w/ Cider Barbecue Sauce make the perfect, stress-free grub for a big crowd. Just make a crock full of the slow cooked, sweet and sour, über-tender pork and serve it straight from the pot with slider rolls and a mix of toppings on the side. Guests can dress their sliders as they please and you can pay attention to the game (or your pregame, depending on how hardcore you are). Here's how:

Ingredients yields about 3 dozen sliders

Add in thinly sliced onion and garlic to a slow cooker pot and cover with chicken stock.

In a small bowl, mix together the paprika, dry mustard, cayenne pepper, brown sugar and salt. Pat the pork roast dry and rub all over with the spice mixture.

Place the meat on top of the onions and cook, covered, until pork is fork tender, about 6-8 hours on high or 8-10 hours on low.

Meanwhile, make the barbecue sauce: Heat a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in all ingredients and simmer until sugar has dissolved, about ten minutes. Set aside until ready for use.

When pork is tender, remove it from the crockpot and set it aside to rest for ten minutes. While still warm, use two forks to shred the meat completely.

Strain the remaining liquid from the crockpot and add the shredded meat back into the onion mixture. Stir in barbecue sauce, tossing to coat and warm through.

Serve pulled pork straight from the pot alongside slider buns and toppings to let guests dress their own sweet and saucy pulled pork sliders (just don't forget to set out napkins).

Keep the Houston Press Free. Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.

It's Snack Time in Seattle

Close your eyes and think of crackers. What do you see? Puffy Oyster Crackers? Square Saltines? Round Ritz? Triscuits? Wheat Thins? Goldfish?

Paul Pigott would prefer that you see flat, crispy Croccantini — thinner than RyKrisp, sturdier than matzo, hefty enough to swipe through a tub of cream cheese and flavorful enough to complement the Cambozola that’s on special in the cheese cooler at the end of his outstretched arm. And he’s taking steps to increase the odds.

Used to be there was but one size: 8 ounces of 4-by-7-inch crackers for $5.99. But now the supermoms piloting Bugaboo strollers through the aisles of Whole Foods can select from the original Croccantini (seven flavors), a six-ounce carton of Mini Croccantini (also seven flavors) or — new this year — a 4.75-ounce bag of Croccantini Bites in Italian herb (“inspired by a Tuscan garden”), tomato basil (“summertime in an Italian villa”) or spicy olive (“with a kick of Mediterranean heat”).

Together, these flatbread crackers dominate the salty-snack displays in the specialty grocery channel — seven of the top 30 items in the category carry La Panzanella Artisanal Foods Company’s label — and that makes Pigott very happy.

Always an independent, entrepreneurial type, Pigott — a scion of the family that founded Paccar Inc. but who never joined the truck-making business — spotted an opportunity in 2003. Ciro Pasciuto, an Italian immigrant who ran a deli and bakery on Capitol Hill called La Panzanella, wanted to retire. At the time, half of La Panzanella’s $2 million in annual sales came from flatbread crackers, the rest from the neighborhood deli and the sale of rustic breads.

The recipe for the crackers had come from Pasciuto’s mother, who started baking them during a visit to Seattle. They were crispy and crunchy, so they were named Croccantini, Italian for “crunchies” or “crunchy bites.”

Pigott bought the company and, before long, decided to concentrate on making and selling the Croccantini. He sold the bread business and, when La Panzanella moved its cracker production facilities to Tukwila, closed the deli.

Pigott, 55, grew up in Seattle, went to college back East — at Hamilton College in upstate New York — and returned home to get an MBA at the University of Washington. A veteran of the dot-com bubble in the late 1990s (, Pigott found a measure of stability in the seemingly old-fashioned business of food production.

“I’ve learned an awful lot of what it’s like to run businesses,” he told in 2012, “and I really began to appreciate businesses that have a positive cash flow, because in the dot-com era that was rather scarce.”

In the meantime, the appetites of millennials became increasingly apparent. Half of all adults were replacing as much as 50 percent of their traditional meals with snacks. And so convenience food became a $126 billion phenomenon — a growing proportion of all grocery spending. Crackers alone account for $7 billion a year.

La Panzanella has been surfing that wave. Today, Croccantini are distributed throughout the United States and they also show up in snack-loving countries like Japan, China and Australia. There’s now a second bakery in Charlotte, North Carolina, to facilitate better East Coast distribution. La Panzanella’s employee count is approaching 200.

Pigott says La Panzanella has the nation’s No. 3 specialty cracker in the grocery channel, and the No. 1 cracker in the specialty category. Locally, La Panzanella sells its products at Whole Foods, PCC Natural Markets and QFC stores, almost always in the higher-priced deli or cheese sections because the price of the crackers is relatively high: $6 or so for a box of the original Croccantini, roughly four times the price of a box of Ritz crackers. The challenge is to increase sales while maintaining the image (and reality) of a “healthy snack.” Croccantini have a rustic, handmade look. Equally important: They’re made from natural ingredients and offer consumers a low-fat, dairy-free, vegetarian/vegan option for their snacking pleasure.

Paul Pigott eschewed the family truck-making business, Paccar, in favor of
an entrepreneurial course that eventually led him to La Panzanella.

The challenge is to increase sales while maintaining the image (and reality) of a “healthy snack.” Croccantini have a rustic, handmade look. Equally important: They’re made from natural ingredients and offer consumers a low-fat, dairy-free, vegetarian/vegan option for their snacking pleasure.

Four of five Americans tell pollsters they’d be willing to try something new — a new flavor or a new product. Within that group, flavor is even more important than “healthy.” The new La Panzanella Bites come in a bag, something the company hasn’t tried before. The target: millennials who often don’t eat complete meals and can be enticed by healthy snacks. Several times a day, in fact. “The average American might eat two snacks a day,” Pigott explains. “For millennials, that number might be five a day.”

Like the originals and the newer Minis, the Bites are big enough to use as scoops for dip, and they come in several flavors, although the seasoning is on the outside of the cracker and disappears quickly on the tongue. Pigott is not concerned. The secret, he says, is to leave the original recipe alone. “No tampering, no cutting corners,” he declares.

Last year, he sold 300 million crackers.

An abbreviated history of the potato chip hereabouts.
You can trace the whole concept of salty snacks to Saratoga, New York, known a century ago for its racetrack and its Saratoga Crisps. Word of this delicious novelty food spread across the country.

In 1903, a 13-year-old Croatian immigrant named Marko Narančić arrived at Ellis Island with 15 cents in his pocket and no English. He took a series of jobs: in a steel mill, as a meatpacker and finally in a hotel, where he moved from kitchen flunky to pantry boy to fry cook. He eventually became a chef on the Milwaukee Road’s “Olympian” train from Chicago to Tacoma, and ended up working at Tacoma’s Bonneville Hotel as master chef.

The Saratoga Chip was nothing more than a deep-fried, thinly sliced piece of potato, which young Narančić learned how to make using an abundant crop of spuds outside his back door in the Puyallup Valley. In 1918, he rented a storeroom behind his apartment for $5 a month and began selling his chips door to door, to households and grocery stores. Along the way, Narančić changed his name to Marcus Nalley and added other Nalley products — pickles, beans, chili, salad dressings — and built a factory complex in the canyon off State Route 16, the so-called Nalley Valley.

Nalley Foods eventually became Tacoma’s largest employer. When Marcus Nalley died in 1962, his company was operating 10 potato chip plants around the country.

The business has had several owners since the ’60s, starting with W.R. Grace and Company (1966), then Curtice-Burns (1975), which was acquired by an agricultural cooperative (Pro-Fac) in the mid-’90s. Pro-Fac begat Agrilink in ’97, and in 1998, Agrilink acquired Dean Foods, which owned the Birds Eye brand. Agrilink changed its name to Birds Eye Foods in 2003 and was acquired by Pinnacle Foods Group in 2009.

Pinnacle is controlled by The Blackstone Group investment firm and also owns another Northwest icon, Tim’s Cascade Snacks. The “Tim” of Tim’s Cascade Style Potato Chips was Tim Kennedy, who started making small batches of extra-crunchy potato chips 30 years ago. Within two years, they were being named “best in Seattle” and went on to win national recognition.

Tim’s started expanding into different flavors — almost two dozen over the years, but always sold in the signature red-and-white striped bag. And it still produces chips in the Northwest, at a factory in Algona. — R.H.

Taking trail mix to a higher level.
More than a decade ago, two Seattle friends were climbing Mount Rainier. They would usually load up with gourmet food but they had packed for efficiency on this climb, so all they had to sustain themselves was ordinary trail mix. When they got off the mountain, they headed straight for the kitchen, determined to create something better. Not less nutritious, just tastier.

The two pals, Josh Schroeter and Edmond Sanctis, had known each other for 25 years, ever since attending Columbia School of Journalism and working at NBC. Their kitchen experiments eventually produced several combinations of nuts and fruit glazings (cashews with pomegranate, almonds with cranberries, among others) that would form the basis for Sahale Snacks, which they named for Sahale Peak, one of their favorite climbs.

Then came the hard part: producing their recipes in commercial quantities and recruiting executives who knew how to manage a food company. Well, they succeeded. Eric Eddings and Erika Cottrell had both worked at Tully’s Coffee and Monterey Gourmet Foods and knew their way around branding and food production they signed on as CEO and VP of marketing and operations, respectively. As testimony to their savvy, Sahale Snacks was named Food Processor of the Year (by Seattle Business magazine, no less) in April 2014.

The Sahale Snacks line has since expanded with “to-go” packaging. Its products are distributed to 10,000 Starbucks stores and hundreds of Whole Foods and Costco locations.

Sahale Snacks has grown into a $50 million company with 150 employees. In 2014, The J.M. Smucker Company (annual revenues: about $5.5 billion) bought Sahale Snacks from Palladium Equity Partners, a private equity fund that had owned Sahale since 2007.

Schroeter and Sanctis, meanwhile, continue to spend time in the mountains together. “Our last major climb was a ridiculous, horrendous and grueling effort to get up to some hot springs high on Glacier Peak,” Schroeter reports. Their food focus has also shifted to higher peaks, namely the Himalayas. The new food they’re involved with is a Himalayan staple known as tsampa, a high-energy roasted-barley product made by a new social-purpose company called Sherpa Foods.

Where’s the Beef?
According to, meat snacks like the beef and turkey jerky products from Kent-based Oberto Brands are the darling of the healthy-ingredient snack market, with sales up 8.6 percent in 2015. Meat snacks will continue to grow fast, with an anticipated compound annual growth rate of 9.6 percent between 2016 and 2020, driving annual sales of the category to $5 billion in 2020.

Gotta love a company whose best-selling product is called Wisecrackers.
Kent-based Partners, a Tasteful Choice Company, also has granola and a line of gluten-free snacks, and it has been around for nearly a quarter of a century.

Marian Harris was working as a bookkeeper in downtown Seattle when she opened her first restaurant, called Partners. It was an unusual luncheonette, an unheard-of — at the time — combination of deli and bakery.

Like Paul Pigott at La Panzanella, Harris left the restaurant business behind to concentrate on making high-quality crackers. That was the fall of 1992. These days, Partners has 85 people on the payroll and Harris was recently inducted into the Specialty Food Association Hall of Fame. Partners’ 35 varieties of crackers, cookies and granola are sold in all 50 states and around the world.

The Krusteaz people woo a younger audience.
If you need further proof that the local food industry is tapping into the meteoric rise in snack food consumption, look no further than Seattle’s own dowager aunt, Continental Mills. Four score years ago, a Seattle women’s bridge club came up with the notion of an easy “just add water” pie crust mix, which became the Krusteaz family of products (see page 32). This year, Continental Mills, the Tukwila-based parent of Krusteaz, launched a line of tortilla chips and popcorn snacks called Buck Wild in the hope of tapping the massive millennial market.

The company has been on a cross-country Buck Wild Road Trip, stopping at music, food and beer festivals with its SnackShot, a cannon that shoots snacks, which people attending the events try to catch in their mouths. This fall, Continental Mills announced nationwide distribution of Buck Wild products through Walmart.

Bows & Arrows Coffee Roasters

Located within her neighbourhood, my guest had been meaning to try this quaint cafe for a while now. Ironically not for the coffee they are know for. Its all grey stucco exterior with caramel colour wood trim stuck out. The name neatly spelled out in black letters above, its significance unrelated to what they actually offer.

This is a coffee bar with beer and wine for those who want a break for coffee and tea. Set up like a coffee shoppe it was well lit with natural light, and well accommodating with plenty of seating across the front bar and share tables that could come together and separate as needed. I especially enjoyed the over hanging plants, the vines and leaves dangling over you as you ate. It was the only visually interesting piece against a white wall cafe with wooden tables and floors to match.

This was a causal setting with the causal service to match. There was only just the one employee behind the counter. You ordered and immediately paid therein. When your drinks are ready you pick them up from the counter. Our plates of food were brought out to us when ready, although that maybe just because we weren’t paying attention, and instead chatting amongst ourselves.

We were told of happy hour when we came in, however the prices for food didn’t change despite the time of day. It was just $1 off beer, which we got two of. Along with our beers we decided to snack on a one salty and one sweet dish.

“Savoury crepe” with lardon, braised greens and puffed rice. We added the egg for $2, which I felt really completed the dish. The soften crepe was salty from the ham and crunchy from the kale, the yolk egg brought it together for a great start to your day. The only other thing I would add is some avocado.

This was not what we expected from the “rhubarb tartine”, despite the word “tartine” means a piece of bread. This was a whole grain slice topped with a rhubarb compote, goat cheese, toasted almonds, and strawberry. It at like strawberry cream cheese smeared over a rough piece of toast. We ordered this thinking it would be a sweet dish to balance out our savoury one above. But despite the sweetness of the strawberries peeking trough, I would classify this as is a savoury dish with the tart rhubarb. Given the flavour of the assembly, I would love to have had a firm and chewy piece of yellow pound cake as the base instead instead of the hard and grainy toast. As for the bread, I wanted it as part of a hearty cured meat, fine cheese, and crispy lettuce sandwich.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
They serve the community well. When you want to sit down to eat and drink like at a restaurant, but want the easy and light hearted nature that a cafe supplies. A cafe that serves alcohol and beer to accompany their food that is more than just Saran wrapped loaf slices or muffins. Don’t deny your cravings.

Perfect Pairings: Black Friday Breakfast With a Swedish Touch

Support the independent voice of Houston and help keep the future of Houston Press free.

I&rsquom just saying, all these Thanksgiving dishes getting all this attention&mdash let&rsquos pop a shifty on the holiday and throw a little Black Friday Breakfast. Something to make Aunt Mindy low key nudge you for the recipe.

For this, we're calling in the Swedes&mdash those sexy devils.

Swedish Pancakes are made with&mdash what's this? Cottage cheese inside. Remember that stuff? Its like the cheese that doesn't taste like cheese, so you're like, "Who are you?" And it's like, "I'm cottage cheese." And you're like, "Are you sure you're cheese?" And it's like "Stfu, I'm sure." All right, all right, get in the bowl, this is your recipe to shine, cottage cheese.

Swedish Pancakes are fun to make, and totally worth the extra bit of whisking you must do in order to get the texture light and airy. Garnishing with A LOT of powdered sugar and then a generous squeeze of lemon juice on top is how you do it. These little bütes, as Steve Irwin would say, are lemony, sweet, and not too filling. Whether you're out to brave the sales or just tossing around the football, this breakfast won't take it out of you. Mahalo to Ben Nyberg from Kauai for sharing his recipe and letting us tweak it a 'lil bit.

"Uncle Ben's Swedish Pancakes"

Powdered sugar, lots, garnish

Pancake ingredients&mdash here is where you can begin to freak out. Just kidding, I got you.

6 eggs, separated, beat whites to soft peaks&mdash a lot of us don't have electric egg beaters it seems like a task, but if you throw a little Dave and Steve on the boom box, you'll be at soft peaks in no time.

In another bowl, beat the following together, incorporating the AP Flour last.
6 egg yolks
8 Tbs. Sugar (Ben, don't kill me)
3 tsp. vanilla extract
1 pound cottage cheese, small curd
½ stick butter, melted
1 lemon, juice and zest
1 pinch salt, just because
2/3 cup AP Flour (last)

Next, lightly fold the soft peaks into the big bowl. Careful not to knock out the air.

In the pan they go! When cooking pancakes, use butter and go medium heat to obtain a nice golden brown and crisp edge. When you see the little bubbles opening up, deeper and deeper: that is when you flip. Allow the pancake to "kiss" the other side in the pan and then on the plate they go.

Besides these pancakes here&rsquos a few reasons why the Swedish are particularly great:

1. Gravlax
2. Alexander Skarsgård.
3. The Vikings, in real life.
4. Vikings, that TV show.
5. Dill.
6. Valkyries.
7. Berserkers.
8. I mean they sailed to America and were like, no big deal, let&rsquos go back home and raid someone who&rsquos actually rich&mdash and eat pancakes.

All of these ingredients you can find at the store&mdash bacon pairs well too. Happy Thanksgiving.

Keep the Houston Press Free. Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.

Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches of approximately 6 dumplings each time, add dumplings in a single layer and cook until bottoms begin to brown.

Add 1/2 cup water, cover and cook for about 3 minutes check from time to time and cook until the water has evaporated completely and the bottoms are crisp and golden brown. It should take about 2 more minutes.

Repeat with remaining dumplings, adding more vegetable oil as needed.

Pan fried dumplings taste best with a charred bottom!

Snackshot of the Day: The Big McCarbMac - Recipes

I've been collecting ideas for a Greening Your Kitchen series for the last few months and am proud to bring you the first installment. I'll write a new one each week -- suggestions are always welcome via comments or email. If you like the ideas, please forward them along to your friends and family. Happy greening!
Greening Your Kitchen, Week 1: Nix The Antibacterials

Studies show that antibacterial soap is no more effective than regular soap at killing bacteria and getting things clean (and neither can kill viruses.) The same is true of antibacterial hand cleaning gels, lotions, cutting boards, sponges, etc. If you're not convinced, check out what the CDC says .

In addition, there is a good possibility that using anti-bacterial products may encourage the growth of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" against which modern medicine has no defense. That is some scary sh*t! And there are rumors that using antibacterial soap and other products may actually increase your risk of infection over time by killing off "good" bacteria and weakening your immune system. This has not been definitively proven yet but I can't think of a single reason to keep on using this junk until it is.

Despite all the technological advancements, there is just no replacement for washing your hands and surfaces well with plain old soap and water ( click here for a handwashing tutorial from the Mayo Clinic.)

Your job this week is simple -- scan your kitchen and bathroom for any and all antibacterial products that may be lurking there -- hand soaps, waterless hand cleaners, lotions, sponges, and cutting boards are the most likely suspects. Then get rid of them (please recycle, if possible!)

Snackshot of the Day: The Big McCarbMac - Recipes

There's been a lot of talk lately about energy "vampires" - electronic gadgets and appliances that suck energy even when they're not on (mwah ha ha. ). It seems that just turning an appliance "off" is not enough to prevent it from silently sucking electricity from your sockets 24 hours a day.

This wasted energy is also known as "standby power" and it's the result of manufacturers being either too cheap or too stupid (maybe both. ) to design their electronics so that they will not use any power when turned "off."

Although they use a smaller amount of energy than they would use when "on", it's nothing to sneeze your nose at. In fact, "vampire energy loss" accounts for 5-8% of a single family home's total electricity use each year, according to the Department of Energy. That is the rough equivalent of one month's energy bill!

This unintentionally wasted energy sends more than 97 billion pounds of carbon dioxide (1% of the world's carbon emissions) into the atmosphere according to vampire energy expert Alan Meier of Berkeley's very own Lawrence Lab. So the clock on your microwave and that little red light on your espresso maker are actively contributing to global warming.

This week, you're mission is to fight the energy "vampires" in your kitchen and beyond (what good is an energy-efficient kitchen if the rest of your house is still wasting energy, right?) I have to admit that I find it oddly satisfying to do this, and I bet you will, too.

Step 1: Hunt Down the Energy Vampires

Look for anything that has an LED light, clock, etc., as well as any electronic gadget or appliance that has a transformer (that little black box that converst the power from the wall into a usable form for your cell phone, computer, etc.)

Vampire energy guru, Alan Meier, estimates that the average home has roughly 40 appliances/gadgets sucking energy at any given time. Some obvious culprits are the coffee maker, coffee grinder, espresso/cappuccino maker, microwave oven, bread machine, can opener, computer, cd player/sound system, DVD player, TIVO box, VCR, fax machine, printer, cell phone charger, printer, modem, etc.

If you want to get really systematic and geeky about this, you can also buy a little gadget called a Kill-A-Watt for around $25 to assess which of your electronics are using the most energy and to estimate what the cost is.

Step 2: Kill the Vampires (Unplug!)

Once you've identified the vampires, drive a wooden stake into their hearts by unplugging them all. Or wave a powerstrip at them (it's the electronic equivalent of garlic) and watch as they cower and cringe.

Step 3: Find a System That Works For You

You may be someone who does not mind plugging and unplugging things all day long but if not, you'll need to spend an hour thinking through which appliances and gadgets you use most often and how to best group them together.

When my husband and I made the switch a few years ago, we had to do a little creative shuffling -- we grouped things we often use together (like our computers and our ipod) on the same power strip, switched things we never use (like our VCR which has gathered dust ever since we bought a DVD player) to different outlets so that we could leave them unplugged, and placed our cell phones in a prominent place to make it easier to remember to unplug the chargers once the phone is full.

You may want to buy more powerstrips (make sure you get the ones with built in surge protectors to safeguard your electronics from a surge) or you could invest in one of two new devices called a SmartStrip (roughly $35) and a Wattstopper (roughly $90) that allow you to leave things plugged in but minimize their power usage when you're not using them. I have not tried either one yet but they certainly sound very convenient (more so than the power strip model.) TreeHugger has a nice little write up on both devices - click here to learn more about them.

Step 4: Enjoy Conserving Energy & Saving Money!

As long as you remember to unplug things and to switch off your power strips (or potentially just plug everything you own into either a smartstrip or wattkiller), you should be both saving energy and money. I call that a win-win situation!

Speaking of food.

Recent kitchen exploits

Being done with my paper means I can finally get back to doing the things I enjoy doing without feeling like I'm procrastinating. Which, apparently, was mainly cooking, an activity I pretty much gave up on during the last few crunch weeks.

But I'm back now, and here are some of the things I've made since last Wednesday:

Andrew wanted to make his famous* spaghetti sauce, so I thought I'd try out this recipe for homemade noodles.

It was pretty simple, really, just flour and eggs. And rolling it out really wasn't that bad. So it's definitely something I'll do again (though let me tell you, I was happy to let Andrew do the rest of the cooking that evening).

*it would become famous if more people got to eat it

This was a Mark Bittman recipe I have been drooling over for a month, but when it first came out I couldn't find baby artichokes anywhere. But, when I was at the store getting this for the pasta, there they were: baby artichokes, all boxed up and ready to go.

This dish has amazing flavor, thanks to the slow-cooking, seasoned olives, and (basically) candied garlic you end up with (and I added shallots, which also caramelized by the time the dish was done). It's pretty simple to make aside from prepping the artichokes, you really don't have to do anything except except add it all to the pan and let it cook.

We ate it with French bread and chevre, and white wine. The outer leaves of the artichokes weren't really cooked enough to eat, but the steams, hearts, and chokes were amazing.

I recently started reading The Pioneer Woman's blog, and this cupcake recipe has earned her a permanent place in my heart. Not only is the cake delicious, moist, and pretty straightforward to make, but the frosting is a one-step process that takes only a saucepan to complete.

I used 70% cocoa dark chocolate disks, and the frosting is definitely rich and not very sweet. I could stand it a tad sweeter, but considering my recent complaint has been cupcakes that are too sweet, these were a pleasant change.

There you have it. For more pictures, click any of the photos above to access my Flickr page.


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