Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's a little eggshell?

My kids often see me in the kitchen and want to jump in and help. I usually welcome them in and give them an appropriate job. Honestly, though, sometimes it is just so much easier and faster to have the kitchen to myself.   In those moments, I have to remind myself how quickly they are growing and how fleeting this time with them is. I also keep in mind that every time we are together in the kitchen, they are learning and we are bonding and so what if it takes a little longer to get things done.

They are especially helpful when it comes to baking. I've always had this idea in my head, though, that I have to be supervising every step and that the kids NEVER can be trusted to crack the eggs. Why? Well, who wants to bite into a sliver of egg shell in their brownie?

So, for so many years, I've been standing watch over them and jumping in to crack the eggs. Eventually, I started to back off and would watch them crack the eggs, then do a thorough inspection to make sure none had slipped into the mixing bowl. They almost never did. I must have at one time gotten a bite of egg shell to spark this paranoia...I don't remember exactly where it started.

Anyway, last week, my youngest, who is 6 now, pulled out a mix from the pantry for chocolate chip muffins and asked to make them. However, he wanted to do it all on his own -- egg cracking and all. I admit that in my head I freaked out a little. Then I figured, he's never going to learn how to do it if I don't allow him to do it. Worst case scenario...a little extra crunch. So, I backed off. I didn't hover. I didn't make him read the instructions to me. I didn't measure for him. I left him to it. And he did it. All by himself. It was a big confidence booster for him to see the final product and know that he was ENTIRELY responsible for it. And in the end, the muffins were delicious...and not a spec of shells in the batch. :)

Monday, January 30, 2012

My favorite sandwich for over 20 years

Back in high school when my husband and I were dating, we'd go to Calumet City, IL to pick up sandwiches from a place called Lincoln's. If you went there at lunchtime, the line was often out of the door. As busy as it was, they had the routine down and could crank out those sandwiches in assembly line fashion.

The place dated back to even a few decades earlier and had been in a couple other locations. There were a few special recipes on the menu with locally inspired names, concocted by the owner, who ran the place with his wife, daughters and additional crew.

This is my dad's favorite. It's the Stromboli - Italian sausage, tomato sauce and green peppers topped with mozzarella on french bread. Very, very good...although dad is disappointed that they've gone from the sausage patties they used to serve to sausage links. I like the patty a little better also, but it's still pretty awesome.

However, I don't order it very often. That's because I have a favorite sandwich on the menu and I order it pretty much every time I stop there. It's the Calumet City special - ham, turkey, bacon, American cheese, tomato, lettuce and mayo on French bread. If I do stray, I usually get the Sibley Special - turkey, bacon, boiled eggs, cheese and lettuce on French Bread. Another sandwich I love is the U.S. Steel, which is roast beef and cheddar on rye. 


My son isn't much of sandwich eater. He ordered a BLT - hold the lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. And then he removed the bacon and didn't eat the bread. :)


But, he ate all the bacon, so he got to pick a dessert. They have a huge assortment of pies, but this is what he went for:


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mac n Cheese Soup

I subscribe to Cuisine at Home and there was a recipe that interested my boyfriend - Mac n Cheese soup- so we decided to cook together.



We started by sauteing celery and onion in butter, then adding some flour, which will serve as the thickener. We added white wine, let it cook down to "au sec" or almost gone, then added chicken stock, dry mustard, nutmeg and cayenne. Then we added the milk and 4 cups cheddar a little at a time until incorporated.



Finally, we added boiled macaroni noodles with some lemon juice and garnished with chopped fresh chives and blue cheese crumbles. Pretty easy and we both agreed- delicious! :)


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Soups on!

All winter long I make soups...usually at least once a week. I pretty much throw in what's on hand and don't use a recipe. This one was particularly yummy.

4 beef bouillon cubes
8 cups water
1 10 ounce can tomato soup (plus one can water)
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1 1/2 tsp. Herb Garden seasoning mix
1 28-ounce can Del Monte petite cut tomatoes
one cup tri-color rotini
1 1/2 cups fresh spinach
2 pre-browned Italian sausage links, cut into bite sized pieces

Boil bouillon in water. Add soup. Fill can once with water and add. Add seasonings and can of tomatoes. Bring back to a boil. Add pasta and spinach. Continue boiling about 10 minutes or until pasta is soft. Add sausage, bring down to a simmer for a couple minutes - just long enough for sausage to heat up. Best if it sits in fridge overnight to further blend flavors. :)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Polar fruits decent alternative if you're feeling fruity

So, it's hard to get good fruit in the Midwest in the winter. Grocery produce is usually not so great. Even the fruits that are in season in other warm climates take days to get to stores, either being picked before peak ripeness or starting to soften and sour by the time you get your hands on them. The other day, I got this awesome pack of raspberries! They were so beautifully colored and really big. My 6-year-old was so excited because he hasn't had any in about a month and he loves them -- especially picked right off grandpa's bushes in the summer time. He had inhaled half the carton within a couple minutes and then tucked the rest of the carton in his lunchbox for the next day before his brothers spotted them.


So, they strategically place a few of the little bakery shortcakes along side the berries and I gave in. However, I like strawberries on mine and the fresh strawberries looked horrible. So, I saw these Polar Brand fruits in a jar on sale for $1 each and decided to give them a try:


They are definitely not anywhere as good as the real thing, but a decent alternative if you want some strawberry shortcake in January. It's packed in light syrup, so it's healthier that the frozen variety that is packed in a sugary sauce. Tried the blackberries, too. You may need to sprinkle a little sugar on top...or add a dollop of Cool Whip on top to finish it off.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Garlic shrimp is one of my favorite meals


One of my favorite meals is one of the easiest. Really, what's easier than throwing something in a pan with some butter and throwing on some garlic salt? That's pretty much all there is to it. Yeah, I could go with fresh garlic, but if I'm feelin' lazy, the garlic salt with parsley in it works magnificently. Let it simmer for a few minutes and you're good to go. I usually serve it over Spanish Rice, but this time I put it over some four-cheese risotto, added some steamed asparagus and cheesy garlic bread and called it a meal. Good stuff!!! 


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lighthouse a great place for steak in Northwest Indiana

So, recently I went out to dinner with all the guys on my husband's shift (he's a firefighter) and their wives. Since everyone is so busy during the Christmas season, we held off until January hoping for better attendance. And it worked. Only one couldn't make it. 

We went to the Lighthouse Restaurant in Cedar Lake, Indiana on the recommendation of one of my husband's co-workers who had been there several times. I'd heard nothing but good things about the place and had been wanting to try it since reading an article about it's opening -- which was nearly three years ago. It's about a 40-minute drive, so whenever we've gone out it often lost out to places that were a little closer and more convenient. We started out with a few appetizers that got passed around the table. Here's a picture of the onion petals - very yummy! Nice breading and flavorful dip with a zing.



Calamari. Not my cup of tea. Didn't try it. Looks appetizing, though.


I think this is the first time I've ever had a salad I didn't like. The dressing was already poured on and mixed, which seemed a little odd. I'd expect it on a Caesar salad, but this was a house salad. I ordered garlic dressing, which I normally love. This was just kinda dry and I barely tasted the dressing. A couple of the other girls asked for extra dressing. I should have done the same, but was half way done at that point and wanted to save room for the entree. And besides, a mediocre salad can be forgiven when the steak is as good as it was here.


Oh, and here's a picture of Aaron's soup. Can't recall exactly what it was. I want to say shrimp chowder?


So, here was my steak, the petite filet (8 oz.) It was superb. Great cut of meat. Cooked perfectly. Great flavor. The steaks are brought out on 500 degree heated plates. And you can actually cut up your steak and it'll continue to cook on the sizzling plate.


This was Aaron's steak, the 14 oz. New York Strip. I totally could have polished off one of these. Maybe next time.

Most of the diners ordered the garlic mashed potatoes. Not bad, HUGE portion, though...barely made a dent. It could feed three people.


And here's a shot of Marty's sea bass.


In our group of 16, I think everyone was pretty pleased with their meal. The Lighthouse Restaurant is located on Cedar Lake. We dined facing the lake, but on a dark, January night, there wasn't much too see. I'll definitely have to make a trip out there in warmer weather to check it out once more...and order the big steak. Visit http://cedarlakelighthouse.com/about.php for more background on the place and to view menus.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Visit some of the Obama's favorite eateries

Ok, so I mentioned in my blog yesterday, I'm trying to sort though the photos stored on my computer and I'm coming across a lot that have been used for Foods articles I've done in the past couple of years. This is a photo from Aigrie Doux in Chicago. I wrote about the restaurant in a story that appeared in the Northwest Indiana Times on Chicago eateries that were favorites of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama right around inauguration time. Had a blast working on it. So, want to know where some of their favorite dining spots were when they still called the Windy City home? Here's the article. I just learned that Aigrie Doux has closed, but the article includes some of Michelle Obama's favorites from the eatery. http://www.nwitimes.com/lifestyles/food-and-cooking/chicago-eateries-fit-for-a-presidential-palate/article_6d92fdfa-836b-5e09-a05b-7cd3896efdcf.html

Friday, January 20, 2012

Lobster mac and cheese sounds magnificent

Since the first of the year, I've been trying to sort through the photos stored on my computer and discard a few since I'm into the tens of thousands. I came across this photo I had saved to go with a Foods article I'd written on variations on the traditional mac and cheese dish. As a freelance writer I cover lots of topics - from local happenings to travel to automobiles to sports to health. Food writing is one of my favorite areas. This picture actually didn't make it into the printed version of my article, so I thought I'd share it here. It's a lobster mac and cheese from Chef Paul Owens at 1875 Steakhouse at the French Lick Hotel in French Lick, Indiana. Ever been there? If not, OMG...add it to your bucket list. The resorts in French Lick and West Baden are amazing. You will be stunned...I promise. So, back to the dish. Doesn't it look wonderful?


Want to try it out? Here's the full article with the recipe for this dish and several other great takes on the classic mac & cheese. http://www.nwitimes.com/lifestyles/food-and-cooking/mmm-mac-and-cheese/article_50b73dd3-bb91-579d-82d5-0d41d7e740fb.html

Got a great mac and cheese recipe to share?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Flatout bread is flat out awesome!

Just have to share a favorite product of mine: Flatout Flatbread

I'm a major carbaholic! I love bread and pretty much any kind of bread. I could pretty much survive on four foods - bread, potatoes, chocolate and cheese. Anyway, Flatout is lower in carbs and calories than a lot of the other breads I like and tastes so good. Comes in five different varieties (Original, Light, Healthy Grain, Mini and Flatout Kidz) and in lots of great flavors, like Italian Herb and and Sundried Tomato.

Check out the website for some great recipes. I love using it simply as a wrap for sandwiches, but have also used it to make quesadillas and it makes incredible pizzas. Give it a try if you haven't yet and let me know what you think.

*I'm not being compensated for this review. I just LOVE the product!! :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I forgot how much I like rhubarb

So, last week I posted a recipe from a recent cooking class hosted by Chef Kate Bradley. She did a demo at my local library a couple months ago and I'm excited to be going to another of her demo/classes this week. This one will focus on soup and I'm excited. I LOVE making soups.

Also, in looking back at the recipes from her last demo, she had one that at first didn't look or sound appealing to me, but once I tried it, I loved it! It was Rhubarb Chutney.


So, here were her instructions:
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 c. finely chopped rhubarb
1/2 c. raisins
1/2 diced apple
1/2 c cider vinegar
1 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cloves
9 oz. cream cheese, softened
1tbsp. milk
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 c. dry roasted peanuts, chopped
crackers

1) Combine the brown sugar, rhubarb, raisins, apples, vinegar and spices in a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring once in a while.  Reduce heat. Simmer uncovered for 35 minutes or until thickened. Cool. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.
2) In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and milk together until smooth. Spread onto a plate or platter with a lip on it. Spread the chutney over the cream cheese. Top with onions and peanuts. Serve with crackers.

I've honestly never made anything with rhubarb. At least not in a couple decades.

Ramen noodles are like a big warm Asian hug. :)

One of my kids' favorite meals is ramen noodles. You know, those plain old chicken-flavor infused, high sodium square lumps that you can get on sale for like a quarter a package, boil for three minutes and then throw in a seasoning packet. Even I enjoy them on occasion. A bite takes me away to where I'm seated on the floor with traditional Japanese music piping through the screened walls with pictures of pale petite women in kimonos beside bonsai trees as I'm embraced by Jackie Chan or Pat Morita in front of a steaming bowl of noodles. Ok, so maybe that's going a little overboard. The Maruchan brand is not all that. But it makes me wish for something better. And today I tuned into a local show called Windy City Live, where Takashi Yagihashi, owner of the Chicago eatery Slurping Turtle, was making ramen. Lots of different types of ramen with lots of appetizing additions. And they looked amazing.

They also showed a cover shot of his cookbook, Takashi's Noodles - http://www.amazon.com/Takashis-Noodles-Takashi-Yagihashi/dp/1580089658

Visit the restaurant site at slurpingturtle.com. I couldn't find any shots of the noodles on the site, but this looks pretty awesome, doesn't it?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What do you put in your chili?

So I was making a pot of chili the other day. My chili is like my soup. Never really the same twice. I'm always throwing in different ingredients or making it in different proportions. Chili is such a comforting meal on a brisk winter day and I make it pretty often during the cooler months.

Ground beef is usually the meat I throw in. Maybe one of these days I'll try out some ground turkey. I'm sure the difference isn't very noticeable when you blend in all the other flavors. I've also used leftover steak, Italian sausage, leftover roast, pork sausage, bacon and chicken.

This time of year, I'm using canned tomatoes. And honestly, even when tomatoes are in season, I often throw in some canned even with the fresh - and usually the preseasoned, diced variety. When I put in fresh, I often use Romas. I always make sure we have them in our garden since there's less of the juice and seeds that you'd get with the larger sandwich tomatoes.

Not everyone in my family likes beans. Sometimes I'll scoop out a little before I add beans and set it aside. But, really? What is chili without beans? Many times I'm lazy and just get cans of preseasoned mild chili beans. I usually throw in at least some kidney beans, too. So many possibilities, though when it comes to the beans.

And while you can really get by with just what's mentioned above. It's the extra little things that really make a difference. I love picking a green pepper right out of the garden and dicing it finely and throwing it in. Makes such a difference. Sometimes I saute it and then add it, but if it's sliced small enough it's not going to take much to cook it and you can throw it in when you brown the beef or immediately after.

And then there's the spices. My stomach can't handle the spicy stuff -- and after being hospitalized twice in my life for tears in my stomach lining that could lead to ulcers, you're advised to stick to the more bland dishes. So, I often make it mild. However, my husband and sons like it spicy, so sometimes after I get a bowl, I throw in some cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes and hot sauce to heat it up for them.

To me, it's not complete until you sprinkle the top with shredded cheese. Sometimes I'll go all out and add a dollop of sour cream, some diced onions and a few oyster crackers.

The best chili I've ever had was when I was stopping by the Calumet City (IL) Fire Department to do a story on a fundraiser they'd done to help the family of a fallen soldier. They'd had his young kids there for the day to inspect all the fire equipment and the firefighters prepared dinner for them. They're an awesome bunch of guys and have some great cooks on their shifts. I sampled the chili -- five meat chili, I believe it was. Wow!!! It. Was. Incredible. I have the recipe and one of these days will have to give it a try.

So, what's your special ingredient? What do you do to add a special touch to your pot of chili?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Schoop's has been serving up burgers for more than five decades


There are lots of places you can get a burger. Some are good, some are not. And some are outstanding. At the top of the list is Schoops, with 20 franchises in Indiana in Illinois. The first Schoops opened in Hammond in 1948, selling burgers for 15 cents. In 1959, they opened a location in Munster, which is the one I stop at most frequently. 

I remember my mother telling me that when she was expecting me and traveling from Dolton to Indiana for doctor appointments with her OB, they'd often make a stop at Schoop's in Munster for a burger. So, I guess I've been enjoying their food since I was in the womb, literally.

Schoop's burgers are flattened a bit and the ends of the burger crisped on the grill and topped with ketchup, mustard, relish and onion. Also, if you stop in, don't pass up the chili cheese fries, which get a big A+ and are a big enough serving for at least two. Top off the meal with a shake or malt topped with whipped cream and cherry.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Who doesn't love brie?

So, last week I wrote about an appetizer cooking demo I went to in November hosted by Chef Kate Bradley. She made this easy recipe with the brie laid out on crescent roll dough. Raspberry jam was spread on top and then the dough is folded up and brown sugar is sprinkled on top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes and this is what you get. She said to serve it with apples or crackers.


There was a big, hungry bunch at the demonstration and this was gone before I made it down the line. I may have to try making this soon. Maybe on Super Bowl Sunday?

My sister makes a warmed brie appetizer for her gathering with a nut topping that is fantastic. It's similar to this Paula Deen recipe:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/sugar-and-nut-glazed-brie-recipe/index.html

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Who says football parties have to have wings and meatballs?

Ok, so in the coming weeks there will be playoff parties and the grandaddy of all football parties - the Super Bowl parties. The menus for such parties are often fattening dips and meaty finger foods. It doesn't have to that way. Why not take your football party a notch up this year? Here's a few ideas for portable bites that won't leave you feeling like a linebacker in need of a nap.

1) fruit kabobs - slide strawberries, kiwi, grapes, orange, apple, peach and banana slices onto skewers. Dust with a little sugar or powdered sugar or drizzle with flavored yogurt to pretty them up for presentation.

2) miniature tuna sandwiches - these don't work well for your outdoor summer parties because they have mayonnaise, but you can put them out indoors in the winter without worry for a bit or set them out on a plate that has been chilled. Egg salad works great for these small finger sandwiches as well. Put on white and quarter and cut off crusts or grab a loaf of cocktail rye.

3) bruchetta - fresh tomatoes and herbs make them a refreshing and healthy dish that can be eaten without a fork and knife (if you go easy on the toppings.)

4) cucumber crackers - Any appetizers that can work in some fresh veggies are a plus. One of my faves is Ritz crackers with a little spread of cream cheese, topped with a cucumber slice and sprinkled with dill. Use a potato peeler to make "stripes" on the outside my removing rows of skin. Gives a pretty effect.

5) peppery nachos - Nachos don't have to be unhealthy. In lieu of loads of goopy cheese, sautee a bunch of green and red pepper slices - and add some onions if you'd like. Some seasoned chicken strips go great with this. And if you must have cheese, you can get away with a small amount of shredded cheese blend over the top.

6) fresh, chunky salsa - start with a few Romas (great for salsa because they have less juice than larger sandwich varieties), add a can of corn, a can of black beans, a can of kidney beans, a diced avocado, some cilantro, freshly squeezed lime juice, olive oil and garlic salt.

7) devilled eggs. These can be high in calories or fat content, but you can cut down on that with light or fat free mayo. However, it's a nutritious protein filled snack rather than one with no nutritional value like you'd get from a bag of chips.

8) apple slices with caramel dip. Guests can control the amount of dip put on this and it satisfies the sweet tooth while supplying you with some vitamins and minerals.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Load 'em up!

As wonderful of a cook as my mom is, I always thought it was a bit funny that she NEVER made mashed potatoes from actual potatoes. It was a big joke in our family that Mom's secret recipe was Hungry Jack. At least it didn't have lumps. As kids, we didn't like the lumps. Maybe that's why she did it...I don't know. She did make potatoes a lot, but in other forms - fried, boiled, baked, in soup - and they were always delicious. One year when my sister had her new boyfriend over for Thanksgiving dinner with our family, my brother - always the funny man - took the box of Hungry Jack (the apple doesn't fall far from the tree) and used a big black marker to write "Pam's secret recipe" on the box revealing to her date that she hadn't really slaved over the big bowl of creamy potatoes.

Now, my mother-in-law is the opposite. I've never known her to make instant mashed potatoes. "There's no nutrition in them!" she told me once when I asked her why she never made them from a box. He daughters followed along and they make theirs from scratch also.

Being raised in the house I was raised in, when I got married, I always made Hungry Jack. But after a few years of eating my mother-in-law's fresh, real potatoes, I didn't want to go back. I do still do the instant for busy weeknights when I have a bunch of kids to feed between homework and cub scouts and guitar lessons or whatever is going on that evening. However, on the weekends or when I have a little more time, I go with my mother-in-law's method. And now that I'm a grown up, I really do like the lumps. And I love it when there's some skin the potatoes, too. I guess mine are more "smashed" than "mashed." They aren't smooth and creamy. They are lumpy.

And as much as I like them plain and simple with a little butter and salt, they are so good when you load them up with other flavors. Here's a pic of the latest batch -- I mashed them and added milk and some butter. Then I stirred in some sour cream and some sprinkles of garlic salt, and topped with shredded cheddar and bacon bits. I usually throw in some chives or at least some fresh parsley for color, but was fresh out of both. Oh, well. It was still good. Really good.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cafe Borgia never disappoints

When Cafe Borgia was located in Lansing, it was my mom's favorite. Cramped in a small space without a liquor license, it was a BYOB, with a charming ambiance and eclectic menu items. Now that it's located in a new building in Munster, In, it is even more spectacular.


Everything I've had at Cafe Borgia has been top notch -- the pastas, soups, salads, pizza, desserts. My favorites are the stuffed chicken breast and the stuffed eggplant. It's been a few months since my last visit and I'm thinking a return trip is in order. I can hear the tiramisu calling my name. For more information, visit http://www.cafeborgia.com/lunchdinner.html.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Meatloaf cookbook loaded with great recipes

Meatloaf is the ultimate comfort food. Is there anyone out there who doesn't love meatloaf? I didn't think so.

I was going through my shelf of cookbooks, which contains several review copies I've collected from writing foods articles. When I wrote an article last year on the classic dish, I interviewed author Maryana Vollstedt, who shared some of her favorites.



The book - Meatloaf: Recipes of Everyone's Favorite is the complete title - was published by Chronicle Books and features over 100 pages of recipes, many with gorgeous, colorful photos by Jennifer Levy. Recipes include a variety of meats - ground beef, veal, turkey, lamb, sausage and more. A few pages are dedicated to meatless loaves that use lentils, rice and pasta along with a few great side dishes recipes. A few minutes of skimming through this book and you'll get a fresh take on this classic dish and see the possibilities of adapting it to different cultural tastes and flavors. Would you have ever dreamed of making sausage-clam meatloaf? And there are many other ingredients that you would just wouldn't find in your typical loaf, but sound wonderful in combination with complimenting ingredients and look scrumptious in the accompanying photos -- spinach, cranberry sauce, tomatoes, cheese, bacon, sauerkraut, yogurt. And by the way, it's a slim paperback that will easily fit onto your bookshelf. Find it on Amazon.com - http://www.amazon.com/Meatloaf-Everyones-Favorite-Maryana-Vollstedt/dp/0811847179/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1326327574&sr=8-1

Crock pot chicken is so versatile


Crock pot chicken is a regular on our menu. You can do so much with it. Just a little sauce or liquid on the bottom, cover it and turn it on and soon you have something delicious. I've used barbecue sauce, sweet and sour sauce, spaghetti sauce, jellies, glazes, gravies. There are so many possibilities. Once it's cooked you can add your sides and you're good to go. Or you can add more ingredients for a one-pot meal or a soup. And then there's leftovers and you can create a whole other dish. I always love making a salad with my leftover chicken. No matter what flavor the chicken has, it usually goes well with some veggies. What are some of your favorite chicken crock pot recipes?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Putting the kids to work in the kitchen

My kids seem to go in phases in so many areas of their lives. For a while, they are into LEGOs and play with them constantly. For a time, everything is about the military and they are dressing in camouflage and staging battles in the back yard. And every once in a while, they decide it's fun to do some cooking. This pic, is from my second son, Chandler's, last cooking phase. He was so into it, I picked up a chef hat for him at Gordon Foods.
It lasted maybe six months. He was cooking all the time and loving it. But, eventually it faded. The other kids have jumped in and spent time in the kitchen for smaller stints. For a while, we made up a calendar. I have five kids and so one day my then 7-year-old said "Hey, there's 7 of us in this family. That's one night for each person. How about if we all get to cook one night a week?" It sounded pretty good to me. It started off with a bang. I had my boys making roasts or grilling meats and even making pies and cupcakes for dessert. It was pretty cool. Even my youngest, who was five, took turns, but he usually wanted to make his favorite - hot dogs rolled in crescent dough. I could tolerate them on occasion, but not once a week. Slowly, their enthusiasm faded and we went back to the mom-cooks-almost-every-night deal. I'm waiting for the cooking bug to hit one of them again...and if it doesn't happen soon, I might put them to work anyway. :)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Kate Bradley cooking demo included appetizer ideas

Ok, so I'm super late in posting this....totally should have gotten it posted long before Christmas. In November I attended a cooking demo at my local library featuring Chef Kate Bradley, a graduate of Kendall College and former restaurant chef and bakery owner who now focuses on doing cooking classes and demonstrations. The demo I attended focused on appetizers for holiday parties. But...hey, I could go for a Blue Cheese Ball anytime. Technically, I suppose it's not a cooking demonstration, because she brings her completed dishes that were prepared at home. There's no cooking done in front of the audience, but she gives a blow-by-blow of how to make it and shares the recipes. Here's a pic of Chef Bradley giving instruction for the cheese ball



And here's the recipe:

BLUE CHEESE BALL

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 oz. Blue cheese, crumbles
1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces

1. In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and the blue cheese together. Add in the pecan pieces. Mix well.
2. Put the mixture onto a piece of wax paper. Roll into a ball.
3. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Yield: 10 servings

How easy is that? Great, simple snack to whip up for your next party or movie night!!!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hoping to try some monkey cakes soon




Ok, I know I've posted previously on Scrambled Diner. But I just LOVE it. I have to make a trip back there soon because I want to try this:
It's called monkey cakes - stacks of pancakes with bananas, chocolate syrup, bacon and I think there's also some peanut butter sauce in there - then it's topped with whipped cream. Seems much more like a dessert than a breakfast. Maybe I will have to make it a lunch time dessert. I just know it will be awesome -- everything else there is. I've usually gotten egg dishes when I've gone. Always love them. And the homemade sausage is superb. Oh, my mouth is watering. Monkey cakes, here I come.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The secret to good banana bread is.....bananas

I make banana bread often. It smells so good when it's baking and it is such a joy to have a warm bite after it's taken out of the oven. My bread is made from a mix that comes out of a box. I know, I feel like a cheater. But, I always throw in a couple of browning bananas that I mash up and it makes such a difference. The bread is so moist and you have the chunks of real banana in there and you can't even tell that there was a box involved.

Is there anything more comforting than chicken noodle soup?

I've been making lots of soup lately and I hardly ever measure anything and I don't use a recipe, so no two pots are ever the same. But, here's my basic method:

I first boil water and add bouillon cubes. For a while my soup seemed on the salty side and I wasn't sure why. I don't add salt. Sometimes I'd add garlic salt, so I cut that out. Then when I looked at the bouillon cube container to see that each cube contained about 1100 grams of sodium, I realized that was the problem. The directions say to add one cup of water for each bouillon cube and sometimes I'd add a little less thinking it would add flavor. Turns out it just makes it saltier. So on my last pot, I decided to try two cups of water per bouillon cube. Much better!!!

So, boil 10 cups of water and add 5 bouillon cubes. Then add about 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts. Of course you can add whatever pieces you like, but I only eat white meat, so that's why I do it this way. While that boils, cut up 3 celery sticks. I use baby carrots and cut up about a dozen. I add that to the pot and let it boil for about a half hour. I pull out the chicken and start shredding it and add the pasta - whatever is in the cabinet. It's usually noodles, but sometimes I have various shapes of pasta in the pantry and use whatever I have on hand and I usually put in too much. I always neglect to consider how much it will swell in the liquid. I'm not down with all the fancy names for pasta shapes. In this batch I used "bow tie" pasta. Toward the end I throw in some dried seasonings -- sometimes a sprinkle or two of basil, oregano or an Italian seasoning blend. Let it boil a little longer according the pasta directions. Throw the chicken back in just before serving. Yum!

Inn at Aberdeen makes for a great getaway

My husband and I love bed and breakfasts. They're cozy. The innkeepers are so friendly. The decor is fantastic And...best of all, you get breakfast. My hubby and I stayed at the Inn at Aberdeen in Valparaiso, Indiana last year. It was a great getaway from the frantic everyday pace and it was nice to have a little time together without the kids. It was in a historic farmhouse that had been added on to. Breakfast was pretty awesome, as well. Take a look:


And a shot of the interior.


If you're in the area, it's a great spot for an overnight or extended stay. For more information, visit http://innataberdeen.com/.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Grillin' jeep style



I just came across this while I was cleaning out my photos on my computer. Just thought I'd share for the foodies out there. This is a custom grill my husband made with the front end of a Jeep Wrangler. Lift up the hood and there's a big space for grilling. He only used it a couple times and got tired of the space it was taking up in the garage, so he sold it to some guy in a Jeep club. I thought it was so cool and clever. Maybe he'll make another one of these days. Or if someone is looking for a custom model something like this, he may be persuaded to build another.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

South Bend Chocolate Company satisfies your sweet tooth

Have you ever had candy from the South Bend Chocolate Company? If not, you don't know what you're missing. If so, you know what I'm talking about. High-quality chocolate covered anything and everything. Everything I've tried has been absolutely amazing. The pic below is of the location on Michigan Ave. in South Bend. I've also stopped in to the Valparaiso and Indianapolis locations. 

Although the cafes have menus that include sandwiches and salads, I really can't tell you about the menu at all. I was just there for the chocolate! Try some out if you ever come across a South Bend Chocolate Co., which has locations in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. Or check them out online and place an order. Totally worth it for any chocoholic out there.



Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Don't pass through Springfield without getting a cozy dog

Ok, it's been a while since I hit this spot, so no food pics to share, but just wanted to throw this out there because it's such a cool food stop on a road trip through Springfield, IL. I first learned about it when writing an article on the original Route 66 in Illinois and covered some of the restaurants on the route. It has a cool history and the story goes that the Waldmire family were the creators of what we know today as corn dogs. It's a small dining room -- nothing impressive -- but loaded with nostalgic decor. The star of the menu is the cozy dog...and mmmm...the thought of it makes me want to make the 2 1/2 hour drive to get a basket of cozy dogs and fries. If you're ever in the area, be sure to give it a try. Read more on the place at their website, cozydogdrivein.com





White Rhino gets thumbs up for food and atmosphere

White Rhino Bar and Grill in Dyer, IN is a breath of fresh air as far as bar food goes. While a lot of bars are, well....more bar than restaurant, this place is more restaurant than bar, if that makes sense. The decor and menu are on the upscale side, a nice change from most of the NW Indiana bars that serve food.

My visit this week wasn't my first one to White Rhino, but it was my first in a while. My visit was prompted by my realization that I had a Restaurant.com certificate for White Rhino that I hadn't redeemed yet. Needing a night out after 10 days of the kids off school, I roped my hubby into a date night.

It started off with one of my favorite appetizers, the bruchetta.


The topping was refreshing, the bread perfectly toasted.

My entree included soup or salad. I went the salad. Loved it, especially the croutons.


My husband ordered ribs for his entree. A full slab. He quit half way through. I didn't try them, but they sure looked tasty.


And for my entree, it was the steak and shrimp combo. The shrimp was AMAZING!!! The steak was well-cooked and flavorful. And a baked spud with sour cream is always a great accompaniment. 



Didn't have room for dessert. Maybe next time.

A few notes if you plan to visit. We were there on a Tuesday. It's $1 taco night! I've been there before on dollar taco night and they are sooo good! Can't beat it for a buck! Also, a guy named Josh Holmes is there performing acoustically at 9:00. Worth a visit to see him, too.

There are additional drink and dinner specials each day. There was also an all you can eat pasta bar the night we were there. Sounded wonderful! There were lots of kids in the place, so it is a place I'd feel comfortable bringing the family and there are several dishes with kid appeal as well as large pizza that can be ordered. They also have occasional wine tastings and cooking demos. I hope to get to one soon. Only down side to the place is that I've gotten so used to non-smoking restaurants since I live in Illinois, so it's hard to head to one where there is smoking. They do have a non-smoking section, but where we were sitting, the smell lingered.

I used my Restaurant.com gift card for the visit. If you plan to go, visit the Restaurant.com site and you can get a $25 gift card for just $3.99.