Thursday, April 30, 2009

Conversation over Taco Salad

“That is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard,” Sherry said.

“I know, said Casey. “I can’t believe he was crazy enough to do that. I could never.”

“Oh, don’t give me that, you do lots of gutsy things. Remember that time in college when you staged that fake protest?”

With a slight smirk, Casey glared at Sherry and took another bite of her taco salad.

“And that time you papered the tree in the quad,”

“Yeah,” Casey laughed and quickly maintained her composure. “But that was college. We were all carefree and stupid."

“Speak for yourself,” Sherry scolded as she reached over and took an olive off of Sherry's plate. “I was never carefree.”

1 lb. ground turkey (I used 93/7 lean)
1 pack Taco Seasoning (or make some yourself)
Baby Spinach Leaves
Black Olives
Cheddar Cheese
1/4 cup sour cream (I used light)
1/4 cup salsa (I used black bean and corn salsa)

Brown ground turkey and mix with taco seasoning as directed. Mix sour cream and salsa in a bowl and mix well. Place spinach leaves in bowl and top with taco meat, cheddar cheese and olives. Top with salsa and sour cream mixture.

--Aren't those little peppers in my salad adorable? They are sweet red peppers. I haven't seen them at the grocery store, but bought a big bag of yellow, orange and red ones at Costco. They are great to crunch on alone, or with a dip. I saved some of the seeds and I'm going to try and grow some this summer.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thanks Foodbuzz!

Sorry I haven't posted many recipes lately. I've been trying to get back to no-carb basics and for a couple of weeks that means just plain grilled chicken, cheeseburgers and pork for dinner. I haven't done anything really fancy, but should be on track next week.

So, I just wanted to take a few minutes to thank Foodbuzz for helping me get press tickets to the National Restaurant Association Show at McCormick Place here in Chicago, May 16-19. I'll spend at least two days taking so many pictures and notes! And I'm sure I'll have a sample or two along the way. I can't wait to blog about it all. Count on several, several days of posts - filled with the latest the restaurant and food industry has to offer. Thanks again, Foodbuzz!

More recipes and photos soon, I promise!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Homemade Chocolate Marshmallows

Some of you may remember my Christmas experiment of making homemade marshmallows dipped in chocolate. Well, my neighbors are still talking about them and one had a special request for chocolate marshmallows, rather than chocolate covered marshmallows. This recipe was one that did not use egg whites, but I thought I would give it a try. And I'm glad I did. These marshmallows were a bit more dense and oh so creamy. About 500 times better than any marshmallow you buy in a bag. The chocolate flavor came through tasting like a really good hot chocolate. The cocoa and sugar coating is necessary to keep the marshmallows from being sticky, but also added a nice chocolate flavor from the very first taste.

Mostly from

1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 1/4 cup + 2 Tbls water, divided, see below
3 envelopes gelatin
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
3Tbls. powdered sugar and 1 Tbls cocoa for coating

1. Prepare a pan (9x13 or cookie sheet) by lining it with aluminum foil or parchment paper and spraying in with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Place water in small microwave bowl and microwave for 2 minutes. Pour cocoa into the bowl of water and whisk to dissolve the cocoa.
3. Place 1/2 cup cold water and gelatin into bowl of stand mixer with whisk attachment. Stir to distribute gelatin. Let sit for about 5 minutes.
4. Spoon warm cocoa into gelating and mix slightly to combine.
5. Place 1/2 cup water, corn syrup and sugar into medium sauce pan. Stir to dissolve. Cook without stirring over medium high heat until temp reaches 240 degrees. Remove from heat.
6. Pour sugar mixture into the chocolate/gelatin mixture (very carefully).
7. Whip at high speed for 15-20 minutes. Marshmallow will be creamy and slightly runny.
8. Pour the marshmallow into the pan and cover with another sheet of foil or parchment paper coated with nonstick cooking spray.
9. Let sit for 10 hours or overnight.
10. Combine powdered sugar and cocoa in small mixing bowl or, better yet, a sugar shaker.
11. Take top foil off of marshmallows and sprinkle with cocoa and sugar. Flip the marshmallows out of the pan, remove foil and sprinkle with cocoa and sugar.
12. Cut marshmallows into squares using knife coated with cooking spray, or I use a pizza cutter.
13. Put individual marshmallows into a large bowl and sprinkle all the sides with cocoa and sugar. Toss to make sure everything is covered otherwise the marshmallows will be very sticky.

Can be stored in airtight container. Do not refrigerate.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bacon Salt - The Good and The Bad

It all started at Christmas. I decided to stuff my husband's stocking with bacon-related stuff, Bacon Bandages, Bacon Dental Floss and Bacon Salt.

The Bacon Salt is an actual, non-joke product. We stuck it on a shelf after Christmas and I just recently decided to give it a try. A sprinkled a bunch of it into a brine I made for a whole chicken. I put some on some Tilapia. It was decent - smokey, salty, peppery - like bacon. Duh.

But then I read the ingredients. Salt. Garlic. Paprika. Blah, blah. Monosodium Glutamate. What??? I thought just about everyone stopped using that stuff. Unless this is old school chinese food or canned soup, haven't we all decided that MSG is no not a desired ingredient? I have a few friends who are allergic and I never would have thought to read the ingredients on Bacon Salt. There are quite a few other ingredients that I can barely pronounce - none of which I saw in actual bacon - but probably serve some sort of preservative and non-caking purpose.

The company that makes Bacon Salt also makes Baconnaise - yep, mayonnaise that tastes like bacon. The weird thing is that as I was sitting down to write this blog post earlier this afternoon, ABC News ran a story (warning: video) on the guys who created Bacon Salt. True entrepreneurs. They have big plans for all kinds of bacon products - like popcorn and ketchup. It is obvious that I am not a health nut - heck, I bought bacon salt - but I really don't need to buy anything else with MSG.

I think I'd rather buy Squeez Bacon.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Great Customer Service

I know this is normally a food blog, but I was hardly home last week to cook anything blog worthy. So I just wanted to take a few minutes to point out some really good customer service I encountered in the last week.

The first one started with really bad customer service on a local level, and got saved by a national level. I took my kids to Cici's Pizza - you know, the really cheap buffet place. Well, they have a promotion where they are putting stickers on pennies to win free buffets and such. They leave the pennies in the parking lot and you are supposed to pick them up and bring them inside to redeem them. We picked up one that said "Free kids' buffet." Simple, right? We go inside (one adult, two kids) and hand it to the cashier who then says we need to drop it in a fishbowl and hit the target inside to get the free buffet. What's up with that - I had not seen that stipulation anywhere on line or in the store. Long story short, no free kids buffet, long line behind us - all presumably with pennies. We eat there anyway - because you can't explain to 7 and 5 year olds why you're not getting pizza.

So I go home and send a letter to a very generic e-mail address. About three days later I get not one, but two personal (not computer generated) responses stating that the promotion does not work that way and they are sorry the employee did not understand. The fishbowl was for pennies that said "Enter for a chance to win" a free adult buffet. One letter simply apologized, and the other said to contact them for a free meal for the whole family. So I applaud Cici's corporate for responding personally to letters, but really fault someone at the local level for not understanding the promotion.

Next is A friend of mine is president of the local NCJW and I offered to research e-mail marketing programs for her. E-mail marketing companies allow you to create e-mail newsletters with their templates and send to a big list, then you can track who opened it and who clicked on what. (Some others are Constant Contact, MailChimp, SubscriberMail and MyEmma.) I've used Vertical Response for personal businesses in the past and their program is easy to use and reasonably priced (by the e-mail, not by the month). Well they also have an AMAZING program for non-profits. If you have a certified non-profit program, you can get a free account with them and send up to 10,000 e-mails per month for free. I signed them up, filled out the correct paperwork, and sure enough, the program is completely free for real non-profts. And it doesn't stop there. I received not one, but two personal (not computer generated) phone calls - one when I initially signed up and another when we were accepted for the non-profit program. Both said thank you, asked if we needed help and left a name and phone number to call (on my answering machine, as I was not home).

I haven't decided yet if I want to go back to Cici's. Not because I was traumatized by the experience, but this is Chicago afterall. There is real pizza to be had. And I would recommend Vertical Response to anyone looking for a great e-mail marketing program.

Hopefully I'll be back to making some delicious dinners next week. I'm really working hard on getting back to low carbs and I really want to start walking - if it will ever stay warm in Chicago for more than one day.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Coconut Macaroons and the Gala

There she was. I couldn't let her out of my site for even a second. It was risky tip that led me here, but it paid off. As the server approached, I reached for the coconut macaroon on the silver tray without taking my eyes off of her. Pretending to eat my dessert, I walked slowly to the back of the room to be closer to the woman for whom I had spent two years searching.

“You didn’t tell me that,” she harshly whispered to the man.

“Deal with it,” he said. “What difference does it make?”

As I saw the waiter with the half-full tray of macaroons make his way towards the unlikely couple, I wished I could get as close as he was. He would be close enough to sense her fear. To hear the unforgiving tone in her whisper. And maybe, just maybe, find out enough to save her.


14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Combine the coconut, condensed milk, and vanilla in a large bowl. In another bowl, whip the egg whites and salt on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until they make medium-firm peaks. Carefully fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture.

Drop the batter onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper using either a 1 3/4-inch diameter ice cream scoop, or 2 teaspoons. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool and serve.

Lessons learned: I made mine pretty big because I think the recipe makes 20, but I only made 10. I added a little bit of almond extract, too. My macaroons had a little pool of cooked liquid around them. It tasted good, but looked yucky, so I trimmed all of them. I’m not sure if a little more coconut would give the liquid a little something more to soak into. I also melted some bittersweet chocolate and dripped it across the top. They were absolutely delicious – sweet, chewy and moist.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Blackberry Scones and Chai Tea Latte at the Cafe

Melissa takes the final bite of her blackberry scone and swallows hard. “Really, would you have done that?”

“No way. Sign of the times, I guess,” Gina says as she glances at the last few creamy drops of her chai tea latte.

“I would have expected at least a phone call. At least. Is that too much to ask?” She looks around the near empty cafĂ©. Crumbs from the now forgotten scone speckle the small table, which is slowly transforming into a confessional.

“I mean really, just because we met online doesn’t mean he needs to dump me online.”

“But you didn’t even really like him,” Gina says. “You’ve really got to put this behind you. Don’t you think you have better things to worry about, like next weekend?”

“Whatever. I need a scone.”

BLACKBERRY SCONES (from the internet somewhere)
2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbls baking powder
pinch of salt
1/4 cup butter, chilled
1 egg
3/4 cup buttermilk/cream/whole milk (I used evaporated milk)
8 oz. blackberries/halved (or a few more)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift dry ingredients together. Cut in the butter until it is all well combined. Whisk milk with egg. Incorporate liquids into dry ingredients (do not overmix!) until well combined. Lightly coat berries in a little flour, so they won't sink to the bottom when you bake the scones. Fold in blackberries. Drop heaping tablespoons (mine were bigger) onto a very lightly buttered cookie sheet about one to two inches apart. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Makes 6 very large scones, more if you make them smaller

---Lesson learned. These are not your standard English-style, dense, dry (in a good way) scones. These are almost like very airy muffin tops. Yummy, but not traditional.

1 1/2 cups of water
1 1/2 inch stick of cinnamon
cardamom pods
1/4 inch fresh ginger root (sliced thin)
2/3 cup of milk
6 teaspoons sugar
3 teaspoons of Darjeeling Tea leaves

Place water, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and ginger in a pot and bring to a boil. Cover and lower heat to low setting and simmer for 10 minutes. Add milk and sugar and again bring to simmer. Next, add the tea leaves, remove from heat and cover. Let steep for 3 minutes and strain. Enjoy!

--- Really? That seems like a lot of work. If you don’t have that kind of time or those ingredients, Oregon Chai is a delicious chai tea concentrate that you can pick up at just about any major grocery store. Make 6 or 7 chai tea lattes for what it cost for you to buy one at that fancy coffee store. If you want to brew your own tea, just look for Chai tea bags, then you can add milk and fake sugar to cut out a lot of the calories.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Homemade Hamburger Buns - Why Bother?

So, here's more on my bread-making escapades. I was just itchin' to use the last three cups of bread flour that I had. And since I had pulled out some burgers to grill for dinner, I found a neat little recipe for hamburger buns.

So, before I give you the recipe and the pic, let me say that these buns came out great! They were delicious and fluffy and my house smelled SO good when I baked them. But really, I didn't save any money, and by the time they were mixed and kneaded, then rose and then baked - I was looking at over an hour. My friend Missy said, spend the two bucks to buy them at the store and use the time to drink a margarita. And the kicker is, that usually the buns only cost $1 if I buy the store brand.

But did I mention how good my house smelled? It was really wonderful. I guess the most important thing is the quality of the ingredients that went into the buns - flour, yeast, milk, egg, honey - you get the picture. No high fructose corn syrup, oil, carageenan, soy lecithin - or fifteen other things I can't pronounce. Which would also explain how these fresh-baked buns went stale pretty quickly (when I left one out.)

So ultimately, this was a great experiment, and everyone who tasted them loved them, but I seriously doubt I will be making my own hamburger buns on a regular basis. Here's the recipe - sorry I don't have a source.

1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup unsalted butter (I used salted)
4 1/2 cups flour (I used 3 cups bread flour, the rest all-purpose)
1 package (2-1/4 tsp) yeast (I used active)
1 Tbls. honey
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg, room temp

Heat the milk, water, honey and butter until butter is melted (liquid will be warm to the touch, not hot). Check temp and let cool to 120 degrees (or like I said, warm to the touch, but not hot). Beat egg in small bowl. Add a tablespoon or so of the milk mixture to the egg and stir. Add that to the bigger portion of the milk mixture.

Add yeast to about 1/4 cup of the milk liquid. Let stand for about 5 minutes. In a large bowl (or stand mixer bowl add two cups flour, salt, milk liquid and yeast mixture. Mix. Then mix in rest of flour 1/4 cup at a time. Mix well.

When the dough pulls together, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 5 min). Dough will be sticky, so be sure to flour your hands as well.

Divide dough into 12-16 parts. (I only made 10 buns.) Shape into balls, flatten slightly and place on baking sheet (use Silpat or parchment paper if you have it). Spray with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 30-35 minutes. Most likely, the edges will touch.

When buns have doubled in size, brush with egg wash and, if desired, sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds. Bake in 400 degree oven for 10-12 minutes.

So, the good:
the smell, the taste, quality ingredients

the bad:
the time, no cost savings

Do what works for you!! Me? I think I will opt for the margarita.

Friday, April 03, 2009

"Tie Dye" Cupcakes

Tomorrow is my daughter's 8th birthday. She saw these cupcakes on Semi-Homemade on the Food Network and wanted to make them. She did most of the decorating herself! To celebrate, we took a couple of girls to a movie theater, so these cupcakes actually went home as favors.

We made plain ol' box cupcakes with plain ol' white icing. Then with gel icing, we made stripes on the cupcakes, and using a toothpick, made lines, pulling the icing to look like tie dye. First one way, then the other. It was completely her idea to put the Sponge Bob toppers. Really, I can't take credit for that one.

Step 1:

Step 2:

Step 3:

These cupcake boxes from Wilton are great! The single ones were hard to find at craft stores, but I'm lucky enough to live close to the one and only Wilton store in the country.

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