Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why I shouldnt clean........

Sunday morning was sort of overcast. Robin wanted to mow the lawn before the rain came, so I said I'd go out to the garage and attempt to organize it a bit. Well, I pulled out a few boxes and found my stash of really old( like 1991) Chocolatier Magazines. Before moving here, I got rid of years of Bon Appetite and Gourmet, but I could not bear to part with the Chocolatier. I was in college/university for what seemed like eons so I rarely cooked back then. But, I kept those Chocolatier magazines because I knew one day I'd have the time to make everything I wanted to( and because each magazine was around 4 bucks( expensive back then). Well, flash forward to today and I totally forgot they were in the garage.

I threw a couple into my beach bag and enjoyed what is probably the next to last nice beach weekend. Since we ate a bigger breakfast, we skipped lunch so of course my stomach was growling and everything looked great. I saw this " Marbeled Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cake" recipe fairly early on into my reading. Robin said " Make that", because we all know what a peanut butter fan she is.

It wasnt a hard cake to make( standard creaming of butter/ peanutbutter sugar), but I had trouble with the ganache. Its so funny to read these older magazines because so many of the recipes calls for chocolate chips or Lindt chocolate. There just wasnt the abundance of good quality chocolate we have now. Anyway, I did use some random bits of chocolate for the ganache, including some choc. chips and some bar chocolate. It never smoothed out as you can see from the picture.

I thought the cake was a touch too heavy and Robin thought it wasnt " peanutbuttery enough". I responded to that by saying "it has a full cup of pb". Unless she eats pb by itself, she wont think its peanutbutter enough. My MIL had a piece today and she thought it was really good and rich. I dont think I'd make it again though. There are just too many other recipes to try.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Spice House Evanston, IL.....

I know many avid cooks rave about Penzey's, but I'm a fan of The Spice House. Patty, one of the owners is a Penzey so you're getting the best of both worlds. You can read about Patty over here.

The first thing I noticed when I went to the Evanston store was the intoxicating smell. It hits you like a ton of bricks before you even step inside. I love how the spices are displayed in glass jars and the sales associates weight everything out for you. It seems a lot more personal than shopping at Penzey's. I did go a tad bit crazy, but I rationalize it like this " I dont drink or smoke and I cook every day". So, there you go.

I bought 1oz of each type of cinnamon as I wanted to try them all. I also bought 4oz of Robin's favorite salad dressing mix. I really despise bottled ranch dressing so this is a great alternative.

I've also been looking for Salt-free adobo for at least a year. The Spice house is the only place I've found it.

If you're a fan of Penzey's, give The Spice House a try, you'll be pleasently surprised.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

EGullet Chicago Heartland Gathering.....

Last weekend was the Egullet Heartland Gathering. I love attending these events because I live in a Culinary Wasteland. I love being around like minded people, especially when all of us converge in the kitchen on Saturday to cook the group meal.

The weekend actually started last Thursday when Kerry and I spent the night in Port Huron, MI. Our train left at the ungodly hour of 5am on Friday so spending the night( even though I was up at 3:30am) seemed like a reasonable option. We spent 8 LONG hours on the train( the train was 1hr late), but I made sure we were well nourished. I'd brought along my favorite granola and I'd picked up some organic yogurt the night before. I went to Jimmy John's the night before and ordered 2 sandwiches with all the veggies/sauce on the side. When it came time to eat our lunch, we assembled our sandwiches on our lap( they wouldn't let us eat in the dining car unless we were buying food). Since we were in the very first seat, we heard comments of envy from other passengers as they oggled our subs.

Friday night was a group meal at Lao Sze Chuan. I'm not a fan of spicy food( I'm a supertaster ya know) so this meal didnt thrill me. Too many weird items and way too spicy. I ended up ordered a really bland shrimp/broccoli dish off the regular menu.

Saturday was our group meal at a church in Evanston. I chose to make 2 dishes, Cook's Illustrated Peach Blueberry Crisp and a Nicoise Salad( see pic). I'm not a fan of tuna or tomatoes so I made some creative substitutions. I used swordfish and french breakfast radishes. I also brought some homeade tarragon vinegar from home. The salad was amazing, very fresh, very light and I was very pleased( how many times can I say VERY?). We spent the morning at a wonderful( if not pricey) Farmer's Market in Evanston. I bought some beautiful heirloom fingerling potatoes as well.

On Sunday, we went to the Maxwell Street Market where I had a fantastic tamale, a corn smut taco( weird), Mexican corn and a watermelon juice drink. Sunday night's dinner was at A-Mano where I had a great NY style individual pizza. We also made a trip to Frontera Grill. I missed Anna by 1 freaking day!! The food was good, but Kerry and I both thought the Mexican dinner we had at Neuvo Leon on Monday was better.

We had a breakfast and a lunch at Fox and Obel, we did an architecture river tour and we made a few shopping trips up Michigan Ave. I scored 10lbs of Guittard chocolate at Williams-Sonoma for 24.60 and I made 2 trips to The Spice House.

When we showed up for our train on Tuesday, we were told that no trains were running and we'd be put on Greyhound buses back to Port Huron. No Freaking WAY!! I was pretty upset. Turns out, we were on new chartered buses( not greyhound) and we arrived in PH a half hour early( we would have been even earlier if the busdriver didnt have to go back to BattleCreek to pick up a woman he left at the train station).

Look for more trip reports soon.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Baked stuffed spuds and Doodle bug cupcakes.....

Every year on the day before Civic Holiday( The first Monday in August), Robin's uncle has a BBQ for his side of the family. Its a great tradition because we realized this year that last year was the last time we saw some members of the family. The BBQ is always a pot luck with Robin's aunt and uncle providing the main dish. Some members of the family are not very adventorus eaters. I learned my lesson one year when I brought Ina Garten's curried cous cous salad and it sat untouched. So, I try to stick with very familar recipes.

Our neice Chelsea was here on Saturday night and she's taken an interest in cooking ( much to my delight). She helped me with these baked stuffed potatoes. Last month I bought a 50lb bag of russet potatoes to keep in the basement. Did you know how many potatoes there are in 50lbs? I didnt realize, but its something like 50-70 depending on the size. Some of those suckers were huge!! I used about 20 to make this dish. I never follow a recipe as I've been making some variation of them for years. Because they were so large, and it's hot as hell outside. I microwaved them first for a few minutes. I finished them in the oven. Then, Chelsea and I scooped out the insides. We mixed them with a stick of butter, about 1/2 c. of sour cream, shredded cheese, chopped green onions, salt and pepper. Half of them got mashed cooked broccoli thrown in. They're topped with more cheese, and some smoked paprika and finished on the grill. Its a perfect make-ahead dish because the flavor doesnt suffer when cooked the next day.

There were a few kids at the BBQ so Chels wanted to make a cute dessert. For previous BBQ's, she's made a sand pail cake and a cheese ball snail. I baked up a batch of my favorite banana cake recipe( its called Frosted Banana Bar on I made them into cupcakes and it worked out great. I tinted the homeade cream cheese frosting with food coloring ( I was going for purple, but it didnt work out well). Chels decorated them to look like bugs. She used skittles for the eyes and red string licorice for the legs. Too cute.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Very Veggie Lasagna.......

I apologize for the picture, it doesnt make this dish look very good. In fact, when I served it to Robin she said " That doesnt look very appealing". Hah, such a food critic. Anyway, I saw Paula Dean make this dish on Foodtv and I knew I wanted to make it. I'm not going to post the recipe, because I didnt follow it. First, Paula calls for boiling the veggies in water. I didnt do that because it sucks all the flavor out of them. I sauted them in evoo and added some fancy garlic seasoning mix I got on clearance at Marshall's. I didnt use the can of crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce called for in the original recipe. I used 1 jar of Dave's Heirloom Tomato sauce I bought on clearance at TJ Maxx( do you see a theme here?).

For the amount of veggies I used, I probably could have used another jar of sauce. Anyway, I used yellow squash, mushrooms, zucchini and carrots. I left out the red peppers that Paula calls for because I dont really like them cooked( either does Robin).

I did follow Paula's choice of using cottage cheese. I've a ricotta girl myself. My Mom is from NY and has always used ricotta so thats what I'm used to. However, Robin told me her mom always used cottage cheese. There is only one lasagna recipe I use cottage cheese( pureed) and that CI's Spinach Lasagna. Anyway, I digress. So, you mix the cottage cheese with half a bar of cream cheese( I used the light kind).

I also used Sargento's new blend of artisan cheeses. Paula calls for Mozzarella and provolone and wow, Sargento just happens to make this blend so thats what I used.

I also used the Barilla no-boil noodles. They're quite thin and I only needed 6 of them.

Verdict: It was a good light lasagana. I much prefer ricotta though. It did taste much better on day 2. Oh and Robin said she was wrong( I'm usually right so this was no surprise).