Sunday, February 28, 2010

Kind Of About Food…More About Inspiration!

                                                  Photo Source: Gina Dunn
My friend Gina is such an inspiration. She cooks new recipes every day and emails it out to all her friends. I am so lucky to be on her list.

I love the message she sent to me today when I told her that my sister and I are bartering services. I am doing a new site for her clothing business and she is paying me in clothes. How great is that? It was like Christmas yesterday when I opened her box and found so many adorable designs. I think it is every girls dream to have a sister in the clothing business.

Back to my story…so I got this cute message from Gina because both of us love chocolate…

“Wow! Being paid in clothes! That is a dream come true! I think being paid in chocolate would also be good, but then you may not fit into the new clothes :)”

Did I mention to you that my friend Gina is also a cancer survivor? Another reason she is such an inspiration.

There are so many events for cancer each year. March is the perfect month to start training to do one so grab your shoes and keep me posted on your progress.

Every day is a happy day for a cancer survivor. Hug the ones you know and thank them for always keeping your glass half full.

Happy Birthday Gina!

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Ultimate Fate Of Leftovers Depends On Your Imagination

I hate leftovers but you can make them interesting and create a whole new meal without reminding you why you had them to begin with. For me it’s because I am a party of one.

Pizza, Paella, Fried Rice and Casseroles are a clever way to use up leftovers. I also build them up in stir fries. I do love stir fries because they are so quick and easy to make.

I had a small piece of turkey meatloaf which I put on a little whole grain bun and dressed it with fried onions, a tiny piece of swiss cheese and cranberries.

Wow – this was so delicious I convinced myself that I did not have Turkey Meatloaf for dinner last night!

It was the little bit of cranberry that made a difference and I will be trying it in some other dishes this week as well.

You forget how good they are especially when you only have them once a year on Thanksgiving. Now why is that exactly?

Bon Appetit!

Real Comfort Food: Bread Pudding

One of the great things about spending alot of time in New Orleans is that it made me a huge bread pudding aficionado. This is one of the easiest desserts that I make. You can mix a number of ingredients into a basic bread pudding recipe and also change up the toppings.

I have enjoyed bread pudding so many different ways and have loved them all. To me, bread pudding is the ultimate comfort food...and it is also so inexpensive to make.

Here is a great basic recipe that I got while attending cooking school when I was in New Orleans.

I occasionally bake the bread pudding in a large muffin tin and top it with fresh fruit and powdered sugar. These make great individual servings and are lower in calories than served with some of the sauces.

Bread Pudding

• 3 large eggs

• ¾ cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar, divided

• 2 cups half-and-half

• 1 cup heavy cream

• 1 ½ tablespoons vanilla extract

• ½ teaspoons cinnamon

• ¼ teaspoons grated nutmeg

• 16 slices day-old French bread, sliced ½ inch thick (or other day-old bread)

• ½ cup raisins - optional

1. Grease a shallow 2-quart baking dish.

2. Whisk together the eggs, ¾ cup of sugar, half-and-half, cream, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg.

3. If you are using raisins - Arrange half of the bread in the prepared dish and evenly scatter half the raisins across the bread. Put the remainder of the bread and raisins on top of this.

4. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the bread.

5. Preheat the oven to 325° F.

6. After 15 minutes of soaking, bake the pudding in the oven for 20 minutes.

7. Remove from the oven, sprinkle the remaining 2 teaspoons of sugar over the top and bake again for 35 to 40 minutes.

Whiskey Sauce

• 2/3 cup sugar

• ¼ cup water

• ¼ cup (half stick) unsalted butter

• 1 large egg

• ¼ cup whiskey

1. In a saucepan, combine the sugar, water and butter. Cook over medium heat until all the sugar is dissolved and small bubbles form around the edges.

2. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg. Whisk in ¼ cup of the hot sugar mixture (this will temper the egg so it won’t scramble when added to the hot mixture).

3. Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan.

4. Cook over low heat, stirring, for 2 minutes until it thickens and steam begins to rise.

5. Remove from heat and stir in the whiskey.

Bon Appetit!

Stressed Out? A Quick Cure Is Dinner At The Beach

Avoid stress while eating: When you are stressed, your digestion can be compromised, causing problems like heartburn. Avoid eating while working, driving, arguing, or watching TV. Try taking some deep breaths prior to beginning your meal, or light candles and play soothing music to create a relaxing atmosphere.

I am all for this and what would de-stress me the most? Dinner at the beach! Don’t you just love this picture and can’t you imagine your 5 BFF’s there with you?

How soon can you have your bags packed is the question I always ask because all you need for a week at the beach is 7 swimsuits and your debit card.

Ask my sister Colleen whose in-laws recently leased a place in Mazatlan for 99 years.

I personally think that all those years in Mazatlan would definitely make you see not only the 99th year on your lease but also a short meeting to discuss the renewal.

Bon Appetit!

Summer Drinks? Recipe: Drinks

I can so do summer drinks all year round. In fact, having this Key Lime Martini got me thinking that sunshine is just around the corner.

I love a good martini. Vodka – no vermouth…OK, maybe a tincture drop.

I also like to try fun accents like blue cheese stuffed olives, pickles or blueberries. Remember the gumdrops that I did at Christmas? I also think that Uncle Dan’s pickled green beans would be really good in a Martini. Too bad I’ll have to do some more research on this.

Jon Estes, a friend of my sister Judys, perfected this Key Lime Martini recipe. Yes, this is my effort to keep the key lime message alive this winter. I tried this last night and it was soooooo Yummy!

Key Lime Martini

In a cocktail shaker with ice:

½ shot Licor 43

1 ½ shots vanilla vodka

2 shots half and half cream

½ shot key lime juice

3 squirts redi whip cream

Shake until frothy and strain into a graham cracker rimmed chilled glass.

This Chocolate Covered Raspberry is also a favorite that I will be making at the I Survived The Winter bash this weekend…

                                                                                               Photo Source: Beverages
Chocolate Covered Raspberry

Raspberry vodka

Vanilla vodka

Light Creme de Coco

Dark Creme de Coco

White chocolate liqueur (or cream)

Fresh raspberries

Chocolate syrup

Add ice to mixer. Pour raspberry vodka (2 count). Pour vanilla vodka (1 count). Add both light and dark Creme de Coco (3 count). Add a good splash of white chocolate liqueur. Add small splash of raspberry liqueur and shake.

Drizzle chocolate syrup in martini glass. Drop 1-3 fresh raspberries in glass and add more chocolate syrup. Pour mixture in glass.

This is another one of my favorites. I could so get hooked on these. Orange sherbet makes the recipe and of course the vanilla ice cream tops this out. I have to stop at one because I can really get addicted to these!

Orange Sherbet Freeze

1-1/2 oz. Grand Marnier

2-1/2 oz. vanilla-infused vodka (Stoli Vanilla)

2 1/2 cups of orange sherbet

1 cup vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt

1 cup orange juice

1 dash vanilla extract

2 cups ice


Add all the ingredients in the blender, adding the ice last. Blend until smooth. Serve in a chilled glass of your choice.

Bon Appetit and Salud!

Comfort Food

When I don’t go outside all day because it’s so cold and never get out of my blue, fuzzy PJ’s , you know I’m ready for comfort food.

"Comfort food" is a term that is analogous to the phrase "guilty pleasure". A guilty pleasure is something that you enjoy that you feel as if you shouldn't.

I was craving ribs today as I was writing about summer and remembered how my mom use to cook them on top of the stove with sauerkraut.

Comfort food is also defined as the food that brings back some of your best childhood memories. Pretty sure that I devoured those ribs!

Bon Appetit!

Sergio Bustamante

I’m had never been into jewelry but when I was traveling and working in Mexico, I came across a Mexican artist, Sergio Bustamante, who has a workshop studio in Tlaquepaque. I loved his jewelry because there are so many suns in the line. I wear them all winter and am convinced that, like Albert Camus said, there is in me an invincible summer.

Wildflour Bakery...Too Close For Comfort!

Last week, I demolished a Dreamsicle cupcake. Remember Dreamsicles? My local bakery, the Wildflour Bakery in Lake Bluff, makes them and I’m pretty sure this is one of my new favorite cupcakes… at least it will be after Lent.

I will see you at the bakery ( 14 East Scranton Avenue in Lake Bluff) on April 5th. My treat!

Here are two more of my NEW favorites that they just came up with this week: Lemon Meringue and Turtle. What will they dream up next?

I really LOVE these cupcakes. They have an interesting frosting and filling. Will probably have to add a few more miles to my run since this bakery is too close for comfort (one block and counting the steps!).

Bon Appetit!

Grilled Vegetables - Recipe: Grilled Vegetables

I must admit that I got a good laugh the other night when I saw my neighbor out grilling in his boxer shorts, a Dallas sweatshirt and a pair of cowboy boots.

Remember, just because it’s winter, you don’t have to cook indoors.

I like grilling vegetables. They pair well with almost any steak or chop and I really like their flavor. In fact, their smoky flavor is so good I could possibly eat vegetables grilled most nights.

They are a healthy choice and again, if I grill them, I use up what I have in my refrigerator. Another reason I love them is that they are easy to make and are still relatively cheap. Cheap is good… especially if it is healthy!

Today, I grilled Asparagus, Red Bell Peppers and Portobello Mushrooms - what a GREAT combination. I seasoned with Salt, Oregano and Pepper and brushed them with olive oil before I placed them on a hot grill.

Grill the asparagus about 5 minutes and about 7-8 minutes for the Bell Peppers and mushrooms.

I watch them carefully and take off when they look charred.

You can also use a little balsamic vinegar for extra flavor but my veggies did not need it. The flavor was incredible!

Bon Appetit!

Eat This Not That...On French Fries

In a recent article about fast food that my son sent to me, along with a note that his new diet would consist of McDonalds French fries, the authors of Eat This, Not That! and Cook This, Not That offered their take on the worst places to get French Fries. But don’t dwell on the bad… A surprising winner, McDonalds was crowned the Best Fast Food Fries in America because a small order is just 230 calories, 11 grams of fat (1.5 Grams saturated) and 160 mg of sodium.

No more guilt when it comes to indulgence. But then, there are those Ore-Ida fries that weighed in at a mere 8 grams of fat. I had them for lunch today!

Cornbread...Come to Think Of It, I May Be Southern After All

If anything comes close to perfect, in my book it’s the Jalapeno Cheddar Corn Bread Muffin. Did I mention that I could eat them every day? Hum…maybe I am a little Southern after all!

Here is a shortcut recipe and now I must confess because I cheat and use Jiffy corn muffin mix. This is such a good recipe and I have yet to find one “from scratch recipe” that comes out any better.

• 2 boxes Jiffy corn muffin mix

• 2 eggs

• 2/3 C milk

• 2 large jalapenos, seeded and chopped

• 1 C shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Follow the package directions, mix corn muffin mix, eggs, and milk in large bowl. Fold in chopped jalapenos and cheese. Pour into greased 9x13 pan or large muffin tin. Bake uncovered as per package directions.

Bon Appetit!

Under Thirty Minutes...Stir Fry Is Still King!

This is a tip I found about choosing restaurants wisely…

Avoid places that lure you in with dessert carts or all-you-can-eat or buffet-only specials.Look for places that offer a variety of foods. Try going Asian or vegetarian for different, tasty selections.

One of the easiest and healthiest meals you can make is a good Asian stir fry. Use what is asking to be cooked up in your refrigerator and add rice and noodles or cabbage.

I love cooking stir fries more than any other meal because they are so easy.

I first cut up everything and place in prep bowls. Then it takes just a few minutes to cook and you have a healthy and delicious meal.

Over the years, I have discovered that there are very few places in Chicago that make better Chinese food than in my own kitchen.

There is not one Chinese dish that I have not mastered with the exception of the fortune cookie. I still can’t quite find that classic fortune to stuff into my cookie.

Send me a funny one and I’ll post it!

Jicama...The Salad With The CRUNCH! Recipe: Jicama Salad

Jicama - pronounced (HEE-ka-mah) has been popular in Southwestern restaurants because chefs love the texture it brings to a recipe with its magnificent crunch.

I first had Jicama when I lived in Mexico and it was served as a snack with a variety of delicious sauces. It’s a staple in most Latin American diets and is commonly referred to as the Mexican Potato.

The last time we went to Frontera Grill, we shared an appetizer platter that was served in a big, beautiful silver bowl. Jicama was one of the sides and it was so crispy and enjoyable that it reminded me to try making a Jicama dish at home.

I used it today in a salad and cut matchstick size pieces of both cucumber and jicama and little chunks of oranges for a citrus flavor. I then sprinkled the salad with celery seed and key lime juice and serve as a side with grilled pork. This salad is so clean and fresh. I love this taste!

This is an exciting flavor and it made me long for a BBQ at my neighbor’s house.

She was so funny when I told her that she is having the crew over this weekend for a “I Survived Winter Bash” for which we are all making summer foods. Should be fun as I have forgotten what summer tastes like. Have you?

I’m making Key Lime Martini’s ….see the recipe in today’s posts.

Bon Appetit!

Lamb - A Healthy Option If You Skip The Fries...

Lamb burgers are probably one of the healthiest burgers that you can eat. I really like the taste.

The sins of my past come with a price however because I also love them with French fries. Did I just profess my love for French fries again?

Promise that I will not say the double F word for an entire month!

Wondering…does one bad cancel out a healthy? It’s lent now so don’t even tempt me. I have been known to cheat with the best of you. And speaking of you - did I mention that you still have frosting on your lips?

Bon Appetit!

Bring On March!

If the best part of you is Irish, it’s time to get your Irish on and celebrate St. Pat’s, Sibling Birthdays And The End Of Winter!

Can I say it again? THE END OF WINTER!

It's a lucky month so be sure to buy a lotto ticket!

Homemade Granola For A Healthy Breakfast - Recipe: Granola

Adding a little granola to my yogurt and fruit in the morning really fills me up. It’s great because I can go until lunchtime without any mid-morning snack.

I like making granola from scratch. This recipe from Martha Stewart makes 8 cups and keeps well in an airtight container.

You can change it up by using a variety of fruits and nuts and sometimes, I will make it plain without any of the add ins. Have you seen the price of granola in the supermarkets? It’s not only a lot cheaper to make from scratch, it’s also a lot healthier.

• Vegetable cooking spray

• 4 cups old-fashioned oats

• 1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds

• 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

• 1/2 cup coarsely chopped dried cherries

• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

• Pinch of salt

• 1/3 cup vegetable oil

• 1/4 cup honey

• 1/2 cup light brown sugar

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2. Lightly coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

3. In a large bowl, stir together oats, almonds, pecans, cherries, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

4. In a small saucepan, combine oil, honey, and sugar. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Stir in vanilla.

5. Drizzle syrup over oat mixture; toss with a wooden spoon.

6. Pour granola onto sheet pan and spread evenly. Bake, stirring occasionally, until golden (about 25 minutes).

7. Let granola cool completely on a wire rack. Break it into chunks and store in an airtight container.

Bon Appetit!

The Artichoke Festival

This year, the Artichoke Festival will be held in May in the Monterey Peninsula area at Castroville, Ca. My friend goes every year with her grandmother – imagine that she loves artichokes so much (yes – she’s Italian) – and always has an spectacular time.

I finally learned to like them by eating them with a whole lot of other vegetables in an antipasta. I also like Artichokes because they are really healthy and are a significant source of vitamin C, folic acid and magnesium. Virtually fat-free, the artichoke weighs in at 25 calories (per medium artichoke) and is very low in sodium.

One of the things that I discovered since I started shopping in the Italian markets is that it pays to buy good artichokes. They are a little bit more expensive but there is no match in flavor when compared to the canned ones.

Bon Appetit!

A Wing And A Prayer With Chicken Soup - Recipe: Chicken Soup...Kind of...

I often make chicken soup in the winter and do not really have a recipe for it. Here however is what I do and it always comes out.

I will sometimes throw in vegetables if I have some but most of the time I just use chicken and noodles.

An old roommate of mine who grew up on a farm use to serve this soup over mashed potatoes…got to admit that it was really tasty. She would thicken up the broth a little bit with cornstarch before she served it.

I put a chicken in a large soup pot and cover it with cold water. I then shake the following spices into the water: Tarragon, Rosemary, Marjoram, Celery Seed, Poultry Seasoning, Season Salt, Pepper, Sage, Bouquet Garni, Thyme, and 2 bay leaves.

I have never measured the spices but will guess that each is about ¼ - ½ teaspoon.

Yes – McCormick really loves me – don’t you think? It sounds like a lot of spices but I have the combination down to a science.

Bring to a boil, turn down and simmer until tender – about 40 minutes.

Remove chicken from the broth. Cool. Remove the skin and bones and place the meat in a bowl and set aside.

Cook frozen or fresh egg noodles in the broth according to the package.

When the noodles are done, add 2 finely chopped green chili peppers and a cup of sherry. I never measure the sherry and if I add a little extra so be it. One can never have too much sherry in their chicken soup!

Put the chicken meat back in the pot. I have simmered this soup all day and the longer the simmer the better the flavor.

Bon Appetit!

Love To Eat...Love To Run!

Photo Source: Tommy York

Let’s face it. I LOVE to eat. This is one of the many reasons that I run. A run will burn off the calories faster than almost any other exercise.

I came across this saying the other day by Chanamalla Samagond, Indian National Champion at 800m and 1,500m:

“I don't believe in restricting calories, I believe in burning them.”

Says it all so keep on eating!

Bon Appetit and Ready, Set, Go - Race You To The Kitchen!

Potatoes Make The Breakfast

On a recent trip home to Minnesota, my brother-in-law Tim cooked breakfast on Sunday morning and made the best potatoes ever. First off, I didn’t realize that Tim even liked to cook.

Personally, I think that breakfast potatoes are difficult to get right. He said the key is to start the potatoes on high heat to get them browned and then turn them down and finish them off on medium heat until they are soft.

2-3 Baking Potatoes, quartered

Minced Garlic to taste

¼ Red Sweet Onion, Chopped

1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Seasoning Salt

Wash and dry potatoes. Cut into quarters. Pour olive oil into skillet. Put on HIGH heat. Brown potatoes and reduce the heat to medium. Add seasoning salt, onion and garlic. Let cook for 10 minutes or until potatoes are soft.

Bon Appetit!

Harry Caray’s – Not Your Typical Baseball Bar

I remember the first time I went to Harry Caray’s. Tommy was a young boy and wanted to go there after a Cubs game. I did not expect any more in the way of food than burgers and fries. Was I amazed! This is a restaurant for the record books.

The original Harry Caray’s at 33 West Kinzie, Chicago is a celebrated Italian Steakhouse that serves the finest prime, aged steaks and chops. Harry Caray's has won countless awards including "Best Steakhouse" by the Chicago Tribune's Dining Poll and Best of Citysearch Poll, Wine Spectator's "Award of Excellence" every year since 1989, and has been ranked in the top 100 highest grossing restaurants in America. Also, pardon the pun, it’s a cash cow. I have never been there when it wasn’t packed!

My favorite part of the restaurant is the bar, which spans the length of the room (60 feet 6 inches I am told) on the right as you walk in. They serve one of the best Bloody Marys and it’s always crowded with sports fans so scramble for a seat if you happen to spot an open one.

They also make homemade potato chips which are really good and no – you can never eat just one!

This place has two faces: Tommy loved the “museum of baseball history” scattered throughout the restaurant. That was the casual side. The “other side” is mahogany paneling, starched white tablecloths and is relaxed elegance.

The first time I was there, I ordered the Chicken Vesuvio and it was wonderful. About 2 years later, I bought a cookbook and in it was Harry Caray’s Chicken Vesuvio recipe. The cookbook was worth the price just for that recipe.

I had it there again last week and when I made this recipe today, I was surprised at how close it is to the real thing.


Chicken Vesuvio

2 large potatoes , quartered

4 tbsp. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 (3 lb.) broiler fryer chicken, cut up

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1 cup dry white wine

1 cup small peas

In 12” ovenproof skillet, heat oil and whole garlic over medium high heat 4 to 5 minutes till garlic is golden. Remove from skillet. Add potato and cook 15 minutes or until golden, turning often. Remove and pat dry.

Add chicken, skin side down, to hot oil. Brown slowly over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Turn chicken skin side up and season with oregano, garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Add wine to skillet and return potatoes and garlic to skillet.

Place skillet in 400 degree oven and bake, uncovered, 25 minutes or until chicken is done. Add peas with 5 minutes left on the timer.

Makes 4 servings.

Watch for the review on the new Harry Caray's which opens at Navy Pier next week!

Bon Appetit!

Judy On The Blog? She's A Better Cook Than She Thinks She Is!

I recently got a cute note from my sister, Judy -

“Ok your sister that doesn’t cook the best is giving you a recipe for Bacon wrapped asparagus. Daughter Niki had this at a friend’s house about 2 years ago.

I thought I would be a really good mom and wife and make everyone’s favorite on Valentine’s Day. So we had marinated steak and mushrooms, baked potatoes and bacon wrapped asparagus.

I wasn’t sure how to make the bacon wrapped asparagus so I rubbed the asparagus with olive oil and wrapped them in a ½ piece of bacon. I then sprinkled it with McCormick’s roasted garlic and pepper mix and put it in the oven for about 12-14 min at 400 degrees or until bacon is crispy. It was AWESOME!!!

I was very proud of myself and hoped that someday I would make your blog. I would have made it two years ago had I known it was so easy and good. Judy”

Take a bow cause you have made the blog Judy. I’ll be looking for you to make this recipe the next time I come up.

Here is a similar recipe cooking the asparagus on my indoor grill and it was also really delicious.

• 10 spears fresh asparagus, trimmed

• nonstick cooking spray or olive oil

• 5 bacon strips, halved lengthwise

• McCormick’s garlic and pepper blend

Place asparagus on a sheet of waxed paper; coat with nonstick cooking spray or olive oil. Sprinkle with garlic and pepper blend; turn to coat. Wrap a bacon piece around each spear; secure ends with toothpicks. Grill, uncovered, over medium-low heat for 8-12 minutes or until bacon is crisp, turning occasionally. Discard toothpicks.

Bon Appetit!

Korean - Not A Fan But Trying

OK – so I am just starting to find out about Korean food. This dish looked full of flavor but fact of the matter is it was flat and had no flavor at all. I don’t even like looking at this picture because it reminds me of how bad it tasted.

Anyone who really knows Korean food - can you send me some recipes and tips?

No dog meat recipes however since I had such a great weekend in Minnesota in the company of Harley and Roxie. Arf!

At this point I am not a fan of Korean cooking but I have only tried one dish so my thought is to never give up on a cuisine when you have a breakdown...especially the first time around.

I simply need an education and a good instructor as well.

I will Google, read up, go to ethnic markets and talk to people who cook Korean well.

Keeping you posted on this one! At this point I give it a “D”. “D” as in done that and would not love to do it again!

Mani deuseyo!

Photo Source: The Larsons

Minneapolis Photo Center

There is a gigantic difference in knowing how to shoot fashion so this was all new to me. I am a food photographer.

My sister Judy and I headed down to the center to photograph her line and to get a jump start on her new site. Did I mention that it will be my first site? Excited.

Orie, the center’s owner took time to show me how to get the lighting set up to make every shot perfect. I had never used studio lights before so he gave me a quick lesson. You can tell that Orie is so passionate about photography. He is also an avid chef and frequently prepares lunch for his guests. Judy declined his invitation for a little lunch. Drat! She piped in before I did. It looked so good!

Can’t tell you what a difference this day made on my perspective on photography.

I have always been a purist (yes - it took me forever to convert from film to digital) and wanted to do everything in natural light. Now, I have discovered that with studio lighting, I can create a stunning mix and I am not restricted to the time of day that I take my shots.

I shot everything on manual including the focus – which took me some getting use to because I did not have my contact lenses in. The results: amazing – and with just one large softbox, I suddenly became a big fan of studio lighting.

Minneapolis Photo Center has classes, exhibits and equipment rental for every level of photographer. They have four levels of membership and if I lived in Minneapolis, that is where I would LIVE!

Check out the website at and sign up to become a member.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Fresh Pineapple - Now, Where's The Beach?

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Fresh Pineapple. I found one on sale at the grocery store this week for $1.89.

Now, if I were just sitting on the beach in Mexico drinking a Pina Colada dressed with fresh pineapple…
I would be really, really happy!

Bon Appetit from snowy Chicago!

Beat The Winter Ho Hums

If you are combating the winter ho hums, here are some of my rescues that remind me spring is right around the corner.

1. Take a sunny vacation to Mexico and if you can’t afford it take a mental vacation.

Make sure you go on that vacation with no plan, no itinerary and absolutely no reservations!

2. It’s winter so make it all about summer –

• Have friends over and treat them to strong margaritas…go ahead, it’s summer in February so you’re entitled to a few or three or four.

• Buy a new bathing suit. The good news: you have 60 days to fit into it!

• Have a party and invite all of your friends over to enjoy the summer recipe you BBQ on your new indoor grill. I have talked you into one, haven’t I?

• Go ice fishing with your brothers…wear your new bathing suit? Did anyone mention polar bear plunge?

• Have a Watermelon Seed Spitting Contest…I can so win this one!
3. Set goals – I happen to decide all of my running goals for the year in February.

4. Cook a new dish – select an awe-inspiring cookbook and say you are going to cook the dish on page 22 and do it. Hope it’s not yucky.

5. Write in your personal journal and be sure to draft big dreams and plans. Then draft a game plan to achieve them.

6. Take a class ...and I don’t mean on the internet. Learning something novel and seeing some fresh faces will give you a whole new perspective on surviving the remainder of the winter.

7. Hand out Dove promises all day to strangers. Promise you will make a lot of new friends.

8. Start a food fight with anyone who is interested in having fun and getting dirty…it will nourish you.

9. Feng Shui your house and you’ll get a whole new view on the great indoors.

10. How to Simplify Your Life? - Toss out your junk. I got rid of half of everything I owned several years back and I have felt liberated ever since. Did I miss anything? Only one thing…for about 5 minutes.

11. Stay in your blue fuzzy PJ’s all day and bake cookies. Don’t forget to put those cookies into the pockets of friends the next day.

12. Change all the music on your Ipod. Music is one of the things that defines you.

13. Watch cartoons all morning on Cookie Jar TV!

Chinese New Years

One of my favorite festivals in Chicago is Chinese New Years. We went a day early to celebrate the year of the tiger.

Later in the day, I made my favorite cold noodle salad at home. This dish is so delicious because you combine the lettuce, vegetables and noodles and top with a variety of meats. This is my ALL TIME FAVORITE SALAD recipe!

I found this recipe in the June/July 1998 issue of Fine Cooking. In this recipe, you use the Vietnamese noodle Bun, which is a vermicelli-style noodle. Made from rice flour, water and salt, these noodles are a beloved staple in Vietnam.

Traditionally, this dish is served with noodles at room temperature with cool garnishes and warm toppings. This is a perfect example of fresh and spirited Vietnamese cuisine. Always remember to select the freshest and crispest lettuce and herbs for the salad.

With the master recipe for the salad, you can create different flavors just by changing the toppings, the greens or the herbs. I know this recipe looks complicated. It is not. Make it in steps and you'll find it to be fairly easy!

For the Greens:

2 cups washed shredded romaine, red or green leaf lettuce

2 cups bean sprouts (optional)

1 ½ cups cucumbers, peeled and julienned or whole

½ cup small whole mint leaves

½ cup roughly thai basil leaves

For the Garnishes:

2 Tbsp chopped roasted peanuts

Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce)

12 sprigs cilantro

Sliced carrots or Daikon

Nuoc Cham:

1 clove garlic

2 to 3 Thai bird chiles (or 1 small jalapeño or serrano chile), cored, seeded, and minced; more or less to taste

1/2 tsp. ground chile paste; more or less to taste

2/3 cup hot water

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup fish sauce

2 Tbs. fresh lime juice

2 Tbs. shredded carrots (optional)

In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and fresh chiles to a paste. (Or mince them together with a knife.) In a small bowl, combine this garlic and chile mixture with the chile paste, hot water, and sugar. Stir well. Add the fish sauce and lime juice and combine. Float the carrots on top. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before using.

For the noodles:

8 oz. dried rice vermicelli

For the topping:

Use one of these four - Mongolian Beef, Caramelized Pork, Lemongrass Shrimp or Vegetables.

Caramelized Pork: (this is my favorite)

For the caramel:

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

For the pork:

2 large shallots, sliced, or 5 scallions (white parts only), chopped

2 tsp. fish sauce

2 tsp. soy sauce

Pinch salt

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

1-1/2 lb. pork loin or sirloin, sliced into large pieces about 1/4-inch thick

To make the caramel: Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir a few times and allow to simmer until the sauce turns deep brown, about 15 min. Meanwhile, have some extra hot water ready on a back burner. Once the sauce reaches the desired color, carefully add 4 to 5 Tbs. hot water to slow the cooking and thin the sauce. (Be sure to hold the pan away from you so that none of the hot caramel splatters on you when you add the water.) If necessary, add more hot water. The sauce should only be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Set aside to cool.

To make the pork: Pound the shallots in a mortar and pestle or mince by hand. Transfer the shallots to a mixing bowl and combine with the fish sauce, soy sauce, salt, vegetable oil, and cooled caramel sauce. Stir well to blend. Add the pork slices and let marinate for 20 min. Meanwhile, heat a broiler or light a charcoal or gas grill. When the broiler or fire is very hot, cook the pork until just done, about 2 min. on each side. Let the pork rest for 10 to 15 min., cut into thin strips, and serve on bun.

Lemongrass Shrimp:

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

2 shallots, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 Tbs. minced fresh lemongrass

2 cups sliced white mushrooms

2 tsp. fish sauce

1 tsp. sugar

Kosher salt to taste

In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the shallots and garlic, quickly stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the shrimp and lemongrass; stir-fry for about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sprinkle with the fish sauce, sugar, and a little salt. Stir-fry until the shrimp is cooked and the mushrooms are wilted, another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve warm on cold noodle salad.


For the tofu (or use chicken):

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

8 oz. firm tofu, drained and cut into rectangular strips about 1-inch wide

For the vegetables:

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

2 shallots, thinly sliced

6 dried black mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 30 min., drained, stemmed, and thinly sliced

2 cups broccoli florets (cut through their stems into thin slices), blanched in boiling water and drained

1-1/2 cups shredded green or Napa cabbage

1-1/2 cups thinly sliced bok choy

2 Tbs. soy sauce; more or less to taste

1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

To cook the tofu or chicken: Heat the oil in a nonstick pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the tofu pieces and stir-fry until nicely browned. Remove and drain on paper towels. When cool, cut them into bite-size strips. Set aside.

To cook the vegetables: Heat the oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over high heat. If the pan is smaller than 12 inches, cook the vegetables in two batches. Wait until the oil gets very hot, almost smoking (the vegetables should sizzle during the entire cooking time), and add the shallots, constantly stirring until they become fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry for another 20 seconds. Add the broccoli, cabbage, and bok choy, stir for 30 seconds, and add the red bell pepper. (If the pan gets too dry, sprinkle in 1 to 2 Tbs. water.)

Working quickly, create an open space in the middle of the pan by pushing the vegetables against the edges. Add the soy sauce to the open area. It should sizzle and caramelize slightly, creating a distinctive aroma. Stir the vegetables with the soy sauce a few times and remove from the heat.

Toss the vegetables with the tofu or chicken and top the noodle salad.

Mongolian Beef: (this is what I made today)


2 tsp vegetable oil

1/2 tsp. minced ginger

1 tbsp. chopped garlic

1/2 c. soy sauce

1/2 c. water

3/4 c. dark brown sugar


1/2 c. vegetable oil (I would use less oil)

1 pound flank steak

1/4 c. cornstarch

1 large green onions

Make the sauce by heating 2 tsp. vegetable oil in med saucepan over med/low heat. Don't get the oil too hot or you'll get a major splatter when adding liquids.

Add ginger and garlic to the pan and quickly add the soy sauce and water before the garlic scorches.

Dissolve the brown sugar in the saute, then raise the heat to med and boil the sauce for 2-3 min. or until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat.

Slice the flank steak against the grain into 1/4 inch thick slices. Tilt the blade of you knife at about a 45 deg angle to the top of the steak so that you get wider cuts.

Dip the steak pieces into the cornstarch to apply a very thin dusting to both sides of each piece. Let the beef sit for about 10 min. so that the cornstarch sticks.

As the beef sits, heat up one cup of oil in a wok or skillet. Add the beef to the oil and saute for just 2 min. or until the beef just begins to darken on the edges. Stir the meat around a little so that it cooks evenly. After a couple minutes, use a large slotted spoon to take the meat out onto paper towels, then pour the oil out of the wok.

Put the pan back over the heat, dump the meat back into it and simmer for one minute.

Add the sauce, cook for one min while stirring, then add all the green onions.

Cook for 1 more minute, then remove the beef and onions with slotted spoon to serving plate. Leave excess sauce behind in the pan.

Bon Appetit!

The Dutch Baby - The Celebrated Little Sister Grows Up

A Dutch Baby is a remarkable dish to serve for brunch and is a nice change from a quiche or strata.

The first time I had a Dutch Baby, it reminded me of my mother’s popovers because of the custard like texture that is baked inside.

This giant pancake is cooked in a cast iron skillet over high heat. I serve it frequently with fresh berries in which case you would make it without the apple. It’s also good with powdered sugar or a little topping of syrup.This first recipe is from Martha Stewart:

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch wedges

1/3 cup honey

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

3 large eggs

3/4 cup milk

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add butter. When melted, add apple wedges. Cook until softened and lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in honey and cardamom, and remove skillet from heat.

In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients, except confectioners’ sugar, until smooth. Pour over apple mixture. Bake until puffed and brown, about 20 minutes. Slide pancake onto a serving platter. Serve immediately, cut into wedges, with confectioners’ sugar sifted over the top.

Serves 4
Here is the famous recipe from the ORIGINAL PANCAKE HOUSE:

4 eggs

1/2 cup of powdered sugar

3/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup of heavy whipping cream

1/8th teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 cup of butter

Preheat Oven to 425 degrees.

Whisk eggs until blended. Stir in powdered sugar into the egg mixture and set aside.

Stir flour, salt and nutmeg together in a separate bowl.

Mix in cream to the flour mixture and mix with a fork. Then mix in eggs to the mixture.

Use a 9 inch skillet with an oven-proof handle. Melt 1/4 cup of butter in skillet and swirl around to coat the entire pan. With skillet still warm, pour in the batter to the skillet and then immediately place the skillet in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

Remove from the oven once the top edges are brown. Remove from skillet on to a large plate.

Top with butter, lemon and powdered sugar.

Bon Appetit!

Chicken Wings

This was my plate at our Super Bowl party.

If I could have just one little cheat, it had to be chicken wings. What is Super Bowl without chicken wings anyway?

Was it my imagination or did I hear the bacon wrapped scallops calling my name?

Guess I need to stop listening to all this table talk or I’ll gain 10 pounds before I even leave the appetizer table.

Bon Appetit!

The Berry Bag

Inside my refrigerator, I keep a bag of berries. I love to pop one if my sweet tooth is acting up and I feel like I am going to blow my regimen on something with calorie overkill.

Honestly, I’ve gotten so use to them, they are almost as sweet as popping M&M’s…M&M’s with peanuts? Now that’s another story!

Bon Appetit!

Key Lime Cupcakes

Whenever I want to try something new and over-loaded with calories and fat, I’ll buy it for my neighbor (who can and will eat just about anything) and carve off one little slice before I give it to her.

This week, I could not resist the Key Lime Cupcakes (love anything key lime) from my bakery.

I made the mistake of tasting this cupcake BEFORE I gave it to her.

Hum…Guess she’ll never know what Key Lime Cupcakes taste like will she?

That will be our little secret.

Bon Appetit!

Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie is still my all time favorite dessert and it does not have to be summer to enjoy it.

I know a lot of people who will only make Emeril’s recipe which is below. I have baked quite a few and actually this is really one of the best.
Don’t you think that this would be a special treat for your favorite Valentine? If not, you can always make it for me.

Key Lime Pie
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick butter) melted

2 (14-ounce) cans condensed milk

1 cup key lime or regular lime juice

2 whole eggs

1 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 tablespoon lime zest


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter with your hands. Press the mixture firmly into a 9-inch pie pan, and bake until brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before filling.

Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

In a separate bowl, combine the condensed milk, lime juice, and eggs. Whisk until well blended and place the filling in the cooled pie shell. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes and allow to chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Once chilled, combine the sour cream and powdered sugar and spread over the top of the pie using a spatula. Sprinkle the lime zest as a garnish on top of the sour cream and serve chilled

Kermit Carpenter's Key Lime Pie

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

3 egg yolks

1/4 cup key lime juice

1 (9-inch) graham cracker piecrust

Whipped cream, to garnish

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

In a mixer on low-medium speed, blend the milk and egg yolks at low speed until smooth. Add the key lime juice and finish blending.

Gently pour the mixture into the piecrust and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven and let cool for another 15 minutes before refrigerating.

Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours before serving. Serve cold and top with fresh whipped cream.

And finally, low fat ingredients curb the calories in this Key Lime Pie. I also love the frozen Weight Watcher Key Lime Pies.

1 ready-to-fill cookie crumb or graham cracker crumb crust

1 tablespoon plain gelatin

1/3 cup fresh lime juice or key lime juice

1 cup boiling water

Sugar substitute to equal 1/4 cup

13 ounce can cold evaporated skim milk

1/4 cup cold water

4-serving package instant vanilla pudding

Dash of lime zest, optional

Light or fat-free whipped topping

Thin lime slices for garnish, optional


In a blender container, combine plain gelatin and fresh lime juice. Wait one minute until softened, then add boiling water. Cover and blend on high speed until all gelatin granules are dissolved. Add sugar substitute, evaporated skim milk, water, pudding mix and lime zest.

Cover and blend smooth. Chill in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes until mixture begins to set. Spoon into prepared pie shell and chill several hours until firm. Top with dollops of whipped topping and garnish with lime slices, if desired.

Foods I Can Cook...besides Italian!

It’s funny when I think about the foods I cook well – Asian, Cajun, Mexican and desserts - I realized that those are the foods I not only crave but also eat most often.

These foods have totally educated my tastes and my desire for high-quality, local, fresh ingredients. These are also the things I refuse to give up just to save money.

Here are some of my observations…


You don’t need to buy a wok (too thin) – a good cast iron pan will serve you much better.

There is no substitute for a hot flame.

Use Great Rice – makes all the difference between a good dish and a unbelievable one.

Use Peanut Oil - definitely the choice for high heat cooking.

Cook for less time than the recipe says or the veggies will be too soft – I like my veggies crunchy so I usually toss them in the pan, stir twice and remove from the heat.

Use only the freshest ingredients, especially ginger, chilli and garlic.

Never use MSG... who introduced that dreadful ingredient anyway?

Sesame oil - the secret ingredient for great flavor…and just a little bit!


It’s all in the roux. Patience please and make it a dark.

There is an acknowledged TRINITY of chopped vegetables---onion, bell peppers, and celery which are standards. They are a good bet to always make a superb tasting dish.

An authentic Cajun meal is usually a three-pot affair, with one pot dedicated to the main dish, one dedicated to steamed rice, skillet cornbread, or some other grain dish, and the third containing whatever vegetable is plentiful or available. Local and fresh and speaking of fresh…

Only fresh Spices – grow them yourself or pick them up at your farmer’s market.

Good stock – make your stocks from scratch. Always use bones and plenty of veggies for flavor. The longer the simmer, the better the brew!

Mexican Food

Chiles - There are many types of chiles such as the spicy jalapeno, the flavorful ancho and the fiery serrano. Start a garden and learn their differences.

Homemade tortillas –fresh “bread” is the key on most things and this is no exception. They are easy to make and are so much better than what you can buy in the store unless you have a market that delivers them freshly made every day.

Tomatillos – AH - good green chili sauce! I love green not red chili sauce on everything.

Frijoles – economical and healthy you can find a million recipes for refried beans. I try to eat them at least once a week.

Cheese – Queso Blanco, Queso Fresco, Crema…cheese is a key ingredient in Mexican food. Only use the best cheese you can find and sparingly. A little bit goes a long way to add flavor and keep the calories down.

Spices: chile powder, cumin, oregano, cilantro, epazote, cinnamon, and cocoa. Again, buy them fresh or learn to grow them.

Pies, Pastries, Cookies, Tortes, Cakes, Puddings, Ice Cream and everything else! All of them delicious, especially if they contain chocolate.

Bon Appetit!