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  1. Mod Mex & Mod Mix 2014

    September 15, 2014 by Barb

    Mod Mex 2014

    Driving up to Kendall College on Saturday morning, I knew that it was going to be a great day. The sun was shining and unseasonal briskness of the morning made it a perfect day to sit and learn about Mexican Cuisine at the second annual Mod Mex event hosted by Chicago’s very own, Rick Bayless.

    Chef Rick Bayless Mod Mex 2014

    Chef Rick Bayless Mod Mex 2014

    Last year’s event was a showcase of the New Face of Mexican Food but this year was a little different because the chefs concentrated on the beauty of a Mexican market basket and innovating a new way to look at those ingredients.IMG_7149

    The ingredients included Tomatillo, Piloncillo (a cone of pure, unrefined sugar), Hoja santa (a HUGE herb leaf which CAN be grown in the Midwest), Fresh-ground corn masa (for tortillas or tamales), dried pasilla chiles, Fresh chilaca chiles, Sour prickly pear (Xoconostle), pumpkinseeds and Cacao (the dried seeds of a tropical tree that are used to make cocoa and chocolate).

    The chefs that took this challenge were Curtis Duffy of Grace (Chicago, IL), Pablo Salas of Amaranta (Toluca, Mexico), Fany Gerson of La Newyorkina and Dough (NYC) and, of course, Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill, Topolabampo and Xoco.

    With the HYSTERICAL Ana Belaval acting as emcee, Chef Duffy was the first one to step up to the plate. Apparently, Mexican ingredients aren’t on his usually grocery list so this truly was going to be a challenge for him. (To be fair to all of the chefs, they were provided with a market basket list BEFORE the event so they could prepare properly.)

    Ana Belaval

    The items he showcased were the hoja santa, prickly pears, lime and cotija cheese. He made a beautiful bright green sauce thickened with tapioca with the hoja santa. (Think of when you blanch an herb for a sauce but want to keep the sharp color.)

    Next part was kind of a blur to me; he used the prickly pear and limejuice and made a frozen cylinder!!! It was crazy to watch. Besides the vibrancy of the color making everyone in the room speechless, the delicacy of it was amazing. (The audience was also a little speechless about his early days of figuring out this technique but what is said at ModMex, stays at ModMex!)

    He took the cylinder, placed it on a small circle of almond milk-rice pudding mixed with fried pepitos as a base. The prickly pear cylinder then became a vessel to hold some beautiful Hamachi (he had seasoned the hamachi with sea salt, mandarin oil and pumpkinseed oil and lime zest earlier for us), cojita cheese, lime segments and lemon balm.Chef Curtis Duffy

    It was fun to watch Ana crack the outer shell and take the first bite. (If I didn’t know we were going to taste it later on in the day, I might have had to go up front and knock a few folks over! It looked so amazing.)

    This was a nice representation of the flavors of the how the cylinder would taste.

    This was a nice representation of the flavors of the how the cylinder would taste.

    I've gotta say it…Chef Duffy is as good looking as his food!

    I’ve gotta say it…Chef Duffy is as good looking as his food!

    Chef Salas, who was recently included in Pellegrino’s 50 Best Latin American Restaurants list, was up next. He included an easy to follow slide show with his presentation so the audience could see each of his steps.


    He emphasized that his dish, Pork Jowl with green pipian, was rich in Mexican techniques and customs and you could see in his comfort of cooking that he was an expert.

    Pipian is a sauce in the mole family BUT it is seed based. He used a peanut/pumpkin seed/sesame seed base. The sauce was compiled also with chicken bones for flavor (discarded at the end) and a tomatillo sauce. It was boiled all together and then blended up.

    His pork jowl used because it has beautiful marbling and nice fattiness. With some orange juice and bay leaves for flavor, he sous vide (sealed in a bag in a temperature controlled water bath) for 6 hours. The product was finished with a quick sear and served with peas, a schemer of pipian, pickled chayote and sour prickly pear. YUM!



    Next up, the pastry guru, Fany Gerson. Since I am allergic to chocolate, my attention span is usually low when it comes to dessert demonstrations. I must say that I could listen to Chef Gerson for hours. She had so many hints and tips on ingredients that I am actually excited about MY next pastry attempt in the kitchen.

    Chef Gerson was making an ice cream with toasted corn flour (Pinole) and Mexican cinnamon. Have you seen what Mexican cinnamon looks like? It makes the stuff we buy in OUR stores look like toothpicks! It is giant. Flavor wise, it is more floral.

    Using blue corn kernels as her pinole base, she ground them up. Like traditional ice cream base, she added egg whites and a little sugar. Add in a little Mexican cinnamon infused cream and pour it over cocoa paste, the mixture needed to sit in the fridge overnight before putting in the ice cream machine. (Obviously, we didn’t sit there all night and she had some all ready to go.)

    I got excited when she started poaching some fresh peaches in white wine, vanilla, hibiscus and some of the Piloncillo. (Remember that was the cone of sugar mentioned earlier.) She poached the whole peach…skin and all!

    When the peaches came out of the poaching liquid, they were a beautiful red on the outside but “peachy” colored on the inside. Just gorgeous.


    Chef Fany was so nice!!!!

    Chef Fany was so nice!!!!

    Our final demonstration was by Chef Bayless. His goal was to take us back to the years before Columbus came specifically 1491. (This is where I need to thank Chef Bayless because I ended up reading so much on Sunday about this time area and food.)

    During this era, the farm animals we take for granted today weren’t around. So when a tamale was made back in the day, the chef had to depend on natural fats from seeds and nuts.

    A simple mix of hulled, toasted pepitas, masa and water (Chef Bayless really likes water because it doesn’t obscure flavors like heavy stocks or broths) was twirled until it achieved maximum thickness. With some slow charred wild mushrooms and grilled butternut squash, the tamale came together beautifully.

    Steamed upright in natural cornhusk wrappers, the tamales are cooked until firm. The other unique thing Chef Bayless did was serving them out of the wrapper. The presentation of the tamale as the true focal point of the dish was much easier seen this way.

    He sauced the tamale with a blend of toasted pasilla chiles, charred butternut, tomatillos, cocoa nibs and a little honey. The thought behind the honey was that the chiles really are a fruit. If you want to bring out the flavor in fruit…what do you do? Add something sweet…it makes perfectly good sense.

    I was only able to get a view from the overhead screen…and I ate mine too quickly!

    I was only able to get a view from the overhead screen…and I ate mine too quickly!

    Now with all these experienced chefs in front of us, I have a confession to make. One of my favorite dishes of the day came from one of the Kendall College (Proceeds from Mod Mex & Mod Mix benefit Chicago Public School students studying culinary arts at Kendall College) teams that served us a little snack.

    Events chef Louis Dourlain and Junior Sous Chef Christo Vlahos made a little snack called Pork Jowl Cochinita. It was a tostada with a frico of manchego cheese that had pork jowl mashed into it and topped with delicate spiced pork fat foam. I’m not sure if this was a market basket dish but it was FABULOUS!! The toasty flavor of the cheese with the richness of the pork put me in heaven. It was like my two favorite foods (pork and cheese) got together and had a baby.


    A big part of this year’s ModMex was the addition of ModMix, which was the cocktail portion of the event. Joseph Mortera, Dave Arnold and Jay Schroder each gave very informative demonstrations on Mexican cocktails. Guess what? You don’t only have to serve margaritas!

    Given that I don’t drink, I was a bit lost with some of the lingo in this segment. What I did pull out of it is that Mixologists are REALLY crazy smart. The information these 3 gentlemen gave out concerning the chemistry behind each cocktail was quick impressive. (I will say that I think Dave Arnold needs to wear a t-shirt that says “Don’t try this at home!)

    Hoja Santa Cocktail

    Hoja Santa Cocktail

    Their demonstrations made me feel like I need to study more of how mixologists devise their flavor combinations. I know I could apply it in different ways in my own kitchen.


    Don’t try this at home without safety goggles.

    Our afternoon concluded with all of the guests gathering to share as a community bound in fellowship around all of this beautiful and tasty food.

    I think Joseph Mortera had the sound bite that reflected in how we all felt that day…”There is no better garnish than a big smile.”IMG_7222

  2. Balls To the Wall

    September 12, 2014 by Barb

    Beginnings of Peach Saffron Jam

    Balls to the wall. That saying has a different meaning for a lot of people. If you are an athlete, it probably means you are doing your best and pushing yourself. If you are like me, it means it is time to start canning!!!

    Every summer around Labor Day, I start pulling my Ball jars out of the basement and start lining them up on the kitchen table. I count the jars and estimate how much product I’m going to need to fill all these beauties. (My new favorites are the Spring Green Heritage jars. They came out this year to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the “perfection” of Ball Mason Jars. I absolutely love the color and vintage vibe.)

    There are a lot of decisions to be made before you even get started believe it or not. You need to locate fresh produce, find your recipes, decide how much of each recipe you want to make and most importantly how many jars you are willing to share! (FYI…if you don’t can but get jars of pickles from your friends each year. RETURN THE JARS!! They are like gold to canners!)

    The first part of the decision making is what fresh produce you can find. Are you shopping in your backyard, a farmer’s market or your neighbor’s backyard when they aren’t looking? (I discourage stealing from your neighbors. It isn’t nice.)

    The key is to use good fresh produce that is at the peak of the season. Those cucumbers that have been in your crisper for the last month probably aren’t your best choice. But if you are at your local farmer’s market and there is bushel of peaches…BUY IT!!!


    The next thing is the recipe. I can’t emphasize more that canning recipes are serious business. If you are going to try to make your own concoction, I would recommend following these guidelines for preparation. (I’m not even going to try to cover the dos and don’ts of canning. That is a subject you need to read a lot about OR take a class at somewhere like The Chopping Block.)

    I take the easy way out and just use tried and true recipes. My favorite recipes are on Ball’s Website, in the book Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant and Hugh Acheson’s new Pick a Pickle book. (More like flashcards than a book but a pretty useful resource when you are on a canning bender.)


    Most of the recipes will tell you how many pints/quarts it makes. I usually have a few extra jars ready just in case my yield is higher. If it is a product you KNOW you want to give as gifts, make sure you make extra!!! I made the Brandied Peach Butter from Pick a Pickle and I didn’t make nearly enough to share.  (Because it smelled so good as it cooked, I kept eating it!!)

    Brandied Peach Butter

    Brandied Peach Butter

    Since I have the green Ball jars now, I make sure that those are the ones that stay in MY house. It is a good way to insure yourself that you have a couple in your own pantry. This is the one time green does not mean go! Let it be your indicator to stop giving away your treasured home preserved food! (Nice people don’t mind giving it all away….I’m not that nice.)


    Look at my pretty almost pickles.

    Look at my pretty almost pickles.

    This year my canning weekend included the Zesty Peach Barbeque Sauce from Ball, Peach Saffron Jam from Preservation Kitchen, The Classic Bread ‘n Butter Pickle from Pick a Pickle, Peach Salsa from the Bald Gourmet and, of course, my Cowboy Candy.

    Don't forget to wear gloves!

    Don’t forget to wear gloves!

    The last step I have to emphasize is MARK YOUR JARS!!! This year I not only marked it with the item name and date processed but I added on which cooking resource I used. It will be helpful when I try to make decision next year of which items I need to double up on etc.

    Ball's Peach Barbecue sauce fresh out of the canner

    Ball’s Peach Barbecue sauce fresh out of the canner

    After a weekend like this, I kind of feel like I had my Balls to the wall in every sense of the phrase! I have jars all over the place resting and I am exhausted!!

    I do want to thank the folks at Ball for providing me with some of the new Heritage Spring green jars for this canning season. It is funny how something like having a colored jar can bring you so much joy during the process of processing. : )

  3. Mobster Lobsters

    September 9, 2014 by Barb


    We came home to a surprise on Saturday….a box of lobsters from Boston. LIVE LOBSTERS!!!! Have you ever had a box delivered to your house that moved?! It was just crazy.


    It was somewhat shocking to me to see them moving about. As a carnivore, I understand that before my food gets in a pretty package at the store, it is alive. I just haven’t been part of that process before and found it very overwhelming.

    I started feeling guilty that these beautiful creatures were going to die so I started reading about humane lobster cooking methods.

    As I was reading, I found something that helped alleviate my guilt….a list of Lobster Mobsters. It was a most wanted list of gangster lobsters that have been wreaking havoc in oceans all over Maine and Massachusetts. (And this is where I started making up stuff to make me feel better about killing my dinner!)

    I had never seen such a list so I thought I’d look at some of the pictures. Hmmm, could that be right? Were those pictures of MY lobsters? It was!! My lobsters were the infamous mobsters, Lucky Lobsterano and Arthur Pod.  (I am in no way implicating James Hook and Company as part of the lobster mafia because if they knew who they had in their tanks, they would have notified the FBI..Fish Bureau of Investigation.)

    Apparently they worked under the mob boss named Scarfin. Their crimes included such things as laundering sand dollars and selling barrier reefer.

    They’ve been circling the globe for years and somehow ended up in a box at our front door. I had to end this madness. I needed to be the judge and jury on these two crustaceans…they must die.

    My guilt was gone. I was about to help humanity by ridding the oceans of mobster lobsters. My husband helped me get my biggest pot filled with water and we got it boiling.IMG_7128

    It was time to drop them in but I couldn’t do it. I’m not an executioner. My husband put on his hood (you don’t want it getting back to the lobster mafia who did the deed) and dropped them in.

    And then I heard the screaming, no not from the lobsters….from me! I couldn’t believe the sound coming out of my mouth. (FYI…lobsters can’t scream. They don’t have vocal chords.) I just felt bad. I know these were mobster lobsters but it still made me a little sad.

    When they were done, it took me a couple of bites to get over my guilt. Amazingly a couple super delicious forkfuls of rich lobster dripping in butter made me feel much better and the oceans are now a safer place.

    Boiled LIVE Lobsters


    3 tablespoons sea salt

    2 live lobsters (about 1 1/2 pounds each)

    1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter

    Lemon wedges


    Fill a large stockpot full of water.

    Add the salt and bring to a boil.

    Put the lobsters headfirst into the pot and put the lid on top.

    Return water to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes.

    Shells should turn RED and the tails will curl.

    Lift the lobsters out of the water with tongs and drain in a colander.

    They had A LOT of water in them so really let them drain.

    Serve with melted butter and lemon wedges.

    Living in the Midwest, I’m not sure how often I will make live lobsters in my future but it definitely was a wonderful treat. (Thanks E, R & S for remembering our special day and not sending us green bean casserole and iceberg lettuce with peas!)


  4. We Belong Together

    September 7, 2014 by Barb


    On September 7, 1998 I woke up singing these lyrics:

    You’re mine and we belong together

    Yes, we belong together, for eternity 

    You’re mine; your lips belong to me

    Yes, they belong to only me, for eternity

    You’re mine, my baby and you’ll always be

    I swear by everything I own you’ll always, always be mine

    You’re mine, and we belong together

    Yes, we belong together, for eternity

    The lyrics were from the song “We Belong Together” and they kept replaying in my head.

    The day before (September 6, 1998) was the day I danced to this song with my new husband at our wedding. Our dance wasn’t choreographed or anything anyone would remember but I do.

    I remember swaying with him, laughing and sharing whispers. We were in the moment and it is something I’ll never forget.

    We’ve been married for 16 years now (far from eternity) but I wake up every day knowing we belong together.

    So…happy anniversary to my husband, Earl. It has been my honor to be your wife and I am so glad you are mine. I love you.IMG_0429

  5. Bon Appetit Cook the Cover: September

    September 4, 2014 by Barb

    Felt Like a Foodie Sept. Cook the Cover

    Another new month and another Bon Appetit Cook the Cover to conquer. I never thought that when I made this part of my New Year’s Resolutions that it would become such a big part of my year. I am really enjoying the challenge and am proud to say I am 9 for 9!

    So this month, I mosey down to the mailbox and see the familiar plastic wrapped issue just poking its pretty little head out among the bills and junkmail. I pull it to the top of the pile and said “Uh Oh.”

    Bon Appetit’s Setember’s Issue highlights the Best New Restaurants (Congrats to Rose’s Luxury for receiving the dubious distinction this year) and the front picture is a gal with tattooed arms holding a bowl. When I first viewed the cover, I didn’t even notice what was in the bowl. I immediately became anxious because of the tattoos.


    Without even busting open the magazine, I became concerned how I would create this cover. (I do have my own tattoos but you would not want me serving you dinner from “that” area and I don’t think my hubby would appreciate me showing you my bits on my blog!)

    My only out would be if Bon Appetit would have the recipe for the dish this cover chef was holding. I became concerned when I couldn’t find anything and actually resorted to sending @bonappetit a tweet.  (Info on the recipe WAS on page 10 of the issue…my bad!)

    They responded immediately and sent me a link to the Lemongrass Seafood Stew shown in the picture on the cover. Again, I said “Uh-Oh” until I started reading the recipe. (My concern living in a small town, as always, was finding ingredients.)

    This issue was about Best New Restaurants but I want to give Bon Appetit a gold star for Best Instructions of a restaurant worthy dish.  They made a complex recipe soooo easy for the home cook. I loved how the instructions were set up for success.

    Essentially there were four steps: creating the broth, making garlic bread, putting the salad together and assembling the dish.

    Broth: If I make one recommendation it would be don’t skip a step in the broth. It was probably one of the most wonderfully aromatic broths I have ever encountered. The lemongrass, garlic, ginger and lemon came together like a well-rehearsed quartet.

    Garlic Bread: This is where the garlic bread comes in handy because this broth needs to be sopped up! One drop of it would be a crime against humanity! (Okay, that is a little dramatic but it really was good.) I didn’t have parsley in the house so I subbed chopped celery leaf in for one of the herbs. It was a good fit.

    Salad: The salad is also an essential part of the dish. The fresh fennel and lemon complimented the same ingredients in the broth. (This technically was to be done when cooking the shellfish but I didn’t want to get distracted so I made it first and dressed if right before serving.)

    Assembly: It is kind of funny to discuss seafood as one of the final steps since it is such a wonderful part of the meal. The mussels, clams, shrimp and squid all cook in the broth but not at the same time.

    I found some nice mussels and clams but prawns and squid tentacles weren’t available. I subbed in some allegedly jumbo shrimp and cut up a squid steak into ribbons.

    After the seafood is done cooking, it was as simple as putting it into a bowl, adding some extra broth, top with salad and put the garlic bread on the side.

    Bon Appetit said this a “restaurant-worthy” dish and they weren’t lying. If the aromatics in the broth were a quartet, all of these components put together were like a symphony orchestra. It was truly amazing.

    The best part of cooking all of these covers is that Bon Appetit continues to challenge me. This recipe is going into my cookbook and will be one that I will cook for years.


  6. (Almost) Labor Free Grilled Vegetable Soup

    September 1, 2014 by Barb


    Can you believe that it is September already??? Did everyone have a great Labor Day weekend? Did you have your grills going?

    I didn’t barbeque this weekend because I did a family BBQ last weekend for my husband’s birthday, which his mom coincidently calls Labor Day too. (Actually there should be a National Holiday for HER given the size of my husband’s melon!)

    Our BBQ had the regular fare with the exception of the abundance of grilled veggies I made for the crowd. Hubby loves his veggies and insisted that we have plenty on hand for all of our guests.

    But you know what? When you have yummy goodies like potato chips and awesome hummus dip, people aren’t knocking each other over to get to the veggies. The veggies just sit there looking lonely and pathetic like the unpopular kid on the playground. (Oh, that just made me really sad for my veggies and unpopular kids.)

    I knew we would have one night of must-gos but I really did not want to eat burgers etc. all week. (I did turn a couple of the burgers into beef fried rice and must say it was good. It was actually better than the actual burger on a bun.)

    My grilled veggies (zucchini, yellow squash, onions) were quite beautiful and I really didn’t want any of them to go to waste. (ESPECIALLY since the zucchini and yellow squash were grown with my own little hands.)

    As I smelled their roasty smoky goodness, it came to me….grilled vegetable soup. Done right, I knew I could take these forsaken veggies into the most sought after dish ever! (If veggies could be a prom queen…these babies would take the crown after I was done with them.)

    I twirled them up my blender and added a couple of homegrown tomatoes for good measure, added some veggie broth and let the pot cook for a good hour. I tasted for seasoning and will admit that my first taste was BLAND! I added a healthy sprinkle of salt and a teaspoon of the seasoning I had used on the veggies when I grilled them.

    When I let it simmer a little longer, I couldn’t believe this beautiful rustic soup came out of a plastic container of leftovers!!! It was a Labor Day miracle!!!

    Rustic Grilled Vegetable Soup


    6 cups of leftover grilled (or roasted) veggies (zucchini, yellow squash, onion, tomatoes)

    2 cloves garlic chopped

    6 cups vegetable broth

    Salt and pepper to taste

    Extra virgin olive oil

    Herbs of your choice


    Twirl veggies in your blender until it is a chunky/smooth. (Not a smooth-smooth)

    In a large soup pot, sauté the garlic in a little olive oil. (I didn’t put any garlic on my veggies originally because of the in-laws so use your best judgment if your veggies need more oomph.)

    Add blended veggies and broth. Simmer over med/low heat for an hour. Taste for seasoning. Add salt, pepper and any fresh herbs you may have laying around. (You know a couple of basil leaves or a smidge of chopped up thyme).

    Let it cook about 15 more minutes.

    Serve. (I had some leftover fried onions and put those on top. YUM!)

    This has got to be one of my favorite recipes concoctions I’ve come up with in the recent years. It was really simple. I did want to note that I went with a cup of veggies to a cup of broth ratio so for future leftovers I could make the soup again. I originally only had 5 cups of veggies so I tossed in the tomatoes at the last minute to increase my volume.

    Next time I BBQ, I will probably make too many vegetables but at least now I know that I have a plan to make a “labor-free” soup!

  7. My Recipe for The Recipe

    August 29, 2014 by Barb


    Growing up as one of three girls, I have always had a fondness for TV shows that featured that sisterly component. From everything to the Brady Bunch to Little House on the Prairie to Full House, the bond of the sisters always made me feel lucky to have that same kind of whacky madness in my own home. (I think my relationship with my sisters would be more of a HBO series rather than anything suitable for network television.)

    The one show that really made me want to have a TV sister was The Waltons but not for the reason you might think. It wasn’t the Walton girl’s relationship I envied; it was the Baldwin sisters!

    The Baldwin Sisters? Do you remember them? Mamie and Emily Baldwin were the wealthy spinsters who lived on the mountain. They were sweet and sometimes a little batty (Miss Emily was really off her nut) but everyone on the mountain just loved them.

    They never married and just were pretty much settled on living their lives together. Miss Emily was the only one who ever had a boyfriend (Ashley Longworth) back in her younger days but that cad never stuck around. (They did have Jason Walton live with them after the infamous fire in the Walton house. It was never referenced in the show but I am sure there was some sort of cougar behavior going on during that time.)

    The one thing most people remember the Baldwins for is The Recipe. The Recipe was an illegal moonshine they made in the back room. To them it was an elixir and something to take when you needed to feel better. The Baldwins offered it to all their guests and they never realized it was booze.

    I feel like I have my own “Recipe” when I make my Bloody Mary mix. I’m not a much of a drinker but this is one drink I do enjoy on occasion. (Like on a Sunday afternoon when I’m watching a Walton marathon or after a long visit from my in-laws.)

    My Recipe for bloody Mary mix is delicious by itself but if you want to add a little vodka to zazz up your drink, I’d recommend some Chopin Wheat Vodka. (Chopin is an artisanal craft distiller from Podlasie Poland. They focus on single ingredient vodkas such as Chopin Potato, Chopin Rye and Chopin Wheat. Each vodka is made with the single main ingredient, yeast and purified artesian well water…and that is it. Chopin keeps it simple and makes their vodka like people have been making it for centuries.)


    The Chopin Wheat Vodka was my choice for My Recipe because it had a bit of a honey taste to it. The sweet honey flavor that came out really was a nice compliment to the spicy-acidy flavor of the My Recipe. (My husband’s aunt fell in love with Chopin’s Potato Vodka on the rocks. I think her exact quote included the word “holy”, some profanity that I won’t quote and “that was excellent.”)

    With the long Labor weekend ahead, I know that I will take some time to enjoy My Recipe while watching a Walton’s marathon. Learning more about the art of distilling quality alcohol from Chopin will allow me to appreciate the Baldwin sisters efforts just a little bit more. (But I have no intention of building my own still!) 

    My Recipe


    3 cups QUALITY tomato juice

    2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

    1 ½ tsp Worcestershire Sauce

    1 tsp green olive juice

    ½ tsp horseradish (Make sure you are using REAL horseradish or it just doesn’t taste right.)

    ¼ tsp celery salt

    ½ tsp of your favorite hot pepper sauce

    Chopin Wheat Vodka (I do a 1 part vodka to 4 parts Bloody Mary Mix. Most people do 1 Part Vodka to 3 parts Bloody Mary Mix)


    In your favorite Bloody Mary jug mix lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, olive juice, horseradish, celery salt and pepper sauce. Mix up these seasonings really well or you’ll end up with a clump in your tomato juice.

    Mix in the tomato juice and some ice. (If using vodka, I just add it to the glass and stir.)

    Have fun garnishing with celery, olives, Salumi or even a pickle!

    Thanks to Chopin Vodka for letting me try your different vodkas.  I promise to drink responsibly.   The Baldwin Sisters would have approved!


  8. Preserving Memories

    August 25, 2014 by Barb


    “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

    I have always loved that saying. Every now and then, you get handed things that may not be what you currently desire but you just have to make the most of it.

    Lately, my plate has been full (and not in the fun fill my tummy kind of way.) It isn’t that I’m in a sour mood, I just feel a little overwhelmed and that I’ve lost some of my zest. (Ooooo, clever lemon-esque wordplay for your reading enjoyment.)

    My mind started to think how can I make lemonade out of my current exhaustion and then I remembered the class I took in June at The Chopping Block in Chicago on…lemons!

    The menu was awesome…Bruschetta with white beans, arugula and FRIED lemons, lemon LINGUINE with Parmesan cheese and basil, Grilled Shrimp with PRESERVED lemon and parsley pesto and lemon PUDDING cake with raspberries. (Note how the capitalization makes it all more exciting?)*


    IMG_0072*I’m not sure when they are offering the class again but I would HIGHLY recommend checking out their class schedule periodically for other ingredient-centric classes. It was neat to take one ingredient and prepare it so many different ways.

    The class was taught by Chef Ron (who was not only a great chefstructor but a super nice guy) but he wasn’t the guy I really was paying attention to during the class. My mind kept going to my husband’s grandfather, Grandpa Miller. He LOVED lemons. Every time we had something with lemon in it he would say, “It needs more lemon.”

    Grandpa Miller liked me and I knew it. He was fun to feed because he always had such an enthusiastic reaction. (He also liked the McRib so I am in no way saying he had a great taste…except in Granddaughters in law!)

    So when I was cooking in this class and tasting all of my delicious dishes, I kept seeing his smile and hearing him request more lemon.

    It was kind of a bittersweet class for me because I would have loved to cook him this menu. I know he would have enjoyed it, given me a hug and told me that it needed more lemon.

    He would have loved these fried lemons.

    He would have loved these fried lemons. 

    Our memories of people probably are all different. We have things that stick out uniquely to us. Having had only a short time with Grandpa Miller could probably be looked at like a “lemon” moment. I am glad I can make something positive of our time together and preserve his spirit in my head.

    Quick Preserved Lemons (This wasn’t from class but I can’t find preserved lemons in our small town so this is a great alternative.)


    2 lemons (scrub them good because some of them are waxy)

    1 ½ tsp of kosher salt

    1 TBsp sugar


    Dice lemons…the whole thing. Make sure to discard of as many of the seeds as possible.

    Put all the ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake it up.

    Let it sit at room temperature for at least 4 hours giving it a shake every time you walk through the room.

    It should be ready at this point and kept in the fridge for a week.  And if someone you love needs more lemon, you will have it handy….every time.

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  9. Eatlanta: My 3,785,760 Foot Journey

    August 19, 2014 by Barb


    Sorry for being out of touch this past week.  My husband had a business trip to Atlanta and I tagged along to taste the local fare.  I must say Atlanta is an amazing food city and I can’t wait to go back.  The food was so inspiring as were the people I met.  I had the pleasure of dining at The Gunshow (Woot!  Got my cookbook signed), The Spence (Boo, hoo!  Didn’t get my cookbook signed), Empire State South (Already had my book signed) and King + Duke (Let me know when you’ve got a book because I’ll want it!)

    I thought I’d give you a quick look at my “scrapbook” of food.  Thank you so much to everyone who welcomed this excited small town blogger with open arms.  You truly lived up to the stereotype of southern hospitality!!

    While I was in Atlanta, I did go see the movie, 100 Foot Journey.  Like the movie, I had a journey in food that was amazing.  But also like the movie, I couldn’t wait to get home to get back in my own kitchen and create!

  10. Info-Blogger Review: T-fal OptiGrill

    August 16, 2014 by Barb


    Saturday morning and you are the first one up….what do you do? Do you make yourself a cup of coffee, flip on the TV and then find yourself watching a 30-minute infomercial? I do.

    I get mesmerized by the way things are presented and the food always looks so good.

    So this past month, I was given the challenge of trying a T-fal OptiGrill to review.  (It is also available at Wal-Mart.) I don’t normally do reviews but this is one of those products that caught my eye on a Saturday morning. If you haven’t heard of it (or if you actually sleep in on Saturdays) the T-fal OptiGrill is “a revolutionary indoor grill that features a cooking sensor to ensure a perfectly cooked meal every time by automatically adapting to the thickness of your food and delivery perfect doneness from rare to well-done to create a nutritious and delicious meal.”

    Pretty big claim, right? So I thought I would take 5 of their key points and in the spirit of the new school year test them out and grade them.

    1.  Cooks evenly on both sides.  Grade: B

    This is pretty spot on IF your food is evenly sliced/cut and the grill touches all of it. I had used eggplant as my tester food and am not the best slicer. I had some fatter pieces on the OptiGrill with some skinny pieces.


    The skinny pieces got cooked on the side that touched the grill but obviously not on the side that didn’t touch the grill. This is a human error so not a product error.

    2.  Cooks from frozen.  Grade: B

    I am a pretty organized home cook so it is rare I cook something from frozen. So it was hard for me to deliberately cook something (pork chops) from frozen but I did it.

    To my surprise, it did work. I did feel that I wasn’t able to season my food well since it was frozen but the OptiGrill did what it claims and my pork chop was cooked to perfection.

    3.  Dishwasher-safe, removable grill plates are easy to clean.  Grade: A

    Holy cow, this part was awesome. I would cook with this on a busy night just for the easy clean up! (But I wish there was a latch to keep the lid from flying open when you try to store it on the side.)

    4.  Fat drips into extra-large tray for healthier eating.  Grade: B

    The loss of fat does make for healthier eating but I missed the fat flavor. I did another experiment with some pork chops. I cooked half on the OptiGrill and half on the stove.

    The OptiGrill pork chops were cooked perfectly but I missed some of the richness that comes from the natural juice that is in the pan. The pan chops were cooked well (because it isn’t my first time at the rodeo) and had a bit more flavor.  

    5.  Simple to use with guaranteed results every time.  Grade: B

    I agree that the OptiGrill was easy to use. I would press power, pick my meat from the buttons on the front and then press start. It let me know when it was done pre-heating.   (There is a manual button for veggies.)IMG_6521

    As for perfect results, you have to put some room in here for error. It does indicate when your meat is done rare, medium, or well BUT if you aren’t in the room with the machine, you may miss the moment to take it off the grill.


    So would I recommend the T-fal OptiGrill for everyone? It depends…I  think there are a few groups I would say would love it.

    If you have a crazy busy schedule, this would be great for you.

    In addition, people watching their fat intake would love the ease of healthier eating with the OptiGrill.  (I made salmon burgers on the OptiGrill and they were perfect!)


    Also, if you live somewhere you don’t have a grill, this is a great substitute.

    Who wouldn’t like this?

    People who like to plan. I did not like that I didn’t know when my food was done. I needed some more numbers to help me design the rest of my meal. (The cookbook that came with the OptiGrill was very helpful but didn’t answer this question for me.)

    I also thought it took up a little more space than I would like in an appliance I wasn’t going to use every day. (If this were your main cooking source, it wouldn’t be an issue.)

    Finally, I wouldn’t really think this would be good for larger families. It can hold about 4 good size chicken breasts and that is it. I tried to put more on it and I actually had a chicken breast slide off!

    Thank you to T-fal OptiGrill for providing me one of your grills so I could try it. I think a fair overall grade would be a “B.” It does live up to the claims on TV but people need to know that it isn’t magical and there is some room for human error.  Check out their Facebook page to hear more opinions and stories on this product.

    Hmmmm, what will I obsess about next Saturday morning?