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  1. The First Chicago Food + Wine Festival

    August 30, 2015 by Barb

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    I am a subscriber to Food & Wine magazine and read it each month from cover to cover. I read the editorials, recipes and I look at who advertises in the publication.

    One of the things that has drove me nuts for years was seeing the promotions for their Food + Wine Festivals. They would have these awesome chef-centric and food gatherings everywhere….South Beach, New York, Cancun, Nashville to name a few places.  But what about Chicago?????

    I would look at all the pictures of the people eating, drinking and being merry. I want to be merry. I want to toss my head back laughing while I have a tiny plate in my hand and drinking. (Okay, I only drink water so the tiny plate is all I’m concerned about!)

    The good folks of Food & Wine must have realized that the city of Chicago was ready to show them a good time because this weekend (August 28-30) they held the first Chicago Food + Wine Festival. Here was the scoop:

    The Chicago Food + Wine Festival marks a compelling collaboration between C3 Presents, chef Tim Love, and presenting sponsor FOOD & WINE Magazine.

    Festival partners have recruited an Advisory Board comprised of Chicago chefs including Jimmy Bannos (Heaven on Seven, The Purple Pig, Juicy-O); Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Xoco, Tortas Frontera); Graham Elliot (Graham Elliot Bistro); Jose Garces (Garces Group); Stephanie Izard (Girl & The Goat, The Little Goat); Paul Kahan (One Off Hospitality Group); Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia); and Art Smith (Art and Soul, Table Fifty-Two, Lyfe Kitchen, Southern Art) to gather ideas and feedback for event programming and talent recommendations.”

    The weekend filled festival had a little something for everyone from a Feast Under the Stars (Fri. night) in Lincoln Park to a Toast & Taste (Sat. night) in Grant Park to a Last Call (past my bedtime on Sat.) at Block 37.

    The other big feature of the weekend was the actual Chicago Food + Wine Festival (both Sat. & Sun. in beautiful Lincoln Park). It was a day filled with demos by some of Chicago’s and the nation’s best chefs….plus wine and libation experts.

    Did I forget to mention The Grand Tasting? It was a gigantic tent filled with chefs making scrumptious food (and lots of things to drink from whisky to wine.)

    The best part is that I got to take part in the Saturday daytime portion! (This is the point you can imagine me tossing my head back in pure merriment!)

    As I walked through the gate, I felt like someone jumping from the pages of Food & Wine magazine. My nose directed me to the Grand Tasting and I’ll let my pictures take it from there.

    Earl’s Kitchen +Bar (not my Earl, another Earl) served a Tuna Tostada with chili rubbed albacore, cilantro aioli, and avocado and jicama slawIMG_0220

    Knife & Tine’s smoked beef Carpaccio, parsnip puree on pumpernickel toast.IMG_0229

    One of the main reasons I wanted to come to this festival was to watch the chef demonstrations. The first one I caught was Chef Jose Garces & Chef Cory Morris (Rural Society). Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who wanted to do this because it was a packed tent! Chef Garces whipped out a gigantic squid like he was in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.IMG_0243

    And yes, I had to take pictures with the chefs!IMG_0249 IMG_0250

    I did miss seeing Tony and Cathy Mantuano’s demo on How to Pick the Right One so I popped over to the Book Signing area when they were done to tell them how much I liked their book, Wine Bar Food.

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    I was hungry again so I hit The Grand Tasting once more. RPM Italian was my next stop and had Burro Del Chianti. I’ll just say this was essentially pork butter and it was fabulous. It was rich, luscious and amazing. (Head back, laughing moment!)IMG_0241

    After eating that little guilty pleasure I felt the need to green it up so La Sirena’s Kale salad with pepitas, cojita, jalapeno, green onion and roasted poblano dressing was a great option.IMG_0257

    A10 Hyde Park also freshened me up with their Shrimp Gazpacho made with watermelon, corn and black beans. Oh…and these beautiful tomatoes!IMG_0264

    Truly, my favorite sweet bite was Nico Osteria’s Pistachio profiteroles with white chocolate discs.IMG_0231

    The Florentine kept it fun by smearing Sweet Corn with lemon truffle aioli and sprinkling on a magic mix of pecorino, pancetta and shaved truffles on a stick! (This is Food + Wine Festival so it is a skewer but either way it was time for me to sit down and watch a demo.)IMG_0238 IMG_0240

    And before I forget, THANK YOU to Voss Water. It is always nice at events like this to have a delicious bottle of water with your little plates of food.

    I also caught Stephanie Izard’s demo called Duck Duck Goat. Here we come! Chef Stephanie is opening another restaurant in Chicago that will concentrate on Chinese Food!

    Having seen her do cooking demos in the past, I am always amazed at her talent. (And for whatever reason, I geek out when I talk to her.) She made Chinese Slap Noodles and Dumplings. It was really hysterical listening to her talk about “slapping her noodle” and not think dirty thoughts.
    It smelled absolutely delicious and I appreciate the fact that she said she would share some recipes on her website!IMG_0245

    I had room for a couple more bites before I went to my final demo. Chef Takashi of Slurping Turtle was one of “save the best for last” moments. I’m not sure how he did it but Chef Takashi made a Chawanmushi (which is a Japanese egg custard) topped with BBQ unagi and bacon. I was so impressed that he served so many while keeping the custard in perfect composition. Not an easy feat at a food festival!IMG_0260

    Chef Takashi CFWFEST

    I actually said “While your tea steeps, may I take a picture with you.” Such a nice guy!!!

    As my day slowed down I enjoyed a piece of crostini with lamb and pureed eggplant from the super friendly, Chef John Hogan (River Roast)IMG_0226

    And ended my savory eating with Chef Paul Virant’s fresh melon wrapped in pork and topped with a pickled watermelon rind and cherry bomb pepper relish! It was the bite that gave every taste bud a hug.IMG_0262

    I didn’t leave yet because I had to see one last demo from Chef Tim Love. I was so excited that he was in Chicago and have enjoyed reading about him and seeing him on TV shows in the past. IMG_0269

    It was a truly a great finale for MY day to see Chef Love teach the skill behind “burning food” like steaks, onions, oranges, carrots and zucchini. (I also learned that he likes tequila and owes a couple bucks to the swear jar!) The science nerd in me was impressed that he talked about the correlations of the temperature of food and the energy put into cooking it. (If he had included specific heat information I would have been over the edge!)

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    Be careful you smash your food….it may fly off the stage!

     

    It was pure and utter madness and Ioved every second of it. I knew he would put on a good “show” and I was not disappointed. (I’m also not disappointed that I was not chosen for Tequila Roulette because 10 audience members were blindfolded. 9 of these member got a shot of hooch , 1 of them got olive oil. I would have wanted the olive oil!!)IMG_0271

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    A new chef for my wall!!!

    There were so many demos, discussions and dishes that it was impossible to do everything.  But with that said, the only thing that dampened the day was the rain.  As the event closed for the afternoon, there were people dancing to the phenomenal DJ, enjoying some last little nibbles, having a drink and tossing their heads back in laughter.  (Sunday had a whole another day of fun!)

    Thank you to all the chefs who lugged their stuff in during the earlier morning downpour and the people behind the scenes. You made a gloomy day brighter!

    So next month when my Food & Wine magazine comes in the mail, I may look at the promotions first. When I see the pics for the next fests in Hawaii and Toronto, I am going to bust out smiling with the hope that they will be back in Chicago next year so we all can share in the fun!

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  2. His Wish is My Command….Sometimes

    August 27, 2015 by Barb

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    Did you hear me the other day? At the top of my lungs, I was screaming “You want to do what?” After all these years later, Hubby has finally lost it.

    It all started when he came home from work. His routine is to walk in the door and start telling me about his day while he takes off his work clothes. (It is kind like Mr. Rogers but instead of putting on a nice cardigan, he pulls off his pants.)

    So my sweetie walks in and says the thing no wife wants to hear the minute her husband walks through the door. I’m not even sure I can repeat this. (My mom needs to stop reading here or I may never be able to look her in the eye again.)

    He said, “Hey Baby, you wanna stuff my zucchini?” I was like “Whaaaat?” Who says that? Can I get a “hello”? Or how about “I’m glad I’m home” from him first. Nope, he just waltzes in and says that!!

    I immediately jump down his throat and start telling him how I’m not some tart who goes for lines like that! (Anymore!) I’m a grown woman and I want to be wooed.

    Well, he glares at me and looks down. Boom! I showed him. This woman is about to sing about R-E-S-P-E-C-T when my innocent husband produces a bag of…well…produce.

    Not just any produce…..zucchini. Oh no. I’m in troubbbble! Apparently, one of his coworkers sent him home with some zucchini and said they were the perfect size to stuff with meat for dinner.

    With my tail between my legs, I agreed and we made stuffed zucchini together. (Okay, I was still in mean girl mode and said if you want stuffed zucchini you need to help make it! I have trouble letting stuff go even when I’m wrong!)

    He was a great helper! (I really don’t like help in my kitchen. He drives me nuts and keeps trying to touch my, um, tomatoes.) The great part was that he picked the menu and it was nice to get a break from menu planning. (I still think he should have put his pants on before we started cooking!)

    Hoisin Glazed Stuffed Zucchini

    Ingredients

    4 small zucchini or 2 larger ones

    1 pound ground chicken

    1Tbsp of fresh ginger

    1 pound shitake mushrooms, chopped

    1 clove of garlic, chopped

    3 Tbsp of soy sauce

    3 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

    1 egg, beaten

    4 green onions, sliced

    ¼ – ½ cup of hoisin sauce

    Toasted sesame oil.

    Grapeseed oil

    Directions

    Oven 375. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.

    Cut the zucchini lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Brush the cut side of zucchini with sesame oil and place it CUT SIDE down on parchment.

    Roast for about 15-20 minutes. You want the cut side to start to brown and the zucchini should be getting tender. (Obviously, if you are using a HUGE zucchini it will take longer. Just take a peek and let it go longer if you need to.)

    While the zucchini is cooking, mix garlic, ginger, soy and rice wine vinegar. Set aside.

    Heat up a large skillet over medium high heat. Give it a swirl of grapeseed oil.

    Brown chicken and mushrooms together.

    Deglaze the pan with the soy mixture. Remove from heat and let cool for a minute or two.

    Mix in beaten egg. Mix in green onion.

    Ding. Your zucchini is ready to be stuffed. Flip the zucchini over and divide the meat mixture between the zucchini. Cook for another 15 minutes.

    Brush with hoisin and put it back in the oven for 5 more minutes.

    TA-Dah!

    Here is my big hint….if you are a veggie lover….use a bigger zucchini. You will get more veggie per bite. I would have liked a smaller, thinner zucchini so that every bite had equal amounts of zucchini to chicken.

     

    Marriage misunderstandings are the best.


  3. Eggplant…Nice or Nefarious

    August 25, 2015 by Barb

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    Nefarious. Nefarious? I know I have heard that word before but I wasn’t positive of the meaning. There is a commercial on television that uses that word.

    Kudos to an advertising group that uses words with more than three syllables! It was kind of refreshing for me to hear a word and have to look it up.   (I should edit that to a word I need to look up that isn’t slang!)

    I recorded the commercial and couldn’t tell what the word meant. Why I thought this was an easier method than looking it up is beyond me. I watched the commercial about 2 15 times and gave up. (Tenacity is another great word!)

    It is an adjective that means being infamous for being wicked. Hmmmm, who would I describe as a nefarious person? My brain is coming up with people that are so unrelated. Well kind of related. It is killing me to not insert a mother in law joke here. Does that make ME the nefarious one?

    Can you describe a food as nefarious? I think food can be nefarious but I think there would be some discussion on what should be on the list. I’ve heard of everything from grape gum to eggplants being nefarious.

    I understand the grape gum. My mom couldn’t stand the smell so if we ever did get our hands on it, she would wince. I think it conditioned me to think grape gum causes Mom pain. Don’t chew nefarious grape gum. (This is the point where I typed nefarious enough times that it is in my vocabulary.)

    But eggplant??? I don’t think it is nefarious!!! That is crazy!! (Crazy like my train of thought today!) I think the reason it sometimes gets a bad rap is because of the bitterness if not prepared correctly.

    So here are a few hints (and an awesome recipe) that will take your eggplant from nefarious to nummy (Did I just type nummy?)

    1. To peel or not to peel? It depends on your eggplant and cooking method. If you are grilling it….leave the skin on. Eggplant gets silky when cooked and the skin will help keep it all together. Certain varieties (like Japanese or Chinese) have very thin skins and taste pretty good. When in doubt, peel off alternating strips.
    2. Salt, friend or foe? FRIEND!!! After you cut your eggplant, salt it generously and let it sit for an hour. The salt helps pull out some of the liquid that makes eggplant bitter. In addition, the salt sort of collapses the flesh so it won’t absorb all of your oil in one swoop.
    3. Speaking of absorption…..when stir-frying or frying…..make sure you oil is hot and that you don’t over crowd your pan. You want the eggplant to get some rich brown colors on it so you may want to do it in batches. If you cook it all at once, odds are it will steam and not caramelize.
    4. Go all the way! Make sure you cook it until it is done. It should be soft and smooth. Ovens, grills and stoves all vary so follow your recipe but use your best judgment on finish times. (And for goodness sakes, taste it!)

    I learned to love eggplant the way most people do….eggplant Parmesan. (Have I blogged on that?)  But my new favorite is as simple as roasting it with a little miso glaze. It gets nice and creamy but still has a little roasty hint to it. The miso adds that extra oomph or umami that makes my mouth water.

    Miso Glazed Eggplant

    Ingredients

    5 Japanese eggplants (long-thin-purple)

    ¼ cup yellow miso paste (look in your International aisles or near the tofu)

    ¼ cup of mirin (sweet cooking white wine)

    2 Tbsp white sugar

    Salt

    Green onion

    Directions

    Oven 375. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment.

    Cut the eggplants lengthwise. I salted it lightly and let them sit for a minute.

    Lay them on the baking sheet cut side down and roast about 20 minutes. It should be fork tender and a nice light brown.

    While the eggplants are cooking, mix miso paste, mirin and sugar in a microwave safe bowl. Nuke it for 30 seconds, stir, repeat until sugar is dissolved. It will be kind of thick, like a good barbeque sauce.

    Ding. Eggplants are almost done so pull them out of the oven. Flip them over on the sheet so the brown, cut side is up..

    Using a spoon, drop a dollop of sauce on each piece and spread it with the back of the spoon.

    Put them back in the oven for another 10 minutes. The miso will be the color of good brown mustard when it is done and the eggplant will be nice and soft.

    Sprinkle with green onion and prepare to amaze!

    Hopefully after you read this post, you’ll start to stick up for eggplant so it no longer has such a vile reputation. (Or maybe you just learned a new word like I did!)

     

     

     

     

     


  4. Roasted Roma Tomato Soup

    August 21, 2015 by Barb

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    I will have to apologize to all my anti-gardening, tomato hating readers. I think the next couple blogs are going to be tomato-centric.

    When I planted my garden this year, I went a little bananas on tomatoes. (I would not recommend actual bananas on tomatoes. Besides the fact that I really despise bananas, that combination sounds dreadful.)

    I started my plants indoors from seed and went a little overboard. I kept thinking my plants seeds weren’t going to take. I decided that if I planted 28 plants, I’d lose about half. I was really, really wrong. I think I only lost about 5. (Actually that number should be smaller because I pitched 2 plants into a compost pile and now I have more plants!)

    Then I decided that the heavy rain this spring would cause me to lose some plants. Nope. Did you know that rain makes things grow? I think they teach that in Gardening 101. I must have missed that part.

    Other things I chose to ignore was spacing my tomatoes. I like how all the plants look all bushed together so I just planted all willy-nilly. (Willy-nilly is not a gardening term either but given my ignorance on rain, I don’t think anyone is using me for a reference!)

    So after a very wet start to the growing season and a lot of nice days of sunshine and warmth, I have one heck of a tomato garden. I love going out and seeing the bursts of red and yellow beaming out at me.

    It is like they are saying “Farmer Barb, thank you for putting so much love into us. We will grow big and keep your belly full for the remainder of the summer.” (No one really ever calls me Farmer Barb but if I lived in a world where tomatoes could talk that would be my moniker.)

    Currently, I pick about 5-6 pounds a night. I roast baking sheets constantly and am excited that I will have my tomatoes this winter. Some of the pans I roast don’t make it very far because I seem to eat them as fast as nature is growing them.IMG_0160

    The best thing I’ve made so far is a roasted tomato soup. (It was featured underneath the frico in my last blog.) It simply was roasted tomatoes, broth, a sprinkle of your favorite Italian seasoning, fresh basil and a little salt. I ate the entire batch myself and will probably make more in the next week. (PS If you put a frico on hot tomato soup, crack it with your spoon like you are eating a crème brûlée. It will be a whole new experience!)

    It was the best tomato soup you’ll ever taste or my name isn’t Farmer Barb!

    Roasted Roma Tomato Soup

    Ingredients

    4 pounds roma tomatoes

    Italian seasoning

    Sea salt

    6-8 cups vegetable broth

    ¼ fresh basil, finely chopped

    Directions

    Oven 375. Prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut your tomatoes lengthwise and place on cookie sheet cut side up.

    Sprinkle with a little salt and Italian seasoning. You don’t want to put a lot of seasoning on because it will end up tasting like spaghetti sauce. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.)

    Roast for about 1.5 hours. The bottoms of the tomatoes should be a browning and the tomatoes will release some juice. (Check on them every 30 minutes.)

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    In a blender or food processor, puree the tomatoes in batches. If they aren’t getting smooth enough, add a little of your broth.

    Once the tomatoes are fully chopped and smooth, add them to a large soup pot. (I used my 5 quart and it was perfect.)

    I added 6 cups of the veggie broth and let simmer for about 30-45 minutes, stirring frequently. If it thickens up too much for your taste, add a little more broth.

    Right before serving, I sprinkled in the basil and took a taste. An extra grind of salt and it was perfect.

    I don’t see an end to my tomato days in the near future and I’m good with that. Growing my tomatoes from seed this year has given me more joy than I could have ever imagined. I hope to do it all again next year!


  5. I’m a Super Frico

    August 17, 2015 by Barb

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    Do you ever get a song in your head and sing it whenever you are doing a mundane task? It could be a song theme, something from the radio or maybe commercial jingle.

    My song lately has been one that isn’t one I can explain…Super Freak by Rick James. Do you know the song or at least part of the song?

    She’s a very kinky girl,

    The kind you don’t take home to mother

    She will never let your spirits down,

    Once you get her off the street.

    (Part of the chorus:) She’s all right, she’s all right

    That girl’s all right with me yeah.

    She’s a super freak, super freak,

    She’s super freaky, super freak, super freaky

    I not only sing it, I do some wicked dance moves as I vacuum, empty the dishwasher and make the bed. There is a lot of arm pumping, clapping and something that resembles a super sexy pelvic thrust.

    Well, maybe that is an exaggeration. I saw myself in the mirror dancing the other day and it looks more like I am trying to get my undies unwedged from my fanny with no hands. I am sure there is someone out there (like a prisoner who hasn’t seen a woman in 38 years) who would find it enticing.

    The funny thing is I’m not a super freak. I’m not a very kinky girl (unless wearing undies that ride up is kinky). I am the kind of girl you want to take home to your mom. (I make an awesome first impression.) I guess I do keep your spirits up but I see no reason I am on the street. (Is the super freak girl a hooker? Is that why she is kinky and your mom doesn’t like her? I never thought of that before.  If any hookers read my blog, let me know your thoughts.)

    I was searching my brain on why this particular song was in my head and then it came to me…..I’ve been making “fricos” lately.

    I’m sure you have seen a frico before…they are crispy little rounds of melted cheese. A lot of restaurants like to use them as garnishes on salads and appetizers. You can make them in rounds, cups or little tubes. They really are quite versatile. (Ooooo, I could have made a wedding dress out of fricos and really been super freaky on my wedding night! Nom. Nom.)

    People love fricos because they are lacy looking, a little crunchy and taste like cheese. (And really, what doesn’t taste better than cheese!?)

    I love it because a nuttiness (and I know about nuttiness) comes out of the cheese when it gets cooked. Think of a corner piece on a lasagna….there is always the couple of corners that get a little browner than the rest of the lasagna and taste awesome!!!

    Here are a couple of keys to a super frico success….

    Use a high quality Parmesan cheese. (I’ve never made it with anything but parm but I am going to experiment.)

    Finely grate it. Super fine.

    Don’t make your mounds too big.  They should look like this.IMG_0166

    Make sure you check on it frequently as it is baking.

    Cook it on parchment paper.

    When it starts to smell, nutty…they are just about done.

    If you are going to shape it, do it immediately as they come out of the oven.

    If you aren’t going to shape them, let them cool on a baking rack or paper towels. Don’t leave them on the hot pan or they will just get soggy.

    Make sure as you bake them, you sing Super Freak and dance around the kitchen. Pump your arms in the air and slap your butt because that is the only way to make them super frico-y.

    Frico

    Ingredients

    1 cup of Parmesan cheese, finely grated.

    Directions

    Oven 375. Prepare baking sheets (3) with parchment paper.

    Make little mounds (about 1 Tbsp each). I was able to fit about 6 on sheet.

    Press down lightly so the cheese spreads but is not compacted.

    Set timer for 5 minutes. Take a peek. You want to stop them from cooking when they just start to turn light brown. Keep checking on them every minute or so. Mine took exactly 7 minutes per pan.

    IMG_0167Pull them out of the oven and glide the sheet of parchment off of the pan.

    Form into desired shape (Place on a rolling pin or bottle to make a little tube or the bottom of a ramekin to make a little cup.) I just let mine cool and be flat little circles.

    I’m sure Rick James would have loved seeing a Midwestern housewife singing his song will cooking cheese. He would be saying “She’s all right. That girl’s all right….she’s superfreaky.”

     

     

     

     

     


  6. Tomatoes Are Grate

    August 10, 2015 by Barb

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    I’ve got kind of a buzz going.   My head is in a cloud and I’m having a hard time focusing. I have taken so many hits lately; I even have the munchies.

    No. I am not taking drugs….legal or recently legalized in some states. (Seriously, I am anti-drugs….hugs not drugs is my motto!) I am on a tomato high.

    Our days have finally been consistently warm enough that the tomatoes in my garden are turning all shades of red. From the first flower on the vines to seeing the little start up of the fruit to watching them grow and turn colors, I look out at them and smile.

    Besides the fact that they give me so many moments of elation, I like the fact that they are so versatile. You can incorporate them in your recipes in so many different ways that they keep life interesting. (More interesting than a blog on tomatoes, that is for sure!)

    Everyone knows the basic stuff…use them in tomato sauce, on sandwiches, in salsas or chopped with basil. You can stuff them, dice them and eat them on a stick. You can put them on a grill, broil them or roast them. The possibilities are endless.

    One of my new favorite things to do with a tomato is grate it! GRATE IT!!!! I know you are now thinking I am doing drugs but you know better. One of my chef friends makes a crostini with nothing more than grated tomatoes and a rub of garlic. It is a fabulous way to just let the flavor shine and it gives a whole new texture to the tomato!

    You can spread it on bread; use it in a dressing or marinade. I jazzed up some roasted veggies the other night when they came out of the oven. I tossed them with grated tomatoes, a little balsamic and olive oil. I swear I could hear them scream with joy! (When life gives you moments like this….who needs drugs?!)

    Roasted Veggies with Grated Tomatoes

    Ingredients

    2 small zucchini, chopped

    3 Japanese eggplants, chopped (Those are the long thin eggplants)

    1 red pepper, chopped

    3 roma tomatoes, GRATED with a box grater

    1 tsp balsamic vinegar

    1tsp olive oil

    1 tsp Italian seasoning

    Extra Olive Oil

    Directions

    Oven 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss zucchini, eggplants and red pepper with 1-2 Tbsp Olive oil and Italian seasoning. You want to lightly coat the veggies. Place the veggies in a single layer on baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes and stir. Roast another 20 minutes.

    Meanwhile, whisk grated tomatoes with balsamic and olive oil. Set aside.

    Ding. Veggies are done. Immediately, toss them with the tomato mix. TA-DAH!

    You’ve got a new favorite side dish.

     

    I pretty much will do this with any pan of roasted veggies I make right now. It is delicious and a “grate” way to use some of my summer tomatoes!!

     

     


  7. Giving the Hamilton Beach Wave Action Blender a Whirl

    August 4, 2015 by Barb

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    Most of the smaller appliances in my kitchen were wedding gifts. I love when I use them because I remember the excitement of that time and the fun of being a newlywed.

    The problem is that I’ve been married almost 17 years. I am happy that I have been married for so many years (to a great guy, might I add). The problem is that everything is breaking down at the same time.

    My blender has been my biggest heartbreak. It started having issues a couple of years ago and one of my hubby’s coworkers fixed it up for me. (His name is Bob and he is awesome!) Unfortunately, all good things must end. My blender pretty much twirls and makes a lot of noise. (This also is reminiscent of newlywed days but not blog appropriate banter.)

    I started shopping for a new one and must say I was intrigued by some of the new models that claim they are powerful but their price tags were intimidating. (Actually the price tags were making me nauseous.)

    Luckily, Hamilton Beach came to my rescue and offered to let me give their new Hamilton Beach Wave~Action® Blender a whirl. Challenge Accepted!!!!IMG_0143

    Besides being a very attractive blender (attractive like my husband’s coworker who can fix anything), it isn’t huge.   It has a 48-ounce glass (GLASS not plastic!!!) jar but the base isn’t cumbersome so it won’t take up a lot of counter or cabinet real estate.

    The other cool thing about the lid is that it has a flip up pour spout! Given I am very clumsy, I like that the spout gives me some control. (Plus the lid really stays on and doesn’t fly off when you are pouring.)

    The 4 function buttons (Mix, Puree, Dice/Chop,Grind) literally spell out which button will give you the optimal desired outcome. (Example: Puree/Smoothie/Icy Drink)

    The big claim that Hamilton Beach makes with the Wave Action Blender is that it forces the food down into the blades so everything is blended thoroughly and smoothly.

    So I gave my new blender a challenge…gazpacho! I love homemade gazpacho but my other blender required me to peel and seed my veggies.IMG_0144

    All I did today was rough chop my tomatoes, cucumber and red pepper and toss them in the container. I will admit that I crammed too much in on my first go. Luckily, they give you this neat scooper and I was able to pull a little out and fix my jam. (Ooooo, jam. I bet I could blend berries and make a jam.)

    When my first batch was pureed, I just kept adding my other ingredients. The liquid from the first batch seemed to keep stuff moving along. When something seemed stuck, I just hit “pulse” a couple of times and it loosened up immediately. (My other blender sometimes needed to be banged on the counter. It was quirky.)

    After I let my gazpacho chill in the fridge, I gave it a good taste test. There were no visible or tasteable (is that a word?) tomato skins or seeds! My pepper and cucumber were invisible. It was incredibly velvety and luscious.

    So I would give Hamilton Beach Wave~Action® Blender a thumb’s up! (Plus, it is affordable so you can actually afford ingredients to blend!)

    Thanks Hamilton Beach for giving me the opportunity to try another great product! If you would like to give this blender a twirl, Hamilton Beach has offered me an extra so I am doing a giveaway on my Facebook Page and a winner will be picked on August 14, 2015.

    Summer Gazpacho

    Ingredients

    2 pounds fresh tomatoes (Mine were Purple Majesty and Roma)

    1 red pepper, stem removed

    1 cucumber, I removed the seeds because they were HUGE

    1 chunk of stale baguette, no crust, broken into pieces

    3 cloves garlic

    3 Tbsp red wine vinegar

    3 Tbsp olive oil (the good stuff)

    Salt and pepper

    Optional Garnish: Dice up one additional roma tomato and half of a cucumber and toss with a little red wine vinegar.

    Directions

    In a good blender, puree half of the tomatoes.

    Once you have a good liquid base, add your remaining ingredients.

    Puree until you reach desired consistency. (Don’t over season at this point because after it chills, it will taste completely different.)

    Chill for at least an hour. Taste for seasoning.

    Spoon into bowls and garnish with a scoop of the diced tomato and cucumber. (It really adds a nice textural effect so don’t skip it.) I also gave it a drizzle of olive oil infused with basil because I have a lot of basil!

     

     

     

     

     

     


  8. Who Wants To Claim My Tikka Masala

    July 28, 2015 by Barb

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    We are always in a process of learning. We can be listening to the radio, reading a book or even while watching TV; our brains love to absorb something new. (They are like the sponges you buy in a warehouse store!)

    I try to keep my brain happy and give it new information every day. Usually I will hear one thing I don’t know and then try to find more data. (By data, I mean “facts” on the Internet!)

    So the other week I made Chicken Tikka Masala and thought it would be great to write a blog on Indian food and start delving into a different flavor profile on the continent of Asia. This is where my brain starts making weird noises by asking a lot of questions.

    My brain and I get into a heated discussion about how all Indian food is Asian but not all Asian food is Indian. (Somewhere during this conversation, I named my brain, Bob. It makes for a better argument when you can say, “Bob, I don’t think you are right. It adds a personal touch, don’t you think?)

    Bob thinks it is funny that I had to look at a map to confirm that India was in Asia. He knows I’m geographically challenged but he still likes to make fun of me. (Bob can be an ass.)

    The history of Indian food is really amazing because their use of spices is so unique. (Unique to a girl who didn’t grow up eating anything close to Indian food so bear with me.)

    The spices are very aromatic and the recipes seem to make lots of interesting blends.  (Obviously there is more research to be done!)

    Bob just started asking question after question like what spices and how do they blend them?  He is driving me nuts.  I’m trying to find information but there is just too much out there for me to figure it out in one post.

    I shut Bob up for awhile (I drank a milkshake really fast and froze him out), I explored the spices I would need to make Chicken Tikka Masala. The big stand out “new to me” spice was Garam Masala.

    Garam Masala is a well-crafted spice blend of Black peppercorns, mace, cinnamon, cloves, brown cardamom, nutmeg, green cardamom and bay leaf. (I’m sure different regions have different variations.) It has kind of a spicy aromatic flair to it.

    The interesting thing that came up as I was doing all my reading (yes, this will finally get interesting), the Tikka Masala dish I was making is considered Britain’s National Dish!!!! How the heck did Britain get into this???? (Bob is laughing because he is trying to remind me that India was part of the British Empire in the 1800’s. Dang him!)

    I was really hoping to find a nice story but no, there was more bickering in my brain. Apparently, the story goes that some British guy was in an Indian restaurant and wanted a sauce for his chicken. The chef improvised and came up a creamy tomato sauce. Oh wait, the restaurant was in SCOTLAND!!! (Stop laughing, Bob. You know I am confused have some more milkshake.)

    So who gets credit? I guess Scotland tried to have it officially designated as a dish of Scottish origin. (I guess the guy who made that motion got laughed at and it never was passed.) My official vote is that India gets credit. The spices are their concoction.  Ta-dah, it is now on the Internet so it is now true!

    Given I am not an Indian food expert (Noooo, you don’t say), the recipe I made the other night is probably a little more British than Indian. I’m just learning but I do know this recipe tasted delicious so maybe I did something right. (Yes Bob, we are done with this post. Go take a nap.)

    Chicken Tikka Maybe Masala

    Ingredients

    2 tsp of paprika (I used a good Hungarian)

    2 tsp of garlic, minced

    1 tsp of Garam Masala (most grocery stores carry it)

    ¼-1/2 tsp of crushed red pepper

    1 pound chicken breasts, skinless, boneless, cut into cubes

    1 onion, chopped

    Juice from ½ a lemon (about 2 Tbsp)

    1 can (14 ½ oz) diced tomatoes (fire roasted if you can find them)

    1/3 cup yogurt, plain (If you don’t have yogurt in the house heavy cream with 1 Tbsp of corn starch will work too)

    Olive Oil

    Directions

    In a large nonstick pan, heat up some olive oil over medium heat. (You could use butter too.)

    Add chicken in batches. You want to brown it and fully cook it.

    Remove from pan and keep warm.

    In the same pan, add a smidge more butter or oil and add the onions. (Lower your heat a little. You want them cooked but not browned.)

    When the onions start to get tender, add the chicken back to the pan.

    Add your spices (except red pepper) and cook another minute.

    Add your lemon juice (it should deglaze your pan)

    Stir in tomatoes.

    Stir in the yogurt.

    Taste for spice. Add your red pepper flakes if you want it spicier.

    Simmer until it has slightly thickened (about 5-10 minutes)

    I really think this recipe is a good baby step towards learning about a new group of food. The tomato sauce makes it familiar and aromatic spices help wake up your brain! (That is if you want your brain awake!)


  9. A Piñata, Patience and Pound Cake

    July 22, 2015 by Barb

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    I have not written a post for over a week. I have to admit, I haven’t written because I’ve been kind of angry.

    I don’t feel well….again. It is rare that I have a pity party that lasts more than a day but this one I’ve had trouble shaking. Just as my energy started to become a little stronger, something due to my Crohn’s Disease has hit me and knocked me on my butt. (And if you have seen my butt you will know there isn’t much padding for me to land on.)

    This little setback has made me furious. I have cancelled dates with friends that I don’t get to see often. I don’t have the sturdiness to push a grocery cart. I can’t play in a playground with my nieces and nephews. I couldn’t go to the Green City Market BBQ. I can’t be there for my husband on the days he wants to do go to a movie, out to dinner or watch his band perform.  And yes, there are days I don’t even have the strength to stand up in the shower.  (These are the days where my husband is happy he doesn’t have to sit next to me during a movie!)

    Only a handful of people know how poorly I have been feeling. Those are the people who truly understand and don’t need explanation. They are the people who get that I don’t want much but to be left alone. The people who truly have my heart know me well enough to listen when I need to talk and avoid asking questions when I’m just trying to forget how bad the last couple of weeks have been for me. These are the people in my life who give me a reason to wake up and keep fighting. (These are the people I’ll never be able to repay with words but only with my love and friendship.)

    This is the part of living with a chronic illness that makes me furious. I feel like good health is like a piñata. I keep giving it a good whack and nothing happens. It just swings in front of me and taunts me with those googly eyes. (Any decent piñata has to have googly eyes.)

    As my piñata swirls and twirls, I get to the point where I just want to tear it to pieces and scream. I want to yell at it and say “Hey Good Health piñata, why do you hate me?” (If you go to a party and yell at a piñata, odds are people aren’t going to invite you back….. especially if you are an adult….at a kid’s party.)

    I feel like I have gotten to the point where I want to tear the piñata down and just pound his googly little face in. I want to pound it to smithereens and ask it to stop goading me into thinking I can one day be normal. It is a piñata fury that ends with pieces of tissue paper flying, cardboard shredded and a googly eye conspicuously stuck to the front of my shirt.

    When I actually bust into the piñata, it isn’t filled with Good Health like I had thought. It is filled with patience, strength and courage, which is what living with a chronic illness really requires. It helps me realize that I need to continue doing what I’ve done for years and I will beat another Crohn’s disease mishap.

    This pounding has made me feel better. (It is hard to stay in a bad mood when you have googly eye stuck to your shirt.) I know this stumbling block is just another one to get over. I will struggle but I will climb it and get better. I will knock the tissue paper out of my hair and recycle the cardboard. (I’ll keep the googly eye because each time I say that word it makes me smile.)

    Meanwhile, I will get my rest, regroup and eat cake….pound cake! (Because that is one of the advantages of Crohn’s…I CAN have my cake AND eat it too.)

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    Pound Cake

    (This was scribbled on a card in my recipe box. I probably copied it from somewhere when I was 20. So if it looks familiar, let me know so I can start giving proper credit.)

    INGREDIENTS

    • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 3/4 cup (not leveled) granulated sugar (I know I cut this down from 1 cup because my mom makes me cut down my sugar or I’ll destroy a piñata.)
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • 5 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt

    Directions

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    Lightly butter and flour a 4 1/2-by-8 1/2-inch loaf pan.

    Using your electric mixer, beat butter and sugar together.

    In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium-high until very light and fluffy. (Scrape down the sides at least once.)

    Add vanilla, and then gradually add eggs, beating well and scraping down bowl as needed.

    Add the salt and slowly add the flour. (Lower the speed of your mixer so it doesn’t create a dust cloud.)

    Transfer batter to pan and bake in the center of the oven for about 60 minutes. When you test it, there should be crumbs attached to the cake tester not goopy batter.

    Let cool in pan on a wire rack, 1 hour.

    Remove cake from pan and let cool completely on rack before slicing.

    I chopped up my cake (I was still feeling a little destructive) and served it with blueberries, some mint and the custardy cream from my frutta de sol recipe found here.)

     

     

     

     


  10. Red Gold Summer Grilling Giveaway

    July 12, 2015 by Barb

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    My tomatoes are not doing well this year. They are getting too much rain. So instead of having my usual bounty of July tomatoes, I have very tall green plants. The only thing red in my garden right now is my watering can!

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    So when Red Gold Tomatoes and Laura’s Lean Beef (Laura’s Lean Beef is Kentucky based company that produces lean, hormone-free natural beef) asked me to participate in their Summer Grilling Giveaway, I was happy to have a project with some good tomatoes. (Red Gold Tomatoes are my favorite next to my own!)

    Besides coming up with some delicious recipes for the grill, Red Gold is doing a Big Green Egg Giveaway on Facebook. From June 24 until August 24, they will be giving away one Big Green Egg a WEEK!!!!! A WEEK!!!! (The Big Green Egg is my dream grill!)

    I perused Red Gold’s summer recipes and truly had a hard time narrowing it down. They had recipes for Grilled Steak with Chimichuri, Spicy Tomato Burger and a Grilled Cheesesteak Pizza. Did someone say cheesesteak AND pizza???? Just the thought of that got me drooling.

    Apparently Mother Nature does not care if I want to grill my pizza or eat cheesesteak because she made it rain the day I was making the recipe. (Real Grill masters grill in the rain. Girls with frizzy hair, do not.) Mother Nature was in cahoots with the Grocery Store gods because not only were they out of Laura’s Lean Beef Sirloin Steaks but they also were out of the fresh pizza dough. (Yes, I could have made my own dough but I wanted something quick.)

    I’m not the kind of grill girl who gives up that easily. I can take the awesome ingredients from Red Gold Tomatoes and Laura’s Lean Beef and make an awesome dinner using their recipe as an inspiration.

    MY version turned into a Not So Philly Cheeseburger Naan Pizza. Thank you Red Gold for including me in this promotion. I hope that one of my friends or neighbors wins the contest so they let me play with their new egg! GOOD LUCK!!!!!!!IMG_9987

    Not So Philly Cheeseburger Naan Pizzas

    Ingredients

    Olive Oil

    3 jarred roasted red peppers, diced up

    ½ onion, diced

    1 can of Red Gold Diced Tomatoes, drained with liquid reserved AND a couple of Tablespoons set aside for a topping

    ½ tsp oregano

    16 ounces Laura’s Lean Ground Beef

    4 pieces of Naan (It can be found in the deli area of the store.)

    1 can of Red Gold Tomato Paste

    2 cups of Cheddar Cheese

    1 cup Provolone Cheese

    Fresh Basil

    Directions

    Heat oven to 400. (If you have a pizza stone use it!)

    In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Cook Onions until soft. Mix in the roasted red peppers, oregano and the drained tomatoes. (Did you remember to leave a couple of Tablespoons out of the pan? If not, dig some out quickly.) : )

    Heat the mixture up for just a few minutes. Remove the mixture to a separate bowl. In the same pan, brown your ground beef.

    So remember the liquid from the canned tomatoes? Well mix that up with the can of tomato paste. (This is your pizza sauce.)

    Assemble the pizzas. Smear some of your freshly made pizza sauce on the naan. Sprinkle on the ground beef. Top with the peppers and onions. Sprinkle with Cheese.

    Bake for about 15 minutes. I topped mine with the reserved tomatoes and some basil. (Did you know basil loves the rain? I put it on everything these days!)

    When it dries out, I will make these again…on my grill.