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  1. Playing Around With a Pumpkin Mousse

    October 29, 2014 by Barb

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    Life is a like a playground. You can swing up high and feel like nothing can touch you. Or you can swing and jump off when life gets too scary.

    You can make the choice to only go down the slide that is straight and narrow so you know what awaits you at the bottom or you can go on the twirly slide and just enjoy uncertainty of the ride.

    It is a constant teeter-totter of ups and downs.   And depending how you look at it, it can be good or bad. (Unless someone jumps off the teeter-totter when you are in the up position and you land hard on your fanny. There really is no way to find good in that action.)

    As a little kid, I enjoyed the freedom of knowing which piece of playground equipment I wanted to conquer each day. If I felt fearless, I could swing on the monkey bars attempting to complete a goal. Or maybe I just wanted to plop down on one of those weird animal springer guys and enjoy the tranquil motion of going nowhere. (Do they even make these anymore?)

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    These playground experiences were early lessons on how I was going to live my life. We all have that same power to live our lives like a childhood playground. It can be daring or safe, exciting or peaceful. It is truly up to you.

    Most of my days seem like the merry ground. I go around in circles, see the same things and just enjoy the security of the ride. Every now and then, it takes an exciting turn and speeds up and I just hold on. When the ride is over, my mind is dizzy and I try to decide if I want to do it again.

    Every now and then, I get to spend some time with a kid at a playground. The playgrounds have changed a lot over the years but the little pumpkins that play on them haven’t changed a bit. The layers of experiences they have out there playing will help them not “mousse” out on some of the best times of their lives.

    Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake Mousse Parfait

    Ingredients for “crust”

    Equal amounts of graham crackers and ginger snaps crumbled up finely. I only needed less than a cup total. Set aside.

    Pie Filling (original source unknown but it has been tweaked over the years)

    15 oz can of pumpkin puree

    ¼ cup of brown sugar

    1 tsp cinnamon

    ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice

    2 Tbsp heavy cream

    Pumpkin Directions

    Mix all these ingredients together and set in fridge for at least 30 minutes. Mix again when you remove from refrigerator.

    Mousse Ingredients

    8 ounces cream cheese, softened

    1/3 cup powder sugar

    1 vanilla bean, cut lengthwise and scrape out the yumminess inside. (you can use vanilla extract but the vanilla bean gives sooo much more flavor)

    zest from one lemon

    ¾ cup heavy whipping cream, whipped

    Mousse Directions

    In a large bowl, mix cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest. It should be light and fluffy.

    Fold in whipped cream so it stays fluffy but is well incorporated. I did give it a couple of twirls with whisk to liven it up.

    There are a couple of ways you can put this together. I sprinkled some crust crumbs on the bottom of some canning jars. I did 4 ¼ pints and 4 ½ pints. Use whatever cute parfait kind of glass you have in your cabinet.

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    Next evenly distribute pumpkin pie filling into each vessel.

    Top with the mousse and set in the fridge for at least 2 hours. When it is time to serve, sprinkle a few more crumbs on top.

    If you want you could also layer it more if you have a taller vessel so people can get all the tastes in one scoop. Think of it as your playground and have some fun with it!


  2. Oak + Char

    October 26, 2014 by Barb

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    I can’t drive anywhere right now without being distracted by the colors of fall. The pictures the trees are painting with their vibrant colors are inspiring and take my breath away. Everywhere I go, trees are on my mind and I feel like I have tunnel vision.

    So when I was invited to go to the “soft-opening” of Oak + Char (217 West Huron), I was intrigued. (Get it, there is a type of TREE in the name! My segues are almost as inspiring as fall colors, right?)

    Actually the “Oak” of the name comes from bits of oak every where in the restaurant from the beautiful tables to alcohol touched by oak barrels to the oak aged wood burning flame. And the “Char” is their goal to make the restaurant look a little aged and rustic.

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    I found the use of the oak made it very warm and inviting. The kind of place you want to meet up with friends and visit.

    Since the restaurant is not technically open yet, I didn’t know what to expect food wise but I did know that Chef Joe Heppe would come up with a menu that was as colorful as an autumn’s day.  (I don’t have an opening date so please Call 312-643-2427 to make your reservations.)

    The Oak + Char menu was a cornucopia of different ethnic flavors mixed with classic favorites that show the wonderful melting pot the Midwest has become over the years.

    We started with a couple of Snacks. Everyone at the table loved the Warm Burrata, Eggplant Muhammara and Naan. It was like pizza with an Indian flair.IMG_8269

    I also enjoyed the Pork Trotter Spring Rolls. The lime tahini sauce was one of those things you keep dipping your fork in to get another taste. It was a nice balance of nuttiness, tart and a little heat.

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    The Small Plates menu is outstanding. It was hard to make choices because everything looks so creative and delicious. My favorites were the Beef Tartare and the Ravioli Doppio.

    The Beef Tartare was served with the housemade chips that were the perfect seasoned vehicle to eat with the tartare. I could have eaten that whole plate myself! Everything from the uni aioli to the pickled pears and mustard seeds made this dish a must have in my book.

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    The other table favorite was the Ravioli. (My picture doesn’t do it justice.) What a wonderful combination of celery root and wild mushrooms in such delicate pasta! I also adored the truffle fondue and brown butter that was swirled about the ravioli because they added just the right touch of umami and nuttiness.IMG_8283

    Our table also shared the Apple Pomegranate Salad (very light and refreshing) and the cold Smoked Oysters. (I’m not sure if I ate the oysters correctly, I made a mess so they weren’t necessarily one of my favorites.)

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    The play on Schnitzel by using Skate was really good. The coating on the fish didn’t weight it down as one might imagine and I liked that there was also some country ham still on the plate.

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    I think my least favorite dish of the night was the Cheeseburger mostly because everything else was so exciting that the Cheeseburger paled in comparison. It would be a nice to go-to on the menu for the less adventurous eaters in your group. (The pickles were excellent and I would have ordered a plate of those alone.)

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    We ended our night sharing some of the Sweet Potato Doughnuts with maple foie syrup and chai milk jam and the Tcho Chocolate Pot de Crème with Pistachio Amaretti Cookies.IMG_8305

    I wasn’t able to taste the Pot de Crème (chocolate allergy) but the folks at my table loved it especially with the chewy cookie. I indulged in the doughnuts and liked the syrup so much that I swirled some in my coffee! YUM!IMG_8307

    As my reader’s know, I am not a drinker but Oak + Char is going to have an amazing beverage service headed up by  Mae Governale.  If the non-alcoholic Ginger Fizz they made me is any representation of the bar service, there are going to be some fun drinks coming your way.

    Thank you to Chef Joe Heppe for inviting us to see the majestic launch of his new cooking adventure. And Thank You to everyone at Oak + Char for being such great hosts, we look forward to coming back.

    I hope Oak + Char will have strong roots and a long colorful future on the streets of Chicago.


  3. Hilton Chicago: A Foodie Fun Day of History and Great Food

    October 23, 2014 by Barb

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    What are most people looking for when they visit the city of Chicago? Are you looking for some history? Maybe you go to the city for a phenomenal meal or two? How about just a place to relax and lay your head? How about all this stuff all under one roof?

    Tuesday, I was invited to check out the historical Hilton Chicago (720 South Michigan Avenue) and enjoy some food at their two restaurants 720 South Bar & Grill and Kitty O’Sheas.

    My expectations of the day were met from the minute I walked up to the hotel and was greeted by the Bellman named Rufus. With his contagious smile and joy of welcoming people to the Hilton, he reminded me of a movie character

    What I didn’t realize about the Hilton Chicago was that it opened in 1927 (originally the Steven’s hotel) with about 3,000 rooms, shops, ginormous ballrooms, in house hospital and even a mini-golf course on its roof! (Mini golf-courses on roofs should come back in style!)

    The hotel has been host to every president since opening in 1927. They have great pictures in the hotel of the history of their guests including my favorite: a menu from Queen Elizabeth II visit.

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    The Chicago Hilton has the largest total meeting and event space of any hotel in the city. (And you can’t beat the location of being on Michigan Avenue across from Grant Park.)

    As I was walking to the restaurants, I really just wanted to slow down and take in the views of every little detail of the hotel. It is one of those places where you feel the walls, ceilings and staircases could tell you a story if you took the time to listen.

    But alas, it was lunchtime and I was here to experience what will now become a historical meal in my memory. Executive Chef Mario Garcia and Executive Sous Chef Mark Brand gave me an opportunity to taste “a little” bit of some of their best offerings from the Hilton’s in house restaurants.

    From 720 South Bar & Grill, I started with an amazing seasonal salad of Kale, romaine, frisee, butternut squash, dried cranberries, toasted pumpkin seeds and goat cheese from LaClare Farms. The light apple cider vinaigrette had just enough acidity to make everything taste just great together. (And if you don’t have time to sit down to lunch, they have some great grab and go options in the Herb N’ Kitchen in the lobby of the hotel.)

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    Next, Chef Mark brought out a Black and Bleu Steakhouse style Flatbread. The “black” on this flatbread was blackberries and it’s flavor combined beautifully with the grilled New York Strip steak, pickled onion and peppery arugula. Every taste bud on my tongue was awakened and there wasn’t a texture that was overlooked.

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    The Maryland Style crab cakes were presented next with a tempura fried squash blossom filled with ricotta cheese and corn. I NEVER order crab cakes when I’m out because I like mine the best. But I must give kudos to the chefs because these were really awesome. The pimento cheese aioli was a nice touch and I really enjoyed the big pieces of crab in each cake.

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    Just when I thought I couldn’t eat another bite, I was enticed with Skuna Bay Salmon, grilled zucchini and some microgreens from the roof top garden. The soubise sauce really flattered the fish. Soubise is like béchamel with an onion puree. It wasn’t heavy which was nice and it didn’t overpower the dish.

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    The Halibut was probably my favorite dish. The fish was cooked to perfection and I am absolutely in love with the carrot/parsnip puree that was served on the side. Mixed in with some succotash and hickory smoked bacon sausage and you’ve got a smile on a plate.

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    The carrot puree (or pudding as I kept calling it) really was outstanding. I want to eat that with every comfort food meal I make this winter!

    I couldn’t leave the Hilton Chicago without trying a couple of dishes from Kitty O’Sheas (their Irish Pub). When I toured the kitchens, I had the pleasure of seeing their corned beef being made. Only thing better than smelling it cooking was being able to eat it on a sandwich made with marble rye and a Guinness mustard blend.

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    And finally for lunch, I had a big plate of Kitty O’Sheas signature dish….Fish and Chips. Simply a North Atlantic cod, dipped in Smithwick’s Irish ale and fried tempura style. It was so light and crisp and didn’t even need the malt vinegar and Old Bay tartar sauce….but they were really tasty too!IMG_8229

    The “chips” were also delicious and perfectly seasoned and I want to eat this again…and again.

    The icing on the cake was courtesy of the amazing pastry kitchen in the Hilton Chicago. They make everything here from breakfast pastries to wedding cakes! I was treated to a yummy date cake with coconut mousse and a salted caramel gelee on top. It was a piece of art and I almost felt guilty about eating it…but it was delicious….really delicious.

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    The only thing I didn’t do at the Hilton Chicago was sleep and I hope to do that one-day. (Especially if I am going to eat myself into a food coma!)

    There is a story in every corner of this building and it is one of the reasons I love the city of Chicago. You never know what you are going to learn until you walk through the door. Thank you so much to Chef Mario and Chef Mark for inviting me and I can’t wait to come back.

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  4. Bon Appétit Cook the Cover October

    October 20, 2014 by Barb

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    When I received this month’s Bon Appétit, I was so excited to see a pizza on the cover. It was going to be a breeze to knock this cover out and keep my resolution of cooking every cover this year. (And I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared at what the holiday issues may toss my way in the next two months!)

    Making pizza at home is probably one of my favorite things to do but it has been awhile since I made a pizza pie on a baking sheet like Bon Appétit did this month. IMG_8195

    Bon Appétit called this pizza a “grandma” pizza but it wasn’t my Italian grandma who made me pizza this way, it was my mom who was the pizza genius.

    My memory doesn’t allow me to remember how often we did this at home but every memory I do have is joyful.

    Mom would make her dough and it was always a treat to be the one to punch it down after it doubled in size. She would lie out the baking sheets on the counter and stretch the dough over each one.

    Sometimes a little hole or two would pop up and Mom always managed to conceal them with her gentle hands.

    Mom’s sauce wasn’t fancy (tomato sauce, oregano, maybe some garlic) but she did teach us how to spread it out evenly so each bite of pizza would have a touch of tomatoey goodness.

    Between my two sisters, and me we were all designated a part of the pan that was ours. We were allowed to add our favorite ingredients and sprinkle on cheese. (Knowing my mom, she kept it fair and made sure we all had the exact same number of pepperoni slices or olives so there would be no bickering.)

    It was just one of those memories that I will cherish.

    So when I made this month’s cover of Bon Appétit, I was instantly taken back to Mom’s kitchen. It is an easier way to make a “pie” and the outcome was absolutely delicious.

    The main difference between Bon Appétit’s and Mom’s recipe was the thickness of the dough. BA’s pie was thicker but not dense as you might imagine. The instruction on making the dough was spot on. It was absolutely fool proof. (Speaking of proof…make sure you proof your yeast to make sure it is ALIVE!)

    Another key point is to make sure you do use a good amount of olive oil on the pan before cooking. The olive oil helped crisp the bottom crust so it tasted more like an authentic pizzeria pizza.

    Bon Appétit gave some fun suggestions for pizza toppings that aren’t’ found at most pizza joints…. especially in our small town.

    I like the flavor combination of fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced fennel and mild salami. The sauce Bon Appétit suggested was awesome with just the right balance of tomato, garlic and anchovies. (Don’t skip the anchovies, they add a nice saltiness.) I sprinkled on some fresh basil from what is left of this year’s garden and called it a pie!

    It cooked beautifully but I almost burnt it! I checked it at 20 minutes and it was just about done.  I, stupidly, walked away for a couple of minutes and almost wrecked it!  (The oven is HOT so watch those last minutes carefully!)

    My mom would be the first to say that she doesn’t like to cook but I will always be grateful to her for teaching us how to make pizza this way.


  5. Using My Noodle

    October 17, 2014 by Barb

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    Know what I hate? (Besides rainy days and Mondays, they always get me down.) Sticky noodles!!!!

    Have you ever had this problem? (By noodle I am talking about pasta/macaroni not some other kind of weird noodle you may have in mind.)

    The ol’ hubster (and his noodle) were gone somewhere last weekend and I was just craving a big bowl of peanut noodles. I got all my ingredients together and used my noodle to make a simple peanut sauce on the stove. (Recipe below.)

    I cooked up a package of fresh lo mein (egg) noodles and dumped them in the colander to drain. I was just about ready to mix it all together when I heard a Meow at the door. It was the neighborhood stray cat, Mr. Fluffy, who wanted a meal. (His noodle is fine but his owner needs to do something about his meatballs!)

    I fed Mr. Fluffy and came back to my noodles and they were a big gluey mess! It was a clump of gelatinous muck!!!   I was mortified. By not rinsing these noodles, I just turned an already dense noodle into a heavy, sticky hunk of goo!

    So luckily I had another pack in the fridge and I gave it another go. (And ignored the cat continuing to meow at my front door.)

    I cooked the pasta in a pan large pan of boiling, salted water and drained into my colander. Without hesitation, I rinsed it under cold water and used my fingers (I washed my hands after petting the cat) to separate the noodles and make sure the pasta was cooled off.

    The key here is to drain it again really well by flipping it around the colander. You want it almost to feel dry. Next, give it a drizzle of sesame oil (I’m cooking an Asian peanut sauce so this was a good choice for complimenting the flavor.) If it isn’t dry enough, the oil is just going to slide off.

    I put the noodles in a BIG bowl and slowly started to mix in my peanut sauce. The sauce stuck to the noodles but didn’t get clumpy. It was all loose (kind of like the kitties that hang around Mr. Fluffy) and just what I want in a bowl of noodles.

    The key here was to do it all quickly and have all your ducks (cats) in a row before you get started. I think my problem (one of many) is that when I make an Italian dish the pasta goes from colander to sauce and there is no rinsing required.

    But a cold Asian noodle dish is a different beast. I think the next time before I get a craving, I am going to use my noodle before cooking my noodle and look up the best method!

    Sunday Afternoon Peanut Noodles

    (Serves 2 if you are willing to share with the cat)

    Ingredients

    1 9-ounce package Chinese egg noodles (cook per package instructions)

    ¼ cup crunchy peanut butter

    ¼ cup ponzu sauce

    2 tsp Sriracha

    1 clove garlic, minced

    ½ cup shredded cooked chicken (use some leftover chicken)

    1/4 cup red pepper diced

    1 green onion, sliced

    1/8 cup celery leaf (celery goes great with PB!)

    Slice of lime

    Directions

    • Cook noodles per instructions and my hints.
    • In a small saucepan, whisk together peanut butter, ponzu sauce, Sriracha and garlic. Heat over low until all ingredients are incorporated.
    • Mix in red pepper, chicken and green onion.
    • Stir in your non-clumpy noodles.
    • Sprinkle with celery leaf and give it a squirt of lime.

    I like when I screw up in the kitchen because I always learn something. Today’s lesson is to feed the stray cat before I start cooking!

     

     


  6. Ode (Owed) to Joe

    October 14, 2014 by Barb

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    One of the best things about writing Felt Like a Foodie is the ability to share my zany stories about life and food with so many people. (By so many, I am including all my imaginary friends.)

    In the recent weeks, I’ve received some emails asking me how my Crohn’s disease has been since my surgery last year. I have good and bad days…I always will. Every meal has a “risk” element and I just keep my fingers crossed that today will be better than the next. It is pretty rare that I have a pain free day but I try to concentrate on the happy parts of my day and move on.

    I started to think about writing an update post yesterday when I ran into Joe, my first boss. He owned Edwardo’s pizza in Olympia Fields back in the 1990’s and gave me my first job.

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    You see when I worked for Joe, I was “kind of” sick then too. When he interviewed me, I was honest that I get sick…a lot. I also insured him that I would work my butt off to him to show him that I was like everyone else.

    Joe saw something in me and gave me a chance and started me off as a hostess. I’m not sure how long I worked for him but I did get sick at work….really sick. I scared the heck out of that man but he kept giving me the benefit of the doubt.

    Slowly I worked my way up the ladder of pizza success going from a hostess to a server to a “key holder.” I was given responsibilities like ordering food, interviewing and I even fired a guy.

    There was a feeling of victory with each task because I was showing Joe that he didn’t make a bad decision by hiring me. And trust me, Joe was no pushover! To this day, I can remember going back into the kitchen numerous times to make his iced tea the way he liked it. (It was an art form of filling the glass with A LOT of ice and letting the warm tea cascade over the cubes.)

    Working for Joe at Edwardo’s (he still owns one in Munster, Indiana) was probably one of my favorite experiences in my life. It was the first time I felt “normal” and didn’t need to make an excuse for being sick. I just owned it.

    Better than any medicine I have ever received, seeing Joe yesterday and hearing his memories had a healing effect on me. (Pizza is good medicine too!)

    With all my heart, I can say Joe was the best boss I ever had. The skills he taught me about responsibility and organization have carried me through my adult life. I will forever be grateful to him for giving me a chance and raising my own expectations of myself.

    Here is to you, Joe. I owe you a lot!


  7. Falling in Love with the Set ‘n Forget® 6 Qt. Programmable Slow Cooker

    October 10, 2014 by Barb

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    Funny thing about doing a lot of events during September, the maid seemed to also take the time off too! I can’t believe how behind I am on just regular chores!! Toss in some extra fall work outside due to our trees dropping leaves…and I am spent. (At this moment my husband is laughing because I haven’t raked a leaf in years!)

    With that said, I wish there was an easier solution for dinner other than buying prepared meals or take out. On a busy day, I want to have a great meal on the table for my hubster that doesn’t require him unwrapping it from paper.

    My friends kept telling me to break out my slow cooker but in the past, I never got good results. I always felt like the food was overcooked. I mean seriously, how can almost EVERYTHING cook for 4-6 hours!? It just didn’t work for me.

    UNTIL….Hamilton Beach gave me the challenge to try and review their Set ‘n Forget® 6 Qt. Programmable Slow Cooker With Spoon/Lid. I must say I reluctantly took the challenge.

    When the box came to the house, I instantly got excited. (Okay, any time a box comes to the house I get excited. Everyone likes surprises!) It really is a pretty looking appliance. Does that matter? Yep! If it is going to be sitting out on my counter all day cooking, I would like it to be nice looking.

    The next thing that made me VERY interested is that there was a probe to help ensure your meat cooks and STOPS cooking at your desired temperature. The entire time you cook in “probe” mode you can see the temperature of your meat. And when it hits your desired temperature…it clicks to warm. Ta-dah.

    I had to test this out with a chicken. A whole chicken. I put 3 carrots, 3 celery stalks and 2 quartered onions on the bottom of the slow cooker.IMG_8074

    I had put a dry rub of paprika, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper on the chicken and stuffed the bird’s cavity with some chopped lemon slices and garlic cloves. (I’m about to give a lot of detail on how this works but it really isn’t your momma’s slow cooker. So keep reading!)

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    I then placed the chicken directly on the veggies and put the lid on. (No additional liquid was needed!) I did have to turn my chicken around because you want to probe the thickest part of the meat. I wanted the probe in the thickest part of the meat, not touch a bone and not touching the bottom of the slow cooker.

    One end of the probe is then plugged into the slow cooker and the other side into the chicken. I turned on the slow cooker and pressed PROBE, set the heat to low and then pressed enter. (This is where it gets super cool.) It then allowed me to set my desired temp for my finished bird!! (FDA recommends 165 degrees so I went with that. You can find temperature recommendations on Food Safety.gov.)

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    I pressed the cook button, it beeped and all I had to do at this point was wait for my chicken to be done. (Did I mention that the display alternated back and forth from the actual temperature of the bird to the desired temp that I requested?)

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    The funny thing is that Hamilton Beach calls this Set and Forget but all I could think about all day was eating my chicken! When the chicken hit my desired temperature, it beeped again and went into warm mode.

    When my husband got home from work, I was more than ready to eat. I got a little careless when I tried to pull the chicken out of the slow cooker by the leg and wing. (Hence the really awful picture of my chicken!)

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    There were about 2 cups of natural drippings in the cooker so I did make a quick pan gravy in case my chicken was dry. (I did pop mine under the broiler for 2 minutes to brown the skin a little bit while I was making my gravy.)

    But guess what? (What Barb?) This chicken was cooked perfectly!!! It was incredibly moist and tasted like a roasted chicken.

    It was almost shocking how happy I was with this chicken. So I decided to try the Set ‘n Forget® 6 Qt. Programmable Slow Cooker With Spoon/Lid with a fall staple….chili. (Okay, I really wanted to make a dish so I could use the cool spoon on top of the lid.)

    I used the “Program Mode”, set my time, heat setting and let it go. Once again, the display alternated between my programed heat setting and the remaining time. Once it hit that time mark, it beeped and went into warm mode. (And my chili was really good. I put too much water in but that was my error because I forgot that when slow cooking chili you need to add less liquid since there is a smaller evaporation factor.) But I did get to use the handy spoon on top. NICE!

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    The success of this slow cooker over other ones I’ve tried in the past is the fact that it stops cooking the food when it reaches the desired temperature or time and automatically pops into warm mode.

    One other feature that I have to mention is the snazzy clip locks on top of the lid. The last couple times I traveled with my slow cooker, I spilled stuff out of the sides. I tried duct tape and trying the lid down but there was always a mess by the time I got to my destination.

    The Set ‘n Forget has these awesome clips on top that hold down the lid…TIGHT! You can’t budge that thing. It is a nice feature for those of you who go to a lot of potlucks or family parties.

    I really want to thank Hamilton Beach for providing me with this great opportunity to change my view of slow cookers. (And if you want to wine one there are a few days left to enter my Facebook contest. Click here for details.)

    As the overwhelming days of Fall keep me on my toes, it is nice to know that I am going to have some fun trying new meals and finally “fall” in love with my slow cooker.

     


  8. Change is Good: Red Lentil Soup

    October 7, 2014 by Barb

    Red Lentil Soup

    I don’t like change. I’m not talking about coin change; I’m talking about adapting to something new.

    We experience change every day in the weather or what we eat or which undies we are wearing. (I like changing underwear; it is so refreshing. Don’t you think?)

    I do okay with daily changes but unexpected changes just throw me for a loop!

    One of the biggest things I have trouble with is when a restaurant has a menu change. Since we do live in a smaller town, I pretty much know most restaurant menus by heart and have my dinner picked out before I even sit down.

    But when that restaurant hands me a menu and I see that my dish is taken off, I almost panic. I try to stay calm but it is at that moment I want to tell my husband to just hold me and make it all better. He likes when I do that at home because it makes him feel so manly. He doesn’t like when I do it in a crowded restaurant because, let’s face it, it makes us look like weirdoes.

    So one of our favorite restaurants (Sahara) switched things up on us. They moved and changed their name to Pickle & Turnip. Now part of me is wondering if they moved to hide from some of their odd customers. (Not us, of course, we are so normal.) They moved so they could have a bigger space in a better location.

    Luckily, the owner (Moe) kept his menu pretty much the same BUT there was something missing at lunch… RED LENTIL SOUP!!! NOOOOOOOO!!!! I love that soup. It was my cold rainy day favorite. How will I survive? I may have to move because I can’t imagine a cool October day without Moe’s red lentil soup.

    So I had two choices. I could just have a memorial for Red Lentil soup and go through all of the stages of grieving. (But how can I grieve if I can’t have one of my favorite comfort foods? Wow, is that a vicious circle!)

    My other option is to figure out how to adjust to the change and just learn to make my own dang soup. Hmmm, that seems like a reasonable possibility!

    I did search for the recipe and tweaked one off of Food Network’s site. Mine is much more brothy than the original but I like a thinner soup. Use a GOOD paprika in this soup, it makes a difference.

    I loved it and know it will be on MY menu a lot this year. Maybe change isn’t so bad?

    Red Lentil Soup (based and partially quoted off a recipe from Aarti Sequeira)

    Ingredients

    1 cup red lentils, washed and soaked for 1 hour, drained

    3 cloves garlic, chopped

    ½ Serrano chili, seeded, chopped

    1 Tbsp fresh ginger, chopped

    1 onion, chopped

    1 can of diced tomatoes with juice

    32 ounce Vegetable Broth

    1 Tbsp grapeseed oil

    1 tsp cumin seeds

    ½ tsp smoked paprika

    ½ tsp turmeric

    Season with salt if needed

    Garnish with lemon slices dipped in paprika

    Directions:

    Combine the lentils, garlic, chile, ginger, onions, tomatoes and vegetable broth in a medium saucepan over medium heat.

    Bring the mixture to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender, 30 to 45 minutes, covered.

    Use your immersion blender to blend it to your desired consistency.

    “Warm the oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they are sizzling and spluttering. Stir in the paprika and turmeric. Pour the seasoned oil onto the lentils (be prepared for a big sizzle).”

    Divide into bowls and serve with a squeeze of lemon dipped in paprika.

    Like many soups, this even tasted better the next day!

     


  9. Potatoes Au Gratin…More Fun than a Barrel of Monkeys

    October 3, 2014 by Barb

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    I am so happy it is October!!! September was exhausting and more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Wait…is a barrel of monkeys fun? Some monkeys are aggressive so there might be some tension in the barrel maybe even some poo throwing. So pretty much anything sounds better than a barrel of monkeys.

    If you are still reading after that bizarre tangent….I also like October because of comfort foods. (Monkeys don’t care about comfort foods because they usually live in warmer regions or barrels.)

    One of my favorite things I ate last month was potatoes au gratin at Shaw’s Crab House. We had a fabulous dinner there for our anniversary (nothing beats their Grand Crab Buffet on Saturday nights) and I ate my weight in potatoes.

    Now it is a bit crazy to go to Shaw’s and eat potatoes (or to write a blog about potatoes but keep talking about monkeys) but have you ever had their potatoes au gratin!? They are fabulous!

    The only problem…I do not have their recipe. (In all fairness, I have never asked.) So over the years, I have played around with different recipes but I have never achieved that Shaw’s perfection…until now! (If I were a monkey, I’d be swinging from the trees making a lot of joyful noises!)

    I think here are the keys to potato fabulousness:

    • Obvious first key, pick a good melty cheese. Cheddar, Gruyere, fontina, Gouda, Emmentaler and Muenster are really nice choices. (A mix is even better!)
    • Get the cheese to room temperature. It will lessen the melting time and keep the cheese from seizing.
    • Did I say seizing? (Like the monkey on the bottom of the barrel.) Cheese that is heated too long or at too high of a heat can have protein tightening and that is what pushes all the fat out of the cheese. This results in a big oily mess.
    • Shred it yourself. I just think it has a better texture and is great exercise. (Unless you are carrying a barrel of monkeys, which is really good exercise.)
    • Cut your potatoes as thin as humanly possible! I don’t preboil my spuds so to insure they are going to cook evenly…they need to be thin.  I use my mandolin.
    • Finally, keep an eye on them as they cook. We all like different levels of brown…that is your call (like the call to the ASPCA when you find out your neighbor has a barrel full of monkeys in their backyard.) You do need to make sure the spuds are cooked so don’t be afraid to poke a knife in the center to make sure they are all tender.

    Potatoes Au Gratin (Restaurant Style)

    Ingredients

    1 ½ pounds russet potatoes (about 3-4), peeled and thinly sliced,

    2 Tbsp butter, separated

    2 cloves garlic, minced

    2 Tbsp flour

    ¼ tsp salt

    ¼ tsp paprika

    1 cup heavy cream (don’t skip the heavy cream)

    ½ cup milk

    6 ounces gruyere (about 1 ½ cups)

    Directions

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

    Take one tablespoon of the butter and grease up a 1 ½ quart baking dish. Give it a good healthy schemer.

    Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook for about a minute or two. It should be fragrant but not browning.

    Sprinkle the flour on and cook another minute. SLOWLY whisk in the cream and milk. You want to incorporate the flour evenly because that is going to thicken the cream a little nicer.

    Remove from heat and add the salt and paprika. DON’T ADD THE CHEESE!!!

    Reserve about 1/3 cup of the cheese and set it aside.

    Add the potatoes and remaining cheese in layers…potatoes..then cheese…potatoes then cheese.

    Pour the cream mixture over the top and cover with remaining cheese.

    Cover the potatoes for the first 20 minutes. Uncover and bake another 40 minutes. It should be all nice and bubbly. Let it sit for at least ten minutes before serving.

    I was thrilled with how this recipe came out! I love Gruyere but will try it with some other cheese mixtures.

    I’m still going to indulge in potatoes au gratin when I go to Shaw’s BUT it is comforting to know that I can make these babies at home. (In a monkey free zone.)


  10. Chicago Gourmet 2014

    September 29, 2014 by Barb

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    Chicago Gourmet has become my Christmas. I have started to look forward to it like no other time of year and I count down the days like a child with an advent calendar. Just like the holidays, I can’t wait to sample all of the delicious foods, see familiar faces and there is always anticipation of a surprise or two around the corner.

    As I was driving to Chicago Gourmet at Millennium Park this weekend, I started singing (a tone-deaf version of “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”)…..

    It’s beginning to look a lot like Chicago Gourmet

    Everywhere I go

    Folks in crisp white coats

    Steph from Girl & the Goat

    With food from every great place in Chicago

     

    It’s beginning to look a lot like Chicago Gourmet

    Lots of wine to pour

    But the prettiest sight to see

    Is food in front of me

    I can’t wait to go for more

    So this year I thought I’d share my adventure via pictures like Christmas cards posted on the wall and thank everyone who participated. Chicago Gourmet is truly a gift that never disappoints and I will start my countdown until next year immediately!