Friday, September 30, 2011

Looking forward to breakfast

This morning I was at my ladies' bowling league and each time a different team plays hostess and brings some munchies. It's early in the morning, so it's often breakfast fare. Today someone had made a yummy breakfast casserole that was quite tasty. It reminded me of a monte cristo sandwich.

Here's how she described the recipe in between frames:

She said she gets Centrella sandwich bread (which is square and not rounded on the top) and cuts the crust off. She butters one side and places the pieces buttered side down in a baking dish or cake pan. DO NOT grease the pan since it has the butter on the bottom. Next goes ham. She said she used the Badger brand honey ham from the deli and cut it into small pieces and placed on top of the bread. Then add a layer of shredded cheddar cheese. Top with another layer of crustless bread, buttered on one side, but this time the buttered side faces up.

In a bowl mix a dozen eggs with 1 1/2 cups of milk and salt and pepper to taste. Pour over bread layers. Cover and refrigerate over night. Preheat oven to 350, then bake about 45 minutes or until top is golden brown.

I didn't have my camera with me to get a shot, but it was perfectly browned on top and looked very appetizing. It was so good that I whipped up a pan tonight so that I can pop it in the oven in the morning and have it again.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Austrian Bakery loaded with goodies

So, while in Chicago yesterday, I paid a visit to Lincoln Park for no other reason, but to pick up some good food. Austrian Bakery was my fourth food-related stop. I'd popped in there once before on the way to a Cubs game and tried a couple cookies. This time I lingered for a few minutes checking out the menu, which includes hot and cold sandwiches, salads and one of my absolute favorite dishes - wiener schnitzel. And it is called the Austrian BAKERY, so you'll find lots of goodies to satisfy your sweet tooth. Take a look.

It was lunchtime when I was there, but didn't have time to wait for the schnitzel. I'll have to make a trip up there soon for lunch. I saw this Reuben being prepared and I sooo wanted to stay.

There were so many choices, I wasn't sure what to get.

I settled on apple strudel and brought this home with me. Best. Strudel. Ever. Stop by there and try it for yourself. It's at 2523 N. Clark Street. They also have a full breakfast menu. Visit for more info.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The best stuff from a box

I like to bake, but I'm not much of a "from scratch" person. Pretty much 100% of the cupcakes I make come from a mix. 100% of the cakes I make come from a mix. 100% of the muffins I make come from a mix. 100% of the brownies I make come from a mix. Aside from pies, some breads and dessert bars, most of my baked stuff begins with a mix. I often add things to mixes to "doctor them up" as my mom would say.

For instance, I start with a blueberry muffin mix, but add fresh blueberries. Or I get a mix for banana bread and then add real bananas to it. I'll use a cake mix and add some mandarin oranges to it, then top it with cool whip mixed with french vanilla pudding mix and crushed pineapple. Using a mix really just means is that the dry ingredients are already mixed together for you. You don't have to measure out the sugar, the flour, the baking soda, etc. It's a time saver.

So, since I'm such a big mix user, I thought I'd share some of my favorite mixes:

Aldi's brownie mix and cake mix - Ever since an Aldi opened in our neighborhood about three years ago, it's the brownie mix I use most often. Sometimes I sprinkle powdered sugar on top when I'm done or throw in a handful of chocolate chips just to make them more rich or top with a layer of cool whip and chocolate sprinkles.

I also use Aldi cake mixes most often. For some reason, they always come out perfectly and in the exact time labeled on the box. With other mixes, they are never done when they should be and I end up playing the game of sticking a fork in them to find out it's not done and repeating it once or twice before it's fully cooked. I thought it was my oven until I tried the Aldi brand and found that the cooking times were accurate. I always keep Aldi's Baker's Corner yellow make mix stocked in my pantry.

Market Day cookie dough - Ok, this isn't a mix at all. This is down right cheating -- no prep involved at all, but really this dough is probably better that I'd make from scratch. I love the Market Day cookie doughs that come already precut it little discs that you just place on a cookie sheet and bake. My kids love all of them -- the M & M ones, chocolate chip, peanut butter (sometimes we'll add Hershey kisses on top,) peanut butter chocolate chip, chocolate chunk, white chocolate macadamia nut, oatmeal raisin and I think last year I got snickerdoodle, which went over well.

Jiffy cornbread mix - Jiffy is the only brand I use. On their own, they are a bit dry, but I make up for that by loading on the butter. :) However, it's really good if you add a can of creamed corn or some shredded cheese to it. Years ago I got a recipe from a co-worker to make a corn casserole with sour cream, butter, canned corn, canned cream corn and an egg and Jiffy mix. It is awesome!!! My family always requests it for holidays. And one year I had a casserole ready to go. We were carrying things out to the car and it was placed on the coffee table on it's way out. The dog took that small window of opportunity to gobble down the whole thing. Everyone was so disappointed when I showed up without it.

Aldi pumpkin bread - Another great mix from Aldi is the pumpkin bread. It's seasonal so you only find it there for a short time in the fall. It should be there soon and I can't wait. It is PERFECT. So moist and yummy!

Hershey's chocolate chunk brownie mix - Ok, I am not sure if that is the exact name of it. I've picked it up from Sam's Club and haven't been there in a while, but I'd buy it in a jumbo pack with 4 mixes. It had big chunks of chocolate and a packet of Hershey syrup. Sorry, Aldi, these beat you out! :)

Jello no bake cheesecake - Ok, in reality this doesn't compare to homemade cheesecake, but this is such an easy one. My kids love to make it (and eat it) and it's not quite as rich as the real thing. Have it plain -- or I usually top it with a can of cherry pie filling.

Aldi cinnamon swirl cake - Ok, I'm know I'm really touting the Aldi stuff, but this is so good. It does not taste like it's from a mix. You put it in a loaf pan - pouring half the batter in and then adding a little layer of cinnamon mix and then covering with more batter and then more cinnamon mix. After it comes out of the oven, you drizzle frosting on. This never lasts more than a couple hours in my house.

Carnation Lemon Bread Kit - This kit contained a can of carnation milk and a packet of glaze to put on top. Quick and easy and another one that doesn't taste like it was from a kit.

Scrambled diner hits the spot

I'm not much of a breakfast eater. At home, I often skip breakfast or just have a piece of toast. I know it's not good for you to skip breakfast, but I just don't get an appetite until around 11 a.m. Anyway, when I go out to eat for breakfast, it's a different story. I like a hearty meal with eggs and meat and cheese and veggies and toast. So, this week, my husband's aunt is visiting from Germany, so my hubby, my in-laws and Aunt Monika went out to Scrambled Diner in Dyer to have breakfast.

We had to wait a little bit, but that's to be expected with a party of six in a small place like Scrambled Diner. I ordered an omelet, which was huge, with all kinds of veggies and hash browns. Last time I was there I had the thick-sliced bacon, which was awesome, but everyone raves about the homemade sausage, so I gave it a try...very good!

This was my mother in-laws, a french toast club...a gigantic mound of layers of french toast, eggs, cheese and bacon.

This is what my husband and father-in-law had. It's called the Irish skillet with corned beef, hash browns, sauerkraut, thousand Island dressing, Swiss cheese and eggs. It didn't sound very appetizing, but I tried a bite of my husbands and it was really good...surprisingly, I loved the taste of the sauerkraut with it.

If you're a breakfast lover, plan a visit to Scrambled Diner. Be prepared to wait at peak times. Bring cash. They don't accept credit cards. Everything is fresh and local. And portions are huge. If you have breakfast there, you'll probably be skipping lunch. :)

Monday, September 19, 2011

I'm on a crock pot kick -- and making it up as I go along!

I've been using my crock pot quite a bit lately. My husband got a nice Kenmore one for me last Christmas. At first I wasn't so thrilled with getting a kitchen appliance for a Christmas present, but I love it. I use it all the time. My husband took my old one to work (the firehouse) in case they wanted to use it there sometime. Yesterday I made him retrieve it and bring it home because I had ribs in the crock pot and wanted to also make some crock pot dessert - cherry cobbler.

Anyway, today I made some pork chops. I often make up my own stuff as I go along rather than following recipes. So, I pulled out the pork chops and rubbed in some seasoning...really couldn't tell you everything that went on it. I just went through the spice cabinet and threw on a little of this and a little of that - I love Market Day spices and put some of those on there with some garlic salt, paprika, basil, salt, pepper. Then I remembered a citrus-y recipe I saw recently with orange juice. I wondered if it would clash with the spices I just put on. I figured I try anyway. Then I remembered I had these apricot preserves I'd picked up at the Italian market.

I took about 6 ounces of the apricot preserves and about a cup of orange juice. I stirred it together in a bowl and then spread it on top of the chops. I put a little water on the bottom of the crock pot. Here's what it looked like after that step:

And here's what it looked like when it was done. It had great flavor and was super tender!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Celebrate Oktoberfest at House of Gerhard

I looked up this review I wrote as part of a "date night" series after a visit last year to House of Gerhard. Since it's officially Oktoberfest time, I'm craving a schnitzel with all the trimmings. This is a perfect place to enjoy some mouth-watering German specialties:

Ok, I know this may be a long drive for a date night, but I visited House of Gerhard on an overnighter in Kenosha, Wisconsin and had to share it. My date for the night was my 7-year-old son, Brandon, who isn’t real keen on the German specialties, but went for his favorite – shrimp cocktail. The shrimp were gigantic and he finished them off quickly with his baked potato.

I, on the other hand, have more of an appreciation for authentic German cooking and instantly fell in love with the place. The festive German décor paired with the authentic outfits worn by the waitresses make it Oktoberfest no matter what time of the year you’re visiting.

The house appetizers on the night we were there were toasted bread with pâté, rolls, muffins and cole slaw. I had a hard time deciding on my entrée since there were so many tasty options – which include Kassler Rippchen (smoked pork chops), sauerbraten, beef stroganoff, rouladen and prime rib. However, I went with my absolute favorite German dish, schnitzel.
Even the schnitzel menu offers several options. The Holstein is topped with eggs and anchovies. The Cordon Bleu is covered with ham and Swiss cheese. And the Oscar is topped with crabmeat, asparagus and hollandaise sauce. I ordered Gerhard’s Schnitzel, the dish in its simplest form, a pan fried cutlet served with lemon and sprinkled with parsley along side the most tender and sweet carrots you could imagine. For my choice of potato, I selected potato pancakes (another German menu favorite) served with apple sauce. The schnitzel was probably the best I’ve ever had, surpassing even the famed Berghoff’s in Chicago and several other German eateries in Chicagoland.
Other menu items include knockwurst and sauerkraut, several seafood offerings, steaks, liver and onions, lamb chops and Reuben sandwiches. Several imported German beers can be found on the drink menu.
House of Gerhard opened in 1964 by German immigrant Gerhard Dillner. It is now operated by his daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Gerhard’s son-in-law, Dick Rudin, was recognized as the 2009 “Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year" by the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

While it is a bit of a trek, the meal is well worth the drive. Make it a daytime trip where the lunchtime items are considerably less expensive than on the dinner menu. The restaurant is smoke-free and easy to find – just 5 miles east of I-94 in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Better yet, make it into a weekend trip and follow up your dinner with a stay at the Best Western Harborside, the only Kenosha hotel located on the lake. The next day you can explore the lakefront and Kenosha’s free museums. Visit the restaurant's website at For more information on the Kenosha area, visit

Continue reading on Date Night: House of Gerhard - Chicago Family Staycations |

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Foodies Marketcafe gets a thumbs up from this foodie sister

So I posted last week about a new place in Dyer called Foodies Marketcafe. I was excited because they carry Labriola breads, which I LOVE. They always have a table at the local farmer's market and I pick them up there when I can.

Yesterday I was doing a book signing at Pigtails and Crewcuts in Dyer, just a block north and decided to stop afterwards and check out the new place. My dad had stopped by so I asked if he wanted to pop in there with me to pick up some bread. I'm. In. Love.

Not only do they carry a large assortment of artisan breads, but they have a large menu of sandwiches, soups and salads. I asked dad if he wanted to split a sandwich. He agreed. There was a rueben calling my name. :)

I was glad we decided to share since the sandwich was huge. It was served on marbled rye with lean, sliced corned beef and generous amounts of cheese, kraut and thousand island dressing. We were offered pasta salad in place of chips, which complimented the sandwich well.

Other sandwich options are roast beef on a baguette, turkey on a pretzel roll and salami and ham on sundried tomato foccacia -- all with creative names. Soup options are chicken noodle, tomato basil, broccoli cheese and steak and ale. The also have a children's menu.

Oh, and besides the breads, there are scones and cookies and cheesecake and other goodies...they didn't ignore your sweet tooth. The place is super cute, with a few small dining tables, a sitting area in  front of a fireplace and big screen t.v. and a little store tucked in the corner with everything from wine to seasonings and sauces to aprons and kitchen utensils.

Unfortunately, my camera battery died as I went to snap the first picture, so sadly I have no shots of the interior or the awesome sandwich I had. I hate when I don't have a visual about something I read. So, I'll offer this:

I couldn't leave without bread. My favorite Labriola items are foccacia -- the tomato variety, especially - and pretzel bread. Doesn't that look good? I think it may be my breakfast today.
And here are some shots I took at the farmer's market:

It's located at 151 Joliet Street in Dyer - just across from the hospital on the northwest corner of Route 30 and Hart Street.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Picking out a peck of pickled peppers

Ok, so these aren't PICKLED peppers, but I always liked rattling off tounge-twisters. So these are some peppers picked from a garden. Not mine. We got a lot of peppers, but they didn't get very big. My father-in-law had much better luck.

I learned how to make stuffed bell peppers from a former co-worker, Jeanine DesJardins. She always made stuffed peppers and stuffed cabbage at the same time and I often do the same since the filling is the same. Some tomato sauce (and sometimes I add in some chunks of fresh tomatoes), some rice, some ground beef, some diced green pepper, sometimes some onion and some spices. I think of her every time I make them. I also sprinkled a little Parmesan on top. You can also top with shredded cheese the last couple minutes so that it melts nicely. You just clean the peppers and then boil. Then put in a casserole dish, fill and then bake them for about 15 mintues. The smell will drive you wild even if you're not a big pepper fan.

Summertime is pie time

I prepare most of the summer meals on the grill. A few go in the crock pot. Once in a while I'll make a skillet meal. It's not too often that I turn on the oven in July or August...unless it's to make pie. We like to take trips to pick various fruits. This summer it was blueberries in July. Peaches in August. We also picked a few apples and there will be more apple picking to come. We've had a nice cool down lately, so I've been baking a lot this week -- muffins, brownies, cake, bread and PIE. I love to make blueberry pies with what we pick, but it's also tasty to mix them. My in-laws have raspberry bushes and we usually get a good amount from them, so I like to add them to the blueberry pies. Sometimes I throw in some strawberries, too. The results are juicy and tasty.

I saw a recipe online for peach galette. It's basically a pie without the top crust. You use a pie crust and fold it over the top a bit, but it still leaves the center exposed. Had a slice of this the other night with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream. Oooooh, was that good!

I've got a full bushel of apples, but haven't gotten to those yet. I see more pies in my future.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pick up a burger at the nostalgic Miner Dunn's

Miner Dunn's in Highland, Indiana is one of those classic diners that you don't encounter much anymore. It's been around since 1932. Several other eating establishments line Indianapolis Blvd, but at Miner Dunn's offers fresh hamburgers that aren't pumped out in frozen form like at the nearby fast-food eateries.

I can't comment on any of the menu items outside my usual - the cheeseburger, which is topped with Old English cheese, but they have the full rundown of standard diner fare. Shakes are spectacular. Order the deluxe and you get a huge helping of fries and orange sherbet to finish off your meal - if you have room. The only addition needed is a juke box.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

In a cucumber quandary

Too much of something is never a bad thing, right? Wrong. For gardeners an overabundance sometimes brings the worry of seeing the fruits (and veggies) of your labor spoil before they can be eaten. Ok, I’m not really the gardener. I simply watch the garden grow after its planted by my husband and children – kind like that Mary, Mary Quite Contrary gal in the nursery rhyme. She just kind of watched it, right? Or maybe I need to brush up on my children's stories. Anyway, I'm no Mr. McGregor (remember him...the gardener who Peter Rabbit frequented to swipe the ripe stuff.) When our garden is bursting, my family members pick it and I feed it to them in various forms.

Tomatoes come out of the garden and you can use them in salads, soups, on sandwiches or other dishes. You can freeze them for later use. Peppers can be cooked in many dishes or eaten raw in salads or for snacks. Same for the carrots, potatoes, zucchini, snow peas. But one veggie is not quite so versatile and I find myself saddened that I can’t possibly use all that bounty – cucumbers. You don’t cook them. They don’t freeze well. That limits you quite a bit.

So far, I’ve used them regular tossed salads, a tomato/cucumber salad with Italian dressing, I’ve pickled them by tossing them with oil, vinegar and sugar and letting them marinate in the fridge. I’ve eaten them plain or with dip. I’ve made plates of a favorite little appetizer where you place one on a Ritz cracker or small piece of bread topped with cream cheese, then add a cucumber slice and sprinkle it with dill. I’ve used it as a sandwich and hot dog topping. I’ve made bowls of salsa with the cucumbers and garden fresh tomatoes. I haven’t done the sour cream/cucumber sauce that I have enjoyed on gyros, but the last time I got a gyro at an area eatery, I added some of my own fresh cucumbers to the sauce. I’m kind of out of ideas. Got a good recipe using cucumbers? Let us know.

Oh, P.S. I've been getting the cucumbers from my father-in-laws garden since ours it really too small to grow them. I don't know what he's got in his soil, but they are SuperCucumbers! Look at the size of the cuke and zucchini in the picture below.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Amish goodies are worth stopping for

A couple years ago, our family took a trip to Amish country. We visited Amish attractions and did some shopping. And then went to our hotel - with a water park. Best of both worlds. :) I so admire the Amish way of life, but am so sure I couldn't do it myself.

I do love browsing Amish stores and trying Amish food. On that trip, we left Shipshewana, IN and headed for our next stop in Michigan. Our route was dotted with Amish farms. We stopped at one to buy some produce and loved seeing the Amish kids dressed in their solid color clothing sitting at the stand to help us.

At another farm stand we encountered, there was no one manning the stand. Just a little box to drop your cash in and a sign above it that read, "If we don't see you steal, GOD WILL." I guess that's enough to deter a would be tomato thief. :)

So, besides getting some berries and veggies, we noticed some fresh baked goods. We got some cookies and loaves of bread that were still warm. As we drove, my husband munched on the Amish baked goodies. He's not normally a bread person, but he LOVED it....enough to declare that he was leaving me for an Amish woman. LOL

Whenever we are traveling somewhere and find Amish goodies, we always pick some up to bring back home. A recent trip to Kentucky landed us in a bed and breakfast that was a former Amish farm. While staying there, we could see the Amish neighbors on the adjoining farm doing there chores. The little gift shop at the B & B had some Amish made items. I came back with some apple butter for my in-laws, some pear jam for my mom and this for me. I'll bet it will taste good on my morning toast.