Sunday, September 30, 2012

Smoked salmon and quinoa romaine wraps

The other day, I posted about making quinoa for the first time and my family's warm welcome to the new dish. The next day, I pulled out some romaine leaves and used some to fill in a wrap for lunch.

2 large romaine lettuce leave
1/4 cup smoked salmon
1/3 cup quinoa

Fill in leaves and enjoy!

Because the quinoa I had used was already flavored ( the box came with a roasted garlic and olive oil flavor packet,) there really wasn't a need to add anything else to it.

However, the next day I decided to make the same lunch since I had enjoyed it so much. I just happened to be making a big bowl of salsa with the pile of tomatoes on my counter from our garden, so I scooped a little fresh salsa on top and found it to be a perfect accompaniment.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Rocky Mountain Jalapeno Popcorn is hot stuff

So, a few weeks back I got a big box of samples of Rocky Mountain Popcorn in the mail. I'm trying them one by one and savoring them. I loved the white cheddar and cinnamon sugar varieties. I wasn't too sure about trying the jalapeno because I don't so hot. I have a wimpy mouth, so I usually don't try hot stuff. And once in a while I try something hot and even though my mouth is burning like crazy, I continue eating eat because I love the flavor...that's what happened when I tried boneless wings at Pizza Hut.

So, when I found this bag of jalapeno flavor in the box (sorry about the image placement, by the way...I keep trying to rotate it and it just isn't working for me!), I thought perhaps I'd try a bite and then pass it on to my husband and youngest son who really, really like hot stuff. But, when I took a bite, I couldn't stop. It also has white cheddar in there, which tones it down just a little, but the flavor mix is beyond yummy! I had to drink a LOT of water as I snacked. And my husband, who really doesn't eat popcorn much, loved it, too. I ended up fighting him over who got the last few bites.

So, if hot is your thing, I'm pretty sure you're going to dig this. And even if hot, isn't your thing, give it a try. It might surprise you!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Capital Brewery Island Wheat Ale

So, I've mentioned before that my hubby is in a beer club and I've been enjoying trying the variety of beers that he's getting. There are about a dozen co-workers of his that are part of the club, each week someone buys a microbrew for the bunch - one bottle each.

I'm finding that in trying different craft brews, wheat ales are one of the varieties I prefer. For some reason, I figured that it was made in Washington D.C. or at least a state capital because of the name. But, nope, it's made in Middleton, Wisconsin. A nice smooth brew, though...try it out if you get the chance. :)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Introducing Quinoa to the Family

I first heard about quinoa (which I pronounced incorrectly for a long time) when I was doing an article on meatloaf for the food section of a newspaper that I write for a couple years ago. A local guy shared his recipe for what he called "Runners Meatloaf" - a lean, but protein packed dish that he'd make before a race day that included ground turkey and quinoa.

I've since had it at restaurants. I tried a quinoa burger at Jane's Restaurant in Chicago that was outstanding and at Seasons 52, I sampled the vegetarian tasting with a nice quinoa dish. I thought it was time I tried making it at home. I was shopping at Strack and Van Til and asked two employees who didn't have a clue what it was before someone pointed me in the right direction - the pasta section. I grabbed this Roasted Garlic and Olive Oil package, which came with a seasoning packet that really gave off a good aroma as it cooked.  I look forward to trying more quinoa products.

I had my son, his buddy and my dad try it right away and they liked it. Another one of my boys, who really likes rice gave it a thumbs up, too. For those who haven't tried it, it's kind of hard to describe. It's not quite like rice. The closest comparison I can think of is cous cous. It's a super tiny, fluffy grain when cooked.

I served it as a side dish for lunch one day and the next day, I used it for some lettuce wraps. I had been at Calumet Fisheries a couple days earlier with my husband and boys and we had gotten some shrimp and smoked salmon and trout. With a big piece of smoked salmon left, I decided to flake some off and use it in a wrap. It was good. Quite good. I repeated the same lunch the following day! :)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Brownberry Pocket Thins make for great lunches

When I was in junior high, my mom worked part-time at a convenience store that had a deli. In the deli, they used pita bread for some of the sandwiches. So, Mom would take them and cut them in half and stuff them with ham and cheese for our lunches and I LOVED them. Recently, I've been purchasing Brownberry Pocket Thins to make little sandwich pockets for myself and my sons for lunchtime. I like the Italian Herb flavor and I love that they have a little perforation in the middle of each one that allows you to easily divide them in half and open them up to use as sandwich pockets. And it makes it easy to save some for later if you only want half of a sandwich.

This week I made some for hubby, too. He is pretty much a white bread kind of guy. He'll eat what I make, but he doesn't get nearly as excited about paninis and wraps as I do. Even he gave the pocket thins a nod. I filled one for him with bacon covered ham (I'd never seen this before, but the deli lady gave me a sample and I knew he'd like it,) Swiss cheese, mayo and some romaine lettuce.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Stuffed green peppers

We've been picking the last of the peppers out of our garden the past week. There are few things that smell as good as green peppers when they are on the stove top.

So, here's how I made the last batch:

6 green bell peppers
1 pound ground beef
1 1/2 cups pasta sauce
1 bag Success Boil-In-Bag rice
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tsp. Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. Italian seasoning

Remove tops and seeds from peppers and boil. Place in a casserole dish.

Brown ground beef in skillet. While beef is browning, cook rice as directed. Drain beef, add sauce and rice and simmer for about 5 minutes. Scoop stuffing into peppers and sprinkle cheeses and seasoning on top. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Good news for coffee lovers - a new Starbucks!

I'm not a coffee drinker and sometimes I really feel like I'm missing out. But, Starbucks does make a good cup of tea, too. :) So far all those in the Naperville area (or guests to the area), you'll be happy to know that a Starbucks is now located in the newly opened Chicago Marriott Naperville. They'll be featuring those seasonal fall drinks that I hear all my coffee-loving friends rave about - like pumpkin spice latte. :) It's open daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

And just to give you another reason to stop by there or plan to make it your lodging choice if you are in the Chicago area...they have this incredible restaurant inside the hotel called Artisan Table. I attended a recent media dinner there which I blogged about here...and here. I was spectacular. SERIOUSLY!

Oh, and here's the 4-1-1 on the hotel:

The Chicago Marriott Naperville is the newest and largest full-service hotel in Chicago’s western suburbs. With its brand new construction and contemporary design, the 424-room hotel has more than 25,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space, plus a 7,000 sq. ft. ballroom to accommodate almost any size of meeting, trade show or wedding.  Guest rooms include Frette linens, and all guests can enjoy free parking, the indoor pool, hot tub and fitness center, hotel-wide WiFi, business services, and the superlative Starbucks. for more information, to make reservations, and to find out about current specials and packages.  The Marriott Naperville is part of Marriot International, based in Bethesda, Md., one of the world’s leading lodging companies with nearly 3,700 properties in 72 countries and territories worldwide.

$24 in 24 with Jeff Mauro premieres tonight

Last week I had the chance to chat by phone with Jeff Mauro - the Sandwich King of the Food Network. Since he's a Chicago native, it was a fun interview. In the more than 12 years now that I've been a writer, I have interviewed some interesting people - from singers to athletes to authors to veterans to little old ladies who volunteer knitting with their church group. Every story is unique and so interesting. And while I truly cherish those conversations with knitting groups about the hats they are making for the homeless or the baby blankets they are knitting to donate to hospitals, I really love interviewing people about food.

People are so passionate when they discuss food, whether you're interviewing a local Hispanic lady about how she makes her homemade tortillas or grilling the organizer of the annual Pierogi Fest about how the beloved little dumpling can justify a huge festival or talking to a big shot on the Food Network, like Mr. Mauro. :) Some of my favorite all-time interviews have been with Seattle Sutton, Art Ginsburg (Mr. Food) and James Villas.

So, back to Mauro's new show. Tonight you can tune in at 9:30 central time to check out the new show, $24 in 24. I'm looking forward to it. Besides writing about food, I also do a lot of travel writing and have been at that longer then I've been writing about food. And the two intertwine so well. When you have a show that combines travel AND food, I'm all over it. So, I'm anxious to see how Mauro pulls it off - visiting a total of 7 cities in the tour for the series, he spends only $24 in one day on three meals and a snack. I can't wait to see where he went and what he ate.

The interview was for a Northwest Indiana Times foods article that will print soon. I was seriously almost drooling on my phone as he described some of the stuff he a bagel. A bagel is a bagel, right? sireeee....not the way he described it. The one he had for breakfast in New York sounded like a work of art and a foodie's dream. He said it was one thing on set that he couldn't take a couple bites of and walk away! Did I mention it had bacon and cheddar in it...then more bacon and cheddar on it then it was baked again....then toasted..and then stuffed with cream cheese. See? Aren't you drooling, too? Tune in tonight to see what Mauro found on his quest across the country for some good economical meals.

Peach Passion Fruit Popsicles

After scoring some rare fresh Michigan peaches just before Labor Day, I decided I'd use a couple to make some popsicles. I looked around online for recipes...two problems: 1) They all directed you to puree the peaches in a blender. 2) Most of them called for Greek Yogurt. Why were these a problem? Well, everyone was in bed and it was about 11 p.m. when I decided to do this and I didn't want to wake anyone up with our noisy blender. And I have never eaten Greek yogurt and didn't think I had any in the fridge -- but then I remembered that I had seen some on sale a picked up a couple small packages, but they weren't plain - they were passion fruit flavor. I figured that the two fruits may make for a good combination.

So, I combined a several different recipes I came across and here's what I made:

2 large peaches, peeled and mashed with a potato masher
1/4 cup orange juice
6 oz. passion fruit Greek yogurt
1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp. honey
1 large peach, peeled and diced

Mix all ingredients together and place in popsicle containers and freeze for at least 4 hours.

This did work out well with the mashing of the peaches. And then I added a diced one in at the end just because I love the chunky texture of fruit. And the passion fruit was a nice addition. I was trying to avoid sugar, so I used honey. It could have used a little bit to sweeten it up. The honey wasn't quite enough and it still was a bit tart, but I wouldn't really want to up the honey and have it overpower the fruit. All in all, not a bad experiment.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Easy breakfast casserole

At one of our potluck days for the ladies' bowling league I'm in, one of the ladies brought this. It's one of those super easy make-the-night-before casseroles.

Sandwich bread (the square loaf works best) with crusts removed
12 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 to 3/4 pound of sliced deli ham
About 8 cheese slices

Using a 9 X 13 pan, place slices of buttered bread in pan in a layer with the buttered side down. (No need to grease the pan.) Add a layer of ham and a layer of cheese and top with another layer of buttered bread, with the buttered side up. In a bowl, beat eggs and add salt and pepper. Pour over top of bread. Leave in refrigerator overnight and the next morning bake at 350 degrees for about 45 to 50 minutes.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Poached Plums are part of Dessert Menu's Dessert Flight Night

In the foodie world, "flight" is a word I'm hearing more and more. I've heard it mostly when referring to beverages. We've enjoyed beer flights at various restaurants and micro brews. My sister's regular beverage order at Wildfire is the martini flight. We went to a distillery a couple weeks ago where my husband tried out a whiskey flight. A flight is basically a sampling of several of one specific type of food or beverage. So, can you imagine a dessert flight of top notch, all natural, quality, creative, artistic, delectable sweets? Well, that's what was being served last night at Dessert Menu in Dyer! 

Dessert Menu opened in March and this was their first Dessert Flight Night. For $20 a person, you got beverages, three courses of desserts and appetizers in between. There will be more posts ahead on this fabulous evening, But, for now, I'm just focusing on the first course of the dessert flight:

Poached plums, wine stew, mascarpone gelato and an almond cookie. 

On the right is a jar of spiced cider with cognac. I wasn't able to make it for the full event and planned on just popping in for a few pictures. But...Beverly, the proud mama of Chef Renee insisted I try this out. Wow, am I glad she twisted my arm! I passed on the cider, which looked delicious and got raves from the guests, but I did try out the dessert. The plums were literally soaked with flavor, accompanied by the refreshing taste of gelato and a rich, crisp cookie. I can't wait to get back and try out more of their menu items. This evening is all off-the-menu creations and more Dessert Flight Nights are being planned in the future. 

And here is Chef Renee, the lady behind all the sweet treats! Stop in to see her and try some goodies!

Preview of Jeff Mauro's new series airs on Food Network tonight

This past week I did a phone interview with Jeff Mauro, last season's Food Network Star for an article for a regional newspaper. Earlier this month, the third season of his show Sandwich King kicked off and his new series $24 in 24 premieres on Monday evening at 9:30 PM/CT, with a preview show tonight in his hometown of Chicago. I'm interested in seeing where he ended up...because after the interview, I realized I didn't even question him about where he went in the Windy City.

The premise of the show is similar to the show that Rachel Ray had on the Food Network, $40 a day. Mauro visited seven cities during taping and in each one, he had $24 to spend in 24 hours on three meals and a snack. This show has more limitations that Ray's had and he noted that they didn't go over budget once. I recall a few shows where Ray went over by a buck or two.

When the full story I did runs, I'll post the link on my Facebook page. I'll let you in on one surprise I heard from him. When I asked him what city had the best bargains on food, I was shocked when he said New York. He cites the tremendous competition with keeping prices down.

So, tune in tonight to check out the Chicago episode! I wish I could list a specific time...but I don't have that info in my notes and my television guide has "to be announced" in the time slots from 7 to 8 p.m. and from 9 to 10 p.m. So, I'll try 7 p.m. and see if it's on! On Monday, he hits Cleveland.

Alimony Ale

As hubby's beer club has continued, I've tried a few of the microbrews that he's been given. It's a neat set-up. About a dozen people are in the beer club and each week someone buys for the group - enough for everyone to try a bottle. There have been some interesting picks. They track what everyone has gotten so that there are no duplicates. I gave this one a try. I do like beer and have gotten used to the "hoppier" beers that so often come from microbrews. This one wasn't bad...a little stronger than I like, but not bad.

Friday, September 21, 2012

French bread - a blank pizza canvas

While in past years, our grill has mainly been a burger/brat/hot dog/chicken cooker, I've branched out the past couple years and we pretty much cook anything and everything on the grill in the summer months. My husband does most of the grill cooking and has made some wonderful ribs, fish and breakfast dishes. I also love to do pizza on the grill - whether on flatbread, a prepared crust, an English muffin, a pita, a tortilla or a piece of French bread. But something about French bread pizza is just so appetizing. I love a crispy crust and the bread toasts perfectly on the grill as it melts the gooey cheese that's on top.

The other day, I was trying to think of a quick meal to prepare before I had to get my son off to soccer practice. I made the kids a sauce/cheese/pepperoni version and I made mine with some sauce, spinach, green pepper, cheese, Italian seasoning and fresh basil. I picked up some Johnsonville Italian sausage yesterday that I'm thinking will be awesome on pizzas, so I foresee some more French bread pizza in my future.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

UNREAL candy has less sugar, more natural ingredients

Who doesn't love Halloween candy? I used to stock up a month ahead on goodies for trick-or-treaters...but found that I ate too many of this little bite sized bars, so this year I'll be waiting 'til a little closer to the date to buy my handouts to prevent an extra pound or two from creeping up on me. One thing that does trouble me, though, is how different the candy is now from when we were kids. It's made with cheaper - and more unhealthy - ingredients. Everything is artificial, it seems. 

A new candy line was created by a 15-year-old boy after his parents disapproval of such goodies loaded with corn syrup and unhealthy oils had them confiscating them from his Halloween loot bag. The new candy line, called UNREAL, has less sugar, more protein and more fiber. UNREAL candy has:

·        No corn syrup
·        No hydrogenated oil
·        No artificial flavors
·        No GMO’s
·        No synthetic colors
·        Responsibly sourced ingredients, including:
o       Traceable cacao beans from Ghana and Ecuador
o       100% sustainable and organic Palm Kernel Oil sourced from a sustainable and organic plantation in Brazil
o       Dairy from free-range cows pasture raised without antibiotics or added hormones
o       All natural origin colors, coming from plants like beets, red cabbage, etc.
o       30% less sugar, 60% more protein and 250% more fiber

On "a candy coated mission to unjunk the world™," the following better-for-you candies are being introduced in time for Halloween: 
·        UNREAL™ 41: Candy Coated Chocolates
·        UNREAL™ 54:Candy Coated Chocolates with Peanuts
·        UNREAL™ 5:Chocolate Caramel Nougat Bar
·        UNREAL™ 8: Chocolate Caramel Peanut Nougat Bar
·        UNREAL™ 77: Peanut Butter Cups

UNREAL are available at prices comparable to other major candy brands and can be found at  major retailers, nationwide, including CVS, Kroger, Staples and BJ’s Wholesale Clubs. 

Seasons 52: It's not just about the food

Dining out is about more than just dining. Unless you're gulping down something at a drive through or grabbing something from a carry-out, going out to enjoy a meal means more than eating a meal. You're looking for a place with a welcoming atmosphere and an ambiance that makes you forget what's outside the doors and focus on what's being prepared for you.  There are some places where the food can stand on it's own and justify customers coming to enjoy it even if they were sitting on a milk crate in the woods. Seasons 52 is definitely a place where the food is so outstanding that the surroundings don't have to matter as much. But, that's the beauty of it. Not only is the food top notch, but so is the decor, the service, the selection, the entertainment. It's the whole package. 

Back in the spring, the foodie sisters attended a media preview lunch at the Seasons 52 in Oak Brook just before its opening. While I shared a lot of food photos from that day, I don't think I gave a good look at the restaurant itself. I just came across these pictures I took of the Frank Lloyd Wright inspired interior featuring Honduran mahogany. It is a gorgeous place! Don't you think so?