Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Super easy, super tasty finger food

A club I'm in had a recent fundraising event with appetizers made by some of the members. I thought this was a cute, clever idea and such a great taste combination. And could it be any easier? It's simply strawberries, chocolate yogurt-covered raisins and green grapes placed on toothpicks.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Horseshoe -- A Springfield Specialty

I have a cousin who lives just outside Springfield, Illinois on a farm and has been wonderful enough to host our family a couple of times when we went downstate to enjoy the Illinois State Fair. Cindy is kind of my mentor. She was a freelance writer long before I was and was always encouraging to me as a I got started about a dozen years ago. After she published a couple children's books, I did the same. My children's book, Old 104 Rides Again, is based on a true story about an antique fire engine in an event that happened back when my husband was getting started as a volunteer firefighter. I relayed the story to Cindy who told me it sounded like a cute idea for a children's book.  She's been a great inspiration and I feel so lucky to be related to her!

The last time we visited her on the farm, she and her daughter, Allie, whipped up a regional specialty for us called the "horseshoe." It's an item you find on the menu at many restaurants there. It is a messy and fattening, but delicious, open-faced sandwich that starts with toasted bread and then some kind of meat of your choice. Cindy made them for us with hamburger, but you could also use ham, chicken, pork, turkey or just about any meat. I used some smoked ham on the sandwich pictured. Next is a pile of french fries and it's topped with a rich, creamy cheese sauce.

I made one for hubby for lunch today. I think I could have just sat and eaten a pound of fries with that lovely cheese sauce.

Horseshoe sandwich

2 slices of toasted bread
Meat of your choice
About 3 ounces of baked french fries
3 Tablespoons cheese sauce

Cheese sauce:

2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp. basil
2 tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
2/3 - 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
(Makes enough sauce for 3 or 4 sandwiches)

On stove top, melt butter in a saucepan. Once melted add 1/2 tsp. basil and 2 tbsp. of flour and stir. Add one cup of of milk and cook over low heat, stirring constantly. Cook a couple more minutes until milk bubbles and add about 2/3 cup of shredded cheddar cheese. Stir until smooth and spoon over horseshoe sandwich.

What do you coat with Panko?

Isn't Panko awesome? I'm discovering the wonders of Panko Japanese style bread crumbs, which are so completely different than the Italian-style bread crumbs I've always used. They are softer and blander and add such a distinctive crunch to dishes. 

10 things to coat with Panko:


I'm looking forward to cooking with Panko more. I love the texture and taste and I read online that Panko also has Tempura batter mix available in the U.S. I'll have to look for it. What have you made with Panko?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Don't you love a pretty little salad?

Salads are one of those dishes -- likes soups or pizzas -- where there really are no rules. You can be creative and do as you please. Creativity often yields tasty results.

Here's what was in this one:

3 lettuces from a package of Artisan Lettuce from Aldi (looked like a butter lettuce variety, a red leaf and not quite sure on the third one, but it's something I see in a lot of mixed green salads. If you can identify that one on top, let me know what it is.)

Some cherry and grape tomatoes from a gourmet tomato medley at Aldi. What a great assortment -- some yellow, town, purple, red and orange and various sized. 

1 "Cutie" mandarin orange
Handful of mushrooms
1 brown Bosco pear, sliced
1 handful chopped walnuts

I meant to throw in some raisins and totally forgot!!!

Tossed it with some Garlic Vinagarette, which again I got at Aldi. The results were quite yummy and very colorful!

His and hers eggs

My husband and I differ on how we like our eggs. He likes to make his with milk and add all kinds of stuff in. This is a batch he made with yellow peppers, ham, hash browns and freshly ground black pepper. He often adds mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, sausage, steak, garlic salt or other ingredients or seasonings. I really do love his eggs, especially because he first sautees the veggies in butter.

I like an omelet the best. This one wasn't the prettiest, but my regular pan was in use with sausage on it, so I had to use the gigantic one and work with that. 

I don't use milk, only water. I beat it with the eggs and pour it in the pan so that I get a thin layer, flip it and add a little filling. This was a basic one with ham and cheese. Really, both are pretty good. We don't eat eggs for breakfast very often. And I must admit, he is better at making breakfast than I am. I also love when he makes sunny side up for me -- it's a skill I just haven't mastered. And he knows I love to dip toast in them, so he always makes toast to go along with them. Sure beats a bowl of oatmeal any day. :)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Who invited all these tacky people?

Sorting out more of the digital photos. Just had to share this pic of mom - circa, oh, maybe 1979? We had great weekend cook-outs as a kid with our older siblings, who were then out of the house coming home to visit. There were always hamburgers or fried chicken and mom's homemade potato salad and macaroni salad and lots of iced tea. Sometimes a couple family friends would stop by to join in or my uncle would be over for a visit. And one of my brothers got this apron for my mom. And she wore it for all the cook-outs after that. 

Happy to have discovered galettes

Last summer I came across a posting for a peach galette. Had never heard of galette. Found out it's basically a pie, but without the top crust. The bottom is pulled up over the sides and crumpled (usually a little nicer than I did on this one.) It's like making pie, but even easier. It works great with peaches, which are so juicy that they stay moist throughout baking. Tried it with apples and it just didn't work so well. The apples dried out too much. So, I'll stick to peach for now. Have you made another kind of galette?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Cub Scout cake contest

So, my son recently had his Blue and Gold Dinner for Cub Scouts. He's a tiger scout and it was his first year getting to make a cake. For a few years, he's watched his big brothers make cakes for the competitions and one brought home a trophy one year. The theme was "monsters" this year and after much contemplation, he said he wanted to make a cake of a mummy in a coffin. He did the baking. And he came up with the design. Mom helped with the placement and spreading the frosting.

He was very proud of it. Here he is making his monster face. :)

A couple years ago when the Winter Olympics were taking place in Canada, that was the theme. One of the boys made a cake of a ski hill with the Canadian coastline. Betcha didn't know they had gummi fish, octopus, penguins, dolphins, black bear and brown bear there. :)

And...Mom had some influence on this one. Shaun White is like my very favorite athlete, so we did a half-pipe with Shaun White's Head on a Sour Patch Kid riding a Fruit by the Foot snowboard. :)

Another of the boys made this monster of a cake with flags of a bunch of different countries participating in the Winter Games. We went through 8 cake mixes and 11 tubs of cook whip making the cakes that year!

Then last year, the theme was "Italy" and my son made a Mt Vesuvious volcano cake. :)

The other boy took a simplier approach - Mario and Luigi. :)

And how much do they like cake? Here's that same boy on his first birthday -

Can't wait to plant the garden

Ok, that title is misleading. I can't wait for my husband and sons to plant our garden and for my father-in-law to plant his. It's so nice to have veggies right out of the garden. Ours is pretty small and we can't fit too much in there. There's always several tomato plants and pepper plants and usually some carrots and maybe cilantro and a couple other things. We can't do anything that spreads out, though. Those items have to be planted at Grandpa's house where he has lots of room for zucchini and pumpkins and corn and other things that get tall or need room to spread out. I've got such spring fever and can't wait to get on with spring!!!

Friday, February 24, 2012

If there's a muffler man outside, you've got to give it a try

I love muffler men. If you don't know what a muffler man is, here's a visual:

I've written a couple articles on muffler men in the past. It's pretty interesting to learn how many of these once existed and there are websites dedicated to the few that remain around the country. On a trip to Wisconsin Dells last August, I saw this guy outside and had to eat there. I know it's the middle of winter, but I'm sorting through my online photos and came across this. And it makes me long for warmer days and another trip to the Dells, one of my family's favorite summer vacation spots.

Anyway, the food wasn't spectacular, but it was good. It was a hearty lumberjack-style meal, that included a salad, chicken, ribs, veggies and potato pancakes and a dessert. Don't think it was good enough to pull me back there, but it is a fun place to experience.

There was one place we visited that I would definitely return to. It was Buffalo Phils. I wish I had a visual to go with that, but didn't have one of the part that made me want to go back -- the barbecue chicken pizza. It was awesome!! Probably the best pizza I've had outside of Chicago. I need to try to recreate it at home. It was loaded with Sweet Baby Ray's on a crispy crust. The place is also attached to an arcade and is loads of fun.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

That's what friends are for

It's funny how you develop friendships and each plays a role in a different way. There are church friends, club friends, PTA friends, sisters, neighbor friends, old school friends, moms of your kids' friends' friends. One of my dearest friends is Michelle. And she's kinda my foodie friend. Almost every time we get together it is to eat. We used to get together to play tennis on occasion (but we even followed that with food and I really suck at tennis.) But, it's fun to have a friend like that. :) I mean we chat, too. We don't JUST eat. And we went to the movies once to see (don't laugh) - the Justin Beiber movie. And that did involve popcorn.

We've branched out to some lunch spots as of late, but many of our eating dates are for breakfast. And breakfast is usually at Baker's Square for crepes. We're pretty predictable. This is my regular -- Crepes Lorraine with a side of hash browns.

And this is hers. She eats healthier than I do (which would explain why she's also skinnier!) These are her veggie crepes with the Hollandiase sauce on the side and fresh fruit.

And get this, I thought it would be nice to post a pic of Michelle in here, but realized that all the times we've gone out to eat, I've only taken pictures of our food and don't have a single picture of her. :) LOL!!! That means it's time to set up another eating date, doesn't it?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The easiest, most delicious no bake dessert ever

I made this for the first time last year and I immediately fell head over heels in love with this treat -- chocolate eclair cake. And you don't even have to bake it. I got it from Mr. Food's website. I'm pretty sure you'll fall head over heels in love, too. Don't say you weren't warned. Here's the full recipe:

The View a great place for a sandwich/soup combo

One of my favorite places to meet friends for lunch is The View in Munster. It's located in Centennial Park and overlooks the park's small pond. I found a sandwich I like a lot - the roast beef on marbled rye - and I haven't strayed from it. I've heard good things about other menu items, too, though.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The snack I could eat every day

Don't you love cucumbers? I do. I love them plain. Or in salads. Or on hot dogs. And my favorite way is this way...

Couldn't be easier...a Ritz cracker on the bottom. Spread cream cheese on top. Then a slice of cucumber and sprinkle dried dill weed on top. They are addictive. Once I start I could literally sit and eat at least a dozen. Try'll love them. :)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Da peppers are what make the beef sandwich

If you're not from Chicago, you may not be familiar with Mike Ditka. However, if you watched SNL in the 90's, you may know a little about him. Remember the "Superfans" skit? It featured Mike Myers and Chris Farley as fans of the Chicago Bears and their beloved coach of the '86 Super Bowl winning team - Mike Ditka. And in the sketch, every sentence begins with "Da." You know, Da Bears, Da Coach, Da big beef sandwich.

Anyway, regardless of your familiarity with Mike Ditka, foodies have a reason to like him. It's his peppers. This jar of Ditka's mild giardiniera is the perfect topping for a beef sandwich. Don't make da sandwich without da peppers!!!!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Eye candy for sushi lovers

A few weeks ago I posted on Toro Sushi in Chicago. I'm not a sushi fan, but my sis and her Japanese exchange student are, so just sharing some pics of what they had. :)

BBQ Pork at Lynnie Que's gets an A+

There's a local spot called Lynnie Que's in Lansing, IL that is a great place to run in for some carry out on a busy night. They have good sloppy joes that are only 5 for $5. They also have awesome barbecue pork sandwiches. The meat is tender and on the mild side, but comes with sauce on the side so you can soak it to your pleasure. :) Corn souffle is a tasty side to add to your meal! If you're in the area, try it out. They also have ham, brisket, barbecued chicken, ribs and other meats and a big assortment of sides. I highly recommend the Pepper Jack Mac.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Authenic Mexican close to home

I love Mexican food. Really. Really. Love it.
We've got a few places in town with authentic Mexican, including a market with carry-out foods called La Balanza. The tamales there are amazing. And they are popular. I've stopped a couple times to find that they were all out. But when I can get them, I get them by the dozen. They also have great guacamole. And I love the rice, which is mild and a great accompaniment. I've also tried their tacos, enchiladas and tortas and everything is top notch. They also have a bakery case for sweets to finish off your meal and a selection of Jarritos sodas. Best part is that it's only five minutes from home, but each bite makes you feel like you've traveled south of the border. :)


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Smoked sausage and potato bake

If you're looking for an easy one-dish meal with a good mix of meat and veggies, this is perfect. A little chopping and a little time in the oven and you have a hearty, satisfying dish.

I lined my pan with foil to prevent sticking. 

1 pkg. Eckrich skinless smoked sausage, sliced
8 Yukon gold potatoes, quartered
1 green pepper, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp. Oregano
1 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. olive oil

Add sausage, potatoes, peppers to pan. Slice butter into small cubes and place on top. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle seasonings on top.  Cover and bake for 40 - 50 minutes at 375 degrees. 

There are so many additions you could use with this. You can experiment with the veggies. I'm sure carrots, zucchini, broccoli would all work well. You could always add a little cheese toward the end of baking time and let it melt on top. I'm really not a big fan of smoked sausage, but liked it in this dish. You could always switch it out with Italian sausage, chicken or ham.

I love a good omelet

I'm not a big breakfast eater. Most days I could skip it without noticing. And many days I do, which I know is not good for you. Just can't help body doesn't get hungry until at least 10 a.m. But, when I do eat breakfast, I love a big hearty breakfast with eggs and meat and toast. 

My former co-worker, Rose, was the one who taught me how to make a proper omelet - using water instead of milk and flipping it when there's still a bit of liquid in the center. This scrumptious breakfast was from Tom's in Homewood. Cool nostalgic place to have a hearty breakfast or a sandwich for lunch. Lots of homemade pies, too. :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A taste of summer

Came across this picture of a very refreshing beverage I had at a summer fest last year. I watched them make it - just water, cranberry juice, sugar and ice put together in a shaker. Poured in a cup with a 1/2 orange and a 1/2 lime squeezed in and then added to the beverage. We've been recreating it frequently since last summer. It's so refreshing and reminds me that winter will be heading out in just a few short weeks. Yippee!!!!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The way to your honey's heart...chocolate

I'm a correspondent for the Northwest Indiana Times and do some writing for the Foods section. As I was thinking about Valentine's Day, I recalled this article I wrote in 2007 that included some chocolate recipes. One was from Villa DeBruno, which sadly has closed. The flourless chocolate cake was one of many of the goodies you'd find on the extensive dessert table when they had the weekly buffet. Just thought I'd post the article for the other chocolate lovers out there. :)

The way to your honey's heart...chocolate
As printed in the Northwest Indiana Times - 2/7/07

Chocolate has long been considered an aphrodisiac, evoking romantic feelings and inducing intimacy.
According to, a British Web site for gourmet chocolate, it all started 1,500 years ago in South America when an Aztec emperor "drank 50 goblets of chocolate a day to enhance his sexual prowess."
Chocolate was later introduced in Europe and around the world and became associated with love.
According to the site, two chocolate ingredients -- phenylethylamine and seratonin -- are known to lift moods and increase blood pressure, heart rate and energy levels, mimicking the feelings of being in love.
So, if you're looking to get someone in the mood this Valentine's Day, offering them chocolate is a good start.
Four talented region chefs offered recipes for chocolate creations that are sure to impress the object of your affection.
Jay Dilley, pastry chef for Blue Restaurant in Valparaiso, shared his Chocolate Tart recipe, which he described as "a custard that has melted chocolate in the custard itself and is baked until it sets."
It is a special dessert item occasionally offered on the menu. If you stop at Blue craving chocolate and the tart isn't on the menu, the chocolate cake with ganache is a regular dessert item and should fill the bill nicely.
Vicky Lindsay, a chef at Speakeasy 220 in Crown Point and a cooking instructor at Amelia's Cooking School in Winfield, offered her recipe for Death by Chocolate in a Mug.
Lindsay said her offering was inspired by the classic Death by Chocolate torte recipe originally created by Marcel Desaulniers, a Washington, D.C., chef. She said she used the mug idea after learning from food historians that it was a common practice in the 1920s and 1930s to serve treats in mugs and goblets.
"The famous torte recipe was very complicated and lengthy," Lindsay said. "I took that idea and put a twist on it by putting it in a mug."
Pastry chef Laura Hoffman of Lynwood's Villa de Bruno selected individual heart-shaped versions of her rich flourless chocolate cake for readers looking for a chocolate concoction to prepare for a loved one.
Rob Haynes, owner of Butterfingers, a gourmet specialty shop featuring salads, soups, entrées and desserts, gave tips on perfecting chocolate-dipped strawberries.
Chocolate Tart
Tart Dough:
12 ounces butter
6 ounces sugar
2 eggs
18 ounces flour
Tart filling:
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
6 ounces cream
6 ounces milk
1 egg
* Heat oven to 325 degrees.
For tart dough: Cream butter and sugar together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time until smooth. Then add flour gradually until dough forms. Divide in half, wrap in plastic and chill for at least 12 hours.
* Roll out dough to about 1/4 inches, put into tart pan, poke holes in bottom with fork. Use a pan 1 inch smaller than tart pan to hold dough down and bake for 10 minutes. Remove smaller pan from tart pan and bake another 5 minutes. Let cool completely.
* For tart : Melt chocolate in double boiler and set aside. Meanwhile, in medium pan, scald cream and milk (DO NOT BOIL). Whisk egg in separate bowl, add milk and cream slowly while whisking constantly, to temper.
* Pour back into pan stirring constantly over low heat. When mixture coats back of a wooden spoon take off heat and add to chocolate. Whisk until combined and smooth. Let cool and pour into cool parbaked tart shell and bake at 325 degrees until custard sets, about 30 minutes.
* Let cool for about an hour before serving.
* Serving tip: Decorate top with whipped cream and/or a dessert sauce.
SOURCE: Chef Jay Dilley, Blue Restaurant, Valparaiso.
Death by Chocolate in a Mug
12 ounces fine-quality chocolate
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup Godiva liqueur or brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon ground sea salt
2/3 cup cake flour
* Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 6 ovenproof mugs or molds or muffin tin (1 cup size)
* In a metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt chocolate and butter, whisking until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and whisk in sugar.
* Whisk in eggs a little at a time. Add remaining ingredients, whisking until well combined. Divide batter among prepared mugs.
* Place on cookie tray and bake in middle of oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Top of cake should be semifirm.
* Serving tip: Top with whipping cream and chocolate sauce. You also could top with a scoop of ice cream and sprinkle a tiny bit of cocoa powder on top.
SOURCE: Chef Vicky Lindsay, Speakeasy 220, Crown Point
Flourless Chocolate Cake Hearts
7 ounces heavy cream
12 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 ounces brewed coffee
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* Heat oven to 350 degrees. Whip heavy cream to soft peaks and refrigerate until needed.
* Melt chocolate and coffee over hot, not simmering, water and set aside. In a metal or glass bowl, heat eggs and yolks over simmering water, while whisking to 110 degrees or just barely hot to the touch.
* Transfer to mixing bowl and whip until light in color and triple in volume. Fold in melted chocolate and vanilla. Fold in whipped cream.
* Fill 12 (3-inch-by-5-inch) aluminum foil hearts completely full. (May yield more than 12 depending on the volume of the whipped eggs and sugar.) Place hearts in a baking pan and fill pan with hot water halfway up hearts. Bake for approximately 20 to 30 minutes or until tops feel firm to touch.
* Let cool in water, then freeze for easier unmolding. Peel off foil. Serve at room temperature.
* Serving suggestions: raspberry sauce, fresh strawberries, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
SOURCE: Pastry chef Laura Hoffman, Villa de Bruno, Lynwood
Chocolate-dipped Strawberries
8 ounces good-quality melting chocolate
12 large, ripe strawberries
* Melt chocolate in microwave or in double boiler. Wipe strawberries with damp cloth and dip into melted chocolate. Place on parchment paper or wax paper to cool. Refrigerate for faster setting. If desired, dip in ground-up cashews or another type of nut or sprinkles.
SOURCE: Rob Haynes, Butterfingers, Highland and Munster
Hints for perfecting strawberry dipping
* You can use any melting chocolate, but European chocolate like Caillebaut or Guittard are preferred.
* If using chocolate chips, add a little light corn syrup to thin it out and make it shiny.
* When selecting strawberries, look for the reddest ones, which will be riper.
* Eight ounces of chocolate is enough to coat at least a dozen strawberries.
* Melt your chocolate either in a glass dish on low in the microwave (be sure to stir it to prevent burning) or melt it over a double boiler on very low heat.
* Before dipping, wipe the strawberries with a damp towel to remove any dirt. DO NOT rinse or submerge strawberries because they will become soggy.
* Keep stems on strawberries for easy dipping.
* After dipping in chocolate, roll them in ground nuts or sprinkles if desired.
* Use wax paper or parchment paper to place strawberries on after dipping to prevent sticking.
* After dipping, place in refrigerator to accelerate setting time. It should only take about 5 minutes for them to set after placing in the refrigerator.
* It is best to eat them the same day they are made. If storing them longer, place them in a covered container in the refrigerator. Make sure they are covered, otherwise the strawberries will sweat.
* Enjoy with a glass of white wine or champagne, which complement them well.
SOURCE: Rob Haynes, Butterfingers, Highland and Munster

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Salsa steak

This super easy recipe of only four ingredients is one I got from a former co-worker way back when I was a newlywed and looking for quick, easy recipes to make after a long day at work. I've been rotating this one through the meals each month ever since.

4 cubed steaks
1 white rice boil-in-bag
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend
1 cup salsa

Brown cubed steaks (add seasoning if desired) and drain. Boil rice as meat is browning. Add 1/4 cup salsa on top of each cubed steak and then cover with 1/4 cup cheese. Cover and simmer until cheese is melted. Serve over rice.

Leftovers make great breakfast wraps

Steak usually isn't so good if you microwave it the next day. can throw it in a skillet and blend it in with some other flavors and it's delish! Leftover steak is perfect to throw into a breakfast burrito or fajita. This one worked well with eggs, peppers and cheese with a side of hash browns. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Corn chowder is a great winter meal

I recently went to a program at my local library with Chef Kate Bradley. She had done an earlier cooking presentation last fall on holiday appetizers, which I really enjoyed.

This time she was returning with recipes and samples of soups. She made four in all. One was for Corn Chowder. She passed out her recipes and told us to feel free to share them with our friends. So, I'm sharing it with you here. I haven't made it yet, but tried a sample. I think I'd adjust mine to use fresh potatoes rather than canned.

1/4 cup chopped green pepper
1/2 medium size onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbls Butter
2 cans (14 3/4 oz.) of potato soup, undiluted
1 can (14 3/4 oz.) of cream style corn
2 cups milk
Pepper to taste

1) In large sauce pan, saute the green pepper, onion and garlic in the butter. Cook over medium heat, until the onion gets to be translucent.
2) Stir n the potato soup, can of corn, and the milk. Bring almost to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.
3) Season to taste with pepper. Serve hot.

Here's a picture of the other one I sampled, the Vegetable Soup. She also made Split Pea and Ham and Potato Soup.