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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Salted Honey-Bourbon-Beer Caramel Sauce | #BeerMonth

Salted Honey-Bourbon-Beer Caramel Sauce #beermonth
I have absolutely no clue where the month of April went, but I'll be closing it out in style with one last #BeerMonth post. Since I went in a savory direction for my last post, I steered towards the sweeter side of things this time. For the most part, I knew that I was going to make caramel. I just wasn't sure if I was going to make actual caramels or caramel sauce.

If I was going to make caramels, I had to find a couple of things that, with more time, wouldn't have been a problem. But I got a late start (go figure), and decided to move the caramels to the back seat for now. But I've got big plans for them in the future, so keep your eyes peeled.

So, moseying on up to the front seat was some trusty caramel sauce. I've used beer to make caramel sauce before, so it wasn't an entirely new concept. It would be my choice of beer that made the difference. I wanted something that was a bit bold. I decided on Shock Top's Honey Bourbon Cask Wheat.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sweet Bean Buns + 6 more dishes inspired by Kung Fu Panda | #FoodnFlix

Sweet Bean Buns (2 ways) plus a Kung Fu Panda inspired roundup for Food 'n Flix
At the beginning of this month, I announced that I would be hosting Food 'n Flix with my chosen feature Kung Fu Panda (1 and/or 2). If you haven't seen either Kung Fu Panda, you may not realize how much of a foodie's delight they are. As the result of growing up watching Kung Fu and so many great old Kung Fu movies, it's a double bonus - Food + Kung Fu! I could go's great for the whole family, it's pretty darn funny, and it has a positive message or two to share underneath it all. I'm not ashamed to admit that it's a favorite of mine, and that I've seen it countless times since it's also a favorite of my youngest son.

But, on to the food. At the heart of the movies lie noodles. Po's father, and his father before him, run a noodle shop. His father expects him to follow in his footsteps, but Po has a bigger dream and it concerns kung fu.

But Po loves to eat, so he can be witnessed stuffing his mouth with bean buns, flying through the air to grab dumplings, climbing counters and cabinets to reach the cookies, and even enjoying radishes.
Sunday, April 27, 2014

Salmon and Cucumber "Noodle" Salad

Salmon and Cucumber Noodle Salad
I rarely eat canned salmon. I've had it maybe two or three times max in my lifetime. I was never very impressed with it. Bones, skin, ummmm...if I'm buying a can, convenience is what I'm after, and picking out the bones and skin is anything but. So, I just stick with fresh (which oddly enough, I don't mind removing the skin and bones from).

And then I received a package in the mail.

My friend Bea of The Not So Cheesy Kitchen is a proud PDXer (Portlander?). Anytime I bring up salmon (which is surprisingly quite often) she reiterates her stance on Pacific Northwest Salmon being the best salmon. Especially when I tell her that I just ate Atlantic Salmon. That's what I usually seem to find in "my" Northwest (that would be Northwest Indiana).

One day, her and the fam headed to the beach...or was it the mountains...maybe it was both...and she mentioned two magical words: salmon and jerky. Together. As in, Salmon Jerky! And since she knows me (and can pick up on the needy desperation in my voice), she bought some extra and shipped it to me. It was ridiculous. Basically like hot-smoked salmon (one of my favorite things in the world), but less meaty and more chewy.
Saturday, April 26, 2014

Raspberry Lemonade Margarita

Raspberry Lemonade Margarita
Cocktails! It's all about the cocktails! When Leslie and I were talking about what we should make for she made, ella hace this month, I suggested either going with a lemons theme or a cocktails theme. Either way, I already knew what I was making. A margarita - with a twist!

Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner, so of course I need to test out a few new margarita flavors.  Now, I should tell you that last week I received a delivery that contained a few samples of Partida tequila for the purposes of joining in the #limepocalypse that's happening in the US right now.
Friday, April 25, 2014

Honey-Mustard Chicken and Arugula Wraps

Honey-Mustard Chicken and Arugula (or Kale) Wraps
In order to have quick and easy meals at hand during the busy week, I often do a little extra prep on the weekends. I've mentioned before that I love to cook a big pot of beans or lentils, and then use them for wraps, tacos, or sides. Sometimes I'll make a couple of types of pasta, cool them down, and stick them into zippered baggies for tossing into quickly sauteed veggies and sauces. Big batches of grains like rice, farro, freekeh, or quinoa are another good example of something that can be made in a large batch on Sunday, then reheated quickly on a weekday.

Now, often our protein is made day-of, to keep it from drying out or getting overcooked. But there are a few ways and preparations that lend themselves to advanced cooking. Large roasts and shoulders that can be shredded and stretched throughout the week are what come to mind first, along with chicken things. Just think about the fattier cuts, since the fat is what will keep them from drying out.

That said, I also like to make a batch of chicken breasts in advance. So basically, the exact opposite of those fatty cuts. I think the secret is gently poaching them in a highly seasoned liquid until they are just cooked through. I actually like storing them in the fridge IN some of their cooking liquid, as well, to help them stay moist. Then, over the next few days, you can cut the breasts into chunks, shred them, or slice them thinly for use in chicken salad (the mayo kind), cold chicken salad (the "fan it over the top of the greens and such kind"), stir it into a salsa for a taco filling, roll it up into tortillas and fry them for flautas, or use them in a sandwich or wrap.
Monday, April 21, 2014

Curried Pumpkin Coconut Soup

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Libby's. All opinions are 100% mine.
Curried Pumpkin Coconut Soup #PumpkinCan
I've never been shy about my love for pumpkin. It's healthy. It's versatile. It's delicious. It's a superfood that packs a powerful boost of Vitamin A (which promotes healthy bones, skin, and eyes) and fiber which, along with a balanced diet, helps to protect your body from certain types of cancer and heart disease. So, when I was offered the opportunity to partner with Libby’s Pumpkin to promote the versatility and health benefits of eating pumpkin year-round, I happily accepted.

So wait, pumpkin year-round? Oh yeah, I said it. Don't shove those hoarded cans of pumpkin puree to the back of your pantry once the cool weather finally gives way to a Spring thaw. Instead, shift your perspective. I'll concede to the fact that your warming spices may no longer be displayed prominently next to your salt and pepper, though.

I mean, did you know that one serving of Libby's 100% Pure Pumpkin actually provides more than 100% of your daily allowance of Vitamin A, and 20% of your daily fiber requirement? Why would you want to forget about such an easy source of antioxidants for 3/4 of the year? That's just crazy talk.
Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lemon Icebox "Pie"

Lemon Icebox Pie
A few weeks ago, somebody on twitter asked me if I had a good Lemon Icebox Pie recipe. I had to say that I didn't, but that I would ask around. We found some absolutely tempting suggestions, and I decided that it was time to make one for myself. I don't know why I hadn't before now...I love lemon desserts. If I'm being completely honest, I don't think that I'd ever even eaten a slice before. That changed last weekend.

I wound up slightly adapting a recipe by my favorite cookbook author, Tessa Kiros. In her latest absolutely gorgeous as usual book, Recipes and Dreams from an Italian Life, she shares a pie that her sister has made for so many years that she could make it with her eyes closed. Not knowing the definite origins, she guesses that it probably came from a condensed milk can of old. I figured that "pie" (I'm air-quoting because can you really call it a pie if it's made in a rectangular pan? I suppose so, but for some reason, my fingers automatically raise...) was as good a place to start as any.

And guess what? YUM! So good. It's light an fluffy with that perfect lemon tang. I'm sort of in love with the simple filling. I think I'm going to stuff it an Angel Food Swiss Roll later on today. It also fits in perfectly at your Easter or Spring table.
Saturday, April 19, 2014

Black Garlic Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream #NationalGarlicDay

Black Garlic Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream
The day that I've been promising you for the past 4 or 5 years has finally arrived. The day that I share with you a big bowl of GARLIC ICE CREAM! I've made a few garlicky desserts in my day. One that I've mentioned, but never actually shared with you, Pineapple-Garlic Upside Down Cake (imagine roasted garlic cloves in place of the maraschino cherries). And then couple of years ago, I shared an Apple Spice Cake with Roasted Garlic and Honey-Poached Garlic Sauce.

I can't help it, I'm drawn to the unusual!

But not only the unusual, as pretty much anything with garlic is good in my book. My old standby and perennial favorite is Chicken with 40 Cloves. Garlic Soup in pretty much any form is also something that I can't get enough of. One of my favorite treats is topping a round of Brie with as many roasted garlic cloves as I can fit on top, and then sliding it into a hot oven until the brie is soft. Give me that, a loaf of crusty bread, and a bottle of wine...good lawd, call it a day.
Thursday, April 17, 2014

Peach, Maple, and Bourbon-Glazed Ham Steaks

Peach, Maple, and Bourbon-Glazed Ham Steaks
Growing up, we always piled into the car on holidays and headed to my grandparents' house. As the grandchildren got older started having children of their own, there were more card tables and folding chairs pulled up from the basement to accommodate everybody. As the family got bigger, so did the bird or the ham that was roasting in the oven.

As the house filled up, the noise level grew right along with the inviting scents wafting out of the kitchen. If you happened to be one of the last ones to arrive, a blanket of warmth and comfort enveloped you the moment you opened the door.

Grandma and Grandpa are getting older now, and though they usually still invite everybody over on the holidays, sometimes we just aren't able to make it. Between my kids getting older and having activities that (yes) overlap with the holidays, unpredictable work schedules, scary road conditions, and the overwhelming desire to hunker down in the house for as long as we possibly can, we often wind up celebrating and making meals for a smaller crowd. A much smaller crowd. Usually just the 5 of us.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Pretzel Croissants

Pretzel Croissants
Guess whose turn it is to be the Bread Baking Babes Kitchen of the Month? Yes, mine! As the host, it's my responsibility to choose what we will be baking. Now, I like to choose a bread that is one (or more) of these things:

a) a challenge - something that takes a while to make or introduces a new technique
b) a favorite - something that I already love and think that everybody should know how to make
c) new to me - ummmmm, self-explanatory

The bread that I chose this month is sort of a combination of all three of my self-imposed requirements.

Sweet 'n Tangy Beer-Glazed Chicken | #BeerMonth

Sweet 'n Tangy Beer-Glazed Chicken #BeerMonth
If it's not your first time here, you probably know that I enjoy cooking and baking with booze. I'm even the resident Boozy Food Fanatic over at Food Fanatic. While I usually turn to my liquor cabinet shelves, I also include wine and beer in that category. Yes, I also drink booze, but bring it into the kitchen with the same fervor. I love matching the nuances of a particular drink with smells, flavors, and ingredients to turn them into something tasty.

These simple chicken breasts are one example. I started with an amber beer. Or should I say, una cerveza ámbar - Dos Equis Amber Lager. Mustard and beer are natural companions, but I also wanted some sweet and tangy flavors to add to the sauce. For the sweet, I turned to Piloncillo; those lovely brown cones of unrefined cane sugar. To balance out the deep, rich flavor of that, I added some cider vinegar.

Once all of those flavors bubbled and thickened a bit, I finished with handful of cilantro for a little brightness in every bite. I found the perfect accompaniment to be just some plain white rice, because it soaks up the juices and sort of mellows out the whole thing perfectly.
Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pizza Pockets

Pizza Pockets
One might think that pizza pockets are just a smaller version of a calzone. Smaller and shaped differently. Oh, and they have sauce on the INSIDE. I've heard tell that real calzones would not be caught dead sporting sauce on the inside. Plus, the only cheese acceptable in a real calzone is ricotta. So actually, pizza pockets and calzones really are two entirely different beasts.

Just like pizza, they make a great family meal because they are versatile (customizable), fairly simple to make (especially if you keep a few balls of pizza dough in the freezer), and let's face it - delicious.

This time around, I used sauce, cheese, and sweet Italian sausage in all of them, but to half, I added some onions, mushrooms, and black garlic that were sauteed in the fat left in the pan from cooking the sausage. So. Ridiculously. Good.

You could really shape these in any way that you like, go in half moons if you like, but if you do, be prepared to suffer the scorn of the connoisseurs who think you're trying to make calzones. I shaped mine the same way that I do my Pretzel Pockets (aka Hot Pocket-style). Due to the folding, the edges wind up being a bit thicker, like soft breadsticks, but as a crust-lover, I like the bonus crust. Everybody seems to.
Friday, April 11, 2014

Corn and Smoked Sausage Fritters

Corn and Smoked Sausage Fritters
I would like to personally thank the Sunshine State for sitting pretty with temps in the 80's at the beginning of April. Sure, I may shake my fist at my Florida friends when they share their pics of the Palm trees, foamy waves, and sunny weather map - but that's because I'm jealous.

Take out your violins.

I'm pretty sure that I have a case of seasonal affective disorder going on. Our long, harsh winter was filled with 5-foot mountains of snow-ice (which are decidedly NOT as fun as simple mountains of snow) and unforgiving negative temperatures with even worse wind chills. It seriously is the worst winter that I can recall. And the last of our snow just melted last week. That would be after the first day of Spring. Or as we're calling it in the Midwest, "Spring".

Okay, bows down.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Beef Pho inspired by The Frangipani Hotel

Beef Pho (Vietnamese Noodle Soup) inspired by The Frangipani Hotel - book tour
I've always loved the chill that hearing or reading ghost stories and urban legends gives me. My body literally shakes and tears involuntarily roll from the corners of my eyes, but I love every minute of it. The fact that they translate best when the air is murky and dark doesn't hurt. A bit of those feelings set in as I read short stories within The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith.

The Frangipani Hotel is a collection of stories revolving around Vietnamese culture, in some form or another. Some are haunting. Some make you think. Others leave you wondering what in the heck you just read. All hint at a bit of the supernatural. Kupersmith managed to weave humor and terror equally well into these cultural tales. And guess what else she did (because you know I can't help but look for it)? She successfully wove food and eating into the stories. But I'm not surprised, because I do think that food is an essential inclusion when spinning tales steeped in culture, history, and human emotion.

This book contains 9 stories, each of which I enjoyed for what it was. Looking back, however, I'm not surprised that ones that I remember best were the ones that contained food as a main element. At least that's how I saw them. Reception, Skin and Bones, and The Red Veil were my 3 favorites. They were definitely the most foodcentric. Following close behind were Little Brother and Guests; both also had food involved. I don't purposefully do it, I naturally gravitate towards the foodie aspect of anything.
Sunday, April 6, 2014

Grilled Goat Cheese w/ Tomato & Tarragon on Olive Bread + No-Knead Olive Bread

Grilled Goat Cheese with Tomato and Tarragon on Olive Bread
Did you know that April is National Grilled Cheese Month? If ever you needed an excuse to eat a grilled cheese sandwich every day for 30 days straight, this is it! Personally, I don't really think excuses are necessary when it comes to grilled cheese. It's been one of my favorites since I could chew.

During my sophomore year in college, some of our closest friends from our brother floor freshman year moved off campus. They moved into an ever-coveted house. But since we all got pretty tight the year before, they still dropped by the dorms to visit pretty often. Now, I ate the majority of my meals in the cafeteria - which I actually didn't mind. I thought the food was pretty good. Heck, we even had King Crab legs on special occasions. But sometimes, I just missed a home-cooked meal. Even if it was something as simple as a grilled cheese.

So, being the awesome guy that he was, Mike (one of our "brothers") used to make grilled cheese sandwiches and bring them to the dorm for me. I can't remember if he used the stovetop or a grilled cheese maker, but it didn't matter. It was the highlight of my day every time. Perfectly golden, crispy bread encasing ooey, gooey melted cheese. I don't think that I ever expressed how thankful I was to him for taking the time to do that, but it's a gesture that sticks with me to this day.
Saturday, April 5, 2014

Game Day Dipping w/ Cheesy Spinach and Bacon Dip

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Sam’s Club. All opinions are 100% mine.
Cheesy Spinach and Bacon Dip
My madness turned to sadness last Sunday when my boys in green and white didn't advance. I'm a die-hard Spartans fan and had them picked to go all the way! I don't do brackets, but if I did, mine would have been busted. Which is exactly the reason that I stopped filling them out. I feel like a fair-weather fan if I don't pick "my boys" to go all the way. I always have them pegged to win it all. That makes for a really bad game-face.

I was bummed for the rest of the day. I even threw up my hands and proclaimed that I wasn't watching anymore of the tournament. No more college basketball for this girl until next season. And then I got over it. There's just something about the excitement that draws me back in. And if my team is no longer there, my barrage of cheers and support go to any Big 10 teams that remain. Fortunately, there's still one in there.

The one remotely good thing about not having my favorite team on the court anymore is that I can now focus on the food. Game-day food...the other equally important part of any sporting event! With only four games remaining, what will you be bringing to the (coffee-) table?
Friday, April 4, 2014

Grilled Zucchini Salad with Sea Salt and Lemon Zest

Grilled Zucchini Salad with Sea Salt and Lemon Zest
Who's ready to break out their grill? Oh wait, you never put it away? Me neither. Well, to be fair, we roll ours into the garage for storage once it's cool (I don't have a patio), so it's "put away", but never out of commission. I've been known to grill in the middle of winter with the snow falling all around me. It's a pretty awesome experience, actually. If you've never done it, I recommend trying it at least once. The heat from the grill creates a little bubble of warmth in the midst of all the white. You may just decide to grill all winter long.

That being said, I grew up around the grill. Summer meant parties and cook-outs.  I can't remember there ever being a grill-master in our midst, everybody just took turns. Now, that being said, I didn't really even realize that there was such an art to grilling until I was an adult. Our kind of grilling was always lighting the charcoal, waiting for it to turn gray, and then throwing our food on.

For the most part, that's still how I do it today. But I now understand and admire the skill and dedication it takes to be a true master of the grill. So, when I had the chance to be part of the blog tour to introduce Grill To Perfection by Andy Husbands, Chris Hart, and Andrea Pyenson, I jumped at the chance. The blue ribbon on the front cover says everything: "35 Time Kansas City BBQ Society Grand Champions". Nice.
Thursday, April 3, 2014

In the kitchen with Kung Fu Panda for Food 'n Flix

I'm hosting Food 'n Flix this month w/ my pick - Kung Fu Panda
Food‘nFlixHey guys! I'm hosting this month's edition of Food 'n Flix! This month I'm challenging you to watch Kung Fu Panda (either or both), and then head into the kitchen to make a dish inspired by the film(s). I can't wait to spend some time with one of my favorite foodies, Poe! I adore both versions of Kung Fu Panda, and they just so happen to be very foodie-friendly.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Drunken Hummingbird Cocktail

Drunken Hummingbird Cocktail
When Blue Chair Bay Rum invited me to be a part of their Blogtender Nation by joining them in celebrating the first-ever International Pineapple Day, visions of serene sandy beaches danced in my head. And I said yes...obviously! Me, fresh pineapples, and rum? We go hand-in-hand.

Let's talk about Blue Chair Bay Rum first. Created by singer Kenny Chesney, BCB just celebrated it's 1-year birthday! They offer three flavors - White, Coconut, and Spiced Coconut. I was able to pick one flavor to sample and create a cocktail with; it was a hard decision, but I went with Coconut. After the long, brutal winter we're still trying to shake here in the Midwest, I needed a little tropical getaway.

So, first impressions are important, right? It's true. Blue Chair Bay made a helluva first impression. The bottle is gorgeous. It's made of a smoky-blue matte glass that fades into clear and makes me want to rub my hands up an down it. A wooden-topped stopper accented with a thin, rustic sort of nautical seal bearing the words "nowhere to go, nowhere to be" complete the package.

Whole Grain Sampling Day

Whole Grain Sampling Day 2014
Whole Grains Sampling Day is here again! I can' hardly believe that it's been year already. I am so excited to be partnering with the Whole Grains Council as a whole grain ambassador again this year. You may have seen glimpses of my family enjoying some amazing products packed with whole grains over the past couple of months, both new-to-us foods and some old favorites. We've been so excited to add some new favorites to our pantry!

So yes, whole grains are good for you; they're healthy. But what so many people don't realize, is that they can also be utterly delicious. I love "meaty", nutty whole grains like steel-cut oats, farro, and brown rice. My family's favorite snack is popcorn. Wheat Thins and Triscuits are almost always on my shopping list. Cereal, both hot and cold...whole grain bread...cookies...baking mixes...some of the flours lining my shelves...all whole grains.

If ever you're in doubt, just check your box or package for the Whole Grains Council stamp (scroll down a bit and you'll see an example - it's yellow). Adding whole grains to your diet is simple. And my guess is, you may already be eating whole grains on a regular basis and not even know it.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Orange-Fennel Cake Doughnuts

Orange-Fennel Cake Doughnuts
This month's theme for #TwelveLoaves is ORANGES. The first place my mind went was to Orange Rolls. They're a family favorite and Christmas morning tradition around our house. I thought maybe I'd toy with a new recipe or put them in a different form like monkey bread (Iwasthisclosetomakingmonkeybread,really), pull-apart bread, or a swirled loaf. I went back and forth trying to make up my mind.

And then I shifted directions entirely.

You see, I found something that I'd been looking for forEVER. Sugar-coated fennel seeds. Seriously, I should have bought the small pack that I saw in the candy section when I staked temporary residence at Eataly in January. But there were just so many other things beckoning me from all around, that I forgot about them.