February 25, 2013

Hosting My First Oscar Party

Last night I hosted my first Oscar party and many guests commented that it was their first time ever attending one.  I think a Facebook friend said it best, "the Oscars are my Super Bowl."

No, I don't love the Oscars which was a common assumption made at work today as my co-workers devoured leftover mini cupcakes.  I just like any excuse to host a party :)

I contributed drinks and desserts, while guests brought food for dinner with my only request being that it didn't require silverware.  With ease-of-eating-in-the-living-room in mind, I made mini cupcakes.

Parties are not a good time to try out new recipes, so I went with a pumpkin cupcake recipe that I've made many times and people always seem to love.

I also chose to make mini cupcakes because they were the perfect size to hold Hollywood food picks I found at Bartz's Party Store.  I also picked up paper popcorn boxes in their Oscar party section.

I'm a huge candy fan, so I stocked up on classic movie theatre candy...or at least what I remember being popular from 1993-1998 when I worked at Marcus Theatres in Madison.  We snacked on popcorn and candy after dinner which completed the movie experience.

Anytime you invite food bloggers to a party, you know the food is going to be good.  Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo of everyone, but I did capture Erica and her crab cakes, Molly and her caprese bites and salami bites, and Alysha with her crackers, carrots and dip.

Also in attendance were Lisa who brought popcorn and Inger who made sliders, including a "Life of Pi" curry slider that I really liked!  I was shocked to learn they were made with tempeh, which I didn't think I liked.

The Oscars were pretty boring this year, or maybe it's just the company was so good that I preferred to chat rather than watch the show.  Either way, I think it's a fun reason to have a party and I would definitely host again next year.

February 17, 2013

The Sweet Life in Paris - David Lebovitz

It's been a quiet weekend, we both woke up sick on Friday so I've spent more time reading on the couch lately than cooking in the kitchen.  My favorite book that I read this weekend was The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz.  I knew nothing about him prior to reading the book except that he was a food blogger, and I found his story fascinating.

As he talked about acclimating to life in Paris it reminded me of our week-long stay in a Paris apartment back in July 2008 and after finishing the book, I started browsing through our photos from that trip.  It was our second time in Paris after a brief visit in 2007, and it was our final trip before moving back to the States from England later that same month.

Part of life in Europe means dealing with smaller spaces, and David talks quite a bit about learning to adjust to his tiny Paris kitchen.  I found photos of his kitchen in 2008 on The Kitchn and it looks remarkably like the kitchen in the apartment we rented that same year (ours is pictured on the left below, his on the right).

David talks about learning to drive in Paris, which reminded me of how entertaining it was to stand atop the Arc de Triomphe and watch cars narrowly miss crashing into each other.  What you don't get a feel for in the photo below, is the speed at which these cars were moving!  Chris drove in France during a trip through Brittany and Normandy but neither of us ever braved the streets of Paris behind the wheel.

Quite a bit is written in this book about how crowded it can be in Paris.  While that was certainly our experience as well, I don't recall people walking into me or line jumping as David talks about.
If I remember correctly, I took the photo below in the 6th arrondissement where our apartment was.  It was a lovely neighborhood and a great place to have as our home base for a week. 
The popularity of McDonalds is a topic in this book, or McDo (pronounced mac-dough) as the French like to say.  Did you know the French operation of McDonald’s is the second most profitable after the one in the United States?
According to The NY Times, the success of McDonald’s does not mean that the pleasures of simple French food have vanished completely. A McDonald’s spokeswoman, said that the jambon beurre, a sandwich of butter and slices of ham on a crusty baguette, still outsells burgers 10 to 1.

Paris is a wonderful city to visit and while I have no desire to live there, it was very interesting reading about David's experiences as an American living in Paris.  I admire those that uproot their lives, try hard to learn a new language and do their best to adapt to life in their new home.

Even though David is a food blogger, this memoir does not touch on blogging at all.  Actually that might be one of the reasons I enjoyed his book so much because I don't care for his blog.  Similarly, I loved the book A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, also a food blogger, but am not a fan of her blog Orangette.

I've now read several books written by Americans who have lived in France.  My favorites include Almost French, Lunch in Paris and My Life in France.   I'm always looking for book recommendations, so if anyone has a favorite blogger memoir or book about an American living in Europe please leave a comment.

February 15, 2013

Friday Five

1 - Soft Pretzel Bites

Recipe failures are annoying for many reasons, but mostly the time and money aspect.  I spent quite a long time making soft pretzel bites recently and while they looked pretty good in the end.  They were a pain to make and didn't taste all that great.

I'm always hesitant to share links to recipes that didn't work for me.  Especially in this case where there's nothing inherently wrong with the recipe and my dislike might just be due to my taste preference.  Although it is rare for me to meet a carb I don't like :)

2 - Martha Stewart's Cooking School

I recently discovered a way that you can determine if you've been buying too many cookbooks.  I was talking with Chris at home, when the spine of the book pictured below caught my attention.  Looking at the title, I figured it must be related to her new PBS cooking show of the same name.

So I quickly opened it (which cracked the spine for the first time) and looked up tempura vegetables which I saw on a recent episode and sure enough the writeup was very similar to what she presented on the show.  Flipping through it, the organization of the book matches the format of the shows almost identically. 

I felt really stupid for not remembering that I owned Martha Stewart's Cooking School because after each TV episode I was googling and printing the recipes I liked.  Oh well, lesson learned, start using the books I already own before buying anymore!

3 - Rosemary-Mint Soap

My friend Jen recently brought me a great little bag which contained her favorite Rishi tea (hibiscus berry), a homemade body scrub and rosemary-mint soap from Soap of the Earth which she bought at the Milwaukee Count Winter Farmers' Market.  The smell is heavenly and reminds me of my favorite Aveda shampoo.

4 - Penzeys

Once a year I go through all my dried herbs and spices, then head to Penzeys to restock.  This past weekend was the perfect time because I met my parents for lunch at Marty's, which is my step-dad's absolute favorite place to eat in the Milwauee area.  I don't understand the allure and can think of much better pizza places.  I'm curious, anyone out there really like Marty's?

So anyway, very close to Marty's in Brookfield is a Penzeys store.  I love that I can buy in bulk there because it's a much better value to buy herbs and spices in plastic bags rather than glass jars.  I go through vanilla extract so quickly that I picked up a much larger bottle this time around. 

5 - Summer Vacations

I'm not a fan of winter, and although I will admit that the snow last week was quite pretty, I'm dreaming of summer adventures.  Due to our limited vacation budget (as in nonexistent), weekend trips around Wisconsin are our best bet, which is ok by me because there are so many cool things to see and do in this state.

February 14, 2013

Valentine's Cake Pops, Cookies & Cupcakes

Chris and I don't celebrate Valentine's Day but I do love using "holidays" like today as an excuse to bake :)  This year I made vanilla cupcakes, white-chocolate cherry shortbread, chewy sugar cookies and also cake pops with my friend Jen.

The cupcakes were a big hit at work.  I used a vanilla cupcake recipe from Glorious Treats and made a vanilla buttercream frosting recipe from my Betty Crocker cookbook.  You might notice in the photo above, my pink frosting looks a little melted.  That's because I added too much milk and at 9:30pm on a weeknight, I had no desire to start over.

I'm not a huge fan of frosting so when I make cupcakes I typically only add a minimal amount.  However my co-workers have complained in the past about the lack of frosting, so I recently bought two big decorating tips (after reading this advice) in order to provide the socially acceptable amount of frosting :)

I wanted to make cupcakes after seeing a post about how to make heart accents on My Baking Addiction.  I figured as long as Jen and I were melting chocolate to make cake pops, it was a good time to try making some heart accents too. 

It was more difficult than I thought it'd be but it got easier once I switched to my smallest decorating tip.  I also tried a drizzle bottle because it already had chocolate in it, but that resulted in really thick hearts (shown below in white).

Pictured above are some of the white chocolate cherry shortbread that I dipped in chocolate.  I modified the recipe only slightly in that I rolled the dough out and used a heart shaped cookie cutter.  It worked well, but I will admit it's not easy to cut shapes into a dough that has white chocolate chips in it.

At first I thought the cookies were a little bland, but after dipping them in chocolate, I found I actually preferred the plain version and the taste grew on me.  I definitely plan to make these again!

I also made my favorite chewy sugar cookies, and wanted to try a new letter stamping technique I recently saw on Lauren's Latest.  I knew it was a long shot that they'd turn out because chewy cookies are suppose to be crinkly.  As expected they weren't legible after baking, but I think stamping would work beautifully with a traditional sugar cookie recipe.
The main event was, of course, cake pops.  They are such a pain to make, but it's a lot more tolerable when a fun friend joins you.  I needed to restock my supplies so I headed to Michael's and two different Jo-Ann's to get everything we needed, including a replacement chocolate melter because the handle on my last one broke (I still highly recommend the Wilton Chocolate Pro, I'm certain mine broke from too much use).
At the end of the night, I quickly packaged up the treats, so I could get them in the mail on Monday.  Priority Mail is great because they guarantee delivery within three days, so baked goods should still be fairly fresh and I knew they would be received by Valentine's Day.

February 12, 2013

Angelic Bakehouse {Giveaway}

Last week I attended a launch party at La Merenda for Angelic Bakehouse, formerly known as Cybros.  Owners James and Jenny Marino announced the name change on Facebook in January and are considering two new Milwaukee area locations for their bakery, which is currently in Waukesha.

Having previously only eaten their sprouted grain products at Cafe One 24, I was excited to try all the different food options at the launch party.  I really liked their pizza crust, as well as the bread pudding for dessert.

I shop at Woodman's at least once a week, but had never noticed they sell sprouted bread until this past weekend.  Luckily there's an overhead sign with the new logo which makes it easy to spot the location of Angelic Bakehouse products.

It was tough to decide what to buy and I ended up with three items - honey wheat with raisins, seven-grain hamburger buns and a seven-grain baguette.  I really liked all three, with my favorite being the hamburger buns which I enjoyed with black bean burgers.

At the launch party we received swag bags which contained a coupon for a free Angelic Bakehouse product.  Actually we were told to take two bags because they had extras, so I have two coupons to giveaway.
If you'd like to win two coupons for any Angelic Bakehouse product ($10 value), please send an email to karisann@gmail.com with the subject line "Angelic Bakehouse" before February 23 and I'll randomly pick one winner.  Please note these coupons are valid in-store only and cannot be redeemed online. 
2/23/13 update: Alysha is the winner of the giveaway.

February 08, 2013

Freezing Shredded Zucchini with a FoodSaver

For two years I debated buying a FoodSaver and I'm so glad I finally did this past September.  In fact that's when I started writing this blog post, but I've waited until now to finish it because I wanted to ensure that my zucchini still worked well for baking after several months in the freezer.

Back then, between zucchini arriving each week in my CSA box and those that I purchased at the farm stand near my house, I ended up with 15 cups of shredded zucchini.  I'm so thankful my food processor has a shredding disk!

The specific model I purchased at Kohl's was FoodSaver 3840. I didn't buy any extra bags or rolls at that time, just in case I ended up not liking it.

However, I soon headed back to purchase a 3-pack of 11-inch rolls (also available on Amazon). I prefer the rolls instead of bags, because the roll is stored inside the machine and I can adjust the bags to be any size I like.

The only trick to freezing shredded zucchini is to freeze it first before packaging it, whether you're using traditional freezer bags or FoodSaver bags.  I have a very narrow freezer, so I used a 9x13 pan and froze 3 at a time in a shape that would work well with the FoodSaver packaging.

You'll know the zucchini is ready to be packaged when you can lift it as a whole unit out of the pan, as I'm demonstrating in the photo below.  It took a couple hours in my freezer before the zucchini was ready.

I've been using frozen zucchini for the past three months now and it works beautifully in baking.  Just be sure to include all the water in the package after it thaws.  I had previously read that you should thaw it and blot it dry, but in a cooking class Annie advised against that and my recipe results have proven that she's correct.
My two favorite recipes are zucchini-carrot muffins and banana-zucchini bread.  In fact, I just made two loaves last night after seeing some bananas past their prime on our counter.

February 07, 2013

Vegetarian Pot Pie

When it comes to traditional gender roles, I'm a huge fan of the ones which involve Chris shoveling snow while I make pot pies :)  Especially because if those roles were reversed, he would certainly add chicken to the meal.

These vegetarians pot pies are delicious and satisfying, especially on a snowy night like tonight.  Winter storm Nemo left 6 inches of snow here in Wisconsin and I hope people in the Northeast stay safe this weekend.

The filling for these cornbread topped pot pies includes sweet potatoes, peas, carrots, onion and garbanzo beans.

I love cornbread and it's my favorite part of these pot pies.  I much prefer it to the traditional pastry crust that accompanies most pot pies.

Vegetarian Pot Pie

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Ingredients (serves 7)
    • 1 pound of sweet potatoes, peeled (2 cups chopped, 1/2" pieces)
    • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 cup chopped onion
    • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
    • 2 cups vegetable broth
    • 15 oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
    • 1/2 cup frozen peas
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
    • 3/4 cup cornmeal
    • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
    • 1 tablespoon baking powder
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 egg yolk
    • 3/4 cup milk
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • Heat oven to 400 degrees
    • In a large saucepan, add sweet potatoes and carrots, then cover with cold water by at least an inch. Bring water to a boil, then cook for 6 minutes. Drain and set aside.
    • Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, cook for 5 minutes. Sprinkle in 1/4 cup flour, then pour in the vegetable broth, and stir well. Cook until thickened and bubbly, about 3 minutes.
    • Add the cooked potatoes and carrots, beans, peas and salt & pepper. Cook until the mixture is heated through, about 2 to 3 minutes, then divide evenly among seven 8-ounce ramekins (or other small ovenproof dishes such as Pyrex).
    • In a medium bowl combine cornmeal, 3/4 cup flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. In a small bowl, slightly beat the egg yolk, then mix in the milk and oil. Add to the dry ingredients and mix until uniform but a bit lumpy. Spoon the batter evenly over the filling.
    • Bake until the top of each pot pie is golden brown, about 12 minutes.

    Recipe Source: Eats Well With Others

    February 06, 2013

    10-Minute Whole Grain Salad {Trader Joe's}

    I'm not exaggerating when I say this recipe can be made in 10 minutes.  Even if you don't have quick-cook grains from Trader Joe's, you can easily cook the grains ahead of time for this quick salad since they stay fresh for up to 5 days refrigerated.

    The components of this salad include veggies, whole grains and an orange ginger dressing.  The recipe comes from Oh She Glows which is based on a Whole Foods Market layered salad.  While the layered salad looks pretty, I prefer the easier one big bowl approach.

    The first time I made this salad, I followed Angela's recipe exactly (minus parsley) and I didn't care for it as a raw, cold, crunchy salad. However, as a warm salad with sauteed vegetables, I think it's wonderful.  The dressing is my favorite element!

    So are you wondering how these Trader Joe's grains can be cooked so quickly?  Here's what the February 2013 Fearless Flyer says "The grains are cleaned, then cooked with steam, then dried, then cooked a bit more with hot air, then cleaned again and packed.  This process preserves the nutritive values of the grains, while cutting their cooking time from 30-50 minutes down to 10."


    February 04, 2013

    New Snacks

    This past weekend I caught up on some of my magazine reading.  Having a twisted neck will do that, as I didn't feel like doing much else.  Oh, except for the four hours I spent at work trying to catch up from being out last week with neck problems.  Thankfully my first physical therapy appointment was this morning and I'm on the road to recovery now.

    So back to the magazines...they stayed true to the same old January theme of healthy eating and dieting which can get boring.  However, I did find inspiration in some recipes and I especially liked some of the snack ideas, as I need to mix up my current snack routine.

    I saw a couple snacks in the most recent of Whole Living that looked good to me.  Snacks are one of those things that don't seem like they should require recipes but I appreciate the suggestions on what to combine in my trail mix and smoothies.  

    My tip for quickly chopping apricots is to use a kitchen shears.  I love my Oxo scissors, and use them exclusively for food, whereas the scissor included in my knife block is used to tear open packages from Amazon.com :)

    I picked up roasted coconut chips from Trader Joe's for the first time recently, and I love them in this trail mix.  Fooducate gives them a D+, but that's only because like many tasty things they should be eaten in moderation.

    Whole Living's strawberry-coconut smoothie recipe is fantastic!  Super frothy, light and delicious.  Oh and the best part is that my cheap little Oster blender could easily handle this smoothie recipe, unlike others I've tried which seem like they were tested with heavy-duty Vitamixes.
    Another new favorite snack of mine are the Chobani Bites.  Of the four available flavors, I immediately ruled out two because they have chocolate in them, which left fig with orange zest and caramel with pineapple chunks.

    I hated the fig flavor, but absolutely loved the caramel and pineapple combination.  It's the perfect sweet ending to a meal.  I shouldn't be surprised since my favorite regular Chobani flavor is the 2% pineapple.

    February 03, 2013

    Vegetarian Taco Stuffed Shells

    After deciding on margaritas yesterday as our cocktail of choice, I figured taco stuffed shells would go well for dinner, especially since I prefer to tackle more complicated recipes on the weekend.

    I loosely followed a recipe from Budget Bytes, minus the ground beef and subbed my lentil taco recipe instead.  If you're looking for a meaty recipe, definitely check out her version.

    Under all that cheese lies stuffed shells filled with lentils and beans (black & kidney).  Both Chris and I loved the taste of this recipe, but the tedious aspect of stuffing shells seemed unnecessary.  I'm thinking long lasagna noodles would work just as well next time, and lessen the prep time.

    Creating a layered dish would also help distribute the enchilada sauce and cheese.  Or maybe the shells were not suppose to be stacked?  Although I did use a 12 oz package as directed.

    This is my long way of saying that I recommend making this recipe, but I'm going to try a different variation next time.  Also, if this type of recipe appeals to you, my spinach & 3-bean enchiladas recipe is very similar and a little quicker to prepare.

    Vegetarian Taco Stuffed Shells

    Prep Time: 45 minutes
    Cook Time: 70 minutes

    Ingredients (serves 8)
    Lentil/Beans Filling
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 cup finely chopped onion
    • 1 garlic clove, minced
    • 1 cup dried lentils, rinsed
    • 1 oz package taco seasoning (or 2 heaping tablespoons taco seasoning)
    • 3 cups vegetable broth
    • 2 cans beans (such as black, kidney, pinto)
    Enchilada Sauce
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon flour
    • 15 oz tomato puree
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
    • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    Stuffed Shells
    • 12 oz jumbo shells
    • 2 cups shredded cheese
    • 1 bunch of green onions
    • In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook onion and garlic for 3 minutes. Add lentils and taco seasoning. Cook until spices are fragrant, about 1 minute.
    • Add broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until lentils are tender, 30-35 minutes. Uncover lentils, add beans and cook until mixture thickens, about 7 minutes.
    • Toward the end of the lentil cook time, prepare the enchilada sauce. In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat, add flour, smoothing and stirring with rubber spatula. Cook for 1 minute.
    • Add tomato puree, chili powder, oregano, cumin and salt. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes.
    • While the lentil/bean filling and enchilada sauce cook, prepare the shells. Heat a large pot of water to a boil. Add shells and cook just until tender, about 9 minutes.
    • Heat oven to 350 degrees. Drain the shells in a colander and rinse with cold water until they are cool enough to handle. Spray a 9x13 dish with nonstick spray. Fill the shells with the lentil/bean filling and place in the dish.
    • Once all the shells are filled, pour the enchilada sauce over top, then add the shredded cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
    • Chop green onions and sprinkle over the top after the shells come out of the oven.
    • Recipe adapted from: Budget Bytes and This Homemade Life
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    Blood Orange Margaritas

    We celebrated a recent work promotion with blood orange margaritas tonight.  It was Lisa's comment on Friday night that reminded me of a recipe I had seen and wanted to try while blood oranges are still available.

    This drink is nothing like the sugary crappy margaritas served at many restaurants.  Although it can be somewhat expensive to buy proper margarita ingredients if you're used to José and triple sec, I promise it's so worth it.  I used my raise to justify the expenditure :)

    In addition to good liquor, you'll want the juice of freshly squeezed limes and blood oranges.  Please do not be tempted to substitute lime juice from concentrate that might be in a bottle in your fridge.

    In addition to juicing blood oranges and limes, I also tried cara cara oranges that I picked up at Trader Joe's recently.  I'm now convinced that oranges are the perfect addition to winter margaritas. 

    According to the January/February 2013 issue of Whole Living (one of my favorite magazines), cara cara oranges are in season from December to April. "The bright peel of this medium-sized navel orange gives way to shockingly pink flesh. It is usually seedless, and its flavor can be reminiscent of berries, with a gentle undertone of grapefruit."
    While the cara cara margaritas were delicious, I slightly preferred the blood orange version, as did Chris.  We had our first sips mid-afternoon, as good lighting for winter photos necessitates afternoon margarita prep.  The timing was perfect though, as Chris had just finished repairing our kitchen sink which is now back in working condition!

    Blood Orange Margaritas

    Prep Time: 10 minutes
    Cook Time: 5 minutes

    Ingredients (2 cocktails)
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 2 oz orange liqueur (I recommend Patrón Citrónge)
    • 2 oz fresh lime juice
    • 3 oz blood orange juice (2-3 oranges)
    • 3 oz tequila (I recommend 1800 Reposado)
    • In a small saucepan, make a simple syrup by combining water and sugar over medium high heat. Heat until sugar is dissolved; remove from heat and cool.
    • Add ice to a cocktail shaker (about half full), then add 3 oz of simple syrup, orange liqueur, lime juice, blood orange juice and tequila. Shake for approximately 30 seconds or until ice cold.
    • Add ice to glasses, then pour mixture into glasses. Garnish with orange and lime slices, if desired.
    Recipe Source: Creative Culinary
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