Monday, December 20, 2010


As some of you already know, and others would never suspect, I am a fool for the Kansas City Chiefs. I know, I know, I am not a football fan.... unless it involves the Chiefs or the Iowa Hawkeyes. What can I say? I am more than a little biased.

Well, you can imagine how pleased and surprised I was when I was lucky enough to get tickets to the Rams vs. Chiefs game this weekend in St Louis. MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ME!!! And, also, to my girl Ginny, who promptly packed her bags and drove out from Iowa to join me at the game, as she is a Chiefs fan, herself.

I’ve been lucky enough to have these same seats once before, and I was certainly not complaining to have this view of the field:
Likewise, being so close to Christmas, the fans were in fine form, evidenced by the group sitting two rows in front of us.
Too bad they were Rams fans, but at least they were good sports when we KICKED THEIR TEAM’S BUTTS!!!!
Yeah, ok, I was trying to be a good sport, too. I kept as much of my enthusiasm over our win INSIDE my head as I could. It did spill over just a touch when we came across this Kansas City Santa (one of many Santas in the crowd) and couldn’t resist having our picture taken with him.
As an extra bonus, although it took us til halftime, we found the vendors that actually carried our favorite local beer, Schlafly Pale Ale, which we promptly brought back to our seats, to the utter dismay and jealousy of our football neighbors who were stuck with the Bud Light that was available in our section. We took full advantage of the amenities and had some great stadium food as well.

So, I know I haven’t been posting much lately, and I’ll be taking a little hiatus over the holidays since I’ll be on a mini vacation. I hope to accomplish a lot while I’m away and have lots and lots of good stuff to post about when I get back. The same goes for The Bacon Games.

Have a great Holiday season, everyone! See you in 2011!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Osso Buco for Cook the Books

I have never liked Mario Batali.

There, I said it. Its officially out there. Its true. While he doesn’t annoy me quite as much as Bobby Flay, I just could never appreciate him.

That being said....that may have all changed. After reading Bill Buford’s “Heat” for Cook the Books, I have a new understanding of Mario, and the circumstances and choices that have made him the man he is today. Or is that “mad”man? I’m not sure.

For one thing, I think I would really like to share a meal with Mario. I can imagine that would be one hell of a life experience. I need to put that on my Bucket List.

27. Eat with Mario Batali.

Although the book itself didn’t win me over (I found it fairly tedious, as told by Buford) I enjoyed the stories about Mario and the kitchen environment.

Now, unfortunately, with my new found appreciation for Mario, I’m still never going to be able to watch his show. Why? Because I’ll never see him the same way again. Maybe if he wore long pants. But with those shorts...and the orange clogs....I’ll only ever have one image of Mario burned into my brain. And that, my friends, is his calves.

No, Mario doesn’t raise cattle (as far as I know). I mean his beefy, hairy CALVES. You know, the part of his legs that rests just below his shorts and above his signature orange clogs? Yes, THOSE calves.

In his book, Buford quotes the first chef that Mario ever worked for, and now the picture will be forever stamped into my memory: "I will never forget him," White said, when I met him in London. "He has fucking big calves, doesn't he? He should donate them to the kitchen when he dies. They'll make a great osso buco. If he walked in today, and I only saw those calves, I'd know it was Mario."

So, while I am nearly ashamed to even post this, since Deb at Kahakai Kitchen had the very same image ingrained on her, and did a much more fabulous job at depicting it, I’m going to share it with you anyway.

For Mario, and Buford, (Oh, and of course, my husband), I made Osso Buco. Veal , in any form, is nearly impossible to get your hands on in these parts, but even if I could have gotten some, I still would have used the bulging beef shanks that I commandeered from my local grocer. They were lovely and VAST, and I could easily imagine them being sliced from Mario’s own calves. That, and as I mentioned, I will forever see those calves as “beefy” and not at all resembling the critter from whence veal comes.

And so it shall be, in my house, from this day forward (oh, almost had a flashback to the last wedding I presided over!), this dish shall be known as MARIO BUCO.
I based the dish on Mark Bittman’s recipe for Osso Buco (from How to Cook Everything, because really, I have not been disappointed yet!) with a few changes. I used Merlot in lieu of white wine, because, frankly, red meat and red wine are just a go-to combination for me. I also added fire roasted tomatoes to the pan after searing the shanks thoroughly. These beef shanks braised for about an hour and a half in my oven, and made my house smell like a little slice of heaven....with sauce. The hubs was gloriously satisfied and impressed with the tenderness of the beef. I also may have omitted the new name of the dish and declined to comment on the inspiration for the dish.... as picky as he is, I didn’t see him being happy about eating my concocted version of Mario Batali’s extremities.

And so, in honor of Mario, I give you....his calves. I may need a support group to help me wipe this image from my mind.... just not the dish, because it was, and I’m sure White would agree....fucking awesome.

Green Chile Macaroni and Cheese

Flipping through the latest edition of Bon Appetit after it made its appearance in my mailbox, the first recipe that grabbed my attention was the Green Chile Macaroni and Cheese. There wasn’t even a photo to suck me in, and still it got my attention. Trust me when I say that is unusual. I rarely make a recipe that doesn’t have a picture to inspire me. I was excited when I saw this one, though, as I knew that I had just seen fresh poblanos at the local trading post (aka, Walmart. The only store we have other than the mom-and-pop grocery I prefer to frequent.). So the very next day I acquired the lovely chiles and set to work.

If you want to make this a quicker dish to prepare, char and prep the chiles the day before to save yourself the during the week.

Green Chile Macaroni and Cheese
Bon Appetit December 2010

1 whole fresh poblano chile, plus ¼ cup chopped fresh poblano chile
1 TB corn oil
¼ cup chopped red bell pepper
¼ cup chopped red onion
1 garlic clove, minced
½ cup fresh corn kernels or froze, thawed
¾ cup whipping cream
2 cups freshly cooked macaroni (about 2/3 cup dried)
½ cup grated hot pepper Monterey Jack cheese

Char whole chile directly over gas flame or in broiler until blackened on all sides. Transfer to paper bag; seal. Let stand 15 minutes. Peel, seed, and coarsely chop chile. Transfer to processor; puree until smooth.

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add ¼ cup chopped chile, bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Saute until soft, about 4 minutes. Add corn; stir 1 minute. Add cream and chile puree; bring to a boil. Add macaroni and cheese; stir until cheese melts and mixture is heated through. Season with salt and pepper.
**NOTES: Instead of pureeing part of the chile and reserving some of it, I finely chopped two whole roasted poblanos and added it all to the skillet with the other veggies. I liked the veggies a little chunkier and more substantial.

The result? This macaroni was rich and satisfying with just the right touch of heat. I was absolutely certain my husband would love this dish, as everything ingredient was something he likes. Unfortunately, he tried, but rejected it as “too peppery”. In man-speak, I believe that means I should have pureed the chiles after all, because GOD FORBID he bite into an actual chunk of vegetable...

Oh well – more for me! I know what I’m having for lunch today. I absolutely loved this recipe, and in spite of my finicky husband, I will be making this again.

This is my submission to Presto Pasta Nights, which is being hosted by Rachel over at The Crispy Cook this week!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brigadeiros e um Cafezinho para Receitas Regionais

There is something you don’t know about me....its not a secret.... but it occurs to me as I write this post that it isn’t something I’ve ever brought up here. Did you know I can speak a foreign language? Or five?

Everyone has something they are good at. Something that seems to them. For me, it was foreign language. It started with Spanish in high school, at which I excelled from the beginning. I spent some time as a foreign exchange student south of Barcelona (which is NOT Spain, if you ask the residents there. It is Catalunya) and my life was never the same.

In college, I majored in foreign language, studying first Spanish, then Portuguese and Italian (which my professor said I spoke with a lovely Spanish accent. Asshole.). I soon discovered that my university also offered classes in the Basque language, which I gobbled up greedily. Although they did not offer Catala (the language spoken in Catalunya), I continued to pursue it at every avenue. While I never studied French or German, I am able to read and understand both to some extent, just due to my exposure to similar languages.

What is my point? Among all the things I learned about languages in my course of study,. One thing I will always know is that each language has its own personality. French is beautiful and, ahem, it knows it. Italian is Romantic. And Portuguese? Well, you may not know this, but is SEXY. There is just something about the way your tongue moves in your mouth when you speak Portuguese that gives you the sensation of being naughty. And if you’ve ever seen an attractive man speaking it...well...let’s just say you may have had OTHER sensations. Taking it just a step further, the Portuguese spoken in Brasil is Portugal’s guttural, somewhat slutty cousin, a rhythmic song, more felt than sung. Self assured and a little dirty, but completely unconcerned by the sexuality of it.

How do I know this? Well, naturally, there was this guy.... (don’t look at me like that....he didn’t even know I existed!) and he was BEAUTIFUL. When he looked at you with his coffee colored eyes, and spoke those special words (it didn’t matter in the least WHAT words he spoke), your world went a little out of focus. He was Brasilian and he made quite an impression on my sophomore year at the U when he walked into my Portuguese class bearing Brigadeiros.

You knew this post had to turn to food at some point, didn’t you? After all, college is also where I truly began to appreciate both food and coffee (okay, okay, and gorgeous, unattainable men!) You can learn a lot about Brigadeiros by doing a simple search on the internet. These beloved little treats are Brasil’s version of truffles, and are often served alongside a “cafezinho”, a sister to the traditional espresso. Much like the Brasilian tongue, these two treats swirl around in your mouth like a romance novel on fire.

Making Brigadeiros is as simple as the cafezinho is traditional. For the Brigadeiros, cook 1 can sweetened condensed milk, 4 tablespoons cocoa powder and 1 teaspoon butter in a heavy pot over medium-low flame for 15-20 minutes. Keep stirring to prevent the mixture from burning. When the mixture thickens such that it doesn’t come off the spoon easily, remove it from the heat and pour it onto a tray. Leave to cool for 5-10 minutes. (I put mine in the fridge to set up.) Traditionally, Brigadeiros are rolled in chocolate jimmies, but since I didn’t have any on hand, I let Ty pick from my stash of sanding and gourmet sugars. Naturally, he picked orange. Butter your hands to keep the mixture from sticking, and roll it into small balls, then roll in your coating. I leave mine to coll in the fridge again until I am ready for them and then I serve them alongside my cafezinho.
(pardon the picture quality - I'm still experimenting with my new camera!)
If you ask a Brasilian how to make the cafezinho, he will explain to you that a cafezinho isn’t just a coffee. You must start with a pan that you promise to use only for making coffee. I just happen to have one such pan in the depths of my kitchen (don’t give me that look – you know by know that my kitchen fetishes are vast). Over medium high heat, bring your water to a boil and dissolve the desired amount of sugar in the hot liquid. For each cup of water, mix in one heaping tablespoon of high quality coffee (in my case, Medaglia D’Oro espresso). Then you must use a contraption to filter the coffee through a cloth filter (or coffee filter, if you want find cloth) and serve it in espresso cups (again, which I just happen to have...).

Serve this cafezinho alongside a couple of Brigadeiros and you have one sexy little afternoon treat. Maybe, if you’re lucky, your own little Brasilain Adonis will walk by and look at you in that special way they have....if he does, offer him a Brigadeiro....maybe he’ll stop by and have one with you.

This is my submission to Regional Recipes for this month’s theme – Brasil!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Zuppa Stracciatella

I do so love Potluck week over at I Heart Cooking Clubs. It always gives me the opportunity to post the recipes that I intended to make during the month, for other themes, and then had the month get away from me before I got them posted. Last week, I had my dish carefully planned out. I've been in the mood for soup, and Giada's Zuppa Stracciatella is a wonderful "Fall Favorite" for me.

Naturally, the days slipped by all too quickly until I suddenly realized that it was Friday, and I was out of the game once again.

Well, that's not stopping me this week! The temperature started bottoming out last night on my way home form work and the first thing on my mind when I got home was soup. This one is so easy to throw together, I can make a batch almost any night of the week, tweaking the recipe based on what I have available at the time. This week I was fresh out of parsley and basil, but I had a bag of gorgeous prosciutto tortellini from a recent trip to The Hill, which I threw in after the eggs cooked.

The idea of this soup isn't uniquely Italian. It is really no more than another version of egg drop soup with an Italian twist. And I love egg drop soup. For the one, the eggs are mixed with Parmesan cheese to thicken the ribbons of cooked egg in the soup. For some reason, mine didn't string out the way they usually do into savory threads (maybe I added too much cheese this time), but that didn't stop them from tasting delicious.

Put a few slices of artisan salume and a mix of marinated olives on the side and you have one fabulous fall meal.

This is my submission to this week's "Potluck" at I Heart Cooking Clubs as well as Presto Pasta Nights, being hosted by Oh Taste N See this week.

Zuppa Stracciatella
6 cups good quality chicken broth or stock
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp grated Parmesan
fresh Italian parsley and basil
1 cup baby spinach, cut in thin strips

In a large saucepan, bring the stock to a boil. Meanwhile, mix the cheese, parsley and basil with the beaten eggs. Stirring quickly in a clockwise motion, gradually drizzle the egg mixture into the hot stock, creating thready strips. Season the soup with salt and pepper.
For my variation, I added in a cup of  some lovely prosciutto tortellini and cooked it until the pasta was al dente and hot throughout.
Toss the spinach in just before serving so it doesn't lose its fresh green color.
Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cheddar Horseradish Soup

You may recall a not-so-long-ago post where I described the mayhem that was created the last time I visited Ginny and we decided to make our own horseradish....from scratch....and nearly lost our eyebrows and nose hairs in the process.

Well, since that time, my precocious little jar of fresh horseradish has been languishing in the depths of my Frigidaire. Apparently, I just don’t use that much horseradish. That is, until now.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran across a recipe for Cheddar Horseradish Soup from Food Network Magazine and decided we needed to give it a try. Ginny made it first, for her coworkers, and got rave reviews. Then, when we were overdosed on caffeine and lack of real sustenance during our weekend of candy making, we needed something to eat. Fast.

It turns out we had everything required for the soup and proceeded to put the stove to work.

The result? A lovely, unctuous concoction with just a touch of heat (the ¼ cup of horseradish called for in the recipe scared me a little, but it worked out nicely). Since we had a huge bowl of dried out bread torn up to make stuffing with later in the weekend, we threw several chunks in each bowl and then topped it with the soup. Being in full-on “bacon” mode lately, I think it would have been even better with some crumbled bacon on top, but you know what they say about hindsight....

The recipe provided by Food Network Magazine was very simple. It looked something like this:

Sweat 2 each diced carrots and leeks in butter. Add cayenne, salt, 3 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons dry mustard; cook 2 minutes. Add 1 bottle beer, 1/4 cup horseradish, 3 cups water and a dash of Worcestershire; simmer until thick. Whisk in 2 cups half-and-half and 1 1/2 cups cheddar.

Really. That’s all it said. And, frankly, that’s all it needed! The only change we made was to substitute chicken stock from my freezer for the 3 cups of water, and it was the ideal little warmer-upper for a chilly November day.

Don’t you agree?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bacon Crack....and other treasures

SO, what have I been up to this week? Well, that's a loaded question.

See, Ginny came out this weekend for our annual holiday candy making extravaganza. We get together every year for a weekend and do nothing but make candy. Well...ok. Maybe not NOTHING. I mean, we do DRINK a lot.... and we cook OTHER things besides candy.

For example, on Thursday night, Ginny was on her way to the armpit of central Illinois, and I knew she'd be hungry when she got here. SO, in honor of the upcoming deadline for The Bacon Games, I got porky.

Bacon Crackers. Or, you might as well call them "Bacon Crack", because it was nearly impossible to stop eating them. These are so easy, you'll hardly be able to keep yourself from throwing a batch in the

Take a sleeve of Club Crackers. Wrap each cracker with a half a slice (or more, because, frankly, half a slice may not have been enough) of bacon, then, rub all the surfaces of the bacon with brown sugar.

Place the crack (er, crackers) on a rack over a foil lined backing sheet and bake at 250 degrees for two hours. Yes, I said TWO hours. You will think you are going to die from anticipation, but I assure you, this too, shall pass....

Then? Gorge yourself. Seriously. Because you won't be able to help it.
What else did we do? We also made a lovely frittata using up the leftover Sciue Sciue Pasta I posted last week,
a pot of Cheddar Horseradish Soup, that I'll post later, and a Fakesgiving Dinner of turkey legs, and Giada's Stuffing with Pancetta and Chestnuts.

Oh yeah, AND, we spent the whole day Friday in St. Louis, exploring The Hill (our own version of Little Italy), visiting a new favorite restaurant (Brazie's Italian Ristorante), where we fell in love with their house special appetizer, Shrimp Brazie, which is a lightly floured shrimp, seasoned and pan fried, then served in a creamy caper sauce.

We then went back to Salume Beddu (yes, we went to the wrong place looking for Brazie's Restaurant, and discovered a fabulous little Salume shop, with an adorable proprietor, where we then purchased some of his Caponata and some delectable Calabrese salume.

Lastly, we made a quick run to Schlafly Bottleworks for a couple of growlers of beer. The Hop Harvest for Ginny, and the Hot Liquor Porter for me. Heaven in a brown glass bottle.

So, suffice it to say, we had a very busy weekend, but a number of people are currently thrilled that we did, because they are the lucky recipients of our handmade holiday candy trays......
So. What did YOU do this weekend?

REMINDER! The Bacon Games had BEGUN!

Ok everyone, just a quick reminder. The deadline for the first edition of The Bacon Games is THIS FRIDAY!

Get to your kitchen....right now....and cook something with bacon.....

Then send it to me at and I'll enter you in The Bacon Games!

(seriously....go now! did I mention there are prizes to be won?)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Kid at Heart – Giada’s Sciue Sciue

Our theme over at I Heart Cooking Clubs this week is “Kid at Heart”. When I first started thinking about what I wanted to make, I was steering toward chocolate and other sweets. But then...I remembered.

When I was a kid, I did not care for chocolate. I know....I was a strange little child. And its not like I wouldn’t eat chocolate or didn’t enjoy candy, but it was never the first thing I was drawn to as a kid. (My mom is sitting in her chair, nodding her head and thinking that I was switched at birth.)

Here’s how it would go down at my kitchen table. We’d eat supper. Usually something like a pork roast or spaghetti. Always with a vegetable (or two) on the side; salad and peas, maybe corn.... We didn’t have dessert every night, but it wasn’t unusual, either. But, I digress. We would finish eating supper and move on to dessert...and my Mom and Dad and sister would all move on to the sweet stuff.... and I would reach for the bowl with the rest of the peas in it...or another helping of spaghetti....

My mother sometimes wonders how she gave birth to me.

So, naturally, when I was reminiscing about my childhood dinner table, it occurs to me that the kid inside me wouldn’t automatically pick Giada’s Chocolate She would ask for pasta. And not just any pasta, not when Giada is in the kitchen with me.

Its gotta be Sciue Sciue.

(Now my mother is truly confused)

This is not a dish I had growing up, but I discovered it years ago when I first became entranced by Everyday Italian. One of the simplest pasta dishes ever, and made with kids in mind (well, except maybe my completely irreverent picky eater of a son) using pastina; any little short cut pasta you have, but in my case, Ditalini.

This is the first pasta dish I ever served to my Little Man. And he loved it (you know, until he was introduced to the Blue Box and its neon orange contents, and never turned back).
And so, for the kid in my heart...and the child OF my heart....Giada’s Sciue Sciue pasta. A quick, light yet hearty, and flavorful bowl of goodness that I can throw together almost any night of the week, just from my fridge and pantry. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

This is my submission for I Heart Cooking Clubs this week, as well as for Presto Pasta Nights.

REMINDER! Don’t forget that you have until November 19 (That’s only a week away, folks!) to submit your dishes to The Bacon Games!
Giada’s Sciue Sciue (Little Thimbles)
1 1/2 cups ditalini (thimble-shaped pasta)
1/4 cup olive oil (I just used a couple of tablespoons. No need to go overboard)
2 teaspoons minced garlic (I add some minced onion or shallot)
5 plum tomatoes, chopped (about 1 pound – I used a container of lovely little grape tomatoes)
8 ounces cold fresh mozzarella cheese, drained, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
8 large fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped (straight from my freezer!)

1 Boil up a large saucepan of salted water. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still al dente (firm to the bite), stirring often to prevent sticking. This takes about 8 minutes. Drain.

2 Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Be careful not to burn.

3 Add the tomatoes and saute just until heated through, about 2 minutes. Add the cooked, drained pasta.

4 Remove skillet from heat. Add the cheese and basil and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt.

**Notes: when I make this, just after sautéing the tomatoes, I add about a half a cup of white wine to the pan and let it cook down a bit. This is best served straight from the pan while the cheese still has some body to it. I made this last night while Daddy was out hunting, and put the leftovers in the fridge for another use. This weekend Ginny is coming out for our annual Holiday Candy making fest, and the rest of this pasta will make a fabulous frittata for breakfast Saturday morning! Stay tuned for that post!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Everybody Get Bacon!

Hi all! I know I've been conspicuously absent lately, but honest to goodness, I've got a good excuse! Or, rather, excuses. Life is crazy right now, as I'm sure it is with many of you as well, but I wanted to get a quick reminder out that round one of The Bacon Games is currently in progress! You have a couple more weeks to submit a dish and join the games!
Grab a badge from my sidebar and hop on over to check things out!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Let the Games Begin!

The Bacon Games, that is!

The first month's announcement has been posted over at The Bacon Games - stop by, check it out, and spread the word!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Caramel Croissant Pudding

Normally when I have my parents come to visit, I make very detailed plans for the meals we will consume during their stay. This time, I went the other direction and tried to leave things a little more loosely planned, with suggestions instead of recipes. I laid out certain cuts of meat for the main courses, and then improvised side dishes from there.
NORMALLY, this would drive me crazy.

However, what this approach did for me was make room to add new dishes, which came in very handy when my new Thanksgiving issue of Food and Wine magazine arrived on Saturday.

See, I have a thing for bread pudding. Any kind of bread pudding. Throw caramel into the mix, and I am a goner.

See what Food and Wine did to me this month? CARAMEL CROISSANT PUDDING. Yes, they are evil. And yes, you guessed it, I went straight out in search of croissants for this pudding, which we had for dessert on Sunday night. And Monday. With vanilla ice cream on top.
This dessert was extremely easy, but what I liked best about it was the size. It is made in a ONE QUART baking dish. No 9x13 pan here. This dessert is the perfect size for a family of four, for ONE meal. And it is ideal if you just happen to have a couple of croissants leftover (which, I didn’t, but you get my point). Small ingredients, small portions, big flavor.

We all enjoyed this dish, and I’m officially putting it into the desserts rotation!

Caramel-Croissant Pudding

2 stale all-butter croissants, coarsely torn
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons bourbon
2 large eggs, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly butter a 1-quart shallow baking dish and arrange the croissant pieces in the dish. In a small saucepan, stir the sugar and water over moderately high heat until the sugar dissolves; wash down any crystals on the sides with a wet pastry brush. Cook without stirring until a medium amber caramel forms, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream, milk and bourbon. Cook over low heat just until any hardened caramel dissolves.

2. In a bowl, whisk the eggs. Gradually whisk in the hot caramel. Pour over the croissants and let stand for 10 minutes, pressing the croissants to keep them submerged.

3. Bake the pudding in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, until puffed and golden. Let cool for 10 minutes, then serve.

Punkin Chunkin’!!

Have you ever heard of Punkin Chunkin’? If you have, you can officially consider yourself a redneck at heart. Usually, when people come visit me for the first time, I try to find a good, old fashioned tractor pull to take them to, just so they can say they truly experienced life in “the country”. Well, my dear friends, I have discovered a new redneck game. It is called, as you may have guessed, Punkin Chunkin’.

What is Punkin Chunkin’? You may ask....

Well, basically, this is a bunch of good-ol-boys, holing up in their machine sheds under the guise of night, designing, building, and fine tuning their own personal version of a potato gun. A canon, if you will. Only...much bigger. And more powerful. I imagine Tim “the tool man” Taylor having these in his garage....with the end sticking out a hole in the roof....and lots of male-ego-grunting going on with his buddies....and the faint sound of an ambulance siren in the distance, growing closer and closer....
Notice the name of this says a lot...
THIS, dear readers, is a Pumpkin Cannon.

After witnessing the Punkin Chunkin’ contest at the Pumpkin Festival in Girard, Illinois this weekend, I think we should seriously consider sending a contingent of our country punkin chunkers in search of Bin Laden. For real. They scare me.
If you look REALLY closely, you can see the pumpkin shooting out of the cannon
These bad boys have propane tanks for air compressors (and no, I’m not talking about the little ones you attach to your grill), a huge barrel, and a whole lotta power. From what I hear, the world record for shooting a pumpkin is in the neighborhood of 5000 feet. Yes, I said five THOUSAND feet. The winners at this weekend’s festival (our very own Punkin Chunkers from Carlinville, IL!) shot right around 3300 feet. They use spotters in the field with GPS systems to measure distance, and after the distance shooting competition, they lowered the cannons and did a little target practice at a mini van, a camper, and a station wagon. We can safely say those vehicles were totaled. A chunked punkin really packs a punch!

Ty had so much fun watching the chunkers with his grandpa (did I mention my parents were in town this weekend?) that we practically had to drag him away.
Lucky for us, the local chunkers from my town made a special appearance at our own Pumpkin Festival the next day, just for fun and at lower power levels, and treated the youngins to a very special day when they announced that the kids could all take a turn firing the cannon. 
Getting set up to fire the cannon
Ready, Aim, FIRE!!!
My Little Man got extra special treatment and got to fire it twice (with Grandpa’s help, of course). He was in Little Boy heaven.

I’ve got to say, these guys are pretty impressive. They may need a little psychological help, but then again, it may just be a case of  “boys will be boys”. In any case, if you ever have the opportunity to see one of these exhibitions, I highly recommend it for an unusually good time.
Our annual picture of Ty at the Pumpkin Festival

Monday, October 4, 2010

I Heart Cooking Clubs – Benvenuto, Giada!

I can’t tell you how happy I was when Giada was voted in for the next six month term for I Heart Cooking Clubs. I was torn between her and Lidia Bastianich, as I love them both, but I already have all of Giada’s books so I was pleased that I wouldn’t have to buy any new ones. (Not that I ever HAVE to buy new books for each chef, but come on... you know I have to.)

The first weekly theme for our visit with Giada is “Benvenuto! Party Foods!” and that one is a winner for me. I have a long, on-going love affair with Italian food, and I love throwing Italian themed dinners. When I think of party food, or an Italian celebration of any kind, the very first thing I think of is, “What can I put on the antipasto tray?”

Well, that...and, of course, a cocktail of some kind.

I’m very familiar with some of Giada’s appetizers, and they are all so simple to throw together, I couldn’t resist making a whole tray. (Aren’t my co-workers lucky?)

One of my absolute favorites is Crostini with Gorgonzola and Honey. Then I moved on to Salami Crisps with Sour Cream and Basil. After that, it was a no brainer to land on Citrus Spiced Mixed Olives.

This combination goes together fantastically since two of the items go in the oven at similar temperatures, with a step or two that can be done in advance (toasting the baguette slices and the walnuts), and the olives you just throw together on the stove top while the others are in the oven.

Top that off with a bubbly cocktail (my usual is Prosecco, but since I have a bottle of Limoncello in the liquor cabinet, I couldn’t resist breaking that out instead. Giada’s recipe calls for making your own lime-based Limoncello, but for the sake of simplicity, I just used store bought.) and you have a gorgeous Italian Welcome party waiting to happen. Invite a few people over to share and this is a no-miss party menu.

This is my submission for our first Giada theme for I Heart Cooking Clubs!

Benvenuto al nostro randello, Giada! I can’t wait to celebrate all the fall and winter holidays with Giada’s recipes.

Crostini with Gorgonzola, Honey and Walnuts
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 24 1/3-inch-thick diagonal slices baguette
• 6 ounces creamy gorgonzola cheese , coarsely crumbled
• 2/3 cup walnuts , toasted, coarsely chopped
• 1 ripe fig , thinly sliced crosswise (optional)
• 3 tablespoons honey

Preheat the oven to 375°. Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet in a single layer. Lightly brush the baguette slices with oil. Toast in the oven until the baguette slices are golden, about 8 minutes. (You can toast the baguette slices 1 day ahead. Cool, then store them at room temperature in an airtight container.)

Toss the gorgonzola with walnuts in a small bowl. Spoon the cheese mixture onto the baguette slices and press slightly to adhere. Return the baking sheet to the over and bake until the cheese melts, about 8 minutes.

Arrange the crostini on a platter. Top each with a slice of fig, if desired. Drizzle with honey and serve warm.

• 24 (1/8-inch to 1/4-inch) slices Italian dry Genoa salami (about 4 ounces)
• 1/3 cup sour cream
• 3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Line 2 heavy large baking sheets with aluminum foil. Arrange the salami in a single layer over the baking sheets. Bake until the salami slices are amber brown, watching closely to ensure they brown evenly, about 15 minutes. Transfer the salami crisps to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to absorb the excess oil. Set aside to cool.

Spoon a dollop of sour cream on top of each salami crisp. Sprinkle the basil over and serve

• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic, smashed
• 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
• 1 large sprig fresh rosemary, 2 bay leaves, or both
• Zest of 1 orange, peeled in long strips with a vegetable peeler
• Zest of 1 lemon, peeled in long strips with a vegetable peeler
• 12 ounces mixed olives, such as kalamata, nicoise, or cerignola, drained
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• Freshly ground black pepper

Put the olive oil, garlic, red pepper, herbs, and citrus zests in a medium skillet. Heat over medium-high heat, swirling the pan until the mixture is fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the olives, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is golden and the zest begins to curl, about 5 minutes more. Discard and remove bay leaves, if using. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Glossy, plump, and gorgeous, our Citrus-Spiced Mixed Olives are primo party starters. Toss 'em together, then leave them out while you mingle with your guests.

• 2 pounds limes (about 10 large)
• 1 (750-ml) bottle 100-proof vodka
• 2 1/2 cups sugar
• 2 1/2 cups water

• Ice cubes
• 1 cup fresh mint leaves
• 1 cup club soda

To make limoncello: Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from the limes in long strips (reserve the limes for another use). Place the lime peels in a 1-quart jar. Pour the vodka over the peels and screw on the lid. Steep the lime peels in the vodka for 1 week at room temperature.

Stir the sugar and water in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Cool completely, then stir in the vodka mixture. Strain the liquids into bottles, pressing on the peels to extract as much liquid as possible. Seal the bottles and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours and up to 1 month.

To make spritzers: Fill 4 tall glasses halfway with ice. Add the mint leaves. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, coarsely crush the mint leaves into the ice. Pour some limoncello over, and stir to blend. Add a splash of club soda and serve.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Grow Your Own #45 - Brussels Sprout Hash

I was very excited to participate in the Grow Your Own roundup hosted this month by Girlichef, especially since I’ve had such wild success with my garden this year. Every year I plant something I’ve never grown before, and this year my choice was Brussels sprouts. I had never been a fan of Brussels sprouts until earlier this year when Ginny and I made a Brussels Sprout Hash with pancetta. So when I was wandering through the local greenhouse one day this spring, and spotted the adorable little sprout seedlings, I just couldn’t resist. I later discovered that they are not meant for spring planting and are intended to be a more “late summer” fruit, if you will. Well, by then it was too late, as they were already in the ground, so I decided to just let nature take its course and see what happened.

Well....THIS is what happened:
Aren’t they pretty? Yes, I thought so, too. I drafted the hubs to hack the plants off at the base just before I left for my most recent trip to see Ginny, and proceeded to separate the buds from the stems. I ended up with about a gallon of sprouts. When I arrived in Iowa, we re-enacted the previous scene from my kitchen by cleaning and chopping the sprouts, then sautéing them up in bacon grease and a little cider vinegar.
The first time we made these, we pulled the leaves apart and chopped the tougher cores, but we went the easy route this time and just chopped them up. We also managed to restrain ourselves this time and served them with a little fresh grated parmesan on top alongside some beautiful little grilled baby eggplants we picked up at the farmers market and some lovely sirloin steaks, you know, instead of hovering over the stove, forks in hand, and gorging ourselves on the lovely green bounty as we did last time.

This is my submission to this month’s Grow Your Own roundup.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fall is Here! And a New Take on Zucchini

By the time Fall rolls around, most everyone I know is so tired of zucchini that they are almost a little green around the gills, so to speak. The glut of produce that these plants propagate is astonishing, and although it is truly one of my favorite vegetables, especially in the summer, I find it a little tiresome by September as well.

We recently had one of my favorite summertime go-to grill meals of mixed sausages and a couple of sides, which finally gave me the opportunity to try a recipe I had come across in a recent issue of La Cucina Italiana.

It really couldn't be simpler, and the flavor was fantastic. I am always looking for new ways to serve some of the more common summer veggies and this one really fit the bill.

Roasted Zucchini
2 medium zucchinis, quartered lengthwise
2 onions, roughly chopped
6 (or more) slices bacon, chopped and cooked
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
olive oil

Saute the onions in a little olive oil and spread in a layer in the bottom of a 9x13 pan.
Top with the cooked bacon, and lay the zucchini slices on top of the onion/bacon mixture, cut side up.
Mix together the cheese, breadcrumbs, and rosemary, then sprinkle over the zucchini and drizzle with olive oil.
 Bake in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes or until tender.
***NOTES: the original recipe said to lay a slice of pancetta across each piece of zucchini, but I was worried about how well the pancetta would cook that way. Hence the idea for the bacon. Also, the breadcrumb topping was almost a little too thick. Next time I will use less. I was concerned that the zucchini would be mushy when it came out, so I was hovering over it the whole time. I prefer my zucchini tender-crisp. In the end, the zucchini was VERY well done, almost on the mushy side, but it was actually good that way. the crunch of the breadcrumbs offset it and the onions and bacon managed to soak up into the zucchini beautifully. I will definitely make this one again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Moby Dick

Something has been haunting me. Taunting me. It is my very own Great White Whale.

It is ..... Moby Dick.

Also known as....Kale Chips. I have been watching this little beast making its way around the internet for months.

I’ll try it...I won’t try it.

This blogger loves them..... the next one hates them.

Back and forth with this struggle I go. Riding the waves of this culinary ocean....well, its been making me a bit seasick.

And so, one fateful day in eastern Iowa, I found a beautiful bunch of flat leaf kale (although some recipes call for curly) and I made a decision. No more Moby Dick. The time is now.

We reeled in the lovely kale and drove it to its doom.... Ginny’s kitchen.

I cut the thick stems out of the leaves.
I brushed them on both sides with olive oil.
I seasoned them with salt and pepper, and a little chipotle powder.
I laid them on sheet pans in a single layer.
And we baked them until crisp.
Don’t be fooled by the dark spots on the leaves, they aren’t burnt. We watched the leaves dutifully to make sure they cooked to a crisp without burning or leaving chewy spots.

And then... the moment of truth. I had no expectations at all. I had heard so many conflicting reports. I’d been chasing the myth....the beast.... Moby Dick himself..... for so long that I didn’t know how to feel when I finally caught up with him.

And so.... I bit him.

And you know.... he was kind of tasty. I’m not going to lie to you and say this is a taste treat I’ll crave. But they were interesting. A salty, crispy flake that almost disappears in your mouth. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. But, I would eat it again. I think they’d be fun to put out for a party. Just a little bit of flavor to warm your tsste buds up. And they’d probably be healthy, if it wasn’t for all the oil I brushed on them. All of us that tried them were in agreement. They were interesting, but nothing to really write a book about.

And so, in the end, the Great While Whale is no more. I am free of its lure, once and for all.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Heeeeere...horsey, horsey, horsey....

You should see the door of my fridge. Really, you should. It is packed so full of tubes, bottles, and jars that it is testing the limits of the guardrails around each compartment. I have it crammed with pickles, olives, relishes, salsas, sauces, and every other condiment available, to the point where I am honestly shocked that my husband hasn’t commented on it yet.

And yet, apparently I still feel the need to add to my condiment collection.

On my last foodie escapade with Ginny, we made two different condiments, both equally wonderful and distinctly different from the other. Also, both completely unlike anything else currently residing in the door of my fridge.

Which may have been my justification.

The first selection came from a recent post by Girlichef, which intrigued both of us. Ginny ran across some lovely pineapples and so the idea was born. Spicy Pineapple Vinegar. I’ll let you hop on over to Girlichef’s site for the whole recipe, but the basic process is that you cook down the rinds of two pineapples (yes, the rinds, leaving the lovely flesh for you to scarf down in any number of other possible ways), then pouring the finished liquid into jars over fresh oregano, peeled garlic, onion and hot chiles. 
We also decided to stick a log of fresh pineapple into each jar at the end.

What a wonderful combination of flavors this was! I was really looking forward to tossing some of it into a salad, or over some nice white beans, or even marinating shrimp in it for the grill....

And then..... I left it at Ginny’s house.

Yep, we talked about it as we were packing up my cooler the day I left, but apparently it never made it into my hands. SO sad....truly. Because it made such a large quantity that I probably won’t make another batch for myself. Hopefully Ginny will bring me a jar the next time she comes to visit. And, I bet she will, because I doubt she really needs four quart-size jars of this taking up space in her fridge....

Next up on the condiment parade was Horseradish. Yep, horseradish!! I love the heat of it with a piece of prime rib, or on a roast beef sandwich, or well, any number of other ways. And, as a bonus, Ginny has a friend who had fresh horseradish growing in her garden.
The root.
And so we got to work. The hardest part of this is the peeling. The horseradish root is a wicked looking thing, not any particular shape or size, so it does require some work to get all the peel off. The good news is that you really don’t get any of the heat of it at this stage.
This is what horseradish looks like AFTER peeling.
That comes later. Trust me.

Then, once all your pieces are peeled, enlist the help of your food processor to shred the sucker up nice and fine. All it takes is a little bit of white vinegar to keep it smoothed out, adding a little bit at a time until the root is sufficiently shredded, then a little more at the end to make it look creamy. WARNING: Do NOT, under any circumstances, hold your face over the open feeder tube of the food processor while doing this. Not, at least, if you value your nosehairs. Or your eyebrows. Seriously.

What you can also add is a little bit of sugar. If you like it HOT. Which we DO. But we didn’t know until after the fact that the sugar brings out the heat. Ooops.
At this point, you should DEFINITELY not try to smell the hourseradish. Nope, nuh-uh. Just don’t do it. You may even want to wear goggles.

Remember chemistry class, when you learned that you should never smell a substance directly, but rather WAFT the odor toward your nose with your hand, therefore avoiding any direct contact with noxious fumes? Yeah, use that technique here. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it later.

Ginny and I were coughing and gagging our way around the kitchen for a solid ten minutes after making this crucial mistake.
The final product!
 Finally, you just spoon the mixture into jars, topping with a little more vinegar, if you like, and QUICKLY seal those suckers up with lids.

Your new horseradish will keep indefinitely this way. If you have room in the condiment section of your fridge.....

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mmm Mmmm Good - Homemade Dulce de Leche Liqueur

If you’ve never had Dulce de Leche before, you are truly missing out. For me, it is one of the most wonderful gifts from Latin American cuisine (I say Latin American only because I don’t know its true origin....Mexico? Central America? Puerto Rico?). I really don’t care where it was created, ‘m just happy as hell that its here. And in my kitchen, its here to stay.

The last time Ginny came out, she brought with her an ENORMOUS can of Dulce de Leche. I’d never seen the like before. I didn’t even know it came in a size larger than the traditional 14 ounce can. We used a fair amount making the Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars. And then, we poured the remainder into two containers, one for me, and one for her.

And then she forgot to take hers home with her.

So, I find myself with an overabundance of Dulce de Leche (yes, its true, there CAN be too much of a good thing.... at least when refrigerator space is at a premium) and I had to find something to do with it.

It didn’t take long. A simple search on Tastespotting brought me straight to this wonderfully indulgent treat. It couldn’t be easier to make, and it used up my Dulce de Leche!

My one question about this liqueur is how long it keeps. I know there is alcohol in it, but there is also dairy. Its in the fridge, but still, how long can that stay good? And, the recipe makes anywhere between 4 and 5 cups (which is more than a full wine bottle full) depending on how much Dulce de Leche you use.

SO, I would recommend one of two things. Either
a. Make this with a friend so you can share it! OR
b. Make it for a party so it can be used quickly, OR
c. Plan on drinking a LOT of it! Make it in the winter when you’ll be drinking a lot of coffee, or use it for iced coffee in the summer.

I’m seriously considering putting this through my ice cream maker to see what happens. It isn’t a custard, so it wouldn’t make a solid ice cream, but I bet it would make a nice slushy frozen beverage! Stay tuned! I might just have to give that a try!
1-2 cups Dulce de Leche
1 cup vodka
2 cups half & half

Measure ingredients into a clean jar. Mix well and chill. Store in the fridge.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sleepless Nights

I vividly remember the days shortly after having my son, when sleep was elusive and it seemed like I ran for days at a time on just a few hours rest. And....I am reliving them.

See, we have a new baby in the house. Well, actually TWO new babies. And they sure have been crying a lot and keeping me awake at night.

Aren’t my new babies sweethearts?
Meet Flash and Flower, Ty’s brand new beagle puppies.

They sure are missing their mama, but they are adjusting quite well to their new surroundings (considering they are only six weeks old). Ty is learning to play with them and they are learning to sleep through the night.... slowly.

The babies are staying in the house with us until they are big enough to go out to the kennels with the big dogs. In the meantime, our cat is VERY jealous and is demanding a lot more attention than usual. What Duder (the cat) doesn’t know is that more than once, I have snuck down the stairs and caught him curled up next to the kennel crate, keeping a watchful eye over the new additions.

Ty got to take these pictures to school with him yesterday for Show & Tell and they kids got quite a kick out of the little cuties, spurring a day-long topic that allowed them all to talk about their own pets, as well.
Welcome home, Flash & Flower! (Yes, Ty named them himself!)

Life is a Bowl of Cherries

Yes, life can be like a bowl full of cherries, but in this case, there are no pits! What am I talking about? In this case I am talking about an adorable little fruit that I have heard of, but until recently, had never seen.

The Ground Cherry.

On a recent visit to my local farmers market, I ran across a vendor I hadn’t seen there before, and was delighted to find some offbeat selections, as well as handmade pottery. What really caught my eye were several little pint baskets marked “Ground Cherries”. When I inquired about them, the vendor quickly offered me one to try. Tiny little yellow fruits, encased in a papery husk (as seen in this blog post), similar to that of a tomatillo, produce a flavor that to me was nearly a cross between a cherry and a tomato. It was a very unusual but mild flavor that quickly had me wanting more.

Unfortunately, although I kept returning to the market, the vendor did not. See, they aren’t regulars at our market, and I can’t say as I blame them, because there is a much greater venue for them about an hour south of us in Edwardsville. Lucky for me, though, Nathan and Amy (of 2 Acre Farm) had given me their contact info (and blog address – woo hoo!) and I was able to track them down and get several more pints from them so I could make a batch of jam.

I had already shipped my box for the Jam Exchange at the time, so I didn’t get to include a jar of this, although I would have loved to, but Ginny and I had fun making it while I was in Iowa visiting her last weekend.

We husked all the cherries, and then used the recipe that Nathan included with my cherries, although we had to adjust a little for a slightly larger quantity of fruit, hence a slightly longer boiling time.

The end result was a wonderfully tangy jam that I am looking forward to having on biscuits for breakfast this winter. I’ll definitely be looking for these again next year!

Check out 2 Acre Farm’s blog and see all the great stuff they’ve been growing this year!

Ground Cherry Jam
3 cups ripe ground cherries
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup water
1 package Sure-Jel
3 cups sugar

In a large saucepan, add ground cherries, lemon, water, and Sure-Jel.
Bring cherries to a boil and mash them.
Be sure they are all mashed so that they will absorb the sugar. Add the sugar, then return to a boil and continue boiling up to 8 minutes, or until the mixture gels using a cold plate to test it.
Makes 4 half pint jars.