Monthly Archives: March 2012

Italian overload!

Last Friday night, Josh and I didn’t have any plans (a rare event in our household), so we decided to go out to dinner. We had to choose somewhere with good vegetarian options because of lent. We were originally leaning towards French since the hubby is obsessed with Bouillabaisse (seafood stew…not my thing), but after browsing some menus online, Osteria Via Stato had a similar, Italian version of a seafood stew, so we went with that! I’ve been to this restaurant a few times but not in the past few years so I was excited to go back! I was not let down at all, what a great experience overall. Our waitress was very good and helped us pick out a fantastic bottle of wine to pair with our entrees, the atmosphere was great, dim, romantic, quiet. We decided not to do the family style menu since it was only us two and ordered everything a la carte. Traditional to Italian restaurants, they start you off with some bread and oil at the table, but theirs kicked it up a notch, having cloves of roasted garlic (one of my favorite things ever) infusing the oil; with a little bit of parm, this was a wonderful start. The garlic had a nice sweetness from roasting and the bread was served warm with a soft, chewy center and crusty outside. For entrees, Josh of course ordered the seafood stew and loved it. The broth had a nice spice to it and the scallops were the best I’ve ever had; cooked perfectly with a wonderful caramelized crust. I ordered the shrimp, spinach and leek risotto from the specials featured that evening. It was very good, but I should have known better than to order risotto when we can make an amazing one ourselves at home. I wasn’t disappointed by any means, but I should have gone with something I don’t or can’t make at home….but all of that aside, it was very rich and creamy, thinner than I am used to but all the cheesy goodness was there. We actually skipped dessert and ordered dessert coffees and wine instead. Their spiked cappuccinos came out piping hot and very thick and creamy. A wonderful ending! http://www.osteriaviastato.com/

We had friends coming in to town Saturday that we were planning to head to dinner with that evening. Since they were guests, we told them to let us know what kind of food they wanted and we’d find a great, under-the radar, non-touristy, non-chain ‘Chicago’ place to take them. Unexpectedly, they settled on Italian and wanted pasta! Had we known this ahead of time, we probably wouldn’t have gone out for Italian the night before, but maybe it’s the Italian in me but I could eat pasta every night and be quite content!! We decided on a place in the West Loop called La Luce. We’d been there once before and the food was delicious and we’ve been wanting to go back ever since and finally had the perfect opportunity. We made a reservation for the upstairs portion of the restaurant; a quieter, more open atmosphere, and usually fairly empty. Josh and I got there a little early and made ourselves at home at the bar to wait. The bartender, whom ended up being our waiter, was fantastic. Such a tremendous help and super nice. I was in one of those moods where I couldn’t decide what I wanted to drink, so he let me try two different proseccos and two different wines, even opening two bottles specifically for me to try. He also helped quite a few people at the table choose entrees and no one seemed disappointed. Same as usual, they started us out with some warm bread and bottle of olive oil and jar of parmesan at the table, which I love and much prefer….I’d rather make my own dipping oil, but that’s just me! For the table, we ordered calamari and mussels, neither of which I tried but everyone said they were good and there were none left on either plate, so I take that to mean they were good! For entrees, Josh ended up with seafood linguine (it’s fine, apparently he’s addicted to seafood medleys) and I went with the scallops. His was very tasty, the white wine marinara sauce was delicious and I couldn’t help but sop some up with some warm bread! My scallops were also very good, cooked well, but I was biased from the ones I tried the night before at Osteria Via Stato. Those were just cooked so amazingly that these were not quite as good…had I not had those though, I would have thought there were very good! And to boot, one of the men in our party is a chef in Michigan and he said the meal was good, and to me, that says a lot! http://www.lalucewestloop.com/

As if we didn’t eat enough Italian, we decided to make a different version of baked mostaccioli Sunday night…we have a sickness, it’s fine!! Instead of using ground beef, we used sausage and instead of using homemade gravy, I used a bottled sauce from Trader Joe’s to save some time. Here’s the recipe I used:

Baked Mostaccioli:

  • 1 lb. mostaccioli
  • 1 container ricotta cheese
  • 1 package mozzarella cheese (thanks Em)!
  • oregano
  • parsley
  • garlic
  • 1 egg
  • parmesan to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Italian sausage
  • Trader Joe’s marinara sauce (bottled sauce, I know, I’m embarrassed)!

Cook mostaccioli al dente, drain. Brown sausage and cook in pan. Meanwhile, mix ricotta with a lot of parm, the egg, a few cloves of minced garlic, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Mix together pasta, ricotta mixture, sausage, 1/2 the mozzarella, and the sauce. Pour into a casserole pan and top with remaining mozzarella cheese and parm. Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes, or until center is hot. Let stand 10-15 minutes before eating.

Overall, a great weekend for food and I would highly recommend both restaurants if ever looking for a delicious Italian meal in Chicago! As for the baked mostaccioli, it was pretty good, but doesn’t even come close to my gram’s! Had I used homemade gravy, it definitely would have been better, but time was not on my side that day my friends!

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Baking Bliss!

I want to apologize for the lack of posting the past week or so, life has been a bit hectic…in a good way! Josh and I ended up finding an apartment to rent/live on Friday and moved in the next day, Saturday and then had 6 visitors come to stay with us for St. Patrick’s Day that following Friday! Not to mention I had a ton of baking to get done for my best friend’s wedding shower the Sunday following St. Patty’s! Needless to say, we were quite busy! We did manage to move (with the help of 4 beloved friends, soooo appreciative….since this all happened essentially overnight, we were unable to hire movers…NEVER again), unpack, go to a fabulous dinner and night out with our new neighbors (my best friend and her fiance live a floor above us, cue the Friends jokes), bake over 125 cake balls, a red velvet cake, a banana bread and chocolate chip cookies! Anyways, life is good, we love the new apartment (even after debating renting it, not liking it when we viewed it, etc) and thoroughly enjoying living a floor below our best friends !

I took the day off of work Thursday so that I could run a whole bunch of errands and do some serious baking! I always tell Josh that I’d love, more than anything, a true day off…one where I have absolutely nothing planned, can sleep in and do whatever I want for the whole day! He just laughs and tells me, why, you’d end up baking and running errands anyways since you can’t sit still and easily bored! I guess the man has a point, because I really enjoyed my Thursday home!

So here’s the list of what was made: chocolate peanut butter cake balls (same recipe posted previously, with the crazy addictive peanut butter frosting: https://valuptuousvittles.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/pops-for-peanut-butter/), oreo cake balls, peanut butter banana bread, red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting and chocolate chip cookies for that leftover peanut butter frosting!

The banana bread was not intended to have peanut butter in it, but the first batch of peanut butter frosting that I made didn’t come out quite as smooth as I like so I ended up making another batch and having a whole bunch leftover! So I decided to use it as the butter/oil in the banana bread recipe!

Oreo Cake Balls:

Homemade Chocolate Cake:

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 1/4 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 4 T butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 T coffee
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • Oreos, crushed
Filling & Coating:
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese
  • White baking chocolate
  • 1 T shortening
Make chocolate cake, bake and let cool.  Once cooled, remove rough edges and crumble/put in food processor until fine crumbs. Mix with crushed oreos and cream cheese. Roll into balls and freeze 1 hour or put in fridge 2-3 hours to harden. Remove from fridge/freezer and roll in melted white chocolate and shortening. Decorate while wet with crushed oreos, sprinkles, etc. I used a fork and drizzled milk chocolate over top. Put back in fridge for a few hours to fully set.
Chocolate peanut butter cake balls:

Banana Bread:

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 bananas, mashed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup peanut butter frosting
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 t vanilla

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease and flour loaf pan. Sift/mix together flour and baking soda, set aside. Beat together, peanut butter frosting and sugar, add in eggs one at a time, add in vanilla. Mix in mashed banana. Alternate adding flour and buttermilk, ending with flour. Do not over mix, pour into prepared pan, bake 1 hour 10 minutes (I covered it with foil half way through since it was browning rapidly).

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting:

Cake:

  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 T cocoa powder (heaping)
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 1/2 t baking soda
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 t vanilla
  • 1-2 ounces red food coloring
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 t vinegar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 3 8-inch cake pans. Beat butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time.  Add in vanilla and red food coloring. Sift together flour, cocoa, and salt. Mix together baking soda and vinegar. Alternately add buttermilk and flour, ending with flour. Beat in vinegar mixture. Pour into prepared pans and bake 25 minutes.

Frosting:

  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 8 ounces butter
  • 3 1/2 – 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 t vanilla

Cream butter and cream cheese together. Add in vanilla and powdered sugar, mix until smooth. Cut tops off of cakes to make flat. To assemble, flip one cake over and place on tray. Frost, cover with another cake, frost, cover with last cake. Frost entire cake, eat and enjoy!!

I am usually not a big fan of red velvet cake at all, but this one was delicious! It was just cocoa-ey enough to give it some flavor, but not too much…very good! I will definitely use this recipe again! The entire cake was eaten at the shower, so it must have been pretty good!!

To the Core

Still trying to use up as much stuff as possible before moving and came across some old apples in the fridge…it breaks my heart to throw food out so I decided to bake a little something with them! I’ve made apple muffins and breads before and they usually turn out tasty, but I don’t ever really get any apple flavor. Just tastes like an extra moist, somewhat chunky, cinnamon cake. So this time, I decided to change it up a smidge and chop the apples into chunks instead of dicing them into tiny pieces. I found an apple turnover yogurt in the back of the fridge and decided to use that as well hoping to impart even more apple flavor (and more sugar of course)! Next time, I think I will use apple butter in place of the yogurt but I didn’t realize I had some in the fridge in time! Here’s the recipe I concocted:

IMAG0336-1.jpg       Mini Apple Loaves:

1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 apple turnover yogurt by Yoplait
3 eggs
1 T vanilla
3 cups flour
2 t cinnamon
1 t baking soda
pinch of salt
4 apples, cored, peeled, chopped into bigger chunks
cinnamon sugar mix

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and spray 10 mini loaf pans. Beat together oil and sugar until smooth and dissolved. Add in yogurt and then eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add in vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Mix dry ingredients with wet, just until flour is incorporated, do not over mix. Pour until loaf pans are 2/3 or so full. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar (or you can make a crumb topping with flour, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon). Bake 23-25 minutes.

IMAG0337-1.jpg

Childhood memories!

I am sure you all remember oatmeal cream pies…I mean who didn’t/doesn’t love Little Debbie!? As a kid, I was not a huge fan of the oatmeal cream pies but I sure went to town on the nutty bars and  honey buns! Josh and I got into a minor argument the other day about whether or not oatmeal cream pies have raisins in the cookie portion. I swore they do and he was positive they don’t…I should have just agreed right then and there since these were one of his all time favorites growing up, not to mention just how he despises raisins…I really should have taken his word for it, but of course my stubborn ass didn’t! And much to my disliking, I was definitely wrong!

In an effort to apologize and make it up to him, I decided to make a homemade version of this special little treat….raisin free of course! For the first time in my life, I did not have fluff on hand (we are moving and I am trying not to grocery shop too much and use up as much stuff we have stored away as possible…I know, no excuses though)! Anyways, usually I would have used fluff for the filling but since I was out, I tried to become a little creative…did not work out quite as well as I hoped but it did the job! Next time, definitely using fluff and allowing more time for the filling to harden so it doesn’t leak all over when the sandwiches are assembled! I started by making regular oatmeal cookies, slightly larger than normal and letting them cool completely.

Oatmeal Cookies:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 1/2 t cinnamon
  • dash of salt
  • 3 cups oats

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together butter and sugars. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift or mix together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add dry to wet ingredients, mixing just to combine. Stir in oats. Bake 8-9 minutes. Let cool on wire rack until completely cool.

Cream Filling:

  • vanilla instant pudding
  • 2 cups milk
  • 6 ounces cool whip, thawed
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 T butter

Mix together pudding and milk until thickened. Fold in cool whip, set in fridge until needed. In a separate bowl, beat together butter and cream cheese until fluffy and smooth. Beat in powdered sugar. Fold into cool whip mixture and set in fridge to harden a bit. Once set and cookies are cooled, scoop some filling onto one of the cookies and top with another. If the filling is still too runny, you can place the entire sammy in the fridge or even freezer. We froze a few and they turned out to be quite tasty, kind of similar to an ice cream sandwich cookie, but with a little crunchier of a cookie!

As I mentioned before though, I would make this with fluff next time, I think it would taste more like an original oatmeal cream pie that way, and I would definitely allow more time for the filling to set up!