Category Archives: Non-Bakery Items

Busy Busy!

I have a slight obsession with soup, any time of year, any time of day, all day, every day I can and would eat soup! Just ask my husband, whenever he asks what I want or where I want to go to eat, he always has to say ‘besides soup!’ I frequently make my own so I have them for dinner a few nights a week while Josh is away at hockey…with a big hunk of crusty bread, it’s the perfect meal! So the other night I decided to make some cheesy broccoli cheddar soup with my cheesy beer bread to accompany it! And since I had quite a few bananas that were going bad, I decided to follow that up with some coconut rum banana bread! (Side note, I have noticed that the past few things I have baked recently have all contained booze in some form or another…not quite sure why, but they’ve all turned out deliciously)?!

Broccoli Cheddar Soup:

  • 5 T butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups whole milk or cream
  • 2 cups chicken broth, room temperature (just not cold)!
  • 2 heads broccoli, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, shredded
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 bag sharp cheddar cheese

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. In separate saucepan, heat milk over medium-low heat, keep warm. Add onion, saute until soft. Whisk in flour, cook for one minute. Slowly add in warm milk. Slowly add in chicken broth, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil, then simmer, whisking occasionally until thickened (about 20 minutes). Once thickened a little, add broccoli, carrots, salt and pepper to taste. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 20-25 more minutes. If desired, transfer 3/4 of the mixture to blender or food processor (or do as I did and use an immersion blender) to puree mixture. Pour back into saucepan and add cheese.

Cheesy Beer Bread:

  • 2 cups flour

    Moist, buttery, cheesy!!

  • 2 T sugar
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt, divided
  • 10 ounces or 1 1/4 cups beer (guess you’ll just have to drink those last two ounces)!
  • 1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 t garlic powder, plus more for top
  • 1 t onion powder, plus more for top
  • 1 t mustard powder, plus more for top
  • 2 T butter, melted

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and mustard powder. Slowly mix in beer with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until just combined. Do not over-mix. Add in cheese, until just combined. Pour (I use this word lightly as the batter is very thick and will not ‘pour’) into a 9X5 loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm area for 30 minutes. The dough will puff lightly and grow a little in the pan. Brush the top with the melted butter and sprinkle more seasonings over top. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

View from the top of the buttery, salty, crust!

Coconut Rum Banana Bread:

  • 2 cups flour

    Look at all that coconutty goodness!

  • 1 t baking soda
  • dash of salt
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temp
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 t vanilla
  • 4 T Captain Morgan (or other rum you like/have on hand)!
  • 3 mashed bananas
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease 9X5 loaf pan. Combine flour, soda, salt and cinnamon in bowl, whisk together and set aside. Cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add in eggs one at a time, blending after each addition. Add in vanilla, then rum. Fold in bananas and coconut then gently fold in flour mixture until just incorporated. Pour batter into loaf pan, top with cinnamon sugar mixture (or crumb topping, etc). Bake about 45 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

The Greek in me!

Ok so I don’t actually have any Greek in me since I am all Italian but I am a big fan of most things Greek, especially their cuisine! Pastitsio is one of my favorite things to eat, especially if it is from the Greek Islands Restaurant! (others have been known to overwhelm me with nutmeg and/or cinnamon….spices I feel are better left for dessert)! For those that are unfamiliar, pastitsio is a Greek lasagna, with layers of hearty meat, a rich tomatoey sauce and luscious, creamy, cheesy bechamel (my favorite part). My mom’s good friend Diane, one of the Real Housewives of Glen Ellyn as the ladies are commonly referred to by us kids, gave me a recipe a while back which I have been dying to try out! Diane is Greek and gave me her mother’s pastitsio recipe months ago and I finally got the opportunity to try it out last Sunday when I was home for more than an hour on a weekend day (how nice that was by the way….so rare it’s sad)! Good thing I had all the time in the world to make it too because it was definitely time-consuming…not so much that I won’t make it again, but enough to know to really plan ahead! The tricky part is that you are essentially preparing three separate items that get combined together; the chunky tomatoey meat sauce, the pasta portion and saving the best for last, the rich, velvety bechamel part. Another heads up, this makes a very large portion, we have been eating it for dinner since Monday and lunch yesterday and today, and I brought a few good size portions home for my mom and grandma to try last night…and I still have nearly a third of the pan left! So be aware, up to your ears in pastitsio with this recipe!

View from above!

Pastitsio:

Meat Sauce:

  • 1.5 pounds ground lamb (can use ground beef but I was trying to be ‘traditional’)
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 small-medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 can filled with water
  • 1 t rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pasta:

  • 1 pound penne
  • 2 T olive oil (I used garlic infused olive oil that I had made myself just to add a little more flavor)
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup Kefalotyri (can use Parmesan but again, I was attempting to be ‘traditional’)

Bechamel:

  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 glasses milk, warmed
  • 3/4 cup Kefalotyri
  • 3 egg yolks
  • salt and pepper to taste

For meat sauce: Brown ground lamb in a butter with onion until onion is soft and meat is browned. Add in garlic. Let cook a minute more. Deglaze pan with white wine. Add in rosemary, bay leaves and tomato paste diluted with water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let cook about 15 or so minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed. Discard bay leaves.

For the pasta: Cook pasta until al dente (undercook by at least a few minutes). Once done, strain and return to pot. Toss with olive oil and let cool a few minutes. Once relatively cool, add in Kefalotyri cheese and egg whites, toss to coat.

For the Bechamel: While the pasta is cooking, melt butter in a large saucepan. Whisk in flour, and let cook a minute or two, do not let brown. Whisk in milk, slowly, whisking the entire time, so no clumps remain. Once no lumps remain, remove the pan from the heat and add in the cheese, salt, pepper and egg yolks, in that order while continuing to stir the entire time. Set aside when smooth and fully mixed.

Assembly: I mixed half of the meat sauce with the pasta and poured half of the pasta mixture on the bottom of a greased, large casserole pan. Then the other half of the meat mixture, then the other half of the pasta. Lastly, pour the bechamel over top and cover with more Kefalotyri. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, depending on how brown you like it. We did not eat ours Sunday night but let it sit in the fridge overnight then reheated pieces for dinner Monday which I was told really escalates the flavor. Josh ate a small piece Sunday night and said that it was a slightly stronger taste the following evening but not terribly noticeable or obvious! Also, next time I would try to find smaller pasta noodles, even the true Greek number 2 ‘traditional’ noodles if possible and use a little more tomato sauce or make extra tomato sauce to drizzle over top like they do in the restaurants! And there will be a next time, that’s for sure!

Good view of the layers!

Nutella, ella, ella

After this past weekend, even though it was filled with delicious food and all the pastries in the world, I was craving something super chocolatey and rich! I was settled on basic brownies with my favorite peanut butter frosting when I realized how much peanut butter and overall nuts I had eaten recently so decided to switch to something with Nutella. It seemed perfect; still satisfy that nut butter craving while also accomplishing the chocolatey goodness I desperately wanted! Also, I knew last night was going to be a super late one at work so I wanted to utilize the crock pot so we’d have dinner ready as soon as we got home! I saw a recipe on (my new fav) Pinterest for a Balsamic Pot Roast type thing….and since I loooove balsamic so much, I figured I’d give it a try! Not gonna lie, the brownies turned out to be amazingly delicious however the roast, not so much! It was just so greasy and lacking something. I did use a beef brisket which I know is a fattier cut of meat, but the grease was almost inedible (although sadly didn’t stop either of us, but definitely gave us stomach aches all night)!

Nutella Cream Cheese Brownies:

Brownies:

  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
    1 t salt
    2 T cocoa powder (I used dark to enhance the chocolate flavor)
    11 oz dark chocolate, chopped
    1 cup butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
    1 t instant espresso powder (optional but really brings out the chocolate flavor)
    1½ cups sugar
    ½ cup brown sugar
    5 eggs, room temp
    2 t vanilla extract

Nutella Cream Cheese Layer:

  • 1 cup Nutella
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 T butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9×13 pan. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and cocoa powder together. Put the chocolate, butter and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be room temperature. Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

For the Nutella Cream Cheese layer: Beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Beat in Nutella, until smooth and incorporated. Slowly beat in powdered sugar until no lumps and all is smooth. Pour over brownie batter. Bake in the center of the oven for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it.

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Balsamic Roast with Onions:

  • 2-3 pound beef brisket or eye of the round roast
  • seasoning salt
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • pepper
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 large onions, sliced thickly

Season beef with salt, garlic, onion and pepper. Heat cast iron skillet with olive oil until hot. Sear meat on both sides. You want a really nice brown crust, so give it time to brown, at least a few minutes each side. Meanwhile, cut onions into thick slices and place in the bottom of the crock pot. Also, heat beef broth in saucepan, boiling until reduced from 1 cup to 1/2 cup liquid. Once reduced, remove from heat and add in balsamic vinegar and tomato sauce. When meat is done, transfer to crock pot, on top of sliced onions. Deglaze pan the meat was seared in with 1/4 cup water, scraping all the flavor crystals from the bottom of the pan. Add pan drippings to balsamic mixture. Pour over beef and onions in the crock pot. Cook on low 7-8 hours. Serve over mashed potatoes if you like!

As I mentioned, this was not my favorite recipe. If I ever make it again, I would definitely use a leaner meat and add in more veggies to soak up some of the juices.  The mashed potatoes helped, but not all that much! I plan on using the leftovers for a sandwich, melting some cheese on the top and using some of the caramelized onions….I am hoping that this might be the way to eat this, rather than over potatoes! We shall see!

Beer, Broccoli and Cheese!

Long overdue, a few of us girls finally got together last night to catch up and eat some grub! One of my friends, Nicole, is doing the triathlon this coming Sunday in Chicago (amazing I know) and since I was in charge of cooking dinner, I wanted to come up with a balanced, healthier meal that would help keep her fueled…one chock full of healthy fats, protein, carbs and loaded with vitamins and nutrients. I saw a recipe on Pinterest for a broccoli cheese casserole sans any ‘cream of anything soup’ which intrigued me, so I decided to go that route, but adding in some chicken for more protein! I also made a beer bread to go along with it for fun! Add in some baked polenta appetizers and an amazing salted caramel pie baked by my friend Em and we had one complete dinner!

Chicken, Broccoli, Cheese Casserole:

  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or sliced thing
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 3/4 cups skim milk
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • few squirts of lemon, to taste
  • dash of mustard powder
  • 1 t spicy mustard (I used a Habanero mustard, but Dijon or any similar would work as well)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese, plus another cup for topping
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
  • 3 cups cooked broccoli
  • 3 cups cooked rice (I used black rice, more antioxidants than blueberries and more fiber than brown rice, a little healthier alternative)!
  • 3 chicken breasts, cooked and diced

Cook rice, broccoli and chicken and set aside. I steamed the broccoli, threw the rice in a rice maker and grilled chicken breasts with garlic salt and lemon pepper. Meanwhile, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and heat oil and butter in saucepan until butter is melted.  Saute onions until soft, 5-7 minutes, add garlic, cook another minute or two. Whisk in flour, cooking only for a minute, not browning it. Slowly add in milk, broth, lemon juice and mustard whisking constantly until smooth. Once smooth, let cook and thicken for 5 or so minutes, whisking only occasionally. Once thickened, add in the cheeses and remove from heat. Once cheese is melted, add in cooked broccoli, rice and chicken. Stir to coat everything, pour into a casserole dish or 9X13 pan. Top with cheddar and more parmesan, bake for 45 minutes.

Beer Bread with Cheddar and Garlic:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 T sugar
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt, divided
  • 10 ounces or 1 1/4 cups beer (guess you’ll just have to drink those last two ounces)!
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese
  • 1 t garlic powder, plus more for top
  • 1 t onion powder, plus more for top
  • 1 t mustard powder, plus more for top
  • 1 T butter, melted

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and mustard powder. Slowly mix in beer with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until just combined. Do not over-mix. Add in cheese, until just combined. Pour (I use this word lightly as the batter is very thick and will not ‘pour’) into a 9X5 loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm area for 30 minutes. The dough will puff lightly and grow a little in the pan. Brush the top with the melted butter and sprinkle seasonings over top. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

Polenta Appetizers:

  • 1-2 T olive oil
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, diced
  • 1/2 large leek, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or sliced thin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh mozzarella
  • parmesan cheese
  • seasonings of choice (I used rosemary and thyme)
  • more olive oil for drizzling (this has to be really good olive oil, I used a garlic olive oil I infused myself with excellent quality oil from Italy)
  • log of polenta (I got mine from Trader Joe’s but I have seen them at Jewel, etc)

In a small saucepan, heat olive oil. Add in mushrooms and leeks, saute until softened 5-7 minutes. Add in garlic and cook a few minutes more. In the meantime, slice the polenta into slices. Cover with mozzarella cheese then mushroom leek mixture, then sprinkle with parmesan cheese, seasonings and drizzle with a smidge of olive oil. Transfer to greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes, until cheese is melted and polenta is browned a little on the bottom.

Em’s Salted Caramel Pie:

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 6 T butter, melted
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • salt

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Mix graham cracker crumbs and melted butter, press into a 9-inch pie plate. Top with sweetened condensed milk, sprinkle with salt. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, covered with foil! This is very important, as I burned the crap out of mine when I baked it uncovered!

Orzotto with Fresh Mozzarella and Tomatoes!

A while back I posted about a risotto I made with orzo pasta instead of Arborio rice. This is something I do frequently,  so I figured I needed a name for it, hence orzotto! You  make orzotto the same way you  make risotto; it takes about the same amount of time and is just as versatile as risotto, meaning you can add pretty much anything you want in there! This time, I made it with orzo, zucchini, fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. It was very light and fresh, and oh so cheesy! To me though, it tasted as if it was lacking something…and it took me until this morning to pin point what…this was the first time I have ever had any form of risotto without spinach or arugula or some type of green! This one was still delicious and I love the cheesiness of it, but I think I would add in some spinach next time!

Orzotto with Fresh Mozz and tomatoes:

  • 3 T olive oil
  • 2 T butter
  • package of pancetta from Trader Joe’s (obviously this is optional or you can use whatever kind you want/have/like)!
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, sliced and quartered
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped or sliced thinly
  • 1 package orzo pasta (can use Arborio rice in place as well)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups chicken broth (simmering on low heat on the stove)
  • 1/2 cup pecorino-romano or parm
  • fresh mozzarella, cubed into small pieces
  • tomatoes (I used grape tomatoes and halved them but use whatever kind and as many as you like)!
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat up the chicken broth in a small saucepan and let simmer. Meanwhile, heat oil and butter over medium high heat until butter melts. Add pancetta, onions and zucchini, saute until veggies are soft and pancetta is crisp, about 5-7 minutes, salting and peppering to taste. Add in garlic and orzo pasta, toasting orzo until lightly browned. Deglaze pan with white wine, cooking until reduced by at least half. Add in broth a cup at a time, letting the pasta absorb it after each addition and stirring frequently to avoid burning the bottom or having it stick too much to the pan. After orzo is cooked to your liking ( it took me exactly the 6 cups of broth but you may or may not use it all), shut off heat but leave pan on hot burner, and add in cheeses, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Let cook until cheese melts and tomatoes are heated through. Serve with more romano or parm and some warm bread!

Since I already have a post going, I would like to mention a restaurant that we ate at Friday night as well. Josh took me there a few years ago for my birthday and we ended up going back to see if it was as good as we remember…to our delight, it certainly was! The place is called Chilipan, it is a very small, BYOB restaurant located in Logan Square on Armitage. It is incredibly good and the prices are very reasonable! I ordered a chicken that was stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and cheese and smothered in a mole poblano cream sauce and served with cilantro potatoes and garlic spinach and Josh ordered a skirt steak that was rolled with spinach and cheese served on top of sauteed mushrooms and garlic pureed potatoes with a tomato salsa type sauce! The couple we were with also enjoyed the restaurant and ordered the same dish as Josh and enchiladas which they reported to be tasty as well! We were going to a movie afterwards so did not order dessert so we can enjoy some candy during the show, but the chocolate tamale is not to be missed if you go!

Savory Bread Pudding, aka Stuffing!!

I had three chicken breasts, a container of  mushrooms, a log of goat cheese and a fresh block of pecorino-romano in the fridge and figured they would all go great together but did not want to do yet another pasta. I also had four Trader Joe’s brioche buns that were a few days old that I didn’t want to waste since they are sooooo good…so I made my first attempt at a savory bread pudding. Overall, I am not a huge bread pudding fan, not rich enough for my dessert tastes and always seem to make a better cold breakfast to me! I do however have one go-to sweet bread pudding recipe that seems to get rave reviews so I will share that recipe as well! The savory bread pudding turned out to be very good; moist and creamy, yet reminded both Josh and I of stuffing at Thanksgiving! This is obviously not a bad thing at all, but savory bread pudding is essentially a version of homemade stuffing! I would definitely  make it again and again, adding different ingredients and seasonings each time, great recipe to play around with!

Savory Bread Pudding:

  • 8 ounce container mushrooms of choice (I happened to have Portobello)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced finely or sliced thinly
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-2 T butter
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 6 or so cups of torn bread (I used 4 Brioche buns from Trader Joe’s and it was a little too much actually, but I didn’t want to waste any 😉
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk (or you can do 2 cups heavy cream for more richness)
  • 5 ounce log goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup pecorino-romano, plus more for topping
  • Thyme and rosemary to taste (this is what really gave it the Thanksgiving stuffing feel)!
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 boneless chicken breasts, diced

Heat oil and butter in large saucepan over medium-high until butter has melted. Add in mushrooms, zucchini and onions, saute until softened, 5-7 minutes, salt and pepper to taste (you can also add a little thyme and rosemary to the veggies as well). Add in garlic and saute a few minutes more. Pour in white wine to deglaze the pan and let simmer until most of the liquid has reduced. In a separate large bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, milk, seasonings to taste and cheeses. Add in bread pieces and chicken, toss to combine. Add vegetables to bread mixture, mixing so everything is coated with the liquid. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours, tossing every so often. When ready to cook, top with more pecorino-romano and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until chicken is cooked through and center is heated through. We ate it right out of the oven for dinner last night and cold for breakfast this morning and I can’t say which I liked more but I am leaning towards cold breakfast, just like the sweet bread puddings I’ve had!

As is custom, no meal in our household is complete without dessert and I stumbled across an amazing looking picture online and wanted to repeat the recipe and of course after much research, could not find a recipe online! The bars are for sale online by Whimsy and Spice and look divine! Just look at this picture:

My own version of Chocolate Butterscotch Bars:

Crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

Brownie layer:

  • 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 T dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional but enhances that deep chocolate flavor)
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract

Butterscotch Layer:

  • 1 (14 ounce) can condensed milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup butterscotch morsels

For the graham cracker crust: pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together crumbs and melted butter until moistened. Press into greased 9X9 baking pan. Bake 11-12 minutes until golden brown. Meanwhile, for the brownie layer, whisk the flour, salt, and cocoa powder together. Put the chocolate, butter and instant espresso powder in a double boiler and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan and let cool. Add 1 egg to the cooled chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining egg and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be too cakey. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible. Pour the batter over the top of the graham cracker crust. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack. While cooling, for butterscotch layer, heat sweetened condensed milk and butter in saucepan over medium heat until thickens and begins to turn a nice amber color, about 10-12 minutes. Add in butterscotch morsels and remove from heat, stirring until smooth and morsels have melted completely. Pour over brownie layer in pan and let bars cool completely before cutting.

These turned out to be just ok. A little too much butterscotch in my opinion and by the end of the night when they had really fully cooled, the butterscotch layer became quite hard and unappetizing in my opinion! The only thing I can think of would be to use less condensed milk and a few tablespoons more butter next time! Here’s how mine looked…not quite as pretty as Whimsy’s!

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Lastly, as promised, here is the only bread pudding recipe I have yet to really like!

Cinnamon Caramel Bread Pudding:

  • 20 slices cinnamon-raisin bread
  • 12 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups chilled whipping cream, divided
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • Purchased caramel sauce, warmed

Cut or rip bread into 3/4-inch cubes. Place in very large bowl. Whisk eggs, milk, 1 cup cream, and next 4 ingredients in large bowl until sugar dissolves. Pour egg mixture over bread; toss to coat. Cover with plastic and chill at least 4 hours or overnight, stirring occasionally. Let stand at room temp 30 mins. Preheat oven to 375. Butter 13X9 baking dish and pour in bread pudding. Bake pudding until puffed, edges are golden, and tester comes out clean, about 1 hour. Serve with caramel sauce over top!

With that much cream and fattiness, there’s no wonder this is the only one I’ve ever really cared for…sadly though, it is still a breakfast to me, fattiness and all!

 

Times are Blue (not really but the title is fitting)!

Living downtown Chicago during the NATO Summit has been nothing but a pain in my ass! So in an effort to avoid as much of the ruckus as possible, I ditched out on the city and spent the weekend at my parents’ house! What a great weekend it was, shopping with my mom, going out to eat, spending time with my brother, sister-in-law and two nieces, going to the taste of Glen Ellyn (something I haven’t been to in over 5 years now), and the list goes on! Aside from 4 of 8 of us getting a 24-hour flu bug, the weekend was fantastic…but always seems too short! Before I left, the fam barbecued a buffet of food in a last effort to enjoy the beautiful weather! I made some pan-fried potatoes to go with the rib-eyes, burgers and shish-kabobs!
Pan-Fried Potatoes:
  • 5 potatoes, cubed
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • cayenne pepper to taste
  • dash of onion and garlic powder
Heat oil in pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add potatoes, toss to coat with oil, add seasonings and cover pan, let cook/steam for 5 or so minutes without touching. Lift lid, stir potatoes around, cover again and let sit another 5 minutes. Repeat once more, remove lid for good, toss around and cook until desired browness. Super easy,  very tasty and healthier than french-fries!
When I finally made it home last night, I was unpacking all of the groceries I bought and stumbled across a fruit tray in the fridge that a patient generously brought us last week. Neither Josh nor I are big fans of berries (except I love strawberries, but that’s it) so those were all that were left in the tray. I absolutely hate wasting food and didn’t have the heart to throw them out…so instead, I whipped up a blueberry quick bread and saved the raspberries and blackberries for smoothies or possibly another bread!
Blueberry  Bread
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup Silk Vanilla
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • Blueberry Greek Yogurt
  • 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
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Heat oven to 350. Coat 8 1/2X4 1/2 loaf pan with spray. Sift flour into a bowl, remove 1 Tbsp flour and toss with blueberries in a separate bowl. Add cornmeal, baking powder and salt to flour and mix well. In another bowl, whisk sugars with eggs, milk, yogurt, vanilla and lemon juice. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just blended; fold in blueberries. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 40 minutes. You can add a crumb topping to this or make these as muffins as well!

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Josh and I have been celebrating our one year wedding anniversary for a few weeks now…we have already had three celebrations so far and a fourth is yet to come in June! I say after such a spectacular first year of marriage, why not celebrate the hell out of it!? We started a week early when Josh surprised me with a Tiffany necklace and we went out to a wonderful dinner at Kinzie Chophouse. What a great restaurant, we had been there a few times before for dessert and drinks (fantastic wine list and molten chocolate cake)! I knew it would be good, after all it’s a Chicago steak house but it really surprised me how good it really was. My filet was cooked absolutely perfectly and was so tender and juicy, and they serve their steaks with four different dipping sauces, all of which were fantastic additions, even though, not necessary since the steak was so good on its own! We also shared a baked french onion soup that was better than most I have had in French restaurants and a roasted red pepper pureed soup that was also smooth and flavorful. We also shared a broccoli fondue, which was not awesome but very tasty…can’t go wrong with broccoli and cheese! Lastly, they brought us out a buttered rum cheesecake that was to die for! I was a little upset at first, thinking I wasn’t getting my molten chocolate cake, but what a welcomed surprise, it was sooo good and went perfectly with our wine and cappuccinos! I definitely cannot wait to go back!

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Our next mini-celebration took place on our actual anniversary, May 14th. We were working late and Josh had to coach a hockey game late that night, so I stuck around and we had some dinner, went to see the Avengers and ate some of our wedding cake! Nice romantic, not fancy way to spend our night together!

Third celebration took place last night, our first night home together for dinner in a while! So we teamed up in the kitchen and cooked an amazing dinner of basil orzotto with goat cheese stuffed chicken and a nice bottle of wine, followed by yet more wedding cake! Orzotto is risotto made with orzo instead of Arborio rice! The orzo was super creamy and cheesy and the chicken was a perfect highlight for the pasta. The goat cheese and lemon from the filling paired perfectly with the basil and parmesan in the orzo.

Basil Orzotto:

  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, sliced or minced
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 1/2 cups orzo
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 T butter
  • 3 T chopped fresh basil

Heat oil in pan over medium, add shallots, cook 3-5 minutes until softened. Add garlic and orzo, cook until orzo is slightly browned. Deglaze pan with white wine. Cook until wine is evaporated. Add the broth, salt & pepper to taste and let come to a boil. Simmer over low, cover and cook until liquid is evaporated, about 12-15 minutes. Uncover, remove from heat, add in peas, parmesan, heavy cream, butter and fresh basil.

Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken:

  • 3 chicken breasts
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • 2 t lemon juice
  • 1 t chopped fresh basil
  • 1-2 T grated parm
  • Salt & pepper to taste
Mix together the goat cheese, lemon juice, basil, parm, salt and pepper. Pound each chicken breast until thin but not too thin that it will fall apart when rolling. Place 1/3 of the filling in the center of each pounded chicken breast, roll up tightly. Salt and pepper outside of each breast (or use lemon pepper or any other seasonings you prefer). Grill or bake until cooked through. Serve atop the orzotto! We followed this decadent meal with the top-tier of our wedding cake…pistachio, Josh’s absolute favorite and a Ma Crawford special! She had never made pistachio for a wedding before we put in a special request…it came out sooooo good!!
And last but certainly not least, our fourth celebration is yet to come! We are going to Italy in June! We debated going for our honeymoon but in the end decided we would rather sit on a beach, relax and do nothing but be waited on hand and foot! Best. Decision. Ever. I don’t think I would have truly been able to appreciate Italy having gone right after my wedding, being exhausted, excited, overwhelmed, etc!  But when we got married, Josh promised we would go for our one year anniversary and I thought he was full of it! But much to my extreme delight, he is making it happen! I. Cannot. Wait.

Party Time!

So this past weekend was spent celebrating my best friend’s last few weeks as a ‘single lady!’ The wedding is set for May 11, and is rapidly approaching! The bride and groom decided to do a combination bachelor/bachelorette party weekend and have events planned throughout the entire weekend. Friday night we all went out together to an Irish bar called Fado where there ended up being a very good one man band! Of course, we stayed out just a little bit longer than we should have, which made for a fun Saturday morning, lol! Saturday’s events were all split up, boys going golfing and the girls getting manis and pedis! We followed up our nails with a boozy Italian lunch at Maggiano’s…just the thing we needed to bring us right back to normal! Saturday night, the ladies were all meeting by my apartment for some food, booze and gift opening before heading out for the evening. I planned my menu so I wouldn’t have to spend majority of the get together in the kitchen, taking things in and out of the oven, etc! I tried to plan a booze themed evening, filled with drunken gummy bears (highly recommended), jelly bean vodka for jellybean martinis (which I forgot to serve, it’s fine), Arnold Palmer Jello shots, Irish Car Bomb cupcakes, and Kahlua laced puppy chow! For food, I went with macaroni and cheese cupcakes (delicious but difficult to eat), a savory basil cheesecake (was nervous about this one but it turned out great), a vegetable pizza and some cucumber tea sandwiches. The food was just light enough to not overfill us up but heavy enough to help soak up some of the alcohol we were over-indulging in!

Car Bomb Cupcakes:

Recipe adapted from of Annie’s Eat’s Blog

Cupcakes:

  • 1 cup Guinness
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream)
Ganache:
  • 10 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 T butter
  • 3 t Kahlua (Annie’s Eats uses Baileys, which is thicker and creamier, so I just added more chocolate to thicken it up a little)!
Frosting:
  • 1 stick butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 8 T Kahlua (same as above, didn’t use Baileys, used Kahlua instead, went with the full 4 cups powdered sugar so it was thick enough)!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pan with liners. Combine the Guinness and butter in a saucepan over medium low heat.  Once the butter is melted, whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. In another bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Mix together. In bowl of electric mixer, beat two eggs with creme fraiche, add in the Guinness butter mixture (this is why it’s important to let this cool or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs)! Slowly add in dry ingredients. Fill liners 3/4 full and bake 15-17 minutes.

For the ganache, heat heavy cream over low heat until just simmering. Pour over chocolate. Wait 1 minute, then whisk until smooth. Add in butter and Kahlua and mix until smooth and glossy. Set aside to cool completely. To speed this along, you can throw it in the fridge for about an hour, but be sure to check on it and give it a stir every so often.

For the frosting, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add in powdered sugar, mix until fluffy and combined. Mix in Kahlua. I think that next time I make these, I will add cocoa powder to make a chocolate version!

Once the cupcakes have cooled completely, cut out a portion of the center of each cupcake (I used an apple corer, just didn’t go all of the way through the bottom). Fill hole with ganache and top with frosting! Enjoy!

Basil Cheesecake:

Recipe adapted from Giada.

  • 4 ounces ricotta
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 3 ounces goat cheese
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh basil
  • pinch of garlic powder, onion powder, thyme and rosemary (any herbs of your choice really, and this may not even be necessary)!

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a food processor, fold in chopped basil and bake 45-50 minutes at 350 degrees!

Macaroni & Cheese Cupcakes:

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 4 T butter
  • 4 T flour
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 t dry mustard powder
  • 1/2 t garlic salt
  • 1/2 t onion powder
  • pepper to taste
  • dash of oregano and thyme
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 6 ounces Velveeta, cut into cubes
  • broccoli florets
  • mushrooms
  • pancetta, diced (I used the pre-diced package from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 egg
  • Bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta until al dente, adding broccoli for last few minutes of cooking…drain pasta and broccoli. In a small saucepan, cook pancetta with some olive oil until nice and crisp. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon, keeping juices in pan. Add butter to pan of drippings, once melted, sprinkle with flour, cook about 2 minutes. Add in cream and milk, whisking until smooth and begins to thicken, about 5 or so minutes. Add in seasonings. Turn off heat and add in cheeses, whisking until melted. Add in pasta, pancetta, mushrooms and broccoli. Beat in one egg. Pour into lined muffin pan, cop with breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Bake 14-16 minutes or until golden on top and heated through. Next time  I make these, I will add in another egg so it binds better, these were kind of difficult to eat!

Veggie Pizza:

  • 2 packages crescent dough
  • 2 (8-ounce) packages Neuchâtel cheese, softened
  • 1/2 package ranch dressing mix
  • 1/2 t onion powder
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • 1 t parsley
  • 1 t seasoning salt
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • chopped veggies
  • 4 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Roll crescents onto greased baking sheet, pressing together all perforations, making one large rectangle. Bake as package directs and let cool completely (if you spread the Neuchâtel mixture onto warm crescents, it will become watery/runny). Mix together Neuchatel, ranch mix and seasonings until fluffy and combined. Spread over cooled crescent dough. Top with shredded cheese and any veggies you want. I went with broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, red, green and yellow peppers. Refrigerate until ready to serve!

Cucumber Tea Sammies:

  • 2 avocados
  • 1 cup peas
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • good, soft bread
  • cucumbers
  • carrots
  • sprouts

In food processor, combine avocados, peas, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pulse to smooth and combined. Remove crust from bread, spread each slice with a generous helping of avocado mixture, top with cucumbers, carrots, and/or sprouts (or any combination of these you like, I mixed and matched with all three)! Form sandwich and cut into fours.

Arnold Palmer Jello Shots:

  • 1 package lemon jello
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup chilled sweet tea vodka
  • 10 lemons, halved, juiced and insides removed (this is way more difficult than it sounds, honestly took me an hour to accomplish this)!

Combine boiling water and jello until jello dissolves. Once dissolved, add in cold sweet tea vodka. Stir a minute or so to combine. Pour into halved lemons. Set in the fridge to harden. Before serving, cut halves in half (into fourths).


For the drunken gummy bears, I just combined gummy bears with vodka, pouring in enough vodka to cover the bears, and put it in the fridge. After the first day, I had to add move vodka since they little guys soaked it all up! I added enough to cover them again and let them sit in the fridge for another 4 days. They swelled up and not only looked super cute but were also very delicious! For the jellybean vodka, I separated out the jellybeans into colors, and put red, orange and pink each in 1 1/2 cups of vodka and let them sit in the fridge for 3 or so days. I then drained the vodka and it would have been ready to drink/serve, had I remembered! Oops! And lastly, for the puppy chow, I just added in a few tablespoons of Kahlua to the chocolate, butter, peanut butter mixture before coating the chex cereal!

 

All in all, the menu was a hit and the weekend was amazing! After our get together the ladies headed out to Whiskey Sky, on top of the W hotel for some martinis and an amazing view! We then headed to one of the bride’s favorite piano bars, Zebra Lounge; a cute little place with the same piano player every night! We then headed to Vertigo Sky in the Dana hotel to meet up with the boys, making this quite a brief stop for the debacle it was to get in! And then finally, ending our night at Local 22 for some karaoke! Sunday, we met at 25 Degrees for some brunch and bottomless mimosas (as if this was necessary after the weekend we had)! We all collectively stated that we will definitely be returning to 25 Degrees. The food was delicious, the mimosas were continuously flowing and the atmosphere and staff were very nice and accommodating! So to recap, I will be recovering until Wednesday! No seriously though, fantastic weekend, well worth it, even if I am dragging today!

Easter!

Yes, I realize this post is a bit late but still wanted to share about our Easter anyways! We all went over to my brother’s house since they just recently had the new baby and wouldn’t have been able to celebrate with us otherwise. My gram has a problem with overdoing everything (no surprise there) so she ended up catering an entire home-cooked Easter dinner over to their house. Crazy, yes, delicious, yes, unnecessary, probably! In an effort to help her out, we all made little things to bring along. I was given the task of side dish, appetizers and a dessert. I went with a pesto cream cheese dip with homemade pesto, a buffalo chicken ring, cheesy potatoes, and a caramel pie with a chocolate pretzel crust. So here they are:

Pesto Dip:

Pesto:

  • 1/2 cup salted almonds
  • 2 cups arugula
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Add almonds, garlic and arugula to nut grinder, salt and pepper to taste. Pulse to incorporate/chop a little, then stream in olive oil until all blended, chopped finely enough for your liking. Pour into bowl, mix in parm.

For the dip, spread 1 (8-ounce) package of room temperature/softened cream cheese on the bottom of a serving bowl/platter. Top with homemade pesto and then diced cherry tomatoes. Sprinkle with more parmesan. Serve with crackers, chips, pretzels, anything your little heart desires will do!!

Buffalo Chicken Ring (aka, the one ring to rule them all):

I got this recipe from my best friend’s fiance Joe, he emailed it to all of us asking one of us to please make it for him! Here is the website he sent us: http://jayesel.net/2011/11/10/recipe-buffalo-chicken-ring/

  • 2 crescent roll packages
  • 1-2 ribs celery, finely diced
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
  • 1/2 packet of ranch dressing mix
  • Frank’s to taste
  • 2-3 chicken breasts, shredded
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Boil chicken until cooked through, set aside to cool. Combine cream cheese and ranch packet, set aside. Mix shredded chicken, cream cheese mixture, and Frank’s to taste. Mix in celery and cheese. Open crescent packages and keep in two’s; on a pizza stone,  form a circle, overlapping the corners so it looks like this:

recipe: Buffalo Chicken Ring

Fill the ring with the chicken mixture and fold over outer edges, seal to close, like so:

recipe: Buffalo Chicken Ring   recipe: Buffalo Chicken Ring

Bake about 20-25 minutes, until crescent dough is cooked through. BE CAREFUL, you will want to eat this immediately out of the oven because it is so incredibly delicious but it will burn the shit out of your mouth, I promise! Let cool before indulging!!

Cheesy Potatoes:

This is a Hover family favorite, definitely all the credit for this recipe goes to them! I also cannot remember for the life of me if I have already shared this recipe in a previous blog, but it is  definitely worthy enough for another post if I have!

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup (or 1 large can)
  • 1 medium container of sour cream
  • 1 bag frozen potatoes or hash browns
  • 4 cups cheddar cheese

Pre-heat oven to 350. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat, add onions and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. In the meantime, in a very large bowl, mix together the cream of chicken soup, sour cream and 2 cups of the cheese. Add in potatoes and butter/onion mixture. Pour into a 9X13 baking dish, top with remaining 2 cups of cheese and bake 30 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Caramel Pie:

Emily made this pie for me and our friend Sisen a while back and it was sooo tasty, I had to try it myself (and her version was salted, which upped the tasty factor in my book)! Instead of salting the caramel, I decided to add the salty element into the crust. Warning, this recipe did not turn out how it was supposed, I should definitely have practiced this one ahead of time! It was still delicious however presentation was seriously lacking!

  • 2 cans sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 cups chopped pretzels
  • 6 ounces chocolate, melted
  • 5 T butter, melted

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix together melted chocolate, melted butter and pretzel crumbs. Press into bottom and up sides of a greased 9-inch pie plate. Pour sweetened condensed milk into crust, bake for 1 1/2 hours, COVERED WITH FOIL! This was my big mistake, I did not cover until half way through which caused a lovely burned topping of my pie. Luckily, this was easy to salvage by removing the burnt top and exposing the wonderfully cooked caramel underneath! I also disguised this by adding some crushed pretzel crumbs and drizzled chocolate on top.