Saturday, February 24, 2007

Weekend Dog Blogging & a Winner

There's something cheerful and energizing about sunny winter days with fresh white snow and bright blue skies. We had such a day today and B. and I took a walk to the best sledding hill in town. We took Charlie with us, and although he's a little white fluff mutt, he bounded through the snow like he was a purebred Siberian Husky.

When I take the kids sledding, I just can't resist taking a turn or two down the hill. I usually scream the whole way, which cracks my kids right up. I have to do this while I can -- in a year or two the kids will die of embarrassment at their goofy mom barrelling down the sledding hill.

Today, I coerced my friend, DW, into joining me on the toboggan. We got ourselves in position on the sled, and noticed that next to us was a teenage boy on his sled, ready to go down.

"Go ahead," we said to him.
"No thanks, I'd rather see this," he said with a laugh.

So down we went, cackling the whole way. It was a gas. Someday I'm going to have an adults-only sledding party. Maybe I'll make some spiked hot cocoa to get everyone in the "spirit."

Since I didn't take my camera to the sledding hill, I thought I'd post a picture of the other way Charlie enjoys a sunny winter day. He loves to take a nap in the warmth of the afternoon sun. If you want to see more dog photos, mosey over to Sweetnicks on Monday.

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On another note, I forgot do the drawing for the cookbook! In a drawing audited by KPMG ... no really, my 9-year-old son ... the winner is -- Marie F! The cookbook is on its way, Marie. Thanks to all who posted comments. They were very helpful.

Enjoy the weekend!

Friday, February 23, 2007

That's me in Cooking Light!

I have a weakness for cooking magazines, and Cooking Light, Bon Appetit, Gourmet and Taste of Home all come through my mailbox on a monthly basis. (Bon Appetit and Taste of Home are gifts from my thoughtful mom and mother-in-law, respectively). Gourmet and Bon Appetit are fun to read from a "what foodies are eating" perspective, but I can't say I cook a whole lot from them. I have used a number of recipes from Taste of Home , but their recipes can be pretty heavy.

For my day-to-day cooking, I use Cooking Light the most. I like the fact that their recipes are a good compromise between taste and nutrition -- they may not be quite as tasty as their high-calorie counterparts, but they also don't use such wretched products as fat-free salad dressing and sugar-free Jello.

That's why I'm especially excited and honored to be in the March issue of Cooking Light. I was a finalist in the magazine's reader recipe contest last October. They did a very nice job photographing my cookies, and I'm even ok with the photo of me (which is a rarity).

My recipe for Autumn Maple Cutout Cookies can be found in the March issue of Cooking Light, or on theCooking Light Web site. Now, these are a light cookie, so don't expect that they are going to taste like a gooey, chewy, full-fat cookie! They are very crispy, like a gingersnap, and not very sweet. They are something that go nicely with tea or coffee. I'm not sure they are a "wow" recipe, though, so I wasn't surprised that the recipe was beaten by a cupcake.

If you want to read about my experience at the contest, here are links to Day 1 and Day 2.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A great day for ... a frozen pop party?

Yes, our area got hit with the snow that has been in the news -- but nothing like the Oswego area, which is east of here. I don't know the official totals but I'd guess we got about a foot of snow on Tuesday night and Wednesday. The kids had a snow day on Wednesday -- this is the first year that I can remember two snow days in a year. This area is excellent at dealing with snow, though, and the roads were clear by Thursday (by clear, I mean they look like the road in the picture -- very drivable for Rochester drivers). Here's how our house looks right now. I actually think snow is pretty, especially on a sunny day like we had today.

Today B. received the final part of his prize from the Nestle Flavorologist contest -- a frozen pop party for the school. I wasn't sure whether they'd actually throw a party for the whole school -- there are more than a thousand kids there -- but every kid did get a free frozen pop. The principal announced the party on the morning announcements, which are made on school TV, and B. joined him for that. A reporter from the weekly newspaper interviewed him at lunch time. All in all, it was a fun way for the school to celebrate the start of February break week, and a great way to make a 12-year-old feel special. If you missed my post on the rest of the prize, it's here.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Grease ... Greece ... and more grease


One of my guilty pleasures is competitive reality TV – I regularly watch such shows as Top Chef, American Idol, The Next TV Food Network Star, The Biggest Loser and Dancing with the Stars. Last year, I got sucked into Project Runway, and I have absolutely no interest in fashion. I watched Survivor during the year it took place in Australia, but after watching people starve, I decided I didn’t feel right being party to that show.

Because I try to put a lid on the amount of TV I watch, I hadn’t intended on watching Grease: You’re the One that I Want. The idea of the show is that they are casting a revival of Grease on Broadway, and the public will pick the leads (“Danny” and “Sandy”) in a competition that resembles American Idol. But I decided to check it out when I read that there’s a local guy in the show. Kevin Greene, also called “Bellhop Danny” on the show, is from the local town of – what else – Greece. (They give each competitor a Danny-related nickname – is it fair that our guy is “Bellhop Danny” when another guy gets the nickname “Hot Danny?”)

What does this have to do with food? Bear with me, I’m getting there.

On one of the episodes of the show, they follow the contestants to their home towns. They show Kevin in front of the “Welcome to Greece” sign. And then they show that Kevin likes to eat ... the Garbage Plate! (I describe it in this post.) The Garbage Plate again???!!! Isn’t there anything else we can show as being unique to our area? Isn’t there something ... anything ... we can use to replace the Garbage Plate as the gastronomic symbol of the Rochester area? I swear, if I were to stage my own cooking competition, it would be to find a replacement for Rochester's culinary mascot.

But I’ve decided to forgive Kevin this one. Even if he has lousy taste in food, he has a really good singing voice. And he’s way hotter than “hot Danny.” So, if you’re watching the show, vote for Rochester’s guy!

Garbage Plate photo taken by mookiy on Flickr

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Snow Day Breakfast

My kids had a "snow day" last week, although the roads were fine. The problem was that a government mandated fuel additive was clogging fuel filters on buses and causing mechanical problems -- a shining example of our government at work. The school district didn't want the kids at bus stops in the bitter cold when there was a chance that the buses would be late. Snow days are a fun surprise for kids, so I thought I'd make a special celebratory breakfast -- homemade buttermilk waffles and bacon.

I have two waffle irons -- one that makes regular thin waffles and the other that makes thicker Belgian waffles. I use both to make the preparation go faster, and because some of my family likes the thin waffles and some like the thicker ones.

Here's my version:

Buttermilk Waffles

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 eggs, separated
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Chopped pecans, optional

Heat waffle iron. Whisk dry ingredients together in medium bowl. Whisk yolk with buttermilk and butter (the butter will look like shards of glass when it hits the buttermilk).

Beat egg whites until they just hold a 2-inch peak.

Gradually add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients, stirring with a rubber spatula. The mixture will be thick. Gently fold egg whites into the batter.

Spread appropriate amount of batter onto waffle iron. If desired, sprinkle batter with a handful of chopped pecans. Cook, following manufacturer's instructions, until golden brown. Serve immediately, or keep warm on a wire rack in a 200-degree oven until the whole batch is ready.

When I'm making a small amount of bacon, I cook it in the microwave. When I'm making it for my family, I do it in the oven. My grandmother has been doing this for years and years. Here's how.

Baked bacon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line jelly roll pans with foil. Place the bacon on the pan without the pieces overlapping. Bake until brown and crispy, about 15 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate. When the bacon grease on the foil-lined pan is cool, just crumple it all up and throw it away.

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And a note to friends and family: We are not digging ourselves out of massive snow here. Rochester doesn't tend to get as much lake effect snow as Oswego (which has been in the news), or, for that matter, Buffalo. And while it's been cold here, it hasn't been below zero (like some places in the Midwest). So ... I'm not complaining about the weather.

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I have a short new post on Edible TV. Find it here.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Super Bowl Party Recap

OK, I was a little bummed at the Bears losing the Super Bowl, but at least I had a fun party.

When I was planning the party, I wanted to serve something that paid homage to my home town, which is Waukegan, Illinois, an hour north of Chicago -- close enough to say I'm from Chicago. Anyway, with Uno's having a franchise here (and Uno's is not the best Chicago-style pizza, but that's another subject), I couldn't get excited about Chicago-style pizza. Besides, my all-time favorite pizza is from the Quonset in Waukegan. It has a super thin, crispy crust that I've never been able to replicate, and believe me, I've tried.

At any rate, I decided to serve Chicago-style hot dogs. I was surprised that few people knew about Chicago-style hot dogs, and also surprised that I couldn't find some of the ingredients in these parts. Anyway, here's how to make them and the substitutes I had to make.

In a steamed poppy seed bun (I used room temperature buns without seeds), pile in this order:
- All-beef hot dog, usually boiled (Vienna Beef is the brand of choice in Chicago, and I got the photo from their Web site. I used Wegmans beef hots, which were a very good substitute).
- Yellow mustard -- the ballpark kind
- Sweet green pickle relish. In Chicago, the relish is a bright blue-green color. I used relish that actually resembled cucumbers.
- Chopped onion
- Tomato wedges -- I used Roma tomatoes.
- Dill pickle spear
- Sport peppers -- In Chicago, these are little Serrano peppers, but I substituted hot pepper rings.
- Celery salt

Ketchup is a no-no in an authentic Chicago-style hot dog, but truth be told, I always add ketchup. I love the stuff.

I boiled the hot dogs for three minutes, then kept them warm in a crock pot on "low" with a little water on the bottom. I put out all the Chicago-style fixings, plus ketchup, chili (a friend's contribution), and cheese. People helped themselves throughout the evening. It worked out really well, and there were several new converts to Chicago-style hot dogs.

I wanted to offset my unhealthy main dish with something healthy. I decided on cantaloupe and blueberries, arranged to look like the Bears logo. I'm not usually very good with food presentation, but I was happy with how this turned out.

The only things I actually cooked was Cajun Chicken Wing dip -- not a Chicago thing, but you've got to have some kind of chicken wing dish when you're watching football around here -- and Baked Potato Skins.

My friends filled in the rest with many different contributions. Hooray for them!

As for the Bears ... wait 'til next year!

Friday, February 02, 2007

A "loser" recipe

An anonymous poster suggested that I post an example of a recipe that I submitted to Pillsbury last time but didn't get chosen. Well, here you go.

The requirement was that you use two qualifying products, and it was a huge and varied list. I used three -- Old El Paso taco seasoning mix, Bugles crispy corn snacks, and Progresso bread crumbs. I did test the recipe (I test almost all the recipes I submit to contests) and thought it was pretty tasty. As I recall, there was a limit to the number of ingredients you could use, so that's why it doesn't have lettuce, tomatoes, or other toppings (but they'd probably taste good on it). Is it all that original? Probably not.

Mexican Chicken Melts

3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons Pillsbury’s Best flour
1 (1.25-ounce) Old El Paso taco seasoning mix, divided
1 egg, beaten
2 cups nacho Bugles crispy corn snacks (from a 14.5-ounce bag)
½ cup plain Progresso bread crumbs (from a 24-ounce container)
2/3 cup bottled ranch dressing
4 ounces thinly sliced Pepper Jack cheese
6 kaiser rolls, sliced horizontally
One large ripe avocado, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a 14” by 10” wire cooling racks in slightly larger jelly roll pans (such as 15 1/4 x 10 ¼), and spray the rack with cooking spray.

Combine flour and 2 tablespoons taco seasoning mix in a shallow bowl. Beat the egg in a second shallow bowl. Place nacho Bugles in a large zip-top bag and crush with a rolling pin or meat mallet. Add Progresso bread crumbs and shake to combine. Pour into a third shallow bowl.

Place each chicken breast half between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Gently pound chicken with the flat side of meat mallet or rolling pin until about 1/2 inch thick; remove wrap. Cut chicken crosswise in half.

Coat the chicken with the flour mixture. Dip both sides of the chicken in the egg mixture. Remove the chicken from the egg, letting excess drip off. Coat both sides of the chicken with the bread crumb mixture. Place the chicken, without touching, on the rack. Discard remaining flour, egg, and bread crumb mixture.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, until the chicken is no longer pink on the inside. Top with pepper jack cheese and continue baking until cheese is melted.

While chicken is baking, make the sauce by combining the remainder of the taco seasoning mix with the ranch dressing. If you are using an avocado, peel, pit and slice the avocado.

Place each piece of chicken on the bottom of a kaiser roll, cheese side up. Top with slices of avocado, if desired. Spread the sauce generously on the cut sides of each roll top and press onto sandwiches. Serve warm.

Makes 6 sandwiches.

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 – 30 minutes
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