Kelly the Culinarian: May 2007

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Web find: Good-for-you fast food

Back during my time as an undergrad at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., I had a love affair with Taco Bell. It all began simply enough. I studied abroad in Egypt at the American University of Cairo. Oddly enough, every fast food I could want was available: Wendy's, KFC, Pizza Hut and even Hardee's.
But alas, no Taco Bell. I even asked the desk people at my dorm -- it was clearly a foriegn concept. I never really craved Taco Bell until I couldn't have it. So after a month away, I couldn't get enough of Taco Bell. I was going at least once a week for the rest of my time at Bradley (I'm sure their horrible cafeteria food had something to do with it).
Now, I'm a bit older and wiser, with being a grad student and all, so I'm a bit more conscience of what I eat. This new Web site I found by Shape magazine helps you choose better fast food choices at an array of establishments. Who knew a taco at Taco Bell would only run me 170 calories?
I may be making a south of the border run yet today in celebration.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cooking with Kelly: Ghirardelli brownies

Diamonds are not a girl's best friend -- chocolate is. Desserts happen to be my favorite food group and I had a hankering for brownies. I have a few things in my fridge to use up and I don't want to buy anything more with my impending move, so I tried the box variety.

Ghirardelli has a reputation for chocolate; an entire San Francisco landmake dedication can't be wrong. This particular kind came with real chocolate syrup, according to the package.It looked super promising. The batter was very thick and the chocolate sauce was dark and plentiful.

I had very high hopes for this stuff. They came out of the oven yummy and gooey. The brownies were moist, but not really chocolately. You couldn't really tell that the chocolate syrup was added and the texture was nothing special.

Next time, I get the brownies with chocolate chuncks or something substantive.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cooking Kelly: BBQ chicken pizza

Tim and I love pizza. It's just a great, versatile meal that can be made cheaply. Tonight, Tim took over the cooking duties to make a BBQ chicken pizza. The ingredients are simple: a pre-made pizza crust round (we like Boboli), chicken tenders, barbecue sauce (Sweet Baby Ray's is the best and shredded mozarella cheese.
Tim cut the chicken into chunks and marinated them in a quarter cup of barbecue sauce in a plastic zip-topped bag for about an hour in the fridge. He then cooked up the piece on the stove. We pre-heated the oven to 450 degrees.

When the chicken was done, Tim put barbecue sauce on the pizza crust just as though it was tomato sauce. He then scattered the pre-cooked chicken piece and topped the whole thing with the cheese. He let it cook for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese was melted and the crust was brown.
It came out smelling like a barbecue but looking like my favorite circular dish. I had two big slices and enough left overs for later.

As further proof of our love for delicious pizza, check out the audio slideshow I made about Evanston Pizza places.

Men + groceries ... does not compute

Studies have found that men are still intimidated by the grocery store. It's weird because everyone has to eat. The article says that stores have done very little to entice men into the grocery department, despite the fact that men are doing more grocery shopping for themselves and their family.

How hard can it be? Have a bachelor food aisle, some flat screen TVs with sports playing and include strategically placed recipes near merchandise. I could do this.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Hot off the grill

Today kicks off the beginning of summer and outdoor cooking. I found this little gem at Jewel yesterday and believe me, they're selling very well. These cakes would be easy enough to replicate and they're oh-so-adorable.

So here's how to do it: Bake a yellow cake according to the directions on the package. Slice one of the layers in half. In the middle, apply a "patty" size layer of brown icing to look like the hamburger. Then, using a flat-tipped pastry bag, apply dark-green icing to replicate the lettuce. Next, fill two medium-tipped pastry bags with yellow and red icing and apply in a random pattern to look like condiments. Finally, place the top of the cake back on. In this case, they used white sprinkles on top to look like sesame seeds, but I'm sure your guests will figure out what it's supposed to be without it.

Also, make sure you check out the Food Network's Grilling and Chilling specials this week. There are some awesome recipes to be had through the celebrity specials and such. I've never made dessert on the grill, but I'm always open to more dessert possibilities.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cheesecake Factory

Last night, my boyfriend Tim and I went to The Cheesecake Factory in Skokie. This chain has locations all over the place and is known for huge portions and a wide array of creamy, slightly tart cheesecake in exotic combinations.

We were served three loaves of bread to help us decide on our main course. Two were whole-wheat loaves with oatmeal on top. The last was a white sourdough. I had a Miller Lite and Tim got a Sam Adams. They only had three beers on tap, but that was supplemented with a long list of specialty cocktails.

While we waited, we watched waitstaff bring out huge salads, burgers and pasta dishes that could have easily been four portions. I hadn't been to this location in a long time and Tim had never been, but the reputation of this place suggested we should share one of the huge entrees.

We order the Factory burger, which was a cheeseburger with sauteed onions, tomatoes and lettuce served with fries. We thought we'd be able to share it and still be stuffed. When our dining companion's dish of a grilled chicken club came out bearing something like a double decker bus, we had entree envy. Our burger was simply average sized.

Regardless, we were both a little full, but you have to order dessert at The Cheesecake Factory. Since I chose (poorly) the burger, Tim chose the dessert. We got the Oreo mudslide cheesecake. The generous serving had pieces of Oreo wedged into chocolate cheesecake layers, topped with almond slivers and chocolate mouse. There was also a really thick whipped cream served alongside the cheesecake.
Overall, there was enough food to feed two, but not as much as I expected. We walked away comfortably full for $30, considerable less than the average check of $17.50 per person -- and we got drinks with our meal. I'd go again, but order better.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Hash brown turkey

I found this recipe in the latest Rachael Ray magazine. The recipe calls for pounded turkey cutlets to be dredged in flour, coated in beaten eggs and dipped in a mixture of prepared hash browns, parmesan cheese and scallions. Instead of scallions, I used Italian seasoning and I added regiano cheese as well.

I also made a side dish of wheat pasta and Italian veggies. Even with the side dish, I finished 10 minutes faster than Rachael Ray's 40-minute prediction.

However, the time didn't include clean up, which probably took as long as the cooking. My kitchen was a mess with all the dishes and utensils need to dredge the turkey, prepare the dipping stuff and shallow fry it in oil. It probably doesn't help that my kitchen is the size of a postage stamp.
Luckily, my wonderful boyfriend cleaned up this big mess in exchange for the food.
It turned out tasting like a chicken nugget and french fry in the same bite. Very strange, but yummy and crispy. I think the next time I make this, I'll only use spray oil instead of vegetable oil. Oh, and I find someone else to clean it up again.
More photos of this adventure here.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Best lunch ever.

My graduate Media Management class got into a heated debate yesterday about breakfast. Brad Flora told us he hates breakfast -- with a passion. He eats breakfast, but refuses to be pressured into eating breakfast foods like eggs, pancakes or omlettes. Brad would rather eat a burger or soup instead of supporting the Breakfast Farmers of America (which doesn't exist, but wouldn't it be awesome if a pancake tree existed?).

Despite Brad wanting to start, we had breakfast for lunch today. Logan Molynuex made us some awesome homemade pancakes on an electric griddle in our classroom. They were perfect -- although Logan said he usually makes the batter a little thicker, which makes the pancakes puff up like cakes.

We feasted today, and even Brad had a pancake. We support those breakfast farmers.

More food pictures here.

Here's his recipe:
1 egg
2 tablespoons oil
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, to taste
Dash salt
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup milk, adding more until desired consistency

Whisk, then cook until just brown on a nonstick surface. Feeds two to three people and costs about $1 to make. Thanks, Logan!

Memorial Day is yummy

I found this great tool on the Food Network's Web site today. About half way down the page, it has a mix and match menu with different burger companions and options. I've never thought about a burger on a tortilla with sun-dried tomatoes, but it sounds pretty decent. So go forth, remember the men and women who defend our country and try some new food combinations.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Mmmmm, dessert

Jackie Shen, the executive chef at Red Light Chicago, came to Northwestern last night to make her signature dessert. Shen is constistently rated as a top chef and the chocolate bag pictured right has been her creation for the past 25 years. My hand at the finished product is what you see.

It's actually a very complicated dessert. First, Shen squares off a waxed paper bag, then applies a layer of milk chocolate on the interior. After freezing the bag, she tears off the paper bag. Then, she fills it with white chocolate mouse, strawberries and homemade whipped cream. Mine has mint as garnish and is missing the rasberry sauce to sit on.

You get the idea -- and it was totally yummy.

Check out more photos here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Technorati Profile

Free chocolate ... count me in

Macy's on State is giving away big boxes of your choice of yummy Frango mints through May 31. All you have to do is take a short computer survey about your opinion on Macy's.
The survey didn't leave a blank for me to complain about the poor attempt at holiday windows Macy's put up this year, but I'll survive.
In 2006, Mary Poppins only took up about half of the windows and some of the mechanisms were broke. Remember when it was Dr. Suess? My family spent an hour in sub-zero temperatures watching the windows and listening to the story.
Anyhow, I digress. Despite my feeling that Macy's has ruined the landscape of Chicago, the chocolate still bear the Marshall Field's name. You get your choice of mint, dark chocolate, all chocolate, cheery and maybe orange -- I can't remember them all. They're the big boxes too with a value of $17.
There's a survey station in the basement and on the first floor. If you're crafty, you can walk away with $34 worth of candy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

An experiment

I had some things in the fridge to use up, so I tried a free hand recipe. I made some whole-wheat pasta with boiled green beans. In another pan, I sauteed garlic (from a jar) and onions (frozen in my freezer), then added some butter and low-fat cream cheese. It sounded good enough ...

I drained the pasta into a strainer with precooked shrimp and tasted the sauce. It was smelling yummy and tasted pretty good.

What you see is the final project. The shrimp kind of blends in with the rest of the dish so it's not looking that attractive.
And unfortunately, the food was not as tasty as the sauce taste I had earlier. The whole thing was a little too crunchy -- I guess I didn't cook the pasta and green beans long enough. It also tasted like I might have let the garlic cook for a little too long.
This dish had some issues with timing.