Kelly the Culinarian: September 2007

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Food find: Vintage Crystal shows off tastier side of Crystal City

Today I trekked out to Crystal City, a half an hour away from my apartment via the Yellow Line in Arlington, Virginia, for the first Vintage Crystal event. In the past year, the city has been trying to reinvent and rebrand itself as a destination instead of a grouping of government buildings. In fact, Crystal City has the largest downtown area in Arlington County.

But this wine, appetizer and jazz music event was something to behold. It started at 2 p.m. and I wandering over around 3:30, and much to my surprise, a massive amount of people were standing in line and milling about. In fact, as marketing director for the Crystal City Business Improvement District Maurisa Turner Potts told me, they were simply overwhelmed with the response they received their first year for this event. She said first-year events typically attract between 500 and 1,000 guests. By 5 p.m, there were more than 3,500 people at the event.

For $10, adults 21 years and older received an etched wine glass with the Crystal City visual and a variety of wine and food tastings. Maurisa said there were 15 vendors and nine wine tents at the event. The organization had 3,000 glasses made and very few were left by 6 p.m. Children and designated drivers were free, of course.

The only catch was that wine pouring ended at 5:30 p.m., so many of the guests got restless when they encountered long lines. Noting this anxiety, some of Maurisa's 30 volunteers took bottles of wine out to the lines to keep tasters glasses full. Tasters got more than their fill, but Maurisa said for next year, she hopes to attract more vendors and wineries.

This was an incredible value for $10. There was sparkling wine, shiraz, cabernet savignon, roses, merlot and myriad other wine choices available for tasting. My personal favorite was a white wine offered up by Bin 1700. The German blend (I should have written it down!) had hints of oak and spices and reminded me of a holiday wine. I'll have to go back and purchase some, it was just that tasty, because their Web site didn't give me anything useful as far as what they serve.
As for the food, the choices were expansive. There was bruschetta, gazpacho, cheese and olive choices from La Tasca, wonderful cheddar and horseradish cheese tastings from Cabot Vermont, a canelli bean salad served in crunchy baked cups from Portofino's and organic cheese and fruit options from My Organic Market. But my favorite from the food offerings was Bebo Trattoria's penne quattro formaggi, or four-cheese pasta. The winner of a host of prestigious food accolades, Roberto Donna offered this recipe in case you want to replicate the dishes his chefs cooked on site and served to the wino crowd:
1 pound penne pasta
4 cups heavy cream
2 ounces Roth Private Reserve cheese
1 ounce Buttermilk Blue cheese
1 ounce Gran Canaria cheese
1 ounce Mobay cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil the pasta in salted water until al dente, then drain and reserve a few spoonfuls of the water. Reduce cream by half in a saucepan, add salt and pepper to taste and add cheese, removing the pan from heat. Toss pasta with cheese and serve hot. For more recipes from Roberto Donna's kitchen, visit his Web site.
This pasta dish was delicious -- the pasta was cooked just enough and the sauce had a pleasant tang that wasn't overwhelming, even with the white wine I was sipping at that point. A real highlight.

I simply must go back to Crystal City after this event. I had no idea there was so much going on there in the food world! Maurisa said she would like to plan next year's event for the fourth weekend in September again and perhaps it will be large enough to expand onto Crystal Drive with an overflown of vendors and wineries. If you get the chance, this is worth the trip.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cooking with Kelly: Lingonberry bread

I love IKEA. It's a marvel to cheap furniture, the occasional great buy and awesome marketing. They've laid out the store in such a way that it pretty much forces you to walk through the entire place. Plus, it's the only place I've found that combines my love of food with my passion for shopping. They're so serious about bringing the two together that there's a restaurant inside the store that serves delicious $.99 breakfasts and lunches. You just can't beat that.

If the food this place doles out is good, I wonder what their food products are like, I thought on my last trip before I left for DC. They have a section of frozen food, non-perishable items and beverages in every store, but I've never picked any up. Usually, I'm so exhausted and overloaded with stuff I just want to get out of the place, not peruse the food offerings. But my last trip was different -- I went on a weekday when there were less crowds and I didn't buy a ton, so I took advantage of this rare trip.

I decided to pick up some lingonberry bread mix because I've never had such a combination. Plus, since my bread machine went on strike and making the soft pretzels by hand was so arduous, I thought this might be a little easier and yield better results.

I was correct on all accounts. This simple mix has two packets of yeast attached and all you have to do is follow the directions to get two dense, tasty loaves of fresh bread that resemble a hearty dark-grained variety.

Again, there's a slideshow that cycles through the steps.

(1) Mix the contents of the bag and yeast packet together with 20 ounces of 105-degree water,
(2) Knead for 10 minutes until a ball forms and it's no longer sticky.
(3) Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with a damp towel. Let sit for 30 minutes.
(4) Take the dough out and knead it again for a few minutes to work out excess air. Form into two loaves, cover with the towel again and let it sit for another 30 minutes.
(5) Brush the top with water and make diagonal slits with a sharp knife. Place in a 450-degree oven for 35 to 45 minutes or until golden brown.
(6) Slice and serve!

I didn't use a sharp enough knife so my slices were not as well defined. Also, I wasn't satisfied with the outside coloring and would suggest brushing with butter or an egg and water mixture to get a better coloring. Otherwise, this was a delicious bread for just being from a mix. And for $4 for two huge loaves, it was a bargain, too.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Food find: Taco bar at the National Press Club

The National Press Club was established 100 years ago as a place that newspaper people could go to discus the issues of the day. Long known as Mecca for journalists, this prestigious clubs has welcomed every president Theodore Roosevelt along with kings, queens, diplomats and dignitaries. Now headquartered at 529 14th Street NW in Washington, DC, it is sacred ground for journalists throughout the world and home to such themed establishments as the First Amendment Lounge, The Fourth Estate Restaurant and the Reliable Source Bar and Grill.

It is also home to the taco dinner on Fridays. I don't know how long this has been going on or how it started, but this is a tradition among DC reporters. Every Friday, the bar offers cheap Coronas starting at 4 p.m. and a taco bar promptly at 5:30 p.m. By 5:45 p.m., it's a happening place.

I got my membership card today and my first event at the Club just happened to be taco night. I was actually start struck by the establishment. So many influential, history-making figures had been to the Club through the years that I couldn't believe my first exposure to the place was for a taco dinner.

After the tacos came out at 5:30, I was beyond starving. As one of my professors told me "They may not be the best taco, but they are in fact the free-ist." That's pretty much how I would summarize my taco experience. For free tacos, they were quite delicious. You had a choice of hard-shelled tacos or tortilla chips topped with meat or beans along with Mexican or regular cheese, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, sour cream, salsa, home-made guacamole, onions and jalapeno. Next Friday I will take a strategy tip from the veterans: pile up toppings on one plate and chips on the other for a taco salad approach.

While the tacos served at the Reliable Source were delicious, sitting at the upstairs lounge in the National Press Club was really the main attraction. I can't believe I get to go to the Club every day for breakfast, which is included with our membership! I feel like I'm living a dream out here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Cooking with Kelly: Tomato salad

Sorry the recipe posts have been light lately, I've encountered several cooking set backs. First, my fridge doesn't work -- it's just a little box full of hot air with a motor that isn't circulating. The family I'm renting from is letting me use their fridge, but I hate to inconvenience them. Second, our supermarket isn't very well stocked. I have to walk to the market so the only one near my apartment is what my landlord called the Soviet Safeway because it nevers have anything.

But I digress. Say what you want about Rachael Ray, but the woman can tell a story. A frequent story on her show is about when she lived abroad for a few months in a European country and didn't have a kitchen of any kind. So she survived for several months on a tomato and onion salad. She may have been extremely malnourished, but she didn't go hungry. When she tells this story, she says she simply cut fresh tomatoes into chunks and sliced up an onion, the dressed the mixture with pepper, salt and some olive oil. Rachael Ray also commented that she liked to get a nice roll or day-old chunk of bread to catch the juices.

Well, Soviet Safeway didn't have sourdough bread, my favorite, or even crusty rolls or any kind of baked bread, just Wonderbread. Nor did they have any decent-quality olive oil, just overpriced, poor quality stuff that had the coloring of vegetable oil and was cloudy in appearance. Yuck!

So instead, I focused my efforts on the spices used to dress it. I topped it with chunky grey sea salt and freshly ground pepper in a variety of peppercorns. Thank goodness tomatoes are in their hayday! I was able to use fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes. Also, the red onions looked fabulous that day, which I'm not sure was in Rachael Ray's concoction. I also let this "marinate" covered with plastic wrap for a couple of hours so that the juices could mingle with the onion and pepper for a richer flavor. I also topped it with a little squeeze of lemon juice right before serving just because I had it on hand.

It's not exactly an answer to my food dilemma and I, unlike Rachael Ray, will not be able to live on this, despite the tasty flavor and various textures in this salad.

So, now the recipe field narrows -- Any suggestions for a semi-kitchen that only has a freezer, microwave and a hot plate? Right now, I'm going to the grocery store every night, but this can't got on forever. It's just too time consuming.

Tomorrow's blog entry: Free tacos at the National Press Club

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Food for thought: Who's important according to the food tray

At Medill, we have a ton of speakers. For example, last night, Nigel Parsons came to speak in the DC newsroom. He is the president of Al Jazeera English, a broadcast news station headquartered in Doha, Qatar. He came to speak about the formation of the station, the state of network news and how they "set the news agenda."

Regardless, there was food at this reception as well as white and red wine. The food was standard -- various cheeses, crackers and fruit arranged nicely and eaten readily by starving reporters/students.

It got me thinking about food at speeches and such and how you can gauge the importance of the event based upon the food. For example, when Dean John Lavine comes to talk at/with the graduate students once per quarter, he orders us greasy garden-variety pizza. Then again, the students who are paying a ton in tuition aren't particularly important to him.

However, when my Media Management Project made a final presentation regarding the newspaper we created for our client, we ordered a spread of food and beverages because this was an important audience of industry people we wanted to keep happy.

Another example is my friend Rachael attended her sister's meticulously planned wedding last week and took the two photos at towards the bottom of the page. More than a year in the making, this wedding was quite lavish and in order to match the mood of the wedding and honor both the ceremony and all the people who made it happen, the bride and groom served up some pretty awesome food. There was a southern comfort food station with the classiest macaroni and cheese you've ever seen and a sandwich bar designed to fit everyone's tastes with so many option in between. I've heard glorious things about the veggies, the bread baskets and the appetizers.

So the next time you're at an event, take a moment and check out the food. It's an insight into what the host is trying to convey and the importance of the event to them. There's a certain psychology to the types of food ordered and the message behind it, so take a minute to reflect on it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Food find: Chef Selections

When I was at Inside Tucson Business, I did this profile of Chef Selections. This Tucson-based company brings specialty food products and mixes to homes across America using a multi-level marketing strategy. That means essentially they recruit consultants to sell their products much like Mary Kay or Avon representatives do.
Chef Selections specializes in finding products from small manufacturers who are often families that have pooled together some cash to bring a family recipe to market. The problem is, it takes millions of dollars to market a product even regionally, as my article explains. With this line of products, it allows smaller manufacturers to appeal to a nation-wide audience without plunking down $5 million to get on Kroger's shelves. The consumer also gets a better product because these are usually recipes these little companies have put their heart and soul into.

So on to the products. I got a three-pack of products, which included the RaspBerried Treasure Dip, Aunt Myra's Seasoning in pepperoni and Chipotle Potato Soup.
First, here's the seasoning mix. This is the product that started the whole business, as you can read in the article. Essentially, you mix the seasoning with one and a half pounds of ground meat (I used a combination of pork and beef, but you could also use chicken, turkey or game). You make it into a log, wrap in in foil and refrigerate it overnight. Then, cook it for 45 minutes and refrigerate it again to make cold cuts sans preservatives, chemicals or other additives. It's quite delicious and economical. The spices are delicious and the end product is great on sandwiches or with crackers and cheese or omlets ... there are many options.

Alas, I don't have a photo of the RaspBerried Dip, but you mix the packet with 12 ounces of cream cheese, sour cream or plain yogurt and refrigerate overnight. This creates a pink dip with bits of raspberries, onions, sugar and spices that's good on fruit and chips. I tried it mixes with sour cream and cream cheese and found the sour cream mixture to be better.

Finally, there's the Chipotle Potato soup. You mix it with eight ounces of boiling water and behold, a completely vegetarian soup with chunks of real potato, celery and seasoning. I topped it with some ground peppers from Flavorbank. I found the soup to have a thick, chunky consistency and a nice kick. The spice lingered in the back of my throat and the soup itself was quite satisfying for the little amount that was given.

All in all, the company's products are pretty standard but quite delicious. They allow the average, busy American family to get some meals to the table in a pinch. I certainly wouldn't think of this as a daily go-to, but it gives consumers options. Certainly any of their products are better than soup out of a can or other packaged products. If you ever get invited to a Chef Selections party, I'd say give it a try. You're bound to sample some tasty dishes at the shin dig and the prices for their products aren't bad for the quality you're getting because they are mostly family recipes from small manufacturers.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Cooking with Kelly: First DC meal

Before my Segway Tour yesterday, I wanted to whip up something in my new apartment that would keep me full for the tour. The tour itself was amazing and completely worth the money and time. You can check out my photos and odd DC facts here.

Anyhow, I make up these stuffed-filled turkey cutlets and lemon butter green beans in my modest kitchen last night. It may not be much to look at, but considering the circumstances, I was mighty pleased.

For the green beans:

1 pound trimmed green beans

1/2 tablespoon butter

Juice from half of one lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a microwavable steaming bag (there are several brands now, including Glad SimplyCooking and Ziploc Zip'n Steam). The bag is not necessary, I just found that I get even cooking and easy clean up. Microwave as directed on the bag, or for about two minutes. Don't let it set too long or the beans will overcook and discolor. Top with freshly ground pepper, sea salt and a fresh lemon wedge.

For the turkey:

2 turkey breast cutlets

1/2 cup prepared stuffing, divided (I used a hearty herb mix)

1/2 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons water

Combine 1/4 stuffing and the butter and water. Place cutlets in a plastic bag or in plastic wrap and pound to 1/4 inch thickness using a mallet or heavy soup can. Place a spoon full of the filling in the middle and wrap the cutlet around it. Roll the cutlet in remaining stuffing mixture. Place in electric skillet, skillet on a hot plate or in Xpress 101 and cook for three minutes per side or until cooked through.

I found my electric skillet utterly useless and transferred over to the Xpress 101. I liked this recipe because I could use minimal ingredients and end up with turkey that had a nice outer crust and moist stuffing inside. The steam bag allowed my beans to turn out tasty and not overcooked, while infusing them with the lemon butter flavor.

I'm going to work with what I have, but this is a start.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Welcome to DC!

I'm finally here! Just wanted to check in because this afternoon I'm going on a Segway Tour of DC. It's been a whirlwind getting here and getting settled, so I expect to start cooking later tonight. Until then, I'm taking suggestions as to what you think I should make in my new kitchen.
As you can see, I have a decent-sized fridge and freezer, a microwave, an electric skillet and an Express 101 cooker. I think you'll be surprised at all the goodies I can cook up without a range!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Traveling gal

I'm busy packing so I can leave bright an early for Washington, D.C. tomorrow. Have a good weekend and I'll return to blogging on Sunday!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Cooking with Kelly: Soft pretzels

Tonight I'll be going to my alma mater, Libertyville High School, to watch my sister perform in the award-winning band. There's a football game going on too, they tell me.

I decided to make a little picnic of various stadium foods for my family and friends to enjoy during the game. I love soft pretzels and decided to try my hand at them. They ended up not looking all that pretzel-like, but they taste divine.

So here's what you need for this concoction:

1 1/2 cups warm water (110 to 115 degrees)

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 package active yeast

22 ounces flour (a little less than 4 1/2 cups)

2 ounces unsalted butter (half of a stick)

10 cups water

2/3 cups baking soda

1 egg beaten with about 1 tablespoon of water

Pretzel salt

* The slide show cycles through the numbered steps*

It's a pretty standard recipe using items that can be found in most pantries. (1) First, put water, sugar and salt into the bowl of your stand mixer, then sprinkle the yeast on top and allow to sit until it foams. It will take three to five minutes, depending on how warm or drafty your kitchen is.

(2) Then add the butter followed by the flour a half-cup at a time. Make sure you're using a bread hook attachment and mix on low until all ingredients are fully incorporated. Then kick it up to medium speed for a couple of minutes until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the bowl.

(3) Then place in a greased bowl, cover it with cling wrap and allow to sit in a corner of your kitchen for about an hour, or until the dough doubles in size.

Heat your oven to 450 and prepare a couple of baking sheets lined with parchment or foil that you lightly oiled or sprayed with cooking oil. Mix the water and baking soda in a pan and place on the stove so you have a little assembly line going.

Take the dough out of the bowl and onto a floured surface (I just threw flour on my parents' lovely counter tops). Divide the dough into eight pieces. Working with one section, form the dough into a rope about two feet long.

(4) Make it into a "U" shape and pinch the opposite ends to form a (5) classic pretzel shape.

(6) Next, bring the water/soda combination to a boil on the stove and place each pretzels in one at a time for 30 seconds each, flipping halfway through so both sides get boiled. This isn't meant to cook the pretzels, just to change the surface chemistry so it will brown evenly.

(7) After that, place four pretzels on each cookie sheet and brush with some of the egg and sprinkle with salt (the egg gives the salt something to stick to).

This recipe taught me the value of a quality stand mixer. One day, I'll have a Kitchenaid, but until I have $250 to order it, I'll use the hand-me-down from my grandma's kitchen. It's really important to oil the bowl and the baking sheets and be careful with how much salt you put on it. Place in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until the pretzels are golden brown. (8) Let cool for a couple of minutes to allow for carry-over cooking.

As far as storage, I'm just placing these in brown paper bags until the game this evening. Food storage containers or zip-top bags are a bag idea because they trap the moisture and make the pretzels soggy and gooey (gross).

I like my pretzels plain so I can enjoy the salty, carb-alicious flavor, but my neighbor is bringing some homemade mustard for her portion. I'll try my best to get the family recipe, but just in case, here's another recipe to keep you busy.

I'm off to the game!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Cooking with Kelly: Attempt at vegan

So, I'm not a vegan. I was a vegetarian after reading The Jungle, but that didn't last more than a few months. But because of my lovely vegan blogging friends, I decided to give a meal a try. It was a feeble attempt -- I may have also been trying to use up what was left in my pantry.

So here's what you see: Mexican rice and beans, a Kelly original. Here's what you need:

2 cups whole-grain rice

4 cups water

2 tablespoons low-sodium taco seasoning or ground chili powder such as these varieties at Flavorbank

1 cup salsa

3/4 cup sweet corn (I used two leftover ears from the night before)

1 cup low-sodium black beans

It's important to use the low-sodium versions of everything or the salt really builds up on you. First, rinse the rice in cold water until the water runs clear and all husks are removed. Then allow the water, rice and seasoning to soak for 45 minutes in a rice cooker. Read your rice cooker's instructions as to cooking time (mine took about 30 minutes for two cups). You're looking for all the liquid to evaporate and the rice to be fluffy. Stir in the corn while fluffing the rice. If I had any other veggies lying around, I would have thrown those in too. If you're not into vegan at all, I guess you could throw in some leftover rotisserie chicken at this point too, but I was trying something new. Finally, stir in the salsa and leave the cooker on the heating setting to let everything warm through. Arrange the rice and top with the rinsed beans.

I liked the variety of heat sources with the seasoning and salsa, and because I used homemade salsa, I feel good about eating this. I couldn't live on it, though, without more veggies. If I had planned this out more, I would have used some peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, onions and cilantro with the tougher veggies like broccoli and onion cooked with the rice. But alas, this was a last-minute impulse. I ate this with some corn tortillas, but it would be just fine on it's own as a sort of taco salad.
As far as presentation, it would have been prettier to put the rice on top of a bed of the beans, complete with stirred in veggies for color and nutrition, then top with a dollop of vegan sour cream and a spring of cilantro. At least I know for the next time. With the whole lack of oven and stove situation when I move to DC, I may need to start embracing at least the vegetarian lifestyle, if not the vegan.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Food find: Sushi Para

What's better than sushi? All you can eat sushi, of course! Sushi Para has a bit of a cult following in the Chicagoland area. Located on Dundee Road in Palatine, the little eatery is easy to miss. While inside, the environment is pretty standard and perhaps forgettable. But the sushi is a great deal.

Here's how it works: the dinner special is $16.99 per person and includes all you can eat rolls and sushi, but if you can't finish everything your ordered, they charge you for it. So the key is to come hungry and order small because you can always get more later.

Tim had been to this joint a couple of times and suggested it when I said I had a serious craving for sushi. I hadn't eaten in and months, so I wanted to try different things. But first, I had to make sure this place was OK -- after all, it is a buffet place. First of all, there wasn't any smell at this place; good sushi should never smell like fish. Also, everything appeared clean and the posted health rating for the joint was 87 out of 100 -- not perfect, but I can deal.

So here's what you see, starting with the plate on the left: There's salmon sushi on the left and eel sushi on the right. In the middle, the roll is the Pop-up Roll, which has spicy salmon, crab, shrimp, cucumber and avocado inside with tempura chips and tobiko on top. In the background is the Sapporo Roll, which has crab meat, avocado and cucumber inside with spicy tuna on top.

The plate on the left has salmon, tuna and eel sushi on the left. The roll next to that is the Mountain Roll with avocado and cucumber inside with spicy sauce and tuna on top. In the middle is the standard Philadelphia Roll with salmon, cream cheese and scallion and the last roll is the Volcano Roll. That had spicy yellowtail, spicy tuna and spicy salmon inside with tobiko and chili sauce on top.

I thought the rice on all the rolls was a little undercooked, but Tim said he thought it was fine. I was impressed at the freshness of all of the seafood components; there was no odor or discoloration in any of the fish and they were all firm and clear. There also wasn't a ton of filler in the form of rice and veggies, which I almost expected for the price we were paying. The only other complaint I had was that my spicy rolls weren't all that spicy. I really liked the volcano roll because of the variety of heat provided by the different spice sources. The favorite on my plate (the one on the right) was the pop-up roll.

The service and atmosphere here sucks, but you get what you paid for and all that cost goes towards what you're putting in your mouth. According to the menu, Tim and I got at least $25 worth of sushi per person and enjoyed every bite. I recommend this place, but remember what Anthony Bourdain taught us in Kitchen Confidential: Never order fish on a Monday.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Cooking with Kelly: Roasted pork, baked potatoes and spinach casserole

On our lovely ladies weekend really was just a parade of food punctuated by gossiping and sleeping and that other stuff we do. My dear friend Rachael is a successfully employed PR maven for Caterpillar and just bought a spacious, swank condo on a golf course. She has marble counter tops and a beautiful gourmet kitchen and everything else in the house is just as fabulous. To help her break in this new environment, we created a feast fit to adorn this space.
First, we we starving, so I made some dips. I made my chili cheese dip, which you can find all of the details for here. It's best served with Fritos or tortilla chips (I like the scoopable kind). I also whipped up a cranberry-based sour cream dip for fruits and chips so the ladies didn't starve while I cooked. Another thing I brought down with me is puppy chow. This great recipe should be in every one's repertoire because it's so easy and delicious:

Puppy chow

9 cups Chex cereal (corn or rice work fine)

1 and 1/4 cups chocolate chips

1/2 cup peanut butter (you can omit if allergic)

1/4 cup (1 stick) butter

1.5 to 2 cups powdered sugar

Melt the butter, peanut butter and chips together in the microwave, about two 45-second sessions with stirring in between. Pour over the cereal gradually, then transfer the mixture to a large, clean plastic shopping bag. Add the sugar into the bag gradually and shake to coat. Yum!

But alas, women can't live on dip and snacks alone. So I started by heating the oven to 500 and making the potatoes. Because we were going for a fancy look, I took five large baking potatoes and scrubbed them, then dried them with paper towels and made slits across the top 3/4 of the way through without cutting through the potato so that as they cooked, the potatoes would look like little fans. I put them in an oiled pan, drizzled it with a little olive oil to keep it moist and dressed them with fresh pepper and sea salt. Cook for one hour.

Next came the roasted pork tenderloin. You need two tenderloins, about one pound each, which is generally how they come in the vacuum-packed sleeves at the grocery store. Here's how we made them:

2 large garlic cloves

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

1 teaspoon dried sage

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 trimmed pork tenderloins, about one pound each at room temperature

Mince the garlic and add it to the rest of the rub, then rub into the meat. Put it in the smallest roasting pan you can without the pieces touching, then roast on one side for 12 minutes. Flip the meat over in the pan (use tongs, they're the easiest!) and let cook for another 12 minutes. Check to see what the temperature is using a digital-read thermometer. Continue flipping the meat every 10 minutes until it reaches 160. Remove from the oven and let rest 10 minutes. The meat can appear only slightly pink -- if in doubt, put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

Finally, this cheesy spinach casserole went into the oven for just a few minutes:

1 package frozen spinach, thawed and drained

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 clove minced garlic (I prefer fresh)

1/2 cup roasted red peppers

Mix together all the items and place in a small casserole or baking dish. Top with more red peppers and Parmesan cheese and bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until it bubbles at the edges.

The ladies really enjoyed the pork. I oiled the pan for the spinach dip, which was a mistake, so I omitted that from the recipe. Either way, this was a pretty simple meal that the gourmet kitchen made even more pleasant. I want one ...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Food find: Fiesta Ranchera

I just got back from a fabulous weekend in Peoria with some saucy ladies I went to Bradley University with. It always brings back great memories to see the girls that kept me sane while I was working full-time at the student newspaper and trying to graduate early. Now that my friends have real jobs, are PhD candidates and are starting families, it's hard to get together, so we make the most of our weekends together.

So we spent the weekend eating everything and drinking and chatting and reliving college. One of my favorite places in college was Fiesta Ranchera, which has located in Peoria, East Peoria and Bloomington. When I first started going there, it was a well-kept secret with divine tortilla chips and homemade salsa. I couldn't drink yet and the only time it was ever busy was Cinco de Mayo, like every other Mexican food place in town. My favorite dish was one of the combo platters that came with a taco, an enchilada with tomato-based smokey suiza sauce and their house rice and beans.

Fiesta Ranchera has evolved. Last year, the small chain added a lunch buffet and recently added a separate dinner buffet with expanded selections of steak, seafood medley and desserts. The lunch buffet is reasonable (I believe $7 per person with a soft drink with unlimted refills) and the service is attentive. Because it was a girl's weekend, we started with a pitcher of mixed margaritas, which included raspberry, strawberry and traditional lime layered together. For $17, the five of us got at least two servings of the fruity, pungently alcoholic beverage, complete with salted glass. It could have been presented prettier, but it still tasted fabulous and they didn't skimp of the alcohol.
The chips were as amazing as I remember -- real corn tortillas fried to order and dressed with a little bit of salt. They are best eaten when warm off the frier and have a resounding crunch. The salsa is comfortably hot with spice from both cilantro and chili, I would guess jalapeno or serano.

But we all came for the buffet. The best part of the buffet is that they serve up fully-prepared dishes like burritos suizas or enchiladas, but also all the ingredients for making your favorite taco salad, super nachos or steak and chicken taco. I always grab some of my favorite beans and rice and top it with a little Mexican cheese that's available on their salad bar. I also make up a chicken taco with their moist, marinated chicken chunks, shredded romaine, pico de gallo, sour cream and more Mexican cheese. And who can resist guacamole? They also make delicious dessert empanadas filled with apples and rolled in cinnamon and sugar before being steamed.

If you're ever near a Fiesta Ranchera, pull over! The service is great, the food array is vast and plentiful and the atmosphere is laid back. Get one of the margaritas and enjoy some tasty tacos with your favorite toppings.

Friday, September 14, 2007


I'll be gone this weekend on a retreat and teaching my first cooking class to my friends. We're making roasted pork tenderloin, potatoes and spinach casserole, along with some dips. I'll be blogging about it by Monday, have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Food find: Penguins Yogurt

I have met very few people who don't like chocolate. Really, how can you dislike chocolate? It's rich, creamy, full of antioxidants and has an abundance of uses.

I certainly have a sweet tooth that needs to be satisfied every now and then. Before I left Tucson, I went to Penguins Yogurt on University, right by the University of Arizona. The place is always bustling with students and offers gelato, ice cream and yogurt, with the latter being the most popular. The frozen yogurt flavors change everyday, but one constant is the bar with myriad topping possibilities, including gummy worms, chocolate chips, crushed Oreos, peanut butter cups and any other item that you can imagine would be good on a frozen dessert.

I opted for the Dutch chocolate yogurt with hot fudge. You can always ask for samples and I chose this flavor because it has coconut and savory spice undertones that was evident despite the cold serving temperature. The samples are presented in little paper cups like what you get ketchup in at McDonalds, except they look really cute. I suggest trying a couple of flavors, because that's what they want you to do.

The hot chocolate syrup was not necessary, but I wanted it. It was a chocolate kind of day.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cooking with Kelly: Grilled pizza

Sigh, the summer is ending. Today was a crisp morning and called for long sleeves, but I won't give up on grilling quite yet. I was determined to make grilled pizza, regardless of if the weather was going to cooperate.

My family doesn't always agree on what goes on a pizza, so I prepared some toppings. Clockwise from the top: organic baby spinach, chopped homemade summer sausage (more on that in another post), homemade canned tomatoes with Italian seasoning, freshly chopped tomatoes from my neighbor's garden and the special Mousehouse cheddar I wrote about yesterday.
So the process is pretty simple. Preheat the grill of your choice (or the oven, if you're not a fan of charred food). I used some packaged pizza dough, but I've used this pizza dough recipe in the past, if you have some time to kill. I split the package into four and made some round-ish looking pizza dough crusts. Next, I brushed the rounds with olive oil and placed the oiled side down on the grill. While the first side grilled, I brushed the other side with oil to prevent it all from sticking.

After the rounds had some good color, I put them on the top rack to take advantage of the smokey flavor. Then, the family added whatever toppings they wanted and I put them back on the grill to melt everything together.

You have to try grilled pizza at least once because of the rich flavor grilling ads to the bread, especially when there are so many summer veggies available right now. My family and I really enjoyed the change of pace and the variety the fact that we can each have our own pizza in less time than it takes for the delivery guy to get a standard pizza out to our house.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tasty tour: Wisconsin Dells, Part II

Cheese is more important economically to Wisconsin than citrus is to Florida or potatoes are to Idaho. Each year, Wisconsin produces 26 percent of the country's cheese supply and employees 160,000 people in the dairy business. Dairy farming and processing contribute about $20.6 billion to the Wisconsin economy.

Therefore, Wisconsin cheese is an art form practiced throughout the state and has often been passed down through the generations. On our way back to Illinois, Tim and I stopped at the Mousehouse Cheesehaus located at 190-94 on exit 131. The store is a family establishment with a plethora of dairy and sausage products, along with some convenience store-type products. We initially went in wanting to purchase cheese curds, the fresh curds of cheddar cheese best characterized by their misshapen exteriors and "squeaky" quality when you bite into that.

What you see here are the goodies Tim and I found. On the left is a smoked cheese spread, which is aged cheddar cheese with a real bite to it from the smoking process that gives the spread a unique tartness that is really pleasing to the palate. And it should be; Mousehouse won the 2006 world championship for its cheese spreads. In the middle are those lovely cheese curds, which tasted delicious and didn't make it to the Illinois border.

On the right is two chunks of the house specialty, Mousehouse cheddar. This family-recipe was passed down to the current owner from his father and he boasts that right at the Mousehouse is the only place in the world you'll get that blend. I tried it in the store and had to get a piece. What's interesting about this cheddar is that it's both creamy and sharp. Usually, as a cheddar ages, it becomes more sharp and crumbly, but this cheese maintains the best of both worlds. Tim used it on a quesadilla and didn't have great results, but we've used it on sandwiches and crackers since and love it. There's even a Mousehouse mac n' cheese recipe in their catalog, but I didn't buy enough cheese to make it. There's always another trip ...

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Food find: Mountain Dew Game Fuel

Mountain Dew has more varieties than I can keep up with. Now they've come out with Game Fuel, a bright orange beverage with characters from the upcoming Halo 3 on the front. It's a limited edition beverage timed for the premiere of the game.

I don't know about the caffeine content, but my teeth tell me the sugar content was high. It tasted like an orange gummy bear crossed with those cheap orange Popsicle that come in a box of 100 for $3. It was carbonated and nice a bubbly, but very sugary. It was something like 290 calories for the bottle, so I sipped cautiously. I only made it through about half of it because it was so rich.

The new Mountain Dew has a different flavor than the original formula, but maybe familiar to some tasters because of childhood candies. I like the beverage, but I don't think that I could sit down and drink a whole bottle because it tastes too much like candy.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


Another quick, administrative item -- Barbara of Winos and Foodies was nice enough to give me the Schmooze award. This is my first award, I feel legit now! I know most of my blogging friends have received these, but I'd like to pass it along to brains behind East Meets West Kitchen

I've also received the Rockin' Girl Blogger award from the folks over at Kedai Hamburg and Saju at Chachi's Kitchen. I just don't know what to do with myself, it was a good week. I believe I get to nominate a few ladies, so here are my picks:

Sirisha Kilambi at Ambrosia

Ladygoat at Foodgoat

Valentina at Sweet Temptations

VeggieGirl at VeggieGirl

Thanks again!

Tasty Tour: St. Louis-style pizza

As much as Katie and I enjoyed Sonic, we cannot live on America's drive-in food alone on our roadtrip. We made arrangements to meet my college friend Colleen in St. Louis, her home town. She recommended we meet at Imo's, a chain based in St. Louis, that is located conveiently right on I-44.

When the place was first established in 1964, only delivery and carry out was available. They say they're the first pizza place to offer delivery, but who knows. They also cut their pizza into squares because the guy who started the place used to lay tile for a living.

According to Colleen, what makes St. Louis-style pizza unique is the cheese they use called provel. It's a white, processed cheese made of a combination of cheeses that foodies say was invented specifically for use on pizza, but at Imo's I got it on salad as well. Provel is produced only in St. Louis, Colleen explained, and is wildly popular on pizza and with pasta. Interestingly enough, the copyright to the name is held by a Glenview-based Kraft subsidy right down the road from Chicago.

The pizza we ordered had plenty of provel, along with black olives and bacon. Colleen suggested this as a local fave. The crust was thin and crispy, but not dry. The sauce was an average tomato-based sauce with a little tang to it. The cheese itself melted completely on the pizza and held to both the toppings and the pizza. I hate biting into a pizza and having all the toppings come off with it, but that wasn't the case here. The cheese and toppings were tasty and I really enjoyed the pizza.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Food find: Ghirardelli cookies

I don't know how you travel, but usually, my standard for choosing hotels is that they are clean and safe. I typically end up at a budget hotel because chances are, I'm just going to sleep there.

But Katie and I found a deal. When we got off the turnpike in Oklahoma, we were concerned; all the hotels we saw were beyond seedy and offering specials as low as $22. I'm usually not that picky, but I'm not going to stay in a motel that needs to advertise "Rattlesnake free since 2003."

So we kept driving until we got to Seventh in downtown Tulsa. The first thing I saw was the Doubletree, which looked like it was out of our budget. They had a palatial lobby and it was something like 12 stories high. There was even a wedding going on Sunday night, so I doubted we could get anything reasonable. To my surprise and delight, it was only $99 per night weekends.

I was sold.

Then there were the cookies. It's a Doubletree thing that they give you a cookie when you check in and the history is interesting. Katie and I were thrilled. They were ghirardelli chocolate chip cookies with walnuts and they were delicious. Moist, chocolately and full of a variety of texture. You can get the recipe here, but I can't vouch for it's authenticity (although I hope to try it later in the week).

Plus, the room was fabulous. Neither Katie nor I had ever stayed in a place this posh. Our beds had all kinds of goose down and high-thread count linens. We each got four down pillows and it was all set up quite nice. My only complaints was that although there were some really nice Neutrogena toiletries, when I took a shower the tub didn't drain. Kind of icky.

I don't know when I'll find a budget deal like this again, but I sure did enjoy their cookies and accommodations.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Tasty Tour: Hatch Chili Festival

I'm finally back in the Land of Lincoln! When we crossed over into Illinois, I got a bit misty when I first saw the cornfields because I knew we were home. That only lasted as long as it took me to realize I'd only be seeing cornfields for the next six hours.

Anyhow, along the way, Katie and I saw some cool things and ate some tasty meals. First, we'll start with the Hatch Chili Festival. Hatch, New Mexico bills itself as the chili capitol of the world and has a reputation for it tasty yields.

We stopped by chance. We had been driving for a few hours and were ready for a break when we saw the carnival lights. We paid $5 to park and wandered around the joint. There were all kind of decorations made with chilies and we bought a heart-shaped red chili wreath for our mom. There were also all kinds of chili-based food -- roasted chilies, roasted chili salsa, chili powders, roasted corn with chili butter ....

There was also a row of the standard fair stuff such as funnel cakes and cheap engraved jewelry. We didn't hit up the rides because they looked a little suspect, but we did partake in the food. One of the food stands was fire-roasting green chilies. They put a batch of several hundred into a drum like you would see at a bingo game. They rotated it by hand over an open flame. I wanted to try one and they looked around for one from the last batch. I believe they were selling a gallon-sized zip-top bag of them for $1, so they gave me one to try free of charge. It was so tasty! Like a green pepper with lots of heat and smoke.

I don't know if I'll ever be in the area again, but I'm so glad we stopped.