Monday, September 30, 2013

Table Manners: Cell Phones

I love old movies in black and white.  I'd love to think of myself as clever as Nick and Nora Charles, with their banter and sweet Asta.  They look so elegant picking up the heavy receivers on the hallway table.  One of the elements of family tradition that has translated cultures and generations is the dinner table.  And as sacred it is-too many people have been modernized by the ease of dining out and technology to abide by simple table manners.

You are not obligated to agree with any of this, but I assure you-you're less likely to offend by following these simple dinner time guidelines.

1. Use the dining table.  The dining table is an opportunity to share some quality time with those you love.  Turn on some Sinatra or, my favorite, some Brazilian music and ease into the meal.  I love the French mentality: you chose your spouse-love them and show them love.  With that-use the dinner table as an opportunity to charge the cell phone.

2. Shut the ringer off and take some time for those in from of you.  If you are out to eat for the evening-keep it in you pocket or purse with the ringer off.  Enjoy the time you in-not the time you want to be in.  This is also my way of saying: enjoy the journey.

3. No excuses.  We all are busy and improtant and working on something.  But if you look at Maslow's Heiarchy-little is more important than family.  Stop waiting to spend time with them.  Do it now.

This is just my take and I'm relatively young, but cell phones are not an excuse to be rude.  Love the ones you're with, right?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dirty Rice: A great way to use leftovers!

One afternoon I found myself sifting through my fridge trying to figure out what I could make. I know I'm not the only one who has done this.  Odds and ends of other dinners spread before me-too much to waste, but is it enough to do something with? 

1 sirloin steak thawed out (but this recipe can be adapted by any meat selection)
1 red bell pepper
1/2 jar spaghetti sauce
1 can diced tomatoes

...what can I do with all this? How about Dirty Rice?

Cut up sirloin and saute over low heat in skillet.  On another burner make rice according to directions (2 servings).  Add red pepper to skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil.  Then add spaghetti sauce, tomatoes and season with Cajun seasoning (cayenne, salt, garlic powder) to taste.  Cook over low-med heat until cooked through.  When the rice is finished cooking, add to sauce and mix together.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

New Adventures in my Food Career

The last few weeks have been very exciting!  Through this blog and my adventures writing for Smile Politely, in addition to my previous work experience-I was welcomed into the family of

Noshfolio is a website that bridges the gap between restaurants and website designers providing a single platform for the restaurant's information in addition to the customer service element that isn't available for owners to keep their website relevant, current and visually appealing.  
Corkscrew-Urbana, IL
Noshfolio currently focuses on Champaign-Urbana, IL and it's grossly over-looked culinary scene.  C-U has CIA trained chef's contributing truly relevant cuisine in an area which is largely overlooked by the masses.  Being a University town in Central Illinois-we are pigeon-holed as such, but the intellect, culture and flavors of the area are vast-creating a trendy food and drink scene.

Noshfolio gives townies and visitors an opportunity to look past the chains and into the local flavors of privately held restaurants and bars.  The user also has the opportunity to bookmark their favorite places, see the specials and comment on their experience.

The photos for the site create a visually stunning experience for the viewer and gives each location and chance to shine! 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Restaurant Quality Baked Potato Soup

Baked potato soup is probably one of my favorites, but I have been traumatized by the watery, bland garbage too often passed off as potato soup-I wont even order it anymore.

You see, I worked at Bennigan's in college.  Bennigan's had the thickest, chunkiest, most savory potato 'soup' ever.  It was popular and it was amazing and I know there are some of you out there feeling my pain-as all the Bennigan's are gone-along with their delicious potato goop of a soup.

So I decided not to be disillusioned by watery mockeries any longer-and I decided to try my hand at a thick, stick-to-your-bones potato soup.  And you know what?  I did it!

Restaurant Quality Potato Soup
Serves: 1 (6 if you decide to share)

6 med baking potatoes-coarsely peeled and chopped in large chunks
1 small yellow onion-chopped
4 strips bacon, uncooked-cut into bite sized pieces (I use my kitchen scissors for this-its easier)
1/2 stalk of celery-chopped
1 stick unsalted butter
1 pint half & half
3-4cups potato flakes
salt & pepper

Coarsely peel and chop the potatoes, put in a pan and cover with water.  Bring to a rapid boil and continue boiling until the water is cloudy.  When the potatoes start to boil, take a larger pot and put in onion, bacon, celery, butter and a few turns of pepper.  Allow it to cook until butter is melted over med-high heat.  Add half & half and stir until bubbling.  The potato water should be cloudy and potatoes very soft, carefully pour all the water and potatoes into the half & half mixture.  Bring to a boil.

At this point take a small spoon and taste the soup-it should taste along the same line of the soup you're looking for.  At this time, you can add a little salt or pepper if you feel it needs it.  You soup will still be runny and will look like the following photo: 

Next, add about 1 cup of potato flakes and stir for 1 minute.  Taste test.  Continue adding 1 cup of flakes, stirring for 1 minute and doing a taste-test until reaching desired consistency and flavor. 

Top with green onion and cheese and Enjoy!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Ham & Bean Soup with Cornbread

I'm sorry its been a few days since I've posted.  It has been a wild week and I ended up getting sick-so as I sit here and sniffle-I'll tell you about the amazing ham and bean soup I made for Levi and I this week!

Last weekend, I was looking forward to the sudden drop in temperature we were to experience yesterday-from 97 to 75 within a 24 hour period.  I geek-out during fall for comfort food, pumpkin, jeans and boots.  So when the opportunity came to cook off some ham and bean soup-I went for it!

As a child, this was something I loved!  I didn't particularly care how bland it tasted (my mom was not much for seasoning foods), but I loved the way it made the whole house smell.  There is something about comfort food on the stove that makes a home smell homier than a scented candle.  Plus, ham and bean soup is so cheap to make!  I can make a whole pot for about $5.  A little tip: buy the dried beans as they are half the price of the canned-and not much more work!

Ham & Bean Soup with Cornbread (recipe takes about 4 hours to cook)
Serves 5-8

1 lb. Dried Northern Beans (or Navy Beans)
1 medium onion chopped
1/2 lb. ham cubed
1/2 lb. uncooked bacon, chopped
salt & pepper

Cook beans according to package.  That means you will have to get a large pot, fill it 3/4 full of water, rinse and add the beans.  Bring water to boil for around 2 minutes (more wont hurt anything) and them remove the pot from heat and keep covered for 1 hour.

Next add onion, bacon and ham to pot and put over medium heat, uncovered.  Bring pot to boil and adjust burner to allow the pot to simmer-stirring occasionally.  Do not salt or pepper yet.  The bacon and ham can already add a lot of salt to your dish-you want to wait until the end before salting.

Let the soup simmer for around 2 hours or until the water no longer looks like a broth and has developed a stew-like consistency (think white gravy).  At that point, you will want to taste the soup and salt or pepper to taste.  Tasting the soup will also tell you if it need to be cooked longer or if its done.  This step is entirely your preference.

Serve with fresh cornbread.  I use the cornbread mix recipe from Hearts, Hands, Home, but I grew up with some Southern flair to our cornbread (ie. add 1/2 cup sugar to the dry mix).  That part is up to you!  


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Football and Pumpkin Pancakes

Sundays at our house (like many others) are a big deal-come Fall.  The weather begins to cool, football begins and pumpkin flavored items are all the rave!  Levi and I anxiously await the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks and I personally love an opportunity to try new comfort foods as we watch football at home.

Pumpkin pancakes have been on my radar for awhile now, but too often in the mornings-all I want is coffee.  Last night we went to bed early (do I admit it was before 9pm?) and tossed, Key Largo in the dvd player to talk us to sleep.  I think the weather took a cue from the hurricane scene because at 3am we were jolted out of bed by a large crack of thunder that shook the whole house!

This morning though, the sun was shining on the wet streets and sidewalks and I decided I was ready to take a crack at the alluring pumpkin pancakes.

Pumpkin Pancakes
Makes 5 large pancakes or 8-10 normal sized pancakes

1 1/2cups All-Purpose Flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 Tablespoons Sugar
dash of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2cup milk (possibly more)
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 Tablespoons melted butter

Mix dry ingredients into a bowl.  Then mix in wet ingredients.  Batter should have the same consistency as cake batter-if its too thick, add 1/4cup milk at a time until you get desired consistency.

Heat non-stick pan.  When pan is hot, pour on batter until you get desired pancake size.  Let the pancake cook for awhile-you will know to flip it when the edges bubble, pop and the holes where the bubbles where don't fill back in with batter.  Flip pancake and cook for 2 minutes.  Serve with syrup.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Farm-Fresh Strawberry Margaritas

Monday, Labor Day.  Levi and I had just gotten home from a sweaty game of Frisbee Golf at Maxwell Park, where he proceeded to kick my butt.  I won't tell you what my score was, but I will say the number was close to my age!  Disclaimer: this was my first time playing, but I run on the competitive side so I was hoping for a good dose of beginners luck! Oh well.

At home I was looking for a refreshing beverage of the adult variety, but lately I have been really worn out on beer.  And I have a decently stocked bar at home-which I never dip into.  So I felt it was time to get creative.

In a reasonably stocked kitchen, you're bound to find something to mix with your booze.  Old wine can become sangria, anything can be mixed with rum and the freezer is always a great place to find 'mixers'.

Does anyone remember the 3 Things to do with a Flat of Strawberries post?  In it, I froze some strawberries for Levi to use for his smoothies.  But this day I realized another purpose, Strawberry Margaritas!!!  So for those of you with frozen fruit/berries in your freezer, here is a quick margarita recipe!

Strawberry Margaritas: *all measurements are approximate, because I do not measure
(Makes one ~16oz margarita)

-1cup frozen strawberries
-1cup Ice 
-1.5oz Tequila (I use Herradura Blanco, but you use whatever you like)
-1/2oz Triple Sec (I use Patron Citronage)
-Simple Syrup* (this is equal parts hot water and sugar mixed in a separate container) 

*I never keep simple syrup on hand so a method I have used for years as a bartender is to use the same amount of simple syrup as you use fruit-perfect consistency every time!

The order you pour the ingredients in is important!
1, Dump Ice and Strawberries into blender (or blender cup, if you're using a personal blender)
2. Then add tequila and triple sec
3. Finally add simple syrup, but only fill to the top of the ice-dont force the ice to float.  This is the trick to the perfect consistency.
4. Blend until you cant hear the ice crunch anymore (sometimes it can take awhile)

Tip: if the consistency is still thick, only add simple syrup!  And just a little (1/4cup) at a time until the blender has enough juice to push the ice around.

What other types of margaritas have you had that you enjoy?  Let me know in the comments below!


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

An Irish Pub and Woody Allen

Friday, Levi, Natalie and I drove over to Champaign to eat and watch Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine.  We started at Dublin O'Neil's.  A modest sized pub, the interior adorned with brick made to look like old stone and wood and big iron lighting almost makes you forget you're in Illinois.  We decided to go there because I keep meaning to stop in and because it was right around from the theatre.  What we discovered was O'Neil's offers one on the most cohesive and cross-the-board Irish menu I've ever seen in the area!  Shepard's Pie (with actual lamb!), Fish n Chips (where the fish looks like it used to be a fish and not a fritter), Bangers and Mash and black pudding all graced the menu!  I was so excited, I had no idea what to order!

Our waitress was very knowledgeable and sweet-letting us take our time with the menu and even walking us through their beer list-well balanced between Irish and non-Irish selections.  I chose the Triptych Summer-Dinkel, a local brewery's seasonal Hefe-style beer.  I found the balance of such a new brew surprising!  Too often new breweries try to impress or make a statement with creating pretentious heavy-everything with too many flavors flying at you at once.  The Summer-Dinkel was light, refreshing, great with my food and had a wonderful balance of flavor without taking over.  I will definitely order it again!

Natalie and Levi both settled on the Fish n Chips, but I was having a hard time deciding between the All-Day Full Irish Breakfast (genius!) and the Fisherman's Stew.  The waitress recommended the Fisherman's Stew and I know better than to argue with someone who has been this solidly knowledgeable thus far into our experience.  Our food arrived and unfortunately, I was so mesmerized by my own plate-I forgot to get a shot of Levi or Natalie's fish before it was too late!  That's the thing with doing what I do-you have to make sure your camera is faster than your hungry boyfriend!

My dinner arrived and was beautiful!  I love any chef who leaves the shells on the seafood and makes the guest do the work!  Slipping the clams and mussels out of their shells I was overtaken by the fun I was having!  Interactive food in highly underrated as we are too eager to just grab a fork and dig in!  To commune with your food is a lost activity-one food enthusiasts are trying to turn around and grill fanatics are experts in.  My portion of stew was not huge, but it was so incredibly satisfying with the warmth, the mild spice and eating with my hands-I would not want for some time.

After dinner, we went over the The Art Theatre to see Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen's new film.  For those who found Woody Allen through Midnight In Paris, this is not his mainstream work.  This movie is the quirky, anti-climatic process that make many people pass on his movies.  What was great about Blue Jasmine was watching the characters move through the world in their imperfect and often embarrassing selves.  Woody has a way of writing a character in 360-that few others have been able to do.  Simply breathtaking.