Thursday, December 31, 2009

Apps for the New Year

And no, I'm not talking about apps for your phone...this is a food blog remember?  But in all seriousness, it's New Year's Eve and you better believe I have an app for that.  (two, in fact)  Check out some of the tasty treats we'll be enjoying at my place.

The first is one that I'm sure many of you have had in the past...

Mini Rye Bread Pizzas

1 lb. Velveeta cheese
1 lb. sausage, cooked and drained (I used salsiccia)
2 Tbls. ketchup
1 loaf party rye bread
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. garlic salt

Brown and drain sausage and set aside.  In microwave melt cheese, then add ketchup.  Stir in sausage and spread on rye bread slices.  Sprinkle with oregano and garlic salt.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or freeze and bake straight from the freezer for 15 minutes.

We're also having this treat...one of my favorite appetizers that my mother-in-law makes.

Sausage Stars

1 lb. sausage, cooked and drained (again, I used salsiccia)
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese
1 cup ranch dressing
1/2 cup diced red pepper
1 pkg. fresh wonton wrappers (find these in the produce section...go figure)

Press wonton wrappers into mini-muffin tin pan.  Bake for 5 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  Cook and drain sausage.  Combine all ingredients (except wonton wrappers) in a bowl.  Remove baked wontons from tin and place on a cookie sheet.  Fill with sausage mixture and bake for 5 minutes or until bubbly, or freeze and bake later for approx. 10 minutes (bubbly).

Happy New Year's Eve to all my readers!  Hope it is fun and safe for all of you.  Here's to a delicious 2010!

Mmmm...Homemade Mac 'N Cheese

Went for the ultimate comfort food last night...homemade mac 'n cheese.  Now many of you might be surprised to learn that the only other time I have ever made homemade mac 'n cheese was with my students at school last school year in my after school cooking class.  Imagine that, I taught my kiddos how to make something I had never made before...it was a bit tricky...but it turned out alright in the end. :)  We learned a lot about measuring and taste testing (we put it up against the box you make on the stove) and made predictions about which one we thought we would like better. But I digress...

So last night I was without a dinner plan but I realized I had a whole bunch of different kinds of cheese, macaroni noodles, and Italian bread crumbs...so it was time to experiment.  I've had lots of different kinds of homemade mac 'n cheese but I think this one took the cake.  It was creamy all the way through but each bite was a little different from all the cheeses it gets topped with before you bake it.  Serve this one up next time you need a last minute dinner option...I promise it will be a crowd pleaser!

Lauren's Homemade Mac 'N Cheese
(adapted from Kraft Foods' Velveeta Downhome Macaroni & Cheese)

Start with the recipe for Velveeta Downhome Macaroni & Cheese but when you get to the part about the shredded cheddar, stop and follow along here...

Sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded cheddar, 1/2 cup shredded monterey jack, and 1/2 cup shredded asiago cheese.  Melt 1 Tbls. butter and mix with 4-5 Tbls. Italian bread crumbs.  Sprinkle over top.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes and enjoy!

We'll be eating the leftovers for lunch today...no doubt.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I'm Back!

Hello everyone!  I know it has been a while and I would have loved to share recipes for Thanksgiving, Christmas cookies, and more but things have just been crazy!  Now I'm back with a new look for the blog (soothing, no?) and I'm kicking it off with some new recipes that, while time consuming to prepare, were absolutely worth the wait. 

These recipes are straight from my Cooking Light magazine (December issue).  I heart Cooking Light in a big way.  My January issue just arrived and I can't wait to go through it and find more yummy things to make this month!  The best part about these recipes...they are low in calories and fat!  Amazing!  If you happen to have the December issue handy, turn to page 206 to see what I'm talking about.

Not a subscriber?  No problem...you know I'd never leave you hangin'.  Here's the basic recipe for Belgian Beef and Beer Stew

And now for a few tips...

Next time I make this, I'm skipping the chuck roast.  Have you ever tried to trim a chuck roast??  Probably not, and neither had I before yesterday.  Just take my word for it...don't do it.  Took forever and was impossible to get all the fat off.  Next time, I'll be using the pre-trimmed, pre-cut stew meat.  Not into chopping onions?  Me neither.  Ore-ida and some other brands make bags of frozen, pre-chopped onions.  Look for them in the freezer section of the grocery store near the hashbrowns.  Can't find cremini mushrooms?  Regular ole white mushrooms work fine or go with baby bellas if you can find those instead.  Mincing garlic is smelly...buy minced garlic in the jar.  Totally worth every penny in my book.  I used a Fat Tire as my amber ale...cringed a little as I poured it in the pot but it sure was tasty.  What's a parsnip you ask?  Yeah...I had never used one before either.  Take a look in produce near the carrots.  They kind of resemble white carrots on steroids.  No kidding.  Don't let their raw aroma fool you...they tasted much different cooked in the stew than they smelled raw...much better, in fact.  Who has caraway seeds in their spice rack?  Not me...but I do have celery seed, which is a suitable substitute for caraway in a pinch.  It just packs a slightly milder flavor.  Don't forget to remove the bay leaf before serving!

I couldn't help but notice the next recipe on the page as being one to accompany the first...Herbed Asiago Rolls.  Yes please!  This was my first time in a long time making bread from scratch but they turned out quite nicely if I do say so myself.  I think Tom would agree.  :)  I gave up in Schnucks on my hunt to find ground red pepper so I left it out (1/4 tsp...no big deal).  They were plenty yummy without it.  AND the recipe made 12 rolls so I froze half of them and will pull them out as needed over the course of the next week or so.  My only tip here is to make sure you read through all the directions carefully before beginning, noting how long you have to let it rise at each stage so you make sure to give yourself plenty of time.

Now I think you're ready to enjoy!  Be on the lookout for more new posts to come.  I have LOTS of cooking to catch you up on!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Keeps gettin' better...

This week is ridiculous...last night's dinner was great, tonight's totally hit the spot, and I can't wait to try tomorrow's! Thursday is the icing on the cake cause it's something I don't make very often but I absolutely love it...Friday I will be in a food coma for sure. :)

So I promised I would share tonight's recipe for Italian Tortellini Soup from the Dierberg's cook book (via my sister, Carrie) and I'm not one to disappoint so here it is! The best part about this soup is that it automatically makes three dinners! Read on to find out more...

Here's how it works...

Italian Tortellini Soup

Buy It...
2 pounds bulk Italian sausage (I bought salsiccia cause I couldn't find bulk mild Italian)
1 pkg. (10 oz.) shredded carrot
2 medium onions, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
4 cans (14 oz. each) beef broth
2 cans (16 oz. each) kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
1 pkg. (20 oz.) frozen cheese tortellini

You will also need...
2 Tbls. Italian seasoning
3 (6-cup or larger) reusable freezer containers (tupperware)
3 (1 qt.) freezer-weight reclosable plastic bags

Cook it...
In large soup pot or Dutch oven, brown sausage and drain off excess fat. Combine cooked sausage with veggies and cook until veggies are tender. Add broth, beans, and seasoning.

Divide and freeze...
Divide mixture among three 6-cup (or larger) freezer containers. Divide tortellini into three 1 qt. freezer bags. Label each container with recipe name, date, and "heat it" instructions. Freeze for up to 3 months.

Heat it...
Defrost container of soup in microwave on 50% power for 20 minutes. Place soup base in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Add 2 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil. Add frozen tortellini and return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until pasta is tender, about 15 minutes.

I froze two containers and went ahead with the "heat it" directions tonight for our dinner and it was delicious! Served it up with a little cheddar beer bread made from Homemade Gourmet's World Vision Basic Bread Mix and it was the perfect fall meal! And now I can have it two more times with very little effort...BONUS!! :)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Holy Eggplant Batman!

My first attempt at eggplant parmesan turned out absolutely delicious...and was SUPER easy! Add this into your rotation (if you have one) cause it's a keeper!

Eggplant Parmesan (adapted from several different recipes)

1 large eggplant
1/2 cup water
1 stick butter, melted
Italian breadcrumbs (about 2-3 cups)
1 jar of marinara sauce (your choice)
parmesan cheese
mozzerella cheese
spaghetti or fettuccini noodles, cooked

Peel eggplant and slice into 1/4-1/2 inch slices. Rinse in cold water. Place eggplant in a microwave safe bowl with 1/2 cup water and microwave on high for 4 minutes. Grease a 9x13 glass casserole dish and spread a small amount of sauce along the bottom. Dip eggplant slices in butter, then dredge in breadcrumbs, stacking two slices high in dish. Pour remainder of sauce over slices, coat generously with parmesan cheese then mozzerella. Bake in 350 degree oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until cheese is bubbly. Serve over cooked pasta. Serves 6.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did...look out work buddies, I'm bringing leftovers for my lunch tomorrow. :)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hey good lookin', whatcha got cookin'?

So this is just a brief post to let you know what we'll be eatin' this week now that I have had to go back to the grocery store. I was totally uninspired by what was on sale in this week's grocery ads (ugh) so I turned to some of my other favorite sources for food inspiration...Homemade Gourmet, Cooking Light, my sister Carrie....just to name a few. :)

Monday: Eggplant Parmesan (I picked up an enormous eggplant for a buck while on a field trip to a farm last week with my kiddos from school)
Tuesday: Italian Tortellini Soup (I'll definitely blog about this later this week...it's FABULOUS!)
Wednesday: Black bean burgers and sweet potato fries
Thursday: White Chicken Chili (Tom's request)
Friday: Either a frozen pizza (easy) or out on the town...we'll see what we're up to.

Now that I've been to the store and am looking back at this menu, I'm thinking it might be a bit ambitious...but delicious at the same time. :) So check back later this week to hear a little more about some of these yummies AND to hear about cake decorating course 2....Tuesday night couldn't get here fast enough!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Food" for thought...

Haven't been blogging as much as I would like lately...sorry about that. Here you'll find just a few ramblings and food related thoughts I have been having lately so you will know what kinds of food fun I have been up to.

1. I made the Fettuccine Alfredo e Salsiccia...it was AMAZING!! I will tell you that I made a few recipe alterations...just so you can note them and use them if you would like. First, when I cooked the salsiccia, I added a little bit of minced garlic. I was kind of shocked there wasn't any garlic in the recipe (I mean it's alfredo for cryin' out loud) so I added a little her...not a ton, just enough for flavor. I also dumped the entire cup of cheese into the sauce, which made it incredibly thick and creamy...so I added another splash of cream and it was just perfect. I also added mushrooms (sauteed them while the butter was melting in the first step). I also added a little bit of that California onion powder I use so often now...it's delicious. Lastly, I didn't have fresh parsley so I just used a little dried parsley and made sure to stir it into the sauce right before I added the pasta. I'm sure it would have been great without all these additions but they just upped the ante a bit. :)

2. Cake decorating class starts back up next week...I can't wait! My friend and coworker, Rose, and one of her friends are coming too! So much fun!

3. I'm getting ready to do some more Homemade Gourmet recipe experimentation in the next couple weeks so get ready for all that excitement...yumm.

4. Speaking of HG...I have some upcoming events so you can come visit me at Chesterfield Elementary on November 7th or Meramec Bluffs on November 21st!

5. Can't wait to start thinking about Thanksgiving...wait. Scratch that...loving currently thinking about Thanksgiving and all the wonderful foods that come along with it! Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberries, the list goes on and on...what are some of your favorites?

6. Tomorrow my nephew turns one...time flies huh? (Happy Birthday Ryan! Aunt Lauren loves you!) This means I get to put my cake decorating skills to good use again...but this time it's in a slightly different way. You see, I'm teaching a couple techniques to my sister so she can decorate her own cake. As a matter of fact, I'm supposed to be over there giving her a lesson right now...guess I should stop blogging.

Until next time, think yummy thoughts and send me some "ask Lauren" questions! :)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

We've got to clean out the freezer...

That's right folks, we're on week 3 of meal planning from the freezer! Thank goodness this is the last week cause it's starting to look a little empty! This has taught me a really great lesson, though. I've had to be more aware of what's actually in there and teach myself not to just buy meat for the heck of it (meat can get expensive!) but rather, to always have a specific plan for it. I think this is where combining the use of grocery ads with meal planning could really come in handy in the long run. Check the ads, what's on sale, what can I make from what is on sale....and go! I think my pocketbook is going to like this. Anyway, here's what's left in the freezer for the final week...the "stragglers" as I like to call them. :)

2 lb. beef roast (Well...it was in the freezer...now it's in the slow cooker for tonight's dinner)
2 chicken breasts
2 links salsiccia
4 oz. pkg. of mini scallops
a medium-sized container of chili I froze from the amazing pot I made last weekend

Here's how the meal plan for this week is working out...

Monday: Chili mac
Tuesday: Homemade Gourmet Chicken and Biscuit Casserole (made with Grandmother's Sunday Roast Seasoning)
Wednesday: Fettuccine Alfredo e Salsiccia (found this on epicurean.com and couldn't pass it up!)
Thursday: leftover HG Chicken and Biscuit Casserole
Friday: Parmesan Crusted Broiled Sea Scallops (another tasty find on recipezaar.com)

So when are you coming over for dinner? :)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Meal Plan...well, sort of...

This is one crazy week full of all kinds of fun...but not so many dinners at home. Check it out!

Monday: "Dinner Club" at my high school friend, Jenny's house (She's serving Italian food...I'm in heaven!)
Tuesday: HG team meeting (all kinds of goodies to eat there!)
Wednesday: Baked tilapia, angel hair pasta tossed with parmesan cheese and tomatoes, mixed veggies (yay! a meal at home!)
Thursday: HG Party at Gina's (yummy goodies here too!)
Friday: Trivia night=eating there!

Like I said, not much of a week for meal planning but next week is looking much better! Stay tuned....

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Carolina Pulled Pork

Wowee...just had an awesome dinner at my Mom and Dad's and decided I couldn't leave their house without the recipe. It was too good to not share with all of you. Hope you enjoy this tasty dinner item...I know I did! (Thanks Mom!)

Carolina Style Pulled Pork Sandwich

(serves about 20)

Pulled Pork:
2 onions, quartered
2 Tbls. light brown sugar
1 Tbls. paprika
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
6 lbs. boneless pork butt
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
4 tsp. worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. chopped jalapeno pepper

Barbeque Sauce:
1 cup prepared mustard
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 Tbls. chili powder
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. soy sauce
2 Tbls. butter
1 Tbls. liquid smoke

Extras:
20 buns
coleslaw (for topping, if desired)

1. Place onions in the crock pot.
2. Combine brown sugar, paprika, salt and pepper; rub over the roast.
3. Place the roast over the onions in the crock pot.
4. Conbine the vinegar, worcestershire sauce, red pepper flakes, sugar, mustard, garlic salt, and cayenne; stir to mix well.
5. Drizzle about 1/2 of the vinegar mixture over the roast and cover. Refrigerate the remaining vinegar mixture.
6. Cook on low up to 18 hours but at least 12 hours (overnight). Drizzle the other half of the vinegar mixture over the roast during the last 1/2 hour of cooking.
7. While the meat is cooking, prepare the barbeque sauce. Mix all ingredients except soy sauce, butter, and smoke. Simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients and simmer for 10 more minutes. Set aside to cool.
8. Remove the meat from the crock pot and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes.
9. Remove the onions and chop to a fine consistency.
10. Pull apart the meat with a couple of forks. Meat should have a shredded look.
11. Mix chopped onions and shredded pork along with a little bit of juice from the crock pot to taste. Add sufficient barbeque sauce to the mixture to achieve desired taste. Meat should have distinctive barbeque flavor.
12. Serve with additional barbecue sauce and slaw on top of pork. Keep lots of napkins handy.

I hope you enjoy this as much as we did. It's definitely something you have to plan ahead for because of the overnight cooking time required but it's absolutely worth it! This is only the beginning of all the wonderful things we'll be making in the slow cooker this fall and winter so strap on a bib (or a drop cloth) and let's eat!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Mmmmm...chili

Nothing makes me happier on a cool, fall day than a big pot of chili. I just threw a pot together to let it simmer for a while and figured we could talk chili for a bit.

As the International Chili Society says "Never has there been anything mild about chili." I think that about sums it up. Chili is one of those foods that everyone seems to love, and everyone seems to have a different way of making theirs. There's your traditional chili (usually beef with red kidney beans), chili verde (usually pork with jalapenos and tomatillos in the sauce), white chili (usually turkey or chicken with white kidney beans), and who knows how many other kinds of chili. Today we're just gonna talk good ole traditional chili. :)

The funny thing about chili, is that it never seems to come out tasting the same way twice. At least not the way I make it. You see, I don't really measure any spices when I put them in...it's more about looking and smelling and tasting...and letting it simmer! I think that's one of the hardest things to do with a pot of chili. Once I get everything in the pot, especially on a week night, I have a hard time keeping myself from diving right in. But it's my belief that the chili isn't truly ready unless it has had at least an hour to simmer. And the longer you can stand to let it simmer, the better it will taste. Everything you put in needs time to blend together so you don't ever taste specific flavors in your chili, but rather have one uniform, delicious pot.

*hold please...I need to stir mine*

Ok, where was I...ah yes. Many people comment that their chili is better the next day. I have two theories for this.

1. You didn't let it simmer long enough on the first day. You probably still had a good pot of chili, but once it had a chance to sit in the fridge overnight, the flavors really got to "harmonize" if you will, and your chili will be even better than before.
2. You didn't have to cook it this time. :) I think that's one of the biggest reasons I love leftovers of any kind: I didn't have to cook that day but I still got to have a delicious dinner. Kind of makes me appreciate the work I did the day before even more.

So what's my secret to a great pot of chili? Experimenting. I put different things in my chili every time and I have yet to end up with a bad pot. Look at your spice rack, what's there? Anything sound like it might go great in a pot of chili? Give it a try!

Here's what's simmering in my pot tonight...

Lauren's Easy Fall Chili

1.25 lbs. ground turkey (you can substitute beef if you'd like)
3-4 Tbls. chili powder (remember I don't measure so this is estimated)
2 tsp. California style onion powder (estimated)
1/2 Tbls. red pepper flakes (estimated)
1 tsp. cumin (estimated)
1 tsp. oregano (estimated)
1 tsp. basil (estimated)
1-10 oz. can mild rotel, undrained and 1-10 oz. can original rotel, undrained (why one of each? well, that's what I had in the pantry!)
1-40 oz. can Brooks chili mild beans
2-10.75 oz. cans tomato soup
1 bay leaf

Cook turkey over medium high heat until is it crumbled and cooked through, drain, add seasonings and cook for 1 minute while stirring to blend. Add remaining ingredients (don't forget the bay leaf), bring to a boil, and reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for at least 1 hour. Remove bay leaf before serving. Enjoy with any (or all) of the following...macaroni pasta, oyster crackers, crusty bread, cheddar cheese, mexi cheese, onions, or anything else you might like!

This simple chili recipe has LOTS of flavor thanks to all the seasonings but is super simple since it uses so many canned ingredients instead of using fresh peppers and having to do lots of chopping. If you're up for a slightly more complicated recipe, break out the food processor and the cutting board and try this one my mom found a few years ago that is absolutely amazing...

Whiteface Mountain Chili

2 Tbls. veg. oil
2.5 lbs. sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 large Spanish onion, quartered
4 medium stalks celery
2 medium carrots
2 green bell peppers, seeded and quartered
1 -28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 cup medium salsa
1-15 oz. can tomato puree
1-10 oz. can chili sauce
1 Tbls. chili powder, more or less to taste
1/2 Tbls. cumin
1 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
2 Tbls. chopped jalapeno peppers
2-15 oz. cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1-15 oz. can pinto beans, rinsed and drained

In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat until nearly smoking. dd sausage and saute until it resembles a coarse crumble, about 10 mintues. Meanwhile, place the onions, celery, carrots, and green peppers in a food processor and pulse until very finely diced. Add veggies to sausage and saute another 6-8 minutes, or until soft. Add diced tomatoes, salsa, tomato puree, and chili sauce. Stir and bring to a simmer, then cook 10 minutes. Add chili powder, cumin, white pepper, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, garlic, bay leaf, and jalapenos. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 25 minutes. Add the beans and simmer another 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf before serving. Serves 8-10.

Well, my pot of chili is just about ready so I'll have to share more delicious recipes with you another day. Until then you can check out this website for more award winning chili recipes!

Famous Chili Recipes

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cleaning out the fridge and freezer...

So this week, I decided it's about time I take a good hard look at what's in the fridge and freezer and get it cleaned out! Here's what's on the menu for this week after my observations....

Monday: We had leftover HG deliciousness...mmm Skillet Beef and Cornbread
Tuesday: General Tso's chicken, brown rice, and broccoli (had everything I needed already!)
Wednesday: HG Enchilada Pork Chops, spanish rice, and mixed veggies (have everything!!)
Thursday: leftovers from Wednesday (I have 4 pork chops all ready to go)
Friday: We're going out with the money we saved on groceries this week!

That's right...didn't need to go to the grocery store for dinners this week! Still needed to pick up some fresh produce, milk, and deli meat for lunches but that was no biggie. Not having to buy anything for dinners this week was amazing!

Can you do dinners for a week with what you already have in your fridge, freezer, and pantry? I bet you'd be surprised! All it takes is a little creativity...or a little help from www.supercook.com or www.myfridgefood.com! (Remember the August post that talked about these helpful sites?)

I'm thinking I might even be able to pull this off two weeks in a row...only problem is I'll only be home for dinner one night next week...hmmm. I guess Tom still needs to eat. :) And maybe that even means I can make it THREE weeks like this...I sure do like a challenge!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate...

...boy oh boy do I love chocolate! And now I know where I get it from! (Not that it was ever that big of a mystery but now it has definitely been confirmed) :)

So in the past week, we celebrated 3 birthdays and an anniversary in my family...more accurately they happened in the last 4 days but we all got together last night for the big celebration. Since I took cake decorating class last month, I felt like I should try to flex my decorating muscles (they need a little toning) and see what I could come up with for the official celebration dessert. Mom's birthday was the closest to our celebration date, so I let her pick what she wanted for dessert. Her request: chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate.
Hmmm....So I did a little searching. Sure I could whip up a chocolate cake with some chocolate pudding for the filling and chocolate icing.....boring. This needed to be something special. And who is my new, latest favorite person to turn to for baking ideas...Bakerella, of course! Cake pops were the first thing to cross my mind but then I decided not to get too crazy since I haven't attempted these yet. I need an opportunity to mess them up once and not worry about it...maybe I'll attack those soon. BUT I did find some interesting cupcakes on her website that got me thinking.
So I started with some basic devil's food cake cupcakes.


The cupcakes that inspired me were a little crazy for my taste...goat cheese icing on chocolate zucchini cupcakes. However, the chocolate ganache filling sounded divine! Now I've never filled cupcakes before so this was new to me but I figured I could make it work and cover up and "uglies" with some chocolate icing. Yumm? You bet.

Here's the recipe for the ganache...

Chocolate Ganache from Bakerella

2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate bar, chopped in chunks
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup confectioners sugar

Place chocolate and whipping cream in the microwave. Heat in 30 second intervals, stirring in between until melted. Blend thoroughly. Add sugar and stir until thoroughly combined. Pour ganache into a disposable decorators bag (I used Wilton tip #12), insert tip into center of cupcake and, using gentle pressure, squeeze filling into the cupcake until you start to see it coming out the top.

Here I am filling the first cupcake...next time I want to follow the step-by-step directions in the link above instead of using a decorator's tip cause I have lots of extra ganache that I'm now trying to find a use for.

Here's what they looked like after being filled...yummmmmmmmmmm! See the little glossy spot at the top? That's the ganache! Peek-a-boo!


Then a colleague of mine, Tracy (thanks Tracy!), sent me a new baking website (well, new to me anyway) for The Cake Mix Doctor and I was able to find the inspiration for some amazing chocolate cream cheese icing. Holy smokes it was good...the only change I plan to make next time is just to use 1/2 tsp. of almond extract. I think the 1 tsp. the recipe called for was just a tiny bit too much and you lost a lot of the cream cheese flavor.

Here's the recipe for the icing...

Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing from the Cake Mix Doctor

Makes 4 cups, enough to frost a 2- or 3- layer cake
(or in my case, 12 cupcakes with a bunch left over) :)
Preparation Time: 10 minutes

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon pure almond extract (I'm using 1/2 tsp next time but go with whatever you like)
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

1. Place the cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until combined, 30 seconds. Stop the machine. Add the cocoa powder, extract, and confectioners' sugar and blend with the mixer on low speed until the ingredients are moistened, 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the frosting is fluffy, 2 minutes more.

I'll be honest it took a little bit of extra mixing to get it to "do its thang" and become icing, which kind of freaked me out at first. It looked like dry little hunks of chocolate dough for the first 30 seconds or so (which felt like an eternity while I thought I had somehow messed it up) and then all of a sudden it turned into beautiful, creamy, fluffy icing...delicious too!

Another decorator bag came out, this time with Wilton tip 2D and voila! Finished cupcakes!


Here's a close-up to really get you drooling...

Thank goodness I made them the same day they were to be served to the family or they might not have made it to the party! And sharing them with family turned out to be the absolute best part...just ask my niece, Haedyn. She started out with a fork....

...but quickly ditched that...

...do you think anyone noticed?

Nah. :)

Who knows what I'll be up to next but tonight I'm taking the night off from cooking and enjoying the last of our Homemade Gourmet leftovers from last week. Then I'll need to figure out what's for dinner for the rest of the week so check back later tonight for the meal plan!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Portabella (in review)

Last night gave me a rare opportunity to see a couple of my friends from graduate school...luckily all of these get togethers involve good food. This time around we were off to Portabella in downtown Clayton. None of us had ever been here to eat, but ever since I tried their "kick-ass fries" at the St. Louis Art Fair a few years ago, I hunt their booth down annually at this event and more recently at the Taste of St. Louis to have some. They call these fries "garlic-asiago fries" on the online menu but on their menu at the restaurant and their food booth at events call them "kick-ass fries." Kick-ass is definitely an appropriate description...these bad boys are phenomenal! I suppose they could call them "phenomenal fries" but it wouldn't have quite the impact as the current name.

We had reservations but it seems we didn't need them...only a few other tables in the restaurant were taken on this particular Wednesday night. Wine list by the bottle was nice but by the glass was a little skimpy, I have to admit. Only one cab? Oh well. The food and the service absolutely made up for it!

First of all, our waiter, whose name is escaping me right now, was wonderful. Sure he forgot to put in our order for kick-ass fries until I asked him about them a little later on but this was possibly the best service I have ever had, anywhere, ever. He wass absolutely dedicated to making sure that everything was exactly the way we liked it. He talked to us about customizing our dishes and changing things any way we wanted to make sure we got exactly what was best for us. For example, I ordered the Chicken Milanese but I'm (surprisingly) not a huge fan of marinara, which is on the side of pasta. Our waiter explained that the chicked comes on top of the side of pasta with the pasta tossed in marinara and marinara over the chicken. Oh, well marinara on the chicken actually sounded good but I'm still more of a cream sauce person (imagine that). So cream sauce went on my pasta and marinara stayed on the chicken...ended up being a really nice contrast. The pasta was just tossed in cream sauce, not drowned in it, and it wasn't too heavy or anything. And the portion sizes were huge! I barely made it through half of mine before having to box it up. I was one satisfied girl. :)

So here's how I rate Portabella in full:

Setting: 3.5--Downtown Clayton is a really neat area. However, parking was terrible (even on a Wednesday night) and with 40 still partially closed it was tricky for some members of our party to get there.
Ambiance: 4--A little too dark for my liking but it didn't feel too stuffy like some places can when the lights are that low. I think it would have been even better if it had been a little bit more crowded...seems strange to say but I think I would have gotten a little better feel for it that way.
Service: 5--I was really impressed with the service if you couldn't tell already. I wish I could remember our waiter's name...I would tell you all to sit in his section.
Food: 5--Everything I had was awesome and it sounded like everyone else was really enjoying theirs as well. Even Audrey, whose pasta was too spicy, loved it once our waiter brought her a small dish of marinara to mix in with her "spicy marinara" to tone it down....again with the awesome service. And while there were options above $20 most entrees were in the teens.
Drink: 3--Like I said, I was disappointed with the lack of variety on the "by the glass" part of the wine menu. They were a bit overpriced, too, in my opinion. I would love to see more selection, especially some more reasonable choices.

Overall...I'd give Portabella a 4. I would absolutely go back...just might sneak a bottle of wine in with me. ;) Just kidding! (maybe)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Special K Challenge

Let me preface this post by stating that I am not a nutritionist, doctor, or anything else along those lines. I am a food-lover. That being said, you should always consult your doctor concerning any weight-loss plan you may be interested in before beginning. Disclaimer over.


Last spring, my place of employment had a "Biggest Loser Challenge." I actually ran it and it was a lot of fun! I felt like I got to know a lot of my coworkers better and finding ways to motivate our group of 28 participants on a weekly basis was challenging but motivating for me too! I started off with the Special K challenge and working out with friends after work, either walking or doing exercise videos and the pounds dropped off. I was absolutely amazed when I finished the Special K challenge (only 2 weeks) and had lost 7 pounds. When I started, I was working my way out of my current pant size into the next bigger but at this point my pants were not only comfortable again, but some were even a bit loose. I have never experienced anything like this so I was a bit amazed.


I continued losing weight until the end of the BL in April and ended up coming in second, losing a little over 14 lbs. I haven't felt that good in a long time and was looking forward to keeping the weight off.......and then came summer. Once BL was over, I didn't really have much motivation to work out and slowly I went back to my old eating habits. Before I knew it (last week) I was popping clasps and buttons off my new "skinny pants" and slipping, comfortably, into my old "fat pants." I have regained 9 pounds of what I lost and I am not happy about it.

Unfortunately, BL doesn't start up until January again. However, a few of my colleagues have decided to have a little challenge of their own and I was lucky enough to get in on it. So, starting Monday (two days ago) I went back to the Special K challenge. I figure it got me jump started last time so hopefully it will do it again. Here's how it works....at least for me. :) (I tend to modify)


Breakfast: Bowl of Special K cereal with skim milk (They say you get 2/3 cup of milk but that's waaaay too much milk for me.) Most of the cereals only give you 3/4 cup serving so the milk to cereal ratio is crazy. I just splash a little on.


Morning Snack: That's right, I get a snack in the morning....I wouldn't make it to lunch without it. I usually grab a Special K cereal bar but sometimes I have a piece of fruit.


Lunch: Another bowl of cereal with skim milk, and as many fruits and veggies as I want. Today I packed a small salad, some peppers with fat free ranch dressing (it's only 15 calories for the little bit I use), and a banana to go with my cereal.


Afternoon Snack: Usually a serving size (17) of Special K crackers (they have a crazy tomato herb flavor that is just delicious!) but sometimes a cereal bar or another piece of fruit.


Dinner: Whatever I want....in moderation. :) They say to eat your third meal as you normally do and I take that to heart. I just try to be more careful about portion sizes now, especially when I'm eating out...like last night! I try to eat at least one or two big portions of veggies and then a small amount of lean meat and maybe a starch....do I really have to keep reminding you how much I love carbs?


I try not to snack after dinner but we still have cake in the house so that's tough sometimes. I really like to keep the Skinny Cow 50 calorie fudge pops around even though they are a little pricey cause I figure I can always fit in an extra 50 calories if I really need something sweet at the end of the day.

Do I ever cheat? Well, yes, it happens. Take yesterday for example--we had a meeting after work and I was in charge of snacks so I brought my delicious spinach-artichoke dip. Even I can't resist that. And then today at lunch I had to help finish it off...couldn't let it go to waste now could I? I mean really.

So that's it...I haven't really started working out much yet so I doubt I'll see quite the drop I did last time unless I can get my act together. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

This week in the ads....

So this week I was really searching for something to get excited about in the ads (I think I need to find a new place to focus my hunt)...here's what I found!

Schnucks: Schnucks' big advertisement this week is focused around their 10 for $10 sales featuring Michelina's entrees, Fresh Express Salad mixes, Barilla pasta, Rotel, and Blue Bunny Personals ice cream, to name a few. However...down at the bottom of the page is what I really got excited about...boneless bottom round roast for $1.99/lb.! Last week I picked up a couple of chuck roasts at Shop 'N Save for $1.89/lb. so for $0.10 more...I'll take bottom round this week! Special K cereal is on sale 4 for $10 (usually in the $4-$5/box range so that's a good deal!) and since I just restarted the Special K Challenge yesterday, I'll have to swing by and stock up on that. (More to come on the challenge in a future post...)

Shop 'N Save: I see $1 Duncan Hines cake mixes on page 4!!! Thank goodness cause I only have one mix left from my last big $1 cake mix stock up about a month ago...yes, I know...I make a lot of cakes. (My pants already reminded me.) I digress...you'll need sour cream to make the spread for those salmon burgers and at $1 for the 16 oz tub...you'll have plenty to spare! Lastly, I have to give a little plug for the new Bud Light Golden Wheat...on sale for $5.47/6 pack this week. If you haven't tried it yet you should...it's really rather tasty!

Dierbergs: Uh...Dierbergs is having a buy one get one free meat sale. BOGO meat? I am definitely enticed but since it doesn't list the original price for one, I'm not sure how great of a deal I'd be getting. And it's only on select items...though BOGO pork tenderloin sounds pretty good. :) They also have my favorite Pictsweet frozen veggies on sale 2/$2...awesome! And for all you bakers out there, Dierbergs butter is just $1.68. That's a pretty sweet deal for your sweets! And look at that, right next to Skippy peanut butter we have flu shots and shingles vaccines...yikes. Rounding out this week's deals is Campbell's tomato or chicken noodle soups (perfect for this time of year) 10 for $6! Though I do have to admit that the marinated salmon skewers at $2.99 each look delicious as well.

So there ya have it folks...happy shopping!

In the meantime, I'd like to know what you think. Is anyone actually using these grocery ad reviews or should I scrap em? Don't get me wrong, I love cracking my BOGO meat jokes but if you would rather I shared more recipes then I should be spending my time on that! Input is welcome here! :) Thanks!

Monday, October 5, 2009

I think I've died and gone to heaven...

...and you will too when you see what the Pioneer Woman is giving away on her website tomorrow morning! Ree Drummond is at it again but this time with a 90th anniversary Kitchen Aid mixer....boy oh boy do I want one of these bad boys. At $350, I think it's a bit out of my league. Unless I am lucky enough to win it!!

Check out her contest...you still have a little over an hour to enter if you're interested. I only ask that you let me borrow it once in a while if you win. ;)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Tootin' my own horn....

Please forgive me for a moment while I share with you my latest accomplishment in the food world. In the grand scheme of things it's a small accomplishment but in my book....well, I couldn't be more proud!

So what's goin' on you ask? Well, I submitted a recipe to Homemade Gourmet a few months ago that I thought was really great (original recipe that uses two HG mixes in the recipe) and have been waiting and waiting to hear if it made it past their executive chef in the test kitchen. Today I was on the website looking for things to make for dinner this week and decided to peek....and there it was!! Not only did my recipe make it into their recipe database, but they even put my name on it and complimented it (they called it "great") AND I got three, count em, three exclamation points! :)

Don't believe me? Check it out for yourself....

Salmon Burgers with Lemon Dill Spread

In honor of this...I'll be making them Tuesday night. It's been a while since I've had them so they were due for an appearance. Speaking of eating this week...here's what's cooking in my kitchen! It's an all Homemade Gourmet week!

Monday: HG Jalapeno Ole Soup
Tuesday: Salmon Burgers with Lemon Dill Spread (my original HG recipe)
Wednesday: I'm out with some friends, Tom can have leftover Jalapeno Ole Soup!
Thursday: HG Skillet Beef and Cornbread
Friday: Leftovers from Thursday

Oh buddy is it gonna be a good eats week at my house or what?! Jealous? ;)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Check out my cake!!

So last night course one of my Wilton Cake Decorating class series came to a conclusion. I must admit, I am kinda sad it's over. As crazy as it was to try to bake and frost a cake every Monday night then go to class with said cake every Tuesday night, I will definitely miss it next week. I REALLY learned a lot, and not just about decorating! It's definitely not a baking class but Linda, our instructor at the Michael's in Des Peres, taught us all kinds of tricks to making your cake bake nicely so you have a good "base" for your decorations. I think I touched on these in an earlier post but check these bad boys out...Wilton Bake Even Strips claim to help your cake bake nice and level and evenly throughout. I haven't bought them yet but Linda says she always uses them and her cakes all turn out great! Instead, I use the Wilton Cake Leveler to knock the hump off my cakes. Works like a charm...wastes a little bit of cake. Wait, take that back, Tom eats the cake I shave off the top so I guess its not really wasted. Lucky boy. :)

So, last night we got the chance to decorate a cake any way we wanted using any of the techniques we learned over the past several weeks. I am SUPER proud of how my cake turned out...check it out!!!

Here is the famous "Wilton Rose!" We learned a new step for the rose each night of the class so it took us 3 weeks to learn how to do the whole thing. They are tricky!!!!! Also notice the fancy leaves and vines.


For the border I used my 2D tip to make large, white drop flowers and then sporadically put pink spiral flowers on top using tip 16, I believe. Had some extra green from the leaves and vines so I gave them contrasting centers.

One more shot from above...

It's a shame course two isn't being offered until November but that will give me a chance to practice everything I have learned so far! Don't worry, hubby, the cakes won't stop here! And Michael's will have to find someone else to terrorize the cake decorating aisle for a few weeks...maybe. ;)

Anyone have any ideas for a cake for me to decorate? I love a challenge!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Meal Plan and Grocery Store Combo Post!

Well, I figure if I had to disappear for a week that I better make up for it this week eh? Here goes nothing!

So when trying to plan dinners for this week, I decided to go through the grocery ads and figure out what all sounds good. I have some chicken and fish stocked up in the freezer so I figured if it was a "bad" week I could make due just fine with what we had...especially with tonight being Chili's night (more on that later) and tomorrow being my last cake decorating class (read: leftovers tomorrow). However, I was lucky to see that the grocery stores are not disappointing us this week!

Shop 'N Save: Shop 'n Save is running a $5 sale with some decent savings on things like pork tenderloin (1.5lb. pkg for $5), chicken leg quarters (10lb. bag for $5), tilapia (2 lb. bag for $5), and cooked shrimp (1 lb. okg. for $5). They also have boneless beef chuck roast on sale for $1.87/lb. Now that's a pretty nice deal! Other notables: buy 3-12 packs of Pepsi products and get another 12 pack for free OR get a 24 pack of Pepsi for just $6.88.

Dierbergs: Dierbergs is comin' up big with their 50% off sale again. Ground round is just $1.99/lb. and pork chops are just $2.79/lb. Complete salad kits (Fresh Express) are just $1.99. My personal favorite...tostitos are just $1.99/bag! I'll definitely have to swing by for a few bags of these...I go through them quickly. :) And have you ever seen a 5 lb. bag of russet potatoes for just $0.99?? I haven't...looks like I'm gonna be making potato chips again...or potato soup...mmm. And that's just the front page...there's lots more great stuff on the inside!

Schnucks: And just when I thought it couldn't get much better...Schnucks is having their $0.89/lb. meat sale! But don't get too excited...here's what their advertisement says is included: whole chicken, pork butt sliced into steaks, bone-in ham, and Hunter hot dogs. I'm not sure I'm really in the market for any of those things. Tropicana orange juice is $2.99, though, and that's a pretty good deal...that stuff is expensive! ANd I know TOm will be excited cause Edy's ice cream is on sale 3 for $10...I've seen it on sale cheaper but it's still way better than $5.99 each!

So...what's for dinner this week....well...that's the question of the day but here's what I'm thinking we'll go with...

Monday: Chili's for St. Jude's night
Tuesday: Leftover BBQ deliciousness from last night's family BBQ
Wednesday: Beef roast, potatoes and carrots, and maybe some applesauce (if I can remember to pick some up...I always forget!)
Thursday: Tilapia, broccoli, mixed veggies
Friday: leftover roast...yumm

I'm thinking we'll be ready for a nice big pot of chili next week now that the temperature outside is finally cooling down. That is sounding delicious right about now.

What else can I tell you about this week...well, tomorrow is my last cake decorating class until November (course 2 isn't offered until then so I have to take a break...sigh) so be on the look out for a post about that. Oh and if you'd like to come support me and my Homemade Gourmet endeavors this Saturday you can come visit me at the United Methodist Church in Fenton from 11-6. I'll be the one in the cute red apron with all the yummy food! :)

Happy cooking, eating, shopping......happy everything! :)

I'm baaaaack!

Hi everyone! Sorry to leave you hanging but last week was NUTS! Now that things are getting back on track, I'm ready to blog so I hope you're ready to read along and cook!!

But before you fire up your grill, oven, stove, or microwave (slow cooker? panini maker??) consider this lovely option for your dinner tonight! All across the country today Chili's restaurants are donating 100% of their profits to St. Jude's hospital. St. Jude's is one of the premier children's cancer research hospitals so it's only appropriate that Chili's chose them to support as September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month...were you aware? You are now!

So if you're still asking yourself, "Self, what's for dinner?" I'm not sure why cause I just answered it for you! Go to Chili's! You can even call in your order ahead of time and pick it up at the curb. Easy as 1-2-3!

For me, this is also serving as a way for me to procrastinate and not make this week's meal plan quite yet. Maybe I'll think about it while I enjoy some quesadillas, fajitas, or one of those delicious western style burgers with the onion straws and bacon and bbq sauce at Chili's tonight...oh buddy. So come back later and see what I'll be cooking up the rest of this week...fall weather is in the air...I sense a pot of chili coming on!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cake decorating!!

Have I mentioned lately that I love cake decorating? Cause I do. Even with all the headaches my first cake gave me (have you heard me talking about "ugly cake"...yep, that's the one) the second one is turning out great and I'm really enjoying it.
This week was the first time we got to get hands-on with cakes and icing. I was so excited! All last week and this weekend were busy but I was thinking about all the possibilities for my cake. Devil's food, chocolate fudge, strawberry, yellow, white, or funfetti cake? I had picked them all up at Schnucks on Sunday cause they were only $1 so I had lots to choose from. I decided to go with two 9" round pans and cherry preserves for filling (remember she showed us how to do filling with a cup of pudding last class). Chocolate fudge for the cake. Chocolate icing...I thought I was all set. Then I got to Monday night and the actual baking/making of icing.
Ah, "ugly cake." You looked so great straight out of the cake pan...and then I tried to add the filling and things started to fall apart. Then I tried icing you...that just made it worse. Next thing I knew, one quadrant of the top of the cake had cracked off and was sliding across the cherry preserves filling and onto the cake board. Cherry filling was oozing out everywhere, even after I had put icing all around. I decided that slapping more icing on the cake would fix it. It did not. In fact, it made it even worse! (if that was possible) Now the top of the cake looks like a butt. Yes, you heard me right, it looks like a butt.

Poor Tom had to deal with me during this "crisis" of sorts. I was not exactly a happy camper. Granted this was all happening the night before class so I was in a bit of a time crunch and really wanted to have a nice first cake to decorate. I have never had this much trouble with a cake in my life...talk about frustration. Take a look for yourself...
The view from above...doesn't look too bad from up here.......



Then you get to see the side view. See the butt cheeks? And the filling oozing out everywhere? I bet you can tell where I tried to "glue" the cake back together with globs of icing too. *sigh*


Tom ensured me that "ugly cake" would still taste delicious but I didn't care. What good was a delicious cake when no one at decorating class was going to eat it...they were just going to see what a scary cake I had made and snicker. I was secretly praying that I was not the only one having a Monday night cake nightmare. Not nice, I know, and not that I would wish this on anyone, I just wanted some company to joke with on Tuesday really. Frankly, I was out of time cause it was too late to bake another cake that night.

Tuesday rolled around and I could NOT STOP THINKING ABOUT UGLY CAKE! I had to do something about it. I could NOT bring that cake to class. Lucky for me, I remembered that we had two options this week for class.

Option 1: Bring a round cake pre-iced and ready to decorate.

Option 2: Bring a character cake (made from any shaped pan) without icing to decorate.

I decided I could pull off option 2 if I could just get a cake pan and some eggs (I was now out of those...) So after work I ran to the store, got a teddy bear pan, got some eggs, and ran home to whip up another cake. This one looked MUCH better....mostly cause I didn't have to ice it. One leg did split open when it released from the pan but I figured I'd get Linda to help me repair that rather than attempt it on my own....we saw what happened to the last cake I tried to fix.

"Pretty cake," as I now call it, worked out great! Linda showed me how to fill in the cracked leg so no one would be able to tell and I was able to finish the main frosting color during class last night. I used a tri-tip star pattern. Take a peek!

"Pretty cake" in all it's current glory....more colors to come tonight!

So tonight I get to finish this bad boy up...and then try not to eat it. We'll just work on boosting "ugly cake's" moral tonight by telling it how good it tastes since I haven't been so nice the past two days...and my does it taste good! My husband is a lucky man...at least until the end of the month. ;)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lovin' every minute of it....

....lovin' every minute of it!

"It" being meal planning!! I feel like my life is so much simpler, well, at least in regards to the dreaded "What's for dinner?" question, now that I meal plan. And now that the deck is finally finished we can put grilling back in the rotation! (That's right folks...we finally finished building our own deck!) The scent of burgers, brats, steaks, chicken, ribs, and pork cooking on our neighbors' grills has tortured us for some 4-5 weeks now as we have worked diligently on our deck every evening. Now we get to return the favor...you better believe I have some grilling worked into this week's menu!

Monday: burgers, grilled mixed veggies tossed with evoo and pepper
Tuesday: HG Southwest chicken, spanish rice, leftover grilled veggies
Wednesday: Pan seared scallops with Tarragon White Wine Sauce served over angel hair pasta, broccoli
Thursday: Sirloin steaks, baked potato, corn on the cob
Friday: Either leftovers (if there are any) or we'll eat out!

I'm already hungry....how bout you?

And I have to admit I cheated and looked up the Schnucks ad online to see what was for sale this past week to help with the planning...that's where the scallops (10 pkgs. for $10) came from. I'll also be stocking up on cake mixes for class while I'm there since they are on sale 10 for $10 as well!

Cake Decorating contest!!!

Well, I guess it's not really a cake decorating contest, but it is a contest to win something cool to decorate cakes with! I was just recently turned on to this blog and I am super excited about all the possibilities they have to offer! They have all kinds of custom templates for decorating AND can design pretty much anything you want! I have my fingers and toes crossed for this one!

Check out the contest here!

I've added the site to my favorites list too so you can access it straight from here whenever you need to. Happy decorating!!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ask Lauren: back-to-back

Wow! I am so excited that "Ask Lauren" is taking off! Keep the questions coming! I could see this someday becoming its own blog....not anytime soon...just someday. :)

Anyway, today's question comes from my good friend, Natalie. Natalie likes to come up with clever "middle names" when she signs her emails and they always make me laugh...she signed the email containing her "Ask Lauren" question with "I-only-cook-snacks" as her middle name and I got a kick out of it so I thought I'd share.

Back to the question/request!

Question: I would like to make meatballs or lil' weenies for the Husker football game this Saturday, preferably in a crockpot. Any good recipes you can share?

Answer: Why yes, Natalie, I do have a recipe to share! This recipe comes from my mother-in-law and is yet another of my hubby's favorites. Hope you and all the other Huskers fans enjoy them tomorrow!

Cocktail Surprise Meatballs (I'm still trying to figure out what the surprise is....)

1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1 sm. onion chopped
1/3 c. dry bread crumbs
1/4 c. milk
dash of pepper
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 400 degree. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and roll into 1 inch balls. Place on greased cookie sheet (or line cookie sheet with foil) and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Drain fat.

Sauce for the crock pot

3/4 c. ketchup
1/3 c. grape jelly (maybe this is the surprise?)
1/3 c. water

Combine ingredients in a skillet, add cooked meatballs, and boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes, covered.

Transfer to crock pot and enjoy!!

Thanks for the question! Keep em comin'! Until next time...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ask Lauren: Mini Post

So this edition of "Ask Lauren" wasn't really directed at my blog but a colleague of mine made a comment the other day about chocolate chip cookies that got me thinking to myself..."Hey self, I bet other people have this problem with their cookies too!" I thought I would share my little tricks.

The problem: Cookies always turn out flat and I can't figure out why.


The answer: Your butter is probably too warm when you cream it with the sugars!


The solution: Instead of microwaving your butter or margarine to soften it, slice it into small tabs and allow to sit out at room temperature for about 15-20 minutes to soften itself. If you get your butter out first and then gather the rest of your ingredients and bowls and mixers and everything else you need, wash your hands, etc, etc...it should be about ready!


Bonus trick: My sister taught me this one. :) (Thanks sis!) Ever wonder how some people get nice, puffy cookies with those neat cracks in them? Well, once you have mastered the puffy (above), all you need to do is bake the cookies, then drop them on the counter or stove top when they're done cooking. That's right, drop them! (not on the floor!) Literally take the cookie sheet out of the oven and let it fall a few inches onto your stove top or counter (be careful not to scratch it...might want to lay out a kitchen towel first). Voila! Perfect cookies every time!


Happy baking!

Oh and my sincerest apologies...I'm gonna have to skip out on the grocery ads again this week. Time has just completely gotten away from me. I promise I'll try to do that more regularly. In the meantime, you can check them out here if you're looking for something specific: Dierbergs, Schnucks, and Shop 'n Save.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cake Decorating!!

Well folks, last night was my first cake decorating class. I must admit, I have mixed feelings. For the most part, I am so excited about it all!! Looking through the Course 1 book and seeing what all I can do, plus all the little tricks our instructor, Linda, already taught us has me itching to go bake a cake right now! However, I did have a few disappointments. First, we didn't get to really do anything the first night except watch...and realize that I need to start collecting Michael's coupons. We just need to buy a bunch more stuff than I was banking on. It will all be great to have but I'm really starting to wonder where I'm gonna store all these nifty tools. Hmmm. Third, and this one is totally my own fault, I got "courses" and "classes" confused when looking into signing up. Turns out I need to sign up for 3 or 4 different 4 week courses to learn everything I thought I would be learning just in September. Each "course" has 4 "classes" that cover all the topics listed for that course....is that clear as mud to you too? I'm hoping I wasn't alone on this one.

But I promise not to be "Debbie Downer" this whole post (whom whom) cause mainly I'm just super excited about it all! So let's see what I can tell you about. First, I'm taking official Wilton Method Cake Decorating Classes at Michael's. Our class is HUGE! Apparently there were only 8 of us signed up (still a large class according to our instructor) but then 8 more signed up Sunday and Monday and we were suddenly up to 16. One didn't show up, three got up and left about 45 minutes into the class (I don't know if they got overwhelmed or were just mad there wasn't room for them at the table...who knows) so now we're down to an even dozen. Hopefully next week when we're actually decorating there will be enough room.

So, this week, we learned some tips and tricks to baking a nice, iceable (did I just make up a word?) cake. Such tips include things like allowing the cake to cool completely before trying to ice (duh) AND flipping the cake over and icing the bottom! Who knew?! This drastically reduces the amount of crumbs you get in the icing...a problem I ALWAYS have. Next, she showed us all kinds of tools like this nifty cake leveler which you can use to level out a lumpy cake top (which remember, is actually going to be the bottom!) OR it can split your cake in half, allowing you to add filling!!!

Speaking of cake filling, Linda used a single serve pudding cup (chocolate...yumm) to fill her 8" round, 3" deep yellow cake last night. That's one very easy option but you can also use icing of any flavor or fruit preserves (or several pudding cups...heehee!) to fill your tasty treat. I have my eye on some raspberry preserves for my first cake next week...oh buddy!

And how do they get the icing so smooth?! Hint: you don't have to use fondant to get a nice smooth look to your icing. Spread your buttercream icing over the cake and wait for it to be dry to the touch, you don't want it tacky! Then lay a sheet of wax paper over the cake and use a spatula to help smooth it. I'll try to take pictures when I do it for the first time...I know my mouth was hanging wide open when she did this. Why didn't I think of that?! Oh and if you're not a fan of typical buttercream icing, did you know you can add vanilla or almond extract to change the flavor? I sure didn't. Just make sure you use clear extracts so your icing doesn't end up looking kind of funky from using dark extracts. Wilton makes some terrific clear extracts you can try. Something else about icing...we can either make our own from scratch using the Wilton recipe (which would make me feel kind of guilty giving out on the blog...ah morals!) or you can buy Wilton premade icing for quick and easy icing you know you can trust to give you a perfect finish.

Wow I really have a lot to tell you about icing...I guess that makes sense since that's what I'll be using to do all the decorating! :) Decorating takes different consistencies of icing for different tasks. There are three consistencies to work with: stiff icing is for making roses or other flowers or decorations that have to stand up off the cake on their own; medium icing is for stars, piping, borders, and flowers with petals that lie flat on the cake; thin icing is used for icing the cake, writing, vines, and leaves. Whew...had to consult my official Wilton book to make sure I got all that right. Guess I have some studying to do this weekend!

Next week we get to start decorating...that is, if I don't make a practice cake this weekend! Stay tuned to hear more about it as I destroy, er, decorate round cakes, cupcakes, character cakes, and more!! Maybe if you're lucky (and you work or live with me) you'll get to benefit from some of my creations...we'll see how it goes.

In the meantime....I'll be searching through the grocery ads for sales on cake mixes cause I think I'm gonna need quite a few over the next few weeks. Good for my hubby and his sweet tooth, bad for me getting on the bathroom scale. Oh well. :)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Oishi Sushi and Steakhouse (in review)

This weekend Tom and I were lucky enough to celebrate our good friend, Katie's, birthday with her. Lucky for us, Katie wanted to go eat at Oishi Sushi and Steakhouse in Chesterfield: think sushi bar meets hibachi grill. This particular eatery is located in the very popular Chesterfield Valley. I like to think of "the Valley" as West County's restaurant hot spot. They have a little bit of everything from upscale dining to Taco Bell. There are literally dozens of restaurants in the area to choose from...dozens. It can sometimes be overwhelming so it was nice to have someone else make the decision on where to go.
And what a good choice Oishi Sushi and Steakhouse was! Now it has been a long time since I had been to this type of restaurant. I think we decided the last time we went to a Japanese steakhouse was for my 19th or 20th birthday...yikes. Having your food cooked in front of you, teppanyaki style, is so much fun that it serves as your entertainment for the evening as well! (Keep that in mind when checking out the prices on the menu...)
I believe we had 7 o'clock reservations but there didn't seem to really be a wait, even on a Saturday night, so that was nice to know for future visits. Don't get me wrong, it looked like a full house, there just wasn't anyone waiting in the lobby area. No patios here but I suppose that could be a tricky set-up, eh? There are actually two main areas to Oishi. The first (to the left when you enter) looks more like your typical restaurant. Simple table set-up in a nice atmosphere perfect for when you are just looking for some terrific sushi rather than the whole she-bang. To the right you see all the grills with chefs cooking away! It's fun to watch different "tables" reacting to all of the different phases of cooking. My favorite was watching the chefs flip pieces of chicken or shrimp for the customers to catch in their mouths...took me two tries to get mine! The chefs all seemed to to be following the same general routine while adding their own special flair. (No, not the TGIFridays kind)
There were lots of options on the menu: chicken, steak, shrimp, lobster, salmon, etc, etc. You could even order up a combo of two or three items if you couldn't settle on just one. (I went with the shrimp and chicken.) Be prepared for an additional charge if you want brown or fried rice. White rice is the standard here. The prices seem a little high at first glance ($18.95-$34.95 per person) but it is important to keep in mind what all you are getting with your dinner. Each dinner comes with soup, salad, a very generous bowl of rice (we all went with fried rice), "shrimp appetizer" (2 shrimp served up whether you ordered shrimp or not...beware if you are allergic to shellfish!), lots of delicious veggies, your choice of meat or seafood, and noodles. Matt and I enjoyed some amazing sushi appetizers (spider roll and spicy tuna roll...delicious!!) before any of this even came and ended up taking large "to-go" boxes home with us. Add on the value of the "show" and it's really a spectacular deal!
Here are some pics of the "show!"
Here's the "onion volcano!" This is a pretty typical trick for this type of restaurant but I still think it's cool every time I see it. :)
Here Juno, our chef, worked on the veggies (hiding behind the water glass), shrimp (center), and two lobster tails (hiding behind the glass on the left). Talk about multitasking!
Here's a pic of Tom's meal. He ordered the sesame chicken with fried rice...delicious!
So how do I rate Oishi overall?
Setting: 4--Chesterfield Valley has a lot to offer and is a great location for us but tends to be a little far for our "city friends" to travel to.
Ambiance: 4--I liked that they didn't have all of the grills on top of each other, just grouped in 2s back to back and I understand why they make you sit with other parties but it would be really cool to have a group large enough to take up an entire grill so you aren't sitting with strangers. The grill set-up also made conversation difficult with other members of your party but with everything going on, I guess there wasn't much time for conversation anyway!
Service: 4.5--Service was terrific! We had a waiter, chef, and another server attending to our table (9 of us at the table). They kept us all happy and well-fed the entire visit.
Food: 5--How can I not give this food a 5?! The sushi was terrific and the entrees were incredible! The leftovers made a phenomenal lunch the next day...doesn't get much better than that.
Drink: 4.5--Small wine list, nice selection of Japanese beers/saki. Plenty of Budweiser products available for the purists. Cocktails (with and without alcohol) were also available. Good prices too!
Overall I'd give Oishi a 4.5. I would highly recommend it for groups of all sizes, for special occasions, or just for a nice meal out with a friend or significant other. Definitely worth it!
So many places I'd love to try next (Iron Barley is definitely on the list Amanda...thanks for the suggestion!) Have I mentioned lately that I love food? :)
Happy Labor Day!

Week 3...still planning!!

I am slowly beginning to love meal planning. It gets me excited for dinner each night...getting to really think about what I want to eat and then knowing ahead of time exactly what we're having for dinner AND that I have all the ingredients already because I planned ahead! LOVE IT!

Here's what's on the menu this week...

Monday: BBQ at Mom and Dad's (I'm bringing HG Jalapeno Bacon Cheddar Dip....way yummy!)
Tuesday: HG Taco Chicken, corn, salad, chips and salsa
Wednesday: Spicy Vodka Pasta (one of Tom's favorites!), bread, salad
Thursday: Leftover pasta for Tom...I'm going out for sushi with my girls! :)
Friday: Kind of up in the air right now because of possible plans...if we get in a bind maybe we will use my Pasta House gift certificate I won at school last week. Woot!
Saturday: Culinary Row at the St. Louis Art Fair in Clayton (They have ALL KINDS of delicious stuff from area restaurants...can't wait!)

Anyone else out there meal planning? I'd love to hear how it's going for you...and what's on YOUR menu!

Stay tuned later tonight...I have another restaurant review coming!!!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Empty fridge? Time to fill up!

Sorry about the lapse in weekly ad reviews last week...I'm not sure how I missed that one.

We're gonna start with Schnucks this week cause, well, that's where I do the majority of my shopping. It's the closest to my house and even though there's a Shop 'N Save right across the street, my car just seems to go on autopilot into the Schnucks' parking lot whenever I'm headed to the grocery. Having a BBQ this weekend? Stop at Schnucks to pick up pork steaks for $1.39/lb. (pork butt sliced into steaks is just $0.89/lb), sirloin steaks for $5.99/lb. or split chicken breasts (I picked up a 3 pack for tomorrow night's picnic chicken) for $0.99/lb.! While you're there, KC Masterpiece sauces are $1.00 each, corn on the cob is $0.25/ear, and there are lots of pasta salads and slaws available at the deli for $3.99/lb.....that is, if you're not interested in making your own. ;)

Shop 'N Save is on deck...the front page is ALL about bar-b-que! Well, except for the Cheerios which are on sale for $1.97/box. Haha! Turn the page and you'll find more great deals including potato salad, coleslaw, or macaroni salad for $1.00/lb! Then there's a couple pages of extra coupons on things like A1 Steak Sauce, Oscar Meyer Hot Dogs, and Miracle Whip that you might be interested in clipping (or printing). Keep flipping and you'll find one of my all time favorite comfort foods, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (I've got the blues...) for just $0.73/box!! I might just have to make a special trip to stock up on that.

Next up, Dierbergs! There's no 15-hour sale or 50% off sale advertised this week but they still have some pretty good deals to check out. One thing to pick up this week is Dr. Pepper or 7up products...buy 2 - 12 packs, get one free. So you're basically looking at 3/$7 or $2.33/each which is pretty cheap considering you'll pay almost $5.00/ea if they aren't on sale. I'll take it! They also have some of my favorite dressings (from Kraft!) 2/$4. You can also get a pretty good deal on pork spare ribs at $2.49/lb. or St. Louis Style ribs $3.19/lb. What's the difference you ask? They are actually both taken from the same part of the pig (the belly) and are a little less meaty than some other cuts of ribs (rib tips or country style ribs) but they tend to be more tender because they have a bit more fat. Remember that a little extra fat when slow cooking (the best way to cook ribs!!!)=more tender meat! Anyway, back to the difference...St. Louis Style ribs remove the sternum, cartilage, and rib tips so they have a more rectangular shape. Fancy huh?

Have plans this holiday weekend? Need a recipe to take to a pot luck or bbq? Let me help!!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Meal Plan Mini-Post

Hi everyone!

Just wanted to keep you up to date on what's on the menu for this week...here goes!

Monday: leftover sauerbraten (it was delicious...again!)
Tuesday: Baked Cajun Lemon Salmon, broccoli, angel hair pasta w/ parmesan cheese
Wednesday: HG Grandmother's Sunday Roast pork chops (wowee...in the slow cooker!), baked potato, salad
Thursday: Picnic Chicken (remember this one? see "Goin' on a picnic, leavin' right away" for the recipe), rice pilaf, broccoli (broccoli is my favorite veggie...can you tell?)
Friday: Leftovers!

I'm starting to think Friday might be designated leftover day, that way, if we decide to go out to eat instead it won't mess things up too much. Tuesdays are also going to be a good candidate for leftovers starting Sept. 8th when I begin cake decorating classes on Tuesday evenings! Can't wait!

Did this week's meal plan leave you uninspired? Suggest something for next week! Can be a specific recipe or something more general that I can prepare and share a recipe of my own (i.e. Lauren, I want a tilapia recipe! or Lauren, I want Mexican!)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Danke Schoen Sauerbraten

Yep, that about sums up tonight's dinner: Danke schoen! (That's "thank you" in German in case you didn't know)
Thank you to Trapper's Grill in Hermann, MO for initially giving me the idea to make sauerbraten. You see, a mere 2 months ago, I had never even heard of sauerbraten...then my husband and I took a little trip out to Hermann, MO for our second anniversary and happened upon this restaurant, and sauerbraten. I remember I had one of the nightly specials: tortellini with shrimp and some sort of German sausage. It was fantastic! Then I had a taste of the dinner Tom was ooo'ing and ah'ing over...and instantly fell in love! I knew I had to at least make an attempt to copy this treat my husband enjoyed so much.

Sauerbraten in plain English is German pot roast. Let me tell you I have never tasted, or cooked, pot roast like this! All in all, it wasn't that hard to do, just took a lot of time. From the marinating to the actual cooking process, to making the gravy that accompanies the melt-in-your-mouth pot roast, it all just took time.

I can't decide what is the most important part of making sauerbraten. I think if you changed or skimped on any of the steps, it just wouldn't be the same. My next danke schoen goes out to Christie Hurd of Edible Antics who provided the delicious recipe I used to make my sauerbraten.

First came the marinating...soooo glad we got those Cardinal's tickets last week. Not only did they give us a much-needed evening off from working on our new deck, it allowed the sauerbraten to marinate for the proper amount of time. You see, we are again starting with a fairly tough cut of meat, bottom round roast or rump roast. This means we need to find ways to make it tender. Slow, long cooking definitely helps....and thanks to the Germans, marinating in red wine vinegar does too! Christie recommended 3 days but 3 days meant I had to cook on Thursday, which was a day off from cooking last week, so I did a little more research and found that many recipes recommended 5, 6, or even 10 days marinating. Now I don't know about 10 days....that seems a bit excessive to me. I went with 5 1/2. :) Here's the recipe for the marinade along with a pic of the roast hangin out for a soak. Be sure you turn your roast every couple of days (at least once) to expose all of the meat to the marinade. Oh yes, and Christie recommends a 3.25 lb roast.
Sauerbraten

1 T. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
4 whole cloves
8 peppercorns
2 bay leaves (discard these before you make the gravy at the very end...NOT edible!)
2 medium onions, sliced (I forgot the onions and remembering my pledge not to make a million trips to the store, I improvised and used onion flake, generously)
1 medium carrot, sliced
1/2 c. celery, chopped
1 c. red wine vinegar
4 cups cold water

Combine all marinade ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Pour over roast in a shallow dish (I used a 9 x 13 glass casserole dish) and cover tightly with foil. Again, don't forget to turn the meat after a couple days!

When your roast has marinated for several days, you're ready to cook! About 3 1/2 hours before you want to eat, remove meat from marinade and pat dry with paper towels, reserving marinade. Then brown the roast in a large pot that has a lid (you don't need the lid yet but you will soon!) with 3 Tbls. olive oil. When you have browned both sides well, remove meat and set aside. To drippings in the pot add 1/4 c. flour and 1 Tbls. sugar. Use a whisk to create a roux, or paste, with the drippings. Now you are ready to pour the marinade into the pot and, using that whisk again, incorporate the roux into the marinade. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, add the roast, cover and cook for 3 hours. I turned my roast at the half-way point. At 3 hours, the roast should be fork tender...if it's not quite there yet, let it go a little longer. Mine was more than ready at this point!
At this point, remove your meat from the pot and let rest for a moment. Now's the time to finish off the gravy! Skim out the bay leaves and as much fat off the top as you can. Now increase the heat to bring it to a boil. Add 10 crushed gingersnap cookies, yes, that's right, cookies! Continue simmering and stirring until cookies are dissolved, about 10 minutes. The gravy will also begin to thicken at this time.
While this is happening, go ahead and slice your meat, about 1/2 inch slices will do. Mine was so tender in some areas that it simply fell apart! When the gravy is ready, pour some over the top of the sliced meat and reserve the rest in a gravy boat to serve at the table.
Mashed potatoes were an obvious partner for this meal. A little extra gravy over the top really did the trick! Lucky for us, there are LOTS of leftovers! (You know how I like the leftovers!) :) We will be enjoying sauerbraten again later this week...and perhaps for lunch one day too!
Be on the lookout for this week's meal plan tomorrow...I've definitely learned my lesson from last week's plan!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ask Lauren Part Deux

Hello again!

I realize this next "question" wasn't really a question but rather a comment made on my first meal planning post on 8/24....it comes to us from Karin (Thanks Karin!!) who follows my Leftovers ramblings. :)

Karin said something very interesting that got me thinking: "At best, I'll plan one meal, buy all the ingredients, make that one meal and then whatever was leftover from the ingredients will go bad in my fridge. I think that's one of the biggest challenges of meal planning - making sure that if you buy a perishable food item, it all gets used before it goes bad but yet still keeping your meals varied."

Lucky for Karin, and thanks to the Landlocked Bride--Brit, I found a solution! Brit suggested http://www.supercook.com/ and I am instantly in love with this website! Can't wait to check it out soon! Like Karin, I often end up tossing out perishable items I find at the back of my crisper drawer (who knows what's back there right now) or tucked in a corner of the fridge behind the salad dressing. Now, with supercook.com you can enter in as many things as you want to that are currently in your refrigerator or pantry and they can come up with a recipe for you to use them in!

Here's an example:

I entered chicken breast, butter, flour, and eggs and it came up with 199 recipes! The nice thing is it starts with recipes that you have ALL ingredients for, then moves to recipes that would require one more ingredient, then two more, and so on. The possibilities seem endless! There is also a box below where you enter your available ingredients that acts as a sort of word cloud and suggests other ingredients that you might have that would give you even MORE recipes! There are even tabs to help you sort recipes into starters, entrees, and desserts. All this is available to you without signing up for an account! There is an account option but I haven't even begun to explore what that all adds to the experience so there is surely more to come on this topic. :)

Another site like this I discovered is http://www.myfridgefood.com/. It's deceptive at first! Make sure you click "use detailed kitchen" to get a much more extensive list than what initially appears on the main page. This gives you tons of options that might help spark your memory as to what's in your fridge or pantry. Simply check off ingredients you know you have and it will suggest recipes. When I typed in the same ingredients into this website (chicken, eggs, flour, butter) I unfortunately did not get any recipes that I had 100% of the ingredients for. No worries, it tells me how many I am missing, along with how long it takes to make it and the calories in the dish! WOW! All this in the quick view before even clicking into the recipes...love it!

Do you have any other tricks to using up perishable items in your fridge?