Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fancy Schmancy!


My mom and I co-hosted a Pampered Chef party while I was home last week. My mom LOVES throwing parties, and any one who has been to one of her parties knows you're going to have a good time, or at least some great food to eat.  Needless to say, the pressure was on to make some great PC food, in addition to some other recipes that she had been wanting to try.

Today, I want to share with you an appetizer that didn't take too long to make, but it impressed the socks off of everyone: Honey Apple Brie Bites.  At first, when I read through the recipe, I was a bit worried about the Phyllo cups.  As you may well remember, phyllo and I DO NOT get along!  I think I just don't have the patience, or maybe my hands aren't dainty enough, but either way, I did not want to repeat that ordeal again...especially in a high stress challenging situtation like one of my mother's parties...

Luckily, this recipe calls for pre-made phyllo cups, and I didn't even have to work that hard to hunt them down.  They were waiting for me right in the dessert section of the grocery store.

The recipe is easy to follow, and they were quick to make, although 30 mini phyllo cups don't really hold all the stuffing I made.  I could probably have cut everything in half and still been okay.  There may be bigger cups that weren't at my grocery store, but the mini ones really don't hold a lot.  Luckily, everyone LOVED them, and 10 people when through about 22 cups in the blink of an eye.  On the plus side, everyone wanted the recipe, and they were also super impressed with how easy they were to make.

I'll make these again, and maybe I'll find bigger cups to use.  Regardless, they ROCKED, and deserve a second feeding - maybe I'll even make some for my husband!

Yeah, I can't really do fancy, but I certainly can try!!
As an added bonus, my best friend also hosted a small party while I was in town.  We did a far less challenging menu, and made it more of a playdate for her mommy friends.  Works for me, a show is a show!

However, she made the most amazingly simple munchy that I had to share...
I couldn't believe this - it was so tasty!  All she did was take a Ziploc, Gallon Size, bag and add 1 bag of oyster crackers, drizzled about 2 T of oil, and added one packet of  Kraft Ranch Salad Dressing, and then she shook the whole thing to mix well.  She said you can add about 1/2 cup of oil and let it sit so it melts in your mouth when you eat it, but who needs all those calories?!  It was delicious as is.

See?  The Pampered Jes can take you to either side of the appetizer spectrum...  we've got something for everyone, so tell you friends to stop by - and eat up, because there's more to come!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Reminders of Times Past

Sorry for all of the canned food this past week.  I've been out on an illustrious tour from Chicago, to the tip of Southern Illinois, to the banks of Southwest Michigan.  Whenever I go back to my "home" stomping grounds, there are a few culinary treats I can't keep myself away from.

No, these aren't foodie havens, nor are they places that every tourist must stop at.  No, no.  These are reminders of my past, the fun and food that decorated my life in the midwest, and places that make me pine for evenings at home with my family, and take out on the way to see friends.  I didn't get to go every place I've been craving for my past six months out west, but I made a little dent in that list.

 The first stop on the trip wasn't even 10 minutes away from the airport.  Portillo's is one of my favorite places for "beef" between the airport and my parents' house.  That's not to say I don't love Pop's in the suburbs, or others that shall not be named in the city, lest I show a preference in the rivalry.  To be fair, there is a Portillo's here in California as well, but it's quite a hike from my house, and it's something best left for eating back home.  So many restaurants in Chicago have decor that represents our working class heritage. My grandparents grew up near the Back of the Yards, and I like that we're proud of where we've come from.  More importantly, at least for this blog's purpose, I love a good Chicago beef.  I love the cheese, the sweet peppers, the giardiniera, and the seasoned beef.  It's always a great treat, and it's conveniently located on my way from the airport, so I always plan on coming home during business hours, and I always come home hungry!  (and please, don't mind the picture, I started eating mine and had to photograph my dad's when he wasn't looking!)

Another stop that I can't resist is Jimmy John's.  Another Illinois company that doesn't quite make it out to my neck of Southern California. I can drive to Las Vegas and eat to my heart's content, but those trips are few and far between compared to the daily trek of my life.  I love JJ's for the bread - especially the seven grain bread.  The french bread is similar to a sub (hoagie, grinder, etc.), but the seven grain is similar to heaven!  Then, stuff it to the brim with fresh veggies, meat, and anything else your hear may desire.  You'lll definitely want to come back for more!  As if you had a choice in the matter!

Finally, the last "fast" food I'd like to revisit from my past week is Hog Wild BBQ.  This isn't actually in Illinois at all, and I've only known about it since 2007.  However, it's a winner every time, and it bears mentioning since I made my parents take a half hour detour to eat here, while we were staying in Saugatuck, MI, which is "arguably the Midwest's most popular gay resort community."  True story.  Regardless, any time we're remotely in the area, I have to stop here for fabulous BBQ, corn cakes, and my mom always picks up some of their sweet sauce to take home (usually about 8-12 bottles, depending on the year!)
I'd like to say there was a better picture available, as opposed to their pulled pork (half eaten), but we were so excited to chow down, I completely forgot to take a picture sooner.  There is this half eaten, saucy stack of ribs, but it's not a clear picture, and it certainly doesn't explain the love I have for this place, unless you count eaten food as love (and many people do, I'm sure!).

I have lots more food to show you from my trip, but this is the end of the "food so fast, you'll freak."  I hope you've enjoyed re-living my joyful trip home.  It was cloudy and cool, almost reminded me of San Diego, but it was great to be home.

Here's looking forward to my next visit back!

Dad, "litlle sister" Zoe, and Mom

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thirsty Thursday, just add caffeine!

Today, we'll try something a little different.  Seeing as we are thoroughly ensconced in the Summer months, I thought that now would be a good time to chill out, but first, a little back story.  Back in the day (think the later half of the 90's), my best girl, Heidi, and I used to work at a coffee shop.  Never together in the same place at the same time, no one trusted two teenagers enough for that, but for the same franchise owner in the same mall, and occasionally for the same shifts.

 I'll admit, we raised some shenanigans back in our day, but we lived across one backyard from each other, and I'm sure such things are expected of best friends that stretch back for more than half of your life time.  

Fast forward more than a decade, and I still remember that job fondly.  I think of the people I met, the fun we had, the different locations we branched out into.  It was always a blast, and the only thing that lasted from the job, aside from the fond memories, is my hatred of coffee.

Yes, moms, I know that HATE is a strong word.  I suppose I don't hate coffee as much as I strongly dislike it.  I will drink beverages with coffee in them, but when it comes to straight coffee, I'm pretty much spent.  However, when I saw the recipe for the Cappuccino Freeze, I thought back on my late teens and remembered the fun we used to have making mocha chillers for the masses. Call me nostalgic, call me thirsty, call me what you will, really, but when it comes down to it, I was so psyched to make this drink, that I made it on a 62 degree day (as you find in summer in Southern California), with little to no need for any personal caffeine.

So, I pulled out my ingredients for the drink and then looked at the recipe.  What?!  Freeze it, shave it, then serve it?  Mock indignation!  I can't put that much effort into a drink that I want now. (Have I told you that I'm an only child?)  That's just more than most could hope for.  What's a Thirsty Thursday-er to do?  Well, my friends, that's why we have a handy dandy blender in our household, so here are the modifications that I made...

First, I boiled 1/4C of water in the microwave, and added the instant coffee.  Then, I added 1/4 C of cold water to dilute it a bit.  From there, I added the sweetened, condensed milk and whipped it up.

Tip: I would probably add 3/4 C of cold water to dilute the sweetness a bit more.  I always forget how sweet that milk can be!

From there, I poured about half of my milk/coffee mixture into the blender with ice.  I blended well, poured it into our mugs, added the Cool Whip, and shaved the chocolate to place on top.

You can use any whipped topping, I probably should have just gone for the Reddi-Whip, since that's always a winner in our house.

Please note how the chocolate shavings went EVERYWHERE.  It was all I could do to beat the ants back with a toothpick while I cleaned it all up.  I think more chocolate ended up on the counter than on our drinks. It was fun to "zest" chocolate, though.  I can't believe it's taken me 31 years to try that out.

We made three overflowing 16oz drinks from one batch of this, and could have probably made more if I had diluted the coffee mixture with a bit more water.  It was sweet in a large quantity, but it was SO GOOD.  We will definitely repeat this recipe again since we loved it so, and hope you will, too.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Spicy" Sausage and Pepper Penne

Hey, remember that one time I claimed that we could never be an Italian food blog?  Okay, well that still holds true, however that doesn't mean that once (or so) a month I won't be cooking a nice red sauced Italian dish.  I may be all about marital compromise, but that doesn't mean I have to be a pushover.

That being said, I do choose strategic days for the type of foods I like.  Days where there may have been a company party, or a big lunch, or any other number of reasons where I'm more hungry than he.  Days like last Tuesday: a perfect day for pasta!

I chose the penne recipe because it looked cheap, easy, and tasty.  Fortunately, I was correct on all of the above - AND it even contained a meat that started out raw that I had to cook by myself.

Since the meal wasn't that complicated, I decided to buy some quality ingredients from the local farm stand, or from my own garden.  I also used whole wheat penne, mostly out of personal preference.  I used two cans of tomatoes (one fire roasted, and one with garlic and onion), an extra clove of garlic, and almost 6 oz of an Italian cheese blend, instead of just Parmesan.  Oh, and I used a sweet Italian sausage instead of a spicy turkey sausage.

Okay, maybe the recipe was just a suggestion, but my tweaks were amazing.  There were second servings all around, and there was still enough for four hearty lunch portions to be made.  I also baked up an Albertsons fresh garlic bread with mozzarella on top for the side.  I probably should have made a side salad, but the dinner played well just as it was.  Seriously, amazing.  I might have to add this to my standard rotation of meals that I like to make.  I know I choose recipes that sound like they will be good, but I'm always surprised when the meal actually exceeds expectations.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Asian Persuasion Part 2: a success!

After the great Spring Roll debate of 2011, I was a little leery to try out another Asian inspired recipe from Pampered Chef.  Blasphemy?  Blashphe-you, my friend, I was down-heartened and it took everything in Thomas' power to get me to finish up dinner in the kitchen.  Truth be told, it wasn't that bad, I just took so long to roll all of those spring rolls that I didn't want to go back and do anything else.

Luckily, I have a great partner in crime husband who was willing to stir fry the beef for me to get me started.  In fact, he is such a sucker loves me so much that he put the beef in our Ginger Wasabi sauce the night before to marinade.  He fried it up, and it was perfect!  Such a great taste, and it was ready for me to continue on with the recipe for Asian Beef Noodles (I just didn't add any extra ginger since there wasn't any fresh in the house, but there was some in the sauce).

The best part about this recipe is that it was ready within 10 minutes, start to finish.

Second best: the taste!  After our less than stellar spring rolls, this was very flavorful, and exactly what I was looking for.  (The taste would have been the best part about this, but I was spent and 10 minutes for an awesome meal was exactly what I needed.)

Third best?  The leftovers.  Not only did I have four dishes of lunches, but they really re-heat well and are a good filler for your mid-day snackage.

And finally - when (since college/your post high school experience) can you say you endorse ramen noodles for a filling meal??!  On a scale from cupcakes to Capricorns, I'd give this recipe two thumbs up!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fake Hiatus!

Just a quick note: I'm leaving today for 9 days in Chicago.  Land of the food I love, home of the Maxwell Street, the deep dish pizza, and the family.  I am leaving you with some entries that I've canned, so please keep coming back and enjoying the food that has made my world go 'round.

Extra bonus - I'm trying new recipes while I'm gone, so there should be tons of new content from "foreign" locales in about two weeks.  Keep reading, keep enjoying, and most importantly - keep eating!

Loves and smiles,

The folks and me, middle of a freezing snow storm, outside shopping.
We're hardcore.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thirsty Thursday, call a cab edition!

Yeah, don't take it in the face!
I know, I've been going back and forth with drink recipes that may or may not contain alcohol, that way all of my friends and colleagues who may not want to partake (for any reason from preference to pregnancy) can feel included.  Well, sorry guys and gals, but this week is probably not going to be the best week for you.  You can fake out some of these ingredients, but I can't imagine the essence of goodness that is this beverage can really be enjoyed without some of the fully leaded liquids!
Behold - the Raspberry Tequila Sangria! Okay, you know how it goes, at least it's the ingredients for it.

Do you see that Ultimate Mandolin in the shot? Oh yeah, I totally busted it out for some uber-thin slices.  I'll admit, my orange was almost too big to use easily, but it fit and I totally made it work.

Check the difference between when I used a knife to thinly slice my lime, and when I used the mandolin.  Freaky, right?

In the spirit of a real sangria, I put all of the ingredients (minus the "champagne" and Sprite) in the pitcher to soak up some of the alcohol.  I had this sitting about an hour as I waited for Thomas to come home for the day, and as soon as he walked in, I added the bubbly ingredients.

It only took two glasses a piece and we were out for the count.  We were so sleepy after dinner that we retired at a ridiculously early hour.  It was totally worth it, however, and was a great way to spend an evening after a long day of work.  Oh, and it was the day I learned that I was being laid off, so in the long run, completely necessary!

Drink up, kids, it's almost Friday.  Cheers!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Asian Persuasion Part 1: A failure?

 You know that when your evening starts out with an entire tube of Wasabi place, you've only got hot places to go!  Also, check out my awesome white carrot from the garden.  This puppy's translucent!
Today, we'll address just one of my phobias: seafood.  "I don't eat shellfish. Mom always 
it's been cleaned.'"  But seriously, it's true.  The times I can stomach seafood are very few and far between.  Growing up in the Midwest, I was at least 1000 miles from any sizeable coastline, and that really impacts how "fresh" the catch of the day can be.  Unless we're talking catfish, or something out of Lake Michigan...  well, you get my drift.  It's just not going to happen.  Today's recipe, the California Spring Roll, calls for shrimp.  Seafood has long been ingrained with "gross" in my head, so I substituted out for (oh yeah, you know it) chicken.  If you want to "devein" anything, that's your call.  As for me, I'll stick with the freshly grilled chicken prepared by Thomas, where there is no raw anything for me to touch.

So, we stick with prepping the yummy raw vegetables that will go in the spring rolls instead - carrots, avocado, and (beautifully crinkled) cucumber.  This process was very easy, took only a couple of minutes, and at this point in the process, I am fairly certain I'm going to rock some quasi-Asian house down!

I mixed up the sauce, which was surprisingly cool for all of the wasabi.   I expected more heat, but it balanced itself out nicely.
The rice paper was easy to work with, I just used a relatively large tupperware container filled with warm water (as per the paper's instruction packet), and dipped in the paper until it was all moist.  I then put it on my cutting board, filled it up with toppings, and rolled it.

You can only wet one wrapper at a time, and you have to move fairly quickly because they get sticky the longer they sit there.  It feels as though they will never be malleable when you make them damp, but they transform right there on your cutting board, or whatever surface you're working from while you're putting the stuffing on, so act quick, and have some faith that they will hold up their end of the bargain!

It's also good to note that I couldn't find the rice paper at any standard grocery store.  Fortunately, this is California, and every town has at least one Asian Market (our has three within two blocks, let alone the rest of the town!).  Thomas was easily able to swing by on the way home to pick some up, and it was about $1.50 for 30 or so. I have enough to last awhile.

All being said, the recipe was easy, but I think it was a bit bland.  I might have added more vegetables, or some more sauce, I'm not sure.  Thomas claims they would have been perfect if I had just stuck with the shrimp.  Well, woulda coulda shoulda, this girl ain't gonna!  Say what you will, but I'm not changing that much just because I'm cooking more.

They're not the prettiest in the world, but they were pretty simple.  Please enjoy them, just the same.  :)

Sunday, June 12, 2011


The other day, I had big plans for dinner.  I had purchased all of the ingredients, it was an appetizer and main course, multi-stepped recipe, included ingredients directly from my garden; the whole nine yards.  I was building up my esteem to rock it out, because even though I knew it was more of a Thomas-Type of food, I thought it'd be fun to try.

And then, we weren't hungry.  We could blame the usual culprits - big lunches, midday snacks, warm weather - we had the summer trifecta working against us.  Luckily, in my laundry list of recipes to try, I had a quick appetizer that only required three ingredients (two of which were already in the house), so I swung by the store on my way home, picked up the third, and was ready to try something else.

I decided to make the Quesadilla Cups with Nectarine Salsa.  Sounds awesome, right?  Sure thing!  Until you remember that I'm tired, don't really want to put the effort in to dinner, and there's no way on God's green earth that I'm going to make the cups AND the salsa.

No worries.  The grocery store also had this, which was only 10 feet away from the block Pepper Jack cheese that I purchased (instead of the recipe's Monterey Jack):
I figured it still had the sweetness of the nectarine salsa, and it would help tame the mild heat of the cheese.  Okay, true confession: if you look closely in that picture, you also see a tub of pre-made guacamole to the right of the salsa.  This tub had the added benefit of being within a foot of the salsa, and was consequently brought home just in case we wanted to change it up.  Stand back, we're living on the edge this week in the Pampered Jes household!!

I finally tried out my mini-tart shaper to squeeze the tortilla down in the mini muffin pan.  I used a more authentic tortilla for this, and they really refused to be molded, so if you look at the picture on the right, the cheese cubes are barely being held in by an indent in the sliced tortillas.  I'm pretty sure if I bought a package of the really processed flour tortillas, I would have achieved the optimal cup stature, but as they say, "c'est la vie!"  There was no one here but us chickens, and we just enjoy good food, not fancy cupage. :)

Start to finish, this whole recipe probably took me 12 minutes, not accounting for making any salsa, since that obviously wasn't happening.  It was easy, super yummy, and went great with the salsa.  The guacamole was also nice, but completely unnecessary with our favorite salsa to take its place!  As an actually appetizer, I would have just put the salsa in the cups, but we had more fun playing around with different quantities, and seeing how much salsa could really fit into one "cup"!

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Joys of Pizza

I'll be the first to admit that I love pizza.  There are tons of ways to prepare it, and it takes a lot to make a truly bad pizza.  Sure, there are ways that aren't preferred, but short of burning it, or choosing your anti-crust, you could probably live with any pizza put in front of you. 

(What?  Anti-crust, you ask?  Oh you know, it's that crust that just turns you off when you're not in the mood for it.  Too deep, too thin, too crispy, too gooey...  Just not what you were expecting.  You get the point.)

Me, I can live with cheap pizza, frozen pizza, fancy pizza, grilled pizza, thick crust, hand tossed, etc., etc.  I have two all time favorites, both from Chicago: Turnabout Pizza in Lemont, and Connie's Pizza on Archer in Chicago.  However, since those are both 2,000 miles away, I find I'll eat just about any type of pizza, any night of the week, and it takes a lot for me not to enjoy it.  A lot.

In any case, when I find a new pizza recipe, I'm usually pretty psyched to try it out.  I was scrolling through Pampered Chef recipes last week, collecting about 20 that I wanted to try (for you, of course, for you).  One was the recipe for Barbecue Bacon Squares.  It took a second for me to recognize this as pizza, even with pizza dough in the recipe.  I think because I was focusing on the "squares" in the title that I didn't recognize this jem for all of its pizza goodness.  I had a few issues along the way, but here's the story...

I started with frying up the bacon.  I cooked it extra-extra crispy.  I figured this had to be the case since it was going to be put in sauce and baked.  I'm not a fan of soggy bacon (ever), and I thought that would be just the thing to throw off the yumminess of the pizza, so I just kept frying.  Then, I put it on some paper towel to cool and harden.  This made it easy-peasy to crumble, and it was outstanding.  Real talk.

Next came the crust.  There are a bunch of recipes for pizza crust, or you can just buy a box mix, or even a pre-made, ready to go crust.  I chose option #3.   Fresh and Easy has a pre-made dough (regular or whole wheat) that you sit out to rest, roll (or toss), and go. Thomas is the king of tossing a crust, so I promptly gave him that job.  I then pre-cooked the dough for about 3 to 5 minutes so it didn't become too soggy with the ingredients.

I had an issue with the rub and the sauce.  Okay, truth be told, two issues.  The first is that I don't own the rub.  The second was that I didn't think there was nearly enough sauce to make this enjoyable.  I made the sauce as suggested in the recipe, and then I added almost twice as much BBQ sauce to give it the rub's flavor and make up for the tiny amount of sauce made from the recipe's proportions.  It was still light on the sauce, but since I think this was originally supposed to be a smaller appetizer, as opposed to a baking sheet sized pizza, I'll forgive them for that.  I also added about a pound of pre-baked chicken (with fajita seasoning) to bulk up the dish's protein quotient, so I needed a little more juice for the swallow-ability quotient.  (Oh, you know what I mean.  No one likes a dry pizza.)

 Then, because we eyeball all things cheese related in this household, I topped it up with about half of a pre-shredded bag of mozzarella. I baked it all for the allotted time, then  threw it under the broiler for about three minutes to get that nicely browned top.  I love the slightly overdone cheese on a pizza.  It gives it that nice crispness that is making me drool again, just to think about it.

Speaking of a nice crispness, I loved having the water chestnuts on the pizza.  I used the whole can, and was pleasantly surprised on how well it complimented the bacon and chicken.  I suppose I could have just gone the extra step and made this more "Hawai'ian," and added pineapple, but it wasn't in the house, so it didn't even cross my mind.  I'd definitely make this dish again.  It was delicious, and it was easy: two huge thumbs up in my book.  There were no leftovers by the end of the evening, but there probably should have been.  Whatever, no regrets, it rocked!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thirsty Thursday, multiple liquor edition!

It's been that kind of week where we need a drink.  Or two.  In fact, we're having such a versatile drink this week, that you can serve it with a multitude of liquors, and it's great with every one...

Behold, the ingredients for a Sparkling Citrus Cooler!

Once again, I can't follow a recipe to save my soul. Well, maybe I can, but I have this thing about left over ingredients.  If I can't throw in a whole can, or find the right amount, I don't like saving the leftovers.  They usually go bad before I get a chance to use them again.  This generally stems from me not knowing how to throw random ingredients together to "create" a recipe, but I can admit my weaknesses, and therefore don't feel too bad if I fudge a current recipe to save me from the excess waste.  Long story short (too late!), I doubled up on the frozen orange juice because that was the only sized can I could find.
This drink is so easy to make, and it's quite versatile.  I tried it with tequila, with vodka, and with no booze at all (gasp!).  All three were winners, plus I think if there had been any Malibu or Parrot Bay on hand, rum would have been a great addition as well.  And, unlike the Sangria, I wasn't afraid to have leftovers for the next day, or the day after that.  The sparkling water added to it, but didn't leave a "flat" taste, like I was worried about with the Sprite Zero.

The only downfall, if you let it be one, was the fruit cocktail left over in the bottom of the pitcher.  Unlike Sangria (although this doesn't have to be the case), you don't soak the fruit in the alcohol before serving it up, so there's no "bonus" benefit from chomping down on the lemons or limes.  So, make a plan.  Serve up your drinks with the fruit mixed in, or leave them in the pitcher and have a sweetened dessert after your meal.  Either way, drink up, and enjoy the extra dose of vitamin C!