Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mix Master

Kelsey, who writes a blog that I have recently become enamored with called Bites and Bowls is doing a giveaway!! I love the potential for free stuff!! She is giving away $20 to Mix My Granola, which looks like an awesome granola! The best part is, you get to make your own granola combinations from their selections of oats, fruits, nuts, and extras! You should check out both of these websites!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Me encanta la Tierra!

It was another wonderful Earth Day celebration in Forest Park!  This is the holiday/festival I most look forward to every year.  The weather this past weekend was amazing.  I like to think that the Earth is basking in her day and gives us the best weather to help us appreciate her even more!  After recycling our massive recycling pile, er, mountain, Chris and I (ok, I) packed a picnic.  I made my favorite picnic staple: lemony olive tuna salad (see below for recipe).  We also brought homemade slaw, whole wheat crackers, an Asian pear, apples, some Cooking Light Vanilla Bean Shortbread cookies, and pita chips with Trader Joe's basil white bean hummus.  My mom contributed some delicious fresh pineapple and dried mango and papaya.  Of course, there was beer and wine to be had as well.  

Lemony Olive Tuna Salad:
2 cans chunk light tuna in water
3/4 - 1 cup red onion, diced finely
1/2-1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup chopped parsley 
juice of one lemon
pepper to taste

These measurements are just estimates, I put in however much I think looks and tastes good.

My dad brought his stunt kite along!  He hasn't brought this out since my brother and I were little and had to be held down while we held the strings so that we didn't lift off!  My dad actually made and designed this beautiful kite!  

It was the perfect windy day for flying a kite.  There were so many cute families flying their own kites all over the field.  

My mom and I watched this Capoeira group dance for a while, they were really cool!

After lounging in Forest Park for 5 hours reading, eating, and meandering through the festival, Chris and I went to meet his parents (who couldn't make it to Earth Day) at Racconelli's Pizza in the Loop.  We had a lovely dinner.  Chris and I shared a salad, and we all split an eggplant pizza.  Their crust was the BEST!  Crispy and chewy at the same time.

After pizza and salad, we ended our perfect day with the perfect treat: "'Fro Yo' hands in the aiiiiiiir!"  This is a brilliantly conceptualized frozen yogurt shop.  They have several soft serve frozen yogurt pulls along the wall that are self-serve.  You just pick up a cup, pick your flavor, or in my case flavorS, then you pick your toppings, and they charge you by the ounce.  Delicious, healthier than Ben and Jerry's across the street, and FUN!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

April Daring Bakers: Cheesecake

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

This month's challenge was free reign to adapt the following cheesecake recipe.  The base recipe was wonderfully easy and delicious!  It was the perfect cheesecake texture.  I made an orange chocolate cheesecake variation.  Instead of adding vanilla extract or lemon juice, I added 2 T orange juice as well the zest of two oranges.  For the crust, I used Joe Joe's (Trader Joe's "Oreos") since I just used cupcake liners for my cheesecake.  I topped each cheesecake with orange marmalade after it had cooled.  Then, poured chocolate ganache on top of the marmalade.  They were wonderful!*  

Fortunately it was my uncle-in-law's birthday and we were able to pawn most of these cheesecakes off on him, so that helped prevent AIDBG -- Accidental Ingesting of Delicious Baked Goods.  I am a member of AIDBG anon.  

So, if you dare, try the Daring Baker's cheesecake challenge!  It's amazing.  But, if you're trying to lose/maintain your weight, make sure you have plenty of people to take these off your hands first!

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake:


2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract


3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.

Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!

Some variations from the recipe creator:

** Lavender-scented cheesecake w/ blueberries - heat the cup of heavy cream in the microwave or a saucepan until hot but not boiling. Add 2 tbsp of lavender flowers and stir. Let lavender steep in the cream for about 10-15 minutes, then strain the flowers out. Add strained cream to cheesecake batter as normal. Top with fresh blueberries, or make a quick stovetop blueberry sauce (splash of orange juice, blueberries, a little bit of sugar, and a dash of cinnamon - cook until berries burst, then cool)

** Cafe au lait cheesecake with caramel - take 1/4 cup of the heavy cream and heat it in the microwave for a short amount of time until very hot. Add 1-2 tbsp. instant espresso or instant coffee; stir to dissolve. Add this to the remainder of cream and use as normal. Top cheesecake with homemade caramel sauce (I usually find one on the food network website - just make sure it has heavy cream in it. You can use store-bought in a pinch, but the flavor is just not the same since its usually just sugar and corn syrup with no dairy).

** Tropical – add about a half cup of chopped macadamias to the crust, then top the cake with a mango-raspberry-mandarin orange puree.

** Mexican Turtle - add a bar of melted dark chocolate (between 3 and 5 oz., to taste) to the batter, along with a teaspoon of cinnamon and a dash of cayenne pepper (about 1/8 tsp.). Top it with pecan halves and a homemade caramel sauce.

** Honey-cinnamon with port-pomegranate poached pears – replace 1/2 cup of the sugar with 1/2 cup of honey, add about a teaspoon or more (to taste) of cinnamon. Take 2 pears (any variety you like or whatever is in season), peeled and cored, and poach them in a boiling poaching liquid of port wine, pomegranate juice/seeds, a couple of "coins" of fresh ginger, a cinnamon stick, and about a 1/4 cup of sugar. Poach them until tender, then let cool. Strain the poaching liquid and simmer until reduced to a syrupy-glaze consistency, then cool. Thinly slice the cooled pears and fan them out atop the cooled cheesecake. Pour the cooled poaching syrup over the pears, then sprinkle the top with chopped walnuts and fresh pomegranate seeds.

Some variations from Jenny (from JennyBakes):

**Key lime - add zest from one lime to sugar before mixing with cream cheese. Substitute lemon juice, alcohol, and vanilla with key lime juice.

**Cheesecakelets - put in muffin tins, ramekins, or custard cups. Try baking 20-35 minutes, or until still a little jiggly, and cool as before.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Iron Cupcake: Soda

It's that time again . . . I've been out of the Iron Cupcake loop for a while, but hopped back for pop!  Originally I had planned on using pineapple soda for a pina COLAda cupcake, but couldn't find pineapple soda!!  So, plan B became Strawberry Crush soda cupcakes.  I'm very happy with the result, and got rave reviews from both Chris and my coworkers.  If you want to make them yourself, here's the recipe:

For the cake (adapted from Billy's Vanilla, Vanilla Cupcakes):

1 3/4 cups cake flour, not self-rising
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
4 large eggs
1 cup Strawberry Crush soda
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt; mix on low speed until combined.  Add butter, mixing until just coated with flour.
2.  In a large glass measuring cup, whisk together eggs, strawberry soda, and vanilla.  With mixer on medium speed, add wet ingredients in 3 parts, scraping down sides of bowl before each addition; beat until ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat.
3.  Divide batter evenly among liners filling about 2/3 full.  Baking, rotating pan halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 17-20 minutes.

For the frosting:

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3-4 cups powdered sugar (depending on the consistency you desire)
1 T heavy cream
1/8 cup Strawberry Crush soda
1/4 cup chopped fresh strawberry
1/4 cup crushed pineapple with juice (I used fresh pineapple)

1.  Beat butter and shortening in a mixer until fluffy and combined.
2.  Add cream and continue beating.
3.  Add powdered sugar, alternating with strawberry soda for moisture.
4.  Stir or mix in fresh strawberries and crushed pineapple.


On a side note: As I write this blog post I'm listening to New Kids on the Block on seeqpod and loving every minute of it!  Is that something I shouldn't be telling you all?  Or, are NKOTB cool again?  Or, do I really even care what you think about me listening to NKOTB?  No.

Trip to Jay International Food -- always an adventure!

My loot from Jay International Foods.

Vermiccelli noodles to make some sort of delicious stir-fry . . . 

Quinoa, which I have been looking for, and have never tried using before.  Anyone have good quinoa recipes?

The chocolate-almond nougat bar that was tasty, and only 138 calories for 1/2 a bar!

After our recent delicious kabob and turkey burger cook-out meal, I am psyched to use this kabob seasoning.

Mmmmmmmm. . . wafer cookies in exotic flavors!

Today, after lunch at Lemongrass with the parents, brother, and grandparents, we took an impromptu trip across the street to Jay's International.  I got the above treasures.  I have been looking for Quinoa for a while at the regular grocery store, and wasn't able to find it, so I was happy to find it at Jay's.  I've always loved wafer cookies (I'm not sure why), and they had all kinds of unique flavors such as: coconut, mango, pineapple, and guava!  I chose the most unusual.  The candy bar I got was pretty good too, it almost tasted like a nutty power bar.  I can't wait to use the kabob spices!  We had friends over last night, and our friend Katie brought over deliciously marinated chicken and veggie kabobs.  Katie's friend Brea brought the most scrumptious turkey burgers I have ever had!  I wish I had taken pictures.  Her turkey burgers had feta incorporated into the meat -- wunderbar!

Pizza on the grill!

Heck, I'll grill anything if the weather's nice!  And tonight (this post is a few days later) I was craving pizza, but just had to grill since it was finally a lovely day.  So, I brainstormed, and realized that we had some whole wheat naan bread that I just bought at Trader Joe's as well as some eggplant/red pepper spread from TJ's.  So, without much more thought, dinner was brought to fruition.  And here are the lovely results.

I have to give some props here; you may have noticed that I changed my blog name, lightened things up a bit.  Well, this is a result of a fortuitous stumble upon a blog called Kath Eats Real Food.  Click it, I dare you, you'll come back from cyber space a healthier person!  Due to her inspirational story and realistic eating habits, I was able to make some real changes to my eating habits.  I joined Calorie King, which has really helped me portion control, well . . . most of the time.  I have been working out at the Y much more often than I was, but still not enough.  After I fell down the stairs earlier this week and really messed up my knee, I haven't been going.  As soon as this bruise clears up, though, it's on!  I have been able to run on the treadmill for 1.5 miles, which may sound like nothing to some, but for me that's a lot.  Especially with my exercise-induced asthma issues.

If you want to make these delicious grilled naan pizzas, it's as simple as:

1. Place naan and your choice of veggies on grill (we used yellow bell peppers and onions).
2. Top grilled naan with Red Pepper Spread.
3.  Top with vegetables and fresh mozzarella cheese.
4.  Place under broiler until cheese melts.
5.  Eat!  Only around 370 calories for one pizza