Saturday, July 30, 2011

Soft Pretzel Bites

A reader suggested I add a hearty shake of baking soda to the water before boiling the dough to make them taste more like pretzels. Well, holy shit, if it didn't produce the most amazing pretzels ever!

I mean, just look at how they turned out. I didn't change one thing other than the baking soda and look how much darker and pretzel-er they are.

Thank you so much, Mrs.A!

Soft pretzels are a weakness of mine. I love going to the fair or a baseball game and ordering them. A soft pretzel with cheese and cold beer are a damn near perfect afternoon.

I was always intimidated to make them on my own, since I still get nervous about making bread from scratch. But, good old Pinterest sucked me in again, and I found a recipe that didn't require me to make the dough from scratch.

These were super easy to make and they were a great snack. I need to make cheese sauce the next time I make them.

5-10 Texas size Rhodes roll, thawed
baking soda
1/2 stick butter melted
sea salt to taste
garlic powder to taste
onion powder to taste

~Thaw roll according to package, once thawed cut into quarters. Place dough on greased sheets. Cover with plastic wrap that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, and let dough rise until double in size (about 35-45 minutes).

~Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a gentle boil over high heat. Add a hearty shake of baking soda to the water, carefully since the water will bubble up rapidly. When dough has risen, drop several pieces of dough in boiling water for 30 to 45 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon, and place dough on paper towels to drain slightly.

~Move dough to greased baking sheets, and bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes or until done and golden brown.

~Meanwhile combine salt, onion and garlic powder in a small bowl. I think I used a hearty half tablespoon of each. When dough comes out of the oven, brush with melted butter, sprinkle with salt mixture. Serve warm.

recipe modified from: Get Off Your Butt and Bake

CSA - Week 11


I love corn. It is one of my favorite veggies of all time. It is probably b/c it is starchy and my ass loves starch. So I was very happy this week when we got 4 ears of corn - 2 large and 2 small. We also got garlic, parsley, summer squash, chard, green beans and salad mix.

I was so excited to have corn, that we had it that night, along with pork chops I bought from the farmer at my CSA pickup, green beans and salad. The only thing I didn't get at the CSA this night for dinner was the taters (which I boiled until tender, then grilled and topped with butter and parsley).

Friday, July 29, 2011

Potatoes Gratin/Au Gratin Taters

We eat a lot of taters on our house if you haven't noticed. But even I get tired of butter crisped taters and having mashed taters in summer is just wrong. I am still too lazy to fix twice baked taters on the regular, so that leaves me with the option of potatoes gratin.

Now, since The Good Husband is weird about food, I have to call them au gratin taters or he thinks there is something weird in it and won't eat it.

I modified this recipe from an Ina Garten one for tater and fennel gratin. Since I had no fennel this week in my CSA, I just used regular taters.

I slice the taters on my mandolin, trying not to cut my finger off again, so the taters come out uniform in thickness. I also slice them on the thinnest setting so they will cook faster.

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 pounds russet potatoes (4 large potatoes)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons milk or half and half
2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

~Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

~Butter the inside of a 10-by-15-by-2-inch (10-cup) baking dish.

~Saute onions and garlic in the olive oil and butter on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, until tender. Peel the potatoes, then thinly slice with a mandoline. Mix the sliced potatoes in a large bowl with 2 cups of milk or half and half, 2 cups of cheddar, salt, and pepper. Add the sauteed onion and garlic and mix well.

~Pour the potatoes into the baking dish. Press down to smooth the potatoes. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk or half and half and 1/2 cup of cheddar and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, until the potatoes are very tender and the top is browned and bubbly. Allow to set for 10 minutes and serve.

recipe modified from: Ina Garten

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

I have a weakness for ice cream and with the last heat wave we had here in the Midwest, I am starting to think that it is an essential survival tool.

Since I have already made vanilla and birthday cake ice cream, I thought it was time to add in candy and shit. Mint chocolate chip ice cream is in my top five favorite flavors, so I thought I would start there.

The base for this contained egg yolks, so it made for a rich flavor. Since the base wasn't very ass friendly with all the yolks, I swapped out the whole milk and cream for 2% and half and half. I used all organic dairy, sugar and eggs since I knew The Good Daughter would eat just as much of this as we did. But you don't have to go the organic route if you and your wallet can't. I also used mint baking chips instead of regular chocolate chips, since I saw them at the store and bought them during a chocolate craving.

I put a heavy pinch of salt in this and it was almost too much. I will have to remedy that next time.

Needless to say, this lasted about 3 days in the freezer before it was eaten. I will have to make more in order to survive the next heat wave.

2 cups organic half and half, divided
1½ cups organic 2% milk
¾ cup granulated organic sugar
Pinch of salt
4 organic egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons mint extract
½ cup mint baking chips

~Warm 1 cup of the half and half, 2% milk, granulated sugar and pinch of salt in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves.

~Pour the remaining 1 cup of half and half into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

~Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the of a spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the half and half. Add the vanilla and mint extracts, and stir until cool.

~Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator (preferably overnight). Churn according to your ice cream maker’s directions, adding the mint baking chips during the last 5 minutes of churning.

Recipe modified from: Brown Eyed Baker

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cucumber Mint Water

I should have never joined Pinterest. In addition to adding to the list of things I want to make, I am totally envious of all the beautiful food photos I see. This recipe was inspired by this pin. And I am sad my photo isn't as awesome.

Cucumber mint water just sounded so refreshing during this heat wave and I had all the ingredients from my CSA this week. Add it was so easy to make I can't even really consider it a recipe. I only wish it were carbonated, but I supposed I could have added carbonated water.

1 cucumber, thinly sliced
2 mint sprigs

~Fill a pitcher half way with ice. Add the cucumber and mint and add water until full.


recipe by:The Good Wife

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

CSA - Week 10

This week we got swiss chard, 'taters, cabbage, carrots, cucumber, mint and oregano. The Good Husband is loving the 'taters and The Good Daughter ate half of the carrots on the way home from the farm.

Monday, July 18, 2011

CSA - What the hell is it?

Now that I have several weeks of CSA baskets blogged and eaten, I thought it would be a good idea to go over the basics of a CSA and cover some common questions.

First - CSA stands for Community Support Agriculture. Most of the time around here when I tell people I have a part in a CSA, I get blank looks. However, if I say I am part of a farm share, people seem to know what the hell I am talking about. So CSA or farm share, whatever.

It just means that I pay our farmer at the beginning of the season for his talent, time and land and in return I get a share of the veggies each week. It is a great way to support local farmers, local resources and enjoy fresh produce which I couldn't grow on my own. CSAs are good for the environment since food doesn't travel thousands of miles to get to you and, at least for my farmers, uses natural, chemical free ways to maintain crops and control pests, and is good for your health since we all need to eat more veggies.

So what are some things to think about before joining a CSA?

~Can you eat outside the box?
I won't lie. This is probably the hardest part for me but it is also the most fun. I am being exposed to new veggies all the time that I wouldn't have picked up on my own. I love finding new ways to eat them and really love the culinary skills I am building. It also helps that The Good Daughter will eat anything. I don't think she has ever turned down any fresh veggie. So when there is something I am not too keen on, such as greens, TGD will eat them up along with The Good Husband. Conversely, when there is something TGH won't eat, I probably will.

~Do you have the time?
I have to drive to the farm each week and pick up my share. The pick up time is right after work for me, so I can just head on out there after I pick up TGD from daycare. If it were any other time, I might not be able to join. I could find someone that has a share too and lives close to me and do a kind of veggie car pool but so far I have been going there each week. If you find a CSA that you love but can't ever pick up the produce, you might be wasting time and money joining.

~Can you actually get there?
We got lost the first time we went out to the farm b/c google maps can't figure out BFE Illinois. But now that I know how to get to the farm, I know it will only take 10 minutes or so to get there. If you want to join a CSA that takes 45 minutes to get to but pick up is only for an hour, you might not want to join.

~Can you take the risk?
As with anything in nature, things happen outside the realm of our control. You could lose some crops to pests or drought or flood. I know my farmer works as had as he can to make sure we all get what we pay for but sometimes you can't control everything. You have to be able to deal with any setbacks from nature.

~Do you have to work?
Some CSAs also require some manual labor. Check yours to make sure what the requirements are and if you can meet them.

~What do you get, how much is it and for how long?
After you know you can find the farm, be there on time and work if you have to, you need to know what you get for how much for how long. This CSA runs from May to October. It costs less than $10 a week.

~What veggies will I get, how much will it be and how many people can I feed?
I get a half share which includes a minimum of seven different kinds of produce with a mix of familiar (taters, corn, green beans) and unique (fennel, kohlrabi). This feeds my family of 3 a menu heavy on veggies. I think another key to being in a CSA is being ok with the same veggies for weeks in a row. In the beginning we were eating a ton of greens. Now we are getting more of a variety. If you don't think you will like eating the same 3 veggies every week for a month, you might not like a CSA.

~Do you get only what is produced at the farm or do other farmers sell their products as well?
I told you my CSA just partnered with another local farmer to offer meats and goat cheese for sale when we pick up our shares. This is a great way to meet more local farmers and for her to rely on a steady flow of customers. The CSA I did two years ago did not offer this.

~What is their farming philosophy?
You are supporting the farm, you should know how they operate. I get weekly updates from our farmer about the crops and conditions, etc. Most of the time, they will be more than happy to tell you how they grow and harvest.

~Is there a waiting list?
I was on the waiting list for 2 years for this CSA. The year TGD was born, I gave them my name and email for the waiting list. They contacted me this spring. So far it has been worth the wait.

~Do we get updates?
Another thing I love about this CSA is we get weekly updates about what will be in our box, how the crops are looking and recipes for the veggies we will get this week. I love having a heads up since I am not all that familiar with what grows when in Illinois.

~How do I find a CSA?
Talk to the vendors at your local farmer's market. My CSA has the best booth at the farmer's market. I had chatted with them before and got signed up for the waiting list while shopping with TGD. You can also check out and

~Do they have references?
Most CSAs should give you a list of past clients so you can contact them for information.

I hope this covered the basics of a CSA, what it is, what questions you should ask and what you can expect if you join one.

Do you have a question I didn't cover? Email me at the link in the right sidebar and I will do my best to answer.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

CSA - Week 9

This week we got cucumbers, yellow squash, onion, basil, kale, green beans and beets. I also bought more goat cheese.

I made easy garlic dill pickles with the cucumbers (recipe to follow). I cooked the green beans in onion and bacon and had them as a side dish one night.

This coming week, there might be duck for sale and I must just try it. We'll see.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How to plan a party

I recently threw The Good Daughter one hell of a birthday party. It took a lot of planning. The last two weeks before her birthday were dedicated to buying and making decorations, games, decor and food.

I couldn't have done it without some sort of list and planning tools. I actually had an idea of the theme, games and menu way back in March. Yes March, for a birthday in June. And yes, I know I'm crazy.

this is my rough draft for the backyard layout of the party

But it was a huge relief for me to have everything written down and in one spot. That way I could go over it when I had free time and modify any detail.

The Good Husband could look at the list and know what the hell was going on too, so when the morning of her party came, he would know how to help me set up. The same with my mom and grandma.

So I decided to create a party planning template to go into my household binder, aka The Brains of the Operation.

I'll be planning parties for at least another 19 years for The Good Daughter as well as any additional kiddo we might have, so this will come in handy, even if for once a year. And besides, it's never too early to plan for next year.

Camping birthday next year?

You can download this template here for your own BotO.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Taste of Downtown

I don't get to make it to downtown often for several reasons, the biggest being there is usually only street parking and I never learned how to parallel park. So I haven't been to a lot of the great restaurants downtown has to offer. Most of them aren't open early in the morning when The Good Daughter and I go to the Farmer's Market. But even if they were, I would feel a little awkward with my stroller among the white linen tablecloths.

So the Taste of Downtown is a great opportunity for me to get to sample food from all the great vendors and do it in a kid friendly and relaxed environment. The Taste started at noon and we got there soon after in an attempt to beat the heat and the crowds. While it was crowded, I didn't have to wait in line at any booth at all. The heat, I wasn't able to avoid.

The first thing we sampled was a lobster corn dog with a spicy mustard sauce. I really liked this and so did TGD, who ate the entire thing after I had the first bite. Very tasty with a mild lobster flavor. The sauce was a little too spicy, though.

Next were chicken pot stickers with a sweet chili sauce. These were just ok. TGD liked them though.

Next was bacon wrapped shrimp. $6 for three shrimp. I was more than a little disappointed about this overpriced dish. The cocktail sauce seemed to lack any flavor other than tomato paste. I love my cocktail sauce with a hearty dose horseradish and this had none. I wish I would have skipped this dish.

TGD had a orange dreamsicle cupcake. I only got a taste of the frosting which was good. She didn't share the rest, so it must have been good.

The next dish was a sample of "cuddlers" - a meal in a pie pocket. Fillings are stuffed into dough and baked for a crispy take on a pierogi. I had wanted to eat at this cafe before but couldn't find it the last time I was downtown (I also have a horrible sense of direction to complete my lack of parking skills). I had low expectations going in for this dish, but it was one of the highlights of the day.

I got the mini sampler of 4 different kinds. This first one was a spinach artichoke cuddler. Very tasty.

The second cuddler was a BBQ Chicken. The BBQ was sweet and mild and the chicken was tender and juicy. Very good.

The third cuddler was a pizza supreme. Sausage in pizza sauce with pepper and onion. Very good but ugly, so no photo.

This was the best cuddler out of the four. It was a quiche with spinach and mushroom. It was the most flavorful of all the cuddlers. I will have to go back and order some of these to go. They were great.

This was the other highlight of the day. This is a local, organic micro brewery beer.

IT WAS AMAZING. I tried to get bottles of it on the spot; it was that good. Unfortunately, bottles aren't available for sale just yet.

Here is the description from their website: This brew boarders on an imperial hefeweizen with big citrus note from the wheat used in the recipe, so there's no need for a stupid lemon slice or orange slice ( n.f.l.s. / n.f.o.s. ). There is also a banana flavor from the fermentation. Bringing a balance to these sweet and citrus flavors are our farm grown hops, a bitter note in to the flavor profile.

All these flavors together serve to balance each other in a harmonious blend, with a start, a middle and an end. The start, an initial nose of banana and clove with a taste to match. The middle is a soft citrus, flowing and slowing the sweet of the banana start. The end is a finish of citrus-like bitterness. This comes from our central Illinois farm grown whole cone hops, grown on Rolling Meadows Farm, where our brewery is located.

I had high hopes for this dish too and was disappointed. This was from a vendor that isn't actually downtown, but rather, owned by the owner of downtown restaurant. It is a concept restaurant whose goal is to "offer our guests a dining experience that encompasses quality food and service from start to finish. It is our mission to use only the freshest ingredients, sourced from farmers right here in Illinois. We want to encourage the sustainable movement happening in our community by endorsing farms that are locally owned and family operated, and grow beautiful products without the use of pesticides."

The Good Husband and I went there in May for our anniversary and we both really enjoyed it. So I was happy to see them at the taste. However, this dish was only ok. It was a chicken confit taco with buffalo corn salad. The chicken was watery and a little bland, and the corn tortillas would have been so much better toasted. The salad was the best part of the dish.

So overall the entire thing was ok. There weren't a lot of crowds, it wasn't too hot and the beer and cuddlers and lobster corn dog were the best part. I won't devote my social calendar to it next year, but if I am already downtown, I might go again.

Taters and Cheese Soup

This was another simple dinner I made on the night of my CSA pick up. This was the first week we got 'taters, so I was very excited considering how fast we go through them in The Good Household.

Because we didn't get a lot of taters, I decided to stretch what we had and made this a taters and cheese soup. I would also have loved to put some beer in this, but The Good Husband differ extremely when it comes to tastes in beer and he wouldn't have like the beer I would have put in it. Maybe the next time I am making it just for me I will add good beer to it.

We also had grilled cheese along with our soup. TGH said it reminded him of being a kid again.

2 tablespoons vegetables oil
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
2 cups milk
1 10- to 12-ounce russet potato, peeled, diced
1 cup packed shredded sharp cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)
chopped green onion for garnish


~Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add celery, carrot, onion and thyme and sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle flour over and stir 2 minutes.

~Gradually whisk in broth, then milk. Add potato and bring soup to boil. Reduce heat and simmer soup until potato is tender, about 20 minutes. Add cheese 1/3 cup at a time, stirring until melted and smooth after each addition. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with green onion and serve.

recipe by: Epicrious

Monday, July 11, 2011

CSA - Week 8

This week we got fennel, spring garlic, cabbage, taters, greens, onions and the last lettuces until the fall.

Pork Fried Rice

Week 7 of my CSA came with a great bonus - eggs and pork! For the last several weeks, my CSA has been sold out of their eggs. This week I was able to get two dozen eggs from free range, organically fed, Montessori educated chickens. They are a thing of beauty.

The other great bonus is a local farmer will now offer pork, poultry and goat products (soap, lotion, cheese) every week at our CSA pickup. This week, I picked up some goat cheese, pork ribs and pork chops.

It is so nice to see all the produce and now have options for meat so I can go home and just throw a meal together, like this one:

I used the carrots, bok choy, pork, onion, garlic and eggs in this dish and it was yummy. So yummy I was mad there was only enough left overs for one day and that went to The Good Husband.

I used brown rice in this dish, hence the reason the photo is so brown. I also need to start making and freezing bags of rice since brown rice takes so long to cook. We would have been able to eat a whole lot sooner, if I had premade rice.

Another tip with making stir fry is to have all the ingredients chopped, measured and ready to go since the cooking time is so fast. There is no time to cut the carrots while the pork cooks. So have everything ready to go and just dump in the wok.

3/4 pound pork chops, cubed
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 small onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon finely diced ginger
2-3 cloves garlic, diced
2-3 small carrots, peeled and diced
3-4 heads baby bok choy, chopped
1 cup frozen peas
2 teaspoons white sugar
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon malt vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
2 cups cooked rice

~Heat half the oil in a hot wok until surface seems to shimmer slightly and stir-fry onion and ginger for 30 seconds. Add carrots and garlic and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add sugar and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add pork and stir-fry for another 1 minute. Stir in hoisin sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add bok choy and peas and cook for another few minutes. Add the cooked rice and cook until heated through.

~Make a well in the center of the wok and add the rest of the oil. Add the beaten eggs and stir until eggs are scrambled. Once the eggs are cooked, stir to combine them in the rest of the dish.

recipe modified from this one

Saturday, July 9, 2011

CSA - Week 7

I know I am slightly behind on posting my CSA baskets. I confess The Good Daughter's b-day threw me off. I will be caught up soon. I actually didn't get a photo of week six. This is week 7.

This week I got baby bok choy, kohlrabi, broccoli, carrots, beets and greens.