Monday, January 30, 2012

Stop the Presses

I've lost that lovin' feelin', folks.  This blog was definitely fun for a time, but it seems to have run its course.  I won't be taking it offline or shutting it down, but don't expect any new content unless the spirit hits me just right.  I hope you've enjoyed my posts.  I know I've enjoyed your comments and the community this blog has surrounded me with.  Feel free to keep using my blog as a recipe book - the search option couldn't be easier! 

Monday, January 9, 2012

LongHorn Love

For our anniversary this year, Jake & I decided to head to LongHorn Steakhouse to celebrate.  We deliberated for quite awhile, took a couple recommendations, looked up menus and pricing online, and then just went with what sounded good.  It didn't hurt that I had a coupon either, though that wasn't a major factor.

LongHorn is new to Omaha.  The location we visited is on 144th, just south of West Center but they're opening one on Dodge near 76th St.  And I believe there is one in Council Bluffs now as well.

Jake had decided to go with the Prime Rib well before we had arrived.  Apparently he loves Prime Rib and due to his new low fat / low cholesterol diet restrictions, he's limited on his consumption of this fine food.  That and our pocketbook.  His meat filled the whole plate and weighed a pound.  Yes, a whole pound.  And he loved it!

I was looking forward to a new, limited time entree special: their *Lobster Stuffed Flo's Filet.  It was a 7 oz. filet - described on their website as their "guests' favorite" and their "most tender cut of beef" - stuffed in the center with a creamy lobster filling and topped with a small Lobster tail and garlic butter sauce.  The steak was fork tender and perfectly prepared.  The filling was fine, but mostly just tasted like a creamy, cheesy blend without much lobster flavor.  The garlic butter sauce complemented the dish perfectly but wasn't overpowering.  Some such sauces are a bit flavorless, though, and I felt this one was spot on.  The small lobster tail on top was the best part of the meal, though.  I wished I could have ordered an entire lobster.  I decided right then & there that an entire lobster is on my dream eating wish list.

The meal came with salads and sides, all of which were good.  Jake ordered mashed potatoes with his, even though they didn't come with gravy or a sauce, which is almost unheard of for him.  But he really liked them.  They were creamy and flavorful, he said, though he couldn't really pinpoint any exact seasonings.

Our anniversary is on January 2nd and we actually celebrated it on the exact day this year, which almost never happens for us due to holiday festivities.  And Jake said yesterday that he's ready to go back to LongHorn for more Prime Rib.  So I guess that's a positive review!

*The Lobster Stuffed Filet is no longer available. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dipping Pretzels is Awful

I think the title says it all, but let me spell it all out for you in detail.

A couple years ago I got a hair up my butt (pretty picture, huh?!) to make cookies for friends, family & neighbors.  I made loads of cookies of all different kinds.  One of the kinds was pretzels dipped in almond bark.  

I was inspired to do this cookie making by attending a "cookie making party" a friend of mine was having.  Let me tell you, it is much different when you have 15 sets of hands making cookies than when you have 1 set.  MUCH different.

But when friends & family actually indulged in said cookies, I got a pretty strong response regarding the dipped pretzels.  Apparently they are a favorite of both my husband and my brother.  All the other cookies were fine, but those were gobbled up the fastest.

Last year I never got the cookie making bug.  At all.  There were no cookies at the Christian house other than the few that trickled in as gifts from others.

This year, I decided to make a few kinds, but keep it pretty small.  One kind I determined would be the dipped pretzels.  As Jake is now gluten free, I'd stumbled upon a decent sale a couple months ago on gluten free pretzels and saved them just for this purpose.  And then I bought regular pretzels since the gluten free pretzels must be made out of gold for how much they cost.  No way am I serving those to just anybody!

And last Monday I set about making cookies.  I spent all morning on my "few" kinds of cookies.  And this is what I determined:  dipping pretzels is THE most tedious, awful part of it all.  I absolutely abhor it.  I did a few of both regular and gluten free, then used the rest of the melted almond bark to dip some Oreo ball cookies (mash up a whole package of Oreos, mix with softened cream cheese, roll into balls and dip into melted almond bark = amazingness).  

Since I had many more pretzels to use up, I bought more almond bark and decided that either Jake would have to help me so he'd know how much it sucks to make them & truly appreciate me more than ever OR we'd have to figure out something entirely new.  I chose option B.  

I chose to make Pretzel Bark instead.  I melted the almond bark, spread it out onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and then dropped the pretzels and a few holiday M&M's in.  I pressed the pretzels down to really "set".  Then I let it cool for several hours and broke it up into pieces.  

I don't really have large cookie sheets without sides, so it was hard for me to spread the melted almond bark out real thin.  The bark ended up being rather thick in spots.  This might be a problem for people that want more pretzel than bark, but my husband was pretty excited about it.  

Another way to use up pretzels is Pretzel Turtles:  line a cookie sheet with tin foil, spread out pretzels, place an unwrapped Rolo candy on each pretzel, bake at 250 degrees for 2-3 minutes (just til the candy is soft), then remove from the oven and press a pecan half onto each candy.  They look just like little turtles, especially if you use the round pretzels!  But I like to use the waffle shaped pretzels - better surface area coverage.

Since Jake doesn't like caramel that much, we tried miniature Reese's peanut butter cups this year and replaced the pecan halves with holiday M&M's.  THIS WAS NOT ENTIRELY SUCCESSFUL.  The PB cups were MUCH more expensive - you don't get nearly as many for the money - and a bit too large for the pretzels.  And the chocolate melts way too much but the peanut butter doesn't get soft at all really.  They looked really messy too. Kind of like melted ice cream sundaes.  But they tasted pretty good.  Just way too expensive for the payoff.

Do you have any tedious holiday recipes that others just love?  Do you give into the pressure to please them?  Or have you found a great shortcut instead?

Happy Holidays, all!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Here's to New Traditions!

My family has some pretty serious holiday food traditions.  I've mentioned that before.  And the hubs has a fairly strict view of Thanksgiving fare.  So serious that I finally had to nail down what exactly is essential to him, since it's apparently his favorite meal AND he takes it so seriously.  The result?  Turkey, mashed potatoes & gravy, Stovetop stuffing (NOT homemade) and pumpkin pie with whipped topping.  Though now that he's gluten-free, he does enjoy pumpkin pie bars, which are basically pumpkin pie without the crust.  And evidently, he's never been a big crust fan anyway.

This year, we all gathered at my brother's home for a family Thanksgiving affair.  Beautiful weather, an abundance of food, a brand spanking new baby and a great-grandmother rounded out the day.  It was exactly what Thanksgiving is about.  

And to top it off, those of us that are not of the crazy persuasion (i.e. those of us that love coconut with an everlasting love) enjoyed my brother's perfectly crafted homemade Coconut Meringue Pie.  He made one last year, but that was when he lived far, far away in a land called Illinois.  Now he's able to grace us with his presence.  And he's perfected the crafting of a fine meringue, something yours truly has not yet attempted.  But not only that.  He used an actual coconut for his Coconut Meringue Pie.  You know, one of those brown hairy things that look like a rock?  Yep, that.  And apparently he broke a knife in the process.  

I guess this pie called for unsweetened coconut flakes in the pie filling.  And after looking at a couple stores and not finding unsweetened coconut flakes, my brother decided he'd give the real deal a go.  Me, I'd just grab a bag of the sweetened stuff & call it good, knowing that it's PIE afterall.  But I'm not a glutton for punishment.  Just pie.

It was great, though.  And totally worth the effort of drilling a hole in the coconut, draining the milk, peeling the coconut, putting it in the food processor, and then actually making the PIE.  (His super awesome wife made a homemade crust for him too.  SERIOUSLY, people!  They need a show of their own.)

Since this is the second year Matt's made this pie for Thanksgiving, I officially declare it a tradition.  You're welcome, Smith family.  You're welcome.  (Make a note, Matt!)

After the Smith family affair, we stopped by my husband's relatives to say hello & goodbye.  And in the meantime, we learned that Jake's aunt Marti (she's been noted highly on this here blog before) had a bag of unsweetened coconut flakes in her pantry that she'd apparently procured at the Supersaver store just down the street.  My brother was super happy to learn of this the next day.

We extended our Thanksgiving celebrations to the following day, not with crazy shopping but with sushi.  As it should be.  Jake & I joined a couple of friends, my two younger brothers, their wives, and one sister-in-law's parents and brother at Hiro, our fave sushi joint for happy hour sushi on Friday night at 10pm.  LOTS of sushi was had by all.  And we declared the newest family holiday tradition to be Black Friday Sushi.  So you'll know where to find us next year.  Our table is open to all!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lemon VS. Lime

The debate has been raging in the Christian household for some time now.  ("Raging" *might* be overstating it a bit for effect. Might.)  I think it started when my helpful younger brother stated his preference for lime juice over lemon juice in cooking.  And my ever faithful husband hopped on that bandwagon with glee.

I don't mind lime juice.  I simply prefer the lemon variety.  It's slightly less tart & pungent.  More soothing and discreet.  There - with a kick - but not a kick AND a punch.  Know-what-I-mean?

Not to mention that lime juice is infinitely more expensive than lemon.  I can find multiple generic varieties of lemon juice on the market.  Not so much with lime.  And for MORE money, I can be the proud owner of a SMALLER bottle of lime juice.  What a deal!

My favorite Skinny Taste Black Bean Corn Salad calls for fresh lime juice.  Newsflash: I prefer it with lemon juice.  And the kind out of the bottle in my fridge works just fine, thanks.  (I know, this pretty much knocks me out of the "Foodie of the Year" award running, but I can deal with it, so join me, won't you?)  

We've been eating lots of fish lately & a preferred method of preparation is to drizzle the fish with olive oil & lime juice, sprinkle with some salt & pepper (and maybe some garlic salt or powder) and bake it at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.  Top it with chopped avocado (sprinkled with a bit of garlic salt) after baking for added panache.  I would be more than happy to substitute lemon juice for the lime juice, but I think I might be met with a revolt.   

What's the verdict in your household: lemon or lime?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Best Cheese Curd in Wisconsin

Growing up we had white cheddar cheese curds from the Kalona, Iowa, cheese factory in Amish country.  Our parents taught us that the freshest cheese curds squeak when you bite into them.  And the field trips to the cheese factory in grade school taught me that cheese making is kinda gross to look at but definitely delicious.  Mark Chitwood’s recent blog post reminded me of my innate love of cheese curds.

While in WI this fall I went to the Vernon County Fair. This fair has been going strong for 150 years. Though, this was my first time.

I love county fairs. The people are amazing. There are barn animals everywhere. Fried food. Need I say more.

The Westby Dairy is by far my favorite place to buy cheese curd in the world. Every time I am in SW Wisconsin I go to this dairy.

Well they had the curd mobile at the fair. I kid you not - there was always a line. Always. All they have there is Curd or Fried Curd and shakes. YUM YUM. If you love cheese - and I know you do - find your way to Westby, WI and go the this dairy. You cannot miss it - right on the main drag.

(Reposted with permission.  To learn more about great photography, visit Mark’s blog regularly:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Starbucks' Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate

The days are turning cooler on a more regular basis.  This leads me to crave a hot drink in my hand.  A yummy, sweet, flavorful drink.

So my drink of choice lately has definitely been the new Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate at Starbucks.  I'm not a huge fan of coffee.  I like it moderately, but a lot of times I find it much too bitter for my tastes.  Thus, hot chocolate.

The first time I ordered this particular beverage, I didn't notice much - if any - of a difference with the "Salted Caramel".   But I think if you drink it with the lid on, I find that you miss out on the specialness of the salt.  (And it takes too long for the drink to cool down enough for me to actually drink it!)  So since I've been removing the lid, it's been much more noticeable.  The "salted" part anyway.  I'm still not sure the "caramel" part is strong enough.

I'm intrigued with the balance of sweet to savory in my diet.  Just the right amount of salt brings out the full flavor of the chocolate, something I've known about in cooking for some time.  (Hello, Wendy's fries dipped in a frosty!!)  It's this kind of "science" of food that I find most interesting of late.  How cooking & baking are really just chemistry, but a kind that I enjoy much more than anything I worked on in a high school lab!

I am trying to cut down on my sugar/caloric intake most days.  So this particular drink is a special treat!  Though I do order it "nonfat, no whip", which helps a bit.  And I don't miss those extra calories one bit.  The froth on top is just as yummy without the added "whip".

Have you tried the new Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate or Mochas at Starbucks?  What's your favorite new food combo?