Friday, July 30, 2010


I get cravings for certain foods quite regularly.  Mostly ethnic foods, I’ve found.  I used to get cravings for P.F. Chang’s a lot when we lived in Cincinnati.  And thankfully that’s curbed a bit since that’s not a super cheap habit.  Now I regularly get cravings for Mexican food, especially La Mesa’s chicken enchiladas.  And salsa and chips.  But I still crave good Chinese food every now and then.  I was just lamenting to Jake the other day that I miss our good, cheap Chinese place from Cincinnati.  I haven’t found a place yet that has as good of food for such a low price.  But I did just hear of one I have to try, so I’ll let you know how that pans out. 

I’ve been known to crave ice cream on a consistent basis, as well as popcorn, rice krispie treats and grape koolaid (as you’ve already read).  As I write this, I feel like I’m noticing a pattern of junk food cravings! 

I’ve never been pregnant, so I’ve never experienced the phenomenon of craving pickles, and especially pickles coupled with ice cream.  I’m grateful for the lack of that craving so far!  I did just read that craving pickles when you’re pregnant is a sign of a mineral deficiency, though I don’t remember which mineral.  (Helpful, huh?!  Probably sodium, is my guess.)

I still remember a craving that was physiologically interesting to me:  we used to frequent a particular pizza place in Cincinnati and after a short while, just the very act of walking into the restaurant made my mouth water for a Coca-Cola.  Like Pavlov’s dog, I had conditioned myself to this response.  The very smell of LaRosa’s will bring it on!

What are your cravings?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Not Your Basic Burgers

I love a good burger.  I’m a big fan of this classic.  Though I don’t like bread, and therefore am not a huge fan of the buns, I’ll gladly just eat the middle out of it!  A couple years ago I stole the recipe for yummy burgers from a friend’s mom.  I simple add a packet of onion soup mix to a pound of ground beef, mix it up well with my fingers and then form into patties.  My mom always used seasoned salt, which is still high on my list. 

Here are a few places around town where I can enjoy a good burger (in no particular order):

Stella’s – this is a Bellevue tradition and the place recently got quite a facelift, which is good since it was kind of nasty in appearance.  But the burgers haven’t changed.  They’re still served on a napkin and are some of the best around.  They’re hand-formed and dripping with taste!  (I think that’s taste; maybe it’s something else!)

Five Guys Burgers and Fries – this East Coast chain has won me over.  I’ve heard other complaints, but they’ll get none from me.  Their burgers aren’t seasoned, but they are freshly made and all toppings (with the exception of cheese & bacon) are free to add as you like.  My faves are grilled onions and mushrooms, tomato, lettuce, and mayo.  Be on guard that their regular burger comes with 2 patties.  I’ve always gotten their “little” burger, which has one good size patty and is plenty for me with all the added toppings!  They also prominently display on whiteboards the exact location of where the potatoes they’re making into fries came from that day.  Love it!  A regular size fry is large enough for Jake and I to share.  And my seasoning-loving husband tried the Cajun fries once, but thought they overdid it on the seasoning, which means it had to be A LOT.  Lastly, for some unknown reason, their Cherry Coke leaves something to be desired.  I’m a big fan of places that have this option on tap, but it always tastes “off” here.

Red Robin – This chain has a great selection of gourmet burgers.  Though it’s definitely on the pricey side, I think you get a good portion and the fries that come along with are bottomless.  Their ranch is great for dipping the fries in too!  And if you’re in the mood for a good burger but your dining partner isn’t, they have a great selection of other options.  I like their BLTA croissant and the French Onion Soup (without the soggy crouton!). 

Tropics – It’s a sports bar & grill that serves up $4 burgers with tons of toppings, lots of them free like the grilled onions and mushrooms and fancy cheeses (even cream cheese – a little strange on a burger to me but maybe worth a try sometime at this price!), but also some fancy ones like blue crab meat or a fried egg for only $1 more.  It also comes with a load of homemade fries or substitute tasty sweet potato ones for just $1.  Lunch is the best time to go, we’ve found.  The one time we went for dinner it was just so packed and the wait was long, service slow.  Though to be fair, we did arrive a bit later in the evening, had a larger group, went during the College World Series finals, and a large group had reserved the top seating area so that held things up too.  A perfect storm of chaos, I guess.

If you’ve only got $1 to spare for a burger craving, you can’t beat Burger King’s Whopper Jr.  This has come in handy on more than one occasion for the Christian household!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pizza, Pizza!

I know it’s somewhat antithetical but I do love a good pizza.  I just prefer the ones with thinner crust, though I’ll eat pretty much anything.  The Chicago style pizza with two crusts is just overkill, though.  I mean, seriously?!  I still remember a friend in college that was the perfect pizza partner for me – she would eat the crust & I would eat the toppings!  Doesn’t get better than that. 

Here are my favorites (in no special order):

Godfather’s Pizza – I love the original crust – not too thin, not too thick but nice & chewy – with Canadian bacon (sometimes called ham) and onions.  I don’t know why, but I love the onions they have at Godfather’s.  Nowhere else.  Jake loves the combo, as it’s a classic. 

Pagliai’s Pizza – This is a hometown favorite.  (Well, close to my home town and people from my hometown go there.)  Believe it or not, I love their breadsticks!  They are soft & chewy with a really yummy meat marinara dipping sauce.  It’s the sauce that does it.  And I like their original crust, since it’s thin & crispy.  Perfect!

Dewey’s Pizza – I love the chicken BBQ pizza at this Cincinnati fave.  Dewey’s is known for a bit edgier toppings and pizzas and was one of my crew’s hangouts in the Nati.  Several of us love the chicken BBQ pizza, but I remember we all got it slightly different.  Some left off the black bean corn salsa, some the cheddar cheese (bet you can guess who if you know Jake!).  Their salads were always interesting and yummy too.  I tried a fig for the first time (not in Fig Newton form, that is) in a salad and loved it so much I tried to go home and duplicate it.  And this was one place you could see them tossing the dough for the crust.  The extra amount of crust leftover can be dipped in their homemade ranch dressing for a nice “breadstick” finish.

Donato’s Pizza – Jake would murder me if I left this Cincinnati stop off the list.  It’s interesting to note that this pizza is Jake’s favorite, but it’s some of the thinnest crust around, which is not usually his pick.  And they only use provolone, but Jake discovered that it’s still mild enough to suit him and they don’t use a lot.  They originated the “to the edge” topping motto.  And they had some unusual toppings as well.  I love their Hawaiian: ham, pineapple, almond slices, cinnamon.  I was thrown by the cinnamon, but forget to ask for it without once and I’m better for it.  I think Donato’s is still a reason Jake would like to move back to Ohio.  Our friends there used to have a tradition on Sunday nights of ordering a large pepperoni pizza from Donato’s and renting a movie.  And I remember Jake coveting that tradition!

LaCasa – This is an Omaha tradition.  I’m not sure how long it’s been around, but just by the looks of the place, you can tell it’s been awhile.  They use two different kinds of cheese, though Jake’s obviously discovered that you can ask for just mozzarella.  Sometimes the crust can look a little burnt, but it’s always tasty to me.  And the onion rings are homemade and to die for!

Lansky’s – They have two locations in Omaha, but I frequent the Bellevue one most.  They have great lunch specials and I love their Lorenzo’s favorite pizza with hamburger, onions and mushrooms.  (I’ve recently found after moving back to Omaha that I like hamburger on pizza a lot, but only at mom & pop places that use real hamburger.)  They also have pasta and cheesesteaks, which I’ve heard are very good, but I get pizza every time.

LaRosa – I couldn’t leave off this Cincinnati chain.  I think I learned to like it simply from overexposure:  every Admissions event, lunch every other week with the office gang, church events, etc.  This pizza has a much sweeter sauce than normal.  And it’s the same sauce they use on their spaghetti, which I like even more than their pizza, probably.  A special treat is their chicken alfredo pizza or pasta.  High calorie, high fat, but incredibly delicious every once in awhile.

Mama’s Pizza – Jake’s mom loves this place.  I’d say it tastes pretty close to homemade.  There are two locations in Omaha, but everyone seems to agree that the original location on Saddlecreek is somehow much better than the other.  I still remember the marathon thrifting day I spent with Sheila (Jake’s mom) and the late lunch we had at Mama’s.  It tasted incredible!  We downed that pizza. 

I recently heard about a take-out only place in downtown OmahaOrsi’s – that is supposed to be the best pizza in town, with an interesting variety.  So I’m excited to check that out soon.  Also, we’ve tried Mangia’s pizza a couple times, with good success.  It just didn’t make the cut yet, though.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Food Allergies, Issues and Intolerances...Oh my!

It seems just recently that a lot of people in my life have developed food allergies or issues of some kind.  I’ve known several vegetarians for quite awhile, so I’ve gotten somewhat used to thinking about non-meat options for my cooking repertoire.  However, it’s been pretty recent that people I know and love (and cook for) have needed to go on a gluten-free or dairy-free diet.  And last year I had a friend whose baby couldn’t have milk or soy (or beef), which basically canceled out everything but plain white rice and turkey for her while she was breastfeeding!  Apparently that’s more common around the Midwest than I had any clue about.  I think the strangest food allergy I’ve heard of is from my friend Robyn, who is allergic to fresh fruits and vegetables.  She can have frozen, canned or cooked, but even carving a fresh pumpkin with her kids in the fall makes her skin break out!  And this is a fairly recent development for her, coming on just a few years ago.  I wonder why our bodies decide at a certain (middle) age to turn on us and require us to live with such burdens?

Jake’s family is now a challenge for me.  His brothers are vegetarians, his mom is gluten-free and Jake himself isn’t supposed to drink a lot of milk since the doctor thinks he might be lactose intolerant.  My good friend, Micaela, is near & dear to my heart with her love of ice cream.  Unfortunately, she just recently found out that she is severely allergic to dairy!  (This might be my nightmare.)  She was understandably quite upset, but is now learning to adjust.  I pray I can be a positive support to her in this by finding lots of fun non-dairy options for her! 

I’m not sure which is worse: no dairy or no gluten.  Gluten is in EVERYTHING.  Even canned soup like chicken broth and tomato soup.  And rice krispies cereal.  (Isn’t that just supposed to be RICE?!  What possible necessary good comes from adding malt flavoring?)  But then vegetarians are hard sometimes too.  Did you know that they can’t have marshmallows or jello?!  And that’s not even the vegan variety of vegetarians, who are much more strict on everything.

If you are afflicted with one of these food issues, I’m sorry for you.  I’m sure life is made hard by well-meaning people that just don’t understand.  I’m sure I’ve been and probably will continue to be one of those people.  But know that I’m trying not to be! 

And I’m thankful that I haven’t crossed paths with any food issues myself yet…

If you have any gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian friendly (& tofu-free), soy-free, corn-free (a friend is cutting out corn products & soy in addition to gluten), pistachio & tomato-free (this is for you, Kirk Hansen!), and cooked veggies & fruits only recipes, please share!!!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I Heart Corn

I love corn.  I love it on the cob, off the cob, as a side dish and in a casserole.  My favorite chicken tacos have corn in them.  My favorite BBQ chicken pizza in Cincinnati (I miss you, Dewey’s!) had corn on it.  I love it canned and I love it frozen, though I sometimes think the frozen has less taste.  My parents used to make their own homemade creamed corn – which is nothing like the canned stuff, though I like that too.  (And yes, I might have been known to eat canned cream corn cold in college, but really, it’s not that different from pudding, is it?!)  I am going to attempt to recreate that homemade creamed corn this summer.

A friend shared a sample of Vietnamese corn soup with me once – amazing!  If anyone knows where I might find something like that here in Omaha, just let me know. 

Corn was my favorite food for many years until I discovered shrimp.  It’s still up there on my list, for sure.  It’s sweet and versatile.  What good Midwest girl doesn’t love corn?!

I have a friend whose love of Corn Casserole might equal mine, and for that I think we’re truly kindred spirits.  Everyone keeps telling us we seem like sisters anyway!  So in honor of Stef, here is my recipe for Corn Casserole – one of the easiest, but tastiest, comfort side dishes there is!  (And thanks to Jenny for her love of Corn Casserole & providing it at last night's small group!!)

Corn Casserole

1 can cream style corn
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
2 eggs
1 stick butter/marg, cut up into slices or melted (see note below)
1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 C sour cream
1-2 T onion flakes

Mix all ingredients together; spread into a 9x13 pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 min – 1 hour. 
Note:  If you put this together ahead of time & keep it in the fridge and then bake it, the butter will pool in spots if you just slice it.  If you don’t make it ahead, then cutting it into slices vs. melting it won’t affect it at all.  And even though the butter pools in spots, it doesn’t hurt the dish.  It might just take you by surprise.  :-)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Get Paid To Eat

I am forever in debt to my friend, Jenny Hanson, for introducing me to the world of taste testing. Typically I spend about 30 minutes eating food & answering a survey about said food in a little cubicle and I get paid about $30 for it. In cash! It’s truly amazing.

Let me explain. Last summer I was in the mood for some extra spending cash, and as my job afforded me quite a bit of summer leisure time, I decided to spend that time giving plasma. This was a disaster for me. Apparently I am a “tricky stick” and I ended up with blackened arms for weeks at a time. Not to mention the occasional close call with passing out, though I did everything I was told to prevent this (i.e. drink lots of fluids, eat before you go, etc). Probably the waiting several hours in the crowded office before they got to me didn’t help.

After one such instance of “donating” (can you still call it that if you get paid via cash from an ATM after?) plasma, I had lunch with Jenny and our good friend, Micaela. Because I was bearing the marks of my visits, our conversation turned toward that topic. It was at this point that Jenny imbued me with her amazing knowledge. Thank you, Jenny! And my body thanks you!!

For those who would also like the opportunity to get paid to eat food products like macaroni and cheese, chocolate chunk granola bars, cheddar cheese popcorn chips (honestly, not good), red pepper alfredo penne pasta, and more: Innovation Research is off 78th & Cass (near Dodge) and tests products for companies like ConAgra, which produces Healthy Choice, Banquet, etc. I’ve tested for various foods and companies. I’ve done take-home tests and two-day tests, but most of the taste testing has been for about 30 minutes one day and I always get paid in cash via an on-site ATM. (Just like plasma but so much less painful!) You can apply online or in person (see link below). If you have food allergies, this probably isn’t for you. After you apply they will send you an ID card and packet to get you started. Then they will call you with phone surveys to see if you qualify to taste test a product. If you don’t get called regularly, I’ve found it helps to call them. If you do so, odds are that the message will tell you all sessions are full, but if you keep calling regularly, it’s been my experience that they will call you more often as well. (Last time I was testing I overheard a lady say she hadn’t been in for over a year because they never called her and I was tempted to tell her to just call them herself more, but we’re not really supposed to talk to each other.)

If it’s two things I’m good at, they would have to be eating and telling people my opinions!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Essential Cooking Utensils (& "Baked" Alaska Cake Recipe as a bonus!)

A friend suggested that I write about what I think are the essential cooking utensils every cook should have, especially because I have the perspective of having previously been a Pampered Chef consultant.  And there were definitely items that I thought were worth the money and some that weren’t. 

Here are the ones I don’t want to have to live without (Pampered Chef or not):
  • Rubber spatula, spoon style

  • Metal whisk with many wires

  • Garlic press – mine doesn’t require you to remove the peel, which is SO nice & it comes with its own cleaning tool so you can get the stuff out of the holes easier

  • At least one really good knife that cuts through chicken fat like butter

  • Can opener – mine is a smooth-edge one, which is a good bonus

  • Egg slicer plus – the ‘plus’ means it can also do strawberries, mushrooms, etc

  • Liquid measuring cups

  • Several measuring spoons – mine are adjustable so you don’t need multiples of sets, just a few of each

  • Measure-All measuring cup – this tool easily measures & pushes out semi solids like peanut butter & honey so you don’t have to try to scrape it out of a regular measuring cup, leaving lots of residual behind; it also duals as a liquid measuring cup

  • Pizza cutter

  • Good bread knife – those that have experienced smushed bread or cake know what I mean

  • Batter bowl mixing bowls – these are deep cup-shaped glass bowls with a handle & measuring elements on the side & a lid; they make it easy to pour out the batter into a cake pan & also don’t allow splatter to appear on your kitchen walls & appliances as easily as other shallower bowls; mine also are oven-safe so you can bake in them (perfect for those “doll” cakes and my Pampered Chef “Baked Alaska” layered cake, see below for recipe – you’ll notice that many products I’ve listed are used to make this cake!)

  • 9x13 baking pans w/ lids

  • Vegetable peeler – my favorites have always been the plain, stainless steel ones, not the fancy ones since I’ve had better success with the plain ones

  • Crockpot (especially with disposable crockpot liners!)

  • Kitchen shears (scissors) – I use mine for cutting biscuits for monkey bread, pepperoni for pasta salad, etc.  Others have used theirs for cutting meat & pizza.

  • Hand-mixer (some would contest that a full-size mixer like a Kitchenaid is essential, but a hand-mixer is all I’ll ever need – I don’t make bread! And for lots of jobs I get by with just a whisk!!)

  • Colander

  • Food chopper for chopping onions, nuts, etc (but it’s not great for bell peppers or ingredients with tougher skins)

  • Cutting boards – these are good for saving your counter top or fingers, as well as not dulling your knives as easily (though glass ones will do so & wood ones tend to harbor bacteria, so I go with the polypropylene – hard plastic – ones); I have multiple sizes for different kinds of jobs

  • Ice cream dipper with liquid in handle that melts the ice cream for easier scooping

  • Cookie scoops, different sizes – SO much less hassle & all your food comes out the same size (Note: metal is better than plastic, in my experience)

  • Apple wedger – works great for pears too!

“Baked Alaska” Cake

1 pkg (18.25 oz) devil’s food cake mix (plus ingredients to make cake)
¾ C semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 C powdered sugar
16 oz. Cool Whip, divided

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray batter bowl w/ cooking spray.  Prepare cake mix according to package instructions; pour into batter bowl.  Bake 1 hr, 10 min – 1 hr, 15 min. or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.  Let cool for 15 min.  Run knife around outside of cake and gently turn out onto cooling rack, large end down.  Cool 3 hrs.

Using serrated bread knife, slice cake into 4 equal layers horizontally – slice in half, then slice each half into two equal layers to create the four layers.

Chop ¼ C of the chocolate chips; set aside.  Melt remaining chocolate chips in microwave until smooth.  In clean batter bowl, whisk cream cheese until smooth; add powdered sugar & whisk until smooth.  Stir in melted chocolate; mix well.  Fold in 2 C Cool Whip and chopped chocolate chips.  Spread bottom layer of cake with about half of the filling.  Repeat with remaining layers.  Spread any remaining filling over outside of cake to create a smooth surface.  Frost cake with remaining Cool Whip.  To form peaks, press knife into topping & pull away (this works best when Cool Whip is cold & hasn’t set out for a bit).  Repeat over entire surface of cake.  For easier slicing, refrigerate cake at least 30 minutes.  To cut, slice one wedge at a time so the cake doesn’t fall apart.  You may either slice thin, long pieces of whole cake, or slice larger wedges and divide in half vertically for individual pieces.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I’ve long held a strong affinity for popcorn.  I’m not sure when it began, but it’s taken a deep and enduring hold on me.  I remember making it for my dad growing up, and he must have trained me to like it the way I do: smothered in butter.  But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve left behind the love of the “movie theater butter” microwave popcorn bags.  If I’m to choose a microwave popcorn bag option these days, it’s going to be Pop Secret’s Homestyle popcorn.  It’s lightly buttered, but with REAL butter, and lightly salted.  Of course, these days I rarely purchase microwave popcorn bags.  I’m of the opinion that it’s not that hard to make it myself in $10.00 microwave popcorn bowl from Target.  And then it’s not too difficult to melt the butter myself.  This way I have much more control of the amount & distribution as well.  It’s never too salty or not salty enough.  And I love those bites where you get some firm kernels as well as the ones that are shriveled with hot butter.  Perfection!  Recently I rediscovered a recipe that a friend gave me awhile back for Carmel Corn.  I think there was a period of a few months this past winter where I had Carmel Corn every day, or at least every other.  It was just so darn good and I could make just enough for myself, since my husband doesn’t share an affinity for it.  Thank you, Carrie Howard, for blessing my life in this way with your recipe!

If you’re looking for a bit more special treat than just your average popcorn, my family has long held the belief that Velvet Creme Popcorn has the best popcorn tins around.  You can get one shipped to you.  And they can fill it with your normal butter / carmel / cheese options or you can select sour cream & onion or cinnamon for a fun change.  Our family loves the sour cream & onion – that section is often gone before any other.  I do think their cheese and carmel corn options are better than other brands as well.  Beware the high cost for one of these tins – my family (siblings & dad) usually split the cost between us if we order one for a special occasion.

Monday, July 12, 2010

We Like Chicken

Over any other meat, my husband and I usually prefer chicken.  (I put seafood in a category all its own.)  We could probably have it every day for every meal and be happy.  Mostly because it’s so versatile.  I can bake it whole or in pieces, with rice or potatoes or by itself.  We can grill it or cut it up into a stir-fry or pot pie.  I can pop it into the crockpot with some yummy ingredients and just let it simmer all day.  We don’t usually do the bone-in kind (please refer back to my previous post entitled “I Don’t Do Messy”).  And thus, we also usually skip the skin.  So it’s very healthy.  Yay!  We don’t always love to eat healthy in our house, so at least that’s one thing we’re doing right.  Of course, when I add in a creamy soup, some rice & some butter, the health effects tend to drip away.  But that’s why we only have such meal items in moderation.  But in our house, we definitely still have them.  I’m about living my life to the fullest, and butter and cream are absolutely a part of that!  Again, not every day, but definitely every now and then.

Here’s a list of some my favorite chicken dishes, both “in” and “out” (I’m sure I’ve forgotten some):
  • Chicken Marsala – I have a recipe that we like, but we can thank Macaroni Grill for first introducing us to this wonderful feast.  Many restaurants now have it on their menu and it’s a little different everywhere you go.  I don’t think it’s every disappointed, though.
  • Chicken Pot Pie – again, I’m picky about it, but I do love it when it’s done right.
  • Chicken & Rice – there are many recipes out there, but my mom’s Hot Chicken Salad is at the top of my list.  Beth Cooper’s classic recipe has seen many makings at my house as well.
  • Italian chicken – whether you choose to grill it, bake it or crockpot it, chicken breasts that have been marinated in Italian dressing for several days while thawing are incredibly flavorful.  And did you notice how many options you have in cooking it?!
  • Chicken enchiladas – LaMesa tops my list in Omaha for this fare.
  • Stuffed Cornish hens – I have a mushroom wild rice stuffing recipe that is a special treat at our house when served with these petite birds.
  • Pasta Da Vinci – this Cheesecake Factory dish has delighted me on more than one occasion.  Be beware of the richness factor!  Here is their description: Sautéed Chicken, Mushrooms and Onions in a Delicious Madeira Wine Sauce Tossed with Penne Pasta and Parmesan.
  • BBQ Ranch Chicken Salad – another Cheesecake Factory creation.  This one has even won over my husband!  That’s saying a lot since he’s never been known to order a salad other than this one.  The description:  Avocado, Tomato, Grilled Corn, Black Beans, Cucumber and Romaine all Tossed with Our Barbeque Ranch Dressing. Topped with Lots of Crispy Fried Onion Strings for Crunch.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Cheesecake Showdown

I love a good cheesecake.  After 11 ½ years of marriage, it still gets me a little sad to realize I will never share a piece of yummy cheesecake with my husband.  And, yes, for those of you out there that weren’t sure if cream cheese falls under the “I hate all cheese except mozzarella” category for Jake, it sure does. 

I have two favorite places to go for a scrumptious slice of cheesecake.  I’m sure most of you could guess that The Cheesecake Factory would have topnotch cheesecake.  And they do.  A page-long (sometimes longer) list of cheesecake options is what awaits you at this delicacy chain.  My favorite is the Chocolate Tuxedo Cream, with a chocolate graham cracker crust, a thin layer of chocolate cake, then chocolate cheesecake topped with a white chocolate cheesecake mousse.  And more chocolate and more chocolate.  But the mousse layer and cake layers are light enough that it doesn’t weigh you down.  This will cost you about $7.99, but I think it’s worth it every now and then. 

Would most of you have known that Old Chicago is my other favorite place to go for amazing cheesecake?  I’ve told this well-kept secret to many people, after being introduced to it myself by my good friend Kim.  Apparently Old Chicago makes their own, taking 2 full days to get it just right.  And it is.  Just right, that is.  It’s so creamy and delicious.  The graham cracker crust is almost caramelized at the bottom, probably a benefit of that 2-day creation process.  And there is just a bit of strawberry jam filling swirled at the bottom, though you barely, if ever, notice it (for those of you like myself who would normally be put off by such an addition).  The picture really makes it seem as if there’s more jam than there normally is.  I’ve never tried anything other than their traditional plain cheesecake, since it is just that good.  But I do think they have a turtle variety that wouldn’t disappoint either.  Oh, and be sure to either come hungry or be prepared to share it.  For $4.99, you get an enormous piece. 

These two kinds of cheesecake are amazing, and I’d be hard pressed to decide between them.  You decide!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Just Make It For Me!

There’s almost nothing more fun than trying something new that someone else made, getting the recipe, and then trying it out yourself.  Almost nothing.  But there is at least one thing that’s more fun:  just having them make it for you!  Especially when the dish has a page-long list of ingredients and / or instructions.  Or if it takes hours (or days!) to make.  Or if it requires me to purchase cooking utensils I don’t currently possess.  Or if it just sounds like it’s too much trouble or too hard for this simple chick to undertake.

There are several people out there that have made cuisine for me that I have absolutely drooled over.  And if you're one of those people, I’d like you to know that I would absolutely take you up on the offer to make it again for me, should you ever choose to be so inclined!  Ha!  But seriously.  I would. 

People I just want to cook FOR me (& what I want them to make):
-Aunt Marti – everything! But mostly veggie pizza, homemade salsa & cabbage rolls
-Sheila (Jake’s mom) – potato soup
-Lisa Driver – Darn Good Chocolate Cake (& probably any other baked good!)
-Erin Merrill – sauce (this means pasta sauce, but we all just call it “sauce” like any good Italian should!)
-Mark Robinson – anything smoked / grilled
-Amy McGinnis – cheesy meatloaf, chicken wontons, turkey sloppy joes, homemade taco shells
-Amy B. (sister-in-law) – Wacky Cake
-Amy Schendel (sister) – Kringla (which she is claiming recipe ignorance for now, but I’m not sure I’m buying it!)

Monday, July 5, 2010

All the Cooks I’ve Stolen From

I recently realized that my recipe collection is made up mostly of recipes that I’ve received from other cooks and that those individuals probably have no clue how much they’ve influenced my culinary stylings over the years.  They are probably totally unaware of the fact that I receive praise and rave reviews off of their recipe successes.  So I thought it was about time to give credit where credit is due.  If you come to my house for a meal and you enjoy it, most likely you have someone else to thank.  My husband certainly does.  Here’s the list of cooks and the recipe(s) I’ve “stolen” from them (all of these recipes are made regularly at my house):

-          Beth Cooper – chicken & rice
-          Stacy Hatten – Nacho Casserole
-          Aunt Marti – Chicken Piccata (which I tampered with to create my Chicken Marsala), corn recipe
-          Mindi Ross – pasta salad
-          Amy B.  – chili, ranch cornbread chicken
-          Janice – chicken pot pie
-          Emily Cooper – pork chops, Italian marinated chicken, deep dish brownies
-          Kristi Mendenhall – black bean corn salsa
-          Natalie Pater (you’ll always be Pater to me!) – devil’s food cake w/ homemade Penuche frosting (that’s a cooked caramel frosting for those not in the ‘know’)
-          Grammy P. – deviled eggs & acini de pepi salad
-          Becky Branum – Crispix Sticky Snacks, ranch veggie dip, spaghetti w/ Italian sausage
-          my mom – everything:  Hot Chicken Salad (fancy chicken & rice), garlic herb potatoes, sour cream chocolate cake, butterscotch blondies, Funfetti cookies, Texas sheetcake, monkey bread, porcupine meatballs, meatloaf, beef stew, pot roast, potato soup, savory beef skillet, seafood pasta, scalloped pineapple, corn bake, beef vegetable soup, sauteed okra, sauteed zucchini, strawberry trifle, black bottom cupcakes & more.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that my mom has influenced me in cooking more than anyone.  There are still recipes that I think of from time to time that I wish I’d asked her for before she passed away.  And I still remember those first few months of marriage when I would call her almost every day for help in the kitchen.  But thank you to all of you who have encouraged me in the pursuit of cooking!  You don’t even know how much I take in from all of you.

Readers, who has influenced your cooking most?

Friday, July 2, 2010

I Don’t Do Jell-O

I’ve mentioned numerous times that I love to cook.  And I love to make all kinds of food, from traditional comfort to gourmet to ethnic.  But I don’t do Jell-O.  I know.  You might say that it’s just about the easiest thing out there to make.  And I would agree with that assumption.  But for some reason unknown to me, I am unable to produce an adequate Jell-O product.  To be fair, I haven’t tried for some time, having given up awhile ago when multiple tries were unsuccessful.  And you might be asking yourself, “In what way were these tries unsuccessful?”  I will try to describe for you:  the bottom would tend to be thick, rubbery and chewy, while the top was just fine.  Sometimes the texture would even be less than the smooth variety one expects with Jell-O. 

So, if you’re looking for just some good ‘ole plain Jell-O at my house, you’re going to have to call ahead and allow me time to run to the store for some premade Jell-O cups.  That’s the kind I serve at my house.  And if I tell you I’m making Jell-O or a Jell-O salad, what I probably mean is something made with pudding, maybe mixed with some Jell-O, but not made in the traditional Jell-O way at all.  Usually my Jell-O salads have pudding and Cool Whip and fruit.  Just an FYI.