Thursday, April 28, 2011

What is Your "Go-To" Meal?

Long day at the office or at work?  Kids are hungry, the laundry smells and the dog needs a walk.  Sound familiar?  At that point in time... you have better things to do than peal potatoes or be every ones personal chef in the kitchen.  Am I right?

Have a picky eater in the family?  Have a whole army of picky eaters?  How do you handle dinner for all the kids and the spouse when they don't seem to enjoy the same foods?

In situations like that it's always easy to just throw a frozen pizza in the oven, grab a grease bag of cholesterol from the local fast-food chain or maybe just eat a bag of 100-calorie popcorn.  Well none of those are healthy dinner options, especially for little ones.

My sister, Megan, is the inspiration behind this post and finds herself in that situation frequently.  She has a 6 year-old and 1 year-old son at home.  Her husband is rather particular about food.  On top of having a busy family, Megan is also an RN in the emergency room.  Coming home after working a 12-hour shift on her feet all day can be exhausting. 

Can you relate?  Maybe just like Megan you want some kid-friendly, hubby-particular and super easy dinner options for your diverse family.  Yes?

I recently purchased a few Pillsbury products and have been thinking of ways to get creative with these food products.  In the process, I discovered some kid-friendly recipes.  These are not recipes that I have made but definitely plan to try on a night that I need more relaxation and less time in the kitchen.  So yes, I am endorsing recipes that I haven't tried yet.

Chicken Enchilada Crescent Bake
 - Find the recipe in link above
 - 4 ingredients, 30 minutes until eating time
 - A meal that the kids can help to prepare

Crescent Pizza Pockets
 - Find the recipe in link above
 - 5 ingredients, ready in less than 30 minutes
 - The kids can help!

Here are a few tips:

- Assemble early.  These recipes can be assembled the weekend before or even the night before.  Do not bake, just assemble.  Freeze.  Bake (as instructed) when you get home from work.

- "Staples".  Keep ingredients like these on hand for a quick "go-to" meal: i.e.  Pillsbury crescent rolls or biscuits, shredded cheese, lunch meat, pizza fixings, quick-cut veggies, red sauce.

- Plan ahead.  The reason we end up eating frozen pizza and fast-food is because we do not plan dinners any more.  I am guilty of this too.  Have list of what you would "tentatively" like to make for dinner and try to stick to it.  When we first got married, I actually kept a stick note of the weekly menu on our refrigerator.  That is what I had to do to get in the mindset of planning ahead.

- Healthy substitute.  Choose a lower-fat or lower-calorie option for the bread, meat and cheeses in the recipes.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Find the European Treasure in Your City

Have you found a hidden treasure in your city yet?  We recently discovered a local European grocery and deli in our city.  My husband loves European cooking and has fond memories of eating particular Russian dishes.

Russian Delights, located in Appleton, is a secret of the city.  It is like stepping into Russia, Poland, Ukraine and other surrounding countries (or so I'm told since I have not yet been to Europe). 

This grocery store has imported goods from many of the northwest European countries.  The small grocery area has items such as canned goods, cookies, beer, bread, etc.  The deli has meats, cheeses and even frozen items. 

We absolutely rave about the home-made perogies!  The owner makes about 3 different varieties from what we have seen. There is the typical potato/onion perogie and also a feta/spinach perogie.  She recently introduced me to a new perogie with "cabbage" or sauerkraut.  The German heritage in me just could not pass that up.

I'm sure there is more than one way to make the perogie.  Keep them frozen until ready to cook.  We boil the perogies in water until slightly translucent and they begin to float to the top.  Drain and serve with butter, salt, and pepper.  That's all it needs.  These home-made dumplings will melt in your mouth.

Head over to Russian Delights to enjoy a taste of Russia! 

If you don't live in the Fox Valley, we encourage you to find the European treasure in your city and give it a try!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Best Thai Food I Ever Ate - "Samoeun's Happy Wok"

While taking a short weekend trip to Plover we found ourselves lost with no direction toward a delicious and much-needed dinner.  "Urban Spoon," my husband says with excitement.  He opens the app and begins searching through the categories... Caribbean, Mexican, Japanese.  We landed on "Thai" and a restaurant with a very good review!  Urban Spoon gave it 5 stars... probably worth checking out!

Tip: If you do not have Urban Spoon on your smart phone, I suggest downloading that right away.
It really comes in handy when you are visiting another city and would prefer to visit something other than the predictable "Chili's" or "Famous Dave's".  Urban Spoon is for the open-minded.

The app took us to "Samoeun's Happy Wok" in Plover, WI.  The outside looks small and possibly like an old cell phone store.  But the inside is intimate and well decorated. 

We did not see any alcoholic beverages listed on the menu; which was fine since we were there only for the food.  The waitress was prompt and helpful in answering any food questions.  I'll tell you one thing... it's good that we arrived hungry!

Appetizer: Vegetable Spring Roll with
Peanut Dipping Sauce

WOW!  The appetizer came out swinging at our taste buds.  This was without a doubt the freshest and most flavorful spring roll that I've ever eaten.  It was rolled with your typical spring roll ingredients; noodles, bean sprouts, lettuce and cilantro.  The dipping sauce was so unique and not easily identifiable.  According to my husband, "You must figure out how to make that!" Yes, it was pretty good.

2nd Appetizer: Crab Rangoon

The waitress appeared with an unexpected appetizer.  Apparently meals are served with 2 crab rangoon and a fortune cookie.  We were pleasantly surprised as we bit into the first rangoon with complimentary dipping sauce.  Again this was probably the freshest and most flavorful crab rangoon I've ever eaten.  The cream cheese filling was warm and just melted with every bite.  There were spring onions and small hints of crab inside.  The dipping sauce is a mixture of honey and ginger.

Jon's meal: Pork Pad Thai

My meal: Shrimp Curry Stir Fry
(with white rice)

My meal was outstanding!  The red curry sauce was very well balanced in spice and sweetness.  Even Jon, who does not handle spice very well, said that the spiciness was complimented well with the sweetness.  I detected a hint of coconut in the sauce.  The vegetables were fresh and still a little crunchy.  My only criticism would be to add more shrimp.

If this restaurant were to jack up their prices by another $3 - 5... it would be justifiable and I would not even complain about the the prices.  Everything was completely fresh and each dish was very well executed.  You can tell the the chef prides herself on making the finest foods for their customers. 

We asked if they had a website yet and informed the waitress that I would be writing a review about the restaurant.  They are in the process of working the website right now.  You can, however, find them on Google and Urban Spoon if you decide to visit Plover any time in the near future.

HIGHLY recommend it.  I just wish we had this exceptional, great restaurant closer to home.

*Photos taken by Jonny D.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Central Waters - A Local Watering Hole in Amherst

Amherst, WI is home to a local brewery, Central Waters Brewing Company.  Although they have many impressive innovations, I wasn't all that impressed with the customer service of a particular employee at that company.  They do, however, make some tastey beverages.

When I called to ask when brewery tours were offered the guy on the phone seemed irritated with the inquiry.  Apparently tours are only offered on Friday's; BUT you won't find that listed on the website any where.  When we arrived the same guy was working at the very busy "tap room" (or bar).  He quickly seemed to turn away our service when we pulled out the typical form of payment... plastic.  This place is cash only (again.. not something mentioned on the website), so arrive prepared.

Despite the poor initial service and uninformed cash only feature, we still took the time to sample a beer.  My husband tried the Illumination and also bought a 4-pack.  I sampled the Honey Blonde Ale, which was just like any of your typical light ale's.  See a list of their beers here.

The "tap room" concept was extremely smart.  It was apparent that locals in Amherst enjoy gathering at the brewery to unwind and catch up with each other.  Many arrived to refill their half gallon jug with more beer.  The beer was good and the environment was industrial-trendy.  I did enjoy that part of the visit.

Unfortunately, with tours only offered on Friday we were not able to interact or learn a whole lot about the company.  Perhaps they will expand tour hours and their website information as the company grows within the state.

Overall, there were areas for improvement but.. not a bad place to stop on the state brewery list.

*Photo take by Jonny D.

Friday, April 22, 2011

O'so Brewing Co. - Experience the Home Brew

O'so Brewery may not be as well known as New Glarus or even Central Waters, but after 3 years of brewing they are already pushing the "new-comer" status.  Located in Plover, WI this brewery can be found next to Point Brew Supply.

My husband and I had the pleasure of meeting the owner, Marc Buttera; whom also was kind enough to give us a private tour of the brewery.  Although their operation appears to be smaller than the average brew company, they have obviously figured out a way to distribute quality beers to their consumers.  According to Buttera, the company and brewery is looking to expand to a larger location soon.

The experience of visiting O'so is unlike that you would get at Lakefront Brewery or Sprecher.  The location is small and intimate.  You are able to sit and enjoy a sample or pint in the brew supply store.  Buttera is extremely knowledgeable in the brewing industry and appeared to know his regular customers very well.

My personal favorite is the Rusty Red, which is a classic but very smooth amber.  I also sampled Night Train, which is a dark lager.  Typically I do not like darker beers but the Night Train was very creamy and rich.

If you are live near or in the Fox Valley, you can try an O'so Brewing Co. beer at Bazil's Pub which is located downtown Appleton.

*Photo taken by Jonny D.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Can YOU Conquer the "Man Burger"?

My husband and I found a coupon to the 5th Quarter (Little Chute, WI) in our entertainment book.  We decided to stop in on a Thursday night to take advantage of the buy one, get one coupon deal.  Upon our arrival we discovered that it was not only ladies night (and therefore my beverage was free) but, they also offered a manly kind of meal.

The 2lb Burger Challenge!

This burger was absolutely massive.  According to the waitress, this "challenge" is extremely under utilized and not ordered very often.  It presented a bit of intimidation, but my husband was ready to conquer the "man burger".

If you are feeling extra hungry, here is some info about the challenge.  The burger is served on a large hamburger bun with 4 extremely juicy beef patties.  It also comes with tomato, lettuce and a pickle.  Here is the kicker... the challenge must be completed within 30 minutes AND is also served with about 2 or 3 lbs of french fries.  So if the burger doesn't take you down, the french fries definitely will. 

The only other "manly" item it was missing was a few slices of ... bacon!

What is the prize for completing such a challenge?  You receive a 5th Quarter t-shirt with a side of burger conquering pride. 

Warning: You may also suffer from a mild to severe case of the meat sweats.

Do you think you can take on the burger challenge?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Latest Wedding Fad - "Cupcake Pops"

Although I am already married, I found myself at the "Every Woman's Expo and Bridal Show" with my neighbor on Sunday.  One of the best things about an expo is having the opportunity to sample local catering and food.  (We were actually there for my friends college course in event planning. Not to eat.)

I was so impressed by this particular company that I just had to give it shout out on my blog.  If you are planning a wedding and not exactly a cake fan... I definitely recommend contacting this woman, Sweets By Laureen, LLC.

We received a very small but absolutely delicious sample of her red velvet cupcake pop.  They are adorable, insanely good in flavor and also budget-friendly.  I am not a fan of sweets and I definitely do not like cake.  Therefore, my recommendation must be favorable.  Honestly, I would shamelessly indulge in at least 5 of those cupcake pops in one sitting.

Anyway, that's for all the brides-to-be out there.  Thank you Ms. Laureen, it was a pleasure to meet you!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Can You BLT My Pizza, Please?

If you like pizza's with unique flavors and are more than just the average meat and cheese, then you need to try this recipe!  

When I was a kid, my family and were visiting family in Iowa and happened to try a very unique and new style of pizza.... the BLT pizza.  It was delicious - the kind of dish that you never forget.  Years later my Mom found a recipe for making it at home.  The rest is history.  It has become a family favorite and something that my sister and I always try to make when we're together.

Honestly, it's probably not as scary as you might think.  :)

Prep time = 10 minutes
Cook time = 12 minutes

American BLT Pizza
- 1 thin pizza crust (just get the store bought stuff in the dairy section.. it will save you a lot of time)
- 1 1/2 cup of diced tomato
- 8 chopped bacon slices (healthy option alert: use turkey bacon for fewer fat and calories)
- 1 TBSP of olive oil
- 2 cups of mozzarella cheese
- 1 bag of shredded lettuce OR 3 cups of shredded Iceburg lettuce (of course you can always make it fancy with romane lettuce but iceburg seems to have the best texture for a topping)
- 2 or 3 TBSP of light mayo
- Salt and pepper to taste

That's it!  Preheat the oven to 425.  Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and lay the pizza crust on it.  There is not a traditional red pizza sauce in this recipe.  Instead, add the olive oil directly to the pizza crust and spread until the dough is covered.  Add salt and pepper to the dough.  Apply an even layer of tomato and bacon.  Cover with mozzarella cheese and bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown. 

While the pizza is baking, combine the lettuce and mayo in a separate bowl.  Stir until the lettuce has a light coating of mayo.  It should be wet but not drenched.  Add salt and pepper.  This will not taste nearly as good if it's not seasoned properly. 

After the pizza is done baking, let it cool off for 2 or 3 minutes.  Add a thin layer of the lettuce across the entire pizza.  Serve and enjoy.

It's so easy and definitely a crowd pleaser.  You're friends and family will be asking you to make it again and again.  Plus it gives you something that we could all use more of..... a hint of time!

Have a great week, readers!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lasagna Noodles and Fish?

Greetings readers!  I know that it has been quite a while since my last blog post.  My apologies for such a large gap of time between posts - I have been traveling a lot for work and not really cooking as much because of that.  Thankfully I have some "Friend Features" to post before the weekend is over. 

One of my favorite activities is cooking with family and friends or just sharing recipes with loved ones.  When I visit Milwaukee my Mom and Aunt Dana always try to do something revolving around food; whether that be going to our favorite Mexican restaurant, going to the Farmers market, visiting a Penzey's Spices store or even cooking together. 

On a particular visit, my aunt was sharing an unusual recipe with us and it sounded so interesting that I just had to try it.  She emailed me the recipe and I finally made it last weekend... with a few minor changes though.

This recipe is perfect if you have some leftover Lasagna noodles sitting in your pantry and no idea what to do with them.  This involves a different technique of actually rolling the noodles and stuffing them with a delicious tilapia mixture.  Here is the recipe that I received from my aunt. 

Baked Manicotti Bundles
- 10 whole wheat lasagna noodles (I had regular noodles in the pantry and used that)
- 1 carrot, peeled (time saver alert: grab a bag of shredded carrots from the store. Use the rest in a salad or pasta salad)
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 12 oz tilapia filets (I used 6 filets and it was more than enough for the 2 of us)
- 4 oz light cream cheese (I'd suggest trying the cream cheese. I strayed from the recipe and used ricotta cheese instead)
- 1/2 cup skim milk
- 1/2 tsp dried dill
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 2 oz reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, grated
- Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350.  Spray 8 x 8 pan.  Prepare lasagna noodles, as directed.  Rinse pasta and set aside.  Grate carrot into small bowl, set aside.  Heat a large nonstick pan, add oil, heat for 1 minute....add fish and shake pan to keep fish from sticking.  Cover and cook for 3 minutes.  Carefully flip fish and cook for additional minute.  Break up fish with spatula and cook for addional minute if not cooked thoughout.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Add cream cheese, milk, dried dill and salt to a saucepan.  Use a spatula to break up cream cheese.  Place pan on low heat and cook, whisking constantly for 1 minute until cream cheese has melted.  Add half of mozzarella and continue hearing and whisking for 30 seconds or until mixture is smooth.  Remove from heat and scoop out 1/2 cup, set aside.  Stir tilapia and carrot into pan with cheese mixture.  Lay lasagna noodle out on a large cutting board with short edge facing you.  Place 2 tablespoons tiliapia-cheese mixture on bottom edge of noodle.  Roll each noodle pressing lighly and making a bundle, place in rest of noodles.  Spoon reserved 1/2 cheese mixture over bundles and top with remaining mozzarella.  Bake 25 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Adding the mixture to the noodle.

Baking in the oven.

Ready to eat!

I served the roll-ups with roasted asparagus which is in season right now.  It was a very light and palate pleasing meal.  To be honest, I was actually surprised how much my husband enjoyed this dish.  He couldn't quite figure out was in the roll-ups. 

One of the great things about tilapia is that it doesn't have much of an over-powering fishy flavor.  So if you're serving a non-seafood eater.. maybe tell them it's chicken and see if they can tell the difference. 

Enjoy!!  Have a blessed weekend, readers.