Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Year's Bites Fit For Any Party

This year, I had the pleasure of throwing a New Years Party at my apartment. Though it was not the first time I have hosted one, it was the first time I decided to go all-out with the food spread. Planning recipes is one of my favorite things about get-togethers (other than the time spent with friends and family) whether it be a weekend afternoon football game or a big party like New Year's Eve, so I definitely spent a lot of time planning on this one! At the same time, my goal was to not let my spending get out of control, so I simplified some of the recipes.

I stuck to buying most of my ingredients at Trader Joe's since you can always rely on them for gourmet on a budget. I know I plug them a lot, but some of my favorite things about shopping there for a party are:

  • Their baguettes and small loaves of artisan bread are amazing for making crostini or mini-toasts to dip
  • They have a great cheese selection (although not quite as extensive/exPensive as Whole Foods, but still excellent) to make platters or use in recipes
  • Basics like chips and crackers are varied, affordable, and delicious
  • Their produce is always cheap and fresh
  • If you're not one for making your own appetizers, their frozen party food is awesome! Everything from mini quiche to taquitos, whether you're looking to go fancy or fun, they will have it for a good price
  • Wine section. No need to elaborate there

Anyway, here are some of my recipes that I reccommend for your next parties (these are recipes that I made myself, although they were inspired by other recipes. Recipes that are not my own have been linked)

Beef and Watercress Bites with Horseradish Cream

You will need:

1 sourdough baguette

Beef of choice (you can use leftover prime rib, a steak of your choice, whatever is affordable - I bought a small tri-tip roast from the store. If it's cooked and seasoned well, it doesn't matter what kind you use as long as it's not tough)

1 bunch of watercress (I reccommend the smaller leaves, as they are less bitter)

1 cup light sour cream


Spicy brown mustard

1. To make these, it is pretty simple and they can be adjusted to how you prefer. First, you want to cook your beef so that it is medium rare to medium. Do not overly season - some pepper will do. This can be done in advance to prepare the dish later.

2. To make the cream mixture, simply add horseradish and mustard to taste to the sour cream. (Also can be prepared in advance)

3. To assemble, top the slices of baguette first with the cream, then with a few sprigs of watercress, and then with the beef. I served them with the beef cold, but it could be prepared warm if you like.

Cheesy Crab Wonton Cups

You will need:

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1 package wonton wrappers (Nasoya brand is good)

1/2 package of shredded Mexican cheese blend with seasoning

1/2 package of reduced fat mozzarella

1 package of flake style imitation crab meat, shredded into fine pieces

I love using wonton cups with crab because the flavors work really well together. This is a fast recipe that should be served hot so the wontons are crispy and the cheese is still warm

1. Spray a mini-muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray and place 1 wonton wrapper down into the wells of the tin. For extra crispiness to the wonton cups, you can lightly brush them with some vegetable oil and they will taste more like they have been fried, but they are also good baked as-is

2. Mix the cheeses, diced red pepper, and crab together and fill the wonton cups with the cheese/crab mixture

3. Place the cups in an oven that has been preheated to 375 and bake for 6-10 minutes, or until the wontons have crisped to a golden brown color and the cheese has fully melted.

Ham and Pineapple Pops - (recipe from Whole Foods) These are really good. I reccommend buying a ham steak and cubing it if you don't have leftover sliced ham

Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms - (recipe by Paula Deen from the Food Network) My sister picked this recipe and was in charge of making these. They were great and not as difficult and they seem. Even though we know Paula doesn't typically make the most healthful recipes, this one is not too fatty and can be lightened up if you want to use light versions of some of the ingredients, i.e. the cream cheese and other cheeses. The recipe link above is a short video that is easy to follow.

Hope you get to try these recipes for some of your parties in the new year. Happy 2011!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Light Meal Between Holiday Feasts

For me, part of surviving the holidays while still indulging in everything wonderful that the season brings is sneaking healthy bites when you can. Last night, I made these super light spring rolls out of some of my organics that came in my local produce delivery. It's a great light recipe for a small meal between decadent ones.

I love buying rice paper to make spring rolls because you can throw in almost any veggies you have and wrap them up into a light, delicious meal. They can be hard to find, but I have gotten them at World Market or other specialty stores that have international foods (or an actual Asian grocery place). Also in this recipe: daikon. Incase you're not familiar with it, it's a radish that looks like a big white carrot. It is often used in vietnamese recipes, pickled, like in traditional vietnamese sandwiches (called "Banh Mi". Note: if you live in Chicago and want to try some really good ones on the cheap, check out Bon Bon Vietnamese Sandwiches in Wicker Park). Daikon is really good in other asian-inspired recipes like this one.

Shrimp, Daikon, and Watercress Spring Rolls

Rice paper wrappers
Daikon, peeled and cut into matchsticks
Medium Cooked Shrimp
Romaine lettuce, chopped into fine ribbons (optional)

To make these, you just need to wet the rice paper so it becomes flexible, and arrange your ingredients in the middle. To fold into a roll, just wrap the ingredients as you would a burrito or a sandwich wrap. The paper will stick closed as it becomes more dry. I wrapped the ones above loosely since I packed them full of lettuce and watercress so they were big enough for a meal, but you can make them any size you want, depending on if it's a meal or an appetizer.

For dressing, you can either put it on before wrapping up the ingredients or use it as dip. I used this dressing I get from Whole Foods as a dip. It is really good and often you can find it on sale - the miso ginger really complements the spring roll fillings and it's pretty light since it's a vinaigrette.

Happy Holidays! Please stay tuned - I will try to post my recipes coming up for Christmas and NYE, and possibly finally do an overview of my Thanksgiving recipes, which work for these holidays, too :) Happy feasting

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Favorite Fake-outs...and a Halloween treat idea

I love to indulge - whether that means partaking in a rich, gourmet meal or digging into a big juicy hamburger with tater-tots. My taste definitely ranges from fine dining to real junk: I love it all! But about 90% of the time, I try to stick to a pretty healthy diet, eating as cleanly as possible, avoiding processed foods, and buying organic when it makes sense. When I find some middle ground where I can eat a healthy (or healthier) version of my favorite indulgences, I love it! That's why I love "fake-outs" so much - you get to eat something fun, while not doing too much damage to yourself. So I've accumulated a lot of these fake-out recipes and products and I would like to start sharing more of them with you.

Trader Joe's Soy Nuggets

With all the age-old rumors about chicken nuggets and the recent widespread circulation of this story about the pink goop that makes up McNuggets, it's nice to have a healthy alternative since I grew up on nuggets. These are great because not only are they extremely affordable, they are ready in the microwave within a couple minutes. They are meatless, but one of those great meatless items where you can't really tell. These lowfat nuggets are even breaded with stone-ground wheat flour, which I love, and they are artificial flavoring and preservative-free. Even if you hate meat substitute products, give these a try. One 4 nugget serving has only 120 calories and 2 grams of fat. I always have them in my freezer for a quick meal or fun snack. Find them in the freezer section at your local Trader Joe's.

Rustic Crust Ready Made Pizza Crusts in Ultimate Whole Grain

Pizza is one thing that I definitely have an incredible appetite for - I'm not proud to say that it wouldn't be that difficult for me to eat an entire pizza on my own. So while I definitely don't advocate doing that even with these delicious healthy crusts, you might still be tempted to do so. Rustic Crust has a line of all natural ready made pizza crusts and all natural pizza ingredients. Making your own pizza is the easiest way to make it healthier, because you can control what goes on it. That's one reason I love these. Just brush them with olive oil, top with your own sauce, cheese, and veggies, and pop in the oven - you will have a homemade all natural pizza about as fast as cooking a frozen one. I especially love the whole grain crust since I avoid bleached flour and mostly stick to whole wheat and grains. These can be found at your local Whole Foods and I've also seen them in the organics section of Jewel. You can also check them out online on their website.

No Pudge Fudge Brownie Mix

I've been making these for years and no one has ever noticed that they are not full fat because they are so fudgy and decadent. No Pudge brownie mix is fat free and made from all natural ingredients. Instead of adding eggs and oil to the powder mix, you simply add non-fat vanilla yogurt (I usually use Light and Fit or Trader Joe's nonfat organic). What results is a pan of delicious brownies, even better than some full fat mixes. The No-Pudge brand comes in a few different flavors, but I always stick to the original. The box even includes an easy single-serving recipe that you can make in the microwave if you don't want to make an entire batch. No Pudge is available at most grocery stores, as well as Trader Joe's and some specialty shops.

In honor of Halloween coming up this weekend, I used this favorite fake-out of mine to make super cute Halloween treats. Here is an easy and impressive looking idea:

Halloween Brownie Bites

Prepare No Pudge Fudge Brownie mix according to the instructions on the box. Take a cupcake tin and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Place a heaping tablespoon of batter into each cupcake well (batter makes enough for 12 brownies this way).

Bake according to the instructions for the mix, but the brownies will most likely take a few minutes less than the recipe inducates since the batter is divided up. Allow to cool before removing from the tin to decorate.

To create a spider web pattern on top of the brownies, use whatever type of white colored icing you prefer. I bought the Betty Crocker Brownie topper cream cheese frosting, which works great. Use the narrow tube or a pastry bag (or ziploc with a corner cut off) to make circles with the frosting in a target pattern on the top of the brownie. Then use a tooth pic or skewer, dragging from the center to the edge of the brownies in lines. This easy technique will look a lot more complicated than it actually is.

Check back soon for more of my favorite fake-outs. If you have suggestions, keep them coming! And thanks for all the comments :)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Something Great You Never Tried - Celeriac

I think that a fun recurring topic will be "Something Great You Never Tried". One of my favorite things about cooking/dining is trying new things that I had always ignored or put off or never knew about. Everytime I go to Whole Foods, I see tons of things that I wonder about, even though I try to educate myself about different foods. This week, in my Fresh Picks delivery, I received something that I had never tried and was honestly frightened to see in the box. This thing that looked like a wart-covered potato was celeriac. I resisted the urge to pitch it and did some research.

Celeriac, aka celery root, is a relatively unknown and often avoided because of it's ugly appearance, but it's a very healthy fall/winter vegetable. It tastes mainly like celery (not shocking), although the flavor is a little more complex. Interestingly enough, it is not the root of the celery plant that we usually eat, it's actually just in the same family, but unlike it's better-known cousin, only its bulbous root is consumed and not the plant parts. It is just as versatile as celery because it can be used in recipes that call for celery, but it's nutritional value is much greater. A 1/2 cup of celeriac contains only 30 calories and is fat free as well as very high in fiber. It is prepared by cutting off the rough exterior and has a very pleasant consistency that lends well to soups, purees, or a number of other recipes.

Here are some recipes that I found on the web that all look fabulous:
So to use my celeriac, since I just got a new blender, I made a very easy soup that can be modified any way that suits your taste.

Simple Celeriac Soup

1 large celeriac bulb (peeled)
2 large potatoes (peeled)
1/2 yellow onion
1 clove garlic
2 C vegetable broth (I like Imagine Organic Low Sodium Vegetable broth)
1 C water
  1. Chop the onion and garlic and heat in some cooking spray or olive oil in the bottom of a pot over low heat until soft/transparent
  2. Add broth and water to the pot and bring to a boil
  3. Cut potatoes and celeriac into chunks and add to the pot. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are soft (about 20 minutes)
  4. Transfer broth and vegetables to blender and mix until smooth (mix in batches and be careful not to overfill your blender and also make sure some of the heat can escape out of the hole in the top of the blender so pressure doesn't build too much
  5. Put soup back into the pot and add salt, pepper, spices to taste. Allow to simmer for about 15-30 minutes more for flavors to blend even more.
  6. Serve with your choice of crackers or side. Excellent garnished with parsley.

This is another recipe that tastes better the longer the flavors have to blend, so definitely hang on to leftovers. This soup has a really smooth texture that is perfect for cold weather and very easy to season different ways for different results and would probably be great mixed with other vegetables as well. Hope you like celeriac if you give it a chance

What are some things you haven't tried or finally tried and loved? I would love ideas for new entries or just suggestions to expand my own tastes. Feel free to comment or email me.

I'm Back (With Tabbouleh!)

Soo I dropped this for a long time, and I have been feeling guilty about it because I missed blogging, but I've been really busy since my last post. The main reason for that is I have a job now! But I am going to try to post here more often now.
One of the things I've been into lately is Irv and Shelly's Fresh Picks . They carry mostly locally grown, sustainable, organic produce and they are popular for their Fresh Picks boxes, where they send you an assortment of vegetables that are plentiful and in season that week (I get deliveries bi-weekly and also just switched to their Vegetable and Fruit assortment -I love it). It's affordable, they give you a TON, but one thing it does is it challenges me to make things I wouldn't normally seek out at the store, but may be delicious or really healthy (and challenges me to use things up quickly, since they give you so much). Not to mention, you maximize flavor and nutrition if you try to eat in-season as much as possilble. So many advantages to this, I am probably their biggest fan.
In my last shipment, they included a lot of flat leaf parsley. I noticed yesterday that it was getting a bit wilted, so I decided to make the best recipe for using a lot of parsley : tabbouleh.

There are plenty of interpretations of this dish, but regardless, it is very healthy as it usually uses a lot of vegetables, herbs, olive oil, and some sort of whole grain. I didn't necessarly want to use the traditional bulgur wheat, so I figured I would use quinoa since I'm a big fan and this is a popular subsititute. While at Trader Joe's, I also discovered something new that would be great for many recipes. It's called their Harvest Grains blend and it's Israeli couscous, orzo, baby garbanzo beans, and red quinoa. I also use my favorite True Lemon crystalized lemon in place of actual lemons because it was what I had on-hand, but it tastes the same and you can use actual lemon juice if you want.
For the recipe, I used a cup of the blend and a cup of red and plain quinoa for the grains portion and then used the herbs and vegetables that I had on hand to make my own version of the recipe. Hope you guys like it! Heads up - this makes a lot. I'll probably be eating it for another week.

Kate's Simple Spin on Tabbouleh

1 C Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend
1 C quinoa
1 large bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (will equal about 1.5-2 C)
1 1/2 C cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cucumber, seeded and diced
1/2 C chopped green onion
4 packets of True Lemon (or the juice of about 1 small lemon)
Pepper and salt & spice (to taste)
3 Tbsp olive oil
*Mint: optional (this is typical to many recipes, but I didn't have it, nor do I care for it in Tabbouleh)
  • Cook quinoa and Harvest Grains per directions, then combine and let sit until cooled to room temperature
  • In a large bowl, mix true lemon into olive oil. Add in cooled grains and mix to coat with the oil
  • Fold in parsley, tomatoes, cucumber, and green onions
  • Add salt and pepper (or salt & spice and pepper) to taste, but don't go overboard - flavors will intensify as the salad sits in the fridge.
  • Refrigerate until serving (a couple hours, or even overnight is best if possible)
I had this today for lunch with shrimp sprinkled with chili powder on a skewer and it was very light, but satisfying. Hope you enjoy this great, versatile dish (and thanks for still reading, even though I disappeared for a long time)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring is Finally Here!

...and so new recipes are coming into season! I made this recipe today and think it would make an excellent appetizer or side, or even light meal! They are pretty and very simple - they kind of resemble flowers, so they're perfect for the season. Hope you enjoy this colorful, healthy new recipe. I promise to try to update more regularly!

Crab Slaw in Baked Wonton Cups

(note: I did not make this recipe uniform, so I will just let you know what ingredients to use since making it is pretty simple - I'm sure you can do it if you have the right ingredients)


Bagged coleslaw mix (shredded green and red cabbage, carrot)

Crab meat (I use imitation, but if you want to use real, go for it)

Wonton wrappers (available in the refrigerated area of most produce departments or international food stores)

Light mayonnaise

Fat free plain yogurt (I use organic plain regular yogurt, but greek style also works)

Chopped celery

Chopped parsley

Celery seed

Dill (fresh or dried)

Salt and pepper

  1. For wonton cups: Preheat oven to 375F
  2. Spray a muffin tin or mini-muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray
  3. Place a wonton wrapper in the bottom of each muffin spot on the tin, pushing it down into the bottom to make a small cup. If you are using a mini muffin tin, one wrapper for each cup will be enough. If you are using a standard muffin tin, you may want to layer 2 wrappers to make each cup by brushing the bottom of the first wrapper you place down with a small bit of water and placing another wonton wrapper on top of that, rotated slightly so the corners stick out of the cup creating petals)
  4. Once wonton wrappers are placed in muffin tin, brush them with a light layer of vegetable oil
  5. Place tin in preheated oven and bake for 7-9 minutes, or until cups bubble slightly and start to turn golden brown.
  6. Once cups are finished, remove from oven and allow to cool on serving dish before filling with crab slaw
  7. For slaw (can be prepared as cups are baking): Shred crab meat and mix equal parts coleslaw mix and crab meat together
  8. Add chopped celery, about 1/4 of the amount of slaw/crab you have (i.e. if you have 4 C of crabslaw, add 1 C chopped celery)
  9. Add equal parts mayo and plain yogurt to the crabslaw until it has a creamy consistency and is coated to the amount you prefer for slaw.
  10. Season with celery seed, dill, parsley, salt, and pepper. To guide you, I typically use about 1 tsp each of celery seed and dill per cup of slaw mixture. Parsley, salt, and pepper can be added to taste - not much is needed.
  11. Place mixture inside the cooled wonton cups and serve. Can be garnished with a dash of paprika or old bay on the top of each for color, or a dash of Louisiana hot sauce does the trick, too!


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sorry for the break!

Hi everyone! Sorry I've been kind of neglecting the blog lately - but while I was gone, I was trying lots of good stuff and experimenting with new recipes so I decided to share an easy one with you all that I loved. It's the world's easiest pulled pork. This might be a well-known recipe, but I loved it! It was cheap and easy, which is key. The rootbeer makes the pork really sweet and tender.

World's Easiest Sweet Pulled Pork

All you will need is 1 pork loin or roast, a can of rootbeer, a slow cooker, your favorite BBQ sauce, and your favorite hamburger buns.

  1. Place the pork in the slow cooker and pour the rootbeer over it. Cover and set slow cooker to low heat setting.
  2. Allow to cook for 6-8 hours, or until pork can be pulled apart easily with a fork and is cooked all the way through (time may vary based on slow cooker)
  3. Drain rootbeer from slow cooker and shred pork with a fork.
  4. Add your favorite bbq sauce and serve on buns! Goes great with coleslaw for a side dish.

Be back soon with more stuff for you guys!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Under construction!

Hey everyone - just wanted to let you know that I'll be working on the layout and whatnot this weekend, so if you try to go on here and it doesn't work, it's probably because I'm tweaking things. I'm trying to make sure everything works and of course looks GOOD. I got some feedback from my friends Emily and Danny that the comments weren't working (thanks guys!), but now it seems to be fixed, so PLEASE PLEASE comment if you have anything to say, whether it be feedback, criticism, or just something random. I'm open to anything you have to share. Thanks for reading :)

Vegetarian 3 Bean Chili

With the Superbowl coming up this weekend and snow on the way, I decided to make some chili this afternoon because it's filling, warm, and healthy (the way we make it). My mom has the best chili recipe that I've ever had to this day, but I made some swaps to make it vegetarian, but still satisfying, making it into a popular 3 bean chili. Try this next time you want to make some chili! If you prefer meat to beans, then just brown some ground lean turkey or ground beef in the first step and you will have created my mom's amazing original recipe (you can still add the beans if you like to the meat version, but people constantly debate whether chili should have beans or not. I say absolutely yes!)

3 Bean Chili
(based on Jan's Chili Recipe)

1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1 1/2 C canned tomatoes in juice (1 large can) OR crushed tomatoes (if you prefer to not have pieces of tomato in the chili)
1 can red kidney beans
1 can black beans
1 can pinto beans
1 small can diced chilies
2 Tbsp chili powder
Sea salt
1/2 bay leaf
3 whole cloves
1 Tbsp

  1. Chop the onion, peppers, and garlic and sautee in olive oil at medium heat at the bottom of a large heavy pot until the vegetables soften a little bit, but are not fully cooked
  2. Add the canned tomatoes, 2/3 can of water (about 1 C), and diced chillies to the pot and break down the tomatoes with a spoon to the size you prefer.
  3. Reduce heat to simmer and add bay leaf, chili powder, and cloves.
  4. Cover and allow to simmer for 1 hour. Chili will thicken while cooking.
  5. After an hour, remove the bay leaf and cloves and add the beans (make sure to rinse and drain them first). Cover again and allow to simmer for an additional 20-30 minutes.
  6. When finished simmering, add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with cornbread, corn chips, or your favorite chili side.
As you can tell from the healthy, simple ingredients, this recipe is really flavorful but very healthy. Hope you all enjoy it!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Restaurant Reviews - 42 Degrees North Latitude

Hope everyone is enjoying their weekend. Sorry for lack of updates! I do have a new restaurant review for you all though, for 42 Degrees North Latitude located in the Lincoln Square/North Center neighborhood of Chicago. You can find it here on Yelp or as always click through the widget in the sidebar. Hope everyone is gearing up for Superbowl Parties next weekend! What's on your game day menu? Stay tuned to see what I'll be making.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Big City Slider Station Scores Big!

So I'm kind of a sucker for infomercials...although luckily I usually can control myself and not give in to most of the seemingly tempting food gadgets that you see on TV during off hours. But one that really piqued my interest was the Big City Slider Station, since my friends and I really love getting mini burgers whenever we're out at bars - and who doesn't? There are many mini burger making products on the market now, but the Big City Slider Station advertises fairly often on TV, with the famous Billy Mays selling it to at-home viewers (RIP Billy). When I saw it at a local drug store on sale for only $9.99, I figured I would give it a try.

I am really happy I bought this product, and I recommend it to anyone if you can find it on sale (I honestly wouldn't pay the MSRP on this just because it's pretty simply a frying pan press with 5 slots for tiny burger patties). I thawed some ground beef and gave this product a try on Friday night and everyone who tried the burgers loved them. It comes with a scoop so it's easy to measure out the right amount of meat to make uniform patties that fit in the wells, and the pan really does quickly and evenly cook the burgers, although I found it does take a little longer than they claim - my burgers averaged about 4-6 minutes. I'm planning on busting this out on Superbowl Sunday for sure.

There are about as many variations of the slider as there are on standard sized burgers, which is something nice too. Turkey burgers, chicken burgers, steak burgers, sausage sliders, etc. The slider station comes with a little pamphlet of recipes that you can try, and there are also a number of recipes online that you can look up. I stuck to just making ground sirloin burgers, but mixed it up a little, making a few bacon and bleu cheese-topped, as well as a couple topped with pepperjack cheese and salsa, along with some basic cheeseburgers with slices of American on top - excellent with just some ketchup and mustard. We even cooked eggs in the pan the next day and served them on biscuits with bacon and cheese - also delicious and variable.

Dinner rolls are perfect-sized buns. I was a little worried about finding slider buns, but the brown-n-serve Jewel rolls were cheap and well-sized. Pepperridge farm makes great dinner rolls for this, too, or you can do what one of my favorite bars, Gaslight in Lincoln Park, does and serve them on King's Hawaiian rolls (a little sweet, soo good!). Here is a recipe that King's features on their website - Grilled Teri Sliders.

The only downside to the Big City Slider Station really is that it's not as non-stick as it claims to be, and it can kind of be a pain to clean, but it really wasn't too difficult and not enough of a problem to turn me off of the product. I would say it's definitely worth a try, and a worthy addition to your collection of kitchen gadgets, especially for game days or if you want to save money but still enjoy bar-style appetizers. Stay posted for future recipes, as I anticipate using the slider station as often as possible.

Kate's Grade: A-

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chicken Rollatini

This is a simple, but impressive dish that doesn't take very long to make and goes great over pasta. I based the recipe on one that I saw in an ad for Classico Pasta Sauce (my favorite inexpensive jarred sauce) in Better Homes and Gardens magazine. The original recipe can be found here, but I decided to make a couple swaps and think it turned out really well (sorry the pic isn't very good). For a less meaty/healthier version, no salami is needed - it's delicious with or without it!

Chicken Rollatini with Spinach

3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 jar chunky marinara sauce
12 slices salami (optional)
1 1/2 C frozen spinach
2 C low fat shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp lemon pepper (or course-ground pepper blended with some lemon zest if you don't have lemon pepper)
1 tsp sea salt

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Thaw spinach and squeeze out the excess water. In a bowl, mix half of the spinach (3/4 C) with the shredded cheese, oregano, lemon pepper, and salt.
  3. Cut each piece of chicken in half and flatten them out so they're 1/2 an inch thick. Construct the rollatini by laying out the flattened chicken and placing 2 slices of salami over the piece. Then place a small pile of some of the cheese mixture down the center of the meat and roll together by bringing the two edges together on top of the cheese, securing along the seam with a toothpick or half of a skewer
  4. Spread enough sauce to coat the bottom of a large glass baking dish. Place the rollatini on top of the sauce layer. Mix the remaining sauce and spinach together and spread over the top of the rollatini. If you have any cheese mixture or shredded cheese leftover, it can be spread as a top layer - this is up to you.
  5. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until cheese melts and chicken is cooked thoroughly. Serve over whole wheat pasta (I suggest rotini or penne) or on its own.
One thing that you may have difficulty with is flattening the chicken. I found this "Cooking Light" thread to be helpful. Here are some things that I learned from trial and error:
  • Definitely use plastic wrap around the chicken instead of a ziploc bag. When I tried flattening chicken in the bag, the bag broke along the bottom seam and the chicken slid out
  • A large can is better than a pot or pan if you don't have a meat tenderizer, mallet, or rolling pin. In my case, the pans were a little too heavy and the chicken tore easily. It's easier to control the flattening with a can
  • If the chicken does tear or break, still use it while constructing the rollatini as if it's one piece. If you can get them constructed and in the baking dish, once they bake, you can't even tell that the chicken ever broke - pieces or tears will cook together
As you can see just from the original recipe and my variation, there are so many different things that would taste awesome in this recipe that can either be layered with the chicken or mixed in with the cheese. Best of luck trying it out on your own!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Restaurant Reviews: Reel Club - Oak Brook, IL

Hey everyone!

Check out my newest restaurant review for the Reel Club in Oak Brook, IL here on Yelp. While you're there, feel free to check out my past reviews.

I will update here to let you guys know when I've written new ones, or you can also check out the sidebar for my Yelp widget, which shows past reviews. Hope they are helpful for your dining in Chicagoland! More to come.

Using Odds and Ends: Shredded Potatoes

We had some leftover shredded potatoes in the fridge that were going to get tossed in a couple of days, so we had been trying to find a way to get rid of them. I figured I would give it a go and came up with this variation on potato pancakes, inspired by loaded baked potatoes, that can be made with ingredients you most likely have around your kitchen. These would make a great breakfast or brunch food, but I just ate them for a snack. For some of the ingredients I used, you can use other versions of the same thing (i.e. I used whole wheat flour, you can obviously use normal flour) but some of my swaps make it a little healthier.

"Baked Potato" Pancakes
2 C shredded potatoes
2 eggs
1/4 C whole wheat white flour
1 Tbsp water
3 slices of bacon, cooked (or approx. 2 Tbsp bacon bits)
1-2 Tbsp chopped onion or chives (can use fresh or dried)
1/3 C reduced fat shredded cheese (whatever type you prefer)
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp pepper

  1. Crack eggs into a medium sized mixing bowl and mix with flour and water.
  2. Chop the slices of bacon into tiny bits and add with the shredded cheese, chopped onion or chives, and shredded potatoes to the bowl.
  3. Mix all ingredients together, making sure everything is thoroughly coated with the wet ingredients and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Heat a large skillet or frying pan on medium high heat and spray with nonstick cooking spray or coat with vegetable oil for a crispier pancake. Once skillet is hot (make sure it is, otherwise the pancakes won't be crispy enough), add the potato mixture in about 1 1/2 Tbsp amounts onto the cooking surface. Make sure the pancakes lay only about 1/2 inch tall so they cook all the way through.
  5. Cook the pancakes for about 3 minutes on each side (time depends on how hot the skillet is) or until they are browned on each side and the mixture is cooked all the way through. Serve warm with your favorite toppings like sour cream or salsa.
Recipe yields about 6-8 pancakes, depending on size.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

One of my favorite things: Sriracha Sauce

**Note: Please bear with me as I'm getting started and becoming accustomed to getting my ideas out. Thanks!**

So one thing I like to do is make recommendations to people about different food items and kitchen items that I love. I figured why not start with one of the best?

Sriracha sauce (made by Huy Fong Foods) is a versatile must-have condiment to me - I think it's by far the best hot sauce and I'm definitely not the only one. This hot sauce has been getting a lot more attention lately and even has a number of fan pages as well as was featured in an article in the New York Times. This hot sauce has a unique hint of garlic and other flavors making the spiciness more complex than your average hot sauce. Although I can tolerate heat, I typically just add a few drops to my food and it does the trick. I most like putting it on cooked vegetables and stir fry, but it's also really good in chili, soup, on rice, and almost anything else you could think of, which is one reason it's so great to have around.

Last summer I discovered that it's perfect to use when making buffalo sauce and since then I've been tweaking my recipe to improve it. Here's one that I changed to make it a different kind of wing sauce that hopefully you enjoy. I made it today while I was watching football and it's a great party snack. This uses a lot of Sriracha, so it's very hot! Most of these ingredients can be added to taste as you're making the sauce, so you can make it your own version! Also keep in mind that this makes enough sauce to coat a lot of wings, so it might be perfect for your Superbowl Parties.

Kate's Hot and Sweet Buffalo Wings

1-3 lbs chicken wings (thawed and rinsed if frozen when purchased)
1 Tbsp Vegetable oil
1/4 C Sriracha sauce (less if you don't want it too hot)
3/4 C Ketchup
1 Tbsp Vinegar (apple cider works well)
1 tsp of Soy Sauce
2 Tbsp butter or margarine
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
Dash of cinnamon
Dash of cumin (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Begin by patting chicken wings dry and brushing both sides of each wing with the vegetable oil. (wings can also be deep-fried if you prefer)
  2. Arrange the wings on a non-stick or foil lined cookie sheet. Bake wings for 22 minutes, then turn over and bake for 22 minutes more until wings are cooked thoroughly and are a crispy golden brown on each side. (*Cooking time may vary based on oven and size of wings, but will average 20-25 minutes per side)
  3. Begin preparing the sauce in a small pot on the stove set to medium heat. Melt the butter or margarine in the bottom of the pot.
  4. Add the Sriracha, ketchup, vinegar, and soy sauce next. Once you stir those together, add the dry ingredients. Allow to simmer for approx. 8 minutes to blend the flavors, but not too long or it will reduce too much and get gunky.
  5. Coat the wings with the sauce and serve with celery and ranch or blue cheese dressing

The cinammon is what makes the sauce slightly sweet. Not much is needed in order to notice it, so really add only a dash to begin with and see how you feel about it. Hope you enjoy this version of buffalo wings!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Birth of my Food Blog

Welcome to my food blog. You might be thinking "Oh great, another one!" I'm not setting out to be revolutionary or superior with this endeavor, but cooking and food are some of my great passions, so here I hope to share with you some successes (as well as failures) in the kitchen, tips and ideas, recipes I like, cooking show commentary, reviews of restaurants I tried, and other food related posts that you will hopefully find interesting.

So how did I get to this point? As a post-college twenty-something, I recently have been searching for new hobbies to fill in the time when I'm not working or trying to find a new job. Since my graduation, I found myself bored, without a job in my chosen profession due to my seemingly impossible job search, and somewhat down about my situation in this poor economy. One thing that always was a great distraction was cooking for myself and those I love, whether it was helping out at home (my parent's house in the suburbs, where I moved a couple months after graduating), making snacks for friends, or experimenting with cooking for myself and my boyfriend.

Some things about me - I spend a lot of my time in the city, where I walk everywhere, so most of the places I go are on the North side of Chicago. This is where I most often eat, shop, and cook and have been since I moved here to go to DePaul University 5 years ago. In my opinion, it's one of the best places to be! Some of the places I may mention are only in the area, but others are located all over.

I am also all about health, but not obsessively. Since I, like many women, spend most of my life on a diet, I try to cook using healthy ingredients and substitutions as often as possible. I'm a former vegetarian and have taken nutrition classes in the past, so I know a thing or two - but most of the time I try to cheat the system by cooking healthfully so that you wouldn't know it. Even though I used to be a veg and avoid meat some of the time for health reasons, I am a reformed meat lover! So you will see all sorts of stuff on here. One thing I believe helped me evolve as a foodie was opening myself up to all different kinds of foods. With that said, I love indulging in good food and sometimes what might be classified as "garbage" but not very often. I have a soft spot for junk food and I'm done trying to deny that.

One standard I do hold myself to is buying sustainable and organic food when possible because it's not only good for you, but good for everyone (more posts about this to follow). This can sometimes be expensive, but it's often worth it. Though I am on a tight budget because I work as a nanny and am trying to get a "real" job, so sometimes I make exceptions to this. I cook on a budget, so as often as possible I will buy the cheaper options so I hope to pass along some of these saving tips also.

So thanks for stopping by and checking out my dish. Feel free to leave feedback - I like hearing other people's takes and I acknowledge that I still have a lot to learn.