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.