Archive for September, 2011

Okay, okay.  I know I’ve been missing in action for over a month now.  The last post I made talked about an interview in Los Angeles, a city which is now my home 🙂  Yup, I got the job!  Which explains why for the past four or five weeks I haven’t focused much on cooking or blogging (or working out, haha).  Making the arrangements to move your life some 2300 miles is time-consuming and exhausting.  However, this big tumultuous event in my life allowed me to check two more things off my current food bucket list!  Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? 😉

As my moving date got closer, there were a lot of good-byes happening.  The week before I left, my mom and I met my aunt and uncle and two cousins in Green Bay for dinner.  My aunt suggested the Green Bay Distillery, which is pretty new.  I love me some good pub food, so we agreed.  She had seen my blog post about my food bucket list, and the fried pickles entry caught her attention 🙂  She’d had them at this place, so when we met up she said we had to try them.  As a side note, her and the boys also said I needed to try the “Wisconsin White Buffalo Cheese Curds.”  The menu describes them as “Breaded deep fried cheese curds tossed in our championship hot sauce. Topped with Bleu cheese crumbles and served with a ranch dipping sauce.”  Okay, seriously?  That’s like three of my favorite things (curds, wings, bleu cheese) in one food item.  I was in heaven, to say the least.  I will be dreaming about those things out here in California until the next time I can get home to Wisco!  The real excitement came when the fried pickles came out with our entrees (I had the cheese curd burger on a pretzel bun.  Delicious.)!  The Distillery uses dill pickle chips in this case, though I’ve been told you can also get dill spears deep-fried.  This was pure salty, crunchy heaven!  The pickles were very thin, and the breading was too, so they balanced each other well.  This resulted in a really deep, salty flavor from the pickle without it tasting too much like an actual vinegary pickle (is this even making sense?!).  I can best sum up my experience as YUM.  Thanks Aunt Suz for a delightful going away meal…I still have to pick up some wine to christen my new glass, though 😉

So, I’m 2 for 2 on bucket list entries.  Feeling pretty good.  And then Alison and I finalize the route we’re taking to drive out to California and it becomes apparent…I’ll be able to check off a third entry.

Why?  Because I can be a bit of a panicky driver, and even though it was September, I didn’t feel like driving the “short” route from Wisco to Cali through Denver and the heart of the Rockies.  I’d never really seen what the interstate through the mountains looked like, though I’d had plenty of experience with other roads full of switchbacks in March.  I decided I’d pass.  A more southern route would allow us to see new parts of the country (we’d both been in Colorado before), including the Grand Canyon!  And a more southern route meant we’d be able to spend our first night on the road in Kansas City.  Home of Oklahoma Joe’s!

Our first day of driving was our easiest by far.  I had driven a lot of these roads before, which always makes you more comfortable.  Plus, it was a short day.  I left home at 7 a.m., and we were in KC by 6:30, even with an hour stop in Madison to have breakfast with our littlest sister one last time (“hey Oney!” 😉 ).  We grabbed a light lunch at Subway somewhere in Iowa in anticipation of our barbeque dinner feast.  Once we checked in to the hotel, we freshened up a bit.  Not sure why, as we were heading to a gas station to eat bbq.  Haha.  Anyways, we got there, and the line was to the door.  Not out the door, thru the hall and into the parking lot (like Pappy’s), but to the door nonetheless.  This is when things got ugly.  We picked up a menu, scoured it…and to our dismay, found NO burnt ends anywhere on the paper.  Or on the huge menu written on the wall.  My heart sank a little.  But clearly, with a line this long and so many people happily chowing down, whatever was on the menu was pretty tasty.  So we sucked up our disappointment.  It only took about 30 minutes to get our order in.  We decided this food experience would be more about comparisons than trying something new & both ordered the brisket.  The selection of side dishes here was smaller and less exciting than Pappy’s (and you only get one).  I got regular creamy cole slaw and Ali got a spicy version.  I liked mine just fine, but my favorite cole slaw will always be the one served at home during Hunting and Fishing Club trout boils with that amazing oil and celery seed dressing.  I tried Ali’s, and the only difference was some added spices (probably one of the bbq rubs).  It wasn’t really spicy or anything to rave about, but it wasn’t not good.  Our meals also came with what was essentially Texas toast.  We agreed we did like the fact that the bread was toasted, unlike the plain old slices of Wonder bread you get at Pappy’s 🙂

Now to the meat.  (I love being able to type phrases like that, they make me laugh!)

It was perfect brisket!  Not too fatty, but enough so for some nice flavor and tenderness.  Thinly sliced and amazingly seasoned.  It was definitely a little more peppery than Pappy’s (and the sauces here had a bit more kick too).  So there were subtle differences.  And we stuffed our faces in about 15 minutes 🙂  In the end, we were full and happy and the phrase I used was “this isn’t any better or worse than Pappy’s.”  I think the overall experience (besides the waiting) is better over in The Lou when comparing these two joints.  And the sides (oh that deep-fried corn on the cob) are DEFINITELY better over there.  And of course, there’s the disappointment of not actually getting to try what was actually on my bucket list.  So I suppose I can only count this entry as half done.  In fact, I think I’ll go edit my list to reflect this fact 🙂

Once I got to L.A. and got cable hooked up, the Travel Channel was doing a big thing on barbeque.  It made me giggle.  On their Top Ten list, KC got a a place in the #2 slot.  Arthur Bryant’s, here I come!  Well, someday.  If I can help it, I will never make that drive in reverse!  Oklahoma and northern Texas were awful wastelands (no offense to the fine citizens of these places, in fact…God bless you!).  The saving grace of that second day driving through these areas was when a Google search sent us to lunch at Irma’s Burger Shack in Oklahoma City.  Oh.  My.  God.  The beef down there.  The charbroiled goodness.  Oh, and….Irma’s has damn good fried pickles too 😉


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One of the restaurants we frequent in Oshkosh is Benvenuto’s Italian Grill, which is where I had the dish that inspired this recipe.  Yes, that title says Southwest and yes, the restaurant is Italian, but stay with me here!  Now I’ve never been to Italy, but it seems to me this place is a pretty Americanized version of Italian.  It has a big menu that would probably make Gordon Ramsay want to rant while he takes his shirt off, and its got a lot of items that aren’t really Italian: burgers, French dip, and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, for example.  It does have a large selection of pizzas, calzones and pastas, though; and in the many times I’ve been there over the past couple years I’ve never had a bad meal.  One of the memorable dishes I had was off their features menu and called something like Baja Chicken Pasta.  I really enjoyed it, and was struck by how similar it was to the Cajun chicken pasta recipe we make which made me figure I could replicate the dish at home.

The first time I tried this it didn’t have quite as much flavor and spicy hotness that we love in the Cajun version so each subsequent attempt I’ve adjusted it a bit.  I thought I had finally tweaked it just right, but I found out when I made this last night I was totally wrong.  When I first tried my new recipe idea I stuck close to the Cajun Chicken Pasta recipe and used heavy cream as well as sour cream garnish as I had had it in the restaurant.  It turned out too creamy and I wanted a way to get that sauciness without drowning out the flavors and spices.  Danielle suggested trying cream cheese so when Philadelphia’s new Cooking Creme went on sale (and I had a coupon) I picked up the Santa Fe Blend to test it out.  Turns out this is exactly what the recipe needed.  In a pinch I think using just sour cream as I had been before this would be fine, but if this stuff is on sale again I will snatch it up and stock pile it (it keeps great in the freezer, by the way).

Also, remember my geek-out over already prepped chicken when I made tacos a wile back?  Well I fulfilled my little dream a couple weeks ago when chicken breasts were on sale and cooked, shredded and froze 3 bags of shredded chicken.  I pulled one out to thaw in anticipation of whipping up Southwest Chicken Pasta and it was as easy and fast as I had expected.  Oh and as with Cajun Chicken Pasta, know your spice threshold and seasoning blend, and if you do use cooking creme its got quite a bit of flavor and kick so feel free to use a little less of the blend.

Here’s the recipe, I estimate it makes about 8 big servings…

An earlier version of the dish, before the discovery of cooking creme.

3/4  lb. rotini; cooked
2 T. butter
3 chicken breasts; cooked and shredded or cut into bite-sized pieces
3 cloves garlic; minced or chopped

1 bunch green onion; chopped
1 red pepper; chopped
1 can sweet corn; drained (or the kernels of about 3 ears fresh sweet corn)
1 can black beans; drained and rinsed
1 ½ – 2 T. Southwest Chipotle seasoning
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. red (cayenne) pepper
½ to 1 cup fat free sour cream OR 1 container Philadelphia Cooking Creme Santa Fe Blend
Optional for garnishing:  Shredded Mexican cheese blend, dollop sour cream, green onion tops

Melt butter in skillet and cook chicken over medium-high heat.
Add garlic, onion, peppers and seasonings.  Reduce heat to low, cover and cook about 5 min until peppers are soft.
Add corn and beans, cook til heated through

Stir in sour cream (I usually add in a 1/4 cup at a time until I get the desired coating) OR Philly cooking creme

.  Simmer 2-3 minutes.
Stir in pasta.  (I add it to the pot I cooked the pasta in so the skillet doesn’t overflow ;D)
Top with cheese, sour cream or onion tops or just dig in and enjoy!

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What’s in a Wardrobe?

I know Danielle has been busy lately, but I really have no excuse for my lack of new posts.  I have just been plain lazy.  Well, not that lazy.  I did whip up something tasty to share in a guest post on my friends blog.  You can check out Nibs, Nabs, Knots for our recipes for Friendship Dip and Pizza by the Yard as her Tasty Tuesday article.

Other than that, I haven’t been up to much in the kitchen, but this post’ll give you a peek at what I’ve been up to in my closet.  During my recent move out of my apartment I did a purge and sent quite a load of clothes to Goodwill.  Along with skirts and sweaters I never wear anymore I also sent away my classic white shirt.  I had bought it on sale years ago and still loved it, but I had to face facts: it just didn’t fit quite right anymore, I needed a new one.

As I did a little virtual window shopping for a new white shirt I started thinking about the rest of my wardrobe.  I’d had a little epiphany: it was about time I graduated from a (worn and torn) jeans and (graphic printed) t-shirt wardrobe to a more classic and professional wardrobe.  I turned to the great and powerful Google to guide me on my search for what this new wardrobe should entail.  There are a lot of articles and lists out there, but a few things keep popping up on nearly every one; and it turns out I’ve got a pretty good start already.

According to a quiz attached to one of the articles (which of course I can’t link to because I forgot to bookmark it) I have a classic style, or a combination of casual and classic.  Clearly the answers are geared to pigeonhole you into one style genre and depending on what I’m wearing I could fit into a couple different ones, but casual/classic does seem to work the best.  I’m not overly trendy or really up-to-date on the latest styles, nor am I very eclectic in my clothing choices.  I wear simple comfortable clothes in a mostly white/black/brown/denim palette with some bright colored t-shirts thrown in.  The great thing about having a “classic” style is that the building blocks of a classic wardrobe are already some of my favorite pieces and they virtually never go out of style.  I do have a few gaps, and I should start spending a little more on these items when I buy them, but I don’t have a bad start.

Where I’m Set:

  • Black Trousers – a few years ago I dropped a couple pants sizes and bought a better fitting pair at New York & Company, they’re still hanging in my closet and still look great when needed.
  • Black blazer – I just snagged one at the Gap that fits like a glove and was on sale for over 50% off that I can’t wait to have an occasion to wear.
  • Knee Length skirt – last year I went on a hunt for a high-waisted black pencil skirt and found one I love at JC Penney, I’ll probably have to hunt again in a couple years when the style is too dated but for now I got this one covered.
  • White button-down shirt – I found a replacement for my old favorite at Express.com so I don’t have to put this one back on the wish-list.

Speaking of… My “Wish-List” of Wardrobe Staples

  • Jeans – ok, I’ve got quite a stack of jeans, but only 1 or 2 pair that really fit great and I like the look of.  I’m making it a goal to stop buying whatever style/wash is in my size on the clearance rack and buy some quality denim that will last a while and I will love for the duration.
  • Trench coat – I live in Wisconsin (for now) so I have a good everyday winter coat and a cute wool one in a houndstooth pattern that’s a bit dressier, but I always lacked something for nice events if it was rainy or cooler in spring/fall.  This is number one on big buys for myself as I want to invest in a quality coat that will last years from a brand like London Fog, and the price tag will probably be well over $100.
  • Little Black Dress – my junior year homecoming dress was my first LBD.  I fell in love with it immediately and it lasted me through my college years, but it’s time for a new one.  There are about a bajillion choices out there so I’m waiting for another love-at-first-sight dress rather than splurging on any old thing.
  • Cardigans – I feel like a black sweater has been on my list of clothes to buy forever.  I somehow still have not replaced the one I lost my freshman year of college.
  • Evening clutch and a nice purse – I am not a purse girl (I go in Coach just to ogle the sneakers).  I have been rocking one made out of juice pouches for years – and still get lots of compliments on it – but I admit I need to get something that will look good when I’m wearing anything other than jeans and hoodie.

These are the biggies, the things I feel are missing from my wardrobe and make me feel like I have nothing to wear sometimes.  There are other pieces that pop up on the lists, but they aren’t a priority for me right now.  Also there are things I wish I had that would not add anything to my overall wardrobe options, but would be fun to have on occasion [for example: bright colored wellies :)]

I’m making it a goal to narrow down that wish list by the end of this year (maybe have everything except the trench coat).  It makes me feel very grown up and happy to know that I have the makings of a classic professional wardrobe.  That same feeling I get buying something from my kitchen wish list, like my chef knife or cast iron skillet.

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Once again I have been away for awhile.  I have been cooking, I’m just too lazy to blog about it (and anyway most of it was nothing much to blog about).  However, last week I did whip up some Cajun Chicken Pasta, which I think is long overdue to be blogged about.

If I remember correctly Cajun Chicken Pasta was first discovered by Danielle and her college roommates and after she made it at home for the rest of our family it has quickly become a favorite.  When she sent me the recipe and I read it over for the first time I was (as usual) slightly overwhelmed – for a college student who had barely graduated from mac & cheese and Hamburger Helper it seemed so complicated.  It was full of fancy ingredients like heavy cream and green onions and used spices other than salt!*

The thing about Cajun chicken pasta is for all its “fancy” ingredients, it’s quite simple.  It’s practically a one pot meal and I think you’d be hard pressed to screw it up unless you completely burnt the chicken or severely undercooked the pasta or something.  I think it was the perfect stepping stone for me at that point in my cooking education – I learned that recipes aren’t always as intimidating as they look written down and some ingredients aren’t so much “fancy” as they are just not staples you always have on hand.  Within a few years I have grown to the point where I can make this pretty much from memory and I have even adapted it into a recipe of my own: Southwest Chicken Pasta, but that’s a blog for another day.

Here’s the original recipe as Danielle emailed it me complete with her notations:

3/4 lb. rotini, cooked (obviously, any noodle works)
2 T. butter
2 chicken breasts (or however much you want)
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch green onion (we’ve used a reg. white or yellow onion…but the green onions have a bit more kick to them)
2 T. cajun seasoning
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. red (cayenne) pepper
8 oz. heavy whipping cream
1 each red and green pepper, chopped (I only ever use red)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan

While cooking noodles, melt butter in skillet and cook chicken over medium-high heat.  Either cook them whole like I do and shred with forks, or cut the raw chicken into chunks before you cook.  I usually also put some water in so the chicken doesn’t burn and then cover the skillet so it cooks faster.  If you use a lot of water, drain it off before continuing.

Anyways, add the garlic, onion, and the other seasonings/peppers.  Cover and cook for about 5 minutes on lower heat.  Basically, cook until the peppers are soft enough for your liking.

Stir in cream and simmer 2-3 minutes.
Stir in Parmesan, and then the cooked pasta.

The only note I add is know your taste buds and your spice blend.  For Danielle it is full spice and maybe a little extra, for me and Chris it is about 3/4ths, for our mom (who thinks black pepper can be too spicy) it is about 1/4th.  And the blends change from brand to brand, I’d always used McCormick’s, but when I had to buy Cajun seasoning this past week the only option at Festival Foods was a bag of their house brand which turned out to be a bit sweeter than I’m used to.  When I first made southwest style at my parents I had to go with Emeril’s brand which was about twice as hot as the Mrs. Dash I had been using.  If you’re not sure what your limit is, I’d just add the spices a 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon or tablespoon at a time and taste test, remembering that you can always add more to your bowl if its not spicy enough for you or serve with a big glass of milk to cut the heat!

*Relax, I do know that salt is not a spice, just joking about how limited my cooking experience was back then 🙂

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