Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday's Letters

Dear Blog world,
I apologize for neglecting my posting so much this week.  Quarterly sales meeting at the office=me trapped in a hot kitchen feeding an angry mob of sales people all week.  It's been exhausting.  Forgive me?

Dear cottage,
I am so excited to see you and spend an ENTIRE week with you starting Saturday.  I haven't had the time to stay more than a few days in years and I absolutely cannot wait to relax, decompress, read, work on my cookbook and, fingers crossed, improve my tan!

Dear Scott,
Thanks for being such a sweet and supportive husband.  It takes a pretty special man to be able to handle my multiple personalities.

Dear brain,
Please stop thinking when I ask you too--you're tiring me out!

Since I'll be out of town until next Saturday, I can't promise a post this week, but I promise a food-filled day as soon as I get home!

Have a happy week :)


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Social!

Sunday Social
Favorite handbag you've ever owned:
My husband just got this one for me a couple of months ago and I love it!  (Sorry it's sideways--my computer refuses to rotate this pic and it's actually driving me nuts..)

Dream handbag you lust over:
I don't think I "lust" over any bags, but here are a couple I love right now;

MICHAEL Michael Kors MICHAEL Michael Kors  Tristan Large Shoulder Tote
 Daily essentials in your purse or work bag:
Wallet, phone, camera, lip balm/gloss, hair ties and pins, hand sanitizer, lotion, gum, pen and notebook.  Pretty basic, really.
What's in your purse(with pictures):

Everything I already mentioned, along with a receipt, granola bar--my husband gets grumpy if he's hungry, a wine key--because you just never know when you might need one, and headphones.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Healthy AND Delicious?

I hate the term "health food".  It just doesn't sound so appealing to me.  I love all types of food and, honestly, it's not always healthy.  I find taking small steps to improve the nutritional value of the foods I already love makes staying healthy a lot easier than constantly depriving myself.  I will never be the type to live off of celery sticks and spinach smoothies.  

I absolutely love pancakes and waffles.  I like making them by replacing half of the white flour with whole wheat.  Not only is it healthier, but I find it actually gives them a more "nutty" flavor.  I also jam-pack them with fresh fruits, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and/or lemon.  The more flavor in the pancake, the less syrup necessary (make sure you always use real maple syrup--it's still sugar, but it's REAL sugar!).

These stuffed peppers are a great recipe.  They're low-carb, low-fat and packed with nutrients.  I used lean ground turkey with classic taco seasonings, quinoa, black beans, and just a bit of melted cheese over the top.  So tasty and absolutely packed with protein and vitamins.

While I was pre-wedding dieting last year, I found great value in cutting my meat intake practically in half.  Meat can be very healthy when you choose the right kinds.  Fish, poultry, and lean pork are great, but all red meats should be very limited.  One of my favorite vegetarian meals is the veggie wrap above.  It's made with spinach, corn, peppers,guacamole, and hot sauce.  The healthy fats in the avocado and the spicy hot sauce make it so satisfying.

Forgive the blurry photo, but these cookies are genius!  They're made with whole wheat flour, whole grain oats, banana (to replace the butter!), Chia seeds (look these up--they're AWESOME), and antioxidant rich dark chocolate chips.  I'm not kidding, these are so delicious and completely guilt free.

I'd love to hear some of your favorite ways to save a few calories without skimping on flavor! 

Enjoy your weekends

Monday, July 16, 2012

Greek yogurt craze

Another day, another adventure with the ice cream maker.  It may not be super obvious, but I'm actually really into living a healthy lifestyle.  I do treat myself occasionally, but I believe in all things in moderation.  I'm all about finding ways to satisfy my sweet tooth without completely undoing my day.  This recipe is THE BEST.

Start by combining 6 oz of fresh blueberries and 6 oz of fresh strawberries with 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 tsp of vanilla extract, and 1 tbsp of water. 

Bring the mixture up to a simmer and allow it to cook for about 10 minutes--until it looks like this^.

Allow the fruit mixture to cool completely, then add it to a food processor and puree it as chunky or as smooth as you like.

Fold in 1 1/2-2 cups of fat free, plain Greek yogurt.  The amount you add is up to you.  I like a fruitier mixture, so I add less, but it's a matter of personal preference.  I also add another 1/2 cup or so of fresh, whole blueberries for a little texture.

Finally, add the mixture to your ice cream maker and allow it to freeze for 15-20 minutes.

Eat it right away or put the mixture in the freezer for a few hours if you like a more frozen texture.  So creamy, delicious, and super healthy!

Seriously, if you have not joined the Greek yogurt generation, you're missing out.  It's thick, creamy, fat free, and has 22 grams of protein per cup!  It's versatility is another bonus.  Use it for sweets, on its own, or even for savory sauces.  Yum!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday Social

Sunday Social

 I decided to switch things up and try out a Sunday Social link up this week!

This weeks questions:

Best trip you've ever been on?

This is a tough one for me.  I've been very blessed to have been on some pretty awesome trips.  Honestly, it's a 50/50 tie.  My first favorite was spending a week in Paris with Scott about three years ago.  We had friends who rented an apartment there for a month, so we had a free place to stay.  We had a blast!
I can't get over how young we look in this picture..
My other favorite trip was our honeymoon last August.  We went to Maui and it was incredible.  We spend half the trip in Lahaina, a more tourist-y part, and the second half in Wailea.  Our gift from my parents was staying in a delux ocean view suite in one of the nicest resorts--the Grand Wailea.  It was absolutely amazing!
 The view from our suite in Wailea
 Dinner at the resort
 The pool at The Grand Wailea

Best idea for a girls weekend trip?
I love taking girl friends up to my cottage on Lake Michigan.  We usually just vedge around on the beach drinking wine and reading trashy magazines, but it's always a good time!

 I also love going to Chicago.  It's close enough to where I live that it makes an easy weekend trip.

Best idea for a couples trip? 
My cottage is always cheap.  Just gas, food, and booze!  
Any trip where you can stay with a friend or family member is a great way to save money.  Scott and I also like to find a grocery store right away to stock up on some staples so we only have to go out to eat once or twice per day.  (Since I'm there, it's usually more like twice :) )
Place you most want to visit?
I have SO many places on my list.  Right now, I think Italy is at the top of my list.  I'm dying to see Tuscany, Florence, Rome, and the Italian coast.

Vacation necessities?
I really love dressing up on vacation, so I always over pack.  A girl needs options!  Aside from that, a good book, camera, and comfortable (still cute) shoes!

Have a good Sunday Funday!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Wonton magic

Some of my favorite things to keep stocked in my kitchen are pre-made egg roll sheets and wonton wrappers.  They're so versatile and can be used to create so many different things.  Here are just a few of many examples:

The most obvious use for wonton wraps is, duh, wontons!  For these pork potstickers, I made a filling of ground pork and Thai seasonings, seared them in oil, then steamed them in a covered pot for about five minutes.  Simple and delicious!  As an added tip; make extra, freeze them raw, then just thaw and cook them whenever you want!

When I don't feel like making my own pasta dough and want to whip up a quick and tasty meal, I'll use wonton wrappers as make shift ravioli dough.  These are stuffed with ricotta cheese, spinach, chicken, and Italian  seasonings.  They're sealed, boiled in salted water for about 4 minutes, and topped with a lemon-garlic oil.  Yum!

These chicken pesto "egg rolls" are the tastiest lunch, appetizer, or dinner idea!  You can get creative with the filling; just stuff, roll the egg roll up like a burrito, and pan sear them in oil until they're crispy all around.  Pan searing limits the amount of fat you would get if they were deep fried (if you don't mind the extra calories, deep frying works too!)  So tasty and so easy!

Just for a moment of innocent self promotion-- I'm published!  I recently got the opportunity to review a new restaurant in town and it was published this week.  Here's the link!

Have a happy Friday and an awesome weekend!

Monday, July 9, 2012

365 days later..

Today marks one year since my husband, Scott, and I were married.  I can't believe how fast the time has gone and cannot begin to explain how incredibly blessed I feel to be his wife.  If what they say is true; that the first year is the toughest year of marriage, I think we're in for a pretty amazing forever!

As usual, he did spoil me a bit in the gifts department.  I am so excited about my new ice cream maker attachment for my Kitchen Aid!  Here is my first attempt at a delicious frozen treat:

Bailey's Ice Cream

This is a very simple recipe of an ice cream base and the Bailey's added in at the end.
I think I'll have to try it with chocolate chips mixed in :)

For our anniversary dinner tonight, Scott requested Thai food.  I'm making pork pot stickers for the appetizer followed by my first attempt at recreating PF Changs' lettuce wraps with soy rice for dinner.  They're one of my favorites!

And, of course, year-old frozen wedding cake for dessert!  I guess the new ice cream will have to wait until tomorrow.

Have a happy Monday!

As always, if you're interested in the recipe from this post, let me know.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Making the most out of leftovers

I'll be the first to admit that one of my biggest pet peeves is a disorganized, dirty fridge.  That being said, I also realize how easy it is to become overloaded with Tupperware filled with leftovers.  Revamping last night's dinner is not only a really fun way to get creative in the kitchen, it's also economically very wise.  Here are a few examples of some meals I've whipped up recently.

My husband absolutely loves salmon night.  He tends to eat more with his eyes and forgets how filling salmon is.  The result--usually tons of leftover fish.  These salmon cakes are probably my favorite thing to make with the extras.  I pack them with tons of veggies, corn, and spices to give them great color and flavor.  Serve them with a spicy yogurt sauce or aioli to give them a creamy kick.  If you have a recipe for crab cakes you really love, you can use the same formula for these.  Feel free to add and take away anything you'd like-it's your kitchen!

I am a firm believer in always having a well-stocked kitchen.  You'll never find me out of items like oils, spices, eggs, cheese, etc.  I usually stock up on items that won't spoil and make a small list of items that I need to restock or purchase fresh weekly.  For this quiche, I use diced up left over smoked ham from last night's dinner, eggs, Swiss cheese from the freezer, milk, parsley, caramelized onion, and garlic.  You can either purchase a prepared pie crust (seriously, it s a great product) from the grocery store, or make your own.  I think the depth of flavor you get from those ingredients alone is plenty, so I find a little salt and black pepper is all you need for spices.  I like having the option of serving them as cute little single serves, or making a large batch in a pie pan.  This is my idea of any time of the day comfort food!

As a self professed veggie freak, my produce drawer at home is frequently over flowing with extras.  One of my top recipes to get rid of some of that inventory is my grilled pesto-veggie pizza.  I'll take raw pizza dough, again, store bought or homemade, sprinkle it with cornmeal, and grill it on both sides just until the outside is firm and has some grill marks.  Grilling adds such great flavor!  I then slather it with pesto (if you happen to have a ton of basil, make it fresh, otherwise jarred is fine), top it with your favorite shredded cheese, and your choice of veggies.  Use as little or as much as you like.  Bake it at 425 degrees for 8-10 minutes and enjoy!  It's so delicious, and trust me-you won't miss the pepperoni and sausage; and neither will your waistline!

If any of my readers would appreciate step by step recipes, leave a comment and I'll get them to you!

Have a lovely Friday and an even better weekend!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Let's talk cocktail parties!

Who doesn't love a good cocktail party?  They're the perfect blend of casual, elegant, and exciting.  Serving the perfect hors d'ouvres and cocktails is the key to a great get together.  Not only will they lead your guests to be impressed by your party giving skills, but they're also a great ice breaker for any of your friends that may not know one another.

Here are a few simple steps to ensure a get together to remember.

Step 1: Serve one special cocktail

Okay, so it's referred to as a "cocktail" party.  That absolutely does not mean that you need to stock an entire bar and employ a professional bartender.  Be sure to offer a small assortment of beer for the husbands and boyfriends of the group; I recommend one light beer, one regular beer, and one specialty-craft beer.  A few bottles of wine to choose from is always important; maybe two whites, two reds, and a sparkling if you think any of your guests might appreciate it.  I like to have a few types of liquor on hand.  For example, a vodka, light rum, and whiskey would be sufficient for most crowds.  Just be sure to stock up on different mixers.

The best way to set your party apart is to choose one "foo-foo" cocktail recipe to serve.  Stand behind whatever surface is serving as your "bar", mix, shake, and serve the cocktails to your guests.  Obviously you don't want to spend your entire evening making drinks, so after your guests have enjoyed watching you prepare a few, have a large batch prepared that guests may use for self service.  Everyone will love the extra effort to make them feel like VIP guests!

Step 2: Flatter with Platters

The concept of serving platters for a party may seem obvious, but here are a few tips to take your platter to the next level.
Color block!  Choose a theme, such as the antipasti platter below.  When shopping for items to display, try to get as many contrasting colors as possible.  You want the colors to compliment one another, with no single item being lost in the mix.  The pop of brightness will draw your guests' eye in immediately.

Contrasting textures is so important!  As with the color blocking step, using different shapes, textures, and mouth feel gives interest to a platter.  Each display should offer something soft, crunchy, crispy, and creamy.  Visually speaking, a cubed cheese next to long strands of peppers and round olives keeps the plate from looking boring.

The final tip for awesome party platters is to create height in at least one place.  In the example above, I've created height by piling grapes on top of one another and by standing a beautiful artichoke straight up.

Step 3: Two-biters

One of the characteristics of a cocktail party is that generally, your guests will be standing for much of the evening.  Whether you choose to pass your hors d'ouvres or serve them buffet style, make them no more than two bites each.  The worst case scenario at a cocktail party is to have a cocktail in one hand, a plate, fork, and napkin in the other, all the while trying to hold a conversation with someone.  

These puff pastry pinwheels with sweet onion marmalade, lemon-rosemary goat cheese, and crispy prosciutto are perfect little snacks that won't interrupt the evening.

Step 4: A little somethin' sweet

I'll be the first to admit that I have a small sweets problem.  And by problem, I mean I can't get enough of them!  Even if you, the host, don't have a particularly strong sweet tooth, expect that a number of your guests will be like me.  I think offering even one small dessert is more than sufficient.  Remember--keep them petite (see tip #3).  Two bites at the most.  Mini cupcakes, personal fruit tartlets, or these precious little cake pops are perfect!

That's it- 4 simple steps to take your next get together from fair to fab.  


Monday, July 2, 2012

Try everything once

The most common question I seem to get is, "When did you realize you wanted to be a chef?".  
The answer, which I am really not very proud of, is, "I actually have no idea".
I have vague memories of being somewhere around the age of 16, and at that awkward stage of thinking I would be a fashion designer, singer/actress, teacher, doctor, or lawyer.  Don't we all go through some version of that stage?  We either want to be a billion different things or can't seem to pick one livelihood to satisfy us. 
However it happened, one day it hit me that I was going to go to culinary school, open a restaurant in Chicago or New York, and be a 100-hour-a-week grease monkey.

I wish I had a better story--that some profound event in my life pointed me down the path of culinary arts.  Truth be told, I just really love food.
My Mother raised me that way.  Her rule was "Try everything once" and I always have.  

After graduating high school, I spent two great, but misled, years at Michigan State before realizing that it wasn't for me.  MSU gave me two fun years, introduced me to my now-husband, and sent me to New York for an internship when I was 19.  I'll never regret the time I spent there--I actually cherish it.  When it was said and done, I ended up back in Grand Rapids at the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education.

I spent a whirlwind 2 more years learning everything about food and the food business I could cram into my mind.  I also moved in with Scott, eventually got engaged, and got married (all while I was still a student).  Marriage and the prospect of having a family in the next few years definitely made me change my priorities for the better.  My dream of owning a restaurant quickly morphed into a dream of owning a personal chef and catering service--which I have achieved! 

I haven't lost you yet, right?

At this moment, I am building my new business, working as a part-time corporate chef, and starting work on yet another goal--to write and publish a cookbook.

This blog is meant to document my journey as a chef.  But don't be shocked to see posts about style, travel, organization, and my many other loves. 

If any of you (is anyone even reading this?) have suggestions or tips on posting topics--let me know.  I'd love to hear them!

Until next time.