Monday, June 24, 2013

Mariano's Snacks for 2 at the Brookfield Zoo

If you live in the Chicago area or have visited, chances are you've been to the Brookfield Zoo.  Chicago is kinda unique in that it has not one, but two zoos.  Even though the Lincoln Park Zoo always has free admission, I've always preferred going to Brookfield especially in the summer.  The variety of animals is different and there tends to be more shade beneath the trees so even a hot day can be spent walking the paths.  Not only is going to Brookfield Zoo always a blast, stopping to pick up snacks at #MyMarianos always makes for a better day.

Wednesday dawned as the perfect day to go to Brookfield Zoo, all we needed to do was stop at Mariano's on the way to pick up some healthy snacks.  Mariano's is the perfect choice as they've got all these awesome food to go options right at the front of the store.  The problem we faced was having to pick which foods we wanted.  The selection is always staggering and narrowing it down took quite some time as we decided which would be easily eaten outside. They've got everything from sushi to fresh cut fruit and you can even save more when you use your Mariano's rewards card.  I call that a win-win!  Check out the rest of our shopping trip on our Google+ album.

The reason why I love going to the Brookfield Zoo over Lincoln Park is the memories I have of being there with my grandparents.  I don't know if I've ever mentioned it, but this is the third time I've lived in the Chicago area!  I was born here, but I've lived all over the country.  When I was little we lived here in Chicago and I split my time during the week between both sets of grandparents.  For almost four years I was an only grandchild and just an eensy, weensy bit spoiled. (By that she means completely and utterly spoiled in every possible way.)

Anyway, whenever my grandmother would take me to the zoo we'd use the Mold-a-Matic and get wax animals.  While they aren't made of wax anymore, now the machine uses plastic, kids still love them.  Even though, I don't have any children I still am tempted to get one every time I go to the zoo. Which means half our trip was spent over the selection of which figures to get.  The merits of wax animals discussed could create a very serious and tedious lecture upon whether coloring outweighs details.  Or rather if the Triceratops while white is nearly as majestic as the Dolphin with teeth in his smile.

I hate having to get food while at the Zoo.  The choices aren't all that great or healthy and I don't feel so great after eating a ton of junk food.  Stopping at Mariano's on the way enabled us to have some of our favorite foods to enjoy at the zoo.

We decided to eat lunch with the giraffes.  Late last fall there was a new baby giraffe and it was nice to get to sit and watch him for a while.  Susie decided to have some sushi.  To our surprise a little girl of about three also decided that sushi would be a delightful snack.  For the choices and variety at the zoo are not nearly as good as freshly prepared sushi.

While I went with the more classic chicken salad on a pretzel bun.  Absolutely perfect zoo fare!  Made much easier to eat with a fork which we nearly forgot to bring.   Good thing we remembered or our fruit would also have been quite an interesting snack.  We would have looked as determined as the baby giraffe we ate our food near.  He spent quite a long time attempting to reach the offering of food just out of his reach.  I'm not entirely sure our tongues could have functioned in the same fashion.  As he triumphantly snuck a few pieces here and there.  

We also saw Okapis which are related to giraffes.  The very first Okapi born in captivity was at the Brookfield Zoo back in the '50s.  They're pretty neat to look at.  I absolutely love the markings on their hindquarters.  So very distinctive.

After walking through the zoo, we decided it was time for our final snack.  Chocolate covered cannolis from Mariano's bakery.  While they tasted good, cannolis aren't meant to be carried around in a bag at the zoo all day.  :)  They were delicious despite their newly found character travelling through the continents filled with exotic creatures.    

Be sure to connect with Mariano's on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Scared and Excited that BlogHer'13 is Coming!

In almost a month one of the biggest blog conferences in the world is going to be held at McCormick Place in downtown Chicago.  BlogHer'13 is going to be a non-stop whirlwind of parties, classes, meeting bloggers and brands.  I'm both excited and scared to be going, as this is my very first conference.  Kind of a go big or go home thing.  Why start small when you can start with the best?  :)

Maybe scared is the wrong word as I'm fairly comfortable being at McCormick place and around a lot of people I don't know.  Maybe its more like being anxious because BlogHer is a really big deal.  I hope to make some new blogging friends, learn about some awesome new products and learn as much as I possibly can in the classes I get to take.

I decided not to stay at the host hotel because I'd have to shuttle back and forth everyday early.  I'm staying at the Hyatt, which is attached to McCormick Place, in an effort to possibly get as much sleep as possible.  Also to make it easy to take a break during the day if I need one.  I've been reading up about past blogger's experiences and almost all of them stress the importance of taking a break off and on throughout the day.  Being at a hotel close by will make this a lot easier.

Susie and I are actually going to be staying at the Hyatt this coming Tuesday to check things out.  We're attending an event held by Shellback Rum at a restaurant downtown and thought it would be great to get the scoop on what's available at the Hyatt before the conference.

Check back next week to see some gorgeous photos and read our review.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Atlas Brewing Co. Bentley's Bitter Lime Beer Bread

About a month ago, we had the opportunity to go down to Atlas Brewing Co. in Chicago.  Atlas is our second brewery and it was incredibly different from being at Church Street.  Atlas is actually a brew pub.  This means they brew the beer and sell it in the bar on site.  The bar itself is absolutely gorgeous.  I can definitely see hanging out enjoying a pint with friends.

I know you're probably tired of hearing it, but I think this new recipe totally rocks.  I worry each time I experiment to bring you a new recipe that what I'm choosing won't come out tasting quite right.  Bentley's Bitter is aptly named in that it has quite the bitter bite to each sip.  But once you get used to the bitter, you'll definitely taste a hard to define fruity note.  It's not quite citrus and not quite berry.  The best I can describe it as is somewhat tropical.  

I had a little trouble coming up with what to add to bring out the fruitiness in the beer.  I finally decided on lime zest, I was originally thinking strawberries but I'm glad I changed my mind.  I also used milk stout spent grains.  

Bentley's Bitter Lime Beer Bread

1 (12 oz) Atlas Brewing Co. Bentley's Bitter
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup spent grains
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 egg yolk
1 cup flour
1 cup bread flour
1 cup oatmeal flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon lime zest
1/4 cup raw sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast

Traditional Method:  In a saucepan; combine beer, butter and spent grains.  Heat on low until mixture reaches 115-120 degrees.

In a mixer add: flours, zest, yeast, salt and sugar; mix well.  Add heated beer mixture.  Mix on low until dough comes together.  Change to a dough hook and knead for 8-10 minutes.  Dough will be extremely wet.  Don't worry.  :)

Form dough into a ball and place in a well oiled container or bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise till double in size.

Bread Machine Method:  In a saucepan; combine beer, butter and spent grains.  Heat on low until mixture reaches 115-120 degrees.  Add ingredients in order preferred by your bread machine.  I add mine like this: egg yolk, salt, heated beer mixture, zest, flours, sugar and yeast.  Set bread machine to dough cycle and start mixing.  *Note:  I've yet to have to add any moisture to this as its a very wet dough, but I always make sure the ingredients are fully incorporated before I leave the bread machine to do its thing.*

Finishing Directions for Both Methods:  Punch down dough and shape into a loaf to fit in a greased 9 x 5 inch pan.  Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise until double.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until loaf reaches 180 degrees.  Remove from oven, remove from pan and allow to cool on rack.

*A trick I've recently learned, if your dough seems to wet and sticky after its first rise is to fold all four sides in, cover the bread with a bowl and allow to sit for 5 minutes.  Do this twice in a row.  The dough should then have more structure and be easier to form into a loaf.*

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

From Scratch Coconut Butter in 5 Minutes

We LOVE coconut in all forms.  Its fantastic shredded, fresh and even as coconut oil.  But let's face it, coconut anything isn't cheap, especially if its coconut butter.  I mean $4 for a small package of coconut butter is pretty outrageous.  No offense coconut manufacturers, honest.  I know coconuts only grow in tropical places and there aren't a heck of a lot of those in the mainland US.  So I understand that some of that cost comes from shipping and the rest is due to demand.

But still $4 for half a pound of coconut butter is pretty obscene.  I mean I buy butter when its $2 or less for an entire pound.  Last time I bought it was around easter time and it was less than $1 a pound with a coupon, I even think I posted about it because the price was so good.  Unlike most people I also have the space to store crazy amounts of butter in my upright freezer.  Since I'm allergic to soy protein and soy flour, we also tend to avoid margarine like the plague.  While it doesn't carry any of those specific ingredients, artificial, processed foods sometimes make me feel kinda sluggish after eating them.

Enough of my butter rant.  Enter my fascination that you can make your own coconut butter.  I've held off making it for quite a while now for a couple of reasons.  First, curse Whole Foods who always seems to be out of Sambazon and unsweetened coconut.  Odd, right?  Second, could it really be that easy and taste as great if I made it myself?

I can now tell you that it is!  All you need is a food processor or a high powered blender and some unsweetened coconut.  That's literally all you need.  Just process the coconut until it reaches the creamy consistency you want, it'll take about 5-7 minutes depending on how much coconut you have.

I started with about a cup and half of shredded coconut, which cost $1.30, and I ended up with about 5 ounces of coconut butter.  To me, that's a great deal!  If you store it in the fridge it keeps indefinitely and if you store it at room temp it will keep for about 3 months.

So do y'all know what we'll be having from now on?  That's right, homemade coconut butter!  I dare you to pick up some unsweetened coconut and try it out.  :)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Streusel Swirl Coffeecake

I have yet another coffee cake recipe to share with y'all today.  By now, y'all know I absolutely love coffee cake.  But not just any coffee cake, it has to be moist and flavorful too.  The last recipe I shared, New York-Style Crumb Cake, was good I changed several ingredients because it was vegan.  This recipe is from the Family Table cookbook and its super simple to make.

I absolutely love recipes that you mix everything together, bake it in one pan and bam its done!  It's not that I'm lazy, just something so satisfying about baking something and then not having to fuss with it when it comes out of the oven.  Am I right?  :)

While this coffee cake was good straight out of the oven, it was even better the next day.  It's that baking with butter thing, anything you bake with butter always tastes better on the second day.  I will warn you that this recipe does have an ungodly amount of sugar, 2 1/4 cups total.  When I make it again, I'll try to cut down on this a bit.

Streusel Swirl Coffee Cake

1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon cinnamon

8 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste)
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup low fat greek yogurt

Streusel: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with butter and line with parchment paper.

In a mixer bowl, beat butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.  Beat in eggs 1 at a time.

In a small bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.  On low, mix in 1/3 cup of yogurt, then 1/3 of dry mixture.  Alternate till all is incorporated.

Pour half of batter into baking pan and spread evenly.  Top with half of streusel.  Add remaining batter, smooth again and top with remaining streusel.  Swirl batter with a table knife to marble streusel into batter.

Bake 40-45 minutes.  Cool 10-15 minutes in pan.  Remove, slice and serve.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Kids LiveWell and Celebrity Chef Marc Murphy

I wrote this review while participating in a campaign for Mom Central Consulting on behalf of the National Restaurant Association. I attended a live event and received a gift bag and promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.

Today I have something special to share with you!  A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the National Restaurant Show here in Chicago at McCormick Place.  What is the NRA you might ask?  Well for me its super special because it’s entirely about FOOD!  From cleaning to dishes to kitchen equipment, you’ll find practically everything there you’d need for a restaurant or that might be on a food blogger’s wish list.  :)
Not my best photo, lets just say the NRA show is exhausting!
If you’re not associated with the restaurant industry it’s almost impossible to get a ticket.  I’d almost despaired that I would not get to attend this year, until Mom Central asked if I’d like to attend the Kids LiveWell Event and meet Celebrity Chef Marc Murphy.  Of course I jumped at the chance!
It didn’t hurt that the Kids LiveWell program is fantastic.  Here’s the basics of the program, the NRA has partnered with restaurants to help them create healthy menu choices for kids.  I know not everyone has the time or inclination to cook like I do and the Kids LiveWell program makes it easy for parents to have healthy options for their kids.  Kids LiveWell entrees need to be less than 600 calories and include two sources of either fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein or low-fat dairy among other requirements.

You can find a list of participating restaurants on Healthy DiningFinder or by using the Kids LiveWell App on your smartphone.  To date there are 40,000 restaurants participating with more being added.  It’s super easy to find the items on the menu because they are marked with this apple icon.

I bet you could even make it a game with your kids when going out to eat.  For example, offering a treat (non-food) to see who can find the apple icon first would be a great way to get them interested.  The apple icon is used in almost all the participating restaurants menus.  Once your kids learn to look for it, they will know those are things you will let them order when you go out to eat.  If this had been available when I was growing up it would have saved many a battle on what to order at the restaurant!

I hope you check out the Kids LiveWell program and download the app to find restaurants that offer healthy menu choices for your kids.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Cheesy Broccoli Bake with Kraft Shredded Cheese and Philadelphia Cream Cheese

At the NRA Show (National Restaurant Association Show) in May I saw Chef Marc Murphy make a dish featuring #EverydayDairy ingredients and broccoli.  Since we absolutely love broccoli, the Buy $15 save $5 sale at Dominick's was the perfect reason to give it a go.  Everything dairy I needed was on sale, like Kraft Shredded Cheese and Philadelphia Cream Cheese.  We tend to eat our vegetables plain so adding an extra level of flavor is a good change.  Sometimes steamed broccoli gets a tad boring, sadly not all of us like eating fresh broccoli.  So, this recipe is a perfect way to add some extra variety to our dinner table!

Before I moved to Chicago, I lived in the Seattle area and right down the street from a Lucerne dairy.  I grew to love Lucerne products while living there and shopping at Safeway.  I was so glad to learn when I moved away, that here in Chicago Dominick's carries Lucerne products too.  Next to making my own cottage cheese, my absolute favorite brand is Lucerne.

For this reason, I shop at Dominick's at least once a week.  Even though Lucerne products aren't part of the Buy $15, Save $5 sale, I still found exactly what I needed to make my recipe.  You can check out the rest of my shopping trip in my Google+ album.

Cheesy Broccoli Bake is a great way to get your family to eat their veggies and get more dairy into their diet.  This recipe uses three cheeses, butter and milk.  It also works with either high fat or low fat ingredients.  Turns out great either way.  It was a hit, two pounds of broccoli and it was almost entirely devoured during dinner!

Cheesy Broccoli Bake

2 pounds broccoli, cut into bite size pieces
1/8-1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
8 ounces cream cheese, cubed
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Wash and cut broccoli into bite sized pieces.  Remember to peel and slice the stem too.  Place in a 9 x 13 inch baking pan, drizzle with olive oil, toss to coat and season with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven 15-20 minutes.  Broccoli will still be firm, but able to be pierced with a fork.

To make the rue, melt the butter in a large pot and when melted add flour, whisking to combine.  Continue whisking for a full minute and slowly pour in milk, continuing to whisk.  When incorporated, allow mixture to cook until thickened.  When sauce has thickened, turn off heat and whisk in shredded cheddar cheese.  Then add cubes of cream cheese, use an immersion blender or transfer hot liquid carefully to blender and blend until smooth.

By now your broccoli should be roasted, remove from oven, pour some cheese sauce into pan and toss to coat broccoli.  Cover with remaining sauce, dust with bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.

Return to oven and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, until bubbly.  If you'd like it a little more crispy on top, broil 2-4 minutes more.  Remove from oven and serve.

Let me know what your family thinks of this super simple way to dress up broccoli.  It also works great with other veggies.