Summer of Salads, Chicken…

Smoked Chicken Salad REC

Prior to getting my smoker, Smoked Chicken would be something I would rarely get the opportunity to enjoy, but when I did…oh, I did!  So, this year when we picked up our portion of chickens from our friends in Hugo that raise & process them for us, I knew some of these little babies were going in the smoker!  We had a friend over the night we made them, and I had smoked three chickens, planning for dinner that night and then making BBQ Chicken sandwiches for a family get together the next day.  This friend, whom I treasure, loved the Chicken SO much I was worried he’d eat it all and I wouldn’t have any left for the next day’s festivities!  So awesome!

One thing I love to do when smoking or even baking my chicken, is to brine it the day before.  It helps to make the chicken much more tender and delicious!  The friend that does our chickens for us, shared the following brine recipe I highly recommend!

Brine

Brine Recipe:

Makes one gallon of brine.

3 lemons, cut in half

1 cup kosher salt

3/4 cup brown sugar

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons whole peppercorns

3 (I used roasted) Jalapeños seeds removed

fresh herbs…we used lots of lemon thyme, oregano, chives

if fresh is not available, use at least 1 tablespoon of dried basil, oregano & thyme

1 gallon cold water

Use a bucket or container large enough to hold the chicken and the brining liquid.  I actually used a pickle bucket for my three chickens, but if you have a large pasta pot, or even a roasting pan, you can use that too.  Just be sure to get most of the chicken submerged for most of the time.  If you need to go in and move the chicken around, that’s okay too.  Keep your chicken refrigerated & in the brine for 24 hours before cooking if possible.  Once you are ready to cook the chicken, rinse it well under cold water and then add your rub or other seasonings.  Dispose of the brining liquid and clean your hands, counter & etc. well!

chicken on the smoker

BBQ Rub recipe:

1/2 cup paprika

1/4 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons mustard powder

1/4 cup chili powder

1/4 cup ground cumin

2 tablespoons black pepper

1/4 cup granulated garlic

2 tablespoons cayenne  (be careful, if you don’t like spicy BBQ, then dial back on this amount)

Jack Daniel's chips

Oh my gosh, can I just tell you about these chips?!?!  A friend of mine recommended these Jack Daniel’s brand wood chips to me, when she heard about my smoker.  I didn’t try them until recently, when I made this chicken actually, and now I want to use them all the time!!! They are GREAT!  They are about twice as expensive as basic chips, but when you are making something special, splurge and get yourself a bag! 🙂

Assorted chips

These WESTERN® BBQ Smoking Chips were what I used initially and I really liked them.  They come in a wide range of ‘flavors’.  I bought this Variety Pack my first time out.

Okay, so I know this post is titled Smoked Chicken, and I realize that not everyone has a smoker.  So, I want to show you a couple of ways you can smoke, without the smoker!  First, I have this Mini Smoker Box from Williams Sonoma and I love to use it on my grill!  It holds a small portion of whatever chips you have, and takes about 5-10 minutes to start smoking, but it works great for steaks, fish, vegetables, burgers & other deliciuosness from your grill!  And, oh my gosh, I totally want this Cast Iron Smoke & Sear Station wouldn’t that be fun!

When I first bought my Western chips, variety box, it had a small smoker tray in it, made specifically for grills.  They have a great video you can watch that shows you how to use the chips here.  And if you don’t want to fuss with any of the above, you can also try using a couple layers of aluminum foil.  The chips may burn up faster, so have a couple back up packs on reserve.  If you are using a smoker, you’ll want to soak the chips before using them, but if you are just using them on the grill, you don’t need to soak them, unless you are grilling something that takes awhile to cook.

Okay, time to get back on track!  This post is supposed to be about #summerofsalads!  Ha! 🙂

Salad Fixin's

So for this salad, you’ll want to gather your favorite greens, and then chop up your Smoked Chicken.  I added Black Beans, fresh roasted Corn-cut from the cob, chopped tomatoes, red bell pepper, hard boiled eggs and finished the salad with a small sprinkling of Parmesan cheese & crumbled Blue Cheese!  (have I mentioned I am a cheese-addict?) Be careful how much Blue Cheese you put on; you don’t want to drown out that smokey Chicken goodness!  Add any combination of “salad fixin’s” you like!  It’s your salad silly!

Smoked Chicken Salad up close

Now look at that beauty!  I hope you’ll try some of my suggestions for “smoking” chicken on your grill soon!  Let me know if you do & share what you tried!

planes

Have a wonderful 4th of July & Happy Birthday America!

Cheers, Shawn

Summer of Salads, Pork…

TarragonI know you’ve heard me talk about Tarragon before in this amazing potato salad, but we fell in love with Tarragon using it on the Pork Chops I am sharing here today.  This post is about Pork, and how to enjoy it on a salad.  I realize that Bacon falls into the Pork category, but I am saving Bacon for it’s very own post…I love it just that much! 🙂

So for those of you who have never used Tarragon before, this might freak you out and make you not want to try it, but it has a licorice-like taste & smell to it.  I know, licorice is one of those love-it or hate-it things…but please don’t let you dislike for licorice deter you from trying Tarragon!  And when you use it with mustard, it’s a-mazing!  So here’s what you’ll need…

The basics...

Tarragon Pork Salad:

Pork Chops or Loin or Tenderloin

Fresh Tarragon

Garlic, chopped

Dijon Mustard

Whole Grain Mustard

Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper

Lettuce & potato pic

For the salad base:

Greens of your choice

Grape Tomatoes, sliced

Colored Peppers, sliced

Yukon Gold or Red Skinned Potatoes, cubed

Fresh Chives, sliced thin

Crumbled Blue Cheese

Olive Oil, Vinegar of your choice, Salt, Pepper etc.

Start by seasoning your Pork with the Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper.  Mix together your cut Tarragon, chopped Garlic, Dijon & Whole Grain Mustards.  Spread onto Pork, coating both sides.  Place back into fridge until time to grill.

Then move on to cleaning your potatoes.  Cut into cubes and toss with Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper & fresh Chives.  Place into two sheets of aluminum foil, wrapping the middle section together first and then tucking in both ends.  Place onto a grill at about 375-400 degrees.  Move around every so often so the bottom layer doesn’t burn.  These will take a good 45 minutes or so.  Once they are done cooking, remove from aluminum foil and place on to a plate and put in the fridge to cool.

Place Pork on the grill, making sure it’s really good and hot to begin with so you get that great grill mark action and your seasonings don’t just stick to the grill.  Once you see the sides of your meat starting to cook up, it’s time to flip them.  Cook your Pork to at least 145 degrees.  Honestly, you can make this anytime of year, just bake or sauté the Pork!

Let the Pork rest a bit before cutting into cubes and assembling your salad!  Arrange/build your salad however you like!  Add or take away any items you feel you’d like as well!

Tarragon Pork Salad

While cruising the internet, looking for other delicious Pork salads, I found these to share with you!

Here’s an interesting Spicy Pork Salad from Bon Appetit.

This Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Salad looks SO good and reminds me of the bowls you can get at Chipotle.  It’s from Your Home Based Business Mom dot com.

So, I love Pulled Pork, and recently made it a highlight of one of our entree salads.  This recipe from Lumo Lifestyle blog for Cider Braised Pulled Rhubarb Pork with wild Summer salad looks ridiculous!!  I NEED! 🙂

You’ll need this Asian Pork and Cabbage Salad from Pass the Sushi dot com.

Do you have a favorite Pork salad you want to share with me?  Please do!

Thanks for following along on my #summerofsalads!

Until next time, cheers!

Shawn

Summer of Salads, crunchy bits…

Bacon Fat Croutons!

In today’s #summerofsalads post, number three (in case you are counting along!), we tackle “crunchy bits”!  I love adding something crunchy to my salads, and it doesn’t always have to be a traditional bread crouton!  My body doesn’t appreciate many forms of gluten, so I do try to stay away from bread & other delicious gluten-filled foods, but a few croutons here or there can sometimes be okay!  If you’ve been looking to jazz up your salads with something other than the traditional bread crouton, you will LOVE this post!  Polenta Croutons, Waffle Croutons, Cake Croutons, Hash Brown Croutons and MORE!

Oh & if you do love this post, will you share it with your friends?  Please?!  Thank you 🙂

DSC_0004

So, first let’s tackle the recipe I made for this post- Bacon Fat Croutons.  Yes to bacon fat!  You won’t be surprised to hear that we eat alot of Bacon in our house…but you might be surprised to hear I actually keep the bacon fat in the fridge for later use.  Yep, kinda gross, but mostly amazing!  In fact, I saw this recipe for Bacon Fat Chocolate Chip Cookies the other and it’s sitting on my counter, waiting to be made!  YES to bacon fat!  This is what you’ll need:

Bacon Fat Croutons:

Loaf of bread of your choice (I used a loaf of Rustic Italian bread), cut into cubes

1/4 cup of bacon fat (or if this is totally freaking you out, use whatever oil you like!)

1/4 cup of Romano cheese, grated

herbs, salt, pepper, garlic to taste (start small, work your way up)

DSC_0019

Melt the bacon fat until it’s liquid again.

Toss the bread cubes in a large bowl with the bacon fat, herbs, salt, pepper & garlic.

DSC_0025

Then toss the cheese in with the bread and lay out on a baking sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees, checking & tossing every ten minutes or so.  Remove from oven when they are lightly golden brown.

Bacon Croutons

Enjoy these croutons right away, store in an air-tight container, but based on my experience, they won’t stay crunchy long, so eat em’ up!

Wilted Chard Salad with Polenta Croutons and a Warm Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette from Cafe Johnsonia

This gorgeous Wilted Chard Salad with Polenta Croutons and Warm Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette is from the blog Cafe Johnsonia.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of it when I found it on Pinterest!  I haven’t made it yet, but totally plan to….hooray for Polenta Croutons!  Oh & it’s got Pine Nuts too…have I told you I am obsessed with Pine Nuts?  -Photo credit Lindsey Johnson of Cafe Johnsonia.

Pistachio Nuts copy

One of my most favorite other “crunchy bits” to put in a salad is Pistachios.  Sadly, we don’t get to enjoy them often, because they are expensive!  But they are great in any salad, especially one that you add dried fruits, like cherries & golden raisins.

Below you will find some great links to delicious Crouton recipes!

Garden Salad & Waffle Croutons from the Mostly Homemade Mom-have you ever thought of using waffles for croutons?!

We added toasted Chickpeas to salads often and this Caesar Salad with Chickpea Croutons from Relish.Com looks like a great idea!

This recipe for Gingerbread Croutons from the Cafe Terra Blog puts them in a Spinach Salad with goat cheese, Craisins, pecans and a dressing made from Chobani Greek yogurt!

Homemade Cake Croutons from Munchkin Munchies-YES to cake croutons!

Yet another fabulous way to use brown butter…Brown Butter Croutons via The Taste Tester.

I NEED this Breakfast Salad with Cinnamon Toast Croutons via The Three Little Piglets.

Roasted Winter Squash with Arugula and toasted Curry Croutons looks perfect for a chilly fall dinner! Via Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes.

And wait, a Caesar Salad with Hash Brown Croutons? Um, yes please!  Via Foodie Crush.

Brussels Sprout Salad with Cornbread Croutons via The Chubby Vegetarian.

Let me know if you try any of the above deliciousness and thanks for following along on my #summerofsalads series!

Until next time, cheers!

Shawn

Shawn b & w

Summer of Salads, dressings…

Salad

First, an apology.  Right out of the gate, I dropped the ball on my posting this series, when I said I would. Originally I hadn’t planned to start this until this weekend, but I wanted to give you a little something to start with, over Memorial Day weekend and so I stupidly started earlier than I was ready for.  I am sorry for that.  I want you to be able to count on me to post when I say I am going to!  So, let’s get back on track, starting with this dressings post!

My husband usually doesn’t use dressing when he has a salad.  Unless its a Caesar Salad, or comes dressed at a restaurant.  So, for me, I sometimes end up just grabbing the bottled varieties, as I just don’t want to go through the hassle of making something special just for me. Not my favorite thing to do, as most of those are filled with things I can’t pronounce and don’t belong in a dressing.  We have tried a million different types of creamy Caesar dressings, which my kids tend to like best.  Recently we tried Ken’s Steak House brand and it was pretty good.  Blue Cheese dressings are also one we tend to buy instead of make.  I like Marie’s Super chunky Blue Cheese dressing, that you find usually by the other refrigerated dressings at the grocery store.  I will also buy the packets of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing at the store for my son and make my own with that, but still don’t feel like I am making the best choice there.  I did find this recipe for homemade Ranch dressing that I am going to try.  If you do, let me know what you thought of it!

Do you make your own dressings ever?  Do you know where to start?  I found a couple of GREAT resources online, that I couldn’t have done any better with, so I am linking them both below.

Gonna Dress You Up In My Love:  Four Easy Vinaigrette Recipes To Make Now” – by The Cuisinerd.  They also give a great “Gear for Yo’ Greens Salad Making Tool Box” list!

and

StoneGable Blog and their “Salad Dressing Primer” where they show you the basic “formulas” for making dressings & vinaigrettes.  I am TOTALLY going to try the Caesar & Green Goddess dressing recipes!

Watermelon Vinaigrette - Liv Life

I also was on Facebook the other day, and one of my foodie friends posted a link to this gorgeous Arugula Salad with a Watermelon Vinaigrette from the food blog www.http://livlifetoo.blogspot.com (photo credit to Liv Life) and new cookbook “Vinaigrettes and other Salad Dressings” written by Michele Anna Jordan.  I NEED this dressing & cookbook!

Strawberries

And last, one of my favorite things to do it Pin things on Pinterest!!!  It’s actually been super helpful, researching for this series and my #summersippers cocktail series as well.  One recent Pin, was for this Roast Strawberry Balsamic Dressing, I am dying to make!  Strawberry patches around me will soon by bursting with fresh fruit destined for this dressing!

dressing bottles

So, you don’t have time to make your own dressing and need help narrowing down the overwhelming store-bought varieties?  It’s okay, don’t freak out!  In addition to those I mentioned above, a couple other  favorite lines for us are Newman’s Own Dressings.  I especially like to use the Parmesan & Roasted Garlic to make a killer & quick pasta salad to take to potlucks in the summer.  We also like to buy packets of Kraft-Good Seasons Zesty Italian dressing and then we can add our own favorite oil & vinegar to it.  Store-bought dressings can be expensive as well.  Shop around, read your labels & share with me some of your favorites!

vinegars

Speaking of vinegars, the choices you’ll find at the grocery store can be just as many!  We usually have several varieties of vinegar on hand.  The basic-white distilled, apple cider, rice wine, red wine and then usually a couple different types of balsamic vinegars, like dark, white, fig and/or pear.

Alessi Vinegars

My favorite line of store bought vinegars are Alessi brand.  In researching them online, I found they also make a Ginger Infused Balsamic & a Honey Balsamic vinegar I have to get my hands on!

Trader Joe's Balsamic Glaze

Last year, while shopping at Trader Joe’s, I found this.  Balsamic Glaze.  I want to put it on EVERYTHING but what I tend to put it on most, is salads.  It’s great when I want the taste of Balsamic Vinegar, but not the tart.  I’ve put it on little crostini’s with fresh Ricotta cheese.  Or on bruschetta made with roasted grapes, Brie cheese & Rosemary (my homage to Swirl My Wine’s dish I had on my birthday…read on!) A little drizzle goes a long way and, like everything at TJ’s, it might not be available when you go in.  Don’t be mad at me for teasing you.

Stillwater Olive Oil Company

Last summer, I spent my birthday with my sweeties in Afton at Swirl My Wine eating delicious nosh & sipping on cold, sweet glasses of wine.  From there, we headed to Stillwater to walk along the St. Croix River and found this great little shop, the Stillwater Olive Oil Company right on Main St.  The Minneapolis-St. Paul area offers many of these great stores, where you can purchase different varieties of olive oils & vinegars.  At the Stillwater Olive Oil Company, they specialize in imported extra virgin olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and specialty oils from award-winning artisan and small-run producers around the world. You can sample & browse as long as you need to & offer many different sized vessels to take your purchases home in.  I picked out a bottle of Organic Persian Lime Olive Oil and Sicilian Lemon Vinegar.  They were both AMAZING!  It was extremely hard to pick just one of each, but I had to limit myself the first time out!  If you haven’t been, plan a trip soon!

Thanks for reading along today.  I hope I have provided you with some great resources & ideas!  Just remember, a dressing is made to enhance your salad, not take it over!  Plus, many extra calories lie in those creamy, delicious dressings!

Until next time, cheers!

Shawn

Summer of Salads, greens…

garden greens

Welcome to my #summerofsalads post number TWO! Today, we talk greens. Yes, salads can be made without the use of greens, but the type of “salads” we eat most, are those where the base is some sort of greens. Later on we’ll talk about pasta, grainlegume & other non-greens salads. I had hoped to include dressings in the post, but there are so many variables that need to be discussed when it comes to dressings, that I am saving that post for next week. The picture above, is what we are growing on our garden this year. We’ve tried many different types of greens, my favorites always being the leafy varieties you see above.

Greens by the Numbers

While doing some research for this post, I came across this fantastic website,  www.fithiphealthy.com and this great photo highlighting the basic garden greens that can be used for salads. To read more on these greens, visit the post here. Photo courtesy of Lithe©.

Romaine lettuce

Alright, probably the best known salad greens next to Iceberg (which I am not going to talk about…) is the Romaine lettuce.  It’s a popular one in our house, because I can get the kids to eat it (which is always a win) and it’s very versatile.  Most commonly known in a Caesar salad, it’s crunchy, juicy & lasts a good while in the fridge.  Have you ever had it grilled?  I did, once.  Not entirely sure, even to this day, if I liked it or not.  You have to be careful not to grill it too long though, as it will quickly wilt.  Hmmm, you’ll have to try it and let me know what you think!

leaf lettuce

This pretty little Leaf lettuce variety can be found not only in many salads, but also is a popular choice on many sandwiches you’ll find as well.  Lighter than Romaine, heat really affects this lettuce.  You’ll want to make sure you have it wrapped in paper towels as you store it, to keep all the moisture away, as it will quickly turn on you if not.

Butter Lettuce

Butter lettuce….I love this cute little lettuce!  You’ll find it in tight little round heads, and is a perfect blend of crunchy, soft, smooth leaves.  (it sounds so strange referring to lettuce that way!)  You can also use this to garnish sliders or other sandwiches, in addition to using in your salad.

Spinach

We eat a ton of Spinach in our house.  I love how you can have it in a nice salad, maybe with a warm bacon vinaigrette, or, toss it in a pan, with olive oil, salt, pepper & garlic and eat as a side dish or add to pasta etc.  You can make dips out of it.  You can stuff meat with it.  The possibilities are endless when it comes to Spinach!  What’s your favorite way to eat it?

Kale

I would be remiss if I didn’t include Kale in my list of greens.  Are you sick of (hearing about) Kale yet?  I’m not, but, I have a confession to make. I have not ever, yep, ever, eaten it in a salad!  What?!?!  Yes, yes, I know.  I’ve always cooked it.  And a couple of times I made chips out of it.  I am not into smoothies, but I hear its great there too!  My promise to you is this; I will have it as a salad sometime this summer!  In fact, my hubby is growing a variety in our garden this year, so I know we’ll be eating lots of it! 🙂

                    Organic Girl - Baby Kale   Organic Girl - baby spinach   Organic Girl - Five Happiness   Organic Girl - Herbs & Greens

So another great way to enjoy a variety of greens in your house, is to buy them in those big plastic boxes you’ll see at the grocery store.  Companies have gotten really creative in their offerings as well, as you’ll see Organic Girl has a cool blend called Five Happiness that has Chinese baby bok choy and other delicious & delicate baby greens.  This way is also fast, as they are usually washed and ready to eat!  Just be sure when you open the box for the first time, you place a paper towel or two inside the box to help wick away moisture from the greens.

So there you have it…..a good start to your “greens” education!  I encourage you to visit the sites I linked to, as there are lots more delicious greens out there that I didn’t even talk about (radicchio, arugula, watercress, endive, oak leaf…and so on!) and are definitely worth checking out yourself!

Thanks for reading this #summerofsalads post & I hope you’ll join me next week!  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s #summersippers post!

Cheers, Shawn

Summer of Salads, let’s talk potato…

Happy Memorial Day 2013

Well hello there!

Okay, so this is post number ONE in our #summerofsalads posts and I really had a hard time allowing myself to start with potato salads!  I wanted to ease you in, start off by talking about the different kinds of greens available and then move on to dressings…but, Memorial Day is coming this weekend and when I think of Memorial Day eats, I think of BBQ & potato salads!  I’m saving coleslaw for the 4th of July 🙂

So, the objective of these posts this summer, is to inspire you with different takes on salads.  So, instead of your basic potato salad, made with mayo, mustard, eggs etc. I am giving you a few twists on that.  Don’t get me wrong, I do love me some traditional potato salad!  When I was a little girl, my Grandmother would make potato salad, putting HUGE pieces of raw onion in it.  (okay maybe they weren’t that big, but to a punk kid that didn’t like onions back then, they were!) I told her that once and she would make a little for me, without onions.  She also did that with chocolate chip cookies sans nuts, fudge the same.  That woman spoiled me for sure.

Anyway, back to this post!  Today I am making you Tarragon Potato Salad.  We pretty much just stumbled on this salad one day, looking for ways to use up our gigantic Tarragon plant in the garden.  We make pork chops quite often with Tarragon & mustard & garlic, so this salad is pretty much all that, minus the pig of course.

Tarragon Potato Salad, #summerofsalads

Tarragon Potato Salad:

potatoes (use whatever type you’d like & one potato for each person you are feeding-I used six small-medium sized russets)

Fresh Tarragon

Fresh Chives and/or onions

mayo (I used 1 cup)

Dijon & whole grain mustards (I used 1 T. of each)

apple cider vinegar (I used 2 tablespoons)

sugar, salt, pepper, a bit of garlic (to your taste…)

Begin by washing up your potatoes and then boiling them until fork tender.  Let cool & remove skins from potatoes.

Whole Grain Mustard

In a separate bowl, mix together your apple cider vinegar, sugar, mayo & Dijon mustard.  Taste to be sure you have a balance of sweet, sour etc.

Fresh ChivesFresh Tarragon

Chop up your fresh herbs.  It’s really important for this recipe that you use fresh Tarragon, so if you don’t have it, look in the produce section at the grocery store.  And if you live close to me, you are always welcome to some of mine!

Herbs mixed in...

Then mix in the herbs to your potato salad dressing and taste again.  Adjust seasonings as you prefer.  Then mix in your potatoes, carefully not to crush them in the process.  Put this in the fridge to chill out and let the flavors get all groovy together!  Enjoy with your favorite BBQ grub!

As I did a little research for this post, I came across the following unique “potato” salads I wanted to share with you!

Warm Bacon Potato Salad – via Steamy Kitchen.  Don’t know where I first saw this recipe, but when I got a look at the picture, I knew I HAD to make it!  You had me at Bacon…and warm…

Sweet Potato Salad  – via The Loveless Cafe.  I am SO glad I found this website!  OMG, wait till you see some of the other recipes they have!  Can you say Bacon Pralines?  Or Carrot Puddin’ or Chow Chow Deviled Eggs….check them out!

Sour Cream-Dill Potato Salad – via Cooking Light.  I’m not usually one for Cooking Light recipes (because this girl likes her fat!) but I do love me a sour cream & onion potato chip so I thought this sounded intriguing!  I haven’t made it yet, so if you do, let me know how you like it!

Grilled Southwestern Potato Salad – via Fine Cooking.  I love this salad because you grill all the veggies first and then make the salad.  It has corn, chiles, red onions, peppers, and some crisp bacon. Yes more bacon. YUM!

Potato Salad with fresh stir-ins –  via Recipe.com.  Now this idea is great!  It’s kinda like a potato salad bar, if you will.  Make your basic base potato salad (with or without mayo/mustard) and then set out different “stir-in” that your guests can add.  This post gives you some ideas but you could really go crazy with this idea!

Wishing you & yours a wonderful & relaxing Memorial Day weekend!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s first #summersippers cocktail post & next week we’ll talk salad basics!

Cheers, Shawn

Where’s Waldo?

Where's Wally scene

A favorite book series to many, the story of Waldo (known to the rest of the world as “Wally”), lost in a sea of people & things.  Your challenge, is to find him.  Always dressed in a red & white striped shirt, with goofy glasses & hat.  Can you find him?

I’ve been feeling a bit like Waldo this past month.  This time of year always kicks my a**.  It’s the end of the school year and I am gearing up for a manageable summer with the kids & two jobs.  It’s a juggling act for three months, but, I am looking forward to spending more time with my kids.  Last summer, I was still working at the hotel so they were on their own for the better part of the day, four days a week.  It broke my heart everyday, leaving them.  I want to get them out this summer; to the park, museums, the beach etc. but know I have to balance that with work.  And this blog!  I am super excited to share my two summer blog series with you; “Summer of Salads” #summerofsalads & “Summer Sippers” #summersippers, hopefully both will begin this week!  Today, I just wanted to share some delicious & fun things I have squeezed in the past month or so.  Enjoy!

Tucci Benecch  Homemade Ricotta in the making!

Homemade Ricotta with Balsamic Syrup  Chef Donald & Chef J.D.

Oh my gosh, people, have you ever made your own Ricotta Cheese?  It’s ridiculous!!!!  Both in taste & ease!  (see top right pic) I’ve been seeing posts for the past year about homemade Ricotta cheese and kept telling myself to try it.  Then one night, after watching Chef Donald Gonzalez (shown bottom row, right, with JD Fratzke of the Strip Club in St. Paul) from Forepaugh’s Restaurant, (owned by the company my hubby works for, Taher Inc.) win the Minnesota Monthly Local Chef Challenge (and the $10k prize!), we decided to get dinner at our favorite MOA restaurant, Tucci Benucch.  We had this Ricotta cheese appetizer that was TO DIE FOR.  (see pic top left) It had lemon & fried Rosemary (um, yum!) and was served with these delicious little toast points.  Sadly, it was a seasonal appetizer, so don’t get mad at me when you go and they don’t have it.  But keep an eye out for it and be sure to go on a Sunday or Monday night, for  half-priced bottles of wine!  Yea!  And then go home and make your own Ricotta cheese!  Do you want me to post a recipe/how-to on it?  It’s super easy, but I certainly can, along with some great ideas of how to use your fresh Ricotta.  Tell me in the comments below!

Hummus!  Hummus Kawarma2

Speaking of my husbands employer, every year, they send the Taher Chef Council, (a group of chefs from within the company) on a trip somewhere in the world.  Yes, he’s very lucky, and no, I don’t get to go along.  This year was Jerusalem and he came back eager to make Hummus & this incredible dish shown on the right, Hummus Kawarma.  O M G…make it!!!  Find the recipe in the cookbook Jerusalem.  I checked out a copy at my local library but you can buy one here on Amazon.  Do you like to make your own Hummus?

Treats from Cat  Cat Cora cooking demo

And speaking of chefs, I was excited to meet Iron Chef Cat Cora at Byerly’s earlier this month.  (she was so tiny & awesome!) I joined my blogging lovelies, Kate from Kate in the Kitchen and Rachel and her very own adorable Cora, from The Realistic Housewife. Chef Cora did a cooking demo, highlighting her new product line called Cat Cora’s Kitchen.  Hey Byerly’s, where’s that recipe for her Olive Oil cake?  I did bring home some of her olive tapenade, in addition to her new cookbook and had that one day on my homemade Ricotta, obviously. (see picture above with Ricotta) YUM!  🙂

Stuffing for Pork Chops  Stuffed Pork Chops

I have been obsessing about Pine Nuts lately.  Yeah, why can’t it be with a less expensive nut…anyway, I’ve been bored with our typical Pork Chop preparations lately so one day, I decided to stuff them.  The recipe has herbs, cheese, zest, garlic, pine nuts & golden raisins in it, and was from Fine Cooking.  You can find the recipe here.  Have a good Pork Chop recipe?  Share it below!

Chai BellaVitano  Radisson Blu Social Media event  Turkey Tetrazzini

A few other random fun things…I finally found the Chai BellaVitano cheese from Sartori.  I LOVE Sartori cheeses, especially the BellaVitano line and this one was as good as the rest!  A new food blogger friend Chris,  who writes the blog, Wedge in the Round,  just returned from cheese-making with Sartori.  LUCKY!  Read about his adventure here.  My favorite Sartori cheese is a tie between the MontAmoré and the Espresso BellaVitano, but this Chai variety had such a great flavor of the spice blends in Chai.  Find it!  Try it!  Also shown above, some delicious nosh I enjoyed at the Radisson Blu Mall of America recently.  I was invited to attend a Social Media special event there and in addition to the delicious food & drinks.  Those little new potatoes were stuffed with creme fraiche and topped with caviar!  I was also given a great tour of this incredible new hotel.  The rooms are amazing & they even have a salt water pool!  I am staying there at the end of the month, for my first board retreat with MPI MN.  Can’t wait!  And last, I made Turkey (Mushroom) Tetrazzini.  Yep.  Never made it before.  Super easy, super delish!

Bacon Pancakes!

And last, I made Bacon Pancakes on Mother’s day.  With chocolate chips.  For myself.  Then later, the hubby made me Eggs Benedict for dinner.  It was all about breakfast that day!  YUM!  If you are a Mom, I hope you had a delicious day as well.  My kids made me the CUTEST things as well.  I have to share!

Dominic - Mother's Day 2013

This was from my son…please note that I am “Fabulous” and that he likes my hair because “it’s curly & fresh” OMG, I died!

Gabby - Mother's Day 2013

And my daughter made me a video, which I posted on my Vine account.  You can watch here.  Again, the cuteness!

Until next time,

Cheers!  Shawn