Giving Dinner - Cooking with Friends for a Cause

Friday, September 24, 2010 - 
Every year, Indy area Sigma Kappas come together through many events and activities to raise funds for our Memory Walk team to support the Alzheimer's Association.  I've done other events to benefit The Association, but the Memory Walk is one of the biggest and can bring people from all over together to fight for a cure.  This will be my 10th year participating in The Walk - I started when I was a freshman in college when I pledged my organization.  And it is has stuck with me, something I continue to participate in for the good of many people.

The alumnae chapter has a Giving Dinner every year as one of the events.  This dinner is an opportunity for a few of our chapter members to get together, but instead of going out for dinner and drinks, we stay in!  We chop, saute, broil and mix to our hearts content, cooking a generous meal together over drinks.  You then donate money that you normally would spend at a restaurant, and it goes to a great cause!

This year, we had some great treats to share in - the first a cheese fondue.  Swiss cheese was blended with a roux and stirred to perfection - it was delicious.  I did my fair share of dipping (and forced myself to walk away at one point) with the sourdough bread and apples to enjoy the cheesy goodness.  Thank you to KNS for her stirring talents!

 A simple spinach salad, prepared by MM, with a lemon & garlic vinaigrette tossed with some fresh tomatoes was one of our sides.  The other, a basil and mozzarella warm macaroni salad.  A mixture of garlic, extra virgin olive oil, purple basil and lots of mozzarella was delightful (especially the next day when tossed with some grilled me on this one.)

Main course - sliders!  I was in charge of these tasty bites, and of course, I strayed from the basic recipe.  MM just shook her head as I pushed the recipe aside and didn't measure - but alas, I can't help it.  These were extremely basic - just ground beef mixed with grill seasoning, Worcestershire and parsley.  That's it - it was pressed into a pan and baked for about 12 minutes or so (also baked the bacon at the same time too - lots of great smells from that oven!)

The great thing about these sliders - all of the fantastic toppings HC had to offer.  There were your basics, but she catered to my love and brought out a jalapeno as well as the peanut butter (if you haven't tried the Shewman at Scottys, give it a go, this is where my love comes from.)  Yum...can't go wrong with that combo, including sharp cheddar and bacon...
It was a great and filling meal, prepared with love.  Yum!
No meal is complete without a dessert!  How about a mix of ice cream sandwiches, whipped cream, malted milk balls and chocolate fudge?  That is what we had in this whopper delightful ice cream cake.  It was sweet and delicious - a perfect ending to a great casual meal!

Through the meal, everyone had the opportunity to bid on some great prizes, including donations from those in attendance.  There was a makeup package, some wine lamps, a fantastic Italian basket (which I won, yay for me,) an evening at the Conrad, some items from The Association, as well as goodies and gift cards from local restaurants.  There were many items to be won, and the raffle was a successful fundraiser for the evening!

My dear friend, HC, is a fantastic hostess who sets the menu and donates all the food for the evening. She's amazing, such a caring woman who has three energetic boys and a crazy intelligent husband who she adores.  I heart her.  She is like a big sister, remembering me as a freshman at UMass (she was one of my advisors!) and understanding how being away from home and family (the big W) is sometimes difficult.  A big thank you to her for such an amazing menu selection - I left with a full belly and warmed heart knowing all that money (to be matched by Eli Lilly - thank you very much!) was going to a great cause!

Want to learn more or donate to the cause?  You can do so by donating to my team - any donations are welcome and extremely appreciated!  Visit my personal fundraising page - thank you!

What about this cupcake?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010 - 
For the upcoming Halloween event, as you may have read, hubs and I are hosting a Tim Burton themed event!  It's no secret that I love Halloween, pumpkin, cinnamon and lots of other fall things.  Tim Burton represents autumn to me as well, though he is delightful in so many other forms. 

One of my favorite movies of all time is The Nightmare Before Christmas.  And yes, there will be a room themed after this movie of course.  I came across these today on the Disney Family site (yes, make fun of me, but I love Disney, I can't help it) and I couldn't help but smile and think to myself, "do I need to make these?" 
I will have many treats in the Alice in Wonderland themed area, as well as Charlie & the Chocolate Factory room.  After my recent baking episode and the fact that I'm not a baker, we'll definitely have to wait and see.  But I just couldn't resist how cute these are!

And on a side note - my costume is complete (here's a hint) as is Nala's.  Yes, my adorable puppy has her own costume because Target was selling it for only $7 and I couldn't resist.  And no, I'm not normally the kind of person who dresses their dog up, but I really couldn't resist.  
Do you see why? 

Hubs doesn't have his costume yet, but I'm sure you can guess who he'll be! 

Bub's Cafe - Not Just a Place for Burgers

Sunday, September 19, 2010 - 
If you are a fan of Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel, you may have watched Adam Richman visit Indianapolis recently.  On the episode, his big challenge was to the eat four Big Uglies at Bub's Burgers in Carmel, which is right around the corner from hubby and I.  We've eaten there many times and dolloped in the ice cream selections as well - great food for sure.  But, there is another Bub's gem right down the Monon - Bub's Cafe.  This weekend, my parents were visiting from Wisconsin and per dad's request - Bub's cafe was our Sunday morning brunch scene.

It is a smaller restaurant, as it was a house at one point converted into the cafe it is now.  But don't let a small wait discourage you, there is always coffee waiting for those who have their name on the waiting list.   Hubs and I sipped our coffee and waited on this adorable red bench in the parking lot for my parents.  And yes, parking is limited in the lot (just like Bub's Burgers,) but there is plenty of road space available.  Or, you could just walk on the Monon like we do if you are able - knowing what treats lay ahead, you may want to get that walk in before diving in.

Once inside, we were greeted by our friendly server who warmed up our coffee and delivered ordered juices.  I adore sitting outside on the patio with a warm cup of coffee in my hand - and this experience did not disappoint as I sipped and enjoyed the company I was with.  We ordered our food and enjoyed the morning while we waited.

I always order the famous "Bub Holes" when I dine here - they are just too good to pass up (thus, the walking...)  You can place an order for three or six homemade donut holes (I say go for the six, you can mix the different kinds so why not!)  They come as glazed, powdered sugar, chocolate or cinnamon sugar.  And if you are there during the fall - sometimes you can get them as pumpkin!  Unfortunately, pumpkin wasn't available, so I ordered us six to enjoy: half cinnamon and sugar, half chocolate.  When they arrived, they were warm and perfectly fried up to order.  All were crisp on the outside, and cakey but light on the inside.  The dough they create is perfect in texture and density when fried.  Rolled in cinnamon and sugar, you can't beat that combination of sweetness with the fried dough.  Unless you are a chocolate lover, because the chocolate donuts are covered with a luscious sauce that is smooth and warm - just delicious.  Let's just say I'm happy not all were eaten so I can have a few later on this evening for dessert!

For our meals, hubby ordered one of his faves (and a special of the day) - eggs benedict. Perfectly poached eggs adorned a crisp english muffin and pan fried piece of Canadian bacon.  Over these simple yet satisfying elements was their amazing hollandaise sauce.  Hollandaise sauce is basically egg yolks and butter cooked (but not scrambled) over a double boiler.  From there, you can add a mixture of ingredients, jazzing it to your hearts content.  Bub's has a simple flavor of lemon and a hint of mustard, seasoned with salt and pepper.  These simple flavors pair perfectly with the open face egg sandwich - always a good choice.

I ordered another special they were offering that day - snow crab stratta.  I was extremely excited to see it on the board and yet curious to how they would incorporate the snow crab.  Upon receipt, I couldn't help but to be extremely happy with the portions as I knew it would be great leftovers.  Strattas are similar to a quiche or frittata, mostly an egg dish that would be filled with flavors and ingredients and then baked into a delicious entree for breakfast, lunch or dinner. In this case, snow crab was incorporated and did not dissapoint as each bite had the rich essence of the shellfish.  In addition, spinach and tomatoes were baked on top and their hollandaise was dribbled over.  These flavors were fantastic together, and I can't wait to have it again (maybe for dinner tonight or lunch tomorrow, oh the possibilities!)  Plus, I was given a generous serving of fruit - watermelon, pineapple, cantalope and grapes.  A nice touch with the simple mixed greens that I nibbled through.

My dad enjoyed his omelette with a mixing of great ingredients and thick slices of sourdough toast while my mom ate her eggs (over easy) with sourdough toast, potatoes (though they did look a little dry) and bacon.  They always request to visit Bub's, whether it is burgers or breakfast, and the result is always a happy one. 

Where is one of your favorite brunch spots on a Sunday morning?

A Case of the "Blends"

Friday, September 17, 2010 - 
Blended Wines.  Some people love them and have embraced this increasing trend while others have yet to try.  Tastings decided to expand their varietal series as we took a closer look at blended wines and a pairing of wonderful food.

First course was a white table wine, Pro-mis-Q-ous.  A combination of Gewurtztraminer, Chenin Blank and Chardonnay, the taste was subdued in flavor.  Originally, I could smell a hint of oak flavors, but after taking a bite of food, more intense flavor shine through.  Simple and basic in flavor, the three varieties blended well together to create a partnership.  The name says it all, does it not?

What normally would have been our apertif, we were treated to not only a tasting of wine but also to a pairing of food.  Unrue presented us with a warm pear and scallop salad.  Lemon-poached red pears and Granny Smith apples were on a bed of spicy arugula and then topped with perfectly pan-seared bay scallops.  I loved the use of the bay scallops, as it gave a delicate approach to the dish.  The red pears were not as grainy in texture (I'm not normally a fan of pears...yes, I think they taste like dirt...) but more crisp like the apples.  They soaked in the lemon flavors and were strengthened with the meyer lemon dressing.  The tartness of the lemon was refreshing, but what played well with it was the surprise of the St. Germaine foam on top.  This wonderful liquor made from elderflower gave the whole dish a sweetness that was cut by the salty flavors from a shaving of manchego cheese.  I loved the simplicity of the flavors in this dish - it was fantastic.

Our second course began the reds of the evening with a 2006 Michael~David "Incognito" Rouge.  Lodi Vineyards (located in California) produces this sharp, peppery smelling wine.  I was expecting the bold flavors of a Syrah after giving it a swirl and I was happy to have the subtle dryness delivered (if you remember, some individuals do not like reds like this.)  A fruity flavor of berries (especially blueberries) exploded on the palate and then rounded out with the tannines that I expected.  I had previously had this before (I can't help it, marketing gets me every time!) so I was happy to have another tasting.

Paired with the Incognito was the perfect dish - creole fish and dirty rice.  I had already envisioned sitting in Louisiana sipping the wine, so what a dish to match.  Wonderfully cooked mahi mahi was seasoned with creole spices and left you with a great back taste complimenting the wine perfectly.  The startchy dirty rice was cut with the richness of the fish.  To add another element, a basil remoulade was served on top leaving a basil heavy, creamy textured compliment.  A tinge of berry brought out the spices of the dish as well. A heavier dish, the second course contrasted sharply from the first, but I loved everything about it.  My favorite of the evening.

As I continued drooling over the creole mahi mahi and dirty rice (side note - all I want is dirty rice now...and that was a few days ago,) we were presented with our third tasting.  From Argentina, a 2007 Alta Vista "Atemporal" was smooth and full of flavor from the blends.   Malbec was the lead of the flavor, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and a varietal I've never experienced - Petit Verdot.  I could taste the richness floral and red fruits from what I would expect out of a Malbec, being "fruit forward" in taste.  It finished silky and smooth in the mouth.

I was excited to see a strong and flavorful dish for the course.  Falafel and Babaganoush - two elements that I adore - were beautifully presented in a colorful dish.  A cumin-scented chickpea fritter was chopped so that it had almost a rice texture to it but with all the taste of a chickpea.  Even hubs who doesn't like chickpeas could have had more fritters.  On top was a roasted Japanese eggplant, which I was extremely excited to try as I had never had theJapanese eggplant before.  Sweeter in taste, it paired well with the creaminess of the roasted tomato cream sauce which was poured over the tasting.  I adored the creamy and heavy taste of the sauce as it added a new texture to the grainy chickpea flavors.  The gentlemen sitting next to me told his date that he could be a vegetarian if all the dishes were like this.  For a minute, I thought he was going to start licking his plate, but alas...

Revelry Vintners out of Columbia Valley, Washington, produced our next tasting, the 2008 Reveler.  Luscious in flavors, this was a reverse-style Bordeaux made with a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  It had a medium body with a clean finish and light tannines.  It is a limited series and was a great introduction for the reverse Bordeaux style that I had never tried.

With a bold flavor of the Reveler, what better to be served than lamb meatballs?  I love lamb but never had it in a meatball form, so I was excited to be served the red wine-braised lamb.  Served with a smooth porcini mushroom jus, pepper-roasted figs and maytag purple peruvian potatoes mad this a hearty dish.  I love the combination of the bleu Maytag cheese and thyme - it was a level of berry flavors combining with the earthiness of the smashed potatoes.  A little salty in taste, this was comfort food at its finest: salty but bold with meaty flavors.

Onto the dessert course, I was happy to not be given a dessert wine, but a white from Terra Alta, Spain.  I love Spanish wines and this 2007 Clos del Pinell Blanc was sweet but with a uniqueness of flavors.  Lemon amber in color, it had a grapefruit smell and was sweet (in the not overwhelming kind of way) on the tongue.  I could see this being served with a light dessert (as we were so happily served) or a seafood - seemed very versitle for a sweeter white.  Another thing I enjoyed, how simple the Spanish can be - can you get anymore basic with this label?
Mock cheesecake - I had no idea what to expect.  I was given a creamy, mascarpone panna cotta which was "eggy" in the perfect way (and yes, I understand that there are no eggs in panna cotta, but still, the cream, sugar and gelatin basics sometimes yield these flavors to me.)  A buttery, almond sugar cookie "crust" was sitting in a pool of sweet tangelo syrup.  The tangelo, which is a sweet fruit, similar to a tangerine, wasn't over the top sweet and complimented the mellow flavors of the mascarpone and almond.  The beautiful sparkle of the candied citrus and lychee (which is a berry) gave it a cruncy sweetness.  Light but sweet - a perfect ending to another wonderful meal. 

During the meal, I was able to enjoy a NEW addition to Tastings - the beautiful flat screen behind the open kitchen!  I know, a tv. And yes, it is exciting.  This is the perfect way for people who MUST see sports or something on the weekend to potentially have that opportunity.  For this tasting however, we were shown some classic pieces of digital art - a nice touch if I do say so myself.

I unfortunately can't make it to the next two Wednesday wine dinners (sad face) because I'll be heading to Seattle to try amazing food (happy face), but that doesn't mean you can't make it!  On Wednesday evening, they made a BIG announcement - Sun King Brewing is partnering with Tastings for an Oktoberfest Beer Tasting!  Beyond excited, as Sun King has some amazing craft beer (amazing tasting room by the way, you must check them out - they also great events, like HBG4) that will match well with Unrue's culinary masterpieces.  You should sign up for that one now - limited spots are available.  I already have my seat reserved, as well as the other marked evenings below:

September 22 - Regional Series: Napa in Nap Town
September 29 - Truly Progressive (Happy Anniversary to my hubby!)
*October 6 - An Evening with Burgess Cellars
*October 13 - Oktoberfest Beer Tasting with Sun King Brewing

Will I be seeing you at any of these events?

Greek Fest 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - 
After a morning of baking, when I got back to Indy on Saturday, hubby and I ventured off to Greek Fest 2010.  You see, hubby and I honeymooned in Greece for an amazing two weeks, so we decided to attend the festival during our anniversary month to remember all of the great food that we indulged in while overseas. Photo recap of a few of my faves:

But back to the festival...

The festival took place on the grounds of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox church.  I must say, we haven't attended the festival in the past because we weren't sure what it would be like, but I'm very glad that we did this past weekend.  First off, this church is absolutely magnificent in structure.  I remember when they first started to build it and we both knew immediately it would be Greek Orthodox because of the dome, but really, it turned out to be quite a beautiful building.  I'm not quite sure if the inside is complete - we walked in for a brief second just so I could see it and was suprised to see folding chairs and pavement floors - but quite beautiful from the outside for sure.

We reviewed our map of events and happily noticed that there was a lot of food to be eaten.  So, we began with an order of calamari and saganaki.

The calamari was lightly breaded and not greasy at all - not what I anticipated for "fair food."  The squid was quite nice, not chewy and well seasoned.  It was garnished not only with a wedge (more like half) of lemon, but also feta.  And not just any feta, but oregano feta, giving it an extra taste element.  I really loved the creaminess of the feta, but the bolder taste the oregano gave the squid.  It was a great combination.

The saganaki, which is Greek for "flaming cheese" is just that.  It is grilled Kasseri cheese, which is soft textured cheese, very stringy, especially when flambeed like saganaki is.  They had huge slices of this cheese, ready to be set on fire...I couldn't wait.  A squirt of lemon and pita bread make this one of my favorite Greek dishes for sure.

The whole time we were munching, we couldn't help to notice that we didn't have a beer or wine.  When in Greece, we drank so much great wine and beer that this was just not acceptable to have an empty hand.  We were excited to see what was offered, but alas, the only beer available was Keo.  The lager is similar to a pilsner in taste - tastes simply like any other Greek beer that we remembered (we had preference to Mythos when we were there.) We were more about the wines during the honeymoon and the festival definitely had a variety for you to choose from.  But really, I wasn't about to pay what they wanted for the taste that I would get.  So we both settled in with our Keo and made way for the gyros.

We decided to split the gyro because I knew I would want to keep on snacking (there was a pastry tent after all!)  They had seasoned beef and lamb on a spit, ready to be devoured.  The pita they used looked like basic packaging, but it was the perfect grilled crunch but softness that a pita should be.  Traditional toppings of diced tomatoes, onions and tzatziki sauce were served with the grilled meat. Normally, I don't get onions, but I forgot to ask without.  I was very happy the onions didn't lend too much flavor so I didn't have that strong onion taste to worry about.  Maybe it was the tzatziki (cucumber sauce - made with Greek yogurt, mint, good) that helped mask it because that tzatziki was some of the best I've had.  Creamy and delicious!

During our munching, we watched some of the grade school children perform traditional Greek dances - here is one of them (and yes, they do say Opa!)

I wanted to try some of the meze (which is Greek for hors d'oeuvres), but more specifically, the "Herculean Platter" which featured Spanikopita, Tiropita, Hummus, Greek meatballs, feta cheese dip, olives and traditional Greek salad - but we knew that would be too much.  Instead, we headed over to the pastry tent (because you know THAT wouldn't be too much, right?!)  There was a pretty long queue, but we waited patiently and told ourselves that we would only get the traditional baklava.  This is one of my favorite treats - walnuts, sugar and spice between phyllo dough drenched in honey.  Did we only get the baklava?  Well...not really...(and trust me, we were good compared to everyone else!):

What you see in there (starting on left, moving clockwise) is baklava, diple (rolled dough with nuts and cinnamon, smothered in honey syrup,) chocolate almond roll (a wrapped phyllo tube filled with walnuts and chocolate,) pecan blossoms (phyllo basket with pecans, walnuts and covered in honey syrup) and Galatoboureko (custard filled phyllo with citrusy flavors.)  After you pointed at the grocery cases full of treats, they boxed them up and gave you this wonderful little tote.  It was a nice surprise and much better than carrying a bakers box around.  If you like phyllo and honey syrup with a variety of nuts, you would have loved everything in this box.  Of course, it was all too sweet for me, so I had to take a bite here, a bite there.  I'm still biting my halves...but I think I may have to finish it off today.

On our way out (because we weren't eating any of the fantastic treats in our new grocery tote,) we opted for some Loukoumades - aka, Honey Puffs.  These little dough packets are deep fried to a golden brown, and then dipped in a honey syrup.  Sprinkled with cinnamon (my fave spice, tied with red pepper flakes of course) I knew it would be a treat.  What I didn't expect when popping the treat into my mouth was the explosion of hot honey!  I was not a fan of the explosion of sweet syrup, but hubs enjoyed the sweet treat.  Luckily for me, you could tell which ones were heavy with the honey.  Hubs at his way through those while I ate the remainder of the small fried yeast dough treats sprinkled with heaven.

It was a great festival with a variety of food and drinks (well, wine) to try.  Volunteers were friendly, but it was definitely a church festival, but with flair.  We would go again, but buy our tickets in advance to save a bit so we could get more food.  

Were you able to attend any festivals over the weekend, or did you try any great ethnic food?

Cookies, Cupcakes and Sorority Recruitment - Oh My!

Monday, September 13, 2010 - 
This past Saturday, I woke up at 8am and started baking.  Why you may ask?  Because I promised I'd bring desserts to the Sigma Kappa women at Ball State University during Sorority recruitment.  As they recruited their hearts out (yay for making quota by the way ladies!) I put together some tasty treats and made the trek to Muncie for the afternoon.  But first, I had to bake.

Now, I'm not a baker.  I don't like measuring and all that jazz.  I adore Holy Cow Cupcakes (so dangerous that they are right down the street from my home) and The Flying Cupcake (thank you for opening another location and providing me with more red velvet.)  I leave the baking business to the professionals.  But alas, once in a while, I whip out those red measuring cups and go to town.  Like this past Saturday when I made 7 dozen cookies and 2 dozen cupcakes in 2.5 hours.  Lovely.

When I was at the store, they were having a sale on Hershey bars, so I thought "Why not make s'more cupcakes?"  And of course, I saw strawberries were also on sale, so the next thought was "and strawberry shortcake cupcakes too!"  For cookies, I like all kinds, so I figured a variety mix would be good.  Thus, double chocolate chunk, peanut butter and sugar cookies were made.

First up - cupcakes.  I made a basic batter out of the good stuff (per Ms. Martha's recommendations of course) and poured half of it into one prepared pan.  The other half, I pureed some strawberries and mix those in before pouring into another pan.  Then, I baked and viola, here they are.  Unfortunately, the strawberry cupcakes did not rise as well as the plain vanilla - see the comparison?
While I let those cool, I baked double chocolate chunk cookies (sorry for the before photo, all I remembered was after!)  They were ooey and gooey, just the way I like them!
Then peanut butter - with the fork pressing of course.  The only difference is I dropped all the cookies rather than rolled - same thing with the sugar...
Sugar cookies.  I thought I had some sanding sugar to top it off with, but I must have finished that up around Valentine's Day and just forgot to restock.  So, they got red sugar crystals instead (it could have been blue, but that would have clashed even more than the red!)
Once all the cupcakes were cooled, I was ready for the fun part - decorating!  These are what makes them look appealing right?  Got together my toppings and prepped the pastry bag.  I cheated and used fluff and strawberry icing...I'm a little bummed I made that call, but I was under a time crunch, so I'll forgive myself.
Strawberry shortcake cupcakes.  I filled and frosted the strawberry vanilla cupcakes with strawberry frosting, though I did a really bad job piping for some reason.  It was extremely light (yes, I know, that is what whipped frosting means) and just wasn't the consistency I needed.  But putting a vanilla wafer and strawberry on top made them look extremely better. 
For the first time, I wanted to make s'more cupcakes.  Fluff (which I never heard of until I went to college and found out that is what the East coast kids grew up on - peanut butter and fluff sandwiches...anyone ever heard of jam/jelly before?) is what I decided to fill the cupcakes with and then top them for the sticky marshmallow topping.  Then, I sprinkled some crushed graham crackers on them and added a piece of Hershey chocolate.  Yum.
And there you have it!  Lots of cupcakes and cookies for a job well done!

Of course, I left some in the cookie jar for the hubs.  He would have been awfully sad if he came home and smelled the goodness to find an empty cookie jar.

Did I mention that I somehow got 3 loads of laundry done during this time too?  All before leaving at noon...nice Angie.

Do you ever get in a baking mood - and if so, what do you bake?