Spoodles in the Kitchen

Friday, April 29, 2011 - 
Photo Credit
More anticipation for our pending Disney trip, I found myself making a dish from Spoodles. Spoodles was a restaurant located on Disney's BoardWalk.  I never had the opportunity to dine there, and won't have a chance since it closed in 2009.  However, I never really heard anything great about the restaurant, so I don't feel like I missed out on too much.

What drove me to make a dish from a closed restaurant that I never dined at, I can't say.  But I was still inspired by the fried polenta with sauteed mushrooms and wilted greens. I had spinach from our week 3 CSA and a cluster of shitake, oyster and baby bella mushrooms.  Why not? 

To save time, I grabbed already made polenta.  I wasn't confident in it until hubs and I actually sat down to eat dinner because through the process it was breaking and just didn't taste right to me.  I guess that is what happens when you don't make your own, but it worked out in the end!

The mushrooms were sauteed and then cooked in a red wine/broth reduction for a few minutes.  The wilted greens were spinach, sauteed with just a bit of water and butter.  I lightly fried the polenta in some olive oil, and then drizzled a balsamic vinaigrette with chopped basil over it all.

I wasn't anticipating it being so filling, but it was.  A light meal, inspired by Disney once again!

Vacation Anticipation in the Kitchen

Thursday, April 28, 2011 - 
I love getting excited for vacations.  I especially love the anticipation of a Walt Disney World vacation.  I'm a Disney brat - love everything about the place. 

I'm not kidding - I really do. 

I expressed my love in my first blog post.  I've had great vacations and have made many memories with friends and family.  My love (maybe an obsession, I'm willing to admit this) got stronger after hubs proposed to me under the Disney fireworks in 2006 - our engagements story was published in a Disney newsletter too.  And for the record, Alice is my favorite (which is apparent from this past Halloween party) with the villains, especially Cruella, following her very closely after.

I can't help it.  I love it.  If you are my friend, you know I love Disney.  Even if you are a virtual friend of mine and read this blog, you know I'm a Disney fan from my many random Disney ramblings throughout the blog.  There is always happiness streaming out of my pores.  Happiness = love.  Disney = love.   

See this little girl?  She was probably just waiting for mom and dad to get in the car and take her to the Happiest Place on Earth.  No kidding.

So when hubs and I decided to use our timeshare in Orlando this May, we invited some friends and arranged for our Disney travels.  I say Disney, others say Florida (it is all one happy place to me.)  My anticipation has officially leeked into the kitchen.  I'm a fan of buying cookbooks on my travels, and of course, there is a Disney cookbook in the library.  So, we are cooking up Disney for the next few weeks to continue the anticipation build.

This week - we had the Kona salad from the Kona Cafe at the Polynesian Resort.  Yum - it is a citrus based vinaigrette that is lightly dressed over some great ingredients.  We used the little gen romaine from our CSA as the base and topped it with bleu cheese, walnuts (versus the almonds that are in the original recipe), red onions and anjou pears.  Plus, hubs cooked up a chicken breast with simple seasoning and we split that on top. 

Simple, and delish.  Plus, made me crave Disney a bit more!

We plan on having a few more Disney inspired dishes this week and in the weeks to come as we prepare for our vacation.  It will be fun incorporating our CSA veggies into these recipes too.

How do you build up your excitement for a vacation?

Not so sure about these kale chips...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - 
We had our kale from week 2 and week 3 of our CSA to use, so I decided to bake up some kale chips. To be honest, I'm getting a little tired of kale despite really only cooking it once so far from our CSA mission.  So I was hoping this use would brighten up my current dislove of the veggie.

I knew it would be a simple process, just didn't know how it would turn out.  I began by cutting the kale from the the stems into bite sized pieces.  I washed them and made sure they were really dry before tossing them with some olive oil.  Then, in a single layer, I put them onto a baking sheet.

First round, they were in the oven for about 10 minutes - 350 degrees.  They were very crisp, and turned a little brown.  I thought it may have been due to the size of the kale, so for the second round, I used only the larger pieces.

The chips were crisp, light and airy.  I personally wasn't a fan of the chips - but I could see why people would love this nutritious treat.  Hubs ate them up very quickly despite his initial hesitation when he saw me tossing the kale with olive oil.

I'd be interested in making them again, but jazzing it up with something other than just sea salt.  Maybe garlic salt?  Or a little spice?

What are your thoughts for next time?

Eating Organic for Earth Day

Monday, April 25, 2011 - 
Celebrating Earth Day can be done in so many ways.  From shopping with your own bags to cleaning a highway, there are ways for all of us to pitch in and remember that we need to take care of our surroundings.  One celebration I was looking forward to was eating and sipping at Tastings.  Yes, eating and sipping organically counts as well.  We had a variety of organic wines and ate some great courses, 90% that was organic. Here is just a taste of what you missed:

Apertif - 2008 Perlage "Altana' Rosato Frizzante

2nd Course - 2008 Domaine Eugene Meyer Pinot Blanc served with Citrus Ceviche
The ceviche was Ahi tuna, turbot and bay scallops, blood orange & Meyer lemon dressing, honey-chamomile goat cheese served with sesame crisps.

3rd Course - 2006 Frogmore Creek Pinot Noir served with Veal Ragout
The ragout was a free-range veal, crimini mushrooms, striped eggplant, San Marzano tomatoes and sweet yam and sage polenta.  Just a note, this veal ragout was one of the best Italian dishes I've had in a very long time.  Hubs direct quote, "If I had an Italian grandmother, she would make this."  Classic Italian, rich in flavor from the veal and roasted eggplant that was seasoned with thyme and sage.  Subtle back heat finished this dish - delish. 

4th Course - 2009 Caligiore 'Reserve' Malbec served with Muscovado Pork
 Muscovado & chipotle marinated pork tenderloin, served with a pancetta-black eyed pea stew and a crispy onion.  Perfectly cooked pork that was tender and clean tasting, served with a rich stew.  Took me a few bites (I'm not a huge black eyed pea fan), but I really loved all the flavors as they worked together - I was licking my fork by the end of it.

2007 Lange Twins 'Proprietary' Cabernet Sauvignon served with a cheese tasting
Lightly-fried Hungarian Kashkaval and American Pecorino Romano with French plum and cherry chutney.  Salty cheese paired with a sweet chutney.  One word sums this up...nom.

If you haven't had the opportunity to dine with Steven, I think you have to make it a priority. He is extremely talented, always fine tuning his dishes and thinking about the flavors that he is pairing with the wines.  And the wines that Tastings offer, especially with this tasting, were fresh and bold.  Always a great experience, I'm looking forward to this upcoming Wednesday - a Spring Progressive.

Hoppy Green Easter!

Sunday, April 24, 2011 - 
This Easter, hubs and I really took time to enjoy ourselves with one another.  We kicked off the weekend on Saturday by picking up our week three CSA

We are enjoying...
  • Little Gem Romaine
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Mache
Yup, more kale, spinach and mache.  I guess we'll have to continue to be creative with the greens!

Happy Easter - let the cooking continue!

Sunday Morning Ritual with a Splash of Pesto

Friday, April 22, 2011 - 
I like grocery shopping.  I know most people don't, but there is something that I genuinely enjoy about it.  I make our weekly menu on Sunday morning over a cup of coffee, pack up our reusable bags and then head to the store with hubs.  We always begin with veggie picking and then work our way to the meat and dairy.  It's a Sunday ritual I really enjoy - like brunch and reading the paper with my coffee

I think we didn't go this past week because it was my birthDAY (opposed to week, weekend or month.)  Not that it is a reason to not go, but we were busy and just didn't make it.  When we don't go to the store, we are always left with two options during the week:

1.) Go to the store - just do the trip on Monday or Tuesday - during the week.
2.) Get creative with the pantry and fridge.

Sometimes option one is difficult with our schedules.  I'm a busy lady, I know this, and sometimes it is a battle to get everything into the week.  But option two can be difficult as well because we don't stock up on items in the pantry.  We like to buy a lot of things fresh, so we don't freeze a lot either.  We don't have frozen pizza on hand and we don't really do boxed meals. 

But this week, we decided on option 2 - let's make it work.  We had some fresh veggies from our second week of CSA so that dramatically makes it easier.  With a little inspiration from Jessica over at The Novice Chef, I decided to use the spinach and make a pesto of my own.  I had never used spinach in a pesto, and without basil, I knew it would be interesting (our basil seeds are not giving us any love quite yet, but they will! Hubs has a green thumb for sure.) 

I pulled out my mini chopper (I'm in desperate need of a full-sized food processor.  If anyone would like to contribute, I'm taking donations) and began by pulsing some spinach.  I added maybe a cup of leftover ricotta cheese, about 4 cloves of garlic, a few handfuls of Parmesan cheese and seasoned it with salt and pepper.

I added it to the cooked macaroni noodles we had on hand and tossed with about a cup of raw spinach leaves.  A little dusting of grated Parmesan on top, served with a simple red and green leaf lettuce salad.

So, veggie box update:
  • Spinach
  • Red and Green leaf lettuce
  • Mache (which we used last week to make fish tacos)
  • Wild chives
  • Green onions
  • Kale
Unfortunately, our mache is looking a little gloom.  But I do plan on using it before it all goes down hill.  I'll sneak the wild chives and onions in somewhere, and the kale, we'll figure it out sometime.  Time just seems to not be on my side this week...

Happy Earth Day!

Brew Bracket - A Craft Beer Tourney

Thursday, April 21, 2011 - 
Hubs and I joined up with our friend Steven and a few others to participate in the IPA tourney of craft brews - Brew Bracket.  I wasn't entirely sure how the event was going to work, but was excited for this portion of the birthDAY celebration.  We happily made our way to the Indiana State Fairgrounds and arrived a few minutes early.  A few minutes early that day in the beer community was a lot early, so we sat around and waited for the festivities to begin.

As we looked around I saw there were four different areas: North, South, East and West.  Later on when we learned how the tourney would work, we were informed how the first round was split into two, narrowing the 16 entries down to 8.  The third round down to four, and so on until it was two against two in the finals.  Two plastic cups - one silver and one orange - were the vehicles to taste the beer blindly.  Then, you cast your vote in a paint bucket and hoped for the best.

It was intense.  Each round was 30 minutes so you had to make sure you left yourself enough time to try all the beers, especially in the first round.  It was also intense because it was a blind tasting.  Though you would normally cheer on your favorites, you really couldn't tell if you cheering them on or not.  I have to be honest: some beers I wouldn't have tried because I had bad experiences with others from that particular brewery.  Unless they were 'free' samples, I wouldn't spend my money on them.  But I would easily try a brew from a brewery that I've loved in the past.  It was intense, a little nerve racking.  I truly wanted everyone to do well, and I found myself crossing my fingers sometimes as I dropped a ticket into the bucket. 

There were some not so good beers and then there were some great beers.  Oh, and there was raffle.  I did not win one of the coveted growlers.  ::enter sad birthday face::

Here is a video of the bracket announcements:

And for those who didn't want to watch it - the finalists were Rock Bottom College Park (Liz) and Rock Bottom Downtown (Jerry).  I have a confession - I knew Liz's brew was in the mix.  I guessed it and I was right.  But I was surprised by Jerry's IPA - I had never tried it before and it was delish as well.  But for both RB's to be in the mix?  No one was expecting such a close family battle at the end (well, I like to think no one was...)

I'm sure you were wondering who the winner was...I know I was...

The winner was announced, and Rock Bottom Downtown brewer, Jerry Sutherlin's IPA brew was liked a little bit more by the taste buds of the room as he brought home the coveted tap handle. 

A BIG congratulations to all of the brewers who participated, and of course to Jerry for a great win.  Thank you to the coordinators of the event - we really had a great time.  Heard some rumors of an Oktoberfest tourney in the works.  Now, that sounds like another perfect way to spend my birthday...

Birthday Celebrations

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - 
Birthday flowers from SIL, BIL & godson!

If you know me, you know that I am a birthday brat.  Plain and simple - I can't help it.  I love celebrating my birthday (I mean, most people do right?)  The countdown to the birthday month begins St. Paddy's Day - exactly one month before the day of birth.  Then, April 1 comes and the birthday celebrations begin.

You may ask, "Angie, why do you feel the need to celebrate all month long?"

Let me explain.  David and Chris, my brothers, both celebrate their birthday's in April (1st and 16th respectively) so legit, it always seemed like a month of birthdays.  Plus, I had (and still have) many friends who celebrate their birth in April.  Prime example - 9 out of about 30 people have an April birthday at my work.  Nine.

I guess I never stopped celebrating the whole month - and my hope is that I will continue to do so for a very long time.  I'm uber fortunate to have a husband who indulges this celebration and allows me to be the birthday brat I am for the month.  And of course, my besties are also very good about it.  I like to think of it as being endearing.  Just sayin'.

So here we are in birthday week.  My actual birthday was Sunday and it began with a delicious breakfast of eggs benedict - my favorite.  I love the creamy hollandaise and how the egg yolk pours perfectly over the crisp hash browns and English muffins.  My favorite kind of eggs benedict is crab benedict.  I order it ever single time I see it on the menu.  But something is a little bit more loving when your wonderful hubs makes it for you.  No questions of "what would you like?" because he already knows.  I gobbled up my breakfast and then we were lazy before heading to Brew Bracket (which I'll be posting a recap very soon) for the afternoon. 

Next up, birthday sushi from Naked Tchopstix - for a review, head over to my other blog, City Nom Noms.  And to wrap it up, drinks with some great friends.

It was a good birthday, low key but still busy.  A good way to end the weekend (which really, wasn't the end since I took Monday off.  I'm a firm believer everyone should have their birthday off.  And if it falls on the weekend - take off the Monday) and begin the 2nd birthday week. 

Yes, I said 2nd.  Since birthDAY was on a weekend, I decided to grant myself two weeks. 

Birthday. Brat.  I know this.

Little celebrations here and there aren't bad. Things like me being able to pick out the movie on Tuesday night or decide where to go out to lunch on Monday.  They are all little things - and nothing is wrong with entertaining life daily.

CSA Week 2

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 - 
Another Saturday means another CSA!  Last week, we had greens and this week is no different.  The line-up includes:
  • Spinach
  • Red and Green leaf lettuce
  • Mache (which we used last week to make fish tacos)
  • Wild chives
  • Green onions
  • Kale (plan on not keeping it so simple this week!)
Some thoughts for this week's menu includes a mixed Spring salad and potentially a gratin.  We'll need to use our greens earlier than last time since we don't want any wilting to happen!

Any ideas for the ingredients we have?

Sauteed Kale & Mushrooms

Monday, April 18, 2011 - 
Quick & simple post, I had to update you on the last item from our first week of CSA.  The kale!  I knew immediately that I wanted a simple side of kale and mushrooms. I had it when I was in Boston and my friend Denise cooked for me, so it was an easy side dish to some grilled chicken and spring vegetables.

Pretty easy:
  1. Saute about 3 or 4 garlic cloves.
  2. Add mushrooms - cook until softened.
  3. Add kale until it wilts, just a few minutes.
Simple & done.  Earthy kale helped make this meal a bit more healthy and fresh.  Afterward, hubby looks at me and says "kale is pretty earthy huh?"  Yes, why yes it is.

Fish Tacos with Mache & Grilled Nectarine Salsa

Saturday, April 16, 2011 - 
With our first CSA in hand, hubs had decided to make some fish tacos using our chives, mache and cilantro.  I was pleasantly surprised by this as he usually doesn't enjoy fish tacos, but I adore them.  We bought a large trout filet at the grocery and took it home for some corn tortilla tacos.

Hubs prepped all of the ingredients, so really, I just mixed and seasoned while he was grilling the nectarines I needed for the salsa.  We had about half a cup each of red onions and green bell peppers, a few tablespoons of mache and a few tablespoons of cilantro.  Mache is a mild, lettuce like ingredient.  I've also heard it called lamb lettuce, so if you have too, well, that is what we were using. 

I threw in the grilled, diced nectarines (we used two total), some cayenne and red pepper flakes, lime juice (fresh from one lime), salt and pepper to taste.  And of course, the wild chives we had to give it a little something else.

This was probably the freshest tasting salsa we've had in a long time.  Maybe it was the beautiful evening we were enjoying on the patio while indulging in these fish tacos, but it was refreshingly and guilt free.  Crisp in flavors, it worked perfectly with the grilled trout we had.

So far, this week's CSA:
  • Cilantro
  • Wild Chives
  • Mache
  • Romaine (Nothing will be posted on this - it got slimy and wilted after a few days.  Insert sad face.)
  • Kale
  • Spinach (won't post this either - we had plans to make a pasta, but time ran out on us and it ended up as a lunch salad.)
Made anything recently that was completely guilt free, but made you feel like you were indulging?

Supporting Local Food & Farmers

Friday, April 15, 2011 - 
A few weeks ago, the IndySpectator published an article about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).  Ever since our friends Mallory & Ryan had signed up for a CSA last year, I've been bugging hubs to get in on it so we could have a veggie box of our own.  And after the article came out, it reminded me that I still wanted one.  Thus, the Ahrens' purchased their very own CSA for the spring.

You may ask, what is a CSA? I'm a huge fan of farmer's markets, and this is another way that you can support your local farmer's and the community of food producers.  Essentially, you purchase a "share" of a local farmer's produce and for that price, receive a bounty of fruit, veggies, herbs and other local items.  Programs can vary by weeks (ours is 7 for the Spring) and by price points, as well as items offered.  These bountiful boxes can be delivered directly to your door or you can pick them up at the farm or a local shop.

After some research, I settled on a local farm in Zionville, IN called Valentine Hill Farm.  This particular CSA worked for us because of the price point (around $17 a week) and because of the pick-up location, which is at the delicious Trader's Point Creamery (go there for brunch if you haven't - delish).  Another reason we picked it was because of the options.  They had four:
  • Small share (for two people)
  • Small share (for two people) including bread
  • Large share (for four people)
  • Large share (for four people) including bread
I was extremely interested in the bread, because you could get freshly made loaves of bread, English muffins, homemade pasta or pies.  Delicious, but not necessary for us.  Since we enjoy making our own pasta and hubs is one fantastic baker, we decided to stick to the small share sans carbs.  I signed us up, and our first weekend pickup was this past Saturday.  I was in Chicago for work and a friend's bridal shower, and hubs was working, so bestie Mel came to the rescue and picked up the veg box for us.  Plus, she sent me this photo to get me all excited for Sunday menu planning (a ritual in the Ahrens' household).  And can I just note it came in a Charles Shaw wine box?  Veggies in a wine box?  My kind of veggies!

What was in the lovely veg box?  Spinach, mache, baby Little Gem romaine lettuce, kale, wild chives, and cilantro.  I love not knowing what we'll get - it is all fresh and in season which makes the pending weekend menu planning that much more fun to me.  And Valentine Farm sends a newsletter with 3-4 recipes that you can try with your new produce.  Honestly, what is there not to love?

We are still in debate if we'll continue through the summer.  You may wonder, "Why Angie, you love your CSA veg box!?" but it is because we also love to frequent the farmer's markets.  Taking a quick bike ride down the Monon to the Carmel Farmers Market is one of our favorite summer activities.  And we are still getting fresh and local ingredients, all while supporting the local community. So, I guess we'll see...

Stay tuned for all the great cooking we get from this new adventure.  Not to mention, future photos of veggie box excitement.  Can you tell I'm excited? I hope you are too!

Sauerkraut Balls

Thursday, April 14, 2011 - 
Hubs likes his sauerkraut.  Me?  It is one of those items sometimes I like and sometimes I'm okay not eating.  I think it just depends on how it is prepared and if it is good.

I decided to search for a new sauerkraut option to see what I could do differently with it for dinner one night.  I came across this recipe on the Food Network website and thought I'd give it at try.  You can see all of the ingredients and step by steps on the link, so this will be more of a photo walk through for your enjoyment.  But please note, I omitted the ham (didn't have any), adjusted flavoring (added more mustard than recommended), and made bread crumbs out of hot dog buns and seasoned those up a bit.

Ending result?  Eh...they were okay.  Not a mishap, but okay.  I think it was because I prepared the balls and then froze them prior to breading and frying.  We changed our dinner plans that night and went out with friends to celebrate the weekend.  Maybe they would have been better if we prepared and ate them the same night?  Either way, I shouldn't have added more mustard (got it, lesson learned) and I'm sure the ham would have given it an extra something. 

Either way, I think I'll stick with the Rathskeller's fried German apps.

Fried Goat Cheese

Wednesday, April 13, 2011 - 
A few weeks ago on a Sunday evening, hubs and I were having fish (I believe it was cod) for dinner and I thought asparagus would be the perfect Spring side to go with it. I thought, "but what would make roasted asparagus even better?"

Goat cheese.

Of course it would. 

I confess, I always have cheese (multiple kinds) in our fridge. I may have or may not have eaten a log of goat cheese (4 oz.) by myself and blocked it out at one point in my life.  Just sayin'.

Do remember this goat cheese egg?  Goat cheese makes everything delish.  Nom.

And what would make this goat cheese a bit better (I know, nothing is needed to make it better, but still...)?  Fry it.  Yup, fried cheese.  I am from Wisconsin - no apologies from this end.

While I was on a conference call for work, hubs cut up the goat cheese into medallions (it crumbled on him just a bit, but non-flavored dental floss would work great to cut it in the future!) and stuck it in the freezer while he waited for me.  A simple dip into some flour, then egg, followed by panko (Japanese bread crumbs), the cheese was ready to be fried.  I went for a shallow fry, so not as much oil though it takes just a bit more time.

The end product - beautiful.  Creamy goat cheese (we used a basic that was about $4 from Meijer) was, as I thought it would be, perfect with the crispy exterior.  No salt was added, as the salt from the cheese and frying was surely enough.  And the texture, perfectly paired with the roasted asparagus.

Sorry for lack of photos, but I wasn't planning on posting a blog.  So, this is dedicated to my friend Jill per request!

Desiree's Bridal Shower

Monday, April 11, 2011 - 
This past week and part of the weekend, I was in Chicago for work.  But it worked out well, because one of my best friend's was having her bridal shower in Elmhurst on Saturday. Timing couldn't have been better!  Here are a few photos from the event.

Fantastic favor bags, complete with baked goods from her future mother-in-law & sister-in-law

Beautiful bride to be is on the left, and we are pictured with her Elmhurst colleagues.

So honored to have spent time with Des on Friday night and Saturday.  She is one of the most beautiful people, inside and out, in the whole world.  Always carefree, a great listener, and all around great person.  Loved spending time with you Desi, my big W!!!