Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chocolate Pudding Dreams

Sometimes I sit on my couch and think about pudding. Not just any pudding. That pudding. The one in the picture up there. I sit and I think about how long it would take to go and get some of that pudding. Luckily, getting the pudding would require me to get on the highway and drive into town and arrive at a time when the restaurant is open. And since many of my pudding cravings happen after dark, I'm usually safe. This is not a diet pudding. If I ever learned to make it, or moved closer to the source, I fear what would happen. But this is a pudding that distracts from the empty places. It is comfort food at its finest. After eating it, your understanding of chocolate will never be the same. The picture doesn't begin to cover it.

It's like edible velvet- rich and thick and not too sweet. The homemade whipped cream on top is the perfect foil. A partner in crime, if you will, because this pudding is so good it's criminal.

Yeah, it's that good.

If you're lucky enough to live in, or near, Grand Rapids, you can get this pudding any time you want at Marie Catrib's. Marie has a lot of food that I could go on about for hours. Much of it vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and locally-sourced. Marie is amazing and her restaurant and all her food is amazing too. It's a foodie paradise. But as good as it all is, the pudding tops the list.

If you're not close enough to drive to GR to get some, you can now order it online. And no, unfortunately, Marie is not paying me in pudding (or $$) to tell you this. I promise. I just really love this pudding and I wanted to tell you about it. Because everyone deserves to have pudding like this at least once in their lifetime. The other stuff is great too- the granola bars and granola, seasoning salt, etc... You can't go wrong with any of it. But if you place an order for any of it, you have to promise me you'll buy some pudding too. And eat it with some homemade whipped cream made from the very freshest cream you can find.

Go... go on, get out of here. Go order some pudding. You can thank me later.

This post is linked to West Michigan Linkup.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Easy Mexican Dinners

It's a litte late for Cinco De Mayo, I know. But I've made a couple Mexican recipes lately and wanted to share them with you. I'm extremely fortunate to live in an area where there are a lot of great, authentic (and inexpensive) Mexican restaurants so I don't worry about cooking much Mexican at home. But I saw  the first recipe in the new issue of Everyday Food and I had some flank steak languishing in the freezer so I thought I'd give it a try.

Please keep in mind that I am not a food photographer. Well, actually, you won't have any trouble remembering that! ha! But ugly photography notwithstanding, these recipes are worth the minimal time to prepare.

Chile-Spiced Steak and Grilled Onion Tacos with Tomatillo Salsa
Adapted from Everyday Food, June 2011

For the tacos:

1 T. olive oil
2 T. chile powder
2 T. brown sugar
2 T. low-sodium soy sauce
2 T. fresh lime juice (plus wedges)
1 ½ pounds flank steak
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, cut into quarter-inch rounds
12 soft corn tortillas

Mix the olive oil, chile powder, brown sugar, soy sauce, and lime juice together to make a marinade. Place in a Ziploc bag, or a shallow dish covered tightly with plastic wrap and place in fridge to marinate for at least an hour.

Meanwhile, slice the onions and set them aside.

To make the salsa, dice 3-4 tomatillos, 1 jalapeno (don't forget to wear gloves) and about 4 T. red onion. I thought it was a little dry so I added a couple squeezes of lime juice. Refrigerate for a while to let the flavors blend.

Heat your grill to about medium high. Brush the rack with a little oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Season the meat with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper just before putting it on the grill. Save the marinade and brush it over the steak and onions as you grill them. I did the meat about 5 minutes a side. Flank steak should be a little rare inside. Grill the onions with the meat and brush with the marinade as they cook. After cooking the meat, I blistered some tortillas on the grill.

Let the meat sit for a few minutes after cooking. Slice against the grain, into thin strips. Place several strips on each tortilla. Top with the tomatillo salsa and onions. I also topped the tacos with crumbled Queso Fresco, diced avocado, tomato, and sliced radishes and served with more lime wedges.

I loved the taste of the meat. It would be just as good good served by itself with some roasted corn and stewed black beans. It could use a little extra spice though, so next time I think I'd add a little hot sauce to the marinade. I wasn't crazy about the salsa. I thought the tacos would have been better served with a pre-made, perhaps fire roasted salsa. I also had to finish my onions in a pan inside. They really need to be quite soft and I couldn't get them that way on the grill. The day I made these, however, the wind was so strong that it actually blew a piece of meat off the plate! So I didn't have a lot of patience for standing in front of the grill. I was afraid that dinner- or me- might blow away!

All in all it's a fairly authentic tasting recipe and the meat gets a great flavor, although I'd like to try it when I have more time and it can marinate longer than an hour.

Easy Chicken Empanadas

A few nights later, I was looking for another quick dinner idea and my mind went to a Paula Deen recipe that a friend had tried recently and told me was good. I hate bell peppers though and some of the reviewers (my friend included) complained that although the finished empanadas had a good flavor, they were a little dry, so I was brainstorming ways of making them creamier. First I thought maybe adding some sour cream would help but what I finally settled on was the new Philly Santa Fe Cooking Creme. It's an easy recipe to being with, and this makes it even easier because the spices are already included! All you need is this:

1 box refrigerated, rolled pie crust with 2 crusts (I used the Meijer brand)
1 can white meat chicken, drained and flaked into chunks (I used Trader Joe's)
1 tub Philly Santa Fe Cooking Creme
1 bag Mexican blend shredded cheese

Mix the flaked chicken and about a cup of cheese with the cooking creme. You could add some salsa or hot sauce if you'd like but I thought it was fine was it was. Preheat your oven to 400.

Roll the pise crusts out even thinner. I thought this would be hard because I'm really bad with dough, but it was actually easy and the dough didn't stick. Cut the dough into 3 inch rounds. I just used a wide mouthed drinking glass. It helps to roll out the individual circles into more of an oval shape. Wet the tip of your finger and run it around the edges of the crust. Fill with a heaping tablespoon of filling. Flip the crust over and secure the edges with a fork.

Before baking, brush the tops of the empanadas with some beaten egg white if you wish. It makes them look a little nicer and gives them a crackly sheen. I was able to make about 20 empanadas with a little filling left over.

I even had enough crust left to make on of my favorite childhood desserts- jam pie! Just make a tiny "crust" with a little pie dough and fill the indentation with some jam from the fridge. The perfect dessert for one, and kids love having their own individual pie!

Bake the empanadas (and your jam pie) in the 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Serve alone for a snack or with a salad for a meal. You could easily sub black beans for the chicken if you'd like a vegetarian version. They came out perfectly- a little spice but not too much and not dry at all! If you make them, and I suggest you do, let me know what you think.


My ugly, but tasty, raspberry jam pie! 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Friendship, Slacking and a Gleek Retreat '11 Recap

Although I freely admit to being a slacker about things like cleaning out my fridge, weeding, and returning library books, I'm usually not a slacker about things I like to do, like writing in my blog. Lately, however, my life has been a whirlwind and I've been keeping up with most of it ok but my bog has suffered terribly in the face of a temporary job, applying and interviewing for permanent jobs, finishing (finally!) my degree, starting a volunteer job, trying to keep up with various yard and house projects, all while still feeding myself and the cats and keeping up with various friends and, of course, my life in social media!

This last weekend I attended the Gleek Retreat '11 with a bunch of amazing women bloggers from the West Michigan and the surrounding areas, and I decided I simply had to write a post about how much I enjoyed meeting everyone and how great all the speakers were! Not only was it great to be able to put faces to the twitter handles, I also learned a lot from all the presenters. Thanks to Katie, from Kitchen Stewardship, I might even try writing an eBook when my schedule calms down a little! Look for a review of her awesome eBook Healthy Snacks To Go coming up in the next week or so since she was nice enough to give me a review copy. I just glanced through it quickly and there are a few recipes I am dying to try!

I also wanted to take a few minutes to thank and talk about the wonderful sponsors of the Gleek Retreat:

Unfortunately I didn't get time to take advantage of a free facial from Therapon Skin Health while at the retreat, but I can't wait to try the samples that were included in our swag bags. Everyone who has tried them has been raving about them on Twitter!

We each received two full-size bottles of carpet and upholstery cleaner and a coupon for a free Big Green Machine rental from Bissell.

Mabel's Labels provided the bags our swag came in, as well as two adorable Bag Tags for each attendee with our blog names.

Island Girl Bags gave us each a purse-sized Kleenex holder or key fob in our bags in fun patterns. I got a Kleenex holder and it has found a happy home in my purse. Being a bag addict, I've been drooling over their website and thinking of hosting a trunk show sometime soon!

Everyone loves candy and Rudy Kazoody's, Specialty Candies and Gift Baskets of Rockford, tucked little goodie packets into our swag bags. Mine had the cutest little package of Haribo gummy bears in it I've ever seen! How cute are their Retro Baskets!

Roger's Jewelers provided a jewelry polishing cloth, something I desperately needed!

So far my favorite item from the swag bag was from Good Life Granola. This is the best granola I've ever had, hands down! It's positively addictive! Luckily it's made in Holland, MI and a lot of places around Grand Rapids carry it so I'll be able to get more with no trouble. It is available online if you don't live within driving distance of one of the retailers. I highly recommend you try it if you like granola- or even if you don't, it's that good!

Other thanks go out to Julie at Dutch Being Me for planning the retreat. I know how much work goes into pulling off an event like this and she did an amazing job! Haworth Inn and Conference Center in downtown Holland gave us a great deal on our rooms and they were lovely! They took great care of us all weekend with good food, a nice space and lots of coffee! We took a dinner cruise out onto Lake Macatawa on the Holland Princess and it was a good time although sadly I missed the on-board karaoke.   And last but certainly not least, I won my ticket to the retreat from Blog Conference Newbie along with a snack pack and keychain from Words to Sweat By and a pack of 100 beautiful business cards from tinyprints that I received tons of compliments on!

Even though it was all fun and educational, by far my favorite part of the weekend was the opportunity to catch up with my friend Stacy from My Life of What Ifs. We were friends in high school and in college and have kept in touch over the years but it has been a decade since we'd seen each other in person to talk and catch up. As with all truly great friendships, the years melted away within minutes and if we didn't get all the way caught up, it sure wasn't for lack of trying! Stacy is the one who inspired me to start blogging again and she has always been one of my favorite people. She is more amazing than she knows and I've always admired her and her perspective on life. Even though we stayed up too late talking, the time I spent with her was a true gift and hopefully another 10 years won't go by before we can do it again. 

Once thing I can tell you for sure is that it won't be another month before you see another new post from me!