Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!!

 I hope you are all having a Happy Halloween! We really had so much fun with the kids this year carving their pumpkins and getting geared up for Halloween night!
 As a thank you treat for Marshall's teachers I decided to make chocolate covered caramel apples. I used Granny Smiths since those are my favorite and they pair so well with caramel. I stuck the wooden stick through the core after scrubbing the skin with really hot water and a scrubber brush to remove any wax on the skin. Then I placed a green apple sour straw flavored candy on the wooden stick to act as the pumpkin's stem. After that I dipped each apple in melted caramels and then dipped them in a layer of orange candy coating. I cut fondant pieces for the face of the pumpkins and even thought they didn't come out as perfectly as the idea I had in my mind, I was still happy with the end result. I hope his teachers were too!
 Trick or Treat!

 Packaged up and ready to go!
 My Knight in Shining Armor ready for school.......and my princess still in pj's
 Enjoying the one extra apple I made!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

BBB Cook Off

The day of the contest started bright and early as all the contestants met for group pictures before the grilling began. We got to hang out on the fabulous rooftop while we waited for our turns to enter the kitchens. At about 9:30am I heard the first cork being popped and glasses of wine were being poured.
Believe me, having a winery put on an event like this is so much fun and I was loving every minute of it!
When it got closer to my time I waited right outside the sliding glass doors that led to the kitchens. this is definitely where the butterflies in my stomach started picking up!
Here was my outdoor grilling station. It was funny to look over at the office building across from us at all the people going through their normal workdays.
My time started and after a brief run through of how the appliances worked form the fabulous Chef Starr I started making the burger I had cooked 1 million times before

I don't know about you, but for me, I don't handle chaos well. It took me a little while to get comfortable and get in my groove. Even thought that prize money was in the back of my mind and the people and reporters were all around me I tried to block that out of my mind and just concentrate.
This usually doesn't happen when I'm making dinner on a Tuesday night
And these guys usually don't pop up when I'm at home making a sandwich
My kids don't ask me what my inspiration was for making my burger while packing school lunches for the week.
But I wish it did!
It was so much fun I think my face hurt the rest of the day form smiling so much
After all my prep inside I headed outside to grill
Getting ready to go inside and serve the judges my hands started shaking a little
And once I was in front of them my hands started shaking a lot
Luckily they were all so nice and I was honored to listen to the compliments they had for what I made for them.
I was so relieved that I finished without falling, dropping anything or causing a fire on my grill!
After presenting to the judges we each took a picture with our burger and wine pairing

Early in the morning I was too overcome with nerves to eat. Louis had left our hotel room and got me breakfast and coffee at Starbucks and I couldn't even touch it. Once I was done cooking and presenting I got to taste the other contestant's burgers.
Louis has an amazing ability to get pictures of me when I look my worst!
In the end I got the "First Runner Up" prize. It wasn't the grand prize but I had such an amazing time that I was ok with that. And I already have 9 ideas for burger recipes to turn in next year!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Prep Day for BBB

Upon arriving to Chicago for the cook off we were spoiled immediately. Staying at the gorgeous Hotel Palomar was such a treat and the  bottle of wine and beautiful set of salt and pepper grinders made such a lovely welcome gift!
I was so excited to see where we would be cooking the day of the event, and the World of Whirlpool Building didn't disappoint. Below is a picture of the kitchen I got to prep in and I was really sad I didn't get to take it home with me. Although I'm not sure how long it would stay all white with my kids! I got to review all the ingredients that were bought for me and set up all of the tools I had taken with me. I'm sure airport security thought I was a little strange to have chili powder, knives, a food scale and a cookie sheet in my luggage.
The night before the cook off we were treated to a beautiful dinner at Fulton's on the River
put on by the Trinchero Family Vineyards  with a wide selection of their wines to try. The restaurant is located directly downstairs from the rooftop that we would be grilling on the next day.
The building itself is stunning and it was so nice to sit by the water as the sun set.
Nothing like seeing your name on the TV screens to make you feel special!
The set up in front of my cook-station where people were able to sample my burger and vote for their "fan favorite"

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Whilrwind Trip in the Windy City



This past week was an amazing whirlwind for me and I'm just coming back down to earth from it all.
A new city, amazing food, making new friends and a cooking contest that I have tried to get into for 4 years now. It couldn't have been better.
This year the Build a Better Burger competition was held in Chicago and out of over 5,000 entries I was one of ten very lucky finalists that got to be a part of an amazing event put on by Sutter Home Winery
Louis and I had never been to Chicago before, so as soon as I found out I would be cooking my Peppered Pineapple Al Pastor Burger in the windy city we also started researching things to do, places to go and of course where to eat once we got there.
(Please forgive the picture quality for the next few days of postings. I only had my little point and shoot camera and iphone on this trip, and in some of these pics that will be un-flateringly obvious)
I was surprised at how much we both fell in love with the city. The busy city feel was so much fun to be a part of and we packed a lot into our week long visit. Here's all the places we ate while we were there:
The Classics
Portillo's- this was recommended by two friends for having the best Chicago dogs in the city, we got the Classic Chicago Dog, the Street Style Polish Dog and onion rings. It was good, but I had my own favorite.....
Lou Malnatti's - this was the first thing we ate after landing in Chicago. We got the BuffaLou wings and the Malnatti Chicago Classic pizza. Again, this was good, but I've had better deep dish pizza before. Not bad, but not mind blowing either.
Kim and Carlos Hot Dog Stand- I know that this is just a hot dog stand and not a real restaurant, but in my opinion this was better than Portillo's. We got the Classic Chicago Dog and Polish Dogs again and I would totally pick this place over a real restaurant any day!
Tapas and Drinks:
Quartino's was also recommended by friends and I totally agreed with them, I loved this place! Delicious food, great menu, only 2 blocks from our hotel and perfect spot to people watch. We sat at a table outside, got a carafe of wine, trio of bruschetta, polenta fries, seared pork belly with apple compote, zeppole (italian doughnuts), and nutella paninno. Perfection.
XOCO- I couldn't go to Chicago without getting my Rick Bayless fix. This is his newest restaurant and it didn't disappoint. We got the special of the day torta with sauteed shrimp, avocado and cotija cheese and then the cubano. Both equally delicious!
The Purple Pig- This restaurant surprised me in how good it was! Right on the Magnificent Mile it was cozy and fun with a great atmosphere. Fried Chorizo Stuffed Olives, Eggplant Parmesan Balls, Milk Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes(we both agreed we could have ordered 18 of these and been very happy) Pig’s Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers & Fried Egg (our waitress talked us into this and I adored it- so glad I was brave enough to try it!), Roasted Bone Marrow with Crostini with a parsley salad (again, not something I would have ordered but Louis really wanted it. It was not my favorite, but I'm glad I ventured out and tried new things) 
Pops- A champagne bar. Need I say more? I love anything bubbly so I knew I had to stop in for at least one drink. Louis got scotch and I got the "La Vie En Rose"- a brut champagne cocktail with St Germaine, Peychaud bitters and a sugar cube. It was topped off with rose petals. I. was. in. heaven. I seriously need one of these places to open up down the street from me. 
Sable- this was the restaurant and bar at the hotel we were staying at- but it was so much more. We ate breakfast there a couple of mornings, had drinks there numerous nights (I will not list them all because that would embarrass me) and stopped in for dessert too. The chef at Sable is Heather Turhune, who happens to be on Top Chef this upcoming season and was a judge for me in the BBB cook off this year. So naturally I wanted to check out her restaurant too. The bar is amazing- the drinks are really well thought out and every drink we tried was delicious. The Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake with Creme Fraiche Ice Cream made me consider forgetting all decency and licking my bowl in public.

Last But Certainly Not Least:
Frontera Grill- I love Rick Bayless and have for as long as I can remember watching him as a little kid on his PBS shows. The Ceviche Trio, Hongos Enchipotlados (a mushroom and squash sautee in a creamy chipotle sauce topped with crispy kale and served with fresh corn tortillas), Tamales de Elote (a sweet corn tamale in a banana leaf with poblanos, queso fresca and crema), Raspberry Diablo (raspberry tequila, creme de cassis, lime, bitters and ginger ale) and a Classic Margarita made me love him all over again. 
Fulton's on the River- this is where Sutter Home Winery treated all of the finalists, judges and sponsors to dinner the night before the big cook off. These people know how to throw a great event, I promise. The dinner was buffet style and we had mussels, fresh oysters, seafood salads, Roasted Pork Loin, Shrimp Cocktail, and so much more served along with a fabulous selection of wines form the Terlato Family Vineyards. What an amazing night!
and of course, I had to save the best for last:
I have known about Grant Achatz for a long time now and have always said that if I ever in my life was in Chicago for any reason, I would go to his restaurant. When I entered BBB for the fourth time this past year and found out that the cook off would be held in Chicago without really believing that I would ever be picked I said the same thing. As I was picking up dinner plates I jokingly told Louis "if  I do get picked to go to this, we ARE going to Alinea or Aviary". 
He rolled his eyes and probably didn't give a second thought to it.
Fast forward two months later and when I got the news that I was actually going to Chicago I emailed (that's the only way to beg for a reservation) them right away. Two days before leaving for the cook off I finally got a confirmation email saying we had been accepted. I was elated.
It was raining when we got to the unmarked door and had to talk to a doorman standing outside in a poncho to get in, but once inside it was like a foodie dream come true.
Our own private table in the kitchen right there to watch the chefs in action. Our waitstaff was so friendly and nice, the drinks were works of art and the food was just as exciting. If you are looking for a splurge I couldn't think of a better one than this. It was more than just drinks and food it really was an experience and it's once I hope to have again.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Engagement Party Menu

Happy Friday!
Today I am packing and getting everything in order for our big trip! 
Since I'm making burgers tonight for the last time in Austin I am sharing the rest of the menu I served for the engagement party I hosted.
  Mike and Carolina's Engagement Party Menu
 Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad
Herbed Cheese Bubble Bread
Homemade Salsa and Chips
Layered Greek Hummus Dip with Pita Chips
Veggies with Jalapeno Buttermilk Dip
Stuffed Artichoke Bites
Buffalo Chicken Bites with Blue Cheese Dip
Bacon Stuffed Deviled Eggs
Southwest Baked Pimento Cheese Dip with Baguette
Chocolate Cake with Coconut Icing
Lemon and Almond Mini Cupcakes
Raspberry Layered Cheesecake Shooters
Sangria

Because it doesn't matter how long you plan for an event I was still cooking as guests were arriving so some of the dishes I didn't get a chance to get pictures of. Here's what I did have time to snap pictures of:
Herbed Cheese Bubble Bread
Cheesy Pockets in the bubble bread.....Yummy!
Bacon Stuffed Deviled Eggs
these are a staple at any family function and there are never any leftovers
 Southwest Baked Pimento Cheese Dip
melty cheese, roasted red bell peppers and diced jalapeno peppers.....what's not to love?!
Southwest Baked Pimento Cheese Dip
recipe from here
3 cups mayo
3 cups diced roasted red bell pepper
1/2 cup sliced green onion
2 large jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
1 16oz block sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 16oz block pepper jack cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350°. Stir together first 4 ingredients in a large bowl; stir in cheeses. Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 9x13in. baking dish.
Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes or until dip is golden and bubbly. Serve with baguette slices.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Baked Buffalo Chicken Bites

One of the appetizers I made for the party was these baked buffalo chicken bites
I love buffalo anything and these were the perfect finger food to munch on. You can also make the filling earlier in the day and chill it to save some time right before you expect your guests to arrive
Baked Buffalo Chicken Bites 
adapted from here
3 cups  finely-chopped cooked chicken
1/2 cup buffalo wing sauce
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 bunch green onions, chopped
4 ounces softened cream cheese
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper
Cooking spray

celery sticks 
blue cheese dressing

Preheat oven to 375°
In a large bowl combine chicken, wing sauce, cheese, green onions, and cream cheese until well combined.
Mix panko and a pinch of salt and pepper in a shallow dish.
Roll scoops of chicken mixture into balls (I used my mini cookie scoop)
Roll the chicken bites in the panko and place on a greased cookie sheet.
Before cooking, spray the tops of the bites with cooking spray.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until tops of bites are brown and crunchy.
Serve immediately with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing to dip

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dessert Shooters............So No One Has To Share

When Louis and I first started talking about throwing an engagement party I instantly knew I needed this wreath on the door. Isn't it so fun and festive?
I've told you about my pinterest obsession and this wreath is one of the first things I ever pinned
I wanted to have a party just so I could make it
All the decorations were bright and fun
 I have never seen a cabbage in flowers before but now that I have I want one in every arrangement I buy from now on
On the dessert table was the cake and cupcakes I told you about earlier here 
and these adorable mini desserts
Mini Raspberry Cheesecake Dessert Shots
I was so happy with the way these tasted, and I loved how it was single servings
because none of us want to have to share dessert!
I made the crust the night before the party, let it cool, crumbled it and assembled the dessert shots in the morning then placed them in the fridge to set for the rest of the day.
In between the layers of cheesecake filling is a layer of raspberry preserves.
I wish I could share the recipe with you, but I can't
I started out making a recipe that I looked up with great reviews for a no bake cheesecake filling
I made it, I tasted it, I hated it
so I added a little of this and a lot of that and I really don't know how to tell you the exact measurements for what was in it except that once I was done doctoring it up, it was delicious!
I hope the guests and the happy couple enjoyed them as much as I did!