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Wild Mushroom Risotto

12 Oct


I grew up in Washington State and every fall –my dad would get us up early, and rush out of the house in our  rainy cold weather clothes and go tramp through the woods looking for mushrooms.  Sometimes, we would come home with buckets and buckets of wild chantrelle mushrooms.  Sometimes, we would come back with a handful.  Either way, it was so fun to be outside with my dad, breathing in that earthy wet smell of the Washington forests.  (I am getting super homesick…..).

I remember going once with my best friend Leona and her dad.  We got so many chantrelles and then went to her house and sauteed them in butter.  They were so simple but so delicious!

Needless to say, fall reminds me of mushroom picking and eating and I was very excited to get a package from Marx Foods.  Marx Foods is a company based in Seattle, Washington that specialize in gourmet and hard to find foods.  They have some really interesting things on their website like, truffle honey, lavender salts and kangaroo meat.  I highly recommend checking them out-their website is here.  I have been very impressed with them based on my limited involvement with them—they are active and supportive of the food blog community—and when you send them an email, they promptly reply.

They sent me about 1/2 ounce of dried Chantrelles, Lobster Mushrooms, Black Trumpets, Porcinis and Matsutake Mushrooms–all of which were hand collected from the Pacific Northwest.  I felt they had sent me a little piece of home and I was very excited to use them.

A risotto seemed like the perfect opportunity.  A perfect recipe for fall and a delicious and healthy dinner for the family.

I have to admit—I was a little bit scared to make this as it seemed so complicated and I wasn’t sure I would like it.  Let me reassure you, it is NOT complicated, just a bit time consuming, but so worth it.  You should make it.

You will need:

1 and 1/4 cup Arborio Rice

About 6 cups of chicken stock

1 cup of mushroom stock (from your freshly reconstituted mushrooms)

About 2 cups of wild mushrooms—I used an assortment of wild porcinis, black trumpet, lobster and Mastsutake because that is what I had–but one mushroom variety would have been just as good.  (I did not use the chantrelles that were sent to me as I plan to make cream of chantrelle soup later in the week.  Stay tuned for that recipe.)

1/2 white wine (I don’t know my wine AT ALL–but thought a wine called “Cupcake” would have to be good..don’t you agree?)

1/2 onion

2 shallots

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

6 Tablespoons butter

1)  If using dried mushrooms, you will need to reconstitute them.  This is as easy as boiling some water, pouring it over the mushrooms and letting them soak for twenty minutes.  The results will be plump, ready to use mushrooms and nice beautiful mushroom broth to use in your cooking.

If you are lucky enough to live in a place (or have the knowledge) and can forage for the mushrooms–good on you.  Clean your ‘shrooms and cut them in quarters.  We are looking for small pieces of mushrooms not huge chunks.

2)  Once the mushrooms are ready, heat about 2 T butter in a cast iron pan and saute about 1/3 of your mushrooms.  Sprinkle with salt.  Set aside.  Repeat with the second two batches of mushrooms.

3)  In a saucepan, combine the chicken and mushroom broth.  Heat until almost boiling.  Turn down but keep warm.

4)  In a separate saucepan, heat 1 T  of olive oil and saute the onion and shallot until translucent and smelling delicious.  Add the Arborio Rice.  Saute for about 4-5 minutes.

5)  At this point, you are going to slowly add about 3/4 cups of the broth at a time.  Pausing and stirring in between each addition for the rice to absorb the liquid.  The Amateur Gourmet has a great video on how to do this and it really made me less scared to try it.  You can watch it here. It takes a minute or two between each addition of liquid for it to absorb.  The whole process should take about 20 minutes.

6)  After the 4th addition of liquid, about ten minutes will have passed.  You will wonder if you will ever be done slaving in front of the hot stove.  You will wonder if it is really worth it. Don’t worry–it is.

7) Before you add in your 5th broth serving, add the sauteed mushrooms that have been patiently waiting.  They are ready.

8 ) Continue with broth additions until you are left with no broth.

9) For the final step, add the Parmesan cheese and mix together.

Hooray!  You are done!

Serve with Parmesan……and maybe some grilled WILD salmon (because, friends don’t let friends eat farmed salmon) and a fresh spinach salad.  Seeing that we live in Florida and my dad never sends us any fish–we ate the Risotto with a Spinach salad and no salmon–but I know it would be a good combination.

Disclaimer: Marx Foods provided me with samples of dried wild mushrooms to create this dish.

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Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

8 Oct

I’ve been wanting it to be feel like fall for awhile now so that I could have an excuse to begin baking with pumpkin.   Back in July, I started to plan a Halloween party for the kids and in August began talking about Thanksgiving plans.  I wanted to carve a Jack O’ lantern a month ago although I learned my lesson on that last year.  ( It ended up rotting before Halloween. We then used it as a science experiment to see if it would rot away completely by Christmas.  It did not.)

Anyway, I was home sick from work this week and finally made the pumpkin bread that I had been craving.  It was good.  It was the only thing I ate for two days.  Don’t judge me.  I was sick and when you are sick you get to eat whatever you want.

I am embarrassed to say that I did not use the $6.00 organic pumpkin  I had purchased solely for baked goods.  I made a special trip to the store to get grapefruit juice and allspice and then gave in and bought their last can of Pumpkin Puree.  Which, if you look on the bright side, means I have more pumpkin just for baking.

I made two loaves–one with bittersweet chocolate chips and one without.  Of course, the chocolate chip loaf was gone first.

 

Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips

 

The non-chocolate loaf was in the refrigerator for a couple of days and tastes absolutely perfect cold.  It cuts easily, is moist, and so super good.  You will never buy the seasonal pumpkin bread from that coffee shop again.

 

 

Pumpkin Bread with no chocolate chips

 

Here is recipe….it is super easy and takes only about 15 minutes to mix up and about 70 minutes to bake.  Your house will be filled with most loveliest of smells!

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

Bread Ingredients:
¾ cups Butter, Softened
¾ cups Granulated Sugar
¾ cups Dark Brown Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla
4 whole Eggs
1 can of Pumpkin Puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
3 cups All-purpose Flour
3 tsp Baking Powder
¾ tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Salt
1-½ tsp Cinnamon
¼ tsp Allspice
¼ tsp Grated Nutmeg
¼  tsp grated cloves
½ cups milk
1 tsp vinegar
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Topping Ingredients:
¼ stick of butter (softened)
½ brown sugar
1/3 cup oatmeal
¼ cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
3 Tablespoons pepitas (green pumpkin seeds) (These are good for you so use more if you want!)

Step-by-Step

1) Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare two loaf pans.

2) Make the crunchy topping:  In a small bowl, add the butter, sugar, flour, oats and spices.  Using a fork or your fingers, mix together until well combined—it should be a crumbly texture.  Toss the pepitas to cover them with the crumbles.

3) Cream together the butter and sugars.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Stir in the pumpkin puree.

4) In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients—flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.  Gently stir them together.

5) Slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter/pumpkin mixture.  Mix until they are combined.

6) Add 1 tsp of vinegar to the milk.

7) Add the milk/vinegar to the bread.

8) Stir in 1 cup of chocolate chips.

9) Pour batter into the loaf pans

10) Sprinkle with the crunchy topping—making sure to evenly coat each loaf.  This is the best part of the bread so you really want to get a lot on each loaf.

Bake at 350 degrees for 70-80 minutes or until your house smells delicious and a knife comes out clean.  Let cool slightly and then dig in!

Hotel Review Series: Omni William Penn, Pittsburgh, PA

3 Oct

Photo Taken from the Omni William Penn website

I am copying one of my blogging inspirations.  You know, Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman?  Well, if you don’t know of her—-you should.  She has some amazing recipes and beautiful photography–and an odd sense of humor.  She  will make you laugh.  She will make you hungry.  She might make you gain ten pounds.  Actually, right now I am making her cinnamon roll recipe and I can’t wait until they are finished.

Anyway, Ree does a series on the fancy hotel rooms that she visits while out promoting her books.

I thought I might add a similar feature to my little blog.  I spend a lot of time researching the hotels that I stay in to get the best deal or just to make sure I am staying in a place that I will like.  And, it seems that I am often in a hotel in some location or another. So, I thought I would pass this information on to you all—-to give you some advice for when you plan your travel.

Bear in mind, I don’t usually get to stay in fancy hotels.  Usually, I am with the kids and trying to make sure that they are happy and occupied (and not in close proximity to anything breakable).  But sometimes, I am out on business and I try to find the best hotel for my money and really enjoy that little luxury.

A few weeks ago, I was in Pittsburgh for a conference  at the Convention Center.  I knew I wanted to stay fairly close to the Convention Center but the Westin (which is attached) was full–which was fine by me.  I didn’t want to stay in a Convention hotel anyway–they seem so stuffy and sterile.  The historic Omni William Penn was available and right down the street–I was very pleased –it was so pretty.

If you want more information about the hotel, read the following interview, in which I interview myself about my stay.

Was the lobby beautiful?

Photo taken from the Omni William Penn Website

The hotel lobby really is beautiful.  You feel like an old-time movie star when you walk through–I only wished I had a beautiful 1960’s cocktail gown to wear down to the lobby bar..  If you stay here, you must sit on the round couch in the lobby—can you see it in the picture?    You feel so special and fancy!

It is weird—I instantly felt better everytime I walked through the lobby–even if I was wearing my old running clothes.

I also highly suggest drinking a Cosmopolitan in the lobby bar.  It just feels right—and you won’t even question the $12 price tag.

Can you describe the rooms for me?

The rooms are small.  I guess that is what you expect from a historic hotel and they were perfect for me, traveling alone.  And they would be perfect for a couple that likes each other very much and has lots to do on the town.  However, if you are planning on traveling with more than two—it will feel very cramped.   The rooms are decorated very nicely…..a historic feel to it.  Classy antique.  And the linens are very nice.  A pretty white comforter.  A nice comfy bed with lots of pillows.  I love hotel beds!

Doesn't everyone throw all their possesions out on the hotel bed and then take photos?

Originally, they gave me a room with a view.  A view into another room.  The way the building was built makes it seem like a good portion of their rooms face other rooms.  A bit of a big city feel but I wanted more.  I asked at the front desk if I could be moved to a room with a better view and they obliged.  The second room was even a bit smaller but had one window that faced the city.  Much better.

And the bathroom?


Really, nothing special there.  The regular old bathroom stuff.  One of these days, I am going to stay in a hotel with a spectacular bathroom……I hope.

Did you order room service?

Why yes, yes I did.  I always like to order room service on one night that I am alone in a hotel.  I don’t know why–it think it feels like I am spoiling myself.  I ordered a chicken sandwich with french fries and a glass of red wine.  Extravagant–I know.  This is what they delivered:

Do you see the size of this thing?  It was as big (or maybe bigger) than my head.  Way too large for any normal person to eat alone.  The size of it alone kind of grossed me out…….(See my other post on Primanti’s for more on portion size in Pittsburgh)

My wine, however, could have been larger and I wouldn’t have complained—you gotta have priorities.

What about the area near the hotel?

The Omni William Penn was very close to the convention center, Macy’s (the oldest and possibly oddest Macy’s I’ve ever been to), and the close enough to Market Square, the river and sports stadiums, and the Strip District.  I was able to walk to all of them—but bear in mind, I like to walk–especially given a new city to explore.

Oh, also very close was a very old church.  Everything seemed so old in Pittsburgh–which is nice.  I walked around the church and snapped some unexciting photos of the cemetery (with tombstones dated to 1828) and the Gothic architecture.  I even went inside to see the amazing stained glass–but my little iphone camera did not do it justice.  (I really need another camera.)

What about the food and drink?  Anything besides the $12 Cosmopolitan worth mentioning?

Yes,  the coffee in the hotel room was very bad and the coffee at my conference was even worse.   So, I was very thankful for the Starbucks located in the Omni William Penn.  Also, there is a Brueggers Bagels located on the backside of the hotel which was  good for a quick breakfast—-I love bagels!

I had also been told that any visitors to Pittsburgh must eat at Primanti’s which was located very close to the hotel.  I’ve done a separate review on Primanti’s and you can read that here.

Should you stay at the Omni William Penn?

If you are travelling alone or with one other person, love the historic charm of old hotels and want to feel special as you walk through the lobby–the Omni William Penn is the place for you.  If you have more than two travellers, I would look elsewhere, like the nearby Doubletree Hotel-which boasts the largest rooms in Pittsburgh.

Korean Classics: Bee-Bim Bop, Bulgogi and Cucumber Kim Chee

26 Sep

My little Rosie competed in her very first gymnastics meet yesterday and she did so well!  We were so proud.   And to reward her, we decided to make the food that she has been talking about all week—Bee -Bim Bop!

Why has a five year old  girl been obsessing over a staple Korean dish, you may ask?

Her teacher has been reading the class, Linda Sue Park’s picture book–Bee-Bim Bop–which is a catchy rhyme about a young girl begging her mom to make the popular dish.  We borrowed the book from the teacher with the promise that I would bring some for her to sample.

Since the Project Food Blog challenge #2 is to make a Classic dish from another culture—I thought that Bee-Bim Bop would be the perfect dish.  It is relatively simple, so tasty, and can be easily modified to suit individual tastes. And it would make my gymnast happy……

Bee-Bim Bop, according to Park’s book, means “Rice Mix Mix” and is a popular and easy dish in Korea that consists of rice, vegetables, maybe some meat, and an egg.

For our Bee-Bim Bop, I decided to be adventurous and make Chicken Bulgogi, another Korean dish–to add to the Bee Bim Bop.  Bulgogi is traditionally made with beef, like rib-eye—but ,  I didn’t want to make a special trip to the store and the kids had steak the night before.  I also made sauteed spinach and green beans, quick cucumber kim chee, and, of course, fried eggs.

Yum!  To top it all off, I made “Butter Mochi”, a special treat that we love from Hawaii–and you will too.

Follow along for the recipes and the steps for our delicious Korean Saturday night.  (Apologies for such a long post—but it was a long night of cooking!)

Chicken Bulgogi

1) For the chicken bulgogi marinade, I used:

Marinade:

1/2 cup soy sauce

1 apple, grated with juices (the recipe called for Asian pear–but I didn’t have one.)

2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

1/2 small white onion, grated or sliced

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil (This is an essential kitchen staple in our household and should be in yours too–it adds so much flavor.)

1 tablespoon Sriracha Asian hot sauce ( You can find it almost any store–but definitely an Asian market.  This is good to always have on hand.)

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 green onions, thinly sliced

1 (20-ounce) bottle lemon-lime soda

1/2 cup orange juice

1) Mix all of the marinade ingredients in a shallow, plastic container with a lid.  I used a great one that I “borrowed” from my sister-in -law about 5 years ago.  I really should return that one of these days……

2) Add your chicken (or beef, if you so desire).  I used 4 chicken breasts that I split down the middle.

3) Let marinade for at least an hour–but overnight would be ideal.

4)  After it has sat in the marinade, grill them outside (or inside, if you have to).  I enlisted Aaron to help as outdoor cooking is his specialty, not mine.

Quick Cucumber Kim Chee

While the bulgogi was resting, I worked on the Quick Cucumber Kim Chee.  If I had store-bought Kim Chee at home, I would have skipped this step-but I didn’t.  I felt that we needed a crunchy, spicy addition to our Bee-Bim Bop and I had just bought some great looking cucumbers.  The ginger in this was a great combination with the other flavors in the Bee-Bim Bop.  Definately worth the extra steps.

I followed a recipe by David Chang I had found on the Food&Wine website and modified it slightly.

If you wanna make it, you will need:

2 cucumbers

2 1/4 T of sugar

1 T salt

1 T of Ginger (cut into small toothpick-like pieces)

1 T of Soy Sauce

1 T of Fish Sauce

1 small onion, sliced very thinly

3 cloves of garlic (which I almost forgot!  That would have been awful–you can’t have Kim Chee without garlic.)

1 green onion

1 tsp Sriracha sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

1) Cut cucumbers into thin slices.

2) Toss cucumbers in  a colander with 1/4 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of sugar.  Let sit for ten minutes.

3) Mix the rest of the salt, sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, ginger, Sriracha sauce into a paste.  Add the onion and garlic.

4) Add the cucumbers and toss well.  Set aside in the refrigerator.  You will love this later!

Rice

You will need some nice white rice to enjoy this meal in its traditional form.   I am addicted to Japanese rice ( Kokuho Rose) and we buy it in 20 pound bags.  I am sure you could use brown rice for a less traditional take on Bee-Bim Bop but I don’t think it would taste as good.

Follow the directions in your rice cooker and make up a nice big pot of hot and steamy rice.

What?  You don’t have a rice cooker?  You need to get one.  They make your life so easy.  And, you can get your kids to make the rice–one less job for you!

Sauteed Spinach and Green Beans


This was the easiest part of the meal and I had  never thought to do this before.

1) Add 1 tsp of sesame oil  to a cast iron pan on medium heat.

2) Once it has warmed up a bit, add a bunch of spinach and toss it around to absorb the oil.

3)  Cover.  Let sit until wilted.

4) That’s it!  Do the same thing with the green beans–but add a little bit of water before you cover them.

Fried Eggs

Each dish of Bee Bim Bop will need one fried egg.  I made four over hard eggs as I am a little weird about over easy eggs–but if that is what you like–that is what you should make.

Assembling your Bee Bim Bop


Once you have prepared all of your ingredients, it is time to begin assembly.  Each person can serve themselves so the get exactly what they want.

1) Assemble your Bee-Bim Bop in this order:

Rice on the bottom

Veggies (sauteed spinach, green beans and cucumber kim chee)

Chicken Bulgogi

Fried Egg

To eat:

Mix, mix, mix. Mix everything together and add extra soy sauce or Sriracha sauce or Kim Chee to taste.

Enjoy!

BONUS!!!!  If you have read all the way to this point, I will reveal the recipe for a delcious but so not nutritious Hawaiian treat—-Butter Mochi


If you are feeling up to it, make this delicious treat you can find in Hawaii.  It is the perfect compliment to the Bee Bim Bop  and very easy to make.

You will need:

1/2 cup butter (softened)

3 cups of sugar

2 cups milk (whole or 2%—you need the fat)

1 can of coconut milk

1 box of Mochiko flour (In most big cities, you can find this in the Asian section of most grocery stores.  In Sarasota, we had to make a special trip to the Asian market.)

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla

1) Mix together the butter and the sugar.

2) Add the eggs, milk, vanilla, coconut milk, baking powder and Mochiko flour.

3) Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

4) When you take it out of the oven, it will be crispy on top and so good.  Aaron loves it the most right out of the oven.  I prefer it cold–the next day.  Yummy!

Project Food Blog Challenge #2:  This blog post is my submission to the FoodBuzz Project Food Blog Challenge #2.  Please go here and vote for me.  It would so great to move on to the next challenge.  This is a lot of fun!

How did this happen?

24 Sep

Before.  Really, I need an explanation on how this table could get so cluttered.  Anything you could possibly need can be found on this table.  Postcard from 1946? Check.  Christmas Wrapping paper? Check. Cookbooks?  Of course.

It is enough to drive me crazy.

After.

Phew!  I feel better.  Time to bake something……..

Restaurant Review: Owens Fish Camp, Sarasota FL

23 Sep

I don’t know if I have ever posted about my lack of enthusiasm for restaurants in Sarasota.  I am not a food snob—but you have to understand, we have just moved recently moved here from Honolulu–one of the most diverse and eclectic places to eat.  If you want food–you have so many choices–Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Hawaiian, American and various combinations of all of these.  And not one of each type of restaurant but many many different choices.  Some of these places are fancy, (think:  Nobu) but many are casual and places that you could just pop into for a quick dinner.  And we did—we would regularly eat out at Genki Sushi, Yummy Korean BBQ, Balle Vietnamese.  All great and all reasonably priced.  Places we could retreat to when I just don’t feel like cooking.

I haven’t found that in Sarasota.  There is only so many times that I can go to Chipotle.    And besides that, I have struggled to find anything else that is worth my time or money.

The other night I did not want to cook dinner.

I had remembered walking by “Owen’s Fish Camp” near the Burns Court movie theater awhile back so I suggested that we try it out.  I like fish and I like the location–tucked away downtown in an area that makes you feel like you live in a big city. So, we quickly dressed and dashed down to the restaurant.

Even though we had called ahead, we were still met with a 35 minute wait time.  No worries though— they have a nice outdoor garden and allow guests to buy drinks at the bar and take them outside.  And to our surprise, they had Red Hook IPA on tap.  The first sip was a  bit skunky (Aaron’s word) but we got used to it.  (Note:  We have not found many restaurants that serve good beer in Florida.  So, although Red Hook IPA is not my favorite–it sure beats Yuengling)

We were seated outside surrounded by fishing nets and buoys—it was cool.  The kids were occupied.  We were ready to order.  Aaron was adventurous (and expensive!) and ordered the scallops , I ordered a fried green tomato salad with goat cheese and a side of clam chowder.  The kids got their usual—cheeseburgers.

Aaron and I both liked the clam chowder.  Although, it wasn’t particularly memorable.   And, we ended up giving most of it to little Rosie–who has developed a strong liking of the stuff.   Maybe that will be a fall recipe to test out….

I loved my salad!  Fried green tomato, goat cheese, buttermilk dressing on mixed greens.  The combination was perfect and I was very pleased with my decision. Oh, and the little pieces of bacon on top–I ate them too!


Aaron enjoyed his as well.  Nice sized scallops served with braised pork and some of “Owen’s Succotash”.  He thought it was great and still raves about it.  Although for $21.00 for his entree alone—it seemed a bit pricey to me.

We were very disappointed with the kids burgers.They looked good and they were good sized for a kid’s burger—but they refused to eat them.  They said they were ‘gross’–that from kids that will usually scarf down a burger and then ask for more –was surprising.  Aaron tested the burger and found them to be rather dry. Bummer!  Over twelve dollars down the drain and food wasted to boot.

Of course, the kids perked up when dessert was mentioned and were so excited to see Root Beer Floats on the menu.  Our friend, Anastasia had recently introduced them to the root beer float phenomenon and they were eager to try one at a restaurant…..The waitress was nice and let the kids split one root beer float—and plopped down a big mug of ice cream and a full bottle of specialty root beer–the good stuff.  The Bean and Rosie loved that they could pour their own….and drink the root beer right out of the bottle.

Aaron and I split the “Fried Blackberry Pies with Vanilla Ice Cream” and I was pretty disappointed.  $7.50 for a couple little pies and they were nothing special. (So, sorry for the poor picture quality…I have got to work on that.  Maybe someone will be getting a new camera for Christmas?)  I love the idea of fried blackberry pies—so it is definitely something that I will be working on.

So,  would we go back?  Very likely.  Although with the tourist season (or snowbird season) starting soon–it is likely to get more and more crowded.  But, the weather will soon (I hope) be so pleasant that it will be perfect to sit outside, have a beer or a glass of wine and wait for a table.

We were impressed with most of the dishes we chose and we love the atmosphere and the beer selection.  However, next time we will go without the kids and enjoy a little grown-up time.  Our bill, including beer, was about $85.00–not exactly a weeknight type of place–more of a date night kind of place.(Although there is no children’s menu–our server was very accommodating to the kids and we never felt as if they shouldn’t be there.  The place is casual and loud–perfect for our little ones.)

Check out their website for directions and their menu. If you decide to go, I’d love to hear your opinion.

And, it still leaves me with the question of where to go for an easy, reasonably priced dinner in Sarasota? Any suggestions?

Project Food Blog—Vote for me!

20 Sep

Hi everyone,

As you know from my previous post, I have entered the Foodbuzz Project Food Blog competition.  The way it works is this:

Each week the blogger contestants are given a challenge and they need to post the results of their challenge by Sunday with voting beginning the next day.  Voting is done by both a panel of selected judges and by the readers.  The results of the vote count will determine who gets to move on to the next round.  I would really, really like to be able to move on to at least the next round (Twist on the Classics) as I have a super great recipe to share.

So, please check out my FoodBuzz profile and vote for me on the Project Food Blog page (Just look for forty cakes!)

I don’t want to pester you all vote reminders but I may be gently requesting you to check out the newest post and submit your vote.  And, if you are not already a member of the FoodBuzz community–I highly recommend it.  There are some very talented food bloggers out there and they have some amazing ideas and recipes.

Voting for this particular challenge will end on September 28th, so please if you have a minute……vote for me and maybe I’ll make you some cupcakes!   (I feel like I am running for high school vice president or something.)

Ready or Not, Here I Come!—The FoodBuzz Project Food Blog Challenge

19 Sep

FoodBuzz is hosting this challenge, “Project Food Blog” to crown a Project Food Blog Champion and I have decided to enter.  One of the first challenges  is writing a post identifying why I think I should be the Project Food Blog Champion or even just continue on to the next round in this competition.

This is kind of tricky for me.

You see, I don’t see myself as a Food Blog star—I see myself as someone who loves writing about food, travel, kids and other random things……who just happened to stumble into this food blog world.  I love writing, cooking for, thinking about and talking about food and my little  blog —but know I have lots to learn. ( Those of you who read the post about Aaron’s birthday cake will know exactly what I mean.)

I read some other blogs by FoodBuzz Featured Publishers and know that they are in a whole other league.  Their photos are professional and polished, their posts are relevant and consistent, and they seemingly spend hours a day on their blogs (or else it just comes easier to them).

Their beautiful blogs have inspired me to take mine to another level.  More than just a place for me to send recipes to my mom.  More than an online diary of my cooking frustrations.
I am taking baby steps.

I have been working towards  shifting from a WordPress site to a full blown website, brushing up on my photography skills and figuring out how to reach out to more readers.  I hope to get to one of the FoodBuzz gatherings next year (this year it conflicts with the NYC marathon which I will be running).  I have started to become more organized and consistent.

This challenge coincides with the first birthday of Forty Cakes (can you believe it?  I have (almost) been doing this thing for a year?!?) and my desire to make Forty Cakes more beautiful, self sufficient and even more awesome.    Competing in the upcoming Project Food Blog Challenges will help me to get Forty Cakes to where I want it to be by challenging me to step out of my comfort zone and do things I might not normally try on my own.  That is both exciting and frightening at the same time (Especially the video post! Yikes!)

So, join me as I start this competition with this first post and hopefully get to continue with a few more.  Stay tuned because Forty Cakes is  going to get better.

Happy Birthday Aaron!

13 Sep

I think we watch too many cake baking challenges on the Food Network.  Does anyone else out there have young children who would chose a food challenge over iCarly?  What about young kids who draw pictures of their cake creation ideas?  Any kids who desperately want to be on one of the Food Network shows so that they can chose the winning cake?

If you don’t watch these shows, you may not understand what I am talking about.  Basically, there are four cake designers and they are given the job of  creating the cake that the client likes the best.  Sometimes the client is a young child planning their own birthday party, sometimes it is the director of a large corporation (Norwegian Cruise Lines).  Of course their cakes are over the top and nothing anyone would ever want to eat—but they are fun to watch them create.  Basically sculptures created with cake.

Cake created for the Cirque de Soleil Food Network Cake Challenge

We always have a friendly little bet going to make the show more exciting–whoever guesses the winning cake wins a dollar!  Last night, I won and the kids burst into tears.  A few nights ago, they both selected the winning cake and danced around the house like they had made a winning touchdown.  I wish I had a video of that.

So, Aaron’s birthday is today was last week and the kids drew pictures of the cakes they intended to make for him.  The Bean’s cake drawing consists of a layer of smoke, rockets that shoot out fossilized shark teeth, and a rice crispy treat layer topped with fondant dolphins.  Oh, and all layers need to have some type of long, candle—constantly spewing out fire and sparks.  In my 7 year old’s mind, this is the perfect cake for his dad.   And one that he really, really wants made and believes we can do.

Rosie’s cake was a bit more simple–only three layers (instead of 4), no smoke or fire (except for candles) and a fondant figurine of Mommy standing on the top holding, of course, a fossilized shark tooth.

I had planned a peanut butter cheesecake–but that will have to wait.

So, yesterday last Thursday, I was home (due to the Bean’s ant collection getting out of its jar and into my bed, resulting in a hugely swollen disgusting looking eye, but we don’t need to talk about that right now) —and started to think about this cake thing.  We bought some fondant, whipped up some buttercream and rice crispy treats and started to piece it together.  In the end, it didn’t come out at all like either of their drawings and I think it looks terrible.  The kids, however, COULD NOT WAIT to show Aaron and are so proud of their creation.   The Bean wanted me to send photos of it to his teacher and Rosie wants to take fondant to school so she can play with it at her desk. Both of them made me promise to post it on my blog. It was like they had just won $10,000 in the Food Network Challenge.

So, here it is:

Bottom tier:  Rectangluar yellow cake with a bittersweet chocolate buttercream, covered in minature fish figurines.

Middle Tier: Dark chocolate cake with a white buttercream (a really good one at that!) covered in orange fondant with purple and blue random fondant shapes.

Third tier:  Peanut butter rice crispy treats molded into a tall shape and sprayed with green food spray—lined with fondant stripes and topped with a fondant dolphin.

What did Aaron think?  He loved it of course!

Product Review: Palm Plates

7 Sep

Perfect Petite Palm Plates Picnic

When I was given the opportunity to review a product for this here little blog–I was excited….my first ever product review!  I had all kinds of ideas (luau)  of how I would review these plates and what I could do to test them.  But, when it finally came around to it–I realized that I wasn’t going to be making a luau feast anytime soon and had the usual time and over-commitment constraints to blame.

Not to mention, since we have moved from Hawaii to Sarasota, I have not been able to find any of the key ingredients needed for a proper Hawaiian feast.  (This is a real bummer–especially because Aaron’s birthday is coming up and he would love to eat poke and lau lau’s this weekend. Anyone have any suggestions of where I can get taro leaf in Florida?)

So, I decided to go a different route with this review.

Hiking near Zolfo Springs, FL

Did I tell you I am teaching a class about biodiversity?

There is a local art college that requires the students to take liberal arts classes including science, English and history.  So, as a second job, I teach a class once a week.  Science to artists.

I have been aware and concerned with environmental issues for a long time but it hasn’t been until I was getting my class organized, that I started to really get the importance of encouraging everyone to do every little thing we can to stop the decline of biodiversity.  Species are going extinct at a rate never thought to have been experienced.  Many species go extinct before we even know that they exist.  While many of these species are the tiniest of tiny bacteria–not all of them are–and even the tiniest bacteria have important roles to play in our ecosystem.

Giant Mushroom

One of the main reasons for this loss of biodiversity is habitat loss.  As populations increase and the world continues to develop, the need for raw materials increases.  To obtain these raw materials, plants and animals are destroyed.  All of the habitat destruction doesn’t just impact the animal world—our communities face the impacts of severe flooding, drought, starvation and landslides as a direct result of habitat degradation.    This doesn’t even include all of the cultural and social loss that occurs when communities lose their homes and natural resources.

You might be asking yourself, “What in the world does this have to do with Palm Plates?”

Perfect for a Little Lunch by the Pool

One of the coolest things about the Palm Plates is not that they are disposable/biodegradable/compostable—it is the fact that they are created by palm leaves that are naturally shed by the trees.  NO TREES OR PLANTS ARE CUT DOWN TO MAKE THEM.   It is a win-win.  We get pretty disposable plates that we can feel good about.  The communities that are involved get economic development without destruction of their valuable habitats.

And, they are impossibly sturdy!  This plate below is holding an entire cut up pineapple and shows no signs of bending under the weight.

Palm Plates with Pineapple

Look at them!  They are beautiful……and they each have a unique look to them—and though I only used mine for a quick little picnic alone–they would be perfect for a beach or a mountain wedding reception!

Palm plates are a product of the Marx Food Company, which I had never heard of until they sent me these plates.  However, looking at their website, they seem like a company I can support.  They sell a wide assortment of goodies like wild huckleberries, wild boar sausage, and ice cream molded like strawberries (I don’t understand how this is shipped out to people.). If you are interested in the Palm Plates or the other stuff that they sell, check out their website:  http://www.marxfoods.com

DISCLAIMER: Marx Foods did send me a few Palm Plates to review but this review in no way was influenced by the company.  It is an honest and open review.  I just so happened to like their product.