Thursday, October 22, 2009

New York Day 5 - FDR, CIA, Vanderbilts and More

For our last full day in NY, we returned to the FDR site to resume our tour of the museum and explored the remaining exhibits (The New Deal, The Presidential Years).

Next, we headed back to the CIA for lunch at one of the student run restaurants. Each student attends the school for 21 months, and the last several weeks are spent working in the kitchens and then in the front of various students restaurants on campus. We ate St. Andrew's Cafe, which focuses on both local and heathful fare. We made the most of our experience and practically rolled out of the restaurant some time later. Here is a picture taken during dessert (Goatcheese Cheesecake, Milkshake Sampler, and Pear/Ginger Crisp).

These last few days gave us beautiful weather to enjoy. We were happy to spend the rest of this afternoon touring the grand Vanderbilt Mansion and estate. Walking through this huge mansion, left almost entirely as it had been furnished in the late 1930s, was quite the experience. We also explored the gardens and riverfront, which gave us a wonderful opportunity to watch the colors shift as the sun went down.

After a wild goose chase through Poughkeepsie to find the perfect restaurant for dinner, we headed back to the hotel to enjoy the last of our wine on our last evening on vacation. More Apples to Apples also rounded out the evening. Throughout our trip, we had some wonderful conversations - some funny, some serious, and always enlightening. It was a great experience to learn about people and events from a wide-range of time periods and then to discuss them with our fellow travelers.

Where to go next...

New York Day 4 - FDR, ER, CIA

Day 4 of our trip was the day we were all waiting for: the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum! This was the first presidential museum and the only museum to have been built and opened with the president still in office. Located in Hyde Park, NY - it sits on a campus which includes FDR's home, a National Historic Site, and is very close to Eleanor Roosevelt's National Historic Site and the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site.

We arrived bright and early at the Library/Museum and immediately secured tickets for the FDR Home tour. We enjoyed learning more about President Roosevelt and his family through the interesting tour through his home. By this point we had started to become quite good at evaluating tour guides, and Pres, our FDR Home guide, was one of the best. With clear enthusiasm for the subject and easy manor, we thoroughly enjoyed this tour.

Next - the museum! We made it through the exhibit covering his boyhood and pre-presidential history before needing a lunch break. After grabbing a bit to eat at the museum's cafe, we ventured across the way to Eleanor Roosevelt's National Historic Site since our tickets would be good for two days. Here we toured the house that was to become her retreat (Val-Kill) when FDR was in Washington and after his death. We learned a lot at this site and felt a much greater appreciation for Eleanor Roosevelt and how she worked tirelessly to make the world a better place. Mike, in particular, become a huge ER fan.

Cousin Christine had made reservations for us to tour the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), our next stop for the day. Our tour gave us great insight into life for these dedicated culinary students and we were even able to observe classes in session through large zoo-like windows. After the tour of the beautiful campus, we stopped by the student run Apple Pie Cafe and Bakery for some decadent and unique deserts (carrot cake pictured above).

Again we returned to our hotel and ate at the nearby La Luna Pizzeria before retiring to our hotel room. We finished out the day enjoying wine from the winery, teaching Mike and Christine a new card game, and playing Apples to Apples into the wee hours. Who could ask for more?

New York Day 3 - West Point

Day 3 led us to the United States Military Academy at West Point, after another breathtaking drive through another region of the Catskills. After a brief tour of the West Point visitors center, we took a guided bus tour learning about West Point history and visiting several sites along the way. First we visited the Cadet Chapel, pictured at right. Next, we viewed memorials dedicated to West Point officers that served in the Civil War. Our tour guide described how difficult it must have been for the West Point officers to fight in the Civil War against their fellow classmates and teachers.

Later we were able to observe a mini-parade of cadets along their parade ground and then we visited the West Point cemetery. This was poignant experience as we saw several gravestones of West Point graduates killed in several wars, including Iraq and Afghanistan. We also saw another example of how Benedict Arnold was removed from history (shown by the blanked out section on this plaque).

After lunch at a local pizza joint and a quick visit to the West Point Museum, we headed back towards George Washington's Headquarters! Or so we thought. We had spotted a sign directing us to the headquarters on the drive to West Point, but later we realized that George Washington had two separate headquarters and we had gone to the wrong one!

Thankfully, we soon discovered that we weren't too far from America's Oldest Winery - the Brotherhood Winery. So we stopped by and had a quick, enjoyable wine tasting which improved our moods greatly! After that, we headed back to the hotel for dinner and later had dinner at Salsa. Another good day!

New York Day 2 - The Catskills

Our second day got off to a cold start - since this would turn out to be the coldest day of our tour (high of 46 degrees). Still, we were intrepid tourists and would not be stopped! This was our day to explore the Catskills - starting with a visit to Cedar Grove, the home of Thomas Cole (19th Century landscape artist and founder of the Hudson River School of Art). Here is our version of a famous painting of Thomas Cole's House (Cedar Grove by Charles Moore).

Next, after a chilly, depressing lunch at a fast-food-chain-not-to-be-named and a trip to a liquor store staffed by a Chinese Sharpei dog, we drove into the Catskills Mountains. Our first stop was Kaaterskill Falls, a 260 ft. waterfall that inspired Thomas Cole painting as well as other Hudson River School artists. We took the short, rocky hike up to the foot of the falls while watching a few small snow-like flakes start to fall.

On the way back to our vehicle, we ran into fellow tourists the told us about a hike we should take further up the "Clove." After locating the trail head a few miles up, we started out on our hike on the Escarpment Trail. The colors throughout this region were beautiful! Yellows and reds spotting the green forest landscape. This trail alternated between easy walking to moderate climbing and led us to a path that ran along cliffs overlooking the Clove. It was a wonderful view and enjoyable hike. Mike even saved the day when he rescued my water bottle before it rolled over the edge and crashed into the valley below. What a guy.

We finished this wonderful day by driving to Poughkeepsie, where we would stay for the next few nights. The drive took us over the Mid-Hudson Bridge, which was spectacular to see at night (even though bridges seriously creep me out). We spent the rest of the night warming up, eating dinner, and discussing our plans for the next day.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

We love New York! (Day 1)

Recently, my husband and I traveled to the Hudson River Valley area of New York with our cousins Mike and Christine. We had such a great trip that I wanted to document it here for us and for anyone else remotely interested. We flew into Albany and immediately headed north toward the Battle of Saratoga National Historic Park. After a quick lunch at the Rusty Nail in Clifton Park, we arrived at the Park and began learning about this historic battle. The day we visited, October 17, was the 232nd anniversary of the Battle of Saratoga. Here the American forces defeated the British Army trying to conquer the land between Canada and New York (since New York had already fallen to the British). This crucial victory gained the American forces global support and forever changed the future of the young nation.

We walked through the old battlegrounds, imagining battles behind British and American fortification lines, as well as learning more about Benedict Arnold's participation here. His activities later in life led to his name being removed from the statue honoring his bravery and injuries suffered during the fighting here.

Later that evening, we attended a candelight tour of the Schuyler House. This 1777 home was burned to the ground by the British during the Revolutionary War and was visited by many notable figures from the period, including George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. The house exists much as it did from the period and walking through this home was like walking back through time. The candlelight tour happens only once a year and we were happy to have been able to experience it. Kudos to Cousin Mike for finding out about it before our trip!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chili Days

A cold October weekend calls for two things: chili and football. While I have a few favorite chili recipes, this weekend I tried a new one: Black Bean-Salsa Chili a reader recipe from this month's issue of Cooking Light.

The addition of black beans (whole and pureed) and a mild salsa gave the chili a wonderful depth of flavor while keeping the right amount of heat without overpowering our taste buds. We topped the chili with sour cream mixed with fresh lime juice and cilantro and also baked corn bread to round out the meal. The recipe itself was quick and fairly easy.

Next time I make it, I might add water instead of beef broth or I might double the recipe and see how well it freezes. All in all, we loved this recipe and it will be our standard chili recipe from now on. There is no better way to enjoy a fall day at home with my boys.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Brown Sugar and Me

My new comfort food? Brown sugar. Light brown or dark brown - I'm not too picky. I don't eat it straight, of course. Well, almost never. I usually prefer to eat it in the form of my favorite cookie ever: America's Test Kitchen's Brown Sugar Cookie recipe. However, at a recent Ice Cream Enthusiasts Meeting, I had a sundae with a rich, delicious butterscotch-caramel syrup. This sparked my interest in finding some new recipes within this flavor profile. Thus, the caramel cake from last week and this week's new recipe Butterscotch Bars (Cooking Light).

These bars were a wonderful addition to my brown sugar recipe collection. The recipe was simple to put together and used ingredients I almost always have on hand. Very dangerous. I baked them for only 25 minutes, which resulted in a crispy outside and slightly doughy inside. I added toasted walnuts to the batter right before pouring it into the pan which added a little texture to the bar as well as the subtle walnut flavor.

The recipe made 16 bars cut from a 9 x 9 square pan, none of which lasted very long once dearest husband declared the serving size should be increased to two bars. I would definitely make these again for taking to my book club or the office, or just to snarf down after a long day. I was happy to have found a great Cooking Light butterscotch bar recipe. But, I have to admit, I have my eye on another, more fattening, butterscotch brownie recipe that includes chocolate chips. Maybe for the holidays...

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Drought Is Over

I admit it. I fell off the cooking wagon. Would that be the chuckwagon? Who knows. At any rate, I have been neglecting my personal goals of trying new recipes and cooking more meals. Thankfully, invitations to join good friends and family for dinner over the past weekend inspired me to revisit the kitchen.

Caramel Cake
: I wanted to take a two-layer cake as my contribution to an outdoor dinner with friends. Searching through revealed several possibilities. However, because of dietary requirements of my friends, I made the cake from one recipe and the frosting from another. The cake turned out to be a little more dense than a normal cake, almost like a distant relative of a pound cake. The frosting was good, although I almost did not have enough to frost the entire cake! All-in-all, everyone had second helpings of the cake and the leftovers did not last long at home. I'll make this one again!

Darlene's Healthy Salad
: Thankfully, the latest issue of Cooking Light magazine came in the mail last week! Flipping through the newly redesigned layout, I came across this easy salad. I did not include radishes but added cherry tomatoes. This salad came together fairly quickly, especially since I used my awesome food processor to slice the cucumbers and red onion. The tangy combo of red wine vinegar, onion, and cucumbers made this salad a modern version of the cucumber salad my grandma used to make. I bet I would have loved it even more if I would have picked out a ripe avocado instead of an unusable rock-hard one. Oh, well. I already made this salad again! It will be a regular next summer.

Cold Sesame Noodles with Chicken and Cucumbers
: This recipe was fast, easy, and delicious. I was able to quickly assemble it even after working late and walking the dog! Other than dicing the cucumbers instead of slicing, I made the recipe as directed and had no problem finding any of the ingredients. My husband loved the recipe. I think he was surprised about how much flavor was in a dish with relatively few ingredients (and relatively few dishes to wash!). This would be a great dish to take for lunches. Also, I liked the "game plan" feature in the magazine. We'll be making this again!

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Librarian

Here is my addition to the Day in the Life of a Librarian project.

What's it like to be the Head of Youth Services at a public library in suburban Chicagoland? Imagine the circus act of plate spinning combined with putting out fires and working a customer service desk. Nice. Never boring. I'm lucky to work in a great library with excellent patrons and staff.

This particular day, my official schedule was 12:30-9:00. Working evenings and weekends is one of the great pros/cons of working in public service. It is a great opportunity to build relationships as often patrons visit the same night each week.

However, a librarian's work is never really done. I check Twitter before I leave for work in the morning. On this day, I stopped at a new coffee shop in town and scoped it out for a possible location for a game night program! Would be interesting to pursue...

Here's what I did during the afternoon:
  • Picked up book on hold and checked it out in under 1 minute. See this video I shot of a librarian using our self check.
  • Broke out a bag of Chex Mix for Youth Services staff. This particular group craves salty versus sweet snacks. Management Rule 1: Keep the troops happy. Food helps.
  • Waded through email since I left early on Friday and came later on Monday.
  • Caught up with staff members about recent programs presented.
  • Finalized September work schedule, adjusted schedules to work around a library school student's schedule (happy to!).
  • Communicated with staff about big, "sold-out" program scheduled for tomorrow and what programs to be promoting by word of mouth.
  • Started conversations with programming librarian about planning programs for Summer 2010.
  • Requested graphics from PR Manager.
  • Followed up with AV selectors regarding orders due today. New selectors, various vendors, gets complicated. Stressing need to have items available on street dates (Next 39 Clues audiobook for example) for patrons.
  • Tried to register for Handheld Librarian conference. Fail. Will try again.
  • Beat my head against the wall. Only a little.
My evening was spent working on the reference desk. It was a fairly quiet night. This summer we did an online summer reading club for the first time. We have worked hard to continue our goal of creating positive, interactive experiences at the library by awarding readers with beans that they put into a large hourglass for every book they read. They also receive prizes: bookmark (5), free book from Friends of the Library (10), personalized bookplate in library book of their choice (15), ring the library GONG (20), patch (25) and beans continue after that. That being said, here's what I did on the reference desk this evening.
  • Awarded readers prizes for completing various levels of the reading club! So fun.
    The beans are the best incentive.
  • Helped patrons with various requests.
  • Restocked Caudill and Monarch (state reading award nominees) displays. These are very popular with students and teachers.
  • Reviewed book and AV orders submitted by staff. This took the majority of the evening with several new selectors involved.
  • Wrote emails with tips for new selectors that were lost when my browser crashed. Urgh.
  • Rewrote what I could remember of emails that were lost.
  • Considered adding standing order DVD selection for our small branch collection.
  • Read through ILA Reporter. Will staff want to do "Scare Up a Good Book" for next summer's reading club theme?
  • Walked through department and imagined future reorganization. We are adding some new graphic novel/magazine shelves and removing some reference shelves which should allow us to create a more appealing TEEN fiction section, as well as an in-house gaming area. However - we will need to work hard to still have an area for quiet study...continuing to brainstorm.
  • As Librarian in Charge, I coordinated the building closing at 9:00.
Another benefit of working an evening - when I come home my dog acts like I've been gone for a year.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It's my birthday, I'll read if I want to!

While counting the days to my birthday, and moving up to the next demographic, I decided that I should plan a birthday party. They aren't just for preschoolers anymore! My husband and I brainstormed several options and finally I decided to have a Birthday Bookclub Party.

Lame? Think again.

First, I needed the perfect location. One phone call to the Southern inspired Mint Julep Bistro in Palatine, IL and the party quickly started taking shape. This intimate, gourmet restaurant offers an afternoon tea service with tea, soup, finger sandwiches and desserts.

Next, a book to read and discuss together. Why, you ask? Well, most of the party goers would be the diverse, quirky, and never-shy-about-their-opinions women that have become the Women Walking Fast bookclub. Given the ambiance of the Mint Julep, I chose to provide a copy of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil with each party invitation.

The afternoon spent with dear friends, delicious food and literary discussion went beyond my expectations. We were definitely on Southern time and were able to savor the food and conversation.

An added bonus was a visit by one of the owners who gave us an impromptu history lesson on English high tea. After the party, I learned that the other owner of the restaurant was from Savannah and she shared thoughts on the book, the movie, and the events from the best-selling true crime novel. We also learned that the soon to be opened Mint Julep Room would be hosting literary events in the future!

All in all, it was a memorable afternoon. Many thanks to the party goers who made arrangements to spend their Saturday afternoon celebrating my birthday, good friends, and great literature.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

ALA 2009 - Downloadable Technology for Teens

ALA 2009 Downloadable Technology for Teens

OverDrive (MyMediaMall) Presentation:

Popularity of audiobooks growing. Nearly all downlaodable audiobooks can go to iPod/iPhone now.

Some initiatives:
Have app on smartphone to download audiobook right to phone.
Scroll covers of downloadable titles on homepage (Burlington County Library System).
OverDrive Digital Book Mobile visit.

Beth Gallaway's Presentation: Lots of programming possibilities!

(See for current and future presentations.)

GameTap: video game subscription service (download to library computers for patrons/games have ratings).
PlayFirst: direct to drive, ESRB privacy certified, ratings, no ads.
Comcast games on demand.
Download Board Games - Days of Wonder
Prima Strategy Guides - Steaming/PDF versions available for kids at library?
Games for Change (see AYITI)
Ben10 Alien Force game Creater

Kate Pritchard's Presentation: Downloadable Music (see the Teen's Blog at her library).

Downloading music stats are declining - streaming is on the rise.

Live Music Archive
Pandora: Personalized Internet Radio Station
FineTune (playlists plus social networking / can embed)
Myspace music (Online resource for where to get legal music online.)
Hype_m (searches music blogs)

How to stay informed:

Escapist Magazine

*Program idea: Holiday Gadget Workshop - after holidays have teens show people how to use their new gadgets.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

ALA2009 - Preconference

PLA @ ALA: Building Communities through Innovative Applications of Technology - July 10, 2009

Here are selected links and my short list of futher tips/ideas to pursue for each presentation. See the complete presentations on, ALA Presentations Page or the PLA Page when uploaded for information.

Presentation 1:
Using Videos to Build Community in Your Library by Melissa Kiser, Information Technology Librarian, Allen County Public Library

"What's Happening" videos on YouTube: Short, quick videos taken through the library and community connecting community, library events, and library collections in friendly, personable ways.


1. Create a bookletters with top ten most popular books each week.
2. Follow people from your community on Twitter by finding them on Twellow.
3. Host a Tweetup with library followers.
4. Create a video "How to Print" and load it on the library computer desktops.
5. Check out GT system (gaming)
6. Searchable database of area artists (example from Allen County:
7. Create podcasts describing gallery exhibits for people to download and take a self-guided tour. 8. On library blogs, post events such as holiday closings of community agencies, community events, parking alerts, etc.
9. Use Google Analytics to determine website statistics.
10. Investigate WorldCat Local Quick Start.
11. Consider the success of innovative programs and services as not just a measure of statistical output (hits, visits, etc.) but also the qualitative library/patron benefits.

Presentation 2:
John Blyberg, Assistant Director for Innovation and User Experience, Darien Library, CT.

Check out his presentations:

Visit the Darien Library website and explore!

Open source integration of ILS and OPAC - creating one dynamic website that takes the burden of experience off the patron instead of forcing the patron to navigate between the OPAC and ILS. Creates engaging patron experience. I want to learn more.

Presentation 3: Social Networking and Libraries
Meg Canada, Senior Librarian, Hennepin County Library

Presentation available here:

Meg started out her presentation with a plug for


1. Connect with interactive marketing associations.
2. Check out
3. Important for social marketing to have one voice.
4. Create a social media strategy (see presentation).
5. Check out Air Force's blog response chart (see presentation).
6. Monitor what people are saying about you/your organization. Examples (more in presentation): (searches comments)
7. Consider guidelines regarding tags, releases, pictures in sensitive areas of the building.
8. Use "insights" in Facebook for stats.
9. Ask questions and post memes in Facebook to engage patrons in conversations.
10. Patrons send in pictures for Hennepin's Bookspace page:
11. LinkedIn!
12 Investigate
13. Webcams!

Presentation 4:
Sandy Farmer, Houston Public Library

Sandy stressed that libraries need to react to the surge in downloadable technology and focus on create culturally literate children (which includes diverse electronic life). Her presentation shared a lot of programming and gaming spaces information.

Idea highlights:

1. Open gaming systems - have players check games out from the circulating shelves.
2. Assign controllers to consoles to save start-up time.
3. Pokemon gym program.
4. Webkins/Club Penguin programs.

We finished this thought provoking day with an appreciative inquiry exercise led by moderator Aaron Schmidt of the DC Public Library. The concept that resonated with me as I left the conference was the need for all of us to "Think It Forward."

We work so hard to meet the needs of patrons today and tomorrow, we don't give ourselves the freedom or the time to imagine how we can meet their needs months and years into the future. Preparing ourselves to help patrons when they encounter the future is vital to our continued relevancy in their lives.

On that note, Aaron shared that the DC Public Library has rolled out an iPhone app. We already knew this (at my library), but what we didn't know was that is was open source and that a BlackBerry App is in the works. He went on to stress the need for a focus on mobile devices as their use continues to skyrocket.

Very motivational program!

Ironically, I wanted to Tweet about these topics throughout the presentation. However, I spent the whole day off the grid since there was no local WiFi for my iPod Touch. I've since recovered from the tech withdrawal, although maybe not from my buyer's remorse. :-)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Snappy Meals

Lunchtime at work is supposed to be a time for refreshment and relaxation; however, on some days, it seems just like more work. Another sandwich? Terrific. I'll add it to the other 10,000 I've eaten in my life already. Another container of yogurt? Fabulous. If only the lunchroom gods would shine upon me and there will be a clean spoon available in the silverware drawer instead of challenging me to eat yogurt with a fork, once again.

So, when I saw recipe for Potato, Chicken, and Fresh Pea Salad in this month's Cooking Light, I felt like lunch could be reborn! I made the recipe over the weekend and it came together quickly and easily thanks to the precooked and chopped chicken. The resulting dish filled the kitchen with an appetizing aroma thanks to the dressing of mustard, onions, and French-style seasonings. Eating it the next day during lunch was a welcome break from the sandwich monotony! With chicken and potatoes to add substance, snap peas to give it a crunchy texture, and a flavorful dressing to punch up the taste, I would recommend this salad for lunches or potlucks! One thing to note, if your job requires interacting with people, you might want to pack a breath mint along with this in your lunch. Gotta love onions!

Weeknight meals can also fall into a rut and this weekend's new recipe, Chicken Tamale Casserole, was a delicious remedy for dinner boredom. The bottom layer, made of corn bread, diced chilies, and cream corn, was baked and then topped with enchilada sauce, shredded chicken and cheese. The combination of flavors and textures was very satisfying and we will be making this again soon!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Old and New Favorites

Old Favorite: One of our favorite local eateries is Brothers' BBQ, shoehorned into a nearby strip mall in Palatine. We love the slightly spicy sauce and often purchase a jar to use at home. My favorite meal is the Pulled Pork Sandwich with a baked potato (instead of the less-healthy potato wedges my husband prefers). The people are no-nonsense and friendly and the atmosphere expectedly hole-in-the-wall complete with a bone bucket at the center of the few tables available. They offer a variety of party packs and meals and appear to do a brisk carryout/delivery business.

New Favorite: Tonight, we were excited to spot Jason's Deli, also in Palatine since we had enjoyed a visit to the Omaha location a few months ago. Always mindful of customer service thanks to my day job, I was impressed that we were quickly greeted with a menu and instructions on the ordering process. This type of service is always important to welcoming first time guests and goes a long way to building repeat business.

Jason's Deli is like a healthy, more appetizing version of my college cafeteria. Options include ordering sandwiches, pastas and more at the counter that are then delivered to your table and/or choosing the fully-stocked salad bar. As a lifetime member of Weight Watchers, I am very appreciative that Jason's Deli provides nutritional information for a few items, as well as designating vegetarian meals and organic items. They also offer to make 1/2 sandwiches and smaller portions. Finally!

As soon as I saw a Muffaletta on the menu - I was sold! We've made our own version at home with Muffaletta mix from the local farmers' market - but never have we ordered one in a restaurant! It was wonderful - so wonderful that my husband was disappointed that he did not get one, too!

A quick visit to the website reveals cool social networking features such as video messages about high fructose corn syrup, an interesting blog and a Twitter feed as well as the option to order online.

Long story short - for a wide variety of food and some healthly options, check out Jason's Deli. The decor is bright and cheerful and invites you to enjoy yourself with friends and family.

The complimentary ice cream doesn't hurt either.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Party Favors

Party anticipation is never complete without the careful consideration of what dish to bring to the occasion! Should I go with a tried and true favorite or try something new? Stick with a theme or go out on a limb?

I had just such a debate when determining what to take to this evening's St. Patrick's Day party hosted by our good friends. As a previous post indicates, my first attempt at a theme related dish was a bit misguided. My dilemma seemed perfect work lunchroom conversation fodder (safer than politics or religion, I say) and soon recipes were raining down on me: Irish Soda Bread and Guinness Stout Ginger Cake! I thought, why not? Add to that my husband's family recipe for Almond Poppy Seed Bread (which is as much a dessert as it is a bread) and I knew I had the perfect dessert platter to add to the party mix.

Well, perfect might be stretching it a bit, it turns out. The Irish Soda Bread would have turned out perfectly - if only I would have let it bake for 10 more minutes. The toothpick test failed me and I ended up with a soda bread loaf with a soupy middle. Think Jelly Doughnut but much less appetizing. Consequently, it was benched for the last minute replacement of Jewel seasonal cupcakes. I watch Top Chef enough to know when to keep a dish in the kitchen, if you know what I mean.

Next, I discovered that the never-fail Almond Poppy Seed Bread does, in fact, fail if you leave out the almond extract. OK, I admit that it did not completely fail since it still tasted good, especially with the sweet almond glaze (I remembered the almond by then) that creates a wonderful and tasty crust.

The big winner today was the Guinness Stout Ginger Cake! With ginger, Guinness and molasses as main ingredients the finished product was dark, flavorful and ultramoist.

All-in-all, we had a fun night with great friends and great food. Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spicy Sweet Nighttime Meals

Nothing drains my energy more than pondering the question "What to make for dinner tonight?" So, this week I decided to find some interesting and fast recipes to try out for weeknight dinners. Each meal turned out well enough to be considered in future meal rotations!

First, we tried Spiced Pork Chops with Apple Chutney. This meal came together fairly quickly with me sauteing the apple chutney on the stove top while Stacy grilled the pork chops. The final result was a pork chop with a kick that combined well with the sweet fruity chutney. Next time I will serve something other than the long grain wild rice with this meal - maybe white rice or a green vegetable would be a better choice.

Next up: Sweet Orange Salmon! We need to eat more fish, but we are often daunted by the idea of preparing it. We fear no more! This recipe was fast, easy and seriously delicious. We used frozen salmon fillets and rubbed the sweet orange mixture (brown sugar, spices, orange zest) on prior to broiling in the oven. We loved the spicy, slightly caramelized topping on the fish and it was so easy to make! Watch the broiling carefully, however, as I let it get a little too caramelized, if you know what I mean. (Hence there is no picture!)

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Kitchen Gadgetry

I have a love/hate relationship with kitchen gadgets. I love finding great tools (big or small) with a perfect purpose in mind just for them. I enjoy receiving them and giving them as gifts. However, I hate storing them. I hate remembering, too late, that I had the perfect tool for something that I had to struggle through on my own.

In my recent recipe investigations, many of the recipes I wanted to try required the use of a food processor. So, after much research and debate, I bought a food processor (which actually was a great gift from my mother-in-law). So, as I picked out two new recipes to try, I made sure one of them required my new food processor, henceforth referred to as "Little Red."

First, I made Tuna Pan Bagnet (Cooking Light) for lunch. Made with tuna, lemon juice, olives, red onion, fresh basil and tomatoes, it was a light, fresh sandwich full of flavor. I would make it again, especially for one of my book club luncheons. What makes this sandwich interesting is that after you put the filling inside the bread, you wrap it in plastic wrap. Then, you let it sit for about 20 minutes so the flavorful liquid seeps into the bread, hence the name pan bagnat - which means "bathed in bread" in French.

A great accompaniment to this sandwich would be my second new recipe of the weekend - Lemony Hummus with Spicy Whole-Wheat Pita Chips (Cooking Light). This was Little Red's first tentative step in the Uden household and it performed wonderfully. I have never made hummus before and I still cannot believe how little time and effort it took with the basic ingredients (lemon juice, spices, garlic, and chickpeas) and my magnificent new food processor.

The result was a delicious hummus with just enough heat from the pita chips to make it interesting! I would make this dish again in a minute - which I might need to since I started eating it as soon as this picture was taken...I hope there will be some left for Stacy! This would be a great appetizer to take to a party. One thing - be sure to buy pitas that are easy to slice horizontally, otherwise you make a mess of everything.

Speaking of gadgets, last week I bought my first grapefruit spoon. A couple of years ago, a friend told me I was too young to buy a grapefruit spoon, but I think I am old enough now. Of course, when I was at grocery store I saw that Florida Department of Citrus is currently offering a deal where you can get free grapefruit spoons (with purchase of grapefruit). This is the season for citrus, so sign me up! More gadgets!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Lime Time

I have a St. Patrick's Day party to attend this month and I have been searching for the perfect dessert to take to the party. My first option - Fresh Lime Chiffon Cake. So, I make it for my monthly staff meeting to test it out. Making this frosted, three-layer cake was not as time intensive as the recipe and reviews on Cooking made it sound; although grating the lime rind got old after awhile. I think I need to investigate purchasing a better grating tool. I did thoroughly enjoy using our antique juicer for the lime juice and remembered fondly receiving it as a gift at a wedding shower about 1000 years ago.

The cake did not turn out as I imagined it would, even with the picture on the recipe. First of all - it was yellow! I had, for some reason, expected it to be green! Silly me. That's one strike against it winning the St. Patrick's Day Dessert Challenge. The taste was good, light and "refreshing" my staff members said (of course, I am paying them so what else would they say?). I, being impartial, did like the taste as it was uniquely tart and limey.

The recipe also suggested garnishing the cake with blueberries and mint - which I might try sometime. Reviewers on Cooking suggested using a different type of filling between the layers, which is an interesting idea. However, what would be a good jam/jelly/curd flavor to combine with lime?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Feast or Famine

This weekend I had the pleasure of trying several new restaurants (or new to me). Here's the rundown:

The Pita Inn - Wheeling, IL: On a field trip for work I tried this busy Mediterranean fast food restaurant. I had no idea what to order, so I got the Business Lunch Special which was enough food for me and three friends, quite honestly, with a combination of shish kabob, kifta kabob, shawarma, and falafel. All of the food was delicious, especially the pita bread! Unfortunately, a few hours later a friend and I both realized that the Business Lunch Special probably wasn't the best way to kick off the first Friday in Lent. Alas, the food was wonderful and I can't wait to take Stacy back there some day!

Agio Italian Bistro - Palatine, IL: Stacy and I joined two wonderful friends to try the newly opened Italian restaurant. We were warmly welcomed at this elegant, upscale restaurant that is the newest incarnation of the previous "Slice of Chicago" restaurant. The service was great, friendly and accommodating without hovering. We had a lovely dinner, each of us trying a different salad (beautifully presented) and pasta dish. I had a (huge) angel hair vegetable primavera dish with a white wine and garlic sauce. The noodles and sauce were delicious, although I could have used a few more vegetables. The dish made me think of what I could make at home once the Palatine Farmer's Market returns this spring!

We were all very impressed with the service, decor, and food and all plan to return in the future. At $12-22ish for entrees, we'll probably also consider getting carryout from the Slice of Chicago storefront next door (same owners).

Finally, while it wasn't a new place - we had a another fun visit to the Donkey Inn after our bowling night! Here's an article that can do it better justice than my pedestrian attempts.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mint Julep

Tonight I had dinner with a friend at a wonderful local restaurant - Mint Julep in Palatine. With rain pouring down outside and lightning flashing overhead, it was easy for us to feel like we were, indeed, settling in at the cozy restaurant in the South. After a long day at work, the wonderful cocktails on the menu were tempting, but I knew I had to try their sweet iced tea (my favorite drink). I also strong-armed my friend to let me order Fried Green Tomatoes for an appetizer since I have always wanted to try them. I was not disappointed! Of course, what isn't good fried, right?

Next, we both tried the soup of the day, a curry-ginger carrot soup that was smooth, creamy, carroty with a hint of spice. Even though I had the soup, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try the Brunswick Stew for my main entree. This hearty Southern stew made with barbecue beef, chicken, peas, and corn in a rich tomato sauce was the perfect meal for a stormy night. I brought some home with me and forced Stacy to try some before I even took off my coat.

At $10-$20 an entree, large portion sizes and a delightfully cozy ambiance, this would be a great place to recommend to Check, Please!

Next time, I am definitely going to have a Mint Julep.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Quesadillas, Rum, and Restaurants

Don't try to fool me - you're still reading because the rum caught your attention! This weekend we tried two new recipes and one new restaurant. Since our Saturday afternoon was cold and snowy - I decided to make cookies! However, looking through recently collected recipes revealed only doughs that needed time to chill. No time for that, I thought, and I decided to make the much anticipated Butter-Rum Pound Cake from Betty Crocker! But, alas, we were both disappointed. It had a nice texture and decent taste, but we both were looking for a moister cake with more rum flavor - something similar to the tasty goodness of Stacy's mom's recipe for almond-poppy seed cake that turns out rich and moist due to drizzle added during the last step of the recipe. We might try something similar with a Tastefully Simple pound cake to experiment.

While the cake was cooling, I tried another new recipe for our dinner - Roasted Corn and Goat-Cheese Quesadillas. Stacy loves quesadillas, but I cringe everytime he eats them in a restaurant since they are always served dripping in cheese and grease (no offense, quesadilla chefs of America). I also thought this would be a good dish to try to make using our new panini press. In the end, we were both satisfied with the meal that also included Rice-a-Roni Mexican rice (yum!) and black beans. The quesadillas were tasty, although a bit heavy on the goat-cheese side...probably because my container of goat-cheese contained slightly more than the recipe called for (but not enough for me to go to the effort of removing - .3 oz). Using the panini maker resulted in melted quesadillas, but they weren't as crispy as they probably would have been using the skillet as the recipe indicated. I do think I would make a variation of this again, however. The recipe was fast and easy to make, as well.

On Sunday, I needed to go to work unexpectedly so, for a special treat, we visited a new local restaurant and had a very nice time. Toscana Restaurant and Lounge in Rolling Meadows is a nice, intimate sit-down Italian restaurant. We had delicous bread, more bread in the form of bruschetta (my ultimate favorite) and I had Pollo Limone and Stacy had the Tortellini Paesano for our main entrees. It's special occasion spot, with entrees running from $13 and up, although maybe we will try their lunch and/or take-out menu sometime as well. The service was outstanding; the staff were friendly and attentive. I look forward to trying their version of garlic pizza. It is very nice to find a nicer place in our area - we're still looking for our "Cheers."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Re-inventing the Ramble

One of my New Year's Resolutions a few years ago was to give up doing New Year's Resolutions. Now I just make and break resolutions all year through! Right now, one of my mini-resolutions is to become a culinary and organizational genius.

What's that mean? I need to cook and clean more. Therefore, the last few weeks I've been making an effort to cook new dishes and "weed" various collections throughout our house. Therefore, I've decided to bring my blog back and document my progress - if nothing else than for my own amusement.

The most recent culinary experiment was Korean-Spiced Beef and Cabbage Rolls - a recipe that I saw last year in Cooking Light magazine. It was winning recipe from one of their readers that was inspired by my husband's favorite food from Nebraska - the Runza! I spent a good part of Saturday afternoon putting this recipe together and, thankfully, Stacy helped by making dessert - a rum pound cake also from CL. The dish was relatively easy to make - just a little more time consuming that I would usually like.

Honey was one of the dough's main ingredient, resulting in a light, sweet dough that I would consider using for other dishes as well. Overall, the Korean flavors were tasty, yet subtle. I would like to experiment with making the rolls smaller to create more of an appetizer snack bite, although I hope they won't be too hard to fold together. Additionally, I want to try adding different things to the filling - more vegetables and a little cheese.

The rum pound cake was carefully created by Stacy as he channeled his inner chemical engineer. It turned out ok - our favorite part was the mild taste of Captain Morgan's. Thankfully, a colleague at work shared a similar recipe with me today that might be a good one to try this weekend.