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.