Monday, August 31, 2009

Fresh Blueberry Sauce

Ah, blueberries. Although available year round, we have about another month of peak blueberry season and I'm going to fully take advantage of it. I'm very lucky to live in a city that is abundant with farmer's markets and locally grown produce. When you choose to buy local food, you get more than just great-tasting, fresh food. Buying locally strengthens local economies, supports family farms, and promotes a sense of community. It's nice to be able to build relationships with the people who are growing the food that you put on your table each day. It's a win-win for all parties involved!

One of my favorite ways to use a pint of fresh blueberries is to whip up a sauce to smother my pancakes in. Every weekend, I treat myself to a lavish breakfast. It's a good way unwind from a hard-worked week. Below is my recipe for fresh blueberry sauce, to make your everyday pancake just a little bit sweeter. Adding lemon and/or cinnamon to blueberries actually enhances their flavor, so I've added both!

Fresh Blueberry Sauce:

4 cups blueberries
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until mixture begins to heat up and dissolve, then use a potato masher to crush blueberries and release their natural juices. Reduce heat and cook until almost boiling, and sauce is to the consistency of your liking (generally, if it coats the back of a spoon). Serve immediately.


Shortbread Cookies

A fellow blogger recently posted a recipe for shortbread cookies and let me tell you, they are heavenly! They're the kind of good that will make you close your eyes and savour every last bite. I dare you not to eat more than one, it's simply impossible. After you make these, you will most certainly throw out that box of Lorna Doones hiding in your pantry because nothing beats homemade. You can also throw out that new form-fitting dress you just bought because these babies are full of sin (*ahem*, butter).

I didn't have any cookie cutters with fluted edges so I used an upside-down metal tartlette shell, and that worked perfectly! The cookies are best chilled, by themselves or with a sweet filling. I played around with fillings this weekend and here are some of my favorites:
  • Haagen Dazs Five - Passion Fruit Ice Cream
  • Nutella and Hazelnuts
  • Homemade Cream Cheese Frosting
    • 8 oz Neufchatel Cheese
    • 1 stick Unsalted Butter
    • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
    • 3.5 cups Confectioner's Sugar
    • Pinch of Salt
  • Michigan Cherry Jam
  • Lemon Curd
Enjoy! These cookies are so fun to play around with, get creative and personalize them. You can also freeze them for a quick dessert anytime. But, if you're like me, they won't last very long.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Red Wine Spaghetti

This is not your typical red wine spaghetti. This is spaghetti boiled in red wine. Why didn't I think of this before? I found this recipe in the September 2009 issue of Food & Wine Magazine.

There is an article titled "
When a Mediocre Wine is Good News" with a handful of recipes on what do to do with wine you just won't drink (I know, I know, but it happens!).

You must admit, more than once, you've probably experimented with a new wine only to find out that it just isn't your style. Perhaps, you've been given a bottle as a gift, but it's just not something you'd normally drink. Or, like me, your wine store had an entire bin of $3 clearance wines. The wine enhances the flavor of the spaghetti in this recipe, giving it a very rustic and delightful "wine-soaked" taste.

A very rich aroma flows into your kitchen when making this meal, I guarantee your friends and family will be drooling. Just look at the color of the pasta when all is said and done, it's beautiful! All of the ingredients pulled together look stunning on a white plate, and with the addition of the walnuts and fresh parsley to the whole wheat spaghetti - this dish is full of healthful antioxidants.

I used a bit more crushed red pepper than is listed here (about a 1/2 teaspoon), I like a little heat in my dishes. For the wine, I selected a simple Merlot, but any dry red wine will work. I also substituted whole-wheat spaghetti for regular spaghetti.

Here is the recipe:
  • 5 cups water
  • 3 1/4 cups dry red wine
  • Salt
  • 3/4 pound spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 small garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
  • 1 cup walnuts (4 ounces), coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
  • Freshly ground black pepper
In a saucepan, combine the water with 3 cups of the wine and a large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook, stirring, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.

In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the garlic and red pepper and season with salt. Cook over moderate heat for 1 minute. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of wine and the reserved cooking liquid and bring to a simmer. Stir in the pasta and cook until the liquid is nearly absorbed, 2 minutes.

Add the parsley, nuts, the 1/2 cup of cheese and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and toss. Season the pasta with salt and pepper and serve, passing grated cheese at the table.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

If At First You Don't Succeed, Order Pizza

I'm in love. I always have been, always will be. With whom? Well, not someone but something. Cookbooks. I should probably discuss this addiction to a paid professional. I'm serious, I can't walk into a bookstore without browsing the cookbook section. I can't go through a work week without searching Amazon for newly released cookbooks. I have never not asked for some sort of cookbook for Christmas. I don't go one weekend without experimenting with a handful of new recipes.

What is the attraction? The author, the tantalizing recipes, the sensational photography? All of the above. I'm not even going to mention my obsession with food magazines and food blogs, that's another story for another time.

Last night, I was assessing the decor in my apartment. What changes do I want to make? What additions do I want to purchase? What rearranging do I need to do? Then it hit me. I have A LOT of cookbooks. They're under my coffee table, on top of my end tables, in my cabinets, on top of my fridge, and in my bedroom. They're beginning to take over my apartment, like an army of ants.

Some are challenging. There are a few that I have never once successfully recreated a meal from, I just like dreaming of that accomplishment and glancing at the creative photographs. Some are charming. I have all of the Magnolia Bakery cookbooks. They make me want to dress up skirt aprons, braid my hair and move to the country. Some don't have any photographs. Those sometimes frustrate me, I'm a visual person. You know, the ones with the hand drawn images of recipes, what is that? I don't know what that's supposed to be! Is that a casserole or a clown face? Some are educational, like The Flavor Bible. Truth be told, all have taught me something.

I'm not saying I know my stuff, but I have learned a lot from these books. If you're looking for something new or a change of taste, here are my recommendations:

  • Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook by Martha Stewart
  • The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
  • The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life by Ellie Krieger
  • Essentially Lilly: A Guide to Colorful Holidays by Lilly Pulitzer
  • Grilled Cheese: 50 Recipes to Make You Melt by Marlena Spieler
  • Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More by Cory Schrieber and Julie Richardson
  • The Ski Country Cookbook by Barbara Scott-Goodman and Rita Maas
  • Giada's Kitchen: New Italian Favorites by Giada De Laurentiis
  • At Home with Magnolia: Classic American Recipes from the Owner of Magnolia Bakery by Allysa Torey
  • Everyday Food: Great Food Fast by Martha Stewart Living Magazine
  • Cover & Bake by Cook's Illustrated Magazine
  • The Best Light Recipe by Cook's Illustrated Magazine
  • Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics: Fabulous Flavor from Simple Ingredients by Ina Garten
  • The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl by Ree Drummond


Photo Source: yvestown

Thursday, August 20, 2009

If You're Happy and You Know It...

Everybody gets stressed. At the present moment, I'm unbelievably stressed. My shoulders are so tense that they're actually sore. I'm sensing that I'm in the middle of a "quarter-life crisis" - and apparently that is a real term. According to sources, a "quarter-life crisis" involves insecurity regarding long-term plans or life goals, disappointment with one's job, frustration with social ills, loneliness, desire to have children, a sense that everyone is doing better than you, confusion of identity, and financially-rooted stress.

Who am I? What do I want? And, how do I get it? These questions are most common in your mid-twenties because you have just been catapulted into the "real world" and want follow your dreams, but you have no idea where to begin.

I think everyone has these issues at some point in their life, whether or not it's termed a quarter-life crisis, a mid-life crisis, or whatever. But instead of getting down about it, there are many books out there to help you work through it. Sometimes creating a list is constructive, and can help you reevaluate your choices. It can be as simple as writing down what you're thankful for, or what makes you happy. This is beneficial at any age, no matter what stage in life you're in. It helps maintain an emotional balance, and just might bring you back on track. You can then surround yourself with the little things that will brighten your day.

What makes me happy...

food photography
experimenting with new recipes
a nap
bubble baths
helping a stranger
a long drive down a country road
curling up with a good book
a walk at dusk
a lakeside breeze
a perfectly sunny day
making someone laugh
peanut butter & jelly
freshly washed sheets
rosy cheeks in the winter
casual Friday
fresh coffee
movie previews
a summer rain
farmer's markets (it's a rainbow of colors!)
Sunday night HBO
wearing a dress
Full House reruns

What makes YOU happy?

Fondly, Optimistic

Photo Credit: antoaneta

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ice Cream Grahamwiches

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! I was flipping through Gourmet Magazine this weekend, and fell in love with an ice cream sandwich recipe. I had planned a relaxing weekend for myself - reading, lounging on the beach, and no heavy cooking. So instead of creating the Gourmet ice cream sandwiches exactly as their recipe entailed, I decided to make my own version, with a few shortcuts. Because gosh darn it, it's 90 degrees and I wanted ice cream sandwiches - without the effort!

Recipe (makes about a dozen):
1 pack Honey Graham Crackers
2 cups Blueberries
1/4 cup Sugar
1 teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
2 tsp Cornstarch

Transfer ice cream to a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 10-second intervals until softened. Spread ice cream thinly in a 9x9-inch baking dish and freeze until firm while making blueberry compote.

Cook blueberries, sugar, and zest in a saucepan over medium-high heat, thoroughly crushing blueberries with a pastry blender or potato masher, until juices are released. Stir in lemon juice and cornstarch and bring blueberry mixture to a boil, stirring, for 1 minute. Mixture will thicken. Transfer to a bowl and chill in refrigerator for about an hour.

When blueberry compote has chilled, spread over frozen ice cream and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours. When ice cream mixture is firm, cut into squares the size of a half of a graham cracker. Place the ice cream square between two halves of graham crackers, and enjoy! Napkins will be required, this is a gooey, oozy and crumbly dessert - but definitely worth it! Individually wrap and freeze remaining sandwiches for another steamy summer afternoon.


Blueberry-Orange Muffins

Summertime means fresh berries at the Farmer's Market. During my past few trips, I stocked up on Michigan Blueberries. Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and Vitamin C; making them a healthful snack and a smart addition to any baked good. This morning I decided to whip up some muffins for the week ahead. Knowing that I had Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix in my pantry (which I love more than anything else on this planet), I choose to bake Blueberry-Orange Cornmeal Muffins. They turned out heavenly; the blueberries and the orange zest made the muffins so moist with a very refreshing flavor.

Recipe (makes about 9):
1 box Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
1 Egg
1/3 cup Milk
1 tablespoon Orange Zest
1 1/2 cups Blueberries
Confectioner's Sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a muffin pan with cooking spray or use muffins cups. In a medium bowl, whisk together Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix, egg, and milk. Add orange zest and blueberries to batter, combine until evenly mixed. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin, filling each cup three-quarters full. Bake until golden, 13-15 minutes. Let muffins cool, dust with confectioner's sugar.

I like to individually wrap my leftover muffins in plastic wrap, then in foil, and freeze them. They make a great breakfast on the go. Just place the frozen muffin on your counter to thaw the night before, and by morning, you'll have a fresh muffin to grab and take with you on your way out the door. There's nothing better than a homemade breakfast!


Thursday, August 13, 2009

To Have and To Hold

I want to emphasize again how wonderful Etsy is! This morning, I found the most beautiful handmade clutches. They're made by FIAZCO and she says she's "been designing and sewing since Barbie and Ken first started dating." I like her already!

Although she has plenty of stunning designs on her Etsy page, she will also accomodate custom orders. These would be perfect for bridesmaids, or any other special occassion. There are even fabric swatches available so you can match them to your dress (but remember, not too matchy-matchy)!

This clutch was one of my favorites!

Sky blue fabric with bold chocolate brown flowers.

Lined with vibrant Peacock colored Duponi silk.

And it has a bright Nickel frame.

These are one of a kind! The clutches are only $65, meaning you'll still have money to put inside it. But, they are so cute, I'd carry it around empty!

I bet all of your lady friends will want to know where to get one. Compliments are guaranteed. I can't wait to get my hands on one! Pun intended.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009


"The only time to eat diet food,

is while you're waiting for the steak to cook!"

- Julia Child

I'm in an exceptionally good mood, therefore I've decided to post my first giveaway! Why am I in such high spirits? Because I have a three-day weekend ahead of me and I'm expecting an Amazon shipment I'm really excited about (two new cookbooks!). My plan is to nap on the beach all weekend, do plenty of cooking and baking, and go see Julie & Julia! Have you seen it? Do you want to see it? Do you want a Fandango gift certificate for two FREE tickets to see it? Just comment on this post with your e-mail, and you're entered to win! One winner will randomly be selected on Sunday evening.


WINNER: #3 - Danielle. Congrats Danielle, I hope you enjoy Julie & Julia! Thanks to everyone who commented, there will be more chances to win prizes in the future, so keep reading!

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sounds In The City

I work on the 54th floor of a big city skyscraper. At this altitude, the sirens below are just a faint echo. For the most part, it's quiet and serene up here. Out my window I watch storms roll in and planes fly out. I see all kinds of traffic on the highway (it's a blessing not to be able to hear it) and laugh at sight-seeing boats heading down the Chicago River in the pouring rain (I've never seen so many ponchos outside of Disney World).

Today, was a different story. I'm minding my own business, typing away on my computer, when all of sudden - I hear music, loud and clear. I turn around to look out my window and very quickly I realize the music is coming from a neighboring condominium building. The building is presently under construction, and the construction crew is blasting their boom box. Do they still make boom boxes? I sure hope so, those things were so dorktastic.

What shocked me the most were the song choices.

I heard...

"My Guy" by Mary Wells

"Under The Boardwalk" by The Drifters

"Cruisin" by Huey Lewis and Gwenyth Paltrow

"At Last" by Etta James

"Lady Marmalade" by Patti Labelle

Oh, and I swear I heard a song by Barbara Streisand.

Okay, maybe it was Boy George.

I couldn't tell.

Sorry, I'm listening through glass here!

Who would have thought that "At Last" would be heard on a construction site? I work for a construction company and I've never heard it! Denim button-downs (while wearing jeans), Timberland boots, and canteens are the things that make up a construction site. Not Huey Lewis and Gwenyth Paltrow. I would have expected Def Leppard, AC/DC, or Guns N' Roses. Maybe even a little Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, or Jimmy Buffett. But Etta James? Nah. Never. Maybe tomorrow they'll play some Celine Dion. She sounds right up their alley.


Photo Credit: Lawrence Sinclair

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The End of An Era

Grandma - "Oh Sam, let me take a look at you."

Grandma - "Fred, she's gotten her boobies."

Grandpa - "I better get my magnifying glass. Ha Ha Ha."

Grandma - "Oh, and they are so PERKY."


Sadly, John Hughes has passed away. My childhood was spent watching his iconic films. They were essential cinematic representations of what it was like to be a teen in the 80's. The 80's wouldn't be as bitchin' as they were without John Hughes. Where would we be without The Griswolds? Ferris? The Brain, The Athlete, The Basket Case, The Princess, and The Criminal?

I live in the northern suburbs of Chicago, and Hughes has certainly left his mark here. He grew up outside of Chicago and set many of his movies in the city's northern suburbs. Memories and filming locations from Home Alone, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Christmas Vacation, The Breakfast Club, Curly Sue, Planes Trains and Automobiles, She's Having a Baby, Sixteen Candles, Uncle Buck, Weird Science and Risky Business are all within minutes of my home. His films will always be a permanent part of my history. Growing up, I wanted to be Molly Ringwald. But who didn't?

I encourage you to honor Mr. Hughes. Go dig up your Sixteen Candles VHS (watching an 80's movie on DVD just isn't the same), drag your dusty video player out of the basement, and laugh in his memory. His films will always be timeless classics.


(500) Days of Summer

I loved, loved, loved this film. It's one of the most original romantic comedies I've seen in a while. I hate to even call it a romantic comedy, because it's far from the typical cliche.

It reminds me of a modern day When Harry Met Sally, with a visual style similar to Juno. Even the lighting is impressive; the creativity poured into this film is endless. It's unpredictable, and the humor is sometimes unexpected (you will laugh out loud). It's perfectly cast and very witty.

The film opens with a narrative, and bounces through the 500 days of their relationship, in no particular order. Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a greeting card writer, falls for Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). Tom believes he's met the woman of his dreams. Here's the kicker - Summer is a non-believer in love; in her mind, love only happens in fairy tales. She's young, carefree, and isn't looking for anything serious.

Tom is determined to change her attitude on love, until one day Summer breaks up with him. With the help of his too-funny-for-words sidekicks (and his prepubescent sister), he spends the rest of the film trying to figure out what went wrong.

The acting is superb. I'm a sucker for believable acting, it's what makes or breaks a film. If you can't distinguish between a character and the actor, you know that's talent. I don't remember the last time I saw Joseph Gordon-Levitt (3rd Rock from the Sun, anyone?) but he really threw himself back into the acting world with flying colors. Zooey Deschanel shines in the film. She is spot on as Summer, and I couldn't imagine anyone else in the role. I love her 60's hair, feminine style and sing-song voice.

SIDE NOTE: Anytime I see a film with Zooey in the cast, I always leave the theater wanting to be her (every guy wants to date her, ever gal wants to be her). This usually means purchasing a cute headband, a high-waisted skirt and a pretty blouse. Then running home and cutting myself some bangs.

Now back to the film review...

Tom - "Did you ever have a boyfriend?"

Summer - "Of course."

Tom - "What happened, why didn't they work out?"

Summer - "What always happens? Life."

The thing I love best about this film is that it is realistic. Everyone can relate to their situation in one way or another. It's not a love story, it's a story about love. Don't expect a "happily ever after" at the end. This film is emotional, hilarious, and visually stunning. It will affect you; I promise you that you will leave the theater moved by it. Although parts of it were sad, you're left feeling hopeful. It has become my favorite film of 2009. I wouldn't be surprised if it's showered in awards.

Be sure to check out the soundtrack. It's a great mix!


Photo Credits: Fox Searchlight

I'm Still Here!

I thought I should let you know (yes, you!), I haven't abandoned my blog. I promise. I love it here, why would I ever leave? I love thinking that people actually read my blog, so why would I stop?

I've been a very busy girl for the past 7-10 days (I don't even know what day of the week it is anymore). If someone hands me another proposal to write, I swear I'm going to punch them in the ovaries. Oh come on, I wouldn't really!

"I've got to get busy writing - busy, busy, busy!" Anyone know where that quote is from? Frosty the Snowman. I can hear Professor Hinkle saying it now. It cracks me up because instead of working, that's where my mind has wandered to. Well, at least I can still laugh. Even if I'm up to my eyeballs in deadlines!


Photo Credit: Martha