Friday, July 31, 2015

Can It Forward Day is Almost Here!


Join us on Saturday August 1st for International Can-It-Forward Day! Now in its 5th year, Can-It-Forward Day will broadcast live online at from 11Am - 4PM EST from the new state-of-the-art Jarden Home Brands headquarters in Fishers, Indiana, celebrating the joys of fresh preserving. To showcase the simplicity of home canning and spotlight “Made From Here” recipes from gardeners and food enthusiasts, four blogger ambassadors from across the country will share their preserving expertise during the live webcast: Food in Jars’ Marisa McClellan of Philadelphia, PA, Hoosier Homemade’s Liz Latham of LaPorte, IN, Southern Plate’s Christy Jordan of Hunstville, AL and Yesterday on Tuesday’s Malia Martine Karlinsky of Seattle, WA. Viewers will also get a behind the scenes look at recipe testing and development and the science behind ensuring safety and the highest quality of all home canning recipes. The webcast will also have an integrated chat function where viewers can submit their home canning questions to be answered in real time! New this year, there will also be an exciting celebrity mason jar actuion unveiled during the webcast!
In addition to American favorites, the International event also features flavors from Australian Chef Rebecca Sullivan demonstrating recipes from down under. Participating via web internationally, canners in South Africa, Australia and the UK, will also join by making and sharing their own favorite canning recipes!
So join in tomorrow, Saturday, August 1st and jump in on social media using the hashtag #canitforward to take part in the fun! In the meantime... if you're new to canning or even a seasonal canner, there are some great canning items to look for this year as you begin to plan on preserving your favorite local ingredients in peak season:
Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving: The new 37th edition of the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving is the most trusted resource in home canning for over 100 years and this new 2015 release is its largest update since the first edition in 1909.  Expanding 56% from the previous edition, the 37th edition of the Ball Blue Bookincludes 75 new recipes, pictorial step by step guides for beginners and more! (Retail value: $11.95)
Design Series Lids (red + purple): Great not only for home canning, the Ball® Brand Design Series Lids With Bands are also a great option for unique crafting creations, gifts and home décor with endless mixing and matching possibilities. (Retail value: $5.95)
Heritage Collection Pint jars (Retail value: $12.99)
Heritage Collection Quart jars (Retail value: $14.99): These new limited edition Regular Mouth pint and Wide Mouth quart jars are a celebration of the 1915 heritage featuring a vintage-inspired purple color and embossed logos on front and back.
Sip & Straw Lids (red, blue + purple): Fitting perfectly atop any Wide Mouth and Regular Mouth Ball® Jar, you can enjoy every drop of your favorite cold drinks, smoothies or summer tea with a splash of color. (Retail value: $4.99)

Monday, July 27, 2015

El Mariachi Bar & Grill {review}

One of the great things about Chicago is the abundance of amazing places to eat. There is never a shortage of delicious food all around town and the variations of how so many cuisines are presented. Recently, I dined at El Mariachi Tequila Bar and Grill and well, let me tell you how that all went....

We were warmly greeted and shortly thereafter, seated to a table that provided optimal views of the restaurants beautiful interior. It was warm, cozy and spacious inside with decor that made you feel like you were eating in a quaint villa in Mexico.

Next up was the amazing food... and so much were offered! Here's a rundown of what we enjoyed:

Tableside guacamole: Made to order and to your tastes! Fresh avocados are gently crushed with ingredients such as onion, jalapeno, tomato, salt, freshly squeezed lime juice and cilantro. Simply and so delicious with their housemade tortilla chips!

Weekly Special Citrus Shrimp: This refreshing appetizer was the creation of their executive chef which consists of rock shrimp, spicy poblano guacamole all set atop a thinly sliced orange segment. Strikingly beautiful yet packed with some heat!

Ceviche de Camaron: This shrimp ceviche is not your typical version! Shrimp is marinated in sweet passion fruit and citrus juices and tossed with Peruvian corn, red onion and aji amarillo pepper. The additional crisp tortilla chips made for a perfect way to scoop this in your mouth...

Margarita Yucateca: And what would this delicious Mexican dinner be without a proper margarita?! This colorful libation involves hibiscus infused Cabo Wabo tequila, blood orange, triple sec, habanera simple syrup and agave nectar... olé!

Now it was time for the entrees - they just kept on coming and filling up our table!

Carne Asada Costena: A grilled skirt steak is marimated over night and served with specialty sauteed and seasoned cream shrimp (shrimp not shown) and served with cilantro lime rice and black beans. It was wonderful and such a great twist on a surf and turf dish!

Salmon a la Veracruzana; An 8oz salmon filet is wrapped in banana leaves and served over a tomato caper Veracruzana salsa, accompanied by cilantro lime rice and caramelized plantains.

Chuletas al Pastor: A grilled pork chop marinated with pastor adobo is served with a creamy tomatillo salsa, cilantro, limer ice, grilled onions and pineapple. 

Another weekly chef special: Mexican 'spaghetti' made with zucchini noodles seasoned with a light red pepper sauce and served with toasted bread. This makes for a low carb dish!

Pollo Relleno; A breaded chicken roulade stuffed with chorizo, sweet corn, poblano, asafetida cheese... served over creamy tomatillo salsa, really asked garlic cheese potatoes and ancho green beans. This had to be my favorite dish of the night next to the chips and freshly made guacamole!

Chipotle Ribeye: A well seasoned boneless ribeye toppde with mushrooms, creamy tomatillo salsa all served with roasted garlic cheese potatoes and ancho green beans. Another unique twist on steak and potatoes.

And finally it was time for dessert!  We were presented with a beautiful platter of three desserts consisting of cheesecake, chocolate flourless cake and flan. All were made in house and they were fantastic!

After an outstanding meal, we stepped outside to their back patio... and wow. It was an awesome space perfect for outdoor dining. During the day, you can take in all the exposed brick, wide open season and beautifully paved patio. By night, you can enjoy the twinkling lights, soft glow of the lanterns and the beautiful and romantic ambiance. 

If you haven't checked out this place already, definitely make it a point to visit! Even better is that they have 2 locations just blocks from each other in the Lakeview neighborhood!

You can also find them on social media:

A special thanks to the staff of El Mariachi for providing us a memorable and delicious experience. At El Mariachi Tequila Bar & Grill, they truly offer a more genuine and unique experience than the typical Mexican restaurant with an extensive selection of over 150 tequilas (100% Blue Agave), handcrafted premium margaritas, our famous tableside guacamole and regional Mexican cuisine!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Pinapple-Cucumber Gazpacho with the Nutri Ninja {review}

Summer is in full swing {finally} and we're experiencing some really humid weather. That said, I've been reluctant to turn on the stove or oven just to avoid heating up the kitchen. One thing the weather has encouraged me to do is to tap into some warm weather recipes to try. I know soup is not exactly the summer meal people enjoy on hot and humid days... well, unless it's a gazpacho! 

When making gazpacho, you definitely need a good way of processing ingredients so that they have a nice smooth consistency to qualify it as a soup of sorts. I've gone through so many blenders over the years due to weak motors that burned out, clunky design that were too big or not big enough, and even blenders that just didn't process things as finely as I needed. But now, it looks like I found a winner. The Nutri Ninja Blender is one that has a prominent place in my kitchen! Specifically, the Nutri Ninja | Ninja Blender Duo with Auto-iQ  is a powerful workhouse of an appliance. I am surprised by how much versatility this blender has!

The Nutri Ninja | Ninja Blender Duo with Auto-iQ takes the guesswork out of drink making! Auto-iQ Technology features intelligent programs that combine unique, timed pulsing, blending and pausing patterns that do the work for you! The digital countdown timer displays how much time is remaining on the selected Auto-iQ program, or counts up to track blending time when using the three manual speeds. Combined with Nutri Ninja Pro Extractor Blades, Auto-iQ breaks down whole fruits, vegetables, ice and seeds for maximum nutrient & vitamin extraction. Small, Regular and Jumbo Multi-Serve Nutri Ninja Cups with Sip & Seal Lids allow you to make nutrient-rich Super Juices to take on-the-go! Total Crushing Technology delivers unbeatable professional power. Ninja Auto-iQ combined with the XL 72 oz. blender’s Total Crushing Blades pulverize ice to snow in seconds for creamy frozen drinks and smoothies for the whole family! All jars, blades, and lids are BPA free and dishwasher safe.
Many use a blender for shakes and smoothies but it really does so much more. Soups, pancake/waffle batters, sauces, condiments {think mayonnaise and ketchup!}, quick breads, nut butters, salad dressings, dips, puddings, cocktails, etc. The real challenge in using this particular blender is deciding what to make because it's so versatile!

When I've made gazpacho in the past, it usually came out too thick because it just wasn't processed as finely enough. This particular recipe is slightly chunky but I processed it a bit more with easy for the perfect consistency I was looking for. Definitely give this recipe a try for a refreshing, light summer soup and if you've been looking for a solid blender to do the work for you in the kitchen, the Nutri Ninja | Ninja Blender Duo with Auto-iQ  will do it all with ease!

Pinnapple-Cucumber Gazpacho
Makes 4 to 6 servings

4 cups chopped peeled cucumber (from about 1 large English cucumber or a few Kirbys)
4 cups chopped pineapple (from 1 large or 2 small pineapples)
1 cup fresh pineapple juice
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
1 green onion, white and 1 inch of green, chopped
1 Tbsp. lime juice
2 tsp. sea salt
1 handful cilantro leaves, plus a few extra for garnish
3 Tbsp. avocado oil, macadamia oil, or cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil
1 handful finely chopped raw macadamia nuts

In a blender, add 3 cups each of the cucumber and pineapple, the pineapple juice, jalapeño, green onion, lime juice, and salt. Blend until smooth.

Add the remaining 1 cup pineapple and 1 cup cucumber, the handful of cilantro, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil. Pulse the blender quickly a few times—the gazpacho should remain chunky.

Before serving, add the macadamia nuts to the gazpacho and stir to distribute evenly. Divide among serving bowls and drizzle with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil. Garnish with cilantro.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Red Eye Sponsors Battle of the Burgers

battle of the burger 2

If you're looking for a tasting event this weekend, be sure to check out the Battle of the Burgers, hosted by Chicago's RedEye and Amstel Light! For more details and ticket information, check out ChiStarConnections on how you can attend and experience some delicious burgers!...

Olive & Pepper Penne Salad with Citrus Chickpea Dressing

While many are enjoying summer festivities, there are a few that cannot wait for the school year. The start of the school year is fast approaching and this summer, it has been hard for some children. Hunger strikes many people all over the country and as a food blogger/chef, it pains me to think of individuals who don't have proper meals. Summer is especially difficult because many federal breakfast and lunch support programs are only in operation during the school year. That means during the summer, there is a definite increase need for food assistance. And it also means that 21 million children are missing out on free or reduced-price meals in the summer months from June until September.

In an effort to help fight hunger, I've teamed up with Dreamfields Pasta in their special Pastapalooza Market Basket ChallengeThroughout the summer, Dreamfields Pasta will be hosting five separate “Market Basket Challenges” where bloggers are asked to use ingredients in a market basket (plus up to 2 other ingredients) to create an original pasta salad, side dish or summer entree recipe. 

Readers, fans, friends and followers are called to vote for the recipe they like best during each challenge - one vote can be casted per day for the recipe of your choice and each challenge will last one week.

The winning recipe/blogger will receive a $1,000 donation made in their name to their local food bank. A $200 donation will also be made to the local food bank of each runner-up. 

And as a bonus – one voter from each Market Basket Challenge will be chosen at random to win a family pack of Dreamfields pasta and a $1,000 donation to the food bank of their choice. So the more readers, fans, friends and followers vote, the more chances I have to win!

For my Middle Eastern Market Basket Challenge, I was asked to prepare a dish using the following ingredients: cumin/Za’atar/Harissa, legumes, garlic, chutney and citrus.I also had the option to also add up to two ingredients of my choice to round out my dish. Dreamfields pasta, salt, pepper, oil and water were “free ingredients.” 

With Middle Eastern flavors in mind, I was inspired to make this Olive & Pepper Penne Salad with a Citrus Chickpea Dressing. And if I win, I would love to donate winnings to the Northern Illinois Food Bank... It's a local organization that's close to my heart and I support their efforts to help those in need in my area.

So if you would like to help fight hunger while enjoying a new recipe of Middle Eastern flavors, please vote for my dish here at the Dreamfields Pastapalooza voting pageVoting ends for The Middle Eastern Basket Challenge ends at 11:59PM EDT, July 29, 2015.


original recipe by What's Cookin, Chicago

Preparation Time: 25 minutes

Cook Time: 12-15 minutes

1 pound Dreamfields Penne Rigate

1/2 cup canned garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained, divided

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup tomato chutney

2 medium lemons, juiced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced

1/4 cup roasted red peppers, sliced



1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Place pasta in large bowl; set aside.

2. Meanwhile, place 1/4 cup of the garbanzo beans, cumin, water, oil, chutney, lemon juice

and garlic in bowl of food processor; pulse until combined. Season with salt and pepper,

as desired. Toss dressing with pasta. Add remaining garbanzo beans, olives and

roasted red peppers; toss to combine well. Serve immediately or chilled.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition information (1/6 of recipe): 430 calories; 11 g protein; 67 g carbohydrates; 16 g total

fat; 1 g saturated fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 350 mg sodium; 8 g total dietary fiber.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake

Some folks aren't big on baking during the summer months... do you fall in that camp? I can certainly see why that is. Who wants to turn the oven on and heat up the kitchen when it's already hot as it is (in some parts of the country) with the air conditioning blasting?! Summer hasn't quite reached us here in the Midwest, at least not for very long, so baking wasn't really a problem. That said, the bigger problem is deciding what to make and how to make use of some of the seasonal fruits available! I had quite a few blueberries on hand and that's when I decided on making this Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake, A sweet batter studded with fresh blueberries which is finished off with a honey and lemon glaze...

With some help from my friends at Krusteaz, I made this quick and easy dessert to enjoy with some refreshing iced tea and lemonade on a lazy summer day - and you can too! As a Krusteaz Bakers Dozen Member, check out the recipe I made for Krusteaz on their website!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ted's Montana Grill {Review}

Patrick and I had visited our friends out in Denver earlier this month. While there, I had a chance to try some dishes made with bison, a game meat that is much more intense with beefy flavor and so tender. When we got back, I couldn't stop thinking about bison and where in Illinois/Chicagoland I could enjoy it. Well, the answer was easy.... Ted's Montana Grill. This restaurant was not far from us and we had never gone before so it was fun to experience what the restaurant had to offer.
The menu was pretty straightforward and the star is their bison burgers. By featuring the biggest bison menu in the world, Ted’s Montana Grill has made bison a popular menu choice today in dining, providing incentive for ranchers to actively grow their herds. We were given some bison to sample, just to taste the difference and it as pretty clear... the flavor of bison is a clean and intense flavor of beef. It's not as fatty but even with bison being leaner than beef, it wasn't dry. Ted's Montana Grill definitely knows how to make bison shine!

We kicked off our dinner with onion rings. What we were served were clearly the biggest onion rings I've ever encountered! They were huge sweet vidalia onions dipped in buttermilk, seasoned and then hand-breaded in a fine cracker crumb before frying up to a golden brown. They were served with a horseradish sauce and were so crisp and flavorful without falling apart like many other onion rings I've tried. One order will easily feed a table of 4 and its certainly an appetizer you shouldn't miss!

We didn't have any difficulty deciding on what to order - bison burgers, of course! They offer a few different ones on their menu - 18 to be exact - and there is something for everyone. I went with their Avalon Burger, which consisted of Gruyere cheese, blue cheese, bacon caramelized onions, roasted garlic aioli and baby arugula. This burger was so flavorful with all the toppings complimenting it perfectly. The burger was served with seasoned fries, which were also very good!

Patrick also had a bison burger and opted for their Blue Creek burger. This burger was topped with blue cheese and bacon, with lettuce, tomato and onion on the side. Also served with seasoned french fries, this was a solid, delicious burger as well.

And just went we thought we were full, we were given a dessert menu. But who could resist even taking a look at dessert regardless of how full you may be? Patrick and I certainly couldn't lol. Before long, this appeared on our table. Could this be the tallest strawberry shortcake I've ever seen? Most likely. And as we continued to laugh and eat, we were surprised that the shortcake was pretty much consumed. Oink.

Overall, our meal and service was outstanding. I'm thankful that good, quality bison burgers are closer than I previously thought and I don't have to hop a plane to go to Denver for one! With 45 restaurants over 16 states, you don't have travel far for one either! I highly recommend a visit to your nearest location when you get a chance...

And while you're there, take part in Ted’s Montana Grill’s social media contest, Ted’s Burger Selfie! In celebration of National Bison Month in July, Ted’s is giving fans the chance to win the grand prize of a Big Green Egg! Click here to enterThe contest is running now through August 11th - good luck!

-Love your Ted’s burger? Prove it. Snap a photo while enjoying your burger with #TedsBurgerSelfie
-Participants can enter by adding the hashtag to their Twitter or Instagram picture or by entering straight through the app on our Facebook page
-Weekly winners will be chosen at random and will win a Ted’s Swag Bag
-Grand prize winner will be chosen by a panel of judges for photo we think best shows how much they love their Ted’s burger!
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