Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Round Up: Caramel!

Fall is definitely here and all I can think about is caramel! It's definitely an ingredient I love using especially in the fall. It pairs so well with other fall flavors like pumpkin and apples. Here's my round of up 10 recipes incorporating caramel... happy fall!

Rich, sweet and creamy, caramel sauce is best homemade!

This Nutty Banoffee Bundt Cake is a cinnamon crumb cake kissed with sweet bananas, toffee chips, chopped pecans and a drizzle of caramel sauce..

shortbread cookie crust is baked with a creamy cheesecake layer on top that's sprinkled with pecans, toffee bits and more butter shortbread crumbs...

These cookies have a butter vanilla sugar cookie base that's studded with chopped cashews and swirled with a caramel sauce...

Shake up your favorite vodka or even apple bourbon with spiced apple cider and ice for an elevated cocktail for the season...

Chocolate and salted caramel are a match in sweet heaven with this decadent cheesecake!

Diced up fresh bananas and a touch of vanilla make for sweet pancakes, with a decadent topping of brown sugar, butter, more bananas and some rum!...

This cupcake is made with a butter pecan spice cake that has minced fresh Granny Smith apples tossed in cinnamon sugar and a touch of applesauce stirred in. For a finishing touch, I frosted them with a cream cheese frosting, a buttery caramel drizzle &  a toasted pecan.

his Caramel Apple Strudel wraps up a filling of apple, toasted walnuts, sugar and apple pie spice in layers of flaky, buttery phyllo dough just before baking to a golden brown. If that wasn't enough, a gentle dusting of powdered sugar and drizzle of sweet caramel is the best garnish for this treat, as is a nice big scoop of ice cream...

A dessert that's sure to impress with its moist layer of butter cake topped with a Kahlúa flan and enrobed in a rich caramel...

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Kultura: A Filipino-American Festival!

Carefully curated to appeal to those who personally identify with Filipino culture and the merely curious or uninitiated, Kultura is a contemporary Filipino-American food and arts festival aims to highlight the best in Filipino-American food and arts in Chicago and the Midwest. Kultura Festival coincides with the start of Filipino American Heritage Month, a nationally commemorated holiday every October since 2009, with the passage of US House Resolution 780 and Senate Resolution 298.

Kultura is taking place at Logan Square's Emporium Arcade Bar and Surf Bar, 2363 N Milwaukee, on Sunday, October 2, from 11 AM to 6 PM.

Started in 2015 by food media and events group Filipino Kitchen, Kultura Festival will showcase over twenty Fil-Am chefs, visual artists, DJs and performers. Key additions to the program include Philippine indigenous art group Katao Living Traditions from the San Francisco Bay Area, and from Toronto, acclaimed Filipino-Canadian contemporary dance company Hataw and modern Filipino tribal music crew Datu will make their US-debut performance. Kultura festival tickets can be purchased online at

The festival features a roster of local culinary mainstays and out-of-town heavy hitters: Chef Kristine Subido of Pecking Order Catering; Top Chef season 10 alumna Chef Chrissy Camba of Maddy’s Dumpling House; night market favorite Hapa Chicago; Melissa Yen of JoSnow Syrups; Chef Bjorn DelaCruz of Manila Social Club (NYC); Dorothy Hernandez, co-owner and creative director of Sarap Detroit (Detroit); Chef AC Boral of RICE & SHINE and Naks Tacos (Long Beach, CA); and Chef Sharwin Tee of Curiosity Got The Chef on Lifestyle TV (Manila, Philippines).

FOOD - Some delicious items you can anticipating tasting at Kultura include (menu items subject to change):

  • Kare kare meat pie, pulled oxtail braised meat in savory peanut-achiote sauce tucked in a puff pastry
  • Chilled pancit salad, thin, rice vermicelli noodles, shrimp, tofu, fish cake, julienned market vegetables, “XO” sauce
  • Pork belly adobo taco, chicharron dust, cotija cheese, pico de gallo, corn tortilla
  • Duck confit adobo rice bowl, soy and rice vinegar with garlic rice, seasonal vegetables, scallions
  • Filipino BBQ Jackfruit “Carnitas” tacos, savory marinated jackfruit, macerated tomato, crispy onions, corn tortilla
  • Kinilaw tacos, tuna and octopus ceviche, avocado-coconut crema, taro root shell
  • Puto pao, a steamed cake stuffed with shredded pork asado (Chinese Filipino style stew)
  • Longganisa sliders, housemade Filipino-style sausage, housemade ube bun, achara
  • Manok sa gata (coconut milk stewed chicken), ginger, bagoong, seasonal vegetables and steamed rice
  • Coconut milk shrimp tacos, red cabbage slaw, red onion on a corn tortilla  
  • Filipino-style pork BBQ tostada, with cabbage slaw, calamansi aïoli
  • Potato and onion lumpia (egg roll) with crushed peanut sauce
  • Bibingka brulee, rice flour cake cooked in banana leaves, torched caramel, dulce de leche, citrus
  • Turon cupcakes, banana leaf wrapped cupcake with caramelized plantains, jackfruit
  • Doughnut bar including ube, buko pandan, gin and calamansi
  • Bibingka ube waffle with leche condensada; steamed fluffy rice flour and purple yam waffle with condensed milk
  • Halo halo, shaved ice dessert with condensed milk and an assortment of sweet toppings
Chef Bjorn DelaCruz and the Manila Social Club will be presenting an array of Filipino flavored and fresh donuts, including the highly praised Golden Cristal Ube donut at the Kultura Festival, along with a donut bar of ube, gin-calamansi and buko pandan donuts.

The Manila Social Club Golden Cristal Donut is made with ube, a naturally purple sweet yam found in the Philippines and Cristal champagne, a unique and decadent donut. The Golden Donut is filled with an ube mousse and a Cristal gelée, covered in a Cristal icing, dusted with 24K gold dust and hand-gilded with 24K gold leaf. Each donut is handmade by Manila Social Club's Executive Chef, Co-Owner and creator of the Golden Cristal Donut, Björn De La Cruz. An individually hand-made Golden Cristal Ube Donut is $100.

A limited number of Golden Cristal Donuts can be pre-ordered and picked up at Kultura Fest on Sunday, October 2. Additionally, pre-orders can also be taken for the Golden Cristal Ube Donut to pickup on Monday, October 3, at a Chicago location TBA. The Golden Donuts can be pre-ordered through the Manila Social Club website (no same-day sales will be made):

But wait... there's more than food at Kultura!

DANCE - Started in 2015 by food media and events group Filipino Kitchen, Kultura Festival will be even more memorable this year with key additions to the program: workshops on batok (tattoos), baybayin (ancient writing system), Filipino history and martial arts by Philippine indigenous art group Katao Living Traditions from the San Francisco Bay Area; the 9th annual Adobofest home cooking contest with Filipino American Network (FAN) Chicago; from Toronto, acclaimed Filipino-Canadian contemporary dance company Hataw and modern Filipino tribal music crew Datu will make their US debut performance.

COMMUNITY - In a groundbreaking partnership with Filipino American Network (FAN) Chicago, Filipino Kitchen will host the 9th annual FAN Adobofest at Kultura Festival. Adobofest has been held for years at St. Paul and LaBagh Woods on the city’s northwest side. Five home cooks will compete in an adobo Taste-Off. Their work will be judged by a panel of chefs and restaurant professionals to find “Chicago’s Best Home-Cooked Adobo.” Potential contestants can sign up for the adobo home cooking contest at the FAN website. Additionally, the annual balut eating contest will also be held to promote voter registration. Balut, a Philippine street food, is partially developed duck or chicken duck embyro.

Tickets to Kultura can be purchased online at Student and senior pricing available. Children under 5 years of age are free. Carefully curated to appeal to those who personally identify with Filipino culture and the curious or uninitiated, Kultura Festival aims to reintroduce Filipino cuisine to Chicago and the Midwest. More information can be found at

Friday, September 23, 2016

Limoncello Holiday Gifts!

So we've had the first day of fall... and before long, you will start to see evident signs that the holidays are around the corner (if not already). For me, it also means I should start looking through some of my stashed ideas for holiday gifts so I can get a head start. If you want a quick and easy way to get gifts crossed off your list, make friends and family something they will enjoy.... like Limoncello!

Limoncello is an Italian liqueur typically made with a specific type of lemon grown in Southern Italy. It's deliciously smooth, vibrant and makes for a great aperitif, sipping drink, or a mixer to create a refreshing cocktail. The good thing is that you don't need to travel to Italy to make limoncello. In fact, you can make limoncello with three ingredients you may already have easy access to - organic lemons, sugar and vodka. So let's talk about these three ingredients...

Organic lemons - I advise using organic lemons because it they don't have the same waxy exterior that non-organic lemons do. This is particular important because the essence of lemon peels is critical in making limoncello. We want to avoid any additional chemicals/additives (aka wax) to make it. The lemons are peeled solely for the lemon peel, which contains oils and flavors that will be infused in alcohol. You don't want to include any pith, the white layer below the lemon peel, because it's bitter and won't add anything good to the limoncello.

Alcohol - Vodka is the alcohol of choice in making limoncello. You will want a vodka that is of high quality because it makes up the liqueur. My vodka of choice is CH Distillery Vodka, a local brand from Chicago. It's clean, smooth and pure, perfect as is or used in creating other cocktails.... which is exactly what you want! Check out CH Distillery Vodka's upcoming events if you're in the area.

Sugar - Technically, it's not just sugar but really simple syrup made from sugar and water. This will add the sweetness to cut through the vodka and lemon. How much you use is dependent on sweet you want your limoncello to be. 

Although the recipe below is for limoncello, you can certainly use other fruits in place of lemons. Try grapefruit, limes or even sour cherries - used to make the "cherry-cello" above!

8-10 organic lemons, washed, dried and peeled
1 750-ml bottle vodka (100-proof preferred, or 80-proof)
1 to 4 cups simple sugar
Decorative bottles or jars for gift giving4-cup measuring cupSmall funnel

Place your peels in a large bottle or jar with a tight fitting lid that's able to hold more than 750-ml. Alternatively, you can use smaller bottles or jars to use up the vodka.
Pour the vodka over the peels to infuse. Once covered in vodka, seal bottle or jar and store it in a cool and dark place for two weeks up to 2 months. The longer it infuses, the more pronounced the lemon flavor will become. 
Using a funnel, carefully transfer the vodka into decorative bottles or jars for gift-giving, leaving the peels behind. Fill the bottles or jars about 2/3 of the way full. 
Fill the bottles with simple sugar and seal. Chill in the fridge or freezer for at least 4 hours or overnight before drinking. And they can be kept in the freezer for up to a year.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Mixed Berry Bundt Cake

Brinner has been a big favorite at home with our busy schedules. It's been such a life saver to have breakfast for dinner especially on those busy nights where my husband and I are juggling things for work, school, kid activities and even squeezing in some gym time. What once was considered eggs, breakfast meat (sausage/bacon) and sweet breakfast breads (pancakes/waffles/muffins) for brinner has now evolved into something even more special. And for those special brinner moments, we have cake!

On a typical brinner night, my son asked why pancakes, waffles or muffins are usually served for dessert. He caught me off guard because he had a point. Why have I only offered pancakes, waffles or muffins? When I asked him what he preferred instead, he happily shouted, "Cake!"

So I made a cake. A pretty good cake, I might add. And in keeping with the brinner theme, this particular cake is made using muffin mix along with fresh berries. Krusteaz products are a favorite pantry staple in our home because of the variety offered in their product line and the ease in creating something delicious quickly without too much time and effort. I especially love that it gives me and my family an opportunity to do something together... like make a cake. Sweet life moments in the making always put a smile on our faces...

You can get the recipe by visiting Krusteaz and while you're there, check out all the other great recipes available for all their products!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Caprese Sliders

I can't believe we're already halfway through the month of September - where did the time go?! Just thinking about all the great summer produce that won't be available makes me wish summer could last just a little bit longer. Especially, the tomatoes. I've planted a few tomatoes this summer and they've all done really well. Some of the plants had tomatoes that were sweet enough to eat off the vine! But one of my favorite ways to use tomatoes are in these super simple Caprese Sliders.They're essentially caprese salad sandwiched into a slider roll or dinner roll. Slices of vine ripened tomatoes are topped with fresh mozzarella, and a basil leaf or two are nestled into a dinner roll before getting a drizzle of balsamic vinegar...

There was no real recipe source for this dish since it's something I just happened to do for a quick snack. It then became something I saw at summer parties. And if you're in a crunch to serve up something vegetarian friendly, this would be a perfect choice! I found this dish to be wonderful in the summer so that we could take advantage of the tomatoes in season.

If you wanted to make it a bit more hearty, try adding some slices of proscuitto ham or even thinly sliced sopressata sausage! If you do choose to serve this up at a party, I would hold off drizzling the balsamic until just before serving so the bread doesn't get too soggy. And if you're not a fan of balsamic vinegar (who isn't?!), pesto is a nice option too!

Caprese Sliders

6 dinner rolls,split
6 slices of fresh tomatoes (in season is best!)
6 slices of fresh mozzarella
6-12 fresh basil leaves
2 tablesspon balsamic vinegar or 2 tablespoons pesto

On the bottom half of each roll, top with a tomato slice, slice of mozzarella and 1-2 fresh basil leaves. 

Just before serving, drizzle balsamic vinegar or pesto.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Smoked Salmon Benedict

Life is nothing less than hectic these days. We've been keeping busy between piano lessons, Cub Scouts, gym workouts... while still balancing the usual everyday household stuff. And with our hectic schedule, we've found brinners - breakfast for dinner - to be an easy way to quickly get food on the table. One of the brinner dishes we had recently were Smoked Salmon Benedict. Similar to traditional Eggs Benedict, smoked salmon and sauteed spinach made for a brinner win!

I've been known to order an Eggs Benedict whenever I'm having brunch out and I've loved the variations I've noticed on menus. I don't know if there is a true recipe for this, as this was inspired by many brunch restaurants I've been to in the past. What I've noticed is the common use of spinach and salmon together so I recreated it at home. It's a delicious twist on the traditional and we found it was flavorful on its own without the need of for any Hollandaise sauce used in the traditional version.

With brinner now a weekly staple in our menu rotation, I'm looking forward to trying other versions of eggs benedict. Some I've seen include BBQ pork, chicken breast, bacon, country fried steak, and others in place of the Canadian bacon. I've also seen various cheeses, vegetables and alternative sauces used in place of the Hollandaise. Do you have a favorite beyond the traditional?

Smoked Salmon Benedict

1 English Muffin - split and toasted
1/2 pound smoked salmon, flaked or sliced
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 cups fresh spinach
2 eggs, cooked over easy

Place your English Muffin halves on a plate and top each half with smoked salmon.

In a skillet over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon butter and sauté spinach until wilted down. Top the salmon with spinach.

In the same skillet, add butter and cook the eggs over easy. Transfer egg on top of each muffin half.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Taste of Boston: Part 3

 We've made it to part 3 of our Taste of Boston feature! We've covered some great eats in the city of Boston and even focused on the North End neighborhood. This time, we crossing the bridge and checking out Cambridge, MA. While here, we had a chance to tour the Harvard University Campus. learn about the history of the school, famous alumni and even immerse ourselves in how the area was important during the American Revolution. It's such a beautiful, diverse place and with delicious eats too...

27 Brattle St
Cambridge, MA 02138

For lunch, we enjoyed this cafe - the vibe, the food and everything about it. Their popular item on the menu is the grilled cheese. It certainly isn't the fasting sandwich to serve up but it worth the wait. Made with Gruyere and monterey jack cheese pressed on light rye bread, you also have the option to add ham, bacon, avocado and/or caramelized onion. I enjoyed my grilled cheese with bacon (everything is better with bacon!) with a side of their housemade sweet potato chips and a refreshing watermelon lemonade...

14 JFK St, (Brattle St)
CambridgeMA 02138-4909

For dinner after touring the area, we had reservations at Russell House Tavern. Steps from the Harvard red T stop, this restaurant features upscale New American fare with craft cocktails and microbrews. We ended up ordering their Flat Iron steak, served with asparagus, smoked cipollini onions and Pecorino herb frites. It was a wonderful dish and perfectly cooked to medium rare...

899 Main St.
Cambridge, MA 02139

Did you know the largest ice cream company, Baskin Robbins, is headquartered in Massachusetts? It's no surprise that the state loves their ice cream. With that in mind, the best place for that creamy, cool and sweet treat is in Cambridge, MA. We made sure to save some room after dinner for dessert, and you should too! Head over to Toscanini's, a local ice cream shop that churns out some amazing flavors. You can easily stand in front of their board of flavors contemplating which to try... but I'll save you some time. The most popular flavor offered is the B3: Brown Sugar, Brown Butter & Brownies. This heavenly concoction is amazing... especially paired with a salty caramel scoop!

Boston is a wonderful city - one that I've enjoyed visiting a few times. We look forward to visiting again as it has so much to offer in terms of history, diversity, education and of course food! If you plan on visiting Boston, we hope you venture out to try some of the places we visited. And if you are local to Boston, we'd love to get some additional recommendations of where you like to go so we can put those on our list for our next trip out there!
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