Thursday, July 2, 2015

Camp Brisket 2015 with Weber Grill Restaurant

Are your grills ready?! Folks are gearing up with their grills this holiday and for those who love BBQ, this post is for you! Weber Grill Restaurant recently hosted Camp Brisket and it was quite an event. I wasn't able to attend but my brother, John of The Pantry Panda, attended in my place to experience first hand the science and technique involved in BBQ and brisket. Read on for details of Camp Brisket that John experienced and be inspired to try your hand at brisket this holiday!

Before I went to Camp Brisket 2015, I didn't know much about BBQ - yet alone BBQ brisket. This two day event was packed with a great panel of BBQ and meat masters from Texas A&M University, Ohio State University, and Certified Angus Beef, BBQ brisket taste testings, beer and wine pairings from Lagunitas Brewing Company and Jim Beam, and much more.

There was a taste testing of BBQ brisket that was prepared earlier in the day and guests judged the grade/quality of brisket and what wood was used. I chose the all four woods and the four quality of brisket correctly! YAY! The grade/quality were USDA Choice, USDA, Select, USDA Prime, and Wagyu. The choices of woods were: apple, pecan, oak, and mesquite.

The only thing I knew about BBQ brisket was just to eat it. The BBQ knowledge from the panel was overwhelming. They know their meat. They know brisket. They showed us everything - from 'The Science of Brisket' to setting up a Weber Smokey Mountain Barbeque Smoker at the end of the first night. 

The next morning, was jam-packed one. When I arrived at Weber Grill, the smells were heavenly. I followed my nose to the front door and I was already salivating! The morning consisted of four breakout sessions: a) wrapped/unwrapped BBQ, b) accessories and knife selection, c) brisket fabrication, and d) alcohol/beer pairings with BBQ with Lagunitas Brewing Company and Jim Beam.

After the the breakout sessions, the briskets that were made from the previous night were sliced and taste tested by all the guests ... then, lunch was served ...

I have to say that I ate so much brisket that I had the meat sweats and fell into a deep food coma afterwards! I thought I had some good brisket in my travels throughout the United States, but the brisket I had during this event nullifies everything I had in my past. The flavor and juiciness of the brisket was overwhelming. IT. WAS. SO. GOOD!

There was one thing I need to mention, the Jalapeno and Cheese Beef Sausage from Southside Market & Barbeque was DELICIOUS. I haven't had sausage with peppers in it before and these sausages make my taste buds sing!

In summary, I learned a lot and tasted a lot of from Camp Brisket at Weber Grill Restaurant. I met some great pioneers in the BBQ industry met some new foodies. If you ever get the chance to attend this event or any other Weber Grill event - you won't be disappointed! 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Red, White & Blue Bars

The Fourth of July celebrations are coming together for all those celebrating and if you're looking for a quick and easy dessert to serve or even bring to holiday potlucks, I've got the perfect dish! These Red, White & Blue Bars are not only delicious but festive as well. Made with a buttery crust, red raspberry spread and plump blueberries, all you need is a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream to enjoy this red, white and blue dessert...

We're gearing up for holiday summer festivities ourselves and although I will not be hosting a Fourth of July celebration, I plan on making these Red, White & Blue Bars for a BBQ picnic we will be attending. With the help of Krusteaz Raspberry Bar Mix, I save on time with the ease and convenience of having a majority of the ingredients already in the box! Simply add butter and blueberries for an easy dessert. 

Red, White & Blue Bars
recipe from Krusteaz

1 package Krusteaz Raspberry Bar Mix 
½ cup (1 Stick) Butter or Margarine, Melted
1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Heat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease 8x8x2-inch baking pan.

Stir together melted butter and crust mix with a fork until mixture is crumbly. Spoon 2/3 of crust mixture into pan. Press firmly into bottom of pan. Bake 15 minutes or until edges begin to brown.

Spread rasberry filling evenly over hot crust. Crumble remaining crust mixture over filling.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries over raspberry filling. 

Bake 26-28 minutes or until bubbly around edges. Cool completely before cutting. 

Makes 16 bars.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Turning a Black Thumb into a Green Thumb!

I'm under a lot of pressure, friends. When you're future mother in law is a Master Gardener of the Chicago Botanic Garden, I better know to keep a plant alive! Growing up, my parents had home vegetable garden for years and it was a lot of fun getting up in early on summer mornings to help water the plants, check on them in the late afternoons and then harvesting vegetables to create something delicious in the kitchen. I miss those times and in an effort to provide those same experiences to Joel, I partnered up with Burpee Home Gardens to help turn my black thumb into a green thumb. 

I have a slight advantage in that Patrick's mom is a master gardener, so she has been extremely helpful in helping me learn all about the joys of gardening. One spring day, we resurrected a neglected corner of our backyard and turned it into a mini vegetable and herb garden. We planted 3 varieties of tomato plants with cages, 3 varieties of peppers and 3 potted herbs. I have to admit that my future mother and father in law did a lot of the work to set me up with a garden to maintain... but that was the easy part! The hard part, at least for me, is to be able to maintain the garden and hopefully have the plants thrive!

All the plants were provided by Burpee, a garden company that specializes in specialty seeds and gardening accessories. I was pretty intimidated at first with the idea of growing a vegetable garden, but even if you don't have a master gardener available, the Burpee website is extremely helpful! Full of so much easy to understand gardening information from choosing your plants, how to plant, maintaining your garden and even resources like calendars and videos, you''l have everything you need and more to have a thriving garden in no time!

Did you know? The Burpee Seed Company was the first catalog in the world to offer yellow seed corn. Burpee also introduces new varieties in vegetables and really have made strides in the always evolving world of gardening innovations. Their seeds and plants are available for all growing zones and for all seasons. To help you decide on building your home garden, they also have a wonderful hard copy catalog full of the various seeds and plants they offer... and its's available online as well. Their website is truly a one stop shop for gardening techniques, resources and even recipes! With my new vegetable and herb garden now in place, stay tuned to some recipes and gardening tips & tricks in the coming months that I'll be sharing here.

So here are my tomato plants in cages. The cages are especially good for growing tomatoes as they help get better yields, save garden space and support the plants throughout their growth. I have three tomato plants growing (2 of the same kind) and I'm looking forward to quite a few recipes I can make using them...

Fresh Salsa Hybrid - this tomato is great fresh in salads and salsa recipes. Plum shaped and "dripless," these tomatoes are all meat and perfect for bruschetta and light sauces.

SuperSauce Hybrid- this tomato is extremely versatile as a salad tomato and great for sauces. It has a distinctive quality in that its large segments of fruits often make perfect slices for burgers and sandwiches too.

I also have three pepper plants and already, I have an itty bitty jalapeno pepper forming! These are going to be a great compliment to the tomatoes. I can already think of some Mexican and Italian recipe ideas using them both...

Bananarama - Patrick is a fan of banana peppers so he's going to love this. This variety produces bigger, meatier peppers on much smaller plants. They start off as yellow and mature orange-red, so we can pick them at any stage we like. They'll be great for pickles, salads or even grilling.

Jalapeno Gigante - As one of the largest jalapenos, these peppers measure as long as 5 inches! This plant produces delicious peppers that are perfect for salsa or stuffing as poppers. Easy to grow in any sunny garden or large patio pot, these peppers can be harvested throughout the summer when they're green or red.

Candy Apple Sweet Pepper - this pepper produces blocky sweet bell peppers that are perfect for eating fresh, stuffed or to use in soups and chilis. I'm looking forward to these peppers to grow since they are so sweet and flavor-filled at both green and red stages!

And lastly, I have 3 potted herbs along side our corner garden. I'll eventually place them in larger pots to grow on our back deck for easy access from the kitchen. But for now, they're keeping our tomatoes and peppers company. I'm thinking of even adding some basil, mint, and thyme to my potted herb mix since we love using them in recipes often during the summer months.

Herb Greek Oregano - This versatile culinary herb is widely used in the dried form in Italian dishes, tomato sauce, pizza, fish and salad dressing. Oregano requires little maintenance and makes an excellent edging plant or ground covering, even in dry garden spots.

Fernleaf Dill - This is probably the perfect patio container dill! Unlike tall,er "floppy" varieties, these dwarf, compact plants do not need staking and won't toppleover. Add in later flowering and lash dark green leaves, and you've got plants that look great all season long.

Sage - Safe is one of the best garden herbs because when protected, it will grow into a sturdy perennial shrub in most climates. The leaves are best when harvested before or just after blooming. Use fresh or dried with poultry, sausages, meats and vegetables.

So here's to our first month nurturing a home vegetable/herb garden! I'll be using the tomatoes, peppers and herbs harvested in upcoming recipes so be sure to check back! We'll continue to provide a monthly update on how our garden is growing and I hope to share some new tips and tricks as a newbie gardener. If you have a vegetable/herb garden, please feel free to share your experience in the comments! And if you've been inspired to start a vegetable/herb garden yourself, check out Burpee for some great ideas, resources and use it as a one stop shop for all your gardening needs!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Fireworks & Steaks for the Fourth of July!

Next week folks will be firing up their grills and cooking up holiday favorites like hot dogs, hamburgers and bratwursts. Fun fact - the American population will consume approximately 150 million hot dogs during 4th of July! While hot dogs remain supreme during this holiday, SideChef, the award-winning step-by-step cooking app, believes that steaks, when prepared and executed properly, have the potential to replace hot dogs as the go-to favorites for this holiday.
Below is a compilation of SideChef’s meat grilling tips for this 4th of July:
  • Leave the steak out before cooking: A good steak spends more time in room temperature than cooking. To get the most of any steak, pull it out of the refrigerator at least an hour before cooking it.
  • Season liberally: Because the inside of a steak cannot be seasoned, liberal seasoning pulls out the natural flavor of a large piece of meat. Both sides of the meat should be seasoned with coarse kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and pressed in to stick. Make sure to pat the steak dry with a paper towel before seasoning.
  • Flip your steak every minute: While some people may disagree, flipping the steak frequently can result in even searing. When it is almost done, feel free to rub the steak with garlic, add a pat of butter and/or rub with herbs (such as thyme or rosemary).
  • Use a thermometer: Depending on the size of the steak and preferred level of doneness, touch can be misleading, which is why a thermometer is incredibly helpful. A rare steak comes in at 125°F, with each level of doneness after that an additional ten degrees, leaving a well done steak anywhere above 160°F.
  • Let that steak rest: Before cutting and serving, allow the steak to rest 5–10 minutes, allowing the juices to relax and reabsorb into the steak.
So if you're up for a steak this holiday season, here are some great steak recipes to consider!

Flatiron Steak with Herbed Butter

Salisbury Steaks with Mushroom Gravy

Monday, June 22, 2015

4 Steps to Creating a “Semi-Homemade” Fourth of July Pie!

No Fourth of July celebration is complete without pie and my friends at Baker's Square would love to help you have a delicious upcoming holiday! Bakers Square has been serving award winning pie in the Midwest for more than 40 years so they definitely know their stuff!

If you're thinking of your July 4th holiday menus, you'll definitely want to make sure pie is on the dessert list! Having a pie to serve isn't quite as hard as you think. In fact, there are only 4 steps involved. Read on for details...

Step 1:
Buy {or enter to win!} an award-winning pie from Bakers Square. Popular Fourth of July options include: Country Apple, Blueberry, Cherry, Fresh Strawberry and many more. Browse pies and reserve yours online at You can also win one by commenting below with your favorite summer pie you'd like to enjoy for the upcoming holiday! A winner will be chosen on Friday, June 26th and will have a Bakers Square gift card sent to you!... Good luck!

Step 2:
For double crusted pies, adding a personal touch is easy with the addition of a few fresh ingredients. Start by spreading whipped cream (store-bought or homemade) over the top of your pie. Next, arrange fresh blueberries and raspberries in a decorative pattern over the top of the cream for a red, white and blue work of art. 

Step 3:
For pies such as Bakers Square’s Fresh Strawberry pie that come already topped with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, set up a D.I.Y. dessert table with an array of fixings such as ice cream, chocolate sauce, fresh fruit and even crumbled cookies. 

Step 4:
Hide the Box! The last and most important tip for creating a semi-homemade pie is to throw out the box. You don’t want lingering evidence that you didn't actually bake it yourself!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Blood Orange Mimosas

Happy Friday! It's been a busy week so I'm thankful it's the weekend! I'm already thinking about weekend brunch and nothing starts off a lazy weekend like a tall mimosa. Instead of the usual orange juice and champagne version, I found a recipe with a slight spin. Blood Orange Mimosas captures everything we love about regular mimosa but with a slight flavor and color of ripe berries, perfect for summer!

Blood oranges are great to use for their sweeter citrus flavor and hint of berries. I especially love their bold color. They usually are in season between December and May, but every now and then I come across them even into June. If you can find them. try them the next time instead of regular oranges. Another change is the use of prosecco for the light effervescence. True champagne can be costly so for a more affordable option, reach for prosecco! The recipe below doubles and triples easily - which you may want to do off the bat - and are great for brunch parties too!

Blood Orange Mimosas
recipe adapted from Tyler Florence

1 bottle Prosecco, chilled
3/4 cup fresh blood orange juice
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon super fine granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Combine the fresh blood orange juice, regular orange juice, sugar and Grand Marnier in a pitcher, stir to combine.Transfer to the refrigerator and chill completely.

To serve, pour blood orange juice mixture into a glass and slowly top off with ice cold Prosecco.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Ultimate Umami Tasting Menu Challenge!

Burgers. They are practically a blank canvas that is merely defined by the toppings set upon it... do you agree? Not too long ago, I was presented a tasting challenge that revolved around the burger. It was simple... invite a few friends, share a few burgers and then discuss in between all the bites, sips and finger licks. Piece of cake, right? To join me in this tasting challenge, I summoned the 3 guys I know who love their burgers and have discerning tastes - Patrick, my brother John, and brother in law, James...  {don't let their silly faces and wacky behavior fool you!}

We were ready. We so got this.

The challenge: enjoy the Ultimate Umami Tasting Menu at Umami Burger. The meal consists of 10 paired courses: starters, 8 full sized burgers and dessert. Our strategy was to enjoy each course, but to also pace ourselves without feeling any obligation to finish single bite. That said, here we go...

COURSE 1: Starter trio paired with Real Sugar Mountain Dew

Not shown is the real sugar Mountain Dew. It was the perfect start having salty starters with a sweet drink. The first course included onion rings, sweet potato fries and Umami Cheesy Tots (which was from their 'secret menu'. We loved all the starters, but my favorite were the sweet potato fries. They were perfectly crisp and seasoned. I'm a sucker for sweet and savory combos lol...

COURSE 2: Truffle Burger paired with Yeti Imperial Stout

This burger was delicious and included shaved truffle, truffles aioli, truffle cheese, truffle glaze and was paired with a Yeti Imperial Stout. It may read like this burger was on truffle overload, but it really worked without being too heavy. 

COURSE 3: Manly Burger paired with Maple Bacon Old Fashioned

This burger was definitely a favorite of the table. Perhaps it was the familiarity of the flavors that were upgraded a bit - house beer cheddar cheese, bacon lardons, smoked salt onion strings, and Umami house ketchup. The paired drink was the Maple Bacon Old Fashioned. The drink was made with bacon washed Evan Williams whiskey, maple syrup, orange bitters and garnished with candied bacon. Yes. Candied bacon. The drink paired nicely and besides, you can't  go wrong with bacon paired with more bacon, right?

COURSE 4: Ahi Tuna Burger paired with Victory Golden Monkey beer

If sushi could morph into a burger, this is what it would result in. The burger involved a seared ahi tuna patty, daikon sprouts, crushed avocado, gingered carrots, wasabi flake and wasabi tartar. It was such a creative take on a seafood based burger and I enjoyed it! As for the paired beer, the Victory Golden Monkey is a Belgian style tripel with herbal and fruity notes with a slight spice.

COURSE #5: Hatch Burger paired with a Blackberry Swizzle

If you like Hatch chiles, this is the burger for you. The burger was topped with roasted hatch chiles, house Cali cheese, and roasted garlic aioli. As a pairing, the Blackberry Swizzle was a delicious drink made with Old Rittenhouse rye, Benedictin,mint, fresh blackberries, lemon and topped with ginger beer.

COURSE #6: Greenbird Burger paired with Laurenz Singing Gruner Veltliner

Fans of turkey burgers would love this version! Made with a turkey patty topped with crushed avocado, green cheese, butter lettuce, sprouts, and green goddess dressing. This burger was paired with a Laurenz Singing Gruner Veltliner. I found the wine to have some apple, peach and citrus aromas along with the typical Veltliner spiciness and a touch of white pepper. 

COURSE #7: Cali Burger paried with a Spicy Mezcalrita

This Cali burger was a nice combination of butter lettuce, roasted tomato, caramelized onions, house spread and house Cali cheese. To pair with this burger, why not something Mexican inspired like a Spicy Mezcalrita? The Spicy Mezcalrita was a classy concoction of Lunazul blanco tequila, PAMA pomegranate liqueur infused with cucumber and serrano pepper along with their fresh juices, then topped with Xicaru Mexcal and Cointreau foam.

COURSE #8: Throwback Burger paired with real sugar Pepsi

This burger was like 'Americana' to me. Two 3.5oz beef patties, white cheddar cheese, miso mustard, Umami house ketchup, and mustard spread was sandwiched in between their sweet Portuguese inspired hamburger buns. With the burger alone giving me a flavor blast, the best pairing was a real sugar Pepsi!

COURSE #9: Umami Burger paired with 2013 Seghesio Zinfandel

Finally, we get to the final burger and the one that started it all! Parmesan frico, shiitake mushrooms, roasted tomato, caramelized onions and Umami house ketchup top this glorious burger, To pair with it, a 2013 Seghesio Zinfandel was served and accompanied the burger perfectly!

COURSE #10: Hoosier Mama Key Lime Pie & Chocolate Pecan Pie

We made it to the end and finished on a sweet note! We split two slices of pie to cleanse our palates after the burger challenge. The pies were delicious. I mean, they are Hoosier Mama Pies, who make some of the best pies in Chicago!

Overall, it was a definitely a challenge and I'm thankful my guys ate through the very end. I would highly suggest order this menu to split among a few friends - make 5-6 friends because it was certainly a lot for even us four. The Ultimate Umami Burger Tasting Menu is a great way to try a variety of their signature burgers all on one visit. The tasting menu is fairly new as it was placed on Umami Burger's menu within the last month. If you do go and check out their tasting menu, be sure to allow 2 - 2.5 hours to get through the entire meni. If you opt for the paired drinks to accompany the burgers, it would be a good idea to take public transportation or have a designated driver. Those drinks sneak up on you! And lastly another tip, don't feel obligated to eat every single course. This is a delicious tasting after all!

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