Cheesy Pull-Apart Garlic Bread

>> Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Italian bread stuffed with cheese and garlic


Friends, I am a life-long lover of garlic bread, and I couldn't wait to make this cheesy garlic bread when I read it was like crack. I guess that means once you eat it you can't stop, and you want it again and again. In fact, I want a loaf in front of me right now and I'd lock the door and eat it all myself. Yes I would.

But I want to tell you a story about how I found this recipe. If you're really eager to get started on the bread (and who wouldn't, if it's described as "crack"?) skip on down to the Ingredients. Otherwise, gather round the campfire, kids. I'm still in wonder myself.

At the beginning of my senior year of high school, my mom, little sister, and I moved to Illinois from my hometown in Michigan. My parents were getting divorced and I was so miserable I thought I was going to die. I got a job at a Brown's Chicken and met a girl named Jan who became my best friend for several years. It means a lot when you make a friend during one of the worst times in your life; I had two, the other being my true-blue friend Michael. They helped to make my life decidedly less miserable, and Jan and I were practically inseparable until we got married and eventually lost track of each other.

Twenty-five years later (last week, actually), I was on Facebook and saw a friend's photo and a woman that looked familiar...with a familiar last name. I had found my friend from 1986!

Look, cheese-stuffed garlic bread on crack!


Pull-Apart Cheesy Garlic Bread


Later, while browsing Pinterest, which is where I spend my late-night time while Joe is studying Securities Stuff (it's an industry term), I found this stuffed cheesy bread recipe Jan had pinned from the site Food Wanderings in Asia. When the weather turned astonishingly cold the other day, I made this along with some split-pea soup. We ate half a loaf of bread in about 10 minutes.

Yes we did.

Ingredients

1 12-inch loaf of Italian bread
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
12 oz grated Muenster cheese (or whatever cheese you like best)
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp onion, minced
2 tsp Dijon mustard

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut diagonal slashes in the bread, nearly through to the bottom crust, then cut diagonals in the opposite direction to make X-shaped openings in the bread. Stretch the bread so that the cuts open up and you can stuff the bread.

Stir together the parsley, Muenster, and Parmesan, and stuff it into the cracks.

Melt together the butter and oil, then stir in the garlic, onion, and mustard. Drizzle evenly over the bread.


Cheese-stuffed garlic bread

Wrap the bread in foil and bake it for 20-30 minutes, until it is crusty and the cheese is melted. We didn't bother cutting this into portions; we just pulled the bread apart to eat it.

Makes 1 loaf.

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Gourmet Stuffed Hamburgers

>> Friday, July 26, 2013


Gourmet Stuffed Hamburgers


Try this fun recipe the next time you have people over for a burger cookout. Give each guest two hamburger rounds and an array of stuffings like bleu cheese, chopped olives, jalapenos, shredded cheddar, onions...whatever your imagination suggests!  After stuffing the patty, place the second round on top and pinch the edges together.

stuffed hamburger patties
Clockwise from top right: Cheddar and bacon, Swiss with onions and mushrooms, Olive with feta and roasted red pepper, and Swiss with green olives and pancetta.

The griller is in charge of remembering which burger belongs to which guest; it helps if a little of the stuffing drips out the side. Why not try these on homemade pretzel buns? It takes the burger to new heights of deliciousness.

Ingredients

For each burger

1/4 pound ground beef or turkey
1/4 tsp salt, pepper, and powdered onion
2 tbsp shredded cheese
2 tbsp sliced olives
1 tbsp sauteed mushrooms
1 tbsp sauteed or fresh chopped onions
1 tbsp roasted red pepper strips
1 tbsp cooked bacon, ham, or pancetta, diced
2 tbsp chopped spinach, kale, or basil
2 tsp chopped jalapenos
1 tbsp pizza sauce
2 tbsp chopped pepperoni or sausage

Note: each hamburger will only be able to hold about 3 types of stuffing before it explodes!

Directions

Form each 1/4 pound of ground beef into two patties with a lip around the edge. Sprinkle the stuffings on one half, then put the top patty over it and press down. Pinch the edges together well. Grill over medium heat until the desired level of doneness.

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Fresh Spiced Ginger Ale

>> Wednesday, July 17, 2013



Friends, homemade ginger ale is fantastic. And I say this as a girl born and raised in Michigan, home of American ginger ale and the Vernor's empire. Vernor's strong bubbly brew makes you sneeze as you fall in love with the taste. Huffington Post wrote a great article about this last year: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/31/vernors-ginger-ale_n_2049763.html

I never considered making my own ginger ale, until I tasted it at an Asian restaurant, and couldn't stop ordering it. This is so different than the heavy syrupy stuff in cans! Recently, we found it again at Penny's Noodle Shop in the Wicker Park/Bucktown area of Chicago (I never know whether I'm in Wicker Park or Bucktown when I'm walking around there!). It's still one of the freshest-tasting, delightfully different drinks I've ever had.

There are two ways to make this - one with soda that gives it a fizz, one with brewers' or champagne yeast to ferment it. Either version will wake up your taste buds and cool you all the way down. Save this one for a scorching day, get a bendy straw and a little paper umbrella, and sip this in the shade. Lovely.

P.S. Penny's Noodle Shops have a Pan-Asian menu that's fresh, tasty, and surprisingly inexpensive for Chicago. You should try one of their locations someday!

Soda Version

Ingredients

3 tbsp grated ginger (about 2-3 inches of ginger root)
1 cup white sugar
2 cups water
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup lime juice, plus lime slices for garnish
1/8 tsp salt
1 liter club soda or sparkling water

Directions

Place the ginger, sugar, water, and cayenne in a large saucepan. Bring it to a boil, simmer 10 minutes while stirring occasionally, then allow the syrup to steep for 1 hour. Strain the solids from the syrup and let it cool to room temperature.

Stir in the lime juice, and salt. Fill a tall glass with ice, pour in 1/4 cup of ginger syrup, or more to taste. Fill the glass with club soda and stir. Serve with lime slices as a garnish.

Fermented version

Ingredients

3 tbsp grated ginger (about 2 inches of ginger root)
1 cup white sugar
8 cups water
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup lime juice, plus lime slices for garnish
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp yeast

Directions

Place the ginger, sugar, water, and cayenne in a large saucepan. Bring it to a boil, simmer 10 minutes while stirring occasionally, then allow the syrup to steep for 1 hour. Strain the solids from the syrup and let it cool to room temperature.

Stir in the lime juice, salt, and yeast. Pour into a 2-liter bottle and store it in a cool, dark place for 24-48 hours, shaking at least once a day. Serve over ice with lime slices.

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Froggy's French Cafe, Highwood IL

>> Friday, July 12, 2013


Froggy's French Cafe, Highwood IL


If you head straight north from Chicago, you'll find a dozen swanky North Shore communities, and the culture-rich town of Highwood. This town has fabulous restaurants,  including the Miramar Bistro, and Del Rio restaurant, but my favorite place is Froggy's French Cafe. If I could choose the place to eat my last meal, I'd definitely eat it here.

Froggy's is upscale French food done fabulously. It was founded by Gregg Mason and Thierry Lefeuvre in 1980. They also offer catering and a bakery called The Gourmet Frog; we haven't tried the bakery yet. The cafe's wine list is stunning and the cooking gives classic French dishes - breast of duck, fricassee, sweetbreads, escargot - fresh touches like a braised celery root, turnip, and radish salad, oakleaf lettuce, and black currant coulis.



It's no exaggeration at all to say that the Chef's tasting menu, with wine pairings, was the best meal I've ever eaten. I think it was also the largest meal I've ever eaten - ten courses in total, for a birthday celebration a few years ago. We were served three cold appetizers and three hot ones; the sauteed foie gras, garlicky escargot, and marinated artichoke stood out above the rest. The three entree dishes were a salmon with red pepper sauce, lobster ravioli, and a beef dish that I can't recall. The wine pairings were perfect.

Then came port and brandy and dessert. We joked a bit that the chef should just take it back, we were full about three servings beforehand. Instead, the chef sent us an additional take-home package of hand-dipped truffles and sweets. It was all amazing.

Froggy's has always been busy every time we visit, so reservations are highly recommended. Expect a 1-2 hour wait without reservations. The decor, although a little dated, is as upscale as the food, so you might feel out of place if you come wearing jeans. However, there's a more casual feel to the front dining room and the little outdoor patio.


Froggy's French Cafe is at 306 Green Bay Rd, Highwood, IL 60040-1305.

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Poblano Corn Chowder

>> Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Poblano Corn Chowder


Is anything worse than a summer cold? Maybe Joe's was especially miserable because we had all sorts of fun things planned: a free concert at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, a couple of dinner parties, fireworks on the Fourth, a trip to Summerfest in Milwaukee. Or maybe it's the fact that a couple of small business owners don't get sick time or vacation pay; if we don't work, we don't earn. Anyway, Joe's superhuman immune system failed a week ago and he suffered greatly through a cold that turned into bronchitis and an ear infection.

While he slept for a couple of days, I looked up recipes that could heal him with summer-fresh vegetables. A gorgeous crop of sweet corn at the market and glossy dark-green peppers were my inspiration. The comforting, creamy soup loosened his chest congestion. Now, I'm not going to claim this is a cure for bronchitis, but it made him feel good. Soup healing is the best, and this soup is heavenly even if you aren't sick.

If you don't find poblano peppers, try green or red bell peppers in this chowder.

Ingredients

3 medium poblano peppers
3 ears of corn
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint cremini (baby portabella) mushrooms, sliced
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup sour cream (we like Mexican crema best)
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded chihuahua or colby jack cheese
2 tbsp chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)

Directions

Heat a grill to medium temperature. Remove the husks from the corn and lay the cobs on the grill with the poblano peppers. Grill the corn until barely tender and slightly browned, then remove and let cool. Turn up the heat and char the poblano skins on all sides. Place in a paper bag and allow to steam for 30-60 minutes. 

Remove the core and seeds from the peppers and scrape off all the blackened skin, then coarsely chop the poblanos. Cut the kernels off the corn cobs.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and then saute the onion, garlic, and mushrooms until just tender. Add the corn, poblanos, and chicken stock, and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the sour cream, salt and pepper, and cheese, and heat on low until the cheese is melted and the soup is heated through, about 5 minutes. Serve topped with cilantro, if desired.  We like corn muffins or corn bread with sweet green chiles with this soup.

Serves 4.

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