Thursday, April 28

Recap: Masters Sunday Party

When I describe a sporting event as a family tradition and akin to America's birthday, like I did when I talked about the Masters golf tournament a few weeks ago, you should assume that food, drinks and a party will ensue.

This year I was inspired by a friend who had recently cooked us a traditional Irish meal for St. Patrick's day. Since the Masters tournament takes place in Augusta, GA and because I love bbq almost as much as I love Hokie football and cupcakes... a Southern theme seemed obvious.

I tried to carry the theme from appetizers to dessert but it's kind of hard to serve an entire Southern meal and not have people falling asleep on your couch. We're watching golf after all, it practically begs you to fall into a food coma!

So I modified it a bit. For appetizers I made caprese salad on golf tees, french onion dip with chips and pimento cheese sandwiches (for a bit of Augusta authenticity). The picture below shows the grape tomatoes and mozzarella balls on the golf tees but not dressed with balsamic and olive oil. Forgot to snap a shot after that, whoops!

For dinner I made lazy woman's pulled pork BBQ with 2 sauces, cole slaw, corn spoon bread (a family favorite) and a side salad.

And for dessert... a dump cake, one of the easiest desserts you'll ever make!

Never one to miss any action, Foster stayed front and center for all the cooking, hoping that we'd stumble over him and drop some food. 


The food and friends were fantastic and if you watched the final round, you were treated to some great golf (unless you were Rory McIlroy that is). I love nothing more than a race to the finish on the back nine. Except maybe a sudden death playoff. Or BBQ.

Monday, April 25

Dump Cake - the easiest dessert you'll ever make

If this isn't the easiest dessert you'll ever make, it should land somewhere in the top 3.  In case the name wasn't a dead giveaway, you literally dump the ingredients in and pop it in the oven. 

Ma Rob found this recipe a few years ago and it's been making an appearance at most major family holidays ever since.  It came from Adriana Trigiani who is a fabulous author.  If you haven't read her books, add these to your list immediately: Lucia, Lucia and The Queen of Big Time.

The dessert isn't really a cake, but it's not really a pie either.  It's indescribable.  But it is easy and delicious and it will do a great job of appeasing cake and pie lovers at every gathering.  I like to do this for dinner parties, you can pop it in just before sitting down to eat or just after you finish the meal and the timing will be perfect for a heavenly smelling kitchen right as your guests realize they did in fact save room for dessert.  Serve it warm with vanilla ice cream!

I don't typically do process shots but I had my camera handy when I was making this so I snapped a few so you could see how it comes together.  Sorry I don't have any pictures of a finished piece of cake.  I got busy eating and then forgot.  Whoops!

Dolly Parton Dump Cake
(Adriana Trigiani perfected the recipe while working as a writer on a Dolly Parton television project)

1 box of yellow cake mix
1 can of crushed pineapple
1 can of cherry pie filling (I've made it using raspberry filling too, just as fantastic)
1 can of blueberry pie filling
1 stick of butter

Grease and flour a 9-by-13-inch cake pan (or save time and use the Pam spray with flour, woohoo for simplicity!)

Pour the can of crushed pineapple (including the juices) in the pan.  Next, carefully add the cherry pie filling in spoonfuls.  Then add the can of blueberry pie filling. Sprinkle the cake mix evenly over the top of mixture (don't add eggs, oil, etc, JUST use the cake mix).

left: cherry pie filling on top of crushed pineapple
right: with blueberry pie topping on top of the cherry and pineapple

Slice the butter into tabs and place all over the cake (or use a grater and sprinkle it like grated cheese however watch your hands, I gave myself a nasty gash or 4 doing this).  Freezing the stick of butter beforehand can make it easier to work with. I've also been known to wear an oven mitt while grating the stick of butter.  Unwieldy?  Yes.  But better than the alternative.

looks like cheese but it's really a stick of grated frozen butter

Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. Let sit at least 20 minutes before serving. Best served warm with vanilla ice cream.

finished product, just add ice cream

Note: The original recipe called for you to put the cake mix on the bottom of the pan and then add the fruit.  I had a hard time getting the cake mix at the bottom of the pan to cook all the way through, so I reversed it.  Do whatever sounds best to you.

Tuesday, April 19

My favorite part of Boston

I'm in Boston this week running an event for work.  There will be less cooking and more organized chaos in my world until Friday.  There will also be pastry!  Becauase you can't go to Boston and not get some amazing pastry or dessert in the North End.

Seriously, look at that pastry counter!  I think it's physically impossible to leave Mike's Pastry, a North End Boston legend, without some kind of sweet treat.  Last time I was here I grabbed 2 Boston Creme Puffs, intending to take them back to Chicago to share with the Royfriend.

Unfortuantely, only one creme puff made it on the plane.  I plead the 5th on the whereabouts of the second one, although I suspect it disappeared sometime after dinner while I waited for my flight to take off.

I gave the second creme puff to the Royfriend when I got back to Chicago and immediately began cautioning him that it would probably be too sweet for his taste and it was ok if he didn't like it despite that fact that I'd just carried it all the way from the eastern United States. 

By the time I finished my speech and turned around he'd already eaten half of it.  Foster the Monster campaigned for a bite but ultimately had to settle for a dog treat.  It wasn't for lack of trying though!

Be back next week with some new stuff!

Sunday, April 17

Family Favorite Corn Spoon Bread

This side dish from the Masters Sunday party also qualifies as a lazy woman's recipe.  It's a family favorite and is actually what I contributed to the Thanksgiving table at Royfriend's house this year. 


Corn spoon bread is a bit like corn bread but it's much moister and actually has whole kernels of corn that give it a nice bit of crunch.  You eat it with a fork, not your hands, it doesn't need to be slathered in butter and it can be made ahead and reheated (bonus!).  And did I mention it was as easy as dumping some stuff in a bowl?!?  The sprinkling of monterey jack cheese on top is the proverbial icing on the cake, adding a bit of flavor without overdoing it like cheddar cheese might.



It pairs well with BBQ but would also go well with chicken, ham, a roast, you get the picture.  Consider it as an option for your next holiday or pot luck!  And in case you find yourself thinking about this for a big family meal and wondering hmm, Corn Spoon bread, should I still serve rolls?  The answer is yes!  This is much more of a side than a bread like item.


Happy Eating!


Family Favorite Corn Spoon Bread
5 mins active, 50 mins total
Serves 6-8

1 – 8.5oz box of corn muffin mix
1 – 7.5oz can of whole kernel corn*
1 – 7.5 oz can of creamed corn*
1 cup of sour cream
2 large eggs (beaten)
½ cup of melted, unsalted butter
½ cup of grated, Monterey Jack or Swiss cheese 

*make sure you get the smaller 7.5 oz cans of corn, the regular size throws everything off

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Combine everything except cheese in a large mixing bowl.  Pour into a lightly greased 9x13 pan.

Bake for 35 min.  Sprinkle cheese on the top and bake 10 min more.

MAKING IT AHEAD OF TIME?  Bake only for the first 35 minutes until the mixture is set.  Cool and store in the fridge for up to a day.  Before serving, bring the spoon bread to room temp, then sprinkle with cheese and bake 10-15 min to reheat the dish and melt the cheese.

Wednesday, April 13

Lazy Woman's Pulled Pork BBQ

I love BBQ.  I think it should be it's own food group.  Right next to oreos and cheese plates. 

That's why it was the natural thing for me to make for my Masters Sunday Party.  The recipe below could not be any simpler but everyone will be amazed at your homemade pulled pork.  Plan on half a pound of pork per person and make sure you give yourself enough time for everything to cook.

As with most crock pot recipes, your house is going to smell spectacular.  The ingredient list is short but powerful.  It has the most wonderful, almost tangy flavor (thanks to the vinegar) that you don't get with the store bought stuff.  I had to force myself to stop sneaking bites while I was shredding it.

I served mine straight from the crock pot with two sauce options on the side - my fave, Sweet Baby Ray's, and a new one, a Culinary Circle Carolina Mustard sauce. I even put them in squeeze bottles to be authentic!  Turns out my attempt to make it official was the way to go.  It made it a lot easier for everyone to make their sandwich to taste while trying both the sauces.  

Not pictured here is the slaw I served to go with BBQ.  I got a pre-shredded cabbage mix and dressed it myself using Marzetti's Slaw Dressing, so I could keep it from drowning in the sauce.  When you're fixing up your sandwich, put the slaw on top of your BBQ.  It's magical. 

Moral of the story... hang on to this one.  It's a fantastic, easy recipe that's perfect for a party, pot luck or tailgate.  One of those that makes it seem like you worked a lot harder than you did ;)  And great when you want to stay out of the kitchen and spend time with your guests. 

Happy Eating!


half shredded, half falling off the bone

back in the crock pot after shredding

Pulled Pork BBQ  - the lazy woman's version

3-4 lb Pork Shoulder Roast
1 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
1/2 c. water
2 T. sugar

Place your roast in the crock pot.  Add apple cider vinegar, water and sugar.  Cook for 12-15 hours on low setting. 

After 10-12 hours, take the pork out of the crock pot and place it on a cutting board or platter (leave the liquid in the crock pot!!).  The roast should be falling apart.  Shred it with two forks or your hands. 

Place the shredded pork back in the crock pot with all the liquid.  Keep it on low or warm until you're ready to serve. 

The sauce in the crock pot is good, but your pork will probably need a real BBQ sauce.  Use your favorite and enjoy!

Saturday, April 9

A bad bet

The Master's is this weekend.  It's one of golf's majors and it's a pretty major deal in my world too.  It's something my family has been actively celebrating for the past 10 years.  A chance for us to get together with family and friends and eat and drink.  Like Halloween or the 4th of July ...just minus America's Independence.  Or costumes.

We're having a Southern themed Masters Sunday Party this year and I'll be posting the recipes over the next few weeks. 

This year the Royfriend and Little Brother made a bet.  A bad bet, if you're Little Brother.  And unfortunately, Little Brother has not realized this yet. 

Little Brother and Royfriend

On Thursday, Royfriend called Little Brother and offered him 2 players or the field for a $10 bet.  Little Brother selected 2 players, meaning he'd get to pick 2 players and if either of them won, he'd win the $10.  The Royfriend got the field so if anyone one other than those 2 players wins, he's $10 richer. 

It doesn't sound exactly fair does it?  It actually sounds a lot like the kind of scam a big brother would pull on a younger sibling.  Neither Royfriend or Little Brother have a biological brother.  It's so sweet that they have each other now :) 

Little Brother selected Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. By Friday night it was obvious that Tiger was in the hunt but there were also a handful of unexpected contenders.  Little Brother reached out to the Royfriend to discuss refining the terms of the bet and picking up an unexpected contender.

Just to make sure you're following this at home... little brother is contacting big brother... to talk about adding the tournament leader to his bet... half way through the tournament.

As the big brother, Royfriend couldn't let this opportunity pass.  He and Little Brother agreed to a new bet.  Little Brother picked up the leader, Rory McIlroy, and Royfriend got the field (again).  Another $10.  Not a part of the earlier bet.

Meaning that yes, the Royfriend wins here either way.  And there are substantial odds that he wins both bets given that he has all but 3 of the players.  I'm not sure Little Brother has figured this out yet.

While this bet involves money, there's about a 1% chance that cash will actually change hands.  Like most sibling rivalries (biological or otherwise), it's all about pride

There's a lot on the line.  I'm looking forward to seeing how this one turns out!

Friday, April 8

Possibly the only time it pays to order a small?

Last Friday I blogged about one of my favorite things on earth - Chicago dogs.  I saw this short article yesterday and felt it was an interesting follow up on ballpark eating and drinking.

Stadiums Sell Beer at Unfair Rates (YumSugar)

[Insert deadpan voice here]  It's absolutely shocking that we're getting ripped off, right??  I typically drink the small beers anyway, given that I live squarely in the light weight category.  But I'll definitely be doing some "comparison shopping" of my own the next time I head to Wrigley. 

Have you looked at the ratio of beer price to quantity at a ballpark?  Are there any other situations that an eater like me should know about?  Like, how getting the smaller milkshake or the single serving of keylime pie actually ends up being a better deal for more than just my waist?

Thursday, April 7

Sweet Potato Chipfries

Like the last post, this is another one that started as more of a non-recipe.  I've never been a sweet potato person.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that by the time I'd turned 25, I'd had all of 3 bites of a sweet potato in my life.

Ohhhh, what I've been missing all this time!  I had no idea. 

My Mom made these a few years ago and they changed my mind.  I'm still not a huge fan of sweet potatoes the way you think of them at Thanksgiving, covered in pecans or marshmallows.  But I'm hard pressed to turn down sweet potato fries and I make this version at home once a week or so during the winter months.

This is a tasty, savory take on sweet potatoes and in my opinion, a good bit healthier than the traditional preparations that involve marshmallows. 

Although... when you eat an entire potato in one sitting you may negate all the health value you previously earned.  Oops.  I blame that on the Royfriend since he doesn't like sweet potatoes and I have to eat it all myself.

Sorry for the wishy washy title - "chipfries".  They don't get so crispy that they resemble baked chips, but they aren't french fries either.  These are one of those things you just have to try yourself.  If you have a better name, let me know!  I make these a lot for a Sunday afternoon snack but you could also make them as a side for dinner. 

Happy Eating!


Ma Rob's Sweet Potato Chipfries

One sweet potato
Balsamic vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil

Thinly slice sweet potato on a mandolin.  Drizzle the slices with equal parts balsamic vinegar and EVOO.

Spread the slices evenly on a baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees, turning them over about half way through.

Tuesday, April 5

Mushroom Ravioli with Basil, Shallot and Cream Sauce

After building a tiny collection of posts over the past two weeks, I finally took this little blog public, sharing the site with a handful of my least judgmental friends :)  But now... now I have to keep you here.  I've got to deliver for our 2nd date.  So I'm peddling out one of my faves, a little black dress and a professional blow out if you will!

It uses one of Buitoni's fresh raviolis with an easy, easy, easy sauce made from scratch.  You'll have dinner on the table in 20-30 minutes and you'll be accepting accoloades and opening up a bottle of wine because a meal this good deserves it. 

This receipe was passed along by a family friend over a glass of wine.  One of those situations where you don't get real instructions, instead just a retelling of the recipe as a story. When I (a) remembered it following said glass of wine and (b) cooked something that turned out to be delicious, I was shocked. This was back in the days when I ate bagel bites for dinner on a weekly basis.  It was a big deal.

It can be hard to find the Wild Mushroom Agnolotti, so I usually buy two and freeze one.  The recipe below is for one container but it easily doubles if you're serving a crowd and making two batches.  I served mine with oven roasted asparagus that I drizzled with a balsamic glaze and a salad. 

Happy Eating!

PS:  Sorry, these pictures do NOTHING for the raviolis, I promise it is more appetizing than it looks. 


Mushroom Ravioli with Basil Shallot and Cream Sauce

Package of Butoni Wild Mushroom Agnolotti (also called ravioli for us peasant folk)
2 shallots
2 or 3 leaves of fresh basil, roughly chopped
Few tsps of olive oil
1 cup or less of heavy whipping cream - add more or less depending on what you prefer
¼ cup of Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper

Set a large pot of water to boil for the ravioli.  Cut shallots into ribbons and roughly chop basil.

Heat a few teaspoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add shallots.  After two minutes, add basil and let basil and shallots cook until shallots are softened (about 5 minutes).

Once shallots are softened, add raviolis to the water and then right after, add your heavy cream and your Parmesan cheese to the shallots/basil and stir well.

Once the cheese melts, reduce the heat on the cream mixture so it’s medium-low and stir occasionally while your raviolis cook (4-6 mins).  Taste your sauce, add more cream or cheese to taste.  Season with salt and pepper.

Drain raviolis and place in serving dish, cover with sauce and stir to mix.

Friday, April 1

Go Cubs Go - a tribute to Chicago dogs

It's heeeeere!

Finally.  After 4 frigid, icy winter months.

Today, we get some reprieve.  Confirmation that spring will in fact happen here in Chicago.  Eventually.

Today is Opening Day for the Cubbies!  Technically there are snow flurries in the forecast and it will be another 45-60 days before temperatures stabilize at a respectable number. 

The point is today, we are overflowing with belief.  Belief that this IS the year for the Cubs.  Belief that this frozen tundra will eventually thaw out.  It has to, right?  RIGHT?!?

A bit too dramatic for you?  Well you try living through a Midwest winter where you wake up to ice on the INSIDE of your living room windows and the wind cuts you to the bone for months on end despite your 3 pairs of pants, big fuzzy hood and 2 pairs of gloves.  Then we'll talk.

Today's blog is about fun food where utensils are forbidden and people who are napkin freaks (like me) give in and consider the mustard stain to be a badge of honor. 

Start by listening to the song below.  It was written in 1984 by a die hard Cubs fan, Steve Goodman who tragically passed away 4 days before the Cubs clinched the Eastern Division title in the National League for the first time ever.  This would earn the Cubs their first post-season appearance since the 1945 World Series (three years before Steve Goodman's birth).

The song is played at Wrigley Field at the end of every game the Cubs win.  Then keep reading to learn more about Chicago dogs, a gift from the baseball Gods.

In a word, Chicago dogs are spectacular. 

They get "dragged through the garden" and actually taste nothing like a hot dog (think of it as a creative way to eat your veggies!). 

Next time you're in the windy city, do yourself a favor and get one.  If you have time, do it the right way and go to Hot Doug's.  There's a 30-45 min line out the door at all times, even during the bitter winter months, but it is WELL worth the wait.  They make all their own sausage and dogs and the flavors and combinations are just unreal.  Come on, how good do those Hot Doug dog's look?

Top to bottom: Chicago dog, knockwurst with smoked Gouda, fries made with duck fat, Chicago dog

You can easily make them at home if you're craving a ballpark fix and find yourself thousands of miles away from the Windy City.  You should know, there is an art to making a Chicago dog.  It's all in the ingredients.  There's really no recipe, just add the ingredients in the order they're listed in below.

  • Buns - get poppy seed if you want to do it right
  • Hot dogs - grilled, boiled, whatever you like
  • Yellow mustard
  • Neon green sweet relish
  • White onions - raw or grilled (Wrigley grills 'em and the smell is glorious)
  • Tomato SLICES - do. not. dice. it's not authentic!  You need half moon slices.
  • Dill pickle spears
  • Sport peppers
  • Sprinkling of celery salt

Did you happen to notice there's no ketchup? 

Ketchup on Chicago dogs is a sin.  It's a cardinal rule of Chicago dogs. 

So go celebrate opening day with some ballpark dogs that would make the Cubbies proud!  And don't worry, despite my bitching, that picture of me enjoying the Chicago dog at Wrigley isn't from a spring game.  It was from the 2010 Winter Classic hockey game held at Wrigley on New Years day.  I was ecstatic, but it's kind of tough to see through all that parka and fleece!