Department Outing

I believe I have mentioned that my Awesome Employer sets aside budget money each year for every department to have a group outing. They always involve food and generally involve an activity of some kind. This year, Lisa suggested Cook Cork & Fork, a place in Palatine that teaches groups to cook and then everyone stuffs their faces.

Groups are offered a variety of seasonal menus.  Since Lisa and I are the pickiest eaters, process of elimination led us to the Italian menu.  Chicken Marsala, herb risotto, grilled vegetables, and tiramisu.

I have been to several places that do cooking classes – which is weird since I really do not cook at home – and the difference with this place was that there was no Front of the Room Demo.  We were split into groups and told what to do.   I snagged the tiramisu.  It was a job so easy was like the first time I saw guacamole made table-side.  That’s all there is to it?  And they charge what?  The most difficult thing is blending the mascarpone and cream just until it is smooth, because if you over blend, it will curdle.  And that would suck.  But it was so easy and people make such a big deal out of it.  The lady fingers are dipped into a mixture of espresso and Kahlua and then you layer it up and put it in the refrigerator.


Then I went to watch the rest of my group.  They had finished their prep and were on to cooking up the dishes.


I somehow missed taking pictures of the final products.  Except for my tiramisu.


There was plenty of what I call Adult Supervision and everything turned out great.  In addition to group events, Cook Cork & Fork has regularly scheduled events for individuals or small groups.  They are located in Palatine and I can happily recommend them to grown ups in the Northwest suburbs looking for something to do together.


Pinterest-y Things We Did This Weekend

I was in Indianapolis this weekend for my friend Austin’s 40th birthday.  I think 40th birthday parties are meant for us to drink like we are 20 years old and decorate like we are four.  Austin’s fantastic boyfriend, Justin, threw a party with a Rainbows & Unicorns theme.  Or, My Little Pony farting rainbows:




My job was to find the perfect sangria recipe.  “Perfect” means:

  1. Easy to make
  2. Not too many ingredients
  3. Nothing in it that I won’t personally consume (like cloves or something)
  4. Does not have to sit overnight.

I found this. But neglected to take pictures of it.  We tripled the recipe and used Menage a Trois Cabernet Sauvignon, which was a random find at the store.  While the recipe says to let sit overnight for the best flavor, I don’t think ours was sitting for much more than two hours.  Justin liked the idea of using ginger ale instead of sugar and it was fabulous.  I was inspired to write this blog to be sure that I don’t lose the recipe.

Then there was the cake:



Justin rocked this.  The recipe is simply yellow cake mix, prepared and separated into six cups.  Then food coloring is added to each cup.  Then the batter is poured into the baking pan one at a time for the swirl effect.  Very pretty and very tasty.  I found an online recipe if you don’t believe me. 

That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is as crafty as we get.


Birdie Bread

Several people at the Refuge have asked for my “recipe” for Birdie Bread, because Birdie Bread is the best way to trick fussy birds into eating their vegetables. I kept saying, “You just grind up some vegetables and toss them into your cornbread mix”. Apparently, this is not a satisfactory answer. So here we go:


1 Box Cornbread mix (I generally use Jiffy, but this time I used Martha White), plus mix ingredients
1 handful of baby carrots, washed
1 handful of cut broccoli, washed
1 handful of cut cauliflower, washed (optional)
1 container of sweet potato baby food (I used Gerber, Phase 2)

It should be noted that when it is on sale, I just buy a bag of cut vegetables. Today, broccoli crowns were on sale, so I grabbed one. Because Sigmund prefers the “tree” of the broccoli to the “leaf”, I cut the tops off the trees. Then I tossed them into my mini food processor. Next, I grabbed a handful of baby carrots from the bag and did the same thing. Tossed it all in a mixing bowl.  Then I poured the baby food on top.

Side Note:  The deal with the baby food is that sweet potatoes are really good for birds (and people) because they have a lot of vitamins. Karen, the volunteer director at the Refuge, swears that you can get any bird to start eating vegetables by mashing a sweet potato, mixing it with peanut butter and serving it in a cup.

Kiwi still won’t eat it.

But cooking a sweet potato for the purpose of making Birdie Bread annoys me, so I use baby food. But here is the trick – the baby food has water in it, so you have to be careful that you don’t have too much liquid in the cornbread mix. So what I did was poured the mix powder on top of the vegetables and then added milk until I was satisfied with the consistency. It looks like this:

Then I put the batter in cupcake cups, as a matter of portion control and ease of serving. I cook it according to the instructions on the box, but remember that the fresh vegetables have water in them, too. So I wait until the muffins are visibly golden brown before I am convinced they are done.

And here is Sigmund stuffing his face with the finished product. Kiwi feeds them to the dog.

Further notes:

African Greys are notorious for needing extra calcium, so I use milk in the batter even when the mix says water is ok. Also, if you use a powder calcium supplement, you can bake that in too. Rich, the Director at the Refuge, says that if the mix uses eggs (Jiffy’s does) you should grind the egg shell up with the vegetables and bake that in, too. Just make sure to gently wash the egg before doing so.

This recipe made 12 muffins and in my experience they will last up to two weeks if you keep them in the refrigerator. I don’t know whether they freeze well. I generally give a Grey one muffin at a time, broken into pieces. At least half of that ends up on the floor. I am considering getting a mini-muffin pan.

More Starbucks Substitutes

My mother bought herself one of those new-fangled coffee machines from Keurig around Christmas.  I imagine you have seen them.  They use little “pods” a bit larger than an old container of creamer and brew one cup of coffee at a time. 

Convenient, if you only want one cup of coffee.  Then one day, she got a really good deal from QVC or HSN or Kohl’s or something and picked up a second one.  So that she has one upstairs and one downstairs. 
But only one cup at a time.
So I started to do some analysis.
I believe the machine retails for $90.  (It’s on clearance at Bed Bath & Beyond right now, but never mind that.)  Not a huge amount of money for an appliance, but still a commitment.  But you also have to buy those little pods.  BB&B has them.  $10 for a case of 18.  That comes to 56 cents a cup before you figure in taxes and the ubiquitous 20% discount coupons.  Not bad.
However.  I have been informed that you have to use bottled water, as opposed to tap water in the machine.  I presume that means filtered, but in my house, it comes out of my Culligan water cooler.  That is fine.  But assuming my mother isn’t making stuff up, there is still some cost associated with filtering your drinking water to use in the machine.
I just saw there is some kind of water filter in the machine that has to be changed every once in awhile.  Perhaps you can call that an incidental cost.  I’m not sure.
So, is it worth it?
First, you have to be sure there is a flavor that you like.  I have seen Caribou coffee, Green Mountain and Gloria Jean’s in my house.  No Starbucks.  There are also a few flavors of tea and hot chocolate.  I can confirm that the hot chocolate is acceptable.  Better than Swiss Miss, not as good as Starbucks or McCafe.
Second, understand that “one cup” is eight ounces.  As in half the size of a grande.  So if you are used to that 16 ounces, you will be brewing two cups.  And since only one standard size cup fits under there, you will end up pouring the first brew into your big mug and putting it back under the spout for a second run, with a second pod.  That’s getting two dishes dirty.
There is a little filter pod for those that like the machine but want to use their own coffee beans. It costs $15 and can be reused.  I don’t know how long it will realistically last.  It is probably more cost effective than the pods, but if you were serious about cost effective, you’d probably be brewing your own coffee for real.
So who is the target market?  Not the coffee snobs, or even mass consumers.  I shouldn’t think it would appeal to the commuter crowd – since a travel mug doesn’t fit in it.  I have anecdotal evidence that if you take it to work, your co-workers will start scamming your coffee right and left, and who wants that?  So I’m thinking it is mostly the gadget people, and those looking for a trendy alternative to Starbucks.
That’s my take.

The Papaya Obsession

My first visit to Hawaii was a business trip to Honolulu. It was in September..2003, I think. We flew in on Tuesday and met for a group breakfast before the meeting Wednesday morning.

I was standing at the buffet with my colleague, Stu, who looked at my rather lame breakfast plate and said, “Try the papaya.”

“No thanks,” I said. “I’m not a big fan. I’ll take some pineapple, though.”

“Have you been to Hawaii before?” he asked.


“Then you’ve never tried papaya.”

I don’t remember if he actually put the fruit on my plate for me, but that is how it felt. So I went back to the table with him and tried it.

Melts in your mouth.

Stu explained that the shelf life of papaya is distressingly short, so it is near impossible to get “the peak of freshness” at home. Apparently, they don’t even bother to try and ship papaya from Hawaii to the Midwest, so the best we can do in Chicago is papaya from Mexico. And even that is too far away to get it at the exact right time.

So yeah. I am eating papaya every day. There is a charming market down the road that has bowls of cut fruit and I am absolutely loving it.

I hope they restock tomorrow.

Not From a Box

Somewhere between the third and fourth touchdowns of the worst game ever played in the National Football League, I had to get up and do something.  I made cranberry sauce.  Although technically, the recipe came from the back of the bag, I can call absolutely call this cooking from scratch.
With a full cup of sugar.
My family was perfectly happy with the stuff from a can.  We would refrigerate it in advance and a true champion, like my mother, could get the lump of cranberry jelly to slide out into the dish in one unblemished lump.  I forget why I first tried making it fresh…but I remember my family trying it and saying, “Wait a minute.  This is good.”  And being all impressed.

So.  Green bean casserole and fresh cranberry sauce.  That’s what I can contribute to Thanksgiving dinner.  If we bother to cook at all.

P.S.  I am convinced that if I had been fed fresh cranberry sauce as a child, I would have found it lumpy and complained about the seeds.  I wouldn’t expect Alex to eat this.

Cooking with Alex

The weekend before last, Scott brought his family over for lunch. We had originally planned on going out, then figured it was easier with the baby and the goofy weather to stay in and make something. Because I happen to eat like a four year old boy, I happened to have stuff to make pizza. And because I sometimes pretend to be a grown up, I had the stuff to make a chef salad. I thought I might talk Alex, age four, into helping me. And if not, it was easy enough to throw together myself.

He totally went for it. All “good listener” and everything. Once the pizzas were in the oven, he even helped put together the salad. When they were finished, he was all proud of himself. Then Scott and I debated using a cookie sheet versus dropping the pizza on aluminum foil for extra crispyness.

Ha. Aunt Anne wins.

Alex’s sister Ainslie is seven months old and Scott is finally taking his wife out for a date or whatever. They are bringing the kids back for the afternoon on Sunday.

Normally, I would throw Alex into the car and go to Noodles, because he loves it as much as I do. But two of them are not so easy to take out. Then I think I should do Cooking with Alex again. Eh. It is never going to work twice. But let’s ask The Internet: had this:

Chinese “Barbecued” Pork

A Cooking with Kids Original Recipe

Preparation time: 10 minutes or less 2 hours or overnight, refrigerated Cooking time: 30 minutes Yield: 10 servings as a small main course; more when used as a seasoning

Seriously? Alex wouldn’t even eat that, let alone prepare it and wait two hours for it two marinate or whatever.

Make your own sno cone syrup.
Happy faced sandwiches.
Teddy bear sundaes.

I don’t think so.

Screw it. I’ll Tivo Backyardigans and make popcorn and he will be perfectly happy.