Monday, July 30, 2012

dulce de leche

Dulce de leche is a sweet caramel tasting sauce. 

I stumbled upon it because a recipe I wanted to try (sweet recipe coming soon!) involved either caramel sauce or dulce de leche.

I decided to go with some homemade dulce de leche. Homemade is always better. And dulce de leche sounded exotic. Who doesn't love that? 

Making dulce de leche is simple and much more cost effective than buying the product at the store. 

All you need is sweetened condensed milk, salt, tin foil, two oven-safe dishes (where one dish can sit inside the other), and water.

Sweetened condensed milk is the basis of dulce de leche. Dulce de leche is really the heating of sweetened condensed milk (a.k.a. sugar and milk), whereas caramel is the heating of sugar. 

Here's how its done:

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. 

Take the contents from the sweetened condensed milk can and empty it into an oven proof dish. Sprinkle the top with salt. Set the dish into a larger oven proof dish. 

Wrap the dish with the sweetened condensed milk in tin foil. Then create a water bath by filling the larger dish with water filling the dish about 3/4 of the way up, which will surround the sweetened condensed milk.

Pop into the 425 degree F oven for 1 hour. Check every 20 minutes and add more water if necessary.

The dulce de leche should be more brown in color and caramel-like in appearance when you pull it out of the oven. 

Whisk smooth and let cool before storing. The dulce de leche should stay good for 3 weeks in the fridge. Although mine was used well before the 3 week mark. 

You can warm the sauce up right in the microwave if you wish, although I used my cooled in a recipe. 

What do I wish? To use this sweet sauce over ice cream, cookies, and anything else that's asking for it. Seriously---it's some kind of decadent. Sweet, but not too sweet. Rich, but not too rich. 

I think I'm in love. 

The treat I used this dulce de leche in is a cool one--perfect for summer. That doesn't mean I won't be trying it on everything else in my kitchen too though!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"the best macaroni salad ever"

At least that's what Ree, The Pioneer Woman said. I think she was right. Scratch that. I know she was right. 

It's been hot in Chicago this week month. And sometimes I want nothing to do with hot food. Because hot food and a hot body don't mix well.

Enter: the best macaroni salad ever.  

This hits just the spot when you're hungry and craving something cold. I made a huge tub the first time around and it was gone within days. How many batches since then? Four, I think. I have kind of lost count. And it's kind of been hot.

Here's the recipe (with a few tweaks by me):

The Best Macaroni Salad Ever

What You Need:
1/2 box of elbow macaroni: boiled, drained, and cooled
3 roasted red peppers, diced (you could roast red peppers yourself, but I went with jarred) 
1/2 a can of black olives, diced
3 kosher dill pickles, diced 
green onion (I have since omitted this after the first batch---I like green onion, but not this much)
For the sauce:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 
3 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup milk
extra pickle juice (for some tang)

You can check out Ree's version above, but here is how I did it.


Boil your elbow macaroni noodles in salted water in a pot on the stove according to the box directions.

While your noodles are boiling, you need to chop your goodies and make the sauce. It doesn't really matter in what order. 

I picked sauce first. 

For the sauce, take a small mixing bowl and combine the mayo, milk, red wine vinegar, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. You can adjust everything for the sauce, but the sauce needs to not be too thick----think a pourable consistency. Here is where you can toss in a bit of pickle juice for kick. Just a small spoonful or so. Give it a taste and see what you think. I was wondering about this addition, but I don't regret its place in this dish. It definitely adds a different element to the mix. 

Set the sauce aside and chop up the necessary ingredients.

If your noodles finish while you're still working, drain them, rinse them under cool water, and let them hang out.

Chop up the rest of your ingredients: the pickles, roasted red peppers, black olives, and green onions. As I said, you can alter the amounts as you go. Like one of these ingredients a lot? Add a bit more. I won't tell.

And as I mentioned earlier, I omitted using green onion. It just wasn't doing it for me. But since I included it the first time I made it, I figured I might as well show it here.

After everything is chopped, it's mixing time. I take a big storage container to do all the mixing in. First the noodles, then the sauce, then the rest of the ingredients. You should have a little bit of everything in every bite.

Put the bowl of "the best macaroni salad ever" in the fridge and let it hang out for a few hours. This allows the sauce the thicken, the flavors to meld, and the concoction to reach just the right chilly temperature. 

On numerous batches, I have ended up making more sauce than noted, as I do like my macaroni salad saucier. (Yes. Saucier.) This is easy of course, and I usually do it before I stick it all in the fridge to cool because I know my preferences. You could make extra sauce earlier anticipating this, or just see how it turns out after it cools.

Either way, you won't regret it. I promise. Now go---make this salad, fill up a bowl, and eat in peace.  

As Ree said, "it's the best macaroni salad ever!" She is still right. 


(My entry into Thursdays are YOUR Days at 52 Mantels is sponsored by Appliances Online and their Best Freezers!)

Monday, July 23, 2012

soupbox/icebox: a chicago restaurant review

In my United States travels looking for "my" city, I found this amazing little restaurant in Chicago, the place I now I call home.

I originally purchased a Groupon and decided we would use it on one of our many visits prior to living in the city. And boy, did we love it. 

Soupbox has two locations in the city: one downtown (50 E Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL) and one a bit farther north (2943 N Broadway, Chicago, IL), which is actually closer to my current Lakeview neighborhood.

The restaurant boasts about making 12 soups daily. The 12 soups every day aren't the same--they show up on a rotating basis. So every day there is something "new". Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options are available. Soups are made every day with fresh ingredients and are served out of huge pots that simply look cool. 

Outside of soup, salads and grilled cheese sandwiches are abundant. On our first visit, we walked into the restaurant where someone greeted us instantly and let us know we could sample anything we wanted, which is a nice touch! We didn't sample anything, but  Jacob got a bowl of lobster bisque soup, a hunk of sourdough bread (which comes with the soup), and a grilled cheese sandwich that had ham and mozzarella. I had a bowl of tomato basil bisque, a hunk of sourdough bread, and a grilled cheese sandwich with good ole' cheddar cheese.  

We had no complaints, finished everything, and secretly wished we had more! The soup was divine--both of ours. And the grilled cheese was very good. The restaurant is on the smaller side, but perfect for lunch. I can't wait for the fall to experience this place (yum soup in the cool weather).

Soup seems to range from $5 to $8, depending on the size you get. Salads are between $5 and $7. A grilled cheese is $3.50, or $2.50 when you purchase a soup.

So would we go back? Yes. Did we go back? Yes.

We also visited the N Broadway's location to go to Icebox. Icebox is inside Soupbox and during the summer months they serve hand-dipped Italian ices. These are made daily with fresh ingredients in house, which is similar to their philosophy and style on the rest of their food. 

Jacob tried strawberry and I tried raspberry. (I went back recently and got two flavors in my cup...cherry and mango. Also amazing!)

I'd say we were pleased! The hand-dipped variety beats anything you can get at a store. The fresh fruit pieces I found throughout truly made it. With these 90 degree days, this couldn't be a better treat.

I also found out they deliver in the fall/winter months. I can't wait.

Soupbox/Icebox: a new found Chicago favorite.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

hobo dinners: a summertime meal fit for two

When Jacob and I were "homeless" for two weeks in between ending our lease in MI and moving to Chicago, we stayed with family. I haven't had to experience that in quite some time, and it was hard to not feel like I was constantly in the way. We tried to have minimal items with us, which really only included a suitcase of clothes and a few food items.

We tried to have minimal food items with us, and we also were trying to use up a lot of what we had.

I introduce to you:

Hobo Dinners

They look simple, and that's because they are. Jacob's mom used to make them, and boy was she a smart lady. 

All it takes is meat, vegetables, and some Italian dressing. One evening for dinner we split a chicken breast between the two of us and tossed in baby whole potatoes, carrots, corn, onion, tomatoes, and green beans. Some of these items were canned, some were frozen, some were fresh. 

You make two decent sized tinfoil pouches, fill them up with all your tasty ingredients, drizzle nicely with Italian dressing, and let them cook. We normally would cook them in a 350 degree F oven till the chicken itself is done, but we decided to start them off on our little charcoal grill. 

While it was fun and would work perfectly, we moved them into the oven so we could be inside and bug-bite free. 

So there it is. A simple, cost-effective meal. Great anytime of the year, anywhere. Even camping would be fun! Kind of a perfect meal for us two while we were "homeless". 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

crockpot cream cheese chicken

Our oven hasn't worked well since we moved in to our apartment in Chicago. The oven would get warm, but not hot. This causes problems. I love to cook and bake! I have felt lost without it. 

So, while we have waited to get the oven fixed (it just got fixed last night at 9:15...that's a whole other story!) I have had to think of other cooking methods for good meals.

Enter crockpot cream cheese chicken:

Seriously, a god-send of a meal. I started searching online for crockpot meals involving chicken, and this is what I stumbled upon. I read all the tips and reviews, and that's how I formed my version of this meal. 

The awesome thing about this is that it takes hardly any watching. You do a couple separate steps, but it was well worth it!

Here's the recipe:

Crockpot Cream Cheese Chicken 

What You Need:
Chicken (whatever you want: I used two huge boneless, skinless breasts that originally were frozen)
1 package of ranch dressing dry mix
4 tablespoons butter, melted and divided
1 can of cream of chicken soup
1 cup of chicken broth
1 8oz. block of cream cheese
1 small can of mushrooms
onion (I used about 1/4 an onion diced up because that's all I had left)
black pepper
garlic powder
italian seasoning


Take whatever chicken you're using and toss it in the crockpot. I used frozen, thawed it in the microwave, and then stuck it in the crockpot whole. You can either leave the chicken whole, shred it, or cube it (we cubed it, but did this step after the chicken cooked). 

Pour 2 tablespoons of the melted butter over the chicken.

Then sprinkle the ranch dressing dry mix in. I flipped the chicken breasts over during this process to make sure both sides were good and coated. 

Turn the crockpot on low and let the chicken hang out till it's cooked all the way through. After 2 and half hours of cooking, my chicken was cooked through.

Once the chicken is cooked through, take it out and cut it into pieces if you haven't already. Leave all the liquid goodness in the crockpot. Put the cut up chicken back into the crockpot. Next up: sauce time.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Add your onion and mushroom (the amount is too your liking) and saute. The original recipe used garlic cloves, but I didn't have any fresh, so I sprinkled in some garlic powder, black pepper, and italian seasonings. 

After the onion and mushrooms have been sauteed, add the cream of chicken soup, chicken broth, and cream cheese to the pot. I found it easiest to cube the cream cheese before adding it to the pot, as it mixed in better.  

Add the sauce mixture (which smells and looks absolutely heavenly) back into the crockpot and combine with the chicken. 

Continue to cook on low for an hour. (I cooked it on low for an hour before switching to warm, as we weren't quite ready to eat!)

Meal complete. It's not difficult. It takes a few steps for a crockpot meal, but it was so worth it! The chicken was perfectly tender and moist, and the sauce was so decadent. Creamy and flavorful and amazing. 

I served this up with a big helping of mashed potatoes, but rice or egg noodles would be lovely too. Trust me, you will want something to sop up that sauce!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

corn stock

I'm not sure where I stumbled upon the idea of making a corn stock, but I did. And with 4th of July festivities happening, corn has been abundant lately. I may or may not have bought corn in Michigan when visiting to see my sister graduate with her Master's because it was so cheap. :) 

I decided to make taco soup a couple nights ago and boiled all the cobs of corn I had. I cut all the corn off the cobs and used some in the soup and froze some. I was left with the empty cobs, which likely would've gone into the garbage before I remembered the idea of corn stock.

I love being able to use absolutely everything from a food to really get its full worth. Making corn stock was simple, free essentially, and will be perfect as a stock in corn chowders and other soups.

Here's the very simple how to:

Corn Stock

What You Need:
corn cobs


Grab a pot large enough for however many corn cobs you have. Toss them in, and fill the pot with enough water to cover the cobs.

Turn the stovetop on high until you get the water boiling, then reduce to simmer and cover with a lid. Let the cobs simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.

Remove the cobs and shake them of excess water. Let the corn stock cool slightly before packaging up.

From research it seems the stock will stay put well in the fridge for a week and in the freezer for a year.

I plan on freezing all mine most likely until the fall when soup season is really in full swing. I'm dreaming of corn chowder. It shall be divine.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

sweet home chicago

Sweet home Chicago. <3

This blog has been absent and not very full of life lately, and that's because I was working on furthering my life along.

Two weeks ago Jacob and I officially moved to Chicago to a one-bedroom in the Lakeview/Wrigleyville area.

It has taken some time to adjust, and I'm sure it will continue to do so for awhile.

To say I love the way it feels here doesn't feel quite enough. I'm not sure how to describe what I'm feeling. I'm happy. I'm thankful. I'm glad we made it. It's been a rough journey to say the least. I'm thankful for the support we've had and for those who recognize that we are do-er's...we will make the life we want happen.

Jacob is working full-time and I couldn't be more proud. His boss recognizes his work ethic and is already training him to be a manager. I am in that god-awful place called "the job hunting zone". It isn't much fun, but I know I will find something. I wish I could have something now and right away, but so far I don't. I have to keep my optimism and faith up to continue to push on. The best of things are easy, and I remember that often, especially now that we've made it here.

Chicago is something beautiful.

"His" and "hers" burritos from Chipoltle. 

Molly's cupcakes.

Pride Fest 2012, a block from our front door.



The city.

Adventures to Clark St.'s John Barleycorn with best friends.

Chicago? I think so. 

We have settled in pretty much. As much as you can in two weeks at least. Here's a few shots of our apartment:

I know it's a good place to start and to get grounded here in Chicago. It's truly starting to feel like home. 

I cannot wait for adventures to unfold. I'm ready with open arms.