Monthly Archives: September 2008

We’re Loyal to You, Illinois!

Orange and Blue, Illinois!

Eric and I have something really important in common…we both bleed Orange and Blue! Fighting Illini Orange and Blue, that is! Not only is the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where we met, it’s also where we got to know each other, fell in love, had the time of our lives, and eventually got engaged (about a year after I graduated). It is so very near and dear to my heart. Lifelong friendships and lifetime loves were forged there in it’s hallowed halls. I have been known to get a little teary eyed remembering all the good times we had there, especially now that we live so far away from the friends we gained while we were there.

Champaign, IL is not a particularly glamourous place to be. The opposite really. It’s in the middle of a cornfield, it’s ungodly windy for whatever reason, and it always seemed a bit dirty and rundown. In fact, I’ve have heard the word “Dump Hole” used to describe it. Okay, so I maybe I coined the phrase myself to describe it. LOL! What can you expect…college students come in, trash the place for four years, then leave and never go back. It has improved ten fold since I graduated though. (Chipotle?? Cold Stone??? STARBUCKS!!! Whatever, man! When I was there, we had the world’s most disgusting Burger King and an abandoned Wendy’s building. Can you say JEALOUS??) Despite all it’s faults, and my extreme jealously over how nice it’s getting, I love that place. LOVE it!

Well, we don’t even live in the state of Illinois anymore, so it’s not like we get back there very often. We can keep ourselves connected by tuning in to our beloved Fighting Illini when football season starts. Thank YOU, Big Ten Network, for curing our Displaced Fan Syndrome. Up until this year, we couldn’t even get the score of our game on any given Saturday, let alone actually SEE it on TV. Hawkeye Country…BLECH!

So, if you know anything about the Big Ten, you know how bad Illini football has been. Boy, did they SUCK for a few years there. I mean really, really bad. Awful. Worst team in the Big Ten. Last year, out of nowhere, they seemed to miraculously improve! HOORAY! So, they are no Ohio State or anything (although…who was that that beat #1 OSU last fall…who was that…wow, I can’t remember…oh, that’s right! WE DID!)

I was excited for the Big Ten opener last night, so I wanted to make a fun treat to have while we watched the game last night. I thought maybe my baking vibes would bring them some good luck…sadly, Penn State outplayed them and we lost. 😦 We started out strong, but then there were a couple of costly penalties there in the first half that they just couldn’t seem to come back from. I have to admit I’m slightly concerned for the rest of our season as I don’t want to see dumb mistakes lead to lost football games that they should win. We have to at least beat the Hawkeyes!! That’s all I ask…please, please, PLEASE let us avenge last year’s monstrosity at Kinnick.

So, I was brainstorming my Illini-themed treat and thought It’d be a lot of fun to incorporate our school colors…orange and blue! I’m not big on sugar cookies and icing and that sort of thing, so I wanted to come up with something else. Hmmm…what to do, what to do?! I thought about cupcakes, because they are my favorite thing to bake but just tinting the icing didn’t seem like anything all that exciting either.

In the end, I decided on a twist on the classic red velvet cake. We all know the red part of red velvet cake is just red food coloring…who says it has to be red? Why not green…or purple…or ILLINI BLUE!! 🙂 And so, my Illini (Orange and) Blue Velvet cupcake was born!

Now, Illini blue is a very deep dark navy, so I knew it was going to be a challenge concocting up a navy blue cake with just food coloring. In the end, I was so excited how they came out! The color is just about right on. I ended up using two .3 oz bottles of blue and one red. I was so enthralled with the food coloring, I forgot to add the vanilla to the batter and I missed it in the final product. The frosting was yummy too. I thought the cake was a tad dry, but that could have been because I overbaked my cupcakes a little bit. I always have trouble with the time conversion when changing cakes to cupcakes. I brought in the orange by decorating with M&M’s. You can try this with your team colors for your next tailgate!

ILLINI (ORANGE and) BLUE VELVET CUPCAKES: (Recipe adapated from: Food – Emril Lagasse)


  • 2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 .3 oz bottles of blue food coloring, 1 .3 oz bottle of red food coloring.
  • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line muffin tin with baking cups. In a medium bowl or on a piece of waxed paper, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk. Beat in food coloring and vinegar, then add vanilla. Spread the batter evenly in the pans.
  3. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Turn out onto a rack to cool.


  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 pound box confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese and butter. Beat in confectioners’ sugar until fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Frost cooled cupcakes.


And just for fun, here are a few pics of campus.

My lovely dorm at ISR! I still remember where my room was! 🙂

Illini Union on the Main Quad.

Altgeld Hall. A lovely building except for all the Math that goes on inside there. HA!

November 6, 2003…Brother’s on Green…the night that changed HISTORY! (As in, the night I met Eric)

May 1, 2005…Alma Mater statue at Wright and Green…the day I SAID YES!



Filed under cupcakes

I made ’em extra SLOPPY for ya’s!

“Lady, you’re scaring us!”

Okay, so I have every single line from Billy Madison mesmorized. I’ve only seen it, oh, half a million times in my ife. Still funny. Admit it…it’s funny. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

I served up this tasty little sammy to Eric last night and on his first bite, he promptly dribbled it all over his shirt. That’s when we had to start breaking out the classic Billy Madison lunch lady talk. And then spent the next few minutes laughing like a couple of kids. Hey, laughter is the spice of life, right? Who cares if it’s at something so outrageously silly!

You would think sloppy joes would be the kind of thing you STOP eating when you get older, not start eating. When I was a kid, I didn’t care for sloppy joes. I’m not really sure why…it’s very kid friendly. Maybe I was traumatized by this lunch room favorite as a small child and refused to eat it again. I don’t really remember. My mom actually made them herself…it wasn’t the canned Manwich stuff or anything. I can’t explain my dislike…but she always kept a bit of the meat aside and made me a hamburger instead. Thanks, Mom! 🙂

I tried this recipe as something easy that Eric would like because, hey, if kids really like it, that probably means my husband really likes it too. 😉 Turns out, it’s very good. I wouldn’t’ want to eat it everyday, but it was perfect for a lazy night of football. I have to admit though…it tasted WAY better the next day!

SLOW COOKER SLOPPY JOES (Recipe adapted from: Crock*Pot Slow Cooker Favorites)


  • 1 lb. ground beef, browned and drained
  • 1 envelope onion soup mix
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup BBQ sauce
  • 2 1/2 tbs. firmly packed brown sugar
  • Hamburger buns


  1. Add all ingredients (except buns) to slow cooker, stir to combine.
  2. Cook, covered, on low for 4 to 6 hours or on high for 2 to 3 hours. Serve on hamburger buns.


1 Comment

Filed under beef

E for Excellent

Wow! I came home from work this afternoon and jumped on my email to find that I received my first blog award!! Big thanks to Rachel over at Culinary Kicks for nominating me for the E for Excellent Award! Thank you, Rachel! Rachel’s blog rocks! I am for sure going to have to try her Pineapple Wontons. Mmmm….tell me that doesn’t sound like heaven on a plate!!

Here are a few more E for EXCELLENT blogs that I like!

Yum. Sherri’s blog is full easy, yummy looking recipes!
Lauren’s Kitchen. Um, those peanut butter butter cup surpise cookies…yeah, ’nuff said! Lauren’s blog is amazing!
Central Cooking. Props to my fellow Illini fan Kayla!
Just 2 Good. Amy is a fellow tranaplanted Chicagoian with a totally awesome blog!
Dinner & Dessert. Erin is an amazing baker. Her goodies look picture perfect! Plus, her name is Erin…so she just automatically rocks! LOL! 😉

Now it is your turn:

Please find at least 10 more blogs, of any kind that you love to read. Write a post about the blogs you picked, linking back to me and to them. Once you’ve posted, return here to let me know your post done and be sure to let them know too!!! (If you don’t come up with 10, that’s fine too!)


Filed under blog awards

Beef – It’s what he wants for dinner

Let me tell you a little something about Eric and me. We are what some might call…a bit of an odd match. So here I am, a suburban girl through and through. I grew up in the land of subdivisions, malls, 30 screen movie theaters , huge schools, crowds, traffic…pretty much all the things my adoring husband can’t stand.  It’s just not his thing.

See, Eric is a bonafide country boy. Corn-fed and farm raised. Dairy farm raised. (See, get it?? Dairy…Milk…The Milkman’s Wife! HA!) I knew nothing of the country life before I met Eric. I knew nothing of Southern Illinois. (Come on…southern Illinois is anything south of I-80, right? Kankakee was southern Illinois when I was growing up!)  Seriously, it’s like a different world down there. There are hills and thick forests of trees. Milder winters and slight southern drawls. Nothing at all like the flat, wind-swept prairies and city skyscrapers you see in other parts of the state. And I certainly had never stepped foot on a real working farm before.  He and I come from two completely different worlds. I don’t know how it works…it just does. We complement each other perfectly. Plus, we are both good communicators and compromisers. I know he doesn’t want the big city life, he knows I’m probably not cut out for country living, so we settled somewhere in between. Not too small…not too big! We are like peas and carrots!

Well, of course, everyone has disagreements every now and then and we are no exception. A while back, I stayed behind at home while Eric went to visit his family on their farm for a long weekend. He returned with an entire third of a steer. Turns out, his parents were butchering (they have a small beef operation on the farm) and he decided to buy in, with his aunt and uncle picking up the last third. I was beyond shocked. Do you realize how much beef that is??? It’s hundreds and hundreds of pounds of meat. I couldn’t believe he agreed to do that without consulting with me first. We had to go buy and extra freezer to store it. Needless to say, I was rather annoyed. Well, I got over it…seeing it as a chance to try new things.

I am STILL trying to figure out how in the world to use all this beef…I use the hamburger and stuff for chili and tacos, but I have a hard time with the steaks, I just don’t love it. I only like it when it’s done exceptionally well, and I’m just not that talented. Plus there are a couple mystery cuts I’m not that thrilled to dig into (what the heck is a cube steak?? Sounds awful…) And beef roasts are not my favorite either. I guess I just don’t love red meat. I’d be perfectly content to never eat it again. LOL! Eric would flip! Forget I said that….

I will continue to try out recipes like this one from Cooking Light (September 2008 cover recipe)…to keep my corn fed, farm raised, red meat eater happy. Even I enjoyed this. Very flavorful, and so easy! It came together so fast, I had call Eric in from his mowing way earlier than I thought I would have to. He sat at the table, all sweaty and dirty and chowed down on this.

I cooked my potatoes a bit too long, so I’d make sure and check them after 30. Mine were a tad on the crisp side. I was going to serve with some roasted broccoli but some how I managed to forget…oops. So I just threw together a tossed salad to serve on the side instead. Plenty of food!

My photo looks a little like something you might find if you looked down into the depths of a trash can at McDonalds…a pile of slop surrounded by french fries, but I SWEAR this is really really good! LOL! That’s just brown food for ya…not very camera friendly.

STEAK FRITES WITH SHALLOT PAN REDUCTION (Recipe Source: Cooking Light, September 2008)


  • 1 3/4  pounds  baking potatoes (about 2 large potatoes), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch sticks
  • Cooking spray
  • 3/4  teaspoon  kosher salt, divided
  • 2  teaspoons  chopped fresh thyme, divided
  • 1  pound  boneless sirloin steak, trimmed
  • 1/2  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 2  tablespoons  finely chopped shallots
  • 2  tablespoons  brandy (I didn’t have any brandy and didn’t want to buy a whole bottle so I just deglazed with two tablespoons of the wine we drank with dinner.)
  • 3/4  cup  less-sodium beef broth
  • 1  tablespoon  Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  butter


1. Position 1 oven rack on the highest setting. Position another rack on the lowest setting.

2. Preheat oven to 450°.

3. Arrange potatoes in a single layer on baking sheets. Coat with cooking spray; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Bake at 450° for 40 minutes or until golden brown, stirring potatoes and rotating pans halfway through. Toss potatoes with 1 teaspoon thyme. (Check those potatoes after 30…they cook up quicker than you think! I cooked mine too long!)

4. Heat a 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle both sides of steak with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Add steak to pan; sauté 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Remove from pan; keep steak warm.

5. Add shallots to pan; sauté 2 minutes. Add brandy; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add beef broth, Dijon mustard, and remaining 1 teaspoon thyme; bring to a boil. Cook until reduced to 2/3 cup (about 3 minutes). Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Add butter, stirring with a whisk.

6. Slice steak. Serve with shallot pan reduction sauce and potatoes.



Filed under beef

Come on, everyone’s doing it.

I love the cooking board I frequent because it’s where I get all my food news. Someone always has some sort of juicy tidbit (heh…no pun intended) of foodie related gossip to share. When the gals started posting about these pumpkin spice flavored Hershey Kisses at Target, it started an all out Kiss fad! Everyone is baking up a storm with these little orange-tinted gems…and I am no exception. I’m jumping on the Pumpkin Spice bandwagon! Thanks to everyone at WC for spreading the word about these, because I totally would have not even known these existed!

Well, after I bought these yesterday, I tore open the bag right there in the car and tried one right away. The verdict?? Good…tasty to a certain extent. I don’t think I could just eat these straight out of the bag, as I think I’d get tired of the flavor, but I immediately started thinking of ways to use them in baked goodies.

I decided to do a Pumpkin Spice Kiss Oatmeal Cookie. Yum! Turned out great. Spicy, creamy, chewy and crunchy all in one convenient package. Enjoy!

PUMPKIN SPICE KISS OATMEAL COOKIES (Recipe adapted from: Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)


  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup chopped pumpkin spice kisses


  1. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on a medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Beat until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. Beat in the flour. Stir in oats and kiss pieces.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Chill dough for about 30 minutes.
  3. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until edges are golden. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.



Filed under cookies

When I grow up…

There’s a really neat blogging group that got started on the cooking board I frequent called Barefoot Bloggers. This fabulous group was started by Tara over at Smells Like Home and she had the great idea to gather up a group to cook and bake their way through Ina Garten’s books. What an awesome concept!

I’m not a part of this group because I’ve got a picky eater at home and I’m sure it wouldn’t take long for a recipe to appear that he would have no part of. Sigh…. Makes me slightly sad because I love Ina! I do enjoy seeing what the groups makes each month though!

A recent recipe chosen for this group was Ina’s Grown Up Mac and Cheese. When the blog updates started appearing with this recipe on the board it reminded me that I had made it once before in my pre-blogging days and we loved, loved, LOVED it! I immediately decided I had to make it again.

Now, mac and cheese…what to say about it, really. For most of my life, homemade mac and cheese suffered the same fate has homemade pizza. It was more often then not so completely inedible that I wouldn’t go near it. The problems with it always seemed to be the same…it’d be dry. Or grainy. Or bland. Or mushy. Ugh. Mushy is the worst. Mad horrible flashbacks of college dorm dining hall fare right there. Yuck. But, like I said in my pizza post, I’m sincerely trying to make an effort to try things in my own kitchen that I haven’t cared for in the past. The first time I made this was probably this past winter sometime and it was a stretch for me, I was so afraid I wouldn’t like it!

Turns out…I loved it! So did Eric. I’m happy to have made it again so it could have a place in my blog. It’s really very delicious. So big thanks to all the Barefoot Bloggers out there for reminding me to make this again!

GROWN UP MAC AND CHEESE (Recipe Source: Ina Garten –


  • 4 ounces thick-sliced bacon
  • Vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cups elbow macaroni or cavatappi (I used a corkscrew shape…not rotini…but the other one! LOL!)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (I used 1% and it worked surprisingly well!)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
  • 3 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
  • 2 ounces blue cheese, such as Roquefort, crumbled (I don’t care for blue cheese so I subbed Gorgonzola, very tasty!)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 2 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil leaves


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.Place a baking rack on a sheet pan and arrange the bacon in 1 layer on the baking rack. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the bacon is crisp. Remove the pan carefully from the oven – there will be hot grease in the pan! Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and crumble when it is cool enough to handle.

Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it. Melt the butter in a medium pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or 2 more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, blue cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and crumbled bacon and stir well. Pour into 2 individual size gratin dishes.

Place the bread slices in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until you have coarse crumbs. Add the basil and pulse to combine. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the top of the pasta. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.



Filed under pasta

Orange good, Chocolate great…

Orange and chocolate…really, REALLY great!

It seems like the chocolate/fruit combination is a love it or hate it kind of thing. I love it! I know some people don’t care for it at all. Chocolate and strawberry is always good. Chocolate and cherry too. I don’t care for chocolate and raspberry quite as much, but I’ll still eat it. My absolute favorite though is chocolate and orange! Mmmm… Something about it just works. I used to love those Toblerone chocolate oranges you can get at Christmastime. They come in a foil wrapper in the shape of an orange and you whack it real hard on the counter before you unwrap it. Then when you open it up it’s all “sliced” like orange wedges. Yum!

I was looking for something easy to bake today and I remembered that I had brought home a third fun cookbook from my mom’s collection the last time I was home. This one!

I just love old-timey cookbooks. It really makes you think about what it would be like cooking in another era. In many ways, I think it’d pretty much the same. Special treats for special people. Food to celebrate with and bring people together. Those things will never change! This one is full of chocolatey goodies that use Hershey products. I used to flip through this one a lot when I was a kid because it’s got a ton of neat photos inside. I found a muffin recipe inside that satisfied my craving for something sweet and my requirement to get it done quickly. Mmmmm…

CHOCOLATE CHIP ORANGE MUFFINS (Recipe Source: Hershey’s 1934 Cookbook)


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsps. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tsps. grated orange peel


  1. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Beat the egg and add to the four mixture
  2. Add milk and vegetable oil, stirring only to moisten the flour. Mix in the milk chocolate pieces and the orange peel.
  3. Fill greased muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake in a hot oven (400 degrees) for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

Makes 12.



Filed under chocolate, fruit, muffins