Category Archives: Project Food Blog

Thank YOU!

Well. The journey has ended for me. I was cut like the risotto from my dinner party menu the other night from the Project Food Blog competition. Just wanted to say a quick THANK YOU to everyone for your support and votes! All of your thoughtful comments made me smile big and laugh loud. That’s all that matters, doesn’t it? Supporting each other and having a good time doing it? I love the food blogging community and I’m so grateful to have even had the chance to compete side by side with some of the best in the biz. I am in awe of so many of them. Best wishes and good luck to all those still kicking!

So, what have we learned from all this? We’ve learned maybe it’s a little tough to get luxurious around a kitchen table in a tiny, 1960s ranch  in small-town Iowa. No formal dining room here. No penthouse city views, no fresh caught lobster, no exotic cheese, no perfectly paired wines. Hell, there wasn’t even make-up and a decent hairstyle on me that evening! LOL. Luxury fail.

None of that matters because you know what there was plenty of that night? Great food. Amazing company. Wonderful good news to share. Laughter. Toasts. Ice cream. Football. Beer. All the good things that make life worth living.

So anyway. Thank you, new readers and old friends. Thank you, Twitter followers and extended family. I would never had made it as far as I did without you! I’m already looking at the things to improve to whip this humble little blog of mine into shape for next year. I hope we all get a chance to try this again next fall!

Thanks for everything and GOOD LUCK!

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Project Food Blog Challenge 3: A Luxury Dinner Party

And then there were 200. Thanks again everyone for your support and votes in this crazy Project Food Blog competition! What a wild ride this has been so far. Thanks for sticking with me here! Now on to round three!

When the awesome folks over at Foodbuzz say the word “challenge” they mean it. Especially this time around. Hosting a luxury dinner party on extremely short notice ain’t for the weak and wimpy. Good thing I LOVE a challenge. Dinner for 4 (that ended up being 7 actually) in less than 24 hours? BRING IT.

Playing hostess can be a lot of fun. It gives you the chance to do things you wouldn’t normally do – like fold napkins into pretty little fans and peel a rutabaga while jamming out to ‘Cover Girl’ on the New Kids on Block Pandora station.

::Pause. Blinky face::

Because really, what other occasion would there be to peel a rutabaga? 😉

It can also be stressful if you don’t have a game plan. Don’t toss up a Hail Mary and hope to reach the man in the end zone here. Plan a cohesive menu that won’t leave you freaked out and frazzled. And take care of the little things before staring anything else (Do your cloth napkins need ironing? How’s that tablecloth that’s been stuffed in a drawer since last Thanksgiving look?) Things that can be made or prepped ahead of time = good. Things that need constant attention and tending = bad.

Sorry, Risotto. You’re cut. Fried Chicken? You’re out of here. You may be in charge of feeding the hungry herd, but you also want to enjoy your guests.

PLANNING THE MENU

When I sat down to plan the menu for my gathering for our friends, my goal was to make my guests feel pampered, without spending our life savings on dinner. See, we’re not a real fancy group. When we get together, we tend to prefer the company of Bud Light and bean dip to champagne and caviar. I knew I could kick it up a notch from our usual without losing that comforting, down home, Middle America feeling.

I kept two things in mind: What’s in season and what’s on sale. It’s officially fall, so things like squash, pumpkin, apples and pears are in abundance (not to mention cheap) and my store just happened to have an amazing deal on pork tenderloins this week. That got the ol’ rusty gears a-turnin’ and I was able to come up with a delicious, seasonal meal that felt expensive without actually being so.

ALL THE SMALL THINGS

Before I started on the food, but after I flew around the grocery store Supermarket Sweep style (remember that show??), I got my table ready. These were not the things I wanted to be thinking about 15 minutes before my guests arrived.

A simple runner with fall details would do the trick.

I tied the napkins with gift wrap ribbon. The acorn detail came from a a little bag of (fake) fall goodies I found for half off at the craft store.

On the center of the table, I filled small, square vases with cinnamon sticks and a fall candle. Then I added a few pine cones (from that same Bag-O-Fall as the acorns) for an extra touch.

THE FOOD & PREP

The best part about this menu is that almost everything can be made ahead. The things that couldn’t be made ahead were super simple to toss together. The only action happening in the kitchen while my guests were here was making the pan sauce for pork at the last minute. See, easy-peasy. Look for the recipes coming soon! 🙂

Soup: Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Red Pepper Puree and Toasty Cumin Squash Seeds.

This soup is so simple, yet so delicious. It’s got such a great warm, sweet flavor that’s made extra special with addition of fresh thyme and orange zest. The red pepper puree adds just the right amount of smokey heat. It was a great way to kick off the meal and probably my favorite dish of the night. The best part? Make both the soup and puree the night before and reheat slowly over low heat while preparing the rest of the meal.

Entree: Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Apple and Shallot Pan Sauce

Pork tenderloin is the perfect entertaining main dish. It’s not overly expensive, it’s a flavorful cut of meat and it’s pretty tough to screw it up. I’ve never had a pork tenderloin come out of the oven anything but super moist and tender. In keeping with the fall theme, the tenderloin is seasoned with a simple but festive blend of cinnamon, ground coriander, salt and pepper. It’s seared in a hot pan on the stove then transferred to the oven to finish cooking. The sauce is a simple combination of apples, shallots and thyme cooked in butter and apple cider until crisp tender and delicious. The combination of savory pork and sweet fruit made for a delicious meal.

Side: Roasted Root Vegetables with Rosemary

Does this look like a big bowl of fall comfort or what? Red skinned potatoes, carrots, parsnips, celery root, leeks, rutabaga, and onions are simply seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and a hefty helping of fresh rosemary, then roasted in the oven until browned and caramelized. Holy heaven! There’s a lot of chopping involved here. Not going to lie. And root vegetables? They are a pain in the you-know-what. They’re covered in dirt. (I was also covered in dirt. Thank you Celery Root!) They’re tough to peel and cut. Have no fear though – prep the veggies first thing the morning and roast in the afternoon. Then just reheat in a 13X9 inch pan while roasting the pork and serve.

Salad: Mixed Baby Lettuce with Bosc Pears, Goat Cheese and Citrus Vinaigrette

I chose to serve the salad with dinner because, well, this is my house and frankly, I like a little salad with my dinner. 🙂 Actually, I thought something a little lighter and fresher on the side with heavier flavors of the pork and vegetables would be a welcome addition. This just a simple salad of mixed greens, crumbled goat cheese, sliced pears and an orange and lemon infused vinaigrette. I made the dressing the night before and, prepped the rest of the ingredients in the afternoon and then tossed it together right before dinner. Very refreshing.

Dessert: A’la Mode Sundae Bar

Put a little pie in your sundae! For dessert, I thought it’d be a lot of fun to get everyone involved to make their own customized dessert. I prepped a variety of pie-inspired toppings and let everyone go to town with big bowls of cinnamon and vanilla ice cream. I topped mine with cinnamon apples, caramel sauce and oatmeal crumble. Yum. What a great way to end a fantastic meal!

Favor: Dark Chocolate Cranberry Bark

I wanted to send my guests home with a little thank you. They did literally drop everything to come over at the last minute. What a great group, huh? 🙂 So I made this dark chocolate cranberry almond bark as a favor. Of course, all but one guest left before I remembered I had it in the fridge (d’oh!) but it’s too simple not to share. Melted dark chocolate is mixed with dried cranberries and almonds and spread on a cookie sheet to set. I topped it with a white chocolate drizzle and then broke it into pieces. This is a great make ahead idea – it will keep for a good long time in the fridge. 🙂

So there you have it! A relaxing dinner party featuring all the flavors of fall in the Midwest. Seasonal and easy on the wallet, this a simple meal anyone could entertain with. Great food, great friends, great times. This amazing crowd (who was kind enough to supply their favorite beverages for us to share) even gave me a standing ovation. ::blush::


See how we squeezed in a few more folks? The more the merrier!!

Missing the important things like my make-up and styled hair, but I had the most amazing time planning and executing this party! Can I put you down for my next one? 😉

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Project Food Blog Challenge 2: The Classics

First off, THANK YOU to all for the votes and the support in the first round of the Project Food Blog challenge!! I am so thrilled to be moving on the next round. It’s been so great discovering new blogs and making new friends. Thank you everyone! Best of luck to all in Round 2!

The challenge this time is recreate an authentic recipe from another culture we are not familiar with. That means by passing the standard Italian and French fare for something outside our comfort zone.

Oh boy.

If I’m to make a recipe from another culture I’m not familiar with, how am I supposed to know for sure it’s authentic?! The Interwebs may tell me a recipe is authentic, but the Interwebs also tell me if I don’t forward an email someone close to me will die! Clearly, the Interwebs cannot be trusted.

After tossing and turning in an insomnia-induced fit earlier this week, it finally hit me. I can’t believe what I read on the internet but I can believe what I read in BOOKS! To the Library, Batman!

Oh, how I love the library. Sitting on the floor in front of the cookbook shelf, I marveled over Mediterranean street food. Drooled over the colors and textures of the cuisines of India, Thailand, China and beyond. I learned about South African cookies and the flavors of Brazil, Peru and Venezuela. How am I supposed to decide?!

And then I saw it. The One. Flipping through an unassuming book featuring recipes from Eastern Europe, I came across the Dobos Torte – a classic Hungarian dessert featuring layers of sponge cake, chocolate buttercream and crunchy caramel. It was the chocolate and caramel that lured me in, but it was the story behind the recipe that sealed the deal.

Invented in Budapest by Hungarian baker József C. Dobos in 1885, the cake quickly became revered all across Europe not only for it’s taste, but also because it kept so well. It was shipped all over the continent during his professional career. Dobos kept the recipe a guarded secret until he retired in 1906 when he presented it to the Budapest Confectioners’ and Gingerbread Makers’ Chamber of Industry, providing that every member could use it how they saw fit.

Perfect. Why? Because if ever there was a recipe that embodied the spirit of the food blogging world, it’s this one. We all have recipes that are near and dear to our hearts, but when we share them in our blogs, we open them up to hosts of others and allow them to add their own interpretation. Tweak this, twist that until a recipe becomes their own. That’s how recipes stand the test of time.

In my research, I found many variations of the Dobos Torte. Expected, given the recipe’s origins. The number of layers varied from 5 to 12. Some featured nuts, some didn’t. Some had a solid sheet of caramel on top, some had broken shards. I combined a couple different sources to make the one that was right for me.

This recipe…is not for the faint of heart. The parts themselves are not difficult to make, but the entire process is time consuming. I found the most difficult part to be trying to make my layers as even as possible. The recipe below makes a enough for six layers of cake. My finished product ended up being seven. I actually lost two of my layers due to operator error (oops) so I made half the recipe a second time around and got three more. Even though the layers are thin, they are light, spongy and not too sweet. The cooked chocolate buttercream is one of the creamiest, dreamiest, richest frostings I’ve ever made. It’s a sin. Really. You’ve been warned. But WOW! And the caramel adds great crunch and texture. This is a special occasion dessert worthy of a special person.

I always find myself humbled and honored to try a recipe from another culture. It makes the world feel a bit a smaller, like we’re all connected through each others food and traditions. I am so glad I got to try this and I hope you will too. Enjoy.

DOBOS TORTE (Based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers’ cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague as seen at The Daring Kitchen. Topping from allrecipes.com).

Sponge cake layers

  • 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner’s (icing) sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour (SUBSTITUTE 95g plain flour + 17g cornflour (cornstarch) sifted together)
  • pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) caster sugar
  • 4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favourite dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Caramel topping

  • 1 cup (200g) caster sugar

For the sponge cake layers:

1.    Position the racks in the top and center thirds of the oven and heat to 400F.

2.    Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit two cookie sheets. Using the bottom of a 9″ springform pan as a template, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn’t touch the cake batter.)

3.    Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner’s sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes.

4.    In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner’s sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in;
repeat with the remaining flour.

5.    Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the center and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet. When the first cake is done, put in the second cake and repeat. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers.

6. Using an 8″ springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)

For the chocolate buttercream:

1.    Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.

2.   Meanwhile, beat the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes.

3.    Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.

4.    Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.

5.    When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

For the caramel topping:

1.   Line a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper or silpat. Have an offset spatula or large metal spoon standing by.

2.   In a non stick skillet over medium heat, begin heating the sugar without stirring. Watch closely for slight melting and golden brown around the edge. Then begin stirring. Stir constantly until smooth and a deep amber color, taking care not to burn the sugar.

3.  Pour the sugar onto the lined baking and immediately spread into a thin layer. Allow to cool and harden. Break into small pieces with your hands and sprinkle over frosted torte.

4.  Chill torte until ready to serve.

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Ready, Set, VOTE!

Hi Friends! And we’re off! Voting has begun for the 2010 Project Food Blog competition.

And I do mean competition! Wow!! Tons of talented bloggers out there. Even if I don’t make it far in this competition, I can’t wait to see the challenges unfold. Everyone has so much to offer, has such different personalities and talents. It’s really quite amazing! I am in such awe of all of them.

So. Now. You can at least help me get a smidge farther in this competition…by voting for me to advance to the next round! All you have to do is CLICK RIGHT HERE and cast your vote. You do have to be registered with Foodbuzz to vote (click the little Join Foodbuzz link at the top right of the screen) but it’s super easy to sign up AND you’ll be a part of this awesome foodie community. So, really, It’s a win/win (WIN!)

Hope you’ll vote! I wish I could send cookies to everyone who casts a vote for me, but obviously that’s not realistic. What I can do is give you a big virtual hug and a huge THANK YOU in advance, for reading, for voting, for just being your awesome self.

Let’s do this! Boo-ya!

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Project Food Blog: Ready, Set, Blog!

::tap tap tap::

Um. Hello? Is this thing on?

Okay. Wow. Hey there, Readers. Welcome. I’m a little nervous here, hope it’s not too obvious. Don’t worry, I’m not imagining all of you in your underwear or anything!

::chirp, chirp, chirp::

Crickets. Awesome.

Tough crowd.

So anyway, the reason we’re here. Well, I’m here because I want to WIN the very first EVER Foodbuzz Project Food Blog competition.

Maybe you’re here because you got lost on the way to the proverbial Internet bathroom. Either way, let’s be friends! I have cupcakes! You like cupcakes, don’t you? Sure ya do.

Where to begin. Let’s see… I’m Erin, also known ’round these parts as The Milkman’s Wife. I live in  Heaven. Erm, I mean Iowa. 😉 I’m a (late) twenty-something, and four years married to Eric the Milkman. The two of us have been hanging around this blog here for two of those four.

I gotta say, I’m pretty psyched for this whole Project Food Blog business. I’m thinking it fits right in with my rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, which, judging from some of the stories and recipes I’ve shared in my blog, is the definition of EPICALLY AWESOME! 😉

I once rode a whale across a lake in Wisconsin…to get to the DONUTS on the other side.

I was an early 90s fashion icon. A real trend setter. The puffy gold sleeve and matching slap bracelet? Yeah, that was all me, friends. My must-have accessory? The CHRISTMAS COOKIE!

I had a near-death experience when I was 12. I saw the light. If anyone has come close to actually dying because they got cut from the cheerleading squad, it was me. The PIE brought me back.

I once fell over backwards in my chair in a very crowded college library. In front of a lot of people. When life hands you a lemon like that, make LEMON BARS.

With the help of an extensive, rigorous twelve-step program, I successfully beat a debilitating fear of homemade PIZZA that plagued me for years.

I came. I cooked. I conquered. BEEF BOURGUIGNON. Julia’s, of course. Like there’s any other. If there’s anyone kickin’ butt and takin’ names it’s my girl JC. I think I was officially in with the in-crowd for the first time in my entire life after this meal. And Julia is our Queen Bee.

Clearly, I’ve seen and done a lot of exciting stuff. I mean, you haven’t lived until you’ve fallen over backwards in your chair in the library. I’ve certainly had my ups and had my downs…but I haven’t won Project Food Blog. Yet.

Together we can change that, friends. You and me! Let me see if I can convince you, fair readers, to give me a shot at this.

With my blog, what you see is what you get. What you get is the uncensored, unedited version of me. I’m proud of that. I’m just an ordinary girl that likes to cook and write about it. I’m no expert and I don’t pretend to be. I don’t have expensive tastes or perfect technique. I don’t take life, dinner, or blogging too seriously. I just love good, home cooked food. I like to have fun with it. And I absolutely love sharing it with all of you.

Food and life are so intricately intertwined, there is no possible way to separate them. I serve up delicious, approachable, tested recipes with a side of self-deprecating humor (because if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?), a sprinkling of childhood memories (because I was such a geeky kid, it’s too embarrassing NOT to share), and a slice of what it’s REALLY like living with a grown man who still gets nervous in the presence of vegetables. Every recipe has a story and every story has a recipe. As soon as I find a recipe to go along with the time I fell in a pond on my birthday, I promise you all will be the first to know!  😉

As I began this first challenge, I started thinking about how far I’ve come as a blogger in two plus years. I literally grew this blog from nothing by just throwing caution to the wind and putting myself, flaws in all, out there for the world to see. And by golly, it worked! Believe me, no one is more shocked by this than I am. My readers mean the world to me (props to my peeps!) and I got to wondering what keeps them coming back. I believe the reason they keep coming back is the same reason I deserve to win Project Food Blog.

It’s not because I ooze charm, grace, and charisma. Ha. Certianly not. It’s not because of the gallery-worthy photographs that accompany each post (although I am still working to improve my skills there). It’s not because I’m some kind of foodie idol.

It’s because my readers relate to me, in the kitchen and out. I use strawberry ice cream as a way to distract myself from the weed patch that is our front yard. I make chocolate chip cookies instead of scrubbing shower tile grout. I drop entire bags of lentils on the floor and make huge, embarrassing messes in the kitchen. I screw up. A lot. And from what I can tell so do others. This makes me smile. You have no idea how glad I am to hear I’m not the only one. For real. Thank you.

I’m excited about this journey because I want to share good food and be the blogger others look to and say “HEY! She’s just like me! I do stupid stuff and fall down a lot too! SCORE!”

If you do stupid stuff and fall down a lot, and even if you don’t, I encourage you to vote for me to advance to the next round. Voting begins Monday, September 20th. I’ll be posting again on Monday with more details.

Be sure to tip your bartender! Good night! 🙂

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