pork_burgersBlue Apron is the hot new foodie trend bringing fresh, sustainable ingredients and custom recipes straight to your door each week for super easy meals.  My sister shared one of her deliveries with me to taste-test/test-run at home.  Ginger Pork Burgers with Black Bean Mayo and Furikake-Dressed Green Beans was my assignment.  Does anyone know what Furikake is … well, my handy recipe card explains.  A Japanese blend of seasonings that includes seaweed flakes and sesame seeds (this seems like a cliff notes version) but no matter, I read on for my suggested wine pairing and my 6-step instructions to “…piquant pork burgers with layers of complex flavor …”.  With 11 total ingredients (all included) and literally 6-steps laid out beautifully in a full-color recipe card, it’s hard to mess up here.  The instructions even have photos!  Now if my ophthalmologist had given me a step-by-step “recipe” card for eye surgery today I would have dissolved into a quivering heap, but for Blue Apron, it’s a big selling point.  Clear, concise, and if it doesn’t condense onto an 8 1/2 x 11 card it’s out.

And now for the million-dollar question … how does it taste?  My pork burger was juicy, flavorful with minced ginger and black bean sauce, and the spiced green beans were a nice Asian-inspired accompaniment.  You can see the original recipe card with photo and my rendition next to it!  My dinner was ready in about 30 minutes. At approximately  $10/serving, it’s competitively priced and if you factor in convenience, less food waste, and less general angst about meal planning, I think I would give it a whirl.  My one comment is the packaging.  While very cute with pint-sized bottles of rice vinegar and sesame oil, there’s a lot of plastic with each ingredient wrapped and packaged separately (please recycle responsibly).  Others have also commented that the portions may still need some adjusting.  I give Blue Apron an 8 out 10.  I had a home-cooked meal that was easy to prepare, had an interesting flavor profile, tasted good, and I have left-overs for lunch tomorrow!

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IMG_0348It’s Summer … and it’s the perfect time for some cool jazz on the patio.  A great evening listening to Dave Hoffman on trumpet (hah, I’m just realizing he’s not in the picture ’cause he was taking a break) and members of Peoria’s jazz scene sitting in.  Yes, I said jazz and scene in the same sentence as Peoria. Dave was a long-time trumpeter with the Ray Charles Orchestra and toured the globe.  He’s accompanied Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson and Gladys Knight among many other music legends.

Friday nights at Two25 bring in musicians and music fans alike for a bit of food, some drinks, and swinging tunes … straight-up, standards I would say, in my un-educated opinion, with some amusing twists thrown in.  Did I hear a few bars of Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead ?!  There was a brief interlude of impromptu singing at one point and ribbing among the band members many of whom belong to the Central Illinois Jazz Society.  I love the whole informal, off-the-cuff feeling although I know there’s a lot of communication going on up there that I’m not aware of.  I raise my glass to all those who take risks, put themselves out there, and create some great art in the process so the rest of us can sit back and enjoy.  Cheers!

For an in-depth, and very interesting, background on jazz and the Peoria jazz scene, read Finding Jazz in Peoria published in Art & Society magazine.

Cheese Please

206Wonderful, wonderful cheese.  My favorite of all … earlier this month I took the Cheese Making Class at From the Field Cooking School in Morton to learn how to make Mozzarella.  We made Ricotta cheese as well but I had already made that at home – luv it.  The Mozzarella was tricky and I’m not sure I would try to repeat it in my kitchen.  It’s not hard, but with most simple things there’s an art to getting it right.  I loved the stretching part … so once it’s cooked and still warm you stretch it to make it elastic, like taffy.  You don’t work it too much otherwise it gets rubbery (the tricky part).  That’s Chef Bryan draining fresh ricotta (it was a little temperamental).  It’s great fun being in a fully-equipped kitchen with loads of space (and, of course, no clean-up).  There were probably 20 of us that night and each group took a recipe.  All things cheese – we made Roasted Red Bell Pepper and Goat Cheese Rolls, Risotto with Four Cheeses, Roquefort Tart, Prosciutto Wrapped Bocconcini Crostini, and Chocolate Dipped Cannoli with Orange Ricotta Filling.

A great way to spend a Tuesday evening!

228_cropIt was another hot, humid and sticky weekend kicking off Erin Feis in Peoria.  With my fourth year of serving afternoon tea in the Cultural Village came some “taking of liberties”.  Herbs, herbal history, herbal remedies was the theme and I chose recipes that highlighted different ones, but not necessarily traditional Irish sweets.  I even had one from Provence, but I figured since Brittany is one of the six Celtic nations that was a valid stretch.  I very much enjoy talking food, doing a bit of research, and baking different recipes each year.  I hope the folks who attended found some delight in it too.  Thanks for coming out in the heat.

Irish Afternoon Tea Menu
Irish Breakfast Tea
Lavender Scones with Clotted Cream and Lemon Curd
Cucumber Sandwiches with Dill
Herb de Provence Orange Butter Cookies
Lemon Fennel Pound Cake (see below)
Vanilla-Rose Water Cupcakes

*thank you Peoria Academy for donating many of the fresh herbs and flowers from the School Garden

Lemon Fennel Pound Cake
*recipe courtesy of Season to Taste, by Jeannette Ferrary and Louise Fiszer

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups of sugar
pinch of salt
5 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp fennel seed, toasted and crushed
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Preheat over 325 degrees.  Grease and flour 9 inch tube pan with removable bottom.  In large bowl cream butter, sugar, salt.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, stirring in bit of flour after third egg.  Add remaining flour, fennel, zest and mix until combined.  Add vanilla and lemon juice and blend.  Pour batter into pan and bake 1 hour.  Remove cake from oven and cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes.  Remove cake from pan.  Store covered in plastic wrap or foil.  Note:  my cake baked in almost half the time so watch carefully.  I added a lemon glaze over the top mixing sifted powdered sugar with lemon juice and lemon zest.

Lavender Scone recipe note:  I mixed all my dry ingredients together, cut in cold butter, and then added the buttermilk to form the dough.

sunIf you live in central Illinois and you have young children you probably have heard of the Sun Foundation in Washburn, IL.  Their goal is to advance arts and science in rural and urban communities providing programming to both kids and adults.  The founders,  Joan and Bob Ericksen, seem like the most open and gracious people you could ever meet.  The signature children’s program is Art and Science in the Woods, a week-long camp offered once during the Summer.  It’s the only camp my daughter wants to attend – no arguments.  Saturday night was there 40th anniversary fundraising event at the camp in Washburn.  Close to 200 people enjoyed an 8-course dinner al-fresco with cocktails in the barn.  Awards were presented, people were cheered, and we all used the port-a-potties without complaint!  Thank you Bob and Joan and all the long-time instructors at ASIW for giving my daughter experiences each year that she will never forget.  Happy Anniversary!

Anniversary Dinnerwho says there’s not innovative, cutting-edge cuisine in central Illinois
Chilled Blue Heron Farms Pear
Henry’s Farm Heirloom Carrot & Apple Salad
Spring Bay Farms Summer Squash Salad
Grilled Prawn & Mallard Farms Sweet Corn Ceviche*
Dry-Poached Faroe Islands Salmon*
Smoked Canadian Goose & Endive Cups/Sous Vide & Grilled Mallard Duck Breast**
Brined, Confit, Grilled Duroc Pork Loin
Bone-In, Whole, Dry-Aged Ribeye, Slow Cooked 24 Hours*
Mallard Farms Sweet Corn Ice Cream*
*my favs

Make a donation to the Sun Foundation

I love that name – Momofuko.  It actually means lucky peach, but it feels more like a swear word to me!  It’s the Momofuko Milk Bar, the bakery end of the Momofuko empire in NYC created by chef David Chang.  He also did that PBS series “The Mind of a Chef” which is where I first saw the corn cookies made.  Then I ran into a recipe online for corn cookies which reminded me of the show and so I decided to try them.  Well – after a quick Google search you find out the secret ingredient for the MF corn cookies is some dehydrated corn powder that you can conveniently purchase from the MF online store.  Okay.  I live in the heart of corn country and I should be able to find my own corn powder without ordering it from NYC.  Away I go to the Farm & Fleet website to search for corn powder.  I find candy corn, okeedokee popcorn, corn towels, corn cobbers, corn cob holders in the shape of farm animals, and dried corn for deer.  My theory seems to be wrong – no corn powder – not even for animals which is what I suspected my dilemma would be.  Is it safe for humans to eat?  Nothing.  Momofuko.  I’ll try Tractor Supply.

Corn Cookies minus the corn powder … they’re tasty too!

018There’s a Paleta-man in every neighborhood in Chicago.  He pushes his little cart on wheels and rings his bell and positions himself at parks and playgrounds to entice kids and adults alike.  I’ve never seen a Paleta-woman.  What’s a Paleta-man?  He’s the ice cream man, but selling Mexican popsicles.  They come in every flavor – strawberry, pineapple, watermelon, chocolate, and the list goes on.

We have a new ice cream store Las Delicias Helados y Paletas, yes, right here in Peoria, serving Mexican ice cream, paletas, smoothies, and other Mexican snack foods.

Both the ice cream and paletas are made with either milk or water resulting in rich, smooth and creamy or fresh, bright, and fruity.  The pecan ice cream is intensely nutty and packed with flavor.  Butter Pecan this is not.  You can taste as many flavors as they’ve made that day – don’t be shy.  I ask for a small scoop because it’s rich, rich, rich.  The watermelon paleta is bright, not too sweet, fresh, frozen, fruit on-a-stick.  And the strawberry smoothie has a secret ingredient – maybe crema – that adds a little to the taste.  There are piles of fresh fruit every time I have gone in and don’t worry, everything is listed in English and Spanish.  I think I can hear the ding, ding, ding.  Can you?

Las Delicias Helados y Paletas
837 W. Main St.
6am – 10pm
*on-street parking right out front