September 08, 2010

Cricut Cake Decorator

The Cricut folks now offer personal cutting machines that help you design fabulous cakes.

This looks amazing! Many years ago when I worked in an ice cream shop, my favorite task was decorating cakes. I even bought myself a lovely set of Wilton tips when I finished graduate school, though, they've sat mostly unused. But this Cricut Cake Machine. Oh. My.

August 30, 2010

Campfire Marshmallows Giant Roasters

These giant marshmallows are sure to elicit squeals of excitement. They are huge! And fluffy! And not listed on Campfire's website. Huh?

I was at a BBQ last weekend where the host broke these out and OMG did everyone go wild. I'd love to give the full scoop on the product size and such, but that info isn't available online at the moment.

So you'll have to trust me they are big! And fun!

But the Giant Roaster are the kind of thing I'd only buy once.

Although they are a great novelty, roasting marshmallows over a camp fire is half the fun of eating them. And with a Giant Roaster Marshmallow, you kind of blow the whole wad with one roasting, unless you do what I did, which was to gently brown the outside and peel it off and eat it, and then re-toast the remains and so on until your fingers are impossibly sticky and your hair is matted with gooey marshmallow guts. But that method doesn't work well with kids.

I also found that the Giant Roaster threw off the marshmallow:chocolate:graham cracker ratio in my s'more. The marshmallow overwhelmed everything.

And I also worry about a young child (or even an older one) choking to death on one of the giant beasts of a marshmallow. (Really, click the link.)

So I guess it's regular ole' marshmallows for us from now on.

Breyer's YoCrunch Fruit Parfait

Knowing how much my preteen son's Starbucks granola yogurt parfait habit cost me over the summer, I happily accepted when the folks at Breyer's offered to send me a sample pack of their granola-topped Yo Crunch Fruit Parfait.

The four-pack they sent me was gobbled up before I could say, "Yo!" Seriously, I did even get to try it.

I like that the product is HFCS-free and lowfat, though I'm not pleased about the artificial dyes. Still, these are a good size for him and easy to tote along. I'm happy that he's eager to bring these as part of his lunch.

August 02, 2010

Purple Asparagus Corks and Crayons Fundraiser

From the press release with a bit of editing:

Purple Asparagus, Chicago’s non-profit organization at the forefront of promoting healthful eating for children at home and at school, holds its Sixth Annual Corks & Crayons Benefit at Uncommon Ground, 1401 W Devon Ave, Chicago, on Sunday, August 29th from 4-7pm. Foodies old and young will come together once again to celebrate the joys of family meals and healthy eating.

The event, run by Pivotal Chicago, will include a mini farmers’ market sponsored by Harvest Moon Organics farm, kids fun on the Dolores Kohl Education Foundation's StoryBus, music from Old Town School of Folk Music artists, a raffle, and a silent auction for bidding on gourmet treats, getaways, and more.

Guests will enjoy selections from Uncommon Ground’s kitchen (ed. note: Yum!), Candid Wines, Templeton Rye cocktails and craft beers from Three Floyds. Attendees will also be able to tour the certified-organic green roof atop Uncommon Ground where the restaurant grows some of the produce on its menu.

Tickets for “Corks & Crayons” are $55 for member adults (non members $60), $22 for young adults ages 13 through 21 (non members $25) and $12 for ages 5-12 (non members $15). Kids under 5 are free.

Tickets can be purchased via credit card at or by check payable to Purple Asparagus sent in care of Melissa Graham, 1824 W Newport Ave, Chicago, IL 60657.

Purple Asparagus is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization at the forefront of promoting healthful eating for children at home and at school. Founded in 2005 to bring families back to the table by promoting all the things associated with good eating, Purple Asparagus is currently leading “Growing Healthy Kids,” a consortium of 30 plus organizations working in the schools to improve child wellness. The organization is also a key partner with Share our Strength and Healthy Schools Campaign to effectively implement the Chefs “Move to Schools” program of the White House's “Let's Move” initiative. For more information about the event and Purple Asparagus membership, visit

July 22, 2010

Morton Grove Farmer's Market

It's no the Green City Market, but there's plenty of nearby parking.

Check out this video featuring vendors and producers at the Morton Grove Farmer's Market, the North Shore's newest market. Video courtesy of our friends at Spatulatta.

June 22, 2010

Moto Restaurant with My Mom

As I mentioned, I recently enjoyed a fantastical dinner at Moto restaurant with my mom, courtesy of chef and mastermind of molecular gastronomy, Homaro Cantu.
When our 10s, or ten course meal, began with the words, "You may now eat your menu," it was clear we were in for an unusual evening. Had we been more strategic, we would have eaten a large breakfast and then nibbled lightly, very lightly during the day in order to prepare our bodies for this marathon of meals, ten courses at Moto.

Each staff person we encountered at Moto was either a culinary student or graduate of such a school. Take for instance, the dapper Trevor Hamblin, who gave us thorough descriptions of each course (twice), each drink, patiently answered our many questions and chatted more amicably with my mother than I did (kidding!).

After noshing on our menus, we were eager for the first course: chicaqua ("shee-cah-gwa") onions, the city's namesake. Cute, tiny, pink onions with a bulb the size of my 10 year-old son’s pinky nail served with flat bread. Delightful.
It could take as long to blog this meal as it did to eat eat--2.5 hours(!), so I'll share highlights.

The chef works with trained sommeliers to come up with pleasing combinations. The most interesting pairing was this German rauche bier or smoked beer. Mmm. tastes like bacon...and beer. Interesting.

The "Reuben lasagna," looked like the latter, but tasted like the former. Consisting of brisket, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut, the sandwich, I mean lasagna, smelled like a childhood memory, but I'm not sure which one. Trying to place that elusive scent, I kept sniffing, deeply inhaling to no avail, but fortunately did not draw attention from curious onlookers.
The Cuban pork sandwich was a definite win and the presentation was brilliant.
The cigar-sandwich consisted of braised pork confit and (something else), mixed with in house pickles and white bread, deep friend, wrapped in braised collard greens then in smoked red pepper puree sitting atop a bed of ash made of black and white sesame seed ground with Cuban spices. The presentation is wonderful. It was a bit salty, but overall crisp, chewy, and satisfying.

Bubble Tea?No, watermelon soup! This got points for originality, but then again so did every other course of the evening. Dig if you will this picture, watermelon consomme with ginger and lemon, “scallop sous vide in lemon oil” with citrus peel for flavor and a bit of mint. The broth itself was intriguing, but the fish combo didn't work for my Mom or me. For what it's worth, I'm not a huge fan of Bubble Tea, either.

How about rabbit maki risotto? Looks like sushi, but it's not. This mouthful was made with rabbit loin and brussels sprouts wrapped in mushroom paper and rolled in rice, as well as sesame and poppy seeds. It was served with aoli with allspice, and daikon marinated in beet juice instead of ginger and freeze dies peas instead of wasabi. Tasty as long I could keep thoughts of cute little bunnies out of my head.

Remember our patient waiter? He must have thought I was hard of hearing I asked him to describe this next dish over and over again. Broccoli rabe and pork belly braised in stock that starts with caramel and is flavored with lemon grass, chili and like five other things that boil down into the glaze.

The dish was too complicated for me to transcribe (did I mention the many glasses of wine?) no matter how many times Trevor repeated it. Mushroom stems pureed blah blah and made into what sounds like a meringue version of the original mushroom. WTH? But, oh, look how lovely!
Delicious course; I especially like the sweet and delicious glaze that had just a hint of spice.

Not quite, but close to dessert, we enjoyed this classic Italian dessert morphed into a savory Mexican one.

The actual dessert courses included Pad Thai-esque, featuring sorbet "pad thai," mango cream, vanilla rice pudding, coconut sorbet and lime slice made out of thai basil, cilantro and lime juice Mom told me she'll never look at pad thai the same way.

We ended the meal, which felt like more of an event, really, with a root beer float Moto-style. That is, a beaker of locally brewed root beer topped with a vanilla infused packing peanut dipped in liquid nitrogen, for a magical effect.

Our dinner at Moto was an unforgettable mother-daughter experience, but heck, dining partners aside, a dinner at Moto is just plain memorable.

Click here for more Moto photos from the launch party of their Planet Green Show, Future Food.

May 18, 2010

Hershey's Milk Chocolate Drops

At first glimpse, we thought Hershey's came out with an M&M wannabe snack. In reality, these drops are about twice the size of M&M's without the colorful coatings. According to the packaging, there is no candy shell, but rather a "light shiny finish" that keep them from melting in your hands.
The melt occurs much more quickly than with M&Ms resulting in immediately chocolate satisfaction. The sweet taste is similar to a Hershey's Kiss.

My .6 oz sample pack had 5 large drops, but from a psychological standpoint, 10 M&Ms might feel like a more satisfying indulgence.

May 11, 2010

Sweets and Snacks Expo: Icee Lollipop

My ten year-old son thinks this will be a hit because he likes Icees. The sample we received is blue raspberry, which is his favorite lollipop flavor.

Compared to a DumDum pop, this one is larger (.6 oz) and tastes better, according to our expert, "It's tastes more like blue raspberry. I think it has more sugar."
The big surprise came when he cracked it open (I hate when they bite their lollipops!), the center is filled with a tart, sour powdery center. And it fizzes in your mouth!

On a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being the best, our tiny taster ranks this treat a 3.

By the end of the taste test, my boy's lips. teeth and tongue were bright blue, much to his delight and my disgust. Have I mentioned my disdain for artificial food dyes?

At any rate, I'm thinking the sealants we had applied to his molars during his last dental check-up are going to be a worthwhile investment.

May 03, 2010

Sweets and Snacks: Mars takes the Lead on Nutritional Labeling

One standout I noticed digging through the huge pile of samples I received from the National Confectioner's Association is the new nutritional labeling on Mars candies.

according to their website, Mars was the first food company to globally commit to not market to children under the age of 12.Mars is living up to their commitment to help consumer make informed choices with their new labeling (photo below) which clearly outlines, in large, visible type, calorie content, total fat and sat fat, sugars and sodium.
It's a bold move for a confectioner.

As a consumer, I can easily see avoiding that impulse purchase at the checkout line when it's clear how many fat grams are in a given candy bar. On the other hand, nothing gets between this girl and her PMS chocolate cravings, so the labeling makes it easier to find the best (least worst or perhaps "most satisfying per grams of fat") snack.

May 01, 2010

Mrs. Prindable's Gourmet Jumbo Caramel Apples

Take a peek at the highlights from a MomImpact (my company) blogger tour at Mrs. Prindable's. The factory is located just outside of Chicago in Niles, in the same facility that produces Affy Tapple taffy apples. However, Mrs. Prindable's features its own production line and a more labor-intensive process. Each hand-dipped is apple is an individual work of edible art. With layers of caramel and chocolate smothering a ginormous, tart apple, Mrs. Prindable's apples are delicious treats that can be shared with up to ten people.

More check-ins at Mrs. Prindable's
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Sweets and Snacks: Licensed Character Fun

Items with licensed items = fun! Treats emblazoned with or molded into the shape of a favorite character are a natural choice for well-themed party goody bags. Hello Kitty is apparently irresistible on any item. The Hello Kitty Pez I received in my media kit will make a nice addition to my collection (which presently sits in a box in storage like most of my other worldly possessions right now).

What Hello Kitty is to girls, Mario is to boys. The One-up Mushroom candy tin based on the uber-popular Mario videogames and filled with sour hard candies is like a boy magnet.

March 22, 2010

Future Food and Moto

Ironically, just hours after my post about April Fools Day food, I found myself eating at Moto to celebrate the premiere of Homaro Cantu and Ben Roche's new Planet Green TV series, Future Food. Moto is on the cutting edge, or rather the liquid nitrogen-fueled extremely cold edge of the innovative molecular gastronomy food movement.

We nibbled Cuban sandwiches that looked like Cuban cigars, cupcakes covered in foie gras with pistachio flake sprinkles, and s'mores bombs. Take a look below at some of the delightful eats at the event.
More check-ins at Moto Restaurant
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Molecular gastronomy goes beyond simply cooking and focuses on the chemical reactions that happen when food is modified and when it hits our taste buds. It's an art form that aims to transform ingredients and combine cuisine with splashes of aesthetic and technical flair to impress the senses.

I watched one episode of Future Food at the event and another one at home. The show is full of foodie + geeky fun, which in my world is a very good thing.

Another aspect I like about Future Food is the creativity and the enthusiasm of Moto's kitchen staff. Having met them, it seems very genuine. They are a very playful and energetic bunch, to put it mildly.

There was talk about the staff at Moto from Cantu and Roche on down (this from Roche, himself) as kind of outliers or more bluntly, sort of a ragtag group of misfits who have come together to create something wonderful and exceptional. This adds an endearing aspect to the show.

I like that Cantu and Roche take their food to the streets of Chicago to test out some of their dishes. That adds a fun element and a chance to highlight the city.

So I'm cheering for the Moto staff and the future of Future Foods, however, the environmental theme is a bit specious. I'm not sure the wacky set-ups which lead to a tenuous "green" connection are necessary because what the team does with their food is really cool and I sense some big personalities just waiting to unfold. From idea to plate, the food is unique and exciting; I think the food and the staff could hold their own without such contrived plot structures.

Along those lines, the team shares some of the science behind their work, but I would have liked to have learned more. Cooking is all about chemistry and these guys take it to the extreme with their liquid nitrogen and beakers (I see a whole new cooking line based on this show), surely they have a thing or two to teach us.

I think my boys ages, 9 and 11, will get a kick out of this show, but I'd like to see some precautions taken, or at least advised, i.e. don't stick your hand in the -370 degree F liquid nitrogen.

Cantu has been taking risks ever since he opened up Moto (long before, no doubt) and and I'd love to see this one pay off. We'll definitely be tuning in to future episodes of Future Food, and I hope the show gets renewed for a second season, so it has a chance to come into its own.

Edited to add: See what my friends at Gaper's Block had to say about this extravaganza.

Food for April Fools Day

There's always room for foodie fun on April Fools Day!

One year, I took salad plates and covered them in vanilla yogurt and topped each one with a half of a bright yellow-orange canned peach and told the boys I was serving up giant eggs. They totally fell for the surprise, much to my delight--and theirs.

Another time, we made faux sushi with Froot by the Foot to substitute for the nori (seaweed wrapper) and coconut flakes instead of rice. We didn't fool anyone, but we did have a lot of fun making it.

Last year, my boys created a lot of fun/disgusting treats with the Spatulatta girls. Click through to the videos to learn how to make a Moldy Sandwich and Kitty Litter Cake, among other delights. Did I say delights? Ewwww!

And I just received a fun new suggestion for April Fools Day "Bacon and Eggs" from the folks at Family Fun magazine

For the eggs:
• 3 tablespoons white chocolate chips
• 12 yellow M&MS

For the bacon:
• 1 square caramel
• 1 Tootsie Roll Midgee

1. For the eggs: Melt the white chocolate chips according to the package directions. Transfer the melted chocolate to a ziplock bag and snip off a corner.
2. Squeeze nickel-size portions of the chocolate onto a sheet of waxed paper, then gently press a yellow M&M, letter side down, into the center of each. Let the candies cool. Makes 12 eggs.
3. For the bacon: Remove the wrapping from a square caramel and a Tootsie Roll Midgee. Microwave the candies for 4 seconds to make them soft. Use your thumb and forefinger to slightly flatten each candy piece, then press them together.
4. Halve the candy, then stack and press the pieces into alternating layers.
5. Slice a 1/4-inch-wide piece from the stack. Pinch and stretch the piece lengthwise into a flat bacon strip, then cut it in half. Add ripples to each half by gently bending the edges. Makes 3 strips (6 pieces).

Check out Family Fun for more cute and harmless April Fools tips and treats.

I did not receive any compensation for this piece. I'm just sharing it for the fun of it.

March 16, 2010

The Housewares Show

I feel like I walked many of the reported 13 miles of aisles at the International Housewares Show earlier this week, but I only saw a fraction of the latest and greatest gizmos and gadget.

I went to the Housewares Show looking for items that were new and different. Here's a quick summary of what I saw. I will share a few product demos and more fully describe a handful of intriguing items in the coming weeks.

Here is the second of my Whrrl stories, look for the first on Hormone-colored Days.

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February 07, 2010

Sahale Snacks Gourmet Nut Blends and Glazed Nuts

If you've stepped into a Starbucks recently (and what mom hasn't?), you've probably been blown away by their impressive new selection* of grab and go snacks. This is not your typical convenience store selection. This assortment contains some swanky snacks, HFCS-free, organic, fair trade and/or "better for you" items, like Sahale Snacks Glazed Nuts.

I picked up a bag of Sahale's Cashews with Pomegranate and Vanilla, thinking it would offer a tasty and sweet, but reasonably healthy afternoon snack. You're body doesn't burn through proteins the way it does for carbs, so protein-based snacks can really get you through the day better.

The cashews are likely the most gourmet convenience snack I've ever had. The unique blend offered a subtle salty taste balanced with an original sweet combo.

At last week's Blissdom conference, my roommate, Cara, offered me a sample pack of Sahale's Glazed Almonds with Cranberries, Honey and Sea Salt (and though not listed in the name, but clearly an integral part of the exotic taste, sesame seeds). I really enjoyed this flavor combo and I liked the .75 ounce just over 100 calorie pack, though I imagine it would be quite expensive to purchase them in this form. (I believe the Starbucks back is roughly two ounces, meaning a bit a self-control is required for single-serving snacking.)

I love that these glazes are sweet, but light. They are not the kind of super sticky glaze that leaves you wondering when your next dental visit is scheduled. The unusual glazes and blends make this product worth a try. I know those Starbucks pastries can be tempting, oh do I know it! But if you're up for a healthy change of pace, give the nuts a try on your next trip.

*Thanks to Jennifer at Savor The Thyme for sharing her Whrrl story.


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