Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pop It, Top It

What is Pop It, Top It you ask?  Well, it is exactly what it sounds like.  You pop the popcorn and top it with yummy goodness.  This is one of those ideas that I wish I would’ve thought of. 

I was lucky enough to receive a sample of Pop It, Top It; Candy-coated, Sninkerdoodle-flavored popcorn.  It is an easy and unique snack. You basically pop the popcorn in the microwave; put the candy coating in the microwave to melt it; drizzle it over the top of the popcorn; stir it together; and top with the “S” topping, which is basically a cinnamon mix.   

The first time I made this was with some girlfriends and we missed the last step of pouring it onto wax paper and letting it cool completely (I blame the vino).  We dove right in!   It was warm, gooey, very sweet, and very cinnamony.   (Maybe too cinnamon; and we didn’t even use all of the “S” seasoning.) 
My friend, Michelle, enjoying the warm Pop It, Top It
The second time I made it, I followed the instructions all the way until the end and allowed it to cool completely.  It was also really good.  I kind of liked it both ways equally.  The warm way was good and and gooey; and the cooled off version reminded me a little bit of caramel popcorn with an entirely different flavor.  Both versions were hard to stop eating; I had to step away from the bowl slowly and leave it alone.

I love this idea and I hope they come out with some new flavors.  I think a turtle version would be awesome with chocolate, caramel, and cashews.   Or a savory version, like a parmesan and herb concoction or something.  

Definitely kudos to these two local best friends, Mary and Maggie, for coming up with such a unique item that would make the perfect hostess gift for the holidays. 

You can buy it online for $7.00 here: http://www.northairemarket.com/collections/pop-it-top-it or you can try to get your local retailer to carry it by going here: http://www.northairemarket.com/pages/store-referral .  I always like to support local business owners.  I want everyone to be successful, especially when they are doing something they are passionate about.  And if the store decides to carry it, they will send you a dozen of their products free.   Win, win.  


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Cooking with Cereal

I’m not quite sure how I’m going to top my day yesterday, but I am sure that I will never look at cereal the same way again.  Yesterday, I had the pleasure of spending the day at General Mills playing with cereal.  

The day started out with a tour of the photo studios; where they photograph all of the recipes, products, and cookbooks.  I found myself dreaming of being a food stylist, and having serious envy over the prop room.  Yep, there are whole rooms dedicated to props for the photos.  What color and size of plate would you like?  Take your pick.  How about napkins?  Well there are about 50 shades of orange.  How fun to have all of these accessories at your fingertips.  General Mills proved to be quite the playground (and I haven’t even talked about the test kitchens yet). 

After the photo studio, we ventured to the archive room.  They have everything possible documented in there.  It was really cool to see all of the history preserved and so well organized.   And it was interesting to see some of the crazy products they had back in the day. Warm beef beverage anyone? 

Look Closely.... I'm not sure what the question is but I'm sure the answer is cake.  Answer Cake = Brilliant!

Then came a tour of the test kitchens….   Can you believe that some employees actually have their own kitchen as their office space?   Sure beats a traditional cubical (by far). 
Test Kitchens
Next up = lunch.  We were able to sample some great “cereal” dishes created by chefs.  They were very creative and tasty.  

My favorite dishes were:
Golden Grahams Fried Chicken with Hot Honey Drizzle
Cocoa Puffs Carbonara
Cinnamon Toast Crunch French Toast
Corn Chex Chilaquiles
Find the recipes for the above items here:  www.hellocereallovers.com/recipe

After lunch, we (myself and 5 other food bloggers) were let loose to play in the test kitchens and create our own cereal creations.
How amazing is this view? 
I had debated banana bread with peanut butter, chocolate chips and Reese’s Puffs, and then I debated a coffee cake or apple crisp using the Cinnamon Toast Crunch in the crumble on top.  But when I saw the plethora of ingredients at our disposal, I decided to go the savory route with Asian meatballs.
Amazing Selection of Ingredients to Choose from

These are the ingredients I selected for the meatballs:  Ground pork, beef, and veal; Shitake Mushrooms (chopped and sautéed); Garlic (minced and sautéed); Yellow Pepper (diced); Onion (diced); Cilantro (chopped); Ginger (minced); 1 egg; and Rice Chex (put into food processor).

I mixed all of that together and then formed the meatballs and sautéed them in a pan with olive oil, drizzled a little honey on top of each one, and finished them in the oven.

Action Shot  (photo by General Mills)
Action Shot from Above (photo by General Mills)
I had planned to make a Hoisin sauce but it turned out that Hoisin is the one ingredient they didn’t have. Therefore, I made a random sauce with every other ingredient I could find.  I added soy sauce, BBQ sauce, Ketchup, peanut butter, honey, garlic, Siracha, pepper and then reduced it.  It ended up being really salty from the soy sauce, so I had to add a cup of water and reduce it some more.  I wasn’t 100% pleased with it but ran out of time and decided it was “good enough.”  I drizzled the sauce over the finished meatballs, and topped them with my crunchy mix.
Crunchy Mix
I put peanuts and Wheaties in the food processor, pulsed those down, and sautéed them in butter to toast them.  I sprinkled the mix on top of the sauced meatballs.
Me and My Meatballs (photo by General Mills)
I’ll have to say, I was kind of impressed with myself.  I thought the meatballs turned out really well and I would definitely make them again either as meatballs or as a meatloaf. The Rice Chex worked really well as a binding agent (and made the meatballs gluten free).  I felt like the time flew by and I really wanted more time (as in a couple of days) to play.   There were so many ingredients and cereals that I wanted to experiment with.   I love playing and experimenting.  I'm envious that people get to do that all day as a real job.  

Being ambitious, I also ended up grabbing the sweet potato gnocchi and whipping up a quick dish with that.  (It had been calling to me and no one else grabbed it.)  I cooked the gnocchi in water and then browned some butter, threw in some sage, added the gnocchi, topped with fresh grated parmesan and Wheaties (for added crunch).  It was a very pretty and fall-like dish. And I like the crunch that the Wheaties provided.

The only things missing in my test kitchen experience were a glass of wine and music (two of my cooking staples).  But what made up for that was the fact that we didn't have to clean up after ourselves, which was good because we made quite a mess.
No pan left untouched
It was fun to see, and try, what everyone came up with.  We were a creative bunch.   In addition to trying each other’s dishes, we were hit with a round of dessert cereal treats. One of my favorite was the Kentucky Bourbon Bacon Chex Mix.   YUM!   Oh, and don’t let me forget the Lucky Charms martinis.

Seriously, I had such a great time; I felt really lucky to be there and to have had such a great experience.  I won’t deny that I’m daydreaming about how to get my own “office kitchen.” 

Until this experience, my “cooking with cereal” experiences had been limited to Rice Krispie treats, Special K bars, and Bran muffins.  I really enjoyed exploring the savory side of cereal.  There are so many great cereal flavors that can be used in place of breadcrumbs and crackers.  I am going to start using cereal to encrust fish, chicken, and crab cakes.  The possibilities are endless.  I love the idea of “thinking outside of the box” with cereal.  It’s time to get rid of the milk, bowl, and spoon and branch out.  

For inspiration, check out: http://www.hellocereallovers.com/

What is your favorite cereal?  


UPDATE - You can view additional photos here:   

Monday, October 7, 2013

March of Dimes Signature Chef Event

Last Thursday night was the March of Dimes Signature Chef event.  I was on the committee and was tasked with interviewing all of the chefs and writing up their bios.   It was a really fun experience to chat with the chefs and learn how they got into cooking and what they do for fun.  You can read all of the bios I wrote on the March of Dimes blog here (Aug. 21 - Oct. 1 is where my stuff is):  http://mplssignaturechefs.wordpress.com/

(FYI - Landon's bio from Haute Dish is missing because he is a busy dude and I couldn’t connect with him after many tries.)

The annual event was really well done and we raised a lot of money (loved watching the action during the live auction).  It was emotional to hear the stories of families helped out by the March of Dimes and it really showed the good work they are doing and the need for their services.  I was really proud to be a part of the event.  Okay, back to the food…..

There were 11 chefs and 11 amazing dishes being served.  After my volunteer duties were over, I was able to explore the food and enjoy a couple glasses of wine.  I was actually too busy eating and socializing that I didn't take many photos (sorry).  While everything was  good, I really enjoyed the “Junko’s Garden Kale Salad with Mozzarella from chef Carrie Nielsen, Mozza Mia; the “Heritage Hog and Spicy Farm Slaw” from Beth chef Fisher, Wise Acre Eatery; and the “Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Popcorn, Kale, and Cheddar” from Landon Schoenefeld, HauteDish.  

BUT…..  My favorite dishes were from Mystic Lake Casino.  Yep, you read that right.   When interviewing the executive chef, Richard Fisher, for his bio I learned that he’s a European Certified Master Chef.  There are only a couple hundred worldwide; and while he downplayed this fact, I was impressed.   
Chef Fisher focused on plating his dish.
His dish blew me away, and he was the only one to bring in his own “real” dishes – opting not to serve his signature dish on a plastic plate.   Very impressive.  You can see his passion for quality.  His dish was “Sugar Pumpkin Chowder with Scottish Langoustine and Pecan Pie Ravioli.”   It was delicious and crave-able.   

Tasty and Pretty

The pastry chef at Mystic Lake also had an amazing dessert; "Gianduji Marjolaine with Tahitian vanilla bean reduction and macerated berries."  With this winning culinary team in place, I seriously need to head down to Mystic Lake, especially now that they serve booze!   And they have free buses from all over town.   FUN!   Who’s in?