Charlie & His Gang of Tuffy Friends

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Charlie has two really good friends: on the left you have Lobster, and on the right is Kang. They are Charlie's best buddies and he could run around with them for hours on end. The best part is that they are from the "Tuffy" brand of toys and they are just that: tough.

Since he's a bit of an aggressive chewer, Charlie can't be trusted with most toys as he will rip them to pieces. But he's had Kang for 7 months now and Lobster for 5 months and they're both still hanging in there.

See how much Charlie loves them? However, when he does get a little too rough and starts chewing, we say "kisses." This means stop what you're doing and give Lobster or Kang a little lick. Yes, this actually works.

In perusing Amazon recently, I checked out the full range of Tuffy toys. Both Kang and Lobster were purchases when we were on vacations (i.e. we paid double the price at fancy pet stores for them because I knew Charlie needed them). Turns out Amazon has a huge selection of the Tuffy line at about half the price.

I love this alien. I think he would be a great partner in crime for Kang. And, he would be so much easier for Charlie to carry around (Kang's big head tends to cause some problems for Charlie).

I don't know about you and your dog, but what toy collection is complete without a sheep? This guy's name is Sherman. I'm sure Charlie would adore him.

Or what about Bevo the Bull? Love him and Charlie would love to swing him around by his horns.

Now, Tuffy has toys that fall into just about every category. But obviously I am obsessed with the barnyard line. And it doesn't get any better than Tallulah the Turkey! I can't even handle the cuteness, and I wonder how Charlie's life has been complete without having a turkey.

I vow that by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, Charlie will be the proud owner of a turkey. I hope to have video to share his completely bliss when Tallulah makes her way into his life.

Because, seriously, how could you deprive this face of anything?!

Fancy Apple Banana Cake

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Last weekend I was trying to fill up my Saturday with projects while Steve was shooting a wedding. Since I hadn't gone shopping for ingredients to bake with, I decided to be resourceful and find a recipe that used ingredients I already had in the house.

Since we practically buy bananas in bulk, we always have quite a few sitting around. And I haven't been doing a good job of taking apples for lunch during the workweek, so we had a lot of those sitting around too.

Good think I happened upon this apple banana cake recipe.

I took my three apples and cut them into thin slices. This took quite awhile.

The slices were spread onto a cookie sheet, drizzled with honey, and baked until they were soft and smelled amazing.

I mixed up the batter for the cake, which was pretty straightforward: ripe bananas, sugar, honey, cinnamon, etc. Your basic makeup of any banana bread.

Half of the baked apple slices lined an 8-inch cake pan, while the other half were arranged in a spiral pattern on top of the batter.

After I pulled the cake from the oven and let it cool for a bit, I flipped it out onto a cookie sheet. Look at how yummy the apples on the bottom of the cake look!

I then flipped it over onto a cake stand and basked in the glory of my beautiful cake.

Unfortunately, the cake wasn't quite as glorious when Steve and I went to eat it. Because it had no butter or oil, the cake was rather dry. The flavors were nice and the addition of the apple was great, the cake itself could have used a little something extra. I think I would sub out the honey used in the batter for yogurt to fight against the dryness.

I enjoyed using the apples, though - what a great way to make a simple cake just a little bit fancy!

Apple Banana Cake
Recipe from The Taste Space

2 large, very ripe bananas
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey*
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Pinch of salt
3 large Golden Delicious apples, sliced (1/8th of an inch)

Additional honey, for drizzling DIRECTIONS Arrange the sliced apples on a baking sheet and drizzle honey over them. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until apples are moist and tender. Remove the apples from the oven and lower its heat to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mash bananas and sugar until combined and creamy. Add the honey and eggs and continue to beat until well combined. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and mix until combined.

Grease an 8″ round cake pan, and arrange one layer of apple slices on the bottom of the pan (use a little less than half the apples). Pour the banana batter into the pan, and arrange a second layer of apples on the top, in an overlapping pattern. Bake the cake in a preheated 350°F oven for one hour and ten minutes.

*Note: I would experiment with subbing out the honey for yogurt to help the overall texture of the cake.

Olive Tapenade Goodness

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Last week at work we had a little wine reception at our office. When things finally settled down, I was able to sample some of the hors d'oeuvres provided by the caterer. Making its way around the room was a tray of crostini topped with creamy goat cheese and black olive tapenade.

Those that know me well know that to say that I'm a picky eater is an understatement (unless the food is "fancy" and expensive...then I'll eat anything put in front of me). I happen to hate olives. But when one is hungry at the end of a long day, one will sample almost anything outside of his or her comfort zone. After about 10 helpings of tapenade, I guess you could say I was smitten.

Since I couldn't get the tasty goodness off my mind, I found this Food Channel recipe and on Sunday tried my hand at tapenade. The results were too delicious for words.

First, I gathered my ingredients at Whole Foods. I already had a good quality olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, dried oregano and fresh thyme in my kitchen. So all I needed to purchase was as baguette (I grabbed a whole wheat one), capers, olives, goat cheese, and anchovy paste.

I threw everything into my food processor (minus the goat cheese and baguette!). I had wanted to make a black olive tapenade like I had sampled at the party. However, when I opened up my olives I saw that they were a dark green color. I'm olive illiterate so I have no clue if there's a huge taste difference with what I bought and what I meant to buy. Ah well. Moving on...

I blended everything up until it was nice and smooth. The recipe I was following didn't use a food processor and just chopped everything up by hand for a chunkier tapenade. I prefer the blended version.

I sliced up the baguette and toasted the slices on a skillet with some olive oil. After spreading some goat cheese on each one, I topped each with a spoonful of tapenade. Divine! My tapenade tastes exactly like what I sampled last week.

This recipe makes a good quantity: Steve and I have already worked our way through 3/4 of our baguette and still have a good amount of tapenade left. Since I have some plain (and deliciously homemade) angel hair pasta in the fridge, I plan on tossing it with some of the tapenade for dinner tonight.

Olives, you have officially won me over with your goodness.

Olive Tapenade
Recipe from The Food Channel

    1 cup pitted black olives, roughly chopped
    1 tablespoon capers, chopped
    1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste
    Juice of 1/2 of lemon
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme plus additional for garnish
    1 teaspoon dried oregano
    1/4 cup olive oil plus additional for brushing on bread
    2 packages goat cheese, softened
    1 baguette cut diagonally in 1/2-inch slices

Combine olives, capers, anchovy paste, lemon juice, garlic, thyme, oregano and 1/4 cup olive oil. Either chop ingredients by hand and combine, or use your food processor for a smoother tapenade.

Brush one side of bread with olive oil. In large sauté pan, toast oiled side of bread over medium heat. Spread softened goat cheese on toast side of bread; top with olive mixture and sprinkle with thyme.

Next: A Thailand Tour

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, Steve and I had the pleasure of dining at Next, the new restaurant of the fabulous Grant Achatz. For those of you that don't know, the restaurant is founded on the principle of "What will happen next?" Every three months, the menu is completely changed.

The first menu featured "Paris: 1906." I've heard it was amazing. Unfortunately, we missed the opportunity to eat there as this isn't a call-and-make-a-reservation type of place. They sell tickets - either a 2-top, a 4-top or a 6-top. Through their site, you purchase you pay for dinner, drinks, tax and gratuity. All that is left to do when you arrive is eat.

While we missed out on the Paris menu, we were chomping at the bit to grab tickets for their current menu: Thailand! On the day the tickets were released, there was something like 14,000 people vying for 2,000 tables. On top of that, the web site crashes. A lot.

Steve finally managed to get a 4-top for a Sunday night at 9:30pm. For this menu, they gave the option of wine pairings, "drink" pairings (cocktails, beer, wine, etc) and non-alcoholic pairings. We opted for 3 drink pairings and 1 non-alcoholic. I ended up being the sober sister of the group, and I enjoyed every single moment of it.

In any event, let the photos of the food speak for themselves...all photos by my fabulous husband, Steve of Steve Koo Photography.

The first course was an experience. Featuring Thai street food, our server spread out a Thai newspaper on the table before bringing the food out. Featured was a prawn cake, a raw shrimp with garlic and chile, a fermented sausage with peanut and scallion, and a roasted banana with garlic.

Oh yah, and steamed buns with beech mushroom and green curry. AMAZING. I hate mushrooms and could have eaten 20 of these.

Clearing the newspaper away, we were on to a spicy tom yum soup with pork belly. Yes friends, I did indeed say pork belly. But I also said spice. While I do like a little heat, this soup added such a punch that I started to sweat while eating it!

This dish also featured mushrooms, which I also devoured. Maybe Next is changing my view on fungi?

We were then treated to containers of sticky rice (my first love) and different sauces to try out. Some were spicy and some were more mild. One was called "the funk" by our server. Our table thoroughly enjoyed the funk.

The sauced in the bottom left hand corner of the picture was a salted duck egg with green mango and white radish. Yum.

And of course, with each course there was a different drink. Mine focused on teas and juice drinks. Sometimes the alcoholic version would be what I had with liquor added. Other times it would be a beer or wine.

For one of the courses, they wanted to pair it with a beer but could not find the perfect brew. So, of course, they had Half Acre brew one especially for this course. I sampled Steve's and it was very tasty.

The rice was the base for our next two courses. First up was a wild catfish braised in caramel sauce with celery and coriander root. Simply melt in your mouth.

We then had a panang curry with braised beef cheek. I've been ordering a lot of panang from our favorite Thai restaurant. But that night at Next, I realized what a real panang was like. The peanut was very subtle and the coconut and lemongrass shone through.

After a palate cleanser of watermelon juice and lemongrass, we were on to dessert!

Four coconuts arrived on a bed of hot rocks and then were served to us. Our server took the top off of each coconut and filled the empty shell with a coconut sorbet. The other half of the shell was filled with...

...amazingness! The menu lists "coconut, corn, egg and licorice." I don't know that I could accurately describe this dish if I had it sitting right in front of me. All different textures were represented: crunchy corn "nuggets"; some sort of mousse; tapioca-like pearls; slices of mango. Normally I'm squeamish about weird textures, but everything in this shell just made sense.

I also specifically remember my drink pairing: pineapple, corn and basil juice. Delicious.

For our final dessert, our server brought out a long-stem, hot pink rose. The rose was so heavily perfumed we wondered if it had been sprayed with extra scent.

We were then each served half of a dragon fruit that had been treated with a rosewater syrup. Wewere given our instructions: eat some of the dragon fruit, then take a big whiff of the rose and try the dragon fruit again. The scent of the rose should enhance the perfumed flavor of the dragon fruit. And yes, it did.

Finally, as a parting gift we were each left with a bag of Thai iced tea. This method of serving the tea (a heavyweight plastic bag with a straw and closed off with a rubber band) makes completely sense and one can assume this is how you would see it on the streets of Thailand.

Our dinner truly felt like a whirlwind trip around Thailand and filled with flavors that I've never had at any Thai restaurant before.

And now I can only wonder...what's next?

Interested in taking a tour around Thailand at Next? If you're in Chicago, they release a few same-day tickets almost every day. Check out their Facebook place and "Like" them to see updates about tickets. You'll also find out via Facebook when they release tickets for upcoming menus. Create an account on their site to purchase tickets the next time they release them...and good luck!

My Summer Addiction

Monday, August 1, 2011

I have a confession to make. I can't get enough of these:

It may look like punch, but it's actually a Starbucks Passion Tea Lemonade. Which basically means, it's like punch. Considering the fact that I hate all things tea, I'm pretty sure this is about 1 part tea and 9 parts deliciousness.

I usually stick with a Starbucks iced coffee for my fun summer treat, but I've left it behind for my new friend. The other day I even asked Steve what things I could pick up for him from Walgreens just so I could have an excuse to run out over lunch and grab one of these on the way back.

I am in love. What's your summer love that's helping you beat the heat?