Archive of ‘Entertaining ideas’ category

Adventures from Duck University (Not to be confused with Duke University)

Duck is not typically a go-to, everyday food that people eat. In fact, most people don’t even think about duck as an option, except for the holidays. This all changed for me when I attended Duck University for food bloggers, sponsored by Maple Leaf Farms in Indiana. I was excited about this opportunity because I knew very little about duck, and had certainly never cooked it.

Me outside of the Maple Leaf Farms HQ - About to head in for class!

Me outside of the Maple Leaf Farms HQ – About to head in for class!

This experience was set up like a real university. The first stop was a tour of the feed mill, where we saw how they make duck feed from scratch. They take incredible care of what goes into the feed, including protein, vitamins and minerals so that the ducks can be healthy and strong. They go through rigorous testing to make sure that the  feed is safe for the ducks.

Duck Feed - Full of vitamins and minerals

Duck Feed – Full of vitamins and minerals

We then visited a duck farm where the ducks were raised. Biosecurity is a major initiative for food safety and disease prevention, so we were instructed to wear special suits and dip our feet into a foot bath before walking near the ducks.

Dressed in our Biosecurity suits

Dressed in our Biosecurity suits

The conditions are clean, and the ducks have plenty of room to frolic about. Maple Leaf Farms partners with over 150 local farmers to raise their ducks, which is great for the communities. The last stop on the tour was the duck processing plant, where they say it is as clean as a hospital. It was reassuring to see the USDA inspectors right there on the line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afterwards, we had a classroom-style session.

Did you know….

-        Duck Fat is a good fat – It compares favorably to olive oil in terms of the mono-unsaturated fatty acid oleic, and the poly-unsaturated fatty acids linoleic and linolenic acids

-        There are various breeds of duck with different flavor profiles. Maple Leaf Farms raises the White Pekin duck, which is more mild and less gamey than some of the other duck varieties.

-        Maple Leaf Farms is the #1 producer of duck in the U.S. with about a 75% market share, producing 13-15 Million ducks annually? (They are like Tyson Chicken, but for Duck)

-        Duck is a red meat - It has a different muscle structure than chicken, and it is cooked more like steak vs. chicken. It’s not prone to salmonella, so it can be cooked to medium/medium rare for the best flavor and texture.

My favorite part of the evening was the 5-course duck dinner, where every course had duck, including the dessert (with Duck Bacon). I told chef Dale Miller that I could die right then and be happy, because the food was so creative and tasted AMAZING!

The menu:

 

 

A lot of people have had bad experiences with duck in the past, saying that it has tasted oily or gamey, but I did not have this experience at all – the flavor is mild, and I did not have any oily aftertaste from anything I ate. It truly depends on the breed of duck, and how it is prepared.

Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton (from Sara’s Weeknight Meals on PBS) also gave a cooking demo on how to cook duck breast, which was much easier than I had originally thought. It really is as simple as scoring the breast, cooking it with the skin down, flipping it over, and cooking it to the desired temperature. It needs to be a little bit pink for the best dining experience. Sara joined us on our tours, and it was fun to hang out with her – she’s very smart and talented, and we were honored to have her accompany us.

Me and Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton

Me and Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton

Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton providing a cooking demo on how to cook duck breast.

Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton providing a cooking demo on how to cook duck breast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to this amazing experience, I was able to network with about 19 amazing food bloggers that were inspiring and a boatload of fun!

Now that you are a little bit more familiar with duck, I would highly encourage you to experiment with it. The easiest way is to try some of the pre-cooked products, like the appetizers (potstickers, spring rolls, quesadillas), or the roast half duck. Then you could move to cooking some of the other items on your own, like the duck breast, and if you are ready for the big leagues, you can roast a whole duck. If you can’t find the products in the store, you can always order online http://mapleleaffarms.com/shop and they will ship it on dry ice to your house, or you can ask the meat department manager to order it in for you.

I’m happy to say that I’m a proud graduate of Duck University, and I have a diploma to prove it!

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Attending Duck University has broadened my horizons and I now consider duck to add to my current cooking routine – I hope you will too. Stay tuned for future posts with recipes and ideas.

To learn more about duck, cooking videos/tips, and Maple Leaf Farms, visit http://www.mapleleaffarms.com/consumer

Summer Wine with a Story Line

I tasted the Sweet Riesling from Love Cork Screw wines at a dessert event and knew that I needed to feature it on my blog. This wine literally tastes like summer in a glass, and instantly transported me to memories of fabulous evenings at Ravinia, fun times with friends on rooftops, and outdoor summer concerts at Millennium Park.

Erica and Chrishon at Love Cork Screw/Taste Bud Diaries video shoot

Erica and Chrishon at Love Cork Screw/Taste Bud Diaries video shoot

Not only is the wine tasty, but there is an inspiring story behind it. Love Cork Screw was launched in part by Chrishon Lampley, who previously owned the popular Three Peas Art Lounge, an art and wine boutique in Chicago’s South Loop. The boutique was abruptly closed down due to an unfortunate sewage issue in the building, and after a few years, Chrishon re-emerged, launching Love Cork Screw in December 2013. The wines are now in +30 locations, and the brand is taking off. Chrishon’s marketing strategy positions this wine as not just a brand, but a lifestyle – complete with eye catching labels, a popular radio show and events, all which have helped to propel this brand to success.

Love Cork Screw Riesling and Pinot Grigio - ready for summer sipping!

Love Cork Screw Riesling and Pinot Grigio – ready for summer sipping!

The “Head Over Heels” Riesling is naturally sweet and crisp with a hint of lemon and grapefruit. This wine is versatile, and would pair well with chicken (i.e. orange chicken, chicken and pear salad) fish, cheeses and desserts.

Click here for an easy-to-make, delicious dip recipe that would travel well for a picnic and would pair quite nicely with the Riesling – it has Feta and Cream Cheese and is filled with flavor.

"Dip for the Stars" recipe from allrecipes.com Photo: allrecipes.com

“Dip for the Stars” recipe from allrecipes.com Photo: allrecipes.com

The “Good Times Good Friends” Pinot Grigio is another wine that is great for Chicago summers. It is medium-bodied with apple and pear flavor notes. This wine is excellent for seafood, and would pair nicely with foods like sushi, oysters, clams, mussels, or pasta.

Chrishon’s story is inspiring, and it’s a story that I want to tell when I share the wine with friends. Check out the video below for my interview with Chrishon to hear more about her story, and after watching it, I think that you will want to tell her story too.

Cheers, and enjoy!

 

Sweet Winter Treats: Homemade Marshmallows and Chocolate Spoons

Season’s Greetings!!

Below are a couple of sweet winter treats that I made over the holidays that I wanted to share:
- The first is a mint marshmallow recipe by Martha Stewart. A lot of people tell me that they didn’t know that they could make marshmallows from scratch – and you can…and they taste WAY better than anything that you have ever purchased on a grocery store shelf. I was inspired to make my own marshmallows after visiting a delicious restaurant called Hot Chocolate in Chicago. They include a homemade marshmallow in their hot chocolate creations, and I decided to give it a try. After one failed attempt at making vanilla bean marshmallows, (they ended up being too rubbery), I came across this delicious and fluffy recipe from Martha Stewart. It’s not hard, but it does require you to pay attention and move quickly. It also helps to get a candy thermometer:

Mint Marshmallows

Below is the link to the recipe:

http://www.marthastewart.com/355781/candy-cane-marshmallows

I served these marshmallows at a party as a part of my hot chocolate bar and they were a hit! I highly recommend that you try them and experiment w/other flavors.

- The next item is extremely easy to make, and can serve as a nice touch for any winter party. These are chocolate spoons, which can be used for stirring into hot chocolate or coffee for an extra chocolate boost. They are incredibly easy to make, and could also be wrapped in cellophane w/a ribbon for a gift. I also included these in my hot chocolate bar. I had both milk chocolate spoons and white chocolate spoons, and drizzled the alternate color on top of each by putting the warm chocolate into a sandwich bag, and cutting a small corner of the bag to drizzle chocolate over the spoons. Very nice presentation, if I must say so myself.

Chocolate Spoons

Below is the recipe:

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/chocolate-spoons/detail.aspx?event8=1&prop24=SR_Title&e11=chocolate%20spoons&e8=Quick%20Search&event10=1&e7=Home%20Page

These are great recipes to add a special touch for any occasion.

Enjoy!

How to Freeze Cookie Dough for Cookies on Demand!

I wanted to post a video about how I freeze cookie dough. I like to freeze the dough for my signature Chocolate Chip and Pecan cookies (I’m going to keep that particular recipe to myself), and other chocolate chip types of cookies (I haven’t tried this on sugar cookies).

The beauty of freezing the dough is that you don’t need to let it thaw out before you bake it. You can put the cold, frozen dough right on the cookie sheet and bake to your heart’s content.

This method is nice because you can make dozens of cookies and then bake them whenever you need them. Sometimes, I’ll cut off only 3 cookies, and make those just for myself.

Hope this is useful to you, especially for the holiday baking season.

Below is a link to a delicious recipe that I will share. Salted Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. You can freeze this recipe too – I have done it many times:

Salted Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

How to Make Homemade Apple-Cinnamon Infused Vodka

I was inspired to create some homemade Christmas presents this year, and decided to make infused vodkas as a gift. I purchased the bottles from the Container Store (no more than $5 each), and used a mid-range vodka (Svedka) which is recommended when infusing – no need to spurge on the Belvedere when adding infused flavor. Once the vodka is finished infusing, remove the fruit, strain, and pour the vodka into the bottle w/a funnel. Decorate the bottle and wrap as a gift!

Check out my video for a demonstration:

Homemade Apple-Cinnamon Infused Vodka

Apple-Cinnamon Infused Vodka Recipe:
- 1/2 liter of vodka
- 3 apples
- 2 cinnamon sticks

I originally was planning on infusing it for 5 days, but it ended up turning into 3 weeks. The vodka was absolutely amazing and full of apple-cinnamon flavor. It was dangerous because you could literally drink it on the rocks. For an apple-cinnamon flavor, I would suggest mixing it with Sprite, Ginger Ale, or Apple Cider (hot or cold). I gave the vodka to my friend Jenny as a hostess gift for her holiday party, and I think she enjoyed it.
At this present moment, I’m infusing a Blueberry-Vanilla vodka as a gift for a party that I’m going to in 2 weeks. Vanilla doesn’t require as much time to infuse, so I removed the vanilla bean after 3 days, and I’ll let the blueberries continue to “marinate”.

Blueberry-Vanilla Infused Vodka Recipe:
- 2 cups of blueberries, sliced
- 1 vanilla bean, sliced down the middle
- 1 liter of vodka

Tips:
- Shake the infused mixture from time-to-time to accelerate the infusing process
- Taste the infused mixture along the way to ensure that it does not taste too strong with the infusing agent. If it does taste too strong, add more vodka to tone down the flavor.

- If you don’t have the time to infuse, you can also present the vodka and the fruit in a bottle, and tell the recipient to open after a certain amount of time.

If you like cocktails, or if you have a friend that does, this is a great gift that can be used year-round.

Cheers!

Cupcake Wars Party

I participated in a “cupcake wars” cupcake cookoff party,

and won best overall cupcake for my “Peek-a-boo Strawberry Cupcakes” – I named it peek-a-boo because there is a whole fresh strawberry right in the center, and it also had a delicious homemade vanilla-lime buttercream frosting.

Below is the link to the recipe, which I found on another foodie blog after searching for “unique cupcakes”:

http://www.howsweeteats.com/2010/03/strawberry-lime-stuffed-cupcakes/

I love the idea of putting fresh fruit inside of a cupcake, or having a “surprise” inside of a cupcake in general.

Below is another “surprise” cupcake recipe that I would like to try – if you are inspired to make it before I do, let me know how it turns out:

  • Oreo cupcakes – has a whole oreo cookie on the bottom of the cupcake!

http://www.beantownbaker.com/2010/04/oreo-cupcakes-third-time-is-charm.html

A cupcake cook off party is an excellent way to try a new recipes.

Below are a couple of my other cupcake favorites from the party:

Created by Syreeta Harris

14 "Karat" Carrot cupcakes. Great cupcake for an engagement party or wedding shower. Rings can be purchased at Michael's - Thanks to Syreeta Harris for the idea

Rubber Duckie Cupcakes – Great for baby showers. Just purchase the ducks from Michael’s. Thanks to Ana Serafin