A review of MOD Sienna Pizza – and a giveaway: They had me at… Brussels sprouts!

*Disclaimer: MOD Pizza offered me a complimentary tasting of their products to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed here are my own.

In my experience, resistance is futile when it comes to pizza – unless I’m told I am going to get Brussels sprouts on a thin crust! I have yet to find the magic of thin crusts – I like the pie crust to be thick, fluffy and pillow-like, and comforting all-around. As for the Brussels sprouts, I used to eat them when we lived in Britain, and I was not a fan (to put it mildly). We mainly ate Brussels sprouts as a side dish on Christmas Day, when they were boiled, seasoned, and paired with crispy bacon for extra flavor and texture. Disguised by the bacon, the Brussels sprouts failed to make culinary sense to me, and I found them pale, gloomy, and not charming in the slightest.

I had to revisit my opinions on Brussels sprouts and thin pizza crust last week, when I was invited to taste MOD Pizza’s seasonal offering: the Sienna pizza. Before this visit, I was unfamiliar with the MOD Pizza brand, and apprehensive about eating Brussels sprouts on a pizza. However, a quick Internet search made me uncover several positive reviews on the topic, and I became anxious to see what the enthusiastic buzz was all about. 🙂 Keep Reading

My aunt’s cocoa cake: moist, spongy, delicious!

I see her, eyebrows raised, sweat covering her forehead, shirt almost translucent, working hard in her tiny apartment kitchen in the sweltering heat of the summer. It was hot, but she didn’t care because she was baking for her family, and that made everything worthwhile. Nevermind the lingering heat, the sweat, the scarce ingredients. She was going to put her imagination to the test and come up with melt-in-your-mouth desserts for her family to enjoy. A labor of love: Isn’t this what baking is all about?

This lady was my aunt, who passed away in 1993. She was a fantastic baker and an all-around cook extraordinaire.  By now, you know I like to remember her in this blog and to recreate her recipes as often as I can. The cake below is yet another trip down memory lane, to my aunt and the wonderful summers we spent together in the countryside – baking, eating, playing childhood games under the old quince tree, living a wonderful life. 🙂 Keep Reading

CLOSED Hamilton Beach rice cooker review and giveaway: Carb season doesn’t have to be boring!

*Disclaimer: Hamilton Beach sent me a rice/hot cereal cooker free of charge for me to review. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Farewell, store-bought pasta, overcooked and dumped in cheese sauce in a hurry! Go away, sad-looking pilaf, grey and textureless like an unfinished cooking experiment! Time to say good bye, soggy sandwiches long-forgotten in the fridge, brimming with wilted lettuce! Who needs such uninspiring carb overloads? Not me, that’s for sure 🙂

I’ve never been a fan of carbs, yet the cold season is fast approaching and I know I’m going to need carbs to keep me warm and energetic during the fall & winter months. If you’re like me and need an extra “something” to get you motivated and interested in experimenting with carbs, a rice cooker might just be what you need! I admit I was very excited when Hamilton Beach contacted me and offered to send me a rice cooker to test and report on. Along with rice, this versatile Hamilton Beach appliance can cook hot cereal and whole grains, and even steam veggies and fish. From quinoa to farro, shrimp to grits and steamed asparagus to salmon – the possibilities seem endless!

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My crunchy three cheese and veggie panino: “Blame” it on the celery sticks!

Yes, I want texture – and I’m looking at you, celery stick. Why did you have to make my three cheese panino so crunchy and delicious? Firm and perfumed, with an emerald appearance and a lovely bite, you are the perfect addition to lunches in a hurry – and you are here to stay 🙂

We’ve always been celery root fans – but sticks? Not really. My mom and aunt never used the sticks in their cooking, and eating them raw was unheard of. They would add shredded celery root to soups and stews and would throw away the stalks – or, in the best case scenario, they would use the stalks as a “filler” when canning stuffed peppers or cabbage.

Since coming to this country I have learned there’s more to celery sticks than meets the eye, and my appreciation of them has increased. My mom used a few sliced sticks in a soup just before she left for Europe: I simply couldn’t believe how much the flavor of the soup had been enhanced! Still in awe, I decided to use celery sticks in a panino. The recipe below is the result of these recent “celery experiments.”  Keep Reading

My review of The Good Taste Series culinary competition: goetta sausage, shrimp chilpachole – and so much more!

Their hands move restlessly, as if playing the piano. Sweat covers their foreheads and they nervously wipe it out in-between the cooking sessions. “I’m sorry I can’t talk right now, but I promise I’ll cook you the best dish when the judges are gone,” one tells me with visibly shaking hands, while putting the finishing touches on his salmon&goetta sausage dish. One extra garnish here, one hot sizzling pan there – the spectacle is on! They are the nine Hyatt chefs who are performing in The Good Taste Series culinary competition. They are determined, focused, fierce.

I admire professional chefs and I never miss an opportunity to watch them work. This is why I was very excited when I was invited to attend the third edition of The Good Taste Series Midwest regional competition, which was hosted by Hyatt Regency McCormick Place last week. A well-established contest organized by Hyatt as a means to support and recognize its culinary talent, The Good Taste Series gave me the chance to observe nine well-seasoned chefs as they created stunning dishes – and to try them all!

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Baking for comfort, baking for memories: Why these cranberry cookies remind me of my mom

Can you smell the cookies? Yes, it’s happening: I’m baking! It’s 86 degrees in here, very humid, and the air conditioning is on. The noise of the hood is cutting through the heat, yet – thankfully! – the little one is sound asleep on the silky brown carpet. I’m baking not because I’ve been craving cookies, nor because I enjoy sweating next to the hot oven, but because I need to feel that, somehow, my mom is  still with me.

My mom went back to Europe last month, and we did several rounds of baking just before she left. We looked through her old recipe notebook – a bunch of butter-smeared and cocoa-dusted pages barely hanging in there – and found culinary gems we had long forgotten. We shared memories about the loved ones who are no longer with us, and my mom’s eyes often grew sad as her mind revisited the past. We spoke, baked and remembered, and traveling through time provided comfort and a bitter-sweet, almondy sense of happiness. Isn’t this what baking is all about? That’s what I think, anyway 🙂

This is one of the recipes we revisited before my mom left for Europe. Keep Reading