MasterChef Guest Post – Dahlia Abram’s Orange Mango Banana Poppy Seed Bread (Gluten Free)

Today’s guest post comes from another one of my fellow MasterChef survivors competitors, Dahlia Abrams.

Dahlia is one of the people THAT I didn’t really meet in LA, but have come to know since returning to the real world. You may have heard me mention her on one of my Youtube videos… probably this one, with Matt Orsini. Basically, they’d cooked similar dishes back to back, she got an apron, he did not… so my new baby sister – Christine Kim – and I made a pact right then and there. We HAD to get aprons (you know, because we hadn’t been focused on that before, right?), just so we could somehow “take Dahlia out”.

Christine and I went home the next day, no aprons! LOL, so much for THAT plan, huh?

I still feel a little guilty for the pact… I hadn’t met Dahlia, and had nothing against her personally. I’d JUST found out that Matt had gone home – no goodbyes! – while I was required to go shopping. Trauma and grief will do weird things to a person, LOL!

Luckily, Dahlia seems to be a forgiving person… so here is her guest post! Enjoy!

PS: Be sure to check Dahlia out on her blog – Detroit Tokyo, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

I’ve always loved food but really started cooking three years ago. My passion for it has since grown into an all consuming one. Cooking is my meditation, creative outlet, and the way I express my love for those I share it with. I started my blog two years ago to share that love with you!

“Health food”… Sounds like dirty words. Let’s add “diet” to the list too. When we talk about food, why can’t we just talk about food? As with everything, food is about balance. Balance of flavors and textures surely but also balance in nutrition for balance in your body.

My philosophy on food is strongly influenced by a digestive disorder I suffer from. I do have to mind what I eat but I never want to feel like I’m missing out on what I love. So, I don’t! I do not have Celiac, nor a wheat allergy. Limiting my wheat intake, however, has been beneficial. It could be for you, too! I’ve found brown rice flour to be a great substitute.

Yes, this recipe is gluten free. Yes, this recipe is low-fat. Yes, it is all natural. If those terms put you or those you’re sharing food with off, I’d just advise you to try it for yourself and see how delicious and satisfying healthful eating can be.

Orange Mango Banana Poppy Seed Bread

3-4 small bananas – very ripe, mashed but not pulverized
1 egg
1/2 cup 0% plain Greek yogurt
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup agave nectar
1/2 cup orange mango juice
1 tbsp orange zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups brown rice flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp poppy seeds

2 tbsp orange mango juice
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Yield: 1 loaf/3 mini loaves/12 muffins

Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare muffin tin with liners and/or loaf pan(s) with cooking spray.

Place bananas in a large mixing bowl and mash, but don’t pulverize. Add egg, yogurt, sugar, agave, juices, zest, and vanilla. Mix to incorporate. In a separate mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Add half of dry ingredients to wet and mix until just combined. Add remaining dry ingredients and repeat. Gently fold in poppy seeds, be careful not to over-mix!

Pour batter into prepared tins/pans and fill 2/3. Place in middle rack of oven and bake:

– For 1 large loaf, bake 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

– For mini loaves, bake 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

– For muffins, bake 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Remove from oven and transfer to cooling rack. As they cool, combine juice and sifted powdered sugar. Whisk until smooth. Drizzle or spread onto tops of cooled bread(s)/muffins.

Interested in Gluten-free cooking and baking? You’ll LOVE Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

How many times have you come across a gluten-free recipe claiming to be “just as good as the normal version!”, only to wind up with weird textures, aftertastes, etc? Most gluten-free recipes are developed by taking a “normal” recipe, and swapping in a simulated “all purpose” gluten-free flour… whether store bought, or a homemade version. “Beyond Flour” takes a different approach: developing the recipe from scratch. Rather than swapping out the flour for an “all purpose” mix, I use various alternative flours as individual ingredients – skillfully blending flavours, textures, and other properties unique to each flour. Supporting ingredients and different techniques are also utilized to achieve the perfect end goal … not just a “reasonable facsimile”. Order your copy here.

Looking for even MORE fantastic gluten-free recipes? Beyond Flour now has a sequel: Beyond Flour 2: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

Imagine gluten-free foods that are as good – or better! – than their traditional, gluten-filled counterparts. Imagine no longer settling for foods with bizarre after-tastes, gummy consistency, and/or cardboard texture. Imagine graham crackers that taste just like the real thing. Crisp, flaky crackers…without the sandy texture. Hybrid tortillas that: look and act like flour tortillas, with the taste of fresh roasted corn! Imagine chewy, delicious cookies that *everyone* will want to eat! Imagine BAGELS. If you’ve cooked from “Beyond Flour”, you already know that these fantasies can be reality – it’s all in the development of the recipes. Order your copy here.

Guest Post – Ben Starr – How to Watch a MasterChef Premiere…from a MasterChef Survivor

Three weeks ago, I gave you all some insight into how I trained and prepared for MasterChef… but I left out a BIG part of my preparation.

As I watched all threee seasons, I was on the lookout for more than just information about the show, what the judges were looking for, etc. I was keeping an eye on the contestants, looking for SOMETHING. I am big on gathering information before jumping into anything, and this was going to be the biggest, most insane “thing” I ever attempted. What I really needed was information from someone who had been there.

Due to the contracts we had to sign, this would be a sticky situation. We weren’t allowed to tell anyone that we were on the show, which would make it difficult to obtain that information. I had to figure out how to do it in a way that wouldn’t violate the contract, and I needed to figure out who the perfect person to approach would be. Pick the wrong one, and for all I knew, I’d be messaging the best friend of one of the producers!

After watching all three seasons, the choice was obvious to me. I would anonymously contact Ben Starr, from MasterChef season two.

You see, something about him really grabbed me. He reminded me a lot of myself, and something told me that he would not only be an amazing source of information, but that he would be trustworthy – an important combination, for what I was about to do.

Against the recommendation of my husband and VERY small group of people who knew what I was doing, I set up an anonymous email address that wasn’t connected to ANYTHING – only ever to be used to contact Ben. I called myself “X” (LOL!), and carefully crafted my initial email to not ACTUALLY say that I was one of the 100. I knew he was smart, and I knew that he would know what I was getting at.

Over the few months before I left, we would email back and forth. I would pepper him with questions – mostly about logistical concerns – and he would provide just the information I was looking for.

I’ll never forget how generous he was with his time, answering all these questions from a complete stranger… especially given that he knew nothing about me! I was extremely careful to not reveal my gender, location, or anything that ANYONE could identify me by. I was even careful to make sure that I used region-neutral language and syntax!

Aside from answering questions I had about logistics concerns (“What is the laundry situation?”), Ben was like a personal, private cheerleader. He gave me the pep talks and confidence that could only come from someone who had been there.

He told me to cook my butt off and cook from the heart. To not try to play someone else’s game, just cook the food I know and love. He told me to be the biggest, boldest, but still most genuine version of myself that I could be. He told me to not to censor myself or try to “act,”but to be the person I am after a few drinks with friends – great advice!

He told me listen to the judges’ feedback, but always trust my heart over all. He reminded me that I’d know if I really cooked a bad dish, and sometimes harsh criticism is exaggerated to heighten drama. He told me not to take that personally and not to let it ruin my love of cooking or cause me to doubt myself. Above all else, he told me to embrace my fellow contestants, learn from them, and love them, because years from now, they will still be like family long after the world has forgotten about MasterChef.

Some of that, I didn’t really take to heart (Sorry Ben!). I read it and I processed it, but I wasn’t exactly able to tell him that the likelihood of me embracing anyone, making friends, or coming to see anyone as “family” was very slim, on account of me not being a people person in the SLIGHTEST – no identifying information about me!

Whoops. I guess he actually was right about it. I promise I’ll listen next time, Ben!

Funny thing – I had no idea just how good a job I’d done at concealing my identity, til I finally “introduced” myself to him. It was a confusing exchange, he didn’t immediately pick up on what I was saying… because he thought that “X” was a DUDE! Hahahahaa!! I don’t think he fully believed that I was female until got on Skype together!

Anyway, enough back story from me. Ben is an amazing guy, and I’m so glad that I met him – I chose WISELY. I thought it would be fun to get him to do a blog entry, leading up to my debut on MasterChef. When asked what I specifically wanted him to write about, I left it wide open. He has such a diverse range of interests, and is just a really interesting, entertaining writer, I didn’t want to give him any guidelines. I knew that whatever he would write about – food, travel, home brewing, gardening… or whatever else – would be great.

What he emailed me as a guest blog blew me away. This is amazing, and I really hope that people keep this essay in mind when watching MasterChef both this evening, and going forward.

Thank you, Ben, for everything. You’re amazing.

If you’d like to follow Ben’s adventures, you can do so on his website, Twitter, Facebook, and/or Youtube

All photos courtesy of Ben Starr.

It’s been 2 years since I found myself locked in a hotel room in Los Angeles, unable to leave without a babysitter, unable to connect to the outside world (including family, friends, and career.) Awake at 5am every morning and hustled into a cold van, driven to a grimy warehouse where I’d sit outside in a tent for 3 hours.

Every 10 minutes, a production assistant would come by and say, “5 minute warning, everyone. On-set in 5 minutes.” That warning would be repeated for many hours to come. Then suddenly a cry, “EVERYONE ON SET NOW!” Hustlebustle. And we’re herded in front of Ramsay, Bastianich, and Elliot to begin the 8-hour process of filming a 1-hour challenge. Then it’s back to being locked in a hotel room for a few hours of desperate sleep before the process repeated. Every day. Without stopping. For 2 months. Making MasterChef. Season 2.

On May 22, MasterChef season 4 will commence. And in a scant 3 hours of broadcasting, the lives of 100 contestants will flash before your eyes.Within 3 hours of programming, more than 80% of them will be gone forever,and only a tiny core of contestants will remain for the bulk of the season.

This blog is not about that core. This blog is about the ones you’ll see for fleeting seconds. Or the ones you’ll never see.

These initial 100 contestants were selected from live auditions that took place last fall. When you attend a MasterChef audition, you bring a signature dish of yours (they want it to convey “you on a plate”), and you stand in line for an hour or two (or six) with hundreds, or sometimes thousands of other hopefuls. Looking around, you see nervous, shy people with what appear to be truly spectacular dishes. You also see folks dressed up like pirate strippers or gangsta rappers, hopeful to make enough of a spectacle to warrant a second glance from the casting agents. When you reach the front of the line, you’re herded into a large room with 19 other people, where you have a couple of minutes to plate your dish…which has been silently curdling, wilting, fermenting, and basically dying while you stood in line all those hours. (Little do you know, this is preparing you for an everyday occurrence on the show…food on MasterChef is NEVER judged when it is fresh, only after sitting at room temperature for hours after it came out of the oven.)

The 100 contestants, who barely know each other, waiting in a cold dark alley to first enter the warehouse where the signature dish challenge is filmed.

Once your dish is plated, a series of people begin walking around the room. Some are casting agents. (That could range from the supreme executive producer of the show, to an unpaid intern at a local casting firm.) Some are “culinary experts.” (That could range from an instructor at the local culinary school, to a TRUE world-class Master Chef like Ferdinand Metz…the kind that FAR outrank formidable judges like Ramsay and Elliot, neither of whom are actually real Master Chefs.) The trick is that you don’t know who is who. You don’t know who to explain how you crafted the dish to, and who to explain that your family died when you were 2, you were raised by a pack of wolves, and you learned to cook by watching Mongolian television which was the only channel you could intercept through the airwaves in the remote mountain valley where your wolf-pack family lived. 2 or 3 people will ask you some basic questions, and after you’ve talked for about 30 seconds, they say, “THANK YOU,” write a few notes on their clipboard, and move on.

After all the casting folk have made their rounds, a few names are called for people who are to remain for further questioning. Among them are probably the pirate stripper and the gangsta rapper. Also, that outgoing, food-geek dude who rigged his homemade immersion circulator to run on battery power so he could keep his curried hollandaise at perfect serving temperature until plating time. Staying along with him is the adorable old grandmother who made her famous church-potluck deviled eggs with Hellmans mayonaise and a package of dry French Onion soup mix, and who does stand-up comedy at the Senior Center on Tuesdays.

Amongst the “rejects” who are cast back out into the real world are probably the most skilled and talented among all those present that day. But they don’t fit the list of characters the casting folks are looking for. Because reality television is most certainly NOT about skill. That is incidental. They are looking for *characters*.

Contestants enjoying a rare moment in the sun outside the warehouse.

After an invasive and arduous several months of interviews, psychological evaluations, background investigations, and blood tests for everything from STDs to drugs to full DNA sequencing (I’m not joking), 100 contestants are informed that they are cast on MasterChef.

When they arrive in Los Angeles to film the show, they immediately become perplexed. Because, as they get to know each other and chat about food, they discover that there’s a surprisingly wide range of skill and knowledge levels present. There are plenty of contestants who have never heard of “sous vide” cooking, have never tasted arugula, and don’t know what “mise en place” means. Then there are other contestants who may have been to culinary school, or may have worked on the line in a restaurant…who have dined VERY well…who have even more knowledge of sophisticated cooking techniques than many chefs. Most candidates fall somewhere in between. And the core group of finalists, after the majority are sent home without aprons, will be pulled from both extremes and the middle group. But in that first week as the contestants get to know each other, it can be very puzzling for some, and very intimidating for others. Puzzling to the advanced candidates because they are wondering, if this is really a skill-based competition, why are there people here who only know how to make casseroles from cans. Intimidating for those casserole candidates, because there are people here speaking in an advanced culinary language that they can’t understand, and they wonder how they fit in.

Through the magic of television, a crumbling old furniture warehouse is transformed into the signature dish studio.

Eventually, they all spend a week inside a dusty warehouse filming the “signature dish” challenge. This is where each of the 100 contestants has an hour to prepare their “signature dish” for the judges, and find out whether or not they get the coveted apron. Some contestants are truly lucky enough to actually cook their own recipe. Contractually unable to reveal any more, I’ll just say that other contestants don’t have that luxury and have to cook something else…sometimes it’s something they’ve never even cooked before. This week of signature dish filming is incredibly tense. Up to 10 contestants are cooking at any given time. Once their hour is complete, they put their food on a cart and wait for their turn before the judges. That wait can be up to several hours long, depending on how smoothly the production is running.

And this solid week of 12 hour days gets condensed into 2 or 3 episodes of MasterChef. The premiers. Out of 100 contestants, you’ll be lucky to see half them on the final edit. Those that are displayed will be a carefully selected sampling of some (but not all) of the top core of finalists, along with candidates who have inspiring stories, candidates with crazy mad skills but who are deliberately eliminated without an apron to prove to the rest of the contestants and the audience that this is a “tough and very serious” competition, candidates with bizarre aspects (ie a guy who plates his sushi on a naked woman, a guy who rides in on a horse, a guy with a pet monkey who sits on his shoulder as he cooks, a girl who cooks with her own breast milk, etc.) and contestants who were deliberately cast to be ridiculed by the judges for having amateur skills. Yes…that happens too.

In a casting van headed to the studio, contestants take every instant they can to study.

Do I know this because I have “inside knowledge?” Of course not. You know it, too. MasterChef auditions gather thousands of VERY serious, knowledgeable cooks. If the casting agents had truly sought out the 100 best home cooks in America, there wouldn’t be a single amateur in the house. No one would be sent home for having offended the judges with sub-par cuisine. But this is entertainment, folks. You wouldn’t watch MasterChef if they had TRULY recruited the 100 best home cooks in the country. Because it would be pretty darn boring.

One contestant creatively expressing their extreme boredom from being locked in their hotel room all day.

So as you watch the first 3 hours of MasterChef, let yourself be entertained. This isn’t reality. It’s television. But the lives *behind*the show are reality. And if you connect with a contestant who really strikes something inside you, reach out and find them on the internet. Because MasterChef changes lives for the worse, perhaps more often than it changes lives for the better. People discover that they were just cast to be made fun of. Others who truly believed they had a chance at winning, and who produced a truly fabulous signature dish, will be eliminated because they just didn’t have the right chemistry to be in the core group…and are judged based not on their cooking, but on their “package” as a character. And that is really traumatic for a lot of folks. Contestants will make it to the top group who know *very* little about cooking. Contestants will be eliminated who are breathtakingly talented. That’s just the way reality TV goes.

What can help heal them, and inspire them to continue following their food dreams, is to be contacted by fans who felt a connection to them. Because one of the truly remarkable things that MasterChef does is cause people to take a long, hard, objective look at their lives. They made the choice to potentially lose their job, their house, their spouse, because they have a dream of making a difference in the culinary world. And that’s powerful stuff. And those that get tossed out like yesterday’s salad can find themselves in a very trying place. But you can help push them to continue their dreams by showing that you were moved by their performance and you want to see more…*that their sacrifice and performance made a difference to someone*.

After the first 3 episodes are over and the core group of finalists is chosen, reflect on the fact that you only saw a handful of the total number of people who risked almost everything in their lives to be on the show. There are people who will never even make it to the final edit. You’ll never even know they were on the show in the first place. But their entire life was turned upside down for half a year. They had to leave their job with no more information than, “I’m going away for at least a week, maybe up to 2 months, and I can’t contact you until I get back.” They left their families the same way, too.

So while you laugh and cry as you meet the lucky (and sometimes very unlucky) folks who are featured during the first few episodes, think of the ones you *didn’t* meet. And realize that, even for the people the judges laugh out of the studio who seem to have no cooking skill at all, they took a very frightening risk to be there. Deep inside, they truly dream of being the next MasterChef, of leaving their mark on the culinary world. And, as every true Master Chef knows, *all* skills can be taught…but passion can’t be.

MasterChef Guest Post – Carrie Peterson’s Whoopie Pies

Today’s guest blog entry is from one of the closest friends I made from the whole MasterChef ordeal ADVENTURE – Carrie Landry Peterson.

In LA, she and Carrie Stevens shared the room next to mine. During our downtime, Carrie and I would hang out – Boozy disposable coffee cups in hand – and swap conspiracy theories and observations about the general nonsense that surrounded us.

Since getting home… well, things are more or less the same. Swap out a hot, humid hotel hallway for our respective homes, add a couple phones, and change out the paper cups for real glasses. You know, except when we’re feeling nostalgic!

Love this girl!

Hello Everyone! My name is Carrie Peterson and I’m an Airline Pilot who loves to cook!

By now, you all know that Marie appeared on the FOX show MasterChef! This is how she had, I mean..I had the pleasure of meeting her! Marie has asked me to share with you, my “wicked good” Whoopie Pie recipe.

Whoopie Pies you ask?!? Yup, this would be the dessert that I have made since the ripe age of 8! I can make these scrumptious desserts in my sleep. So what better dish for me to make on my MasterChef TV audition, right?!?! Right…

So here is a little history on my beloved dessert…The Whoopie Pie was created in 1925 by Labadie’s Bakery in Lewiston, Maine. It’s the official state treat, does your state have an official treat? No? Well, what are you waiting for? Get on it!!

I’m not sure what Marie has shared with all of you fabulous people about her experience on MasterChef. Lets just say…it was interesting! We have all made 99 new friends for life! We have also learned that boxed wine served in to go coffee cups is like a glass of heaven after a long day of filming! I wish we could share more with you… Like who won, but you will have to watch yourselves!! Sorry!

Ok, enough of my rambling on….may I present to you, my “wicked good” Whoopie Pie recipe.Whoopie Pies Recipe

Let me know what you all think!

Carrie xx

“Breakfast Club” Bread Pudding, AKA “The Basketcase”

Remember back when my friend Stephanie was on a reality show last summer? Well, today’s guest post comes from my good friend Laura, who was my partner in crime when it came to the setup and administration of the Team Steph social media campaign. She’s also the blogger behind How Not to be an Asshole, her relatively new blog.

Laura recently told me about an experiment she was going to attempt for her dinner club, and really… it just sounded far too epic to NOT invite her to guest blog it for us. SO, without further ado, lemme turn this over to her…

I am not a food blogger. I do not take pictures of my every meal and post them on Facebook. I’m an OK cook and a decent baker. However, some experiments simply must be recorded for posterity…..

Cap’n Crunch Bread Pudding with Caramelized Sugar (a.k.a, “The Basketcase”)

I can already hear you thinking, “What on earth….?” Yes, you read that correctly. I’m the member of a monthly Dinner Club, where a group of lovely woman gathers each month to make new things, eat, and talk about the food. Every month, there is a different theme we each sign up to make a specific course. We’ve had some good ones – French food, Dips and Fondues, Foods Starting with the Letter Q, Upscale Cafeteria Food…. anyway, in March 2013, we had a new theme: The Movies. Redesigned movie theater food, or food inspired by a movie.

So, at first I was thinking, “Um….. Coke? With vodka? Yum!” Then I started pondering food that they serve in movie theaters. This was a bit problematic, since I pretty much don’t buy anything they sell there. I was going to try to do some upscale nachos, when it hit me… What is the most memorable food scene in a movie? Oh, no, you say. Oh, yes, I say.

If you want to take a minute to go watch that scene in The Breakfast Club, I’ll wait. Go ahead.

And if you don’t know what on earth I’m talking about, then you’re probably not actually reading this, because you live in a cave and do not know anything about computers or the internet. Anyway, The Breakfast Club is the best of the brat pack. It’s 1980s John Hughes perfection about a group of very different high school students sentenced to spend a Saturday in detention. As part of that, each student brings his own lunch. And Ally Sheedy, that darling, makes something horrific and appalling that fascinates us all.

She pulls a sandwich out of her bag, removes the pimento loaf, and tosses it over her shoulder, where it hits a statue. She then is left with one slice of wheat bread and one of white. They appear to be buttered. She opens Pixie Stix and pours sugar over each slice of bread. She then takes Cap’n Crunch cereal, smooshes it onto the bread, and makes a sandwich. Crazily, she then actually eats it. Through it all, she is sipping a can of Coke. A friend and I tried this when we were 12. It’s not an experiment I would ordinarily recommend repeating.

I made a joke to a friend that I was going to make Cap’n Crunch Pixie Stix Sandwiches. I was tempted to bring them as a side and pretend that was my contribution. But then it hit me – why not actually make something delicious using those ingredients?

I assume you’re thinking that this is impossible. Part of me agrees that it’s at least insane to try. But, once I got started on that path, I figured – why not? I can do this. Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I’ve never actually made bread pudding.** And can you believe that a google search of “Cap’n Crunch bread pudding” didn’t yield any recipes? Well, it will now…. Anyway, so I started by scouring bread pudding recipes. It doesn’t look that difficult. Essentially like baking mushed up french toast. And I see that some people use nuts or raisins, so a little crunchiness should be appropriate.

So, first, we assemble the ingredients….

To be totally authentic, I am using half white bread and half wheat bread. Plus, using wheat bread makes it healthy, right? Totally makes up for the fact that we’re using soda, children’s cereal, and candy. Anyway, to recreate this awesomeness, you’ll need the following:

Bread Pudding

4 slices each, stale white and wheat bread (I left the crusts on)
1/2 cup melted butter
4 eggs
2 cups milk
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups sweetened corn and oat cereal, such as Cap’n Crunch.

1 cup caramel sauce (recipe below)
Colored sugar (any color, but yellow may go best with the other colors in the finished product)

If you don’t have stale bread, you can put it in the oven at 350 for about 10 minute so or so until it gets hard. Be careful not to burn it.

Rip bread into chunks and put in large bowl. I had a lovely 15-year-old sous chef take care of this for me, which was extremely helpful. In another bowl, beat the eggs well, add to melted butter. Add milk and whisk, then add brown sugar. Mix well. Add vanilla extract and cinnamon.

Pour mixture over the bread, and let sit for about 15 minutes, periodically, pushing the bread down to ensure that it remains well covered. Once bread is soft, mix in cereal. Pour into greased 9X9 inch pan. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until it reaches desired consistency. Then, make caramel sauce.

Caramel Sauce

1/4 cup cola
2 tbsp. water
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup milk

To start, bring cola to boil in small sauce pan. Reduce to medium heat, then let boil until it reaches a thick, syrupy consistency. Set aside.

In another pan, mix water with white sugar, bring to boil. Cook over low heat, stirring, until sugar caramelizes – it will turn a golden brown. (Kiddo was also quite helpful in this capacity – see if you can borrow a teenager before you begin.) Do not burn. Add butter, brown sugar, and milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until it boils. Add cola syrup. Cook and boil until mixture reduces and reaches desired consistency. Be careful not to let it boil over.

Remove bread pudding from oven and let cool. Cut and serve drizzled with caramel sauce. To be 100% authentic, drizzle with colored sugar. Enjoy. Marvel that something so weird can be so delicious.

Still contemplating whether this should be served with a slice of lunch meat that you can pull out and throw over your shoulder before eating it….

* In the interests of double full disclosure, I only ate it for the first time in December of last year. Yes, I am no better than those cave dwellers I mocked a few moments ago.

DIY “Random Light” Lampshade

Remember our friend Stephanie, who spent the summer of 2012 on a reality show?

Though she’s a chemist, she quickly became known for her craftiness, always making stuff, designing furniture, etc. As she puts it, she imagines that she may be an interior designer in an alternate universe. Very much in touch with her crafty side, this one…. so, we asked her to write a guest blog post, showing you how to make her fabulous DIY hanging light fixtures!


So I live in a pretty cool loft space, but my apartment was riddled with really ugly generic metal light covers that looked more like they belonged in a public school than my apartment. I LOVED some of the fixtures available at Design Within Reach, but they were ridiculously expensive, and I wasn’t willing to drop $2K on four lamp shades. So what’s a gal to do? Make your own! Here’s my step by step process on how to do just that.

Step 1: Acquire big punching ball balloons and inflate until they are nice spheres- the size of these will determine the size of your finished lamp shades, so fill appropriately. A good place to find these is at a party supply store. Also purchase the other supplies you’ll need: wall paper paste, Vaseline, yarn, and stiffening spray. The yarn is going to be the structure of the lamps at the end of your project, so here is where you can really personalize things. Choose colors that go with your décor, or maybe a variety of yarn thicknesses or textures.

Step 2: You’ll want to set up a work space (like that one shown above) where you can suspend the balloons and protect your flooring from drips. An alternative is to work outside or in a basement- but if working outside just make sure it isn’t somewhere that things may blow through the air and stick to your crate.

Now the fun begins! Cover each balloon with Vaseline. Yes, this gets quite messy.

Step 3: Now you’ll be covering your yarn with wallpaper paste. A small bucket is quite helpful here.

Step 4: Pull the yarn out of the paste and wrap around your balloon. Squeeze off excess paste between your fingers as you remove it from the bucket. Otherwise it will be too sloppy & wet. This can be done as a one person job, but it is much easier with two people working together here!

Step 5: Continue adding on string. I used a couple different tones/ thicknesses for variety. Keep swirling yarn around the balloons until you have a nice framework created. Don’t forget to leave an opening at the bottom large enough to slide over your light bulbs!

Step 6: Once dry (I waited 24 hours), spray with stiffener spray- do not hold back! Be liberal with this stuff. J Let dry completely after spraying. Next, pop the balloons and your project is almost complete! I suggest another round of stiffener spray at this point.

Step 7: Hang and enjoy! Looks pretty similar to those retailing for about $1000 here. For less than $10 a pop in supplies to make them yourselves, I think it is worth a little effort!

Awesome! Wanna follow Stephanie’s post-reality adventures? You can connect with her on Twitter, or on her fan page on Facebook!

Guest Post: Frozen Roasted Rhubarb Meringue Pie

It’s Wednesday! While I may have dropped the ball on it the past few weeks, it’s time for a guest post! Today’s recipe is courtesy of Kim Ode, Food & lifestyle writer at the Star Tribune… and author of both Baking with the St. Paul Bread Club, and Rhubarb Renaissance.

Kim is one of the admins of the Baking 101 Facebook group, which is “devoted to sharing the baking experience, especially with the “lost generation” that slipped between the cracks when Betty Crocker was jilted in favor of EZ roll pie crusts and brown-and-serve buns”. Her website is at, and she can also be found on twitter, at @odewrites.

Truth be told, I never imagined spending as much time thinking about, preparing and eating rhubarb as I have over this past year. I’m not complaining. I’ve always liked rhubarb and, frankly, look with some disdain upon those whiners who say it’s too sour.

Still, it’s just rhubarb.

In a foodie world that swoons over sous vide cooking, and salted caramel macarons, and new fondant techniques, and pairing cotton candy with foie gras, rhubarb seems impossible homely.

When I was growing up, Mom most often served it as rhubarb sauce over ice cream. It was a simple dessert for a busy farm wife to prepare with ease or trust her sixth-grade daughter with the task — and everyone liked it. Why would you make something fussier?

The main variations were rhubarb pie, or rhubarb crisp, or a custardy rhubarb dessert made with a buttery pastry crust and topped with meringue. These pretty much were as far as anyone reached beyond their culinary grasp. (more…)

Guest Post : Barley Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms

Extra special guest post today – not only is it our first celebrity guest post.. but the guest poster is one of my favorite foodie tweeps.

We bonded over our mutual affection for a fictional character – Jean Valjean – and our excitement over an upcoming movie featuring Hugh Jackman (yum) playing him. We’ve since found out that we have the same knives. Small world! I digress.. Mairlyn Smith is pretty awesome.

She’s also hilarious – the only professional home economist who’s also an alumnus of the Second City Comedy Troupe. As a cookbook author, and is well known for her warm personality and the wit she brings to her many TV appearances in Canada. Also? She’s adorable!

Mairlyn’s email signature – “Peace, Love, and Fibre” – hints at her culinary passion: healthy eating. Her latest cookbook, “Healthy Eating Starts Here!” is a masterpiece. Huge, beautifully photographed book featuring 140 recipes that are not only healthy, but delicious and accessible.

Today’s blog post marks another first – the first time in my life that I’ve ever followed a recipe to the letter! No adding/subtracting ingredients, or otherwise screwing with it! I’m not sure if I should be proud of that newfound ability, or mourn the loss of the claim.

Let’s go with “proud”. The recipe – from “Healthy Starts Here!” – was fabulous, and didn’t need to be messed with at all. By the time I had the ingredients simmering, my husband was circling the kitchen like an impatient shark, repeatedly declaring how awesome it all smelled, and how hungry he was. The final product did NOT disappoint! Tons of flavor, great texture, and very satisfying!

Anyway, enough of my swooning, let me turn this all over to Mairlyn! (more…)

Guest Post: Hearty Lentil Soup

It’s Wednesday! Time for a guest post! Today’s recipe is courtesy of Liliana, one of my fellow Food Bloggers of Canada members.

Liliana runs the My Cookbook Addiction blog, reviewing cookbooks and cooking up a storm in her Quebec kitchen. She can also be found on twitter, at @cbookaddiction, or on Facebook here.

This soup is one of my comfort foods that my Mom used to make. Whenever it’s simmering on my stove, the wonderful aroma brings back memories of my childhood when my Mom used to tell us that this soup was not only delicious but also nourishing and eating it would help us grow up strong and healthy.

In fact, it is a delicious soup that’s also easy to make. Mom was right (as usual) about being nourishing. According to WHFOODS:

“Lentils also provide good to excellent amounts of six important minerals, two B-vitamins, and protein—all with virtually no fat. The calorie cost of all this nutrition? Just 230 calories for a whole cup of cooked lentils. This tiny nutritional giant fills you up–not out.”

I tweak Mom’s each time I make it. Sometimes I add spinach or kale to the soup and serve with small pasta and sometimes I just serve it on its own. Now I find myself repeating the same words as Mom when I serve it to my family. (more…)

Roasted Butternut Squash Ravioli Recipe

Today’s post is a guest post from Katrina, one of my fellow Food Bloggers of Canada members.

While I’d originally planned to have a few guest bloggers while my kitchen was incapacitated (an idea that came FAR too late in the game, LOL!), consider me inspired – I’m going to try and make this guest bloggers thing a regular thing. As I find Wednesdays to be the BEST day of the week, I figured it’d be the most appropriate day to spread some awesome! 🙂

I figure that I should start off this post with an introduction.

Hi, I’m Katrina. I usually post over at Kitchen Trials.

That should pretty much cut it right? We are all here for the food after all. I’m going to help out Marie with a little guest post while she gets her fabulous kitchen finished. Lucky Marie!

I’m sharing my recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash Ravioli. Take a look at this baby!