Scary Margarita


The Scary Evolution of the Margarita

Margaritas are a cocktail synonymous with relaxation: lazy days on the beach, pool parties, or a summertime girls’ night out on the town. Invented sometime in the 1930s or ’40s (depending on who you talk to), margaritas hit the scene just before the post-World-War II industrialization of the food system. While original margarita ingredients used to be simple, today’s run-of-the mill versions harbor science-lab-type ingredients that should make you very nervous. “As with anything you eat or drink, no margarita ever rises above the quality of its ingredients,” explains Paul Abercrombie, author of Organic, Shaken and Stirred. “You should use the freshest and highest-quality stuff you can get. Typically, this means going organic.”

Canned Chemical Chaos

This spring, Anheuser-Busch launched the Lime-a-Rita, a blend of Bud Light Lime beer and margarita flavors. It’s a concoction that’s likely to make a true margarita connoisseur…

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Meal Planning at the Lake

Summer Solstice is upon us and vacations are in full swing!  Lake houses are filling up, lightning bugs being caught, and fishing is all the rage.  From sunrise to sunset activities fill the hours; enjoying life has never been so much fun or so much work.  Serving up satisfying meals without sacrificing yourself to the kitchen requires some prevacation prep work, but it’s well worth it when you are busy, even if you’re doing nothing at all.

Every June my boys and I have the pleasure of spending a week at the lake with my niece, nephews, brother-in-law, sisters in-law, and father-in-law.  It is one of our favorite things to do all year.  I shop starting the week before we are scheduled to leave, sometimes earlier if I see something on sale that I know we’re going to be eating, i.e. bacon.  With a group of roughly 15 of us, it is hard to please everyone, all the time.  I usually start the menu off by taking suggestions (even the junk food ones loved by my nephews) and then shaking as much of it as possible into a plan that achieves a compromise.  It can be a challenge to keep a non processed lifestyle when with others, however no matter how nice I am trying to be, I will not buy garbage snacks for the kiddies.  So this year I will be baking brownie bites, mini chocolate chip muffins, and cake batter rice krispie treats to take along in order to offer the sweet snacks the kiddo’s want in a way that doesn’t make me cringe.  I also prep and marinade all the meat at home and freeze for the car ride. Last year we discovered a clean, well priced grocery store; I am going to take my chances and buy all the bread, dairy, and  fresh produce in Michigan.  Seeing as how in Chicago, Michigan fruits and veggies are sought after I hope to find some ripe delights!  What are some ways that you style your vacation food?

Here’s some great marinade recipes that pleases even picky palates:
Alton Brown’s Molasses Coffee Marinade for Pork
Jennirific Brined Grilled Chicken
Mojo Marinade – Great for Fajitas

Baked Mostaccioli

    What’s a party without pasta?  Time and again I am greeted by a familiar few standards on the buffet station while celebrating graduations, birthdays, and other happy events; beef sandwiches, fried chicken, and baked pasta.  These mainstays are available at many local catering venues and usually all taste exactly alike, which is ok if you want your food to just blend into the blur of the backyard party season.  However, if you’re ready to break the mold and have your fare stand out, this recipe is perfect!
A blend of tradition with just enough of a twist to make it unique, guests will rave about your baked mostaccioli whenever they eat another all year long.  My favorite aspect is that you can customize the ingredients to offer not only a better tasting pan of pasta but a better for you main dish as well!  The cottage cheese mixed with an egg is my mother’s way of making baked pasta and mom always knows best! 



  1. Cook pasta according to directions on box.  You want al dante pasta, not too soft. 
  2. Brown sausage and add sauce. Heat until warm to blend flavors, take off heat and allow to cool.
  3. In a medium bowl mix cottage cheese and egg together until combined, then mix in ricotta cheese.
  4. Now the fun part, the layering!

To a lightly greased 9×13 pan add enough sauce to cover the bottom of the pan

Add 1/2 of the cooked pasta evenly

Cover pasta with sauce

Layer 1/2 the cottage cheese/ricotta mixture

Cover with a healty layer of mozzarella cheese

Begin the process again with a light layer of sauce

Spread the remaining sauce over the pasta

Spread the remaining cottage/ricotta cheese mixture over the sauce

Top with a generous amount of shredded mozzarella

Cook in a preheated 350 degree oven covered for 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue to cook until cheese is golden, about 15 more minutes. Allow to set for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Before I had a chance to take the “after shot” of my pretty pasta, it was gone.  It didn’t last at the party for 20 minutes!  Hope yours goes over just as well.

Strawberry Banana Trifle

Dessert is a favorite word in my vocabulary!  Cakes, cookies, tarts, pies, puddings; they all have a special place near and dear to me.  Baking is the first culinary adventure I embarked on, while standing on a chair in my mother’s kitchen stirring pudding to make pies.  After some time, I graduated to cookies and my hunger for knowledge kept me testing out more and more recipes for sweet treats.  Baking is common tradition shared in families, and mine is no different.  The most fabulous pound cake ever is made into lambs every Easter by my godmother and covered with a unique cream cheese like frosting.  She bakes, then freezes the cakes; which I think contributes to their dense, silky texture. The recipe is not mine to share, and even with it my results have never achieved lamb cake status.  Some recipes are all about the method.  I have included the Joy of Cooking pound cake recipe; which is very similar and always bakes a nice cake.              
Today, I am mixing a little of all my favorite aspects of dessert and offering a trifle recipe to take along to your next party, or serve at home to loved ones.  This dish is a constant in my repertoire
 because I can make parts of it when I have time and not have to spend too long on the day I wish to serve.  Since it’s June and strawberries are in season and gorgeous, I went with Strawberry Banana; however feel free to mix the fruit choice up to your tastes or whatever looks best in the produce department. Blueberries, raspberries, peaches, cherries; these all work wonderfully! This also works great served in individual portioned glasses, parfait style. 


    • 2 loaves of pound cake cut into cubes. (The loaves can be made in advance or you can purchase from your local bakery.)
      • 2 pints heavy whipping cream, made into whipped cream
    • 1 serving crème patisserie (I usuallly make this the day before I am serving the trifle. The pastry creme should be used within three days of preparation.)
  • 1 lb. fresh strawberries sliced and allowed to sit with 1 teaspoon of sugar mixed into for 20 minutes.
  • 4 ripe bananas, sliced with a small sprinkle of lemon juice to keep from turning brown


  1. Apply a small amount of crème patisserie to the bottom of a deep bowl.
  2. Layer the first loaf of pound cake, distributing evenly through the bowl.
  3. Spread the sliced bananas on top of pound cake; leave a few pieces aside for garnishing.
  4. Spread the crème patisserie in a thick layer on top of the bananas.
  5. Layer the second loaf of pound cake, distributing evenly.
  6. Spread the strawberries and their juice on top the second layer of pound cake, leaving a few slices for garnishing
  7. Top with an even layer of whipped cream, using all of it.
  8. Garnish with remaining fruit.
  9. Allow Trifle to sit for at least 3 hours before serving.



New England Style Crockpot Beans

A summertime staple at cookouts and the dinner table of my youth, Baked Beans represent warm weather and grilled eats.  How sad was I when I was told that I had an allergy to tomatoes and had to forgo one of my favorite side dishes?  Luckily, with a little research, I came across the difference between Southern style  and New England style beans.  Turns out folks up in Maine and their neighbor states find adding ketchup to beans is a crime akin to adding ketchup to a hotdog in Chicago.  Finally, something this South Side Irish girl had in common with Yankees out east, beans!
Traditional recipes call for a bean crock and hours of baking in the oven, which would hardly suit during the humid summers of Chi-Town.  Good thing my best friend the Crock Pot is always there to keep the heat down in the kitchen while still delivering delicious food!

New England Style Baked Beans, Grilled Corn on the Cob, and BBQ Brined Chicken. Classic Summer Fare!


  • 1 pound of beans (I used a combo of Great Northern, Small Red Kidney, and Pink Beans)
  • ½ pound of bacon, cut into 1” pieces
  • ½ medium yellow or sweet onion cut into 1” pieces
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt


  1. Soak beans overnight in cold water.
  2. Drain most of the liquid, leaving only a ½ of the soaking liquid in the crock.
  3. Add all ingredients to the crock, fill with water until beans are covered.
  4. Cook on LOW for 10-12 hours, monitoring water level and adding more if needed to keep beans submerged.
  5. Remove lid of crockpot during the last hour of cook time in order to allow beans to thicken.
  6. Serve with BBQ favorites and Enjoy!


Antipasti Pasta Salad

April showers bring us May flowers, so the saying goes.  The month of May also kicks off the outdoor party season!  Graduations, Communions, Wedding Festivities, Summer Holidays, and my favorite type of party; the Just Because start in earnest this month.  Many of the shindigs I attend are potluck style, with the host providing the main course eats and us lucky guests providing sides and appetizers.  It is always interesting to see what others bring to share and of course swapping recipes and getting clued into the ingredient lists behind the tasty, but often heavily processed dishes. 
Antipasto, meaning “before the meal” classically is the first course in a formal Italian meal.  Traditional antipasto includes cured meats, olives, pepperoncini, anchovies, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, various cheeses, pickled meats and vegetables (either in oil or in vinegar).  I was introduced to this collection of yumminess in grade school by an Italian classmate and eagerly brought the idea home to the dinner table.  It was a hard sell for my Midwestern, blue collar family with big appetites and a thrifty pocketbook.  They enjoyed it, but always asked if we could just have pasta with it and call it a meal. It was too much to add into our regularly scheduled weekly pasta night, hence the inspiration for Antipasti Pasta Salad.  The trick here is to make the pasta the night before and cook it just barely al dante.  While the pasta rests overnight in mild vinaigrette dressing it will soak up flavor and maintain the perfect texture; chewy yet firm.
Prepare to be a Pot Luck Rockstar at your next party and have the recipe handy!


  • 1 lb whole wheat pasta.  Rotini, penne, or cavatelli work well.
  • 1 cup of Basic Vinaigrette Dressing
  • 1 medium onion, red or sweet.
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 1 16 oz jar of Mild Gardinera
  • 1 16 oz jar of Mild Pepper Rings or Pepperoncinis
  • 1 lb hard salami cut into 1 inch rounds
  • 1 lb slicing pepperoni cut into 1 inch rounds*
  • 1 lb mozzerella cheese
  • 1 lb pepperjack cheese


  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions the evening prior to assembling the salad.  You are aiming for al dante, do not over cook or your pasta will be mushy.
  2. Toss cooked pasta with the Basic Vinaigrette Dressing and place in a storage bag in the refrigerator overnight.
  3. Chop onion and pepper into 1 inch squares.
  4. Add 1/2 the jar of gardinera, veggies only and at least 1/2 the jar of peppers.  This is to taste and you can add more or less to your preference.
  5. Toss all vegetables together in a large bowl.
  6. Cut the salami and pepperoni int 1 inch cubes

    At my local deli they slice the meat into 1 inch rounds, I order 4 of each for 1 lb of salad.

  7.     Cut the cheeses into 1 inch cubes

    Slice the brick of cheese in half to achieve a 1 inch diameter

  8. Mix into vegetable, meat, and cheese mixture 1/2 of the oil from the gardinera and 1/2 of the liquid from the jarred peppers
  9. Gently fold pasta into all other ingredients.  Allow salad to rest for at least 3 hours.  The longer it rests the better the flavors will meld together.