31 October 2012

Halloween Oreo Shake


Happy Halloween!  I have to make this quick as I need to get some chili in the slow cooker and get going to my preschooler's Halloween party at school.  This is a quick and easy Halloween treat that I saw on Lauren's Latest a couple of weeks ago and couldn't wait to try.  It's basically a drinkable Oreo!

Halloween Oreo Shake

Ingredients:
1½ cups milk
1 cup crushed ice or 2 cups ice cubes
½ cup hot chocolate mix
8 Halloween Oreo cookies, broken into pieces 
Whipped cream, optional
Halloween sprinkles, optional

Directions:
In a blender, pour in milk, ice, hot chocolate mix, and Oreos. Blend until desired consistency is reached and no ice remains. Pour into glasses and top with whipped cream and Halloween sprinkles. 

Serve immediately.

Makes 2 servings.



 Without the whipped cream on top, you can see how it is kind of orange.  This makes a great year-round treat by using regular Oreos.  No need to wait until Halloween for this yumminess!



Happy Halloween!  Be safe if you will be out trick-or-treating tonight!

30 October 2012

Pumpkin Nacho Cheese Ball



I apologize for this horrible picture. Harsh sunlight and sitting on a FedEx box is certainly not ideal, but it was the only way to get a picture of this before it was devoured at our Reformation Potluck at church on Sunday.  I saw it in Food Network Magazine and thought it would be perfect for a late October potluck.  I changed it slightly; here's my version.

Pumpkin Nacho Cheese Ball

Ingredients:
2 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, softened
3 tbsp taco sauce
1 tsp cumin
¼ tsp chipotle powder
1 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese
½ of an 11 oz. bag of Doritos, crushed into tiny pieces
Stem from a bell pepper
Blue corn tortilla chips

Directions:
Mix together the cream cheese, taco sauce, cumin, chipotle powder, and cheddar cheese.  Scoop onto plastic wrap and use the wrap to form the mixture into a 5” pumpkin-shaped ball; chill at least 2 hours. 

To serve, unwrap, roll in crushed Doritos and press a bell pepper stem into the top.  Place on platter and serve with blue corn tortilla chips.

Makes ? servings.

Sorry that I don't know how many servings it makes.  I changed the seasoning from the original.  It called for salsa, minced onions, and jalepenos.  I thought having chunks in it might turn some people off (especially kids), so I used a smooth taco sauce instead.  And added a bit of chipotle powder to spice it up just slightly.  




This would make the perfect addition to any Halloween party, or it would also be great to make for yourself to snack on in between doorbell rings on Halloween night!

It would also be great for Thanksgiving.  Maybe replace the blue corn chips with some kind of brown cracker?  Like Triscuits or Wheat Thins or something like that.



29 October 2012

Boo-nana Yogurt Pops



Did you miss me last week?  As I explained on my Facebook page, I decided to take the week off from this blog to get caught up on my family blog.  I was about four months behind!  It worked out well, I got nine posts published, some of them with as many as 73 pictures, and now I am only a little less than 2 months behind. Yay!

But it's good to be back here sharing fun recipes with you.  Even though I wasn't posting last week, I sure was cooking.  I think I made at least 7 recipes last week that are blog-worthy.  As promised, here is a fun Halloween-themed treat.  I was signed up to bring snacks to my daughter's preschool on Monday.  I wanted to do something with a Halloween theme, but nothing freaky or scary like severed fingers or bloody eyeballs.  I also wanted it to be somewhat healthy; nothing that was pure candy or cookies.  I did some searching around and found some adorable white chocolate-covered banana pops that look like ghosts at Gina's Skinnytaste.  While hers were dipped in white chocolate, one of the commenters mentioned making them with yogurt instead.  I thought that was genius.  Same result, but healthier. So that's how I made mine.


Boo-nana Yogurt Pops

Ingredients:
12 bananas
32 oz. carton vanilla yogurt
48 mini chocolate chips
Popsicle sticks

Directions:
Spread parchment or wax paper on two baking sheets.  Open carton of yogurt and stir it well to remove any lumps.

One at a time (so they don’t brown), cut each banana in half.  Insert the popsicle stick into the cut end.  Dip the banana half into the yogurt container.  Pull it out and let any excess yogurt drip off.  Place two mini chocolate chips on it for eyes.  Lay it on the baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining bananas.

Place baking sheets in freezer on a level surface.  Freeze for several hours or until solid.  Keep frozen until ready to eat.  Eat quickly, as they are not pretty when they melt!

Makes 24 pops.


These were a huge hit.  Lena reported that her classmates liked them and her teacher wrote on Facebook wall saying that she liked them too.  I didn't need the full 24 for the class, so Lena has been asking for the leftovers every morning for breakfast.

The other thing I changed from Gina's recipe was that she cut her bananas into fourths.  I thought they were just fine cut in half.  You can probably coat more than 24 halves with that amount of yogurt.  I did have some yogurt left over, but not much, and I'm not sure how many more I could have done.  The only problem I had with them was that some of the sticks wanted to come out as I was pulling the banana out of the yogurt.  I used a spoon to support the banana and then the stick froze in place during freezing so it wasn't that much of a problem.

Too bad these won't work to hand out to trick-or-treaters!

Update 10.18.13:
Women's Health Magazine featured these banana pops in their article "Halloween Recipes That Are Actually Healthy".

18 October 2012

Halloween Muddy Buddy Snack Mix



I'll admit it.  I'm not really into Halloween.  I know everyone else just loves it, but I feel it's a pointless and annoying holiday.  We didn't celebrate it at all until last year when my daughter was in her first year of preschool and had a dress-up day.  So I dressed her up as an adorable little butterfly and that was pretty much all there was to the celebration last year.  This year, though, we are pretty much going all out.  My mother-in-law is putting the finishing touches on some really neat My Little Pony costumes for both girls (Rainbow Dash for Lena and Pinkie Pie for Eva), and we are planning on taking them out trick-or-treating.

Savannah of Hammock Tracks invited me to join another one of her blog hops today with the theme being Halloween Goodies.  At first I assumed I would sit out since I'm not big on making those severed fingers or bloody eyeballs that I see all over blogs and Pinterest this time of year.  But then I saw a Halloween snack that wasn't a bit creepy and sounded really good, so I thought, what the heck?  Enter: my first-ever Halloween-themed recipe on this blog!  I got it from Your Cup of Cake, who posted it just 10 days ago.  I don't usually like to repost other bloggers' recipes so soon after they do, but this one was so good I couldn't wait to share it with you.


Halloween Muddy Buddy Snack Mix

Ingredients:
4½ cups Cinnamon Chex cereal
½ cup white chocolate chips
½ cup creamy peanut butter, divided
¼ cup butter, divided
1 tsp vanilla extract, divided
1½ cups powdered sugar, divided
4½ cups Rice or Corn Chex cereal
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tbsp cocoa powder
Reece’s Pieces
Candy Corn

Directions:
Line two baking sheets with parchment or wax paper.  Set aside.

Place Cinnamon Chex in a large bowl with a lid.  In a medium-sized microwaveable bowl, combine the white chocolate chips, ¼ cup peanut butter, and 2 tbsp butter.  Cook in microwave on high for one minute.  Stir until smooth and then stir in ½ tsp vanilla.  Pour mixture over the Cinnamon Chex and stir to evenly coat cereal.  Add ¾ cup powdered sugar, cover with lid, and shake to coat.  Spread cereal out on one of the baking sheets to cool.

Repeat this process with the Rice Chex, semi-sweet chocolate chips, remaining ¼ cup peanut butter, 2 tbsp butter, ½ tsp vanilla, and ¾ cup powdered sugar.  Spread this cereal out on the other baking sheet.

Once cereal is cool, transfer it to a large bowl and add Reece’s Pieces, candy corn, and any other candy you would like.  Toss to evenly distribute candies.

Makes 9 cups.


I made this the other day.  Unfortunately, I failed to notice the line at the top of the print-out that said "Makes 18 cups".  Whoops!  Yep, I made the full recipe and ended up with 18 cups of Muddy Buddies and no one to share them with!  So I went ahead and halved the recipe for posting here because you would have to have one heck of a party to need 18 cups of this stuff!

Another change I made was using Cinnamon Chex for the white chocolate pieces.  I have used Cinnamon Chex in a dessert before (White Trash, yum!), so I knew they would be good in this too.  


Muddy Buddies (or Puppy Chow) is such a great snack/dessert because it is so incredibly easy and fast to make.  And everyone loves it.  What really caught my attention about this recipe was the combination of white and dark chocolate pieces.  I thought that was pretty creative.  My dark pieces didn't turn out as dark as the picture on the original blog, so I increased the cocoa powder a bit in the recipe above.  I think that will help next time.

I was tempted by another Halloween-ish dessert and I am making some Halloween-themed preschool snacks for my daughter's class next week, so you can look forward to two more Halloween recipes from me this year!


Improv Challenge: Savory Oat Stuffed Acorn Squash



It's reveal day for the Improv Challenge.  The premise of this challenge is easy: each month there are two assigned ingredients.  The participants must make a recipe using both ingredients and blog about it.



This month's ingredients kind of threw me for a loop.  Oatmeal and raisins.  Sure there are tons of recipes out there containing oatmeal and raisins, but probably 75% of them are cookies and the other 24% are muffins, breads, pancakes, etc.  You know how I love taking on the challenge of using typically sweet ingredients in a savory application (remember lemons and sour cream, cherries and almonds, and peanut butter and jelly?), and this month was no exception.  After much searching, I finally found a savory oat recipe that I wanted to try.  And it involved acorn squash, which is perfect for this time of year.  It's from the blog Diet, Dessert, and Dogs, but this recipe isn't on the blog anywhere, it's posted in a note on the blog's Facebook page.  I made a few small changes; here's my version.

Savory Oat-Stuffed Squash

Ingredients:
One acorn squash, cut in half, seeds scooped out (wash and save the seeds)
1½ cups vegetable broth 
½ cup steel cut or old fashioned oats
1 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
⅓ cup pecan chips, toasted
¼ cup raisins, chopped
½ tsp garam masala
Salt, to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°. Place the squash, cut side up, in a baking dish.  Place the seeds in a single layer in a small pan that’s been lined with parchment or foil.  Bake the seeds until just browned; bake the squash until the flesh is soft, about 35 minutes.  Allow to cool.

Meanwhile, bring the vegetable broth to a boil in a small pot.  Add the oats, cover, and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. In a small skillet, sauté the garlic and shallot in the oil over medium-low heat until the shallot begins to soften.  Add the garlic and onions (including any oil) to the cooked oats, along with the pecan chips, raisins,  and garam masala. Stir to combine well.  Taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary.

Scoop out some of the squash flesh, leaving a border of about 1” all around.  Add the scooped squash to the oats and mash a bit to break it up and blend well.  Mound the oat mixture in the squash cavities and top with a sprinkling of the baked squash seeds (save the rest for snacks).  Bake in preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, until heated through.  

Makes 2 servings.

This recipe is vegetarian, and vegan.

Changes I made: First, I added the raisins.  Not just so that it would fit with this challenge, but I thought some little pops of sweetness with the savory oats would be great.  And it was.  I also used shallot instead of green onion.  I'm not a big fan of cooked green onions; I prefer them raw as a garnish, so I thought shallot would work better in this role.  I decreased the garam masala a bit.  I didn't actually do the last step listed in the directions, about scooping out some of the squash and adding it to the oat mixture.  As you can see above, my squash already had a 1" border, so I was afraid to remove some for fear that it would collapse on itself.  So I just put the stuffing in there the way it was.  The only bad thing about that was that it made less of the stuffing and I didn't have enough for both halves to be nice and rounded like the one in the picture.  And my acorn squash were quite large too.  So next time I might make the recipe times one and a half.

Also, I toasted my seeds in the toaster oven instead of with the squash in the regular oven.  Did you know that they pop like popcorn?  After a few minutes, they started popping all over the place!  My kids thought it was great fun to see them popping all over the toaster oven.

I loved this savory oat stuffing! I had never had savory oats before, so I didn't really know what to expect.  It was so good!  I seriously think I could eat this stuff for breakfast!  I love the flavor of the garlic and shallot, the crunch of the pecans, and the little bursts of sweetness here and there with the raisins.  Ever since I made it, I've been trying to think of other things I can stuff this "stuffing" into!  I even think it would be good with a roasted chicken.

Once again, I am thankful to the Improv Challenge for getting me to try something I normally wouldn't have.  Be sure to check out the other oatmeal and raisin recipes below, and come back next month to see what I made with sweet potatoes and honey.


17 October 2012

Cider Mustard Glazed Pork Sirloin Roast



So one day last month I was digging around in the chest freezer to see what was available for dinners that week. I came across a big hunk o'meat in a gallon-sized ziploc bag.  Even though it was my own handwriting on the outside saying, "Pork Sirloin Roast, bone-in, 3 lbs., March", I had no recollection of this thing.  I don't remember buying it (why would I buy a pork sirloin roast?), or repackaging it into the ziploc bag, or labeling it.  I must be getting old!  Furthermore, this big piece of meat was covered in ice crystals (but was not actually freezer-burnt), and I honestly didn't know if "March" referred to this year or last!  So what would a normal person do in this situation?  Right, throw it out.  What did I do in this situation?  Yep, you guessed it: made dinner out of it!  A pretty awesome dinner too, if I don't mind saying so!

I immediately googled pork sirloin roast recipes.  And came up with pretty much nothing.  All the recipes for pork roasts were tenderloins.  I did find a few sirloin roast recipes, but they called for boneless roasts and mine was definitely bone-in.  So I just treated it like any other big hunk o'meat and roasted it in the oven.  With it being fall and all, I threw on an apple cider-spicy mustard glaze for good measure.  Here's what I came up with.


Cider Mustard Glazed Pork Sirloin Roast with Gravy

Ingredients:
3 lbs. bone-in pork sirloin roast
Salt
1 cup apple cider
1 tbsp spicy brown mustard
1½ tbsp flour
1 cup chicken broth

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400°.  Line a baking sheet with foil and set a rack on top.  

Season roast on all sides salt.  Place on rack and put in oven.

Place apple cider in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Boil until reduced by half or until slightly thick and syrupy.  Add mustard and stir until combined.  Pour out half of the mixture into a small bowl.

Glaze pork with one half of the cider mustard mixture every half hour or so.  Roast pork until internal temperature reaches 165°; about 1 hour and 45 minutes.

To make the gravy, stir the flour into the chicken broth and add it to the remaining cider mixture in the saucepan.  Bring to a boil and heat until thickened.  Taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary.

Makes about 6 servings.




This pork roast turned out amazing!  Despite being in the freezer for an undetermined amount of time, it came out surprisingly tender and moist.  I made the gravy thinking that it would be necessary to make the pork edible, but it was definitely not so!  It was seriously some of the best pork I've made for a long time.  Don't you just love it when you are pleasantly surprised in the kitchen?


15 October 2012

Eating the Alphabet: Maple Roasted Turnips with Warm Spices


This is one of those recipes where the supporting characters kind of steal the limelight from the star.

Today is reveal day for the Eating The Alphabet Challenge.  This month we had to chose a fruit, vegetable, grain, bean, or legume that began with the letters S or T.  


I was really tempted to do something with squash because there are so many squash recipes I want to try and it's definitely squash season.  But, I remembered that when I started participating in this challenge, I really wanted to try to stick to new foods that I hadn't tried before.  So I decided to go with turnips.  I had never cooked turnips before, had never bought them before, and in fact, can't ever remember eating them before.  And root vegetables are great in the fall, so it was perfect.  I found a recipe that I couldn't wait to try, from Fine Cooking.  Here's my slight adaptation.

Maple Roasted Turnips with Warm Spices

Ingredients:
2½ lbs. turnips, peeled and cut into ½” dice 
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tbsp kosher salt
2 tbsp butter 
3 tbsp pure maple syrup 
¼ tsp vanilla extract 
¼ tsp ground coriander 
¼ tsp ground cardamom 

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425°.  Line a large, heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with foil. 

In a mixing bowl, combine the turnips, oil, and salt. Toss to coat well.  Spread turnips out evenly on baking sheet.  Roast for about 40 minutes, stirring halfway, or until turnips are golden brown and tender.

Place the butter in a small bowl and melt it in the microwave.  Whisk in the maple syrup, vanilla, coriander, and cardamom.  Pour the maple mixture over the warm turnips and toss to evenly coat.  Serve warm.

Makes 4 servings.

This recipe is vegetarian, and can be made vegan by using more olive oil in place of the butter.

I don't understand why coriander and cardamom don't get more attention this time of year.  Everybody's all about the pumpkin pie spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, etc., but coriander and cardamom are warm spices just like those and they definitely don't get the attention they deserve.  They really do make this dish.  

I really liked these turnips.  The original recipe called for a 3/4" dice instead of a 1/2" dice, and I thought that the larger pieces were a tad bitter.  The smaller pieces were more sweet.  So next time I will do them all 1/2".  

Turnips are kind of like a blank canvas, so these warm spices and the maple syrup really shine through.  This would make a lovely side dish for Thanksgiving.  If you really can't wrap your mind around eating turnips, then you could use this same method and lovely maple glaze on any kind of roasted veggies this fall.  I think it would be great on carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash.



12 October 2012

Taste of Michigan 2012


Last Saturday I had the extreme pleasure of attending my first-ever food blogger meet-up.  Taste of Michigan was organized by Rachel of Rachel Cooks and Liz of The Lemon Bowl. Rachel and Liz are both Grand Rapids natives and thought it would be fun to get together with other Michigan food bloggers for a day of fun.  The location was perfect for me as I live just southeast of Grand Rapids and wouldn't have to get a hotel room to attend this event.  What was first planned as a casual get-together, quickly morphed into a sponsored event highlighting local Michigan companies and produce.  There were a total of 20 bloggers, most of whom live in Michigan, or are from Michigan, or have Michigan ties somehow.  A few of them were from out-of-state and just wanted to see all the great things Michigan has to offer.

I didn't get a whole lot of pictures, 1. because many times I had my hands completely full and couldn't (farmer's market) and 2. I was pretty embarrassed about my crappy camera when all the other bloggers were whipping out their fancy DSLRs and taking amazing pics whether the lighting was good or bad. But I did get a few, so here they are.


All dolled up for the big day.  I have to mention: the weather was horrible that day!  I'm pretty sure it was the coldest day of the season so far.  We were supposed to have a high of 50, but after I got home I told my husband that I would be very surprised if it even got that warm.  Sure enough, it only reached 48.  And it was super windy too.  I kept thinking that it felt more like February than early October.  Not the ideal weather to go walking around downtown Grand Rapids all day, but oh well!


We had breakfast at the food truck The Silver Spork.  That was really neat for me because I had never eaten at a food truck before.  


I got their baked oatmeal.  It was really good.  Packed with brown sugar, apples, and dried cherries, and topped with almonds and drizzled with maple syrup, it was perfect for a chilly fall morning.  I also got a hot apple cider to go with it.


This was also my first time at the Fulton St. Farmers Market.  I had heard lots about it, so I was excited to check it out for myself.  It runs from May through Christmas.


This picture doesn't show it very well, but this building goes on forever!  There were so many vendors there; I couldn't believe it.  The variety of goods for sale was just amazing.  Not only fantastic produce (there were some heads of cabbage at least twice the size of my head if not three times the size!), but all kinds of baked goods like many varieties of freshly made pizza doughs, breads, cookies, etc, and fresh flowers, and homemade candies and things like soaps and lip balm.  Shopping there was truly an experience!


After shopping at the farmer's market, we carpooled over to Wealthy St. and stopped at a neat shop, Art of the Table.  This place is a foodie lover's dream!  It is stocked with all kinds of artisanal and locally made goodies, like salsas, sauces, snacks, oils, etc.  They also have a cheese case and a great variety of specialty wines.  I splurged on a wedge of Idiazabal cheese that they were sampling.  Delicious!  We were also given a goody bag filled with some yummy granola, a jar of spicy sweet mustard, a bag of chocolate-covered blueberries, and a Michigan chocolate bar.


The Michigan chocolate bar came from Patricia of Patricia's Chocolate.  Patricia gave us a demonstration and tasting of her ganache chocolates.  They come in flavors like Cherry Hibiscus, Allspice Balsamic, and my favorite, Vanilla Juniper Berry Caramel.  


When we were done at Art of the Table, we had some free time to check out the shops along Wealthy St. and the neighborhood.  The group I was with stopped in at an organic market called Nourish.  I loved this cabbage mural on their wall.


When we were done on Wealthy St., the group I was with headed to another neighborhood on Cherry St.  We ended up walking about a mile and a half round-trip, which is great, except that I was wearing a dress (bare legs, brrr!) and dress shoes.  But it really wasn't that bad.  Our last stop before turning back to the cars was Under the Vines Tasting Room, where we got to sample some locally Michigan made products such as tortilla chips, cherry salsa, and dip mixes.  


By the time we got back to the cars, it was time for lunch.  We had a private lunch at Bistro Bella Vita.  They aren't open to the public for lunch; they created a special lunch just for us!  Liz demonstrated making her family's recipe for hummus in KitchenAid's newest food processor.  Megan of What Megan's Making won the drawing for a brand-new stand mixer and Becca of Crumbs and Chaos won a new toaster.  Lunch was really good; we were served two different kinds of salad (one was kind of a Greek salad and the other had apples and parmesan with a dijon dressing), two different kinds of pizza (one Mediterranean, one bacon, I think). The entrees were amazing: a beef short rib risotto (my fav) and a pasta with arugula, tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella cheese.  They set out a platter of small bite desserts.  There were chocolate-covered strawberries, a flourless chocolate cake, a vanilla cheesecake, a lemon bar, and I can't remember the others!  (I had the chocolate cake and the cheesecake: yum!)


After lunch we all headed over to Reserve Wine and Food, right in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids.  

We were greeted there with a glass of champagne.  Mmm.


And a lovely selection of charcuterie and cheese.  Among the offerings were chicken liver and foie gras pate, pork and garlic rillette, duck rillette, speck and capicola.  There were several different kinds of cheeses, but I can't remember what they all were, except tasty! 


The GM of Reserve was gracious enough to give us a grand tour of the place.  Reserve is home to the winning artwork of the very first Artprize in 2009.  Artprize is a large arts festival held in downtown Grand Rapids every fall.  The public votes for its favorites, and the grand prize winner gets a quarter of a million dollars, or something like that.  This piece is called Open Water #24.  Speaking of Artprize, this was the last weekend of this year's Artprize, and there was a big concert that night, so downtown was just packed with people that day.  


The building that Reserve is in used to be a bank, so they kept the bank vault doors and use them outside their wine vault.  We got to go into the wine vault, which is kept at a cool 57 degrees, and see Reserve's most expensive bottle of wine.  I can't remember what kind it was, but it's worth $2,700.


We had some more free time after we left Reserve.  I went back to the farmer's market and got my car, bringing it to the J.W. Marriott, where we were to have dinner.  Myself and two other bloggers got drinks at Mixology and chatted about blog stuff for a while.


I ordered The Campau: Bacardi Oakheart, rhubarb reduction, sweet vermouth, bitters, and white cranberry juice.  Yum!


Then it was time for dinner.  Dinner was at six.one.six, also at the JW Marriott.  Table for 20 please!


The menu was specially crafted for our group.  And the chefs had no problem catering to the vegetarian, vegan, and raw food diet members among us.  


My food pics aren't great because of previously mentioned crappy camera that has to use a flash in low light like this.  But they will give you an idea of how awesome dinner was.  This is the cauliflower soup with apple puree.


Some really yummy bread and fresh butter.


The butter was sprinkled with some kind of salt and maybe something else.  I'm a salt fiend, so I loved it.


Frisee salad with roasted beets and a maple dijon vinaigrette that was unbelievable.  And check out the fancy tear-drop plate!


The entree was a mushroom stuffed chicken breast with veggies.  All of the food at six.one.six is comes from local farms, and this chicken is from my little town!  Otto's Chicken in Middleville.  Neat!


Dessert was a very unique banana cream pie.  The crust was made from crushed almonds and dried fruit, and the mousse was made from dried fruit and bananas.  It was not only vegan, but also made with 100% raw food.  The truffle was also vegan and raw, made from cocoa nibs and cherries.  


Dinner was totally amazing, and I had lots of fun talking to my fellow bloggers.  But there was one more amazing thing awaiting us as we left: the swag bags!  Each of these bags contained over $500 worth of local Michigan products!  Wow!  Rachel and Liz should get some kind of award for swag bag collecting!  These bags were so loaded with stuff that I was so glad for the free valet parking at the restaurant, so I didn't have to haul mine very far!


The next day I took everything out and snapped a pic.  I could barely fit it all in the picture.  In fact, I accidentally left out the Pure Michigan cookbook.  All of the swag is great, but the two things that completely blew me away were: the voucher for a free bowl of stir fry EVERY WEEK FOR A YEAR at BD's Mongolian Grill (a Michigan company) and two free adult passes to SEVEN different attractions around Grand Rapids, including Meijer Gardens, all the museums, art museums, kids' museum, and the zoo!  That is awesome!

Swag aside, I had so much fun on Saturday.  Getting to meet other food bloggers for the first time was simply amazing.  I really learned alot from talking with them.  I also found that I had some things in common with some of them.  One blogger was a fellow pastor's wife whose husband is currently teaching at a seminary in Mississippi.  And I met another who is a fellow LCMS Lutheran and whose former pastor was a good friend of my husband's in seminary.  Quite a coincidence!

Thank you so much, Rachel and Liz, for organizing this amazing event.  As a stay-at-home-mom with two little ones, I can't tell you how great it was to get out of the house and have a day just for me!  And I can't imagine a better way to have spent it.  Liz and Rachel are planning to make this an annual event, so if you are interested in attending next year's event, please contact them and ask to be put on the mailing list.  I heard they are thinking of having it in Traverse City next year.  That would be fun!