Saturday, July 5, 2014

3 Tips That Will Impact Your RAGBRAI Experience

A RAGBRAI host family home in Orange City, Iowa
3 Tips that will impact your RAGBRAI experience
By Kathy Stutzman aka Mama Caruso

Now that the 4th of July is over it’s time to get really serious about RAGBRAI which is in less than 2 weeks and I wanted to share some pointers that I have found to really enhance my RAGBRAI experience. For those of you who do not know what RAGBRAI is it stands for the (DesMoines) Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa – and by bikes, they don’t mean motorcycles, they mean bicycles.

Every year 10,000 to 20,000 bicycle riders mount up and start their trek across the great state of Iowa by dipping their rear bicycle tires in the Missouri and head east…for the brave and crazy ones, that means all the way to the Mississippi River, in 7 short days. Each year the course varies between north and south, hilly and flat, long and short. This year’s course is coming close to my town in Minnesota it is that far north, so of course I am riding. We have a small family
Dipping my wheels in the Mississippi
team and this is one of our annual family vacations.

While I am a relative “newbie” after riding RAGBRAI 7 years, I have learned a few things along the way and thought that I would share the top three things that have really impacted my experience at RAGBRAI, so please enjoy and I hope you find these useful:

Tip #1: Lots and lots of George Washingtons, yes, one dollar bills. No kidding, I have made so many friends by walking around with my daily allotment of 25 $1 bills, I can’t tell you. But I can tell you that several years ago I got moved to the front of a 100 person+ line waiting for pasta because the cashier at the front of the line needed someone to help them make change for all of the $20’s they were getting. I can’t tell you how incredible that felt to get moved to the front of the line, and to have my meal comped because I had $25 in one dollar bills.

If you can imagine, each rider spends between $50 - $150/day consuming calories and fluids to fuel the thousands and thousands of calories that we burn, that’s a lot of money. And, a lot of that is spent on $1 bananas, drinks, brownies, cookies, you get the idea…so by the time the 100th rider has stopped by the cookie lady’s stand at 7:00 in the morning to buy a $1 cookie with a $20 bill – there’s no change left, and in fact, she probably ran out of change after the 10th rider…so riders, and support crews, carry your cash in $1 and $5’s and you will be loved, and you will be fed and you will be able to pay for the food that someone has so graciously provided for you to get replenished.

Tip #2: Snack sized ziplocks. I bring an entire box of 100 snack sized ziplocks with me and our entire family uses them. For what? Riders…tell me…how would you use a snack sized ziplock? Let me count the ways…first and foremost, my cell phone goes in there. It fits in a snack sized ziplock perfectly and it is protected from the rain and the sweat if I am carrying it in my jersey pocket. But the beauty of carrying my phone in a ziplock is that I can still see through it in case I do get any messages. Cell phone use and crashing the bandwidth during RAGBRAI is another story.

We also use snack sized ziplocks for our daily snacks, they are just the perfect size, and I use another one for my money and identification. This is a great travel tip too, I use snack size ziplocks when carrying money in a money belt and it keeps the money from absorbing any sweat or rain that I may encounter while wearing my money belt. Because I also carry a bike bag, I bring quite a few very useful things that all go into snack sized ziplocks; business cards, note paper and a pen – I never know when I am going to want an autograph, or get someone’s phone number for a story, my camera, and any emergency medications I might need, especially an allergy medicine – it seems like there is always something blooming in Iowa.

Most importantly, I keep the addresses of the places where I am staying in a snack sized bag so that it does not disintegrate in the rain or sweat. Once my brain has been challenged by riding 80+ miles day after day, I do not want anything hindering directions to where I am going to rest…and because of the bandwidth problem, I cannot rely on GPS.

The unassuming pacifier pod 
Tip # 3 is a 12 in 1, really…are you ready? The absolute most useful accouterments, something besides my
biking gear that I bring is…a pacifier pod. Yes a pacifier pod, and in fact, I just found some really super cute ones that match my bike and I can’t wait to show them off. Why in the world would any bicyclist want a pacifier pod, and exactly what is a pacifier pod?

A pacifier pod is a very small 2” x 4” pouch with a snap strap made of nylon or other durable fabric with a velcro closure that snaps on and off my bike handle-bars and provides me with quick and ready access to absolutely everything I need whenever I stop. Whenever I stop during the ride, I just unsnap this cute little pouch and away I go. Here is what I carry in my pouch (please see photos to envision the usefulness):

·         Cash – some of those George Washington’s I alluded to before, not all, some;
·         An insect repellent towelette, in case I need to make a quick trip to the cornfield;
·         A credit card in case my tire needs repair at the bike tents along the course;
·         An antibacterial wipe or two for so many reasons;
All of these items fit nicely into the pouch
·         A blister pack of Chamois Butter to keep chafing at bay, especially after 50 miles;

·         Sunscreen stick;
·         Allergy medicine for sudden attacks;
·         A few coins
·         A business card
·         A bandaid;
·         Pepto-bismol tablets and calcium to deal with sudden cramps;
·         A thermometer and compass – it is easy to get disoriented after riding for 8 hours in the blistering heat and I like to know what the temp is for context, sometimes I will hang the thermometer on my bike bag but it swings back and forth and annoys me.

I want each of these items to be available when I need them and don’t want to be digging around for them. And, more times than not, other riders will ask me for almost everything in my pouch – the antibacterial wipes are especially handy for those unexpected pit stops or when the port-a-potties have run out of toilet paper and I usually end the day with most of my consumable supplies exhausted. I used to carry a tiny LED flashlight in the pouch too, but it gave way to the Chamois Butter.


I lock the pod into place with a bandanna
to keep it in place. A bandanna is
another very useful item!
The three tips have really made a difference in not only my experience of  RAGBRAI, but also of the many people with whom I come in contact during that wonderful, challenging and character-building week. I hope you find these tips useful and be sure to let me know if you pass me during the ride…and remember to Ride Right (that means ride to the right unless you are passing!) From my table to your…from my bike to yours…enjoy!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Bloody Mary Gazpacho Recipe - Celebrate Your 4th of July With Some Spice and Fun


Bloody Mary Gazpacho will spice up any celebration
Just in time for your 4th of July gathering - from my table to yours - enjoy!

Bloody Mary Gazpacho Recipe

From the Table of Mama Caruso


Serves 10 – 12
Prep time 30 minutes
Chill before serving

This soup is simple and easy and can be easily modified to suit your taste. Use the recipe below as a base from which your imagination can launch.

I like to serve this from a large glass bowl, a punch bowl or in a large glass pitcher filled with some of the veggies and pickle skewers. Have available Mason jars, or tall glasses to serve the soup into. Offer a platter of additional veggies and pickles for each person to select their own to individualize their soup.

To add nice touch, put 4 6 oz. paper cups filled with tomato juice into the freezer ahead of time to keep the soup chilled while serving.

This is a very fun, interactive and colorful item for any gathering.

Bloody Mary Gazpacho Time

At 11:00 Central time I am going to be making my Bloody Mary Gazpacho for a 4th of July Celebration. Here's what I found at the store yesterday to add some flavor. Join me at #MamaCarusoCooks for pointers



Thursday, June 26, 2014

Chicken Artichoke Enchilada Casserole Recipe

Chicken Artichoke Enchilada Casserole
Chicken Artichoke Enchilada Casserole
from the kitchen of Mama Caruso

This recipe yields 12 servings
13” x 9” casserole pan
30 minutes to prepare and assemble
30 minutes to bake

This dish can be assembled ahead of time, kept refrigerated for two days maximum and then baked. Increase baking time to 45 minutes at 375 when baking after refrigerating the first time.

Ingredients

8 chicken thighs
4 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 large Vidalia or sweet yellow onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic diced
2 13.75 oz. cans of whole artichokes hearts cut into 8 sections (cut lengthwise and then in half)
2 10 oz. cans of medium green enchilada sauce
Ingredients all ready to go
1 8 oz. container of veggie cream cheese
1 8 oz. container of cheddar jalapeno cream cheese
10 oz. of sharp cheddar cheese shredded (about 3 cups)
10 oz. of Monterey jack cheese shredded (about 3 cups)
18 small (8 inch) corn tortillas
Salt and pepper

Sour cream and salsa for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Chopped onion and garlic

Step 1 - Cook the Chicken

On a baking sheet spread 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil. Roll the chicken thighs in the oil and when evenly coated with oil generously salt and pepper each side of chicken. Place in preheated oven for 25 minutes. This step can be done ahead of time so the chicken can cool before cutting.

Step 2 – Prepare the Remaining Ingredients

Cut the artichokes in half lengthwise
and then in half

While the chicken is cooking chop the onions and cut the artichokes into 8 sections. Shred the cheese

Step 3 – Sauté the Onions, Garlic and Artichokes

Place the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet or sauté pan. Turn the heat to medium and when the pan is hot, place the onions in the oil, add salt and pepper and cook until the onions are translucent (about 6 minutes).

Saute the onions, garlic
artichokes and chicken
until the flavors marry
Add the artichoke heart sections, chopped garlic and a dash of salt and pepper and stir to mix with the onions. Cook at a low temperature for 3-4 more minutes until the artichoke hearts are heated through. Turn off the heat until the chicken is chopped and ready to go in the skillet with the onions and artichokes.
Step 4 – Cut the Chicken and Mix in Skillet with Onions, Garlic and Artichokes

When the chicken has cooked in the oven for 25 minutes take the baking sheet out of the oven and using a pair of tongs (to hold the hot chicken while cutting) and sharp knife cut the chicken into small bite-sized pieces (about ¾ of an inch square).

Cut the chicken on the cooking sheet in the chicken drippings. Place all of the chicken and drippings into the skillet with the onions and artichokes, sauté on medium for 10 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees to cook the casserole.
Cover the bottom with the enchilada sauce

Step 5 – Prepare the Casserole Pan

Grease the pan with vegetable oil, or cooking spray. Be sure to grease the sides of the pan in addition to the bottom. Spread 1/2 of one of the cans of enchilada sauce evenly over the bottom of the casserole pan.

Step 6 – Prepare the 1st layer of Tortillas

Spread 1/6 (about 1 ½ tablespoon) of the veggie cream cheese on each of the 6 bottom layer tortillas. Place the tortillas evenly over the bottom of the pan on top of the layer of enchilada sauce.
Stack the tortillas to cover
each layer

Step 7 – Add the Chicken Onion and Artichokes

Spread ½ of the chicken, onion and artichoke mixture evenly on top of the tortilla layer.

Step 8 – Add the Cheese and Enchilada Sauce

Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheddar cheese and 1/3 of the Monterey jack cheese over the chicken mixture. Pour the remaining ½ of the first can of enchilada sauce over the cheese and chicken layer.

Step 9 – Prepare the 2nd layer of Tortillas
The chicken and artichoke layer

Spread 1/6 (about 1 ½ tablespoon) of the cheddar jalapeno cream cheese on each of the next layer of 6 tortillas. Place the tortillas evenly over the first cheese and chicken layer.

Step 10 – Add the Chicken Onion and Artichokes
Spread the remaining ½ of the chicken, onion and artichoke mixture evenly on top of the tortilla layer.

Ready for the oven
Step 11 – Add the Cheese and Enchilada Sauce
The second layer

Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheddar cheese and 1/3 of the Monterey jack cheese over the chicken mixture. Pour ½ of the second can of enchilada sauce over the cheese and chicken layer.

Step 12 – Prepare the Top Layer of Tortillas

Let the casserole rest for 10 minutes
to let it set-up and for a nice
presentation
Place the remaining 6 tortillas evenly over the cheese and chicken layer. Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 of the cheddar cheese and 1/3 of the Monterey jack cheese over the top. Pour the remaining ½ of the enchilada sauce over the cheese and tortillas. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

Garnish with sour cream and salsa.

I have been making two of these at a time and sharing with my family and friends. Use gluten free corn tortillas for a hearty comfort casserole for your gluten-free guests.

Serve this with a simple corn, cilantro, olive and jalapeno salsa and avocado on the side.

From my table to yours, enjoy! Mama Caruso 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Play Like a Kid in the Kitchen

Love love love these
new marshmallows
I am sitting in the kitchen waiting for the final test bake of my super delicious Chicken Artichoke Enchilada Casserole and can't wait for it to be done so I can post the recipe. Every time I have cooked the casserole is was been really great and all of my taste testers (a nice picky group) have unanimously loved it...yippiee! I can't wait to share it with you all!

I hope to have it posted by tomorrow before I leave for #TECHMunch Conference in Chicago where I will be connecting with food, wine and lifestyle bloggers from all over - can't wait. Too many exciting things happening and I am just sitting in my kitchen waiting...

I am pretty sure I have mentioned that I am not the best "waiter" in more
respects than one, so I am looking around the kitchen filling my time...waiting and look what I come across - black olives and marshmallows> I am immediately transported to my childhood. Time to play a little.

I know you think about doing this
What kid doesn't wear olives on their fingers? I think about it every time every kid who comes into my house does this same thing...if they can do it, why can't I? Ohhh this is fun, if I had some white bread in the house, I would put some of my leftover pasta on it and make a spaghetti sandwich...another one of my childhood favorites!!

And, one of my real favs - marshmallows that came in a little box that was two marshmallows wide, six marshmallows long, in two layers separated by a thin layer of cardboard and wrapped in plastic - which meant that if you did not eat them all, they would get nice and hard and have some great chewy texture by the time I discovered them in the pantry. So sweet with a little crunch, chewy and satisfying...and even then I wondered what they were made of because I wanted to make more...yum.

Okay - so what foods remind you of your childhood? Did you eat the crust first off of your sandwiches or pop-tart? Did you just love a crazy combination of foods..like a spaghetti or onion sandwich? What foods or methods of eating food remind you of your childhood?  I would love to hear about them.

Well - it looks like the casserole is done and I don't know exactly what
happened to all of those funky cool marshmallows, but I had a lot of fun today while waiting. Until I tomorrow...enjoy...from my table to yours, Mama Caruso.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Recipe Testing Day!!

Ingredients ready to go
I cook to relax, I know, I know, for so many people cooking can be a stressful activity - but nothing (well except for vacuming) calms me more than creating some crazy dishes to serve. The wilder the ingredients, the more extravagant the cooking techniques, the crazier the combination of flavors the better.

I can read a recipe or look at a set of ingredients and know exactly how I want it to taste and when I am on a cooking jag...watch out! I could never make it on any of the cooking shows, because when I am in the zone, tasting the texture, the flavors, the layers of goodies unfolding, being mixed and and matched I go into an alternate universe. Some may call it an altered state, and I spent most of last week in that place trying to relax and as a result ended up with some pretty phenemonal dishes.

Today I am testing the recipes, moving the food from my brain onto paper and I can't wait to share them with you. Each of the dishes are unpretentious but will amaze others when you serve them - all with a mix of semi-home cooking to make the meals accessible for all - no matter your cooking skills. So look for the recipes next week cause I am cooking up a storm today!

Here are some of the delights that are cooking in my kitchen today:

I couldn't wait so had to whip up
a batch to taste test
Coconut curry shrimp poppers
Carmelized onion coconut stew
Spicy ginger fried plaintain
Mango cilantro salsa
Super delicious cheesy  grits
Sweet potato rosemary chips
Corn and bean salsa
Chicken artichoke enchilada casserole

Yummm, can't wait to get these recipes tested so that we can get to eating! From my table to yours...enjoy...Mama Caruso

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

West African Cooking Heating up my Kitchen


Can't wait to transform this plantain
I belong to a book group whose theme is "we read to eat". Each month we read a book and then cook a meal that corresponds to the book - it is loads of fun and creates great opportunities for gathering, eating and laughing. Over the past 9 years we have traveled all over the world through books and this month we are reading "The Witch Doctor's Wife" by Tamar Myers which means we are visiting West Africa...yippiee! I returned from Ghana recently with a suitcase filled with spices, cookbooks and several cooking lessons so I am all ready to go.

After a trip to the local grocery store where I found these plaintain I settled on Kelewele, one of my favs: a spicy, flavorful fried sliced plaintain - it makes my mouth water just to think about it. I can't wait to get cooking tomorrow adn I especially can't wait to get eating. Stay tuned for completed food photos and recipe. From my table to yours...enjoy.

Click here for more on my latest trip to Ghana