I'm a wee bit too young to be considered a "Boomer," so I didn't use a Toas-Tite growing up, but that hasn't stopped me from becoming infatuated with this old-timey sandwich maker that has been brought back to life by a couple of graduates from Hersey High School in Arlington Heights.
Growing up in Mount Prospect, sisters Jan Feigenbaum and Sue Caldwell enjoyed warm gooey sealed-crust cheese sandwiches their mother made on the Toas-Tite maker. The cast-aluminum cooking gadget was popular from the mid 1940s to early 1950s and disappeared from the market in 1953.
After spotting an original Toas-Tite at a yard sale, Sue, who now lives in Hoffman Estates, and Jan, who lives in Long Island, New York, decided a new generation needed to experience original "hot pocket" sandwiches.
After trying one out myself, I can see why Bed, Bath & Beyond has these stocked for holiday gift-giving. Toas-Tite costs $29.95 and appeals to the Boomer generation and anyone who loves fun cooking gadgets.
The vintage-styled box and instructions include recipes for pies and savory snacks, but for my first sandwiches I went with old-school toasted cheese. Keep in mind that the Toas-Tite must be "seasoned" with cooking oil before its first use, and make sure to coat the inside with cooking spray (or better yet spread butter over the bread) for easy release. Resist the temptation to let the filling ooze out the sides or you'll have a gooey mess on your stove top. My second Toas-Tite session included heated breakfast sausages and cheese and I'm plotting grilled PB&Js (no peanut butter dripping out the sides) and chicken and cheese "quesadillas" for my next experiments.
Making memories: Remember that cake your mom and grandma used to make every Christmas? What was that called again? Don't let that memory melt away. Capture it in "Cooking up Memories," a culinary journal.
The hardcover book ($19.95) is meant to be presented to a beloved cook in your life and opens with "These are some of the wonderful things I remember you making. Please will you include the recipe for these within this collection as well as others you think I will like ..."
Entries prompt the receiver to write about how she/he learned to cook, favorite meals and mealtime memories and the like. It's not meant to be work, but a delicious stroll down memory lane. Pages at the back are set aside for recipes. The hope is that the completed book makes it back to you so you can relive the memories and pass down the recipes to others. A present that all can enjoy.
Dairy-free: A steamy mug of milky hot chocolate is one of the things that makes winter in these parts bearable. But for vegans -- those who follow a diet that eschews such animal products as milk, cheese and honey -- traditional hot chocolate is off the list.
Paulina Kadzielawska, owner of Pure Juice Cafe in Arlington Heights, has come up with an alternative and shares her recipe for the Vegan treat: Vegan Hot Cacao.
First, soak 12 sprouted cashews in filtered water for 2 hours. Drain and put in a blender with 1 tablespoon raw cacao powder, 2 ounces maple syrup (or raw agave), 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 4 pinches of Himalayan pink salt, a pinch of ground cinnamon and 12 ounces hot water. Process until cashew pieces break down; sweeten as desired.
Something to wine about: While it probably won't ever rival California, Illinois has a thriving wine industry. Learn more about it when author and sommelier Clara Orban in conjunction with the Culinary Historians of Chicago presents A Toast and Tasting to Our State's Great History Saturday, Dec. 13.
Orban, author of "Illinois Wines and Wineries: the Essential Guide" (SIU Press, 2014), will talk about the history of Illinois wines and share little-known facts about an industry that dates back more than 150 years. She will also compare Illinois to other Midwest states and to the West Coast powerhouses. She will give an overview of the different wine regions of Illinois, the status of grape varieties and look into the future of Illinois wine. After the presentation, attendees will have the chance to sample some Illinois wines and purchase a copy of her book.
Her talk runs 10 a.m. to noon at Kendall College's School of Culinary Arts, 900 N. North Branch St., Chicago. (Free parking available in the north lot across the street.)
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