Kelly the Culinarian

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Three Things Thursday

1. It's been seven years since I got Napoleon! He hasn't changed much in appearance, but he's transformed behavior wise in the last year or two. Instead of a jerk, he's become a friendly, tolerant family dog who follows the kids from room to room and is very excited when they come over. Here's to another seven years with my furry best friend.

2. We went to an awesome beer release party at Goose Island this week that ended in Peaquod's Pizza and a cookie dough cookie sandwich from Sweet Mandy B's. I regret nothing.

2. We got a fairy garden on a whim when we were getting flowers and tomato plants for the summer. It's a hit - the six-year-old carefully planted and arranged all the items in the box, and has been diligently checking it for signs of a fairy. When the tooth sign showed up, she began a correspondence with the tooth fairy. She wrote back, and I've kept all the notes for future generations.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Delightful Night at Carlucci's

Every now and again, I get invited to incredible dining experiences thanks to my fabulous friends and business contacts. I was recently invited to dine at Carlucci's, but the opinions are all mine.

I got an invite to a five-course Tuscan wine dinner and was impressed with the set up. We were all seated at a giant white table in a private room overlooking the patio. It was very reminiscent of a wedding (maybe I've got it on my mind?) or the Mad Hatter's tea party. We got right down to business sampling wines and appetizers, some of which aren't on the menu - yet. The mushroom bruschetta was a big hit, and I loved the goat cheese with pink peppercorns.

Next up was a salad featuring a fried soft-shell crab and garlic aioli. While they look weird, these crabs sure are tasty. They were quite succulent, and the wait staff said they were delivered live earlier in the day. And you can't have dinner at an Italian restaurant without a pasta course. This dish was homemade, complete with bolognese sauce.

It only made me more hungry for the main course, which was a rather unconventional highlight. We dined on monkfish wrapped in pancetta and served with green lentils and a spicy broccoli slaw. It was my favorite dish of the night by far, and I was surprised how tender and flavorful the monkfish was. The slaw was a great complement to the unexpectedly creamy lentil accouterments.

I always leave room for dessert, and you better believe I polished this off. It was a creamy goat cheese panna cotta topped with roasted figs and a touch of honey. It was an ideal balance of sour and sweet. I would've never considered a savory and pungent ingredient like goat cheese as a dessert option, but it cut through the sweetness of the roasted figs.

A huge thanks to Carlucci's for the invite!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Three Things Thursday

1. We've started wedding planning! It's exciting and overwhelming and man there is a lot to do. But in the meantime, we got our first wedding gift! Aren't these mugs from GiftsForYouNow darling? It's a local company that does the personalization on-site. Feeling fancy today!

2. It's graduation season and I'm loving all the advice columns that come out this time of year. I can't believe it's been 10 years since I finished my undergraduate education and tried out this whole real-world thing. This article about excelling as a junior enlisted officer was a great read. I'm joining a military family and find this stuff fascinating, but also, this is just solid advice.

3. Oh how my garden grows! My front-porch plants are looking awesome thanks to all the rain we've gotten. And I just got an e-mail that my tomato plants have shipped, so I have visions of lush outdoor spaces and bushels of tomatoes dancing through my brain. Any tips on how to grow the best tomatoes?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Judging the Loco Tacos Take Down for Culinary Fight Club Chicago

Nine years of blogging and a lifetime of Mexican food appreciation has finally lead me to my magnum opus: judging a taco competition in Chicago to benefit a charity. I feel like in being invited to judge this, I've arrived.

Culinary Fight Club is a national organization that hosts live cooking competitions, all aimed at raising money to provide meals to those in need. At my event, five teams of cooks were tasked with creating the craziest tacos possible.

I was super nervous for this event. I love tacos and have lots of opinions about food, but would I have the palate required to  talk about this with any intelligence?

Wine could only help. My friends from Tastings were there with a delicious secret-recipe sangria to help me out. I imbibed while the competition heated up - each chef has 45 seconds to shop the pantry, then an hour to cook. Unlike other shows were the food is presented to judges in a blind taste-test format, we knew who was making what and their backgrounds, and were able to get to know the chefs as they worked.

When my moment in the sun came, I've been assured I did not embarrass myself. I ate a great deal many delicious tacos. Take a look:

We each filled out a ballot independently and gave feedback to the chefs as we ate, then gathered in ZED451's wine cellar to deliberate. The judging was tough, but in the end we chose the duck tacos laced with duck fat prepared by chefs Jessica and Kasey. They've got a ticket to the world cooking championship, and 20 percent of the proceeds from the night went to Fight2Feed.

Thank you to Culinary Fight Club for the invite, ZED451 for the venue and the amazing chefs for all their original creations!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Training Tuesday

As I dragged myself out of my warm, cozy, worth-every-penny of a splurge bed this morning, I wondered why the hell I do this. Why do I sit on my bike for hours at a time, take time away from my family to work at getting sweaty and tired.

The answer is that in taking time for myself, I run off the crazy and get more out of the rest of my waking hours. I realize when I don't run I'm a hardcore bitch. I overthink things and get anxious and don't sleep as well. I would argue running is what got me through my 20s, and what gave me my 30s.

Some days it sucks. All I want to do is sit on the couch and watch Awkward and drink expensive craft beer. But then I'll get restless, my mind will wander and I'll start to feel sloth-like.

I'm not fast, nor am I going to set any records. But man, my running and races make for great networking and cocktail party stories. It's given me a community and a tribe.

And I guess that's why I keep at it. I'm not going to get any faster or fitter. I'm not going to win the Ironman. But the steps I take make me me, and keep me happy. They're steps into a community. Sometimes they're difficult steps to take, but it's the hard that makes it great to cross the finish line.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Brunch at The Chocolate Sanctuary

I was last at The Chocolate Sanctuary for dinner and was so excited to hear about their brunch offering. They invited me to dine there this weekend but the opinions are my own, as always.

The brunch here is unique in that you can order a la carte or enjoy a buffet that includes house-made pastries, omelette and carving stations and a waffle pop stop.

Yes, waffle pops. Waffles on a stick, with or without candied bacon inside, topped with whatever your heart desires. The turtle toppings with bacon inside was my favorite combo.

In addition to showstopping food on a stick, no brunch is complete without beverages. I enjoyed the pineapple mojito, but the bellini stole the show. It was a refreshing way to start the day. The coffee was also top notch, and I appreciated the presentation of all the accouterments.

I opted for the buffet so I could taste as many options as possible. They make great omelettes there, and the two-bite muffins were super cute too. I'm typically a sweet breakfast person and tend to go for pancakes whenever possible, but my favorite offering was the Lox bites, which were small morsels of smoked salmon rolled around bites of sour cream and chives and topped with a spot of capers. It was delicious and definitely fresh.

What I loved about this particular brunch was that a lot of the fan favorites on the menu are available on the buffet, perfectly sized for tasting. We tried the ribs, the shrimp cocktail and the ceviche, for example, in a few delicious bites.

The only problem is now I definitely have to go back to The Chocolate Sanctuary and I live woefully far from this perfection. Thank you again for the invite!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Three Things Thursday

1. Inspired by all the flowers we planted for my mom when we were in Austin, I put out decorative plants for the first time ever. The pots, most of the flowers and the wreath are from Aldi and they look damn good. I don't know why I didn't do this earlier.

2. I didn't get to run with my favorite cheese-loving ladies this spring for the #CabotFit team, but Cabot did send me this wonderful consolation prize pack that's easing the pain of missing out on kissing cows and setting PRs. I'll just be over here enjoying some seriously sharp cheddar.

3. The kiddos got me an adorable card for Mother's Day. Inside is a very accurate drawing of our family by the six-year-old, including a sketch of Napoleon, complete with claws. He has never looked so friendly. It was the best gift I could've ever hoped for.