Kelly the Culinarian: August 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Scenes from New Orleans

It's another photo dump! Here are some awesome sites from our little trip to the Big Easy.

Bourbon Street, early on a Saturday night. We found a bar called the Bourbon Cowboy that had a 3 for 1 drink special and a balcony. Score!

Near the French Market

The LaLaurie Mansion, the most haunted place in New Orleans. This was one of the stops on this funky ghost tour of the French Quarter that we took. We didn't see any ghosts, but who knows, maybe there's a phantom image in this picture.

Our hotel, the Sheraton, which was decorated with the art of George Rodrigue. It was a super cute hotel with a fancy lobby, but the pool was tiny and the gym was under rennovation. The location rocked and we got the room for super cheap, so we got what we paid for.

Where Marie Laveau may or may not be burried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. People leave lipstick, hair ties and alcohol as offerings to her because she was a hairdresser. They also mark her above-ground grave with three Xs, which are voodoo symbols. The cemetery is still in operation today and has more than 100,000 bodies within one small city block.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cooking with Kelly: Quick and Easy Bruschetta

Oh, the post-vacation blues. It's a real phenomena that includes daydreaming about your wonderful New Orleans trip, wondering why you're not eating more beignets and wishing that all your laundry would do itself because the wash machine is, of course, broken down at the mere sight of Mt. Washmore with the repair people no less than five days out. Perfect.

I had a miserable run this afternoon. It was the longest, most painful nine-miler I've ever had. I blame it on the beignets, pralines, po'boys and alligator. Don't worry, I have awesome photos to share at a later date.

After wrapping up my last long run before the Fort2Base Race in a time that's too embarrassing to post, I sat in my first ice bath and contemplated dinner. Another symptom of the post-vacation blues is the complete lack of groceries and an even greater lack of interest in getting groceries. Going to a restaurant while on vacation is so easy, after all.

I had some olive oil from Crisco to try out as part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program. Paired with the tomatoes I finally have bursting from my modest little garden, I was ready to go. I toasted a sandwich thin, then rubbed it with a garlic clove, topped quartered pieces with a sliced, fresh tomato and a julienned sprig of basil from my garden, then hit the slices with the Crisco Extra Virgin Olive Oil, balsamic vinegar and a little sea salt.

Maybe I was hungrier than I thought, but this bruschetta totally hit the spot. The carbs from the bread were awesome post run, and the fruity flavor of the olive oil really set off the tartness of the balsamic and complimented the fresh flavor of my tomatoes.

I'm looking forward to using the other Crisco samples in my baking. I got a sample of the Light Olive Oil, which is designed for baked goods and frying (which then makes my fried food and cookies healthy, right?) and the Pure Olive Oil, which I hear is tasty for roasting a grilling. Here's hoping the weather holds out so I can get some more grilling in!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cooking with Kelly: Sugar-Free Frappuccino

I'm having a breezy kind of day today. I took the day off of work because I'm leaving for vacation tonight in New Orleans. Yes, I'm super psyched.

I kicked off the morning with a long run. I treated myself to an early-morning long run (I don't really feel that way about running yet. Fake it 'til you make it, peeps). I think it was about 9.5 miles, but Runkeeper says it's 10.13 miles, so I'm going to just go with that.

When I wrapped that up, I stretched and showered, then had some old-fashioned oats with raisins, sliced almonds, cinnamon, Splenda and a chopped up apple. Yum!

I then busted out my food processor for a coffee drink. After my last failed attempt at in-home Starbucks, I did a little more research and fiddling. Here's the recipe and method I ended with and it's a pretty good (and healthier!) approximation of my favorite coffee treat.

Sugar-Free Frappuccino

2 cups skim milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 Tablespoons Splenda

1 Tablespoon baking cocoa

2 teaspoons instant coffee

1 teaspoon pectin

Dash of salt

Mix all the ingredients together using a whisk. Divide mixture between three ice cube trays and freeze. The next day, use a food processor to pulse together. I let my coffee cubes thaw for a few minutes after the initial blend, then whipped it all together again.

This recipe makes two small coffee drinks, one of which I took with me to my appointment at the spa. Yeah, I'm living it up on my day off.

Next up, lunch with my mom, then off to the airport!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cooking with Kelly: Protein Ice Cream

It's difficult for me to say no to the foods I love. Ice cream is one of those items that it's just too hard to resist. But what I've learned is that I actually enjoy the toppings more than the ice cream, which is a great thing, because I've crafted a perfect substitute for my favorite cold and creamy treat.

Protein Ice Cream

1 small frozen banana

1/3 cup Greek yogurt

1 scoop chocolate protein powder

1 Tablespoon Splenda

1 Tablespoon milk

Using the small work bowl of your food processor, pulse the banana until smooth. Add the yogurt, protein powder, splenda and milk and process until smooth.

I top mine with peanut butter, a little chocolate syrup and a few chocolate chips, but the possibilities are endless.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Scenes From this Weekend

I had the pleasure and honor of being a bridesmaid in my friend Rachael's wedding on Aug. 20, 2011. Her and Brian tied the knot in the most perfect, beautiful and thoughtful ceremony I've ever attended. Every detail was lovely and impeccably done, from the I will totally use this again bridesmaids' gifts to the gigantic flowers, tasteful decor and adorable vows. Tim and I both agreed that the vows the pair wrote themselves were touching and from the heart.
We started the weekend with a great rehearsal at the church followed by fantastic conversation at Buca di Beppo and a lovely slideshow of Brian and Rachael's childhood memories (and pictures of me in my fat stage. Seriously, who let me get that way?).

The next morning, I checked into the Doubletree Chicago-Oak Brook, where I promptly received a welcome box from the bride that was stuffed with drinks, snacks and tylenol (smart girl). I then had a breakfast buffet there with a friend before getting my hair done and having lunch with the bride.

We took a bus over to the ceremony site, then waited in the preschool room for the shin dig to kick off. Hilarity ensued. I tripped on the aisle runner, but did not fall, so I'm going to hope that that part is edited from the final wedding video.

And then there was the reception at Brookfield Zoo! We took tons of photos on the grounds, including on the carousel and in front of the zoo sign. I can't wait to see these photos! If they're anything like the engagement photos this photographer snapped, they will be breathtaking.

We ate, ate and ate some more. The wedding cake was amazing, the soup and salad course were awesome and they brought out pizza and cookies for a late-night snack. I only wish I wasn't wearing such a tight dress so I could have induldged more. It was so tight my ribcage hurt the next day.

And if my crappy photos didn't fill your need to see an amazing wedding in motion, check out my fellow bridesmaid and friend Hyacynth's blog for some seriously awesome photos.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cooking with Kelly: No-Bake Cookies

I'm getting ready for a super wedding weekend, which kicked off with a manicure/pedicure and a little no-bake baking. I haven't gotten my nails done since I got married more than two years ago, so I would say I was due. It was absolutely fabulous, especially given the miles I've been longing while training for the Fort2Base Race, which is now less than a month away.

Pedicures need to be part of my future training plans. I got blue toes and light pink nails. No, the dresses aren't this color, but it's one of the accent colors, so I thought I'd go for it.

On the back of my last successful baking extravaganza for Rachael's bachelorette party, I had to come up with something fab for the morning while we're getting ready. Alas, we're running out of ingredients because we're trying to clean out the pantry. So I decided on no-bake cookies, and these were awesome. I ate like six (or 10) before boxing these up and hiding them on myself so that I didn't polish off the whole batch.

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
2 cups sugar
4 Tablespoons baking cocoa
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats

Combine the sugar, cocoa, butter and milk in a pot and bring to a boil for one minute. Remove from the heat and add the peanut butter and vanilla and stir to combine. Stir the mixture into the oatmeal until combined, then spoon on one-inch balls onto parchment paper. Allow to cool, which will take at least 15 minutes.

Try not to eat a dozen like I did.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cooking with Kelly: Fast Banana Pudding

While I love all kinds of southern food, I am not, in fact, southern. So this recipe is not authentic at all.

What this concoction is based off of is an awesome banana pudding we had when traveling to North Carolina, which is my birth place. This banana pudding we had was so creamy and rich that the bananas seemed to melt into the pudding while the wafers offered a nice counterbalance with a crunchy, crumbly bite. My husband really likes this knock off, which is nice, because banana pudding is hard to find out here.

Fast Banana Pudding Recipe
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk
1 and 1/2 cups cold skim milk
3 boxes sugar-free vanilla pudding
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 container light cool whip
4 bananas, sliced
1 box vanilla wafers

Mix milk, condensed milk, vanilla and pudding. Whisk until combined, then fold in cool whip. Start by lining an 8 by 8 pan with the vanilla wafer, then add a layer of bananas and a layer of pudding. Repeat twice, forming three layers. Refrigerate for at least one hour, then slice and serve.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Date Night at the Drive In

Last night, we had a family date night at the drive in. We took Napoleon with us to see a double feature of Crazy, Stupid Love and The Change-Up at the Cascade Drive In. The dog really enjoyed the drive in for some reason. Maybe it was all the new smells, or maybe the promise of delicious popcorn. It's the happiest we've ever seen him. He wore himself out by the beginning of the second movie and slept in his little bed in the back seat.

It was a great time. It was $9 per person for the double feature and they offered popcorn for $1 as well as coupons online for other $1 deals. This week, it was pretzels, but they weren't very good. We saw people with elaborate set ups that included lawn chairs, baggo games and full picnic set ups. Next time, I'll be bringing my own little set up for this shin dig so that we can enjoy the whole thing even more.
As for the movies, they were better than I expected. Steve Carell was great in Crazy, Stupid Love and there was a twist that I didn't anticipate. The Change-Up had its funny moments and was pretty enjoyable. The only downer is that we didn't get home until almost 1 a.m. because the movies can't start until it's dark enough.

Either way, we're going back again!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cooking with Kelly: Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

I recently made these tasty little treats for a birthday at work. They were gone by noon, so that's a great sign. I served these with ice cream and hot fudge topping, which was an option that most people passed on. Another good sign. And these cookie bars didn't even have beans in them!

Here's the recipe:
2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the sugar and butter together on medium. Add the eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Add flour, salt, and baking soda slowly before adding the chocolate chips.
Place batter in a greased 9 by 13 inch pan and bake for 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review: In the Kitchen at Parkview Gourmet

My mom and I had a fabulous date last night at an adorable location. A few months back, Living Social had a great deal on cooking classes at Parkview Gourmet in Libertyville, which is where my parents reside. For $20 per person, it promised an intimate cooking class experience and a $10 merchandise gift card.

This little shop is a bit difficult to locate as it's on a side street in downtown Libertyville. Inside, they have a great selection of specialty cheeses, a small wine selection, specialty beers and rows of adorable gourmet items like imported olives, raw honey cream, biscotti, spices and wine accessories.

The class was limited to six, but the other four people didn't show (rude!), so it was just my mom, me and the employees. We were scheduled to make eight dishes, but scaled it back to four because of the lack of attendance.

After filling up my wine glass with a delicious white wine from Washington, we got into the kitchen. My mom started working on deviled eggs with olive salad topped with white truffle oil. I started on a shave zucchini salad topped with toasted pine nuts. That was really easy, so I ended up helping finish a chicken salad with cranberries on top of toasted wonton wrappers. After we noshed on those, we finished the evening with lacy crepes slathered with marscapone cream and strawberries, then topped with a reduced balsamic vinegar.

Seriously amazing foods. My favorite? The deviled eggs that I failed to photograph. The mix of creamy egg yolks with the salty bite of the olive salad was amazing. Add white truffle oil and I was just in heaven. My mom even bought me a jar of the store's olive salad so I could make the eggs at home. Thanks, mom!

This class was definitely worth the money, especially since the shop owner e-mailed us the recipes to use at home. I think this class would be great for bachelorette parties or for a girls' night. I would certainly do this again - it was a really fun night with fabulous food, and I learned quite a lot.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The 6 Miler That Never Was

After a fun run Sunday at Equinoix in Highland Park for the Fort2Base Race, I was ready for a really hard run tonight. I was hoping for a six mile run at a 9:30 pace, but then this happened.

Initially, I thought "whatever, they don't cancel races for rain." I ran in the ran for the Fitness for America 10K and that ended pretty well for me. Then it POURED. Bad enough that when I took the dog out, he fought to stay on the porch, then tried to run onto the neighbors porch. So today's training included 50 minutes on the elliptical followed by a very short, mostly half-hearted strength routine. I'll be getting up super early tomorrow to try and get in my miles.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Someone Went to the Groomer ...

And is now a very pretty boy. Here's Napoleon's before and after. It's been long enough since his last professional groom that they charged me extra for dematting, which makes me sad and feel like a bad puppy mommy. Then again, the dog peed on me on our way out of the groomer, so I think we're even.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

No Peanut Butter Left Behind

Peanut butter is an amazing food. In fact, all nut butter should form a food group, and we should all visit this food group every day. I'm a bit of a connoisseur of nut butters now. My favorite peanut butter is Trader Joe's organic salted smooth peanut butter, but at $3.49 a can, it's a bit pricey. Costco sells a private-label natural peanut butter that's quite a bit cheaper and is a close second as well.

But when the jar is empty, the party isn't over. In an effort to not waste anything, I enjoy some overnight oats in a jar. The basics stay the same: mix a 1/2 cup old fashioned oats and a 1/2 cup water in the empty jar, then I shake the jar and refrigerate it overnight. In the morning, add toppings and enjoy.

Here's a few combos I tried this week:

Peanut butter jar + oats + chopped walnuts + bananas

Nutella jar + slivered almonds + strawberries

Almond butter jar + chopped walnuts + cinnamon + raisins + apples

My favorite? The almond butter jar, for sure. Because the jar was glass, I heated it up in the microwave. The raisins swelled overnight with the oats and there were lots of textures with the skin of the apples and the hint of cinnamon. Best of all, this method makes oatmeal fast and portable for busy mornings.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Making Boxed Brownies Better

Chocolate is my ambrosia. I love it big time. But not everyone has the time to make brownies from scratch. That doesn't mean you can't have a fabulous dessert. As my mom would say, you just need to add a little love, which in our house, means a few extra ingredients. Here's what I use to make my brownies taste more like homemade:

  • Add milk instead of water

  • Add one cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips

  • Top cooled brownies with milk-chocolate icing

If I want to make the presentation look nice, I'll cut the brownies into little squares and put them in pretty cupcake papers (this set of baking cups from IKEA is $.99 for 65 and adorable).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

IKEA run!

My sister, Mandy, is getting ready to move into another apartment. She's in grad school in Chicago, but this is one of several places she's lived during college and grad school. I heart IKEA and could spend all day there ... and have, which is why my husband won't come here with me anymore. It's like a time warp. You think that you've been there an hour, but really, seasons have passed outside.

Did you know IKEA has a food section? There are frozen foods and different processed items, including a blueberry drink concentrate, coffee, premade cinnamon rolls, lots of lingonberries and lingonberry bread. The big allure for me was the chocolate: they had a deal going on where you get three giant bars of chocolate of your choice for $2.49. You had a choice between milk, dark and milk with hazelnut. Since dark chocolate is a health food, that's what I went with.

I restrained myself, and despite Mandy and I shutting down the store, I only spent $16 on kitchen towels, a cutlery tray, baking cups a cheap clock for my bathroom, some giant IKEA bags, three chocolate bars, a spatula and a scrapper. Here are some great buys that they have:

Chopping Boards $2.99

Baking Cups $.99

Dish Towel $.79

3-Piece Utensil Set $.49

Dark Chocolate $.99

Serving Bowl $2.99

Happy shopping!

Monday, August 1, 2011

I Love Mondays!

Or not. Mondays are not my favorite day, but today pretty much rocked. My boss brought his new puppy into work. She's a six-week old Boston terrier and is the cutest thing ever. Nothing like a 3.5-pound puppy to make Monday rock. Look at that puppy face! She's going to be a champion show dog when she grows up.

So I kept the fun going when I got back home and made two tiny grilled pizzas: I took half of my standard whole-wheat pizza crust and split it into half again to make two pizzas that were managable on the grill. Once the crust was a little cooked and easy to turn, I topped one with crushed tomatos that I mixed with pizza spices and chopped onions. That pizza also got fresh basil from my garden, provolone and mozzarella. The other pizza got barbecue sauce from Trader Joe's, grilled onions from last night, leftover grilled chicken, provolone and mozzarella.

Not bad for a Monday!