Kelly the Culinarian: October 2013

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Three Things Thursday

1. Giovanni Rana sent me a whole box of pastas and sauces to try, which is awesome, because our fridge is almost empty. We've tried the whole line, but the bolognese sauce was our favorite with the ravioli cheese forte. It was better than what I've ordered in most restaurants, certainly cheaper and a lot faster. The pasta only has to cook for two minutes. Take that, Rachael Ray.
2. I tried a new variation of my tried-and-true famous chocolate chip cookie recipe. It did not turn out as planned. Stick with the original, friends.

3. I couldn't be home in time for trick or treating, which makes me sad. I love Halloween. So I bought an assortment of full-sized candy bars and left them outside with a note. There were still four left when I came home, so I guess our neighbor kids are either really honest or supervised by adults. One of those things.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Win it Wednesday: National Pizza Month Giveaway from Classico

I'm resolute that October is the best month out of the year. It's when the leaves start to change, I can easily rationalize enjoying everything pumpkin flavored and Halloween is the best holiday all year long. Plus, my birthday is in October, so that helps seal the deal.

Now, it's official: October is my kind of month. It's National Pizza Month, ya'll! And pizza is only second to the burrito as the world's most perfect food. You can get all your food groups in there and there's a plethora of combinations, so it never gets old.

Classico contacted me to ask if I would be interested in celebrating the occasion by elevating the pizza party. Done and done. They provided me with a kit to help celebrate, but all the recipes and opinions are mine.

I make pizza pretty frequently, and here are my tactics for making it better at home.

1. Use homemade crust. I prefer this whole wheat recipe when I make it at home.
2. Make it flat. I toast Flatout wraps in the toaster oven, top them with the Classico fire sauce, olives, feta and spinach and it is so. good.
3. Grill it! We grill individual-sized pizzas during the summer to keep the heat outside.
4. Try different crust options. I love cauliflower crust pizza, but Tim isn't a fan, so I don't make it often. Or, for a healthy option, try my zucchini pizza boats recipe.

5. Fear no topping! The best item I ate in South Korea was a pizza featuring a sweet potato puree. It was heavenly. Barbecue chicken is always a smart move, and roasted vegetables class this joint up. I'm not above opening my fridge and throwing everything on board with the crust. Be bold!

Try something different! Even if doesn't turn out, you're still eating pizza, so that's pretty awesome.

If you'd like to try your hand at elevating the pizza, please let me be of assistance. I've got three VIP coupons for free jars of Classico® pizza sauce. To win, just post a comment about the best pizza you've ever had using Rafflecopter below. I want details! Three winners will be selected randomly on Nov. 7 and announced here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, October 28, 2013

Happy National Chocolate Day!

As if every day in my life wasn't National Chocolate Day ... but seriously, it's today and it's awesome. I didn't even realize how fortuitous my previously scheduled Chicago Chocolate Tours event was. A representative there contacted me a few weeks ago to ask if I'd be interested in attending one of their tours.

Um, yeah. I live for this.

So my tour was free, but the opinions, as always, are entirely mine.
Charbonel et Walker
Rachael agreed to be my urban ambassador and meet me for an early-afternoon tour. I figured after the event I worked for the past few days, I'd need something fun to help me recover. Chocolate always helps.

We met our tour guide Brianne at the Marshall Field's downtown (I will never call it by its new name - represent!) and began the tour with a history of chocolate, Marshall Field's and the business founder, Valerie. Rachael and I were jonsing for chocolate, so I tried my best not to zone out.

Frango mint
The first stop was Frango mints within Marshall Field's. Interesting fact - the makers now add a pinch of salt because the swirl on top has always been added by hand. When technology changed and the candy makers started wearing gloves, people complained they didn't taste the same. The secret missing ingredient? Perspiration.
Charbonnel et Walker

The next stop was right around the corner in Marshall Field's at Charbonnel et Walker, a British chocolatier that is the official provider to the queen. I do like to think of myself as royal, so it was fitting. Our tour guide also shared that the maker of the truffle we sampled was likely the chocolate that played a pivotal role in the film "My Fair Lady."
Tiffany ceiling
Before we left our meeting spot, we saw the candy kitchen, the chocolate Chicago sculpture and a few interesting features of the building, including this Tiffany ceiling that was crafted without plans. I appreciated that this tour featured lots of Chicago and chocolate history.

Our next stop was Toni Pastisserie, which is a place I would have never wandered into otherwise. We ate a rather scrumptious brownie sample there and also ran into Valerie, who posed for pictures.
Toni brownie

FM Artisan chocolates
The next stop was Fannie May, which I initially gave the side eye since they're everywhere around here.

However, it was the highlight of the tour, in my opinion. We sampled the pixie, which is their most popular item. But what really caught my attention and taste buds was a white chocolate lemonade truffle from the purveyor's artisan line. It was so creamy, tart and light that I had to buy a few. We also tried the dark chocolate truffle from the same line and it was quite good. The people here were very friendly, too.

Our final stop was Argo Tea, where we ate a chocolate croissant and tried the chocolate mate latte. Again, not something I would have tried on my own, but it was quite delicious. Slightly creamy, a bit smoky and definitely chocolate while still a bit earthy because of the tea.
Argo Tea

In all, it was a lovely way to spend a day. The tour started a bit slowly, but it turned out to be very informative and fun. The samples were generous and plentiful, and the information will make me so much more fun at cocktail parties.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dropping Back In

Sorry I've been totally off the grid the past few days, but I've been a busy bee! I was in Baltimore for a work event. It was so awesome, but exhausting. I wish the phrase "I worked my ass off" actually meant I returned without an ass. That would be cool.

But instead, I spent five days eating all the foods (and PRing in coffee consumption), coordinating events, tweeting ceremonies live and racking up the best social media engagement my client's ever seen.

It's not bragging if you can back it up.

Anyhow, what the heck have I been doing?

Taking lots of selfies.

Giving away cute shirts.
Visiting the McCormick spice museum. 
Hobnobbing with celebrities. 
Picking up new accessories (really, I got to keep this). 
Keeping up my carb levels. 
Celebrating my birthday. 
And drinking pumpkin spice lattes courtesy of Klout's perK program. The McDonald's version is pretty good, but fattening and lacking any real pumpkin, so I probably won't get it again.
I'm taking tomorrow off of work to get caught up on life, laundry, sleep and sanity. I'm so happy to be back and have so much to show for our on-site efforts!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Win it Wednesday: Sony Sports MP3 Player

Hi friends! I'm traveling for work and it's all I can do to remember to put on shoes every day, so I have a little give away while I'm away.

Lauren from Lifetime Fitness contacted me about the Sony Sports MP3 Player. It syncs with iTunes, holds up to 4GB of music and is designed for the athletic set. It's even waterproof! The fit is super secure and the sound quality is pretty great. Also, if you space and forget to charge it, a three-minute quick charge gives you 60 minutes of play time.

I always forget to charge my Garmin and wish it had this kind of feature.

I think this would be a great tool to combat winter swimming boredom. Just going back and forth in the pool for an hour gets quite tedious. I'd so much rather listen to a podcast or an awesome pump-up workout playlist.

If you'd like to give it a try, enter below! I want to hear all about what makes a great workout playlist. Rafflecopter will pick a winner next Wednesday and I'll announce the winner here on Nov. 1. Good luck! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Name This Costume

I'm going to an engineering convention that has a costume contest tomorrow night. I wanted to come up with something cheap, clever and science related. So if I post a picture of this:

Do you know what I'm going as? Just checking to make sure I'm still culturally relevant/relatively cool.

Monday, October 21, 2013

What I Learned at my First Food Swap

The next Chicago Food Swap is coming up Nov. 10 and I'm really excited to go back to the bargaining table with a new crop of goodies. I plan to bring a few more kombucha starters and my sugar-free spice apple butter. I also have a few lessons learned from my first food swap to consider for the next go around.

  • Think about your presentation. People set up cute tables and make nice labels for their products. These tended to do better because they displayed better, but also because perhaps on a subconscious level, people think the nicer looking stuff had more thought and attention put into the final product.
  • Consider packaging. My kombucha costs pennies per batch, but the bottles are considerably more expensive at $2 a bottle. I've since learned I can reuse beer bottles for the task, but I would have been better off considering inexpensive packaging that was still cute.
    Creative packaging for whoopie pies
  • Make sure you see everything. There are so many tables and people in there that you have to be strategic in getting around to see all the products.
  • Serving size counts. It's hard to negotiate with a whole cake, but a single cookie won't get you very far, either. Think mini loaves, cupcakes, cookies, little baggies of candies, etc. If you need ideas for packaging, check out Pinterest or visit a restaurant supply store.
  • Label, label, label!
    Samples are crucial. Whole Foods already knows this. I bought a sleeve of 150 sample cups at a restaurant supply store for $2. Make extra of whatever you're swapping and portion it out for samples.
  • In terms of what to bring, the food fell into two camps: family favorites and chefy experiments. Have an awesome banana bread recipe or chocolate chip cookie creation? Figure out how to make individual portions and have at it. Always wanted to try that olive oil rosemary cake or ancho chili dark chocolate cup? Now's the time.
  • Don't get too ambitious you're first time out the gate. Start by bringing no more than one dozen portions of whatever you're swapping. The more you bring, the more you have to wheel and deal.
    Plus, many of the items you'll scoop up won't be shelf stable, and as much as eating a ton of homemade stuff in a week sounds, no one needs to eat as much as I did after my first food swap.
  • Label everything and include any possible allergens. Vegan, gluten free and organic items are available, but keep in mind that if you're very strict or highly allergic, the items might not be made according to your dietary needs. Of course, bringing items that adhere to special diets could make you very popular at the swap.
Hope to see you at the next swap!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

2013 Chicago Fine Chocolate Show

Was even better this year! When I went last year to the Chicago Fine Chocolate Show at Navy Pier, attendees got a limited number of tickets to cash in for chocolate samples, and the alcohol samples were an up charge. This year, no more.

I bought tickets on Living Social again this year, which turned out to be $10 per person. They were selling tickets for $30 per person on site, which is insane. We didn't pay for parking either, so it was a pretty inexpensive day for us. I definitely ate $10 worth of chocolate, but it wouldn't have been worth the $30 admission price. I saw a lot of the same vendors as last year and had a sweet time.

But I might have diabetes.

I ate and ate and it was amazing. There were so many different chocolate samples to choose from. It was like going to Whole Foods but better. Hershey's had great samples of double chocolate and chocolate chip cookies dipped in chocolate. There were also amazing double fudge brownies and spreadable fudge from Sweetastic in an array of flavors.

I tried a heavenly gluten-free toffee dipped in dark chocolate and dusted with Hawaiian sea salt, but there weren't any available to purchase and that made me sad.
These apples were as big as cantaloupes and 1 pound each
Of course, everything peanut butter and chocolate caught my eye. And my stomach. I had a peanut butter-filled brownie, peanut butter-filled chocolate bar, peanut butter cups and peanut butter fudge, too.

Anyone know of a similar event for peanut butter?

Friday, October 18, 2013

On the Agenda

So I broke my phone. A new one is on its way, but that means that I have no photos today. And there cannot be blogs without photos, that's a cardinal sin. So here's a picture:

That's my coworker and Napoleon taking a cute break. Napoleon loves him more than all my other coworkers. Enjoy.

Anyhow, the new phone will be here tomorrow. So let's debrief on this weekend.

Tomorrow morning, I'm heading downtown for a run along the lakefront path. After that, Tim and I are going to the Chicago Fine Chocolate Show and then observing my birthday since I will be by my lonesome when I celebrate escaping from the womb.

And then, on Sunday, Alyssa and I have a very special adventure on the books. We're staging our own century bike ride to enjoy the fall colors and because, why not?

Wish us luck.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Three Things Thursday

1. I'm heading to Baltimore next week for a work event and I'm super excited! However, I don't know much about about the city other than I'm staying in the Inner Harbor and won't have a ton of time to myself. Any readers out there with recommendations of what I have to see?
Looks lovely
2. Because I'm traveling for work, I'm going to miss my birthday. I had a lovely lunch with my parents earlier this week and got my birthday presents earlier. In addition to a few fabulous finds, my mom gave me this ninja mug. The back of it says, "Trust me, I'm a ninja." The kicker? Tim got me one, too. So I have one for work, one for home.
Creativity requires caffeine
3. Napoleon is lucky he's cute. I've had a rough day for a variety of reasons, then I came home and had to remove a tick from his neck. Ick. So gross.
He's wearing a Christmas ornament at work

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Bike Trainer Set Up

I instagrammed a picture of my bike mileage this morning and got a ton of questions about my bike trainer set up, so I thought I'd address them here for anyone who's curious how I'm spending hours upon hours pedaling to nowhere this winter.

Here's my bike trainer set up:
During the summer, I had the trainer set up in the garage so I could open the door and get a breeze. Now that it's cooler, I've moved indoors to my own personal hurt locket in the basement.  I have a magnetic bike trainer Jenny gave me that has served me well in my training thus far, and I set it up on an old yoga mat for stability. I also have a cheapo bike computer attached to my rear wheel so I can get a mileage count indoors. I've compared it to my Garmin readout before and believe it to be accurate.
I also have another cheap bookcase nearby to put my phone, timer, water bottles and nutrition on and within easy reach. It's the perfect height for my bike.
My aerobars get the most use on my trainer as a Kindle holder. I have Amazon Prime, so I watch anything that's free when I'm sitting here pedaling for three hours. Because the trainer makes a lot of noise, pairing the Kindle with headphones is the only logical way I can watch anything without waking up my whole neighborhood.
Also, because I'm rehabbing a hamstring injury and constantly working on reinforcing my core, I have a little station next to my bike. This way, when I'm done with a ride, I have no excuse to skip my additional exercises.

As for what I do on the trainer, I have two basic workout structures: distance and speed. The distance rides are all about getting in mile after tedious mile. To break it up, I'll throw in short bursts of high-intensity pedaling using a timer on my phone. The speed workouts are far more structured. Typically, I'll warm up for 20 minutes and then do a pyramid (1 minute fast, 1 minute recovery, 2 minutes fast, 1 minute recovery, all the way up to 5 and then back to 1). Or, I might do sprints that are 1 minute long, followed by 1 minute of recover for 40 minutes. I vary the "work" and "recovery" times to keep my body guessing what will come next.

What are your tips for setting up an indoor bike station and keeping away the boredom?