Kelly the Culinarian: 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Win it Wednesday: $50 Big Slice Apples Prize Pack Giveaway

It's almost Christmas, so now's the time for a gift for you, lovely readers. I recently got a shipment from Big Slice apples that included a dozen samples in different flavors, a tumbler and a spork for enjoying this treat on the go. One lucky reader will get to try the same, which includes a variety of their flavors. From the company:

Big Slice features sophisticated fruit combinations and whole ingredients that you can actually taste and chew. That's because they slowly cook fresh slices of GMO-free, USA-grown apples until they transform into thick juicy chunks. Then they mix in pure whole fruits and superfoods, resulting in a delicious, healthy snack that provides protein, fiber, and energy.

With 16 luxurious flavors, Big Slice comes in glam on-the-go pouches. They are naturally gluten- and fat-free and all around 100 calories per pouch. 

I'm using Rafflecopter, which will randomly select a winner on Dec. 31 to take home this prize pack valued at $50. Good luck and happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Training Tuesday

Slowly but surely, my training is coming back to me. I've had a miserable mid-week run followed up by a pleasant 10-miler outside that I felt like I could've kept going. I'm also easing back into the bike. Once tri season is over, I tend to freeze my gym membership and resort to just walking around my bike on my way to my desk when I work from home. I quickly forget how intense indoor cycling can be. I'm absolutely loving this set of CTX turbo trainer rides I've found on YouTube. The music is fun and it's nice to see scenery instead of the inside of a cycling studio.

But just like that, I came down with a hell of a cold. I can't sleep because I'm so congested, and I can't run because I just cough. I suppose I could cycle, but I presently have just about enough endurance to get up the stairs. This is the second massive day-destroying cold I've had this season. I used to think I had a great immune system. Now I know I was just lucky.

Anyone else feel like as soon as they have a rhythm going and feel like you're making progress, fate just comes along?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Motivation Monday

Brace yourself. New Year's Resolutions are coming. Why not start now instead?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Three Things Thursday

1. I find it horrifying and mesmerizing how quickly my running confidence can be shattered. I had a great nine-mile run last weekend outdoors on a drizzly Michigan morning, then wanted to die on my treadmill yesterday morning during a short tempo run. I bailed, blaming a lack of rest and a tough turbo trainer workout the night before. This morning I was at it again. I couldn't do the tempo as prescribed, but still got in my treadmill miles before work. Win some, lose some.

A run from last week that went way better
2. Napoleon has a favorite blanket. It is my favorite, too, and anytime I get up while watching TV, he eagerly claims it.
"Dis is mine."
3. I bought more lights this year, and I think the holiday decor is shaping up nicely. The present wrapping, however, has yet to begin. At least the things are bought?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Training Tuesday: Where I'm at Now

Yesterday's post run walkies included flip flops and green grass!
It's December, and an unseasonable one at that. It was 65 degrees over the weekend. I'm getting spoiled for sure, but it won't last, which is why I'm logging more miles on the treadmill. I haven't quite gotten back to the 5 a.m. workout routine, but I'm getting there. I would love to get my speed back this winter as I work on training for Circular Logic this year. It's traditionally been a lackluster finishing time for me because of the cold and the monotony of running in circles, but it does keep me active throughout the winter. I've been working on intervals and shorter runs to get my legs accustomed to going fast.

I haven't been in a pool in months, though, and I'm worried it will be a shock to my system. It's a bit like riding a bike - you never lose the ability, but you do lose your finesse. In looking at the Ironman training plan, my first official training swim is 3,000 yards, so I better get back to building up that distance.

I've done some Insanity home workouts on and off as training supplements, a practice I'd like to keep up. I'm using the FIRST Marathon Training Plan again, which calls for three days per week of running and three days of cross training. This suits my schedule the best, and allows for plenty of time to get back on track with the other disciplines triathlon requires. I've been spending some of these days on the bike and some working on my plyometric cardio with Insanity.

I'd like to get back to double workouts by the beginning of the new year, and return to swimming in January. I'm sure it's like anything else - if it's a priority, you'll make time for it. I did this once, so it's time to do it again.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

An Award-Winning Week

This past week has been especially insane - our employees from around the world were in for our all-staff meeting, in addition to 2016 planning and goal setting.

Naturally, it seemed like a great time to take off on a take trip to Washington, D.C. I was up for a major award and knew I would kick myself later if I won and wasn't there to get it. So I drove myself to the airport at an ungodly hour, took an insanely early flight to the town I briefly called home and metroed up to the National Press Club. It brought back so many memories - when I lived in DC, I relied upon breakfast at the Press Club every morning to start my day, then celebrated the end of every week with free tacos and $3 Coronas (I know they still do tacos, but I don't know the current rate of coronas...).

A healthy dose of nostalgia later, I sat through a super long award ceremony put on by PR News as they announced their PR People, among others. I was watching the clock to see if I could make my flight home, and I was THE LAST award announced - Social Media Professional of the Year.

This award is so very sweet. I never thought years ago that someone could make a career out of Facebook, but here I am at the top of my field. It's an incredible feeling to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I've made the right career choices to get to this moment.

I got myself back to the airport immediately with 20 minutes to spare. I was lucky to have a healthy snack on board. Big Slice sent me a variety pack to try a few weeks ago to give it a whirl, and it was ideal for a day on the go.

The blueberry pomegranate hit the spot for less than 100 calories, which got me home with enough tummy space for a celebration dinner (and beverage) with my award.

Thank you to all the people who made this award possible. I am a lucky girl, and looking forward to what a career in this profession will look like in a year, five years or 10. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Running to Brunch at La Stanza

It's that time of year where I start to think about summer, already. It's because most morning start with dragging myself out of bed in the pre-dawn hours to complete some 45-60 minutes of training as I dream of athletic glory I won't see for months. I've just started training for the Circular Logic Marathon this year, and it's been all on a treadmill. It sucks and it's great at the same time. I don't get outside, obviously, but it's climate controlled and I can catch up on TV and movies. And, I can log eight miles and be showered and ready for brunch in no time. Winning ...

I got invited to a media preview of La Stanza's brunch menu, which was damn delicious. This place is located in the back of Labriola off of Michigan Avenue, so it has a bit of a speakeasy vibe. The live jazz music and classic Italian decor only augments it. I tasted almost all the highlights on the menu, but what sets this place apart is a do it yourself donut bar featuring plain Stan's donuts which you can adorn with all your favorite fixins'. And adorn I did. Is there such a thing as too much topping?

When we arrived, we were greeted with mimosas and a taste of their toast selection. The restaurant offers a number of breads with jams and sauces as pairings to get your appetite going. The pretzel bread with beer mustard was delicious, but the ricotta butter and fig spread also left me wanting more.

In this particular preview, we dined family style so we could all sample the sweet and savory sides of the menu. I generally trend sweet for breakfast - I love ordering pancakes at restaurants because I'm not so great at making them at home. I was surprised that my favorite items on the menu were more savory. The chicken and biscuit combo was a standout from the rest of the offerings. The fried chicken was tender and well-seasoned, which paired nicely with the fluffy homemade biscuits and sweet balsamic vinegar reduction.

I also loved the breakfast pizza (I'm a sucker for runny egg yolks) as well as the potato salad that accompanied the homemade bacon platter. It was so different from what I expected. The fresh seasoning made this otherwise heavy and filling dish quite bright.

Also, the bagel and lox was top-notch. The salmon was plentiful, and the cream cheese freshly whipped. They were served up with whole-grain bagels, which were a nice contrast to the creaminess of the rest of the offering. The shrimp and polenta was also a great addition to the menu. The shrimp was crispy on the outside without being over cooked, and the polenta went well with the yolk from the poached egg.

This is a super cute place to meet a friend or celebrate the holidays over mimosas and eggs. I'm looking forward to taking out of towners here for brunch before shopping!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Frugal Gourmet Approach to the Holidays with ALDI

ALDI is my go-to shop, saving me countless hours and dollars. I’m definitely into entertaining on a budget – I host a dinner for my friends and family a few times a month on Sundays, and keep my food budget in check at the same time. When it comes to the holidays, it’s easy to go overboard. Pinterest makes us think our houses have to be perfectly festooned to be festive, and commercials trick us into thinking every person on our list needs the newest, shiniest toy and plenty of them to unwrap. What we fail to recognize is that we do all of this to spend time together and make memories. So let’s stop competing and get to celebrating.

What I loved about my experience at the ALDI Test Kitchen is how much we focused on enhancing the experience of dining together rather than pulling out all the stops to concoct some crazy Food Network feast. Instead, Chef Brigitte Nguyen focused on how we can keep costs and food prep time down while offering interesting dishes your diners will love.

Her first tip – your guests arrive hungry. Don’t leave them that way. Start with a charcuterie tray featuring 3-5 cheeses, two meats and a sweet offering, such as dried fruit or a fig jam. An unexpected items to add to the mix or a salad is oven-roasted grapes. Just drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast until the first one bursts, then add to the fixings for a unique sweet to set off the savory. Also, rumor has it the cheese boards will be a special-buy item at ALDI on Dec. 16. Check their website for other special buys - it's updated on Wednesdays.

For ease of use and hosting, she suggested a wine bar featuring an assortment of ALDI offerings, which include award-winning reds, whites and sparkling offerings, which can easily be paired with seasonal fruits and juices for festive-looking wine-based cocktails.

Going beyond the basics bites, a great appetizer to welcome your crew to your is a pea “pesto” crostini, which can be made mostly in advanced and on the cheap. It had great flavor and was beautiful as well. Another option are mini celery gratins, which was a clever way to use a common ingredient that’s always available inexpensively.

One of my favorite ideas, recipe wise, was a twice-baked butternut squash. Because ALDI prices their produce by the item, rather than the pound, this is a cost-effective holiday option that gives each of your attendees a personalized option.

Another awesome idea – don’t bother with dessert. Everyone is stuffed, if you did your job, and eating pie or cake is just because they have to. Instead, buy an assortment of Specially Selected cookies, chocolates and nuts, and arrange them on a three-tiered cake stand. You can even purchase small bags so people can take home their dessert for later. I loved that idea because even though I always have room for dessert, I know most have better self-control than I.

That said, the white chocolate cranberry blondies as well as the peanut butter granola bites were an amazing finish to our mock holiday dinner. 

Another idea I loved at our ALDI Friendsgiving was a hot chocolate bar. Pair it with a bottle of cream liquor from ALDI and you’d have quite the nightcap.

Thank you to ALDI for a wonderful experience. Check out all ALDI's wonderfully inventive and inexpensive recipes, and follow me on Instagram for more delicious photos.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

One Day in Memphis

I like to travel, a lot. So if given an open weekend, I make a plan and make it happen. The weekend after Thanksgiving was full of absolutely nothing, so I picked a dot on the map and decided to see what Memphis had to offer. It's an eight-hour drive and gas is currently $1.85 a gallon, so off I went. I rented an adorable AirBnb studio that had all the amenities of my grad school apartment with more square footage than my single dorm sophomore year. It was perfect.

But before I could make my way south, I took a detour in St. Louis to visit the Schlafly Taphouse. Co-founder Dan Kopman set me up with a tour (we met at BeerHQ in September) and it was awesome. One of the brewers showed us around the facilities, highlighting how the beer is made, where the beer for the taproom was stored, and how the age their beer in barrels. We also go to taste beer straight out of the barrels, which was really cool. The facility there is awesome - it's two separate buildings erected in 1902 and 1903 connected by an underground tunnel, and later, through renovation of the facility to make room for the taphouse. The restaurant is delicious too. Try the poutine!

After that brief detour and another four-hour drive, I was in Memphis and hungry once again. Upon my host's recommendation, I went to Central BBQ for dinner right before they closed. These ribs are life changing. They were amazingly seasoned, incredibly tender and absolutely bursting with flavor, all sans sauce. The banana pudding was also out of this world. Our order taker told us the secret is pecan Sandy cookies as the crumble instead of your standard Nilla wafer.

So for my single day in Memphis, I started early with a short run through Overton Park, which loops around the Memphis Zoo and the Brooks Museum, which I would have loved to visit if the weather was better and I had more time, respectively. After showering, I was off to see the ducks get into the fountain at The Peabody. This is a must-see, in my opinion. There's quite a bit of fanfare and kids can sit directly on the carpet the ducks walk from the elevator to the fountain. It's hilarious and it's free.

While waiting for my lunch location to open, I took a stroll down Beale Street, visiting the famed A. Schwabe Trading Co. Really cool store/museum that's worth a look. Another worth-a-gander location is the Hard Rock Memphis, which has a really cool collection of rock memorabilia, including Elvis's cape and the jacket from his Jailhouse Rock movie. Again, it's free to look.

For lunch I stopped at De Javu, a creole and vegetarian place. I tried the Big Easy Pasta, which was awesome, along with a side of gumbo. The dessert was the stand out - bananas foster cheesecake. The cheesecake was much lighter than what I was used to and it basically melted in your mouth. Yum.

One of the very few things I paid for in Memphis was the Gibson Factory Tour, which was $10. I have zero photos from the experience, because they're not allowed, and because it wasn't all that memorable. No one was working Sunday, and our tour guide clearly didn't want to be there either. I was super excited for the tour and it just fell flat. I would have been better off sitting in the gift shop listening to the workers and tourists play on the fancy guitars.

I just happened to wander into The Flying Saucer right after that and spot 2015 Bourbon County freshly tapped for $7. Of course I had to try it at that price. It was a fun bar and a nice spot to grab a drink.

Then I was off for more adventure - I drove by the Lorraine  Motel where Martin Luther King Jr was killed, and then Graceland (I wouldn't do that one again). What was really cool was visiting The Pyramid, which was built in 1991 as a basketball venue and later abandoned because it wasn't up to regulation. After years of negotiation, Bass Pro Shop took it over and opened its doors early this year. In the first three months, they've had more than a million visitors. It has a hotel, archery and handgun ranges, a 600,000-gallon water feature, a restaurant, a hotel, a bowling alley and virtual shooting gallery. It's really cool and worth a (free) visit. The only thing that cost money there is to take America's biggest free-standing elevator 28 stories up to the lookout. I wish I would have allotted time enough to do this, but maybe next time. I had dinner at Gus's fried chicken, which lives up to the hype. It's amazingly delicious and crazy busy, too.

So there you have it - a whirlwind trip to Elvis's birthplace. And now, back to the grind.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Goose Black Friday 2015

I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit I did Black Friday shopping. But I didn’t shop for clothes or toys or electronics. I don’t think the sales are that good, and I’m not willing to demean my humanity to save $10 on a TV I don’t need anyhow.

But beer. That’s another story. For the second year, I’ve waited in line before the sun is up to buy Goose Island Bourbon County stouts. These are highly sought-after, drool worthy stouts aged in bourbon barrels. While you can buy it at some Costcos and Jewels, you’d better know when and where to get it or it will be gone. It comes in original and several variants, which are generally coffee, barleywine, rye and proprietors blend, which changes annually.

Now a veteran at this game, I chose a store with a large shipment allowing your standard allotment (two original BCBS and two variants of your choice), that had an overhang in front of the store, because it was raining. I also leveraged my camping prowess and brought a propane grill, hot hands and a sleeping bag for the waiting time. I thought breakfast burritos would be a welcome distraction, but strangely, no one other than the people I knew in line took the burritos. Anyhow, the time clicked off quickly and I bought my fair share quickl y before visiting my local Costco and Jewel, then calling it a day.

But this year, I upped my game and went to the official Black Friday tasting at Goose Island Clybourn. This tasting is tough to get into and you have to buy tickets a few weeks in advance. For $75 per person, you can a tasting of each of the six offerings that year, paired with tiny desserts. The brewers lead you through the tasting and talk about how they decided on the variants for the year. Lucky tasters are sent home with a bottle of Prop, a tasting glass and a ticket for a pour of original BCBS to cash in at the bar. Taking into account the value of the bottle, pour and glass, it’s basically paying $30 to taste the entire vertical. It’s well-worth it for a classier Black Friday experience, but I think I’d rather go to FoBAB the week before and taste all the variants before waiting in line to buy it before dawn the day after Thanksgiving.

My thoughts on the tasting? 

The original BCBS and the Regal Rye, which has a distinct sour cherry after note, were my favorites. 
Previous Prop collaborations
Rare, which was going for $80 a bottle, was way too much whiskey. Maybe in two years it will cool down and mellow, but right now, the two-year aging in 35-year-old Heaven Hill whiskey barrels was just too much heat for my palate. 

This year’s coffee, which was made with Intelligentsia coffee, was very coffee forward. It basically tasted like a syrupy coffee with an alcoholic aftertaste.

The Prop this year is made with maple syrup aged in bourbon barrels. You can’t really taste the guajillo peppers, which is good. It’s delicious, as always, but I like the ’14 prop better, which I think tastes like an almond joy.

Barleywine didn’t make a huge impression on me – it was good, just not as unique as its fellow variants.

A few notes about the tasting itself:
  • Arrive early. Parking is free all over the place, but a bit of a nightmare on Black Friday in Lincoln Park.
  • Don’t come hungry. It’s not a lot of food.
  • The tasting it about 75 minutes long, but the bar is tapping the variants and other rare pours throughout the night. It’s worth sticking around for a while.

Friday, November 27, 2015

5 Friday Things

1. The only Black Friday shopping I do is for beer, and I got quite the haul this year. Goose Island releases Bourbon County Stout every Black Friday and I wait in line for this and this alone. They issue variants as well, and I got all of them, plus a bottle of Rare, which is the box in the middle. I got very lucky this year.

2. My sisters and I decided to forgo tradition this year and instead went out for Chinese food for Thanksgiving. We did have roasted duck instead of Peking duck, in honor of the season.

3. It's for the best because I upgraded my oven this week, because everyone knows the best time to buy a major appliance is halfway through preparing a complicated holiday meal. I went from a standard-issue, old and unreliable base model to a double-oven, five-burner masterpiece. My oven makes me happy.

4. Going back to beer, did you know they make beer advent calendars? You get a delicious beverage every day leading up to Christmas. I got these at The Beer Cellar in Glen Ellyn, but I'm sure this is something you could replicate at home for the beer lover in your life.

5. Napoleon is so cautiously curious about other dogs. I had company this week and he spent the better part of a morning staring at the cage and sitting at my desk while I worked. I couldn't tell if he wanted to play or thought he was protecting me or was scared. Either way, he investigated the kennel thoroughly once it was empty.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Win it Wednesday: ALDI Gift Basket Giveaway

It's time to kick off the holiday season! Let's get festive - one of the many exciting things I did when I visited ALDI headquarters last month was tour the amazing products they've got in store for the holiday season. There's just so much giftable good stuff going on there, from crispy pizelle cookies to caramel-filled stroopwafels and truffles. Plus, the wine selection at ALDI is incredible. Think prize-wining offerings, all under $15. With only 4-6 aisles at any given location, it's pretty easy to buzz through an ALDI to put together a quick hostess or teacher's gift without a lot of fuss or expense.

If you'd like to try before you buy, this giveaway is just for you. I gathered an assortment of cookies, chocolates, sweet bites and surprises to giveaway to one lucky reader. The wine pictured will be replaced with a giftcard to pick out your own bottle at your neighborhood ALDI. Imagine how nice it would be to get this on your doorstep this holiday season. Nothing brightens my day more than chocolate, so enter now to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

RaffleCopter will randomly select one winner on Dec. 3. Good luck!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

#WhatsGoodNow: A Winter Tasting at Seasons 52 Chicago

Ah, I love Seasons 52. It's healthy, locally sourced and seasonally available, with a new menu every week. Every season, however, new dishes are rotated onto the menu to highlight the tastes of the season, hence the name. The Chicago location is also under new management, so I got a first look at what to expect now. Everything here is available on the menu now, until the next season rolls out. While I enjoyed a free meal, the opinions are all my own. We started with wine, the seasonal cocktail and the new flatbread.

The cocktail this season is a cranberry sage number featuring gin, cranberry juice, lime and a candied sage leaf. I appreciated that it wasn't too sweet but still packed a punch. The seasonal flatbread featured braised shortrib and aged cheddar. It was light and savory at the same time, providing just a taste of beef coupled with horseradish cream and micro cilantro. I also sampled the grilled garlic pesto flatbread, which was my favorite. The balsamic onions and roasted peppers really brought it together.

Next up, appetizers. This season features a black and white lobster ravioli with squid ink and egg pasta, topped with a sherry lobster sauce. It was a great opening for good things to come.

We had to try a salad, and out waiter suggested the warm arugula and mushroom salad. It was topped with truffle dressing and Parmesan shavings, which melted into the warm mushrooms for a surprisingly fulfilling flavor profile.

We also sampled the duck wing lollipops, which packed quite the punch with a Korean red chili glaze. So much so that it called for another beverage.

The New Old Fashioned is a beautiful drink, as it's served with the craft bourbon on the side so you can sample the cherry apple bitters separately and add more as desired. It's also served with a rock candy stirrer.

The best thing I ate all night was the Asian-glazed Chilean sea bass, which was served atop organic black rice, snow peas, shitake mushrooms and micro wasabe. It was a stand out that I would order again and again.

And because no meal is complete without dessert, Seasons 52 features microdesserts served in shotglasses that are the perfect amount of sweet to finish out a meal. I've done this more than once, and my favorite dessert is the ultimate smores cup. It has all things chocolate topped with a toasted marshmallow. I have tried all the rest, in the interest of journalistic integrity, and this is the best.

Thanks for a wonderful winter tasting, Seasons 52!