Kelly the Culinarian: February 2015

Friday, February 27, 2015

What I'm Watching Lately

Another week, another batch of treadmill miles. This was a particularly atrocious week, training wise, as I didn't quite achieve my long run Sunday. Something about the temperature being significantly lower than the miles I needed to run was off putting. So I rented a tile saw and redid my kitchen instead. I only regret this decision when I look at my Garmin profile instead of my beautiful kitchen.

So instead, I had two 10-mile runs indoors on the treadmill, along with a four- and six-mile jaunt this week. That's a lot of television time.  Here's what I've stumbled upon:

The Duchess
So this was a two-hour movie, which I needed for a 10-mile run. It was actually very well-done. Depressing, sexy, emotional, intriguing. Try it.

The One I Love
So there's no video clip for this on purpose. This is the weirdest romantic comedy I've ever seen. Don't read about it, don't watch the trailer. Just watch the movie and report back.

It's everything they said about the movie and more. It's so good. The music is great, the acting is wonderful and the tension and stress are palpable.

And right, of course I watched this. Looks like my favorite Republican and fellow BU alum just got Insta-Busted. Careful with social media, friends. This is probably the 5/2/26/8114239/aaron-schock">most succinct article about Aaron Schock's imminent downfall, if you're curious.

 Next up? Binge watching House of Cards, naturally.

Whatcha watching?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Three Things Thursday

1. The winner of my RawSpiceBar subscription giveaway is Rachel S.! Congrats on scoring three free months of specially selected exotic herbs and spices. If you're one of the other 213 entries that didn't win, Rebecca of RawSpiceBar is happy to extend a special deal to all my readers: Use KELLYTHECULINARIAN when you subscribe and you'll receive a free month with a six-month subscription. If you feel your luck is changing, be sure to enter this week's high-value giveaway of a REM-Fit Active band valued at $120!

2. My sister's dog Marvel has finally rolled out. This is Napoleon expression about the situation.
 3. I got a lot of questions about what type of wine I used in my wine jelly recipe for the Chicago Food Swap. Spoiler alert, it is not fancy. Indeed, it's a $5 bottle from ALDI.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Win It Wednesday: REM-Fit Active Activity Tracker Giveaway

FitBit alternative
High-value giveaway alert! Another week, another way to win. This is a special one – the REM-Fit Active is a brand new activity tracker valued at $120, which one lucky winner will take home for FREE.

FitBit alternativeI got this tracker when I won an entry to the F^3 Half Marathon earlier this year. I spoke fairly extensively with the reps on-site to learn more about the device, and it’s really cool. It’s a bit like a FitBit in that it tracks your activity, but it’s generations ahead in that it gives you both qualitative and quantitative measures of your activity. Instead of just tracking steps, it assigns a value to how active you are. So you get more points for running five miles versus walking five miles. It does the same thing for your sleep, awarding you more points for deep sleep over tossing and turning. Finally, another differentiating feature of this tracker is that instead of just syncing to your smart phone, it displays data right on the bracelet so you can see how you’re doing throughout the day without uploading data.

·         Active Score - How active are you being in a day? REM-Fit Active gives you a score based on how active you are, not just how many steps you have.
·         Steps - Take every opportunity to rack up your steps! REM-Fit Active tracks how many you take in a day.
·         Distance - From A to B and everywhere in between; REM-Fit Active will show you how far you went today.
·         Calories - Ever wonder how many calories you burn in a day? REM-Fit Active will calculate it for you based on your activity.
·         Sleep Points - How'd you sleep last night? REM-Fit Active is awake while you are asleep to help you answer that question.
·         Advanced Watch - What time is it? Date, time and battery life are easily found on your REM-Fit Active.
Want one of your own, totally free? Enter now! Rafflecopter will select a random winner in one week, and I’ll announce it here on March 5. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Take Time Tuesday

When I saw Katie for our workout this weekend, we swapped stories about blogging and what we’re doing next, as well as the challenges of keeping up with writing while balancing demanding careers and life in general.

So it seemed appropriate for a Take Time Tuesday in which bloggers around the ‘net write take a few minutes to reflect on what they have to be grateful for. And do I ever had a lot to be grateful for.

At the top of the list is that my sister is returning from vacation tomorrow to retrieve her dog. I’ve been chilling with Marvel the shiba for a few days and he wants to go home. And my sleep patterns would like him to do so as well.

I’m very appreciative for my treadmill these days, too, as it’s ridiculously cold. Furthermore, I’m thankful for the television directly above it that makes the miles more pleasant, along with Amazon and Netflix for their gloriously unfettered access to amusement.

I’m equally thankful for web-backed mosaic tiles, which accelerated my kitchen improvement timeline significantly. Also, Amazon Prime shipping is helping me power through this little project at warp speed.

I’m happy to be loving my new job. I’m edging closer to my 90-day mark, which will earn me the right to work from home two days per week. Hello, fewer fill ups! While I love my truck, the MPG leave something to be desired.

And finally, in this totally craptacular weather, I’m very grateful for warm and funny socks. It at least makes me smile when I can’t feel my toes.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Battle Rope Workout at CrossTown Fitness

I’m a glutton for punishment. This weekend, I headed into the city to meet Katie of LiveHalfFull for a blogger workout at CrossTownFitness. I’d never been, and wanted to see Katie, so why not.

This workout was not for the weak of heart, body or spirit. It instantly reminded me why I gave up CrossFit, and why I really need to get back to CrossFit. It was a battle rope partner workout that left me feeling like jello all over.
CrossTown is in the West Loop and is a narrow warehouse space with exposed brick and high ceilings. It’s a small space, but well-utilized, and has showers, too. There’s a juice bar in the front with tables for lounging, then benches and cubbies for all your essentials.

In knew from the get go this workout was no joke. It started with a warm up that reminded me of Insanity in terms of intensity. Think high kicks, jumping jacks and push-ups. Then we paired up for intervals that were basically tabatas – 30 seconds of work, 15 seconds rotating to the next station. One partner did a movement with the rope while the other did squats, push-ups or lunges. The rope exercises were foreign to me and were reminding me why I need to do more upper body work almost immediately.

Katie and I both pushed ourselves throughout, and the workout rotated through three sets of circuits that were 3-4 rotations each. The workout ended with the whole class doing the same cool down, which couldn't come soon enough. This session kicked my ass.

When we were done, the gym owners treated us to samples of their signature smoothies and salads that are available on site, made fresh locally. We also snagged water bottles and KIND bars, except I couldn't really stomach anything afterwards.

Thanks, CrossTown, for the awesome sweat session and reminder of my own mortality. Time to get back to weights.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Cooking with Kelly: Mole-Style Crock Pot Chicken Recipe

My pursuit of a million ways to use my crock pot continues. The slow cooker just makes it so easy to prepare inexpensive, bulk meals quickly. I can cook once and have myriad lunch possibilities, as well as freeze half and stock my fridge for a rainy/snowy day.

Mexican food is easily my favorite, and chicken is one of the cheapest proteins out there. The grocery store recently had a special on boneless, skinless chicken breasts for $1.79, so this was a natural choice. I had all the spices for this on hand, and decided it was time to experiment with flavors. I usually go for spicy combinations, but this was more smokey and savory than burn your mouth off good.

This was initially used for tacos, but I found to be just as tasty on top of a salad or a FlatOut Bread pizza. I tried all manor of tacos with these, too - I started with just chopped onions and cilantro, but also tried refried beans and cheese as well as slaw and sour cream. It was all good. As all Mexican food is.

Mole-style crock pot chicken recipe

4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (roughly five pounds)
2 large onions, slices and cut into strips
3 chipotle peppers, chopped
2 Tablespoons of the adobo sauce the peppers came in
1 green pepper, chopped
3/4 cup spicy barbecue sauce
2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg

Place on of the sliced onions in the bottom of the crock pot, then layer the chicken over it and top with the remaining onions and pepper. Mix together the remaining ingredients in a small bowl, then spoon over the onions and chicken. Cook on low for seven hours, then shred with forks. Serve with tortilla, over salad or atop pizza.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Grand Opening Get Together at The Burger Bar Chicago

I was super lucky to snag an invite to  Burger Bar's grand opening festivities earlier this week. It's a joint that been in Chicago for a few years and just opened a brand-new outlet in the South Loop. It was easy to get to as a suburbanite because it's right off Lake Shore Drive and I snagged parking 1/2 block away for $7 on ParkWhiz, which is great because it's -4 in Chicago right now (sadly not joking even a little).

The concept is pretty simple: Burger Bar wants to be the spot you call yours, for catering at work, happy hour, dinner with the kids and late-night sports viewing. What sets this place apart is a globally inspired burger menu with high-quality ingredients and even higher-quality beer. The tap list is extensive and constantly rotating, featuring local brews and signature cocktails. We were super bummed to hear the bloody mary's, which are rather famous on Yelp, are a weekend-only engagement. So we drowned our sorrows in panko-crusted fried pickles, edamame hummus and bacon lollipops. I saw someone with samples of the giant Bavarian pretzel, but sadly, they never crossed my path.

What did get into my clutches were samples of their famed mac and cheese. After extensive research (all for you, dear readers), I can say without a doubt the pork mac and cheese is the best. The crunchy topping and tender pulled pork just send it over the edge and remind me why I decided being a vegetarian was not for me.

However, if you're of the meatless persuasion, Burger Bar does have a few options for you. I loved the vegetarian burger (the one in the middle down there), which comes on a whole wheat bun and is topped with arugula and goat cheese. Other white-meat options include wings (the diablo will burn your face off, fair warning) and a chicken burger, which was the stand-out creation of the night.

They're also famous for their tater tots and sweet potato fries, but I didn't get a chance to put those in my tummy. Instead, I took a stroll around the place to check out the decor, which features local artists:

No meal is complete without dessert, in my opinion, and the shakes at this place look amazing. They're delicious to start with, and then you can add a shot for $3 more. And in weather like this, when the chef asks if I like bourbon, the answer is an enthusiastic yes. We sampled the shake of the month, which is the King Cake Shake. It includes house-made king cake, which was super delicious. I'm usually a chocolate girl myself, but this tasted like a boozy birthday cake with chunks of cinnamon rolls in it (kind of like a blondie version of Portillo's chocolate cake shake).
Burger Bar is part of a larger group of eateries called Good Eats. They have plans to expand nationally, including Austin (my favorite city) and Boston.
In the meantime, I'll just be over here savoring my craft beer and gorging myself on burgers cut into neat little quarters.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Three Things Thursday

1. The winner of my National Etching growler giveaway is Julie H.! Congratulations, and a huge thanks to everyone who entered. This is one of my most popular giveaways to date, and it's easy to see why. But if you didn't win, never fear, I have another giveaway available NOW! Have you entered to win a three-month subscription from RawSpiceBar yet? I'm picking a winner next week and you can enter via Twitter daily.

2. So much exciting news from Cabot Creamery! First, remember the first Cabot Creamery Cookbook? Stop by their Facebook page now to enter to win a copy. Additionally, someone is going to win a year supply of Cabot cheese, and I think it should be you. May the odds be ever in your favor. Next, today is the last day to apply for the Cabot Fit Team. This year, they have three race options available. The Vermont Marathon was not only my fastest marathon yet, it was an amazing experience that I hope to share with the world again this year. Finger crossed ... anyone can apply, and I encourage all my Chicago Running Blogger friends to have at it!

3. I'm way deep into a major home renovation project. I have lusted over granite counter tops for a solid 6.5-7 years. It was one of the things I wanted to change immediately upon my first walk through at this place, but never got around to it. I finally decided it was time to #TreatYoSelf and just get it done. A whole reveal is forthcoming, just as soon as I finish the thing.
"I don't like how I can't get out of this sink during tubby time"

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Win it Wednesday: Three-Month RawSpiceBar Subscription Giveaway

February RawSpiceBar Recipes
Yesterday I shared my experiences with receiving and cooking out of my RawSpiceBar subscription service. It's a service that send three to four hand-selected, roasted and freshly ground spices monthly with recipes suggesting how to use them. The recipes contain mostly mainstream ingredients and feed a family.

Now, RawSpiceBar wants to share and spread the word about its new service. It will provide one of my readers a three-month subscription, which means the lucky winner will net a trip around the world in flavor, all from the comfort of their own kitchen.

Rafflecopter will randomly select one winner next week, and there are options that allow you to enter daily. Good luck, readers, and safe travels through taste!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Food Review: RawSpiceBar Subscription Service

I've been in contact with RawSpiceBar for weeks about their new service, which sends hand-selected specialty spices to lucky cooks monthly. What makes this service unique is that they're providing flavors and ingredients not commonly used in North America - yet. Plus, the entire thing is incredibly affordable. At $6 a month, it's cheaper than Netflix and allows users to try new flavor profiles in their own kitchen. This is big for me - so often, I'll eat something at a restaurant and not be able to quite pull it together at home, or realize that I don't have the right equipment or patience to make it work at home.

So each month, an envelope arrives with 3-4 spice packets, recipes, an overview and directions:
It's actually a really classy presentation. The spices are toasted and freshly ground, and each envelope has a little seal on the inside so they don't go flying everywhere the moment you rip it open.

The recipes in the packet say they feed eight to 12 people, but my experience more like 4-5 servings. I started with the February RawSpiceBar Box, which featured an array of Indian spices. What's interesting is that despite the exotic flavors, I found everything except one ingredient (fresh ginger) at ALDI. The spices are the soul of what makes these creations special.

However, this was definitely a labor of love. I like spending time in the kitchen and find working on new recipes soothing. It doesn't bother me to spend two hours chopping and simmering, but if you're racing the clock, best to save these recipes for later. Also, to see photos of the finished product, you have to go online and view them; they're not included in the package. I assume this helps keep cost down, and I usually cook with my laptop open anyhow. The Punjabi Chicken Tikka Masala was delicious over brown rice with a side of naan, and I picked up a new trick baking the Nankhatai Chai Cookies. Rice flour added a bit of crunch and an interesting texture to the cookies that I plan to try with other recipes. Also, I learned a new use for shot glasses with this recipe ... as cookie cutters.

Want to try RawSpiceBar for FREE? Come back tomorrow for a giveaway.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Cooking with Kelly: Wine Jelly Recipe

After a year apart, I have finally, finally returned to the Chicago Food Swap scene! It was awesome seeing familiar faces Sunday and meeting new foodie friends. My wine jelly was a huge hit and it was so easy that I almost feel guilty with the amazing haul I got at the swap. There were some really talented cooks and chefs there yesterday. I always get a little bit of anxiety for precisely that reason - these people are legit, will my baked goods and concoctions be good enough? This recipe delivered big time. In no time at all, this came together into a presentable, classy dish that netted me a ton of tasty treats.

A word on the wine: I used a cheap Cabernet from ALDI. It was $5 per bottle and was amazing in this recipe. In fact, the only item from the whole ensemble that didn't come from ALDI was the pectin. Do note that because this only boils for a minute, most of the alcohol remains. This one isn't for the kids' sammies, folks. Instead, I'd suggest this with crackers or a baked brie of even in a tart. This would work with white wine, too, but I'd suggest a dry wine, because this does contain quite a bit of sugar.

Kelly's Cabernet Jelly Recipe
1 bottle (just more than 3 cups) of Cabernet
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 ounces pectin
4 1/2 cups white sugar

So, so easy. Bring the wine, juice and pectin to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved, then bring to a boil for one minute to gel. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes. I poured these into plastic souffle cups, then allowed to set up on the counter before refrigerating for 24 hours. You could can these in small jars and boil for five minutes to make shelf stable.

See, told you it was easy. And that little secret sauce brought all this into my possession:

So you can see, it's quite tasty stuff. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

#FLFC15: Fast cars and fancy(ish) gowns

Friday night was a dream come true: I attended the Chicago Auto Show's First Look for Charity with a bunch of other Chicago Food Bloggers. You may recall that I had the chance to taste test the bites and bevs featured at the event last month, which was just a big old tease for the big night. First, I donned my fanciest of apparel: a $6 gown from Goodwill and red lips, because that complimented the champagne so well:

Some highlights on the automotive side include test drives with Jeep and Chrysler (there may have been little squeals from me going down the side of a hill in a Wrangler and then accelerating in a Charger), as well as luxuriating in cars more expensive than my mortgage.
The food and drinks were as amazing as last month's preview. I enjoyed mac and cheese alongside sushi and spring rolls. It was such a decadent array of bites that I never tired to looking for the next table.

Sadly, though, my feet sure did. This man at Cadillac was my knight in shining armor by 10 p.m.

Another food highlight included eating this:
In one of these:
Thanks again to the Chicago Food Bloggers and the Chicago Auto Show for inviting me to this once-in-a-lifetime event. I had such a blast looking at amazing feats of engineering and enjoying equally breathtaking food. If you have a chance to visit the Chicago Auto Show this year, head to the supercar playground and enjoy the Jeep test-drive experience, if you can. It's an amazing ride!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Three Things Thursday

1. I found out this week that my kale sausage soup recipe won a photo contest from Artizone. I'm honored to win, but also super excited to snag $100 to spend on the site. The choices are overwhelming, but I think I'll focus on getting some really high-end proteins. As much as I love ALDI, they don't have a ton of choices in the way of meat.

2. It's finally here! The 2015 First Look for Charity for the Chicago Auto Show is tomorrow night. My dress has been pressed and altered, the tickets are stowed away and I might even try to get my nails done tonight. I'm so excited to get all gussied up, see some pretty cars and indulge in amazing food, all in the name of charity. Follow me on Instagram to get the inside scoop, and stay tuned for an event recap this weekend.

3. After a yearlong hiatus, I plan to make my triumphant return to the Chicago Food Swap on Sunday. I have all my ingredients and packaging ready to go. It'll be nice to get back to swapping with people as passionate about food as I am. I'll recap that one soon, too!