Kelly the Culinarian: September 2015

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Win it Wednesday: No Problem Pint Glass from Caloric Cuvee

After the success of my recent stainless steel growler giveaway, I've kept in touch with Caloric Cuvee about future giveaways. They've got a great selection of wine, pint and beer stein glasses with calorie counts or funny sayings. If you're watching calories, the wine glass is great. It tells you exactly how much you can have for your caloric/point allowances, which I appreciated when I was on Weight Watchers.

Anyhow, now's your chance to grab another item from their impressive catalog of offerings. I've been keeping this stein in the freezer and like the weight of it - it keeps my drinks cold and doesn't feel fragile, unlike some of the other glassware  I own. If you'd like to snag yourself one, just enter below. RaffleCopter will pick a random winner on Oct. 8. Happy entering!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, September 28, 2015

No Spice Girls Sightings

For the past week, I've been in Texas for #SpiceWorldAustin. It was even a trending topic on Twitter. I was hoping for this:

But I got this:

I was at a convention for IT pros. That's a dance battle between a dinosaur and Darth Vader. Don't act like you aren't jealous.

It's cool, though. I got to see my parents and their pool:

Eat some delicious barbecue and pie

Enjoy beverages at Jester King

Make new friends

Run in a 5K

And generally just love loving my job.

And how was your week?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

An evening with Schlafly at #BeerHQ

Back in the day, I went to school in Peoria. I had a friend who worked for a distributor there and got way into craft beer before it was even cool. We had a post-graduation gathering at Rachael's townhouse to celebrate her being the first of us to actually own a home rather than the rest of us who retreated to living with parents or in crappy apartments. Schlafly pumpkin ale made an appearance and it was my first exposure to beer that was purchased for flavor rather than price. I was informed I couldn't get it in Chicago, and it's best served slightly warmer than fridge temp. We enjoyed them with a toasted marshmallow on top.

Now, I'm an unabashed beer girl and am not even a little sorry about my love of pumpkin. But not all pumpkin stuff is created equal. I do not, for one, like pumpkin spice lattes. I said it and I stand by it. There's nothing pumpkiny about it. It's just spice. All I taste is the ginger and it makes me think I'm eating Asian food. Bleck. When I saw Schlafly at Binny's last fall, it was such a blast from the past that I couldn't resist picking up a six pack. It was everything I remember, and reminded be that I started my craft beer tasting career on a high.

I was really looking forward to learning more about what makes Schalfly different during this month's beer dinner at Lakeshore Beverage. First, the office is amazing. Calling it a workspace doesn't give it justice. This building is nicer than most bars I frequent and was all ours. Lakeshore invites a handful of friends, influencers and writers to #BeerHQ every month to take beer. It's a way to connect with the beer community and learn more about what beers tickle your fancy.

After being ushered into the main bar (because of course Lakeshore has more than one), we took the tour with Matt and started on a welcome beer, which was Schlafly Kolsch, which is made with the authentic yeast strain sourced from Koln, Germany. It's so close to the original method and recipe that it's been mistaken for a German beer before.

After our welcome beer and chatter with Maggie and Natali, we moved to the theater to meet with co-founder Dan Kopman. It was probably the coolest and most approachable beer talk I've ever attended. Dan talked about his early days as a brewer, learning about homebrewing at Kenyon College and then apprenticing at breweries all over London and Scotland before returning home to St. Louis, where he started a brewery with his dad's business associate. Dan said he never planned to settle in the area, but the beer had different plans.

We learned about Schlafly's Tap Room, which started as an abandoned warehouse in a blighted neighborhood people just didn't go to. After acquiring the former printing facility and $2 million in renovation (and 20 years later), the neighborhood is starting to come back. It was also the first brewpub built in the state after prohibition.

It was after Schlafly got rolling that Dan noticed the influx of pumpkin everything - candy and crappy beer and spirits. But everything on the market was just a crappy facsimile containing extracts added in at the end of processing that left so much to be desired.

So Dan set out to make a pumpkin beer that was worth savoring. He determined it had to have actual pumpkin, which was a bit of a messy process. They started with cutting up pumpkins and adding it to the mash at the beginning of the process. Unfortunately, the pumpkin just sat above the mash and added little to the mix. The next try was freeze-dried pumpkin, which yielded the same result once hydrated.

It was when Dean picked up a green juice at a grocery store that the light bulb went off - a juicer removes all the fibrous materials and just leaves the flavors and sugars and essential. What they needed was the world's largest juicer. They found it in Salem, Oregon, which is where the pumpkins are harvested, pureed, concentrated and stabilized each fall for the following season's crop of beer.

But that was only part of the equation. If you think about a pumpkin pie, you've got crust and the filling. Crust is made of carbs and sugar, which beer has, and the filling is pumpkin and spice. Without the flavorings of spices, you'll be missing something.

However, now was not the time to ruin this game changer with extracts, which contain food-grade glycol to stabilize. Instead, they learned how essential oils are made, which is a process in which scientists take fruits and vegetables and process it with carbon dioxide to yield essential oils. They created a device that uses beer instead of CO2, and that is how the most sciencey beer I've ever savored gets into my bottle.

Before we left, we enjoyed pumpkin bread made with the beer (it's amazing and I'll be replicating just as soon as I replenish my Schlafly supply) and Dry Hopped APA, which was a wonderful way to end the evening.  You know why I love beer? It brings people together in an unpretentious, approachable way.  And that's exactly what happened - we had a blast sipping and savoring, learning and chatting.

Big thanks to Lakeshore for hosting!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Three Things Thursday

I've had quite an exciting 24 hours!

1. It all started with a sightseeing pleasure cruise with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. It was a perfect afternoon and an incredible outing. Our volunteer docent spoke for a full 90 minutes and never stuttered once. She knew the architect, firm and year of every building, as well as its style and distinguishing features. It gives me a whole new appreciation for office buildings.

2. Right after that, I went over to Lakeshore Beverage's #BeerHQ for a tasting and educational session with one of the founders of Schlafly's. I'll save all the juicy info for a full post, but this was quite possibly the highlight of my beer-drinking life.

3. And then today, my work held its annual Volunteer Day. More than 60 of us headed out to help build a home for a family of five who immigrated here in 2009 from Burma. It's really cool to see your work immediately and know that you're rebuilding a blighted neighborhood for people who never thought they'd have a home. It was a very good day and an awesome work perk.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Three Years a Marathon Finisher

My first marathon was exactly three years ago today (thanks Google Photos for informing me). In some ways, the Fox Valley Marathon feels forever ago. As I lined up that day, I had no idea how it would go.

It was hot and it was hard. Little did I know I had plantar facitiis and my feet were screaming the entire last half. I started walking at nine, much to my own disappointment.

I cried finishing the race. I was in so much pain and I could barely talk. I was all sorts of elated to just be done.

I learned important lessons about pacing, expectations and body glide. So much body glide was needed.

 Today, I'm an Ironman. I've gone on to run more races, cover further distances faster and clinch my athletic dreams. But this was the race that started it all, three years ago today.

Monday, September 14, 2015

It's a New Day

I've had one hell of a weekend. I set out for Wisconsin Saturday afternoon to reprise my camping skills because there were 3,000 athletes in Madison looking for hotel rooms. My campground was $28 and 20 minutes away from the start of Ironman Wisconsin. I slept like a rock in my pro-level camping set up. Hint: Frog-style bike lamps make great tent nightlights. And a heated mattress pad made 46-degree overnight temps just fine.

I then made my way to Monona Terrace to check out the expo and have dinner. It still gets me the same as it did last year.

The magnitude of it all is incredible. This is was millions of dollars of bikes look like.

Sunday morning was another early, early day. I was at the Helix of Monona Terrace watching my athlete friends completing the same journey I did a mere 12 months ago.

The view from the Ironman gift shop is actually perfect.

Then I headed out to Old Sauk Road to hang out at the top of Timber Lane Road for a few hours and enjoy some beverages.

I ended up running roughly 19 miles of the marathon with my friends, cutting through crowds and such to spectate throughout the evening. When it was all said and done, I didn't go to bed until 3 a.m. but I was more convinced than ever this would be happening today:

Coffees and confirmation e-mails. I'm in. Ironman Wisconsin is a go. The house is booked and my credit card has been charged.

Time to get to training. #Ironbitch is back.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Cooking with Kelly: Triple Layer Strawberry Poke Cake Recipe

Triple Layer Strawberry Poke Cake RecipeI like to bake things, specifically impressive things that make people happy. Birthdays and holidays and celebrations and milestones should all be rung in with something sweet. I've been doing this for years, because it makes the recipient happy, and it makes me feel like I contributed to the celebration. This cake was crafted for a birthday and it turned out so moist, pretty and delicious I had to share.

Poke cakes are a great way to infuse flavors and colors into a cake. This particular one is made with jello, which ensures the cake stays moist and flavorful. It also gives the cake a tie-dye effect, which is fun to cut into.

I also employed a few strategies I've learned to make boxes cakes and frosting taste more homemade. For the cake, add one more egg than is instructed. Swap out the vegetable oil and use coconut oil instead. And use milk instead of water. Voila, a taste of home. As far as the frosting, use your stand mixer and whisk attachment to whip that stuff up. You'll get more volume from your frosting, which also helps mix up the sugar crystals in it for a smoother finish. Plus, if you're tinting the frosting with food coloring, as I did, it ensures you get an even color. And it just looks nicer, too.

To assemble this, I used a 6-inch cake round. I baked the cake in a standard 13x9 pan, so I leveled it off with a cake saw, then cut two relatively flat and perfect layers. The third layer was two half-circles, which I filled in with the extra cake pieces. I put this not-quite-perfect layer in the middle and the cake consumers were none the wiser.

I also used sliced strawberries inside the cake and on the top. I found it easiest to assemble the layers, then refrigerate to allow this to firm up. Then, I crumb coated the cake, refrigerated again and applied the final layer. Because this cake is so moist, it will crumble during icing if you don't take your time and cool everything down in between.

Pro tip: Use strips of foil or parchment paper on the base of your cake stand. You can remove them when you're done so your cake stand is all fresh and clean.

Triple Layer Strawberry Poke Cake Recipe
1 box white cake mix
1 cup milk
1/3 cup melted coconut oil 
4 large eggs
1 box strawberry jello
1 cup boiling water
1 can white icing
Food coloring, if you're using
1 pint sliced strawberries (save the prettiest for the top)

Grease a 13x9 baking pan and set aside. Using a stand mixer on low, combine the cake mix, eggs, coconut oil and milk, then switch to medium speed and beat for two minutes. Spoon into the cake pan and bake at 350 until a toothpick comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

While it's cooling, boil the water and add in the jello, mixing until all the sugar dissolves. While the cake is still warm, poke the top of it with a fork to create channels for the liquid. Slowly pour the jello evenly over the surface, then allow to cook for 30 minutes. Refrigerate for an hour.
Whip the frosting in a stand mixer on medium, adding the food coloring until the desired color is achieved. To assemble, turn the cake pan over to release from the pan. Level the cake using a cake saw or knife (I'm not that handy, but I'm also clumsy for real), then use the cake round to cut out two circles. Use the remaining cake halves to make a third. To start, use one of the flat rounds, then add frosting and a layer of sliced berries. Top that with the cake halves and use leftover cake bits to fill in the middle. Add more icing and berries, then refrigerate the naked tower for 20 minutes to allow it to gel.

Crumb coat the cake, refrigerate for 20 minutes and then complete the icing. Berries on top are optional, but why not?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Three Things Thursday

1. My house is undergoing a transformation! Something must have happened to light a fire under the management company and all of the sudden, the outside is being powerwashed, I'm getting a whole new composite deck and they're painting everything. Much to Napoleon's chagrin. He's stressed managing all these people.

2. I ran this morning before work for the first time in a long time and it felt so damn good. I have this little loop that's just about 6.5 miles. It's starting to get cooler in the mornings and this is the time when I feel like I reemerge as a runner. All summer I'm concerned about fitting in all the sports, balancing indoor trainer time with real-life pursuits and open water swims. Now I just get to go out and run for the hell of it. And an 8:32 overall pace for a leisurely run convinces me I didn't lose it all chasing down triathlon dreams.

3. As much as I love fall (because I'm your basic suburbanite), I'm still sad to see summer go. We had such an abbreviate version and winter was so crappy that I'm sure it's only a matter of weeks before I'm longingly looking out the window at my snow-covered, brand-new composite deck wondering when I can actually start using it. In honor of this summer sendoff. Lakeshore Beverages is hosting a #LongLiveSummer block party next Friday and Saturday. They're raffling off four VIP passes to the 312 Goose Island Block Party, along with a Goose Island record player. I loved Goose Island and have waited in line for Bourbon County in very cold Black Friday weather, so I'm excited to enjoy some pints of this stuff in the sunshine. Enter now and join me maybe?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Win it Wednesday: #BeHealthful Retreat Sept. 27 in Chicago

Hi readers! It's a lovely day for a giveaway. I'm an ambassador for the 2nd annual BeHealthful Retreat, which is coming up fast on Sept. 27. I'm really excited to attend because it's a full-day of workshops, seminars, pampering and swag. I just got an e-mail from the organizers today and the offerings are staggering. It's basically a healthy choose your own adventure where you can put together a day of workouts ranging from yoga to HIIT, then add in spa treatments and classes that focus on your mental, spiritual and physical health. I'm looking forward to the tastings, as well as getting a massage and signing up for a few wellness consultations and maybe a yoga class to get my zen on. This food sampling list has me pretty pumped:

  • Cave Chick
  • Door to Door Organics
  • Element Wellness
  • Earths Healing Cafe
  • Factor 75 
  • Herby PoP -- herbed popcorn
  • Juice Rx
  • Jolly Oak
  • Karyn’s Fresh Corner
  • Kitch Fix
  • Lifeway Keifer
  • Madison and Rayne
  • Uppitea
  • Whole Foods
If you want to check it out for yourself, I've got two free passes for one lucky winner. Rafflecopter will choose a winner Sept. 17 - good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

One year Ironman-iversary

I was looking through my timehop app last night, marveling at all the wonderful things people wrote to me as I made my 140.6-mile journey around Wisconsin. It was the day I triumphed and finished what I started. It was the day I've felt the most loved, by friends and family and strangers and volunteers. It was an amazing experience that I will never, ever forget.

It makes me a little regretful that I'm not tackling Ironman Wisconsin again next weekend. I remember the anxiety of this week like it's still happening. Tapering, packing, leaving work, traveling, planning meals. It was what kept my mind still in a very dark time.

But, what's replaced the double workouts and endless laundry and soreness and tears makes the change all worth it. I had a lovely weekend in Michigan during which I ran zero miles, left my bike at home and "swam" in shallow water for less than 100 yards. I've recaptured the illusive work-life balance by easing up on training, changing jobs and re-prioritizing.

It's weird to sit here and think that a year ago I became an Ironman because in many ways, it was a lifetime ago. I crossed the finish line with a different last name, and in many ways was a different person.

Which is yet another reason to do it again. I want vindication over last year. I want to train better, get faster, and prove that I can do it again without the technical errors. I need to clinch this as Kelly 3.0.
So Monday, I sign up for another year of sunburns and sweaty clothes. Cheers to spending $700 on something that won't happen for a year!

Friday, September 4, 2015

#WhatsGoodNow at Seasons 52

Fall is my favorite season. It's perfect running weather, all the foods are my favorites and who doesn't love tall boots and scarves?  I say bring on the apple and pumpkin and roasts because now's the time.  Seasons 52 invited me out to try the fall menu and it was all around awesome. Rachael was my super saucy date and we had a blast eating through the menu.  It was all things roasted and slow cooked, packed with mushrooms and spices and all my favorite autumn dishes.

We started with flatbreads, which included a triple roasted mushroom offering as well as the roasted tomato I had before. The mushroom was far and away the best, because despite being vegetarian, it was quite filling and had an array of flavors. I also couldn't pass up an opportunity to try the fall cocktails. Get yourself to a Seasons 52 and try the pumpkin pisco sour NOW. It's not the BS starbucks latte that tastes like a mouth full of gingersnap. It's a creamy cocktail with all the earthy roasted flavors of pumpkin complemented by aromatic bitters, which are applied table side. I will dream of this cocktail.

Our appetizers included roasted butternut squash ravioli, which we made quick work of, and a roasted artichoke and goat cheese pizza. And since one amazing cocktail deserves another, I had the pearfect storm, which was surprisingly refreshing for containing quite a bit of sweet liquors. I think it was the thyme that really brought it all together.

What's pretty great about fall, and the menu in general, is that vegetarian offerings are plentiful, filling and flavorful. It's not fun going finding out that the only vegetarian offering is a tiny plate of boring pasta. While we awaited our entrees, I devoured a cup of mushroom bisque, which was delightfully flavored and seasoned. I could have gladly had a bowl with a crusty roll and called my day done.  The salad Rachael ordered was quite generous as well.

Finally, the main event. I ordered scallops on the recommendation of our waiter and they were so tasty - melt in your mouth goodness with just the right amount of toastiness on the outside. Sadly, I could only enjoy a few before I was full.

But not full enough for dessert. I got the smores mini dessert and enjoyed it big time. It was a chocolate mouse with a chocolate-dipped graham cracker and toasted marshmallow. Paired with coffee, it was the perfect end to a perfect meal.

Thanks to Seasons 52 for the invitation, and to Rachael for being such a lovely date!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Three Things Thursday

1. The London trip threw me for a loop, activity and workwise. I'm still feeling off my routine. I ran seven miles on the treadmill last night and didn't want to die, so I'll call that a success I guess.

2. If you follow me on Instagram, you've seen Napoleon had his own #TransformationTuesday ... on a Wednesday. He looks pretty sharp post-groom.

3. I might be on dessert overload. We made chocolate-covered strawberries this weekend, my sister brought over cayenne chocolate cookies and I also had dessert this week at Seasons 52. I regret nothing.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

London Work Trip Recap

The short answer for this blog post is, I worked a lot and slept even less, but it was a wonderfully productive endeavor. The long version is, I had to get an expedited passport last month so I could travel to my employer's UK office to screen and hire a social media apprentice, as well as train our partners for social media marketing. It was a great whirlwind trip that didn't leave a ton of time for sightseeing, but I made the most of what I could.

First, the Heathrow Express is amazing. For $33, you're in the heart of London in 16 minutes, directly from your terminal. You can buy tickets through their mobile app or at kiosks in the airport. It's perfect.

I walked all over London, mostly by accident. I stayed in Tower Hill, which is a lovely neighborhood one mile from my office. I spent at least an hour every day lost because my phone did not have mobile data while abroad. It was only on my very last night in London I took a Jack the Ripper walking tour and realized I spent the balance of the week traversing the locales haunted by England's most infamous unsolved serial killer. Lovely.

I did manage to get fish and chips at Poppies, which my coworkers assured me was THE BEST place to get it. I got the cod version and it was awesome. The fries were kind of meh, I like my crispier, but the fish was to die for. It was so crispy and crunchy and the tartar sauce was spot on. I ate it all.

I also spent a glorious afternoon at Spitalfields Market, which was an awesome craft fair and flea market where I bought quite a bit of artisan items. Think posters and photos and cotton dresses and cut paper cards. It was awesome.

Of course, I bought a Starbucks mug, because that's what I do. I like the skyline mugs, but the variety at this Starbucks was overwhelming.

I also had way too much fun at the airport duty free shop. The Heathrow airport is one of the nicest places I've ever been. It was spotless, it had showers and sleeping facilities and so much shopping I didn't even mind killing an hour there.

In all, it was a very busy trip that lacked a lot of sightseeing, but a work day in London is still better than a work day in suburban Chicago, because check out this view from my hotel: