Kelly the Culinarian: May 2016

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Cooking with Kelly: Baked Blueberry Oatmeal Recipe

I'm playing a fun game this week. It's called, can I piece together a week of meals without going to the grocery store? We traveled for Memorial Day weekend, we went out a ton in the previous days and have been training for Ironman Wisconsin too. I long ran out of bananas, and we don't have bread, taking out my favorite breakfast standards (banana oatmeal or an over easy egg atop toast). So it was time to get more creative. I had canned blueberries and plenty of oatmeal, so away I went creating this dish.

What I ended up with is a not overly sweet breakfast that has whole grains, protein and fruit. With a hard-boiled egg, you've got a filling breakfast that's fully portable. The more I work out in the morning, the more I need quick and easy foods on the go. I love how the blueberries plumped on cooking. This would be a classy brunch offering, too.

Baked Blueberry Oatmeal Recipe
2 cups old-fashion oatmeal
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
Dash of salt
1 3/4 cups almond milk
1/3 maple syrup
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 can of bluberries, drained and rinsed

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, then mix the dry ingredients and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, syrup, milk and vanilla, then set aside.
Sprinkle half the blueberries along the bottom on a greased 9x9 pan, then cover with the dry ingredients. Gently pour the wet ingredients over the top, then add the remaining blueberries on top. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the center is set and the top is brown.

You could easily serve this hot, and offer a variety of toppings to make it brunch friendly. For my mobile eating habits, I enjoyed my square of baked breakfast delight at room temp sans add ins.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Three Things Thursday

1. It's been seven years since I got Napoleon! He hasn't changed much in appearance, but he's transformed behavior wise in the last year or two. Instead of a jerk, he's become a friendly, tolerant family dog who follows the kids from room to room and is very excited when they come over. Here's to another seven years with my furry best friend.

2. We went to an awesome beer release party at Goose Island this week that ended in Peaquod's Pizza and a cookie dough cookie sandwich from Sweet Mandy B's. I regret nothing.

2. We got a fairy garden on a whim when we were getting flowers and tomato plants for the summer. It's a hit - the six-year-old carefully planted and arranged all the items in the box, and has been diligently checking it for signs of a fairy. When the tooth sign showed up, she began a correspondence with the tooth fairy. She wrote back, and I've kept all the notes for future generations.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Delightful Night at Carlucci's

Every now and again, I get invited to incredible dining experiences thanks to my fabulous friends and business contacts. I was recently invited to dine at Carlucci's, but the opinions are all mine.

I got an invite to a five-course Tuscan wine dinner and was impressed with the set up. We were all seated at a giant white table in a private room overlooking the patio. It was very reminiscent of a wedding (maybe I've got it on my mind?) or the Mad Hatter's tea party. We got right down to business sampling wines and appetizers, some of which aren't on the menu - yet. The mushroom bruschetta was a big hit, and I loved the goat cheese with pink peppercorns.

Next up was a salad featuring a fried soft-shell crab and garlic aioli. While they look weird, these crabs sure are tasty. They were quite succulent, and the wait staff said they were delivered live earlier in the day. And you can't have dinner at an Italian restaurant without a pasta course. This dish was homemade, complete with bolognese sauce.

It only made me more hungry for the main course, which was a rather unconventional highlight. We dined on monkfish wrapped in pancetta and served with green lentils and a spicy broccoli slaw. It was my favorite dish of the night by far, and I was surprised how tender and flavorful the monkfish was. The slaw was a great complement to the unexpectedly creamy lentil accouterments.

I always leave room for dessert, and you better believe I polished this off. It was a creamy goat cheese panna cotta topped with roasted figs and a touch of honey. It was an ideal balance of sour and sweet. I would've never considered a savory and pungent ingredient like goat cheese as a dessert option, but it cut through the sweetness of the roasted figs.

A huge thanks to Carlucci's for the invite!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Three Things Thursday

1. We've started wedding planning! It's exciting and overwhelming and man there is a lot to do. But in the meantime, we got our first wedding gift! Aren't these mugs from GiftsForYouNow darling? It's a local company that does the personalization on-site. Feeling fancy today!

2. It's graduation season and I'm loving all the advice columns that come out this time of year. I can't believe it's been 10 years since I finished my undergraduate education and tried out this whole real-world thing. This article about excelling as a junior enlisted officer was a great read. I'm joining a military family and find this stuff fascinating, but also, this is just solid advice.

3. Oh how my garden grows! My front-porch plants are looking awesome thanks to all the rain we've gotten. And I just got an e-mail that my tomato plants have shipped, so I have visions of lush outdoor spaces and bushels of tomatoes dancing through my brain. Any tips on how to grow the best tomatoes?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Judging the Loco Tacos Take Down for Culinary Fight Club Chicago

Nine years of blogging and a lifetime of Mexican food appreciation has finally lead me to my magnum opus: judging a taco competition in Chicago to benefit a charity. I feel like in being invited to judge this, I've arrived.

Culinary Fight Club is a national organization that hosts live cooking competitions, all aimed at raising money to provide meals to those in need. At my event, five teams of cooks were tasked with creating the craziest tacos possible.

I was super nervous for this event. I love tacos and have lots of opinions about food, but would I have the palate required to  talk about this with any intelligence?

Wine could only help. My friends from Tastings were there with a delicious secret-recipe sangria to help me out. I imbibed while the competition heated up - each chef has 45 seconds to shop the pantry, then an hour to cook. Unlike other shows were the food is presented to judges in a blind taste-test format, we knew who was making what and their backgrounds, and were able to get to know the chefs as they worked.

When my moment in the sun came, I've been assured I did not embarrass myself. I ate a great deal many delicious tacos. Take a look:

We each filled out a ballot independently and gave feedback to the chefs as we ate, then gathered in ZED451's wine cellar to deliberate. The judging was tough, but in the end we chose the duck tacos laced with duck fat prepared by chefs Jessica and Kasey. They've got a ticket to the world cooking championship, and 20 percent of the proceeds from the night went to Fight2Feed.

Thank you to Culinary Fight Club for the invite, ZED451 for the venue and the amazing chefs for all their original creations!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Training Tuesday

As I dragged myself out of my warm, cozy, worth-every-penny of a splurge bed this morning, I wondered why the hell I do this. Why do I sit on my bike for hours at a time, take time away from my family to work at getting sweaty and tired.

The answer is that in taking time for myself, I run off the crazy and get more out of the rest of my waking hours. I realize when I don't run I'm a hardcore bitch. I overthink things and get anxious and don't sleep as well. I would argue running is what got me through my 20s, and what gave me my 30s.

Some days it sucks. All I want to do is sit on the couch and watch Awkward and drink expensive craft beer. But then I'll get restless, my mind will wander and I'll start to feel sloth-like.

I'm not fast, nor am I going to set any records. But man, my running and races make for great networking and cocktail party stories. It's given me a community and a tribe.

And I guess that's why I keep at it. I'm not going to get any faster or fitter. I'm not going to win the Ironman. But the steps I take make me me, and keep me happy. They're steps into a community. Sometimes they're difficult steps to take, but it's the hard that makes it great to cross the finish line.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Brunch at The Chocolate Sanctuary

I was last at The Chocolate Sanctuary for dinner and was so excited to hear about their brunch offering. They invited me to dine there this weekend but the opinions are my own, as always.

The brunch here is unique in that you can order a la carte or enjoy a buffet that includes house-made pastries, omelette and carving stations and a waffle pop stop.

Yes, waffle pops. Waffles on a stick, with or without candied bacon inside, topped with whatever your heart desires. The turtle toppings with bacon inside was my favorite combo.

In addition to showstopping food on a stick, no brunch is complete without beverages. I enjoyed the pineapple mojito, but the bellini stole the show. It was a refreshing way to start the day. The coffee was also top notch, and I appreciated the presentation of all the accouterments.

I opted for the buffet so I could taste as many options as possible. They make great omelettes there, and the two-bite muffins were super cute too. I'm typically a sweet breakfast person and tend to go for pancakes whenever possible, but my favorite offering was the Lox bites, which were small morsels of smoked salmon rolled around bites of sour cream and chives and topped with a spot of capers. It was delicious and definitely fresh.

What I loved about this particular brunch was that a lot of the fan favorites on the menu are available on the buffet, perfectly sized for tasting. We tried the ribs, the shrimp cocktail and the ceviche, for example, in a few delicious bites.

The only problem is now I definitely have to go back to The Chocolate Sanctuary and I live woefully far from this perfection. Thank you again for the invite!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Three Things Thursday

1. Inspired by all the flowers we planted for my mom when we were in Austin, I put out decorative plants for the first time ever. The pots, most of the flowers and the wreath are from Aldi and they look damn good. I don't know why I didn't do this earlier.

2. I didn't get to run with my favorite cheese-loving ladies this spring for the #CabotFit team, but Cabot did send me this wonderful consolation prize pack that's easing the pain of missing out on kissing cows and setting PRs. I'll just be over here enjoying some seriously sharp cheddar.

3. The kiddos got me an adorable card for Mother's Day. Inside is a very accurate drawing of our family by the six-year-old, including a sketch of Napoleon, complete with claws. He has never looked so friendly. It was the best gift I could've ever hoped for.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Ladies who Brunch: Fox & Turtle Itasca

The Fox & Turtle recently invited me to try their new brunch menu, but the opinions here are all mine.

My sister, future stepdaughter and I recently ventured out for a pre-Mother's Day brunch at The Fox & Turtle, a restaurant and brewery nestled in the Itasca Country Club. The small one had never heard of the word "brunch" was intrigued by a meal that combines pancakes and French fries, and any option in between. It's basically like learning Willy Wonka's factory is real, and it served the greatest hits of every meal you love.

If I wasn't looking for it, I wouldn't never known where the Itasca Country Club was. It's an impressive, tree-lined estate complete with shiny Bentleys in the parking lot. Situated on the ground floor of the clubhouse, the eatery is open to the public and has a really sophisticated downtown vibe inside. There's a great patio looking out onto the golf course that would've been lovely in warmer weather. Instead, we admired it from afar via floor to ceiling windows.

My sister and I kicked off our meals with mimosas on the recommendation of the super helpful manager, Mark. They were also celebrating the Kentucky Derby, so Katie and I split a mint julep. The fresh mint made for a thirst-quenching cocktail worthy of the event.

As for our meal, Katie and I were set on breakfast. The small one was overwhelmed by choice and went with the grilled cheese, which was not your average kids menu offering. It was a toasted artisan bread delivering a mix of melted cheese, alongside fries and a pickle.

It was around this time that she learned the first rule of blogger brunch is you can order what you want, but I have to take a picture first. When I was working on this post, she typed the following in-depth review: we love it.

Katie's dish was the winner, in my opinion. The Santa Fe wrap had scrambled eggs, chorizo, avocado, pico de gallo and pepper jack cheese with home fries. She generously let me take a bite and it was awesome.

For my contribution to our tasting I got the sampler platter, which had all of my breakfast favorites: pancakes, eggs, sausage and bacon. I shared with Katie and made it about halfway through before crying uncle on all that good stuff. The pancakes were my favorite: clearly homemade and griddled to perfection before landing on my plate with warm maple syrup.

As full as we all were, only amateurs don't leave room for dessert. Upon the recommendation of the manager, we went for the bread pudding. We were not disappointed. Despite being super full, the three of us demolished the plate of caramel-topped concoction. The kiddo said her favorite part of the dessert was the ice cream and whipped cream on top, so the jury is still out on if she likes bread pudding in itself.

Thank you to The Fox & Turtle for the awesome brunch with a view. I hope to get back on a Tuesday night to try the half-priced Itasca chicken and $6 Moscow mules!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

On mothers, mothering and Mother's Day

Selfies with mom
Mother's Day is a holiday that has me reflecting in new and profound ways. I have always respected my mom, who raised strong, independent women in the face of many challenges. I never knew how deep her love for us was until I tried to follow her example.

We moved often in a time when it was hard to stay connected to family. I went to six schools before I finished high school, sometimes for as little as three months at a time. My mom was the critical backbone of our family that put on a brave face as we shipped off to countries I had to find on a map where we knew no one and didn't speak the language. Because of her leadership, I never feared moving, and instead of fear or anxiety, I was filled with anticipation for a fresh start, a new room and new friends.

My favorite story of my mom's perseverance was when my dad was offered a new job in New York on a Thursday, if he could start on a Monday. We lived in Texas. My mom was nine months pregnant with her third child. She had Katie on Friday, my dad started the job Monday and when Katie was six weeks old, we joined him in New York.

That, my friends, is a parent of true grit. Want to know where I get my tenacity and general Ironbitch persona from? It's in my DNA.

I won't be passing that DNA along to anyone, but I've come to realize that family is not as simple as people who share a bloodline. It's the people who show up and make a decision to share joy in each others' accomplishments, and provide comfort in their times of need. And in making a choice about who to include in my family, my respect for my mother has taken on ever many shades and nuances. In getting engaged, I've done more than decide to marry my other half. I've committed to join a family.

Mothers have a hard-earned sacred role. Step parenting is an ever-evolving world akin to trying to bore a tunnel through sand. You try to carve out a role for yourself in their lives, and in striving to do for these kids what she did/does for me, I know I was blessed with a mother that was often times better than I deserved. Thank you for pouring everything you had into raising educated, successful and happy adults. It's a gift I'm living every day, and I hope to pass on to my step kids. Thank you for continuing to mother me, and for teaching me how to mother.

A wedding scene from the six-year-old

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Three Things Thursday

1. After the disappointment of Dark Lord Day, we had people over to taste what we had initially planned to open in line and during the shares. Opening BCBS Rare was probably excessive for a random Saturday night, but hey, you only live once. It's getting better, but probably still needs another year to mellow.

2. All you can eat sushi is always the right call. We went this week and randomly pulled together another four people to join us in the adventure. More people =  more sushi options. I love me my sweet potato rolls. We also found a place that's BYOB, so even better.

3. I'm excited to share that following my bone marrow donation, my uncle's cancer is now in remission. On Monday, he'll go home for the first time in eight months, or roughly half the total time his twins have been alive. It's pretty incredible that a minor inconvenience in my life has potentially made the difference between seeing his kids go to school and not making it to their second birthdays. If you've ever considered joining the registry, I'd encourage you to do so. Only one in 540 people go on to donate, but you never know whose life you might save.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What I Forgot About CrossFit

I'm a little more than a month into a new CrossFit regime. It's at a new gym and with new trainers, so I started at square one with their onboarding program to make sure I remembered the basics.
While the vernacular and movements are still familiar to me, there's so much that I forgot about CrossFit workouts and the culture in general.
  • You will feel like you can't keep up. Because you can't, initially. I came up half a round short on a workout that had a 40-minute cap. I'd rather do as much as I can with all the time allotted than scale the workout and be done in half the time allowed.
  • You will be hungry. A lot more than anticipated. And for protein. Muscles need fuel.
  • Your hands hurt. I didn't realize how soft I'd gotten until I tried to row and do kipping pull ups in the same workout. Not good at all. My delicate little office worker hands are not used to this stuff.
  • Your results are promising. It's pretty interesting to me how quickly I'm starting to see a change. It could just be wishful thinking, but I hope to get into that whole shedding for the wedding thing, so no time like the present.
  • You wonder why it's so damn expensive. Seriously, the group personal training aspect is great, but I could probably get an actual personal trainer for about the same cost.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Training Tuesday

How I feel about training
Sometimes I get it together, sometimes I can just get by.  I've been doing CrossFit twice a week fairly consistently, and I'm already feeling better about my results there. I forgot how transformative it is, and I missed weight lifting more than I realized.

I haven't been able to take my bike outside since we biked the Ironman course, but I have completed several multi-hour trainer rides and even a few turbo trainer videos for variety.

I get nervous when I can't make all the workouts, but the fact of the matter is triathlons are a hobby for me, and one that comes after my family and my work. I do what I can with what time I have, which on some days isn't much.

The furthest I've run in a while has been seven miles on the treadmill. I need to do better, but the weather has been particularly soggy and I didn't want to brave the great outdoors. I've been favoring short, fast runs in an attempt to get my speed back after my bone marrow donation.

And swimming is just blah to me. I feel slow. I need more drills and more sprints. The whole gasping for breath, burning eyes and tired arms feeling has been elusive to me lately.

It's strange, I feel like I could do an Ironman today if I had to, but I feel so far away from the start line right now that it seems daunting.

On to more workouts, more training and more pain.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Tales from Dark Lord Day 2016

I said I wouldn't go again after last year's mudfest. And yet, I was there Saturday in a full rain suit trying to make the best of it.

For the uninitiated, Dark Lord Day is the once a year festival hosted by Three Floyds at their brewery in Munster, Ind. It's an all-day affair in which you buy tickets months in advanced for the pleasure of being able to buy super high-end, exclusive beers that are only brewed once a year.

The brewery taps nice kegs throughout the day and sells these beers for $5 a pour. But it's also the largest legal bottle share I'm aware of. People are opening $200 bottles of beer while waiting in line, then further sharing and sipping all day long inside the fest.

In years past, you could buy a General Admission ticket to get into the festival, then pay cash only for bottles if you purchased an allotment, then stood in line at your designated time.

This year, they switched to a cashless system, which meant you paid for your admission tickets and bottles up front. You also got $40 in food and drink vouchers. For $200 a ticket.

We bought two tickets for group D online months ago, which would get us into the festival anytime, but let us buy bottle starting at 4:30 p.m. They weren't in my name, which meant when the brewpub posted a few weeks ago that they had group A tickets for sale, I went and bought one.
Which meant I was waiting in line to buy beer at 9 a.m. Saturday, and stayed until 5 p.m.

This was an overhyped, greedy shit show of epic proportions.

The whole "cashless" system was not an attendee benefit by any means. It was a money grab by 3F. The merchandise, coffee and food trucks were still cash only. It was actually impossible to use all $40 of vouchers. We gave away 11 of our 24 combined vouchers. Lunch was $10-20. My fatty gross plate of pulled pork was $15, and I waited in line an hour for it. I didn't even eat at the fest last year, but had to this year to try and use my vouchers.

For the record, eight $5 vouchers was plenty to get bombed on, if you could ever make it to the front of the line. Because we all had vouchers to use, people felt compelled to drink more to get their money's worth.

I can't tell you how many people I watched scream at each other or at people on the phone. There was so much puking in trash cans and stumbling and slurring. I don't even understand how these people got this wasted.

This event was irresponsibly crowded and poorly managed. If it was a nice day, I might feel more generous about the silly things that happened, but it's hard to find the fun in mud and rain and puke. Bottle theft was rampant. The Facebook group for this event is overrun with people asking if they've seen their backpack or cell phone or best friend.

To that end, we probably saved a life that afternoon. On our way back to the car, we watched a dude drunk roll down an embankment, then keep stumbling forward. By the time we made it to the truck, it was clear the guy was alone. We stopped him, got him eating and drinking and sitting down and tried to talk to him. He didn't know his name, or where he was headed. The badges for the event were in the name of the person who bought the tickets, and it wasn't this dude. I got him to unlock his phone, and I called the same name on the badge in his phone for his friends to come get him. It was only when I shared his location on his phone that I found out the kid's name.

So there you have it. I might give it one more year, because I want to see if this is a fun event when the weather isn't so crappy. I also got nice bottles of beer as a group A (marshmallow handjee FTW). But this whole voucher system made this event an elusively expensive extravagance.