Kelly the Culinarian: December 2016

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Buh Bye, 2016

I really wish I was organized enough this year to do my annual "best of post," but let's be honest, 2016 was a dumpster fire we're all relieved to have made it through (please, Betty White and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, stay in tonight).

And seriously, who has time? This year, I/we have:

Went to the First Look for Charity Auto Show
Donated bone marrow/cured cancer
Ran a marathon (less than a month post donation)
Got engaged
Got married/Became a stepmom
Sold a house/bought a house
Completed the Ironman

We also went to Disney and vacationed in Texas for a week. By my account, I went to Texas three times this year and at least as many times to Madison for Ironman training. I also traveled to Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Jamaica, as well as a number of outings to Michigan to see family.
I'm looking forward to a less exciting 2017. One in which we enjoy being newlyweds in our new home, training for another marathon and Ironman and traveling whenever and wherever we can. So much happened in 2016 that I haven't even had a chance to put pen to paper on much of it - how we sold our house for list in two weeks, the recap of our wedding, brunch at Robert's Pizza downtown, what my crash landing into parenting has taught me, what I'm doing in the offseason to rock my Ironman swim .... one day I'll find the time.

What do you want me to write more about in the coming year?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Cooking with Kelly: Party Popper Cake Mix Cookie Recipe

Happy almost Christmas! 'Tis the season for cookie exchanges, office parties and kid get togethers. We've had our fair share here, and in addition to Girl Scouts meetings and school parties, there's Santa to consider too. I hear he prefers dark chocolate and barrel-aged stouts, but the small ones insisted cookies are more his speed.

Luckily, I had a box of Pillsbury Purely Simple White Cake Mix from my December DeGustaBox, so it was basically a short cut to homemade cookies for all the festivities. It was so easy, my 7-year-old stepdaughter did most of it solo.

I used three different types of sprinkles, which made the final cookie reminiscent of the inside of the party poppers you see around New Year's. I would suggest using sprinkles instead of something like sanding sugar, which would just blend in with the cookie. I went with multiple colors, but you could easily coordinate these with holiday colors or a party theme.

Another bonus of these cookies is that the dough doesn't need to be chilled before baking. Start to finish, these take 20 minutes and rely on pantry staples.

Party Popper Cake Mix Cookie Recipe

1 box white cake mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sprinkles

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the cake mix and baking powder. Mix together the wet ingredients in a separate bowl, the stir to combine. Once you've formed a dough, fold in the sprinkles gently to avoid color bleeding.

Form the dough into tablespoon-sized balls and place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for nine minutes, then rotate the pans and bake for another three minutes. Remove when the cookies are set and slightly toasted, but not brown.

Cool on the baking sheets for five minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Barbecue Brunch at Kinfork Schaumburg

Ever since I learned that brunch not only makes it acceptable to drink before noon, it makes it classy, I've been a fan. I like that you can get scrambled eggs with French fries, a pancake and a chicken wing and it's totally legit between the hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Kinfork is a barbecue and moonshine bar in Schaumburg that's best known for airy, crispy hushpuppies and super tender smoked favorites served up with refined moonshine-based cocktails.

For reference:

Yeah, it's legit. This mixed barbecue plate features all the favorites, which I doused in the whiskey barbecue sauce. The ribs yielded under a fork and fell off the bone easily, and I love that the brisket was basted and finished with the barbecue sauce. It made it sweet and a bit crunchy on the outside.

But come New Year's Day, you can start 2017 with their twist on brunch. They'll offer a $20.17 gift card for your next visit to anyone who wears pajamas to either Kinfork or their sister property, Rack House in Arlington Heights. The Pajama BBQ Brunch will be your only chance to get these entrees:

At Rack House, you'll get a chance to order chilaquiles - the wood-fired jalapenos are sure to wake you up after an evening of celebrating. The drizzle of sour cream really brings it all together.

At Kinfork, this brisket benedict is worth waking up for. It's perfectly poached eggs atop house smoked brisket and a battered and grilled Parker House roll, all topped with Hollandaise. It was super rich, which meant it paired perfectly with a mimosa.

Both locations will offer their full menu. May I suggest Kinfork's skillet smores?

If you don't have any recovery plans for Jan. 1, I hear barbecue cures what ails you. See you at Kinfork or Rack House!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Three Things Thursday

1. I washed my wedding dress ... in the washing machine. It turned out just fine. It's not quite good as new, but it's still in one piece and cleaner than I started, so I'd call it a success.

2. We got a wedding present from Founders! We tweeted about how our initials just happen to be KBS now, along with a photo of us with a bottle of KBS from the wedding. Lo and behold, we are now the proud owners of his and hers KBS glasses. Thanks, Founders!

3. The kids got the coolest Christmas presents from their grandparents - tail blankets! The boy got a shark, and the girl got a mermaid. It's a cross between a blanket and a sleeping bag, and have the added benefit of looking like the kids are being eaten by a shark. It's too cute to handle. And Napoleon loves them, too.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What I Learned During my First Christmas with Kids

I wrote this last year and stored it away for another day. It's crazy to me how much has changed since - new house, new last name, new happy life. As we're prepping for our first Christmas as a new family in our new house, it's interesting to look back at that delicate first season together and what I learned along the way.

If you asked me at 21 what 31 would look like, I never would have guessed it included a first grader and preschooler standing at my bed at 6:30 a.m. or asking me for good night hugs or working out with me while I run on my treadmill. I was blessed with an instant family when I fell in love with a man who had kids. I am learning fast on a steep curve. Sure, the kids being able to express what they need makes life a lot easier, but it also means they have opinions and feelings and wants and demands to contend with, along with emotions that are at times irrational, because they're still very much babies.
I had no idea what to expect out of our first Christmas, because while we've bonded, it's a family holiday they've never experienced with me. I wondered if they would be sad, if I would be enough. We wouldn't get to open gifts until a few days after Christmas, and had a lot of family travel involved as well.

All that said, Christmas with kids is the best gift of all. It's transformed the way I think about the season.

It is busy. It is stressful. It is precious.

Here's what I'm taking away from this year that I need to keep in mind for future years:

There are a lot of people to please. When kids are involved, everyone wants a share, because the holidays are really only fun with kids who believe. It's amazing to have family that is supportive, but scheduling can get confusing. I am very thankful for Google Calendars, texting and "if it fits, it ships" USPS boxes.

Together is more important that what is accomplished. We have two gingerbread houses on display. There are countless half-colored holiday pages and haphazard recipe attempts and started, but not completed, Netflix holiday specials. It doesn't matter. A Christmas bucket list is a set up for falling short. Make like Elsa and let it go.

Less is more. I worried significantly about if there were enough gifts under the tree. By the time we celebrated Christmas, the kids had opened gifts with two sets of grandparents and Santa already stopped at their mother's house. I insisted we go out and buy sleds last minute to add to the bulk. It didn't matter. They were excited about dollar store puzzles and magic growing capsules.

Packaging matters. Probably even more so than what is inside. I'm sure this will change as they get older, but they loved the little bows and strings around their packages, and probably enjoyed unwrapping as much as playing with the stuff.

Value is intrinsic. We were very deliberate with gift shopping, buying things on clearance bit by bit to spread out the costs. When they told Santa what they wanted (glowsticks and a Baymax doll), we bought those via Amazon. Fun fact: The Baymax toy sat untouched for three days post unwrapping, despite the excitement about getting it. A super sweet train set got very little play, while a stuffed animal has gotten a ton of mileage.

Gratitude is learned. We reminded the kids to Facetime their relatives to say thank you, but the oldest shocked me when she said we needed to finish our thank you cards the day after we did the unwrapping. And it's amazing how powerful please and thank you truly are. I found their thank you cards and drawings proudly displayed with every family visit we make.

What do you wish you knew about Christmas with kids before you experienced it?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Holiday Menu at The Chocolate Sanctuary

My oh my, the holidays are here. Our halls are decked and our stockings are hung. We've spent all week busy with parties and get togethers and our living room looks like a toy store exploded, because Christmas is a month-long celebration with as much family as we have.

Before this all picked up, we had a lovely evening in Gurnee at The Chocolate Sanctuary sampling and sipping our way through their winter menu.

We started with chocolate-kissed cocktails, which was basically dessert before dinner.

Next up, we tried an interesting appetizer of chicken and goat cheese wrapped in cocoa-candied bacon. It was a wonderful combo of creamy and crispy, tart and sweet.

Next up was an apple tartin. I typically think of baked apples as a dessert, but this was a fun departure from the expected.

My favorite offering in the appetizer course was the cocoa-spiced butternut squash soup. It was slightly smokey and very creamy, and the topping was a crunchy counterpoint.

As for the entree, the first item we sampled was cocoa pan-seared Chilean sea bass, which was topped with a plantain. It was very tender and cooked to perfection.

But man, this ribeye was stellar. It's grassfed beef topped with herbed butter and served with brussel sprouts. The meat was tender and flavorful.

I don't know how, but we somehow managed to leave room for dessert. I'm so glad we did, because it was stellar (don't worry, we shared). There was no elegant way to take this chocolate-filled beignet down, but it was worth it. The exterior was flakey and light, whereas the chocolate inside was creamy and decadent. It's served with a creme anglaise, which I never made it to because it was rich enough on its own.

The banana tower was so massive that it had to be overturned and sliced the long ways so we could tackle what was inside. It had caramel gelato, chocolate creme diplomat and brandy-caramelized bananas. It was a solid dessert and super impressive on the plate.

The cake with a molten center was amazing.

But check out the presentation on this one - that dry ice is super classy. I walked away from this meal feeling like I could have just come for dessert and been very happy about my life decisions.

Big thanks to The Chocolate Sanctuary for the invite! Christmas is best celebrated with chocolate, after all.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Three Things Thursday

1. We made it out to Austin for Thanksgiving and had a blast. There was comfortable outdoor running, hot tubbing, visiting and shopping. I *heart* Texas so much. I realize I've been to the Lone Star State three times this year and could really go for another.

2. I decided I'm too old to be wearing crappy make up. Treat Yo Self and all. So I went out to Ulta and got the full work up and feel like I look like a real grown up now. What do you think?

3. Happy CheeseMas! I got my holiday cheese drop from Cabot and am excited to create a few holiday cheese boards.