Monday, November 29, 2010

The $0.08 Turkey

How was your Thanksgiving? After work travel and some busy times in Chicago it was nice to go home again and relax for a few days, do nothing but eat, watch Planes, Trains and Automobiles, do crosswords and go to the new gift shops in my hometown to buy yet more ornaments.

As usual, my mom put on quite the spread for us. A couple classics like stuffing and croissants complemented new trials like a cranberry and apple sauce and cream cheese green beans (the recipe calls for goat cheese - I think either sounds mighty tasty!)
Halfway through dinner, I was surprised to learn my parents figured out they spent 8 cents on the turkey we were enjoying. Apparently the perfect storm of coupons, store deals and rebates were shining on our little butterball that day.
Stay tuned for more exploits from my trip up north including images of this girl wielding a chainsaw to cut down her perfect Christmas tree!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's in the Details

I had to share photos from one of my best friend's wedding I was just in. I fell in love with the details at the reception. The best part was that as soon as you walked in you could see her personality shine in every element. And aren't those the best kind of weddings?

The airy reception hall streamed light in off of Lake Geneva from the surrounding windows. The head table for the wedding party stood out under a paper lantern ceiling.
Jewel tones throughout, from the dark purples in the flowers to the greens and blues of the collected vases highlighting florals at each of the tables. Bride and Mom spent the past year finding vintage looking vases of every size and color to fill up the tables.
Table Numbers were indicated by Beatles Songs. Appropriate for the bride who walked down the aisle to a gorgeous rendition of Across the Universe. Flames not allowed, the candles are illuminated fakes. The paper candle holders are from an Etsy shop called ilLUMIEnate. Etsy was also utilized for some chair decor courtesy of PomLove.
Mmm. . .look at that cake. The dessert featured a spice cake with pumpkin and white chocolate buttercream filling. The other was a lavender cake with raspberry and buttercream fillings. Decadent.

PS. See that Jazz Trio in the background? One of the bridesmaids and her husband organized all of the music for the day including some soft jazz during cocktails dinner before the DJ kicked in. Don't you just love talented friends?
As the evening set in, the lanterns above us lit up.
And, although I did not get a photo of them, guests were treated to a thank you gift of caramel corn packages, homemade by the bride's aunt. Literally, the best caramel corn I have ever eaten. A public request for the recipe, Aunt Sylvia?? Or was this a secret family recipe?

It was so wonderful to be a part of this day!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pie Month - Meringue-a-Tang

My Pie Month goal has so far featured Apples and Pumpkins. Next up is Lemon Meringue!

I actually attempted this pie when I recently hosted Book Club, but I unwisely decided to start the pie about 30 minutes before people were set to arrive and, oh yeah, I was going to make the dough from scratch! I managed to make the filling but when the doorbell rang I left it for a second and it proceeded to burn. Real nice.

This time around, I cheated a bit by using a pre-made dough we had in the freezer. I swear I will hand make the next pie from top to bottom!

I found a good lookin' and easy recipe on allrecipes.com and got started.

Lemon Meringue Pie
1 cup white sugar
2 Tbs flour
3 Tbs cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water
2 lemons, juiced and zested
2 Tbs butter
4 egg yolks, beaten
1 9 inch pie crust, baked

Preheat oven to 350. In saucepan, whisk together 1 cup sugar, flour, cornstarch and salt. Stir in water, lemon juice and lemon zest. Stir frequently until it comes to a boil. Stir in butter until it melts. Place egg yolks in a bowl and mix in 1/2 cup of hot sugar mixture. Whisk egg mixture back into saucepan. Bring to boil, constantly stirring. Pour filling into baked pastry shell.
The filling just barely fit in the pie shell, I always hate to waste filling so I took this right to the top.
Next up was the Meringue challenge. So simple, yet so time consuming. 4 egg whites and 6 Tbs of sugar + a patient Lydia with her KitchenAid Electric Hand Mixer = stiff peaks ready to spread over the top of the pie!
10 minutes in the oven was all it took for the topping to carmelize and harden to a lovely shade. My baking mind always has the next Gingerbread House Challenge on the brain so of course I instantly started thinking of ways to incorporate meringue into this year's plans.
Of course, I could only assume without cutting into it that the lemon filling was done enough. Apologies for a less than appetizing final shot. I couldn't get the piece itself to photograph well so I settled for the other type of view: a vacant hole where pie used to be.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On the Run - Cross that Goal off the List

The moment you've been waiting for is here. To find out if I survived the 5K. Thank you to all the well-wishers and supportive friends and family. You would have thought this girl was doing a marathon. Nope, not a marathon, just the first time I've ever actually run in my life outside of forced exercise in gym class. 

We have been lucky so far this fall and had very mild temperatures in Chicago. Of course, the morning of the Hot Chocolate 15K/5K decided it was going to reach a high of 40. The 6am wake up call and being in race position by 7:15 didn't help either. We powered through: Bob, myself and my brother-in-law Ike pumped ourselves up prior to the start at Grant Park.
We queued up with 12,000 other runners, finding our way to the 12 minute mark start. My Badger branded headband not only kept the ears warm and the hair in place, but also helped keep my ear buds in my ears.
The race began and over 10 minutes later we finally got to the Start Line! The chips in our bibs didn't kick in until the start line so there were no worries on that affecting our times. What did affect my time? The congestion in some of the narrower parts of the course, walkers who did not move to the side or start further back and, oh yeah, the fact that I had never run more than 20 minutes in one shot!

My music kept me going (a particularly well-timed "Under Pressure" by David Bowie and Queen got me through a tough section) and I was proud to say I only walked for less than a minute, and most of that was during the heavily congested areas. Of course, I was probably running slower than I normally walk by that last half mile, but once I saw that Finish Line I wasn't going to quit. 

37:01 minutes at an 11:55 pace. Placing about 1300 out of 2200 females in my age group. I know I can improve on this in the next race, whenever that may be. The good news is I wasn't so worn out that I ruled out doing another one, I think I would gladly accept the challenge.

The better news? Free chocolate and fondue at the end of the race!
We had my sister's family over for brunch after the race and I smartly realized the night before that I wasn't going to want to be slaving in the kitchen when I got home. I spent Friday night preparing an egg bake and some insanely easy breakfast muffins you pretty much always have the ingredients on hand for. I meant to take a photo earlier, but we dug into it too quickly!
Then I spent the next couple hours relaxing on the couch. The cats were also worn out from a long morning of running away from my one and a half year old niece who shrieks happily but loudly whenever they are in the room. Confession: this photo was staged. I am not actually asleep. I also don't think that looks like me. Perhaps I have a stunt double I don't know about. Confession #2: Blatant Product Placement for Coke.
And so closes out the Grand Running Experiment! As you might recall, this all started with a bet that if Bob signed up for and completed the triathlon he was talking about, I would train for and run a 5K. He did it (read about that here), so the next week I bought shoes (read about that here), over the next two months I followed a running program with a few hiccups now and again (read about that here) and I perfected my playlist to get myself energized for the day (read about that here). Until the next one!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

P Cubed: Pizza Pot Pie

A couple months ago I spent an afternoon making a giant batch of marinara sauce. Some of it was used right away for a pasta dish, the rest frozen for future meals. 
One such meal presented itself when we were flipping through the channels and caught an episode of Giada. These Pizza Pot Pies were just too easy to pass up so Bob took the lead and made it happen.

Serves 6
3 cups Tomato Sauce
2 cups diced roasted chicken
2 cups diced broccoli
1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 lbs pizza dough (we pick ours up from Whole Foods or Trader Joes)
1/3 cup olive oil
Grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 400. Mix tomato sauce through pepper and transfer to individual sized ramekins. You can actually use any combination of ingredients you'd like - don't feel tied to the recipe! Add in cooked sausage, different cheeses, olives, mushrooms and more.
Roll out pizza dough and cut into circles that will cover the tops of the ramekins with about 1" extra on all sides. Because we did not have a large enough circular cookie cutter we used a bowl as our measurement and a pizza cutter to make the shapes.
Seal over the ramekins. Brush with olive oil and top with Parmesan cheese. Cut a small slit in the dough to allow the steam to escape.
Bake at 400 for about 25 minutes or until the crust is golden. Didn't these puff up beautifully? We quickly dug in with our forks!
Thanks Food Network!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Refreshment Break

After a year and a half, our IKEA outdoor table and the four chairs we bought from a restaurant supply site online were getting a bit worn out. The color of the wood was fading fast so Bob broke out the staining supplies last weekend and we had an instant refresh on our hands. After mucho sanding and just one coat of Home Depot-purchased wood stain we were back in business.
The photos probably don't look as impressive - you could just as easily think that there was a shadow over the chair on the right causing it to look darker - but trust me, the difference is a noticeable improvement!
Speaking of a refresh, I finally got around to updating the page links at the top of this blog this weekend. Look to the archives for lotsa recipes, DIY projects and holiday fun. Be sure to hit the links if you have some time or are looking for something specific!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

On the Run - Almost There

The Hot Chocolate 5K is this Saturday - am I ready for it? 
I think if I would have been able to get a full 3 runs in each week over the past 9 weeks I would be sitting quite pretty (sweat-covered, but pretty). Alas, life gets in the way so I fell a little behind in the frequency of the work-outs. The good news is I was able to push myself the last two weeks and increase from an 8 minute jog without stopping to a 21 minute jog before taking a walking break. Have I run a full 5K worth? Not quite. Am I worried? A little bit. Especially considering I always run after work and this morning was the first time I tried an A.M. exercise. The Hot Chocolate Run will kick off at 7:40 in the morning so I figured it was good practice to try this morning.

Sadly, I got a side ache (which I've now discovered is called a side stitch) after only a few minutes. Yikes. Haven't gotten one of those since the first week or so of running. I'm planning on getting up earlier, eating something and drinking some water to hydrate. Also pay closer attention to my breathing. Hopefully taking those things into account will allow me to not keel over in pain right after starting the race. Although, it would be a pretty funny sight to see if the starter pistol (or whatever they use nowadays if pistols have fallen out of fashion) goes off, I make it three feet and then fall down crying out in pain and exhaustion.

So what has been keeping me going through these runs? A solid iPod mix. My iTunes personality is more Jack Johnson than Jock Jams so I had to get creative with the songs I was adding and focused on ones that had a solid beat throughout I could pace myself at. I also got the great advice to pick songs that are close to the minute marker so that I can use it to gauge how far I've run. Goodbye Kitchen Timer!

Here's what got me through tonight's 20 minute run:
All These Things That I've Done - The Killers (5 minutes)
Sabotage - The Beastie Boys (3 minutes)
Just Dance - Lady Gaga (4 minutes)
Damn Girl - Justin Timberlake (5 minutes)
Move Your Feet - Junior Senior (3 minutes)

For the day of the race I just need to keep it going with the next few on the playlist:
Up on the Downside - Ocean Colour Scene (5 minutes)
Lollipop - MIKA (3 minutes)
That's Not My Name - The Ting Tings (5 minutes)

I'm feeling a bit more confident than I did after this morning's disaster - and everyone keeps telling me the adrenaline of the race and all of the people will energize me. The odds of me being dead last out of 25,000 participants is slim, right? . . .. right?

I'll check back in with you post-race!