Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Something Savory From the Kitchen

Oh, those winter months in Chicago.... we're snuggled up warm in the house tonight while the wintery mix of rain and snow carries on outside. I really should not complain that much, as we have had the second mild winter in a row and hardly any snowstorms at all. Although I would rather be dealing with snowdrifts tomorrow than the slushy sloppy puddles we'll be trekking through to get to work!

These types of nights call for hot and hearty homemade dinners! Once again, Pinterest prevails with a quick search:
The above photo was pinned from a tasty looking recipe on saveur.com from Wolfgang Puck, but it also reminded me of a pot pie recipe I saw on the cover of an old Cooking Light in my cupboard. I had a year subscription in 2007 and have found that those 12 issues are all I need to satisfy a craving for new meal ideas every few months! I dug out that issue and got to work.

Although you can make your pot pie in a large crock or baking dish, we took advantage of the individual ramekins we own and filled them up with root vegetables and chicken, topped with a puff pastry crust. Absolutely delicious. A healthy dose of black pepper helps add a kick along with the parsley and thyme. 
Chicken and Root Vegetable Pot Pie
3 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups frozen green peas, thawed
1 cup cubed baking potato, peeled
1 cup cubed sweet potato, peeled
1 cup diced celery root, peeled (I just used the end of celery for this one)
1 cup sliced parsnips 
1 10oz package frozen pearl onions
1 pound chicken breasts cut into bite sized pieces
2/3 cup flour, divided
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 Tbs chopped thyme
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
Cooking spray
1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough, thawed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Boil broth in a large Dutch oven. Add peas through onions to pan, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Add chicken and cook until done. Remove pieces of chicken and the vegetables from the broth and set aside in a large bowl. 
Increase heat to medium. In a bowl, mix flour - minus 1 tablespoon - with milk and whisk to blend. Add mixture to broth and cook until thickened, continuously stirring. Stir in chicken mixture, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. I only had dried thyme and parsley so used less than the called for amounts.

Once the mixture was ready, it was time to prepare the ramekins. Bob spread out the remaining flour on to wax paper and rolled out the dough. We used a pastry cutter to make rectangles to fit over the tops of the ramekins.
After filling the ramekins and pressing to seal the pastry over the top, small slits were cut into the dough to allow steam to escape. The dough was sprayed with Pam and then set on baking sheets.
We kept an eye on them as they cooked. The recipe says 16 minutes, but we have a touchy oven on the best of days. Once the pastry was browned we took them out and let them cool for a few minutes before digging in.
We ended up with enough for 6, so four went in the fridge for leftovers - easy enough to microwave again, though the pastry dough loses a little of that loving feeling upon reheat...

So there it is, one of the best cold-weather cures for dinner! I'm linking this to the Pinterest Challenge that Young House Love and Bower Power seasonally put on. Definitely a departure from my usual home decor crafty endeavors (like these thumbtack balls or the most-intense-project-ever DIY shag rug from past posts). 
However, this past weekend I didn't quite finish the art project that I'm planning on unveiling as my next major Pinterest Project. Stay tuned over the next couple weeks for that big reveal! Let's just say I'll be using a whole lotta mod podge.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Registry Recap

Back with another wedding post – as we prepare for our six month anniversary! Wow, it has certainly flown by. And why have we been so carefully counting up to six months? No, not to celebrate with a romantical dinner and lavish gifts for each other, but because it will mark the expiration of our 10% off registry fulfillment at Crate & Barrel! We have spent plenty o’ afternoons at C&B over the last few months, basically negating the charges a 9.5% sales tax in Illinois will get you, ogling products large and small. It was certainly a treat to find out that the 10% off applied not only to the items on our registry, but to anything in the store. 

Not only could we pick up the orange dishtowels we had on our list, but also a couple armchairs that weren’t available when we created the registry (nor would we have felt comfortable putting such large items on our wishlist!) When it came to planning out where we would register, Crate & Barrel was pretty much a no-brainer. Their style is our style, and we looked forward to filling up our kitchen with all of those "seemingly need to have" gadgets!
We also registered on Amazon after a suggestion from my family. This would not have occurred to me, but it ended up being a great way to add a variety of products to our wish list. Although they do not offer a discount on fulfillment like Crate & Barrel and several other establishments do, we took advantage of gift cards and free shipping!
As you may recall from a previous post, everything culminated in our DIY thank you cards that featured Bob and I decked out in wedding garb using the gifts we received. Now that was a fun day. 
So how did we determine what to register for? As a couple hitting our thirties, we weren’t wanting for much in the way of kitchen basics or household necessities. We made sure to add items we would actually use – this means the Panini Maker got removed from the registry soon after it was added. I can honestly say that we have used everything received so far except for the ice cream attachment to the KitchenAid mixer and a picnic set. Something to do with the subzero temps we are currently experiencing here in Chicago, I think!

We upgraded some of our items to things that will last. Like a Le Creuset Dutch Oven, a KitchenAid Blender and “the Drill we wanted to buy but settled for the $30 one that broke after a year”
We increased our numbers. I will never forget running to Crate & Barrel one Friday afternoon to buy a set of 4 plates for a dinner party because we only owned 4 at the time! We picked out simple white dishes and classic flatware x10 to match the plates we already owned.
We know we like to entertain. So large serving bowls and appetizer plates were natural additions. Again, we stuck to white for as much as we could to create a bit of a theme that focuses on the food and not a brightly colored plate.
We had a little bit of fun. A bread machine. A record player. A shiny silver bowl with a bright orange interior. Nothing we need of course, but we enjoy having them!
So that’s how we created our registry, what was your number one item that you just can’t live without after settling into marriage? For more ideas, check out this past post on going off the registry – a scary concept for some!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Bob's Bday Brew-ha-ha

Well, it is mid-February and that means one thing: Bob's Birthday Surprise of the Year!

The precedent was set in our first year of dating: For Bob's 25th I created an indoor camping scene in my studio apartment with my George Foreman Grill, a cooler of drinks, glow in the dark stars on the ceiling and my feather bed pulled into the living room and piled high with sleeping bags. I still remember the 45 minutes I attempted to set up my sleeper tent inside the apartment (fail).
The next year saw a Lost weekend marathon, followed by an Around the World Tour, a James Bond Spy Game (pictured below) and then Puzzle pieces that fit together to reveal a stay-cation getaway to a Chicago Hotel.
Last week, as I hemmed and hawed over what theme to pick for his 6th weekend celebration, I received an email from a good friend who would be visiting her family in Wisconsin and would we be interested in meeting them in New Glarus for the weekend?

"Yes!" I instantly replied. For those unfamiliar, New Glarus is a 2000 person town, home to the New Glarus Brewing Co. Literally "only in Wisconsin," we love grabbing a Spotted Cow anytime we're back in Cheese Country. In fact, we featured Spotted Cow as 1 of 2 beers offered at our wedding (the other being 90 Shilling, a beer you can currently only get in Colorado, Bob's home state).

Kara and I made plans quickly: a couple trip advisor checks for hotel and restaurant options, some sad faces upon realizing that the restaurant we wanted to check out was closed for winter break (The Glarner Stube), a lucky reservation made for the fastly filling up Chalet Landhaus and we were good to go.

On Saturday morning, Bob woke up early and was met with the following when he went to the second bedroom.

Each card was addressed slightly differently and gave clues to his weekend surprise until the big reveal at the end. A co-worker had an empty six pack carrier at home that she brought in for me to help create the scene - to keep the shape I added a bottle of beer (not a New Glarus brew, unfortunately) to the sixth opening. 

1. To Bob - a happy birthday card.
2. To Dieting - an I'm-sorry-in-advance-card
3. To the Ford Escape - a gas money card
4. To the Birthday Boy - a Bon Voyage card with the details
5. To Uncle Bob - an invitation for dinner and cake with his nieces (and my sister and brother in law) on Sunday.
We had plans to be at the brewery by 2pm to meet Kara and her husband, although Bob would not realize we were going to be meeting anyone until we arrived and I was suddenly enamored with the gift shop instead of starting our tour! What, can't a girl inexplicably want to wander around for 20 minutes or so before heading in to see the actual brewery?? 
When our surprise guests arrived Bob was certainly taken aback, considering our friends live in Colorado. We toured the brewery, had a few tastings and then headed back to town. We checked out the local bars before dinner at a good ol' Wisconsin Supper Club. If you have never been to a supper club, you are missing out. In fact, a whole documentary was made about them! We also may have gone a little crazy at the Brewery Depot - a sampler six pack, one of their oversized fruit beers and a crate emblazoned with their logo (still working out how it will play into our decor, right now it is holding shoes at our entryway.)
And so, Bob's 30th ended not with a blow out party in downtown Chicago, but rather at the small town's Swiss Lanes - where we had free reign of the place and both had pretty decent games.
Sunday morning gave us a delish continental breakfast at The Chalet and a 2 hour drive back to Illinois. We spent some quality time with the nieces and ate a whole lotta chocolate cake from Portillos. Highly recommend.

So what's next on the Birthday Surprise list? Only time will tell!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Let it Slide

It seems as though every time I come home from my parents' house, I have at least 1 new recipe in tow. See also: Tarragon Tuna Melts, Orange-Pumpkin Roulade and Creamy Brussels Sprouts. My mother has a knack for finding wonderful new things for us to gobble up around the holidays, so when she set out these Ham Sliders as part of our Christmas Eve Smorgasbord* they did not last long at all. Crunchy outsides because of a brown sugary glaze, ham and gooey cheese goodness on the inside and a little bit of zip from the pepper jelly spread onto the bottom roll.
I have re-created this recipe twice already at home in the last month and a half, and it will become a party staple. I almost built a whole Super Bowl shindig around these, until we realized we didn't have the energy to get a full on party put together this year!
1/8 cup butter, melted
2 Tbs flour
1 cup pepper jelly
24 dinner rolls
nonstick cooking spray
1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced deli ham
12 oz. cheddar cheese, thinly sliced

1/4 cup butter
1/8 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp. yellow mustard
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Combine melted butter, flour and jelly in small bowl and set aside. Cut rolls in half and lay bottoms on greased 13x9 pans. Spread each roll bottom with 1 tsp. of the jelly mixture. Divide ham and cheese amongst rolls and add tops. In a small saucepan, melt the 1/4 cup butter over medium heat. Remove from heat, stir in brown sugar, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Using a pastry brush, coat roll tops with glaze. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and sliders are heated through (this ran at about 12 minutes for us, our oven gets very hot).

You can make these ahead of time and wrap the pan in plastic wrap to chill overnight before adding the glaze topping the next day. 
I should note that the original recipe from the December 2012 Midwest Living features poppy seeds on the top and asks for pineapple or apricot jam in place of the homemade pepper jelly Mom has stocked us with. We also halved the amount of butter and glaze ingredients and still found ourselves with plenty. I am starting to catch on that every time I make frosting, glaze, filling, etc I always have way too much in the end so tend to halve it and make more if needed.

*our Christmas Eve Smorgasbord was our growing-up tradition. While the day we celebrated Christmas featured a heavy dinner of seafood and steak, our December 24 was filled with cocktail weenies, cheese and crackers, vegetable trays and the ubiquitous tin of sardines I made a point never to touch. I should also note that this year's Christmas Eve was celebrated a few days early - we take what we can get nowadays for the whole family to get together!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Pinterest Project - Put a Cork on It

When looking for a few DIY Christmas gifts to intersperse with store-bought goodies, Pinterest pretty much always saves the day. 

There are no shortage of cork projects out there in the web world. Suddenly I found myself creating a little tradition for what I make my mother - last year, I tackled these cork plant markers as a gift for her.
After pinning the cork trivet, I considered all of the different ways to make these kitchen helpers. A few examples:

I imagine some of the pins I was seeing came as part of a kit, with the frame being just the right size for a set amount of corks to line it. In the end, I picked up a couple picture frames from the thrift store, knocked out the glass and hot glued corks in a random pattern. At first I was disappointed at the spaces in between, but as I looked closer at many of the examples online they seemed to have the same issue, even with the kits. I think that is part of the fun in using corks that have been pulled and misshapen as opposed to the bags you can buy in the store, sold specifically for decor and not for drinking! 

The other big difference is that my corks are raised above the frame as opposed to sitting in it.
Although I had a healthy supply of corks on hand, many of them were the plastic-y material that didn't look right against the grain of the more traditional corks. And then of course there are the screw top bottles that don't get us anywhere! I had to rely on friends and family to help get the second trivet off the ground.

I added coverage on the bottom of the frame with more cork - this time the kind you can buy in a roll at Staples. 
After just a few minutes, the job was done.....now on to that bottle of wine I had to uncork in order to finish....

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wedding Gift Bags: Simple and Sweet

I haven't written about the wedding in quite some time, so it might surprise you that I still have a number of posts to deliver on the subject. This time around let's focus on goodie bags and gifts! 

First up, deciding on a gift for my bridesmaids took my a looong time. I weighed the options: personalized tote bags, flip flops for the reception, comfy zip up hoodies for hair and makeup time.... in the end, I decided to put together a mini gift bag for each of them and make their hairstyles my treat. It's quite an investment bridesmaids put into a wedding between the travel, the dress, the showers and, of course, the advice. So anything I could do to alleviate that I was happy to do - and with the amazing work of Pin Me Up Chicago, I think the gals were just as happy in the end!
photo by GReyes Photography
For the gift bag, I put together "emergency kits" of Altoids smalls, blister band aids, Shout wipes, tissues, safety pins and the like. I filled up quite the basket at Walgreens with all of these goodies. After the fact, I realized I included 4 types of breath fresheners. Nothing personal, I swear! They just all come in such cute little packages!
The Thursday before the wedding, I found myself wandering the aisles at Macy's looking for the perfect little clutch to carry the emergency kits. When I spied the shiny teal and pink Michael Kors clutches (on sale, no less!) I knew I had a winner. I packed them up and added to a gift bag with a set of Jonathan Adler pencils and a travel journal from World Market. 
The Adler pencils were picked up at Papyrus and shared sayings like, "take Tambourine lessons" and "don't feel guilty about watching too much tv." I kept the latter one for myself as it surely does apply!
Moving on to the groomsmen, Bob had picked out volleyball cufflinks from an Etsy shop to commemorate his connection to his college friends (the CU Men's Volleyball Team). Along with picking up the ties and shirts they would wear under their navy suits, Bob had certainly dressed them for the occasion! 
photo by GReyes Photography
As a mini-gift from me, I prepared a box that I labeled "Bob and Boys" for him to open up when he got to the hotel. The package was chock-full of gettin' ready goodies that I pulled together from a few internet lists and about an hour trolling the aisles of Walgreens.
- 2 pairs of black socks (just in case)
- Contact solution
- Band-Aids
- Travel size Axe Body Spray
- Deodorant
- Tissues
- Shout wipes
- Aleve
- Altoids smalls
- Travel comb

Lastly, I hemmed and hawed putting together gift bags for our hotel guests. In the end, we only had about a dozen people staying at the hotel, but I still wanted to keep a close eye on our budget. After finding some lovely but definitely not budget-conscious ideas online like providing everyone with a fabric tote filled to the brim, I found options to create a $10 gift bag, including the $3.50 room drop fee we were facing from the hotel. We picked a Chicago theme: Frango mints, Jays potato chips, Wrigley gum and a Cubs crazy straw for fun. Add in 2 bottled waters and some headache (or hangover) reducers and the simple bag was set. 
To jazz up the white bags I bought from Michaels, I added a bride and groom silhouette stamp to the front on scrapbook paper and attached a thank you note. 
The text of the thank you notes was stolen almost entirely from another Chicago bride whose gift bags popped up in a Google image search. We kept our wedding font of Peignot Bold and our striped design that we used throughout on invites, programs and escort cards.
photo by GReyes Photography
We dropped these off with the hotel concierge before the rehearsal with the list of recipients (and their hotel confirmation numbers to be on the safe side), and they took care of the rest!

What do you like to get in a wedding welcome bag? What do you never use out of it? What travel size Walgreens find is your favorite? Personally, I love travel size Kleenex. I'm a sucker for the packaging.