Saturday, June 30, 2012

Friday, June 29, 2012

Things we love about Chicago

 I have had two great conversations about Chicago in the past week and I can't help but get excited about this awesome city!  With both friends, we talked about our mutual love for all of the great things you can experience when you visit the city.  The people are friendly, the art and entertainment options are amazing, and the food...don't even get me started!

This post is dedicated to some of our favorite things that we enjoy when we go to the city.  And, when we say that we are going to "the city," we mean Chicago - always and forever.

1.  The cityscape and all the surprises.  Near Millenium Park there is a space dedicated to prairie and this beautiful little area has native plants and the gorgeous skyline behind.  I love to walk through the little trails and enjoy the plants.

Chicago is super easy to navigate and thus, we spend a lot of time walking.  There are art installations around every turn and it is fun to have great things to see while we go from place to place.

2.  Art.  There are so many great art museums and some have free admission days or hours of certain days when admission is free.  On my first trip to Chicago, I had to see the American Gothic painting at The Art Institute of Chicago.  It was a life long dream realized.  The gift shops of art museums are always great to browse through.  Some of the museums also have great food or entertainment options.
Last year, we enjoyed the Museum of Contemporary Art.  One of the installations was call Adhocism.  I took this picture and my husband nudged me and told me I was inappropriate.  "What was intriguing about alcoholism?"  I told him to read it again.

I really liked the idea of Adhocism in creating and also in problem solving in life in general.  It was a great installation.

The Museum of Contemporary Art had a free jazz concert on the lawn behind the building last summer.  We loved the chance to get out and enjoy low cost entertainment. 

3. Wrigley Field.  We loved taking in a Cubs game.  Wrigley is a great historic ballpark and the people watching was fantastic.  Last time we went to a game, the economy was just starting to tank and we were amazed at how much people were still spending on beer.  The crowds that filled the rooftops and balconies around the stadium were really amazing.

4.  Farmer's Markets.  If we happen to be around on a Saturday morning, we find all the Farmer's Markets in walking distance and take off for a great time of browsing.  We love, love, love seeing all of the produce.  One of our favorite markets, Green City Market, always has a variety of vendors and visiting chefs that provide demonstrations (and free recipes)!  

The flowers at the Farmer's Markets are amazing!  I would go broke if I lived in the city and had access to awesome flowers every Saturday morning.  A Kansas girl loves her sunflowers.

I actually had this picture printed onto canvas.

5.  The food.  We love the amazing food options.  At the top of our list is Flaco's Tacos.  This is the best value - great food and good portion sizes.  We loved it so much that we went back twice in the same trip - Homemade Mexican food in Chicago.  We love this place!

Quartino has great, simple, and tasty Italian.  I love to eat on the patio here and when we have eaten inside, it has a fun, casual atmosphere.  They have great pizza and affordable wines.  This is a must stop every time we are in the city.  I also love that Quartino is located near a Trader Joe's and we always stock up on snacks and water to get us through our trip.

When we go to Chicago, we have to sample the big three food items - a Chicago-style hot dog, deep dish Chicago-style pizza, and an Italian beef sandwich.  For the Chicago-style dog, Portillo's.  For the deep dish pizza, Giordano's.  However, you have to be prepared for a long wait.  My advice is to go at an off-peak mealtime or to get take out.  For the Italian beef sandwich, Mr. Beef on Orleans.  We walked forever in the heat to get there and it was just how we like our restaurants - local, a little dive-y, full of character, and with delicious food.  We also love a Rick Bayless restaurant called XOCO.  The concept is Mexican street food and we loved the atmosphere and the food was great.  For a quick lunch, Potbelly Sandwich Shop is another favorite.

6.  Theater.  Ok, and I know the picture is from Navy Pier, but we saw one of the best shows we have ever seen at Navy Pier in the Shakespeare Theater.  The show was a hip hop version of Much Ado About Nothing.  My husband found it while exploring one afternoon while I was at a conference and he surprised me with tickets for that night's outing.

You should also know that there is a beautiful view of the city with the lights reflecting off the water from the women's restroom at the theater.  Best view in the city. 

7.  Free stuff.  We love to travel as inexpensively as possible.  We enjoyed some great fireworks - a free show - on our first night in the city last summer.  There is a whole website dedicated to free activities in Chicago.

 8.  Comedy.  We have seen some great improv and Vegas-style shows in Chicago.  We loved The Second City and had great seats.  I could see a comedy show on every trip and I know it is something my husband will enjoy, too.

 9.  Shopping.  The Magnificent Mile has all of the retail options you could ever want.  We love to browse and have found some great deals at some of our favorite stores.  I learned my lesson last summer - save some room in your suitcase for your purchases!  I could spend hours in the Crate and Barrel store alone.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Early garden bounty

 We are really excited to have some garden produce to enjoy.  Last night we dug some potatoes and pulled carrots.  We even had some tomatoes to pick!  (We are well ahead of our July 4 self-imposed standard to good gardening.)

We had more potatoes to dig and onions to harvest.  For once, we tried to work with moderation in mind.  My husband got an early start this morning to try to beat the heat.  We have had several days of 100 degree plus days with high humidity - even early in the day, the heat makes working outside difficult.

I really got a kick out of the two intertwined carrots that we pulled.  Isn't that cool?

Fabric flowers

 Extra points for making something on the list!

I have wanted to try making fabric flowers for a long time and have been looking all kinds of different styles and techniques.

The opportunity to try this project presented itself when I needed an embellishment for two gifts.  They had to be mailed to the recipients which meant I needed something that could hold up in a padded mailer (and look cute).

I wondered if I could get fabric and hot glue to hold together, not to mention if I could get the twisting and arranging techniques to work.

The end result turned out pretty well.  I tested it out on my husband and he gave me high marks, so they made the cut to be put on the packages.

I used some washi tape to help create some lines to draw the eye to the rosette.  The photo doesn't show the faint stripe on the wrapping paper.  Overall, I was really excited to actually create something that has been on my list to try and I can only get better with more practice.
Extra, extra credit for using fabric scraps!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Beer braised brisket

We enjoyed a great meal last night - Boulevard Wheat Beer Braised Brisket with new potatoes and peas.

I put this recipe on Evernote several months ago and sort of forgot about it until my dad brought us some brisket last weekend.  We are really fortunate to have access to great beef from my dad's cows.  He is super generous to help us stock our freezer and we eat really well because of his generosity.

The recipe came from the Kansas Beef Chat blog and it sounded like a really delicious and easy way to make brisket.  The only ingredient I skimped on was the fresh thyme because I was too lazy to go out to the garden in the morning.

I did the prep this morning and placed it in the fridge.  My husband put the brisket in the oven this afternoon and by the time I was home, we had a great dinner ready to serve.

Boulevard Wheat Beer Braised Brisket
1 piece beef brisket flat
2 each carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bottles Boulevard Wheat Beer
3 tbsp sugar
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 tablespoons coarse ground pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
Equipment needed:
Baking pan, plastic wrap, aluminum foil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Chop vegetables and spread in bottom of baking pan. Rub brisket with spices and place in pan, fat side up. Top with thyme sprigs. Pour beer in bottom of pan. Cover pan tightly with plastic wrap and then foil, creating a good seal around the edge to keep liquid from escaping. Bake at 350 degrees for 3-4 hours, to desired tenderness, 185-195 degrees F, or fork tender.
Remove brisket from pan and cool before slicing. Can be cooked ahead, sliced and reheated when needed. You may use the pan drippings to make a delicious sauce to serve with it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Jumping on the freezer to slow cooker bandwagon

One of the latest popular pins on Pinterest is make ahead slow cooker meals that can be frozen.  The Mama and  Baby Love blog is getting a lot of buzz.

I really love the concept - you do one prep with one clean up.  In the end, you have two meals that can easily be cooked while you are at work and you have a dinner waiting for you when you come home.

My first attempt is Teriyaki Chicken.

The "cast of characters" shot made famous by The Pioneer Woman shows off how few ingredients you need for this great recipe.  Note that the bag of carrots is not quite full - my husband didn't know these were for the recipe.

Teriyaki Chicken (2 bags)

1 large bag of baby carrots
1 red onion
2 20 oz cans crushed pineapple
4 cloves garlic
4 chicken breasts
1 cup teriyaki sauce
2 gallon freezer bags

Write the following instructions on the gallon freezer bags with a Sharpie.  Add 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce to the mixture.  Cook on high for four hours or low for eight hours.  Serve over rice.

Pour half of the bag of baby carrots into each freezer bag.
Cut the red onion into large chunks and split between the two bags.
Pour one can of pineapple into each bag (undrained).
Chop the cloves of garlic and put half in each bag.
Place half of the chicken breasts in each bag.
Pour 1/2 cup of teriyaki sauce into each bag.

Seal the bags and push out any excess air so that the bags lay flat.  Place in the freezer.  The night before you plan to make the meal, place the bag in the refrigerator and put the ingredients into the slow cooker the next day.

I can't wait to make this dish and see how it works!

Monday, June 11, 2012

More sides and salads

We continued our quest to make some awesome salads and side dishes. My husband was a little skeptical about tonight's recipes, but I think I won him over on at least one of the dishes. He was a big help as my sous chef.

My plan was to make two salads tonight to help us with lunches and dinners through the week. Paired with a chicken, cucumber and cheese wrap, the salads were great summertime fare.

The Greek quinoa salad was another find from Two Peas and Their Pod. I really love their blog and all of the delicious recipes they share. They continue to provide inspiration for great food and yummy cookies.

Greek Quinoa Salad

2 cups water
1 cup quinoa
Pinch of salt
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup chopped cucumber
1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/3 cup feta cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To make the dressing:
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Using a strainer, rinse the quinoa under cold water. Add quinoa, water, and salt to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Let cool quinoa cool to room temperature.In a large bowl, combine quinoa, tomatoes, cucumber, kalamata olives, red onion, and feta cheese.To make the dressing, whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, and oregano in a small bowl. Pour dressing over the salad and stir until mixed well. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

The antipasto pasta salad was a big hit! It makes a really large amount and it seems like the type of dish that just gets better the longer the flavors marinade together.

(I found it at and it had a reference from Gourmet magazine.)

Antipasto Pasta Salad

1 pound rotini or fusilli (corkscrew-shaped pastas)
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1/3 cup red-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 ounce (1/2 cup) sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil), soaked in hot water for 5 minutes and drained well
1/2 pound smoked mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
a 1-pound can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
3 1/2 ounces sliced hard salami, cut into julienne strips
10 to 20 bottled small peperoncini (pickled Tuscan peppers)
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leafed parsley leaves, minced

In a kettle of boiling salted water cook the rotini until it is tender and drain it. Refresh the pasta under cold water and drain it well.
In a blender blend the garlic, the mustard, the vinegars, the water, the oil, and salt to taste until the dressing is emulsified.
In a very large bowl toss the pasta well with the dressing and stir in the sun-dried tomatoes, the mozzarella, the garbanzos, the salami, the Tuscan peppers, the red pepper flakes, and the parsley.
Chill the salad, covered, for 1 hour. The salad may be made 2 days in advance and kept covered and chilled.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Two super star side dishes

Side dishes tend to be an afterthought for me.  I am making a conscious effort to expand my recipe base by trying more side dishes as part of our regular meals.

I have enjoyed experimenting with quinoa before and thought the Two Peas and Their Pod Cilantro Lime Quinoa sounded great.  It was an easy and delicious addition to our supper, though it seemed like a better pairing for Tex-Mex or Mexican fare.  I made it with the Roasted Tomato Caprese Grilled Cheese with Balsamic Glaze I blogged about yesterday.  While the dishes weren't a perfect match, each had great flavor and I loved them on their own.

My next experiment was the Pioneer Woman's sister-in-law Missy's Marinated Tomatoes.  In retrospect, I should have started marinating the dish in the morning and served it that night.  I only gave the flavors an hour or so to blend while I made the roasted chicken and boiled some new potatoes.  Still, the flavors were great.  We dipped bread into the marinade and it was the best part of the meal.

Two winners!  I can't wait for fresh garden tomatoes to try the marinade again.  Enjoy!

Cilantro Lime Quinoa


2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste


1. In a large pot, bring the 2 cups of vegetable broth to a boil. Stir in quinoa and cook until broth is evaporated and quinoa is tender, about 20 minutes. Pour quinoa into a medium bowl and fluff with a fork.
2. Stir in garlic, lime juice, cilantro, and sugar. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve warm.

Missy’s Marinated Tomatoes


1 cup canola oil
1/4 cup  balsamic vinegar
4 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 whole green onions, sliced
1/4 cup chopped parsley
18 whole basil leaves (chiffonade)
1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
2 pounds tomatoes, cut into quarters (if big) or halves (if small)
1 whole baguette, sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled


1. Combine all ingredients except tomatoes in a large glass bowl. Whisk to combine, then add tomatoes. (You can up the quantity of tomatoes if need be.) Use regular red tomatoes, or a mixture of red, yellow, heirloom, etc. 
2. Allow to marinate for at least 3 to 4 hours, several hours if possible. Tomatoes will give off liquid as they marinate. 
3. Use leftover tomatoes to make bruschetta: slice baguette and brush slices with olive oil. Grill on a skillet or grill pan until golden. Rub slices with garlic cloves. Top with tomatoes, allowing juice to drip on the bread.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The countdown to tomato season

It feels like summer in Kansas.  And, summer in Kansas means garden fresh least around or shortly after July 4th (as is the standard of gardening excellence in my family).

After the first ripe tomato turns into a steady supply, the canning begins.  In the really good years, even canning and eating tomatoes for at least two meals a day can't keep up with the production.  I can't wait!  We are especially excited because last year's tomato crop was a bust.

To get into the spirit of things, I wanted to make something with fresh tomatoes.  The tomato options at the grocery store are still a little off-season, but I could not resist this tasty looking sandwich.

I love this sandwich for many reasons - it was easy to make, it had great flavors, and the mix of ingredients made for a perfect early summer supper.

Source:  How Sweet It Is

Roasted Tomato Caprese Grilled Cheese with Balsamic Glaze
serves 2
6 tomatoes (vine or roma), sliced about 1/2 inch thick
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3-4 ounces fresh mozzarella
12-15 basil leaves
4 slices seedy bread

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place tomatoes on a nonstick baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 45-50 minutes. While tomatoes are roasting, add vinegar to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a very low simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes, until liquid reduces by about half and is slightly syrupy. Remove from heat, pour vinegar in a bowl or glass to pour, and let sit.
Once tomatoes are finished, heat a large griddle or skillet over medium heat. Brush the outsides of each slice of bread with olive oil, then place mozzarella on one slide, followed by tomatoes, basil (feel free to shred it if you’d like), more tomatoes and more mozzarella. Cook until cheese is melty and each side is golden, about 5 minutes per side. Serve immediately drizzle with balsamic.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Baked oatmeal

My mom and dad both love oatmeal.  I wasn't surprised when I grew into loving oatmeal, too.  I prefer to make it from scratch instead of from the prepackaged individual packets that you buy from the store.  But, those individual packets are so convenient!

I saw a recipe for individual baked oatmeal on Pinterest and wanted to try this version.  It seemed like a great make-ahead recipe that could last through the week.  The result was really tasty and super easy to take along on the drive to work.  I topped some with raisins, Craisins, and white chocolate chips, and stirred in frozen blueberries for four different varieties. The source was Sugar-Free Mom.

Individual baked oatmeal

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups applesauce, unsweetened
  • 1 banana, mashed
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 5 cups, Old Fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup flaxseed meal
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 3/4 cups milk
  • Optional toppings: raisins, walnuts, chocolate chips
  1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix eggs, vanilla, applesauce, banana and honey together in a bowl.
  3. Add in oats, flax, cinnamon, baking powder, salt and mix well with wet ingredients.
  4. Finally pour in milk and combine.
  5. Spray a 12 and 6 capacity muffin tin with cooking spray or use cupcake liners.
    Pour mixture evenly into muffin tin cups.
  6. If using toppings add them onto the tops of muffins now. If using fresh or frozen fruit, drop it right into the batter.
  7. Bake 30 minutes until a toothpick in center comes out clean. Cool and enjoy or freeze them in gallon freezer bags.

 Note: the original recipe includes Stevia as an option for honey.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Fun Saturday

 Today felt like that last hurrah before my crazy summer work schedule begins.  We had been putting off a trip to Kansas City because we wanted to stay closer to home or were otherwise scheduled.  We looked at the calendar and realized that our available weekends were numbered.  So, today was the day to make the drive and enjoy the day together.

We started with some errands in Topeka and then hustled to Kansas City to make our lunch reservation at Cascone's.  A friend gave us a gift certificate almost a year ago and shared his family's love for the great Italian food served there.  We had an awesome lunch and bought some of the red sauce to bring home.

We did some vintage shopping at Good JuJu - a favorite consignment shop that is open the first weekend of each month.  This was the first time we had been to their new location.  Although we didn't buy anything, we had a lot of fun looking.

Our last stop was at a garden center to pick up some plants to round out our summer planting.  We had a Groupon - if you couldn't guess.  I thought my husband was an a very good sport to pull the wagon with the plants.