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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Our Thanksgiving Feast (w/Centerpieces & Recipes)

This Thanksgiving we invited our families to come to Chicago, which I spoke about previously here. And in hosting this potentially stressful event, I realized something telling about myself. There is something about big-old stressful life events that somehow do NOT stress me out. At all. Don't get me wrong the planning, prepping and waiting for the event to come have some stress and freak-out moments. And day-to-day some might say that I am a high-strung person, but for some reason I feel SO comfortable and in the zone in situations that often send other people into hives.


For example, a wedding day can be one of the most nerve-wracking days of many people's lives, but mine was literally the most calm day of my life. I seriously had never felt more at peace, so much so that my husband, family and bridesmaids all commented on my serenity. And now, hosting my first Thanksgiving, my mom and Dave both admitted that they cringed a little thinking about how I might fly off the handle if the whole meal didn't fall into place as expected while also hosting my-in-laws and family for the first time. But I didn't. In fact, the meal came together perfectly and I literally felt like I floated through the day. I think I just love the sense of satisfaction of everything coming together and creating something special (meals, memories) for those that I love.

If I could find a way to make every day a Martha Stewart Living or Wedding day, I might be one stress-free lady. Eventually maybe this cooking/hosting/coordinating gig can be more a part of my day-to-day life, but until that time I'll savor the serene moments and try to remember how therapeutic that can be when the smaller stressors start to get to me. But enough with the psychoanalysis, and on to the fun table-scape and scrumptious recipes that were a big hit!

For my Thanksgiving Table, I took a cue from Martha and drilled out fresh pumpkins & gourds to make autumnal candle holders for our centerpieces. See the gourd candle instructional video here. Then I took a brown platter, filled it with green split peas and added warm colored candles to the gourds. And voila!
(excuse the quality of my iPhone pic)

Now on to the Thanksgiving Recipes...

Alton Brown's Good Eats Roast Turkey: Seriously if you only take one thing away from my blog ever, it should be this recipe along with a promise to never prepare your turkey any other way. Yes, it's that good. Prior to this recipe, I thought the turkey was just a sideshow to the main event of scrumptious sides... never living up to it's main course ranking. It was just there; always a bit dry and with little seasoning. But if you brine and roast your turkey next year following this recipe be prepared to enjoy the juiciest tender bird on earth. Period. And it's not just a fluke. We did this at my mom's house for Christmas again with two large turkey breasts and had the same excellent results. **One tip: Coat the turkey with canola oil first, then put it in the pan. I poured the canola oil over the bird in the roasting pan which caused a lot of excess oil in bottom and lots of smoke while you have it at 500 degrees. We revised it at my mom's and got no smoke.

Sausage and Apple Stuffing: This was my second favorite part of the meal, and again it made an encore at my mom's Christmas because it was such a hit. I used turkey sausage, although it called for pork, and it was still very good.

Barefoot Contessa Homemade Gravy: Yummy, rich and delicious. Enough said.

Emeril's Cranberry Sauce: I grew up on the canned stuff so this is a major upgrade.

Bourbon Pecan Pie: Ok, so this ALSO made a second showing at Christmas if that tells you how repeat worthy this pie recipe is. I was a little heavy handed on the Maker's Mark bourbon and had no complaints ;-)

The rest of the meal was rounded out by my roasted brussels sprouts, my mom's sweet potato and pecan crusted casserole, her green bean casserole, and warm rolls.

Oh, and I also followed Colleen's advice and wore my favorite apron to top it all off :-)

Happy belated Thanksgiving everyone.

Our First Wedding Anniversary: 11-08-09

The weekend of our first wedding anniversary, was a gorgeous, sunny November weekend in Chicago. So Dave and I headed to the beach with the camera to just enjoy the last of the warm weather.


That evening, we finally used my Christmas gift card from last year and went to The Chopping Block for a "Wine & Dine!" cooking class. There we learned how to prepare (and devour) Wild Mushroom and Bacon Puff Pastry Tart, Herb Roasted Chicken with Caramelized Potatoes & Root Vegetables and Chocolate Ganache Tart. Oh, and the class included wine :-) Everything was DELICIOUS. And roasting a whole chicken for the first time was a good "dry run" of sorts for our turkey we were about to prepare a few weeks later for our first Thanksgiving.

The next morning, Sunday 11-08-09, was our actual anniversary and we decided to head to the Chicago Botanic Garden. There we enjoyed a leisurely stroll, nature and each other's company.

See autumn is beautiful, too:

Peek-a-boo:

I also got a great shot of my anniversary gift, this gorgeous Tiffany Sparklers Smoky Quartz cocktail ring!

And also a shot of our wedding rings one year later:

Overall it was a wonderful weekend!

I'm back

I'm not really sure why I took an almost 2 month hiatus from blogging, but I did and that is that.


Since I last posted, we celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary, hosted a successful first Thanksgiving dinner in Chicago, and celebrated our second Christmas together as a married couple. I'm going to try to retroactively post about a few of those highlights, but for tonight I just wanted to get back on the blogging wagon so that it didn't seem so intimidating anymore.

If I have any readers left out there, thanks for hanging in there :-)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday Supper: Boursin Stuffed Chicken, Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Mashed Sweet Potatoes

I love Sundays, mostly because I have lots of time. One thing I like to do with that time is cook, since it's rare that I cook much of anything that doesn't come out of a box on weeknights.


Tonight my sister came over for dinner and I prepared a yummy chicken dinner for the three of us which included Boursin Chicken, Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Mashed Sweet Potatoes.

I have made the chicken recipe once before, and it comes from a cookbook that was a wedding gift from my aunt, Meet Us in the Kitchen: A Collection of Recipes and Stories from the Junior League of St. Louis.

To make the Boursin Chicken, you'll need:
5 ounces boursin cheese with herbs and garlic, softened
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley; divided into 2 tablespoon parts each (I used dry; thus, I use less)
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter, melted
4 wooden skewers or picks

First, combine the cheese, flour, carrots, walnuts and 2 tablespoons parsley in a bowl and blend well.
Pound each chicken breast into a 5 1/2-inch square. Place 1/4 of cheese mixture on each square. Fold in the sides and roll up; secure with wooden skewers or picks.

Next, mix the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons parsley in a shallow dish.
Brush the chicken roll-ups with melted butter. Roll in the bread crumb mixture.

Place on a wire rack in an 8X8-inch backing pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

I paired the chicken with Roasted Brussels Sprouts. (Hey, don't knock 'em till you try them!) I know that for most, Brussels sprouts conjure up unpleasant thoughts, and I'll admit this was my first time making these as well but they turned out VERY good and are very simple to make.

All you need is:
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts (I halved this since I was cooking for 3, instead of 6.)
3 tablespoons of good olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat Oven to 400 degrees. Then, cut off the brown end of the sprouts, pull off any yellow, outer leaves and then cut each sprout in half (note: recipe calls for whole but most reviews prefer halves to get crispier sprouts. It's your call. Since I was roasting them along with baking chicken, I kept them in the full 40 minutes but only had the oven at 350).

Mix them in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
Pour them on to a metal sheet pan and roast for 35-40 minutes (note: watch carefully your may desire a shorter cooking time.) Shake the pan from time to time to brown the sprout evenly.

I also added some Mashed Sweet Potatoes to the mix, loosely following a Paula Dean recipe and adding a few tricks of my own. I decreased the recipe due to only serving a few for dinner tonight, so here is the recipe as I did it.

You'll need:
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons honey (or more to taste, if you prefer sweeter)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I freshly ground mine from sticks!)
kosher salt to taste
My own addition: Add about 5 dashes of very good, aged balsamic vinegar (we brought ours back from Italy and I could literally eat it like candy.)

Add the potatoes to a dutch oven and cover with water.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 8 to 10 minutes, drain well. Return the potatoes to the dutch oven, and add the butter, honey, balsamic vinegar, cinnamon and salt. You could, beat at low speed with an electric mixer until smooth or I prefer to go at it with an old-school masher or pastry blender. Serve hot!

Served together, this makes for a colorful fall plate and a scrumptious Sunday Supper.
Give it a try!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Prepping for our First Thanksgiving

This year we will be hosting our first Thanksgiving feast!


Instead of going home to St. Louis like we do for every major holiday, we finally convinced our parents to make the trek to Chicago so that we could try our hand at making the family meal. It will be bittersweet since we will miss out on seeing our extended families that day, but now that we are married and have a ton of things which we registered for that we never use, I really wanted to start taking our turn at hosting it. Plus, now that my sister lives in Chicago as well, my parents have one more reason to come up north.

Last weekend, armed with 11 Bed Bath & Beyond 20% off coupons which I collected over the year, we picked up some extra odds-and-ends we'd need for the big day like a baster, a pie keeper and a few more things.

One of them was this great Counter Art Bamboo Carving Board:

I can't want to make my first turkey and carve it on our new board with our nice, Wustof carving knifes.

Another good find, was The Nifty 3-Tier Oven Rack.

I never would have thought of this, but I think this will come in extra handy for keeping multiple dishes warm at once on one half of the oven, while still having a large turkey on the bottom rack of the other half. At most Thanksgiving dinners, each of our family members have always been responsible for bringing different dishes and casseroles in a pot-luck fashion, but since I will be hosting out of town guests this year, our parents won't have an additional oven and prep space so that won't be possible. Thus, this will allow me to have more things in my oven simultaneously.

Another find was at the Crate & Barrel Outlet. I just think these are adorable. Dave thinks they are silly which is why I initially took them off of our registry last year, but now that we are officially hosting a meal requiring gravy I just had to get my hands on these super-cute Individual Gravy Boats from Crate & Barrel:


Besides being adorable, I also think these are practical and eliminate the need for reaching across the table or waiting for the graving boat to be passed around, resulting in immediate gravy gratification :-). Plus, they are only $1.95 each.

Now that we have all of the supplies it's time to start planning our menu. I will be preparing a dinner for eight and am just starting to brainstorm some recipe options. If any of you have delicious Thanksgiving recipes to share, please leave comments with recipes or links!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tall Boots for Big Gams

Call them "Athletic", "Wide" or just plain "Large" but my calves do not fit in to just any pair of mid-calf or knee-high boots. You might remember my trials and tribulations just trying to find rain boots last year and I finally just gave up on new boots all together last season.


This was so especially upsetting because once you realize you have big calves and subject yourself to a limited search for "Wide Shaft" or "Wide Calf" boots you get stuck with just a few options of unstylish, frumpy looking boots that are as wide at the ankle as they are at the top.

HELLO! I didn't say I had cankles, too! Just what I would like to consider well developed calves from years of playing soccer and volleyball. Thank you very much. And even if I do have "larger than average" gams, they deserve to look stylish and trendy too.

Well, after a little more education and actually measuring my calf circumference, I set out again this season on the search for tall boots that fit my legs AND maybe would even allow me to tuck in some jeans for the first time ever.

The good news is that I have had success now that Zappos.com, endless.com and a few other online retailers have caught on to my dilemma and began adding shaft circumference to their product details! Zappos' search function is much more robust in this area, so I had luck finding many great options simply by typing in "16.50" circumference", etc.

So now I search for boots that have at least a 15.50" circumference and above. Through trial and error I found that going 1"-1.5" larger than that allows some additional room for knee socks or a pant leg and 15.50" exactly will leave room only for my calf and a pair of tights to wear with skirts & dresses.

So my first stylish pair to reveal are the Jessica Simpson Grella boots in Mud Brown:


The shaft facts: 15.50" circumference. 15.50" shaft height.

Jessica must be getting sensitive to fellow ladies with curves ;-) Being that these are a pull on style, with no zipper or elastic venting at the top, this will be one of those "fits like a glove" pairs that I will wear with skirt & dresses, and probably tights. The leather is soft and the color is rich, giving much more variance and dimension than this photo shows. I am excited to wear these soon! Also, my co-worker told me that she has a cobbler that actually adds in an elastic vent to some of her boots, who knew you could do that?! So if I really wanted to try it, I could see what a shoe guy could make happen, but I think I'm happy with the way they are now. Why mess with close to perfection?

Next, is a surprising find, Naturalizer Brommsly Wide Shaft boots in Black Leather:


The shaft facts: 17.00" circumference. 15.50" shaft height.

WOW! This pair of boots is perfect. Comfort. Style. AND I wore them already and was able to fit my calf, my knee sock and my skinny jeans into them without looking like a stuffed sausage! SUCCESS! Plus, they are skinny at the ankle, so they look tailored as opposed to frumpy. The ankle detailing is also very cute. I wore these puppies from 7:30am on Friday until 11pm that night, and can say with certainty that the Naturalizer comfort factor is still upheld in these boots. They actually inspired me to write my first ever Zappos review!

Lastly, with my new found knowledge of circumference and recent boot luck, I'm debating giving Hunter Wellies one last try.

You see, before I was only ordering the women's wellies style which only have a 15.00" circumference:


But now I realize that the Men's version is actually unisex and has a 17.00" circumference, which could be perfect!:


Look just about the same, right? Of course, the unisex ones have much fewer color choices but I do think that classic green is still a nice option. I think I will order them and see what happens!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Florence: The Food

Our second stop on our tour of Italy was the beautiful City of Florence.


This felt like a whirlwind because we were only there 2 nights, the shortest stay of our trip. But between the food and the history, I think it needs a few posts.

First, we checked into our hotel, the gorgeous Hotel Principe:

Which faces the Arno River:

And has a beautiful back yard garden:

AND had a balcony on our room (the only one all trip!) with a view of the famous Duomo:

Next, we boarded a bus to Chianti for a tour of the wine region, where we stopped in a few different towns which I'll explain in another post.

The next morning we woke up and headed to meet our tour guide, Eliza, for our Taste Florence tour... one of our favorite parts of our trip!

Our meeting point was in front of the Basilica San Lorenzo:

Which was steps away from the Central Market, San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale, where our wonderful food journey began. We saw yummy things like fresh made pasta:


And not so yummy things like tripe and testicles:


But then Eliza led us through a wonderful wine, bruschetta, cheese and balsamic tasting at Conti in the market. We bought lots of great things to take home from this store!:




After educating our palettes we headed off to learn more about gelato... mmmm. We learned that the bigger, fluffier and more vibrant the gelato in the window the more artificial it probably is! Bright coloring agents and chemicals are what make it glow and make it stand a foot tall in the 90 degree weather. Instead, natural color gelato that looks even, possibly a bit melty and scoopable is what you want to go for. We got our fill at a cute little gelateria called "Perche no!...", meaning "Why not!" which I think is just a perfect name and sentiment:

Here, we tried EIGHT flavor combinations:


If you thought the food tour would be done by now, your are wrong! Our last top was Enoteca Alessi where we learned all about Tuscan wines in a cool, cellar atmosphere and paired our wine with different salume and bruschetta:



Phew! Hungry yet? Well now that I've worked up your appetite I'll follow up my post with another post full of gorgeous photos of the Duomo and other Florence (non-food related) sites.

Buon Appetito!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Today's Chop

I didn't want to be that girl that chopped her hair all off as soon as she got married, but 11 months after it was about time to do so!


Before, taken 2 months ago:


After, taken on my iPhone today post-cut:

It's amazing what a few highlights and losing 8 inches will do! I can't wait to cut all of that time off of washing and drying my hair in the mornings, though I'll probably make up for it in having to actually style it now.

What do you think?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Venice

The first stop on our tour of Italy was Venice.


Well, technically that is not true; we first landed in Munich, Germany and then hopped a short 1 hour flight to Venice with some of the most AMAZING views of the trip. Can you believe I captured these photos from my window seat?





Then we got transfered to our water taxi:


And we arrived at our beautiful accommodations, Hotel Santa Marina. We had breakfast on this veranda every morning (best espresso & coffee we had all trip!) and then we had night caps here most evenings as well.


Our hotel was a nice stroll from the major sites, including the Rialto Bridge:






We also took a gondola ride and saw many gorgeous things:





We also ate very well, with great views while doing so:



And we had some of the best pizza I have ever tasted. My favorite was Pizza Diavola, the Italian version of pepperoni pizza with a spicy salami on top:


Overall, Venice ended up surprising us as one of our favorite, most stunning stops all trip. It is quite a magical place, romantic and unique. With the absence of motor vehicles and lots of narrow walkways to get lost in, you would never believe how quiet and serene the whole city is which just adds to its appeal.

Next up, we board our train to Florence...


Arrivederci!

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About Me

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I'm a St. Louis native, but I have been living in Chicago since 2005 and am loving every windy minute of it. I enjoy cooking (more-so eating), home decorating and really anything creative. I'm a supporter of DIY & handmade goods, a fledgling foodie and a connoisseur of kitsch. I spend my days filling online shopping carts, emptying them and repeating the process all over again. Most of all I love spending time with my husband, Dave, our first child, Claire and my dog, Louie.

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