Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas from Snowy Minnesota!

We're spending Christmas and New Year's in Minneapolis with Bryan's family and a great amount of friends that we know from St. Olaf College.  So far, it's been great and it's only going to get better!

Minnesota has great winters! There have already been large snowstorms this winter, and last night another 4 inches came down! It's so beautiful!

We even got to bring Dimitri along! He is such a great traveler too! At Bryan's parents' house, he gets to experience new and exciting things like running up and down stairs and watching squirrels outside the window. In addition, he got to go play in the snow this morning (every cat needs to experience snow at least once)! He has set foot in snow only once before on our 10th floor balcony when Chicago had it's first substantial snowfall, but this time we were able to give him a little bit more freedom.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Over the weekend, Bryan and I went to try this new Moroccan restaurant, Marrakesh. We are lucky enough to live on Randolph, otherwise known as Restaurant Row. There are countless restaurants just to the west of us and so many are on our list to try. We try to space them out so that we don't go broke! It helps when there is a Groupon available, which was the case for Marrakesh!

I have actually been to Morocco! Sadly, it was for only one day. While I was traveling with my orchestra around Spain, we took a short trip across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier. It wasn't nearly enough time to experience the city but it we tried very hard to pack in as much culture as we could. We did eat some amazing food and I was really excited to try some again!

Our date night occurred late on Saturday night after Bryan had a very long day of studying and I had been busy all day, so we were quite ready to relax. By this time in the evening, ginormous, heavy snow flakes were falling outside and we felt very cozy in the little restaurant. We ordered some red wine and falafel for an appetizer which was very good. For the main dishes, I ordered lamb kabob and Bryan ordered beef barkouk. The accidentally messed up our order, so we ended up getting one dish late. I think about 4 people including the manager came out to apologize to us, but we honestly weren't that upset. It ended up turning out just fine because it was like we had ordered  courses, so we split each one individually and didn't mind at all. The food was absolutely incredible. They served us traditional Moroccan mint tea after our meal, which was incredibly delicious. I think we will definitely go back to this restaurant, even taking into consideration the mess up. It was a great date night!

Butternut Squash Soup

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to be invited to a fabulous Cookie Exchange party hosted by one of my great friends Adrie. The idea is that each person brings a batch of cookies and everyone gets a few of each batch. So you come with one kind of cookie and leave with a colorful plate full of different kinds of cookies. I brought my spritzer cookies! It's perfect for those of us who are busy and don't have time to make twelve different batches of cookies at once, but have a sweet tooth large enough to eat them all!

A huge plus was that she made us lunch!! I absolutely loved that butternut squash soup that I was craving more the next day and I have been wanting to learn how for a little while now! I decided that it was necessary that I make some, even though I didn't really have the time to do it and we ended up eating at 9pm on a Sunday. I didn't care - I wanted to eat that soup again!!! I don't have an immersion blender, so I used my food processor which actually worked out really well and was super easy.

This flavors in this soup are so simple and delicious. The butternut squash is the main star, but it's accompanied perfectly by honey crisp apples, onions and curry. The mascarpone cheese is the perfect addition at the end that makes the soup instantly creamy. Like Adrie, I also served it was small chicken salad sandwiches. YUM!

Butternut Squash Soup
from Adrie 

2 butternut squash
2 honey crisp apples, peeled and cubed
2 medium onions, diced
3 tbsp butter
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp curry powder
6 cups vegetable broth
1 container (8oz) mascarpone cheese
2 tsp salt

1. Cut squash in half and scrape out seeds. Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast at 375 degrees for about 40 min. or until you can fork through easily. Scrape out golden flesh and set aside.
2. In a large pot, melt butter and sauté onions until tender. Add apples, brown sugar and curry powder. Cook and stir until curry is fragrant.
3. Add squash and broth. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 15 minutes or until apples are soft.
4. Remove from heat. Blend in flood processor until smooth. Pour into a bowl. Repeat with the rest of soup.
5. Return soup to stock pot and stir in mascarpone and salt until completely incorporated. Return to simmer
and remove from heat. Garnish with sour cream and chives if desired.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Tasting Room

Last Friday, Bryan and I had a wonderful date night. We went to The Tasting Room, which is a wine tasting lounge and restaurant in Chicago’s West Loop. The second floor has a great view of the downtown skyline, but we didn’t get to experience that because it was occupied with a private event. This place is very popular, but luckily our wait wasn’t long. We both got a flight of red wine and we also ordered a couple of small plates, since this was our dinner also. One dish included sherry tomato soup with the tiniest, tastiest, fanciest grilled cheese sandwich I've ever had. It was literally 3 in x 1in. But those were incredibly delicious bites! The food was very good and the wine was even better! All of our selections were fantastic! We had great service and the place has a comfortable yet classy vibe going on. I highly recommend this little place! It’s a must for those who love wine, and for those who don’t, they have cocktails too.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christkindlmarket and Holiday Party

Last night we hosted a holiday party with a large group of friends. We started off at our place and walked over to the Christkindlmarket, the German Christmas market (, just 5 blocks away in Daley Plaza, downtown Chicago. We got the traditional hot spiced wine in a little boot mug and walked around to all of the little vendor booths and shops looking at all of the merchandise. It was chilly out, but the wine warmed us right up! After people watching, listening to the German language all around us, and taking in the holiday cheer, we wandered back to our place for some festive holiday drinks.

We had hot spiced apple cider with rum, hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps or Bailey's and a variety of other drinks brought by our friends including wine and limoncello! In addition to the drinks, we had some nibblies that included chocolate fondue with strawberries, bananas and pretzels for dipping. A meat and cheese plate and a cookie plate were also out. Here are the recipes for the drinks and fondue!

Hot Spiced Cider:
I looked around at a variety of recipes and made my own up based on what I liked.
For one gallon of apple cider: In a large pot, heat the cider. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar, and one teaspoon of the following: ground cloves, ground nutmeg, and ground cinnamon. Serve in a mug with a cinnamon stick and add dark rum to your taste.

Holiday Hot Chocolate:
We had a teapot full of simmering water, hot chocolate mix, peppermint Schnapps and Bailey's on the side for people to mix their own drinks up.

Chocolate Fondue:
In a pot, heat 1 cup whipping cream until simmering, stirring constantly. Turn heat off and add 16oz bittersweet chocolate - I used chocolate bars broken into pieces. Add 3 tablespoons of Amaretto. Once chocolate melts, whisk together. Pour mixture into prepared fondue pot with heat source on. Enjoy with dipping sides!

Thanks to everyone who came, brought goodies along, and made our party a success! It was such a great time and we loved having everyone over!

Spritzer Cookies

Some of you may know of Spritzer cookies. I grew up eating these little buttery morsels all December growing up. They are one of my favorite Christmas cookies. I recently invested in a cookie press in order to make them myself! The one I got is the Cuisine Art Cookie Press. It is electric, unlike the one we had growing up that was a hand-crank one. Additionally, it doubles as an electric frosting machine! Total it has 12 cookie discs and 8 decorating tips!
It took a little bit to figure out the slight nuances that come along with technology (ie: how long to hold down the button as opposed to how far to crank), but eventually I got the hang of it and produced these delicious little morsels!
I'll probably be making many more of these before Christmas is upon us, and I'm okay with that! This batch was made in anticipation of our holiday party that we hosted last night! It will appear in the next post :)

Easy and Tasty Weeknight Dinner

 Bryan and I are usually both up before 6am and neither of us get home until about 7pm, so on busy weeknights like these, it is really handy to have a quick, healthy and delicious meal planned. An added bonus, this meal is cheap! We had marinated tilapia with cajun sweet potatoes and green beans. It was so great paired with a glass of red wine. It only took about a half an hour to prepare, and that was just because we were waiting for the fish to finish baking!

The cajun sweet potatoes are a made-up recipe. Cook or bake the sweet potatoes however you like. Mash them with a couple tablespoons of butter, a little half and half, a little milk, Cajun seasoning, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. They really delicious and it's nice to eat sweet potatoes with a little kick instead of all of the sweeter recipes out there. The beans were just sauteed with diced onion and almonds - always a classic. The marinated tilapia, I admit, was store bought. But I made sure that the added ingredients were not full of salt or preservatives. This meal is great that we already want to have it again! Tonight we're having a slightly different version - with steak instead!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I guess all I needed was a little inspiration to get up early this morning. It worked. Dimitri helped me wake up by sitting on my chest while I petted him like crazy. What a good little kitty. Then, I got up despite a very sore throat and did my workout.

This morning, I did a treadmill work out that I started doing just about a month ago. It works well for me to start my morning workouts this way because it starts out at a slow 6.0 pace. Then every quarter mile, crank it up by 0.5mph. Once you hit mile one, come back down to 6.0 and repeat. I actually think I need to start at 6.5 and increase the speed from there because the first half of a mile seems really slow. But early in the AM, I don’t care and I’m still trying to wake up and realize that my legs are running underneath me. This particular work out is just a way to change it up every now and then so I don’t get bored. I’m in the process of finding more interesting treadmill workouts – keep an eye out for those! After the quick run, I stretched, did some abs and realized that I needed to shower and get ready. I guess I played with the kitty a little too long this morning!

I have to continue with my morning workouts so that I can indulge this weekend! We’re having friends over and I’m going to be making some goodies! Stay tuned for those posts coming soon!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I need some inspiration.

Since Thanksgiving, I have not been able to run due to lack of enthusiasm. Granted, we were on vacation with lots of friends and family around and tend to book our schedules full up. So, I can understand that I took a few days off. However, this is a new week and I have yet to work out. My excuse: I only have time to work out before work, which means I must get up when it is still dark and our condo is cold and I just want to keep sleeping. Monday morning I decided that since we got home so late from the drive back that it was okay to slack that day. Today, Tuesday, I decided that I could use the extra hour of sleep because I hadn't slept very well due to the dryer buzzing really late, Dimitri waking me up at 4am, and then Bryan's alarm going off at 4:45am. Well, here's what I've decided this evening - there are NO EXCUSES! Tomorrow morning it's gonna happen!

Where can I find inspiration? From myself in this case. Do you ever read running blogs and wish you could do all the workouts they do? Well, I think I took these upcoming photos for that very reason. I wish I had the inspiration I had on Thanksgiving morning. I went running in Minneapolis, MN and there were 2 inches of snow, not a cloud in the sky, and it was a lovely 6 degrees. I cranked up the music and headed on out! I was actually pretty warm, except my legs. They almost froze off. Next time I'll need to be better prepared with some warm running pants.
I wasn't even the only person running that morning! Look at all those foot prints!
Minnehaha Creek, on the way to Lake Nokomis
Made it to the lake! It wasn't as far away as I remembered it! Or maybe, I'm getting into better shape. I like that option better! After this photo, I realized that my legs were quite cold and there was a moment when I realized that I needed to turn back now before they got to be very cold. I ran back home as fast as my cold legs would carry me (which after about a half a a mile, they felt like they were dragging). Eventually I made it back, stretched, and took a nice warm shower. Totally worth it!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Muffins with Pecan Streusel

We're in Minneapolis for Thanksgiving weekend as well as our little nephew's baptism tomorrow! We are honored to become his godparents! For the family brunch following the baptism, my mother-in-law asked me to make something for a side dish. I can never get enough pumpkin, even around Thanksgiving, so my mind immediately wandered to pumpkin muffins. After a quick search through some favorite food blogs, I found this recipe and I thought it sounded perfect. Even better was that I could make it days ahead (Tuesday evening since we were traveling late Wednesday) and store it in the fridge (including a night in the trunk of the car where they froze) and just heat them up prior to serving them! They are a little high maintenance for muffins, but it is totally worth it! The trick to getting them to come out of the oven properly is to have already made the cream cheese center and have it frozen when you want to add it to the batter in the muffin cups. I did this the night before and let it freeze a whole day since I had to work all day and needed to make the muffins as soon as I got home. This also cuts down on the actual prep to finish time on baking day. I doubled the recipe to accommodate for more people coming to this brunch. I can't vouch for anyone else but me and Bryan, but these muffins are seriously amazing and are going to begin to make regular appearances in my kitchen!

Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Muffins with Pecan Streusel
from Brown Eyed Baker

Yield: 12 muffins

Prep Time: 15 minutes | Inactive Prep Time: 2 hours | Bake Time: 20 minutes
For the Cream Cheese Filling:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
½ cup powdered sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
For the Streusel:
½ cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup pecans, roughly chopped
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
For the Muffins:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
5 ounces (½ cup + 2 tablespoons) vegetable oil
1. Make the cream cheese filling: For the Cream Cheese Filling: In a medium bowl, stir together the cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Add the vanilla, and stir to combine. Form the mixture into a 12-inch log on a piece of plastic wrap, wrap it, and freeze it for at least two hours.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners; set aside.
3. Make the Pecan Streusel: In a medium bowl, use a fork to combine the flour, sugar, pecans, butter, and cinnamon. Set aside.
4. Whisk together the flour, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.
5. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, pumpkin, eggs, oil, and vanilla.
6. Pour the pumpkin mixture over the dry ingredients. Use a rubber spatula to gently combine the batter, mixing just until the dry ingredients are moistened.
7. Remove the cream cheese from the freezer, and divide it into 12 1-inch slices.
8. Scoop a small amount of batter into the muffin cups. Place 1 slice of the cream cheese log right in the center of each cup, then fill with the remaining batter.
9. Sprinkle the pecan streusel on top of each muffin. Press on the streusel lightly to make sure it adheres to the batter.
10. Bake until golden, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, and then remove muffins to a cooling rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Let them come to room temperature before serving, or warm briefly in the microwave to take the chill off.

Portobello, Spinach and Spicy Italian Sausage Lasagna

Can you believe that I’d never made lasagna until about a month ago? Of all the other recipes I’ve tried, you’d think I’d know how to make lasagna – it’s so easy! Plus, it makes a ton, which is awesome for the leftover situation. Also, lasagna freezes well, so even if you don’t want the leftovers (I can’t imagine why), or maybe you’re going out of town this week (which was our case), it can be frozen to enjoy later. And let me tell you, when you realize that you have THIS lasagna in your freezer, you will want it to be your dinner the night you get home and realize you have no time to prepare anything.

We’ve made both the vegetarian and the meat-eater version, and both are absolutely incredible.

Not going to lie, the photos I took look terrible. The lasagna was so juicy and gooey that it was very difficult to make it look presentable on a plate. So, I'll just whet your appetite with the photo when the lasagna came out of the oven and you'll just have to make it for yourself to taste how incredible it is. Trust me, it's amazing!

Portobello, Spinach and Spicy Italian Sausage Lasagna
Original recipe from Jon Skogen, tweaked a bit :)

1 large bag of organic baby spinach
3 cloves of garlic, diced
12 oz Portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 pound (or a little more) of spicy Italian sausage
Whole wheat lasagna noodles
16 oz ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 tsp dried parsley, use more if desired
1 tsp Italian seasoning, use more if desired
1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella
1 ½ cups shredded parmesan
2 26oz cans pasta sauce – I used spicy tomato and basil and added some spices too


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

The original recipe does not call for boiling the noodles, although I boil them until they are soft, but too hard to be al dente.

Sauté the mushrooms for about 3-5 minutes over medium-high heat in a skillet, until they are deeply colored and fragrant. Transfer them to a plate or large bowl, and return the skillet back to the heat.

Wilt the spinach with the garlic in the skillet for about 3 minutes, then when dark green, transfer to a plate or large bowl.

Brown the Italian sausage. When it is done, it can stay in the pan until it is time for the layering.

In a medium bowl, mix ricotta cheese and egg. Add parsley flakes and Italian seasoning to mixture.

First, coat the bottom of the baking dish with a thin layer of pasta sauce (make sure it is seasoned to your liking. I usually heat it in a pan and add red pepper flakes to give it a little kick). Place noodles, not overlapping, on the sauce. Add equal amounts of spinach and mushrooms as the next layer. Add a layer of Italian sausage. Top this with dollops of the ricotta cheese and a thin layer of shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Coat with sauce, and then continue the pattern until ingredients run out. Top the final layer with remaining mozzarella and ricotta cheese.

Bake for about 35-45 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and the cheese is melted.

Remove from oven and let cool a little bit before serving.

Snickerdoodle Cookies

Finally, I have some time for catching up on blog posts. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! Bryan and I are in Minneapolis visiting his family. Each time we come back here, we have to get used to the cold again. I went running Thanksgiving morning and it was 6 degrees with a couple of inches of snow already on the ground! The weather has been beautiful and sunny, so I'm not complaining.
Last weekend I had a little craving for snickerdoodle cookies, or should I say, little sugary balls of goodness! Snickerdoodle cookies are yummy little bites that take me back to my childhood. They’re so easy, and oh-so-delicious! Next time you need a cinnamon and sugar fix, give these little babies a try. They’re such a classic and are sure to satisfy any sweet tooth craving!
I purchased the Better Homes Cookbook at a used bookstore for $5, and this recipe was the first one I flipped to!

Snickerdoodle Cookies
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanill
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium mixing bowl beat the butter or margarine with an electric mixer for 30 seconds. Add the sugar, baking soda, and cream of tartar. Beat until combined. Beat in the egg and vanilla until all combined. Slowly, beat in the flour. Cover and chill 1 hour.

Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Roll the balls in the sugar-cinnamon mixture to coat. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-11 minutes or until edges are golden. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool. Makes about 36 cookies.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I needed a chocolate fix

You know how it is. Sometimes you just really need a chocolate fix. We've been making chocolate mousse a lot around here, which is amazing, but I wanted to try something a little different. When I saw Bailey's in the list of ingredients, I was convinced this recipe would be awesome. And, let me tell you, it was! This dessert is a lot like the chocolate mousse, but has a different texture and a slightly different flavor. And our arms weren't tired after hand whisking (there is no other way according to Bryan) the egg yolks that are called for in that recipe. While the chocolate mousse has a hint of fruit, this dessert is more sweet and indulgent as a result of the Baileys. It is a lot like a thick custard that melts into creamy goodness in your mouth! So good! And actually, really easy!

Baileys Chocolate Pots de Creme
from My Sweet Life featured on

7 ounces (200 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 3/4 cups (400 ml) heavy cream
3 tablespoons (45 g) caster (superfine) sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup (100 ml) Baileys® Irish Cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 350° F (175° C).  Place six 4 to 6-ounce (125 ml to 180 ml) ramekins or custard cups in a roasting pan or deep baking dish.
Put the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl.
In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream, sugar and salt until it just comes to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Let the mixture cool slightly and stir in the Baileys® and vanilla.
Whisk in the egg yolks.
Transfer the mixture to a large measuring cup or pitcher and divide evenly among the ramekins.
Fill the roasting pan or baking dish with hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake until the custards are set around the edges but the centers are still jiggly, about 35 minutes.  Custards will become firmer as they cool.
Remove the aluminum foil and transfer the pots de creme from the water bath to a wire rack and let cool.
Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, garnished with a dollop whipped cream and chocolate curls or fresh strawberries.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

French Onion Soup

After running a 15K race in on a chilly fall day, what could be better than some homemade soup for dinner?! Cooking is also great method of recuperation also. Once all the prepping is done, and the ingredients are in the pot, stirring isn't bad at all if you're perched at the stove on a stool with your glass of water right next to you!
This French onion soup has been making a regular appearance at our dinner tables for over a year now. It's SO incredible. It's simply delicious, while looking fancy, and being hearty and filling all at the same time. It is French Onion Soup, but on it is: Onion Soup with Loads of Thyme and Giant Gruyere Crostini, which is much more fancy sounding. And let me tell you, the secret to this soup is the cheese. Gruyere cheese is a little pricey, but it is totally worth it to make this bowl of goodness blow your mind. Sometimes, if we're having a large group of people over and we don't want to spend too much money, we'll do a 50/50 mix of Swiss cheese and Gruyere, and it still is amazing. But quite honestly, we usually spend the money on the cheese because all the other ingredients are pretty cheap! And it really does make a lot! And now that we have our fancy-schmancy food processor, slicing the onions is a breeze!! I usually double the recipe on the website so that we can have some leftovers, because I want to have a fancy lunch the next day too! If you ever want to have a nice dinner for yourself or family, or if you need a crowd-pleaser meal, this one is sure to meet all expectations! It also leaves your house (or in our case, hallway in the condo building) smell delicious for hours! Some advice - I like to tie up the thyme sprigs so that it is easy to remove the one bundle rather than fish out all of the individual sprigs (I did that once - not fun). I usually like to try to cook with low sodium broth, but some of the flavor is lost with so much liquid, so I added in a beef bullion (which has a lot of sodium too, but considering I added it to more than four times the liquid it called for, I figure it will not add much sodium to each individual serving). Also, I will be soon trying to make this with vegetable broth so that our vegetarian friends can enjoy it as well.
In order to devour this soup, we use spoon, knife and fork (whatever works best) to get the contents in our mouths. Simply amazing.

Hot Chocolate 15K

Yesterday was the big race! It was a beautiful crisp fall day. The temperature was 28 degrees and there were almost no clouds in the sky. The route, in my opinion was a little boring race-wise, but it was very pretty. We went down south along the lake for about 4.5 miles and turned around to see a great view of the city skyline from the south, and ran straight back. There were so many people!!! I can't find an exact report of how many people registered, but I heard that it was around 30,000 people for the 5K and the 15K total. I had a really hard time starting out because there were so many people. I had to do a lot of zig zagging, and even then, I couldn't really get into my pace. Finally around about mile 4, I was able to get into the groove a bit more, but the path was still pretty crowded. I felt my legs getting tired around mile 7, but it was great to be able to push through it and keep running faster and faster. I really tried to push myself this race, and it felt great! I'm pleased to say that I did not walk during the race, which is a great mark in training for me. I ended up with a finishing time just two minutes more than what my goal was, but when I figure in how I had such a hard time starting out, I think that I actually did run really well. Next time, I'll start farther up in the heats so that I don't get stuck behind so many people. I'm really excited to find another race to run!
Bryan bikes around the courses of races to see me, and this is the first time we saw each other! He tried to meet me at miles one and three, but I had already past those spots! Thanks to technology, we can text locations to each other so we're sure to find each other in such large crowds. Once he realized he was a bit behind, he jumped up to mile 5.5 and saw me on this relatively open patch after we had already turned to come back. I typed in "This is me!" above my head.
Here is the view of the city from the south. Bryan gave me great words of encouragement, and he headed back north to catch me at the finish line!
 Here I am, the finish is right ahead, and I'm determined to end strong!
Just up the way is the finish! It was a great run!

Pre-race Carb Load

This past week I was gearing up for the Hot Chocolate 15K Race! About a week and a half ago, I didn't know if I'd be able to run as a result of a back injury that caused about a week of extreme pain. On Tuesday of this past week, I was starting to feel better and actually think about running this Saturday. Each day got much better and by Saturday, I was as good as new! There was no need to do extreme tapering since I'd already cut out almost all exercise to recuperate. All I could do was carb load. And let me tell you, I DID! Thursday we had some sausage stuffed ravioli with spicy red sauce, a simple pasta staple around here. But on Friday, I just wanted to have a killer pre-race dinner.

Remember when I mentioned the Pappardelle's sweet potato pasta from the French Market post? I was ready to try this stuff out. At the Pappardelle shop, the lady told me that I could find interesting recipes on their website, so I thought I'd start there. I clicked on recipes, and saw that there are many to choose from (I'll have to look into those later!). I scrolled down to the sweet potato pasta, and found the recipe to match the noodles. This recipe sounded really great, and easy too! Click here to see the recipe.The only thing I did differently is I quadrupled the garlic. Everything is better with more garlic :)

Oh my gosh, this dish is seriously amazing! It is a must try for anyone interested in trying something new. The noodles are cut wide, flat and super looong! They smelled really good too! When we strained the noodles, the pot still smelled amazing from the aroma of the noodles!
 Basically, you want to boil the water and get the butter and garlic going. Then, add the noodles to the boiling water and finish up the sauce while the noodles cook. It's super easy, and is quick for an amazing weeknight  meal, and you're sure to impress whoever eats it. Seriously. Bryan was a little wishy-washy when I wanted to buy the sweet potato noodles, but I insisted that I would make them taste incredible. He was simply amazed at how good the sauce paired with the pasta to become an ooey gooey plate of goodness. The walnuts add great texture and flavor to the dish as well. If I haven't convinced you yet that you should make this pasta, just you wait.
The sauce is so incredible. It's just butter, garlic, walnuts, mascarpone cheese and grated parmesan. It's so simple, and OH SOOO GOOD! The mascarpone cheese is so smooth and silky, it's like BUTTAH. I tasted the sauce once it was done, and it was near perfect on its own. It just needed a little freshly ground pepper. Perfection.
The pasta looked so pretty when it was tossed into the sauce too! I just couldn't stop taking photos of the pasta! It's a good thing I have a patient husband... His patience paid off when he took his first bite! I don't even know if either of us had any words, but just "MMM!" and "Wow, this is amazing!"
That's ONE noodle all twirled around my fork! Just one noodle is a bite! Holy cow, these noodles are super long! And SO good! I served the pasta with an organic mixed greens salad tossed with our homemade balsamic vinaigrette that is comprised of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, one minced garlic, and a teaspoon of dijon mustard all shaken up. It's so good, and pairs really well with heavier pasta dishes with tartness. The next time you want to try something new, this pasta dish is sure to be a success. And I'm pretty sure it's going to become a weekly or bi-monthly staple around here!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dimitri Stories

Story number one: This first story takes me back to falafel night. As I was getting all the food prepared in the kitchen, I had lit a couple candles in the bathrooms, ya know, to make sure the place smells good for guests. Candles are nothing new to Dimitri. We have them around and light them often. He already should know to keep his distance from them since he singed the tips of his long eyebrow hairs a few weeks ago because he was curious and got too close to one. He usually likes to “help out” in the kitchen when I’m there, so at one point I picked him up for a cuddle and maybe a treat when I noticed his fur along one side felt oddly textured. I looked and there was nothing there. It was then that I noticed his front left paw was covered in *already dried* red candle wax. Immediately, I searched his body searching for burns or signs of trauma. His side fur felt slightly singed, but nothing was visible. He seemed fine, but he kept trying to shake off the wax from his paw. It was dried into his fur down to his skin! And he has long fur, as you know. Since the kitty was fine, I decided to check out the damage in the bathroom. Sure enough, the flame was out and there was dried red wax everywhere. He had obviously put his paw into the candle, and when it was too hot, he had tried to shake it off as he initiated an explosion of candle wax all over the mirror, counter, toilet and floor – which was now dried, and might I add, NOT coming off. At this point, I realize that I have about two hours until our guests arrive and a lot more to do than time to do it. I text Bryan and tell him that we have to do some damage control when he gets home in an hour. I slowly and meticulously cleaned the bathroom thinking it will be easier to deal with Dimitri with two people. That candle wax was tricky to get off the mirror, but little by little it came off. Dimitri was up next. I started to Google different ways to get candle wax off of pet hair. It turns out, this is a common issue with pet owners. I should have known! First suggestion: peanut butter. I think, “That’s great! I remember needing to use that when I was little to get gum out of my hair! It is surely to work.” Sure, it works. If you have peanut butter in your cupboard. Who doesn’t have peanut butter? What was I thinking – I had just gone to the store that day! Okay, what’s next. Second suggestion: baby oil. Hmm. Sure, that would work great on skin where it can be easily wiped off, but it’s probably not best for an animal who is likely to clean itself with its tongue later. Third suggestion: Vegetable oil or olive oil. DONE. Got plenty of that! Dimitri was chilling out in the second bathroom sink. Perfect, I think, so he can’t get away while I’m trying to peel off wax from his paw hair. He didn’t mind too much after all. I guess he wanted the wax off too! After about 45 minutes of rubbing the oil in and picking it out bit by bit, I had gotten most of it out. Now his paw was an oily mess! When I lifted him out of the sink, I realized that his hair whole underside was pretty much an oily mess from catching the oil that didn’t make it to his paw as he was laying in the sink – not good for traipsing around the house and jumping/lying on our bed and furniture. Bryan came home at this point, and laughed of course. I needed to get back in the kitchen, but it was clear that Dimitri needed a bath. Bryan was on it. Dimitri had one bath prior to this. He didn’t mind it too much, until he was cold and wet after the bath. He was a little more apprehensive this time. Bryan was quick and pretty soon, we had a clean wet kitty running around again. No more wax on him! He gets pretty exhausted after cleaning/drying himself, so he was a sleepy kitty in just a couple of hours. If you ever need to get candle wax off of a pet, and you DON’T have peanut butter, the oil works. Then give a bath. A tip on giving the bath – put the towel you’re going to use on your pet in the dryer while you’re giving the bath. Dimitri loved sitting all bundled up in the warm towel after being taken out of the tub!

Story number two: I remember being appalled the day when little tiny Dimitri, for the first time, jumped up onto the counter top. I knew he’d eventually be able to do this, and we were going to try to preemptively train him not to do this, but I so caught off guard when his little six inch tall body gained the UPS to jump that high! He had just gained the muscle strength to jump onto our bed not long before! I guess Siberians really are an athletic breed! Well, the other day, I was astonished again. Let me start this story by saying that Dimitri really likes to play with ice cubes. Whenever we are getting ice for a glass of water or even opening the freezer, he thinks we are getting him an ice cube to play with. And we generally give him one. It’s so cute. I digress. I went to the freezer to get an ice cube a couple of days ago, and there he was, right at my feet hoping I’d toss him an ice cube. Or so I thought. I looked down at him, and he leapt up ALL the way into the freezer. Mind you, it’s as tall as my chest on top of our refrigerator! I was astonished, and had him do it again so that Bryan could see that it was not a fluke! Wow buddy, you’ve got some UPS! At least we know that he can’t do that while we are gone.

Story number three: I remember researching the Siberian cat breed before we bought one and a lot of websites boasted that Siberians are the cats that are most like dogs for all sorts of reasons like being social, loyal, playful, cuddly, great with kids and other pets, and you can teach them things like games and fetch. I thought all these things were great, but was really thinking, okay, it’ll just be a pretty well rounded cat who is fun and cuddly. I have to admit, Dimitri is the most social, loving, playful, cuddly and fun cat that I’ve ever had and he certainly lives up to, and maybe even surpasses, all of the boasting I read on multiple websites. Yes, I said ALL of the characteristics. I realized yesterday morning, at about 6am, that Dimitri can play fetch. We didn’t even intentionally teach him! Bryan left early to vote at 6am before catching the 6:30am train, and I was going to get up around 6:30am. Usually when one of us gets up, Dimitri is up for good, so I am used to him jumping up and wanting to play or cuddle, but I’m usually able to fall back asleep. Not this time. He was playing with his little mousey toy on our bed, right by my face. Groggily, I threw it off the bed into the hallway so that he’d go play out there. It usually works. But, before I could even roll over, he was up at my head again, with his little mousey in his mouth and he dropped it on the bed and looked at me. I threw it into the hallway again. He brought it right up to my face again. This time, I got out of bed, walked into the hallway, and threw it down the hallway all the way under the kitchen table. There, that’ll keep him occupied, I thought. Before I could climb back into bed and lay down, guess who was right there, with his little mousey. That’s right, my fetch playing little Dimitri. What a funny little stinker! He sure does keep the surprises coming!

French Market

I knew there would be a perfect time to write about the French Market that is across the street from our building in downtown Chicago.

It’s fun to stroll over to the market on weekend days when we don’t have much going on and planning our dinner on what we find. One of my favorite shops is this pasta shop that sells Pappardelle’s Pasta. This pasta is handmade, using the finest ingredients. The noodles are really loooooong, and they have all sorts of interesting flavors (including chocolate hazelnut dessert ravioli!!). We bought garlic spinach, sundried tomato, and sweet potato pasta. Our plan was to combine the garlic spinach and roasted tomato basil pasta with some lightly sautéed vegetables and make a sauce. We picked up some red and green bell peppers, tomatoes, and green onions and we were ready to go!

Sidebar: My favorite pastry shop in the French Market is Vanille Patisserie. All of their desserts are designed to perfection with layers of textures and flavors topped with accessories I didn’t even think would be edible. They have quite a few regular desserts lining the shelves and new ones pop up every now and then along with some seasonal delights.  
Anyway, back at home we got going on the pasta. As the pasta was cooking, we simply sautéed the chopped veggies in olive oil with some garlic and a variety of seasonings (we add the tomatoes at the very end). Once the noodles were drained and placed back into the pot, we started making the sauce by stirring it right into the hot noodles. We used reserve noodle water, a little half and half, grated parmesan cheese, a little butter, and freshly ground black pepper. Sometimes I’ll splash in a little lemon or lime juice too. So simple and so good. We then plated the noodles, topped them with the sautéed veggies, fresh basil and parsley, a little grated parmesan cheese, and a little freshly ground black pepper again. Delicious. We enjoyed the pasta with a deep red Malbec. Perfection. 

The uncooked noodles

Cooked noodles with our homemade sauce

With all the veggies and toppings
The pasta tasted great! The combination of the garlic spinach and the sundried tomato flavors were really awesome together. I highly recommend giving these a try. I’m really excited to try a new recipe with the sweet potato pasta!