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!