Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Running Struggles

For the past two weeks, I’ve had some muscle pain in my right leg. At first I thought I’d pulled my groin, but then the pain started changing. I couldn’t stretch it out for the life of me and other muscles started to hurt too, because they had to compensate for my non-working muscle. After a couple of days off early last week, it seemed like the pain was more focused on my gracilis muscle. I worked out a couple of days in the middle of the week, to see if it I could run through the pain or not. It turned out, that I could not and I didn’t want to injure myself any further. I took it easy the rest of last week and took Easter weekend and the following Monday off from working out at all.

It is very difficult not to work out when you want to, but sometimes you have to take care of yourself and realize that an injury needs to heal before you can really benefit from working out. Yesterday, I hopped onto the treadmill and finally felt okay. I didn’t feel any pain at all until about mile 3, where I felt a dull pain in my leg, and at that point I decided not to push myself too hard. I ran 4 miles and stretched for a long time afterword. I think all the resting I did worked and the muscle will be okay. I just need to keep an eye on it and not push too hard right away. Hopefully, I’ll be as good as new coming into May because that is when my official marathon training starts up!

PS - While writing this post and researching a photo of the gracilis muscle, I discovered that the gracilis muscle has a Facebook page. Wow.

Easter in Minneapolis

This past weekend, Bryan and I went back to Minneapolis to spend Easter with his family. It was a quick little trip, but we packed the weekend with fun. We even brought Dimitri along! He is such a great little travel companion! During the car ride, he just sits and stretches out and sleeps on the passenger’s lap (usually me) the entire way and rarely makes a peep! He is so cute and cuddly! At Bryan’s parents’ house, he likes to run up and down the stairs and play on them because we don’t have stairs in our condo. He also likes to run around the house chasing squirrels and birds through the windows. Good thing he figured out how to climb on top of our walls, otherwise he’d think our place is super boring!

Friday night, we met up with our great friends and enjoyed some wine at one of their houses before going out for cocktails at the Bradstreet Crafthouse. The cocktail lounge is really chill and they have the best cocktails ever! The ice served with the drinks has unique shapes to allow for a larger surface area so that the ice melts slower and your drink doesn’t get watered down. The drinks in tumblers have large sphere ice cubes and drinks in tall skinny glasses have a rectangular column shaped ice cube. The drinks are very unique and delicious, and the small plates we ordered were fantastic! It was awesome to have a fun night with the group!

After getting up early on Saturday morning to help Bryan’s mom make this chocolate peanut butter torte for Bryan’s birthday round two, we met up with the group again for some much needed brunch. Hanging out once just isn’t enough. We hardly get to see our group of friends! We met up at Blackbird Café, which has a great neighborhood feel and friendly atmosphere (but what am I saying, we were in Minnesota where everyone is friendly). Every item on the menu looked delicious, so Bryan and I decided to go halfsies in order to try more items. The food totally hit the spot, along with the 4 cups of coffee! I know I’ll definitely be hitting this place up again soon! It was so great to have more time to catch up with our friends too. Love you guys!

Saturday night we celebrated Bryan’s birthday again (remember the whole birthday month thing?! Yeah, it’s awesome) by having a delicious dinner with his parents and brother, sister-in-law and their baby Jonah. His gift from his parents was a gift certificate to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra! If you don’t know, we are both cellists and pretty big music nerds, so this was such a great idea and much appreciated! We got on the CSO site and found quite a few concerts that we are interested in. (Oh, and by the way, we have had tickets since October to see Yo-Yo-Ma play the Schumann cello concerto with the CSO on May 14th! Super excited for that!) My birthday present actually arrived while we were there also! It was delayed on backorder for a few months, but it finally came! It’s an electric pie maker that fits four 4 inch mini pies at a time and it came with an awesome recipe book! I can’t wait to try it! Sadly, the pie creating will probably have to wait for the weekend because Bryan is working nights at his ER rotation this week and since I’m making dinner for one, my meals (if you can call them that) are usually quick, simple and eaten while watching TV or at my computer. I know, I’m lame. I mean, I’ve barely had time to keep up with my trashy reality shows due to our recent obsession of Lost that we’ve been streaming on Netflix! True story.

The rest of the weekend was dedicated to family and celebrating Easter. After the Easter service at church and eating some awesome food at Chez Daniel with more extended family, we drove back home to Chicago with our little cuddly Dimitri. It was a fast trip, but totally worth the drive! Back to the work week… and working out, more on that next!!!

Steak and Sweet Potato Fries

Tonight, Bryan is working a night shift, so I have major plans of catching up on Top Chef (haven't watched in 3 weeks) and blogging! Here we go!

Last week, before going to Minneapolis for Easter, the weather was really nice and we thought it would be great grilling weather and we both immediately wanted a nice juicy steak. Bryan and I also decided to experiment with some sweet potatoes. We usually make Cajun mashed sweet potatoes, but this time we thought we’d change it up and make sweet potato fries! I blog stalked and Googled a few recipes and after about 10 minutes of searching, I created our own seasoning recipe and I was super excited!

First, peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into fry like strips – thick or thin, whatever you like. I prefer a little thicker for homemade fries. Then, place them in a medium sized bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, Italian seasoning and Cajun seasoning and blend until all the fries are seasoned. While the olive oil is necessary to get the seasoning to stick to the fries, I read that it helps to sprinkle in some corn starch to help absorb some of the oil so that your fries aren’t too greasy. This trick worked like a charm!

Spread them evenly on a baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for about 8 minutes. Turn them over on the baking sheet and add more seasoning if you like and bake for another 8 minutes. As soon as they are crunchy on the outside and slightly browned, they are ready!

We enjoyed these babies dipped in the homemade mayo sauce that I made previously to go with the fried avocado strips and it was delicious! This dish would be perfect for a side dish of a quick weeknight dinner or even a BBQ because they are definitely going to be a crowd pleaser and they are easy to make in bulk. I’ll definitely be making them again in the near future because they were so amazing!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dimitri Stories

For those of you who don’t know about how cool our cat Dimitri is…. I will inform you! We got him because I desperately wanted a cat, but Bryan is allergic to cats. I did some research and discovered that Siberians are a hypoallergenic breed. Bryan has had no reaction to him! We seriously love this little guy like crazy and he is the best cat ever! Siberians are known to be very energetic and athletic cats (as well as very social and lovable, but I’ll save that for later) and this past week, he discovered that he can reach new heights in our condo. The walls that divide the living room from our bedroom and the kitchen from the spare room/study do not go all the way to the ceiling. They’re about 2/3 the height and have a nice ledge on top for Dimitri to scamper along. We knew eventually that he’d probably get up there, but we had no idea when he’d actually try. We bought him a play tower that has a pedestal on top that is 6 feet tall, so I thought he would easily jump from there. He got on his hind feet and looked a few times, but never made the leap (I think because he didn’t know how safe it was or how much room he’d have to balance). 

Then, this week, he found his way up there through a shelving system in our closet and from there could wander all around at new heights. He even makes a leap from one wall to the top of our closets! What an acrobat! 

He’s enjoyed trying to jump down onto different surfaces, including our bed while we’re in it, as well as stretching all out watching TV from his stadium seat perch. 

Cats just love being up high and he’s certainly been excited to discover a new pastime that is probably more interesting than stairs at my in-law's house. He is definitely the king of the household now!

Deviled Eggs

On Saturday, we were invited to our friends Dan and Adrie's house for a BBQ! However, due to weather issues, it had to be moved inside. The great part was that everyone kept the BBQ spirit and all of the food was still outdoor/grilling/BBQ themed and we ended up having a great night playing games and didn’t mind at all that the weather moved us inside! When is this dreary Chicago weather going to turn into Spring?! I had to get my winter coat back out this week because it’s been in the 30’s while walking to and from work!

Our contribution to the BBQ was deviled eggs! I’ve been having a craving, so I knew what I would bring right away! The only dilemma? I’ve never made deviled eggs before! I knew the basic concept and checked out a few recipes that seemed pretty boring to me. So I made my own up!

Deviled Eggs: I used 8 hard boiled eggs, because that’s what we had on hand. Then, I removed the yolks and put them in a medium sized bowl. I added a little olive oil mayo, hot sauce, cracked salt and pepper, garlic powder, Papa Gators Cajun Seasoning and chili powder. I just added a little of each and tasted as I went, until it was perfect. And let me tell you, this mixture was awesome! I then used a ziplock bag with one corner cut off to pipe the mixture into the egg whites. I topped with paprika. You must give it a try for your first BBQ of the spring!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte

I've had this dessert planned for Bryan's birthday since last May - 11 months in advance! My friend Taylor made this dessert for her boyfriend's birthday then and when I saw it, I knew it would be perfect for Bryan's birthday too. He loves anything peanut butter and chocolate! I do too, but he's the one who grew up on peanut butter cup ice cream, when I usually prefer cookies and cream. So, I knew that this recipe would be perfect for a die-hard fan of the peanut butter and chocolate combo!

There is a little bit of planning involved in making this dish. I made the torte the night before his birthday so that it could set in the fridge overnight. Bryan actually helped me out in making the chocolate ganache topping the next day because we were going out to Cafe Iberico right when I got home from work, and we wanted to be able to dig into this torte right when we got back!

We were not the least bit disappointed! This torte is amazing!!! I wouldn't change a thing about it! I urge you to make this dessert the next time you need to impress someone because it is sure to be a crowd pleaser! The plus side, it looks fancy and is not even hard to make!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte
from Brown Eyed Baker 


24 Oreo cookies, finely crumbled, or ground in a food processor
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup chopped peanuts, divided
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp instant coffee
1/4 tsp cinnamon
dash nutmeg
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, or chopped semisweet chocolate
2 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted 
12 oz cream cheese, at room temperature (this is 1 1/2 of normal sized cream cheese logs)
1 1/2 cups peanut buter
2 tbsp whole milk
4 oz chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

For the crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray 9 inch springform pan with cooking spray, and place on baking sheet. 

Combine the finely crushed Oreos, salt, and melted butter and mix until crumbs are moistened.  Press into prepared springform pan to evenly cover the bottom, and 2" up the side of the pan.  Bake for 10 minutes.  
For the filling:
Combine 1/2 cup of the chopped peanuts, the granulated sugar, instant coffee, cinnamon, nutmeg, and chocolate chips and toss in small bowl.  Set aside.  
Whip 2 cups of the cream with an electric mixer until it holds medium peaks (medium peaks retain marks of the whip and will hold a soft peak that droops over slightly).  Beat in 1/4 cup of the confectioner's sugar and beat until the whipped cream holds medium-firm peaks.  Transfer to a separate bowl (if you will need the same bowl to mix together the cream cheese and peanut butter) and place it in the refrigerator.  
In mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and remaining 1 cup of confectioners' sugar until smooth.  Beat in all of the peanut butter, 1/4 cup chopped peanuts, and the milk.  
With a rubber spatula, gently fold in a quarter of the whipped cream.  Add the peanut/coffee/chocolate mixture you made earlier, gently folding in.  Lastly, add the rest of the whipped cream and gently fold in. Scrape this mixture into your prepared crust.  
Refrigerate 4 hours, or overnight to let mousse firm.  
After the mousse has firmed, make the ganache.  Place chopped chocolate in a bowl.  In small saucepan, bring remaining 1/2 cup cream to a boil.  Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate, let sit for one minute, then stir to completely blend.  Pour ganache over mousse, and spread evenly with a spatula.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of chopped peanuts over the ganache, and chill to set the topping.  This takes about 20 minutes.    
When the ganache is firm, you will want to remove the sides of the springform pan.  It was recommended to do this by warming the pan with a hairdryer for a few seconds or placing a warm, damp towel around the pan for 20 seconds.  I used the hairdryer method and it worked great.  Chill the torte until ready to serve.   

Cafe Iberico

As I have mentioned before, we celebrate birthdays for a few days, and sometime weeks around here, which is fun. This week, on Bryan's actual birthday, we celebrated by going to a fun restaurant that’s been on our list: Café Iberico! It’s a Spanish tapas bar that had quite a lively ambiance! It smelled delicious from the moment we opened the door, and we were not disappointed. The first cocktail we noticed on the list was the caipirinha, which we had in Brazil two summers ago, so we each ordered one right away! It is made with Brazil’s most common alcoholic beverage Cachaça, sugar and lime. Super tasty! Then we followed with red wine for the main dishes. We ordered some tostadas to start with, followed by mussels, a scallop dish and finished off with a steak dish. I was a huge fan of the mussels and the scallops! It was a really good experience, and a fun way to celebrate Bryan's birthday, but I think that overall, we preferred another tapas place that we went to last year called Café Ba Ba Reeba.

Surprise in Minnesota

We spent this last weekend in Minnesota for a quick surprise. With the help of Bryan’s dad, brother and sister in-law, we were able to surprise Bryan’s mom for her 60th birthday! Her birthday was actually the weekend before (right before Bryan's), but getting back to Minnesota then conflicted with our schedule because that's when my sister was in town. It ended up working out very well because since her actual birthday had already passed, she was not expecting anything of the sort!

We had planned to surprise her at the restaurant Porter and Frye, in the Ivy Tower in downtown Minneapolis prior to going to a Vocal Essence concert. The restaurant was totally awesome! Any Minneapolite readers should give it a try!! The concert was also very good and I saw some fellow Oles singing!

We were also able to get some good aunt and uncle time in with our little nephew Jonah!

What a cutie!

After church on Sunday, we enjoyed a long family style brunch at Crave, which was also super yummy! It was so great to have a fun weekend with Bryan's family, even though it had to be a super quick trip. We're looking forward to seeing all of you again at Easter!

Shrimp Spring Rolls

Bryan’s birthday was this week! He turned 27! Typically around our place, we celebrate birthdays a few days before and a few days after – sort of like a birthday week (sometimes month!), which is really fun because we don’t feel like we have to cram a bunch of things into one day, especially with our busy schedules. Plus, who doesn’t want their birthday celebrations to last longer?!

Last week on Thursday, we made a birthday dinner together of shrimp spring rolls! They were so incredibly delicious that I’m sure we’ll be making them, and probably a few variations of them, in the near future! (We definitely did - we made these bad babies again last night!) I just had the idea one day that shrimp spring rolls sounded like a fantastic idea. I did some simple Google searching and came up with our own recipe! It’s quite easy, but just takes a little assembling time.

Shrimp Spring Rolls

Rice paper rounds (our grocery store didn’t have these, so I used wonton egg noodle wraps, which worked just fine)
Cooked, deveined shrimp
Shredded cabbage
Shredded carrots
Sliced green onion
Canola or vegetable oil for frying

Dipping sauces:
Variety of sauces: We used sweet and sour, teriyaki, thai peanut and chili garlic sauce.

Our shrimp was cooked, but I lightly sautéed the shrimp with sweet and sour sauce, lemon juice and cracked black pepper to give it some flavor.

Assemble the rolls: Place a little bit of each vegetable and a couple shrimps onto each wrap and roll like a burrito (up with the bottom, in with the sides and roll up to finish). We also used some of the leftover cooking sauce from the shrimp to line the sides of the wraps so that they would stick together and not fall apart while frying.

Fry each roll for a few minutes on each side until golden brown.

Serve with dipping sauces!

Wandering Chicago - The Bean and The Hancock

Yes, I'm still playing catch up on my blog posts. It seemed as if I ended up with so many posts and no time to write them up and get the posted!! Well, since it's Thursday and my day off, I finally have some time to catch up.

Back to when my sister was in town:

On Saturday, while Brandee and Aaron were still in town, we walked over to Millennium Park to take pictures by the bean and walk around downtown.

We ended our afternoon with cocktails at the top of the Hancock Building, which is always a fun place to take out-of-towners because you can see awesome views of the entire city!

 Love that view! After our day out, we had a chill evening at home with a great meal, some wine and games. It was so fun to have you guys out to visit! Hope to see you again soon!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Topo Gigio and Second City

The next night my sister was in Chicago, we had plans to go shopping on Michigan Avenue, go to a nice dinner and then enjoy a comedy show at Second City. It was raining all day, so we had a leisurely morning and worked out, and wandered around Michigan while darting into bars and pubs to warm up and tasting some wine. We went to The Purple Pig, which I had been curious about for a while. It had a great ambiance inside and the wine was delicious! We also tasted some cheese and seasoned almonds which were both crazy delicious!

A bit later, we headed out to Topo Gigio, an Italian restaurant in Old Town, just north of downtown and just two blocks away from Second City. The inside was so cute. It actually felt as if we were in Italy. It smelled delicious at the door and the interior was quite cozy. The food was incredibly delicious! Brandee and I split a traditional Spaghetti Bolognese which was awesome!! I will definitely go to this restaurant again if I’m in the neighborhood or need a good Italian fix.

After dinner, we walked over to Second City to enjoy the comedy show. We have been to this comedy club only once before and had a great time, and we knew that it wouldn’t disappoint. Instead of being stand-up comedy, it’s more like sketch comedy with multiple actors in each scene. It’s cool how they all sort of tie into each other throughout the show and I also liked that a broad spectrum of topics were covered from politics and the economy to everyday life at the office. The actors are just plain hilarious. I wrote a post about Second City once here, and mentioned a lot of the big name comedians who have gone through Second City. It was a great end to a fun evening!

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Last weekend my sister and her boyfriend came to visit from Southern California. We went to Blackbird, a restaurant nearby that Bryan and I have been wanting to try since we moved downtown. The restaurant has been open since 1999, but it's done so well that there is still quite a bit of hype about it! Paul Kahan, the executive chef, has a few restaurants within a few blocks radius and is known as one of America's most influential chefs and has won many awards.

Needless to say, it was about time we made it to this restaurant! The restaurant itself was pretty small on the inside, but every time I walk by it is just packed and the night we went was no exception. I had reservations weeks in advance. The food was very delicious! We split appetizers of smoked duck liver pate with baby carrots, pickled mustard seeds, rye bread and burnt caramel vinegar and a salad of endives with crispy potatoes, basil, dijon, pancetta and poached egg. Both were awesome! I ordered alaskan sablefish and sweet potato brandade, shrimp braised onions, turmeric and pickled cranberries. The fish was delicious, but a bit salty after a while. A bite with all the components was perfect. It's never a good idea to delay posts, because I can't remember what all of the others ordered! Everyone enjoyed their dishes and we had a great night!

Here's my dish:

All in all, I think it was a great experience to check out this restaurant to satisfy my curiosity, but I think that the food was a bit overpriced. I think that it was worth it for the whole experience, and the food was incredibly delicious!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New Look

My blog is going through some changes!! Some of the elements are still under construction, so please be patient while I work on them! I hope to be done very soon... The problem is finding the time to put them all together!

As you can see, there are tabs at the top of the blog where you'll be able to see posts and other info in those categories! I'll make sure to let you know when those are all set up!

My sister and her boyfriend from Southern California came to visit over the weekend, so I have about 5 posts to put together. We went to a couple much anticipated restaurants and embraced the city. I was planning on writing a few tonight, but after my workout I got sidetracked in the blog remodeling project. Stay tuned to read some incredible restaurant reviews and see some great photos of Chicago!

What do you think of the new look? Any suggestions?