March 2011

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[whale-print paper from vineyard vines {thanks mom!}. letterpress calendar from chicago-based orange beautiful]

Some ideas to warm up your Wednesday…

  • try a new recipe
  • treat yourself to a new pair of shoes[or in my case, some fig vanilla black pepper syrup i read about to drizzle over ice cream, coffee, tea ... so many possibilities]
  • go for a light jog [bundle up if you're in chicago... brrr! spring has not sprung, not even close]
  • make some homemade trail mix to snack on throughout the day when you crave something salty and sweet [mix 1/2 cup oven roasted almonds with sea salt + 1/2 cup raisins.]
  • take a moment to enjoy a breath of fresh air
  • start a new book [i'm reading 'a thousand splendid suns' by khaled hosseini right now {thanks deirdre!} and am hooked.]
  • make a simple piece of jewelry [last fall i took a class at caravan beads at lincoln + roscoe. they have all sorts of cool beads that will get your creative juices flowing.]

[a bead-ish looking jelly bean]

What are some of the ways you spice up the midweek mopes?

 

 

 

 

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Continuing the theme of vegetarian meals, I put together this coconut curry tofu that’s chock full of so many veggies you won’t even miss the meat. I’ve always enjoyed curry dishes and although it’s possible to make your own curry paste, it’s pretty time consuming and the packets you can buy at the store taste just as good – plus the unused portion will keep in your fridge for months. My favorite is ‘A Taste of Thai’ red curry paste, it has a great spicy kick to it.

If you’re like Vince and are afraid of tofu, don’t be, it’s delicious and absorbs the flavor of whatever sauce it happens to be simmering in. It’s also a breeze to cook with, you can throw it into pretty much anything without any prep work [unlike chicken... sometimes the sliminess of chicken gets to me]. You can find it in the produce section of  most grocery stores and if my two nieces [c = 11 months, her first birthday is in 2 weeks!, and m = 3 years] love it, you will too.

Coconut Curry Tofu

  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp ‘A Taste of Thai’ red curry paste
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 bunch basil, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1/2 bell pepper, chopped [pick your favorite color or mix'n match like I did]
  • 1 bunch snow peas [in the pod], halved
  • 10 grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 7 oz. extra firm organic tofu [half the package], cut into bite-sized cubes

Bring coconut milk, soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar, and curry paste to a boil. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot and let simmer for 8-10 minutes. Let mixture stand for 2-3 minutes to thicken. Ladle over whole grain brown rice. Serves two plus leftovers.

[the vibrant colors of these veggies practically leap off the cutting board]

[the lineup continued... coconut milk + soy sauce + fish sauce]

[coconut milk + soy sauce make a pretty design in the pan]

 

 

 

 


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I learned a valuable lesson with dinner last night: it is very possible for you to over salt your pasta water. I was standing by the stove top absentmindedly tipping my sea salt into the pot [watching a dvr'd episode of real housewives of oc, no less] when half the container accidentally dumped into the water. Eek. I debated for a second then reasoned, most of the salt gets poured down the drain with the water so how much actually sticks to the pasta? I threw some tortellini in the pot without a second thought. Ten minutes ticked by and the pasta looked done. I took one bite and promptly tossed the batch into the trash – I could barely stomach it, it was like eating a hunk of salt – [shudder]. A new package of pasta and some conservative pinches of salt later I came up with my red, white, and green tortellini. It’s another simple meatfree option for these Lenten Fridays and only has four main ingredients, easy peasy japaneasy.

Basil, Tomato + Spinach Tortellini

  • 1 package buitoni all natural spinach cheese tortellini
  • sprinkling of parmesan cheese
  • 8 grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

Bring a pot of water to a boil, gently salt, then add tortellini. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until al dente. While pasta is cooking, slice tomatoes and basil. Add cooked pasta to all remaining ingredients and toss together. Yum!

red.

white.

+ green.

ta-da!

 

 

 

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Ever since I saw Lindsay Lohan’s character dunk an oreo in a jar of peanut butter in The Parent Trap, I was hooked on the snack. I found this recipe for a no bake bar [my first] and had all the ingredients on hand. Remembering how good peanut butter + oreos are together, I strayed from the recipe and added a touch of peanut butter to the mix. I also didn’t have a full package of oreos so I improvised and added some reduced-fat chips ahoys.

Cookies’n Cream Bars

  • 1 package oreos [I used Trader Joe's Joe-Joes  {like oreos but better} and again, only had half a package so I used some reduced-fat chips ahoys. use any cookies you have.]
  • 2 spoonfuls natural peanut butter
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 package mini marshmallows

Place cookies in a ziploc bag and crush [doesn't need to be a fine crush]. Place marshmallows, butter, and peanut butter in a large mixing bowl and microwave for 1.5 – 2 minutes or until marshmallows begin to puff. Remove and pour in cookie mixture. Stir to combine then transfer to a foil lined 8×8 baking pan. Let sit for 10 minutes. Remove bars out of pan with edges of foil and cut into squares. Makes 9 large bars. Told you it was easy!

 

 

 

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{When life hands you mushy bananas…}

I had a couple bananas that were turning on me and it was the perfect time to bake a batch of banana bread. In the spirit of St. Pat’s I wanted to add some green flair to my grandma’s recipe but without any green food coloring in the cupboard I wasn’t sure how to pull it off. As my eyes settled on the basil pot on the windowsill it hit me, why not give the savory Italian herb a try? I had a hunch the subtle, slightly minty flavors of the basil would compliment the sugary sweetness of the banana nicely. Although I didn’t get the vibrant green hue I was hoping for, the incidental marrying of flavors was right on.

Basil Banana Bread

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3-4 ripe bananas
  • 1-2 tsp sour cream, if you have it
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1 bunch [4-5 large leaves] fresh basil, chopped

Reserve:

  • 1/3 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 3-4 large basil leaves, chopped – for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix butter, sugar, bananas, sour cream, water, chocolate chips, basil and eggs thoroughly in big bowl with electric mixer. Mix remaining dry ingredients and add to wet mixture slowly [otherwise the flour will fly everywhere and make a huge lovely mess...]. When all ingredients are combined, gently fold in reserved chocolate chips with a spatula. Grease one large loaf pan. Bake in oven 35-40 minutes or until butter knife inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on rack, remove from pan, slice, top with reserved basil. Enjoy a piece for breakfast [wrap in a lightly damp paper towel and steam it the microwave for 15 seconds. Slather a pat of butter on top while still warm], or have a slice as a sweet after dinner treat.

 

 

 

 

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[r + r]

This weekend while the rest of Chicago was getting saucy & celebrating St. Pat’s, Vince and I roadtripped to Cleveland for my mom’s birthday. Although we missed the bulk of the St. Patty’s festivities, it was one of those weekends that hit the spot; relaxing and good for the soul. We caught up on lots of sleep + quality fam time, had brunch with some of my high school pals, and topped it off with a birthday lunch celebrating my mom.

[trust.]

[team effort]

 

[party dress fit for a twirl]

 

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[lenten lunch]

Ladies + gents, the season of Lent is upon us, which you probably know means no meat on Fridays for the next 40 days. Typically I’ll forget about this until halfway through something extra meaty of course [like a cheeseburger], rationalize it by saying God wouldn’t want me to waste it, then proceed to polish it off and vow to remember for next Friday. This year I’m cracking down, baby. No meat on Fridays, period, and I’m making sure my butt is in a pew each and every Sunday. Although these are both things a good Catholic should already be doing, this former altar girl is trying to get back on track.

No meat, no problem. Here is a quick and healthy recipe for a tuna melt.

TGIF Tuna Melt

  • 1 can chunk light tuna, drained
  • 1 tsp low-fat greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp deli mustard
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp feta cheese
  • dash of kosher salt + black pepper
  • 2 ‘veggie slices’, cheddar flavor [see explanation w/photo below]
  • 2 slices good quality whole-grain bread

Mix first six ingredients together in a bowl, place mixture on top of bread and finish off with the veggie slices. Pop under a broiler in your toaster oven for 1-2 minutes, voila.

[in case you were wondering what the violently orange stuff is in the picture up top, i have to admit it's a cheese imposter. i saw these in the organic produce section at jewel and wanted to give them a try. they're pretty good and taste surprisingly like cheddar cheese - plus are much, much better for you. the orange color comes a natural food coloring, carotenal, which is derived from skins of oranges and tangerines. they're mostly soy and pack three grams of protein per slice. try these out!]

[i love LaBrea's whole grain bread. it's got a thick, crunchy crust and the inside is soft and chewy even days later. the bakery is based in california but they ship everywhere - i got this loaf at jewel]

 

 

 

 

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I give people a lot of credit when they take a gamble, stick themselves in what could be an uncomfortable situation, and thrive. After all, that’s how great things happen. You take a risk and as my dad says, “you make your own luck”. Still, it’s no easy task [or so I think] to get up in front of a crowd of people and perform, but maybe that’s why they’re up and I’m down here.

This weekend I saw Vince’s brother John and their family friend Brian perform in their brand new band, “Two Micks and a Mike” [yep, try not to crack a smile]. Every year the Irish-American Alliance [a Chicago-based organization started by Vince and John's dad] holds a St. Patrick’s Day party at the South Side standby Cork & Kerry. It was at this very party that “Two Micks and a Mike” made their big time debut.

[photo credit: chicago bar project]

I so appreciate when someone is passionate about something -be it food, ping-pong, fashion, scrabble, whatever it is- and given that both John and Brian grew up in Irish homes, music is in their blood. They know the stories behind each song they sing and they’re eager to share them [especially after a few pints of smithwick's].

The music, the night [which lasted until the wee hours of the morning... those micks sure know how to party], and the entire scene made me even more excited for St. Patrick’s Day.  You can bet I’ve got my green [yes, green] hot cocoa and Baileys ready. Only nine more days to go!

PS: You can get into the St. Paddy’s spirit and check out Two Micks and a Mike for yourself. Their next gig is on St. Patrick’s Day at Marlin’s, roughly 15 minutes south of the city [7236 39th Street, Lyons, IL 60534]. Marlin’s is a great local watering hole with all sorts of beer on tap. A word to the wise – stay away [far, far away] from the Pinot Grigio. Indeed, it sounded good to me at the time and I instantly became that girl. Stick to the basics here, trust me.

 

 

 

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