2012 | chicago foodie girl


Two Weeks

Welcome back! I hope everyone had a fabulous Chrismahanukwanzakah, filled with an abundance of good cheer, awesome presents, decadent cookies, and strong alcohol. :-)

I've had a fabulous two weeks of vacation; I spent the first two days of break cuddled up in my pajamas on the couch and then entered into a whirlwind holiday extravaganza that included some last-minute shopping, dinners with friends, and a massive cookie bake-a-thon. I know that I need to start planning for the next semester eventually someday very soon, but for the moment I'm just trying to enjoy not having to get up at the crack of dawn and actually having some free time to indulge in some of my favorite activities (the DVR is almost empty! My fun-reading book pile is rapidly decreasing! I've been able to see my friends on weekdays!).

Here's a bit of what happened during the last two weeks...

Shedd Aquarium 



White Chocolate Peppermint M&M Cookies

*Tap, tap, tap* Is this thing on? Ahem. I'm finally poking my head out after two insane weeks of student conferences, meetings, and grading. I spent about nine days or so buried under piles and piles of final portfolios. I didn't intend to go on a blogging hiatus, but the mountains o' portfolios won out and sapped all of my energy (I have a love/hate relationship with portfolio assessments - while I greatly enjoy reading my students' writing, I kind of hate reading mass quantities in a short amount of time).

 The good news is that I am now officially done with the semester and am SO ready to commence the holiday excitement! Woo-hoo! Yesterday, a few of my colleagues and I kicked off the season at Duke's with celebratory tater tots and Winterruption (sooo delicious) and later today Mario and I are riding the CTA holiday train (in the thirteen years I've been in Chicago, I've somehow never managed to catch it). I also dug into our remaining stash of White Chocolate Peppermint M&M cookies for breakfast this morning (all in the name of celebrating what my wonderful friend has deemed The Eating Season).

I came across the recipe for these cookies on Pinterest a few weeks ago and immediately knew that I had to try them. Holy deliciousness!! I am in love with these cookies (and so is everyone else that tried them - I've already received several requests for more). After I made the first batch (following the original recipe from two peas & their pod), I did find that I had to make a few adjustments as the cookies weren't as soft as I wanted them to be, nor was there a good M&M to cookie ratio. A few small tweaks resulted in what is now my new favorite holiday cookie. If you are a peppermint lover, these cookies are a must-try!



Chocolate Cake Balls

I've been wanting to try my hand at making cake balls for the last year or so and during my Thanksgiving break, I decided it was finally time to do it. I had the time to devote to actually making them look nice and also extra motivation to do so as I had several events/dinners in which I was slated to bring a dessert. Now, I can make a mean cupcake, an amazing pumpkin loaf, and a ridiculous number of delicious pies and cookies; however, as fabulous as they may taste, they don't always look all that pretty.

So let's just say that while the cake balls I eventually served were gorgeous and delicious, they were a huge pain in the ass because I was so set on making them look a certain way (otherwise, they're super easy to make!). It took multiple batches and a lot of cursing before I finally ended up with enough decent-looking cake balls. I used a mold (similar to the ones found here), which greatly helped with the symmetry and shape; it took me a while to get the hang of the mold, but once I finally did, there was far less cursing and many more lovely cake balls.

The cake balls were a huge hit with everyone and I look forward to experimenting with some other flavor combinations... they just might not look as nice the next time, as I refuse to ever be so Type A crazy about cake again (and this is exactly why I could never be a pastry chef)! :-)

Chocolate Cake Balls

Chocolate cake: mix or from scratch
Cream cheese frosting: pre-made or from scratch
1-2 packages of chocolate coating bark or microwavable candy melts (milk, dark, and/or white)
Sprinkles for garnish (optional)

1. If using a mix, bake cake according to the package; otherwise, make your favorite chocolate cake from scratch. I used Martha Stewart's Chocolate Cake for Cupcake Pops recipe (with King Arthur double dutch dark cocoa).

2. While cake is cooling, make cream cheese frosting (skip this step if you're using canned frosting). I used Martha Stewart's Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting recipe. I would highly recommend making your own frosting even if you use a cake mix. It took about 5 minutes total to make this frosting and it was soooo much better than the canned stuff!

3. After the cake has cooled completely, trim off edges and break up the cake into fine crumbs (you can use your hands or a mixer to break up the cake, but the following step is most easily done by hand!).

4. In a large bowl, combine cake crumbs with the cream cheese frosting. It's easier to mix the two by hand, but as Bakerella warned, it will get messy! Once mixed, it should have a doughy consistency - it should be moist enough to stick together and roll into balls, but not overly wet/tacky.

5. Roll dough into balls and place on a cookie sheet. You can do this by hand, but for consistency with size/shape, use a melon baller or mini ice cream scoop. If you want to get fancy, you can use a mold like I did (there are so many awesome ones available on Etsy!). For a larger batch (40-50), keep the balls around 1.5 inches in diameter. Mine were almost 3 inches (per the mold), so I got considerably less out of each batch (approximately 20).

6. Refrigerate for two hours or place in the freezer for 30-45 minutes (chill them all the way through, but don't freeze them).

7. Melt chocolate bark or candy melts in the microwave or on the stovetop (low heat in a double boiler). I'm not a huge fan of melting chocolate on the stovetop when I'm baking by myself (it's just so messy and way too easy to burn), so I melted Wilton Candy Melts in the microwave. I melted the chocolate in small batches so that I had enough time to coat each cake ball before the chocolate cooled. I also found that the chocolate was a bit too thick; after a quick google search for a remedy, I thinned it out with a few drops of vegetable oil.

8. Roll balls in chocolate & use the back of a spoon to smooth. Lay the cake balls on wax paper until firm. Repeat step 7 if you want to layer chocolate flavors (use a fork dipped in thick chocolate to create the lines). Store in a covered dish for up to a week or freeze (I froze mine & then thawed in the refrigerator for four hours before serving).

*modified recipe based on Bakerella's Red Velvet Cake Balls


Meatless Monday: Favorite Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Left: one of the many gorgeous chocolate sculptures made by the French Pasty School chefs
Top Right: my pick for the best wine at the festival
Bottom Right: chocolates from Mayana 

Happy Monday! Unlike some other Mondays, this truly is an exciting one for me, as I only have two days of work and then I'm off for a lovely five-day stretch (if only every week could be like this!). I still have a bit of a chocolate hangover from yesterday's adventure at the Chicago Fine Chocolate Show. My friend, Barb, and I spent hours wandering around the show and stuffing ourselves with some really delicious chocolates and chocolate wines. As I mentioned on the CFG Facebook page (see more photos over there!), we must have sampled at least twenty types of artisan chocolates and, between the two of us, walked away with approximately thirty more pieces and six bottles of wine. There were so many incredible chocolates, but I think my favorite was the habanero salt truffle from Four Brothers - the combination of the spicy habanero with the salt in a rich dark chocolate blew me away! The chocolates from Mayana were a very close runner-up - the Mayan Spice and the Lemon Florentine chocolates were especially amazing for both their unique combinations and complex layers of flavor. As it turns out, Mayana's production site is within twenty minutes of my apartment - I think I might just have to place an order for some awesome Christmas gifts! :-)

As with many of you, I already have Thanksgiving food on the brain. I've never been in charge of a full T-giving dinner and honestly, I prefer it that way. I'm more interested in making various side dishes and desserts; honestly, I can take or leave the turkey. The recipes I'm highlighting today are three of my favorite dishes to take to dinner: Shaved Brussels Sprouts Pasta with Warm Walnut Vinaigrette, Slow Cooker Mashed Maple Sweet Potatoes, and Cranberry Pomegranate Sauce. I did feature the Brussels sprouts dish back shortly after I first started this blog, but I figured it was worth bringing around again, as it's a perfect way to add in some more veggies to the T-giving feast (it was a huge hit with my group last year!). The maple sweet potatoes are super easy to make, as all you have to do is throw everything into your slow cooker and then walk away for seven-ish hours (the dish also reheats really well, so you can make it the day before). The cranberry pomegranate sauce is similar to a regular cranberry sauce, but it has a slightly stronger sweet/tart component - it's a perfect condiment for both savory and sweet dishes (I've tried it & loved it over turkey, pork, pancakes, and cheesecake!) or it can be eaten on its own.

As always, Mario and I will be spending the holiday with our adopted family (Barb's family & various friends) and will enjoy a day filled with awesome food, video games, and movies. I hope you all have a wonderful (and delicious) Thanksgiving... I'll see you back here next week! :-)



Thirsty Thursday: Pumpkin Pie Martini

As I've mentioned approximately fifty times during the past month, I have a serious love of all things pumpkin. This love includes, but is not limited to, scones, pies, cake pops, stews, chili, breads, muffins, cupcakes, tacos, whoopie pies, granola bars, ice cream, ravioli, coffee, and alcohol. Basically, if it comes in a pumpkin option, I'll try it (and will most likely love it). So it should come as no surprise that one of my favorite drinks is Fulton's Harvest Pumpkin Pie Cream Liqueur.

I was lucky enough to receive a bottle of Fulton's Harvest for my birthday last year and another this year (my friends are awesome!). Up until recently, I was only drinking it straight up (it's so good that it doesn't need to be mixed with anything else), but the moment I came across this Pumpkin Pie Martini recipe on Pinterest (via Pass the Sushi) I knew I had try to it. Guess what? I discovered pure pumpkin heaven. It is *phenomenal*! Seriously, if you're a fan of pumpkin, you must try this drink - make sure you track down some Pumpkin Pie Cream Liqueur soon though as it's only available through November!

Pumpkin Pie Martini

2 oz spiced rum
4 oz Fulton’s Harvest Pumpkin Pie Cream Liquor
2 oz (or spoonfuls) pumpkin puree 
Dash of pumpkin pie spice
Optional: crushed graham crackers for garnish

1. In a drink shaker, combine rum, Pumpkin Pie Cream Liqueur, pumpkin puree, pie spice with ice and shake vigorously.

2. Strain into martini glasses lined with graham cracker crumbs (optional).



Meatless Monday: Slow Cooker Pumpkin Lentil Stew

Early voting rocks!

Happy Monday! I don't know about you, but it seems like the weeks are flying by at turbo speed. I swear the older I get, the faster the months go by. It seems like just yesterday I was planning for my birthday, but really, we're almost a month past that and already making plans for Christmas. Yikes!

October may be in the rear-view mirror, but pumpkin season is still going strong in my house. While early fall tends to be filled with the sweeter side of pumpkin (doughnuts! scones! cookies!), November is the time in which I switch over to the heartier and healthier pumpkin dishes. November is also the month in which I start my cold-weather-induced cravings for soups, stews, and chili.

Today's Meatless Monday dish, Pumpkin Lentil Stew, is the perfect dish for this time of year. It's a hearty and satisfying stew that smells so amazing as its simmering in the slow cooker (it's almost torturous!). The stew is delicious enough to stand on its own, but it's even better when eaten with a warm chunk of French bread. As a bonus, it's both vegan and gluten-free!



Diana's Friday Five: My Go-To Restaurants

*Guest post by chicago foodie girl contributor, Diana

Hey gang!  My "Look and Cook" series suffered a little mishap recently (cauliflower mash, don't ask), so until the next installment, I thought I'd entertain you with some local restaurants that I frequent with my family, Tom and my friends. If you're in town, I encourage you to try them!

There are many local restaurants I really love, but I didn't want to turn this into Diana's Friday Five Hundred, so let's take a trip to Italy, Spain and Greece in this post:

1.  La Gondola
This is my go-to Italian restaurant - great for going with friends, family, date nights, you name it. When people ask me for an Italian restaurant recommendation, this is the place, because holy crap, can they cook!My favorite dish on the appetizer list is the grilled calamari. It is cooked to perfection every single time, never rubbery or chewy like I've had at other restaurants.  he dish also includes artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and a small salad and everything is drizzled with a lemony vinaigrette that I would drink straight from the bottle if they'd let me.

Look at that appetizer! It's to die for.

                                (photo courtesy of Yelp.com)


Monday Foodie Porn

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend. As with many of you, Mario and I spent our weekend engulfed in Halloween excitement. It was a fun, but super exhausting weekend - actually, I think that's a great way to describe most of the month of October. The month was filled with some of my favorite parts of fall (bonfires, apple festivals, pumpkin carving, zombie burlesque, multiple birthday celebrations), but it has been a nonstop whirlwind. On top of the fun stuff, I've also been buried in piles of papers and fighting multiple respiratory infections (new job = new germs to battle). I'm looking forward to the beginning of November simply for a week or two of downtime before the Thanksgiving/Christmas madness ensues!



Tuesday LTP: Halloween Candy

As I mentioned earlier this month, I love Halloween: the decor is completely awesome (glittery skulls and pumpkins everywhere!), scary movies are in abundance (although I am opposed to the ones featuring creepy/freaky kids), It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is played on repeat, and all of the nerdy kids (myself included) have the perfect excuse to tap into their creative sides and whip together the coolest costumes. Really, Halloween is all about having fun no matter what your age... and who doesn't love fun wrapped in a layer of candy?!

While I still maintain that Easter has the best candy selection, I must admit that I'm always happy to see the return of all things candy corn during the Halloween season. I know many people think it's totally disgusting, but I am all about those pointy, sugary little nuggets, especially the caramel and chocolate versions. Possibly even better than straight up candy corn is White Chocolate Candy Corn M&Ms. Oh yes. These babies are crunchy little pieces of honey-coated heaven. The insides are buttery smooth (almost frosting-like) and extremely sweet - just like candy corn (but better!). And yes, they are totally addictive!

On the other end of the spectrum is the nasty candy that leaves every treat-or-treater (or officemate) cursing your name and wondering if they can get away with egging your house. Candy on this list includes anything involving raisins (raisin boxes are the absolute worst & Raisinets aren't far behind); anything involving licorice (boxes of Good & Plenty, licorice ropes); Necco Wafers (flavorless discs of chalk); and Mary Janes (sticky chunks of cardboard coated in fake peanut butter). Yuck.

Today's Lunchtime Poll: What is your favorite Halloween candy? Is there any Halloween candy that you really hate? Does anyone out there actually like Mary Janes?!



Look And Cook: Spaghetti Squash

*Guest post by chicago foodie girl contributor, Diana

Hi folks.  I've been cooking so much lately that I got a little inspired to start a "look and cook" series on this very blog. Fingers crossed that I stick to it, because as my sister constantly tells me, "You have the attention span of a gnat."

She's right. :)

So here we go, the first installment of Diana's Look And Cook Series...today's topic is spaghetti squash.  Next to butternut squash, spaghetti squash is a big favorite of mine, so I'm always looking forward to fall so I can make my favorite recipe!

The other day I was at Trader Joe's (btw, I will be doing a separate post soon on my love of Trader Joe's) and saw a cornucopia of squash and pumpkins, and as soon as I saw spaghetti squash, I knew I had to have one so I could cook my favorite recipe with it.

Mind you, there are TONS of ways to cook/serve spaghetti squash, but this is by far my favorite. It's a hybrid of something I learned in a cooking class and something I had as a side dish in a restaurant. It's kind of a take on your standard spaghetti and meat sauce dish, but instead of pasta, you use squash!

First things first. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Then wash the outside of the squash, under warm water, rubbing the outside with your hands.  I've been told that produce is clean when you run it under warm water, manipulating it with your hands, while you recite the alphabet, then you dry it with clean paper towels.  I don't ALWAYS do that, but there you go.

Next up, you cut the squash in half. I don't have a picture, but you get the gist. Make sure you're using a cutting board and a sharp knife. I'm sure I don't have to lecture you on knife safety, but I will if you want me to. :) Or I can tell you about the time I stabbed myself in the hand while cutting into an avocado.

Yeah, let's not go there, because it wasn't pretty.

Once you cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the guts with a sturdy spoon.  They kind of look like this.




Goodbye, 30-something.
Hello, 30-something + 1 (a big move into a new age category box - sigh).

Showing off my waving skills in my stylin' BK crown 
It's that time of the year again... oh yes, it's the day in which we all celebrate the fabulousness that is ME!

As far as birthdays go, my awesome number birthday (10.11.12) isn't looking too exciting, as the entire day will be packed with paper grading, midterms, and meetings. However, the rest of the month will be filled with various celebrations with many of my favorite people (starting with a dinner at Geja's tomorrow), so I guess I can't complain too much, right?

Also, a very happy birthday to my teenage crush, Luke Perry... and happy National Sausage Pizza Day to all! :-)



A Little Cooking Inspiration

*Guest post by chicago foodie girl contributor, Diana

Now that life, in general, has settled down a bit, I've found my cooking mojo again and have been a little cooking crazy lately. Here are things I've made recently, I hope to write about some of these soon:

- an attempt at my Mom's Spanish rice
- Cuban picadillo (cheater version, hee!)
- Citrus dill salmon
- Spaghetti squash with marinara
- Oatmeal cherry chocolate chip cookies
- Tom's family recipe for Applesauce Cake
- Pumpkin cherry muffins
- Breakfast burritos
- Chocolate dipped dried pineapple
- Chocolate cups with pistachios and dried cranberries
- Tuna pasta salad

Wow, I didn't realize how much I've accomplished in just a few weeks! It definitely keeps an anxious mind occupied on the positive and I'm glad that I've gotten my jones for cooking back again. :)

Anyway, here's a little inspiration for foodies and wannabe chefs like me (and maybe those afraid to try but have always wanted to):



Tuesday LTP: Autumn!

2012 Harvest Bonfire at
Wagner Farm
I say it every year, but I think it's always worth repeating: I ♥♥♥ fall! I especially love October, as it is filled with so many of my favorite things. Many people consider spring to be their season of personal renewal; they feel revived and ready to take on the world. That's how I feel about autumn. It just feels damn good to be alive!


Monday Foodie Porn: Andersonville Dessert Crawl

There are so many things I love about Andersonville: the adorable shops, the fabulous restaurants, the blend of the old Swedish community with the new, and of course, the fantastic festivals. While Midsommarfest is definitely one of those not-to-be-missed summer staples and the Dinner Crawl will leave you stuffed with all sorts of deliciousness, I think my favorite festival of them all is the annual Dessert Crawl. It takes place late September/early October and always seems to happen on one of those absolutely perfect autumn days. There's really nothing like eating yourself into a sugar coma with friends while strolling through Andersonville on a lovely fall day. :-)

The seventh annual Dessert Crawl took place yesterday and as usual, it did not disappoint. They changed things up a bit this year by offering a choice of three routes rather than the normal two - while it made the decision of which route to take even harder than usual, ultimately it turned out to be a good move as it thinned the crowds out a bit. After much ooohing, ahhhing, and deliberation, Diana and I finally chose the Ice Cream route, as Diana was fixated on the Vanilla Panna Cotta and I couldn't get the idea of chocolate Kahlua soup out of my mind. We were only a stop or two into it when we both declared that we had made a brilliant decision - this was definitely the best Dessert Crawl yet!


Meatless Monday: Pumpkin, Black Bean & Poblano Tacos

Diana and me at the Renegade Craft Fair last week :-)

Can you believe it's already mid-September? While I'm definitely happy to see the summer come to an end, it feels like the last few weeks of it have just flown by! It has still been fairly warm (high 70s/low 80s) around here during the daytime, but there is a lovely hint of fall in the air once the sun goes down and the temperature drops. The 60-something degree temps are actually supposed to start creeping into the daytime hours starting tomorrow - yay!

I'm also seeing signs of my favorite season popping up in various places around the city: quite a few trees have tinges of yellow & orange around their edges, the back-to-school aisles at Target have all been converted to a host of Halloween goodies, and pumpkin displays have started to take over the farmers' markets. Despite the fact that I currently have a massive nasty cold and I haven't slept more than two hours for the last two nights in a row, I can't help feeling giddy at the thought of the awesomeness autumn brings! :-)

Today's Meatless Monday dish is a nod to the upcoming season and one that highlights my favorite flavor of autumn: pumpkin! These tacos are incredibly filling, thanks to the black beans and pumpkin, and strike the perfect balance of sweet/heat/crunch. If you prefer, you can easily convert this recipe into one for quesadillas and you can use the optional Creamy Pumpkin Seed Dressing (it's so good!) or some fire-roasted tomato salsa for dipping.



Thirsty Thursday: Añejo Smash

Welcome back to Thirsty Thursday, aka my favorite day of the week! :-)

Despite the shortened work week, Thirsty Thursday really could not come fast enough. After spending Sunday and Monday cuddled up with my giant grading pile (5 writing assignments x 120 students = ridiculousness), I managed to start off Tuesday morning by locking my entire bag (which held my keys & wallet) in my car at the train station. F-ing hell!! In my sixteen years of driving, I've locked my keys in my car two other times - once was shortly after I got my first car (I dropped my keys on the floor as I was getting out of the car & didn't realize it until I had already locked/closed the door) and the second time was earlier this year. Yes, I did the exact same thing on Tuesday that I did a few months ago - I threw my keys in my backpack (in the passenger seat) and locked the doors as I was getting out of the car. I didn't even realize what I had done until I walked around to the passenger seat to grab my bag. Whoops. So not cool... especially considering I was thirty minutes from my house & in the 'burbs. Ugh. Thankfully, I have awesome colleagues and some really fantastic students in my classes, so at least the entire week wasn't a total loss after all of the drama.

This week's pick is a drink I recently tried for the first time and fell in love with the moment the first sip passed my lips. As I've mentioned in the past, while I am a fan of the fruity cocktails, I also have a major love for minty drinks. The Añejo Smash is fruity, minty, and slushy - it's like a tequila version of a lemony mint julep (i.e. delicious!). While it's massively strong, it's also quite refreshing. It's the perfect end-of-the-week/end-of-summer/Democratic National Convention drinking game drink!

Añejo Smash
1 & 1/2 oz. Añejo Tequila
1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
3/4 oz. agave syrup
6-8 fresh mint leaves
4 lemon wedges

1. Combine tequila, Grand Marnier, agave syrup, and lemon wedges in a shaker with ice.

2. Shake, then strain into a rocks glass packed with crushed ice.

3. Garnish with mint leaves.


Monday Foodie Porn: Food Truck Social

*Tap, tap, tap* Is this thing on? Ahem.

As I mentioned on my facebook page (follow me over there for bonus content!), I didn't mean to disappear. I spent much of the last week and a half walking around in a major state of zombie-ness. My new job is quite lovely and there are a lot of fantastic people, but between getting up an hour earlier than normal, a 1.5-hour commute (each way!) to navigate, a wicked case of insomnia, and a billion new students/classes, I'm was totally out of it. Thankfully, my insomnia broke just in time for the weekend - I slept a glorious nine hours on Thursday night (versus the 2-3 I was sleeping), spent Saturday evening at Ravinia, and braved the pissing rain on Sunday for an afternoon of deliciousness at the Food Truck Social.

I don't know if I've mentioned it before or not, but I am slightly obsessed with food trucks - I have been known to plan an entire outing around a food truck stalking session. :-) While food trucks are common in many other major cities, the trend is a fairly recent phenomenon in Chicago, thanks to some strict legislation that made it difficult for them to operate in the city. After a recent surge in food trucks and a lot of push from the owners, the city finally amended the original food truck ordinance. The new ordinance still has some major limitations (for instance food trucks are not allowed to park within 200 feet of a competing brick-and-mortar restaurant), but it is a step in the right direction (they can finally apply for a license to actually prepare food on board - up until a few months ago, all food had to be pre-prepared/cooked). The city has received almost 50 mobile food preparer license applications over the last two months, which means one really great thing for me... more food trucks with awesome food! Hooray!

Diana and I attended the second annual Food Truck Social yesterday and had a magically delicious time (despite the abysmal weather). The FTS is the perfect opportunity to both learn about new food trucks and to track down some of the seemingly elusive trucks. There were fifteen trucks parked in a giant lot in West Town with a bunch of tables/tents and live music. Not only did we eat so much fantastic food, but also, thanks to the rain, we had the opportunity to talk to many of the food truck owners without hordes of hungry, angry people trying to push us out of the way to get to the front. I can't wait until next year's social, which is already rumored to be twice as big!

(please excuse the quality of some of these photos - it's not all that easy to take photos in the rain while balancing various plates of goodies)

Free Almond & Coconut bars from the KIND truck!



Don't Ever Go To Anyone's Home Empty Handed

*Guest post by chicago foodie girl contributor, Diana

Those are my mother's exact words whenever she or any of us are invited over to someone's home, and she says this to us for a couple of reasons.  First, she's very generous and selfless (ok, REALLY selfless), but the other reason (which makes me laugh every time she brings it up) is that she always wants to leave the host with a good impression of her, because she often worries that she will leave after the party and the host may say, "She didn't bring anything. That's the last time I ever invite that dirty Puerto Rican over." 

Oh, Momma. She's a little delusional about certain things, but she means well. If you know her, you understand this perfectly.

Based on her repetition of that phrase over the years, not going into anyone's home empty-handed has found a permanent place in my brain. Depending on the event I'll bring a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread, coffee, a dish to pass or a fancy dessert. I usually opt for the latter because everyone loves dessert and I can leave the lasting impression of, "Wow, that dirty Puerto Rican's daughter knows how to buy dessert!"

I'M KIDDING. Honestly, that dirty Puerto Rican thing never gets old at my house. Haha!

Oh and if you have pets, I'll probably bring them a treat, but don't count on me bringing your pet boa constrictor a box of live mice, crickets or whatever they eat. Ick.

As I mentioned, dessert is usually my go-to item, and I try to make it as fun and interesting as possible.  Variety is key, especially if you don't know your crowd. Not everyone loves chocolate the way I do. Haha!

Whole Foods has helped me out in a big way, as they now carry an assortment of mini cupcakes and mini versions of their larger desserts (fruit tarts, key lime tarts, chocolate raspberry tarts) that are always a hit. Although being my mother's daughter, I have a tendency to overbuy and the next thing you know I have two dozen mini desserts to bring to a dinner for four. Oops! But hey, more for me!

And if I'm feeling adventurous, I'll even bake for you! I make a mean oatmeal cookie, where I substitute the raisins for dried cherries. Everyone loves 'em and really, it's just the recipe from the Quaker Oats box, and they come out great every single time!

But cooking sometimes stresses me out, so Whole Foods, I thank you for your bakery. You're a home run every single time!

And honestly, my mom means well and I know it. She's such an interesting and fun person, and she puts so much (maybe too much) love into everything she does, especially when it comes to cooking and feeding people. It's never a dull moment when you're around her. 

She's in NYC visiting relatives for the next couple of weeks and I'm missing her, which I guess is why I'm writing this post about her. She's the greatest. Here we are in Door County, Wisconsin, 2009. This is one of my favorite pictures of us.  :) 

With love,
The Dirty Puerto Rican's Daughter  (hee hee!)



Raw Chicken Gives Me The Willies

*Guest post by chicago foodie girl contributor, Diana

No really, it does.  I'll get to that in a minute. 

I love to cook, I really do, but time is not always on my side these days. I have a job that eats up A LOT of my time, but I'm one of those weirdos who loves her job, so I don't mind...well, most of the time. My day often does not end at 5pm, and I'm okay with that, but my crazy work habits on top of other things (boyfriend, family, friends, gym, etc) often have me avoiding the kitchen and reaching for easy stuff or even take out, which is okay, but come on. I like to cook, and should I know better.

I recently moved out on my own after living in my parents two flat for 37 years (I'll help you with the math - I'm 41. At age 18 I began sharing the upstairs apartment with my sister.) and thought, "Wow!  I'm going to cook EVERY DAY!" Yeah, not so much. Coming home at 7 or 8pm takes the mojo out of wanting to cook anything in general, plus I live alone, so cooking for one can be difficult. One reason is that I'm Hispanic, and I was raised by a lovely little Puerto Rican woman who believed that if you didn't cook for an army, it wasn't dinner, so you can kind of guess what happens when I am inspired to cook.    

But she taught me how to appreciate leftovers, even showing me how to get creative with them!  Although three days of turkey tacos leave me hoping she buys a smaller Thanksgiving turkey next year.  Haha!

Before I go on, I have to admit that for being a carnivore, I hate handling raw meat, which sometimes contributes to my cooking reluctance. I don't like to touch or cut into it if I don't have to. If I can get it right into the pan, score! And if the skin is gone, even better!! I don't know what my problem is, because if you cook it up and serve it to me, and I'll eat it. With pleasure. Just don't make me handle it when it's in a raw state. Especially chicken.  

Weird, I know, especially coming from a person who as a child already knew how to cut up a raw chicken ("Diana, cut the bones at the joint!") into eight pieces, cook it into a jerky state (hey, I was learning) and then watch with gleaming pride as my family choked it down, asking "can someone refill the water glasses?" Oops!

Fast forward to today. I was at the store the other day, and there was a special on Purdue's Perfect Portions chicken, buy one get one free! What's cool about this product is that is individually portioned AND marinated! I bought the garlic and white wine flavor, and my freebie was the jerk seasoning flavor.

So I think Mr. Purdue knew of my love of chicken but my all of a sudden squeamishness, and therefore created the Perfect Portions line (ok, maybe not, but thank you thank you thank you!!). The bag contains five pieces, already marinated. They're easy to open, and you pop 'em right into the pan. Easy peasy. And I don't get grossed out in the process.  

I KNOW. I KNOW! WTF is wrong with me???

Last night, I decided to try the garlic and wine flavor, so I invited Tom over for dinner and made a fabulous spread that included the PP chicken, saffron rice (that totally lacked flavor although I cooked it in chicken stock - we sassed it up with some truffle salt and a tiny drizzle of fruity olive oil and it was a lot better), green beans that you cook right in the bag in the microwave (Tom added a little salt and butter at the end) and a salad that I quickly threw together that consisted of arugula, baby romaine, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, chopped walnuts and cranberries (I'm all about cranberries in my salad these days). I put the entire spread together and had dinner on the table in 35 minutes. Woot!

Everything was healthy (for the most part) and delicious! We even had enough leftovers to pack lunches for Tom and myself, which I just enjoyed as I typed up this post.  I loved the fact that the chicken had just the right amount of marinade and came out tasting just right.  I didn't have to add any seasoning or feel like it may have been over seasoned.  Score!!

I definitely plan on buying more of the PP line. I can still cook chicken and not freak out in the process.  

Please, humor me.  :)

My mother's ears are probably ringing right now for not buying the whole chicken ("Diana, it's cheaper!"), cutting it up (eeek!), removing the skin (double eeek!), making my own marinade and cooking it. 

Sorry, Mom!  :)



Monday Foodie Porn

Hanging with my friend, Breezy, at her daughter's birthday party

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fabulous weekend. As with many of you, I spent a good chunk of mine glued to the Olympics. I've always been fairly indifferent about the Olympics; while I greatly enjoyed the gymnastics and track portions, I never really paid attention to much else. There was something different about this year - it was as though an Olympics craving switch was suddenly turned on in my brain. I just couldn't get enough! I even watched some basketball, which is one of my most hated sports (only slightly ahead of football). I especially loved the women's super heavyweight lifting - those girls are fierce!

Besides watching the Olympics, I devoted a fair amount of time lesson planning and getting things ready for the new semester (my new job starts in two days!). Mario and I also spent Friday geeking out at Chicago Comic Con and then partied hard on Saturday at our friend's seven-year-old's birthday party. Fun times! :-)



Easy Seared Scallops

I have a love/hate relationship with scallops; while I love eating them, I tend to hate cooking them. Fresh scallops that are cooked properly are sweet, buttery, and will practically melt in your mouth. Fresh scallops that are just slightly overcooked are like little fishy, chewy hockey pucks. Let me just say that once you've experienced them, it's hard to get the fear of cooking scallops and ending up with those chewy pucks out of your mind. Yuck.

I stopped by Fresh Farms International Market the other day (that place is awesome!) and was enticed by a special deal on some beautiful scallops. I decided it was time to give my scallop cooking skills another try. I used a recipe for seared scallops from Alton Brown (slightly modified) that I saw on an episode of Good Eats years ago and I'm proud to say that I ended up with a really amazing dish. The scallops had a lovely caramel coating on the outside and were tender and buttery on the inside.

If you've never cooked scallops or you just want a simplistic way to prepare them that will really allow for the flavor of the scallops to shine, I highly recommend this easy recipe!

Seared Scallops

1 to 1 1/4 lbs dry sea scallops (approximately 16)
2 tsp unsalted butter
2 tsp olive oil
Truffle salt (the original recipe calls for Kosher salt, but the truffle salt gives it a really lovely flavor)
Freshly ground black pepper



Awesome News!

You might have guessed by my string of no-cook recipes and festival posts that I haven't done much cooking/baking during the past few weeks. We've had some pretty hot days here in Chicago and honestly, the hotter it is, the less I want to hang out with a blazing oven in my air conditioning-less kitchen. However, that's not the only reason for my lack of posts. The other reason is way more exciting and much higher on the awesomeness scale than the hot, humid weather... I got a new job! Woo-hoo!

For the last five years, I have held both a full-time teaching position at one college and an adjunct position at a second college. My full-time position was one that is often misunderstood and not very highly regarded amongst academics (non-tenure-track, but with the responsibilities of someone who is a tenured professor at an equivalent school); unfortunately, it was also one that came with terrible pay. I'm not going to go into too many details because I've already complained about it enough, but basically, it sucks to hold a full-time faculty position and to also have to work a part-time position on the side.

I've been on and off the job market for the last few years. While I really wanted to leave my full-time school (and to stop working two jobs!), I didn't want to make a lateral move or end up at another school that I disliked. I had a long list of wants/needs that I refused to compromise on - because of that list, my job search was quite limited. I will admit that it was frustrating, but I hung in there and at the end of May, I was offered a coveted tenure-track position at one of the few schools in the area that I had targeted. I gave my notice mid-July and finished up with both jobs last week. Hell yes!!

The last three weeks have passed in a blur of paper grading, finals, packing, lunches with coworkers, and goodbyes to all of my favorite students. In addition to the craziness of finishing up at both schools, I've also been preparing for the start of the new school (training, syllabi, etc.). Now that I'm officially on break (I don't start at my new school until next Wednesday), I have a little time to catch up with everything (yes, I'm actually going to cook something! Yippee!). Also, don't be surprised if I suddenly comment on something you wrote weeks (or possibly months) ago. :-)

Yay me! :-)



Monday Foodie Porn: Bleeding Heart

I fell madly in love with Bleeding Heart Bakery shortly after they opened their first storefront back in 2004. Who could not love a bakery that not only served punk rock pastries made with organic & local ingredients, but also amazing punk rock pastries at that?



Return to WNY and Tour of some shops

*Guest post by chicago foodie girl contributor, Sarah W.

I have much food stuff to write, but first: we've moved from downstate NY back to Western NY. where we had lived for years. Long story short, it's where we belong.

Enjoying our return means checking out all the places we didn't check out before. Today my mom and I kicked that off by hitting many food stores. Of course, I have goodies!

We started our trip with Penzey's Spices, as it came highly recommended to mom. They had a lot of spices, though I'd still go to an Indian grocery for curry. Too many spices smelled like taco seasoning, and I prefer differentiation. We both bought a few things, as most prices were reasonable, though I am not 100% sure if their spices were "more fresh" than the grocery store. I mean, it's all dried spices with no dates. I did like that they had many options and I hope what I did buy lives up to the hype. I think the hype of anywhere ends up making me more critical. At Penzey's I bought Vanilla Sugar, suggested uses: coffee and fruit; Dill Weed, because I am out of this; and Medium Hot Crushed Red Pepper. I love the idea of medium hot because I enjoy crushed red pepper but I don't always want my food super hot.



Deep-Fried Cookie Dough

It all started in the mid-90s when that crazy dude in Scotland decided to serve his customers a deep-fried Mars bar as a joke... little did he know that he would start a deep-fried trend that would move beyond the basic candy bar and expand to some seemingly unthinkable combinations (deep-fried Kool-Aid balls!?).



Bristol Renaissance Faire

As I'm sure you've all figured out by now, I am a total nerd... I have a serious love for the written word, I constantly quote Heathers, and I'm a sucker for a good Ren Faire. While I typically don't go in costume, it's only because my hatred of spending a long day soaked in sweat (as it's always hot as hell whenever I go to the Faire) outweighs my desire to walk around in a corset and heavy dress. However, I do usually don some random plumage and I always bring plenty of cleavage. :-)

I joined Barb and her family for our first trek of the summer up to the Faire two weeks ago and it was as awesome as always. One of the cool things about the Bristol Ren Faire, in particular, is that although it's only open for about two months during the summer, the buildings are all permanent and many of the amazingly talented artists live above their shops. You can tell that owners put an incredible amount of time and effort into both their shops and the merchandise. There are so many intricately detailed handmade items for sale, ranging from titanium chainmail bras to mini marshmallow catapults (so much fun!) - I've amassed quite a stunning jewelry collection over the years.

Of course, the Ren Faire isn't just about costumes and shopping - there's also the fairies, the shows, and (arguably the most important part) the food!


Meatless Monday: Avocado, Apple & Brie Sandwich

Happy Monday! I don't know about you, but it was sooo hard to drag myself into work this morning. The combination of an incredibly busy week, along with too much indulgent food over the weekend and the return of the extreme heat has left me feeling extra tired and blah. Thankfully, that craziness pretty much all consisted of fun stuff (well, minus the small altercation I had with an insane driver on Monday that left me sans passenger side mirror & the day that was filled with painful dental work) - Barb and I sang our hearts out at an amazing Fiona Apple concert; Mario and I had a delicious meal at La Gondola and attended a late night play; and I met up with a friend from high school (I hadn't seen him in 17 years!) for a fun night of conversation and Ethiopian.

The return of the extreme heat has also led to the return of my mini-cooking hiatus, so I've busted out all of my favorite no-cook (or microwave only) recipes once again. Today's Meatless Monday dish is a simple recipe that highlights my two favorite fruits: avocados and apples. This is right up there with my other favorite sandwich (I go back and forth between which is my favorite, but really, they're both totally delicious) - it's flavorful, easy to assemble, and perfect for those hot weather days in which you don't want to turn on the oven. :-)



Tuesday Lunchtime Poll: Raisins

I hate raisins. I think they are one of the most horrid things you can eat - it doesn't matter if they're freshly plumped, buried in baked goods, or straight out of the box. They are ALL disgusting. They don't taste like the sweet delicious grape, nor do they taste like wine... they're just chewy balls of ickiness.

 I am of the firm belief that raisins should not be in anything. If there are raisins, the dish is automatically ruined - and don't tell me to just pick them out because the raisin essence never completely goes away (especially if they're warm - that's when they're at their peak of disgustingness). There are far too many crazy people in the world who think it's a good idea to add raisins to places where they don't belong (namely cookies, carrot cake, muffins, cinnamon bread, oatmeal, and trail mix). If the crazies want to eat those nasty little pellets on their own, then so be it, but don't ruin my food!



Thirsty Thursday: Envy

Hanging out with our friends' dog, Bonnie - she is such an adorable little cuddlebug! 

I hope everyone had a fun Fourth! Raise your hand if you're one of the unlucky souls at work today who is hungover, dehydrated, and/or sleep deprived. Whew. My school is so quiet and empty (yes, we do have classes scheduled) and the people who are here (students and staff alike) all look a little rough around the edges (myself included). Mario & I had a low-key, but very fun holiday - really, it was just too bloody hot to do anything too strenuous! We spent the afternoon & evening with some friends, eating and drinking until we were about to burst. My favorite part of the meal was definitely the grilled salmon burgers topped with kimchi... and of course, the fruity frozen cocktails! :-)

In case you haven't heard (or seen via one of the thousands of Facebook photos of car thermometers), we're in the middle of a nasty heatwave. The city is hazy and stinky and everyone is moving at a much slower pace than usual. We all have that crazed look in our eyes - we know that if we walk any faster, we're going to end up in a puddle of sweat, but we also know that the faster we move, the sooner we get into the AC. Needless to say, the heat is also making everyone very cranky... Thirsty Thursday is definitely a must this week! 

I typically avoid drinks that resemble windshield wiper fluid, but after a friend in Indianapolis introduced me to this cocktail last summer, I've slightly modified my stance. Yes, it is bright blue and showy, but it's also damn good. If you're a fan of fruity cocktails, I highly recommend you give this a try!



Monday Foodie Porn

Pre-Cirque dinner at Andies!

Happy July! Wow, June really flew by... can you believe that we're rolling up on the 4th already?! Oy. June was crazy busy, but super fun - the month started with my last minute trip to Madison and ended with an unexpected ticket to Cirque Du Soleil (and there were so many birthdays & festivals in between!). My awesome friend, Jen, won a ticket package (complete with Cirque goodie bags for everyone!) and generously invited me to come along. It was my first Cirque show... and yes, it was amazing! I was even pulled out of the audience and forced into treated to a whirlwind wedding to Giovanni the clown (the little one on the left). ;-)

July is already shaping up to be just as fun with more birthday celebrations, a few backyard BBQs and visits to some awesome restaurants, and two amazing concerts (Fiona Apple and Seal/Macy Gray). I also have some very! exciting! life changing! news, but unfortunately, I can't say anything about it quite yet. Trust me - it's a very, very good thing. :-)



Thirsty Thursday: Watermelon Mint Mojito

It is so bloody hot, humid, and just plain nasty in Chicago today. Seriously, this is ridiculous... the Midwest has no business whatsoever hanging out in the triple digit range. Ugh!

If there was ever a day for a refreshing summer cocktail, today would be it. As I mentioned in the past, I am all about the slushy, fruity drinks. However, I also have a major love for minty drinks, which is why my absolute favorite summer cocktail is the Watermelon Mint Mojito. Not only does it strike the perfect balance between fruity and minty, but it's also super refreshing. 

My mouth is watering just thinking about this awesome drink... really, is there anything better than the combination of watermelon and vodka on a hot summer day? I think not. I can't wait to get home and pour myself one of these bad boys! :-)

Watermelon Mint Mojito

3 oz watermelon vodka (recipe below)
6-8 fresh mint leaves, muddled
1 lime wedge, muddled
Simple syrup with mint  (recipe below)
Club soda to taste
A wedge of watermelon & mint sprig for garnish

Basic simple syrup:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
Bring to a boil and let reduce by a third. Take off heat, add in 6-8 mint leaves, and let steep for at least 1/2 hour. Refrigerate up to 1 week.

For infused vodka:
1-liter plain vodka
2 cups watermelon, diced
Mix together and allow the flavors to blend for 24 hours or up to 3 weeks.

1. Shake together all of the ingredients for the mojito and pour over ice.

2. Top with club soda, or lemon-lime soda. Garnish with a wedge of watermelon and sprig of mint.



Tuesday LTP: Hummus

Welcome back to the Tuesday Lunchtime Poll! I took brief hiatus from posting polls because I was feeling a little burnt out, but now I have some new topics and I'm ready to get this thing going again. Woo-hoo! :-)

Let's talk about hummus. I am one of those people who looooves hummus. It is the food of the gods... it pairs perfectly with pita, crackers, carrots, red peppers, grape leaves & feta, avocados & turkey, Kalamata olives... the list goes on and on. This Hummus Crusted Chicken with Rosemary and Lemon recipe? Oh, holy amazing.

While I prefer my homemade hummus (extra tahini & garlic with roasted red peppers and/or artichoke hearts), I pretty much always have a tub or two of store-bought hummus on hand. I've spent years trying various brands and while there aren't any that I really hate, there are a few brands that I'm not overly fond of (namely Athenos). Of course, there are also those that I really love: Sabra's Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, the Greek Olive hummus, and the Basil & Pesto hummus are my absolute favorites; Tribe's Zesty Spice & Garlic hummus isn't far behind. I also love the Roasted Lemon & Thyme hummus from The Love & Hummus Co., but unfortunately, it's only sold in California. Occasionally, I'll buy either the edamame hummus or the guacamole hummus from Trader Joe's (but I still think the avocado hummus I make is better).

Today's LTP: How do you feel about hummus - are you a hummus fiend like me? Do you have a preference for homemade versus store-bought? What's your favorite brand and/or flavor?



Meatless Monday: Korean BBQ Seitan Salad

I was already over a year into my five year stint as a vegetarian the first time I had seitan. Up until then, the only faux meat I had encountered was in the form of Boca Burgers or the nasty water chestnut veggie patties that were served in my college's cafeteria. I was amazed not only by the texture of that funny little wheat gluten (I could have sworn it was meat!) but also by the taste. The professor who made me that dish was a whiz at cooking with seitan - he opened my eyes and palate to a whole new world of vegetarian cooking.

While I do eat meat these days, I still love my seitan. Today's Meatless Monday dish, Korean BBQ Seitan Salad, is my version of that awesome dish my professor made me all those years ago. This is a simple way to cook with seitan and it's an extremely versatile dish - it can be served on its own as a hearty salad, or can be used for a sandwich/wrap filling.

Korean BBQ Seitan Salad
Makes 2 servings

1 package of seitan strips - approximately 1 lb (this is my favorite brand - you can also make your own)
1/2 jar Korean BBQ sauce (I use CJ Bibigo Korean BBQ Sauce)
2 thinly sliced roasted red peppers (jarred or freshly roasted)
Toasted sesame seeds 
Mixed greens - approximately 10 oz.
1 tsp olive oil

1. Remove seitan from liquid and marinate in half of the BBQ sauce (approximately 1/4 of the jar) for 30-60 minutes. The longer you let it sit, the stronger the BBQ flavor!

2. Coat pan with olive oil and sauté seitan over medium-low heat until it's golden brown (3-5 minutes). Make sure you watch it carefully because it is *very* easy to burn.

3. Reduce heat, add remaining BBQ sauce (1/4 of the jar), and top with peppers. Simmer for 10-15 minutes or until sauce has cooked down.

4. Spoon seitan over salad greens and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.



Meatless Monday: Avocado Hummus & Tomato Sandwich

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend. I had a very packed & fun one that included brunch with a friend at my favorite neighborhood restaurant, another brunch where I encountered the biggest Bellini I've ever seen (it was served in a pint glass, which made me very, very happy), a showing of Prometheus, and most importantly, my favorite six-year-old's birthday party. :-)

Besides being a busy weekend, it was also an unbearably hot one. It has been in the 90s with some ridiculous humidity for the last few days and the nasty streak will continue for most of this week. Seeing as we live in a small apartment with no AC, I'm not interested in cooking anything when the weather gets like this. I made the mistake of turning on the oven during some ungodly weather last summer... let's just say that I created a hellish salmon-infused inferno that lasted for days. Lesson learned.

As I am currently on a mini-cooking hiatus, I've had to bust out all of my favorite no-cook (or microwave only) recipes. Today's Meatless Monday dish is a simple recipe that highlights some of the best flavors of the season: tomatoes and avocados. It's not only one of my favorite sandwiches ever, but it's also full of healthy fats and is super easy to make (only two steps!). Most importantly, it doesn't require turning on the oven. :-)



O Crunch Bars

I was a latecomer to the delicious world of Rice Krispie Treats. As a child, there were always plenty of homemade desserts to be found in our kitchen (my mom was a cookie genius), but Rice Krispie Treats never made it into the rotation. I actually don't remember encountering that childhood staple until I was almost a teenager. I remember the experience well because not only was I bowled over by the amazing treat I had missed out on for so many years, but also because I had actually made them myself. That first time was in my 6th grade Home Economics class, where we were partnered up for our first day of cooking lessons and given a detailed set of instructions, along with a stern lecture about stove safety. My partner just so happened to be my 6th-grade crush... let's just say that Mike lost a little of his luster that day when he burned the butter (which was his only task!) and ruined our project. I ended up remaking the Rice Krispie Treats by myself because not only did I want to actually taste them, but I was also a Grade Nazi and refused to get anything less than an A on the assignment. :-)

While I still have a serious love for RKT, these days I tend to refrain from making them because otherwise, I will go crazy and gorge myself until I'm sick (they're so addictive!). Rather than heading down the shameful road of unhealthy RKT madness, I satisfy my cravings with a much healthier version that is sans butter and marshmallows, but just as delicious. O Crunch Bars are sweet, chewy, crunchy, and as a bonus, even easier to make than Rice Krispie Treats.

If only my Home Ec teacher had known about these, then maybe poor butter-burning Mike wouldn't have lost some of his cool that fateful day...

O Crunch Bars
Makes 12 servings

3 cups "O" cereal, such as Multigrain, Dulce de Leche, or Chocolate Cheerios
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup almond butter (or peanut butter if you prefer)
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
Cooking spray

1. Pour cereal in a large bowl.

2. In a saucepan over medium heat, stir brown rice syrup and almond butter until melted.

3. Pour mixture over cereal and stir.

4. Mist 8x8 baking dish with cooking spray and press cereal mixture into dish.

5. Top with chocolate chips and press them lightly into the cereal.

6. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours, until set. Cut into 12 bars.

*recipe via Dawn Jackson Blatner at The Chopping Block



Madison, Wisconsin

As I mentioned last week, I spent most of my free time during my senior year of college (oh so many years ago) exploring everything that Madison had to offer. I went to a very small school about an hour outside of the city and while I got a fantastic education and really loved so many things about the environment, it wasn't exactly the epicenter of culture. To me, Madison was bright and shiny - it was diverse and had yummy restaurants & a funky vibe that was lacking at my school. I fell in love with that city and considered it to be one of my top choices to live once I was finished with school.



Meatless Monday: Double Sesame Kale

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend. My friend, Barb, had a training to attend on Saturday in Madison and she invited me to head up there with her and make it a girls weekend. I made a last minute decision to clear my calendar and join her, which I'm so glad I did! There was a time in my life in which I spent practically every weekend roaming the streets of that city (back when I was a senior in college/a lifetime ago!), but I hadn't been back in eight-ish years. I spent the time she was in her training wandering around the huge farmers market and visiting all of my old favorite stores and cafés. It was a lovely weekend, but I have to say that it was a bit weird being back there, as everything was so familiar, but I'm no longer the same person who fell in love with that city all those years ago. The 30-something-year-old version of myself definitely has quite a different perspective than the 19-year-old version did (I'm also far less awkward & have much better style, thank goodness!).

After a weekend of 
rum punch and amazing gelato (more on this next week!), it's time for me to do another mini-detox. I don't ever do anything weird or harsh - I just focus on eating a mostly fruit & veggie-based diet and up my Shakeology servings from one to two per day. My detoxes give me the perfect excuse to pull out my recipe files and revisit some of those long-neglected, but delicious meatless dishes, including today's Double Sesame Kale. While I usually find raw kale to be far too bitter, the honey in this dish cuts down the bitterness factor; the addition of the sesame and Bragg's Liquid Aminos leads to the perfect sweet/salty/savory combination. Yum!!



Thirsty Thursday: Watermelon Sangria

As I mentioned in Tuesday's LTP post, I have a serious love for fruity summer cocktails. Apparently, I'm not the only one who worships at the temple of alcohol-infused fruity goodness... after I posted a photo on facebook of the watermelon sangria I had at a friend's BBQ on Monday, I received a crazy number of requests for the recipe! Luckily, I was able to get Charles (aka the BBQ friend/Mario's best friend) to divulge the secrets to his delicious concoction. Let me just say that I am so lucky to have Charles in my life - not only is he a really cool guy, he's also an amazing chef. The time I spend with him is always filled with delicious food and tales from the restaurant world (he knows my future BFF, Marcus!!).

While sangria is one of those drinks I would order any time of the year, the addition of the watermelon really turns it into the perfect summer cocktail. It's light, refreshing, and fruity. It's also really fun to serve yourself a drink from a watermelon (especially after you've already made a few visits to said watermelon). This is the perfect summer drink for any party, BBQ... or just a fun weekend on your own. ;-)

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