Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I want one...

No, nothing extreme has happened today. And no, I don't really want one right this second. However, I do want one in the near future. They are just so tasty! Good thing it is one of the tasks on my list of things to do this summer! {By the way -- check the list for updates. So far I have 5 out of 14 things accomplished!!}

{image from flickr}

Monday, June 29, 2009

Un-Book Club Book

I believe a more traditional person would call this a book read for leisure.

Back in January, I presented a list of book suggestions to my book club for our March book. The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan was on my list; it wasn't picked. A few months later another book club member suggested it as well; again it wasn't picked. But she had brought a physical copy with her to book club. I mentioned how I had really wanted to read it and she let me borrow it.

This was back in April, in the midst of our packing and moving process thus I didn't read it in a very timely fashion. However I finished it over the weekend.

The full title of the book describes clearly the book's contents - The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. In all honesty, I was not very familiar with The Dust Bowl. I had heard of it and knew it occured during The Great Depression, but outside of that didn't know much and certainly hadn't realized how long it lasted!

Throughout the book, Timothy Egan follows several families across Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico at the end of the wheat boom and the vast plowing of the native grasses in order to have more land to cultivate. When the land enters a multi-year drought these same families lose without viable crops are forced to live without income for several years, selling the majority of their belongings to keep their land. All the while the land they had plowed turned to dust and blew continually forming dust storms that at times blacked out the sun and reached as far as the East Coast. People of the Great Plains died of dust pnemonia and their farm animals starved; their insides literally filled with dust.

Throughout the book the author discusses the causes of the dust bowl - and while nature did play a role with a drought, which was not a-typical to the region, the true cause was human interference. The grasslands of the plains were not intended to be farmland; they were best suited as they had been - grasslands.

It is a very interesting book and opened my eyes to a period of time I didn't know much about. I might end up buying my own copy to read again (mostly because my water bottle leaked on the one I borrowed and feel badly giving it back in that condition). So if you want to borrow my copy, let me know... :)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Krystle's Bachelorette

Krystle's bachelorette was last Saturday and it was seriously so much fun!! She gave us a clear idea of what she wanted: Hotel, Shower, Dinner, Shout House. So all we had to do was pick some places.

We started the day at Graves 601. This is the first 5-star hotel in Minneapolis and it is GORGEOUS!! Heidi (Krystle's friend from high school [and now my friend] and fellow bridesmaid) went early, checked into the hotel and decorated the room. Heidi had picked up some streamers and balloons in Krystle's wedding colors (black, white and fuchsia). We strung them up around the room and then opened a bottle of champagne to start celebrating! :)

{Heidi & me}

Shortly after we finished decorating, Krystle and Kristina (Krystle's Sister and MOH) arrived. We poured another glass of champagne and finished setting up the food table. We also took a few pictures with Krystle and her attendants, since we didn't do that at her family shower.


{champagne chilling}

...and then the party started!! Guests arrived, we filled glasses ate some snacks and then filled glasses again. Krystle opened her gifts, we filled more glasses, broke the piñata, loaded our purses with goodies and then headed to dinner.

{elevator ride leaving the hotel}

We went to FireLake and had a private room for her party. It was great because Krystle was able to keep all of her "Bride-at-a-Bachelorette-Party" paraphernalia on and not feel out of place. Also, we made a custom menu for her celebration. Krystle is HUGE on the details (in a SUPER good way), so I knew if we did a menu in her wedding colors she would think it was so cool!! They had a menu at each place setting and it was *A*W*E*S*O*M*E!! The food & drink? Equally wonderful!! We dined on appetizers, salad, entrees, wine and cocktails and then didn't have room for dessert. It was a bummer too, because I had totally wanted to try the Peach Rhubarb Brown Betty (w/ buttermilk gelato).

{Krystle, FireLake & her menu}

{Krystle's Last Single Supper}

{money maker}

Then we were on to the next place: The Shout House!! We had VIP reservations and were seated front and center to the stage!! Our tables were decorated and soon after we arrived our waiter brought out champagne and started pouring.

{...to the bride!}

We spent the rest our night here -- we danced and sang, Krystle went on stage a number of times, we laughed, drank and had a great time!! We were the very last people to leave the bar and we headed back to the hotel where we opened another bottle of champagne, ate a few more snacks, chatted, laughed some more and then crawled into bed.

{on stage}


{love, laughter and a happy ever after!}


{we closed it down!}

We woke up Sunday morning and lazed around for a few hours before heading to breakfast. After a quick refueling we parted ways to celebrate Father's Day with our families.

SUCH a fun night!!

{me & Krystle}

Friday, June 26, 2009

Craft # 6 - Pull Piñata

Saturday was Krystle's Bachelorette party and it was *SUCH* a fun time!!

I had a wedding cake piñata I wanted to integrate into the festivities. I knew exactly what I wanted to use to fill it with, I just needed to figure out the execution.

Our plan was to break the piñata during her Shower, which was held in a hotel room. Since we are not aggressive movie/music stars, I couldn't really envision us breaking the piñata, blind-folded with a bat inside the hotel room so I needed to make the piñata indoor friendly.

That's when I found instructions to make a "Pull Piñata." The website is really detailed, so head there if you want a thorough explanation. Below is my brief instructions and then some pictures.

I cut a hole in the bottom of the piñata and then securely attached a ribbon to the trap door. I affixed the ribbon to a small piece of cardboard and thread it through, knotting it. I then stapled that extra cardboard piece to the trap door.
Next I combined the fun treats and prizes before putting them in the pinata. The goodies consisted of Ring Pops, candy watches, Hot Tamales, Barbie chocolate coins, Pop Rocks, little plastic toys (similar to what Perkins used to give out for free when I was a kid) and mini liquor bottles.
Once the piñata was filled, I taped a bunch of other ribbon pieces (to disguise the one leading to the trap door). I had left the ribbons SUPER long, so I could tie some additional prizes to them. I glued white tissue paper squares to the bottom of the cake (again, to hide the trap door).Before we headed out to dinner, I held the piñata up and had the ladies start pulling the ribbons off the piñata. The glued tissue paper came off in one big sheet almost right away, which was kind of distracting and lead people to think the piñata had opened up. But eventually someone got the trap door open. I ended up needing to help the treats fall out on to the floor; I should have cut a larger trap door.

All in all, I thought the piñata was a success!! The girls seemed to like the treats and booze and the ones with children at home graciously scooped up most of the plastic toys. I was pretty excited.
*Plus, I felt really awesome for having an alternative plan to "break" the piñata!! {The presence of a piñata raised a few of questions as the ladies entered the room...}

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Salmon Provencal

I knew one thing for certain about dinner a few nights ago: we were having salmon. Outside of that, I had no ideas. So, I searched the internet for a recipe that would result in a flavorful meal, require minimal ingredients and be e-a-s-y.

The result of my search was this. I was a little put off by the idea of blanching the tomatoes to peel them, but it really wasn't that inconvenient (though I didn't care to use the extra pan). As I waited for the water to boil, I prepped the rest of the ingredients for the tomato salsa. However I was won over with the mention that this is a good summer salmon recipee -- and because it is finally warm I decided to stick with it.

As usual I made a number of adjustments, but they are all noted below. One thing is for certain - this was good!! I'm looking forward to the leftovers at lunch...
Salmon Provencal
(Source: Simply Recipes)
3 large plum tomatoes
3 shallots, coarsely chopped [I used 1/4 of a medium yellow onion]
1 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh tarragon
1 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh basil [I used fresh dill]
1 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh chives
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice [the juice of 1/2 lemon]
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil [I used 1 T.]
[I added 2 T. capers, chopped + 1 t. caper juice]
4 salmon fillets, about 5-6 ounces each

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Blanch the tomatoes by plunging them into a pot of simmering salted water for 15-30 seconds, then plunging them into ice water for 1 minute. Drain the tomatoes and peel off and discard the skin. Cut the tomatoes into quarters, remove the core, seeds, and dice the flesh.

In a large bowl combine the tomatoes, shallots [onion], tarragon, basil [dill], and chives. In another bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil and salt to taste. Add to the tomato mixture, toss to coat.

Arrange salmon fillets on an oiled baking sheet without crowding. [I put the salmon fillets on parchment paper and then sprayed the fillets lightly with cooking spray and skipped the olive oil part of the next sentence] Drizzle with olive oil and season lightly with salt [I also peppered the fillets].

Bake until salmon is barely cooked through and lightly browned on the edges, 10-12 minutes.

To serve, spoon a couple tablespoons of the tomato mixture over each fillet. Serve immediately.
Serves 4.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My new favorite yogurt

I really really like Greek yogurt. I used it for the first time when I made Mango Ginger Frozen Yogurt. I've since eaten it plain, used it to make homemade tzatziki sauce and most recently tried their fruit/honey pairings (the bottom 3 containers in the photo above).

The pairings are kind of like Dannon's "Fruit in the Bottom" yogurts, but it is more like "Fruit on the Side." Plus, with it on the side you can decide how much (or little) you want. Remove the foil lid, tip the side compartment and dump the contents on top of the yogurt. My favorite so far: Honey. It has more calories than the rest (180 vs. 130 for the fruit version), but if you don't use all of the honey, you are probably fine. Plus, it is so good!!

I haven't tried any other Greek yogurt brands outside of Fage yet, but plan to.
*At my usual grocery store I found this in the refrigerated health food section, but Whole Foods stocks it by the other yogurts in dairy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Do you know what is a pain to eat?

Grapes w/ seeds!!

Saturday I picked up an assortment of beautiful fruit for a fruit tray to bring to Krystle's bachelorette (which I will type more about later). The fruit was absolutely d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s!! But I made a mistake with my red grape purchase; they have seeds and are SUCH a pain to eat!!!

On a happier note, look how pretty the fruit was!!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Book Club: Kafka on the Shore

This month's book was... well... strange.

I can't say I didn't like the book. It was a page-turner and once I got started, I felt like I couldn't put it down. Though, when I finished it I was relieved. The book contains quite a bit of adult content, which frankly made me uncomfortable. Especially since I read the book during our Chicago vacation.

All in all, it was super weird and a book I would never have ordinarily read, but a prime example of why I am in a book club.

For me, book club is an opportunity to:
1. Read books
2. Read books I would never otherwise select
3. Discuss the book with friends

If you want a taste of how odd the book is, read the first two paragraphs of this summary from January Magazine.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Latté Love

This morning I am drinking black coffee with a packet of Splenda. It's okay. But it's not as good as when I used that Vanilla Splenda. [I never did buy a flavored version.] Plain black coffee, with or without Splenda, is typically fine. It really is.

But lately -- I've been loving the latté.

In fact, today my morning coffee is not doing it for me. In the course of two hours I've sipped barely half of my cup and plan on throwing the rest out. However, I think a latté would be a perfect fit. Yum!!

{image from: fahad.com}

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Anyone want s'more?

Okay... hokey title, I know.

I came across this recipe a few weeks ago and was waiting for the right occasion to make them. Our friends threw a BBQ party at the beginning of June to show off their new house. I figured this was the ideal occassion for s'more bars. The bars are super yummy and very sweet. I would totally make them again, but next time I need to sit farther away from them. I honestly ate more than half of the pan!!

S'more Bars
(Source: Betty Crocker)

1 pouch (1 lb 1.5 oz) Betty Crocker® sugar cookie mix
1 cup graham cracker crumbs [I used half of a graham cracker box]
1 cup butter or margarine, melted
3 cups milk chocolate chips (18 oz) [I had open bags of semi-sweet, butterscotch and white chocolate chips, so I used a combination of all three... but no where near 3 cups worth]
4 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows [one full bag of mini marshmallows]

Heat oven to 375°F. In large bowl, stir together cookie mix and crumbs. Stir in melted butter until soft dough forms. Press into ungreased 13x9-inch pan.

Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until set. Immediately sprinkle chocolate chips over crust. Let stand 3 to 5 minutes or until chocolate begins to melt. Spread chocolate evenly over crust.

Set oven control to broil. Sprinkle marshmallows over melted chocolate. Broil with top 4 to 5 inches from heat 20 to 30 seconds or until marshmallows are toasted. [I set the time for a full minute, so mine are extra toasted. Word to the wise: watch these closely. I was moments from a fire.]
Cool 10 minutes. [I recommend you wet your knife several times to cut through the marshmallows... they are really sticky]
Really tasty. Really sweet. Really easy. Repeatable. Definitely.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wordless Weekend Recap

{image from sortuv.com}{image from chicagoist.com}

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Guess where I am...

{Image from: gct13.com}

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mary's salad

My friend Mary {pictured in the Cheese Class post} gave me this delicious salad recipe. She said it is similar to one her mom makes and kind of like the Spring Roll Salad I made in January.

Mary's changes are noted by an * and the ingredient used, mutual changes are noted by an * and teal font and my changes are listed in brackets and teal next to the ingredient/instruction.

Mary's Salad
(Source: My friend Mary)

1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
7 tablespoons fresh lime juice [I used lemon juice]
5 tablespoons fish sauce [so sad! I only had ~2 T of fish sauce in the bottle, so that was all I was able to use]
6 tablespoons rice vinegar *I used plain white vinegar*
3/4 cup cilantro leaves, shredded (stems reserved separately), about 1/2 bunch cilantro
3 tablespoons sugar [I used closer to 1 T]
2 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped [I used one serrano and one poblano pepper, I wish I had used 2 serrano]
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon grated wasabi, optional *omitted*
1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced
4 cups very thinly sliced cabbage [I just used a bag of cabbage coleslaw]
3 cups julienned carrots *omitted*
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, shredded
1/4 cup fresh Thai basil leaves, shredded *omitted*
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/4 cup finely chopped roasted salted peanuts *omitted*
*(Vegetables I added: snow/sugar snap peas sliced lengthwise, 1 red bell pepper sliced very thinly, 1 cucumber cut into matchsticks)
Crispy Shallots, recipe follows *omitted*

Place the chicken breasts in a medium saucepan and add enough water just to cover. Add 1 tablespoon of the lime juice, 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce [I had to skip this part due to minimal fish sauce on hand], 1 tablespoon of the rice vinegar and the reserved cilantro stems and bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the chicken to sit in the poaching liquid for 45 minutes. Remove the chicken from the liquid and allow it to cool completely. Transfer the chicken to an airtight container and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours and up to overnight. [I skipped the refrigeration portion of this step]

In a non-reactive bowl combine the remaining lime juice, fish sauce, rice vinegar, the sugar, chiles, garlic, red pepper, and wasabi, if using, and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

In a large bowl combine the cilantro leaves, onion, cabbage, carrots, mint leaves, and Thai basil leaves and toss to combine. Add 1/3 of the lime-chile mixture and toss. Let stand for 10 minutes, refrigerated, before serving.

Divide the salad evenly among 4 plates. Thinly slice the chicken breasts against the grain and divide evenly among the top of the salads. Garnish with the scallions, peanuts and crispy shallots and serve immediately, with the remaining lime-chile sauce on the side for dressing salads, to taste. *Instead of slicing the chicken, I shredded it into the same size as the sliced veggies. I found it to be too chewy and dry when it was just sliced. I mixed all the ingredients in a large bowl and added some of the dressing, tossed, tasted and ended up saving about 1/2 cup of the dressing.

[I made rice noodles for Rich's portion. He is not a huge lettuce/cabbage fan, so I figured he would prefer his to be on a bed of noodles. Though I have yet to perfect the art of making the rice noodles, he said it turned out okay.]

Mary's final advice was, "It tastes even better after you let it sit for a few hours in the fridge!" She is very right about that. I brought it to lunch the next day and it was even more flavorful!! [I might have been a little skimpy on the dressing the first time around, too. I would be a bit more generous the next time I make this... and there will be a next time!]

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Thai Style Ginger-Chicken-Broccoli Wrap

This was a fun, fast recipe I tried a couple of weeks ago. Yum!

Thai Style Ginger-Chicken-Broccoli Wraps
(Source: Fitness Magazine, May 2009)
Makes: 6 servings

12 oz. skinless boneless chicken-breast strips [I just used regular chicken breast, cut into strips]
1/4 t garlic salt [we don't have garlic salt so I used garlic powder + salt]
1/8 t black pepper
Nonstick cooking spray
2 c. packaged broccoli slaw
1/2 t. ground ginger
3 T. creamy peanut butter
1 T. reduced sodium soy sauce
1/2 t. minced garlic [I used 1 t.]
3 10" whole-wheat tortillas, warmed

Sprinkle chicken strips w/ garlic, salt and pepper [I also added red pepper flakes]. Coat a skillet w/ cooking spray. Add chicken; cook over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes or until no longer pink. Remove from pan, keep warm. [I didn't remove it from the pan... whoops. I just kept it in there and continued w/ the recipe].

Add broccoli slaw and 1/4 t. of ground ginger to skillet. Cook and stir for 2-3 minutes, or until vegetables are crunchy crisp.

In a small saucepan, combine peanut butter, 2 T. water, soy sauce, minced garlic and the remaining ginger. Heat over low heat until smooth, whisking constantly. [Again I didn't follow directions - and didn't whisk constantly. I'm not sure if it is because I used natural peanut butter or because the peanut butter got too hot, or that I just wanted a thinner consistency for the sauce, but I ended up adding a lot more water, closer to 1/3 c. and extra soy sauce. I also added red pepper flakes, black pepper and cayenne. Oh! And I doubled the ginger amount. We wanted a more flavorful sauce, I guess.]

To assemble, spread tortillas w/ peanut sauce, top w/ chicken strips and vegetable mixture. Roll up each tortilla securing w/ a toothpick. Cut in half, serve immediately. [This is what I actually did for assembly: heat tortilla in microwave for ~15-20 seconds, add chicken & broccoli mixture, top w/ peanut sauce (~2 T), wrap, eat]

Nutrition facts per serving: 191 calories, 18 g. protein, 16g. carbohydrate, 6 g. fat (1 g. saturated), 2 g. fiber

They were good, simple and fast!! I ended up with about a cup of extra peanut butter sauce, but used that in subsequent things. Plus I was glad I had thinned it out as much as I did. I wanted a sauce, not a spread. Rich had one 10" wrap and that was filling enough for him. I had two 8" wraps. [One really would have been enough, but I still had the second one and was very happy with that decision.] I was left with one additional serving of the chicken/broccoli mixture and brought that to lunch. [Clearly I'm wasn't very good at portioning the recommended 6 servings, but oh well.]