Photos: Ali’s Birthday

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This post is so belated that if this were 20 years ago, Ali would already be declaring herself twentysevenANDAHALF!

Editing and uploading these photos made me so happy – lobsters, champagne, birthdays, smug cats and family… what could be better?

Wait, there might be one thing! This gif of a look I have been on the receiving end of many a time. “Seriously, Laura?” Love you, Al!

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ll

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Pumpkin Corn Chowder

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Snow has finally covered the ground here in Chicago.  Just when we were thinking that Chicago was about to blow it’s reputation for being miserable in the winter and no longer scare away those faint of foul weather, risking the import of thousands of southern souls clogging our CTA, snapping up the beautiful apartments and filling our beaches with their charming accents, our dear city came through.  Who else could be unpredictable and slightly cruel enough to dump 6 inches of snow on the ground between the end of the Super Bowl and a Monday morning?  Our friend, Chicago.  Thanks buddy, you’re always there for us

Fortunately cold weather and hearty soups go hand in hand, so pull on your boots and slog through the snow to pick up the few ingredients it takes to make this delicious pumpkin chowder; you wont regret it.  Packed with pumpkin, corn and spices, this really is a meal in and of itself.  Simple and delicious – our kind of recipe.

Pumpkin Corn Chowder

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cups of chicken broth
  • 2 15oz cans of corn, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup of chopped red peppers (green work, too!)
  • 1 29oz can of pumpkin puree
  • Spices: cinnamon, cumin, cayenne pepper salt, pepper, nutmeg, allspice
  • 1/3 cup of heavy cream

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, sauté the onion in 2 tablespoons of butter until soft.  Add canned pumpkin, 2 cups of chicken broth and spices.  (side note:  I personally season the hell out of this soup to make it spicy and flavorful, so I left the spice amounts open to interpretation!).  Let the soup simmer on low for 15 minutes.  Add rinsed and drained corn and the chopped peppers.  Let simmer for 10 minutes.  Check spices and adjust if necessary.  Just before serving, add heavy cream and stir to blend.  Tip – top with crumbled cotija cheese.  Enjoy!

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Happy Birthday Ali!

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To the blue to my red,

the coffee to my cream,

the sauv to my blanc…

To the painter extraordinaire,

the on-the-spot-recipe genius,

the alley furniture hero,

the poufmaster (and all around great hair-posesser),

the sweeper of my broken glasses many other messes…

To my younger-older sister,

my best friend –

I love you!

Cheers to the great year I know you have ahead of  you.

Hippo birdie!

ll

Chicken and Kale Burgers

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I had two cans of chicken breast on hand this weekend, and to save myself from myself and the extremely strong temptation to throw some mayonnaise in there and call it a day, I decided to get creative.

I added sauteed kale to the mix with organic breadcrumbs, an egg and seasoning, then pan fried the patties for a quick and healthy lunch with lots of flavor.

Chicken & Kale Burgers

Makes 4 burgers

  • 2 10-oz. cans chicken breast
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/4 Cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 Cup kale leaves, stems discarded
  • 1 Tb worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp chili pepper flakes
  • 1 Tb lemon juice

*This may be the only recipe you’ll ever see from me that does not include adding salt, but I strongly recommend against it — the chicken is already salty! 

  1. Sautee kale leaves in olive oil until soft. Alternatively, you could steam the kale. Set aside to cool.
  2. Drain chicken breast, then add to a bowl with egg, breadcrumbs, and kale.
  3. Use your hands to mix all of the ingredients together – there’s really no way around getting in there and getting your hands dirty! A spoon won’t cut it.
  4. Add worcestershire sauce, chili peppers, and lemon juice.
  5. Mix it all up again, then divide mixture into four sections. Form one burger out of each section, rolling it into a ball and then flattening.
  6. Fry in a pan prepared with olive oil spray over low heat, flipping once until heated through and golden brown on each side.
  7. Eat! This would be great on a bun with condiments and extra veggies, but was juuust fine on a plate with spicy ketchup.

ll

Helping Hands

heart-gloves-etsy> adorable gloves via this etsy shop

Every year, our mama gets us socks for Christmas. The really cozy, warm kind that we’d never buy ourselves. She says its because her worst fear is that someone is cold. And yes, she is the best.

I sometimes feel that I’m not doing enough for my neighbors in this cold and windy city. I attempted to do some research for the sake of this post to find the number of homeless Chicagoans, but it doesn’t seem that there’s anything conclusive. Honestly, though, whether the number is 5,000 or 20,000 doesn’t really matter.

I’m particularly sensitive to those living on the street when I find myself shivering and complaining in layers of sweaters, boots, mama socks and a parka.

But I’m hesitant to pull out my wallet after getting it stolen one extremely frustrating day a few years back after doing that, and equally hesitant to buy someone lunch or dinner after my burrito beneficiary informed me that he was sick of Mexican. (Seriously.)

So this year, I’ve figured out an inexpensive and easy way to help a neighbor here or there and I thought I’d share.

Duck into a Walgreens or CVS and pick up a pack of handwarmers and a pair of cotton gloves. They’re almost always near the front of the store, close to the registers, and for a few dollars, you can make someone fighting our beloved city’s bitter cold just a bit warmer and more comfortable for 10 hours.

And if you need a little extra motivation, you’ll help my mama rest easier 🙂

ll

Healthy Greek Frittata

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I’m currently redeeming one free week of yoga as a beginning at CorePower Yoga, which means that at least for the remainder of this week, I’ll be annoyingly healthy. Oh, except for that prime rib I devoured last night at Crosby’s Kitchen.

On a mission to atone for last night’s medium-rare and horseradish-cream covered sins, I insisted on Sunday brunch in this morning, and made an extremely healthy version of JB’s standard brunch order – a Greek omelette. Frankly, this could just as easily be an omelette but I’ve yet to make an omelette without it breaking/burning/running so I spared myself the stress, threw it in the oven and called it a very happy day.

Making a few of these would be a great option for entertaining. They’re almost embarassingly easy and totally fit into my new, yoga-enhanced healthy lifestyle! (This week.)  I’ve pasted in the nutritional stats below the recipe… kind of unbelievable, no?

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What’s up, aperture priority mode? Forgive the pointless pictures while I play with my camera. Slowly but steadily workin’ towards 10,000!

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Did you know there was such a thing as a tomato knife? I did not, and I have spent the past 28 years squishing tomato after tomato.

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Perfectly chopped!

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Breakfast feasting with AmyLu chicken sausage – the best.

Healthy Greek Frittata

Serves 4

  • 4 whole eggs
  • 5 egg whites
  • Large handful of spinach
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
  • 6 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup fat free feta*
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • black pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Saute chopped tomatoes and green onions in a non-stick pan, coated with cooking spray. Add spinach and cover to wilt.
  3. Transfer cooked vegetables into a pie dish prepared with cooking spray and allow to cool.
  4. Whisk together eggs, egg whites, and oregano, then pour the egg mixture over cooled vegetables.
  5. Sprinkle feta on top, then add pepper to taste. You don’t need salt, the feta is already salty!
  6. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until egg is completely set.
  7. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Slice and serve!

*fat free feta is the least scary fat free cheese, and personally, I don’t mind it. However, you could easily substitute in reduced fat or even full fat feta here and still have a very healthy dish!

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From myfitnesspal.com

Asian Lettuce Wraps

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*Lives are officially changed after receiving fancy new knives from our parents for Christmas – can’t.stop.chopping!

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Dinner dates with my sister are always the highlight of my week. We’re pretty good at catching up about once a week, but in the whirlwind of the holidays, it had been too long since we caught up over some vino and cooked dinner together.

We remedied that last night but wanted to keep it relatively healthy — new years resolutions, you know the drill. We made Asian-inspired lettuce wraps and they definitely fit the “healthy” requirement, and happily were also really, REALLY good.

Sadly, we don’t have a picture of the actual wrap because I literally ripped every single piece of lettuce in half trying to make the “cups” (does someone have a trick for this?! Pinterest? Mom?) so they were morbidly less than attractive. It was somewhat like eating a salad with your hands. We wish you better luck on the wrapping front but can promise you that the filling, at least, will be out of this world.

Asian Lettuce Wraps

This makes enough for two starving people with some leftovers or four reasonable adults.

  • 1  medium onion, diced
  • 1 yellow or pepper, diced
  • 1 Tb olive oil
  • 1 lb package ground turkey or chicken
  • 1 Tb five spice seasoning
  • 1 Tb brown sugar
  • 1/4 C reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tb chili garlic paste or to taste
  • Peanuts, chopped
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • Iceberg lettuce leaves for wrapping
  1. Sautee diced onion and pepper in olive oil until soft. Drain any liquid and set aside.
  2. Mix soy sauce, brown sugar, chili paste, and five spice in a bowl and stir well until combined.
  3. In a separate pan, brown turkey meat until cooked through.
  4. Add the sauce mixture and vegetables, mixing to coat.
  5. Spoon meat into lettuce cups, adding chopped peanuts and cilantro. Wrap, and feast!

ll

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

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Quite the quote by Henri Cartier-Bresson, hmm?

Well, 9,804 to go.

I received the most amazing gift for Christmas – a Canon Rebel T3 and a lens that’s way too cool for me. I’m going to take non-iPhone pictures, guys!

I’ve spent the past week reading as much as I can and watching eight gazillion YouTube tutorials. Aperture! Shutter speed! Camera shake! ISO! So much to learn.

I need a pet pronto so that the gift-giver doesn’t get sick of being my unwilling (and often unsuspecting) subject.

On my last official day off of work for the holidays, I clomped around in the snow outside for a while and managed to snag some halfway decent shots. Get ready for lots more!

ll

Chicago Restaurant Review: Nellcote

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Could any restaurant in the entire city of Chicago be cuter?

The answer is definitively NO, it could not.

We have had the best of intentions of getting ourselves out to the West Loop for oh, the last six months now to see what all the hype was about. On our holiday seester date, we finally made the reservation and headed over on a cold and gloomy Saturday morning.

I think if we had to sum up the whole experience in one sentence, it would be, “WHAT WERE WE WAITING FOR?”

These photos do not do the decor justice. How can a restaurant be both warm and cozy and totally over the top opulent at the same time? It hurts my brain to think about such deep thoughts, but that’s exactly what Nellcote does. Gorgeous chandeliers and wainscot ceilings contrast create this warm and glowy space that we just never wanted to leave.

You’re greeted with a choice of the Times or US Magazine (naturally, I went for celebrity gossip and Ali bettered herself as an informed citizen) and if you’re as lucky as us, you’re seated with an absolutely fabulous waiter that I’m bummed is not my friend in real life. Perhaps if we keep going back enough….

We happened to be in when they were showing The Holiday behind the bar, so that was a cozy little surprise.

When we were happily snuggled in to our table with mimosas and trashy magazines/serious newspapers, I told Ali, “I’d come back even if the food tastes like dirt!”

Happily, we were a far stretch from dirt.

We were immediately served a an adorable charcuterie plate with cheeses, jams and prosciutto. As we munched away, we perused the menu and then ended up ordering purely based on our waiter’s recommendations. How do you pick just one thing when everything sounds so delicious? #whitegirlproblems

The lobster benedict had huge chunks of lobster under a blanket of smoked paprika hollandaise. The eggs were poached perfectly and melted into the hash underneath.

The simple salad served with the quiche almost stole the show – blasphemy, I know, but the champagne vinaigrette was delicious. The quiche itself was light, fluffy and so creamy.

We opted out of ordering our waiter’s recommendation of the sausage and potatoes because it just sounded like too much food (I know, who were we kidding?) but to our surprise and delight, they brought an order to our table for us to try along with our entrees. We ate every last bite of both and both will forever be tacked on to our brunch orders at Nellcote.

We sat around watching The Holiday, chatting, reading and drinking mimosas for an extra hour or two and then reluctantly headed out into the cold. We stepped one foot outside and wondered why on earth we had ever left.

We will be back for you, Nellcote! If brunch was any indication, dinner would be to die for… I’m just envisioning those beautiful chandeliers lit up at night and the cocktails arriving from behind the bar.

Fun tip – Nellcote’s NYE party sounds like an absolute blast! http://www.eventstand.com/event/nellcotenye for tickets.

ll