Monthly Archives: January 2013

Wedding Wednesday: That’s When I Knew

photo by Tim Tab

photo by Tim Tab

Two years ago tomorrow.

Most Chicagoans can tell you nightmares about what they experienced that day. Hours spent parked on Lake Shore Drive. Stranded at work or at home. No heat or electricity.

But I remember it differently. January 31, 2011 was one of the best days of my life. I still don’t know what made me do it. Amidst the hysteria the day before the Blizzard To End All Blizzards I shuttled off an e-mail to you. If you get out of work early because of the snow, would you consider heading here instead of going home? Or something like that. My stomach somersaulted as I waited for your response.

But you packed a bag and brought it to work. And when the office closed early because of the snow you came to me instead of going home. You trekked nearly a mile from the Sheridan L stop in horizontal snow. You showed up frozen and ice-encrusted at my door. I melted and you stayed.

You know how some people say there’s a moment when they just know? On that day, I knew. I knew that if you and I were the only people stranded on a deserted island for eternity or holed up in my 800-square foot apartment on the tenth floor for two days while the windows rattled with thundersnow nothing in the world could ever make me happier.

And in my own way, on that day, I knew.

Slow Cooker Black Bean Chili

My little slow cooker has been quite busy this week–and rightly so. We’ve had some of the coldest days here in Chicago in years. Having lived in New York, Utah, Vermont, and now Chicago I like to think I’m pretty good about the cold. But the truth is all I want to do is snuggle up in about 10 blankets by the fire, drink tea, and read books all day. Since there’s life and work to keep up with, plus the fact that we don’t have a fireplace, I tried to create that same level of comfort with our meals this week. Not only does the slow cooker guarantee a warm-you-from-the-inside dinner, it makes the house smell incredible for hours, which is a kind of cozy, homey comfort for me.

Let’s talk about this chili because it turned out even better than I imagined–and I already had high hopes. There are just so many different flavors: onion, garlic, jalapenos, chiles in adobo sauce, chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Get your spice rack ready!

If you ever thought vegetarian meals are lacking in flavor (does anyone think that?) this meal would surely prove you wrong. Although the first few steps require a little more work than the typical toss in the slow cooker approach, they are so, so worth it.

Just chop your onions, jalapenos, and garlic cloves. Sautee in some olive oil. Your home already smells amazing.

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Add your spices.  Cook about 10 more minutes.

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Add some veggie broth and scrape up brown bits (aka flavor)

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Pour everything into the slow cooker.

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Wait 7 hours…Party.

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Garnish with plenty of fresh cilantro (not pictured) and sliced avocado. Serve over brown rice or quinoa if desired.

Have a great weekend! I start Sculpt training tomorrow. Freaking. Out.

Slow Cooker Black Bean Chili

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

Olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 red onion, chopped

2 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded, and minced

6 garlic cloves, minced

3 Tbsp chili powder

1 Tbsp cumin

1 Tbsp dried oregano

4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

1 cup water

1 pound dried black beans, picked over and rinsed

10 oz white mushrooms, sliced

2 Tbsp minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce (about 2 chiles minced)

2 Tbsp adobo sauce from canned chipotle chile in adobo

2 bay leaves

1 (28 oz) can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped

Salt & pepper

Garnish: chopped cilantro, avocado

Preparation

1. Heat about 1 Tbsp oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, jalapenos, and garlic. Saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Saute until vegetables brown and soften, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1 cup vegetable broth, scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add to slow cooker.

2. To the slow cooker add: remaining vegetable broth, water, beans, mushrooms, minced chipotles, adobo sauce, and bay leaves. Cover and cook until beans are tender, 9 to 11 hours on low or 5 to 7 hours on high.

3. When done cooking, discard bay leaves. Transfer 1 cup of cooked beans to a bowl and mash with potato masher or back of fork until smooth. Return mashed beans to slow cooker. Add tomatoes into chili. Once heated through, about 5 minutes, season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution 

Wedding Wednesday: Bridal Style

To think I’d ever consider writing a post that somehow involves fashion is a little ridiculous. I am, after all, pretty darn clueless. Still, I’m getting married, which means I’m going to have to wear something that doesn’t have a Lululemon logo on it at least one day this year. So here it goes…

Many people who know me know that I grew up dancing ballet. It was a huge part of my life–no, it was my life–for most of my childhood and well into my teenage years. When I retired my pointe shoes and headed off to college I was sure that part of my life was completely behind me. And it was…

Until I started planning a wedding.

All of a sudden the sweet, girly ballerina in me has reared her slicked-back bun head and loves everything soft, frilly and feminine. The more bows the better. I’ve been doing a pretty solid job of keeping these urges under control, but every so often I can barely believe what I’m thinking.

When it comes to dresses I was certain I wanted a very slim fitting sheath dress. So in the beginning that’s all I looked at and tried on. Of course, that was until I found myself standing in a dress made entirely of tutu-fabric tulle at Jenny Yoo, twirling on top of the pedestal. I went back and tried on this number three different times.

Jenny Yoo Georgeanne via

Ain’t she a beaut? Jenny Yoo Georgeanne via

Although I didn’t buy that dress (or one made of tulle…) let’s just say I didn’t end up with the slim-fitting lace dress I was sure I would get either. No, not even close. For some reason when I tried on those dresses I felt like I was wearing a beautiful white dress, but I didn’t feel like a bride. Because apparently I need to feel like a ballerina to feel like a bride.

There’s no explaining bridal brain.

When I put on the dress I ended up buying I did so certain that I would de-pouf it in alterations by at least several layers. But lately? I’m thinking about keeping every last layer of dreamy, cloud-like fluff in there. Bun head strikes again!

Now let’s talk shoes. This is where my inner ballerina really shines. Any time I see the words “ballet slippers” I can practically feel the four swans prancing across my frontal lobe. Sparkles make my heart race. And oh, those bows! Of course it’s become abundantly clear to me that I’m not the only bride to ever have ballerina fantasies for her big day. Just check out some of these adorable ballet-like slippers I’ve recently considered:

Parisian Ballet Flats

My heart is waltzing as we speak. via BHLDN

Are you kidding me with those straps?

Sweet, sweet Chloe ballet flats via

Sweet Chloe ballet flats via

Sparkles and bows!

Dakota Back-Bow Ballerina Flat via

Alice & Olivia Dakota Back-Bow Ballerina Flat via

Last Friday I even swung by the BHLDN store on Oak St. here in Chicago and tried on some adorable shoes. I haven’t committed to these, but they would certainly take care of that something blue…

Le sigh.

More bows!

The good news is so far the ballerina magnet is only at full force when it comes to my attire. (Besides shoes the next big decision is finding a sash for my dress. Say hello to satin and sparkles!) Fortunately, this quasi-obsession hasn’t driven me to want every surface of our venue encrusted in florals and crystals. I know my sister will be the first person to make sure my hair isn’t so slicked back that my eyebrows are perma-raised like they were when I was a dancer. (Don’t worry, L, I’m going for soft.) And the truth is I’ve only jokingly considered wearing a tiara, but only because Kate Middleton did.

Thankfully, I realize there’s only room in this wedding for fulfilling one of my fantasies and, well, the Sugar Plum fairy will always triumph over Princess Kate.

Pasta in a Creamy Mushroom Sauce

Pasta with Creamy Mushroom Sauce (plus lots of baby spinach)

Pasta shells in a creamy mushroom sauce (plus Great Northern beans and lots of baby spinach)

Happy Monday! I hope you had a great weekend. Mine was pretty darn relaxing. Friday evening Robert and I ate an early dinner at a Mexican restaurant. At that hour we were pretty much the only table without kids. I have to say that chips, salsa, and a margarita are a great way to kick off the weekend. We then walked home and watched a few episodes of Dexter (well he did, I passed out on the couch.)

Saturday morning I flipped through cookbooks, food magazines, and Pinterest for inspiration and put together a list of dinners to make this week. This is actually one of my favorite weekend activities (nerd alert!) and someday I’d love to write a post about how exactly I do this. I then put my grocery shopping list together and headed off to take a yoga class. Later that afternoon I hit up Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods to pick up ingredients for the week.

Saturday evening before making this dinner (more on that in a moment!) I realized I was completely exhausted. Wiped out. Drained. I could’ve fallen asleep around 7pm and slept through the night. It had been a really long week. The only catch was that we had tickets to a concert at a venue just a few blocks from our home. I felt terrible breaking the news to Robert that I didn’t feel like going (I hate disappointing him–or anyone–even though he was completely understanding as always.)

Still, I summoned enough energy to put together this dinner. Oh my goodness was it good! I’ve been on a pasta kick ever since I made penne with shrimp and sun dried tomatoes a few weeks ago. I love making pasta dinners on weekends because it feels substantial enough–maybe even a little indulgent like you’d get at a restaurant–but I can still up the health factor by choosing good quality ingredients. Plus, keeping with our eco friendly and budget conscious goals it’s more affordable than dining out of course. I also love how this meal was vegetarian, yet the mushrooms and beans lend almost a meaty texture to make it completely satisfying. Ever since my creamy sauce snafu a few weeks ago I’ve been determined to give it another shot and this was a perfect opportunity to do just that. I’m happy to say it went off without a hitch!

Miraculously, around 9:30pm, I felt a wave of energy wash over me and I told Robert I was ready to go to the concert. I traded my yoga pants and sweatshirt for corduroys and a sweater and we walked the few chilly blocks to the venue in time to see a few songs by one of our favorite bands (Freelance Whales). I’m so happy I rallied!

Sunday morning I prepped a slow cooker chicken stew recipe (coming this week!) and taught a level 2 yoga class. These classes are a more advanced and intricate format than the level 1/intro classes I’ve been teaching since October. It was only the third level 2 class I’ve taught so far (I passed my audition last week!), but each time I feel more comfortable and calm. It’s just so much fun! Teaching level 2 classes has been my goal all along and I’m happy to say it’s just as fulfilling as I imagined it would be.

The rest of the day consisted of some work, a phone conversation with a potential Reverend for our wedding (very promising!), and a relaxing evening on the couch preparing for another busy week.

I hope you all have a wonderful day! If you have any question marks when it comes to dinners this week I hope you’ll consider this quick and delicious meal. Enjoy!

Yum!

Yum!

Pasta in a Creamy Mushroom Sauce

Serves 4

8 oz whole wheat pasta such as shells or farfalle

Olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

10 oz sliced cremini mushrooms

Salt & pepper

1 3/4 cups white wine (I used chardonnay)

15 oz can Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed

6 oz baby spinach, roughly chopped

3/4 cup whipping cream

Minced fresh parsley for garnish

Preparation

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add onion, shallot, garlic, and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Saute until mushrooms release liquid and become tender, about 15 minutes. Add wine, beans, and spinach. Cook about 10 more minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in cream. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve.

Adapted from Cooking Light 

Pork Chops with Apples & Onions

Pork Chops with Apples & Onions (and roasted broccoli)

Pork Chops with Apples & Onions (and roasted broccoli)

Sometimes, when I’m making a brand new recipe, using an ingredient that’s new to me, or cooking with a new technique I kind of spend the day thinking about it. Without realizing it, I’ll visualize the different steps involved like an athlete preparing for a big game. I’ll look up a handful of similar recipes to get a sense of how others have done it.

Then, when it’s time to prepare what I’ve planned to make sometimes I get a little nervous–but also excited–before I start chopping. I now realize how ridiculous this sounds, but there you have it. Of course it’s all just because I care.

I never thought about the full spectrum of my cooking crazy until I planned to make this meal earlier this week. I noticed that no matter what I tried to do my thoughts kept drifting back to these pork chops. I planned out the sear, telling myself I had to channel the self restraint to not touch the pork chops for a good five minutes once I laid them in the iron skillet so I could get the perfect brown crust. Only then could I flip them and it would be hands off again. I contemplated how, exactly, one cuts onion into those thin loops and whether I should add the sliced apple with the onion or wait for the onion to start to caramelize. (I added them together. Good move.)

Nailed it!

Nailed it

At times I wish cooking came a little more naturally or intuitively to me. But then again, I’m not sure the process or my successes would bring me as much joy as they do if that were the case. This meal felt like a major achievement in my cooking journey. It was cozy and comforting without being too heavy and it was bursting with the ideal balance of sweet and savory flavors. I nailed the sear. The caramelization was totally there. What more could I possibly ask for on a Tuesday night…besides, perhaps, a glass of wine?

Delicious things are happening

Delicious things are happening

Pork Chops with Apples & Onions

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 bone-in pork chops (1 pound total)

Salt & pepper

Olive oil

1 onion, sliced into thin rings

1 Gala apple, cored, sliced thinly

1 tbsp butter

1/2 cup white wine

Preparation

Thoroughly salt and pepper both sides of the pork chops. Heat oil in cast-iron skillet over medium high heat. Once hot, lay pork chops in pan and don’t move them for 4-5 minutes. Turn and brown on the other side for another 4-5 minutes. Remove pork chops to a plate and tent with foil.

Add butter to the pan. Once melted, add onions and apples. Saute until onions start to caramelize and apples soften, about 8-10 minutes. Pour in wine. Nestle pork chops in pan and cover with apples and onions. Cook 10 more minutes, flipping pork chops halfway through.

Adapted from Martha Stewart

Wedding Wednesday: An Update!

Hi Friends! It’s been a while since my last Wedding Wednesday so I thought I’d give you an update on some of the progress we’ve made lately and some things we’re looking forward to next.

We actually didn’t do very much wedding related stuff for about a month and you know what? It was really nice. Although I’m enjoying the wedding planning process more than I ever imagined it was great to just focus on having fun together without thinking so much about the future. Sometimes I reflect on how fleeting this phase of our relationship is. Sure, it’ll be a 13 month engagement when all is said and done and I realize lots of people have much shorter engagements than that (some may think we’re crazy), but there’s something really special about this time and I want to make sure I’m present for it all.

Now that we’re back in planning mode (though of course still fully enjoying ourselves) here’s some of the latest news:

We Bought My Ring! 

We bought my wedding ring this weekend and it arrived on Tuesday and I’m in love. I can’t even tell you how mega this step feels. That’s the ring with which I’ll say “I do!!” Wow. I never imagined we’d pick out the ring so soon, but I spotted it at the same place Robert got my engagement ring and it just so happened to be on sale! How often does that kind of stuff go on sale? Never. That’s how often. I knew I had to get it because if I waited any longer I may not have sprung for one as fancy as this even though it’s the one I truly wanted. In many ways this step felt a lot like finding our venue and picking out my dress in that it was nothing like I pictured it would be (though that doesn’t make it any less exciting). I figured we’d go shopping together a few times and try on rings for both of us and make an event out of it. But we purchased my ring online. It was 11 a.m. on Saturday morning and I was wearing a Northwestern hoodie quite possibly for the third day in a row. Classy. I still wanted to make the moment special in some way, so Robert sat with me as I filled in the shipping and billing information (squealing all along–me, not him) and then he put his hand on mine and we pressed down on the mouse together to confirm the order. Welcome to wedding ring shopping in 2013! Now I just have to figure out how not wear it around the house for the next eight months.

My Thoughts on Pinterest for Planning

One of the next big items on our list is finding a florist. I’ve done some preliminary research, but nothing too serious yet. Apparently florists don’t just do flowers they can also take care of things like candles and other pretty elements. You may already know this, but it was news to me. Well, I realized that if I were to contact a florist tomorrow I wasn’t really sure what I’d say when it comes to questions like What do I have in mind? What kind of look do I want? What kind of flowers do I want? Um, IDK. Enter: Pinterest. I’ve resisted making a specific wedding board because I figured it would take any surprise out of the Big Day. Pinterest-friend guests would show up feeling like they’d already seen it all before. But the reality is that a fraction of our guests are on Pinterest anyway, our venue is really unique, and Pinterest is just about combing the web for inspiration. Putting together that board really helped me get clear on what things jump out at me and it appears I like a natural garden feel with soft, neutral colors. I’m sure I’m the only bride in history to ever say that to a florist (yeah, right), but at least I know what kinds of things to say when I open my mouth. Once I have a real conversation with a few florists I’ll also have a much better idea of which things we’ll want them to do and which will go on our DIY/Find on Etsy (and other cool places) list. Even with a Pinterest board we’ll still have plenty of surprises in store!

Next…

We’re starting the process of answering the question: who the heck is going to marry us? (Our ceremony will be at the venue and neither of us has a strong religious affiliation.) We also plan to take a very active role in writing our ceremony, which is something that makes me both terrified and thrilled. So more on that to come in the future!

That’s all for now! Hope you’re having a great week : )

xo
Paige

Favorite Pan-Fried Tilapia

Favorite Pan-Fried Tilapia

Favorite Pan-Fried Tilapia

Are you in need of a quick weeknight meal that’s short on time, but full on flavor? I’ve got your solution right here. This tilapia recipe will knock the socks off of everyone in your household. I’ve found that keeping a go-to tilapia recipe up my sleeve is a great way to avoid hitting up our local Chipotle, sushi joint, or Chinese take-out on those nights when I’m not quite sure what to make. I was able to throw this meal together using some frozen tilapia (soooo budget friendly!) and extra Brussels sprouts. Because apparently I’m the kind of person who has extra Brussels sprouts.

I’ve been making a version of this tilapia recipe for a while, but it recently occurred to me to add a few additional spices (paprika and cayenne) to the dredging mixture and it launched things into a whole other tasty dimension.

Although the recipe uses very little flour over all, it gives the filets a slightly crispy outer layer that completely transforms an otherwise unexciting variety of fish. Because let’s face it, tilapia isn’t the fanciest fish you can buy. But with this recipe, no one would know.

The result, as my Grandma Fanny would probably say (cue thick New York accent): It’s a nice piece of fish.

Favorite Pan-Fried Tilapia

Serves 2

1/3 cup flour

2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/4 tsp cayenne

2 Tilapia filets (about 0.75 lb.)

Olive oil

Preparation

Heat about 1 Tbsp olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium high heat

Combine flour, paprika, salt, pepper, and cayenne on a plate. Mix with a fork or small whisk. Pat tilapia dry with a paper towel. Lightly brush fish with olive oil on both sides. Dredge both sides of the fish in flour mixture. Place fish in skillet. Cook about four minutes on each side until fish is cooked through.