DO IT: Mix Up Your Menu

There’s nothing better than having an exciting dinner to look forward to after you’ve been working (and living off of crunchy peanut butter and bananas) all day. The moment Neil devours his last lunchtime taco, his mind immediately wanders to dinner. What’s more American than allowing food to be the highlight of your day? Although we don’t necessarily want you to develop an unhealthy relationship with food, we think you should DO IT: Mix Up Your Menu.

While we are definitely guilty of having spaghetti and meatballs almost every Wednesday (also known as “Meatball Night In America”),  you will always find at least one new recipe on our menu board each week. Here are a few from this past month that we would recommend:

I realize that it looks like there is frosting on our dinner. I promise that my cupcake obsession has not gone that far…yet. This recipe (here) was awesome. We traded the quinoa for couscous and added cilantro, lime juice and jalapeno to the avocado cream for a different take on Mexican. Muy bueno!

This next one, Thai Chicken Enchiladas, comes from my favorite food blogger (link here):

We added more of the sweet chili sauce than she called for since the coconut milk has a milder flavor. Don’t you want to come home to these tonight? Or better yet, don’t you want to come home to these AND this little bugger?

Anyone? Just me? Okay, great. Moving on. And because I cannot go a week without baking, check out these whoopie pies!

I brought them into work, and even the dieters caved. Which is saying something, because my coworkers do not take calorie cutbacks lightly. When Neil and I are “on a diet” all it takes to break it is a sexy glance from a cookie (or a bag of Chex Mix in Neil’s case). But when my manager breaks his Pick/Kill Caveman diet you KNOW you’ve created a winner. I got this recipe from a cooking class we took this winter, so if you want it let me know and I guess I will take 3 minutes to type it up for you.

That is all, my friends. Mix it up this week and don’t forget to thank me for it!

Love,

C

 

 

 

Crushin’ on Brunch

I have always had a love affair with brunch, but it’s hard to act on your feelings when your husband eats smashed cheese sandwiches and Chex Mix every morning. Bring him out to breakfast and he will order three sides of toast and a Diet Coke – only after trying to convince the waitress to make him a cheeseburger. That all changed one fine Easter morning when Neil met his most recent fling – the bottomless mimosa brunch. We made quick plans to throw our own mimosa brunch at home and forever rid him of his breakfast aversion.

To ease Neil into the whole idea, we made sure to stock up on some familiar friends:

So far, so good!

And since he never turns down a well-crafted beverage, we had a fully stocked mimosa bar (classy champagne, eh?).

Yes, this really happened. I am getting excited just thinking about it.

The main players were blackberry and strawberry puree, and of course fresh-squeezed orange juice. Yes, I really did wake up early to puree fruit.

Side note, and project for another day – chalkboard paint can jazz up practically anything.

And then it was time to eat. Neil chose to make banana bread pancakes. Let that soak in for a moment…Not just banana pancakes. Banana bread pancakes.

Do you need a closeup? Good, me too.

While that was a lot to take in, we still had an entire bowl of batter waiting. I made cake batter pancakes that were like…like, waking up and realizing that it’s your birthday but you don’t have to share your birthday cake with anyone.

These were almost as perfect as our first date to Chili’s. Can you hear the angels singing?

This brunch was almost too fancy for my yoga pants and Neil’s Space Mountain t-shirt, but somehow we managed. You guys/you all/y’all seriously need to throw your own mimosa gala, and send us your recipes! You can find the ones we used here and here.

In the past, Neil has never really seen what I see in brunch. But I think it’s safe to say now that he totally has a crush on it.

 

Pancakes and Mimosas,

C

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Quick Craft: Wedding Re-purpose

Okay, so when I say “quick” craft I don’t really know if I mean it. Let’s go with relatively quick. I wanted to find a way to re-purpose the bracelets I wore on our wedding day, and turning them into a chunky necklace sounded fun. It was that or watch the Masters with Neil, and crafting always wins that battle.

The good news about this craft is that one trip to Michael’s and some digging around your pink toolbox should set you up with everything you need to turn a special piece of jewelry into something you will wear all the time. Here are the bracelets before:

And after I turned them into a necklace:

I used jewelry thread, which is essentially fishing line, and strung the beads onto three separate pieces and then put about ten beads onto all three strands to bring them together on each side. They sell little tube-like pieces of metal, which you then secure with needle-nosed pliers to keep the tension on the beads and you’ve got yourself a necklace! I am not going into too much detail with this once since I highly doubt any of N+C readers set aside jewelry-making time on Sundays.

And a lesson I learned the hard way: after you meticulously string all of your beads in the exact pattern you want, you should probably tell your husband not to pick up just one end of the threads, lest they end up scattered on the ground. Sore subject.

Happy crafting!

C

 

DO IT: Photo Traditions

Welcome to a new recurring category on the N+C Blog where we convince you to adopt our habits, called DO IT. And on this week’s DO IT, we are talking about photo traditions and why you need to start some of your own.

Whether you’re that guy who goes on a week-long vacation and leaves your camera in the hotel room, or that girl that takes 1,500 pictures in one weekend (in front of the Prada store, holding a tropical drink, dressed up in the hotel lobby, at the dinner table with half eaten plates, making a sad face at the airport before leaving), your iPhoto library could absolutely benefit from a few photo traditions. You will never frame that outstretched arm/self portrait picture of you and your significant other, so save yourself some battery life and limit your photo ops.

I first got this idea from my parents, who for as long as I can remember take a kissing picture at every new/cool/unique place that they go. They range from completely awesome…..

Dad and Mom in Japan

to slightly offensive.

Dad grabbing a handful outside the Grand Canyon

Regardless, they can trace their tradition back to the days where my dad had an afro and my mom had nerd glasses (the first time they were cool).

We’ve started some of our own, and one of my favorites is a shot where I become part of the epic Donny and Marie sibling duo in Las Vegas.

Donny, Marie and Caili 2009

Annual Sibling Photo 2010

The Sibling Sensation gets a new look in 2012.

Totally in on the joke - you kill me, Donny!

Here are a few other photo traditions we have, to get your little brains thinking of some that you can start:

  • Us with our winnings ticket from Vegas (Neil’s is usually up $20-$40, and mine is usually up anywhere from 40 cents to $3.00. I play it safe.)

  • On tropical vacations, we always take a piggyback picture which usually makes for some good laughing shots.

  • On Christmas day, we take a picture in front of the Christmas tree to track our growth from year to year.

  • Rather than take the scenic view that everyone is taking, we will take the picture from OUR perspective that was most memorable, like the view up at the palm trees rather than out at the pier and the ocean. It helps us remember what it felt like to be there. You will never forget what the Eiffel Tower looks like, but you might forget what it looked like to be standing in front of it.

Now that you know all there is to know about photo traditions, DO IT!

 

Love me some Donny and Marie,

C

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A Dinner That Leaves You Wonton More

I am still trying to figure out why, when most couples order in and cuddle over a movie, Neil and I insist on spending our weekend nights challenging each other to obscure culinary battles. There’s nothing worse than that moment when you wake up on Saturday morning and realized you dirtied every dish in your kitchen the night before and you’re still mad at each other over “unfair judging.” Wow, putting that in writing confirms how weird we are.

Our latest cook-off was wonton themed, with ground turkey and potatoes being our “must use” items. If anyone wants to stop reading right here and guess what Neil chose to do, I will write you a check for fifty dollars and we can all call it a day.

My first won ton was Thai Turkey Basil with hoisin. It was basically ground turkey, red pepper, garlic, thai peppers and hoisin in a pan to taste. Add a lot of basil at the end and serve over rice, in lettuce wraps, or in this case wrapped in starch and fried. ; ) Wink!

My potato dish was, as the California girls like to say, SUPER BOMB. Potatoes, green pepper, sour cream, garlic and shredded cheese all wrapped up in what? Starch. And then pan fried. Bomb! We actually enjoyed my submissions a little too much; the second half of our chef battle had to be put off until the next day because we overindulged. That’s a good problem to have in my book.

And now on to Neil. He decided to go against everything he has ever done in past battles and make, wait. What? EXACTLY THE SAME THING. He’s lucky it was delicious. His favorite burger was turned into a wonton and served with some of the best homemade fries I have ever had.

Word on the streets is that he got the recipe from a Bobby Flay Burgers & Fries book. I think Neil sleeps with that book at night.

Neil’s turkey burger wontons had shredded cheese and crispy onions inside, and were served with not one but two kinds of barbecue sauce. My kind of guy!

I am beginning to wonder if you are starting to put us in the same mental category as Paula Deen. I PROMISE to (try to) put some healthy recipes up here soon. Or maybe post about anything but food for a little while.

 

Love and wontons,

C

Compounding the Deliciousness

“Don’t compound the problem,” some people say. “It looks like a compound fracture,” your doctor says, taking a drag from his cigarette. “Let’s, uh, drive the cah down to the, uh, Hyannisport Compound this weekend, Jackie,” JFK would always tell his wife. But I turns out the best use of “compound” is: “Here, taste this compound butter.”

I first learned about compound butter from my know-it-all brother Eric, who once answered so many rhetorical questions correctly at a cooking class that the teacher finally asked him, “Are you a chef, or WHAT?” Compound butter is essentially butter infused with flavors–and as you’d guess, it makes everything taste amazing. Like famous Canadian Tom Green once said, “It’s better with butter.”

So armed with this knowledge, we recently topped off some steaks with a compound butter infused with garlic and green onions. You gotta try it.

1. Chop up some green onions and garlic (or whatever flavors you want) and add to a bowl with half a stick of butter.

2. Once it’s all mixed together, put the mixture on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll the plastic wrap until you have a tube of butter. Then grab both ends and spin it around til it’s wrapped tightly.

3. Tightly tie off both ends of the plastic wrap and then set it on the counter so your wife can take a photo of it. (The photo part is optional.)

4. Put the butter in the freezer for a few minutes so it hardens–the goal is to get it back to a consistency where you can slice it.

5. Once your steak is ready, cut the plastic wrap off of one end and slice some perfect discs of compound butter to place on top.

There it is. So easy a Neil can do it. Now you know one more way to use the word “compound,” you’ve learned a great new cooking trick, and you’ve thought about Tom Green for the first time in at least 10 years. What a night.

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Oh No You Di-int!

Neil and I have been overindulging a bit too much lately, but last week was especially ridiculous. We somehow found a way to justify margaritas after work on Tuesday, PF Chang’s on Wednesday, and last night we went to Rockit at 11pm (side note, their truffle fries are out of this world). So today we made the hard decision to move forward with what we are calling “responsible cutbacks.” Neil has pledged to only eat Sweet Tarts/Dots/Chex Mix 4 days this week, and I froze the rest of my cupcake batch so that I can only have one if I think to take it out in advance. And tonight’s dinner we sacrificed the most, because we cut out carbs.

I grew up in a house that takes very little seriously, but one thing you don’t mess with is pizza. Patti would eat (and does, now that I think about it) pizza every day of her life. But in the name of responsibility, I messed with our pizza tonight. I think I broke a commandment when I made pizza crust made out of…

CAULIFLOWER

Now, I realize that by sharing this recipe with you, we risk losing all credibility when it comes to recipe recommendations. But one of these days when you are jonesin’ for pizza and Mr. Atkins is breathing down your neck, you will thank us. We got this recipe (found here) from our friend Deanne and were honestly shocked at how good it turned out.

Maybe it was all the cheese or half a bag of pepperoni, but we didn’t even think about the fact that it wasn’t real pizza.

Even Neil ate and loved this pizza. If this is what it feels like to make cutbacks, sign me up! I’ll keep cutting back alllllll week long.

Love and low carb,

C

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Mo Money, Mo Problems

There’s a phenomenon called the Paradox of Choice that says when people have too many things to choose from, it becomes paralyzing and they make no decisions at all. I think that the scientists who came up with this were probably watching me and Caili try to choose a restaurant. On paper, our neighborhood sounds great–right downtown, steps from Millennium Park and Lake Michigan, just a 10-15 minute walk to tons of food options. But in reality, it’s made our dining choices really difficult. The problem is much like a diamond–multifaceted, hard to stop looking at, and it ends up costing me a lot of money. Consider:

1. All the cheap places shut down at night. If you wanted to get lunch on a weekday, you’d love it here. Thanks to the surrounding office buildings, there’s McDonalds, Panda Express, Sbarro, Panera and everything else you can think of. But at night, all the businesspeople go home and leave only a sorry Giordano’s to tide us over.

2. Everything nearby is trendy. You might think that Caili and I are stylish city people, but we’re not. As I type this, between us we’re wearing two Old Navy shirts and a hoodie. (And neither of us are wearing pants! Kidding.) The point is, we’re not that into the floofy gourmet restaurants that they have downtown. One of our most recent restaurant outings was to the only Chili’s in Chicago.

3. The good restaurants won’t deliver down here. When we lived in Lakeview, we had an ongoing love affair with a Chinese takeout place called Yen’s. We got their General Chow Chicken, extra spicy, almost every weekend. But we’ve discovered that Mr. Yen refuses to deliver to our current place. The one place that will deliver? The aforementioned Giordano’s. Meh.

So the next time you’re calling up your local takeout place–or driving your big suburban automobile past a line of amazing fast food options–think about those of us in the inner-city who are every day, every hour, coping with life in a food desert and wondering where their next meal is going to come from.

Don’t Kiss Me; I’m Irish But Not Interested

One of the “best” parts about living downtown is being located literally in the middle of all the events that we try to avoid. Chicago tourists have their own place in our hearts, which also happens to be the place where all the profanities live. It sounds insensitive, but you would understand if all you wanted to do was run your Saturday morning errands and to do them you had to fight drunk high schoolers screaming, “I’M NOT 21!!!!”

We woke up yesterday to a scene that was worse than we had imagined. Our entire panoramic view was covered with swarms of green, and it wasn’t the spring buds coming to life. The worst of the worst had woken up, put on every green garment they owned, and were now covering our neighborhood in what looked like a green human ant farm. To show our protest, we decided that the St. Patrick’s Day crowd was not going to stop us from having the day we had imagined. So, clad in black head to toe, we swam against the current of green to get our early morning Jamba Juice. As we sipped our Banana Berry (no boost) and Strawberry Whirl (caffeine boost, duh), we had somewhat of a movie moment. Were we the Grinches of Chicago holidays? Were our hearts, in fact, two sizes too small?

We couldn’t have that on our conscience, so we reluctantly embraced the holiday and visited the parade, the newly dyed green river and even had some day drinks…but we drew the line at the green attire. I can’t say our hearts grew two sizes yesterday, but I’d like to think we saved St. Patrick’s Day in our own way.

Offering emotional support to a friend marching in the name of St. Patrick

Thumbs up to polluting our natural resources!

"My mouth is smiling, but I am dying inside."

We (G)love Michigan!

Have you ever been to a state that’s shaped like a glove? We have — more than once. If you are looking for N+C this weekend, face toward the Great Lakes. We will be living out the Pure Michigan ads, minus the Tim Allen voiceover. 

One of our favorite things to do in the glove state is to stay on the lake and imagine what retirement must feel like. Our friend Heidi’s parents are so generous to let us stay at their place and pretend like we could afford it.

 

 

We plan to impress the locals with our city style (aka black head to toe), help their local economy (spend at least $14 at the candy store downtown), and just be adorable in general.

 

We’ll see you back here on Sunday, when the gloves will come off – literally! 70 degree days are finally back in Chicago’s 10-day forecast. That means it’s time to get my Little Mermaid beach towel and the funnoodles out of storage.

Have a great weekend!

Love,

C

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