Monthly Archives: January 2012

Miss Me?

While you’ve been learning about whales and tequila, I’ve been kickin’ it Will Smith style in the city where the heat is on, all night on the beach at HGTV Spirit Camp. Now that I’m back, I can’t decide if you missed the cupcakes and sprinkles or if I should just let Neil jump in with his innermost thoughts about Chicago in the 1920’s. But since he’s buried under a mountain of Starburst wrappers and watching golf at the moment, it looks like you’re stuck with me.

After a long week, Neil and I decided we needed a little TLC from G&P so we headed to the suburbs to hang out with Guy and Patti (my creators). It appears that Neil’s tequila post is inspiring the masses because upon our arrival, my mom wasted no time in serving us her brand new, well-planned, signature tequila cocktail. This is the woman who has one beer, once a month, and has to call it a night. For that reason she normally stays far away from “the hard stuff” and in fact, she doesn’t even own a shot glass. She carefully measured out the tequila using a Robitussin measuring cap (kindly giving us the dose for ages 12 and above), and masterfully crafted two perfect cocktails.

I have to say, we were impressed. The woman knows what she’s doing! Hopefully she won’t mind me sharing her top-secret recipe, in the name of tequila awareness. It’s not just for margaritas, people!

When I asked her what she calls this drink, she said without hesitation, “FUN.” So without further adieu, I present to you:

FUN: Patti’s Signature Cocktail

Salt & Sugar Rim – The most important part! Don’t skip it

100% Agave Tequila, use measuring device of your choice

1/4 lime, making sure to get all the juice out

1/2 can of Sprite

There you have it! Patti’s tequila secrets revealed. Just don’t use Diet Sprite, it’s almost as bad as using margarine instead of butter (from her mouth, not mine).

Love,

C

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Why You Should Be Drinking Tequila

I love tequila. It is by far my drink of choice. But if you’re like most people, your reaction when someone mentions tequila is either a) “Oh, I’ll never have that again—too many bad nights in college” or b) “Isn’t that the song Pee-wee Herman danced to at that biker bar?” Well, yeah, and it was cool of that busboy to give Pee-wee his white platform shoes. But my goal is to convince you to give tequila another try.

Tequila has played a starring role in our relationship—it was to thank (or to blame) for the first time we kissed, it was the central ingredient of the “signature drink” at our wedding, and we probably set a record for tequila consumption on our honeymoon. Here are a few reasons why you should give tequila another chance:

1. You’ve probably never actually had tequila. “But Neil!” you exclaim dramatically. “I’ve had plenty of Jose Cuervo.” First, stop being so dramatic. Second, Cuervo is not really tequila. It has tequila-like ingredients, but it’s made the cheap way instead of the proper way. The shots of Skol you did at that frat party were bad too, but you wouldn’t take it out on Grey Goose, right? If you’re going to buy tequila, you need to buy a bottle that’s labeled “100% agave.” That means Cuervo, Sauza, Margaritaville and a bunch of others don’t make the cut.

2. Good tequila is not that expensive. Sure, Patron and some other brands cost $40-70, but you can get 100% agave tequila for less than $20. And with this built-in ratings system (it’s either 100% agave or it isn’t), you know you’re getting something that’s quality. There’s no rating like that for vodka or rum.

3. It has zero carbs. All spirits are zero carbs, but it’s a bonus that it’s not as heavy as drinking a bunch of beers.

4. It tastes like summer. Whiskey tastes like an old library. Vodka tastes like a Russian battleship. But the refreshing taste of tequila makes you think of Mexican beaches, pool parties, and palm trees.

The truth is, I can’t convince you to like the flavor of tequila through a wiseass blog post. You just have to try it for yourself. So next time you’re at the liquor store, put down the Mike’s Hard Lemonade and give brands like Espolon, Camarena, or El Jimador a try. Pour it in a glass with ice and squeeze lime juice over the top. Even if it doesn’t make you dance like Pee-wee Herman, it’ll still be a good time.

I Got Interested in Whaling So You Didn’t Have To

"Wait, this is a really bad idea, right?"

One of the things Caili first realized about me is that I get obsessed with certain topics really quickly. It might be called either “Neil’s latest fascination” or “Neil’s flavor of the week.” No matter what you call it, this is what happens: I get deeply interested in a random subject, learn everything there is to know about it…and promptly lose interest after about two weeks. I’ve covered a lot of ground with my fascinations over the last few years, from English Premier League soccer to obscure historical murders, from Lyndon Johnson (a complete maniac) to the 1910s (one of the most turbulent decades ever). But one of my favorite fascinations ever—one that holds a special place in my Wikipedia-addicted heart—is whales and whaling.

Like most of my momentary obsessions, my interest in whales started with a book: the fantastic In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. (I cannot recommend this book enough. Buy it now.) Here are some things that are awesome about whales and whaling:

  • In the 1800s, whale oil (extracted from the whales’ brains) was so prized for its use in street lamps and as heating oil that sailors traveled from the East Coast of the U.S. to the middle of the Pacific Ocean to collect it. There was no Panama Canal so this involved sailing from Massachusetts out into the Atlantic and then around the bottom of South America, all in an old-timey sailing ship. This is absolutely insane to do.
  • To kill a whale, sailors got into glorified rowboats and paddled for miles, finally spotted a whale and then attempted to stab it in the head with a harpoon at point-blank range. This is even crazier than bullet #1 above, because it didn’t kill the whale but only pissed him off.
  • Whaling was so absurdly dangerous that at the industry’s peak, about 25% of the adult women in Nantucket were widows on account of their husbands getting eaten by whales like in Pinocchio. (Or maybe just drowning.)
  • Remember when you were in grade school and some kid made a joke about sperm whales? “Sperm, heh heh,” went the joke. Well, that was an accurate joke. They were named that because the oil in their heads looks like semen. Not kidding. They were also called “right whales,” because they were the right whale to kill if you wanted to earn a bunch of money. Sailors in those days were pretty literal.
  • Once they had a whale captured and exhausted enough to finish him off, sailors turned the deck of their ship into a full-blown butcher shop, hacking the whale up and getting just the parts they needed. Can you imagine how much blood there was? I bet you’re getting lightheaded just reading this.

Those are some of the best things I remember from my 2-week whaling obsession. Stay tuned for more of my momentary obsessions and let me know if you have a topic you think I’d enjoy—I’ll love it for a while and then discard it like a bunch of old whale blubber.

Quick Craft – Cake Toppers

I accept the fact that I am one of the two people I know who would actually prefer to spend Friday night crafting and watching Friends reruns. Since the other one lives in Kansas City and is busy with 1.75 children (2.75 if you count her husband slash my brother), I have been trying to find ways to get my craft fix in an appropriate amount of time. Enter the Quick Craft! Minimal time, maximum enjoyment. Remember these little guys?

This is how we do: Get some tissue paper for free from Anthropologie. Or buy some, but in my case CVS was completely out and Anthro had over-wrapped my most recent purchase. I was left with no choice! Accordion-fold the paper multiple times so that one cut makes many circles. Huge time-saver. Now, you COULD buy this … or you could trace a shot glass over and over and cut the circles out yourself. You can probably guess which one I did.

I used thirty circles for the fuller toppers, and about twenty for the smaller ones. Stack them and with a needle and thread, puncture the circles through the middle and bring the needle back through. Tie a loose knot, like this:

Am I making sense? Here is what it looks like from the other side:

If you pull the knot too tight, you will rip the circles and forever curse this stupid craft. So be gentle! Then it’s time to cut slits that go almost to the center, but not completely. I did one with 8 cuts like the one below, another with 10 cuts and the third with 6. They all look the same in the end, if that means anything to you.

Now grab some left over skewers from Caribbean Night, grab the hot glue gun, and go to town. Put some glue in the center covering the knot, and place the skewer in the blob-o-glue. I took the layers closest to the top and pulled them up against the sides of the skewer to start getting the round shape started.

Now it’s time to Fluff ‘N Stuff! (Puff ‘N Stuff reference). This part was the most annoying, and the part I had to give up on because our company was coming in ten minutes and I was still wearing a 2007 bar crawl t-shirt. But I had the best luck with gently folding the layers up that were on the upper half and down on the lower half, trying to crease them so they stayed put. You can see that mine could have used a little more fluffing, but you get the idea. And that, my friends, is how it’s done.

In case you missed it, here’s what they look like as a cake topper:

Happy (Quick) Crafting!

Love,

C

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A Celebration Cake

I know, I know, I know. This blog is starting to get a little over-concentrated with food photos. The thing that we do most is eat, and for that I am sorry.

Now that the apology is out of the way, I can’t wait to show you what 6 hours in the kitchen looks like. We were celebrating two birthdays on Sunday, so our (my) new cake stand made its debut for a cherry chip cake with almond butter cream – all from scratch!


This cake was a nod to one of my favorite snacks as a teenager, cherry-almond baby food. I can’t believe I just put that in writing. The sad truth is that I couldn’t keep my chubby hands off the stuff.

I think I just realized why I never had a boyfriend.

I chose to modify a cake recipe I found online… Not the best idea. I ended up adding a little too much reduced cherry juice and the cake was a little dense (I think it weighed 8 pounds), but I didn’t even care because there were three sticks of butter involved.

By the time this cake was served, I didn’t even want to eat it. And this is coming from the sweets addict that once ate twelve cupcakes in a day. That’s a dozen. Even Neil hit his breaking point. Two hours into the process, he had to retire to the bedroom on account of nausea. Cause? A gallon of freshly concentrated cherry juice (my idea) and excess almond extract. It seriously smelled like someone opened a thousand taxi cab air fresheners in our one-bedroom condo. But it sure looked good!

I think I took this picture while Neil was opening every last window for fresh air, despite being 13 degrees outside.

Later this week I’ll teach you how to make these fun little bumbles that you see on the top of the cake (sorry Mom, not THE Bumble. Didn’t mean to get you excited).

Now the part you have been waiting for – pictures with people!

If I do say so myself, the birthday boy and birthday girl had themselves a great time.

Someone just opened a gift full of birthday giggles!

I do believe this is the happiest bunch of Helspers I have ever seen.

Until the next birthday,

Cake Baking Caili

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Caribbean Theme Night

It was 30 degrees outside, and snowing/spitting ice so hard that you couldn’t see the building next door. Lake Michigan closely resembled a scene from that terrible new movie with Drew Barrymore. So naturally, the thing to do was throw a Caribbean Theme Night.

If you’ve seen our wedding video, you know that Chris & Oliver outed us for dressing up and having theme nights from time to time. Saturday night was no different. The theme was Caribbean. The dress code was tropical colors. The food was from scratch and the drinks didn’t disappoint. We set our AppleTV to a variety of “Reggaeton” stations and other frightening options and made fantastic pita bread topped with chicken, avocado, onion, cilantro and a blend of vanilla yogurt & lime juice. Pair that with a side of coconut rice and a boat drink to boot.

 

 

Sometimes people ask me how/why I am still so obsessed with Neil. Unless they are coming out of a really bad breakup, my answer is always this: When someone makes literally every day so much fun, you want to live in that little world with them every waking moment.

Stay tuned for more N+C theme nights, and promise to host some of your own! I promise you will soon forget that you live next to a lake in Chicago (that’s what the boat drinks are for).

Love love love,

C

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The Great Cheeseburger Cookoff

My palate has gotten a lot more diverse in the last few years. It might be part of the aging process, or it might’ve been that I met a girl who wouldn’t let me eat the same chicken breast (burnt to a crisp on the George Foreman grill) & egg noodles for dinner every night. But despite any advances I’ve made, I still have a soft spot for my original culinary love: the cheeseburger.

Last Sunday, we had our brother/brother-in-law Eric over for a burger cookoff–we each made up our own recipes and got to grilling. We were like three little Bobby Flays running around the kitchen, except without the Archie haircut and the condescending attitude. I invented a sandwich called The Snack Aisle Burger, Caili created The Monte Cristo Burger, and Eric conjured up a burger called Funky Boy.

I never met a carb I didn’t like–so here are two of my key ingredients, Fritos and Cheez-Its. I used crushed Cheez-Its as bread crumbs in my beef patty. The Fritos would later add some crunch when the burger was ready to be served; it was also a garnish when plated.

Here’s the Snack Aisle Burger before I fully mixed in the seasonings and Cheez-Its. I used hamburger seasoning, a dash of salt and pepper, and a little seasoned salt.

Eric shows off his burger patty with the edge perfectly coated in his secret blend of seasonings.

Caili’s Monte Cristo burger makes its debut. She used ground turkey and then added swiss cheese, sliced ham and raspberry preserves. Rather than frying her bun, she used sweet Hawaiian rolls and dusted them with powdered sugar.

Eric’s Funky Boy burger lived up to its name with a mushroom-infused sauce and a perfect coating of swiss cheese. But what really put it over the top was the cheese crisp he made with pecorino romano. I would eat this burger every week if I could.

My Snack Aisle Burger brought together three of the supermarket’s best carb snacks: pretzels (in the form of a pretzel bun), Cheez-It breadcrumbs, and Fritos on top. The flavor was exactly what you imagine. The best part was that you could definitely taste the Cheez-Its in the burger itself.

Full from too many burgers, Eric, Caili and I show off our creative names. Luckily our expanding waistlines are not visible.

To top things off, milkshake mixologist Caili blended up some Toasted Marshmallow Milkshakes. This may have been one of the top 10 things I’ve ever had in a glass.

So what did we learn?? Well first, stuffing your face is fun! (But as Ali G would say, “I already knew that, let me read some other things.”) The real lesson is that it’s hard to mess up a burger. So don’t hold back from creating a new burger recipe–if I can make something delicious out of Cheez-Its, I’m sure you can top it easily.

Notes on Recipes:

Snack Aisle Burger – Combine a half pound of ground chuck with salt, pepper, seasoned salt, hamburger seasoning and a handful of crushed Cheez-Its. Cook in a cast-iron skillet on medium/high heat (or grill it). Top with cheddar and add Fritos on top.

Monte Cristo Burger – Mix ground turkey with salt and pepper. Cook in a cast-iron skillet on medium/high heat (or grill it). Top with swiss cheese and raspberry preserves. Serve over a slice of ham on sweet Hawaiian rolls dusted with powdered sugar.

Toasted Marshmallow Milkshake (courtesy of the above-mentioned Bobby Flay)- Broil 8-10 large marshmallows on a baking sweet under golden brown. Turn marshmallows over and repeat. Remove marshmallows from oven and let them cool. In a blender, combine marshmallows with a 1/4 cup of milk and 11 ounces of vanilla ice cream. Garnish with more toasted marshmallows.

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Our Favorite, KG

If you think chasing after babies is hard, try photographing them. During our most recent visit I think we took around 300 pictures of our sweet nephew, only to get about 15 that are in focus. That little guy is always on the move!

He has quickly become my favorite subject to photograph. He has the best personality and makes the funniest faces. But I also managed to capture some of his more angelic moments when we were all together for the holidays.

While I am miles from where I would like to be with my photography, it’s hard to be critical of your pictures when you capture moments like these:

Yes, he’s all smiles now. But that’s because he doesn’t realize how his whole world is about to come crashing down in a few weeks.

We did our share by teaching him some basic self-defense moves that he can perform with some items already in the house – an over-sized Pixie Stick and some plastic golf clubs. This little man of the house is going to need to defend his territory pretty soon and he needs to be prepared…

Oh, wah! Life is so hard!

Hang in there, K-Man. I have a brother too, and he made you. It’s not so bad!

Love,

C

Move Over, Toaster Oven!

If you are wondering if anyone got a new kitchen gadget the answer is YES she did!

I can’t say that Neil is thrilled, because this just means making more room in the back closet (used mainly for golf clubs and kitchen overflow). But you can rest assured that round-ish baked goods on a stick are in your blog future.

Neil & Caili fight it out (through cooking)

One thing I love about us is that we try our best to turn mundane things into fun, memorable events. So it was fitting when one night last week, we turned dinnertime into a hardcore TOP CHEF BATTLE TO THE DEATH! Okay, so it wasn’t that intense. But we both of us picked a dish we’d never made before, then we judged it. (Since we’re usually silently judging each other anyway, this was a chance to put it on paper.) Caili decided to tackle an intricate soup & salad, while I picked a marinated steak with pineapple. What follows is an epic chef battle–caught on film!

The gloves are off (and so are the wedding rings) as I prepare my steak for marinating.

Caili whisked together a salad dressing from scratch. Ingredients included either lemon juice or Lemonheads–I can’t remember which.

Caili prepares the Asiago cheese for her soup and the green apple for her salad.

After being marinated in a chimichurri sauce, my steak & pineapple skewers are ready to hit the cast iron–with my secret ingredient (brown sugar) waiting anxiously in the background.

Caili’s dish hits the table: “Roasted Garlic & Tomato Soup served with a Lemon Salad with Apple Matchsticks and Avocado.” The soup was a bit overcooked, but the salad and dressing were masterfully done–you could taste at least 7-8 ingredients and none were too overpowering.

My “Sweet & Savory Beef Skewers with Pineapple” make their debut. The steak was done at a perfect medium but what put it over the top was the brown sugar I sprinkled onto it at the very end. I don’t think I’d ever NOT put brown sugar on steak now.

It was a hard fought battle, but when the results were in, my skewers edged out Caili’s soup & salad by a few points.

All in all, a fun event. So if you’re ever bored and you’re cooking anyway, turn it into a competition. You’ll get to eat two meals in one and maybe even feel superior to your spouse. It’s a win-win.

Notes on Recipes:

Neil based his dish on this Food Network/Giada de Laurentiis recipe, but increased the spice and garlic in the sauce.¬† You can also use any chimichurri sauce recipe in place of the “parsley sauce.”

Caili looks at so many recipes that she can’t remember where she got hers.