Simply Refreshing

Years go by pretty quickly if you aren’t careful. Before you know it, you’ve been married for 5 years, and while it doesn’t sound like an extra-long time, it probably is when measured against marriages these days that last a year or two or often times much less, if you’re counting those drunken Vegas ventures.

Anniversaries for us usually equate to spending a quiet night together, just the two of us: dinner, a movie (that I always fall asleep to), and a card. We aren’t big gifters, but we acknowledge the day and make sure we’re extra-nice to one another. You know – no screaming or food fights or whatnot.

Since 5 years seemed like a bigger “accomplishment” than the prior 4, we once had big plans of spending a couple of weeks back in Italy – a week in Florence and perhaps another week north, somewhere a little more secluded than the moped-ridden streets of our favorite city. It seemed appropriate since we’d met there 10 years ago this summer, appropriate and we are long overdue for an international trip. But stuff happened, ya know? We moved across the country, we got new jobs which means limited vacation, and I must admit – we live in a pretty cool new area, so we weren’t that crazy about a big trip right now anyways.

So the Italian countryside got, well, the boot. But never fear – we still have plans for the ‘big event’. Last night, we bought lightbulbs from Home Depot, and that started off our wild and crazy weekend. But for serious, I did get some gorgeous strawberry-colored flowers, which is always fun in an office full of girls. I think we’ll take it easy on today, our actual anniversary, but first thing Saturday we’re headed to Sonoma where we’ll do none other than one of our favorite things: drink wine. We also have reservations at a fancy restaurant, and for the second time, we’ll see just how easy it is to hop into the car and head to wine country.

But at the end of the day, I’m just thankful to be married to this guy. Yes, he stresses over lightbulbs and yes, he plays video games with headphones on, but aside from those minor details, he’s nothing short of awesome. And being married to someone like that, for 5 years and hopefully 5,000 more, is easy to explain: it’s just refreshing, plain and simple.

Strawberry Soda
makes just enough for 2

printable version

time commitment: 5 minutes

ingredients
8 strawberries
2 sprigs of fresh mint
juice from 1/2 of a small orange
2 T raw sugar (turbinado)
ice
1 can club soda

instructions
in a large glass or shaker, combine strawberries through sugar. using a muddler or wooden spoon, muddle the ingredients until they are thoroughly mixed together. add a couple of ice cubes and the can of club soda (if you don’t have enough room for the whole can, just add what you can) and stir until drink is cold.

pour drink through a strainer into two tall glasses, and if you have more club soda, feel free to add the rest here, tossing in an ice cube if needed. voila!

Advertisements

Bear Down

I would imagine, firsthand if I were a mother to something other than a cat, that feeling proud of your children when they accomplish something is probably one of the best feelings on earth. I would imagine that, when they finish college, or get married, or when they land the job of their dreams, it’s probably a bit too much to bear – that fullness you might feel inside, that beaming, happy feeling that has you grinning from ear to ear.

I’m not a mother, and won’t be anytime soon, but I know that feeling still. I’m sure it’s a little bit different, but all the while, I am definitely that ‘happy, proud, beaming from ear to ear’ person I described.

Chris (aka Hubs), after somewhere between 3 and 4 years of crunching numbers on Excel, working with probably 20 different groups (some good and downright horrible), and all the while working full-time at a job that has been much less than rewarding, has finished school – once and for all. I was definitely proud when he got into Northwestern’s MBA program, but I’m infinitely “prouder” (and relieved) now that he’s completed it, and with honors.

When I finished culinary school, he took me to Alinea – and I’ll never forget that experience. For a long while, I’ve wondered what I’d get him for his (final) graduation – to not only celebrate his fancy new degree, but to also celebrate the fact that we, both of us, are finally. finished. with. school. forevah. It’s a big deal, I think.

And while I didn’t go the “you finished graduate school therefore I should buy you something professional, like a leather attache case or nice tie so you can look spify when you interview for new jobs” present, I swear I hit the nail on the head this time. I realized that, after almost 7 years of living in this city, we have never forked out the Benjamins (yes, plural) to watch the Bears in action at Soldier Field. And for years, season after season, we’ve promised ourselves to one day, one year, suck it up and buy the tickets. So I did.

Let’s just say that I definitely picked the best game of the season to watch in person – the December 12th Bears vs. Patriots game, the day Chicago got pummeled with snow & extra-frigid temperatures what with the windchill and all making the “feels like” temperature hover solidly in the single digits. The day that left my hands and feet feeling so numb for so long that even a bucket of hot chocolate and “complimentary warming stations” couldn’t remedy – those were the tickets I bought.

And despite all of it, he loved it. And I loved it because I knew he did. It felt good, frigid temperatures and all – watching someone grin with excitement, and that someone being someone you are so incredibly proud of, admirable of, and in love with all at the same time – that’s a feeling that’s hard to put into words.

Ever since that game, the horribly played game, I’ve been craving some more hot chocolate. I had some at work the next day – the kind that comes in the box with the fake marshmallows – and it wasn’t half bad, to be honest. But I’ve wanted to make my own, and I finally did. There isn’t much not to like about a hot chocolate full of all those awesome Indian spices, and it’s definitely a warmer for all the cold days and nights that are sure to come. Having a mug of this at home during a Bears game, a game the Bears are winning (since we are officially division title holders, again)? Priceless.

Oh, and Happy Holidays. Stay warm and stay safe out there, kids!

Chai Hot Chocolate
chiknpastry recipe; makes 2 servings

time commitment: 10 minutes

printable version

ingredients
2 c 1% milk
1/2 c bittersweet chocolate chips OR 6 T sipping chocolate (like Theo)
5 green cardamom pods
1/4 t whole allspice
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 t ground black pepper
1 t g ginger
2 T brown sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract
marshmallows, optional

instructions
Combine first 8 ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer; simmer for a couple of minutes and remove from heat. steep for 10 minutes with cover on. add in vanilla extract.

strain hot chocolate into 2 mugs. top with marshmallows, and snuggle ;).

Battle Chorizo: Liquid Courage

When it comes to pork, I don’t discriminate. Give me bacon, give me Boston Butt, or give me a rack of ribs – I will eat it all, and be as happy as a clam at high tide. Better yet, give me chorizo, and I become weak in the knees.

What’s not to love about pork sausage turbo-charged with smoked paprika and dried chile peppers? And what’s not to love about eating 14 dishes in a row that all use the Mexican counterpart in unique ways?  It would only be appropriate for the first Iron Chef battle sans vegetarian, Hope, to have a meaty secret ingredient, right?! And sure, I’d choose Hope any day over a meat-containing Iron Chef theme, but at the end of the day, I knew that was a choice I didn’t have – so when I saw chorizo on my email I smiled. I smiled big.

I used the rest of my smuggled Spanish chorizo a while back, and believe you me, it’s hard to find similar quality Spanish chorizo outside of, well, Spain. But Mexican chorizo is a whole other ballgame. There are gazillions of Mexican markets around Chicago, and they all have their house-made chorizo, and they are all scrumptious. This battle was for the Mexican version only, so I was in luck.

That being said, you could definitely make your own Mexican chorizo, which isn’t the worst idea I’ve ever heard. I have a hard time justifying that act though, with a tienda de Mexicana right around the corner.

All in all, Battle Chorizo was chock full of both chorizo and fun. I thought I’d get some originality points by bringing a dessert to the table, but I should know by now, 13 battles in, that I’m not the only one who brings it. Either way, the food was consistently good, and this time picking a favorite didn’t come as easily to me as it has in past battles.

But in the end, what stood out most was a dish that typically doesn’t fare too well in Iron Chef land: a beverage. Brook went balls to the wall and infused tequila with chorizo, making a super spicy, subtly meaty, perfectly-mixed meat-garita. It may not sound good, and maybe everybody didn’t adore it, but I sure did.

The Top Three (all pictured individually, above):

1. Brook’s Meatgaritas (gluten/dairy-free)
2. My Maple Panna Cotta with Candied Chorizo Caramel (gluten/dairy-free)
3. Katherine’s Chocolate-Chorizo Crostini (dairy-free)

Of course, in the midst of Brook’s (all too narrow) win over my maple-chorizo dessert, we all found even more liquid courage and busted a few moves with Brook & Katherine’s new toy, the Kinect. I could quickly abandon the gym in exchange for the dance game, that’s for sure. Wait.. does not going in three months already count as abandoning?! What with battles like this past one, it might be time to reconsider..

*

For links to the first 12 battles, visit the newly created Iron Chef page!

Meatgaritas (aka Chorizo-infused margaritas)

the instructions below can be used for various infusions. if your flavor of choice isn’t fatty, the freezer part isn’t really needed, and you can instead infuse in the fridge for as long as you want. infused liquors keep indefinitely.

printable version

ingredients
1 lb bacon
1 lb Mexican chorizo
bottle of tequila
chorizo spices (garlic powder, cinnamon, paprika, cayenne pepper, oregano, cumin, guajillo chiles)
lime juice
triple sec
kosher salt, for rimming
fire salt, for rimming

instructions
Cook a bacon and chorizo in saucepan. Add both and tequila to large airtight glass container; let sit in the freezer for 24 hours or longer (the longer, the better). Remove from the freezer, and remove layer of fat from the tequila. Strain and return to container, without meat.

Steep various chorizo-spices in infused tequila for 1 hour; strain. Mix tequila with lime juice and triple sec to desired flavor. Combine salts and rim glasses, moistened with lime juice.

*dishes from above picture, from top left to bottom right: Jon’s chorizo-stuffed pork tenderloin, Katherine’s black bean chorizo chili, Terri’s chorizo bread stuffing, Michelle’s chorizo cupcakes, Terri’s chorizo mincemeat cups, Chris’ chorizo and clam stew, Becca’s chorizo sliders, Jennifer’s chorizo-stuffed mushrooms, Kaitlyn’s chorizo macaroni and cheese.