Original and Practical Recipes. Inexpensive, Quick and Healthy.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Kittchen has moved to WordPress

Just a quick reminder to my followers that the blog has moved to WordPress.  The URL is still www.thekittchen.com but you will need to click follow again now that I am using a new platform. There are lots of fun new posts waiting for you at the new site. Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 10, 2012

TheKittchen Has Moved to Wordpress

I finally had the time to move the blog over to wordpress.  I will leave thekittchen.blogspot.com up for now, but for new posts please visit thekittchen.com.  For those of you who subscribe to the blog please sign up again under my new account.  I hope you like thekittchen's new look!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

I made mashed sweet potatoes to go with the cheddar and breadcrumb crusted chicken that I posted yesterday.  I am trying to eat more sweet potatoes since they are much more nutritious than other potato varieties.  Charles is not a fan of really sweet things, so I didn't add much brown sugar to these potatoes.

Total time: 30 minutes

You will need:
3 Sweet Potatoes
1 tablespoon Butter
2 tablespoons Brown Sugar
1/4 teaspoon Salt

Step 1:
Peel the potatoes and then chop into large cubes.  Add to boiling water.

Step 2:
Cook the potatoes until soft, about 20 minutes.  Then drain.

Step 3:
Add the potatoes to a bowl and then add the butter, brown sugar, and salt.  Mash with a fork and then serve.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cheddar Cheese and Breadcrumb Crusted Chicken

Cheese is one of the greatest things in the world.  I decided to try combining cheddar cheese and breadcrumbs to make a crust on chicken.  The cheese created a crisp crust that I really enjoyed.  I served the chicken with mashed sweet potatoes and sugar snap peas.

Total time: 45 minutes

You will need:
3 Chicken Breasts
2/3 cup Breadcrumbs
2/3 cup Shredded Cheddar
2 Eggs
1 tablespoon butter

Step 1:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Combine the breadcrumbs and the cheddar in a bowl.  Then whisk the eggs in another bowl.

Step 2:
Coat the chicken with the breadcrumb cheddar mixture.  Then dunk in the egg and then coat in more of the breadcrumb mix.

Step 3:
Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the butter.  Then brown the chicken in the pan.  Once both sides are browned, put the chicken onto a baking dish and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, until the chicken is fully cooked.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tuesday Tip: How to Make Half a Cake

Sometimes a full cake is just too much.  You can use half of a cake mix to make half a cake or half as many cupcakes.  Simply use half the cake mix (just eyeball it).  Then cut all the other ingredients in half.  If the recipe calls for 3 eggs just use 2.

I did this a few years ago for my sister's birthday when we had a small dinner party.  I baked the cake in ramekins instead of cake pans.  I made three layers which made a really cute little cake!  This is just the right amount for 3-4 people.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Charles made tzatziki for our Olympic themed Sunday Night Dinner.  We did a test run a few days before the dinner, and we were glad that we did since our first attempt was too runny.  Tzatziki is a very traditional yogurt based Greek dip with is usually served with Pita.  We ate a lot of Tzatziki while were were on our honeymoon and each one we tried was slightly different.  There are lots of  Tzatziki recipes out there, we looked a several before we settled on this one because we liked that it included dill and lemon.
Straining the cucumber in cheese cloth

You will need:
16 ounces of Greek Yogurt
1 small Cucumber
1 teaspoon Dill
3 cloves Garlic
4 tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 tablespoons Olive Oil

Step 1:
Chop the cucumber in a blender or food processor until it is in small chunks but not totally liquified.  Then let it drain with some cheese cloth to eliminate some of the excess liquid.  (We did this because our first attempt was so runny).

Step 2:
Once the cucumber has drained, return it to the blender and add the garlic and blend until smooth.

Step 3:
Stir the yogurt, dill, lemon juice and olive oil into the cucumber and garlic mixture.  Serve with warmed or toasted pita.  If you brush pit with olive oil and bake in the oven until toasted it especially delicious.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Moussaka is a traditional Greek dish that Charles and I tried while on our honeymoon.  Many Mediterranean countries have their own versions of Moussaka, but the Greek version stands out because it has a meat sauce, and the ingredients are layered (similar to lasagna).  Moussaka is a rich hearty dish with layered potato, eggplant, meat sauce, Parmesan, and b├ęchamel sauce.  I made Moussaka for our Olympic themed Sunday Night Dinner, since Charles and I chose to represent Greece.  This recipe has a lot of steps, since each layer of the Moussaka is prepared individually - the prep time is about 2 hours.

Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 10

You will need:
2 eggplants
1 lb. of potatoes
2 lbs. ground beef
2 large onions, finely diced
3/4 cup red wine
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/2 cup tomato puree
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste
3 cups plain breadcrumbs
12 whites, lightly beaten (reserve the yolks for the bechamel)
1 1/2 cups Parmesan

For the Bechamel Sauce:
3 sticks of butter
1 1/2 cup flour
6 cups warm milk
12 lightly beaten egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Step 1:
Slice the eggplants into 1/2 inch slices.  Salt them generously and then place them in a colander and set aside.  Place the colander in the sink, the salt is going to draw out excess moisture from the eggplant.  Let the eggplant sit for 20 minutes to an hour.

Step 2:
Peel the potatoes and then cook them in boiling water until they are just cooked.  Do not over cook them, because you need to slice them.  Once the potatoes are cooked, drain and set aside to let them cool.  Once cooled slice the potatoes into 1/4 inch slices.

The meat sauce.
Step 3:
In a large skillet over medium heat cook the beef until is browned and no longer pink.  Then add the onions and cook until translucent.  Then add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Then add the wine to the pan and let reduce for 5 minutes.  Then add the cinnamon, allspice, parsley, tomato paste, tomato puree and sugar.  Stir it together and then let simmer for 15 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Step 4:
At this point the eggplants have been sitting for a while.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Then lightly brush 2 baking sheets with olive oil.  Rinse the eggplant in water to remove the excess salt.  Then beat the egg white with a fork.  Pour the breadcrumbs into a bowl.  Dip the eggplant slices in the breadcrumbs and then in the egg white, and then back in the breadcrumbs.  Then place the breaded eggplant slices on the baking sheets and bake for 15 minutes.  Then flip and bake for another 15 minutes.  Once the eggplant is cooked lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
The breaded eggplant slices.
Step 5:
Assemble the Moussaka.  Lightly grease a lasagna pan and then sprinkle with a light layer of breadcrumbs.  Then add the sliced potatoes on the bottom of the pan.  Put the breaded eggplant on top. Pour the meat sauce over the eggplant and then sprinkle 1/2 cup Parmesan on top.  Then add another layer of eggplant.  Sprinkle another 1/2 cup of Parmesan over the top.

Step 6:
Make the bechamel sauce.  Heat the milk until warm.  In a large pot melt the butter over low heat.  Add the flour and whisk together.  Let the butter and flour mixture cook for 1 minute on low hear - do not brown it.  Then add the warmed milk and whisk together.  Simmer until the milk thickens and then remove from the heat.  Beat the egg yolks and temper them by adding 1/2 cup of the warm milk mixture to the egg yolks while whisking continuously.  It is important to temper the eggs so you don't accidentally scramble the yolks when you add them to the hot milk.  Add 1 1/2 more cups of the warmed milk mix to the egg yolks 1/2 cup at the time while whisking.  Then add the egg yolks to the milk and stir together.  Then add the nutmeg.

Step 7:
Pour the bechamel sauce over the assembled moussaka.  And then top with the remaining Parmesan.  Bake for 45 minutes.
Finished Moussaka

Thursday, August 2, 2012


The other day my husband, Charles, came home with two large bags of groceries.  Usually I do all of the grocery shopping and cooking so this was a surprise.  Charles and I had already discussed hosting an Olympic themed Sunday Night Dinner where all of our friends would bring food from different countries.  Charles said that he wanted to make Taramosalata and Tzatziki, which are both Greek dips.  He had purchased all of the ingredients to make these dishes twice, because he wanted to do a practice run before Sunday.

Charles doesn't have much experience in the kitchen, but he has lots of enthusiasm to make up for it.  So I gave Charles a cooking lesson.  He learned about the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, and in the end, the Taramosalata turned out great.  This is a pretty simple recipe that can be made in the blender.  We served it with Pita Bread that we brushed with Olive Oil, toasted in the oven, and cut into bit sized triangles.

You will need:
8 slices of day old bread
4 tablespoons Carp Roe Caviar
2 tablespoons White Onion
3/4 cup Olive Oil
5 tablespoons Lemon Juice

Step 1:
Cut the crusts off the bread.  Then soak it in water.  Squeeze out the bread and then let it sit in a colander while you prepare the other ingredients.

Step 2:
Add the caviar and 0nion to a food processor and blender.  Then slowly add the bread.

Step 3:
With the food processor or blender on a low setting, slowly add the 0live 0il.

Step 4:
Add the lemon juice and mix until combined, and the taramosalata is smooth and creamy.

Source: http://greekfood.about.com/od/dipsspreadspures1/r/taramosalata.htm

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wedding Advice

I am a newlywed, and I am relieved that the wedding planning is over and that I get to spend the rest of the summer relaxing with my new husband!  For anyone who is planning a wedding, here are some words of wisdom.

Everyone has an opinion, but you don't have to listen to anyone.  Lots of people told us not to go to Greece for our honeymoon because they thought it would be dangerous.  It was totally safe, and some things were less expensive because fewer people are traveling there.  We also felt like we got excellent service at every hotel and restaurant because Greek tourism as declined.

Having a photographer that you like as a person makes everything so much more fun!  Your wedding photographer will be by your side most of your wedding day, so make sure you like them!  I totally lucked out with the lovely Meredith Perdue!

Be smart about tanning leading up to your wedding.  You don't want tan lines!  I wore strapless dresses leading up to the wedding date to avoid any tan line issues.  Also, don't be that bride that gets a spray tan and is 10 shades darker than anyone else at the wedding.  A former co-worker of time got spray tanned before her September wedding in Chicago and it looked ridiculous since she was the only one with a tan.

Bring appropriate footwear on your honeymoon.  I brought heels but not sneakers.  The roads in Greece are not high heel friendly, and there were lots of hiking opportunities so I ended up buying sneakers in Greece.

Have a pair of flats at your wedding.  I was very glad that I did this!

If you are planning a summer wedding, or a wedding somewhere warm, consider a second dress for dancing.  What people do not realize is that there is a lot of fabric in a wedding dress and you get really hot wearing one!  I was so glad that I had a short dress to change into! 

Some people are difficult.  Before you bend over backwards to accommodate the most difficult guests - think twice.  In my case, my most difficult guests said they were coming - but were no shows.  Some people are just going to be difficult, my advice would be to stand your ground whatever their issue is, and don't waste your time trying to accommodate them, instead weed them out, if they are difficult from the get go - they will be difficult until the end.

If you aren't doing photos until after the ceremony, have a cocktail hour and a half instead of a cocktail hour.  Our photos took about 45 minutes or so.  When we got to the cocktail hour and a half we were able to say hi to almost every guest.  It was a huge relief to have 90% of the hellos out of the way before dinner.  After dinner we said hi to the few people we had missed and then we just got to have fun!

Have someone with experience help to bustle your dress.  Five of my girl friends were involved in trying to bustle my dress - I can't wait to see photos of this because I am sure they are hilarious.  My girl friends said that dress bustling should be a Girl Scout Badge - they are absolutely right.  Also - before you put your dress on, explain how your dress bustles to your bridesmaids.  It is easier to show them when you aren't wearing the dress.

Get a joint bank account before the wedding.  Cashing checks written to Mr. and Mrs. can be a huge hassle.  It is easier if you have a joint bank account because they aren't as strict about your last name on the check matching the last name on the account.  Changing your name takes a little while - and you are probably going to want to cash checks right away.  Fortunately my bank let me deposit the checks to Mr. and Mrs. - but it did require bringing my husband and our marriage certificate with me to the bank.  Note to wedding guests: always write the check to the groom - the couple will have no problems cashing the check if you do this!

Gather the documents you will need to change your name before the wedding.  Make sure you have your birth certificate, driver's license, passport, and social security card!

Make sure your birth certificate is accurate.  It sounds silly, but my mother's maiden name was spelled wrong.  Make sure your marriage license is correct as soon as you receive it, filling out the form correctly does not necessarily translate to a marriage license with accurate information.  They also spelled my mother's maiden name wrong.  It is super annoying requested corrected vital records, but probably best that we found the mistakes and can correct them before we file the immigration paperwork for my husband.

Some people have asked me if I would do anything differently.  The one thing I would do differently is that I would have given myself another hour to get ready.  By the time I was ready, it was time to walk out the door for the ceremony.  I wish I had a little more time to let everything sink in before I walked down the aisle.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Olympic Themed Sunday Night Dinner

My friends gather every Sunday for dinner.  It is a tradition that began before I moved to Chicago, and has continued for 5+ years.  Sunday Night Dinner is one of the highlights of my week.  It is quality time set aside with some of my closest friends.  We always enjoy recapping the events of the weekend, making plans for the week to come, and sharing food.  Dinner hosts rotate casually, there is no list or assigned dates, you host when you can, but things work out so we have dinner almost every Sunday.  The host makes the main dish, and everyone else brings appetizers, side dishes, and desserts.  Usually about 8 people attend dinner so there are many dishes to try.  Sometimes Sunday Night Dinner is assigned a theme.  Pasts themes have included: Childhood Foods, Minnie's (all the food was mini, in honor of a Chicago restaurant that had just closed), the color Blue, the Oscars, Christmas in July, Asia, Halloween, and Mad Men.

Charles and I jumped at the chance to host an Olympics themed SND since he is British and the Olympics are in London.  We instructed our friends to choose a country to represent and make a dish from that country.  For those who wanted to go the extra mile the could also wear an outfit to represent their country.  Charles finally got to wear the Union Jack bow tie I bought him for his birthday, even though he made Greek food.  Our Australian friend, Adrian, wore a jersey and brought Fosters beer.  Dre and Dimo represented Germany by wearing the colors of the German flag and bringing beer, brats, and sauerkraut.  John represented Italian sausage, Dana represented Thailand with Spring Rolls, Woody and Mary represented Sweden with Swedish Meatball cupcakes (Swedish Meatballs topped with Mashed Potato and Cranberry Sauce), Caroline represented Spain with Potatas Bravas, and I also represented Greece and made Moussaka.  I finally followed through with taking photos to document all the delicious foods my friends prepared.  My friends are a creative bunch, and they all did a great job tackling the theme.  We decided that people take the themed dinner more seriously and we always end up with more food then we normally do.

Thank you to everyone who came to dinner!  Later this week I will be posting the recipes for the Greek dishes that Charles and I made.  Here are photos of the delicious dishes my friends made:
Charles's Taramosalata
Charles's Tzatziki with Pita
Caroline's Potatas Bravas
Woody and Mary's Swedish Meatball Cupcakes

Dre and Dimo's Brats, Beer, and Sauerkraut

John's Italian Sausage and Peppers
Dana's Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce

Monday, July 30, 2012

Chicken and Pesto Pasta

This is one of the quickest meals that I have made.  All in all it took only about 20 minutes to make.  I made this on a busy Thursday night when we wanted to have a quick meal before heading to the driving range for a couple hours.

Feel free to add more ingredients to this dish. Mushrooms, pine nuts, or garlic would be great additions.

Serves 2
You will need:
2 Chicken Breasts
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1/3 cup Pesto
1 Tomato, diced
3 tablespoons Parmesan
Salt and Pepper

Step 1:
Put water on the stove under high heat to boil for the pasta.  Then dice the chicken breasts.  Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet.  Generously salt and pepper the chicken.  Then add the chicken to the skillet.

Step 2:
Add 1/3 of the box of pasta to the water once it boils. As the pasta boils, keep an eye on the chicken. It will take about 4-5 minutes per side to cook, just make sure there is no pink in the middle.

Step 3:
The pasta and the chicken should be ready at about the same time. Drain the pasta and return it to the same pot. Pour the chicken over the pasta.

Step 4:
Using the same skillet you used for the chicken, heat up the pesto and tomatoes for 2-3 minutes, until hot. Then pour over the pasta. Add the Parmesan, stir, and serve.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Steak with Woody's Marinade

Our first meal at home as husband and wife!
Charles and I returned home late last Thursday and were so excited to spend Friday together.  I think that spending a weekday off in your home city can be the best because you can go to places that are normally packed on weekend and get in much more easily!  We spent the morning unpacking gifts and then spent the afternoon at our favorite taco place Big Star.

Saturday we decided to have a low key night at home.  Peapod delivered groceries on Saturday morning - so I was able to cook again!  I must admit that I did miss cooking a little.  I can't remember the last time I went 2 weeks+ without cooking anything.

I decided to cook a meal based on Charles's favorite foods, it was the least I could do after he planned such an incredible honeymoon.  Although this meal looks like it may have taken a while, I made it in under an hour (minus the time the steak marinated).

I am pleased to tell everyone that many wedding gifts contributed to making and serving this meal.  Thank you to: The Corgans/Pelleritos for the grill pan, Hanley for the steak knives, the Olcotts for the wine glasses, Helen and Dom for the bakeware, and the Blairs for the meat tenderizer!

Credit goes out to Woody whose marinade recipe I used!

For the Steak You Will Need:
Red Wine
Worcestershire Sauce
Soy Sauce
Olive Oil

Step 1:
Combine equal parts wine, worcestershire sauce, and soy sauce in a glass pan and let marinate for at least 3 hours.

Step 2:
Drizzle a little olive oil onto a grill pan (or any pan).  Heat the pan over high heat.  Then remove the steak from the marinade and generously coat with salt and pepper.

Step 3:
Add the steak to the pan and cook for about 4 minutes a side, until the steak had browned and there are strong grill marks.

Step 4:
At this point the steak will be rare.  To cook the steak more, put under the broiler in the oven, and cook for about 10-15 minutes more for medium temperature steak.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Greek Food

"You no eat meat? It's ok, I make lamb." That is one of our favorite quotes from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and something Charles kept saying on our trip. As I have previously mentioned, we loved all the food in Greece- the only problem was that we were eating too much of it! Greek portions are much larger than portions in other countries, they are actually on par with American portion sizes. When you are traveling and eating breakfast, lunch and dinner in restaurants its easy to over eat. After 2 days we replaced lunch with an afternoon snack.

I took a few of photos of the delicious meals we tried to share with you. I will definitely be making some of these dishes in the near future!
A platter of Greek appetizers.  The tomato fritters in the center were my favorite.  Also included: fava bean puree, tzatziki, grape leaves, eggplant puree, and fried feta cheese.
Moussaka - Santorini's famous dish, made with ground beef, potatoes and cheese.
Gyro platter.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday Tip: How to Make Powdered Sugar

What do you do when you have 5 pounds of granulated sugar, but the recipe calls for Powdered Sugar?  Pour the granulated sugar into the blender and make powdered sugar.  I recently tried this and it worked pretty well, the consistency was similar, I probably could have blended it longer.  It is definitely a great trick to know!  I read that it works best when you blend only a cup or two at a time.

I'm Back! And life is a bit different now.

Charles and I returned from our fabulous honeymoon on Thursday. Greece was incredibly gorgeous and the people were so genuinely friendly. (Go to Greece right now- it is deserted at cheap these days!) We both loved the food- so much do that Charles insisted on buying a cookbook so we can make Greek food at home.

Upon returning home everyone has been asking if things feel different now. Our relationship feels exactly the same- living together for two years was a lot like being married. We are very glad we lived together first- we can't imagine taking on moving after the wedding! There is one major difference in our lives these days and that is that we finally have free time!!! Charles is done with grad school and the wedding planning is over and we can finally relax. We can also spend much more time together. Instead of eating dinner together 3 or 4 nights a week we can dine together every night. Last night we had an impromptu dinner date at Cafe Ba Ba Reba, one of our favorite restaurants. In the past going to dinner together on a week night was nearly impossible with Charles's school schedule. I am very excited to spend more time with my husband, and since one of my favorite pastimes is cooking and his is eating, you can expect lots more blog posts!!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Irish Coffee Chocolate Cake

Important life events need to be celebrated with cake!  Cupcakes are a huge trend these days, but there is something about a cake that makes things more festive.  My friend Zinni finally completed grad school - and he happens to be one of the biggest chocoholics I know.  I decided to take some of Zinni's favorite things and combine them in a cake.  I started with a Devil's Food Chocolate Cake Mix, and added espresso.  Then I made two types of frosting, one with whiskey and one chocolate.  My friends loved the end result - the subtle whiskey flavor combined with the rich chocolate and touch of coffee has a hit!

As a side note - at first glance my friends were hoping that I had made the same cake that I made for Zinni's birthday last October, which some of my friends actually said was their favorite cake.  That cake was a chocolate cake with Bailey's frosting topped with chocolate ganache.  I haven't posted the recipe - but I will soon, and I might just make that cake for Zinni's birthday this year!

You will need:
For the Cake:
1 box of Devil's Food Cake Mix (plus the eggs, water, and oil that requires)
2 shots of espresso
Butter to grease the pans

For the Whiskey Frosting:
1 stick of butter, room temperature
1/4 cup of Whiskey, I used Johnny Walker Black Label
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla
3 cups Powdered Sugar

For the Chocolate Frosting:
I used this recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/chocolate-frosting-recipe/index.html

Step 1:
Preheat the oven to the temperature listed on the cake box.  Follow the directions on the cake box except for this: pour the espresso into a measuring cup and add water until it equals 1 cup (or whatever the amount of water is supposed to be).

Step 2:
I like to make cakes with thinner layers (which also means more frosting!), so I fill each cake pan half way - which means I can make a four layer cake.  Keep a close eye on the cake since the cook time will be quick - about 15-20 minutes.

Step 3:
Once all of the cake layers are fully cooked, let them cool.  While they cool mix the frostings.  For the whiskey frosting just use a mixer to combine all the ingredients.

Step 4:
Assemble the cake.  You can get creative - I chose to use the chocolate frosting between the layers and then put the whiskey frosting on the outside of the cake.  The chocolate frosting is a bit running - but it still did the job.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Southwest Chicken Wraps

Last weekend my friends and I had a casual picnic at my favorite park.  It was very spur of the moment, and we just to Trader Joe's, grabbed a few picnic supplies from my place, and made dinner.  We made Southwest Chicken wraps which were quick, easy, and healthy!

You will need:
Black Beans
Low Fat Ranch Dressing (Trader Joe's Parmesan Ranch is great)
Cooked diced Chicken Breast
Sharp Cheddar Cheese

Step 1:
Combine the lettuce, corn, black beans, tomato, chicken, cheese and dressing.  Toss.

Step 2:
Put in a wrap and enjoy!  Or just enjoy as a salad.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Artichoke Pizza

Just an ode to one of my favorite foods: Artichoke Pizza!  Yes, a singly slice is that big.  It is quite possibly the greatest food every made.  If you are in New York City I highly recommend you check it out!

Hello from Greece!

Our suite has wifi so I am taking advantage of the opportunity to say hi, while we lounge in the sun and Charles reads.
We started in Athens which is full of lively cafes and taverns with beautiful terraces. We toured the ruins by day and went on long walks in the evenings stopping for beers and dinner along the way. The food here is excellent, lots of fresh salads and grilled meats.
From Athens we took a ferry to Santorini which has more than lived up to the hype. The views are stunning, it is the perfect place to relax after what turned out to be quite the rowdy wedding weekend!
It seems that the news reports of riots in Greece scared off many tourists, because it is high season here and even Santorini is somewhat deserted. It is in our favor though as we are getting excellent service everywhere we go, and it seems totally safe!
I am going to sneak in a nap before our evening cocktails arrive! Here are a few photos!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Let's talk about The Wedding

Oh my goodness I am married!  I know that this is a food blog, but I want to share some of what I had learned about wedding planning, because I have learned a lot.

On DIY Projects:
I picked projects that would be done weeks before the actual wedding.  Do not pick things that need to be done at the last minute.  Girl friends of mine had shared stories of brides making them help with silly projects into the wee hours the night before the wedding.  I wanted to avoid this.  I have tackled some major DIY projects though.
  • I learned calligraphy from a book my mother gave me when I was a kid.  Granted that it is not the most fancy calligraphy, but it gets the job done.  So I decided that doing the calligraphy myself would be a great way to save money.  I took a class at Paper Source to refresh my memory and then got to work.  I did calligraphy for the Save the Dates, Invitations, Table Numbers (which are really city names) and Place Cards.  The overall saving was probably about $4-5 a guest.
Place Cards

Table Names (before I erased the pencil)

On Little Ways to Save Money:
Weddings can be crazy expensive, so I thought it made sense to save money in ways that were easy and made sense.
  • We sent Save the Date postcards.  This saved money since we did not have to purchase envelopes, which can be surprisingly pricy, and the postage cost less.  The overall savings was a couple hundred dollars.
The Save the Date - scanned from a Vintage Postcard
  • Our Reply Card was also a postcard.  Again, no envelope and less postage.  This saved a couple hundred dollars.
The Reply Card - also scanned from a Vintage Postcard
  • We set up a great website.  We included all of the extra info on where to stay, how to get there, and what to do on the website.  This worked really well, because people tend to lose paper information anyway.  I used Wedding Window for our site.  It cost $70 and was easy to set up.
  • We sent Evites for all of the extra events.  We did this because it was easier, people reply to Evites more quickly, and because people tend to loose paper invites anyway.

On the Food:
My sister gave me great advice.  Hors d'oeuvres should never be too garlicy, too messy, or leave anything behind (like a shrimp tail or toothpick).  

On planning:
Try to do as much as you can, as early as you can.  My number one goal three weeks before the wedding was to make sure that everyone has all of the information they need before the leave for the trip.  I have been to weddings in the past where it wasn't very clear where the events where, how to get there, and where they started.  A little planning ahead can make things much easier for your guests.
  • Create a downloadable packet of information for your guests.  This was very easy to do.  Using Microsoft Word, I created a document that included key phone numbers, addresses, and a map.  Then I saved it as a PDF and made it part of the wedding website.
  • Google Documents can be your best friend.  They have templates for wedding planning.  I thought that their Seating Arrangement Template was great.  I used that as a base, but then added tabs for a To Do List, Meal Breakdowns, RSVPS, etc.
  • Have a To Do List.  Include anything you may forget.  My fiance gets an email from my every Monday outlining what we need to do, and who needs to do what.  This has been a huge help.  We are actually a little ahead of the game.  He likes to know what needs to be done so he can tackle projects whenever he has time.
  • Limit the number of times you contact your vendors, and give them clearly organized information.  I think most people prefer to receive one clearly thought out email instead of a bunch of back and forth.  I haven't been perfect with this, but I am trying.  Going the extra distance with organizing will probably pay off.  Clearly tell the caterer the final count, the breakdown of who is eating what.  Then take it a little further, how many tables are there, how many people at each table, and how many people are eating each dish at each table.  If there is a diagram that you can use to incorporate this information it will leave no room for confusion.

Monday, July 9, 2012

I am married!

Charles and I tied the knot on Saturday.  The weather called for thunderstorms, but it was sunny and perfect.  The most incredible group of people in the world came to Kennebunkport to celebrate with us.  There were also so many wonderful people who helped with the planning!

The ceremony was performed by a dear friend Rev. Corgan whose daughter was my best friend when I was a little girl.  Everyone commented on what a lovely ceremony it was.  I spent most of the ceremony trying to get my knees to stop shaking!  Thank goodness I wore a long dress.  Charles's hands were shaking when we exchanged rings.

My parents and sister came up with fantastic ideas to decorate the venue.  We got married at the Kennebunk River Club Boathouse - which is a stilted building in the river that looks out to the ocean.  It is the perfect place for a wedding.  My family brought in trees with lights to decorate, which looked incredible.  Other decorations included Chinese lanterns and vintage trunks.  My mother seriously thought of everything.  I think she needs to become a wedding planner!  My sister, Mom, Dad, and some of their friends spent the morning decorating, which was so nice of them!

My brother had a big surprise up his sleeve.  During a band break he and his friend set off a fireworks display!  It was the icing on the cake.

We had a rocking band - The Lisa Love Experience who kept the party going all night.  You can see from the photos that we got sweaty from dancing so much.  Lisa even had me and my friends Dre and Woody perform with her.  We sang Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.  Even 2 days later our knees and feet hurt from so much dancing.

Our photographer, Meredith Perdue was great.  She was a huge help when it came to keeping us organized when we were getting ready.  She had lots of great ideas, and it was such a pleasure getting to know her, and I can't wait to see the photos!

We also hired Maine Photobooth Company.  I had no idea that they would do this, but they put together a guestbook for me, which I adore.  Friends added photos from the photobooth and wrote messages.  I was so excited to look through it.  The best part was that I got a memory stick with digital copies of all of the photobooth pictures.  Looking through those photos was the first thing I did when I got home!

The caterer Kitchen Chicks served what I was told was the best wedding food people had ever had.  It was delicious, and the best part was that I actually got to sit down and enjoy it.  The Kitchen Chicks staff was on top of things all night.  If someone saw me without a drink in my hand, one was delivered to me.  When someone asked if I needed anything, and I jokingly said shade, because the sun was right on me while I ate dinner and it was hot in my dress, someone actually stood and blocked the sun!  (and then I explained he didn't need to do that!)  Kitchen Chicks went above and beyond - they even had a waiter who spoke Spanish - which was a huge relief since my mother in law is Spanish.

I also owe HUGE THANK YOUS to my friends!  John and Lisa let me get ready at their home, which is right next to the wedding venue.  They also hosted the after party!  John also acted as chauffeur - he drove me to the wedding in his 1942 Woody.  It was so much fun!  I can't thank him enough!  I also owe a giant thank you to my friend Brian who hosted the after after party.  It was a blast!

Thank you to everyone who traveled to attend the wedding.  It means the world to me that so many people were able to join us.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Pre-Wedding Juice and Raw Food Cleanse

One day I was at work eating a giant Chiptole burrito, when I received an email from Gilt City offering a deal for the 3 day juice and raw food cleanse.  I looked at my burrito, realized that I am about to get married, and thought that signing up for the deal would be a good idea.  I had heard that there are great benefits to cleansing, like having more energy and glowing skin - so why not give it a try?  At the very least, cleansing would keep me from drinking beers and eating fried food over the weekend.

I purchased my cleanse through Peeled (which has locations in Chicago and Evanston).  I was given 4 juices, 2 raw food meals, and a snack for each day.  The staff explained the cleanse to me.
8am: Drink the Watermelon Juice
10am: Drink a Green Juice (it has 5 servings of veggies in it)
12pm: Eat Kale Salad
2pm: Drink the Lemonade
4pm: Drink another Green Juice
7pm: Eat an Asian Salad
8pm: Eat a Macaroon (I hate coconut, so I didn't eat these)

I started my cleanse on a Friday.  The Watermelon juice is pretty tasty, so I had not problem with that (except that it smelled weird).  The Green Juice kinda tastes like weird apple juice.  It has romaine lettuce, spinach, cucumber, parsley, celery, lemon, ginger root, and apple in it.  I wouldn't say that I enjoy it, but it is pretty filling.  The Kale Salad, was not the greatest thing in the world, the smell is actually the worst part.  By 3pm on the first day all I wanted was cheese!  Knowing that I could not have cheese, I had to make the most of what I was given.  The asian salad wasn't great, so I decided to cheat a little and I added some brown rice.  It definitely improved it.  I had about 3 sips of the second Green Juice, but it wasn't happening.

The second day I woke up at 7:30 feeling great.  This might have something to do with the fact that I was asleep on the couch at 9:30 on Friday night.  I had read that you should go to bed early the first day of your cleanse, I don't think it is much of an option.  I had my watermelon juice, since I was signed up for a 9:30 class at the gym (TRX, it's great), I decided to eat a few almonds too.  I decided to let myself cheat a little, just as long as I was sticking to raw foods.  I forced myself to drink the green drink and ate a few more almonds.  I didn't want to eat the Kale Salad, so I didn't.  I went to the beach, and I drank half of the Lemonade - before it got warm and gross.  Then I hit up the grocery store to buy some raw food.  For dinner I had an avocado mashed up with some lime juice and mixed with a tomato and some lettuce.  It was refreshing and delicious.  It might have been as full with nutrients as the food peeled gave me.... but I liked it!  I tried to drink the second Green Juice, and only forced down half of it.

Kale Salad: I was supposed to eat 4 of these, and I didn't.
The third day I woke up at 7 with lots of energy.  Again, I had fallen asleep early, so I think that was part of it.  I drank the watermelon juice, and had some cantaloupe.  Then I worked out, and came home and drank an entire Green Juice.  For lunch I had half of an avocado, mashed up with lemon juice and I dipped carrots in it.  Then I totally cheated and ate a couple veggie tacos for dinner.

Overall thoughts:
I decided to do this cleanse as an experiment.  I do feel healthy and refreshed.  The cleanse also prevented me from making poor food and drink decisions the weekend before the wedding.  Plus I lost two pounds.

Drinking on a Diet

My friends and I go out a lot.  Usually this involves alcohol.  Let's compare some beverages to see what the healthier choices are.

Beers (per 12 ounces)
Sam Adams Boston Lager: 160
Sam Adams Light: 124
Guinness: 125
Beck's Light: 64
Amstel Light: 95
PBR: 152
Bud Light:  95
Miller Lite: 96

Wine (per 5 ounces)
Red Wine: 106
White Wine: 100
Champagne: 91
Skinny Girl Wine: 110

 Hard Alcohol (per ounce)
Vodka: 73
Tequilla: 64

Rum: 64

Whiskey: 73

Mixed Drinks
Margaritas (10 oz.): 550
Skinny Girl Margarita: 110

Overall, the better choices are mixed drinks with low calorie mixers (like club soda).  I have definitely noticed girls ordering vodka soda with limes recently - I guess they did their research.  Another thing to consider is how much alcohol you consume.  I am likely to drink more beers than glasses of wine - so wine would be a better option for me.  You need to consider the amount of calories you consume in beverages when you go out!  Plus, how often does the drinking lead to late night snacking?  You don't want your weekend fun to cancel out your smart choices during the week!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pizza with Grilled Vegetables

I have been super busy, which means I haven't had enough time to cook!  Recently I was at Whole Foods figuring out what to have for dinner and I decided that pizza would be a quick and easy meal.  Whole Foods sells grilled veggies, which are the perfect topping for a pizza.  I chose grilled peppers, onions and zucchini.  This pizza only took 30 minutes total to make from start to finish, and was delicious!

You will need:
Grilled Veggies (I used green pepper, red onion, and zucchini)
Sliced Mushrooms
Tomato Sauce
Ricotta Cheese
Mozzarella Cheese
Pizza Dough (I purchased mine from Whole Foods)

Step 1:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Then grease a baking sheet with a little butter, and then coat with flour.  The little bit of butter gives the pizza a great crispy crust.

Step 2:
Stretch the pizza out onto the pan.  Then top with sauce, cheese and the grilled vegetables.

Step 3:
Bake for 20-30 minutes until browned.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Butternut Squash over Ravioli

If you don't have the time to make butternut squash ravioli, this is a quicker option that tastes just about the same.  I love the sweet and salty flavor combination.

You will need:
1 Butternut Squash
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
2 tablespoons Butter
3 tablespoons Brown Sugar
Store bought Ravioli or Tortelinni
Parmesan Cheese

Step 1:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Then cut in half the long way.  Scoop out the seeds.  Then dice the squash into 1 inch cubes, cutting off the peel as you go.  Then place in a glass pan, and toss with the olive oil.  Then bake until soft, it will take about 45 minutes.

Step 2:
After the squash has been in the oven for 35 minutes, cook the ravioli or tortelinni according to the directions.

Step 3:
Once the squash is fully cooked remove it from the oven.  Then in a skillet melt the butter and add the sugar.  Melt together and then add the squash.  Cook for 2 minutes stirring frequently.

Step 4:
Serve the ravioli with a scoop for the buttery brown sugar squash on top.  Then top with a little Parmesan.

10,000 Hits

I can't believe that the blog has received over 10,000 hits.  I am so flattered!  Thank you very much!  I promise a few more posts before I go offline for for a few weeks for the wedding & honeymoon.  (And I will share a few wedding photos).

Monday, June 18, 2012

Easy Chicken Chili

I have really gotten serious about making healthy meals.  The thing is, that I didn't tell my fiance that we were eating extra healthy meals.  And he didn't notice the difference.  And we have both lost a few pounds.  Recently Charles requested that I make chili.  I don't really have time to make traditional chili - too much chopping and too long of a cook time.  So I fudged things a little and came up with a way to make a delicious chili in under an hour!  Chili is such a healthy meal - it is packed with veggies, plus beans pack a lot of protein.  Feel free to add in your favorite veggies!

Serves 4
You will need:
1 large carton of Chicken Broth
1 pound chicken
1 large jar of Salsa
1 can of Black Beans
1 can of Diced Tomatoes
1 can of Kidney Beans
1 can of Corn
1 Pepper
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
Cheddar Cheese
Fat Free Sour Cream

Step 1:
Cook and shred the chicken.  You can boil the chicken, which only takes about 8 minutes, or you can bake it.

Step 2:
Chop the pepper and then saute it in olive oil until soft.  Then pour the tomatoes, beans, corn and chicken broth into a large pot.  Heat over medium heat until boiling slowly.  Then add in the salsa and the chicken.  Let it cook for another 5 minutes.

Step 3:
I like to serve chili with brown rice on the bottom and cheese and sour cream on top.  Some people think that serving chili over rice is weird - serve it however you want.  You could even omit the broth to make a thick chili and then serve it over chips for nachos.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Angel Food Cake with Whipped Chocolate Frosting

This cake is a family favorite.  Growing up my Mom would let us pick out our birthday cakes.  The options were unlimited, we could choose a cake from a bakery, or my Mom would make us whatever our hearts desired.  Usually we asked for this cake.  The recipe is an old recipe that my Mom has.  The cake and frosting are light and airy.  It slides right down even after a big meal.  My Mom said that once she made the cake for a dinner party with another couple, and that the four of them ended up eating the entire thing.

The cake, it has frosting in the middle!
Recently, my brother Jeff requested this cake for his birthday.  His birthday is right around Memorial Day, so my mom usually makes a cake Memorial Day weekend and we have a birthday dinner.  This is Jeff's favorite cake, and Jeff loves sweets.  I made the mistake of sitting next to him at dinner that night - something I never do anymore.  He distracted me by saying he saw a wild turkey in our yard and then stole my cake off my plate.  You have to guard your food around Jeff.  Lesson learned.  I always warn the people who sit next to him at family functions.

As you can tell, this cake is a Graham family tradition.  This past week my friend Caroline celebrated her birthday and I thought that this was the perfect time to introduce my Chicago family to this cake.  Our birthday gathering was extra special because Caroline's parents, Mal and Bobby were in from Boston and joined us for dinner.  They are two of the nicest people in the world and it is always such a treat to see them.  I also want to give a shout out to my friend Zinni who hosted dinner that night.  He had a great idea - we built our own kababs.  Zinni prepped chicken, steak, shrimp, potatoes, mushrooms, peppers and lots other great kabab add ons, and we went through the line building our kababs and then he threw them on the grill.  It worked out really well.  Ok back to the cake - here is a photo!

Three of the best ladies I know: Hockema, Caroline, Dre, and Me
This cake is very easy to make!  You should definitely try it!

You will need:
1 Angel Food Cake
1 teaspoon Vanilla
3 cups Whipping Cream
1 1/2 cups Powdered Sugar
3/4 cup Cocoa
1/4 teaspoon Salt
optional: 1/3 cup toasted Almonds

Step 1:
You can either make the angel food cake from a mix (you just add water), or purchase pre-made from a grocery store.  A few notes on making angel food cake: you need to let it cool completely in the pan and you need to let it cool upside-down or on its side.  My mother also told me not to use a silicone pan because the cake can't cool property in a silicone pan.

Step 2:
Make the frosting.  Combine the whipping cream, sugar, cocoa, salt, and vanilla.  Beat with a mixer until stiff.

Step 3:
Once the cake is completely cooled, remove it from the pan.  Then using a serrated knife, cut the top off of the cake, starting from about 1 inch down from the top of the cake.  See the photo below and this is make much more sense.  Then use the knife to cut out some of the inside of the cake.

Step 4:
Fill the scooped out section of the cake with frosting.

Step 5:
Place the top back on the cake.

Step 6:
Frost the cake!  Top with toasted almonds with you like.  Keep the cake chilled until you are ready to serve it.