Monday, June 30, 2008

MONSTER Cookies!

I found a the following "Monster Cookie" recipe at a blog titled "Dinners for a Year." Totally "mom" cookies, which seemed appropriate since nearly half of my guinea pigs were three little girls under the age of 8.

The cookies were moist and chewy, and reminded me of trail mix in cookie form, since ingredients include peanut butter, oatmeal, and chocolate chip cookies. I think this makes them healthy, so I'm loading up. And as with anything I bake, I'm sure you could make them even more healthy, but I rarely strive for that. So please enjoy my somewhat healthy monster cookies, or take a stab at modifications per your own tastes.

3 eggs
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 cups peanut butter
1/2 cup margarine
4 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 10 ounce bag M&Ms

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl combine all ingredients, except the oats and M&Ms, in the order listed. Mix until well combined. Stir in the oats and M&Ms being careful not to crack the M&Ms shells. Drop by golf ball size pieces onto prepared baking sheets - about 6 to a sheet. Press down slightly. Bake for 12 - 15 minutes - they should look a little under done. Let cool for a minute or two on the sheet and then remove to parchment paper on the counter.

New Bistro Coming to Monroe Street

A new neighborhood bistro, just blocks from my house, will soon open at 2611 Monroe St. (where the longtime Italian restaurant, Papa Phil's, was formerly housed). The bistro will feature locally sourced European-inspired cuisine along with wine, spirits, and Belgian beer. Check out the menu here. The concept and menu seem strikingly similar to that at Brasserie V, which is located just up the street from the Bistro, but I'm excited nonetheless. I love new restaurants that I can walk to, and I was never very impressed with Papa Phil's. It will be interesting, however, to see if the Bistro can measure up and compete with new Monroe Street standouts like Brasserie V and Pizza Brutta.

Weekend Pics

Playing kickball at last night's BBQ

Kristin and Karen, post-Green Lake 10k

A new found trail and boardwalk to the lake

Kristin and Karen sitting by the lake

No-Bake Strawberry Pie

I had what felt like a very long and fulfilling weekend complete with my favorite fish fry at the Lodge, relaxing time at Green Lake, flea market shopping, a 4th of July 10k race, a 14-mile run, a 65-mile bike ride with several friends and flats, some quality baking and craft time, and a great Sunday night barbecue at our house with Karen’s entire family.

Upon completing my 65-mile bike ride on Sunday afternoon, I wanted nothing other than to start baking and cooking for the evening’s festivities. I made a strawberry pie, monster cookies, and mushroom tarts to add to the mix. Below is the recipe for strawberry pie, which I found on the Domino Magazine Web site. The pie was very light and refreshing, and extremely quick and easy to make.

No-bake Strawberry Pie

2 lbs. fresh strawberries (about 4 pints), tops removed, plus 4 strawberries, reserved
1 ¼ cups milk
¾ cup sugar
5 tbsp. cornstarch
3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
2 ½ cups graham-cracker crumbs
10 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. confectioners' sugar

Place 2 pounds strawberries in a blender and blend on high until pureed, about 10 seconds (do in two batches if necessary). Combine milk, sugar and cornstarch in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and whisk until dissolved. Add the strawberry puree and lemon juice. Cook on high heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture is thick and bubbling (about 7 minutes); remove from heat. Place graham-cracker crumbs in a 10" x 1 ½"-deep pie plate, drizzle with melted butter and mix until all the crumbs are moistened. With the back of a spoon, press evenly into the bottom and sides of the pie plate to form a crust. Pour strawberry filling into crust and let cool completely (about 30 minutes). Cover and refrigerate overnight. Just before serving, place heavy cream in a mixing bowl and, with an electric mixer, blend on high until stiff peaks form. Add confectioners' sugar and blend another 10 seconds. Using a spatula, spread the whipped cream over the filling. Slice reserved strawberries, add to top and serve.

Friday, June 27, 2008

DIY Tiered Dessert Tray

Although I already have two craft projects in the works—a tea cup/saucer clock and a framed earring display case (both to be revealed upon completion), I recently found my next craft project!

The inspiration is pictured, right. Think recycled kitchenware turned tiered dessert tray. Here are the full project details, created by Kate Pruitt for Design*Sponge. I can't wait to start building my very own tiered dessert tray. Just think of all of the wonderful little desserts I could display on such a contraption. Finally, my scones and cookies would have a fitting home and a chance to really strut their stuff!

For the rest of the summer, I will definitely be on a mission for great vintage plates, candlesticks, and vases. Perhaps, I'll also need a little ceramic deer to plop on top, like the beautiful dessert tray pictured right, available at Esty. Craft on.

Madison Mallards vs. Brainerd Blue Thunder

Bobbie Jean, Karen, Kristin, and Kim

Last night marked my second Madison Mallard's game in one season (an outing with colleagues). Does this now make me a groupie?

It's always amazing to me how much Madison rallies around it's summer-collegiate team. The Mallard's are considered by many to be one of the most successful baseball franchises, and by far the most successful summer collegiate team in the nation. The Mallard's fans are hard core.

Songs in the Key of Life

Yesterday marked opening night of Milwaukee’s 11-day Summerfest, the World’s largest music fest, and featured one of my all-time favorites, Stevie Wonder, on the big stage. What I would have done to see Stevie live. I’m a huge fan.

Although Stevie’s been semi-retired for more than a decade, apparently it dosen’t take much for him to get back into the groove and move a crowd. Must make it a little easier when you’ve got a hit list as long as Stevie’s and 58 years of crowd pleasing under your belt.

Wish I could have been there to see him perform in person. Good news is there is plenty of good music ahead. Check out the upcoming Summerfest lineups at

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Orzo Salad with Currants, Olives, and Pine Nuts

I've received a few requests for the orzo pasta salad I made for last night's concert on the square. I found the recipe in an issue of Real Food (Summer 2007), a quarterly magazine produced by Minnesota-based gourmet grocer, Lund and Byerly's. The salad was awesome, and made great leftovers for today's lunch. Many ingredients, but worth the effort. Enjoy!

Orzo Salad with Currants, Olives, and Pine Nuts

1 ½ cups orzo pasta
2 cloves garlic
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley sprigs
½ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. curry powder
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2/3 cup currants
½ cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
Garnish: parsley sprigs (optional)

Cook orzo according to package directions. Drain, then rinse with cold water and drain again. Transfer to a large bowl. To make dressing, add garlic and salt to the bowl of a food processor and process until garlic is minced and a paste forms. Add parsley and process well. Add lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, curry powder, cumin, and pepper; process for 30 seconds. Pour oil in a slow steady stream through food chute with processor running.

Drizzle dressing over pasta. Add onion, currants, olives, and pine nuts; toss well. Cover and chill at least 2 hours. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Last Night's Concert

Abby and Kristin toast to the first concert!

Our beautiful spread!

Everyone turned to listen to the symphony

Jill sampling my new orzo salad dish

I had a great time at the first concert on the square last night. I took a late lunch break, and staked a spot on the square at 3pm (which is the earliest you’re allowed to place blankets). As such, we definitely had great seats, close enough to see and hear the symphony, but also far enough away to chat without catching an evil eye (or so we thought).

It was a perfect summer night for the first concert. Warm, sunny, and no sign of rain. Abby and I arrived at the square at 5:30ish to set up our table and food. Shortly afterwards, we were joined by my friend Jill, who was also my college roommate freshman year, as well as her friends Angela and Shayna.

Our amazing feast included Orzo salad with currants, olives, and pine nuts; Olive French bread; Rosemary crackers with Swiss cheese; Green beans with cilantro yogurt dip, Strawberries and Raspberries; three different kinds of cookies—banana chip, butterscotch, and store bought M&M (aka, “crack cookies”); and red and white wine. Everything was delicious, and I had a blast hanging out with my girls.

I’ve found that when it comes to many things in life, the concert on the square being one notable example, I can’t help but make a big production. Like I can’t just go to the concert at the last minute and pick up dinner along the way. No, no, I must slave in the kitchen the night before to bring to life the perfect menu I’ve created in my mind, and arrive at the square at the earliest moment possible (2:59pm) to secure great seats. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don't know how. I like, no make that love, to make a production of these types of things, and to experience life in the most elaborate and meaningful way possible.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tri Like a Girl

My new Terry TRX gel bike seat is on it's way!

"Our first shot at a tri-specific saddle has a wide, gel-padded nose that allows you to drop into the aero bars with a higher degree of comfort. Longer overall and narrower in the rear to reduce the opportunity for chafing. Perforated "tri like a girl" leather cover is functional as well as just plain fun -- perforation allows the leather to breathe; lightest weight vanox rails; rear v cutaway for pressure reduction against the tailbone."

Who knew so much throught and design could go into a bike seat? I am so overdue for a new saddle, not to mention a new bike. Can't wait to try it out on my next ride.

Fried Green Tomatoes

I recently tried a recipe for fried green tomatoes. I’ve been intrigued with the dish since the ‘91 film by the same name, and have had the recipe bookmarked in my William’s Sonoma Southern cookbook for the last two years. Finally, two weekends ago, despite the fact that I’ve never actually tried a green tomato, I couldn’t resist the urge to purchase a few at the farmer’s market. And thus, my quest to make fried green tomatoes began.

The recipe was somewhat time consuming. The most frustrating part was that the cornmeal coating didn’t stick to the tomatoes quite as well as I would have liked during the frying process. I also think the tomatoes must be served hot. They just didn’t taste the same coming out of the fridge the next day. Other than that, it was a unique and tasty dish, a perfect summer appetizer.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Goat Cheese

6 slices bacon, coarsely chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
4 green tomatoes, sliced ½ inch thick
about ½ cup peanut oil
¼ lb. soft fresh goat cheese
1 large, very ripe tomato, seeded and finely diced

1. In a large frying plan, preferably cast iron, fry the bacon over medium-high heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour off about half of the drippings and discard. Reserve the bacon.

2. In a pie dish or shallow bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, salt, and pepper. Coat each tomato slice on both sides with the seasoned flour and place on a wire rack.

3. Add about ¼ cup of the peanut oil to the drippings in the pan and place over medium-high heat. When hot, add the tomato slices in batches, and cook, turning once, until golden brown and crisp, about 1 minute on each side. Using a slotted spatula, transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining slices, adding more peanut oil as needed.

4. Carefully spread and 1 teaspoon of the goat cheese on each slice. Arrange the tomato slices, overlapping them, on a round serving plate and top with the diced tomato and bacon. Serve at once.

Hot Summer Drinks at Liqurious

Check out the latest site from Notcot, Liqurious, "a place to quench your thirst". It's essentially tastespotting, but with drinks. The site includes pictures and recipes for drinks ranging from a Moscow Mule to Touch of Evil cocktail. The site is still in alpha mode, but seems like it will be a great new community for drink lovers. And I love me some summer sangria!

Also an update on tastespotting...apparently there are efforts to relaunch under new ownership. Keep your fingers crossed. But until then, as I mentioned last week, foodgawker is filling the void in my life.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Banana Chip Cookies

Last night I made the most heavenly cookies. I found the recipe at one of my favorite cooking blogs, 101 Cookbooks. They are chocolate chip cookies with dried banana pieces and walnuts. The recipe calls for whole wheat pastry flour and natural cane sugar, but notes that you can substitute with whole wheat flour and brown sugar, respectively. Since I didn't have either readily on hand, I made the substitutions, and the cookies still turned out great. These cookies are fluffy and chewy, and definitely my new favorites! Enjoy!

Banana Chip Cookie Recipe

If you can't find whole wheat pastry flour, regular all-purpose while flour will work. If you can't find wheat germ, substitute an equal amount of flour. I look for organic banana chips - the ones I like are made with organic coconut oil and bananas.

1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (see head notes)
1/2 cup (toasted) wheat germ
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup natural cane sugar (or brown sugar)
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup banana chips, loosely chopped
1 cup chocolate chips
2/3 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, racks in middle/upper middle. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, wheat germ, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, or stand mixer, beat the butter until lightly and fluffy, then beat in the sugar until it is the consistency of a thick frosting. Beat in the eggs one at a time, incorporating each fully before adding the next, and scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times along the way (important!). Stir in the vanilla. Add the reserved flour mix in two increments, stirring/mixing a bit between each addition (but not too much). By hand, stir in the banana chips, chocolate chips and walnuts - mix just until everything is evenly distributed.

Drop 1 heaping tablespoon of dough for each cookie onto the prepared baking sheets 2 inches apart and bake for about 7 - 8 minutes, until barely golden on top and bottom. Resist over baking, they will come out dry and not as tasty. Cool on racks.

Makes about 24 cookies.

Garage Sale Gals

Polish sample platter from Polonez

Chrusciki, Traditional Polish dessert

Mom and dad enjoying dessert

My new smoothie maker!

On Friday morning, my mom and I hit the road for one of our favorite mother-daughter activity, garage saleing. We came back with a car load of goodies, so I’d say we had decent luck. I found several new records (Tom Petty’s “Damn the Torpedoes”, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” etc.), a framed vintage poster, and a Rival drink mixer, which I have already used every morning since to make fruit smoothies. Instead of using my food processor, which requires hand washing of many separate components, I can now simply whip up a smoothie with my trusty two-speed hand blender.

After a day of non-stop shopping, we drove downtown for Polish Fest, which prides itself as America’s largest Polish fest, held at the Henry W. Maier Festival Park on Milwaukee’s lakefront. There we enjoyed plenty of polka music and dancing, authentic Polish foods and crafts, and of course, excellent people watching.

Our favorite Polish dishes were from a booth sponsored by Milwaukee’s famed Polish restaurant, Polonez. We enjoyed a sample platter with polish sausage, potato pancakes, and meat and cheese pierogies, as well as a dessert called chrusciki, which is a delicious deep-fried, jelly-filled pastry.

The next morning, fueled by Polish grease, my dad and I ran our traditional lakefront course, from Brookfield to the downtown lakefront (~10 miles). My dad was tearing it up, and I think we were at record pace despite the heat. I always cherish having the opportunity to share my passion for running with my dad.

Later that day, we celebrated our victorious run with custard from Kopp’s (best in the world). I enjoyed two heaping scoops of Cookies and Cream in a waffle cone. The thing was bigger than my head, causing many stares and comments, and I’m happy to report I finished strong.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Jazz in the Park

Jazz in the Park at Cathedral Square Park

Blue Number Nine- NJ jazz/soul/funk band

Mom and Dad

Dad and Kristin

Mom's awesome picnic spread

Shrimp Asparagus Risotto

Kristin and Mom

I took the day off work this past Friday and spent most of the weekend with my parents in Milwaukee. On Thursday night, we went to Jazz in the Park at downtown Milwaukee's Cathedral Square Park, which featured jazz/soul/funk band Blue Number Nine.

The concert was a great way to kick off the weekend. We had a wonderful time enjoying the warm summer evening, great conversation, and fabulous appetizers and wine. My mom's impressive spread included vegetable pizza, salsa and chips, cheesy crab bread, cheese and crackers, shrimp asparagus risotto, and whiskey cake.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Concerts on the Square

Next Wednesday evening marks the beginning of one of my favorite summer traditions—Madison’s Concert on the Square series. This summer’s season, the 25th anniversary, features performances by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at 7pm on six consecutive Wednesday evenings.

In preparation, I have already purchased a bottle of the “official” wine of the series, Wollerheim’s Prairie Fume, which also happens to be my favorite. For the first time, I will also be breaking out the mini table that my parents bought me last year for my birthday. However, I’m still searching for mini chairs to go along with it.

Below are the dates and themes of each concert. I cannot wait until next Wednesday. Until then, I’ll be recruiting friends and putting together the perfect picnic menu.

June 25
Gershwin and Friends
Wendy Chen, piano

July 2
Salute to America
Hong-En Chen, piano

July 9
Sound the Trumpet
Ryan Anthony, trumpeter

July 16
Songs Without Words
Huw Edwards, Guest Conductor

July 23
String Fusion
Time for Three, String Trio

July 30
Our Town, a 25th Anniversary Celebration
Kitt Foss, mezzo soprano; Alli Foss, soprano; Tracy Silverman, electric violin; Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.

Front Yard Flowers

Our front yard is a sea of perennials. And every day, it seems like something new pops up. Over the past two weeks, I've been trying to snap a few pictures to capture all of the color and variety. Karen and I are still very much novices when it comes to gardening (still attempting to learn weed vs. no weed). Luckily, a perennial garden makes things extremely easy for us. We can't mess up too much!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My Strange Attraction to Taxidermy Art

Maybe I'm growing antlers...

Decorative Deer Platter, DuchessVintage (Etsy), $9.99

Noble Stag Head by Roost, Edge of Urge, disturbingly expensive

Taxidermy Deer Wall Wear, Neawear (Etsy), $45

For those of you who have been reading since last summer, you know that I have this weird fascination with deer antlers. I even have a small pair hanging just over my bed. Hmm...weird. Anyways, I continue to be strangely attracted to taxidermy deer art. And recently it seems to be everywhere! Above are a few items that have caught my eye.