Friday, January 30, 2015

January 2015

A few of my favorite things

Baking a super-addictive Crack pie with cookie butter.

Having breakfast at Wildberry in Chicago.

Seeing Cinderella on stage with my mom. 

Whipping up simple vanilla almond scones.

Realizing these cheddar biscuits are perfect for a Packers party.

Having a savory breakfast of spinach, tomato, & basil quiche.

Dining on two homemade Indian dishes: Chicken tikka masala... 

... and Veggie korma

Learning new dance moves with the LULAC Latinas Council.

Sharing Mom's recipe for Curry cashew chicken salad.
 Making muffins that taste like pecan pie — yum!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Pecan pie muffins

Easy & yummy as pie

It's Saturday morning and you want to bake a sweet something. But you don't have the usual cast of characters like bananas, pumpkin, or blueberries - so what's a baker to do? If you have pecans in the house like I did, you're in luck!

Not only do these muffins come together easy-peasy (no hand mixer needed — I love that kind of simplicity in the morning), but they're also an immediate crowd pleaser. My family raved that they're as good as (or better than) our favorite Christmas morning muffins. In my house, that's saying a lot.

- - - - - - - 


1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour the cups of a muffin pan (I got nine muffins out of this recipe). 

2. In a bowl, combine brown sugar, chopped pecans, flour, and baking powder. *Note: The original recipe says to firmly pack the brown sugar, but I just measured 1 cup without firmly packing. The muffins were plenty sweet anyway! 

3. Whisk eggs until foamy. Stir together eggs, melted butter, and vanilla. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix until just combined.

4. Pour into prepared muffin tins, filling the cups about 2/3 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. When done, use a knife to loosen the muffins from the pan if necessary, then move to a rack to cool.

- - - - - - - 

Did I mention that these muffins are perfectly named? They really do taste like pecan pie. While the original recipe says they're best right out of the oven (and they are great that way) I liked them even more after they sat a while. Speaking from experience, you'll be skeptical at first; the brown sugar gives the cooled muffins a rather hard, rock-candy crust. You'll think "Oh my God! These are going to break everyone's teeth!" But inside, the muffins are still soft and wonderfully nutty. Next time, I'm making a double batch.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Lakefront Brewery beer hall

Fish fries & polka music

A couple Fridays ago, some friends and I went to the Lakefront Brewery beer hall for a fish fry. I'd been once years ago and remember enjoying it, and it seems that the popularity of the brewery and its tour has turned the place into a mad house in recent years. I'm sure the fact that we came out on a Friday night around 7:00 had everything to do with it, but we were packed in tight around the bar, waiting an hour for a spot at a shared table.

The waiting was really not bad, except for having nowhere to sit. There was beer, good conversation, and the promise of fried fish. Oh, and there was live polka music with couples of all ages hopping in time with the music and fathers twirling their daughters, sometimes two at once. Adorable — but that said, the hall is kind of just that: a hall. The exposed brick is nice of course and it's pleasingly cavernous, but I found myself wishing it was, dare I say, cuter. Certainly that's not the vibe Lakefront is going for, but hey, I know what I like — and I like my beer halls to feel more traditionally quaint and German.

When we were seated a bit after 8:00, we were starving and ordered two appetizers: soft pretzels and cheese curds. Both were really tasty, though the cheese dip that came with the pretzels was more like a spread than a dip (and dips are inherently more sharing-friendly). As for the cheese curds, they were beer-battered but not heavily so; as a point of comparison, my brother had brought home cheese curds from Culvers the week before and those are pretty much all batter, no cheese. The curds at Lakefront's beer hall were just the opposite — totally scrumptious. 

For dinner, I ordered the cod fish fry. It was pretty good, but not life changing. I'm still on the look out for a fish fry that knocks my socks off. I think Bogar's in Delafield does a nice job with their fish fry, but there has to be other such places out there! Friends, if you're reading this and you've tried your fair share of fried fish in the Milwaukee area, please comment below: Where oh where is the best fish fry in town? I'm dying to know!

Overall, Lakefront Brewery's beer hall is fun. Good, not great. It's best enjoyed with friends who aren't in a hurry and are game for an appetizer or two. The fish will satisfy in the moment, but if you're searching for the best fry of your life, the search goes on.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Curry cashew chicken salad

Like a gourmet deli at home

When you stop and think about it, isn't it amazing that we spend so much money on things like fancy sandwiches? You could feed homemade sandwiches to your entire family on what it costs to buy one at a restaurant. Not that I'm about to stop ordering sandwiches, but my mom's curry cashew chicken salad makes me pause to question why I don't just mix up this yumminess more often. 

- - - - - - - 


3 cups shredded chicken (about 3 chicken breasts in the slow cooker)
1/2 cup chopped cashews
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1 granny smith apple, chopped
2 TBS craisins
2 to 3 TBS chutney
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp curry powder
2 tsp lemon juice
cayenne pepper & garlic salt, to taste

Mix it all together. (Yep.)

- - - - - - - 

I just love this chicken salad. I love that the chicken is shredded (that's the only way chicken salad should ever be, in my humble opinion). I love that there's a depth of flavor and texture beyond just mushy mayonnaise: the curry, the chutney, the crunch of the apples and cashews, and the sweet, chewy craisins. With how easily all the yummy ingredients come together, this really is the perfect way to give that $12 restaurant sandwich a homemade makeover.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Our dreams are more romantic than the world we see

"Make believe" _Showboat

We've got just a few weeks until everyone's favorite Hallmark holiday, so let's get a little mushy with the musicals. Today, it's Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson in Showboat singing "Make believe." There's no denying they sing one helluva romantic, operatic duet. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Purple Dress event

Cheers to the WI LULAC Latinas Council!

Last weekend, a bunch of my Milwaukee friends came out to support the WI LULAC Latinas Council and their second annual Purple Dress event. Our friend Vanessa is on the council and helped make the whole wonderful evening happen. (Vanessa, you're one amazing lady!) 

Fashionably late as our group tends to be, we did miss out on the necessary speeches, but we got there just in time for dancing. A couple of the ladies taught us salsa and bachata — even the boys learned the moves! We had an absolute blast, as the photos prove.

We danced until we were overheated and our feet ached, then capped off the night with a trip to a Milwaukee late-night dining staple: Ma Fischer's. There we enjoyed eggs, waffles, and gyro sandwiches — and Joel enjoyed a large chocolate milk. Adorable, amiright?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Veggie korma

An Indian dish for the vegetarians

I never would have thought to make this dish on my own - I have Adam to thank for bringing it into my life. I asked him for an idea for a veggie side dish for chicken tikka masala or curried coconut chicken, and he suggested veggie korma. While it's great as a side, this concoction can easily stand on its own as a main dish, too. 

- - - - - - - 


1 and 1/2 TBS vegetable or olive oil
1 small onion or 1/2 large onion, diced
1 tsp minced ginger (fresh or jarred)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 potatoes, cubed (the Yukon Gold variety)
4 carrots, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
3 TBS unsalted cashews (optional - I didn't have any on hand)
1 4-oz. can tomato sauce
2 tsp salt
1 and 1/2 TBS curry powder
1 cup frozen green peas
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1 cup heavy cream or coconut milk (see "Cream note," below)
cilantro, for garnish

1. Heat oil in skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook until tender and fragrant. Mix in minced ginger and garlic and cook one minute more. Add chopped potatoes, carrots, jalapeno, cashews, and tomato sauce. Season with salt and curry powder. Cook and stir until potatoes are tender. 

*Note: I found it took about 20 minutes to cook the potatoes all the way through. The original recipe says to cook for only 10 minutes. Next time, I might try microwaving the potatoes for a few minutes to start the tenderizing process before cubing them.

2. Stir in peas, chopped red & green peppers, and cream or coconut milk. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 10 to 20 minutes. Serve with basmati rice and garnish with chopped cilantro.  

*Cream note: In the original recipe, one comment said to try using coconut milk instead of heavy cream. I've tried it both ways and it's great! When using coconut milk, I buy canned coconut milk and use all of the heavy, creamy part of the  milk that rests on top. Then top off with some remaining coconut water to equal 1 cup. 

- - - - - - - 

If you don't have all of the veggies, don't sweat it. I forgot to buy peas the last time I made this dish and it still turned out totally tasty. I've also forgotten the cashews and chopped up a handful of baby carrots instead of big carrots. The point is, work with that you have - it'll all come together deliciously in the end.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Chicken tikka masala

America's favorite Indian dish

I remember when my friends first pushed me to try Indian food back in college. We went to Maharaja in Milwaukee for the lunch buffet and everyone said to start with the chicken tikka masala. Since the dish consists of tender chicken in a creamy tomato sauce, it's a safe bet for those just dipping their toe into this exotic cuisine. 

Since then, I've grown much more adventurous when it comes to Indian food, but that doesn't mean I don't still love me some chicken tikka masala. I've been making it at home for a few years now, and this recipe never fails me. It's a mix of a recipe of a friend gave me and a couple I found online, and the result is just as tasty as anything you'll find at a restaurant. While it's possible that my satisfaction might have something to do with my American taste buds, I like to think there's more to it than that. So try this recipe and let me know what you think. And to any Indian chefs reading this: If you have expert advice for making this dish even better and/or more authentic, tell me all your secrets!

- - - - - - - 

Serves 4 to 5 people

3 chicken breasts, cut into 1-in. pieces
1 cup yogurt
1 TBS lemon juice
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp black pepper
1 TBS minced ginger (fresh is ideal, or jarred for convenience)
1 tsp salt

2 TBS butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
2 tsp coriander
2 tsp garam masala 
4 tsp cumin
4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt (more to taste as you go)
2 8 oz. cans tomato sauce
2 cups heavy cream
basmati rice, for serving
chopped cilantro, for garnish

1. For the chicken: In a medium bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, black pepper, minced ginger, and salt, and mix until well incorporated. Stir in cut chicken breasts, and cover & refrigerate for at least one hour — I've done overnight.

(Before starting step 2, begin preparing the rice according to the package directions to make sure it's done in time.)

2. Preheat the grill or heat up a skillet on the stove. Lightly oil the grill or skillet. If grilling, thread the chicken on to skewers, discarding the excess marinade as you go. Grill until juices run clear, about 5 minutes on each side. If using the stove top, place chicken pieces in the skillet, discarding the excess marinade as you go. Cook until juices run clear, about 10 minutes, turning the meat as it cooks. Remove chicken from the grill or skillet to a plate, so any excess grease or oil can drain from the meat.

3. For the sauce: In a large heavy skillet, melt butter over medium heat (see "Skillet note," below). Add the garlic and jalapeno and cook for about one minute. Season with coriander, garam masala, cumin, paprika, and salt. Stir in tomato sauce and cream until combined. Simmer on low heat until sauce thickens, about 20 minutes. Add cooked chicken to the sauce and simmer 10 minutes more. (You can simmer the sauce and chicken longer; I usually do.)

4. Serve with basmati rice and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro. 

*Skillet note: If you're cooking the chicken on the stove, make sure to use a separate skillet for the sauce. The last time I made this, I made the mistake of using the chicken skillet for the sauce (after haphazardly trying to clean out most of the grease with a paper towel), and the sauce turned out a bit greasy in the end. Still delicious, but not ideal. So use a separate skillet! 

- - - - - - - 

When I made this for family dinner, it served five people with a touch leftover — but we had veggie korma (recipe coming soon!) and some mediocre pita bread on the side (if anyone knows where to get great store-bought naan, please holler!). So depending on the number of hungry folks you're feeding and what you're serving on the side, you might need more chicken. The dish made as-written will be saucy, but I'm a huge fan of sauce with rice so that works in my book. That said, if you cook up more than three chicken breasts, you might want to up the amount of sauce even more. 

Chicken tikka masala is the kind of dish that, to me, really hits the spot after the holidays. After all the turkey, mashed potatoes, and other traditional American fare, the spices and deep flavor in Indian food are one of my favorite remedies for the winter doldrums. Here's to food for being something to appreciate in January!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Stair dance

"The Little Colonel," 1935


Here's something that will make you think twice about the boring way you go up and down the stairs. Enjoy Bo Jangles & Shirley Temple:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Spinach, tomato, & basil quiche

Eggs that are worthy of a holiday

Once upon a time, I was in New York visiting my friend Rachelle when she made quiche for breakfast - and it was awesome. Rachelle sort of wings it in the kitchen a lot, and that's what she did with her quiche. So I decided to try her method at home, and behold: my family's favorite worthy-of-Christmas-morning quiche.

There's a lot of eyeballing it, a sprinkling of salt and pepper here and there, adding as much cheese as looks good - but there are some rules that musn't be broken. The big one is removing as much water as possible from the tomatoes - no one wants watery eggs! The second, in my opinion, is using enough basil and distributing it in an even layer; basil in every bite is a very good thing. Another very good thing: this recipe makes two quiches! And trust me, you'll be wanting both of them as people clamor for seconds.

- - - - - - - 


2 pie shells (I use frozen, in this case Pillsbury)
1 bag spinach
1 package basil (or about 16 leaves), roughly chopped
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/2 large onion or 1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
shredded parmesan and/or mozzarella cheese
crumbled feta cheese
10 eggs
1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream
salt & pepper to taste
extra tomato and basil for garnish, if desired

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To remove water from tomatoes: Lay thinly sliced tomatoes in a single layer on a plate, baking sheet, or cutting board lined with paper towel. Place a second layer of paper towel on top of the tomatoes and press to absorb water. Repeat with additional paper towels until tomatoes are mostly dry. Sprinkle tomato slices with salt and pepper, then set aside.

2. In a large skillet, combine chopped onion with a drizzle of olive oil. Cook until onion begins to soften, then add garlic and cook for one minute more. Add spinach, a sprinkling of nutmeg, and a handful each of mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Add a roughly equal amount of crumbled feta cheese. Stir together, sprinkling with salt and pepper as desired, until the spinach just begins to wilt.

3. In a large bowl, whisk eggs and cream until smooth, sprinkling with salt and pepper as desired. 

4. Place two pie shells on a baking sheet. To assemble: Line the bottom of each unbaked pie shell with seasoned tomato slices. Over the tomatoes, evenly sprinkle chopped basil, then a layer of the assorted cheeses. *Note: You don't need an insanely heavy layer of cheese - just do what feels right. For the next layer, divide the spinach mixture evenly between the two pie shells. Top with another layer of cheeses. Pour whisked eggs evenly between the two pie shells (the liquid should lie almost-flush with the edge of the pie shell - if you need more liquid, whisk another egg or two). For color, top with just a sprinkling of cheese and salt & pepper. If desired, top with additional chopped tomatoes and basil, taking care they don't sink into the liquid (for aesthetic reasons only).

5. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the quiche is set. The top of the quiche should be lightly golden. *Note: There's really no way to overcook these. I once accidentally put a quiche in at something like 425 degrees for an entire hour. I panicked, but it tasted great despite the high temp.

- - - - - - -

I find that if I keep adding salt and pepper and a little layer of cheese throughout the assembly process, it results in great overall flavor in the end. You could also try adding mushrooms to the quiche, or even more tomatoes and spinach, since the spinach does wilt quite a bit. But try it this way and see what changes you would make from there. If the photographic evidence (above) of Christmas morning quiche lovers is evidence of anything, it's that people are certainly happy with this quiche no matter how much you wing it!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Game Day menu

Ideas for football & food lovers

Looking back at what's been cookin' on the blog in the past nine months or so, here are some ideas for Packers game day eats!

For starters: Anything on a sliced baguette. Make it fancy for all those football fans who secretly love brie with fig jam, or keep it classic with a thick slice of sharp cheddar and summer sausage. 
For some greens: The kitchen sink big salad. What makes this so great for game day? It'll make your green girls feel a touch healthy, but it's actually filled with stuff that's totally indulgent – bacon, blue cheese, and pasta, just to name a few.
For the main dish: Sweet potato & black bean chili. It's healthy, but hearty and spicy enough to keep folks full and your manly men happy. Add cheese & avocado to the garnish for even more yum factor!
For on the side: Cheddar biscuits. A.) Who wouldn't want any excuse to eat these? B.) They're Packers colors. Case closed.
For a sweet treat: No-bake peanut butter cups. These are so easy to throw together and they're total Reese's taste-alikes — AKA major crowd pleasers! Who could ask for more on game day? 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Vanilla almond scones

A simple starter scone recipe

I find that people can either take or leave scones. I personally enjoy them and their dry, dense, buttery yumminess. But then there are people like my dad who say they've never liked scones. I wish he'd told me that before I made them as a traveling treat for my mom's birthday. Oh, and he isn't big into almond extract either. (Good thing it wasn't his birthday!)

But I'm happy to report that this simple recipe made a believer out of my dad and other family members who had been on the fence about scones. "You can make these any time," I heard more than once. The original recipe called for raisins, which I ignored in favor of vanilla and almond extracts. But really this dough is a great base for fruit and nut fillings of your choice; maybe you could even omit the sugar and add savory fixings like garlic, cheddar cheese, and chives. Happy experimenting!

- - - - - - - 


2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
8 TBS butter, frozen or nearly frozen
1/2 cup sour cream
1 egg
1/2 to 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
sugar for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl or food processor, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. If using a food processor, add cubed butter to the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, then transfer to a large bowl. If not using a food processor, grate frozen butter into the mixture and use a fork and/or your hands to combine.

2. In a small bowl, whisk sour cream, egg, and vanilla & almond extracts until smooth. Make a well in the center of the flour and butter mixture and add the liquid. Use a fork to mix until just combined, then use your hands to press the dough together. The dough might be sticky in some spots and crumbly in others - that's okay!

3. Lightly flour a surface (I used a cutting board) and turn the dough onto it. Press the dough into a rectangle or circle about 3/4-inch thick. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut the dough into triangles or other shape of your choice. Place the cut dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and sprinkle the top of each shape with a bit of sugar. Bake until golden, about 10 to 17 minutes (depending on your oven and the size of your scones). Serve once cooled to the touch, or at room temperature. 

- - - - - - -

As always when working with dough like this: Don't overmix! Make sure you have enough flour on your work surface when you turn out the dough. I found that the dough was still rather sticky when I tried to transfer my triangles to the baking sheet - but I used a spatula to carefully and gently lift the dough from the floured surface. If the shape goes wonky during transfer, you can press it back into shape once you place it on the baking sheet. For the sugar topping, I used a mixture of granulated and raw sugar.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Never need a reason, never need a rhyme

"Step in time" _Mary Poppins

In this musical number, we have Dick Van Dyke, Julie Andrews, a bit of magic, Walt Disney, and high-kicking, carefree choreography. Any one of those things would help on a Monday in January - put them all together and it's practically perfect in every way.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Broadway in Milwaukee: Anything Goes

High hopes dashed on the high seas

It pains me to say this, but if you're thinking of seeing Anything Goes this weekend in Milwaukee, do yourself a favor and save your money. Taking our seats at the PAC last night, I didn't have many expectations — just hopes for impressive dancing (since the show won a Tony award for outstanding choreography in 2011) and timeless Cole Porter tunes. I knew the show had a classic musical vibe and a storyline with sailors & nightclub singers on a ship, romance, and a (probably) predictable plot. And I like all of those things! But somehow this production of Anything Goes did anything but, well, go.

The leading lady, Emma Stratton, was an undeniable bright spot in the production; her voice is phenomenal and she certainly carries off an air of old Hollywood glam. But I'm not sure that any of the dancing was out of this world, and the number of dancers in this touring troupe was trimmed by about half compared to the Broadway cast. When you cut the dance company so blatantly, the choreography inevitably suffers. Not to mention, there wasn't even a showstopping tap number until just before intermission — what's that about?! 

Despite all this, I can see the potential in Anything Goes — I'm just afraid we Milwaukeeans aren't being treated to it in full. Of course the show itself isn't new — the music is old, the story is old, and surely that's a big part of why the entire production felt rather lackluster and stale. But remember: I love the Cole Porter era! I'm all for sweet little ditties and tap shoes for days! But I think that when you're working with such old-fashioned material, there has to be some freshness to compensate. This show requires outstanding talent throughout the cast, impeccable (and fully realized) choreography, romantic chemistry, and overall Zing! This particular Anything Goes just did not deliver.

It's too bad, because I really wanted to love this show. And I sincerely hope that musicals like this continue to be performed and performed well. What saved the show for me were the folks sitting around us. They were all in their late seventies — even their eighties — and they were loving every minute of it. The gentleman seated next to my mom, who kept his winter hat on through all of the first act, tapped his toes and softly clapped in time with the music. When my mom and I applauded like normal theater-goers, he cheered "EEEYYYY!" and pumped his fists in the air. Another older fellow actually leaped out of his seat at the end of the first act with uproarious applause. If that sort of enthusiasm is worth anything, then there must be something going right in Anything Goes.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Disney movies on the big screen

Another cool event alert!

During the last four weekends in January, Marcus cinemas will be presenting Disney's Enchanted Tales film series. The movies will play on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 10:00, 12:30, and 3:00 each day — and tickets are just $5! The films on tap: Beauty and the Beast, Snow White, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin. I know I'll be enjoying a few matinees this January. How about you?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Cheddar biscuits

Perfect for a Packer party

My friend Rebecca told me about these biscuits, and when I asked her how they held up as leftovers she told me she didn't know - she'd never had any. I took that as a great sign. These little biscuits are amazing - borderline addicting, though I think my family would tell you there's nothing borderline about it. 

To make these biscuits Rebecca's way, add chives right into the batter and triple the cheese. I was only daring enough to double the cheese - the original recipe calls for 1 cup of shredded cheddar and I added 2. And while I totally spaced on the chives, I did have some parsley in the fridge. So I chopped it up and sprinkled it on top of the hot, butter-brushed biscuits. That's when the color combo hit me and I realized I'd found the perfect treat for a Packer party.

- - - - - - - 


1 and 3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt or garlic salt (I used garlic)
1/2 tsp baking powder
5 TBS butter, frozen or nearly frozen
1 cup milk 
1 to 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1/4 cup butter, melted
1 clove minced garlic
finely chopped parsley or chives

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking powder. Grate in frozen butter and toss together until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add milk and shredded cheese and stir until just combined (don't over-mix!). Drop spoonfuls of batter onto an ungreased baking sheet.

2. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly golden. While biscuits bake, melt butter and mix in minced garlic. Brush garlic butter over the hot baked biscuits, then sprinkle each with chopped parsley or chives immediately after brushing with butter (this ensures that the herbs will stick to the top of the biscuits). 

- - - - - - - 

A few notes on these biscuits: If you're taking these to a party, double the recipe. If it's going to be a really huge party, you might even want to triple it. The amount shown in the photo above is a doubled recipe; each biscuit is about the size of a golf ball.

To mix the butter into the flour, try pulsing cubed, frozen butter with the flour mixture in a food processor. I might try this next time. For my first attempt, I did use frozen butter and grated it into the flour mixture - but I had to stick the butter back in the freezer for a few minutes mid-grating (it got too melty). 

Finally, the baking time will vary depending on your oven and how big you make the biscuits. As I said before, I made rather bite-sized biscuits so I'd have enough to take to a party.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Breakfast at Wildberry Pancakes & Cafe

Downtown Chicago's A.M. face-stuffing destination

When we went to Chicago for my mom's birthday, we made a day of it. That meant catching breakfast, a snack, and dinner in the Windy City — or in this case, the rainy city. While I'm sure there are plenty of places to grab a good brunch in Chicago, we opted for a spot that had great Google/Yelp reviews and was relatively close to the touristy main drags: Wildberry Pancakes & Cafe. We read a few horror stories about three-hour waits, but given the lovely weather we decided to take our chances. Despite the rain, there was a line out the door, and when they told us "30 to 35 minutes" my brother, especially, didn't buy it for a second. But within 20 minutes or so, our party of five was seated and sipping French roast coffee.

Now for the food. I'm the type of person who likes to mull over a menu before I even get to a restaurant. I like to weigh my options, not only because I'm indecisive, but because I love food so much that I will do everything in my power to make the best food choices possible - especially in a place with a reputation like Wildberry. But I hadn't perused the menu beforehand this time - and I was totally overwhelmed. Do I go for the signature pancakes? A "sizzlin' skillet"? An "eggs-quisite omelette"? Waffles? Crepes? Benedicts? "French toast creations"? I was practically delirious with wanting to eat everything but knowing I'd have to pick just one dish. When our waiter came, I panicked and ordered plain buttermilk pancakes. 

The pancakes weren't the wrong decision, but they weren't the right one (for me) either. If you're the type of person who orders pancakes at a restaurant and 1.5 cakes later thinks "Why did I order pancakes?", you'll react that way even at Wildberry. But you still should give the pancakes a whirl — they're pretty perfect. 

In the future, I'd plan on dining with friends/family and sharing plates: a plate of pancakes, a skillet, an omelette - the best of all worlds! The portions are ginormous (yet affordable), so you could easily order four dishes between five people. Everything I tasted from my family members' plates kept me coming back for more - though, in the end, we each said we wouldn't order the same thing again. But that's just because we all agreed we'd love to come back and sample more of the menu - a sure sign of a successful eatery. And did I mention the thick-cut bacon? Case closed.

Broadway in Chicago: Cinderella

It's possible! I'm a little bit obsessed

Where do I begin with this enchanting, eye-popping spectacle? Of course there's Rogers & Hammerstein, a fairy godmother, a ball at the palace, whirling hoop skirts, the lost glass slipper, and an audience teeming with awestruck little girls in tiaras. All that is to be expected, but there's plenty left to surprise and delight. First, the set design - like a life-size pop-up book. Second, the voices: Our Cinderella, Paige Faure, sounded like a perfect blend of Disney's Ariel and everything you'd want in a Christine Daae.

Third: the character of Cinderella. While she does sing to a forest critter puppet or two (adorable) and giggle plenty, she also yearns for knowledge and to make a difference in the world (very Ever After). Fourth: the prince. He isn't just Prince Charming - his name is Christopher (Topher for short) and he actually has a personality! He's unsure of himself - a sort of lovable, goofy, prince-next-door. Of course that does make him charming, but in a very real way. 

So do the contemporary twists detract from the romance? Not to me. I like that our heroes aren't just lovesick stereotypes. I read one review saying the 1950s Rogers & Hammerstein songs don't really work with the story's new direction. But I found that, while I enjoyed the modernized plot points, I happily forgot them for a minute or two. I think I held my breath throughout the entire dreamy ballad "Do I love you because you're beautiful?" And that's okay. After all, Topher falls for Cinderella's beauty and brains. (Really!)

And the plot changes certainly didn't effect the wonders of theatrical magic. How (how!?) did Cinderella turn from a smudgy peasant to a princess with an up-do, tiara, and white poofy ball gown in the time it took her to spin on her heel? I don't know. But I want to watch her do it again. And again. And again, for good measure. If my obsession is any indication, I think it's safe to say that the magic of Cinderella lasts long after midnight.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

It's possible!

Musical medley from Cinderella

Last weekend, I took my mom on a birthday date to see Rodger's and Hammerstein's Cinderella on stage in Chicago. I'll go on and on about how wonderful the show is in a later post, but for now enjoy this impossibly enchanting medley from the Tony Awards. 

Mom's birthday in Chicago

A rainy day filled with plenty of bright spots

Breakfast at Wildberry. Major yum.

Just singin' in the rain.
Bumming around, enjoying the sights & signage.
Mom & I left the boys to their own devices.
We went to the Palace. Why? "The prince is giving a ball!"
Only the best chin angles on Mom's birthday. 
Twinkle lights outside of Giordano's for dinner. (Giordano's because: tourists.)