Thursday, May 28, 2015

Taste of India

A must-try lunch buffet in Brookfield

I know Indian food isn't for everyone. Years back, I thought it wasn't for me — then (thank God!) I had an awakening. While I've attempted a few simple Indian dishes in my own kitchen, I'll be the first to admit I'm no pro. Not even close. Indian cuisine is so diverse, and I can't remember (let alone confidently pronounce) most things I see on menus at Indian restaurants — which is why I love a good lunch buffet. And Taste of India in Brookfield offers a good lunch buffet.

I can't really tell you what to try at the Taste of India buffet except: everything. The lunchtime offerings change all the time, and I always find myself heaping mounds of food on my plate (as you can see) to try a little of everything. Finish off your meal with a warm cup of masala tea and a sampling of Indian desserts — also not for everyone (even people who already love savory Indian food) but try them anyway. Then head back to the office, shut the door, and take a nap.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Memorial Day Weekend 2015

It was the best of times!

There was a lot to love about this Memorial Day weekend — and not all of it got its picture taken. But here are a few things that did.

#1 Meeting Edith: Our first girl! Even at 5-weeks-old with a squish face, she's beautiful. I love that pretty much every expression she makes comes across as: "Being a baby is hard. Holding my head up is hard. Eating and pooping is hard. I'm going to spit up now."

#2 Hanging with Dockery: Our first boy! (Kudos to my friend Shea for having all the friend babies thus far.) Dockery is a shy-at-first little dude with loads of personality just waiting to warm up and break out. It was great to spend some time with him... And to see him throw tennis balls at unsuspecting parade-watchers.

#3 When Rachelle performed Yakko's World from Animaniacs: Our best bar trick! Once upon a time, Rachelle learned all of Yakko's World. It is truly the best bar trick ever. See for yourself.

#4 Making some yummy food: Which I'll post recipes for in the next few days! Buttery lemon cookies to start. Perfect for a summer barbecue! And speaking of...

#5 A barbecue with friends: A delight! The day started off stormy and highly questionable, then turned into sunshine city. Erin and Tom (sadly not pictured) sure know how to throw a party — hot diggity dog! (Name that movie?) Wow I love Memorial Day.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Rock Bottom

Outdoor seating & a new menu

My mom and I had dinner at Rock Bottom last week before seeing The Book of Mormon. It was a beautiful evening and actually warm enough to sit outside, which is the main reason we chose it. I think Rock Bottom really does have one of the best patios in Milwaukee. It's along the river and the view is especially lovely from a high-top table.

That said, we soon learned that they just rolled out a new menu two days earlier. I've had some pretty solid food at Rock Bottom — not mind-blowing, but solid enough to keep me coming back every once in a while. But when we heard of the new menu, I felt like a guinea pig. What can you expect from a menu that's just two days old? 

You should expect: Not bad. But not great. I ordered street tacos, and the steak was a piece of work. They were also super messy, which is fine generally, but some more napkins (or better taco assemblage) would have been nice. And granted we were seated outside and food was bound to cool off, but I honestly don't know if these tacos were supposed to be hot or cold — because they were cold, and I'm pretty sure they were never hot to begin with. So add that to the list. 

My mom ordered a burger and said the same thing — not bad, but not great. When we left we agreed that we wouldn't necessarily be rushing back to Rock Bottom for the food. But for the outdoor ambiance, a drink, maybe an appetizer? Sure. And who knows? We tried the menu on day two; I'm sure it will improve with time. But I think I'll wait for someone else to report back before trying it again.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Broadway in Milwaukee: The Book of Mormon

Hysterical fun (definitely not for the whole family)

It said it right on the ticket: "Parental Advisory: Explicit Language." I really had zero expectations going into The Book of Mormon last night at the Marcus Center. All I knew was that the show was supposedly hilarious and clutch-your-pearls irreverent.

Well it certainly was irreverent. As my mom and I walked out of the theater, we heard a woman behind us say "That was the crudest thing I've ever seen." Very matter-of-factly. And she's right — it's not like any Broadway musical I've ever witnessed. To pit it against Les Miserables or Phantom would be utterly ridiculous: If those are the apples of Broadway, this show is a ginormous orange. But it's a juicy, hysterical, spellbinding orange, and I wish I could go back for more.

Those who know me well know I'm not into irreverent humor riddled with — as my Dad calls them — "F Bombs." It's just not my thing. And yet somehow this show had all manner of merits that, though I cringed at times, I was cringing through hysterical laughter. Oh, and did you catch what I said before about walking out of the theater with my mom? Even she loved The Book of Mormon (and "woo hoo!"-ed after a particularly racy number), as did the old guy who sits next to her. So if we three can check our somewhat pearl-clutching standards at the door, trust me — so can you. 

And Broadway-loving ladies, I can't stress this enough: This is one to take your boyfriend to. Just as the Mormons in the show set out to convert a village of Ugandans to members of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints), you too can set out to convert your fella to a Broadway-loving man. This is your stereotypical guy humor from the get-go — plus, just tell your guy that the whole thing was written by the creators of South Park. Done deal.

But okay, beyond the humor, this show rocked my socks in a totally traditional-Broadway sense. Though I've never heard the original soundtrack (so I had nothing to compare it to), the cast we saw in Milwaukee last night was, in a word, flawless. I didn't know such talent existed in a touring cast. This is, without a doubt, the best show we've seen at the Marcus Center this season in terms of the quality of the production (crazy-cool sets and transitions) and the star power of literally each and every member of the cast. How is it possible there wasn't one dud in the whole bunch? My mind is blown.

Then there's the music, which again harkens back to the humor. The melodies are seriously lovely and catchy with a classic Broadway vibe to them. Like, I'd call the tunes themselves sort of Disney-fied — which to me just means they have mass appeal. The humor comes in with the insanely clever and unexpected lyrics set to these mainstream-Broadway-sounding songs. For instance, there's an adorable duet called "Baptize Me" that's really all about first-timers having sex. But it's so well executed that everyone in the crowd was laughing and going "Awww!" instead of clutching their pearls. (That's a mild example compared to the rest of the show, but still.)

And I haven't even touched on the choreography, which also felt like they purposely used every cliché Broadway chorus line move ever created, in a totally cheeky way. It was hilarious while also being genuinely eye-popping and full of first-class talent. If you couldn't already tell, I loved this show from start to finish. And if you're wondering if all this hilarity and questionable humor has any heart, don't worry — it totally does. The Book of Mormon truly has something for everyone — except the kids. Don't bring the kids. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Planet Kelsey Top 5: Dining out in Milwaukee

MKE Restaurant favorites from Year 1

I'm celebrating one year of Planet Kelsey and sharing some of my favorite things from the past 365 days. Let's see what I found in Milwaukee this past year that's good to eat:

#1 Rocket Baby Bakery
Have you ever had a life-altering pastry? If you answered "no" then you've obviously never been to Rocket Baby Bakery. Rocket Baby makes you wonder what you ever were thinking, running around with all those mediocre donuts and stale croissants. My advice: Start with the almond croissant. Or the chocolate almond croissant. Or a cheese danish. Okay, so you can't go wrong at Rocket Baby — that's the best part!

#2 Stone Bowl Grill
I didn't really know anything about Korean food before going to Stone Bowl. In fact, I still don't know very much (Rachelle ordered for me, bless her). I do know that I ate some wonderfully saucy meats, rice & noodles, and pot stickers — things like that — and loved every bite. Not sure what to order? I broke down Rachelle's picks in my blog post — so read her recommendations, then go stuff your face.

#3 Watts Tea Room
This might seem like a random choice for a favorite eatery from this past year, but I have two words for you: Sunshine Cake. The ooh-la-la ambiance of Watts combined with flavorful tea, fresh salads, and a most delightful signature cake really makes for a special experience — even if the vibe is rather "ladies who lunch." 

#4 Cafe Corazon 
We need more mornings like this: A Mexican-style brunch that can be celebrated by foodies, health nuts, and hangover-sufferers alike — amazing!

#5 County Clare
Fridays are the best, not only because they kickstart the weekend, but because Friday is fish fry day. Of all the Friday fish I tried this past winter, County Clare is the clear winner. This was the only fry that had me and my fellow fish-lovers emitting yummy sounds throughout the entire dinner. Bonus points to County Clare for live Irish music every Friday to complete the perfection. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Planet Kelsey Top 5: Savory eats

Dinnertime favorites from Year 1

I'm celebrating one year of Planet Kelsey and sharing some of my favorite things from the past 365 days. Yesterday we had dessert first — now it's dinnertime! 

#1 Cilantro lime turkey burgers 
Whether as sliders for a backyard party or full-sized burgers for a family of four, these are a must-try this summer. They're stuffed with peppers, cilantro, and lime juice — and get even better when topped with homemade guacamole... Somebody turn the grill on!

#2 Sweet potato & black bean chili
Oven-roasted sweet potatoes, cocoa powder, and jalapeños: If I told you this chili includes those three ingredients, would you belly up to the dinner table or head for the hills? Either way would be a win. If you'd eat it, you'd have a life-changing vegetarian chili experience. If you ran, there'd be more for me. 

#3 Spaghetti carbonara
This is miracle pasta. This dish has cheese. It has bacon. And yet you won't feel weighed down after eating it. I told you: Miracle pasta. 

#4 Chicken tikka masala
Call me American, but this is still my favorite Indian dish that I've tackled at home. While curried coconut chicken is my mom's fave and Adam fully approved of the chicken curry I made for his birthday dinner, I still say that this chicken tikka masala has the most robust flavor — and if it's deep, wonderful Indian flavor we're talking about, then the more robust the better! 

#5 Mango, avocado, & tomato salsa
Do you know how to chop things in the kitchen? Then you can make this salsa in no-time. It's a chopped-up mix of delicious, fresh fruits and veggies — all mixed together and without much added spice. Who knew healthy could taste like such a party? 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Planet Kelsey Top 5: Sweets

Favorite desserts from Year 1

I'm celebrating one year of Planet Kelsey and sharing some of my favorite things from the past 365 days. Let's have dessert first!

#1 Cinnamon graham cracker blondies
So unassuming, so easy to make, so delicious served warm with good vanilla ice cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Have I given you my spiel on good vanilla ice cream? I'll save that for some other time. 

#2 Crack pie with cookie butter
I'm gaga for this dessert. Like, I can't fathom anyone not being obsessed with it. It's basically pure sugar and butter and then there's Biscoff spread and then you dust it with more sugar and it's beautiful and delicious and then you can die happy. Over-hyping?

#3 Angel sugar cookies
Oh em gee, these cookies. Give it me it. See? They have me babbling. They're so good. The texture, the flavor, the trick of not letting them brown hardly at all — perfection. No these aren't those super dense chewy sugar cookies like you'd find at Potbelly (yum), but I think I like these even more for their melt-in-your-mouth-ness.

#4 Pumpkin cake & cream cheese frosting
This is one scrumptious cake, and what I love almost as much as the cake itself is how your friends and family are sure to tell you just how scrumptious it is. Upon eating this cake last Thanksgiving, one of my uncles declared I should open a bakery. Adorable.

#5 Caramel pecan killer brownies
I shared these sinful delights just a couple weeks ago, but I couldn't resist giving them a spot in my Top 5. Truly, I ate too many of these straight from the pan. You know: "Oh I didn't cut that row perfectly straight — better even it out!" So worth it.

Happy hour at Blu

Enjoy the Pfister's lake view & free empanadas 

The Pfister hotel is where you walk in and your jaw drops and you have to check yourself for drool. It's so magnificent, feeling of another era and reeking of class and la-dee-dah. I feel I could sit in the lobby for hours, happily drinking it all in. Why don't we play in hotel lobbies and bars more often? They're such fun, as last week's jaunt to the Pfister's Blu happy hour proved. 

Long story, but my friend Erin's fiancé Tom was bartending at Blu the night Fritz and I went to see Peter and the Starcatcher at the Rep. We stopped at the bar on the Pfister's 23rd floor for a few drinks before the show and soon realized what we'd been missing out on. Blu is handsomely decorated in (what else?) blue with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lakefront. Above the bar, a ceiling painted with the night sky, dotted with stars (somehow not in a corny way). A live band played jazzy tunes, adding to the special vibe.

As if that wasn't enough, the drinks were affordable, and there was free charcuterie (meats like salami and prosciutto) and all-you-can-eat empanadas. My friends and I quickly realized we could easily make a meal out of free empanadas and salami (some things never change), and there you have it: bang for your buck with a high-class ambiance and a view to write home about. Try happy hour at Blu every Monday through Friday from 5:00 to 8:00 PM. Cheers! 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Happy Birthday Planet Kelsey!

Celebrating 1 year of blogging with funfetti cake

As my dad would say: "Time's fun when you're having flies!" I started Planet Kelsey one year ago, and it's been fun and the time has flown. I guess clichés are cliché for a reason. To celebrate I'm throwing a little party here on the blog complete with homemade funfetti cake. 

Confession #1: This is just a really yummy yellow cake with jimmies (sprinkles) mixed into the batter. Yes, you can turn any yellow or white cake into funfetti! Just make sure to use oblong sprinkles, not the hard round nonpareils (they're pretty, but the color will bleed and dye the batter). Confession #2: I'm sorry to say it, but I think this cake is better sans the funfetti. Maybe I've become a purist in my advanced age, but add the sprinkles if you like — or don't. I probably won't next time... Sorry if you feel like I've led you on!

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*Note: I halved this cake and frosting recipe for two rather thin layers of cake. In the future, I think I would make the full amount of both cake and frosting for a three-layer cake. 


8 egg yolks
1 and 1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla 
4 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
2 TBS baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 
sprinkles (jimmies), about 2/3 cups (optional)

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 
2 tsp vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar, or to taste
4–6 TBS milk or cream, or to taste
food coloring (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 8- or 9-inch round cake pans. 

2. For the batter: In a medium bowl, combine egg yolks, 1/3 cup milk, and vanilla.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. 

4. Add the softened butter and remaining milk to the flour mixture, then use an electric mixer to mix until just combined. Add the egg mixture in three batches, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. If desired, gently fold in sprinkles.

5. Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Rotate the pans halfway through baking and check regularly near the end to make sure the cakes don't overly brown (they should be barely golden). Allow to cool in the pans for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

*Note: To keep the cakes from getting too brown on the bottom (as mine did), maybe try baking them on a cookie sheet — I'm going to try that next time and see what happens. 

6. For the frosting: Combine butter, vanilla, powdered sugar, and a few drops of food coloring (if using). Mix with an electric mixer until combined and fluffy, then add milk or cream (one tablespoon at a time) until the frosting reaches your desired consistency. Frost the layers of cake, and store in an airtight container. Decorate with sprinkles as desired.

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I fully admit that this cake is a bit of a work in progress — at least from my novice baker's point of view. However, my family loved it! "You should make this again," they said, in a tone that suggested "again" meant "NOW." So with that in mind, go for it. Make this cake. Help me celebrate one year of Planet Kelsey and exploratory baking. Thanks for sticking by me during this year of sweet things — here's to many more!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Milwaukee Rep presents "Peter and the Starcatcher"

How a boy became Pan

Oh the cleverness of this play! I've always loved the story of Peter Pan and all derivative stories and movies — probably because I never want to grow up. Also because J.M. Barrie wrote sentences like "When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies." The words, the characters, the familiar imagery of stars and thimbles — they're like a pixie dust all their own, stirring our inner child and whisking us away to Neverland.

At least that's how I feel about Pan. And I love that Peter and the Starcatcher so clearly gets it. The entire play (which is a Peter Pan origin story) wills the audience to imagine along with the actors, who are a single troupe of a dozen or so insanely talented artists playing dozens of characters. The sets are sparse and the costume changes are largely done on stage — some as minor as the change of hat. The rest is left to our imagination, with sound effects and lighting helping us along. Granted I'm no expert — not by long shot! — but I can't think of a more inventively-staged play that I've seen, ever. It was such fun to be drawn into this deliberately playful world of make-believe. 

Should you take your five-year-old? Maybe not. It's all very fast paced, and with all the abrupt character changes it can be a little tricky at first to keep up. But middle-schoolers and older? Definitely. There is some adult humor in the play, but it would sail over a kid's head, no problem. My cohort and I actually stayed for a "talk back" with the actors after the show, and Smee explained that the director really wanted this production to be family-friendly. He said there are ways to push the play even more into the adult realm (depending on how the actors deliver their lines), but they didn't overdo it in this Rep production. And it's true — there's everything from the most base humor (cue the fart jokes) to innuendo to high brow wit. Something for everyone, really. 

Overall, this is an incredibly well-acted, imaginative, goofy, hilarious, clever, and meaningful play. I left feeling like I just want to see it again — immediately — to be immersed in Neverland once more and relive every humorous and heartfelt nuance. Peter and the Starcatcher runs through May 24th at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, so hurry and see it if you can! It's absolute magic.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Crock pot chicken tacos

So easy a Monday night could do it

I made chicken tacos for Cinco de Mayo last week, and boy were they muy delicioso! I made the taco meat the night before and it couldn't have been easier. If you're like me at the start of a new week, easy is just what you need. I threw these yummies in the crockpot when I got home from work, shredded the chicken before bed, whipped up avocado salsa, and had a yummy meal waiting on Tuesday night.

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1 package of chicken breasts (1.5 to 2 pounds)
1 jar of good salsa (at least 16 oz.)
1 can diced green chiles (4.5 oz.)
2 tsp minced garlic, or to taste
1/2 to 1 yellow onion, diced
2 TBS lime juice (or juice of one fresh lime)
cumin, chile powder, and/or cayenne pepper, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

Spread half a jar of salsa in the bottom of a crockpot. Season each side of each chicken breast with salt and pepper, then cumin, chile powder, and/or cayenne pepper (I used cumin and cayenne pepper because that's what we had on hand). Place chicken in slow cooker and top with remaining salsa, onion, garlic, green chiles, and lime juice. Cook on high for 4 hours, turning chicken over after 2 hours if desired. Remove chicken from crock pot and use two forks to shred it. Return chicken to crock pot and mix with the salsa juices.

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This recipe makes plenty — like enough to feed a family of 5 or 6 once you add all the taco toppings. To make the tacos, I layered the chicken with corn tortillas, cheese, shredded lettuce, plain yogurt (in place of sour cream), sriracha, and a simple avocado salsa. 

For the salsa, I chopped two avocados and tossed them in a healthy amount of lime juice (for flavor and to keep the green color). I then added about a tsp of minced garlic, one can of corn (drained), one can of black beans (drained and rinsed), and some spices (salt, pepper, cumin, cayenne) to taste. Mix it all together, and voila!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Cafe Corazon

A drool-worthy Mexican-style brunch

If you have nowhere to be on a beautiful weekend morning and could really go for some seriously oozy, saucy, knock-your-socks-off Mexican-style brunch eats, you've got to try Cafe Corazon in Riverwest. This place is even approved for hangovers and birthday celebrations (they'll stick a candle in some guacamole for you!).

I say you should have nowhere to be because there will for sure be a wait. And it should be a beautiful weekend morning so that you can enjoy the patio seating. But I would love to go back sometime and sit inside for the cramped, kitschy experience — and more of the house red sauce. (Always the red sauce!) Bonus points to Cafe Corazon for using locally-sourced products, but honestly I'd eat there on repeat even if their foodstuffs came from the moon.

Adam and I shared a breakfast burrito ("wet" style — which just means it's topped with salsa, melted cheese, and sour cream) and a plate of chilaquiles, which had received numerous shout-outs on Urbanspoon — and rightly so. Chilaquiles is a sloppy mess of heaven with fried strips of corn tortillas, two eggs any style, choice or meat, rice, and beans all smothered in the to-die-for red sauce topped with melted cheese, onion, and cream. Get in mah belly! 

Truly, my party's only complaint was that we ordered three types of breakfast burritos among us (tofu, breakfast sausage, and chorizo) and we were each 1/4 of the way through before we realized our chorizo and tofu were mixed up, and another 1/4 of the way through before we realized the chorizo and sausage were mixed up. But in the end, we enjoyed our little game of musical burritos and can honestly say there wasn't a bad one in the bunch. Can we please go back now?!

Just a bunch of happy brunchers about to slip into a food coma.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Caramel pecan killer brownies

AKA Knock-you-naked brownies

I worked at a bakery in high school. We sold "killer brownies" — two layers of dense, kind-of-dry (in a good way) brownie sandwiching melty caramel and pecans. It's a bakery rule that if something breaks you have to pitch it or eat it — you can't sell a smushed donut or crumbling brownie. Sometimes the killer brownies would crumble on purpose and find their way into my mouth. 

When I saw this recipe for "Knock-you-naked brownies" on the Pioneer Woman's website, I had flashbacks to my bakery days. There they were: two brownie halves oozing caramel out the middle. As if this find could get any better, check out the short list of ingredients. It's a baker and brownie lover's dream!

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*Note: Double this recipe for a 9 by 13-inch pan.
1 box German chocolate cake mix (it must be German chocolate!)
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1/3 cup evaporated milk, plus another 1/2 cup
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
60 caramels (one bag from the baking aisle)
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, or more to taste
powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, chopped pecans, 1/3 cup evaporated milk, and melted butter. Stir until combined (mixture will be very thick). 

2. Divide the mixture roughly in half. Press half into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, then remove from oven. 

3. While the brownie bakes, combine the caramels and additional 1/2 cup of evaporated milk in a heatproof bowl and melt them together (I microwaved the caramels and milk, microwaving on high for about three minutes, then stirring, and repeating until melted). 

4. Pour the melted caramel mixture over the baked brownie base. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the caramel.

5. Turn out the remaining brownie dough onto a work surface (I used a wooden cutting board). Press the dough into a square, roughly the size of the pan. Use a spatula to lift the square of dough and set it on top of the caramel and chocolate chips. *Note: If you can't lift the entire square of dough in one swoop, do it piece by piece. It'll all bake together and be wonderful anyway!

6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to come to room temperature before refrigerating for several hours or overnight. Before serving, generously sift powdered sugar over the entire top of the brownies.

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Don't stress if you don't use the exact right amount of melted caramel. Or if you add way more chocolate chips (because why wouldn't you?). These brownies are just the best thing to ever come out of boxed cake mix. So make them! Make them now. And make a double batch so there are still some left to share after you've eaten your way through half the pan. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

April 2015

A few of my favorite things

Feasting on Quiche Lorraine...
... and carrot coffee cake.
Seeing Neil Diamond from a luxury box. 
Celebrating Adam's birthday with a cowboy party.
Cooking up chicken curry for Adam's birthday dinner.
Baking Biscoff banana bread
Yellow tulips on the window sill.
Discovering the wonders of baked cinnamon toast