Friday, January 29, 2016

Nutella cream pie with Biscoff cookie crust

Silky layers of chocolate hazelnut & cream

A very important holiday is coming up fast. A holiday for lovers. Nope, not that one — the other one. February 5th: World Nutella Day

Did you know that Nutella chose a "Chief Nutella Ambassador" to promote the day? I'm not miffed or anything. Oh no. I'm too excited for pie to be miffed, right? Newsflash: I'm miffed! Who knew they were holding auditions for the perfect job ever? Rachel and I could represent World Nutella Day backwards and upside down in our sleep. But whatever, Nutella. I guess I'll just keep buying jars upon jars of your life-affirming product, eating it with a spoon and/or baking it into more life-affirming desserts. That'll show 'em.

Anyway, this pie was a bit of an experiment. I took the Nutella filling from one pie and plopped it in a Biscoff crust, because everyone knows that Nutella and Biscoff cookies are MFEO. The experiment paid off. My brother ate about a quarter of the pie in one sitting. Adam said "You'll make this all the time, right?" 

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2 cups heavy whipping cream
3 TBS sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2/3 cup Nutella

1 8.8-oz package Biscoff cookies (yep, the whole package)
5–6 TBS butter, melted

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 TBS sugar 

1. For the Biscoff crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Break up cookies and pulse them in a food processor until finely crumbled. Add melted butter and pulse until combined. Press the mixture into the bottom and sides of a 9-in. round pie pan (I used glass Pyrex). Bake for 10 minutes, then cool completely. 

2. For the pie filling: In a large bowl, beat heavy whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla until stiff peaks form. *Note: A metal bowl works well, and placing the bowl and the beaters in the fridge while you prep everything else will help the cream whip up faster. 

3. In another bowl, beat cream cheese, powdered sugar, and Nutella until smooth. Fold in half of the whipped cream. *Note: I just eyeballed half. I also ended up slowly beating in the whipped cream because folding was a pain; this didn't affect the taste or texture.

4. Pour the Nutella filling into the cooled pie shell. Top with remaining whipped cream. If desired, whip up additional cream for the topping (I didn't do this). Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Store leftovers covered in the fridge. 

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This pie keeps surprisingly well. Adam and I munched on small pieces of it throughout the week; the filling stayed silky and the whipped topping, fluffy. As a garnish, I crumbled extra Biscoff cookies on top of the pie as I served it. You can never have too many Biscoff cookies. Speaking of, I wonder if there's a World Biscoff Day — and do they need a Chief Ambassador?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

North Avenue Grill

A casual diner that's a must-try in Tosa

I stumbled upon North Avenue Grill when I was googling breakfast spots in Tosa. The reviews are consistently great, so I knew I had to add the Grill to my breakfast bucket list. They're open from 7am to 8pm Monday through Saturday, and 7am to 3pm on Sundays, serving breakfast all day, every day. All-day breakfast: The key to my heart.

All day or not, I met my parents there around noon — prime brunch time. North Avenue Grill is a small restaurant with your classic diner counter and a single row of booths along the wall of a narrow room. We were seated at the very back, right across from the kitchen. It was casual and pleasant in that diner-y way — absolutely nothing fancy about it. Our server actually reminded me of Tour Guide Barbie in Toy Story 2, adding to the warm, friendly vibe of the place.

It was hard to choose from the extensive menu. It seems like they repeat a lot of their breakfast ingredients in various iterations: Do you want your black bean, chorizo, and avocado eggs in an omelet, breakfast quesadilla, skillet, or wrap sandwich? And then of course there are breakfast classics like pancakes, waffles, and French toast. Feeling overwhelmed, I went for the Eggwhite and Chesse Sammie with avocado, spinach, tomato, and cheddar cheese served on toasted ciabatta bread. It tasted fresh and delicious. The American fries were cooked to perfection, if rather bland. But show me a breakfast potato that isn't bland. (Really, show me!)

My mom ordered the Eggs Benedict and my dad went for a skillet — yum and yum. We all agreed we would happily return, though we would probably choose something new to eat with such a big menu of options. And from what I've heard firsthand from friends, North Avenue Grill's lunch and dinner menu is worth trying, too. Can we go back now?

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Milwaukee Rep presents "Of Mice and Men"

Finding joy in a tragedy 

Confession: I've never read John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. I must have been in the wrong American Lit class in high school. But I still associate the story with high school literature, just because so many other folks do. I do remember seeing bits and pieces of the 1992 movie starring John Malkovich and Gary Sinise (AKA Lieutenant Dan), but like I said — bits and pieces. That was my knowledge of Of Mice and Men before the Milwaukee Rep's opening night production last Friday.

I'll confess another thing: I don't know that I would normally seek out this play. It's a slice of depression-era Americana, and I'm not one to devote my time to much of anything with "depression" as a key descriptor. But as a proud part of the Rep's social media club this season, I find myself being pushed out of my theatrical comfort zone — and boy am I ever loving it. 

So far I've seen the musical Dreamgirls and Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap at the Rep — both absolutely great. But I have to say Of Mice and Men might be my favorite so far. Shocking coming from this lover of musicals and murder mysteries — genres I get into outside of the theater, too. But here comes Of Mice and Men, a play about dashed dreams and loneliness, and I was riveted the entire time.

I don't want to say too much in case, like me, you're going into the show with just some general knowledge of the plot. But I must give a shout out to the lead actors: Jonathon Wainwright as George and Scott Greer as Lennie. George does a lot of talking and dreamy story-telling, and Wainwright delivers the character with natural charisma. Scott Greer's Lennie will, to put it plainly, break your heart. 

It's a beautiful thing — the spectrum of emotion The Rep's Of Mice and Men brings you through. You'll certainly laugh, feel your heart melting, and — if you're like me — openly cry through the last scene and into the standing ovation. True story: I verged on blubbering. What can I say? I'm a crier. 

I have to thank the Milwaukee Rep for giving me the chance to be in their social media club, thereby forcing me outside of my bubble of musicals and mysteries. If a tragedy could ever bring an audience a whole lot of joy, Of Mice and Men is certainly a testament to that.

Catch Of Mice and Men at the Milwaukee Rep now through February 21st! For ticket information, visit

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Balistreri's Bluemound Inn

Unpretentious pizza & a killer patio

If you haven't heard of Balistreri's Bluemound Inn, that's probably because it isn't really near anything cool. It's not downtown and it's not in the Tosa village — it's in the middle, on Bluemound Road next to a McDonald's. But the interior is warm and cozy with a sunken bar, comfortable vibe, and artwork of Italian street scenes, like from Home Goods. But first, the patio! This is what you'll see when you walk up:

How kitschy-wonderful magic-town is that? The Bluemound Inn patio was actually named one of Milwaukee's best patios in 2013 by the Journal Sentinel, and I love that they keep it in tip-top eye-popping shape even in winter. I can't wait to try it out this summer!

Moving back inside, the ambiance and menu at Bluemound Inn are simultaneously special-occasion nice and snug like Grandma's house. At least that's how it makes me feel. The menu is mostly Italian comfort food, with that signature Balistreri's thin crust pizza in the starring role. And the fried eggplant — always the fried eggplant.

The aforementioned sunken bar? It's too cool. And you can choose to sit there instead of a table, which would definitely be fun for a party of two. Personally, aside from missing out on the awesome patio seating, I think Bluemound Inn has got to be one of Milwaukee's best wintry dining options. It's just so unique, and if ever a restaurant felt and tasted like a big hug, Bluemound Inn is it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

5 Cards for Valentine's Day

Unique valentines for everyone on your love list

Finding the right valentine is hard. There are a lot of stupid, sappy cards out there, and if you're not a super sappy person, how do you find one with just the right message? Never fear, friends! Whatever level of love you're at, the interwebs and I have got you covered.

For the valentine you just started dating:

For the live-in valentine who appreciates #realtalk:

For the valentine that has you feeling frisky

For the nerdy valentine who stole your heart:

For the valentine who's the peas to your carrots

I hope you get inspired by these babies — and that you order soon if you're shopping for valentines online! Most specialty and Etsy shops need some time for processing and shipping, if they're located overseas. Act now so you're not that valentine who dropped the ball!


Nachos = An affordable dinner for two

Before heading to MAM After Dark last Friday, our group grabbed dinner at Cempazuchi on Brady Street. Adam and I have been going there since we started dating because it's totally charming (check those twinkle lights!) and can be pretty affordable if you're smart about it. 

See, Cempazuchi has great nachos — meaty, distinctly flavorful, and packed with toppings like three Mexican cheeses, chorizo, jalapeño peppers, lettuce, black beans, and guac. A full order is just $9.95 and plenty to share as a dinner for two. Can I speak to the quality of other menu items? Admittedly not. If it ain't broke, don't fix it — and these nachos ain't broke, so we never order anything else!

I'm also a fan of the house margaritas, though my friend Fritz who is a connoisseur and mixer of margaritas dubbed them merely "decent." Moral of the story: If you're easily amused by margaritas, you'll enjoy the Cempazuchi margs. If your palate for cocktails is much more refined like my friend Fritz, perhaps consider the beer list instead. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

MAM After Dark

5 tips for a late night at the Milwaukee Art Museum

Tip #1: If you live in MKE and love art, go to MAM After Dark. 
If you enjoy a side of cash bar and live music with your art, then you really should go to MAM After Dark. In case you don't know, the Milwaukee Art Museum hosts a late-night party once a month. Each event is themed, and not only are the galleries open for enjoying, but there's live entertainment, an arts-and-craft area, games, drinks and food for sale, and some complimentary eats as well. 

Tip #2: Buy your tickets ahead of time at 
Online tickets are $10; tickets at the door are $12 — but you pay even more in other ways. Last Friday when we went to the Rio Carnival MAM After Dark, there was a line out the door. In the freezing cold. Adam and I spent a good 20 minutes or more waiting to purchase our $12 tickets. So save yourself a couple bucks and the annoyance of ticket lines (more on that in Tip #3). Or, become a member of the Art Museum and entrance to all MAM After Dark events is free!

Tip #3: Park and enter through the new east entrance. 
Did you know there's a new east entrance? Neither did I. Hence, Adam and I waiting at the main entrance for 20+ minutes. As you're driving north down Lincoln Memorial, drive past the museum and take a right near the War Memorial to get to the museum's east entrance. I haven't actually done this, but my friends explained it to me. Once there, you can park (they parked for free this past Friday, but we're not sure if that was a fluke or what) and walk right in, no ticket line.

Tip #4: Take full advantage of the coat check. 
That way you can also take full advantage of your evening. With how cold it's been, I've been lugging around my long puffy coat, big knit scarf, heavy gloves, and fleece-lined hat with a giant pom-pom everywhere I go. At MAM After Dark last Friday, I made the  mistake of not checking said wintry apparel, and ended up a trifle annoyed with myself later. There was live music and dancing — no one wants to be stuck holding their Wisco winter gear! I believe the coat check is free (plus tip), but if not free then it's just a nominal cost. 

Tip #5: Explore. 
The museum recently unveiled its newly-renovated permanent collection, and it's such fun to see. I plan to go back and take in more of the eye candy another time, but what I saw last Friday really got me excited. Make sure to venture into the basement where you'll find trippy interactive art like the Infinity Room and this crazy-cool light show and fog machine (I didn't catch the name of the piece or the artist). It will have you mesmerized for a good 10 minutes. Yep, the above photo is Adam's head in a pillar of light. Don't think of yourself as easily amused? Think again my friend.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Jackson's Blue Ribbon Pub

Great beer & apps that are just so Milwaukee

If you're looking for somewhere to take out-of-town friends for a drink, look no further than Jackson's Blue Ribbon Pub. It's situated in the same building as the Brewhouse Inn and Suites, within the historic Pabst Brewery. How much more Milwaukee can you get? 

I'd never been there before, but my friend Fritz recommended it as having great cheese curds and, of course, great Milwaukee beer. Fritz was right — the cheese curds did not disappoint. If it were socially acceptable for me to snatch the basket and make a break for it, I certainly would have. We shared one basket between five people, each of us getting a handful. I'd say sharing between four people would be perfect, so everyone gets a little more than a handful.

We also indulged in a giant pretzel — and I mean giant. Truly, this was the biggest soft pretzel I've ever seen. We did not finish it, though we made a valiant effort. The pretzel itself was perfection. It's served with a duo of dipping sauces: honey mustard and nacho cheese. My one complaint is that the nacho cheese comes off a bit lazy; I prefer a house-made cheese spread. What can I say? I'm a cheese snob — welcome to Wisconsin! Plus, soft pretzels abound in this city with its German influences. You can't skimp on the details.

As for the main food, I sadly didn't hear any of our party raving. I got the taco appetizer and ate only one of the tacos. Granted I had filled up on cheese curds and soft pretzel, but I wasn't mourning those other two tacos; I took them home and Adam ate them the next day. They were pretty good, but not great. Great, for me, stopped at the appetizers and beer. So stick with the apps, enjoy the historic ambiance, and you're sure to love Jackson's Blue Ribbon Pub. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Seven Seas wedding

Cheers to fried fish & Christmas carols!

Caitlin and Michael, my friends who were just married over the weekend at Hartland's Seven Seas, have discovered the recipe for a truly memorable wedding dinner: one part all-you-can-eat fish fry, one part classic Christmas carols, and one part reception hall that looks and feels like Holiday Inn (the movie, not the hotel chain).

First, the fry: It was, as they say, everything. There was coleslaw, potato salad, potato pancakes, pasta salad, fruit, baked fish, fried fish, and grilled chicken just in case. Apple or tarter sauce? Have both. Few people serve simple comfort food at a wedding, but I'm so glad that Caitlin and Michael went for it — and that the Seven Seas knows a thing or two about a good old-fashioned Wisconsin fish fry.

Combined with the warmth of the room, garlands of twinkle lights, and Bing Crosby's crooning, this was one wedding meal I won't soon forget. As my senses mingled, I watched our table mingle — every one of us exuding happiness. It was a really warm and fuzzy moment, and one I'm so grateful for. Shout out to Michael & Caitlin, the Seven Seas, their fish fry, and Bing for giving us such an unforgettable evening. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Caitlin says "I do"


This weekend, we went to the chapel and another Cin got married. Our lovely & talented Caitlin met the equally lovely & talented Michael in community theater: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. They had leading roles as each other's love interest, and boy did the sparks fly! I can still picture the way Caitlin gazed at Michael during "Rosemary" — like she'd just seen her first Trans Am.**

You could chalk it up solely to A+ acting, but I think we now know it was more than that. These two crazy kids were MFEO: Made For Each Other. Isn't that just the most romantic thing? To fall in love on stage and then in real life — it's like something from a movie! Except for Caitlin and Michael, it really happened. Cheers to the newlyweds, and may the movie of their life be Happily Ever After.

** "Like you just seen your first Trans Am," says Joe Junior in While You Were Sleeping. Fun Fact: Caitlin's the queen of obscure movie quotes. Mutual I'm sure.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Maxim's at the Depot

A historic spot to dine in downtown Oconomowoc 

If you're about to spend an afternoon at the Johnson Creek outlet mall, lunch is a necessity. On our way to aimless shopping, my mom and I stopped for a bite at Maxim's at the Depot near Main Street in Oconomowoc. My friend and O-Town native Dr. Jahnke suggested the place, and my mom and her friend Jo Ann used to go to the Depot every month for breakfast after their early-morning Weight Watchers weigh-in. My mom says she would get the French toast with blueberries every time — that's my kind of weight-watching. 

Maxim's embraces its railroad history with old pictures and an electric model railroad near the hostess stand. Sitting in the sunny dining room, it's fun to imagine the past while savoring the present: hot coffee and table bread (yes, complimentary bread even at brunch!). For our main eats, the blueberry french toast was a solid choice and the omelette gets an A+ in my book for sufficient cheese. You do get a lot of food, so sharing one entree might be enough. 

While I probably won't exactly rush back to Maxim's, if anyone were to say to me "I'm headed to Johnson Creek and lunch is a necessity," I'd recommend the Depot in a heartbeat. As Dr. Jahnke said, "it's a greasy spoon" — but it's a pleasantly-situated greasy spoon with solid eats and enough charm to deserve its quaint location near Main Street. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Paper Source

A paper & card shop at Bayshore Town Center

While wandering around Bayshore last week, I was shocked — shocked! — to discover a new paper store. Well, new to me. I know it's not really new. And I know it's a chain. I also know that I don't care about newness or chain-ness in this situation because: Paper and cards.

Paper Source has walls of boxed cards and fancy wrapping paper sold by the sheet. There are tables chockfull of small-ish gizmos and gifts, like timely Star Wars toys and trendy adult coloring books. There are office supplies for fashionable cubicle workers, pretty iPhone cases, wall calendars, and wedding stationery for brides-to-be.

While I'm not going to run to Paper Source like I run to my other favorite Milwaukee card shops (#shoplocal), it's still nice to know that there's a mall close by that's looking out for the paper lovers of the world — and I'll take all the paper love I can get!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Turkey chili

K.I.S.S.-ing in the kitchen

Have you heard of K.I.S.S.? Keep It Simple Stupid. It's a rule in journalism and sometimes — the best times! — a rule in the kitchen. I have my friend Rachel and her lovely and talented mother to thank for this simple and scrumptious recipe for turkey chili. Though I'm sure it's evolved a smidgen over the years and many batches I've made in my own kitchen, I love how it's not only delicious, a crowd pleaser, and wonderfully comforting, but it's also a lesson in kitchen K.I.S.S. 

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1 lb. ground turkey
1 yellow onion, diced
2 TBS olive oil
2 heaping tsp minced garlic (I use jarred)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 family-size can condensed tomato soup
1 can kidney beans, drained
1 heaping tsp cumin (up to 1/2 tsp more, to taste)
1 heaping tsp chili powder (up to 1/2 tsp more, to taste)
1/2 tsp cayenne (red) pepper
salt and pepper to taste
cilantro for garnish (optional) 
macaroni, shredded cheese, & sour cream for serving (optional) 

1. Heat olive oil in a large pan. Add diced onion and cook until a bit tender and fragrant. Add minced garlic and cook one minute more.

2. Add ground turkey to the onion and garlic, chopping the turkey into small pieces. Sprinkle the turkey generously with salt and pepper as it cooks. 

3. Once the turkey is cooked, add diced tomatoes, kidney beans, tomato soup, and spices. Mix to combine and add additional salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until heated through. Serve with macaroni, shredded cheese, sour cream, and cilantro (optional).

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Growing up, my parents never served noodles with their chili. So I'm eternally grateful to Rachel and her mom for introducing me to the wonders of chili mac. You think chili is the most comforting? You think macaroni and cheese tastes like a giant hug? Just you wait. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

City Market

A café & bakehouse filled with scratch-made eats

I'm over Panera. The soups are tasty, but for the past couple years I've had nothing but mediocre salads and obviously-microwaved panini with my you-pick-two. Enter City Market. City Market isn't new – it was founded in 1995. But it took me a while to discover and appreciate it for being a sort of Milwaukee-made Panera — and isn't eating locally-made café favorites and baked goods just the best?

On New Year's Day, Adam and I and our duo of couch-crashers woke up starving, despite two 3am oven pizzas. We knew everyone in the city would have the same idea: brunch. So instead of fighting the crowds at a sit-down restaurant, our group trooped over to City Market in Shorewood (there are two other locations: Wauwatosa near the hospital and Whitefish Bay). We all ordered the Morning Egg Wrap because, let's face it, after a night of champagne and cocktails and beer (oh my!), all you really want is a sloppy breakfast burrito. 

The Morning Egg Wrap is stuffed with scrambled eggs, guac, pepper jack cheese, brown rice, black beans, sweet potatoes, jalapeno lime vinaigrette, and salsa. It's good, but not very sloppy. And not life-altering like Café Corazon (drool). But good. You can get it with fruit or potatoes — which, the potatoes are so delicious and served with a super-yummy dipping sauce that has me salivating. 

Next time, I think I'll try the Sunrise Sandwich: fried egg, caramelized onion, pepper jack cheese, pepper jelly, agave nectar, and bacon or sausage on toasted raisin walnut bread. Yum. Speaking of bread: City Market is the place to go for fresh-made breads. Here's a not-so-secret tip: For the last hour of each day, breads and select bakery items are half-price. Such a great deal!

City Market is also a destination for sweet treats — or at least it should be. The cookies are amazing (lemonade cookies for the win!) and they have this cookie dough brownie situation that's mega-yum. There's such a wonderful array of desserts that I just want to eat my way through the entire pastry case. Oh, but there are healthy options too. Because we care about healthy options in 2016. Well, sometimes. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

December 2015

A few of my favorite things

Trying a new fish fry at the Rumpus Room.

Christmas shopping at Hot Pop, Inspired, and Embelezar

Checking out the new-and-improved Streets of Old Milwaukee.

Basking in NYC at Christmastime

Eating in NYC and almost getting a police escort.

Brunching with friends at Mad Rooster