House Hunting Roller Coaster

Hey there!

Life has been BUSY over here.  We went from house hunting, to thinking we were first time homeowners, to full-time renters.  Let me back up a bit…

About two weeks ago, Joe and I went to see 6 houses in the ‘burbs on a wild-and-crazy Sunday adventure.  Warning for any house hunters: if it looks good online, it’s horrible in person.  If it looks “meh” online, it’s probably great in person.  Well, we found a house that seemed perfect.  Big room sizes, all neutral (ready for me to decorate!!), within our price range….so we bid.  We were told to give our “best and final offer” by noon the next day. It was crazy.  There were four other offers.  Now keep in mind, this is all happening within 24 hours of seeing the house for the first time.  Anyway… we ended up finding out we WON 😀 at 10PM on Monday.  We were overjoyed.  The verbal offer was there.  Pinterest and I were best friends.  I slept even less that night, because I was too busy thinking of paint colors, furniture ideas…

Then, come Tuesday morning, we found out that we were back into competition.  Apparently “best and final offers” don’t actually mean “final” to some selling agents.  And, depending on who it is, they may let some up their bid without letting other interested buyers do the same.  So, while we remained hopeful, we soon realized that our verbal offer was no longer valid.  We lost our house.

After lots of thinking, we’ve come to realize this is a bit of a blessing in disguise.  Last summer was spent entirely wedding planning; we didn’t get to explore the city we love.  We’ve decided to sign our apartment again, and we’re ready to live life to the city’s fullest.  And save money.  That whole thing.

But anyway, in order to get our mind off of the house….and in the essence of saving money…I made an AWESOME two-ingredient, cheap, and DELICIOUS slow cooker recipe.  I based it off of THIS recipe, but switched 1 of the 2 ingredients….because why not.

Blue Moon Pulled Pork

Ingredients:

– 2 pounds(ish) of pork loin

– 1 bottle of Blue Moon (or whatever beer you have)

– Salt & Pepper (these don’t count as ingredients in my book…they’re basics).

Directions:

– Salt & pepper the pork loin.  Be generous – that’s a good amount of meat.

– Put pork loin in slow cooker.  Pour beer over slow cooker.

– Cook on low for 10-12 hours.

– Shred meat.

basic pulled pork

This made enough for 4 meals – 2 for me, 2 for Joe.  Because this is such a plain/basic way to make pulled pork, the ways to eat this are ENDLESS.  Night #1 we made bbq pulled pork sandwiches in a pita with a side of asparagus.  Night #2 was pulled pork with roasted veggies & a baked yam (basically a sweet potato).  Other yummy ideas would be pulled pork bbq pizza, pulled pork nachos, pulled pork salad…did I mention nachos?

So while I enjoy my leftover pulled pork tonight, I’ll also enjoy the view from my apartment.  The ‘burbs ain’t got nothing on this.

sunset

Bill’s Birthday Dinner at the Purple Pig

Hey there!

Last night my family and I went out to the Purple Pig for my “little” brother’s birthday.  Not only is he taller than me, way stronger, etc but he’s now 23.  What an old man! 😉

When my brother and I were younger, we went through the traditional kid phase.  We ate everything.  We then got picky and hated everything.  Then one day we saw bruschetta.  We tried it.  We found out we liked raw garlic – something we were sure we hated.  And, well.  The rest is history.  Now I’ll eat just about anything.  And my brother?  Well, he’ll REALLY eat anything. Beating cobra heart?  Yep, he’s had it.  So when it comes time to comes time to celebrate a birthday over dinner, he doesn’t choose just anywhere.  He chooses Purple Pig.

For those who have yet to go, it’s very similar to The Girl & The Goat.  You know, unusual parts of pig/animal that are fried/cooked uniquely and surprisingly-tasty-if-you-can-get-your-mind-wrapped-around-it?  Yeah. Like that.  It was a super cool atmosphere.  Shared tables, high ceilings, big windows, max capacity of 40-50 people…we ate with the owner of the restaurant….Here’s what we had.  I’ll get to the whole owner part later.

“Spreads”

– Caponata & Whipped Spread: this is an eggplant dish that you spread onto toasted bread.  Except, it’s not just toasted bread.  They have toasted goat cheese.  I’m  not a huge goat cheese girl, so I requested whipped feta instead.  HOLY COW (literally, it’s cow cheese).  This whipped feta was INCREDIBLE.  Seriously.  Try it.  Do it. The caponata was good but – nothing like Quartino’s.  Quartino’s is life changing.

– Bone Marrow: I didn’t partake in this, but the boys (my dad, brother, and husband) loved it.  It comes in two GIANT bones, and you just spread it onto perfectly toasted bread.  Not too shabby!

“Appetizers” 

– Charred Cauliflower: Yes, I ordered this.  I’m always the “weird” one ordering the vegetarian dishes ;).  This was served with toasted breadcrumbs, cornichons (fancy pickles, similar to gherkin) & parsley.  As a big veggie lover, I loved this dish.  It was super rich and delicious.  My brother – the meat and potatoes person – also loved it.  His response was somewhere along the lines of “I don’t like cauliflower but this stuff is pretty good”.  And he had seconds.  And thirds.  Just sayin’ veggie haters, just sayin’.

– Deep fried Deviled Egg: I was a bit busy eating the cauliflower, but this looked pretty killer.

– Pig Brain: yes, you read that right.  Pig brain.  We weren’t sure what this would look like, or how large it would be.  We were getting somewhat full, so jokes of “well, how big is a pig brain..?” surfaced.  The waitress told us it was a small dish, and a mousse.  The fact it was a “mousse” skewed me out big time.  The only thing that should be a mousse is chocolate.  Or a moose.  Anywhere, here’s the pig brain:

pig brain

So, while I didn’t actually partake in the pig brain, it looked pretty good.  My dad said it tasted like liver pate.  I mean, I could do that.  My stomach wasn’t feelin 100% so I passed this time but – if / when I’m back, I’ll definitely partake.

“Entrees”

– Shrimp & sweetbread sausage: yeah….I couldn’t wrap my head around this.  The boys and my mom all took a bite – and the dish was finished – but I couldn’t get myself to do it.  NEXT!

– Ossobucco: also called “the best thing to ever hit my palate”.  The first time I had Ossobucco was in a cute Italian restaurant in Rome.  It was delicious.  Mouthwatering (to this day).  The Ossobucco I had at Purple Pig was right up there.  Served on a GIANT bone, and on top of DELICIOUS polenta…I mean, how could you not fall in love.  I almost feel bad that I ate the majority of this and my family only had a little bit.  But, not really.

Stuffed squid: this looked amazing, and I’d love to try it next time but … Ossobucco was on the brain…

“Dessert”: now, my brother isn’t a big dessert fan (I got all of those genes).  But, it was his birthday.  And we just so happened to be sharing a table with the owner.  Oh yeah, the owner.  As in Jimmy Bannos Sr.  Chef/owner of Heaven on Seven, Purple Pig, etc.  Not too shabby to share a table with him.  And his son (chef) came over to chat with him while he ate.  SO COOL.  And, well, he saw we were celebrating and ordered us two desserts.  Because he’s awesome.  What did the owner order us?

Cheesecake: except, this wasn’t just cheesecake.  This was baklava-inspired cheesecake.  The crust was made out of walnuts and baklava ingredients.  The cake was drizzled with Greek honey.  And on the side?  Walnuts with honey.  YUM-o.

Coffee/Vanilla/Hazelnut Custard: I’m not sure what this was besides plain delicious.  The bottom of the dessert was similar to a coffee custard.  On top of that was a vanilla custard.  Then, the top layer was roasted hazelnuts.  DELISH.

Recap: What a sweet end to an awesome night.  If you like small plates, adventurous food, and a fun atmosphere, this is your place.  Although Quartino’s is one of my all-time favorite restaurants, this place was much more comfortable/less hectic than Quartino’s.  The food was absolutely incredible.  Bring your appetite, and your big girl/boy taste buds.  And also, make sure you come early.  Because by 5:15PM, this place is packed.  You’ve been warned.

Have you been to The Purple Pig?

Do you like small plates?  Or do you like traditional “full” meals?

Lazy Sunday Lasagna

Hey there!

So as mentioned the other day…this blog is back my friends, this blog is back.  Some things have changed within the past few months.  Well…a lot of things.  But here are some big ones…

1.  I’m engaged!

NYE 2012

NYE 2012

 

2.  I registered for the Chicago Marathon – thankfully, before the lottery system went into place!  And, Joe registered for it too!  It’ll be his first marathon and I’m super pumped for him.

3.  My knee has started acting up…no bueno.  So running and I are taking a little break until I see a doc and he/she can tell me what’s up.

But wait…does that mean a break from working out?  Uh yeah…yeah right.  In the mean time, I’ve been doing yoga and some elliptical workouts. 🙂

Oh…and I’ve been doing some cooking and baking.  I mean…I have all this extra time from not running, I might as well eat it away…right? 😉  Well this past Sunday, Joe and I did just that.  I made us a healthy and easy lasagna.  I was a little nervous because (a) it was my first lasagna (b) I’m Italian and I’m cheating by using cottage cheese instead of ricotta (c) I’m cooking it for Joe, and I’m using fake meat (he is kind of a carnivore).  The good news is this lasagna passed both of our expectations with flying colors.  Thanks, Aunt Kath for the recipe!

Spinach Lasagna

Ingredients:
– 1 big box of oven-ready lasagna noodles- 2 jars of your favorite spaghetti sauce – [fyi: I used about 1.5 jars]
– 2 packages of mozzarella cheese (long ones) – [fyi: I used part skim mozz]
– 2 eggs (beaten)
– 1 carton of reduced fat cottage cheese (drained)
– shredded parmesan cheese
– 1 ten-ounce package of frozen chopped spinach (thawed and drained)
– 1 package of Smart Ground (fake meat) – [*fyi: this was not in my aunt’s original recipe…and is totally and completely a (delicious) optional ingredient

Directions:
1.  Preheat oven to 350F.  Spray a glass baking dish with cooking spray.  Cover the bottom with a little spaghetti sauce.
2.  Mix the cottage cheese, spinach, 2 eggs, and 1/4 of shredded parmesan together in a bowl.
3.  Layer the lasagna noodles over the spaghetti sauce, add half of the cottage cheese/spinach mixture, place mozz cheese slices over that.  If you’re using the smart ground meat, but that on top of the cheese.  Then, cover with more spaghetti sauce.  Repeat the layers as many times as you desire.  End by pouring sauce over entire lasagna.  Cover with foil.
4.  Bake at 350F covered for 60 minutes.  Let stand for 10 minutes after.  FYI: After it has baked for 50 minutes, take the lasagna out, sprinkle some shredded parm cheese over the top and let it continue to bake for the last 10 minutes uncovered.

This lasagna was amazing.  Best part?  It was healthy, vegetarian, and my carnivore fiance liked it.  Even better part?  My Italian future mother-in-law tried leftovers…and loved it.  Then Joe preceded to tell her that it wasn’t ricotta.  She was shocked.  Then he mentioned how it wasn’t real meat.  Again, shock.

My advice?  Make it for your friends whether they’re vegetarians OR carnivores.  Or make it for yourself and eat until your heart is content.  I’m not judging.

Carb-y Comfort Food

Hey there!

I don’t know about you, but my go-to carb meal is always pasta.  Always.  Even though I’m Italian (and should be okay with eating pasta 24/7), I get tired of having it several days in a row sometimes.  This week was jam-packed with projects, tests, and all of that other end-of-they-year-stuff.  How do I de-stress?  As I mentioned yesterday, eating is mandatory- so we might as well make it a study break.  🙂

Wednesdays are my long mid-week run, so Tuesday’s dinner needed to be filled with carbs.   Because I was also going through a crazy-busy week, I  needed to have a dinner that was filled with comfort foods.  I had pulled pork in the fridge and, because I’ve loved pulled pork & BBQ ever since I can remember, it seemed like the perfect choice.

So Tuesday was pulled pork night.  I turned it into pulled pork sliders, served with a side of roasted sweet potatoes and an asparagus salad.

my kind of comfort food

This dinner was perfect for a busy night- it involved hardly any work.  Here’s what I did:

Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Pulled pork (as much or as little as you want for a sandwich)
Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce
Brownberry Sandwich Thin

The pulled pork was already cooked and came from Q-BBQ in LaGrange, IL.  I love this place and highly recommend that everyone in the area check it out!  Unfortunately, it’s too far for me to go to while I’m at school (3+ hour drive with no car = impossible) buttttt buying it and freezing it definitely makes enjoying this a possibility 🙂 Because it was already cooked (and fully thawed)  I only had to heat it up in the Sweet Baby Ray’s for a few minutes.  Put that on a toasted Sandwich thin and… you’re good to go 🙂

smoky + saucy

Sweet Potatoes
1 Cup Diced Sweet Potatoes
2 TB of olive oil
Salt, Pepper (to taste)

Heat oven to 375.  Put diced sweet potatoes, salt, pepper and olive oil in a ziplock bag and seal.  Shake until sweet potatoes are evenly covered in oil and seasonings.  Take sweet potatoes out of the bag (hang on to the bag- don’t throw it away yet!) and place sweet potatoes on cookie sheet.  Bake for around 25 minutes, or until slightly brown.

sweet + salty

Asparagus Salad– definitely the highlight of my night!
1 Cup Chopped Asparagus (about 1 inch pieces)
1 tsp olive oil
1/8 cup dried cranberries
1 Mozz Cheese Stick
1/8 lemon

Heat oven to 375.  Put chopped asparagus and olive oil into ziplock bag (use same one the sweet potatoes were in!- take advantage of that leftover olive oil in there 🙂 ).  Shake until asparagus is well coated in olive oil.  Bake for about 5 minutes, or until a fork can easily enter the asparagus.  While this cools slightly, slice mozz cheese stick into small slices (about 1/2 cm thick).  Add cheese stick slices and cranberries to asparagus.  Squeeze juice from 1/8 of a lemon over salad.  Enjoy!

asparagus + craisins = ❤

Hopefully my comfort dinner helps give you ideas for your next carb-night…or whenever you’re  craving  tasty, comforting (and quick!) food.

Gotta go run!  Later ‘gators 🙂

Cal-za-dilla?

After the past few extremely busy days, I am so thankful and excited to finally sit down and relax for a little while.  Today was my last day of sitting through classes- ever!  Finals are next week, so school isn’t completely over for me, but I will be no longer attending classes on a regular basis!  Woohoo!  First plan of the day?  (Well, really, the second activity of the day after this…) NAPPING 🙂 woo!  Life is good.

Although the past few days have been really busy, I have made myself dinner every night.  I mean, we have to eat…might as well make this “obligation” a tasty treat and a relaxing break from studying!

On Sunday night, I attempted to make a pesto chicken & potato recipe, scaled down to one serving.  Unfortunately there were no pictures taken of the final product because… it was eaten too fast!   (Sorry I’m not sorry)  This recipe was modified from a Simply Potatoes recipe that my family has used for years.  Because I generally cook for one, I did not use the Simply Potatoes container (as it would be too much food for one person) or the suggested amount of chicken.  Instead, I used the following:

Ingredients:
1 Perdue Perfect Portion Chicken Breast
1 Cup Uncooked, Diced Potatoes
2 TB Pesto
Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder (as desired)

Directions
Heat oven to 400F.  Spray 13×9 inch glass dish with Pam Cooking Spray.  In a small bowl, mix the pesto with the potatoes until well-coated.  Place pesto-potatoes in glass dish (making sure that none are on top of each other).  Sprinkle salt, pepper, and garlic powder on chicken breast. Place chicken breast on top of potatoes.  Bake uncovered for 40-45 minutes until chicken juices run clear.  Until then, enjoy the aroma 🙂 and prepare a small side salad if desired.

This recipe was so good and reminded me of the delicious dinners I have with my family.  Because of this small cooking success, my desire to cook and create an entirely new recipe was sparked.  The next night, I made cal-za-dillas for dinner.  Cal-za-dilla?  Whaaa? Let me explain… 🙂

Sometimes I like to use common ingredients to make uncommon meals.  For example, when I eat at the dining hall I like to create unique meals.  Instead of eating the “sandwich of the day” they suggest, I make a “remix” and put my own spin on the foods they are serving.  Monday night proved to be a remix night because I used ingredients from the dining hall and from my apartment to create a delicious and different meal.  I was craving a calzone but didn’t want the associated grease.  A quesadilla also sounded good, but I generally get tired of the repetitive taste after about 5 bites.  I mean, c’mon, I like cheese and all but straight cheese and a tortilla is boringggg.  To change up this boring flavor, I imagined a meal with red sauce and vegetables added in.  Thus, the cal-za-dilla was born.
“Cal”: calzone
“za”: pizza (inspired by my meatball pizza recipe)
“dilla”: quesadilla

Cal-za-dilla

Hello, delicious.

Yeah, you’re right.  It was huge, delicious, and basically out-of-control.  And yes, that is only half of the cal-za-dilla.  Ready for a big meal?  Or, want to make one for someone who is?  Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:
1/4 diced green pepper
1/4 cup shredded mozz
1/2 mozz cheese stick
1/8 diced uncooked potato (uncooked leftovers from the night before, shh!)
1 cooked meatball (I used Anne Burrell’s recipe)
3/4 Cup Rao’s Arrabiata sauce (you can use whatever red sauce you like- but I like the spice in this one!)
1 Spinach Wrap

Directions:
Heat oven to 375.  While pre-heating, place 1/2 of the shredded cheese and diced green peppers on one side of the wrap.

mmm cheese

Chop the meatball into small slices, and place on top of wrap.  Add potatoes and Rao’s arrabiata sauce.  Peel the (1/2) cheese stick into small slices (your junior high self is totally loving this, don’t lie).  Place cheese stick slices around outside of wrap, and sprinkle rest of shredded mozz on top of sauce, like this:

*stomach growls*

Fold the wrap in half, and bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes (or until the wrap is as crunchy and warm as you would like).  Remember, the meatball is cooked so there is no raw meat involved in this dish.  You just need to bake it until it is as warm as your heart desires.

Note:
I tried putting yogurt butter on the outside of the wrap so that it would get a nice calzone crunch… and it didn’t really do anything.  If you decide to go this “crunchy” route and find something that truly gives it that extra-something, let me know what you did!  Even without the golden brown color, however, it still was a little crunchy (because the tortilla is so thin and cooked up quickly) and satisfied my overall cravings.

I mean, look at the stuffings in this guy…how could you not be satisfied?

Cal-za-dilla’s guts

Wondering how to pronounce this?  Well, it’s like kale-zah-dill-ah.  I know, I know, that’s not how you pronounce “dilla” in quesadilla.  But c’mon, I created this monster…and I watched Napoleon Dynamite too many times in high school. 😉

‘Twas the Day Before The Half…

Hey guys!

Hope you all are having a great week.  I can’t believe it’s already Wednesday!  This week has been extremely busy, starting with my birthday celebration and followed by numerous group meetings, running, and eating.  Lots and lots of eating. When I am training, I feel like I’m always hungry…so I’m constantly bringing snacks with me everywhere I go! 🙂

Speaking of being hungry/always eating, a few of the girls I am running the Illinois Half-Marathon with have been asking what to eat the night before race day.  Although I am not an expert, I do have some tricks and tips I’ve learned first-hand from running a half and full marathon in the past.

Day before a half marathon:

  • Eat pasta for dinner.  I would recommend eating it with a mild sauce, and one that is not creamy.  You really want to avoid anything that can be hard on your stomach.  Extremely spicy sauces and creamy sauces may give you tummy troubles the next day, so avoid them to (hopefully) bypass these problems.  Also, do not over-eat.  Before my first race, I thought it was necessary to eat as much pasta as humanly possible to “help” me with the race.  Thankfully, my stomach didn’t kill me (I’d like to give out a shout-out to my Italian genes here and say THANK YOU!), but I have found from talking to people and doing some research that it is not necessary to overload yourself with carbs the night before a race by over-eating.  (Note: although you will eat more carbs before a full marathon than before a half, you should never over-eat).  Over-eating can cause extreme discomfort and unnecessary trips to the bathroom during the race, so only eat until you are full.
  • Avoid anything overly spicy or a “new” food.  Why risk eating something that could possibly mess with your stomach?  Just avoid it!
  • Avoid eating whole nuts, corn, and anything that has a lot of fiber.  This is something I’ve learned from a fellow runner, Rem, and it definitely makes sense.  You don’t want to eat anything that can cause you to run to  the bathroom when you should be concentrating on the finish line.  Note: smooth peanut butter is A-OK, because it’s not a “whole” nut…but don’t use crunchy peanut butter!
  • Drink lots and lots of water.  It’s important that your body is nice and hydrated.  Bring a water bottle with you everywhere and anywhere (you should always be doing this though! 🙂 ).
  • Avoid alcohol, coffee, and anything that can dehydrate you.  This is something that I personally think is important, but others may disagree.  I have heard in the past that it is good to avoid alcohol before a marathon and I am assuming it is also helpful to avoid it before a half.  The coffee part is my own idea; I am in love with coffee (but not coffee-flavored GU) and also feel that it is best to avoid it the day before race day.  I find it to be very dehydrating so I replace it with water whenever it is around race time.

Hopefully you find my list helpful!  Please let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll do my best to address them 🙂

Happy running!

Questions for you:
What do you like to eat the day before a race?
Do you avoid coffee around races?

Here are a couple of websites related to fueling that you may find helpful:
What to Do the Day Before Running a Marathon or Half Marathon
What Should I Eat Before and During My First Half-Marathon?

Birthday Celebrations!

I’m officially 22!   How exciting!  Now I can do…everything I’ve been able to do up to this point.

Although it seemed like this would be the first boring birthday, the day proved otherwise.  I had a great day being productive in the morning, and enjoying time with my friends and boyfriend in the evening.

My lifelong friend, Elise, came in from a nearby school and it was such a treat to see her on a Monday! 🙂

Elise and I at Destihl

After checking out the menu online, I had decided to go to Destihl for dinner.  The menu is huge (which I love for group dinners) and always filled with delicious options.  I ordered the watermelon and feta salad as a “small plate” and loved it.  Thankfully, my friend Nicole reminded me to take a picture of it just before I took the last bite.

Watermelon and Feta Salad

This “salad” was incredibly light and fresh.  I will definitely be making this at home, as it consisted of: watermelon, feta cheese, kalamata olives, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.  The greens they included were hardly necessary, in my opinion.

For dinner, Elise and I split a huge jalapeno-bacon cheeseburger.  It came with potato wedges that tasted fantastic dipped into the chipotle-espresso-barbeque sauce.

Hello, delicious.

Dinner tasted fantastic, and it was so fun being surrounded by friends.  I guess turning 22 isn’t so bad after all.

Nicole and I

Shanny, Me, and Linds

Birthday Girl and Joe

Sorry for all the pictures today! 🙂 I’m too excited not to share them.  Anyways, today’s not really a fantastic food advice/running advice post!

But maybe you’re looking for some advice from the birthday girl?  She is another year older, and thus wiser, after all… 😉 If so, here are some tips!

“Enjoy each day- even the ones you think won’t be especially exciting.”

“Splurging is okay sometimes.” – I usually try to split things (like the burger), order things that taste great but that are on the healthy side (watermelon salad), and just enjoy small amounts of other things (like the ice cream I had after dinner at Coldstone, and the cocktail I had at dinner).”

Cool & Refreshing

Cheers!

Questions for you:
What’s your favorite cocktail?
What do you like to do to celebrate your birthday?