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Ryan and Michael’s Intimate Wedding – Olive Park and the Penthouse at Pearson on the Park – Chicago, IL

Well, I’m hopeful that I’ll start catching you up semi-regularly on all the weddings and projects we’ve been working on. If only because I feel guilty when I don’t. We’ll see, as usual.

Today’s post goes way, way back to almost a year ago. Julia knew Ryan through her work in theatre, and in catching up on each others’ lives since the last show, Julia found out Ryan was planning a wedding, and he found out that we’d just launched Crafty Broads. Ryan and his fiance, Michael, had most of the details worked out, but really needed some help making their reception happen.

Who know there were double-man bathroom signs nonchalantly hanging out in Chicago? Not me. More importantly, aren’t these two just adorable together?

Without further ado, let me tell you about it! First of all, you have to understand that Ryan and Michael are ridiculously in love with each other – and when I say that, I mean not only that they love each other a lot, but they have so much fun at it. I don’t think I caught a glance of either of them sans giant grin all night long.

Ryan and Michael held their reception on a crisp October evening in the penthouse party room of their downtown apartment building. They did a fantastic job transforming a somewhat bland space into a very special and personal room for their party – it really was amazing to see the before and after! Bold colors and gorgeous floral arrangements from Andrew’s Garden made the space come alive.

Instead of having traditional catering, Ryan and Michael decided to order all their favorite foods from various restaurants to serve their guests. The sweetest thing was that by each dish, they had a little card describing a special moment in their relationship when that particular food played a role. Stellar idea. And the food was delicious, especially the truffle mac and cheese.

They guests were treated to a nice surprise after dinner… fireworks! If you live in Chicago, you may know that Navy Pier has regular firework displays throughout the summer. Ryan and Michael smartly planned their reception timeline to include viewing these from the outdoor patio of the penthouse.

My favorite part, though, was the toasts. Their parents said some of the sweetest, most moving words I’ve ever heard directed towards a newly-married couple. I can’t speak for the guests, but I was definitely crying.

Congratulations, Ryan and Michael!

VENDORS
Ceremony Venue: Olive Park
Reception Venue: Pearson on the Park
Officiant: Friend of the couple
Photographer: Green Key Photography
Florist: Andrew’s Garden Floral Couture
Catering: The Southern Mac Truck, Fox & Obel, Lao Beijing, Garrett’s Popcorn
Cakes: Nonnie’s Sweets
 

All photos were taken by Green Key Photography and are reposted here with the photographer’s permission. Photos in this and all posts are protected by copyright, and are are not available for reproduction, redistribution or any other purpose without written authorization from the photographer.

Taco Night

When we get busy, we fall back onto certain favorite recipes. You know the ones – you’ve made them so many times that you need neither a recipe nor a grocery list, and you can pretty much make them in your sleep? They never let you down. They always taste the way you expect (delicious) and even if they were once difficult, the repetition has made them easy. We’ve eaten a lot of these comfort foods in the past few weeks. Taco night is one of my favorites.

Tacos.
Tacos are so easy at this point that we can make the entire meal happen in less than 20 minutes.

What You Need:
1 lb  ground beef (I prefer 85% lean, as it all but eliminates the need to drain after cooking)
1 medium onion
Salsa
Chili Powder
Cumin
Ginger (fresh is better, powdered is fine)
Curry Powder (optional)
3-4 plum or 2-3 regular tomatoes
Queso Fresco – smallest package (or your preferred taco cheese)
Bunch of cilantro
Tortillas (I like flour, fajita size)
Greek yogurt or sour cream (optional)
1 Avocado (optional, strongly recommended)

How to Make It:
1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Mince the onion. Put it and the ground beef into the pan. Break up the meat with a spatula. Douse it with generous amounts of chili powder, cumin, and ginger. I measure by smell (see my pasta sauce) but here’s a start: Sprinkle chili powder evenly over the pan until everything is covered. Add about 2/3 that amount of ginger and cumin, and a dash of curry powder. If you like spice, a pinch or cayenne wouldn’t hurt. Stir the whole thing so the spices coat the meat and onions, and let it cook.

2. While that’s happening, dice the tomatoes. Slice the avocado, if you bought one (and I hope you did) and then stir the meat again. It’s probably cooked by now, so drain it if you need to, dump in some salsa, and set the burner to low to keep it warm. Get out your tupperware to pack up the leftovers. Get a couple plates ready with tortillas on them (hint: warm them in the toaster oven or microwave). Open a beer/pour a glass of wine. By the time you get that stuff taken care of, the meat should be ready to go. If not, you can always do the dishes, put your pjs on, or queue up your DVR/Netflix/whatever.

3. Assemble your tacos! Everyone has their own way of doing this, I know. Here’s mine: Spread yogurt on the tortilla. Spoon some meat on, crumble cheese over that so it gets a little melty. Next, tomatoes and then avocado if you have it. Top with cilantro. Devour, as though the world will end if you don’t get every last bit into your belly.

[Speaking of bellies, and I promise I will try to keep the cute-things-my-charge-did-at-work-today talk on this blog to a minimum, but she is so dang smart. At a precious 20 months, she can successfully relate to me when asked that the oatmeal she at for breakfast this morning is in her belly, and it got there because it went in her mouth and down her throat. And then I taught her to say esophagus (“soffagus!”). Do I love her times a million? Yes, yes I do.]

So. Taco night. Give it a try and let me know how it turns out.

The Secret’s in the Sauce

Actually, that’s a lie. The secret is high-quality, fresh ingredients. (Like the Papa John’s commercials say, “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.” And, well, they are better than some. But still not especially great.) I like to keep my pizzas simple and fresh, which means I don’t put too many different things on and I try to get the best ingredients I can. Because I know you want these pizzas at your house, today I’m sharing recipes.

A disclaimer: I was in a terribly, crabby-ass mood yesterday, and pretty mad that I had to make dinner at all, let alone think about taking any pictures of it. So. I didn’t. And it doesn’t look great cold in the refrigerated foil packs I stored it in. So you will have to use your imaginations to picture what the Mediterranean & French (see my favorite toppings, below) pizzas I made last night looked like…

So, let’s start with the DOUGH. Here’s what you’ll need:
(this recipe taken from America’s Test Kitchen book Baking Illustrated, which everyone should own. It’s full of delicious science.)

1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)*
1 packet or 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups water at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups flour (bread flour is better if you have it, but I never do, and it’s always fine)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Extra olive oil for coating the bowl
Extra flour for kneading

*If you don’t have a thermometer or you’re too lazy to use one (but, really, you’re making pizza from scratch so, come on, you are not too lazy…) you can stick your finger in to test it. It should be pretty warm but not scalding. Warmer than a baby’s bath, but not quite as warm as your shower. Hot enough to wash dishes in but not as hot as your tap will go.

1. Sprinkle yeast into the warm water. Do it slowly so each little bit has a chance to get wet. Stir gently if you must to do so. Let sit for 5 minutes while you gather the rest of the ingredients and get your mixer out.

2. Using paddle attachment on the lowest speed setting, combine salt and flour in the bowl of your standing mixer.

3. Once yeast is starting to bubble and smell yeasty, add room temperature water and olive oil to it and stir.

4. Again with mixer on the lowest speed, slowly pour yeast/water/oil mixture into the dry ingredients. When it starts to form a cohesive mass, switch to the dough hook. Let the mixer do all the work, and in about 5 more minutes the dough will be smooth and elastic.

5. Brush the inside of a large bowl with olive oil. Form dough into a ball and put it in the bowl, turning it over once to cover it in oil. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and set in a warmish place (65-70 degrees). Let rise until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

(Now is a good time to go make your sauce and prep all your toppings. You’ll also want to put a baking stone in your oven, if you have one, and preheat to 500 or as hot as it goes. The secret to awesome pizza is a really hot oven, so do this sooner rather than later. I preheat my oven for a full hour.)

6. Get two pieces of parchment paper just larger than pizza size ready. We’ll use those to keep the pizza from sticking to the baking stone and for ease of getting it in and out of the oven. Divide the dough into two pieces. Roll each into a ball. Now, you’re going to shape this into a proper pizza crust. I like to make flatten the ball into a disc first. Then I make fists with both hands and put the dough on top of them. Then kinda punch in the general direction of the ceiling as you rotate the dough in a circle. It will thin and spread out. Keep going until it’s just about pizza-sized. If your ambitious, you can actually toss it in the air. It’s not that hard – really – and it’s super fun. Plus, you know, it helps the dough spread out. Then put it down on the parchment paper and press it the rest of the way into a circle. About 1″ from the edge, go ahead and press extra deep so that the edge rolls up and forms that rounded crust you’re looking for. (I realize now that this step really, really wants pictures. Next time. Promise.)

7. Almost done! Brush the crust with a little bit of olive oil, then use a fork to poke lots of holes all over the middle part. (Don’t put any holes in the outer crust edge.) Spread a thin layer of sauce (or not, if you like more) and then add your toppings. I recommend putting non-cheese toppings on first, and then covering them with the cheese. You can do it how you like, but note that putting any fresh herbs and greens (spinach, etc.) under the cheese will keep them from wilting and drying out as it bakes.

8. Using a pizza peel (ha! right, like you have one. I don’t.) or a rimless baking sheet (that’s more like it), transfer the pizza on its parchment paper to the baking stone. Parchment paper is oven-safe; it will turn brown while it cooks. DO NOT USE WAX PAPER. It will melt. If you don’t have parchment, sprinkle your prep surface and the baking stone with a thin layer of cornmeal to prevent sticking.

9. Bake until cheese is browned, about 10 minutes. Yep, that’s all it takes when your oven is good and hot. Using the baking sheet or pizza peel, transfer pizza and parchment to a cutting board.

10. Slice and serve with a big glass of wine!

Onto the SAUCE!
Admittedly, I cheated last night because I was grumpy, and I used a jar of tomato-basil marinara instead of whipping up my own. And seeing how long this post is already, I think I’ll save homemade sauce for another day.
Moving on…

Some of my favorite pizza TOPPINGS are:

Mediterranean
Lamb – ground, pre-cook until it’s about halfway done; I like to shape it into tiny balls
Feta – fresh from the deli is the way to go
Red Onion
Oregano

French
Ham – I get deli ham and ask for one or two super-thick slices, and then I cube it
Gruyère – shred directly onto pizza
Shallots – yum! I love shallots on lots of things, and pizza is no exception
Thyme

Traditional Margherita
Tomato (sliced) – I prefer Roma, but if you have access to garden fresh tomatoes of any kind, definitely use those!
Basil – fresh, whole leaf, not the stuff you sprinkle from a jar. It makes a HUGE difference!
Mozzarella – best fresh from the deli, still in the liquid, rather than the little ‘gourmet’ packaged kind

Veggie Lovers – you can use any veggies you like; here are some suggestions
Spinach – I like baby spinach for this
Artichoke Hearts
Tomatoes
Arugula – sounds weird, tastes good
Bell peppers
Mushrooms – I hate mushrooms and I pick them off, but other people seem to enjoy them.
Fresh Herbs – whatever you have on hand; oregano, basil, thyme, and parsley are all good

Hawaiian
Ham – I like Canadian bacon style or deli ham
Pineapple – I like the rings as opposed to chunks, you can make a pretty pattern with them on your pie

Comfort Food: New England Clam Chowder

When we went on our legal wedding/honeymoon in Boston last month, one of the first things we did was stop in a restaurant that Julia remembered for its excellent, authentic New England Clam Chowder. It was the first time I ever tried it – in my entire life! – and it was delicious. Also, as good as Julia remembered it being. While we were savoring it, we discussed how we really should find a recipe and make it at home, since previous efforts to find one up to Julia’s standards in Chicago restaurants had failed miserably. So a week or two ago, I scoured the net, and pulled a couple of recipes that seemed promising, based on Julia’s knowledge of what should and should not be in clam chowder. During the grocery trip last week, I bought all the ingredients as a surprise to her.
Then, at the end of last week, I was running a low-grade fever and feeling under the weather. Historically, I’m not much of a soup eater – probably because when I was growing up, “making soup” meant microwaving a can of Campbell’s and tossing in some oyster crackers – but Julia has managed to win me over with soups that consist of fresh ingredients, and simmered in a big pot for a while – no cans or microwaves allowed. What a difference real food makes. So, we decided to give the clam chowder a try, and, um AMAZING. We could not stop eating it… except that it is pretty rich, so you get to a point where you *have* to stop, even though you really, really *want* to keep eating it.

Here is the recipe, if you want to test it out on your own:
(I wish I could give credit, but it is a combo of a few recipes, an anonymous comment on a random food blog, and our addition of dill, which was specific to the restaurant in Boston, and happens to be a wonderful touch.)

1 yellow onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
32 ounces canned clams, chopped and/or minced (we used about half and half)
3 cups whole milk
3 cups heavy cream
3 large Yukon gold potatoes, diced
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper, to taste
¼ cup fresh dill, chopped

Saute onion in butter. Sprinkle in flour and cook until almost light brown. Pour in juice from clams and add bay leaf; simmer until thick. Pour in milk and cream; simmer again, adding potatoes and reserved clams. Cook until potatoes are tender but still firm. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in dill.

Makes 8-10 servings, depending on how much you can eat in one sitting!