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Travis and Jacqueline’s Public Square Wedding with Pizza and Beer Reception – Giddings Plaza (Lincoln Square) and Market Bar – Chicago, IL

As we continue to catch you up on our Crafty Broads projects, today’s post is about the very first wedding we stage managed (aside from our own, obviously) – Jacqueline & Travis.

Jacqueline & Travis - July 3, 2011

Jacqueline & Travis

Jacqueline found us through A Practical Wedding, by way of the Chicago contingent of readers nattering on Facebook. She and Travis were looking for someone to manage the setup of their reception, specifically to make sure the wedding wish bowl and family photos were arranged the way they wanted. We had a chat (via internet, as they currently live in Fargo, but were getting hitched in Chicago) and agreed to take care of it for them. After some more discussion of their wedding, it sounded like they could really use a little more help than that, and we were thrilled when they asked about the possibility of coordinating the whole shindig.

Jacqueline works with historic costume and textiles, and as you might imagine, when she mentioned her line of work, there was some giddiness on our end. A fashion historian who needs wedding help and had a 1930s-style bias cut gown made for the occasion? Perfect client for us. And Travis? He’s a wedding photographer and works around most of the midwest. Check out his work and hire him here. For obvious reasons, he couldn’t take pictures at his own wedding, but he did dream up and design a photo booth for the reception – there was a monitor to see yourself on and he rigged up a foot pedal to stomp when you were ready to snap the picture. From the perspective of crafty, tinkering nerds, I can say this was really awesome. And different from the usual small curtained room styles you see everywhere these days.

Cindy cueing Travis to enter the cermony.

Travis waits for Cindy

Travis and Jacqueline had a lovely outdoor ceremony on a really gorgeous day in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. They made ribbon wands in their wedding colors for all the guests to wave when they shared their first married kiss – an excellent and fun idea! And it looked really cool.

They and their guests traveled to and from the day’s events on the L trains, which I love, love, love. It’s fun, it’s good for the planet, it’s cheaper than parking, and you get awesome pictures. Win-win.

Jacqueline & Travis First Dance - July 3, 2011

Jacqueline & Travis shared their first married dance as the sun set over the city.

And their reception? Pizza (the really good kind) and an ice cream sundae bar (Yes! Yes.) on a rooftop deck with an amazing view of the city skyline. They shared a first scoop together and then danced in the setting sun. Beautiful.

We had a blast coordinating their wedding, and we’re truly lucky they took a chance and hired us. It was just the experience we needed to decide we definitely want to continue stage managing weddings.

Congratulations, Jacqueline and Travis!

For the Love of Figs

Remember way back when I was on vacation and Julia was cooking me fancy-pants dinners every night because she is awesome? Well, while she was scouting recipes, she came across one in her Spanish cookbook that sounded delicious. A dessert. Hazelnut ice cream with Honey-baked Figs.

Photo courtesy of www.healthytimesblog.com

Have I mentioned how obsessed I am with figs? No? Well, I am. Every time I go to the grocery store and they are available, I feel compelled to buy them. They are delicious. I don’t understand how I made it through 28 years of living without having tasted a fresh fig, but once I did I was a goner. If you’ve never tasted a fresh fig, please, for the love of all that is good, get yourself to a decent grocery store and buy a pint RIGHT. NOW. (Seriously, go, because they will only be in season for another 4-6 weeks, after which it will be Fig Newtons/Newmans for you until next July. So not the same.)

Anyway, this recipe called for whipping up some custard-style hazelnut ice cream and serving it along side some baked figs drizzled with a cinnamon-honey syrup. Which sounds fantastic. And also like something that takes way too much time if you’re busy (lazy). So, we’d bought the figs, and I kept promising I’d get around to it, and I didn’t, and I made something else out of the figs, and then I bought more figs because there they were, tempting me at the store again, and I finally, finally made the custard part of the ice cream, which you then have to chill before putting through the ice cream maker.

So it was chilling overnight and I was totally going to do the fig baking the next night. But. I didn’t. It was too much work (not really – it’s just that I was supposed to roast and peel and crush hazelnuts and that’s at least two more things than I had energy for this week) so I decided to cook down the figs with the aforementioned honey and cinnamon and then mix them into the ice cream and forget about the nuts all together. And I did.

And it was good. Though it’s a bit sweet and the nuts would probably have been good for balancing that out. Hmph.

(Limited quantity available, if you want to come over and try it.)

Tru

Hi friends! Today we have a special treat. Perhaps you remember the other day, when I was babysitting so Keely and her husband P.J. could go out for a fancy birthday dinner? Maybe you recall that they went to Tru? Which I have heard nothing but lovely things about and desperately want to check out? (As soon as I win the lottery…?)

Well. Keely is taking a break from her lollygagging today to tell us about all the lovely things they ate. Please go get a napkin or something to catch the impending drool, and then read on.

The other night, I had the completely overwhelming thrill of dining at Tru. (For the second time, mind you. The whelm has not yet ceased.)
We do not often indulge in four hundred dollar meals – not on a Sunday, at least. However we were in the possession of – as we also were when we last dined there – a few American Express gift cards racked up from copious overspending at places like Cermak Produce and Target. (My husband P.J. and I have decided that this is the best use of our AmEx points, as airline travel remains too pricey and I already own more Hammacher Schlemmer than anyone really needs.)
Plus, it was my birthday. And nothing says the big 3-1 like dining at one of the nation’s top restaurants. 
We were seated at 8pm and, for the parents of a toddler, felt very grown up indeed. We were immediately presented with our choice of napkin. (That’s right, a color choice. From a tray.) Even though this wasn’t my first rodeo, I choked and chose a white napkin. Even though my dress was black. Thankfully, no fibers embarrassed me.
I treated myself to a glass of absolutely stellar Riesling (did I mention that I’m five months and change pregnant? Judge not. For it really was a good glass of wine). P.J. had the same. At this point we were simply stoked to be sitting at a quiet table and not dicing anyone’s food.
And then they brought us each a fluffy little puff of baked cheese. Just ‘cause. And it was good.
Moments later we were presented with an amuse-bouche (literally translated to: say that with a straight face) of cucumber lemongrass gelee with a decadent soup surrounding it. [Cindy’s Note: actually it literally means “amuse the mouth” and is intended to be a pre-meal palate tease of the snooty French variety.] I love to start my supper with a shot glass- always have. Also, “cucumber” was the word of the day at Tru. (When I informed my sister of this, she asked if I had to yell every time something was brought over, a la Pee Wee’s Playhouse. No.)
Then the bread course! We had our choice between pumpernickel, challah, something really puffy (I’m such a stickler for details) and asiago flatbreads. So we took one of each. Here’s an example of how good the bread was: when we had finished our various carbs, P.J. began picking up crumbs from the tablecloth, one by one. I reminded him that the servers carried table scrapers for that express purpose. He held up a breadcrumb and told me that he wanted to put them in his pocket. 
We decided on the three course prix fixe option (and my menu even had ‘Happy Birthday, Keely’ artfully faded behind that evening’s selections). [Cindy’s Note: True story. I saw it. It was lovely. And I said hey should have asked the chef to autograph it.] Here is what I chose: duck confit and foie gras ravioli in some sort of awesomesauce reduction, Maine lobster with madras curry and roasted cauliflower, and a passion fruit mousse with lime, coconut, and dark chocolate. And here is what P.J. ordered: bay scallops on organic polenta with truffles and bacon, the prime beef ribeye with foie gras and wild mushrooms, and an apple beignet with vanilla ice cream.
I realize we had more than our fair share of foie gras. I have guilt over this. I do. Not a lot, but enough.
The appetizers were really, really good. We didn’t speak a word until they were finished, other than, “Oh, did you want a bite?”
My lobster came on a plate with built-in waves. (I really dig that kind of synchronicity.) The roasted cauliflower came on a bed of pureed cauliflower- and while I’m not usually a huge puree kinda gal (again, we have a little kid and she’s the captain of that ship), I wanted to suck it down with a straw. P.J.’s prime rib and foie gras were incredibly tender, but the surprise standout of that meal was the whipped pudding-like potato with curls of saffron. He said it was the ultimate comfort food times a thousand. I said it felt like my mouth was getting a hug. 
At the end of the first two courses, we were given a teensy cup of cucumber (ah!!!) foam with vanilla and most likely eight other pivotal ingredients that enhanced the cuke. But all I could remember to type is cucumber and vanilla. (I am not their target demographic.) 
Then the mousse came. And it was…exactly as awesome as you’d expect something with those ingredients to be. P.J.’s beignet was light as air, covered a slice of tart green apple, and accompanied by a dish of churned vanilla bean ice cream. We were happy campers.
Then they surprised me with the cutest and bitsiest individual confetti cake I’d ever seen, with a birthday frosting greeting swirled on the plate. (And I never know what to do with the dessert-y words. It seems wrong to mash it up, but it’s downright sinful to leave anything on a dessert plate. So I licked it. Kidding. Kind of.)
And of course, once we had finished our individual bites of heaven, a cart appeared at our table. We were offered little plates of truffles, bon bons and tiny pastel pastries – as many as we wanted. (They SAID.) I chose a rose petal macaroon, a blackberry jam truffle, and a dollop of light lemon meringue custard in a dark chocolate shell. P.J. chose the same, minus the rose, plus a small rum cake. (I called him an old man. But to be fair, it was really good. Obviously.) I think our favorite were the lemon ones, but we certainly weren’t going to kick the other ones off the table anytime soon.
We enjoyed these with a fruity sunset tea and a cappuccino, respectively, and marveled at how much we were able to put away. Also how long we were able to sit nicely at a table without running around the kitchen for various things. 
Our meal ended with a last truffle apiece – dark chocolate with gold leaf, filled with a chilled bitter almond cream. [Cindy’s Note: It’s entirely unfair that I have to read about this concoction without having one available to me for the eating. Someone please remedy this, STAT.] We were advised to take it in one bite, or it would explode into a puddle of uselessness. (My words, not his.) However, despite how gently I [thought I] picked it up, mine cracked and threatened to spill all over the table, my teacup, and my pregnant belly. So I did what any rational diner would do: I shoved it into my mouth and immediately drank the filling from the saucer. And stole P.J.’s spoon to slurp up the rest from the truffle plate. Graceful.
As we exited Tru, we were each handed a small cherry sponge cake wrapped in foil for a take home treat.
I love this place.
I also love the two married ladies who pinch hit babysat for our kiddo that evening and facilitated one of the best meals I’ll ever consume. What say we meet up there for the next big decadent event? [Cindy’s Note: YES!]
Just lemme score some more AmEx points, first. [Cindy’s Note: See above, re: lottery winning.]
 
Thanks Keely! People, if you enjoyed this post, you will LOVE hearing from Keely three(ish) times a week over at the Lollygag Blog. So please go visit and then come back here. Preferably bearing truffles.

We ate AND we crafted. Seriously.

Happy Birthday, Greta!

It was Greta’s birthday this week, and birthdays equal cake. Really, I’ll use just about anything as an excuse to make cake. [See next week, where I make cake because someone’s facebook status was a wish for cupcakes, and Julia said “Cindy will make you cake, come over.” And I said, “How’s Sunday?” I kid you not.]

But, in what seems to be a first, we managed to actually eat and craft on craft night. I attribute this to the fact that we crafted first, and THEN had cake. And – amazingly – went back to crafting after we ate. Certainly, the fact that we all had projects we really wanted to work on might have contributed as well.

Triple Chocolate Cake with Pumpkin Ice Cream

Greta requested chocolate, so I whipped up a Devil’s Food cake, layered with Dark Chocolate Mousse and Mocha Whipped Cream. The cake recipe came from my baking bible – Baking Illustrated from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen. If you’ve never watched the show or visited their website, you should. Especially if you like science. When I got this book (because the idiot lawyer I used to work for didn’t want it and was giving it away!) I literally read it cover to cover. Because in the page or two before each recipe, it details all the variations they tried (different amounts of butter, chilled vs. room temperature ingredients, baking powder vs. soda, etc.) and what results they produced. So… you get a scientific paper with methods and results, followed by a seriously kickass recipe. What could be better? I love it. And if you’ve been following this blog – it’s where my pizza crust came from too. Also – my wedding cake. Yep. And I will stop extolling the virtues of this book now, and get on with the post.

The mousse is the dark chocolate variation in this Martha Stewart recipe, and it is really good – with or without the cake.

We had also been wanting to try out some more interesting ice cream flavors, so we went with pumpkin. I glanced at a recipe for sweet potato ice cream in The Perfect Scoop (another great cookbook), and modified it for pumpkin. Here’s what I ended up with:

1 cup whole milk
1 15oz can pumpkin
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon or so freshly grated ginger
Healthy sprinkles of cinnamon and nutmeg
Splash of cream (not necessary, but I had a smidge left from the mousse that needed to be used up)

Whisk ingredients together and chill in the refrigerator for several hours, then process in your ice cream maker according to directions.

When you eat it, it tastes just like pumpkin pie. Delicious!

And now for the inside joke portion of this post:

“Tastes like geology!”
“Mmm, geology.”

What a Vegan, Gluten-Free Dinner Party Looks Like

Just the right number of (smokin’ hot) cooks in the kitchen.
(I swear we were all in the kitchen until it was time to eat…)

Our second fabulous dinner party was a serious group effort. Although I did the menu planning, everyone pitched in to get all the ingredients together, and then everyone just took a dish and ran with it. I tend to be somewhat controlling (ok, I’ll admit it – I’m a complete control freak!) so I was mildly apprehensive about letting people help. But, as I am discovering over and over again lately, doing things together totally rocks.

It was, in a word, AWESOME, to share my kitchen with these fabulous women.

Here’s what we made:

Appetizers
Watermelon Salad with Mint and Lime (recipe)
Cucumber “Bruschetta” (recipe)


First Course
Plum, Raspberry, and Tarragon Soup (recipe)


Second Course
Zucchini Tagliatelle with Cucumber, Mint, and Lemon (recipe)
Zucchini Pasta with Pesto (recipe)
Yellow Potatoes with Swiss Chard, Garlic, and Rosemary (recipe)

[Imagine we did not eat it so fast, and there is a picture here.]

Dessert
Coconut Curry Ice Cream (recipe)

Craft night redux.

If you were reading last week, you remember how our craft night became an eating and drinking night, and we kinda promised that this week we’d do some actual crafting. Well – let’s just say we crafted pizza and ice cream, and call that a promise kept. And another failure (success?) was that we devoured it before grabbing a camera. So, you’ll have to live with a description instead.

Prior to turning the night into a food free-for-all, we had discussed just having some ice cream, and Jenni tossed out the idea of peach and bacon for the flavor. You may also recall that in not making the initial shrimp dish last week, we consequently did not consume the peaches we’d bought for it. So – this was a perfect idea. Jenni volunteered to candy some bacon and we decided to mince some ginger and add it to the peaches. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. What about dinner, you ask?

Right, so early in the day on Tuesday, after finding out Greta couldn’t make it, we decided to invite Jenni and Rebecca to head over early and join us for dinner. I had been wanting to put homemade pizza on the menu sometime during the week, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. We asked Jenni and Rebecca to bring toppings for one pizza (they brought mushrooms and Mexican cheese; we used some garlic and onion pasta sauce as well) and we had some “like gruyere” cheese and herb sausage from the farmers market, shallots, and pomegranate balsamic vinegar for the second pizza, which was a “white’ (a.k.a. no red sauce) pizza. They were both delicious.

Then we made the ice cream. In order to keep it edible for everyone (Rebecca is a vegetarian) we kept the candied bacon out of it, and just sprinkled it on top. It turned out a bit more gingery than I was expecting, but not in a bad way. Everyone agreed it was yummy (though secretly Julia and I were both thinking that the strawberry basil was better.)

Next week, we’re really going to craft. I swear!

Week in Review: Lots of food, not a lot of pictures.

So. We were pretty good about planning our menu and sticking to it. However, we didn’t do so well with remembering to take pictures. Here’s a little summary of how the week turned out, food-wise.

Thursday: The Zucchini Tagliatelle was a tasty, light, crisp salad.

Zucchini Tagliatelle with Mint, Cucumber, and Lemon (click for recipe)

Fresh, well-seasoned, and a perfect thing to eat on a hot summer night, especially as it requires no hot oven. A little bit more time-consuming than we had anticipated, but worth it.

Friday: We were going to make a Roasted Shrimp and Peach salad, but I ended up having to work until about 8:30pm, so I ordered some Thai food and Julia ate pasta. Not a day for culinary masterpieces, at least in our house.

Saturday: We were back in the game with another favorite recipe from Real Simple, Lemon-Oregano Lamb Chops with Orzo. This is an easy recipe to make, but tastes very indulgent – I think because lamb kinda always tastes indulgent, doesn’t it?


Lemon-Oregano Lamb Chops with Orzo (click for recipe)

The orzo and tomato is a really nice complement to the lamb. Also – this was the first time we made it with fresh (rather than dried) oregano, and it was really, really good.

Sunday: I hit the farmers’ market early in the morning hoping to score some fresh strawberries and basil for my first ice cream experiment, and hopefully something for dinner. I came out with some red rubin basil and a pint of cherry tomatoes, but no strawberries were there to be had. So I picked some up from the grocery store and headed home.

We made a Greek Salad with Orzo and Black-Eyed Peas, from this recipe. I cheated a little bit and used the leftover orzo from the lamb chops in this salad, since both recipes had it paired with tomatoes, lemon juice, and pepper. It turned out really well. One thing about this recipe is that we had to hit up a chain store (Jewel/Dominicks) to get the canned (i.e. already cooked) black-eyed peas, as our favorite neighborhood markets only carried the bags of beans that need overnight soaking and cooking and we are far too lazy for that. I personally thought this salad was delicious – another easy, light summer meal. We ate it for lunch and then again for dinner. Julia was not too keen on the black-eyed peas, so we may use a different kind of bean if we make it again, but I personally loved them. I think it was the first time for both of us tasting black-eyed peas.

Enough about healthy food though – we need to talk about ice cream. On Friday, the ice cream maker attachment for my beloved Kitchen Aid mixer arrived, and we used this recipe from Scott over at The Improvised Chef [which if you aren’t reading and you enjoy food, you should be. go on, I’ll wait.] It was easy to do, and I’d bet even if you never made ice cream before you’d have no trouble churning this out.

Very, very yummy finished product:

Which brings us to Monday. Now if you’ll remember on Friday we didn’t make the shrimp. So we had that, and some leftover orzo. (Seriously, one pound is a *lot* of orzo. This is, in fact the *third* meal we’ve used that one batch in.) We also had some Belgian endives that we bought for a recipe which looked like it would be yummy but probably not enough food for a whole dinner. Which led to Julia making up this delightful dish, which paired the shrimp, endives, and orzo with pine nuts, dijon mustard, and a little bit of red wine vinegar.

And that wraps up the week.