1st birthday gift that made the birthday boy very happy: Maracas!
It’s hard to believe that this time last year I had just gotten home from the hospital with my tiny baby boy. The change and growth that has occurred in him this past year is truly amazing.
The last few weeks have been a pretty exciting time in our house. In early January, Archer took his first solo steps. Within days he was zooming around the house like he’d been walking his whole life.
On January 26th, our families came to town to celebrate the little guy’s first birthday. Then just a few days ago, he watched in wonder (and maybe a little confusion), as snow flakes fell: his first snow!
Little Blue Truck birthday cake by Crumb de la Crumb
We decided to keep the birthday gathering small, and just had close family over to the house for cake and ice cream. Of course, that meant I had to go all out on the birthday cake!
Crumb de la Crumb did an amazing job bringing Archer’s favorite book, Little Blue Truck, to life. For the adults, there was salted caramel chocolate cake and vanilla white chocolate cake. The birthday boy had his own chocolate cupcake topped with a little blue truck.
Determined to hold on to the maracas as he eats his birthday cupcake
A year ago if you’d have asked me what to buy a 1 year old for his/her birthday, I would’ve had absolutely no idea. In fact, in the past, when I’ve been invited to birthday parties for kiddos, I’ve Googled “best gift for a (add age here) year old”. Yep, my experience with babies was extremely limited. But hey, now I’m an expert! (okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but I do know A LOT more than I used to!)
So, just in case there are any of you out there in that same boat, and need some 1st birthday gift inspiration, here are just a few Archer’s favorites:
Maracas (and they aren’t too annoying – honestly)
Sesame Street Cookie Monster Kitchen Cafe (scored a great deal on this – clearance at Target for only $17)
Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Musical Table
Fisher Price Crib n Go Projector Soother
Books – all kinds of books, you almost can’t go wrong. For months now, the Little Blue Truck and The Nose Book (Dr Seuss) are top choices in our house.
Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Piggy Bank
B Fun Keys
A light dusting of snow 2 days in a row last week made for some fun exploring/discovering!
This recipe is one that I originally posted in 2009, but at the time I didn’t have a photo of the finished dish. (And I probably didn’t have very many blog readers back then either, but we won’t talk about that).
After making the risotto for a friend’s birthday last week and everyone going nuts over it, I figured I should put it out there again and stress to you how absolutely amazing it is. It really is, honest-to-goodness, one of the 5 best recipes in my arsenal, and I truly don’t think it has ever gotten the attention it deserves. Perhaps because I didn’t have a photo? (or perhaps because I only had about 50 people reading my blog back in 2009?)
Whatever the reason, it’s a shame, because this risotto deserves the attention of hundreds. Thousands. It’s a star, so I’m doing my part to give it the spotlight it deserves by re-posting my blog post and adding a photo.
Now it’s your turn. Do yourself, your friends, and/or your family a favor and make this!!!
Original Post from October 12, 2009:
Today is your lucky day. I’m handing over to you my secret weapon, my signature dish, the dish I use to impress when guests are coming for dinner. It really is just as good (or better) than any restaurant risotto you’ll ever have. The rich and creamy taste fools everyone into thinking it’s loaded with cream, yet there is none!
Good risotto takes time and energy- it’s a bit of arm work, that’s for sure. Stirring, adding, stirring, adding, on and on and on. But believe me, all the effort pays off because this dish will blow away your guests. And it only takes one hand to do the stirring, so the free hand can be used to enjoy a nice glass of wine while you slave away!
Creamy Mushroom Risotto
6-8 side dish servings or 4 main dish servings. Adapted from Gourmet Mushroom Risotto on Allrecipes.com
6 cups chicken broth, divided
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
12-16 oz mushrooms, thinly sliced (mix of any or all of the following: baby bellas, cremini, shiitake, white button)
2 shallots, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 Tbsp finely chopped chives
3 Tbsp of butter
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In a saucepan, warm the broth over low heat.
Warm 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the mushrooms, and cook until soft, about 6-8 minutes. Remove mushrooms and their liquid, and set aside. (Leave the burner on medium-high heat for next step)
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the large saucepan, and stir in the shallots and garlic. Cook 1-2 minutes. Add rice, stirring to coat with oil, about 2 minutes. When the rice has taken on a pale, golden color, pour in wine, stirring constantly until the wine is fully absorbed. Add 1/2 cup broth to the rice, and stir until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 35-40 minutes*. (It is very important that the simmering broth is added little by little, cooked and stirred until it's absorbed, then repeated, 1/2 cup by 1/2 cup of broth, until the risotto is tender and the broth is absorbed. This allows the starches to break down, resulting in a creamy risotto).
Once all of the broth is absorbed, remove from heat, and stir in mushrooms with their liquid, butter, chives, and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately for best results.
*Try to find the perfect balance for the heat. Not enough heat and it will take a very long time for the liquid to absorb, but too hot and you'll have rice sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Breakfast. They say it’s the most important meal of the day. True or not, I am definitely not a pleasant person if I skip it.
For years I’ve been all about the make-ahead breakfast that can get us through an entire week. A typical Sunday in our house means that I’m in the kitchen making that week’s batch of egg muffins or an egg based casserole of some sort.
Weekday mornings can be hectic enough without adding in the task of making breakfast, so those staples have become lifesavers. Pop ‘em into the microwave a piece at a time, and you’re out the door in a flash!
Of course, now that we have a little one in the house, it’s even more chaotic than it was before. Changing diapers, having play time, packing lunch for school, getting him dressed…. not to mention getting myself ready to get out the door…it’s a lot to get done in a short time frame. And while a piece of egg casserole works great for him some days, he loves oatmeal, so I wanted to figure out a make-ahead solution for it too.
(I also don’t want to spend my precious minutes cleaning the slimy stuff off the walls, floor and him. Coming up with a kid-friendly, toddler-can-feed-himself version was essential)
Enter Baked Oatmeal. I thought I remembered seeing a recipe for something like this somewhere in the past, but wasn’t completely sure where or even exactly what it was. Turns out there are lots of different recipes out there, but after reading through several, a Cooking Light version seemed to be pretty close to what I was looking for.
I’m happy to report that Archer absolutely LOVES this stuff! Of course I’m thrilled because it’s super easy to throw together, and something that even I enjoy eating a piece of every now and then with my coffee.
There are so many flavor options too – you can can add a number of different fruits, nuts, and spices. I just happened to have a can of pumpkin and some cranberries in the pantry, so that’s what I went with. How about applesauce instead of pumpkin? Maybe throw in some chopped apples and pecans? Blueberries and almonds? Bananas, raisins, pineapple, peaches…the list goes on and on.
Give it a shot and let me know what flavor combos you come up with!
Baked Pumpkin Cranberry Oatmeal
Makes 9 servings*
Adapted from Cooking Light
2 cups uncooked old fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp pure vanilla
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1 large egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 375°.
Combine the first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl. Combine the milk, vanilla, pumpkin, and egg. Add milk mixture to oat mixture; stir well. Pour oat mixture into an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes.
Note: We only eat 1 or 2 pieces of the Baked Oatmeal each day, so I keep the rest stored in the casserole dish in the refrigerator to keep it fresh. So far the longest I’ve kept it is 10 days, and it was still great up to the last day.
*If you have a tiny little one that will be eating this, you may be able to get 12 pieces out of it, as that’s how many I portioned when Archer first began eating it at 11 months old. After a month or so, I started cutting into 9 squares, and now he eats a whole square, sometimes even 1.5!
“What is your favorite Southern dish?”
It seems like a simple enough question, but when one of my Twitter followers asked me this last week, I was completely stumped. Not stumped because I couldn’t think of one, but stumped because so many things popped into my head that there wouldn’t be enough characters available to fit them all into my tweet!
So, I didn’t answer. How rude of me. But now I’m answering, just in a much longer way….
I’m a list-maker, so I made a list. Then, as the days passed, I gradually scratched off a few that I decided weren’t my absolute favorites. What IS my favorite Southern dish? Well, the answer is, I don’t have just one. But I forced myself to narrow it down to 10 that I really, really wouldn’t want to live without:
BBQ and Burgoo
Blackberry or Peach Cobbler
Fried Squash, Fried Pickles and Fried Green Tomatoes
Chocolate Chess Pie
Shrimp n Grits
Fried Apple Pies
Country Ham on an angel biscuit with Peach Butter, Apple Butter, or Pear Butter
Biscuits and Sausage Gravy
Okay, so I may have cheated a little and might have slightly gone over 10, but hey, it’s my list, so I can do that!
Now what about you? What are your favorite Southern dishes?
Sycamore Pop Up Dinner at Jackalope Brewery
Recently I’ve been hearing of more and more pop-ups popping up! So far I’ve only made it to a couple of the local ones, but I’ve pledged to myself to try to make it to several, if not all of them, this year. Looks like it’ll be fairly easy to get a jump start on that pledge in the next few weeks as there are several of them happening! Here’s a look at some that are on my radar:
Sycamore January Pop Up Dinner
Date: Sunday, January 27th
Cafe Fundamental, 1115 Porter Road – VENUE CHANGE – New location: Flyte, 718 Division St.
Price: $70/person (includes four courses with cocktail pairings)
In my recent blog post about Ada St in Chicago, I mentioned that I’d be telling you more about Sycamore, a series of pop up dinners hosted by Tony and Caroline Galzin. Sycamore is actually the working title of their restaurant concept – a restaurant they plan to open here in Nashville in the hopefully not-too-distant future. While they work toward that goal, they’re putting together these pop up dinners to benefit various partners in our community.
In fact, they plan for Sycamore the restaurant to be more than just a for profit restaurant too, making philanthropy a fundamental part of their business.
The upcoming four course, family style meal will feature various cuts of lamb from Philip’s Pharm, craft cocktails from PourTaste mixologists Jon and Lindsay Yeager, and will benefit Hands On Nashville’s Urban Farm.
For the menu, ticketing, and more details, jump over to the Sycamore website.
Chef Tony Galzin rolling out fresh pasta during the Sycamore pop up dinner at Jackalope
Riffs and Smoke Et Al February Pop Up Restaurant
Date: February 1st
Location: to be revealed to ticket holders on January 28th
Price: $65/person (includes four courses)
BYOB (No alcohol provided)
Riffs Jerk Shrimp and Scallops from March 2012 pop up dinner
A Riffs pop-up is actually one of the only local pop-ups I’ve attended already. And let me tell you, it was an incredibly delicious experience- one that is definitely worth repeating! It’s no secret that I’m already a pretty big fan of Riffs. Remember this? Or this? Or this?
So I was excited to hear that Carlos and BJ, the chef/owners of Riffs, are planning a series of pop-up restaurants this year, and the first one is right around the corner. And seriously people, this one is gonna be greater than great. Why? Because they’re teaming up with Shane Autrey of Smoke Et Al, who I also happen to think is a genius. Remember this? Or this?
While the exact menu is a secret, just know that each chef will create a course that reflects their own unique personality, and then all three will collaborate on a trio for dessert. Also a secret is the location. Patience. All will be revealed when the time is right ;-)
Ticket information is available on the Riffs website. Note: guests who purchase tickets early can sign up for preferred seating and have the opportunity to interact with the chefs.
A percentage from each seat sold will be donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee.
Date: February 16th, 2013
Location: Nashville Farmers’ Market Market House
Price: $60/person for dinner OR $85/person for dinner with drink pairings
In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that Vivek is a friend of mine. Over the last couple of years, we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well through food blogger meetups and events, and I’ve said to him more than once that he should be a professional chef. He’s that good.
But, alas, he has no desire to be a full-time chef. Instead, he created Vivek’s Epicurean Adventures Supper Club so he can “play” chef once a month! Sadly, my schedule has yet to jive with his, so I haven’t yet been able to attend one of his successful five-course dinners. But that will soon change. I’ve got this one on my calendar already, and I’m not going to let anything get in my way!
To be the one of the first to get the full details on upcoming supper clubs, sign up for his email list on his website., follow on Twitter, and/or like the Facebook page.
Also, be sure to check out this great article on StyleBlueprint for more about Vivek as well as some other pop-up options, including Mangia, which I wrote about last year.
The end of the 2012 also marked the end of one of my very favorite restaurants, Cha Chah. When I heard the news a few weeks back that is it was closing, my heart dropped. But after being assured by Arnold (as in Myint, the chef/owner) that good – even greater- things were coming to that cozy house at 2013 Belmont, I didn’t allow my sadness to linger long.
The new concept, blvd Nashville, a bistro, bar and market, will serve lunch, dinner and brunch with full bar service. In addition to table-side service for lunch, guests will also have the option of ordering at the counter and grabbing pre-made sandwiches and salads to go (perhaps similar to AM@FM?). I’m pretty excited by this, as I’m always looking for quick lunch options during the work week.
But for me, the one detail that comforted me more than anything was the news that blvd Nashville’s menu will still feature some of the amazing Cha Chah dishes I’ve grown to love over the last couple of years, like the insanely delicious Brussels sprouts. Thank God. I really don’t know what I would do without them in my life.
Of course, there will be plenty of new, just-as-exciting dishes on the very approachable dinner menu, including a broad selection of soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees.
You may remember that recently I co-hosted a fundraiser dinner with Arnold, and if that elevated comfort food meal was any indication of things to come at blvd Nashville, I think we’ll all be very, very happy diners!
Progress is already well underway into transitioning the space into the new concept, so stay tuned for more details on the opening date. If you’d like to follow their progress, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.
At the end of every year, I spend a little time looking back at all of my eating and drinking experiences over the past 12 months, creating a list of the best of the best. This time around I narrowed it down to 12 – some are entire meals, some just small components of a meal. Big or small, fancy or simple, each of these are things I’d love to be able to experience again and again!
While this is just a basic list, you can read more about each one by clicking on the links provided.
Without further ado, here is my Top 12 of 2012!
I-have-died-and-gone-to-heaven Tomato Jam (not really the name of it, but it should be)
San Antonio, TX
Benton’s Bacon Wrapped Local Beef Brisket with Jack Daniel’s Honey Glaze and Goo Goo Cluster Barbeque Sauce
F Scott’s from Savor Nashville Chef’s Challenge
Pimento Cheese Egg
Pickled Fried Okra with Bama White Sauce
Smoke et Al
Parmesan Kale Salad with Raisins
my own recipe
Bone-in pork loin, TN smoked cheddar mac & cheese, braised greens, Vidalia onion jam, pickled mustard seeds
A 4-way tie for the best Goo Goo Cluster desserts
F Scott’s peanut butter and Goo Goo Cluster tart with Benton’s bacon, marshmallow meringue, graham cracker crust
Coffee, Lunch’s Goo Goo Turtle Bar
Silo’s Goo Goo Chocolate Peanut Butter Ganache Pie
The Southern’s Goo Goo Bread Pudding
photo courtesy of Ada St’s Facebook page
Overall Experiences (note plural)
Ada St’s Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire
Vida Mezcal, Dolin Dry, chile agave, egg white, lime
Back in November I took my 3rd business trip of the year to Chicago. Hey, I’m not complaining. If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, then you know that one of my best college girlfriends lives there, so I like to visit as often as I can.
Never fails that I have at least one, if not many, incredible meals while I’m in town, and this time was no different.
Ada St., a hidden gem on (you guessed it) Ada St., was definitely my best Chicago discovery of 2012.
From the moment I walked in the door, I felt like I’d been let in on a secret. Actually, scratch that. Before I even walked through the door I felt that way.
Why? Well, let’s just say the neighborhood isn’t exactly bustling or picturesque. The restaurant is in the middle of what seems to be an industrial area, full of warehouses and not much else. But once you step into the entryway, you’re transported to a completely different world. A lovely, mysterious, candlelit world.
Polenta Fries with chipotle puree
So yes, the atmosphere pretty much wowed me from the get-go. But the real test would be the cocktail list. Mama likes a good cocktail and thankfully Ada St. delivers!
In addition to the “Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire” drink you see above, I also had a “Fistful of Dollars”- Old Heaven Hill B.I.B. Bourbon, Luxardo Amaro, mole bitters, mezcal mist, orange flower water. A very good cocktail indeed.
lamb ribs, agave glaze, mild habanero cream, pickled peppers, cilantro
Okay, so on to the food! As you can see from the photos, we ate a lot. This is exactly the dining style that I enjoy the most – going to a restaurant with a big group and ordering dozens of small plates so I can try almost everything on the menu.
duck confit, cavatelli, poached egg, spinach, parmigiano
octopus, cannellini beans, tabasco mash
Lamb flatbread with caramelized onions, feta, cracked olives, parsley, lemon
In addition to those featured here, we also had crispy black eyed peas, steak tartare with fried capers and quail egg, prime strip loin with aged balsamic and brown butter, seared salmon with crispy risotto croquette and brussels sprouts.
And even though we were completely stuffed after all of those savory dishes, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to leave without ordering dessert! First up were the brioche donuts. Pretty much everyone at the table went nuts for them, but you know me – I don’t love donuts. They were fine, but what I was more interested in was a dessert called “Chocolate”.
Oh my. Oh my. A simple name for a simple dish of chocolate spread with tuscan olive oil, sea salt and toast. Yet it wasn’t simple at all. It was mind-blowingly delicious.
Oh my. (Did I say that already?)
And because I lost my mind after having one bite of this divine creation, I don’t have a photo, so you simply MUST pop over to Serious Eats to take a gander. They named this Chocolate one of the Top 10 Chicago Sweets of 2012!
Me & Lib – happy girls at Ada St., Chicago
Serious Eats isn’t the only one that has taken notice of Ada St. Daily Candy, and Chicago Magazine have them on their “Best of” lists, and Thrillist named it one of the 10 Best Things to Open Since Last Year.
And one last tidbit about my visit — Making the entire experience even cooler, I got to meet Chef Zoë Schor. Within 2 minutes of meeting her, I discovered that she is very good friends with Tony and Caroline Galzin, who recently moved to Nashville from Chicago. Tony is the incredibly talented pastry chef at Flyte, and he and Caroline are also hosting pop up dinners here called Sycamore (more to come on that very soon). Small world, eh?
Ada St. Restaurant
1664 North Ada Street
Chicago, IL 60642
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