Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dinner at Spring

Definitely one of the best meals, if not the best, I've ever had.

While there are some people (ahemMIKEahem) who like to poke fun at my obsession with Yelp, it was that research and respect for the opinion of others that led me to Spring.

Though we had to cancel our Saturday night reservation because of weather, we were easily accomodated on Sunday night. I say easily because the place was only about 1/4 full. It's a pretty big restaurant, but that many empty tables is a crime.

Because they knew we were celebrating my birthday, they seated us at a really cozy corner table that was perfect. I appreciate attention to detail, especially when those details are all about making me happy.

We started off with some cocktails. Andy had a Gin & Tonic with homemade tonic and I had some sort of green tea infused vodka with more liquor and pine nuts floating in the glass. It was strong and delicious.

We wasted no time in deciding that we'd both get multi-course specials. I got the Taste of Spring favorites which was a 4 course (actually 6.5 courses) meal including all the chef's and customer's favorite dishes for only $45. (!!I KNOW!!) I talked Andy into ordering the Chef's 6 course (Actually 8.5 courses courses) tasting menu.

I'm going to apologize before I begin about the quality of the photos. I try to be stealthy when taking pictures of my food at nice restaurants because, well, because it's kind of weird and I don't want people to point and stare at me. However, I do it because I love food, I love you people and want to share these incredible meals with as many people as possible. I didn't take the time to balance the white in my camera settings and thus the photos are all a bit fuzzy and yellow. Still, I think you get the basic idea.

The amuse bouche was a sweet, salty and earthy butternut squash with scallions, mushrooms and apple vinaigrette.
From Spring

Then came Andy's first course which I think was the extra course they added in because he mentioned that he really liked oysters.

Malaspina Oyster (B.C.), black pepper & cucumber mignonette, tabasco & citrus `caviar’
From Spring

My first course was an updated take on a Nicoise salad with beautifully charred tuna, mini potatoes, green beans, anchovies and a quail egg. I've ALWAYS wanted to eat something with a quail egg on it!

Charred Tuna Sashimi, in the style of Nicoise, soft quail egg, black olive-lemon vinaigrette
From Spring

I could tell Andy was a little jealous of my tuna, so even though I let him have a bite, he was happy to see his next course was tuna tartare.

Pacific Tuna Tartare, banana chips, crème fraiche, jalapeno, microgreens and toasted sesame
From Spring

The sweetness of the banana chips with the richness of the tuna and creme fraiche was amazing. Plus, there was a LOT of tuna on that plate. I couldn't believe the quality and amount of seafood we'd been getting.

Spring specializes in seafood, but we'd also requested no beef or pork since we'd had the Montgomery Inn ribs for lunch that day and weren't ready to face another mammal so soon.

I can't remember much about Andy's next course other than it was shrimp with some noodles.

Hawaiian Blue Prawns, Japanese egg noodle, maitake mushroom, sweet potato & dashi bouillon
From Spring

I'm guessing I don't remember much about that one because it came out at the same time as the most delicious soup I've ever had. I am a true soup lover, so the fact that shared this with Andy speaks volumes about my affection for him. (And because he was obligated to share every one of his courses with me since it was MY birthday.)

Lemongrass & Coconut Soup, cellophane noodles, Thai chili & kaffir lime
From Spring

I love seafood, but I've never seen what the big deal about scallops is. Apparently, I'd just never had good scallops and after this next course, I was converted for life. They were perfectly seared, crisp and caramelized.

Maine Sea Scallops, braised oxtail, wild mushrooms, broccoli rabe & sweet soy
From Spring

I don't really remember what Andy's next course was officially, but here's my stab at it:
Crispy skinned river trout on eggplant shumai with a white truffle foam
From Spring

Ew, I just realized that the foam looks a little like Milo's vomit with that yellow tint to everything. Moving on...

At this point we thought we were finished and just waiting on desserts.

Instead, the waiter put a big plate of steak and tuna in front of Andy. Andy was confused by the extra course, but the waiter read it as him being upset about the beef, so he quickly whisked it away for the next dish which turned out to be my absolute favorite! I was stuffed, but somehow made room for a few bites, and surprise, it was more scallops!

Maine Sea Scallops with a black bean glaze on a bed of crab and green beans with scallion pancakes and a sesame vinaigrette
From Spring

Mmm, carmelized scallops.

While we were waiting for these delicious little guys to be brought out, the waiter brought us two complimentary glasses of a great chardonnay.

That's good service.

Dessert was next! First they brought out two, 5-spiced truffles with a candle for my birthday. Very rich, spicy and chocolatey like an Indian Easter bunny party in my mouth.
From Spring

Then came the real dessert!

White chocolate peppermint dome on chocolate cake with lots of fancy peppermint chocolate embellishments.
From Spring

Five-spiced pineapple crepe with crème fraiche and pineapple chip
From Spring

The waiter brought our warm towels with a two shots of hot chocolate flavored with lemongrass and thyme. We drank them before I remembered to take a picture, but here's the empty glasses cause I know you were dying to see those.
From Spring

It was the perfect ending to an incredible birthday meal before heading back out into the Chicago cold.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Your making me insane

Just had to delete a co-worker's email because it contained a grammatical error and I couldn't stand to look at it.

It was the last one sent, so it kept popping up with its incorrect "your" where there should obviously be a "you're".

We have incredible amounts of storage, so I usually save every email as a quick, searchable reference, but this one had to go. That "your" was irking me with every email sent. Like a giant, dangling scab, just begging to be ripped off with a satisfying punch of the delete key.

I might be able to forgive a their, there, they're mix-up, but come on!

Your vs. You're? You've got a 50/50 shot at it from the start!

At least I no I'm know moron.

Edit: It's taking every ounce of willpower to not fix the intentional errors in this post. Irony of ironies!

Edit... again: So do you also think I made that last edit to ensure no one believed I'd unknowingly made those errors? I have a problem.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Baking Up Some Holiday Spirit

I know the timeliness of this post is a little late, but my friend Carann just sent me some photos from our baking extravaganza before Christmas, and I thought I'd share them so you, too, could marvel at our extreme domesticity.

A little background info first. The baking was done at Carann's soon to be aunt-in-law's kitchen in North Center Chicago. The kitchen was HUGE and wonderful, but started to seem smaller and smaller with every sugar-coated tray going in or coming out of the oven. There were four of us and we each brought and made at least three recipes.

My contributions included Snowball Surprises (aka oreo truffle balls), Snickerdoodles and my now famous Spiced Pecans (the base recipe for which I got from Andy's Aunt Lisa. Thanks, Lisa!)

Don't mind the laser beams shooting out of Molly's eyes. She's part robot.

(Or I might just be too lazy to do some red-eye editing. You decide. I personally think the robot thing is much cooler.)

Isn't that kitchen pretty? I'm getting more and more into cooking/baking and resent my small kitchen and non-existent counter space with every new recipe.

This was the cookie table taking over the dining room when we were only about 1/3 of the way through. Yeah, it was a LOT of cookies.

This is Carann and Me with her giant ball of chocolate chip cookie dough. She also made the biggest mound of sugar cookie dough that was about 5 times that size. By the end of the day we'd rolled out and decorated close to 100 sugar cookies alone. Whew!

My pecans were the last thing to go in since they needed to be baked at a lower temperature.

It was an incredibly fun and tiring day of baking that was capped off by us all heading to Pat and Carann's place where the gentleman had all made dinner for us bakers. Chili, cornbread and an apple, walnut and goat cheese salad (Andy can even make a salad interesting.) were waiting for us after all the treats had been bagged up and ready for delivery to neighbors and coworkers.

I never really get to cook or bake around the holidays because we're always traveling. That afternoon with these lovely ladies, listening to Christmas music and discussing the true nature of some carols (I now can't listen to "Baby It's Cold Outside" without thinking of date rape) really brought the holidays to Chicago for me this year.

Thanks to AP, Molly and Carann for adding a little more merry and a lot more sugar to my Christmas this year.

I'll leave you with the spiced pecan recipe since it's such a crowd pleaser and pretty much the easiest thing I've ever made.

Spiced Candied Pecans

1 lb pecans
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon water
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 300 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In large mixing bowl: 1 egg white and 1 tablespoon water, beat until soft or stiff peaks form. Add 1 pound pecans, stir until all pecans are wet.

3. In another bowl combine sugar, salt and spices. Mix together and pour over pecans, stir well. Add dash of vanilla if desired. Spread on prepared baking sheet and bake for 30-45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.

4. Let cool to harden and enjoy!

Ribfest '08

As always, Christmas time means a lot of good eating. We got started early this year with the Montgomery Inn Ribs that my Dad and Stepmom sent me for my birthday.

We had to broil the ribs since there was a foot of snow out on the deck and we didn't feel like digging out the grill.

I've never seen Andy be so attentive to anything he's cooking. He never left the oven for a second while the ribs were sizzling.

Given the exceptional result, I can't fault him for it.

Yes, we used the bibs and since we hadn't showered, you only get to see Andy's bedhead since mine was seriously frightening. (And again: my blog, my rules.)

The perfect way to tell me you love me is with two giant plates of meat.

And yes, we ate them all.

In one sitting.

Happy Birthday to me!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Here's to almost a week of vacation!

And you can never again judge me for dressing up Milo since it's obviously not anything I wouldn't do myself.

Festive, personalized coffee. I enjoy the little things in life

Fire burn and cauldron bubble

Lots of toiling over the stove this weekend.

Along with the candied pecans and candied what-were-supposed-to-be-pecans-but-in-actuality-were-WALNUTS I made to take home for the holidays, Andy and I decided to risk injury and disaster by boiling sugar for cashew brittle.

After having an all-day bake-a-thon with some girls a couple weeks ago, I was searching for a homemade, sugary gift that wouldn't taste stale after two days. While perusing Orangette, I found a link to a cashew brittle recipe.

I was a little nervous cause I've heard making candy can be quite difficult with a high likelihood of molten lava sugar all over the kitchen (or worse, your hands).

To prepare, Andy stirred the sugar mixture in the largest pot we own, monitoring the temperature with our meat thermometer while I stood with oven mitts and the lid, ready to spring into action if needed.

It was a little hypnotic, staring at the boiling sugar for so long.

Because we were being so careful, I think we kept the heat too low for the first bit of boiling. It took an extra long time to caramelize and turn golden brown (it should take 10 minutes, ours took 20), but went a lot faster when we got more confident and cranked the burner up to high heat (still monitoring closely with the oven mitts, lid and thermometer).

I would have used a few less cashews, personally, but maybe that's because we evaporated a lot of the mixture from cooking the sugar so long.

My nut-loving family definitely won't be complaining though.

I'm a brittle lover, but this. Oh, this is good. Better than any store-bought or other homemade brittle I've ever had. Dangerously good.

With boiled, hardened sugar, I was worried clean-up would be too tough to face and I'd just wind up throwing away everything because of my aversion dishes and cleaning in general.

Using lightly buttered parchment paper and soaking the sugared pot made it so easy! No scrubbing required. This is definitely something that's now on the holiday noms radar.

Cashew Brittle from The Wednesday Chef
Makes 3.5 pounds

4 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1 1/4 cups water
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds salted, roasted cashews

1. Line two baking sheets with lightly buttered parchment paper or lightly coat the sheets with cooking spray. Do not use wax paper or plastic wrap.

2. Combine sugar, butter, corn syrup, and water in a large saucepan and stir together. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel turns a medium-golden color, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Carefully whisk in the baking soda and then the salt. The mixture will rise and bubble. Using a wooden or metal spoon, stir in the nuts, then immediately pour the brittle onto the prepared cookie sheets, using the back of the spoon to spread the brittle out. Allow the brittle to cool for a few minutes, then, using the sides of two forks, pull and stretch the edges of the brittle to create a thinner candy, about 3/8-inch thick.

3. Once brittle is completely cool, break it into bite-sized pieces using the back of a knife or your hands. The brittle can be stored at room temperature, in an airtight container, for up to two weeks.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Let me tell ya bout my best friend

Snow + Alcohol = Endless Fun

I finally found a way to embrace the snow. Since Jack Frost has held Chicago in an icy grip of death all weekend, I decided that the only way I could thaw my frozen heart was to remember why I used to like this kind of weather.

First, I love to watch Milo prance and hop around in the snow (video coming if I ever edit the 5+ minutes of footage I took the other morning). Second, I used to love playing in the snow and getting to stay home from school, holing up inside after freezing my fingers off creating snowballs, forts and other sculptural escapades.

My first reaction when I saw the snow smothering the streets of Chicago on Saturday evening (my birthday!) was lots of sighing and moaning. WHY TODAY? WHY more snow when I just finished digging out the backyard for Milo the day before? Why did I have to be born in winter?! What were my parents thinking?!?!

This was all THEIR FAULT!

Reason eventually crept back into the picture and I was determined to not let the blizzard ruin our dinner.

Andy checked the CTA bus tracker and saw that two buses were headed our way in 7 and 12 minutes respectively. The snow was still really coming down and Andy realized he'd had forgotten his hat in his other coat. Not wanting to miss the bus, he decided that it wasn't all that important since we'd be on the bus in ONLY SEVEN MINUTES, anyway. (Can you tell where this is going?) After 30 minutes at the bus stop, my resolve to make the best of things was crumbling faster than Britney's music career. I was teetering on the edge of a full-out tantrum.

This was Andy's fault! Why did he have to always be so early for everything? I bet he lied to me about what time the bus was coming! His head and torso are actually accumulating measurable inches of snow! Why didn't he just run back inside for his hat? He obviously knew we had the time since he lied to me about the stupid bus schedule!

At this point, we'd waited so long for the bus that I refused Andy's suggestion to "just take a cab". A cab! NO WAY! We have waited THIS long for a bus and we are NOT going to waste our time spent in the freezing cold by investing in an expensive cab ride!

(I was obviously thinking clearly and rationally.)

My fingers and toes were numb, my legs stiff with cold and Andy's naked head (!rage!) was soaked with melted snow. Defeated tears burned my frozen eyes, and I told Andy that I just wanted to go home. We had missed our fancy dinner reservation and still no bus in sight.

Back in the warm, sanity-restoring apartment, Andy tried to save the day by making new fancy dinner reservations for the next night.

It was then that I realized I was actually ruining my birthday for both of us.

This brings me back to how this long post started. Embracing the winter and finding the good in it. I decided that I didn't need a fancy dinner (though, oh boy, was it good), a surprise party or some secret, romantic plan to have a good birthday.

Instead, we built a snow turtle in the backyard, ordered pizza and holed up in the apartment, watching Arrested Development.

The original idea was to build a snowman, but the snow was too cold and wouldn't pack right, so we phoned it in with a turtle (this one's for you, Keith!).

There's no water in that bottle, I can assure you.

Milo helped while I made snow angels.

Andy showed the turtle who's boss.

I think the empty bottle of Delirium Noel (delicious!) might have had something to do with that picture.

Milo was not a fan of Sheldon other than his peppermint patty eyes. He circled while we built, looking for an opportunity to swoop in and end the turtle's life with one, steady stream of urine.

His need to make Sheldon disappear could be coming from the number of times we tried to make him ride the turtle for a picture.

He eventually gave in though he refused to look at the camera. (You could see his shame for us in his eyes, trust me.)

Um, yes, he's only wearing one boot. We are totally responsible pet owners.

Good drinks, good company, good pizza and Buster Bluth. That's about as happy as it gets.

More on the fancy dinner (with photos!) later.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Birthdays are Awesome

Best part of my birthday besides Montgomery Inn ribs and Graeter's ice cream? Presents!

I got a gift in the mail yesterday and made Milo model it so I could send a photo to the sender.

Only someone who knows me would realize this is not a present for Milo, but definitely the perfect gift for me.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Happy Friggin' Birthday

Screw the snow, Chicago blizzard winters, the lying CTA bus tracker, the missing of dinner reservations and cancellation of original birthday plans.

I'll make it a happy one anyway.

Thanks to all my beloved family and friends who called/emailed/texted/facebooked/etc. happy birthday wishes. I love you all!

Give 'em height to make 'em right

Because I have bangs now and I can. Because I miss using my curling iron as much as I did in the 80's. And maybe (re: mostly) because I had too much to drink tonight, this happened.

I'd also like to pat myself on the back for taking this post from concept to completion, while under the influence of multiple martinis, in under 20 minutes.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Best Birthday Gift EVAH!

I actually yelped and did a little happy dance when I found this by our door on Wednesday night.

I love they they include the small things to recreate the true experience (hot sauce, peppermint patties by every Skyline cash register, M.I. bibs, hand wipes, etc.).

I've already eaten half a pint of the black raspberry chip and the ribs are scheduled for Sunday.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Life before politics

Whew. Did it just get hot in here?

Found via Jezebel.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Better than carrying watermelons!

Can someone explain to me why I do not own this yet?

Now my childhood dreams can become reality. I hope Andy's ready to practice some lifts and dance across a river on a fallen log.

New computer, new problems

So I haven't posted an actual, bona fide blog post in awhile. (C'mon, we all know I totally mailed it in with that gingervitis thing.) I realize cute pictures of Milo can only get me so far.

It's not that I haven't had good ideas or events to diarize (wasn't sure if that was a word or not, but apparently, it is. Hooray!). I really have. I want to write about and post our Christmas tree decorating experience, the Sroufe Christmas in Chicago that took place this past weekend and especially the baking extravaganza that happened on Sunday afternoon and into the night.

My first excuse is that work has been really blah blah blah. I know you're already snoring at the work excuse, so I won't even go into it.

Second, Andy and I got our new laptop.

*Record player scccccrrrrrrrreeeeaaattcchh*

But Kristin! Wouldn't a laptop make blogging a lot easier for you? No more having to sit in the lonely, too-cold-in-the-winter and hot-in-the-summer guest room just to get a little internet access. You can watch tv and sit on the comfy couch while you do it!

One downside of laptop blogging is that I'm not allowed to drink liquids within 5 feet of Pooter (re: the laptop. If you haven't noticed, I like to name things.) because Andy's smart and knows me well. Drunk blogging is already off the table before I even had a chance to get it started.

Back to the lazy posting.

I blame Vista. And Picasa. And the stupid laptop touch pad that makes me feel like I'm editing photos left-handed.

I spent two hours organizing 30 photos last night (which I usually whip out in 10 minutes). I still didn't upload one of the albums I thought I did, so today, all you get is this.

Milo has Uggs! Or Muggs, if you prefer.

We bought the new boots because they're waterproof and because his old ones were so dirty and worn that I no longer wanted to touch them without haz-mat gloves. (Yes, we wash them, but some things can't be washed away, even with copious amounts of Tide.)

After the new boots' innaugural walk this morning, they're proving to have a few design flaws. The biggest one being that they don't stay on his paws.

I'm going to give them another chance tonight before we give up and build some sort of hamster bubble. If that venture fails, we're moving to where the snow can't find us.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Milo fights GIngervitis one child at a time

Does Milo love or hate the daywalkers? The world may never know.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Luckily he doesn't have to undress to pee

You haven't lived until you've tried to get a squirmy shih-tzu into a sweater and booties first thing in the morning.

If you think that's cute, you should see him try to walk in that get-up.

Possible future video in the making.