“Chopped” Dinner Party

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Have you seen the TV show “Chopped” on the Food Network?? It’s absolutely one of my favorite shows to watch! The premise is four chefs compete against each other to create the best appetizer, entrée, and dessert using a basket of mystery ingredients before time runs out. At the start of each round, each chef receives 4 random ingredients that they must use, but they can also supplement with items from the pantry or refrigerator. It’s hysterical and exciting because the ingredients can be completely wild, like creating an appetizer from jumbo shrimp, chunky peanut butter, jalapeños, and sticky rice or a dessert using corn muffins, whiskey, macadamia nuts, and gummy bears – and time is very limited!

Last weekend, we created our very own “Chopped” competition at home. It was a total success! And so much fun! We convinced our two friends, Steve and Howard, to compete as chefs for an entrée round. My friend Abi and I dreamed up the mystery basket ingredients: pork loin, cauliflower, figs, and tortilla chips. We hoped the chips would be a wild card!Mystery Basket Ingredients

We also stocked up the pantry with staples that we thought the chefs might want to use. Here are some suggestions:

  • Grains/starches: rice, pasta, tortillas, quinoa
  • Fruits/Vegetables: carrots, salad greens, celery, lemons/limes, peppers
  • Canned items: diced tomatoes, beans, corn, broth
  • Aromatics/Herbs: onions, garlic, parsley, green onions, cilantro
  • We put the mystery ingredients into brown paper bags to present to the chefs at the same time. It was a suspenseful moment! Given my propensity for the dramatic, I loved making the official introductions and declaring the rules of the game :)

    Chopped Competition

    The chefs had 45 minutes to complete their entrée and plate their meal. It was fun to interview the chefs while cooking, just like Ted Allen does on the show, asking “Chef Steve, how do you feel about the tortilla chips in the basket?” or “Chef Howard, What are you going to do if you win the $10k?” Watching how they handled themselves in the kitchen was so entertaining – at times calm, at times completely focused and sweating!

    The entrees were unbelievable! We were all blown away by how delicious they tasted. Chef Steve (left) prepared “Roasted Pork Loin with a Fig Demi-Glaze and Roasted Cauliflower over a Tortilla Chip Coulis” and Chef Howard (right) prepared “Roasted Pork Loin over a Tortilla Chip, Cauliflower, and Potato Puree with Fig Relish”.

    The judges chose a Chopped Champion by rating each entrée on a scale of 1 to 5 in three categories: presentation, taste, and creativity. Then, we added up the points from all three categories to get a total score. In hindsight, for how beautiful their dishes turned out, I can’t believe I gave them paper plates for plating the photographed meal! LOLChopped CompetitionWant to try this out for yourself at home? The format could be so easily adaptable to fit your own Chopped party.

    • You could do a double date night where each couple brings a bag of mystery entree ingredients for the other couple to cook with.
    • Or, if you have multiple people wanting to compete, you could have two chefs compete in the appetizer round, two chefs compete in an entrée round, and two new chefs compete in the dessert round (being mindful that this scenario will create a LOT of dishes!).
    • This link lists all of the basket combinations seen on the TV show to give you ingredient ideas.
    • Depending on what kitchen equipment you have, you may ask guests to bring extra knives, pans, or whatever you need a second set of.
    • For our party, Abi and I provided the mystery ingredients and pantry items and then asked our guests to bring wine, appetizers, sides, and desserts…and champagne – because Abi and Chef Steve had just gotten engaged in Malibu the weekend before!!!

Engagement Hike

If you’re looking for more ideas, here’s another version of a Chopped party at home.

Let me know if you throw your own Chopped challenge!

The Lead-Up To Our Wedding

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6 MONTHS (and 2 days) ago, Andrew and I had the best weekend of our lives…We knew that 1 day of wedding celebration wasn’t going to be enough, so we planned 4 days of activities – which all ended up being as much fun as the actual wedding itself! Since Andrew’s family drove in from Ohio and a majority of our friends flew in from California, we wanted to show them a good time…especially since I’m always boasting that Milwaukee is the greatest city ever :)

We kicked off Thursday night before the wedding with a Wisconsin/Ohio State tailgate at my parents’ house with our wedding party and families. I am a Badger and Andrew is a very proud Buckeye, so my mom and dad made us this football to represent the joining of teams:Wedding Football

We aimed to give everyone a taste of Wisconsin with grilled brats, cheese curds, Spotted Cow beer and Sprecher root beer floats with Kopp’s custard. It was such an exciting night to welcome all of our best friends to town and kick-off the wedding celebration!Wedding Tailgate

I absolutely loved sitting around the campfire after dinner with our wedding party, talking late into the night. My mom started a “game” where she passed a candle around the circle and when the candle came to you, the floor was yours to say anything you wanted. It turned into a bit of a roast session, with people telling some hysterical stories about Andrew and I…At this point, I keep thinking “I can’t believe our wedding weekend has arrived!”

Wedding TailgateFriday morning, after getting our nails done, the girls headed off to a gorgeous bridal luncheon with my best girlfriends and all of the “moms” I grew up with. It was so beautiful! The lunch was such a special time for me to get to thank all of the women who have been so important to me over the years with stories about them and gifts wrapped in gold sparkles!

Then, we were off to join the boys and everyone else who was already in town for the wedding at Sprecher Brewery, to sample their great beers and amazing homemade sodas. They gave us a private tour, which ended in the sampling room.Sprecher Brewery Tour

And before we knew it, we were in the church for the rehearsal! This moment on the alter certainly made it all feel very real.Wedding Rehearsal

After we all learned where to stand for the ceremony, we headed downtown for our rehearsal dinner at Trocadero in their private garden room. It was so beautiful and open in the 70 degree weather we had that weekend!Rehearsal DinnerDuring dinner, Andrew and I got up to share a funny story about each person in our wedding party and give them a silly gift to go with the story. Andrew had us all cracking up, talking about the night he played my brother in flip cup for my hand in marriage. He gave Mike a reusable Solo cup to remember that game.Rehearsal Dinner

Afterwards, we all went upstairs to the Red Star bar to join the rest of our wedding guests who were in town. It was an unbelievable sensation to have the entire bar full of people that I love! I kept bouncing from group to group overwhelmed by who to talk to next!IMG_6044

When our 11pm curfew arrived, Andrew and I kissed goodnight and the bar erupted in cheers. It was such a cool and exciting moment. I was instantly full of tears from all of the emotions! I had just had the best night of my entire life. And I knew that somehow Saturday was going to  be even better! Our last picture together before meeting at the alter…IMG_442634540

**Thank you Bill Krugler, our close family friend and reader in our ceremony, for taking all of the great pictures in this post. I’m grateful that you captured all of these moments!

To see more of our wedding details, you can find more posts I’ve written here!

We’re Moving to Toronto!

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It’s official – Andrew and I are moving to Toronto! After 6 months of waiting, we finally got our work visas. Considering that we have only been in the same city a total of 8 weeks since getting married in September (Andrew living and working in Toronto, me living in New Orleans, working in Los Angeles, and visiting Toronto), this is exciting for a lot of reasons! Mainly, we are finally going to be able to answer the question “what’s married life like?”!!Canadian Visa

We spent an entire weekend searching for apartments, trying to find the right fit for us. We want to give this whole big city lifestyle a try, although I started to hyperventilate a bit when I saw how small these kitchens are…But we found this place downtown, that makes me feel so urban and cool! So okay, maybe I can slim down my kitchen equipment, part with my popcorn maker, Panini press , toaster…in exchange for floor to ceiling windows and living in the middle of the action!Toronto Apartment

This past month, New Orleans was absolutely electric in anticipation of Mardi Gras!! You could feel the excitement in the air. I was like a little kid cheering and catching candy from the 4th of July floats, only this time I had a margarita in one hand while trying to catch beads with the other :)Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street

I LOVED the marching bands and the illuminated floats in the night parades.

Mardi Gras Parade Float

Needless to say, February has been an action-packed month!! We are busy getting ready for the move across the border and trying to soak in as much of New Orleans as possible these last few days!

Favorite meal cooked in February: Turkey Chili – an old recipe that hit the spot in Toronto’s frigid temps (and it’s SO easy and SO healthy)

Favorite cocktail in February: I can’t get enough of these Blood Orange Margaritas!Blood Orange Margaritas

Laughed the hardest in February: playing Fishbowl with friends, but this time with a twist! We added two new rounds that had me on the ground dying laughing. See the original rules here, to which we added a 4th round, where the person has to act out a word under a bed sheet, and a 5th round, where the person can only use sound effects to get their team to guess the word.Fishbowl Game

Blood Orange Margaritas

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Blood oranges are currently in season so I’ve been doing a little experimenting…and I have found my new favorite cocktail!! I can’t believe it, but I love these even more than my favorite basic fresh margarita!  Blood oranges are so sweet and delicious right now – and so pretty.Blood Oranges

You’ll want to make sure you have a good juicer, like this one, to juice your oranges (and limes). Andrew and I are crazy about this industrial juicer a friend gave us for our wedding – we take our cocktail making seriously :) I’m also enjoying this little mini measuring cup to measure ounces.Blood Orange Margaritas

I can’t tell you how delicious these are!! You just have to try one. I made these for my Valentine on Saturday – they are the perfect pink color.Blood Orange MargaritasBlood Orange Margarita

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces tequila
  • 1 ounce Triple Sec (or other orange liqueur such as Cointreau)
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 2 ounces blood orange juice
  • ice (I think crushed ice is best)
  • Kosher salt for rim of glass

Directions:

Salt the rim of your glass using the pictured instructions in this post. Make sure to do this before adding ice to the glass, otherwise the water from the ice will cause the salt to clump.

In a cocktail shaker, combine tequila, Triple Sec, lime juice, and blood orange juice. Add a large handful of ice and shake for a good 30 seconds to make sure it’s chilled and refreshing!

Pour into the glass, add more ice if needed, and garnish with a thin slice of blood orange if you want to be fancy. Serve immediately. (If you want to make these ahead of time, store in the fridge without any ice. Add ice when serving.)

**If you are using a shot glass or want to scale this recipe, just make sure you use 2 parts tequila, 1 part Triple Sec, 1 part lime juice, and 2 parts blood orange juice.

January Review

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After a white Christmas with my family in northern Wisconsin, full of lots of fun in the snow…

Andrew, my sister, and I flew down to New Orleans to ring in the new year. We had a blast on Bourbon Street – which I’ve never seen so packed! (Although that statement may change in a few weeks when I get to experience a little party they call Mardi Gras.) Bourbon Street on New Years EveAndrew would be upset if I failed to mention that we celebrated The Ohio State winning the Sugar Bowl January 1s…which our friend Ty claimed as “the best day of his entire life”. He’s a passionate fan…Sugar Bowl 2015After being on the road for most of December, it was great to be home in NOLA for two weeks. I love nothing more than spending an afternoon riding my bike around the French Quarter and stopping to listen to all of the different street musicians.French Quarter Music Then, I was off to visit Andrew in Toronto for a week, where I realize now that I didn’t take a single picture to share. Probably because it was too dang cold to get my phone out! This is me, severely over-dressed for the New Orleans airport, but somehow still unprepared for stepping off the plane onto the Toronto runway.

Winter Clothes

While I was up there, Andrew lost his wedding ring at the gym – I guess I should have let him get the $9.99 ring from the Wet’n’Wild Orlando water park that he wanted! 4 months ago there were three wedding rings, and now there are two…that was short-lived! Wedding RingsFrom Toronto, I went to Tampa, Florida for a few work days, then ended the month here in LA for work and stayed to spend time in my old neighborhood, Manhattan Beach, with some of my best girlfriends.Hermosa Beach

In the month of January…

Favorite meal I cooked: these Pulled Pork Tacos with Sweet Chili Slaw were incredibly delicious

Favorite movie I watched: Chef was a great feel-good kind of movie about a guy starting up a food truck

Song I’ve had on repeat: Vance Joy – Riptide

If you like that song, then here’s his other song I love – Mess Is Mine 

January was a great start to the year…and can’t believe that it’s somehow February already!! Time for the month of LOVE! Here’s a cute idea for Valentine’s that I made a few years ago :)

Stocking Stuffer Gifts 2014

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Christmas is almost here! I can’t even believe it! I’ve had Pentatonix on repeat this weekend, which is totally getting me into the holiday spirit. I’m currently home for 5 days between Thanksgiving and New Years, so I’m soaking in the decorating Andrew and I did back in the beginning of November.Christmas Decorations

A few years ago, I started making Christmas stockings for my mom, dad, and Andrew because I have so much fun finding little gifts to put inside. Here are some of my favorite things from this year that I would love to find in a stocking:

Teeny Bud Vase: I am in love with these adorable little vases! They are so cute with a single stem flower. I think the teardrop shape of this one in particular is so beautiful. Whenever I come home to visit, my mom always has a little vase like this with a few flowers in it on my bedside table – it’s really sweet! I currently have one for each bedside table in our apartment, but I want to get more to use for setting our kitchen table.Teeny Bud VaseLuggage Scale: This little gadget has been my best friend for all of the travel I’ve been doing over the last year – it prevents that awful scene at the airport of pulling things out of your suitcase at the check-in counter to get under 50 pounds. With this, you can weigh your suitcase at home and make sure you are under the limit. I have gotten a lot of comments by the check-in agents about hitting the 50lb weight limit exactly – little do they know that’s exactly what I planned for!

Luggage Scale - Stocking StufferNon-stick Baking Mats and Maldon Sea Salt Flakes: We just recently got these baking slip sheets and I have loved  making cookies with them – no sticking and such a breeze to wipe down after. And if you are going to be baking cookies, then you need a little sea salt to sprinkle on top. Maldon is a “finishing salt” for sprinkling on cookies right after baking. The salt crystals will stay flakey and crisp without melting into the cookie. It also works deliciously well for sprinkling on roasted vegetables or meat right before serving. Maldon is flakier than kosher salt (which is best sprinkled on vegetables and meat before cooking. Or rimming a margarita glass, of course :)

Baking Slip Sheet and Maldon Sea Salt Flakes

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? – This is my favorite book that I’ve read this year! It was SO entertaining! Bernadette is a mom to a 15-year-old daughter and wife to a Microsoft guru and has developed such distaste of Seattle that she disappears. The commentary on her life in Seattle was hysterical to me, even though I’ve never been to the city. I tried explaining the plot to my dad and it didn’t really excite him – but to be fair, he’s not the target audience. So for the men in your life, try Unbroken. It’s an incredible story and the movie is about to come out! But all you ladies: please read about Bernadette!Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Silicone Spatula – I use a silicone spatula just about every day. When I learned to use one of these to make scrambled eggs, it was a game changer. I swear. So much easier to scoop the eggs around in the pan. It’s also great for sautéing veggies, making stir fries, stirring dough, just about everything! Everyone should have one of these in their kitchen. Get It Right spatulas are made of silicone so won’t melt if you accidently leave it in the pan while cooking. They are strong and made of one piece so they won’t break with a tough dough. Plus, they come in a ton of fun colors!Get It Right Spatula

Do you need an idea for a white elephant gift? How about this inflatable moose head?? I think he is hysterical! Andrew and I got one for our apartment after we saw our friend Ty hang this moose up with his Christmas decorations. I seriously smile every time I look up at him. We got one for my mom and I think she did a great job accessorizing her moose for Christmas:Inflatable Moose Head

I hope this list gives you some ideas for how to stuff your own stockings this year! You can also see my lists from Stocking Stuffers 2013 and Stocking Stuffers 2012 for more ideas. Happy holidays!!

Wedding Invitation Ornament

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I am crazy about these ornaments! I started making them this year for my just-married friends and they’ve been a big hit! I think it’s such a special way to re-purpose a beautiful wedding invitation so that it gets brought out for decoration every year around the holidays.Wedding Invitation Ornament

These ornaments are actually pretty easy to do. Start by cutting the invitation into thins strips, trying to capture the wording as best you can. The thinner strips will curl better, so sometimes larger names on an invitation can be hard. This is where you can get creative by cutting strips out of any paper from the wedding such as the ceremony program, a shower invite, save the date card, envelope lining, or whatever else would look pretty!Wedding Invitation Ornament

Then, wrap each of the strips very tightly around a pen or pencil and hold for a few seconds. Once it slides off the pen, the paper should maintain its curl. Depending on the cardstock, some invitations will hold the curl better than others.Wedding Invitation Ornament

Slide all of the curls into the top of the ornament (I ordered from amazon), making sure to first include the strips with the most important wording like the couple’s names, location, date, etc. When the ball is full, put the top back on and tie a ribbon around it. To make it a little easier to keep the ribbon in place, you can use a drop of glue and let it dry before you tie the knot.You may want to wait until after the wedding to make the ornament so that you can match the ribbon to the colors of their day.Wedding Invitation OrnamentAnd it’s as simple as that!Wedding Invitation Ornament

Have you saved anyone’s wedding invites from this year? Or possibly your own?? I think this makes a great Christmas or anniversary gift! I can’t wait to do it with our own wedding invite and make separate ornaments with the invites from the beautiful showers our friends threw for us!Wedding Invitation Ornament