Painting Party

Continuing on with the posts about my birthday weekend, on the day after I turned a year older, we went to a local bar to learn how to paint a picture.

I wish I had taken more of the “during” photos, but here’s Dan and I with our finished works of art.

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I think it’s interesting that we started with the same landscape, the same sample painting (our teacher’s), and the same set of instructions, and we created two totally different paintings.

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It was fun, but I don’t think painting is my thing. I definitely had no idea what I was doing, and even got a little stressed when the instructor told us what to do next, and I had no idea how to attempt to execute the direction. Clouds are just not as easy as they look.

In the end, I would do a class like this again. It was a good thing to try something new, and going with your hubby or friends always makes an event more fun.

For now, until I figure out what we should do with them, our paintings are hanging out in the dining room on top of our bookcases.

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Perhaps we’ll take a poll to see which one’s better, and that one can have a more prominent spot in the apartment.

Making Macarons

As part of my birthday present, Dan signed us up for a truly unique class where we learned the real way to make french macarons.

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Yes, those little bite sized morsels of heaven were all made my Dan and yours truly. We had the best time.

Ever since I was at a party last winter, and tasted my first macaron (it was a vanilla one, if you were wondering), I wanted to try making them. Finally, I tried out a recipe I found online.

They did not come out awesome. Edible, yes. Even tasty, I’d say. But I knew they weren’t right. Just look at them.

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Now look at these gorgeous cookies.

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Totally different.

Five minutes into class, I already learned ten things I did wrong when making macarons at home. For starters, I just measured my ingredients using measuring cups. I learned that you always use a scale. Macarons are nothing if not persnickety. One wrong move and your whole batch is kaput!

In any case, we spent a few hours with a pastry chef learning everything from how to properly mix the batter to the amount of filling you should use before you sandwich two of the cookies together.

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I even dabbled a little bit in cookie painting, though these two Illini macarons showcase the extent of my talent.

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We ended up taking home a ton of macarons and I’m sorry to admit, we’re having problems finishing them all!

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I can’t let those guys go to waste. Looks like I have a goal for the weekend.

Thank you to Dan, for finding this class and giving me a wonderful surprise for my birthday.

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Patio Birthday Party

Monday was my birthday. We celebrated all weekend long.

Dan organized a lovely backyard party in my honor on Saturday night. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

He kept it simple with the decorations. He asked me to gather up all the candles and jars we had, to create a light and non-fussy atmosphere.

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I found clear containers, mason jars, and all of the citronella votives I had on hand. He spaced them around the table, stairs, and patio.

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He also used the patio lights that were already there – both around the railing and in the rafters of the pergola.

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For food, again he kept it simple and went with two different kinds of crostini – proscuitto and goat cheese and peach with bleu cheese. He grilled the baguette and peaches and let the crostini warm on the grill once they were assembled.

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To drink, we had sangria – both red and white.

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Making it was a breeze, and we were able to do it the night before to save some prep time on the day of the party.

The recipe:
2 bottles of wine (red or white)
Chopped fruit (apples, strawberries, peaches)
Splash of lemon lime pop (we used Sierra Mist Natural)

Just add all the ingredients together and let sit over night for best results. I thought we would need to add sugar, but it tasted great even without it.

For dessert, Dan truly outdid himself. He made homemade Italian Ice, following this recipe exactly,

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and Giada’s cranberry pound cake, minus the cream topping, using this recipe.

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I could not have been happier with the way everything turned out. Dan truly outdid himself, and I cannot thank him enough for putting this party together.

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I had a wonderful night filled with good friends, good food, and good wine. What more could I ask for?

Cropped

Not So Green Thumbed

This will be a quick post, because it was a failure.

I started out with these 5 succulent plants.

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I got them a while back at Home Depot, for around $2 a piece. I wanted to emulate some of the awesome terrariums I’ve been seeing in the blog world lately like this one

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or, dare I dream, these ones from CB2.

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Some mistakes were made on my part, like not transferring the plants for quite a while, and by the time they had spent a day or two in the glass container I put them in, they were dead.

I lived in denial for a couple weeks about it, but then leaves started to fall off the plants, and the parts of the succulents were very dry and brittle.

I dumped the plants and dirt in the garbage and resumed using the glass container as a candle holder on the coffee table.

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Oh well. At least I can say I tried.

Thrift Store Series – Cut N Seal

Usually, I share a craft I’ve made from some item I picked up at the thrift store. Not today.

I found this guy at the thrift store a little while back.

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It’s a food prep item. I usually steer clear of these in the thrift store because it kind of weird me out. I thought it was an interesting tool, so I decided to go for it. I must have hand washed it 10 times and run it through the dishwasher more than that.

I saw it was from Pampered Chef, so I thought it was a great find. When I got home, I googled it to see if I got a good deal. I definitely did.

I paid $0.45 for the Cut N Seal. Pampered Chef sells them for $9.50.

I was most surprised at this item’s versatility. I thought it was basically just a ravioli maker.

Apparently, other uses include sandwich maker (like those Uncrustables), tart maker, and even hand pie maker. I couldn’t believe it! I’ve been wanting these mini pie makers from Williams-Sonoma for quite a while.

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And I’ve loved this electronic mini pie maker too, but clearly wouldn’t buy it if nothing else because it’s another appliance I don’t have room for in my kitchen.

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My Cut N Seal can make mini pies that look almost identical!

Anyways, to start, I used the Cut N Seal this first time to make ravioli. Homemade pasta dough, homemade sauce, and homemade ravioli filling.

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I encountered some bumps along the way, like dough that stayed sticky and underestimating the time it takes to cook the pasta (fresh pasta is supposed to cook quickly!), but it was a good learning experience. Confession: I’ve never made my own homemade pasta sauce, or “gravy” as my family calls it. This time was a great start, and I took a lot of notes to improve it for the next time. They say every Italian woman has her own special recipe – no two sauces taste the same. Looks like I’m well on my way to having sauce that’s distinctly “Christina’s gravy.”

Eggplant Slice Mini Pizzas

I’ve been trying to incorporate more fruits and veggies into my diet, but I’m not really the steamed broccoli with dinner type. I mean, I’ll do it, but a healthier option would never be first choice. Kinda sad, isn’t it? Fries always beat out the “seasonal veggies” at restaurants. What can I say?

In my quest to eat more veggies, I found myself with an eggplant in the refrigerator. The only meal that comes to mind using eggplant is Eggplant Parmesan, and I’m pretty sure all that heavy sauce and gobs of cheese would negate the whole point of me eating an eggplant in the first place, so I opted against it.

I can’t completely cut cheese our of my diet though, so I improvised a little and made mini eggplant slice pizzas.

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It was pretty easy to make too. Here’s what you need:

1 eggplant
1 egg (lightly beaten)
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 jar of pre-made pizza sauce
1/2 cup skim mozzarella shredded cheese
Italian seasoning, to taste

I started by cutting the eggplant into large slices. I sprinkled some salt over them, waited about 10 minutes, then pressed down on them with a paper towel. It helps remove some of the excess water, which makes the mini pizzas not so soggy.

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Next, dip an eggplant slice in the egg. Cover both sides, then dip it in the breadcrumbs. Make sure to cover the eggplant slice the best you can. Place each on a foil covered (and cooking sprayed) baking sheet. Bake them plain for about 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees. You will want them to be soft enough to poke through with a fork.

When ready, take the slices out of the oven and add your toppings – sauce, cheese, seasoning, and everything else. We didn’t have much on hand, but use what you have: olives, pepperoni, mushrooms, artichokes, etc.

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To make them not as healthy, but very tasty, substitute goat cheese for the skim mozzarella. I had a bite of Dan’s made this way, and it was delicious.

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Thrift Store Series – Spray Painted Tray

I realized I hadn’t done a thrifting update in a while, so I thought I’d share this super simple upgrade.

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All we did (OK, all Dan did) was spray paint this tray. With all my crafting talents, spray painting is not one of them. Oh well.

I don’t have a before picture, but it was pure black when I bought it. I think it was $1.75 for a Crate and Barrel tray (the tag was still on it).

The black was fine, but I thought doing a two-tone tray to hold magazines and the remotes on the coffee would be nice.

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A few coats of ivy green on the outside and matte white on the inside was all it took. Oh yeah, and a clear protective coat all over to help prevent scratches too.

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We keep it in the living room, but we’ll still use it to carry food and drinks outside for parties or grilling.

 

Chicago Museums for Free

Free

In the past year or so, I’ve been to just about all of the Chicago museums for free. When we went to San Francisco, we visited MOMA and a couple others for free too. All that is required is a little planning and a little research.

To start, I have an account at Bank of America. Did you know that they run a Museums on Us program where the first weekend of each month, the participating museums offer free admission just for showing your Bank of America credit or debit card. This is on top of any free admission days the museums already have.  The museums that are in on this are: The Art Institute, Shedd Aquarium, Chicago History Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, and Adler Planetarium. Pretty good deal.

Also, as mentioned above, the Chicago museums all have days they are open to Illinois residents for free. Here’s a quick list of links to the museums’ free days for reference.

Free-pass

Museum of Science and Industry
Adler Planetarium
Shedd Aquarium
Chicago History Museum
Field Museum
Museum of Contemporary Art (they keep it simple – every Tuesday is free)
Art Institute
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (also simple, free every Thursday)

Keep in mind, these free days generally apply to Illinois residents only (which you have to prove) and any additional exhibits/shows are not included in free general admission.

Don’t forget, Lincoln Park Zoo is free everyday, for everyone.

Enjoy summer in the city!

Easy Enchiladas

This recipe came about for one reason: laziness.

It was late, I was tired, and I was hungry. I looked in my pantry and fridge, saw what I had, and made this.

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For something last minute, it was pretty tasty.

Ingredients:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 cans enchilada sauce (I used the El Paso Hot kind)
1 cup chopped baby spinach
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
8 flour tortillas
Seasonings: salt, pepper, taco seasoning, poultry seasoning

Start by seasoning the chicken with the poultry seasoning. I don’t care what you’re making, but if you’re grilling chicken, add poultry seasoning. Grill until the chicken is fully cooked, then cut/shred it into small pieces.

Put the chicken in a bowl, add the chopped spinach and half the cheese. Add salt, pepper, and taco seasoning to your taste. Add one can of the enchilada sauce and mix well. This is the enchilada filling.

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Take a tortilla, add the filling to it (don’t over-stuff like Dan does!), and roll in the outsides. Place each enchilada face down in a 9×13 bakeware pan sprayed with non stick spray.

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Once you have placed them all in the pan, pour the other can of sauce over all of the enchiladas. Sprinkle the remaining half of the cheese on top.

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Cook for about 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees. You’re only cooking it until it gets hot and the cheese melts. Once it’s done, serve with sour cream, guacamole, and tortilla chips.

For a variation, you could add a lot more to these enchiladas, if you have it. Some suggested additions: green pepper, jalapenos, green chiles, black olives.