Netflix and Chill(i): Spicy Brisket Chili

Slipper up, friends, it's almost the weekend. Hibernation is in full season, and this week's chili is perfect for a spicy night in.

Photo courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa

Photo courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa

As with all chilis, this is labor intensive on the chopping side, particularly if you buy a 4lb slab of brisket that needs to be cut into one inch cubes and looks alarmingly like a human organ. Aside from that, it's easy enough to throw things in the pot and let it simmer for a few glasses of wine... I mean, hours. 

I got the recipe from the queen herself, the Barefoot Contessa, so will link to the recipe below, but here are some tips from the test kitchen:

  • It will look like there is not enough liquid when you put it on the stove to simmer. A quick call to mom let me know that the beef will give off liquid as it cooks, and it did... of course, I had already added a can of tomato sauce, which didn't hurt but probably made it more of a soup and less of a stew. 
  • The brisket is delicious, but cost roughly one million dollars. I think you could sub in stew meat for significantly less money and only a little reduction in deliciousness. 
  • The fun part of chilis and paellas are that you can add whatever you want - as they say in Soul Cycle, it's YOUR RIDE. I added half a can of tomato paste, a can of tomato sauce and a dash (probably two to three teaspoons) of cocoa powder to channel the current mole trend. I thought about trying nutmeg, but I'm the kind of girl who knows when to say when. 
  • This is even better on the second day, which is good, because the recipe makes enough to serve a small village.

Try it here. 

Heartland Hygge: Design

As with most music, fashion and slang trends, the Danish concept of hygge hit the Midwest about a year after New Yorkers started stocking up on sweaters and wool socks. By the time I caught on, it was already in the subject line of at least 50% of my emails from Crate & Barrel, Williams Sonoma, Refinery 29, even Nordstrom. Related: I have an online shopping problem. 

Hygge is a Danish word used when acknowledging a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary as cosy, charming or special.
— Hygge House (hyggehouse.com)

I first heard about the concept comprised of intentional coziness when I read How to be Married last May. The author immersed herself in Dutch culture to figure out why they are so very happy and continuosly heard about hygge as the meaning of life... or something like that.

Though hygge is predominantly a feeling, creating it is - bear with me here - more than a feeling. Fostering hygge can be as simple as lighting candles or inviting a few friends over to open a bottle of wine and share a meal. In my case, I was on the cusp of moving and subsequently redecorating a house, so it can be as complicated as spending thousands buying furniture and accoutrements that invite people in and encourage them to stay. Here are some highlights from my newly hygge-d home.

Big:

Am I flying too close to the sun having a white chair in a coffee and red wine household? Of course I am! But it's the dreamiest place to read, relax or tell your friends not to sit only to have four of them pile in with various colored beverages in hand. Hygge! 

I couldn't walk away from the blue chair, a) because it's made by THE Donny Osmond, and b) because one reviewer said it is "literally so hard [she] fainted" and - as obvious based on white chair - I like to live on the edge. 

This rug took a lot of Googling to find. My style runs bohemian, but Lulu & Georgia has all kinds of prints for any type of hipster under the sun - Aztec, minimalist, you name it. 

Overall, texture was a deciding factor for me in choosing furniture. I already have a leather couch, so having different feels to the room was important. These are all slightly different, but there's not an uncomfortable seat in the house - even in the fainting chair. 

Medium

Small

People have legitimately chosen spouses with less drama and indecision than I had picking a pouf. In fairness, this one is back-ordered from Anthropologie until January, so I'm still eagerly anticipating being a pouf-friendly household, but I'm confident it will make my every dream come true. 

The bearskin rug was an impulse buy, but the perfect addition to the white chair and an antique table I inherited from my grandma. Having two entirely different rugs created the separation I was looking for in the massive, gorgeous, intimidating room that does triple duty as a living room, dining room and - with these two purchases - reading area. 

Collage3_Hygge.PNG

I have no links to offer you, because these are things I've accrued over the years. As a general rule, I have enough candles burning from dusk until bedtime that you could film a Meatloaf video or conduct a seance in my home. For adding small things to your home, the general rule is to surround yourself that will make you - and the people you welcome - feel relaxed, happy and comfortable in the space you've curated. 

Additional Shopping: 

  • Urban Outfitters - I know, I was skeptical too. But they have great home items, and you can online shop so as not to face the reality that you - really, we - are all ten years too old to be shopping there. 
  • Etsy - Because you can get literally anything. Be open to what you weren't looking for. Prepare for it to take a ridiculously long time to ship. 

Weekend Playlist: Friend-Sized Brunch

Most years, my friend Cara and I enjoy a Magnificent Road Trip to St. Paul for the absolute best party of the year - Sue Johnson's Girl Party (more on this in a future post). In order to maximize fall fun, we a) make lots of detours to scenic lookouts, breweries and cranberry bogs so that we are a minimum of six hours late, and b) create a magnificent road trip playlist.

Cara couldn't go this year, so we collaborated instead on a brunch playlist for a small, all-day get together I hosted a few weeks ago. It is magnificent, and I wanted you all to enjoy it for whatever friend-sized fun you get into this weekend. 

Vacation Outtakes: Just. Act. Natural

As a newbie to the whole blogging scene, I'm still getting the hang of taking a casual, relaxed, totally manufactured pictured. Most of my best iPhone photos come from bars where I have willing models or from photobooths, where everyone is Freddie Mercury, just waiting to show it. 

So needless to say, with my gorgeous, photogenic family as models a few weeks ago, there were a lot of hits... but more fun, a lot of misses. 

This series of photos will go down in history as the first of my album called "NO! Just. Act. Natural." Enjoy!

And to my left, you will see Lake Michigan (sister, Beth)

And to my left, you will see Lake Michigan (sister, Beth)

Yes, mysterious and perfect. (Niece, Anna (4))

Yes, mysterious and perfect. (Niece, Anna (4))

I  always  wear a sunhat in four foot waves... why do you ask?

I always wear a sunhat in four foot waves... why do you ask?

Why am I standing here???

Why am I standing here???

Tomato Season

How did it become August? The days still feel long, the sun is still hot, and I still feel that I should have Summer Fridays on principle. But alas, the last real Summer month is upon is. 

One of my favorite things about August, among many, is the level of perfection tomatoes grown in the Midwest reach. Growing up, neighbors would drop by with their bounty of beefsteak tomatoes and walk away with baskets of our cherry tomatoes. Everything sprouts at once. This is the season where your garden (if the bunnies and deer have held off) finally starts to yield massive, unbearable amounts of zucchini and juicy, flavorful tomatoes. I've always loved tomatoes - I mean, they're in pizza after all - but in August, I try to diversify the ways I use them. An out of season tomato needs some help to reach its potential, but right now? Pure culinary heaven. 

So every Wednesday in August, I'll be sharing a tomato recipe - either one of mine or from someone else who appreciates the fruit. To kick things off, I'm sharing a recipe from one of my personal heroes, despite her East Coast roots: Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. I made these tomato tarts for Mother's Day a few years ago and they were a complete hit. They're not low maintenance in the kitchen, but well worth a little elbow grease. 

Photo courtesy of Food Network

Photo courtesy of Food Network

Ingredients

  • 1 package puff pastry (I stick with Pepperidge Farms)
  • Olive oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons dry white wine (something you'd drink - go one shelf above the bottom)
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, plus 2 ounces shaved (find this in the fancy cheese aisle)
  • 4 ounces garlic-and-herb goat cheese (recommended: Boursain)
  • 1 large tomato, cut into four 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 3 tablespoons julienned basil leaves

Directions

Unfold a sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll it lightly to an 11 by 11-inch square. Using a 6-inch wide saucer or other round object as a guide, cut 2 circles from the sheet of puff pastry, discarding the scraps. Repeat with the second pastry sheet to make 4 circles in all. Place the pastry circles on 2 sheet pans lined with parchment paper and refrigerate until ready to use. 

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. 

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium to low heat and add the onions and garlic. Saute for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are limp and there is almost no moisture remaining in the skillet. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, the wine, and thyme and continue to cook for another 10 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned. Remove from the heat. 

Using a sharp paring knife, score a 1/4-inch-wide border around each pastry circle. Prick the pastry inside the score lines with the tines of a fork and sprinkle a tablespoon of grated Parmesan on each round, staying inside the scored border. 

Place 1/4 of the onion mixture on each circle, again staying within the scored edge. Crumble 1 ounce of goat cheese on top of the onions. Place a slice of tomato in the center of each tart. Brush the tomato lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with basil, salt, and pepper. Finally, scatter 4 or 5 shards of Parmesan on each tart. 

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. The bottom sheet pan may need an extra few minutes in the oven. Serve hot or warm.

2008, Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, All Rights Reserved

Hello, World!

Drink This: Greenbush Brewing Co., Sawyer, MI

Until 2011, Southwestern Michigan relied heavily on Bell's Oberon (another perfect Summer beer) to supply its pre- or post-beach beer buzzes. As the craft beer movement took hold, though, Greenbush Brewing Co. opened in the tiny town of Sawyer, MI located just off I-94. Since then, the company has expanded to take over at least half of Sawyer's small-but-quaint downtown with its original taproom, Annex (beer and merch), new diner and - for those willing to travel a mile or so - actual farm that produces the ingredients for their beer and runs a full farmer's market. 

Our family tradition is to stop by for an early lunch - because who doesn't want a few high octane beers with lunch? It started as a strategic move to beat out what are now insane crowds during peak lunchtime hours, but now has become a favorite activities. 

My mom and I will usually split a flight because, make no mistake, these are high octane beers and a flight includes six 6oz pours that will have you feeling no pain and taking a cab home. I went with the Dunegras, Traktor and Bride of Sharkman and ultimately left with a growler ($15) of Dunegras.

The original taproom had an assortment of snacks that I wouldn't write home about, but the dog days are definitely over on that front. Greenbush has become one of the places where you can confidently recommend anything on the menu and trust that you'll want a few bites of your neighbor's meal. We went with the Corned Beef Reuben, Paul's Meatballs (my favorite) and Brisket Mac & Cheese. In a family of clean plate clubbers, each of us took at least half home. 

Go: During off hours, or expect a wait - weekday lunches or early in the afternoons on Saturdays or Sundays. Off season also is easier, but not until off-off-season (November - April). 

Eat: Anything. The menu is also completely kid friendly and the mac & cheese is niece-approved. 

Travel: About an hour and 45 minutes from Chicago. 

While You're There: Check out the Sawyer Home & Garden Center next door for specialty foods and Michigan wine, as well as cute beach tzatzkes. Don't miss the public beaches in New Buffalo, Indiana Dunes or scenic bike trails every few miles. Check out the scenic overlook of the Galien River off of Route 12.

Beer, Brats, Battlestar Galactica

Backyard barbecues are the Summer of George equivalent to the organized, elegant dinner parties you throw (or plan to throw) during the Winter. And they’re better. Tables are nice, but it’s considered peculiar to wear denim cutoffs and a wet bathing suit to a dinner party. At a barbecue? That’s formalwear.

If you want to do it the Wisconsin way, which is a very good way, you need to learn the art of the beer-boiled brat. This is a Summer staple, but also a regular attendee at tailgates and Oktoberfests. Learn it now and love it forever.

Photo courtesy of Johnsonville

Photo courtesy of Johnsonville

There’s no magic to making these, only in experiencing them. Here’s how:

Ingredients:

  • Brats (I do one per female person, two per male person – though nothing but love and solidarity for the hungry gals out there)
  • Buns – some people are fresh roll purist, but I’ve never found anything I like more than cheap, generic hot dog buns. Make sure they’re big enough lengthwise for a good bread-to-brat ratio in each bite, but not so big that they overwhelm the main event.
  • Beer – pick a good, beer-y beer. I like Lakefront Brewery’s Wisconsinite or Leinenkugel’s Wisconsin Red Pale Ale. Purists swear by PBR. Purists are hipsters with ironic mustaches.
  • Onions – two, white, yellow or one of each.
  • Mustard – preferably brown or Dijon, though there ain’t nothing wrong with French’s yellow.
  • Butter

Start by putting the brats in the beer in a wide skillet. Pour in enough beer so that the brats are covered, but not completely drowning – we don’t waste beer in these parts, my friends. Cover, and bring to a boil.

While the brats are boiling, dice the onions to a length of your choosing – I like thin, long pieces, others prefer full rings or thicker, short pieces.

After 5 – 7 minutes, remove the brats from the boiling beer and set aside on a plate. Pour out ½ - ¾ of the beer, so that there’s enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Without removing from heat, add butter to the beer mix, and add the onions and some salt. Stir frequently until onions are soft and yellow or brown to your preference – you’re the boss of your onions.

Take the brats out to the grill, which you have obviously been heating up, and cook until you have your desired degree of char. The brats will be mostly cooked through from the boiling, so if you don’t like a charred brat, add a minute or two to the boiling time and throw in a warm oven while you cook the onions.

Q&A

What Kind of Brats Can I Use?

You’re an adult! You can choose whatever you like! But I prefer Nueske’s or Usingers if you’re in Wisconsin. If you’re not, as the Barefoot Contessa would say, “store-bought will do” (and I prefer Johnsonville).

Can I Use Cheddar Brats?

Of course. More cheese never makes anything worse.

Can I Put Ketchup on a Brat?

You’re an adult! You can! But it won’t be as good. I SAID MUSTARD.

Sauerkraut?

That’s not a question, that’s an answer. Swap for onions. You’re a real Wisconsinite now.

Spotify Summer Rewind

One of my top resume skills is creating Very Good Summer Playlists. It's an art and a science to teach Third Eye Blind, the Beach Boys and Bob Marley to sing in perfect harmony.

So, I was thrilled to log on to Spotify to see that they did some of the heavy lifting for me and created a playlist out of the songs I played most during past Summers. Dare I say that this is the ultimate Summer playlist?

Check out my playlist here, and comment to let me know what's missing!

Dancing in the Moonlight: Three Places You Should See Live Music This Summer

Let’s assume that you know about Ravinia (and already have tickets to Stevie Nicks’ September show, since she’s the greatest artist of all time), have seen DMB play Alpine Valley a couple hundred times and may even have been one of the 40,000 new best friends who sang along to “Jeremy” when Pearl Jam played Wrigley Field. Is there no new frontier for live music? Are you destined for a life of boredom?!

No! If you’re bored with live music in the Summer, surely you must be boring. But despite the amazing lineup coming to those venues, there are a few new frontiers worth exploring… if you’re open to a little exploring.

Naper Nights – Naperville, IL

Chicago-area readers likely have a pre-formed opinion about Naperville (some of which are not so Midwest Nice!), but may not have ventured west for Naper Nights. Set at the suburban town’s original outpost, Naper Settlement, this outdoor concert series takes place on the sprawling lawn and features cover bands of the rock greats. Having grown up in this small-town-turned-big-suburb, I remember Naper Settlement more as a place to learn about churning butter and look in awe at the very place where Abe Lincoln stood at Pre-Emption House, but I daresay this is almost as good as colonial johnnycakes.

At the June 17th show featuring the Neverly Brothers (time travel through rock and roll) and American English (spot on Beatles cover band), my mom, a lifelong Naperville resident, commented that this is one of the last great small town traditions in a suburb that now has an Anthropologie and a Restoration Hardware.

Upcoming shows I’m interested in include:

  • Journeyman (tribute to Eric Clapton) / The Pettybreakers – July 21
    •  Landslide (yes, yes, yessss) – August 18
      • Simply Billy (Joel, not Idol) / Bruce in the USA – August 19

Tickets are $15 per adult, and $65 for a two-person season pass (here).

From Chicago, the Metra train is a mile walk / five minute Uber from Naper Settlement. Stop for a night cap in Quigley’s, Jimmy’s or the timeless haunt of Napervillians since the settlemnet, The Lantern, for a pre- or post-show brew.

Indian Crossing Casino – Chain O’ Lakes, WI

I love this place so much that I almost don’t want to tell anyone about it, because once the world discovers the magic of dancing the night away in a hall dating back to July 4, 1925, the door cover will go up, the dance floor will be packed and there will be more than a two person line for Spotted Cow at the three well-equipped bars.

But I can’t keep this good of a thing to myself, so I will tell you, without hyperbole, that this is the best dancefloor in the Midwest. It balances a perfect “Up North” vibe with really, really good bands and a lively crowd that can – and will – dance if it wants to.

Located on the Chain O’ Lakes near Waupaca, Wisconsin, the headliner on any given night could be a local cover band or – as photographed here and badly over Memorial Day weekend – the Bodeans! If you’ve never seen a Wisconsin crowd give it up for The Bodeans, then your life is a shame.

Pull up on a boat. Get the cheese curds. Thank me later.

Upcoming Shows TBD, and door cover varies – usualy $5 – 15.

Waupaca is located “Up North” (~three hours north of Chicago, ~20 minutes west of Osh Kosh). There is plenty of parking at Indian Crossing, and quite a few boat slips in front. Stop on the way home for a Wheelhouse frozen pizza. 

Blossom Music Center – Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

If you haven’t had a reason to visit the greater Akron, Ohio area recently, here’s a good reason to change that. Admittedly, I’m yet to attend a concert here, but I first came across it when hiking at the lovely, scenic Cuyahoga Valley State Park during a work trip, and later saw it on the Dead & Company tour schedule. Despite my best attempts, I didn’t find a reason to mix a business trip with that particular pleasure (and am seeing them in Chicago that weekend), but I did add Blossom to the top of my list.

The venue, which sits on 250 acres, is as gorgeous from the pavilion seats as it is from the lawn. There are certain concerts that should only be seen while surrounded by wildflowers and “tall, meadow grasses,” and Blossom Music Center offers the opportunity to enjoy nature, convenience and a really, really good lineup of Summer performers all in one experience.

Upcoming Shows I’m Interested In:

  • Dead & Company – June 28
    • Korn – August 2
      • Outlaw Music Festival – September 15
        • Matchbox Twenty and the Counting Crows – September 20