How To Host A Spring Brunch

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Spring has arrived and it is time to celebrate! Whether you are planning a birthday party, a baby shower, or Mother’s Day brunch with family, these tips will show you have you don’t have to break the bank – or spend lots of time in the kitchen to create a memorable meal and event. The cost for this brunch, including decorations was under $75. The recipes can be accomplished with basic cooking skills, and they don’t require many ingredients. Fear not – your guests will be so impressed they will never suspect how easy it was to prepare this party!

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Less is more when you have beautiful and vibrantly colored food. We chose flowers as our centerpiece and a couple of additional items that coincided with the colors of the flowers we chose. It helps tie everything back together! We spent only $20 on decorations, proving you can throw a beautiful party on a budget!

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Choosing a color scheme with a variety of bright colors meant that we could mix and match platters and decorations we already had with some that we purchased for the brunch.

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It’s the little things at a brunch that make the biggest difference! These striped napkins add another color to our palette and brought out the colors of the sprinkles that we placed them by.

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The easiest way to draw attention to your table is to choose a beautiful bouquet of flowers as the centerpiece. It’s quick and easy and will make the room smell incredible with your food.

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We chose some cobalt blue patterned dishes to add another pop of color. Mixing and matching dishes is a way to keep things fun without being too formal.

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Pour juice into a pitcher to dress it up a bit. We picked up a pitcher at our grocery store for just a few dollars and will be able to reuse it for future parties.

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We placed each dish in it’s own corner of the table with a good amount of space in between so that guests could help themselves without bumping into one another. Small dishes are great for serving syrups and dressings so that you don’t have to set the bottles out.

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If you don’t have time to make individual place cards for the food and can use butcher paper like we did, the paper serves as the perfect background for your food labels. You can use combinations of cursive, lowercase and capital letters to create more interesting labels all with a Sharpie or permanent marker. Use arrows pointing toward your dish to add an additional fun touch.

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Before your guests arrive, place all dishes that can be served at room temperature out on your table. For dishes that need to be served warm, arrange them on oven-safe serving platters so you can keep them warm in your oven and then take them straight to the table when you are ready to serve brunch.

Want the recipes? Check back tomorrow!

This post was originally published on Coca-Cola Journey in collaboration with Christine from The View from 5ft2.

Discovering Chicago with Sosh

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We have all been there. That Friday at 6pm conversation you have with your significant other that goes something like this:

- “Let’s do something tonight!”
- “Sure! What do you want to do?”
- “I don’t know; what do you want to do?”

Enter Sosh, a new website and mobile app that makes planning your free time a whole lot easier – and ends these annoying conversations once and for all.

Sosh presents a curated list of things to do in Chicago (and beyond), and offers recommendations based on the user’s preferences, the time of day, and the weather. You can find things to do by seeing what is nearby, or browsing the categories, which include: dinner options, listings of museum exhibits, concerts, bar recommendations, classes and lectures, and more.

Sosh asked me to test out their app, and I am always willing to test out anything that helps me organize my hectic life. So last Friday, when I got home from work, instead of trying to brainstorm ideas when I was exhausted, I simply opened up my laptop, pulled up Sosh, and told my husband that pick out something to do while I got ready. It was a sunny evening, so Charles picked a bar nearby that I hadn’t been to, so we could enjoy drinks on the patio.

Once we were out the door we realized that while it was sunny, it was only about 45 degrees. The patio was a no-go, but that wasn’t a problem. We pulled up the Sosh app on my iPhone and decided to check out Gallery Bar. We had walked by Gallery Bar dozens of times, and never noticed it.

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As the name suggests, Gallery Bar is part gallery and part bar – it has a restaurant too. It is located on the second floor of 738 North Clark (which is why we hadn’t noticed it before) and the stairwell leading up to the bar/restaurant/gallery is covered in graffiti, immediately setting the tone. Gallery Bar itself has a mix of graffiti walls, and art covered white walls. The exhibits rotate, just as they would in an art gallery. We grabbed seats at the bar, sipped wine, admired the artwork, and chatted with Kelly, the friendly bartender. It was a great start to our evening.

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It turned out that Gallery Bar is right by our favorite Thai place, Panang, and since we hadn’t eaten dinner yet, we stopped in. After we ate, we pulled up Sosh to see where we should go next. We wanted to go to another place that neither of us had visited before, so we picked Three Dots and A Dash, a tiki lounge hidden underneath Bub City and only accessible via an alleyway.

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Three Dots and a Dash is the perfect hangout for Charles and me. Why? When you tell me that a bar marked with only a blue light, in an alley, and in a basement I am sold. I love anything that is a secret. Charles loves trendy bars with great cocktails. To enter Three Dots and a Dash you walk down a dark staircase lined with skulls. The bar is housed in a grass tiki hut where rum cocktails are served up in tiki mugs with umbrellas. This bar is completely different from other Chicago bars and we loved the atmosphere and the drinks. Charles loved Three Dots and a Dash so much that he returned the next night with his guy friends. Something tells me that we might become regulars.

After a fun night out, Charles and I decided that we give Sosh a thumbs-up! We felt like Sosh was leading us on a fun adventure that we didn’t have to plan, and we discovered two new bars right in our neighborhood. If you want to see what I am up to, you can follow me on Sosh. Sosh is free and available for iPhone. Sosh is currently available in Chicago, Washington DC, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.

This post was sponsored by Sosh, but the opinions expressed are my own.

Gluten-Free Bacon Pancakes

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Charles and I are a child-free couple that lives thousands of miles from our families. This means that on Easter, we don’t have to do anything or go anywhere. And we were pretty excited about that. We kicked things off with a fun breakfast at home. I had made omelets the day before, so I mixed things up a little with these gluten- free bacon pancakes. Originally I was going to make Paleo Pancakes, but I brought all the honey to my office when I was sick and I really didn’t want to change out of my pjs and to go across the street to retrieve it. So instead of Paleo Pancakes, I made gluten-free pancakes with almond flour and milk.

First I crisped up some bacon, and then I placed a slice of bacon in the middle of eat pancake. Charles claims to not like pancakes, but he definitely had seconds of these pancakes. This breakfast was the start of a really fun Easter. It turns out that downtown Chicago is deserted on Easter! We went to the movies and then browsed around a nearly empty Eataly. I hope that you had a lovely Easter too.

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Total Time: 25 minutes
Serves: 2

You will need:
4 slices of Bacon
1  3/4 cups Almond Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Egg
1/2 teaspoon Salt
3/4 cup Milk
1 teaspoon Vanilla

Serve with Maple Syrup

Step 1:
Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut the slices of bacon in half. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread the bacon out in a single layer. Bake for 10 minutes. Then blot with a paper towel.

Step 2:
While the bacon is cooking, make the batter. I used a blender to mix up the batter, but I don’t think it was really necessary. You could easily mix this batter in a bowl. Combine the almond flour, egg, salt, milk, and vanilla. Mix until smooth.

Step 3:
Melt 1/2 tablespoon butter in a skillet or on a griddle heated over medium heat. Then pour batter into the skillet until it is about 4 inches in diameter. Then lay a piece of bacon across the middle. Pour more batter over the bacon to keep it in place. Repeat until your pan is full. Flip the pancakes once they first side is golden brown, this will take about 3 minutes. Then add more butter to the pan and brown the second side. This will take about 2 minutes. Repeat until you have used up all of the batter. Serve with maple syrup.

A Charitable Confection

What are you up to on Friday night? Well, my friend Jocelyn is throwing quite the party. A Charitable Confection is a dessert and cocktail party, and all the proceeds benefit Project Orange Tree. Project Orange Tree is a charity that  is focused on getting teens involved in planting community gardens in Chicago. This promotes non-violence and brings food to Chicago’s food desserts.

I am certain that A Charitable Confection will be a fantastic event, and I am definitely looking forward to it. I love seeing my blogger friends give back to the community! Need a ticket? They are available here.

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7 Ways To Serve Leftover Ham

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Last year I hosted Easter dinner for my friend-family, and since buying a small ham wasn’t exactly possible at my grocery store, I ended up with over 5 pounds of leftover ham. Unwilling to waste food, I came up with lots of creative ways to repurpose my leftover ham. With Easter on Sunday, I am guessing that some of my readers might have some leftover ham in the fridge next week. Here are seven fun ways to make new meals with your leftovers.

For Breakfast:

Make Baked Scrambled Eggs with Ham, Tomato, Artichoke, and Swiss – this is a very easy dish with little prep time. You can make a big batch and have breakfast ready for the entire week.

For Brunch:

Last year I made meals with leftover ham from a week straight. This Monte Cristo was my absolute favorite. It could be served any time of the day, but it does make a great brunch.

For Lunch:

Ham and Swiss Macaroni and Cheese is a great twist on macaroni and cheese. You could even add broccoli or other vegetables into this dish.

If you want to pack lunches for the family, try Ham Swiss and Mustard on a Pretzel Roll.

For Dinner:

Linguine with Ham and Asparagus in a Mascarpone Sauce is an easy recipe that gets dinner to the table is just 20 minutes.

If you want Pizza:

Try this Ham, Spinach, and Artichoke Pizza which is probably one of the best pizza’s I have ever made. It was basically spinach artichoke dip, ham, and pizza combined.

Or, Hawaiian Pizza - you could even grill the pineapple if you want to get fancy.

I hope that everyone has a wonderful Easter! If you happen to be hosting an Easter brunch, you may want to check out this brunch post I wrote with my friend Christine for Coca-Cola.

Chicago Restaurant Spotlight: Flo

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Spring arrived in Chicago on Saturday (and then promptly left again, but that is another story). Saturday was a sunny 70 degree day, so instead of lounging around at home cooking breakfast in my pajamas, we decided to go out for brunch. Charles suggested that we go to Flo, a Mexican restaurant in West Town, where we went on one of our first dates. We hadn’t been to Flo in years – it somehow slipped off of our radar; finally returning an old date spot was a special treat.

Flo was just as we remembered it. It is a casual restaurant with a laid back vibe. There is usually a crowd of people waiting outside for tables. Free coffee is available while you wait, giving diners an extra incentive to patiently wait for a table. It was such a nice day that the wait flew right by.

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The menu has several different breakfast cocktails, but I went for a mimosa since it sounded refreshing. We shared the chips and guacamole to start, because when you have brunch after noon, ordering an appetizer just makes sense. The chips are freshly made in house, and the guacamole is full of big chunks of avocado.

I had the huevos rancheros, while Charles had a gigantic Smothered Ranchero Burrito with potatoes. I love the simplicity of huevos rancheros. In it’s most basic form, huevos ranchers consists of tortillas, red chili sauce, black beans, and fried eggs. Often the dish incorporates rice, cheese, and/or guacamole. At Flo the huevos rancheros begins with cheese stuffed tortillas, which are smothered with red chili sauce, and then topped with fried eggs with runny yolks. Black beans, pico de gallo, and extra tortillas are served on the side. This is the ultimate breakfast (especially if you indulged in a few beverages the night before) – it is cheesy, spicy, and packed with protein.

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I will admit to reaching across the table several times to steal potatoes off Charles’s plate. The Smothered Ranchero Burrito was a lot of food. It was stuffed with eggs, beef, black beans, cheese, pico de gallo and sour cream. The entire thing was smothered in red chili sauce. Charles must have been hungry, and this burrito must have been good because Charles quickly devoured every bite.

I am sure we won’t be waiting long before we return to Flo’s again. It is a fun and reasonably priced place for brunch. It is a little out of the way just because there isn’t much happening on that section of Chicago Ave, but it is easily accessible from the 66 bus.

Flo’s is located at 1434 West Chicago Avenue. They do not take reservations.

Sunny Side Up Egg on a Portabella Mushroom with Goat Cheese and Avocado

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I love making breakfast on the weekends. Often my weekend breakfasts are inspired by whatever is left in the fridge at the end of the week. Last weekend the leftover ingredients in my fridge inspired this breakfast, a sunny side up egg served on a roasted portabella mushroom with goat cheese and avocado. The goat cheese and avocado add creaminess to this meal, and they compliment the flavor of the runny egg yolk.

You could serve this meal over toast instead of on a portabella mushroom, but I think that a mushroom is a healthy and hearty alternative to bread. I was the only one home when I made this breakfast, but it could easily be made for multiple people without much additional effort. If you are feeling extra hungry, you could add another egg on top, or add an english muffin and turn this into a giant egg sandwich.

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For each serving, you will need:

1 Portabella Mushroom
1 Egg
1 slice of Lemon
1 1/2 tablespoons Goat Cheese
1 teaspoon Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
3 slices of Avocado

Step 1:
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place the mushroom on a baking sheet, inside facing up. Drizzle the olive oil over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Then squeeze the slice of lemon over. Place in the oven.

Step 2:
After the mushroom has cooked for 10 minutes, fry the egg. To make a sunny side up egg, heat a skillet over high heat. Crack the egg into the pan, and reduce heat to medium. Cook egg for 2 minutes, then cover and cook for one more minute. The goal is for the white of the egg to be completely cooked, and for the yolk to be soft. If you prefer a less runny yolk, flip the egg over and cook for about 30 seconds.

Step 3:
Remove the mushroom from the oven. Then spread the goat cheese and the avocado over. Top with the egg. Serve immediately.

Paleo Meals by The Kittchen Available from Relished Foods

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I am excited to announce that I am creating Paleo meals for Relished Foods! Relished Foods takes the guess work out of cooking. They deliver portioned ingredients and recipes straight to your doorstep. You shop their menus online, and the ingredients for each meal are separately packaged and labeled. The meals take 20-40 minutes to prepare. Relished Foods provides customers with a fast and easy way to make a home cooked meal. They post the nutritional information with the menus, making it easy to stick to a diet.

I am focusing on creating Paleo recipes for Relished Foods. Paleo meals are all dairy-free and gluten-free. Expect meals with lean proteins and lots of vegetables, that are full of flavor and fun to prepare. If you are vegan, my lovely friend Ashlee of The Lil Foxes is creating vegan meals.

Want to try Relished? Use the discount code “TheKittchen” for 60% off your first order! Relished Foods delivers to over half the states in the U.S. – which means you can take advantage of this service – and discount even if you aren’t in Chicago.

Blaze Pizza

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What if a pizza place and Chipotle were combined? That combination would be Blaze Pizza, a pizza joint that offers guests with a Chipotle style choose your own topping experience. On Wednesday night Blaze Pizza generously hosted the Windy City Blogger Collective for a pizza party, where we got to try out this new type of pizza parlor.

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Want to see a bunch of grown women act like kids? Dress them up in a uniform, send them behind the counter, and let them create their own pizzas. I was so excited about this, it was almost embarrassing.

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I decided to make a pizza with a white sauce, spinach, artichoke, tomatoes, bacon, caramelized onions, mozzarella, and ricotta. It got a little messy since I put so many toppings on it. I loved the thin crispy crust and the quality of the ingredients. Everyone’s pizzas were complete different, which demonstrated how many toppings are offered at Blaze. If you don’t want to go through the effort of creating you own ‘za, you can simply order off the menu.

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Once the pizzas are covered with the toppings of your choice, they immediately go into the pizza oven for about 3 minutes. Build your own pizza is a really fun fast casual restaurant idea, and I think it is an idea that will be taking off.

Not pictured was the individual sized s’mores cookie sandwiches that were passed around. I loved this so much that I might have immediately eaten my s’more despite the fact I was really full. (don’t judge).

Huge thanks go out to Blaze Pizza for hosting the Windy City Blogger Collective and for showing us such a fun time. Blaze is located on Belmont, just next to the Brown/Red/Purple lime Belmost stop. Blaze is a great place to grab a quick bite or to pick up take out.

Five Food Blogs to Follow

I am still playing catch up after being in Kansas City all weekend. Today in leu of sharing a recipe, I thought I would share five food bloggers that you should follow. So here we go, five lovely ladies who have drool worthy food blogs.

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1. Grandbaby Cakes
I have never seen Jocelyn without a huge smile on her face. Plus, this lady can bake. Just looking through her recipes practically satisfies my sweet tooth. Doesn’t that yellow cake with chocolate frosting look absolutely perfect? Jocelyn does include some savory recipes on her site too, because you can’t have sweets for every meal.

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2. The Kitchen Paper
I met Mary at Go Blog Social last weekend and I just love the photography on her site. She is a great writer who weaves stories about her live into her posts. Mary and her husband are about to embark on a year long journey through Asia, and I can’t wait to follow along on her site. She is also a self published author – she wrote a book about nut butters that includes recipes for making and using the butters.

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3. The Lil Foxes
Ashlee’s blog is a blend of vegan fashion and vegan recipes. I am a big fan of Ashlee’s sassy writing style, and her recipes that teach readers how to create vegan versions of comfort foods. She is originally from Texas, and I think that comes through a bit in her cooking. Ashlee’s site is also a great place to learn about cruelty free beauty brands.

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4. Dietitian Debbie Dishes
Debbie is a Chicago based dietitian and foodie. She makes healthy food fun. Want an example? She recently recreated Antique Taco’s Salad, pictured above. A girl who is making Mexican food healthier is a girl after my heart.

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5. Kailley’s Kitchen
Kailley is one of few Windy City Blogger Collective members that I haven’t met in real life yet. She has a thing for cupcakes, and she really gets creative with them. Check out her Breaking Bad Cupcakes (pictured above).

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