Sunday, August 30, 2009

Paradisiacal Peoria Pizza Pie!

One week later and my mouth is still watering thinking about the absolutely palatable Chicago style pizza that topped off my Illinois weekend last Sunday. Mark decided it would be pleasant to take me to the riverfront in downtown Peoria on Sunday before it was time to head back to Charlotte. This little city was quite the surprise and I love any view of water. The riverfront was beautiful and as we walked on the dock our stomachs were making animal noises and all we could think about was food. (as per usual)

I don't think that I can stress the frequency that pizza makes its way into our mouths. If I could count up each piece of pizza that I have eaten in my 24 years of existence, I would be willing to bet that approximately 67% of those pieces have been consumed while with Mark. I am actually sitting here wondering how we both don't look like pizzas with the amount of pizza we eat. Ok...maybe I am over exaggerating but pizza has become a consistent and always satisfying friend of ours in the culinary world. We found an Old Chicago right on the water with al fresco dining that was perfect for the beautiful Sunday afternoon. Starving, as usual, we decided to create our own pizza. There were toppings galore and several styles of crust. Chicago style deep dish pizza crust was required as we thought we should take advantage of taste testing the style of pizza that hails from the great state of IL. We carefully picked out our pizza toppings one by one to be sure we were about to make the most of making our acquaintance with this pizza style that is very much a rare bite for both of us! Italian sausage seemed like a fool proof starter and mushrooms quickly followed in the pick...mushrooms are always at the top of the list. Green peppers were added for some crunch and color and the cherry on top of this wonder twins creation were green olives! Black olives are so predictable and Mark seems to like the green ones better so why not! (can I also add that after each bite he kept reminding me how much he loved the green olives on his pizza and how they were such a perfect addition). When it comes to olives and pizza, I do believe there is a bit of a bias towards the black olives and the greenies remain underappreciated but let it be known now, green olives and pizza should be best friends forever. I don't think I have ever had little green friends on my pizza but I must say it was a surprising flavor that added a friendly punch to our riverfront lunch. The finished product was quite the treat and the deep dish crust was nothing short of amazing. The dough had such a fresh baked flavor and just melted in my mouth. My mindset was not that of an all star blogger while I was devouring my pizza because I failed to take a picture of the pizza in all of its delicious glory. I haven't met a piece of pizza that I don't like but this particular piece was superb. I'm sure the delightful weekend and the company made it taste even better but regardless, this pie was top notch.

The pizza left us both stuffed but it was nothing that a walk along the riverfront could not cure. As most weekends do, this one went by much too fast but more bloggable bites are in store in IL, that's for sure.

And a side note, for all of you who appreciate Emily Post's etiquette, since pizza is an "informal food", it is considered appropriate to pick up a slice and eat it. Fork and knife are not necessary for prim and proper manners.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

(500) Days & Chocolate Dipped Cones...Please

The weekend is FINALLY here after a long week of hot temperatures, hard work and lots of life's little happenings. Andi & I were in need of some relaxation and serious sister time so we made our way to the Ballantyne Village Theater to see (500) Days of Summer. I know that posting about a movie is kind of rare for me but I loved this movie so much that I just have to share it with you all. "This isn't a love story. It's a story about love". A movie at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, this is one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. I am not here to give a full blown movie review or bore you with tiny details about every top reason as to why I loved the movie so much, but if you want some laughs, love and just a great depiction of real life (with some fabulous Hall & Oates music), go see the movie!

A sister date is never complete without a sweet ending, most specifically, ice cream. After the movie we drove to Marble Slab...a Nido favorite. Not only did we indulge in our favorite flavors (cake batter ice cream & cookie dough for Andi and cinnamon vanilla ice cream and chocolate chips for me), but we also took the plunge and had our ice cream in white chocolate and sprinkle dipped waffle cones...quite possibly the most whimsical way to eat ice cream!! We sat by the fountains at Stonecrest for old time's sake and made flirty faces and tried to get the attention of a cute boy running around the fountain...he was 4.

Stay tuned for the last section of bloggable bites from my wonderful weekend with Mark and coming soon...a recap from the wedding of the year! My dear friends Sara and John are tying the knot tonight and I could not be more excited. I am spending the day gearing up for what is promised to be the best party of the year to celebrate a beautiful happily ever after!


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nibbles in Normal

Mark and I continued to sample the flavors and meander our way through each little town, we found ourselves amidst a corn festival in downtown Normal, IL! Driving from the Chicago airport, there were nothing but fields of corn, corn and more corn. I was definitely NOT in the Carolinas anymore. I have never seen anything like it. Corn practically serves as a natural landscaping material up there. I mean these people must have corn as its own food group. Roasted corn, grilled corn, kettle corn, popcorn, candy corn, corn many options for those precious golden kernels.

Our first experience in Normal was a festival. I am sure by now
you can guess what kind...that's right...corn! The streets were filled with people munching on cobs of the fresh yellow stuff, live music and a perfect blue sky. I always thought there was nothing like a Carolina Blue sky but is there such thing as Midwest Blue!? This sky was gorgeous and the clouds were like delicate white puffs of angel kissed fluff. Oddly enough, we did not indulge in any corn at the festival but we did enjoy tasty subs from Jimmy Johns and homemade ice cream in cones from a local vendor. While walking through this quaint little town, we stopped in a local coffee shop to use the facilities and upon opening the door I discovered the most ador
able paintings on the wall...stripes with small objects in between them. Teacups, eggplant, apples, ice cream cones, strawberries and my very favorite...a Muffin!

Our stomachs were about as full as they could get but after a late afternoon snooze we were feeling fresh and ready to take on the quest for a Saturday night dinner. My taste buds often crave very specific flavors and as we walked downtown searching for the perfect bite, I decided a citrus shrimp dish would be just the ticket. We remembered a restaurant that we saw at the festival earlier in the day and as soon as we walked in, it was just what we were looking for. Medici (which Mark insisted on pronouncing in the most ethnic Italian way possible), was a delightful establishment with a history dating back to 1957 when the restaurant was first established in 1957 in downtown Chicago. The decor in the restaurant was one of the most ecclectic I have ever seen. The owner had a passion for woodworking and that is evident throughout the restaurant. The tables are unique pieces of wood and in the midde of the dinind room stands a large tree with an interesting shape unlike any tree one would normally see. The food was excellent and the service was great with an energetic and pleasant staff. I enjoyed a penne pasta tossed in a sherry cream sauce with mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, chicken and basil and Mark twirled his fork into a chicken florentine linguine. Other items on the menu included a wide range of fresh and seasonal foods. Pizzas, fish, roasted chicken, salads, sandwiches and all baked goods come from their bakery next door. I usually prefer to end a meal on a sweet note and as much as he laughs about my insatiable sweettooth, Mark never puts up a fight, so we ended the night with a divine slice of chocolate cheesecake. It was surprisingly light and the chocolate flavor provided a harmonious pairing to an otherwise basic dessert. The chocolate drizzle on the plate made for an elegant presentation. By the time we thought to take a picture for proper documentation, we were almost done and ready to lick the chocolate off of the plate. And any dessert plate in my book that deserves to be licked is worth every bite. There's always room for dessert.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Bloomington Buttercreams

As I sit here taking care of my daily duties in the hustle bustle workday in my quaint cube in corporate America, I can't help but be distracted by my 3pm craving for a small piece of dark chocolate to get me through those last couple hours of the workday. My mind then wanders even further into chocoholic mode as I think about my Magical Midwest weekend with none other than my favorite Mr. M! We spent the weekend exploring his new little home of Southern Illinois and literally ate our way through the entire weekend.

As I sit back and reflect on the abundance of flavors that made their way into my mouth, I must say that I was truly smitten by a small, family owned chocolate shop in downtown Bloomington that stole my tastebuds and chocolate loving heart! We walked past the adorable shop and Mark made us turn around and walk back in. I felt like I died and went to chocolate heaven. I have finally found the ultimate chocolate utopia. Walking in The Chocolatier, I took a deep breath and inhaled the rich scents of chocolate and everything sweet. The atmosphere reminded me of an old fashioned candy shop, much like my old favorite, Grandma Bettty's in Northville, Michigan where I grew up. There were rows and rows of jars filled with gumdrops, chocolate covered dried fruits, gummy worms, jelly bellies and all of the sugar one would need to rack up a pretty serious dental bill. My eyes, I must say, lit up when I peered through the glass counter to see hundreds of beautiful handmade chocolates. Truffles, turtles, chocolate covered strawberries! How could I pick what would most delight? They all looked too good to be true. As I scanned the counter, I tried to imagine what each little chocolate would taste like and which would fit my mood best. I scanned the variety and read off all of the names one by one. The cinnamon buttercream caught my eye immediately and the hazelnut truffle came in close second. Mark, of course, being the super hero that he is, picked a Ninja Turtle...chocolate covering pecans and caramel and ooey gooey goodness. I asked the kind man behind the counter which he would choose...the Cinnamon Buttercream or the Hazelnut Truffle...he told me to get both, so I had no hesitation in smiling in agreement! We saved the chocolate for a late day treat and it was completely worth the wait! The Ninja Turtle did not disappoint and I am pretty sure Mark had the entire thing eaten in less than 2 minutes. The cinnamon buttercream was calling my name and just as predicted, my mouth was singing jingle bells as soon as I took my first bite. If Christmas had an official flavor, this would be it! The cinnamon buttercream center had a smooth and dreamy consistency and paired so nicely with the rich outer layer of dark chocolate. This might just have been the best piece of chocolate I have ever indulged in. This is what I thought, until Sunday afternoon, when Mark and I shared the hazelnut truffle...I have never had a chocolate moment that was so delectable and decadent. It was truly a feast for the senses. The chocolate was smooth and the hazelnut center was rich and sophisticated with almost an exotic essence in the flavor. My daily Dove Promises often say "share a chocolate moment today"...this was definitely the perfect chocolate moment to share as the truffle was nothing short of a brilliant chocolate choice.

Stay tuned in the next few days for more bloggable bites taken in Illinois over the weekend.

On a cheerful side note (and in the spirit of cinnamon and spice and everything nice), today is August 25...Happy 4 Months until Christmas!!! (my parents don't call me Christmas Nido for nothing)


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Morning Coffee Hour with Matt Lauer

Ever since I was little, I have always been a morning news nerd. I remember waking up before 6am in elementary school, pulling up a stool to the counter in the kitchen where our small kitchen TV sat and just being enthralled by Eric Smith & Chad Meyers' daily Detroit weather reports and other news in Hockeytown, USA. I used to tell people that when I grew up, I wanted to take over for Katie Couric when she left the Today Show and at the end of the workday, I really would just love to stand in front of that green screen and be Nina Nido the weather girl or perhaps change my name to Summer Showers or Mary Snowflake. I can never get enough of the doppler radar! I am now a huge proponent of the Today Show and I really treasure my time getting ready in the morning while watching Matt, Meredith, Ann, Al and the gorgeous Natalie Morales. I love the show so much, in fact, that when my family made a trip to New York City last week without me (growing up stinks sometimes), my only request was that they bring me back a Today Show coffee cup from NBC Studios.

As most of those close to me know, the smallest things in life are the ones that make me the happiest and waking up on Monday morning and pouring coffee into my brand new Today Show coffee mug did not disappoint in the least. Such a delightful treat to have a mug that matches my morning friends. Another reason to smile on a Monday? My beautiful sunflowers that Mr. M (Andi, I'm referring to him as "Mr. M" this one and only time just to make you chuckle) gave to me almost 2 weeks ago are still in perfect bloom.

Happy Week to all!! Ciao!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Comfort Food & Four Legged Furry Friends

Life has been hectic and a little bit of a rocky road (reminds me of the ice cream...mmm I could go for some right now) these past few weeks and as per usual, I have found that my love for cooking is the perfect way to wind down after a hectic day. On nights that Ashley and I don't cook together, it would be easy to just hap-hazardly throw something together and get it over with but alas, if I am going to eat, I might as well make it delightfully delicious and all things wonderful. Last night after a long day I pulled out some fresh ingredients from the fridge and whipped up a kitchen miracle in no time. My upcoming girls weekend in Charleston has inspired me to keep it extra healthy this week. I started by cutting up some fresh garlic- always a staple to the beginning of any good meal. I topped a fresh piece of wild salmon with garlic, a drizzle of olive oil, sprinkle of salt, fresh cracked pepper and lime juice. I baked it in the ovena s I always do and it was perfect. I sauteed up some fresh spinach with the leftover garlic and in another little pan, I cooked up some cute button mushrooms with oregano, salt, pepper and a little bit of red wine. An easy meal for one and it took me all of about 25 minutes to put together.

The other highlight of my dinner...the little puppy at my feet while I enjoyed every last bite. I have been taking care of my sister, Andi's new little Shih-Tzu Poodle puppy, Ozzie! I know he has nothing to do with the "good food" portion of this blog but he has brought a lot of peace & love into my life these last couple of days that we have had together. (really, I just want an excuse to incorporate this four legged furry friend on my blog because he is too cute for words! Look at that face!) Ozzie is like my little shadow and follows me everywhere. (Andi calls him velcro dog!) I really love that little puppy so much. There is absolutely no way that a little dog like that cannot make you smile all over your face! He is a little blessing who is now a part of the Nido family.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Holy Cous Cous!

Well Ashley and I made another kitchen masterpiece and I have been so excited to blog about this and share the recipe. When I say this meal is probably one of the top 10 meals that we have ever cooked in our cute little kitchen, I am 100% serious. This was all made possible by a fabulous recipe form the kitchen of Giada De Laurentiis (my kitchen idol) whose creations never disappoint.

Giada's Israeli cous cous is by far the best cous cous I have ever had. Israeli cous cous has a significantly larger grain than the Moroccan variation. They are like delicate pearls of delight and look gorgeous when they are cooked and ready to be plated. I love it when food tastes good but when it is equally as pleasing to the eye as it is to the taste buds, that is a special perk! The green apple chunks and cranberries provide a brilliant color palate that looked especially bold on our trendy black plates. Giada's cous cous dish is absolutely perfect for the summer though the flavors are reminiscent of the fall...think November...if Thanksgiving had a flavor, this would be it! (the rosemary and cranberries give it that Holiday ambiance that I adore oh so much.)
Israeli Cous Cous with Cranberries, Apples and Herbs

Recipe courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Israeli couscous (or barley or orzo)
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cups chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 medium green apple, diced
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted, see Cook's Note

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

For the couscous: In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the couscous and cook, stirring occasionally until slightly browned and aromatic, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 to12 minutes or until the liquid has evaporated. Transfer the cooked couscous to a large bowl and set aside to cool. Add the parsley, rosemary, thyme, apple, dried cranberries, and almonds.
For the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, maple syrup, salt, and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until smooth. Pour the vinaigrette over the couscous and toss to coat evenly.
Cook's Note: To toast the almonds, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange the almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely before using.

To Accompany this heavenly dish, we brushed fresh Tilapia fillets with olive oil and a sprinkle of Old Bay Seasoning and baked it in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Our vegetable of choice, Brussels Sprouts with lemon pepper.