Just A Chi Town Girl’s Last(ish) Minute Gift Guide

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2015 Holiday Gifts

For those on your list that didn’t specifically ask for a robe (again), Christmas shopping can end up snowballing (holiday pun intended) into an ordeal. Here are a few things that are on my gift go-to list that I think are great for everyone from your sister to her boyfriend that you have never met to the co-worker who you know is getting you something so you should probably have something wrapped and ready to go.

Cooking Like a Master Chef: Chef Graham Elliot has won Michelin Stars, cooking shows (any heard of a little thing called Master Chef?), James Beard nominations all while running 2 very successful Chicago restaurants and now he has another winner on his hands- his new and first ever cookbook. It’s equal parts inspiring and accessible which means this is something your pro-in-the-kitchen dad will eat up as well as your roommate who is hoping to make something other than ramen in the new year. Our holiday menu is filled with recipes from this cookbook!

KeySmart: I know, I know- getting someone a key chain for Christmas sounds lame but I have been using my KeySmart for 6 months and I love it. Fishing in my bag for a jingle of keys that resembled that of a janitor was annoying so when I saw a co-worker with this neat stack of keys that fit cleanly in his pocket, I ordered one immediately. With the extensions, up to 20 keys can fit in there and it will hands down be the most useful thing under the tree this year.

Duke Cannon Soap: It’s pithy, honest, American and doesn’t give a f*ck. Did I mention its soap? With product names “Big Ass Bar of Soap” that “smells like victory/productivity/accomplishment”, this men’s skin care company is for dude’s dudes. Aaand  I am going say women who like dude’s dudes too because I most certainly bought 2 bars, one for my dad and one for my husband, and while my dad did get his I definitely took ownership of the one in our house because it smelled so damn good. And who doesn’t want to start the day smelling like victory?

NARS Gipsy Lipstick:  My best friend always gifts me the best beauty products. I mentioned this to her on my birthday this year and she said that she loves giving people something they can love, use up and then not have it laying around the house. I think she is on to something. This sheer red lipstick is my daily go-to and the perfect new color to play with after you change out of your Christmas jammies.

Club W: The gift that keeps giving, Club W is a wine club that allows the recipient to select what wine arrives each month. With videos of sommeliers discussing the bottles available via their sleek app, there’s no surprise when a shipment arrives and it’s a really great way to try new varietals you’ve never heard of. Winter is coming (in theory)- the people on your Christmas list might as well be well prepared, right?

Cooking at Home: Friday Night Dinners

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taco salad bar

Something we have gotten away from in the last few months has been Friday dinner at home. Work stress, general busy-ness, laziness…whatever it has been, eating out all weekend has become a thing. But with Spring seemingly here and a glorious weekend ahead with nothing planned, it was time to bring Friday nights home again.

I was in Colorado last week and had the most amazing roasted tomato salsa so with that as inspiration, I decided on a taco salad bar. The term “taco” is used very lightly here as I think the only thing Mexican about this meal is the fact that I made salsa, used chili powder on the protein and sliced up avocado and cilantro. But whatever. I wanted fresh and I wanted healthy and for full disclosure, I wanted wine because goodgodthisweek.

My favorite thing about meals like this is that while there is some prep time involved, it’s every man for themselves once you put each ingredient out. My husband wasn’t forced to eat kale if he didn’t want to and I was free to load up on green goodness, bypassing the steak. Everybody wins and at the end of the meal, we both agreed we need to do this for a dinner party soon.

Roasted Tomato Salsa

3 pints cherry tomatoes

1 poblano pepper

1 red onion

4 cloves garlic

handful cilantro

salt & pepper

Arrange the tomatoes, the poblano, garlic and onion (cut in thick slices) on a large baking tray. Season with salt and pepper and place under the broiler until they start to brown. You may have to remove the pepper and garlic early as they brown faster. After everything is roasted, place in a food processor with the cilantro and pulse until it’s at the consistency you want (I like mine well mixed but just before pureed). My food processor is small so I did this in a few batches and combined in a large bowl to stir everything together at the end.

Salad Ingredients

mixed greens

lacinato kale


asparagus (blanched)

sweet potatoes (roasted with a touch of honey and pepper)

red pepper (roasted)

red onion (leftover from the salsa, roasted)

shrimp (pan seared with lime juice, cilantro and chili powder)

skirt steak (pan seared with chili powder, salt, pepper and butter)

shrimp salad

{A pile of salad-y goodness for me}

steak salad

{Steak with a side of salad for my husband}

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

As for the wine, I broke into our latest shipment of Club W. This monthly wine club is a lot of fun because I get to select what bottles arrive and with the sommelier videos on the app, sometimes I try things I might pass over at the wine store or have never heard of. This bottle of Valdiguie fit the bill last night as 1) I drank it while cooking per their suggestion, 2) it was red, 3) it was wine.

Friday night dinners at home are back.