Friends forging a course together through the unexpected

Mustard Herb Pork Rack December 31, 2014

Filed under: Karla — Uncharted @ 7:26 pm
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Before we were married, Matt and I started a tradition of celebrating our Christmas a day or two before Christmas Eve. This way it could be the two of us and not combined with our families regularly scheduled festivities. The tradition grew to include preparing a meal, presents and then a special breakfast for the morning after.

This year we decided to change up our Christmas meal. For the last three years we have dished up an herb roasted lamb rack with mustard roasted potatoes and asparagus with a hollandaise sauce. Inspiration fell into my mailbox in early December from my butcher. In their weekly newsletter they listed a bunch of holiday dish ideas and one was a pork rack. I told Matt about the idea and he was on board. Since we like having leftovers, I ordered a rack for six people.

I had Matt pick up the rack after work the Monday before Christmas. When I got home, he asked me if I wanted to see the piece of meat. I was a little curious and said sure. He came out with a huge rack featuring 13 ribs! Definitely more than enough for six people.

Now I just needed to find a recipe…good thing we have the Internet. In one of the top five results for roasted pork rack, I found it. A rack of pork with an herb-mustard crust. The recipe called for only a six rib roast, so I cut the rack in half and freezed what was leftover.

We decided to keep our roasted mustard potatoes because they are delicious and rounded out the meal with honey-glazed baby carrots and broccoli. The recipe called for a gravy, but I opted not to make it and Matt and I both thought the roast was just right without it. We liked the meal so much we agreed to make it again today for New Year’s Eve.

Our NYE dinner

Our NYE dinner


Here’s my recipe adapted from Fine Cooking:

  • One 6-rib bone-in pork loin (about 4 lb.)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 shallots, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground smoked paprika
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs (about 2 oz.)
  • 2 to 3 Tbs. Dijon mustard

Heat the oven to 425°F. Season pork with salt and pepper to your tasting. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. If you have a flameproof roasting pan or a large ovenproof skillet, use that. Unfortunately, I don’t have one yet, so I just got my 12-inch All-Clad saucepan dirty.

With your skillet of choosing, brown the fat-covered surface of the pork until it turns a deep golden brown. This took me only five minutes. Then I moved the rack to my roasting pan and turned it so the roast rib side  was facing down in the oven. I basted with the remaining olive oil every ten minutes, for 30 minutes.

While the meat roasted I started on the bread crumb mixture. In a skillet I melted the butter and add the garlic and shallots until they were soft. Then I add the the cumin and smoked paprika and stirred until they were well mixed. Once ready, I removed the mixture from heat and stirred in the parsley and breadcrumbs. My bread crumb coating was ready!

After the pork had roasted for 30 minutes, I brushed the surface with the mustard and coated the roast with breadcrumb topping, pressing down so it adhered. Then I turned the oven down to 375°F and cooked the roast for another 30 minutes. Once my time was up, I took out our meat thermometer to make sure it registered at 145°F and it did!  We let the meat rest for 5 minutes by covering it with foil before we carved it, mostly so I have time to get the side dishes ready!

It’s a great holiday dish and I think this might be a new holiday tradition for us. Now we just have to pick the holiday!


Gingerbread Extravaganza 2014 December 10, 2014

This weekend I hosted our ninth annual gingerbread extravaganza. In our senior year of college, my roommates Jill and Bethany created a gingerbread house, and somehow it has turned into an annual tradition. Months of planning are now involved since we’re scattered across the Midwest and East Coast. Thankfully since we’ve done this for nine years we know exactly what candy to buy. Our new edition this year was creating a shared Pinterest board so we each could add fun decorating ideas or potential patterns.

Back in October we selected a theme and then scoured the internet for patterns and decorating ideas. This year we decided on a beach theme. Jill usually bakes all of the gingerbread in advance, but since she was traveling from Boston we decided it might be better if I made all of the gingerbread. Luckily a few weekends ago I was able to carve out time to create our three buildings that included a lighthouse, beach yacht club and beach house. Unfortunately I didn’t know that dashed lines meant you were supposed to connect the pieces before you cut out the shape…which lead to an interesting beach house for Jill. I also forgot to make people, but as you’ll see we supplemented by smushing out Starbursts.

Jill flew in Friday night and we got straight to work building the houses. My gingerbread expanded a little so we ended up using a sharp bread knife to help even out some of the connection points. Utilizing our soup and pasta sauce cans for support, our buildings were nice and solid by the next morning.


Bethany arrived on Saturday to begin the best part, the decorating stage!We spent the entire morning and afternoon creating our masterpieces. Since Jill wasn’t going to take her house on the plane, she and I decided to build our houses on the same board. Here’s the finished product.


Even Matt got involved this year! He built an awesome platform for Bethany’s yacht club. As payment he requested lights and or some sort of fireworks on next year’s houses. That might help us to decide on a theme for next year. Guess you’ll have to wait and see what we come up with in 2015!



Lincoln Square Afternoon November 27, 2013

Filed under: Karla — Uncharted @ 9:10 am
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Why is it that some weekends seem like a blur? You feel like you need another day to actually “rest” from Saturday and Sunday. And I have a feeling the whole month of December will be a blur due to the holidays!

Speaking of holidays, this weekend began with an Olson Family tradition to kick off the holiday season. Since I was a little girl, I remember riding in my family’s station wagon down 290 into the city and then up 94 to Lincoln Square. The day was always special because for one, I knew we were stocking up on delicious German torts, candies and my favorite – bienenstich. But also because it meant Christmas was just around the corner.

On Saturday afternoon we met up with my parents. They still take 290 but they have upgraded from the station wagon. Our first stop was the Chicago Brauhaus on Lincoln where for over forty years the Brauhaus has been serving authentic German dishes.

Chicago Bahaus

Chicago Bahaus

I can honestly say, they’re just like mom makes them! And she’ll agree too. My mom got a stuffed cabbage roll, my dad a veal sausage, Matt got venison goulash and I got thuringer, another type of sausage. None of us were disappointed and left with empty plates and very full bellies.

My dinner

My dinner

To help work off what we just ate, we walked a few stores down to Gene’s Sausage Market. This was the second part of the Olson Family tradition – buying all types of sausages, cold cuts, spatzle, and bakery items for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve and New Years Day. Matt and I tried to restrain ourselves from ogling the meat case. We ended up getting a pepper covered bacon, sliced smoked ham, smoked pork butt, spatzle, pretzel rolls, pretzel buns, chocolate bars, chocolate ornaments for our Christmas tree and of course bienenstich. Oh and some beer too!

I love traditions and I’m so glad Matt and I are continuing this tradition with my parents. Spending a day in Lincoln Square around the holidays is always a treat. But this tradition is so special, it’s one that I can definitely see us doing with our own family one day.


Making Gingerbread December 5, 2012

Filed under: Karla — Uncharted @ 3:00 pm
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All the gingerbread ready to go!

All the gingerbread ready to go!

Jill asked my last week if I would make the gingerbread for our annual gingerbread house extravaganza. Knowing she is up to her eyeballs in planning and organizing her wedding that is less than a month away, I gladly said yes.

Last weekend Jill sent me her recipe and different house templates. So I got my grocery list together and went shopping. Note: you can usually find the molasses in the syrup aisle, not the baking aisle.

With supplies in hand, I got to work looking at the templates Jill sent. Unfortunately only one of the links had the actual downloadable templates that I could cut out. So thanks to Google I found another two templates. Getting back to my first grade roots, I cut out the templates following the dotted lines.

Next it was time to make the gingerbread. Things were going pretty smooth in the beginning. But as I was adding the flour I noticed that the consistency wasn’t exactly elastic. Knowing this probably wasn’t right, I called Jill right away and described the dry dough to her. Yep, we had a problem. I had to toss the whole batch. Jill recommended reading the tips at the bottom of the recipe. Apparently I need to add less flour and not pack it in to the measuring cup.

Round two went better. I was able to get half a house cut and baked. But I was still running into the problem of the dough drying out. So I decided to cut the batch in half. This worked out perfectly. The dough did not get dry and stayed elastic. I was able to cut and bake the remaining two and half houses in no time.

Making gingerbread was a learning experience. Usually I’m pretty good at following a recipe and not having any problems. Guess I was due for a problem! Although I’m happy to say that I was able to solve the problem thanks to Jill and a little creative thinking. However, I think next year I’m going to ask Jill to take back gingerbread making duties.


Get Your German on For the Holidays December 7, 2011

Filed under: Karla — Uncharted @ 5:00 pm
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I love Chicago during the Christmas holidays. The streets are adorned with lights and garland. People are friendlier. Giving back is on the forefront of folk’s minds. And there is always something to do.

One of my favorite things to do in the city during the holidays is to visit the Christkindlmarket. The Christkindlmarket is a traditional German-American holiday located in Daley Plaza. This year the market opened on November 23rd and will stay open until December 24th.  Fun facts about the market:

  • Inspired by the Christkindlsmarket in Nuremberg, Germany (dating back to 1545)
  • Christkindlmarket has been held in Daley Plaza since 1997
  • Admission is free
  • There are special parades and live music performances

Christkindlmarket Chicago

Being 75% German I feel it’s my annual duty to go. Good thing I like to do it! One benefit of attending the market is finishing up Christmas shopping…especially for all of your German relatives! Kelly and I enjoy going through the ornament shops and admiring all the beautiful glass ornaments. Usually at least one or two will make it in my shopping bag. Visitors will also be amazed at the variety of original German products for sale from cuckoo clocks to beer steins to lace table runners. You’ll be sure to find something that’s unique and authentic.

Another reason I love the market is the food. Traditional German food might be a slight weak spot in my belly. Even though I’m slowly starting to come around to sauerkraut…but let’s be honest sauerkraut is an acquired taste. Definite go to dishes at the market are the potato pancakes. To accompany the pancakes my recommendation is for applesauce over sour cream, but you can decide. Another tasty treat is a traditional bratwurst with sauerkraut. Please don’t insult it by adding ketchup. Mustard is the only condiment companion to this German staple.

Need something to drink? Grab a boot, well it’s a very small tasty boot filled with Gluhwein from Nuremberg. Gluhwein is hot-spiced wine and is delightful on a cold winter night. If that’s not your style, have no fear! Grab a pint of Spaten Lager or Bockbeer. Still not quenching your thirst? You can always get a mug of hot chocolate or cider.

If you’re still hungry check out the sweet shop filled with rows of candy, stolen or marzipan. Or you can get your choice of hot roasted nuts to munch on as you meander through the vendors.

Next time you’re downtown check out Daley Plaza. What are you waiting for? Be transported temporarily to Germany via authentic drinks, food and shopping. It’s a very affordable stay-cation in your own backyard.


Thanksgiving Came Early November 22, 2011

Filed under: Kelly — Uncharted @ 10:18 pm
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Thanksgiving came a bit early for my family this year and we celebrated this past Sunday.  For someone so obsessed with tradition it actually didn’t bother be to change it up.  In fact it ends up working quite well because now I will get to see the other side of my family on real Thanksgiving.  The more the merrier!  And did I mention I now have an excuse to be a piggy twice in one week?

Yeah I’m not complaining.  So for Thanksgiving Part I, my sister and I were in charge of desserts.  My cousin who organized everything asked us to ‘think outside the box.’  We went back and forth on Gchat with tons of different ideas, but one thing was for sure, we had to make a trifle {my sister was very excited to use her brand new trifle dish my cousin got her for her birthday}!  If you don’t know what a trifle is I will show you:

Gingerbread Pumpkin Trifle

Basically it’s a layered dessert that usually includes cake, whipped cream, and some sort of pudding.  This one was a gingerbread cake, pumpkin vanilla pudding, and whipped cream.  We pretty much made everything from a box, but we used real pumpkin. Doesn’t it look pretty?  We also decided to make apple donuts.  Mostly because my sister wanted to use her donut pan {does anyone else see a pattern here?}, but also because apples are in season and not something you’d traditionally think of at a Thanksgiving feast {remember we were thinking outside the box}.  She was worried when the dough was cookie dough texture instead of liquidy, but in the end they turned out very well and got even better once we brushed them with butter and dipped them in cinnamon sugar.  Sorry I don’t have a finished product picture, but here is the batter in the cute donut pan ready for the oven:

Apple Donuts

Lastly, but certainly not least we decided we need a dessert involving chocolate.  I decided some type of bar would be easy to make.  I found this recipe for chocolate peanut butter crunch bars on Smitten Kitchen’s website and the search was quickly over.

Side Note- For some reason any recipe that requires a candy thermometer intimidates me and also knowing that neither my sister or me owns one we quickly made an alteration to the recipe.  We ignored her instructions for the rice crispy bottom and using another a simpler rice crispy recipe by Smitten Kitchen.

This was my most favorite recipe to make and my sister pointed out that it was the only one that required no actual baking.  Haha, my true feelings are revealed!  Anyway we forgot to take a final picture, but here are all the ingredients we used and you can look at Smitten Kitchen’s website…ours looked very similar.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Crispy Bars

I was worried I’d hear complaints about the missing pumpkin pie, but I didn’t hear a peep.  In fact I think people were too busy enjoying their desserts.  I think we succeeded at thinking outside the box, don’t you?


Christmas A Little Early November 9, 2011

Filed under: Karla — Uncharted @ 8:00 pm
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Each year, more and more, I feel that Thanksgiving gets the shaft. I even wrote a post about the Forgotten Holiday last year. And yet, much to my dismay, I have a confession to make. I have already listened to Christmas music and I made my gingerbread house.

I know you’re thinking, how? Why? Where’s your will power? To my defense, there is a very good reason.  The early holiday cheer was due to the fact that my best friend Jill is leaving for Australia for the next three months.

As you may recall, myself, Jill, and our college roommate Bethany get together around the holidays every year for a gingerbread extravaganza.  This summer we realized if we wanted to continue the tradition we would have to bump up the holiday tradition to pre-Thanksgiving. Not willing to give up on this winter classic, we agreed to the first weekend in November for our extravaganza.

This year’s host was appropriately Jill, as it offered an opportunity for us to say good-bye before her trip.  As usual, before the event we divided and conquered the candy and decorating list. Despite her ridiculous busy schedule, Jill found time to bake the gingerbread, found new templates for our buildings, and made the icing for us.

Friday night we got right to work. We built our foundations with lots of icing and found solid structural support from soup cans. This left us in great shape for a full day of decorating on Saturday. The only time we stepped away from the houses was to grab dinner and extra icing supplies from the grocery store.

Below is this year’s gingerbread village, comprised of a manger scene by Jill, an epic farmhouse by Bethany and a barn by yours truly.

2011 Gingerbread Village

I’m really glad we were able to continue this tradition, despite Pandora only knowing five Christmas songs that kept getting repeated. All in all, it was a blast and hopefully next year we’ll be able to do it again and have it be more appropriately timed.


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