Recent Foodie Finds

Happy Tuesday! I hope everyone had a fab weekend and a great start to the week! After the intensity of the first two weeks of the new semester, I was really looking forward to a weekend of fun. I put in some quality time with my DVR on Friday (current obsession: GGTD) and then spent the rest of the weekend indulging in some much-needed girl time: a fabulous brunch at Appellation (one of the newest restaurants in my 'hood) with Ashley on Saturday and an equally fantastic lunch with my Instagrammer foodie crew at Little Bad Wolf on Sunday. Finally, Mario and I settled in with 12 million of our closest friends to close out the weekend with a little Grease: Live! (although there were issues, as a theatre major/former theatre teacher/musical lover, I have to say I love that live musical theatre is finally getting its due on national TV).

Here are a few of my recent foodie finds (follow me on Instagram for even more!)...

Candied Bacon Caramel Corn from Chunky Pig. I feel like it was a no-brainer that I would absolutely love this because I am all about the salty/sweet snack combination; plus, as we all know, bacon most definitely makes everything better! This fab small batch popcorn is handcrafted in the San Francisco Bay Area using top-shelf ingredients such as Niman Ranch nitrate-fee bacon, pure Vermont maple syrup, and Cordillera Single-Origin Columbian Dark Chocolate.

Want to spend your Super Bowl Sunday chowing down on some Chunky Pig? (The answer should be yes. Yes, you absolutely do want inhale this deliciousness while watching the game!) Well, you're in luck! Along with a sample of their product, the good folks at Chunky Pig also gave me a discount code to share with my readers: order at chunkypiglove with discount code PIGSKIN25 for 25% off any purchases!

The Roland: roasted heirloom tomatoes, Thai basil, lemongrass, sausage, and a sexy Sriracha glaze at Dough Bros. While I typically gravitate toward super thin crust pizza, the New York style pizza at Dough Bros has completely won me over, all thanks to the delicious flavor combinations and high quality ingredients. Surprisingly, I would say that it has actually become one of my favorite pizza joints! Along with the Roland, the Mushroom pizza with black truffle, and the Artichoke pizza with white sauce are absolute must-tries.

Along with delicious pizza, Dough Bros also specializes in subs. This Meatball Sub with buffalo mozzarella, roasted tomato vodka sauce, fresh giardinara, and shaved Parmesan is full of sooooo much spicy, meaty goodness!

Peppermint Patty Sandwich Cookies from Sweet Mandy B's. These decadent fudgey brownie sandwich cookies filled with peppermint buttercream and covered in Andes peppermints were so ridiculously good that I feel like I finally reached peppermint cookie mecca. Yes, they really were that good. Triple heart love! 

Sage Fried Chicken & Waffles with hardwood smoked bacon, hot maple reduction, and fried leeks at Hash House A Go Go. I love that this dish is on the super savory side with just a hint of sweetness from the maple - such a nice change from the super sweet version you typically encounter. Plus, how cool is the plating?!

Gelato Cone at Amorino. As I mentioned on Instagram, these perfectly sculpted gelato flowers  are *almost* too pretty to eat... but they're also far too delicious to resist! The fun part about Amorino is that if you're not sure what to order, you can just ask the servers to choose the flavors for you (I asked for a pretty/photogenic cone that also tastes good). I've been there a few times and have never ordered my own concoctions because they're so good at combining flavors! 

I've been slightly obsessed with drive-ins ever since I was a little kid (it all started with the A&W in Bay City, MI), so of course, when I was offered a the chance to drive a fully loaded Buick Regal for a week (such a great car!), I just had to take it over to the iconic Superdawg for a mini photo session with some Superdawgs and cheese fries. While everything there is tasty (and really, it's such a fun place to visit), their milkshakes are especially fantastic! 

Dim Sum at MingHin. I made my way down to Chinatown with twenty or so other foodies and we ate until our stretchy pants could take no more! Everything we sampled was fantastic  (MingHin really has the best dim sum in the area!), but the Macau Pork Belly was particularly outstanding.

I have to say that I usually don't get super excited about wings, but I am now officially obsessed with the Tikka Masala Wings with ginger yogurt at Beef & Barley. The slightly spicy tikka masala is a delicious twist on the same old, same old wing sauces! 


Girls Night In with Turducken

After the holiday craziness has finally died down and before the stress/planning frenzy of the new year kicks in (new semester! birthdays! more holidays!), Diana and I traditionally designate a welcome-to-the-new-year girls night out (aka a night in which we get drunk, eat way too much, make a ridiculous number of inappropriate jokes, and then laugh almost nonstop because we're obviously the most hilarious people ever). Typically, our shenanigans take place at one of our favorite restaurants (and yes, the servers really do love us), but this year, we decided to make it a girls night in complete with movies and cooking at Diana's fab new condo.

Now to some, spending time in a kitchen may not sound like much of an exciting girls night, but Diana and I do greatly enjoy our joint cooking adventures (plus, we're hilarious when we're together, remember?!), especially when they involve copious amounts of alcohol and meat... *enter the Turducken*. Yes, the Turducken: aka a turkey stuffed with duck stuffed with chicken. The moment the fine folks at Echelon Foods contacted me to see if I would be interested in sampling one of their newest versions of their Turducken Premium Roast, I knew that our girls night in would be the perfect opportunity for this legendary triple stuffed meat extravaganza!

We kicked off our epic night in with a round of spicy Micheladas, courtesy of our friend Margaret over at Ketch on Fire. How fantastic are these glasses?!

An evening of cooking requires a massive spread of appetizers (the Turducken Roast does take five hours to cook, after all!). 

As our Turducken roasted, we kicked back with a few rounds of Moscow Mules, made with Cherry Ginger Beer (yes, we're hanging out in our pjs - that's the beauty of girls night in!).

After five hours, numerous cocktails, countless episodes of The Great British Cooking Show, and oodles of cheese, we pulled this bad boy out of the oven. *Ta-da!* Notice I mentioned nothing about prepping the Turducken... that's because there is no prep work other than taking it out of its wrapper! The Echelon Turducken Roast comes pre-flavored with a spiced rub, completely deboned, assembled, and ready to roast. Basically, you throw it in the oven, set a timer, and forget about it (or in our case, imbibe!). Easiest roast ever!

 Echelon offers three varieties of their Turducken Roast, including the Bacon Wrapped Roast, stuffed with Italian sausage (because turkey, duck, and chicken is clearly not enough meat!).

Just look at that crispy bacon blanket!

Besides the no prep/easy cooking process, we both really liked that the meats are so well layered. Under the crispy bacon is a thick layer of turkey, followed by a layer of Italian sausage, and then smaller layers of chicken and duck. If you slice down the center, you get a perfect mix of all the meats; if you'd rather not have everything at once, you can easily take pieces of the individual meats from the top down. We also enjoyed how flavorful and tender each layer was (it cooks in its own juices) - individually or all together, each type of meat was really quite delicious!

As we had been snacking all day and didn't want to go overboard on the sides, Diana threw together a simple Pecan Sweet Potato Casserole, which perfectly complemented the rich meat.

Jumbo gooey marshmallows are the best!

We ended our epic foodie night with a batch of these delicious and totally adorable Cherry Pie Cookies.

While everything we ate and drank during our fab girls night in was fantastic, really, the Turducken was the star of the show. I've always wanted to try a Turducken, but quite honestly, I had no interest in putting one together on my own - the fact that the Echelon Turducken Roast is completely assembled and ready-to-cook is a *huge* selling point in my eyes. Along with the fact that it's super easy to make, it really is delicious and such a fun alternative to the same ol' (slightly boring) turkey. The only major downside to the Turducken is that is will make you very, very sleepy... it's like a turkey x10. Also, the price tag may turn some off, but keep in mind that this hefty roast serves 8-10. Considering the lack of prep work and portion sizes (not to mention the wow factor), both Diana and I agreed that it's definitely worth the price!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary product to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own. 


Firefly Kitchen

Happy Tuesday! I hope everyone had a fab weekend. Today is the official start of the new semester, which is always equal parts exciting, chaotic, and nerve-racking, even for those of us in front of the classroom (after 13+ years in education, I still get a mean case of the first day jitters!). While I've spent most of the last few weeks focused on prepping for the new semester and completing my own homework (I'm already a week into the first class of my new degree program), I did manage to squeeze in a final few activities during my break, including a trip to the northern 'burbs for a leisurely brunch at a new-ish restaurant with fellow foodie, Meghan.

Situated on the border of Wilmette and Evanston, Firefly Kitchen offers diners seasonal comfort dishes in a lovely Brooklyn-inspired bistro. Open since last summer, the upscale, but still relaxed, neighborhood bistro is the collaborative effort of renowned New York City chef Dean Salerno, formerly of David Burke’s signature restaurant at The James New York, and James Pierce, former head of The Bar at The Peninsula Chicago. Salerno's fond memories of his years living in Brooklyn with wife Mia inspired them to create a cozy space reminiscent of the hip converted brownstones in his favorite borough.

The walls are covered in photos of Brooklyn & Chicago, as well as song lyrics. I especially loved the rows of bare bulbs streaming from the ceiling, meant to evoke the feeling of being surrounded by twinkly fireflies on a warm summer's night.

We kicked off brunch with a round of cocktails (of course!). I went with this tart Passion Fruit Bellini...

...while Meghan chose the perfectly balanced Diamond Jim's Bloody Mary.

For my entrée, I ordered the Crab Cake Benny. I'm sure you've realized by now that I love a good Benny and tend to judge a restaurant's brunch menu by the quality of this dish. I'm happy to say that Firefly's version definitely lived up to my expectations: the outside of the crab cake was crunchy and the inside was light and flakey (and it was all crab/no fillers!). While there was nothing remarkable about the hollandaise, it was smooth, creamy, and nicely complemented the crab cakes. It was a definitely a classic version of the dish done right. 

For her entrée, Meghan chose the Breakfast Sandwich: eggs, bacon, tomato, Gruyere, and arugula on brioche toast, served with lyonnaise potatoes. This seemingly simply and surprisingly hearty sandwich was a big hit with the two of us, thanks to the combination of the crispy bacon, thick layer of eggs, and sweet & salty cheese. I also particularly like that they serve this sandwich on brioche, as the buttery bread makes it feel more breakfast-y.

We also split an order of the Breakfast Mac and Cheese with bacon, sausage, and eggs, garnished with tomatoes and onions. Filled with gooey cheese, generous chunks of sausage, and thick, crispy bits bacon, this filling dish was my favorite of the three entrées. While I've had various breakfast versions of mac & cheese before, this was one of the best I've ever tried - rather than just throwing some bacon in the mac & cheese and declaring it breakfast, Salerno created a wonderfully composed dish that encompasses many of the best parts of breakfast favorites.

Finally, we ended our meal with an order of the French Toast Royale with Grand Marnier and fresh fruit. Although we were completely stuffed after our entrées, we simply couldn't resist this boozy French toast... and yes, despite being full, we completely demolished this sweet treat! 

 We love our drizzly action shots!

I greatly enjoyed my brunch at Firefly and can't wait to head back up there next summer to check out their dinner menu on their lovely 35-seat outdoor patio. You can try all this deliciousness and more at Firefly Kitchen: 111 Green Bay Road, Wilmette, IL (a quick drive up the north shore or an even quicker Metra ride to the Central Street station).

Firefly Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.


Travelle Kitchen + Bar

Situated along the Chicago River on the second floor of the stunning Langham Hotel, Travelle Kitchen + Bar offers diners a contemporary seasonally-inspired menu in a chic, comfortable environment. I've long been a fan of the gorgeous luxury hotel (I mean, how can you not love a place with such an amazing ceiling installation?!) and although I've managed to run into Chef Tim Graham at numerous events over the years (and indulge in his mouthwatering white gazpacho), I hadn't ever actually dined at Travelle... until now!

A few weeks ago, Ashley and I made our way down to the swanky hotel to not only oooh and ahhh over its gorgeousness, but also to sample items from Chef Graham's brand new menu. Up until a few months ago, the restaurant offered a menu of primarily Mediterranean-inspired dishes; while the new menu boasts a few mainstays from the original iteration, it is now more focused on offering seasonal, upscale comfort food (i.e. elevated American classics).

Of course, I couldn't head into Travelle without a quick stop in the lobby to ogle to one of my favorite spaces in the entire city! 

 As Ashley mentioned, the mid-century furniture, cozy warm lighting, and sophisticated/funky touches make you feel like you're hanging out on the set of Mad Men (sadly, sans Jon Hamm).

I especially loved the floor-to-ceiling wine wall separating the dining room from the bar and this fun 30-foot digital art wall in the lounge area. 

Ashley and I settled ourselves at a cozy table overlooking the Marina Towers and immediately ordered a bowl of this Field Squash Soup with pears, granola, and cranberries. This earthy, rich soup was perfectly sweetened by the pear and cranberry; surprisingly, it also had a bit of a kick from the unexpected drizzle of chili oil.

We followed our delicious soup (perfect for a cold winter's day!) with an order of BBQ Octopus with pork belly and sea island red peas. As has been well-established by now, Ashley and I are both octopus fiends, so of course, we had to sample this unique-sounding combination. Happily, we both loved this dish - there was just enough sauce to enhance the delicate flavor of the tender octopus and the pork belly added the perfect amount of juicy fattiness. This is definitely a must-order!

 For our third course, we moved on to a selection of the highly recommended flatbreads, starting with the Boursin Flatbread with vinegar cippolini, kale, and beer battered crispies. Ashley particularly loved this one, thanks to the crunchiness of the kale, the creaminess of the boursin, and the soft bite from the roasted cippolini onions.

I, on the other hand, was completely taken by their popular Lamb Sausage Flatbread with olive relish and thyme. The texture of the thin, chewy was absolutely perfect and I couldn't resist the combination of the slightly bitter olives, spiced meat, and strong savory herbs. I could easily make a lunch out of this delicious flatbread alone! 

For our entrées, we started with the Spicy Half Chicken with Brussels sprouts and guanciale. Hands down, this was one of the best chicken dishes I've had in a long, long time! Honestly, I rarely order chicken when I go out (I tend to gravitate toward the seafood side of the menu), but after several recommendations, I knew I had to try this perfectly roasted and spiced chicken. Trust me, this is not your typical boring chicken - it's definitely worth ordering!

 Finally, we split a bowl of this beautifully presented (it's tossed in a giant wheel of Parmesan!) Casareccia Pasta with yellow tomato sauce and a generous mound of herbed ricotta. We both fell hard for this hand rolled pasta and delectable creamy sauce. I was actually surprised by how much I loved this dish, as I was completely clueless about the amazingness of yellow tomato sauce - why don't more restaurants have this on their menus?!

 Of course, we couldn't leave without sampling a few desserts (along with being octopus fiends, we're also dessert fiends!). Having sampled Chef Scott Green's creations at various events, I knew we were in for a real treat! We started with the Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie, served with cinnamon whipped cream. So creamy, rich, and ridiculously addictive!

We ended our spectacular meal with a gooey slice of Chocolate Cake with corn flake crunch and brown butter coconut frosting. OMG. While I'm typically not one to order chocolate cake, I was absolutely enamored with this dense, moist, bittersweet cake. I love that they included an extra scoop of the coconut frosting and corn flake crunch on the side - I gladly could have eaten a bowl of that for dessert!

Just look at those thick layers of ganache!

Needless to say, I LOVED my meal at Travelle - I really cannot believe it has taken me so long to finally get over there. Thanks to the amazing food, chic space, and attentive servers, Travelle is most definitely an absolute must-visit for city-dwellers and visitors alike! You can try all of this deliciousness and more at Travelle Kitchen + Bar: 330 N. Wabash St (second floor of The Langham Hotel).

Travelle Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Disclosure: I received a complimentary meal to facilitate this post. Review and all opinions are my own.