2012 | chicago foodie girl

12.31.2012

Recent Foodie Finds

Welcome back! I hope everyone had a fabulous Chrismahanukwanzakah, filled with an abundance of good cheer, awesome presents, decadent cookies, and strong alcohol. :-)

I've had a fabulous two weeks of vacation; I spent the first two days of break cuddled up in my pajamas on the couch and then entered into a whirlwind holiday extravaganza that included some last-minute shopping, dinners with friends, and a massive cookie bake-a-thon. I know that I need to start planning for the next semester eventually someday very soon, but for the moment I'm just trying to enjoy not having to get up at the crack of dawn and actually having some free time to indulge in some of my favorite activities (the DVR is almost empty! My fun-reading book pile is rapidly decreasing! I've been able to see my friends on weekdays!).

Here's a bit of what happened during the last two weeks...

Shedd Aquarium 


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12.13.2012

White Chocolate Peppermint M&M Cookies

*Tap, tap, tap* Is this thing on? Ahem. I'm finally poking my head out after two insane weeks of student conferences, meetings, and grading. I spent about nine days or so buried under piles and piles of final portfolios. I didn't intend to go on a blogging hiatus, but the mountains o' portfolios won out and sapped all of my energy (I have a love/hate relationship with portfolio assessments - while I greatly enjoy reading my students' writing, I kind of hate reading mass quantities in a short amount of time).

The good news is that I am now officially done with the semester and am SO ready to commence the holiday excitement! Woo-hoo! Yesterday, a few of my colleagues and I kicked off the season at Duke's with celebratory tater tots and Winterruption (sooo delicious) and later today Mario and I are riding the CTA holiday train (in the thirteen years I've been in Chicago, I've somehow never managed to catch it). I also dug into our remaining stash of White Chocolate Peppermint M&M cookies for breakfast this morning (all in the name of celebrating what my wonderful friend has deemed The Eating Season).

I came across the recipe for these cookies on Pinterest a few weeks ago and immediately knew that I had to try them. Holy deliciousness!! I am in love with these cookies (and so is everyone else that tried them - I've already received several requests for more). After I made the first batch (following the original recipe from two peas & their pod), I did find that I had to make a few adjustments as the cookies weren't as soft as I wanted them to be, nor was there a good M&M to cookie ratio. A few small tweaks resulted in what is now my new favorite holiday cookie. If you are a peppermint lover, these cookies are a must-try!

White Chocolate Peppermint M&M Cookies
Yield: 2 1/2 dozen cookies
INGREDIENTS
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (this is my favorite brand)
1 cup white chocolate chips (I used these)
1/2 cup crushed candy canes
1 bag White Chocolate Peppermint M&M's (found at Target)

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with a Silpat baking mat or parchment paper and set aside.

2. Combine flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.

3. Using a mixer, first cream butter and sugars together until combined. Then add eggs & vanilla and beat until smooth. Finally, slowly mix in the dry ingredients.

4. Using a wide silicone spatula, stir in the white chocolate chips, candy canes, and M&M's (this can also be done by hand).

5. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of dough on prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake for 6-8 minutes or until cookies are golden around the edges, but still soft in the center. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack and cool completely.

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11.28.2012

Recipe: Chocolate Cake Balls

I've been wanting to try my hand at making cake balls for the last year or so and during my Thanksgiving break, I decided it was finally time to do it. I had the time to devote to actually making them look nice and also extra motivation to do so as I had several events/dinners in which I was slated to bring a dessert. Now, I can make a mean cupcake, an amazing pumpkin loaf, and a ridiculous number of delicious pies and cookies; however, as fabulous as they may taste, they don't always look all that pretty.

So let's just say that while the cake balls I eventually served were gorgeous and delicious, they were a huge pain in the ass because I was so set on making them look a certain way (otherwise, they're super easy to make!). It took multiple batches and a lot of cursing before I finally ended up with enough decent-looking cake balls. I used a mold (similar to the ones found here), which greatly helped with the symmetry and shape; it took me a while to get the hang of the mold, but once I finally did, there was far less cursing and many more lovely cake balls.

The cake balls were a huge hit with everyone and I look forward to experimenting with some other flavor combinations... they just might not look as nice the next time, as I refuse to ever be so Type A crazy about cake again (and this is exactly why I could never be a pastry chef)! :-)

Chocolate Cake Balls


INGREDIENTS
Chocolate cake: mix or from scratch
Cream cheese frosting: pre-made or from scratch
1-2 packages of chocolate coating bark or microwavable candy melts (milk, dark, and/or white)
Sprinkles for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS
1. If using a mix, bake cake according to the package; otherwise, make your favorite chocolate cake from scratch. I used Martha Stewart's Chocolate Cake for Cupcake Pops recipe (with King Arthur double dutch dark cocoa).

2. While cake is cooling, make cream cheese frosting (skip this step if you're using canned frosting). I used Martha Stewart's Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting recipe. I would highly recommend making your own frosting even if you use a cake mix. It took about 5 minutes total to make this frosting and it was soooo much better than the canned stuff!

3. After the cake has cooled completely, trim off edges and break up the cake into fine crumbs (you can use your hands or a mixer to break up the cake, but the following step is most easily done by hand!).

4. In a large bowl, combine cake crumbs with the cream cheese frosting. It's easier to mix the two by hand, but as Bakerella warned, it will get messy! Once mixed, it should have a doughy consistency - it should be moist enough to stick together and roll into balls, but not overly wet/tacky.

5. Roll dough into balls and place on a cookie sheet. You can do this by hand, but for consistency with size/shape, use a melon baller or mini ice cream scoop. If you want to get fancy, you can use a mold like I did (there are so many awesome ones available on Etsy!). For a larger batch (40-50), keep the balls around 1.5 inches in diameter. Mine were almost 3 inches (per the mold), so I got considerably less out of each batch (approximately 20).

6. Refrigerate for two hours or place in the freezer for 30-45 minutes (chill them all the way through, but don't freeze them).

7. Melt chocolate bark or candy melts in the microwave or on the stovetop (low heat in a double boiler). I'm not a huge fan of melting chocolate on the stovetop when I'm baking by myself (it's just so messy and way too easy to burn), so I melted Wilton Candy Melts in the microwave. I melted the chocolate in small batches so that I had enough time to coat each cake ball before the chocolate cooled. I also found that the chocolate was a bit too thick; after a quick google search for a remedy, I thinned it out with a few drops of vegetable oil.

8. Roll balls in chocolate & use the back of a spoon to smooth. Lay the cake balls on wax paper until firm. Repeat step 7 if you want to layer chocolate flavors (use a fork dipped in thick chocolate to create the lines). Store in a covered dish for up to a week or freeze (I froze mine & then thawed in the refrigerator for four hours before serving).

*modified recipe based on Bakerella's Red Velvet Cake Balls
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11.08.2012

Recipe: Pumpkin Pie Martini

As I've mentioned approximately fifty times during the past month, I have a serious love of all things pumpkin. This love includes, but is not limited to, scones, pies, cake pops, stews, chili, breads, muffins, cupcakes, tacos, whoopie pies, granola bars, ice cream, ravioli, coffee, and alcohol. Basically, if it comes in a pumpkin option, I'll try it (and will most likely love it). So it should come as no surprise that one of my favorite drinks is Fulton's Harvest Pumpkin Pie Cream Liqueur.

I was lucky enough to receive a bottle of Fulton's Harvest for my birthday last year and another this year (my friends are awesome!). Up until recently, I was only drinking it straight up (it's so good that it doesn't need to be mixed with anything else), but the moment I came across this Pumpkin Pie Martini recipe on Pinterest (via Pass the Sushi) I knew I had try to it. Guess what? I discovered pure pumpkin heaven. It is *phenomenal*! Seriously, if you're a fan of pumpkin, you must try this drink - make sure you track down some Pumpkin Pie Cream Liqueur soon though as it's only available through November!

Pumpkin Pie Martini


INGREDIENTS:
2 oz spiced rum
4 oz Fulton’s Harvest Pumpkin Pie Cream Liquor
2 oz (or spoonfuls) pumpkin puree 
Dash of pumpkin pie spice
Optional: crushed graham crackers for garnish

DIRECTIONS:
1. In a drink shaker, combine rum, Pumpkin Pie Cream Liqueur, pumpkin puree, pie spice with ice and shake vigorously.

2. Strain into martini glasses lined with graham cracker crumbs (optional).

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11.05.2012

Recipe: Slow Cooker Pumpkin Lentil Stew

Happy Monday! I don't know about you, but it seems like the weeks are flying by at turbo speed. I swear the older I get, the faster the months go by. It seems like just yesterday I was planning for my birthday, but really, we're almost a month past that and already making plans for Christmas. Yikes!

October may be in the rear-view mirror, but pumpkin season is still going strong in my house. While early fall tends to be filled with the sweeter side of pumpkin (doughnuts! scones! cookies!), November is the time in which I switch over to the heartier and healthier pumpkin dishes. November is also the month in which I start my cold-weather-induced cravings for soups, stews, and chili.

Today's Meatless Monday dish, Pumpkin Lentil Stew, is the perfect dish for this time of year. It's a hearty and satisfying stew that smells so amazing as its simmering in the slow cooker (it's almost torturous!). The stew is delicious enough to stand on its own, but it's even better when eaten with a warm chunk of French bread. As a bonus, it's both vegan and gluten-free!

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Lentil Stew
INGREDIENTS
2 lbs fresh pumpkin, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup lentils
1/2 cup unsalted corn
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cups fat-free vegetable broth
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 lime (juice only)
1 Tbs cumin
1 Tbs ground ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp black pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. In a four quart slow cooker, combine all ingredients.

2. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
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10.29.2012

Recent Foodie Finds

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend. As with many of you, Mario and I spent our weekend engulfed in Halloween excitement. It was a fun, but super exhausting weekend - actually, I think that's a great way to describe most of the month of October. The month was filled with some of my favorite parts of fall (bonfires, apple festivals, pumpkin carving, zombie burlesque, multiple birthday celebrations), but it has been a nonstop whirlwind. On top of the fun stuff, I've also been buried in piles of papers and fighting multiple respiratory infections (new job = new germs to battle). I'm looking forward to the beginning of November simply for a week or two of downtime before the Thanksgiving/Christmas madness ensues!

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10.23.2012

Tuesday LTP: Halloween Candy

As I mentioned earlier this month, I love Halloween: the decor is completely awesome (glittery skulls and pumpkins everywhere!), scary movies are in abundance (although I am opposed to the ones featuring creepy/freaky kids), It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is played on repeat, and all of the nerdy kids (myself included) have the perfect excuse to tap into their creative sides and whip together the coolest costumes. Really, Halloween is all about having fun no matter what your age... and who doesn't love fun wrapped in a layer of candy?!


While I still maintain that Easter has the best candy selection, I must admit that I'm always happy to see the return of all things candy corn during the Halloween season. I know many people think it's totally disgusting, but I am all about those pointy, sugary little nuggets, especially the caramel and chocolate versions. Possibly even better than straight up candy corn is White Chocolate Candy Corn M&Ms. Oh yes. These babies are crunchy little pieces of honey-coated heaven. The insides are buttery smooth (almost frosting-like) and extremely sweet - just like candy corn (but better!). And yes, they are totally addictive!

On the other end of the spectrum is the nasty candy that leaves every treat-or-treater (or officemate) cursing your name and wondering if they can get away with egging your house. Candy on this list includes anything involving raisins (raisin boxes are the absolute worst & Raisinets aren't far behind); anything involving licorice (boxes of Good & Plenty, licorice ropes); Necco Wafers (flavorless discs of chalk); and Mary Janes (sticky chunks of cardboard coated in fake peanut butter). Yuck.

Today's Lunchtime Poll: What is your favorite Halloween candy? Is there any Halloween candy that you really hate? Does anyone out there actually like Mary Janes?!

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10.11.2012

Birthday!

Goodbye, 30-something.
Hello, 30-something + 1 (a big move into a new age category box - sigh).

Showing off my waving skills in my stylin' BK crown 
It's that time of the year again... oh yes, it's the day in which we all celebrate the fabulousness that is ME!

As far as birthdays go, my awesome number birthday (10.11.12) isn't looking too exciting, as the entire day will be packed with paper grading, midterms, and meetings. However, the rest of the month will be filled with various celebrations with many of my favorite people (starting with a dinner at Geja's tomorrow), so I guess I can't complain too much, right?

Also, a very happy birthday to my teenage crush, Luke Perry... and happy National Sausage Pizza Day to all! :-)

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10.02.2012

Tuesday LTP: Autumn!

2012 Harvest Bonfire at
Wagner Farm
I say it every year, but I think it's always worth repeating: I ♥♥♥ fall! I especially love October, as it is filled with so many of my favorite things. Many people consider spring to be their season of personal renewal; they feel revived and ready to take on the world. That's how I feel about autumn. It just feels damn good to be alive!
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9.24.2012

Andersonville Dessert Crawl


There are so many things I love about Andersonville: the adorable shops, the fabulous restaurants, the blend of the old Swedish community with the new, and of course, the fantastic festivals. While Midsommarfest is definitely one of those not-to-be-missed summer staples and the Dinner Crawl will leave you stuffed with all sorts of deliciousness, I think my favorite festival of them all is the annual Dessert Crawl. It takes place late September/early October and always seems to happen on one of those absolutely perfect autumn days. There's really nothing like eating yourself into a sugar coma with friends while strolling through Andersonville on a lovely fall day. :-)

The seventh annual Dessert Crawl took place yesterday and as usual, it did not disappoint. They changed things up a bit this year by offering a choice of three routes rather than the normal two - while it made the decision of which route to take even harder than usual, ultimately it turned out to be a good move as it thinned the crowds out a bit. After much ooohing, ahhhing, and deliberation, Diana and I finally chose the Ice Cream route, as Diana was fixated on the Vanilla Panna Cotta and I couldn't get the idea of chocolate Kahlua soup out of my mind. We were only a stop or two into it when we both declared that we had made a brilliant decision - this was definitely the best Dessert Crawl yet!
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9.17.2012

Recipe: Pumpkin, Black Bean & Poblano Tacos

Can you believe it's already mid-September? While I'm definitely happy to see the summer come to an end, it feels like the last few weeks of it have just flown by! It has still been fairly warm (high 70s/low 80s) around here during the daytime, but there is a lovely hint of fall in the air once the sun goes down and the temperature drops. The 60-something degree temps are actually supposed to start creeping into the daytime hours starting tomorrow - yay!

I'm also seeing signs of my favorite season popping up in various places around the city: quite a few trees have tinges of yellow & orange around their edges, the back-to-school aisles at Target have all been converted to a host of Halloween goodies, and pumpkin displays have started to take over the farmers' markets. Despite the fact that I currently have a massive nasty cold and I haven't slept more than two hours for the last two nights in a row, I can't help feeling giddy at the thought of the awesomeness autumn brings! :-)

Today's Meatless Monday dish is a nod to the upcoming season and one that highlights my favorite flavor of autumn: pumpkin! These tacos are incredibly filling, thanks to the black beans and pumpkin, and strike the perfect balance of sweet/heat/crunch. If you prefer, you can easily convert this recipe into one for quesadillas and you can use the optional Creamy Pumpkin Seed Dressing (it's so good!) or some fire-roasted tomato salsa for dipping.

Pumpkin, Black Bean & Poblano Tacos
Makes 4 servings (2 tacos each)

INGREDIENTS
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 poblano peppers, chopped (approximately 1/2 cup)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 can black beans, rinsed & drained
Salt & black pepper, to taste
8 corn tortillas, warmed

Radish Slaw
1/2 cup shredded/julienned fresh radishes
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 lime, juiced

Optional toppings:
Queso fresco, crumbled and/or Creamy Pumpkin Seed Dressing (recipe below)

DIRECTIONS
1. In a skillet over medium heat, sauté oil, poblanos, chili powder & cumin for 2 minutes.

2. Add pumpkin, beans, salt, and pepper and then sauté another 3-5 minutes, until heated.

3. Make slaw: Combine radishes, cilantro, and lime juice.

4. Spoon 1/4 cup warm pumpkin mixture into each warm tortilla. Top with radish slaw and optional toppings.
---------------------------

Creamy Pumpkin Seed Dressing
Makes 12 Tablespoons

INGREDIENTS
1/4 cup raw hulled pumpkin seeds, toasted & cooled
1/4 cup canned diced fire roasted tomatoes, undrained
1 teaspoon minced fresh jalapeño or serrano pepper
1/2 avocado
1/2 lime, juiced
Salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS
1. Grind the pumpkin seeds in a food processor into a coarse powder.

2. Add tomatoes, jalapeño, avocado, lime, and salt and blend until smooth. Add water if the dressing is too thick.

*recipe via Dawn Jackson Blatner at The Chopping Block 
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9.06.2012

Recipe: Añejo Smash

Welcome back to Thirsty Thursday, aka my favorite day of the week! :-)

Despite the shortened work week, Thirsty Thursday really could not come fast enough. After spending Sunday and Monday cuddled up with my giant grading pile (5 writing assignments x 120 students = ridiculousness), I managed to start off Tuesday morning by locking my entire bag (which held my keys & wallet) in my car at the train station. F-ing hell!! In my sixteen years of driving, I've locked my keys in my car two other times - once was shortly after I got my first car (I dropped my keys on the floor as I was getting out of the car & didn't realize it until I had already locked/closed the door) and the second time was earlier this year. Yes, I did the exact same thing on Tuesday that I did a few months ago - I threw my keys in my backpack (in the passenger seat) and locked the doors as I was getting out of the car. I didn't even realize what I had done until I walked around to the passenger seat to grab my bag. Whoops. So not cool... especially considering I was thirty minutes from my house & in the 'burbs. Ugh. Thankfully, I have awesome colleagues and some really fantastic students in my classes, so at least the entire week wasn't a total loss after all of the drama.

This week's pick is a drink I recently tried for the first time and fell in love with the moment the first sip passed my lips. As I've mentioned in the past, while I am a fan of the fruity cocktails, I also have a major love for minty drinks. The Añejo Smash is fruity, minty, and slushy - it's like a tequila version of a lemony mint julep (i.e. delicious!). While it's massively strong, it's also quite refreshing. It's the perfect end-of-the-week/end-of-summer/Democratic National Convention drinking game drink!

Añejo Smash
INGREDIENTS
1 & 1/2 oz. Añejo Tequila
1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
3/4 oz. agave syrup
6-8 fresh mint leaves
4 lemon wedges

DIRECTIONS
1. Combine tequila, Grand Marnier, agave syrup, and lemon wedges in a shaker with ice.

2. Shake, then strain into a rocks glass packed with crushed ice.

3. Garnish with mint leaves.
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8.27.2012

Food Truck Social

*Tap, tap, tap* Is this thing on? Ahem.

As I mentioned on my facebook page (follow me over there for bonus content!), I didn't mean to disappear. I spent much of the last week and a half walking around in a major state of zombie-ness. My new job is quite lovely and there are a lot of fantastic people, but between getting up an hour earlier than normal, a 1.5-hour commute (each way!) to navigate, a wicked case of insomnia, and a billion new students/classes, I'm was totally out of it. Thankfully, my insomnia broke just in time for the weekend - I slept a glorious nine hours on Thursday night (versus the 2-3 I was sleeping), spent Saturday evening at Ravinia, and braved the pissing rain on Sunday for an afternoon of deliciousness at the Food Truck Social.

I don't know if I've mentioned it before or not, but I am slightly obsessed with food trucks - I have been known to plan an entire outing around a food truck stalking session. :-) While food trucks are common in many other major cities, the trend is a fairly recent phenomenon in Chicago, thanks to some strict legislation that made it difficult for them to operate in the city. After a recent surge in food trucks and a lot of push from the owners, the city finally amended the original food truck ordinance. The new ordinance still has some major limitations (for instance food trucks are not allowed to park within 200 feet of a competing brick-and-mortar restaurant), but it is a step in the right direction (they can finally apply for a license to actually prepare food on board - up until a few months ago, all food had to be pre-prepared/cooked). The city has received almost 50 mobile food preparer license applications over the last two months, which means one really great thing for me... more food trucks with awesome food! Hooray!

Diana and I attended the second annual Food Truck Social yesterday and had a magically delicious time (despite the abysmal weather). The FTS is the perfect opportunity to both learn about new food trucks and to track down some of the seemingly elusive trucks. There were fifteen trucks parked in a giant lot in West Town with a bunch of tables/tents and live music. Not only did we eat so much fantastic food, but also, thanks to the rain, we had the opportunity to talk to many of the food truck owners without hordes of hungry, angry people trying to push us out of the way to get to the front. I can't wait until next year's social, which is already rumored to be twice as big!

(please excuse the quality of some of these photos - it's not all that easy to take photos in the rain while balancing various plates of goodies)

Free Almond & Coconut bars from the KIND truck!

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8.13.2012

Recent Foodie Finds

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fabulous weekend. As with many of you, I spent a good chunk of mine glued to the Olympics. I've always been fairly indifferent about the Olympics; while I greatly enjoyed the gymnastics and track portions, I never really paid attention to much else. There was something different about this year - it was as though an Olympics craving switch was suddenly turned on in my brain. I just couldn't get enough! I even watched some basketball, which is one of my most hated sports (only slightly ahead of football). I especially loved the women's super heavyweight lifting - those girls are fierce!

Besides watching the Olympics, I devoted a fair amount of time lesson planning and getting things ready for the new semester (my new job starts in two days!). Mario and I also spent Friday geeking out at Chicago Comic Con and then partied hard on Saturday at our friend's seven-year-old's birthday party. Fun times! :-)

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8.08.2012

Recipe: Easy Seared Scallops

I have a love/hate relationship with scallops; while I love eating them, I tend to hate cooking them. Fresh scallops that are cooked properly are sweet, buttery, and will practically melt in your mouth. Fresh scallops that are just slightly overcooked are like little fishy, chewy hockey pucks. Let me just say that once you've experienced them, it's hard to get the fear of cooking scallops and ending up with those chewy pucks out of your mind. Yuck.

I stopped by Fresh Farms International Market the other day (that place is awesome!) and was enticed by a special deal on some beautiful scallops. I decided it was time to give my scallop cooking skills another try. I used a recipe for seared scallops from Alton Brown (slightly modified) that I saw on an episode of Good Eats years ago and I'm proud to say that I ended up with a really amazing dish. The scallops had a lovely caramel coating on the outside and were tender and buttery on the inside.

If you've never cooked scallops or you just want a simplistic way to prepare them that will really allow for the flavor of the scallops to shine, I highly recommend this easy recipe!

Seared Scallops


INGREDIENTS
1 to 1 1/4 lbs dry sea scallops (approximately 16)
2 tsp unsalted butter
2 tsp olive oil
Truffle salt (the original recipe calls for Kosher salt, but the truffle salt gives it a really lovely flavor)
Freshly ground black pepper

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8.06.2012

Awesome News!


You might have guessed by my string of no-cook recipes and festival posts that I haven't done much cooking/baking during the past few weeks. We've had some pretty hot days here in Chicago and honestly, the hotter it is, the less I want to hang out with a blazing oven in my air conditioning-less kitchen. However, that's not the only reason for my lack of posts. The other reason is way more exciting and much higher on the awesomeness scale than the hot, humid weather... I got a new job! Woo-hoo!

For the last five years, I have held both a full-time teaching position at one college and an adjunct position at a second college. My full-time position was one that is often misunderstood and not very highly regarded amongst academics (non-tenure-track, but with the responsibilities of someone who is a tenured professor at an equivalent school); unfortunately, it was also one that came with terrible pay. I'm not going to go into too many details because I've already complained about it enough, but basically, it sucks to hold a full-time faculty position and to also have to work a part-time position on the side.

I've been on and off the job market for the last few years. While I really wanted to leave my full-time school (and to stop working two jobs!), I didn't want to make a lateral move or end up at another school that I disliked. I had a long list of wants/needs that I refused to compromise on - because of that list, my job search was quite limited. I will admit that it was frustrating, but I hung in there and at the end of May, I was offered a coveted tenure-track position at one of the few schools in the area that I had targeted. I gave my notice mid-July and finished up with both jobs last week. Hell yes!!

The last three weeks have passed in a blur of paper grading, finals, packing, lunches with coworkers, and goodbyes to all of my favorite students. In addition to the craziness of finishing up at both schools, I've also been preparing for the start of the new school (training, syllabi, etc.). Now that I'm officially on break (I don't start at my new school until next Wednesday), I have a little time to catch up with everything (yes, I'm actually going to cook something! Yippee!). Also, don't be surprised if I suddenly comment on something you wrote weeks (or possibly months) ago. :-)

Yay me! :-)


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7.30.2012

Chicago Eats: Bleeding Heart Bakery

I fell madly in love with Bleeding Heart Bakery shortly after they opened their first storefront back in 2004. Who could not love a bakery that not only served punk rock pastries made with organic & local ingredients, but also amazing punk rock pastries at that?


Over the years, Bleeding Heart opened several more storefronts and also became a bit famous, thanks to their win on Extreme Cakes. Throughout it all, while they continued to serve delicious food (their cake balls & whoopie pies will ruin all others for you!), they were unfortunately also plagued with a series of bad business decisions and major issues with their staff (apparently, the punk rock attitude doesn't go over so well in the workplace). Sadly, they announced on Friday that they are shutting down their one remaining store - yes, the one that just opened a few months ago!

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7.25.2012

Deep-Fried Cookie Dough


It all started in the mid-90s when that crazy dude in Scotland decided to serve his customers a deep-fried Mars bar as a joke... little did he know that he would start a deep-fried trend that would move beyond the basic candy bar and expand to some seemingly unthinkable combinations (deep-fried Kool-Aid balls!?).

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7.19.2012

Travel Guide: Bristol Renaissance Faire


As I'm sure you've all figured out by now, I am a total nerd... I have a serious love for the written word, I constantly quote Heathers, and I'm a sucker for a good Ren Faire. While I typically don't go in costume, it's only because my hatred of spending a long day soaked in sweat (as it's always hot as hell whenever I go to the Faire) outweighs my desire to walk around in a corset and heavy dress. However, I do usually don some random plumage and I always bring plenty of cleavage. :-)

I joined Barb and her family for our first trek of the summer up to the Faire two weeks ago and it was as awesome as always. One of the cool things about the Bristol Ren Faire, in particular, is that although it's only open for about two months during the summer, the buildings are all permanent and many of the amazingly talented artists live above their shops. You can tell that owners put an incredible amount of time and effort into both their shops and the merchandise. There are so many intricately detailed handmade items for sale, ranging from titanium chainmail bras to mini marshmallow catapults (so much fun!) - I've amassed quite a stunning jewelry collection over the years.

Of course, the Ren Faire isn't just about costumes and shopping - there's also the fairies, the shows, and (arguably the most important part) the food!
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7.16.2012

Recipe: Avocado, Apple & Brie Sandwich

Happy Monday! I don't know about you, but it was sooo hard to drag myself into work this morning. The combination of an incredibly busy week, along with too much indulgent food over the weekend and the return of the extreme heat has left me feeling extra tired and blah. Thankfully, that craziness pretty much all consisted of fun stuff (well, minus the small altercation I had with an insane driver on Monday that left me sans passenger side mirror & the day that was filled with painful dental work) - Barb and I sang our hearts out at an amazing Fiona Apple concert; Mario and I had a delicious meal at La Gondola and attended a late night play; and I met up with a friend from high school (I hadn't seen him in 17 years!) for a fun night of conversation and Ethiopian.

The return of the extreme heat has also led to the return of my mini-cooking hiatus, so I've busted out all of my favorite no-cook (or microwave only) recipes once again. Today's Meatless Monday dish is a simple recipe that highlights my two favorite fruits: avocados and apples. This is right up there with my other favorite sandwich (I go back and forth between which is my favorite, but really, they're both totally delicious) - it's flavorful, easy to assemble, and perfect for those hot weather days in which you don't want to turn on the oven. :-)

Avocado, Apple & Brie Sandwich
Makes 1 serving

INGREDIENTS
1/2 avocado
4 small slices of Brie
1/2 sliced apple (I usually use Granny Smith or Jazz)
2 slices of whole grain bread (a softer bread works best)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Romaine lettuce

DIRECTIONS
1. Toast the bread slices and then drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

2. Mash the avocado onto one of the bread slices.

3. Layer the Brie and apple slices on top of the avocado and top with the lettuce. 
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7.10.2012

Tuesday Lunchtime Poll: Raisins


I hate raisins. I think they are one of the most horrid things you can eat - it doesn't matter if they're freshly plumped, buried in baked goods, or straight out of the box. They are ALL disgusting. They don't taste like the sweet delicious grape, nor do they taste like wine... they're just chewy balls of ickiness.

 I am of the firm belief that raisins should not be in anything. If there are raisins, the dish is automatically ruined - and don't tell me to just pick them out because the raisin essence never completely goes away (especially if they're warm - that's when they're at their peak of disgustingness). There are far too many crazy people in the world who think it's a good idea to add raisins to places where they don't belong (namely cookies, carrot cake, muffins, cinnamon bread, oatmeal, and trail mix). If the crazies want to eat those nasty little pellets on their own, then so be it, but don't ruin my food!

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7.05.2012

Recipe: Envy

I hope everyone had a fun Fourth! Raise your hand if you're one of the unlucky souls at work today who is hungover, dehydrated, and/or sleep deprived. Whew. My school is so quiet and empty (yes, we do have classes scheduled) and the people who are here (students and staff alike) all look a little rough around the edges (myself included). Mario & I had a low-key, but very fun holiday - really, it was just too bloody hot to do anything too strenuous! We spent the afternoon & evening with some friends, eating and drinking until we were about to burst. My favorite part of the meal was definitely the grilled salmon burgers topped with kimchi... and of course, the fruity frozen cocktails! :-)

In case you haven't heard (or seen via one of the thousands of Facebook photos of car thermometers), we're in the middle of a nasty heatwave. The city is hazy and stinky and everyone is moving at a much slower pace than usual. We all have that crazed look in our eyes - we know that if we walk any faster, we're going to end up in a puddle of sweat, but we also know that the faster we move, the sooner we get into the AC. Needless to say, the heat is also making everyone very cranky... Thirsty Thursday is definitely a must this week! 

I typically avoid drinks that resemble windshield wiper fluid, but after a friend in Indianapolis introduced me to this cocktail last summer, I've slightly modified my stance. Yes, it is bright blue and showy, but it's also damn good. If you're a fan of fruity cocktails, I highly recommend you give this a try!

Envy: Blue Curaçao Cocktail
INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 oz. silver tequila (I use Don Julio Blanco)
2 oz pineapple juice
1/2 oz. Blue Curaçao
Cherry and/or lemon slice for garnish

DIRECTIONS
1. Pour tequila into a glass and fill with ice.

2. Add pineapple juice and stir well.

3. Top with Blue Curacao and stir lightly.

4. Garnish with a cherry and/or lemon slice.

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7.02.2012

Recent Foodie Finds

Happy July! Wow, June really flew by... can you believe that we're rolling up on the 4th already?! Oy. June was crazy busy, but super fun - the month started with my last minute trip to Madison and ended with an unexpected ticket to Cirque Du Soleil (and there were so many birthdays & festivals in between!). My awesome friend, Jen, won a ticket package (complete with Cirque goodie bags for everyone!) and generously invited me to come along. It was my first Cirque show... and yes, it was amazing! I was even pulled out of the audience and forced into treated to a whirlwind wedding to Giovanni the clown (the little one on the left). ;-)

July is already shaping up to be just as fun with more birthday celebrations, a few backyard BBQs and visits to some awesome restaurants, and two amazing concerts (Fiona Apple and Seal/Macy Gray). I also have some very! exciting! life changing! news, but unfortunately, I can't say anything about it quite yet. Trust me - it's a very, very good thing. :-)

A few food highlights from June...

Open-Faced Omelet at BRAVO!: Turkey & avocado egg white omelet with housemade fire-roasted tomato relish, and feta, served with fresh fruit. I LOVED this omelet - in fact, I loved it so much that I had it twice in the same month (the restaurant is right next to the movie theater, so it's perfect for a brunch & movie date). I also made my own version of it at home yesterday. I don't know why I never thought to make an open-faced omelet before - it's so much better than the traditional version!
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6.28.2012

Recipe: Watermelon Mint Mojito

It is so bloody hot, humid, and just plain nasty in Chicago today. Seriously, this is ridiculous... the Midwest has no business whatsoever hanging out in the triple digit range. Ugh!

If there was ever a day for a refreshing summer cocktail, today would be it. As I mentioned in the past, I am all about the slushy, fruity drinks. However, I also have a major love for minty drinks, which is why my absolute favorite summer cocktail is the Watermelon Mint Mojito. Not only does it strike the perfect balance between fruity and minty, but it's also super refreshing. 

My mouth is watering just thinking about this awesome drink... really, is there anything better than the combination of watermelon and vodka on a hot summer day? I think not. I can't wait to get home and pour myself one of these bad boys! :-)

Watermelon Mint Mojito

























INGREDIENTS
3 oz watermelon vodka (recipe below)
6-8 fresh mint leaves, muddled
1 lime wedge, muddled
Simple syrup with mint  (recipe below)
Club soda to taste
A wedge of watermelon & mint sprig for garnish

Basic simple syrup:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
Bring to a boil and let reduce by a third. Take off heat, add in 6-8 mint leaves, and let steep for at least 1/2 hour. Refrigerate up to 1 week.

For infused vodka:
1-liter plain vodka
2 cups watermelon, diced
Mix together and allow the flavors to blend for 24 hours or up to 3 weeks.

DIRECTIONS
1. Shake together all of the ingredients for the mojito and pour over ice.

2. Top with club soda, or lemon-lime soda. Garnish with a wedge of watermelon and sprig of mint.


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6.26.2012

Tuesday LTP: Hummus



Welcome back to the Tuesday Lunchtime Poll! I took brief hiatus from posting polls because I was feeling a little burnt out, but now I have some new topics and I'm ready to get this thing going again. Woo-hoo! :-)

Let's talk about hummus. I am one of those people who looooves hummus. It is the food of the gods... it pairs perfectly with pita, crackers, carrots, red peppers, grape leaves & feta, avocados & turkey, Kalamata olives... the list goes on and on. This Hummus Crusted Chicken with Rosemary and Lemon recipe? Oh, holy amazing.

While I prefer my homemade hummus (extra tahini & garlic with roasted red peppers and/or artichoke hearts), I pretty much always have a tub or two of store-bought hummus on hand. I've spent years trying various brands and while there aren't any that I really hate, there are a few brands that I'm not overly fond of (namely Athenos). Of course, there are also those that I really love: Sabra's Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, the Greek Olive hummus, and the Basil & Pesto hummus are my absolute favorites; Tribe's Zesty Spice & Garlic hummus isn't far behind. I also love the Roasted Lemon & Thyme hummus from The Love & Hummus Co., but unfortunately, it's only sold in California. Occasionally, I'll buy either the edamame hummus or the guacamole hummus from Trader Joe's (but I still think the avocado hummus I make is better).

Today's LTP: How do you feel about hummus - are you a hummus fiend like me? Do you have a preference for homemade versus store-bought? What's your favorite brand and/or flavor?

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6.25.2012

Recipe: Korean BBQ Seitan Salad

I was already over a year into my five year stint as a vegetarian the first time I had seitan. Up until then, the only faux meat I had encountered was in the form of Boca Burgers or the nasty water chestnut veggie patties that were served in my college's cafeteria. I was amazed not only by the texture of that funny little wheat gluten (I could have sworn it was meat!) but also by the taste. The professor who made me that dish was a whiz at cooking with seitan - he opened my eyes and palate to a whole new world of vegetarian cooking.

While I do eat meat these days, I still love my seitan. Today's Meatless Monday dish, Korean BBQ Seitan Salad, is my version of that awesome dish my professor made me all those years ago. This is a simple way to cook with seitan and it's an extremely versatile dish - it can be served on its own as a hearty salad, or can be used for a sandwich/wrap filling.

Korean BBQ Seitan Salad
Makes 2 servings


INGREDIENTS
1 package of seitan strips - approximately 1 lb (this is my favorite brand - you can also make your own)
1/2 jar Korean BBQ sauce (I use CJ Bibigo Korean BBQ Sauce)
2 thinly sliced roasted red peppers (jarred or freshly roasted)
Toasted sesame seeds
Mixed greens - approximately 10 oz.
1 tsp olive oil

DIRECTIONS
1. Remove seitan from liquid and marinate in half of the BBQ sauce (approximately 1/4 of the jar) for 30-60 minutes. The longer you let it sit, the stronger the BBQ flavor!

2. Coat pan with olive oil and sauté seitan over medium-low heat until it's golden brown (3-5 minutes). Make sure you watch it carefully because it is *very* easy to burn.

3. Reduce heat, add remaining BBQ sauce (1/4 of the jar), and top with peppers. Simmer for 10-15 minutes or until sauce has cooked down.

4. Spoon seitan over salad greens and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.


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6.18.2012

Recipe: Avocado Hummus & Tomato Sandwich

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend. I had a very packed & fun one that included brunch with a friend at my favorite neighborhood restaurant, another brunch where I encountered the biggest Bellini I've ever seen (it was served in a pint glass, which made me very, very happy), a showing of Prometheus, and most importantly, my favorite six-year-old's birthday party. :-)

Besides being a busy weekend, it was also an unbearably hot one. It has been in the 90s with some ridiculous humidity for the last few days and the nasty streak will continue for most of this week. Seeing as we live in a small apartment with no AC, I'm not interested in cooking anything when the weather gets like this. I made the mistake of turning on the oven during some ungodly weather last summer... let's just say that I created a hellish salmon-infused inferno that lasted for days. Lesson learned.

As I am currently on a mini-cooking hiatus, I've had to bust out all of my favorite no-cook (or microwave only) recipes. Today's Meatless Monday dish is a simple recipe that highlights some of the best flavors of the season: tomatoes and avocados. It's not only one of my favorite sandwiches ever, but it's also full of healthy fats and is super easy to make (only two steps!). Most importantly, it doesn't require turning on the oven. :-)

Avocado Hummus & Tomato Sandwich
Makes 2 servings

INGREDIENTS
1 avocado
1/2 cup canned white beans, drained and rinsed
1 lemon, juiced (approximately 3 Tbsp)
Sea salt & pepper, to taste (I use truffle salt - it is amazing on both avocados & tomatoes!)
4 slices whole grain sprouted bread (I like Ezekiel)
2 cups arugula (or substitute with fresh spinach)
2 plum tomatoes

DIRECTIONS
1. Make the hummus: mash together the avocado, beans, lemon, and salt/pepper.

2. Assemble the sandwich: layer the avocado hummus, arugula, and tomato on the bread (I like mine toasted).


*recipe via Dawn Jackson Blatner at The Chopping Block
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6.13.2012

Recipe: O Crunch Bars

I was a latecomer to the delicious world of Rice Krispie Treats. As a child, there were always plenty of homemade desserts to be found in our kitchen (my mom was a cookie genius), but Rice Krispie Treats never made it into the rotation. I actually don't remember encountering that childhood staple until I was almost a teenager. I remember the experience well because not only was I bowled over by the amazing treat I had missed out on for so many years, but also because I had actually made them myself. That first time was in my 6th grade Home Economics class, where we were partnered up for our first day of cooking lessons and given a detailed set of instructions, along with a stern lecture about stove safety. My partner just so happened to be my 6th-grade crush... let's just say that Mike lost a little of his luster that day when he burned the butter (which was his only task!) and ruined our project. I ended up remaking the Rice Krispie Treats by myself because not only did I want to actually taste them, but I was also a Grade Nazi and refused to get anything less than an A on the assignment. :-)

While I still have a serious love for RKT, these days I tend to refrain from making them because otherwise, I will go crazy and gorge myself until I'm sick (they're so addictive!). Rather than heading down the shameful road of unhealthy RKT madness, I satisfy my cravings with a much healthier version that is sans butter and marshmallows, but just as delicious. O Crunch Bars are sweet, chewy, crunchy, and as a bonus, even easier to make than Rice Krispie Treats.

If only my Home Ec teacher had known about these, then maybe poor butter-burning Mike wouldn't have lost some of his cool that fateful day...

O Crunch Bars
Makes 12 servings


INGREDIENTS
3 cups "O" cereal, such as Multigrain, Dulce de Leche, or Chocolate Cheerios
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup almond butter (or peanut butter if you prefer)
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
Cooking spray

DIRECTIONS
1. Pour cereal in a large bowl.

2. In a saucepan over medium heat, stir brown rice syrup and almond butter until melted.

3. Pour mixture over cereal and stir.

4. Mist 8x8 baking dish with cooking spray and press cereal mixture into dish.

5. Top with chocolate chips and press them lightly into the cereal.

6. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours, until set. Cut into 12 bars.


*recipe via Dawn Jackson Blatner at The Chopping Block

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6.11.2012

Travel Guide: Girls Weekend in Madison, Wisconsin


As I mentioned last week, I spent most of my free time during my senior year of college (oh so many years ago) exploring everything that Madison had to offer. I went to a very small school about an hour outside of the city and while I got a fantastic education and really loved so many things about the environment, it wasn't exactly the epicenter of culture. To me, Madison was bright and shiny - it was diverse and had yummy restaurants & a funky vibe that was lacking at my school. I fell in love with that city and considered it to be one of my top choices to live once I was finished with school.
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6.04.2012

Meatless Monday: Double Sesame Kale

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend. My friend, Barb, had a training to attend on Saturday in Madison and she invited me to head up there with her and make it a girls weekend. I made a last minute decision to clear my calendar and join her, which I'm so glad I did! There was a time in my life in which I spent practically every weekend roaming the streets of that city (back when I was a senior in college/a lifetime ago!), but I hadn't been back in eight-ish years. I spent the time she was in her training wandering around the huge farmers market and visiting all of my old favorite stores and cafés. It was a lovely weekend, but I have to say that it was a bit weird being back there, as everything was so familiar, but I'm no longer the same person who fell in love with that city all those years ago. The 30-something-year-old version of myself definitely has quite a different perspective than the 19-year-old version did (I'm also far less awkward & have much better style, thank goodness!).

After a weekend of 
rum punch and amazing gelato (more on this next week!), it's time for me to do another mini-detox. I don't ever do anything weird or harsh - I just focus on eating a mostly fruit & veggie-based diet and up my Shakeology servings from one to two per day. My detoxes give me the perfect excuse to pull out my recipe files and revisit some of those long-neglected, but delicious meatless dishes, including today's Double Sesame Kale. While I usually find raw kale to be far too bitter, the honey in this dish cuts down the bitterness factor; the addition of the sesame and Bragg's Liquid Aminos leads to the perfect sweet/salty/savory combination. Yum!!

Double Sesame Kale
Makes 4 servings (1 cup each)


INGREDIENTS
1-2 bunches of kale (enough to make 8 cups chopped)
3 Tbs brown rice vinegar
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs dark sesame oil
1 Tbs sesame seeds
Bragg's Liquid Aminos, to taste (you can substitute with low sodium soy sauce)

DIRECTIONS
1. Remove kale leaves from stems. Discard stems and finely chop kale leaves.

2. Put chopped kale in large bowl and pour on remaining ingredients.

3. Massage the ingredients into the kale for 5 minutes (with your hands) until the 8 cups of kale shrink down to about 4 cups.

*recipe via Dawn Jackson Blatner at The Chopping Block

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5.29.2012

Tuesday LTP: Summer Cocktails



I'm definitely not the biggest fan of summer (I'm more of a cooler weather girl), but even I have to admit that there are a few fantastic things about summer that the other seasons just cannot touch. There are so many awesome festivals (two more weeks until Midsommarfest! Woo-hoo!) and outdoor concerts. There are BBQs, picnics, and bonfires happening just about every weekend (everything just tastes so much better when it's grilled outside!). There's also really nothing like walking along the shoreline of Lake Michigan and experiencing the gorgeous summer sunrises & sunsets. Of course, we can't forget the most important and delicious part of the season... the amazing summer cocktails! :-)

Yes, you can drink these cocktails during any time of the year, but there's just something about the summer weather that makes them taste 10x better (bonus points if they're consumed outside!). My favorite summer cocktails are all refreshing and full of flavor. While I tend to favor those on the fruity end (margaritas, daiquiris, fruity vodka lemonades, Riesling strawberry slushies), I also love my minty drinks. My absolute favorite is the watermelon mint mojito, which strikes the perfect balance between the two sides (it's soooo good!). Really, I love just about any cocktail that involves watermelon - it's no wonder that I went crazy for the watermelon sangria a friend served at his BBQ yesterday (recipe forthcoming!).

Today's LTP: What is your favorite summer drink? Are you strictly a beer drinker or are you all about the summer cocktails? Do you have a preference for fruity or minty drinks?



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5.25.2012

Travel Guide: Starved Rock

As promised on Monday... Starved Rock!

For those of you who live in more interesting/hiking-friendly areas (i.e. not the Midwest), Starved Rock may not be too exciting, but for those of us who live in either the urban jungle (Chicago) or on flat farmland (the rest of Illinois), it is quite an awesome place to visit. Not only can you get a serious cardio workout, but it's also a really beautiful area. There are miles and miles of trails that lead to random waterfalls and cool rock formations - it's amazing that such a place exists less than two hours from Chicago! Before I discovered Starved Rock, I didn't think there were any really great places to hike in Illinois (I was mostly heading up to WI or over to MI to get my hiking fix).

I would love to go back during the winter to see the frozen waterfalls (click on each trail to see photos), but I have to admit that I'm a bit of a wuss when it comes to sliding around on the ice. :-)



French Canyon: It's the easiest waterfall to hike to, which also makes it one of the most popular/crowded. However, it's a really gorgeous little area - one of the most scenic areas in the park and definitely worth fighting through the crowds!

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5.21.2012

Meatless Monday: Bay Avocado Salad

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend. I took full advantage of the lovely weather and spent most of the weekend at my favorite hiking spot in Illinois, Starved Rock State Park. I even made it over to Matthiessen State Park for the first time, which was nice, but a bit smaller than what I was expecting. Unfortunately, one of the falls (Devil's Bathtub) was already fairly dry (they're seasonal falls), but Cascade Falls was still going strong and was quite a sight to see! I'll share some more info in Friday's post, so make sure you stop by then for more!

Now, on to the food! As it did during our mini freak summer back in March, the warm weather is making me crave some of my favorite summery dishes (lighter meals, mostly comprised of fruits and veggies). Today's Meatless Monday dish, Bay Avocado Salad, is designed to be a sandwich filling, but it goes just as well over brown rice or quinoa or served on its own with a side of greens (it's especially good with spinach salad). It's super easy to assemble, packed with flavor, and can be used in so many ways - highly, highly, highly recommended!

Bay Avocado Salad 
Makes 4 servings (1 cup each)
INGREDIENTS
1 avocado, diced
1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped (I hate celery, so I omit this & add in a second bell pepper)
4 green onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Dressing:
2 limes, juiced (approximately 4 Tbs)
2 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
1 tsp black pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. In a medium bowl, mix together avocado, beans, bell pepper, celery, onions, and cilantro

2. In a small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients and toss with avocado/bean mixture

To serve as a sandwich: remove the bread from center of 4 rolls and spoon in avocado/bean mixture

*recipe via Dawn Jackson Blatner at The Chopping Block


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5.14.2012

Recipe: Chili Almond Asparagus

I am an asparagus fiend. Although I will eat it year-round, I'm happiest during the spring when it's super fresh, sweet, and cheap. I'm definitely a fan of the less is more mindset when comes to cooking it (there's nothing like some freshly grilled spears with olive oil and lemon), but since I eat so much of it, I'm always looking for ways to jazz it up a bit.

I came across this recipe for Chili Almond Asparagus (via Vegan Yum Yum) a few years ago and it instantly became one of my favorites. This asparagus dish contains the perfect combination of sweet and tart with just the right amount of heat. It's intended to be served as a side dish, but I will often use it as the main component of dinner, served with some grilled red bell peppers drizzled with cream of balsamic, and brown rice. This is a must try for all asparagus lovers! 

Chili Almond Asparagus
INGREDIENTS
1/4 cup sliced almonds, roughly crushed
1 Tbs powdered soup stock (I use either Bill’s Best or Vogue Cuisine)
2 tsp red chili flakes
1 lb asparagus spears, trimmed
2 carrots, peeled
2 tsp peanut oil
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
Fresh zest and juice of 1 lemon

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat oven to 450°

2. Roughly crush the almonds so that most are ground fairly fine, but leave a few larger pieces left in the mix. Mix together 1/2 of the ground almonds, soup stock powder, and the chili flakes.

3. Trim the carrots to the same length as the asparagus spears. Cut half the carrots lengthwise, then quarter them, and continue cutting each piece lengthwise until you have a sizable amount of long, flexible, thin strips of carrots.

4. In a large bowl, toss the carrots and the asparagus spears in the oils. Sprinkle the almond seasoning over the asparagus and carrots and toss well, making sure the coating sticks to the veggies.

5. Arrange the veggies in one layer on a parchment covered baking sheet. If there is any seasoning left in the bowl, scrape it onto the veggies.

6. Bake for about 5 minutes, or until the veggies are tender and starting to color. Finish under the broiler for a few minutes until brown and crispy in places.

7. Top with the remaining almond pieces, lemon zest, and season with a sprinkle of lemon.


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5.08.2012

Tuesday LTP: What Do You Tip?


Last week's LTP post on Tip Guides brought up a ton of interesting points and questions! I was planning to respond to each one individually, but once I realized how much I had to say, I figured it would better to just turn into another post on tipping.

According to the Emily Post Institute, the general tipping guidelines for restaurants are as follows:

Wait service (sit down): 15-20%, pre-tax
Wait service (buffet): 10%, pre-tax
Host or Maitre d': No obligation for greeting you and showing you to your table.
Take Out: No obligation/10% for extra service (curb delivery) or a large, complicated order

First, let me just get this out of my system: yes, Bandera, you heard from Emily Post's people - the tip amount should be based on the PRE-tax amount. Hmmmppph.

As I mentioned last week, I think it's the job of the restaurant owners (i.e. their employers) to pay their servers a proper salary. In fact, I would go so far as to say that all states should force all restaurants to pay their waitstaff at least the federally mandated minimum wage. Servers should be paid by their employers to complete the mandatory duties of their positions - they should not have to depend on tips to earn a livable wage, just as customers should not feel guilted into tipping at a higher rate just because they know the servers are being paid so little.

As a customer, it shouldn't be my concern if the server is being paid a fair wage or not. If a server does acceptable work (satisfactorily completes his/her duties), then they should be fully compensated by their employer and that's that. Tips should not be used to make up a gap in the server's salary. It should be my choice to decide that if the server does exemplary work that merits a tip for going beyond expectations (the basic duties of his/her job). Tipping was originally meant to reward servers who provided customers with extraordinary service - now it's expected that you tip at least 10% even if you were unsatisfied with your service.

Yes, I know that tipping is technically optional, but I don't see it that way. Unless there's an extreme situation (more on this later), I would never not leave at least a 15% tip (my standard is 20%, but I will go down if there was a server-specific issue) because I know the system is complicated and unfair. Even the government treats tipping as though it's mandatory! I've heard various people argue that the low wages/tipping system is necessary in order to force servers to give the customers a high level of service. Bullshit. I've been to several restaurants in the U.S. and many in Europe in which tipping was abolished or there never was a standard tipping system. The service was excellent in those places and the servers seemed much more motivated to provide a high level of service - maybe because they were actually being paid fairly & didn't have to bust their assess just to pick up a few extra bucks from each table? Also, as a customer, I felt much more inclined to actually want to leave to a leave a tip (even though it wasn't expected) because I had received such good service. I think my money has much more impact when it's being used to reward someone providing more than just basic service (positive reinforcement), rather than being used as an excuse for employers to not pay a fair wage.

[FYI, I worked as waitress/host/cashier when I was in college - it was at a restaurant that paid fairly well & discouraged tipping. The job totally sucked, but not because of the lack of tipping.]

Today's LTP: I want to know all about your views on tipping...

1. Do you take anything into consideration (e.g. cost of the meal, speed of service, overall satisfaction, type of restaurant) when deciding on what to tip? Do you have a set standard?

As I mentioned, I normally leave a 20% tip unless there's something that goes wrong and/or the service isn't all that great (and I will go up if the service is especially spectacular). I have a friend who always leaves a flat $5 tip, no matter what... I guess servers just better hope they get her table for a $20 meal and not a $50 one. :-)

2. Has there ever been a time in which you didn't leave a tip? What made you decide not to leave a tip? Did you inform the server and/or manager of why or did you just leave without saying anything?

Discounting my college days in which we were all a bit naive about tipping, there have only been two times in which I intentionally chose to not leave a tip. The first time happened in Salem, MA during lunchtime. The waitress dropped off our food, cashed out the two tables next to us, and then disappeared back into the main dining area (we were the only table left on the patio). We didn't see her for the rest of the meal - not only did she never return, but no other servers came out to check on us at any point. Half an hour after we finished the meal, we wandered into the dining room to try to find her, as we were sick of waiting (we didn't even have the bill!). Oh, that's when we found out that she had actually left for the day after she brought us the food... and neglected to let anyone inside know that there was still a table outside. They didn't even have a ticket for us. Awesome.

The second time was at one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago - the waiter was extremely rude and condescending and made everyone at the table very uncomfortable. A member of my party actually ended up complaining to the manager and we also decided not to leave a tip. We knew that the waiter wouldn't possibly think it was his behavior that led to the lack of tip (as we were obviously uncultured cheapskates), so we left a note on the receipt that detailed exactly why we made that decision. I don't know if anything good came out of that note, but I do know at least the a-hole waiter, the hostess, and possibly another manager saw it (and it made me feel better to write it).

3. Do you ever tip when you get take out?

I don't tip when I'm just picking up an order, but I will say that I always feel really uncomfortable when the host/hostess watches me cross out the tip line on the receipt... it makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong (maybe because I'm just a little do-gooder at heart).


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