April 2012 | chicago foodie girl


Recent Foodie Finds

Happy (almost) May! I know I say it just about every month, but wow, April really flew by... it feels like just last week that I was gearing up for a month filled with birthday celebrations, Baconfest, and Mario's guitar class recital. Whew. It was one crazy/fun month!

May is already shaping up to be just as fun with a few more birthday celebrations, a trip to Starved Rock for a weekend of hiking, and visits to a couple of my favorite restaurants. I also have a few exciting changes/additions planned for this space, which I hope to roll out soon (well, as soon as I finish grading the giant stack of freshman comp papers that are currently staring me down). :-)

A few (non-bacon) food highlights from April...

Flourless chocolate cake from Rose's Wheat Free Bakery. I'm usually not a fan of vegan desserts, as they tend to have a weird taste and/or dry texture. The cakes & cupcakes from Rose's are definitely the exceptions. This cake was moist and had such amazing flavor (so much chocolate!). If I hadn't known better, I never would have guessed that it was vegan!



Meatless Monday: Tomato, Asparagus & Mushroom Frittata

I breakfast foods. Seriously, I am all about breakfast - I can have it at any time of the day (and frequently do!). In the land of Starr, breakfast is not just breakfast; it's also the new lunch and the new dinner.

My breakfast love runs the gamut from sweet (bring on the maple!) to savory. I'm a huge fan of eggs and will eat them just about any way you can make them (except pickled - I really don't care for pickled anything). The only problem is that my stomach doesn't like them back. Let's just say that what was once a small thunderstorm in my tummy post-egg consumption has now morphed into full-blown hurricane territory. I'm sure I have some sort of egg allergy, but I refuse to acknowledge it because... well, I love eggs! :-)  However, for the sake of my stomach (and anyone around me), I do try to substitute Egg Beaters or egg whites as much as possible, like with my favorite frittata recipe.

I spent years trying various frittata recipes but was never completely satisfied with the results. Eventually, I decided to take my favorite elements from the various attempts and add in a few of my own personal twists. This tomato, asparagus, and mushroom frittata recipe is my perfect version of the dish.

Tomato, Asparagus & Mushroom Frittata
makes 4 servings (1 wedge each)

1 & 1/2 cups Egg Beaters (Original or Southwestern Style)
1/4 cup fat-free milk
10 asparagus spears, trimmed & cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup sliced mushrooms (I'm partial to morel or porcini)
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat Swiss cheese & 1/2 cup reduced-fat cheddar cheese
1/4 tsp sea salt OR truffle salt (I use this)
1/4 tsp black pepper
Pinch of Herbs de Provence
Fat-free cooking spray

1. Preheat broiler.

2. In a medium bowl, mix Egg Beaters, milk, 1/2 of cheese mixture, salt, pepper, and Herbs de Provence.

3. Coat an ovenproof skillet with cooking spray & set over medium heat. Add asparagus and mushrooms - cook and stir for approximately 3 minutes (until the asparagus is tender).

4. Add the tomato - cook and stir for approximately 1 minute.

5. Pour egg mixture into skillet and reduce heat to low. Cook for 8-12 minutes, loosening edges of frittata occasionally so that the egg mixture can redistribute. Sprinkle the remainder of the cheese mixture over the top (before the frittata sets).

6. Once the bottom of the frittata is set (the top will be slightly moist), remove from heat & place skillet under the broiler.

7. Broil for 1-2 minutes (until the top is set). Remove from broiler immediately and let sit for 2 minutes.

8. Cut into 4 wedges and serve immediately.



Tuesday LTP: Bacon Love

via Science, Love and LSD
When it comes to the candy of the meat world, there's a continuum that ranges from "Sure, I like bacon" to "I want to dive into a vat of sizzling swine and flop around in its salty goodness" (see Jim Gaffagin, The Oatmeal, and Canada). I fall somewhere in the middle of that range - I obviously like bacon enough to attend an event such as Baconfest, but really, I can go months without it (honestly, I'm a bit bacon-ed out at the moment... well, unless you have some of those awesome bacon pancake pops you want to pass along to me). While I'm not someone who would use bacon toothpaste or who would be buried in a bacon coffin, I am someone who finds the idea of bacon chocolate Peeps to be quite intriguing (oooh, and look at these maple bacon cupcakes!).

Today's Lunchtime Poll*:
Where do you fall on the bacon continuum?

pollcode.com free polls 
*Obviously, this poll is not meant for those who don't eat pork for religious reasons, hate pork, or who are vegetarian, vegan, etc. (although I've had conversations with many vegetarians & vegans who said that bacon was the hardest thing to stop eating and/or the one meat that tempts them) 

Bonus question: how do you like your bacon? Crispy? Chewy? Incinerated? Chopped up into bits, smothered in maple syrup, and stuffed into a cupcake?



Baconfest 2012

Baconfest: a celebration of all things bacon. There's bacon, bacon, and more bacon... and let's not forget the bacon cocktails to wash it all down. The fourth annual Chicago Baconfest took place this past Saturday and Diana and I were lucky enough to score tickets to the coveted event (seriously, it sold out in five minutes!). It was the first time at the festival for both of us... and it was quite a crazy, awesome, salty, and magical day. :-)

In our two hours of extreme bacon consumption, we encountered everything from bacon-wrapped sausages deep-fried in croissant dough with horseradish mustard (Bleeding Heart Bakery) to double-chocolate flan with cherry-smoked bacon (May Street Café). We gobbled up bacon-inspired creations from some of our favorites restaurants and discovered wonderful new places; my personal favorite, bacon pancake pops in a bourbon glaze, came from a restaurant I've never been to before (Zed451) and definitely want to visit now that I've sampled their amazingness.

Let me just say that while I had a fantastic time, I'm glad Baconfest only happens once a year. I swear I was sweating bacon grease out of every pore by the end of it! I think I definitely made up for the ten years of my life I went without bacon (5 years as a vegetarian/5 years as a pescetarian). In fact, seeing as I don't cook pork at home (I usually only have it when I'm at events or cooking classes), I would venture to say that I consumed more bacon in one day than I have during most of my adult life. Oy.



Recipe: The Perfect Bloody Mary

While I've been an enthusiastic supporter of vodka for years, it's only within the last six months that I've become a true fan of the Bloody Mary.

We all know how I feel about celery (aka the devil's vegetable), and tomato juice is one of those weird things I don't fully understand (it falls somewhere into the same perplexing category as drinkable yogurt). Nevertheless, I'd actually tried my fair share of Bloody Marys over the years, as they're one of those brunch menu staples (brunch = the best/my favorite meal of the day). Unfortunately, my experiences with brunch Bloody Marys were definitely less than stellar. They were all either too chunky/soupy (um, please pass me a grilled cheese to sop up my drink), too watery/warm (warm runny tomato guts = grossness), far too spicy (nooo, it's not a problem to have my taste buds rendered useless for the next week all thanks to the bucket of Worcestershire sauce you dumped in my glass), or they were served with a giant clump of floating hair (okay, that only happened once, but it was really, really gross!).

I'm sure there are tons of restaurants out there that serve fabulous Bloody Marys. I've just never had the good fortune to be at one when I've had the urge to give the drink another try. Luckily, I did have the good fortune last summer to attend a cocktails & appetizers class at The Chopping Block, where we learned how to make our own perfect Bloody Marys. That class changed my life. Yes, that sounds a bit dramatic, but the class opened me up to a whole new way of viewing a previously disliked drink/food (technically, it's a drink, but there's chewing involved, so is it also a food? A meal? Sigh.).

There really is an art to the Bloody Mary - an excellent version contains the perfect blend of zesty spices, the right amount of heat, premium tomato juice, and complementary garnishes. The tangy, salty, and sweet flavors combine and lead to a full-on assault on to the senses. The recipe I picked up from that class produces the most amazingly spicy, strong, and super addictive drink ever. I would gladly serve or drink these at any brunch - just make mine sans celery, thanks.

Bloody Marys
Yield: 4 small drinks

3 ounces pepper flavored vodka (plain vodka can also be used)
1 cup tomato juice or vegetable juice (such as V8)
4 to 5 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco or hot sauce to taste
Fresh lemon juice to taste
Celery salt to taste
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Lemon or lime wedge
Your favorite spice blend (this is my favorite)

Garnish suggestions:
Celery stalk
Stuffed green olives (my favorite garnish!)
Skewers of cherry tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella cheese (my second favorite!)
Pickle spears
Peppadew peppers or pepperoncini
Lemon or lime wedge

1. Moisten the rims of four glasses by running the lemon or lime wedge around them. Lightly dip the rims into the spice blend.

2. Mix together the vodka, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, lemon juice, celery salt, and pepper in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake for several seconds to chill the drink. Pour into prepared glasses.

3. Serve with the garnishes of your choice.



Tuesday LTP: Overrated Foods

I've lived in Chicago for almost thirteen years and while I'm enamored with the idea of moving to San Francisco, I have to say that I do love Chicago to bits. It really is a fantastic city - it offers a nice balance of city life and Midwestern charm (two four seasons & polite, down-to-earth people). I am a Michigan transport, but I do consider Chicago to be my true home.

While Chicago is a great place to live, it's certainly not without its flaws. Excluding things like the messy politics, economic & racial stratification issues, and ridiculous parking meter situation, the biggest offense this city has to offer is its deep dish pizza. I have a confession to make: I am one of those Chicago people who doesn't care for Chicago-style pizza. Yes, I said it. I think Chicago stuffed pizza is completely overrated.

The majority of Chicagoans have an abiding love of this damn pizza that I just don't understand. I can't tell you how many times I've been on the receiving end of the crazy-crooked-eye-confused face when I've mentioned that I don't really care for it - it's like I've said that I eat puppies for dessert or something. Now, I'm not saying that I hate Chicago-style pizza; I just don't see what all the rage is about. It's essentially a giant cheese casserole in a buttery bowl smothered in grease and a tub of tomato sauce. Sure, it smells lovely and the first few bites are always delicious, but less than halfway into a piece, you're stuffed and bloated. Oh, and let's not forget the subsequent food coma and ugly GI issues. Ugh. That is not my idea of a happy pizza experience.

After a few years of not eating it, I broke down had a piece last October... I'm not entirely sure I'm finished digesting it. :-P

Today's LTP: Are there any foods that you think are completely overrated?  Also, who's with me on the Chicago-style pizza? I know I'm not the only one out there with good taste in pizza! :-)



Recipe: Baked Chipotle Sweet Potato Fries

I was somewhere in my mid-twenties the first time I had sweet potato fries. While I was well acquainted with the deliciousness of the mashed sweet potato, the baked sweet potato, candied sweet potatoes, and sweet potato pie, for some weird reason, I had never encountered the sweet potato in French fry form until then. I was instantly hooked.*

French fries are definitely one of my favorite comfort foods (there's nothing like a nice batch of fried salty carbs!); however, I really try not to order them much when eating out because not only are they super addictive, the portions sizes are also usually insane and I will eat them all. I try to only make exceptions if I'm somewhere that serves specialty fries (like here, here, or here) or if the word "truffle" is involved in the description.

Fortunately, I'm able to easily satisfy my fry love at home without spiraling into a serious caloric nightmare. When I'm short on time or just feeling lazy, I throw in a bag of Alexia Spicy Julienne Sweet Potato Fries - I've found them to be the best of all of the frozen fry brands I've tried. However, as good as they are, they just do not compare to the homemade version. I've tried various recipes over the years and have finally settled on what I think is the perfect version of the sweet potato fry (seen here). They're spicy, crispy, and have the perfect balance of salty and sweet. As a bonus, they're super easy to make!

*Unlike the far inferior white potato (see my Yuck List), I love my sweet potatoes prepared just about any which way.

Baked Chipotle Sweet Potato Fries

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled & cut into fry shape (1/4 inch is usually a good cut)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (I use this)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sea salt (I usually use Maldon)
1/4 teaspoon paprika (you can omit this if you don't want the smokiness)

1. Preheat oven to 425°

2. In a resealable container or bag (you'll need a little extra room), combine the olive oil, chipotle pepper, garlic powder, sea salt, and paprika. Add in the sweet potato fries, seal the container, and shake until well coated.

3. Cover a baking sheet with nonstick aluminum foil. Spread the fries on the sheet - avoid crowding the fries, or else they will not get crisp. Bake for 35-40 minutes, flipping the fries every 10-15 minutes until cooked through and browned. Watch them closely during the last 10 minutes because they will quickly go from lightly browned to burnt (trust me on this one).


Tuesday LTP: Hated Foods

When I was a wee non-foodie girl, there was an extensive list of foods I refused to eat. Some of those foods now have a permanent spot on my yuck list (mashed potatoes have the honor of being the first to join my list of evil foods), but there are many others I remember actively hating, but really have no idea why I hated them. Not only do I not hate these foods today, I actually count them amongst my favorites.

For years I had an extreme hatred of both cheese and mustard. I don't know why I disliked them; I just know that the presence of either could send me spiraling into a total meltdown. I remember one particularly ugly scene that involved a trip to Burger King with my grandparents and a mistake with our order that ended with me receiving a cheeseburger with mustard (the horror!), rather than a plain hamburger. After scraping off the cheese and mustard, my grandmother tried to convince me that the burger was exactly the same as what I had ordered. Um, no. I was not having it (there may have been some subsequent crying and whining involved). Oddly enough, although I thought I hated cheese, I loved macaroni & cheese (because that delicious gooey orange stuff obviously was not the same as those offensive slices).

Tables & tables of glorious cheese at the Great American Cheese Collection warehouse tasting

Today, I am a lover of all things cheese. I'm the one who seeks out cheese festivals, brings home some of the stinkiest cheeses (on purpose!), and actively records my cheese tastings & opinions (FYI this is awesome). Although I don't exhibit quite the same level of enthusiasm for mustard, I would wager that I probably have a bit more mustard love that the average American - I usually have anywhere between 5-10 different types on hand, including the classic yellow, various jars filled with grainy brown versions from Maille, and several specialty versions (Wisconsin Wilderness Cranberry Mustard & Fox Mustard are both amaaazing!)

Today's Lunchtime Poll: Are there any foods that you hated when you were younger that you love (or at least tolerate) now? Was there a reason for your hatred or was it just one of those random childhood quirks?



Recent Foodie Finds

Well, hello there, April... um, March, where did you go?! Between the two weeks of early summer weather, a packed social schedule, a new gym schedule, and the special kind of craziness that starting a new term at school can bring, the entire month just flew by (which in a way is good because March is usually pretty sucky for me).

April is already shaping up to be just as busy as March with multiple friends' birthdays each week (and Mario's!) and Baconfest (!!!). Yes, my friends, it's an entire festival devoted to all things bacon - complete with bacon demonstrations & samples, bacon crafts, and bacon-inspired cocktails, all prepared by some of the most amazing chefs in the Midwest. Woo-hoo!

A few food highlights from March...

Macho Salad at Bandera: Roasted chicken, avocado, dates, almonds, tomatoes, goat cheese, and cornbread croutons. It's nutty, fresh, crunchy, sweet, crispy, salty... simply marvelous! This is officially my new favorite salad. I took a class at The Chopping Block a few years ago that was devoted to recipes from various Chicago restaurants. The Macho salad was my favorite dish to come out of that class; while I love the at-home version, I have to say the restaurant version is 10x more amazing.

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