2014 | chicago foodie girl


Nudo Olive Oils Giveaway

I hope everyone had a fabulous Christmas (or Chrismahanukwanzakah, as I like to think of it - I'm a firm advocate of celebrating everything, as more holidays = more friends, food, and fun drinks!). Mario and I had a lovely celebration with friends on Christmas Eve and then spent Christmas morning together. As always, we used the day as an opportunity to spoil one another - I've never been more excited to get mixing! ;-) Of course, as much as I like to receive gifts, I like to give them even more so I couldn't let the holidays pass without some fab giveaways to my awesome readers (aka you!).

Nudo began back in 2005 when a pair of successful television producers decided to leave their careers, move to the Italian countryside and restore an abandoned olive grove. Not only did the pair take on the restoration and management of the 21-acre grove, but also they started a wonderful Adopt-an-Olive-Tree program that offers olive oil lovers the chance to adopt their own tree and receive the oil from that tree on a quarterly basis (you can even visit your tree in Italy!). Local family farmers are responsible for the care of their own trees, so not only do you reap the delicious rewards of your investment, but also, your purchase goes toward supporting smaller artisan olive farmers committed to keeping traditional farming methods alive.



2014 World of Chocolate Gala

Earlier this month, I was invited to attend the World of Chocolate gala held at Chicago's Union Station in recognition of Worlds AIDS Day. The AIDS Foundation of Chicago hosts the annual fundraising event as part of a worldwide effort to increase public awareness about the epidemic. The Foundation offers programming to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, as well as support to those living with HIV/AIDS; they also work to celebrate the progress of the HIV/AIDS community. Obviously, this one-of-a-kind event is for an extremely important cause and I was thrilled to join them for the evening.

The event pits culinarians (including some of Chicago's favorite restaurants and businesses) against each other in a head-to-head chocolate showdown. For this year's competition, twenty-two participants were challenged to create and serve their best chocolate-themed dish in order to vie for one of six awards: Best Sweet, Best Savory, Best Libation, People's Choice, Best Large Business, and Best Small Business. Needless to say, the evening was filled with so much deliciousness... from the more traditional desserts (brownies, cakes) to some surprising savory delicacies (cocoa nibs shrimp & grits), there was enough to satisfy everyone's deepest chocolate cravings.



Recipe: Burrata & Prosciutto Grilled Cheese with Beso Del Sol Sangria

Happy National Sangria Day! Yes, I know what you're thinking... yet another foodie holiday? Yes, I know, I know. However, as I've mentioned numerous times over the past year, I'm a sucker for just about any fun foodie holiday; of course, I'm especially fond of those that involve a few tasty libations. ;-)

In honor of National Sangria Day, the fine folks at Beso Del Sol asked us to create a recipe to pair with their sangria. Beso Del Sol Sangria is a Spanish import that is blended with Tempranillo wine and 100% natural Mediterranean fruit extracts and sugar. It's not overly sweet, so it's perfect for those of you who love to add a little fruit to your sangria (we're both fans of the massive fruit salad in a glass option). The best thing about Beso Del Sol Sangria is that it's expertly mixed and perfectly portable - and if you happen to not finish the box, there's no need to toss it, as it stays fresh up to six weeks after opening. 



Recipe: Mexican Hot Chocolate Sugar Cookies

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fab weekend. I had a fairly low-key, but fun one that included a leisurely afternoon of product taste-testing and cooking with Diana, a DVR catch-up session with Mario, and some Christmas prep (I'm usually someone who's finished shopping at least a month early, but I am soooo behind this year!). Most importantly, I submitted final grades for the fall semester, which means I am officially on break for the next month. Woo-hoo! :-)

While I am uncharacteristically behind with my Christmas activities, I most definitely didn't miss out on the start of what my wonderful friend has deemed the Eating Season (she swears it should have some sort of national holiday designation). My first order of business during the Eating Season? The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap! TGFBCS is the brainchild of two lovely bloggers. The concept is simple: they match you up with three other food bloggers, you bake & send a dozen cookies to each of your matches, and your matches do the same for you. Not only is there all sorts of cookie awesomeness, but also, the event supports a great cause (read more about it here).
Cookies from my swappers: Chocolate Lace Cookies from Alexa at Simple Eats
Double Chocolate Biscotti from Emily at the answer is always pork


Chicago Eats: Kokopelli

Happy Taco Tuesday! I don't know about you, but Taco Tuesday has most definitely grown on me over the last year... in fact, I might even say that it has usurped Thirsty Thursday for my favorite day of the week (shocking!). Now, if only Apple would release a taco emoji, my Instagram life would be complete. ;-)

A few weeks ago, Diana and I were invited to check out Kokopelli, the newest taco joint in Wicker Park. Kokopelli is the brainchild of Chef Guillermo Campos Moreno, a Tijuana-trained chef who served as the executive chef at Parque Bicentario in Guanajuato and later spent time at the three-time Michelin-starred Oud Sluis in the Netherlands. Eventually, he returned to Tijuana and teamed with friends to open Kokopelli, a food truck that traveled the Baja coast. After accumulating a steady stream of fans (including Andrew Zimmerman), the truck caught the eye of several Midwestern investors and Chicago was chosen as the spot for its first brick and mortar location (yay for us!).

As you might expect, the Tijuana street food-inspired Kokopelli specializes in seafood dishes and salsas, which gives it a much-needed edge to stand out in the battle of the Wicker Park taco joints. Their signature taco, Kraken (Diana's favorite of the night!), contains grilled octopus marinated in Mexican pesto and garnished with pickled onions. Another standout of our visit for me was the Black Harder ceviche, made with fresh mahi mahi marinated in lemon juice and squid ink, and served with two of their signature salsas: the espuma de mar (my favorite!) and the castigo Azteca.

Each table is adorned with the most adorable little plants - what is it about jars that make baby plants so much cuter?!



Chicago Gourmet 2014

The seventh annual Chicago Gourmet festival, aka the biggest and most spectacular culinary event of the year, took place in Millennium Park the last weekend of September. As you may recall, last year was my first time attending the festival - the moment Chicago Gourmet 2013 came to a close, I was already eagerly anticipating the next round. After a single day of rubbing elbows with celebrity chefs, stuffing myself with gourmet food, and drinking myself into a bit of a stupor (really, it was impossible not to!), Chicago Gourmet quickly took on the number one foodie festival place in my heart.

As with last year, a little over twelve thousand attendees swarmed the park over a course of three days in over to sample food, wine, and spirits from some of the country's best chefs, breweries, vintners, and spirit producers. After our foray into culinary heaven last year, Diana and I learned that one day just wasn't enough time to get through everything we wanted to, so we made the bold choice to go for a full two days. While the weekend was utterly exhausting, it was also exhilarating and completely fabulous! Not only did we have enough time to hit up all of the food and drink vendors, but we also had the chance to attend several chef demonstrations and book signings without feeling like we had to rush through anything. We even decided to make a full girls weekend of it by staying at a nearby hotel... of course, that meant we didn't have to worry about transportation and could drink to our little hearts' content. ;-)

Here's a bit of what we did/ate/drank during our two days of fabulous foodie fun...

 We kicked off the first day with The Mexican Takeover (a Top Chef quickfire-esque demo) with Chef Rick Bayless and Chef Carlos Gaytan



Travel Guide: Tom's Farm Market

Last weekend was absolutely gorgeous (and most likely our last perfect fall weekend of the year), so Diana and I decided it was finally time for our fall fun extravaganza. Every year, we designate at least one day to pack in as pumpkin/apple/fall awesomeness as possible.

While we vary our activities each year, we always make time for a visit to Tom's Farm Market in Huntley, IL. Compared to some of the other mega markets/pumpkin patches in the area, it's relatively small, which is most definitely part of its charm. They go all out with fun pumpkin decorations and the corn maze (it was zombie-shaped this year); they also have a small petting zoo with some very friendly goats and sheep, along with the cutest little cafe that serves some dang good cider and donuts. The best part that because it is a smaller family-owned market, there are always all sorts of personal touches (including various depictions of Tom's family as scarecrows/pumpkinheads) and it's never too crazy packed.



American Cheese Month at Pastoral

Happy American Cheese Month! Wait, you didn't know that October is American Cheese Month? Well, to be quite honest, neither did I (which is weird considering my predilection for all things cheese)... thankfully, the awesome folks at Pastoral stepped in to show me the way just in time. I was invited to stop by their Lakeview location for a cheese tasting with Head Cheesemonger, Bryan Bland (how cool of a job is that?!). Anyone who knows me knows I LOVE cheese, so of course, this opportunity was right up my alley.
Before we started the tasting, Bryan led me through the history of artisan cheesemaking in the United States, as well as the availability of American produced cheeses at Pastoral; while the store definitely has a special relationship with Midwestern cheesemakers, they actually represent every single state that produces cheese. We also chatted about the seasonality of cheese; while I was already familiar with many of the aging processes, I had never quite thought about how cheeses have seasons, just like fruits and vegetables. As Bryan explained, no two cheeses are alike - dozens of factors, including the temperature, the types of flora each animal is exposed to, and grazing conditions can affect a cheese's flavor profile. Similar to harvest season, late spring to early fall is considered the prime season for cheese production.  

After our discussion, Bryan got down to the business of cutting the cheese (ha!). In honor of American Cheese Month, Pastoral is highlighting four American produced cheeses, three of which are from the Midwest. As much as I enjoyed all of the cheeses, my favorite of the four was a relatively new cheese from Wisconsin, a fruity and tangy cheddar made from a combination of goat and cow's milk. 

American Cheese Month featured selections
Good Thunder from Alemar Cheese Company in Minnesota: a robust and savory cheese washed in American brown ale
Chandoka from LeClare Family Farms in Wisconsin: a mild, creamy, and tart goat and cow's milk cheddar
O'Banon from Capriole Cheese in Indiana: a tart and herby chèvre wrapped in Bourbon-soaked chestnut leaves
Blue Bay from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese in California: an earthy, sweet blue cheese


Common Threads Cook-Off 2014

A few weeks ago, I was invited to attend the 4th annual Common Threads Cook-Off held at Revel Downtown. Common Threads is the brainchild of Chicago's beloved Chef Art Smith (yes, we know he's not originally from here, but we've officially claimed him!) whose organization works to provide various nutrition education programs to underprivileged children. It's really a fantastic group and I was thrilled to join them for another one of their foodie fundraising events.

The Cook-Off pits many of Chicago's top chefs and mixologists against each other in a good old-fashioned head-to-head showdown. For this year's event, contestants were given the opportunity to create and serve their best dish in one of five categories: the garden, the seed, the pasture, the barn, or the barrel. Guests had three hours to visit each table, sample the food/drinks, and cast their votes for their favorite each category. I joined forces with Alison from Rosie Discovers - while we had big plans to employ the "one bite and then move on" tasting method, our plans were totally shot down the minute we started sampling the delicious offerings. Seriously, there was just too much goodness to not indulge! Despite the fact that we were both ready to slip into food comas by the end, we had a wonderful night chowing down on some tasty food/drinks, chatting with some of our favorite local chefs, and meeting a few of our fellow Instagram foodie followers [hey there, Julia! :-)].

 Farmed Cobia Sliders with tomato jalapeño chutney from Dirk's Fish & Gourmet Shop



Parmigiano Reggiano Academy at Eataly

Last week I was lucky enough to join a group of my fellow food bloggers at La Scuola di Eataly for the most recent installment of Parmigiano Reggiano Academy. Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano is celebrating its 80th anniversary; in honor of this milestone, they're hosting both in-person and online classes dedicated to learning all about this delicious cheese. As I'm sure you're all aware by now, I am a fan of all things cheese, and I'm most definitely a fan of food mecca (aka Eataly), so of course, I was thrilled to join the Academy for a night of cheesy fun. ;-)



Red Gold Tomatoes Giveaway

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. While I've been all about pumpkins, apples, gorgeous foliage, and fall festivals since I was a kid, I've recently added a new favorite to my fall loves lineup: slow cooking. I definitely came late to the world of slow cooking, as I didn't jump on the bandwagon until a few years ago; however, now that I've discovered how easy it is to put together so many fantastic hearty dishes, I can't imagine going through fall (and let's face it, the long, cold winter) without my awesome slow cooker. 

Red Gold Tomatoes most definitely understands my love of slow cooking in the fall. To celebrate the start of the new (and best!) season, they've put together a fantastic promotion in which you can win a fancy new Crock-Pot (two winners daily). Along with the Crock-Pot promotion, they've also offered a fun prize pack to one lucky reader of this blog. As you may remember, I've partnered with Red Gold Tomatoes several times over the past two years; I guarantee you that their goodie packages are always fun and come in very handy when you're looking for something easy and delicious to make for dinner.

The Red Gold goodie package contains 6 popular tomato favorites (including my personal favorite, diced tomatoes with lime juice & cilantro), apron, wooden spoon, and recipe list to jump-start your fall slow cooking!

To enter: visit the Red Gold website and let me know in the comments which slow cooker recipe you would like to try (don't forget to leave an email address!). The winner of the Red Gold prize pack will be chosen at random at 5:00pm on Tuesday, October 7, 2014. Winner will be contacted via email and has 24 hours to reply with shipping information.

Congratulations to commenter 4!



A Magnificient Taste 2014

A few weeks ago, Diana and I were invited to attend A Magnificent Taste, a swanky culinary event benefiting Common Threads' nutrition education programs. The annual event took place in Pioneer Court Plaza (one of the best people-watching spots downtown!) and featured bites from twelve Chicago restaurants, lovely views of the river, and one very special Top Chef guest chef (aka one of People's Sexiest Men Alive, fantastic cook, and all-around nice guy... oh, and did I mention total hottie?!). This was our first year attending the event and despite the fact that it was a billion degrees (yes, you read that right; it was a straight-up inferno that night), we had a fantastic time rubbing elbows with the fabulous Sam Talbot, sampling the delicious gourmet food, chatting with some of Chicago's favorite chefs, and mingling with some fantastic fellow foodies. It was a wonderful night and we can't wait for next year! 



Recent Foodie Finds

Happy Monday! I hope everyone is having a fantastic end to the summer. I can't even tell you how excited I am for fall; as much as I've enjoyed our fairly mild summer, I am soooo ready for leaves, apples, cider doughnuts, and bonfires. And of course, I WANT ALL THINGS PUMPKIN!

The last two weekends have been spent cramming in all sorts of late-summer fun. As per usual, I spent my Labor Day laboring (i.e. grading), but really, I can't complain too much after I spent that entire Sunday with a group of fabulous women. We brunched at Carnivale, clapped and sang our way through Million Dollar Quartet, and dished some gossip over Garrett's back at Diana's house. In fact, we had such a great time that we decided to form an informal ladies who brunch club. :-) This past weekend was just as fab with a brunch at Gaudi Cafe, an entire day spent power shopping at Renegade (which is always one of my favorite days of the year!), and a deeeelicious dinner at Honey Butter Fried Chicken.

Here are a few random food highlights from last few months (follow me on Instagram for even more!)...


Chicago Eats: Tesori

Earlier this month, I was invited to join a select group of other Chicago Food Bloggers to sample the summer menu at the go-to restaurant for Chicago Symphony Orchestra lovers and Loop visitors, Tesori. For those of you who are familiar with the area, you may remember the space once housed the formal (and slightly stuffy) long-standing Rhapsody; that space was completely renovated and it is now home to the more low-key, approachable, and intimate Tesori (which translates to "little treasures" in Italian).

Not only has the space been completely renovated, but so has the cuisine, thanks to Chef Andrew Deuel, a veteran of legendary New York kitchens Armani Ristorante and the Rainbow Room. The Mediterranean/Italian-inspired restaurant features a seasonal menu of updated versions of classic dishes (old-school Italian meets modern farmers market); it also includes an extensive global wine list and a list of fun cocktails. Our group was given the opportunity to sample six courses (including wine pairings) from the current menu, all of which were flawlessly executed.



Chicago Eats: Adamus

A few weeks ago, Diana and I were invited to check out the summer menu at Adamus, the newest restaurant and lounge along Jeweler's Row. For those of you who are familiar with the area, you may remember the space next to the Silversmith Hotel that once housed Ada's Famous Deli; that oddly shaped space was completely gutted/renovated and is now home to the gorgeous Adamus. The transformation from that decrepit deli to the sleek new lounge is simply amazing - the entire space is decorated in blacks, silvers, grays with diamond accents (a nod to the Diamond District) and elegant chandeliers.



Recipe: Grilled Peach & Steak Salad with Beso Del Sol Sangria

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend. I had a very low-key one that included some quality time with my DVR along with daylong cooking, sangria, and reality TV extravaganza at Diana's place. I'm happy to report that I am now 100% caught up with the world of TV brides, bachelorettes, housewives, and cooking show contestants.

While Diana and I regularly attend cooking classes together, we hadn't cooked together outside of a class setting in ages - I knew as soon as Beso Del Sol Sangria issued their summer perfect pairings challenge that it would be the perfect opportunity to get back into the kitchen with her. Beso Del Sol Sangria is a Spanish import that is blended with Tempranillo wine and 100% natural Mediterranean fruit extracts and sugar. It's not overly sweet, so it's perfect for those of you who love to add a little fruit to your sangria (we're both fans of the massive fruit salad in a glass option). The best thing about Beso Del Sol Sangria is that it's expertly mixed and perfectly portable (not to mention adorable!).

We decided to pair our sangria with a recipe that has been hanging out in my to-make file for far too long: a Grilled Peach & Steak Salad. I knew that the savory steak would contrast perfectly with the fruitiness of the sangria; as I guessed correctly, the light sweetness of the peaches also complemented the slightly more tart fruits that we used in the drink. The combination resulted in a spectacular meal that was made even better by hours of nonstop laughter (the sangria may have had a little to do with that). ;-)



Chicago Eats: Coppervine

Last week, I was invited to join a select group of other Chicago Food Bloggers for a lovely meal at managing partner and sommelier Don Sritong's latest venture, Coppervine. Sritong (of the popular Just Grapes fame) paired up with Chef David Wang (formerly of Mercat a la Planxa) to create a unique experience that carefully pairs the flavor profiles and textures of food and drinks.

The focus of Coppervine is in the beer, wine, and cocktail pairings. As explained on their menu, "We are in constant pursuit of the perfect pairing. In its most basic sense, a great pairing occurs when the food and drink taste better together, than apart - when the flavors of one enhance, complement or uniquely contrast the other." During our dinner, Sritong explained that the beverage program is just as important as the food - every dish on the menu lists a carefully selected beer, wine, and cocktail pairing. We were given the opportunity to sample eleven of the most popular dishes/pairings (from the small plate, medium plate, large plate, and dessert categories), all of which were flawlessly executed.

A gorgeous 60-foot copper vine runs the length of the restaurant - the "copper" refers to the stills used for distilling liquor and the "vine" is a nod to grapevines/wine (so clever!)



Chicago Eats: Hot Dog Week at Bull & Bear

Happy National Hot Dog Day! Yes, I know what you're thinking... another food holiday? I know, I know. However, as I mentioned last week, I'm a sucker for just about any fun food holiday (there's actually a food holiday for practically every day of the year, so things could get *really* exciting around here). And as you may already know, Chicagoans take their hot dogs very seriously (don't you dare ask for ketchup!), so I felt it was my duty to partake in this sacred day.

In honor of Chicago's love for encased meats, Bull & Bear took National Hot Dog Day a step further and created an entire week of celebrations. Their 5th annual Dog Days of Summer promotion pays homage to the mighty dog with a selection of five specialty hot dogs, each one themed after a different location in the United States (Cincinnati, California, Miami, Wisconsin, and New Orleans). The daily dog offerings are all customized with specific toppings that are unique to the areas they were named after. Diners are also able to try all of the dogs in mini form (and vote for your favorite!), via the Frank Plank, which Mario and I were invited to stop in and sample.

The Frank Plank!



Bourbon Peach Gelato from Siena Tavern

Happy National Peach Ice Cream Day! Wait, what?! You didn't know that there was an entire day devoted to the love of peach ice cream? Yeah, well, up entire a few weeks, I didn't either. However, I'm a sucker for just about any fun food holiday, especially one that pays homage to ice cream (and my favorite stone fruit!). Of course, I never really need a justification to eat ice cream, but National Peach Ice Cream Day really is the perfect excuse to indulge in some frozen fruity deliciousness. And really, what better way to celebrate than with some amazing gelato from Siena Tavern?

Based on my previous experience with pastry chef Amy Arnold's gelato, I knew I was in for a real treat when the good folks over at Siena contacted me to see if I would be interested in taste-testing their July flavor of the month: Bourbon Peach Cobbler. I quickly learned that there is something even better than your typical peach gelato... it's gelato with large chunks of tangy peaches mixed with some smooth bourbon, earthy nutmeg, and crumbly hunks of cobbler. Holy deliciousness!

 Bourbon Peach Cobbler: our server was so excited to send us home with a pint of this fantastic gelato that she accidentally misspelled the name in her haste to label it and pack it up. Ha! After I had one bite of the perfectly luscious gelato, I completely understood her urgency. ;-)



Chicago Eats: Connie's Pizza

Recently, Diana and I were invited to join a group of other fantastic bloggers for a night of food and fabulous drinks at the newest location of Connie's Pizza. For those of you who live in the Chicago-area, I'm sure you're already familiar with Connie's Pizza (who hasn't had a slice at the Taste of Chicago or US Cellular?!), but you might not realize that not only has the South Side institution recently expanded onto the North Side of the city, but also they have numerous new delicious wood-fired pizza options (all thanks to the gorgeous pizza oven that was custom ordered from Italy).

During Connie's Night Out, we learned all about the history of the restaurant (the original location was purchased by current owner Jim Stolfe with a classic Oldsmobile and a few months of free labor!) and sampled their newest dishes, along with several classics and customer favorites. After ten (!!!) courses, we stumbled (well, I stumbled, thanks to the potent drinks) out of Connie's without tummies full and a renewed appreciation for one of Chicago's longest-running pizza joints. 

 The main dining room at the new Gold Coast location - check out that awesome pizza oven!



Recipe: Fogo de Chão Caipirinha

Welcome back to Thirsty Thursday, aka my favorite day of the week! As I've mentioned a million times over the last few years, I'm definitely not the biggest fan of summer (mostly because I'm a humidity wimp), but even I have to admit that this summer has been fairly fantastic so far. I'm on break from school (yes, I still have work to do, but it's from the comfort of my own home/on my own schedule) and the weather has been fairly mild thus far. I've spent much of my free time catching up with friends, exploring new restaurants and foodie festivals, binge-watching Orange is the New Black (the last episode of season 2: OMG!), and indulging in my favorite summertime fruity cocktails.

In celebration of Fogo de Chão's newly launched Fogo Guide to Brazil, they shared with me some of their most popular classic cocktail recipes, including one of my all-time favorites: the Caipirinha. While there’s no definitive version of how the recipe was invented (legend has it that it was once used to treat patients with the Spanish flu), it is now Brazil's most popular cocktail... and it is the perfect summertime Thirsty Thursday pick (especially for all of you World Cup fans out there!). Cheers! :-)

Fogo de Chão Caipirinha   



Travel Eats: Perfect Pairings at Horseshoe Casino

A free shuttle ride from Chicago that spared us the pain of navigating through rush hour traffic? Check. Rows and rows of sparkly penny and quarter machines? Check. Potent drinks served under a fabulous/nostalgic 1970s-eque shiny chandelier? Check, check. Two hours of delicious food, wine, and live entertainment in a room with sweeping views of Lake Michigan? Check, check, and check. That, my friends, is the Horseshoe Casino experience.

A few weeks ago, Diana and I were invited to check out the most recent Perfect Pairings event at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond (less than an hour away from downtown Chicago). After a quick bus ride down to Indiana and an hour of playing the slot machines, we found ourselves in the lovely Lakeview Room in the upper level of the casino for a fantastic six-course meal that highlighted locally sourced ingredients, as well as perfectly paired wines, beers, and liquors. During a chat with executive chef Mark Angeles, he revealed that each Perfect Pairings menu is not only crafted to showcase the flavor characteristics of the beverages, but it's also designed with a seasonal theme in mind. For June, Angeles created a menu focused on grilling around the world, which was the perfect kick-off to summer!

Bacon and monkfish skewers with Romesco sauce



Siena Tavern Gelato (to-go!)

Ever since Siena Tavern opened in early 2013, diners have been raving about the delicious desserts, specifically the range of fun gelato flavors (red velvet! birthday cake! krispy caramel fudge! cinnamon mascarpone!). So when the good folks over at Siena contacted me to see if I would be interested in a little gelato taste-testing, I just knew I was in for a delicious treat.

The gelato at Siena Tavern is a result of their mastermind pastry chef Amy Arnold. Chef Arnold's mother was a home economics teacher and made nearly everything from scratch - it was in her late mother's recipe box that she found the formula that served as the basis for her impressive range of gelati. After years of concocting, taste testing, and tweaking, Arnold finally perfected her recipe and implemented her amazing product at Siena Tavern (where she hand churns each flavor nightly!). Thanks to the newly available pints to-go, you can now enjoy Arnold's handiwork not only in the restaurant but also from the comfort of your own home (just check the menu for the daily flavors).

I invited Diana to join me for the taste-testing (because as much as I would love to, I really don't need to eat four pints by myself). ;-) We kicked off our night with one of the featured summer flavors, Crème Brûlée. The rich vanilla gelato with crunchy pieces of caramel won Diana's heart early on; ultimately, she proclaimed this to be her favorite of the night.



Chicago Eats: New Menu Options at Corner Bakery

As I've mentioned in the past, I'm a huge fan of Corner Bakery Cafe; it's definitely one of my top picks from the fast-casual market. However, I have to admit that I order the exact same thing pretty much every time I go there (I'm such a creature of habit!). This is why I am always excited to participate in the spring menu tasting. Not only do I get to try all of latest menu additions, but also, I'm forced out of my comfort zone. As with last year, I had a fantastic time sampling all of the new items and I definitely found a few options that will make their way into my regular rotation.

This year's new menu items are all focused on eating light and healthy. Proving that you don’t need to sacrifice flavor to eat food that's healthy, the new menu includes several flavorful real-fruit and super food-inspired dishes, including my personal favorites, the Toasted Sesame Kale Salad, and the Four Berry Smoothie.

 Toasted Sesame Kale Salad: fresh kale, shredded carrots, toasted sesame seeds, and a fantastic ginger soy dressing



Chicago Eats: Mercato at Rustle + Roux

Yesterday, I had the chance to check out the grand opening of Rustle + Roux, a global cafe featuring seven unique dining stations. Located in the Franklin building (in the former cafeteria space on the second floor), Rustle + Roux is perfectly situated for a quick to-go pick up or a leisurely sit-down meal in the loop. Breakfast and lunch dining options include Grill'd sandwich station, Mercadito Taqueria, illy coffee and gelato, and Top Chef alum Fabio's newest venture, Mercato by Fabio Viviani.

The menu at Mercato includes a host of salads, made from scratch pastas, and amazing individual Napoli-style pizzas. I've tried a lot of pizza in this city and I can confidently say that yesterday I found one of my new favorite pizzas (definitely in the top five of pizzas!).

 400 day aged prosciutto, grilled pears, fresh Buffalo Mozzarella, shaved Parmigiano, and arugula  


Chicago Eats: Gino's East River North

Recently, I was contacted by Gino's East to see if I would be interested in checking out their newest location in River North. Of course, as with every other good Chicagoan, I'm always up for pizza (although I have to admit that I'm far more of a Neapolitan-style pizza lover than I am a fan of Chicago-style pizza), so I was more than happy to see what Gino's East had to offer. Shortly before our scheduled dinner, I realized that although I had tried their pizza before, I had actually never been to a Gino's East location in the entire fifteen years I've been in Chicago - obviously, I was definitely overdue for a visit!

Gino's East opened its River North location earlier this year, in a very cool turn of the century building on LaSalle St. that once powered the city’s cable car system (and more recently housed Michael Jordan's Restaurant and the LaSalle Power Co.). The new space has three floors: a bar/lounge setting on the first floor, a main dining area on the second floor (with awesome street lamps flanking every booth), and a private party room on the third floor. The design of the new space is a bit funkier than some of their other locations (no graffiti walls!) and it definitely fits the vibe of River North. The design elements of this location aren't the only change - while you'll find all of the old favorites on the menu, there's also a fairly substantial list of appetizers and pizzas that are exclusive to the River North location (including my new favorite, the Thin Crust Artichoke Pizza).

 Diana and I were both excited to see they had ACE Pear Cider on the menu (we're both cider geeks!). They also have more than 40 craft beers, many of which are from Chicagoland breweries such as Revolution, Two Brothers, and Temperance.



Recipe: Bacon Wrapped Scallops with Red Gold Sriracha Aioli



Recipe: Vegan Dark Chocolate Coconut Carrot Cake Cookies

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fabulous weekend. I had a fairly low-key, but fun one that included a leisurely brunch at my favorite Nepalese restaurant with a friend, a long walk through my neighborhood (so many gorgeous magnolia trees!), a fantastic dinner with Diana at a new-to-me restaurant in Oak Park, and another round of the Chicago Food Swap (see my goodies from last month's swap here).


Gooey on the Inside Cookie Buter Giveaway!

I spent most of the last week buried under piles of final writing portfolios and end-of-the-term paperwork, emerging only for the occasional student conference and (admittedly excessive) trips to Starbucks. Thankfully, I made it to the other side... final grades have been posted and students have been sent on their merry (or not-so-merry) way. I am officially on summer break! Wooooo-hoooo! :-)

I'm kicking off my three months of freedom with an awesome giveaway from Gooey on the Inside. Diana introduced me to this amazing cookie butter back in December and I haven't looked back since... there may have even been a small incident at the beginning of the year that involved having to instate a mini-moratorium on a jar of Earl Grey-Maple Pumpkin Spice Gingerbread cookie butter after I spent a day eating it straight out of the jar for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. ;-)



Chicago Eats: Vapiano

I was recently contacted by Vapiano to see if I would be interested in visiting their newest Chicago location. Considering I missed out on their big opening party last year and the fact that I still hadn't managed to make it down there (bad me!), I was definitely eager to check out what they have to offer.

Vapiano is a German casual restaurant chain offering Italian food; their primary focus is pizza and pasta, all of which are made to order. Their newest Chicago location is perfectly situated for business people and tourists alike - downtown, right across from the Palmer House (in the old Carson's building!). Having worked in that area for a little over seven years, I know Vapiano is definitely a welcomed addition to the neighborhood, as there is a plethora of fast-food chains and high-end restaurants, but not many fresh casual options. It is the perfect spot for those days in which you don't have a ton of time/money, but want still want to sit down in a nicer environment (bonus: it has an adorable/hip European vibe).

The restaurant is divided into individual stations (pizza, pasta, salad/soup, dessert/bar) - upon entering, you're issued an individual chip card that you scan at the individual stations each time you order something. At the end of your meal, you scan your card at the register upfront and pay on the way out (similar to Foodlife in Water Tower Place). The cards definitely make visiting with a group extremely easy, as everyone has their own individual billing cards, so there's no scramble to try to figure out how to split the bill at the end of the meal.



Baconfest 2014

Raise the bacon flag!

Baconfest: an ode to all things bacon. If it's wrapped in bacon, infused with bacon, smothered in bacon, or fried in bacon fat, it's most likely to be found at Baconfest. The event organizers describe it as "the greatest single culinary and cultural festival ever dedicated to Bacon and Bacon only." Basically, it's a veritable frenzy of salty, fatty porktastic pleasure. ;-)

For the sixth year in a row (my third!), thousands of pork lovin' peeps came out to enjoy one of the largest (and most awesome!) food festivals of the year. In our two hours of extreme bacon consumption, Diana and I encountered everything from black pepper bacon mac and cheese (Bub City) to candied bacon root beer floats (Mrs. Murphy & Sons). We inhaled bacon-inspired creations from some of our favorite restaurants (Mexique) and added some new favorites to our list (Firecakes). We even discovered a fantastic (and very potent) new chocolate bacon cocktail to wash it all down.

Of the fifty-something restaurants that participated in the afternoon session, we sampled bacon goodies from approximately twenty of them. We had big plans to hit up even more, but once the meat sweats set in, we decided it was time to put an end to the magic. As always, we had a fantastic time and we're already anticipating next year's meaty madness (of course, we need that year in between festivals in order to allow for time for our stomachs to completely settle and our cholesterol levels to return to normal). All hail bacon!

A few highlights from our two hours of porkinsanity...



Chicago Eats: Public House Brunch

Hellooooo, Monday... I am so glad to see you! I know, I know. It's the exact opposite of how I usually feel about Mondays, but this Monday is special. This Monday officially signals the start of SPRING BREAK! Woo-hoo! For those of you who don't work in academia, let me assure you that professors get just as excited about spring break as the students do (except rather than sunning ourselves on some sparkly beach, we usually end up using the week to catch up on mounds of grading). Along with tackling my imposing grading pile, I'm also spending a few days with some awesome students who decided to participate in our school's alternative spring break trip, meeting up with a few friends for some much needed girl time, and catching up on a few of my recent foodie adventures (finally!).

As has been well-documented on this blog, I am slightly obsessed with brunch. Okay, really, I'm more than slightly obsessed... I live for a good weekend brunch! Not only is it the perfect weekend indulgence (and a nice break from my normal on the go protein shake breakfast), but also I love the laid back pace of the meal. Plus, there's the day drinking - really, who *doesn't* love a meal in which day drinking is not only acceptable but also highly encouraged?!

Public House invited a group of Chicago Food Bloggers to stop by and check out their recently revamped sweet & savory brunch menu. Of course, as a bona fide bunch fiend, I jumped at the opportunity to sample some of their goods. To be quite honest, Public House was not previously on my brunch radar - I had been to the popular gastropub before for burgers, beer and cheese curds, but somehow didn't realize that they also serve my favorite meal of the day. I can officially say that I am now a believer. Public House has everything every brunch lover would want - a relaxed atmosphere, a variety of both traditional and creative dishes, and of course, plenty of liquor. ;-)

 Breakfast Sandwich: toasted sourdough boule with scrambled eggs, pork sausage, American cheese, arugula, tomato, and shaved red onion. This was some of the best sausage I've had in a long time (fresh, flavorful & the perfect amount of heat); I was also impressed to learn that all of their meats are made in-house.


Fogo de Chão Contest & Giveaway!

I don't know about you, but I am SO over this winter! As a born and raised Midwestern girl (who still lives here by choice), I typically enjoy the colder temperatures and a little snow, but there's just something about this year's installment that really has me on edge. When I'm not trudging through the massive snowdrifts (this morning I had to jump through one that came up over my knees just to get to my car), fighting to stay upright as I slip and slide my way across the ice-entombed sidewalks, or just plain freezing my ass off in these subarctic temperatures, I'm dreaming of getting away. How lovely would it be right about now to take off and visit somewhere warm with gorgeous beaches, delicious food, and sparkly drinks... maybe somewhere like Brazil?

Thanks to the Brazilian steakhouse, Fogo de Chão, my Chiberia-induced fantasy could become a reality for one very lucky winner. In short, they will be sending a fan on an expedition into the heart of Brazil, where Fogo de Chão originated. The winner is chosen based on whoever has the most exciting submission describing why they are perfect to win this journey. How cool is that?!

In honor of this awesome (and perfectly timed!) contest, Fogo de Chão provided me with a gift card to give away to one of my lucky readers. The gift card is good for a dinner for two at any Fogo de Chão location in the United States. Enter via Rafflecopter below... and don't forget to enter for your chance to win a trip to Brazil, courtesy of Fogo de Chão!

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


Recent Foodie Finds

Welcome back! I hope everyone had a fabulous Chrismahanukwanzakah (I'm a firm advocate of celebrating everything, as more holidays = more friends, food, and fun drinks!) and a fabulous start to 2014. As per usual, I spent the first two weeks of my winter break pretending as though I don't actually have any responsibilities (it was all parties, middle of the day drinks, baking, and DVR catch-up sessions); however, the time has come to put the finishing touches on my syllabi and to officially start stressing about getting up at 5AM in the frigid weather (uggggh).

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

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