Earlier this month, Diana and I were invited to stop by the swanky Virgin Hotels Chicago for a Quicky with Ricky [insert a mental string of winky faces and kissy lips]. As sexy/seedy as that may sound, the rendezvous in question was actually not with hotel mogul Sir Richard Branson himself, but rather, his newest Chicago culinary venture, Miss Ricky's.
As I mentioned in my last post, I'm not huge fan of Chicago's SPD craziness; in fact, I usually try to stay away from the masses as much as possible during the height of the celebrations. However, there are a definitely a few things that will make me tempt fate and push my away through the shamrock-clad, green beer guzzling crowds, one of them being a morning filled with delicious eats at one of the hottest new brunch spots in Wicker Park, aka Chop Shop.
Happy St. Patrick's Day! As I've mentioned in the past, Chicagoans are crazy for this holiday - the week-long celebration includes countless drunken pub crawls, numerous parades, and the holy grail of the celebrations, the river dyeing (check out this time lapse video to see how it's done). While I can't exactly say I'm a huge fan of the typical Chicago-style St. Paddy's Day (too many brawls and too much green puke), I do love a good opportunity to get together with friends at one of our favorite local Irish pubs and indulge in a day of nonstop folk music, corned beef, and whiskey.
This year, I decided it was time to take our predilection for whiskey and combine it with our love for chocolate.... because really, every holiday calls for a fabulous boozy, chocolatey dessert! These Double Chocolate Baileys Cheesecake Brownies have a dense fudge-like consistency and are spiked with a healthy dose of Baileys Irish Cream. Let me be clear - these brownies really pack a punch, as the addition of the liqueur to both the brownie batter and the cheesecake batter ensures the flavor is at the forefront. I love the intensity and decadence of these brownies (and so has everyone else who's tried them - I've already received several requests for more!).
Double Chocolate Baileys Cheesecake Brownies
Ask owner Tommy Wang about the inspiration behind his popular Wicker Park eatery and it will become quickly evident that it was borne out of a love affair with his parents' cooking. Growing up, Wang developed a deep appreciation of traditional Chinese dishes, having spent numerous hours eating and learning to cook at his family's suburban restaurant, Tien Tsin. As an adult (and years after the restaurant closed), Wang lamented the lack of quality Chinese restaurants outside of Chinatown and longed to take his father’s cooking talents and refine them to a more modern level. This sparked the idea behind MAK, a health-conscious, fast-casual twist on his beloved childhood fare.
Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend. After hibernating for the much of last two weekends, thanks to a combination of ridiculously cold weather and general grumpiness, I went all out over the last few days. I kicked it off on Thursday evening with a soft opening at Miss Ricky's with Diana and then spent Friday afternoon leisurely lunching with Ashley at Commonwealth Tavern. I followed that up on Saturday with a foodie/girls day with Diana that included a class at The Chopping Block, our first visit to Calumet Fisheries (complete with a fun/stinky tour of the smokehouse), and an Italian ice tasting at the wonderful Jodi's Italian Ice Factory in Hammond. After a weekend of almost nonstop foodie activity, I was happy to spend Sunday at home with Mario, noshing on our newly procured pepper & garlic smoked salmon and Swedish Fish Italian ice. :-)
Here are a few of my recent foodie highlights (follow me on Instagram for even more!)...
Nutella Cheese Stick Pastries from Franco’s Cucina in Streamwood. Their special twentieth anniversary pastry sticks are stuffed to the brim with Nutella and are perfectly fresh & flaky (you know it's a good cheese stick when you're covered in little flakes of puff pastry at the end of your meal). I also sampled the raspberry and cinnamon sticks, which were just as delicious as the Nutella. If you find yourself in the 'burbs, a stop at Franco's Cucina is a must!
Recently, I met up with my lovely blogger babes for a marathon brunch/catch-up session at the even lovelier Nellcôte. This was the first time the five of us had actually been able to get together as a full group (as one of us now lives in an entirely different country!), so we were filled to the brim with stories and jonesing to share a really fabulous meal. Open since 2012, Nellcôte is one of those semi-hidden gems in the West Loop. While everyone is familiar with the restaurant as a perfect spot for dinner and drinks, it seems to be a bit less on the radar for brunch. I'm almost reluctant to rave about it too much, as I don't want it should be taken over by masses of brunch-happy Chicagoans. ;-)
As much as I enjoy cooking, there are days (okay, even weeks) in which I have no interest in meal planning or grocery shopping; this is especially true around this time of year in which even going through the drive-through at Starbucks can become a chore. Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit, but seriously, I am on autopilot all throughout the latter part of winter. After my 1.5 hour commute home in the snow, freezing rain, and/or below zero temperatures, the last thing I want to do is worry about what to cook for dinner. Enter Madison & Rayne.
Almost two years ago, Josh Jones, the former chef de cuisine of Spring Restaurant and Green Zebra Restaurant, and Melanie Mityas, a frequent diner at Spring, partnered up to create Madison & Rayne, a local ready-to-cook meal delivery service. Similar to other meal delivery services such as Plated or Blue Apron, Madison & Rayne is company that delivers raw, pre-portioned meal ingredients and detailed recipe cards for those who want access to a range of high-quality restaurant-worthy food prepared in the comfort of their own homes. The duo's mission is to help people rediscover or discover for the first time how fun and rewarding it can be to cook a really great meal (or in my case, to help those who don't want to order takeout, but who are also feeling too lazy to plan out their meals). Unlike similar companies, Madison & Rayne only uses locally sourced ingredients and offers a high level of customization.
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