2016 | chicago foodie girl


Chicago Eats: Imperial Lamian

Ever since its opening last March, Imperial Lamian has been on my long (looooong!) list of restaurants to try. I spent months drooling over the highly Instagrammable baskets of rainbow xiao long bao and shedding a few tears of envy over photo after photo of steamy lamian. After feeling I was losing some major cred by being the last food blogger in the city to visit the first U.S. location of this Indonesian import, I finally(!!) made my way down to River North with Diana to indulge in a leisurely lunch filled with rainbow dumplings, noodles, and more.

Imperial Lamian features modern Chinese cuisine with dishes prepared by three Master Chefs... yes, three chefs! Chef Kok Lam Andy Foo, Chef Lim Kee Tiong, Chef Wang Hong Jun are each trained in their individual crafts (wok/plated offerings, dim sum and xiao long bao, and lamian respectively); the three work together to create a large array of authentic Chinese dishes. During our lunch, Diana and I had the chance to chat with Imperian Lamian's CEO Vincent Lawrence and he explained that each of the chefs has honed their individual techniques for a number of years in kitchens around the world.



Recent Foodie Finds

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fab weekend. I spent Friday and Saturday out with friends (checking out the new brunch menus at the oh-so-adorable BOHO and Robert's Pizza Company) and then spent Sunday cuddling with Mario on the couch while binge-watching Insecure (the best new show I've seen in a long time!). We had our first real snowstorm of the season, so it was the perfect day for staying in; as much as I enjoy exploring and eating my way through the city, nothing makes me happier this time of year than lazy, snowy days at home filled with cozy blankets, hot chocolate, and time with Mario.

We're just days from the end of the fall semester, so I've been in the thick of portfolios, conferences, and grading for the last few weeks. Last week it felt like it would never end, but now I can finally see the light... I'm so, so close to submitting final grades (yay!). As much as I enjoyed my students this semester, I am beyond ready be done with school so that I can officially switch into hardcore baking and shopping mode (starting with our annual visit to the Christkindlmarket).

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

OMG! Burger at Burger 21: this double-stacked burger with applewood-smoked bacon, a fried egg, and loads of cheddar cheese on a toasted brioche bun is most definitely worth its name! Diana's longtime friends opened the first Burger 21 Illinois location, so we took a little trip out to Orland Park with a few of our favorite foodie friends and spent a fab Sunday afternoon eating out way through their menu. Along with this beast of a burger, I also fell hard for their Spicy Thai Shrimp Burger with Sriracha aioli and sesame Thai slaw.


Recipe: Asian Turkey Meatball Subs

Happy Friday! I am two weeks from the end of the semester and I have to say that I've never been so ready for a break. Between all of the end-of-semester conferences and grading craziness, Thanksgiving prep, cookie baking, restaurant visits, and holiday parties, I'm a tiny bit burned out. Of course, most of what I mentioned firmly falls into the fun category, but still. A girl just wants to have fun, but she also needs a solid eight (okay, more like nine) hours of sleep every night. #oldladyproblems

As much as I normally enjoy making meals from scratch during this time of year (especially after my summer cooking hiatus), I've been on a quest to simplify our weeknight dinners. Thanks to a combination of clashing work schedules and general over-scheduling, Mario and I are only at home together for dinner an average of three nights each week. Let's be real; I don't want to spend the bulk of the little time we do have together in the kitchen. I want to be in and out of there in less than thirty minutes (just enough time for Mario to watch his sports round-up show that I hate!); however, I also want good food with bold flavors that don't taste like I cut corners. Enter Farm Rich Meatballs.

Mario and I both love meatball subs, so as soon as the fine folks at Farm Rich offered me the opportunity to create a recipe using their products, I immediately knew I wanted to try my hand at an Asian-inspired version of a meatball sub. Keeping in mind my desire for quick meals, I also knew this was the perfect opportunity in which to create a sub-recipe that is packed with flavor, but still not too complicated to assemble (thankfully, using the pre-made turkey meatballs eliminates the most time-consuming part!). With the heat from the Sriracha mayo balanced out by the sweetness of the hoisin sauce, this Asian Turkey Meatball Sub is perfect for anyone looking for a quick and easy recipe with a twist on traditional flavors.



Recipe: Tangerine Gin Fizz

While I've most definitely been an avid participant in cocktail hour and an enthusiastic supporter of day drinking for as long as I can remember, it's only within the last year or so that I've really gotten into mixing my own cocktails at home. Yes, this is despite the fact that we've had a fully stocked liquor cabinet since Mario and I moved into our current place six years ago (and yes, that liquor cabinet has practically doubled in size since then). As much as I've always loved drinking cocktails, I was just really, really lazy about making them. However, thanks to the influence of my fancy mixologist friends, a switch flipped in me around this time last year, and I am now officially a cocktail-mixing wizard! (Okay, maybe wizard is a bit of an exaggeration... let's go with neophyte cocktail genie).


Chicago Gourmet 2016

Chicago Gourmet: we came, we saw, we conquered ate and drank ourselves into a massive coma (as per usual!). The ninth annual festival (aka the biggest and most spectacular culinary event of the year) took place in Millennium Park the last weekend of September, and for the fourth year in a row, Diana and I were lucky to join over 200 of our favorite chefs, mixologists, and vitners, along with over 13,000 of our food-lovin' friends for a trip to culinary nirvana! Here's a bit of what we ate during our day of fabulous foodie fun...


Recent Foodie Finds

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a fab weekend and a great start to the week! After the intensity of the first few weeks of the new semester, I feel like I've finally hit my stride. We're well into the meat of the material and I finally know all of my students' names (I have to admit that it's getting more and more difficult to learn 120 or so names every semester #oldladyproblems); I've also finally settled into my new workout schedule at my new gym (I'm back to jumping around like a fool at Zumba), along with my new class schedule (I'm still working my way through a second master's degree).

I can't even tell how happy I am to say hello to October, aka my favorite month of the year *and* the start of my favorite stretch of the year (October-December). It's also the beginning of what my friends and I refer to as The Eating Season, starting with weeks filled with pumpkin, apple, and maple everything, then shifting into our favorite Thanksgiving foods, and finally ending with a month o' peppermint goodies. Soooo much goodness! Along with the usual fall awesomeness plans, which always include a visit or two to a favorite pumpkin farm/apple orchard, I also have an upcoming girlie/foodie trip this month - Diana and I are headed up to Toronto for a mini vacation. While I've been to Canada before (I grew up in Michigan, not too far from the Port Huron crossing), it has been years since I've been there. I've also never been to Toronto, so I am super excited to explore (and eat my way through) the city!

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

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Polar Pizza from Baskin-Robbins: chocolate chip cookie crust with Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream, topped with cookie dough pieces, rainbow sprinkles, and drizzled with a marshmallow topping. Baskin-Robbins recently announced they were partnering with DoorDash to offer delivery service in Chicago. I was one of the lucky ones who was offered an opportunity to test the service... an ice cream pizza covered in cookie dough delivered to my door in under an hour?! Um, okay, twist my arm. ;-)


Recipe: Coffee Rubbed Lamb Burger with Bloody Mary Aioli

After a summer filled with restaurant leftovers, takeout, salads, and microwaveable meals, (we have a tiny apartment with no AC, so the stove sees very little action during the hot weather months), I've been itching to get back into the kitchen and actually cook something. Fortuitously, just as the weather took a slight turn toward fall, the fine folks at Superior Farms (aka the nation's largest lamb producer) reached out to see if I would be interested in trying my hand at creating a recipe with their products. That was just the push I needed to dust off the sad stovetop, pull out the neglected chopping board and measuring spoons, and get to cooking!

When I sat down to think about how I wanted to use their products, I realized that most of my experience cooking lamb had been limited to special occasion dishes. Determined to change that, I decided the perfect way to incorporate lamb into my repertoire was with lamb burger... even better, a brunch-themed lamb burger as a nod to my favorite meal of the day. As I discovered during my recipe testing process, lamb burgers are just as simple to cook like any other type of burger, but the meat is definitely more bold and flavorful. Paired with a smoked Gouda and some spicy Bloody Mary aioli, this recipe is sure to convert you to the world of lamb, as it is one baaaaad-ass brunch burger!



Recent Foodie Finds

Happy Tuesday! I hope everyone had a fab start to the week! On one hand, I can't believe it's already almost the end of August - it feels like only a few weeks ago I was saying goodbye to my spring semester students, and now today, I'm meeting all of my fall semester students. On the other hand, while I'm sad to say bid adieu to my days of leisure (and another summer of foodie fun), I am ready to shift into fall, aka the best season. For someone who's more of a cool weather person, this exceptionally hot and humid summer has been unbearable. I know there's still at least a month of summer weather, if not more, but I am so ready for pumpkins, honey crisp apples, bonfires, gorgeous colors, and all of the other goodness that fall brings.

As with many of you, I was glued to the Olympic games during the final two weeks of my summer break. I wasn't much into the Olympics until a few iterations ago - now, despite any reservations concerning political issues, I just cannot get enough! As always, gymnastics, swimming, and track & field dominated my TV screen, but I also spent a fair amount of time with sailing, rhythmic dancing, wrestling, volleyball, and water polo. Also, although I slowed down quite a bit (the Olympics came at the perfect time for me!) in preparation for the new school year, I did manage to squeeze in a few end-of-summer foodie activities, including a visit to the Hello Kitty Cafe Truck during its only Midwest stop; for a mega Hello Kitty fan, that was a dream come true (and yes, there will be a blog post covering all of the HK goodness very soon!).

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

Vanilla Milkshake Layered with Dark Chocolate, Cherry Coulis, Lemon Curd and Espresso Whipped Cream at Blue Door Kitchen. This amazingly delicious milkshake (seriously, it was one of the best shakes I've ever had in my entire life!) is part of the Shakespeare 400 Chicago, a yearlong festival celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. Through December, 38 of Chicago’s top chefs are creating Shakespeare-inspired dishes in a nod to the legacy of the great playwright and as part of a program called Culinary Complete Works. Of course, as an English professor and foodie, this program is right up my alley! I've been to two of the restaurants to sample their Shakespeare-inspired dishes and already have plans to visit several more next month.

The shake at Blue Door Kitchen was inspired by the descent into madness of King Lear: the layers represent Lear dividing his kingdom up among his daughters, while the choice of chocolate and coffee make a historical nod to the fact that these exotic ingredients were first introduced to Europeans during Shakespeare’s day.


Travel Eats: RuYi at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino

As I've mentioned numerous times over the years, I have a soft spot for Wisconsin. I spent my undergraduate years there and during that time, I learned to appreciate the slower pace, the expanses of golden fields, the quirky sayings, and its inhabitants' unabashed love for dairy products. I seriously considered staying there post-college (in either Milwaukee or Madison), but the lure of living in Chicago eventually won out. Realistically, I'm glad I didn't end up there for a variety of reasons, but I do still have mad love for the land of cheese.

While I have a long list of must-visit spots in Wisconsin, Milwaukee is still one of my all-time favorite stops. Along with the beautiful lakefront area (which is never quite as crowded as it is in Chicago), there's also a gorgeous top-notch art museum, long months filled with nonstop festivals and concerts, and a burgeoning food scene. While the city does have its own unique vibe, it feels a bit reminiscent of the Chicago of yesteryear with its mix of new developments and old-school charm. After our trip to Potawatomi Hotel & Casino for the Woodford Reserve dinner last year, Diana and I have been itching to get back to Milwaukee to explore more of the food scene, so of course, the moment the good folks at Potawatomi invited us back to check out their newly expanded Asian restaurant RuYi, we immediately cleared our schedules, jumped into Big Red and headed up to Wisconsin for a foodie-filled weekend.


Chicago Eats: Brunch at Artango Bar & Steakhouse

Ever since our first visit to Artango Bar & Steakhouse (formerly known as Artango Bistro) last year, Mario and I have considered ourselves to be major fans of the sexy Argentinian spot. During the beginning of 2015, we had both been dealing with some particularly stressful situations at work and the gross late winter weather seemed unrelenting; thanks to a combination of exhaustion from the persistent stress and the offensive slushy ick permeating the city, we fell into a pattern of flopping on the couch, ordering takeout, and completely zoning out at the end of every day. After a few months of the same old, same old, we finally got sick of ourselves, so we peeled our butts off of the couch and made our way over to Artango for a change of pace. That night we ended up falling hard for the restaurant's romantic atmosphere, beautiful one-of-a-kind décor, and the delicious South American cuisine... and it has been a place that we've returned to over and over ever since (thankfully, we're now both in much better places with our jobs - getting tenure definitely tends to help!).



Chicago Eats: Smack Shack

For years, the seafood scene in Chicago was downright lacking; there were a few fine dining restaurants and scads of greasy fried fish joints, but that was about it. Whenever people would ask me for seafood restaurant recommendations, I really could only think of a handful of places that I both truly liked and thought were worth the cost. It was a sad state of fishy affairs. Thankfully, the seafood scene has done a complete 180 in the last few years. It seems like practically every month there's a new seafood joint popping up - from tiny seafood boils serving seriously spicy Cajun food to food trucks serving drool-worthy lobster rolls to even more fine dining options, there are multiple high-quality spots in practically every neighborhood. And now finally (finally!), we have our very own Smack Shack.



Chicago Eats: Bastille Day Celebrations

I'm lucky to live in a city in which numerous international holidays are wholeheartedly embraced and celebrated. During my time in Chicago, I've had the opportunity to explore the many traditions of the people who make up this city through various restaurants and neighborhood festivals; just in the past year alone, I've taken part in celebrations for the Mid-Autumn Festival, Chinese New Year, Diwali, Dia de los Muertos, and my favorite, Bastille Day. As you know by now, I absolutely love French cuisine (and really, French culture as a whole), thanks to its simple preparation methods and robust flavors, as well as the artful and often delicate ways in which the dishes are presented. The French are truly masters at creating dishes that are both beautiful and delicious; as I've learned over the years, that skill is truly no small feat.



Chicago Eats: Café des Architectes

Happy Bastille Day! I've been obsessed with French cuisine ever since I was in high school, thanks to my food-loving French teacher Monsieur Llama (let's not talk about how many years ago that was... yikes!). As a reward for surviving the hours and hours we spent conjugating verb tenses each semester, M. Llama would set aside a chunk of time to explore the cultural aspects of France; there were movies, music, and politics, but most of our time was focused on food. He had a never-ending stash of food photos from his trips abroad and would often lovingly describe dish after dish as we all drooled on our desks. Other times he would assign us cooking homework, in which we all had to make simple French dishes and serve them to the rest of the class (I once made a really sad French flan tart with my cooking partner). The best times were when he gave us small treats he either made or brought back from his trips - I remember how excited I felt about this food that was all so incredibly different (to a Midwestern suburbanite who subsided on mostly cereal and mac & cheese) and how I couldn't wait until the day in which I could travel to France and explore the cuisine for myself (and practice my terrible French during a chance encounter with a lovely single French boy).

My high school French teacher most definitely sparked my interest in French culture and all these years later, I still not only love French cuisine but also I've developed a great appreciation for its simple preparation methods and robust flavors, along with the artful and often delicate ways in which the dishes are presented. The French are truly masters of creating dishes that both taste good and look good; in Chicago, Café des Architectes is known as one of the best when it comes to capturing everything that is special about French cuisine.



Chicago Eats: Replay Andersonvile

As much as I enjoy exploring other parts of the city and discovering new-to-me-restaurants in neighborhoods previously unknown, I have to say that I always feel an extra tinge of excitement when new establishments open in my own 'hood. I've lived on the north side of the city the entire time I've been here and I've seen some major changes in the dining scene in this area during the last 17 years (I can't believe I've been in Chicago that long!); while the neighborhood has said goodbye to a few long-time favorites, we've also ushered in some fantastic new additions.

One of the newest places to join the scene in Andersonville is one that immediately won the hearts of every neighborhood dweller with an affinity for strong cocktails, comfort food, and retro video games: Replay Andersonville. Already an established to-go bar in Lakeview, the Andersonville outpost of Replay took what everyone already loved and made it even better by offering full lunch and dinner options during the week, as well as breakfast and brunch on the weekend (the Lakeview location does not currently offer food). The gaming gastropub serves contemporary American cuisine, primarily a modern take on comfort food, and offers diners an extensive bourbon selection, 26 craft beers, and hours worth of fun via free throwback arcade games such as  Ms. Pac Man, Dig Dug, Galaga, Double Dragon, Gorf, Mortal Kombat II, and Mario Bros.



Recent Foodie Finds

Happy Monday! I hope everyone is having a fantastic start to the summer! I have officially been on semester break for just over a month now and needless to say, I've enjoyed every moment of it. As with last summer, I've said yes to as many opportunities as possible (as I mostly hibernate during the school year) and I've been rewarded with some really fantastic experiences, including visits to just over twenty new-to-me restaurants, last minute tickets to Beyoncé's Formation world tour show, an invite to join a fab cookbook club (more about this later!), a day at the park with my favorite guy and my favorite team, and mini road trips to Pittsburgh, Michigan, and Milwaukee. #lifedoesnotsuck

Amidst all of the eating and traveling, I've obviously not spent much time writing; however, I have been hard at work behind the scenes of the blog. That's right, I finally did it: a total redesign (yes, you should absolutely click on that link and check out the brand-spankin' new home page, as well as the lovely new post layout features). It took weeks of blood, sweat, and tears (okay, maybe the process was sans blood and tears, but there was definitely a sheen of frustrated perspiration when it came to getting my beautiful new photo grid to function correctly);  however, it is finally done and I am so, so happy with the new look!

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

 Salted Caramel Mocha Frozen Hot Chocolate at Cocoa + Co. I was recently introduced to this adorable chocolate café/shop in Old Town and fell in love with their amazing range of chocolates, delicious café treats, and knowledgeable staff (owner Kim Hack knows more about chocolate than anyone I've ever met!). One of my favorite treats from their current menu is this rich sipping chocolate - it's a smooth, complex chocolate drink just teeming with salty caramel.



Chicago Eats: Porkchop

If you follow Diana on Instagram, you've probably already realized that she is the BBQ queen - she is always down for BBQ and loves introducing her friends and followers to new spots. While I've always enjoyed BBQ, I never had a high appreciation for it until Diana started dragging me along on her BBQ forays (I swear she's worked her way through at least 3/4 of the vast number of BBQ joints in the Chicago-area!). Through our various visits, I've grown to really appreciate the intricacies of various rubs and sauces (I'm currently all about Carolina mustard sauce), and have even developed preferences for the type of wood used to smoke the meat (maple, apple, and mesquite are my favorites). So of course, when the good folks at Porkchop invited me to stop by to check a few brunch favorites, I knew there was no better person to accompany me on my meaty mission than the BBQ queen herself.

Described as an "urban interpretation of a Southern backwoods experience," Porkchop offers diners a low-key and unpretentious environment with a menu filled with all sorts of Southern comfort food (including mac & cheese, fried pickles, fried okra, and seafood etoufee). Of course, the star of the show is its wide range of BBQ options, including a variety of ribs, sliders, brisket, burnt ends, and pulled pork. Not to be completely outdone by the meat, you'll also find up to 40 varieties of whiskey and a host of hearty bourbon cocktails.

This fun (and possibly lethal ;-)) curtain of saws separates the main dining area from the semi-private large party table.


Chicago Eats: Rojo Gusano

Happy spring! Yes, I realize spring technically started almost a month ago; however, it was still very much winter in these parts up until recently. Finally, the trees have sprouted tiny buds, the dreaded s-word (yes, that would be snow) hasn't been uttered in almost two weeks, and there's a telltale whiff of the new season (wet pavement, grass, and dirt) in the air. While fall is my favorite season, I have to say that I really cannot get enough of these gorgeous early spring days! Along with basking in the lovely weather and celebrating the birthday boy (yay, Mario!), I also spent the weekend exploring some new-to-us restaurants with Diana, including much lauded Rojo Gusano.

Tucked away in the heart of Albany Park amongst blocks of tiny family-owned stores and hookah lounges, Rojo Gusano is a simple 70-seat joint serving up a modern, unique, and utterly delicious take on Mexican food. Helmed by restaurant vet Chef Dudley Nieto, the space that formerly housed Mayan Sol Latin Grill has been completely reconceptualized - everything from the name (which refers to the red worm found at the bottom of mezcal bottles) to the decor (beach meets urban taco joint) to the food (with a focus on non-traditional, global ingredients) screams fresh, fun, and welcoming. It's no wonder that the restaurant has been getting tons of positive buzz from Albany Park dwellers and foodie visitors alike.

While some might be tempted to categorize Rojo Gusano as just another taqueria in a neighborhood filled with a plethora of Mexican joints, what makes the restaurant stand out is Neito's heavily diverse menu. Drawing from the numerous cultures found in the neighborhood, along with his own rich background, Neito marries an assortment of techniques and ingredients; the result is a menu teeming with international dishes including a shrimp-and-octopus ceviche with leche de tigre, a charred butternut squash taco, and a charred chile morita salsa with tangy tomato.



Chicago Eats: Appellation Wine Bar & Restaurant

When I heard the news last year that Pastoral was opening not only a cheese shop but also an adjacent wine bar/restaurant in my 'hood, I immediately began planning for the day in which I could roll out of bed and spend a leisurely morning munching my way through all sorts of cheesy deliciousness. Already being a bona fide fan of the renowned shop and a connoisseur of all things cheese (from mild, creamy goat cheeses to pungent blues, I'm always down for cheese!), I had high expectations for the newest location. While the shop and restaurant opened to great fanfare at the end of the year, it wasn't until a few months ago in which they finally kicked off their brunch service. Of course, the moment the words "new brunch menu" floated my way via email, I knew it was finally time to live out my cheese-filled brunchy daydreams at Appellation.

Headed by Jesse Williams (formerly of Birchwood Kitchen), the Andersonville spot is Pastoral's fifth (and in my opinion, best!) location. Not only is the shop a treasure trove for lovers of cheese, wine, and charcuterie (as is every incarnation of Pastoral), but also the cozy adjacent wine bar/restaurant contains sparkling wine on tap AND mustard on tap from Maille. Yes, you read that correctly... there's basically a nonstop flow of sparkling wine and draft mustard. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I love my fancy mustards (Diana and I even took a trip to the National Mustard Museum a few summers ago!) almost as much as I love my cheese (and bubbly!), so you can bet I was a very happy girl upon learning of these fun offerings.

Fellow cheese and brunch lover Ashley and I stopped by on a bustling Saturday morning, and after ogling the rows and rows of available wines and cheeses, we finally tore ourselves away from the bar and settled at a sunny table in the front part of the dining room facing Clark St. (a prime spot for people-watching!) for a two-hour tour through some of the highlights of the newly minted brunch menu.



Chicago Eats: GreenRiver

*Tap, tap, tap* Is this thing on? Ahem. I'm finally poking my head out after an almost two-month blogging hiatus. I really didn't plan to vanish and while I don't want to spend much time blogging about not blogging, I didn't want to completely pretend like it hasn't been forever since you last heard a peep out of me.

Basically, I was feeling a combination of overwhelmed, burned out, and uninspired... I was in a major writing slump, and despite what I recommend to my students, I simply didn't feel like working through it. That is until I crossed the threshold of the fabulous GreenRiver. Yes, it's true - one amazing meal at GreenRiver was all it took to break my (self-imposed and slightly petulant) silence. This lovely spot with sweeping views of the city, chic vibe, and seriously drool-worthy food is, in a nutshell, a hella fantastic spot. Everything from the decor to the atmosphere to the drink menu to the food is just ridiculously on point. No wonder I finally got my inspiration back, right?!

Open since last September, this eighteenth-floor gem in Streeterville pays homage to Chicago's Irish history through a vast drink menu composed of 32 cocktails inspired by the city's most famous (and infamous!) Irish-Americans. Of course, these cocktails aren't just your run-of-the-mill everyday drinks; they're carefully cultivated sips designed by Jack McGarry of The Dead Rabbit and Julia Momose of The Aviary. The drink menu alone is a work of art; separated into sections by the raw materials in the base spirit (e.g. "corn" for bourbon), each cocktail includes a biography for whom the cocktail is named. Not only are the cocktails unique (I guarantee you'll encounter something you've never tried before!), but also, the menu is chock full of fascinating tidbits, making it perfect for those of us who like a little dinnertime reading material.

Along with the spectacular cocktail offerings (and over 200 available whiskeys), GreenRiver also offers an equally impressive spread of interesting, well-prepared dishes (many of which were designed to complement individual cocktails). As much as I loved the cocktails, I have to say it's the elevated Midwestern-inspired fare that ultimately won me over. GreenRiver is truly the quintessential restaurant-meets-cocktail-bar in the best way possible; the food and cocktails are equally pleasurable, and whether you're popping by for a quick lunch or a full dinner with drinks, there's a little something for everyone.



Recent Foodie Finds

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

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

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



Girls Night In with Turducken

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

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

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



Suburban Eats: Firefly Kitchen

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

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



Chicago Eats: Travelle Kitchen + Bar

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



15 from '15

Happy New Year! 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 2016. As per usual, I spent the first two weeks of my winter break pretending as though I don't actually have any work responsibilities; however, the time has come to officially stop pretending that I don't have a mile-long to-do list (boo!). Not only do I need to put the finishing touches on the classes I'm teaching, but also, I need to prepare for the classes I'm taking.... 2016 will be a year of change, starting with enrollment in a second master's degree program!

Before I dive headfirst into my big plans for the year, I thought I would take a look back at some of the foodie highlights of 2015. I know I say it every year, but 2015 was truly an epic food year! As I declared the summer to be my season of saying yes to whatever came my way, I managed to make a nice dent in my must-visit restaurants list, as well as discover an abundance of new spots. Along the way, I also met a group of fabulous people who share my same passion for food (and who don't get annoyed when I take 20 photos of every dish!). In addition to food and friends, there were definitely some other awesome standout moments of 2015: I was granted tenure (finally!), I purchased my first new car in 15 years, and through a random radio contest, I won an opportunity for Mario and I to meet Lenny Kravitz (OMG, he smelled like rainbows and sex!). Overall, it was a pretty good year. :-)

In no particular order, here are 15 of my favorites from 2015:

Pumpkin Cabinet Pudding stuffed with chocolate chips and covered with warm oozy caramel (from Sweet Mandy B's). This pudding was most definitely everything that's good about desserts all wrapped up into one perfectly amazing little tower of goodness!

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