2018 | chicago foodie girl


Chicago Eats: Holiday Afternoon Tea at The Peninsula

Over the last few years, Ashley, Gigi, and I have bonded over our love of the holiday season. Not only are we all hardcore proponents of anything sparkly, twinkly, or girly, we also love to go all out for our celebrations (so really, it should come as no surprise that this time of year speaks to our glitter and festivities-loving souls!). When we sat down back in October to make our holiday plans, we knew we wanted to do something extra special this year, both to celebrate a few incredible changes (including Gigi's long-awaited heart transplant) and to soothe our souls after some devasting losses and unexpected life changes. As soon as Gigi and I mentioned that we had never done the Holiday Afternoon Tea at The Peninsula, Ashley knew that it was time to introduce us to one of her all-time favorite traditions.

While The Peninsula offers a gorgeous afternoon tea service year-round, they really take it to another level during the holidays. Along with the soaring two-story tree in the middle of the dining room and the bird's-eye view of the ice rink above Michigan Ave., there's also a string quartet and strolling carolers to get you in the festive mood. On top of the opulent setting, there's the lavish tea service that kicks off with a champagne toast and includes tiers and tiers of perfectly done sandwiches, scones, and special pastries. As Ashley mentioned, the decorations, service, and bites at The Peninsula are unparalleled!


Suburban Eats: Medieval Times (As A Child-Free Adult!)

As I'm sure you've all figured out by now, I am a total nerd... I have a serious love for the written word, I'm thoroughly obsessed with The Crown, I count down to Ren Faire every summer, and my vacations always involve leisurely days wandering through museums. So, it should come as no surprise that a trip to Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament has long been on my must-visit list. A dinner show filled with dashing knights, majestic horses, epic battles, and a feast prepared by the Queen's royal chefs? Sign this nerdy girl up for a trip back to the age of chivalry!

While it seems as though practically everyone I know has childhood memories of a visit to a castle, my trip out to the Schaumburg a few weeks ago was my first time stepping into the pageantry of the 11th-century royal court. Yes, it's true that a visit to one of the ten castles is often touted as a perfect activity for kids, but let me just say that it's just as fun as an adult (perhaps even more so, as you're able to partake in ye olde massive vodka slushies!). Pro tip: take someone with you who's not afraid to wear a paper crown, cheer with abandon for their favorite knight, and lose themselves in the moment (Jess was that perfect nerd-rrific partner for me). It's true you'll find tons of young kids at the show, but you'll also find plenty of child-free adults - there was even a bachelorette party (complete with a loaded party bus) on the night we visited.


Chicago Eats: Bohemian House

While my family is mostly Swedish and Italian, I grew up in an area with large Polish and Czech populations and through many festivals (this was always a favorite!), restaurants, and visits to my friends' houses for family dinners, I developed an appreciation for bohemian cuisine at an early age. Along with my grandmother's hearty pasta dishes and my mother's perfectly made apple pies, the flavors of Central Europe have long featured prominently on my list of delicious comfort foods.

It should come as no surprise that I was thrilled when Bohemian House (affectionately referred to as BoHo) opened its doors in River North a few years ago. Drawing its primary influences from Czech, Polish, Austrian, and Hungarian cuisines, BoHo offers a culinary tour through Central Europe with a modern, seasonal twist. The team strives to maintain the traditional flavor profiles while also utilizing what's in season in the Midwest. The result is a unique and highly lauded restaurant serving up some of the best food in town... including over 30,000 pierogis in their first year alone!



Chicago Eats: Omakase Dinner at Strings Ramen

While there were once few options in Chicago for ramen (outside of dorm room dining); thankfully, it's no longer seen here as a novelty food. Over the last few years, in particular, there has been a rash of ramen shop openings, ranging from the traditional/authentic end to the more modern/Americanized renditions. Chicago still isn't exactly known as a hardcore ramen town like NY or LA, but there are still plenty of fantastic places to get your ramen fix. I make it my mission every winter to eat as much ramen as possible (while I do enjoy it all year round, my body goes into serious ramen-craving mode as soon as the temperature plunges). I've come to realize through my ramen forays that I prefer a creamy broth and firm, chewy noodles (I've also come to realize that I really shouldn't eat it in public because I will inevitably end up with broth all over my shirt! ūü§£).

While I have my favorites at just about every ramen stop in the city, the one that always keeps me going back for more is the perfectly done tonkotsu ramen with kuro buta at Strings Ramen Shop. The broth is so thick and rich that it coats your mouth with is meaty deep roasted flavor. The noodles (unlike those at most other ramen spots in Chicago) are made fresh daily with an imported Japanese mixer and noodle maker, resulting in a thin and firm noodle that holds up in even the boldest of broths. Considering my love for Strings, it should come as no surprise that as soon as I heard they were hosting a summer omakase dinner, I was first in line to snag a ticket to this fab event held their new-ish Lakeview location!


Chicago Eats: Gibsons Italia

If you ask anyone in Chicago for steakhouse recommendations, it's guaranteed Gibsons will dominate the list. It's one of those rare Chicago spots that has been around forever (almost 30 years, which is forever in the world of restaurants) and is loved by locals, tourists, and celebrities alike. Not only is it an institution in Chicago, it's also the epitome of what you expect when you think of a classic steakhouse: celebrity photos lining the walls, dark old-fashioned ambiance, Sinatra pumping through the speakers, and giant slabs of meat and martinis everywhere you look.

While Gibsons embodies the old school steakhouse vibe, its new sibling spot, Gibsons Italia is the epitome of modern elegance. The three-level steakhouse is a bright and chic space complete with a retractable roof and floor-to-ceiling windows offering sweeping views of the Chicago River and skyline. Along with the departure from the old-fashioned (i.e. 1980s) ambiance, Gibsons Italia has an Italian theme - in addition to top-notch steaks, the menu features antipasti, pastas, and classic Italian entr√©es. While I definitely can appreciate the original Gibsons for what it is, its gorgeous sister restaurant has stolen my heart and quickly become one of my favorite places to spend a leisurely afternoon thanks to its beautiful setting and fantastic food.


Recipe: No-Fry Fried Ice Cream with Turkey Hill

When I was a kid, one of my biggest food thrills in life was discovering the joys of fried ice cream. I vividly remember the first time I tried it: I was at a friend's birthday party at a popular Mexican chain restaurant in a neighboring town and as we enthusiastically sang/shouted a rousing rendition of happy birthday, several servers swooped out of the kitchen loaded with bowls of glistening fried ice cream. As a super fan of all treats involving ice cream, I enthusiastically dug in and was immediately enamored. It was love at first bite; I was all about that hot/cold contrast and the gooey, crunchy coating surrounding the sweet ice cream balls. I'm pretty sure I completely licked the bowl clean!

All these years later, I still love a good bowl of fried ice cream; however, I do find much of what I've had in recent years to be a little too... well, fried. On the rare instance in which I have fried ice cream, I find it tends to be far too greasy - the crispy shell quickly loses its crunch because it's weighed down and can't hold its own against the melting ice cream. I also find many versions to be overly sweet (and yes, my inner ten-year-old is aghast that I now find many of my favorite treats to be too sweet!). When the fine folks at Turkey Hill offered me a chance to create a recipe using their all natural ice cream, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to try my hand at an updated/lightened up version of one of my childhood favorites!


Mother's Day with Fannie May Colonial Assortment

When I was a little kid, Mother's Day was not only a celebration of my mother and grandmother (and the only day of the year in which my father and grandfather voluntarily did the dishes!), it was also known in my world as "fancy chocolate day." It was the day in which I marched into my local Fannie May, selected my favorite box of mixed chocolates, and proudly presented what I dubbed "fancy chocolates" to my mom in a flurry of excitement. Although she knew it was coming, she always pretended to be surprised; even better, she always let me pick out my favorites from her box. To me, it was a big deal because we only had fancy chocolates on holidays (although I realized later in life that we had them in the house far more often than I thought - they were just hidden from little kid eyes!).

While my own mom is no longer here, I continue to celebrate all of the incredible women/mother figures in my life with fancy chocolates - because really, who doesn't love to receive a beautiful box of delicious chocolates?! One of my favorites boxes to gift is still the same one I proudly purchased every year for my mom: the Colonial Assortment, the best-selling collection of the signature tastes of Chicago-based confectioner (and Midwestern favorite!) Fannie May.


How to Build the Perfect Cheese Board

Not counting the month in which I decided I didn't like cheese unless it was powdered and found in a macaroni box (it was one of those weird/defiant kid stages), cheese and I go way back. I began my love affair with it at an early age, all thanks to my grandmother, who had an afternoon cheese break built into her daily schedule (3:00 was always cheese and Coke time in her house). While she favored various Italian cheeses and sharp cheddars, I grew to realize that my cheese love had no bounds. I definitely have my favorites (it's an alarmingly long list!); however, I'm always down to try new cheeses. So of course, when the good folks at Caputo Cheese Market invited me to tour their store and sample some of owner/cheesemonger Nat Caputo's favorite picks, I immediately grabbed my fellow cheese-obsessed friend Jess, jumped in the car, and headed up to Lake Forest to get my cheese nosh on!

Caputo Cheese Market (or cheese heaven, as Jess and I named it) is a family-owned market that has been in business since 1978. They carry high-quality cheese offerings from around the world, with an emphasis on locally produced products and Italian cheeses that are either imported or produced by the Caputo family in their Melrose Park headquarters. At any given time, you can find over 400 types of cheese (including their award-winning mozzarella, burrata, and ricotta) in their Lake Forest shop/café and over 1,000 varieties at their Melrose Park location. Jess and I spent the afternoon touring the market, eating our way through delicious cheese after delicious cheese, and talking the business of building the perfect cheese board.


Recent Foodie Finds

Happy spring! I know that technically it has been spring for just over a month, but up until this weekend, it was still very much winter here (there's nothing quite like a series of late April surprise snowstorms to dash your hopes and send you into an angsty tailspin). However, it seems like we've finally pulled through (yay!). Between several bouts with icky winter sickness, some unexpected work stress, a persistent feeling of dissatisfaction with everything going on in the country, and some scary health situations involving close friends, it was already starting to feel like 2018 was setting up to be one of those years. However, after a few days of nicer weather and quality time with friends, I'm feeling slightly more optimistic (I maintain the right to revert back to my previous grumpiness if we get hit by any additional late-season snowstorms!).

I kicked off the weekend with a visit to LiqrBox (boozy juice boxes FTW!) and then spent some time soaking up the sun on the rooftop of The Godfrey with friends. On Saturday, Diana and I paid a visit to Easy Street Pizza, where we sampled some drool-worthy mac & cheese pizza. I spent the rest of the weekend putting in some quality time with the DVR (Mario was in Vegas for a birthday celebration, so I used my time alone to binge-watch the shows he hates), planning an upcoming trip to NOLA (it's my first time and I am ridiculously excited!), and writing a few sorely overdue blog posts (there's more coming very soon!).

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

Hawaiian Classic Pok√© Bowl with ahi tuna, ogo seaweed, cucumber, mango, and classic sauce at Pok√©works. I don't know about you, but I am absolutely loving this pok√© explosion! After years of being pok√©-less, there are so many pok√© joints in Chicago; one of my favorites is the super popular fast-casual Pok√©works, where you can choose from a menu of their creations or build-your-own bowl. Their ingredients are always fresh and they have a wide assortment from which to choose.


Recipe: Spanish Spaghetti with Have an Olive Day

While I tend to be a fairly adventurous and diverse eater when I go out, I'm actually quite predictable when I'm at home in my own kitchen. It's not that I don't enjoy playing with various flavor profiles; it's more that I'm on autopilot on most nights. After realizing late last year that I was growing bored with the dishes in my repertoire, I set a goal for myself in 2018 to expand my list of everyday dishes. Fortuitously, just after I set my goal, the fine folks with the Have an Olive Day campaign reached out to see if I would be interested in trying my hand at creating a Spanish-inspired recipe with their olives from Spain. That was definitely just the push I needed!

When I was much younger, I thought the only type of olives that existed were the chopped black ones that came on our pizza (that was the only time I ever had them!), but as an adult, I've cultivated a taste for the many different types of olives. I'm especially a fan of the tender Manzanilla (green olives) and the tart Queen (big green olives), thanks to their versatility, as well as the meaty Gordal and the spicy Verdial, thanks to their robust flavors. As much as I'm pro-olive, I have to admit I didn't know much about the growing, pressing, and curing processes until I visited my first olive grove last year (such a cool experience!). Thanks to the Have an Olive Day campaign, I've learned even more - did you know that olives meet the four basic tastes (bitter, sweet, salty and acid)? This is what makes them not only the perfect healthy snack but also the ideal product to combine with practically any type of ingredient.


Travel Guide: Girls Weekend in Hamilton County (2)

In case you missed it, check out my post on our first day in Hamilton County here

While I would like to say Diana and I woke up the next morning ready to jump right into the second day of exploring Hamilton County, quite honestly, we were exhausted (as we stayed up far too late), slightly hungover, and in desperate need of caffeine. Thankfully, the lovely ladies over at Visit Hamilton County seemed to have known that would happen, as the first stop on our agenda was exactly what we needed to get us going (and to shake our post-cookie and booze haze from the previous evening!). Once we finally managed to make ourselves presentable, we headed back to Carmel for breakfast at Eggshell Bistro, a ridiculously charming and quaint café known for serving some of the best coffee in the state.



Travel Guide: Girls Weekend in Hamilton County (1)

Before moving to Chicago, my travel wishlist was solely focused on big city explorations. I lived in a small Midwestern town and longed to spend my free time working my way through the bustling and exciting restaurants, museums, and theatres of major metro areas. While I still do love the thrill of absorbing the vibe of a new-to-me major city, now that I've been in Chicago for just over eighteen years (where did the time go?!), I'm finding myself being drawn to some smaller towns filled with quirky shops, massive farmers markets, family-owned restaurants, and admittedly, a far slower pace. I've especially come to appreciate the lesser-known spots in the Midwest; while millions of tourists are flocking to Chicago and other metro areas like Milwaukee each year, more and more, I'm seeking out local travel destinations that offer a quieter and quainter getaway, like in Hamilton County, Indiana. 

Located just north of Indianapolis, the cities and towns of Hamilton County are frequently lauded as some of the best places to live in the Midwest, thanks to their high marks in quality of life ratings. While the county is one of the fastest growing in the United States, it still offers residents and visitors alike plenty of small-town charm. When the fine folks at Visit Hamilton County reached out to inquire if Diana and I would be interested in a weekend of foodie explorations, we took one look at their lineup of cute restaurants, markets, and festivals and immediately knew it was the perfect spot for our next girls getaway!



17 from '17

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a fantastic start to 2018. I have to admit that I’ve been less than impressed with this year thus far, as I’ve spent just about all of it on the couch in my pajamas nursing various gross ailments (leaving the apartment only once to go to the doctor's office), worrying about a close friend in the hospital, and very much not doing the work I need to do for the start of the semester. It can only go up from here though, right?!

Despite the less than auspicious start to 2018, I am glad to leave last year in the dust. It was one of those years with extreme highs and extreme lows. While I had some fantastic professional opportunities (several of which included some fab travel), much of the year was spent worrying about a professional setback Mario suffered and dealing with some major anxiety surrounding the loss of someone very close to us. The majority of the year was one big emotional drain, although thankfully, things finally started to turn around in December. While I know logically there’s not a big difference between December 31 and January 1, it just felt cathartic to leave the year behind.

Despite some personal struggles, it was a fantastic year in food. I ate my way across Chicago and fell hard for some new restaurants, explored some fab eats in Wisconsin, Indiana, Arizona, and Mexico, and finally knocked a three-Michelin starred restaurant off my bucket list (stay tuned for more about this in an upcoming post). There were some sad losses in the Chicago restaurant community (Grace! ūüėĘ), but I’m still confident Chicago will continue to offer amazing experiences and I’m excited to see what this next year will bring!

Here are 17 of my favorites from 2017:

The OG Lox and the Confit Albacore Tuna with oil-cured olives at Snaggletooth. I loved this charming cured fish deli from the moment I first stepped foot in it shortly after its opening in 2016. The space was adorable and owners Bill Montagne and Jennifer Kim put a lot of love and effort into every one of their perfectly constructed dishes. I was so sad to say goodbye to this gem over the summer!
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