Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Like it Hot, Hot, Hot!

My dear friend Dan introduced me to Lao Sze Chuan in Chicago's Chinatown neighborhood a few years ago. Dan has since moved onto greener pastures opening a phenomenal green lifestyle store in Cincinnati called Park and Vine, but I've kept going back to Lao Sze Chuan for it's ridiculously spicy food. If you don't like spice I probably wouldn't recommend Sichuan cuisine which is known for its use of garlic and peppers.

Dry Chili Chicken - look at those peppers!
Typically when I visit Chinatown, it's on the weekends and there are often long lines at Lao Sze Chuan (or at many of restauranteur Tony Hu's establishments). I am often forced to select another dining option and luckily there are a lot of fantastic restaurants all within the same plaza. I did notice that Chicago based GrubHub (an online food delivery company) will deliver my Sichuan faves to both my office and home - yes! I've gotten a few of my co-workers hooked on the spice and today was one such lucky delivery day.

Green Beans & Spicy Black Bean Sauce
I ordered by favorite green beans in spicy black bean sauce (though there's not really a sauce on the beans) and the dry chili chicken (look at those peppers!) My mouth is burning, but spice is treating me oh so nice.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Running and Eating - Two of my Favorite Activities

If you haven't guessed yet, I love to run. Obviously, I also love to eat. When the two come together magical things happen. Honestly I can hardly contain myself! Back when I started distance running a few years back I trained with a group for a half marathon. We would run and then try out different brunch places around the city; I LOVED this. We even had cute t-shirts made up for our group race day that listed each of the places we'd dined at. I still look for any excuse to pair the running and eating together and this past weekend the perfect opportunity presented itself with a unique trail race in the not too far suburbs of Chicago.

For those of you who aren't reading this blog in the Windy City, it was cold here on Saturday. Actually it was the coldest day of the year so far with temperatures topping out around 19 degrees, but thanks to the wind chill we felt like we were being exposed to single digit temps. Nonetheless, I had a partner in crime with my high school friend Lara and we ventured to Pulaski Woods in the Palos Park Forest Preserve for Red Bull's Trail Daze. Runners could select between three courses - easy, medium and hard with distances ranging from 4 to 6 miles. I ended up challenging myself to the hard course and was really enthused scrambling up steeper terrain, maneuvering over tree roots and avoiding poor footing. The cold made the conditions that much more invigorating! Of course there was Red Bull for the taking and bananas (yes, they were frozen by the temps!) but we were craving breakfast fare....

Moondance Diner was just a short car ride away. With flavored coffee choices (I selected a sweet biscotti treat) and a huge menu of sweet and savory options this place was the perfect post run treat. I am always annoyed when I am in need of more brew and can't find anyone for a warm refill - problem solved with my own carafe of coffee. Same went for water (in the cold it's always so hard to remember to stay hydrated after a run!) I was a happy lady post run when I sat in front of a steaming plate of goodness: eggnog battered french toast with a cranberry compote and a dollop of cinnamon butter so dark in color I thought it might be chocolate! I was able to add eggs and sausage to the mix too happily allowing me to have the perfect sweet/savory combination.

We rounded out the trip with a visit to Brookhaven Marketplace - a suburban chain that has a wide variety of imported European goodies and fresh produce at a bit more affordable prices. Yippee for a successful running and eating extravaganza!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Manny's - A Chicago Tradition

A Bounty of Corned Beef
Manny's Deli in Chicago can trace it's roots back to 1942, when it started dishing out traditional Jewish deli fare near the historic Maxwell Street Market (a historic open air street market). It is one of only a few remaining family run cafeterias today. You know when you come here that you're not just getting a helping of hearty food, you're getting a side of Chicago history.

Upon first glance Manny's isn't anything special. The South Loop neighborhood has transformed considerably over the years, and with the addition of some big box stores, Binny's and a Whole Foods nearby the location has become more desirable. Once inside you're in...a cafeteria. You closely examine the menu, grab a tray, order, get a receipt, chow down on your feast, and then pay before exiting the establishment. Old school? Yes and you've gotta love it.

Matzoh ball soup & pastrami
The pastrami is smoky, salty and sliced paper thin. I don't even like pastrami so much and I'm left craving Manny's hot pastrami on challah bread. Corned beef is another story. I LOVE corned beef. Grew up eating it at my local deli back in Cleveland, Corky & Lenny's. It's good there, but ask for it extra thin at Manny's on rye bread and it's a whole other ball game. The latkes (potato pancakes) are what keep me coming back. I make my own at home, but have never seen anything like the ones they serve here. These latkes are almost an inch thick! Warm potato on the inside crispy on the outside. Add a bit of applesauce and you're in business.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Amy's - Healthy Eating on the Go

As much as I love to cook, I love to dine out. Especially during the holiday season I'm trying to cook more and eat out less to watch the calories and the cash. A girl can only cook so much though (truth be told I hate doing dishes and have to be in the right frame of mind for the chore) so I look for healthy alternatives I can bring to work for office lunches. Enter Amy's.

Amy's is a family run business started in 1987. They make a variety of quality organic and vegetarian frozen and canned meal options from pizzas and soups to desserts. On those days when I do enjoy Amy's for lunch I don't feel like I just ruined my morning workout, I feel sated and happy.

 There are so many Amy's products to choose from, but here are a few of my favorites:
  • Black bean chili
  • Brown rice and vegetables bowl (I LOVE broccoli and there are also red onions and mushrooms to add to the hearty dish)
  • Mexican casserole
  • Bean and cheese burrito
  • Indian mattaar paneer (cheese with peas)
  • Broccoli pot pie (see above for my love of all things broccoli)
  • Split pea soup

Monday, November 28, 2011

Food Should Taste Good

Yes, this may be a strange name for a company but I love it - Food Should Taste Good. If you're looking for a crispy, healthier chip alternative than you should be looking for the black and white bag with the simple logo on it. With flavors like sweet potato (made with yes, real sweet potatoes), multigrain (with flax and sunflower seeds adding an extra crunch) and cheddar (who can resist a little cheese and some quinoa too) you'll be wondering why you didn't start snacking on these chips sooner.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Entertaining a la Pumpkin

I love pumpkin. I love entertaining. I'm planning on hosting a small (very small) gathering for Thanksgiving at my home this year. Nothing fancy, but I'm looking forward to using some of my nicer table linens, some serving pieces that belonged to my grandmother, and testing out some new recipes. I was really inspired when I watched these three short videos from event planner Debi Lilly.

I hope you're inspired too - they are fantastic ideas!
Here is the link to some of the pumpkin themed treats on the Cheeky Chicago blog.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Running the Good Life in California

After finishing the Chicago Marathon last month I was eager to get another long run in the books so I could have something else to look forward to. With the BF in California, I thought the Santa Barbara half marathon would be the perfect race.

Beautiful finish line of the race looking out on the ocean
I was expecting breathtaking ocean front scenery, but when we arrived Friday night we were greeted with intense darkness and rain. Not ideal, but we made the best of it and opted to order dinner in from California Pasta -it was definitely a good choice! I was really happy with my avocado farfalle (similar to a type of pesto, but with avocado as its base). I'd never heard of an avocado pasta before and have to say I loved it so much I'm on the hunt for a recipe to make my own.
Yeah - got a new 2:13 PR for the half marathon too!

Race day was beautiful and after some jaunts in the mountains and a park area during the first part of the race, I welcomed the sight (and smell) of the ocean for the final miles of the race. After eating a banana and a not so exciting protein bar, my taste buds were ready for something a bit more enticing. My race friends had made some restaurant recommendations along State Street (the restaurants were all packed) so we looked to my trusty friend Yelp for a restaurant recommendation and settled on Los Arroyos Mexican Restaurant. This family-owned gem had a high rating on Yelp and for good reason - the food was excellent (the BF lucked out with a delicious combination plate of yum) as was the service (Freddie the bus boy was soon good the BF joked my brother should move him to Chicago to work at one of his restaurants!)

Beautiful day for a Farmer's Market
Though Santa Barbara was the focus of the weekend, I of course enjoyed my time in LA too with stops at Urth Caffe (I love the salads that come with the breakfast entrees) and Jack N Jills (love the breakfast rice bowls). We also found a fantastically fresh sushi spot - Minori which is also a family-owned business. The rolls were simple but extremely fresh...they even had a container of live crabs sitting atop the sushi bar. Sight (and recommendation) unseen we also stumbled upon a delicious Thai restaurant called Melanee - their chicken with broccoli is a dish I'm still craving 4 days later! Farmer's markets are wrapping up here in Chicago, but in LA they are thriving - alive with avocados, persimmons, grapes and oranges.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Happiness in a Warm Bowl

Delicious peanut pumpkin pepper soup
Chicago is still deciding if it wants to be cold this week. We've been blessed with some relatively mild temperatures these past few weeks and I've been making good use of it wearing my favorite fall jacket (probably one of my best shopping buys btw), walking all over the city (I do this regardless of the temperature, but this is the favorite season for my walks) and cooking some fall favorites. Winter brings with it the desire to cook hearty warm food, but fall lets us do that with still seasonal produce - bonus!

Butternut squash risotto
I have been looking for every excuse to be cooking items with pumpkin and squash. I have been making my pumpkin smoothie regularly now that pumpkin's back on the shelves, but it's the warmer dishes that are the stars of the show. I cooked a butternut squash risotto using Martha's recipe for my brother and his GF. I love making risotto and was surprised that this recipe called for absolutely NO heavy cream! I usually finish my risotto off with a bit of cream, but the butternut squash was so sweet itself that I think it took Mr. Cream's place. Fabulous and I can't recommend this recipe enough! Next up was my pumpkin peanut soup (recipe courtesy of Women's Health magazine.) There is some heat from dried chilies, and a bit of a Thai feel with the peanut butter in the soup, but it's the smoky red peppers hidden in the recipe that give the soup its vibrant orangish/redish hue. So warm and fall-like!

Please let me know if you have any can't miss fall recipes you'd like to share. I'm always looking for some more recipes to test out.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cooking Up Hearty Breakfasts & Tasty Desserts at Whole Foods

Fruit dessert (healthy & delicious!)
If you've been reading my blog, you know I have a love affair with all things Whole Foods (I just don't like the price tag that comes with it.)

My dear friend Lara is now a Chicago resident, and recently joined the newly launched Whole Foods Wellness Club at their Lincoln Park mega store (fun trivia fact, this Whole Foods is the 3rd largest in the world behind one in London, and their HQ in Austin, TX where everything is bigger.) The Wellness Club prides itself on educating shoppers to create positive lifestyle choices. Members get 10% off certain healthful food items, as well as access to free yoga and cooking classes. Lucky for me I got to attend not one, but TWO cooking classes with Lara and both times they were virtually private classes -lucky us!

Class #1 focused on hearty breakfast items. I'm an egg kind of girl, but the Wellness Center is a proponent of the Vegan lifestyle so no eggies for me. They also try to limit the amount of oils they use, so no EVOO either! There were all sorts of menu items that I had never thought to make for breakfast. Of course we made steel cut oats (did you know you could make them for the the week and then keep them in the fridge and just heat as needed?), but there was also a delicious breakfast hash with roasted root veggies (personally I would roast them with a little oil for a crisper texture, but steaming them with a spice mixture was nice too.) I LOVED the mashed banana. Really who would think - mashed banana? Take some bananas and whip 'em in the Vitamix with some cinnamon and it's a completely new experience. Add it into those steel cut oats and you've almost got dessert.

Our friendly Wellness Center chef Katie with the chocolate fruit parfait
Speaking of dessert...that was another fun class (class #2)! Old friend Kate joined Lara and I for some sweet cooking. We started off baking apples in the microwave. Pretty unglamorous, huh? But add in cinnamon and some other spices and this was a sweet, healthy treat (I would probably add in some yogurt too.) We also roasted a banana (warm and caramelized goodness)  and enjoyed chopped pear with fresh mint. So simple. There was also a ooey gooey chocolate mixture (real chocolate, not milk added) which we happily layered with fresh fruit to make a decadent parfait.

Kate & Lara look over the recipes
I probably won't be giving up my indulgent eating lifestyle (I love animal by-products, oils, etc. too much), but I have added some more healthy dishes to my foodie repertoire which is always a good thing. Plus, this is yet another excuse for me to visit my dear friend Whole Foods.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Young Coconuts - The Tropical Drink You Can Enjoy Anywhere

Thanks again to Whole Foods. My obsession with the store continues. For the past few days I haven't been feeling 100%. I've felt like I've had a sinus headache and it has kept me from my active daily routine. I went to my friends at Whole Foods and thought maybe I could find a more holistic cure my pain. Oddly enough this didn't come in the form of supplements or sprays, it was in the form of young coconut.

You've seen coconut water is all the rage now. I don't really like it plain, but Vita Coco and Zico make some tasty concoctions that mix in other fruits and flavorings. The water is known for it's high potassium and antioxidant levels. (one of my fave fitness fact websites) says that coconut water's electrolytes can even replace those found in sports drinks.

I bought the recommended coconut (yes, it was a WHOLE coconut with a straw in it) and toted it home (it's a bit heavy to add to the grocery bag). I sat on my couch and it was an instant vacation in my living room - nutty goodness, creamy and delicious. I really enjoyed drinking this coconut water vs. the packed waters which taste slightly off. I'm not sure if it was the coconut or the 9.5 hours of sleep I got that night, but I did feel much better the next day!

Friday, October 21, 2011

This Little Robyn Flew Her Coop at The Aviary

Very dark. Strong truffle drink & divine bites
 The Aviary
953-955 W Fulton St
(Cocktail lounge from the creative genius of Chef Grant Achatz)

WOW. How can you not be blown away at The Aviary?

I was delighted to get a reservation confirmation just hours after I submitted a table request and upon arriving at The Aviary (note the entrance is on Morgan, not Fulton) was greeted by a genial doorman and welcomed into the folds of the mysterious lounge. I was impressed how well executed everything turned out to be (though I'm not sure I should have been surprised) from arriving at the hostess desk, to the waitress taking orders on her iPhone, to the seamless removal of plates and the calling of a taxi after drinks. Excellent service is thriving!

Though I enjoyed my cocktail from the a la carte menu (a pricey $28 black truffle concoction) I was really impressed by the bites. These one bite treats were decadent and sumptuous. Typing this I'm basically drooling thinking about the exquisite three bites I enjoyed -  foie gras, summer squash and duck. Unbelievable. Forget the drinks - I'd come back for the bites alone! Speaking of drinks...the a la carte options were all inventive and good, but I was having some serious cocktail envy when I saw the elaborate and creative concoctions being served on the 7 course tasting menu. All I could think was "hmm, maybe I too should be spending $125 for cocktails! I need that experience!"

This Food Girl will have to wait for the tasting cocktail menu (I've got to save up some drinking funds), but I will be back!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Colombia Cocoa Helps Warm Things Up

Cups of steaming cocoa wait to be sipped
I LOVE hot cocoa. As the weather is starting to turn a bit cooler it is such a decadent treat. I was delighted to discover a new type of cocoa recently when Sergio, the Colombian friend of my dear friend Lara, came to Chicago. Lara had raved about the cocoa they drink in Colombia for breakfast and had brought back some of the ingredients and tools that are traditionally used to make the drink.

Sergio chops the mild cheese and explains the cocoa making process
Lara gets ready to froth the cocoa
The dense chocolate was chopped and melted with heated milk then frothed and poured into waiting cups. There was a mild cheese chopped for putting inside the cocoa (Sergio explained it usually melts at the bottom) and a think pan de mie/challah bread used for dipping.

The drink was delicious. I wouldn't mind having some more and might want to start planning a trip to South America to have the authentic experience myself!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dessert Deck - Guest Blogger

I have been a busy lady lately with work events and the culmination of my marathon training (yes I'm proud to say I've now run 5 marathons!) I have also been doing some guest blogging for Dessert Deck a very cool compilation of $10 off discounts at 52 area dessert havens. I'm a wee bit behind in some of the writing for them as well, but I thought I'd post my blog that I wrote for Lovely, A Bake Shop.

Lovely a Bake Shop (1130 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago) is tucked away just south of

the bustling Division Street intersection that unites the Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village neighborhoods. It’s storefront is unassuming, but step inside and you will find yourself enveloped in a cozy café. There are large, bright windows with views of Milwaukee Avenue, charming pressed tin ceilings, wooden tables dot the interior of the space with mismatched chairs, and several old-fashioned swivel stools beckon to customers from the end of the counter. On a sunny Sunday I ventured out to the patio and was surprised that the charm of the café extended to a large outdoor space complete with greenery and small tables that revealed a hidden urban oasis. A small general store is tucked away in the back selling homemade granola and keepsake coffee mugs. My immediate reaction, why hadn’t I been to Lovely sooner?

The staff at Lovely were all smiles and truly seemed to enjoy working there (always a good sign that you’re about to take pleasure in something special). Order at the counter for prepared foods and relax while the friendly servers bring your entrée (a scenic postcard acts as your table number). The quiche was delicious (I ordered a cheese and dill special, but there are also vegetarian and a ham and cheese varieties) and served with a mixed greens salad, and piece of crusty bread. Toasty warm croissants filled with ham and cheese is the perfect dish to warm you up on a cold fall day. Sandwiches range from the traditional tuna melt and PB & J to turkey pesto and roasted vegetables. With your choice of side items like veggie chips, a green salad, apple or banana you can’t go wrong. Homemade daily soup rounds out the mouth-watering entrée selections.

Who can forget dessert? Lovely is stocked full of drool-worthy options, many will conjure up fond memories from your childhood. Homemade rice krispie treats, blondie brownie bars, personal pies, sweet cupcakes and cookies galore. The options are seemingly endless and looking at their stocked display cases is almost as fun as the treats themselves. Bring friends and you’ll be able to try several options!
Lovely is the perfect spot for a weekend brunch date, down time with one of their board games, or some time quite time to catch up on work. The space is warm and inviting with a mix of city chic and old-fashioned charm. Lovely is one spot I know I’ll be coming back to again. Soon.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Discovering All Sorts of Goodies at Trader Joe's South Loop

Stop the presses. Trader Joe's has opened down the street from me. Yes, one block away. I walk out my back door and cross one street. That's it. It is dangerously close I tell you. It's been open about 10 days and I've been there 4 (now 5) times. Of course I've been stocking up on staples, but then I've been adding other stuff that I randomly pick up or have remembered were recommended to me by friends. That's half the fun of TJ's though isn't it? Finding what you "need" but then also roaming the isles picking up random stuff that you didn't know you so desperately needed. I thought I'd tell you about a few of my recent purchases that I recommend:
  • Cinnamon Grahams - these graham crackers are sprinkled with sweet goodness and can be a delicious dessert. Top with peanut butter (especially Spread pb) and mini chocolate chips and you're set. Thanks for the recommendation Jonno!
  • Mango! Mango! Fruit and Yogurt Gummies - I wasn't sure exactly what these were at first, but of course they were next to the checkout aisle so I picked them up (often times those are the best purchases). I thought they might be gummies dipped in yogurt (wouldn't that be tasty), but it turns out they're just very tasty gummy candies in mango and passion fruit flavors.
  • Green Tea Mints - eat just three of these fabulous little leaf shaped mints and  you'll have the same amount of antioxidants you'll get from just one cup of green tea - fabulous!
  • Dried Black Mission Figs - addictive! I LOVE figs. Obsessed probably. It's one of those things like truffles...if I see "fig" on a dish at a restaurant I am inclined to order it. These figs are packed with fiber (5 grams, or 20% of your DV per serving!) and go great with a snack of almonds and cheese (anything from TJs will do, but I'm a fan of the low fat brie or anything soft and blue).
Did you know that Trader Joe's has catalog of recipes on their website? It's fun to peruse these and imagine all the possibilities...Just writing up this blog post is making me hungry...what are some of your favorite TJs products?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Little Bit of History in LA

Standing in front of the El Capitan Theater
People always laugh when I tell them I went to a historic spot in LA. "Every thing's new there, how can there be anything with any history to it?" NOT TRUE!

My Grandma Grace grew up in LA and I loved hearing about her childhood in in California, very different from mine growing up in the Midwestern metropolis of Cleveland, Ohio. It was glamorous to me, because, well it was LA! There were movie stars and glitz. When I told her I was heading west for a visit again I tried to draw out more specifics from her youth but at 89, I've got to get her talking about the right thing to trigger her memory. She's spoken a lot about when she worked at the El Capitan Theatre as an usher, so you can imagine my joy when low and behold, on the way to the Hollywood Bowl, there is was! The theatre debuted in 1926 and was "Hollywood's First Home of Spoken Drama" then saw its birth as a movie house in 1941 with the world premiere of Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane", and was reborn as the Hollywood Paramount in 1942. In the early 90s the theatre was purchased by Disney and restored to its former glory as a venue for live theater.

Also making its debut in the 40s (April, 1947) was The Apple Pan - a burger joint that served up some quality pie topped with ice cream. The tradition is still going strong and the place looked like it hadn't changed much in the over half a century they've been in operation. You find a place sitting at the counter, order one of the two burgers or sandwiches, enjoy, get some pie and pay cash (yes, they've got the old school cash registers to boot). GREAT place!

So many options, what will Jonno choose?!
Who can forget Pink's Hot Dogs? Opened in 1939 this 71 year old establishment draws lines no matter what time of day it is! As a hot dog fein (it's true I have the "I Heart Hot Dog" t-shirt to prove it) this was a MUST visit on the LA trip this time. It's a good thing the line was long (this was after my visit to the Hollywood Bowl with Jonno and an evening feasting on gourmet cheese and Crumbs cupcakes - we were starving for something more substantial) because it gives customers enough time to decide from the slew of delectable hot dog items (a bacon burrito dog anyone?) I opted with the traditional cheese dog, and while it's not a Vienna Beef Chicago dog, it hit the spot.

Look at that tasty dog!
I really did a lot of GREAT eating on this trip to LA. I finally checked out Urth Cafe (LOVE), went back to Jack N Jills for brunch (great rice bowls - a breakfast fave for me!), enjoyed gourmet food and drinks at the chic Gold Class Cinemas, and of course snuck in many a trip to yogurt fave Pinkberry. Lots of fun eating and as always a fun-filled few days in La La Land!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Spread. It. On.

Spread bills itself as Nouveau Comfort Food.
I love peanut butter. Not as much as my friend Lauren though....she takes the cake. On my recent LA visit I saw a sign for a store called Spread. Intriguing. I wouldn't have been surprised if Spread were one of those red light stores (you know the kind I mean, but this is a PG blog after all), but was pleasantly surprised to find this was a store selling couture peanut butter! Lauren would be in absolute heaven!

I chatted with the owner a bit (he started the PB company with his wife in San Diego) and discovered that this peanut butter has been getting accolades all over. They were featured on the Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" - the Nutty edition. At $10 for a 4 oz jar, this stuff isn't cheap, but I was a convert after sampling "several" (OK, maybe 10) different varieties. I settled on #59 the famed seasonal cinnamon gourmet peanut spread and was told to "warm it" and spread it on waffles, toast, chocolate, anything. Other favorites? #30 white chocolate blueberry peanut spread, #69 cookies and cream peanut spread, and the #7 dark chocolate peanut spread.

Definitely looking forward to trying some tasty treats with my peanut spread!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Reeling in the Big Fish on Long Island

Girls Weekend 2011- Long Island

It is always a joy to get together with my BFs from high school for our annual girls weekend. I know we will always have a great time laughing, drinking and of course eating very well. This year four of us headed to Greenport, Long Island for a few days of pure relaxation.
Enjoying local lobster and corn at Claudio's
The scenery in this small coastal town is picture perfect. Their are sailboats docked on the Long Island Sound, and the small town is filled with independent restaurants from the Coronette Diner (a longtime community staple serving pancakes, eggs and other breakfast favorites) to the higher end Claudio's (the restaurant serves lobster and other local seafood with beautiful water views).
A truly successful fishing expedition!
I don't think I've ever been fishing before (I don't do particularly well on boats), but I had this romanticized view of the experience - being out on the open water in the sun, relaxing and seeing the beautiful scenery. After finally getting my sea legs I learned that fishing on our boat was not such a relaxing was hard work! We reeled in some heavy fish and among them had 8 trophy worthy stripped sea bass. It was an amazing experience which included a dip in the L.I. Sound and a delectable fish taco dinner at Kate's Dad's place complete with s'mores.
Enjoying sitting on the patio of Bedell drinking wine
The next day we dressed up and ventured to the Hamptons. There are a multitude of wineries along the way and it was tough to decide which ones were worth visiting. Bedell Winery had been recommended and was definitely worth the visit with a VIP wine tasting overlooking the vineyards. This Food Girl enjoyed herself a little too much with the hefty pours and was probably made the visit that much more memorable for the group. Nick and Tony's in South Hampton was rumored to be the place for celebrity sittings and it did not disappoint; after our delicious pasta meal our server let us know that Broadway legend Nathan Lane was sitting inside the restaurant in the window just behind our table.

It was a truly relaxing weekend...can't wait for next year!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Doughnut Day!!

Fried cake and baked chocolate cake doughnuts
For those who don't know, there was a time I'd toyed with the idea of opening up my own doughnut shop. I had dreams of some retro kitschy place that would cater to families and professionals during the day, and be open late on weekends for those rowdy folks looking to satiate their appetite after a long night of drinking. Now don't be too disappointed, this might still happen someday, but I haven't been moving forward with the idea with any sense of urgency.

I did recently invite some of my cooking ladies (friends who are equally as enticed with cooking/baking as I am) for a special doughnut day. Mind you my kitchen isn't huge, but we did have a great time making 4 different types of doughnuts and stinking up my place with the smell of hot oil (oh yea, that's why I don't frequently practicing my doughnutry skills!)

I need a vent if I'm going to be frying any more...the fumes were TOXIC!

If you're interested in attending Doughnut Day, let me know. Maybe I'll try to organize a second get together at a later date!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Making My Own Chipotle Fave

Robyn's Own Burrito Bowl
I was exhausted last night and craving Chipotle, but too tired to walk to get it (I'm back in marathon training mode and had completed my 15 mile run). Instead I decided, why not just make my own burrito bowl? I popped on over to Jewel to pick up some staples (yes, the grocery is closer than Chipotle) and made my very own uber tasty burrito bowl!

  • Brown rice - way healthier than white rice. I used Trader Joe's frozen brown rice which takes all of 3 minutes to microwave.
  • Black beans. Rinse 'em and they're ready to go.
  • Shredded lettuce. I took an entire heart of romaine and just did a chiffonade cut to make it look pretty.
  • Corn. I had the most amazing sweet corn from a Green City Market visit earlier this week. I just sliced the kernels off the cob and sauteed them in a bit of olive oil. I admit they were pretty tasty raw (I sampled a few kernels). You could also use Trader Joe's roasted corn kernels, which are also in the frozen food aisle.
  • Cherry tomatoes.
  • Shredded fat free cheddar (still tastes just as good as the full fat stuff).
  • Avocado - need the good fat!
  • Beef. I opted to purchase No Name frozen steaks and was amazed at the 3 frozen filets I purchased for $7.99. I took the one filet and cooked it at 500 degrees on the broiler for 10 minutes on each side and it was pretty darn good!
  • Salsa - I didn't add any, but I realized after I started eating my dinner that I had the fancy Frontera Grill salsa in my fridge.
Here is is mixed a bit more - doesn't it look like a Chipotle burrito bowl?!
This was probably one of the most satisfying dinners I'd made for myself in some time and I highly recommend trying it at home!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pierogi Love

Pierogi Fest's Parade - Look at those fabulous costumes!
My friend Katie and I have been talking about going to Pierogi Fest together for years. Katie is from nearby Whiting, Indiana and always extolled the humor and tastiness of the festival. This year it finally happened and I was a happy lass. The 17th annual fest was expected to draw over 200,000 visitors (a pretty decent sized crowd!) and the city of Whiting was primed to welcome them.

The 3-day festival kicked off Friday evening with a parade. One like I've never seen before! There were fantastic costumes (men, women and even dogs donned babushkas), floats, candy and music (bag pipers are always welcome in any parade right?!) It truly was an display of pride in the city and the pierogi itself. We had prime viewing of the parade as we stood in line waiting for our warm pierogi in a variety of flavors - sauerkraut, cheddar and onion, sweet cheese, meat, mushroom and even chorizo. I also purchased a huge tin mug for a bargain $10 that I could fill up with any number of homemade sodas for the entirety of the 3-day festival (sarsaparilla was my favorite). We ended our feasting by splitting, get this, fried Coke! Little droplets of coke were fried and layered with whipped cream and Coca Cola - very intriguing indeed.

With rides, the delicious Polish food (we also sampled potato pancakes and a few other traditional dishes), and live polka music what more could a girl ask for?

Friday, July 29, 2011

So Very Vosges

My close friends and family know that I have an obsession. I thought for sure I'd already blogged about it, but somehow it managed to escape me (as things so close to us often do.) I'm talking about Vosges Chocolate.

Exotic truffles
The divinely decadent chocolate line that is enveloped in purple. The color of royalty...when you eat the heavenly chocolates you certainly feel like a King or Queen! There is nothing so wonderful as seeing that purple box tied with a purple silk ribbon, or walking into one of their boutiques and catching that first whiff of chocolate and exotic spices. Vosges is no ordinary chocolate company, oh no. Vosges founder Katrina Markoff (a graduate of the esteemed Le Cordon Bleu in Paris) prides herself on making haut-chocolat. She infuses rare spices and flowers into her chocolates. Eating these little treasures is an experience in and of itself, with full instructions on how to eat the chocolates (or drink the viscous hot cocoas) for optimal enjoyment.

Bacon chocolate chip pancake mix
The product line has grown dramatically over the years, there retail outlets have grown beyond the web and Chicago to include Vegas and New York, and the Vosges experience now includes lifestyle events as well (yoga and chocolate vacations!) Vosges is my favorite gift to give (the holiday mini candy bar sets are adorable and win rave reviews from recipients) and receive (my recent birthday saw more than a few delicious treats).

There are so many options to choose from, but I thought I'd give some of my wholehearted endorsements:
  • Truffles - you can go wrong with the original exotic truffles! Love the Black Pearl (ginger, wasabi & sesame seeds) and the Naga (with sweet curry)
  • Mini candy bars (especially during the holiday season)
  • Anything with chocolate and bacon! This includes the chocolate chip and bacon pancake mix
  • Drinking chocolates - the Aztec Elixir has some spice to it and the Bianca Couture is phenomenal (I rarely say that about white chocolate anything)
Adorable & tasty mini candy bars
Looking for a treat for that special someone or just for a special you? Go to your nearest Vosges or check them out'll be in for an exotic voyage!

Friday, July 22, 2011

I Scream for Ice Cream

Rainbow Cones with my friend Lara
Ice Cream is of course THE favorite treat of summer. If you don't live in Chicago, you might not be aware of the ultimate in ice cream treats. The Rainbow Cone.

This delicious treat has been a Chicago favorite for nearly 85 years. This south side institution credits its growth to its location - near many old cemetaries. Families visiting the cemetaries on Sundays would stop by Rainbow Cone for a sweet treat. I have yet to visit the actual Rainbow Cone operation, but have been a fan purchasing it for the last several years when I've visited Taste of Chicago.

What makes the Rainbow Cone so special? It's layers! There are 5 flavors of ice cream nestled atop the cone:
  1. Chocolate
  2. Strawberry
  3. Vanilla (but not just any vanilla - this is Palmer House vanilla complete with cherries and walnuts)
  4. Pistachio
  5. Orange Sherbert
 For those of you that missed this treat at the Taste and don't want to head to the South Side, stop by their new retail location at southeast corner of State and Lake.

If you have yet to enjoy a Rainbow Cone, what's stopping you?!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Soothing the Heat with a Smoothie

It's hot in Chicago this week. REALLY hot and humid to boot. It's tough going and I've found myself being a little bit more cautious with what I'm eating, opting for lighter fare that won't hold me down.

I do love to make smoothies and came across a clipping from Real Simple (one of my fave magazines) a few months ago with some fabulous smoothie recipes. This Spiced Pumpkin Smoothie recipe is definitely worth sharing:


  • 1 cup ice
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/3 cup pure pumpkin puree
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • pinch of ground nutmeg


  1. Place the ice, milk, pumpkin puree, honey, and nutmeg in a blender.
  2. Blend until smooth and frothy.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Diners, Harleys & Burgers

A juicy burger with swiss & mushrooms!
Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Authentic diners. You might not think the two go hand in hand, but in Bedford, Ohio they most certainly do.

I remember visiting the Harley Diner, a historic 1946 dining car located inside (yes, you read that correctly) a Harley dealer when I was a young lass. My Dad is a diner aficionado and as a family we sought out diners near and far. This little gem was practically in our backyard so we visited it with some frequency. The dining car resembles an original train car, an earlier structure than its more "modern" stainless steel offspring. There are 4 booths and a handful of seats at the counter. The interior has beautifully restored wood. There is something special about sitting in a booth, and watching the guys grill up your burger and it doesn't hurt that the food is pretty tasty.
#1 Diner fan - my Dad

Even stranger than having a diner in a Harley dealership, was the addition of a boutique that sold (almost exclusively) Betsey Johnson clothes in the 90s. I loved this place and maybe that's why I always wanted to visit the diner, because I knew I'd probably be coming home with a funky new item for my wardrobe. Sadly the boutique has since closed to be replaced by Harley gear galore, but I'm happy to report the food was much as I remembered it and sharing the lunch with my Dad was all part of the experience.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Celebrations and Sweet Treats

Can you ever have too much of a good thing? I'm a sweet kind of gal but I have to say I may be doing a detox after a weeklong celebration with Jonno.

There were sweet breakfasts at The American Club in beautiful Kohler, Wisconsin (creme brulee french toast and white chocolate raspberry waffles were both decadent delights).


Cupcakes galore. I used a recipe from my Martha Stewart Cupcakes cookbook and made 36 rich (and beautifully decorated) yellow buttermilk cupcakes with buttercream frosting.


And celebratory cakes at Carnivale (3 tiered ice cream cake!) and The Southern (deep fried twinkie and peanut butter bread pudding).

Good food and great celebrations all around! Now I just need to get back to my farmer's market visits and start a little bit of the dessert detox.