Monday, June 27, 2011

Picnic in the Park

Erin, Lara & I enjoy our Monday eve picnic
My favorite part about summer in the city? Picnic time! My friends know that I love to picnic. I have the gear to prove it (blankets, citronella candles, plates, baskets, etc.) and some trusted recipes to boot. A picnic is romantic and is a lovely way to bring friends together.

Erin's delish caprese salad
Milenium Park is just a short walk from my place and offers up unbeatable views of the city, and world-class music. I try to go as often as possible. I'm hoping to make it my official home away from home this summer.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Not Always a Success in the Kitchen

As much as I love cooking, I have to confess that I'm not always a success in the kitchen. I guess that's the beauty of cooking - you give it your best and if it doesn't work you toss it. It's certainly a disappointment, because I want everything I make to be delicious. The worst part is? The dishes. If it's good I can deal with the dishes, if it's been a failure I have to toss/eat the mess and then to the dishes to boot.

This afternoon I happily shopped for ingredients at Whole Foods to make a pesto pasta salad and Gazpacho Madrileno. The pesto for the salad was delish, the pasta is a different story. Cooking for a celiac (who even warned me to purchase quinoa pasta), I bought brown rice pasta. Very starchy. Kind of mushy. Pasta salad will be OK, but I can't guarantee it will be my best effort. Gazpacho tasted good but was not the lovely red color I was accustomed too. I should have kept the base, but instead added water like the recipe called for (not good).

Have you had any failures in the kitchen? Don't be afraid to will help ease the pain! Any recommendations for gazpacho and better wheat-free pasta are also helpful.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Going Local in Asheville, NC

Out to dinner in Asheville
I'm a big fan of Portland, OR. It has an independent and artsy energy, beautiful landscapes and a dynamo local food scene. I'd heard that Asheville was a smaller, southern Portland. In many ways it was just that. There is a bold creativity in this community of just over 80,000. In this city there are 9 local breweries (their tourism bureau boasts that 50 local beers can be enjoyed on any given day). That's pretty impressive. There are over 250 independent restaurants in the downtown area. 250?! Isn't that amazing? Walking in the downtown it was one place local place after the next. This truly is a foodtopian society where slow food is king.

Asheville, is as their trademarked slogan boasts "any way you like it". There is a little something for all sorts of folks - retirees, foodies, hipsters, hippies, families, artists, culture...the city's strict code for independent businesses breeds diversity.

View of downtown Asheville

One of many spectacular views at the historic Biltomore Estate

My unforgettable egg dish!
In my few days at Asheville I did get to enjoy a few dining experiences (though not nearly as many as I would have liked) and my favorite has got to be Tupelo Honey Cafe. After a recommendation from a friend on Facebook I went not once, but TWICE. It was that good! I loved my goat cheese grits with pinto beans, cured bacon, eggs and salsa. The biscuits that come with the meal were warm, soft and unforgettable. Coffee was strong and I couldn't stop the refills from coming. I'm not a big fan of going back to restaurants (I like to try new things and of course boast of my adventures) and especially not within such a short period of time, but this place warranted a second visit!

The Inn at Biltmore lunch
Although I didn't get to see the inside of the historic Biltmore Estate (I was there for a conference on family business) I did get to see it's beauty from the outside and visit the beautiful Inn at Biltmore Estate they've created on the property. I had the chance to hear about the Vanderbilt's story first hand from one of the property's owners and how they have carried on the estate's traditions and beauty into the 5th generation as a family business. If you have the opportunity to visit Biltmore and of course the city of Asheville, I would highly recommend it!

Look at the beautiful view that the Biltmore boasts!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Living it up in LA

I enjoyed a fabulous long weekend in LA. The weather was gorgeous (70-80 degrees and sunny everyday), the scenery was beautiful (I had to stop and smell the roses and the heavenly scent of jasmine everywhere I went), the company was delightful (Jonno was a gracious host) and the food was of course unforgettable.

Brunch, always a favorite, was a testament of sweet strength at Griddle Cafe. This Hollywood hot spot garners long lines of devotees for their hotcakes and french toast. As you can see from the photo these pancakes were as big as my head and they were three deep to boot! The "Golden Ticket" was filled with bananas, caramel and walnuts and of course topped with a huge dollop of whipped cream. I ate maybe 1/8 of the entire dish. Jonno enjoyed the "Peanut Bubba" french toast. Decadent. I had to help myself to several tastings. My dear friend Lauren would be in PB heaven! We also visited Blue Jam Cafe, another brunch hot spot, luckily the portion sizes were more reasonable, and the dishes included more fruit and veggie options leaving me feel like I was making "better decisions". I opted for the Loxex, a salmon and egg scramble, while Jonno feasted on the decadent Kamil, breakfast mac and cheese.

The Outdoor Cinema Food Fest is a weekly event that bills itself as the ultimate picnic, "no basket required". There's a movie in a park (one of my fave Chicago activities), a live band and food trucks galore. With so many options it was hard to choose! We both loved the Vietnamese banh mi at Nom Nom Truck. The sweet potato fries topped with tamarind chicken and cashes from Frysmith was a favorite of mine too (I  happily ate more than half my share). LOVE this sort of festival and am dreaming of the day when we too can enjoy cooking on board food trucks with the viewing of a good movie in the city of Chicago (for those unfamiliar with the city of Chicago's archaic laws, it is illegal to prepare any foods outside of a licensed kitchen. Food trucks in this fair city can only serve up pre-prepared feasts).

Of course there were other dining highlights. We visited Susan Feniger's Street where we ate succulent tempura battered chicken; dined on on tempting bites at a Hermosa Beach festival; sipped Coronas along the beach in Malibu; and of course I ate my fill at Cali fave Pinkberry.

If you've got an LA dining spot you think I need to check out, please let me know!!