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