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  1. Bean Thinking About Thanksgiving

    November 23, 2014 by Barb

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    Writing a food blog around Thanksgiving is really a funny thing. It is one of those holidays you just don’t mess around with because people are really set in their ways of what needs to be on the table.

    Do you only have mashed potatoes or is it okay to add some scalloped? Maybe you don’t want parker house rolls and you surprise your guests with a hearty whole grain roll. Heck, I’ve even known people who skip the turkey and just plop a chicken on the table. (I only went to that house once for Thanksgiving and then I never went back because frankly that sucked.)

    I’ve had this one recipe in my back pocket for a while and I have been scared to post it because I don’t want to ruffle any feathers. (I take that back, I guess turkeys will get their feathers ruffled no matter what when they are plucked each year.)

    I think it is a good alternative to the green bean casserole that is a common staple at a lot of holiday gatherings BUT I don’t want to freak people out with something new. (Okay, I am totally lying. I really like the occasional freak out at the holiday. It makes the day more interesting and provides some entertainment other than football or the annual family discussion of the difference between stuffing and dressing.)

    The traditional green bean casserole is tasty but I have never been a fan of the goopy soupy base. (The same people who gave me the chicken for Thanksgiving made this dish too sans green beans!!! I swear it was like living in a Chevy Chase movie!)

    So this year may I suggest a new recipe? I made it this summer and really liked it because it was tasty and kind of pretty. I simply blanched fresh green beans, rolled them in some prosciutto and roasted them. Ta-dah. You can save your can of soup for the apocalypse (which ironically is what family holidays sometimes feel like to me).

    Green Bean Bundles

    (DISCLAIMER:  My picture is not great because it wasn’t taken until after dinner and not before….and they sat too long but use your imagination that this is VIBRANT green.)

    Ingredients

    1 pound fresh green beans

    1 +Tablespoons of Olive oil (I needed a smidge more than just 1 Tablespoon)

    4 ounces of prosciutto

    Salt and pepper

    Directions

    Preheat oven to 400°F

    Fill a large bowl with ice water.

    Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it generously.

    Add green beans and cook for 3 minutes and IMMEDIATELY add them to the ice water.

    Drain them and pat dry.

    Grab about 5-7 beans and wrap with a piece of prosciutto.

    Drizzle with olive oil and roast for 5-6 minutes and then flip and roast for another 5 minutes.

    The tips may get a little brown but that is okay.

    Sprinkle with a smidge of salt and pepper and serve.

    The only thing I will add is that since it is a holiday….I would garnish these babies with some fried onions or fried shallots. It will look nice and make you feel like you are eating the old school green bean casserole.


  2. The Comfort of CHILL

    November 17, 2014 by Barb

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    Do you ever have a place where you just feel a sense of comfort? It could be the familiar smells of delicious food or maybe just the surroundings are something that brings you happiness. It could be the faces you look forward to seeing or maybe it is just a setting that is warm and inviting.

    For me the event called CHILL presented by LuxeHome on Thursday, November 13, at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago gives me that sense of comfort and joy.

    This was the eighth year of the event (my fourth) and I want to say it was one of the best ones yet. It was like walking into one of your favorite family member’s homes. You get a whiff of delicious foods peeping out of every nook of the boutiques, people are joyous and there is always the anticipation of seeing surprises lurk around every corner.  And, of course, you know the night is going to just bring you pure comfort and joy.

    Most folks go grab something to drink first and CHILL had plenty of choices in the libation department. There were so many wines from all over the world to choose from that paired beautifully with the dishes being served.

    But I go directly for the place that brings me the most happiness (kind of like your favorite relative), Mercat a la Planxa. Chef Cory Morris made his awesome chicken croquettes with lemon truffle aioli, shaved Brussels Sprouts on site so they were warm and crispy…..and delicious.

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    Chef Cory Morris

    Always love to see Chef Cory.

    Mercadito's Spicy Pork taco with Mexican slaw

    Mercadito’s Spicy Pork taco with Mexican slaw

    Zapatista made a fabulous taquito.

    Zapatista made a fabulous taquito.

    Bistrot Zinc's Grilled Radicchio Salad with Merguez Sausage and Fig Vinaigrette

    Bistrot Zinc’s Grilled Radicchio Salad with Merguez Sausage and Fig Vinaigrette

    McCormick & Schmick's seared scallop with miso

    McCormick & Schmick’s seared scallop with miso

    Chef Zoë from Ada Street made a nice light butternut squash salad with goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts.

    Chef Zoë from Ada Street made a nice light butternut squash salad with goat cheese and toasted hazelnuts.

    There were so many musicians from the Chicago  Youth Symphony Orchestra playing their little hearts out.

    There were so many musicians from the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra playing their little hearts out.

    Savory foie gras macarons were absolutely delicious from Cafe des Architectes

    Savory foie gras macarons were absolutely delicious from Cafe des Architectes

    HUB 51 made one of my favorite dishes of the night, Tuna Poke.

    HUB 51 made one of my favorite dishes of the night, Tuna Poke.

     

    Moto probably had one of the most beautiful natural presentations for their smoked salmon dish.

    Moto probably had one of the most beautiful natural presentations for their smoked salmon dish.

    Chef Richie Farina of Moto Restaurant (and Top Chef fame) is always fun to bump into!

    Chef Richie Farina of Moto Restaurant (and Top Chef fame) is always fun to bump into!

    Kudos to the performance artists.  She was just beautiful.

    Kudos to the performance artists. She was just beautiful.

    Roy's Tuna Maki with Sweet Inamona and Avocado Cream

    Roy’s Tuna Maki with Sweet Inamona and Avocado Cream

    Paris Club did a nice lobster and eggs on PERFECTLY toasted crostini.

    Paris Club did a nice lobster and eggs on PERFECTLY toasted crostini.

    Missed seeing Chef Tony Priolo but enjoyed his butternut squash soup from Piccolo Sogno

    Missed seeing Chef Tony Priolo but enjoyed his butternut squash soup from Piccolo Sogno

    Davanti Enoteca Apple Bread Pudding

    Davanti Enoteca Apple Bread Pudding

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    The Florentine

    The Chopping Block sure did represent with a Terriyaki Pork Belly, Crispy Salmon Skin Maki

    The Chopping Block sure did represent with a Terriyaki Pork Belly, Crispy Salmon Skin Maki

    Part of the extraordinary team from The Chopping Block.  Love these people!

    Part of the extraordinary team from The Chopping Block. Love these people!

    Many of us were captivated by these artists.

    Many of us were captivated by these artists.

    My final bite of pastry with pumpkin cream from Pump Room was the perfect way to end the evening.

    My final bite of pastry with pumpkin cream from Pump Room was the perfect way to end the evening.

    The night provided a content belly and a full heart knowing that the evening helped raise money for The Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, The Respiratory Health Association and The Lynn Sage Foundation .

    As our days continue to get colder and we embrace the joys that come with the holidays of the season, it is such a comfort to me to know that I can look forward to this amazing event year after year.

    Thank you to the folks at LuxeHome for making this year a warm hug.

    Thank you to my husband Earl for helping me this year with photos!

    Thank you to my husband Earl for helping me this year with photos and being my arm candy.

     


  3. Bon Appétit November Cook the Cover

    November 14, 2014 by Barb

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    Thanksgiving is two weeks away. Do you have plans? Do you celebrate with the same people each year or do you try to do something new each year? Do you try new recipes or serve the same green bean casserole year…after year…after year?

    I received the new issue of Bon Appétit and was thrilled with all the fun new recommendations for Turkey day. I especially liked the article on Etiquette! (I am still trying to decide if it was bad manners to email this link to my Little Sister In Law aka LSIL who is our hostess this year.)

    Like any GOOD guest, I am going to try out some of the recipes BEFORE I bring them to Thanksgiving.   (Don’t make the mistake of trying something new without doing a test run. It is just asking for trouble especially if your sister in law has biceps like mine does!)

    One of the recipes I tried was the Bon Appétit cover recipe of the mashed potatoes. Technically, my PSIL (pregnant sister in law) is bringing the spuds but I really wanted to try BA’s method of infusing the milk with herbs and drying the potatoes.  I then can hint to her that this is the only way to make good mashed potatoes. (I’m not scared of pissing of the PSIL she can’t move very fast these days and so I can outrun her if she is mad.)

    The other nice thing for me was this helped me keep my resolution of cooking every cover this year. Bon Appétit had printed up two different covers-one with the mashed potatoes and one with a turkey. I’m actually really happy that I received the mashed potato version because I wasn’t a mashed potato fan….until I made this recipe!!!!IMG_8718

    I have never in life said “Wow” after eating a bite of mashed potato until today. Besides the fact that they were incredibly light and fluffy (thank you potato ricer), the butter flavor was just stupendous.

    The only thing I did differently was add a couple pats of a compound butter on top. (It was chive and garlic…yum.) It really complimented the thyme and bay leaf and you can’t go wrong with some extra butter on Thanksgiving.

    I’m really looking forward to the next two weeks of trying new things and seeing how it all comes together at my LSIL’s house. No pressure because the real point of the day is being grateful for what you have and not acting like a big turkey when you don’t get what you want.

     

     

     

     

     


  4. The Ginger Pumpkin Curry Soup of Your Dreams

    November 10, 2014 by Barb

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    I love when people share their dreams with me. It is funny how little ol’ me can sneak into a person’s subconscious. Did I pop into your brain because you just saw me somewhere? Or maybe you read a blog of mine and it struck a chord? Some people have me in their dreams because I am part of their past. (My sisters have dreams about me all the time but they call them nightmares.)

    So the other week I received a note from an old high school friend who I’ve reconnected with on Facebook.

    “I had a super complex dream with YOU in it! Apparently you had an extension to turn in an article late so the rest of “us” (us??) assumed we did too and then the person from the ad agency was fired for the mishap and you made him pumpkin curry soup to feel better. Then I woke up!”

    Very interesting. I decided to pick apart this dream and analyze my friend’s subconscious. (I am very relieved the dream did not include bananas, sausages or rockets or I may have had to give this post an “R” rating and defriend her.)

    So to dream you are late says you are afraid of change and that you might be missing an opportunity. In addition, dreams that include deadlines mean you are afraid that you might not meet your goal by a specified time. (Like getting a blog up in a timely manner…that haunts my dreams!)

    The scene about the guy getting fired was tricky but I found out that conveys a repressed desire. A person in advertising can be helpful in solutions to your current situation. (Like a blogger who cooks….very helpful to have one of those in your subconscious.)

    Finally the part about the soup (the ultimate symbol of comfort) was the final piece that put this puzzle together for me

    So after many days hours minutes of going over dream analysis websites, I was really able to put this dream together so it made sense…..

    My friend was scared to try a new pumpkin curry soup recipe but wants me to save the day and  fabricate one before “pumpkin” season is gone!

    Ginger Pumpkin Curry Soup

    Ingredients

    2 small shallots (about 2 Tbsp chopped)

    1 Tb ginger, grated

    1 Tb red curry paste

    1 can of vegetable broth (2 cups)

    1 can of coconut milk (13.5 ounce)

    1 can of pumpkin (15 ounce)

    1 tsp of honey

    1 Tbsp fish sauce

    Juice from 1 lime

    Olive oil

    Directions

    Heat your favorite soup pot with about 1 Tablespoon over medium heat. Add shallots and ginger. Cook about 2 minutes, stirring.

    Add curry paste and cook another minute.

    Add broth and pumpkin. Add all but 2 Tablespoons of the coconut milk. (You want to save a little to swirl on top as a garnish.)

    Add limejuice, honey and HALF of the fish sauce. Reduce the heat to medium/low and simmer for about 10 minutes.

    TASTE IT!!! If it needs more salt, add the remaining fish sauce. My lime was small so I added another squirt of lime too.

    Divide into bowls and squiggle a little twirl of coconut milk on the top.

    There is VERY mild heat in this soup but if you like it hot add a little more curry paste….just remember….once you put the heat into the soup you won’t be able to take it out and it might give you bad dreams!

     


  5. Pumpkiny French Toast Casserole

    November 7, 2014 by Barb

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    We always seem to have a lot of overnight company. (Not like some freaky swinger stuff, usually old friends and family)  I’m not a fabulous hostess so I am not sure why these people keep coming back. (This attitude may be part of my poor hostess skills.)

    I just get really anxious that my house isn’t clean enough, the guestroom is too small and that they might not like my food.

    Usually a week before we have guests, I start freaking out about everything. I do the regular housecleaning but tag on a few extra things like vacuuming inside all the vents and windexing the glass on light fixtures. I’ve even been known to try to recaulk the shower because it doesn’t look white enough. (I am really bad at this task so it always looks worse.)

    My kitchen floor will never be clean enough and I curse at every dust bunny that dares to show its fuzzy little head. (I also make a lot of mean comments to my husband that if we would just bend over once in awhile and pick stuff up, we’d have the bodies of supermodels and actually get some swinger offers!)

    Being a food person, I start planning a lot of different menus. The nighttime menus are always the easiest. Make some appetizers and an awesome entree, put it all on cute little plates and accept all compliments with grace. (I learned that when someone says “Oooo, that is tasty.” You shouldn’t respond, “Duh, I know.”)

    My problem is what do you do for breakfast? On a normal day, I don’t have breakfast so all we really have in the house is my hubby’s cereal. He eats a healthy blend of twigs, weeds and oats. (Or something like that.) It really isn’t something I want to serve company.

    So I have started researching different overnight bakes. Have you ever made one of those things? You put it all together at night and in the morning just pop it in the oven.

    It is kind of nice to have most of breakfast put together so you can enjoy the witty banter of your guests and not make another big mess in the kitchen.  (And it gives you enough time to jump in the shower before everyone so you look like a million bucks while they are still wiping the drool off their faces!)

    Pumpkiny French Toast Casserole

    Ingredients

    2 Boule’s of your favorite bread (A boule is one of those round loafy things). It should equal out to about 6-7 cups of 1-inch cubes when cut up.

    8 Eggs

    1 cup milk

    1 cup half and half

    1 tsp vanilla bean paste

    1 ½ tsp pumpkin spice

    1/3 cup pumpkin butter

    ¾ cup dried cherries

    A good maple syrup

    Directions

    Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish. Grease it up GOOD!

    Cut the bread into 1 inch cubes. USE THE CRUST! (Isn’t there a saying about crust increasing your bust? I used to cut the crust off my bread…do you get the picture?)

    Smash bread into the casserole dish. It should be crammed in there but a little room to pour the egg mixture over the top.

    In a large bowl, whisk egg, milk, half & half, vanilla bean paste and pumpkin butter.

    Pour over the bread. I used my hands and mixed it all about and resmashed it down.

    Cover and pop it in the fridge to sit overnight.

    In the morning, preheat oven to 350 while you quietly tiptoe about your kitchen trying not to wake up your guests. If you do wake them up, keep the camera ready so you can take pics of their bed head. (Another thing that makes me a bad hostess.)

    Uncover your dish and sprinkle the dried cherries over the top.

    Bake for about 30-40 minutes. It should be nice and brown and not soggy wet.

    Serve with a really good maple syrup.  (Like the stuff your neighbors bring you from Vermont.)

    What I liked about this particular breakfast casserole is that it wasn’t super sweet. I served it with eggs and bacon too. (Because I just can’t eat a big dish of bready stuff in the morning without some salty bacon on the side.)

    One of these days, I’ll relax a little bit before we have visitors. I just want folks to feel comfy when they are here or at least eat so much that they won’t notice a few cobwebs in the corners.

     

     


  6. Bringing Down the House Chili

    November 4, 2014 by Barb

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    I am a VERY methodical person. I like to plan and be organized. I feel accomplished just by having a plan and sticking to it.

    The problem is that they often go wonky. An example would be Halloween this year. My plan was to get some chili on the stove early, volunteer at the elementary school for the party and pass out treats in the evening.

    BUT as we know the best laid schemes of mice and men often go askew. (Did you know this saying originated from the poem “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns? It is a nice story about a guy who comes across a mice nest. Little fun fact in case it comes up on Jeopardy.)

    Anyhow….I woke up on Halloween just feeling lousy. It was a mix of Crohn’s issues and a head cold. Double whammy! (I wonder if the mice in the story got whammied?) There is no way I was in shape to go play with the kids in school. Shucks!

    Plan B. Get the Chili going so that our bellies are warm and full as we greet the trick or treaters. I was looking forward to trying a new recipe utilizing some of the different chili powder options I tuck away in my cupboards. (I usually call it a cabinet but when referencing a poem from the 1700’s, cupboard just seemed warranted.)

    I wanted this chili to be a bit spicier than my usual fare but not so spicy that you are sitting at a table with sweat dripping off your head. (I recently saw a guy do that eating some salsa at a Mexican restaurant. I can’t erase that image!)

    Anyhow, it was a great plan until the weather went bonkers. Our temperature outside dropped and the wind really picked up. Next thing you know it was raining, hailing and snowing all at once!

    Now none of this should have been a game changer but after multiple hours of high winds and ice, we lost our power! (I totally get how that mouse felt in the poem, grief and pain. Okay, not really pain but there is nothing in that poem about grief and lack of Internet access.)

    At first, it was fine. There was enough light coming in the windows for me to do some crafts and it wasn’t too cold. After 7.5 hours of this, I was kind of miserable, as were the trick or treaters who tried to go out in that weather.

    We sat outside in the running car to greet them. Partially to make it easier on them and partially to keep us warm since the temperatures dropped and it was very cool in the house.

    As for my chili, it tasted great….the next day. I’ll pretend that the extra day made it taste better. Overall, I fared better than the mouse in the poem or even the distraught guy who destroyed the mouse nest. Either way, I know my chili would have made them feel better.

    4-Chili Powder Chili

    Ingredients

    2 pounds ground beef

    1 onion, diced

    1 Red Pepper, diced

    14 ounce Tomato Sauce

    28 ounce Diced Tomatoes with jalapenos (Use the Red Gold Diced with Green Chiles or Rotel)

    1 heaping TB of garlic

    ½ tsp EACH Cumin Powder and Dry Mustard

    1 Tablespoon EACH Chili Powder (standard kind), Ancho Chili Powder, Mexican Chili Powder and Chipotle Chili Powder

    ½ cup of beer

    1 Can Black beans

    Cheese

    Bacon Fat

    Directions

    Warm a teaspoon of bacon fat in a large pan and brown cook the onions and pepper until just soft….not mushy. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add to your slow cooker.

    In the same pan, warm a couple teaspoons of bacon fat in large heavy pan and brown the meat in batches.

    Add the spices and cook until fragrant. (About 2-3 minutes.) Deglaze the pan with the beer and reduce until the beer is almost evaporated.

    Add the meat to the slow cooker and add the tomatoes.

    Cook for about 6-8 hours on low.

    Serve with some black beans and a good cheese on top. I used Gouda.

    I really liked the fusion of all the different Chili powders….and the heat. I guarantee it will bring down the house. (Oooo, was that insensitive to the poor little mouse in the poem?)


  7. Massaging the Kale Ego

    October 31, 2014 by Barb

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    One of the best things about being a blogger is that I can find out fun facts about food and then relay that information to my readers. (And everything I say must be true because it is on the Internet.)

    So today I thought I’d share some thoughts on egos…kale egos. I don’t think most people know but the kale ego is very fragile. Even though kale has gained popularity over the years, it still has some issues. Apparently, there are people out there that still don’t like it so it makes Kale feel “inadequate.”

    There is a lot of skill to stroking the kale ego. First, you need to tell it how big and leafy it is. (Even if you’ve had bigger and leafier greens in the past, fib a little to make the kale feel good about itself.)

    Tell Kale you’ve never seen leaves so big and green. (Oooo, kale will love this.)

    Another thing you can do is tell Kale how nutrition rich it is for people. Make sure you emphasize all Kale’s awesome vitamins and anti-cancer properties. I mean, what other veggie has all that beta-carotene, potassium, Vitamin C and calcium. Only you, Kale, can do nutrition like that. (Yes, yes, yes!)

    Finally, if your Kale ego still isn’t elevated, it is time to physically massage it. Kale can be a bitter friend to some and turn people off. So when I’m trying to soften up my Kale for a night of being tossed around in a salad, I like to massage a little of my dressing into it’s firm, rippled skin. Any healthy American Kale will love all this attention.

    Just remember most Kales may act obstreperous and difficult but with right amount of attention and tender loving care, a good Kale is ready to go. It is just your job to say yes to it.

    Kale and Baby greens Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash

    (This salad was inspired 100% from my lunch at 720 South Bar & Grill. Thanks Chef Mario and Chef Mark!)

    Ingredients Dressing

    ¼ cup apple cider vinegar

    2 Tbsp minced shallots

    2 tsp dijon mustard

    2 tsp honey

    ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (use the good stuff)

    Directions Dressing

    Mix vinegar, shallots, mustard and honey in a medium bowl. Whisking like your life depends on it, drizzle in the olive oil. (Or you can have your immersion blender going and drizzle in the olive oil that way)

    Ingredients Salad

    5 ounces of Tuscan Kale (Lacinato Kale) or Dinosaur Kale; NOT CURLY KALE, cut into ribbons

    5 ounces of your favorite baby lettuce blend

    1 ½ cup diced butternut squash, roasted (Oven 400, line a baking sheet with parchment, toss butternut squash in some olive oil and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. I used espelette pepper. Cook about 20 minute or until tender but not mushy.)

    4 ounces goat cheese

    ½ cup dried cherries

    4 slices of bacon, chopped

    Directions for salad

    In a large bowl, add the kale. Drizzle in 1-2 Tbsp of dressing and using clean hands, massage the kale so the dressing is coating it.

    Let is sit about 5 minutes alone. (Kind of like a Kale time out.)

    Meanwhile, sing a song to yourself. (I was just checking to see who actually reads the directions.)

    Ding. Add your remaining lettuces to the kale. Mix it up well.

    Either divide salad on 4-6 plates or on one big platter. Evenly distribute the squash, goat cheese, cherries and bacon. (Or if making individual salads, put the most bacon on your plate. Your guests will never know the difference.)

    Serve with the remaining dressing on the side.

    It has taken me years to understand the Kale Ego and I will admit there are parts to it that I will never understand. I do know that some kind words and a good rub down will make any Kale a satisfying experience for your guests.  (Or at least that is what you’ll tell it.)


  8. Playing Around With a Pumpkin Mousse

    October 29, 2014 by Barb

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    Life is a like a playground. You can swing up high and feel like nothing can touch you. Or you can swing and jump off when life gets too scary.

    You can make the choice to only go down the slide that is straight and narrow so you know what awaits you at the bottom or you can go on the twirly slide and just enjoy uncertainty of the ride.

    It is a constant teeter-totter of ups and downs.   And depending how you look at it, it can be good or bad. (Unless someone jumps off the teeter-totter when you are in the up position and you land hard on your fanny. There really is no way to find good in that action.)

    As a little kid, I enjoyed the freedom of knowing which piece of playground equipment I wanted to conquer each day. If I felt fearless, I could swing on the monkey bars attempting to complete a goal. Or maybe I just wanted to plop down on one of those weird animal springer guys and enjoy the tranquil motion of going nowhere. (Do they even make these anymore?)

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    These playground experiences were early lessons on how I was going to live my life. We all have that same power to live our lives like a childhood playground. It can be daring or safe, exciting or peaceful. It is truly up to you.

    Most of my days seem like the merry ground. I go around in circles, see the same things and just enjoy the security of the ride. Every now and then, it takes an exciting turn and speeds up and I just hold on. When the ride is over, my mind is dizzy and I try to decide if I want to do it again.

    Every now and then, I get to spend some time with a kid at a playground. The playgrounds have changed a lot over the years but the little pumpkins that play on them haven’t changed a bit. The layers of experiences they have out there playing will help them not “mousse” out on some of the best times of their lives.

    Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake Mousse Parfait

    Ingredients for “crust”

    Equal amounts of graham crackers and ginger snaps crumbled up finely. I only needed less than a cup total. Set aside.

    Pie Filling (original source unknown but it has been tweaked over the years)

    15 oz can of pumpkin puree

    ¼ cup of brown sugar

    1 tsp cinnamon

    ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice

    2 Tbsp heavy cream

    Pumpkin Directions

    Mix all these ingredients together and set in fridge for at least 30 minutes. Mix again when you remove from refrigerator.

    Mousse Ingredients

    8 ounces cream cheese, softened

    1/3 cup powder sugar

    1 vanilla bean, cut lengthwise and scrape out the yumminess inside. (you can use vanilla extract but the vanilla bean gives sooo much more flavor)

    zest from one lemon

    ¾ cup heavy whipping cream, whipped

    Mousse Directions

    In a large bowl, mix cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and lemon zest. It should be light and fluffy.

    Fold in whipped cream so it stays fluffy but is well incorporated. I did give it a couple of twirls with whisk to liven it up.

    There are a couple of ways you can put this together. I sprinkled some crust crumbs on the bottom of some canning jars. I did 4 ¼ pints and 4 ½ pints. Use whatever cute parfait kind of glass you have in your cabinet.

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    Next evenly distribute pumpkin pie filling into each vessel.

    Top with the mousse and set in the fridge for at least 2 hours. When it is time to serve, sprinkle a few more crumbs on top.

    If you want you could also layer it more if you have a taller vessel so people can get all the tastes in one scoop. Think of it as your playground and have some fun with it!


  9. Oak + Char

    October 26, 2014 by Barb

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    I can’t drive anywhere right now without being distracted by the colors of fall. The pictures the trees are painting with their vibrant colors are inspiring and take my breath away. Everywhere I go, trees are on my mind and I feel like I have tunnel vision.

    So when I was invited to go to the “soft-opening” of Oak + Char (217 West Huron), I was intrigued. (Get it, there is a type of TREE in the name! My segues are almost as inspiring as fall colors, right?)

    Actually the “Oak” of the name comes from bits of oak every where in the restaurant from the beautiful tables to alcohol touched by oak barrels to the oak aged wood burning flame. And the “Char” is their goal to make the restaurant look a little aged and rustic.

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    I found the use of the oak made it very warm and inviting. The kind of place you want to meet up with friends and visit.

    Since the restaurant is not technically open yet, I didn’t know what to expect food wise but I did know that Chef Joe Heppe would come up with a menu that was as colorful as an autumn’s day.  (I don’t have an opening date so please Call 312-643-2427 to make your reservations.)

    The Oak + Char menu was a cornucopia of different ethnic flavors mixed with classic favorites that show the wonderful melting pot the Midwest has become over the years.

    We started with a couple of Snacks. Everyone at the table loved the Warm Burrata, Eggplant Muhammara and Naan. It was like pizza with an Indian flair.IMG_8269

    I also enjoyed the Pork Trotter Spring Rolls. The lime tahini sauce was one of those things you keep dipping your fork in to get another taste. It was a nice balance of nuttiness, tart and a little heat.

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    The Small Plates menu is outstanding. It was hard to make choices because everything looks so creative and delicious. My favorites were the Beef Tartare and the Ravioli Doppio.

    The Beef Tartare was served with the housemade chips that were the perfect seasoned vehicle to eat with the tartare. I could have eaten that whole plate myself! Everything from the uni aioli to the pickled pears and mustard seeds made this dish a must have in my book.

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    The other table favorite was the Ravioli. (My picture doesn’t do it justice.) What a wonderful combination of celery root and wild mushrooms in such delicate pasta! I also adored the truffle fondue and brown butter that was swirled about the ravioli because they added just the right touch of umami and nuttiness.IMG_8283

    Our table also shared the Apple Pomegranate Salad (very light and refreshing) and the cold Smoked Oysters. (I’m not sure if I ate the oysters correctly, I made a mess so they weren’t necessarily one of my favorites.)

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    The play on Schnitzel by using Skate was really good. The coating on the fish didn’t weight it down as one might imagine and I liked that there was also some country ham still on the plate.

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    I think my least favorite dish of the night was the Cheeseburger mostly because everything else was so exciting that the Cheeseburger paled in comparison. It would be a nice to go-to on the menu for the less adventurous eaters in your group. (The pickles were excellent and I would have ordered a plate of those alone.)

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    We ended our night sharing some of the Sweet Potato Doughnuts with maple foie syrup and chai milk jam and the Tcho Chocolate Pot de Crème with Pistachio Amaretti Cookies.IMG_8305

    I wasn’t able to taste the Pot de Crème (chocolate allergy) but the folks at my table loved it especially with the chewy cookie. I indulged in the doughnuts and liked the syrup so much that I swirled some in my coffee! YUM!IMG_8307

    As my reader’s know, I am not a drinker but Oak + Char is going to have an amazing beverage service headed up by  Mae Governale.  If the non-alcoholic Ginger Fizz they made me is any representation of the bar service, there are going to be some fun drinks coming your way.

    Thank you to Chef Joe Heppe for inviting us to see the majestic launch of his new cooking adventure. And Thank You to everyone at Oak + Char for being such great hosts, we look forward to coming back.

    I hope Oak + Char will have strong roots and a long colorful future on the streets of Chicago.


  10. Hilton Chicago: A Foodie Fun Day of History and Great Food

    October 23, 2014 by Barb

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    What are most people looking for when they visit the city of Chicago? Are you looking for some history? Maybe you go to the city for a phenomenal meal or two? How about just a place to relax and lay your head? How about all this stuff all under one roof?

    Tuesday, I was invited to check out the historical Hilton Chicago (720 South Michigan Avenue) and enjoy some food at their two restaurants 720 South Bar & Grill and Kitty O’Sheas.

    My expectations of the day were met from the minute I walked up to the hotel and was greeted by the Bellman named Rufus. With his contagious smile and joy of welcoming people to the Hilton, he reminded me of a movie character

    What I didn’t realize about the Hilton Chicago was that it opened in 1927 (originally the Steven’s hotel) with about 3,000 rooms, shops, ginormous ballrooms, in house hospital and even a mini-golf course on its roof! (Mini golf-courses on roofs should come back in style!)

    The hotel has been host to every president since opening in 1927. They have great pictures in the hotel of the history of their guests including my favorite: a menu from Queen Elizabeth II visit.

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    The Chicago Hilton has the largest total meeting and event space of any hotel in the city. (And you can’t beat the location of being on Michigan Avenue across from Grant Park.)

    As I was walking to the restaurants, I really just wanted to slow down and take in the views of every little detail of the hotel. It is one of those places where you feel the walls, ceilings and staircases could tell you a story if you took the time to listen.

    But alas, it was lunchtime and I was here to experience what will now become a historical meal in my memory. Executive Chef Mario Garcia and Executive Sous Chef Mark Brand gave me an opportunity to taste “a little” bit of some of their best offerings from the Hilton’s in house restaurants.

    From 720 South Bar & Grill, I started with an amazing seasonal salad of Kale, romaine, frisee, butternut squash, dried cranberries, toasted pumpkin seeds and goat cheese from LaClare Farms. The light apple cider vinaigrette had just enough acidity to make everything taste just great together. (And if you don’t have time to sit down to lunch, they have some great grab and go options in the Herb N’ Kitchen in the lobby of the hotel.)

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    Next, Chef Mark brought out a Black and Bleu Steakhouse style Flatbread. The “black” on this flatbread was blackberries and it’s flavor combined beautifully with the grilled New York Strip steak, pickled onion and peppery arugula. Every taste bud on my tongue was awakened and there wasn’t a texture that was overlooked.

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    The Maryland Style crab cakes were presented next with a tempura fried squash blossom filled with ricotta cheese and corn. I NEVER order crab cakes when I’m out because I like mine the best. But I must give kudos to the chefs because these were really awesome. The pimento cheese aioli was a nice touch and I really enjoyed the big pieces of crab in each cake.

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    Just when I thought I couldn’t eat another bite, I was enticed with Skuna Bay Salmon, grilled zucchini and some microgreens from the roof top garden. The soubise sauce really flattered the fish. Soubise is like béchamel with an onion puree. It wasn’t heavy which was nice and it didn’t overpower the dish.

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    The Halibut was probably my favorite dish. The fish was cooked to perfection and I am absolutely in love with the carrot/parsnip puree that was served on the side. Mixed in with some succotash and hickory smoked bacon sausage and you’ve got a smile on a plate.

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    The carrot puree (or pudding as I kept calling it) really was outstanding. I want to eat that with every comfort food meal I make this winter!

    I couldn’t leave the Hilton Chicago without trying a couple of dishes from Kitty O’Sheas (their Irish Pub). When I toured the kitchens, I had the pleasure of seeing their corned beef being made. Only thing better than smelling it cooking was being able to eat it on a sandwich made with marble rye and a Guinness mustard blend.

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    And finally for lunch, I had a big plate of Kitty O’Sheas signature dish….Fish and Chips. Simply a North Atlantic cod, dipped in Smithwick’s Irish ale and fried tempura style. It was so light and crisp and didn’t even need the malt vinegar and Old Bay tartar sauce….but they were really tasty too!IMG_8229

    The “chips” were also delicious and perfectly seasoned and I want to eat this again…and again.

    The icing on the cake was courtesy of the amazing pastry kitchen in the Hilton Chicago. They make everything here from breakfast pastries to wedding cakes! I was treated to a yummy date cake with coconut mousse and a salted caramel gelee on top. It was a piece of art and I almost felt guilty about eating it…but it was delicious….really delicious.

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    The only thing I didn’t do at the Hilton Chicago was sleep and I hope to do that one-day. (Especially if I am going to eat myself into a food coma!)

    There is a story in every corner of this building and it is one of the reasons I love the city of Chicago. You never know what you are going to learn until you walk through the door. Thank you so much to Chef Mario and Chef Mark for inviting me and I can’t wait to come back.

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