January 31, 2013

Get Your Food On: Chicago Restaurant Week 2013

Chicago Restaurant Week kicks off tomorrow - February 1st - and runs through Sunday, February 10th.  Lucky for all those wishing to participate, the annual event actually runs longer than just one week each year (it's 10 days of deals to be exact), and there are dinner and lunch options for all you hungry, restaurant-loving souls out there.  Reservations for the 280 restaurants participating (offering prix fixe menus for lunch, dinner or both) fill up quickly - in fact, if you haven't booked something by now you may find that a good amount of reservations are already filled - but keep in mind that people sometimes drop out or cancel last minute - so keep checking back on the Chicago Restaurant Week website or OpenTable because you just might get lucky! 
image courtesy of: serious eats

What tops your wish list of restaurants this year?  Some of my picks for Restaurant Week 2013, based on best value for your dollar & the prix fixe menus I've seen, include:

I'd also recommend any Steakhouse you've been wanting to try - check the site to see which ones are participating, but let me tell you there are an abundance - from old staples like Morton's, to relatively newer establishments like N9NE - and their prix fixe menus usually sit at $44 or $33 for three courses...pretty darn good if you ask me!

Happy Restaurant Week!

January 28, 2013

The Darkness Leads to Light

The Darkness - if you're familiar, you probably know them from their 2003 hit "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" - a fantastic song that prompted many a clap-along back in my days at the University of Iowa - one that still gets people moving whenever it's played.  And let me tell you, the falsetto so prolifically belted by powerful lead singer/guitarist Justin Hawkins on that track is even better live.  In fact, The Darkness played for almost two hours last night at The Vic and the band was virtually flawless, putting on what was by far one of the best live shows I've ever seen.

photo courtesy of http://www.theactualdarkness.com

January 24, 2013

Being Thrifty is Quite Nifty

I've always loved & appreciated a good thrift store or antique shop, but it seems my affinity for both has grown exponentially in the past few years, and I still feel like I'm only getting started.  There are so many incredible & unexpected treasures waiting to be discovered, and a lot of quirkiness too.  It all lends itself to this sense of community - feeling a connection to the past in some way, and helping to preserve the memories and make new ones of your own. Recycling, repurposing, assigning new meaning, creating new sentiment and uncovering something or some one's history - you can't really put a price on that - but if you must, checking out your local thrift, antique, vintage or second-hand store could help you do it in an affordable & attainable way.

Take your next day off or weekend to go explore your local thrift stores.  You might be shocked at the awesomeness awaiting you.  It may take a little digging, and even some bargaining, but you could end up walking away with a new favorite keepsake. To aid in your search for stores I did some research of my own & found this nifty site called The Thrift Shopper, which has a place for you to key in your zip code or city & state to find local thrift stores and the like in your surrounding area - fantastic! I'd suggest calling a place before you drive over if you aren't sure it's still in business, but the lists seem pretty reliable from my experience so far so check them out!

happy thrifting!

Brown Elephant | Chicago | Was super bummed when I had to walk away from this mid century mod gem

| Chicago |

January 22, 2013

Soul-Warming (and Healthy!) Poblano Chicken Chili

Happy freezing everyone!  (Well, to most of you at least).  Today is supposed to be the coldest day Chicago has seen in two years according to the local weathermen.  For everyone feeling the chill I have a tasty, healthy recipe for white chicken chili with a kick that is sure to warm your soul.  I call this "white" chili because I don't use any tomatoes, tomato sauce or red beans. I made up the recipe based on my cravings and it turned out better than I could have hoped.

I got a request to post a white chili recipe a while back & finally got it worked into the rotation.  You can add or subtract from this recipe based on your taste buds & tolerance for spice - I had originally planned to do a jalapeno in the chili with the poblanos, but ended up making this batch for a few people at my apartment, and since I wasn't familiar with every one's tolerance for spicy dishes, I did it sans jalapeno.  The poblanos gave the chili a pretty good amount of spice, but I'll definitely try it with a jalapeno next time.

Also, you can add a dollop of fat-free sour cream or non-fat Greek yogurt to the chili when serving to help cut the spice a bit (as dairy does).  Sliced avocado or shredded low-fat Monterrey Jack cheese also make for tasty toppings.  Photos & recipe below - enjoy!

Feed your soul

January 18, 2013

Adventures in Dulce de Leche...

Last night was my first ever attempt at making Dulce de Leche...needless to say I could not stop inhaling the incredible smell of the vanilla bean simmering in the pot.  A process that takes a good three hours, but I knew that going in, so I enjoyed it with a big ol' glass of red wine & The Lumineers Pandora station (my definite fav at the moment).  I'm hoping it all comes together in the end, but I guess I'll find out tomorrow night when my friends taste the cake in its entirety post-birthday dinner celebration.  You see, this labor of love that is/was dulce de leche - it's not for naught.  It's going to be (what I hope will be) the delicious filling of a moist vanilla layer cake with dark chocolate buttercream frosting - aka one of the best damn birthday cakes my friends will ever taste.  We will be celebrating my longtime friends Angie & Andrea, who happen to share the same birthday & who also happen to TOTALLY ROCK.  These girls are excellent - and they deserve an excellent cake - and it's my pleasure to make one for them.  

Any excuse to bake - to try something new - to make people happy with my food...I will pounce!  

Could not stop inhaling the vanilla bean & seeds simmering in the pot  #lecheheaven

I'll post the recipes I use & pics once it's all said and done - for now, looking forward to seeing some of my loves this weekend making the trip in from Iowa.  Drive safe, ladies - can't wait to see your beautiful faces!  TGIF!!!

January 16, 2013

Healthy & Protein-Packed: Kickin' Buffalo Chicken + Quinoa Salad

OK - so after that last cookie post, I figured I owed you guys something healthy :)  This salad is one of my favorite go-to weekday or weeknight meals & will soon become a favorite of yours too.  It's super healthy, filling & protein-packed.  I must admit I fell in love with a similar combination of ingredients during my first experience at Protein Bar - a fantastic, health-focused little chain (locations in Chicago & D.C. so far) serving up wraps, salads, bowls & juices that are loaded with protein & flavor.  After my very first Buffalo Bar-rito I was hooked, and I soon realized I was craving those flavors at home.

In order to satisfy my cravings and give my wallet a break (the Bar-ritos can run you about $10 a pop - not bad, but it can add up quick) I began creating my own version of the Buffalo Bar-rito as a salad at home.  It's a dish that doesn't take very long - I can make it when I get home from the gym late for dinner (as I did last night) and I often make it in the mornings & take it to work for lunch.

The ingredients lend themselves to many health benefits - you get a good dose of Vitamin C from the red bell pepper (as much Vitamin C as oranges, but without all the sugar), and loads of protein & fiber from the chicken and quinoa. The spinach & carrots are packed with Vitamin A and powerful antioxidants.  If you want to top this little powerhouse with cheese, I like fat-free Feta - but some crumbled bleu would also be a tasty choice.  The only thing to watch here is the amount of hot sauce you use - I tend to douse my salad with it, in addition to mixing it with the chicken.  Although hot sauce is fat, calorie & carb-free, the sodium content is on the higher side so keep that in mind.

The recipe amount below is for a large single serving - so double it if you're feeding more than just you - or triple it if you're feeding a crew - this salad is always a hit!

Finished Product

January 14, 2013

Betty's "Different" Chocolate Chip Cookies - A Must Try!

Welcome to another recipe for chocolate chip cookies - but these aren't just any chocolate chip cookies.  Nooooo, no - these are my grandma Betty's famous "different" chocolate chip cookies.  I often post recipes that are on the healthier side, but sometimes you just have to throw all your worries out the window & get back to the goodness.

Growing up my grandparents lived close to where we went to grade school, which led to a lot of hanging at grandma & papa's house after school and on early out days.  There were so many magical things about their house growing up - from the outside front walkway made of 10,000 bricks my papa designed & built himself - to the magical backyard full of flowers, vegetables & a huge old pine we used to climb - to the amazing smell of yummy goodies my grandma always seemed to be baking. Many of those treats would end up in the corner of their kitchen, high up on the counter top in a light blue glass cookie jar - transparent enough to tease us with its contents - yet clouded enough to keep us guessing exactly what type of cookie she had whipped up that week.

A staple favorite of all 13 of her grandchildren has always been her chocolate chip cookies.  Unlike any other chocolate chip cookie any of us had ever had - these were crisp but soft, buttery & crumbly.  Beyond delicious with a cold glass of milk, they were a treat we only got to experience on our best behavior - rightfully so.

This was surprisingly my first attempt at making my grandma's "different" chocolate chip cookies & based on the way they turned out, it will most certainly not be the last - now I just need to share them :)

Recipe & photos below!

My grandma Betty's "different" chocolate chip cookies│Perfection

January 10, 2013

S'mores, Anyone?

So this happened last night...

#dinner&dessertwithmygirls  #fireplacesrule  #ilovemyapartment

almost everything is better when you have a fire
roaring in the background...wouldn't you agree?!

January 8, 2013

Sick Day...

After fighting the same nasty cold for just over 3 weeks now I finally made it in to see a doctor yesterday & got on some antibiotics - twice a day for the next 10 days - guess I needed it!  It all started the week before Christmas (never good timing) with a sore throat that led to me losing my voice for a few days.  It then transformed into total head congestion & a non-stop runny nose and body aches.  I tried Zicam, Airborn and Emergen-C at the first signs, but it kept developing.  DayQuil, NyQuil, Sudafed - nothing.  This beast could not be stopped.

January 5, 2013

New Year's Resolution: Do More to Follow My Dreams

Happy weekend - I hope you're all settling nicely into 2013.  The transition has been a tiny bit bumpy for me, as I still have a touch of the cold I started fighting almost two weeks before Christmas - yuck.  This coming from someone who lives a pretty darn healthy life too - regular exercise, healthy eating (most of the time), vitamins - although, I suppose I'm one of those people who could certainly use more sleep.  But then again, couldn't we all?!

January 2, 2013

Mint Chocolate Brownie Goodness...

Happy New Year, everyone!  I hope 2013 is off to a great start for you all & that you're sticking to your resolutions.  Speaking of resolutions...please forgive me for posting a brownie recipe right now...but everything in moderation, right?!  :)

These brownies have been requested of me every Christmas since I first made them four years ago.  Even if you don't love mint & chocolate together, give these brownies a chance and they are sure to win you over.  Best served cold (straight out of the freezer to be exact) they will be the hit of your next party.  I also still make these bad boys for my old roommate & one of my best friends, Liz - in fact, I just made her a batch right before Christmas break.  I know they make her very happy - she has an affinity for mint chocolate sweets, but only if the mint part is green!

Photos & recipe below - Enjoy!