Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Chicago Rainbow

"God put rainbows in the clouds so that each of us- in the dreariest and most dreaded moments- can see a possibility of hope."
~ Maya Angelou

This quote is easily applicable to the Original Rainbow Cone shop in Beverly, Chicago
This past Thursday, my friend Conor and I biked from 51st & University (crawling with Secret Service) to 92nd & S Western Ave.  The bike ride was through some of the roughest neighborhoods in South Chicago.  We were riding during the day and I never felt extremely threatened but it was a definite change in scenery from my usual commute downtown.  The chances of becoming a victim in a violent crime for the city of Chicago is 1:99, a bit alarming.  Just as I became weary of boarded-up windows, spray-painted graffiti and "No Peddling" signs, we arrived at the oasis of Beverly.  After our 9 mi adventure through some of the poorest and crime-ridden neighborhoods in Chicago, there was a golf course, a Michaels craft store and suburban houses.  Beverly is home to one of Chicago's oldest ice cream shops, featuring the special Rainbow Cone. The shop, indeed, is an icon of hope amid the poverty-stricken population of South-side Chicago.

The Rainbow Cone features 5 different flavors, layered on top of one another in a cone or dish.  The different flavors include: orange sherbet, pistachio, Palmer House, strawberry and chocolate.  Although not normally a fan of orange-flavored sherbet, I was pleasantly surprised that the orange sherbet was one of my favorite flavors of the cone.  I originally was worried that the different layers would melt together and create an unappetizing, multi-colored ice cream mess.  This was not the case, however, so I did not have to taste pistachios in my orange sherbet, etc.

Conor was equally impressed and expressed this sentiment in an eloquent, well-written paragraph that reads:
"Depending on your ice cream eating technique, the initially separate scoops of ice cream blend together to form a unique taste.  The Orange Sherbert tends to steal the show, but it's intense citrus flavor contrasts nicely with less intimidating household names like Chocolate and Vanilla.  Moreover, my initial skepticism concerning the Pistachio scoop was largely dismissed as competing flavors were able to find their way into every bite.  The occasional nut can be found lurking inconspicuously within the ice cream, but I found them to be small enough to swallow whole without chewing, and I recommend this strategy to anyone else who finds pistachios as repulsive as I do.  The fact that the pistachios did not ruin my experience at Rainbow Cone is truly a testament to the surrounding flavor."
 
The Original Rainbow Cone shop is very quaint and colorful and is by far my favorite ice cream shop in Chicago.  I love the historical significance of the shop itself and the delicious, unique flavor combination of the Rainbow Cone. I am looking forward to taking another trip there, probably by car this time..

Until next meal,
Mary

The Original Rainbow Cone

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Flintstones Vitamins

"Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food." - Hippocrates

When I was a child, my mother made me take daily vitamins.  Despite being shaped like Flintstones characters, they were unappetizing and had a chalky aftertaste.  This is probably not news to my mother but around the age of 10 I realized that I could fake taking the vitamin, hide the tablet in my napkin and later destroy the evidence.  As an adult now, I actually enjoy taking vitamins.  And no, it's not because my mother (in an attempt to stop me from growing up) recently upgraded my regular women's daily vitamin from the pill form to the gummy form.  Vitamins give us a sense of security that no matter how poorly we eat, our bodies will still be nourished.

Why not simply eat healthier foods?

Salmon is filled with Omega 3 fatty acids, numerous vitamins and essential amino acids.  It's one of the healthiest foods on Earth and arguably the world would be a happier place if everyone ate a little more salmon. 

Potatoes are great sources of vitamin B6 and potassium.  They are exceptionally low calorie when kept free from butter, grease and the frying pan.  Red potatoes are high in fiber and studies support that they are highly effective in preventing cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Kale is high in iron, low in calories and contains vitamin C.  It detoxes the body, strengthens the immune system and results in healthier skin and hair.  These reasons alone prove why kale has been the key "super food" for Scandinavians since the beginning of time.

For tonight's dinner, I pan-seared the salmon fillet in a little olive oil and then seasoned with ground black pepper and a hint of freshly-squeezed lemon juice.  The kale mash was an easy and amazing recipe from my favorite modern Norwegian cookbook.  I simply chopped red potatoes into chunks, boiled in water (with a hint of salt) for 15 minutes and added fresh chopped kale for the last 5 minutes.  Once cooked, I mashed the potatoes and kale, added a hint of canola oil and seasoned with ground black pepper. The result was absolutely phenomenal.

With a glass of my favorite black tea brewed by the natural heat of the sun, dinner was complete.  So next time you reach for a vitamin, think instead about getting those same nutrients from a more rewarding source.  Cooking a healthy meal is a lot more rewarding (and tasty) than Flintstones vitamins 

Trust me.

Until next meal,
Mary


The Final Product


Kale Mash:  Red Potatoes, Kale, Canola Oil & Ground Pepper


Black Sun Tea with Lemon


The Cooking Station

Friday, July 4, 2014

Learning to Cook

"No one is born a great cook, one learns from doing."  
- Julia Child

Cooking is an art and takes skill, luck and a lot of patience. My family has taught me everything I know about food preparation and most of my earliest memories are helping my parents and grandparents in the kitchen.  Luckily, the best chef in Indianapolis lives less than 15 minutes away from my home.  And yes, that is my grandfather.

At first, I didn't understand the appeal of cooking.  People claim it's relaxing, but for a competitive and perfectionist like me, it sounds like a nightmare.  I stress clean instead or go on long runs.

But you hit a certain point in your life where you want to survive on something more than take-out or Easy Mac.  Create something of your own.

My new apartment was the perfect place to learn how to cook.  With weird work hours and the stress of moving in, I was reluctant to take on more than I could chew (pun intended).  I started small, gradually made my way up the culinary ladder.  Each meal gave me a sense of accomplishment and I began to take pride in my work.  Started Instagramming the aesthetically pleasing masterpieces.  For the first time, I loved to cook. 

Here is my first week of creations:

Spiral pasta with butter, parmesan & garlic and herb seasoning


Whole wheat toast with eggs topped with salsa


Pancakes with Nutella and dried cranberries


Turkey, lettuce, avocado & mayo sandwich accompanied with lemon water


Spiral pasta with olive oil, basil, tomato slices & mushrooms.  Served with fresh fruit (plum)


Canadian bacon pizza with Italian seasoning sprinkled on top


Black olive & Canadian bacon pizza topped with Italian seasoning


Toasted day-old Jimmy John's bread sandwich


Turkey, ham, provolone & mustard sandwich on Medici wheat bread


First attempt at chocolate chip cookies in new apartment


Salad topped with Canadian bacon, green olives, carrots and dried cranberries


Mocha cookies & cream milkshakes for Sunday Night Poker

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Berry Good Brunch

Brunch is a fantastic creation. Sunday was my first time brunching in Chicago and I was ecstatic that it would be at Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe.  I had heard amazing reviews and needed to experience what everyone had been talking about.  I am happy to report that they were right; Wildberry is one of the best places to brunch in Chicago hands-down.

As far as breakfast foods go, I tend to switch off between savory and sweet selections.  Wildberry offers both and I was lucky enough to try three different choices.  The Southern Eggs Benedict features an English muffin topped with poached eggs, sausage and gravy so delicious it will make forget about how bad it is for you.  A side of hash-browns accompanies the delicious egg creation.  If you are in the mood for something sweet, try either the Oreo S’mores Pancakes or the "Signature Berry Bliss" French Toast. The Oreo S’mores Pancakes are exactly what they sound like and are phenomenal.  The combination of the crunch of the Oreo cookies, the softness of the pancakes and the gooeyness of the marshmallows adorning the stack is remarkable.  Perfect for the chocolate lover and anyone who loves a little chocolate before 10 am.  The "Signature Berry Bliss" French Toast is not your typical French Toast.  Atop the pieces of bread, deliciously browned, are berries, blackberry coulis and berry marcarpone.  The ultimate breakfast combination of fruit and fried bread.

Now as far as drinks go, the Mango Lemonade and Wildberry Orange Juice are two excellent options.   I love how the lemonade is bottomless and is available in multiple flavors.  The Wildberry Orange Juice features orange juice combined with seasonal berry juices which makes it the perfect choice for diners wanting something a little more extraordinary than the ordinary glass of OJ.  I also tried the Mocha Mint Latte which is the ultimate combination of mint and chocolate in a cup.

Overall, I was very impressed with the selection of both food and drinks at Wildberry and I will definitely be revisiting for brunch sometime soon.  Our wait at 9 am on Sunday was about 40 minutes but the meal was unquestionably worth it.  What a perfect way to start out your day!

Nom,
Mary


"Signature Berry Bliss" French Toast

Oreo S'more Pancakes

Southern Eggs Benedict

EL ideas: My First Michelin Star

Dining should be an experience.  The food itself is a main component but the atmosphere adds an irreplaceable and exceptional element to the meal.  Recently, I have noticed a correlation between industrial warehouses and phenomenal food.  Ada Street and EL ideas are two restaurants that use the “abandoned warehouse scare technique” to pump adrenaline into diners before wowing them with remarkable culinary creations.  Will and Susannah were surprising me with dinner for my birthday and so I had no idea where we were going.  A bit funny since the restaurant was named EL ideas..

EL ideas is extraordinary because it goes where no restaurant has ever gone before.  The food is amazing and the restaurant has a Michelin star, yes, but the restaurant conjures a dining experience unlike anything a diner has ever experienced.  Chef Foss personally introduces himself to each table and establishes a relationship with each diner.  Each member of the kitchen staff is friendly and interacts with each table, presenting the individual course themselves.  Most of the diners in the restaurant were couples of two and celebrating special occasions while a few were simply “foodies” in town on business.  Diners must Uber or drive here as the location itself is so remote that few cabs pass by and most get lost locating the establishment.  EL ideas is also BYOB which is unique for a restaurant of such caliber.  Diners must arrive on time as the entire dining room is served at one seating.

The meal consisted of 14 incredible courses.  Each featured unique flavors of exotic meats and seafood.  Many included ingredients I had never heard of before.  Every course was introduced individually by a member of the preparation staff and was hand-decorated.  My birthday meal was a dining experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.  EL ideas did a flawless job of creating life-time memories with excellent cuisine and an exceptional atmosphere, truly deserving of its high recognition as one of the top restaurants in the United States. 

A birthday is a special occasion and needs to be celebrated accordingly.  Careful planning and preparation goes into creating the perfect day of food and festivities.  When my friends Susannah and Will offered to plan the ideal surprise party, I admit I was a little hesitant.  I tend to be a bit type A so I would prefer to be involved in all of the details.  I knew, however, that the celebration would be in great hands.  

They couldn't have picked a better place.


Mary


Roe: buttermilk, caper, kohlrabi, chamomile, pollen
First course is served without utensils- must be licked

Kitchen is open to walk through and observe

Ossetra: cauliflower ice cream, rose, pear, argan

Halibut: mofongo, salsa verde, black bean

Cobia collar: curry, coconut, fava, tamarind, banana

French fries & ice cream: potato, leek, vanilla

Soft shell crab: spring onion, bacon-rubbed rhubarb, strawberry

Snail: black garlic, maitake, consommé, sea bean

Foie gras: porcini, huckleberry, bergamot

Venison: barley, yogurt, enoki

Bellota: rapini, lardo, apricot, hot pepper

Antelope: ramp, asparagus, carrot, turnip

Spruce: mandarin, pine, kombucha

Zucchini: lemon balm, blossom, cinnamon, verbena

Mudpie: coffee, marshmallow, chocolate

Birthday Cake

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Hot Doug's

Hot dog themed decorations, horribly corny jokes and the irresistible smell of encased meat drifting down the block are three things to describe the fun, casual atmosphere of Chicago's most famous hot dog stand.  Hot Doug's tops most lists rating the best Chicago-Style hot dogs and I had been planning to visit the restaurant in Roscoe Village for quite some time now.  Doug, the stand owner, recently announced that the stand would be closing for good on October 3rd.  Nothing like a time constraint to coerce you into finally crossing something off of your to-do list!  (And yes, I do have a to-do list for food...)

A few friends and I made the long trek up to the North-side and were all very excited to visit such a famous spot in Chicago.  Parking was fairly accessible and as we walked closer to the stand, the line seemed to go on even longer and longer.  The line did not seem to be moving very fast and we mentally prepared ourselves for the long wait.  It was a little comforting that the line seemed a bit shorter than some of the horror stories that I read about on Yelp, where diners waited over two hours to consume a few hot dogs.  The wait is bearable if you bring quality friends.  If you do not, I would advise you to find some or go alone and bring a book or a crossword puzzle.  Luckily, I brought pretty spectacular friends so I left my Sudoku puzzles and coloring book in the car.

After we finally made it into the restaurant, it was time to order.  My recommendation is to be brave and adventurous.  Their special menu features a variety of meats, ranging from pork to alligator.  Try one of the celebrity dogs on the special menu and you will not be disappointed.  Each dog on the special menu features an unique selection of flavors that combine spice and sweetness with the savory taste of the grilled sausage.  I chose the Jimmy Clausen which is a baked ham sausage topped with mango salsa, smoked Gouda cheese and cherry mustard.  As a huge fan of both ham and mango but having had neither together in the same meal, I was blown away by the combination.  Each topping was amazing and played up the savory flavors of the baked ham.  I would definitely recommend it to diners who are looking for a great sweet and savory combination.  The mango salsa was deliciously fresh and crisp.

As for the sides, the fries are a good size to split with friends.  We went on a Thursday so we were not able to try the duck fat fries because they are only served on Fridays and Saturdays.  Disappointing but not too bad considering the hot dog was pretty filling.  There was nothing too spectacular about the regular fries but they are good nonetheless. 

It is truly amazing that Doug himself takes your order.  He makes the customer feel special and by doing so, he creates a more authentic experience for diners.  This is the reason why Chicago residents love this hot dog stand so much.  His continued presence has enabled him to connect emotionally with thousands of diners each year, continuously evoking the strong support and following of Chicago hot dog lovers.  Doug will be truly missed when the stand closes for good in October.

There is also a rumor that diners are eligible for free hot dogs for life after getting a Hot Doug's permanent tattoo.  Like many tattoos and several UChicago classes, it sounds alright in theory but has horrible repercussions in real life.  My advice? The stand is closing in October so the 60 or so free hot dogs are probably not worth a lifetime of explaining why you have a tattoo of a hot dog stand in permanent ink to future employers, significant others or family members.  Up to you.

Overall, I am happy to finally cross it off my to-do list but I doubt I will go back before final closing.  I am glad that I visited such a famous Chicago hot dog stand but I was underwhelmed with the uniqueness of the establishment minus a few key components.  The closest comparison to Hot Doug's would have to be Frank 'N Dawgs in Lincoln Park.  Frank 'N Dawgs is closer to the Loop, accepts credit cards and features healthier ingredients.  There is also no line and the restaurant is BYOB.  However, Hot Doug's has a completely different atmosphere and the line allows for a shared sense of anticipation between random diners.  The exotic flavors, such as alligator, differ Hot Doug's from the stereotypical Chicago hot dog stand.  As mentioned before, Doug taking customers' orders is also an authentic part of the visit that cannot be recreated at any other encased meat establishment.

Doug, we'll miss you.


Mary

Celebrity Sausage: Baked Ham Sausage with Cherry Mustard, Mango Salsa and Smoked Gouda Cheese

The Dog

Cheese Fries

Fries

The Shirley Hardman: Corn Dog

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Syttende Mai: Salmon & Coffee

Syttende Mai is Norwegian Constitution Day and this year was the 200 year anniversary, therefore a Norwegian celebration was in order.  I decided to prepare a special Norwegian breakfast (frokost!) complete with ingredients that commemorate my Nordic heritage.  My friend Kathleen was nice enough to go along with my crazy scheme and so on the 17th of May, we feasted in true Norwegian fashion: salmon and lots of coffee.

I have blogged before about the importance of the "smørrebrød" to the Norwegian.  These open-faced sandwiches, typically on rye-bread, are a staple in the Norsk diet.  Therefore, I purchased hearty rye-bread and sliced it thin enough to slightly toast before adding the toppings.  The toppings included brun-usto, a common Scandanavian toasting bread, as a supplement for Treasure Island's lack of brunost (brown goat cheese).  On top of that, I added thin slices of smoked salmon (from Norway!!) for protein and additional nutrients.  Breakfast would have not been completed without some element of seafood, as I quickly learned from my visit there almost four years ago. 

For beverages, we hand-squeezed glasses of orange juice and drank lots of coffee.  The average Norwegian consumes about 5 cups of plain black coffee a day which is simply outrageous.  I was only able to drink two before the world started spinning and my left eye started twitching.

Overall, this Syttende Mai breakfast was a fantastic way to combine two of my favorite things: food and my Norwegian heritage.

Hei Norge!

Mary




Hand-made Floral Crown featuring the Main Colors of the Norwegian Flag


Frokost

Fresh-squeezed Orange Juice

Key Ingredients: Norwegian Smoked Salmon and Brun-usto