Friday, December 19, 2014

GT Fish & Oyster

"He was a bold man that first ate an oyster." 
~ Jonathan Swift
~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ . ~

I love my friend Matt but I have to be honest, sometimes he is unpredictable in his decision-making.  For example, he invited me to his house in Wisconsin to spend the weekend with his family last Mother’s Day but forgot to tell his mother I was coming..  And if that was not embarrassing enough, he sat there silently while I struggled to explain who I was (Matt’s friend from school) to his mother who was either (a) excited that Matt brought home what she assumed was his new girlfriend or (b) horrified that she now had a guest staying in her house for the weekend without any notice.   Needless to say, when I found out that he was in charge of planning a dinner for the entire senior class of his fraternity, I was a bit skeptical.  And my skepticism was not fueled by lack of trust; I completely trust and consider him one of my dearest and closest male friends on campus.  He just has a track-record of some interesting and unusual situations. 

I have to admit that I was wrong and he exceeded any expectations that I, or any other guest at the dinner for that matter, had prior to the event.

GT Fish & Oyster is one of Chicago’s greatest restaurants, specializing in fresh seafood that is famous among the Chicago cuisine community.  The restaurant has a classy interior and is perfect for celebrations and special occasions.  This dinner was my first visit to GT and I doubt it’ll be my last.  The food and atmosphere were spectacular and set the perfect tone before another great jazz night.  We were seated in a private room which was wonderful for such an intimate gathering.  As we walked in, we were led behind the kitchen and down a back staircase to a secluded and cozy dining area where our tables were tastefully decorated and set with beautifully printed place-cards.  The meal featured 11 courses which included a wide array of appetizers, sides and desserts.  The dishes were mostly seafood- tuna, shrimp, crab, oysters from both coasts of the United States- although there were also pork sliders that were hearty and delicious.  When the first course of oysters were served, most diners looked anxiously around to model the perfect way to eat them.  I was definitely one of these diners..

Overall, the dinner was an absolute success which was only enhanced by the friendly service and amazing location of GT Fish & Oyster.  I would definitely recommend it for your next special occasion- the staff goes above and beyond to make your experience as personal as possible.

Cheers to you Matt.


Decadent Dark Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Sorbet

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Deep Thoughts About Deep-Dish

"I wish you'd stop being useless and start being pizza"

Deep-dish pizza in itself is a work of art.  It's therapeutic powers cause Chicago-natives and bread-lovers alike to rejoice in the numerous locations of great deep-dish pizza in the White City.  When an individual relocates into a new city, it's important for them to grasp certain local traditions.  Nothing says "Welcome to Chicago" more than crime, hockey & deep-dish.  Blackhawks games and pizza have been going hand-in-hand since peanut butter and jelly.  A bit of an exaggeration...but if you visit Pequod's Pizzeria in Lincoln Park during a Hawks game, you will completely understand what I mean. It is, of course, the official Blackhawks bar of Chicago.

Pequod's is rumored to be home of the "world's best pepperoni pizza" and I dragged my favorite pepperoni pizza-connoisseur for dinner to evaluate the claim.  His verdict? One of the best pepperoni pizzas he has tried in Chicago but still unclear whether it deserves the ranking of #1.  Most of our complaints weren't about the food, mostly service and atmosphere.  The decor inside is very sporty and fun, perfect for the typical Lincoln Park crowd.  The restaurant is very loud and lively so probably not the best place to take young children or older adults.  The building is absolutely ginormous so make sure you follow the hostess closely when she is showing you to your table.  Otherwise you might get lost and never make it out...

They don't take reservations but you can call ahead and be put on the 'priority' list.  I would definitely recommend doing so because it saved us an hour on our wait time.  The service was lackluster: the waitress took a long time to take our order and bring out our food and the pizza-cutter guy was frantic and careless.  He accidentally cut a slice in half and gave my friend the half-slice while everyone else got a full slice.  Needless to say, she was not too pleased.

Overall, Pequod's is a traditional deep-dish pizza restaurant with fantastic food at a reasonable price.  However, it also comes with a long wait, questionable service and a very loud atmosphere.  Perfect for a patient, hungry & die-hard Blackhawks fan but maybe not Mary of Miles, Menus & Mary.

Until next slice,

Half Pepperoni/Half Hawaiian with Bell Peppers

After dinner treat: Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream
Featuring; Rum Ball & Middle West Whiskey Eggnog

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fabulous Fondue

"Fondue is a lot like weed, at a party everyone hangs out by the pot" 

 Cheese fondue- classy, elegant and the perfect party-pleaser.  After researching recipes on Pinterest & receiving step-by-step instructions from my French uncle (my father rolled his eyes at the amount of wine that he recommended), I was ready for the challenge.  Three bottles of wine, a couple pounds of cheese & the finest assortment of vegetables, French bread and sausages that can be purchased in the great state of Indiana.      

The baguettes were sliced to the perfect thickness, vegetables roasted in the optimal proportion of balsamic vinegar and olive oil,  and the sausages cooked to... (well, my friend Ian cooked them so they were a little raw inside).  I even had my mother's vintage fondue set with color-coded skewers.  The remaining French bread slices were toasted in the oven and topped with homemade bruschetta, providing a fantastic option for any cheese-averse guests.

I was mainly concerned with lighting of the burner but luckily my friend Ian took care of this task.  The pyromaniac-gene from my father must have skipped my generation and I wasn't feeling adventurous enough to hold sole-responsibility for lighting the entire apartment building on fire. 
(That would be our neighbors...) 

The final task was the melting of the cheese and the warming of the wine.  Our entire apartment soon smelled like white wine, swiss & gruyere cheese, and Nutella from the frosting on the cupcakes my other roommate prepared.  To be honest, it smelled a little like what I imagine heaven to smell like.

There is an old proverb:
"Cheese, wine, and friends must be old to be good."  
I guess I am too young to know whether this is true or not but I can assure you that my party was still a success.  But then again Charles Dickens did say, "To a young heart, everything is fun."

Until next time,

The Spread

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Another Broken Egg

"All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast." 
~ John Gunther

A strong cup of coffee in the morning is an ideal way to begin any early morning and no cup of coffee is more satisfying than the classic French roast that my dad brews when I am home in Indianapolis.  It seems like during the holiday season, we get so caught up in our tasks, our to-do lists and our commitments that we temporarily take for granted all of the wonderful and special people around us.  As we prepare for the Christmas season, we must all take a second and recognize just how thankful we are to have loving and selfless people in our lives who have shaped us into passionate and unique citizens of the world.

I am very blessed to have such a strong and close-knit relationship with my grandfather.  He is the reason I adore cooking so much and most of my earliest food memories are watching him prepare family dinners.  My grandparents' house is always filled with assorted chocolates, pretzel rods and caramel candies which always seem to be discovered by my father and brother before every meal.  It seems fitting that the Norwegian word for grandfather is bestefar, as he is one of my best friends and role models.

My grandfather and I are fortunate to have many opportunities to chat on the phone about life, future plans and new recipes.  A couple weeks before I was scheduled to come home for the first time in several months, he raved about a new breakfast establishment just north of Indianapolis.  A place called Another Broken Egg, a smaller chain that featured Indianapolis-unique elements in their Indiana location.  I almost drooled on my phone as he described their rendition of Eggs Benedict with fresh crab.  We decided that my first order of business upon my arrival would be a brunch date for just the two of us.  Just an adoring granddaughter and her wise grandfather.

He adventured out into the world of seafood for breakfast and ordered the Shrimp 'n Grits.  Both of us are huge fans of cocktail shrimp and always have been.  He still teases me for my minor obsession with shrimp growing up and unfortunately, I had trouble pronouncing 'shrimp' until the age of 6 and called them 'slimp' to my family's amusement.  The dish featured a sautéed mix of shrimp, Andouille sausage, red bell peppers and green onions.  The mixture was cooked in a low country reduction sauce with a spicy kick which paired well with the creaminess of the cheese topping the grits.  The fresh vegetables provided a lighter element to the heaviness of the cheesy grits and the entire dish reminded him of New Orleans.  The Shrimp 'n Grits is served with crispy, garlic French bread; perfect for dipping in any leftover sauce or cheese.

I chose the Crabcakes Cavallo which features a crab-inspired rendition of my favorite breakfast dish- Eggs Benedict.  A crispy English muffin is topped with two sizable crab cakes and two perfectly poached eggs.  Adorning the eggs are an Andouille infused hollandaise sauce, chopped green onions and fresh red bell peppers.   The dish is served with fantastically crunchy & salty breakfast potatoes which compliment the savoriness of the crab cakes.  Probably my favorite breakfast dish in Indianapolis yet!

Overall, Another Broken Egg is an excellent breakfast or brunch choice in Indianapolis and I intend on revisiting whenever I am home.  Splendid food and fascinating company, this brunch was one of the highlights of my Thanksgiving weekend.


PS: Love you Grandpa!
(He's the #1 fan of this blog)    

Crabcakes Cavallo

Shrimp 'n Grits

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Litehouse Whole Food Grill

Visiting local farmers markets and shopping locally takes time and energy, two things that most of us lack. When our calendars and schedules become busy, often the first item sacrificed is our commitment to consuming sustainable foods. A new Hyde Park restaurant is attempting to solve this problem. Providing local, fresh ingredients at a reasonable price, Litehouse Whole Food Grill is cornering the market in “healthy fast food” and is uplifting the Hyde Park community in the process.

I accidentally stumbled upon Litehouse this summer and have been obsessed with their food and their mission ever since. Established by Hyde Park residents, the restaurant focuses on community outreach in addition to providing remarkable food. The menu encompasses all eating styles, so whether you are vegetarian, meat-loving, gluten-free or vegan you’re sure to have plenty of options. Most dishes are even customizable, allowing you to choose your toppings, main ingredients and dressings. Diners can create their own wrap, burrito, salad, taco or even pizza and tailor it to their specific dietary concerns or culinary preferences. Unlike some restaurants, there is no additional charge for any of the toppings besides guacamole, which means that vegetable-lovers like me can fit as many into a burrito as possible. All ingredients are locally grown, natural and hormone-free, providing a quick, sustainable meal that brings a smile to your face every time. My personal favorite is the Cranberry Chicken Salad, which I typically order as a wrap in a spinach tortilla. It combines the natural sweetness of candied walnuts and dried cranberries with the strong flavors of feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. The chicken is all-natural and prepared lean with minimal oil. Although they are not the healthiest items on the menu, the fried green tomatoes and sweet potato fries are also amazing and perfect to share. The tomatoes are served with a special house dipping sauce (ranch mixed with hot sauce) and the sweet potato fries are perfectly dusted with cinnamon.

The interior and atmosphere of Litehouse Whole Food Grill is just as community-focused as its creators. From the University of Chicago student discount to the pizzas named after Hyde Park residents and places, the restaurant honors the neighborhood in which it is based. Restaurant décor showcases local artists, from the colorful countertops to the eclectic artwork on the walls, and a mix of music selections and friendly staff completes the dining experience and draws repeat customers. As a quick note, be aware that the hours of operation here are a bit unusual: the restaurant closes Friday night and reopens Saturday night in honor of the Sabbath.

Finding delicious, healthy food that is both quick and reasonably priced is a hard task to accomplish.
One must typically sacrifice either time or money to maintain a balanced, sustainable diet. Litehouse
Whole Food Grill, however, has managed to achieve the seemingly impossible: provide locally sourced, hormone-free meals for the busy and picky eater. A pioneer in the “healthy fast food” era, this restaurant is a must for anyone visiting Hyde Park.


Fried Green Tomatoes

Cranberry Chicken Salad as a Wrap

PC: Aneesa Sonawalla
Aneesa accompanied me on my most recent trip and took all these lovely photos! My article & her photos will be featured in the upcoming fall quarter edition of Nonpareil, the UChicago food magazine.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

(Fall)ing in Love

"Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fall is one of my favorite times of the year and for good reason.  It showcases the captivating hues of the leaves, crisp mornings and warm, comfy sweaters.  It's the perfect time for pumpkin and apple picking, football games and bonfires.  Fall is the ideal time for culinary masterpieces; the flavors of fall are easy to add to any recipe and are spectacularly comforting & delicious.  

Here are a few of my favorites: 

Pumpkin Spice Granola
Besides the multitude of health benefits, granola is a great portable snack to have on-the-go or in between meals.  This variation introduces a fall flavor staple, pumpkin spice, and produces a fantastic combination of fiber and protein which yields the perfect snack for a busy, collegiate athlete.  Originally introduced to this recipe by a friend, I adapted the recipe a bit to accommodate for different ingredients in my pantry.  Here is my final product:

1½ cup rolled oats, gluten free
1 cup raw almonds
1 cup raw, unsalted peanuts
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup pumpkin puree
3 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 tablespoon of peanut butter
1 tablespoon organic vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Mix all dry ingredients (except pumpkin puree, maple syrup, vegetable oil and peanut butter), into a large mixing bowl.  Combine pumpkin puree, maple syrup, vegetable oil, and peanut butter in a mixing bowl.  Take this “wet” mixture and pour into the large mixing bowl filled with dry ingredients.  Stir until everything is well coated and spread evenly on a lined baking sheet.  Bake for 15 minutes, stir very well (if you don’t you’ll have large clusters), bake for another 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.  Let cool completely before you store the granola in an air tight container at room temperature.

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes
Pumpkin spice pancakes are a staple for cold fall mornings.  Simply add pumpkin puree and a dash of cinnamon to your original pancake batter and you've got the perfect fall breakfast treat.  Serve with fresh maple syrup.

Pork with Apple Sauerkraut
Apples are another great additive to traditional recipes.  This variation of a traditionally German meal combines the crisp apple flavors of fall with the savoriness of pork & the sourness of sauerkraut.  Cook a medium, diced apple and a large pinch each of caraway seeds, ground allspice and sugar in 2 tablespoons butter until slightly soft. Stir in 1 pound drained, rinsed sauerkraut and warm through.  Serve with pan-seared pork.

Frozen Bananas + Honey + Almonds
Craving the cold satisfaction of ice cream but wanting to stay healthy? This recipe offers a simple and delicious frozen alternative in only three ingredients!

frozen bananas
organic honey
raw almonds

Simply peel and cut a couple bananas into chunks and freeze, preferably overnight.  Blend in a food processor or high-powered blender until creamy consistency.  Refreeze.  Once the banana cream is frozen, scoop out and top with drizzled honey & raw almond chunks.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Kanela Breakfast Club

"We're all pretty bizarre, some of us are just better at hiding it.  That's all." - the Breakfast Club

Lakeview is home to a number of my favorite restaurants. With a wide variety of dining options, retail shops and coffee establishments, it's a neighborhood with much to offer. There is no better way to spend an off-day than exploring Lakeview, showcasing my favorite Chicago neighborhood to a couple of new freshmen on the team. 

First on the list was a breakfast establishment, recently featured on Chicago Food Authority. Kanela Breakfast Club was absolutely phenomenal. Whether you prefer savory or sweet foods in the morning, this restaurant has multiple solid options for both preferences. Craving eggs benedict? This restaurant features an usual rendition that blew my mind. Beyond the typical ingredients of two poached eggs, an English muffin and hollandaise sauce, the dish combines the nutrition of brussel sprouts and cranberries with the tenderness of slow roasted pork belly. All eggs are cage-free and all ingredients are locally-grown or organic. 

Craving something sweet instead? The Stuffed Raspberry Cheesecake French Toast is a solid option. Two pieces of challah bread as French Toast are stuffed with a sweeter cream cheese and warm raspberries. The dish is adorned with crumbles of graham cracker which provide a crunchy contrast to the softness of the French toast. A delightful treat to begin any morning!

The decor inside was sophisticated, classy and refined. On our visit, the service was super friendly and even offered to split the check for five people, a task commonly forgotten at some of the trendier new restaurants. Kanela Breakfast Club is the ultimate place for brunching with friends. Some might say it's the perfect place for a breakfast club!


Eggs Benedict

Stuffed Raspberry Cheesecake French Toast