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 d├ęcor 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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bobtail Ice Cream Co.

You can't buy happiness but you can buy ice cream and that's pretty much the same thing. 

Located on a quaint, bustling corner in Lakeview, Bobtail Ice Cream Co. is a Chicago summertime favorite and a great place to grab a cone or shake on a leisurely walk through the neighborhood.  The shop recently celebrated 10 years of business and my friend Brenna and I were thrilled at the opportunity to try the signature flavors that continue to awe returning customers.

Both the atmosphere and the decor of the shop are very original with a small-town feel.  From the cute blue-and-white striped awning to the authentic, decorated menu on the wall, the decor is fun.  The cashiers are friendly, helpful and more than willing to let you try a couple flavors before purchasing anything. They were sold out of a couple signature flavors when we went (it was a Wednesday night) but there was an overall good selection of flavors, ranging from the stereotypical ice cream flavors to a Chicago special called the "Cubby Crunch". Their signature flavors tend to sell out fairly quickly, however, so I do recommend going early for the best flavor selection.

My two signature flavor recommendations would be the Lakeview Barhopper and/or the Signature Sunset.  The Lakeview Barhopper features the strong chocolate flavor of Dutch cocoa beans with the strong kick of Jack Daniels.  The Signature Sunset is a must for any wine-lover as it combines the rich flavor of merlot with the bitterness of dark chocolate chips.  Both flavors combined well (which was slightly surprising) in a freshly-made waffle cone.  The ice cream was reasonably priced with a fair amount of ice cream per scoop.

Bobtail Ice Cream Company was a delicious change from the abundance of over-rated, unoriginal ice cream restaurants in Chicago. I cannot wait to go back and try the "Cubby Crunch" which I hope is better than the Cubs performance this year (although that shouldn't be hard).  Overall, a great place to grab a cone on your walk through the beautiful neighborhood of Lakeview!

Until next meal,

Lakeview Barhopper: Chocolate Bourbon Ice Cream
Signature Sunset: Merlot Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate Chips 

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,

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,

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