Peanutty Oatmeal Cookies

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Ok there is plenty of candy around at Halloween – dessert seems like overkill.  But this cookie has oats in it!  Don’t you feel virtuous already??  We get a million trick o’ treaters so having something to snack on while drinking wine and passing out candy is a good thing.  You can also make these cookies with peanut butter chips but the Reese’s gave them a nice Halloween look.  Two important tips to take away from these cookies that work for all drop cookies – first make sure to really cream the butter and sugar together.  I used to just mix the two until combined but once I started really letting my mixer go to work until the butter and sugar gets light in color and fluffy, my cookies are much lighter and softer.  You cannot over beat the batter before the flour has been introduced so really work the butter and sugar for as long as your arm can take it if you are using a hand mixer or about 3 minutes if you have a stand mixer.  Second tip is to chill your dough.  At least 20 minutes is good but you can also store the dough in the fridge for a couple of days.  Drop cookies if the dough is too warm will spread when they bake and you will end up with a flatter, crunchier cookie than you want (or perhaps even the dreaded one giant cookie melted together).  Wednesday I will be posting the perfect dinner to go along with these cookies and trick or treating and then Friday will be a special cocktail to wash it all down with.

Peanutty Oatmeal Cookies 

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted room temperature butter (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups quick oats
  • 9 ounces Reeses Pieces

Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cream the butter and sugars in a large bowl or a stand mixer – mix for 3 minutes until light and fluffy.

While the butter and sugar is mixing combine the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a small bowl with a whisk.  Add the egg and vanilla to the butter and sugar and mix until combined.  Stir in the oats and Reeses Pieces with a spoon and then refrigerate for 20 minutes.  Drop the cookies on sil pat or parchment paper lined cookie sheets and bake for 12-14 minutes until golden.  Let cool on a baking rack – the cookies can be stored for several days.

Pumpkin Lasagna

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The great thing about getting comfortable with a lasagna recipe is that you can change it up pretty easily depending on your mood, what’s in the fridge, or in season.  Remember the Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Lasagna from June?  I made that with tons of fresh basil and a light tomato sauce.  Now that it’s fall I took the same recipe and method and just swapped out basil for sage and tomato sauce for pumpkin sauce.  The rest, the 3 cheeses and prosciutto, stay the same.

This version is a “bit” richer so you definitely want to pair it with a light salad and have a nice warming red wine on the side.  This sauce would also be lovely just over regular pasta, maybe with some cubes of roasted butternut squash tossed in as well.  I won’t bore you all to tears with step by step pictures in this post, if you need a reminder of what it should look like during assembly just refer back to the original post and follow along.  I will definitely be coming up with a winter and spring version of this lasagna – it’s just that good.

Pumpkin Lasagna 

Pumpkin sauce

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small onions, or one large, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced or grated
  • 16 ounces pumpkin puree (make sure its plain pumpkin not pie filling)
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon piment de espellete (if you don’t have that, well let’s assume you don’t, use 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper)
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup cream

Rest of the Lasagna

  • 16 ounces ricotta cheese (either homemade or good quality)
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup chopped sage
  • 4 ounces prosciutto, chopped
  • 8 sheets of no boil pasta
  • 16 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

First make the pumpkin sauce – in a saucepan over medium heat add the olive oil and cook the onions and garlic for 7 minutes until soft and translucent.  Add the pumpkin, nutmeg and red pepper and turn up the heat to medium high.  Cook on this higher temperature for 3 minutes, stirring frequently so the bottom doesn’t burn.  Add the broth and cream and season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  This makes 2 1/2 cups of sauce.

If baking right away preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl mix the ricotta, goat cheese, egg, sage and prosciutto together then season with salt and pepper.  Put a 1/3 of the sauce in the bottom of the large pan or distribute equally among the 2 smaller pans, using the spoon to spread out the sauce.  Then add 4 sheets of the no boil pasta on top (4 laid in the bottom of the large pan or 2 in each small pan).  Then add half of the mozzarella on top of the pasta.  Next you add half of the ricotta mixture – don’t worry if your layers of sauce or cheese don’t cover the whole surface, once these get in the oven everything pretty much melts together.  Then comes another 1/3 of the sauce, 4 sheets of pasta, the remainder of the mozzarella and the remainder of the ricotta mixture.  Finish it all off with the rest of the sauce and then top with the grated parmesan cheese.

If you are going to freeze them cover with a layer of saran wrap then a layer of tin foil.  They should freeze well for 6 months – take it out of the freezer the night before you want to bake it and let it defrost in the fridge.  You could also just assemble these and leave them in the fridge for a couple of days (3 max) and then bake.

Once you are ready to bake put the lasagna in a 400 degree oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes, maybe 40 if it’s coming from the fridge.  It should be brown and bubbly on the top.  Let cool for 5 minutes or so before cutting into slices.

Apple and Cheddar Risotto

Last day of apple week – I hope you guys enjoyed it.  Today’s recipe is inspired by a dish I saw on a menu years ago.  My brain is full of half baked ideas like this, that I glean from long forgotten sources.  I do remember thinking how unusual cheddar sounded in a risotto but now I am sad I didn’t try it earlier!  The tradition is parmesan of course, but cheddar has the same salty, nutty goodness and melts well right into the rice.

To add some crunch I sprinkled the top with toasted walnuts which keeps the whole thing from tasting like baby food.  Also the apple sauteed in with the shallots adds some sweetness and heft to the dish. We had this with a nice green salad (and ate all 4 portions between the 2 of us!) but I think it would make a really nice starter for a fall dinner party, then it would likely serve 6.  Have a great long weekend!

Apple and Cheddar Risotto 

  • 6 cups of chicken or veggie stock
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 shallots, chopped
  • 1 apple, chopped (small dice)
  • 1 cup aborio rice
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Add the stock to a small saucepan and warm over low heat.  In a high sided skillet melt the butter over medium heat, then add the shallots and apple and cook for 5 minutes.  Add the rice and stir it around until all the grains are coated in the butter.  Reduce the heat to medium low.  Splash in the wine and use your spoon to stir the rice.  Once almost all of the wine has cooked off you can start ladeling in the stock.

Add 1 ladelful at a time, stirring near constantly.  Once the rice starts looking dry add in another ladelful.  After about 25 minutes I start checking the doneness of the rice but usually it will take closer to 30 or 35 minutes to cook.  Once the rice is done (its tender with just a little bit of bite to it) take it off the heat and stir in the cheddar.  Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.  Top with chopped walnuts and serve immediately.

Fennel and Apple Salad

So we were going to go apple picking this weekend but Hurricane Joaquin had other plans.  Luckily I was still able to get my hands on some good local apples at the super market without all the mud and decided to dedicate this week to all things apple.  I know it’s tempting just to go the pie or apple sauce route if you have a lot of them, but there are so many more ways to use apples.  This week I will walk through 3 totally different recipes that really show the apple’s range.  This first dish is inspired by a terrific tapa at a Spanish restaurant called Jaleo, here in DC.  It’s been on their menu for years and while I haven’t been able to get it 100% perfect, this is pretty close to the real thing.  Raw apple is tossed with raw fennel, salty manchego cheese and nuts to create a great, crunchy fall salad.  Experiment with different ways of cutting the elements of this salad – sometimes I do the apple, fennel and cheese all in baton shapes, sometimes I slice them thinly, and sometimes I do them in different shapes.  The exact same ingredients take on a different personality depending on how you present them, from rustic to sophisticated.  Hope you enjoy apple week!

Fennel and Apple Salad 

  • 1 large head of fennel or 2 small, cored and sliced thinly (some fronds reserved for topping)
  • 1 granny smith apple, cored and sliced thinly
  • 4 ounces manchego cheese, cubed or cut into batons
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup marcona almonds

In a large bowl toss the fennel, apple and manchego together.  In a smaller bowl crease a dressing by whisking together to the sherry vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper.

Toss the veggies with the dressing then spread out the salad on a nice platter.  Sprinkle with the almonds and reserved chopped fennel fronds (the green leafy parts) and serve.

Easy Peasy Brunch Menu

Since this week is the Patriots bye week our Sunday is wide open.  This doesn’t happen too often in the fall – the perfect excuse to throw an impromptu brunch party.  Having people over for brunch is one of my favorite ways to entertain.  It’s pretty inexpensive, there is usually bubbly involved and people can go about their business later in the day.  The key is to have some simple to throw together dishes, that only necessitate a quick run to the store.  Actually you may just have all of this stuff in your pantry already.  For me brunch is about having something salty and something sweet so you don’t have to decide between the two.  Oh and bacon.  Of course bacon.  Add a bubbly drink on top and you will have some very happy friends.

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If it’s nice out doing brunch outdoors is really fun and adds to the festivity of it.  Just because you are outdoors though doesn’t mean should always turn to paper plates and solo cups.  I like to use real linens, footed glasses and sparkly flatware.  I found these amazing gold accented plates at Home Goods that go perfectly with my Izon flatware set from Target.  When the menu is this easy it’s always nice to make extra effort with the presentation.

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Easy Peasy Brunch Menu

Aperol Spritz

This is the easiest pitcher drink you will ever make.  Slice an orange and drop it into a pitcher with some ice.  Top with a whole bottle of Aperol and a whole bottle of bubbly (go ahead and make it with prosecco or cava to save some money).  I like to add about a cup of Lillet Blanc as well, but it’s not necessary.  Done!  This drink is sparkly, citrusy and a little bitter – perfect for cutting through rich food like the frittata and low alcohol enough that you can still run errands after brunch.

Pasta Carbonara Frittata with radicchio and arugula salad

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This frittata is delicious and has all the elements of pasta carbonara.  It is pretty rich (pasta, cream, bacon, eggs…) but the recipe also has a delightful side salad made with bitter greens.  The radicchio and arugula salad tossed with the lemony vinaigrette are the perfect foil to the frittata and side of bacon.  Everything in this menu is about balance and this is the perfect centerpiece.  Prep all the salad ingredients and cook off the pasta before hand so you only have about 10 minutes of actual cooking to do.

Baked Bacon

Baking bacon is so much easier than cooking it in a pan.  You don’t have to doge grease splatters and the bacon comes out nice and crispy and flat.  There was bacon in the frittata but who ever accused a brunch of too much bacon??  Place the bacon on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and cook at 400 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes.  This way you can make trays and trays of bacon at one time if you are doing brunch for a crowd.  If you want to bake this off at the same time as the frittata all the better – go ahead and crank the temperature to 425 as indicated for the frittata, and just start checking on the bacon at the 10 minute mark to make sure you don’t burn it.

Nutty’s French Toast

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This post has to be the one I get the most positive feedback on.  These mini french toasts stuffed with nutella are perfect for this easy brunch.  I made them as a psuedo dessert but you could certainly serve them alongside with the frittata.  Good news is they only take a couple of minutes to make so if you do make them at the end you only have to slip away for a few moments.  When you come back with these babies your friends will be smitten!

Glorious Carnitas

I have said it before and I will say it again – my next door neighbor Ben, is by far and away one of my best customers.  He always likes what I cook, has a huge appetite and likes a wide range of food.  Having him over always gives me an ego boost and usually means I don’t have to find tupperware to hold any leftovers!  However, when I made these carnitas and tested them out on him, I knew they were on a whole other level.  The recipe serves 8 but at the end of the night there was nothing left in the plate…and there were only 3 other people eating besides Ben!  They are indeed the perfect carnitas.  Tender, crispy and juicy, flavorful and not greasy – carnitas nirvana.  I got the methodology from Cook’s Illustrated – braise the meat for a long time, cook down the cooking liquid to a glaze, then toss the meat with the glaze and crisp it up under the broiler.  This method makes these carnitas perfect for making ahead.  Yes, pretty time-consuming but not at all labor intensive and absolutely worth it.  The recipe calls for a 4 pound pork butt (often Boston butt – why people why???) roast.  Unfortunately my local super market has only been selling gargantuan 9 to 10 pound roasts so I had the pleasure of hacking one in half early in the AM so I could get it braising.  Just another joy of cooking!

You can serve these delicious carnitas on their own or as part of a taco filling.  I paired them with rice and beans and as many hot sauces that can fit on our table.  Happy fiesta Friday!

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Carnitas

  • 3 1/2 to 4 pound boneless boston pork butt roast, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 onion, peeled and halved
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 orange, halved

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.  In a large dutch oven place the pork, water, onion, lime juice, oregano, cumin, bay leaves and salt and pepper.  Using a strainer, juice the orange over the mix in the dutch oven, catching the seeds.  Throw in the juiced orange halves for good measure.

Over high heat bring the liquid to a boil, then cover and place it in the oven.  Bake it in the oven for 1 hour, carefully stir the pork around and then bake it for another hour.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the pork and set it aside in a bowl to cool.  Use that same spoon to scoop out the onion, orange halves and bay leaves and trash them.  Place the dutch oven over high heat and cook the liquid over high heat.  Stir it pretty frequently – you want it to reach a glaze like consistency so cook for about 10-12 minutes.  If you over cook it just rehydrate with a little water.

When it’s done turn off the heat and start shredding the meat.  Use two forks, or just your fingers, and break each piece in two or three large pieces.  You don’t want it super shredded, you want bite size chunks.  Stir in the glaze and season it with salt and pepper.  At this point you can let the mixture cool, cover and put it in the fridge for a couple of days (if you do make it in advance take the meat out of the fridge an hour before you want to serve it so it can come to room temperature).  When you are ready to finish the carnitas, heat your broiler.  Line a cookie sheet with tin foil and then place a baking rack over the foil.  Place the glaze covered carnitas on the baking rack and put it in the broiler.  Broil for 5 to 7 minutes, flip the pieces and then broil for 5 to 7 minutes more.

Tapas Party

Make sure you carefully enunciate when you invite folks to this party – speak too quickly and folks will think you are hosting a topless party (yes it happened more than once!).  Themed cocktail parties are really fun to do and so easy, this time I went Spanish.  Sometimes when I am trying to come up with a menu I can get paralyzed by all of the options but if you focus on one cuisine or type of food, not only will your menu be more cohesive but it will be much easier to put it all together.  Patrick had been craving patatas bravas for a while so I decided I would try my hand at making my own aioli and then heck if I am making my own mayo might as well invite some people over, and then well we might as well have a Spanish theme…this is usually how my party snowball starts.  We hosted this on a busy weekend so unlike most cocktail parties, I committed to only making 2 things and purchasing the rest.  A little part of me died doing this, but honestly no one notices, and I didn’t end up looking like the Tasmanian devil right before our friends arrived.

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The key to really fleshing out a cocktail party without a lot of work is of course your best friend – the cheese board.  Unwrap a bunch of cheeses and done.  I also keep a variety of crackers on hand and some accompaniments to compliment the cheese.  To keep with the theme I put out membrillo paste, a Spanish quince jelly type spread that goes well with sheep and goat cheeses.  I got it at Righteous Cheese, an incredible cheese shop in Union Market, but you can find it pretty easily at your local cheese counter.  For the cheese selections you always want to have a mix of soft and hard cheeses, mild and strong, and a mix of cow, sheep and cow.  We of course had a manchego, the king of Spanish cheeses, along with a cabrales blue, an incredible washed rind goat and a cheddar.  No, cheddar is not Spanish but when you host your own party, you make your own rules!  When you do a cheese board make sure to fill in the empty spaces on the board with crackers or grapes so it doesn’t look chintzy.  I used this beautiful board my darling friend Erica had made for me – I have my own merch now!  Also make sure to set out cheese knives that can actually do the job – nothing worse than wanting a nice hunk of a hard cheese just to be greeted by a wimpy little knife.  I have this amazing cheese cleaver from Sabre that we got in Paris, that can really handle any cheese, a great wire cutter thingy also from Righteous Cheese and then I have these  gold bamboo spreaders from Home Goods that I can pair with soft cheese.

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In addition to the cheese board we also had Spanish marcona almonds, sliced chorizo, olives and grapes.  Put them on a footed silver compote or in a lovely bowl and BAM! you have a pretty good spread.  Of course I had to satisfy the patatas bravas craving right?  If you have never had them, they are crispy potatoes sprinkled with smoked paprika, sometimes with a spicy tomato sauce and always with a really garlicy aioli sauce.  To make this classic tapas a little more cocktail party friendly I cooked up some pee wee potatoes and make an aioli with smoked paprika in it to dip them in.  Some recipes I saw had you add garlic and paprika to mayo but making aioli was so easy and MUCH better than anything made with premade mayo.  I used this Food and Wine recipe and it was delicious.

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I had to make sure there was meat on the table so I also made some grilled chicken skewers to dip into my Uncle Bill’s amazing chimichurri sauce (recipe below).  Notice the extra char on the skewers – a good reminder to everyone to soak those sticks but also to watch them on the grill!

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Last but not least was the booze – we did a mix of riojas, albarinos and cava along with beer.  Usually I would have also made a signature cocktail but I was keeping this simple, right?  No, ok confession time – I tried and failed to make sangria popsicles to go with the meal.  Oh well, the night was a success anyway – try a tapas party next time you are looking to mix things up.  Have a great weekend!

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Red Wine Chimichurri

  • 2 cups fresh cilantro
  • 2 cups fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons dry red wine 
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2  jalapeños, roasted and peeled (do this like the rajas)
  • 1 garlic clove

Put all the ingredients in a food processor or blender along with 2 tablespoons of water and puree until smooth.  Season with salt.  This sauce keeps in the fridge for several days and is great with steak or fish as well.

Spiced Nuts

Coming up with a good hostess gift isn’t always so easy.  Sure everyone loves a bottle of wine but some occasions or some hosts really demand more effort.  I like to mix homemade things with store-bought things so going to parties doesn’t turn into a chore.  Spiced nuts are the perfect thing for this as they are super quick to make, as well as a perfect accompaniment to that bottle you lug along.  Best of all the host can whip them out and toss them in a bowl if they run low on supplies or keep them for themselves later.  The key to making a homemade gift like this special, is the wrapping.  They taste just as good from a ziplog baggie but something about a nice cellophane bag and a pretty bow really elevates them.  I have lots and lots (and lots) of different ribbon on hand – I suggest checking out the dollar section at your local craft store or Target and picking up colorful ribbon when it’s super on sale.  As for the bags, ones like these are perfect to have on hand.

These nuts are adapted from the Union Square Cafe, an amazing spot in NYC where Patrick and I had an unbelievable meal.  It’s eponymous cookbook has tons of amazing recipes so you can recreate their meals at home, including their addictive bar nuts.  My friend Ali requests these at every party I have and I always make extra for her to bring home.  I actually just made these for her housewarming party and since today is her birthday I thought it was the right time to post them.  Congrats on the new house Ali and happy birthday!!

Spiced Nuts

  • 2 cups of unsalted mixed nuts (I like cashews, pecans, and walnuts but use whatever you want or have)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Toast nuts on a cookie sheet for 10 minutes, then mix them with the melted butter in a large bowl.  Add the spices and toss.  You can make these ahead of time but not too much – I would say 24 hours.  Eventually the butter makes the nuts a little smooshy and the spices don’t have the same pep.

ACC Travels – Chicago, IL

When Patrick said he was going to take me to Chicago for my birthday I paused for about 3 seconds before I went online and started researching restaurants.  This city has always been a big eating (and drinking) town but recent years have seen a spate of nationally recognized spots opening and thriving.  The minute the plane landed we knew we were somewhere special – the people are incredibly friendly and the city was bursting with colorful flowers everywhere you look.  Perhaps that’s to make up for the 5 months a year its atrocious to live there but at least they have terrific food and drink options to stave off the cold.  The only disappointing meals we had were deep dish pizza and sausages – go figure!  Likely why I usually avoid these tourist dishes (I would never in good conscious recommend someone visiting Boston to get baked beans).  Here are just some of my favorite spots we visited.

Topolobampo – 445 N Clark Street

For me this was a must stop.  Rick Bayless is pretty much the father of Mexican cooking in America.  I have loved watching him talk about his passion for authentic Mexican cooking on TV and I have several of his cookbooks which are just outstanding.  Actually the ONLY jarred salsa I will even consider buying is his Chipolte Salsa (they carry it in most supermarkets so keep a look out).  We basically went directly from the airport to lunch at Topolobampo and what a way to start off the trip.  The list of mezcals and tequila were dizzying but don’t worry if you can’t decide, just get a flight!  They offer a 3 course lunch for only $25 which I am somewhat regretting not doing but we just weren’t hungry enough.  Patrick ordered the Soupa Azteca to start with, and man did he order well.  The broth, poured tableside was like nothing I had ever had before, so rich and layered with flavor.  I had a special appetizer where they cured tomatoes in habaneros.  How does one take a fresh tomato, infuse it with the heat and flavor of one of the hottest peppers around and not lose the flavor of the tomato?  I have no idea but I guess that’s why they pay Rick the big bucks.  Look how beautiful the plate was.

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We both got different quesadillas for our main entrees and they were a far cry from the greasy, overly stuffed and flavorless quesadillas that haunt most bar menus.  Patrick’s had tender braised short ribs, while I went the vegetarian route with squash blossoms and fresh corn.  The service from beginning to end was delightful.  With expectations set super high, this place definitely delivered.  Apologies that I don’t have more photos but I was so taken with the meal and the experience I didn’t really want to ruin it by being “that” person snapping away.  One confusing note – both Topolobampo and the original Frontera Grill also by Bayless share an entrance.  Don’t look like rookies as we did walking around looking for another door!

Berco’s Popcorn – 810 West Armitage Avenue

Owner Matt Bercovitz makes you feel right at home the minute you walk into his gourmet popcorn store.  While sparsely decorated, the focus here is rightly on popcorn which you can order in a variety of flavors.  Matt will let you sample to your heart’s content from flavors like Big Time Butter and Best Carmel Corn Ever.  I know there are more famous popcorn joints in town but we loved the popcorn here and it’s great to support an up and coming young entrepreneur.  They even have a customizable video wall where I got the blog’s first shout out!

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North Pond Restaurant – 2610 North Cannon Drive

This place is special.  Situated on a pond inside Lincoln Park in an arts and crafts building this gem turns out delicious seasonal food to tourists and Chicagoans alike.

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Many suggested it as a brunch spot so that’s what we did and were not disappointed.  It’s a pricey restaurant but the 3 course brunch goes for $34 on Sunday and is worth every penny.  Each plate had just the right amount of food to satisfy but not leave you feeling stuffed.  I also cannot say enough about the wait staff – perfectly trained to be there when you needed something and effortlessly disappear when you didn’t.  The  grilled lamb with squash, shell beans, red onion and grilled apricots was delicious and beautiful.

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They also have a lovely bar with views of the pond so it would be a good place to stop for drinks or dessert if you didn’t want a 3 course brunch.  If you go for the sweets menu I highly recommend the blackberry and peach selection – how pretty is this??

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Parsons Chicken and Fish – 2952 West Armitage Avenue

Fried chicken and negroni slushies??  SOLD!  This charming place is tucked into a pretty residential neighborhood but my research paid off as we looked for a spot to eat after visiting Revolution Brewery (which I highly recommend).  A short walk found us at this retro diner that serves old school classics updated, like pasta salad and pimento toast.  They have a killer back patio and several cocktails served slushy style.

Bub City – 435 North Clark Street

Who knew that some of the best BBQ in the country is found in Chicago?  I am sure many of my Southern friends are howling right now but seriously, this place is beyond delicious.  We stopped in for drinks (the delicious Back Porch Tea with Jack Daniels and sweet tea vodka) and had to return the next night for dinner, the smell was just that good.  Patrick had the fried pickles (no comment) and we shared the chopped brisket and mac and cheese.  I consider myself a mac and cheese snob – I am still creaming about this rich and creamy version.  The brisket was perfectly done and not as greasy as most versions you find.  There is also a pretty vibrant bar scene here and they own a tiki speakeasy around the corner called Three Dots and a Dash that we wanted to try but were honestly way too stuffed to keep going!  What says America more than our stars and stripes depicted in Budweiser cans??

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We had such a great weekend and didn’t even scratch the surface of what the city has to offer.  For non food entertainment I can recommend the Chicago’s First Lady architecture boat tour (how we got the perfect skyline shot featured above) and of course hit Wrigley Park (we caught a no hitter!).  Hard to go wrong in Chicago and I cannot wait to get back there.

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Breakfast for Dinner Party

Happy national waffle day!  I saw this being promoted at Whole Foods last week and wanted to do a post on it.  Oh course I then realized that I make my waffles from a box so not exactly thrilling, artisan stuff.  Then all of a sudden a dinner party menu popped into my head.  Use the waffles as dessert and build a whole menu around breakfast foods.  When I was in college the cook at my sorority house would do breakfast for dinner once a month and it was always the most popular night.  It makes you feel like a kid to eat a stack of waffles for dinner and even better if you can pair it with a mimosa!  For breakfasts and brunches I always try to get a good balance of salty and sweet.  This menu brings all of that and appropriate sophistication so your friends don’t think you sold scrambled eggs as a dinner party.  For the decor I tried to keep it somewhat rustic and simple since breakfast isn’t really the time for fussiness.

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Menu

Everything Bagel Bilinis

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I wanted an appetizer to start the meal that was classic breakfast with a twist.  I spread room temperature marscapone cheese on plain bagel chips and sprinkled with sea salt and everything bagel spice.  You could definitely use cream cheese but I had marscapone on hand and I think it added a richer sophistication to the canape.  I have the Better Than Everything Bagel Seasoning Blend which is great but you could also make you own using poppy seeds, sesame seeds, crushed pepper, and onion and garlic flakes.  I served these with champagne to start the meal.

Food and Wine Custardy Baked Orzo with Spinach Bacon and Feta and Toast with Chive Butter

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 a This dish is the reason why I was able to do this dinner party on a weeknight.  Instead of making eggs, frying up bacon and then trying to get a salad or veggie in there somewhere I threw them all into a casserole.  This delicious recipe from Food and Wine magazine was a hit and the left overs were terrific the next day.  It’s a lot like a frittata but even easier because you don’t have to worry about flipping it.  The addition of greek yogurt I thought odd at first but it really gives the dish a nice tang and helps bind the whole thing together.  I also toasted up some sourdough bread that I had in the freezer and whipped up a quick herb butter to serve along side of it.  Just mash up room temperature butter with any herbs of your choosing, I went with chives here and some sea salt.

Kahlua Waffles with Coffee Gelato

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I have tried making waffles from scratch and cannot tell the difference at all from those that came from a box.  I like Trader Joe’s Buttermilk Pancake Mix but I honestly think any box mix will do.  To class these up I substituted Kahlua for half of the water that the mix calls for.  You can make the batter in advance and just keep it in the fridge until you are ready to make the waffles.  I topped it with coffee gelato, sticking with the breakfast theme, and some dark and milk chocolate balls for texture.  It was a delicious and fun evening with zero stress.  Best of all any leftovers can be eaten the next morning for breakfast of course!

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