Monday, December 5, 2016

Home Alone and Yelp Eat24's top spots for cheese pizza

Pizza at Homeslice (photo credit: GetSomeHomie.com)
It's Christmas time in the city and among the shopping and baking and wrapping and decorating and planning, there's sure to be some viewing of holiday classics. One holiday movie with special ties to the Windy City is Home Alone. Remember little Kevin McAllister, who got left behind in his suburban home as his family got on a plane without him for Christmas? And remember his desire for a lovely cheese pizza? 

Well, to celebrate Kevin and his cheese pizza, the people at  Yelp Eat24 have compiled a list of the top pizza places in Chicago (ranked by star rating). Yelp Eat24 hopes that this list will help you to also enjoy the pizza of your dreams in the comfort of your own home, just like Kevin. And what better way to spend a blistery Chicago evening in December than curled up with pizza and Home Alone on the tube. Seasons Greetings ya' filthy animal!

1.      Pi-Hi Cafe (Roscoe Village)
2.      Forno Rosso Pizzeria Napoletana (Multiple locations)
3.      The StopAlong (Bucktown)
4.      Homeslice (Lincoln Park)
5.      Bongiorno’s Italian Deli & Pizzeria (Near North Side)
6.      Pizzeria Del Mercato (Near West Side, West Loop)
7.      Si-Pie Pizzeria (Lakeview)
8.      Mama Milano’s Pizza Bar (Near North Side, Old Town)
9.      West Town Pizza Shop (Humboldt Park, West Town)

Cajeta de Celaya

Just doing some cleaning of the photo files on my computer and came across this delicious photo. Last fall we were visiting with friends and one had been on a recent trip to Mexico where he brought back some goodies and passed on this jar of Cajeta de Celaya that he  brought back.

When I looked it up, it was described as "sweetened, carmalised goat's milk." It's so creamy and delicious. He said he often puts it on toast. I drizzled some (well, ok it was more than a little drizzle - more like poured) over vanilla ice cream and it was a delicious topping! If you ever come across it in a Mexican grocery, it is definitely worth a try! Or if you know someone traveling there, this is a great foodie souvenir!


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Taste of Care

The last two years I have been invited in the fall to be a judge at a wonderful cooking competition and charity event called Taste of Care. The event is sponsored by Prompt Ambulance and features appetizers, entrees and desserts from chefs who work at the area assisted living and nursing homes. It's so fun to see them show off their skills and also creative talents in decorating themed booths at the event.

The event is open to the public and ticket proceeds benefit Honor Flight Chicago, one of my very favorite worthy causes. Honor Flight Chicago is one of many branches the organization has around the country of flying World War II vets (and as of recently Korean War vets, also) to Washington D.C. to see the monuments standing in their honor and some of the other historic sites around our nation's capital. What makes it really, really special is that each time there is a flight, crowds gather back at Midway Airport to greet them for a welcome home. Bands play music, families hold posters and photos of their vets during the war, cadet groups and military newbies stand saluting, strangers line up holding flags and wearing patriotic colors. It is so heartwarming to be there for one of these welcome home events. If you haven't been to one, it's something everyone should do once - and it's a great thing for young kids to see and be a part of. So, that's where the money goes that is raised at this event. I have such respect for those who serve our country and love to support our vets, the Greatest Generation ones, in particular in any way I can. I love it that this event honors and supports vets and you always see several in attendance. Now, back to the food....

At this year's event there were four appetizer entries, four entrees and seven desserts. I am blown away by some of these samples that are often of such superior taste and quality that you'd think you were in a fine dining setting in a downtown restaurant.

Along with the other panel of judges, we selected the following as winners:

St. Mary's/Hartsfield for Best Appetizer for their Surf and Turf Tapas

Spring Mill for Best Entree with Braised Short Ribs

Brookdale Merrillville with Banana Tiramisu

Take a peek through some of these delicious photos and follow along at TasteofCare.net and subscribe to the mailing list to get updates on next year's event. The event was introduced by Prompt in 2009 and across Northern Indiana tens of thousands of dollars have been raised for charity through this fun event. Tickets were priced at just $10 and you got to sample each of the entries, watch a performance of the Lake Co. Pipes and Drums and get in on raffles for some great donated prize packages.


Bohemian Joe's Evil Horse Beer Dinner

I recently spotted something in my inbox about a beer dinner that was very close to home at an eatery I really love that opened earlier this year. It's hip and casual and the food is trendy, seasonal, creative. Just a fun place for a bite to eat with a cool vibe. It's called Bohemian Joe's. I was really excited that they'd be hosting me to visit and check it out.

It turned out it was their third beer dinner so far and the brewery that brought in all the beers for pairing (Evil Horse Brewing in Crete) was also fairly new, but one I had been introduced to a couple months ago at the first annual Homewood Hop Fest. I tried so many beverages that day that I couldn't recall a specific brew, but I remembered their name and remembered that I liked what I tried, so I was anxious to see what the chef came up with to go along with their beers. And I loved that they even took it a step beyond the "pairing." The foods were specially selected to match up with the beers, but three of the four courses also used the beers in the cooking the dishes, even the dessert - and the results were absolutely divine!


Course One: Squash & Apple Bruschetta
As we arrived, we had a pint of Trot Hopple India Pale Ale (6.7%ABV) with a really kick-ass fall cheese spread. I could have snacked on this platter and sipped on this ale and gone home a happy camper if it stopped right there. The mixture of gourmet cheese and fall fruits with sausage, crackers, nuts and pepitas were as satisfying as they were visually appealing. Really, I am still thinking about the smoked gouda and brie...just so good. And as Brewmaster Steve Kamp explained, even though people often relate cheese with wine, the spiciness of the IPA compliments the cheese well and in his opinion pairs better than wine.

In chatting with Kamp, we learned a little about the brewery and I can't wait to go check it out. Located in Crete, it is in a historic building that housed a bowling alley. They even repurposed part of the wooden alley when making the bar top. The brewery doesn't serve food, but you're welcome to bring in your own goodies or order food from the restaurant upstairs. Kemp's been home brewing since 1983 and was a wealth of brew-filled knowledge. We had a small group for our dinner that night and ended up seated with Kemp and enjoyed picking his brain and hearing his stories.

Course Two: Gokuduo Chowder

So, although I was nearly full from the welcome spread, I marched on into course one, which was a squash and & apple bruschetta beside a mixed olive tapenade along with Charging Bull Weizenbock (7.1% ABV), described as a strong version of an unfiltered Weissbier or Hefeweizen. 

The second course was a delicious, creamy chowder of not just clams, but cod and tilapia as well, along with bacon and Gokudo Black IPA (7.6 ABV). This unique brew was on the bitter, heavy side and was a great match for the chowder.

Course Three: Knightmare Short Ribs

Course #3 was made with Knightmare Scotch Ale (7.0% ABV). The tender short ribs were braised in the ale and served with a veggie kabob, pineapple slice and cauliflower puree. The ribs were delicious and the fresh pineapple was an awesome accompaniment, washed down well with the red ale, which was sweet and soft on the hoppiness. I give a definite A+ to Chef Corina on the creative pairings.

Evil Horse Brewing Co. Brewmaster Steve Kemp
Really unable to eat or sip any more at this point, I trudged through and took one for the team and had a taste of the amazing chocolate pudding cake with chilled ganache that was made using Paxon the Ponyless English Porter (5.7% ABV). I'm always amazed and how delicious stouts and porters are with desserts. This one went so well both in the recipe and in a glass along with it. 

Course Four: Paxon Pudding Cake

The dinner itself was super enjoyable, the beers were all impressive and the company was great. At just $45 (only $40 if you order tickets online at least a week in advance), it is a definite bargain of a dinner - we enjoyed the cheese/meat/nut/fruit tray with a pint, four more courses with beers and then a little additional sipping at the end of our favorites of the night. If you're not a beer drinker, but just want to enjoy the food, it's only $22.50 for a designated driver ticket. If you have a big craft beer drinker on your Christmas list, tickets to one of their upcoming beer dinners would make an AWESOME gift! In January, they'll be featuring Lagunitas beers and for February, a favorite Indiana brewery of ours, 18th Street, will be there.

For tickets to the upcoming beer dinners, January 19 and February 16, you can purchase tickets in advance HERE. And pencil in the third Thursday of the month on your calendar for the rest of the year as they plan to continue them monthly. For more info on Bohemian Joe's, visit BoJoes.com. If you're not from the south burbs, don't worry - it's conveniently located just a couple blocks south of the Torrence exit off of I-80/94 (last exit in Illinois before hitting the Indiana line.) And it's totally worth a drive to enjoy one of the beer dinners - whether you're a craft beer aficionado, a foodie or both. :) If you can't attend the beer dinners, keep an eye on their Facebook page for their specials, which change weekly and get in and give them a try.

Bohemian Joe's
17940 Torrence Ave.
Lansing, IL
(708) 872-4700
BoJoes.com






Saturday, December 3, 2016

Capri Pizza

I've been in a bit of a pizza funk lately. Some of my favorite local spots have closed or moved and the long-time ones that are left just haven't been doing it for me lately. A couple friends had recommended Capri's, originally in Chicago, when it opened a spot in Schererville. I finally had a chance to give it a try and it gets a pretty big thumbs up. 


Friday, December 2, 2016

They said "I Do" at the Zoo (and the food was really good, too!)

So, the first of all my nephews (there's 11 of them), James, got married recently and I just had to share some pics of the meal. His lovely bride, Courtney, had her heart set on getting married at the zoo and she had been planning it for a LONG time. It was adorable. The photos just came in this week and there are awwww-inspiring shots of them in the penguin habitat, with giraffes as a backdrop, in front of the dolphin tank, with a peacock casually strolling by as they stood in front of the fountain. She was absolutely stunning and he was Prince-Charming-handsome in his military dress blues (he's a Army reservist and recently became a full-time police officer - I'm uber proud of him!)

When we sat down to eat, I was really wowed by the meal. Sometimes with unique/exotic wedding destinations there isn't as much focus on the food as there should be - the atmosphere is kind of the central focus and the meal is a mere formality. Not at Brookfield Zoo. The meal was one that made this foodie a bit giddy inside.

It started with a lovely pastry-covered French onion soup and an upscale salad with a delicious vinaigrette. The entree choices included a filet, stuffed chicken and a vegetarian entree (I believe it was some kind of ravioli, but no one at our table ordered it, so no pics of it.) Our whole family (hubby and I with our five sons) attended the wedding and the boys are all meat eaters. Go figure!

I ordered the filet, which was perfectly seared and cooked to a nice medium with a dab of garlicky sauce on top, served with whipped mashed potatoes and sautéed veggies. And the presentation was beautiful and impressive - isn't that carved zucchini the cutest? It all tasted as good as it looked. (Oh and behind the dinner plate is a cute box of animal crackers that was placed at each setting as a favor to go with the animal/zoo theme ~ a clever, creative touch.)



A couple of the boys had the chicken entree, which was also very, very good. Of course, I made them share a bite. The creamy sauce was sooooo good (like where if no one was watching you'd totally lick the plate!)



The cake was an amazing work of art adorned with, of course, animal scenes. It was a marble variety and very delicious!

The wedding was beautiful and they were surrounded by so many family members and friends (my husband's aunt even flew in from Germany to be there.) It was a bit drizzly that day and the outdoor ceremony in front of the fountain got underway and then had to be relocated inside where they exchanged vows with dolphins swimming in front of them. They couldn't have been happier. I love watching my nephew around her - he is so totally smitten and it's so lovely to see. I wish them many years of happiness ahead and hope that they always look at each other like they did on that memorable day!




Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Grand Opening of remodeled Fannie May flagship store tomorrow

Chicago's favorite chocolate company, Fannie May, recently unveiled a newly remodeled concept for its flagship retail store at the corner of Michigan Ave. & Wacker Dr., which will provide expanded opportunities for guests to experience the beloved Chicago brand.

As part of the new concept, Fannie May is introducing “The Café at Fannie May,” which will serve exclusive desserts inspired by the many classic candy flavors and Fannie May iconic flavored coffees, including Pixies and Vanilla Buttercream. Ice cream, including milk shakes, cones and sundaes, and chocolate covered strawberries will also be available at the flagship retail store. 

The remodeled store also features new design elements illustrating the company's 95+ year connection to Chicago and pays tribute to the strong Chicago architectural heritage.

Tomorrow is the store's Grand Opening and to celebrate, they'll be giving free Advent Calendars to the first 50 customers with their purchase. The store opens at 8 a.m.

La Voute Bistro and Bar hosts beer pairing dinner tonight


One of my very favorite eateries in Chicagoland is hosting a very fun and delicious event this evening. A five course dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. featuring Goose Island beers. You'll be greeted with a reception before dinner seating.

If you have never been to this amazing place, it's a great time to get there and sample some of their fabulous menu items and try them out with specially selected complimentary brews. Check out my previous posts on La Voute here and here. The restaurant is situated in a beautiful boutique hotel in downtown Homewood, La Banque. Get a peek at the hotel here.

Here's the lineup for tonight's Goose Island beer pairing dinner:

1st Course
Chestnut and Celery Soup served Matilda, a Belgian-style pale ale

2nd Course
Bacon wrapped scallops with creamy rosemary polenta and balsamic glaze served with Goose winter Ale, a brown ale

3rd Course
Homemade sage meatloaf with cornbread and endive salad served with Four Star Pils, a golden-hued pilsner

4th Course
Laura Chenel fresh goat cheese with apple cider jelly served with Sophie, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale

5th Course
Desserts to be determined, served with Gilliam, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale

Dinner is $45 per person. Seating is limited. Make a reservation by calling (708) 798-6000.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Corner Bakery Cafe introduces Choose Any Two menu


Last month Corner Bakery Cafe announced the launch of its new Choose Any Two menu offerings.  Guests can create their own perfect lunch or dinner by selecting two of their favorite menu items. 

I'm a huge fan of such combos. I have such a hard time deciding on what to eat and this way it's a little easier - I don't have two pick one, I can try smaller portions of two. Not only can you get a cup of soup or a salad with a sandwich, you can also choose from a warm, comforting pasta (who doesn't love of steamy bowl of gooey mac and cheese this time of year?) And when you get a salad as your match-up, it's not a sad side salad of just lettuce and a lonely slice of tomato or cucumber - it's a nice, generous salad loaded with veggies. You can also play chef and put together some scrumptious pairings.

Choose Any Two menu items include:

  • Half Sandwich or Half Panini; like the guest favorites Chicken Pesto Sandwich or Chicken Pomodori Panini
  • One Grilled Flat; select from four flavorful varieties
  • Cafe Handcrafted Pasta; with options ranging from Pesto Cavatappi to Mac & Three Cheese
  • Cafe Fresh Salad; like the Chopped Salad, all made with only the freshest ingredients
  • Cup of Soup; homemade and slow-simmered soups 
For less than $9, it makes for a perfect meal that will fill you up and make you smile! There are several locations in and around the city, including at the Willis Tower and Union Station as well as Hinsdale, La Grange, Schaumburg and other suburbs. For more info, visit cornerbakerycafe.com.

Vegas Cafe

My dad is often my lunch buddy and he'll come along with me when there's a new restaurant I want to try out or if I just have a taste for something specific from a local place. He's planning a move soon from Northwest Indiana to Central Illinois, so we're trying to plan some more lunch dates at some favorite spots and hitting a few new ones. He sent me a text one night that said, "Things are moving quickly. With that in mind, I'm free for lunch EVERY DAY." :) So, for the past week, we have eaten together every single day. It's been fun - although I'm afraid to step on the scale.

One of the places we visited this past week was Vegas Cafe in Schererville, Indiana. I'd come across it on Facebook and the photos of the food looked pretty delicious, so we thought we'd head over to try it out.

It faces busy Indianapolis Blvd, but is set back just a little bit in a long strip of businesses - but the adjoining businesses look to be offices that are closed in the evening. We went there on a weekday night and it was empty. But we really enjoyed our visit and our meal, so I hope more people discover this new spot and pay them a visit.

The place has a fun Las Vegas theme - with casino-ish decor, video of Vegas playing on a big screen and huge portions. The menu includes sandwiches (many of them open-faced) and wraps, salads and a big list of coffee and other hot drinks. Somehow I missed that last part when I was there and some of these hot chocolate drinks sounds really tasty, so I'll have to pass by Starbuck's next time I'm out that way and slip in there for a warm, cozy drink. It's a small cute and cozy casual place where you order at the counter and they bring your order out to you. Of course, I spotted a few Elvis items on the walls. He's my favorite. :)


They also run daily specials and when we were there Dad decided he wanted to try out the lasagna special. It was about $10 and came with a salad. The lasagna was really delicious - I was very impressed. It was seriously as good as I've gotten in some nice fine Italian establishments. And I loved the little garlic toasts that accompanied it. The side salad was also quite yummy with lots of veggies, shredded cheese, croutons and olives.

.

I opted for a burger, but really wished I would have gotten the lasagna - It was such a huge portion that dad just cut it in half and we shared it. And then still had some leftover. They also have a case with some really delectable desserts. I had a very hard time selecting one to go (absolutely no room left for dessert after the huge portions), but I finally decided on a chocolate cake dessert to go. I ended up sharing it with two of my kids when I got home. All three of us had a nice sized and satisfying serving.

Like I said, I hope more people find this place as it's set off the road just enough to not easily spot it or forget that it's there. I hope they thrive in that spot and many more stop in for a taste of Vegas.

Just a few things off the menu:

The Bellagio: Roast beef, bacon, lettuce, thousand island and provolone sandwich

The Roulette: Bratwurst, roasted peppers and onions, the signature Vegas sauce and provolone sandwich

The Mirage: Ham, bacon, mayo, boiled eggs and lettuce, balsamic vinegar and provolone sandwich

The Palazzo: Salad of chicken, ham, tomato, olives, provolone, boiled eggs and choice of dressing with croutons.

Teasers Place Wrap: Baked chicken, lettuce, tomato, signature Vegas sauce, parmesan and croutons




Vegas Cafe
800 Cedar Parkway
Schererville, IN 
219-322-6601
vegas-cafe.com