Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Summer veggie soup

While soup isn't typically a summer food, I love to make vegetable soup in the summer and use some of the fresh vegetables I pick from our garden or pick up at the Farmer's Market. This one combined some fresh vegetables with some canned just because it's what I had on hand.

3 beef bouillon cubes
3 chicken bouillon cubes
12 cups water
2 stalks celery
3 roma tomatoes
handful of grape tomatoes
1 zucchini
1/2 yellow onion
1 green bell pepper
1 can carrots
1 small can lima beans
1/2 cans peas
1 can potatoes
Seasoned with dried oregano, basil, thyme, pepper, garlic salt

Add bouillon cubes to water and add diced, fresh vegetables and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes. Add canned vegetables. Simmer for another 10 minutes.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Farmhouse Restaurant at Fair Oaks Farms

As we were heading to Remington, Indiana for a family camping trip, we sought out a place for lunch. Well, once you get south of Route 30, there's not a lot of options. When we travel down I-65, we often stop for a meal or just ice cream at the cafe at Fair Oaks Farms. They have great sandwiches, which I always wash down with their chocolate milk. They also have some amazing cheeses. Knowing that Fair Oaks Farms was coming up soon, we decided we'd stop there for a sandwich or salad.

As we pulled in, my son mentioned that when he had gone to camp last month in southern Indiana he saw a sign that the new restaurant was open. So, we drove down to the other end of the parking lot to the new Farmhouse Restaurant to check it out.

I loved it as soon as I walked in - a wine cellar on the right and an elegant, yet homey country feel. The best of both worlds. It was like being in an upscale urban restaurant that focuses on farm-fresh ingredients, except that when you walk outside you really are on a farm in the middle of the country. 

I was very impressed when I scanned the menu. A Cured Meat & Artisan Cheese Board with bread crisp and jam. A farmhouse salad of field greens, cucumber, tomato and goat cheese. Slow cooked country short ribs with garlic potato mash and red wine gravy.

However, I saw my favorite down-home country on-the-road meal - country fried steak - and it had been forever since I'd had it, so I had to order it. I usually ordered it on road trips if we stop at a Cracker Barrel, but this beat out Cracker Barrel by miles. It was served with mashed potatoes - just the way I like them, with chunks of skin included and some wonderfully seasoned crunchy green beans.

One of the boys ordered a hamburger off the kid menu and that burger was almost as big as his head. A very generous portion that he actually split with his brother who didn't want to spoil his appetite for the Fair Oaks Farms ice cream and declined to order a meal.

There was an impressive beer, wine and craft cocktail menu that was awesomely unexpected - as I mentioned, we were out in the country. Who knew you would get this kind of selection? Who would think you could sit down in the middle of cornfields and be able to order a Goose Island, bells or 3 Floyds pint on tap? I love that we now have an option for an upscale meal while traveling on I-65 between Chicago and Indianapolis. While I love the cafe, it's a noisy and bustling place to grab a quick bite whereas the Farmhouse is quiet and laid back and a much more relaxing place to enjoy a meal if you have the time.

So, to accompany his meal, my husband ordered a 3 Floyds Zombie Dust. Now, my apologies to all the faithful 3 Floyds fanatics (and I know there are many - I've been stuck in traffic around Calumet Avenue on Dark Lord Day), but I just don't get their beer.

I love the brewery location. I love the menu (OMG - best Scotch eggs ever!) But I just haven't found one of their beers that I really like. I do really enjoy craft beers, but I prefer those on the milder side. I've been told that Zombie Dust is the least hoppy variety and yet I still feel like I'm drinking a liquified Christmas tree if that makes sense. It's got a pine taste that is definitely distinct and that I haven't tasted in any other beers I've tried. So, anyway, I tried out the Zombie Dust and while I think it is milder than other 3 Floyds beers I've tried, I would enjoy something like a Bells Oberon much better with the massive Reuben that my husband had ordered.

I've ordered the Reuben many times at the cafe at Fair Oaks Farms and it is fantastic, but the Farmhouse version takes it to a whole other level. Thicker bread and meat piled super high. Our server told us that they use a half pound of corned beef on each sandwich. He and my 11-year-old (who has the biggest appetite in the family) split it and neither of them could finish their half.

The restaurant definitely fills a void for travelers and foodies who often have had to settle for fast food or gas station grub because there were no other options for a long, long stretch of I-65. You can find a really good meal if you can hold out 'til you hit Indy or you'll find something decent if you venture off the expressway for a few miles to seek one out - but when you are on the road there's often not time to do so. The Farmhouse offers a hearty gourmet meal where you wouldn't expect to find one and it's just a few yards off the expressway exit.

And if you do have extra time when you stop to eat, take in the dairy or pig adventures. It's a cool way to learn more about farming and agriculture and where food comes from. The pig adventure was added last year and the Farmhouse opened July 5. A staff member also mentioned to me that there are plans to add a hotel and water park in the near future, which I'm really excited about.

Oh, and one last thing worth a mention. As I was waiting for our food to arrive, I hopped on Twitter to search out a little more on the restaurant and found a post from a gentleman stating that the Farmhouse had the "Best. Bathroom. Ever." with a photo of comic book covers. So, I had to send my men in to give me a report. And then I had to check out the women's bathroom to see how it compared. It seems the female's restroom isn't quite as cool, but it has some cute country decor with painted plates. I hear the guys have hot wheels on the walls, though. Maybe I've been around males for too long, but I'd say comic books and Hot Wheels cars are cooler than painted plates. But don't worry, I didn't sneak in for a peek.

Fair Oaks Farms Farmhouse Restaurant
856 N 600 E
Fair Oaks, IN 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Four Chicagoland contestants are among 100 finalists in Pillsbury Bake-Off

Among the 100 finalists announced last week in the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest were four from the Chicago area. These four home cooks finalists will head to Nashville in November for the 47th PillsburyBake-Off® Contest to compete for the $1 million dollar grand prize. The grand prize will be awarded at the Omni Nashville on November 3rd. 

Finalists created dishes in one of four categories - Simply Sweet Treats, Savory Snacks and Sides, Weekend Breakfast Wows and Amazing Doable Dinners.

We're rooting for these four Chicago girls!

·         Elizabeth Albert – Highland Park, IL: Cinnamon Roll-Pear Bread Pudding, Weekend Breakfast Wows
·         Arlene Erlbach – Morton Grove, IL: Sweet and Salty Chocolate Chip-Maple-Peanut Bars, Simply Sweet Treats
·         Rebecca Farias-Insco – Bartlett, IL: Brussels Sprouts-Reuben Flatbread, Savory Snacks & Sides
·         Marie Sheppard – Chicago, IL: Lemon-Broccoli Risotto Rounds, Savory Snacks & Sides
Try out some of the finalists' Bake-Off Contest recipes by visiting www.BakeOff.com.

Friday, August 15, 2014

From the inbox: Nachtmann Norman Libation Cocktail from the Langham Hotel

Who doesn't love relaxing on a summer day with a refreshing cocktail? Travelle at the Langham Hotel has a new craft cocktail that will have you chilllin' on a tropical island with one sip. Here's more on the drink and the recipe:

Crafted by Bartender Vlachelav Borlov exclusively for Travelle, known for its table-side custom cocktail service, the Nachtmann Norman Libation balances fruity, floral flavors of lemon, apple, and sweet elderflower with the brandy’s spicy notes, and will be served in Nachtmann’s Sculpture Tumbler. Borlov’s inspiration for the cocktail’s flavors came from the bright fruits and flowers of summer and the regal and icy appeal of the cut-crystal Nachtmann Sculpture rocks glass, which called for elegant liquors.” Exclusively offered at Travelle at The Langham Chicago beginning Thursday, August 14th, the Nachtmann Norman Libation is the perfect way to help take the edge off the August heat and embrace the tastes of summer before season’s end. ($16; or $30 for cocktail and Nachtmann Sculpture Tumbler).

The Nachtmann Norman Libation
Glassware: Nachtmann Sculpture Tumbler
Garnish:  Lemon peel on top
1 oz Calvados VSOP
½ oz St. Germain
½ oz Cocchi Americano
¼ Green Chartreuse
Splash of lemon juice
Spray of Laphroaig Scotch 10 Year

Directions: Chill Nachtmann Sculpture Tumbler in freezer. In shaker, combine Calvados VSOP, St. Germain, Cocchi Americano, Green Chartreuse, and lemon juice. Shake and strain onto 2-3 large ice cubes in the Nachtmann Sculpture Tumbler. Finish with a mist of Laphroaig 10 year Scotch on top.

Dilled egg salad

With a big, beautiful bunch of fresh dill I had picked up at the farmer's market, I planned on making some egg salad. Not only do I love the smell and taste of fresh dill, but it also adds a nice, bright splash of color to an otherwise bland looking dish.

6 boiled eggs, peeled and diced
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I love the variety with olive oil)
1/2 diced yellow or white onion
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp. chopped fresh dill

If you like a little bit of crunch, add some diced celery or pickles.

I like mine served on toasted white bread. Such a simple meal, but delicious!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

One Pot Wonder

I've been seeing so many one-pot pasta dishes floating around the Internet lately, I thought I would try making one of my own. I had some fresh tomatoes, peppers and red and green basil from the garden combined with some onions and mushrooms from the farmer's market.

I did lots of chopping and threw it all in with my pasta and it was pretty easy. Here's what I put in mine:

4 cups water
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 beef bouillon cube
4 plum tomatoes, diced
handful or two of grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup of raw spinach
1/4 cup vidallia onion
1/4 cup red onion
2 stalks green onion
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 handful fresh red and green basil
1 can tomatoes
2 tsp. minced garlic
dried oregano
freshly ground pepper and sea salt to taste
1 pound angel hair pasta

Everything went into one pot until it boiled. Heat got turned down to a simmer for a few more minutes until all the vegetables had softened to al dente. :)

I served it up with some grilled chicken tenderloins left over from the night before and some focaccia bread I picked up at the farmer's market.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

MasterChef holding open casting calls in Chicago this fall

Think you've got what it takes to hack a grueling season on the cooking competition MasterChef? They  are started open casting calls soon in a number of cities and Chicago is one of them. They'll be hitting Hotel Allegro on Randolph in October. Read on for the full schedule:

MasterChef Season 6 Open Calls
Casting Calls are coming soon to a city near you. Come and meet the MasterChef Casting Team for your chance to be on the show. Please visit www.masterchefcasting.com to pre-register to secure your place in line. 
You MUST bring one prepared dish to be served to our food judges.  
You will be given 3 minutes to plate your dish at the casting call location, but there will NOT be a kitchen to cook or warm your dish up so come prepared! 

San Diego - Saturday, September 13th
The Westin, 400 W Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101
10am - 6pm

San Francisco - Saturday, September 13th 
Prescott Hotel, 545 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94102
10am - 6pm

San Antonio - Saturday, September 20th
Embassy Suites Riverwalk, 125 E Houston St. San Antonio, TX 78205
10am - 6pm

Cleveland - Saturday, September 20th
Doubletree Downtown, 111 Lakeside Ave E Cleveland, OH 44114
10am - 6pm 

Atlanta - Saturday, September 27th
Location - TBD

New Orleans - Saturday, September 27th 
Location - TBD

Miami - Saturday, October 4th
Location - JW Marriott Marquis, 255 Biscayne Blvd. Way Miama, FL 33131

New York City - Saturday, October 4th
Location - TBD

Chicago- Saturday, October 11th 
Location - Hotel Allegro, 171 W Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60601

Memphis - Saturday, October 11th 
Location - TBD

Los Angeles - Saturday, October 18th and 19th 
Location - TBD

* Cities are subject to change at Producer’s sole discretion 

Florentine lunch menu highlights tomatoes

An announcement from the inbox - running until September 1st is a fabulous lunch menu at the Florentine that celebrates the wonderful tomato, which is is beautiful ripe abundance in gardens all over the Midwest right now.



The Florentine


is excited to announce the restaurant will be celebrating tomatoes throughout the month of August with a special three-course Degustazione di Pomodoro (tomato tasting) menu ($27). Located in the heart of the loop, The Florentine is a popular spot for business lunchers hungry for seasonal Italian cuisine. From August 11 through September 1, guests will be able to feast on Executive Chef Chris Macchia’s tomato-filled menu including: 

Buffalo Mozzarella, green zebra brodo, lump crab

Ricotta Ravioli, heirloom cherry tomato ragu, marjoram

Brandywine Tomato Cobbler, olive oil gelato, basil zabaglione


Lunch reservations are recommended. Please call (312) 660-8866.


The Florentine
151 W. Adams St.


August 11 – September 1
11am – 2:30pm

Tacos and Burritos Rancho Grande in Lansing

When I am in the mood for Mexican, I often head for Tacos and Burritos Rancho Grande on Ridge Road in Lansing. I've been there often with my very dear friend, Michelle. Read about some of our past visits here and here and here.

This most recent dinner was super special for two reasons. For one, Michelle treated me to dinner since it was a day after my birthday. And she spoiled me with a gift of scented soaps and Godiva chocolates. She knows me so well.

The other reason for our meeting is that…I'm so excited about it…we are doing a children's book together and we were meeting for a final look at the manuscript and illustrations. Michelle is very artistic and talented. When I told her I had this children's story I was going to submit to a publisher, she said she'd like to do illustrations and I am so happy to be working with her. Her drawings are amazing and I can't wait to see our book in print. It's a little rhyming story about nocturnal animals.

We became friends on the first day of kindergarten for our boys - both our second born. They are now sophomores in high school. We just clicked instantly and have been great friends ever since.

So, back to the food. I love the guacamole. I also don't think I've mentioned it in the blog in the past, but they do have great tamales, too. :)

Here's my platter from my most recent visit with Michelle. I got a combo platter with a pork taco, a beef enchilada and a quesadilla - I asked them to add spinach like I always do. :) It's served with a side of refried beans and rice.

Michelle got tamales. I don't remember if they have them every day or just on weekends to buy by the dozen, but if you're ever in there and have an opportunity to buy a dozen, do it. They are wonderful!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

From the Inbox: Celebrate Pastoral's 10th Anniversary on Sunday

From the inbox this week, details of a fun and yummy celebration as Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine turns 10!

Pastoral® Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine Celebrates
Ten Years in Chicago with an Anniversary Party on Sunday, August 17, 2014 

Pastoral hosts a FREE anniversary celebration at the original 2945 North Broadway shop, filled with food, fun, a bubbly toast, raffles, live bluegrass music, cash bar and of course - lots and lots of cheese -
to celebrate ten years in Chicago 


Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine celebrates ten years in Chicago, and everyone is invited to a free anniversary party at the original 2945 North Broadway shop on Sunday, August 17, 2014, from 1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Pastoral will serve house-made pizzas with some of the Pastoral cheesemongers' favorite small batch and specialty cheeses, Pastoral's very own blue cheese popcorn made with Rogue Creamery blue cheese, a bubbly toast, cheese & accompaniment tastings, raffles, live bluegrass music by Indignation Jones, cash bar and a house-made cheesecake for dessert prepared by Chef Brooks Hart at Bar Pastoral. $10 deals are also offered at all store locations throughout the month, including a special limited time sandwich and commemorative Pastoral 10th Anniversary t-shirts that are available online and in-stores.
In 2004, Pastoral opened its doors in Lakeview with a mission to provide Chicago with the highest level of service and education for customers, striving to make shopping for and consuming small batch and specialty goods enlightening, approachable, fun and delicious. National award-winning Pastoral has since grown to include three shops in Chicago, an online store that ships nationwide, the cheese & wine bistro Bar Pastoral located adjacent and connected to the original Pastoral location, plus a successful catering and wholesale business that serves restaurants throughout Chicagoland.

As a thank you to the community of customers, neighbors, businesses and friends that Pastoral has had the pleasure of serving over the past decade, the Pastoral team is throwing a party and everyone is invited! 


Sunday, August 17, 2014
1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.


Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine
2945-47 North Broadway
Chicago, Illinois  60657