Monday, December 15, 2014

Chicago Restaurant Week includes Odyssey dinner cruise

This press release was in the inbox today and I instantly got a little giddy that Chicago Restaurant week is coming soon. It's a wonderful way to sample the best food in the city at much lower prices than usual. Take a look at the line-up for this fun dinner cruise on Lake Michigan.


CHICAGO, IL (Dec. 15, 2014) - Odyssey brings Chicagoans a unique experience during this year's restaurant week. Aboard the comfortable climate-controlled decks of Odyssey, guests will dine on an exclusive Chicago Restaurant Week menu developed by Chef Leonel Martinez. "It's an honor to be participating in Chicago Restaurant Week. This event gives our team the opportunity to showcase our culinary expertise to a larger audience, and we can't wait to see what the guests think," says Martinez. 

Cruisers will set sail and start the evening off with a champagne cocktail to toast the fabulous night ahead. The customized Restaurant Week menu begins with a Mixed Greens Salad garnished with goat cheese, seasonal fruit and sugared pecans. Main course options include a choice of Roasted Chicken, Odyssey Short Ribs, Vegetable Napoleon and the Maple Glazed Pork Tenderloin that will be featured at First Bites BashDinner ends on a sweet note with a selection of Mini Pastry Cups, Cakes, Pastries and Seasonal Fruit.

Restaurant week participants can choose from two voyages on Saturday, January 31 or Saturday, February 7. This experience will be unlike any other Chicago Restaurant Week venue with live music, gracious service and stunning views of the city skyline from Lake Michigan. 

Complete menus, photos and further details are available upon request. 

Dates Available: Saturday 1/31 & 2/7
Board 6 p.m., Cruise 7-10 p.m. 
Price: $34.39 (tax, gratuity and beverages not included)

Reservations are required. Includes meal, cruise, entertainment and skyline views. Call 888.957.2634 or visit Odyssey's Website

General Information
Odyssey Cruises, Spirit of Chicago, Mystic Blue CruisesSeadog Cruises and Chicago Elite Cruises are part of Chicago-based Entertainment Cruises.

The Spirit of Chicago, Seadog, and The Odyssey received the Trip Advisor 2014 Excellence Award

The Odyssey received Illinois Meetings + Events magazine's 2013 readers' choice Best of Award.

The Spirit of Chicago and The Odyssey received a 2014 Editor's Choice for Best in Boats from Chicago Traveler.

Entertainment Cruises' fleet was voted as a "Best of Knot Weddings" for 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The Spirit of Chicago received Chicago Parent's Best Places to Flirt in the Best Places for Chicago Parents in 2013.

Seadog Cruises received top ratings and a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor in 2012 and 2013. 

Odyssey was named the "Best Cruise Line in Chicago" by Destination Guide in 2012. 

Seadog Extreme was awarded the "Best Kid-Friendly Thrill" by Time Out Chicago KIDS in 2012.

Entertainment Cruises received the Silver Award from NTA's Courier Magazine in the "Favorite Sightseeing Cruise Line" category in 2012. 

Odyssey was named a 2012 Top Rated Restaurant & received a certificate of recognition from

Odyssey was recognized for having a 4 out of 5 stars from Yelp & received the "People Love Us" award in 2012.

The Odyssey was named the Best of Boats/Charters/Cruises by the Illinois Meetings + Events Magazine in 2011 and 2012.

Odyssey was named a "Concierge Favorite" by Concierge Preferred in 2011. 

About The Chicago Elite
The Elite is Chicago's most innovative dining and entertainment experience. The private charter yacht is available as a private event space for parties of up to 150 guests. Featuring two interior salons, an expansive bar and lounge on main deck and a finely appointed dining room on second deck. Top deck features a contemporary roof top style outside lounge with unparalleled waterfront views of Chicago's award winning skyline and architecture. Chicago Elite offers a completely customizable event on a private yacht for a meeting, wedding or unique gathering. For more information, visit

About The Odyssey
The Odyssey's 749-passenger ship, the largest cruise vessel to ply the waters of Lake Michigan, is unrivaled in luxury and recipient of Concierge Favorite and Best of The Knot awards in 2012.  The Odyssey, at 200-ft. long and 55-ft. high, is equipped with three climate controlled decks, an outdoor observation deck, three indoor bars, dance floors, and exceptional skyline views from bow to stern.  Odyssey's distinguished service and experiences cater to all tastes and senses. For more information, visit

About Spirit of Chicago
Spirit of Chicago's festive, four-story ship has been creating high-energy fun from beginning to end as it cruises along Chicago's lakefront. The 192-ft. ship sails year-round and features a vibrant interior of three climate-controlled dining decks with new bars and dance floors and panoramic windows.  For more information, visit

About Mystic Blue
Featuring a contemporary décor with sleek, silvery-blue interiors, Mystic Blue boasts an outdoor lounge with modern furniture, and three enclosed decks with the largest picture windows of any dinner boat on Lake Michigan. From parties of two to 600, Mystic Blue is the place for cool music, delicious food and drinks, top-notch service and unbeatable views from every table. For more information, visit

About Seadog 
One of the most popular attractions at Navy Pier, Seadog has thrilled over 1,000,000 people. Seadog offers three turbo-charged excursions from a 30-minute Speedboat Lake Tour, a 75-minute Lake and River Architectural Tour, and the most horse-powered vessel on the water, a 30-minute Extreme Thrill Ride. Dogs cruise free (based on availability). Seadog operates April - October, weather permitting. For more information, visit

Holiday cash and cool mint gift idea

Ok, I admit I'm not the craftiest of people, but I love gifts that throw in a little extra thought or a theme. When the folks at the Illinois Lottery asked me to come up with some gift ideas using lottery tickets, I whipped up with this, which is perfect for an acquaintance that you would like to remember with a small gift or if you have a large number of people to give to and want to keep them all the same. The big plus is that it is super simple, so you feel like you were crafty and creative without going to a lot of trouble or needing a hot glue gun.

People really love to get lotto instant tickets as gifts. I know I do. It's something fun and there's that added excitement of scratching them off to see if you win something. I was at a Christmas party last year where the hostess gave each guest a little wooden box with chocolates in it and rolled up and tied to each box was an Illinois Lottery instant ticket. I won $12!

For this gift, I purchased some boxes of Andes Mints (who doesn't love those?) They usually run about $3 a box. Sometimes you can find them on sale for less than that. And there's always the option of upgrading to Fannie May Mint Meltaways or those oh, so good Frango Mints from Macy's.

On the boxes, I taped a Holiday Cash instant ticket and a little tag that says "Hope you win a mint!" I stopped in the office at the middle school my sons attend to give them to the secretaries in the main office and the school nurse. They were really appreciate of the gesture…and especially the lottery ticket.

The Illinois Lottery has a variety of other instant tickets in the $1 - $30 price range. You can find he full line here.

*** I did receive complimentary lottery tickets to use in the gifts pictured. I did not receive compensation for this post. All opinions are my own.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sunda makes a great brunch spot

So, when you sit down to have brunch with Billy Dec, you know it's going to be good. That's a guy who knows good eats. And when you're dining in one of his restaurants, you can expect everything to be top notch and complete fireworks for your taste buds. 

A graduate of Chicago Kent College of Law. He's the CEO and founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, a Chicago company that owns several restaurants and clubs. He's a contributor on Windy City Live on ABC-7, where he fills in the audience on the food and entertainment scene and he's also a contributor on 103.5 KISS FM. This year he was appointed by President Obama to serve on this White House Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders. 

What else? Oh, just a couple of Emmys and a pile of other accolades for his business ventures. He's also an actor whose career dates back to way back to the days of Friends. Most recently he appeared in an episode of Criminal Minds and he's been filming scenes for Entourage. He's appeared on the Today Show to show off Rockit Burger Bar's Mac and Cheese Attack (an angus burger on two fried mac and cheese buns!) His newest venture, the Duck Inn, just opened last week. Oh, and there's the hat. You almost never see him without one. And when we spent a fun afternoon with him recently, the hat was there, too.

The Chicago Foodie Sisters had the opportunity to join Billy Dec and some of his friends for a brunch crawl at Sunda and Bottlefork ~ two completely different concepts and menus, but both completely impressed us. The company was fabulous, as well, with several food, fashion and media professionals at the table providing entertaining and hilarious conversation.

Stop #1 was Sunda. With a an extensive menu of Asian inspired dishes and American classics with an Asian twist, you'll find something for everyone ~ although you'll likely have a very hard time deciding. Lucky for us, Billy ordered up several favorites so could sample a few, along with a mimosa kit.

My favorite would probably be the Tempura French Toast. The Oxtail Potstickers were pretty awesome, too. Scroll down for the amazing visuals.

Should you be spending time in the city over the holidays, put brunch at Sunda on your itinerary. You won't be disappointed.

110 W. Illinois
110L 60654

Chicago Gourmet was a foodie highlight of 2014

I am starting to reflect back on the year of 2014 and all of the foodie highlights. I'll be getting a post up soon to fill you in, but just taking a few moments on this chilly day in Chicago to take a peek back on a warm, sunny September day in Millennium Park that was a complete foodie paradise. What a fabulous foodie event!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Urban Accents Gourmet Gobbler Turkey Brining Kit

So, let me tell you a little about my Thanksgiving. I hosted family for dinner the day after Thanksgiving. It was just the second time in my life that I was making a turkey.

The first time was over 20 years ago when I was a newlywed and we were having family over for Christmas. I had no clue what I was doing. I didn't know how long it took for a turkey to thaw. I had no idea that there was "stuff" in the middle that had to be removed. I took it out of the freezer the evening before and put it in a roasting pan and put it in the oven. The next afternoon it was still raw and had cooked with the bag inside. It went in the garbage and luckily I had also made ham.

So, fast forward a bit and I thought I'd try again since I have had a couple decades of cooking experience since then. Most years we have gone to my sister's house for Thanksgiving. Since I always liked the leftovers at home, I'd often make a turkey breast and all the trimming a day or two later. This year I was having a few family members over, so I went for it and purchased a big bird. Not wanting to have to worry about thawing, I ordered a fresh turkey from Howard & Sons in Munster. It was also a free-range, hormone-free Amish raised version.

Since I'd recently received a package of some product samples from Urban Accents, including a brine kit, I thought I'd give it a try. I had heard so many good things about brining. So, I did the brining thing and am so glad I did because (pardon the language) I made one kick-ass turkey!

I put the turkey in brine for 9 to 10 hours as the instructions recommended a half hour per pound an I had an 18-pounder. That night I removed it from the brine and cleaned the turkey (yes, I even removed everything I was supposed to), then added the rub and it smelled magnificent before it even went in the oven. I covered it and put it in the oven at 325 degrees for two hours, then down to 225 and went to bed. Four hours later I got up to baste it went back to bed for a bit. Then the temp went back up to 325 for two more hours (the last hour or so uncovered so it could brown.) It was about 10 hours cooking time total.

Being a novice, I hadn't even though about placement and didn't realize I'd cooked it breast side down when it seems the more common method is breast up. However, it was the moistest turkey I've ever had. It worked out perfectly.

I was quite pleased with myself. The bird was wonderful! If you are planning out your Christmas menu and it includes a turkey, do your self a favor and order the Gourmet Gobbler Turkey Brining Kit. If it could make a turkey cooking novice like me put out a meal like this, you can expect miracles, too. :)

*** I did receive a complimentary sample product. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

Hospitality and Tourism Management at Purdue University Calumet lunch finale

This week was the final lunch date for the restaurant of the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program at Purdue Calumet. I had been there for dinner and wanted to try out lunch before the end of the summer. When I called for reservations, the table reservations were full, but they were able to squeeze me in for the bar seating.

I attended dinner with my husband when I had been there previously and had told my dad how much we enjoyed it, so he was excited about trying it out, too. As we arrived, we learned that the theme for the lunch was "Magic Show" and the dining room was decorated with top hats and playing cards. Napkins were folded into little bunny ears. The menu items followed the magic theme.

When I had been there for dinner, I had preselected the entrees when making the reservation. This time I hadn't seen a preview of the day's menu, so I wasn't sure what the options would be. They ended up all sounding so fantastic, I spent way too much time contemplating which to get. I settled on the flank steak after much deliberation. My dad ordered the Copperfield Chicken Pasta.

We both tried the Abra Kadabra Broccoli Salad, which mixed a wonderful blend of flavors - some sweet, some bitter, some smokey, some creamy. The salad could also be ordered as an entree with chicken breast added.

Dad shared a couple scoops from his plate and when I tried it I wasn't sure I'd made the right choice. The chicken was incredibly tender and the creamy sauce was delicious, served with crisp, fresh green beans.

Then I tried my entree and I was in heaven! This was truly one of the best meals I've ever eaten. I went back and forth over ordering the salmon or the steak. The salmon sounded fabulous and I saw someone nearby eating it and was pretty set, but then I changed my mind when I saw that Brussels sprouts were the vegetable. That sealed the deal. They melted in my mouth and as a bonus had bacon added in!!! The best serving of Brussels sprouts I have ever had.

They even did magic tricks for us to go along with the theme.

A very sweet gentleman named John, who is a university employee, was seated next to us and obliged when I asked if I could snap a pic of his French Onion Soup and Salmon. It looked delicious!

I can't believe I passed up dessert (especially at just $2,) but I knew I'd be back that evening for dinner, so I convinced myself not to over do it. It looked spectacular, though.

Sadly, the semester is now over and the kitchen is closed for a bit. I can't wait to see what comes up on their menu in the spring.

The Butchers Tap

The Grand Opening of the Butchers Tap in Chicago last week was a huge success! I had the pleasure of checking out the new spot and sampling their food and drink menu. With the location originally a butcher shop that was opened in 1932, this is a great location right on Southport in the Wrigleyville area. With 100 beers, 60 on tap they also include wine on tap straight from the barrel. Lets not forget Moonshine- yes they have that too. The tap list includes IPA's, Wheat, Ambers, Pale Ale's, Stouts and Ciders. Also included are seasonal cocktails such as Ravenswood Old Fashioned.

The menu at The Butchers Tap comes straight from food purveyors and farms from their crops to the kitchen. The team behind the menu supports the local agricultural economy and includes a full menu of items.We started with the Butcher Board that included Smoked Goose Soppressata, Smoking Goose Elk Stageberry and from the Artisan cheese selection, Capriole Goat Cheese. The board was accompanied by nuts, crackers, and a variety of fresh fruit and spreads. To wash it down we sampled  the Ale Asylum from Madison, WI .

The full menu includes creative burger selections, vegetarian options, and for options on the lighter side they offer a Wine Country Salad. One of the most creative burgers on the menu is called the Zeus. This included Catalpa Grove Lamb, Feta Cheese, Arugula, Pickled Red Onion, and Tomato Cucumber Hummus Spread.

We chose to go with one of the signature selections, the Butchers Classic. This deli sandwich from heaven included Mortadella, Capocollo, Salami, Ham, Provolone, Mayo, Mustard and House Italian Dressing.

We also tried the chicken sandwich straight from the hen. Buttermilk seasoned and fried- oh so good. This included a generous side of my favorite, mac and cheese.

If your looking to try a new spot in the area, check out The Butchers Tap. As the tag line on the menu states " Good Karma Never Tasted So Good"-my thoughts exactly.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Chicago Gourmet

Chicago Gourmet 2014

A friendly reminder for those foodies who are still looking for last minute Christmas ideas. Chicago Gourmet tickets would be an excellent gift. Chicago Foodie Sisters attended again this year and once again it was a wonderful weekend event. With over 190 of Chicago's top restaurants and chefs, there are endless tasting possibilities. The Grand Cru also included the top chef's preparing their creations paired with fabulous wine and champagne. The event for 2015 will take place on September 25-27th so be sure to mark your calendars.

For those foodies on the list this year, this would be a great way to taste their way through Chicago in beautiful Millennium Park! For more information or to sign up for ticket sales visit:

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thanksgiving success

I've had a long-time fear of cooking a turkey. The first year I was married - about 20 years ago, I decided to invite everyone over for Christmas. I decided to make a turkey and a ham. Well, I was a newlywed without much cooking experience and didn't think it was a big deal to make a turkey. I thought you just stuck it in the oven and cooked it. I didn't think about how long it took to thaw. I gave no thought to seasoning it. I had no idea that there were parts of the turkey enclosed that had to be removed. So, clueless little me pulled it out of the freezer the night before and put it in the oven, partially frozen. 

As people were arriving, I think it was one of my sisters that helped me pull it out of the oven to check it. It, of course, was no where close to being fully cooked. And she asked something about the bag inside the turkey. I think she was asking if I was using it in the stuffing. My dumbfounded look must have said it all. "You took that out, right?" I was asked. Ummm….no, I didn't. Oopps. Luckily we made ham, too, so that was the meat for our dinner that year. It went down as my greatest kitchen disaster, with the stove fire and the gravy pancake coming in a close second. But…those are stories for a different day.

So, I was hesitant to make a bird, but I'm so glad I did. I used an Urban Accents Gourmet Gobbler Turkey Brine Kit and it turned out super juicy and tender. Here's a peek at some of the culinary highlights of the day.

Pulled out my recipe book with all the recipes I saved from my co-workers when we were first married.  I made the Green Bean Casserole recipe that Heidi gave me and the Corn Casserole recipe from Alma. We are talking early 90's here -- way before you could use Google to find recipes. They were passed on from friends and family or clipped from newspapers, magazines or the back of boxes and cans.

The brining kit came with a seasoning rub pack. It smelled awesome!