Monday, December 31, 2012

Foodie Highlights of 2012

This past year has been a fun and fascinating foodie year - trying out new recipes, trying out new eateries, attending media events at Chicago area restaurants, enjoying food with loved ones. Here's a few foodie highlights of the year:

For Father's Day we went over to spend the day with my in-laws. My father-in-law is affectionately called "Stewy" even though his name is Paul. It's a nickname he was given for a town in Germany, which is where he was born and raised. He made these wonderful stuffed mushroom burgers on the grill. I played with the recipe a little and entered into a contest for Wildfire Restaurant. I won 3rd place!

At the barbecue, we enjoyed some Hofbrau. So happy to hear that a Hofbrauhaus is opening in Rosement early in 2013. Can't wait to try it out.

And this fall, we went with my in-laws to check out a German restaurant we'd never been to called Edelweiss. My husband and I visited some other German restaurants and I still vividly remember the excellent meal we had at Chef Klaus' Bier Stube.

Among the media events I attended this year were several at Seasons 52, which has become one of my favorite restaurants. I attended a sneak peek of the Oakbrook location and then got to visit Schaumburg for previews of the summer menu. I also went back for the fall menu introduction.

A meal at Niche in Geneva was another highlight of the year, which I attended with my husband and the other foodie sister, Becky. It's a beautiful place with one of a kind dishes and presentations.

Artisan Table was another new eatery I attended as it was opening to the public. It's located in the Chicago Marriott Naperville and this media event was unlike others I've attended and it wasn't for media only, but also for the vendors who supplied the locally produced menu items - which included farmers, butchers and even a beekeeper.

We took a family trip up to Kenosha, Wisconsin during the summer where we enjoyed food at the Bristol Reniassance Fair and an added bonus was that the weekend we were there, the Taste of Wisconsin was going on along the lakefront.

A soft opening at a new Chipotle in Munster was a fun afternoon that I shared with my dad and it was my first time there.

We had fun with the garden this year and my son, who is now 13, has been growing pumpkins with Grandpa in his garden for the past few years. This year they entered one of his pumpkins in a weigh off and he won first place. It was 80-plus pounds.

We made lots of good stuff with what was grown in the garden and enjoyed picking up goodies at the local farmer's market.

I discovered a new sweets place that I adore, Dessert Menu and stopped in when they did their first Dessert Flight Night. And just around the corner from Dessert Menu is another of my favorite foodie places that I learned about and fell in love with this year, Foodies MarketCafe.

At the end of the year, the this year, my niece and I attended a cooking demo at Roka Akor

There were so many more good eats we enjoyed. Take a look through our blog archives for more recipes.

My 12 foodie resolutions for 2013

No, I will not be going on a "diet" in the new year. I'm old enough to know that I'll never be model thin again (and really wouldn't want to be that thin) and that moderation is necessary no matter what you eat. 

Food brings so much joy in life...I'm not going pass over something delightful I come across so that I can stick to a diet.'s the food-related resolutions I'm making: 

1) Try at least one new food each month. 
I'm going to urge my kids to do the same. I can't tell you how often they resist and resist something then when they finally try it, they discover it isn't so bad.

2) Try at least one new restaurant each month. 
I should have no problem with this one. When I thought about it a bit, I realized I not only went to at least one new place a month, but that I hit probably at least three dozen new ones. 

3) A two-minute limit on ordering in a restaurant. 
If I really tracked how much time I waste trying to decide on what to eat, I'd probably have racked up a few weeks,perhaps even months, in doing so. From now on, I'll give myself a minute or so to scan the menu, narrow it down to two and DECIDE. I shall not send a server away saying "I need a few more minutes!" I repeat, I shall not send a server away saying "I need a few more minutes!" If I find myself with extra time, maybe I can pick a second choice should they happen to be out of the first or have one on standby for the next visit to that establishment so that I won't even look at the menu.

4) Never order the same thing as my husband so that I can get a taste of another dish on the menu. 
This probably won't apply to just hubby. If you dine with me, you probably know me well enough to know that I'm going to ask for a little sample of what's on your plate - and a photo.

5) Don't order the familiar at restaurants...try something I haven't tried before if it's a place I've dined at before. There are some favorite dishes I have at specific restaurants, but I'm not going to keep ordering them. I'll venture out a bit. And if I go there often enough to have tried almost everything, it's definitely time to find a new place to mark of the foodie bucket list.

6) Eat more vegetarian dishes - the challenge of new recipes should be fun. I love things like eggplant Parmesan and portabella mushrooms that are filling enough make you not miss the meat. I'll add more to our plates this year. And perhaps I'll do more skillet dishes or casseroles, where I can cut down on the meat by cutting small pieces to add to other ingredients. Not that I am against meat in my family's diet, we just don't all need to eat like cavemen bulking up to go out on a week-long expedition at every meal.

7) Grow three new things in the garden this year. I've been getting tons of gardening catalogs in the mail the past few weeks, which seems like an odd time for them to arrive. Planting in our area won't happen for several months, but it's nice to browse and get ideas. I'm looking forward to planting a few news things this year.

8) Update the foodie bucket list. Early this year I jotted down a few mostly suburban spots I had been wanting to try. There were 13 on the list.  I only made it to three (Venice, Mishkenut, The Egg and I) and one has closed (Ursuline's.) That leaves nine. There are so many more I've come across in the past year that I want to visit, so this list needs a serious update and I need to consult the list before I make lunch or dinner plans.

Venice Italian Steakhouse, Dyer, In -
Mishkenut Mediterannean, Munster, InLowry's Steakhouse, Chicago, Il - House, Grant Park, Il - Fondue - Merrillville, In - Egg and I, Chicago Heights, Il -'s Steakhouse, Hammond, InStrongbow Inn, Valparaiso, In -'s - several locations -'s Tea Room - Crown Point, In -'s Steakhouse - Highland, In -'s Kitchen - Merrillville, InRed Robin, Schererville, In

9) Get the kids back into the cooking habit. For a while, I assigned each person in the house a day to do the cooking. There are 7 of us. It worked out pretty well, especially in summer, when simple meals like burgers or chicken breasts could be thrown on the grill and dad could assist. I admit, I kind of threw it out the window because 1) I guess I wanted a little more control over what was being made. I've eased up a little over the years, but still am still a little controlling in the kitchen. When left up to a 7-year-old, dinner would be hot dogs rolled in crescent dough every week. And while it's fine once in a while, it's not something I want to eat more than once a year at best. :) I'll have to work with him on varying the choices and not let him repeat meals. 2) It takes a lot of planning for it to be done right. Sometimes I'd help with planning side dishes and entrees and even take the kids shopping for ingredients, but let's face it - it is work. I need to suck it up and do the work. 3) I like to cook. I like to spend time in the kitchen. I missed it sometimes when the kids had been cooking several days and I hadn't. But, it did free up time for me to make things like brownies or pies or other goodies, so that's an added incentive for the kids to cook.

10) A kitchen make-over. No, not the good kind where a reality show host shows up to completely gut my kitchen and replace it with state of the art appliances, marble countertops and Frech hand-painted tiles. Not even the kind where you go to IKEA and pick out the whole package to bring it home and assemble yourself. It probably won't be in the budget this year. But, I want to make-over the interiors of the cabinets. Get rid of some of the items that aren't used, organize the cabinets and pantry, get some new plates and tableclothes...that kind of stuff.

11) Embrace video. Along with blogging I would love to add video from some of the places we go. I have a camera capable of making not-so-great video, but at least it's a start. By mid-year I hope to graduate to a better DSLR camera that has good video capability.

12) Eat breakfast. I've been fighting this for years. I'm not hungry when I wake up and I usually jump right into my day and then four hours later I'm famished. Even if it's just a half a banana or a slice of toast, I'm going to get myself on track -- at least half the steps.

Warm brownie sundaes with cinnamon pecans

My son had some friends over and I had just taken a pan of brownies out of the oven, so I decided to make warm brownie sundaes. Some of the toppings included hot fudge, sprinkles, caramel syrup, chocolate syrup, cherries, peanuts and cinnamon pecans.

I made mine with chocolate syrup, caramel syrup, a couple of cherries and some cinnamon pecans. I noticed these cinnamon pecans as I was shopping recently and figured I'd give them a try. Wow! They are so good! I really could sit and eat them right out of the can. :)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Great Indiana eateries: 2012

Our blog is called Chicago Foodie Sisters, but we actually both reside in the suburbs. At the time we started the blog, one of the sisters was working in the city and visiting new downtown restaurants each week. But the blog has evolved over time to include recipes, photos, food product reviews and restaurants in the city and suburbs. It's also extended far into Indiana because one of us lives on the Illinois/Indiana border. Northwest Indiana is loaded with good eats and we covered many of them in 2012. Take a look through our blog posts for Indiana restaurants and be sure to give one a try. There's great food all over the region. This year, among the posts of eateries in the Hoosier state were.

One on my very favorite sandwich place, Lincoln's O in Highland, IN.

And an awesome steak dinner at the Lighthouse in Cedar Lake, IN.

And a super fun place to take the little ones, Tyler's Tender in Schererville, IN.

And a great meal at another favorite place, White Rhino in Dyer, IN.

And breakfast at a lovely B & B called the Inn at Aberdeen in Valparaiso, IN.

And a delicious mac and cheese at the 1875 Steakhouse in the French Lick Hotel.

And Schoop's, which serves up some of the best burgers around.

And on a liesurely lunch with a friend at the The View in Munster, IN.

An amazing soup and sandwich at Blackbird Cafe in Valparaiso, IN.

And about our Easter at Golden Corral.

A great spot for breakfast called the Silver Spoon in Valparaiso, IN.

And about discovering my favorite new sweets place, Dessert Menu in Dyer, IN, at the Munster Farmers Market

And Dessert Menu's Dessert Flight Night

And about Amore's lunch menu in Crown Point, IN

And about my first visit to the wonderful Mishkenut Mediterranean Cuisine in Munster, IN.

And the lunch buffet at Venice Italian Steakhouse in Dyer, IN.

And my introduction to Smashmouth Burgers...oh, how I love them!

And I love a good gyros...and found one at Highland Gyros in Highland, IN.

And found one at Schererville Gyros in Schererville, IN.

And about Chipotle finally opening in Munster! Yipee! It's one of our most viewed posts!

And my first time ever at an Indiana institution - Tiebel's in Schererville, IN.

And thanks to my 13-year-old's addiction to orange chicken, we tried out Lucky China in Dyer, IN.

And some of the best sandwiches ever at Foodie's MarketCafe in Dyer, IN.

And the new Five Guys in Munster, IN.

Oh, and about a new favorite store - Produce Depot in Dyer, IN

And I was introduced to an awesome sauce made in Indiana, Hoosier Daddy.

As you can see, there are tons of good eats in the Hoosier state. Let us know what your favorite Indiana eatery is!

Southwestern Michigan Buttery

Our family just returned from a little getaway to Shipshewana, Indiana - the heart of Indiana Amish Country. Well, it's a somewhat commercialized version of Amish Country with lots of shops and eateries, but it's still super quaint and bustling with lots of buggies and bicycles. 

If you've been to any Amish area in the country, you know that a staple of an Amish meal is apple butter. I had some delicious apple butter with my freshly baked bread at the Blue Gate Restaurant while I was there, but when I got home I realized I didn't purchase any apple butter at all. 

How did that happen? I got homemade kettle corn and fudge and lots of Amish meats and cheeses - but no apple butter! Then I remembered something!

Back in June we'd been up in Three Oaks, Michigan for the Flag Day Festival. It included several vendors at a nearby park with mostly arts and crafts and I came across this guy. Gosh, wish I could remember his real name - all I can recall is that he called himself "The Butter Baron." I can't quite make it out on the name tag he's wearing.

He was a very charming guy who was eager to chat about his business, the Southwestern Michigan Buttery. He had several varieties and I think I sampled all of them. It wasn't just apple butter, but PEACH BUTTER, PLUM BUTTER, RHUBARB BUTTER...some really great flavors! And I had bought a jar of peach butter that I put in the pantry and forgot about. I was so excited to discover it still there unopened this morning. So, guess what I'm having today? Some pancakes with peach butter! :)

Check out their website,, where you can order jars to be shipped anywhere in the U.S. 

Rare roast beef and Edam panini

My panini maker has been getting a workout again. Here's the latest one:

Turano Italian Bread
Rare roast beef
Edam cheese
Mayo (with a little horseradish and freshly ground pepper mixed in)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ham and pesto panini

I've been giving using the panini make again a lot. Here's another of the recent panini sandwiches. This one is made with:

Turano Italian Bread
Krakus Ham
Swiss Cheese

Friday, December 28, 2012

Roka Akor: Part II - Kabocha

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a cooking demonstration at Roka Akor Steak and Sushi in Chicago. The other foodie sister, Becky, had been there last year shortly after it opened and blogged about it here. And I blogged a little bit about my recent visit with our niece, Kelly, where we sampled some delicious appetizers and then rolled our own sushi!!! It was the first time there for both Kelly and I and we had a blast. We're both fans of Asian cuisine and it was a great learning experience.

We started off the afternoon with a lesson from master mixologist and bar manager, Tony Selna, who taught us to make one of their signature Asian inspired cocktails, Kabocha. Kobacha, we were told is a Japanese pumpkin, so it's a fitting name for this cocktail that includes pumpkin ale.

He gave quite a presentation that moved along too quickly for me to take adequate detailed notes and make a ton of inquiries, but I did pick up the following:

The drink includes 1 ounce of Templeton Rye Whiskey. For it to be considered "rye" whiskey, it must be 51% rye. The hearty whiskey variety has grown in popularity in recent years.

The drink contains Grade "B" Maple Syrup, which is not as sweet as grade A and is a darker syrup that uses less molasses. You can find it at Trader Joe's or Binny's.

The whole organic egg creates an appetizing froth and enhances the flavor.

Drinks like this one, which use a raw egg, are termed "flip cocktails" and also popular breakfast cocktails.

He used a 28 oz. stainless steel cup, with an 18 oz. topper, which can be found online at A steel jiggar is also essential and can be purchased on the site, as well.

Shake for about 15 seconds to prepare - sounds easy, but looked like it was enough to make you break a sweat! :)

Be sure to garnish with fresh nutmeg.

And here's the full recipe:

1 oz. Tempelton Rye Whiskey
1 oz. Laird's Bonded Apple brandy
.5 oz. Grade B Maple Syrup
2 oz. Pumpkin Ale Beer
1 whole organic egg

In shaker tin, add all ingredients (no ice). Swirl the mixture to decarbonate the beer. Dry shake 15 seconds. Add ice. Shake and double strain into a coupe glass, garnish with fresh grated nutmeg.

According to Selna, people often freak out needlessly about the use of a raw egg in cocktails, but as he noted "Rocky drank raw eggs, so they must be good for you!" I have to admit, I would probably not order something that I knew had raw eggs, so I'm so glad I tried this. It was a perfect festive flavored drink. Once I got a taste, I never would have suspected raw eggs as an ingredient and now I can erase that fear from my mind. I would totally order it again! So tasty! Cheers!

Fabulous Flats Multigrain Stone-Baked Pizza Crust

I absolutely love this product. I found it at Strack and Van Til. It's a multi grain flatbread crust. It is really good if you make it on the grill! Top it with whatever you like. The possibilities are endless really.

 This is a delicious one that I made with some sauce, olive oil, mushrooms, artichokes, spinach, Swiss cheese and Campari tomatoes.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The way to grill pineapple

One day as I was shopping at my local Strack and Van Til store, I noticed a good price on pineapple. I think they were 2 for $5. It used to be you could request to have them cored and sliced when you purchased them, but I found out that they no longer had the machine that did all that work. When the produce guy told me that, I expressed disappointment. I told him I wanted to grill some pineapple that night with dinner.

He suggested slicing it in half and laying on the grill with the outer skin down and heating it. This way, he said the heat would draw out the juice, but it wouldn't drip out and dry out the fruit. Then slice it once it's off the grill. He was right. It was so much more flavorful this way. I missed the grill marks a little, but gained all that juicy flavor!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mishkenut olive oil

My friend Michelle and I went to have lunch recently at Mishkenut Mediterranean Cuisine in Munster, IN. We enjoyed a nice meal of fried kibbeh, spinach pie, falafel, baby ghanouj and other specialties  Everything was delicious. We chatted with our server for a little while, who is the son of the owner. He explained that his father was overseas in Jerusalem because it was olive picking season. Each year, family members go to there to the land they own where they hand-pick olives and bring them to a local place for pressing. The results are delicious. They use the imported oil in their dishes and they also sell it to customers. I picked up a bottle while I was there, which I've used for sauteing meats, on pizza and in salsa. It's fantastic! And it's soon going to be time for a refill. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Homemade peanut brittle - great last minute gift!

Not too long ago, I made a batch of homemade peanut brittle after seeing a recipe on the Modern Mrs. Cleaver blog.

It tasted great, but I think my microwave must be more powerful than most because I realized that it didn't need to spend nearly as much time in the microwave as the recipe instructed. The color got pretty dark, but it still tasted good.

So, this time I tried it again, but adjusted the cooking time so that it might appear a little prettier. Click here  for the link to the post with the previous batch. Anyway, here's how I made it this time and the lighter color is a bit more appetizing.

1 1/2 cups dry roasted peanuts
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
Combine peanuts, sugar, syrup and salt in glass bowl.  Microwave on high about 4 - 5 minutes (depending on your microwave. Watch it closely.)
Add in butter and vanilla and return to microwave for about one more minute.  Stir in baking soda and quickly transfer to a greased baking sheet and spread.  Let sit for about 30  minutes.  
Be sure to immediately throw your bowl and spoon in very hot water to help with the cleaning process. The stuff gets very sticky, very fast - kind of like when you make rice krispy treats. No one wants to be trying to chisel off the dried bowl two hours later after it has hardened like cement.
Once it has hardened, break into pieces. Just a tip here.  It might seem elementary, but it took me a minute to figure it out. I first tried breaking it into pieces by bending it. I broke a nail in trying to do so. Then, I grabbed a butter knife and starting banging it on the brittle. Not a pretty sight (think Sharon Stone with an ice pick in Fatal Attraction!) Finally, I picked up a piece about three inches off the cookie sheet and dropped it. It shattered like glass. It was that easy! Third time is a charm, right! :) Anyway, this was an easy treat. It would make a great gift if you're scrambling at the last minute. Just takes a few minutes to prepare. Put it in a bag with a pretty bow and you've got a gift! Or make a batch to serve your guests at your holiday party. Hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas! 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Petey Treats

When my oldest son (now 18) started kindergarten, one of his first friends was a sweet little boy named Petey. We learned that has dad, Pete, had his own bakery nearby called "Petey Treats." We visited several times and the goodies were phenomenal. So were the sandwiches. I still find myself once in a while craving one of the grilled roast beef sandwiches with horseradish mayo.

The family also has this tradition of decking out their yard and much of their neighborhood for the holidays. The huge display is called "Peteyville." This year was the 25th anniversary.

Each year, the Basala family has a big holiday party where Pete returns to his baking roots, churning out hundreds of cookies for his guests. It's quite a sweet feast. Here's a peek:

The Basalas deck out the inside of the house just as much as the outside.

Some shots from the cookie room. Yes, there is a full room of cookies for the event!

And here's those two kindergarten buddies all grown up now!