Thursday, January 31, 2013

Chicken Gnocchi Soup

A couple weeks ago Dad and I went to the Olive Garden to celebrate his 77th birthday! It's one of his favorite places to eat and he always orders soup and salad. I love their soups, as well. Pasta Fagioli is what I had been ordering for years. While I love the zuppa tuscana, I find he sausage just a wee bit too spicy for me, so I don't get it very often. In the last few years, they also added chicken gnocchi soup to their menu and that's where I was first introduced to it.


I recently had come across a version of it on copykat.com and pinned it. I was skeptical that it would taste as good as Olive Garden's, but was willing to give it a try. This week when I was in Aldi, I came across these potato gnocchi and grabbed a pack so that I could whip up a pot of it. I really like this Priano brand from Aldi and I was sure it would work well in the soup.

So, tonight it was freezing outside. After running one of the boys to one of his activities, I returned home and decided it was soup time even thought we'd just finished eating dinner. I pulled up the recipe from Copykat.com. I didn't follow it exactly because 1) I usually change it up just a little - sometimes just to put my own spin on it or to cut back on some of the unhealthy ingredients, 2) because I always seem to be missing some of the ingredients that the recipe calls for and 3) because sometimes I don't read through the directions all the way through beforehand! Ooops! :)

So, this batch was pretty close to what I'd found, but not exactly. And I can't imagine how good it would have been if I had followed it to a "t" because it was already incredible just as it was.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon extra virgin oil
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
4 cups milk (half and half is even better)
3 ribs celery, sliced
2 tsp. minced dried onion (only because I didn't have fresh stuff)
2 tsp minced garlic (I buy it in the jar at Aldi) 
4 chicken bullion cubes
4 cups water
1 cup of carrots, finely chopped
2 cooked chicken breasts, cut or diced in small pieces (I boiled mine in broth the day before in anticipation of using it for some soup) 
1 package gnocchi  (As mentioned above, I got the Priano brand from Aldi.) Although the copykat.com recipe says to pre-cook, I don't.
1 cup of fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon Tastefully Simple Spinach and Herb Dip Mix
1/2 teaspoon basil
(Also, the copykat.com recipe calls for 1/4 tsp. of nutmeg, which from other recipes and reviews I've read, this is like a secret ingredients that really MAKES the soup. I totally thought I had nutmeg in my spice cabinet. Then when I reached for it, NOPE! It was allspice. Oh, well. So, I left it out. Next time I'll make sure I have it on hand.) 
 
Saute the celery in butter and olive oil and add garlic and dried onion. Cook until celery is soft. Add flour to make a roux.

After it has thickened a bit, add water and bouilion cubes and bring to a boil. Add milk and carrots. Return to a boil and add gnocchi and chicken. Boil for about 4 minutes and add spinach and seasonings. Simmer about 5 more minutes and it's ready to go.





Cream cheese, bacon, cucumber breakfast bagel


If there's ever been a gal that loves carbs, that would be me. When I was a little girl and was under the notion that people who went to jail only got bread and water, I remember thinking "That's not so bad. Bread is fantastic!" LOL

I'm not that big on sugary stuff, but I literally could live on bread and potatoes and water - at least for a little while. There are so many awesome varieties of bread out there.

A few years ago, when I was pregnant with my third child, I was told I was had borderline gestational diabetes. I was to follow a diabetic diet for the remaining months of the pregnancy. That meant nothing to drink except water (and my OB recommended one glass of milk a day) - no artificial sweeteners, no soda, no lemonade, no juice, etc. And I had to cut out sweets. No cookies or ice cream or cake (you know, the kind of stuff pregnant women are often drawn to with a side of pickles!) And when I had bread, it was supposed to be whole grain and I was ALWAYS supposed to eat it with a protein, not alone.

So, for breakfast I sometimes had a hard time figuring out what to eat. I was never a breakfast eater. One slice of plain toast or a little cup of cereal would suit me fine under normal circumstances. Now, I had to figure out what to do with the toast or English muffin I'd normally eat. Luckily, pre-cooked bacon was an easy fix (although you're also supposed to really limit fats, too, so I'd stick to one or two slices). I'd also sometimes smear some peanut butter on a piece of toast or a frozen toaster waffle. Even for those who don't have to follow such a diet, your body needs some protein in the morning to get you moving and boost your energy.

Anyway, my point in giving you all that background is that I kind of got in the habit of adding things to my carbs and not eating them alone. After all, diabetes runs in my dad's family. No one in the family seems to develop it until an old age, but my grandmother had it, my aunt, my uncle, and my dad (who is now 77) was recently was diagnosed. So, with that family history, I'd been told that even after my pregnancies (I have 5 kids and had the same borderline-diabetes issue with the last 3) I should try to continue a lifestyle of following a diabetic diet because eventually I'll probably be there myself.

I'm still not a big breakfast person, but one of my resolutions this year was to eat breakfast at least half of the week. So, I've been trying to throw together something light before it hits lunchtime and often that base is a carb of some sort. This morning, I started with an everything bagel. And rather than just eat it with some butter or cream cheese, I thought about what I could add to it. Because I love the combination of cream cheese and cucumber, I decided to slice a few to put on top. And I learned as a teenager when I worked at a Boz Hot Dog stand that celery salt goes great on cucumbers, so some of that went on as well. I still needed a protein, so I sprinkled a little bit of crumbled bacon on there, too. And I ended up with a yummy breakfast with a non-traditional (for breakfast) refreshing flavor.


One lightly toasted Everything bagel
1 teaspoon cream cheese
3 or 4 cucumber slices
celery salt
crumbled bacon





Easy and delish! Give it a try. So many other toppings would work, as well. Use some bell peppers or tomatoes or broccoli (think veggie pizza -- anything you'd put on one of those would be great here.) You could also add cheese or put on a little more meat - some bacon slices or ham or Canadian bacon. And if you don't like cream cheese, maybe a little pesto or stone ground mustard.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Return to Five Guys

Well, my regular lunch buddy, my dad, was thrilled when Five Guys opened up in Munster, Indiana where he lives. Mom doesn't cook anymore, so he picks up carry-out from restaurants nearly every day. Here's the blog post from that first visit -
http://chicagofoodiesisters.blogspot.com/2012/10/high-five-for-five-guys.html

 
On that first visit, I forgot my camera. Wasn't going to let that happen again when we went back this week. I think this time I liked my food even better than the first time. The burgers are awesome...everything is so fresh and I love a sloppy burger where everything comes out and oozes down your hands and I love a bun with sesame seeds!!!
 
The fries are a big deal, too. I love that when you walk in there's a chalkboard next to the register that indicates where the potatoes for that day's batch came from. These aren't frozen fries. They are the real deal - cut and cooked right there. We had good ol' Idaho potatoes this time. Last time they were from Washington.
 
I try to steer clear of fries when I eat out because it's so hard to just eat a few. This is a place where you just can't pass them up. And the servings are HUGE. This time we got a large for 3 people and we ate about half of them.


They also have a great variety of toppings, like grilled mushrooms and grilled onions. Have you tried Five Guys? What do you think? How does it compare to other burger places you've been to?


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Goat Cheese and Veggie Crustless Miniature Quiche


So, I recently saw this post from Manila Spoon for Spinach Quiche Cups. They looked so good and she pointed out that they are a great low-carb and gluten free dish. I love quiche, but don't really like the crust, so when I saw this version with no crust, I couldn't wait to try it. Also, I loved the idea that these were miniatures. They would cook faster, make perfect single serve portions and make it easy to store for later.

So, as I usually do, I pulled up her recipe and changed it up a bit to pack it a little more veggies and a couple cheese varieties.








Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Ingredients:
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
Olive Oil
1 9 ounce bag spinach
6 eggs
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup goat cheese
2 diced Campari tomatoes
Garlic salt
Pepper

First, saute the mushrooms in olive oil and set aside. Next, add a little more oil to pan and wilt spinach. It may seem like a lot, but it really gets small when you cook it down. If you are a spinach lover, you might want to add 1 1/2 bags.

While the spinach is cooking, whisk the eggs. Add mushrooms and spinach to eggs, then add cheeses, tomatoes and garlic salt and pepper to taste.


I used my Kitchen Aid silicone cupcake holders to make these, very generously sprayed with cooking spray beforehand. Empty into cupcake pan. It will make 10 to 12.

Bake at 375 for 25 minutes or until an inserted fork comes out clean.

Thanks so much, Manilla Spoon for introducing me to this easy to make and healthy breakfast. Feel free to pin and share! And like us on Facebook for more posts or subscribe to our blog in the right sidebar!

Oh, and P.S. - If you have a dog, like I do...don't put those silicone cupcake pans within a dog's reach, especially when they have remnants of the quiche inside. Apparently, silicone is an ideal chew toy. :) I'm now down to ONE silicone cupcake pan!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Hofbrauhaus Chicago: Rosemont, Illinois

The Hofbruahaus Chicago in Rosemont opened last week following a lively press preview that included countless musicians and a ceremonial beer tapping. Both Chicago Foodie Sisters were able to attend the event and I was happy to have that opportunity as I've been following the progress of the place for some time.

Last week I posted a little bit about the event and the beer. This time I'm filling you in on the food. It started off with a Bavarian Appetizer Plate that included an assortment of German gourmet cold cuts, including Black Forest Ham and Landjager sausages with a Bavarian Cheese Specialty called Obazda. Everything was quite tasty, and there was another appetizer to try - a Freshly Baked Bavarian pretzel imported from Munich. I was reading about how they come over here on a slow boat with generators set to keep them at a specific temperature, so getting them from Germany to Rosemont is no small feat. When I looked at a regular menu and saw that the pretzel was $13.95, I was momentarily surprised, but to know the background of all that goes into them and to have tasted them along with a classic stone ground mustard and a sweet mustard, it is absolutely worth every penny. It is also huge and plenty for an appetizer for two or more. Oh, and by the way, if you think you don't like radishes, you have to try these. Those thin white slices are a mild radish that I'd never had before and they were very refreshing - added a nice crunch to go along with the meats and that delectable bleu cheese.



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Next up was a family style main course platter, which allowed us to sample three entrees and a variety of sides. We tried Hofbrauhaus Hahnchen, which is a grilled chicken breast with creamy mushroom sauce (it was delish!), Schweinbraten, which is a pork roast with vegetable garnish and dark beer sauce (one of my favorite German dishes) and chicken bratwurst and Nurnberger Rostbratsurstl (loved the latter!). On the side were mashed potatoes and sauerkraut and potato and bread dumplings.



I was a wee bit bummed that my favorite German dishes - potato pancakes, spatzle and Weiner Schnitzel weren't part of the fare, but that just gives me an excuse to get back there soon.

Among the other menu items are salads, sausages, burgers, fish and steaks.

We were thoroughly entertained throughout the evening with everything from German drinking songs to Neil Diamond to Johnny Cash to John Denver. There was even a beer tapping ceremony with a long parade of musicians.




And standing on your chairs was not at all discouraged.


 Dessert was magnificent. Like I had to try everything on the platter magnificent. Each bite was better than the last - strudel, back forest cake, cheesecake. Yum! Do not leave without having dessert!




 


If you're a fan of German food and atmosphere, you will love spending time at the Hofbrauhuas with lively entertainment, authentic platters and lots of beer flowing. And if you haven't experienced German cuisine or culture, there's not a better place for an introduction.

Hofbrauhaus Chicago
5500 Park Place
Rosemont, IL
847-671-BREW
HofbrauhausChicago.com


Monday, January 28, 2013

Gettin' by with a little help from my (foodie) friends

Last week I posted about these awesome friends of mine who have been helping out big time while we've been dealing with my father-in-law being in hospice care (view that post HERE.) First was my friend, Michelle, who brought by salad and mostacioli and homemade banana bread. The next day Judy made a casserole with chicken, tater tots and veggies, croissants, salad (including a pack of croutons and bottle of dressing) and homemade cupcakes. The next day I picked up McDonald's for everyone with the boys and they came along to visit Grandpa.

Then as the week started, my friends came to the rescue again. I wish I had photos of everything, but didn't get an opportunity to photograph it all. On Monday, Patty made a wonderful meal - heart shaped biscuits, Parmesan chicken (I've had this dish prepared by Patty before and it is so good!), mashed potatoes and gravy, ginger carrots and chocolate fudge cupcakes.






The next day, my friend Gloria, had bags of food ready when I stopped by her house. She not only cooked dinner, but it was late morning when I was there and she packed up lunch, too - chicken sandwiches (and PB &J for the kids) with chips and beverages and even plates and napkins. Then for dinner there was pork roast with veggies in a delicious buttery sauce. Back in the summer I'd sent her a tip I saw on a food blog about taking fresh herbs and putting them in an ice cube tray then pouring in olive oil and freezing it to use later in dishes and soups. Gloria has an extensive herb garden and always has more than she needs so it seemed like a good way to be able to use more later on and she did freeze some. She said she used some of those in making the pork and vegetables. She also made baby red potatoes. I wish I had pictures of it all. I did get one. She sent an apple salad for dessert with apples, yogurt and walnuts.


After that it was a night of leftovers and then that angel Gloria had me stop over again. She'd made a lasagna and a tossed salad and had Italian bread with it and some banana bread and cake for dessert.

I also stopped by my friend Laura's to pick up some soup she'd made for the next day. It was lemon rice soup - yum! with some bread and an almond pound cake. Here's a shot of Laura's soup and Gloria's salad. :) It was a nice lunch!

Gloria's sister, Raquel, had given Gloria some money to get a lasagna to pass along, but when Gloria had already made a lasagna, Gloria passed on the money for us to get a meal. Very sweet of them both. Probably another day of finishing up all the leftovers and then I'll use that money to pick up Boston Market or KFC to drop by the house. I've been so lucky to have these wonderful ladies pitch in to help us out. And each of them has full and busy lives themselves and for them to take time out to do this for us is so generous. I can't thank them enough.

 My father-in-law has been in pretty good spirits...kind of on a roller coaster ride - a good day, then a bad day, then another good day, then another bad day, but it's such a blessing that he's been able to communicate with everyone and he says he's not in pain. So he's hanging in there and we're hoping he'll get a little better day by day.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

WTTW to launch search for new Check, Please! Host


Now in season twelve, the WTTW show Check, Please! is as popular as ever. Much of that success can be credited to host Alpana Singh, who has hosted for the past 10 years. Singh will step down at the end of the current season, the station announced this past week.

“I’ve loved doing the show.  It’s been so much fun!” said Singh in a WTTW e-mail to viewers.  “But after a decade of talking restaurants with people, I am now devoting my energies to delivering the real thing.” 

Singh's new endeavor is The Boarding House, an upscale River North wine bar and restaurant where she serves as Proprietor and Master Sommelier.  She began hosting Check, Please! at the start of season three. At that time, Singh also served as Master Sommelier at Everest.

Details of the search for a new host will begin soon with an announcement coming from David Manilow, creator and Executive Producer of the Emmy Award-winning show.
I can't wait to see what's ahead for the show. For those not familiar with it, Check, Please! is a weekly program on public television that brings together three diners from different walks of life and the three review each one's favorite spot. It's great to see the variety and to learn about new eateries in and around the city.
 

The holiday shift dinner: Gino's Steakhouse, Dyer, IN

 
In many workplaces there are holiday gatherings. My husband's co-workers decided the past couple years that it was easier to get everyone together after the holidays, so this past weekend his shift got together for a belated holiday celebration.
 
My husband is a firefighter, so for the time he's away from home working he's there for 24 hours on shift with these guys side by side. Although the guys have a close working relationship, it's not too often that the wives get to see one another or that we get together as couples. For many years we'd get together for shift dinners every couple months, but that's kind of fallen to the wayside and we're down to the yearly union fundraiser and these once a year dinners. It's always nice to get out with my husband for a nice evening and it's always fun to see these guys interact together. They are quite a bunch.
 
Anyway, on to the food. We've gone to a variety of places over the years for shift dinners. In fact, many years ago we went to this same restaurant - Gino's Steakhouse in Dyer - for one of our shift dinners...so I remembered how good it was. I'd also been there once before that previous shift dinner and I'd been to Gino's many, many times back when it was located in Harvey. I went to high school in Harvey and worked for the school district for 12 years following graduation, so we had lots of retirement parties and work functions there. I've never had a bad experience there at either location and everything has always been superb.
 
As we got there, I eyed a drink one of the other girls was having and ordered one. It was simple, but delicious - Malibu with pineapple and cranberry juices.
 
 
 
Next it was onto the appetizers. There were already dishes of Gino's Signature Bell Pepper Appetizer on the table along with bread. Gave one a try and it was very tasty...kind of pickled flavor with a bit of sweetness.

 Here's a combination appetizer platter. It included fried shrimp, oysters Rockefeller, stuffed mushrooms, barbecue ribs and Gino's steak medallions.
 
Jumbo stuffed mushrooms. Loved these!
 
Pizza tomato bread. 

Raw oysters


 
Calamari

Frog legs. I've forever heard people rave about the legendary Phil Schmidt's, which I unfortunately never made it to before they closed their doors in 2007. Anyway, I remember trying frog legs years and years ago, but really didn't even remember what they tasted like. So, I was happy someone at the table got a platter and I was able to give one a try. Like the comparison that is always made, they do have a texture and taste similar to chicken, especially with the crisp crust.
 
Hubs is fond of oysters Rockefeller. Me, not so much. Lovely presentation, I must say, though. 

 
Another food hubby likes, but not my cup of tea is lobster bisque. I like it, but too rich for me to eat a full bowl. I can only handle a couple of bites.

Any chance I have to eat a salad with fresh garlic dressing, I take it!
 
There were so many scrumptious options on the menu, but how can you go to a steakhouse and not order a steak? This is the New York Strip. 


I ordered the filet. Perfection!!!!

Prime Rib.

Double baked potato.

Chicken with artichokes. Ooohhh how I love artichokes. This looked fabulous!
 
And lets stray from the food for a moment so I can tell you about the crew. They may be a bunch of goofballs when they get together on a night like this, but I could not be more proud of them for what they do every day on the job. Between fire calls and medical calls (these guys are also paramedics), they deal with a ton of stuff that the average guy could not handle or would not want to. They go through extensive training and have to be ready to handle a myriad of situations. They're absolute professionals when they're in the field and they see a lot of things that no one should ever have to see and that stay with them throughout their careers. I admire them all for their dedication and the risks they are willing to take for people they do not even know. I'm very proud to be married to a firefighter and I'm very proud of all of these guys that are part of that brotherhood.
 
My husband was a volunteer firefighter and then part-time firefighter for a few years before he decided he wanted to do it as a career. He didn't start full-time until he was 34 and he now has a decade in. That makes him the old guy. Several of the other guys on the shift are a bit younger - I refer to them as the younger brothers I never had. They are a fun bunch. I love them to pieces.

 



 



And here's me and hubs...
 
 The desserts got attacked before I got to photograph all of them. :)

But here's a glimpse of some cheesecake -- I think this was the turtle cheesecake.

And I couldn't resist tiramisu.
 
Gino's Steakhouse
1259 Joliet Street
Dyer, IN
(219) 865-3854
ginossteakhouse.com