Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Munster Ale Fest

The second annual Munster Ale Fest went on with much better weather than during the inaugural year. As one of the newest events for beer lovers in Northwest Indiana, it's a great place to gather with other brew fest aficionados.

With over 100 beers on tap from craft brewers around the country (as well as a VIP session from Lagunitas,) there was something for every taste. Among the brewers in attendance were Atlas, Devil's Trumpet, One Trick Pony,  New Holland, Lakefront, Upland, Flat 12 and many, many more. Food trucks offered up various cuisine and it was a great day to chill in the lovely Centennial Park, sipping on brews while looking out at Lake Maynard. Be sure to put it on your itinerary for 2016 - as the event grows, tickets will be harder to get. More info at

Illinois ranks as #17 state for eating green bean casserole

It's almost Thanksgiving and on tables across the land you'll find many common dishes - turkey, stuffing, rolls, sweet potatoes, etc. One classic dish that makes it onto my table every year is green bean casserole. It couldn't get easier - canned green beans, cream of mushroom soup, french fried onions, milk and some pepper. I'm not alone in my fondness for this side dish. Del Monte recently conducted a study to find out who is eating the most of this casserole. The results are out and my home state, Illinois, ranks 17th. Topping the list is Louisiana where 60% of people surveyed expect to eat green bean casserole as part of their Thanksgiving meal. Read on for the full list and links to some recipes with variations on the classic recipe.

photo provided by Del Monte

To conduct the study, Del Monte, the country's prominent grower and distributor of green beans, asked 3,000 Americans to rate whether or not they planned to eat the side dish on Thanksgiving. Del Monte expects about 30 million casseroles to make their way onto American tables this Thanksgiving.

1.  Louisiana:  60% (expect to eat green-bean casserole this Thanksgiving)
2.  Oklahoma:  58%
3.  Kentucky:  57%
4.  Florida:  54%
5.  Wisconsin:  52%
6.  Missouri:  51%
7.  Colorado:  50%
8.  Kansas:  49%
9.  New Hampshire:  48%
10.  Maine:  46%
11.  Vermont:  45%
12.  California:  44%
13.  Mississippi:  43%
14.  Idaho:  41%
15.  Utah:  41%
16.  Texas:  40%
17.  Illinois:  39%
18.  Ohio:  38%
19.  New York:  37%
20.  Michigan:  37%
21.  Alabama:  36%
22.  North Carolina:  36%
23.  New Mexico:  35%
24.  Maryland:  34%
25.  Tennessee:  32%
26.  Massachusetts:  32%
27.  New Jersey:  31%
28.  South Carolina:  30%
29.  Pennsylvania:  29%
30.  Virginia:  29%
31.  Arizona:  29%
32.  Minnesota:  28%
33.  Indiana:  27%
34.  Georgia:  26%
35.  Delaware:  25%
36.  Oregon:  23%
37.  Rhode Island:  23%
38.  Connecticut:  22%
39.  Nevada:  22%
40.  Montana:  21%
41.  Iowa:  21%
42.  Washington:  21%
43.  West Virginia:  20%
44.  Alaska:  20%
45.  Arkansas:  20%
46.  Nebraska:  19%
47.  Wyoming:  19%
48.  South Dakota:  19%
49.  North Dakota:  18%
50.  Hawaii:  17%
Del Monte also asked U.S. and Illinois residents to rate their favorite "secret ingredient" -- a single, creative item that can be added to the casserole's iconic green bean, cream of mushroom, and french fried onion flavors to make it unique and different.  According to the survey, America's Top 10 most-wanted secret ingredients for green bean casserole are:
1.  Bacon (34%)
2.  Mushrooms (17%)
3.  Cheese (11%)
4.  Grilled Onions (8%)
5.  Almonds (7%)
6.  Sausage (6%)
7.  Bread crumbs or crushed crackers (5.6%)
8.  Garlic (5.2%)
9.  Jalapeños or hot sauce (4%)
10.  Sour cream (3%)
Del Monte also ranked its Top 5 most popular green bean casserole recipes (based on frequency on 2015 Thanksgiving dinner tables):
1.  Classic Green Bean Casserole:
2.  Bacon and Cheddar Green Bean Casserole:
3.  Sautéed Mushroom and Green Bean Casserole:
4.  Creole Sausage and Green Bean Casserole:
5.  Main Dish Green Bean Casserole

Corn Souffle

So, as I am making my list and checking it twice of what will be on the Thanksgiving table, I realized that one of my favorite sides has never been posted on the blog. I got this recipe a couple decades ago when I was a newlywed from my co-worker, Alma. She had brought it for an office potluck and I loved it. Ever since then I've made it for the holidays. It's super easy, but so good.

1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can cream corn
1 8-ounce container of sour cream
1 box Jiffy corn bread mix
2 eggs, beaten
1 stick melted butter
salsa and sour cream for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together and pour into a 9 X 13 or similar size casserole dish. Bake for 50 - 60 minutes.

Get the ultimate foodie gift on Black Friday: Chicago Gourmet 2016 Tickets

It's the mother of all Chicago culinary events.

Chicago Gourmet.

It's been dubbed "Culinary Heaven" and the moniker could not be more fitting. The event includes some of Chicago's most exclusive and well-known restaurants, wines from around the globe with demos and book signings and entertainment and special appearances by Chicago's finest chefs. It's a grand gathering of gastro-enthusiasts in a beautiful fall setting - Millennium Park.

If there's a foodie in your life, this is THE gift to get them. It's an experience that cannot be matched, but it's also one of the hottest culinary tickets in town and tickets go fast. On Black Friday, a limited number of Chicago Gourmet 2016 tickets will be available at a special discounted rate of $148 for a single day ticket or $250 for a Weekend Pass (not including taxes and fees.) Tickets go on sale at 12 a.m. CST on November 27. Dates for Chicago Gourmet 2016 are September 23, 24 and 25. Do your Black Friday shopping from your computer in your jammies with a glass of wine...and make the foodie in your life very, very happy!

Here's a few visuals from the fabulous 2015 Chicago Gourmet:

Delicious options on November's featured menu at Rock Bottom

It had been a couple years since I'd been at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery, so when I was invited for a tasting of their featured menu for the fall, I was excited to get back there and do some sampling. Hubby and I stopped by for a laid-back lunch at the casual eatery that prides itself on its house brews.

With about 14 beers on tap when we were there, I had to get a flight. Each Rock Bottom location has their own brewmaster and the Orland Park location that we went to has an uber enthusiastic one who offers a few more varieties on tap than some of the other locations. The flights include six four-ounce samples for just $6, a bargain in the craft beer world. Larger servings include a 10 oz. glass (at $3.75 and up), a 20 oz. pint or a 25 oz. mug. And of course, once you find your favorite, you can get a growler to go.

I love that although it's a franchise each location has its own brewer and a unique beer list that changes weekly. While their in-house beers are the centerpiece, there are also a few guest beers - standards that include Miller Lite and Stella Artois and microbrews like Revolution Anti-Hero IPA and Brickstone Right Swipe Session Pale Ale.

What we tried (from light to dark) were Bottoms Up Kolsch, Seasonal Wheat - Liquid Sun Hefe, La Grange IPA, Eric the Red Irish Style Red Ale, Lumpy Dog Brown, Oat Malt Stout. I prefer mild, smooth, citrus enhanced beers over the ultra hoppy and bitter beers. My faves were the Bottoms Up, the Seasonal Wheat and the Lumpy Dog Brown. Cheers to Iain Wilson, the Head Brewer!

There were four entrees on the featured menu and we tried out three. These are the Certified Angus Beef Tips, simmered in an ale demi-glace with portobello and button mushrooms over cheddar and green chili mashed potatoes and topped with crispy onions with slices of garlic bread. This light sauce was so full of flavor and being the mushroom lover I am, I adored the fact that it was loaded with them. The potatoes were fantastic and the crispy onions were a perfect topping to add a little casual crunch to this sophisticated dish.

As much as I liked the beef tips, this is one dish I can't get out of my mind and my taste buds. Really...I can't stop craving it. The RB Ale Chicken features juicy, tender seasoned chicken that is pan seared with oven roasted portobellos and Rock Bottom's own ale demi-glace served over those delicious cheddar and green chili mashed potatoes and served with a seasonal vegetable blend that included chayote, peppers and more. 

Ordinarily, chicken is not one of the first things I look at on a menu. I'm much more likely to go for a beff, seafood or pork dish, but I'm so glad I tried this and so happy to learn that it and the other featured entrees are on the regular menu. I highly recommend it and it will totally be what I order on the next visit.

I couldn't pass up the Brewer's Cobb Salad, so we split the entree. Pictured is a half portion that is loaded with generous portions of amazingly fresh ingredients. It was so hearty and satisfying, you forget it's a salad. They had me at avocado. And bacon. Who doesn't love bacon?

The fourth entree on the featured menu was an Avocado Chicken Sandwich that looked and sounded succulent and refreshing.

Also on the featured menu was the Whiskey Ginger Smash. I'm all for anything with ginger beer and this beverage wasn't overly sweet or watered down - a potent serving of paradise. 

If you visit before the end of November, you can also get one of their mason jar desserts for just $3. 

We sampled the Chocolate Mousse and the Salted Caramel. Both were fabulous, but the Salted Caramel was over-the-top amazing with a graham cracker bottom, a cream cheese layer and vanilla wafers with a sprinkling of salted caramel toffee over some light whipped cream. Do not leave without trying dessert. I mean it.

With its close proximity to Orland Square Mall, it's an ideal spot for a relaxing lunch before hitting the mall or to wind down with a pint and some grub after a long day of shopping. And speaking of shopping, who doesn't love a gift card for a meal out for the holidays? Between now and December 31, if you buy $25 in gift cards you receive two $5 bonus certificates. Treat the beer lover or foodie in your life and get a little bonus for yourself, too.

If you're more into the beer than the food, keep an eye out for their beer events that include special brew release events, pairings, charity tappings, bar bingo and more.

Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery 
16156 South La Grange Road 
Orland Park, IL
(708) 226-0021

***Disclosure: I did receive a complimentary meal. I was 
not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Home Run Inn Pizza now open in Lakeview

When the Chicago Foodie Sisters got an invite to check out the new Home Run Inn Pizza location that opened last month in Lakeview, I was eager to get there and give it a try. Although there are several locations in Chicagoland, I had only known Home Run Inn from the frozen version I'd had at home or the prepared slices I'd had at sporting events or places like Bengtson's Pumpkin Farm. It's totally the best frozen pizza out there, so I knew that getting it freshly prepared and hot out of the oven would only be even better.

When I found out that it was just steps off the red line at Belmont, I made plans with my friends, Lynnie and Debbie, to make a day of it - do some sampling at Home Run Inn and then make our way to Daley Plaza for the opening day of the Christkindlmarket. The location is super convenient and it made for a fun trip as we planned our day around it.

So, us three suburban gals hopped on the red line and hit Home Run Inn between lunch and dinner (they're open for lunch Friday - Sunday) ready to try out pizza and more. There's a nice selection of cocktails that we perused on our tablet menu, including this totes adorbs "Tea for Two" served in a carafe in this cute bucket with two glasses for the classic drink that is super smooth and goes down probably a little too easy. Lynnie enjoyed her sampling.

Debbie opted for a sweeter beverage, the Georgia Peach.

And I went for a refreshing glass of hard root beer.

On the appetizer menu, we tried out the popular bleu cheese fries. Not just bleu cheese fries, but but bleu cheese fries topped with bacon. I can't kid anyone into thinking that it is remotely healthy, but it is so worth the calories. This could have easily been my meal and I could have stopped there, but there was more to much more. So I begrudgingly stopped myself after a little scoop and saved room to keep tasting.

Next we tried out the bruschetta, a classic appetizer that I love. Every place seems to have their own little spin on it and I loved that rather than mini toasted Italian bread slices, this was served with large, thick slices of garlic cheese bread. Then that little bit of fresh parmesan on top finished it nicely. Again, I wanted to overindulge. That bread melted in your mouth.

Other appetizer options included mozzarella sticks, pretzel sticks with beer cheese dipping sauce and brown mustard and Tuscan white bean hummus.

With five salads on the menu, we had to sample one, so we settled on the HRI Signature Salad - a blend of romaine with marinated pasta, parmesan, bacon, black olives, sunflower seeds, garbanzo beans and craisins tossed with house gorgonzola Italian dressing. This was a great mix of flavors and textures and the dressing was very light. The salads come in small, entree or family portions. Pictured is a small. I'm thinking the family size would feed a small army. :) Portions of everything were very generous and great for sharing.

Now onto the centerpiece of the sampling - the pizza. I don't think I had ever tried anything besides the sausage pizza, so I wanted to sample something different. These are the 8" personal size pizzas, which each had six slices.

There are a number of specialty pizzas on the menu along with the option of creating your own. Some of the featured pizzas are Laura's Favorite with spinach and plum tomatoes on garlic butter crust, the Mediterranean with Turkey sausage, roasted red peppers, black olives and fresh garlic and the Garlic Fireball with sausage, jalapeño peppers and giardiniera on garlic butter crust.

We tried out the Nick's Super with sausage, mushroom and bell peppers and onions and a grilled artichoke, roasted garlic and spinach (and we added onions,) with a white wine cream sauce.  Both were fantastic with great flavor, a nice flaky crust and perfectly cooked.

If somehow you live around Chicago and don't prefer pizza (is that even possible?), you can also choose from a variety of sandwiches and pastas. They also have a kids menu with options of pizza, mac & cheese, chicken nuggets, grilled chicken with carrot sticks or rigatoni.

By the time we got to dessert, I didn't think I could take another bite, but managed a couple. We tried the Ghirardelli Chocolate Bomb Cupcake. They've also got three other gourmet cupcakes and they even have some in to-go cups at the front counter. This one had rich, dark Ghirardelli chocolate cupcake with chocolate chips, topped with creamy mousse and chocolate fudge. This chocoholic gives it an enthusiastic thumbs up.

And at the recommendation of manager, Fernando, we also sampled their Signature Cookie Monster dessert. Actually, this is the mini version. It's got a warm chocolate cookie crust topped with vanilla ice cream whipped cream, chocolate chips and chocolate sauce.

The atmosphere is trendy, yet cozy. Loved the exposed brick and the hardwood floors that were flawlessly smooth, but without that blinding shiny glossy look. Props on the bar, too, where the brick is carried over with subtle under lighting, giving a classy vibe.

And I always say that a place can have the best food, but the experience isn't complete unless the service is awesome. Shout out to Tiwan for the great job as a server for our group.

3215 N. Sheffield Ave.
Chicago, IL 60657

***Disclosure: I did receive a complimentary meal. I was not compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.