I had the amazing opportunity to visit Shanghai for work, with a little side trip to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is a fabulous, modern and trendy city with something for everyone. I enjoyed the Soho area on Hong Kong Island with all of the trendy shops and restaurants. There is an international vibe in this area and a creative energy that reminded me of New York. I would definitely go back to Hong Kong & spend more time – maybe get some custom clothes made.
Below are some of my tips & observations in Hong Kong:
The Regal Kowloon Hotelin Hong Kong was a pretty good place to stay –the price was moderate at about $150/night, the rooms were clean, it was in a good location, included free WiFi, and the breakfast buffet was great! They had breakfast choices available for all cultures including American breakfast, Chinese, they had Indian food, and it was quite a spread. If you want a more glamorous hotel, the Peninsula and Langham Hotels are a staple on Kowloon. It could also be fun to try a boutique hotel on Hong Kong Island, but it won’t be cheap!
My hotel room at the Regal Kowloon Hotel in Hong Kong
Be sure to visit the Soho area Soho reminded me of a mix of San Francisco (with the huge hills) and New York, with the cute shops and restaurants. I enjoyed the Olive Greek & Mediterranean Restaurant, which had great service and delicious food. It has good reviews on Trip Advisor as well. I also spent a nice amount of time in a boutique called Goods of Desire where there is a variety of trendy Chinese-inspired gifts, clothes & jewelry.
The Temple Street night market is a fun experience, but don’t expect much as far as the merchandise. Like my co-worker said, it’s like visiting a huge dollar store. Still a great place to take in the sights and sounds of the city.
Temple Street Market in Hong Kong
Egg waffles are a popular street food to try with long lines. They tasted a lot like a hot fortune cookie but in a waffle format. Not very sweet, but they seem to be all the rage. I personally could have used a little bit of vanilla ice cream and nutella – that would have taken them over the top.
Egg waffles are the thing to eat in Hong Kong!
Public transportation is a breeze! So easy and clean. There is an express train that goes from the airport to Kowloon, and a shuttle that goes straight to the Regal Kowloon Hotel.
On the train in Hong Kong. So clean and quiet
The Big Buddha was an interesting experience, with beautiful views and a little village full of places to shop and things to do.
Me in front of the big buddha
Shanghai has the best skyline I’ve ever seen. The city is slightly overwhelming as it’s very large and spread out with a population of 23 million people. Being from Chicago, our skyline is hard to beat, but I fell in love with the gorgeous buildings and the Shanghai pearl tower.
Shanghai’s breathtaking skyline!
Tips & Observations in Shanghai:
Be prepared for the toilets. They are literally a hole in the ground. It takes a little maneuvering to navigate. Keep some tissues on hand just in case you need them. There are the “western toilets” in some places, like the shopping malls, but this style is common as well.
The toilet situation in Shanghai. Get ready!
Napkins don’t seem to be a thing in Shanghai. Many times you will get a hot towel, but that’s about it.
In the touristy areas, many of the people from other provinces haven’t seen many people from other cultures. As a black woman, I felt like a celebrity sometimes. People’s eyes would get big, they would start whispering to each other, and sometimes walk over and ask for a picture. I even caught some people sneaking pictures – acting like they were taking a selfie, but they were really taking pictures of me! It was crazy how excited they were. They said that we were “foreign beauties.” I’ll take it!
Yu Garden is a fun place to walk around and shop. The French Concession area also has some trendy little unique shops where they had unique restaurant concepts and stores with beauty products.
In the French Concession area frolicking under the umbrellas!
China bans Facebook and Google. You need to get a VPN before you get over there.
Personal space is very small in China. People get very close to you in elevators and trains, and you may be cut off while walking or pushed in a large crowd. Get ready!
The food in China is different than it is here in the states. The sauces are different. It’s still tasty, but just different. Chinese food every day got a little bit tiring, I will say. The thing that I appreciated coming back to the states is our wide variety of cuisines from around the world. The first thing I ate was Lou Malnati’s pizza!
Overall, this was a trip to remember – my first major international business trip. I flew business class for the first time & that’s definitely the way to go for a 15 hour flight. The fully reclining seats & lounge access are a huge bonus. Traveling truly makes you appreciate different cultures, but also reminds you of the things you take for granted (like our freedom of speech and our wonderful variety of food). So long, China! It’s been real!
One reason I love food is that it connects us with people. It’s easy to get caught up in social media, and not be truly connected to people. Facebook can sometimes be more like “Fakebook”. You don’t really know what’s going on in your friend’s lives, and it can represent a false sense of reality. It’s important to invest in and nurture the friendships that really count – The friends that you could call in the middle of the night, or that would help you move if you needed help. You know what I’m talking about!
One fun way to reconnect, especially as this weather is getting cooler outside is to open up your home and host a tea party. It seems as if home entertainment is not as prevalent these days – so it’s always nice to have this personal touch. There’s no need to spend $50+ at a fancy hotel or restaurant. Tea is growing in popularity, and it’s sugar free, calorie-free, it has antioxidants, and you can get it with or without caffeine. Plus, there is something about tea that makes people feel special – like royalty.
Below are some tips for hosting a fabulous DIY Tea Party:
– Keep it Casual: You don’t have to be perfect, have fancy formal teaware, etc. Just use what you have, have your guests bring their favorite teapots, and teas. Have a tea tasting or vote on the cutest teapot.
– Less is More: Keep the guest list smaller and more intimate to really connect. You can do an easy one-on-one tea or have up to 5 guests to keep it more intimate.
– Have fun with teapots: Ask guests to bring theirs, or you can even find some at specialty tea shops, and even thrift stores. David’s Tea has really unique accessories, like this cute sweater that goes around the teapot. Here in Chicago, Chinatown has some ADORABLE tea pots in many of the stores.
Cute sweater teapot from David’s Tea
Add tags on your teapots to describe the tea inside
– Don’t Skim the Fat: No tea party is complete without scones. If you choose to make them from scratch, and the recipe calls for cream, be sure to get cream with a high fat content (at least 40% fat) for the best flavor. Place them in a bowl and sprinkle in some fresh raspberries or blueberries for some nice presentation.
Add raspberries or blueberries for garnish and presentation
– Offer Variety: Offer a few different tea options to choose from, i.e. Black, Green, Herbal or Roobios. One of my favorite tea brands is the Republic of Tea. They have a lovely Earl Grey, and I have literally bought multiple canisters of the Limited Edition Downton Abbey flavor from World Market. It has a nice sweetness to it that makes it really pleasant. Target also has a delicious Cinnamon tea called Hot Cinnamon Sunset by Harney & Sons that tastes like a Hot Tamale Candy – you don’t even need to add any sugar. It’s very comforting and if you like cinnamon, you will LOVE this tea.
When it comes to friendship,”analog” offline connections have so much better quality than the digital world like “Fakebook” and Instagram. Hopefully these tips will spark some ideas for reconnecting with good friends to warm your heart and your soul.
For more inspirational content, check out my friend Jamie’s blog at http://www.mygr8estlove.com. It’s all about inner beauty and there are some amazing fashion tips. Enjoy!
Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful city, and I enjoyed the beaches and fabulous views during my visit in August. There is good food in Rio but you have to know where to find it.
One popular dish in Brazil is a comforting, delicious meal called Feijoada. This black bean stew includes pork and meat, which provides rich flavor. Rice, mustard greens, and a cornmeal dish are served along with it, making it very hearty. I mixed all of the flavors together and it was incredibly satisfying and comforting. My friends and I had this dish at a restaurant called Boteco Belmonte in Rio. This would be a great dish to make on a cold, Chicago fall or winter day – now I just need to find a good recipe!
My friends and I enjoying Feijoada in Rio
The national cocktail is the caiprinha drink, which is mixed with cachaca (similar to rum), sugar, and lime. The best ones are found on the beach, where they are nice and sweet with a kick, and incredibly inexpensive compared to bars/hotels.
Delicious and refreshing caiprinha
Another wonderful treat in Brazil are the corner juice bars. They make juices and smoothies and they are absolutely delicious. They offer a number of different fruits, and one of the popular flavors was Acai – which is a superfruit rich in antioxidants. I had mine blended with banana, and it can be thick enough to be served with a spoon. You can also make a bowl of it and eat it with granola to add some crunchy texture.
Delicious Acai-banana smoothie
Brazil is also known for it’s steakhouses, and there is steak everywhere. Shrimp was on many of the menus as well. Being Americans, we really like having some variety in our cuisine, so we sought out a couple of other non-Brazilian restaurants that did not disappoint. I happened to find Santa Satisfacio restaurant on Yelp. As much as people/restaurants sometimes say bad things about Yelp, I really like to use it as a tool to find good restaurants, even when I’m traveling internationally. This Italian restaurant had some great reviews, and Yelp didn’t steer us wrong. The food was AMAZING. I can honestly say that it’s the best Italian food I’ve had in a long time. The salads were very creative. We had a garlic pasta alfredo dish where all of the flavors were incredibly well-balanced, and a tomato-based pasta dish as well. Highly recommended. If you happen to be visiting Rio, I would highly recommend this restaurant. It’s small and quaint with a trendy vibe and it was a participant in Restaurant week there. Check out this link to see pictures of their food.
Amazing pasta at Santa Satisfacio!
Another great restaurant we found was in Ipanema called Via Sete. My friends and I ate there for lunch and their menu was very creative. The cocktails were great – Pictured here is a Passion Fruit cocktail and one that I made up with strawberries, lime and mint with cachaca, which is like rum. They had a nice variety from upscale sandwiches, wraps, and salads to seafood dishes. I had a delicious chicken wrap, and one of my friends had the grilled octopus which looks amazing. Check them out at TripAdvisor here:
Refreshing cocktails at Via Sete in Ipanema
Grilled Octopus at Via Sete
Rio Travel Tips to Make Your Life Easier:
– Learn some basic Portuguese. People in Rio don’t speak English like you may find in Europe. There may be only one person in a restaurant that knows English. A good way to learn is through an app called DuoLingo. It’s free and a lot of fun. You can learn a language for 5 minutes a day if you are diligent.
– Stay in a hotel that offers beach services, including umbrella and chair set-up, towels and water. This makes your life so much easier. We stayed at the Pestana Rio Atlantica Hotel on Copacabana Beach which has these services included and it was great.
– Go to the Spa at Belmond Copacabana Palace as soon as you land. Don’t delay. Run, don’t walk. I had an amazing massage there. The next time I go on an international trip, the Spa is going to be my first stop!
Last week, I was invited as a food blogger to attend a media dinner at Weber Grill. I had never been to the location downtown, so I was excited to visit and see what the refreshed menu had in store.
Weber has some refreshing new cocktails, including a classic rum-based daiquiri, which was stirred, not frozen, and there wasn’t a strawberry in sight. It’s a tasty drink, which would be lovely on a nice summer day on the Weber Grill patio.
Weber’s new summer drink – “Old School” rum daiquiri with a lovely edible flower
Executive Chef Jason Friedland stopped by my table & mentioned that the Prime Kettle burger started off at Weber as a special item, but it was so popular that they recently decided to make it a regular menu item. The caramelized bourbon grilled onions are amazing on this burger. The touch of bourbon really makes these onions stand out.
Weber Grill’s Kettle Burger with Bourbon Caramelized Onions. YES!! Do you see this cheese dripping off of this burger??
The plank-grilled Chilean Sea Bass is a nice, light option, and as you would expect, Weber really knows how to grill fish. It was prepared just right with roasted cauliflower mashed potatoes, which has a touch of citrus to give it that little somethin’ somethin’.
Plank-Grilled Chilean Sea Bass from Weber Grill
Weber is also introducing some new dessert items that have a cake layer on the bottom, and creamy goodness on the top. My favorite was the chocolate peanut butter. A nice sweet treat to end the meal.
Chocolate peanut butter dessert – my favorite!
Weber Grill is a classic Chicago restaurant with good straightforward food – great for foodies and non-foodies alike. I would feel comfortable inviting out of town guests, families with kids, my foodie friends, co-workers, and I would also do carry-out. (I noticed a carry-out station in the front corner of the restaurant). Weber is truly a Chicago gem, and I highly recommend it for a lovely al fresco spring or summer evening.
My menu selections for the evening
Disclosure: I received this complimentary meal as a part of a media dinner. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions I have expressed are my own.
I had the incredible opportunity to work the red carpet and interview local Chicago chefs and celebrities at Chef Judson Allen’s first annual Chef Blend Weekend in January. The purpose of the event was to eradicate childhood obesity and celebrate locally grown food and restaurants.
This event really was a treat, as local restaurants, bakeries, wine brands, and foodies from all over Chicago came together for an evening full of flavor, music and fun. One highlight of the event was seeing Chef Judson’s team surprise him as they revealed a picture of him on the cover of Cuisine Noir. He had no idea that he was going to be on the cover. I love seeing nice surprises.
I also had a ball interviewing Alderman Bob Fioretti, and cutting the rug with him on the red carpet. Who knew that he could dance? You’ll see a couple of his moves in the video below – at the 2:07 mark. Fun!
Check out the event video footage, and be sure to look out for Chef Judson Allen’s Chef Blend Weekend next year!
The Chicago Auto Show is hosting the First Look for Charity event on Friday 2/13, and I’m so excited that I was invited to attend as a food blogger. I had no idea that the Chicago Auto show hosts this fabulous event every year. Who knew? Not me, apparently…
This black-tie event is held at McCormick place with gourmet food and drink, and a sneak preview of the Chicago Auto Show, all in the name of charity. 18 local charities will benefit from this event, which raised $2 million last year.
I was invited to a media preview event, and the food that will be at this event is truly going to be a treat, as you can see from the pictures below. Zed 451 (one of my favorites), Roy’s, Real Urban Barbecue and Adobo Grill are just a few restaurants that will be represented.
In addition to the delicious food, guests also get to roam around the auto show, which will feature live music, and there will also be a Ford Explorer & Ford Fusion given away at the event.
The great news is that there’s still time to get tickets! To get in on all of the fabulosity,
When my friend asked me if I wanted to visit her in Europe, I immediately said yes, as I love to travel. We decided on Barcelona on Thanksgiving weekend, and the best part is that I was able to use airline miles and hotel points for a virtually free trip!
Ham, Ham everywhere!
Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city that offers amazing food, art, history & shopping. It’s pretty easy to navigate once you understand the lay of the land. I would highly suggest getting on one of the hop-on hop off tours as soon as you arrive to get a feel for where everything is located. I stayed at the trendy DoubleTree Hotel, and enjoyed the location and the great service.
My lovely hotel – the Doubletree Alexandra Barcelona
Lunch in Barcelona starts around 2pm and dinner starts around 8-9pm, so the eating schedule takes a little getting used to, especially when you have jet lag like I did. Between 2-4pm is siesta where people take their lunch breaks and rest. This mid-day break is taken very seriously as many stores close during this time. It’s very important to pay attention to store hours on the outside of buildings when in Barcelona, especially if it’s a small shop or boutique.
Pay attention to these signs
I went on a Gourmet walking tour, which was quite informative. The food that you see in Spain truly ties into their history. One pleasant surprise was the huge number of French bakeries and pastries available, as Spain was under French rule for two centuries, and the food stayed (yes!). I enjoyed getting croissants and tea as my breakfast in the morning.The first place I visited to eat was Cafe Emma, which was a bistro on Pau Claris – thoroughly enjoyed it!
Ham seemed like the national food there, and I learned that there are 2 types of ham, black hoof and white hoofed ham. The black hoofed ham is raised on the countryside and is considered to be of higher quality. It generally has less fat than ham with the white hoof. The black-hoofed pigs are fed acorns and are encouraged to run, which results in a high-quality piece of meat. I went into the La Boqueria food market, and was shocked to see ham laying there with the hooves still on them. (As Jimmy Fallon says, “ew!”). At first I was grossed out, but after learning more about it, I understood that the hooves are on them so that you can know the level of quality you are getting.
This hoof of the ham was startling at first until I learned more
In Barcelona, there were a number of restaurants offering Pinxos (pronounced “peen-chos”). The idea of Pinxos is quite genius. They are basically small appetizers on top of bread with a small stick in it. You go in, get a plate, grab the food you want, and then when you are finished, the waitress/cashier will count the number of remaining sticks you have for your final price. This is great because if you just want a little snack, you could just get 2-3 pinxos for about 5-6 Euro. There were also dessert Pinxos available, which gave me some party ideas. A Pinxos restaurant concept would be great in the city of Chicago – especially in the loop where people don’t have a lot of time to devote to lunch.
Pinxos in Barcelona
As far as tapas are concerned, the restaurants in Barcelona offered many of the same tapas that you may see in American restaurants, but they taste much better. I had the best Patatas Bravas that I’ve ever had IN LIFE.
If you get tired of tapas and pinxos, there are other cuisines available in Barcelona. We stopped by Thai Barcelona for some Thai Food, and the food was good, and the ambiance was absolutely gorgeous. I will say that the food was a bit pricy – around 18 Euros for an entrée, but it was a nice experience.
Another restaurant that I enjoyed visiting was called Cornelia and Co. the ambiance was very laid back and relaxed, and the food was good (although they had small portions). Good place to go if you are dining alone. They had a good mix of cuisines, including Spanish and Italian food, and I tried this Catalan dish with bread where you rub garlic on top, drizzle olive oil and sea salt on it, then squeeze the juice of a tomato on it. Delish – although I ended up smelling like garlic for a couple of days. The woman who sat next to me in the restaurant showed me how to do it.
Catalan bread and olive oil with tomatoes, and sea salt. Delish!
Below is a video where you can see some of my adventures. Enjoy!!
As you may have heard, the ever-so-popular Shake Shack chain arrived in Chicago this week. This East-Coast burger chain has a huge following, and there are already lines out the door to prove it! Conde Nast Traveler voted it as one of the best chain restaurants IN. THE. ENTIRE. WORLD. That’s so serious.
Shake Shack provided me with 10 coupons for a FREE cup or cone of their frozen custard ice cream. This creamy ice cream is spun fresh daily, and the recipes use only real sugar (no corn syrup) and hormone-free milk from dairy farmers.
In addition to the classic vanilla and chocolate flavors, they also have daily specials in amazing flavors like Chocolate Cheesecake, Salted Caramel, Pumpkin Pie, and Grandma’s Apple Pie. YUM!! Don’t you want to go RIGHT NOW?
In order to get one of these free coupons, enter via the link below – I will randomly pick the winners and contact winners directly on Wednesday, November 12th:
I had the opportunity to interview Sam Toia, the President of the Illinois Restaurant Association during the Chicago Gourmet show, and learned that Chicago Gourmet was key to helping Chicago to host the James Beard Awards it’s 25th year (after being held in New York for the past 24 years). Impressive! So, how did that happen?
Below are my interview highlights from my chat with Sam Toia:
Q: What has Chicago Gourmet Done for the Restaurant Industry in both Chicago and in Illinois?
A: “We are bringing the James Beard Foundation Award ceremonies here in May, and it all started with Chicago Gourmet. It started 7 years ago, and the talent that we have in this town from Rick Bayless, to Stephanie Izard to Graham Elliot is phenomenal. We are able to showcase to the city, the state and the rest of the country that our homegrown talent is as good or better than they have in New York, San Francisco or LA. There are over 180 chefs participating in Chicago Gourmet, so just by that fact you see that every chef wants to participate in Chicago Gourmet.”
Q: How does Chicago Gourmet benefit Chicago from a Financial/Tourism standpoint?A: “The Mayor is working on getting 55 Million visitors a year to the city of Chicago by 2020, and it looks like we are closing in on 50 Million in the next year, so we’re getting close! When people look at what city they are going to travel to, 38% look at the restaurants in that town. They may say “I want to go to Mexique, I want to go to Grace, I want to go to Stephanie Izard, Frontera…Alinea…” – so they look at the restaurants and then make the reservations to come. The front half is business, but the back half is tourism. Chicago Gourmet shows how great the homegrown talent is here, and it’s getting bigger and better every year, and attracting more visitors. It’s great for the industry, the tax base, the restaurants, the museums, and it’s one of the cogs in the wheel to bring more people to Chicago.”
Q: This year, Chicago Gourmet is sold out and the demand is off the charts. Do you have plans to grow it, add more days, etc.
A: Absolutely, we are always looking to grow. We will definitely sit down and go back to the table. We need more real estate. Over the weekend, we bring in about 12,000 people between the Hamburger Hop, and Saturday and Sunday at Chicago Gourmet.
Q: What big things is the Illinois Restaurant Association working on for 2015?
A: “We are bringing the James Beard Award ceremonies here. It was 24 years in New York, and it’s the first time they are out of New York in their 25th year. The James Beard awards are like the Oscars of the food industry, so we will be working on that, and it’s the first Monday in May. We will be working on that as soon as we wrap up with Chicago Gourmet with the ChooseChicago tourism arm here in the city. We are working very diligently on the ceremony coming in May.”
Erica: “Wow – That’s taking Chicago’s food scene to a WHOLE new level – Having the Beard’s here after 24 years in New York? How did you do that?”
Sam Toia: “There had always been rumbles about moving to San Francisco, or another city, and Mayor Emmanuel reached out and said that it would be great to have the Beard’s here, so we had great cooperation from City Hall and Choose Chicago, and we made our presentation to the Beard Foundation. With the homegrown talent here, it just made sense. San Francisco was trying to get it, and we got it before San Francisco.”
So, there you have it. Chicago should be proud. Keep an eye on the James Beards in May – I know I will be! In the meantime, check out the delectable bites I had from our amazing homegrown talent in the best food city in the world – Chicago!:
[caption id="attachment_827" align="alignleft" width="640"] Lemon Olive Oil Cake from Acanto
Bourbon Mousse with Smoked Bourbon Sugar Bacon from the Dawson
Roasted Apple Ice Cream Taffy Apple from Mindy Segal
This past weekend, I had the honor of representing the Common Threads Associate Board on ABC7 News to talk about the upcoming Common Threads Cook-Off on Thursday, October 7th. See below for the video of the coverage on the event. What a great experience!
Front lobby of ABC 7 Studio
Me and chef Terry Fucik from Dirk’s Fish before our appearance