When my friend asked if I would be interested in going to Iceland, I said “Why not?” (I read Shonda Rhimes book the Year of Yes, so I’m very open to things this year).
It’s a surprisingly short flight (only 5 hours from JFK airport in New York), it’s clean, modern, they speak English, and there are drop-dead gorgeous landscapes.
As I started my research, I kept reading that Iceland has terrible food. I will admit that I didn’t have any of the dried fish or rotten shark BUT I was able to have some food that was tasty and delicious. I will note that the food in Iceland is expensive. It seemed as if everything costs a minimum of $20. Minimum.
If you ever make your way to Reykjavik Iceland, be sure to check out these dishes and restaurants:
I stayed at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina (excellent hotel that I would HIGHLY recommend) and the breakfast and Sunday brunch were excellent. They have a fantastic variety with foods including oatmeal, flatbreads, waffles, bacon, quiche, breakfast pastries, fruit, etc.
The Sunday brunch costs about $30 USD and the breakfasts during the week are about $25. This breakfast/brunch is worth the price. We ended up going there 3 times. So good.
Flatbread pizza – YUM!
I had some lamb & vegetable soup at Geysir Restaurant during one of the tours I went on to see a Geyser, and it was absolutely delicious. According to my tour guide, sheep live as wild animals in the mountains resulting in excellent quality meat. The soup had a light broth, had a mild in flavor, and great texture. I would highly recommend it if you like lamb. The cost was $20 and included bread and butter along with 1 free soup refill.
As cool as it was in Reykjavik in August (Mid-50’s), Ice Cream was a popular treat.
A local suggested that we visit Valdis over by the marina, and it did not disappoint. The flavors were incredible. I had a flavor called Bailey’s & Ranill, which tasted like RumChata, and I paired that with a coffee-flavored ice cream. Best combination of all time. They also had an interesting grey-colored licorice flavor, which tasted like a black jelly bean. The shop is a little bit off the beaten path, and there seemed to be mostly locals at this shop. They also give huge portions if you wanted to share with a friend. My two scoops of Ice Cream on a cone cost me about $6 USD.
This place was so good that I forgot to take a picture. There was a line out the door that was about a 30-minute wait. They are known for their lobster soup & they offer a number of grilled fish items on skewers, and you can also get potatoes and vegetable skewers. I had the salmon skewer, and it was perfectly cooked and seasoned. After I ordered, they said that it would take another 30 minutes for the food to come out. It was worth the wait – definitely stop by here for some fresh seafood. It was also relatively inexpensive at ~$25 USD for the Salmon skewer and the potato skewer.
Hot Dogs at Bæjarins Beztu
This is a famous hot dog stand in Reykjavik where celebrities frequent, including Bill Clinton and most recently the Kardashians. The hot dog was tasty and had unique toppings including ketchup, a mayo sauce, sweet mustard, and fried crispy onions underneath the hot dog. The crispy onions added nice flavor and crunch – I would definitely get it again. My hot dog cost about $5 USD.
For a change of pace, we tried a Himalayan-Tibetan restaurant with Ramen noodles. I had the chicken broth and chicken added to my noodles but found it to be bland. Be sure to ask to for it to be spicy, as my friend did and liked hers better. The chicken dumplings were ordered as a side item and those were crunchy & delicious! The space is tiny, so we got the food to-go and ate it at the hotel. The cost for the Ramen and fried dumplings was about $25 USD.
Nice change of pace
Lava Restaurant at the Blue Lagoon
The food here was good, but ridiculously overpriced. For lunch, I ordered the Cod fish with potatoes along with a beet salad, and tasted my friend’s crème brulee. The cost was about $65 USD.
The Skyr yogurt in Iceland is delicious, silky, smooth, and packs a lot of protein. In general, be sure to have any dairy products that you can – the texture really is fantastic. Almost luxurious. This yogurt is available everywhere, from hotels to convenience stores – you won’t be able to miss it. I’m going to be looking for this at Whole Foods here in the states.
Silky, luxurious yogurt
Fast Food: Domino’s Pizza
I hate to admit it, but I ate Domino’s Pizza in Iceland. (I know. Shameful.) There was a late bus schedule at the Blue Lagoon and we got back to Reykyavik after 10pm. Little did we know that all the restaurants close around 10pm in Iceland. We ordered pizza delivery because we were tired and cold and didn’t feel like walking across town to the one restaurant that was open. Note that a small pizza in Iceland is more like a personal-pan pizza size in the US. Itty bitty. I live in Chicago so I never eat Domino’s but it was actually pretty tasty (or maybe we were just hungry). The cost for a small pizza and wings was about $25 USD.
As a side note, there is no McDonalds or Starbucks in Reykjavík. I was told that there was a McDonalds but it closed down because the prices were too high.
Reykjavik is a charming city and I hope that it can maintain it’s charm with the influx of tourists. I ate very well in Iceland & hopefully with these tips, you will too!
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.
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
On October 2nd, culinary creativity will shine at the Common Threads Cook-Off. Chicago’s top chefs & mixologists will create and serve their favorite dish from the garden, the pasture, the seed, the barn or the barrel, while guestsvote for their favorite in each category.
Dirk and Teresa (Terry) Fucik of Dirk’s Fish are one of the +30 chefs competing in thiscompetition, and discussed some of their thoughts around Common Threads, the event, and the competition.
Q: Why are you involved with the Common Threads Cook-Off?
A: Terry and Dirk love children, and have been involved with Common Threads in many aspects, including volunteering in the after-school program with the kids as guest chefs, participating in the World Festival Fundraiser, and volunteering at the Ronald McDonald house. Terry loves teaching and enjoys seeing kids so excited and eager to learn about healthy cooking and eating. She especially likes teaching kids about different cultures, (i.e. how to cook Senegalese Stew) and how food unites us as the human race. She can personally identify with the kids because she taught herself how to cook and started cooking for her family when she was 12. She came from humble beginnings, so she can truly identify with what the kids may need, and appreciates that the recipes are accessible and affordable. “Common Threads is doing it the right way.”
Q. Which category have you selected for this competition?
A: “From the Barn” using Farm-Raised sustainable and certified fish. There is a lot of public misconception around fish farms, and Dirk’s Fish likes to educate people that fish farms are ok, as long as they are farmed properly. It’s not possible to meet consumer demand for fish without farms, as our oceans and lakes are starting to become depleted of natural resources. Just like beef and chicken are farmed, fish can be farmed too. There are good and bad farms for fish, just as there are for other proteins. Dirk and Terry choose farms that are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, which focuses on sustainable seafood.
Q: What is your strategy for competing in the Cook-Off?
A: People are so into burgers these days, and they like eating them with a fried egg and a slab of bacon on top, which can sound like a heart attack on a bun. Dirk’s Fish wants to represent the burger in a completely different way, where it’s extremely tasty, and flavorful, yet really healthy. When people hear the word “burger”, they are more willing to try different types of fish, so this competition will feature a fish slider.
You are invited to try Dirk and Terry’s fish slider and the culinary creations of +30 additional chefs & mixologists at The Common Threads Cook-Off at Revel Downtown on Thursday, October 2nd at 6:30pm. We wish Dirk and Terry the best of luck!
The face of lunch in the loop is now much more exciting with the opening of Rustle + Roux Cafe, located in the Franklin building at 227 West Monroe Building on the 2nd Floor Mezzanine.
This upscale, quick dining experience features Italian fare from Mercato by Fabio Viviani, and Mexican flavors from Mercadito Taqueria. (Yes, the same Mercadito from River North is now available in a smaller, lunch version!)
Chef Fabio Viviani
Chef Fabio Viviani will be onsite at the grand opening on Monday, June 9th from 11am-1pm for cooking demos, giveaways and more.
Rustle + Roux will offer seven food stations:
– Mercato – Napoli-style pizzas, fresh salads and a variety of gnocchi and pasta made from scratch
– Mercadito Taqueria – delicious salads, tacos, and traditional side dishes
– Grill’d – freshly made sandwiches
– So Deli – a sandwich station complete with a carvery
– Create – a station of daily made to order items
– A salad bar – fresh, seasonal ingredients
– illy coffee bar
As a food blogger, I was invited to visit Rustle + Roux to check out the place and taste some of the food. I had the opportunity to try the Baja Mahi fish tacos, fried plantains, and guacamole and chips from the Mercadito Taquiera, and they were all delicious. The tacos tasted just like they do at the original Mercadito location (which happens to be one of my favorite restaurants), and I was especially excited about the fried plantains, which comes with a fantastic lime sauce and is not something that is offered very often on lunch menus.
Chips & Guac from Mercadito Taqueria
The Mercato station is a mini version of the ever-popular Sienna Tavern restaurant with the homemade gnocchi and pizza options. I tried the Basil and Parmesan pesto gnocchi from the Mercato station, which were soft, fluffy and delicious, with full of flavor, along with the slow braised Bolognaise, which was just perfect.
Delicious Mahi taco at Mercadito Taqueria
Each station will have a specialty menu, in addition to new daily and weekly options featuring fresh ingredients and scratch-made entrees that are sourced locally whenever possible.
The café will serve breakfast and lunch weekdays from 7 a.m. – 2 p.m., with illy coffee and to-go menu items offered until 3 p.m.
Rustle+Roux will also offer catering, so for those of you that have the option to select lunch meeting food, this would be a great option for catering. Wouldn’t it be great to have tacos from Mercadito Taquiera for your office lunch meeting?
The cafe also offers free WiFi, which is a great touch for those that need to multitask during lunch.
Lunch in the loop has definitely taken a step in the right direction. Break out of the monotony and check it out – I will admit that it’s a little tricky to find at first (go up the escalators after entering the lobby to the second floor, and follow the signs), but once you go just once, it’s easy to get to. More information can be found at the Rustle+Roux website http://www.rustleandroux.com. See you there!
I had the rare opportunity to be an Official Sprinkles Taste Tester at Sprinkles Cupcakes with about 20 other bloggers (shout out to Windy City Blogger Collective) and below are a few things I learned “backstage” that most people don’t know:
I’m an official Sprinkles Taste Tester! Dream come true!
1. The cupcakes are hand frosted with a spatula (not a piping bag), and there is a specific style of frosting the cupcakes so that they all look so elegant and delicious:
o Dollop a big hunk of frosting on the top. Smooth it flat with a spatula, then smooth it out on the sides.
o Create a sprinkles swirl on the top and add the signature candy piece, or dip the cupcake frosting-side down in a bowl of sprinkles.
I learned how to do it, but my cupcakes didn’t look like theirs – it takes a lot of practice to make cupcakes as perfectly beautiful as theirs. In fact, they have a “cupcake graveyard” for cupcakes that don’t make the cut. It’s all about quality control, folks! (My cupcake would have gone to the graveyard).
My attempt at decorating a cupcake sprinkles style…
Still tasted good…
2. They really do use quality ingredients. If you see a strawberry cupcake, they put real strawberries in them. This is why they taste so good. The chocolate that they use is high-quality stuff. Sprinkles doesn’t play…
High Quality Chocolate. Only the best!
3. Sprinkles now offers MINI CUPCAKES! It’s nice to have options. The frosting is piped on these because they are so small.
4. The Sprinkles Cupcakes bakers can frost about 35 cupcakes in about 6-8 minutes. Impressive!
5. There is a Sprinkles cupcake jingle that’s actually kind of hot. It has a rap verse in it & you have to listen. It’s a catchy tune, and you will probably find yourself randomly humming it – or you will sing it while you are eating one of their cupcakes…
I’ve been a fan of Sprinkles after I had my first bite of their vanilla cupcake when they first opened the Chicago location. I always like to judge a good cupcake shop by the vanilla flavor – if they can make a good vanilla, everything else should taste amazing. My other favorites are the Strawberry and the Cinnamon & they are always introducing new seasonal flavors.
Sprinkles put the gourmet cupcake trend on the map and they continue to innovate with their cupcake ATM and amazing flavors. These are just a couple of reasons that there is always a line out the door that I will GLADLY stand in. If you’ve never been, check it out – you’ll be singing that jingle in no time!
This is just a little bit bigger than my KitchenAid mixer at home…
Cupcakes waiting to be frosted
Cupcake box with a special message for mom!
Keeping it real with actual Tequila in the margarita cupcakes
My new t-shirt that I will wear proudly
Our group of Taste Testers from Windy City Bloggers!
Photo Credit: Windy City Blogger Collective
This past weekend, I attended “A Charitable Confection”, which was a dessert-centric fundraiser to benefit a charity called Project Orange Tree. As a food blogger, I received complimentary admission to the event, and I want to share these amazing dessert finds that you absolutely need to know about:
– Brown Sugar Bakery – Brown Sugar is a classic – you really can’t go wrong with Brown Sugar Bakery, especially if you like southern desserts like sweet potato pie, peach cobbler, banana pudding and caramel cake. Stephanie the owner is really sweet, and will work with you on custom orders. This bakery won the Best Bakery award on Steve Harvey in 2013 (you can see the clip on their website at http://www.brownsugarbakerychicago.com, so if that doesn’t tell you anything, then I don’t know what to tell you!) Brown Sugar is truly a Chicago staple.
– Yum Squared Bakery – Yum Squared is a great place for you to go if you need dessert catering for an event. I had a wonderful strawberry champagne cupcake – it was the perfect consistency and the flavor was just the right balance of not being too sweet. I also tried the salted caramel chocolate cake, which tasted just as good as it looked. They offer organic ingredients and also have vegan and dairy-free options, which is a nice touch. http://www.yumsquared.com
– Spin-Spun Gourmet Cotton Candy – Have you ever had salted caramel cotton candy? Probably not, but let me tell you- it’s the best cotton candy I’ve tasted! It’s all-natural, so it doesn’t have the colors that typical cotton candy has (it’s all white), and the flavors were not typical of cotton candy flavors. A couple of other flavors that were on the menu included Coconut and Tabasco-Watermelon. Very creative, and something to keep in mind for a little something different at a party. http://www.spin-spun.com
– BAKE is a bakery in Wicker Park that focuses on classic American desserts, including Whoopie Pies, Pop Tarts, Cookies, Cakes and Pies. I purchased the pretzel cookie, because I love cookies and it looked interesting and I could only imagine the sweet and salty flavor. I could tell that this cookie was made of high-quality ingredients. Check them out at http://www.bakechicago.com.
– This Jam is the JAM! If you like homemade jam and preserves, definitely check out Pear Tree Preserves. I tasted an apple caramel jam that they had, which led me to purchase the strawberry citrus jam. I liked some of the different flavors that they have, including cherry citrus and honey blueberry. I had some of the strawberry citrus jam on my toast for breakfast, and it was delightful. It mainly has a strawberry flavor with a hint of orange, making it taste really fresh, like you just tasted a little bit of summertime. You may find them at a Farmer’s Market in Chicago, and can check out their website at http://www.peartreepreserves.com.
I know that these places will satisfy your sweet tooth because they certainly did for me. Enjoy!
*This blog post is dedicated to Leonore Draper, who was a part of organizing this event and lost her life later that evening. May Project Orange Tree and other anti-violence organizations continue to find & support solutions to stop the violence.