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!
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
I tasted the Sweet Riesling from Love Cork Screw wines at a dessert event and knew that I needed to feature it on my blog. This wine literally tastes like summer in a glass, and instantly transported me to memories of fabulous evenings at Ravinia, fun times with friends on rooftops, and outdoor summer concerts at Millennium Park.
Erica and Chrishon at Love Cork Screw/Taste Bud Diaries video shoot
Not only is the wine tasty, but there is an inspiring story behind it. Love Cork Screw was launched in part by Chrishon Lampley, who previously owned the popular Three Peas Art Lounge, an art and wine boutique in Chicago’s South Loop. The boutique was abruptly closed down due to an unfortunate sewage issue in the building, and after a few years, Chrishon re-emerged, launching Love Cork Screw in December 2013. The wines are now in +30 locations, and the brand is taking off. Chrishon’s marketing strategy positions this wine as not just a brand, but a lifestyle – complete with eye catching labels, a popular radio show and events, all which have helped to propel this brand to success.
Love Cork Screw Riesling and Pinot Grigio – ready for summer sipping!
The “Head Over Heels” Riesling is naturally sweet and crisp with a hint of lemon and grapefruit. This wine is versatile, and would pair well with chicken (i.e. orange chicken, chicken and pear salad) fish, cheeses and desserts.
Click here for an easy-to-make, delicious dip recipe that would travel well for a picnic and would pair quite nicely with the Riesling – it has Feta and Cream Cheese and is filled with flavor.
“Dip for the Stars” recipe from allrecipes.com Photo: allrecipes.com
The “Good Times Good Friends” Pinot Grigio is another wine that is great for Chicago summers. It is medium-bodied with apple and pear flavor notes. This wine is excellent for seafood, and would pair nicely with foods like sushi, oysters, clams, mussels, or pasta.
Chrishon’s story is inspiring, and it’s a story that I want to tell when I share the wine with friends. Check out the video below for my interview with Chrishon to hear more about her story, and after watching it, I think that you will want to tell her story too.
What’s Good, everyone?
I know it’s been awhile since I’ve done “What’s Good?”, but I’m back!
This week’s episode of “What’s Good?” features The Punch House in Pilsen, and Trader Joe’s brown rice.
The Punch House offers a unique bar/lounge concept in the increasingly popular Pilsen neighborhood. The Punch House is located in the basement of a restaurant called Dusek’s (which is also very good and just started brunch service), and it’s set up to be like your grandfather’s old basement back in the 60’s, with the wood paneling and everything. The retro vibe is different and refreshing. They have a large and beautiful aquarium right behind the bar, and at midnight, they stop everything to feed the fishies. It’s an entire event, and it’s quite entertaining. If you are sitting at the bar during this festive occasion, then you get a free shot.
There are several varieties of punch to choose from, and many of them are on-tap. Whether you like dark liquor or light, there is something for everyone. You can also order a punch bowl if you are seated at one of the tables. They have a punch that tastes like lemonade, and I tasted the punch of a friend of mine, which had more of a dark-liquor profile. Definitely ask the bartender about which would be the best according to your taste. They usually have a DJ with great music, and I enjoyed the crowd – down to earth, casual, unpretentious, cool people. They also have a secret room, which they use for private events. It is literally a regular-looking wall that turns around into another room, like you see on the movies. Just one more thing that makes me like this place.
I would highly recommend the Punch House for something to do, especially on a cold, wintery Chicago evening.
Also on “What’s Good?” is the Trader Joe’s Brown Rice. If you like brown rice, you know that it takes FOREVER to cook. “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” This microwaveable brown rice is a very convenient shortcut, if you are trying to get a healthy meal on the table in a short amount of time, like after work during the week. The packets inside only take 3 minutes to microwave for perfectly cooked brown rice. You can’t beat that with a baseball bat!
I just returned from a trip to Panama and I really enjoyed my time there, although I had quite the adventure. We accidentally ended up “glamping” (glamorous camping) because we had made flight arrangements to Bocas del Toro, a Caribbean island off of Panama, not realizing that the hotels were 100% completely sold out. Bocas del Toro is a very popular international tourist destination, especially for New Years, where hotels need to be booked 3-4 months out, as the island is very small. We ended up staying two nights in Bocas and two nights in Panama City, which is much more cosmopolitan than I had anticipated.
For the Bocas portion of the trip, a cancellation opened up at the Palmar Tent Lodge, an eco-friendly tent lodge that is off the grid – using rain water for all water needs, solar power for lights, etc. The only available rooms were in dorm tents with 3 bunk beds. I had never done anything like this so I tried to embrace it, but in actuality, there was not much “glam” to the glamping. We were one with the earth. Monkeys playing in the trees, an abundance of insects, lizards, strange sounds in the night, pimped out outhouses as bathrooms, cold rain showers…it was very basic, and took a lot of getting used to. The plus side was the soothing sound of the ocean waves as I went to sleep, and the beautiful night sky where the stars where plentiful and literally shining like diamonds. We looked at the stars in awe for about 2 hours – a very memorable moment. The temperature was also nice and warm, in the upper 80’s – a welcome change from the winter cold in Chicago.
The food in Panama was delicious all-around, especially the seafood. In Bocas, we visited a restaurant called the Pirate, and I had a delicious whitefish covered with a curry sauce, coconut rice, steamed vegetables and sweet plantains. The fish was perfectly cooked – I will note that the fish was a little on the salty side, and we experienced this at multiple restaurants, so perhaps this is the way they season it – still very tasty, especially with the sweet plantains to balance it out.
Panamanian Curried Fish with Sweet Plantains and Steamed Vegetables
Bocas is also known for the very inexpensive lobster and shellfish options. I did not partake as I am allergic, but definitely good to know if you enjoy shellfish.
Many of the smaller restaurants in Bocas had a very lightly fried whitefish that was incredibly fresh and delicious. On a snorkeling trip, we stopped at an ocean restaurant oasis, where they served this fish and I also had an amazing Cuba Libre drink – Coca-Cola, Rum and fresh lime juice. Perfectly balanced and SO delicious.
During my time in Panama City, we took advantage of the many varieties of baked empanadas (meat pies) that were in various hotels and shops. The empanadas were great as a to-go snack to eat for later (i.e. on a flight). Highly recommended.
In Casco Viejo, (the Old Town section) we visited a restaurant called Casablanca, which was located in an open square. We sat outside in the evening and listened to the sounds of a live harp player. The food was delicious – once again I got seafood – a whitefish in a rich buttery sauce. I also had some plantains, which were served in these cute mini fry baskets.
Plantains in mini fry baskets.
Shrimp served in a pineapple
The Casco Viejo area has a number of cute shops and restaurants, including a French Ice Cream shop called Granclement , which also makes the cones from scratch. I thoroughly enjoyed this ice cream – it was very rich and flavorful, and they had a nice variety of interesting options. I had the vanilla bean ice cream because the vanilla flavor was so strong – a refreshing treat for a warm day.
Granclement Ice Cream in Panama with homemade cone
Granclement Ice Cream Store in Panama
One must get coffee in Panama, because the coffee beans are harvested in the mountains of a region in Panama called Boquette. I was told that the coffee is very good and strong (I am not a coffee enthusiast). There are also tours of the coffee farms in Boquette that are available. I didn’t get a chance to make it to this area, but if I return to Panama, I would put this on my list.
Overall, I enjoyed my trip to Panama, and would encourage anyone to visit, and experience the food and culture. Flights to Panama are relatively inexpensive from the states, and the country offers so much to do – whether you want to stay in the city, visit the mountains or take a day trip to one of the islands, there is something for everyone.
Below is a link to a video summary of my trip. Enjoy!
As a special treat to Taste Bud Diaries blog followers, Turkey Chop is offering a coupon for 25% off your ENTIRE ORDER!
That’s right, folks. 25% Off! The food is great, and a coupon is EVEN BETTER!
Below is the image of the coupon. Print it out & present it when you get to the restaurant. (Or present on your phone).
Be sure to visit the website at http://www.turkeychop.com for the menu of all of the delicious options. Will you have a juicy and succulent turkey burger? The comforting and delicious turkey spaghetti? Or my personal favorite, the smoky and flavorful turkey tips?
Don’t forget to try the sides – the sautéed spinach (gotta get your veggies) macaroni and cheese, and sweet potatoes are all great choices. Don’t forget to get your peach cobbler for dessert!
Bring a friend, and tell them Taste Bud Diariessent you!
**If you didn’t see my write-up and video review on Turkey Chop, check it out here:
Today’s “What’s Good” is about a new-ish restaurant called Turkey Chop. Turkey Chop is located in West Humboldt Park (3506 W. Chicago Ave.) and they cater to those looking for beef and pork alternatives. I was invited as a food blogger, and I had a chance to try a number of dishes, including the Turkey Chops, the Turkey Tips, Sautéed Spinach (which was prepared like greens), Sweet Potatoes, Dirty Rice, and Peach Cobbler for Dessert. (I’m surprised that I didn’t instantly fall asleep after eating all of this food!)
They really go all out with the Turkey Chops (like smothered pork chops) and the Turkey Tips, which were my absolute favorite. If you like rib tips, then you will love the turkey tips – they are grilled and they have an amazing smoky flavor, they are very well seasoned and are served with a tangy and delicious bbq sauce.
Turkey Chop also caters, so I can definitely see the turkey tips showing up on one of my party menus in the future. The prices are also very good – the turkey burgers were only $5 and they looked like they would definitely fill you up. The other thing that I loved is that they had cornbread, but it was prepared like a pancake. I’ve never had cornbread this way, and I really enjoyed it – vey innovative!
This week’s “What’s Good Wednesday” is featuring Honey Butter Fried Chicken. (No video today). I visited this new restaurant in Avondale just because of the name. “Honey Butter” and “Fried Chicken” are two phrases that you don’t hear together very often. They have also been getting a lot of press, so I figured that I would try it out. I must say that I haven’t tasted chicken quite like this. The skin is nice and crispy, but the secret ingredient is the smoked paprika salt – it really does give it a very unique flavor. Very good. They also serve a honey butter, which you are supposed to put onto the chicken & it’s good, especially on the corn bread which is shaped like little honey combs. The cornbread is good but it is entirely too small – just order extra cornbread if you like cornbread.
The only thing is that they need to work on their side items. The macaroni and cheese was dry – it was like eating cheesy-flavored noodles – very little sauce. Stay away from the Chinese Broccoli – I was trying to be healthy and eat my vegetables, but I couldn’t even eat half of this dish. They put tomato sauce in there, and I didn’t enjoy the flavor at all. Too bitter and acidic for my taste buds. The creamed corn, however was very tasty. I do plan to go back and visit, and the next time, I plan to get the fried chicken sandwich.
The decor was cute – very simple restaurant, and kind of small with a nice patio in the back. It had a nice, neighborhood feel, and there were a couple of people there with their kids. (Although I thought that it was probably past their bedtime). Definitely worth a visit!
Today’s “What’s Good Wednesday” features Plum Market and Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter.
Plum Market is a new store to the Chicago area featuring on local and organic foods. It’s very much like Whole Foods but with a heavy local spin. You can find your favorite local foods and products at this store, which is what makes them unique. Check out the video to learn more.
Also featured is Trader Joe’s delicious Peanut Butter. It tastes so fresh, like someone just ground up some peanuts, added some salt and put it in the jar. I’m obviously very enthusiastic about this Peanut Butter when you watch the video.
Today I am announcing the launch of my new weekly web series called “What’s Good?” where I will talk about my favorite foods from restaurants, grocery stores and the like. I’ll be posting the episode on Wednesdays.
In this episode, I’m featuring the following:
The Hummus at Bin 36 – I had the hummus at Bin 36 and was floored at how fresh and delicious it tasted. It tasted better than many Mediterranean restaurants that I have tried. I was at a party and had to force myself to stop eating it because I literally had plates of it (small plates, but plates). If I had a picnic or event, I would order the hummus specifically and take it to-go. It was served with pita bread, and I loved it. Very unexpected find at a wine-focused restaurant.
Good Vines Wine – I had the pleasure of trying Good Vines Wine at this same event, and was delighted to learn that they give 5% of their proceeds back to a charity (in this case it’s Common Threads, which is my favorite charity), and they also have a lovely Marzemino sparkling red wine. I said Sparkling. Red. Wine. Who knew? It’s very well-balanced (with hints of berries and violets) and not too sweet, so it can pair with a variety of foods. The wine has half the carbonation of Champagne, and it’s quite refreshing. Definitely the kind of wine that I would take to a dinner party or an outdoor picnic. (Can you tell that I like picnics?). The wine is currently sold in the Chicago area at Mariano’s grocery stores, so be sure to pick up a bottle the next time you go shopping. They also have a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Tai-Pinot Grigio as well. Check out their website at http://www.goodvineswine.com
Trader Joe’s Macaroni and Cheese – If you don’t have time to cook and you have a craving for some serious Mac & Cheese, Trader Joe’s has a frozen, gourmet Mac and Cheese that you won’t believe came from a frozen box at the grocery store. It’s very creamy and has 4 cheeses. They also have a light version, but I was told to go for the regular version for the best flavor. This item is great for those days where you just don’t feel like cooking a side item, but you want to eat something delicious. Try a box and let me know what you think.
That’s “What’s Good” for this week!
If you have any suggestions on foods that I should feature on “What’s Good Wednesdays”, leave me a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If I decide to feature your suggestion, I’ll give you a shout-out in the video!