I’m happy to announce that tickets to the third annual Common Threads Cook-Off are now on sale! It is a fantastic event targeting Chicago’s young professional foodie elite, a fundraising competition of sorts showcasing the city’s finest food and mixology. Chefs create and serve their favorite cookout-themed dish either in a glass, on a bun, in a shell, or on a stick, and guests have the opportunity to try it all, vote on their favorites, and take part in the silent and live auctions.
As a Common Threads Associate Board member, my hope is that you’re inspired by Common Threads’ mission to educate underprivileged children on the importance of nutrition and physical well-being, and to foster an appreciation of cultural diversity through cooking. It has been such an important part my life and I would welcome the opportunity for you to see a little bit more of what we do.
The value for this event is amazing; the crowd is ideal, the cocktails are bottomless, and you’ll eat ’til your heart’s content courtesy of the most noteworthy restaurants in Chicago.
Tickets are $75 and can be purchased at
Below is a video invite of what to expect:
Let me know if you plan on purchasing a ticket – I would love to have you!
Below is the link to my recap from last year’s event – Don’t miss it!
I went to a fabulous foodie event Sunday night called Fashion Rocks, held at BellyQ. Over 20 of the best Chicago restaurants were under one roof with “fashion installations” by Haberdash, which is a local men’s clothing store in Chicago. What is a fashion installation you ask? Well, it’s a bunch of beautiful men who stand and pose in different scenes and outfits during the night. When I first arrived, they were holding guitars, and I asked “Are you going to play those, or are you models” and they said “We are models” – so of course I had to take a picture. They always looked away from the camera. Fierce!
The proceeds of this event went to Common Threads (my favorite charity), and the West Loop Community Organization. Some of the Common Threads kids were helping the chefs out and they were SO CUTE with their full-sized Haberdash ties. The event was very well attended, and included some of Chicago’s best chefs and food bloggers.
Now on to the food. My top 4 favorites are below:
Pleasant House Bakery with their meat pies – definitely a place that I need to visit in the future. I tried the Steak and Ale pie, the Chicken Balti (which was like a curry chicken, and my favorite), and the Mushroom and Kale pie. These items are also on their menu at the restaurant. The pie dough was so flaky and delicious, and the owners were incredibly nice and down to earth – like the people next door.
Pecking Order served up a Caramelized Chicken and Garlic Rice dish. Very flavorful and comforting. It was like a hug in a bowl. I talked to chef Subido, who said that this item is on their brunch menu, but without the egg. I’ve been there for Sunday brunch and it is a nice alternative to a traditional brunch – very flavorful with different kinds of dishes that you won’t find anywhere else. Turns out that Pecking Order is now offering brunch on Saturdays, and they have updated their brunch menu, so I’m due for another visit. See for yourself: http://www.peckingorderchicago.com/
Antique Taco – This is my second time trying Antique Taco at an event (Also tried them at the Common Threads World Festival), and it’s official. I need to go there. ASAP. They served a Crispy Duck Flauta that was very well seasoned and had some flavorful surprises. Plus, I like their logo.
Frontier – Frontier is known for serving different kinds of gamey meat like Rabbit, Alligator, Antelope, and Kangaroo (yes, Kangaroo). I chatted with Executive Chef Brian Jupiter who is from New Orleans, where he first started cooking different kinds of meats. Most of the meats served at Frontier are local (i.e. the rabbit was from IL) and they cook all of these different kinds of meats in an approachable way, so that they don’t scare people away. If these items are a bit much for you, the menu also includes a nice mix of foods that you are used to eating.
I tried the Rabbit Etouffee at the event, which was really delicious – the flavors were well-balanced and I would have never known that I was eating rabbit. I could have easily been fooled into thinking that it was chicken.
Frontier also has brunch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so they are definitely on my “must visit” list. since brunch is my favorite meal of the day. One item on the brunch menu that has caught my eye is the fried rabbit and cornmeal waffle dish with spiced pear butter and habanero maple syrup. I also have my eye on the bananas foster French toast and the Praline Pancakes – I know that they will be good since chef Jupiter is from New Orleans.
Check out the eclectic menu here: http://www.thefrontierchicago.com/food/
*I also learned that Frontier has a large enclosed patio, which will be great spot for the spring and summer.
I really enjoy going to these events because I can have a little taste of different restaurants and then visit the restaurant later if I like what I taste. Great event for an amazing cause. Bon Appetit!
Check Please! is a local Chicago show where people talk about their favorite restaurants. This show has always been a source of great information about restaurants that I otherwise would not have known about.
The current host of the show is stepping down, creating the opportunity to apply for the host position. My love for food and the Chicago restaurant scene has compelled me to submit an audition video reel, and below is the video – Enjoy!
Last week, I was thrilled to win 1st place in the grilled cheese competition that I competed in (out of 12 teams), so in case you were wondering how to win a grilled cheese competition, here’s how:
1. Get a Good Partner – My friend asked me if I would be her partner for her friend’s grilled cheese competition and she said up-front that she wanted to win. I was on board with that – she proved to be a very good and competitive partner.
2. Do Your Research – We went to a grilled cheese food truck website, looked at the menu items and recreated a few of the sandwiches to see which one we liked best. We chose a sandwich that had pepper jack cheese, fire roasted salsa, Fritos (we renamed it “corn chip crumble” to be fancy), and a cilantro-lime sour cream. After tasting the sandwich, I suggested that we add some chipotle for some flavor and spice. Perfect. We also added a black bean soup shooter to go along with the Tex-Mex theme.
3. Dazzle them with Presentation – Anytime you watch Top Chef and other food shows, the story & presentation is key. Integrate as many of the elements together as possible. Because we had a Tex-Mex style sandwich, we enlisted some help from one of our copywriter friends that developed the name “Queso & Besos” (Cheese and Kisses) – it rhymes, it incorporates cheese, and it’s just plain cute. I used a piping bag to pipe out the cilantro-lime sour cream and added a sprig of cilantro as garnish. We served the sandwiches on trendy, rectangular white plates (the other contestants just used the plates that were provided), and we used square-shaped disposable shot glasses to serve the soup (Amazon.com is great for ordering these types of things, by the way). We also served Hershey’s Kisses as a “dessert” to go along with the “Besos” part of our name. It also didn’t hurt that we had custom-made Queso & Besos t-shirts. When we came into the room with those shirts on, everyone knew that we meant business. There was also a team song requirement, so we chose the very popular and upbeat Harlem Shake song which starts out with a spanish phrase.
4. Prepare in Advance – We made sure to prep everything in advance – we made the cilantro-lime sour cream and put it in the piping bag so it was ready to go. The black bean soup was cooked and blended and placed in a crock pot for the event. The Fritos were pre-crushed and placed in a plastic bag. Anything you can do to reduce the amount of cooking time at the actual event will help to relieve stress & help you to focus on cooking an amazing sandwich.
If you follow these tips, you will have an excellent chance at winning a grilled cheese competition (or other cooking competitions), should you compete in one.
This party was top-notch. The hosts like to throw fabulous theme parties and went to an events company and rented burners, extra tables for counter space, lights, and pillars. I felt like I was on Food Network in kitchen stadium. They had microphones, an emcee and a videographer. There were also 10 judges selected at random (I happened to be a judge as well), and all of the sandwiches were judged on taste, presentation and creativity on a scale of 1-5. As the winners, we were awarded with a trophy and bragging rights until next year, where we will defend our championship title.
Below is the video that captures the evening – it was a great party and I had a wonderful time. Enjoy!
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/59950082 w=400&h=300]
Below are a couple of sweet winter treats that I made over the holidays that I wanted to share:
– The first is a mint marshmallow recipe by Martha Stewart. A lot of people tell me that they didn’t know that they could make marshmallows from scratch – and you can…and they taste WAY better than anything that you have ever purchased on a grocery store shelf. I was inspired to make my own marshmallows after visiting a delicious restaurant called Hot Chocolate in Chicago. They include a homemade marshmallow in their hot chocolate creations, and I decided to give it a try. After one failed attempt at making vanilla bean marshmallows, (they ended up being too rubbery), I came across this delicious and fluffy recipe from Martha Stewart. It’s not hard, but it does require you to pay attention and move quickly. It also helps to get a candy thermometer:
Below is the link to the recipe:
I served these marshmallows at a party as a part of my hot chocolate bar and they were a hit! I highly recommend that you try them and experiment w/other flavors.
– The next item is extremely easy to make, and can serve as a nice touch for any winter party. These are chocolate spoons, which can be used for stirring into hot chocolate or coffee for an extra chocolate boost. They are incredibly easy to make, and could also be wrapped in cellophane w/a ribbon for a gift. I also included these in my hot chocolate bar. I had both milk chocolate spoons and white chocolate spoons, and drizzled the alternate color on top of each by putting the warm chocolate into a sandwich bag, and cutting a small corner of the bag to drizzle chocolate over the spoons. Very nice presentation, if I must say so myself.
Below is the recipe:
These are great recipes to add a special touch for any occasion.
I wanted to post a video about how I freeze cookie dough. I like to freeze the dough for my signature Chocolate Chip and Pecan cookies (I’m going to keep that particular recipe to myself), and other chocolate chip types of cookies (I haven’t tried this on sugar cookies).
The beauty of freezing the dough is that you don’t need to let it thaw out before you bake it. You can put the cold, frozen dough right on the cookie sheet and bake to your heart’s content.
This method is nice because you can make dozens of cookies and then bake them whenever you need them. Sometimes, I’ll cut off only 3 cookies, and make those just for myself.
Hope this is useful to you, especially for the holiday baking season.
Below is a link to a delicious recipe that I will share. Salted Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. You can freeze this recipe too – I have done it many times:
Salted Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe
Thursday, I attended the Common Threads Cook Off hosted by the Associate Board (which I’m a member of). What a fantastic event. This is the kind of event that leaves you feeling like an honored guest – well fed, well watered and well taken care-of.
The event was held downtown at the Fulton’s on the River restaurant, which is an excellent venue for an event of this magnitude. The entire downstairs section was used for this event, which was very well attended with approximately 350-400 guests. The tables on the terrace outside allowed guests to admire the breathtaking views of the Chicago river.
Chicago-area chefs from all of the popular restaurants came together to duke it out for the best dish in a glass, on a stick, in a shell and on a bun. The chefs seemed to have a level of friendly competition between each other, encouraging the cook-off guests to vote for them by placing a voting chip (in the form of a bottlecap) into their bucket. Sara Greunberg (Top Chef Runner Up) was there representing Spiaggia and was shaking her bucket like “vote for us!” Very fun.
When I walked in, I was almost overwhelmed by the number of restaurants participating in this event. All of the popular Chicago restaurants were in one place, including some new restaurants that I’ve been wanting to visit. There was so much food, but below were some of my personal favorites and highlights:
Pecking Order: This country chicken sandwich on a Filipino-style bun had me saying Chik-Fi-Who? K-F-what? Best chicken sandwich I’ve had in quite a while. It was dressed with pimento mayo, gouda tomato, onion and cilantro. The bun and the sauce are what really made it stand out. Pecking Order is a relatively new restaurant headed up by chef Kristine Subido – formerly of the Wave Restaurant in the W Hotel. She told me that they are now open for brunch on Sundays, along with lunch and dinner during the week. I gave Pecking Order one of my chips. Guess where I’m going to be going for brunch?
ZED 451: Served this amazing Maple Cajun BLT. Time stopped for a moment and my eyes literally rolled to the back of my head. For the “On a Bun” category, this place tied with the Pecking Order for me.
Lockwood: Heirloom Tomato soup and Burrata Cheese Crostini served in an elegant shot glass. Best tomato soup I’ve had in a long time. The crostini is what really made it shine.
Masa Azul – Chef Jonathan Zaragoza was representing Maza Azul (Mexican restaurant) in Logan Square, and had a tender and delicious Grilled Chicken Thigh Kabob with Chipotle Greek Yogurt Sauce. I love Chipotle anything, and this was very tasty. This is another restaurants that is on my list. How could I not know about this place? It has 4 ½ stars on Yelp. I’m going.
Union Sushi & Barbeque Bar – Union Sushi gets the “out of the box” award from me because they served Grilled Kangaroo with Citrus Zest and Sweet Potato Cream. I have never seen Kangaroo on a menu, and I didn’t know that people ate Kangaroo. Quite frankly, I was a little disturbed by the thought because they are so cute. But then I thought to myself, “When would I ever have the chance to taste Kangaroo.” (Unless I go to Australia). I reluctantly tasted it, but was pleasantly surprised. It tastes like beef with a hint of lamb. Very good.
Spiaggia – Sara Gruenberg at Spiaggia had a very creative presentation of a Cured Salmon and Squid Ink Grissino. The salmon was beautifully wrapped around a twisted black breadstick (grissino), and the black color came from Squid Ink. This was a well thought dish.
In addition to all of this food, there were also mixologists that had beautiful and delicious custom crafted cocktails. I loved the creativity that came from the chefs, and this event reminded me that these chefs really are culinary artists. This is their art. It was beautiful and delicious.
From the food and drinks to the adorable kids walking around helping to get donations, this was a wonderful event. Where else can you have amazing food from Chicago’s top restaurants, and contribute to a great cause at the same time?
The icing on the cake for me was when Art Smith came by my table and introduced himself. Art is a well-accomplished celebrity chef and the founder of this organization, and it really meant a lot to see him there supporting the Associate Board and interacting with the guests. This is an organization that I’m proud to be a part of because it allows me to serve the community through my passion for food. The best of both worlds.
The next Common Threads event is the World Festival in March. I’m told that the World Festival is a super-sized version of this event, and rumor has it that the event in March is going to be the best one yet. Stay tuned!
Learn more about Common Threads at http://www.commonthreads.org
Hey Foodies! I wanted to invite you to an event that I’m hosting with the Associate Board of Common Threads. Common Threads is an organization started by Art Smith where they teach low income kids how to cook healthy, affordable meals. I volunteered w/them last fall, and it’s a pretty awesome organization because in addition to cooking, kids learn about different parts of the world, math (through measurements), and science.
This event is going to be the hottest Chicago foodie event of the year. Mark my words. It’s a cook-off between some of Chicago’s most popular restaurants, and the chefs can choose to compete to cook something on a bun, on a stick, in a glass, or in a shell. There will also be a whiskey tasting.
The event takes place on Thursday, September 27th at 6:30pm over at Fulton’s on the River in Chicago. Tickets are $75 until August 31st (this Friday), and after this Friday, they go up to $85. (This donation is tax-deductible). There will also be a silent auction with some amazing prizes.
Click the below link if you are interested in attending. When it asks how you found out, just click other and type in my name.
Below is a listing of just some of the restaurants that will be participating, along w/their categories:
Participating Chefs & Mixologists
IN A GLASS
William Hewitt, Bin 36
Lynn House, Blackbird
Ben Schiller, BOKA
Mike Trow, Bridge Bar
Elizabeth Samples, Nacional 27
David Blonsky, Public House
Sarah Kosikowski, Sixteen
Lee Guidry, SUSHISAMBA rio
ON A STICK
Erik Freeburg, Bar Toma
Kevin Schulz, Fulton’s on the River
Bill Kim, Belly Shack/Urban Belly/BellyQ
IN A SHELL
Mike Bellovich, Paris Club
ON A BUN
John McLean, Burger Bar
Rah Shabazz, C-House
Kristine Subido, Pecking Order
Brad Alexander, The Grillroom
Curtis Hawk, ZED451
KOVAL Whiskey Distillery
Sparrow Coffee Roasters
Yesterday, I had the honor and privilege of attending Flavors – A Culinary Experience, which was a fundraiser to benefit the American Liver Foundation. The event was held at the Renaissance Hotel in Chicago (my first time visiting this hotel), and it was very well organized with over 80 silent auction and raffle items, however this event was all about the food.
The concept was quite unique with over 15 restaurants crafting table side meals with a custom menu from each restaurants. Featured Chicago restaurants included Browntrout, Frontier, Tavern on Rush and Bread and Wine.
I was seated at the Chicago Renaissance Hotel restaurant table which featured a 5-course dinner with Executive Chef James Samson. Usually when I think about restaurant food from a hotel, I think “eh…just ok. Rubber chicken” – it just reminds me of the countless business meetings and weddings that I’ve attended that have “just ok” hotel food. This was quite the exception. Chef Samson had some very thoughtful and flavorful dishes, each of which were paired with wine.
We started off with an Asparagus Salad, and my favorite part was the fried brie. There is nothing like some good fried cheese. Tuna Tartar was the second course, and the highlight of this dish was a compressed watermelon, which was put into a special machine overnight to make a large piece of watermelon fit into the palm of your hand. It was much like a dehydrated mini watermelon. Very interesting. The third course was the Beef Fheek Pierogi, which was very tasty – I don’t believe that I’ve eaten beef cheeks before, and now I won’t hesitate to try it again. Next was a perfectly cooked Lamb Porterhouse with a chic pea mint ragu. We finished off our meal w/a chocolate dessert that looked like a masterpiece.
As I mentioned previously, this event was a fundraiser to benefit the American Liver Foundation, and we heard some touching stories about people that had been affected by Liver Disease, and it really put faces and names with a cause that does not get a great deal of exposure. One of the speakers almost had me in tears as she talked about her two babies that she lost to liver disease shortly after their birth. This is truly a cause worth supporting.
The American Liver Foundation has these events every year, and they take place all over the country. Below is a link to the website for more information. Definitely check it out if you have the chance:
I would also highly recommend Chef Samsons food – you can experience it yourself at Bar Novo at the Renaissance Hotel. The menu looks good, and it has 4 stars on Yelp. I’ll be visiting to try the bacon-wrapped dates. You can’t go wrong w/Bacon-wrapped dates!
The other day, I was commenting to one of my friends about how much I was enjoying my iced tea. She took it from me and looked at the nutrition facts panel to find that it had 36 grams of sugar. She then informed me that the sugar in this iced tea included more than my daily recommended value of sugar. How much sugar should you have a day, you ask? According to the American Heart Association, women should have no more than 24 grams of sugar a day (equal to 100 calories or 6 teaspoons), and men should have no more than 36 grams per day, (equal to 150 calories or 9 teaspoons.)
All of this is quite disturbing, considering that I have a huge sweet tooth. Be sure to check your nutrition labels on processed food. For example, my favorite Yoplait strawberry yogurt has 27 grams of sugar. A 7-Up soda has 38 grams of sugar, and even innocent Mott’s Apple Sauce has 22 grams. I will definitely be paying more attention to what I’m eating and will be looking for alternatives. Don’t get me wrong, I will still enjoy my occasional soft drink, but I probably won’t be drinking them as much as I used to. What are you doing to manage your sugar intake?