Posts Tagged ‘foodie’

What I Ate in Iceland

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:

Breakfast/Brunch

Slippbarrin

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.

 

Lamb Soup:

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.

Lamb & vegetable soup. Fantastic!

Lamb & vegetable soup. Fantastic!

 

 

 

Ice Cream at Valdis:

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.

 

Seafood at Saegreiffin – The Sea Barron

 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.

 

 

Ramen at Ramen Momo

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

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.

 

Skyr Yogurt

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

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!

Við skulum borða! (Bon Appetit!)

Adventures in Hong Kong and Shanghai!

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 Hotel in 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

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

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!

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.

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

Me in front of the big buddha

 

Shanghai:

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!

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!

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!

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!

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Working the Red Carpet at Chef Blend Weekend

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.

Chef Blend Weekend Pic

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!

Foodie Event at the Chicago Auto Show? Who Knew?!

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,
check out the below link for more info:
http://www.chicagoautoshow.com/first-look-for-charity/event-info/
Hope to see you there!
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Delicious sausage sliders from Real Urban Barbecue

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Red Dragon Roll with Crab, Kani, Pickled Cucumber and Dragon Sauce from Roy’s Restaurant

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Ceviche de Salmon with chips & guac from Adobo Grill

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Fire Roasted Borsin-Stuffed Pappadews from Zed 451

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Berry Bramble cocktail with Menage A Trois Vodka featuring blueberry-pineapple shrub, fresh lime and mint

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Banana Cream Pie from Catered by Design – amazing caterer in Chicago

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Flank Steak with Chimmichurri from Texas de Brazil

Disclosure: I will be receiving complimentary admission to the Chicago Auto Show First Look for Charity

Dirk’s Fish Reveals Strategy for Competing in the 4th Annual Common Threads Cook-Off

Dirk and Terry edited photo

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 guests vote 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.

Dirk's Fish Outside Image

Dirk and Terry edited photo

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!

 For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit: http://events.commonthreads.org/eventDetails.aspx?eventId=140

 

 

Adventures from Duck University (Not to be confused with Duke University)

Duck is not typically a go-to, everyday food that people eat. In fact, most people don’t even think about duck as an option, except for the holidays. This all changed for me when I attended Duck University for food bloggers, sponsored by Maple Leaf Farms in Indiana. I was excited about this opportunity because I knew very little about duck, and had certainly never cooked it.

Me outside of the Maple Leaf Farms HQ - About to head in for class!

Me outside of the Maple Leaf Farms HQ – About to head in for class!

This experience was set up like a real university. The first stop was a tour of the feed mill, where we saw how they make duck feed from scratch. They take incredible care of what goes into the feed, including protein, vitamins and minerals so that the ducks can be healthy and strong. They go through rigorous testing to make sure that the  feed is safe for the ducks.

Duck Feed - Full of vitamins and minerals

Duck Feed – Full of vitamins and minerals

We then visited a duck farm where the ducks were raised. Biosecurity is a major initiative for food safety and disease prevention, so we were instructed to wear special suits and dip our feet into a foot bath before walking near the ducks.

Dressed in our Biosecurity suits

Dressed in our Biosecurity suits

The conditions are clean, and the ducks have plenty of room to frolic about. Maple Leaf Farms partners with over 150 local farmers to raise their ducks, which is great for the communities. The last stop on the tour was the duck processing plant, where they say it is as clean as a hospital. It was reassuring to see the USDA inspectors right there on the line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afterwards, we had a classroom-style session.

Did you know….

–        Duck Fat is a good fat – It compares favorably to olive oil in terms of the mono-unsaturated fatty acid oleic, and the poly-unsaturated fatty acids linoleic and linolenic acids

–        There are various breeds of duck with different flavor profiles. Maple Leaf Farms raises the White Pekin duck, which is more mild and less gamey than some of the other duck varieties.

–        Maple Leaf Farms is the #1 producer of duck in the U.S. with about a 75% market share, producing 13-15 Million ducks annually? (They are like Tyson Chicken, but for Duck)

–        Duck is a red meat – It has a different muscle structure than chicken, and it is cooked more like steak vs. chicken. It’s not prone to salmonella, so it can be cooked to medium/medium rare for the best flavor and texture.

My favorite part of the evening was the 5-course duck dinner, where every course had duck, including the dessert (with Duck Bacon). I told chef Dale Miller that I could die right then and be happy, because the food was so creative and tasted AMAZING!

The menu:

 

 

A lot of people have had bad experiences with duck in the past, saying that it has tasted oily or gamey, but I did not have this experience at all – the flavor is mild, and I did not have any oily aftertaste from anything I ate. It truly depends on the breed of duck, and how it is prepared.

Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton (from Sara’s Weeknight Meals on PBS) also gave a cooking demo on how to cook duck breast, which was much easier than I had originally thought. It really is as simple as scoring the breast, cooking it with the skin down, flipping it over, and cooking it to the desired temperature. It needs to be a little bit pink for the best dining experience. Sara joined us on our tours, and it was fun to hang out with her – she’s very smart and talented, and we were honored to have her accompany us.

Me and Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton

Me and Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton

Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton providing a cooking demo on how to cook duck breast.

Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton providing a cooking demo on how to cook duck breast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to this amazing experience, I was able to network with about 19 amazing food bloggers that were inspiring and a boatload of fun!

Now that you are a little bit more familiar with duck, I would highly encourage you to experiment with it. The easiest way is to try some of the pre-cooked products, like the appetizers (potstickers, spring rolls, quesadillas), or the roast half duck. Then you could move to cooking some of the other items on your own, like the duck breast, and if you are ready for the big leagues, you can roast a whole duck. If you can’t find the products in the store, you can always order online http://mapleleaffarms.com/shop and they will ship it on dry ice to your house, or you can ask the meat department manager to order it in for you.

I’m happy to say that I’m a proud graduate of Duck University, and I have a diploma to prove it!

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Attending Duck University has broadened my horizons and I now consider duck to add to my current cooking routine – I hope you will too. Stay tuned for future posts with recipes and ideas.

To learn more about duck, cooking videos/tips, and Maple Leaf Farms, visit http://www.mapleleaffarms.com/consumer

Lunch in the Loop Just Got More Exciting with Rustle + Roux!

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

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

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

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!

Basil & Parmesan Pesto Gnocchi from Mercato

Basil & Parmesan Pesto Gnocchi from Mercato

Fresh pasta from Mercato

Fresh pasta from Mercato

 

Trendy decor at Rustle+Roux

Trendy decor at Rustle+Roux

6 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Sprinkles Cupcakes (Based on my “Backstage Pass”)

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!

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...

My attempt at decorating a cupcake sprinkles style…

Still tasted good...

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!

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…

http://www.ilovesprinkles.com/downloads/jingle#i-love-sprinkles-1

 6. Best of all, they have a birthday club! If you sign up, you will get a free cupcake on your birthday. Can’t beat that! I love getting free stuff on my birthday. http://www.ilovesprinkles.com/birthday/join-the-birthday-club

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!

Thanks Sprinkles!!!

#SprinklesTasteTester
@sprinklescupcakes – Instagram
@sprinkles – twitter

Underground Dinners Worth Digging For

Fork knife spoon

Want to add a bit of intrigue and surprise to your dinner plans? Try a secret supper club. They offer a level of mystery with secret locations, surprise menus, and close & personal interactions with their breakout chefs. It is believed that the idea for the underground dining scene first started in Europe, where chefs & amateurs created private, unlicensed speakeasy-operated dinners in obscure locations. This concept has since evolved in the States, and can be still found in various forms. Whether held at the home of a chef, an “underground” venue, or a space transformed such as a museum or church, all secret suppers share the shroud of exclusivity and discretion. Further variations on this theme rest purely with the chef. Formal training and culinary accolades do not make a perfect chef. Often, Secret Suppers feature self proclaimed chefs with an affinity for culinary fusion, creativity, or other specific talent.

Chefs are joining the secret supper movement in increasing numbers – either leaving restaurants to strike out on their own, or starting secret supper clubs on the side. The Secret Supper format is a winning experience for both the chefs and the diners. Chefs get a chance to showcase new recipes & concepts with an intimate group of serious diners, and foodies get a first-row seat on a culinary journey.

In the food-centric city of Chicago, the Secret Supper trend is rebounding in popularity right alongside speakeasies, farmers markets and Malort.  There are a number of active Secret Supper clubs in the city, which by their very design, might not be on your radar.

Membership in The Sunday Dinner Club earned diners the privileged first taste of Honey Butter Fried Chicken, a recipe that gained instant popularity following the recent opening of the comfort food restaurant.

Clandestino, and the Stew Supper Club also operate beneath the mainstream radar, hosting such themed dinners as the Feast of the Seven Fishes and a Whole Hog menu. Newest on the list is Dishcrawl’s Chicago contingent, holding a Secret Supper at a classified venue in River North on April 1st. See http://www.dishcrawl.com/chicagoss for more information.

If everyone knew about them, Secret Suppers and Underground Dining wouldn’t be any fun. If you’re a foodie, though, in need of a unique and intriguing culinary experience, a little investigation might lead to a whole new and exiting way of dining.

Panama – A Foodie’s Paradise

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:
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

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.

Plantains in mini fry baskets.

Shrimp served in a pineapple

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 in Panama with homemade cone

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Granclement Ice Cream Store in Panama

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!

CLICK HERE:

http://youtu.be/UeQkr_jdFUY

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