Category Archives: Food Favorites

Best of NOLA!

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We’ll this is embarrassing. Apparently I’ve reverted to semi-annual blog updates. It isn’t that I don’t care about my readers. I’ve been sharing plenty of anecdotes with the Chicago Foodies followers. And it isn’t that I have been hibernating this winter…as evidence from my Instagram proves.

I’ve just been busy. You know, eating out at fabulous restaurants, making homemade soups and noodles from scratch, baking outrageous German chocolate pies and even doing a little traveling, too. In December I went to New Orleans with one main item on the agenda – eat some amazing Cajun and Creole food. If you know me, you know I made it a priority to find the absolute best restaurants and bars in the area. Here were some of our favorites.

1. Bread Pudding,  Lüke

bead pudding

This John Besh spot around the corner from our hotel was our first meal in NOLA, and we weren’t disappointed. I’m a huge fan of Besh after seeing him on Top Chef this past season, so I couldn’t wait to try his restaurant. I had an amazing shrimp étouffée, and we ended the meal with a praline bread pudding. You must order bread pudding if you go to NOLA, and it won’t be hard because you’ll find it on just about every dessert menu.

2. Shrimp Po’Boy, Parasol’s

Something you should know about New Orleans is that they take their holidays very seriously. Like restaurants closed two days after Christmas seriously. I’ll be honest. This restaurant was not our first choice for lunch that day. Or our second. Or third. Basically we were stranded, hungry and I was getting pretty irritable so we had to think fast. Yelp to the rescue!

shrimp po' boyWhile the exterior of Parasol isn’t anything to brag about, the food certainly is. We waited. And waited. And waited for our po’boys. But I don’t hesitate when I say that it was worth it. When you’re in NOLA, it’s hard to go wrong with a po’boy. I opted for the firecracker shrimp – fried shrimp tossed in an addicting sauce. Don’t judge me for eating every bite until you’ve had one yourself.

3. Shrimp and Grits, Coquette

The day we ended up at Parasol, we were trying to go to Coquette. I couldn’t be happier that we decided to go back (when it was actually open) the next day. I opted for a 3 course lunch special, with shrimp and grits as the star of the meal. These were hands down the best shrimp and grits I’ve had, and the meal was one of my absolute favorites from the trip. The grits were perfectly creamy, with a great zing from the lemon. I ended the meal with mini doughnuts and ice cream. My only complaint was that I wanted to go back for dinner, and there just wasn’t time…or room in my stomach.

shrimp and grits

scallops commanders palace4. Seared Scallops, Commander’s Palace

It may be old-fashioned and it may be traditional, but there’s just no comparison to Commander’s Palace when you’re in New Orleans. Before you even book your flight, you should probably call Commander’s for a reservation – it’s that hard to get one. I’ve heard they have great cocktail specials at lunch (and a more affordable meal, I’m sure), so if I went back that’s what I would probably opt for. We decided on the full dinner. Plus, two desserts, of course.

We started with fried oysters and turtle soup, and then I ordered something that wasn’t shrimp for once. The seared scallops were perfectly cooked and served with a crunchy rice. I’m sure anything you order there will be incredible. We weren’t as blown away with the bread pudding souffle as we had hoped, so then we just had to try the pecan pie, which was gooey, fresh and delicious as expected.

bread pudding french toast5. Bread Pudding French Toast, Dante’s Kitchen

Start with bread pudding and end with it, right? This was our last meal in New Orleans, and I figured I might as well go all out. We took in the sun on the back patio and ordered a few local drinks while we waited. This was my friend Lauren’s ultimate NOLA reco, and her favorite brunch spot, so we couldn’t wait to try it out. We ordered some memorable biscuits to start, served with strawberry and apple jams. They were chewy, buttery and slightly salty. Not too far from the biscuits at Bang Bang Pie in Chicago.

Then came the french toast. I’ve had bread pudding pancakes before but never french toast. These were served with apple syrup, which added a nice fruity (healthy?) flavor to the dish. Moist, and delicious – second to only our Luke bread pudding I would say. And it was the perfect way to end our trip.

A few other things I can’t forget to mention. We saw a ton of great live music in between all of the eating we did. We hit up Frenchman Street (highly recommended) and bounced from place to place to see some reggae music and some traditional tunes. We decided to skip Preservation Hall (and the hour long wait in the rain) and went down the street to Fritzel’s instead. Don’t miss it. live music at Fritzel's

You probably can’t believe I went through all of my favorites without talking about beignets at Cafe Du Monde. Well, here it is. Cafe Du Monde wasn’t my favorite, but it is a solid breakfast prior to checking out the French Quarter. The beignets are not complex. Still, they are warm, powdered sugary and delicious when dipped in your Cafe Au Lait.

Beignet

Best Things I Ate This Summer

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Since I haven’t updated my blog for a full season (oops) and it’s now past Labor Day, I figured it was about time to recap on all of the delicious things I ate, cooked and baked this summer. Looking back at my pictures, it was a pretty impressive list, with way too much grilled fish, avocado and more ice cream than I could fit in my stomach at times, which is saying a lot. Contrary to what these pictures display, I did eat many meals other than dessert…sometimes.

Root Beer Float

1. 4th of July Root Beer Float

It’s hard to think back to the 4th of July, but it was actually the start of summer weather-wise. I went to Galena, Illinois, and we found the most amazing little root beer float bar. It was basically like a regular bar with a few beers on tap, only these were root beers. Top with fresh vanilla ice cream, and I was in heaven. Needless to say I dripped all over myself like a child.

 

 

 

 

2. Watermelon, Feta & Mint Salad

Watermelon Feta SaladI have to say, I’m rather proud of this entire meal, and the watermelon feta salad was the pièce de résistance. It’s the perfect summery side dish. Crisp, refreshing watermelon mingling with salty feta, all tied together by the mint. When you can pick it fresh from a garden, it’s double the fresh (double the fun). Oh, there’s also some guacamole hiding in the corner there. Because how can you go a week in the summer without some guac?? Don’t get me started.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Gay Ice Cream3. Big Gay Ice Cream/Original Rainbow Cone

I had to include some ice cream on the list, and I felt bad not including the Original Rainbow Cone because it’s something I look forward to every summer, and it never disappoints. It’s the perfect combination of flavors, scooped separately, and it’s such a commodity since I can only usually get it at The Taste of Chicago (the only reason for going, aside from the people watching). This year I may have had a scoop at Lollapalooza also…worth it.

In case you’re drooling over the ice cream pictured, let me explain. Every time I’m in New York, I always want to try out Big Gay Ice Cream – an ice cream truck that now has a brick and mortar store. They’re known for soft serve with awesome toppings, and some ridiculous names to boot. We were coincidentally having dinner next door to BGI, so I absolutely had to try it, despite the semi-ridiculous line. I ordered American Globs, which is naturally vanilla soft serve dipped in chocolate and pretzels. Was there caramel? I don’t even know because I inhaled that thing so fast there was no looking back.

rugelach

 

 

4. Rugelach

I wrote a little recap on Chicago Foodies of my time in Israel that only brushed on the incredible market we visited in Jerusalem. While my Aunt Eunice’s rugelach are out of this world and I look forward to eating them any chance I get, these were unlike anything I’d ever tasted. They’re almost like a croissant in the form of a cookie; the flaky dough enveloped the chocolate in each layer. Oh, and they were hot out of the oven.

 

 

soba noodle salad

 

5. Sesame Soba Noodle Salad (with Pickled Red Onions)

Buckwheat noodles + snow peas + grilled peppers + sautéed kale + pickled red onions + sesame seeds + a whole lot of lime and cilantro = amazing summer meal. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I pickled my own red onions. I have no life. Actually, it takes like half an hour with this easy recipe. If you don’t have time for pickling, you can use fresh red onion or lightly sauté it. Recipe coming soon…I promise for real this time.

 

 

 

 

Until next season…or until I stop baking and actually pick up my computer to write.

Peanut Butter. Fudge. Pretzel. Brownies.

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The best pairs in life are unexpected. Mac ‘n cheese on pizza. Tequila in beer. Justin Timberlake and The Lonely Island. The best of them all is the perfect trifecta: peanut butter, pretzels and brownies.

It was Erica’s birthday and bar was set high. I didn’t want to do something like the expected cupcakes or cake…but what’s better than cupcakes? I think I found it.

Peanut Butter Fudge Pretzel Brownies
Recipe from How Sweet Eats

  • 1 3/4 cups crushed pretzels
  • 6 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2/3 cups chocolate chips (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  1. Mix together melted butter and pretzel crumbs – you’ll want to create the crumbs with a food processor or by crushing them with a mallet.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a square 8×8 baking pan and press pretzel crust into the bottom of the pan.
  3. In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter with an electric mixer until slightly fluffy. Slowly add eggs and then vanilla.
  4. Keeping the mixer on medium, add in cocoa, flour and salt. Mix for a few minutes until just combined.
  5. Mix in chocolate chips by hand in you’re using them. Then spread it evenly into your pan.
  6. Bake for about 25-30 minutes. When you have just a couple minutes left, melt the peanut butter.
  7. Stir in your powdered sugar and mix until there are no lumps.
  8. Remove brownies from the oven. Pour the peanut butter mixture over the top.
  9. Allow them to cool and then refrigerate for a few hours before cutting and serving.
I ate these brownies for breakfast, and I don’t regret it one bit. They were RIDICULOUS. Sweet, salty, chocolatey and peanut buttery. These brownies are so m.o.i.s.t and fudgey. Make these yourself because they really were not that hard to bake (even if you don’t have any special redheaded baking powers like I do).
I’m pretty sure Erica had a good birthday. Especially since a friend sent her these…
It’s hard to compete with Sprinkles Cupcakes.
So, what did we learn from this baking experience? Sweet and salty are pretty damn good together. Make sure you serve your dessert before the Sprinkles Cupcakes arrive. And don’t eat three courses worth of dessert in one day or you’ll feel really sick. No matter whose birthday it is.

The Best Breakfast You’ll Ever Eat

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Everyone prefers something a little different in the morning. Some like bagels (oh hey, Gotham). Some prefer cereal (boring). And some are just happy with a fresh glass of orange juice (my dad for the past 20 years). I like anything sweet, doughy and satisfying. Pancakes, muffins, french toast…these will all do. But you haven’t really eaten breakfast – or lived for that matter – until you’ve tried this Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread. The second I saw photos of it, I knew I had to make it as soon as I had a working oven.

I moved into my new apartment downtown about a month and a half ago. Everything seemed perfect…except one little thing. When it came time to test out the oven and the burners, they didn’t work. At all. Panic set in. I started sweating. Well, nothing unusual there, but I was really very concerned about you, my loyal readers, and my own health and well-being.

Thankfully, we had a brand new oven put in because of the serious damage.

Beautiful! Check it out in action.

Anyways, it was a slow start, but I did eventually get to cooking and baking. And this bread was at the top of my list. When I saw that yeast was one of the ingredients, I knew it would be a complicated recipe, and one that I would need an assistant for. Enter Viewpoints Community Manager Erica. She’s basically a celeb on Viewpoints.com. But in my apartment she does what I tell her to do. She unpacks my kitchen supplies, kneads dough and eats as much Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread as she can fit in her stomach.

I woke up at the crack of dawn (that would be 9:30 on a Sunday morning) to find out that the dough takes 1 hour to rise. Yeah, read that bold print. Making the dough takes the longest, so I’d suggest doing it the night before if you’re a responsible human being. Then you just roll it out and stuff with cinnamon sugary goodness before you bake.

Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread
Adapted from Joy the Baker

Use a 9 X 5 X 3 inch loaf pan

Dough:

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 envelope fast acting dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup water
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp vegetable oil

 Filling:

1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg (I didn’t have this so I just omitted. Trust me, it turned out just fine.)
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted until browned

  1. Whisk together 2 cups flour, sugar, yeast and salt.
  2. In a separate small bowl whisk together eggs.
  3. Melt butter and then add milk, water and vanilla. Let mixture stand a few minutes, and then pour into dry ingredients.
  4. Add the eggs. They’ll be tricky to combine, but keep mixing.
  5. Add the additional 3/4 cup of flour. Mix until you have a sticky ball of dough.
  6. Grease a large bowl with the vegetable oil and put the dough inside. Cover with Saran wrap and a towel. Store in a warm, dry place – I always store mine in the microwave – for about an hour, or until the ball doubles in size.
    This takes a long time. So you might need to make a snack in between. Here is ours.

    It’s never too early for nachos…right?
  7. Meanwhile, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. On your stove top, melt the other 1/2 stick of butter until slightly browned. ‘Mmm smells good.
  8. Here comes the fun part. Knead the dough with a bit of flour, and then let it rest for a few minutes, covered with a clean towel. Check out my skillful assistant.
  9. Roll out the dough so it is roughly the size of the pan. It should be rectangular shaped.
  10. Brush the dough with the melted butter and then sprinkle with the sugar mixture. It looks like a lot. Well, it is. Do what I say and USE IT ALL. Or you will be sorry later.
  11. Slice the dough lengthwise into about 6 equal sized strips. Then, cut these strips in half and stack them on top of each other, cutting again in thirds or in half, depending on how thick your slices are and how big you want them. This part gets kinda messy, so be prepared.
  12. Stack the strips, standing up into a greased loaf pan. Joy said to “cut them like a flip-book.” Yeah…whatever that means. Ours wasn’t quite as pretty, but it’s really about the taste, right? They will expand and stick together, so don’t worry about any extra space you might have.
  13. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes, or until lightly browned on top.

The original recipe says to turn the loaf pan upside down to remove the bread, but it’s way more fun to just eat it straight out of the pan. Isn’t it always? It’s also more fun to not wait 20-30 minutes for the bread to “rest” before consuming it. Our loaf had plenty of rest while it was rising all morning, so we decided to wait about 20-30 seconds before tearing it apart.

The result…

It was warm, gooey, sweet and hands down incredible. Warning: You may attempt to eat the entire loaf in one sitting and begin to feel slightly sick. Trust me, the side effects are worth it. Just be sure to find a large, grassy knoll before attempting any outdoor movement post-breakfast. If you need to find one, just text Erica. She has these locations scoped out.

A special thanks to our guest, Erica, and my roommate, Missy, for providing the snack and general excitement in the morning when I was too hungry to function. Promise I’ll post more frequently now (or at least I’ll try to remember to take photos of my finished products before eating them).

Moving Out (Plus the Best Molten Chocolate Cake)

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In case you haven’t heard (or guessed by my clever title)…I’m moving! Yes, the day has finally come.

I found an apartment a few weeks ago with my friend from work, Missy, whom I’m sure will be featured in many future blog posts, and we’re moving this weekend. Are we packed and all set to go? Um…sure!

It has been pretty hectic around my house, and I’ve had a ton on my plate – both literally and figuratively, since I am a hungry ginger, after all. One of them (the figurative one) was to check out Make It Your Own by cookbook author Jamie Miller. The connection is a long story, and all you really need to know is blah, blah, blah she sent me her cookbook to try out her recipes. The book looked great, so I agreed to do it.

Her book basically focuses on using different sauces for a variety of dishes to make each one your own…hence, the title. If you always find yourself making the same chicken recipe, for example, and are looking to spice things up, this book is for you. The only problem is that you need some unique ingredients for most of these recipes – ones that I don’t usually have in my pantry. I wanted to make the gruyere stuffed salmon burgers with maple-mustard glaze. Maybe next time after I go grocery shopping.

I settled on the Provençal grilled lamb chops minus the recommended aioli. I don’t even eat lamb! It was a tight pantry. The recipe was super easy – and according to my dad, it was flavorful and perfectly seasoned.

This is what happens when you take pictures on your camera phone.

 

Provencal Herb Paste
Recipe by Jamie Miller

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp minced fresh rosemary (I used dried)
3/4 tbsp minced fresh thyme (ditto)
1/2 tbsp minced fresh tarragon
1/2 tsp minced fresh garlic (out of the jar in my fridge)
1/4 tsp chopped dried lavender buds  (I omitted)

Because I’m a last-minute kind of gal, I spread this paste on the lamb chop and let it sit for 10 minutes instead of the recommended 2-4 hours. I think we made it out okay. The lamb chop wasn’t such a great quality, as you can see, but this was an easy recipe in a book for a serious cook.

I had to scrape together something else for this meal, and I had the perfect go to recipe that calls for just 5 ingredients. It is a crowd favorite, and I would really recommend making it because it’s extremely easy – and impressive, if I do say so myself.


Molten Chocolate Cake

Adapted from the Food Network

3 oz. butter
3.5 oz chocolate
2 egg yolks (Save the whites. You’ll thank me later.)
2 eggs
1 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup flour

  1. Spray four ramekins** with Pam. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Melt chocolate and butter together. I’d recommend a double boiler, so you don’t burn the chocolate. To create a makeshift one, just boil a pot of water and place a glass bowl with the chocolate and butter over the top, stirring carefully as they melt. Unless your butter is frozen, put the chocolate in first because it will take longer.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk yolks and eggs together.
  4. Mix in powdered sugar and then flour.
  5. Let the melted butter and chocolate cool for a few minutes. Very slowly incorporate it into the egg mixture. I say slowly because if you aren’t slow enough you can boil your eggs. True story.
  6. Fill your ramekins 3/4 of the way full. Bake for about 6 minutes. If you add on time because of your oven, just add a minute or two because these are very delicate cakes.
  7. Top with powdered sugar and serve.

**Note: If you don’t have ramekins, you can use large muffin tins. Just be sure to watch them very carefully. You can pop them out after letting them cool for a bit.

Amazing. And yes, it tastes as good as it looks.

Eat as directed: straight out of the oven, with a spoon for the molten center, preferably with ice cream if you have some (not all of us are so lucky). Think I’m bringing those ramekins to my new apartment on Saturday? You’d better believe it.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

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So, um…this is kind of awkward. It’s been awhile. It’s been so long since my last blog post that I don’t even know where to begin. And I really don’t blame you at all. You guys have been great. Loyal readers. Me on the other hand…I don’t even know what to say for myself. But I guess I’ll try my best. So here goes.

I left Madison two weeks ago to return home and start my job in downtown Chicago. With the lowest (most realistic) expectations, I returned home to start the 9-5 routine of the rest of my life. Going in that first day I didn’t expect much, so what I found amazed me, and would probably be pretty cool for any non-food obsessed normal person too. Stocked fridge, fountain soda machine, Keurig coffee maker, magic bullet for smoothies, beer Friday AND a candy drawer. True story. And the people are pretty great too.

As I’m finally settling in to this new (and busy) chapter of my life, my brother is starting one as well. He’s leaving for Madison tomorrow morning to start off his freshman year. Lucky! My words of advice: wear shoes in the shower or you’ll get warts, eat Juston sticks from Ed’s and eat ice cream there too (but not every day or you’ll gain 15 pounds in one semester–true story). So in honor of his departure, and because I haven’t had time to bake so I have nothing to write about, I give you my favorite Madison food memories, what I miss about Madison the most.

Wisconsin Ice Cream

Yes, that is the Ginger Foodie herself, showing some affection for her one true love. Clearly the cold weather couldn’t separate us, and I won’t let a little thing like living in a different state pull us apart either. Long distance relationship? No problem. Well, there happens to be a Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream about 10 minutes away from me. I haven’t gone there yet, but I think about it a lot. Mint avalanche, yippee skippee, orange custard chocolate chip! I’ll never forget you.

Stella’s Bakery

My apologies for the lack of any food in this picture because Stella’s is AMAZING. And I don’t just love it for it’s spicy cheese bread either. Stella’s Bakery has the best everything. Scones, muffins, breads, cookies, empanadas–you name it. And I’ve tried it. My favorites are the strawberry scones, the honey whole wheat bread and the cowboy cookies. Now that I think about it, my parents will be at the market on Saturday…and that honey whole wheat bread is just too good to pass up.

Food Reviews

As many of you know, I spent my final year in Madison reviewing restaurants for a weekly column, “Let’s Eat for $7.70,” that I wrote for 77 Square. It was probably the best job I’ll ever have. I got to try budget eats around Madison at some great restaurants that I never would have been to otherwise. Or I would just revisit my favorites and get paid for it. Good deal. Pictured above is a hazelnut crepe with toasted almonds from Bradbury’s just off the Square. I would recommend it for a light breakfast or coffee. I basically got paid for eating. And now that I’m home I have to pay to eat. It’s a rough transition that I’m adjusting to.

Taste of Madison

Yes, that is who you think it is. Remember the girl who told me my white balanca was off? That’s her. Most definitely eating a veggie hotdog. She might kill me for posting this, but you probably can’t even tell who it is. Large Rayban sunglasses…those look like they might leave a sunglass tan. Anyways…The Taste of Madison is an incredible assortment of vendors around the Capitol and it’s only for one weekend at the beginning of September. There is way to much food to try, and last year was my first time so I had a lot to tackle. The good news? I will be in Madison next weekend!! For the Taste!! This also means there is potential for another blog post. I mean, you want to know what I eat when I’m there, right?

Well, I’m sorry this wasn’t as serious of a relationship as I promised it would be. I made false promises. I kept you checking Ginger Foodie for weeks. And all you continued to see was a very peanut-allergic friend of mine holding a losing plate of cookies. Sad. I’m not going to make any promises. I’m a working girl, and this is a lot of work. I’ll try to write as much as I can.  I will understand if I lose you, but it was good while it lasted. So…keep reading? At least say something! My dad is monopolizing the comments and I don’t think he’s too upset that I have a job. It’s hard to stay in touch, so comment/email/facebook if you can!

Don’t forget to text me Keith—you can get your updates on the diseases kids get these days from Mom, but only trust me for what restaurants to go to.