- Just Spices is a German company that makes a series of flavorful seasoning powders, some spicy, some sweeter (like the new berry flavoring for yogurt) that are USDA organic and “sourced with love.”
The one for barbecue popcorn is a surprise – it gives your evening popcorn a barbecue flavor that doesn’t hit you like a ton of bricks, like many BBQ seasonings do. Especially if you pop your popcorn in coconut oil – so delicious – you don’t want to overwhelm it with spice. This BBQ seasoning is delicate yet definite enough to make your mouth pay attention.
The Just Spices Mexican seasoning is transformative. Now an avocado-studded taco salad – minus the beans and the meat – can be pretty delicious with just romaine, cilantro, red onion and salsa, topped with thickened 2% Greek yogurt (lower fat and calories than sour cream) and lots of fresh lime juice. Add a few drops of Habanero sauce and you’re good to go. But then, if you add a quarter teaspoon of the Just Spices Mexican seasoning, that same dish puts you on the sun-soaked hacienda of an elegant Mexican resort. And you immediately want to order a margarita with your salad. Even if it’s 8:30 AM. We also added it to our turkey meatballs and to the tomatoes we cooked ’em in and really enjoyed the whole thing.
Go try some of these. They just introduced 20 new flavors, too. You won’t go wrong buying one of their boxed sets as a gift for a hostess or friend who enjoys cooking but isn’t fanatical about making their own seasoning. These provide a shortcut that any non-professional cook – and maybe some professionals, too – will appreciate. Each individual package is 100 milliliters and priced from $5.99 to $7.99. Available online only at www.justspices.com/
Peter & Pat Pierogies. And how about some low-fat, low-cholesteraol all-natural pierogies to back up – or be – your dinner entree? Peter & Pat love traditional Eastern European food so much they built it into a thriving catering business over the past 20 years. The most popular dish on their menu is the pierogies. In fact, theirs has become one of the top-selling pierogie brands in the United States. It’s been so successful they’ve now officially launched in Costco locations across the Midwest.
We can personally vouch for the flavor and filling ability of the 4-cheese-and-potato version they sent to test – delicious mix of creamy mashed potatoes with Cheddar, farmers, Parmesan and Swiss cheeses. Yet only 240 calories for four pierogies – not bad for so much creamy, cheesy goodness. Frozen bags of 4 pounds – that’s a lotta pierogies (65 per bag – 12 servings) – for $9.99 at Costco.
molly&drew® Single Serve Mug Cake Kits come in four flavors include, Ooey Gooey Chocolate, Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel, Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake, and Chocolate Candy Cane. Just add water, microwave for 90 seconds and ditch the need to mess up the kitchen. Fast, easy dessert for one or two. Top with whipped cream to make it more decadent.
molly&drew® also craft their own beer breads and beer cakes that let you blend your favorite beer into ready-to-go mixes. Try the beer bread for appetizers, main dishes, sides and desserts. There’s a cake mix, too, which we sampled – fun to make a cake with beer. We did, however, find the sizable dose of almond extract in the Amore Amoretto flavor somewhat overpowering. We left the cakes sit out for a day and the almond flavor diminished a bit. Still, what a fun – and EASY – idea for sharing with family and friends for brunches, barbeques, dinners, parties, sporting events and more.
Lincoln Park has a number of interesting places to eat, and I just discovered the pleasure of one of those – the patio at Cafe Brauer. Delicious American food specialties, served by warm and friendly people, and a small selection of wines, craft beers and cocktails designed to satisfy most of us. One menu item promises fresh vegetables from Green City Market, one of the city of Chicago’s markets that sets up every Wednesday and Saturday nearly across the street on Stockton Blvd. This is a marriage made in heaven.
Entrance to the Nature Boardwalk is right off the patio. You can walk all the way around its half-mile perimeter as it wends through a 14-acre nature preserve. It’s a closed pathway, so you can trust that your bicycling or dog-walking grandchild or friend will definitely find her way back to you. No way to get lost. Being in “the wild” in the middle of the city without being worried you’ll get lost. Can’t wait to bring my granddaughter here.
Mallard duck pairs occasionally break the still waters of the pond next to the patio. It’s an incredibly peaceful and calming environment. Bird song everywhere. People walking.
The Cafe Brauer patio is the site of many weddings, school and corporate events. The staff are highly experienced at providing buffets full of tasty all-American foods like buttermilk fried chicken (delicious!). The regular menu offers big plates to share – calamari, wings, guac and salsa, or steak chili nachos. Then there are soups and salads, plus paninis, burgers – including turkey and black bean and classic sandwiches, all served with fries. Sides are interesting – side salad, Parmesan fries, waffle-battered sweet potato fries with maple-vinegar aioli, mac & cheese, and stir-fried Green City Market vegetablea, all priced at $4.95, but if you order them with a sandwich they’re only two bucks. Desserts are $5.95 and include Brownie Sundae, Blueberry Crisp, and Cookie Skillet with ice cream. Hungry yet?
Basically, Cafe Brauer has just about anything your heart could desire. They even play upbeat music at just the right decibel level – cheers the atmosphere and lightens the spirit.
If you know Trader Todd’s, 3216 N. Sheffield, you may think of it mainly as a karaoke joint with tiki-bar-style drinks and atmosphere. But guess what? They are now doing brunch, and their Executive Chef Mark Hill really knows how to put food on the plate, with here and there his own unique touch to dishes you thought you knew.
For example, ever ordered fried chicken and waffles? It’s always seemed like a stretch to understand what makes the two go together. But Chef Hill has changed that up for many Trader Todd brunch customers. The way he combines these two is totally unique – kind of like eating your main course and your dessert at the same time. The waffle has a sweet crunch, and the chicken comes in chunks bathed in a rich, brown, slightly sweet-spicy jerk sauce sparked with Chef’s own mixture of allspice and peppers and maybe some or all of these: cloves, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, brown sugar, ginger, and salt. It’s his secret – and it’s a good one.
And lest you wonder about the kitchen’s ability to do standard brunch items up right, check out the lovely omelette, cooked so that the eggs come out tender and moist rather than dry and tough. Get your choice of cheeses and fillings and eat ’em with the kitchen’s house-made fried potato chunks – tender inside and just enough crust on the outside. Delicious.
Or if you’re in the mood for a burger, Trader Todd’s does ’em good. Nice helping of ground beef, grilled and served with whatever toppings your heart desires. And some more of those good fried potato chunks. But don’t stop there. They’ve got Benedicts and sliders and conch cakes, Jerk Chicken and Jerk Pork sandwiches and more. It’s pan-tropical food and drink to make you feel like you’re in the islands. Lots of open-air space, and there’s even a boat you can sit in in the back bar. It’s a faux-island paradise for brunchers to start off a Saturday or Sunday of relaxation.
On opening night they had a live band for karaoke. Seriously. If you are a wannabe singer, singing with real musicians behind you and the words in front of you has to be – as the saying goes – the most fun you can have with your clothes on. And on top of that, they serve elevated bar food that includes sharable appetizers, hearty salads, “grabbers” (otherwise known as meat-heavy platters), and an assortment of sides. Chicken Wings come with your choice of house buffalo, shogun sweet chili, Chef Diablo’s habanero or pomegranate BBQ, served with tri-colored carrots, jicama, house made ranch or bleu cheese. Other items: marinated Steakhouse Minis, The 1951 Burger, Queen of Hearts salad, and Jabberwock Angus Sliders. Try starting with Candied Slab Bacon – thick cut, Applewood smoked slab bacon, grilled and glazed with maple syrup.
A sports-friendly bar, with ten large screen TVs, it also serves as a distinctive backdrop for the viewing of any game. Live Band Karaoke on Wednesday evenings beginning at 9pm.
Ever been to a wine dinner? They go on around the city all the time, yet can be quite different. Naturally, the featured wines are important. And, of course, the chef-inspired menu is critical. One of the best we’ve run across for consistently good menus and consistently generous pours is Wildfire’s wine dinners, 159 W. Erie in downtown Chicago.
Their most recent one, held in late July in Wildfire’s private party room, featured selections from Cambria Estate Vineyards including a lovely “Tepusquet Vineyard” Viognier 2014 served with creative appetizers – watermelon tuna tartare with sriracha mayo on an herb cracker and grilled plump shrimp “lollipops” to dip in spicy passionfruit sauce.
Next came a generous cut of grilled white sturgeon in a rose-colored peach-butter sauce paired with Cambria’s “Benchbreak” Chardonnay 2014, a light, unoaked white with notes of tropical fruits. Delicious. And compliments to the chef on his handling of meats – the mustard-crusted beef tenderloin practically melted in your mouth. We urge you to give Wildfire a try next time they do a wine dinner, usually priced ~$80 to $90 plus tax and tip. They do one almost every month, except for August when they’re doing a beer dinner and holiday months November and December). Check out the Joel Gott wine dinner coming up September 20.
Da Vinci Restaurant, 1732 N. Halsted, is another restaurant that does slightly more affordable (~$50 +tt) but also highly enjoyable wine dinners. Coming up August 10 with Zito wines look for antipasti, pasta – in this case, penne with zucchini, tomato, goat cheese stuffed zucchini flower) – secondo, and dessert. The restaurant itself is broken into multiple cozy dining areas and the wine dinner usually takes place in one of those that fits the number of guests. Friendly service, nice lighting, comfortable ambiance.
And for those who love their beer, aptly named Goose Island Brewery, 1800 N. Clybourn, this summer got rid of its wine & spirits license to become a strictly beer restaurant. Besides carrying a really large assortment of all types of beers, from stouts to ales to lagers, they worked hard on expanding what you can do with beer. Imagine drinking a “bocktail” with your brunch. Choose from a Sofie Mimosa (Sofie lager and orange juice), a Michalada (tomato juice, lime, cayenne, celery salt and SPF), a Peach Wit Shandy (lemon juice, peach syrup, Willow St. Wit) or a Beer-rita (lime & organge juice infused with cilantro & jalapeno, All Purpose IPA). The servers are well-versed in their listings and can help you figure out what you might like. Serving lunch, brunch, pub fare, burgers, greens and soup and more.
SuperBowl Sunday is reputedly one of the biggest television viewing days of the year in the United States. I’m guessing that might depend on which teams are playing and how big the rivalry is (Wikipedia gives interesting biggest-TV-audience stats here).
And for sure, this is also a day people tend to say the hell with the diet. So whether you’re making stuff at home, or heading out to let someone else do the cooking and cleanup, here are a few last-minute ideas for your enjoyment and edification.
Like to keep the dirty dishes to a minimum on SuperBowl Sunday? Try Nuvino wine in portable PreservPak pouches. Comes in Chardonnay, Malbec, Red Blend, and Sauvignon Blanc. If you don’t drink ’em all up at the party, they’ll keep fresh up to 18 months. Just think of all the glasses you won’t have to wash.
A few quick notes on SuperBowl specials around town:
Acadia, 1639 S. Wabash in the South Loop, recently launched a new version of the Acadia Burger, one of the bar menu’s most popular items. The 6-ounce wagyu, brisket and chuck burger, created by Chef Ryan McCaskey, is topped with a mushroom ragout and Gruyere Grand Cru cheese and served on a sesame bun. It’s served with pickled cauliflower and hand-cut fries seasoned with house-made lemon pepper seasoning (containing over 20 ingredients) and foie gras butter. Sounds like a fascinating combination – and the fries look cooked just right.
The previous version, based on Burger King’s Stacker, was recognized as one of Chicago’s best burgers by Thrillist, TimeOut Chicago, Zagat and others. Acadia expects the new version to be just as well-loved. McCaskey said the new version “was inspired by my family eating at Hardee’s on the way to my grandmother’s house in Iowa as a kid.” Clearly, the wagyu beef and Gruyere cheese alone push it several notches beyond the inspiration. To inspire yourself, check it out at http://www.acadiachicago.com/.
Quartino Ristorante & Wine Bar, 626 N. State St., invites you to help celebrate its 9th anniversary on Tuesday, January 6 at its Annual Wine Bash. From 7 to 9 pm, $25 at the door gets you samples of some of Quartino’s most popular regional Italian food and wine specialties like pizza, Chef Coletta’s house-made salumi, Polenta Fries, Veal Meatballs, and more. To drink, either rosso or bianco Antica wines or the restaurant’s famous White Peach Bellini (Prosecco and house-made white peach puree).
“The evening will highlight many of the items that have been on our menu since day one in 2005,” says Executive Chef John Coletta, “and that are still some of our customers’ favorite dishes.” Head up to the second floor when you get there (social media #LateOnState).
Kanela Breakfast Club (locations in Old Town, Lakeview and Wicker Park) welcomes power breakfast meetings with free wi-fi and complimentary parking . NATIONAL SOUP MONTH – all month any guest who donates a canned soup or non-perishable food item will receive a complimentary order of Kanela’s signature Loukoumades (Greek doughnut, lemon honey syrup and toasted walnuts). Donations will be made to a local food pantry. Not valid with any other offer or promotion, one per person.
National Blueberry Pancake Day – Wed. January 28. Every order of Kanela’s signature blueberry pancakes comes with a free first cup of Julius Meinl coffee. One per person.
Compass Bar, 433 W. Diversey in Lincoln Park, is now serving brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Brunch items range in price from $3 to $11 and features items like the breakfast pizza,
Bloody Mary with Rhinelander Lager
classic breakfast, omelettes, French toast and more. $6 mimosas and $8 bloody marys made with CH Distillery Peppercorn Vodka. Pair with a 3 ounce Rhinelander Lager bottle for an additional $2. The complete menu is available HERE. The Compass regular menu specializes in wood-fired pizzas and beer lovers choose from 180 bottled and 20 draft options.