Friday, April 24, 2015

The Commons Club or High Time for High Tea

The Slow and Savory Review


Brandy sighed, gazing out her window on a cold, rainy Chicago spring day.  She was missing England.  "I do love The Windy City," she moaned, "But sometimes one just longs for things like the smell of sea air, a walk through a foggy moor, or a decent cup of good British tea."  Unable to shake her homesickness, Brandy phoned up her old friend Brocco Leigh Binto and asked if he might be able to invent something that would make her feel better.  "Well, that could take years of research, development, and testing," he told her, sympathetically, "But I did hear that the Virgin Hotel just started up a high tea service.  Maybe a little taste of your home land would cheer you up."

Brandy decided to take Brocco's advice and enlisted him to accompany her to The Commons Club on the second floor of the Virgin Hotel.  The space boasted impossibly high ceilings, a playful library, and a semi-casual dining area surrounding an ornate bar.  Much like its downstairs sister restaurant, Miss Ricky's, the space had just enough rock and roll feeling to it to make it stylish without being obnoxious.

Upon browsing the menu, Brandy discovered that the tea service had a little twist: it featured not only traditional tea time snacks and pots of hot tea, but also six seasonal cocktails, all featuring different Rare Tea Cellars teas.  "They're calling this an Upside Down Tea Party," Brandy observed, "Presumably because you'll be upside down under the table when its over."  "It's a good thing the Virgin Hotel features a Bow Truss Coffee in room pour over service then," Brocco smiled.  And so encouraged by that useful feature of the hotel, Brocco and Brandy threw caution to the wind and ordered round after round of tea cocktails until they found they'd (somewhat) accidentally tried them all.

Gentry Cove (on the right)- gin, vermouth, strawberry, lemon, and Earl Grey Brandy likened this one to a Pimm's Cup, in that it packed plenty of punch with a nice fruity finish.  This was light, infinitely drinkable, and perfect for a spring day.

Pomp and Circumstance (on the left)- gin, aloe liqueur, butterfly pea tea, corn flower, passion fruit This was probably the most stunningly presented cocktail of the day, as its top layer was a vibrant blue, the middle was a royal purple, and the bottom a sweet shot of passion fruit nectar.  The taste was a little too vegetal for Brandy's liking, but Brocco enjoyed it.

Fields of France- vodka, anise liqueur, Campari, tonic, honey, lavender tea Not normally a fan of anise flavored things, Brandy was surprised to have enjoyed this drink, which had a lovely floral quality to it.  This concoction was probably one of the better showcases for the tea that inspired it, which is flavored with various berries and flowers.

Bold as Love- rum, mint, green tea, lemon, verbena This one was both Brandy and Brocco's least favorite of the bunch.  It was a tad too herbacious for their liking, and baring a slight resemblance to a mojito, Brocco wished it would have been a little sweeter.  "Maybe Bold as Love is the wrong name for this," as he put it, "I'd call this the Bold as Like-quite-a-bit-but-not-in-Love."

Sunny Day in London- gin, brandy, sherry, black tea, honey, cream Although most of the other cocktails came adorned with colorful flowers, this one came simply presented over crushed ice in a pretty tea cup, and made Brandy burst into laughter when she saw it.  "What's so funny?" Brocco asked.  "It's called a Sunny Day in London, but it's cloudy.  Get it?" Brocco did not get it.  Regardless, Brandy thought this was the best cocktail for enjoying with the food because of its rich, sip-able flavor.

Spring Fling- vodka, St. Germain, lemon soda, jasmine green tea The last cocktail of the afternoon was also one of the prettier ones, having a vibrant green color which set off the flowers floating on the top and reminding Brandy of a pond covered in lily pads.  Its flavor was bright and fruity with an almost melon like flavor that Brocco quite enjoyed.

As for the food, the offerings were pretty traditional: a few finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, a couple bite sized pastries, and a cookie.  Brandy was a tad disappointed that there weren't more modern takes on the nibbles to match the creativity behind the cocktails, but she thought everything was quite lovely all the same.  The Crab and Shrimp Salad Sandwich was a nice change of pace from the more traditional Smoked Salmon and Cucumber sandwiches, but all three were delicate and tasty.  The scones were tiny indeed, each one about the size of a bite or two, with flavorings like walnut, pistachio and cherry, and cinnamon raisin, while the jam and cream came adorably presented in a tiny tea cup and looking like some sort of dessert in and of itself.  "Whipped cream?  On your scone?" Brocco questioned upon spying the confection.  "No dear, clotted cream," Brandy corrected him, "It's sort of like a buttery spread.  Go on, try it."  And with one scoopful of the stuff, Brocco was a changed man.  The little pasties were nice, especially the rich chocolate tart with candied hazelnuts on top, but the dainty financier with cherries and almonds had its own rustic charm too.  Brandy simply adored the presentation of the shortbread cookie, which had its lower half dipped in chocolate, as it was shaped like a tea bag and even had string tied to it, making it perfect for dipping.  "Sadly, we've neglected to actually order any actual tea," Brandy observed, and then shrugging, she dipped the thing in one of her cocktails.

Whiling away a rainy afternoon with a high tea service at The Commons Club might have normally made Brandy even more home sick for dear old England, but with more than a few cocktails in her system as well as some excellent nosh, she actually felt quite contented.  "Not only did we drink our way through the entire menu, we may have also drunk an entire garden this afternoon," she giggled as she eyed the colorful flowers in her empty cocktail glass, "But I'd say these tea cocktails do make for a lovely change of pace for a tea service.  I can see myself coming back to this season after season as the menu shifts."  Brandy also loved the relaxed, yet refined atmosphere of The Commons Club, where the well dressed servers and bartenders were polite, chatty, and very well informed.  With the tea service only $10 a person and the cocktails coming in at $12 a piece (actual pots of tea were also available for $7, but also several premium selections ranging from $14-$55 for high rolling tea connoisseurs), Brandy also thought the prices weren't too outrageous.  "Well, it certainly wasn't the most traditional tea service I've ever attended," Brandy said grandly as she made her way down to the hotel lobby, "But I do have to admit that I feel quite a better going out than I did going in."

The Short and Sweet Review


Commons Club on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

From the Kitchens of Bunny and Brandy: Cinnamon Mocha Muffins and Hamilton Beach Giveaway!

Although Brandy is a notoriously prolific tea drinker, she does enjoy a good hot cup of coffee as well.  "Tea is life, but coffee is a life enhancer," as she likes to put it.  So when Hamilton Beach asked Brandy to give their latest innovation in coffee preparation a go, she stocked up on flavored creamers and prepared for a massive dose of caffine.

The FlexBrew 2 Way Coffee Maker was surprisingly light weight, making it easy to move from the kitchen to the breakfast nook and back, depending on Brandy's mood.  The side that made the full pot of coffee utilized a wire mesh reusable filter, which made the brewing process as simple as pressing a button.  The single cup side accepted both K-Cups and fresh grounds (with the use of the proper attachment) and took a few more steps in order to properly brew a cup of joe.  This side required a little more concentration, as one could easily over fill the water tank, forget to switch the function on the machine, or neglect to press down the bar that activated the single cup brew, but Brandy very much liked the adjustable stand that allowed one to use anything from a standard coffee mug to a tall travel cup.

Both sides also functioned very well for preparing hot water, should one want to make some tea in a hurry.  Brandy very much appreciated that the machine was programmable, so that if she so wished, she could wake up to a fresh brewed pot of coffee every morning.

Brandy had so much fun playing with her new toy that she soon found herself with a massive amount of freshly brewed coffee about the house.  "Well, might as well put some of this to good use!" she proclaimed.  Thinking of coffee cake (and how she had always been perplexed by the fact that coffee cake was not coffee flavored) Brandy came up with this recipe for some delicious, caffeinated muffins made with fresh brewed coffee to keep them perfectly moist.

Also, especially for her loyal fans, Brandy is giving away a Hamilton Beach FlexBrew 2-way Coffee Maker!  Check the widget below the recipe for full details on how to enter.  This giveaway will run until April 29th.  But don't worry if you don't win, because you can get your own Hamilton Beach FlexBrew 2-Way Coffee Maker at retailers like Walmart for only $89.

Cinnamon Mocha Muffins

For the topping:

1/2 cup of light brown sugar
1/2 cup of white sugar
1 tablespoon of instant coffee granules
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon
1 cup of flour
1/3 cup melted butter

For the Muffins:
1 1/2 cups of flour
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
1 tablespoon of cocoa powder
1/2 tablespoon of instant coffee granules (optional if you want to intensify the coffee flavor)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of freshly brewed coffee
1/4 cup of softened butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup of milk
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
1 large egg

For the crumb topping: combine the brown sugar, white sugar, coffee granules, salt, cinnamon, and flour in a medium bowl, stir to combine, and then add the melted butter.  Continue to stir until the mixture takes on an even sandy texture, then spread on a cookie sheet and let dry while you prepare the muffins.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In one bowl, combine the flour, coffee granules, cocoa powder, salt, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda.  In a second bowl, cream the butter and sugar together, then add in the egg and vanilla.  When everything is combined into a smooth mixture, add in the coffee and milk and mix again.  Carefully fold the dry mixture into the liquid mixture, whisking away any lumps as you go and scraping down the sides of the bowl until the batter is smooth and even.

Spray the cups of a muffin tin with cooking spray (skip this step if using muffin papers).  Divide the batter into the twelve cups of the muffin tin.  Sprinkle a generous amount of the topping mix onto each muffin, making sure to break up any large clumps as you go, otherwise they will sink to the bottom of the batter as the muffins bake.  Bake the muffins for about 20 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean.  Let cool and serve.

The writers of this blog were provided with an appliance by Hamilton Beach in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Tea Time with Brandy: Chefmade Meal Delivery Service


Meal delivery services seem to be all the rage these days.  It's no wonder, what with work schedules growing increasingly erratic and people's lives filling up with all sorts of hobbies and distractions.  "I know several people who simply cannot put down their electronic do-hickies when they are home," said Brandy, "I'm not one to judge, as I get the same way about my needlepoint.  Often I'm there, stitching away for hours, and I simply forget to cook a meal!"

Throwing their hat into the ring of meal delivery is Chefmade, a company offering fully prepared meals that are hearty and healthy.  Chefmade's website takes orders from customers up through midnight on Thursdays, guaranteeing delivery of their food on the same Sunday.  Chefmade offers a new set of meals every week, giving their customers lots of exciting choices to keep their palates interested.  Brandy especially loved that they offered breakfast options, a choice many similar services simply don't have.  Taking that into consideration, Brandy decided to give Chefmade a go.

The ordering process was exceedingly simply to navigate, even for Brandy, and on the day of delivery, Chefmade kept Brandy abreast of their timing extremely well.  She received both an email and a text in the morning, telling her when she could expect her delivery, which helped her to plan how long she could be out of the house for brunch.  Later in the afternoon, she got another text letting her know that she was next up on the delivery docket, and then a last text when her delivery was neigh.  This last text helped greatly, as she was able to greet the cheerful driver at her door and receive her delivery with no more fuss.

Brandy had decided to order four meals offered by Chefmade that week: a Caramelized Onion Tart with Blue Cheese and Walnuts, a Lemon Tortellini Salad with Asparagus, a PB+J Cashew Yogurt Bowl, and a Blueberry Bran Muffin, all of which made for perfect breakfasts and lunches throughout the week for her.


The cashew yogurt bowl was very unique indeed, with a silky texture Brandy did not expect, a tangy strawberry jam, and a cup of roasted peanuts to sprinkle on top of the bowl.  As much as she is a fan of all things dairy, Brandy actually loved that this option was fit for all sorts of diet restrictions, being vegan and gluten free.  The muffin was surprisingly moist and light for a bran muffin with lovely little bursts of flavor from the fresh blueberries within.  Brandy would have liked a slightly bigger muffin, but with a banana and a nice up of milky tea, it made for a pretty satisfying breakfast.


Both the tortellini salad and the onion tart were fairly substantial in size, enough in fact to make four meals out of what was meant to be two.  The onion tart was the only thing that required cooking, or rather a quick crisp up in the oven, just enough to make the pungent blue cheese melt, and then a quick sprinkle of fresh cut scallions finished it off nicely.  The dough was thick and yeasty, with a nice touch of fire roasted flavor to it, while the sweet and tangy onion topping mixed well with the strong cheese and the little bits of crunch from the nuts.  The tortellini salad looked incredibly fresh with some sliced grape tomatoes, chunks of grilled asparagus, big cheese filled tortellini, and a little cup of pine nuts to top it all off.  Though light and fresh in flavor, this salad made for a very hearty lunch.

The price per meal for the lunches came out to about $10, while the breakfasts were less than half of that, which Brandy thought was more than reasonable, considering the portion sizes.  There was an additional $10 delivery charge, but with the more one orders, the better use that fee was put to.  Brandy really loved the fresh ingredients and healthy slanted recipes that Chefmade offered, especially as they were full of flavor and easily enjoyed, not to mention beautifully presented and packaged.  "Ordering from Chefmade will certainly save me some time!" Brandy proclaimed, "Now I can finally finish quilting the walls of my parlor like I've always wanted to."

As a treat for fans of Bunny and Brandy, Chefmade is extending their ordering deadline until 7:00 pm Friday April 17th.  Check out the website now to see this week's meals and order by 7:00pm tonight to get your delivery on Sunday.  Use the code BUNNYANDBRANDY to not only get an early access pass to try Chefmade before it is launched to the public at large, but also a free meal (a $9.99 value) with your first order!

The writers of this blog were given a portion of the order from Chefmade free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A tribute to Chef Homaro Cantu

Hello friends, my name is Jessica Berson and I have been the voice of Bunny and Brandy for four years now.  The original concept of this blog was to keep behind a semi-anonymous facade, but something happened yesterday that for once requires my own words, and not that of my whimsical, fictional creations, so I hope you will forgive this (hopefully) one time only breaking of the fourth wall.
In the fall of 2009, a friend and I were looking for something to do on a Wednesday night.  Somehow, we landed on the idea of going for a drink at Moto (at the time, there was a small lounge space at the front of the restaurant), just to check out all the crazy mad food science happening there, like edible paper and cocktails in test tubes.  The guy behind the bar must have been amused to find two rubes like us sitting in front of him on an otherwise slow weekday night, and although we had only ordered one drink each, he chatted with us, fixed us up with some absinthe shots (in a test tube!), gave us a taste of some European gin, and even insisted we try a dessert before we left, a chocolate sphere in the shape of a tiny cartoon bomb with a light-able marshmallow wick and a liquefied graham cracker center.  It was an amazing night for two girls who were barely making ends meat while working at a famous Chicago comedy theater.

So elated was I that we had been treated so well that I went home and tweeted Moto's chef, Homaro Cantu, that although I could never hope to afford dinner at his restaurant, I thoroughly enjoyed my brief time there, where his staff were second to none.  Almost right away, I got a DM back from him offering me something extraordinary: a dinner at Moto on his dime in exchange for writing about the experience on social media.  I broke into tears and called my mother.  I felt so lucky that I actually went out and bought a lottery ticket that day.

A few months later, my friend and I were treated to the dining experience of a life time.  We were presented with thirteen courses in total as well as wine pairings and a tour of the kitchen by Moto's future executive chef, Richie Farina.  I wore a dress I'd bought for about $25 from Target especially for the occasion and had lived for a week on egg noodles and frozen vegetables so that I could afford to leave a tip.  As I had told the Chef, at that time in my life, I never thought there was a chance of me being able to have a night like that, a meal like that, and I wouldn't have without the generosity of a man who knew what it was like to be living on the edge while yearning for much more.

That night in June of 2010, a seed was planted and took hold, which would eventually bloom into the founding of this blog in October of that year.  Along with my photographer friend, we decided on brunch as a way to sample Chicago's culinary scene without breaking the bank, as brunch tends to be cheaper than dinner.  When we set up our rating system, we decided to judge every meal on a curve, as compared to the single greatest meal of our lives, which is why we have always used a scale of 1-5 M's to define our idea of perfection (M for "Moto" of course).

As my blog blossomed and grew with my changing life style, Chef Cantu was still there helping me and inspiring me.  I was there with friends for one of the very first dinners at ING, returning again when the miracle berry dinners started, and then being invited once more when the theme dinners entered the space.  My day job circumstances changed and I was able to take my mother to dinner at ING for Christmas for a few years, a tradition she came to look to as the greatest culinary experiences of her life.  I was even invited to guest chef at ING one afternoon, where a staff of patient and polite professional chefs smiled on as I mangled some hard boiled duck eggs and desperately tried to learn how to plate with a pair of tweezers.  Chef Cantu allowed me to reprint two recipes from his amazing Miracle Berry Diet Cookbook on this blog.  He even personally promoted my blog, posting links to it on his social media accounts, which was an amazing boost for me in the eternal battle of getting one's content noticed in the haystack that is the internet.

Yesterday, Chef Homaro Cantu passed away.  I cannot adequately express my devastation at this news.  Although I only met Chef Cantu a few times in person, I always felt as if he was the guardian angel of this blog, a silly little website which gave me the creative outlet I needed to stay sane while working a necessary but not unpleasant day job.  In fact, I have kept the paper version of the menu from my dinner at Moto on my desk since that day so that  I could always remember what had inspired this unexpected, yet joyful and fulfilling part of my life.  I will never forget all of the kindnesses extended to me by Homaro Cantu, a virtual stranger who changed the course of my life in ways he will never know.  Thank you Chef, thank you for the greatest meal of my life, for showing me how food can truly be elevated to art, and for inspiring me to do what makes me happy.  Your spirit of kindness and generosity will never be forgotten and the legacy of talent you leave behind will continue to inspire Chicago and the world for countless decades to come.

My thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.  I encourage all of Chicago's food community to join me in contributing a donation in his honor to The Trotter Project.

Friday, April 10, 2015

BOHO or Bohemian Rhapsody

The Slow and Savory Review

Spring in Chicago seems to be slowly struggling through the frozen ground to pop its head out and embrace the sun.  Of course, spring brings with it many things to be excited about: warmer weather, baseball games, Chicago Gourmet pre-sales, but there is one thing above all that Brandy loves about spring. "It's brunch season!" Yes indeed, it is the season of brunch services launching all across the city in some of the finest restaurants, bakeries, bars, and gastro pubs.  Brandy does occasionally venture outside of her home for dinner, but as brunch is her main squeeze, she is always excited to see spots on her wish list premiering their brunch menus.  I comes as no surprise then that when Bohemian House in River North announced that they would begin serving an Eastern European inspired brunch on the weekends starting April 11th, Brandy was more than happy to preview the menu, "Solely for the sake of my fellow brunchers, of course," as she said.
Bohemian House was a beautiful, eclectic space, decorated in antiqued woods, turquoise and copper accents, with gem like light fixtures and patinaed metals.  Though a little small, the space was open and warm with tables and secluded booths surrounding two communal tables at the center of the restaurant.  The bar immediately commanded attention, as it had been constructed from what looked to be old sewing tables stacked to the ceiling and adhered to the exposed brick wall.  Brandy was instantly in love with everything from the blue leather sofas to the jewel toned floral plates.  "If I didn't know better, I'd think they took these lovely things right out of my china cupboard!" Brandy exclaimed, examining the dishes carefully.

Three of the specially crafted brunch cocktails were presented to the group: the Pick Me Up with Bowtruss Coffee, rye whiskey, and boozy whipped cream, the Pulaski Smash with green bell pepper juice, whiskey, lemon, and passion fruit, and the house Mimosa, made with a variety of juices like blackberry and mango.  While Brandy is always happy to sip a mimosa, even more so when the juice offerings are so unique, she found, much to her surprise, that she really enjoyed the Pulaski Smash.  "It's so refreshing and bright!" she exclaimed, "I wasn't so sure about the bell pepper juice, but it really give this drink some zing!" The Pick Me Up was just a little too strong to be paired with food, but Brandy thought it would be right at home as a pre-brunch drink or a post brunch treat.

 The sweet dishes coming out of BoHo's kitchen were varied and exciting.  There was the Almond Poppyseed Cake, which was moist and delectable with its crunchy streusel topping, there were the Donuts, perfectly fried little dough balls rolled in vanilla sugar as served with fluffy Bavarian cream and raspberry jam, and there was the Chocolate Cinnamon Scone, served warm and melty with a bright kumquat marmalade.  Brandy's favorite of all the sweets was most definitely the Bavarian Pancakes, which came with farmer's cheese, toasted pecans, and apples cooked in cider.  The pancakes were thin and rolled, much like an English pancake, and had a chewy consistency and a buttery flavor.  "Oh these are just splendid," Brandy moaned, moving the plate slightly closer towards her end of the table so as to keep the servers from sweeping it up.



The savory dishes were certainly the stars of the menu, bursting with texture and flavor.  They started off light with things like the Grilled Asparagus
Salad with mustard vinaigrette and crispy chicken skin, and the Lox & Toast, which was slices of beautiful salmon on rye bread with a soft boiled egg, cucumber, dill, and little salty pops of salmon roe.  Moving into heavier proteins, they sampled the house made Knackwurst with horseradish cream, which was chewy and satisfying, and the Gouda Brauwurst, packed with smokey cheese and served with beer braised onions, watermelon radishes, and an amazing whole seed house mustard that made appearances all across the menu.  The Beef Tongue Hash was a lovely stand in for an eggs Benedict with some buttery fingerling potatoes as well a some vinegary red cabbage and of course the tender chunks of beef tongue.  The open faced Pork Schnitzel Sandwich was a daunting prospect when set in front of Brandy, what with its more than generous slab of fried pork cutlet on top of a thick piece of rye bread, topped with an egg, more mustard, and some sauerkraut, it was more than enough for two people to share.  Lastly was Brandy's favorite among the savory dishes, the Skirt Steak and Eggs.  Though sounding like a fairly standard brunch dish, along with tender slices of steak and perfectly cooked eggs, this plate came with some delicious wilted greens, topped with aged gouda, and a side of mushroom and pepper spatzel that really turned it into something unique.




Absolutely smitten with everything about Bohemian House, Brandy insisted on shaking Chef Jimmy Papadopolous's hand before she left.  "I absolutely loved everything," she raved to him, "I know you'll have to change the menu about with the seasons, so if you need someone to come and test out any dishes in the future...well, let's just say I will make the time."  Though the service wasn't that of a typical meal, Brandy found the servers both helpful and well informed about what was being brought to the table, an accomplishment considering the menu was brand new, and a glance at the prices of the dishes showed fairly reasonable rates, especially when one considered the portion sizes.  "I wonder if anyone would notice if I took a cheeky little nap on the lounge sofa until they open up for dinner," Brandy wondered aloud before she reluctantly headed out the door.

The writers of this blog were invited by the restaurant to dine free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

The Short and Sweet Review



Boho - Bohemian House on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Festival Report: Good Food Fest 2015

Though Brandy's interest in food sometimes isn't focused on the healthier side of things, it is most definitely focused on the quality.  Knowing that the people who harvest, prepare, and sell food have put their heart, soul, and skill into their products is ultimately what makes for good food in Brandy's book, so when she caught wind that the Good Food Festival and Conference was coming back to Chicago a few weeks ago, Brandy knew she just had to check it out.

The Good Food Festival was a three day symposium at the UIC Forum that focused on local, sustainable products and practices with talks and demos from industry professionals, farmers, chefs, and more.  The focus on the festival was to connect and educate the public about positive changes coming from the food industry as well as the benefits of making positive changes at home.  "Anything that brings more delicious food into my kitchen is an exciting prospect in and of itself," Brandy said, "But if the food is delicious, healthy, and good for the environment, all the better."

The first few days of the festival were taken up by informative industry only networking sessions and talks with Saturday being the main focus for the crowds of food fans.  Saturday was split into several parts; the main festival where over 150 vendors were set up with informational booths, from which they handed out samples and reading materials on their services and products, and the Demo floor, where experts gave educational speeches on topics as varied as compost, home made beauty products, using soup as medicine, and even bringing in livestock like goats, ducks, and chickens so that city folk could get up close and personal with exactly where their food is coming from.

Brandy discovered quite a few gems on the Good Food Festival floor.  There was Verzenay Patisserie, who constantly had a crowd around their booth, ooing and aweing over the delicious treats on display, especially their unique savory macaroons in flavors like Truffle Mushroom and Goat Cheese and Fig.  The Slow Jams booth also caught Brandy's eye with its unique homemade jams that combined fruits and herbs, such as in the Peach Rosemary and Blueberry Lavender.  Big Head Farm's booth had all kinds of apple goodies, so Brandy was sure to scoop up some raw apple cider as well as vanilla bourbon infused apple butter (which barely made it through Brandy's long bus ride home, as she was desperate to crack it open right away).  By far, Brandy's favorite discovery at the Good Food Festival was the artisanal maple syrups from Burton's Maplewood Farm, who aged their high quality products in barrels from distilleries like Koval Whiskey and Prichard Rum.  Brandy simply had to take home a bottle of their limited edition Templeton Rye maple syrup, which she now emphatically states is the best thing that ever happened to pancakes since the invention of butter.

Over in the food court area, Brandy lunched on a delicious sandwich from Gayle's Best Ever Grilled Cheese, which used only local ingredients to create their gourmet combinations, like the Southport with Butterkase cheese and smoked onion marmalade from Southport Grocery.  As a side dish, she snacked on turkey meatballs and lemony green beans from the Artizone booth, who were handing out stacks of yummy recipes.  For a decadent dessert, Brandy indulged in a completely vegan Chocolate and Peanut Butter Tart from Chicago Diner that had her licking her fingers with joy.

Her arms laden with goodies, her stomach full of good food, and her head full of knowledge, Brandy happily headed home from the Good Food Fest, already looking forward to what next year's festival would bring.  "There is just so much good local food out there that it's hard not to support all these excellent people and their quest to make the food world better," Brandy mused, "Though I wouldn't mind if some of these places weren't a tad more local.  As in my kitchen, cooking me dinner for this evening at this very moment.  Though I suppose that wouldn't be a sustainable situation."

The writers of this blog were invited to attend the festival free of charge, but all products from the individual vendors mentioned were purchased on site. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Masterpiece Eat-a-ter: The Joy of Ballpark Food Book Review


There are many days Brandy looks forward to through out the year, and this year two of those days are combining into one wonderful, magical day.  For a brunch maven like Brandy, Easter is the single most high holy day, and for Chicago residents, Opening Day at Wrigley Field might as well be Christmas, so the fact that this year both of those events are happening on the same day means that Brandy has quite a lot to prepare for.  "If I wear a red and blue Easter bonnet, can I then wear the same hat to the ballgame?" was one of the many quandaries Brandy was pondering as she arranged the details of her up coming Sunday.

While tying to take her mind off of roasting hams, dyeing eggs, and salting peanuts Brandy settled down with a very interesting book that had arrived in her mail box.  The Joy of Ballpark Food: From Hot Dogs to Haute Cuisine by Bennett Jacobstein turned out to be a delightful tour of every major league ballpark and the culinary delights to be found in all of them as well as a fun and informative history of ballpark food, like how hot dogs and Cracker Jacks became associated with America's favorite pastime.

Brandy got absolutely lost in reading about the amazing and surprising variety of foods available at all of the ballparks, like Cheesey Corn in Kansas City, Sushi in New York, and Poutine in Toronto just to name a few.  Each ballpark section also featured detailed descriptions of the various specialty hot dogs, sausages, and brats for sale, such as the The Venom Dog with habanero sausage in Arizona, The Bacon Wrapped Dog in St. Louis, and The Beast in Milwaukee, which is a bratwurst stuffed with a hot dog, the very thought of which made Brandy giggle uncontrollably.

Of course, the book highlights both of Chicago's teams.  For the Cubs, many of the offerings from last year's 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field are featured, such as the various Decade Dogs (hot dogs tailored to fit each of the 10 decades Wrigley Field has been around) as well as staples of the ballpark like Giordano's Stuffed Pizza.  For the White Sox and U.S. Cellular Field, the traditional Chicago style hot dog is discussed as well as less traditional ballpark fair like buns from Wow Bao and a Pork Chop Sandwich from the Southside Hitmen Grille.

The author of the book, Bennett Jacobstein, certainly knows what he's talking about, as he visited each of the major league parks personally during the 2014 season in order to investigate their offerings.  Bennett is a life long San Francisco Giants fan who regularly works the concession stand for one of their minor league affiliates.  “The new food era has brought such a wonderful gustatory experience at the ballparks with chef-prepared masterpieces, vegetarian and kosher delights, as well as amped up riffs on the hot dog and sausage," as he points out.

Brandy became so engrossed in the casual and delightful tone of The Joy of Ballpark Food that she nearly forgot all about planning her Easter brunch.  "Maybe those boys working out there on Wrigley Field found copies of this book too," Brandy supposed, "Which would most certainly explain why they haven't finished putting up those bloody bleachers!"

The Joy of Ballpark Food  is available on Amazon and Kindle.

The writers of this blog were sent a copy of this book in order to facilitate the writing of this post.