Friday, October 21, 2016

Pumpkin Fest Brunch at Chez Moi

Brandy gets pretty picky about her pumpkin intake during the fall.  She used to be as big a fan as anyone else of the classic autumn flavor, but once it became over played and watered down, she found herself leaving the pumpkin spice behind.  "People don't seem to understand that the joy of pumpkin is the subtly sweet, earthy squash flavor that is complimented by, rather than masked by, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and the like," says Brandy, "It's so flexible, so perfectly between the line of sweet and savory, and that is why we've grown to love pumpkin in the first place!"

So when Brandy heard that Chez Moi (home of the only Bloody Mary she'll ever drink) was hosting a Pumpkin Fest with special pumpkin themed brunch and dinner items, she felt it was her civic duty to check it out.  The special menus are running through October 30th with drinks, entrees, and desserts, all featuring the fall's favorite gourde.

Brandy started off her meal with a drink called The Great Pumpkin, a twist on a mimosa with Grand Marnier and a spiced pumpkin semifreddo.  The spice in the drink combined with the sparkling wine and the sweetness of the liqueur made for an almost apple cider like flavor, but the aftertaste was distinctly pumpkin.  "A crisp drink for a crisp fall morning," Brandy sighed with satisfaction.

Starting off sweet, Brandy sampled the Pumpkin Pancakes with cinnamon butter.  Despite pumpkin pancakes being a fairly common fall brunch item these days, this dish differentiated itself by the use of fresh pumpkin mixed into the pancakes, rather than pumpkin puree, with a few more pieces of pumpkin and fresh fruit to top them off.  This meant that not only was one experiencing pumpkin flavor, but also the texture, a rarity in most sweet pumpkin dishes.  The cinnamon butter was just subtle enough to not overwhelm the delicate flavor, and Brandy felt that a good slick of maple syrup really helped to bring the pancakes to life in all their autumn glory.

Next up was the Pumpkin Omelette, an intimidating and adventurous option.  "I don't know that I've ever had squash in an omelette before," Brandy commented, "But I'm certainly wiling to try everything once."  As it turned out, the tiny bit of sweetness from the pumpkin really enhanced the dish, especially when paired with some earthy pumpkin mushrooms and a delightfully nutty cheese.  "How perfectly fall!" Brandy exclaimed, once again reveling in the use of fresh pumpkin rather than a more processed form, "Perhaps next year I can convince Chez Moi to do this same combination of flavors in their oh so delightful quiche!"

Finishing up the entrees, Brandy ordered up the special version of Chez Moi's decadent French Toast, this time topped with a pumpkin pie flavored mascarpone.  This was definitely the dish for the pumpkin spice lovers of the world, as the light and fluffy mascarpone really set off the eggy, buttery toast, and the pops of flavor from the fresh fruit scattered around the plate.  "I adored this French toast the first time I tried it," said Brandy, "But I love this version just as much.  They're like fraternal twins, similar in looks, but each with their own distinct personality."

Lastly, Brandy finished with one last sugary indulgence, the Pumpkin Crème Brûlée.  There was nothing too complicated about this dish, just a delightfully aerated cream, infused with plenty of pumpkiny goodness, and topped with a perfect burnt sugar crust.  "This all just goes to show exactly how versatile pumpkin is," Brandy commented, "Sweet or savory, when a skilled chef is the one bringing out that elusive, delicate flavor, it's hard to go wrong."

There's only four more chances to check out the special Pumpkin Fest brunch menu at Chez Moi, but the dinner menu is available every night until the 30th of October.

The writers of this blog were invited by the restaurant to dine free of charge in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Food News: Green City Market Hosts a (Mostly) Veggie Affair

It can be hard to get Chicagoians (especially Brandy) up and out once the temperature drops below 70 degrees, but when the Green City Market decides to throw a party, it certainly provides a bit more motivation to leave the house.

On Thursday, November 10, the Green City Market and Modern Farmer present the veggie-friendly fall fundraiser, A (Mostly) Veggie Affair, at Lakeshore Beverage at 400 N Elizabeth St..  Throughout the evening, guests will enjoy a walk-around stationed tasting, featuring local chefs' all-vegetable savory and sweet dishes made with Green City Market vendor produce.  Complementing the array of delicious vegetarian fare, Green City Market Board member chefs will prepare meat-centric dishes, so that carnivores like Brandy won't feel left out.

There are two options for ticket buyers, the first of which are the VIP passes at $70, which will allow a limited number of guests early access from 5:30 –7:00 p.m. for a reception in a special area featuring Moët Chandon, a charcuterie spread from Chef Scott Manley of Danke, and a veggie spread from Chef Dave Chapman of Green Zebra. Beverage offerings will include tastings from five to six local craft breweries from Lakeshore Beverage, wine from Boisset Collection, and cocktails featuring New Holland Spirits from some of Chicago’s most celebrated mixologists.

For the General Admission option, Early Bird pricing is $55, which allows access to the event from 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Tickets are available on Eventbrite or can be purchased in person at the Green City Market info booth on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m in Lincoln Park, and Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at Mary Bartelme Park.

As Brandy says, "Chicago needs reminders like The Mostly Veggie Affair to show them that the world hasn't ended just because it isn't summer any more.  There's still plenty to eat, to drink, to see, and to explore, so what better reason reason to throw on a scarf and venture out into the world than a fund raiser for a worthy cause and a collection of deliciousness to boot!"

Friday, October 14, 2016

Festival Recap: Taste Talks 2016

If Taste of Chicago is for the food loving public and Chicago Gourmet is for the more dedicated foodies among us, then Taste Talks is the food festival for the die hard food fans.  Now in its third year in Chicago, Taste Talks brings together chefs and industry experts for a whole weekend of amazing food experiences, informative seminars, and demos that aim to not only entertain, but to educate.  Brandy has been a big fan of this particular festival since its inception, and when she saw this year's lineup, she was more excited than ever to return.

After a raucous opening night party, the festival began in earnest on Saturday morning with Bang Bang Pie serving up their signature biscuits along with some scrambled eggs, ham, bacon, and a variety of toppings that kept everyone's energy high throughout the day.  Nescafe was also on hand to make sure the attendees were well caffeinated, while Kellog's returned with their innovative cereal bar, this time with augmented bowls created by Brian Jupiter (of Frontier), Joanna Stachon (of Ada Street) and Mike Sheerin.

Settling in for an afternoon of talks, Brandy first attended an infinitely interesting panel about the forgotten history behind Chicago's restaurant scene.  With Tony Mantuano leading the way, panelists Matthias Merges, Jimmy Bannos, Tony Quartaro, and Carrie Nahabedian shared stories about the restaurants where they learned their trade, waxing poetic about the days when irate chefs could (jokingly) throw knives at their underlings without fear of repercussions from any HR department.  The thing that became more than obvious during this talk was that all roads in Chicago led both to and from the late, great Charlie Trotter, whose infamous restaurant proved to be a catalyst for the thriving restaurant scene Chicago has today.

Next, Brandy listened with interest to a panel about the fine dining revolution, where restaurant insiders like Kevin Boehm from Boka Group, Belinda Chang from Maples and Ash, and Gregg Horan from Gibons Restaurant Group discussed how the days of the black tie and white table cloth could possibly be coming to an end.  "Not a moment too soon!" Brandy thought to herself, "I shouldn't have to put on my good jewelry every time I want to go out for a steak.  That is, unless I want to, of course."

Down on the second floor, the San Pellegrino stage housed demos by the likes of Abe Conlon from Fat Rice and Jimmy Bannos Jr, among others.  Brandy listened with vested interest as cocktail king Paul McGee explained the history of rum to an enraptured crowd and even mixed up a few cocktails for them.  Sarah Gruenberg then stepped in to show her skills at making pesto, which she has become an expert in since opening Monteverde, where she makes all of the pesto herself.  The highlight of that demo was actually getting to try some of Sarah's pesto on top of some home made pasta with a creamy tomato sauce and plenty of cheese.

In the middle of the day, Brandy once again attended the Kellog's Cereal Bar Throwdown, where Brian Jupiter and Joanna Stachon were presented with a tray of mystery ingredients and tasked to create the ultimate bowl of cereal while being subjected to a barrage of  cereal related trivia questions.  In the end, Brain Jupiter took the crown with his creation (the crown being a vintage Tony the Tiger doll, which his daughter was very excited to receive).

Sunday marked the All Star BBQ, which is always Brandy's favorite part of the Taste Talks Weekend.  She particularly enjoyed the abundance of meaty options this year, which did give the place more of a BBQ feel.  Jason Hammel and Sarah Rinkavage of Lula Cafe teamed up with Dan Bitney from Tortoise to create a really interesting short rib dish with crunchy seeds, red cabbage, and huckleberry, while Charlie McKenna from Lillie Q's took short rib in another direction with Johnny cakes, collard green kimchi, and pickled veggies, and Paul McGee and Pete Coenen brought in short rib skewers with avocado and lime to pair with a cocktail of pineapple, rum, lime, and apricot.  Also featuring beef was Bjorn Rasmussen of Old Town Social with a classic slider topped with a sharp cheddar, red onion, black pepper jam, and charred bone marrow aioli for a truly decadent experience.  Jared Van Camp from Leghorn Chicken won Brandy over instantly with his mini chicken and waffle bites, while Chris Pandel chose a non meaty star for his dish of corn on the cob with uni butter and candied shrimp.  But it was Big Star that really stole the show with their grilled adobe marinated porchetta sandwich with stone fruit salsa.

Make sure to check out all the pictures from the weekend on Bunny and Brandy's Facebook page!

The writers of this blog were invited to attend the events mentioned free of charge in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Tea Time with Brandy: Eat Purely and Coupon Code

As brunch is such a constant concern for Brandy, dinner sometimes falls by the wayside.  Being out of the house most every night at her various clubs, societies, and classes means that Brandy is often grabbing dinner on the go, which isn't always the healthiest thing to do.  "It's important for me to be having a well balanced meal for dinner," says Brandy, "That way, I don't feel so bad about indulging during brunch!"

Recently, Brandy discovered that the Chicago based meal delivery service, Eat Purely, had not only greatly increased their delivery area, but also expanded their menu with innovative and delicious dishes conceived of by Chef Sean Spradlin, including lunch service in the Loop and dinner delivery all the way out to Evanston.  Chef Spradlin uses only the freshest, seasonal ingredients, prepared daily, packed into environmentally responsible containers, and delivered straight to one's door.  The ordering was done through the Eat Purely app, which enabled the customer to both order on the fly or meal plan for an entire week.

Impressed with the technology and the sentiment behind Eat Purely, Brandy decided to give it a shot for a whole week to really see how well the service worked.

Monday:  Grilled Steak Salad This particular dish required absolutely no preparation, and was ready to go the moment it hit Brandy's doorstep, or as the charming instructions on the front of the box said: "Place knife and fork in your hands and dig in!"  Brandy found the slices of steak impossibly tender and the bok choy crunchy and full of a particular herby flavor.

Tuesday: Squash & Truffle Rigatoni:  Though sounding like a heartier dish, Brandy actually found this pasta plate quite light.  Only requiring a quick trip to the oven, this fall inspired dinner was loaded with butternut squash, oyster mushrooms, turnips, and huge rigatoni noodles.  Brandy very much enjoyed the generous portion of Parmesan cheese that helped to bring a nutty flavor to everything and make it extra ooey and gooey.

Wednesday: Beat and Goat Cheese Salad Next, Brandy chose a light dinner before she bustled out the door to her Daughters of the Daughters of the Daughters of the War of the Roses meeting.  The sweet and crunchy beets really brought the salad to life, and the smooth, tangy goat cheese was perfectly off set by the sprinkling of candied nuts, which helped to satisfy Brandy's ever demanding sweet tooth.

Thursday: Pineapple Fried Rice One of Brandy's all time favorite take out dinners is Pineapple Fried Rice from her favorite Thai restaurant, so she was incredibly excited to see this one appear on the Eat Purely app.  The addition of short rib in this version made it much more filling than it might have been otherwise, and the side of a simple vegetable spring roll and some sweet chili sauce made the meal feel complete.  There was even a fortune cookie to wrap things up with!

Friday: Crab Fettuccine: This was perhaps one of the more interesting dishes Brandy tried.  The combination of sweet peas, earthy mushrooms, fresh pasta, and roasted asparagus seemed a perfect fit, but the addition of shredded crab meat really took things to another unexpected level.  "I don't know that I've ever had a pasta dish quite like this one," Brandy remarked, "Every bite is like a tiny little adventure!"

Saturday: Grilled Shrimp Skewers: Another adventurous dish, made interesting by the use of almond butter along with the citrusy shirmp and crisp greens, but this one didn't quite win Brandy over.  "I think I see where this was supposed to go with the almond butter, but I just don't think it quite got there," said Brandy.  Even still, she appreciated that this dish incorporated both hot and cold elements to keep things interesting.

Sunday: Arugela and Goat Cheese Salad Brandy finished out her week of healthy meals with a salad that simply screamed "fall."  The pickled raw squash along with peaches, peppery arugula, and a touch of sweetness from the candied pumpkin seeds really made this one a mouthful of bold, exciting flavors, which isn't usually what one associates with a salad.  "Then again, you can add goat cheese to almost anything and I'm gonna like it," as Brandy pointed out.

Over all, Brandy loved that the dishes on offer were a little out of the norm flavor wise, which she thought would help to challenge and educate the public's palates.  She also loved that every container's cover contained not only instructions for preparation, but also a story from the chef himself about how he came up with the dish.  "There is nothing like getting an insight into the mind of a chef," she said, "It takes this sort of thing from being a passive experience to being more akin to dining in a restaurant."  With most meals ranging between $10 and $13, Brandy thought the prices were fairly reasonable in consideration of the quality of the ingredients and the portion sizes.  Brandy also liked that the service offered a variety of beverages as add ons and that every meal came with a hand made chocolate (in flavors like "Candied Pecan" and "Ginger Snap") as a sweet treat to end the meal on.

So convinced was Brandy that Eat Purely is doing good things for the dinner table that she secured a coupon code for her readers.  Simply visit the Eat Purely website or use the code BUNNYANDBRANDY in the Eat Purely app to get $20 off your first order, more than enough for a delicious and healthy dinner!

The writers of this blog were given products free of charge in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Festival Recap: Chicago Gourmet 2016

These days, there's a holiday for every food stuff one could imagine.  There's Eggs Benedict Day and Ice Cream Day, Taco Day and Burger Day, and even days for Clam Chowder and Butterscotch.  But there is only one day that encompasses them all, and that day... is actually two days, otherwise known as The Chicago Gourmet Festival.  "Let's just call it National Gluttony Day,"  Brandy likes to joke.

This year, the festival was themed around the idea of Food as Art with Rick Bayless serving as a Host Chef, helping to bring in a more curated experiences than ever before.  Right away, Brandy noticed several art installations around the grounds that fed the eyes just as much as she was about to feed her gut.  She especially liked the impressive food sculpture display made out of pumpkins and melons.

Diving straight in, Brandy took a cue from her strategy last year and headed straight for the Four Corners Tavern tent, where they had laid out a collection of decadent dishes representing their various restaurants: Pork Belly Tacos for Federals, Avocado Toast for SteakBar, "Rumfetti" Cupcakes with a Boozy Horcata shot for Fremont, and refreshing Moscow Mules served in miniature copper mugs.  "This is a nice little microcosm of what's in store for me today," Brandy said with amusement, "Something fresh, something rich, something sweet, and something with alcohol.  Perfect."

The Fresh: When Brandy was presented some simple looking broccoli from Ada St., she was a little put off, but upon tasting the charred broccoli with tahini butter, greek yogurt sauce, and nigella seeds,
she became an instant fan. A couple of cold soups were also strand outs with a grilled pineapple gazpacho with pink crab from Hugo's Frog Bar and a smoked corn soup with paprika oil and crab salad from Dusek's.  Tuna was another popular choice with Kamehachi featuring a Tuna Tokashi on crispy rice and Ema showing a delicious Ahi Tuna Crudo with tomatoes, avocado, turmeric, and crispy lentils.  Brandy's favorite of the fresher options she tried was a simple beet salad with gooseberries, goat cheese, and black walnuts from Eden.

The Rich: Meat of all kinds was certainly not in short supply at this year's festival.  Old Crow Smokehouse had their own tent, where they were serving up a lip smacking brisket slider and a finger licking Memphis taco with pulled pork, cole slaw, and a beer BBQ sauce.  Over in the Sister Cities tent, Brandy discovered an intriguing plate of berkshire pork shoulder over apple garlic mash with walnut dressing from Avli (who were representing Athens), as well as some slow braised ribs with 15 Indian spices and yellow rice from Vermilion (who stood in for Delhi).  Brandy was excited to see two favorite dishes from the previous year's festival making a come back in the form of the 5 spice duck breast with green tea soba noodles from City Winery and the garlicky escargot from Cite.  Surprise new favorites were the smoked sturgeon with corn relish and peanuts from the MCA Cafe and the shrimp and cheesy grits from Dirk's Fish and Gourmet Shop.  The NFL even made an appearance with their custom slider tent, in which football fans were invited to create a tailgating sandwich worthy of their favorite team (Brandy created an ode to the Steelers by adding on some caramelized onions, provolone cheese, ketchup, and a make shift coleslaw).

The Sweet: Brandy noticed a distinct drop in the number of sweet items available at this year's festival, but there were still a few surprises to be found if one looked hard enough.  Stan's Donuts stocked piles of gorgeous blue velvet old fashioned donuts coated in shredded coconut.  Bistronomic (fresh off a Hamburger Hop win) brought in their infamous chocolate hazelnut bars with some raspberry coulis, while Nellcote featured a rather understated sweet treat of poached figs with honey and micro greens.  Imperial Lamian straddled the line between sweet and savory perfectly with their egg custard bao buns, but the star of the day was most definitely the "macaron sliders" from Café des Architeches, which appeared to be miniature burgers, but were in fact chocolate cream filled cookies!  With her sweet tooth not quite satiated, Brandy stepped into the World Gelato Tour tent, where samples of a dozen different flavors were being handed out.  Brandy's favorites included the pink peppercorn and balsamic from Volare, the Bella Sicilia from Piccolo Songo with pistachios and white and dark chocolate, and the raspberry rose petal from Black Dog Gelato.

The Drinks:  As is usually her strategy at massive tastings, Brandy stuck to cocktails so that could keep moving quickly (she's found that stopping for wine can often lead her down a rabbit hole of discovery, while cocktails are more easily enjoyed on the go while waiting in line for more food).  Of particular note were the peach spritzer from the Belvedere tent, which was featuring a variety of fruity themed beverages, the Front Porch Punch from Old Crow Smokehouse with Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, lemon sour, club soda, blueberries,  and raspberries, and the Bourbon Berry Basil punch from Punch House.  However, it was when Brandy discovered the center piece of the festival, the Beam Society Digital Cocktail Experience tent, that things began to get a little bleary, as so many cocktails were being sampled within its confines that it was a good long while before she made it back out into the sunshine.

As the day wound to a close, Brandy took in a single seminar, hosted by Between Bites and featuring food themed stories from Lee Zaremba, cocktail creator extraordinaire for Billy Sunday, who gave a rather amusing tale about how a former career as a break dancer eventually lead him into his current position, Donnie Madia of One Off Hospitality Group, who explained that treasured memories from his childhood were what helped him to create the right kind of atmosphere in his restaurants, and Brandy's idol, Ina Pinkney, who told a touching tale about how a slice of pineapple pie brought her and her father together.

"I came, I saw, and I conquered, so I think its time to head home," Brandy sighed as she shambled out of the park, "If the weekend of Chicago Gourmet is to be known as National Gluttony Day, then I would argue that the Monday after should hereafter be known as a national day of mourning.  Because it marks the longest possible period of time until the next festival."

You can see all of the pictures from Brandy's Chicago Gourmet adventure on the Bunny and Brandy Facebook page!

The writers of this blog were given entry to this event free of charge in order to facilitate the writing of this post.