Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Food News: Tickets go on sale for Oyster Fest and Taste of the Nation!


Summers in Chicago are so full of festivals and foodie events that one could almost literally attend a different one every day.  Recently, Brandy caught wind of two very special events that she felt she simply must bring to her readers' attention.

Taste of the Nation
Photo Credit: Share Our Strength

Tickets are now on sale for Taste of the Nation Chicago, taking place at the Navy Pier ballroom on Sunday, October 11, and can be purchased online at www.tasteofthenation.org/chicago. The annual tasting event will feature the city’s top chefs, sommeliers and mixologists united for a cause: to ensure all children in this country get the healthy food they need, every day. Proceeds from the event benefit No Kid Hungry’s work to end childhood hunger in America.

Photo Credit: Share Our Strength
Culinary tastemakers leading the 2015 event include chairs Elissa Narow (Vie and Perennial Virant Restaurants), Debbi Peek (Southern Wine & Spirits of Illinois), Jennifer Paulson (US Foods) and Jared Van Camp (Element Collective) while award-winning mixologists Lynn House and Natalia Cardenas lead the event’s beverage and mixology program. In addition to showcasing the city’s best and brightest culinary stars, this year’s event will also cater to Chicago’s youngest foodies, with family-friendly activities ranging from an on-site bake sale to an interactive celebrity chef demo, available to families who purchase VIP packages.

Tickets start at $125 for adults 18 and over, and $35 for children ages five to 17. For additional information, please visit: NoKidHungry.org/Chicago

Photo Credit: LEYE
Oyster Fest

Photo Credit: LEYE
This year’s 27th Annual Oyster Fest will take place on Friday, September 11th. Located at 435 N. Wabash at Hubbard and Rush, the festival will take place from 3-10pm.

The festival will bring live music from synth-pop act band, St. Lucia, fresh seafood, a variety of East, West and Gulf Coast Oysters, craft beer, and cocktails to more than 6,000 guests in downtown Chicago. This year’s Oyster Fest menu will be curated by Shaw’s Crab House and Chef/Partner Doug Psaltis.  New to this year will be a special crab dinner for $75/person with two seatings at 6pm or 8pm, Dishes may include Shaw’s signatures items like King Crab Bites and other regional favorites like New England Chowda, Steamers with drawn butter, Oyster Po’ Boy’s and Seafood Gumbo.

Tickets for Oyster Fest will go on sale at 10am on Thursday, July 30th and are available for $30/person at www.oysterfestchicago.com.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Local Chicago or Old Fashioned Conversation

The Slow and Savory Review

A few weeks ago when Bunny was in town for a brief stay, Brandy actually managed to not only get her out for some brunch, but also her husband Benedict.  "There'll actually be quite a few of us, if that's alright," Bunny had mentioned to Brandy, "We're both in Chicago so little that we're pulling in everyone we can."  "Not a problem, my dear," Brandy replied, "Now, what we need is a spot that's easy, comfortable, and accessible to everyone..."  "And remember, dear, not everyone is quite the gastronome such as yourself," Bunny said.  "So...a molecular gastronomy brunch is out of the question then?  Right, I'll see what I can do," Brandy mused.

Eventually, Brandy decided on The Local Chicago, a sister restaurant to Chicago Cut Steakhouse that used many of the same high quality ingredients in their dishes.  The Local, true to its name, was a very down home and simple space, decorated mainly with a rustic Americana theme in mind.  The space itself had lots of nooks and crannies to sit in, which Brandy rather liked, and the enclosed patio space was rather pretty as well.  Bunny's group of family and friends, including one particularly adorable young brunch fan who went by the name of Baby Bacon, were already gathered around a large table towards the back of the restaurant when Brandy arrived.

Though a buffet was on offer as well, everyone in the group chose to go a la carte.  Quickly, decisions were made and the table was filled with plates at a rapid pace.  Brandy was the only member of the party that had ordered a cocktail, as she just couldn't resist the lure of the Local Picnic, a strawberry and basil infused vodka concoction.  Brandy (and after a sip, Bunny agreed with her) thought the drink was extremely well balanced, not being too sweet, too astringent, or too herbaceous, but perfectly in the middle of all three with a nice citrusy zing to finish it off.  "This is the type of drink I wouldn't mind sipping all summer long," Brandy sighed, moving the martini glass away from Baby Bacon's grasping reach.

The savory entrees for the group included the Bacon Omelet, the Classic American Breakfast, the Prime Filet and Eggs, and the Lobster Benedict (no bonus points for guessing who ordered that!).  The omelette and classic breakfast were pretty standard, but done well, both with a nice smoky bacon and some somewhat fluffy eggs.  The Prime Filet, which was Brandy's entree, seemed to confuse her a little.  She had ordered the dish, which was by far the most expensive option on the menu, because the cut of meat provided was the same as was served at the sister steak house and was a little disappointed to see that the steak was a little on the small side, but cooked very well.  The two poached eggs it came with were oddly served undressed on the side in a small bowl, requiring Brandy to lift them up and place them on the steak herself.  The menu had also listed the dish as being served with hollandaise, but only a little ramekin of ketchup was supplied.  Bunny's dish was also a little underwhelming, as it seemed to be scoopfuls of undressed lobster simply placed on an English muffin and topped with more poached eggs, again neglecting the hollandaise sauce that might have transformed the plate into a more traditional Benedict.  A favorite of the whole table was the Hashbrowns that accompanied almost every dish, which were actually chunky mashed potatoes formed into a cake and crisped on both sides, making for a crunchy outside and a creamy inside.

On the sweet side, the table sampled the Vanilla Brioche French Toast and the Belgian Waffle,  The Waffle was another let down, as the menu had listed it served with Devonshire Cream (indeed, this was the main reason the ladies had wished to try the thing, as it would have offered a little taste of back home in Old Blighty), but it came only with a little pot of maple syrup.  The waffle itself was on the denser side with a slightly grainy texture and no crisp exterior.  Brandy thought the thing, which was actually quite pretty in appearance, could have benefited greatly from a little fresh fruit on top.  On the other hand, the French toast was rather delightful with a soft texture, a nice eggy taste, and some fresh berries to perk things up (Baby Bacon particularly liked snacking on the blueberries).

The service at The Local was efficient and friendly, as was the atmosphere, even if the food was a little lackluster, especially for the prices charged, but the true goal of that morning was achieved, and that was a rather pleasant, distraction-less reunion.  "I do so miss this," Bunny sighed, Baby Bacon bouncing on her lap, "I really must remember to stay for brunch on my stop overs in Chicago more often.  There is just no other city with this kind of variety and flavor."  "Yes, well, next time, perhaps, we'll have to find somewhere a bit more exciting," Brandy grumbled, "I have heard a rumor about a spot in Roger's Park that serves sushi and pancakes."  "That sounds revolting!" Bunny squeaked.  "Maybe, but we won't know until we try it, will we?" Brandy grinned.

The Short and Sweet Review


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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

From the Kitchens of Bunny and Brandy: Salted Caramel Rice Pudding with The Real Co. Products

With all the fuss lately about Fair Trade coffee and chocolate, it does seem as if things are headed the way of full transparency, but there is still quite a ways to go for a plethora of other every day food stuffs. Brandy, for one, has always been a big proponent of knowing exactly where her food comes from. "If I didn't pull the thing out of the ground myself, I like to know exactly who did and how many people have been between me and that person," as she likes to say.

Recently, Brandy came across The Real Co, a company which calls itself the first single origin global food company, and believes that “good comes from good.” They are a pioneer in 100% single origin food products, currently having three products hitting market nationally online and in stores – Basmati Rice, Himalayan Pink Rock Salt and Organic Raw Cane Sugar. All of these are sustainably harvested from either a single farm or family with every bit of their production being traced back to their exact origins, which is shared on every package of food bearing The Real Co name. Every food item also has the Non-GMO Project Verified seal.

The business model for the The Real Co was founded on a direct farm-to-market delivery system, which offers farms distribution to the U.S., cutting out the middleman, and offering both retailers and stores great natural food products at low costs. Consumers can purchase online on www.amazon.com or www.healthygoodness.com. Visit the Real Co website at http://TheReal.co

With such high quality, simple ingredients, Brandy knew she had to put them to good use. As the sugar was raw and unrefined, it had a natural golden brown hue, which Brandy supposed could make for a lovely caramel, only made better by the addition of a bit of the delicate pink salt. "But what to do with such a caramel?' Brandy posited, and one glance at the Basmati Rice gave her an answer. A little experimentation later and Brandy had a fine, deeply flavored Salted Caramel Rice Pudding that she felt was worthy of the humble, noble origins of the ingredients from The Real Co.


The writers of this blog were provided with products from The Real Co. in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

Salted Caramel Rice Pudding

3 cups of whole milk
2 egg yolks
1 cup of Basmati Rice
1/2 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1/2 teaspoon of salt



For the Sauce:
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of cream
1 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of butter

Pour the milk into a medium sauce pan and add the egg yolks, sugar, salt, and vanilla, then mix well. Once combined, put on a medium heat until the liquid begins to steam and bubble at the sides of the pan, then add the rice, stir, and turn down the heat to medium low. Cover the pot and continue to cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring often, or until the rice has achieved your desired softness and most of the liquid has been absorbed.

For the caramel sauce, heat the sugar in a medium saute pan over a medium flame until it begins to melt and clump together. Slowly add the cream a few tablespoons at a time and leave the mixture to melt together (the sugar will seize up at first and then melt back down again as you add more cream). Add the salt once most of the sugar is melted and stir with a rubber spatula to distribute. Turn off the heat and add the butter to the center of the pan, folding the caramel around it until it has completely melt and been incorporated into the sauce.

Both the pudding and sauce can be eaten hot or cold. Suggested serving: put about a cup of the pudding into small ramekins and top with a tablespoon of caramel. Serves 4-6

Friday, July 17, 2015

Snap Kitchen or Goodness to Go

The Slow and Savory Review


Years ago, the term "prepared foods" was whispered with a certain disdain, but in this modern world of hustle and bustle, prepared foods kitchens have become all the rage.  "I'm all for convenience, of course, but not if it means relinquishing flavor," Brandy commented with skepticism when she first heard of this trend, "If I can walk into a restaurant and be handed a high quality meal that looks good, tastes good, takes minutes to prepare, and just happens to be healthy... well, that's the dream, isn't it?"

Recently making their debut with several locations across Chicago is Texas based Snap Kitchen, which specializes in prepared meals that take all of the guess work out of balancing nutrition and portion size.  Most everything they carry is gluten free and dairy free as well as being low in carbs and saturated fats, high in protein, and nutritionally balanced for all sorts of diets, and meals come in lots of different sizes as well to satisfy all appetites.  What Brandy liked most about the concept was that they carried options for every single meal, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts, snacks, and even cold pressed juices, but still, she didn't quite know what to expect when she first set foot into the Lincoln Park location.

Snap Kitchen was easily navigated, having their meals stocked by type in color coded containers for size.  Against one wall was a collection of microwaves, where customers could heat up their meals right then and there and enjoy them at the seats near the window if they couldn't wait to get their meals home.  A sign also listed some of the local suppliers that had contributed to the meals, assuring customers that everything was sourced as locally as possible.  Quickly taking stock of the situation, Brandy dived in head first and selected a collection of meals to try for the week, then headed home with a bevy of little plastic containers.


The breakfast dishes that Brandy chose included a Spinach Goat Cheese Scramble, a Peach Oatmeal, a Bison Bowl, and some Peanut Butter Pancakes.  Having been told that the meals were specifically designed to keep one full and satisfied, Brandy, whose appetite is legendary, was a little skeptical, to say the least.  "Perhaps one of these little containers is enough for most people, but I was brought up eating a Full English every morning, so I hardly think a bit of egg white and veggies will be enough to take me through lunch."  But much to her surprise, after sampling one of the breakfasts, Brandy found that not only was she satiated all the way until lunch, but she actually ate less at lunch than she normally would have!  The Bison Bowl was definitely her favorite of the breakfasts with its sweet and lean bison and apple sausage patties, but the Oatmeal with fresh peaches on top was a very close second.  The Peanut Butter Pancakes had a nice texture to them, not being too dense or too light, but didn't pack quite the peanut butter punch Brandy was hoping for, though with a bit of fresh fruit, they felt more complete.  The Goat Cheese Scramble was surprisingly hearty, being mostly made up of diced sweet potatoes along with the scrambled egg whites, spinach, and cherry tomatoes, and had nice little peaks of richness from the dollop of goat cheese on top.

Her lunch entrees consisted of some Curried Chicken Salad and Bison Quinoa Hash.  The chicken salad was just lovely with a few pita chips, as it had just the right amount of spice and creaminess as well as a nice sweetness from the addition of some golden raisins and a bit of crunch from some finely chopped celery.  The Bison Quinoa Hash was another surprise, as Brandy had thought it might be a little bland, but was actually quite flavorful with a good dose of heat to it.  "A nice little side salad here and I could eat this for lunch every day!" Brandy exclaimed.

The dinner entrees she chose consisted of some Chicken Enchiladas, a Lamb Lasagna, and a Veggie Alfredo.  With the enchiladas, again the spice was just right, especially in the poblano cream that covered them, but Brandy did find the texture of the gluten free tortillas a little on the spongy side.  The lasagna was everything one could expect from such a homey dish: lots of bright tomato flavor from the home style sauce, perfect al dente pasta, and big chunks of still crisp veggies.  Brandy even swore she detected a cheesy flavor, though the dish was clearly labeled "Dairy Free."  As if that didn't confused her enough, the also dairy free Veggie Alfredo (which had a sauce made from cashews instead of cream) was totally mind blowing.  "If I didn't know better, I would have thought this was the most dairy filled thing I've ever tasted!" Brandy proclaimed with wonder.  Again, the pasta (which was gluten free, as had been the lasagna noodles) was the perfect texture, the sun-dried tomatoes and caramelized onions providing a lovely sweetness, and some snappy peas provided a little gilding to the lily.

As Brandy simply cannot survive without a little dessert, she was quite pleased to have found a few indulgent treats among Snap Kitchen's offerings.  The Chocolate Mousse (which was again dairy free) was satisfyingly rich with a very smooth texture.  The flavor wasn't too sweet, which let the good quality dark chocolate flavor shine through, and the little bits of candied orange peel on top made it feel that much fancier.

By the end of the week, Brandy had to admit that her opinions on the prepared foods trend had swung strongly in the positive direction.  "It is quite nice to see one's fridge jam packed with meals that are healthy, filling, delicious, and require nothing more than a minute or two in the microwave.  Visiting a place like Snap Kitchen on a busy week could feasibly be very helpful and save a lot of time."  Though, as most of Brandy's time is spent chasing very unhealthy food across Chicago, perhaps its not such a good idea for her to have that much more of it.

The writers of this blog were provided with products from San Kitchen for sampling in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

The Short and Sweet Review


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Postcards from Bunny: Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique


There is nothing quite as magical as a well stocked bakery.  Indeed, the mere sight of a tiered cake in a window is enough to send Bunny into a fit of joyful giggles.  This is precisely why when Brandy got word of a little to-do at Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique downtown, she knew she had to send Bunny (who was briefly in town following an excursion to The Forbidden City with her husband, Benedict) in her stead.

Bunny stepped into the adorable store front (which was opened eight and a half years ago by owner Teresa Ging), already enchanted by the chocolate brown and dusky blue color scheme.  Treats had been laid out in Wonka-esque displays, like a tower made of macaroon lollipops and cake pops and another made of mini cupcakes with Sugar Bliss's signature flower shaped icing.  "Oh my, I'm getting a sugar high just standing here!" Bunny squeaked with delight.

Diving right in, Bunny snagged a few of the cake pops.  Her favorites were the Chocolate Covered Strawberry, which had a genuinely fresh fruit flavor, the buttery Carrot Cake with cream cheese frosting, and the colorful Vanilla Birthday Cake with rainbow sprinkles inside it.  The macaroons, which came in flavors like Raspberry Lemonade, S'mores, and PB&J were made even more whimsical by putting them on sticks and wrapping them up like little lollipops.  "I do so love macaroons, but sometimes they feel too fancy for every day.  But like this, well, anyone can enjoy a cookie on a stick!" as Bunny put it.

The miniature cupcakes were splendidly moist and came in flavors like Red Velvet, classic Chocolate and Vanilla, and Banana Banana, and Bunny thought that the little dollops of frosting that formed the flower on top made for the perfect icing-to-cake ratio.  So infatuated with the frosting technique was Bunny and she somehow ended up in the kitchens with a piping bag in her hand, receiving instructions on just how to accomplish the design.  Though not as good as the professionals, Bunny gave it the old college try and managed to frost a few mini cupcakes with a minimal amount of shame.

Lastly, the star of the evening was Sugar Bliss's new Ice Pops, which came in a variety of summery flavors like Key Lime, Watermelon, and Blackberry Mojito.  Every pop was jam packed with flavor and freshness that quite simply turned everyone present into a pack of sticky fingered children.  Bunny picked the Root Beer Float flavor for herself and smiled with every bite she took of the ice pop, memories of summer times past running freely through her mind.


Having tried just about everything in the shop, Bunny gazed bleary eyed at the menu and noticed something incredible that caused her to reach for her phone and text Brandy.  "Two words," the message said, "Breakfast Cupcakes."  There was a short pause before the phone buzzed in Bunny's had with the reply, "On my way."

If you are looking for some sweet treats this summer, use the code POPSRUS on any order from Sugar Bliss now through July 31st to receive 10% off!

The writers of this blog were provided with access to a free media event that included samples of everything mentioned.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Food News: Subscrybe App Premires in Logan Square


One of the things Brandy loves best about her brunch adventures across Chicago is being able to discover new neighborhoods and all of their hidden gems.  "I just adore the personalities of each section of this city, from refined Old Town to vibrant Lake View to chic River North and friendly Albany Park.  It seems every few blocks is it's own delightful little ecosystem!"

One neighborhood Brandy is particularly fond of, but doesn't get the chance to visit often is Logan Square, home to some of her favorite brunch spots like Bang Bang Pie Shop, Longman and Eagle, Boiler Room, and Township to name a few.  But recently, Brandy came upon an app called Subscrybe, a weekly or monthly "neighborhood pass" that brings users a slue of offers in their chosen neighborhood, helping them to discover new favorites while driving traffic to deserving local businesses.  Just recently launched in late June in the Apple App Store, Subscrybe currently offers a weekly pass for Logan Square for $19.95 or a monthly pass for $59.95.  Included with these passes is redeemable items around the neighborhood such as gourmet coffee drinks, glasses of wine, full sized dinner entrees, and of course, delectable brunch dishes.

Deciding to give the Subscrybe a go, Brandy headed down to Logan Square during this past holiday weekend to see where a day of culinary adventures would take her.  She started off at one of her all time favorite brunch spots, Jam, where of the five options available to her through Subscrybe, she went with the Pork Belly Eggs Benedict.  As per usual, Jam's presentation was flawless, and the rich meaty hunks of pork belly mixed with delicate poached eggs and the tender house made biscuits was simply perfect.  After finishing her meal, it was as easy as handing her phone to the waitress, who plugged a code into the Subscrybe App, which took the dish off her bill.  "Remarkable!" Brandy exclaimed, "Let's see what else this do-hicky can do!"

Taking a little walk in the sunshine, Brandy headed down to Brew Brew Coffee Lounge, where a whole host of delicious drinks were available to be redeemed through Subscrybe once per day (most of the other deals were redeemable once per week).  There she picked out a refreshing Berry Frappe, which was at once both decadent and fresh tasting.  Enjoying the mellow atmosphere of the independent coffee house, Brandy happily nursed her cool beverage for a little while, and headed out once more.

Her last stop of the day was to Yusho, a Japanese fusion restaurant with some pretty interesting sounding options.  The one that caught Brandy's eye was the Chicken and Beer Ramen, which centered around an impressive Chicken Scotch Egg and a broth made from the aforementioned fermented beverage.  Brandy was simply head over heals in love with this bowl of ramen, which she happily slurped up until she simply could not slurp any more.  Luckily, all she had to do to have another bowl of this ambrosia was come back the following week and redeem another offer from the Subscrybe App.

Brandy was quite delighted with her new little toy.  "I think I shall have to some more exploring with this Subscrybe-whatchama-callit.  One day of basking in the delights Logan Square has to offer is simply not enough.  Good job this figurative Key to the Neighborhood is good for the rest of the month!"  To be continued...

Has Brandy peeked your interest in the Subscrybe App?  Use the code BUNNYBRANDY to get $15 off your first pass (which brings the monthly pass down to $45 and the weekly pass down to just $5!)

The writers of this blog were granted access to this app at a discounted rate to facilitate the writing of this post.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Tea Time with Brandy: Fishpeople Soups



The last person to complain about a 67 degree day in July is going to be Brandy.  She is positively loving this temperate season (regardless of the occasional downpour or terrifyingly yellow colored sky) because it means she can enjoy some of her favorite things in the middle of summer that wouldn't normally be as appealing: a hot cup of tea, a well crocheted cardigan, and best of all, a hearty seafood soup.  "While cold vegetable soups are usually the norm in the middle of July, I'm glad for a chilly wind or two so I can enjoy something a bit more sumptuous," as Brandy likes to say.


Enter Fishpeople, a line of seafood based soups, chowders, and entree starters from the Pacific Northwest that are delectable and amazingly fresh tasting as well as sustainable and affordable.  Each product comes in a "Freshseal" pouch that can not only be boiled or microwaved for preparing on the go while sealing in flavor and nutrients, but also comes stamped with a tracking code that enables buyers to actually see where their food came from, right down to the fisherman who caught the delicacy they are about to consume.

The first time Brandy tried a Fishpeople soup, she was genuinely impressed and amazed by just how fresh it really did taste.  "If there's one thing I can't stand, its a packaged fish smell, and these little beauties smell and taste less like a day at the pier and more like a day on a cruise!" as she put it.  Among the five flavors of bisques and chowders, Brandy's favorite were the creamy and smokey Razor Clam and Bacon Chowder, the hearty and satisfying Alder Smoked Wild Salmon Chowder, and the slightly sweet and tangy Dungeness Crab and Pink Shrimp Bisque.  Already quite a fan of shellfish, Brandy perhaps found the salmon chowder most surprising, taking great pleasure in the contrast between the sweet corn, the tender potatoes, and big chunks of flaky salmon.

"Though it may be possible we're nearing another ice age, I'm happy enough to be enjoying such comforting soups in the dead of summer," Brandy sighed, "Of course, if it gets any chillier, I might be snuggled up under an afghan with a hot water bottle by Labor Day!"

The writers of this blog were provided with sample products in exchange for an honest review.