Friday, December 29, 2017

Bunny and Brandy's Best Best for New Year's Brunch Guide 2018

Cambria Hotel-Chicago Loop (32 W. Randolph)
The hotel’s brunch will be held on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day from 8am to 2pm at Intermission, their lobby restaurant. Brunch-goers will enjoy bottomless mimosas, or a Bloody Mary bar, a carving station, featuring prime rib and ham, a Chef Omelet station, and a build-your-own waffle station. Guests can also choose from classic brunch selections like Eggs Benedict, a variety of flavored scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, breakfast potatoes and house made pastries and desserts. The brunch is available for $39.99 per person and is open to the public. Check out for more information.

20 East (The Talbot Hotel, 20 E. Delaware Pl.)
On New Year’s Day, guests can enjoy an all-you-can-eat family style brunch from 8 a.m.-7 p.m., including the holiday hot chocolate bar. For $45, start out the year right with Fried Chicken with bacon and pepper gravy; Sriracha Butter Waffles with housemade jam; Cavatappi Chili Mac topped with cheddar; Roasted Garlic Potatoes with truffles; and a Country Apple Tart with salted caramel and whipped cream, and a hot chocolate bar (including multiple topping choices for $6: large and small marshmallows, whipped cream, chocolate pieces, graham crackers, chocolate pirouettes, candy canes, and more. Alcoholic hot chocolates are available for $10). Reservations for New Year’s Day Brunch can be made here. Brunch is only available to tables with a minimum of two people.

Cindy’s (The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, 12 S. Michigan Ave., 13th Floor)
DJ Dave Mata’s Uptown Downtown spins an all vinyl set of vibrant soul music from every corner of the globe during daytime brunch on Sunday, December 31. The next day, guests can welcome 2018 with New Year’s Day brunch, feasting on the shareable large format plates and platters such as Buttermilk Pancakes with yuzu & lemon curd, blueberries, and Chantilly or the Shellfish Platter featuring Maine lobster, oysters on the half shell, king crab, and accompaniments. Cindy’s is open for Sunday brunch on New Year’s Eve from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and New Year’s Day brunch is served at 10 a.m. on Monday, January 1. For more information and to make a reservation, please visit or email

Headquarters Beercade (213 W. Institute Pl.)
On Monday, January 1, hold down the fort at River North’s favorite nostalgia-tinged beercade as the space transforms into a life-size childhood fantasy—a New Year’s Day Blanket Fort Party. All 14,000-sq. feet are fair game in the creative fort construction, and a designated area will be set aside for feather-filled pillow fights. Blanket fort-appropriate attire is encouraged, which translates to staying in comfortable PJ’s or fully committing to rocking an adult onesie. Beverage Director Zach Rivera serves up special cereal-infused cocktails for the event and throws an epic pizza party to provide fort-building fuel. Headquarters will have materials (blankets) on-site, but guests are welcome to BYO-blankets, which will be donated to charity following the event. Coverage leading into the college football bowl games will be aired on TVs across the bar and DJs will be spinning all afternoon. Together, HQ and inventive Chicagoans everywhere can reach their 2018 goal of using thousands of yards of blanket to craft the largest blanket fort River North (or the world?) has ever seen. Headquarters’ Blanket Bowl runs from 12-4 p.m. Tickets cost $25 per person (includes entry, 4 drinks, and pizza) and can be purchased here. For more information, log on to

Howells & Hood (435 N. Michigan Ave.)
Sweetwater Tavern & Grille (225 N. Michigan Ave.)
Old Town Pour House (Oak Brook & Naperville locations)
Chicago is invited for New Year's Day recovery brunch to start the year off right, with menu items such as the Stuffed French Toast with vanilla bean ice cream battered brioche bread, Bailey's cream cheese, mixed berry compote and powdered sugar, and the Pork Benedict with smoked pork shoulder, poached eggs, and BBQ hollandaise on an English muffin with habanero hash browns and pico de gallo. Reservations encouraged for New Year’s Day Brunch. Menu prices vary by location. Reservations for each respective restaurant can be made at the following links: Howells & Hood, Sweetwater Tavern & Grille, Old Town Pour House Oak Brook, Old Town Pour House Naperville.

Old Town Pour House (1419 N. Wells St.)
 The Boundary (1932 W. Division St.)
Chicago’s craft beer bars ring in the new year with the “Go Out in Style” package at Old Town Pour House and The Boundary. The celebratory New Year’s Eve package, which goes from 9 p.m.-1 a.m., includes guaranteed entry, passed appetizers, and midnight brunch bites including Mini Stuffed French Toast with vanilla ice cream battered brioche bread, Bailey’s cream cheese, and powdered sugar, and Mini Breakfast Sandwiches on a green onion cheddar biscuit with a breakfast sausage patty, aged cheddar, and scrambled eggs. The night also offers a Champagne toast at midnight, Champagne bottles for $20.18, a video DJ showing 2017 hits leading up to midnight, and Snapchat Spectacles awarded to the snappiest dresser. Partygoers are invited to come back the next morning for a New Year’s Day recovery brunch, not included in the price of the package. Tickets available for $40 per person at Old Town Pour House here and $70* per person at The Boundary here (*price includes four-hour premium bar).

Maple & Ash (8 W. Maple St.)
Chicago’s sexiest steakhouse is offering a fun way to ring in 2018. On Sunday, December 31, start the celebrations early with Maple & Ash’s Countdown to the Countdown brunch featuring classic Maple & Ash brunch fare, countdowns every hour, and fun NYE accessories to enjoy with friends and family. Brunch is priced at $55 per person, with the option to add unlimited bubbles for an additional $25. Maple & Ash’s Countdown to the Countdown brunch is from 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Space is limited and reservations with a credit card guarantee are required. Reservations can be made by calling 312.944.8888 or online at OpenTable

Torali Italian - Steak (160 E. Pearson St.)
Say goodbye to 2017 and hello to 2018 this new year at the Ritz-Carlton, Chicago’s recently opened restaurant, Torali Italian – Steak. Celebrate New Year’s Day at Torali’s New Year’s Day Brunch on January 1 featuring an a la carte selection of brunch bites and cocktails. New Year’s Day Brunch takes place from 6 a.m.-3 p.m. on January 1. Reservations are recommended and may be made by calling 312.573. 5160 

Filini (The Radisson Blu Hotel, 221 N Columbus Drive)
A little hair of the dog always helps following a fun evening! Filini hosts a New Year’s Day boozy brunch, from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. The breakfast buffet features sweet and savory favorites such as biscuits and gravy and French toast, accompanied by beverage options of Bloody Marys, Mimosas, Bellinis or Michelada cocktails, priced at $65 per patron. For those in need of revival after the evening’s festivities, an Oxygen bar by Clowning Around Entertainment will be available on site for an additional cost.

Porkchop (South Loop @ Roosevelt Collection, Hyde Park, and Bolingbrook.)
The restaurant will reward all pajama-wearing patrons with 20% off their brunch tab – which makes indulging in selections like Southern Benedict (two buttermilk biscuits topped with country ham or bacon, and poached eggs, smothered in Andouille gravy and served with roasted potatoes, red onions and green peppers) and The Fat Elvis Brunch (Bacon waffle, bananas, peanut butter, maple syrup, and whipped butter), that much more fun. All diners will be treated to one free Bloody or Mimosa, and kids eat free. 

Homestead on the Roof + West Town Bakery (1924 W. Chicago Ave.)
West Town Bakery is taking over Homestead on the Roof’s spacious rooftop for a delicious pop-up New Year’s Day Brunch. This decadent buffet will be open from 11:00-3:00 p.m., with menu highlights including: House cured and smoked Atlantic Salmon with accouterments, Biscuits and Gravy, and a Slagel Farm Prime Rib Carving Station. The brunch is priced at $39.95 for adults and $19.95 for kids, exclusive of beverages. Reservations will be available through OpenTable and the restaurant will take walk-ins if space is available. Celebrations will also take place at West Town Bakery’s Chicago Avenue location where they are hosting a New Year’s Day "pajama day!” Staff will be dressed in their favorite jammies, and you can feel free to get comfy and wear yours too while indulging in decadent brunch fare from 7 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Imperial Lamian (6 W Hubbard St.)
Diners can brunch it out on New Year’s Day with River North’s Chinese restaurant’s dim sum offerings. Full of favorites like the Pumpkin Puffs, Combination Xiao Long Bao, and Crispy Wontons, the full brunch menu will be offered from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on New Year’s Day. Featured holiday menu items are available including PEI Mussels and Cumin-Scented Dorade. To make reservations, visit Imperial Lamian’s website

Lowcountry (3343 N. Clark St.)
In celebration of the upcoming New Year, Lowcountry, Wrigleyville’s premier seafood boil-in-a-bag dining spot, opens its doors for a special brunch service featuring delicious Southern-style comfort foods and bottomless select seafood. Available from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, December 31, guests will strap on their bibs and enjoy hands-on all-you-can-eat snow crab and shrimp, along with mouthwatering brunch dishes including biscuits and gravy, crab cake benedict, waffles, shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese, and more.

Sol Cafe (1615 West Howard St.)
The Rogers Park staple, is celebrating the year’s end with its tropical paradise themed brunch. The menu includes a Caribbean Breakfast Bowl (all-spiced cornbread, crispy bacon, runny egg, stewed greens (kale-llaloo), bacon broth, chili lime peanuts), along with several vegetarian options such as the Jerk Bowl (charred jerk tofu, roasted yams, avocado, kale salad, toasted coconut, lime, cilantro, mint). Patrons are encouraged to bring their own alcohol for mixers like the Sol Punch (blood orange tea, acai berry, lime, orange, pineapple, orange blossom) and the Thailight (cold brew, coconut cream, ginger, coriander, cardamom). Along with the food and beverage specials, patrons will be greeted with tropical decor and an inspired playlist. Hours of operation through the new year will be 7am-3pm with food being served from 9am-3pm.

True Food Kitchen (1 West Erie Street)
Start those 2018 resolutions right away with a healthy New Year's Day brunch. True Food Kitchen will be offering seasonal favorites like Pineapple and Orange Mimosas, Matcha Horchata, Smaashed Avocado Toast, and a Vegan Chorizo Burrito. Brunch starts at 10:00 am on January 1st. Reservations are encouraged.

Public House (400 N State St.)
This River North Favorite will be sending 2017 out with an Anti-Resolution Brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 am- 3:00 pm. $25 will get guests bottomless blood orange mimosas and bloody Mary's to accompany decadent dishes like Pumpkin Spice Monkey Bread, Crab Cake Eggs Benedict, and 5 Layer Pancakes in three different flavors. It's also the last weekend for the seasonal Frosty the Cake Shake, a boozy chocolate peppermint milkshake that comes topped with a whole slice of cake and sprinkled with peppermint candies.

The Monkey's Paw (2524 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60614)
On New Year's Day, The Monkey's Paw will be serving up a menu of comfort food favorites. Farm Fresh Omelettes, French Toast with Whipped Ricotta, and Hot Beer Cheese Dip with pretzel bread and just a few of the options available to help you feel like yourself again after a night of partying. Add on the Mimosa Meal Deal for an extra $12 and receive bottomless mimosas with any entree. The Monkey's Paw will be open from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm on New Year's Day. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Tea Time with Brandy: Sparkling Cocktails & Matcha Peppermint Scones

Every year a few weeks before Christmas, Brandy hosts a Wrapping Party. It's a jolly old time with all of her friends; listening to Christmas carols, nibbling a few treats, and sipping a few drinks while progressively getting merrier while their paper cutting skills get worse and worse until inevitably, someone ends up wrapped in clear tape like a mummy. "I find that it's the best possible way to get motivated for the worst chore of the holiday season," she says, "Plus, it's usually an excuse for me to try some more experimental recipes before I give them their big debut."

To keep everyone feeling merry and bright, Brandy made sure she had plenty of cocktail making supplies on hand. One thing she had hit upon as a brilliant base for mixing simple cocktails quickly while ensuring they had great flavor was a new line of sparkling waters from Waterloo. Coming in 7 varieties, the sparkling waters are all calorie free, sugar free, and sodium free, meaning they add brilliant flavor and bubbles to a cocktail without adding anything else. Brandy particularly likes the Lime flavor, which she mixes with vodka and cranberry juice to create a Sparkling Christmas Cosmo. The Black Cherry flavor is also lovely with a splash of cranberry and some honey whiskey, making a lightly crisp version of a Manhattan. All of the flavors (which also include watermelon, coconut, lemon, and grapefruit) are also perfect for sipping on their own as a light and refreshing palate cleanser after consuming tons of sweet and salty snacks.

Speaking of which, this year, Brandy decided to go a little bit out of the gift box, so to speak, for her Wrapping Party provisions. "I like my food to be colorful this time of year," she explained, "But I don't want to overload things with dye and artificial hues." For that reason, she zeroed in on Matcha as a natural colorant as well as a spectacular winter flavor. The thought of tea put her in mind of her home land, and instantly she was craving scones with lashings of cream. "Hmmm... Matcha scones... now that's an idea!" she said to no one in particular. But the idea needed just a little something more to make it feel complete. "Of course! The cream!" she exclaimed. Thinking on flavors that might match well with the delicate Matcha, but also remind her guests of snowy winter days spent snuggled by the fire, she hit on the idea of a peppermint scented buttercream to fill her scones with. And as her cabinets are always stocked with wonderful extracts from Nielsen Massey, it was a sinch to make her scone and cream dreams a reality.

Matcha Scones with Peppermint Cream

2 cups of cake flour
4 teaspoons of baking powder
2 tablespoons of Matcha powder
a pinch of salt
2/3 cup of milk, plus one tablespoon
2 large eggs (one for egg wash)
1/4 cup of sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons of Nielsen Massey vanilla extract
4 tablespoons of softened butter
Nielsen Massey Vanilla Sugar for topping

For peppermint cream:

1/2 cup of softened butter
1/2 pound of confectioner's sugar
2 teaspoons plus more to taste of Nielsen Massey peppermint extract
about a tablespoon of milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the cake flour, baking powder, matcha powder, and salt. In a second bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla extract with a hand mixer. Add in one egg and the milk while continuing to mix. Slowly add in the dry ingredients and continue to mix until everything is well incorporated. Using either an oiled ice cream scoop or your flour dusted hands, form the dough into about a dozen small balls and line the baking sheet with them. Scramble the remaining egg with a tablespoon of milk, then use a pastry brush to apply the egg wash to the tops of the scones, then sprinkle on vanilla sugar. Bake in pre-heated oven for 20 minutes, or until the tops are slightly brown. Let cool completely.

In a medium bowl, cream together the softened butter, confectioner's sugar, and peppermint extract (start with two teaspoons and add more if desired). Add in milk a few drops at a time to loosen up the cream and give it more of a whipped texture rather than a hard icing texture. Cut the scones in half horizontally and spread a generous amount of peppermint cream on the bottom piece before adding the top back on.

The writers of this blog were sent products from the mentioned companies free of charge in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Late Bloomer or Earlier Riser

The Slow and Savory Review

A few years ago, Brandy bid a fond farewell to her dear friend, Brochette Barleycorn (world famous anthropologist and competitive basket weaver) when she set off for a multi year sojourn in West Africa. Unfortunately, the farewell had not gone quite as planned, with Brandy having taken her globe trotting friend out for a disastrous dinner. "It was one of the most horrid meals of my life," Brandy remembers, "They served us oysters rife with pieces of shell, over cooked pasta, there was a hair on the steak, and the desserts were frozen in the middle. I've never been so embarrassed by a restaurant. What a terrible memory to leave her with right before she left the country!"

So when Brochette finally returned to the States, Brandy knew she had to make things up to her friend. "It's not necessary," Brochette had told her, "I mean, yes that meal was pretty awful. Between the waiter telling us we looked like two flowers at the center of a bouquet and then spilling wine all over us and the horribly out of tune piano music, things were set for disaster before the food even arrived at the table!" "Even still. My heart has been heavy since you left and the only way forward is to remedy this grievous error. We're going to brunch and I won't hear another word about it."

Taking a bit of a gamble on a new place, but one with an established reputation behind it, Brandy brought Brochette along to The Late Bloomer, which recently opened in the former location of Lyfe Kitchen in the New City complex. Coming from the same team behind Lyfe Kitchen, The Late Bloomer promised classic American flavors in a casual setting. Building on some of Lyfe Kitchen's ideas, the menu was scattered with lots of vegetable and produce focused dishes. The layout hadn't changed much for the location's days as a Lyfe Kitchen outpost, but the decor had shifted to more vibrant pops of chartreuse set against blues and grays, giving the restaurant a relaxed and contemporary feel.

As Brandy was feeling a little in need of something healthy, she began her meal with a Kale Banana Smoothie. The texture of the drink was surprisingly light and airy, while the flavor was mildly sweet with no hint of bitterness and had a slight zing of citrus juice. Brochette, on the other hand, was ready for a stiff drink, so she ordered the Good Neighbor, a mix of vodka, St. Germaine, bitters, and citrus. Brochette was very happy with how refreshing and bright the drink was, commenting, "This tastes like a breakfast cocktail to me. I could see it on any menu along side a mimosa and a Bloody Mary."

They started things off by sharing a Beetza; a flatbread topped with roasted beets, caramelized onions, arugula, pesto, and Parmesan cheese. The crust was very light and crunchy with a flavorful char on it that complimented the earthy and sweet flavors of the toppings nicely. Brandy particularly enjoyed the thinly sliced beets, which had been roasted to perfection, while Brochette was enamored with the pesto.

Brochette picked the Norwegian Scramble for her entree, which came with scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, a toasted bagel, and a crème fraiche sauce. The eggs were a little soft for Brochette's liking, but Brandy thought they looked just right. Otherwise, the dish was very simple, subtle, and satisfying. Brochette especially liked that the components could be arranged in any manner one wished, from an open faced sandwich to a hash.

Brandy went with the Shortrib Meatloaf sandwich, which came served on Texas Toast with a side of fries. The texture of the meatloaf was very unique, being flaky and very tender. Brandy liked the slightly tangy sauce and thought it did a good job of adding flavor to the meat without over powering it. Her only complaint was that the sandwich as nearly impossible to pick up because the meat was too substantial for the flexible Texas Toast, and so could only be consumed with the use of a fork and knife.

Finally, they ended their meal with an order of Monkey Bread, which came covered in a toffee sauce and toasted pecans. The bread itself was soft with a nice chew to it, allowing the toffee flavor to linger on the tongue in all its buttery goodness. "What an excellent idea for a shared dish!" said Brochette, snagging a lump of bread with her fork. "Yes, it's quite good. One of the better ones I've had," said Brandy, ensnaring her own bit of bread. Happily, they munched on their delectable treat without talking, until that inevitable moment when only one piece remained. The clang of their forks could be heard all throughout the restaurant. After an intense few minutes of starring, Brandy relented to her friend with a smile. "After all," Brochette said as she popped the toffee covered confection into her mouth, "You do owe me for that terrible dinner."

Apart from some wonky bits of service (which could mostly be excused by the place only having just opened) Brochette seemed quite pleased with her experience at The Late Bloomer, which finally gave Brandy the peace of mind she had been craving. The food was all done very well and the prices weren't anything that was going to start a wallet screaming in terror, but Brandy hoped that the restaurant would, in time, come to find more of a definitive identity that didn't so resemble it's older sibling. "I'm half tempted to order another plate of that monkey bread to go," Brandy confessed to Brochette as they headed out. "What a great idea! We'll take it over to the lake and have a little munch while we do some people watching," Brochette exclaimed. "Oh no, dear. We'll do nothing of the kind. My debt has been paid to you in full and now I fully intend on consuming an order of that oh so shareable dish all by my lonesome."

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

The Short and Sweet Review

Friday, November 17, 2017

From the Kitchens of Bunny and Brandy: Sweet Corn Pudding and Caramel Glazed Drop Donuts

With the holidays right around the corner, Brandy has begun an annual tradition of her own: testing recipes to make sure they are worthy of her circle of foodie friends. "Heaven forbid if I were to put something inferior in front of that lot. I'd never hear the end of it!" she says, "For years to come it would be, 'Remember when Brandy put that slop out for us on Thanksgiving?' One year, one of them brought a casserole that had slightly burnt edges and she was so embarrassed that none of us have seen or heard from her since." The high standards of such an audience were obviously amplified by the fact that this year it was Brandy's job to prepare the post-Thanksgiving brunch. Luckily for Brandy, she had quite a few things at hand to help inspire her creations.

First of all, there was the Feast VoxBox she received from Influenster. Among the many goodies were a classic can of corn from Del Monte, Country Crock margarine in a new easy to use stick form, and a container of crispy jalapenos from French's (a spicy cousin of their famous crispy onions, which grace the tops of green bean casseroles across the nation). A quick search of her cabinets also turned up a box of corn muffin mix, which was the thing that really switched on the light bulb. "Of course, corn pudding!" she exclaimed, and quickly went about making up the batter. But as she poured the golden liquid into her baking dish, she couldn't get over the feeling that it was still missing something.

Enter a couple of delectable condiments from Chut Up, a small start up company dedicated to creating healthier condiments by not adding in any sugar to their products, but also not sacrificing flavor or quality. Their Beet Ketchup really impressed Brandy with its true to form consistency and clean flavor and their Peri-Peri Hot sauce certainly packed quite a punch. Wanting add a little color to her corn pudding, she ended up mixing the two condiments together to produce a sort of "sweet heat" style sauce, then she dropped the mixture into the pudding and swirled it for a pretty effect. After baking her masterpiece, Brandy added a handful of the French's jalapenos to the top of the pudding to add crunch and just a bit more heat. She absolutely loved how her creation turned out, determining that it could easily be a side dish for the main event, or served with an egg and some sausage for a perfect sweet and savory post-Thanksgiving brunch. It was definitely the Chut Up condiments that made the dish pop, adding a little vinegar and heat to balance the natural sweetness of the Del Monte corn.

Next, Brandy determined to make something sweet and easily munch-able. She settled on the idea of "drop donuts," or a simple cake batter fried into small rounds, then glazed and sprinkled. For this, she turned to some amazing products from Nielsen Massey and McCrea's Candies. Brandy used a bit of Nielsen Massey's coffee extract in her donut batter, then made a simple glaze with some of the McCrea's salted caramels, which she soaked her donuts in and then topped them with Nielsen Massey vanilla sugar to add a little crunch. Because there was barely any sugar in the donut batter itself, the sweetness of the caramel and the sugar topping didn't overwhelm the palate and the subtle flavors of salt, vanilla, and coffee were able to shine through.

Finally, Brandy chose the perfect bottle of wine to compliment her dishes; Vivanco Tempranillo Garnacha. This particular rose had a bight fruity and acidic flavor with slight floral notes, making it ideal to pair with two dishes that used both sweet and salty elements. Brandy was also quite drawn to the beautifully rich color and the extremely unique wide lipped bottle, which was meant to mimic Vivanco's original 18th century bottle.

"Well, I'd say I am well prepared for the coming food storm," said Brandy as she surveyed her sweet and savory creations, "Now to start prepping for the New Year's Day brunch!"

Sweet Corn Pudding

1 can of Del Monte Whole Kernel Corn, drained
1 stick of Country Crock Salted Margarine
1/4 cup of sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 package of corn muffin mix
1/2 cup of milk
1 can of creamed corn
2-3 tablespoons of Chut Up beet ketchup
1-2 tablespoons of Chut Up peri-peri sauce
French's fried jalapenos for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat together the sugar and margarine (no need to soften before hand). Add in sour cream and continue to beat, then add in eggs. Alternate adding in corn muffin mix and milk until everything is well combined and there are no lumps in the batter. Carefully fold in the whole kernel corn and the creamed corn. Season with salt if desired, but the sea salt in the corn and margarine should be enough for most palates.

Pour the batter into a greased 9x9 baking dish. Carefully drop small spoonfuls of the ketchup/peri-peri mixture into the batter, then use the tip of a knife to swirl the sauce a little further into the batter. Bake for about an hour, or until the edges are golden and the center is solid. Top with fried jalapenos and serve warm.

Caramel Glazed Drop Donuts

1 cup of milk
1 egg
1 tablespoon of Nielsen Massey Coffee Extract
2 cups of white flour
2 tablespoons of sugar
5 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 stick of Country Crock Unsalted Margarine, melted
4-8 cups of frying oil (vegetable, corn, or canola oil works well), depending on the depth of your frying pot

For the Glaze:

1 cup of McCrea's Black Sea Salt Caramels
1/3 cup of milk
1/2 cup of Nielsen Massey Vanilla Sugar

Heat the oil over medium high heat, making sure there is enough oil in the pot so that the donuts are never touching bottom.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. In a small bowl, scramble the egg and then add in the milk and coffee extract, then whisk them all together. Slowly pour this into the dry mixture and mix well, then add in the melted margarine and continue mixing until a smooth, soft dough forms.

Using two spoons dipped briefly into the hot oil, form small 1 inch balls of dough and carefully drop them into the heated oil. Only fry about 5-6 donuts at a time to avoid the temperature of the oil falling. Let them cook for about 2-3 minutes, making sure to turn them so that all sides turn a golden brown, then lift them out of the oil with a slotted spoon and place them onto some paper towels to drain.

In a small sauce pan over medium low heat, add in the caramels and milk and stir continuously until they are completely melted and just start to bubble. Add the finished donuts to a large bowl and pour the warm caramel over them, then toss vigorously to make sure they are completely coated. Turn the donuts out onto a serving plate and sprinkle them with the vanilla sugar. Makes about 3 dozen.

The writers of this blog were sent products by the companies mentioned in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Wrigley BBQ or Smoke Gets in Your (Pork) Belly

The Slow and Savory Review

"It used to be funny when Hawk would talk about selling everything we own and buying a food truck, but I think he might be serious this time. The other day I caught him looking at listings for mobile smokers on eBay and he keeps dropping hints about an industrial deeper fryer he wants for Christmas!" Brandy's friend Bailey was explaining about her husband. "Well, life on the road has its advantages. But why has he come down with wanderlust all of the sudden?" "He's been watching a ton of barbecue shows and he thinks he needs to go South to brush up his skills." "Well, that's nonsense. There's wonderful barbecue right here in Chicago!" "But it's better in the South, isn't it?" "Tell you what. Get your coat and we'll go get some barbecue for brunch. Then you can tell me if you need to cross the Mason Dixon line to eat real meat."

Brandy took her friend along to check out the recently revamped Wrigley BBQ in the heart of East Lakeview. Since being taken over by Mitch Liebovich (who previous ran a successful barbecue restaurant in Pittsburgh), the entire menu has been renewed to focus on smoked meats (as opposed the previous menu, which put more focus on the sauces) and barbecue classics tweaked for the Midwestern palate. Mitch himself actually met with Brandy and Bailey, letting his passion for great food shine as he explained the changes he'd implemented so far and what he hoped to do in the future, including additions to some of the pre-existing restaurant design.

Getting themselves a glass of Cheerwine from the soda fountain (Brandy was over joyed to see the North Carolina favorite soft drink), they started in with an appetizer of fresh made Jalapeno Cornbread. Ever spice shy, Brandy was a little concerned, but the peppers just ended up lending more of smokey flavor than any heat. The bread texture was utterly perfect, being moist and bouncy without crumbling to pieces, and it had just the right amount of sweetness and grit to it.

Next up, the ladies decided to dive into an order of Chicken Nachos. The gigantic portion was more than a little intimidating, especially considering they still had more food coming in the pipeline, but they were both so happy after taking their first bite that they had decided to indulge. The nachos were deeply satisfying on every level, having been loaded with sour cream, shredded cheese, sweet corn, BBQ beans, succulent pulled chicken meat, and cool shredded lettuce. "There is no being delicate with a plate of food like this," Brandy commented, BBQ sauce penetrating the crevices between her fingernails and sour cream clinging to her lips. The biggest surprise was just how juicy and flavorful the chicken meat was. "I thought getting chicken would be a cop out, but this is amazing!" said Bailey.

Unable to decide between the Brisket Hash and the Biscuits and Gravy, Bailey compromised by ordering the hash with a side of gravy and a single biscuit. "I would have been happy with just the hash but once Mitch explained how he makes the gravy to order and actually puts his barbecued brisket into it, I knew I had to try some." Bailey, the ultimate gravy connoisseur, was not disappointed in the least; the gravy was hearty enough to be a meal in itself, and when combined with the surprisingly light and buttery biscuit, it was pure heaven. The hash wasn't anything to be sneezed at either, with a creamy cap of cheese covering a very generous helping of melt-in-the-mouth brisket, crispy potatoes, and topped by a perfectly fried egg.

Brandy picked the BELT, a take on a BLT with smoked and crisped pork belly in place of the bacon as well as sharp cheddar and avocado joining the party. The pork belly had a really unique texture from first having been smoked and then slightly crisped up, which Brandy rather enjoyed as a textural contrast next to the soft veggies and the Texas Toast. "It speaks to how well balanced this is that even with a rather large slab of meat in here, this sandwich isn't overly rich or greasy. That's a rare thing to find in a breakfast sandwich," she pointed out.

Finally, they decided to round out their meal with something sweet; the Bourbon Bread Pudding French Toast, which had a seasonal variation prepared with pumpkin bread. Instead of being presented in slices, this french toast came in thick cut sticks ("That's what we Brits call 'Soldiers.' Perfect for dipping into egg yolks," as Brandy explained to her friend). The result of having cut the toast in such a fashion was a very crispy exterior and a pure custard interior, and with this version having been made with real pumpkin puree, it gave the impression of being the filling of creamy pumpkin pie. Pouring the homemade bourbon syrup over that French toast was the single most satisfying experience Brandy had that day, possibly even that week. "I've never had a French toast like this!" Bailey exclaimed, "I'd say I want to bring some of this home so Hawk can try it, but I don't know if I'm going to be able to share."

Thoroughly stuffed, Brandy and Bailey finally began to pack up their things. Mitch's hospitality was certainly something that stuck with both of them, and the passion he so clearly put into his food impressed Bailey to such an extent that she was already planning to bring Hawk for a return visit before they had even left the restaurant. "I guess there really is good barbecue to be found in Chicago, if you know where to look," said Bailey. "I know where to look; under my finger nails. Next time, I'm bringing gloves," said Brandy.

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

The Short and Sweet Review

Friday, November 3, 2017

Bake or Brandy in Wonderland

The Slow and Savory Review

Once, long ago, Brandy dreamed of having her own bakery. She could picture it so clearly; she, standing behind the counter, smiling wistfully at the delighted children as they pointed at the brightly decorated cookies or the stoic adults who quietly tried to contain their excitement about buying themselves a slice of cake. In her fantasy, she'd start every day covered in flour and end every day smelling of coffee and butter. Sadly, once she finally began to learn the baker's trade, she found that she didn't have much patience for it. "I went a little crazy rolling out dough every morning. It just got everywhere! Under my finger nails, in my hair, on my face. And I could never get the macarons to bake with proper feet. My buttercreams always separated. And to this day whenever I see a piping bag, I get a slight shiver down my spine. I was just simply terrible at baking in a professional kitchen. It was then that I decided I would much rather be a spectator in the world of food rather than an athlete." Never the less, Brandy has always carried a soft spot for bakeries, and she often will wile away her mornings at such places, snacking on a variety of sweet and savory pastries while sipping on a smooth and frothy cup of coffee.

Always on the lookout, Brandy recently stumbled upon BAKE in Wicker Park. Their colorful decor was the first thing that attracted her attention; from the vibrant paper lanterns in the window to the creative art displays inside the shop (like a wall covered in tiny paper wrapped canvases and another spot where the word "BAKE" had been replicated in a variety of colors and fonts, to the chandelier in the middle of the ceiling that seemed to be made from a large tree branch painted silver and hung with crystals).

Stepping up to the counter, Brandy instantly became overwhelmed by the sight of all the beautiful baked goods, so she asked the lady behind it for some recommendations on the bakery's best offerings. With hands full of delectable treats, Brandy settled herself into a table by the window and started in.

Her drink of choice was a simple mocha, but it had been prepared very skillfully, which gave it an thick, foamy top. Though the chocolate was present, Brandy mostly tasted coffee in the drink, which she very much appreciated. It also had a very subtle sweetness, making it the perfect accompaniment to the variety of sugary delights before her.

Brandy started out with the Morning Bun, which the lovely girl behind the counter had pointed out as one of the bakery's top sellers. The bun had several layers of crispy dough on the outside and a wonderful chewy interior. It seemed to have been flavored with honey and just a touch of cinnamon, which put it somewhere in the family of a croissant and a cinnamon roll. "Oh, this kind of thing can be very dangerous," she said to herself.

Next, she moved on to her savory selection for the day, a slice of Bacon Quiche. The texture was incredibly silky and smooth with a prominent eggy flavor that some other quiches don't always get right. It did seem to be a little on the greasy side, though whether that was because of the bacon or from the copious amount of butter in the crust, she wasn't quite sure. Regardless, the bacon did add an excellent smokey flavor that permeated the quiche, but didn't overwhelm it.

Finally, she ended with a dessert, a Chocolate Cream Cheese Cupcake. The cake was very spongy and moist with a lovely dark chocolate flavor that wasn't too sweet. The frosting was an absolute dream of fluffy cream cheese and butter sprinkled in shredded coconut. "Simple, but delightful," Brandy concluded, "Just how everything in life should be."

Quite happy with what she had experienced so far, Brandy grabbed a second round of treats to take back home with her. Among her favorites were the house made chocolate croissants with lots of flaky layers, the chocolate chip scone, which was so enormous that she had to eat it across two different mornings, and the pear and cranberry pie, which resembled more of a crumble, but had a lovely sweet and tart flavor with just a hint of baking spices. But her favorite take away from BAKE was the Oatmeal Sandwich Cookie, which was positively bursting with buttercream filling. The texture of it was crisp, yet soft, and the flavor was pure brown sugar, yet it was never cloying. "Toss those chocolate sandwich cookies in the trash and give me a box full of these!" she loudly declared after taking a bite of the amazing cookie.

All in all, BAKE had many of the things Brandy likes to see in a bakery; a whimsical atmosphere, a handful of savory options, great control when it comes to sweeter foods, wonderful coffee drinks, and a real sense of joy behind it all. "If I had ever opened my own bakery, it most certainly would have looked a lot like that place," she commented to no one in particular, "But I think at this point in my life I'd much rather get up early to eat those morning buns rather than getting up early to make them!"

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

The Short and Sweet Review