Friday, May 26, 2017

From the Kitchens of Bunny and Brandy: Tropical Breakfast Parfait "Cheese" Cake

It all started with a single thought. "What if I could have cheesecake for breakfast?"

Of course, Brandy could have cheesecake for breakfast, as she is a grown adult woman and capable of making her own choices, but even she knew, it was probably not wise to have cheesecake for breakfast. Well, at least not every day...

But still, the idea persisted and she couldn't quite get it out of her head. For days, she wandered in and out of her kitchen, looking at her pantry shelves or staring into her open fridge, until her whimsical idea began to solidify into something tangible. And it was a trio of recently discovered items that finally made her dream a reality.

Brandy had first sampled skyr from Icelandic Provisions at a special dinner, held at Baptiste and Bottle, celebrating the culinary prowess of Iceland. Skyr, she learned, is a deeply cherished part of Icelandic culture, with most of the country having eaten it regularly since childhood. Skyr is similar to yogurt, in that it is made with milk treated with specific cultures, but it's texture is even smoother and creamier than even that of Greek yogurt. It has more protein and less sugar than most yogurts as well, which greatly impressed Brandy. Icelandic Provisions had several unique flavors that combined familiar western fruits like strawberries, peaches, and blueberries, with lesser known Icelandic fruits like lingonberries, cloudberries, and bilberries. Brandy's favorite flavor, though, was the Coconut, which tasted just like the inside of a coconut cream pie. This, Brandy realized, would make the perfect base of her cheesecake.

Wanting to add a little sweetness and some additional tropical flavor, Brandy zeroed in on the carton of Banana Wave banana milk in her fridge. The stuff was so creamy and flavorful that she had been using it as a base for smoothies for some time, but she suddenly realized that the banana milk would pair perfectly with the coconut skyr. And as Banana Wave is packed with superfoods – fruit, grains and seeds – and because it begins with pure banana puree, she knew it would be a good source of fiber and vitamins without adding additional dairy fat into the recipe.

Every great cheesecake needs the perfect crust, and Brandy had just the thing sitting in her cabinet. She had recently discovered Grandy Oats' line of CocoNolas; three flavors of grain free granolas made from nuts, honey, and coconut. Light, crunchy, and not overly sweet, she had been downing this stuff by the handful for weeks for a quick boost of energy in the afternoon, but now, she knew that she had to utilize it's delightful flavor and texture to create a nutty crust for her cheesecake. While the chocolate chip flavor is her favorite for snacking on, and the super hemp blend gives the most bang for the buck, Brandy went for the original flavor CocoNola to maximize the coconut flavor.

As she prepared to make the breakfast cheesecake of her dreams, Brandy realized that what she had really done was to create a slice-able yogurt parfait. Not only that, but a parfait that was packed with protein and nutrients, but was very low in sugar, fat, and was completely grain free. "Also, it travels much more easily than a traditional parfait," she concluded. But in the end, this delightful concoction had such a creamy, rich texture, that she couldn't help continuing to think of it as the greatest cheesecake known to man.

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

Tropical Breakfast Parfait "Cheese" Cake 

5 single serving containers of Coconut Icelandic Provisions Skyr
1 9 oz package of Grandy Oats CocoNola
1 cup of Banana Wave Banana Milk
1 cup of chia seeds

Pour the banana milk into a medium sauce pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Meanwhile, pour the granola in the bottom of a 9 inch spring form pan and smooth out into an even layer, making sure to break up any larger pieces. Place all the skyr (or yogurt) into a medium sized bowl. Take the banana milk off the heat and slowly pour it over the skyr, whisking away lumps. Once the banana milk and skyr are thoroughly mixed, add in the chia seeds and continue to whisk away any lumps. Carefully pour the mixture over the granola. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge over night.

When ready to serve, top the "cake" with toasted coconut, cut into slices, and serve cold with fresh pineapple or a drizzle of honey. Makes about 8 servings.

Friday, May 19, 2017

La Storia or Pass the Everything

The Slow and Savory Review

If Brandy has any flaws, one of them might be her propensity to sample from the plates of her dining mates during a meal. "I just want to make sure I try a little bit of everything!" she explains in justification, Most of her friends are now used to this sort of behavior and tolerate her constantly reaching her fork across the table to pick at morsels on their plates, even scooting bits of their meals to the edges in anticipation of her curiosity. "Why don't you go to more tapas bars or dim sum houses if you're so insistent on trying a little bit of everything?" she's been asked more than once. "Because what if I like one of the dishes so much that I don't want to share?" Brandy counters.

Knowing her proclivity towards pilfering bits of their food, Brandy's dear friends Hawk and Bailey decided to take her to a meal where her FOMOOF (fear of missing out on food) would be quelled. La Storia in the Gold Coast had recently begun what they were calling a "Social Brunch" service; a sort of family-style-meets-prix-fixe set up in which everyone paid $30 a person and would collectively share a carafe of cocktail, 2 starters, a wood fired pizza, and 2 entrees. For Brandy, this sounded like an ideal situation. "It's as if they want you to try everything on the menu!" she exclaimed.

Hidden away on Dearborn amongst a row of some of Chicago's favorite restaurants, La Storia offers rustic Italian cuisine made from some of the freshest local ingredients available. Being below ground level, the restaurant doesn't offer much sunlight, but there are a few cafe tables out front and a beautiful courtyard patio out back for those who desire such things. Inside, the feeling is warm and intimate with a bistro-like atmosphere. The main room is dominated by a fantastic mural, depicting famous figures in Chicago culture, from Walt Disney and Al Capone to Oprah and John Belushi. Brandy, Bailey, and Hawk (none of whom are native to Chicago) had a delightful time trying to identify all of the individuals and what their connections to Chicago were.

The first important communal decision was to pick one of the offered cocktails. The table decided on the bottle of Prosecco, which came with fresh orange and peach juice, so that the table could make their own mimosas or bellinis.

Soon the starters were hitting the table. The three friends decided to order a sweet and a savory bread option. For the sweet, they sampled the Focaccia, which came adorned with house made ricotta, honey, and kumquat jam. Brandy just adored this sweet little bite of heaven, with its extremely light and fluffy texture and just a little crispness on the crust. The flavor was buttery and sweet with a little tang from the kumquat. "When I saw 'focaccia' on the menu, I thought it was going to be a denser bread, but this is divine!" exclaimed Bailey. For the savory option, the trio sampled the Lobster and Avocado Toast. Normally opposed to trendy dishes, Brandy was actually quite pleased with this version, which was piled high with large chunks of lobster meat and fresh avocado. Hawk's piece had a little too much char on it for his liking, but otherwise the group found the toast to be well seasoned and the perfect combination of crunchy and creamy.

Next up came the pizza. The table had decided on the Pesto version, which came topped with Guanciale, a fried egg, more ricotta, and of course, a basil pesto. Bailey was a little skeptical about having pizza for breakfast, but once she understood that this was not some Chicago style abomination, but a wood fired, chewy crusted, lightly adorned flat bread, she gladly took up a piece. The pizza had a good hit of salty flavor to it, which highlighted the smokiness on the crust. The pesto had just the right vibrancy and consistency for Brandy, and the egg on top was cooked to perfection.

The main courses were next up, the chosen dishes being an Eggs Benedict Florentine with charred artichokes, spinach, and fontina fonduta and the Steak and Eggs with potato hash, king trumpet mushrooms, and caramelized onion. The steak had been cooked to a perfect medium rare (even by Hawk's exacting standards) and had a good char on the outside. The crispy bits of onion and potato were a delight, and the earthy mushrooms added to the richness. As for the benedict, the eggs were poached beautifully, cascading a waterfall of yolk when Brandy sunk her knife into them. The flavor was actually quite unique, having a little more bite and lightness than a typical Florentine benedict because of the artichokes.

Finally, the group decided to end their meal with something sweet and ordered up a slice of the special Italian Cream Cake. The layer cake was impossibly moist with a slight lemon flavor, which was offset by some bright, fresh strawberries, a coconut cream, and some crunchy candied pecans. "This is like every classic dessert flavor all in one bite!" Bailey exclaimed, to which Hawk agreed, and Brandy nodded as she shoveled another bite into her mouth and slowly slid the plate closer to her section of the table.

"I have to say, there is something rather pleasant about being able to try so many things all in one meal," said Brandy as they sipped the dregs of their coffee, "And I really liked that all of us had full permission to try all of the dishes, so that it wasn't just me snagging bites from every plate." "I can see why you do that, though," said Bailey, "It's kind of fun not having to worry that you're missing out on your second or third choice dish." "And the price point is kind of incredible for the amount of food you get!" said Hawk. "Let's just all agree that from now on, when we go out to eat, we'll always order family style," said Brandy, "Unless I really like my dish. Then none of you are allowed to have any. In fact, you're both lucky I let you have any of that cake."

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Mother's Day 2017 Chicago Brunch Guide

All About Town
Olive Theory All Locations offering Buy One, Get One Free heart shaped pizzas 
Jerry's Sandwiches All locations offering complimentary mimosas and surprise gift envelope for all moms 
Kanela All Locations offering a complimentary starter for moms 
Porkchop All Locations moms eat for free and get 1 complimentary cocktail 

Bar Roma A la carte, Special dishes, complimentary glass of sparkling rosé for moms

The Duck Inn prix fixe for $48,  complimentary mimosa for moms

Revival Social Club A la carte, complimentary flower and chocolate dipped strawberry for moms
Mango Pickle A la carte, special tea and coffee service 

Fulton Market
La Sirena Clandestina  A la carte, live music all morning
Swift & Sons family style $49 per person

Gold Coast
Fig & Olive Prix fixe for $40 
Maple and Ash buffet for $65 
Eataly prix fixe for $95, includes a brunch cocktail making class 

Lakeshore East
III Forks prix fixe, 3 courses for $48 

Lincoln Park
Geja’s Café A la carte, complimentary 5-minute massage and glass of bubbly 
The Blanchard A la carte complimentary flute of champagne 
Café Ba-Ba-Reeba A la carte special tapas for mamas menu, all moms get a special gift 

Logan Square
Osteria Langhe A la carte special brunch menu created just for Mother's Day 

Mag Mile
Michael Jordan's Steakhouse A la carte special brunch menu created just for Mother's Day 
Howells & Hood buffet- $39 
LH Rooftop at LondonHouse buffet- $75 

North Center
Tavern on Little Fort special a la carte menu

River North
Hard Rock Café buffet for $35 and live retro music 
SafeHouse Chicago complimentary SpyMom-Mosa or a Spycial Bloody Mary for moms
Mercadito prix fixe, 4 sharring courses + cocktail for $30 per person
Imperial Lamian complimentary basket of dim sum items for all moms
I|O Godfrey at The Godfrey Hotel buffet for $39 
Cantina Laredo complimentary Mimosa or Bloody Maria for all moms
Tortoise Supper Club buffet for $69 
Bottlefork complimentary mimosa for all moms
Vermillion prix fixe- $25 for 2 courses or $35 for 3 courses 
Bar Lupo live jazz music, complimentary bottomless mimosas or rose for all moms 
Bohemian House family style $35 per person

Roscoe Village
Commonwealth Tavern special a la carte menu 

South Loop
The Chicago Firehouse buffet for $59 

The Loop
Great Street Restaurant in Renaissance Hotel Complimentary mimosa for moms and dessert table 
Seven Lions buffet for $38.95 
Steadfast prix fixe for $50 
Roanoke prix fixe for $33 for 3 courses 

University Village
Tuscany on Taylor  A la carte special menu created just for Mother's Day 

West Loop
Macello complimentary flute of rosé prosecco for moms

West Town
Ruxbin prix fixe- $75 for 4 courses 
Frontier family style for $29 per person 

Tuscany Restaurant Wheeling buffet for $42.95 
Parker's Restaurant Downer's Grove buffet for $32 or a la carte dinner menu 
210 Restaurant & Live Music Lounge Highwood buffet for $35 with live gospel music 
The English Room at The Deer Path Inn Lake Forrest buffet for $65 
The Happ Inn Northfield $39.95 "All You Can Eat” appetizers and desserts, $5 mimosas 
The Estate by Gene & Georgetti Rosemont buffet for $46 complimentary mimosa for moms
Punch Bowl Social Schaumburg buffet for $25 complimentary mimosa, Mom’s brunch is completely free if she bowls a strike on her first attempt.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Tea Time with Brandy: XO Marshmallows Kickstarter

Brandy had a very vivid dream last summer that she still can't quite get out of her head. She dreamed she was standing on a bank of pastel pink clouds and all around her was blue sky. She bounced from cloud to cloud until she came across what looked to be a small table, which was set for a tea service, except instead of tea, there was a pot of steaming hot chocolate. Brandy sat herself at the table, and feeling a little like Alice in Wonderland, she poured out a mug of the velvet liquid. Then she noticed a silver jar in the center of the table, which had an ornate lid. When she lifted the lid, she found a multitude of the most luscious looking marshmallows she'd ever laid eyes on. Each one was as big as an ice cube, but lighter than air (indeed, some of them began floating out of the jar and Brandy had to scramble to make sure none of them escaped into the ether). She popped one into her mouth and savored the unexpectedly rich flavor of salted caramel. She tried another one and got a wash of coffee. Another tasted like green tea. And yet another tasted like lavender and honey. Then before her eyes, Brandy saw the marshmallows transform from perfect cubes to little circles with holes in the middle, almost like a donut. The thing was, these heavenly little marshmallow rings were the exact size of Brandy's mug of hot chocolate! She plopped one in and watched the little thing swirl happily in it's warm bath or chocolate.

The morning after this dream, Brandy journeyed down to the Lakeview Festival of the Arts, where she stumbled across two very hip looking young ladies, who just happened to be selling, of all things, handmade marshmallows. Brandy was intrigued, to say the least. She learned that the ladies were named Kat and Lindzi and that they had just launched a Kickstarter campaign to help them grow their marshmallow making obsession in the form of XO Marshmallows. Brandy immediately purchased a few of their wears and found that they tasted just like the marshmallows in her dream had. Then she saw that one of the goals of the Kickstarter was to help them launch a new product; little marshmallow rings called Mars'halos that fit perfectly into a mug of coffee or hot chocolate! It was then that Brandy decided she needed to back these ladies and see her marshmallow dreams become reality.

Flash forward to the present day. XO Marshmallows successfully funded their Kickstarter and Brandy has been watching their progress with great interest ever since. Then last month, she saw that they had launched a second Kickstarter, this time with the goal of opening Chicago's first ever marshmallow themed cafe. "Oh, I simply MUST see this come to fruition!" said Brandy. One of the Kickstarter rewards was a special flavor of marshmallow; strawberry, which was made with actual strawberry puree. Brandy could not get enough of these juicy, fruity, little pillows of paradise. When she stumbled upon some strawberry flavored pound cake, she decided to use it to make a decadent triple berry shortcake. Giving the marshmallows just the slightest bit of caramelization with a torch made the snack the perfect sugary indulgence when combined with fresh tart berries and the creamy, moist cake. "I made something so simple, and yet so delicious with these things, with almost no effort," Brandy commented, "Just imagine what those girls could do with an entire cafe themed around these things!"

XO Marshmallow's Kickstarter has only 10 more days to go, so make sure to pledge before time runs out to get access to exclusive rewards like limited edition flavors, signature merch, or even a private coffee tasting! It is also worth mentioning that Brandy may or may not seek vengeance on all of Chicago if she doesn't get to see her prophetic dream of a marshmallow cafe come true. "If Chicago thought the Curse of the Billy Goat was bad, they don't want to see what I've got up my sleeve!" she threatened.

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