Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tea Time with Brandy: Egg White Omelets from CedarLane

Brandy starred in terror at the leather bound planner she held in her hands.  Between restaurant openings, bridge club meetings, sewing circle soirees, and various other social gatherings, she didn't have a free day until mid August.  "How on earth did this happen?" she wondered aloud, "I'll barely have time to make breakfast for myself!  Why did I have to sign up for that early morning knitting and yoga month long intensive?"

In search of time saving meals, Brandy happened across CedarLane Egg White Omelettes, of which there were four delicious sounding flavors, meaning she could keep things new and exciting every morning.  Also, the fact that each one was under 300 calories with 20 grams of protein meant they would actually be healthy and filing at the same time.

The first morning, Brandy tried the Green Chili, Cheese, and Ranchero Sauce variety.  Immediately, she liked that the omelette only took 4 minutes to cook all the way through with very little effort.  This variety had a good amount of spice to it with the green chili, and the cheese came out melty and perfect.  The texture of the eggs was very fluffy, yet with all of the veggies and cheese, Brandy did feel substantially full after finishing it.  "I can't wait until tomorrow to try the next flavor!" Brandy said, amazed.

Next up was the Uncured Turkey Bacon with Vegetables.  Brandy was pleasantly surprised by this one, which was rather smokey and meaty while amazingly still retaining its low calorie count.  Once again, the abundance of veggies and cheese really made every bite enjoyable and filing.

The third morning, she sampled the Garden Vegetable and Mozzarella, which was full of bright flavors and lots of melty, creamy, delicious mozzarella, which Brandy obviously approved of.  "The eggs themselves are nice, but I just love all the peppers and zucchini and tomatoes in here!" Brandy commented, "It's like something I would make for myself, if only I had the time!"

Lastly was what turned out to be Brandy's favorite of them all, the Spinach and Mushroom omelette.  This one was especially impressive because the spinach wasn't watery in the least, meaning the eggs stayed firm and the cheese stayed creamy.  "I do enjoy making omelettes with spinach for myself, but even when I make them fresh, I can't avoid them becoming watery!" said Brandy

And so, after a week of trying out all of CedarLane's Egg White Omelettes and enjoying them thoroughly, Brandy was fully prepared to meet her busy schedule head on without having sacrificed a good breakfast to do it.  "Now as long as they're serving food at that Painting by Starlight class I just signed up for, I won't have to worry about dinner either!"

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

Monday, June 27, 2016

From the Kitchens of Bunny and Brandy: Shrimp and Grits with Finlandia

If there's one category of food Brandy will never turn her nose up at, it's dairy.  Butter, cheese, milk, and and all dairy products are Brandy's ultimate form of indulgence.  "If it were't for dairy, I would have no issue living a vegan lifestyle," says Brandy, "I know for a fact that I could give up everything, meat included, all of it except for that delicious creamy, cheesy goodness one can only get from real dairy products."

That being said, when Brandy found out that June was National Dairy Month, she was immediately on the lookout for a way to celebrate.  In her search, she recently discovered Finlandia, a brand that has been crafting some of the highest quality cheese and butter for over a century. While some butters and cheeses contain additives (such as growth hormones, preservatives, and dyes) that can be harmful, Finlandia products are all-natural and hormone-free. Imported from Finland, Finlandia products are made from pure, hormone-free milk, which comes from happy cows that live on family owned farms. No hidden chemicals, no factory farms—just pure, creamy goodness.

The rich yellow color of Finlandia butter reminded Brandy of one of her favorite Southern American brunch dishes; Shrimp and Grits.  This, she realized, was the perfect canvas to feature such high quality ingredients, by incorporating a nice nutty Swiss cheese into the grits and butter poaching the shrimp for maximum tenderness, then topping the dish with fresh ingredients like sweet corn and heirloom tomatoes to add a bit of texture and brightness that really made everything shine.

To find Finlandia products near you, use this handy Location Checker and make sure to share your National Dairy Month dishes with us by using the hashtag #BunnyAndBrandy on social media!

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

Butter Poached Shrimp and Grits

1 cup yellow corn grits
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded or sliced Swiss cheese
7 oz salted butter
about 20 uncooked shrimp, cleaned and shelled
Salt to taste

For Garnish:
Fresh corn
Diced tomato
Fresh chives

Cook the grits on a stove top according to package instructions.  Once the grits have fully absorbed the water, turn the heat to low and add the cream, then stir until the grits loosen.  Add the cheese and keep stirring until fully melted, then add salt and stir to distribute evenly.  Set the grits aside, but keep warm.

Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium low heat, stirring to make sure the butter doesn't turn brown.  Add the shrimp and cook on each side for about 2-3 minutes, then remove from the pan.

Plate a scoop of the grits (about a cup) and top with 5 or six shrimp, then garnish with fresh sweet corn, diced tomato, and fresh cut chives.  Makes 4 servings.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Postcards from Bunny: Summer Girl's Night Hangouts

A little known fact about Bunny is that she is a football fanatic.  No, not American football, but soccer, as most of the United States calls it.  "There's just nothing more exciting than watching a group of athletes in the prime of their lives kick a ball back and forth for several hours," Bunny has been known to say.  This is why she made a special stop into Chicago to attend a certain game at Soldier Field, but when strong storms seems to be on the horizon, Bunny made some alternate plans.

Moonage Daydream
Oh! You Pretty Things
Her first stop was to the J. Parker for some rooftop pre-gaming while she watched the storm roll in.  The J. Parker is currently featuring a collection of ten specialty cocktails for the summer, which are all named for songs by the greatly missed David Bowie (a man whom Brandy may or may not have had a hand in launching to stardom).  Accompanying Bunny was Starr from Chicago Foodie Girl, who had yet to see the stunning rooftop bar atop the Lincoln Hotel.  Settling in a table in the shade, the two went over the cocktail menu in detail.  Bunny decided to start with the Space Oddity with pisco, raspberry liqueur, Earl Grey tea, peach bitters, lime, and Prosecco, all of which combined for a rather complex and fruity drink.  Starr picked the Moonage Daydream with gin, coconut, lemon, lime, and orange flower soda.  This drink was fresh and lovely with a slightly floral note.  For the second round, Bunny went with the Life on Mars?, a bourbon heavy cocktail with cherry, apricot, and rhubarb bitters, while Starr picked the Oh! You Pretty Things with pear, lavender, orange, lemon, and vodka.  Lastly, Bunny tried the Golden Years, a sweet and tropical taste sensation with rum, banana, vanilla and lime.

Golden Years
Space Oddity
Life on Mars?

To balance out the cocktails, the ladies snacked on some delicious bites from the bar menu.  First, they started off with a couple of Mini Burgers, delicious little sandwiches somewhere between a slider and regular sized burger, with melty cheese spread and buttery buns.  Because the burgers didn't have enough cheese to satisfy their cravings, they also ordered some Beer Cheese Dip, which came with more buttery pieces of pretzel bread to bathe in the melty goodness that was the beer cheese.  After two rather rich snacks, they lastly indulged in some Shrimp Ceviche, which helped to cleanse the palate with a dose of bright and citrusy flavor.

After it became apparent that the storm was imminent, Bunny decided to forgo attending the game in person and instead searched for a place she might be able to watch from the safety of a bar.  A quick call to her friend Mama Bee gave her the idea of stopping into Whirlyball on Fullerton to not only check out their brand new complex and menu, but also watch the game on the giant screens around the ground floor bar.  Bunny had heard tales of this bastion of fun, from their patented bumper car based game to their laser tag court, to their gorgeous rooftop over looking the city skyline, but had yet to visit the newly built location.  She was immediately delighted by the open floor plan and comfortable atmosphere with touches of whimsy, like the beer tap handles decorating the ceiling and the bowling balls colored to look like giant pool balls.

Right from the start, the new menu was certainly not what Bunny expected to see from Whirlyball.  A bucket of innocent looking popcorn on the table was doused in liquid nitrogen, which gave it an impossibly buttery flavor, a normally ineffectual sounding crab cake was presented in the style of a Japanese pancake called okonomiyaki, and a truly unique bruschetta rounded everything out with the bright earthy flavors of fig jam, goat cheese, and roasted red peppers.  Mama Bee loved sampling some of the new salads, like the crunchy Kale and Quinoa with a zingy cranberry relish, and the Simple Green with a surprising mix of fruit and crispy potatoes.  One of the real winners of the night was the Fried Brussels Sprouts, which had been tossed with a black garlic aioli and espresso infused balsamic vinegar to make for a pungent and deeply flavorful dish.

The true star of the new menu was the burgers and sandwiches.  The Stout Style Reuben with its beer braised corn beef and spicy giardiniera was the perfect update to a classic, in Mama Bee's opinion, but Bunny was paying far more attention to the burgers.  The 12 Hours 55 Minutes Burger (so named for the time a flight from Chicago to Tokyo would take) was another Japanese themed delight with pickled cabbage, green onion, and some sharp bleu cheese, while the Barcelona Night Burger added spicy ground chorizo and Manchego cheese for some Spanish flair.  Mama Bee's favorite of the night was with French Quarter Burger with roasted corn relish, creole spiced aioli, jalapeno jack cheese, and andouille sausage, which made for a slow burn spice that she really enjoyed.  Bunny, on the other hand, favored the Wild Forest Burger with plenty of mushrooms, creamy goat cheese, and a touch of truffle oil.

By the time the storm had passed, Bunny had consumed so much food and so many cocktails that she had all but forgotten her whole reason for being in Chicago in the first place.  "There will be other games," she waved off with a hiccup when she realized she'd not seen a minute of play, "Besides, after everything I've just eaten, I would much rather get up and play a little something myself!  Whose up for some laser tag?"

The writers of this blog were invited to dine at the mentioned restaurants free of charge in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Masterpiece Eat-a-Ter: The Troll Cookbook

The word "Troll" has developed a rather unsavory reputation as of late.  In the days when Brandy was young, a troll was a mystical, magical being that lived in small hovels in the woods or under remote country bridges.  Occasionally grumpy, but for the most part, rather charming beings that populated local legends and time honored fairytales.  In fact, Brandy quite identified with trolls, for some reason.
From The Troll Cookbook
Karima Cammell & Clint Marsh

From The Troll Cookbook
Karima Cammell & Clint Marsh
But these days, trolls are a whole different sort.  "I suppose I can understand how the unfortunate internet connotation has grown up around the word, but I have to say that it also makes me rather sad to see such lovely creatures associated with the worst kind of riff raff," Brandy lamented, "The fairy folk are supposed to remind us of the simplicity and magic of nature.  Trolls in my mind will always be that, no matter what the internet thinks!"

It's no wonder then that when Brandy became aware of a little publication known as The Troll Cookbook by Karmina Cammell and Clint Marsh, she was simply fascinated.  The book not only contains a host of different troll approved recipes grouped by season, but also features charming little legends and lore about the troll community and how they spend their days.  The Troll Cookbook is beautifully illustrated, more in the style of a storybook rather than a traditional cookbook, meaning readers are forced to imagine what the dishes should look like rather than simply copying a photograph.  There's all sorts of snippets detailing how one can live like the trolls by foraging for ingredients in the wild, making the simplest of things from scratch (like buttermilk, jams, and sourdough), and really having fun with cooking in the sloppiest, yummiest ways possible.

From The Troll Cookbook
Karima Cammell & Clint Marsh
Quickly, Brandy zeroed in on some recipes she thought would make for an excellent troll brunch.  She had great fun whipping up a batch of her very own ricotta cheese and then using the product for a Ricotta Tart, which had a custardy interior, a flaky butter spiked crust, and bright pops of fruit from some fresh apricots.  She also made up a batch of Sweet Potato Gnocci with a Pea and Mushroom cream sauce, and though she didn't forage the ingredients herself, she still thought the hearty plate brought up visions of eating from atop a wooden, moss covered stump with the sounds of twittering birds all around and the smell of earth in her nostrils.  Best of all were the Griddlecakes; crispy, oat infused pancake-like confections with a sophisticated sweetness that lent themselves to toppings like fresh fruit, syrup, or spoonfuls of fresh cottage cheese, and could even become vessels for savory foods, like ham and cheese (though, sadly, Brandy did not have the bravery to do as the book suggested and toss the Griddlecakes in the pan like the trolls would do).

Luckily, Brandy was granted permission from the troll powers that be to bring forth this magical troll brunch recipe!  To find out more about The Troll Cookbook, make sure to visit their website, or pick up your own copy from Amazon.

The writers of this blog were provided with a copy of this book by the authors in exchange for an honest review.  All recipes and illustrations belong to the authors.  


Greasy griddlecakes made from oats (or any rolled grain) are a favorite troll meal for breakfast or lunch.  The trolls show off by flipping the griddlecakes without a spatula.

1 1/2 cups of rolled oats (or any flattened grains)
2 cups of buttermilk or whole milk
2 eggs
1 spoon of vanilla extract
6 spoons of maple syrup
1/4 cup of melted butter or cooking oil (plus more for the pan)
1/2 spoon of salt
An open handful of flour
1/4 spoon of grated nutmeg
1/4 spoon of cinnamon

In a large mixing bowl, stir together all the ingredients in the order listed.  Add more flour until the batter thickens to your liking but is still runny enough to pour easily.  A thin batter will give you crispy griddlecakes, and a batter that's too thick will make your griddlecakes doughy.  Add berries if you'd like.

Melt some butter in a griddle over medium-low heat and splash on scoops of batter.  Flip the griddlecakes just once and only after they are riddled with bubbles.  The second side of the griddlecakes cooks faster, but if it offer any resistant let it cook a little longer before lifting it off with a spatula.  Serve your griddlecakes as you cook.  If any of your fellow trolls like greasy griddlecakes, serve them the first few from the batch, as these will have soaked up more butter.

Cover griddlecakes with syrup, honey, chocolate, fruit, jam, yogurt, whipped cream, or anything you think tastes good.  If you'd prefer a savory meal instead of a sweet one, make larger griddlecakes and roll the up with slices of meat and cheese.

Cook like a troll by tossing your griddlecakes instead of flipping them with a spatula.  Once the griddlecake is loose and ready for turning (test it with a little shake of the pan), lift the griddle and flip the cake using a swift jabbing motion, strong enough to toss the griddlecake into the air but not so wild that it flies away.  This technique takes some practice, but trolls don't mind eating the dropped griddlecakes that end up on the stovetop or the floor.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Grand Lux Cafe or Golden Morning

The Slow and Savory Review

Luxury is something Brandy has plenty of experience with.  She's done everything from captaining a yacht to overseeing a couture textile company to putting her superior palate to use as a caviar taste tester, so she likes to think that she knows luxury when she sees it.  "Some people think that simply throwing a bunch of gold leaf on something or dousing food in truffle oil makes for luxury, but that's just silly," she says when asked about the subject, "Luxury is not something one buys.  It is a feeling."

It was this point she was attempting to argue with her good friend Mama Bee, who had just introduced a line of "luxury" honeys to her already existing honey empire.  "From a  branding perspective, saying something is luxurious is a self fulfilling prophecy," Mama Bee countered, "Simply seeing the word evokes the feeling of luxury!"  At that very moment, the two happened to be walking along Michigan Ave. and Brandy stopped in her tracks to point towards a restaurant on the second floor above them.  "See this here?" she said, "This is the Grand Lux Cafe.  Let's put your theory to the test and see if the mere implication of the word 'luxury' will give us a luxurious brunching experience."

Walking through the Grand Lux evoked a sense of old world grandeur with its high ceilings, rich furnishings in golds, greens, and burgundys, marble table tops, and mosaic wall decor.  "Reminds me of something out the Great Gatsby!" Mama Bee gasped, looking around the room.  "It certainly is even more beautiful on the inside than I supposed it would be from the outside!" said Brandy.

Settling into a booth that overlooked the street below, the ladies picked out a few cocktails; the Sparkling Spanish Rose for Brandy and the Strawberry Bellini for Mama Bee.  The Bellini was fresh tasting and very sweet due to the addition of Cointreau, which made it perfect for Mama Bee.  The Spanish Rose was a little more to Brandy's liking, being a combination of sangria and Prosecco, which made it a little dry, but crisp and very fruity.

They started off the meal properly with a Warm Goat Cheese Salad and some Double Stuffed Potato Spring Rolls.  The salad was quite an interesting combination of crunchy greens and diced apples with a peppery and lemony dressing and small warm spheres of bread crumb coated goat cheese, which added a nice pop of richness.  "I'm detecting a touch of honey here," Mama Bee said knowingly, "And that little hint of sweetness makes this salad such a unique experience!"  The westernized spring rolls were also rather delightful, with a fun mix of textures in the crunchy shell and the smooth mashed potatoes within.  The smokiness of the bacon mixed with the melted cheddar cheese and the pungent spring onions made the flavor just as fun as the presentation,  "One of my greatest pleasures in life is really well done fusion food," said Brandy, "And this is an example of just how fun mixing up cultures can be!"

For her entree, Mama Bee picked the Fresh Garden Omelette, which was packed with mushrooms, tomato, avocado, green onion, zucchini, spinach, Havarti cheese and sour cream and came with a side of house potatoes.  The eggs, Mama Bee felt, were a tad under-seasoned, but the veggies were fresh and crisp and just perfect.  "I'm very impressed by just how many vegetables they've stuffed in here," Mama Bee exclaimed, "Sometimes omelettes just become the forgotten standard on the menu, but this one does seem to have a bit of thought put into it!"  The hashbrowns on the side were fairly unremarkable, but had a decent amount of pepper in their flavor.

Brandy picked the DeLux Breakfast Sandwich, which consisted of scrambled eggs, tomato, bacon, Havarti cheese, and mayo on grilled brioche.  The sandwich was certainly substantial with a great buttery flavor that didn't translate into greasiness.  The addition of the scrambled eggs, as opposed to an over easy egg, meant the sandwich wasn't overly messy to eat, and the slice of tomato helped to cut through the richness of the bacon, eggs, and cheese to lighten up the over all flavor.  "I can't tell you how many breakfast sandwiches I've had that only needed a a little vegetation to make them perfect.  I'm so glad they've thought this one through," said Brandy.

Lastly, the ladies ordered the Churro French Toast and a pair of Honey Vanilla Lattes for a make shift dessert.  The lattes were surprisingly sweet and lovely, with a smooth coffee flavor that helped to wash away the sleepiness that comes from such a substantial meal.  The French toast was a rather extraordinary thing, with a very melty, custard like interior and a crunchy sugar coated exterior that really did remind one of a churro.  Due to the fact that the pieces had been positively bathed in cinnamon sugar and then doused in chocolate and caramel, Brandy and Mama Bee concurred that this dish would be much more appropriate as a dessert as opposed to a breakfast dish.  "If you ate this whole plate of French toast for breakfast," Mama Bee laughed, "You'd be buzzing on a sugar high for the rest of the day for sure!"

"Well, I don't know about you, but this certainly did feel like a luxurious meal, whether that was due to the name of the restaurant or not!" Mama Bee said once they had wandered back out onto the street.  "Comforting? Yes.  Delicious?  Certainly.  But luxurious?" Brandy questioned.  "What wasn't to like? Mama Bee questioned her, "The service was beyond friendly, the decor was stunning, and the food was lovely!"  "Yes, but the prices were actually quite reasonable," Brandy pointed out, "And to truly evoke a feeling of luxury, one must charge exorbitant prices so that the purchaser really has to question the quality of their experience.  That brunch seemed like a steal when put into those terms!"  "Perhaps you're right," Mama Bee pondered, "I better raise the prices of my luxury honey then!"

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

Grand Lux Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

From the Kitchens of Bunny and Brandy: Molten Chocolate filled Banana Bread

There's a few rules by which Brandy has lived her life, but chief amongst them being "Never fully trust someone who doesn't like chocolate."  The lack of chocolate appreciation in Brandy's eyes is tantamount to someone saying they don't like animals; there's nothing wrong with the preference legally, but the admission certainly makes the person seem a lot more suspicious.

It was her mutual love of chocolate and animals that drew Brandy to Endangered Species Chocolates, a company that not only produces high quality chocolate treats, but donates some of their profits to help save animals on the brink of extinction.  Endangered Species Chocolate is passionate about chocolate and the environment, offering more than 30 different chocolate bars, bites, spreads and pouches, and providing chocolate-lovers with premium, natural chocolates that are ethically traded and sustainably grown while donating 10 percent of their net profits to fund species and habitat conservation. Endangered Species Chocolate is sold nationwide in select natural food stores, including Whole Foods, Kroger, Earth Fare, and more.

Brandy quickly developed an affinity for the dark chocolate bars, like the Salted Caramel and the Almonds with Sea Salt, in which one could really taste the depth of the chocolate flavor.  These bittersweet beauties were perfect for pairing with a fruity red wine and some brie for an after dinner snack.

But how to incorporate such intense chocolate goodness into brunch?  Well, Brandy looked to the Almond Spread with Cocoa for the answer.  This protein packed treat was the perfect consistency to become the molten chocolate center in a new twist on Brandy's favorite banana bread recipe, so she gave her little idea a whirl and it turned out spectacularly.  Find the recipe below and check out for more information on Endangered Species Chocolate.

The writers of this blog were provided with products by the mentioned company to facilitate the writing of this post.

Molten Chocolate Filled Banana Bread

Two ripe bananas
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
pinch of salt
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup chocolate almond spread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a loaf pan.

Mash the bananas with a fork, then add the eggs and mix.  Add the vanilla, maple syrup, brown sugar, and salt, and mix again until well combined.  Add the flour a little bit at a time, mixing to ensure there are no lumps, then add in the baking soda and mix one last time until everything is combined into a sticky batter.

Add half of the batter to the loaf pan, then bang the pan a few times on the counter to take out any air bubbles.  Carefully spoon in the chocolate almond spread into a long line down the center of the batter (this works best if the spread has been refrigerated before hand).  Cover the spread with the rest of the batter and bake in the oven 45-60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out without any batter on it (it will have chocolate on it, though, which is fine).  Let cool for 15 minutes, then slice and serve warm.