“Cooking Should Be Fun” says Culinary Council Star – Bill Kim

                    

There is no need to panic when you  have to cook for holiday guests.  You can throw together a unique and tasty meal and you don’t even have to have stress out about it. Last Friday, foodies gathered on the seventh floor of the State Street  to learn, to laugh, and to taste the cooking of Celebrity Chef, Bill Kim. Kim is the owner of the popular Chicago restaurants , Urbanbelly and Belly Que . He is a graduate Kendall  College and has worked at many restaurants . He has also worked with the late Charlie Trotter. He is also considered a pioneer for making casual cuisine more gourmet.

With his young assistant, Kim started out the demonstration with the 7 Flavors Sangria Punch Bowl Mocktail  . The punch contained many different juices and fruits, including apple, grape, and the non traditional Asian lychee and pear.  Next , he continued with a lively shrimp dish where the shrimp was poached with a special sauce. The appetizer was served on top with an endive leaf and some of Kim’s sauce to add a little kick.

 The star of the party was the Simple Asian and Latin Holiday Pork Loin. Kim pointed out that it could be done with basically any kind of meat. Recently, he made the sauce with his Thanksgiving leftovers and it was a big hit. 

The finale was a festive Korean Milk Chocolate Pudding  that had cinnamon in it to give it that special taste. It made it a little too spicy for my taste. It was very rich though and chocolatey.

Attendees could meet and greet with Chef Kim following the event. Macy’s also had some of his sauces for sale and offered a special deal with purchase. 

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 A Century Year Old Tradition – The Walnut Room at Christmas

           

      

 Chicago is definitely a holiday town.  If you are hankering for a white Christmas, the Windy City will cater to every childhood notion about the season. From the stores on the Mag Mile to the trees, you will definitely be feeling that Christmas spirit.

Get into that holiday spirit by having lunch in the Walnut Room.  Before it was Macy’s, the State Street store was called Marshall Field’s. Look all around the store and you will find remainders of the old staple of Chicago. One of the parts of the store that was kept was the Walnut Room.  Best known as the first restaurant in the country and also the longest continuing restaurant in a department store. , Macy’s is definitely a stop on your holiday trip to Chicago. It will put the biggest Scrooges in a yuletide mood.  But be warned. YOU WILL HAVE A WAIT .   You will have to go to a stand and then signup for a pager. This will give you an opportunity to explore what was once the premiere store of the Midwest. The store has a rich history as well as great shopping in the present Macy’s tradition. When your table is ready, it will summon you back for your Christmas experience.

The centerpiece of the room is the Great Tree.  This 45 foot symbol of the season has been in the same place for at least 50 years. Early in December, Macy’s welcomes Santa and lights the tree. Diners can take photos and selfies right by the tree. You also might be fortunate to be welcomed by the many sugar plum fairies that stroll around and grant wishes. But this is just part of the fun, there is also the food .

The Walnut Room really gets in the spirit. They have even prepared a special menu just for diners . You can even go home with a special souvenir mug. On this particular day, I enjoyed one of the pointsettas. This consisted of cranberry juice and sparkling wine in a flute. Very elegant and appropriate for this historical landmark. Jen had a delicious lemonade. Since I was feeling like a kid again, I decided this time to just get when I was a kid and that was a cheeseburger.(Till the age of ten when my late father said no more cheeseburgers when I would get them in whatever type of restaurant we were eating at.) We finished off the meal with a real special treat, a caramel macchiato pot de crème . The white chocolate mousse was rich and the sea salt caramel sauce mixed to give almost a tirasmu taste to this fancy dessert.

The Great Tree will be up until January 7. The Walnut Room has special holiday hours and also is having a special breakfast as well. For more info go to macyrestauraurants.com . Make it a special Chicago with this holiday tradition. 

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 Chicago ‘s Cheesiest Place… Gayle’s Best Ever Grilled Cheese

It’s November, and that is right next to turkeys, snowflakes, and Santa. It also means that Indian summer is a memory and the city earns the title the Windy City. These days can be brisk and cold. You need some good old fashioned comfort food and I found it right here in downtown Chicago. Gayle Voss has made something as simple as grilled cheese and made it into an art form.  Visitors coming in from O Hare from all around the world have been eating it, as well as the many shoppers, retail store workers, and others that populate the State Street area. But it is not Chicago that has captured this humble shop, the New York Post has officially declared Gayle’s one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches in America. But what makes this place so special? Perhaps it’s the details and organization of Gayle Voss and the rapport she has with her workers. Or maybe it is the farm fresh ingredients and love that she puts into each menu item that she sells? Whatever  is the formula , it works.

We walked in this morning and found Gayle and her crew putting together a cake kit that Gayle claims is the easiest chocolate cake that you can make and yes even non cooks like me can make. The kit is for a mocha chocolate chip cake to die for. Along with some other goodies, Gayle is selling these kits for 12.00.,  if you need an original and delicious hostess gift. She even makes them pretty with holiday trim and gift bags. Perfect to appease that future mother in law. There is just so much on the menu and all of it looked so good. Since it was breakfast, we had to try the “Breakfast club first. The “Club” comes with three options and we chose the first one which had pork sausage , egg, butterkase cheese (which Gayle swears by and uses on quite a few other sandwiches)and pure maple syrup. It is like eating an old fashioned breakfast at a pancake house with the sourdough bread. Much better and heartier than those other breakfast sandwiches. I will definitely be getting one the next time I am on my way to OHare. Since Gayle’s is right down from the Blue Line at Jackson, it is a convenient place to grab breakfast while you are waiting for your flight. With those cold winds blowing,  we also got the chance to pair up two old favorites, the classic grilled cheese with the tasty tomato pesto soup. The soup contains pine nuts and you just gotta dip the classic in it. It will bring back memories of those cold mornings when school was cancelled and mom made toasted cheese and tomato soup. The “sweetie pie” is so sweet you will swear you are eating a breakfast pastry with the tangy mixture of swiss cheese , pecans, and raspberry jam. Gayle has named some of her sandwiches after the places where she gets those yummy ingredients. For example the Jake is named for Jake’s Country Music where she gets her meat products. The Jake reminds me once more of home with the apple butter spread on the ham and gouda. Yummy. The River Valley  is named for the River Valley Ranch  where the mushrooms are grown. No cans here. What was the taste treat here was the sweet onion marmalade that was spread over the grilled mushrooms. My personal favorite !  We also got the chance to munch on the world famous cheese curds made from the sourdough bread crumbs and deep fried with the butterkase cheese inside. They were little balls of heaven according to Jen.

Next time you are downtown, head over to Block 37 and visit Gayle and her gang. They will leave you with a taste you won’t soon forget and you will understand why Chicago travelers find this cheese utopia.  Gayle’s is located at 108 N State Street , Suite 27 , right on the Pedway and they are open from 7 to 3. Starting Nov 20th, Gayle’s will be open from 7 am to 6pm so holiday shoppers and travelers can indulge. Gayle will also special make your order spicier or gluten free as well.
http://www.gaylesandwichshopchicago.com

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Mamma Mia! What an Experience!  Vero Pizza and Pasta

Imagine the scenario that you have had an emergency and someone you love has gone to the hospital. Or maybe your boss has invited her and her spouse to dinner. You don’t have time to run to the store or get a caterer. Well let me tell you about a new service that can help make your life a little easier. Here in the Midwest, I came across a subscription meal service that embraces that old world Italian feel. They also use only the freshest ingredients and best of all it ‘s fun. Vero Pizza and Pasta is stationed out of St Louis.  It’s family feel comes from the “Collier” family and the time they spent in Italy. I told them that Jen is part Sicilian and grew up with homemade Italian. They were definitely up for the challenge.

They make sure that you get your package and their customer service rocks. Johnny made sure that we got taken care of when we had some shipping issues. They also pack some goodies so the whole family can have fun while they learn about cooking and the Italian culture. Ours had hats and coloring for Halloween . We had fun doing them. They picked two dishes , a pasta and a pizza.

They send you all of the ingredients , meat , cheese, and spices. Cheese is definitely the word. Have no fear, if you can’t cook they send easy recipes with all the steps. If you still are confused, just watch one of the videos that shows you how. The first dish was a scrumptious Casio de Pepe shells and broccoli rabe. The shells were the freshest and actually had to pulled out before they were cooked. The sauce was heavenly and creamy and the broccoli was fresh.  The second  dish was more conventional  and much more fun . It was also a little more messy. Coming from the city known for pizza, actually making our own pizza from the dough was interesting. We added all of the ingredients , except the swiss chard. It was as good as the fancy , designer pizzas that we taste for the blog.  The verdict is that they use ingredients that are not likely to get thrown away. The swiss chard I used to put on sandwiches and burgers that following week, so nothing went to waste.

The greatest part is that the purchased meal  also provides  for a child that normally won’t eat. It is nice to know that the kids in third world countries can be fed, but remember even here at home children are starving.  Operation Food Service in St Louis has partnered up with Vero to make sure those kids have warm food in their stomachs.  Vero Pizza and Pasta is stationed in St Louis but will ship. For more info: visit http://www.pizzaandpasta.com

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 Drink In A Box is a Stylish Way to Bring Refreshment With You

There are so many beverage containers on the market today. They come in different colors, different shapes, portable containers that collapse, and even one that can cool you off with a fan.  The most important thing is to keep the beverage cool and then to allow it to travel. But sometimes the container may not fit in your bag or might leak, then you have a problem.

In the past Precidio has developed the 8 oz Drink in the Box,  this is the perfect size for parents to hydrate their little ones. It allows them to keep the bad chemicals out as well as the sugar for their kids. But recently, they developed a larger container . I was quite excited when I received my adult drink box. It came at the perfect time. I was packing for my first trip to Fashion Week in New York. With its white Tritan design, it looked sleek and modern chic. It was the perfect companion to bring with me as I walked the streets of Manhattan in seventy degree weather. Somehow it had that Fashion Week look, with its design and it was also easy to pack in my carry on.

That Drink in a Box was a godsend. Every day that I was there, the temperature was in the seventies. Not at all inappropriate for mid September. While I had no problem , my co editor used it for pop and she didn’t have the same luck as me. This causes me to give the container a C…. but I do like its design and sleekness. Not your Captain America drink container. It is perfect for the stylish and also for college students as well.


 

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Urban Crosta- Streeterville ‘s Answer to Gourmet Pizza 

It could be described as a cross between  Chicago and New York style pizzas. But one thing for sure is that  it is truly extraordinary. Located off of the Mag Mile in Streeterville, Urban Crosta is the perfect break from shopping, an evening at the theatre, or just something to pick up on the way home from work. It is located near Hotel  Row and convenient to  Lurie Children’s and Northwestern Medical Centers.  But if you are tired of the conventional and chain pizzas, this is a place that you should definitely check out.

We started out with our usual beverages. Jen had her soda and I pondered the cocktail menu. I found a winner with the Tipsy Tea. It was a mixture of sweet tea vodka, peach puree, lemon juice , and Old Forrester Bourbon. Surprisingly, it had a refreshing taste and the puree countered the whiskey. It was a yummy way to start the meal.

While we were trying to decide on what pizza to have, we nibbled on one of the appetizers. The Spinach Artichoke dip was outstanding.  The chiles gave the dip a little bit of a kick but it was married well with the parmesan cheese . It gave the rather plain dip a sophisticated taste.


 The salads had that gourmet taste as well. They were not just lettuce and veggies, they were truly works of art. The Caesar was garnished with anchovies as well as the requisite croutons and parmesan. My salad was called the Arugula Avocado. The best part of the salad was the citrusy feel combined with the goat cheese and pieces of grapefruit . The salad was drizzled with a balsamic orange vinaigrette. The light taste was a nice overture to the main course. 

Crosta’s spotlight was definitely the pizza and we were happy to find out that they also sell by the slice. Not only that, you can also make your own slice. Perfect for that upcoming holiday shopping.  I had to try their steak chimichurra pizza. The skirt steak was tender and I liked that it that thick thin crust with the kicky taste. Since Jen is Sicilian, to her pizza is sacred and she went with their “build your own’ pizza option. The pizzas are made in stone ovens and that’s what gives it that gourmet taste. She made a pizza with mozzarella, mushrooms, olives, and sausage and everything was so fresh I could smell the mushrooms as we took them home.  

The perfect ending to a meal like this was the perfect dessert and that is exactly what we had . We were treated with a piece of the sweetest and most moist piece of cheesecake and the richest tiramisu . It was the most excellent way to end this Italian eating experience. Brava! To the people at Urban Crosta!

Urban Crosta is located at 355 E Ohio, a block from Lake Shore Drive and a couple blocks from the Mag Mile. They don’t open until 4 but stay open till midnight on Fri and Sat. The rest of the week they are open until ten. It is the perfect rest from the hustle and bustle of the Mag Mile.

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Beautiful Treasures Await You at Mountain Mama Pearls 

There isn’t anything more precious than a jewel from the ocean. When I was a little girl, I can remember going to Sea World in Ohio and watching Asian girls diving to find oysters for the guests . My dad would get one for my mom and then we would watch them open it to find the pearl inside. He usually had it mounted in a ring for her. I always wanted one of my own. Well thanks to Erica at Mama Mountain Pearls, now I do. Erica started the business after attending pearl parties with her mom.  She hails from one of my favorite states, Vermont. She decided to bring this tradition to West Virginia. By starting this company, she hopes to bring those happy memories to others through Pick a Pearl Parties. You don’t even have to strap on a mask or get wet. Just gather a group of gal pals, pour some drinks and watch as the girls open your pearls and then you can have them mounted in any group of beautiful settings. Erica loves to throw these on line parties and there are always giveaways  as well.

Erica was totally awesome and customer friendly. She sent me an oyster and a cage so I could mount the necklace myself. Her directions were so simple and there was minimal mess if you chose to have your oyster sent. It is kind of more fun and your kids will learn about how pearls grow in oysters. With the party, jewelry is sent after it is mounted. I say that they are awesome because my pearl and necklace arrived the day I was flying to NYFW. We were so busy packing , that we misplaced the necklace. I felt so bad , but Erica is so much of a sweetheart that she sent me another necklace free of charge. Most merchants won’t do that , but Erica did. Now I have a beautiful necklace.

For a fun experience or educational one, Mountain Mama Pearls will give you a unique experience you won’t soon forget and you will also have a new stunning piece of jewelry.

Mountainmamapearls.com  

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