Yes, I have died and gone to heaven. At a recent wedding party here in Chicago (held at the lovely A New Leaf event space), we were served a variety of delicious bites from local caterer, Food For Thought. The favorite of the evening was the Cheesecake-on-a-Stick, served "thoughtfully" (ba dum dum!) in a square of grass, with real dirt! Not only did the presentation "wow", but the cheesecake, covered in a chocolate shell, was rich and delicious. Hands down, some of the best passed party food I've had in a while.

You can see someone doing the YMCA in the background here.

Food For Thought
500 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
P: 312.572.7234

And with that, I'm off to my 10-year high school reunion in Dallas. Hope to have some BBQ and southern food updates for you upon my return!

*Photos by Javier Ayala


Vegetarian Challenge 2009

My dear friend Chris, consummate meat-eater, preparer, and appreciator, has agreed to participate in The City Vegetable's Vegetarian Challenge '09. For one week, Chris will only eat vegetarian - that means no ribs, no steak and definitely no duck-fat fries! Check back next week for what's sure to be an interesting post by Chris, on his week of vegetable joy. (ps - I'm not doing this to prove a point or anything. It's really just for my entertainment)


Old Timers: For Sure

In Chicago's Loop, a neighborhood full of fancy hotel bars and chain fast food restaurants, Old Timers Bar is refreshingly cheap, divey, and full of a character all its own. Bar stools, booths, and cheap beers are their specialty. Just don't order a dirty martini - this is a whiskey and PBR joint - and I like it that way.

Old Timer's
75 E Lake St
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 332-3561


Being Witty at theWit

My work team was invited to the chi-chi Grand Opening of theWit, the trendy new hotel located at the intersection of State and Lake, that has been making waves with it's fabulous rooftop bar, Roof. The opening night consisted of tours of the various properties within the hotel - the Spa, the two restaurants, State and Lake and Cibo Matto, the Screening room, and of course, Roof. The food was artistic bite-sized portions of some of the dishes available at the hotel's restaurants and the drinks, from cucumber mojitos to vanilla infused vodka cocktails, showed the creativity of the 'tenders manning the property's many bars. Oh, and did I mention, everything was free? Photo recap of one fabulous night below...

One of two avian-inspired chandeliers, hanging in the grand lobby. The super high ceiling really gives the room an air of sophistication and creates a great "wow" moment when you enter the hotel.

We were taken up to the 26th floor to see some sample rooms, and they were are all extremely well-done, trendy and spacious. Here, sir Javier is lounging on one of the rust-colored chaise lounges in the double suite.

This is Screen, a 40-seat mini movie theatre. You can rent it out for everything from corporate presentations to Super Bowl parties. The plush reclining seats were the epitome of comfort, and popcorn and wine (is there a better combination? I don't think so) was served while we saw a short sample movie on the big "Screen".

Now we get to the good stuff. The food started out with a seafood bar.

Crab claws, pre-cracked so all the fabulous party attendees didn't have to put much effort into eating the succulent meat.

Ceviche shooters.

These crudite cups were a favorite of ours. Consisting of asparagus, patty pan squash, baby carrots, and broccoli with a delicious (and I'm sure, fat free!) dressing in the bottom of the cup, this was a creative way to serve veggies and dip.


The presentation was gorgeous - an all ice bar (I felt like I was at that ice hotel in Iceland) with flowing vodka cocktails and all-you-can-eat caviar. Yes, please.

Now, to the dessert bar. Nothing gets me going like mini-desserts! These were pannacotta cups with orange gelee.

And mini lemon meringue pies. Delicious and cute!

Next up, to Roof! Waiting in line for the elevator...I think Javier was doing the robot.

Once again, I can't get over this view.

Fun times, had by all.

Summer people! (with cucumber mojitos)


Cheap Eats: BEANS

I often get teased for my love of beans. That's right bean-haters, I LOVE beans! Healthy, tasty, and filling, the humble legume is one of my go to foods and if you're on a budget, a friendly-on-your-wallet meal. One can refry beans, make them into a dip, hummus or the filling for a taco, create a soup or puree, or even form them into patties for a healthy vegetarian burger. But this City Vegetable usually just sticks to the basics by making a big pot of well seasoned beans from scratch. Sure, I'll use canned beans in a pinch but that's not quite as rewarding (or delicious) as making your own. Gather 'round and I'll tell you my secrets...

Go to your local grocery store - preferably Pete's, and buy one large bag of dried beans. I usually go for black or pinto beans, but by all means, if you see a bag of pigeon peas, go wild! You can usually get 10-12 servings for around $3.00 - a super steal. Now that you've secured a bag of beans for only a few bucks, you can start infusing them with a flavor, all your own.

Mama's Beans
One large bag of dried beans
One large white onion
One large tomato
2-3 cloves of garlic
One stalk of celery
Olive Oil
Chicken or vegetable stock
Cumin, Red Pepper, Salt & Pepper
1 or 2 chipotle chilies, with a few teaspoons of adobo sauce, for an ever so slight smoky flavor (optional but recommended, you can get these canned at most grocery stores)
**secret ingredient***A few splashes of Italian dressing

FOR GARNISH(the more, the better):
One Avocado
Diced pickled jalapenos
Cotija or Chihuahua cheese
Tortilla crisps

1. Rinse and soak the beans overnight in a large pot of lightly salted water. If I forget to do this, I often soak my beans while I'm at work. It just helps them cook faster.
2. Drain beans, add to pot of vegetable (or chicken) stock and bring to a boil.
3. Add diced onion, tomato, celery and garlic. No need to precook - they will cook with the beans. If you're using the chipotle chilies, finely chop these as well and add to the pot.
4. Bring to a rolling boil and cook until the beans are soft. This takes some time.
5. Read a book or watch Access Hollywood.
6. Add your seasonings and continue to taste during the process. Adjust the liquid level depending on your preference. I usually like to leave a little liquid so that the beans are a bit soupy.
7. Add chopped fresh cilantro and a few tablespoons of Italian dressing to the pot.
8. Serve and garnish with any or all of the above listed accoutrements.
9. Ask your bean-hating friends to taste the dish and watch as they love it! Boo-ya!


Dinner Party Disaster

My dear friend Kate (also City Veg contributor and "Voice of Meat" for this blog) recently bought a brand spanking new condo in Humboldt Park, and decided to have a few friends over for a summer dinner party. Well, what started out as fun for all, ended with one broken heirloom, 7 years of bad luck and possibly, a few broken hearts. (OK, I'm exaggerating about the broken hearts...or am I?)

The food itself was great, and Kate, ever the hostess, even did vegetarian because she knew my non-meat ass was joining.

Kate and Walter, enjoying the company.

We started out with this simple and classic salad - mesculan greens, fresh, blanched green beans, and new potatoes with a simple vinagrette. It is easy being green!

Tim really wanted that cheers from Hannah.

The main course was a recipe that Kate got from her brother (culinary goodness must run in their genes). For lack of better words, I'd call this Eggplant Roll-up. It was simply eggplant, sliced thin, stuffed with cheese, rolled up, dipped in batter, pan fried, covered in red sauce & mozzarella cheese and baked until crispy. Phew! Ok so maybe it's not so simple, but hearty vegetarian comfort food at its best. To go along with the meal, Kate also had HOMEMADE BREAD. Yes, it was amazing.

You may be wondering where the disaster came. Towards the end of the meal, somehow (I blame Desi), one of Kate's fancy-pants heirloom bowls got knocked off of the side table and shattered. As the pieces of ceramic were being cleaned up, I decided to shake things up a bit and knocked over Kate's mirror in the bathroom - shattering it into tiny shards of sharp glass. Yes, I am an amazing dinner guest and yes, I am now expecting 7 years of bad luck. But this, my friends, was a small price to pay for a great dinner with great company. See you all in 7 years!


Walter was so broken-hearted by how the night unfolded, he hit the bottle.


Abuelo's Opening in Pilsen

New restaurant alert! Right across the street from the Pink Line Stop at Damen (and conveniently located one block from my apartment), Abuelo's is opening at the end of July. It's not like my neighborhoods needs another Mexican food restaurant but I am excited nonetheless. While they were loading in building materials last night, I took a quick sneak peek into the restaurant and saw a very modern space, decorated with National Geographic magazines and various album covers, making me wonder if this isn't going to be your standard taco shop. More to come soon...


The Well-Traveled Palate

I took another trip to the Chicago Downtown Farmstand last week, and found that they were featuring locally made items from Kamdar Plaza on Devon Avenue. I was glad to get to try some items from the uptown Indian grocery store, as a trek from Pilsen to Devon without a car, isn't exactly a quick one. (I do need to try to get there in person soon, as I just accidentally spent an hour on their web site, and I'm sure could kill a few hours in the actual store.)

So while at the Farmstand, I picked out some Chappati, a light Indian flatbread, a container of parsley-heavy tabouleh and a tub of hummus. All I needed for a perfectly light dinner.

When I got home, I was upset to realize that I had no cheese in the fridge. Basically, as a rule, I need cheese in everything I eat so I had to remedy this right away. But the grocery stores next to my apartment only sell Mexican cheeses, so I ran out and picked up a container of Cotija cheese. Crumbly like Parmesan, it's similar in flavor to Feta and adds a nice saltiness to any dish.

So with the Mexican grocery store and Cotija as my inspiration (I was thinking tacos), I put together a hummus and tabouleh flatbread sprinkled with Cotija. A little Mexican, a little Indian, and a little Middle-Eastern - it was a multicultural meal to please the most well-traveled of palates!


Cauliflower Soup with Blue Potatoes

When I first moved to Chicago from NYC, one of the things I missed the most was walking down to Union Square and picking up a bushel of vegetables to fill my coffers for the week. I of course checked out Green City Market, which was great in terms of variety and products offered, but I found it to be expensive. I was used to heading to the market with a crisp $20 and coming back to my little apartment with enough food for a few meals. I found at the Green City Market, my $20 didn't stretch quite as far.

Which is why I was happy to discover the every-Thursday Daley Plaza Farmer's Market. This was closer to what I had loved in NYC - $2 for a head of cabbage, two bags of fresh from the ground lettuce for $5.00, $2 for a fennel bulb, 1 pound of red and blue potatoes for $3, $1 for the largest head of cauliflower I've ever seen, and my splurge for the day - $5 for a carton of tart red currants.

I knew that with that large head of cauliflower, I would make a soup. Soup in the summer can seem weird but with the mild weather we've been having in Chicago, I knew it would work out just fine. And to add some texture and I hoped, color, to the soup, I decided to add in chunks of these fabulous blue potatoes. Just look at the color here!

Cauliflower Soup with Blue Potatoes
One large head of cauliflower (or 2 smaller ones)
Vegetable(or chicken) stock
2 cups of chopped blue potatoes
Olive oil
Ground Sage and celery salt
Salt and Pepper
Mozzarella cheese and diced pickled jalapenos for garnish
Immersion blender

1. Clean and cut up the cauliflower. Use both the florets and stalks.
2. Add to a pot of vegetable or chicken stock and bring to a boil
3. Cook until tender, add the potatoes and continue cooking until the potatoes are soft
4. Season with sage, celery salt, salt and pepper
5. Place your immersion blender into the pot and blend the soup until smooth. If you don't have an immersion blender, get one! Kidding...kidding. Just blend the soup in a regular blender or food processor
6. Serve with mozzarella cheese, diced pickled jalapenos for a bit of a kick and drizzle with olive oil

I was actually hoping that the potatoes would turn the soup a light blue color, but alas, they did not. I think next time I'll add more blue potatoes and see what we get...all in all, a delicious and not entirely out of place summer soup.

Daley Plaza (100 N - 50 W), North of Washington
Weekly: Every Thursday
From: May 14, 2009 to Oct 15, 2009
7 am - 3 pm
As soon as I start to see heirloom tomatoes here, I will let you dear readers know.


Spicy Bok Choy with a Fried Egg

After my weekly pilgrimage to the South Loop Whole Foods, I ended up with some organic bok choy, sweet red onions, grape tomatoes and various containers of soy meats. I decided to make these items work into a healthy little meal. I grabbed my grill pan and a bottle of sambal (I go through about one a week. I think I'm a prime candidate for an upcoming stomach ulcer) and got to work.

Before I started though, I decided to make some art with my head of bok choy. I am such an artiste!

Spicy Bok Choy
One head of bok choy, washed
Olive oil
Sambal paste
Rice wine vinegar
Celery salt, pepper, and cumin

1. Heat your grill or grill pan, and coat with olive oil (a thin layer) and a few tablespoons of sambal. Careful, a little of this hot stuff goes a long way.
2. Slice the bok choy into grillable pieces, place on the grill and LEAVE
3. Check for grill marks. If there, flip and WAIT
4. Season with celery salt and pepper
5. When the bok choy is grilled to your liking, remove and dress with any of the leftover sambal (which should now be a bit caramelized) and a few splashes of rice wine vinegar.
6. Enjoy with a fried egg (runny yolk style) and various other grilled veggies.

Simple, classic, and healthy.

Runny egg-yolk close up. glumuymmmgumymymy (this is the noise I imagine a runny egg yolk to make)


It Came To Me In a Dream...

This, is a romantically-lit screenshot from my future dreams.

It's the dessert sampler at downtown's Trattoria No. 10. Delicious, nutritious (?), and sweet to the max, this chef's selection included chocolate-orange panna cotta, elephant ear crisps, tiramasu, chocolate covered strawberries, profiteroles with Valrhona chocolate sauce, apple crisp with vanilla-bean ice cream, fruit and a flourless chocolate cake. The only way this could have been better, is if they had thrown in a few Pocky sticks.

So 8,543 calories and a sugar-rush later, I decided that the dessert wasn't even the best part of the meal. I heartily recommend Trattoria for classic Italian food with a twist and of course, leave room for dessert(s).

Odds 'n Ends

The City Veg spent July 4th suffering through a bad bout of Bronchitis and let's just say I am totally caught up on all episodes of America's Next Top Model and The Next Food Network Star. I also had a lot of time on my hands to browse some of my favorite food sites and here are some highlights:

• Serious Eats tries Bobby Flay's Plantain Shoestring Fries. While I've never had a freshly fried plantain, I am a fan of the prepackaged salty plantain chips you find at your local bodega. Don't judge. [Serious Eats]

• Chicagoist gives a shout out to tonight's Iron Cupcake Challenge, held at Veranda Greek American Taverna. The theme is tropical. I'd prefer the theme be chocolate, vanilla creme, caramel and strawberries but I'll take what I can get. [Chicagoist]

• The new all-the-rage site, Fancy Fast Food, takes fast food meals and turns them into the stuff of fine dining dreams. Peep their Dao Mi Noh Chow Mein (Fancy Domino’s Pizza). This is genius. [Fancy Fast Food]

• The Amateur Gourmet slaves over some Michael Jackson Tribute cookies. These would have been amazing to bring to the Michael Jackson Tribute Party I went to on Friday night. [The Amateur Gourmet]

• Sham'on! Matt Bites creates a gorgeous photo project in honor of Skillet's Bacon Jam. [Matt Bites]

• The Girl Who Eats Everything was in Korea eating...well, everything! Her gorgeous photos make me want to book the next flight to Seoul. (and those awesome Korean Airline commercials). [The Girl Who Ate Everything]

• Grab Your Fork explores the burger craze in Sydney. [Grab Your Fork]


Rufus Gets A Treat From Precious Pup

In honor of my dog Rufus' 2nd birthday, my coworker, who just happens to own a wonderful little store - Precious Pup, Dog Boutique and Barkery - in Hobart, IN, brought in a birthday treat for Roo. I couldn't get a shot with Rufus and the special birthday gift because he literally scarfed it down in about .243 seconds. Here he is chillin', post-treat. He's all, "more please!" And take a look at this...

No, this isn't for humans! But...if you were really hungry, or accidentally mistook this for a mini-cupcake and gobbled it down, do not fear! All of the pet treats at Precious Pup are made with human grade ingredients, which means you could eat 20 of these and feel just fine. If you want to stock up on these cute treats (for your dog...) and more, head on down to Hobart, just over the Indiana-Illinois border, and tell them Shannon sent ya!

Precious Pup
Dog Boutique and Barkery
220 Main St
Hobart, IN 46342-4449
(219) 947-7711