Category Archives: guest blogger

A guest blogger gets all sappy…

Actually, my friend, fellow foodie, Restaurant Intelligence Agency creative mastermind, dedicated dining partner and all around nifty young fellow Matt Kirouac didn’t actually get sappy for his guest blog post at all, but he did report on a sticky situation— his very fun and very important job as judge at the National Maple Syrup festival in Indiana a couple weeks ago. From the twisting paths of tapped maple trees to maple Italian cream cake and maple was a true maplepalooza.

Tapping into the sugar trails

Memorable Moments From My Weekend at the National Maple Syrup Festival

I recently attended the National Maple Syrup Festival in Medora, Indiana, where I was asked to be a judge at the King Arthur Sweet Victory Challenge. Criticizing maple dishes is what I do best, after all.

Chatting with Tim Burton, head honcho at Burton’s Maplewood Farm, was the highlight of the weekend. He exudes energy and generosity, not to mention his killer maple tea, made with maple sap. The tea bar has been raised.

The Sweet Victory Challenge (aka the American Idol of maple syrup, per me) was fun, if a bit disappointing that two entrants’ recipes failed before we could taste. My favorite was the five-spice pudding with maple glaze. It didn’t win.

The winner was a maple Italian cream cake. Not so good was the maple “upside-down” cake, which was not upside-down in any way. And it was inexplicably flavored with Greek yogurt. No.

Exploring the “sugar trails” in the woods on the farm was incredible. Sounds like real-life Candyland, but actually they were just paths winding around tapped maple trees. Along the way, folks clad in colonial garb demonstrated antiquated maple-ing. We tasted maple sugar made the old-fashioned way and it was sublime.
— Matt Kirouac

An example of said antiquated maple-ing

Maple Italian cream cake...holy yum


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Mystery salt and pepper shakers

Hint: A different set of shakers grace each table at this famous Chicago restaurant. Guess which one it is for a chance to guest blog.

Santa chefs?


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Guest Blog Post: La Madia

I was SO happy when guest blogger Nicole Nelson (who guessed the Pump Room mystery post correctly) chose La Madia for her post, because I truly love the pizza at this place. She decided to blog it because she doesn’t think the word is out, and I agree. I don’t think the location is ideal, but once you discover the brick-oven fired pizzas, and uh, pizza fondue (what the?), you will be glad you did. Nicole runs the blog Great Dates in the City, a fun little blog full of fashion and food goodies. Her guest post and pics below:

La Madia Za

A Little Slice of Heaven

Tucked in the heart of River North, you will find a little slice of heaven who makes THE best pizza in Chicago. La Madia. This gourmet pizzeria and wine bar are unbeknownst to tourists and surprisingly lots of Windy City locals. Although not your typical stuffed crust, this cozy, trendy spot will have you at hello and their food will have you coming back for more.

It is an absolute sin if you come to La Madia and do not order their pizza fondue. Yes, EVEN if you plan on getting pizza. I have never had anything like it and you won’t either.

Every one of their pizzas is baked in their brick oven and let me tell ya…you can tell a difference! The “Triple Pepperoni with White Truffle Oil” and “Cracked Organic Egg w/ Proscuitto and Black Pepper” are to die for.

Don’t forget to ask about their daily $5 wine specials and my boyfriend loves the beer selection. They even pour your brew in the corresponding beer glass. Love when they do that!

Between the wine bar, lounge, fireplace, and modern décor, La Madia is great for a date, an after work drink, and a lovely dinner out. And just a little trick for you…if you sit at the pizza bar you receive a complimentary glass of Prossecco. Score!


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Guest blog post: JenyLee CupCakery

Last Friday night I attended my friend’s birthday party where his fiance surprised him on stage of the show she was performing in with a song, and a cupcake topped with a plastic Superman ring and a lit candle. Yes, we are talking about a 37-year-old man, but it wasn’t the superhero theme of it all I was hating on, it was the store-bought cupcake. Dry, crumbly, bland, almost cornmeal-y, with sticky strangely red frosting.. we all unfortunately got one. Luckily our own superhero accessory on top saved the day (I rocked my Spidey ring for the rest of the night). But it reminded me of two things: one, that that no matter their age, guys will always be obsessed with Superheroes, and two… that I hadn’t had a good cupcake in far too when Amber Gibson decided to blog about Naperville-based JenyLee CupCakery for her second guest post..I was thrilled…and even more so that she did her post interview-style… and cool is the word “cupcakery”?

Hazelnut mocha

“I’m obsessed with cupcakes and I’m kind of a floozy when it comes to Chicago’s cupcake bakeries. I’ll try any and all of them, and if there’s a new flavor, I’ve got to have it too. I never thought much of the suburban cupcake scene though. That is, until I tried my first JenyLee Cupcakery delivery-only cupcake. I was impressed by how moist all of her cakes are and her creative flavors.

Of the cupcakes I sampled, Peanut Butter Candy and Key Lime were my favorite. Key Lime was the perfect ode to the end of summer, while the peanut butter, which I was afraid might be too rich, was just right. Reese’s pieces inside and on top were the perfect touch to this decadent cupcake.

Cherry Chocolate Chip was like Cherry Garcia (my favorite ice cream flavor) in a cupcake and inspired me to do some baking of my own with fresh cherries. Next time, I need to try her Tiramisu, Pistachio and Salted Caramel flavors. Salted Caramel is JenyLee’s flavor of the month, with a portion of the proceeds going to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Jeny Lee of JenyLee CupCakery

Past life: Project manager at Tellab’s for 13 years

Café du Monde moment: Jeny was inspired by the success of New Orlean’s famous Cafe du Monde, which sells just beignets and coffee. “Why do I have to do cakes? Dinosaurs and Dora? I don’t have to do any of that stuff. I can do what I do best.” Mardi Gras colors also inspired her website.

Milestone: June 2011 marked her one-year anniversary, and JenyLee Cupcakery is still a one-woman show. “ It’s still hard, I’m still at a make or break point. Cash flow is becoming an issue, but I’m going to stick it out as long as I can.”

Brick-and-mortar: While her own bakery is still in the works, you can soon taste JenyLee’s cupcakes at the SciTech Hands On Museum. The perfect solution for those who want to buy just one or two cupcakes as opposed to ordering by the half-dozen.

Favorite Chicago cupcakery: Molly’s Cupcakes. “Molly’s has not failed me ever.”

New flavor: French Toast. “There’ll be maple syrup and bacon. I want to get it out there before anyone steals my idea!”

Peanut butter candy

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Guest blog post: Taste of the Nation

Writer-foodie-intern-model extraordinaire Amber Gibson guessed not one, but two mystery posts this month, so she’s got some guest blogging in her future. Her first installment is her account of Taste of the Nation, held last week at Navy Pier. I have never attended the event, but after reading about her top tastes of the night (namely sweet corn and watermelon), I will have to check it out next year…her mini review below…

“Goodbye poorly air-conditioned Aragon, hello Navy Pier! Taste of the Nation was even better than last year and the weather couldn’t have been more lovely as the night ended with guests happily stuffed and mesmerized by fireworks. Plus, this year the desserts were sprinkled throughout the main floor instead of tucked away on a separate level, so it was easy to enjoy sweets interspersed with the savory offerings.

Top Tastes
1) Sprout’s Fig Thing With Cookie— they threw everything from bacon to frisee and red wine blueberry jam on a plate with a thyme shortbread cookie and somehow this salad-desperately-wishing-it-were-a-dessert worked.
2) Boka’s Criollo Chocolate Creméux with Yogurt Orange Blossom Water & Michigan Raspberries – Kady Yon’s swan song at Boka before she heads to Pump Room. She’ll be sorely missed.
3) MK’s Kumamoto Oyster & Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho Shooter – never had an oyster like this before, but the briny flavor was perfect with gazpacho.
4) Andrew Schicker of GT Fish & Oyster’s Fresh Grape Sidecar with Pierre Ferrand, Combier, lemon and grapes. Schicker didn’t add any sugar to sweeten this drink, instead using muddled grapes for a perfectly light and fruity refreshment.

Most Impressive
Tru’s Meyer Lemon Gelée with fennel cream and black olive was the only dish served in a glass as opposed to plastic, and the tart lemon made this the perfect intermezzo between heavier courses. Moto’s ACME “camping dessert” may have really been just an interesting chocolate truffle with a liquid graham cracker center, but Ben Roche lit the dessert on fire. Gimmicky? Perhaps, but impressive nevertheless. Roche said he experimented for more than a month to come up with the perfect dehydrated marshmallow fuse for this s’mores bomb. MarketHouse’s Scott Walton was making it rain black gold, generously shaving winter truffle atop his Lobster and Smoked Corn ensemble.

Sweet corn and watermelon dishes popped up everywhere and began running together in my mind after a few too many cocktails and more than 50 dishes. I’m not complaining though. A refreshingly simple watermelon salad is so good, I don’t mind having it a half-dozen times. With desserts, there were too many half-hearted crémeuxs, puddings and panna cottas to count. And everyone from Cafe Spiaggia to Sunday Dinner to Girl & the Goat were serving caponata.

Awkward moment of the night
Getting my dress splattered with Manchego espuma at the Mercat a la Planxa booth, courtesy of Chef Cory Morris.”

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Guest blog post: El Mercado Meat Market

Leave it to a Second City sketch comedy writing program alum to turn his guest blogging opportunity into a script. I met the talented and hilarious Corey McKenna while performing as an actor in his Second City Writing 6 show, Sketches with Wolves last fall, and was thrilled when he guessed a recent mystery sign post correctly. For his guest post, Corey found a way to combine his love of sketch writing and El Mercado Meat Market empanadas…..

Mercado Meat Market

Hi, my name is Corey McKenna and here is a conversation I imagine us having. I am ME and you are YOU.
ME: El Mercado Meat Market on Southport and Grace. It’s Argentinian.
YOU: Ugh, not another Argentinian meat market. Those were cool back when I was into collecting stamps. Am I right? (laughing arrogantly)
ME: That’s an obscure reference. I don’t get it. What does that even mean?
YOU: Forget it. What’s in the bag?
ME: This bag is filled with empanadas from El Mercado Meat Market. Here, have the beef empanada. It’ll completely change your mind about Argentinian meat markets.
YOU: (with mouth full) Oh, wow.
ME: Isn’t it delicious?
YOU: Yes. The flaky crust is the perfect companion to the well-seasoned minced beef it envelopes. The peppered beef gives it a slight spice that I haven’t tasted in other empanadas made in the neighborhood.
ME: A very astute observation. Now try their chicken empanada. Isn’t it delicious?
YOU: (with mouth full) Are you kidding me? This is to die for. Hey, what’s that one?
ME: It’s the spinach empanada. Its filling is comprised of spinach, garlic and ricotta cheese. What do you think?
YOU: (with mouth full) Fantastic! But, what does it cost to put these empanadas into my stomach? Probably a fortune, right?
ME: $1.29.
YOU: Get right out of town, this instant. $1.29? Amazing! Thank you so much for telling me about this, Corey! I will always remember you for this. If I ever have children, I will name every one of them ‘Corey’ to remind me of today’s conversation. Here, accept this [item of jewelry]. It runs through my family for generations. Take it. Wear it. And remember me. Now, forgive me, but I must go now.
ME: I graciously accept your [item of jewelry]. But why must you leave so suddenly?
YOU: It’s about time I dust off that stamp collection. Argentinian meat markets are back, baby.
El Mercado Meat Market, 3767 N. Southport


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Guest post: A Brunch Best-Of

Ah, so many mystery post guessers…so little time. Last week we featured a bounty of bacon, and this week it’s all about brunch. When two awesome local brunch bloggers, Bunny and Brandy guessed the Ing mystery beer flight post correctly, I couldn’t wait to see what they’d choose for their guest post. How brilliant is it to try to scope out a new Chicago brunch destination every weekend, aaaand how do I get invited? For now, I will just salivate over their “sweet and savory” best-of list, which includes six dishes I have never had and enviably awesome food photos…

Bunny and Brandy’s Favorite Sweeties and Savories
(In no particular order)

1. Butterscotch Bacon Donut from Nightwood: One of the best combos of sweet and savory out there. If the name alone isn’t enough to tempt you, you have no soul. Nightwood, 2119 S. Halsted St.

Holy #%!^**#% these look good.

2. Eggs New Orleans from Big Jones: Not your ordinary Eggs Benedict, this one is served over a crab cakes and pop-overs. The potatoes on the side aren’t bad either! Big Jones, 5347 N. Clark.

Jonesin' for eggs Benedict at Big Jones

3. Spiced Apple Couscous from Hearty Boys: A twist on traditional oatmeal, this couscous is made with cream and dried fruit. Beats Quaker Instant any day! Hearty Boys, 3403 N. Halsted.
4. Chicken and Waffles from Nana: A savory waffle, amazing fried chicken strips, and pork sausage gravy. This is as far away from its Waffle House inspiration as you can get! Nana, 3267 S. Halsted.

No, I mean, honestly, stop...

5. Brioche French Toast at Socca: Served with creamy vanilla gelato and bourbon sauce, this little dish packs a punch! Socca, 3301 N. Clark.

GAAWW...I didn't even know they had brunch at Socca!...I am so there for this

6. Baked Egg with Polenta from M. Henrietta: As gorgeous as it is scrumptious, this egg sits on a bed of creamy polenta, wrapped in bacon, and is served with the most visually pleasing salad one could ever dream of. M. Henrietta, 1131 W. Granville Ave.

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Guest blog: Baconfest 2011

While I am not fast enough to jump on Baconfest 2011 tickets, my dedicated readers are! So when Jacky Hackett of cooking blog guessed her second post correctly, (this time the mystery goat), she asked if a post on Baconfest would be, er, Kosher? Since I didn’t get to bask in the bacon-ocity, I was happy to get her full report as well as some mouth-watering photos below…

Baconfest 2011 and the crowd is ready to go hog-wild

“My husband and I were lucky enough to score tickets to Baconfest 2011. Baconfest is four hours of bacon goodness with some of Chicago’s greatest chefs preparing amazing dishes, and a few liquor sponsors provided drinks featuring bacon. But it’s not only about the swine, a food-drive is run at the event and a portion of the Baconfest proceeds are donated to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

We arrived at the UIC Forum to find a line winding around the block. Bacon fans poured over the menu to plot their strategy for working their way through the fest. The menu was an amazing read with offerings like bacon cotton candy, bacon biscotti, bacon-stuffed bacon, applewood smoked bourbon bacon jam, BLT martinis and bacon-infused rum. With more than 50 dishes it was a bit overwhelming; you truly did need a strategy.

We managed to hit about two-thirds of the stations. Even though servings were small, we got quite full after just a handful of dishes. A few of the chefs were out of food before we got to them, some just weren’t appealing enough to add to our overly full bellies, and a few we just overlooked. Choosing a favorite would be like choosing a favorite child, it just can’t be done…but here are a few we’re still thinking about..

Old Town Social (Jared Vancamp) served a Triple S Farms smoked bacon wrapped around a Monterey Jack-stuffed hot dog topped with pickled jalapeños, salsa fresco, and a lime aïoli. The hot dog can only be described as smooth, the bacon gave it a great smoky flavor and the toppings added a nice freshness.

Tijuana Hog Dog

Lillie’s Q (Charlie McKenna) served a pork belly and grit hash with a smoked gulf shrimp, bacon, on top of an ENC vinegar sauce. The pork belly and vinegar sauce were a match made in heaven and the grits were creamy and rich dotted with bits of bacon.

We also loved crispy pork belly with grilled ramps, peas, and farro drizzled with bacon agrodolce served by Gamba Ristorante (Tony Graves). Not only was it good-looking but the pork belly was cooked to perfection. The sweet and sour of the agrodolce balanced the rich fatty belly perfectly.

Pork belly with farro

Magnolia Café (Kas Medhat) served their interpretation of Pork’n’Beans; white bean spread topped with thick cut bacon and greens on a sourdough bread.

Terzo Piano (Margaret Colleran Sahs) served an empanada with Dreymiller and Kray cinnamon bacon, dried seedling strawberry, toasted almond with a salsa verde. The empanada had just the right amount of sweetness with a touch of savory in the salsa verde. My husband described it as tasting like Christmas. We left the fest happy, full, clothes smelling faintly of bacon, and in desperate need of a nap.”  — Jacky Hackett


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