Sunday, June 30, 2013


When I was in Italy, wine was cheaper than water. Seriously, that's not just an expression. A glass of house wine cost 1 euro, while a bottle of water cost 1.50. Which was a nice change from the U.S. where ordering a drink can easily double the cost of your entire meal.
Since wine was so cheap, I often tried a lot of different drinks while in Italy (I mean, when in Rome....) One drink in particular, called 'spritz,' was native to the Veneto region of northern Italy and could be found at nearly every restaurant I went to. It was a light fizzy beverage that became the perfect afternoon drink on a hot day. There were two types: Aperol and Campari, or, more simply, orange and grapefruit. Orange was a lot sweeter, but both were equally delicious.

Unfortunately, spritz is a lot harder to find back in the US. Fortunately, all of the ingredients can be purchased. Which is why this is my new go-to summer drink recipe and the perfect recipe to wow your friends on 4th of July.

To make enough spritz for 4 people, you will need:

1 bottle Aperol (difficult to find, but a grocery store or liquor store with a large selection will probably carry it)
1 bottle prosecco (try to get Conegliano-Valdobbiadene if you can)
1 bottle pellegrino or other sparkling water
4 wine or rock glasses

Start by lining up your ingredients

Starting with the Aperol, then the prosecco, and finally the sparkling water, fill each glass with 1/3 part of each liquid. Add some ice if your beverages aren't already chilled and toss in an orange slice for a garnish if you want to look extra fancy.
See? Isn't that easy?

Perfect for picnics, pool parties, or balcony get-togethers, particularly during the upcoming holiday season. Just put on your fancy pants and get ready to wow everyone with your amazing and exotic cocktail-making ability. Or just wear jeans and a t-shirt and make everyone thing that effortless class just comes naturally to you.
Your choice.

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Creamy Quinoa and Peas

Lately, I've been into a lot of substituting when it comes to making recipes. Call it being creative, or call it being lazy and not having the correct ingredients. Either way you swing it, sometimes you stumble upon something that ends up being pretty dang good.

Today's happy accident? Creamy Quinoa and Peas. Altered from a risotto recipe by Rachel Ray, this easy dish is now packed full of protein with the same delicious taste. Not to mention it's probably one of the quickest and least fussy meals you'll ever make. Perfect for those nights when 

To make enough for one, grab these ingredients:

pad of butter
¼ red onion, chopped
1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
¼ cup grated parmesan

1/3 cup frozen peas
1/2 lime
salt and pepper

Start by heating the butter in the bottom of a small pot on medium. Add your onions and saute until softened. Next, pour your chicken broth and quinoa into the pot and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and cover, cooking for 15 minutes or until all the broth has been absorbed. 

When the quinoa is cooked mix in your parmesan cheese, frozen peas, zest  from the lime, and salt and pepper. Heat for several minutes or until the peas are warmed. Serve and enjoy your super-quick dinner!

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Indian Spinach & Tofu

I've always considered myself someone who couldn't really cook convincing Indian food. I always found the spices to be a tad too unfamiliar for my taste buds, and I never trusted myself to re-create something that would taste as good or better than what I could buy at a nearby takeout joint.
Fortunately for me and my budget, this recipe happened.

Introducing deliciously tasty and ridiculously easy Indian Tofu & Spinach. I developed this recipe quickly when I needed to use up some leftover spinach and tofu, and it's become one of my new favorites.
To make enough for one, you will need:

Vegetable oil
1 small block of tofu (about 1x4'), sliced into 1-inch by ½-inch blocks
1 teaspoon cumin
¼ cup red onion, chopped
1-inch piece of ginger
1 teaspoon white pepper
salt and pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
3 big handfuls of spinach
¼ cup greek yogurt, plain
garlic salt

Heat the oil in a pan until it's good and hot. Add your tofu and fry until brown on both sides.

While it's cooking, use a food processor or blender to blend red onion and ginger together until finely minced.

When the tofu is done, remove it from the pan and set it aside. Add the cumin to the pan (and add additional oil if needed). Fry for several seconds. Next, add the ginger and red onion mixture and heat for 2 minutes. Add white pepper, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Stir. Add the spinach in batches, letting each round wilt. Next, place the tofu back in the pan and sprinkle in the smoked paprika, heating for 1-2 minutes. Finally, add the greek yogurt and mix until combined. Heat for 1 minute, then scoop onto a plate and serve. Top with garlic salt to taste.

Simple, healthy, and low-cal. Not to mention quick. Can you say go-to dinner recipe?

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Intelligentsia Coffee

Since coming back from Italy, I've been very attached to good espressos and cappuccinos. What can I say? I was spoiled rotten while I was there. Deliciously dark and creamy espresso for merely 1 or 1.5 euros. It was a dream come true.
Now that I'm back in the US (and in Chicago), I'm determined to find at least one coffee bar that matches up with the taste and quality of what I had in Italy.
Fortunately, Chicago happens to have a few Intelligentsia coffee shops scattered about the metro area. I popped in the other day to give it the once-over.

The black bags are their espresso, called Black Cat Espresso. I just love that name.

I went with my usual test - a cappuccino.

Detailed latte art.

 Time for the taste test.

Dark, frothy, and very very bold. Exactly how I like it. Not a replica of what I had in Italy (probably because the beans were from Africa and roasted in Germany) but still an excellent cappuccino. I can see why the place always seems to be full to the brim with patrons lining the bar. 
Also, I just found out that my new job serves Intelligentsia coffee. I think I may have found my favorite workplace ever..

Oh, and did I mention Emily was there?

Apparently Chicago is the place to be this summer for all the cool kids since she's here too. We spent the afternoon shopping and galavanting about town before we popped in for a quick recharge. And boy were we glad we did.

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Big & Little's

Guess what?

I moved to Chicago for the summer!

Which means tons of food, food, and food.
And my first main stop when I came over was a place I'd seen on The Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. 
It's called Big & Little's, a.k.a., fancy fried food.

It's a small building on a really not built-up street, but boy is this place packed for lunch.
And why is it called fancy fried food, you might ask? Well I'll tell you.

Because the menu features things such as duck fat fries, foi gras and fries, fried soft shell crab sandwiches, and beer battered burgers.

You get in line, head up to the counter, and order what you want. Cash only folks. Then you wait by the side until your name is called and your delicious food crackles its way onto the serving side of the bar.

Take a look at the fish and chips.....

It's basically an entire cod filet, battered in a deliciously crispy coating and served with a platter of fries.

I, however, had to go for the original wonder that I saw being made on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The pork belly po boy.

A mountain of delicious salty fried pork belly piled onto a bed of lettuce, slices of pickles, hot sauce, and maple mayo on a toasted sub bun.

My face for scale.

I managed to eat the whole thing, and I'm currently craving another one. And more fish and chips...

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bologna, Day 2

The next day in Bologna, Emily headed off to one of the churches while I made my way down to the piazza to explore. Apparently, the entire town was out for a run that day. It was also sponsored by Parmigiano reggiano, which I found ironic.

Naturally, I took this as an opportunity to explore the city a bit. If I followed the runners, I'd never get lost.

I meandered along in search of some caffeine when I found a rather popular caffe at the edge of this smaller piazza. I quickly ordered myself an espresso macchiato at the bar.

I looked back up at the menu and saw something listed that I'd been meaning to try for awhile, but hadn't found in any cafes yet (mainly because most cafes don't have menus on the wall). It's called a spremuta d'arancia, which is a really eloquent way of saying freshly squeezed orange juice. I quickly ordered one along with my macchiato and snapped a shot of it being made.

I was then served the freshest and most delicious cup of orange juice I've ever had. It literally felt like eating an orange.

After another hour of exploring, I met back up with emily and we continued meandering around the city. When we decided to stop for lunch, in the interest of saving money, we chose to grab some sandwiches from one of the many caffes around the city. Brown bags in hand, we stopped at a small monument with benches to dig in.

Emily opted for a piadina, a.k.a. a flatbread sandwich stuffed with prosciutto and cheese. This specific sandwich is native to the northern-ish region of Italy, so don't expect to find it in Rome.

I decided to try something new. It was called an erbazzone, and it looked a bit like a really large spinach puff to me. I looked up the recipe later, and it seemed to be a mixture of mixed greens, sometimes spinach, depending on the chef's decision. Regardless, it was delicious.

We had to catch a 4 pm train, so we didn't have time for another fabulous dinner in Bologna. Fortunately, we did have time for another gelato...

Caffe amaro will always hold a special place in my heart...

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bologna, Day 1

Our trip to Italy included a free weekend where we could travel wherever we want so long as we were back in time for class on Monday morning. And since I'm an obsessive planner, this means me and Emily booked our trip 4 weeks in advance.
We started out mulling over where we should go - somewhere close, but different enough to be exciting and fill two days of our time. Florence was throw out as an idea, but quickly rejected when we realized how long the transportation would take. We thought about Verona, but figured that we might be able to see the whole city in a day or less. Finally, we came up with the perfect destination.

Home to the oldest university in the world and the gastronomy capital of Italy, this red-bricked city was perfect for us. Emily quickly took care of the hotel reservation while I ordered our train tickets, and we were set to go.
On Saturday morning, we grabbed an excruciatingly early 7 am bus from Paderno del Grappa to Bassano del Grappa, hopped across the street to the train station and took a regional train to Padua. A quick connection and a much-needed cappuccino and chocolate muffin got us on a high speed Frecciargento for a quick 170 km/hr ride into Bologna.

Ever the reliable navigator, Emily quickly got us down the street to Via dell'Indipendenza where we found our hotel, I Portici Hotel Bologna. 

We couldn't check in until 2 pm, but the hotel staff allowed us to check our bulky bags at the front desk and come back later.
After that, our exploration down the main street commenced. 
Unfortunately, after making our way almost down to the main piazza, my asthma started to get the better of me (Bologna is a very smoky city). Emily and I haphazardly ducked into the nearest restaurant that had a downstairs, and boy did we pick a good one.
At Ristorante da nello Al Montegrappa, we each got big bottles of water and chugged them while looking over the menu. I ordered the tortelloni verde (which I initially pronounced tortellini, but was corrected by the waiter) and was given this delectable wonder.

Homemade pasta stuffed with veal and cheese in a gratuitously creamy sauce. Truly one of the best things that I've ever eaten. Emily grabbed some basic pasta in pomodoro sauce, but agreed that it was much better than a similar version of the dish that we'd been having in the cafeteria for the past few days.
After our quick break, it was nearly 2 pm, so we went back to the hotel to check in, get situated, and make a game plan for the rest of the day.

Our two-bedroom suite in the heart of the city was a bargain for 95 euros a night (hotel link here for interested travelers). And yes, the painting on the wall was titled "My Sexy Little Pony." It led to a 10-minute conversation about what exactly makes this pony 'sexy' as compared to a regular My Little Pony character.
Anyway, after we mapped out our day, we headed back down the main street to the piazza.

There were multiple demonstrations, street shows, and what looked like an MMA tournament going on in the square, bookended by some of the oldest buildings I've ever seen. Large speakers blasted popular Top 40 music as Emily and I strolled around soaking it all in.

Haphazardly wandering, we followed some tourists into an enormous brick building at the end of the piazza. We figured it was a museum, the signs said it was an observation desk, and we were fairly confused but chose to dive in anyway.
What we found was the fifth largest church in the world.

Cameras (particularly flash) seemed to be frowned upon, but Emily and I couldn't resist snapping a few shots of the impressive ceiling and the incredibly ornate side chapels like this one:

After our unexpected church scouting, we filled our afternoon with shopping, shopping, and eating. We headed over to Brandy Melville so Emily could get some new leggings, and then beelined over to Cafe Terzi, supposedly the best in Bologna. My macchiato with a touch of chocolate shavings certainly didn't disappoint.

Of course, a gelato stop was necessary. We opted for a place fairly close to our hotel, and boy did we make a good decision.

This little beaut, called Caffe Amaro was a creamy zuppa inglese base with swirls of cocoa and cocoa nibs, and it was definitely some of the best we've ever had. Which is a big deal coming from Emily. You see, she works at a gelato shop back in Michigan, so she's a bit of a gelato connoisseur. She knows the tricks of the trade and can tell just by looking at the stuff whether or not it's going to be quality. This gelato definitely got her seal of approval, which means it's top-notch on the quality scale.
After our run around the city, which included running into a second group of travelers from our trip, we headed out to dinner at a little nearby trattoria.

Reasonable prices and filled to the brim with locals - we felt that we'd picked a good spot and promptly ordered water and a half liter of wine.
It true Italian tradition, we decided to try multiple courses. First, the pasta: I had been longing to try traditional tagliatelle al ragu (a famous bolognese original), so that was a no-brainer for me.

Emily got this delicious looking pile of gnocchi:

And we split a large platter of grilled sausage and veggies

Eggplant au gratin, grilled eggplant, grilled zucchini, and boiled potatoes. Delicious.
The meal was extremely fresh, extremely filling, and cost a total of 34 euros for everything we got. A bargain for right downtown. 
After dinner, we strolled back across the street to our hotel and passed out from food comas by midnight. For us, nightlife means heavily eating and relaxing in bed. I'm cool with that.

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