Well shoot, Deschutes

I’m going to get this right out of the way. Timothy O’Tooles is not a good food restaurant. It is a “get out of work and hang out with friends who don’t care about food” type of place. The food I had there was so mediocre and middle of the road I had to liberally apply salt and pepper to my “Michigan Avenue” salad to give it some modicum of flavor. The salad comprised of grilled chicken, goat cheese, avocado, craisins, corn, toasted almonds, tomato, croutons & citrus vinaigrette should have been a shoo-in, so somehow making that taste like nothing makes your restaurant extra special. The pretzel bites themselves were fine, but the dipping sauce was so runny, it barely clung to the pretzel. 

ImageBut people don’t go here for the food. It’s a sports bar plain and simple. Hell, their logo is a bald dude passed out on the bar. I don’t think people care their salad is flavorless as long as the drink specials are indeed special and hopefully cheap.

I wasn’t here for the food anyways. Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery was having a “We’re finally in Chicago!” party, and I’m always game for trying new beer. I called up my friend Jeremy and we headed down to Streeterville to try some beer and get our complimentary Dechutes pint glass (it’s pretty nice).

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not good at reviewing the fine points of beer. I just know if something tastes good to me. I was not equipped with the taste buds to appreciate the subtle oaky notes, or fruit forward direction of a beer. So, this is less a review of the beer and more a “I’d drink that again.”

The biggest surprise of the evening for me was their Black Butte Porter. Porters are usually beyond my comfort zone when it comes to beer. Decidedly strong, dark and bitter I tend to avoid them. Yet this porter was surprisingly smooth and while still strong and dark, the bitter bite was missing. Of the porters I’ve had, and that’s not many, this was probably my favorite, just because it wins by being the least like a porter. 

Sweetest two words in the human language, “Forfeit.”

I did enjoy their Mirror Pond Pale Ale quite a bit, a “hop-forward” beer according to the press release and website. It was probably the cleanest pour (LOOK I’M USING LINGO!) of the evening, as evidenced by the two pints I had.

I’m not a huge fan of IPA’s, but the Chainbreaker White IPA wasn’t cringeworthy. I’m guessing it’s because it tasted like a mix of a Belgian white and a regular IPA. It’s not something I would order, but the free sample was nice.

ImageThe street team member was hilarious, and I started referring to her as our new best friend. I don’t know if people weren’t biting on trying new and different beer, but she was INCREDIBLY excited that we were there purely to try their wares. We even got a sweet Deschutes bottle opener keychain out of the deal. You can’t go wrong with free. Plus now, if a party breaks out in the middle of the street or a CTA car I’m all set. I will be there to pop those bottles if popping bottles is something that needs to be done.

What did I learn from this experience? Not all porters are terrible. Street team members for breweries are incredibly friendly and probably drunk. Free stuff is fun.

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Revenge Gone Wrong: Salted Brown Butter, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Pinterest. Facebook. Instagram. Friendster. If they’re not made for flame wars and trolls, they’re made for posting photos of food. Turns out there’s a Food Porn Daily website made just for people to Creme Fraiche all over themselves (South Park. NSFW). This website isn’t much different. I talk about food. My meals today have been supplemented by cookies I made purely to get back at a friend for posting a photo of delicious sounding cookies. Guess what? The joke’s on me.

The cookies are delicious. I’ve had 9 in the past 24 hours. That’s not healthy. I’ll tell you why. There’s nothing healthy about these cookies. The amount of butter, sugar and chocolate chips in these is something to behold. But adding salt to them? That was my downfall. Salty and sweet mingled together in cookie form? It’s all I can do to not go back to the plate and have another one. I can feel the stomach ache surfacing that only sugar can create.

So, much like The Ring, I’m passing this on to the next person. It’s on your head now. The original recipe came from The Cooking Actress. I didn’t have plain Greek yogurt, so I used honey-flavored Greek yogurt instead. There’s no noticeable difference, but I’m guessing a cherry-flavored Greek yogurt would make these cookies even more insane.

ImageSalted Brown Butter, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (one whole stick) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp. plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

In a medium bowl combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In a small saucepan melt the butter over medium heat and whisk constantly as it foams and browns (3 minutes). Immediately remove from heat and pour into a large bowl. Allow to cool for a few minutes. Using a mixer beat the butter and peanut butter together. Beat the sugars into the butters until fully incorporated. Beat in the egg, vanilla, and yogurt. On low speed, add the dry ingredients into the liquid ingredients. Gently stir in the chocolate chips. Allow to chill for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a cookie scoop, scoop cookies onto ungreased cookie sheets (or ones lined with a silpat). Leave space in between as the cookies will spread. Using a fork, lightly press onto the top of each cookie in a criss-cross pattern and sprinkle the tops the remaining kosher salt. Bake 8-9 minutes, until the cookies have spread and the edges begin to crisp. They will still look underdone. Remove from the oven and cool on the sheet for 5 minutes, then move to a cooling rack.

The size of the cookie scoop I used made 2 dozen cookies.

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Good Enough To Give You Diabetes: Nutella Swirl Pound Cake

ImageI don’t have much to say about this recipe other than it’s delicious. Katie has a particular weakness for Nutella, so when I see an interesting recipe I bookmark it and eventually treat her to a bit of baking.

The recipe originally came from Food & Wine, but I found it on the Chicago Foodies website.

If you want to make it extra sugary to guarantee your own health downfall, and possible stomach ache, just do what I did and accidentally boost the 1 1/4 cups of sugar up to 1 1/2. It makes the crust extra crispy and your teeth extra tingly.

Nutella Swirl Pound Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • One 13-ounce jar Nutella
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan. In a medium sized bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.

  2. In a separate large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy using a mixer. Make sure your eggs are at room temperature to ensure your cake rises properly. Gradually add in each egg, and then the vanilla, until fully incorporated.
  3. With your mixer on low, add in the dry ingredients to the wet little by little.
  4. Spray or butter your pan. Pour in 1/3 of your batter. Spread with 1/2 of the jar of Nutella. Now, pour over 1/3 more of the batter. Top with the rest of the Nutella. Finish off with the rest of your batter.
  5. Before baking, lightly swirl through the pan with a butter knife once or twice. Bake for about an hour and ten minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.

Allow the cake to cool thoroughly before serving. I know it’s tempting to dig into warm Nutella, but you will have a runny mess if you cut into the cake immediately. Serve for dessert with ice cream or enjoy with a cup of coffee for breakfast. Nutella is a healthy breakfast food, right?

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Cheeseburgers in Pasadena

Since we moved back to Illinois, people don’t ask me much how I feel about the whole thing. Burbank wasn’t the right place for us, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t deeply miss the ocean and walking the beach, or being able to drive to a place like Disneyland or Universal Studios.

It’s hard to go through winter in Chicago but think what this time of the year would be like if we were still in Burbank (hopefully not 100 degrees). I still wistfully think we’ll make it back out there at least once under our own terms. We’ll find the right city to live. We’ll find the right place to call home. But for now, that’s not the case.

One of the biggest things I miss is our friends out there and the new places they took us. Whether it was Rocket Fizz, a shop dedicated to soda, or Yamashiro, being able to explore with friends was one of the biggest highlights.

ImageSo this morning when our friend Nikki messaged me with a plea to come back to California because next week was “Pasadena Burger Week,” I got a bit sad. I WANT to be back there, not just to see our friends, but to also take part in Pasadena’s Restaurant Week’s Cheeseburger Week.

It’s a week dedicated to the cheeseburger in the town where the cheeseburger was invented. I don’t even eat beef and I want to go to some of those restaurants. Of course, that would mean convincing Katie to try some of the stuff, but I think I could convince her to try Crepe Studio’s Estonian Burger, a crepe filled with beef and cheese.

It would probably be harder to convince her to try Slater’s 50/50’s FRITOS CRUNCH BURGER: A chili cheeseburger with a crunch! A Sterling Silver ground beef patty topped with melted cheddar cheese, signature chili, Fritos® and 1000 island dressing on white brioche. I want to make a vegetarian version of that now. Stat. Now stat.

So, while I can’t visit Pasadena for what sounds like a great week of food, maybe those in California can eat a side of fries for me. Or maybe our friend Steve can try the Fritos Crunch Burger and get back to me on how awesome it is.

 

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Drinking The Weekend Away

Katie and I planned to do the cute couple thing this weekend and take a trip to Long Grove, IL to see what all the old-person hub bub was about, but the weather cut that short. What we did see of Long Grove is exactly as one would think. Although based on how many times I’ve had to explain what Long Grove is to people, there doesn’t seem to be too many people thinking about it at all. It’s full of small stores (two Irish-based!), small boutiques and old-school ice cream stores. The sidewalks are cobblestone and horrible uneven, and under any other circumstances we would have stuck around, but the snow made the cobblestone nice and slippery. We decided that a guy with balance problems was not the target audience for Long Grove that day.

What we did get to try before we left was the Long Grove Confectionary, a chocolate lover’s wet dream. Free samples of their dark chocolate peppermint bark greeted us, and after some hemming and hawing we decided we couldn’t leave without trying the thing for which the city is known. We tried their jalapeño and sea salt chocolate, the peanut butter, and the fudge cup. Being a PB & Chocolate whore the cup won hands down as far as I’m concerned, but the salted caramel with a jalapeño kick was a close runner up. You didn’t get the heat until you swallowed and it hit the back of your throat.

Instead we had lunch at The Ram, which I wrote about the other day. The second trip was fairly similar to the first trip. The service was slightly slow, but the food was good. I tried their fish and chips for this second visit. You only get one piece of fish, but it’s a large piece. It was nice to not be disgustingly full as some fish and chips dishes can do to you. It’s a heavy, hearty meal and when a 

restaurant tosses three pieces of battered goodness at you, you don’t always walk away feeling good about yourself.

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I tried their beer sampler as well. I didn’t feel as bad ordering my own, since the first trip I was sipping off my sister-in-law’s 3 oz pints. I think I’ve discussed my complete naivety when it comes to beer. I know nothing about hops and malts and wheats and ryes. I go in with a “if it tastes good, awesome” mentality. Through the very scientific process of “Try Everything” I’ve learned I like lighter, crisper beer, with stouts being the one exception. My favorite seems to be European drafts, especially something like an Italian Rye. So, I said bring on the sampler!

Turns out that my initial beer instincts stayed true. The Big Horn Blonde, Hefeweizen and the Buttface Amber Ale were the clear favorites, with Buttface probably being favorite. It went well with the fish and chips and never had a bitter taste to it. The blonde was a great before food drink, but didn’t necessarily pair up with the food very well. And the Hefeweizen was nice, if a bit too tangy (is that a beer term) for me.

The rest of the beers were sampled but just sat there. Sorry Big Red Ale and Total Disorder Porter.

Sunday we tried going to Little Goat since three of our friends got in with no wait. Of course we got there to find out there was over an hour wait. So we went to Haymarket Pub & Brewery instead. We weren’t disappointed.

ImageThe vegan burger was surprisingly good, especially since one of the main ingredients was beets. I do no like beets, so kudos to them making a delicious beet burger. The mac and cheese was awesomely smoky. And Katie loved her “Morning Riot” burger, which was italian sausage, mozzarella, BBQ pulled pork and an egg for good measure. She ate it as a personal dare to herself. She seldom eats the unhealthiest thing on the menu but the “Morning Riot” called to her. It didn’t last long.

We tried a couple of their beers, since you know, that’s what they’re about and stuff. I went with the White Chapel Wit, a Belgian white ale. It was exactly the kind of thing I like: light, crisp, and went well with my food. Katie tried the Nothing Rhymes With Purple Spiced Belgian Oatmeal Stout. Having just had a New Holland The Poet Oatmeal Stout a few days ago, I thought Haymarket’s was a much smoother stout, but still not something I’d order off the menu if I had a choice.

Readers of this blog will notice we actually avoided dessert at both of these restaurants. Sure, we replaced the calories with beer, but we almost felt like we were eating healthier, if you can count Italian sausage smothered in BBQ Pork and an egg healthier. But you have to start somewhere. Maybe next time we won’t order drinks, and be REALLY good.

But probably not.

Why cut out all the fun?

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The Ram Restaurant & Brewery

ImageI was asked to pick out a restaurant near Allstate Arena in Rosemont this past weekend. The in-laws were taking the family to a Chicago Wolves game, and while I opted out of joining them (because sitting in the Allstate Arena is near impossible for me), they wanted me to join them for dinner. The only problem was Rosemont is basically expensive hotel restaurants and subpar fast food. Well, that’s the only Rosemont I’ve seen. It’s O’Hare Airport’s city, so it almost comes across as a transient place to live. So many people travel THROUGH there you almost forget people live there, too. Needless to say I didn’t know where to take them.

On a good day, it’s a tough call to randomly pick a place. When you’re trying to not let down an entire clan, there’s even more pressure you put upon yourself. While they’re far more adventurous in dining than my family is, I wouldn’t want to take them to an unknown foreign food restaurant and hope for the best.  You don’t want to hope for the best in some circumstances.

What I found was The Ram Restaurant and Brewery. It’s not a local place, but a chain found in 5 states, getting its start in Washington. What surprised me was it’s a restaurant founded by the same group of people who founded Shakey’s, a fond restaurant memory of my youth. I used to love going to Shakey’s with my family. It’s where I learned such a thing as a pizza buffet existed. It’s where I learned the upper limits of how much pizza a human body could handle.

It turns out that for a chain restaurant, the food is far above average, although I can’t necessarily say the same for the beer. Nothing much struck my fancy, with their seasonal Big Horn S’No Angel Winter Weizenbock being my favorite of the ones sampled. It was a bit darker than I prefer, but the spice went well with the food.

The appetizer we went for was almost a dare. I mean, they were called Armadillo Eggs. Made with chicken, fresh chopped jalapeños, pepperjack cheese, “secret sauce” and seasonings, they tasted mostly like deep-fried cream cheese. You couldn’t much taste the chicken (oh yeah, I eat chicken now). But for a cheese lover, I wasn’t complaining. I love jalapeno poppers and these were a tasty distant cousin to those.

ImageLike a lot of chain restaurants, their menu is massive. They have an ample selection of burgers, sandwiches, salads and more. My choice was the Chicken Amber Ale, a chicken breast marinated in an amber ale marinade, Porter BBQ sauce, slaw, tomato, onion crisps, roasted tomato-chipotle mayonnaise and a pretzel bun. They had me at onion crisps and sold me at pretzel bun. The chicken was tender and well marinated, and the sandwich itself was a sloppy mess with all those sauces. It ended up being a fork and knife situation by the end.

While the food was tasty and received accolades all around, there was one big problem. Most, if not all, of the burgers came out under prepared. Medium Well came out mostly pink in at least 3 situations. Luckily, the people who received the mis-cooked burgers didn’t mind the extra bit of pink, but it seems like something they should pay a little more attention to something like that.

Most of us agreed we’d still go back, and with the comic con coming up in August, I now have a place to direct my friends when we need something to eat. It’s a much better alternative to walking down to McDonald’s or ordering a $7 pizza from the convention center.  I’d most likely steer them away from the burgers, just to be safe, but otherwise it’s a nice place to have a meal.

Plus you get to tell people you ate Armadillo Eggs, and that’s always worth the price of admission.

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Rick’s Spicy Nuts

The last time I posted I mentioned a nutritionist enforced cleanse. It went about as well as one could expect when you tell someone they are only allowed to eat one vegetable a day. It turns out there’s eating healthy and there’s extremes. I chose pizza.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything. I do actually want to be healthier and that means swapping out sugar filled granola bars with protein filled snacks like Rick Bayless’ spicy nuts.

Heh heh. I’m 12.

Chipotle-Roasted Almonds (4 cups)

  • 2 canned chipotle chiles
  • 2 Tbsp adobo sauce
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp ketchup
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups (1 1/4 lbs) toasted blanched almonds

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Scoop the chipotles, adobo, lime juice, ketchup, sugar and salt into a blender and process to a smooth puree. Pour into a large bowl along with the almonds and toss until the nuts are evenly coated. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and evenly spread the nuts on it. Bake until they are a fragrant and no longer moist, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool the almonds on the sheet pan, then school into a serving bowl.

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