Category Archives: Recipes

Garden Chef Series September 15th

Chef Christopher Tong of My Private Chef, one of Chicagoland’s most versatile Chefs, will share one of his favorite recipes at Chicago Botanic Garden’s popular annual Garden Chef Series.

He will appear on Sunday, September 15, 2019 at 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, Illinois.

People who are casual cooks or lovers of gourmet food get to ask questions, discuss preparation, and come away with recipes that they can try at home. Chef Tong will give tips on ingredients, and serving. And, everyone gets to have a taste! Seating is limited and on a first-come, first served basis.

Admission to the Chicago Botanic Garden and Garden Chef Series is free. For more information about this Garden Chef Series event and parking fees, please call 847.835.5440 or visit

We hope top see you there!


Fogo de Chão celebrates national Caipirinha Day Friday 13th

Caipirinhas are the official cocktail of Brazil, and feature cachaça (the native spirit of Brazil, distilled from pure cane sugar), freshly muddled limes and sugar.

(A recipe for the beverage can be found HERE.)

Celebrate National Caipirinha Day on Friday, Sept. 13 with $5 caipirinhas all day long at Fogo (available on the Patio or in Bar Fogo, and the bar area at Fogo de Chão; not valid in the main dining room).

    Stop by after work  and  check it out!

Fogo de Chão is a fine dining, full-service Brazilian steakhouse or churrascaria, serving rodízio style, featuring roving waiters serving barbecued meats from large skewers directly onto the seated diners’ plates.

Weekday Happy Hour at Bar Fogo, featuring $4 Brazilian Bites & Beers, $6 South American Wines and $8 Brazilian-Inspired Cocktails.

661 N LaSalle,  River  North


Cooking Demo Downtown with Chef Tong March 16th

A favorite whenever he appears, Chef Chris Tong of the private gourmet dining service in Chicago. My Private Chef returns to the Bloomingdale’s for a South American cooking demonstration.

Chef will prepare a mouthwatering menu and give tips about ingredients and serving. And, everyone will enjoy a taste of each dish.

Chef Chris will serve some of his favorite recipes:

Hearts of Palm, Avocado and Tomato salad, Lime-Cilantro dressing

Marinated Flank Steak, Chimichurri Sauce
Argentinian Potato salad

He will appear on Saturday, March 16 from 2:00-4:00 p.m. at the Bloomingdale’s Home & Furniture Store, Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Avenue, Chicago, Illinois. Demo kitchen on 1.

For more information about this free Bloomingdale’s event, please call 312.324.7678

My Private Chef is enjoying popularity as one of Chicago’s favorite private gourmet dining services.
Trained in European-style fine cuisine, Chef Tong established his reputation at fine restaurants and hotels in Florida, California, and Chicago. Now he has adapted his impressive skills to the world of private entertaining.

My Private Chef offers enticing cuisine for a wide range of events, from intimate dinners to weddings to corporate parties.

Chef Chris says: “Every event is different and I’ve met some wonderful people including many celebrities.
Being part of very special occasions makes my work worthwhile. I also love conducting cooking demonstrations where I get the feeling that audience members will go home and try some new dishes!”

For more information about My Private Chef, contact Event Services at 773.370.8131 or visit our web site:

We hope to see you there!


Cooking with Wild Game Dec 4

Chef Tong Presents a Wild Game Menu
at Whole Foods Market, Lincoln Park

Are you “game” for some exotic and delicious tastes? Then you will love “Wild Game Night” with Chef Chris introducing you to exciting rarely served selections.

Chef’s Menu:
Appetizer: Quail Egg, Dill Cream Cheese, Salmon Caviar on Pumpernickel Bread

Entrée: Seared Bison Tenderloin, Blueberry Chili Ancho Sauce, Sweet Potato Croquettes and Haricots Verts

Dessert: Pomegranate and Lime Parfait

Chef will give you step-by-step directions and shopping tips, while answering all of your questions. And, everyone gets to have a taste!

His demonstration will be held on Tuesday, December 4 from 7-9:00pm. The cost is $25.00 per person. (BYOB if you would like!)


The cooking class is on the mezzanine level in the on-site cooking classroom at the Whole Foods Market in Lincoln Park,1550 North Kingsbury, Chicago.

Chef Tong’s classes are popular at Whole Foods Market so we suggest you sign up early to guarantee your place in the class.

To register for the class, call Whole Foods Market, Lincoln Park at 312.587.0648 or sign up at the Customer Service Desk. Credit card or cash payment will hold your place in the class.

For more information about My Private Chef, contact Event Services at 773.370.8131 or visit our web site:

We hope to see you there!


STK Steakhouse Lounge

Sexy chic lounge meets modern steak house. STK.

The ONE Group, based in New York, has positioned STK as “women friendly,” trying to break the conception that steakhouses are only meant for men. A DJ booth brings a curated playlist to diners, creating more of a nightclub vibe, hoping diners opt to party after their meal, or even while they’re digesting their wet-aged beef. No need to bar hop, as STK’s other spots haven’t been as concerned about the menu as they are in developing a trendy, and sexy, scene to draw the clientele who would normally roll their eyes at the notion of dining at a steakhouse.

From Forbes to Zagat to Facebook, dinners are loving this place!

Recently we had the chance to sample some of their new recipes from their Fall menu, being unveiled in October. But first, we started with their Strawberry Cobbler Martini.

Fresh strawberries, Belvedere vodka and a graham cracker rim.

Another classic that I could live on is their signature tuna tartare!

Besides what they are known for we got a sampling of some excellent new dishes!


*NEW Roasted Root Vegetable Salad: Squash, parsnip, celery root, living water greens, brown butter vinaigrette

*NEW Roasted Slagel Chicken: Celery root purée, celery salad, jus

*NEW Roasted Rack of Lamb: Charred broccoli, huckleberry vinaigrette, black garlic jus

*NEW Grilled Branzino: Roasted thumbelina carrots, kale, carrot purée, grilled lemon

Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad: Apple, cranberry, aged goat cheese, marcona almonds

Potato Bar: Creamy yukon potatoes and sweet potatoes, bacon, scallion, sour cream, cheese, marshmallows, candied pecans, short rib. TO DIE FOR!


How about finishing your meal with fresh warm doughnuts covered in various toppings?

Or perhaps their signature Chocolate mousse layered cake?

WHAT ABOUT BRUNCH?  STK has a monthly brunch – Dare to Brunch – that features STK’s take on the traditional weekend meal. Offered on the last Sunday of each month, Dare to Brunch will be complete with a specialty STK brunch menu, mimosa stations that includes a variety of freshly squeezed juices and all-day DJ performances.

The Dare to Brunch menu favorites include Gold Leaf French Toast, Market Vegetable & Truffle Omelet, STK n’ L’eggs and more. The monthly Sunday event will offer three seatings (2PM, 4PM and 6PM).


Their menu features a nice variety of re-imagined classic American cuisine with signature dishes. STK defines the modern fine dining experience with incredible food, world-class service and the perfect atmosphere.

Aside from steak, signature items also include Parmesan Truffle Fries, Lil BRG’s, and sweet corn pudding. Incredible food and a wonderful hip atmosphere!

This is not your daddy’s steakhouse!

STK Chicago, 9 W. Kinzie St., (312) 340-5636

all photo credit goes to the incomparable Matthew Mitrick of Mitrick Photography!


MyPrivateChef and SOUP @ Bloomingdales




One of Bloomingdale’s favorite chefs returns to present a delicious Winter soup cooking demonstration.

Chef Christopher Tong of the upscale Chicago-based private gourmet dining service, My Private Chef
will give tips about ingredients, then prepare and serve a variety of fabulous soups.

Chef Tong will help us shake off the winter blues with three hot soup creations that will delight your family and friends. It’s a great way to face February in Chicago!

The demonstration will take place on Saturday, February 27, 2016 from 2-4 p.m. at the
Bloomingdale’s Home & Furniture Store at Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Avenue, Chicago.
Demo Kitchen on 1.

Chef Chris will serve some of his favorite bowls of comfort:

Roasted Cailiflower soup with Cumin
Tunisian Tomato with Chickpeas and Lentils topped with Yogurt and Fresh Mint
Tangy Greek Avgolemono Chicken soup (Egg-Lemon)

People who are casual cooks or lovers of gourmet food get to ask questions, discuss preparation,
and come away with fabulous recipes that you can try at home. And, everyone gets to have a taste!

For more information about this Bloomingdale’s event, contact 312.324.7678.

My Private Chef is enjoying popularity as one of Chicago’s favorite private gourmet dining services. Trained in European-style fine cuisine, Chef Tong established his reputation at fine restaurants and hotels in Florida, California, and Chicago. Now he has adapted his impressive skills to the world of private entertaining. My Private Chef offers enticing cuisine for a wide range of events, from intimate dinners to weddings to corporate parties.

Chef Chris says: “Every event is different and I’ve met some wonderful people including many celebrities. Being part of very special occasions makes my work worthwhile. I also love conducting cooking demonstrations where I get the feeling that audience members will go home and try some new dishes!”
For more information about My Private Chef, contact Event Services at 773.370.8131
or visit our web site:


Holiday Dinners and Cooking – How fast are YOU?

holiday meals cooking tips


Illinois is ranked #13 in the U.S. for the fastest holiday meal preparation, according to the Del Monte Holiday Meal Census.

So how long do you usually take to cook a special holiday meal for your family?

Are you a Rushing Reindeer or a Sluggish Snowman?

To put this question to the test, food researchers at Del Monte — the country’s preeminent fruit and vegetable brand — asked 2,500 Americans to describe how long it takes them to get ready for the typical holiday meal.

Shown below are the Top 20 U.S. states that prepare holiday meals the fastest (with the average prep time shown in parenthesis):



#1:  Kansas (3.6 hours spent on holiday meal preparation)
#2:  Iowa (3.7 hours)
#3:  Delaware (3.8 hours)
#4:  North Dakota (3.9 hours)
#5:  New Mexico (4 hours)
#6:  Nebraska (4.1 hours)
#7:  Montana (4.2 hours)
#8:  Idaho (4.2 hours)
#9:  Utah (4.3 hours)
#10: Hawaii (4.5 hours)
#11:  Connecticut (4.5 hours)
#12:  Alaska (4.6 hours)
#13:  Illinois (4.6 hours)
#14:  Vermont (4.7 hours)
#15:  California (4.7 hours)
#16:  Washington (4.8 hours)
#17:  Massachusetts (4.8 hours)
#18:  Louisiana (4.8 hours)
#19:  Tennessee (4.9 hours)
#20:  Minnesota (4.9 hours)
So which states have the longest holiday meal prep times?  Del Monte ranked those, too:


#1:  Mississippi (7.1 hours on average for holiday meal preparation)
#2:  Kentucky (6.9 hours)
#3:  Alabama (6.7 hours)
#4:  Georgia (6.5 hours)
#5:  Texas (6.5 hours)



No matter what state you live in — and how much time you have — you can make your holiday meal prep more efficient with these three time-saving tips from recipe experts in the Del Monte holiday food kitchen:

Instead of making a holiday dish completely from scratch, buy ready-to-go foods in the store and customize them with extra ingredients and garnish to claim it as your own.

Use your slow cooker, toaster oven, and other kitchen gadgets to redistribute the number of dishes being cooked on the stove or in the main oven.  If you save prime cooking real estate for dishes that really need it, you’ll speed up the process dramatically.

Select recipes with minimal prep times and use quality convenience ingredients like already-chopped canned fruits and vegetables.

Go to for speedy and tasty side-dish recipes like the popular Cheddar Corn Casserole (only 10 minutes of prep time needed).



BEST Pumpkin Mousse Recipe


All star easy to follow recipe!

By  Chef  Chris Tong, My Private Chef!

Perfect for Thanksgiving or holiday dinners!

Light and fluffy

Pumpkin Mousse with Ginger Snaps

Serves 8-10


1 (15-ounce) canned pumpkin

3 cups heavy whipping cream

3/4-cup superfine sugar

1/2-teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1-tablespoon vanilla extract

Ginger snaps, for garnish


Combine pumpkin, 1-cup heavy whipping cream, sugar and spice in a medium saucepan.

Simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes. Cool fully.

Whip remaining heavy cream and vanilla to soft peaks and fold into cooled pumpkin mixture.

Pour into a serving dish and crumble the ginger snaps over top before serving.


Chef Chris
My Private Chef, Inc.

envision• entice• enjoy

Elite Traveler Magazine – Global Black Book – Chicago’s Most Accomplished Luxury Private Chef
Chicago Magazine, “63 Ways to Pamper Yourself” – Luxury Private Chef Service
North Shore Magazine “Cooking Your Heart Out” – Luxury Private Chef for Romantic Dining


Chefs in Chicago Would have a Field Day if Marijuana Becomes Legal

Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing pot for personal recreational use. In fact, more voted here in favor of pot legalization than voted for President Obama!

And the chefs in Colorado are creating dishes to make you happy and stimulate your appetite!

Longtime advocates for marijuana use, Scott and his wife and business
partner Wanda James (they run Simply Pure Products) have something to
be truly thankful for this week. 

“We have had medical marijuana in
Colorado now for almost three years,” said James. “What we have seen
from that is tremendous amounts of revenue. There has been nothing but
positive in Colorado since medical marijuana has come.

that’s why we’ve seen so many people vote to go ahead and legalize
marijuana here in Colorado, because the sky did not fall underneath
medical marijuana.”

The success of dispensaries has already spawned a whole new business: Edible marijuana.

Cannabis cuisine has come a long way from Alice B. Toklas’ 1954 “haschish fudge” recipe.

For today’s cooking aficionados, cannabis can complement pretty much everything from chilli to olive oil. (Just 2 teaspoons of marijuana-infused olive oil  is equivalent to about three and a half, four joints). 

With quality weed going for up to $450 an ounce, it is way more
expensive than truffles, caviar or foie gras, but Durrah says it’s worth
every penny.

I wonder what Grant Achatz would create……..

Read more at CBS



How to Cook a PERFECT Hard Boiled Egg – and Make it Healthy

EVERYONE and their mother will
 tell you  “secrets” to cooking
the perfect hard boiled egg. 

5 times out of 10,
they are difficult to peel.  

I have found 2 secrets, to making the egg peeling process  a  BREEZE!

Older eggs  and  LOTS  of  salt.   Works like a charm!  Now I don’t mean  real old eggs!  Just not fresh off the farm.  If they are out of date a week or two, that’s perfect. Hard boiling farm fresh eggs will invariably lead to eggs that are difficult to peel.

And many  recipes say to add a teaspoon of salt to the water. I add  a  1/4 Cup  This  makes  the shells  super  easy to peel. 


 Put the eggs in a single layer in a saucepan, covered by at least an inch or two of cold water. Starting with cold water and gently bringing the eggs to a boil will help keep them from cracking. Adding a tablespoon of vinegar to the water will help keep the egg whites from running out of any eggs that happen to crack while cooking, but some people find that the vinegar affects the taste. I don’t have a problem with it and I usually add a little vinegar.

Adding   1/4  C.   salt will help both with the preventing of cracking and making the eggs easier to peel. Put the burner on high and bring the eggs to a boil. As soon as the water starts to boil, remove the pan from the heat for a few seconds. Cover, and let sit for 12-14 minutes.

I  find that it is very hard to overcook eggs using this method. I  have  let the eggs sit, for up 20 minutes without the eggs getting overcooked.

Next I drain the hot water, replace with cold water and a bunch of ice.  I let that sit about 5 minutes, then crack and peel the eggs.  Store the eggs in a covered container (eggs can release odors) in the refrigerator.

To make “healthy”  deviled  eggs. I get rid of the yolks, and I take some hommus and mix in some some assorted  seasoning (garlic and Italian herbs are my favorite) and you spoon the hommus mixture into the egg halves  or if I am entertaining, I will pipe the hommus with a pastry bag,  to make them appear more neat.

Best Food and Wine in Chicago


Brown Rice …Why is it Good For You and How do You Make it Taste Good?

Studies have shown that consuming brown rice, which is good for you, is also good for infants that are being breastfed. The functional food has been found to play a significant role in improving digestive function and fighting such diseases as metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease and even some types of cancer.

There are multiple health benefits associated with eating brown rice offering vitamin B, calcium, iron, potassium and even protein. Additionally brown rice helps control blood sugars and cholesterol and its mineral content supplies significant nutrients for hair, teeth, nails and bones.

White Rice – is a processed grain that is converted into sugar as soon as you eat it.

But everyone says eating brown rice tastes AWFUL!  Not true!  We have found a way to make brown taste delicious!

  I take 1C of brown rice and soak it in 1- 14oz can Chicken Broth and I package of dry onion soup mix.   Add some dry herbs and spices like oregano, garlic, pepper…whatever you want. Feel free to jazz it up!  Sometimes I add a whole package of Knorr dry vegatable dip to it –

I mix it all together, microwave it for 10-15 minutes, and just let it set all day, for a good 24 hours. Just cover it and leave it on the counter.
It can not soak too long!  Once I let it soak for 3 days, and it was fine. The absolute key with cooking brown rice is pre soaking, to soften the grain and give it more of a white rice texture. This will also make the rice more easily digested, as well as shorten the cooking time.

The next day it is ready to cook –  I microwave mine. I start out by cooking it about 15 minutes and check the taste and liquid level. It usually needs 2C of water added – or another can of broth.  Sometimes I add chopped garlic –  maybe some mushrooms -a tiny bit of butter – get creative!

It usually needs  another full 30 minutes to cook –  just keep an eye on the liquid level, as you don’t want it to dry out. And you want it fully softened.  Cooking times will vary depending on the actual type of brown rice and the soaking time.

But the key is SOAKING!  and  SEASONINGS!  
And you will LOVE IT!

Michael  Snell


Hungarian Paprika and Cooking and Recipes

A lot of people think paprika is sprinkled on top of food, for looks, and really doesn’t have much taste. Well, the dried up stuff you buy in the grocery store is good for that! Actually, the store bought stuff is not that bad. But Real Hungarian Paprika has a LOT of robust  flavors! 

In fact, you may not know that paprika can be hot or sweet.  Paprika, Capsicum annuum, is a sweet-to-mildly hot cultivar of the chile pepper of the family Solanaceae. C.annuum is a native of South America; however it is cultivated most extensively in Hungary.

Hungarian paprika is known as stronger and richer than Spanish paprika, which is quite mild, though through controlled breeding they are becoming more alike. To maintain the stronger taste that consumers expect, some spice companies add cayenne to heat up Hungarian paprika.

Paprika deteriorates quickly, so it should be purchased in small quantities and kept in airtight containers away from sunlight.

Paprika is intimately associated with Hungarian cuisine especially paprikash and goulash. Many spiced sausages incorporate it, including the Spanish chorizos. Paprika is often used as a garnish, spinkled on eggs, hors d’ouvres and salads for colour. It spices and colours cheeses and cheese spreads, and is used in marinades and smoked foods. It can be incorporated in the flour dusting for chicken and other meats. Many Spanish, Portuguese and Turkish recipes use paprika for soups, stews, casseroles and vegetables. In India paprika is sometimes used in tandoori chicken, to give the characteristic red colour. Paprika is an emulsifier, temporarily bonding with oil and vinegar to make a smooth mixture for a salad dressing.

There are some really good quality Paprikas  on Amazon


QDOBA – Fresh and Tasty Mexican Grill -Now with Street Tacos

In 1995, Anthony Miller and partner Robert Hauser imported San Francisco’s Mission-style burrito to Colorado, opening the first Qdoba Mexican Grill in Denver. Qdoba immediately won over customers and critics with the restaurant’s Mexican flavors and fresh ingredients.

Obviously, it was an idea whose time had come. Since Qdoba’s auspicious beginnings, we’ve grown to include over 500 Qdoba Mexican Grill restaurants from coast to coast. And plenty more are on the way.


I HATE IT when I go out to eat and have no idea what I am eating, the fat content, the caloric count, etc.

Qdoba uses only the freshest ingredients and takes the time to prepare them beautifully. They care about what you’re eating just as much as you do. That’s why they have  created  an easy-to-use Nutritional Calculator. First, just select your meal from the top menu. Then mark each of your ingredients from the lists. It’s EASY!  You can pick low fat, no fat, even vegetarian choices here. HEALTHY and FRESH. Need I say more?

 Recently some team members from Denver were in Chicago to TEST LAUNCH  their new Street Tacos.   Qdoba’s street tacos come on a double wrap of small corn tortillas, with shredded beef or pulled pork, cilantro, and red onion. The combo comes with a side of barbecue baked beans for $4.99. (To give a basis for comparison, the regular tacos cost $6.49 for three, and no beans.)  The pork was very  juicy, and just the right amounts of onion and cilantro.  THESE ARE AVAILABLE FOR A LIMITED TIME DURING MAY!


Gourmet street fare – or food prepared and served from carts or trucks on the sides of popular streets – was named one of the hottest restaurant concepts at last year’s National Restaurant Association show in Chicago and was recently served at the White House by renowned chef Rick Bayless. Street fare has its origins in several countries, including Mexico, where there is a great variety of “antojitos mexicanos” that are found at street food vendors who prepare some of the freshest, most delicious and innovative dishes in Mexico.

 An order of Qdoba’s Mini Street Tacos (three tacos) with slow-roasted pork contains only 330 calories and offers 21 grams of protein. Qdoba’s extra lean pork is slow simmered in-house for six hours in a signature blend of spices, including green chilis, jalapenos, bell peppers, garlic and onions.



We got to have a little hands on cooking class with Qdoba while the Denver folks were in town!  Head chef Ted Stoner showed us things like Mango Salsa, different types of hot Salsa, making Fresh Guacamole and how the Pulled Pork is made for the new Street Tacos!

Many recipes and videos are on their site

The ingredients and the flavors are so important. Jalapenos have a reputation for being very hot but actually only rank in the medium to hot range among peppers.

And I discovered how wonderful Tomatillas are!  Known in Mexico as the green tomato, the tomatillo fruit was cultivated by the Aztecs long before the tomato arrived, and it remains a favorite in Mexican foods ranging from stews to salads. This tart, yellow-green nightshade has flavors of lemon, apple and herbs and contains a great deal of vitamins A and C, calcium and folic acid. Tomatillos are the heart of  Salsa Verde.

I don’t want to name any names….but, there are Burritos…..and then there are the Qdoba Burritos!  There is a lot involved in making PERFECT BURRITOS.  Quality meats, artfully made and constructed and just the right amount of everything.

No matter how many burritos you order from a good burrito place, they should all be the same high quality with little variation.

When you recommend a burrito
place to someone, you shouldn’t’t have to worry that their burrito will be radically different than yours had been.

About a year or so back Qdoba had a really fun Fighing Burrito Boredom campaign. You can still watch the videos online.

We got to take a peak in the kitchen –  and you know what we saw? People chopping!  Everything is made fresh and NOT shipped in. fresh Salsa’s, fresh Guacamole, freshly cooked meats.  What a concept!  FRESH! 

You see,  fresh, good quality food , can come in all price points.  The  $150  5 course meal in the Loop!   Or a $5 meal at Qdoba.

If you have never been to Qdoba or thought it was just another fast food joint – check it out. You will be  WOWed.

Dozens of locations in Chicagoland.

And check out the recipes online!

Derrick Sorles

Best of the Best Dining Restaurants Food Wine Chicago


Chocolate Peanutbutter Bar w/ Pretzel Shortbread Crust

Ingredients:  For the Pretzel Shortbread Crust:
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut in 1/2? cubes
2 cups pretzel crumbs, very course
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Filling:
1 18oz jar creamy peanut butter
2 cups confectioners sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 3/4 cups pretzel crumbs (fine – not course)

For the top layer;
1 (11.5oz) bag semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup heavy cream

Make the Crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place all ingredients for the shortbread into the bowl of a food processor. Process on high until all off the butter has been incorporated and mixture begins to form pea sized lumps. If no food processor is available, simply add all ingredients into a large mixing bowl and blend the ingredients together using a pastry cutter or your bare hands.

Pour mixture into a glass or ceramic 8 x 11.5 x 2 baking pan. Using the bottom side of a metal spatula, press the shortbread firmly into the pan, forming a level, compact layer.

Place shortbread into preheated 350 degree oven. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.

Make the Filling:
Combine all ingredients for the filling in a mixing bowl. Using a rubber spatula, mix all ingredients together until thoroughly combined into a homogeneous mixture. Set aside.

Once the pretzel shortbread crust has cooled for about 30 minutes, make the chocolate top layer:
Place the chocolate chips in a mixing bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream over medium heat until it just begins to simmer, stir frequently. Pour cream over chocolate chips. Whisk until all chocolate has been melted and mixture is shiny and smooth. Do not over mix – this will create a grainy, less desirable texture.

Assemble the bars:
Spread the peanut butter filling mixture evenly over the shortbread layer in the baking dish. Again, using the bottom of a metal spatula evenly press down the mixture and spread into 1 even, compact layer. (Try not to break the shortbread layer in the spreading process – I used my hands to crumble the peanut butter mixture evenly over the shortbread before compacting.)

Finally, pour the chocolate over the peanut butter layer. Use a rubber spatula to spread so that all areas are evenly covered with chocolate. Place pan into fridge. Chill for at least 1 hour, or until the chocolate has set before cutting into bars. Once cut, garnish each bar with 2 chocolate covered pretzels (homemade or store bought).


Drunken Angel Hair with Leeks and Cream

Drunken Angel Hair with Leeks and Cream
– serves 6 – from Serious Eats food blog community

3 small to medium leeks, whites and light greens sliced into julienne
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup water, plus extra if needed
1 bottle of white wine, 3/4 cup reserved
1 pound angel hair pasta
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon chervil, chopped
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1. In a wide, preferably nonstick sauté pan, melt the butter in 1/4 cup water on medium-high heat. Add the leeks and cover with a lid, lowering the heat all the way down. Cook until soft and spaghetti-like, about 20 minutes, adding water whenever the pan gets too dry, to avoid burning the leeks, and conversely evaporating off any extra liquid once the leeks are soft and sweet.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add all the wine in the bottle except 3/4 cup, and a handful of coarse salt. Add the angel hair to the boiling water and wine, and cook until al dente, just a few minutes.

3. In the pan with the leeks, add 1/2 cup of wine, and allow to reduce slightly. Add the cream, and heat through. Add the cooked angel hair and some pasta water, and toss the pasta to incorporate. I like to add the final 1/4 cup of wine “raw” so that the alcohol is still palatable, but that’s your choice. You just want enough wine and pasta water to create a sauce from the leeks and the cream that lightly coats the angel hair. Add a lot of freshly cracked black pepper, and the Parmesan and chervil.

Voila! All done.


Artichoke Leek Dip – for Something Different!

Spinach-artichoke dip:
been there, done that…

I think we all have at one point
or another over the past 15 years.

I seem to be attending more parties this year that call for me to whip up appetizers.  I tend to focus on creamy based dishes for some reason.  Is it comforting? I think so.

A few weeks ago I made this artichoke and leek warm dip and thought I would share it with you:


2    8oz packages of cream cheese – softened
(cut the calories with low fat and/or no fat!)

1      8 oz jar of marinated artichoke hearts

1 leek diced small

1 tbl fresh parsley

2 cloves minced garlic

2 tbl fresh squeezed lemon

dash of smoked paprika

dash of cayenne pepper

Salt and Pepper to taste

1/2 cup potato chips crumbled

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

In food processor – add drained artichoke hearts, chopped leek, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, parsley. Process until smooth. Add 1/2 of the Parmesan cheese.  Add cream cheese and blend thoroughly.  Place in a baking dish.

Crumble potato chips, mix with remaining Parmesan.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Serve with crackers


Fudge Brownies with Expresso Frosting


1 box fudge brownie mix
1/2-cup vegetable oil
1/4-cup water
2 large eggs
1 Tbs. instant coffee powder
1/2-cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 can cream cheese frosting
1 shot strongly brewed espresso coffee, cooled or coffee-flavored liqueur accompaniments, coffee ice cream or chocolate covered espresso beans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Coat the bottom of a 13 x 9 baking pan with non-stick spray and set aside.

In large bowl, combine the brownie mix with the oil, water, eggs, and espresso. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until well combined.

Fold in the chips into the batter.

Spread the brownie batter in the greased pan and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
To make the frosting: Combine the cream cheese frosting and espresso in a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Spread the frosting over the cooled brownies, chill until set, and cut into squares. Serve with coffee ice cream and/or chocolate covered espresso beans.

SO EASY! From the Food network.


THE BEST Savory Cheesecake with Basil Pesto

My friend Dori made this a few weeks ago for our Octoberfest celebration and I have to tell you it was fantastic!  This recipe is scaled high – it could feed at least 1/2 an army. 

So, you may want to bring it down a notch as Emeril would say.


2 T  dry bread crumbs
1 T Olive Oil
1 small diced white onion
1 T chopped garlic
1 T pepper
4  1/2 lbs cream cheese (room temp.)
(low fat may be substituted)

1/3 C basil pesto
2 lg eggs
2 T lemon juice
1 T flour
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 C fontina chz shredded

Sprinkle breadcrumbs over oil-sprayed 10 inch springform pan.
In skillet heat oil and saute onions, garlic & pepper for 4 minutes.

Cool completely.

Using paddle mixer, gently mix cream cheese, pesto, eggs, lemon juice, flour & salt til smooth.
Fold in fontina cheese and onion mixture until blended.

Pour in pan and smooth on top.
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes at 325ºF until golden and et.

Cool to room temp. and cover loosely and chill til ready to serve.
I top with 2 cans of drained fire-roasted diced tomatoes & chopped green onions.

Best Food and Wine Chicago



By: Laura Hansen 

“Life itself is the proper binge.” Julia Child

This area of west Division (the sizzling part of Wicker Park) is filled with trendy clothiers, coffee shops and eclectic eateries.  Enter The Smoke Daddy and, for me, two thoughts come to mind:

-”Oh goody, I am back in college!”

-”Oh goody, I am in New Orleans!”

Either could apply.  Exposed brick and a small stage for the folk music strummer,   Memorabilia and other collected artifacts are nailed in to the brick. Simple tables lined up with LOTS of napkins.  It’s relaxed, laid back atmosphere says “it’s okay to spill, get your hands messy – that’s what you are supposed to do here at the Smoke Daddy.”

Founded by four partners: (cousins Doug and Mike Dunlay, Derek Rettell and Josh Rutherford), The Smoke Daddy serves up “Chicago-style barbecue.”  I was sired into a real smoking BBQ family, so I was particularly interested to hear from Josh about how this all came about…Apparently, he was also born into a clone family of mine, and Josh started smoking things right about the time he began to crawl.  It’s my contention that if you are a smoker of meats (or a lover of smoked meats) almost any meat that’s not smoked is a disappointment.  At Smoke Daddy, all meats and veggies are smoked using hickory, apple and cherry wood.


“All normal people love meat. If I went to a barbeque and there was no meat, I would say ‘Yo Goober! Where’s the meat?’ I’m trying to impress people here Lisa. You don’t win friends with salad.”
Homer Simpson

We started to overindulge on the appetizer course.  Josh created a Pulled Meat Nacho offering that he considerers a signature dish.  The first one sampled was layered with pulled pork and chicken on the bottom, then covered with chili, substantial chips, semi melted cheese and barbecue sauce.  The chicken and pork dish was a little dry.  The second was my favorite dish of the evening…the beef brisket nachos.  Underneath the chips was warm, moist, smoked brisket.  Piled on top were all of the other ingredients that were included on the chicken/pork nachos.  I kept digging underneath to capture the brisket prize. All of the other toppings held up. The kicker was the arousing tangy taste of the barbeque sauce.  Now, if we could keep that cheese topping steamed and melted…

I ordered a combination platter of baby back ribs and chicken. It was served with two side choices (I opted for the coleslaw and mac and cheese). The mac and cheese was nice and moist and comforting, and included a light smattering of bread crumbs on the top. I believe that the crumbs and a toasted crisper layer of browned cheese on top with a soft creamy noodle underbelly is the best. The coleslaw was okay – laden with more cabbage and less of a tangy sauce to dress it up. [often I hold up coleslaw to my gold standard – the slaw dished up at Bandara on Michigan Avenue.)

The ribs were smoky, moist, “almost” falling off the bone and appropriately slathered with their proprietary BBQ sauce.

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Lexington, North Carolina, is known as the Barbecue Capital of the World, and October was officially declared ‘Barbecue Month’ with a month long Annual Barbecue Festival. The Festival has a Parade of Pigs on bicycles (also called the Tour de Pig (

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I made room to try “Granny O’s Banana Puddin’ for dessert.  This was a very simple dish. Banana pudding, fresh bananas, and those little white vanilla wafers. Took me right back to my aunt’s house in the early 70’s when she was creating recipe after recipe with banana pudding.  Sometimes simple is best.

The Smoke Daddy provides catering, take out and this summer will be smoking a big hog.  I’ll send out something about the hog party to let people know the particulars.

For those who are dog lovers, buy the Smoked Pig Ear.  You can also purchase their custom sauces and Mojo BBQ spice


 The Smoke Daddy    1804 W. Division Street     Chicago, IL 60622

Phone: 773-772-MOJO (6656)

Thesmokedaddy.comI have re-named this recipe to reflect the nostalgia I felt for my eroding youth:



Courtesy: Food Network

Whipped cream mixture:

2 cups heavy cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups scalded milk

3 large egg yolks, beaten

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Whipped cream mixture

1 (12-ounce) box vanilla wafers

5 medium size ripe bananas, peeled and thinly sliced

1/4 cup roasted macadamia nuts, coarsely ground

Sprig fresh mint

To complete whipped cream mixture, whip all ingredients to stiff peaks. Set aside until you complete making the pudding

Mix sugar, flour and salt in a large heavy saucepan. Gradually stir in the scalded milk with a whisk. Cook the mixture over moderate heat while stirring constantly until slightly thickened. Slowly stir in approximately 1/4 cup the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks. Next add the yolks to the balance of the hot mixture and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is fully thickened to a custard-like consistency and coats a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Let cool completely and then fold in 1/2 cup of the whipped cream. Use a large crystal bowl (or a trifle bowl) and spread a little of the custard on the bottom. Alternately layer banana slices and vanilla wafers, reserving 4 wafers, with custard in between each. Repeat and end with vanilla wafers on top. Spread remaining whipped cream over the top. Grind the 4 reserved wafers coarsely and mix with the ground macadamia nuts. Sprinkle on top of the whipped cream. Garnish with a fresh sprig of mint. Chill at least 30 minutes and serve.

Best Restaurants, Dining, Food and Wine in Chicago


aigredoux and Sticky Toffee Pudding


By: Laura Hansen

“Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what’s for lunch.”
Orson Welles, actor, director (1915-1985)

My friend Allan had been bragging to me about Aigre Doux  for a few months and I was ready to give it a try. Nestled corner of Kinzie and Franklin – a bakery (that was empty of pastry) greets you upon entering. At Aigre (sour) Doux (sweet), the ambience is minimalist, open and injects hints of simple elegance. Lined with Brazilian cherry wood and soft lighting, viewing the dining area – I rarely notice the wait staff buzzing about.

The husband and wife duo of Executive Chef Mohammad Islam and Pastry Chef Malika Ameen created their culinary magic at places like the Ritz Carleton/Chicago and Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles before launching Aigre Doux in early 2007.

The offerings kick up the culinary adventure, but also have classical roots. The French influence certainly is present (Steak Frites, Haricot Vert Soup), but infused with some contemporary American flair (Buffalo Ricotta & Corn Ravioli).


The appetizer choices are robust – ranging from traditional faire like Caesar salad, to ahi tuna or a roasted beet salad with fresh mozzarella and candied lemon. There are some pizza choices as well – ranging from a simple Greek offering with lamb, olives and feta to a tuna with wasabi cream and shisho.. We settled on the poached shrimp salad, with herbed butter lettuce, avocado and a tart champagne vinaigrette. The shrimp was luscious (although the serving was only two for each of us – I could have easily feasted on more) – the magic was certainly in the mysterious shrimp poaching liquid.

Although our waiter highly recommended the Grilled Chicken sandwich with avocado and herbed goat cheese – the chicken was dry, and I could find greens, but no goat cheese. The clear winner was Allan’s pan seared halibut – a beautiful piece of fish rolled in a heat infused rub with a splash of tomato vinaigrette. The fingerling potato accompaniment was a nice addition – sautéed baby moist delights.

Kudos to pastry chef Malika Ameen for her sticky toffee pudding offering. I’ve been pining for a sampling of sticky toffee pudding ever since it was under consideration as a new potential flavor for Hagen Dazs. It was served warm, with a dollop of Devonshire cream sorbet and citrus segments. I’m certain the clean plate club wins every time with whimsical dessert offerings such as Crème Fraiche Cheesecake and a malt infused custard with a hazelnut Kit Kat.

Sticky toffee pudding


8 ounces dates, finely chopped (about 1 1/4 cups packed)
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups self-rising flour
2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon baking soda
Powdered sugar
whipped cream
Caramel Sauce


Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9-inch-diameter spring form pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper; butter parchment. Place chopped dates in small bowl. Pour 1 cup boiling water over dates and let cool, about 1 hour.
Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in large bowl to blend. Add 2 eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add half of flour and beat to blend. Add remaining 2 eggs, 1 at a time, beating to blend after each addition. Add remaining flour and beat until blended. Combine instant coffee and baking soda in small bowl. Pour into date mixture, stirring to dissolve coffee granules. Add date mixture to batter and beat to blend. Pour batter into prepared pan. Place on rimmed baking sheet and bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour.

Cool pudding until just warm. Unmold; sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into wedges and serve with whipped cream and Caramel Sauce.

Makes 12 servings

Courtesy: Epicurious