25 years of Maggiano’s Little Italy: I came, I ate, I had a lot of fun!

A silver anniversary is definitely a cause for celebration, especially in the culinary world. So many restaurants open today and close for good tomorrow, and even fewer manage to forge a culinary identity and to become a household name. Maggiano’s Little Italy is one of the few remarkable success stories. Since 1991, Maggiano’s restaurants have consistently delivered staple Italian dishes in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere – always reinventing, always passionate about food.

After serving millions of gnocchi and manicotti and tons of prime New York steaks and chicken marsala, it was time to take a break and to celebrate – and what better place to throw a party than the original Maggiano’s restaurant, on Clark&Grand in downtown Chicago? I answered yes to Maggiano’s invitation and brought my friend Marina along, as a guest. 🙂 Keep Reading

It’s Thanksgiving: time for strudel!

Nothing says “holiday” better than the enticing smell of dough steadily baking in the oven. And when you know your daughter is going to be the first to try out your creations, you really want to have a satisfied customer, so you try your hardest to please 🙂 This year, we’ll be spending Thanksgiving with my mom, around a dinner table that will be brimming with turkey (brined and roasted as per a Morton Salt recipe I’m trying for the first time ever!), pork soup, manicotti and potatoes au gratin. For dessert, we’ll have banana bread and apple and ricotta strudel.

The original strudel recipe I posted last year called for a seasonal pumpkin filling. For diversification purposes, this year I decided to use ricotta and apples, which are DH and our daughter’s all-time favorites. Keep Reading

Two hummus sandwiches to remember: Eat, take a step back – and enjoy life!

“When are you going to make hummus?,” my husband asked me the other day. He had been pestering me with this question for awhile, and I had failed to give him an answer. After all, who has time to make hummus? With daily schedule so busy and spare time so limited, I have been meaning to go back into the kitchen, but life has got in the way. I want to take a deep breath and relax, sandwich and tea on hand, even for just 10 minutes. I want to think that life is not passing me by, to read a good book at a slow pace, and to reconnect with my very few friends. I want to cook and to enjoy life.

In busy times like these you’re grateful for any help you can get – be it a mom who’s willing to cook for you, a neighbor who shares some of their extra food, or simply a product you buy from the grocery store. To silence my husband who wanted hummus and was getting impatient lol, I went with option #3 and bought Hope hummus from my local Whole Foods. The team behind Hope Foods has recently contacted me to review their products, and their review proposal couldn’t have come at a better time. Keep Reading

Morton Salt’s Next Door Chef dining experience: Cook like the pros this holiday season!

When I was a little girl, I fell in love with a magic kingdom of beauty and tranquility: a salt mine. I was in primary school and our teacher organized a visit to this salt mine, as a one-day trip. I can still remember the trepidation I felt and the myriad of questions that came into my mind as we approached the location. Were there any dangers waiting for me inside the mine? Any monsters of the underworld? Any dark corners filled with dangerous ghosts or enticing whispers? Buried deep into the mountain, the salt mine hosted nature-made shapes of various kinds, whose detached serenity, ice-cold touch and transparency made a lasting impression on me. Who knew salt could be so beautiful? 🙂

These memories came back to me recently, when I attended a holiday-inspired dining experience courtesy of Morton Salt. The Next Door Chef: Chicago event looked like a great opportunity for me to learn more about different types of salt and how they could elevate my dishes in terms of flavor, texture, but also looks. Salt can make or break any meal – yet, how often have I really thought about the versatility of salt and about using Morton Kosher or Sea Salt instead of the standard table salt when cooking? The answer is: hardly ever. Anxious to learn, I accepted Morton Salt’s invitation and brought my friend Marina along, as a guest. Keep Reading

Osteria La Madia review: I love you, pasta – and I want more of you!

UPDATE: This restaurant has closed.

Now that fall is here and the weather has cooled down, I really need my carbs to keep me warm and full. Whole wheat bread sandwiches, risotto, potato stew, pasta – they’re on the menu these days for one simple reason: they’re energy-packed. I can’t get through my day without a healthy dose of carbs as an early lunch, washed down by a big cup of hot English breakfast tea and complemented by a few European biscuits for dessert. Yes, I really like my continental tea and specialty biscuits – I guess old habits die hard 🙂

Coming from Europe, I am a big believer in traditional culinary techniques and products from the “old continent,” yet I am also aware that the key to success lies in reinterpreting glorious traditions to make them appealing to the present. How do you reconcile the old with the new? Can they ever work in harmony? I’ve always been interested to explore these questions, and as such I was very excited when I got an invitation to attend a special “pasta and pizza night” at Osteria La Madia. Named after an Italian cabinet traditionally used to knead dough and store bread, this trendy restaurant in downtown Chicago upholds a respectful understanding of Italian cuisine and traditions.

Osteria La Madia is currently running a half-price pasta promotion for diners seated after 9 p.m., and they invited local food bloggers to sample their made fresh in-house pastas and pizzas and to spread the word. It was an offer my husband and I simply could not refuse. Keep Reading

MOD Pizza giveaway: We have a winner!

Thank you all for entering the MOD Pizza giveaway. The winner is Jennifer H, who wrote, “I would say thin crust. I like sausage and pepperoni. I think this kind of pizza because it has a crunchy crust.”

The winner has been notified. Congratulations, Jennifer! 🙂

Éclairs: a delicious fall treat

What is better than an Ă©clair? Two Ă©clairs! Everyone in my family is a fan of Ă©clairs, but until recently we did not have a recipe to make them at home. The recipe below comes from my mother-in-law, and it took her and me months of testing to get the quantities right.

When I was little I would buy éclairs from a local confectionery shop, on my way back home from school. Crammed and dark, with oversized platters and old-fashioned decoration, that place sold day-old éclairs filled with a custard vaguely tasting of coffee. Sometimes, the custard was sour and the dough was stale, but there was nothing I could do: I had spent good money on the éclair, and I had to eat it. There was no flour or butter on sale at the grocery stores, and sugar was rationed, which meant baking at home was also very limited.

Those days are long gone, thankfully. With so much abundance of ingredients at the stores, why not indulge in one of the favorite desserts of my childhood – and why not share it with the world? 🙂 Keep Reading