Did you know July is National Ice Cream Month? I am finishing it on a strong note, with this caramel and blueberry ice cream, with a secret ingredient. 😉 Read on to find out more about the products I have been testing this summer, and to get inspiration for the months ahead.
- NoBull Burger
I recently discovered NoBull burgers, delicious handcrafted, 100% plant-based veggie burger patties made with organic quality ingredients and lots of love for our planet.
NoBull Burger was born when Chef Crissanne Raymond started making veggie burgers to feed her young daughters. Soon, her burgers became very popular with her family and friends, and news of her awesome meatless patties spread around Charlottesville, VA. The rest was history, as they say!
These days, Chef Raymond’s vegan burger patties can be purchased from a variety of retailers nationwide (I found them at Whole Foods Market), and they are available in 5 delicious gluten-free varieties: Original, Savory Mushroom, Sundried Tomato, Spicy Italian, and Madras Curry. NoBull is not meant to be a meat imitator, but a true, whole-food, real food veggie burger – I love that!
To build my veggie burger I used a NoBull Burger Savory Mushroom patty, made of organic green lentils, brown rice, quinoa, chia seeds, white and shiitake mushrooms, and spinach. I started off by smearing the inside of a homemade bun with pesto, and I piled it high with some of my all-time favorite ingredients: onion, tomato, cucumber, sunflower microgreens, and red Swiss chard. Instead of cheese, I used a versatile creamy mix/topping made of sour cream, chopped sunflower microgreens and lovage, ketchup, and salt & pepper. The herb-packed notes of basil in the pesto and lovage in the creamy topping complemented the umami of the mushrooms in the patty beautifully, while the crunchiness of the (micro)greens added to the overall freshness and deliciousness of this excellent veggie burger.
Which variety would you try first? Let me know in the comments 🙂
- Gemma Foods
Anyone else feeling exhausted from all the outdoor summer activities? Being a parent, some days are better than others, but as a rule I am exhausted most days (lol), and sometimes I have no inspiration to cook at all. On such days I feel very grateful for local delivery and small businesses such as Gemma Foods, who have sent me some pasta meals to try.
Aiming to bring delicious pasta to Chicagoland and beyond, Gemma Foods took off early on during the pandemic, as Chicago-based Chef Tony Quartaro was contemplating what to do next during the lockdowns. Success was instant in the neighborhood, which provided opportunity for expansion. These days, Gemma Foods delivers hand-crafted pasta and sauces using locally grown produce and authentic Italian imports (such as San Marzano DOP tomatoes), providing convenience and deliciousness in 100% recyclable packaging. As Chef Quartaro mentioned in a recent Eater Chicago interview, “We’ve done all the work. All you have to do is boil the water.”
Indeed, the instructions on the Gemma Foods website were very clear, and the 2 pasta dishes (Canestri with Vodka Sauce and Paccheri with Sunday Gravy) were ready in no time. Having tried them both, I can say I have developed a soft spot for the vodka sauce. The combo of sweet onions, heavy cream, mascarpone and vodka is a tantalizing delight. I wish I’d known exactly how they made this exceptional sauce – its comforting creaminess and multifaceted flavor profile is phenomenal!
Meanwhile, the Sunday gravy is a vibrant blend of pork, beef & chicken stock, and white wine, which is sure to satisfy meat lovers looking for robust umami.
Both sauces are the perfect companions to the Canestri and Paccheri pastas, which melt in your mouth like morsels of pillowy deliciousness.
- RED Chocolate
After burgers and pasta for lunch, perhaps it’s time for dessert. How about some chocolate, the ultimate decadent sweet treat? 😉
When RED chocolate approached me for a collaboration, I got super excited to discover its values resonated with mine. They maintain a personal relationship with the cocoa bean farmers from the Ivory Coast, where they get the beans from (big YES to direct trade!) Moreover, their products are non-GMO, gluten free, kosher and keto friendly. With no added refined sugar, these chocolates have fewer calories and reduced fat -hence the RED chocolate slogan “Pleasure, without the guilt!”
I was sent a luxurious assortment to try:
3️⃣Extra dark chocolate
4️⃣Hazelnut and macadamia milk chocolate
5️⃣Orange and almond dark chocolate
6️⃣Blonde caramelized white chocolate
7️⃣Milk chocolate pralines filled with coconut (my favorite, mmm…)
RED will launch a new chocolate bar with oats in August. In the meantime, you can shop on their website for any of the delicious varieties above. Use code MICHAELA10 to get 10% off your purchase!
Cococlectic is a craft bean-to-bar chocolate subscription service, whose subscribers receive a variety of artisan, small batch dark chocolate bars in the post each month. “Our philosophy is to support chocolate makers who passionately make chocolate bars using nothing more than cacao beans, sugar and cocoa butter.” All of the chocolates they feature are vegan, non-GMO, fair-trade, and ethically sourced.
Cococlectic sent me an assortment of dark chocolates made by Monsoon Chocolate, a chocolate maker based in Arizona.
I decided to add their Kokoa Kamili 77% dark chocolate to bread, using one of the most popular bread recipes in our household.
This chocolate, made with beans harvested and fermented in Tanzania’s Kilombero Valley (an area which has historically received “some of the lowest prices for cocoa in the country”) added a deep and sophisticated flavor and aroma to my bread, a delightful combination of notes of cinnamon, raisins, and cherries. Absolutely scrumptious!
I highly recommend both of these small businesses. Cococlectic have a lot of detailed information on their website, as well as free virtual chocolate tastings.
- D’vash Organics
I was recently contacted by D’vash Organics, a small business with a passion for providing superfood sweeteners and bars from “ugly” produce.
Caramel & blueberry ice cream, anyone?
This luscious, milky, unbelievably smooth no-churn ice cream, is piled high with an abundance of toppings, including D’vash Organics date syrup. This product is made from 100% sustainably-sourced “ugly” dates, vegan, non-GMO, paleo, and with zero added sugar. How awesome are these features? 🙌
For scrumptious snacking, I recommend munching on sweet, thirst-quenching seasonal fruits, and pairing them with D’vash Organics date energy bars and “bites.”
Packed with minimal, responsibly sourced ingredients, these are super delicious and satisfying, and come in a variety of wholesome flavors (pictured above you have date, chocolate& peanut butter, and date, chocolate, pecan&cocoa nibs) Add strawberry yogurt for creaminess, bee pollen for a slight crunch, and a drizzle of D’vash Organics date syrup, and you’re all set for a delicious sweet treat.
- Elevated Craft Hybrid Cocktail Shaker
According to Elevated Craft, a hybrid shaker “is a type of cocktail shaker that does not fit into one of the traditional shaker categories. We call the Elevated Craft Shaker a “Hybrid Shaker” because our design evolved beyond the scope of a traditional 3 piece Cobbler Shaker. By making it double wall vacuum insulated, adding threads, gaskets and a built-in measuring top, the design serves multiple functions and thus becomes a hybrid.”
The Elevated Craft Cocktail Shaker was designed to specifically address the needs of home bars. According to Elevated Craft, “commercial bars have to optimize for speed and cost which is why most of them use two tin cups (aka Boston Shakers). Boston Shakers are cheap and fast but for home use, they can be messy, get stuck together and have a steep learning curve. The Elevated Craft Cocktail Shaker is great when you’re making cocktails for small gatherings at home but if you are slinging drinks in a commercial bar, then we won’t blame you if you stick with your tins.”
Here’s the lilac mocktail I made recently using the Elevated Craft Hybrid Cocktail Shaker. You can find all of the details and the recipe here.
- Wandering Bear
If coffee is your drink of choice, I recommend Wandering Bear Extra Strong Cold Brew. I recently served this amazing caffeinated beverage poured over homemade vanilla&raspberry ice cream, affogato-style:
Wandering Bear was founded in 2014 by Matt and Ben, two visionary New Yorkers with a passion for quality coffee. In addition to being the first company to make boxed cold brew, Wandering Bear also sells ground coffee, single-serve cartons and coffee pods, and their packaging (including the coffee pods) is 100% recyclable. This mindful convenience is complemented by the superb quality of Wandering Bear’s certified organic Arabica beans, which deliver “extra strong and surprisingly smooth” taste in every single sip.
I am in love with the smoothness of this cold brew, which despite being very strong (1 cup equals 2 espresso shots) didn’t make me jittery, like other brands have done in the past (*not* a good feeling) Once the tap is open, the boxed cold brew stays fresh in the fridge for 30 days – not a concern around here, since we finished a 1 gallon box in way less than 30 days, lol Good to know for peace of mind, nonetheless, in my opinion.
You are welcome to check out the Wandering Bear website for more info on their amazing range of products, which can be purchased one time or as part of a subscription. Use code CHICAGOLOVESPANINI to get 10% off your purchase! I look forward to trying out the decaf cold brew next, as well as the vanilla, caramel, and hazelnut.
- Fire Dept. Coffee
Fire Dept. Coffee is a veteran-owned business dedicated to providing great-tasting coffee to people everywhere. Their coffee is freshly roasted in Rockford, IL by a team of firefighters, first responders, and coffee experts.
Fire Dept. Coffee was founded in 2016 by Luke Schneider, retired firefighter/paramedic and U.S. Navy veteran, who teamed up with firefighter/paramedic Jason Patton. The company “is run by active and retired firefighters, including our operations officer and chief coffee roaster,” and it gives back to those who have been injured on the job, mentally or physically, or who are facing other serious health challenges.
I thoroughly enjoyed both coffees, for different purposes. While the Skull-Crushing Espresso provided the perfect dose of caffeine to keep me energized throughout the day, the Vanilla Bean Bourbon was mellow and aromatic, and its enjoyment felt like a treat at the end of a busy afternoon. I recommend both products, and I look forward to trying out more Fire Dept. Coffee varieties in the future.
Which of these products would you try first? Let me know in the comments 🙂
*Disclaimer: While I received complimentary products to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.