So You Think You Can Be a Barista?

Google+ Local Chicago has really been pumping out the Chicago Jams lately with their events.  Our most recent Google City Expert (YEAAAH we love this city!) special invite was a behind the scenes tour and experience at Bow Truss Coffee Roasters on Broadway.  We have been dreaming about quitting our day jobs and becoming fancy free baristas so this was a chance to test our naturally caffeinated talents.

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We first were schooled in the fine art of coffee roasting.  Holy espresso nibs, did you know that coffee beans are really the seeds of coffee cherries?  We basically thought there were tiny beans jus’ chilling on trees waiting to get plucked.  Once these cherries are harvested, they are shipped off to get naked as their skin and pulp is removed.  What remains is the green coffee seed (Is this the famed green coffee from Starbucks?  The world may never know…as we are too lazy to google it right now).

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Green coffee beans

Next, the seeds are processed and are prepped for roasting.  We watched intently as our coffee guide poured the coffee beans into the roaster and constantly monitored their color and the temp of the roaster.  Once completed, we snuck our way over to weigh and bag our very own bag of Google+ Local coffee beans, roasted especially for us.

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Roasted coffee beans

A few pics later, and we were broken into two groups of coffee adventurers.  Our group joined Barista Greg for a lesson on home coffee brewing.  Neither one of us ever had or made a pour over before so we were ready to coffee rumble with our Pour over devices.  Monica’s finished coffee was a standout winner in the group with notes of red apple and flowers.  Who knew coffee tasting was akin to wine tasting?  We judged on body, undertones, and weight as Greg swirled our creations in his mouth and did the fancy tasting spit to make way for a new flavor.

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Our most delightful and enlighten session was latte art.  Here is where baristas are born, not made.  We were treated to several shots of espresso as a reasonable bedtime became increasingly unrealistic.  Our barista, Brian (hope we spelled it right!), showed us how to magically pour the milk into the espresso to create hearts in our lattes.  Monica was again the front runner with her baby heart while mine looked more like a fetus or possibly Boo from Mario Kart.

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It was evident by my shaking hands that when we open a coffee shop, Monica will be the barista where I can book the entertainment and lead the tastings for quality control.

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Kate’s first attempt at latte art!

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Monica’s first attempt was a success!

A big thank you to Google+ Local Chicago and Bow Truss for letting us experience the daily grind (get it? get it?) of baristas.  We happily recommend a private coffee tutorial for groups as the staff at Bow Truss was beyond knowledgeable, friendly and a trip through their roasting house would be a special treat for any coffee-phile.

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Kraaazy for Kombucha!

We are pretty sure you haven’t been able to avoid the Kombucha Kraze, especially if you meander around Whole (Paycheck) Foods pretending like you got it like that as we often do.  If you haven’t dared to try this fizzy, slightly tart drink, you may want to, just for funsies.

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CASE ANALYSIS NAME: KOMBUCHA

ALIASES: Booch, Eww what is this?

PROFILE: Chinese fermented tea which includes yeast and friendly bacteria.  Flavor is slightly sour and make your mouth pucker, 80’s commercial style.

CLAIMED BENEFITS: Supposedly detoxifies the body and clears the mind. We tend to give it to people when they are sick as it has probiotic tendencies. People also use it as a weight loss aid with claims that makes you feel full.

SIDE EFFECTS: Concerns have been brought up, especially regarding home brewed Kombucha, and it’s effects on people.

1. Best brand for purists: G.T. Dave’s, the original monster.  Favorite flavors include Gingerade (reminds Kate of Ginger beer) and Mango.

2. Best brand for newbies: Kombucha Wonder Drink Essence of Peach…a little less fizz, a little less sting

3. New local favorite: Karma Kombucha, based in Wisconsin. Unique tastes include Masala Chai and Pineapple Passion.

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Do you have a fav Booch Brand we are missing?

Let us know!!

Tis’ the Season for a Restaurant Preview: Seasons 52 River North

You know how sometimes divine providence throws you a foodie bone?  A light shone down on us last Monday when we received a mysterious email invite to a restaurant preview for Seasons 52.  We immediately got the googlin’ fever and checked out the scope of the restaurant.  River North, eh?  Must be semi-fancy.  Then came the menu snooping and the what to wear conversations.

As two small town bloggers in a big town, we didn’t quite know what to expect from our first media reception.  The first thing we noticed was that we had accidentally matched our outfits.  Ok, bright side, we are a more united front in our navy and white striped twinsie clothes.

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John State is Seasons 52 Executive Chef Partner

The second thing we noticed was the atmosphere.  Seasons 52, just a ferris wheel away from Navy Pier, sets out to be a casual wine and piano bar with seasonal rotating entree elements.  There was definitely mood lighting when we arrived and the pianist was crooning a little Dawson’s Creek like ditty as we walked to the reception area.  The restaurant layout features open spaces, a circular bar area, Frank Lloyd Wright inspired design and *highlight* a chef’s table where you can spy on and get served by the executive chef of the restaurant…oh the pressure for those line cooks as you scrutinize their every chop!

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What we ate: We started off with two flatbreads.  The crust was noticeably buttery and crisp (but not microwave pizza rock solid) which was a nice balance.  The ripe plum tomato and mozzarella flatbread with basil was not unique but satisfying.  The Sonoma goat cheese flatbread was more intriguing with luscious chunks of roasted garlic, a trio of mushrooms (black trumpet, portobello and oyster), spinach and scallions.  Kate HATES goat cheese, yet it was mild enough that she actually didn’t spit the flatbread into her napkin and admittedly, enjoyed it.

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Sonoma Goat Cheese Trio Mushroms (top right) and Ripe Plum Tomato (bottom right)

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Spicy Chipotle Shrimp (left) and Piedmontese Beef & Black Bean Chili (bottom right)

Next, came an only made for us goat cheese stuffed ravioli with chive aioli and shaved root veggies on top.  The staff was kind enough to treat us due to the rest of the samples being meaty (short ribby and chipotle pineapple shrimpy to be exact).  Marty, the most knowledgeable server in the history of mankind aka the Aristotle of waiter-ing, explained that two key attractive features of this new joint.

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Seasons 52 – Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli (harvest vegetables, black mushrooms, roasted onion jus)

1) They have a gazillion menus to serve your (and our) picky friends.  That means your vegan, vegetarian, T-Rexian, salt-free, and gluten hating peeps can all eat dinner in one spot.  REMARKABLE!

2) Certain menu items and pieces of entrees change with the seasons to produce peak flavor.  For example, mushrooms, root vegetables, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds, and other fall goodies appear in fall only.  As a contrast, items like berries, melons and cucumbers would find their way back to you in summer.

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Seasons 52 menu includes gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, lactose-free, sodium-friendly and garlic-free

Finally, the epic portion of our evening was about 8 baby parfait desserts to choose from.  We split them to avoid the old “pants splitting at a restaurant” dilemma.  One surprise favorite was a creamy key lime parfait and of course, good ol’ pumpkin  was right in season.  Seasons 52 also offers a fresh fruit parfait for your more health conscious self.  We met famed Ask.com health blogger, Nina Cherie, at the reception and she modeled appropriate dessert choosing.  *Sigh* P.S. She’s awesome!

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Seasons 52 – Mini Indulgence includes Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse, Key Lime Pie, Mocha Macchiato, Pecan Pie with Vanilla Mousse, Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Snap Crust, Belgian Chocolate Rocky Road, Raspberry Chocolate Chip Cannoli and Market Fresh Fruit

Any “eh ok” things?: Seasons 52 is in River North.  Parking, meh, might wanna take the red line el train..oh wait! VENTRA (fist shaking).

What we LOVED the most: The service!  All the staff were not just aware of their craft but were interesting, friendly people.  We had a long conversation with the super attentive and yoga loving server, Kelly as she toured us around the restaurant, refilled our drinks non stop and encouraged us to take free dessert home.  Need we say more?

Seasons 52 opened October 17th for all.  Go get your own review on and tell us what you think!

Taco-Tastic: A Soft Shell recap of National Taco Day

Friday October 4th…a day that will live in infamy… a day to gorge on (dare we say it) one of the best hand held foods known to (wo)man: the taco.  Take that, fried food on a stick!  Below is a smattering of some of the most tantalizing taco trends in the Chi area.

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Taco Joint – Panela Taco (Black Bean salsa, grilled panela cheese, mushrooms with creamy guajillo salsa and arugula!) and Grapefruit Margarita!

Taco Joint won our hearts again with their National Taco Day deals.  The brand new River North hotspot has a wealth of wealthy people watching.  Read more details in our previous post about it’s sister spot, located in Lincoln Park.  Mon cheated with another friend and enjoyed the $2 dollar panela, black bean, mushroom and arugula tacos with a refreshing grapefruit margarita and some twitter # provided free guac on National Taco Day.  (Kate: Sad faced 😦 but will persevere)

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West town hides our prime birthday celebration spot, De Cero, on the restaurant row strip of Randolph Street.  De Cero’s Tacos De Rajas, tickle our taco fancy, with mildly sweet green peppers, cojita cheese, cilantro and crema.  For the salsa aficionados, De Cero boasts a range of flavors, from the tart pickled jalapeño to the spiccccy habanero mango.  Bring your friends along as you can order paired taco trays so that everyone can delight in the taco variety.

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De Cero – Rajas Taco, Guajillo Black Bean Taco and more!!

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Latin Asian fusion restaurant, Saucy Porka, puts a twist on the taco (theirs’ is called a baco) with a bao bun base as the taco shell.  We hounded them at the recent food truck rally for their crispy ginger tofu baco with crisp Asian slaw and can’t wait to take over their downtown location to experience their Tostones, curry sweet potato fries, and Ho Chi Minh tofu sammich.

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Saucy Porka – Soy Ginger Tofu Baco

Vegans and T Rexs alike can rejoice in the Baja tofu tacos at the little Logan Square gem, Ground Control.  The lightly fried tofu is topped with pickled red onion, crunchy cabbage, black sesame and a vegan Baja sauce that tastes a little ranchy.  Sweet potato tacos also grace the menu with sautéed kale, firm mushrooms, and a not too hot chili tomato sauce.

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Ground Control – Smothered Sweet Potato Tacos

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Ground Control – Baja Tacos

We are drooling at the thought of partaking in the taco goodness of Antique Taco or Ay Chiwowa as we’ve heard taco-tastic reviews…ooh do we feel a Taco-Tastic review, part II coming soon?

Dearest readers, where do you go to get your taco fix?  We got a fever and the only prescription is…more cow bell…oops, we mean tacos!

Meatless Mexican Mushroom Monday

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Enchilada Stuffed Mushrooms

Modified recipe from here.

Say our title 3 times fast…Meatless Mexican Mushroom Monday!

We love mushrooms (smooches)!  They are versatile and sturdy, plus they provide protein making them a happening substitute on meatless Mondays.  This recipe can be a fancy yet simple appetizer for parties as well.  We prepared this for a ladies lunch get-together in only 30 minutes which left way more time to get purty.

  • 15 baby bella mushrooms
  • 2 oz light cream cheese, softened
  • 4 oz block of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  •  1/3 cup grated parmigianno regianno cheese
  • 1/4 tsp taco seasoning
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • garlic salt
  • 1/3 tsp cayenne
  • sea salt, black pepper, and chili flakes, sprinkle to taste
  • 1/2 pouch of Ricky Bayless Frontera Red Chile Enchilada Sauce 

Directions:

  • Preheat oven 375 degrees.  Lightly spray Olive Oil cooking spray in baking pan.
  • Remove stem from mushrooms.  Wash and clean the dirt off mushroom cap.
  • Mix softened cream cheese, grated sharp cheddar, parmigianno regianno cheese, taco seasoning, garlic salt, cayenne, salt, black pepper, and chili flakes.

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  • Stuff the mixture into the mushrooms and arrange in baking pan.  Pour Frontera Enchilada Sauce.  Sprinkle shredded sharp cheddar.

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  • Bake for 20 minutes until brown and bubbly!

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Final result: Some of the guests weren’t hot for Mexican food but could not stop eating them!  These were the best stuffed mushrooms we’ve ever had as well with melt in your mouth cheese and the perfect kick of spiciness. Get crazy and add black beans, avocado and side of Late July Mild Green Mojo chips from Whole Foods to compliment them.

We are anxious to experience the Rick Bayless empire, especially XOCO, to indulge in his woodland mushroom Torta to expand our mushroom meal menagerie.

Food