A Very Veg Thanksgiving: Baked French Onion Soup and Mushroom Gravy

Here’s Part 2 of delicious side dishes from my cooking adventure, French Onion Soup and Mushroom Gravy taught at Whole Foods Market Cooking School in Lincoln Park.  Thanks to Google+ Local Chicago for hosting this culinary experience!

When you see the food pics below, you’ll know why the whole class was clamoring to get a close view of the finished product.


French Onion Soup

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 4 large sweet onions, thinly sliced with the grain
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried thyme or 1 tbsp fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine, recommend cabernet sauvignon
  • 2 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cups filtered water
  • 1 small baguette
  • 1/2 pound Swiss, Gruyere, or Emmenthaler cheese, shredded

Emmenthaler Swiss Cheese


  • Preheat oven to 200 degrees
  • Dry heat a large soup pot or dutch oven for 2 minutes.  Add to hot pot the sliced onions.  Sprinkle salt and drizzle olive oil over onions.  With a large spoon or tongs, constantly turn the onions so they do not stick to the bottom.  Continue stirring and flipping for 5-10 minutes.  The onions will start to shrink and caramelized beautifully.  Add the thyme and stir once more.  Place a lid on the pot and continue this 30 minutes, stirring every so often.  This is where the base of the flavor comes from.  The longer you caramelize, the deeper the flavor.
  • Slice baguette to fit your bowls, either on a diagonal or in circles.  Place on a baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes, until bread is completely dried out.
  • Add red wine and balsamic vinegar.  This will help deglaze the pan and pick up more flavor.  Let cook another 10 minutes with no lid.  This will concentrate the liquid a bit to help deepen the flavor.  Add bay leaves and water and bring to a boil.  Turn heat to simmer, place lid on pot and allow to cook another 15-30 minutes.


  • Ladle into bowls, place bread over soup and sprinkle on cheese.  Place under broiler for 1 1/2 – 2 minutes.  Be aware of the time as the broiler can burn food very quickly.  Enjoy!

Vegan Thanksgiving Cooking Class


Mushroom Gravy

Whole Foods Market recipe adapted from Post Punk Kitchen

  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour or almond flour for gluten free
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 shallots, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 2tsp thyme
  • salt and peper to taste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast


  • In a large bowl, mix 2 cups vegetable broth with flour.  Whisk until there are no lumps.  Add remaining 2 cups of vegetable broth and set aside.
  • Heat a large sauce pan.  Add oil and shallots.  Saute about 5 minutes until shallots are limp.
  • Add garlic, mushrooms, paprika, thyme, salt and pepper.  Stir until well combined.  Saute about 5 minutes or until mushrooms are cooked.

Vegan Thanksgiving Cooking Class1

  • Add wine and bring to a boil for 3 minutes, letting the liquid reduce.  Stir often.
  • Add broth mixture and nutritional yeast to the pot.  Let cook 10-15 minutes until gravy thickens.

Vegan Thanksgiving Cooking Class2

So this is my first experience with mushroom gravy as a born vegetarian!  Use on whatever dish you want….cover your greens, your mashed potatoes or slather it on the Whole Foods “meat” loaf recipe from part 1.

Craving more variety for your veggie-giving?  Check out the following veg/vegan recipes as a Thanksgiving side dish or fall treat and have a healthy happy holiday tomorrow!

Super Moist Pumpkin Bread by Post Punk Kitchen 

Sweet Potato Soup with Ginger and Vanilla by Post Punk Kitchen

Candied Yams by Earth Balance Made Just Right

Buttery Apple Cider Carrots by Earth Balance Made Just Right

Vegan Pumpkin Pie by Whole Foods Market


Ay Chica WoW WoW, we heart sexy tacos!

Our constant gratitude attitude must be working this holiday season.  We got a karmic invite recently from Rockit PR goddess, Kara Callera, to chow-wow down at Billy Dec’s most recent restaurant installment, ¡AY CHIWOWA! (throwing out a couple more thanks, universe!).

Highlight Reel:  AY CHIWOWA is at the tip of River North on Orleans and Chicago (worth noting as there is secret free parking in the area if you are willing to stretch those Chicago winter legs for a block or two).  Perfect spot for: After work drinks and apps with coworkers (lots of specials for those of us on a “paying back college loans” budget), partying on the weekend with your lady friends (VIP service and private room space in the back of the spot) or an upbeat date with someone who likes it loud.  AY CHIWOWA is also known for their immense selection of tequilas and creative cocktails, such as the spicy Acai Jalapeno Margarita, so call an Uber or a pink mustached Lyft in honor of Movember if you wanna get down.

As cold as it was outside the night of our visit, we received a warm welcome from staff and like a T.I. rap song, we were invited to have whatever we liiiiiked.  The music was bumping with throw back jams like “Snoop Doggy Dog” and an ugly sweater train of patrons danced past us as we settled ourselves at our cozy table.  As Jill, our bubbly and attentive server, brought out a bevy of items, the dudes next to us probably thought we were trying to add some extra padding for the long winter.



Here’s the good, the amazing and the meh OK of AY CHIWOWA battling it out for best thing in our bellies.


Fresh chunky mango guacamole and roasted salsa paired with hot salted tortilla chips


Queso fundido (aka big old bowl of melty mexicheese) with sauteed peppers, onions and garlic

Ay Chiwowa


Winner?  Tie.  If we were on a deserted island and only had one food to live on, we would be praying some avocados would be drop from the sky.  The queso fundido, however, was a surprise plus with its flavorful veggie additions.

Veggie Entrees Throwdown:

Veggie Quesadilla


Veggie Tacos



Winner: Somehow queso fundido jumped in the cage match and beat up both veggie quesadilla and veggie tacos.  All three featured the similar sauteed peppers and onions leaving the veggie variety a little lacking.  Maybe throw some black bean tacos on the menu to entice the veg/vegan crowd?

Meaty Martial Arts Taco Match:

Slow cooked brisket-like Barbacoa


Adobe Veracruz style Chicken


Pork Belly with pickled radish

Ay Chiwowa1


Winner: Barbacoa!!!  The short rib meat was so juicy and tasty that no toppings were actually needed.  The bright watercress salad on top of the taco zeroed in on the melt in your mouth texture of the taco.  The chicken came in second with a solid Adobo spice and pleasing texture.

Our coup d’etat and game changers, though, were two sugar dusted churros, with a perfect balance of soft fluffy insides and crunchy outsides, accompanied by an addictive hot cajeta sauce.  When we think of churros, usually its those stale carnival ones, not very thrilling to cupcake connoisseurs, but “someone” enjoyed them so much a bite of churro “mysteriously” ended up in her mouth…and then the stare down began.


¡AY CHIWOWA!  Thanks again for hosting us!!

Looking for more of what’s hot in Chicago?  Follow Billy Dec’s blog http://www.achicagothing.com and twitter https://twitter.com/billydec

Meatless Monday “Meat” Loaf

Are you reaaaaaady…to learn how to make delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes just in time for Thanksgiving?  Are you prepared to make plant based entrées fit for even the most carnivorous foodie?  You won’t even miss the meat!

On my beauteous bday, I attended Whole Foods Market Cooking School in Lincoln Park to learn about preparing meatless meals thanks to Google+ Local Chicago.

“Meat” Loaf

  • 2 cups cooked brown or green lentils such as Melissa’s Steamed Lentils (all natural, no preservatives, non-GMO)
  • 2 cups cooked short grain brown rice
  • 1 cup rolled oats, blended such as Bob’s Red Mill Old Fashioned Rolled Oats
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning blend
  • 1/2 tbsp sage
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp ketchup to spread on loaf


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • In a blender, place rolled oats and blend into powder
  • In a saute pan, add oil.  Italian seasoning and sage.  Allow to cook until oil absorbs spices and aroma fills the air.  Add onions and garlic.  Saute until onions are translucent and soft.
  • In a large bowl, add cooked lentils, cooked rice, blended oats, sauted onion and garlic mixture, crushed tomatoes and BBQ sauce.  Mix thoroughly.



  • Pour loaf mixture into a well-greased bread pan and pat down.  Add ketchup to the top and with the back of spoon, spread to coat the exposed loaf.


  • Bake for 1 hour.  Let sit for 10 minutes.  Transfer to a plate and enjoy!!


Kate has been bugging me to demonstrate my new culinary skills for the holiday.  She may have to wait for Part 2, French Onion Soup and Mushroom Gravy, coming soon!  Don’t drool like her while you’re waiting. 😉

**Recipe from Whole Foods Cooking School, Lincoln Park

Where to get your Sugar Craving anytime!


*Gasp! *Marvel *Be in Awe.

What you see is real, not like unicorns, ligers, or bears…wait, bears are real.

It’s a cupcake ATM!  Sprinkles! Cupcakes Bakery offers unique flavors and a not so overpowering sugar balance with a (BONUS!) 24 hour cupcake ATM machine.

Remember at 4 am when you woke up in a cold sweat craving a red velvet shot in the arm?  Yeah, us neither.  However, we sure have wanted a cupcake at 10:30pm after a jaunt to concerts in Millennium Park.  And wouldn’t you know it, cupcake ATMs draw celebrities in too.  Gary Sinise, of Forrest Gump and CSI fame, walked by us last time.  He didn’t stop for a cupcake but that’s probably because the line was off le chain, as the French say.  In retrospect though, the Key Lime, Chai Tea and Red Velvet cupcakes made it worth the agonizing wait.  You shoulda stayed, Gary!

You can find this beauty 24 hours a day at 50 East Walton.


The Skeleton Key to Exploring Dia De Los Muertos

Chicago knows how to showcase Halloween.  From horror movie marathons at the Music Box theater to elaborate Eyes Wide Shut style masquerades, there is something to put a scare into everyone.  This year, we decided to make the abnormal leap into 2 different Dia De Los Muertos events in the Chi.

Quick Skele-view: Traditionally, Dia De Los Muertos, or day of the dead, is a two day remembrance in Mexican culture where people honor their lost loved ones.  People make shrines decorated with photos of those lost, sugar skulls and other items linked to their loved one.

Dia De Los Muertos also inspires calavera, or skeleton, art and the sought after La Cavalera Catrina, the famous female skeletal face.

We split up to hunt down two different Day of the Dead events.

Google+ Local Day of the Dead at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen and Gold Coast Day of the Dead at International Museum of Surgical Science on Lake Shore Drive benefiting Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Chicago.

Kate: Monica wasn’t available for the Google+ Local Day of the Dead event so I wrangled two brave friends, Melissa and Karla, to come with me.  It was a thriller to see Dia De Los Tamales with a huge spread of food for us.  Our fave vegan black bean tamales were haunting the table as well as asparagus taquitos, fresh guac, and three types of salsas (red, green and black bean & corn).  My meat eating pals were treated too, not with brains, but pollo and pork tamales.


Dia de los Tamales

After feasting, we sneaked through the Day of the Dead exhibit.  There is a diverse array of art mediums, including full shrines, wood burnings, statues and prints.  No pics are allowed in the exhibit but here is Skeleton Elvis leering outside.  He’s a hunk o burning bones.



My substitute camera woman, Karla, conquered her nightmares and took a picture of my feared glare.

The monster mash of the event was getting my caterina makeup done.  All 3 makeup artists created detailed sugar skull looks for guests.  For dyi ghosts, YouTube tutorials are available for La Catrina as well, if you daaaare!

Monica: At the IMSS, I learned that there has been enormous changes in surgical science.  If they had not occurred, we would not be where we are in terms of technology and surgical combined.

One intriguing section on the third floor displayed history, anatomy and medical conditions of pain including alternative treatments such as Ayurveda, an ancient Indian holistic medicine.  Ayurvedic medicine combines diet, yoga, breathing exercises, medicinal herbs and more to resolve pain.


Some interesting facts: Bayer, famous for Aspirin production, once sold Heroin as medicine in late 1800, thus causing one million opiate addicts in USA by 1900.   Cigarettes were used to treat Asthma (totally makes sense right? *sarcasm*).



Now the less creepy stuff….I sampled cupcakes from Swirlz Cupcakes, Ludwig Farmstead Creamery delicious Kickapoo and Gouda cheese, blood orange gelato by Caffe Gelato, Tequila Avion Espresso, tasty Pumpkin Patch and Hypnotize Me cupcakes by Guilty Pleasurez Cocktail Cupcakes and much more!

more photos

Swirlz Cupcakes – red velvet chocolate filling raspberry, Dia De Los Muertos chocolate mint, pumpkin s’mores, and carmelita!!

part 2photos

Caffe Gelato, Local Folks Foods, Tequila Avion Espresso, Guilty Pleasurez Cocktail Cupcakes, Angelina Ristorante and Anthony’s Own.