Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hot Doug's...A New Chicago Landmark

{The king of encased meats, Doug Sohn}
A trip to Chicago automatically means a detour to Hot Doug’s.  To let you know how serious we are about this place, we forwent a trip to either the Museum of Contemporary Art or the Lincoln Park Zoo, and cut our meandering on the Magnificent Mile short just to make sure we made it to this golden destination.

Don’t ask us why we only come here in the winter when it’s below freezing with a wicked wind blowing up our skirts or why we always arrive an hour to closing time.
Just trust us…it’s that good. 
The walls boast cheeky, kitschy hot dog deco, the Ramones blast in the background and Doug, chef and owner, takes your order up front, always, and to boot he’s a really nice dude.  It’s worth the wait outside, rain, sleet, snow, freezing, hailing, smoldering.  And there will be a wait…  Count on an hour’s worth at least, especially during lunchtime hours and weekends.

{A typical line on the weekend and about an hour's wait.}

When you get inside the first set of doors, you’re gold.  Getting there near closing hours is like playing Russian roulette, because it means someone's not going to make the cut.  Initially, you'll see people impatiently leaving the line, but once you get a certain distance to the doors, there's no turning back. 
It was soooo cold, we were questioning our sanity...  People were dancing and strangers started inching closer to each other in an effort to stay warm.  The people in front of us didn’t even have winter coats (Chicago natives- tough…but still) and our neighbors joked that we were recreating a scene right out of March of the Penguins, waddling ever so slowly around the corner. 

{Huzzah!  We can almost touch the door!}

Rewarded at last...

{Caribbean Goat Sausage with the fixin's!}

{Foie Gras Duck Sausage and Chicago Dog}

{Duck fat fries- I had to defend mine from two predators named Lana and Fordy}

Everything is magnifique at Hot Doug's, but I recommend the classic Chicago Dog, and seriously anything on the Daily Special menu.   The Caribbean Goat Sausage I had was out of this world and had a great balance of flavors (Spicy Passion Fruit-Mango Cream, Crispy Fried Onions and Smoked Cumin Gouda Cheese).   Many come for the once controversial Foie Gras Duck Sausage, and be forewarned: the duck fries served on Fridays and Saturdays are mighty addictive. 

Oh and if you haven't heard, Anthony Bourdain ate here.  Enough said!

{Anthony Bourdain ordering a Foie Gras Duck Sausage.}

Seriously, Anthony Bourdain or not, it's one of the best places to get the beloved Chicago Dog and enjoy some new clever, culinary spins of the sausage.  It's a bit of a tourist trap since Mr. Bourdain's visit, but there's plenty of love from the locals too.


P.S.  Oh, and bring cash!  No plastic accepted.  Our first visit we made it to the counter only to realize that, and we almost cried.  Doug had us order, eat first and then let us walk to the ATM. No one lets you do this, let alone in Chicago. 
See?  Super nice guy!

And if you're interested, there's a way to get free complete meals at Hot Doug's for the rest of your life (and as long as Hot Doug Emporium is still kickin') but you have to show that you've gotten a real bona fide tattoo of the Hot Doug logo.  Ah, but you'll still have to wait in line...
{First, third and twelfth photo courtesy of Google Images}

Posted by Dawn

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Visit to Vosges Haut Chocolat Boutique

{Chocolate bars galore}
Whoever said that you can’t buy happiness never ate Vosges Chocolate.
Day 2, we visited the flagship shop on Michigan Avenue because we were right across the street. But if you are ever happen upon their Lincoln Park boutique you can splurge on their wine pairings with chocolate, which I hear is worth the trip (Lori has been there and can fill  you in!). 

Word has gotten around on Vosges who now have stores in New York and Vegas.  For those who've never heard of Vosges, they make dreamy, unique chocolate concoctions that boast international flavor inspired by Chef Katrina Markoff's travels from around the world (You can learn more about her and her story, here).  The Michigan Ave. store is small but well-stocked and you can find something that fits every budget.  The girls working behind the counter are super friendly: helpful and ready to answer any questions with that unbeatable Midwestern charm. 

It was hard choosing what we wanted; really, I should not be unsupervised in this store.  Lana, my daughter, chose a Mo bar, an applewood bacon, smoked salt and milk chocolate bar, and I regretfully put back a caramel blood-orange chocolate bar in lieu of truffles.  Then we admired the cutest floppy-eared chocolate  bunnies and a giant chocolate covered mushroom displayed just in time for Easter, hung out a bit in the nook in the corner with the large hanging chandelier, and noshed on a few truffles.

{Lana enjoying the sweet smell of chocolate.}

{Truffles and aforementioned Chocolate mushroom in case}
 We had more family bonding time at home after our whirlwind trip recapping our time in Chicago, sampling and sharing some Vosges truffles.  Hip Hop, Disco and Funk, the Naga and the Wooloomooloo were our favorites. 

{Hello little truffles, just waiting to be eaten!}

As a side note it’s funny to hear your 11 year-old tell her 9 year old-brother, “Don’t just scarf them down…You have to savor it!”
Foodies in the making… I am a proud mother!

P.S. If you visit Vosges, try their Spicy Red Fire Toffee, delicious and addictive.  I spied some Red Fire Chocolate Tortilla Chips that looked intriguing too. Saving those for next time! 

{Photos of candy bar and sample candy bar pieces in bowls, courtesy of Google Images}

Posted by Dawn

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Chicago Eats: Quartino Restaurant

{Chicago at dusk.}
This weekend we booked a mini-vacation to Chicago.  Objective: get away from the house and household chores for a couple of days, get some R & R, and spy some new sights.  And of course, turbo-eat our way through Chicago!

Oh, where to start?  I have a bucket list way long with varied eateries ranging from hole-in-the-wall dives, quirky bakeries and breakfast joints, and Chicago landmarks (Charlie Trotter anyone?).  Two days just isn’t enough, but we discovered one new-to-us downtown restaurant, visited the holy grail of hot dog joints, and made a fieldtrip to a haut chocolatier.

We landed in Chicago on Friday, and spur of the moment decided we’d like to try Frontera Grill.  Friday, two hungry kids, 7:00 pm…oh, something like a 3 hour wait.  Oy.  Scratch that.  Instead someone suggested Quartino Ristorante.

{Chicago and Italian Newspapers, Keith with Peroni Beer, bustling Quartino}

  It’s a newer Italian restaurant in a touristy section of town, with a noisy, energetic vibe.  All the way there as we hoofed it, I kept imagining an Olive Garden-type establishment (Chicago blasphemy!).  All was forgiven when I spied the homey atmosphere and found out that dishes are offered tapa-style.  Any place with a chef jacket autographed by Julia Child can’t be bad.

The Roasted Baby Octopus with Braised Escarole was my favorite and I usually pass on bacon, but the Pork Belly with Apple Compote was pretty darn tasty too.  We also ordered calamari (the kids insist on it wherever we go) and pizza in Chicago...it's just a must!

{Chicago Pizza, Eggplant Parmigiana, Pork Belly with Apple Compote}

{Light and fluffy Zeppole}
Oh, and if you ever visit Quartinos don’t miss the Italian doughnuts (above) which you can dip in honey or chocolate.  Everyone was happily full after our meal, and decided to pass on dessert...well except me {I usually always order dessert whether I need it or not}.  When these heavenly things were placed on the table, everyone dug in and needless to say, they didn't last long. It ended up being the perfect way to end to our meal.

P.S. Come by tomorrow when we visit the Vosges Haut Chocolat boutique!

Posted by Dawn

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Framed Jewelry Organizer

I've been searching for an easy, affordable, "artsy" way to house my growing jewelry collection for awhile.    So when I spied this cute, creative way to house jewelry via Liz Stanley, I was all over it.

Some frames I've piled up were just begging to be used and I even had some cabinet/dresser knobs laying around just for this project.  The rest, I was able to snag at my local hardware store. 

Here's a list of supplies you'll need:

Cabinet Hardware

Everything is pretty self-explanatory:  Before you do any prep work and painting, decide where you want the knobs to go, and mark their placement on the back. 

Then lightly "scruff up" the front of the pegboard so that the primer will adhere well.  I used two thin coats of gray paint right out of the can, but you can also use spray paint, which I think would be easier and faster. Truthfully, the paint out of the can wasn't too bad to work with and I wanted a specific shade of gray.  I just kept a chopstick on hand to remove any "globs" of paint that might collect in the holes.

Next, just pop the dry pegboard back into the frame, insert the knobs, drape your jewelry, stand back and enjoy everything in its place!

P.S. I'd like to try this pegboard project next:

Posted by Dawn

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

King Cake: A Fat Tuesday Must!

Every year (barring last year), I always make a big pot of Seafood Gumbo or Crawfish Ettouffe and King Cake for dessert to celebrate Mardi Gras. New Orleans holds a special place in my heart...the music, culture, and of course the food!!!

This year to make ammends to my family for skipping out last year, I made our beloved King Cake with a  recipe from Emeril Lagasse.  The only change I made was to refrigerate the dough after it rose the first time.  This was mostly due to me trying to multi-task and not being able to roll out the dough right away.  Actually it worked in my favor...the dough seemed even more flaky, light and tender.

After baking, you can insert a plastic baby or a pecan in the cake.  Tradition goes, if you find the baby, next year you host the next Mardi Gras party {or bring the cake the following year!}.  Just be sure to let your guests know to look for the plastic baby so they don't crack a tooth or choke on it- a true party killer.

Luisa, one of the three bakers on this blog, also made the same recipe. Please see her step by step photos below :-)

And Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!

King Cake Recipe

  • 1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
  • 2 packages dry yeast 
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 to 5 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1/2 cup warm milk (105 to 115 degrees)
  • 1/2 cup melted unsalted butter, cooled
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped candied citron
  • 1 pecan half, uncooked dried bean or King Cake Baby
  • 2 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Purple, green and yellow food coloring 
  • Purple, green and gold sugar crystals


Preheat the oven 350 degrees. Combine the warm water, yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar in a small bowl. Mix well and set aside to a warm place for about 10 minutes. Combine the 4 cups of flour, 1/2 cup sugar, salt, nutmet, lemon rind and add warm milk, melted butter, egg yolks and yeast mixture. Beat until smooth. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place the dough in a well-greased bowl. Turn once so greased surface is on top.

Cover the dough and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 1/2 hours). Punch the dough down and place on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle with the citron and knead until the citron is evenly distributed. Shape the dough into a cylinder, about 30 inches long. Place the cylinder on a buttered baking sheet. Shape into a ring, pinching ends together to seal. Place a well-greased 2-pound coffee can or shortening can in the center of the ring to maintain shape during baking (I usually don't use, but you can). Press the King Cake Baby, pecan half or dried bean into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough. Cover the ring with a towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the coffee can immediately. Allow the cake to cool. For the glaze: Combine the ingredients and beat until smooth. To assemble, drizzle cake with the glaze. Sprinkle with sugar crystals, alternating colors.

Posted by Dawn