Category Archives: Food

Death by Cocoa Bean

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If you’ve gotta go, I can’t think of a more pleasant way.  I decided to “take one for the team” and register for a dessert class.  The Cocoa Bean in Geneva was referred to me by my friend, Julie, who reveres their cakes.  Each year on her birthday her sister gives her a whole cake to enjoy all by herself.  No sharing required, unless she wants to.  She does not want a new bag of the season, not a piece of jewelry, not a trip to Vegas, not even a dinner out at a five star restaurant.  She wants a cake.  A whole cake and nothing but the cake.  On second thought, I don’t want to speak for her.  I am sure she would never turn down any of those other aforementioned things, (ahem…Kyle), but this cake must be gooood.

So after hearing this, I knew I had to check it out.  While reading the website I noticed on Sunday afternoons they offer classes, so I jumped on the UP-W line and headed west to Geneva.  It is a little walk when arriving, but Geneva is so beautiful that it is not a sacrifice….and I was going to a dessert class, for heaven’s sake, I could stand to burn a few before and after.  Best surprise of the day…another French Market at the train station!  More on that in the Spring, since this was the last one of the season.

Could this weather be better? I think not. And neither did the gazillion other people enjoying 3rd Street in Geneva.  This street alone could keep this blog going indefinitely.  So many people were out and about loving the weather and the shops and restaurants.

Our class started at 12:00 in the working kitchen of the bakery. For a person like me, that was a great place to be sitting.  Surrounded by ovens, a marble slab counter, small, medium and giant mixers, and every whisk, spatula and gadget imaginable.

We dove right in with a pumpkin mousse and sponge cake roulade.

Think: dessert rolled like a giant Hostess Ho Ho. (I loved peeling and eating those when I was young…I would still love peeling and eating those if it wasn’t culinarily incorrect, which is like politically incorrect only referring to bad stuff we can no longer openly buy in a grocery store and put into our bodies without guilt…shame…and transfats…WHAT? There are no transfats in Ho Ho’s???…putting that on the grocery list for next time.)

This homemade Ho Ho was made with vanilla cake with pumpkin mousse cream filling.  Pastry Chef Paul (owner) made it two ways; layered with a chocolate ganache and also layered with raspberry. Obviously, this was the raspberry.  Dessert #1 in the stomach….this could get crazy.

Next, he made a simple pumpkin bar with homemade cream cheese frosting. Simple and common, but the techniques we learned were very helpful.  How to prevent bubbles, or dense cake, or ugly cutting.

 Dessert #2 in the stomach… Starting to worry.

Next on the list, a pecan torte in a chocolate crust.  I had to stop.  I just could not make myself take a bite of another dessert.  No matter how much the people around me raved…I had to stop.  But you don’t think I just skipped it, do you?  They said at the beginning they would give us boxes to take things home…I am always planning ahead.

Lastly, he made crème brulee in a roasted pumpkin shell.  The presentation was gorgeous, daarling.  Love learning the tricks of the trade.  Roasting the pumpkins with cinnamon and sugar, learning about real vanilla, when to use tempering, and hot water baths.  (Not with bubbles and lavender, silly, as a cooking method.)

The class was informative and filling…need to go run a 5K.   (I should have run the Hot Chocolate 5K in Chicago yesterday, but that might have defeated the purpose since there was hot chocolate,  chocolate fountains and fondue after.)

We were all sent home with boxes of goodies.  This was in the box.  Can you imagine making these thin layers??  There were croissants and pastries from the storefront, samples of what we saw Chef Paul make, a pumpkin with crème brulee, and a serious sugar high.   That won’t deter me from going again, though.  I am much tougher than that.

Their website has the schedule for the rest of the holiday season.  Mark this in your calendar for a must do, just make sure to eat lots of vegetables a for few days before.  It’s all in the training.

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Cafe Amano

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Birthday months are the best.  Yes, I said months. Not just a day, but the feeling you have when it is THE month of your birthday.  The WHOLE month. Then each time you do something fun in that month you just chalk it up to a birthday celebration.  Every time you buy something you can just think…well, this is for my birthday.

Birthdays are also a checkpoint.  It makes you think about whether or not you have accomplished what you wanted to this year or made sure you have seen friends you want to make a point of seeing. Unfortunately, the month is not long enough to see all of the friends with which I would like to catch up…that is a good problem to have…not the not-enough-time problem, but that I have more friends than I have time for.  It is like the saying “May your house be too small to hold all of your friends.”  That is the glass is half-full theory.  (Don’t focus on the size of your house, but on all of the friends that you have.)  That is the blessing…  and actually small houses are faster to clean.

My long-time friend, Trudy, and I use birthdays as an excuse to do something a little out of the ordinary/everyday together.  It is an event, not just a gift, because after all, the gift is in the time spent.  We have been doing this for years.  This time for my birthday we went to Elmhurst to Cafe Amano.  It is a great little Italian Restaurant that offers a cooking demonstration once a month.  On their website it is called a cooking class, but I say demonstration because it is really not a class where you get your hands messy cooking.  It is more like a demonstration in the dining room. Everyone is seated at tables around the dining room while Chef Marco explains what we are going to eat and how he prepares it.

The photo below is actually of the Amano Butcher and Market next door.

(This photographer took a picture of the wrong doorway, ooops! but you get the idea.  It is just as cool.)

During the demonstration, everyone is welcome to ask questions while the chef cooks and also comment on the food and food preparation.  It also sparks ideas of other dishes that people make with the ingredients.  I am sure depending on whether the group is shy or outgoing changes the atmosphere and dictates how the evening goes. We had a short discussion on pasteurization and homogenization…Trudy, the 5th grade teacher in the room, really knows her stuff.  That show  “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?”  should be …”So You Think You are Smarter than a 5th Grade Teacher?  HA.  No way, they know everything.”  (Hey Trudy, how was my puctuation on that?) 

Our first taste was a bean salad…hmm….be brave, Maureen…(not a bean fan)…but surprise, surprise, I really did like them.  They were tossed in apple cider vinegar and a little olive oil and sugar.


The appetizer was super simple (and not your typical pig in a blanket)…it was fresh figs stuffed with creamy Gorgonzola cheese and then wrapped in prosciutto.  It is a house specialty and the chef said he goes through many many many figs.  He even has a fig tree outside that represents his love for this fruit.

Next was a butternut squash and apple soup drizzled with Blackstrap Molasses. I died.  It was delicious and unfortunately the only recipe held back from us all night.  The Chef said it is a restaurant specialty and they don’t give that one out. I am imagining myself sneaking into the kitchen with dark glasses and a trench coat later for this one…

The salad course was next followed by chicken picatta with artichokes, shitake mushrooms, and capers in a white wine sauce which I forgot to photograph because my fork started moving before I remembered to take a photo.

And then finally BANANAS FOSTER!!  One of my favorites.

The evening is very leisurely. Don’t go if you want to eat and get out quickly.  The cost is $35 for a five course meal and includes wine, soft drinks and coffee.   They send you home with printed recipes and a full stomach.

And as always, it was really close to the Elmhurst Metra stop.

If you want to try this evening…click here…  http://www.cafeamano.com/calendar.php

If you really like cooking classes, here are two that I have loved that are not on the UP-W twain twacks…

http://www.fullerssecondfloor.com/classes/  This is above Fuller’s Ace Hardware in Hinsdale.  LOVE this place.  Nicest hardware store I’ve ever been in. If you go, you need to invite me.  Did I say I love this place?

http://www.countrygardencuisine.com/  This one is in St. Charles.  We went to a honey themed cooking class. Learned all about bees and honey and cooking with honey. Such a cute place.  It is an old farm house and has outbuildings that have been really nicely restored and maintained.

Happy Birthday to anyone in October!  I have many many friends who have birthdays during this month. Go do something out of the ordinary to celebrate!

Bike the Lake

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My train trip today took me back to Chicago.  It is like a magnetic force.  I can’t stay away on a gorgeous day.  After walking through Millenium Park (on the day that it was all mine), I saw the McDonald’s Cycle Center.  The center rents so many bikes and I made a note-to-self to come back to do it.  For $30 I was able to rent a bike and ride the beautiful lake front. I met a friend and we hit the pavement.

http://www.chicagobikestation.com/

This is the first thing I saw when I crossed Lake Shore Drive.

I only had two hours to ride since motherhood was calling my name after school.  We headed north to Navy Pier and then past Oak Street Beach and Belmont Harbor.  I desperately needed to stop for a bottle of water.  When I was buying the water I asked (pointing to an old structure near the lake), “Hey, what is that over there?”  And he said, “Restrooms.”  I said, ” That huge old building is just restrooms??”  He said…”Yep.”

So we had to venture over to see the fanciest restrooms with the best view in the city.

We were so surprised to come upon this.

Ok, so they weren’t restrooms.  It was a golf course!  It is called the Sydney R. Marovitz Park District Course.

The Clubhouse/Clock Tower was so neat and very old.

The stone walls look Scottish and the view is spectacular.

(Although in Scotland they didn’t use mortar and the walls are still standing hundreds of years later.)

This is an original rendering of the clock tower.

That’s “constructed in 1931”.

We got all wrapped up in this unexpected find when we realized we had to be back to return the bike and book it to the train station so we rode like the wind, …oh wait, I meant we rode against the wind all the way back until our legs were burning.  We made it back with time to spare so I could take more pictures of, you guessed it, …FOOD!!

These food trucks must be a new addition to Randolph St.  I don’t ever remember seeing these before.  I have seen really great ones in Portland, but never here.

(As you might notice, it has a new ad for the TV show “The Chew” on the side.)

And with 20 minutes to spare, I was so so so tempted to stop in and visit Patrick during his first week of school, just like when he went to preschool.  I had to resist running into the Sun Times Building and standing outside the classroom and waving through the window.

…how embarrassing would that be??

Hi Honey!! Mommy came to visit!! It makes me laugh just to imagine it.

So I stayed this far away.  No chance of embarrassment from here, right?

That building right next door is the Merchandise Mart.  It was at this very moment I decided I am glad I am not a window washer.

I was also early enough to try out a different food shop in the train station named LavAzza.

Pretty, huh?

I went with the giant chocolate chip cookie and an iced coffee.

It was the least I could do after that grueling 12 minute, I mean, 12 mile ride.   Another fun day on the UP-W line!


Chow!

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Life has gotten in the way of blogging lately.  So hopefully things will return to normal and I can start taking some more train trips for you.  Ok, who am I kidding…life never returns to normal.  Normal would be weird.  Patrick, my oldest,  started college today.  I know! Late start, huh?  First day of the rest of his career.  He will walk past that French Market in Chicago everyday now.  Maybe I will get lucky and get an item delivered once in a while.

This trip is also centered around food.  Big surprise, I know.  Some days I just can’t seem to think about it enough.  I have been wanting to take another “short” trip, so today was the day.  The name of the destination on this trip was just what the doctor ordered.  It is called CHOW and it is located just south of the Elmhurst Metra station.  If you are lucky enough to live close by or you have a college student in Elmhurst, give it a whirl…or if you don’t mind a short trip of your own, it is worth it.  The people who own CHOW are genius because it is THE perfect location for a commuter stop before or after work …(or if you live in Wheaton and love food very much).

http://www.chowtogo.com/

The shop was cozy and the employees were friendly and very willing to answer questions.  I talked for a few moments to the Chef and he was personable and seemed to love his job.  The food looked seasonally spectacular and not just because I was hungry, either.  The Baked Butternut Squash stuffed with granola and dried fruit was very tempting, but I had to plan ahead for my choosy family for dinner.  I went with the Crispy Panko Chicken which would go with our spaghetti tonight for a delicious Chicken Parmesan.


Lauren, the gal assisting me, was helpful in letting me know the best way to warm the chicken to keep it crispy and just warm enough instead of recooking it since everything is ready to go.

I then had to buy the frosted almond cookies for dessert.  The creamy Pumpkin Hummus and pasta salad were my choices for lunch.  I like hummus.  I don’t usually love hummus.  I generally like it mainly because it is better for me than regular dips, but I REALLY loved this pumpkin hummus simply because it was SO good.  It tastes like a pumpkin pie dip.  I ate it with pretzel chips.

SO GOOD.

Must.get.more.

Get a load of these pictures!!

I have a thing for chalkboards.  I love them.  These were painted right on the wall.

All of this is freshly made in the store.  Even those pot pies! I was very tempted to get the roasted vegetable mix of sweet potatoes and squashes, but I stuck to the plan.  I will just have to go back.

They cater, they bake, they freeze prepared dinners …like the vegetable lasagna, salmon in puff pastry or pork tenderloin with peach compote below.

There are fresh pies to take home to bake yourself…

…and they even offer a sit down dining experience every 6 weeks.

Here is their description taken from their website…seems like a special treat to me (as if you need an excuse).

“CHOW AFTER DARK…Our latest venture! Chow ‘retail’ is transformed into Chow ‘fine dining’ for a spectacular multi-course experience. European seating accommodates up to 26 guests. Call for details and round up your friends for a truly delicious evening. Saturday evenings, every 6 weeks.”

And did I mention they bake?

Chow…it’s what’s for dinner.

The other exciting thing about my trip today is I found tons of other places to travel to in downtown Elmhurst.  Great little downtown.  I also was eavesdropping on a family waiting for the train that were going to Glen Ellyn for lunch at a train restaurant.  So many places, so little time.  I need to keep up.  Watch for another blog soon.