Friday, December 2, 2016

Partridge in a Pear Tree Pie Cookie

For some reason, I just love the vision of a partridge in a pear tree. Maybe because it is the last line of the song that never ends, but the image I conjure up in my mind is fairly peaceful. And we all need a little "peaceful" this time of year. 

Little known fact: this entire song is in fact a religious code. It was written during the time when Roman Catholics in England were not allowed to practice their faith openly, so they cloaked the true meaning in seemingly random elements. Now, I am not necessarily religious but always love to know the hidden meaning behind things- I think this is pretty spectacular. Let's hide a delicious filling inside buttery, sweet cookie layers!

Now, you might be asking what is a Pie Cookie? It might be my made up term, but I sandwiched a homemade pie filling between two sugar cookies. 

This recipe starts with a basic sugar cookie and adds in juicy Bartlett Pears and Raspberry Honey Creme for a sweet and fruity twist. If you haven't heard of Honey Creme before, it is essentially just whipped honey with natural spices/fruit/juices added to flavor. I discovered Honey Ridge Farms, a honey company carrying on the tradition of 5 generations of bee keepers. I use their products in many of my cocktails, appetizers and desserts because well, they are just that damn good.

Apologies if my cookie more closely resembles a Twitter symbol than a partridge, but hey, you can't win 'em all. Sur la Table didn't have a partridge cookie cutter. 

Whatever. This partridge that has flown into the digital age.

A few tips...

*Keep dough in refrigerator until you are ready to cut it; helps to divide batch in half.
*Strain pears as well as possible to eliminate juice spilling out of cookies.
*Create a small well in the bottom cookie prior to adding filling; leave an edge of cookie to seal.

Thank you to Natasha of Houseful of Nicholes for including me in her Twenty Five Days of Cookies Blog Hop, make sure to check out the next recipe tomorrow on Mama Harris' Kitchen!

One of a Kind Holiday Gifts

I absolutely love making holiday gifts for others, but I often don't have the time to create gifts by hand for everyone. This is where the One of a Kind Show comes in! This weekend, Chicago is hosting the 16th annual Holiday edition with more than 600 artists exhibiting from all over North America.

I hopped on WCIU yesterday morning to showcase some of my favorite picks and am sharing them with you!

Chocolate Twist
Owner: Kate Coffey
Booth: 10060

If you have a sweet tooth, you absolutely must try this local brand of confectionery treats. Owner Kate Coffey whips up amazingly twisted combinations such as Bailey's Candy Cane Chocolate Bars and Beer Pretzel Caramels. I have personally sampled many of her creations and I am HOOKED. Dare I say best caramel I have ever tasted. She also has a line of caramel sauce, perfect for drizzling over a bowl of vanilla bean ice cream as well as handcrafted marshmallows. Wouldn't Santa love THAT for his hot chocolate?

the zen of slow cooking
Owners: Meg Barnhart and Jane McKay
Booth: E-36

I recently fell in love...with my slow cooker. These whole spice infusions and ground spice blends are crafted specifically for use in a slow cooker, and they take the guesswork out of making a delicious dinner for your family. My favorite blends are the Southwest Fiesta (perfect for Chicken Tortilla Soup- 5 minute prep time!) and the Sweet & Spicy (make their Maple Vanilla French Toast for Christmas morning- my new tradition).

Jo Snow Syrups
Owner: Melissa Yen
Booth: 10071

Melissa started making coffee syrups when she owned a cafe because basic caramel and mocha were getting a little old. Fast forward to today when she has her own line of syrups for use in coffee, soda, cocktails and of course snow cones! The all natural syrups are hand crafted locally right here in Chicago with organic cane sugar, herbs & spices- no preservative or artificial colors. I am dying to try her Flavor Drops which elevate sparkling water from basic to crave-worthy. PS- they have a snow cone catering company and and Ice Trike, which I am SO booking for my next party.

The Poppet
Owners: Helen Tyler and Karen Krolow
Booth: E-33

The prototype of The Poppet started from a shower curtain, safety pins and a cardigan. These gals designed a line of the ultimate travel fashions- cardigans and even a wrap dress that store in their own attached tear-proof, water repellent pocket. Total genius. The cardigan I tried out on air didn't wrinkle, so perfect for stashing in your car for over-air-conditioned offices or when you find yourself needing to cover a kid mishap :) The wrap dress is amazing- a classic black wrap dress that is flattering, functional and well...FUN! Stay tuned for a video of me testing this out at home.

Chikahisa Studio
Owner: Ann Chikahisa
Booth: 8094

Ann kindly lent me a few pieces to wear on air yesterday and they were stunning. Simple yet unique, these pieces are unlike any of the commercial jewelry you see in stores. The shapes are organic and moderns, with styles such as lariat necklaces and ear threader earrings. I am always on the lookout for something classic but on trend (almost impossible!), and Ann's style strikes that perfect balance. I guarantee you will get dozens of "WHERE did you find that?" questions when you wear this art!

Circa Ceramics
Owners: Nancy and Andy Witt
Booth: 2121

If you are looking for something a little quirky but still usable, Circa Ceramics are it. Their pieces are made of porcelain and is food, dishwasher and microwave safe. This husband and wife team create pottery that is vibrant, retro and eclectic. I have my eye on the large bowls- I might purchase a few for our home to serve personal dinner salads in because salad on a plate doesn't make sense to me! You can customize your color and design on all pieces, and the selection of humorous/funky art makes it easy to find something for everyone. The WTF cylinder will be right next to my computer soon because I say that phrase about 500 times a day.

Thank you to WCIU for chatting with me on the show yesterday! Melissa and Jeanne- you made my morning, and I am definitely going to take you up on the offer of cocktails soon!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

#DateNight: Mexican Fusion at Mesa Urbana

I have been on the search for a Mexican restaurant that has some flavor. Many restaurants seem to rearrange the same ingredients in different ways for every dish which, although it may be delicious, doesn't keep me coming back.

Mesa Urbana is a completely different Mexican restaurant than any others I have visited. They are actually by definition a gastro pub, which means that they serve incredibly high quality food in a relaxed atmosphere. Their unique style of Mexican fusion is a welcome addition to the suburban culinary scene, and the laid-back, convivial atmosphere is both relaxing and buzzy.

I started off with an Urbana Margarita, which included Partida Blanco, cucumbers, orange, lemon, lime, simple syrup, and agave nectar. All of the juices are fresh squeezed- no over-sugary bottled mix here. The house tequila is actually 100% organic, and the simple syrups are all made in house. The margarita was delicious- refreshing with the addition of cucumber. They have a wide array of specialty cocktails including a Kiwi Fresa Mojito, Mexican Old Fashioned, and Blanco Sangria.

As for food, we ordered the special of the evening- queso fundido which included perfectly cooked shrimp nestled under a blanked of gooey, delicious melted cheese. Simply put, it was divine.

As for the main dish, my husband ordered Carne Asada cooked to a gorgeous medium rare. I opted for the Pescado Tacos- pan-seared grouper topped with a fresh mix of cabbage, pineapple relish, avocado and caper aioli.

I had to order the Elote en Tequesuite- grilled corn with cotija cheese, lime juice and creme fraiche. This is a twist on traditional Mexican street corn- cut off the cob and served in a dish. ABSOLUTELY divine.

The owner, Moe, was so excited about a new dish on the menu that he insisted on bringing it out (and we were thrilled he did): Ahi Tuna- seared with a sesame crust and served with celery root mash, mushrooms, baby bok choy and a ginger soy vinaigrette. It was excellent- the sesame crust added a depth of flavor without interfering with the tuna. The fusion of Mexican and Asian flavor is brilliant!

When I review a restaurant, I observe both how the staff treats me as well as how they treat other customers. I often eavesdrop (apologies, but I do!) on conversations of other patrons. This gives me a true indication of how the food is, how they are treated, and a general overview.

I sat sandwiched between a group of women on one side and a family on the other. From the women, "...that was the best salmon I have ever had in my life. I am coming back just for that." The family on my other side was celebrating a birthday, and the staff came to sing a cheerful birthday song. I also saw the owner making rounds through the restaurant, stopping at each table to chat. It wasn't just a cursory "how was your meal?" but a conversation about their whole experience, sometimes stopping to swap stories or photos with patrons.

I asked a passing waitress how she liked working at Mesa Urbana, and she absolutely raved about it. The owner Moe Taleb is one of 13 children; he has 10 brothers and 2 sisters. If they get overwhelmed, she mentioned that he makes a call to his siblings and they arrive within minutes, pitching in anywhere from running food to busing tables. This is a true family operation and a labor of love.

Speaking of family, this establishment is surprisingly kid-friendly! I saw a mix of every age dining- from infant on up to octogenarian, birthday celebrations to a girl's night out.

I can't recommend this restaurant highly enough. From the atmosphere to the fresh, inventive cocktails to the unique fusion food, this is an A+ in my book.

A huge thank you to Mesa Urbana for hosting my husband and I. We can't WAIT to come back!