The Best Negroni

I used to think I made the best negronis, and so did #billyisthebest. But then we met Michael at Nico Osteria. Although my favorite gin is Hendricks, Michael prefers Letherbee Gin. We tasted them side by side, and it was a fun way to spend time determining all the flavor components and what we liked about each combination.

Michael takes us step by step on how to make a perfect negroni.

Load up a mixing glass with ice. The most important part is measuring responsibly. 1.5 ounces of gin, 1 ounce of Campari, 1 ounce of Punt E Mes vermouth. We have tried Cocchi Americano and Carpano Antica and now prefer the Punt E Mes. It’s a bit lighter and brighter in flavor and doesn’t overpower the other spirits. Stir vigorously yet gently. Strain and serve up or over ice, and of course garnish with a generous rind of orange.

Or just go visit the cool bartenders at Nico.


Back Yard Tea and BBQs

Hopefully by now we are all getting ready for our Fourth of July BBQs! Our friends from LeaderBar gave us some #burgerlove and topping tips, so any spread can look like it’s done by an expert grill master.

We already got the party started with the upbeat crew at You and Me This Morning on WCIU – and if you didn’t see it live – you can catch it here. Matt Roan was spinning, Corri McFadden was glamming-up and host Melissa Forman and I were getting the Sailor Jerry cocktails ready!

The El Diablo is the spiciest burger on the planet.  If you like HOT – this summer add some spicy pepper jack cheese, habanero relish, jalapeño, grilled onions and sriracha mayo to your burger. On the menu – this comes with a WARNING.

Baked goat cheese in marinara, served with crostini. A crowd pleaser. I might make this for a party I am going to tomorrow.

Todd Rubin from LeaderBar and I celebrating with some Sailor Jerry Backyard Tea.

The Birthday Diaries

What a week it was, and also thank goodness it is over!  It is always fun to celebrate your birthday – over and over again with family, friends and great food – and most of all, delicious cocktails.


Sunday, August 19:  The Sunday before my birthday started innocently enough at one of our favorite watering holes, Big Star. After several tecates and escondidos, this Sonoran Hot Dog landed on my pants – but fear not, we ordered another.  I did however, walk around with mustard on my jeans for the remainder of the afternoon.  The Food Mafia (aka Stacy Johnson) though this was very funny. But by the end of our jaunt there we had totally forgotten about it.


Monday, August 20:  As you might have heard, the burger at Au Cheval is at the top of the charts. This foie gras terrine, sprinkled with flakes of Maldon salt, was over flowing with house made Strawberry jam and brioche. Roro was dying to try to their burger, and we each had our own.


Tuesday, August 21:  My amazing team at XA had one of my favorite foods – hot dogs – catered in by America’s Dog for lunch. Chicago Dogs are the standard, but the Mandy Dog with chili, cole slaw and mustard is delicious. We all had more than one. And a Sprinkles Cupcake too.

The actual birthday dinner was a special treat. My friends and my mom were in attendance and we got to hold court at David Burke’s Primehouse for a dinner benefiting Harvest Moon Farms. Chefs David Burke and Rick Gresh were on hand serving a seven course meal, paired with cocktails from Breckenridge Distillery. The groups favorite libation was a Caprese Martini with heriloom tomatoes. My favorite course was the Rooster Ravioli – and David and I both agreed it tasted like a rich sausage. The whole team at DBPH is like familia – thanks for such a great night!  We also had some quality time with Chef Rick at the end of the night, over some wine and funny stories.


Wednesday, August 22: Pies from Hoosier Mama at XA – a “day after” birthday surprise. We ate three whole pies. Before lunch.


Thursday, August 23: My bestie from NYC arrived in town and we were ready to party! Here we were (God knows where), but had a special visit by the Tamale Spaceship. Lucky us!


Then we were off to Longman & Eagle – starting with Aperol Spritzes and Vino Verde. Their cheese stuffed gourgeres are sublimely flaky, steamy and puffy.  We loved our soft shell crab too. Their outdoor patio is a great location for pre-dinner cocktails, like being in a friend’s backyard.


Friday, August 24: RESERVED – Starter cocktails at Drumbar with superstar Benjamin Newby making us (surprise) – Aperol Spritzes in the later afternoon sunshine.


The biggest birthday hit was at Balena. The pastas were amazing. But it was also the best service we had experienced. Our server was ON IT and friends at the table next to us even gave us their wine.


Amanda Rockman’s dessert was wild with citrusy flavors and inspired my recent grapefruit cravings - Grapefruit Sorbetti, Dry Meringue, Cinnamon, Aperol Granita. We also are craving Aperol.  All the time.


Saturday, August 25: Jim and Lance are back in town from NYC.  After a bottle of Veuve we headed for cocktails at RPM. The Campari Sbagliato with Carpano Antica, Prosecco and Campari got us in the mood for dinner at Bavette’s Bar & Bouef. A little switch up from the Aperol (there were no Aperol cocktails on their menu).


My new favorite – maybe because it is pink – maybe because it is in a coupe. The Champagne Smash small’s gin, lillet rosé, mint and lemon at Bavette’s Bar & Bouef.


GIANT meatball with handcut pasta.


And our server brought us this slice of lemon meringue pie for dessert, which is one of my most favorite desserts ever, especially when the meringue is sky high and fluffy.

The end – until next year, so I can fully recover.


You know you’re having a great afternoon when it starts off with a roadie.  A roadie of Hennessy V.S. muddled into a perfect concotion – and portable to board a first class party bus to tour the best street art in Chicago.  The occasion was the collaboration of Hennessy enlisiting revolutionary street artist Futura to design a limited edition bottle, a collaboration they do often with artists.


Roadie in a pink solo cup.

There’s Always Thyme 
1.5 oz Hennessy VS 
1 oz thyme apricot honey syrup
.75 oz fresh lemon juice 
Dash of Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters 
Splash of Amaretto 
Garnish with rehydrated apricot and fresh thyme sprig 
Method: Add all liquids to a shaker tin with ice.  Shake until well chilled.  Strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a rehydrated apricot from the syrup, and a fresh sprig of thyme. 


After our street art tour (more on that on FB if you are interested), we headed to The Storefront Company for bites and a chance to meet Futura.  The food blew us way.  They presented an elaborate cheese board, with my personal favorite as the centerpiece – epoisse.  All the cheeses were served at the perfect temperature with a whisper shaving of bread, so you could really enjoy the creamy flavor.


Beet cured Salmon and other house made sausages and meats.


A grown up slider with pork belly and a quail egg.


Pate de fruits.


Futura’s limited edition bottle – with fun graffiti stickers from Pawn Works.

The Smash – Hennessy V.S. with Blueberries, Fresh Lemon, Elderflower and Mint.

The Beautiful – Hennessy V.S. and Grand Marnier.  Simple.


And just for fun – my favorite shot from the tour.

A cool video on Futura.

aloha from brunch at sola

Aloha!  sola is a great place to go anytime, but Chef Carol Wallack also serves a great brunch.  All her dishes are fresh and full of flavor, with a Hawaiian point of view.  The wasabi pea rimmed Bloody Mary packs a punch, and she has mini beer backs - ready to go!

This one was my favorite – house smoked salmon with miso yogurt and pickled vegetables from her trips to the farmer’s markets. 

Short Ribs Benedict – Carol’s prize-winning short ribs, eggs, cheddar biscuits, pesto and delicious hollandaise.

Ham and Cheese French Toast with mustard honey and plum-ginger preserves.  Very much like a breakfast Croque Monsieur.


To see sola and our brunch adventure – check us out on – dish IT! with Amanda Puck.

Aviary Surprises

One of the best places to have innovative cocktails in Chicago, no scratch that – the country – is Aviary.  We all got that memo and most likely waited on line to snuggle into the glamorous booths, drink menu in hand.  On the many trips I have made there, my favorite surprise was their version of The Hurricane.  Brightly layered with cranberry, passion fruit and rum, it reminisced of a stroll down Bourbon Street in The Big Easy, without the overly sweet aftertaste.  And no, you can’t keep the souvenir glass. Oh and yes – that is an umbrella.

Our server’s pic for us to try on the BITES menu – POTATO.  With malt vinegar chips and chopped chive.  She described it as a fancy tater tot, and she was right.  The custardy bites had some crunch, but more lovely and intricate flavors.

So Hurricanes and Tater Tots at Aviary?  Surprise!  And worth the trip!

PS – Apologies for the photo quality – no flashes allowed at Aviary …

Mix It Up

For those of you who don’t know Claire Smith – she is a total babe and cocktail rockstar for Belvedere.  And she is FUN!  She appears on Chelsea Handler’s show regularly mixing drinks with the star’s favorite vodka (hint – Belvedere).  And she taught a bunch of us chicks a thing or two about mixing up the perfect cocktails.  We had the below diagram which made it easy for all of us during all the chit chit and booze sampling.

Martinis for breakfast?  Why not!  The Breakfast Martini is perfect for any time of day. 

1.5 oz Belvedere Pink Grapefruit, 1 barspoon of peach puree, 1/2 oz lemon juice and dash of earl grey tea simple syrup (homemade – and making this and keeping on hand for future use when mixolgist-ing).

All was going well until I started to use a jigger.  And accidentally put 3 oz into the drink instead of 1.5 oz.  I was never really good at math.  But since I am a seasoned professional drinker, it all worked out OK.  I also went a little heavy on the jam and the tea syrup, both the flavors were harmoniously delicious.  Clarie made the preserves herself, and they were quite lovely.  All the ingredients went into the Boston bar glass, then we shook our money maker until the glass was ice cold and frosted.

 Garnished with a squeeze of the orange zest and GOOD MORNING Breakfast Martini!

Cherries this time of year are a great addition to your drink roster, and this recipe is so versatile (Claire tells us) that you can really substitute any flavor or fruit.  This one involves muddling, I love to muddle and pulverize stuff in a glass.

1.5 oz Belvedere, 4 to 5 ripe cherries, dash simple syrup, dash lemon juice, Ginger Beer.  Claire’s recommendation is Fever Tree Ginger Beer.

Muddle, muddle muddle the cherries in a glass!  Add the rest of the ingredients and top with ice and ginger beer.  Then give it a good stir.

Please note: Photo Styling for this image by Amy Christenson.

What do you pair all this with besides a room full of great girlfriends?  Jung Pak from Wisepak foods was rolling sushi to order.

Special thanks to Kimberly Burt for hosting and for Tom Kane for letting us mix in his fabu apartment.  He let me ogle his Champagne collection.

sola burger love

After seeing Carol Wallack at the Green City BBQ I realized I had not been by sola yet to try her new menu items.  And since it is in walking distance from The RV (Roscoe Village) The Bomb and I ventured over there on a hot Saturday night, only after trying an assortment of beers and brats at Four Moon. (Would have had pics, but it was a bit too dark in there).

The burger at sola is magnificent.  It is layered and layered with rich flavors.  Wagyu.  Cambozola cheese, a triple cream with a slight vein of blue running through, giving it perfect meltability and earthiness, sharp arugula, crispy bacon and lightly caramelilzed onions.  She has perfecting this for 20 years and it is PERFECT.  EVERY.  TIME.

And Brussel sprouts, lighlty fried, crispy and salty.  We have a thing for brussel sprouts.  Love.