can food bring good luck? new year’s eve menu for two

This year was the first time Nate and I stayed home for New Year’s Eve, just us. I wasn’t sure what to make for dinner because it’s not just the evening before 2017, it’s also when Nate (finally!) proposed to me six years ago. 

I say finally because it felt like EVERYONE was getting engaged but me, and we’d been dating for eight years at the time. Eight. Years. If you know me, I had serious ants in my pants. But at our first apartment with good friends in the other room, Nate proposed in his sweet and simple way with the prettiest ring he designed himself. Six years later, here we are.

So back to the meal! I found this story on Reader’s Digest about 7 lucky New Year’s foods and wanted to see how many I could incorporate into our meal. So, here goes:

1. Cake

We had donuts from Glazed & Infused that morning, so we didn’t need more cake. Have you tried the apple fritter? My new fave! 

2. Grapes

I know you’re supposed to have grapes at midnight, but they looked too good on my cheese platter with prosciutto to pass up!

3-5. Pork & Greens & Noodles/Grains

I made my own fresh tomato sauce for the first time from this recipe from the New York Times, and I liked how it turned out. I sautéed some mushrooms and spinach, as well as pork strips, and added them all to the sauce. Incorporated that with some parpadelle pasta topped with fresh basil, and it’s time to mangia!

6. Fish

Well, I didn’t want to worry about how to incorporate fresh fish into this meal, so I cheated, and we ate Swedish Fish in honor of Nate’s heritage. Right…works for me!

I was bummed I forgot to add the beans to the charcuterie platter, but I’ll take 6 out of 7!

I Heart Eataly Chicago

I love Mario Batali for many reasons. Here are just a few:

1. First and foremost, he is an amazingly talented chef on the Food Network.
2. Mario has red hair, like my handsome husband.
3. His wife’s family owns a dairy goat farm (I have a current obsession with goat farms after meeting Gretta of Gretta’s Goats).
4. Mario is a Midwestern man during the summer; he has a home in Michigan.
5. He—and his lovely business partners—gave me Eataly Chicago.

I know I go to a lot of restaurants, but this one is oh-so-different. The first time I went (and, I confess, I’ve been back since!), I was like a kid in a candy store—except my candy includes cured meats, cow’s milk-alternative cheeses, fresh pasta, a Nutella bar, and made-to-order sheep’s milk cannoli.

Eataly takes up at least a city block, and it’s a sensory overload from the moment you walk in. It’s two floors that consist of a fine Italian market, restaurant, brewery, and more, all in one. Because it’s a bit overwhelming, I’ve developed a system to navigate the space: walk counterclockwise around the perimeter of the store. It hasn’t failed me yet!

My first visit to Eataly was with my good friend, Lindsey. I took the subway from my office and arrived in 10 minutes (dangerously close). We wondered around the first floor, wide-eyed. It’s there you’ll find the information desk, produce, a Panini bar, a coffee bar, Nutella bar, gelato bar, sweets bar, housewares, packaged sweets, jams and jellies, and packaged dairy (milk, butter, yogurt, and eggs too).

We walked up to the second floor, where we were greeted by a fried food bar to our left, cheese and cured meats to our right, and a wine bar directly in front of us. We opted for wine first: Prosecco for me and red for Lindsey. One of the many good things about Eataly: you can drink and shop. Mario, you’re one smart cookie.

We then decided to stop at the cured meats and cheese bar. Because I try not to have cow’s milk cheese in January—call it a New Year’s cleanse, of sorts—we ordered a wooden board of delicious cured meats. I found out when I went with Hope (in February, post-cleanse) that when you order the meat and cheese platter, you get sweet jams and honey on the side, too. I dare you to try both!

Next, we wandered around, passing the rotisserie bar, peeked in the brewery, and made our way to the refrigerated cured meat and cheese section. I was in heaven. Friends, take note: Eataly is the best place to build the perfect gift basket.

Past the fish and butcher stations, you’ll pass the fresh pastas. During my first visit, I brought home some fresh pasta, as it was part of their weekly special. Yes, every week, there’s a new deal on everything from pasta to fish (Branzino this week!) to toothpaste to pasta sauce. What a great way to sample some of Eataly’s finest!

If you’ve ever wanted to see endless varieties of dried pastas, faro, risotto, sauces, pestos, olives—this is where you want to go. Then, comes the best part of Eataly: the pizza and pasta restaurant. I’ve sampled the pizzas with buffalo mozzarella (apparently I’m not allergic to buffalo milk!), and had a fresh pasta dish (with mushrooms) and a dried pasta dish (with pork, parsley, and pecorino) from their menu. Not a bad meal yet; although, during my visit with Hope, I was completely stuffed because of my lack of self-control around mouth-watering carbs. Whatever you do at Eataly, you need to eat at this restaurant.

After the carb fest, the rest gets blurry. I blame it on the food coma. There’s a bountiful wine section (as you would imagine), fresh breads (watch the bread makers—they’ll toss flour at you!), beauty products, and lots and lots of olive oil.

Each time I’ve been, I have been too full for dessert; however, why not bring some home for my hubby? First, fresh cannoli, and then a rich semifreddo sweet with a blackberry on top, both packaged to perfection.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: go to Eataly. I haven’t even begun to share all of the elements I love about this place, but you have to discover them for yourself. Mangia and salute!

Eataly Chicago
43 East Ohio
Streeterville

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Week #15 – Balena

I had pretty high expectations for Balena, which has been named one of the top 10 new restaurants IN THE COUNTRY. I met up with my friends Lauren, Bridget, and Tara there for a night that was sure to bring lots of delicious food, tasty drinks, and even better conversation.

When you walk into Balena, it’s a large restaurant with tall ceilings (used to be Landmark), but somehow they’ve managed to make it feel cozy. The dim lighting, the warm neutral tones, the luxurious seating—can your interior designer come to my apartment?

I had a really rough day at work that day (we’re getting into our busy season, so my apologies if my posts feel few and far between!), so I was ready for a glass of Prosecco stat. I sat down and within minutes I had water at my table setting and my drink was ordered. I have to note that our waiter was not only good looking (a cross between the lead singer of the All American Rejects and Cillian Murphy), but he gave great recommendations and service. Definitely starting off on the right foot.

The menu at Balena is best for sharing, which I am a fan of. I was one of those kids who didn’t like my food to touch, and I ate everything in a specific order (OCD, anyone?). It’s so nice to share with people who push you a little outside your comfort zone.

We started with the Herbed Focaccia, Ricotta, Cracked Black Pepper, and Olive Oil. The focaccia was delicious (dind’t try the fresh ricotta), and I loved the presentation. We followed that with Spicy Lamb & Pork Sausage, White Beans, and Pickled Red Onion. Now, I had to slice the sausage immediately because I didn’t care for the presentation, but it was perfectly paired with the white beans. And I’m not really one for frisee salad, but this lettuce was insanely flavorful. Then came the Brussels Sprout, Pancetta, Pecorino, and Red Onion Pizza, which was surprisingly light and fresh. Their pizzas are big, so we each had two pieces. Next came the Orecchiette, Kale, Lemon, Bread Crumbs, and Chili Pasta, which tasted to me like the richest, most decadent pasta on the planet. I could have eaten bowls full of this. Our order from the Grill/Oven/Rotisserie portion of the menu was Roast Porchetta, Creamy Polenta, and Parsley Red Onion Salad. By this time, we were all hitting our limits because we knew we wanted dessert, but it was divine. The ends of the meat were crisp and full of flavor, and the creamy polenta melted in my mouth.

Lastly, we shared the Affogato, Vanilla Gelato, Espresso, and Cinnamon Sugar Donuts (these donuts are heavenly), and the Vanilla Gelato, Chocolate Chip Cookie, Malt Chocolate Sauce, and “Toasted Milk” (I didn’t try this one, but the girls said it was amazing).

Whether you need a night out with your girls, or want to take your special someone out for a romantic date night for two, Balena is the place to go. Need to take Nate here!

Balena Chicago
1633 N. Halsted Street
Lincoln Park

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