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Friday, February 22, 2008

How to get Cubs Tickets

As the old adage goes, when in Rome, do as the Roman's do. What does that really mean? Go see the Colliseum? Eat dinner late? Have your salad last? Walk your ass off? Okay, sure, but what if you're in Chicago? What do Chicagoans do? Eat a salad on your hot dog, eat deep dish pizza, visit Buddy Guy's Legands, walk along the 'Mag Mile' (Michigan Avenue), go to the top of the Sear's Tower or if you're a local - get a drink at the top of the John Hancock and watch the Cubbies...preferably from the Bleachers! This last one is something everyone should experience; but can be easier said than done for the simple reason that tickets are real hard to come by. Well, they are easy if your willing to pay the price. So here are your options: you can buy from a scalper on the street, you can buy from a scalper online, you can hope against all hope to have a friend who just happens to have an extra ticket, you can try to win the lottery or you can be one of the thousands who play the wristband lottery.

Years ago, die hard fans camped out days before single game tickets went on sale. They braved snow and freezing temperatures just for a chance to get a ticket to a general seating area that is comprised of hard core partier's and women in bikinis. No, this is not baseball as you know it and it's not the family section. It's almost hard to imagine that these tickets are among the most expensive tickets you'll pay for at Wrigley; not face value, but who gets to pay face value? Just those lucky few who are within the first few hundred numbers of the wristband lottery.

How does it work? Wristbands are picked up on a Wednesday or Thursday night; each fan is required to show two forms of ID. The wristband is placed on your wrist by a worker, and cannot be removed, shared or sold. The idea behind this is to stop the scalpers from getting all the tickets! Let's continue through this process and see if that works. Wristbands are numbered from 1 to 20,000. The workers randomly pick a wristband out of a barrel and you are then recorded in a computer as the owner of that wristband number. This year, I received wristband number 4,474. Dave got wristband number 14,734. Think about this, it's great if a few of you can do this together, and cover more ground. Okay so what happens now? So, what happens is a number is chosen at 6 am on Friday morning. This number is the winning number, it's the first person who gets to buy tickets, then all numbers fall in line after that. This year the winning number was 00600. I'm 4,000th in line to buy Cubbies tickets. Could be worse, Dave is 14,000th! (last year we were only 1,000 out). Keep in mind that not all wristbands have been given out, ticket sales start at 8am and online ticket sales start at 10am. Even online is a random drawing; each online viewer is placed in a waiting room and individuals are selected randomly. Of course there are all kinds of other rules about how many tickets per game are allowed to buy, etc. Again, this is all in an effort to thwart the scalpers; does it work? What I will tell you is that last year within an hour of the first ticket being sold, scalpers were on the street already trying to sell the tickets they had managed to score. Huh.

So, long story short, after drinking beer at a Murphy's Bleachers just to pass the time, I was finally able to enter inside the stadium (which no fans is allowed to do until opening day! It's like a little feel of spring!), after waiting in one line for about 15 minutes, we were escorted into a little room and basically padded down, then back to another line, then one more line after that. Dave and I have rules about no sharing, but when it comes to Cubs tickets, well, let's just say I was finally able to score what was left of the tickets. It's still a real cold process, you still stand in lines, you make some new friends and chances are you're not going to get all the tickets you wanted. It doesn't matter. Cuz there's only 37 days to opening day. Go to the nearest bar and count whatever lucky tickets you where able to get. Get your shorts ready, put your blue on and plan on drinking some Old Style with thousands of your new best friends. Now that you know what it takes to get these tickets, don't forget to start sucking up NOW to everyone you think has lines on Cubs tickets. Oh - and if you're that guy who holds up the sign that says "It's gonna happen" and blocks everyones view...this year it is gonna happen - I'm going to kick your ass. Just a forewarning. Go Cubbies and be fat and happy!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Russian Tea House

As the previous owner of coffee shop, I was a coffee glutton, drinking gallons of the stuff per day. I have recently cut back drastically on coffee, partially because of constant disappointment with the shoddy, bitter and over-roasted coffee and lame espresso shots being served at today's coffee shops and partially because tea is better for you than coffee. So with my newfound interest in tea, my goal is to experience all the afternoon tea service's in Chicago. Our tea service adventure starts with the Russian Tea Room in downtown Chicago. The greatest part about the this tea service is that you can end your fabulous tea experience with a flight of flavored vodkas! Yea for Russia!

For our tea, we choose the house Russian tea, a blend of Darjeeling, Ceylon and black currant. It was quite nice and served in a spiffy metal-glass mug. The three tiered service was loaded with scones, mini sandwiches (all quite tasty), mini quiches and an abundance of sweets. We couldn't finish the service between the two us, well worth the price.

Then we moved onto the vodka flights. They have pre-set flights, or you can create your own. Dave started with the Molotov fight: honey pepper, pepper and horseradish vodkas. I created my own flight with coffee (go figure), horseradish and lime. We each tackled one more with Dave choosing coriander and I going with caraway. In true Russian manor, you are instructed to announce a toast ("to health' in Russian is suggested), smell the pumpernickel bread brought with shots, then shoot down the whole shot and follow with eating the pickle, neatly. It is also acceptable to sniff your shirt sleeve. All fantastic flavors - the lime being the most intense, caused me to pucker and shake my head numerous times until the flavor subsided in my throat.

It was tempting not to order off the the regular menu. We saw plates of massive stuffed cabbage, Russian dumplings and the classic Ukranian Borscht passing by our table. This is a place that warrants a second visit. We drank, we ate and we were fat and happy!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Prosecco Restaurant

Traveling around Italy, Dave and I became accustomed to having a glass of Prosecco, the sparkling wine often likened to champagne, at the beginning of our meal. Not everyplace offered this simple pleasure; it coincided with times we had to wait for a table and given to us complimentary. Well we believed it was complimentary... in most instances when we asked for the bill is came as just a number, rather than itemized. Heck, we could have been picking up the tab for the table next to ours as far as we knew! However this is a tradition that I love to continue and is a refreshing start to an evening. So when a new restaurant opened in our neighborhood (River North, Chicago) with the namesake of this bubbly aperitif, we were quite excited to dine there.

The restaurant is brimming with such confidence that it offers no name on the outside, nor any address numbers. The only restaurant I know that truly has pulled off this type of stint is Alinea, also in Chicago. Alinea really stands alone in the amazing-food-meets-science category and is quite well known world wide. The photo to the right is Alinea's PB & J! If you do not know of it or have not had the opportunity, go to the site and check it out. I will post on our experience there another time; but let me tell you that it was worth the mortgage payment (not kidding!) it cost us to go there!

The ambiance of Prosecco was quite lovely; a very subdued elegance lofts throughout the restaurant. After being seated, we waited nearly 15 minuted before anyone even noticed us. Now, we adore have long dinners and lingering, never feeling rushed, but this is a way to long for anyone to not be noticed! If we could've just ordered a drink at least, the time frame would have been fine. But we hadn't even been offered water at this point! We were quite excited when our waiter showed up with a bottle of Prosecco and poured us each a (very tiny) glass; here again, I'm not sure if this was complimentary or if we were charged for it, but everyone did receive this little token. We then ordered two appetizer, mussels in a saffron sauce and beef carpaccio. The waiter returned to tell us the kitchen was out of mussels, but would like to offer us any other appetizer - on the house. Completely was not necessary, but I will tell you this type of service goes far in terms of customer loyalty! We had someone suggest a bottle of wine, I'm not sure if this individual was a host or a sommelier he just showed up at the table, but his suggestion was wonderful and perfect - a '98 Babaresco, just the right amount of tannins. Dave really enjoyed the carpaccio, I felt the beef was flavorless and needed the extreme amount of cheese placed on top just to give it some flavor (which would describe why Dave loved it, all the cheese). Our second appetizer was a seared scallop stuffed with braised short ribs on risotto. This was a large and filling appetizer! The short ribs were a bit dried out; overall, I liked the idea of this dish but it could have been executed better.

Onto the meal; we went with a spinach ricotta dumpling in a Maytag blue sauce; this was quite good and we ate the entire plate. Our second dish was a seared duck with a port reduction and orzo pasta. I found it quite interesting that the waiter assumed us to be complete morans to the point he felt he needed to explain to us what orzo was. This dish fell completely flat. The duck was so fatty that we were spitting out mouthfuls of it, and the sauce didn't even leave a hint of port on the palette.

Overall, I feel there so many Italian places (especially in Chicago) that are much more solid that this one. Perhaps they have a bit too much confidence and should at least place address numbers on the door. It's not that we would never go back, but we won't be there anytime soon! I admit that Dave and I expect a lot when we dine out; but I wonder if I'm even harder on Italian places as I often feel this is one of the easiest cuisines to create at home. No matter, we did have a lovely evening together and we walked home fat and happy!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Guinness Ice Cream!

This is driving me mad! Our internet service has been out for nearly a week and I haven't been able to blog. Aargh! The internet is now a way of life. Without it, I feel like I'm in the dark ages with no electricity, no running water or no indoor commode! Sure there are internet cafes, but the closest one to us didn't make it past 6 months (quite typical of 95 % of new food-realm businesses.) The chains continue to expand and the little eclectic independents are becoming extinct. We should protect them as endangered species are protected!

Without reason to be glued to my computer every waking minute I'm at home means I need to find something to preoccupy myself with, which means you'll find me in the kitchen. At my restaurant, we featured Claudia's ice cream. Claudia is a character to say the least (in a former life she was a playboy bunny!) You could put Claudia's ice cream up against any other ice cream anywhere and hers would win the taste test hands down. The richness and creaminess were unparalleled. This was not the ice cream for the faint of heart, meaning the calorie watcher! I crave that ice cream to this day and since I'm in a different state and cannot have it, I need to take matters in my own hands and make some. We have an old, cheap ice cream maker which has never been used and recently I came across a recipe for Guinness ice cream. I'm sure this will not rival Claudia's, but who can say no to Guinness?

Here again, this recipe is not the low fat kind. It's loaded with cream and yolks, just like all true ice cream should be. Put in some extra time on the treadmill, a few extra sit ups so you can just enjoy the taste sensation. Overall, this is not an overly sweet ice cream which it really shouldn't be, and it's not really the type of ice cream that you would eat a huge bowl of. Remember, it is a Guinness so you will want a little morsel of saltiness to go with it too. One small scoop with a chocolate covered pretzels is a perfect amount.

You should have your ice cream insert in the freezer before starting this process, place in there the day or morning before. Start with 2 cups heavy cream, 2 cups of Guinness, 1 1/3 cups whole milk and 1/2 cup sugar - pour into a big kettle and simmer. You really want to avoid boiling this as the cream will burn. Now take 15 egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar and whip until light and frothy. I did this by hand (which takes about 10 to 15 minutes,) feel free to use your mixer! Now temper the eggs with the cream mixture by slowly adding portions of the hot cream to the eggs. Pour everything back into the kettle and simmer until thick. It is real easy to scramble the eggs here so keep the flame on low! Once your mixture is thick, you don't want to pour this hot mixture into the frozen insert, it defeats the purpose of freezing the container. The best of all scenarios is that you let the cream sit in the refrigerator overnight. This allows all the flavors to meld the best. I did try two batches, one we turned into ice cream immediately and one batch was left to meld in the frig overnight. The overnight batch came out creamier with a more concentrated flavor. Either way, before placing into the ice cream insert or the frig, you will need to place the hot cream mixture in an ice bath to cool it off. Fill up a pot large enough to fit your kettle inside; you can use your sink for this too! Add as much ice as will fit in the pot or sink, now add water to chill even further and simply place your pot into the ice bath. Stir often. Once this is chilled, either cover and place the kettle in the fridge or pour the mixture into the ice cream insert. Use your ice cream maker as directed. Eat immediately for a soft serve texture or place in the freezer for the more frozen effect. Don't forget to top with the chocolate covered pretzels! Live in the moment - forget about the internet problems, ignore the calories; just enjoy and be fat and happy!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Lentil Beef Stew

Today we finally put away our holiday decorations. I know, I know, the holidays were nearly two months ago. It's not that I'm lazy, I just didn't feel like it. And while I don't make New Year's resolutions, I have recently decided to do things for me and to live on my watch. What I mean by that is to do things when I'm ready rather than to do them just because public opinion says when to. If there are other events that mean more to me, than by golly I'm going to do that first. And finally today I was ready to clean up, it didn't hurt that it was 5 degree outside and I had no intention of leaving the house! So what to cook when you have a full day of putting away decorations and cleaning, and it's another single digit weather day in Chicago? Crock pot stew. Hearty, simple, healthy and easy cleanup.

Take one crock-pot and add 2 cups of stew meat (cubed), 1/2 chopped red onion, 2 stalks chopped celery with leafy tops, 1 russet potato, cubed, 1 jalepeno- chopped with seeds, 1 cup dried lentils, 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, 2 cups of red wine, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tbls dried thyme, 1 tsp dried rosemary, 1 tbls parsley, crushed, black pepper, salt and 1 beef boullion cube. Add water to cover all the ingredients. Cover and turn the crock pot on high for 3 - 4 hours or more. Remove the cover the last 1/2 hour to allow to naturally thicken. Serve in a big bowl, top with fresh parsley. This is a great filler after a long hard day of housecleaning, and the jalepeno will warm the cockles. As always, remember to adjust the seasonings and spices according to your tastes. You may find one whole jalepeno too spicy, so feel free to cut back on it or leave the inside seeds out. No matter how you tweak it, enjoy it and be fat and happy!


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