The cast of characters: Ellie, Amanda, Mandy, and me

Word of Warning: This may be the longest post I’ve written thus far, so you may want to grab a drink and a snack before you begin.

Here goes….
Let me start this story by explaining that I am not a “spur of the moment” kind of girl. I’m a planner. I take weeks, sometimes even months, to plan and research my vacations. So when my friend Amanda called me up one night in late October and asked if I wanted to go to Chicago in 2 weeks, it’s completely crazy that I said yes and booked the ticket while we were still on the phone.

One of my best friends from college, Libby, lives in Chicago, so it’s not at all unusual that I would want to go, just unusual that I made such a hasty decision with so little time to plan. Actually, I’ve been taking an annual girls trip there (usually in November) for the past several years with some of my other best girlies from college. But this year, since Libby had a newborn at home, we just hadn’t gotten around to planning anything. I LOVE Chicago, and it’s been a whole 8 months since my last visit, so when Amanda asked, I jumped at the chance.

But here’s the thing- Amanda doesn’t even know Libby, and neither do Ellie and Mandy, the other girls going on this trip. Never fear, I knew they would love Lib! Even if she could only get out of the house for a little bit, at least I would get to see her and meet the new little guy she just gave birth to (on my anniversary, btw, Oct 4th!). So I booked my flight, then forwarded my flight itenerary to Lib letting her know I was coming to town. The next morning Lib calls, and what do you know? She’s going out of town the weekend I am coming!!! Never in a million years would I have thought that someone that just gave birth weeks before would be packing up and going anywhere. Of course, I’ve never given birth, so I don’t really know how these things work, but I picture myself staying in pajamas for about 2 full months and everyone waiting on me hand and foot. Is that not how it works?

Needless to say, I was a little bummed that I would not see my good friend- because Chicago is not Chicago without her. Libbers, if you’re reading, yes, I had a completely fabulous time, but I also missed you madly!

Okay, enough with the background story. I know you really want to know about the trip itself. Our Friday began by consuming Bloody Marys and Hot Cocoa with Bailey’s Irish Cream on our 8 a.m. Southwest flight. Gotta love those free drink tickets.

We arrived at our incredible hotel, The Peninsula, to a swirl of paparazzi, police, and men in dark coats, shades, and earpieces. Someone famous was here! Who could it be?? Flirting with security on the elevator didn’t get us far in satisfying our curiosity. Those guys were serious. But they did suggest that we check the news- so Mandy quickly pulled out her phone and with the click of a few buttons, found some suspects: Ellen DeGeneres, Snoop Dogg, and Miley Cyrus.

After dropping our bags with the concierge, it was time to find lunch but not before we paused for a few minutes on the corner hoping that maybe the celeb would show his/her face. No such luck. Our growling bellies were more interested in food than stars. On the way to lunch we had some fun contemplating who we would rather run into of the 3….partying with Snoop Dogg could be fun, but dangerous. Miley-uh, no. But Ellen? Now she would be a blast. Turns out it WAS in fact Ellen and Portia. Sadly, we never saw them, which is truly unfortunate for them too because they would have loved hanging with us.

As for my lunch at Luxbar, I splurged and went for the Kobe Burger topped with truffle butter and caramelized onions and a side of truffle fries. Me oh my. I convinced myself I would burn it off with our full day of shopping on Michigan Avenue….

Speaking of Michigan Ave., one of the first things that caught my eye was this window display at Crate and Barrel. I wanted every piece of it…and then I noticed the placecard. Can you see? It has my name on it. This display literally had my name written all over it. Okay, maybe not ALL over it, but it was written on it. Fate.

Hours upon hours of shopping later, our tootsies were tired and we were thirsty. Time to stop at Nomi for some cocktails before heading back to the hotel to shower and get ready for dinner.

My cocktails at Nomi:

Park Flower
Sparkling Wine, Ketel One Vodka, Rose Essence, Lychee Puree, Chambord

Alice’s Apertif
Square One Botanical Gin, Campari, OJ
(does anyone remember this post on the Square One Botanical back in May?)

Friday Dinner

615 W Randolph

Fast forward to dinner: Avec doesn’t take reservations, and the wait times can be pretty incredible. Ours? 2 hours. Funny thing is, they don’t have a bar to wait in, so they send you down the street to a sushi bar to drink while you wait. Two saketinis later and we were finally seated for dinner around 10:30 p.m. Even though that sounds really late, it didn’t seem late because the place was still completely bustling.

Our dinner:

Focaccia with Taleggio cheese, Truffle Oil and Fresh Herbs

Whipped Brandade with Garlic Bread

(for those that don’t know- brandade is basically a rich, whipped, cod flavored cheese dip. I’m sure it appeals to some and a couple of the girls loved it, as did the couple seated next to us, but me? Can’t say I’m a fan)

Swordfish with White Beans

(I know that’s not terribly descriptive, but it was a special, so I can’t reference the menu to be reminded what was in it. Just know this: it was delicious with a capital D)

Chorizo-Stuffed Medjool Dates with Smoked Bacon and Piquillo Pepper-Tomato Sauce

Hands down, THE hit of the night. Have you ever seen dates this big before??

Saturday Brunch
3423 N Southport Avenue

Typically when I go to a city, I like to try new places, but every now and then I like to go back to an old favorite. This particular restaurant has one item on the menu that I could eat over and over and over again and never tire of, so I wanted to take the girls and let them experience it. The Jibarito, an appetizer dish consisting of jerked chicken layered between caramelized plantains and served with red onion-orange marmalade. I still remember the first time Libby and I ordered it. Pure joy. Then even more joy when the waiter, seeing how happy the dish made us, gave us another one for free! Apparently the kitchen accidentally made too many and instead of tossing it, he gave it to us. And it didn’t end there. Libby’s cousin Darren joined us a while later and we made him order it. And we ate some more. That’s how good it is.

I’ve been back since and had it again, and yes, it was as good as I remembered. I tell you all that so you know how excited I was to take the girls and see the pleasure on their faces when they had their first taste. Problem- it’s not on the brunch menu. And even being as polite and sweet as possible and laying on the Southern charm does not get it for you on a Saturday at brunch. But as you’ll see below, we didn’t starve:

Our Brunch Spread

Blue Corn Buttermilk Pancakes with Mexican-Cinnamon Butter and Dark Ancho Rum Maple Syrup

Breakfast Empanadas: Flaky Pastry Stuffed with Eggs, Sausage and Aged Manchego Cheese

Creamy Chorizo Country Gravy over Homemade Fluffy Manchego Cheese Biscuits

Grilled Chicken Breast Marinated in a Spicy Brazilian “Piri Piri” Sauce with Avocado, Lettuce, Tomato and Red Onion-Orange Marmalade on a Toasted Roll

Lean Ground Turkey seasoned with Smoked Tomato Sauce, Ground Mexican Chiles, Diced Caramelized Plantains and Cumin on a Toasted Bun with a Hand-Rolled Spicy Pork Tamale

Chile Dusted Tater Tots

Then it was time for shopping….lots and lots of shopping. You would think that enormous brunch would hold us over until dinner, but apparently power shopping works up quite an appetite. As we walked down the street I suddenly had a hankering for a cookie. I have no idea why a cookie, but I needed a cookie. Like right then. I turned to Amanda and said, “I need a cookie”. Miraculously, just a few steps further and what appears before us? A window filled with goodies!!

Saturday Dessert Break
Sensational Bites
3751 N Southport

The look on Amanda’s face says it all…..

We took what seemed like an eternity to make our selections- how to choose just one?? Well, I couldn’t. I got a pumpkin iced cookie and a molasses iced cookie, and let me tell you , they were GOOD. Sugar rush achieved, it was time to hit the streets for more shopping.

Then finally, it was back to the hotel to get ready for a night out on the town.

Saturday Dinner
1800 N Lincoln Avenue

Wow. This was probably one of the very best meals I’ve had in a long, long time. Perennial was recently chosen as one of the top new restaurants in a Time Out Chicago poll, and for good reason. I really think the next time I visit the city, I’ll make a second appearance here. All of the food was very fresh and seasonal. It’s a “farm to table” concept, with the restaurant purchasing many of their ingredients from the Green City Market that’s just across the street.


G.C.M. Red Kuri Squash Risotto, Laughing Bird Shrimp, Toasted Curried Pumpkin Seeds

The picture doesn’t do it justice. This risotto was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.
Glazed Chicken “Lollipops”, Soy Reduction, Orange, Cashews, Asian Slaw

My Entree:
Grilled Salmon, Butternut Squash, Caramelized Brussel Sprouts, Mushrooms

Perfection. Nothing more to say.

The other girls ordered:

Ellie – same as me (smart girl), the Salmon

Amanda – Poached Alaskan Halibut, Clams, Chorizo, Leeks, Smoked Onions, Spicy Tomato Broth

Mandy – Grilled Chicken Breast, G.C.M. Baked Apple Puree, Savoy Cabbage and Foie Gras Crepe, Sweet Potatoes

A note on Mandy’s Cabbage Crepe- although she didn’t eat a bite of it (not a cabbage fan), the 3 of us gobbled it up. I couldn’t get enough and am planning to contact the restaurant to see if they’ll tell me how to make it. Wowza.

After Dinner Drinks
The Violet Hour
1520 N Damen Avenue

We left the meal satisfied, but not stuffed, which was exactly what we’d hoped since we still had a big night of creative concoctions ahead at The Violet Hour. You may or may not recall my brief mention of VH in this blog post about Nashville’s The Patterson House. Libby took me to Violet Hour long before TPH was even a concept in anyone’s mind, and you better believe that it thoroughly impressed me. Never before had I seen such a serious list of cocktails.

Since the other girls had never been before, Amanda and I knew VH was a must do during our stay. I also knew the line to get in the front door would be long (40+ people it turns out), so I enlisted a little help from some friends to get us on “the list”. (a big, huge thank you, “friends”!)

Not only did we get in the door in a snap, we also got the best seats in the house, right at the bar with mixologist extraordinaire, Michael. This man is fantastic. He truly made the evening (okay, the incredible drinks helped too). Watching him in action –the moves he makes as he’s going to town with that shaker –is truly a sight to see.

My drink choices:

Indian Summer
Plymouth Gin, Lime, Lavender Syrup, Tonic

20th Century
Death’s Door Gin, Lemon Creme de Cacoa White, Lillet

Rangoon Fizz
Gin, Ginger, Lime, Mint and Tonic

Michael, if you’re out there- we are waiting with bated breath for you to make a trip to Nashville as you promised. I’m still not sure why you haven’t visited us before, especially since you’re opening a honky tonk. How is it possible to do that without first doing some research in Music City, USA?!?

Before we knew it, it was Sunday, our last day in Chicago. I forgot to mention the gorgeous weather we experienced over the weekend- no need for wool coats this trip. With temps in the 60′s, we couldn’t have been happier. Or at least we thought, until Sunday reached up into the 70′s and the sun was shining down on us as we trekked down Michigan Avenue one last time. Ah, it doesn’t get any better.

Our final Chicago meal
Sunday Brunch
RL (Ralph Lauren Restaurant)
115 East Chicago Avenue

Goodbye Windy City….we love you!

Lately I’ve been reminiscing about the wine country trip Ravi and I took a couple of years ago. Our friends Dan and Lisa just got back from celebrating their anniversary in Napa and Sonoma, and now my friend Cathy is heading that way this week to celebrate her birthday. So as you can imagine, for the past few months, I’ve had numerous conversations with them about their plans, all of which have turned me nearly green with envy.

You see, I consider that vacation my best EVER. A 9-day trip to San Francisco and the wine country is a food lover’s paradise. I could talk for days about all of the gastronomic delights we encountered, but since I wrote up a detailed account of it on Chowhound right after we got back home, I’ll let you go there and read it if you’re so inclined. Just click on the Chowhound link above and it will take you right to my recap. (Just don’t do it on an empty stomach!)

Today the reason for my post is to share just one simple recipe that came from that trip. Last week when an acquaintance was searching for a brunch recipe- specifically something other than an egg dish- this Blackberry Cream Cheese Coffeecake immediately came to mind.

Here’s a little background on where this vision of yumminess originated. The B & Bs we stayed in when visiting Sonoma and Healdsburg, the Inn at Sonoma and Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza, both put out an amazing spread of fabulous food every morning. We started off every day on a happy note, with completely full bellies, which is particularly important when you’ve got hours of wine tasting ahead.

After finishing breakfast on our last day, I stopped in the kitchen to chat with the chef about one of her delectable dishes in hopes that I could recreate it for a brunch I was hosting upon my return home to Nashville. Turns out recreating most of the goodies we’d eaten at both properties wouldn’t be so difficult, because the Inns actually published their own cookbook that I could purchase at the front desk! On the flight home I read my new cookbook from cover to cover, choosing the very first recipe listed in the book to serve to my friends the next morning.

This is a picture from the brunch I hosted. It’s the only one I have of the scrumptious coffeecake. I actually wish I had an audio recording of my guests compliments and praises because that would be a better indicator of what a huge hit it was! I’ve made it several times since and it never fails to impress. Have a holiday brunch on the horizon? Make this if you want to dazzle your friends and family!


Blackberry Cream Cheese Coffeecake

Yields 10 servings. From Four Sisters Inns cookbook.


2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup sweet butter
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup sour cream
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1 egg
1 tsp almond extract

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup blackberry preserves
1/2 cup sliced almonds


Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a 10" spring form pan. Combine flour and sugar. Cut in butter until crumbly. Reserve 3/4 cup of the mixture. To the remaining mixture, add baking powder, baking soda, sour cream, almonds, egg and almond extract. Blend well. Spread mixture over the bottom of the pan and 2" up the sides.

Combine cream cheese, sugar, and egg, blending well. Pour over the batter in the pan. Carefully spoon preserves over the cheese filling. Combine 3/4 cup reserved crumb mixture with the sliced almonds. Sprinkle over the top and bake for 45-55 minutes.

Note: Play around with the fruit preserves you use- I'm sure many flavors would be wonderful. I've actually used blueberry as well with great success.

Congratulations to ALANA, winner of the first ever Eat.Drink.Smile. giveaway- a one year subscription to Cooking Light magazine!

Here’s what she had to say about her favorite holiday dishes:

I have two so I can’t choose. One being my mother’s sausage / mushroom stuffing. It cooks for hours on low in a cast iron skillet allowing the aroma to fill the room! And the other is Walnut Pumpkin pie! Yum! I am hungry already!

Me too! Good gosh woman, quit holding out on me and send me both of those recipes! (I am completely dead serious)

Please email me at within 24 hours and let me know if you’ll be keeping the subscription for yourself or gifting it to a friend.

A great BIG thanks to all of you guys that entered. Your food memories and traditions made me smile! (and my mouth water)

winner was chosen by

As I explained last week, I’m kicking off my new Twitter series, “Tweet Me Right!” by showing some love to the Nashville restaurant I believe is a shining example for all businesses using Twitter: Amerigo! (or in Twitter speak, @AmerigoWestEnd)

So why did I choose @AmerigoWestEnd? Here’s a laundry list of reasons I think he rocks, including some of his actual tweets:

1) Supports Other Local Restaurants

“Occasionally, AmerigoWestEnd will give a thumbs up to other local restaurants. Tonight’s props: Whiskey Kitchen. Nice job, guys. Enjoyed it!”

2) Generous with Giveaways
In just a few short months, @AmerigoWestEnd has given out multiple gift certificates. Here are just a couple of the tweets:

“Time’s up. I will give out FIVE $25 gift certs to the first FIVE DMs I get. GO! (if you have won before, please let some newbies win!)”

“I’m feeling charitable. A gift certificate to the first three people that Direct Message me. Starting….Now!”

3) Market Research
You don’t have to be a marketing genius to know this is smart.

“Focus group time: What is the price range you generally spend on a glass of wine in a restaurant?”

4) Supporting Worthy Causes
It’s not all about me, me, me. It’s great to see businesses bucking up for charities.

“Please join Amerigo in supporting Share Our Strength’s Dine Out For America Sept 20-26. We are donating a portion of our sales for the week.”

“Link for info on Dine Out: Many great restaurants in town are also supporting this worthy cause. Eat out!”

5) Informative

“Great night last night! BUSY! Did you know you can make reservations through our website?”

“We haven’t made too big of a production out of it but we are now serving brunch on Saturdays, too. 11 – 2.”

“Joel has cooked up all kinds of infusions lately. Mango habanero tequila, pineapple orange rum, and pineapple vodka Tell him what you think!”

6) Asking Opinions/Interaction with Customers
@AmerigoWestEnd is constantly thanking people for coming in, asking how they enjoyed their meals, etc. But not just that, he’s also asking opinions of his customers:

“What color should we paint the building on West End? Seriously. It’s currently gray and green.”

“Thanks for all of the suggestions on the paint color for the building. May be going with hammered steel and rusted copper. Testing this week”

7) Special Events/Specials
And of course it’s important to keep the customers informed on special events, dinner specials, and lunch specials.

“One more bit of shameless marketing: Pinot Noir/Grigio tasting tonight. 4 wines+small plates for $13. Want a fifth wine? Password: Trevor.”

8) Self-deprecating
Okay, so maybe this isn’t really necessary in marketing a product, but it definitely makes him approachable: “Sometimes I realize I suck at Twitter”

Now to some full disclosure: I’ve been the recipient of one of the most recent giveaways- a $25 gift certificate! So what did I do with that gift certificate? Well, being the wonderful daughter that I am, I took my parents out to brunch! And a fantastic brunch it was. Not only was the food delicious, but the service was impeccable.

My brunch choice:
Garden Vegetable Omelette with Risotto Cakes and Smoked Bacon

Actually, I’ve always had great experiences at Amerigo, both the West End location and Cool Springs. Since my office is in Cool Springs, it’s often my go-to business lunch spot because the menu has a wide variety of options that will please all kinds of palates. Two of my personal favorites are the Goat Cheese and Walnut Salad (greens with balsamic, tomatoes, red onions, roasted red peppers, goat cheese, roasted walnuts and flame grilled chicken) and the Flame Grilled Salmon (salmon with sun-dried tomato herb butter over black bean salsa with green beans). Oh my, and I definitely can’t forget the bread. Oh, the bread. And the olive oil. Oh me. You’ve found my weakness.

There you go folks. My first restaurant pick for “Tweet Me Right!”. Now it’s your turn to go see first-hand what they’re doing right!

1920 West End Ave.
Nashville, TN 37203
(615) 320-1740

Amerigo Cool Springs
1656 Westgate Cr.
Brentwood, TN 37027
(615) 377-7070

Click here for the Memphis and Jackson, TN location information

And for you Twitterers, be sure to follow @AmerigoWestEnd immediately!

Ready or not, the holidays are fast approaching and I don’t know about you, but I’ve already started jotting down gift ideas for friends and family. Coming up with unique goodies can be difficult, so over the next few weeks I’ll share with you some of my favorite finds for the cooks and food lovers in your life.

But today I’m feeling really in the spirit, so instead of just giving you an idea, I’m giving you the chance to win a present from me! Yep, today I’m announcing my first ever giveaway!

One lucky reader will receive a 1-year subscription to Cooking Light magazine that you can keep for yourself or use as a gift.

To Enter: all you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post telling me the dish you look most forward to eating during the holidays. For me it’s either my mom’s cornbread dressing or my aunt’s sausage and rice casserole. Mmmm, I can’t wait for Thanksgiving!

You can also increase your chances to win by twittering about this giveaway. Just include the link to your tweet in a comment on this post as well. Contest ends this Thursday, November 12th at midnight (CST) when a winner will be randomly selected. Just check back here on Friday* to see who the lucky winner is!!

(Contest only open to residents of the US & Canada)

*Be sure to check the blog on Friday, because if the original winner doesn’t respond within 24 hours, an alternate will be chosen.

Since I’m still unpacking and recuperating from a whirlwind girls’ weekend in Chicago, today I’m just going to share something quick and easy with you. Sauteed mushrooms are pretty simple to create without even using a recipe- just throw together a little butter, a little wine, some herbs, and you’re good to go. But sometimes I want something a little different, and these are just that. A little spicy and a little sweet, I bet they’ll become one of your favorite mushroom preparations, just as they are to us!


Spicy Teriyaki Mushrooms

Serves 4.


2 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ tsp crushed red pepper
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp garlic powder
24 small button mushrooms (about 8 oz), halved
2 Tbsp sliced green onion


In a medium saucepan combine sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, oil, crushed red pepper, ginger and garlic powder. Add mushrooms and green onion. Sauté, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, or until mushrooms are tender. Cook for 7-8 minutes longer, or until there is very little liquid left in the pan. Serve immediately.

Photo Credit: Mushroom by mnem

By the time you read this I’ll probably be up in the air, in a cab, or making my way down Michigan Avenue. Yep, I’m going to Chicago for the weekend!

Great meals ahead, one of which will include Perennial (above)

And of course plenty of great drinks as well,
including The Violet Hour (above)

Have a great weekend and I’ll be back next week to share my adventures!

Photo Credit: Post No Bills (The Violet Hour) by PPoHio

Today I’m introducing a new series I’m calling “Tweet Me Right!” that will cast the spotlight on some of my favorite food and beverage Twitterers. Over the next few months you’ll get to hear stories of my experiences, how I’ve taken advantage of their offers and what sets them apart from their competition.

Note: I’m in no way claiming to be a marketing guru or expert, but since I do have a degree in PR and Marketing, I feel like I know a little something about promoting a product. I really can’t fathom why any restaurant in their right mind would not be using FREE social media to market themselves. Yes, it does require a bit of time, but compared to the cost of a huge advertising campaign, it seems a few minutes a day would result in a pretty good ROI. (if done correctly of course)

So I really want to give props to those Twitterers that are doing it right–those that make themselves memorable and accessible by communicating not just what they’ve got on special for the day, but what music they’re listening to, what they’re eating, what they think about our local sports teams, etc, etc. Oh yeah, and those discounts and special offers? Yeah, those will be a big part of my reporting as well. We all love a good deal, right?

Over the past few months, I’ve frequented at least 8 businesses (yes, I counted) that I had never stepped foot in before I started following them on Twitter. The magic of Twitter* is happening: they’re getting me in the door, I’m spending money, and I’m talking. Alot. Stay tuned to learn which restaurants, bars, and retailers are winning my dollars and why!

*if you aren’t familiar with twitter, refer to my previous post here