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Getting Our Just Desserts

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Today’s post on Mastication Monologues is one of my sweetest and over the top posts I’ve ever written!  If you have a sweet tooth that borderlines on a diabetic condition like I do, then you’re going to love this entry.  Last weekend, Janice and I experienced the final part of my one year anniversary gift that she got for me:  two tickets to Chicago’s Dessert Fest.  What a sweetheart!

When we got to the venue, River North’s John Barleycorn and Moe’s Cantina, there was already a line out the door and an accompanying mob once we got inside.  Everywhere we looked, we could see plenty of delicious treats being enjoyed by the guests.  While we weren’t swayed by the sundae bar that seemed pretty weak for an epic event like this one, we were more interested in the cake table with desserts made from Fabiana’s Bakery.  Not only did it boast a wonderfully delicious, buttercream-coated, cyclops rainbow cake that won “Most Craveable Dessert”IMG_6451 but also a decadent chocolate ganache wedding cake served in plastic shotglasses.IMG_6452  We definitely got crunk on those nuggets of rich dark chocolate goodness.  We quickly moved our ways through the munching masses and were confronted with a barker of sorts who bellowed, “WHO WANTS FREE ICE CREAM?!!  THIS IS DESSERT FEST!!!!”  I didn’t know King Leonidas worked dessert fairs in his spare time. Naturally, Janice’s and my hands shot up because we’re all about the cold stuff.  He hooked us up with free Blue Bunny turtle bars that was a combo of pure vanilla ice cream coated in a crunchy milk chocolate shell with the occasional hunk of pecans and caramel.  IMG_6454Simply the best, bar none! 11188221_10105701925746959_7766073886550940910_n We managed to snag a sample of macarons from a table that was mobbed with people.  I snapped up a chocolate one and a passion fruit one while Janice got a raspberry one.  They were perfect from their semi-sticky middles to the airy yet firm cookies.

Chocolate and passion fruit macarons.

Chocolate and passion fruit macarons

I personally felt the raspberry combined with the chocolate one was the ideal combination, but the passion fruit was a bland letdown.  We made our way upstairs to the sun-splashed second floor of John Barleycorn where they were slinging champagne and white wine with banana creme pie samples. IMG_6457 I got a glass of bubbly while Janice and I shared a nibble looking out over the crowd by the bar while lounging on a leather couch.  The banana creme pie reminded us of a pina colada with a mix of coconut and cream, but the champagne made it even better.  We made our way down and over to Moe’s Cantina where an entire room was just waiting for me to be explored. IMG_6466Right by the entrance, they had an open kitchen where I saw cooks preparing some sort of cup dessert with cream.IMG_6459  I didn’t have time to spare.  I was on a mission.  I visited each booth and brought back my loot to our table.  What a spread we had once I was done doing my recon mission.IMG_6460  What we ended up with was a slice of Bar Louie’s chocolate cake, voted “Most Delicious Dessert”, but sadly we never tried it since we filled up on the following treats beforehand.  First, there was the Warm Belly Bakery entry that eventually was crowned the Chocolate Champion.IMG_6465  Its presentation left much to be desired, but the brown butter chocolate chip cookies with a salted hazelnut dark chocolate mousse and a raspberry accent was quite a combo.  The cookie seemed a bit undercooked but the rich buttery dough and sweet chocolate combined to perfection with the salty yet earthy mousse.  The raspberry reminded me of our earlier macaron experiment.  While the fruit and chocolate combo was seemingly going to rule the day, the mystery dessert I had witnessed a few minutes earlier ended up rocking my world.  Turns out it is a Mexican dessert from Moe’s Cantina called a crispy xango (pronounced “zan-go”with berries and cream.  IMG_6462What is consisted of was a deep fried tortilla, coated in cinnamon and sugar churro style, and filled with a berry infused cream.  Janice got even more of the lowdown from one the employees.  Turns out they import their tortillas from Nuevo Leon in Mexico, and the cream even had a slight Bailey’s infusion to the cream.  Deep fried treats and a boozy sweet element?  I’ll take it!  I spread the cream evenly over the crunchy and crumbly surface like butter, and it was an ideal combo of textures and flavors.  By the time we made our ways upstairs, we walked past Old Crow Smokehouse’s plethora of key lime pies, which were given the “Perfected Classic Award”.  IMG_6467IMG_6468We didn’t sample any, but we did get a taste of some after-dinner digestifs.  Digestif is a term from French that refers to a drink that supposedly aids digestion.  The ones we samples were of an Italian variety in the shape of an amaro and a limoncello.  The former is an herbal liqueur that is often consumed neat, and has roots in the 19th century often originating in pharmacies or monasteries.  The name “amaro” means “bitter” in Italian, and I could see why.Lucano  I could only liken the taste of it to a less syrupy/obnoxious Jaegermeister.  It was potent but bursting with anise, ginger, and licorice.  As for the limoncello that Janice tried, it is a very different digestif compared to the amaro.  First, it is a bright yellow that comes from the lemon zests (hence the name) that are used to make the alcohol.  Second, it is more regional in nature given that it is a mainly southern Italian drink.  The one we had came from the southeastern region of Italy called Abruzzo which is kind of close to the heel of the boot of the peninsula.  Tastewise, it cleansed the palate of all of the sugar we had previously consumed but also perked us up with a strong, lemon scented kick.  As we left the festival, it was like leaving some sort of wonderful, Willy Wonka-esque type of dream, but it was a great gift from my lovely girlfriend.  I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a good and calories-be-damned sort of time!11248149_10105702971601059_1612555248785757579_n

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I Like the Cut of Your Rib

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Man, what a summer.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better with the weather improving and the World Cup around the corner, I finally made it out to Chicago’s famous Ribfest.  While there is another similar festival out in Naperville, the Chicago one apparently is the best in the entire city for the summer.   That really means something since there are ten billion street fests in Chicago for every type of cuisine, ethnicity, and music genre.  Why so many?  Oh, let’s just say when the winter hits Chicago, you don’t want to be anywhere outside, especially this past winter.

Ribfest is typically a three day event complete with music, games, and oh yeah, the food, including an amateur rib eating contest!  Perhaps this video could give you a good idea of what it’s like to be there minus the crushing claustrophobia Janice and I experienced on the wonderful Sunday afternoon we spent there.  We could see rib vendors from all over the Chicagoland area and the USA.  After dodging millions of the food zombies slowly grazing and ripping apart various foodstuffs while shuffling slowly down Lincoln Ave., we ended up at the Mrs. Murphy and Sons Irish Bistro tent.  We had to try it since it has now won best ribs at the fest for the fifth year running.  We got a sampler, and it was absolutely finger-lickin’ good.IMG_3359  The whiskey laden sauce coated every inch of these fall-off-the-bone tender ribs.  The sauce was smoky yet quite sweet, but the only downside was that I felt that there could have been more meat on the bones for the price.

She doesn't mind.

She doesn’t mind.

After those tiny but tasty buggers, we moseyed on back to the Texas Thunder BBQ tent because you can’t mess with Texas!IMG_3363  Not only did we splurge for a rib sampler but also a side of the sweet cowboy cornbread.  I was much more satisfied with these bad boys since everything definitely was bigger in Texas.IMG_3362  These Flintstone-sized ribs were more my speed since they had plenty of meat along with a spicier sauce that had hints of cayenne pepper.  Not only that, but the cornbread was the best cornbread I’ve ever had.  Not only was it sweet, but it was moist and spongy which allowed them to soak up some of the bbq sauce to create a spicy and sweet treat.  It was a great day.IMG_3367

That’s a Wrap!

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Although today’s post is about a very unique yet not very unique food, it’s going to be on the shorter end since it’s just about one food item, not an entire restaurant review like you’re used to on Mastication Monologues.

While I’ve tried my fair share of different types of Mediterranean cuisine, I encountered a new and strange entry to my encyclopedic knowledge of all things consumable.  Janice and I were at Midsommar Fest in the Swedish Andersonville neighborhood on the north side of Chicago.  While I was expecting plenty of classic Swedish foods such as meatballs, lutefisk, and ammonia chloride treated licorice, I instead was greeted with corn dogs, tacos, and gyros…kind of a negative effect of increased globalization, I think.  However, one tent at the entrance made me come back after stuffing myself silly with free bags of sour gummi worms at the button booth.  Their poster of a long word filled with lots of accent marks along with a pronunciation guide that included a famous Communist guerrilla fighter only drew me in further. IMG_3351 Upon first examining the cooks’ setup, I could smell the smoke coming off the grill on the side that quickly enveloped us with a heady mix of general grilled meats and charred wood. I could somewhat see what the guys in front of me got.  It was some sort of flatbread in tin foil where they put this mysterious red sauce on top.  So, I got to the front of the line, and ordered one ćevapčići or “little kebab”.  I asked the cook if this meal was Romanian based on the formation of the word, and he said it was Croatian.  However, the Romanians do have their own version of it called mici which is why there was a tub of mustard there next to the red tub of mystery condiment.  Apparently the Romanians like the meat without pita but with mustard and beer.   The word “ćevapčići ” in Croatian breaks down into “ćevap or “kebab” originally from Persian and the Croatian diminutive suffix ” čići” which combines with the previous element to say “little kebabs”.  So I bought one sandwich which translated into a two of these compact beef, pork, and lamb nuggets nestled into a grilled pita with the option of chopped onions put on by the cook. IMG_3353 Obviously I said yes, and then I asked them what the sauce was?  It was a red pepper and eggplant sauce called ajvar which was brought in from Serbian cooking. IMG_3352 I gave my pita a good couple squirts from the pump, and I proceeded to down the kebab.IMG_3354  It was unlike any other Mediterranean meat I’ve tried in a pita.  They were slightly charred on the outside yet had a semi spicy seasoned crumbly interior.  I think the chef got a little buck wild with the onion pieces, but I enjoyed the pepper sauce that was subtly sweet that complimented the dry meat.  All of this was wrapped up in an extremely fresh and soft yet substantial pita.  Thankfully I didn’t spill any of the red pepper sauce on me, but Janice was the unfortunate victim of a pepper attack.  For once it wasn’t me!  Poor girl though…

Anyway, long story short.  If you ever have the chance to try a ćevapčići, I highly recommend it even if you won’t know how to pronounce it.  I personally would still pick a gyro over it, but the pepper sauce brings a certain je ne sais quoi to the table that this xeno loves.

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