Monday, December 22, 2014

Top 10 Foodie Experience Gifts

Gift giving can be really tough-- especially when we all have so many 'things.' I've seen so many great gifts cross my path recently that weren't anything tangible, but instead were interactive experiences or gifts that could be enjoyed, eaten, or drunk, but that won't take up precious space in your kitchen cabinets. So, if you're looking for a gift for the foodie that has everything (or if you need a last minute gift to give with Christmas only a few days away) here are 10 great ideas for gifting a gourmet experience.

*Note-- Many of these vendors and experiences are local to Chicago and the Midwest. If you're gifting to someone who lives elsewhere, consider finding vendors like these in your area too!

1. Cheers! How about a Wine of the Month Club gift? Wine of the Month Club offers a variety of gift options for the vino lover on your list. They offer several different wine club memberships to suit every wine lover: from 2 bottles to 12 and from a California wine selection to a variety of vintner-selected limited edition wines, there is truly a Wine of the Month Club membership for everyone.

Not interested in gifting a membership? Wine of the Month Club also offers great gift baskets too! As a wine lover, I was so excited to recently receive this Barrel O' Wine from Wine of the Month Club. It was not only adorable and clever packaging, but it included an excellent variety of wines: A California Shiraz, a Spanish Tempranillo-Garnacha blend, a California Chardonnay, and a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.*

2. I love to cook and I do it often, but I have to say that I always enjoy and learn something new at a cooking class. Cooking classes can be fun for any food lover and here in Chicago there are a ton of different options-- whether you want something more classroom-style like La Scuola di Eataly (where you sit back and eat while the instructor demonstrates) or something super hands-on like The Chopping Block where I had to hand roll my own pasta, there's something for everyone! No matter where you are, a cooking class is a fun and interactive gift-- and great for groups too.

3. Know someone who loves food, but not so much the cooking (and subsequent cleanup)? Give a  Kitchensurfing gift card! Kitchensurfing makes the private chef experience accessible by allowing anyone to select a menu, a local chef, and book a dinner party (or date night!) right on their website. The chefs will come prepared to cook and serve right in the comfort of your kitchen. Check out my delicious experience with the service at Kit's place here.

4. How about someone that likes to cook, but just doesn't have the time? Madison & Rayne takes the the prep work out of cooking by delivering chef-designed recipes and fresh seasonal ingredients-- that have already been cleaned, cut, and portioned for you-- right to your door! The meals come together in a snap and are really delicious. A gift certificate to Madison & Rayne is perfect for the busy cook or food lover. I tried the service and had a lot of fun with it!

5. Give the gift of cheese. Because cheese. Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine offers an amazing selection of cheese-centric gifts. And better yet: they also sell monthly cheese club subscriptions! So, if you're shopping really last minute or you'd like to give the gift of cheese all year long, consider one of Pastoral's Cheese of the Month or Charcuterie of the Month packages for the gourmand in your life.

6. For the beer lover: How about a gift certificate to Brew Camp? Brew Camp offers Chicago beer lovers everything they need to take their love of beer to the next level. From home brew kits to classes on everything from how to brew at home or the ins and outs of kegs to beer accessories, this place has everything you need.

7. There is no better way to get to know your city or neighborhood than by tasting its best food. Gifting a Chicago Food Planet Tour is a delicious way to experience the best of the Windy City's food-- and to learn some interesting facts about some of Chicago's coolest neighborhoods. I have tried the Near North and Wicker Park/Bucktown tours and loved both. Next stop: Chinatown!

8. A Vintage Michigan membership is the perfect gift for a Midwest wine lover. For the wino that wants to get out and experience it firsthand, this annual membership offers its members discounts and special perks at wineries, shops, hotels and inns, wine events, and restaurants all over Michigan. I'm a huge fan of norther Michigan wineries (like in Petoskey and Traverse City) and love supporting these local businesses so this is an inexpensive gift that allows for tons of fun perks!

9. I am a sucker for these food and drink of the month clubs because they are such great ways to try something new that you might love. A Craft Coffee subscription offers the same, but for the coffee lover. They'll match the subscriber up with new coffees they'll love based on their individual preferences and send them new coffee each month. Cool, right? They're offering holiday gift subscriptions that you can gift to the coffee lover in your life for a limited time, so get on it!

10. Give the gift that keeps on giving with Heifer International. For a food-centric gift that does some good this holiday season, consider a gift from Heifer International. Heifer's mission is to provide families in third world and developing countries with the means to pull themselves out of poverty by teaching valuable life skills and trades and you have the opportunity to help fund this movement. You can, for instance, buy a goat or a flock of chicks for a family in Africa or Asia which not only provides them with a stable food source but also with an ongoing source of income. Donate to Heifer International on behalf of the foodie in your life and let them share the joy of the holiday season with those less fortunate this year!

*Editor's Note: While I received a complimentary gift from Wine of the Month Club, the opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Recent Happenings

What a crazy couple of weeks it has been! I was just looking back on the last few weeks and realized that for a full month we were either celebrating Thanksgiving or entertaining guests or Alex or I was traveling for work leaving the other one behind as a single puppy parent... I am wiped and ready for a much needed holiday break. And with all of that going on, you can imagine that I haven't had a lot of time (or energy) for going to a lot of events-- which is a shame because 'tis the season for parties! A few cool things have come up lately though and I wanted to take a few minutes and tell you and these fun foodie happenings.

Gingerbrunch at Freestyle

My friend Kit recently invited a few blogger friends to Gingerbrunch at Freestyle in the Dana Hotel. It was great to catch up with the girls and enjoy a great brunch. I have never been to Freestyle and I ordered the Spanish Scramble, which was amazing! Similar to Huevos Rancheros, it was a bed of tortilla chips tossed in savory ranchero sauce topped with scrambled eggs with peppers, pico de gallo, sour cream, and avocado. Basically, all of my favorite things.

After a quick mimosa toast, the ginger portion of Gingerbrunch began. Every Sunday from 11 AM to 3 PM in December, Freestyle invites brunch patrons to build their own gingerbread houses. They supply the pieces, the frosting, and the candy, and the rest is up to you!

I haven't built a gingerbread house in forever, so this was so much fun. Jennie and I hung a gumdrop wreath on the front of our house and went for some geometric patterns on the roof. Lauren and Erin showed of their handiwork below and Kit showed us all up with her ornate Necco wafer-shingled roof that she did all on her own.

This was such a fun and festive way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Interested? Get yourself to Freestyle this Sunday to build your own! It's $30 and mimosas are included!

Pierogi Fest

My friend Meredith recently invited Alexis and me to join her for a Saturday at her parents' home in Indiana to learn the art of pierogi making from the best: her Baci!
I love pierogies and was super excited to learn how to make them from an expert. Baci was a tough leader and not shy about telling me there was too much filling in my pierogies or throwing the dough back at Mere when it wasn't rolled out to the appropriate thickness. But she knows her stuff and can make the dough from memory and from feel, which I find totally fascinating. And she oversaw all of us as we punched out over 40 dozen potato-filled pierogies that afternoon.

A big thanks to Mere and her family for including me in this holiday tradition! It was so much fun and baking with Baci reminded me of baking with my Oma, so it brought back some fun memories. And I can't wait to share these pierogies with my family this Christmas!

And one more fun thing-- I got a shout out on TV! Several months ago I shared this recipe for Cheesy Pizza Pull Apart Bread, inspired by a recipe that I saw on The Kitchen on Food Network. I tweeted a photo of it back then and got a reply from chef Marcella-- and this past weekend they mentioned it on the show! They did, however, refer to me as a 'he'.... but I will take what I can get. Thanks for hte mention, The Kitchen!



Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Pomegranate & Goat Cheese

This healthy and flavorful salad is the perfect addition to your holiday menu-- it's easy to make and the colors make it feel super festive!

Yesterday I shared a delicious winter sangria recipe with you that I recently served to a few girlfriends. On that same night (while my husband was out of town at a conference) I decided to also take advantage of my dinner company and make a few dishes that I knew the girls would appreciate. First up on the menu: Brussels sprouts! I can't get enough Brussels sprouts and I know that my friend Mere agrees, so I couldn't wait to test out a new recipe on the girls.

This shaved Brussels sprouts salad is a great combination of flavors and textures that meld together perfectly. I love shaved Brussles sprouts in a salad-- they are hearty and hold up really well to dressings (even if you dress them and refrigerate overnight or for a day or two) and the tangy cabbage-like flavor is a great complement to the sweet and juicy pomegranate seeds. Some toasty pecans, creamy goat cheese, and a pomegranate-infused Balsamic vinaigrette really round out this simple and flavorful salad.

Pomegranate is such a festive fruit to serve at this time of year-- and I love the way that the bright red seeds look against the green sprouts with the white of the goat cheese. Talk about a perfect salad for your Christmas dinner table! It's a great salad for your holiday table or any other time too. And it would be delicious as an entree served with some grilled chicken too.


  • 1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed
  • 1/4 cup red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans, rough chopped
  • 3 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. honey
  • 4 Tbs. pomegranate balsamic vinegar *Regular balsamic will work if that's all you have on hand
  • 4 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. dried chives
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Using a mandolin, slice Brussels sprouts until finely shaved. If you don't have a mandolin, use a sharp knife and thinly slice each sprout or use your food processor's grater attachment to shave the sprouts.

Add shaved Brussels sprouts, onions, pomegranate seeds, and pecans to a large bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk olive oil, honey, vinegar, Dijon, chives, salt and pepper together. Pour over the sprout mixture and toss to combine. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes before serving.

Top with crumbled goat cheese and serve.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Holiday Sangria with Beso Del Sol

Cheers! This Saturday, December 20th is National Sangria Day. Let's celebrate by toasting with a glass of festive holiday sangria featuring Beso Del Sol!

Beso Del Sol is a premium 100% natural sangria made by blending Spanish Tempranillo wine with fruit and citrus juices to create a light and refreshing sangria. All of the flavor you're looking for in a traditional red sangria can be found here and unlike most premade sangrias, the flavors are fresh and light and not syrupy or too sweet.

This bag-in-a-box variety is the perfect base for a festive holiday party sangria: You don't have to worry about adding a ton of different ingredients to your sangria recipe with Beso Del Sol-- just toss in some of your favorite fruit, chill, and serve! Bonus: Each box contains the equivalent of three bottles of wine and the bag-in-box design helps the sangria to stay fresher longer.

I recently had some girlfriends over for a pre-holiday dinner and wanted to serve a festive drink. I used Beso Del Sol as the basis for a holiday sangria flavored with fresh oranges, cranberries, and pomegranate seeds. The fruit soaks in the sangria for several hours along with a few cinnamon sticks to create an intensely flavored seasonal sangria. I love this flavor combination: the hit of warm and spicy cinnamon with the sweet and tangy fruits meld together nicely in this Tempranillo base. It's the perfect drink for a Christmas party, ringing in the New Year, or for celebrating National Sangria day this weekend, of course!


  • 1 orange, cut in half and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1 cup whole cranberries, frozen
  • 3 cinnamon sticks, plus additional for serving
  • 1/2 carton Beso Del Sol sangria
  • 1 1/2 cups cranberry raspberry flavored sparkling water

Place orange slices, pomegranate seeds, cranberries, and cinnamon sticks in a large pitcher. Pour Beso Del Sol sangria over the top and chill in the refrigerator for several hours.

When ready to serve, add the sparkling water to the pitcher.

Fill glasses with ice and garnish each with a cinnamon stick. Pour in the sangria and serve.

Editor's Note: This post was sponsored by Beso Del Sol, however all opinions expressed herein are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands that make A Squared possible!
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