Simple 3-Ingredient Tomato Sauce | Farmers Market Series

Tomato season is here! As an Italian, I can appreciate the season of tomatoes. They’re such a versatile ingredient and come in many different shapes, sizes, and even colors. I love roasting cherry tomatoes to bring out more of their natural sweetness. Heirloom tomatoes are gorgeous for salads and sandwiches. Plum tomatoes and vine tomatoes are perfect for homemade sauces. Tomatoes are never better than while at the peak of their season. The same goes for any other fruit or vegetable but tomatoes seem to be juicier and sweeter from August to September while they’re thriving. With that said, today’s farmers market recipe is a very simple and easy tomato sauce. Make it on weeknights, make it on the weekend. Double, triple, or even quadruple the batch and freeze the extras for quick dinners in the coming weeks.

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What’s great about this recipe is that the other two main ingredients are also at the peak of their season right now: basil and garlic. The basil is so aromatic at this time which makes it perfect for using in homemade sauces. Its potency will lend lots of great flavor to the tomatoes. Garlic is also growing like crazy now which means it's inexpensive and fresh. I call this recipe 3-Ingredient because the others should be basics you have in your pantry. Olive oil, salt and pepper should always be stocked in your kitchen. Nothing puts me in a panic more than realizing that I just used my last drop of olive oil. So to keep that from happening, I’ll usually buy a new bottle of olive oil when I’m a little under half-way through with my current one.

There are a lot of variations of olive oil at the grocery store and it can be intimidating, especially if you’re just getting started in the kitchen or haven’t used olive oil regularly up till now. Being Italian, olive oil was always something we had on hand. We use it for everything from sweating onions to drizzling over salads. We use it straight up to dip bread, we use it in baking. It’s a basic kitchen ingredient and that’s the same for a lot of other cultures too: Spanish, French, Greek, etc. It’s also really good for you, especially in its raw form (not cooked). I always go with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. You want to stay away from anything that labeled or considered "light." Extra virgin is of the best quality and a standard option for overall use. I won’t go crazy and buy $50 bottles but I generally like my olive oil to be made in Italy, Greece or Spain and never more than one location. Surprisingly, you can find oils that have 2+ places attributed to their creation. Not good. I have, however, found a brand made out of California that's really good. Bon Appetit has a helpful article to buying olive oil as a beginner if you're interested.

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Now that we’ve got ingredient information out of the way, let’s talk sauce. Like I said, this is essentially a 3-ingredient sauce: tomatoes, basil and garlic. While you prepare the sauce, get a pot of water boiling and cook your desired pasta. I used Fettuccine because we love big noodles in my house and it's a heartier pasta. Fettuccine pairs well with the fresher sauces too. First step: heat the olive oil over a medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes, basil and garlic. Season generously to taste (the S&P is your only chance to season the sauce) and bring to a simmer. Step 2: Let the sauce simmer for about 15-minutes until the tomatoes have released their juices and the bitterness has cooked out. Step 3: Toss with the fettuccine and serve. That’s it! Super easy, ridiculously quick and SOOO delicious.

NOTE: If you decide to increase this recipe and make a double, triple or even quadruple batch, increase the cook time. This is very important. Adding more tomatoes means they need extra time to cook. I would add 15-minutes for every extra “batch.” So if you double this recipe, cook 30-minutes. If you quadruple the recipe, cook for at least 60-minutes. The key is to keep stirring it every 15-minutes or so to keep the bottom from burning and tasting it along the way to see if it’s ready. And to be clear, you can absolutely cook this sauce longer than the required time. Cooking tomato sauces longer make the flavors develop more which creates a richer, sweeter, more delicious sauce. The time reflected in this recipe is the minimum suggestion for the best result. Happy cooking!

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Simple 3-Ingredient Tomato Sauce
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
4 medium-large Tomatoes, diced
½ cup Basil, roughly chopped
3 Garlic Cloves, finely chopped
Salt & Pepper
1 lb. Fettuccine

1 - In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes, basil and garlic. Season generously with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and let cook for about 15 minutes until the tomatoes have released their juices and are no longer bitter.

2 - Meanwhile, cook the fettuccine or your choice of pasta, according to package directions. Drain and toss with the tomato sauce. Serve.

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Chunky Chicken Salad Sandwiches | Easy Weeknight Recipes

Back to school is starting this week and will continue all month long for many people. Whether that means bringing your baby to pre-school for the first time or heading back to a college campus, chances are time is not something to be wasteful with anymore. Gone are the long days of summer where dinner can be dragged out over a few hours. Weeknight cookouts (if you’re lucky enough to have those) will become a distant memory and budgets get a little tighter. Everyone loves a meal they can prep in under 20 minutes and it’s even better if it saves you a buck. That’s what’s so great about this Chunky Chicken Salad.

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Two words: Rotisserie Chicken. I wasn’t a huge fan of these for a long time because breaking them down isn’t fun. One week this summer, I managed to make one $7 Rotisserie Chicken act as the protein for two different dinners plus there was enough left over from both meals to feed two adults for lunch for 5 days. $7 essentially provided 14 servings at least. That’s impressive. One meal was the Southwestern Chicken Pita Pockets that I shared a few weeks ago. The second was this delightful Chunky Chicken Salad. Both recipes need about two cups of cooked chicken which is about what one Rotisserie Chicken will yield. The remaining ingredients are pretty inexpensive and can be used in many other different ways as well.

Another perk of this Chunky Chicken Salad is that it’s no-cook! All of the ingredients get mixed up and spooned onto bread. Simple, easy, quick! Dice up carrots, celery and cucumbers. You don’t have to get crazy because this is a chunky salad but you want them to be small enough so that the sandwich isn't a challenge to eat. Adding cucumbers to the classic carrot-celery combo adds a refreshing touch. I always like to include grapes in my chicken salads if they look good ad the store. Their sweetness takes the chicken salad to another level and gives it a more dynamic flavor profile. Instead of just tossing the ingredients with mayo, add in a touch of relish for a tiny zing. It’s a small extra step that makes all the difference. These sandwiches are quite tasty, and pack well for lunches. The only time you’ll spend on this dish is how long it takes you to prep the ingredients and mix everything together. I used an Artisanal Bread from the farmers market but any kind you prefer will work. Try toasting the bread before hand if it’s not too sturdy so it can handle the salad well.

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Chunky Chicken Salad
2 cups cooked Chicken, chopped or shredded
1 small Carrot, diced
1 Celery Stalk, diced
½ Cucumber, diced
1 cup Grapes, halved
½ cup Mayo
1 tsp. Relish
8 slices Artisan Bread

1 - In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the chicken, carrot, celery, cucumber, grapes, mayo and relish. Spoon onto the bread and serve.

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Grilled Portobello Burgers with Simple Green Salad | Farmers Market Series

Earlier this summer as the produce was slowly growing in, picking up ingredients to challenge myself for this series was limited. We had a late start to spring and once it came, it was more like dog days of summer weather. If I’m being honest, those dog days never left. It’s been one 80-100 degree day to the next with small breaks here and there. With that said, our produce season went from bare to bountiful what seemed like overnight. I took trip after trip and stopped going because we were tiring of asparagus. After taking a month or so off from my Sunday morning market adventures, I returned to see that there was produce but still not a ton. Most of the vendors who would typically sell produce were selling plants and flowers for early planting. Before turning around feeling once again defeated, I decided to head to this one vendor all the way in the far corner of the market.

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This particular vendor is my favorite during summer and fall seasons. They have the most produce out of anyone and it’s always fantastic. From farther away, it still looked like they were only selling plants, flowers and herbs for planing. But as I got closer I could see the far table full of produce. Finally! What I had been waiting for since March was finally here! All kinds of leafy greens, radishes, spring onions, root veggies and more. There were barely two long folding tables full of veggies but it was more than I had seen since the previous fall and I was ready to dive in. It was these veggies that inspired a simple green salad. Fresh green leaf lettuce gets tossed together with bright cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, spicy radishes, and scallions. To keep the dressing from overpowering the veggies, mix together a simple vinaigrette with equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I wanted to pair the salad with something hearty but still light enough for those hot summer days. Another vendor close to this one sells all kinds of great mushrooms. The portobello caps were a fantastic deal and looked amazing so I decided to grab a few for Grilled Portobello Burgers. They marinate with balsamic vinegar before grilling up pretty quick on the stove or outdoor grill. We never actually filled our propane tank this summer so I’ve been going crazy using my grill pan. It works just as well, the only difference is you don’t get a smoky, charred flavor like on the grill. The cook time varies depending on the size of the portobello caps. The result you’re looking for is grill marks on both sides of the mushroom and for it to be slightly softened. It needs to be sturdy to act as the main meat of the burger and mushy mushrooms aren’t appetizing anyway. For the condiment, whip up the simple garlicky mayo. A clove of garlic minced or grated mixes into about a quarter cup of mayo. You can also use Veganaise to keep things 100% veggie-based.

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Grilled Portobello Burgers with Simple Green Salad
Burger Ingredients:
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
2 tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
2 Portobello Caps
1 Garlic Clove, minced
¼ cup Mayonnaise or Veganaise
2 Hamburger Buns
2 Lettuce Leaves
2 Tomato Slices

Salad Ingredients:
1 head Green Leaf Lettuce, roughly torn or chopped
1 pint Cherry Tomatoes, halved
½ Cucumber, halved and sliced
1 bunch Radishes, sliced (or appx. 10 radishes)
3 Scallions, chopped
4 tbsp. Olive Oil
4 tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
Shredded Parmesan Cheese, for garnish

1 - Whisk together the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Pour into a plastic sealable bag or a bowl with the portobello caps. Let marinate for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix together the mayonnaise or veganaise and the garlic in a small bowl to create a garlic mayo.

2 - Preheat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Take the portobello caps out of the bag or bowl and place cap down. There’s no need to pat dry. The balsamic vinegar will caramelize slightly for a nice, rich flavor. Let the mushrooms cook about 6-10 minutes per side* until softened and grill marks have formed. Once the mushrooms have finished cooking, spread a little garlic mayo on the bottom half of each bun. Place the Portobello over the mayo and top with lettuce and tomato. Serve!

3 - While the portobello burgers are cooking. Prep the salad. In a medium to large bowl, toss together the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, radishes and scallions. Whisk together the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and drizzle over the salad. Top with Parmesan Cheese for garnish and serve alongside the burgers.

*NOTE: For the mushroom’s cook time, it varies depending on the size of the portobello cap. Larger caps will take longer time to soften. Smaller ones will cook quickly so be vigilant and don’t be afraid to peek and see if grill marks have formed occasionally.

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8 Chicago Patios to Send Off Summer

Summertime in Chicago is fleeting which is why locals make the most of it. Now that it’s August, it’s time to soak in the remaining weeks of patio season. While most patios will stay open through September and maybe even October, this is more than likely the last full month of summer weather. Chicagoans will gather their tribe and head to their favorite spots to enjoy the hot sunny rays while sipping a cold cocktail or glass of wine. They’ll talk about any late summer trips they’ve planned and reminisce on all the shenanigans that have happened the last few months from festival memories to bad blind dates. As much as I really don’t enjoy the heat, it’s my favorite part of summer because you have this renewed energy to take advantage of things like patios and outdoor concerts. You want to wear all those cute summer dresses you’ve been accumulating before it’s time to break out the chunky, oversized sweaters. The entire city of Chicago has an energized spirit that is hard to ignore. Whether you’re a local looking for a new spot or a visitor in town for a few days, I’ve put together a list of 8 restaurants with patios to take advantage of in these final days of summer.

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Bar Siena/Bombobar | 832 West Randolph Street - West Loop
For great Italian, head to Bar Siena. Chef Fabio Viviani created a dynamic space inside and out with this restaurant. Located on Randolph Street along Restaurant Row, the menu is inspired by Italian street food like pizzas and shared plates. It’s strongly recommended (by yours truly) to share because you get to try a little bit of everything and believe me, you’ll want to. Bar Siena is open for brunch, lunch, and dinner but most important, they serve dessert from Bombobar. Bombobar is a walk-up window on the side of the restaurant serving delightful bombolini, my kryptonite. Bombolini are Italian doughnuts, or more simply put, fried dough dredged in sugar. Stuff them with Nutella, seasonal jams, s’more flavors and more.

As far as dinner is concerned, try the Burrata to start or the Taleggio Focaccia followed by a pizza and a pasta. The Sausage and Brussels Sprout Pizza is a nice change from tradition but the Fireball Pepperoni is like a grown-up version of your childhood favorite. The Short Rib Lasagna is out of this world and the Sweet Corn Ravioli is summer on a plate. You see why it’s important that you share plates now? The staff is very familiar with the drink menu and is able to provide great pairings for your dinner, even if your dinner is all over the place with flavor profiles.

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Caffe Streets | 1750 West Division Street - Wicker Park
This Wicker Park coffee shop has one of the largest patios I’ve seen for a coffee shop. Caffe Streets is a great spot to enjoy a patio while you need to get work done. The coffee shop offers free wi-fi, bomb espresso and a welcoming environment. It’s an independently run business serving brews from Metric Coffee Co., another local Chicago business. The patio is out front along Division Street and bordered by rustic wood railings with planters for a touch of homeyness. Even though Division is a busy street for the area, it’s not as loud and distracting as you’d think. I will say, this is a popular spot among locals so if you want to grab a seat, make sure to get there early. They don’t have a huge menu but they do have a variety of sweet and savory bakery items.

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Cindy’s Rooftop | 12 South Michigan Avenue - Loop
Since opening not too long ago, Cindy’s Rooftop has established itself as a staple for Chicago bucket lists. Locals love it and out of towners have to visit if only to see the amazing views. Located in the Chicago Athletic Hotel, Cindy’s has a rooftop terrace with some of the best views of the city. Overlooking Millennium Park, get sweeping views of Lake Michigan, Michigan Avenue and more. It’s a spot that I take family from out of town and also meet friends for a drink. The outdoor terrace has fire pits to keep warm when the nights are cool and as fall creeps in. The doors to the terrace open wide to bring the outside in on a beautiful, sunny day.

Cindy’s is known for having an innovative craft cocktail menu and iconic brunch. Part of the reason you visit Cindy’s is to take a picture of your gorgeous cocktail with the view of the city in the background. If you head to Cindy’s for brunch, the Spiced Cinnamon Roll is worth getting sticky fingers for and the Avocado Toast is an elevated version of the popular dish. I’d get into the cocktails and drinks but there are so many options for every palate that we’d be here for days. If you’re like me and read a wine list better than a cocktail list, don’t be afraid to ask your server or the bartender for a recommendation. The whole point of craft cocktails is to provide a unique experience that you enjoy. Tell them what you like, what you don’t like and they’ll point you in the right direction.

Photo Credit: Chicago Athletic Association Hotel

Photo Credit: Chicago Athletic Association Hotel

City Winery on the Riverwalk | 11 West Riverwalk South - Chicago Riverwalk
For an ultimate patio experience, walk down the riverwalk and there is no shortage of spots to grab a seat. The riverwalk location is an extension of the larger City Winery on Randolph Street in the West Loop. The riverwalk is a newer development in the downtown area of Chicago. It used to be a place to avoid but now has a beautiful path on the south side of the river featuring restaurants, vendors, and activities like boat cruises and kayaking. City Winery offers wine on tap and by the bottle. The menu features shared plates, tours, charcuterie and cheese boards, paninis and more. On a hot day, I love to share the Schmear Plate with a friend or the Artisanal Cheese “Tour.” The Grilled Cheese is a stand-out sandwich for something more hearty featuring house-made apple butter and sun-dried tomato. Just trust me on this one.


Ema | 74 West Illinois Street - River North
Walking into Ema, it feels like you’ve entered Los Angeles. I’ve never been to the California mecca but I imagine that Ema is what LA restaurants feel like. It makes sense considering Chef CJ Jacobson is an Orange County native. He’s brought a taste of home to Chicago with Mediterranean-style cuisine using a California twist. Open for brunch, lunch and dinner, Ema serves food that tastes great and makes you feel even better. Even though Ema is in a busier part of River North, the patio offers a little seclusion and separation from the rush of traffic. It’s the perfect way to enjoy a late summer day and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Plates are meant to be shared but that’s always ok with me as long as I get to try a number of dishes. Start off with one of their many spreads served with house made bread. The Garlic Hummus is a dream and the Avocado & Sweet Pea is a treat using the best ingredients of the season. A few other recommendations are the Sweet Corn Risotto, Grilled Pork Belly and Green Falafel. Enjoy plates both cold and warm, vegetarian and meaty. There’s seafood, kebabs, grains, and their famous Rotisserie Chicken that’s also available at the quick counter to-go.

Photo Credit: Anjali Pinto - c/o Ema

Photo Credit: Anjali Pinto - c/o Ema

Summer House Santa Monica | 1954 North Halsted Street - Lincoln Park
Another California-inspired restaurant, Summer House Santa Monica, won me over as soon as I experienced the clear ceiling that opens on dry days and lets all the sunshine in. This is another California-inspired menu with a focus on local, seasonal favorite! It’s an Instagram dream with all the natural lighting and bright, neutral colors. The food is amazing as well. From sushi to pasta to grilled proteins, even the pickiest of eaters will find something to eat at SHSM. The Ahi Tuna and Watermelon Tostada is fresh and flavorful while the Beyond Bolognese is a “meaty,” plant-based version of my favorite pasta. The restaurant is also known for a fantastic brunch which I have yet to experience but it remains on my bucket list! Don’t leave without dessert! Summer House Santa Monica shares a bakery with neighbor restaurant Stella Barra featuring fresh-baked cookies, pastries and more. Finish the night with something sweet and a little espresso. It sounds like heaven to me.

The Dawson | 730 West Grand Avenue - West Town
The Dawson has been a particular favorite of mine since it opened back in 2013. I’ve come here on many occasions for everything from dinner with friends to dinner for business. It’s a sophisticated dining experience with an elevated menu and gorgeous space. One of the best parts of The Dawson is the enclosed outdoor patio. It feels exactly how a backyard should but more grown-up. Pergolas, light landscaping, and string lights provide an ambiance that’s suitable for dinner with friends or an intimate dinner for two.

The Dawson’s menu doesn’t have to be shared but I always welcome any opportunity to try more than one dish. The Chorizo Fondue brings two of my favorite things together: cheese and chorizo. I’m not one to order fish but the Halibut with Zucchini and Harissa-Roasted Carrots is a dynamic summer dish. The House-Made Cavatelli with Pork Ragu is also sensational. One of The Dawson’s unique offerings is a selection of meals prepared over a wood-fired grill. It’s a traditional method of cooking and uses seasonal ingredients. The flavors are out of this world and the proteins cooked perfect. Final note for a side dish...order the Brussels Sprouts. You’ll never have them this good anywhere else.

Photo Credit: Gage Hospitality Group

Photo Credit: Gage Hospitality Group

Three Embers | 10 Marriott Drive - Lincolnshire, IL
If you’re willing to make a trip out to the suburbs, plan a visit to Three Embers at the Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort. I recently shared a full review of the restaurant but it deserves a place on this list as well. Serving up Midwest cuisine with locally grown and sourced, farm-fresh ingredients...the main reason Three Embers belongs on this list is the stunning Lakeside Plaza. More than a patio, this plaza has gorgeous views of the resort’s grounds including a small lake and fountain. With plenty of outdoor seating, gorgeous views, and live acoustic music, it’s one of the best patio experiences. I’d love to revisit in the fall because something tells me the changing colors in the trees will be even more breathtaking than they are now. If you have a chance to visit while they’re still serving the summer menu, I recommend going for the Honey Badger Glazed Pork Belly alone. The Blueberry Coconut Lemonade isn’t so bad either 😉.

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Club Sandwiches with Cucumber-Tomato Salad | Lighter Recipes For Summer

We are officially in the dog days of summer. August is traditionally the hottest and most unbearable of the summer months, not just for Chicago, but all over it seems. The big scary bugs are out like crazy and you feel like you need a shower for being outside five minutes. There’s also things like back to school which means back to sports and after school activities. While I don’t have kids of my own, living with two teenagers gives me a unique perspective of organizing dinner times around busy schedules and the importance of quick dinners. I also can appreciate a meal that doesn’t heat up the kitchen on a hot day. Who wants to sweat even more at the end of summertime? Bring on fall already!

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I’m always impressed by the triple decker sandwiches from diners and casual restaurants. They’re satisfying without weighing too heavy in your stomach. They’re also much less intimidating to create than you’d think. They do take a minute to assemble but that’s ok because it allows enough time for the cucumber tomato salad to marinate. By the time the sandwiches are together, dinner is ready to go. The only reason the kitchen might get heated up is if you’re cooking the bacon that same day. I did and it only added a few extra minutes to the prep time. I actually had the bacon going as I was preparing the vegetables for the salad. The cucumber-tomato salad is a simple version of a classic. Soaking the onion in water (you can add a splash of vinegar too) will keep them from overpowering the other ingredients. I love onion flavor but I don’t like when the onions are strong. Red wine vinegar and olive oil mix together for a simple dressing, everything marinades for about 15-20 minutes and you’re set!

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As much as I love triple decker sandwiches, I don't love that they can be so huge my mouth can't fit around them. It’s a joke in my family and with my friends, also my dentist, at how small my mouth is. Not kidding, he uses the kid-sized tools during my visit. It’s embarrassing. If you're ever out to eat with me and I accidentally take too large of a bite, be prepared to fill the conversation for the next five minutes. The great thing about these club sandwiches is that they pack in a lot of ingredients but they’re not towering so high that it’s an Olympic sport to fit in your mouth. A little cheese, a decent amount of meat and just enough veg to keep things fresh. And of course, you can’t forget the mayo!

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Turkey Club Sandwiches with Cucumber-Tomato Salad
Ingredients for the Sandwiches:
12 slices Multigrain Bread (or your favorite sandwich bread), toasted
½ cup Mayo or Veganaise
8 slices Turkey Deli Meat (your choice)
8 strips Bacon, cooked and broken in half
4 slices of Tomato (or 8 slices if the tomato is small in size)
4 slices Muenster Cheese
4 Lettuce Leaves

Ingredients for the Salad:
½ small Red Onion, thinly sliced
1 Cucumber, halved and sliced
1 pint Cherry Tomatoes, halved
¼ cup Olive Oil
2 tbsp. Red Wine Vinegar
Salt & Pepper

1 - Prep the Salad. Soak the onion slices in water for 20-30 minutes. You can also add a dash of vinegar too. This will help mute the flavor so the onion isn’t as strong. In a medium-sized serving bowl, mix together the cucumber, tomato, and onions. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and vinegar. Drizzle over the salad and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

2 - Prep the sandwiches. Place two slices of bread facedown. On each side of the bread that’s face up, spread a little bit of the mayo. On one piece of bread, layer a slice of turkey, two bacon halves, and tomato. On the other piece of bread, layer a slice of cheese, two more bacon halves, a slice of turkey and lettuce. Spread a little mayo on both sides of the third piece of bread and place on one of sandwich halves. Carefully, flip the other half over to make a triple decker sandwich. Secure with two toothpicks to keep in place and slice in half. Serve.

Makes 4 Sandwiches

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Parmesan Roasted Asparagus | Farmers Market Series

The farmers market season is arguably the best time of year (other than Christmas, of course). Everything is fresh and in perfect cooking condition. All the flavors of the season are at their best. You’ll never get asparagus in the winter that’s as good as in the summer. Sames goes for berries, summer squash and watermelon. It’s the perfect time to indulge in all the colorful options because the season never seems to last long enough. Too bad because I wouldn’t mind having summer fresh berries year round! One of my personal favorites that’s available all the way at the beginning of spring into summer and fall is asparagus.

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Asparagus is one of those vegetables that you never would have touched as a kid and then wonder what your problem was when you become an adult. It’s one of the quintessential spring and summer veggies. It adds a bright green color to the plate and it cooks up SUPER quick. Blanch it in water for a minute or so or pop it on the grill for as much time. It’s the perfect hot weather veggie because you really don’t want to cook it long, just enough to remove the rawness and soften the bite. What makes asparagus even better? Butter and cheese! That makes everything better though so no surprise there.

This recipe for Parmesan Roasted Asparagus is affordable, it’s quick and it’s super tasty. Serve it alongside a frittata for brunch or with a nice steak for dinner. That’s actually how I served it. The weekend I wrote this recipe was my first weekend at the farmers market. It was still spring, and for us the beginning of spring because winter stuck around through April. There were very few options, literally two: asparagus and rhubarb. Never having cooked with rhubarb before and not wanting to botch my first farmer’s market challenge, I went with asparagus. But how do you make asparagus interesting? You slather it in butter and melt a bunch of cheese on top, that’s how! Pair it with a simple grilled steak finished with a small tab of butter at the end and you’re good to go. It’s a hearty yet lighter dinner perfect for the warmer months.

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So now that I’ve gone on about asparagus and lightly mentioned this farmer’s market challenge, let me refresh your memory. Earlier in spring, I decided I wanted to challenge myself to cook seasonally and support local businesses while I was at it. We have a great farmers market in my town and I always felt that markets had the best the season has to offer. Since I love giving myself challenges when my to-do list is already a thousand miles long, I decided that every week (or almost every week), I would go to the market and write a recipe inspired by the ingredients I bought. Because most of May only had asparagus and rhubarb, those plans were derailed a bit and I haven’t written as many recipes as I would have liked. That’s why this series started so late in the season. Well, that and the few curveballs life has thrown my way lately. Better late than never though, right? So until the farmer’s market closes later this fall, I’ll continue to stop by the local market whenever I can and write recipes completely inspired by the ingredients I pick up. The next one I share is a double doozy to make up for the lack of market recipes. There are two recipes involved because I was able to grab a lot more ingredients since it was from a visit in June.

Do you visit your local farmer’s market every week or are you a strict grocery store shopper? I completely understand both so there’s no judgement for your answer, tell me in the comments below. Also, let me know if you have any ingredient requests! I love a good challenge so if you’d like to see me use a specific ingredient that can be found at the farmers market, tell me in the comments and if I can find it, I’ll grab it and give it a shot.

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Parmesan Roasted Asparagus
1 bunch Asparagus, ends trimmed
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
2 tbsp. Butter, cut into four pieces
½ cup Shaved Parmesan Cheese
Salt & Pepper

1 - Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prep a baking sheet with tin foil.

2 - Place the asparagus on the baking sheet in one even layer. Drizzle with olive oil, season generously with salt and pepper. Place the four tabs of butter randomly over the asparagus. I did a zig zag pattern so that the butter didn’t pool on one side.

3 - Bake the asparagus for 5-6 minutes until the butter is melted. Sprinkle the cheese over the asparagus. Bake another 2-3 minutes  until melted. Serve!

Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort - Checking In

Nothing beats a mid-week staycation, especially during a busy few weeks. It’s a reprieve from the craziness of life whether you need a break from the office or the kids. Earlier this week, I shared a part of a recent mid-week staycation that I had the pleasure of enjoying. The Chicago Lincolnshire Marriott Resort invited me to dine at the newly redesigned and reconcepted Three Embers restaurant which was a treat in itself. They also invited me to stay the night which was a no brainer. I invited my cousin to come along and it served as a mini celebration of sorts for her earning a Masters degree. The resort recently went under a $25 million transformation from completely redesigned restaurants to a gorgeous outdoor patio. It’s an oasis in the Chicago suburbs and an ideal landscape for anyone looking to escape the fast-pace of city life and take a moment to breathe.

**I was invited to stay at the Chicago Lincolnshire Marriott Resort and enjoy a dinner at Three Embers complimentary. All opinions expressed belong to Lattes, Life & Luggage.***

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Checking In
The Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort is tucked away on a large campus that is home to the resort, the Marriott theater, an on-site farm, greenhouse, and apiary, and more. The secluded location guises the fact that you’re in suburban Chicago. The entire property is surrounded by forest area and the grounds are expertly landscaped. My cousin and I were running late for the Three Embers dinner so we had to take it in rather quick. We entered the lobby which has plenty of space and comfortable seating for lounging, and checked in seamlessly. The front desk staff was welcoming and very helpful in providing information about our room and stay. We passed the full-service Starbucks Cafe, new to the resort, and doors to the outdoor pool before going up one floor to our room.

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The Room
We stayed in a double room with full-sized beds and were greeted with a little note and a few chocolatey treats upon arrival. There was plenty of space for two of us with a desk and small seating area. The bathroom was clean with a modern design and plenty of counter space. A large window overlooked the resort grounds. I’m so used to city views whenever staying in a hotel. It was refreshing to have trees and all kinds of green on the other side of the window. The beds were unbelievably comfortable. In fact, when we were checking out, I asked if we could take the bed with us. It was like a pillowy cloud but still firm enough so that your back didn’t ache in the morning. Simply put, everything exceeded our expectations.

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The Resort
What do you think $25 million could get you? Other than not having to work for the rest of your life. For the Marriott Lincolnshire, it got them a completely transformed resort. They added two new restaurants: Three Embers and Wrights Brew & Bistro, a full-service Starbucks Cafe, a new day spa - The Spa at Lincolnshire, completely renovated guest rooms, an upgraded “Great Room” lobby, and the Lakeside Plaza. It seems like a lot and it is. You can tell a lot of care and consideration went into each of the changes and the money was well spent. The Great Room serves as the lobby and so much more. With the Starbucks Cafe right off the Great Room, it’s the perfect location to take your computer, grab a latte and scroll through your emails in the morning. There’s enough foot traffic to make it feel alive but not in an overwhelming way so that you can’t hear yourself think. It gives a grand first impression to anyone arriving for the first time as well.

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I did not experience Wrights Brew & Bistro but we had a lovely dinner at Three Embers which started on the Lakeside Plaza. The plaza is a 2,500 square foot patio featuring breathtaking views of the resort lake, fire pits, outdoor seating and more. It’s the ideal spot to start the night with a cocktail in hand. Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the summer, Lakeside Plaza features live acoustic music performances to add to the ambiance. We were able to enjoy one of those performances and it was nothing short of fantastic. The menu at Three Embers features Midwest cuisine with simple, locally grown and sourced, farm-fresh ingredients, while integrating influential flavors from various regions throughout southern Europe. Get a more in depth review and look at Three Embers by visiting our post from earlier in the week.

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The Verdict
We only stayed at the Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort for one night but it was long enough to give us a taste of what the hotel has to offer. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I have experienced many of the suburban hotel options and none of them live up to what the Marriott Lincolnshire provides. Because of its secluded location, even in the heart of a suburb, it actually feels like you’ve escaped into nature to get away for awhile. It’s ideal for anyone looking to take a staycation within the area but it’s also a great spot for those visiting from out of town. Lincolnshire is less than an hour from Chicago by car or a quick drive from the nearest Metra stop to take the train into the city. It’s also a quick 20 min drive to O’Hare International Airport, which, if you’re familiar with O’Hare - there are few places that can be considered quick drives. Overall, the Marriott Lincolnshire has plenty to offer including live theater performances. If you’re traveling to the area, I would recommend to at least consider allowing the resort to host you during your visit.

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Summer Nights at Three Embers at the Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort

There are some meals that are so good they stick with you for a long time. Every single dish is memorable and your mouth salivates thinking about it. Unfortunately for me, the meal on my mind lately is almost a two hour drive away but worth every minute there and back. It’s the new summer menu from Three Embers at the Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort and if it’s not on your summer bucket list, it should be. Located in Chicago’s North Shore area, Three Embers, the resort’s signature restaurant, celebrates Midwest cuisine with simple, locally grown and sourced, farm-fresh ingredients, while integrating influential flavors from various regions throughout southern Europe. My cousin and I had the pleasure to dine with other influencers at a special event to preview the new summer menu at Three Embers. It was a gorgeous night that was miraculously not suffocating given our current summer record and the company was fantastic.

**I was invited out to Three Embers for a special event with all food and drink provided complimentary. All opinions expressed belong to Lattes, Life & Luggage.***

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We started with cocktails and appetizers on the brand new Lakeside Plaza at Three Embers overlooking the resort lake. The Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort recently went through a $25 million transformation which includes the Lakeside Plaza featuring a dramatic wood-burning grill, plenty of outdoor seating and gorgeous views all around. The fountain in the center of the lake provides a peaceful ambiance and a great backdrop for photos! We were greeted with a Blueberry Coconut Lemonade (malibu, blueberry-coconut lemoncello, fresh squeezed lemonade), a drink that was made for me. It went down way too easy and I’m a picky cocktail sipper so that says a lot. Passed appetizers included the Lamb Croquettes with mint pesto, black mission figs and a goat cheese mousse and the Burrata with heirloom tomato, balsamic, basil and EVOO. Everything was tasty which should have prepared us for the five-course meal that came later but believe me when I say we were all blown away.

The Lamb Croquettes

The Lamb Croquettes

The Blueberry Coconut Lemonade

The Blueberry Coconut Lemonade

The pre-fixe menu began with the Honey Badger Glazed Pork Belly with miso sabayon, pickled blueberries, and bitter greens. It’s probably not a great idea to lead with the best dish but since we’re going in order of courses, that’s how it works today! The glazed pork belly was by far my favorite dish of the night. And that is not to say I hated the others. I loved everything but if I picked favorites, and I am, the pork belly wins. The meat was so tender it melted in your mouth. The flavors were out of this world. Sweet met savory in the best possible way. The meat had this beautiful caramelized crust that I will forever be trying to replicate at home. I should also take this time to mention the bread and butter. Three Embers has a pastry chef that makes all of their baked goods and pastries in house. The bread was so good, I should write a paragraph dedicated to it but I'll control myself. The butter was also a delight because it had honey and a little salt. Two things I will never complain about.

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The pork belly was followed by the light and delicate Grilled Farm Vegetables with tomato jus, shrimp, and basil. The presentation was stunning - summer on a plate! This a perfect dish for dining on the patio during a warm summer night. Next we dug our forks into the Alaskan Halibut with risotto, charred leek, and preserved lemon. Risotto is a fickle friend and if you think about it, so is fish. If you cook it too little, you’re in trouble. If you cook it too much, you’re in more trouble. Both the halibut and the risotto were cooked to perfection. The halibut was flaky and light, not a morsel was dried out. The risotto was creamy and comforting, just how I like it. The charred leek and preserved lemon add a nice balance of flavors to an otherwise light dish. Don’t let risotto fool you. Even though it’s comforting doesn’t mean it will overwhelm the stomach in the heat of summer. Cooked well and with the right flavors, it’s an all-season side dish.

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The last main course was the Veal Tenderloin with milk poached, ricotta dumpling and mushroom. This might have been the most tender piece of meat (other than the pork belly) that I’ve ever had the pleasure to enjoy. I’m trying to think of words to describe this dish but all I can think about is my stomach growling even though I just had a very satisfying smoothie. Where do I even begin?! The veal tenderloin was cooked perfect. It had a crisp, caramelized crust and tender, juicy inside. The dumplings were gummy and delightful but 10x more irresistible dipped in the jus that covered the veal which was so flavorful every single taste bud was tantalized. This is about as hearty as you should get for a summer dish and Three Embers did not disappoint for a second.

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Finally, we were treated to the Dessert Duo of Chocolate Pave with raspberry sorbet, rhubarb, and chocolate crumble and a Honey Creme Brulee with blood orange, pistachios, and white chocolate. It was interesting to go around the table and see which was everyone’s favorite. Not having a crazy sweet tooth myself, I was satisfied within a few bites but I still had the opportunity to appreciate the delicate quality of each dish. The Chocolate Pave was my personal favorite. The rich chocolate balanced beautiful with the tart raspberry sorbet. The Honey Creme Brulee was the kind of dessert that got better with each bite. It was very sweet but the blood orange and pistachios helped with the balance.

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It was an incredible night with great company and outstanding service and food. The staff at Three Embers and the Chicago Marriott Lincolnshire Resort were very welcoming and it was a treat to be able to get away mid-week. Another reason I love Three Embers is because of their passion for locally sourced and farm-fresh ingredients. The resort has an on-site farm, greenhouse and apiary where they source much of their fresh fruits and vegetables as well as their very own honey! They’re making a wonderful contribution to the environment and anything they cannot source themselves, they try to source local from produce, livestock and dairy farms. It’s one thing to enjoy a great meal but another altogether to enjoy a great meal from a restaurant doing its part to impact the environment and support local businesses.