Hawaii Trip

I just returned from my week’s trip to Hawaii! The week went by so fast but it was one of the best vacations I have ever gotten to take! We stayed on the island of Oahu in the Waikiki area of Honolulu. We went surfing, sailed, went on a snorkeling adventure and a waterfall hike, relaxed by the beach and had some awesome meals. I ate my heart out with the fresh seafood and I got to try some local dishes that I’ve never had before. Here are some of the highlights:

Taking shade from the hot sun under some palm trees at the Waikiki Beach

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The beautiful Hanauma Bay where we went snorkeling

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Our sail trip. We saw some dolphins and sea turtles and took a dip in the middle of the ocean

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Monoa Falls Hike

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This blended coffee was called the Kona Mocha and had coconut and hazelnut blended into it. This was the first thing I had in Hawaii and I went back three times to get it again.

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Tuna Poke was one of the best foods I ate in Hawaii. The fish was really fresh and delicious that I ended up ordering it four different times! I think my favorite was the first one shown below that we got as an appetizer at a sushi restaurant called Daraku Sushi.

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Another local dish that I tried was the Acia Bowl that had blended and frozen acia berries, granola and fresh fruit. I ate this on the beach for breakfast on my last day and regretted not trying it earlier!

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Another great breakfast we had was at a local diner. We got the Coconut Pancake special which was tasty and tropical and quite filling.

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 The purple yam tempura that we got at Suntory Sushi was something I hadn’t seen before and was delish.

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Another great meal was the fish quesadillas with fruit salsa that we got from a Mexican place called Cha Cha Cha. The place had a wall of hot sauce that I was obviously intrigued by considering my large obsession with the condiment.

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But by far my favorite meal was the amazing Udon we had for lunch at Marakume Udon. This place had a line out the door everyday so we knew it had to be a must try. It was a little cafeteria style restaurant that served various hot and cold Udon noodle dishes. You could even watch the fresh noodles being made while standing in line. The dish that I ordered was called Ontama Udon and was served in a hot broth with a poached egg, scallions and tempura bits. We also got a variety of different tempura to go along with it.  We got the asparagus, sweet potato, pumpkin and mashed potato tempura and was served with a sweet dipping sauce. The place was also very cheap; the noodles were only $5.25. A must go if you are ever in Waikiki!

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And finally I have to pay homage to the tropical drinks we enjoyed. From the top left: Blue Hawaiian, Sea Breeze, Mai Tai and Lava FlowImage

Hawaii was such a great trip!! I cannot wait to go back one day in the future!

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Balena

So glad I finally got to try Balena in Lincoln Park! I have been meaning to try this place for a while, so 5 friends and I went to check it out last week. Chris Padel, the restaurant’s head chef, was in the running for a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant; that’s some serious stuff! Balena was also nominated for Best New Restaurant in the Chicago Foodie’s Bible- Time Out Chicago. I always trust the food writer’s opinions in that magazine and that was the big reason I was so tempted by this restaurant’s tantalizing menu.Image

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Balena means “whale” in Italian, and after feasting on these delicious menu items, I think we all felt pretty whale-like…(but well worth it).

We started with two pizzas. The first, and all around favorite of the two, was the Spicy sausage pizza with red onion, tomato and mozzarella. The crust was so fresh and all of the ingredients melded perfectly together for a cheesy, spicy, warm slice.

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The second pizza was the brussel sprout pizza with pancetta, pecorino and red onion. It had a salty/lemony flavor with the crisp leafy texture from the sprouts. Still a really good pizza, but nothing compared to the spicy sausage which was scarfed down by the table within 10 minutes. The brussel sprout pizza had two slicing remaining. The winner was clear.

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Everyone got their own pasta dish for the main course. I like how the pasta dishes weren’t humungous like most Italian eateries. I was happily able to eat every last bite of mine. The most popular dish at the table was the Tagliolini Nero which was an ink pasta with crab, sea urchin and chili. Three people at the table ordered it! This dish reminded me exactly of the pasta I ordered at RPM Italian and I have to say, RPM take the cake on that one. Everyone at the table really enjoyed Balena’s Tagliolini Nero, for me, it was my least favorite.

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I ordered the Orecchiette based off of the waiter’s heartfelt recommendation for it. I was very impressed! This dish came with kale, lemon, chili and toasted breadcrumbs that added some great texture on top of the creamy sauce. I only let one person at the table take a taste and I ate all the rest!

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The last thing I tried was the Rigatoni with pork ragu and porcini mushrooms. Mushrooms are probably the only food I do not enjoy so I poked at the pasta and pork sauce which was really delicious.

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Everyone really enjoyed their dinner at Balena, I hope to go back soon and try some more of their amazing-looking pizzas!

Individual Chicken Pot Pies

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The first thing that comes to mind when I think Chicken Pot Pie is season 8 of Top Chef, when Carla Hall literally almost had a joyful heart attack upon learning that she’d be cooking chicken pot pie in that episode. She was going on and on about how she was going to cook that pie with so much love packed inside. Needless to say it bordered on the edges of hilarious and crazy…but she won!  And in a way she was right, chicken pot pie is one of those home-goodie kind of dishes that definitely makes a difference when its cooked with care. I went off of Ina Garten’s recipe in this post but used the store bought pie crust to cut down on the time. I liked the fact that each person got their own mini pot pie. It turned out delish and was certainly satisfying!

Individual Chicken Pot Pies

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

5 cups chicken stock

2 chicken bouillon cubes

1 stick unsalted butter

2 cups yellow onions, chopped

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup heavy cream

2 cups carrots,chopped

1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas (2 cups)

1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

1 package of prepared pie crust

1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Boil the chicken breasts until cooked through, a little more than a half an hour. In a saucepan heat the chicken broth and add the chicken bouillon cubes until dissolved. In a large, deep skillet melt 1 stick of butter then cook over medium-low heat until onions are translucent, about 10-15 minutes. Add the flour and cook over low heat for two minutes, stirring constantly. Next, add the chicken stock and stir until smooth. Add carrots, peas, cooked chicken and parsley. Mix well.

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Spoon mixture into oven safe bowls. Place on cookie sheet.

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Cover with pie crusts and slit 2-3 small holes at the top for venting. Whisk one egg and white are combined. Brush the top of the pie crust with egg wash. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

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Dig in and ENJOY!

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