Jun 052014

My barbecue routine is pretty comfortable. I prep a few skewers of fish, peppers, and corn-on-the-cob and then throw everything on the grill. Boom. Dinner’s ready in 15 minutes. My philosophy: keep things simple and make certain nothing gets burned.

The BF, on the other hand, is completely in his element when he’s grilling. He uses a variety of marinades and rubs made from scratch. He staggers cooking and “resting meat” so that everything is served in one glorious platter of culinary perfection. If I want real barbecue, I usually leave everything up to him.

Every now and then, it’s good to shake things up. That’s why I was so excited to try Urban Accents. They gave me a turn to shine at the grill.

Urban Accents

A variety of flavors work with different meats.

Made locally in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, Urban Accents uses all-natural, gluten free, and MSG-free ingredients to create a lengthly selection of dry rubs and seasoned salts in addition to popcorn salts, brines, & breakfast mixes. Each package includes recommendations for a protein match-up, a QR code for recipe ideas in case you get stuck, and cooking recommendations. Just what I needed to take my grilling from blah to gourmet!

For my first attempt, I used the Cayman Citrus Heat dry rub. I threw it in a bag with a pound of shrimp, shook it around to coat everything, and let the mixture marinate for about 30 minutes before grilling. This mix was a “hurts so good” spicy with a nice balance of savory salts that I loved. For my corn, the shaker of Chili Lime seasoning was the perfect mix of sweet & heat and definitely a crowd pleaser. I plan to shake it on top of all my veggies this summer.

I’ve since topped steak with a Vermont Grill, a light maple & sage mix; halibut with Sonoma Pepper — a curious blend of citrus & pepper; and pork loin with a Kansas City Rub made zesty with ancho chilies. Everything tastes great and expectations for dinner are growing with each new addition to the grill. Fortunately, I know where to find more mixes when I run out.

If you want to up your grilling game or pick up a perfect gift for Father’s Day, pop in to Urban Accents to order online.

I’ll be grilling more with Urban Accents this summer. Follow along on my grilling adventures on Twitter & Instagram. Who knows? I may have a favorite by the time I need to put my grill away.

I was not financially compensated for this post. Urban Accent products were provided to me as a member of the media. The opinions are completely my own, based on my experience.


Jun 032014

The dream of a repeat Stanley Cup victory came to end Sunday night when the Blackhawks lost in overtime to the L.A. Kings. While I didn’t enjoy the outcome, I did enjoy a highly entertaining series and seven additional brews.

On to the drink:

Urban Legend | Elizabeth Game 1: 3-1 W

Things began well at the United Center. The Blackhawks obviously were the more rested team, and were able to grind out an ugly victory. There was some drama with a disallowed goal by Toews — namely that the refs weren’t allowed to review the goalie interference once the goal was called. Though it didn’t change the outcome, it was still frustrating.

I started this series with Elizabeth Red Ale from Urban Legend, in part, because of cup on the label. A superstitious choice? Yes, a little. This ale proved to be an earthy, malty brew that revealed more citrus notes as it warmed up. Though the bites of hops was present, it was far more mellow compared to an IPA. I think my hop-fearing friends would like it. I know I’ll get it again.

Ska Brewing Modus Hoperandi Game 2: 6-2 L

I watched the game while out-and-about, and unfortunately the bar was low on selections due to Craft Brew Week. Or so they said. That’s how I wound up drinking Modus Hoperandi from Ska Brewing, my fourth attempt from the menu.

I don’t know why it wasn’t more popular. It’s a highly drinkable IPA that rides a nice balance between bready malts and hops. The amount of carbonation was perfect. I’ll definitely order it again.

The Hawks started to slide out of championship form in this game. Too many penalties were taken and capitalized on, and both Bollig and Versteeg were just god awful. I missed the presence of Shaw in front of the net and his power pest factor.

Temperance | Gatecrasher Game 3: 3-4 L

I think I let out a squeal when I spotted Gatecrasher on the shelves. Temperance Brewing has been keg-only until now, and I haven’t been able to make the trek to Evanston. Whoo-hoo!

The hops in Gatecrasher don’t beat you over the head, but they don’t exactly assert themselves, either. I craved a little more bitterness than this English IPA offered. There’s some nice apricot and citrus notes and a touch of sweetness to round out this medium-bodied beer. It would be perfect on a hot summer day.

I love how our Captain makes short-handed goals in clutch situations, don’t you? That was marvelous to see. Too bad the rest of the team didn’t follow his leadership. It may have gone better if human anchor Michael Handzus wasn’t holding back the 2nd line from scoring opportunities.

Revolution | Crystal Hero Game 4: 2-5 L

I love the hero brews from Revolution Brewing. Crystal Hero is the latest installment in this series of IPA’s, and I think it’s my favorite. This beer simply unloads an explosion of fresh, bitter Crystal hops on your tongue. I enjoyed the crisp, juicy citrus, slight sweetness, and amazing drink-ability. I hope they keep it in rotation for a while.

I cringed as the Kings hammered three goals past Crawford in the first period — this was not the championship hockey I expected to see. More penalties and shaky goal-tending had many of my friends on the ledge, too. To be fair, they shook it off and started to invoke last season’s come-back over the Red Wings. Me? I wisely opened another bottle of Crystal Hero. Yeah.

Hop Burn Double IPA Game 5: 4-5 W

I spotted Hop Burn at Gene’s Sausage Shop and picked up it because Mikkeller is known for great collaboration beers (especially the recent one he did with Half Acre). And because Gene’s had a Craft Beer Week discount. Hurrah!

Wow. This double IPA is a hardcore, hoppy ale that will sandpaper your tender tongue without hesitation. The high ABV (10%) holds a balance between bready and bitter, but it’s not a subtle beer. I’m still in recovery.

The Hawks got off the mat when the 2nd line of Shaw, Saad, and Kane started kicking ass and taking names. They were remarkable all night, particularly Saad. Though Handzus got the GWG (and his last bit of hockey glory), it was off the sweet pass from number 20. It was his game.

Destihl Brewery | Hoperation Overload Game 6: 4-3 W

I chose Hoperation Overload from Destihl Brewery for Game 6, which makes two double IPA’s in a row for me. The malts assert themselves more in this brew, taking the edge from the hops a bit. It’s a full bodied beer, but I didn’t quite enjoy it on its own. I have most of the six-pack left and will finish it off when I’m eating something spicy enough to stand up to it.

The mullet line continued to dominate the game, but how about Crawford? The man found his swagger, going so far as to challenge Quick, the King’s goalie. Loved it. The Hawks pull out a victory to take the game back to the U.C.

Two Brothers | Dog Days Game 7: 4-5 OT L

After two double IPA’s and overtimes, I decided I couldn’t handle another hopped up beer. Enter Dog Days from Two Brothers. This was a nice lager with some refreshing, lemony characteristics. While it didn’t exactly excite me, it detract from the game, either. Good enough.

Game 7 was filled with pucks taking crazy bounces into nets and off goal-posts. I laughed, I cried, and I screamed at the reversals of fortune all the way into over time. If you’re going to lose, then leave it all on the ice, I say. And that’s what the Blackhawks did. Man, what a season. Thanks, boys!

After this match-up, my craft beer total for the 2013-2014 season was 101 different brews. I’m excited that I stuck with this project for eight months, and I’m already in training for next season’s line-up.

Go Hawks!


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May 302014
Tilapia Tacos | Madison & Rayne

Tilapia Tacos to die for!

It’s no secret that great ingredients, an even better recipe, and the skills to take it all from farm to table factor into an amazing meal. Even more of a issue, for me, is finding time to gather ingredients and recipes to cook for just myself.

Though there have been improvements in serving sizes, most gourmet options are not made for individuals. It’s a small wonder I prefer to dine out or order in.

Happily, there’s a solution: ready-to-cook meals from Madison & Rayne.

Ingredients are laid out | Madison & Rayne

Ingredients laid out in advance.

The concept is simple. Log onto the site, choose the meals and the number of servings that are needed, and Madison & Rayne will deliver the ingredients and instructions to your doorstep.

Each recipe arrives with color coded with recipe cards. The ingredients are packed together and labeled with their step in the recipe. All that’s required is standard kitchen equipment, salt & pepper, and cooking oil. And, of course, a little skill.

Fortunately Madison & Rayne provides thorough instructions, tips for success, and if all else fails, a phone number to call during prime dinner prep hours if you really need help.

Cue Cards | Madison & Rayne

Step by step instructions for a fabulous meal.

Madison & Rayne isn’t the only ready-to-cook provider in Chicago. However, they do a few things to set their service apart.

Their recipe selection service is extremely flexible. Unlike some services, you can order a single serving of a dish, or opt to have a vegetarian version of the same meal. They also explicitly say what the substitution will be for vegetarian meals, which I really appreciate.

They separate selections into seasonal recipes, regular recipes, and a la carte options like salad, bread, or cookies. Allergy and dietary restrictions are managed through the check-out process.

They also set themselves apart by hand-delivering your recipe selections. Repeat customers are encourage to return the tote, containers, and gel packs. I can get behind any effort to reduce, reuse, and recycle!

Flatiron Steak | Madison & Rayne

Flatiron Steak with will-it-waffle pop-overs.

How did the recipes turn out?

Well, the one thing that Madison & Rayne didn’t make explicit on their site was the type of equipment each recipe would require. A part of each recipe required an oven, and sadly mine wasn’t working.

However, my waffle iron worked just fine.

I used my waffle iron to to make crispy tortilla chips and curious-looking pop-overs. Will it waffle? Oh yes, it will. I made other recipe modifications using the stove top, and everything came out delicious and reasonably presentable. I didn’t even need to call the number.

Everything tasted so good, especially the pork loin with mushroom spaetzle, and the flatiron steak with sprouts.

Pork Loin | Madison & Rayne

Fool-proof pork loin.

Even with my improvisations, each dinner really did take less than 30 minutes. I had tilapia tacos, the boyfriend had flatiron steak, and everyone was made happy with little extra fuss or unused ingredients wasting away in the refrigerator.

The meals averaged out to $15 per person, which is a little more than comparable services but much better and tastier than delivery.

If you’re ready to become a gourmet star in your own kitchen, why wait? Madison & Rayne is ready to help.

I was not financially compensated for this post. This service was provided to me as a member of the media. The opinions are completely my own, based on my experience.