Eating Green From A Vending Machine

This winter has, for lack of fancy words, sucked. It has sucked so hard words can no longer describe just how much it sucks. I know everyone has been hit hard because of Polar Vortex, Polar Vortex 2: Die Harder, Polar Vortex 3: The Quickening. The snowstorms are becoming far too normal. I’m pretty sure people in Chicago have forgotten what a sunny sky is. Don’t want to take my word for it? Check out this infographic from ABC7 here in Chicago.

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Suicide rates also rose 670% this year 

Oh, what? It was only a 670% increase in snowfall from last year? No wonder people with Seasonal Affective Disorder are just lining up and walking out into Lake Michigan. What’s a little more gray in our lives? THAT’S ALL WE KNOW NOW!

Which explains why we desperately cling to anything that even remotely reminds us of summer. I went out yesterday for a walk and saw people in shorts because the meteorologists were predicting 50 degrees. Did it hit that high? Nope. But we HOPED it would.

It’s also why I’ve been craving things like ice cream, lemonade and fresh green salads. I’ll take summer however I can get it. So when I read Internet superstar Bonnie Burton’s CNET article about a new Chicago company bringing fresh salads to a vending machine near me, I jumped at the chance to track down one of them down.

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There’s a food court behind that McDonald’s!

Turns out that Farmer’s Fridge, the company behind this new startup, put one into the Garvey Food Court which A) I did not know existed even though I’ve walked past that street corner hundreds of times and B) is only 5 blocks from our apartment.

The food court itself looks like any other food court with the only notable exception of the very large, built from reclaimed wood, Farmer’s Fridge vending machine. They did a great job designing the space for the machine.  Ropes ties off the queue line. You’ll be waiting for your turn on a fresh patch of fake grass. And as I mentioned, the machine itself is built out of reclaimed wood.

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I only freaked this man out a little.

The first day I made my way to the food court, I discovered that the machine was incredibly popular. By 1:30 the cupboard was bare with only 1 or 2 salads left in the machine. It was for the best though, because the price of $8 dollars had me second-guessing how bad I wanted a salad.

The next day I convinced myself to try one of the salads (if I got there in time). I rationalized that $8 seemed a bit pricey, but it was healthier for me than eating at a McDonald’s or a Chipotle where I would end up spending just as much. They have plenty of options to choose from including: Antioxidant, High Protein, Detox, The Cheater, Crunchy Thai, Mediterranean and North Napa. But for me there was no other choice than the Mediterranean. I like my salads with some fruit in them. It tricks my brain into thinking I’m still eating something unhealthy because of the added sugar. And the Mediterranean salad had what I wanted: mixed greens, goat cheese, mixed berries, almonds, carrot, sprouts, flax seed & white balsamic vinaigrette.

You can also get add-on proteins like lemon pepper chicken, tuna or salmon salad, or even lemon tofu for an extra $2. Unfortunately they were completely out of the lemon tofu so I opted for the chicken.

IMG_5624The salads and proteins come fresh each morning, jarred in a BPA-free plastic jar. At the end of the day Farmer’s Fridge discounts the price of the salads before removing them and donating them to a local food bank. It’s a pretty good system they have worked out.

Just how good is a salad served up in a plastic jar? First of all, it’s a good-sized salad. Based on the size of the jar I was worried I’d still be hungry 20 minutes later, but that’s wasn’t the case. It was actually fresher than many of the restaurant-served salads I’ve had. The berries (strawberry, blackberry and blueberry) tasted fresh, the mixed greens were crisp and crunchy and the sum of all the ingredients blended into one tasty salad.

I don’t know how much the chicken added to the salad. I could barely taste it over the balsamic vinaigrette. I’m still interested in trying the lemon tofu, but I can’t see opting for the protein on a regular basis. I also wish there was more goat cheese in the mix, but I’m a sucker for goat cheese. I’m a sucker for cheese in general.

IMG_5626Would I get one again? Yes, because I need to try that Crunchy Thai salad. As a person trying to watch their pocketbook, however, I probably wouldn’t get them regularly. Making salad at home is still the cheapest way to get some greens. Yet, if I were a businessperson who only has a short amount of time to grab some food, I would probably pick this over a greasy meal.

It’s hard to say go out and try one for yourself, because right now there are only two of these “veggie machines” out in the wilds of Chicago. They’re supposed to be adding 20(?!) more soon. If you’re in the Loop, though, I’d definitely say give these salads a try instead of your usual fast food choices.

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Two Bites in Suburbia gets a domain!

Feel free to update your bookmarks to http://twobitesinsuburbia.com/. You can use the old link, but come on, I’m paying for a real domain name!

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Will McDonald’s Be Making a Veggie Big Mac?

Santa Fe Veggie Signature McWrapWould you eat a veggie burger from McDonald’s?

The Internet hopes so! This post on the Chicago Sun Times website pointed me to this Change.org petition asking McDonald’s to provide a more “meatier” meatless option than a salad. They point to Canadian McDonald’s who recently introduced vegetarian and vegan McWraps (which honestly sound SUPER tasty.) I mean, they’re Santa Fe Veggie wrap alone would get me into McDonald’s more:

Fresh tomatoes, red onions, shredded lettuce, fire roasted corn & black beans, with crispy tortilla strips. Topped with monterey and cheddar cheese, with chili lime glaze and southwest sauce – all wrapped in a warm whole wheat soft-shell tortilla.

Those are better options than the current offerings at McDonald’s, but I see why people are still hoping for a meatless burger. You go into McDonald’s you want the burger experience. I can’t lie, I miss the taste of the McDonald’s buns. And honestly, vegetarians and vegans like more than vegetables. They like protein just like everyone else. I know this may come as shocking to some of you.

My big question is, would it be good? I remember when Burger King introduced the BK Veggie Whopper all those years ago. After ordering Whoppers for years with everything but the meat taken out, I was super stoked to try me something new. The results were, let’s say, craptacular. The burger didn’t really have any major flavor. Plus it had the side effect of making you super gassy.

So, would a McDonald’s veggie patty be any good? Would it give you the all the flavors of a Big Mac? Or would it taste as plain as the Burger King patty did? Sadly, for all of those billions served, only 86K people have actually signed the petition, so we may be waiting awhile.

A spokeswoman for McDonald’s had this to say:

“In our experience, menu items at McDonald’s are most successful when enough customers choose to select them,” and that customers who want a meatless option “could order McWraps without chicken and with extra veggies.”

But I think that’s why the petition is a good idea. Vegetarians don’t always want a salad in a pita wrap. They want something other than lettuce.

Please, anything but more lettuce.

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Whaaaaaat? Barrel-Aged Sriracha!

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So this exists. Barrel-aged Sriracha. Drink it up. Let your eye holes soak it in.

Small admission. I’m not the obsessed fan of Sriracha that I should be. Like bacon I get a little tired of hearing about it. But unlike bacon, I’d definitely give this a try. The site describes it thusly:

Aged in whiskey barrels for 1-3 months to give the sauce an interesting oaky and rich character that you won’t find in your standard Thai chili sauce.

I’m sold. You should be too. The only downside to this tastesplosion? It’ll cost you 25 bones. If you’re still interested, you can pick it up over at CoolMaterial.com.

(via That’s Nerdalicious)

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Vegetarian French Cassoulet

IMG_5610I know the very idea of a vegetarian French cassoulet is an idea of contradictions. French love a few things: butter, pastry, slapstick comedy, pencil-thin mustaches and meat. Also, from what I told they also love hating on Americans, but I’ve never been there so I can’t say firsthand. Part of me feels that the stereotype has been given the mythic proportions treatment, but the other part of me feels like, “Well can’t really blame them. We’re pretty gross.”

But this IS a vegetarian French cassoulet. Meat substitutions and vegetable stock replace the typical meaty ingredients. Just go generous with the salt. I was a bit conservative and I think it needs more than “to taste.”

I’m also skipping the bread crumbs because it gave the texture a more mealy grit to it and unless you’re talking about grits, it’s never a good thing for food to be described as mealy or gritty.

Vegetarian French Cassoulet (adapted from The Mediterranean Cookbook)

  • 1/2 pound Trader Joe’s “Beef-less” Strips cut into a dice
  • 1/2 pound Tofurkey Italian sausage cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 15-oz cans navy beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 14 1/2-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste

This recipe can either be cooked in the oven or using a crockpot

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees if using the oven.

Place “beef” and sausage in a large casserole or crockpot. Set aside. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat and then add the onion, red pepper and garlic. Saute until onions and pepper are soft, about 10 minutes. Add to the casserole or crockpot. Add beans, tomatoes, thyme and vegetable broth to casserole or crockpot and stir all ingredients to combine.

If using a casserole, bake, uncovered for 90 minutes. Or cook in a crockpot on low for 6-7 hours.

Serves 8

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Cheetos Cheezy Salsa Mix Cheetos

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I fully support and approve this new delicious surprise from Cheetos. I look forward to trying their Super Cheezy Mix as well. Good luck finding them though. It took me going to a Downer’s Grove suburb to find them at the Jewel there. I haven’t seen them anywhere in Chicago.

*Update* Just found them at a local CVS, so they do exist within the city proper.

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The One Where I Hate On Milwaukee But Not Really

At The Cheese CastleNow I don’t blame Milwaukee itself for the miserable trip we took up there, but man what a waste of a couple days. I was desperate to get away from the gray of Chicago, so what better thing to do than replace it with the gray of Milwaukee? It’s only a couple hour drive and it’s something different to do. I Priceline’d a 4-star hotel and we headed out on a 2-day adventure north.

What we ended up with was a trip where we curled into fetal positions, sick from the bar nuts we ate and the alcohol drank at the hotel bar, and watched Blades of Glory before ultimately being woken up by a goddamned seagull tapping on our window. Did I mention the walls were so thin we could hear water running constantly?

Breakfast wasn’t much better. We ate the buffet, which was surprisingly decent for a hotel buffet, but we never had a server. Apparently we could have ordered pancakes, waffles, and omelets as part of our buffet experience, but we didn’t find that out until some random server came up and asked if we’d even been helped. Too bad we were already finished with our meal.

4-star hotel.

But that’s not Milwaukee’s fault. That’s Priceline’s fault for saying the Hyatt Regency was a 4-star hotel when it felt more like a 2-star affair at best.

It also didn’t help that my back went out 2 hours after we got there. All of the plans we had, which mostly involved food and museums, were pretty much scrapped as we headed back to Illinois, defeated and not nearly as full of beer and cheese as one could hope.

I do blame Milwaukee for their drivers though. I’ve never had so many people tailgate me in a city before. What kind of bumper car logic is taught up there? All I’m saying is stay off my ass.

We’ll probably go back to Milwaukee so we can go on the brewery tours and check out the art museums, but it will be a bit before we do.

But that’s not to say it was all bad. We were able to go Palomino Bar &fried goodness, which of course means LOTS OF DEEP FRIED FOOD. And this is why I wanted to go to Palomino. Not because they were known for a decent selection of vegetarian options, although that is a plus, but because they had an appetizer called the Aw-Fuck-It Bucket.

Aw-Fuck-It BucketLet that roll around in your mind lobes for a while. It’s an appetizer that in and of itself gives up on the argument that you shouldn’t order it. And why shouldn’t you order it? It’s a platter of deep fried awesome: cheese curds, corn dogs, corn fritter, tater tots, jalapeño poppers. The main disappointing thing about this dish is that it didn’t come in one of those buckets you see normally reserved for casinos. I wanted it to come in a pail with Aw-Fuck-It etched on the side. It sounds like a mistake, and I wanted it to look like a mistake.

Deep fried cheese curds are a midwestern thing. I don’t care if they’re served somewhere else, but only midwesterners can invent such an idea. And I thank them for it. I love cheese and deep frying it only makes it better. Cheese curds are part of my childhood. My grandparents used to bring back bags of them from their trips to Wisconsin, I’m assuming from Mars Cheese Castle, and to this day I love those little clumps of cheese.

But if you happen to find yourself at Palomino, a place from the outside that looks like a typical neighborhood bar, please to avoid the corn fritters. More like hushpuppies and dry beyond belief, they were the second big disappointment of the appetizer. Possibly even more disappointing than it not coming in an actual bucket.

The rest of the food? Delicious. I had the seitan Faux Boy and Katie had the chicken and waffles, which came with three giant pieces of chicken and one large waffles. I’m glad I didn’t go with more deep fried though, because that bucket expanded in our stomachs, even though that Vegan Fried “Steak” sure was tempting.

How’s my weight loss going? Not well. Not well.

Seitan Faux Boy

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Well shoot, Deschutes

I’m going to get this right out of the way. Timothy O’Tooles is not a good food restaurant. It is a “get out of work and hang out with friends who don’t care about food” type of place. The food I had there was so mediocre and middle of the road I had to liberally apply salt and pepper to my “Michigan Avenue” salad to give it some modicum of flavor. The salad comprised of grilled chicken, goat cheese, avocado, craisins, corn, toasted almonds, tomato, croutons & citrus vinaigrette should have been a shoo-in, so somehow making that taste like nothing makes your restaurant extra special. The pretzel bites themselves were fine, but the dipping sauce was so runny, it barely clung to the pretzel. 

ImageBut people don’t go here for the food. It’s a sports bar plain and simple. Hell, their logo is a bald dude passed out on the bar. I don’t think people care their salad is flavorless as long as the drink specials are indeed special and hopefully cheap.

I wasn’t here for the food anyways. Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery was having a “We’re finally in Chicago!” party, and I’m always game for trying new beer. I called up my friend Jeremy and we headed down to Streeterville to try some beer and get our complimentary Dechutes pint glass (it’s pretty nice).

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not good at reviewing the fine points of beer. I just know if something tastes good to me. I was not equipped with the taste buds to appreciate the subtle oaky notes, or fruit forward direction of a beer. So, this is less a review of the beer and more a “I’d drink that again.”

The biggest surprise of the evening for me was their Black Butte Porter. Porters are usually beyond my comfort zone when it comes to beer. Decidedly strong, dark and bitter I tend to avoid them. Yet this porter was surprisingly smooth and while still strong and dark, the bitter bite was missing. Of the porters I’ve had, and that’s not many, this was probably my favorite, just because it wins by being the least like a porter. 

Sweetest two words in the human language, “Forfeit.”

I did enjoy their Mirror Pond Pale Ale quite a bit, a “hop-forward” beer according to the press release and website. It was probably the cleanest pour (LOOK I’M USING LINGO!) of the evening, as evidenced by the two pints I had.

I’m not a huge fan of IPA’s, but the Chainbreaker White IPA wasn’t cringeworthy. I’m guessing it’s because it tasted like a mix of a Belgian white and a regular IPA. It’s not something I would order, but the free sample was nice.

ImageThe street team member was hilarious, and I started referring to her as our new best friend. I don’t know if people weren’t biting on trying new and different beer, but she was INCREDIBLY excited that we were there purely to try their wares. We even got a sweet Deschutes bottle opener keychain out of the deal. You can’t go wrong with free. Plus now, if a party breaks out in the middle of the street or a CTA car I’m all set. I will be there to pop those bottles if popping bottles is something that needs to be done.

What did I learn from this experience? Not all porters are terrible. Street team members for breweries are incredibly friendly and probably drunk. Free stuff is fun.

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Revenge Gone Wrong: Salted Brown Butter, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Pinterest. Facebook. Instagram. Friendster. If they’re not made for flame wars and trolls, they’re made for posting photos of food. Turns out there’s a Food Porn Daily website made just for people to Creme Fraiche all over themselves (South Park. NSFW). This website isn’t much different. I talk about food. My meals today have been supplemented by cookies I made purely to get back at a friend for posting a photo of delicious sounding cookies. Guess what? The joke’s on me.

The cookies are delicious. I’ve had 9 in the past 24 hours. That’s not healthy. I’ll tell you why. There’s nothing healthy about these cookies. The amount of butter, sugar and chocolate chips in these is something to behold. But adding salt to them? That was my downfall. Salty and sweet mingled together in cookie form? It’s all I can do to not go back to the plate and have another one. I can feel the stomach ache surfacing that only sugar can create.

So, much like The Ring, I’m passing this on to the next person. It’s on your head now. The original recipe came from The Cooking Actress. I didn’t have plain Greek yogurt, so I used honey-flavored Greek yogurt instead. There’s no noticeable difference, but I’m guessing a cherry-flavored Greek yogurt would make these cookies even more insane.

ImageSalted Brown Butter, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (one whole stick) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp. plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

In a medium bowl combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In a small saucepan melt the butter over medium heat and whisk constantly as it foams and browns (3 minutes). Immediately remove from heat and pour into a large bowl. Allow to cool for a few minutes. Using a mixer beat the butter and peanut butter together. Beat the sugars into the butters until fully incorporated. Beat in the egg, vanilla, and yogurt. On low speed, add the dry ingredients into the liquid ingredients. Gently stir in the chocolate chips. Allow to chill for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a cookie scoop, scoop cookies onto ungreased cookie sheets (or ones lined with a silpat). Leave space in between as the cookies will spread. Using a fork, lightly press onto the top of each cookie in a criss-cross pattern and sprinkle the tops the remaining kosher salt. Bake 8-9 minutes, until the cookies have spread and the edges begin to crisp. They will still look underdone. Remove from the oven and cool on the sheet for 5 minutes, then move to a cooling rack.

The size of the cookie scoop I used made 2 dozen cookies.

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Good Enough To Give You Diabetes: Nutella Swirl Pound Cake

ImageI don’t have much to say about this recipe other than it’s delicious. Katie has a particular weakness for Nutella, so when I see an interesting recipe I bookmark it and eventually treat her to a bit of baking.

The recipe originally came from Food & Wine, but I found it on the Chicago Foodies website.

If you want to make it extra sugary to guarantee your own health downfall, and possible stomach ache, just do what I did and accidentally boost the 1 1/4 cups of sugar up to 1 1/2. It makes the crust extra crispy and your teeth extra tingly.

Nutella Swirl Pound Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • One 13-ounce jar Nutella
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan. In a medium sized bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. In a separate large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy using a mixer. Make sure your eggs are at room temperature to ensure your cake rises properly. Gradually add in each egg, and then the vanilla, until fully incorporated.
  3. With your mixer on low, add in the dry ingredients to the wet little by little.
  4. Spray or butter your pan. Pour in 1/3 of your batter. Spread with 1/2 of the jar of Nutella. Now, pour over 1/3 more of the batter. Top with the rest of the Nutella. Finish off with the rest of your batter.
  5. Before baking, lightly swirl through the pan with a butter knife once or twice. Bake for about an hour and ten minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.

Allow the cake to cool thoroughly before serving. I know it’s tempting to dig into warm Nutella, but you will have a runny mess if you cut into the cake immediately. Serve for dessert with ice cream or enjoy with a cup of coffee for breakfast. Nutella is a healthy breakfast food, right?

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