I have turned over a new leaf in my life – being more spontaneous, and embracing a personal journey of enrichment and awesomeness. You may have noticed I’ve been rather quiet this summer…and not in my normal manner of “Oh, kinda forgot I was a blogger there for a second.” This summer has been one of the strangest on record for me, personally. In a life lived in a fairly stable (not completely unshakable, but fairly earthquake-proof) way, there have been some big shake-ups, with strange feelings and emotions attached. Doubt, uncertainty and general sads aren’t welcome feelings in my personal house (unless I’m eating a sad late-night gyro, which I guess is a different denotation of sad), so I’m cleaning them out and shaking things up on my own terms. It feels good, and I’ll end it here with a particularly favorite and apropos movie quote:

With this new journey of personal enrichment, I’m looking at ways to get out of my comfort zone, which means getting out of my comfy pants and off the couch. For those of you who know me, you know how much I love my comfy pants. Nothing equals happiness quite like walking through the door at the end of the workday and going straight for pants without buttons, but for this personal journey, enriching my life means making some comfort sacrifices – and let’s be honest, it’s still dress season, so the dreaded buttons and zippers aren’t yet in full effect.

So what opportunity of afforded awesomeness lay in wait for me this week? Well, it was the chance for spontaneous Margarita Monday, a gift-horse I wasn’t about to look in the mouth, since margaritas are neck-in-neck with comfy pants on the love scale. BUT! Not only margaritas, but tacos – TAAAACCCCCCOOOOSSSSS!!!!!! ANNNNNDDDD – GUACAMOOOOOOLLLLLLEEEEE! Cue the mental happy dance; physical happy dance curtailed only because my new office has low cubicle walls and I’m just not sure everyone would appreciate such a spectacle.

Moe’s Cantina in River North extended a dinner invitation to a great group of food-minded folks to test out some new taco creations and margarita options, sponsored by Grand Mayan Tequila. It was a last-minute invite, the kind I might have passed over in a previous life, but spontaneity embraced, invite accepted, and an obviously excellent decision all-around.

Please note, the pictures I’m about to post are a mix of some of the professional dinner shots and some personal pics, snapped on what is obviously the best way to capture great moments in food – an iPhone 5S. I’m almost positive you’ll be able to tell which are my originals. Additionally, there were a few extremely unflattering photos of myself and my blogger pal mauling the tacos. As a matter of good taste, I have strategically left these photos to your imagination.

Let’s begin with the work of the art that is the Grand Mayan tequila bottle – it’s so pretty! Beside it is a cucumber margarita, which was a flavor I wasn’t expecting in a margarita, but was an exciting change of pace. I’m still more of a traditional rocks and (lots) of salt girl, but I had no problem branching out with this tequila treat.

Grand Mayan Tequila

Next up we have Moe’s special flour tortillas, which they import directly from Mexico. They come in raw, and are cooked to perfection. The chef said the most common way they ate these tortillas growing up was cooked on the stove and topped with butter…clearly a man after my own heart.

Los Garcias Raw Flour Tortillas

Moe's Cantina Flour Tortillas

I settled for nature’s butter – avocados in guacamole form. I can’t even tell you how amazing these tortillas are. They came in a nicely wrapped package, like a present, and smelled to me like French toast. They tasted incredible with or without the guacamole – which, by the way, was also excellent. We sampled three different kinds of guacamole with our chips and tortillas and my favorite was the first and simplest – made only with avocados, serrano pepper and salt. The tortillas were the perfect vehicle for guacamole consumption with the ideal amount of bite and tear – I could have happily made a meal solely on the tortillas. Asked if anyone wanted any additional of these terrific tortillas, can you guess who raised her hand?!

Let’s have some taco talk. Moe’s treated us to four different kinds of tacos, resplendent in their taco terrificness. The first we sampled, and consquently, my favorite, was the Chicken Mole with orange citrus slaw, red onion, cilantro, sesame seeds, served in a corn tortilla. The mole was the standout, rich, with a definite sweet flavor. I’m a big fan of sweet meats, so this was right up my alley.

Moe's Cantina Chicken Mole Tacos

The evening’s second taco was a crispy duck option with Sichuan peppercorn marinated duck, pickled red onions, habanero, radish and jalapeno slaw and hoisin sauce. This was the host’s favorite and another complete hit in my book. I don’t often eat duck, but when I do – well, let’s put it on a taco.

Moe's Cantina Chicago

Third taco – by this point I was feeling full to quite full, but not full enough that I wasn’t going to eat the next taco, because this taco was STEAK. Mmmm, steak – oh, and this one came on those amazing flour tortillas from earlier in the evening. Behold the Taco al Carbon: chopped sirloin, yellow onion and cilantro. Simple, but flavorful. This was my blogger friend’s favorite of the evening.

Moe's Cantina Tacos

Rounding out the last of the tacos was the Italian Brick Chicken – marinated chicken in thyme, rosemary and olive oil, pico de gallo, nopales, chilie morita sauce and heavy cream in a corn tortilla. As you can well imagine, at this point I was stuffed, and this poor taco only got eaten halfway. It obviously veered from traditional Mexican flavors, and it was either that or the fact that we were all full that no one picked it as their favorite taco of the evening.

Italian Chicken Tacos

And just when you think you’re so full you can’t possibly eat another morsel, the chef comes out with some churros. And then you think to yourself, “Well, self, looks like you saved justenough room for these churros.” And then you eat the churros, dipping them into the over-21 Nescafe and Grand Mayan tequila dipping sauce, happily lapping up the extra whipped cream and, duh, there’s always going to be room for churros and booze sauce.

Churros at Moe's Cantina

So what did I take away from this journey of spontaneity? I had an absolutely fantastic dinner courtesy of the gracious, welcoming and utterly hospitable folks at Moe’s Cantina in River North and Grand Mayan Tequila. I learned about cooking and mixology, I met new and interesting people, had a lot of laughs and a great deal of fun. All in all, it was an evening totally worthy of uncomfortable pants, though I have to admit and was very happy because of it, the ones I was wearing that evening didn’t have buttons.

If you’re planning to eat tacos in Chicago soon, go to Moe’s Cantina. They have locations in River North and Wrigleyville. Visit them on the web at www.moescantina.com. While you’re at it, order a margarita the way I would – on the rocks with lots of salt – and try it with Grand Mayan Tequila.

 

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Uber Eats

Maybe it’s just me, but it kind of seems like everyday there’s a new app geared to bringing food to your doorstep – or desktop, if you’re the kind of diligent worker bee who toils through the lunch hour…cough, cough…I mean, I’ve got a blog named Dining at my Desk – I’m sure you can guess where I’m eating lunch.

Cue UberEats, part of the Uber app, which, whether you love it or hate it, you’ve gotta admit, is the best idea ever. I’m personally in the “oh my god, life changing!” camp when it comes to Uber. The good drivers of UberX have saved me many a sad, not-so-sober bus ride home, and I’m not just saying this for all the five-star reviews I plan to get from the sheer notoriety of my largely obscure blog. I really do love this app.

On this particular day, I gave UberEats a try…probably definitely because I had a promo code that gave me a basically free lunch. UberEats teams up with popular local Chicago restaurants, launching a weekly rotating menu for lunch and dinner. The lunch I had my eye on came from Shaw’s Crab House – namely, a shrimp roll (in my mind I was thinking something akin to sushi, but really, it was a lobster roll, sans lobster, sub shrimp), chips, pickles and slaw. Never having ordered from UberEats before, I really didn’t know what to expect, so I bravely opened the Uber App, slid the pointer over to the Eats section, and noticed there were plenty of Eats drivers in my area (Chicago Loop), in fact, one could drop off my food in less than 3 minutes. I selected my preferred menu items, and my driver was en route in seconds.

Uber Eats Screenshot

3 minutes for food? It took me longer to get down the elevator. Now at this point, you may be wondering, as my dear friend John did, “Did he have enough food in the car to make the sandwich?” Ummmm, that’s not quite how it works. The food is pre-made and either kept warm or cool in the driver’s car; all the driver has to do is pull it out and hand it over, and all you have to do is take it back to your desk and devour it.

Uber Eats Chicago

So how was my chauffeured lunch? Delicious, but likely because I’d eat almost anything covered in mayonnaise. I was impressed that the food was kept cool, because I’d eat almost anything covered in mayonnaise, except food covered in mayonnaise that hasn’t been properly kept cooled – that’s obviously a recipe for disaster. The shrimp roll was truly fantastic – lots of big shrimp, a bright (not too heavy) mayo dressing, and a perfectly buttered roll. The pickles were great, the slaw was probably the weakest point – just ok.

Shaw's Crab House Uber Eats

To recap, UberEats is extremely easy to use, and a really awesome option if you want to get food quickly. You can’t order food any faster than this, and even microwaving a sad desk lunch is going to take longer than UberEats showing up. The ease-of-use of the app is fantastic, and I like that it’s built-in to the Uber app – no downloading a separate app required. If you’re a first-time user, look on the internets for promo codes. Currently UberEats delivers in the The Loop, West Loop, River North, Lincoln Park, Old Town, and Gold Coast.

Download the Uber app to your phone.

 

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There are many points in a blogger’s life that they’ll either a) be too busy to blog, b) will forget they have a blog, or c) don’t want to blog because their site is in terrible need of redesign, so it’s obviously easier to ignore entirely. In this case, all three of those points apply to my current situation, SO, let me tell the tale of an amazing evening at Weber Grill (quickly!) through photos.

If you haven’t been to Weber Grill, you should go. It’s particularly great for when your parents come to visit – it’s evocative of the original hipster Dad grilling out back drinking a beer (or a rum and coke, squeeze of lime), plus it’s DELICIOUS.

Without further ado, Weber Grill in photos:

Weber Grill Chicago Weber Grill Chicago Weber Grill Chicago Weber Grill Chicago IMG_3647 Weber Grill Chicago Weber Grill Chicago

Absolutely everything was beyond delicious, but the sea bass was the standout. On a very happy side note, it reminded me of this gem:

Weber Grill is located at 539 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654. Follow them on Twitter, or connect on Facebook.

Thank you to the good folks at Weber Grill for inviting the Windy City Blogger Collective for the Spring Menu Tasting!

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So guess what!? Ravioli has its own holiday (it’s today, March 20!), and I can’t think of a more deserving stuffed pasta. Good for you, ravioli!! I’m pretty sure we should all have the day off because of it, and if you’re reading this during work hours, go ahead and take the rest of the day for yourself – you deserve it.

As a very important food blogger, I sometimes get the alert to national food holidays I might not have known about, and get to try foods that aren’t on my list of dazzling go-tos like bananas and tuna pouches. Giovanni Rana contacted me because they are participating in some beneficial hashtag fun for National Ravioli Day. Each time the phrase #RanaRavioliChallenge is used on social media today, Giovanni Rana will donate 1LB of pasta to the Northern Illinois Food Bank.* Hey, if I can provide a bit of buzz for a company doing some good in my little corner of the interwebs, then it’s basically awesome for everyone, but especially me, because in this case, I get to eat some really good ravioli.

Rana Ravioli

Ravioli and I have been in a steady relationship for quite a few years now, ever since Chef Boyardee won me over as a child with his scrumptious canned pasta. Seriously, my brother and I couldn’t wait until Friday night when we were served something Chef B created by Chef Mom. Friday night was ravioli and TGIF, thereby making it the best night of the week.

Fast forward 25 (whoa) years, and ravioli still has a special place in my heart. I’m eating (somewhat) less canned pasta now, and I’m onto ravioli the grown-up way – fresh, or sometimes even deep fried. Oh, and I’m really, really into Bolognese…

Let’s talk about how delicious this Rana Ravioli is. It’s really good, and takes barely any time to cook, so you can get your ravioli eating on pronto. The variety I tried was the Caprese Duet with Bolognese sauce, which has two different colors and fillings, tomato mozzarella and basil pesto – basically awesome for the girl who has a hard time making up her mind.

Ravioli Rana

Rana Ravioli with Bolognese

As with many foods I love (sour cream, cream cheese), this Bolognese sauce falls into the category of “inappropriate to eat with just a spoon, but it’s so delicious you really want to”. Yes, that perfectly explains my thoughts and feelings on the sauce.

So, get out there and celebrate National Ravioli Day, and remember to tag #RanaRavioliChallenge on your Twitters, Instagrams and Facebooks to help the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

*This post is sponsored by Giovanni Rana, and I received the pasta and sauce gratis; thoughts and opinions are my own. Guests, friends, and family are invited to post up to three times on National Ravioli Day (March 20) on the same or different social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or others) to increase the amount of pasta donated.

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I don’t think it’s exactly a secret the grocery store is one of my favorite places. Having grown up the daughter of a grocery store manager, it only makes sense that I feel quite at home in the aisles of Jewel. I like to think all that time spent in the supermarket gives me a sixth sense about new products I’d like to try, and there’s no aisle I’m more familiar with than the frozen “Meals for One” section. Since adhering mostly the Weight Watchers Simple Start/Core Foods program, I’ve tried to eat more fresh foods and rely less on frozen meals for lunch, so these days I’m typically zooming through this aisle, past the green Healthy Choice boxes, the red Smart Ones and the white Lean Cuisines.

Recently I noticed a new line of products (just past the sea of green, red and white) from Jimmy Dean that looked pretty good, and sold me with their low calories. Additionally, for the most part, they used mostly Core foods ingredients, so I didn’t have to worry that I was veering too far off the nutritional course.

Jimmy Dean Delights

Jimmy Deans Delight Golden Roasted Turkey

I had a chance to try three of the new varieties of the Jimmy Dean Delight bowls, including the Southwest Style Grilled Chicken, Hickory Smoked Ham and Golden Roasted Turkey. I really liked the Hickory Smoked Ham and the Golden Roasted Turkey, and for 250 calories or less, there’s a lot to love. I think one of the highlights was the sauce in each of these dishes – not overwhelming in quantity, but delicious and certainly added to the flavor. I love ham, peas and potatoes together, and ham is not a protein usually featured in frozen meals.  The turkey dish seemed like the filling of a pot pie, and was my favorite of the three meals. The Southwestern Chicken was good, but not as good as the other two. If I bought it again, I’d definitely jazz it up with hot sauce and sour cream.

Jimmy Dean Delight Golden Roasted Turkey

 

In the realm of Healthy Choice, Smart Ones and Lean Cuisines, I think the Jimmy Dean Delights line is a serious contender. Inventive ingredient combinations and well-executed flavors make these frozen meals worth a try, and I’ll be adding them into the rotation.

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Smart Soup? You might as well just call this soup brilliant. At the beginning of the year, the wonderful people at Smart Soup reached out to me to see if I would be interested in trying their line of flash-frozen soups in conjunction with their (also brilliant) campaign to donate “Meal for Meal” to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Until February 28, 2015, Smart Soup will donate the cost of a meal to the GCFD. Great soup for a great cause – of course I was excited to try it.

And just like that, a box of soup arrived to my office!

Smart Soup Variety Pack

Yay soup! Soup is great, but what I noticed right off the bat is how amazingly low in calories these soups are. For the consistently “on a lifestyle change” blogger, low-cal lunch options are my favorite. All of the varieties of Smart Soup are 160 calories or less, and are 3 grams of fat or under. The line of soups was created by Anne Chong Hill, who was inspired by her childhood in Brunei where she grew up eating flavorful ethnic dishes. As an adult, Chong Hill was diagnosed with hypertension and sought to change her lifestyle by creating healthy meals she and her family would enjoy. Each flavor of Smart Soup is inspired by Anne’s childhood and travels, and all of their products are vegan, gluten-free, all-natural with no preservatives and are American Heart Association Certified. Definitely smart.

The first flavor I tried was the Vietnamese Carrot Lemongrass.

Smart Soup Vietnamese Carrot Lemongrass

The soup has sharp, layered flavors with vegetables – potatoes, carrot, edamame, ginger and coconut. The flavors are fantastic, and unique – I wish I could cook like this at home for so few calories and fat. I paired this with a side salad, but the portion is generous enough to eat as a lunch alone. The pureed soup is thick and satisfying. Definitely zippy, zingy, and I didn’t need to use my trusty salt shaker.

The next flavor I tried was the French Lentil:

Smart Soup French LentilThe lentil had definite curry undertones, and didn’t have the zip of the carrot soup, but was still flavorful and also didn’t need the salt shaker.

The next flavor I had was the Greek Minestrone:

Smart Soup Greek Minestrone

Totally delicious, super low in calories (110!) and full of veggies and flavor.

Next up was the Santa Fe Corn Chowder:

Smart Soup Santa Fe Corn Chowder

This soup has so much flavor, and was my personal favorite. I love Mexican-inspired food, and I think this would be even better with a touch of cheese and a dollop of sour cream.

The last flavor I tried was the Thai Coconut Curry:

Smart Soup Thai Coconut Curry

Really bright flavors in this red curry soup made with coconut water. The bamboo shoots and water chestnuts give it great texture and crunch, and the bits of mini corn on the cob will remind you of the movie Big (or at least they always do for me).

I highly recommend this soup for anyone watching their weight. In fact, because these soups are all vegan, they fit in seamlessly with the Weight Watchers Simple Start plan! So eat up, Simple Starters, and calorie-counters alike!

Smart Soup is available in Chicagoland at Costco. Remember, for every unit purchased until the end of February, they’ll donate the cost of a a meal to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

To learn more about Smart Soup, visit their website or connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.

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