If you're like me, last minute and holiday shopping go hand in hand. And if you're like me, the way to my heart is through my stomach. If you still have shopping left to do, these curated local food and drink gift ideas might make last minute not look so last minute at all.
Housemade Macarons from RM Champagne
For the "likes finer things in life" foodie on your list, or the "I need something quick and easy that says thank you for doing business with me," housemade macarons packaged in a Tiffany's-inspired box from RM Champagne is a definite winner. They come available in quantities of 9 (for $10) or 12 (for $19) and you can even customize your own box with a mix of flavor choices such as violet and cocoa nib or classic favorites like peach and red velvet. Combine it with a bottle of bubbly and you're on your way to sealing the deal for 2016.
This weekend, get your hands on some rare stuff from the bowels of Chicago restaurants and bars.
On Saturday, Nov. 14, Green City Market holds a Culinary Garage Sale at Naha, 500 N. Clark St. Pay $10 and go shopping for chef coats, promotional items, cookware, silverware, kitchen gadgets and more. The sale is open from 8am to noon -- or pay $50 for VIP access an hour earlier and grab the most coveted stuff before anyone else sees it! Proceeds of the sale benefit Green City Market's education programming.
Then on Sunday, Nov. 15, Hopleaf, 5148 N. Clark St., hosts a Glassware Garage Sale to clear the shelves of glasses for beers they no longer carry, that don't exist anymore, that have changed logos or have otherwise changed. Some breweriana (beer signs and promo items) will also be available. The sale begins at noon, and proceeds benefit longtime Hopleaf bartender Chris "Pitt" Pittatsis, who is recovering from a brutal attack that left him in very bad shape (you can donate directly to his medical fund here.) No cover, but you must be 21.
On my journey to pastry sainthood, I'm gleaning knowledge faster than eggs curdle in hot milk. After some disastrous flings with cookies, I've decided to tackle the cake. See below for my essential tips and tricks:
Create a dense cake.
Density, or the relationship between mass of cake and the space the cake takes up, matters when you're frosting. Baking a cake that doesn't disintegrate into despondent chunks will help with carving. Bake dense cakes (hell, bake a brownie) or springy cakes that won't explode into a billion crumbs.
Paint your cake; it will impress everyone around you, even yourself.
Oh yes, you can paint a cake. I usually opt for the Jackson Pollock style in which I chuck a bunch of food coloring at a white fondant cake and pretend I'm a mighty fine artist. Co-workers are generally impressed, or at least outwardly so.
I was recently asked to contribute my favorite kitchen trick for another publication. I couldn't stop at one, though, so below are another 20-plus for Gapers Block readers. You and your food will benefit by following these helpful kitchen hints, and in the meantime, bon appétit.
Layer flavors by seasoning as you go. Everything should taste delicious on its own. At the end, adjust seasonings to your taste.
The right knife for the job. A knife should feel balanced and comfortable in your hand and should be the proper type and size for whatever you're doing. You don't fillet fish with a paring knife any more than you'd use a large cleaver to devein shrimp. Also, make certain whatever knives you use are sharp. It's worth it to have them professionally sharpened as needed. Many accidents occur when overcompensating for a dull blade.
Amish: This chicken was raised without electricity and fear. Asian: Something involving miso, Sriracha, fish sauce, shitake mushrooms, or shishito peppers. Blistered: Like sunburnt skin, except less prone to cancer. Charred/Seared: Charred applies to exquisite steaks and cleverly disposed-of bodies, as well your local kale and lettuce. Seared is a weaker char. Cured: Salty, seasoned, wonderful meatstuffs. Duck Fat: Duck fat fries, rillette, popcorn, confit, Brussels sprouts -- never skip this menu item.
Anthony Bourdain recently stated that Asian chefs are leading the evolution of American cuisine, a sentiment I believe is well founded given the recent food trends. And yet, I saw the exact opposite of that during my recent trek to Freshii. I was ordering a salad off their menu when I came across the "Ninja." I then proceeded to read the core ingredients:
Ninja: spinach and romaine, cabbage, edamame, carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, crispy wontons, asian sesame dressing
When I saw a picture on my Instagram feed several weeks ago of some of Chicago's most notable chefs gathered together looking up at what appeared to be a restaurant opening, I expected to hear more later. Turns out, they weren't awaiting a restaurant opening, they were filming a scene for "The Chef Whisperer," a whimsical parody casting some of Chicago's top chefs and Beard nominees that debuted at Monday's James Beard Awards.
The mini film starring some of Chicago's top chefs chronicles Carl Stankowski, aka "The Chef Whisperer," played by Second City's John Hartman as he leads us through how he uncovered and guided chefs to their true talents -- pulling Rick Bayless out of a career dedicated to slinging burgers and fries with "I see Mexican," recommending that Stephanie Izard "use the whole pig and not just the pretty parts," and discovering Alpana Singh's palate at the age of seven, saying she "shouldn't waste it on juice boxes."
What the heck is yuzu? As I was eating a yuzu-marinated fish a few day ago, this question suddenly popped in my head. I had seen this ingredient used a thousand times in TV shows and on restaurant menus, but I didn't know how to describe it other than "sour Asian stuff." So out of pure curiosity, I looked into the origins of common "gourmet" ingredients or food products, and I learned some interesting tidbits:
From the Latin word tuber (or "lump"), truffles are the fruiting bodies of subterranean Ascomycete. Or, the fallopian tubes of underground fungus. Though unpleasant-sounding, truffles are one of the most prized ingredients in European cuisine, and each pound (depending on whether you get white or black truffles) costs thousands of dollars. Because truffles cannot be grown in the traditional sense, they're simply "cultivated" by planting roots of certain trees and hoping that truffles eventually crop up. During harvesting, dogs and pigs are used to "sniff" out the truffles.
A Meyer lemon is actually not a lemon at all, but a cross between an actual lemon and an orange. The fruit is indigenous to China and was commonly grown in people's gardens. A USDA employee named Frank Nicholas Meyer bought some seeds back from China during the early 1900s, though the fruit only became mainstream almost a century later. The Meyer lemon is sweeter, less acidic, and more fragrant than the traditional lemon.
I was chatting with a food blogger in her late 40s when she asked me for my Instagram account handle. I shrugged. "Nope, I don't have one," I replied. She stared at me for a good (and awkward) ten seconds before she shook her head in confusion, and returned her gaze to her smartphone.
In fact, her question was the first time our gaze actually met. Before that, I wasn't sure if her head was physically and irrevocably aligned with her Blackberry's magnetic axis. She never looked up from that thing. She missed waiters explaining dishes, she missed my (and anyone's) feeble attempts at conversation, and I'm certain she wouldn't have noticed if the entire restaurant burned to the ground.
Many food bloggers act similarly, and perhaps that's due to the demands of an online profession. They take food pictures, Instagram that shit, and caption their collage with "YUM lobster roll with truffle fries #mylifeisperfect" They don't eat the food, and if they do, it's a small bite before they're back on Twitter or whispering quietly to their guest, who is probably tweeting the person right next to them. Taking pictures used to capture a memory, to crystallize an experience for future reminiscence. Now pictures demonstrate to others how happy, exciting, social, and/or privileged you are. It's about taking multiple pictures of mundane crap, trying to find that perfect professional angle that is ruined the minute they apply sepia filters all over them.
Gluttony in moderation can be a glorious experience. Yes, I just ate that entire pizza all by myself, and I'm going to Instagram my bulging belly for the world to marvel. But when gluttony becomes a competition, food consumption becomes slightly nauseating. Imagine eating five pounds of burgers and fries, guzzled down with enough soda to fill a fishtank.
We've all read skimmed those lists touting Chicago's best burgers, or best steaks. But have you seen a list on Chicago's "best" food challenges? I would pay good price to watch a brave Chicagoan risk stomach ruptures for one of these dares:
After a lengthy culinary escapade through Japan, my affinity for bread-related products has nearly tripled in strength. Sure, I consumed ramen and yakitori in massive quantities, but even I was surprised by how much the Japanese love their bread and pastries -- literally every street corner and mall smelled like buttery croissants and French loafs.
Great-tasting bread isn't some whole-grain, organic spelt shit that reduces your cholesterol and increases your overall well-being. No, every bite should take you one step closer to diabetes, or you're doing it wrong. Here are some Chicago bakeries and their products worth my Japanese seal of approval:
When I was young, my full-time working mother cooked an elaborate dinner every day: fresh white rice with a large array of vegetables and meats. Long green beans with garlic, braised rice wine pork shoulder, tomato and egg soup. The dying reverberation of the stove hood signaled our migration to the dinner table, where my mom gossiped about her co-workers and my dad talked about his vegetable garden. Meanwhile, my brother picked his nose, and I avoided talking about grades. Sometimes dinner lasted for two hours, when the sun had long set and the crickets began to chirp.
Fans of Hot Doug's have reacted in a variety of ways to the news that owner Doug Sohn is closing the beloved encased meats emporium on Oct. 3 of this year. Some have vowed to visit as many times as possible, others are buying t-shirts or simply sharing their personal stories about the shop or Doug. Todd Levy took the domain hotdogs.com and turned it into a countdown to the shop's closing time.
"I think there was a beer involved," said Levy when I spoke to him and his colleague Jason Schaeffer. They work for a company that manages a large collection of generic domain names, like hotdogs.com and ketchup.com, and also work on the physician portal MD.com. Many of the domains just host the generic placeholder pages you see all over the web, but they occasionally do something more interesting with them. "We wanted to do something fun with the [hotdogs.com] domain," Schaeffer said. "We thought a fun use for it would be to pay tribute to Hot Doug."
Valentine's Day is around the corner, and nothing screams more predictable about the equally anticipated yet dreaded holiday than sappy, pretentious dinners and bad chocolate. While there's plenty of those out there this season, we wanted to provide some other options for spending America's most loved holiday. (Hint: it involves beer, pizza, square dancing, vodka and Russians. Not in that particular order, though.)
Getting a package is a life-changing experience every single time. Getting a package containing food is even more magnificent. Grocery and meal delivery services (e.g. Peapod, Meez Meals) are all the rage right now, but a new demand is emerging in the snack market. These companies offer creative and nutritious options that make 3pm noshing even more exciting:
For $19.95 each month (for the smallest package size), NatureBox snackers receive a surprise box of new munchies, including granola bars, roasted chips and peas, and fruit crisps. Subscribers can also indicate their dietary restrictions and taste preferences when ordering from this California-based company. Unique selections include flax crostini bites, dried California peaches, Salted Caramel Pretzel Pops, and Siracha Roasted Cashews.
Headquartered in Jersey City, NY, this subscription snack company has a nibblebox and caloriecounterbox, which are filled with portioned snacks like nuts and dried fruit. I'm intrigued by their unique selection of "dips and dippers," including My Thai (sweet chilli sauce with baked soy bites), Bonnie wee Oatbakes (red onion marmalade with cheese and chive oatbakes), and jalapeno hot chips (jalapeno salsa with mini tortilla chips). Less healthy (but less guilty) options include billionaire's shortbread (fudge, blanched almonds, milk chocolate drops, cranberries) and cookies and cream (mini chocolate cookies, roasted hazels, white chocolate buttons and sunflower seeds).
Soup. It's one of the food categories that may be akin to a best friend. Something about steaming hot food in liquid form served in a bowl on a cold day has the magical ability to make you forget about how much you hate single digit temperatures, icy walkways and seeing your car covered in snow.
For me, soup is that warm comfort place where all troubles wash away in a medley of broth and spice and hopefully kale. You can curl up to it, hold it close. It heals us from sickness, reminds us of our mothers. Soup never talks back. On some level, it makes the world a better place.
Coincidently, it's National Soup Month in January, and we've rounded up a few inspiring hot spots where you can get your liquid love on while winter brutally continues. Put that canned soup away and visit some of these places. You deserve so much better.
For shits and grins, my good friend recently dared me to take a food etiquette class, claiming I severely lacked a sense of dining propriety. Cackling with delight, I accepted the challenge. Naturally, I squirmed through most of the class, mentally mocking all the endless rules that I never followed anyway. Forks on left, spoons on right. No slurping. Don't overstuff your mouth. Then the instructor addressed all the women in the room, advising us that we should select lighter menu options, like salads or vegetarian sandwiches. If we do perchance lack any sort of willpower and submit to that pasta or burger, leave more than half. You are what you eat, the instructor stated with an emphatic nod.
Fusion cuisine often conjures up images of taco pizzas or kimchi burgers, but really good fusion food doesn't seem fusion at all. I'm not talking about adding Siracha or sesame oil into pasta to Asianize the dish; I'm talking about delicious bánh mìs and Indonesian curries that combine the East and West, the past and present, the good and bad with effortless grace. Although the fusions I've described below aren't particularly prevalent in the US, I really hope to see more eclectic combinations on Chicago menus in the future:
Cuban-Chinese: The Merging of Culinary Communism
Many Chinese laborers migrated to Cuba in the 1850s, sparking the beginning of a cuisine that blended both East Asian and Caribbean foods. Since both cultures revere the pig, popular dishes include grilled pork chops in fermented black soy bean sauce and Chinese five spice roast pork. Another popular (and delicious-sounding) dish is fried rice with plantains and yucca. Asian fusion is particularly popular in Chicago, with restaurants like Embeya and Le Colonial redefining American cuisine with an Asian flair. But in terms of strictly Latin-American eateries in Chicago, there's wonton ahi nachos at Gallery Bar, tempura chicken burritos at Dos Ricco's, and those mouthwatering kalbi tacos at Del Seoul.
For some reason, I've long been interested in how festivals of light are celebrated around the world — I've even written songs about Hanukkah, Christmas, Diwali and Ramadan. I recently asked my friend Naomi Yoshimura-Honda, who moved here from Osaka, Japan, to study law and business at Northwestern, to tell me about how Christmas is celebrated in her homeland.
In Japan, do you do anything for Christmas — do you mark Christmas at all?
Yeah, we do a lot. Obviously Japanese people are not Christian. The major religion in Japan is Buddhism. But Christmas is still very popular with us, and it's very commercialized. Normally this holiday is for kids and couples.
In the age of bacon-cronut porn, we forget that food is more than just an aerial shot of full-colored, megapixeled gluttony. It is a cultural artifact -- an anthropological treasure trove of meaning that interweaves the past with the future, the constant with the transient. In Food, Race, and Ethnicity, Yong Chen writes that "Food is important not only as a physical necessity; it is also an indication of the multitude of relationships that we form with others as individuals, communities, and nations. Indeed, food has embedded political, socioeconomic, and cultural meaning."
In that respect, food provides the perfect lens for understanding social theories. E.N. Anderson writes, "Unlike sex habits, they are easy to study. Unlike religion, they are grounded in obvious biological fact; no one can deny the reality of food or of starvation. Unlike politics, they are not often the subject of highly polarized and violent debate. They rank with kinship -- social scientists' favorite institution for cross-cultural study -- in being universal, well recorded, and usually highly structured." But as a food writer, I find that very few people in my field use food to highlight, interpret, or change certain social phenomena. Writers either represent food in an urgent, guilt-laden manner, or fetishize it into glamorous cooking and eating -- there is very little middle ground.
In my spare time, I think of food ideas that would probably get demolished on Shark Tank but would solve so many first-world problems:
There's Roti for Middle Eastern, Chipotle and Qdoba for "Mexican," Flat Top for Asian, and HomeMade Pizza Company for pizza. So why not sushi--with adorable Asian sides like edamame and tempura chips?! A chain called How Do You Roll? already exists in TX, AZ, and FL, but I see this concept expanding all over the US. The pros: White people love dem sushi. No worrying about cold food. Healthy alternative. The cons: Expensive and highly-perishable ingredients. Plus, can you really roll sushi like a Japanese sensei?
VEGETABLE VENDING MACHINES
I never purchase Bugles or Famous Amos from vending machines with the intention of being healthy. But instead of smashing my face into a pile of peanut butter Cliff bars, what if vending machines began to offer truly-healthy options? Like salads? Well now I can! Pros: Healthy alternative to fattening snacks. Support for local farmers/growers. Cons: Rotten produce. Operational efficiency? The general unsexiness of automated dining.
For the longest time, I romanticized chefs -- tattooed, solitary rebels living off six-packs, cigarettes and half-eaten Whoppers. With their black-n-white bandanas and stove scars, they were the vulgar pirates of the kitchen that enabled the ship to glide effortlessly across the sea. And for some, this concept remains true. But in my endeavors to understand chef culture (which stems from an abnormal, teenage-like fascination with crossbones and whiskey), I've realized the concept of a "chef" is frustratingly complex.
Not too long ago, I would've vehemently disagreed with Lisa Guerrero and David J. Leonard's statement: "Though the contemporary cliché surrounding the "chef narrative" is that they are the "new rock stars," it is largely a romanticized version of professional chefs stoked by the ever-increasing fascination with commodified foodie culture, and is reified by a performative rebellion that isn't linked to any substantive notions of danger."
The only thing I enjoy more than eating is eating with people. I'm not talking about prissy business luncheons where people daintily nimble on their arugula salads, wishing those kettle chips weren't so damn crunchy. I'm not talking about fancy galas where attendees try not to spill gazpacho onto their cocktail attire. I'm talking about simply sharing food with friends, family, your dog Carl Barx, and even complete strangers.
Community is the core foundation of food--from historic, hunter-gatherer societies to modern-day kitchen lines, the creation and consumption of food has never been a solo act. Although eating has largely evolved into a perfunctory, subsistence type of ritual, I'd like to believe that food tastes better in the presence of people, not electronic screens. We see that return to community with local community picnics, farmer's markets, food swaps, and pilgrim-style restaurant concepts, but there are some innovative tech ideas that I really wish were more popular in Chicago:
I generally don't like to hate on things, but after dining out excessively within the last few weeks, I've realized that a couple of things irritate me about the restaurant industry:
I understand that people first "eat" with the eyes, but eventually they eat with their mouth. While I can certainly appreciate an aesthetically pleasing plate, visual presentation should never supersede taste. A shiitake mushroom chip with dehydrated corn and lavender petals makes for a delightful presentation, but food still sucks if it's unpalatable. Sometimes I find myself trying so hard to like the dish for my 140-character Twitter-rave that I forget there's actually no redeeming quality about the food. I think that the best-tasting dishes are simply garnished, use minimal ingredients, or at least have flavor profiles that mesh well together.
I first caught sight of a 5 Rabbit six-pack in the cooler case at my local minimart last year and have been following their always inventive releases ever since. Despite some legal growing pains that culminated earlier this year in the departure of co-founder Isaac Showaki, the nation's first Latin-themed brewery has continued to crank out interesting brews with an Aztec inflection from their newly built Bedford Park headquarters.
This summer (May through September), they're offering a series of draft-only options called Paletas, name-checking the Mexican popsicles that have long been one of our city's favorite summer street foods. The low-alcohol wheat beers are to feature different fruit and spice pairings, though the only one I've been able to track down (thanks to the Bad Apple) was the guava with pink peppercorn and tarragon. With the cloudy, pinkish color of a melted popsicle, you would be forgiven for thinking this beer might be another questionable "with flavor added" shandy knock-off, but the brew is actually light and sour, much more bitter than sweet, despite a heady, tropical fruit nose. On a mild summer day, like the ones we've been having this week, it's quenching but not cloying. I'm curious to try other flavors, which might include watermelon and tamarind--which I guess means I'll just be hanging around the bar until they change the keg out. There are worse ways to spend a summer vacation.
BONUS: The 5 Rabbit Collective section of the website features a recipe for pairing the brewery's 5 Rabbit brew (a golden ale with no ties to popsicles, oh ye of little faith) with fish tacos from Chef Grayson "Jam Out With Your Clam Out" Schmitz! Final Score: +1,000 food nerd points.
No one fucking eats food anymore. Eating out becomes a pain when I have to accommodate my vegan or "gluten-intolerant" friends, and I can't buy almond milk without additives like tapioca starch, carrageenan, or sunflower lecithin. People eagerly purchase low-carb pasta, zero-fat cheese, and sugar-free ice-cream to compensate for their weekend BBB (burger, brat, and beer) binges, and let's face it, seitan will never replace bacon.
Last week, I attended the launch of the Old 1871 at GT Fish & Oyster. While hardly local--the new exclusive oyster breed grows in the cold waters off southern Virginia, not lake Michigan (this is a good thing)--presenting distributor Fortune Fish and Gourmet is. The name derives from CEO Sean O'Scanllain's old family brewery, and is meant to hark back to the days of simple protein trade between the stockyards of Chicago and the seabeds of the Atlantic coast.
June, July, and August are not "R" months, but there is something wonderfully refreshing about slurping oysters in the summer. Briny and meaty, they're surf and turf in a single slippery bite, served ice cold or off the grill as soon as their shells pop from the heat. (It's not just me endorsing this idea--Bon Appétit brings it up in the latest issue as well). Old 1871 are a welcome addition to the kumamotos and wellfleets you may already know. Funky and rich, with a buried sweetness, they're deep-cupped, so you get a good slug of seawater with each. With all that salt, you need something to drink, of course. I asked Brooks Reitz from The Ordinary, Charleston South Carolina's buzzy seafood mecca, what he suggests to serve along with oysters.
Farmers markets aren't just opportunities to support local farmers and buy fresh produce; they're also great ways to expand one's culinary repertoire. Whenever I see shoppers reaching for those beets (which will inevitably go into some beet and goat cheese salad) or spinach, I mentally beckon them to try some of those more esoteric veggies and herbs, sitting sadly in their small wooden crates. Although it can be daunting, I encourage you to diversify your palette by considering the following substitutions:
Purslane instead of Lettuce
Native to India and parts of the Middle East, purslane is one of those sprawling weeds people usually yank out of their garden. But did you know that purslane provides six times more vitamin E than spinach and seven times more beta carotene than carrots? It also contains alpha-linolenic acid, an essential omega-3 fatty acid usually found in animal products such as eggs and fish. Crunchy and lemony, it tastes much like a fusion between spinach and watercress, and can be utilized in everything ranging from salads to soups. I enjoy my purslane with tomatoes and onions, garnished with a bit of EVOO, salt, and pepper.
Our favorite "Iron Chef" host and food science nerd apparently has a flair for the stage in his recently announced newest venture, "Alton Brown Live! The Edible Incredible Tour." What can Alton Brown on Broadway look like, you ask? Stand-up comedy, talk show antics, multimedia lecture, live music and food experimentation... oh, and singing, because you can't call it Broadway, folks, without that.
The show is slated for one night only on Feb. 8, 2014 (yup, you read that right) at the Oriental Theater, and tickets ranging from $25-$65 go on sale June 7 starting at 10am. A special package featuring premium seating and a pre-show meet and greet with Alton Brown is also available. Visit the tour website or Broadway in Chicago for more information.
For some reason I'm calling upon old memories of Carrot Top...
Finally bringing the kids to the table, Stephanie Izard is teaming with the Lincoln Park Zoo to open a petting zoo that strictly contains goats. The experience allows children and their families to pet the baby goats, and then select one to be tagged for slaughter to coincide with their reservation 8 months later at The Girl & The Goat. The petting zoo will feature black goats, brown goats, white goats with brown spots, black goats with white spots, and goats with floppy ears.
It's reached that time where you can be caught mid-day, looking out the window/walking down the street/avoiding the spray of a bus, that you find yourself proclaiming in impassioned disgust, "I'm so over this." -- this being winter and you need a break.
And, because short of catching a plane to Florida to beat the winter blues (which, sorry, I will be doing next week), Irish beef stew and hot adult beverages offer a nice recourse. Since traipsing around Chicago during the winter in style is downright impossible, we've rounded out some casual places to visit to get rid of that inner chill.
To celebrate President's Day, here's a little rundown of the favorite foods of our favorite commanders in chief: perhaps because refrigeration and Saran Wrap were a thing of the future, Abraham Lincoln apparently did not enjoy food:
"Abraham Lincoln dined in a spartan fashion...He would rather nibble fruit. His wife Mary tried everything to make Abe eat but has frustrated time and time again to see the finest foods left all but untouched on his plate. One of the few entrees that would tempt Lincoln was Chicken Fricassee. He liked the chicken cut up in small pieces, fried with seasonings of nutmeg and mace and served with a gravy made of the chicken drippings. Mary Lincoln set a table at the White House, which included such food as Aspic of Tongue, Pate de Foie Gras, Turkey stuffed with Truffles, and all sorts of wild game, such as venison, pheasant, or canvasback duck. But all too often the President merely picked at his food."
Should you find yourself wandering the Merchandise Mart in the next few days at the annual One of a Kind art and craft show, don't bother stopping by their over-priced cafe concessions -- make your way to the Gourmet Gallery section of merchants instead. Also known as FREE SAMPLE LAND! Now, proteins will be lacking, as will fresh produce, but if you're into dips on pretzel sticks, artisanal salsas, and sweets, you should still be able to carb up for the hike over to the Etsy section (rustic wood round cake stand on a faux-crystal base, you will be mine this year!) You could even buy gifts of packaged foods for other people...I guess. Gourmet merchants are featured from the Midwest at large, but look for some familiar local faces from the Chopping Block (booth 9036), and the Puffs of Doom team (booth 9044B), who seem to have graduated from the Nite Market in kind of a big way. Good on ya, cream puffs! And of course those sample stalwarts, Brunkow Cheese (booth 9050B) will be there, miniature grill sizzling with cubes of juusto cheese. It'll probably be busy enough no one will notice if you grab seconds. Just try not to wipe your hands on the hand-woven, limited edition screen-printed tablecloths next door.
It was love at first sight. As love in the wee hours, in a dive bar, after many, many cheap beers so often is. The slender form, the genial and somewhat plain appearance, the intoxicating whiff of something between the familiar and exotic. Just begging to be taken home -- or better yet, undressed right there on the bar, in front of everyone. Aw yeah. The first time I ever tried a Chicago tamale I just knew: it was the start of a lifelong affair. They're as good for breakfast as for bar food, offer endless variations of flavors and fillings, and fit snugly into one of my very favorite categories of edibles: foods stuffed with other foods. And to clinch it, they're just one one little vowel sound away my last name ("tamal-uh"). Tamales and me, we're meant to be.
So when I learned last year about the Feria del Tamal y el Atole, there was no question I would be in attendance. The fair returns a week from Sunday, moving from the ChiTown Futbol indoor arena to Benito Juarez Community Academy this year -- if it's anything like last year, you'll barely notice you're in a school what with the swirling Mexican dance troupe, the crush of bodies and strollers (so many strollers! It's an emphatically all-ages festival), and tri-folded booth dividers that make the whole thing feel somewhat like the Central and South America section of a Model UN food court. Is there such a thing? (There should be.)
But I've had late-night dive bar tamales, you might protest, what more could possibly be done to make a festival out of masa and filling? So, so much more, my dear friend -- bright red chipotle chicken, venison, spinach, dessert tamales filled with strawberries and cream, patriotic tamales dosed liberally with red and green food coloring, flat open-faced tamales, tamales steamed in banana leaves rather than corn husks...over 50 variations in all -- and atole, in everything from chocolate to prune-flavored varieties. (The prune atole was particularly good last year -- warming, sweet, rich tempered with a bit of tang.) If you love a tamale anything like I do, you're probably going to want to go, and go hungry.
Remember the McJordan Special from McDonald's? It was a quarter-pounder with bacon, American cheese, onions, pickles and special "McJordan BBQ" sauce. It was sold in 1992 in Chicagoland as well as a few other markets. It was also known as the Big 33, for Larry Bird, presumably in Boston and Indianapolis.
First there was chef de cuisine (when chef did just fine) and then there were mixologists. But then we got a tip on a new one from a local restaurant (which we will not name because we like our Chicago community) and knew we had seen it all: Caesaristas, defined as a specially-trained Caesar barista, or one who skillfully executes the preparation and service of a Caesar salad.
Since only Alton Brown can get away with saying something like this, we at Drive-Thru took the opportunity to wonder, what else could we come up with. So we present to you our 2012 Guide to Culinary Specialization.
Foreign perspectives can help you appreciate what you have right in front of you- one reason I read BBC news on the internet. Curiosity piqued by the tag line "Eating Squirrel," it's with great pleasure that I came upon an article entitled "Seven of the week's best reads." Featured was friend and colleague Mike Sula's latest Reader cover story, "Chicken of the Trees," his excellent portrayal of the rise and fall of squirrel melts, burgoo stew and essence of rodent in the lexicon of American cuisine. Acknowledgement by the BBC for a great article by a great writer right here in our great city. Cheers, mate.
Threadless' annual competition of cake renditions of their shirt designs will stop taking submissions on Monday, but in the meantime, enjoy some of the fine submissions, like Cake is Awesome! by Caitlyn Hupman (above). The winners will receive cash, Threadless gift certificates, books and a yearlong supply of cake mix.
Drive-Thru is looking for new writers to join our all-volunteer, all-awesome staff (pictured during last night's coverage of Curiosity landing on Mars--it was nuts!). If you can submit a minimum of two posts a week on such topics as restaurant openings, food events, cooking, industry news and the overuse of the word "amazing" in popular culture, send me an email with two food-related writing samples (500 words or less) and a summary of relevant qualifications.
Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, in town to promote their upcoming movie The Campaign, read the starting player lineup and threw out the first pitch at last night's Cubs/Marlins game and, in an odd PR stunt, ate deep-dish pizza from D'Agostinos with Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster while on the pitcher's mound.
It's the middle of the afternoon on Independence Day. Most years, this is the time I'd be sprawling on some lawn furniture on the deck next to my uncle's pond in northwest Missouri, sucking down mojitos with my extended family, coming up with creative excuses to avoid taking the little kids' bluegills off their fishhooks, and waiting for the ribs to be ready. But with the holiday in the middle of the week this year, I'm here in Chicago for what I believe is only my second July 4th observance in the 11 years I've lived here. In my 85 degree Chicago apartment. It's a chilly 79 degrees in the bedroom, where the a/c unit we found in the basement last year is tenuously clinging to the windowsill. In the middle of the hottest stretch of Chicago summer weather I've experienced, I'm afraid if I go outside I might combust, melt, or just drink myself into a stupor and miss my favorite holiday in a haze of alcohol and sunstroke. And it's okay, because I've found a new skill, which I'm hoping to hone a bit in the sweaty confines of my third-floor kitchen before showing it off in public. I just learned how to shuck an oyster.
Chicago design student Kelly Pratt can't afford to travel, so she's making her way around the country via a signature sandwich. Stately Sandwiches is the result. Each sandwich is carefully researched, made and consumed, and its component parts are artfully photographed and turned into a poster. I asked her a few questions about the project, which debuted on Fab.com over the weekend.
What inspired the project?
As an aspiring designer, I often hear about the importance of having a side project to inspire creativity, do something you love, and stay curious. Stately Sandwiches started a way for me to further my design skills, get back into cooking, share a meal with friends while hopefully meeting new ones, and of course eat as many sandwiches as possible. All of these have happened and so much more! I have connected with people from all around the globe, across all social networks, who love sandwiches and my project!
Are you a big fan of sandwiches?
Um, yes, absolutely. How can you not be a huge fan? Sandwiches are the greatest. There is a never-ending supply of ingredients to make a sandwich so I never tire of them.
Drive-Thru is looking for new writers to join our all-volunteer, all-awesome staff (pictured). If you can submit a minimum of two posts a week on such topics as restaurant openings, food events, cooking, industry news and the overuse of the word "amazing" in popular culture, send me an email with two food-related writing samples (500 words or less) and a summary of relevant qualifications.
Republican Presidential nominee contender Mitt Romney made a trip to Rosemont's Pancakes Eggcetera this past Friday and made a factual (yet very wooden) observation about the restaurant's name. Both Romney and his rival Rick Santorum stopped at several Illinois restaurants in the days leading up to tomorrow's Primary Election--among them a Machine Shed Restaurant in Rockford, and East Peoria's Davis Brothers Pizza.
It's probably not the first spoof Twitter account mocking Graham Elliot, but @GEBtestkitchen, a fake account purporting to be the celebrity chef tweeting about developments for his upcoming GEB bistro concept, is definitely the funniest. With recipes like "Foie Gras Torchon, Totinos Pizza Roll Reduction, MicroKiwis, Blue Drank Sorbet," the account deftly plays on Elliot's reputation for blending high and low culinary arts.
For his part, the "MasterChef" judge is taking it in stride. "I'm flattered and inspired!" he tweeted yesterday.
Considering that it would be sacrilegious for me to skip writing about Mardi Gras since I am a born and raised Cajun girl, I thought I couldn't miss the opportunity to write about the quintessential Cajun dish: the gumbo. Unlike any other Cajun dishes, gumbo is the best yet most difficult thing to perfect. If you ask any Cajun how it's done, the first thing you'll hear is, "Well, first you start with a roux, cher." Roux (pronounced roo) is the ubiquitous stock in Cajun cuisine. Oil and flour, browned to the color of coffee, slightly entertaining the fine line of burnt. Mais cher (that's pronounced "may sha," stay with me), that's the start of everything good and right about a gumbo.
Hoping that Cajun cuisine had finally made its way to Chicago, I thought I'd take a visit to Big Jones in Andersonville to taste chef Paul Fehribach's version of low country, Cajun, and Creole, which included the holy grail of gumbo and boudin. Boudin ("boo-den") is rice dressing stuffed into casing. It looks like a sausage, and technically, the name boudin refers to cold cut, but it's not sausage. Unlike every other sausage I've met in my life (gutters people, gutters), once you steam it or boil it, you can actually squeeze out the rice dressing and spread it on a nice chunk of bread. But I digress. The menu seemed spot on: Gumbo Ya-Ya, Crawfish Boudin, Andouille, there was even a reference to chow-chow on the menu (a spicy relish) and no one's ever said chow-chow here in Chicago without meaning a breed of dog. I felt at home. I immediately went in for the Gumbo Ya-Ya and Crawfish Boudin and a side of hush puppies for sharing. If Big Jones had got it right, I would be like a Californian boy stuck in Kansas.
There's going to be a lot of crying on Sunday when one team loses. That we know. But there's going to be more crying beforehand, and it won't be because Kelly Clarkson screwed up the Star Spangled Banner or Madonna failed to bring back "Like a Virgin" during her half-time show. It's going to be because of onions.
Super Bowl is a weekend of endless variations on pulled pork, chili, messy dips, you name it, that all in some form or the other involve the use of onions. And we all know what happens when it comes to onion cutting - tears. It's caused by a substance known as propanethial sulfoxide, (yes, I know, yawn), which is similar to sulfuric acid and it occurs when your knife slices into the onion and disrupts all its membranes and things. (I hope I would give off the same deadly substance as well if someone tried to shank me).
Instead of crying your way through it, take a tip from the movie The Help and stick a matchstick in your mouth, unlit of course. Seriously, I've done it. It works. (And don't worry Chicago, you don't have to be a Southerner to try this little trick). Once you've mastered it you just might find yourself running over to The Chopping Block to work on your knife skills. And can you just image how cool you'll look brandishing a chef's knife with a matchstick sticking out your mouth come Sunday.
Or you can be like this guy and get all MacGyver on it.
America's Test Kitchen FEED blog posted an infographic titled Cakes Throughout US History today. In addition to sharing some tasty looking cakes and their historical significance (starting with Boston cream pie in the 1850s and ending with Smith Island Cake, which became the state dessert of Maryland in 1981), the infographic includes other culinary history trivia to ostensibly put the cakes in context. About a quarter of the way down the timeline, a blurb about the 1893 World's Fair caught my eye.
1893 Chicago IL Columbian Exposition in Chicago, at which a newfangled eating tool known as a "spoon" becomes all the rage.
So, wait, before 1893, Americans ate their soup with a knife and fork? Thomas Jefferson's slave invented macaroni and cheese but didn't have a spoon to stir it with? Paul Revere's silver shop made place settings of knives, forks and other forks? That seems unlikely.
With a little digging, I think I found the historical tidbit author Mari Levine and illustrator Jay Layman seem to have misinterpreted. According to PBS's "History Detectives," the souvenir spoon was invented in 1889 by a Washington DC silversmith, servicing the fad among the European travelers for collecting small souvenirs bearing the name of the city or country visited. The concept took off, and soon there were hundreds of commemorative spoons being sold in cities across the country. In 1893, the year of the Chicago World's Fair, silver prices plummeted, making souvenir spoons cheaper to produce and more affordable to common folk. The Columbian Exposition was the perfect venue for the fad to explode, as 27 million visitors streamed through. (The spoon, incidentally, has been in use in at least parts of Europe since the 1500s, and in the American colonies since the 1630s.)
The infographic's other Chicago footnote is more accurate, if potentially more legend than truth. Supposedly the Bloody Mary received its traditional celery stick garnish in the 1960s when a guest at the Pump Room in the Ambassador East Hotel grabbed one from a relish tray to stir his cocktail. According to historian Barry Popik, the claim is unverifiable, but celery stalks had been served with tomato juice-based drinks in the 1950s and earlier. But hey, at least it's not a complete misstatement of history.
It's not every day you get a press release about a new kitchen appliance, let alone one as specialized as a motorized potato grater. But if you're a fan of Eastern European dishes like kugelis or latkes, you'll want to check out Grandma Ann's Potato Grater, created by Burr Ridge native Brian Vaisnoras. Based on his grandmother's handmade grater and designed by Vaisnoras and his engineer brother with her input, the $229 machine has a cast-aluminum body surrounding a 1/2-horsepower motor, a hinged press arm with a comfy-looking grip, and a 2.75-quart stainless steel bowl.
According to Grandma Ann's, the grater may also be used for other vegetables, such as carrots and squash, or for hard cheeses. The grater is on backorder thanks to strong coverage in the Polish press, but promises to ship in January. More info is available on Grandma Ann's website.
It was another full hour of self-proclamations of doom and shame about being sent home in the first cut, some editing-enhanced judging tension, and a little bit of cooking on tonight's "Top Chef" episode -- but unlike last week, this was a relatively Chicago-lite installment. Because most of our chefpresentatives (too much?) were already safely installed in their cook castle, we caught only a few glimpses of the five who made it through last week (and the mostly heat-related trials that seem to await them in the future of this season). The major Chicago moment came early in the episode, when Aria's Beverly Kim took a risk on a Korean-style octopus dish and was awarded her blue jacket -- the badge of entry to Chateau Chef, where Chuy, Heather, Sarah, Chris, and Richie were already enjoying champagne and bunk beds. (If you need a fix of our home team, however, Sarah Grueneberg and Chuy Valencia will be featured on Thursday's Chicago Live!, in conversation with Kevin Pang -- ticket info is on their site.) Three quick thoughts on tonight's episode:
The final 16 are chosen! Hallelujah, the chosen chefs have been proclaimed, and shall be feted throughout the -- what now? Someone else gets to come back? Son of a... Look, I'm all for the last-minute twists, but the minute has barely begun. The new online series "Last Chance Kitchen" is going to bring the last two chefs cut from tonight's show back for a final shot at redemption! First time in "Top Chef" history -- except for all of those other times when former contestants come back for a final shot at redemption. Perhaps they're using a different working definition of "final" than I'm familiar with. Because for me, this show just put itself in danger of becoming "Gossip Girl." Just because the whole "Top Chef University" attempt to create and monetize a TC social network hasn't panned out doesn't mean the standards for inclusion within the show itself need to be massaged into meaninglessness. I did not order the Blair Waldorf Salad. (Yeah, I said it.)
The selection of the 16th and final cheftestant at the tail end of the episode seemed to drag on far beyond the usual "Top Chef" standards. Like some rogue "Hell's Kitchen" AD sneaked into the editing bay and added an extra commercial break and some reverb to those tinkly dissonant chimes on the tension soundtrack. Couldn't that airtime have been better spent with, you know, the food? The first episode did an excellent job of side-stepping this reality TV show trap -- it'll be interesting to see which way the rest of the season leans.
As Drive Thru editor Robyn noted during tonight's episode, Bravo is sort of like the guy who steals your stash, and then offers to help you look for your stash. "Ohhhh, bummer bro, did you look everywhere? How about under the couch?" Oh, your intellectual and moral but still TV-watching self needs a break from reality shows where the stakes are constantly shifting and somewhat artificial drama tends to ride roughshot all over content? Check out our programming! Oh man, have you noticed how people are kind of picking on the cruise ship chef? Do you think those two Moto guys are going to turn on each other? And by the way, have you heard about this awesome "Real Housewives" thing? You're a tricky minx, Bravo. But you keep me coming back.
The Whistler transforms itself into the Great American Fern Bar--which set the stage for the mass-produced theme bars that Henry Chinaski would never set foot in (T.G.I.Friday's, etc.) tonight only for Halloween.
Their buddy up the street, Lula Cafe, becomes Taco Hell (of the fast food variety--think gorditas and cinnamon twists) beginning at 6pm. UPDATE: Lula's special guest is none the f**k other than Rick Bayless.
Miller's Pub, a long time anchor of the East Loop area and maker of one killer Greek burger, posted this on their sign earlier this week. I walked in and confirmed with the host, "What does your sign mean?" "Oh, heh heh," he laughs, "we don't want you to cook! We want to do that for you! Heh heh..."
The British Department of Health released a survey yesterday claiming that "Scooby-Doo" is the healthiest children's television program. Apparently this was on the basis of the copious physical activity Scooby and the gang undertake on the show -- mostly in the form of running away from monsters and the like. No word about the Scooby snacks or huge Dagwood sandwiches the canine detective is also fond of.
Meanwhile, Pierre's Bakery, 2747 N. Milwaukee Ave., has baked up some rather odd cookies featuring Scooby. Is he hiding behind a gravestone, or are these some sort of a memorial for our pal's untimely demise? Is that a zombie Scooby? Not really sure.
I've been off the sauce for a week or so (injury, medication, let's not talk about it). What better way to welcome myself back into the ranks of the summer drinkers than a Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy. No, it's not as sweet or complex as the Stiegl Radler (which you should go out and buy, right now, if you're already a shandy-fan like myself) and it doesn't come equipped with a semi-magical beer garden like at the Handlebar, but Leinie's shandy is a wholly decent drink, its sour, citiric edge tempered with a pleasant light fruitiness. Crisp, refreshing, and easy-drinking, it's a beer that was made for the hot months.
And if you really want to up your Leinie's experience, you can see where they make the beer made for summer -- the Leinie Lodge is a mere 330 miles away from Chicago in Chippewa Falls, WI. If you're passing through the state at all, particularly heading to or from the Twin Cities, it's absolutely worth stopping by. They give excellent tours, sell Leinie's swag from canoes to chapstick, and even offer a calendar of area events to make your trip worthwhile. Pick up some gouda from the Holland Family Farm in Thorp on your way, and you'll be well on your way to a perfect summer picnic.
A wild new fad prank -- "the next planking," apparently -- is evidently sweeping the globe: "cone-ing," in which you order a soft-serve ice cream cone at a fast food drive-through, and then grab it by the ice cream instead of the cone when the attendant hands it to you. The whole idea, of course, is to play it straight while you grab the soft-serve and see what the restaurant worker's reaction is. And to get it on tape.
Nicholas Markos and his pop group bee are behind the awesome song "The Theme from Hot Doug's," featured in several versions on hotdougs.com. Markos just announced the release of a new version of the song, now available in iTunes, Amazon and elsewhere, as part of a fundraiser for Intonation Music Workshop, a nonprofit providing free music education to kids in low-income and dangerous neighborhoods. Hot Doug's owner Doug Sohn, who is on the IMW Honorary Board, will donate a week's worth of proceeds from his "celebrity sausage" to IMW starting Saturday, June 4. (The restaurant is closed this week for an extra-long holiday weekend; it reopens Friday, June 3.)
And if you can't make it to the restaurant, you can buy the song online; most of the money made on downloads will go to the workshop. You'll be able to help IMW "without having to wait in line for 90 minutes," as Sohn said, and maybe listening to it will make whatever you're eating a little more interesting by association.
I went to the Sweets & Snacks Expo at McCormick Place West yesterday and boy oh boy, was I overwhelmed! Yes, I've been to expos before and yes, I'm always overwhelmed, but this was different. I love to eat and I hate to be rude and turn nice people away! Especially nice ones with food in hand. That's my problem. I suppose that having those issues does not a disciplined foodie make!
HartmanSalt created a London Underground-style map of key influencers in the food culture scene -- and several Chicago chefs are on the list. Rick Bayless and Grant Achatz may be naturals, but Michelle Obama is an interesting addition. See the full map here.
A recent visit to Madrid warranted some serious Foodporn pics. The entire city is a treasure trove of deliciousness. Enjoy the show...and start the discussion. Where are the best places in Chicago for some true, Madrileno-style eats?
In these days of political correctness and food policies, you may need to keep a list of proper Do's & Don'ts.
Well to help, the Chicago Tribune has complied a list of 10 things that you probably shouldn't say at the farmers markets that you visit in the coming months.
Here are a few to get your market etiquette started:
10. It's cheaper at (name of supermarket)
9. Do you have change for a $100 bill?
8. How come you never have creamed corn?
7. Isn't grass-fed beef redundant? or But I don't like grass-fed beef.
6. Were these beets humanely killed?
I could find virtually no information about this product online. Milo.com says it's imported from China by East West Distributing Co., which is a unit of Walgreens. I called Walgreens to find out more about it, but was informed that the item was discontinued and that no further information was available.
There are a couple of them for sale on eBay if you're interested in picking one up.
"People ask me all the time to list my favorite restaurants in Chicago," said [David] Manilow, "so I thought that going from A to Z daily on Twitter made sense." Here you go!
A. Avenues because of Curtis Duffy's amazing creations
B. Blackbird. Smart. Innovative. Memorable
C. Cemitas Puebla - I crave Tony's Taco Arabes
D. Davanti Enoteca. Smart modern Italian. Also "D" for Danny's in Melrose Park for their neckbones
E. When I crave ceviche, snapper & tequila, "E" is for El Barco on Ashland. For fine dining, Everest.
One of my favorite things about going up to northern Wisconsin in the summers of my childhood was that my mom, a Chicago south-sider, had made almost identical pilgrimages with her family a generation earlier. Granted, the drive from Chicago was much longer than from central Wisconsin where I grew up, the medical technology for removing an errant fishing lure from someone's face was slightly more primitive, and the drone of Jet-Skis was still a nuisance of the future for my mom -- but there's something decidedly timeless about the Northwoods. Few northern institutions epitomize that time warp more than Wisconsin supper clubs -- many of which were started in the 1930s and '40s, and still exist, still serve ice cream drinks from the bar (Pink Squirrel, what up!) and oyster crackers with the near-mandatory bowl of soup, and still advertise their whereabouts on wooden planks nailed to the trees along windy, pine-shaded roads. And if this description was not romantic enough for you, some dear soul has gone and made a whole documentary film about the phenomena.
Chicago documentary filmmaker Holly De Ruyter is exploring the history and enduring present of Wisconsin supper clubs in her new film, Old Fashioned. (Like the drink! Get it?) And she's fundraising the old-fashioned way as well, by throwing a party this Saturday at Will's Northwoods Inn to kick up some cash and unveil the film's trailer. Full details are in Slowdown and on Facebook, but a $15 suggested donation will get you two drink tickets, plus the cheese, sausage and raffle largess Will's is known for, and ice cream drinks! Do you know how hard it is to get a bartender to make you an ice cream drink these days? Bartenders HATE making ice cream drinks! Haaaaaaaate. But mostly because getting the ice cream and the flavoring are just so far outside the normal orbit of the bar -- so they can't hate on it if it's the focal point of the event, right? Here's hoping... If you're into the supper club nostalgia, or just are dying to know what exactly a Pink Squirrel is, this event is not to be missed.
A week or so ago, Drive Thru got an invitation to try Mercadito's "Tacos for Strength," a promotion where 5% of the taco profits (priced at $12 for three lunch tacos, or $16 for four dinner tacos) goes to support the anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength. So, it's like eating out, so that others can eat. That's kind of a nice idea, especially at a place, like Mercadito, where the scene otherwise seems to be the main draw. I'd never been to the River North space until today to sample this month's "strength-y" tacos, created by Jimmy Bannoses (Banni?) Sr. and Jr., of Heaven on Seven and The Purple Pig, respectively. If you haven't been, I think it's safe to say that Mercadito is not the kind of restaurant you'd go to for lunch if you have a big, stressful afternoon meeting ahead of you. It's much more the kind of place you might go to for lunch after, perhaps, closing a big deal in the morning and breaking out the margarita mix is all you have scheduled for the rest of the day. The space is colorful and urban, with theater-style colored lighting and graffiti-style wall murals -- but the tacos have a nice, old-school style to them.
First of all, I find it hard to believe that the entire city of Chicago has turned its back on Midwestern pride and solidarity to root for the Steelers tomorrow. The number of city- and suburb-dwellers owning or renting property in the Northwoods alone should give anyone pause when allegiances are being formed. I think there's more than enough room under the Packer fandom umbrella to not only fit, but welcome (probably with a free drink and a church hug! We are a friendly bunch after all) any and all who primarily cheer for the Bears but might, just might, quietly root for the Green and Gold in tomorrow's championship.
Secondly, let's not pretend that only one of tomorrow's two teams comes from a rich culinary tradition. Say what you will about Wisconsinites' procilvity for adding green and yellow food coloring to unlikely foodstuffs (bagels, guys? Really? That just looks like mold), this is also the home of the kringle, the foot-tall pies of the Norske Nook, the American miner's pasty (okay, the UP can share the claim for that one), The Bratwurst Capitol of the World, New Glarus Brewing Company (not to mention Miller Brewing Company, or about 70 others), beer cheese soup, beer butt chicken... Really any combination of beer and cheese. We're equal opportunists for the consensual merging of that which we most love! (Which is more than Ben Roethlisberger can say, am I right??) And on top of the Wisconsin food pyramid, reigning supreme over the vast farms and small towns of America's Dairyland, is the cheese curd.
If you've ever read, like, anything I've written, you may have picked up on my Wisconsin roots. So, no surprise, I'll be wearing my Packers scarf and howling obscenities over Troy Aikman's disembodied voice come Sunday -- except when he's heaping praise on Aaron Rodgers. That wisdom should be heard. But flushed-face, rabid, irrational game day behavior aside, this Sunday also presents a lovely opportunity to throw a perfectly inviting viewing party for friends, complete with a broad range of social snacks. Green and gold themed snacks. So far my menu includes saag paneer dip (green spinach, gold cheese), cheesy artichoke dip (green artichokes, turned golden and crispy around the edges), quesadillas with corn (gold) and cilantro (green), and cheese curds. The weird thing is, I swear to God, I didn't even realize the color coordination or heavy preponderance of dairy in all of this until I was writing out my grocery list. It's ingrained, people. There's nothing I can do.
And of course, no Wisconsin-themed party would be complete without a batch of brandy old-fashioneds. I hear that there are several bars in the city that make these fine beverages, which basically tastes like a spiked shirley temple. Leave it to Wisconsin to turn a kids' non-alcoholic version of an alcoholic drink into...an alcoholic drink. The only one I've ever had in Chicago was at Longman and Eagle which, while lovely, tasted more like whiskey and lemons and stuff. Incorrect! The old-fashioned consists of the following: a spoonful of sugar (or sugar cube), a muddled orange wheel, 3 dashes of bitters, a splash of soda (or 7-Up or Squirt if things are getting too classy for you), a slug of brandy (i.e. 1.5 to 3 oz. -- your call) -- pack with ice, garnish with a maraschino cherry, and add another splash of soda or cherry juice (genius) if your class isn't yet filled to the rim. Bear down on that, my friends.
The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board has launched its second annual 30 Days, 30 Ways with Macaroni & Cheese Blog. Today, Day 1: Macaroni and Blue Cheese with Figs and Rosemary.
But if you don't want to support the state of Wisconsin this weekend, for whatever reason, Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park (100 S. Marion Street) is right there with you: you can order any of their cheese flights for brunch this Sunday, except their Wisconsin cheese flight.
Beckoning with its greasy, angina-inducing finger to the Man vs. Food host is Paddy Long's Bacon Bomb Challenge, five pounds of ground sausage, pork, and beef, wrapped in brown-sugar bacon, with a big side of fries. Oh, and you have to clear the plate in 45 minutes. It usually serves about 6-8 people, and the description on the website sounds like some kind of perverse M&M: "five pounds of ground beef and pork, the cracked-pepper-bacon center and brown-sugar-bacon weave."
Please, please, if anyone out there wants to attempt this challenge, all I ask is that you let me know. I really just want to watch.
Over at the Chicago Tribune today, a part-time food writer discusses foodie fatigue, getting opinions from many local chefs and food writers about the state of foodie-ism, which seems to steer toward annoyance.
Initially, the article struck me as incredibly funny, considering that earlier this month the Trib perpetrated this very behavior by publishing a list of What's Out/What's In for 2011. Looking at the list, who even knows what "face dining" is, and who will be able to afford Achatz's upcoming "edible cocktails"? And who isn't sick of the ampersand restaurant trend already, with the half-dozen or so that opened in the past year?
I think we all get why foodies are annoying: the constant use of cameras to document their meals (for the love of god, turn off the flash), the pissing contests over who has been to the latest gastropub/farm-to-table restaurant first, and the general snobbery involved in the local vs. organic debate is certainly tiresome. But as a commenter over at LTH Forum points out, "The bottom line is that people who continually obsess about anything are tiresome, whether it be food, fantasy football, training dogs or scrapbooking" (I can vouch for this: I love football, but watching it with my Packers-obsessed partner tests the limits of my sanity).
Discussing the article with a friend, he remarked, "It's great that people are talking about [food] instead of shoving more happy meals down their gullets," which is true I suppose. I'm all for people knowing and appreciating where their food came from and learning how to cook. It's when we start to look down on someone for their love of a particular fast food chain (Wendy's spicy chicken, anyone?) or other pedestrian interests and tastes that these so-called "foodies" lose my respect. It's ok to love both Lula Café's Monday night farm dinners, and Coke Zero, because if everyone loved only bacon and cupcakes and whatever else is "in" as much as food writers have touted, what a boring world we would live in.
Since I was in Chicago for Christmas this year, a friend who went home to the East Coast asked me to stop by her apartment a couple times to water her plants and get her mail. As thanks for the favor, she left me some G'wich Chips. She'd gone to Grahamwich right before she left (a trip that included a sighting of the white-bespectacled man himself), and had a ton of leftover chips -- the side portions are massive. With their cheddary ranch flavor, the chips were really salty. And completely addictive.
If you're reading this my friend, then we are in the same boat. Here we are, the week of Christmas and rather than spending hours at home baking, planning, decorating, preparing, and calming down our needlessly frantic mothers, we're at work. We are closing up books and projects, finalizing statements and proposals, and putting in a good end to 2010. While keeping your nose to the grindstone you realize, "I'm supposed to bring something to this holiday feast? Seriously!?"
I'm here to help. You need something that is unique, thoughtful, and quick. You are a young working professional after all...
Today is St. Lucia's Day, a church holiday to celebrate martyrs that is marked by a procession of women, at the helm a woman wearing a crown of candles. Several different stories explain her martyrdom, but the Scandinavians symbolize Lucia by putting a crown of candles on her head to show that she could not succumb to death by fire for her sacrifice (which is most likely refusing to marry because she wanted to be a religious servant instead, removing her eyes in protest). Lucia, the patron saint of the blind, is the promise that light will once return in the winter darkness. Heavy reading for a Monday, no?
Okay, on to the food part. St. Lucia's day is celebrated with lussekatter, a, S-shaped saffron and raisin-covered yeast bun. If you're like me and aren't knee-deep in saffron, Swedish Bakery (5348 N. Clark) sells lussekatter in saffron and non-saffron varieties. You could grab a few, throw on your candle crown and head to the Swedish American Museum; at 4:45pm tonight they'll start a St. Lucia procession up and down Clark Street, returning to the museum for a party to celebrate (bring $1 for admission or a canned food donation). A church service at Ebenezer Lutheran (1650 W. Foster) starts at 7pm.
The Chicago Bar Project has a nice write-up this month on the rise of the gastropub in Chicago. You know -- it's that place a few blocks walk from you that serves incredible food, has an unbeatable craft beer selection, and is steeped in classic, English-style pub charm. CBP points to Hopleaf as being the first of its kind in Chicago in 2003, beating even The Spotted Pig to the punch, widely considered to be the first gastropub in America. (Take that, West Village!). Sean Parnell writes:
Gastropubs dovetail perfectly with our changing tastes and demographics, operating in that gray area between restaurant and bar. And by offering the best of both worlds, gastropubs have quickly gone from concept to mainstream, changing the entire bar scene for the better.
In many ways, the gastropub defines the modern Chicagoan: We like to eat well and drink better -- and we're not going to pay out the ear for it.
Did you know that there's an online journal for ivory-tower style musings about food and community development? One that ISN'T this blog?? Well, I didn't either, but nevertheless the aptly named Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development is looking for submissions for its next issue. An online, peer-reviewed publication with international contributors, the journal "emphasizes best practices and tools related to the planning, community economic development, and ecological protection of local and regional agriculture and food systems, and works to bridge the interests of practitioners and academics."
Right now they're looking for articles (applied research papers, critical reflection essays, commentaries, etc.) about "small- and mid-scale food value chain development." Essentially a strategic view of the supply chain and partnership constellation of agriculture, food value chains are apparently the current burning issue in the field (no pun intended). If you understand that more clearly than I do, maybe you should submit a paper. More details on submission process and guidelines are available on the journal's site. Papers are due February 15 for submission in the next issue. Best of luck, food scholars!
The White House unveiled its white chocolate-coated holiday gingerbread likeness this past weekend, complete with an oversized rendering of a marzipan-ed Bo the Dog in the front yard. If you can't be one of the 100,000 people who will visit the White House this month to see the gingerbread or the dried veg- and fruit-centric holiday decor, you can make the WH's official recipes for gingerbread cookies or shrimp cocktail, or last year's honey cupcakes and gingerbread cake.
In the week or so leading up to Thanksgiving, I kept reading about all the grocery items that go on sale around the holidays are are good to stock up on even if you are not, in fact, butter-basting a turkey or baking an entire blizzard of snowflake-shaped sugar cookies for your kid's school's holiday bake sales. Or whatever more on-the-ball bulk grocery shoppers than myself do. The prospect of lugging home an extra pound of sugar just because it was going to be ten cents cheaper wasn't exactly winning me over. Until the receipt printer at Jewel spat a bunch of coupons out at me for flour, butter and eggs free with my next Jewel purchase. Free!? Free is a whole different game than merely "reduced." It was ON.
Let's face it -- flying cars are probably a long way off. Sure there are prototypes floating around (no pun intended), but those things look about as safe as early Soviet rocket ships. The fact is, we're nowhere near where Back to the Future 2 envisioned we would be. But that's OK. Instead of flying cars, other sleek-looking, saliva-inducing gadget concepts pop-up every day. Case and point: the Halo Toaster Wrap.
If you've watched TV, walked past Daley Plaza or read the news this week, it's apparent that the holiday season has officially arrived. I'll be the first to admit that these early signs of the upcoming holiday make me incredibly happy, but more important than shopping deals, the Kristkindlmarket and the holiday train is helping those in need.
I have Christmas music on my iPod all year and just over the past week I've stopped skipping the Christmas songs when they start playing. It's safe to say that I've been on my way to full-on holiday mode for awhile now and today I received some news from the Greater Chicago Food Depository that put me over the top.
Just in time for the holiday season, at a time of increased demand, The Illinois Pork Producers Association, the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and the Illinois Soybean Association presented the Greater Chicago Food Depository with 5,300 pounds of ground pork. This donation is part of a larger program, Pork Power: Partnering to Fight Hunger in Illinois.
Food banks have seen an average increase of 30% in the number of people seeking food and this donation will ensure that the hungry families in Chicago receive more than 21,000 servings of vital meat protein.
If you're on the fence about this whole Meatless Monday thing, perhaps because you're already having a manic Monday (wishing it was Sunday, even) consider that veganism is now linked to power on the pages of Business Week. According to a recent article, Bill Clinton, Steve Wynn and Russell Simmons are part of a group of powerful vegan bosses. It's an exclusive club, not only because such a small segment of the population is vegan, but also because veganism isn't cheap. For some of these moguls, the change in diet is prompted by love. NYC restauranteur Bart Potenza says, "the rise of the power vegan coincides with the rise of the vegan second wife."
Halloween is only three days away and you don't have your costume. What to do? Chow.com has put together a do-it-yourself guide to dressing as your favorite food celebrity. Have a bowling shirt and wrap-around mirrored sunglasses lying around? You could be Guy Fieri. Or, if you've got a bald wig and some organic fruit, voila: Michael Pollan. Unbutton your shirt and you're Sexy Michael Pollan.
This week is the 5th annual World Vegan Week, a campaign started by In Defense of Animals. For the next several days you can eat like Lea Michele and Alicia Silverstone, even if you aren't equipped to cook that way. Local restaurants Drew's Eatery, New York Deli, Clark St Dog and Ian's Pizza have teamed with Mercy for Animals, and are offering special vegan menu items for the week.
My family has been canning fruits, vegetables, jams and soups for as long as I can remember. As a kid I would gladly eat anything that was made but didn't have the patience to partake in the process. As my appreciation for food has grown, I've been wanting to learn how to can so I don't have to beg my parents ship jams and pickles from Minnesota.
Earlier this summer I discovered a company called the Glass Rooster. The owner, Laura, will come to your house and teach you and a group of friends how to can fresh produce. I jumped on the chance to learn more about a tradition that has been in my family for so many years.
Last Tuesday night I had a small group of girlfriends over and Laura taught us how to can tomatoes. From explaining her background, to teaching us about the canning process and techniques, the class was very informative and interactive. After walking us through the steps she put us to work and together we canned 40 pounds of tomatoes.
One of Laura's goals with these classes is to foster a sense of community and she does just that. I can't tell you how many stories my friends shared about their moms, grandmothers and other family members. Mixed with a few glasses of wine, the traditions, recipes and stories were flowing that night and it was a great way to spend an evening and get to know each other a little better.
Classes are winding down for the year, but put a note on your calendar next spring and give her a call.
In Northern Indiana, the corn is standing 8 to 10 feet tall, dried out and yellow now by the summer sun and cooling autumnal temperatures. The weeds are creeping back to find their old homes they knew last fall, as weary farmers' hands and backs allow their fields the rest they need around this time of the year.
Every Saturday morning, rain or shine, I walk over to my local farmers market to the same stall, and pick up a box of produce. For those of you that are just newly getting into this whole "know your food, know your farmer" movement, this is a great first step. So called CSA or Community Sustained Agriculture means I paid my farmer one lump sum in the spring for a box of produce for 12 weeks running, chosen by the farmer for what is in season that week. In the end, it's a great deal for me and for the farmer: I get a whole box of produce for much less than it would cost me if I went stand to stand on market day, and the farmer has money up front to buy seeds, tools and hands needed to do the work.
Opportunities abound in Chicago's restaurant world. This past summer, Grant Achatz turned to the twittersphere to alert his followers that Alinea was looking for help. Today, Graham Elliot followed suit by tweeting the following: "GE / G'wich alert: adding new members to our family. Cooks, servers, etc. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Douche bags need not apply." In addition to being hilariously in character of Elliot to try and dissuade "douche bags" from submitting resumes, it's also the surest sign we've had in weeks that Grahamwich is step closer to being open. We can taste the truffle popcorn already. [via]
Jonathan Blaustein lately suffered from a bout of sticker shock. He purchased a container of blueberries from California for one buck and upon opening the container realized he had just paid 10 cents for 1 blueberry as ten little berries stared back up at him.
the New Mexican photographer began to think about the cost of his food, and how far a dollar gets you these days. Particularly, how far it gets you in fresh produce market and how far it gets you at your "local" fast food joint.
from Kerry Macdonald's piece in the NYT:
"The project allowed him to ask questions about the things North Americans eat in a fast-food culture. Is this food? Just because we can put something in our mouths, does that make it food? At what point do we decide that something isn't food?"
His telling slideshow and story were written up today under this week's LENS at the New York Times found here
I can't say I was surprised yesterday to see the spaghetti tacos gracing the front of the New York Times dining section. I live with an "iCarly" fan. My 10-year-old daughter spent about a month begging me to make the Italo-Mexican treat for dinner, after Carly's older brother Spencer served his sister the tacos for dinner. Every time she requested it, my stomach turned. Finally, one night when the rest of the family was eating spaghetti, I put some taco shells on the table. She tried spaghetti tacos and never asked again. Other kids all of the country, however, have asked again and again--often enough that there are dozens of recipesonline and even a Facebook page devoted to these tacos. The thing that surprised me is the fact that Dan Schneider, the creator of "iCarly" and the spaghetti taco, is married to Hungry Girl Lisa Lillien, and he's only tried a low-fat version of the tacos. But, he told the Times, he plans to have a spaghetti taco party with the cast soon, where he'll eat the full-fat Spencer creation.
And today he took it in a heartbreaking direction, listing the top five best break-up restaurants. Qualities that make an ideal break-up restaurant, according to Dolinsky: low prices, fluorescent lighting, and lots of background noise.
We've asked Chicagoan-turned-NYCer and freelance writer Rachel Z. Arndt and NYCer-turned-Chicagoan (and GB staffer) Lori Barrett to compare notes on what foods make each city. Their findings on the bagel below.
How can you say no to a place called Kosher Bagel Hole? It's a saving grace in dreary Midwood, a Brooklyn neighborhood best known for over-hyped pizza (DiFara) and wig shops. And though "hole" may not be the most enticing pun, what the store lacks in ambiance, convenience, and name, it more than makes up for in its specialty: traditionally made kosher bagels, the kind bagel snobs say are made the way they're supposed to be. That means they're puny compared to those from pretty much anywhere else. It also means they're less sweet -- and that's a good thing. The first time I went to Kosher Bagel Hole, a fluorescent-filled corner shop complete with bad coffee and pushy patrons, I got a sesame seed bagel (the safe choice) and toasted and buttered it at home. Its crunchy outside kept the just-dense-enough interior soft and flavorful, with hints of sourdough.
Hot Doug's has released a new line of t-shirts for the dog lover in you. Sadly, there's no parka-emblazoned version for you to wear in the hobo line that forms outside of the restaurant each day. It's gonna get cold soon, you know.
One of the things that makes Groupon's deals of the day stand out from the increasingly large pack is the copywriting. They're very good at making their deals and the businesses they're good for sound really awesome. But occasionally their efforts fall flat -- or at least miss the mark. For instance, this Sunday's offer for Cousin's Incredible Vitality:
Cousin's features an impressive, Mediterranean-inspired menu consisting of raw, vegan dishes made with fresh ingredients from local farmers, as well as a delicious juice bar that mixes up health elixirs. Fill your raw stomach with the uncooked, uncanny flavors of the house-special falafel wrap, a medley of pistachio falafels, greens, onions, sprouts, tomatoes, and ginger-tahini dressing, all wrapped in a collard-green skirt ($12). Explore the menu's more excitingly named dishes such as the soup of the day! ($3) and the juicy sprout avalanche, a sprout salad tossed with spices, nama shoyu, and olive oil and doused in homemade hummus ($6). Lunchers can boost their longevity with an E3 live shot--a green shot of 64 vitamins, minerals, Father Time's tears, and enzymes ($2-$3).
"Uncanny" flavors? I don't know about you, but I don't want my falafel with a side of cognitive dissonance -- let alone do I want to fill my "raw stomach" with it. In fact, if my stomach feels raw, I'd probably only want some white rice or some broth. The "soup of the day!" is one of the more excitingly named dishes? A salad "doused" in hummus sounds like an unappealing, soggy mess, and "Father Time's tears" doesn't sound like a good thing (and it's nearly a googlebomb.)
Overall, whoever wrote this sounds like he or she isn't a fan of Cousin's, or at least is rather skeptical of the raw food concept. I can't recall another Groupon deal that came off as derisive or incredulous like this one.
I love punny sandwich names as much as the next person, but the Happy Bodega food truck has taken it to a...level. Some kind of level. Celebrating Entourage's arrival in syndication (bye-bye, sex scenes), Happy Bodega is giving away free food this Friday, September 17 -- with sandwich names like the "Hug It Out Ham Baguette" (ham and gruyere) and the "The Veg-'E' Baguette"(brie, tomato, and basil) -- oh, it's "E" because there's a character called "E"!
The truck will be parked in the Loop (Jackson and Wells) from 11am-3pm, and in Wicker Park (Damen and Milwaukee) from 6-10pm. It's probably as close to Jeremy Piven as you're ever gonna get. CORRECTION: The Happy Bodega truck will be in Wicker Park (Damen and Milwaukee) from 6-10pm this Friday, Sept. 17, and in the Loop at Jackson and Wells for lunch from 11am-3pm on Oct. 1.
Turns out that KFC's Skinwich -- a sandwich of bacon, cheese, and Original Recipe fried chicken skin -- was a hoax, much to your arteries' relief. But after building a prototype, some folks at the Chicago Tribune -- including food critic Phil Vettel -- are hoping the Skinwich will migrate from fiction to fact.
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that food trucks in Chicago - or lack thereof - has exploded into, well, kind of a big deal. With a City Council vote looming, a slew of Chi-town chefs are (fingers crossed) set to unleash an armada of rolling restaurants. As BlackBook blogged earlier this summer: "[C]hefs from Alinea, Big Star, Urban Belly, Frontera Grill, Perennial, Graham Elliot, and Naha are raring to rev their engines".
So that got us thinking: What food trucks do you want to see cruising through the Loop, clogging up our already congested downtown avenues? If time, money and perhaps liquor laws were no object, which of your favorite Chicago haunts do you believe is most deserving its own ICV (Industrial Catering Vehicle)? From the cheapest chili dog to the most resplendent restaurant - the sky's the limit! Use the picture above for inspiration and the comment section below to voice your opinion.
Chicago food photographer Stephen Hamilton has a nice gig, tasting and shooting delicious meals and drinks from the best restaurants nationally. Even Bravo, discoverer of talents, has endorsed his expertise: he's appeared as a guest judge on the most recent season of Top Chef Masters, and his photography adorns the Top Chef DC abode.
His publicist has recently released Hamilton's ranking of the top five most beautiful dishes in the Windy City:
"Since only fresh, seasonal vegetables from the nearby Green City Market are used on this pie, the Farm to Crust Pizza is a masterpiece that changes with the weather. Stephen loves the seasonally appropriate ingredients and simple presentation -- a piping hot oblong pizza, fresh out of Table 52's special wood-burning oven, served on a breadboard." [Full disclosure: Hamilton was the photographer for chef Art Smith's 2007 cookbook Back to the Family.]
"Known for his creative culinary creations, Stephen loves Graham Elliott's Corn Bisque for its flavor, color, and uniquely simple presentation. The soup is poured over a homemade garlic marshmallow and a sprinkling of pepper jam, corn nuts, and hint of lime crema."
"Served in a large pint glass lined with parchment paper and a small side of truffle cream, the Pommes Frites at MK are a staple on the menu. MK fries their potatoes in beef fat, a unique practice that helps bring out the delicious, crispy taste. Stephen absolutely loves the perfect golden color."
"At Girl & the Goat, the talented Stephanie Izard utilizes thin slices of fresh raw hiramasa, a yellowtail fish, for her hiramasa crudo sprinkled with pork belly, caperberries, and aji aioli. Though this dish is a bit complex, Stephen loves the abundance of color."
"Though pasta dishes tend to be heavier, the English Pea Ravioli at Bristol is fresh and beautiful. The pea-stuffed ravioli noodles are tossed in a light cream sauce and topped with delicate pea tendrils for a sweet, airy presentation with just a hint of color."
I grew up in the south, where we occasionally refer to stretch pants and sweat pants as "eatin' pants." Traditionally worn when one was dining in a fine establishment like Golden Corral or Old Country Buffet, eatin' pants allow you to gorge in comfort; free from the constraints of buttons, belts, or zippers.
Now those crazy kids at Betabrand have created a pair of dashing dungarees worthy of Lucullus himself. Crafted from cotton canvas, lined with crimson cotton printed with delightful line drawings of gluttony in progress, and featuring an included napkin, the Gluttony Pants are the brainchild of Betabrand and chef Chris Cosentino and represent the first offering in the 7 Sins product line.
Filmmakers Ernie Park and Michael Graziano brought their documentary, Lunch Line, to Chicago this week. The film follows six high-school students from Tilden Career Community Academy who won the Cooking Up Change challenge in 2009, and then went on to take the affordable and healthy school lunch they created to Washington, D.C. Interspersed with the footage of their journey and their musings about whether their audience in D.C. even cares about what's served to America's school children, the film covers the history of the National School Lunch Program.
Is is possible the World Cup tourney is really coming to an end? Does that mean work will actually have to get done come Monday morning?
Head on over to Wrigleyville's Bull-eh-Dia and make Sunday's Spain vs. Netherlands final match last forever. Aside from their standard $4 Bloody Mary and $4 Mimosa specials, soccer fans can enjoy $3 Sam Adams and Miller Lites, as well as 1/2 price tapas for the game. Get ready to scream yourself hoarse if Spain wins.
Last weekend I stumbled upon this awesome recipe sharing website called, We Gotta Eat. I just started using it and only have two recipes up so far, but I'm pretty excited about it because it means I no longer have to type/write a recipe more than once. Do you use a recipe sharing site? Any suggestions/recommendations?
Here's my profile, I promise to add more of my favorites soon.
UIC's weekly Re-Thinking Soup goes on summer hiatus after today's event (noon at Hull House, 800 S. Halsted)--which boasts a special homemade jam auction!--and will be closed until August 19; however, the program's urban gardens are available for tours, and you can visit their farmers market each Tuesday from 12:30-5:30pm at Halsted and Polk.
Tonight was the premiere of "Food Buddha," a new TLC show featuring Chicago's own Rodelio Aglibot, head chef at Sunda. The premise of the show seems way over-the-top, but Aglibot's easy-going nature makes it work: In each episode, he visits a different city and hits up three different restaurants. At each restaurant, he orders one of everything.
Yes, you read that correctly: "OOE," as Aglibot says. One. Of. Everything.
By ordering OOE, Aglibot says he gets the restaurant's whole story. (It also prompts some very funny reactions from the chefs in the restaurants he visits, including eye-rolling, swearing and momentary panic.) At the end of the show, he selects the dish that most inspires him and brings the recipe home to Chicago, where he puts a twist on it to serve as a special at Sunda.
I watched the first episode of the show tonight, in which Chef visits New Orleans. One of the restaurant's he dines at is Squeal, a pig-focused joint that serves pork cakes -- kind of like crab cakes, but way worse for you because, uh, they're made out of pork. And filled with cream cheese. Oh, yeah, and they're also deep-fried. The Sunda version was still pork-a-licious, but it was considerably lighter, with braised pork belly, no cream cheese filling, and a pan fried, not deep fried crust.
Food TV addict that I am, I'll definitely tune into "Food Buddha" again. Aglibot is so good-natured, he actually makes it fun to watch a person eat his way through an entire menu. No small feat indeed.
It probably will not turn your city apartment into a temple of molecular gastronomy, but designer Patrick Short's futuristic Electrolux Alinea kitchen--unrelated to the Chicago culinary laboratory of Chef Grant Achatz--nevertheless begs the question of what modern food preparation might look like. The sleek concept kitchen made of silicon and plastics is designed for extreme space-saving. It can float in any environment--manifesting a sink, appliances and counter space as needed--and recharge by way of a ceiling dock.
In case you missed my announcement earlier this week, my friend Claire and I are taking on the challenge of searching out Chicago's best margaritas. It's going to be a rough (and by rough I mean fantastic) summer.
El Tapatio, 3400 N. Ashland (at Roscoe Street), is so well-liked that the owners situated a bar across the street to satiate the many would-be diners waiting for a table. I've eaten at El Tapatio many times, and I can attest the food is better than average. The a la carte chicken taco, with a healthy portion of perfectly seasoned, cooked and shredded chicken, plus lettuce, tomato, onion and a side of guacamole, was the perfect snack to accompany my margaritas.
Per our rules, we each ordered the standard margarita first, on the rocks with salt. It arrived in style in a lovely hand-blown glass with multi-colored swirls. The salt was a bit unevenly distributed on the rim, but I'm not going to quibble; overall, the presentation was lovely.
With Memorial Day coming up, its time to get out the grill and start cooking, but for the urban dweller living in an apartment, a large grill can be a bit much. Apartment Therapy has a nice roundup of small urban/picnic grills just in time for the holiday weekend. I am partial to the Lodge LogicHibachi-Style Grill, perfect for more intimate gatherings on the fire escape.
Most of the places I eat these days are of the small plates, upscale, gastropub sort of persuasion. (Probably because most places these days are of that persuasion.) Which means I get two things when I go out to dinner: cheese, and an ever-increasing probability of contracting gout. But let's focus on the former. I'm not sure who invented the magic that is the modern cheese board -- probably the French. Bless them.
For me, the sheer multiplicity of it all is just exciting, and so sensual: combinations of blocks, smears and slabs of cheese in every imaginable texture, flavor, odor and origin. Chalky Fleur de Marquis sheep's milk from France with a juniper-terroir rind? Meet gooey, sumptuous, ultra-funky creamy gorgonzola--and voila! Fast friends. Cheese can stand on its own. (Cheese can stand alone, in fact, heigh ho the merry-o.) But what makes the cheese plate is as much the surrounding constellation of spreads, breads, jams, hams, fruits, nuts, pickles, and adorably delicate micro-salads as the main dairy protein itself. And this, to me, is where it gets really interesting. Let's take a few cases in point, shall we? (After the jump...)
I got the call from friends of mine who love this upper Midwestern "West-Mex" chain restaurant, which is a much classier version of Taco Bell that is known for their potato oles--a smaller, crisper tater tot. And because my friends are true Americans (define that any way you want), they're willing to drive over sixty miles each way for Taco John's; the home of the Bears' training grounds is the closest one to Chicago. I came along for a thoroughly fun afternoon escape from the city.
Though it's not yet officially summer, this weekend's near-perfect weather convinced my friend Claire and me it was the right time to kick off our Happy Margarita Summer Project 2010. You, dear reader, are invited along as we tour Chicago's Mexican restaurants in search of the city's best margaritas.
How does one get to work on such a fun project? asked one of my Twitter followers. Well, friends, this is the sort of project one assigns to oneself. Lest you think we're a couple of amateurs, though, we've developed both categories and standards to which we plan to adhere as strictly as possible. (Disclaimer: We will be drinking margaritas.)
About the categories: We acknowledge that flavored, frozen margaritas have their place (who wouldn't enjoy a frozen strawberry margarita while lounging poolside?), but we realize they cannot be compared with the standard margarita. Likewise, some establishments aim to get you hammered, while others' raison d'etre is to encourage you to sip, savor, and appreciate the finer things in life. Thus, we've established four awards categories:
Scared Panda has some very cute shirt designs for the Chicago foodie in you--the venerable tamales from a plastic cooler, a ketchup-less hot dog, and the pivotal debate between deep dish and thin crust pizza. Ten percent of the proceeds from each ($17) shirt go to a needy charity, among them PAWS and Anti-Cruelty Society.
Almost $1.5 million worth, as a matter of fact. Eighty residents in the zip code 60601 were given that much between 1995 and 2006, according to The Environmental Working Group. The numbers are divided in Conservation, Disaster, and Commodity subsidies.
There is a lot of data here, far more than I can digest in an afternoon. But I look forward to finding out more about what this means. I can't wait to find out why Kh Farms LLC deserved almost $500,000 over a ten year period. I'd love to know where a farm fits in downtown Chicago. Search by your zip code and find out how much "farming" exists in your neighborhood.
Call me crunchy, but it's Earth Day, and I love granola: making it at home, finding new varieties in stores, and eating it at all times of day. Locally, Milk & Honey Cafe (1920 W. Division St.) has led the way in re-popularizing the oft-thought wholesome breakfast food. It started serving its small-batch granola when the Wicker Park establishment opened in 2002. Milk & Honey Granola is now sold and served in markets, coffee shops, restaurants, and hotels around the country.
Like countless other foods, granola made with high-quality, sometimes organic ingredients has also become very portable. The product line of Chicago's Eat Green Foods consists entirely of granola bars made with ingredients sourced from Midwestern farmers, which come individually wrapped in "eco-friendly" packaging. Varieties include dried cherry, pecan and honey, and chocolate peanut butter. Delightful Pastries (multiples locations) makes a "breakfast" granola bar which is less sweet but just as dense and filling as other bars around town.
Following a spate of denigrating articles in national publications, a group of food-policy advocates, chefs and urban foragers are gathering in Chicago at the end of the month as The Kombucha Party. The name, taken from the fermented and functional tea, is a playful nod at the burgeoning Tea Party, named after a nonfunctional beverage produced in factories (and an ocean-polluting historic event). Kombucha Party spokesman, a local urban farmer known as Mr. McGregor, says they're fed up with big-government food policies and the mainstream media's bashing of schoolyard farms, canning and other practices meant to conserve resources and improve public health. Mr. McGregor is hoping to lure Alice Waters and Michael Pollen to the meeting, but says whether or not they show up, attendees can definitely count on his famous, slow-food rabbit pie. More information about the meeting can be found here.
I've been a bad writer recently. Which, in my particular case, means mostly that I've been a bad eater recently. With long hours at my office, little energy in the kitchen and, after finishing my taxes this past week, less cash on hand, eating out has become a recent luxury. Ham sandwiches, yogurts and granola bars have been more of the recent norm than a new dish on Lula's menu or special charcuterie option at Old Town Social (or getting a table after a reasonable wait at Revolution Brewing -- still unsuccessful!) However, a recent business trip has taken me to the westernmost reaches of our fine state, and while there has been little time for much more than work there has, blessedly, been eating out! Should you find yourself across the river from Iowa and looking for a bite, I feel I can now advise your gustatory tour of at least one of the four Quad Cities with a smidgen of authority and the warm glow of an impending food coma.
The Illinois Science Council set up some sweet, Chicago-area, deals to help remind us of an important constant in our lives...pi. Pi (as if you don't remember) is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. Pi is normally abbreviated to 3.14 although it continues on indefinitely. Don't worry, you won't have to recite any numbers to celebrate Pi Day on Sunday, March 14, but do bring your appetite to one of the following participating bakeries or restaurants.
Want to impress the cool kids at the farmers market or grocery store? Show off your love for reusable shopping bags and the First Lady with this amazing tote, which shows MObama playing the day away on a swing, while a fawn prances around at her feet and the White House descends behind her, attached to a parachute.
World-famous cheese sculptor Sarah Kaufman, who has carved the likenesses of Katie Couric, Jay Leno and Brett Favre, will be in Niles on Saturday and Sunday. As part of an opening celebration for a new Meijer store, Kaufman will carve the Niles city skyline out of two 150-pound Wisconsin cheddar wheels. Shoppers, and cheese-scultpure afficionados, can watch her work from 10am to 5pm both days, at Meijer, 9000 Golf Road.
Necco conversation heart candies have been a part of Valentines Day since the late 19th century and can be seen as a reflection of the times. These sweethearts have evolved from the original saying "married in white, you have chosen right," to the 80's message "fax me" and now to the latest pop culture reference "tweet me."
These heart-shaped candies are super easy to make but truthfully the DIY version isn't exactly cheap. Bottles of extract are on the expensive side and finding the food coloring markers was an adventure in itself but the outcome is delicious! Of all the homemade holiday candies I've made so far (candy pumpkins and candy canes) these were by far the easiest and most-like the real thing!
This past November, my best friend and I took a trip to Seattle - a new destination for both of us, but one that we were both eager to see having heard nothing but good things.
There really is something about the Pacific Northwest that is so perfectly conducive to coffee drinking. The often gray weather, the cozy bookstores, and the abundance of inviting coffee shops that make you want to spend your days enjoying a carefully crafted cup of coffee while writing a letter to a good friend or enjoying a favorite book. One of our favorite stops for coffee was Victrola, a wonderful coffee shop not far from the place where we stayed. It was coffee from people who really care about coffee, surrounded by quirky art and a great space for music. As their website says, "Settle in with a good book, some friends to talk to or just hang out and you will surely get to know your neighbor and our great staff behind the bar." So during these winter months when curling up with a book is one of the things I like to do most, I decided to venture out of my own Chicago abode in an effort to escape hibernation mode - and to find Chicago's most "Seattle" coffee shop.
Did you know today is National Pie Day? Well, it is! Don't worry if you don't have time to bake a pie or run out and buy one, the American Pie Council will be handing out Bonert's pies in downtown Chicago and surrounding areas.
In 2007, Chicago-based artist Dayton Castleman carved with a bandsaw and paring knife the sculpture Bread Bird from the largest and densest loaf he could find at Red Hen Bread. He called the work: "An inquiry as to whether birds would eat bread in the shape of their own. In this case, Chicago pigeons would not."
Yesterday, Castelman released the video of the sculpture not being eaten around Chicago.
Since soup and bread are on our minds, here's another way to get your fill. Mix up your favorite bread recipe and form the dough into small round loaves. Bake, and carve out the middle of each loaf to form the bowl. (Make sure to leave a substantial wall of bread around the sides and bottom to avoid spillage.) Fill with your favorite soup, and enjoy. Perfect for serving at Super Bowl parties...
Saveur's "100 List" for 2010 is an entertainingly whimsical mix of anything alimentary, from ingredients to restaurants to cookbook authors. Included among more mundane things like immersion blenders and homemade egg noodles are a bakery in Egypt (!?), and a food court in Malaysia (!?). Although these may be a little too far-flung for most of us, don't despair: Chicago's very own encased meat emporium Hot Doug'smade the cut at #71.
For those willing to travel farther afield, you might try Wisconsin (#91), replete with craft beer, traditional sausages, old-fashioned chocolates and 600 kinds of cheese. (The very old-world display that accompanies the Wisconsin article is worth a look; who knew that we lived right next door to Germany.) Inspired? Get a copy of Wisconsin beer & cheese map here and drive out, or you can sample some of the best Wisconsin cheeses at the Wisconsin Cheese Mart in the newish Chicago French Market.
I love gruyère cheese so much that if I was told I couldn't have it again, I don't think I could go on living. So when I discovered that the Wit Hotel restaurant State & Lake was serving macaroni and cheese with gruyère, I had to taste it. Made with cavatelli pasta, gruyère and cheddar cheeses, and topped with seasoned bread crumbs, this mac 'n cheese is second to none. Listed on the menu as a side (I am not sure why because it could be a main course) this creamy, scoop of heaven is served up in a cast iron ramekin and priced at only $6. This macaroni is worth a special trip to the Loop and a total lunch-time deal.
I've been trying to overcome my fear of baking and rolled cookies seemed like something that I would ruin several times before I got right. And I'm impatient so I decided to skip even trying for years. And then a recent urge for gingerbread cookies led me to reconsider this. I talked with several very experienced bakers who were confused by my reluctance to make cookies and they offered suggestions for recipes. Since I had an invitation to attend a cookie exchange party, I decided I would gather my courage, sugar coat it, and get over it.
If you're interested in honing your food writing skills, have we got the class for you: Northwestern University and the Evanston Public Library are holding a free (yes, free!) eight-session creative writing class starting January 5 where you will learn how to translate your favorite meals into words. So if you're looking to make a New Year's resolution to eat less, perhaps writing more will be an easier goal to keep.
During a visit to IntelligentsiaJackson today, something caught my eye, the Mypressi TWIST. I had read about this portable espresso device in a trade magazine a few months ago and thought it was a novel idea. When I gave a slightly puzzled look to my barista friends, they all informed me that the TWIST pulls a surprisingly decent shot. This tool uses hot water and air pressure from rechargeable N20 cartridge to deliver a single or double shot of espresso. Unlike other home espresso machines, the TWIST doesn't require electricity, though you will need some way to heat up the water, a slight drawback, and you can get about eight single shots out of the N20 cartridge. Retailing at $160, the TWIST is making me rethink my home espresso and coffee brewing options.
With only a few days left before Thanksgiving, there's not a whole lot of time for executing an elaborate "tablescape." For an easy, natural-looking centerpiece, fill a glass vase (any shape will do, really) with cranberries and nestle a small candle inside. Surround the vase with a few small pumpkins and gourds, and you're all set. Now all you have to worry about is the food...
With creations like Bacon Salt and Baconnaise, it's no surprise the brains behind J&D's continue to push the envelope with their bacon-y creations...literally. Mmmvelopes are now available for purchase - yes, a mmmvelope is a bacon-flavored envelope. Why lick paste when you have savor the smokey taste of bacon? Kosher. No refrigeration necessary. Wow.
GB contributor Shaz Rasul came across this bulletin board in a CPS elementary school, challenging students to take a week off of eating "Flaming Hot" Cheetos and other snack foods. Shaz says on his blog,
For those of you not hip to the urban elementary school youngsters' taste in chips, let me say that the flaming hots (preferably in their ubiquitous cheeto form, but also popular their frito incarnation) are the top of the charts.
As one student remarked recently, "the flaming hots, they get in your MIND".
Flaming Hot Cheetos are such a hit with kids that some schools have even banned them permanently -- though with limited efficacy, since kids can get them as soon as they leave school. They're considered disruptive in the classroom because the kids seem to get an endorphin buzz from the super hot snack, making them even more difficult than usual to control.
I'm not sure if this happens to everyone's kids over the summer, but my two kids sprouted some very serious candy cravings during the lackadaisical months. So last night, when the request for "dessert" came up, my husband was prepared: He had a Jelly Belly BeanBoozled game.
Not for the weak of stomach, the game consists of a box of jelly beans and a spinner that directs players to jelly beans of a certain color. Green might be Juicy Pear or Booger; black is Licorice or Skunk Spray; white is Coconut or Baby Wipes, and so on. We went through about 20 napkins, and spitting was most definitely allowed (in the sink). My first taste, a yellow-white jelly bean, was either Popcorn or Rotten Egg. I couldn't be sure which it was; it tasted like eggy popcorn. The black Skunk Spray flavor was deemed "like eating a match," while the Baby Wipe was oddly tolerable--it kind of had that unusual savory-sweet combination that cupcake makers around town are playing with. After biting into the Barf bean, my son shoved a banana in his mouth to clean his palate. My daughter hovered over the sink. The dog turned out to be the real winner. He happily moved from player to player, gobbling up the Canned Dog Food, Moldy Cheese and Pencil Shavings no one else could tolerate. A mom can only hope this run in with Barf and Skunk Spray might curb the candy cravings.
In most of the United States, not far at all. The image above is a map of all 13,000 McDonald's restaurants, with color indicating distance to the nearest Golden Arches. Unsurprisingly, The area around Chicago is particularly bright; if you zoomed in on Chicagoland, the dots stay pretty damn dense:
Where's the spot farthest from a McDonald's? Glad Valley, SD, at 145 miles by car.
UPDATE: Stephen Von Worley, the creator of the McDonald's map, has produced a follow-up focusing on the Midwest (really, more like the Great Lakes region). Fun fact: there are 424 McDonald's within 50 miles of the Sears Tower!
Feeding Illinois, formerly known as the Illinois Food Bank Association, began its hunger awareness campaign, "Snapshot of Hunger," today. According to the organization's Web site, the recession has driven on average 30 percent more people to request food assistance in Illinois during the past year. To help illustrate why so many Illinois families struggle with hunger, Feeding Illinois is asking you to take a photo of $28 worth of groceries and share it with them.
Twenty-eight dollars represents the average amount a family of four with a working parent and another parent who was recently laid off yet still receives unemployment, has to spend on food. After paying for housing, utilities and transportation, this family has approximately $110 left to purchase food for an entire week. This comes out to $28/person/week or $4/person/day.
The challenge runs through Monday, Sept. 21st and aims to help Illinoisans better understand the challenges our neighbors face and to raise awareness and get people to consider making a donation to their local food bank.
You can share your photo by emailing it to email@example.com. When emailing, please include your first name and city in the subject line. For updates on the campaign, follow Feeding Illinois on Twitter and use the #ILHUNGER hashtag.
Take the challenge, you'd be surprised what $28 at your local grocery store can get you compared to what a local food bank can gather for the same price.
•Smokin', Chokin' and Chowin' with the King goes on a search for Caribbean food in the city and loves everything (except the travel time).
•A Paula Deen recipe for Pimiento Cheese gets a healthy makeover by Cakes and Ale.
•Have you made it over to Rick Bayless's newly opened Xoco? The Stew has.
•If only I had a grill...then I could grab some peaches and make this salad.
•Accept it. Summer is ending soon, and going with it is access to freshly grown seasonal fruits and vegetables. But holding on to your favorite berries doesn't mean you have to join the canning bandwagon; you can freeze your beloved produce to enjoy in the coming months. You can even turn it into jam!
•Just Get Floury shows us the proper way to celebrate Mom's birthday: Congo Bars.
•The Grazing Lamb reflects on her anniversary of going vegan and gluten-free, and celebrates with an all-day raw food bender. Naturally.
•An out-of-town visitor directs Chew on This to NYC's opinion of Chicago's best Italian restaurant. Confused?
City Provisions, a Chicago catering company committed to using local, sustainable and organic foods, is challenging anyone who needs a meeting catered to step outside of their comfort zone and, instead of defaulting to the typical catering choices, to buy local.
"We feel people are too comfortable with processed meat and cheese, but it's easy to go that route when it's the cheap option," says Cleetus Friedman, owner, City Provisions.
Through October 16 City Provisions will be matching the price of the more conventional caterers in its Eat Local Challenge and is offering lunch platters for just $13/person in an effort to help people understand the reason their competitor's prices are so inexpensive. This includes assorted local sandwiches, choice of seasonal side, homemade organic chips and homemade cookies.
I've had the pleasure of attending one of the monthly supper club events City Provisions hosts and I can assure you that, if you let them cater your next meeting, you'll see that there is no excuse not to buy local.
Seventeen new cheftestants roll the dice on culinary fame in Las Vegas as the new season of Top Chef starts tonight (8pm on Bravo). And with the success of our fair city's chefs in recent seasons, as well as in this summer's amuse bouche show Top Chef Masters, one would expect a strong showing from Chicago again this season. In reality, one would be dead wrong. Nary a Chicagoan in sight. Not even an Illinois resident. The closest we get is Eve Aronoff from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She's the sole representative of the entire Midwest region! The hell?!
If lack of a home team doesn't dissuade you from watching, you might want to check out the weekly viewing party at the Kit Kat Club, hosted by former cheftestant Radhika Desai. No cover, and each week will start with a cocktail demonstration and end with a Q and A session.
The Greater Chicago Food Depository is launching a public awareness campaign this week to celebrate its 30th anniversary of serving hungry men, women and children in the Chicago area. The focus - "Helping the Hungry for 30 Years" - is to thank those who have contributed to Chicago's food bank and to raise awareness of the continuing need in Chicago and Cook County.
The campaign features local sports figures, newscasters, elected officials, actors and volunteers in advertisements and public service announcements. Among those appearing in the ads: Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley; U. S. Senator Richard Durbin; Chicago Cubs Manager Lou Piniella; Chicago Bull Derrick Rose; and Steppenwolf Theatre Company actor John Mahoney.
Founded in 1979, the Food Depository has distributed 750 million pounds of food to millions of Chicagoans in need. Over the past year alone, the food bank has distributed a record 58 million pounds of food. The series of black and white photos will be running on CTA buses and trains through November and public service TV and radio spots will be released this summer and fall.
Want to help the Food Depository feed the hungry? Here are some ways you can get involved.
Last summer was all about the vertical garden. This summer, vegetables are dancing on the ceiling. Or pretending to. The Lay's Potato Chip "Closer than You Think" campaign, which aims to convince us that Lay's makes chips from potatoes grown on local farms, has hit the streets of Chicago, with a display of spuds growing from the ceiling in the CTA tunnel under Jackson Street. The potato patch will be on display through Sunday.
I have a friend staying with me later this week, and in preparation for her arrival I've turned my place upside down in my attempts to clean it thoroughly. She likes to cook and I want to make sure that her experience in my small kitchen is positive. As sad as it seems, I spent Saturday night cleaning out my fridge. Whoa. The space was a magnet for weird bits of errant quinoa, drips of dried beet juice and a dark sludge in the crisper that may have been from the celery that I bought a few months ago and left to die unused. Urgh.
I saw a story last night on the news that said Chicago's groceries are on average cheaper than Los Angeles's or New York City's; however, we pay the most for organic foods (L.A. pays the least). But apparently that is not a big deal, as a study published today states that organic food is not any better for you compared to non-organic food.
Missed connection, woman for object Where: At Pitchfork Music Festival, Friday night, during the Jesus Lizard. Me: Red hair, green sweater. You: Food, apart from the lone Whole Food tent, moderately stocked with hummus, guacamole, chips, and a few other things. Where were you? I know you'll be coming on Saturday and Sunday, but I thought I'd see more of you on Friday.
It may be an issue with vendors not wanting to come on Friday night, but this isn't the first year the Friday night lack of food has been a problem. The Whole Foods tent was predictably slammed the entire evening, and the Goose Island food tent was also running, but had a line so long that going there would've meant sitting out half of Built to Spill. A fest day that starts at 5 and ends around 10 will support more than two food booth.
Moving into the weekend proper, the selection of foodstuffs will be much better. My favorites include Wishbone (vegetarian-friendly, the corn muffins are great, love the black bean cake sandwich, and the unheated Hoppin' John is refreshing to eat when it's warm out) and Big Bite Catering (I had a refreshing blood orange cooler and a tasty chicken and gouda sausage from their tent at Folk & Roots last weekend). And the Whole Foods tent is a fine place to find things like fresh fruit during the long weekend outsdie. Ćevapčići is a little too meaty for my tastes, but I've heard good things about it. And, if none of the food sounds appealing, there's always Goose Island beer or Sparks.
If you'll recall, two Drive-Thru readers won our Grogood-sponsored Earth Day contest, which gave them free growing supplies to start their home gardens. Each winner pledged to give away some of their bounty to a needy charity.
We wanted to give you some updates on how well they're doing: Jennifer's basil is creeping along nicely, and Erin's tomato and squash plants also look pretty swell. I had some difficulty finding places that would take homegrown produce donations, but Erin dug deeper and found that the kitchen at First Slice will happily receive the fruits of her (and your!) gardening labors.
I also received a Grogood kit and have not been as lucky due to the partial sunlight that plants get in my apartment: I made the mistake of miscalculating sun needs and also trying to grow plants from seeds. My basil and green onion barely survived the germination stage, but the green bean seeds took off; however, I need to move them to a permanent, sunnier home. The plants are starting to wilt--perhaps due to overwatering or the realization that they're in the dark for half the day. Refusing failure, I'm donating them to Editor Andrew's backyard in the hopes that they'll rebound from their miserable beginnings. May the beans grow stronger than my gardening knowledge.
Tomorrow night, at 7pm at an undisclosed location somewhere near Pilsen, fine dining and music criticism come together to create a themed menu and perhaps, if their on-air banter is any indication, a Desert Island Pantry list of dessert toppings. Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot of Chicago Public Radio's Sound Opinions have teamed up with Chef Efrain Cuevas's community dining project Clandestino for a meal and Candid Wine pairings based on five selected albums, including selections from Junior Wells and Buddy Guy, Curtis Mayfield, Common, and Mavis Staples. Why exactly Naked Raygun goes so well with fennel and herb crusted hanger steak, braised marrow, potato terrine, oyster mushroom ragout -- I guess you'll have to try it to find out. The inspiring albums will, of course, supply the soundtrack for the evening.
Spots still seem to be available (click to RSVP) -- $250 covers the meal and gratuity for one guest, and a portion of the total is tax deductible. Exactly how much, and exactly where the event will take place will be announced this week via email to registrants.
Threadless.com's shirts are so cute, sometimes you just want to eat them up. In fact, many people have -- by turning their favorite designs into cakes.
It's not just for fun, either -- it could be for profit, too, if you enter the Threadcakes contest this summer. From June 15 (ie, yesterday) until August 3, you can submit photos of your own Threadless shirt-based cake to the contest for a chance to win a Threadless 12-Month Club membership, "tons" of Guittard chocolate and a Charm City Cakes prize pack. There are two categories -- 2D (just the design on the cake) and 3D (the design is the cake) -- and you can submit as many cakes as you want. So read the rules, sign up and get to baking!
Having difficulty organizing your kitchen cutlery because your roommates aren't putting things back in the right place? Take it from this Northwestern student's attempt to draw parallels between sloppy housekeeping and, um, racially motivated dorm room assignments(?).
On the massive exhibit floor I talked with folks from Regal Springs Tilapia, which farms their fish in a sustainable manner in Honduras, Mexico, and Indonesia, and imports it to the US. They're holding a recipe contest that's open to both chefs and the general public. To enter, create a tilapia meal for four that includes 1/4-1/2 pound (or 1 filet) tilapia per person, a vegetable, and salad or fruit. The entire meal must cost $15 or less. Entries will be judged on eight factors, including creativity, how you stretched your money, and your personal story. The winner gets $5,000, and five finalists get $150 each. Submit your entry on their website by August 1.
Last month Club Lago, an Italian restaurant in River North, was recently forced to temporarily close after a chimney collapsed onto its building. I pass the restaurant every day on my walk to and from work and last week I noticed they put a gigantic white board over the front door and posed the question: "What dish are you missing the most?" I thought this was an interesting way to interact with customers and to draw the attention of passersby. I have never been to Club Lago but I definitely plan on checking it out when it reopens.
Tonight is the season finale of ">Chuck," the NBC show about spies working in an electronics store (charmingly called Buy More) and a fro yo shop while trying to save the government's secrets, especially those embedded in the brain of the titular hero. If you're a fan of the show, you'll know that the future of Chuck is up in the air. NBC is weighing whether to renew the series. Fans have started letter-writing campaigns to save "Chuck," and are asking people to go out today to Subway (one of the show's main sponsers) to buy a footlong and leave a comment in the suggestion box professing your love and support for "Chuck." If there's no comment box, a Zac Levi (Chuck) fan site suggests contacting Subway online or on the phone. (This site also has a lot of video footage of Zac helping out in a Subway in the U.K., after fans followed him to the store.)
I'd hate to see "Chuck" get cancelled. It's a family staple in our house, looming large in Monday's after-dinner hours, prompting my kids to finish their homework on time and to help clean the kitchen. One of us even has a Chuck dance that accompanies the credits and theme song (Cake's "Short Skirt, Long Jacket"), a dance that would make the Nerd Herd proud.
Today's not just a day to reuse, reduce, and recycle--it's a day to think about the earth and how you can make it a better place. One way would be to start a home edible garden, right? But a lot of us don't know where to start--what to buy, what grows best, etc.--so to boost your interest, we're giving away TWO sets of garden kick-start supplies (a planter, dirt, trowel, a $10 gift card to purchase seeds and a list of "edible garden essentials") that have been generously offered by the GroGood project, a collaboration between Scotts, Plant a Row for the Hungry and Feeding America.
But here's the catch: when your garden turns into a bountiful mess of edible goodness, you need to donate a portion of the produce to the hungry, whether it be a food bank, a local soup kitchen or shelter. Let's do some good for the planet and its citizens by making everyone's stomachs a little fuller. Even if you don't win our contest, please consider joining in and donating your homegrown eats to local charities.
You have until midnight tonight to enter: send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will randomly select two winners and mail their kits. Also, we will be checking in on the winners' progress once their respective gardens begin and posting their progress here at Drive-Thru. Kick ass!
In a move to create a more locally sourced and sustainable menu at his restaurant, North Pond, chef Bruce Sherman is launching a series of Sunday meals created with food from his own front yard: the North Pond in Lincoln Park. Dishes will include a squirrel kebab, with dried wild strawberries and black radish; and slow-cooked Canada goose breasts with pea tendrils and smoked quinoa fritters. The new additions to the menu will not only appeal to diners worried about corporate farming practices, but the dishes will also help the restaurant weather the recession. Small, wild game animals take less time to cook, thus saving energy, and, coming from right outside the restaurant's door, they cost nothing. Full menus are online here.
Office workers around Chicago, and around the nation, who still have jobs to go to are giving up their daily $10 sandwich or salad deals and bringing lunches from home instead. And with the stylish new lunch-toting options available nowadays, they can carry their food with pride and panache. Whole Foods carries a bento-box lunch "system," on display right next to the overpriced salad bar, so you can fill the little compartments as soon as you've paid for them.
The tiffin carrier, available from Design Within Reach or other online retailers, is an even sleeker vessel. It might look like the tin pail Laura Ingalls Wilder carried to school on the Little House on the Prairie TV show, but the stainless-steel carrier is inspired by the word "tiffin," which means light lunch or snack in parts of Britain and India.
If having a stylish lunch box makes you feel pressured to fill it with healthy, sophisticated foods, there is help available.
There's been a lot of posting about vegetarian and vegan foods on the blog this week, so I thought the one I've been wanting to share might be a little overkill. Yet, after Lori's post about MRSA being tied to antibiotic use in meat, I realized it was time to post.
I'm a fairly dedicated carnivore; in fact, there are days where my body absolutely craves meat. At the same time, I realize that a ton of meat may not exactly be the healthiest option, so maybe a few more vegetarian and vegan meals might be a good addition to my diet.
However, straight vegetables and beans only go so far. I wanted to try other vegetarian and vegan options, but I also didn't really want to buy a bunch of food I might end up hating. Then I got the opportunity to go to a fundraiser for Mercy for Animals, an organization that fights against animal cruelty--especially in terms of food production--by promoting vegetarian and vegan diets.
I stopped in Whole Foods today to pick up some wax-paper bags for my daughter's lunch box. I stopped using plastic baggies last year, and since then have been packing her sandwiches and snacks in little plastic containers. But recently I've been hearing scary stuff about the plastic, which, they say, leaches when I wash it in the dishwasher. So I'm using the wax bags now. While there, I also picked up some overpriced antibiotic-free lunch meat. Then went home and looked through the New York Times. In it, I found more to worry about as I pack those lunches. Nicholas Kristoff's column today is about MRSA, or staph infections on the skin that are resistant to antibiotics. Kristoff links the buggie pimples to "the routine use -- make that the insane overuse -- of antibiotics in livestock feed." Time to hit Whole Foods again; this time for the fake meat and tofu.
Mike Phillips, a barista at Intelligentsia's Broadway store and last year's Great Lakes Regional Barista Championship winner, is one of the six finalists in the U.S. Barista Championship. Three other finalists are from Intelligentsia's Los Angeles outpost, and another, Scott Lucey, is from Alterra Coffee in Milwaukee.
Wondering what goes on at a barista competition? The finals will be streaming live at the USBC website; they're scheduled to run from 2-4:30 Central time this afternoon, and the winner will be announced shortly thereafter.
UPDATE: Phillips is the winner! His final score was 730 points, besting second place Nick Griffith of Intelligentsia LA (719.5 points) and third place Scott Lucey of Alterra Coffee (697.5 points).
What isn't available from Amazon? Among the many, many things to be had with the click of a mouse is discounted food. The site offers discounts daily on grocery items (anything you could want, from coffee and coconut water to toaster pastries and toilet paper) and it also has a Subscribe & Save program, which allows you to set up standard grocery orders for delivery every one, two, three or six months. Shipping is free for Subscribe & Save orders, and free for other grocery purchases over $25 as well. The web site Dealhack also lists Amazon offers, and even breaks down the amount you save.
The other day, when I was on a CTA bus home from work, I was faced with a daunting challenge. As it was approaching my usual meal time, I was getting pretty hungry, pretty fast. At a stop halfway home, a well-clad middle-aged lady got on and took the seat next to mine. Beside a black handbag, she had a Jewel-Osco plastic bag, which she put on her lap. As the bus lurched forward with the green light, she promptly fumbled in the bag and took out (gasp!) a big bunch of celery. I looked on from the corner of my eye, curious to see what she'll proceed to do. With a determined hand, she yanked off a stalk, put the rest back in the bag, snapped the stalk in half and started to crunch her way through the celery. An enticing aroma of fresh celery wafted to my nostrils. I love celery. Now I was getting really hungry.
Last night I read a few pages of the book Coraline with my daughter, who along with her brother, is counting the days to Friday, when the film will open. It was a part of the story where the Other Mother sits on the sofa, eating a bag of black beetles and talking to Coraline about manners, or really, the fact that Coraline won't show the scary woman any love. The Other Mother locks Coraline behind a mirror, and the chapter ends with this creepy description of the Other Mother: "A fragment of beetle was sticking to her lower lip, and there was no expression in her black button eyes."
If you happen to be an Other person, with button eyes and a hankering for beetles, today is a lucky day. In the Tribune's Good Eating section, there's a recipe* on the bottom of page 3 for the Other Mother's Extra Crispy Chocolate Beetles, complete with tips for finding the tastiest beetles (check for shiny and developed thoraxes, as beetles still in larval stage will be chewy and bland).
Most of us don't, however, have hankerings for beetles, even dipped in dark chocolate. On the blog Margo's Musings there's a post about a Coraline junket (prompted by Neil Gaiman's talk of a press junket), a puddinglike dessert that Margo topped with dried apple buttons. Just to prove how un-Other I am, I might try to whip up some junket for my family. Assuming I can get hold of some rennet, that is.
OK, the live blog is now closed, but feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!
Oh yeah! The contest! We have a copy of "No Reservations" Collection 3 to give away. Enter to win by emailing contests @ gapersblock.com with the answer to this question: What was the one dish that Tony didn't like on tonight's episode? We'll take entries till noon, then pick a winner at random from the correct entries. UPDATE: Congratulations Krissy! The answer is the Mighty Dog, a tamale and hot dog together on a bun, smothered with chili.
The episode premieres tonight at 9pm CST, so to celebrate the occasion, we'll be liveblogging during the show. Also, we'll be giving away a lovely "No Reservations"-related PRIZE during the episode, so stop by for a chance to win!
The Trib reports that a documentary is in the works about Alinea's Grant Achatz, and that filmmaker (and local native) D.A. Pennebaker is making a doc about a pastry competition, with Jacquy Pfeiffer of the French Pastry School being one of his subjects.
On Tuesday, Barack Obama will sit down to his inaugural luncheon, a tradition that dates back to 1897. And what a decadent celebration it will be. "One nutrition writer tallies the feast's calorie count at 3,048 and notes that the spread contains 142 grams of fat," reports the Washington Post.
When Arlington-based Design Cuisine was hired to cater this three-course meal, they were asked to make it "reminiscent of the Lincoln era."
The menu includes: Seafood Stew
Pheasant and Duck with Sour Cherry Chutney and Molasses Sweet Potatoes
Apple Cinnamon Sponge Cake
For those interested in learning more about the luncheon, the government has set up a website for you. You can read about the gifts that Obama and Biden have received, the china that will be used for the meal, the flowers that will decorate the tables -- and best of all -- you can even download the recipes for this presidential meal.
Gourmet's Ruth Reichl volunteered to be Obama's "kitchen cabinet," monitoring the foods that the First Family will be eating in the White House and emphasizing on seasonal, locally grown and organic items (doesn't she have actual work to do?). Reichl ended up with free-range egg on her face when it was revealed that Cristeta Comerford, who cooked for the George Bushes and will stay on for the Obamas, already was making organic eats for W and Laura, putting an end to Reichl's campaign. We won't be getting daily reports of the meals served in the White House, but for the love of lutefisk: if Obama wants to eat nothing but Dunkin' Stix and strawberry margaritas all day, let him. He's the leader of the free world, not a contestant on the Biggest Loser.
Despite the nation's financial upheaval, high-end restaurants are not really feeling the pain; a Bloomberg article quoted Alinea co-owner Nick Kokonas's plans to expand his restaurant's private dining space, as well as mentioning that a "non-U.S. automaker" client has rented out Alinea for a private party one night next month to the tune of $25,000+. And just so you know, Alinea accepts payment plans for their less wealthy diners.
America's First Kids Sasha and Malia Obama attended their first day of school at Sidwell Friends in D.C. this week. Other than the high caliber of education offered at Sidwell, they also have a top-notch cafeteria full of organic and locally grown produce; today's menu [PDF] for the kids includes roasted local squash, spicy organic black bean tortillas, and pineapple Gratin. Yum, but don't they want pizza and chili dogs?
This week the Little Green People blog on sustainable living posits the question, Should we eat our wild urban critters? So far only two commenters have weighed in, on that website at least. Elsewhere on the web, others have been throwing the idea out there for thought. Food supplies are diminishing, and our ancestors ate rabbits, pigeons, geese and squirrels. In Europe many people still eat (some of) these animals, though from farms or from the wild, not from city parks. I'm not planning to take my local diet in that direction ... but it's an interesting facet of the larger omnivore dilemma.
If allowing corporate sponsorship/renaming rights of CTA stops doesn't whack your mole, perhaps warmer waits for the bus in the name of "experimental marketing" will...Kraft is teaming up with JCDecaux (French for "this bus shelter is very fashionable and sturdy") for an ad campaign for Stove Top this month that involves radiating warm air from ten downtown bus shelters in an effort to "bring to life the warm feeling that consumers get when they eat stuffing." Kraft will also be handing out samples of their newest feat of stuffing research, an item called "Quick Cups," at selected shelters. I'll be keeping gravy in my commuter mug in eager anticipation.
One of my favorite online resources is the Los Angeles Public Library Menu Database. Images of menus from their rare books collection are available to browse for free. A search for "Thanksgiving" yielded one Chicago menu. This menu was an advertisement for the Blackhawk Grill Downstairs (139 N. Wabash), published in a 1929 issue of the Chicago Tribune. The menu appears to have been their $1.00 "Sunday Dinner" menu, rather than a strictly holiday offering. In its heyday the establishment offered, "The choicest foods--liberal portions--attractively served--in a pleasant environment."
The Blackhawk Restaurant was highlighted on the Gapers Block Subterranean City Tour by Alice Maggio in 2004. "In the 1920s and 30s, the building became renown as the location of the Blackhawk restaurant, which was famous for its live jazz and big band performances." The building was unfortunately demolished in 2003 to make way for a condo development.
Menu highlights include:
Cold Tomato Juice
Chicken Consomme with Rice
Baked Sugar Cured Ham with Champagne Sauce
Chicken a la King on Toast
Vegetarian Dinner, Poached Eggs
I know that this week has done some serious prying into you and your family's personal life with questions like what kind of dog to buy for Malia and Sasha, who cuts your hair, and will your wife be as much of a style icon as Jackie Kennedy. But I read intently when it came to your preferred foods. You visit Spiaggia when you're celebrating? Nice, you're classy. You like Valois? Eh, well, I think a salt block from Home Depot tastes better than anything I've eaten there, but l respect you. I care about you. And I thought I understood you until I read that you don't like beets.
As nightly frosts settle in, even the heartiest herbs will have trouble surviving. No gardener wants to see their hard work die out, but there is only so much mint a household can go through sometimes.
A quick way to preserve herbs before they succumb to the elements is to freeze them. This preservation method works particularly well with herbs that have a high water content like chives, mint, and basil.
Cut and clean the leaves under cold water, discarding stems. Take a few empty ice cube trays and place bunches of leaves in the bottom of each slot. Fill with enough water to cover the herbs and place in the freezer. When the cubes are frozen through, transfer to sealed bags.
The leaves will be limp when defrostred, but freezing retains more flavor and aroma than drying leaves. The cubes are also convenient for dropping in soups or using in drinks.
Now that President Obama and the First Family has to pack up shop and head east for Dad's new job in January, a local restaurant is looking for his patronage. Ben's Chili, a D.C. hot dog restaurant, vows to give the Obama family a status level only previously given to one other person (Bill Cosby)-free eats, anytime. One of Ben's owners told the NYT that "Chicago's going to be a little far to travel, so they're going to need a place in Washington...It's a nice way for us to say, 'Welcome to Washington.'"
While many of us are finalizing our Thanksgiving plans, some of our neighbors are choosing between paying rent and putting dinner on the table. Demand at Chicago area food pantries is up 30% from last year. I see this first hand at the nonprofit I work for and there is simply not enough food to go around.
It seems we are all pinching our pennies lately, but if you are able to forgo that extra beer this weekend please consider donating a few dollars to a Chicago area food bank. It just takes a moment to donate online. If you can't find the cash, clear our your pantry or volunteer to donate your time. A great place to start is the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which distributes food to over 600 food banks around the city.
Today, as most of Chicago rejoices over the election of Barack Obama, we need to extend an olive branch to those whose shoulders hang a little low today over the defeats of their candidates (and looking at the local results, there's reason to be surprised and in some cases, pissed off) .
The Drive-Thru staff has assembled a list of their favorite comfort foods that may bring some comfort to those who are staring blankly at online election returns and contemplating watching nonstop "Felicity" reruns for the next week.
-Dolly Madison powdered donuts (the kind that come in the long bag) and hot cocoa.
-Granola (especially from Wicker Park's Milk and Honey) with soy milk.
-Giant bowls of sugarey cereal, like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Golden Grahams. Mixed with ice cream instead of milk. And topped with caramel sauce and nuts.
-There's something about potatoes. Baked potatoes are definitely comfort food, but I think I prefer them cut into wedges, roasted, and eaten with copious amounts of ketchup.
-My motto has always been,"it's a good day when you get soup." I always go to matzo ball soup for comfort.
-Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.
-Anything with cheese. Even cheese by itself. And French fries. French fries with cheese--even better!
-Mac & cheese, followed by Coldstone Creamery's sweet cream and chocolate with Reese's peanut butter cups.
-Comfort booze: good bourbon.
-Simple roast chicken leg and a big'ol helping of baked and gooey mac'n'cheese. Potato chip crumble on top is optional.
-When I'm sick, my go-to comfort food is udon or egg zosui (sort of like Japanese congee). For stress, I run for cookies and chocolate. (Bad habit.)
-Macaroni and cheese with some yellow mustard mixed in.
-When I get down in the dumps, I like to make strange sauces out of whatever's in the fridge and spice cabinet and dip tortilla chips in it. Old habit I picked up in high school.
-Pizza of any (thick-/thin-crust) variety.
-Cheese enchiladas with mole poblano!
-I was just recently was introduced to this magical chicken poppyseed casserole-- it's mostly condensed soup, sour cream, cheese and Ritz crackers.
Being in Grant Park last night for Barack's victory celebration was humbling, and I'm so grateful my husband and I were able to be there, to witness history.
By the time we made it home, it was about 1:30 a.m. We were wired and our stomachs were grumbling. We also wanted to keep celebrating. So we uncorked the last bottle of Chianti we schlepped home from our recent honeymoon in Italy, and paired it with Velveeta Shells and Cheese (don't knock it.) Halloween candy provided an appropriately sweet ending to our night.
If you're going to haul your cookies to your polling place when they open tomorrow at 6am to (possibly) avoid the stampede of voters, here's a small incentive: Starbucks will be giving out free tall-sized coffees tomorrow to those who produce a voting receipt.
Still trying to figure out what costume you'll wear this Friday? One simple idea is to dress up as a chef or baker. Simply tie on an apron, grab a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon, and you're off to the races. If you want to get fancier, the possibilities are endless. Wear shorts under your apron and don a pair of orange Crocs and a red wig (with ponytail) to disguise yourself as Mario Batali. Curl your hair and slip on a chef's jacket with the Top Chef logo embroidered on it to become Chicago's own Stephanie Izard. Restaurant supply stores often carry chef's clothing - black and white checked pants, toques and baker's caps - which can help you really pull off the look.
Mayor Daley is wagering a boatload of Chicago-based foodstuffs (Ferrara Pan candy, Vienna beef hot dogs) on the Cubs/Dodgers divisional title with Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who in turn has wagered a rice cake and some Pinkberry coupons (just kidding).
I spent all day yesterday ripping sopping wet carpet out of my parents' basement, even as more water seeped in and more rain poured down. Our only comfort at the time was our sense of humor -- that, and the carpet was installed circa 1972, and reminded everyone of a cheesy Las Vegas hotel (think Circus Circus). It was time for it to go.
When I got back to my place, I put on my PJs and tucked into a nice hot bowl of vegetable soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Today, the comfort eating continued: steak, mashed potatoes with pureed carrots, and chocolate cake.
It was a miserable weekend, but at least I ate well. What did you eat this weekend to keep you happy?
For $3, would you rather get three-quarters of a tank of gas, or an insanely huge waffle cone overflowing with homemade ice cream? I know my answer.
On a recent visit to Margie's Candies on Montrose, I ordered a waffle cone with 2 flavors of homemade ice cream--strawberry cheesecake and cookies and cream (odd combination, I know)--all for $3. Sure made Cold Stone seem like a huge rip off. Plus, it's always nice to support a local business.
North Center: 1813 W Montrose Ave
Bucktown: 1960 N Western Ave
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is exploring the idea of expanding commercial development, including grocery stores, near its L stations, according to the Chicago Tribune.
As a frequent visitor to Alta Vista Foods, a small but fully loaded produce and grocery store accessible from inside the Sheridan Red Line station, I can attest to how great it is to be able to pop in after work to pick up hamburger buns, lemons, tomato sauce or even a package of chicken legs. My husband and I got rid of our car last year, and grocery shopping is about the only reason we miss having it. Alta Vista definitely makes things easier -- and based on the fact that there's always a steady stream of fellow L riders in line with me, it makes good sense that the CTA is looking to spread the love to other stations.
Sampling cheese needs instructions? Isn't it as simple as, open mouth, insert cheese, repeat until ill or otherwise immobilized (or, worst case scenario, out of cheese)? Apparently there are cheese manners to be observed -- particularly on the farmer's market circuit, where all manner of grubby hands are grabbing after the goods. Imposing some routine structure and discipline in cheese-handling is the least our local cheese mongers can do.
There seem to be two main camps of cheese sampling convention -- the simple tools method, and the what we'll call the gravity method. I participated in the simple tools method this past Sunday at the Logan Square farmer's market, where Provenance had set up a tent with about eight varieties of cheese available to try. Each cheese, from chipotle-infused cheddar, to a combination sheep and goat's milk number where the two cheeses were separated by a layer of ash, was packed into the separated wells of what seemed to be a reclaimed prep pan, the whole pan surrounded by ice packs to keep the dairy from getting funky. Toothpicks and little tasting spoons were proffered to actually sample the cheese -- no direct hand-to-cheese contact! And it seemed using one toothpick per cheese was preferable to double-picking.
This morning I stopped by the Federal Plaza farmer's market to pick up some snacks for tonight's movie in Grant Park. I've worked across the street from it for years, but was always strapped with afternoon meetings preventing actually visiting the market, which I was pleasantly surprised to find incredibly well-stocked with tons of produce, flowers, and even honey vendor that had brought their own miniature working bee hive under glass -- being clumsy, I studiously avoided this table. But felt I could stop by the lone cheese tent without incident. I didn't catch the vendor's name, though they mentioned the majority of their cheeses come from a consortium of small dairies in southern Wisconsin. The gal behind the table was very patient with letting me sample a few different varieties and weighing different saran-wrapped hunks to pick the best price (a brie layers of toasted almonds, apricots and honey) and least messy (a sturdy, buttery tasting raw cow's milk). Her method for testing was a little more low-tech -- with one gloved hand, she'd pick up a modest sample and drop it into my hand. All gravity, very simple, and yet hygienic. (Except that, when she wasn't looking, a passerby totally just dove in and grabbed a chunk off her cutting board with their un-gloved hand. Such is life.) Good things to keep in mind for future shopping.
Given the recent jump in Cook County sales tax, which impacts restaurant purchases, the Tribune asks that you reconsider your tipping strategy. It's too bad Todd Stroger doesn't wait tables on the weekends, eh?
A longtime Starbucks customer laments the overpopulation of the corporate coffee chain and the counterculture it used to represent to the Tribune: "It's a tragedy that the young kids won't know the difference, and will never know how good it once was."
I grew up a mere 10 miles from Huntley, IL. During my formative years, I was somehow kept unaware of the annual Turkey Testicle Festival celebrated by this neighboring town. Thousands of people reportedly head to the Parkside Pub each year to sample the testicles, which are said to have aphrodisiac qualities.
Ever troll the Craig's List "Free" section for some budget-friendly shopping? Me, too. If you act quick, you can pick up a free 50 lb. bag of pork rinds. They are listed as "cooked" and sans hot sauce. Skokie area! Now, the idea of a huge, huge bag of fried pork rinds sitting in a hot car today makes me ill, but to each their own!
An interesting New York Times article describes how Big Apple restaurateurs are finding creative ways to cope with rising food costs, such as slimming down portions and forcing diners to request once-complementary items, like rice.
Back here in Chicago, I've come up with my own solutions for managing our ballooning grocery bills, from shopping at out-of-the-way produce markets to buying more frozen veggies (yes, we're looking forward to farmers market season!) To be honest, some of my methods have sacrificed quality, such as not being such a stickler about buying organic.
I'm curious to hear what tricks Chicago restaurant owners and chefs are employing to deliver delicious plates to demanding customers while still clearing a profit?
Look out for Chicagoan Tim "Gravy" Brown as the newest heat in the competitive eating circuit. He won a hot dog-eating contest this past weekend in Arizona, scarfing down 33 wieners in 10 minutes. Brown's win qualifies him to compete in the the Nathan's International July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest next month in New York. Pat Bertoletti, Chicago's other big eater, finished third in Nathan's contest last year.
On a flight back from Phoenix, Arizona, I was thumbing through Southwest Airline's in-flight magazine when I came across an article about a goddess of leftovers. According to the author of the article (who seems to harbor a copious amount of reverence toward the said goddess), Peggy Grote is a culinary magician who can turn out fabulous, guests-proof dinners from the content of a sadly-stocked-and-heavily-ransacked refrigerator. As a chronic sufferer of leftovertitis, I read the article with interest. Peggy did sound quite ingenious around leftovers, breading leftover risotto and deep-frying it to make risotto "cake," stuffing dates with cream cheese and jalapeños to accommodate sudden guests.
But as I read on the article, as the author spelled out a few of Peggy's dinner parties consisting mostly of things left over from a few days ago, I started to wonder. See, this is my problem: when I try to revive leftovers by creating something new with them, I quite often end up with more leftovers than I had started out with. If I add curry roux to a leftover stew to make Japanese-style curry, I would notice that there aren't enough beef and carrots left in the stew to make a meal, so I'd add them. Now the curry looks short on potatoes, so I cut up a few and add them. By the time the curry is ready, I might very well have the night's dinner AND a few lunches worth of leftovers--even though I probably started out with a little short of a meal. I just wanted to change the flavor of whatever I had left from the previous night, but now I have an even larger leftover.
The article is interesting and full of leftover tips (like keeping a jar of dried prunes soaked in port in the fridge, which can be used as anything from ice cream topping to a sauce on pork chops), but it doesn't address this peculiar problem. So, I'm just wondering--does anyone suffer from this--the problem of never-ending, ever-growing leftover?
I was lucky enough to attend the "Principles of Beer and Food Pairing" seminar last night at Just Grapes, a wine school and wine shop conveniently located in the Loop. The seminar was just one event of many that Just Grapes hosts; every Saturday brings a complimentary wine tasting and their "Global Grapes" series focuses on different wines found throughout the world.
This particular event concentrated on the relationship between beer and food, a concept that I really haven't explored before. Sure, I've had Kingfisher with mouth-numbing Indian food, Duvel with mussels, and Sapporo with sushi, but those combinations were usually the result of pairing regional cuisine with indigenous beer.
Tonight on the news I saw a feature about freegans, the artsy-looking folks who scour dumpsters for perfectly edible food among the garbage. The journalist went with a freegan (who looked like he came straight from an Umphrey McGee's show) to a dumpster to find some choice eats; they walked off with a few loaves of french bread and some produce. I couldn't tell where they were, but I got looking around the interwebs and came across a resource that lists the best places in Chicago to freeganize: apparently Trader Joe's is the choicest place to scour, and Stanley's reportedly gives away produce each morning. While it's difficult to understand the edginess to freeganism (far less fortunate people have been doing this for decades, and the saved money these freegans are accumulating will likely go towards Pitchfork Festival weekend passes), it made for a softer television newscast and hopefully make viewers question the real shelf/fridge life of their discarded food.
A small essay in the Chicago Tribune's Good Eating section today caught my attention because its subject matter touches on two of my favorite things: words and food.
The author, Kathleen Purvis, muses on the words we've created to describe devoted eaters, such as omnivores, carnivores and, more recently, locavores. Then she wryly dishes out a list of names for some of the "tribes" prowling the modern foodie landscape, including "opportunivores" (people who will eat anything if given the chance); "foodfearists" (adults who still avoid foods they hated when they were kids); and, my personal favorite, "snap-and-eaters" (those who take photos of their food to post , ahem, on food blogs).
The Stew, a food blog maintained by Chicago Tribune food writers, recently featured a story on newly introduced organic Frango Mints. Apparently, the contest between organic and non-organic Frangos wasn't even close.
We bought two boxes of the classic milk chocolate version in both regular and organic. We asked nine tasters to compare them in a blind tasting. Our panelists voted 8 to 1 in favor of the N.O.F. (non-organic Frango). The prevailing comment: The O.F. (organic Frango) didn't taste minty enough.
For those seeking the real minty deal for dear old Mom, original Frangos are available by the pound at Macy's for Mother's Day, and every day.
I was on a bus this past weekend and struck up a conversation with two frazzled-looking women who were returning from a rough experience. Earlier that day, the women had just ordered lunch while sitting at a restaurant's outdoor patio in Wicker Park (which didn't have a barrier fence around it) when a passerby ran up to their table, quickly stole one of their purses from underneath a chair and ran off. Thankfully, her cell phone and keys were in a jacket. As the victim went through the dreaded notification of her credit card company and bank, she discovered that the thief had already made off with $600 in gas and purchases at a drugstore a few miles away. After expressing my condolences for her loss, I asked if the restaurant had comped her $8 meal. Both women's eyes lit up. "No!" they said. "Can you believe it?"
Maybe a person who writes regularly about food shouldn't admit this, but I've not been terribly interested in cooking lately. I'm in a serious rut, such that not even last summer's issues of Gourmet, with their centerfolds of sun-drenched people looking improbably gorgeous while eating corn on the cob and barbecue spare ribs, have inspired me.
Tonight, I will mark my calendar for May 14, and dream of mounds of Japanese and Thai eggplant, orange and yellow bell peppers, heirloom tomatoes, ripe peaches, fresh-picked lettuce and herbs, purple cauliflower, elephant garlic, Michigan blueberries, portabello mushrooms, fingerling potatoes ...
Today is Day One of my Master Cleanse, a ten day detox program created by Stanley Burroughs that involves drinking a mixture of lemon juice, Grade B maple syrup, water and cayenne pepper. This is my second MC; last October's cleanse brought an increase in my energy, mental clarity, and removed an allover sludgy feeling that I was getting far too comfortable with. I also lost 15 pounds in ten days, and have gained approximately 5 back since then.
Last Saturday, looking for diversion from the dreary return of the wintery weather, my partner and I went on an excursion to a local Costco store. Ever since my mom got a membership that provided me with a "family" card to flash at the entrance, it's been our perverse pleasure to go to the behemoth of a store. We would drop our jaws at the inflatable playthings that are roomier than my old apartment in Tokyo, or peel our eyes at the one-gallon cartons of whipping cream (which packs a whipping--no, whopping--96,000 calories, according to my quick math). We've found some good deals over the years, like European cookies that show up in the holiday season and the chocolate truffles with a nice kick of caramelized sugar, but this time, what we found came with a surprise. I'm calling it the "strawberry panic."
Because it's high season on food awards, I was thinking about an achievement that rarely gets its due: restaurants that have the best wait. Rather than standing outside in the cold/heat/rain/snow wondering why you're willing to wait 45 minutes for a table, which restaurants have the best amentities, such as waiting space, food, cool neighboring businesses to browse while killing time? My vote for the best wait is Over Easy, as they give waiting customers a free outdoor coffee station, a wide sidewalk for loitering outside, and I can duck into Ventrella next door to wait out the time. I also walk up the street to Off the Leash to look at dog supplies for Fido. My vote for the worst wait is Sweet Maple Cafe or Mia Francesca's in Lakeview for having no space to stand inside or outside to wait (but the food is worth it for both places).
What's your take on the best restaurant wait? Or the worst?
My husband and I were jonesing for some sticky rice with mango this weekend. and we were foiled not once, not twice, but three times by Thai joints that advertise this special dessert on their take-out menus, but apparently only serve it during a lunar eclipse.
Does anyone know of a reliable restaurant on the North Side serving sticky rice with mango? We're desperate.
As if cherry, grape and lime-flavored popsicles weren't good enough, there's a new player on the market. Introducing Bob's Pickle Pops--a frozen "treat" made from real pickles and pickle juice. And even more bizarre, the USDA has accepted Bob's Pickle Pops as a healthy alternative to sugary frozen treats in schools. Kids must have more sophisticated palates nowadays.
Maybe a month or so ago, the Ukrainian Grocery a block from my apartment closed its doors and went out of business forever (after months of slowly selling off all their merchandise at ever-increasing "liquidation sale" reductions). This didn't seem like a huge loss to me, as Ann's Bakery is still a major provider of tin-packed Cyrillic-scribbled goods and sundries for the more Eastern-European of my fellow Ukrainian Villagers. And the Grocery, frankly, always smelled kind of like pee. Anyway, a few weeks ago lights were on in the old space and major renovations seemed to be taking place to open a new shop -- including a sign that eventually went up for "Edy's Bodega." Score! No more walking to the Windy City Market or Farmer's Pride Produce to snag some queso fresco without the big-box mark-up (ahem, Dominicks. I love you, but come on).
Well imagine my surprise walking out of said apartment this morning and landing in the midst of a movie set. Apparently Edy's is not the newest one-stop-shop on Chicago Avenue, but rather a working set of the long-rumored film Humboldt Park, which finally started shooting last week...though apparently not all filming is taking place in Humboldt Park proper. The film's stars include John Leguizamo, Debra Messing, Freddy Rodriguez, and Alfred Molina. Filming is set to continue at the Edy's location through Saturday, according to a flyer taped to my building door this morning. I'd trade cheap cheese for a chance to bump into a movie star -- as long as it doesn't make me miss my bus. And I can only hope Michael Mann decides the Edy's Bodega space is the perfect double for a speakeasy in Public Enemies... I would flat-out give up dairy to see Johnny Depp on my stoop. (Well, for at least a few days.)
Local food is a lot harder to come by in the winter, so I was both surprised and psyched when my parents showed up at my place Friday evening with a dozen beautifully speckled brown chicken eggs, freshly layed that morning.
They were visiting from my hometown in Northwest Indiana, where many small farmers continue to hold out against rapid residential and commercial development. Mom's coworker, an accountant by day, is helping to maintain her aging parents' farm, which in part means collecting the eggs laid each morning by their flock of hens.
My husband and I relished our breakfast this morning: hash browns, maple sausages, toast, and good, old-fashioned, sunnyside-up eggs, with the sweetest whites and creamiest yolks we've ever tasted.
As I said in this week's feature about celebrating national food holidays Chicago-style, this Thursday is National Sticky Bun Day. To commemorate, Bleeding Heart Bakery let us know that they will be selling organic Brioche Sticky Buns in some exciting flavors--walnut, pecan, cheddar apple, or cinnamon. A half-dozen will cost $18.
Well, dear readers, we finally did it: today my husband and I signed a lease for a beautiful, affordable apartment with free laundry, great closet space, a fireplace, a deck for our grill, and - drumroll, please, my fellow foodies - an outstanding eat-in kitchen featuring a five-burner range (!)
We will miss one thing about our current place: it's a five-minute walk from two full-service grocery stores, which is great since we don't have a car. The new place isn't as conveniently located. So today I put on my board shorts and surfed the World Wide Web in search of the ultimate granny cart. The Hook and Go looks like the perfect solution, especially since I already have a healthy supply of reusable bags. Before I plunk down sixty bucks, though, I'm wondering if anyone has tried it. Is it durable enough to stand up to Chicago's sometimes icy, often cracked and bumpy neighborhood sidewalks?
If you frequent the type of busy fast food spot that draws long lines, particularly at lunch in the Loop, you may notice a bit of a draft on frigid days. A line extends out the door, which someone holds open to keep the line intact. Let the door shut, even if it means breaking the continuity of the line, and even if it's only one door of a double-door vestibule. Your previously cold neighbor will thank you, even if they don't say so. If you agree that this is a sensible thing to do, tap your knowledge of peer pressure from grammar school, put on a smile, and kindly ask the person next to you to close that door, also. Say you helped make Chicago a little greener, too.
In some parts of Europe, people throw oranges at one another in various Lenten celebrations. I got to witness the Shrove Tuesday festival in Binche, Belgium, a few years ago, where local men dressed in bright costumes toss oranges at one another and people foolish enough to be standing around. I made it out alive, thanks to a friend's husband who blocked most of the flying fruit.
In the Piedmont region in Italy, in a town called Ivrea, the start of Lent is marked by a Battle of the Oranges, where all are welcome to join in the giant food fight that now has established teams and rules.
And, in Chicago ... there isn't any orange tossing. But you can celebrate the Battle of the Oranges at Frasca Pizzeria & Wine Bar. From the 24th through March 1, Frasca's menu features orange-theme menu items, like a blood-orange and shaved onion salad, and duck and asparagus in an orange-taragon sauce. Just wait until you leave the restaurant to throw fruit at your dining companions.
Looking for an apartment in Chicago in February is the kind of cold cruelty that can only be remedied by eating inappropriate amounts of carbs - which is exactly what I did today.
In the midst of apartment-hunting this morning, just after being told by a leasing agent that finding what we want will be "like searching for a needle in a haystick," my husband, Brian, and I sought our first dose of doughy comfort. Clarke's Diner on Belmont was just a few doors down from where we were, and unlike most other brunch spots in the area, had no wait. We grabbed a booth, and I ordered a multi-grain waffle with fruit, while Brian chose the classic skillet with side of pancakes. He was a little disappointed in his choice, but admitted it was his fault: he forgot to order his potatoes extra-crispy. We both agreed my perfectly crisp, slightly cinnamony and nutty-tasting waffle, generously accompanied by a cup of yogurt and fruit salad of grapes, two types of melon, blueberries, strawberries, and oranges, was perfect.
I came across "Trapped in the Drive-Thru," Weird Al's homage to R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet," and had a laugh that made all the snow outside and the fearful commute home seem not that important. Enjoy.
On Friday, my hubby and I had a very Chicago kind of night in an unexpected setting: our apartment. Hometown blues legend Buddy Guy was featured on WXRT 93.1 FM, we had some Goose Island beer on hand and we decided to cook a dish from local darling Rick Bayless' "Mexico One Plate at a Time" &mdash Camarones al Mojo de Ajo, or Quick-Fried Shrimp with Sweet Toasty Garlic.
XRT DJ Tom Marker's soothing voice, Buddy Guy's "Sweet Home Chicago," some Oatmeal Stout, and the shrimp, cooked in a fragrant oil made by simmering two heads (not cloves) of chopped garlic in extra virgin olive oil, then adding the juice of a lime and two adobo chilies from a can, were the perfect anecdote to a cold, snowy evening.
No slogging through the snow to a crowded bar. No burning our mouths on deep-dish pizza. No visit to the over-priced Sears Tower Sky Deck. But a very fine Friday night in Chicago, indeed.
In case it wasn't one of the pre-filled holidays in your day planner, today is National Pie Day. According to the National Pie Council, National Pie Day "is a perfect opportunity to pass on the love and enjoyment of pie eating and pie making to future generations." They also suggest that you "perform random acts of pieness" on National Pie Day, which could include:
-Paying it forward by handing out slices of pie to strangers.
-Throwing a charity pie-eating contest.
-Surprising your significant other at work with a pie.
I haven't been sleeping well lately, and at my house, that means we break out the late-night dairy. Cereal with milk, a mug of hot chocolate, or bowl of ice cream all seem to help pave the road to Sleepy Town.
Last night, I slept better than I have in weeks, and I credit not only the hot chocolate I drank an hour before bed time, but also the dream I had about judging an ice cream contest. In my dream, Twinkie ice cream with a hot fudge ribbon edged out hazelnut cookie ice cream laced with Nutella.
Either I'm yearning for my junk-food-tinged childhood or jonesing for the March 7 reopening of Scooter's, Chicago's favorite frozen custard (which, by the way, is hiring).
Be sure to listen to Sound Opinions on Chicago Public Radio (91.5 FM in Chicago) this Friday, Jan 25 at 8pm when Chef Anthony Bordain chats with hosts Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot about "two of the best things on earth: music and food." Other chefs, including Doug Sohn of Hot Doug's and Graham Elliot Bowles of Avenues at The Peninsula Hotel, will weigh in on the connection between the two topics and Jim and Greg are going to play some of their favorite food-related songs.
If you can't catch the show on Friday, it will re-air on Saturday at 11am and will be available by podcast the following Monday on theSound Opinions site.
The other day I made some Koala Crisp treats. I had some marshmallows on hand, and thought I should use them before they turn to stone. It was so easy; the truth is, my kids made them. I only had to make sure no one got scalded by molten marshmallows. Otherwise, I stood around and watched. And as I watched I started to wonder about other cereals, and how they would fare with melted marshmallows. I was about to embark on a winterlong project with the kids, when I stumbled upon the blog Cakespy, particularly the post about their Cereal Treat Wars. They don't name an actual winner, but do say that Rice Krispies better watch their backs. The comment thread is worth reading too.
If you're like me and you suck at "eye-balling" measurements, you'll love this nifty Oil and Vinegar Pump Bottle from Crate & Barrel. Simply pump the buttons at the side to fill up the handy calibrated spigot at the top and viola! Perfect measurements without the mess.
[Photo from crateandbarrel.com]
Looking to find the perfect olive oil? Check out these specialty retailers that offer olive oil tastings.
-Old Town Oil
This may very well be the Holy Grail for wine lovers with a sweet tooth. I’m talking about Wine Cellar Sorbet, a company out of New York that’s churning finished wines into delicious treats. The wines used in each sorbet are hand selected by the company’s “Sorbet Sommelier” (Um, do you think they’re hiring?).
Current flavor offerings include:
•Champagne N.V. California
•Riesling 2005 New York
•Rosé N.V. New York
•Sangira Rojo N.V. Spain
•Pinot Noir 2005 New York
•Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 California
Unfortunately, Wine Cellar Sorbet isn’t sold in Chicago (yet), but you can have your order shipped overnight on dry ice. Available in packs of 4, 6 and 12. Just don’t overdo it—the sorbet contains up to 5% alcohol by volume.
Sometimes when I open my Outlook calendar, I see the adult equivalent of a grade school cafeteria lunch menu. Depending on the meeting du jour, I can do a fair job predicting the day’s mid-day meal.
While my options tend to fare better than, say, corn dog with peas and Jell-O, or pizza bagel with curly fries and, um, Jell-O, certain boxed lunches are definitely “regulars” in the rotation. I’ve eaten Corner Bakery’s Harvest Salad (you know, the one with the pleasant but predictable combination of apples, dried cranberries, candied walnuts, and bleu cheese) so many times that I’ve taught myself how to duplicate their signature, somewhat goopy, but oddly addictive balsamic vinaigrette at home.
What interests me is whether places like Corner Bakery, Sopraffina, and California Pizza Kitchen monopolize the lunch meeting market in the Loop -- or just in my office. What boxed lunch have you been served every Wednesday for four years? Or do you work for a company that thinks outside the box at lunchtime? Is there a dish you’d gladly never eat again because you associate it with a particularly difficult project, team or client? Or do you look forward to Cosi Thursdays with the same zeal as my eight-year-old self anxiously awaited the monthly appearance of Thanksgiving Dinner lunch (featuring the world’s most amazing pumpkin bread) on the St. Thomas More Hot Lunch Menu?
Comedian Patton Oswalt may not ring a lot of bells in your head, though you may know him as the voice of Remy, the rodent gourmand of this past year's Disney eye-candy Ratatouille. One of the highlights of his stand-up is a culinary description at the opposite end of the taste spectrum -- an almost painfully hilarious take on the KFC Famous Bowl. Or, as he calls it, a Failure Pile in a Sadness Bowl. (If this isn't ringing any bells either, for goodness sakes, get yourself up to speed.) Genius.
During last week's Project Runway challenge (clothing made entirely in items gathered from the Hershey's store in Times Square), my friends and I suddenly started craving candy thanks to the strategic, but far from covert, product placement. Enter the sugared and salted licorice Swedish Fish.
Licorice already occupies a space low on my totem pole of things I like to eat as does most candy, Swedish Fish included. But I was intrigued, and my friend's nondescript warning ("They're interesting.") wasn't going to satisfy me. So I dove in.
The words I'd like to use to describe these wretched morsels of mouth pain aren't appropriate for the generally congenial tone this blog maintains. While they did begin as interesting, the more I chewed the more I wanted the whole night to go away, never to haunt my memories again. All I can say is that if you don't already love, and I mean love the sweet peppery candy on its own, there is little chance that you will enjoy it coated in a layer of sugar and salt.
A lot of smokers are lamenting the statewide ban on smoking in public places that takes effect January 1. On the other side of the coin, I've been away for a long time from the bars in this fine city. Why? Because I don't smoke and have a low tolerance for cigarettes. Despite my attempts to live and let live, I just can't stand the smell of cigarette smoke and its ability to stick to everything it breezes by. A night of gallavanting at the bar meant that I would emerge smelling like a walking advertisement for a Marlboro. Otherwise, I like bars, but would have to wear clothes that I didn't mind stuffing into a garbage bag to wait out the next visit to the laundromat. Why live like this, I ask?
Apparently, a lot of people are worried that the ban will hurt businesses, but I think the opposite is about to happen. I've been dying for a good drink in a smoke-free environment that isn't my apartment. Let's make that dream a reality January first. And if you think that the smoking ban will be as laughable as the foie gras ban, I'm ready to fight for a smoke-free cause. Word is bond!
While flipping between 24 hours of the The Christmas Story and other random holiday programming, I saw a commercial for Comcast Take Out Menus On Demand. Take out menus on TV? Could this be the ultimate in food-related laziness? I flipped to channel 888 out of curiosity. The featured menus? Brown's Chicken and Cold Stone Creamery. Cold Stone? I'm still scratching my head in confusion over this one.
I first saw this creation on an episode of the Barefoot Contessa. A friend of Ina Garten's assembled it for a cocktail party at the summer opening of an art show, but I was immediately struck by how perfect such a centerpiece would be for a holiday party. You'll need a styrofoam tree form (which can be obtained at any craft or floral store), toothpicks, basil leaves, cherry tomatoes and bocconcini, or small balls of fresh mozzarella. The amount you'll need depends on the size of the tree form, but I recommend buying 2 pints of cherry tomatoes and 2 pint-size tubs of bocconcini for a 9-inch tree. You can use as much basil as you like, either tucking the leaves in at the base to line the plate or sticking them in between the balls of cheese and tomatoes for decoration.
You may have missed the blurb in RedEye this morning on nudo-italia.com. No, it's not a Web site for Italian nudists. Nudo is the name of an olive grove in Le Marche, Italy, and you can adopt one of its trees for the low, low price of about $133.
In addition to an adoption certificate and booklet about your tree, you'll receive a package in the spring containing extra virgin olive oil from your tree, and another in the fall with three flavored oils. Olive oil aficionados out there are probably thinking, "Wait just one second! One tree does not a bottle of olive oil make!" You are correct: in fact, the oil you receive will be produced from your tree and about 49 of its neighbors.
The coolest part about the site is that you can choose which tree you want based on the varietal of olive, the tree's location in the orchard, and even what kind of "view" your tree has. If anyone wants to adopt a tree in my name, I urge you to choose one in the Ardelio grove, which boasts "a breathtaking view of Mogliano in one direction, and in the other, a marginally less breathtaking view of a dilapidated farmhouse."
Two-dollar Monday night burgers, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
Your convenience and efficiency are the perfect ending to an otherwise plodding and difficult day.
I never tire of your sides -- regular fries, sweets, Tater Tots, even salad, you always know what I want.
Bun-free, you are a low-carb dieter's delight.
For just three shiny quarters, you gussy yourself up with succulent grilled onions or mushrooms, decadent bacon, or luscious cheddar, swiss, provolone or bleu.
Beer never tastes as good without you.
You are the ultimate cheap date.
p.s. I can't wait to see you tonight at Waterhouse. Where can we meet up next week?
Drive-Thru is proud to participate in this year's Menu for Hope foodblog fundraiser. Organized by Chez Pim originally to help raise money for victims of the 2002 tsunami, last year Menu for Hope raised more than $62,000 for the UN World Food Programme. WFP is the world’s largest food aid agency, working with over 1,000 other organizations in over 75 countries. In addition to providing food, the World Food Program helps hungry people to become self-reliant so that they escape hunger for good. Money raised by this year's fundraiser will be earmarked for a school lunch program in Lesotho, Africa.
Foodbloggers across the country have donated prizes ranging from cooking classes to specialty foods to gift certificates at restaurants. The staff of Gapers Block: Drive-Thru is donating luxury chocolate and coffee from Chicago: a pound of Costa Rica Tres Rios whole bean coffee from Metropolis Coffee Roasters and a Vosges Chocolates exotic truffle collection. You can see what other Midwest region foodbloggers have donated at Kalyn's Kitchen.
3. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form. You must write in how many tickets per prize, and use the prize code. (Each $10 you donate will buy one raffle ticket toward any prize.For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02.)
4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
5. Please check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win.Your email address will not be shared with anyone. Check back on Chez Pim on Wednesday, Jan. 9 for the results of the raffle.
The more you donate, the more chances you have to win -- so donate early and often!
According to the Sunday Trib, the world's largest truffle on record was sold at auction Saturday for $330K. The 3.3 lb earthy treat was auctioned simultanously in three cities and purchased by a casino owner in Macau. Here's hoping the casino restaurant has plenty of Barolo on hand as well.
Dairy is one of my favorite things. Deep-fried dairy sends me over the edge. As a transplant from our cow-mongering neighbors to the north, I've always appreciated Chicago's taste for the fermented curd. And while cheese palaces like Pastoral's new downtown shop warm my heart, sometimes I'd just rather clog it with breading and deep-fat frying. Enter the cheese curd, Wisconsin's gift to hearty eaters and cardiologists everywhere.
Usually difficult to find outside the borders of my homeland, there are a few Chicago enclaves that make at least an attempt at deep-fried cheese curds, though they're often of the sadly sub-par fresh-from-the-freezer variety. (And mozzarella sticks do not count. Period.) So the surprise of tucking into a truly well-crafted basket of curds at SmallBar - Drive Thru's apparent bar of the week - last night was both delicious and noteworthy. Details, descriptions and a few more local purveyors below the fold.
A few days ago, a friend gave me a gallon-sized Ziploc baggie filled with about a cup of what looks like flesh-colored glue. In fact, it is a bread starter that ostensibly originated with the Amish, who reportedly are the only people in the world who have the recipe for the goo in question. In what essentially amounts to a chain letter made out of yeast, baggies of this starter are cultivated by one person and then passed along to three others with whom they want to share the joy that is Amish Friendship Bread.
It goes like this: the baggie comes with instructions to tend the starter for five days, feed it on the sixth day, tend to it for several more days, and ultimately bake a delicious, double batch of cinnamon-y sweet bread on the 10th day.
Die-hard Bears fans have a weekend to recuperate from what’s so far been a lackluster season, and I have a sure-fire recipe to kick-start their team spirit: pop in some VHS highlight tapes from ’85, and kick back with a big bowl of tortilla chips and Mike Ditka’s Hall of Fame Salsa. The label alone is inspiring, featuring Da Coach himself, glowering from under the brim of a giant sombrero.
This stuff’s made in Downers Grove (Downers Grove?), but don’t worry – the recipe was “born in Mexico over 100 years ago.” Honestly, it’s not bad. I’ve got a mean cold, so I chose the !Hot! variety; a combo of habanero and serrano peppers delivered on that promise.
Even better, I got mine BOGO at Jewel on Ashland and Wellington this week. And if you’ve got a soft spot for football vets, you’ll be glad to know a portion of the proceeds benefit the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, a charity near and dear to Ditka’s heart.
Not to spoil the fun or anything, but um, what? As if there needs to be a national day designating it as one in which men should take the reins, or rather cooking utensils, in the kitchen. Doesn't that mean that women are expected to prepare dinner the rest of the year? I find the day rather insulting, and can't understand why anyone wouldn't. But, I am also perplexed by things such as Bush's second term and why Jello desserts were ever popular.
A rename suggestion: National People Who Don't Usually Cook Dinner Make Dinner Day. It's catchy, right?
I recently received a delivery menu for the Byron's hot dog stand near my office. Fairly standard, run-of-the-mill menu, really, until I flipped it to the back. There, in small type so it'd fit on the half-page, was a poem. An ode to "The Friendly Frankfurter."
The gentle frank all red and white, I love it with all my soul.
It gives me meat with all its might to eat upon a roll.
It's tasty, toasted - It's racy, roasted - It's full of iron and phosphorus.
It's the favorite ration of all our nation.
And mustard is the sauce for us.
The frank's the friend of every man, proud,
It's curve is pure American, and full of eating beauty!
Thanks, thanks for excellent franks.
That are practically always digestible.
The dickens with chickens or steaks on planks.
The frankfurter's my comestible!
This masterpiece was unsigned, which is a shame, for it is a poem for the ages. Almost makes me hungry for a hot dog.
We've been eating out of pockets a lot lately in my house. Last week I found a recipe on Epicurious (under quick & easy, which it wasn't) for homemade empanadas. I went to my local Jewel and bought two packs of empanada wrappers; I boiled eggs, grilled some fake ground beef with olives and raisins, combined it with the boiled eggs and filled the little empanada disks with the mixture. They were a big hit with my family, and as we ate we talked about the different names for this same sort of food: pierogis, pot stickers, dumplings, ravioli, and so on.
Farmers Market season is winding down. This is the last week for several Chicago markets, so if you haven't already walked through rows of produce tents brimming with seasonal offerings, maybe you ought to skip your weekly trip to the Jewel's this week. It's going to be a long, cold winter before you get the opportunity again, so pick up some fresh seasonal fruits at anyone of the city's neighborhood markets.
When I'm trying to see if a restaurant is worth the travel and expense, I head to LTH Forum to see if any of their dedicated posters has written about the place in question. If you aren't familiar, this website forum is a great resource for finding (and posting) restaurant reviews in and outside of the city, as well as a place to talk about recipes and, well, food. Their annual "Great Neighborhood Restaurants" award recipient list was released today, with over 20 new additions to the elite group, (predictably) among them Smoque and Kuma's Corner, as well as some little-known places that are sure to become highly sought after as a result of LTH Forum's recommendation (similar to the "Check Please! Effect").
The event that garnered all the positive reviews occurred in August of 2006 (not this year as the article seems to imply). The majority of Dine's Yelp reviews are based on the event, and to their credit, most reviewers acknowledged that fact (though not that it was free). Their ratings were entirely four or five stars; the six reviews since average out to 3.5 stars, including a five-star review written by a semi-professional critic who was previously employed by one of the restaurant's managers, based on a media luncheon. Take out that review and the post-event average drops to 3.2.
To celebrate the new fall television season, TV Guide (remember them?) will be hosting a "Free Coffee Friday" tomorrow. Several coffee shops will be offering free regular-sized coffee and copies of TV Guide from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Here's the lucky places: Letizia’s Natural Bakery (2144 W. Division St), Whispers Café Inc. (1031 N. State St), Ennui Café (6981 N. Sheridan Rd), Gallery Café (1760 W. North Ave), Mercury Cafe (1505 W. Chicago Ave), Alliance Bakery (1736 W. Division St), and Janik’s (2011 W. Division). If you miss it, the next opportunity will be October 5.
Sausage superstore Hot Doug's already has a theme song. Its website offers three versions -- rock, techno and hybrid -- that you can download to your iPod and rock out to while chomping down on a your favorite encased meat. Now, according to this Craigslist ad, the band behind the song, bee, is looking for fan-made videos of people rocking out to the song. They're going to splice the results together for the official video of the song. No compensation, except to be eternally associated with the greatest hot doug store in the universe.
Chef-author Anthony Bourdain created a mock menu of the dishes and techniques he thinks are the current most abused and overrated right now. Among the suspects: truffle oil, "free range" and "cruelty-free" ingredients, salt flights and chocolate martinis.
What ingredients, trends or tropes do you wish were banished from local restaurants?
Chicago Tribune's Julie Deardorff blogged earlier this week about a company offering "healthy, eco-friendly school lunches" to kids for five bucks a lunch. The company, Green Bag Lunch offers a meal containing "whole grains, lean protein, fresh organic fruits and veggies, and a delicious treat for dessert," which, according to Deardorff's blog, offers a lesson in portion control. All of the packaging is made of "re-usable, recyclable and biodegradable materials" and meals are delivered right to students' lunch rooms.
In theory, this a great idea, right? Well, that is until you discover that each school lunch costs five dollars, and that parents have to order a minimum of 20 lunches. If my math is correct, that's about $100 a month on school lunches for one kid.
Deardorff writes, "Weber acknowledges that a $5 lunch isn't for everyone, every day." Isn't that like acknowledging that healthy food isn't for everyone, every day? Who is it for then?
It should come as no surprise then that Green Bag Lunch is testing out their program in Evanston, Highland Park and Wilmette.
At least the goal is to get the lunches down to $3 each. It's more reasonable, but still pretty unattainable for many parents.
There are worse ways to wake up than to a radio story about the origin of the Chicago hot dog. WBEZ's Adriene Hill had a piece on this morning explaining the ethnic origins of our city's signature food. This is how she and food historian Bruce Craig claim it breaks down:
Meat: German by way of Ashkenazi Jews
Yellow mustard: German
Celery salt: German
Relish: German -- or maybe Italian
Pickles: East European
Hot peppers: Mediterranean
For months, I've been contemplating whether or not to spend $20 on a water bottle. But after destroying a pretty nice cell phone and nearly drowning its replacement (twice) when my cheap plastic water bottle opened up in my bag, I decided it would be worth it.
Gwyneth Paltrow will be at Macy’s on State Street on August 17, promoting the new fragrance Pleasures Delight. What does perfume have to do with food? Jessica Simpson addressed this question a few years ago, when she launched her Dessert line of lickable beauty products. Now, Estee Lauder promises to bring “irresistible gourmand food elements into the world of fragrance.” Among the top notes, middle notes and base notes described on Estee Lauder.com are whipped strawberry meringue, caramel cream and fluffy marshmallow. If it sounds sickening, fear not. There are elements of patchouli to balance out the creamy gourmand feeling. And, according to the press release, this stop in Chicago is Gwyneth’s “only appearance in a department store” in the U.S. this year.
I've been a fan of Hoosier Mama Pie Company ever since my mom (a Hoosier mama herself) brought a few of their pies to our house for a party. She's promised me a few more for a barbeque we're having this weekend, and while perusing their site to determine what flavors I could look forward to, I noticed they have a page dedicated to their favorite quotes about pies. There are some great ones up there, all of which will certainly put you in the mood for pie (if you're not in the mood already). A couple to whet your appetite:
As you know, in preparation for the Simpsons movie, which is opening this Friday, several 7-11 stores nationwide were picked for a temporary facelift into Homer's beloved Kwik-E-Mart to promote the film, among them the store at 6754 West 63rd Street, near Midway Airport (aka Nowhere Near My Place). I headed down there this past weekend to soak in the atmosphere and eat donuts.
Word on the street is that the Bravo TV show Top Chef will be filming its next season in Chicago later this year. If you have got what it takes, start preparing for your open call audition, which will be July 29 at Rock Bottom Brewery (located at State and Grand). Click here for details.
As we approach the thirty-year anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, I'm sure we are all going to be subject to excessive media tributes to the King of Rock and Roll, but no gesture will honor Elvis's contributions more than the sugar-laden Collector's Edition Reese's Peanut Butter and Banana Creme "Elvis Cups."
Nick Digilio has asked me to come on his show tomorrow night and chat more about our Gapersblock alternative food fest coverage. Yea! Tune in to WGN radio 720 am Sat night at 9pm (I'll be on about 9:07) and hear us chat chow. You can also stream live at wgnradio.com.
This Saturday, you'll have an opportunity to live out your dream of riding in a public transportation vehicle disguised as food should you board the Chexpress, which is a CTA bus dressed up in...chocolate Chex cereal. According to our buddies at the Tribune, four decorated buses will be in service most of the day (no word on which routes will be used, although it will definitely be one that travels north/south in the downtown area). Adding to the giddiness of your travel experience, the ride will be free, and you may even get a cereal sample.
An article in today's Sun-Times uncovers the hottest new trend (huh?) in bars: groups of customers ordering a pitcher of alcohol to share, instead of (wimpy) individual glasses. The trend, according to the South Water Kitchen bartender who was interviewed for the story, has also extended to home entertaining, especially when grilling is involved, as "most [pitcher drinks] are more diluted than most cocktails." Well, he apparently was not collecting data at my apartment. The article also lists several recipes for popular pitcher drinks, one of which involves coconut flakes.
It's summertime in Chicago, which means the visitors are out in full force. Right now I have two of them occupying a space in my tiny apartment. I've decided that this year, instead of being terrified of the mythical in-laws, I'm going to flaunt Chicago's food offerings like I was Dick Cheney and Chicago's food offerings were my total disregard for accountability and all things ethical. We've mainly stayed in the Lincoln Square neighborhood, showing off that we can walk every where we need to be. On the agenda is a walk down Devon to pick up some spices for my mother-in-law to take back to the small, Florida town they live in (broadband only just became available last month) and a stroll through a farmer's market or two. And speaking of favorite barbecue spots, I'm trying to convince them to let us take them to Smoque, although my husband doesn't want them to go back home and forever be disappointed by their (former) favorite BBQ restaurant in Florida.
So, where do you take family when they come to town?
You may have heard of reading tea leaves, but what about looking for clues to the future in a cup of coffee? Today's Daily Candy lauded the talents of Chicago's own Jorianne, the Coffee Psychic. Evidently, her special brand of fortune-telling involves reading the "steam, cream and bubbles" in your mug of coffee. You can book her for parties, weddings, and corporate events, so there's really no reason not to see what the stars (or the grounds) have in store for you.
So, you prefer not to buy your produce at Jewel, Dominick's or other large grocery stores; you instead opt to shop at Stanley's, farmers' markets and your local ethnic grocer. If you're anything like me, you sometimes buy more produce you can use before it begins to go bad, making you feel really guilty about starving children in the developing world as you reluctantly toss that over ripe avocado into the trash. This is especially the case with stores like Stanley's and Mexican groceries. It's cheaper, but it tends to be on the ripe side, meaning it has to be used right away.
What I've had a lot of trouble with, is salad greens and fresh herbs. That is, until I read this blog post over at Bon Appétit! I love to have fresh greens and herbs around, but I find it a bad idea to buy them unless I know exactly for what dish I'll use them. I tried this, and it really works. If you remember from 2nd grade science class, plants "breathe" in CO2, hence if you don't deprive them of it, they'll last a little longer. At least, I think that's why it works!
I met some friends at McGee's Tavern earlier this week. It wouldn't have been my first choice, but it was just fine — decent food, attentive service, and at lunch the number of drunken DePaul students was at a minimum.
As good as my chicken sandwich was, I was alarmed to see a "Tilapia Reuben" on the menu. It might be super tasty, but the thought of fried fish topped with sauerkraut, swiss cheese and thousand island dressing just didn't sound appetizing at all.
And "Porker McGee?" I'm a little afraid to put something by that name in my mouth &mdash' it sounds a little... slutty.
What questionable menu items of ridiculously named dishes have you come across in Chicagoland restaurants?
I couldn't believe my eyes. While Emeril was frying up catfish, simmering chicken 'n' dumplings, and doing his regular schtick, I thought the musical guest looked oddly familiar. Much to my disappointment, I realized that the delectable John Corbett was indeed fronting a mediocre country band on Emeril Live. He's still attractive, despite some most unfortunate mutton chops, but he's not the sexy Aidan (Sex in the City) or reflective Chris Stevens (Northern Exposure) I remember. How sad. To further complicate things, Bo Derek is in the audience, but never really speaks as a guest. Peach bourbon ice cream looked mighty tasty though. Set your TiVo for a rebroadcast of this oddball episode Friday at 2am CST.
As is recommended, I drink a lot of water, especially in the summer. These days, I've been adding some mottled mint or sliced cucumber. When feeling really adventurous, I'll add both. Any way you go, it's more fun than the simple lemon with water and rather refreshing.
If you want your water really cucumber-y or minty, add the extras to a pitcher and keep it covered in the refridgerator. Don't let it sit more than a day though.
Two interesting sites with video came across my browser in the past couple days; one bridges the divide between music and food, the other between top Chicago chefs and us.
Cooking with Rockstars is pretty much what it sounds like: rock'n'rollers demonstrating how to cook their favorite meals ...or, well, meals anyway. So far the only Chicago videos are sort of tangentially related; Neal Pollack used to live here and write for the Reader, and Enon is on Touch and Go Records. Stay tuned for more solidly local rockers, hopefully.
Now that grilling season is in full swing, my hubby and I have been looking for a great low and slow recipe that let us enjoy the summer weather. What we discovered was a fantastic attachment for our Weber charcoal grill; a rotisserie! Naively, I thought that you could only spit roast on a gas set up, but Weber makes this nifty machine that sits right on top of your charcoal grill and plugs in to a nearby outlet. Your lid fits neatly on top for a reliable, air tight seal. We've already roasted a stuffed leg of lamb and an insanely good safron and orange marinated chicken with delicious results. This guy was especially tasty with a Chateau Grand Cassagne Rose 2006.
Add some wood chips on the coals and you've got a makeshift spinning smokehouse. There's even a clever counterweight to help balance the heavier side of larger cuts of meat or birds.
Only downside is that the unit has an oddly short power cord. Best have an extension cord on hand for grilling at a safe distance from any walls or windows.
I hate doing dishes as much as I love taking bubble baths. Someone over at Mrs. Meyers must have felt the same way when they developed their lavender scented dish soap, cause it's about the only reason I'm plunging my hands into a sudsy sink. This dish soap smells so good, I find myself filling the sink part way up with warm water and a couple of drops of soap even when there aren't any dishes to wash, just to make my kitchen smell good! The good news is this soap really works — you can take your two-day-old pesto crusted food processor and give it a spa-like soak and the crud will come right off! It's easy to forget that a big part of cooking is the clean up, so thanks Mrs. Meyers for a bit of help.
If there is one thing that you purchase for your kitchen this summer, I hope that it is an electric ice cream maker. Like a certain Shins song, it could totally change your life. Or, at least your summer ice cream-eating habits. Two years ago, while browsing an assortment of appliances and odds and ends spread out on a blanket at a yard sale, I came across a Cuisinart ice cream/sorbet maker that looked as if it had never been used. It hadn't, it turned out, and my trusty machine's previous owners sold it to me (along with a gorgeous, bright orange tea kettle) for a total of $5.
Under new ownership this little machine has churned more sorbet, ice cream, iced soy "cream" (or whatever you'd call it), frozen yogurt and frozen custard than its old owners could have ever dreamed of. The best thing is, my arm has never become achy and tired from cranking for 30 minutes straight and there is no mess from the rock salt!
Inspired by the repurposing of newspaper boxes into book-swap receptacles and art pieces, Craig Berman proposes a food box, where unwanted leftovers, canned goods and other food can be left for homeless or other needy people can pick them up. A great idea that I hope sees fruition (no pun intended).
Back at the turn of the millennium, I lived in an apartment building in Buena Park that had a bus stop right outside. More than one household had turned the bus bench into a "donation bench," where we'd leave unwanted leftovers; nine times out of ten what was left would be picked up by one of the residents of a nearby SRO or halfway house, and hopefully enjoyed. This takes the spirit of the donation bench a step further.
I was well on my way to posting a short piece about some tasty fish-n-chips I enjoyed at the newly opened (and super crowded) Gage on Friday night when I noticed that my young Flickr account was taking on a definitely golden brown hue. I was about to complete a coveted deep-fried blogging hat trick! First, the flaky rich empanadas from Nandu, second, a crispy tempura battered soft-shell at Shaw’s, and to complete the cycle, a plate loaded with deep fried cod and thick and tasty French fries! My pants were starting to feel tight around my waist.
Although May is barely the beginning of soft shell crab season, these tender crustaceans are making their way onto menus across Chicagoland...pictured here is a beauty served up at Shaw's tempura style (they were offering a tasty sauteed version as well). As delicious as they are, soft shells can pose a struggle to even the savviest home cook (unless you don't have an aversion to removing a creatures lungs and face). If are looking for soft shells around town (whether from your upscale grocery options, seafood specialists, or Asian groceries) triple check to make sure they look and smell fresh, and ask the person behind the counter to dress them for you. Personally, this is one treat that I am happy to leave in the hands of experts. You'll find soft shells appearing on menus all spring and summer long, their season stretches into September.
However, if you do want to enjoy them at home, just dust with a little flour and Old Bay or other seasoning, pan fry in butter, and serve on a crusty roll with a lemon wedge and a side of coleslaw - simple is better!
Sichuan cuisine may seem intimidating, but while some of the dishes are very labor intensive (the crispy smoked tea duck mentioned below comes to mind), some of the flavor combinations are actually pretty easy to achieve -- if you have the right ingredients. Try picking up some Sichuan peppercorns and some chili bean paste. These two ingredients can be used to make the simplest stir fry with some minced ginger, soy sauce, and green beans; and of course you can easily extend a stir fry to include other vegetables, meats, tofu, etc.
A walk by Swank Frank earlier tonight revealed that it is closed. As we all know, the prime real estate that Swank Frank and its neighbor Filter inhabit is being turned over to a distinctive and desperately needed establishment to be opened in the future. The windows were papered over, and small signs posted indicated that the hot dog stand is moving to Logan Square. Swank Frank's new address was not posted, but I'm sure it will be located nowhere near this place.
Oh boy. This story made me snort coffee out of my nose this morning. What do you suppose the penalty is for skipping out on your check five times (other than being forced to pay for your meals, of course)? Also, how did the restaurant manage to let this guy get away four times?
A few weeks ago, the Golden Apple Foundation announced the winners of its annual awards for excellence in teaching in Chicago area schools. Meanwhile, this past weekend's episode of This American Life (originally run in 2000) presented 24 hours in Chicago's Golden Apple Restaurant. (Download the podcast for free all this week.) Meanwhile, check out this list of all the "Golden" food establishments in Chicagoland.
I have a love/hate relationship with Time Out Chicago; I used to love it, now I hate it. This week's issue features the First Annual Eat Out Awards, a completely frustrating, if not perplexing, 13-page section on the "best" eateries in Chicago as determined by TOC's food critics and its readers. The majority of the critics' choices are restaurants you can afford if you have a decent paycheck for your PR job in the Loop. How many times are we going to have to read about how innovative Alinea is? True, I might be bitter that I've never been, and likely will never have saved enough money to blow on dinner there, but I think I'm just longing for the days (i.e. TOC's first year of publication) when they wrote about 19 cent falafel more than they fawned over $19 personal pizzas at Spacca Napoli.
I even blame TOC for the ghastly outcome of the Readers' Choice awards, because the "choices" for which readers were to vote were rather out of touch. Smoke Daddy as an option for "Best Barbecue"? Give me a break! Smoke Daddy is merely okay in a pinch for barbecue, and it certainly doesn't hold a candle to the nominees with which it was listed. It won (?!), but I think that's due to a large Wicker Park readership who hasn't bothered to make the trek to any of the other nominees (Fat Willy's, Honey 1, Lem's, Smoque and Uncle John's).
Last week's feature was titled "Vs", and it claimed take Chicago "classics," make them go "head-to-head," and determine the outcome "in the ultimate citywide smackdown." What it really did, however, was pit apples against oranges, and then they closed their eyes and pointed to one, making for a read that left this reader saying "huh?" so many times, you'd have thought I was doing trigonometry. Spacca Napoli competed with Pizzeria Uno (for "Best place to eat a pie for dinner") and Goose Island Brew Pub (for "Most delicious homebrew"). I think it would have made more sense if Pizzeria Uno was against another Chicago-style pizzeria (some pizza experts don't even call that pizza!) or Spacca Napoli went head-to-head with Pizza D.O.C. (and you know how I feel about that). Likewise, Goose Island isn't really a "homebrew" because it distributes its beer. Comparing it with another local brewery (Two Brothers, perhaps?) would have made more sense.
I'm not about to cancel my subscription, because even with the annoying food coverage, I look forward to each new issue's arrival on Wednesdays. I do think that the "Eat Out" staff needs to take a week off, go to one of those spas the magazine raves about and do a little bit of reflection on the direction of their section––for at least as much time as I put into that last sentence.
I used to drive across Iowa on Interstate 80 quite often, and no trip passed without a visit to a great soda fountain in the eastern edge that was located about 20 minutes off the road. I only knew about that place because of a friend's high recommendation, but for my future trips, I'll be using RoadFood.com, a searchable state-by-state database of restaurants, complete with user reviews and pictures that is a handy starting point for planning menus while on the road. While performing test searches for areas I've previously lived in, I was pretty impressed with the results -- a mix of local favorites that ranged in size and price.
I read this article in last Saturday's Tribune with great enthusiasm. Author Sandra Jones lamented the absence of local businesses from the Mag Mile area, and that mega-retailers like H&M, Nike and Gap, who currently have prominent spaces on Michigan Avenue, are "more interested in building their brands than building local character." I couldn't have agreed with Ms. Jones more, having just returned from a the Memphis airport, where I ate the best barbecue in years while waiting for my flight home.
It closes in an hour, so get out your wallet: an Ebay auction to be a guest chef for a day at Moto (valued at $300.00). The winner would eat dinner with the staff, then assist chef Homaru Cantu as he whips up his signature cuisine. But you know for all the dough you've paid, you know you're just going to end up making copies of menus with avocado foam ink written on edible paper.
If you enjoyed a pint (or 2) of Guinness last weekend in celebration of St. Paddy’s Day you might enjoy knowing that this stout is lighter on calories and packed with nutrients. A pint weighs in around 198 calories which is less than low-fat milk and orange juice in addition most other non-light beer. Guinness is high in iron and contains all of the B vitamins except B12 and is full of antioxidants. Research has shown that the antioxidant properties in Guinness work similarly to taking an aspirin a day to reduce clotting activities in the blood. These antioxidants may also have other affects like protecting against blindness and yes guys, even impotence. However, these benefits are negated by over consumption so it’s a good thing no one we know tossed back more than their share and danced the jig on a table...oh never mind.
The Irish Oak on Clark is a great place to go for a pint of Guinness and even live Irish music on occasion.
Tuesday's glorious weather made it a fine time to be lunching outside. Office workers in mass brought their lunches to the Art Institute's south garden - a semi-private square set just far enough from northeast corner of Jackson and Michigan to perhaps make one forget for a moment that they're downtown. Lunch-takers sat on stone ledges surrounding a regular pattern of trees whose branches seem to come together into a single screen above. Set your calendar for lunch here in a couple of weeks and hope it's warm again. The garden is free. And Thursday evenings from 5:00 to 8:00 the museum is, too.
You have until Sunday, March 11, to vote in Time Out Chicago's 2007 Eat Out Awards. The categories may be somewhat predictable (do we really need to go over which is the best steakhouse again?) but it's a fairly good barometer of the tops in each realm, from Mexican to Italian and best celebrity chef. And hey, you could win a t-shirt.
In celebration of Fat Tuesday, (otherwise known as Mardi Gras — the literal French translation) people all over Chicago were consuming paczki — pronounced poooonch-key. What is a paczki you ask? Oh come on... really? They were the inhabitants of the unmarked white pastry boxes people carried on the train Tuesday. Those Polish "donuts" were also the reason for the smiles and enthusiasm surrounding the staff break room. There is just something about these little nuggets of sweet sweetness that is completely devoid from your common crueler.
In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds... Read this feature »