Technology and food are becoming increasingly intertwined, and not just in a creepy Beyond-Eggs kind of way. From unique reservation systems to online product exchanges, these Chicago-based startups push the food experience into the digital realm:
TableSAVVY is a "real-time, last minute reservation system, focused on moving excess inventory at a discounted rate via web/mobile platforms." Utilizing the classic economic principle of supply and demand, restaurants can essentially "sell" empty restaurant tables at a discounted price to customers eager for a good deal. Guests pay a $5 transaction fee when booking a reservation under TableSAVVY, and in return, they receive 30% off their meal. One downside? The discount doesn't apply to alcohol.
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:
If you're the type of person who is happiest determining where you'll eat they day you're going out, instead of making plans, days, weeks, or months in advance, then you might like TableSAVVY. This new website, partnered with Chicago Magazine, permits you to pick a neighborhood, a cuisine, a time, and the size of your party and find all of the restaurants that fit your needs and make a reservation for you. You pay $5 to the website for making the reservation, the restaurant gets a note that you are a TableSAVVY reservation, and when you get your bill, 30% is deducted. This 30% off only applies to food, not alcohol or tax. Not a bad deal for those who tend to procrastination.
More vibrant community than anonymous chat site, the benevolent LTHForum food gods have made substantial changes to Chicago's beloved source of all things culinary. As a repository and portal of food and dining info with over 2 million hits a month (these are visitors, not all posters) the vast collective knowledge shared by the board's participants makes for lively discussions regarding getting your grub on in every way conceivable.
The website itself has remained suspended in amber since 2004, when it began as an offshoot of some disgruntled Chowhound posters. Tired of what they considered to be restrictive policies, our brave culinary refugees met for dinner in Chinatown at soon-to-be-namesake restaurant Little Three Happiness and decided to do it their way -- by moving their posts to a site where they called the shots.
On the cusp of a new year, and in the midst of a wanderlusty conversation with one of my close friends, he reminded me that "It's not a bad thing to hit the 'reset' button every once in a while." And while my travel budget might be a bit tight, it's the endless possibilities for meeting new people--and getting acquainted with different local haunts that make Chicago so unique--that has me the most excited to begin this new year. If you're looking to break out of your social comfort zone this year, here are some foodie ways to satisfy your cravings.
Greenpeace recently released its latest ratings of sustainable seafood retailers. Turns out that some grocery stores in Chicago -- Target, Aldi and Whole Foods among them -- are doing pretty well. Others, like Jewel, Trader Joe's and Meijer, have some catching up to do. Also: H.E. Butt is an actual grocery store.
If you've thought that all that was missing from your iPhone's screen was Chef Rick Bayless' smiling face, you're in luck. Chronicle Books has released Rick Bayless: Mexican Essentials, an iOS app that features 35 recipes that Bayless considers the must-knows of Mexican cuisine, as well as 40 instructional videos and a guide to key Mexican ingredients.
The Local Beet, Chicago's own locavore-centric blog, has released their 2012 CSA guide to help consumers wade through the often buzz word-heavy, detail-light world of local farming. Their list covers over 90 farms in the Chicagoland, Southeast Wisconsin, Northern Indiana, and Southwest Michigan. You can sort by frequency, cost, length of season, location of pickup (or the option for delivery), etc.
Don't get too stuck in the details. Find a CSA that is easy for you to pick up, and that will provide you with enough produce to keep you cooking and not too much to overwhelm you. The truth of it is, you will at some point get too much of produce X so be willing to wash, cut up and freeze what you don't use. I'm still working through last year's broccoli.
Personally, I've subscribed to Iron Creek Farm's summer and fall shares for the past two years and am already signed up this year. And despite all of the extras (farm tours, the option to swap out a veggie or two, and having a real relationship with the person who's growing your food), I still hold that we get the best produce at the best price in Chicago. If it's good enough for Rick Bayless, then it's good enough for me. Happy shopping.
If you haven't seen, foodie email newsletter Tasting Table has a new portion of their email devoted to where they're eating at these days. Everyday, in addition to getting a dose of what's going on with the Chicago food scene, you can now find out about where you should or could get some grub right now. It's called "Short List: Where We're Eating Now."
It's placed at the bottom of your Tasting Table email, so try not to miss it.
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.
There are two things I love in life: food and itineraries. Seriously. I make itineraries for any occasion and sometimes just for a rainy day. I love being organized and having a plan. Knowing this, one of my friends sent me to Pepperplate.com to check out their new website and iPad app (disclaimer: I am not cool and don't have an iPad, so this is strictly about the online experience).
This site is like an OCD foodie's dream; I subscribe to roughly four food-related newsletters and have an email folder for all the recipes. Long I've thought about a better way to organize this, because searching through 1,000+ emails for a recipe isn't exactly effective. Pepperplate allows you to take the URLs of your favorite recipes from sites such as Serious Eats, Bon Appétit, Epicurious, Food Network, Martha Stewart, etc. and upload the recipes in an instant to your profile. So now I can take my favorite recipes from my newsletters and have them all in one place without having to sort and click-through all the emails. Awesome.
If there is one thing I love more than food (gasp!) it's scoring a good deal. I get a natural high from clipping coupons and looking for a discount all in the name of saving a few dollars. It's true - I'm a closet cheapo.
But, what really whets my appetite? Eating great Chicago food on the cheap.
Now I'm not talking about taking your girlfriend out to McDonald's and letting her get one of everything on the Dollar Menu (although that does sound quite fabulous). I'm talking great Chicago food at even better prices.
With a few clicks of your mouse you too can eat like royalty, and not just once a year when Grandma cuts you that oh-so fabulous $50 birthday check.
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.
Know someone who's been bitten by the honey bug? (That'd be a bee. If bees, um, bit people. Sorry.) Consider giving your favorite bee enthuasiast the gift of a class on beginning beekeeping. The Chicago Honey Co-op's holding an introductory class on January 22, 2011 -- with the possibility of a second session on February 12 if there's enough interest. Sweet! (Again: sorry.)
So it's dark at 4:30, the trees are bare, and you finally turned on the heat in your apartment. That doesn't mean you can't still shop at farmers' markets. The Local Beet's got you covered with a list of indoor winter markets in the city and the 'burbs.
The Frontera Farmer Foundation is now accepting applications for their 2011 grant cycle. Small, sustainable Midwestern farms serving the Chicago area are eligible to apply for up to $12,000 in capital improvement funds. Successful farm applicants must be individually owned, in operation for at least three years, and able to demonstrate how these funds will promote the availability of local foods in the Chicago area and improve the farm's viability.
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.
School lunch seems to be the Next Big Thing to warrant some public-private partnership attention. The wave has been cresting for some time, arguably, with such programs as the Healthy Schools Campaign, and mainstream and popular reporting about the often-disturbing realities of public school lunch. Now the USDA and the Let's Move campaign to fight childhood obesity are looking to crowdsource "tasty, healthy, exciting new recipes for inclusion on school lunch menus across the country" with the Recipes for Healthy Kids contest.
Submissions will be accepted from now until December 30, and recipes must be developed by teams that include the major stakeholders in the front lines of the fight to reform school nutrition -- round up a current student (grades 4-12), a parent or community member (that could be you!), a willing chef, and the holy grail of the team, a school nutrition specialist. There are resources on the contest site to help you link up with chefs in your community, in case walking into your favorite restaurant and demanding to speak to the chef seems daunting. Even if you can't find all of the required participants, this might be a great way to get the word out among your PTA peers, or fellow chefs, that a forum for change at least exists. And doesn't involve Jamie Oliver. (Unless you're into that whole Naked Chef thing...) Who's to say you couldn't end up rubbing elbows over a potential "Dark Greens and Orange Vegetables" category entrant with one of Chicago's culinary elite, and helping change school lunches nationwide?
The 10th season of Check, Please! -- the show which features regular Chicagoans recommending and reviewing their favorite restaurants -- will kick off on Friday, October 15. Spend the interim brushing up on old episodes online and visiting all of those restaurants you've been meaning to get to over the past, oh, decade. Or fill out an application to be a guest on the show.
Ready to join -- at least temporarily -- the locavore movement? Green City Market will kick off its annual Locavore Challenge on September 8, encouraging Chicagoans to center their diets around foods produced in Illinois, its border states, and Michigan.
Locavore Challenge resource kits and pledge sheets will be available at the Lincoln Park market's information booth on Saturday, September 4, and online thereafter. And throughout September, the market will feature locavore-centric events, including a resource fair, a cook-off, and a community dinner.
For tech-friendly resources that can help you in your quest to eat locally, click here and here. And for an online roundtable discussion of the merits and pitfalls of eating locally, click here.
School lunch is a hot topic these days, with everyone from Jamie Oliver to Michelle Obama to Sarah Silverman joining the chorus of voices calling for healthier in-school meals and better nutrition education for kids.
But until the National School Lunch Program is overhauled, you can brown bag wisely and well with some help from Nature's Lunchbox, a new permanent exhibit opening tomorrow at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Sponsored by Dominick's, the interactive exhibit features a "farm" where kids can learn about locally grown food; a "supermarket" (natch) with fruits, vegetables and healthy deli items; and information about urban gardening, recycling, and composting.
The museum's also encouraging visitors to take a stand against unhealthy food with Fresh Start Mondays: try packing a fresh, healthy lunch for your kids (and yourselves!) on Sunday night. Inspiration in recipe form will be available at an electronic kiosk inside the Nature's Lunchbox exhibit, as well as on the museum's Facebook page.
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.
If you're headed to the Green City Market or the soon-to-start Lincoln Square farmer's market, and you have a knife or 8 that need sharpening, take them to Dave Nells who will get you ready to slice and dice. And the prices are so affordable you'll still have plenty of green to buy greens.
If you've been to the French Market, you've probably seen the brightly-colored Raw food stall in the back corner. I visited recently and was not only impressed with the samples I tasted and the willingness of Polly Gaza, one of the shop's owners, to talk and answer questions. I have to admit, I was also really impressed with Ms. Gaza's glowing complexion. It made me want to get rid of my oven, clear out my pantry full of pasta, cereal, and cookies and become a raw foodist. In Chicago, that isn't such a hard thing to do. Besides Raw, which has been open since December, there are a number of caterers, restaurants and even classes offering food (or the chance to prepare food) untouched by mysterious additives or processing.
I, like most people, am constantly in search of new recipes and I find them in a variety of places - books, friends, magazines, blogs. There's a corner in my kitchen where all of these random recipes live and I cringe every time I see it. Paper is everywhere, magazine clippings haphazardly stuck in between pages of one of my many recipe books. I simply don't have the room to store all of these in my kitchen without it looking like a tornado swept through. And I honestly don't have the memory to remember what I've tried, what I love, what I hate. I have been in search for one place to store all of my favorite recipes for longer than I care to admit.
I contemplated storing all of my recipes online, but after a couple of near-disasters with my computer dangerously close to the war zone my kitchen becomes when I cook, I decided to leave my computer out of it. I also know that I could just buy a recipe book and fill out recipe cards when I find a recipe I like, but here's the problem. I tried it and I ended up having blank recipe cards lying all over the place and for some reason, I really hate writing on recipe cards. My handwriting is neither small or neat enough.
So, imagine my delight when I stumbled across this lovely recipe journal today. I'm going to get one in the hopes that it will help me become organized, for once.
Do you have any genius ideas for storing your favorite recipes?
Chicago has a lot to offer hungry tourists, besides the chance to eat a watery hot-dog from the vendor next to the Wendella Boat Tour dock as you cruise the Chicago River. A self-guided Cupcake Crawl is available from Chicago Bites food bloggers Tammy Green and Bridget Houlihan. Their e-book maps out public transportation to different bakeries and includes coupons, hours and prices.
Or skip the cake and go straight for the chocolate. Chicago Chocolate Tours leads two-and-a-half hour strolls through the South Loop, Lakeview or Michigan Avenue (and shorter tours of the new French Market) to meet some of the city's best chocolatiers.
Chicago Food Planet offers walking tours of the Near North and Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhoods. These tours take about three hours, with stops at restaurants, specialty grocers and, to help keep your energy up, ice cream shops and bakeries. In addition to discovering mom-and-pop shops around town, you'll also learn about neighborhood history and architecture.
Entering its second season is Fork and the Road bike tours. This year the women behind Fork and the Road, Dimitra Tasiouras and Sharon Bautista (a Drive-Thru contributor), will lead samplings of diner specialties, dumplings, Eastern European cuisine, or Mediterranean restaurants and shops, among other tours of eateries, all of them off the beaten path. (No Italian beef or deep dish pizza.) Each ride is about 16 to 20 miles, which sounds worse than it is. The guides ride at a leisurely pace, and each stop offers a chance to rest and refuel. Tours always start at a location near a bike-rental shop, so even those without wheels can take part.
Of course, if deep dish is your thing, there are tours of local pizza purveyors. Slice of Chicago offers a deep-dish walking tour, and Chicago Pizza Tours will show you the city "one slice at a time" and through four different styles of pizza (deep dish, thin crust, stuffed and neapolitan).
When your guests show up this summer, show them there's more to do than hang out at Navy Pier or the Mag Mile eating franchised food stuffs and fighting the crowds.
Now that we have "sprung forward" and the snow has melted (and hopefully doesn't return) it is time to start thinking about the farmers' market season, and more specifically, CSA shares. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and is a way for you to "invest" in a farm for a season and receive the returns of locally grown, often organic, lovely produce. There are many, many different types of CSAs in the Chicagoland and you can find a 2010 list over at the Local Beet but I want to tell you about the CSA options over at Peasants' Plot.
This week, the Chicago-based Healthy Schools Campaign launches a national effort to increase awareness of what's served in school cafeterias and to secure more funding for the Child Nutrition Act. The program, called Cooking Up Change, kicks off tomorrow with local students from Tilden Career Community High School going to Washington, DC, to serve a healthy meal to members of Congress. The Tilden students won last year's Cooking Up Change cooking contest with a meal of chicken-vegetable jambalaya with jalapeno cornbread and cucumber salad. You can go to the HSC's web site and click on a button to urge your elected leaders to eat a school lunch on March 2. Photo courtesy of Fed Up: School Lunch Project
If you don't know a school kid who is subjected to the salty, processed foods schools around the country serve up every day, you can get a good glimpse at the meals through the Fed Up: School Lunch Project blog, an anonymous diary by a public school teacher.
While we all gobble down on our pre-weekend celebration donut, here's something to put on your to-do list: Walgreen's will be offering free blood glucose testing at their Take Care Clinics and 24-Hour Pharmacy Locations starting today through February 18 as part of diabetes wellness and awareness campaign. Learn more about blood glucose at WebMD.
In the last article (found here), we discussed the four essential ingredients of beer. In this article, we're going to take a look a the equipment you'll need to set up your own homebrewery. Most brewing suppliers have a kit version of this equipment, and on average it will cost you anywhere from $75 to $150 depending on what's included. This may seem like an expensive way to get started, but a starter kit will usually save you quite a bit (as much as 20%) as opposed to collecting all this equipment individually.
Another advantage is that a well-considered starter kit should be customizable or expandable depending on your experiences and desires.
Once we've taken a look at the necessary equipment needed to brew beer, we'll also look at some of the "nice-to-haves" for the homebrewer.
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'm not a big proponent of rules when it comes to food.
I regularly consume beer before liquor. I serve ribeye steaks with white wines. I cook my pork roasts to 145°F (take that USDA recommendation!)
But I do believe that any place that has "All You Care To Eat" and "Sushi" anywhere on the menu should be approached with the caution reserved for a rabid animal or radioactive waste.
That's not to say that my "anything goes" attitude doesn't apply to a sushi bar, but if you don't want to look like the biggest gaijin in the place, there are several nuanced traditions covered by the helpful folks at Snippets.com that will have fellow diners wondering how many years you've spent in Japan.
While you use the next several days to detox from the eggnog and turkey bender you've been on lately, here are some foods that according to Prevention magazine, you should avoid for food safety reasons, among them canned tomatoes, microwave popcorn and conventionally grown apples. No mention of deviled eggs left out at room temperature for six hours (wipes forehead).
Get exclusive deals at up to 150 Chicago restaurants using Foodie, a new iPhone and iPod Touch application launching this week. The application populates a map of the city with pinpoints indicating restaurants offering specials. Deals change daily and can include prix-fixe menus, discounts on specific dishes and complimentary wine pairings.
Users secure a special offer by making a one-touch reservation with the restaurant through the application. For example, today at David Burke's Primehouse, Foodie subscribers can get a 28-day Ribeye steak ($45 value) for the price of a Delmonico steak (regularly $28).
Wooden Spoon: The Thanksgiving Cliff Notes class will leave you with a veritable Plymouth feast. This $65 class will focus on stuffing, a vegetable, and cranberry sauce, but you'll also help put together the turkey with gravy and, of course, pumpkin pie. Tuesday, November 17 at 6:30pm
5047 N. Clark / 773.293.3190
Chopping Block: The Chopping Block has something for everyone this holiday. The following classes are all located at the Lincoln Square location (4747 N. Lincoln / 773.472.6700), but their Merchandise Mart spot offers classes, too. Prices range from $25 to $100:
Sunday, November 15 from 10am-2:30pm: Thanksgiving Crash Course
Tuesday, November 17 from 4-5pm: Kid's Cooking Class - The Great Pumpkin
Tuesday, November 17 from 7-9:30pm: Vegetarians Eat Thanksgiving, Too!
Wednesday, November 18 from 10am-2:30pm: Thanksgiving Workshop
Saturday, November 21 from 10am-12:30pm: Harvest Pies
Gallery 37 Center for the Arts: Gallery 37 is participating in the World Kitchen Series and is offering a $30 Traditional Thanksgiving class - one of the best deals in town. With turkey, gravy, dressing, and sides on the menu, the day couldn't get any more traditional. Saturday, November 21 from 11am-2pm
66 E. Randolph / 312.742.8497
Sur la Table: So I can't say that my family typically serves Dungeness Crab and Heirloom Bean Brandade, and Roast Turkey Breast Stuffed with Sausage, Fennel and Raisins on Thanksgiving. But, hello - YUM. If nothing else, you'll impress your guests with ingredients they've never heard of. Here are two upcoming classes - both $69 - that will help with your Turkey Day prep: Friday, November 19 at 6:30pm: Everything But the Turkey
Saturday, November 20 at 6:30pm: All-American Thanksgiving (which includes the aforementioned deliciousness)
52-52 E. Walton / 312.337.8544 or email Cooking025@surlatable.com
Have you tried any other holiday cooking classes in the area? Let us know!
New to Chicago and want to find restaurants that focus on locally grown food? Lived here all your life and need help finding committed business to the local food movement? Local Yolkel is a recently launched website that hopes to provide a comprehensive directory of restaurants, grocers, bakeries, caterers and cooking classes that use locally sourced ingredients. Soon the website will also include a comprehensive listing of local CSA (community supported agriculture) programs.
Itinerant chefs, caterers and small businesses looking for space to test out new food concepts have multiple of options in Chicago.
Kitchen Chicago has been around for years, but they moved into a new space at 324 N. Leavitt Ave. about a month ago that is both more functional for chefs and more versatile as an event space. Their new kitchen includes two full cookspaces -- one oriented toward pastries -- as well as a climate-controlled chocolate room; there are plans to possibly add a demo kitchen for small cooking classes. Through two sets of double doors is a soaring event space: the building was once a foundry, and this huge room is the upper half of what was once flyspace for massive cauldrons of molten iron. Kitchen Chicago have kept the industrial chic look but finished it with hardwood floors, large cylinder lights and several big, rough-hewn wood tables. There's a loft space at one end that's bigger than many apartments. The room has already been used by Chef Stephanie Izard from one of her Drunken Goat dinners.
Logan Square Kitchen is new on the scene and also offers a private event space and a shared commercial kitchen, both in a small storefront at 2333 N. Milwaukee Ave. The business is dedicated to environmental, economic and social sustainability -- you can ask them what that means in practical terms at their open house this weekend, 10am to 3pm both Saturday and Sunday.
Even though Labor Day has come and gone, marking the (unofficial) end of summer, the stands at many of Chicago's farmers markets are looking more lush than they have all season. Squash and apples are starting to appear, and the peaches and berries are still abundant. The Andersonville Farmer's Market, which started just this year, has been so successful than it has extended its run through October 7th. Today's market will be held, as usual, from 4 to 8 pm. Starting next week, the market will run from 3 to 7 pm. Come on up to Clark & Berwyn to take advantage of the early fall harvest.
Dana Joy Altman, a local food writer and former co-manager of the Green City Market, knows there are lots of people who want to cook more, using fresh foods and seasonal ingredients (and not just the masses inspired by a brand-new interest in Julia Child). To help steer people toward the best ingredients and the best way to organize their newly-stocked refrigerators and pantries, she's offering a pantry rehab service. The rehab, which is available for only the next few months, costs $1,500--but before you blanch at the price, consider that it includes groceries and new containers to store them in (you decide whether they come from Goodwill, Target or some other kitchenware source), and eight hours of learning and shopping with Ms. Altman. She'll also make sure you have the cookware and utensils necessary to prepare your healthy meals.
Ms. Altman also knows that not everyone has $1,500 for her service.
Wonder no more about which wine to serve with the gazpacho you just whipped up in your blender, or the (grass-fed) beef marinating in your refrigerator. Chicago-trained and Omaha-based Master Sommelier Jesse Becker has just launched a wine-pairing search engine and iPhone app.
The web site, which is easy to navigate using little illustrations of nearly every concievable food group, including offal, dark fish, light fish and legumes (sadly, no soup category), leads users through a series of questions about the heaviness of the food, the cooking method and cuisine. This generates a selection of wines to pair with your food, with the most "agreeable" matches in larger type. If there's a wine in the list of matches that's not familiar, you can click on the wine and get a description. For example, when I searched wines to match legumes cooked with Indian spices, one of my choices was Silvaner. WinetoMatch informed me that this is a white grape from Alsace and Germany's Franken region, and that it's usually dry, light and soft. Right Bank Bordeaux and Merlot were also good matches.
Becker and the algorithm aces at Consulting Merengue, a southern California software developer and web publisher, are already busy building updates (and perhaps a soup category). They acknowledge that wine-matching advice and charts already exist online. But theirs is the first attempt by a Master Sommelier to create such software. "Rather than developing an application which pairs a finite number of named dishes, such as Veal Parmesan or Bouillabaisse, we designed a robust software engine that pairs any conceivable dish," says Becker. The questions about weight and spiciness are the same ones sommeliers would consider when helping guests in a restaurant.
The Locavore app ($2.99) can tell you what is in season locally and connect you to recipes for each ingredient. It can also direct you to nearby farmers markets. Neat resource for traveling to new parts of the country or for spontaneous local shopping trips. I'm adding this to my growing list of, "Ways my life would improve with an iPhone." [via Lifehacker]
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.
Spring is officially here and before you know it, Farmers Market season will be upon us. I'm sure many of you, like me, cannot wait to have an abundance of fresh produce, meats, cheeses and flowers. A good friend of mine told me about Community-Supported Agriculture programs over brunch at Uncommon Ground and I immediately began researching participating farms that deliver to Chicago. During my research I came across a 2009 CSA Guide on The Local Beet, specific to Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. I'm new to CSAs, and if you are to, here's a quick overview.
CSAs are membership-based and the fee pays for regular delivery of a particular farm's harvest for the season. Prices vary depending on the length of your membership and how often you want deliveries (weekly, monthly, etc.). Whether it's produce, fruit, eggs, cheese or meat - belonging to a CSA means you'll get fresh (often organic) local produce all season. Check out more benefits of belonging to a CSA and the many membership options in the 2009 CSA Guide.
Natalie MacLean, a four time James Beard Journalism Award winner, recently unveiled a new food and wine pairing tool on her website, Nat Decants. While primarily for wine-lovers, the tool also pairs beer, liquor and coffee. The vast number of foods and beverages in the database make this a useful tool to bookmark for the next time you are planning a special meal or opening a prized bottle.
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.
UPDATE: Sorry, folks. This was not intended to be a public event. We'll post about future public events when they occur.
If you've been considering growing your own food but are mostly interested in heirloom varieties, then The Seed Archive may be able to help you find seeds that fit your needs. It is located at 2446 South Sawyer Avenue and keeps a storehouse of viable seeds which they will loan you as long as you plant them, nurture them, and then return twice that number of seeds to them at harvest time so they can share them with others.
If you've been interested in trying to start a garden, but don't know how to sow, or germinate, or fertilize then they've got an event on Sunday February 15th that will help teach you more about what you need to know.
From 3pm to 5pm is the Swap'n'Store where you can bring seeds that you've gathered from your own plants and swap them with other's seeds, or donate them for future pick-up. 5pm to 7pm is a workshop that covers the basics about starting seeds, sowing, cross-pollinating, seed-collection, and seed storage. They'll also have some tasty veggie posole to share, but you're asked to bring your own beverage.
Here's to anyone wondering what to serve those vegan friends you might have over for Thanksgiving.
• Heidi Swanson has posted a collection of what I am sure are solid recipes, from Thai-spiced Pumpkin Soup and Hazelnut & Chard Ravioli Salad to Cornmeal Crunch and Maple Grilled Tempeh. Even if a single vegan meal isn't in your future, her tantalizing photos of the food are worth checking out.
Cookstr, the long-awaited recipe search site, launched today. The website hosts free recipes from noted chefs and cookbook authors. The site currently allows you to search by ingredient, chef or recipe. There also handy ways to refine your search like "five ingredients or less" and "inexpensive." They are adding new content daily, so if your first search doesn't yield what you had hoped, it may be wise to check back. New features will be added over the next few months, like chef profile pages and personalized recipe boxes.
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.
Chefs looking for a place to hone their recipes before opening their own restaurant, catering company or gourmet business have had basically two options: cook at home (or in their current employer's kitchen if they're lucky) or rent space and time in Kitchen Chicago, the shared use kitchen in Ravenswood where such folks as Vella Cafe and Hoosier Mama Pies got their start.
Now there's a third option: Now We're Cookin'. Tucked onto a side street northwest of downtown Evanston, Now We're Cookin' not only has commercial-grade kitchen space available for as little as a four-hour shift, but also a demonstration/event studio where you could either host a class or tape your application for "The Next Food Network Star."
Epicurious just came out with a "seasonal ingredient map." Before you hit the produce section, check to see what is currently in season by state and month. The map also links to recipes using each ingredient.
Food additives are substances that become part of a food product by either adding them intentionally or unintentionally during the processing of food. Intentional or direct food additives are added to foods to produce a desired effect, such as to maintain freshness, improve nutritional quality, assist in processing or preparing food, or make a food more appealing by changing the color or texture. Unintentional or indirect food additives are detected in minimal quantities in the final product.
The Center for Science in the Public interest, a nonprofit educational and advocacy organization that focuses on food safety, offers a chart on which food additives are safe, which are better off avoided, and which are completely harmful. Here are the five worst culprits from CSPI's list. Keep in mind, all ingredients on the list have been approved by the FDA, but some health experts suggest we cut back or eliminate them from our diet whenever possible.
I’ve always got a reason to throw a dinner party, but I don’t always have the cash. We all know living and dining in Chicago is expensive, but don’t let a bourgeois obstacle like money interfere with one of life’s greatest pleasures: entertaining. Last weekend, while struggling to conjure up a cheap yet elegant dish that I could serve my nine guests, I decided to abandon my Martha Stewart complex for one night and ask for help.
The premise is simple: instead of asking a guest to bring their own dish, have them bring an assigned gourmet ingredient. Then assemble the meal according to your own discriminating standards without revealing what it is you’re actually preparing. For my frugal festivities, I made whole roasted garlic with toasted baguettes as an appetizer, wild mushroom risotto and an asparagus and cucumber salad with homemade lemon and herb dressing.
By using my suggestions for guest assignments as a guideline, the remaining ingredients should cost no more than $20. Or, if you are one of the culinary challenged, lure a kitchen-friendly friend by absolving them of their obligation to bring anything, and let them do the cooking. Mix it up with other dinner party concepts: why not try a Top Chef challenge? Ask your guests to bring their favorite ingredient and test your creativity in combining some or all of them.
LTH Forum has a spirited, ongoing (since 2005) debate on where to find the city's best chicken wings, with Evanston's Buffalo Joe's getting a lot of attention. Also discussed in the thread: the upcoming opening of Wingstop in Evanston, sauce recipes and cooking tips for your own chicken wing feast, and a bevy of heated, spicy opinions.
•The staff of Time Out Chicago gets drunkCarnival-style in their breakroom, but still has enough focus to review the liquor. And all the rest of us working stiffs get is free coffee and the occasional donut.
•The localvore doesn't have to hibernate because it's winter: Vital Information reports that if you're willing to trek out west to the Geneva Winter Market each Thursday, you won't be disappointed.
We're officially in the second week of January, and you're doing a pretty good job avoiding the fatty, salty, greasy, foods that will most certainly cause the demise of your diet before St. Patrick's Day arrives. Maybe I'm just projecting my problems, because while catching up on some long overdue blog reading, I discovered this: Bon Appétit's guide to perfect French Fries with video podcast and recipes included.
And here I thought I was safe so long that I steered clear of the Hopleaf. Now I cannot stop thinking about perfectly fried thin spears of hot, greasy, salty potatoes dipped in rich garlicky aioli.
I was reading the San Francisco Chronicle a few weeks ago and came across a neat story about a Northwestern University art professor who held a seminar to talk about his Iraqi-Jewish heritage and make the foods of his childhood. The seminar, called Enemy Kitchen, was also an opportunity for the audience to talk about their perspectives on the war and the impact it has had on culture. The professor, Michael Rakowitz, will be bringing Enemy Kitchen to the Hyde Park Art Center this Sunday from 5-7pm, as part of the companion exhibit Consuming War which ends January 20 at the Center. Reservations are required. Click here to register.
If you love Trader Joe's as much as I do, you know that their products can be, well, uneven. Some things are amazing, some are awful. Finally I've found Trader Joes Fans.com, a nice third-party resource for getting reviews on TJ's food, as well as recipe ideas and a forum. Finally, a place where I can gab about Three Buck Chuck other than AA.
If you're a fan of farmers markets here in Chicago, you probably mourn the day when your market closes in the fall. Well, the next three months don't have to be a barren wasteland of mass produced bland thanks to Local Harvest and Churches' Center for Land and Peoples. You may not be able to get tomatoes and peas, but you will be able to find "cheese, meat and poultry, soap, syrup, eggs, honey, wool and woolen goods, raw fibers, vinegars, dried herbs, dried fruits, milled flours, fruit butters, sauces and salsas, preserves, cider, seasoned firewood.....in short, anything that a farm grows or produces from what they grow." Check the calendar for when and where to find the indoor markets and to see which locations will have cafes, electronics recycling, or serve brunch. And if you happen to be a member of a congregation that would like to host a market, or if you are a farm owner looking for a place to sell your wares, give Robin Shimer a call.
One of my favorite aspects of this is that there is no fee for the farmers to attend. Once they hit a sales baseline, they'll donate a portion of their proceeds to the Harvest of Hope Fund that provides small payments to farmers who find themselves in crisis. How can I not love good food that supports farmers during lean months to raise funds used to support farmers who can then make more good food?
The Chicago Tribune has a great article up in their food section right now on cooking classes in the greater Chicago area. They list classes for a wide range of budgets and locations (including the suburbs). There are week long professional courses available as well as one-time engagements in your home. If you know a cook who is interested in learning something new or brushing up on seasoned skills, this resource offers some fabulous gift ideas.
I have been meaning to take the reasonably priced ($40) knife skills class at the Chopping Block for some time now. The pricier, multi-class Vegetarian Indian Cooking with Ranjana sounds quite tempting as well.
I spent the morning reading a profile on NY chef David Chang and his recent success in the foodie and media circles concerning his and business partner Joaquin Baca's Momofuku restaurants. It's the kind of place that seems to exist primarily on the coasts: superior worldly ingredients cooked at a high level which produces what some might call the New American Cuisine. A combination of small plates and large, communal dishes at a very affordable (almost student cheap) price, a lack of reservation options, no dress codes and chefs being cooks, servers and host, all in one.
The question I have for Chicago is this: we're in an amazing place right now for food culture -- Alinea is here, Paul Kahan's Blackbird and Avec, Hot Doug's and Kuma's Corner -- so I ask the readers, where's some really exciting high level cooking going on right now?
As most of us prepare to enjoy ample food and warm surroundings this week, please keep in mind those community members who are less fortunate than you this holiday season. You could donate food or money to a local food depository or volunteer your time to help serve others a warm meal.
Here are few links to local resources. There are many ways to get involved in our great city; feel free to add links to other local organizations in the comments section.
Not too long ago, I scored a copy of Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food to add to my small collection of cookbooks. The pages are understated, adorned with sketches of vegetables, herbs and meat. The recipes seem basic at first glance; Waters gives instructions on grilling vegetables and preparing a chicken broth. But with recipes such as Pork Shoulder Braised with Dried Chiles and Persimmon and Pomegranate Salad, Waters asserts that simple food does not mean bland food.
The current issue of Time Out Chicago is devoted to ranking the city's best pizza places. The best part of this feature is the heated debate among pizzaphiles over which crust type--deep dish or thin--revs their engine the most. GB staffers Nilay Patel and Dan Morgridge are part of Team Deep Dish, and staffer Marla Seidell on Team Thin Crust, which, of course, makes both crusts the best type of pizza. Word is bond!
Have you ever watched "Check Please!" and wished you could sit down with host/sommelier Alpana Singh to get some good advice on a wine selection, or ask questions about an episode of her show? A new part of the current season of "Check Please!" is a feature called Ask Alpana, an online form where readers can send her a question that could be answered on a future episode and posted online.
Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It's also a great holiday for eating apples, honey, challah, fish, and a bevy of other good things. As a gentile and foodie, the symbolism of this holiday--eating apples with honey to symbolize a sweet new year, for example--is far more interesting than the traditions I had to follow, which usually involved eating a Jello and Cool Whip concoction that was known as "Pink Stuff." If you're looking to pick up some prepared dishes, look here for some guidance.
Arguably, if it's too hot to mircowave, it's probably also too hot to cook anything else and you're better served by making ice cream, or better yet, ice. But it would probably be much more interesting to spend some time in a professional air-conditioned kitchen learning how to make gazpacho or sorbet, right?
The Chicago Tribune wants to help make that happen for you, and printed a really thorough listing of Chicago-area cooking classes in yesterday's Good Eating section. The full list is here, but rest assured that the selections go far beyond Sur La Table or the Chopping Block, from the Alliance Francaise (mmmm, cheese and wine, starting at $45) to Le Dessert, where classes start from $495. (damn). If you're gift-giving challenged and surrounded by hungry friends and relatives, like me, cooking classes can be a great way to celebrate a birthday or holiday and you even get to take home some new skills (and hopefully leftovers). It beats microwaving your dinner on a Friday night in any case.
I was flipping through an old Martha Stewart Living magazine this weekend and stumbled upon something I'd missed the last time I read through it. It was instructions on how to boil a perfect egg. I remember my mother telling me to boil eggs for 12 minutes, so that's what I've always done, with less-than-desirable results. The confusion in my house has always been whether or not to start timing when the eggs go on the stove or when the water begins to boil. Turns out that neither is correct.
Preparing food at home (for cheap) is how I save up for special trips to lavish restaurants. Two of my favorite resources for home-cooked meals that are easy on the bank account are Mennonite mainstays, More With Less and Extending the Table. The Mennonite principles of simplicity and responsible eating are revealed in wholesome bread recipes and side notes about how not to over-consume protein one sitting. Recipes usually call for less sugar and butter than you might find in other cook books, and every few pages there is a story behind one of the recipes.
I've long been fantasizing about owning a fancy chef's knife that somewhat proved my legitimacy in the kitchen. What boosted my confidence in a matter of two hours, however, wasn't the knife (although I did end up purchasing a knife, and it's a beauty). It was the knife skills class at the Chopping Block. Clearly, it's not as if I walked away from the course prepared to take on Top Chef contestants in a knife skills challenge, but the simple, hands-on instruction bolstered my feelings about my abilities as a home cook enough to send me home skipping and then giddily bouncing around the kitchen looking for any kind of produce that might possibly need dicing, mincing or chopping.
If you've been contemplating whether or not to take the class, do it. The instructor assured that, despite the course's brevity, it can change your life. If you practice what you've learned of course.
While eating brunch with a friend recently, I found a hair stuck to a piece of bacon. If I was home, I'd forget about it quickly, as I'm the only one frying the bacon (and bringing it home, I might add), but obviously I'm in a restaurant, so my reaction was different. The waiter apologized and quickly brought over a replacement plate. My experience was minor compared to some of the horror scenes that city health inspectors encounter when visiting restaurants, such as parades of cockroaches, mountains of mice droppings, and poorly refrigerated or stored ingredients. An article in today's Tribune dicusses the number of restaurants in Chicago that have been permanently or temporarily shuttered due to health violations in the past year, and how to notice the warning signs of a poorly maintained eatery. Another resource you can use is the city's online database for researching inspection status of restaurants.
A few weeks I sent away for "A Traveler's Guide to Wisconsin Cheese, Beer and Wine" offered by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. Oh boy, do you need to get one of these things. You might wonder why you need to order it online (it's free) instead of just downloading it. Well, it's huge. The fold out map of Wisconsin is sprinkled with drawings of wine glasses, cheese wheels and frothy mugs of beer and includes an extensive listing of 139 cheese companies, wineries and breweries with directions, hours and a note about what each location is noted for.
This holiday weekend marks the start of the summer party season and for the next three months Chicagoland will be blowing up with outdoor fun.
Now, we all love our dogs, burgers, kegs, bounce-houses, and cornhole games (the family-friendly ones, anyway), but some occasions call for adding something a little different to the mix. Booking an ice cream truck just might be that good-time x-factor. At the very least it’ll make your festivity stand out from all the boozy, sun drenched clones this summer.
Imagine that jolly ice-cream-man-song ringing out from down the block, getting louder with every house it passes up, until the multi-colored truck rolls to a stop right in front of your party, already in full-swing. The look on partygoer’s faces turns from bewilderment to smiles as, amazingly, they trade their beers and margaritas for bomb-pops and choco-tacos. Everyone hooting and laughing while riding one King Hell wave of sugar high. Oh, jaded party people, I have seen this happen. And it’s a wonderful sight.
We learned about the EarthBox from a Reader article last spring, and after a little encouragement from some friends who owned a couple, we bought in. We planted three different varieties of cherry tomatoes in our first box, which operates under a pretty simple set-up. EarthBox describes that set up as
Our maintenance-free, award-winning, high-tech growing system controls soil conditions, eliminates guesswork and more than doubles the yield of a conventional garden-with less fertilizer, less water and virtually no effort.
I would describe it as a box with an inch deep water reservoir in the bottom. It’s not rocket science, but by gum, it works!
Spring is coming, or so we're promised, and with spring comes the first signs of the local vegetable harvest. If you've got an interest in supporting organic food and locally grown produce, consider joining a CSA, or Community-Supported Agriculture, program. In exchange for a yearly or weekly subscription fee, you get a box of farm-grown groceries every week. It's a great way to eat locally and support local farms. As it gets warmer out, shares start to sell out, so now's the time to sign up.
Chicago boasts a long list of CSAs, with a wide range of pick-up points across the city and suburbs. A few that I know still have shares available include: Home Grown Wisconsin, Angelic Organics (only 12-week shares), and Growing Power (which is much more than a CSA; they provide hands-on training and outreach). There are lots more; visit LocalHarvest.org to find the one that fits in your budget and delivers to your neighborhood.
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.
Now that spring weather is upon us, the season of road trips has begun. Travel to unfamiliar places comes with the added bonus of finding good places to eat, and if you aren't armed with a guidebook or the ability to ask strangers where to get a good meal, you could end up sitting in a hotel restaurant, chowing on the same chef salad that you could have at the diner around the corner from your home.
Avoid that pain and heartbreak by visiting Road Food, which is a great resource for finding solid recommendations of local restaurants in every state. I performed a test search in several states where I used to live, and was extremely impressed with the results, especially the mention of an old favorite, the soda fountain in rural Iowa whose green river sodas are well worth the drive. Most listings have pictures, ratings, comments, and most importantly, menu highlights and prices.
When you hear "Craig's List," your first thought is probably “free kittens,” “hot dates” or if, like me, you are a Shylo Bisnett fan, “Glory Holes,” but the free site has a pretty lively Chicago-centric food chat going on in their discussion boards. There's a little banter going on about barley right now, as well as a meringue discussion, and plenty of other interesting topics. The also have a wine section, a vegan section, and if you are in trouble with your relationship with food, an eating disorders section.
Now that the season of Lent (the forty days preceding Easter Sunday) has arrived, you may be in search of a good fish fry place in the city, or just interested in eating fish on Fridays. Whatever floats your boat, LTH Forum has a nice thread on places to visit (with the Duke of Perth emerging as the frontrunner).
Silapaahaan.com had great ambitions when it launched a couple of years ago: it "intended to be a repository of of information on ... Thai cuisine, with a distinct emphasis on ... Chicago." The site got off to a great start, and remains a useful source for Thai food fans looking for translations of their favorite restaurant's menu (assuming it's one of the six listed), or pictures of some common -- and not-so-common -- dishes, for those interested in venturing past the Traditional Favorites section but are wary of what they'll get.
The site's introduction claims more will be coming soon, including basic menu terms, pronunciations, recpies and photo-illustrated cooking demostrations. It's unclear how long ago that was written, but here's hoping the (anonymous) proprietor comes through on that promise; with the surfeit of Thai Restaurants in this city, there's clearly an audience for it.