Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The New Taste of Chicago

1.2 million people attended the 32nd annual food festival and consumed 17,600 slices of deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's, 15,000 funnel cakes from the Churro Factory and 2,500 lbs. of Billy Goat’s cheeseburgers.

The festival was cut from ten days to five, reducing vendor participation from sixty down to forty restaurants.

One thing new:The "pop-up" restaurants that were chosen by the WTTW show "Check, Please!". All are new to the Taste of Chicago and three were featured daily. I was eager for Arun’s Tossed Wonton Salad on Saturday but they were MIA. Also MIA: the iconic turkey legs.

Me…I was completely on-track with my 30 day healthy eating plan…that was until I spotted my first basket of BBQ.

Bon Appetit!

Michael Mina's Pulled Pork

Michael Mina, who has built a restaurant empire from Baltimore to San Francisco, is one of the chefs that I follow religiously because he always comes up with novel recipes.

I first became aquanted with Mina at Michael Mina – Bellagio and Stripsteak Las Vegas. At the Bellagio, I had the Lobster Pot Pie which was divine and a godiva chocolate martini for desert with double espresso white godiva liqueur, patron xo cafe crème de cacao and kahlua vanilla vodka. It was so tempting to lick the glass clean and I still dream about the dessert to this day.

At Stripsteak, in Mandalay Bay, steaks are poached in butter and grilled over wood. You have absolutely no inch of room for a dessert after dinner this place.

Mina’s version of pulled pork is cooked in the oven. The end result was an almost as delicious as the BBQ but a whole lot easier.
Bon Appetit!

Pulled-Pork Sandwich

Recipe by Michael Mina

1/4 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
2 tbsp kosher or coarse salt
2 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1/2 tbsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 boneless pork butt, about 3 pounds
1 1/2 cups apple juice
1/2 cup water
1 package plain soft white rolls or other bread

Mix brown sugar and dry spices together in a small bowl. Rub all over pork, cover, and let sit in the refrigerator for as long as you have time for (as little as 1 hour or up to overnight).

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lay pork on a rack insert fitted inside a roasting pan. (The rack should be high enough so the entire spiced butt is sitting above the cooking liquid.)

Pour in apple juice and water, cover pan tightly with foil, and slow roast for 5 hours. Remove foil and cook for another 30 minutes, until pork is brown outside and meat is very tender, basically falling apart.

Remove from oven, transfer to large platter, and allow meat to rest for about 10 minutes. While still warm, shred pork into small pieces using 2 forks or 10 fingers.

Transfer to bowl for serving, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Summer Salad: Mix Fruits and Vegetables

My favorite summer salad? I discovered quite by accident that I love a mix of both fruits and vegetables.

Since I am on Day 2 of a Detox, I eliminated the agave nectar in the dressing below and used balsamic and stone ground mustard.
Top with Salmon or Chicken and a splash of almonds.
In this particular salad I used watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, grapes, cauliflower, Tomatoes, Blueberries over a mix of spring greens, baby kale and spinach.
A simple way to get your daily dose of both fruits and vegetables.
Bon Appetit!
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon agave nectar
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Cucumber Lemonade Mocktail

As the summer season heats up, I opt, more often than not, for a non-alcoholic summer refresher.

Here is one of my favorites but try getting the cucumber slice to stick in the middle of the glass is another trick.

Bon Appetit!

Cucumber Lemonade Mocktail

1 paper-thin, lengthwise slice of European cucumber, for garnish
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped dill, plus 1 dill sprig, for garnish
1 tablespoon agave syrup
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh cucumber juice
1/4 cup chilled club soda

Press the cucumber slice against the inside of a chilled highball glass and add ice.
In a cocktail shaker, muddle the chopped dill, agave syrup, lemon and lime juices and 1 tablespoon of water until the syrup is dissolved. A
dd ice, then add the cucumber juice and shake well.
Strain into the prepared glass and stir in the club soda.
Garnish with the dill sprig.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Recipes To Beat the Heat

With so many 100 degree days, you know you're supposed to hydrate – with water not margaritas– but what do you eat?
I am a huge fan of cold soup and this gazpacho and mixed berry dessert gazpacho were delicious. The dessert soup drew so many oohs and aahs at our last party that I have now put it on my list of “special desserts”.
I’m not one for sweet drinks but this Watermelon Martini really hit the spot. Because it was so hot, I went a little lighter on the vodka. The recipe called for seedless watermelons but I cheated. I just can’t resist the summer tradition of spitting the seeds.
I found the recipe for the Summer Sandwich in House Beautiful which just goes to prove that you never know where you are going to find your next great recipe. I would have never thought to look in House Beautiful  (I bought it to read up on decorating small spaces)for a recipe that I now consider a summer classic it was that good.
Having hauled home a huge box of fresh peaches from Green City Market, I found the Grilled Peach, Onion and Bacon Salad and really LOVED the combination of flavors .The star ingredient besides the fresh peaches was, of course, the caramelized bacon but I cooked it a lot longer than the 35 minutes it called for.
Watch it and also be careful that you still have bacon left to put in the salad.
The recipe actually looked a bit of a mess but it was the only dish I ate the entire plate of the morning I cooked. Decided next time for eye appeal that it could use a little less dressing.
Whether you cook or order out, summer is a great time to lighten up. The easiest way to cut calories from your summer diet is to load up on all of the fruits and vegetables that are in season.
I’m sticking with this healthy plan for 30 days although what makes me think of Julia Child’s comment  now that the only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.
Bon Appetit!
Cold Soup
This is lightest thing to eat when the temperature is off the charts.
Use your favorite gazpacho recipe and accent with a variety of julienne vegetables including cucumbers, carrots and a half dozen radishes.
Mixed Berry Gazpacho
Modified from Bon Appetit
3 cups mixed berries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
Vanilla ice cream

Combine first 6 ingredients and basil sprig in a medium heatproof bowl; toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap.
Place over a large saucepan of simmering water; cook for 10 minutes.

Let cool for 15 minutes. Chill until cold, about 4 hours.
Divide fruit and juices among bowls and top with a scoop of ice cream.
Watermelon Martini
Yield: 2 cocktails

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt
6 oz fresh watermelon juice
2 & 1/2 oz good vodka
2 & 1/2 oz Limoncello or orange liqueur
1 oz fresh lime juice
Watermelon wedges for garnish

Chill 2 glasses in your fridge or freezer 10 minutes before making the cocktail.
Combine the sugar and salt and spread it on a flat bread plate. Dampen the rim of your glass with water or lime juice and dip it in the sugar/salt mixture. (Save the leftover mixture for another occasion).
Combine the watermelon juice, vodka, liqueur and lime juice in a cocktail shaker. Fill the shaker with ice and shake vigorously for 6-8 times.
Strain and pour the mixture into the prepared glasses and garnish with a watermelon wedge.
Summer Sandwich
Gabrielle Hamilton in House Beautiful Magazine

1 pound (scant 2 cups) fresh ricotta
Zest of 2 lemons
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 4 teaspoons for drizzling
2 pinches coarse kosher salt
1 pinch ground black pepper
4 long, even slices of very good bread
2 large, perfectly ripe avocados (approximately 18 ounces), at room temperature
1 pint mixed-color grape tomatoes, cut in half horizontally
8 red pearl onions equaling 2-3 ounces, thinly sliced into rounds (or equivalent in thinly sliced red onion)
4 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
Skin of 1 preserved lemon, flesh removed, finely diced
½ teaspoon toasted poppy seeds
Mix the ricotta with the lemon zest, ¼ cup olive oil, and salt and pepper, and set aside.

Arrange slices of bread on a cutting board and divide the ricotta mixture evenly among the four slices. Spread into a generous even layer.
Split the avocados, remove the pits, and slice each half into even slices without cutting all the way through the leathery skin. Then, with a soup spoon or a flexible rubber spatula, release the flesh and arrange the slices neatly and evenly among the bread slices.
Artfully and attractively arrange the tomatoes by nesting them into the soft avocado. Then arrange the red onion slices over the tomatoes.
Garnish each sandwich with the sesame seeds, the preserved lemon skin, and finally, the poppy seeds. Transfer to plates and drizzle with olive oil. Serves 4.

Grilled Peach, Onion and Bacon Salad
From Food and Wine
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons chopped mint
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons snipped chives
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Freshly ground pepper
1 pound thick-sliced bacon
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 pounds Vidalia or other sweet onions, cut into 1-inch-thick slabs
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
4 large ripe peaches, cut into 1/2-inch wedges

Preheat the oven to 325°. In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the sour cream, buttermilk, mint, parsley, chives and vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the bacon slices on the sheet in a single layer and sprinkle with the brown sugar and cayenne. Bake for about 25 minutes, until caramelized (the bacon will crisp as it cools). Let cool, then cut the bacon into bite-size pieces.

Meanwhile, light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Brush the onions with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until softened and browned, 10 minutes. Separate the onions into rings. Brush the peaches with olive oil and grill over moderately high heat until tender, 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
In a large bowl, toss the onions with the peaches and bacon. Add the buttermilk dressing and toss to coat. Serve right away.

My Healthy Indulgence

I’ll admit it: I love Ice Cream. In fact, I’m a genuine ice cream snob. I grew up eating quality ice cream and will not settle for anything less.

I’ve never considered sorbet to ever be in the same league as ice cream but Snookelfritz just raised the ice cream bar to a whole new level this past week.
The Blueberry Sorbet, one of Nancy Silver’s “signature” flavors, that is made with high quality ingredients from local farmers (the vendor she buys her blueberries from is right across from her at Green City Market) is my new favorite ice cream.
After taking one little bite, I am now thinking that maintaining this healthy eating strategy for 30 days is going to be piece of cake....
à la mode of course!
Bon Appetit!

Summer Vacation

We’re taking it on the road starting the end of July and one thing that all three places we’re going to have in common is water (Minnesota has 90,000 miles of shoreline, more than California, Florida and Hawaii combined) and great food.

Minneapolis was just named the new favorite food city of Food and Wine magazine. See page 26 of the August issue. Every time I go back home I swear the cuisine has moved up a notch.
San Francisco has always been a world class food city. We’ll be back at the San Francisco Street Food Festival in the Mission District on Saturday, August 18th.
Cabo San Lucas was the darling of Rick Bayless’s Season 8 One Plate at a Time.     
Me, I’ll be looking for a beach bed (only at Me Cabo)
and a breakfast table to chow down Huevos Rancheros and margaritas every morning.
For now, one month of super healthy eating separates us from a summer –vacation- triple- splurge.
Sounds a bit like food heaven doesn’t it?
Stay tuned and Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Castaways - North Avenue Beach

If you happen to be a 20 something, Castaways at North Avenue Beach is your summer hot spot. It’s more than just a bar to bump into the good-looking, tanned and perfectly toned.

Grab one of the prime tables that overlooks Lake Michigan and the dozens of volleyball nets that are the prime focus of activity on the beach. There were at least three groups lined up to snag our table before we were even finished.

What’s different from last year? Castaways now offers Cabanas available for rent daily through Labor Day.

The food… a to die for grouper sandwich and the only $12 item on an otherwise inexpensive menu.

Castaways is owned by the Phil Stefani Restaurant Group which includes two of my favorites: Riva Crab House at Navy Pier and Tavern on Rush.

The shop on the main floor has eye-catching North Avenue Beach Tshirts that will constantly remind you that there is nothing better in the summer than a day at the beach.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Lake Bluff 4th

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Monday, July 2, 2012

Green Beans and Peaches...Cooking What's In Season

Honestly, I could become a vegetarian in the summer. I buy fresh fruits and vegetables at the Farmers Market and use them in the recipes that I cook all week.

The vegetables and fruits you purchase from the Farmers Market will last two to three times longer than the ones you get in the grocery store. They are usually fresh picked the day before the market unlike the ones from the supermarket that have to travel through the food chain.

One of my favorite meals is chicken or fish piled high with fresh fruit salsa.You can use the basic recipes and add just about any fruit in season. This week it was peaches.

Ask me the key to healthy eating and I will tell you that it is eating the right things at the right time.
I made a meal later that day of Szechuan Green Beans. I used a shallot instead of scallions and it really gave this dish a lot of flavor.

No matter what you cook, do it fresh.

 Happy 4th and Bon Appetit!
Szechuan Green Beans
1 pound green beans
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, chopped
2 scallions, white parts only or ½ shallot, chopped
1/2 teaspoon chili paste
1tablespoon dark soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Pepper to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil

Wash the beans, drain thoroughly, and trim the tops and bottoms.

Chop the garlic, ginger and white part of the scallions or a shallot

Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the beans and Stir Fry until they start to shrivel and turn brown (5 to 7 minutes).

Remove the beans and drain in a colander or on paper towels.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in the wok on high heat. Add the garlic, ginger and scallions. Stir-fry for a few seconds, then add the chili paste and stir-fry for a few more seconds until aromatic.

Add the beans and the rest of the ingredients. Mix together and serve.

Peach Salsa
3 or 4 ripe (but firm) peaches, washed, pitted, and cut into ½-inch (or smaller) dice
½ of a red onion, peeled and cubed
1 or 2 jalapeño peppers, washed, seeded, and minced
3 - 4 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves
juice of 1 lime
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
sugar to taste  

Dice peaches into cubes of ½-inch or smaller. Place in mixing bowl.

Peel and mince your red onion.
Wash jalapeño peppers and cut lengthwise. Chop into very small dice
Finely mince the cilantro. Add to the mixing bowl.
Juice a lime, add juice to mixing bowl.

In the mixing bowl, toss peaches, onion, jalapeño pepper, cilantro, and lime juice together.
Add salt, freshly ground pepper, and the optional cayenne pepper until the salsa tastes good to you.
If your salsa is too spicy, add a little sugar.
Chill for at least an hour.
On Sunday when I cheat and eat a little fried chicken, I fill half my plate with this salsa so the rest of what I am eating is really healthy.

4th Of July Salsa

This easy 4th of July salsa looked so festive with all the red, white and blue colors going on.

I served it with thin tortilla chip and later that day smothered it on chicken.

Bon Appetit and Happy 4th!
Red, White and Blue: 4th of July Salsa
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup diced strawberries
1 cup diced jicama
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped jalapeno pepper, stemmed and seeded
Juice of 1 large lime
Salt, to taste
Tortilla chips, for serving

In a medium bowl, combine blueberries, strawberries, jicama, cilantro, red onion, jalapeno, and lime juice. Stir until well combined. Season with salt, to taste. Serve with tortilla chips at room temperature or chilled.