Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Summer In The City

As I’ve said before, one of the essentials of summer in Chicago is deciding which neighborhoods and festivals to go to every weekend. I usually hit up at least two or three every weekend. 

Of course, all of them include food so come hungry.

Here are a few of my favorites that you should not miss.

Bon Appetit!

Maxwell Street Market
Dates: Every Sunday
Favorite Dish: Taco’s Al Pastor and Asada at Rubi’s

The food stalls down at Maxwell Street Market validate that if you want authentic Mexican food when you’re in Chicago, Maxwell Street Market is the place to go. I’ve tried every one of them so be adventurous. Rubi’s is still my favorite.

After breakfast, you can shop for anything from knock-off purses to a ten gallon soup pot.

The market runs every Sunday all year long…even when it’s below zero.

North Avenue Beach
Dates: Seasonal. Is it summer yet?
Favorite Dish: Castaway’s Grouper Sandwich

No matter where you go on the lakefront this summer, you’ve got to spend a day at North Avenue beach. There is so much to do here from a class at the outdoor gym to swimming to eating at Castaways, shopping and participating in a wide-range of water sports and of course the best sport of all: people watching. If you’re a twenty or thirty something, this is Chicago’s prime summer hangout spot.

Green City Market
Dates: Wednesday and Saturday in season
Favorite Dish: Snookelfritz Ice Cream

From the beautiful organic fruits, vegetables and plants to the cooking demonstrations, Green City is supported by most of the major chef’s in the city. I happen to think it’s the best market in the city. Go mid-week when it’s less crowded. You’re likely to spot a chef or two and they always have time to chat.

Devon Street
Favorite Dish: Frontier Chicken

I get my fix of Indian food on this colorful, ten-block stretch of Devon Avenue where the aromas and the food markets authenticate that this is one of the most multicultural and interesting neighborhoods in Chicago.
Cayenne pepper, cumin, mustard seed, crushed garlic with fresh cut mint, onion slivers and coriander leaves are just some the flavors you’ll find on Devon.
And the Naan? This is one place I can just fill up on bread before I get my meal and not feel guilty.

Favorite Dish: Edzo’s Turkey Burger, Truffle Fries and Maple Malt
Having worked in Evanston, I know the city well. There are so many food options here including food trucks, distilleries and wine bars. 

Evanston also has a really great Farmer's Market every Saturday in season. Pack a picnic basket and take it to the beach or just up the road for a concert at Ravinia. You'll find the picture perfect burger, truffle fries and Maple Malt at Edzo's.

Date: Summer Fair July 21
Favorite Dish: Dry Chili Chicken

Chinatown has expanded over the years and is still one of my favorite places for great Asian food.

Part of what I like about Asian food is the Chinese tradition. I love that the Chinese believe that the heart of the family is in the kitchen and they always put food offerings in front of a little altar that they have right by the stove.

Date: Taste of Greece - August 24-25
Favorite Dish: Gyros

The aroma of fresh meats grilling on a spit make me hungry for a Gyros with Pita. There are also many healthy and delicious Greek salads and a tempting selection of sweets.  Yes, just an OD of seriously good food!

One thing I love about the Greeks? If they don’t have it now just wrap it up and they’ll have it the next morning for breakfast.

Can’t tell you how many times I’ve had leftover Gyros at 7 AM.

Little Italy
Date: Taylor Street Festa Italiana -August 22-25
Favorite Dish: Sausage and Peppers fresh off the grill

All the Italian restaurants in Little Italy get together and throw one of the best parties in Chicago. I know. I’m always here way past my bedtime.

Don’t forget to bring your wine glass.

Date: Summerfest - August 3-4
Favorite Dish: Beer. What else when you get within a block of the ballpark?

It’s definitely not summer in Wrigley without a festival. Just the mention of Wrigley makes me think of food...and Cub’s baseball of course.

Come for the beer but also the music.

Argyle Street
Favorite Dish: Pho

The concentration of Vietnamese restaurants, bakeries and markets fused with Chinese, Cambodian, Laotian and Thai flavors gives this neighborhood food options that are endless. In fact, it’s one of my favorite places to go when I want to remind myself why I moved to Chicago in the first place.

The shopping is tremendous. The last time I was there I got a gigantic bag of groceries for $6.

Taste of Chicago
Dates: July 10-14
Favorite Dish: Too many

Last year 1.2 million people attended The Taste of Chicago 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. Need I say more?

It’s the blowout culinary festival of the season so come hungry and bring lots of moneyJ

Chicago Gourmet 2013
Date: September 27-29 – Grant Park
Favorite Dish: Grand Cru wines

Serious foodies need apply. This is the big one! Chicago Gourmet is a culinary experience that celebrates Chicago's most inspiring chefs and restaurants. This is one festival that is well worth the ticket price...and way too much good eats and drinks to miss.

Dates: July 25-28 - Fiesta del Sol
Favorite Dish: Carnitas

I’ve tagged Pilsen as my refuge for cheap carnitas, tortas, enchiladas, tostadas, and tamales. Do I have them all covered?

There are so many outstanding cheap eats and grocery stores in this neighborhood you could spend years trying to cover them all.

Like I said on my first trip, the second that I got off the El, I knew I was at home. The murals in the 18th Street station are amazing. Honestly, I could have been wandering around Tonola, Toluca or any other small town in Mexico.

This neighborhood is one of my favorite places to eat in Chicago.

Come to think of it, which neighborhood in Chicago isn’t my favorite place to eat?

Bon Appetit!

Summer Ice Creams

Are these some of the best ice creams ever? You have a YES from the self-anointed ice cream expert… again.

What I really liked about these recipes is that they are all different and used an interesting ingredient for the base. Also, they are really simple. I like simple! I made all three batches up in under a half hour. The first one is the only recipe that called for an ice cream maker.

I’m experimenting and hope to master the more difficult custards by the end of summer. Stay tuned.

Bon Appetit!

This one is for my little brother who always requests Strawberries and Angel Food for his birthday. I really loved the taste of the cream cheese in this recipe.

Strawberries and Angel Food Ice Cream
Makes 3/4 quart
8 oz. softened cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup chopped strawberries
1/2 cup cubed angel food cake 
In a mixer cream together the cream cheese and sugar until well combined.
Stir in the milk, salt and heavy whipping cream.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
Pour into your ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer directions for use.
Add in the strawberries and angel food cake just a few minutes before the ice cream is done..
Three Ingredient Ice Cream… again.

Three ingredients and like magic, I had a bowl of the creamiest, lemon ice cream ever…again.

I love this recipe because it is so straightforward and only uses 3 ingredients.

Ice Cream with Lemon Curd

2/3 cup whipping cream
1/3 can (4 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup lemon curd

Whip the cream.

Stir in the sweetened condensed milk and lemon curd.

Pour the mixture into the container, cover and freeze.

Strawberry Helado Sorbet

This is a 3 ingredient recipe too. It is from Food and Wine and is made simply by pureeing frozen fruit in a food processor. Ice Cream doesn’t get any easier than this or any better. I can’t tell you how refreshing this tasted. I would like to try it with some other fruits this summer. Remember that your fruit has to be frozen when you start it.

I used plain low-fat Greek yogurt because I could not find fromage blanc at my local store and didn’t have time to run out and find some. It was an ideal substitute.

1 pound frozen strawberries
½ cup fromage blanc or plain, low-fat yogurt
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

In a food processor, puree the strawberries with the fromage blanc and sugar for 2-3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl and serve. It can also be frozen and eaten the next day.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

World Food: Mexico…

There is a brilliant series of books that are out of print called World Food by Lonely Planet.

If you want to get an education on the food and drink for a particular country, these books are a comprehensive introduction to what you are about to experience when you travel there. In my opinion, they are a must read. But what do I know? I’ve had their book on Mexico for 13 years and never really studied it until this week. Don’t ask me why. If I had paid attention back then, I might have been a foodie a lot sooner.

Most of the books were published in 2000 – 2002. Why Lonely Planet abandoned the series is a mystery. These books would be popular today if updated since the population of foodies continues to expand.

They got a few – and I mean only a few- bad reviews on some facts that readers claimed were not totally accurate. From whose experience?

We all argue about what is accurate. Someone asked me the other day what I meant by having an authentic experience for Day of the Dead? OK – that question provoked me to come to the conclusion that authentic is all in the eye and the mind of the beholder.

These books are not a cookbook...some whined about too few recipes... or a travel guide ...some complained about not enough restaurant recommendations.

The books will take you through the history and culture of a country’s food and leave you convinced that you will have those same "authentic" experiences as well. Oh, and I promise that they will also leave you hungry.

My motivation to be in Mexico use to be for the sake of the journey. 

Now it’s for a good meal.

Stay Tuned and Bon Appetit!

Recipes from The Farmer’s Markets

Fruit and vegetables are slowly coming out at the Farmer’s market, my favorite place to be on Saturday morning.

Here are some of my new favorite recipes - a healthy appetizer with strawberries and fresh ricotta or cream cheese, a delicious salad where tomatoes are roasted to bring out their smoky flavor (a perfect salad recipe for the holiday weekend) and then combined with watermelon, a new twist on a Wedge salad…it is grilled and a wonderful strawberry mojito.

I’m not crazy about sweet drinks but I really loved this Mojito and used a bit more sparkling water than what the recipe called for.

The traditional Strawberry season use to be from June until mid-August but new farming methods have extended the season from April to mid-December.

We were so into Strawberries today that we also made S'mores and a sugar-coated biscuit with Strawberries and Ice Cream for our dinner tonight.

Strawberry and Blue Cheese Bruschetta
Recipe: Eaing Well

12 medium strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup (2 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel) or Ricotta
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1-2 teaspoons water, if needed
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
12 slices whole-grain baguette (1/4 inch thick), warmed or toasted

  Combine strawberries and sugar in a medium bowl and let stand while you make the cheese spread.
Combine cream cheese and blue cheese in a small bowl using a fork. Add water, if necessary, for a thick but spreadable consistency. Stir in 1 tablespoon chives and pepper.

Spread about 1 teaspoon of the cheese mixture on each piece of baguette. Top with the sliced berries. 

Garnish with a sprinkle of chives, if desired.

Strawberry Mojitos
Recipe: Fine Cooking

11 oz. strawberries, hulled (2-3/4 cups) 
1/3 cup fresh lime juice 
1/4 cup granulated sugar 
10 large fresh mint leaves 
1 cup white or amber rum 
1 cup seltzer 
Mint sprigs, lime wedges, or fresh strawberries, to garnish

In a medium pitcher, combine the strawberries, lime juice, sugar, and mint leaves and crush with a muddler or wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute. Add the rum and stir gently.

Fill 4 rocks glasses three-quarters full with ice, divide the mojito among them, and top each with about 1/4 cup seltzer. Garnish with mint sprigs, lime wedges, or strawberries. Makes 4.

Watermelon and Charred Tomato Salad
Recipe: Food and Wine

4 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
2 pounds seedless watermelon—rind removed, flesh cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 English cucumber—halved, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Kosher salt

Light a grill or preheat a grill pan; oil the grill grate. Brush the tomatoes with olive oil and grill cut side down over high heat until charred, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool completely. Cut the tomatoes into 1/2-inch dice.

In a large bowl, toss the tomatoes with the watermelon, cucumber, lime juice and crushed red pepper. Stir in the cilantro, season with salt and serve at once.

Grilled Iceberg Wedges with Tomato, Bacon and Blue Cheese
Recipe: Fine Cooking

6 oz. slab bacon, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide strips (lardons)
3 oz. good-quality blue cheese, such as Roquefort
1/2 cup buttermilk; more as needed
3 Tbs. sour cream
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice or white wine vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives
1 head iceberg lettuce (about 1-1/2 lb.), trimmed of tough or discolored outer leaves, quartered or cut into sixths through the core, with the core intact
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium (4 to 5 oz.) ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into 3/4-inch chunks

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill fire for direct grilling over medium heat (350°F).

Put enough water in a 10-inch skillet to just cover the bottom (about 1/4 cup) and add the bacon in a single layer. Cook over medium heat until the water evaporates and the bacon starts to sizzle, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is golden outside and tender inside, about 20 minutes. (You want it to be chewy rather than hard and crisp.) Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mash the blue cheese with a fork. Add the buttermilk, sour cream, and lemon juice and whisk to combine. Season with 1 tsp. salt and several grinds of pepper. Stir in the chives.

Put the iceberg on a baking sheet, drizzle with the olive oil, toss gently to coat evenly, and season with salt. Place the iceberg on the grill cut side down and grill until nicely marked, 1-1/2 to 2 minutes. Turn and mark on the other cut sides, about 2 minutes more.

Transfer the grilled iceberg to a platter or individual plates. Spoon a generous amount of the dressing on top, then scatter with the bacon and tomato. Serve immediately, passing any remaining dressing at the table.

Bon Appetit!

Shrimp Tacos with Green Tomatillo Sauce

This recipe from Food and Wine is a great change from all the chicken and pork that I've been eating lately. Loaded down with all the vegetables, this recipe can be put on your list for the days that you are watching what you eat.

Healthy, quick and oh so delicious!

Bon Appetit!

1/2 pound tomatillos—husked, rinsed and quartered
1/2 small onion, quartered
1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
3 garlic cloves
Kosher salt
Freshly black pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced crosswise
1 1/4 pounds medium shrimp (about 36), shelled and deveined
Twelve 6-inch bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
12 corn tortillas, warmed
Shredded green cabbage and parsley leaves, for serving

In a medium saucepan, combine the tomatillos, onion, jalapeño and garlic with 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a blender.

Boil the cooking liquid until reduced to 1/4 cup, then add it to the blender and let cool completely. Puree the salsa and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the salsa to a bowl, stir in the chopped cilantro and refrigerate until chilled, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, toss the celery with the lime juice; season with salt and pepper.

Light a grill or preheat a grill pan; oil the grill grate. Thread 3 shrimp onto each skewer. Brush the shrimp with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over high heat, turning once, until lightly charred and cooked through, about 4 minutes. Remove the shrimp from the skewers and transfer to a platter. 

Serve the shrimp with the salsa, celery salad, warm tortillas, cabbage and parsley leaves so guests can assemble their own tacos.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

NRA 2013

After four years, I still have a lot to learn…and to eat. But I did my fair share of both at NRA2013 this past week.

This is the best show when it comes to getting an on-the-spot education not only on food but things like Aquaponics, Food Science and Technology, Flavorings and Sustainability.

One thing for sure…the industry is getting greener.

This is one industry where things change so rapidly, you need a regular update just to keep up with the basics.

I also make it a practice to buy more than a dozen cookbooks every year just to keep up with the food trends.

One thing I did notice this year... people. Lots of people and there appeared to be a more lengthy and active level of exchange between the exhibitors and attendees.

Most people at the show were really encouraged by the upward trend.

Chefs Still Create The Magic

From television chefs to those who are teaching you the cooking basics or taking academic research and pioneering molecular gastronomy to a higher level, when all is said and done, it’s the chefs who still create the magic.

Runway Show…The Innovative Scene Stealer
Chef Works staged a Runway Show that was an NRA first. It’s about time since restaurant clothing has been way too boring over the years.

Salud to Chef Works creative team who thought up this part of their presentation. It worked brilliantly!

The Face Of The Company

CEO’s are everywhere but great ones…they are few and far between. You’ve heard a lot about CEO branding these days and a case in point was Phillip Baltz. I met him the first day of the show. Actually he seemed like someone I had met before he was so friendly.

I was impressed by his easy style but also his enthusiasm for the products at Rana Pasta and Sauces. I later found out that Rana is his client and Phillip Baltz is President of Baltz and Company, a major PR firm in New York, LA and Denver.

Looking at his long list of clients, it’s no wonder that companies want to succeed with him. 

Doesn’t everyone want to work with someone who is this passionate?

Trust Me…A Chicago Dog Does Not Have Ketchup

Once again, I listened to someone explain why you don’t put ketchup on a Chicago dog.

Every year the stories get funnier and a less worth repeating.

These Samples Are Making Me Ravenous...

When I worked for Pillsbury, we had to go in the Taste Kitchen every day to try something new.

I loved this part of my job but imagine instead of doing this for 30 minutes a day, you had to do it all day?

I swore I wasn’t going to overindulge again this year but my first bite of Eli’s new Honey Mediterranean Cheesecake with toasted pistachios and almonds yanked me in.

Several hot dogs, seafood and steaks later, I laughed and realized that taste testing was again just part of the job…that was until I tried to zip my pants up the next day.

More Desserts Are Not Necessarily Too Many

I just heard someone say “Oh No. Not another Dessert” From whose perspective?

I love all the samples but none of them better than the desserts.

Chocolate Is Not A Drug..Or Is It?

After sampling most of the chocolate at the show, I’ve decided in my next life, I’m coming back as a Chocolate Buyer.

Traveling around the world to places like Belgium, Nicaragua, Ghana, Mexico, Brazil, Bolivia, Guatemala in seach of chocolate is the job I have in my dreams.

Like the old saying goes, chocolate doesn’t make the world go around but it certainly makes the ride worthwhile.

A Balancing Act

Bringing all the aspects of this show together from Exhibitors, new products, educational sessions and design elements not to mention the Celebrity Chefs is a balancing act.

Congrats to the NRA for doing it well again this year.

The International Wines and Spirits Event

I use to do liquor promotions for a company when I was in my twenties. How great was it to get a paycheck to sip drinks all day and talk to people about how good they are? Sometimes it is in retrospect that you appreciate how easy a job was. 

I always find exciting, new products at this side show that has grown to be an central part of the annual event overall.

My two new favorite sips this year were:

Domaine de Canton is a ginger liqueur that was inspired by the French tradition in which sweet and fresh elixirs were fortified by fine eaux de vie and cognac. Translation: Wow – was this smooth.

No wonder since this is a small batch that is handmade using only the finest of Vietnamese ginger. 

And given that it is French Vietnamese, need I say more?

Chopin Vodka is another small batch that is a single-ingredient vodka. Take your pick of Potatoes, Rye or Wheat.

The International Wine and Spirits competition awarded Chopin Potato a gold metal.

No wonder I was just served the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had. 

Bon Appetit!