Alinea Named World's Top Restaurant

March 30 2012 - 4:16 PM

As Chicago's profile in the world of food increases, it was encouraging to hear that Alinea was named the World's Top Restaurant by Elite Traveler magazine, beating out Thomas Keller's French Laundry and Per Se, for starters.  

Thankfully I ate at Alinea before it received its Michelin stars and when there was a still a choice of tasting menus.   It will only continue to get harder to eat there, but on the plus side it will continue to attract jet-setting foodies from around the world who come to Chicago (or just Alinea) as a destination.   It will definitely help chip away at our inferiority complex that seems to instinctively come up when New York is mentioned. (New Yorkers may take comfort that they have four of the top twenty restaurants.)


Farm & Garden

Industrial Farmers Need Some Love!

March 30 2012 - 10:21 AM

CHEAPCHICKENSYesterday I spent breakfast speaking with a roomfull of farmers as part of a PR campaign for the USFRA which is the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. Their Premier Partner Advisory Group is Monsanto, Dupont, Pfiizer, and John Deere. They are looking, not for consumer feedback but to tell consumers something new. Here's their call to action (emphasis NOT added):

Raise Your Voices
As farmers and ranchers, we’ve raised pretty much everything. Except our voices. For too long the voice of farmers and ranchers has often been missing in the conversation about where food in America comes from. That changes now. USFRA is inviting all farmers and ranchers to join us in leading the conversation with Americans. Raise your voice and share your story. Together, we can begin a dialogue with Americans about where their food comes from, the importance of today’s agriculture and our commitment to continuous improvement.
I can understand where they are coming from. They are a firm part of a food system that has Jamie Oliver taking swipes, Michael Pollan writing essays, and the news broadcasting tales of animal abuse and green slime. It's a sad place to be. When we think of farmers we think of picturesque families petting their animals with a knowing gleam in their eyes that their buddy will be lunch just about any day now… but that's because we're Chicagoans and don't really see what family farms have become.



1976 Chateau de Canterrane Rivesaltes

March 28 2012 - 10:09 PM

Chateau1976I bought this wine at the old Sam's in Lincoln Park probably about three or four years ago, and at the time I had little awareness of what was in this bottle.   I put it away in the wine fridge, in part because the front of the bottle said 1976 on the front.

Rivesaltes is part of  Languedoc-Roussillon  (more specifically, Roussillon), France's largest wine region, the kind that has made stories for growers creating wine lakes and converting wine into gasoline.   There are an incredible amount of regions, grape varietals with which even serious oenophiles are unfamiliar, and types of wines that barely, if at all, mentioned in any publication.    Personally I love buying Languedoc-Roussillon wine because it's an adventure of obscure grapes, such as Picpoul de Pinet and Colombard.    I also like the region because prices are still affordable in comparison to other areas of France.

Rivesaltes is a fortified wine, not unlike Port or Madiera, from a town in Roussillon of the same name, which is located close to Peripignan by the Spanish border.   These wines tend to be blends of Muscat and Grenache or Grenache Blanc and can be white or red.  Like many fortified wines, a spirit was added to stop the fermentation process, in this case an eau de vie of grapes.   This process apparently was invented in 1285by the Arnaud Villeneuve, who was a  physician at the Court of Kings of Majorca and  a scholar of the University of Montpellier.  He invented the technique called mutage, the marriage of the wine must, the freshly pressed pulp, skin, juice, and stems, and spirits.    The addition of spirits stops the fermentation of the wine and retains its sweetness.   It's worth noting that this process was long implemented before the production of Port and Sherry, whose history can be traced only the 1600s.  


News & Features

Desserts for Deserts Event

March 27 2012 - 4:24 PM

DessertsDo you like sweets and good causes? We thought so. On Wednesday, March 28th from 7-10 p.m. you'll have a chance to get a little bit of both at the Desserts for Deserts event at the Greenhouse Loft. The blog Fed Up is putting on the event to raise awareness about food deserts, areas where healthy and affordable food is difficult to find. 

Attendees will get the chance to sample desserts from a number of bakeries, restaurants, caterers and chocolatiers all over the Chicago area. Sponsors include Bleeding Heart Bakery, Hoosier Mama Pie Company and Uncommon Ground, just to name a few. Click here for more information as well as a full list of sponsors. 

Proceeds will go to an organization that helps find solutions to food deserts. Tickets are $55 for general admission or $75 for a VIP ticket that gives you admission to a special reception before the event. Buy your ticket or donate here


2007 and 2008 Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Pinot Noir

March 27 2012 - 1:15 PM

Some of the New World Pinot Noirs can be tough for me to drink, as they are often masquerading as Cabernet Sauvignons and are almost unrecognizable as grapes.  Others tend to take a properly Burgundian style, exhibiting good acid, a fantastic nose, and the pale color that emphasizes the delicacy of the grape.    Sokol Blosser is a winery that is in between the two categories, though it leans more strongly toward New World, while still retaining some of the characteristics of a true Pinot.   I credit Mark Sheppard for introducing me to Sokol Blosser, a wine he discovered in his travels to Oregon.


Home Cooking

Beets au Vin with Coq Recipe

March 27 2012 - 9:49 AM

IMG_1146IMG_1142A couple of months ago two bloggers joined to form The Food Matters Project which cooks its way through Mark Bittman's The Food Matters Cookbook.  Each week someone chooses a recipe and the participaants create their own take on it.  The point of the project is to raise awareness about what kind of food goes into your body, that less (meat, dairy, etc.) is more, and that there are many ways to put a spin on a seemingly ordinary recipe.  This week's choice was Vegetables au Vin with Coq and my take substituted the eggplant and green beans that Mark Bittman recommends for beets and leeks from the Green City Market.

It sort of became a Beets au Vin with Coq and it was one of the best dishes I've made in a long time.  This project forces you to be creative and imaginative.  It keeps cooking exciting which is hard to do sometimes! I chose to take a local spin on the recipe, but others did unique things like substituting chick peas for chicken, or making a creamy mushroom soup from it.  Check out the project and see what you can think up!


Home Cooking

Should You Leave the Butter Out?

March 26 2012 - 11:19 AM

Shutterstock_46939705One nice thing about cooking conversations is the huge percentage of technique conversations that are really more about habit than skill. One good example is leaving the butter out or refrigerating it. I grew up with butter in the fridge… right next to the margarine! Of course it doesn't take away from my mother's cooking and baking acumen. It simply was the way they did things. Granted butter has a strict time and place in a Kosher kitchen so that likely had something to do with it.

This past week my wife declared that the butter is to be left out. Now bear in mind, our morning food conversations usually are me admonishing her for mis-using the grapefruit knife and trying to avoid her reciprocal reproaches for me having too many knives, cutting boards, small electrics, etc. So the butter has stayed out all week, just as it does in her parent's home.


Home Cooking

Super Healthy Green Protein Smoothie Recipe

March 26 2012 - 9:15 AM

I had my very first green smoothie a couple of weeks ago, and my world was turned upside down. I was hesitant to try it considering the alarming green hue, but the combination of ingredients just sounded so delicious. Oh, and then there was the spinach. I'd seen and tried enough smoothie recipes with a bit of hidden spinach that it had me convinced enough to make my own recipe.

While the bright color may be overwhelming, the flavor is not. It's sweet, refreshing and super healthy, especially after an intense work out. Plus, it's really easy to have these ingredients on hand at all times. 



Château Lescalle Bordeaux Dinner

March 26 2012 - 8:20 AM

I was invited to a wine dinner held at Mon Ami Gabi with winemaker Claude Gaudin and importer Michael Corso.   Claude Gaugin, accompanied by his wife, has been in the wine trade since 1894, working with the Tessandier family under the company Vitigestion.    Gaugin manages the viticulture, harvesting, and wine making for thirty-eight properties in Bordeaux and Italy, managing a team of twelve people and covering over 2000 acres of vines.   His non-interventionist approach to the vineyard means no herbicides, pesticides, fertilizer, and dense planting of the vines to reduce the yield.   



Eric Solomon Recap: Part Three - Savoy, Sancere, Chablis, Rivesaltes, and Macedonia

March 24 2012 - 11:39 PM

One of the hidden treasures of French wine comes from the area of Savoie.   Nestled near the French Alps, Savoy (Savoie in French) wines are racy and lively, exciting, but hard to find.  Eric Solomon Selections importers, distributed by Maverick, had a lot of wines on display from the nooks and corners of France.

The first wine I started with was from Domaine Giachino (website in French – use Google Chrome to translate), featuring their '11 Abymes Monfarina, made from the Jacquère grape, a wonderful compliment to cheese fondue.  Crisp, minerally, and medium bodied, with a peachiness this was a wonderful way to wake up the taste buds.  I followed this by the same producer's Altesse Roussette de Savoie, made from the Altesse grape, also minerally, with some lemon and peach notes.   A fantastic wine, and very memorable.