Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Honey Baked Ham
Macaroni and Cheese
Green Bean Casserole
Banana Cream Pie
Sweet Potato Pie
Thanksgiving at our house was traditional this year. My sis and I have done some New Mexican themed holiday dinners in the past, from which I've snuck in a dish or two for Thanksgiving. And I'm famous for conjuring up a risotto for any occasion. But since it was just my husband's family visiting this year, I decided to keep the green chile and pasta products mostly out of it.
Gravy with Fresh Herbs*
Mushroom and Parmesan Bread-Pudding Style Stuffing
Mashed Maple Sweet Potatoes with Candied Walnuts* (the breakout hit of the show, I think)
Roasted Root Veggies with Garlic and Thyme *
Crushed Cranberry Sauce
Walnut, Orange and Red Onion Salad
Rosemary Ciabatta Rolls
Martha's Pumpkin Cake with Brown Butter Icing
2007 Ehlers Estate Pinot Noir
In preparation, I finally bought all the things from Crate and Barrel and CHEF's that I didn't know to register for when we got married three years ago...Like an army of serving utensils and white ware bowls, a table cloth in a shade of any-season-friendly green, a 12-quart stock pot, and generous latte mugs for guests to endlessly fill with hot tea to warm themselves.
I flaked on the extra candles for the mantel and kept the table almost Quaker in terms of embellishment, but the big fire in the fireplace was all the atmosphere we needed.
All in all, a success. More than anything, I'm learning that successful entertaining means impressing people with as little work as possible so they can enjoy my company as much as the food.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009
Friday, October 2, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Don is on his way to California this weekend to start filming the first round of challenges and cuts. As the only person I know who's more competitive than my husband, my money says that he'll show up with all guns blazing. And a killer wardrobe.
Go, Don, go!!!
Friday, August 7, 2009
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Monday, August 3, 2009
Imagine a shiny, spanking new, happy place where the menu is straight out of Milan and the design sensibility is one part Vespa, one part Jetsons. SI! SI! SI! Our service was excellent and the coffee had that heavenly smooth, well-rounded flavor that the Italiani do to perfection. Even better, it's a Chicago venture with three locations in the Loop already - the other two are in the Hyatt Center and in the Prudential Building. Am a huge fan. Am cursing recent job decision to ditch the Loop. But, ever the optimist, I took one of their rewards cards anyway.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
I found this strata recipe on Epicurious that I adapted, using blackberries and orange instead of raspberries and lemon, and making the custard a little richer. They were impressed with how beautiful it looked and absoltuely loved it's delicious warming sweetness, and I was amazed how much better I like it than typical french toast.
1/2 cup maple syrup
3/4 loaf of whole grain bread with crust
1 1/2 pints fresh blackberries
6 large eggs
2 cups milk
1 cup half & half
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
Heat the oven to 350 degrees, with the rack positioned at the center. Lightly butter a 9 x 13 in. baking dish. Pour the maple syrup into the bottom of the dish - don't worry about evenly coating the surface. Cut the bread up into large cubes and scatter around the bottom with the blackberries.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, half & half, zest, and salt. Pour the custard over the cubes of bread and pop the baking dish into the oven. It'll need to bake 45 to 50 minutes. Look for a nice, puffy golden brown surface with no wet spots in the center. Let cool 5 minutes before dusting with powdered sugar and serving with more drizzled maple syrup on top.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Oh, and the class fee is only $25. How great is that?
PS - soigne is pronounced (swan yay) and means stylish, elegant, and well-crafted. Now you know.
Have a date you're trying to underwhelm? Ah, you romantic bastard.
Sola - I have some very picky friends who are in love with this place (www.sola-restaurant.com)
Kaze Sushi - honestly my favorite sushi place ever, we just never get over there (www.kazesushi.com)
Chalkboard - I hear good things - upscale comfort food
A little further away...
Lula Cafe - holy schmoly I love this place. It's kind of got a quirky casual urban hipster atmosphere and the food is freaking KILLER. Love. Gets utterly packed. Def make reservations (www.lulacafe.com).
Happy mating dance.
Monday, June 8, 2009
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Bubbles: There's no Prosecco on the menu. Pour que?
Smelts: I talked the table into ordering these with a wistful story about my Italian grandfather. They were just ok. Fried perfectly, all lightness and crisp. But not a lot of flavor. The fried lemon slices that accompanied them however are my new favorite weird thing to eat.
Flatbread: The vegetarian flatbread with asparagus, mint and fresh mozzarella? Killer good with a flawless crust. The mint is just such a nice surprise.
Crab sandwich: I ordered this new item on the menu sans bacon. It was solid, but I thought the unbelievably adorable housemade buns overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the crab a little. (Phil Foss at Lockwood knows how to get this balance right. I'm drooling thinking about his salmon sandwich....)
Sesame crusted whitefish: This was the most improved dish I tried since the opening. They've perfected the interplay of textures, and the flavor of the fish was excellent. Nicely done.
Desserts: They were amazing the first week, and they didn't disappoint this time either. The dynamic among the four of us at the table went something like: Sample, swoon. Sample, swoon. Sample, sip, swoon.
Service: Getting better. There was only one long pause in service this time around. I'm sure the lack of work stress and presence of friends with two bottles of wine helped too.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Gotta love those Aussies.
Monday, June 1, 2009
Despite his considerable chops as a nationally-celebrated pastry chef, I'd never heard of David Lebovitz before two days ago. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse? Yes, of course. But David's fame is from two all-dessert cookbooks he wrote after spending years at Panisse, both of which I've averted my eyes from in bookstores to resist taking home in plain brown paper bags and stashing greedily under my bed. This week, however, I was in le mood for some nonfiction foodie reading and saw that The Sweet Life in Paris by Lebovitz is #6 on Amazon's Kindle nonfiction list. Now I'm in awe of this man doing God's work in France as a transplant, and dispatching books and blogs about it. Aside from Paris's art world, which I explored somewhat in my late college years, he's given me the foodie half that I just knew existed - and it's even better than I hoped.
It's been my dream to take a romp through Paris that I've very creatively entitled the "Let's Eat Our Way through Paris Trip." Despite having a willing spouse and knowing two great couples to go whole hog with me on the idea, it's still just a glimmer in my eye, thanks to the recession, the underperforming dollar, and my own career ambitions of late. So. Lebovitz's book has been an excellent substitute. He's not only a witty observer, he opens up his personal life to make his essays feel like the first-hand accounts of a friend, one with a three-dimensional life that just happens to revolve around 5 kilo slabs of chocolate.
Amazed at his description of G. Detou, the pastry-makers paradise he describes in the book, I pounced on his blog online and MON DIEU! found that he leads culinary tours through the city. The one I'm fantasizing about is this Gastronomic Adventure in October, and I swear, if I went he would certainly not need to give me the shorts and fanny pack lecture.
One day, my friend. One day.
(The above photo of G. Detou is by Jason Whittaker.)
Friday, May 29, 2009
2. Open two weeks now, Terzo's service staff is definitely still getting its legs. Lunch there has been averaging about 90 minutes - a long time for most of us to escape our typical weekday maelstrom. I'm checking it out for dinner next Thursday to see how the experience varies from mid-day.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Navy Bean Artichoke "Hummus"
Blue Corn Chips
Pitchers of Vodka Lemonade
Grilled Salmon Fillets with Ginger Soy Glaze
Grilled Petit Sirloin Steaks
Red Potato Salad with Gorgonzola
Tossed Green Salad with Mango
Nothing on the menu took more than a few minutes to prepare, except for the steaks - which at succulent 4 inches thick required some serious grilling. The quality of both the salmon and steak (from the previous day's Whole Foods expedition) were AH-MAZ-ING.
The big star of the day however seemed to be the grape salsa, for its unexpected blend of cool sweetness, mint, and heat. Pile that onto a salty chip and YUM!
Grape Mint Salsa
From Southern Living Magazine by way of Epicurious
2 cups green seedless grapes, coarsely chopped
2 cups red seedless grapes, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 whole jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped (don't forget your gloves for this part!)
Sunday, May 24, 2009
The parking sitch: Not bad. The 400+ space facility was as full as you'd expect on Memorial Day weekend just after the grand opening (are we nuts, by the way?), but it's designed well enough that you can easily circulate until someone vacates a spot, which only took a couple of minutes.
The first impression: In Broadway parlance, it's a WOW. We entered on the second floor and descended the long escalator into a bright, airy, lofty space bursting with produce, live music, patrons sipping coffee at cafe tables, and people. Lots and lots of people.
Navigation: Maybe it's just the museum geek in me, but I wanted a map with my shopping cart. Looking south, I saw more and more store. It goes on for days. There's a mezzazine level and a diner, not to mention six other eateries tucked into various sections, only a few of which I saw on this visit. The produce section however didn't seem any bigger than the former one, and its still laid out at angles with cramped aisles - maximizing eye appeal but minimizing mobility. From there, the rest of it meanders generously around the big key landmarks, like the impressive Butcher counter and Bakery, which I swear attracted about 300 people with its free tasting stations.
Favorite surprise: Aisle Rage could have set in between Seafood and Dairy if my astute husband hadn't spotted a fellow shopper carrying a glass of beer who informed him that, "This whole store is a bar. You can get drinks at different places and carry them around." He pointed out the beer bar; my honey quickly began hunting for the inevitable wine counterpart. Which he found across from the milk, next to the large wine department. The double-sided Da Vine bar is surprisingly big, with an elevated seating area, knowledgeable staff, and a menu offering some interesting wines-by-the-glass and cheeses. A few steps away, a kid carved up giant wheels of amazingly tangy Parmigiano Reggiano for free samples. Sipping and munching, I relaxed considerably and ticked items off our shopping list. I turned to my husband and said, "Yeah. This is our store. We've come home."
The six remaining eateries are thematic to Chicago's neighborhoods: Wicker Park Subs, Pilsen Taqueria, Taylor Street Pizza, Asian Express, the retro Riverview Diner, and the Chicago Smokehouse and Rotisserie. There's also a lounge area, outdoor tables overlooking the river, and the entryway coffee and beer bar with a live music stage.
Other surprises: The seafood department offers three types of fresh wild salmon. My husband stared in wide-eyed wonder at the endless possibilities of the DIY nut butter station, not to mention the trail mixes possbile in the expanded bulk foods area that's about double the size of the previous one. In every area, selection is vast. I chose from eight kinds of European-style butters and nearly freaked when trying to decided on yogurt.
Customer service: Seriously great. They must be plying the staff with free yoga and aura massages, because we only encountered cheerful, helpful people who never forgot to ask if there was anything else we needed.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
So I Googled it and naturally found a litany of discussion board strings offering all manner of sage advice for when the usual handwashing has failed. "Soak your hands in bleach." Um, no. Just plain no. "Scrub with a polmace stone." I'm thinking that was meant to be pumice stone, but again, I must decline on the basis that I want to keep my epidermis mostly intact. Being Italian-American, my first inkling was olive oil. I nearly headed in that direction when I saw a post, by a strong speller, who swore that half and half was his miracle cure. I was a little sad to waste any of the sacred dairy combo, but I indeed just bathed my hands in some, and well, wow. About 90% of the burn is gone.
But if you know a better way, please tell.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
It's a given that my brain is fried. But on Sunday, once I consented to peeling myself off the sofa, I walked over to a mirror to confront what 10+ months of monster-truck-sized stress have done to my body. And people, I am fat. Not Biggest Loser fat. Just there's-no-way-in-hell-I'm-going-to-fit-into-last-summer's-pants fat. And last summer? Not exactly a moment to celebrate in my personal journey toward glowing health and fitness.
I've made three decisions about this. 1) It is not going to be my new norm. Noooo, nononono. NO. Change is coming to these hips, America. 2) It's time to put the kibosh on the stress. And 3) I will eat my kind of food to return to a healthy weight. No sense in pretending that I'm going to forgo real food pleasures for, well, anything ever. I'll just have to pace them somewhat more between fresh seasonal produce, whole grains, and...um, something else that my take-out habit has fogged up my brain cells too much to remember.
To brush up on these weighty matters - sorry, couldn't resist - I downloaded Jillian Michaels' new book Master Your Metabolism on my (amazing, awesome, stellar) Kindle. I never watch her show. But I do relish her refreshing talent for honest, sweaty, ass-kicking fitness, and the fact that the book focuses on endocrinology intrigued me greatly.
It has me REELING. Michaels relates how in past years she meticulously consumed 1,200 calories a day and spent over six hours in the gym a week to keep her bod in top form. No shock there. But if she "relaxed" and ramped it up to all of 1,800 calories with the same workouts, she gained 15 lbs. almost immediately. I know dozens of people who can relate to a similar scenario...just none who look like her or have her discipline. An endocrinologist treating one of Michaels' clients eventually tested her and found that literally every major metabolic hormone in her system was totally out of whack - thanks to years of dieting, stress, lack of sleep and consuming processed foods.
And it's that last item that has me reeling. I always knew that processed foods could trigger allergies or lead to long-term health issues like heart disease, and I've minimized them without getting too worked up over it. But I didn't imagine that they could so quickly bring on a vicious cycle of obesity, for one. Or ovarian cysts. Or premature puberty. Or depression. Or any of the other honestly serious immediate dangers triggered by hydrogenated oils, FDA approved preservatives, and additives. In short, if wellness nazis like Jillian Michaels aren't immune from the effects of this toxic junk that's completely taken over our culture, then America, my friends, we are all deeply, truly effed.
So I have to believe that this is where Darwinism kicks in, and the smart ones will take the advice to thrive in spite of the overall environment of crap. Which means going all-out, full-stop organic. And breaking up with diet Dr. Pepper and protein bars for good. And learning the entire number system for plastics so I know which ones will alter my DNA if put in my dishwasher. None of which sounds so terribly daunting, but just try to go stand in line at Cosi and order lunch with all this spinning around in your head.
As usual, my friend Dar has a way of just knowing like Yoda. She sent me a package from Zingermans this week as a gift, and when I opened it, I was greeted by a box of Rabitos Royale ...Spanish figs filled with brandy liqueur, dipped in chocolate. No, not diet food. But here's the thing: it wouldn't even occur to the Spanish to fill this unreal little bonbon with toxic crap. In the US, we'd slap an "ALL NATURAL" banner on the front and sell them for 300% markup. But this little darling is exactly the one special treat of my day that won't make me miffed about doubling up on the salads.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Terzo Piano will begin taking reservations on Monday, May 11th. You may make reservations for parties up to 8 by phone (312 443-8650) or online at www.opentable.com.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Friday afternoon, I walked through the restaurant space with one of my project teams on our way to the Bluhm Family Terrace, and it was clear that Terzo has turned a major corner since my last visit just a week ago. Staff members were unloading and stacking dishes and cookware in the kitchen. Even better, as we emerged into the dining area, there was a collective gasp: the interior architecture is completely finished and it is *gorgeous*. Denison has done a phenomenal job with his usual minimalist restraint, although the pearl-toned mosaic on the bar is a surprising touch of understated glamour. The chairs and other furnishings were just beginning to make their way in, some of them supporting nervous-looking interviewees.
Can't wait! Can't wait!...and I won't have to for very long, because I'm booked for a "rehearsal" lunch there this week.
I've also learned that the restaurant plans to take reservations on Open Table. I have to admit I'm proud yet shocked that AIC has decided to go this way. In the eight years I've worked there, the museum has always been veeeery slow to adopt any form of new technology. It's truly a new day. Naturally, this also means it's going to be all the more competitive to get a reservation for those lunches and once-weekly dinners.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Time Out Chicago did a pretty good article on communal etiquette last fall. What it doesn't acknowledge is that it's pretty natural to feel awkward in the communal situation when you're dining solo. Introverts and extroverts aside, human food-sharing is a primal behavior that we've been hardwired to use for bonding to others at every stage of life - from breastfeeding to dating to power-lunching. We use food to connect with other humans to get our needs met.
And so there you are, sitting between two total strangers, reeeally hoping they don't want to bond while you have your way peaceably with a tuna salad. The graceful thing to do is, as Time Out suggests, at least acknowledge the humans around you. Time Out suggests making introductions - as in, they want me to voluntarily exchange names with the entire table. I have never once seen this done. I think a simple hello should suffice. Then, if you're not feeling up for a brisk round of networking, reading is always a good strategy to politely say, "Do not disturb." Just make sure your newspaper doesn't turn into a weapon as you turn pages. Or you could make like Oprah and pony up for a Kindle. As Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos was super-quick to point out on Jon Stewart, it's like, totally perfect for reading with one hand.
2 oz. gin
Now that you're acquainted, I bet you're wondering about the name. A Cobbler cocktail uses a base of wine, sugar, fresh fruit, and ice. The original was the Sherry Cobbler, which was most popular in the late 19th century. (Your silver cocktail shaker with a built-in strainer at home? That's called a Cobbler shaker, but then you probably knew that.) The vermouth is the wine in this case, although I'm guessing it's used in a very small quantity. I tried going back to Blueprint this Friday to bribe the barkeep for the recipe, but they were closed for an event.
Friday, April 24, 2009
As a thank you for patronizing my foodie boite, I thought I'd pass along a 30% Friends & Family Discount for membership at the Art Institute. This means the typical $80 membership will run you $56. This rate is totally transferable and good until May 31st, so feel free to use the code and send it along to other art lovers.
All levels of membership get these bennies:
- Free admission to the museum (unlimited visits!)
- Free admission to special exhibitions (ditto!)
- Members Only Previews of the Modern Wing next month and to special exhibitions (skip the lines!)
- Free admission for all member children 18 and under in the member household
- Access to the Member Lounge (comfy sofas...free coffee)
- Member-only travel opportunities
- Access to the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries
- Exclusive opportunities for Reading between the Lions book club
- Invitations to member events throughout the year
- Subscription to the museum’s e-newsletter
- 10% discount in the Museum Shop and restaurants (including Terzo Piano!)
- 25% discount on Museum Studies
- Member Appreciation Days with member-only tours and double discounts
- Discounts on continuing education courses and membership at the Gene Siskel Film Center
1. Go here to see which membership package you want.
2. Go here to sign up. Use "AICFamily" in the Promotion Code field.
3. Under AIC Staff Referrer enter: "Emilie" (that's me)
4. Await your shiny new membership card in the mail.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Friday, April 17, 2009
1. Dirk Denison designed the restaurant interior? Check. Besides working with Rich Melman and Laurent Gras to design L20, he's a professor of architecture at IIT and a Mies van der Rohe expert. (I also dig him because it was his idea to invite Hubbard Street Dance Chicago to perform in the restored Crown Hall on IIT's campus. He's most certainly cool people.)
2. The Nichols Bridgeway will take pedestrians from Millennium Park to the restaurant level? Check. And it will be awesome.
3. There are no walls, only windows in the restaurant? Um, well, no. There are walls. Not many, but some. You can't see into the kitchen, for one.
4. The glass covered patio is next to an art-filled terrace that overlooks the park? Actually, the patio is part of the terrace. Tables will be near art. Art will be near tables. Even better, no? And the view there, is breathtaking.
5. The lunch menu includes a salad that's an ode to the pea, and cheeses from Iowa and Wisconsin? Check.
6. The dinner menu includes house-made spaghetti? Check. But one important thing bears mention on this point: Dinner will be served just Thursday nights, when the museum is open late.
As of today, reservations for May 16th and thereafter haven't started being accepted yet.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
But, hell, I work a block from Lockwood and literally walk through the Palmer House lobby several times a week. And a girl's gotta eat something other than tuna wraps for lunch. So I parked myself at the bar today fully expecting to order the crab cake sandwich, as I did last time I was there. Except that there is no crab cake sandwich anymore. It's been replaced by the dog. So I ordered it... with truffled chips.
It really is quite good. Not life-changing. But surprisingly rich and delicate at the same time, if not a touch too oozy with more saffron-ginger buerre blanc than it needed. Foss did a great job of honoring all the textures and flavors of the hot dog (if I remember anyway...it's been 15 years or so) using lobster, scallop mousse, leeks, tomatoes, a potato bun and spices. But even if you were oblivious to the provenance in say, a blindfolded, 9 and 1/2 Weeks type situation, it stands on its own as inventive, decadent, comfort food. I don't know anybody who isn't going for that right now. At $18, it's not a recession darling, but I'm not going shame you from enjoying one. Quite the contrary. Despite what the media wants to tell us 24-7, some people have money right now and they're still spending it on things that make them feel good. As were the six other people eating at the bar with me today.
Our waiter mentioned that Potter's, the cocktail lounge at the Palmer House, is offering the dog for half price on Wednesdays. That's nine more bucks for your cocktail kitty.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Best part: They're on the verge of opening a Santa Fe location at the Railyards on May 4th! Which is awesome, because the new Rail Runner Express runs between Albuquerque and Santa Fe in less than 45 minutes. Meaning I can skip the 85 mph drag race on I-25 in favor of relaxing with a nice read, to then hop off the train for a hand-mixed Italian soda and a steaming Buddha Bowl. BLISS.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Haruki's appreciation reminds me a little of my friend Don's 9-month old son. Yesterday at brunch, his wine-loving parents showed us how he's already learned to lean in and sniff the bouquet in a glass, imitating his dad's most serious expression while he does it. Pretty awesome. It made me feel slightly less freakish for having grown up in a family so Italian that I was literally enjoying veal cutlets and watered down vino in my highchair.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
1) Reservations are required. This is not a drop-in dining moment, at the five-star hotel buffets in particular. My friend Nicole booked ours a while ago and she's sent email updates to remind us to be on time. She isn't paranoid. I remember managing the Easter reservations at the corporate club where I worked ages ago, and the rule for late-comers was You Snooze, You Lose...or at least get put on stand-by, because we gave your table away after 10 minutes. Nicer restaurants are a good alternative, and there's usually less Darwinism. I just checked Open Table, and plenty of great spots are still open starting at 1:00 today, including Spiaggia, Aigra Doux, Farmerie 58, Brasserie Jo, Graham Elliot, and the Gage.
2) Skip one meal today. Otherwise your're just asking for love handles and acid reflux.
3) Definitely work out twice this weekend. Hard.
4) Do not show up famished. Have a light snack before if necessary.
5) Start with the lighter items - soups, salads, fruit, crepes. Visiting these stations first is always a wise strategy to avoid misery later because it avoids filling up on the heavy stuff too fast.
6) On the second trip, look for something dazzling and enjoy an RDA portion. Then revert back to the lighter stuff if there's any room left. If I have dessert, it'll be fruit-based.
7) Try to keep it down to 2-3 glasses of wine. Today's feast is with our friends who own Just Grapes, so this will pose a challenge since we tend to order bottles by the round with them... It's okay to substitute one specialty cocktail, but just one. After two I'm sauced and my entire playbook goes out the window.
8) Do not hit the couch post-buffet for a couple of hours. Since Chicago's Easters are usually frigid, this usually means window shopping indoors or getting creative.