All posts by Barbara Payne, Editor

Writer/editor - food, wine, spirits, travel and fun, plus news about developments in biomedicine and about single working women

Eataly lets you taste your olive oil before you buy

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English: Olives in olive oil.
English: Olives in olive oil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Making olive oil is an intense labor of love in Italy. Some even call their olive oils their children. So how are we mere-mortal, non-olive-oil-making folks to know what to buy?

The selection at all-things-Italian Eataly, 43 E. Ohio is, as they say, humongous. Happily, Eataly has an on-site oliologist (olive oil expert) who knows her way around – and will gladly show you your way around, too. Which means, you get to have a private tasting before you buy. A few more quick tips from Gabriella Gentile, Guest Relations Supervisor and Olive Oil Specialist:

You don’t need to know anything special before you taste. The olio expert will ask about the profiles of oils you think you might like, and will then select a few for you to try.

Traditionally you are advised to chew a small slice of apple (Granny Smith is good) or small piece of bread between tastings, but you’d have to bring (or buy) your own in Eataly.

Optimum numbers for a single tasting are three oils and up to five. Italy’s Northern, Central, and Southern regions each have a distinct flavor profile. Tasting three to five oils should give you a good understanding of what region and type of oil you prefer.

Olive oil from Imperia in Liguria, Italy.
Olive oil from Imperia in Liguria, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before you go and get your tasting, it might be fun to read what Eataly’s NYC oliologist has to say about choosing olive oils in this interview on SeriousEats.com. He’s the guy who trained all six olio experts in our Chicago store. The point is olive oil, just like wine, is a reflection of its terroir (where it’s grown), which olives it’s composed of, and how those olives are harvested and processed. The many varieties come with widely different tastes and aromas.

Another way to choose is to look for brands that have won awards. Veronafiere, another organization dedicated to promoting all things Italian, also gives other countries a chance to compete in the world of olive oils. They just put out the winning names of the top 9 olive oils in the Southern Hemisphere and a few honorable mentions.

So you should be ready with this background to go forth and follow your nose to a great olive oil – for cooking, drizzling or dipping. Be ready to shell out some bucks; good olive oils are not cheap. But Ms. Gentile says everyone should be able to walk out of Eataly with a bottle they love in a price range they’re comfortable with.

 

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Chicago Gourmet 2014 today and tomorrow

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It starts months before. Chefs and culinary personalities across the country put on food and drink events in Chicago all year. Then comes the big weekend – that’s now.

Last night Bon Appétit presents Chicago Gourmet opened with the traditional Hamburger Hop. Twenty chefs competed to create the hamburger with the most epicurean elan.

Hamburger Hop winner Chef Mendelsohon #ChicagoGourmet
Hamburger Hop winner Chef Mendelsohon #ChicagoGourmet

Chef Spike Mendelsohn of Good Stuff Eatery got *Judge’s Choice for his “Prez Obama Burger,” with red onion marmalade, gorgonzola crumbles and horseradish mayonnaise on a brioche bun.

The Chefs John Hogan & Tony Mantuano for their “Tête de Tête Burger,” layered with house-made head cheese, onion pickle relish, tête de moine (gourmet Swiss cheese) and crispy pig skin on a yogurt roll. Attendees voted by dropping bottle caps into containers at their favorite chef’s station.

A good time was had by all. And I hope you’re out there today partaking of the expansive array of food and drink options in Chicago’s biggest culinary celebration. If you’re not, see if there are any tickets left for tomorrow.

If you’re feeling flush, get a ticket for the Grand Cru. An unforgettable crush of fabulous wines and gourmet tastes.

* Judges included culinary experts Lin Brehmer (WXRT), Carla Hall (The Chew), Jeff Mauro (Sandwich King), Mario Rizzotti (Iron Chef America), Patrick O’Neill (Lagunitas Brewing Company) and Michael Gebert (Chicago Sun-Times).

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If it’s YOUR name, you get a free meal

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Chuck's four-star food: Caprese Burger
Chuck’s four-star food: Caprese Burger
Chuck's four-star Heirloom Tomato Salad
Chuck’s four-star Heirloom Tomato Salad

A fun promotion’s going on at the Hard Rock Hotel Chicago. Every morning at 8 am, check for your name on the Facebook and Twitter pages of its on-site nearly-four-star restaurant, Chuck’s, A Kerry Simon Kitchen. If your name is listed that day, all you have to do is bring a friend, show up with a photo ID to prove it, and get a free meal and soft drink for yourself (your friend pays or you can split it).

Dubbed the ‘Say My Name’ offer, it’s happening at Chuck’s and Hard Rock Hotel every day. For example, today’s name is SARAH. Everyone named SARAH who comes into the restaurant today (with ID and paying friend) gets the freebie.  The offer is valid all day (restaurant is open until 11 PM.

Facebook and Twitter handle: @ChucksChicago

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Celebrity chef Graham Elliot talks about #sierramistcollab

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Chicago Bears cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman and “MasterChef” judge Graham Elliot celebrate art and Chicago culture at the preview of the Sierra Mist® Exquisite Collaboration Billboard Project on September 17, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The billboard – a collaborative effort between five local Chicago artists – will be photographed and placed in 15 locations throughout the city in late September.
Chicago Bears cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman and “MasterChef” judge Graham Elliot celebrate art and Chicago culture at the preview of the Sierra Mist® Exquisite Collaboration Billboard Project on September 17, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The billboard – a collaborative effort between five local Chicago artists – will be photographed and placed in 15 locations throughout the city in late September.

Graham arrived cool as a cucumber, dressed in his, as he described them, poured-into-them-can’t-get-any-tighter lime green pants, and rarin’ to go. We sat down just before the opening night of the Sierra Mist art-food-music Collaborative Project to relaunch one of PepsiCo“s flagship products, Sierra Mist. Removing his trademark white-framed glasses. he fired off quick and sure answers to a few questions about his partnership in this project.

1. How did Sierra Mist choose you to work with them on this?

The idea of showcasing the synergy and relationship between art and food – how it all comes together – I always try to be at the forefront of that. I don’t want to say I was the obvious choice, but I do believe in it. I take my culinary team to the museum to get inspired by color and shapes. And I believe nothing is more important than the journey to find your own voice. You never want to copy.

2. What has been the most fun about this partnership?

Having the artistic freedom to come up with these dishes. It would be easy [for Pepsico] to say it has to be this way, it has to be super user-friendly. Instead, I’ve had carte blanche. If I want to do something with lime and coconut with citrus accents, that’s okay. The fewer parameters set, the more creative you are allowed to be.

3. What has been the biggest challenge?

To have all this freedom! You want to do something because you want to reach an audience. But you just want to be sure people will like them – you don’t want to be so artsy that you’re just out there.

4. Will your Bistro be featuring any of the dishes you’ve created and for how long?

Yeah, maybe the soup – it’s coconut-cauliflower with lime. As we get into the colder weather something like that would be good. It will stay on the menu as long as people keep ordering it.

5. What would you like to tell readers and other chefs about using Sierra Mist (or any soda) in cooking?

When you look at soda, it has a mouth feel, this effervescence, that works well with cocktails. Then there is the flavor of the soda itself. Sierra mist has a lemon-lime flavor – and I think lemongrass, ginger, cilantro. I think Thailand. I think cranberries – cooking them down and reducing the soda to make a glaze.

Just like at home, you try to unlearn things from the past, and never turn your nose up at new ideas.

I can tell you this: I didn’t get to taste the soup, but if the cranberry dipping sauce he made that night is any indication, I can’t wait to try that soup for what I know will be an intense flavor hit. Join the conversation – #sierramistcollab – and get to the free closing night party tonight! You’re invited.

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A perspective on the great salt divide

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English: A pile of potato chips. These are Utz...
English: A pile of potato chips. These are Utz-brand, grandma’s kettle-cooked style. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As you will probably notice from watching the myriad of (or just myriad, as you prefer) cooking shows on television, chefs tend to use a generous hand when salting their dishes. I do, too.  Do you? My daughter says she can’t seem to duplicate my most delicious dishes – and thinks it’s mainly because she doesn’t put enough salt in them.

Read an article this morning entitled “The Great Salt Divide” on MedPage Today. They interviewed a number of doctors and nutritionists on the role of salt, especially for children, in overall health. Some experts spouted the usual bromides about consuming less.  One made an interesting observation about the potassium-salt balance being an issue:

“In fact, more recently it has been shown that not only is too much salt dangerous but too little salt may also be a concern. Plus, those to [sic] eat too much sodium may not eat enough potassium. Potassium levels that are too low are associated with more adverse cardiac outcomes.”

People. listen to your doctor if you are at risk. But I submit the following information for your consideration:

Selected items of nutrition in a 1 oz. serving of potato chips:

  • Total sodium: 220 mg
  • Total potassium: 320 mg

Doesn’t that look like a nicely balanced food?  Incidentally, corn chips don’t provide this genial balance.

The government says adults need 4.7 grams (4700 mg) of potassium a day.  If my math is right, that means the chips have almost 7% of your daily requirement. That banana you were virtuously thinking about eating offers only just under 9%! A shockingly small difference, isn’t it?

And the recommended level of sodium is 2300 mg per day, which makes the chips not even 10% of that.

Now, since yogurt is also high in potassium, make a dip with it. Greek nonfat tastes great, but regular, full-fat yogurt is measurably higher in potassium (same with milk, by the way). My favorite dip is spicy – plain nonfat Greek yogurt with a generous squirt of sriracha. Dip away – and voila! You’re upping your potassium nicely with your salty chips.

I’m just kidding. This is a food column, not a nutrition source.

And I really do love my chips ‘n’ dip.

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Top-drawer dinner special at David Burke’s Primehouse

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How do you judge the excellence of a steakhouse? Quality of the meat, certainly. The sides matter, of course. But in some cases, more than the food sets one place above another – ambience, wine pairings and service.

That’s where David Burke’s Primehouse, located in The James Hotel at 616 N. Rush St. , stands out. If all the wait staff are as knowledgeable and attentive as was Bryan, our server on a recent visit, this place gets nearly five stars. Plus the wines they paired with our food were truly exceptional. The first one, for example, was a blend of their own vintages that rated a solid four stars.

Primehouse occasionally offers a prix fixe menu with wine pairings at an attractive price compared to ordering a la carte. Once you review the regular menu and look at what you would have been paying, you realize just how attractive the package is.

At any rate, the Primehouse folks select the menu to showcase some of their most popular items. The appetizer, Surf & Turf Dumplings, takes the prize for imaginative use of ordinary ingredients. Two little dumplings – really, deep-fried dough-covered-fillings-on-a-stick – come out beautifully displayed on a pair of square pristine-white plates – set off brilliantly by the restaurant’s subtle mood lighting.

And then comes the taste. Layer upon layer of flavor jumps out as you bite into each dumpling – one made with lobster and roasted lemon chutney, and the other with meltingly tender beef short rib meat seasoned with pickled red onion and spicy mustard. The dish was reminiscent of the finely wrought, multi-layered-flavors in certain Asian delicacies but with a distinctly North American weight to it.

Next came an arugula salad full of almost-bacony flavor from the house-smoked-over-applewood truffle tomatoes, set off with pine nuts and coated lightly with a creamy goat cheese fondue. Nice combo. Especially enjoyed the slight bitterness of the greens with the creamy smoothness of the dressing.

We were taken aback when Bryan delivered the next plate. Three very large chunks of seared, rare ahi tuna sat atop a vegetable mix consisting of preserved fennel, bell peppers, black olives and a few green beans. A more than generous serving of an intriguing combination, though not a favorite for either of us.

Next, the piece de resistance. The auxiliary server arrived with a large char-grilled steak. Bryan was concerned that it might be overdone (we’d requested one serving medium rare and one medium well). We appreciated that he asked to have it taken back so the chef could confirm it was properly cooked to order. While we waited, Bryan explained this is their most popular steak – the bone-in 55-day dry-aged ribeye, and that it hangs in their own dry-aging smokehouse for that many days before it’s sent to the grill.

The steak came back from the kitchen confirmed, and the auxiliary server carved it for us, first in half, and then in slices, giving each of us pieces that conformed to our wished-for doneness. Sides included an aluminum basket of French Fries seasoned with truffle oil and melted Asiago cheese, and a generous helping of Roasted Mushrooms seasoned with shallots, sherry vinegar and herbs and served in a sizzling oval skillet.  While none of these dishes reached beyond good, they were nicely prepared and flavorful.

Throughout the meal both Bryan and the sommelier kept us in generous tastes of the selected paired fine wines. Bryan was also kind enough to write out the list of wines for us:

  • Palette Pinot Noir 2013 (Primehouse’s own blend for sale by request at $75/bottle) – exceptional
  • William Fevre Chablis 2012 – a beautifully balanced, un-oaky Chardonnay
  • Sanford Chardonnay 2013 – Santa Barbara
  • Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 – Napa Valley – exceptional

Finally, a composed dessert called Coconut & Mango. Coconut cake, mango semifreddo (softly frozen custard), mango mojito sorbet, and key lime chia seed gelee. Delicious flavors artfully arranged in a plate-size carnival of color variations, textures and shapes and served with a respectable Italian Moscato, this was a winner.

I’ll be back when this fabulous special is available again.

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Stuff yourself with the ultimate comfort food – Mac & Cheese Fest

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Sat – Oct 4th – UIC Forum – 12-3pm

English: Slices of macaroni and cheese pizza s...
English: Slices of macaroni and cheese pizza served at CiCi’s restaurant in Rochester, Minnesota (Photo credit: Wikipedia

Who doesn’t love mac & cheese? It was a go-to choice for my kids growing up. I remember being appalled at the amount of butter called for on the Kraft® box, so I always cut that in half and added some grated cheddar cheese. Amazingly, the dish is still a favorite with them, even though they’re long grown up.

My mom used to make her homemade version for us nine kids on our Catholic meatless Fridays. She boiled some good old elbow macaroni ‘til it was mushy, then laced it with a bit of butter (later, when life took one of its strange twists and my milkman dad stopped bringing home free butter, with margarine) and a little bit of grated government-issued American cheese.

No offense, mom-up-in-heaven, the stuff from the box tasted way better.

But soon you and I will have a chance to taste – all we can eat, really – of chef-created new approaches to this glorious food. The first annual Mac & Cheese Chicago Fest to be held Saturday, October 4 at UIC Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Rd., will feature approximately 60 Chicago chefs bringing us their versions of Mac and Cheese. We’ll find dishes direct their restaurant’s menu and/or inspired by their particular culture or family traditions.

Don’t think you’ll see just Kraft-type straight cylindrical or grandma’s curved-stovepipe shapes. These chefs are invited to build their creations from any kind of pasta with any type of cheese. You and a panel of foodies will vote for your favorites – and the winner will take home “The Golden Noodle” award.

Come on out and sample the huge selection of macaroni and cheese entrees, appetizers and sides and wash ‘em all down with craft beers, wines and soft drinks. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana. Below are some of the participating restaurants:

676 Restaurant and Bar
American Junkie
Bar Pastoral
Big G’s Pizza
Barn & Company
Black Rock Pub & Kitchen
Blackfinn Ameripub
BourBonQue
Carlucci Restaurant & Bar
Carnivale
Chicago Q
Connie’s Pizza
deca Restaurant + Bar
Enolo Wine Bar
ESTATE Ultra Bar
Famous Dave’s
Farmhouse Tavern
Fiesta Mexicana Restaurants
Grange Hall Burger Bar
Halsted’s Bar + Grill
Jake Melnick’s
JP Burkes Patio & Tap
Kitty O’Sheas
Meat
Municipal Bar
Orso’s Restaurant
Park Tavern
Puffs of Doom
Real Comfort American Kitchen
Rockit Bar & Grill
RoSal’s
Rudy’s Bar and Grille
Schubas’ Harmony Grill
South Water Kitchen
Stanley’s Kitchen & Tap
State Restaurant
Table Fifty-Two
The Kerryman Bar & Restaurant
The Southern
Ugly Mug Café
Viand Chicago
and more!

To sponsor, contact Cece Gonzales for information at 312.730.8262 or cece@raymiproductions.com.

 

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How’d they make it that color? Provence dry rosé wines

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Français : Dégustation de Rosé de Provence
Français : Dégustation de Rosé de Provence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’re a baby boomer like me, you remember the time when the term rosé attached to a wine meant an overly sweet, syrupy libation called white zinfandel. To most of us in the U.S. back then, that’s all the rosé there was – unless you were already a serious wine aficionado, which meant, of course, knowing French wines because France was considered the source of good wines.

Today, the rosé movement across the United States is all about crisp, food-friendly pink wines, most of which come from Provence in the south of France. You can learn more from a new book out called Provence Food and Wine: The Art of Living by Viktorija Todorovska, a well-traveled author who writes with love about Provence food and drink and includes recipes she makes at home for her friends.

The book tells about pairing Provence dry rosés with food and tells you where to find these wines outside of Europe. Plus, in case you’re moved to get thee hence, she shares a multitude of tips on where to go and what to do when you’re in that delicious part of the world.

Friends and I recently enjoyed a dinner of Provence wines paired with dishes from Viktorija’s cookbook at the beautifully restored restaurant side (reopened in 2012) of The House of Glunz wine and spirits shop, where they carry a select group of fine wines and spirits. Though many are on the pricier side, you’ll also see baskets of highly rated yet affordable deals. The folks who work there know wines and spirits and can help you pick out just the right bottle to fit your taste and your budget.Description : gamme de couleur de vins rosés d...

Meanwhile, if you’ve tasted many of these beautiful dry rosé wines, you know they’re loaded with character and body and come in a gorgeous variety of pinks and salmons. Ever wonder how they do that?

Well, there’s a whole institute dedicated to it in Provence. Since 1999, experts at the Center for Research and Experimentation on Rosé Wine in Vidauban, Provence, have been studying the question of color. They’ve identified four factors that determine the shade of pink a Provence rosé will exhibit, from light to darker, with more of a purplish hue or one that leans toward coral (i.e., salmon pink). Here they are:  

Grape variety. All Provence rosés are made mainly from red grapes, but some have more pigment in their skins than others. Those yield the darker pinks.

Climatic conditions. Provence is a country of varying terrains, all with distinct differences in temperature, sun, and soil. In a recent five-year experiment, researchers made wines with exactly the same grape varieties and using the same vinification methods. Growing conditions alone produced striking color variations along with variations in acidity, aroma, and flavor. Proof positive that “like great white and red wines, rosé wines are also ‘wines of terroir.’”

Temperature control during winemaking. Temperature control in Provence begins at harvest (conducted at night, when the grapes are their coolest) and includes the use of refrigerated presses, thermo-regulated fermentation tanks, and cold aging facilities — all to preserve the freshness and color of the wine.

→ View video: “The Making of Provence Rosé: Temperature Control

Skin contact time. Finally, what color your finished wine is depends on how long the grape skins are in contact with the clear juices. The shorter the time, the paler the wine. Provence’s palest wines start with pressing grapes right after picking. For deeper-colored rosés, grapes are crushed and then soaked (or macerated) – skins and juice together – for 2 to 20 hours at a specific temperature. Then the pink juice is released into the fermentation tank.

Provence wines are the gold standard for rosé. These winemakers are continually investing in ways to make sure these wines offer beauty, freshness, and balance in a glorious range of colors. For more information visit www.winesofprovence.com and on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

P.S. I like the palest colors the best. ” )

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Byron’s – hot dogs at the White House

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MrPresident3by5
Byron’s owners Mike & Ann Payne with the POTUS
Only he-men dare!
Only he-men dare!

Did you know the owners of a Chicago legend, Byron’s Hot Dogs, were invited to serve their fare to the President and First Lady at the White House? Yep. Theirs was one of only four restaurants chosen to participate in a picnic-on-the-lawn back in 2011. Byron’s represented the entire Midwest. You go, Chicago Byron’s!

The picture is of the Lord Byron burger – a quadruple burger with cheese on every patty.  Mustard, relish, onion, lettuce, cucumber, green pepper, tomato, pickle and celery salt. Hot peppers on request.  Owner Mike Payne said this was the burger featured on Chicago’s Best television show on Channel 9 – where they asked him to eat one on screen. He couldn’t finish it. Mike said they sell a surprising number of these giant concoctions. Are you up for one? Byron’s also offers normal-sized dogs, burgers and a pretty tasty veggie burger, all with fresh veggies to your taste. Good fries, too. Two locations: 1701 W. Lawrence – the bigger store with lots of indoor seating, and 1017 W. Irving Park – limited stool seating plus an outdoor space that’s heated in winter. Order ahead online.

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Pinot Days 2014 coming – highlights of 2013

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Fess Parker wine wearing a coonskin hat at Pinot Days 2013!
Fess Parker wine wearing a coonskin hat at Pinot Days 2013!

I’m excited that Pinot Days 2014 is coming to Chicago again – I really enjoyed the wines I tasted in 2013.  Mark your calendar now for April 26 at Navy Pier, from 2 to 5 pm. Believe it or not, this winter will be over before we know it! The festival goes on for days before that party – with Winemaker Dinners, “Meet the Winemaker” pinot and food pairings at local wine bars and restaurants, and tastings at boutique retail stores.

This year more than 50 wineries will come to Chicago to “paint the town pinot.” Then, it all culminates with the Grand Festival at beautiful Navy Pier. To help you get an idea of what you can look forward to at Pinot Days festival 2014, here are some notes from what I experienced at the Pinot Days 2013.

Lucky for me, I have an oenophile son-in-law. I mean this is a guy who actually absorbs what he reads in Wine Spectator. So I emailed him the list of wineries that would be represented and he made some picks. As a result of his educated suggestions, I’d say this was one of the best wine tastings I can remember. Of course I ended up tasting several wines that were so high-end I had to bend at the knees to hoist the price tags. But hey, what better way to get to know these beauties!

Pinot Days Chicago 2013 was packed with celebrity wineries. From bubblies to deep, dark reds, from high-end beauties for $60 and $75 a bottle to more affordable reserves, the selection was huge, the wine-pourers friendly, and the atmosphere relaxed. More notes from Pinot Days Chicago 2013: My 5-star pick: Miner Family 2011 “777” Rosella ($75). Some of my 4-star picks:

And here are a few of the other memorable pinot noir tastes available at last year’s Pinot Days:

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