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

Cool tips n tricks for Halloween at home – plus a dozen Chicago Halloween parties

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Nadia G tells it like it is for Halloween parties
Nadia G tells it like it is for Halloween parties

Nadia G., the popular Food Network show host, was writing comedy at an early age, has moved up fast in the world of TV and happily offers her own take on how to “do” Halloween right. Following are her top party ideas and Halloween recipes that will make your party the hot spot Halloween favorite.

  1. Try decorating your buffet with genuine old stuff – like broken dolls you find at a thrift store. Headless,  armless, blackened eyes, whatever.
  2. Present your party spread on a bloodstained tablecloth! Get your hands on a white sheet and have some gruesome fun staining it with theatrical blood handprints and splatters!
  3. Lighting is everything, so replace your crummy lightbulbs with red ones, and light lots of black candles to create a spooky (and sexy) ambiance.
  4. Fill a surgical glove with water and freeze, use this creepy
    Nadia's "severed hand" looks great in a Witches Brew cocktail punch
    Nadia’s “severed hand” looks great in a Witches Brew cocktail punch – See recipe below

    “severed hand” to cool your punch bowl!

  5. Stay away from generic “scary” props like cheesy spiderwebs.
    Try: blood red roses, mice, pictures of Phil Spector… Use your imagination!
  6. Finished planning your party and playlist? Try making some  of Nadia’s coffin-shaped grilled cheese sandwiches for the buffet. And then check out all her other Spooky Recipes!

Find out more about celebrity chef Nadia G.

And here’s where to buy cool Halloween costumes.

Jack-o-lantern
Jack-o-lantern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BUT, if you’re just not in the mood to throw your own bash, here are a few tips for outside Halloween fun in Chicago:

  • From pub crawls to boat cruises or just regular Halloween parties at bars, check out EventBrite’s listing.
  • Consider the masks-mandatory (you can buy one at the door) upscale Halloween bash going on at the just-opened River North SHAY nightclub, 222 W. Ontario.
  • Bar Takito, 201 N. Morgan St. (at Lake) in the West Loop celebrates Halloween. Special $5 menu including $5 margaritas and food items will be available to any guest wearing a costume on Friday, October 31 and Saturday, November 1. Try their Sangre Del Toro (or “Blood of the Bull”) cocktail.
  • Newport Bar & Grill, 1344 W. Newport in Lakeview, hosts a Halloween costume party Friday October 31. A $500 cash prize for the “Best Group Costume” – $200 cash for “Best Individual Costume”. The bar will feature a live DJ all night long and offer $4 Craft Drafts, $4 Fireball shots, $5 Three Olive cocktails and $5 Bacardi bombs. An optional $20 package will be available from 9 p.m. – 12 a.m.
  • Masked Halloween wine tasting –  Taste eight different varietals and wine a prize for guessing the most correct. WineBar at Plum Market, Inside Plum Market Old Town, 1233 N. Wells St.
  • Quartino Ristorante & Wine Bar, 626 N. State St., is putting on its traditional Halloween Wine Bash on Thursday, October 30, 7 to 9 pm. $25 gets you a selection of beer, wine and delicious Italian-with-the-Quartino-touch fare, along with music and (of course) a Halloween costume contest!
  • Bar on Buena, 910 W. Buena, EVIL TWIN DEVIL’S NIGHT EVIL COSTUME BASH on Thursday, October 30th (Devil’s Night!). 7pm – til ?? – a night of frightening flicks, macabre music, spooky spirits. Prizes for the most evil costumes include VIP Blackhawks tickets, BOB Gift Certificates, Beer Swag and more.
  • Chicago Q, 1160 N. Dearborn St., an upscale barbeque place with a gorgeous wood-paneled bar, gets in the Halloween spirit, this October 31 with the Spooky q Potion cocktail ($12 – Bourbon, Cinnamon Simple Syrup and Apple Cider served on the rocks with a gummy worm garnish).
  • Plymouth Restaurant & Bar, 327 S. Plymouth Court,  on Friday, October 31, serves up a complimentary buffet full of Swamp Dip and Cheesy Freddy Fingers. Wash it down with Blue Moon pints for $4.00 and Pama Pomegranate Martinis for $5.00, and The Scary Night drink special for $5.00. Costumes encouraged.

*Spooky Halloween cocktails include Witches Brew punch:

Witches Brew

  • 4 oz. Once Upon a Vine® Fairest Chardonnay
  • 2 oz. Pear nectar
  • 1 oz. Lime juice
  • .5 oz. Simple syrup
  • 3 Sprigs of thyme

Directions: Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker and strain into a chilled glass.

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Merano Wine Tour at Eataly attracts a crowd

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A group of Italian makers of fine wine came to show off their creations at the first-ever tour of the winners of the Merano, Italy Wine Festival competition. Held from 6 to 10 pm at Eataly Chicago last week, it turned out to be a very popular event.

Almost all the wines I tasted (I’m a red fan) were utterly beautiful – full, rich, deep flavors and long finishes.  (Where I give prices they come from my Vivino iPhone wine app, so may or may not reflect actual retail where you shop.) A few of my favorites were Cantina Tollo Riserva Cagiolo Montepulciano d’Abruzza 2009 (so delicious I wanted to sit down to dinner immediately with close friends and share intimate secrets, I found prices from $56 to $19 so shop around), Cantina Tollo Colle Secco Riserva 2009 (lighter but still deeply flavorful – drink alone or with food, $29?), Riserva Montigi Pinot Noir 2011 ($25), Terlaner Classico 2013 (good value if you can get it for $19), Vignetti di Spessa Friuli Colli Orientali Schioppettino 2011, and Serafini & Vidotto Phigaia After the Red 2009 ($23).

Italian appetizers included several creative takes on bruschetta including one with sauteed mushrooms, one with pepperoncini and a few others. A dish of fine olive oil sat ready for dipping thick slices of crusty, hearty multigrain bread. Tasters also lined up for a small buffet lined with crisp vegetables – endive leaves, peppers and so on – with a bagna cauda (anchovy) dip, plus meatballs and more, and a huge vat full of chunks of Parmiggiano Reggiano. All strikingly good-tasting.

Next year I hope will bring a larger space to accommodate the many enthusiastic attendees – with at least a few places for older and tired-feet-after-work folks to sit down. These wines were excellent and can only improve when tasters have room to move. I dream of the day when wine tastings will reliably give, here and there, a place to set something down. It’s a real trick balancing a plate, napkin, camera/phone, pen and wine-rating book while swirling and sipping!

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Good food in light-hearted surroundings

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Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen has two locations: 100 E. Walton St (at Michigan) and 55 E. Grand (at Wabash). Tried the Walton place with a friend today and was very pleased.  The music seemed a bit too loud when we got there, but the din of the other diners soon balanced that out (every table was busy all through a long lunch time). Yet because we were seated in a booth, we had enough privacy that we could still speak in reasonable tones.

Besides some very creative sandwiches, burgers, salads and pizzas (avocado!), one of their featured items is the Wok Out Bowl ($14 to $18). A pile of fresh veggies (kale, broccoli, carrot, mushrooms, onions) and a protein of your choice (e.g., shrimp, chicken, steak) are stir-fried ’til crisp/tender, topped with cashews, and served on either brown rice or lo mein noodles with your choice of sesame teriyaki or a spicy Thai sauce (we both liked the Spicy Thai best – it’s not especially hot).  You feel virtuous ‘cuz it’s full of vegetables, but satisfied ‘cuz it’s got the protein and the starch. And it’s good.

A couple of particularly attractive sandwiches – Craig’s Knuckle Sandwich ($23) of 100% Maine lobster with coleslaw and arugula and the Filet Mignon with Parmiggiano Reggiano. Our neighbors ordered the avocado pizza – it looked and they said it tasted fabulous. They also had deep-fried sweet potato chips with two sauces that looked quite appetizing.

We couldn’t resist splitting a slice of chocolate pecan pie – worth the calories. Wine list is short and simple. By the glass whites and reds (and sparklings) from $9 to $18 each. For the cost of a bottle, multiply by four.  Excellent service. Friendly, knowledgeable, helpful and attentive. Comfy, casual vibe with excellent food and service.

 

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New cheeses from grass-fed cows come to Chicago

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Many cheeses at the supermarket
Many cheeses at the supermarket (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grass-fed is the new mantra for healthier eating. You restaurant-goers and shoppers can find grass-fed meats, eggs and dairy in various locations around Chicago. Now you can also find a new brand: Grassfields is local and makes cheeses with raw organic milk from grass-fed cows raised to the highest animal welfare standards in the U.S. and Canada.

Look for the brand at some 20 stores and restaurants across the city, including Eataly, Bin 36, Longman & Eagle, West Town Bakery, Bangers & Lace, and the Dill Pickle Food Co-op. Grassfields’ nine varieties of cheese are made and aged on its 250-acre dairy farm, near Coopersville, MI.

Matt Reilly, Manager of Salumi and Formaggi at Eataly, says “Understanding what we eat is the only way to develop healthy relationship with our food. As a cheese monger, my goal is to know and build a direct trust relationship with both the producer and my customers. …I am happy to encourage my customers to bring [Grassfield cheeses] home to their families.”

Antonio RamÍrez, Cheese Director at Bin 36, says his customers agree: Grassfields’ cheeses are “unique and unexpected. “…Grass feeding produces added flavors and sweetness, makes the flavor more interesting, and keeps animals happy and healthy. Happy cows make happy cheese…”

For a full list of stores carrying Grassfields Cheese visit www.grassfieldscheese.com. For retail enquires, contact Luke Meerman on (616) 997-8251 or email grassfieldscheese@gmail.com.

About Animal Welfare Approved
Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) standards, policies and procedures are available on the AWA website. AWA’s Online Directory of AWA farms, restaurants and products let you search by zip code, keywords, products and type of establishment. AWA has also launched AWA Food Labels Exposed, a free smartphone app guide to commonly used food claims and terms, available from the App Store or Google Play. A free printable version of Food Labels Exposed is also available for download atAnimalWelfareApproved.org.
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Go North to Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Michigan

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Ever been to Northern Michigan? I just went there for the first time recently, and I can tell you it’s beautiful country. It’s a delightful place to escape from Chicago’s intensity for a bit. Happily, there’s a cool resort – owned and operated by the Chippewa and Ottawa Indian tribes – near Traverse City that’s got everything you need for a real retreat. It’s called Grand Traverse Resort & Spa.

Three golf courses – all respectably difficult – grace the property. The outdoor pool has its own food service (in season). The fully equipped health club is huge – 100,000 square feet – and includes five beautifully maintained indoor tennis courts, two indoor pools and two hot tubs open early to late, a full fitness center with machines, weights and classes, and a childcare center called the Cub House.

Also, on premises you have three restaurants (read about Aerie here) and a whole little avenue of shopping pleasures. MudPie offers delightful gifts and fun fashions and accessories. Dylan’s Candy Bar has a host of sweet treats and fun little gifts for kids. Tumbleweeds carries toys and games for kids of all ages. Plus there’s an American Spoon shop with fabulously creative jams, sauces, and more.

Plus, you can always visit the Turtle Creek Casino down the road if you’re one who enjoys gambling. Plus you can visit nearby National Forests – Huron-Manistee, sample good food in Traverse City (Amical), visit lighthouses and wineries. You will not be bored.

By the way, this part of Michigan is about to receive millions of dollars for repair and resurfacing highways and byways. So if you’ve ever been in this area and run into some difficult traffic or roads, you should find smoother sailing soon.

Don’t take the highway up there. Rather take the scenic route up Route 31 (the trip is seven-ish hours) and stop in one or two of the little lakeside towns (starting from closest to Traverse City): Frankfort, Manistee, Ludington, Muskegon and Saugatuck are all charming places to get a meal or a drink. Crowded in the summer, but still fun to see even off-season.

It was my first time in Northern Michigan – and I’m hoping I’ll be back again soon.

 

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Lovely restaurant in Northern Michigan resort

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I love to feel welcome and elegant when I travel. The restaurant on the 16th floor of the tower at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa made me feel just that way on a recent visit. Called Aerie, it surely is – an airy delight. Graceful panels of ceiling-to-floor, white, lacy fabric separate the space informally. A wall of curvy booths offers cozy accommodations for small parties. The space was completely redone in 2007 by Simeone Deary Design Group of Chicago.

Walls of glass – 360 degrees around – let in the view of Lake Michigan bays and expansive Northern Michigan woodlands. And bathe patrons in the rays of the setting sun when the hour is right.

The evening we arrived for dinner it was still early, so the place was flooded with bright sunshine – too bright for comfort at many tables. Our host was gracious about letting us walk around to find a table with a little shade – and we were delighted to find a perfect spot.

We studied the menu over cocktails and asked for our server’s recommendations. As soon as we ordered, an amuse bouche arrived consisting of two tiny cups of rich lobster bisque drizzled with vanilla chorizo oil and fresh squeezed lime juice and topped with lime zest and micro greens. What a tempting way to introduce a new soup being added to the menu.

GT scallop appCheyenne, our server, had highly recommended the scallops, so we ordered the scallop appetizer. The julienned vegetables were crisp and delicious, the scallops tender and full of flavor. The sauce – well, we had to ask for bread so we could soak it all up.  She told us she was bringing us bread with the next course, but we couldn’t wait.

For main courses we had a fish and a steak entree, respectively. Nicely cooked – fish moist, steak done to order, my broccoli rabe, crisp – though my side mash and sauce were not favorites.

GT fish

GT steak

 

 

 

 

For dessert we studied the complex creations on offer and decided we just wanted some ice cream. Cheyenne consulted the chef and, eh, voilá, he kindly agreed to our request. Out came a delightful presentation of three different flavored scoops plus a small helping of pot de creme (each from one of the desserts on the menu) on a beautiful, crisply white four-section serving plate. We were thrilled – and loved the combination of flavors. We are hoping they’ll put this on their menu for future visits!

GT ice cream dessert

We were pleased with the wine recommendations and delighted with our experience. Cheyenne was attentive and friendly throughout. It was also fun to learn that one of the new Sous Chefs in the kitchen here, Nick Battista, worked with legendary Chef Charlie Trotter at his eponymous restaurant in Chicago before its untimely closing.

More about Chef de Cuisine William Matthews (Chef Bill) and stories about his culinary domain in another article.  Oh, and the wonderful spa, too.

When you next visit Traverse City for golf or gambling or whatever, treat yourself to a magnificent view and a good meal at Aerie in the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.  A pleasant 7 hours from Chicago via Route 31 up the coast – and much prettier than the highway. Don’t use Google Maps’ directions; call the Resort at 800.236.1577 for nicer alternatives.

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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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