Category Archives: beverages

Three Rivers Rye. Heads up, whiskey lovers

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Did you know rye whiskey is the classic American distilled spirit? Starting in 1750, rye whiskey was for many years the main spirit for American imbibers. In 1810 Pennsyvania alone shipped 6.5 million gallons of rye to Kentucky’s 2.2 million gallons of bourbon. But soon after that, bourbon ascended to the pinnacle and rye descended to the bottom in popularity. Back then, according to this source, it gradually became what street drunks bought and consumed in paper bags. More cool pictures on their Cali Distillery Instagram page.

Cali Distillery Three Rivers Rye

Now, rye has risen again to its former levels of glory in the craft distilling revolution going on in the U.S. these days.

And Cali Distillery owners, experts at crafting many different spirits, have seen the future of whiskey and believe that rye is right up there near the top. Cali has developed a small stable of whiskey offerings, and Three Rivers Rye is the latest, meant as a tribute to the honored distilling process of this classic spirit.

Drink it straight (see next paragraph), or use this spirit to build a properly spicy Manhattan or a traditional Sazerac. Rye is a critical component in those and other mixed drinks, and Three Rivers Rye is definitely up to the challenge. Gives a richness and depth to these traditional go-to cocktails.

Best to drink savor Three Rivers slowly. Start with it neat for a few sips. Then add a single cube and let it begin to mellow the flavors together. Once that’s melted, enjoy again, or add another cube and continue sipping. Think about the history of the drink – and read all about it on Cali’s website – as you relax into the experience.

Cali Distillery’s Cask-Strength Riptide Rye is a powerful version of rye that’s great for true rye lovers. Just for fun, plan an evening with friends and try all of their whiskey expressions.

Cali Distillery whiskies
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The Dalmore 14 Scotch whisky – exclusively in Chicago

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To be labeled Scotch whisky your creation must be made in Scotland and be part of a broad category that embraces a wide array of flavors – from the smoked-peat versions from Islay and the Glenlivets of Speyside, to the Highland malt whiskies like those from The Dalmore.

What makes a great Scotch whisky? Time, more than anything else, says Gregg Glass, Master Whisky Maker & Blender at Whyte & Mackay. He came to Chicago recently to introduce the latest expression from The Dalmore distillery: The Dalmore 14 – a beautiful whisky with cocoa, candied citrus, nutty, and slight cinnamon flavors. It’s a new expression of how the Mackenzie family continues to exercise its passion for creating old-school Highland malt spirits in styles and flavors even non-expert consumers can really appreciate.

We Chicagoans are privileged to be the first – and right now, the only – place in the U.S. where you can buy this particular expression. Contact Binny’s for help buying a bottle of The Dalmore 14.

The Dalmore was a pioneer in using age statements to differentiate Scotch whiskies from each other – a new way to indicate quality. Generally, the longer a whisky is aged, the more complex and rich its flavor can become. The Dalmore sources its barley from right around the distillery, far north and east of Highland. Gregg says he grew up 5 miles from the distillery, so it’s like home for him. He talks about how barley varieties and water can change the ultimate flavor of whiskies, but it’s how the combination is aged that makes all the difference.

To start with, the first stuff right off the still is pure spirit  – theirs is clear in color with notes of citrus and cocoa and a staggering 68% alcohol content. You don’t want to drink this by itself. But it is the beginning of the journey to becoming a fine aged whisky. In fact, says Gregg, 60-80% of a whisky’s flavor comes from the type of casks used to age it and the time and conditions under which it matures.

Once they’ve distilled the pure spirit, they put it into bourbon casks that give touches of vanilla and honey. For The Dalmore 14, the next stop is hand-selected casks from Pedro Ximenez sherry. I can tell you for sure that the Old Fashioned cocktail they sampled for media, made with The Dalmore 12, was excellent – just a hint of sweetness, and the handsome chocolate truffle-on-a-pick that garnished it was a rich, creamy surprise. How did chocolate happen here?

The Distillery staff, Gregg said, receive from 60 to 600 items to assess each year from companies that want to pursue a partnership with them. Recently they found a company they quickly recognized shared The Dalmore philosophy of using the finest ingredients to make a superior product that’s then showcased with the finest packaging. And now they have a strong relationship with Vosges Haut-Chocolat, a Chicago company that makes extra-rich, creamy chocolate truffles – the dark chocolate and orange are remarkable and the pairing with the whisky is genius.

The chocolate makers went back and forth on which characteristics of the whisky they wanted to bring out in the truffles they include in The Dalmore 14 Collection. The only way for you to find out what they decided is to buy a bottle and a box and sit down with no agenda other than to taste and enjoy all that lusciousness blending together in your mouth.

And for a great place to pair your whisky with food, you can start by ordering your whisky at Momotaro in Chicago’s West Loop. Even if you didn’t already like Japanese cuisine, you’re likely to become a fan after eating here. Gregg’s team collaborated with the chefs at the restaurant to build the delicious Old Fashioned cocktail and to choose just the right dishes to go with the flight of Scotch whiskies. From the delicious sea-salted edamame, the salad of crisp baby greens with sparkling citrus dressing, and the generous cuts of very fresh sashimi, to the super-juicy grilled strip steak with crispy edges, they put on a feast worth indulging in. Altogether, some pairings are made in heaven. Enjoy.

The Dalmore 14 Pedro Jimenez Cask Aged Scotch whisky. ~$90.

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5 pandemic luxuries: 2018 Pinot Noirs from Dutton-Goldfield

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailSome who have been able to work from home during this long-running pandemic may be saving enough money to be able to treat themselves to some luxurious wines they might never have considered. And I can’t think of a more luxurious treat than one of these 2018 Dutton-Goldfield Pinot Noir wines.

Dutton Goldfield winemakers love their work!
Dutton Goldfield winemakers love their work!

Dutton-Goldfield’s vineyards, many with intriguing names, promise excitement and quality that their elegant luxury wines always meet and surpass. As of 2018 they’re in their own new facility and now have complete control over every aspect of the production of their wines – and the 2018 harvest had no pandemic issues. In the new facility, the winemakers now get to select the best possible picking dates when they’re confident the acids and sugars are at their absolute optimum balance. We consumers are the winners in being able to choose from their selection of 2018 wines that showcase a fabulous combination of mouthwatering freshness and decadent richness. Prepare to be utterly delighted by any one of these. This post showcases just five of them for your special-occasion, friendsgiving, or self-indulgent consideration.

Devil’s Gulch Vineyard, 2018 Pinot Noir. Located in Marin County, this vineyard has put out a gorgeous Pinot that’s extraordinarily silky and velvety with “fruit and spice characters” that have a “wonderful combination of power and fineness,” a nose with “sweet wild berries in the forest, tinged with nutmeg and cinnamon.” Isn’t your mouth watering? You don’t need to wait until the holidays to indulge yourself with this 5-star beauty. Think pairings like rabbit, pork, lamb or quail (bacon-stuffed mushrooms, anyone?). Thank you, winemaker Dan Goldfield. Alc. 13.8% SRP ~$72.

Angel Camp Vineyard, 2018 Pinot Noir. Situated ini Anderson Valley, this beautiful 10-acre spot sits on a scenic knoll with a gravely slope that lets winemaker Dan Goldfield extract deep, plummy flavors and voluptuous tannins from the grapes. Consider the joy of “dusky blackberry and plum aromas complemented with savory beet and earthy notes. Christmas spices provide a lacy framework” for the harmonious balance of sweet black cherry, purple plum, dried flowers and sandalwood flavors. Enjoy it now or let it mellow. You’ll love it with warm potato salad, bacon quiche, poultry or pork and cheeses like Fontina or Havarti. Alc. 14.1% SRP ~$62.

Fox Den Vineyard, 2018 Pinot Noir. Perched atop a formerly-sea-bottom ridge, Fox Den sits on eight acres in the Green Valley of Russian River Valley and has a terroir that makes for low vigor vines, slow ripening, and beautifully floral and fruit driven wine. The long growing season of 2018 encouraged these vines to produce a satiny texture and a nose of red fruits with sweet raspberry and strawberry interlaced with baking spices. In the mouth you get a sweet-tart interplay that dances from Bing cherry to dried cranberry to alpine strawberry with a drift of cinnamon and nutmeg. Think pairings with duck confit, seared tuna, and pulled pork or sweetbreads. Creamy goat cheese, Kaseri or Bellwether’s triple crème San Andreas will sing with this wine. Alc. 13.8% SRP ~$68.

Enjoy with a special meal you’ve prepared. Or a few of the decadent cheeses mentioned. With friends on Zoom, or just by yourself.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

New protein bar and non-alcoholic drink ideas

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailMost of us get excited when someone introduces healthier versions of tried-and-true ideas. Below are quick reviews and links to a new line of portable healthy eating from Atlas.

While we often look upon our wine and spirits beverages as the be-all, heck, sometimes we just want to imbibe something refreshing that isn’t mind-altering or too bad for us. Admittedly, my recently re-aroused passion for Diet Coke (used to adore Diet Dr. Pepper) has me worrying that I’m consuming way too much artificial sweetener and possibly caffeine. So when a new vendor introduces a less-sweet, non-caffeine, still-tasty drink – especially if it’s bubbly – I am all over trying it out. Check out the below notes on Sipp Sparkling, Som Flavoring Syrups and Petal Botanicals.

Seriously healthy protein bars

Atlas healthy protein bars come in lots of flavors
Atlas healthy protein bars come in lots of flavors

Atlas Protein Bars are made with vegetable glycerin, which acts as both a thickener – along with nut butters or other items – and a sweetener, in combination with the brand’s unique “adaptogens superfood performance blend – ashwagandha extract and maca root powder.” Said to be made completely with “whole natural foods,” the appeal is a much healthier way to satisfy a sweet tooth while getting lots of protein and fiber and yet not risking dental or diabetic issues. We found them to be perfect for grab’n’go breakfast, snack or dessert. Satisfying right away because of the creaminess and the touch of sweetness, and satisfying for longer because of the fiber and protein.

Flavors come in cool combinations like raspberry peanut butter, mint chocolate chip, chocolate cacao, almond vanilla chai, and more. Each bar is about 220 calories. These semi-creamy, healthy hits of nutrition, fiber and protein seemed to help fight the hungries anytime of day. Like any protein bar, their portability is part of their appeal. And one of the best parts is the fact that these are missing many of the not-so-healthy things we find in many other brands of energy bars – like salt, added sugars and refined carbs. Half a bar is a  perfect way to curb  your hunger pangs when you’re on the go – or just too lazy right now to cook.

Non-alcoholic flavor syrups and mixers

Non-alcoholic drinks are becoming more and more popular, as millennials seek out low- to no-alcohol treats that are lower in calories and added sugar. We just reviewed Petal Botanicals Sparkling water

A more recent couple of additions to the lineup include Som cane-vinegar cordials to use with your favorite bottled or canned sparkling water or to flavor a variety of exotic cocktails. Mix the pomegranate syrup – by the way, they are made with sugar but it’s not outrageous for a flavoring element as opposed to dominating the drink – with vodka and voila! You’ve got an elegant glamorous martini-ish cocktail. I’m sure you can think of a dozen ways to use the many flavors like Thai Basil, Tangerine with Sea Salt, Ginger and more. The New York Times talks about Som flavorings and how the makers have begun calling these vinegar-based drinks “cordials” to mitigate the public’s hesitation over a drink made with vinegar. Trust me, with the lovely flavors to focus on, you won’t notice.

In case you don’t feel like mixing, don’t hesitate to try a few of the all-natural, organic-ingredient-rich Sipp Sparkling Organics beverages. The unique flavor combinations will set your imagination alight. Think Lemon Flower or Summer Pear, or Mojo Berry or Ginger Blossom, and imagine one as an aperitif or as a tongue-titillating treat with some of your favorite dishes. Oooh, can’t you just imagine Lemon Flower or Ginger Blossom with Asian food? Other cool combos include Zesty Orange and Ruby Rose. Any of these also make a delightful chilled treat as an aperitif or snack. Just be aware, these have more added sugars. They’re all sweetened with agave which isn’t, strictly speaking, actual sugar but is slightly higher in calories than sugar and, therefore, not a great idea for diabetic diets. Get your first batch online or in town at Meijers, Kroger, Safeway and other popular markets.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Happy surprises in Chicago food and drink

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Ivy Hotel Sky Terrace rooftop
Ivy Hotel Sky Terrace rooftop

Ivy Hotel juicy, meaty BBQ pork belly
Ivy Hotel juicy, meaty BBQ pork belly

The boutique Ivy Hotel‘s cozy Sky Terrace rooftop space at 233 E. Ontario is good for enjoying their delicious drinks and apps outdoors without leaving the hotel. Don’t often find pork belly so crispy and meaty and not-too-fatty.  Oh, and definitely check out their delicious popcorn-batter-coated shrimp!

A Revolution Brewing surprise - a super fresh, creative composed salad
A Revolution Brewing surprise – a super fresh, creative composed salad

Who thinks about a brewery as a place to get delicious food? Surprise! Revolution Brewing, 3340 N. Kedzie Ave., recently put on a wonderful dinner to help Jameson’s Irish Whiskey introduce its newest family members – Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition and Stout Edition. These new editions draw their unique flavors from spending a little vacation in the craft beer casks where Revolution makes some of its favorite beers. And while you’re trying them, you just might fall in love with Revolution’s braised lamb shank with beet risotto!

Lovely matchups with Jameson's Caskmates and Revolution Brewing drafts
Lovely matchups with Jameson’s Caskmates and Revolution Brewing drafts

Jameson’s, the famous Irish whiskey company, is taking a cue from the many wines and spirits that have begun to collaborate with each other to give their creations extra complexity. In the case of whiskey in beer barrels, the whiskey adopts some of the flavor characteristics of the beer that came before it. The Stout Edition adopts flavors of coffee, chocolate and butterscotch from the Stout seasoned barrels and gets a creamier texture from this treatment. Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition shows hints of fresh hops, grapefruit and some sweet herbal notes from the IPA beer barrels in which she finishes. Jameson Caskmates Fist City Pale Ale Edition results from a partnership with the passion of the masters at Revolution Brewing and the Irish soul of Jameson. This whiskey is truly representative of the dedication both companies practice in giving back to their own neighborhoods.

When you imbibe one of the lovely Caskmates, look for the smoothness of Jameson with the malt and citrus notes of the infamous Chicago Pale Ale. Your nose will detect an initial citrus character and some mild notes of honey and sweetness. The taste is full-bodied with hints of hops with both of vanilla and a toasted oak character. Enjoy the long lingering finish as the spices and hops fade slowly, with fruit and toasted oak notes holding out along with the signature Jameson smoothness. Questions? Call the folks at Revolution and they’ll be sure to fill you in.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

South African wines surprise and delight

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailSouth Africa – not a place we U.S. folks normally think of in connection with fine wines but, hey, the times they are a-changin’. And some excellent South African wine makers are making their presence known here in the U.S. with their wines that take full advantage of the many fine terroirs available there. Their 2019 visit to Chicago – Wines of South Africa Roadshow held at Bar Ramone – paired delicious appetizers with a range of varietals from five different wineries in various sections of South Africa. Some of the 4- and 5-star lovelies – with quite reasonable prices – included:

  • Haute Cabriere Chardonnay/Pinot Noir 2018, Robinson & Sinclair. SRP ~$15.
  • Brut NV Rosé – 50/50 Chardonnay-Pinot Noir, Graham Beck. This one gets 4-6 hours of skin contact SRP ~$20.
  • Oak Lane Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Beau Joubert. Imported by Wein-Bauer. SRP ~$9.
  • Boschendal Brut Rosé NV, DGB. Imported by Pacific Highway. SRP ~$21. This one was a BIG favorite at the tasting.
  • Bellingham Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2016, DGB. Made from grapes grown in 45-year-old vineyards.
  • Bellingham Bernard-series SMV 2014, DGB. Great with heavy meats.
  • Boschendal Cabernet, DGB. A lovely, gentle red. SRP ~$20.
  • Glenelly Estate Reserve 2012. SRP ~$25.
  • Glenelly Lady May 2012. 89% Cabernet, 10% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc. Delicious! SRP ~$50.

Another day brought six South African winemakers to City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph, where they conducted a seminar to educate participants about how in the past ten to fifteen years South African winemakers have caught up with the wisdom of winemakers from many other countries.

Representing some of South Africa’s top winemaking talent, this collaboration brings together longtime friends and colleagues who have studied and worked together over the last 20 years. “This is the first time we’re telling our story in the United States and we’re incredibly excited to tell this story together,” says Adi Badenhorst of A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines.

In showcasing the diverse wines and landscape of South Africa, each winemaker represents a distinct terroir and perspective on the experimentation and innovation happening in the country today. The group includes:

  • Adi Badenhorst, A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines
  • Sebastian Beaumont, Beaumont Family Wines
  • Abrie Beeslaar, Beeslaar and Kanonkop Estate
  • Graham Weerts, Capensis
  • Eben Sadie, The Sadie Family Wines

These experienced winemakers have begun making new magic with some popular grape varietals like making Chenin Blanc. They’ve begun rarefying grape varietals to create the likes of Pinotage – a combination of Cinsault and Pinot Noir – that can be used to make a rich, delicious wine. And they’re putting together classic varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc to produce especially deep, @arich wines. All of these wines are totally food friendly.

“South Africa is exciting in that it’s not monolithic, it’s incredibly diverse,” says Eben Sadie of The Sadie Family Wines. “It’s the oldest of New World wine regions, and at the same time there’s a novel approach to wine with many individual interpretations.”

The panel of winemakers collaborated over many hours of testing to select a small group of wines they felt were emblematic of the diversity in South African wines. And Rebekah Mahru, Beverage Director for City Winery moderated the master class so that each of these big-personality winemakers had the opportunity to speak from the heart about their wines. Here is a list of those specially chosen wines along with some of the panelists’ comments:

  • A.A. Badenhorst Ramnasgras 2017. 100% Cinsault. SRP ~$45. Adi said, “After 1995 most South African winemakers felt they had to make wines that were like those made in the U.S. Now, in the last ten to fifteen years, we are starting to make really South African wines.”
  • The Sadie Family Wines Soldaat 2017. 100% Grenache Noir. SRP ~$75. This wine tasted a bit grape-y to us. Eben Sadie said, “We have corrected many of the mistakes about where to grow grapes, etc. We’re a more focused, vibrant industry.” The Jackson Family is now investing in South African wines. “They have always been pioneers,” he said. Eben said he learned a great deal from having spent ten years living in Spain.
  • Storm Vrede 2016. 100% Pinot Noir. Pleasant, light, not too acidic, pale color. SRP ~$55.
  • Beeslaar Pinotage 2016. A 4.5-star 100% Pinotage (a hybrid of Pinot and Cinsault). SRP ~$55. This is Abrie Beeslaar’s own label, founded in 2011. Grown on shale, this wine has rich perfume and many floral notes. Pairs better than most wines with spicy foods.
  • Kanonkop Estate Paul Sauer 2015. A 5-star Bordeaux blend created by Abrie Beeslaar – 70% Cabernet, 15% Merlot and others. In South Africa they are allowed to plant anything anywhere they like. No rules, as in France. Beeslaar said the wind is a key factor in the quality of the grapes in this lower-mountain-slope vineyard. The winds cool the vineyards and limit the growth of the bush vine plants.
  • Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2015. 100% Syrah. Another wine from Eben Sadie, this one has a short finish bit is otherwise fully ripe and rich. SRP ~$65.
  • Beaumont Family Wines Hope Marguerite 2018. 100% Chenin Blanc. Named after Beaumont’s grandmother, this wine is green-ish, light, elegant, grown on shale soils.
  • Capensis Chardonnay 2015. 100% Chardonnay. Made by Beeslaar.
  • The Sadie Family Wines Palladius 2016. This 5-star white is a blend of 11 dfifferent varieties from the Swartland area. Aged 24 months in clay amphorae, then in concrete eggs, then in oak foudres which don’t impart oak characteristics.
  • Vergelegen Flagship G.V.B. White 2016. 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc. These vineyards are also scoured by howling winds on a regular basis. This wine is green, light, fresh and young, and is not yet available in the U.S.
  • Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2015. 100% Muscat de Frontignan. Lovely dessert wine that is more complex than many sweet wines. Jane Austen and others of her time were huge fans of Constantia wines. SRP ~$95.

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5 summer pleasures for home and in Chicago restaurants

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailEvery nice day in summer is another great excuse to indulge yourself – after you work, do your chores and exercise of course, right? Everywhere you turn in Chicago – and online of course – another opportunity presents itself to help you get creative with your enjoyment. Here are just a few restaurant ideas and home cooking/drinking products to get you rolling:

River Roast is celebrating summer with their weekday happy hour Oysters & Rosé special. Every weekday from 3 to 5 pm enjoy a dozen oysters and bottle of Rose wine for $35. Sit at the bar or along the river soaking in the sun all while enjoying a refreshing summer combo that’s irresistible.

And while you’re dreaming about enjoying the outdoors, think about having friends over – or just treating yourself – and serving something unique and easy: Sangria in cans, the most popular product made by Round Barn Winery, located in the hills of Southwestern Michigan, complete with tasting room. A fizzy, lightly sweet version of the drink beloved by so many in Spain, this Sangria is a nice combination of fruit, dry wine and sweetness. Be aware of the calories, though. A single 12-ounce can packs a whopping 290 calories, so feel free to consider this dessert…

Oh, and if you’ve got your grill out and ready to go, here’s a spice company that puts together some really tasty combos to rub on your meat, poultry and even vegetables. Pereg Natural Foods offers classic blends that are made from fresh, natural, 100% pure spices, bringing more than 100 years of expertise and quality to the table. Get to know some of these Middle Eastern-style secrets when the grill heats up.

Pereg’s Koobah starts with baharat, a ubiquitous Israeli and Mediterranean staple, and then adds warm layers of cinnamon, allspice, rose, nutmeg, and cardamom for a complex finish. It makes an excellent dry rub for grilled or roast lamb, salmon, and chicken, sprinkled into burgers, mixed with hummus, or tossed onto vegetables (particularly corn on the cob and eggplant) before roasting. Use their Kabab seasoning to douse cubes of chicken, beef, or lamb liberally with Pereg’s hearty mash-up (paprika, black pepper, coriander, garlic, and cumin). Thread on skewers with vegetables of your choice, and grill over medium heat until fully cooked. Serve on warm pita bread with tahini and cucumber salad for an authentic version of Israeli street food. And check out their special take on Shawarma and Ras El Hanout plus some sweet mix seasonings.

Casati’s, the family owned, modern Italian restaurant – claiming  designation as home to the “healthiest pizza in Chicago” – offers Pinsa creations, which offer 90% less fat, carbs, and gluten than traditional pizzCasati’s, which is home to a new 42-seat, pet-friendly patio, will also offer 40% off specialty cocktails and wine during lunch. Owned and operated by Italy-native Stefano Casati, and run by Michelin Star Chef Christian Fantoni, Casati’s aims to bring light, fresh, healthy, and authentic tastes of Italy to Chicago’s Lincoln Park.

Carnivale Restaurant, 702 W. Fulton St. Things are heating up outside AND inside at Carnivale, where  talented chefs and mixologists have created a new Lounge menu that features a Charcuterie Tabla, Sliders, Carnivale Mai-Tai, Jackie’s Daiquiri, and much more! Lounge open: Monday – Thursday from 4-10, Friday 4-11, Saturday 5-11, Sunday 5-9. *Every Weekday, enjoy Happy Hour from 4-6:30pm.

Coming soon: more beverage ideas perfect for summer sipping.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

NYT Mark Bittman teams with Peapod – and we all win!

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailChicken cacciatore has always been a big hit with my family. My recipe from years ago is laden with chicken-tomato-onion-pepper-mushroom goodness. Some years after this became a standard that I could make without consulting a cookbook, I developed a skinless, lower-fat version that still knocked everybody’s socks off.

Mark Bittman's latest cookbook
Mark Bittman’s latest cookbook

So I was really curious when I was given a review copy of Mark Bittman’s latest cookbook, Dinner for Everyone: 100 Iconic Dishes Made 3 Ways – Easy, Vegan and Perfect for Company. Think about it. Under the “Pot Roast” heading, he’s got 1) Easy – Pork Tenderloin simmered in peanut sauce; 2) Vegan – Cabbage Pot Roast, first boiled gently til tender, then stuffed with processed steel-cut oats and hazelnuts seasoned with parsley, and braised in a fragrant tomato sauce; and 3) Perfect for Company – Braised Pastrami that you coat with a homemade rub mixture for 7 days, then cook on very low oven heat on a bed of hickory chips, then simmer gently until the meat is super tender.

New York Times food writer Mark Bittman has written a number of cookbooks during his career. And now he’s piggybacking promotion of his latest one onto the work of a reliable Chicago service called Peapod Grocery Delivery, a service we’ve been using for more than a decade. Together, Bittman and Peapod are delivering Bittman’s recipes along with the high quality food you need in order to make the most of his cookbooks. His recipes are top notch. Their meats and vegetables and groceries are excellent quality, and their delivery service is flexible, affordable and dependable. Perfect combo.

Bittman's boozy jackfruit sandwich
Bittman’s boozy jackfruit sandwich

Bittman’s book is extremely easy to use. Beautifully laid out with photos and lots of white space to make it easy on the eyes, it also has some unique photography like the one of a “Boozy BBQ Jackfruit Sandwich.” But now, back to my opening paragraph on cacciatore. Interestingly, Bittman labels this chapter just “Cacciatore.” The three versions he presents include 1) Drumstick Cacciatore, 2) Hearty Vegetable Cacciatore, and 3) Rabbit Cacciatore.

Unique flavors and creative combos in Bittman's chicken cacciatore
Unique flavors and creative combos in Bittman’s chicken cacciatore

The first version thankfully refers to drumsticks from chickens (as opposed to rabbits, quail or some other exotic creature), and boy, does it have a different method. Definitely fewer ingredients and a simpler process than my old standby recipes. Eliminates the onion and peppers completely, but leaves the succulence of garlic and sauteed mushrooms. Suggests different herbs. Adds some heat with chile flakes. But the real killer trick is the sauce – tomato paste and balsamic vinegar.

I was intrigued by this unusual – to me – combination for a sauce. And worried that it would be too thin without any flour or other thickener. Did the browning step – loved his explanation of how to brown chicken without having it stick to the skillet – and then mixed up the sauce. It sure did look thin. Poured it in and finished the cooking – a surprisingly fast total of 30 minutes – and the sauce wasn’t quite as thin now.

Then I tasted. Wow, truly a different experience from a traditional cacciatore recipe. The sauce was rich without being heavy. Piquant. Lightly spicy. The chicken and mushrooms bathed in the garlicky, just-enough-tang juices was a seriously tasty combination. I consumed the entire dish myself over only a couple of days with veggie sides and a glass (or two) of red wine. Num.

His vegan version of cacciatore stars portobello mushrooms and features white wine (or water), red onion, red pepper, olives, potatoes, fava beans and whole tomatoes. This may be my next encounter with Bittman’s expertise. The company-suitable Rabbit Cacciatore has similarities with my traditional recipe, including flour for browning, but it calls for brining the rabbit pieces ahead of time and garnishing with fried capers. Sounds like a winner, but as a former owner for ten years of a lovely pet rabbit, I might have to substitute some other meat protein.

Peapod fresh picks
Peapod fresh picks

We love PeaPod around here. The freshness and quality of their stuff is excellent. Their delivery window options are extensive. The packaging is thorough; keeps all frozen stuff together, all refrigerated, etc. If anything, their packers are almost too thorough  – a single head of garlic doesn’t really need to be in two separate bags.

And if you should, by some chance, run into a quality problem – like a cauliflower with too many brown spots – just pick up the phone. Their customer service is 100% responsive. They will immediately – without asking questions or demanding proof – issue you a refund for the price of that item on your next order. All of this makes shopping a much easier experience than any get-to-the-store, run around and hand-pick every item type of trip. Yes, I know you might say, “Oh, only I can properly pick out my fruit and vegetables, etc.” Yes, I understand. But almost without fail, you will feel like you personally hand-picked the items that show up in your PeaPod insulated grocery boxes. The quality is that good. Prices on many items are, if anything, only slightly higher than, say, Mariano’s, but if you’re watching the budget, do some comparisons. Plus, they regularly offer special deals on delivery fees.

So pick out one of Mark Bittman’s 419 excellent recipes – for yourself, your family, your vegetarian/vegan friends, or when you entertain your boss. – Or make it even easier. In order to get exactly the right ingredients without any stress, order one of Bittman’s meal kits from #PeapodDelivers. Yep, shop from the comfort of your couch and have the ingredients brought right to your door. I’m telling you. You cannot beat it.

Here’s more about Mark Bittman.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Loire Valley shows how to match flowers to wine

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  1. Whether you’ve always wondered about it or you’ve never given it a thought, wines can be paired just as delightfully with flowers as they can with food. Spring to Loire 2019 (see our earlier review here) came to Chicago and presented an entire separate seminar on the art of matching your flowers to your wines at any special occasion.  A florist/wine aficionado showed attendees how to match three different wines – a red, a white and a sparkling – with its own specific  flower type. So next time you plan a brunch or dinner party with wine and flowers, consider these notes and let your imagine run wild:

Red – Sancerre rouge Joseph Mellot Le Rabault 2017 -100% Pinot Noir. Color: deep ruby. Nose: the nose starts with black cherries, elderberry and blackcurrant. A hint of toasted bread.  Mouth: balanced with a beautiful volume, structure and fine and silky tannins associated with the freshness of Pinot, a gorgeous mouth-feel and silky-smooth tannins yielding lovely structure. Flower: White Hyacinth, with its slightly bold spring fragrance adding a zippy finish akin to the natural spice finish of cherry.

White – Menetou-Salon blanc Henry Pellé Les Bornes 2017 – Sauvignon Blanc. Color: clear yellow. Nose: green apples, citrus and melon. Mouth: Citrus, peach, apples and mineral all the way. Long aftertaste, full bodied. Flower: Sweet Pea, with its spicy and green elements that make it feel very balanced.

Sparkling – Crémant Domaine Xavier & Agnès Amirault Les Quarterons – Chenin Blanc. Type: small bubbles with aromas of old rose and lemon, enlivened by drops of honey. An enticing wine in which the breadth of Chenin and the confidence of Chardonnay blend to perfect effect. Flower: Honeysuckle, the main note of which is fresh apple, which makes it smell lightweight and sophisticated.

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Loire Valley Wines refresh and delight

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Spring to Loire 2019 Chicago at J. Parker Atrium
Spring to Loire 2019 Chicago at J. Parker Atrium

Want a wine that evokes gloriously fresh surroundings? The wines of the Loire Valley bring to mind a range of pleasant springs and mountain streams as well as gentle sun, lazy breezes and relaxed days. They come in a myriad styles – from dry to sweet and everything in between – and in all price ranges.

Jamel Freeman presents Spring to Loire seminars
Jamel Freeman presents Spring to Loire seminars

Recently, Jamel A. Freeman, wine director at the Bellemore Chicago, presented seminars at Spring to Loire 2019 in Chicago – facts, figures and stories about these lovely wines. He explained that Loire Valley wines are best known for crisp, dry, white wines, notably Sauvignon Blanc and aromatic Chenin Blancs. yet they also produce fruity red wines from Pinot Noir and Gamay grapes as well as earthy red wines from Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Not to mention their selection of dry and off-dry rosé, elegant sparklings and luscious sweet wines. All are known to be:

  • Moderate alcohol, refreshing acidity and minerality that make them ideal for pairing with foods.
  • Pure expressions of varietal and terroir unmasked by oak.
  • Excellent value.

Jamel presented three separate seminars. One on the Diversity of LV wines. A second on the Sauvignons of LV. And a third on LV sparklings. He also shared additional interesting facts and figures about Loire Valley and about wines in general. Herewith a few tidbits:
  • The balance of acid and fruit is a good indicator of how well a wine will continue to develop in the bottle – like a fruit ripening, a wine may be high in acid to begin with and then become  mellower and sweeter as it ages.
  • Loire Valley:
    • Is France’s #1 producer of white wines, and the #2 producer of rosés.
    • Is the #1 region for the number of AOC sparkling wines
    • Is the 3rd largest vineyard in France.
    • Has 51 appellations and denominations
    • Produces 320 million bottles per year.
  • Ever notice how Prosecco seems to go flat quickly? That’s because it’s produced by the bulk method. Loire Valley and other sparklings produced by methode traditionale are fermented a second time in the bottle – which results in longer-lasting bubbles.
  • Stress to vines develops complexity. Higher elevation means more acidity and more minerality.
  • Vouvray – which has become almost a generic name for sparklings from Loire Valley – is half as bubbly as champagne, but creamier than Cremant.
  • Chenin Blanc grapes are more aromatic than Charadonnay, but Chardonnay can be more easily manipulated because of its less powerful aromas.
Most of the wines Jamel presented are available at Binny’s. A few of the excellent wines showcased at the program are listed below. For more information about Loire Valley wines visit www.loirevalleywine.com/.
Sparklings
  • Vouvray NV, Domaine VIgneau-Chevreau. A sparkling with lots of flint, minerality. 100% Chenin Blanc from 25 year old grapes. Just delicious! SRP ~$23-26.
  • Jean-Francois Merieau Vouvray 2012. 80% Chenin Blanc, 20% Sauvignon Blanc. Seashell minerality and a nose of floral notes and white peaches. SRP ~$19.
Whites
  • Vincent Grall Sancerre 2017. This wine is the benchmark for Sauvignon Blanc in Loire Valley. Aged in oak or acadia wood. SRP ~$26.
  • Domaine Paul Buisse Touraine 2017. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. A lovely value-priced white with seashell minerality on the palate; sage, bell pepper and crushed chalk aromas SRP ~$13.
  • Vignobles Gibault Touraine-Chenonceaux 2017. 100% Sauvgnon Blanc. Long, slow fermentation pulls out the aromatics, and this wine features rich notes of pears. ~$21
  • Henry Pelle Menetou-Salon 2017. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. A nose of organic white peach blossoms, yellow apple flesh. Rich tasting white. SRP ~$23.
Reds
  • Sancerre 2016 Joseph Mellot. 100% Pinot Noir. Complex with a long finish. Similar in characteristics to Northern side of Burgundy.

Be sure to look for our next post on pairing Loire Valley wines with flowers!!

Any way you look at it, you’re almost guaranteed to have an enjoyable wine when you choose from the broad selection of Loire Valley Wines.

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