Category Archives: comfort food

Giftable food ideas to cheer your holidays and all year long

We’ve been lucky to be asked to taste a few products to see if we want to recommend them to our readers. Here are some that we are happy to tell you about. Many of these items would also make terrific gifts for the right person on your list. And if, like me, you waited too long to buy, make a pretty coupon for when the product does arrive!

Wake up your tastebuds with Piro Olive Oil!

Piro Olive Oil from Tuscany

Recently sampled a product from the Piro Olive Oil company. We weren’t sure what to expect from Piro, but our taste buds and tongues alerted us instantly with the first bite of a salad we dressed with it.

Lighter. Zingier. Fruitier than the olive oils we tend to use for almost everything in our kitchen. Like a wake-up call for the unadventurous or for those who’ve received gifts of unique olive oils in the past and didn’t take the time/effort to test them out before they got too old (guilty).  :- (

The company writes of Piro as suitable for cooking. Good to know so you don’t need to be afraid to heat it up. Seems like it’ll do a lovely job with salmon or other fish. But we especially loved it on our salad. Found it just as delightful on a heavier salad (love it on this green bean and potato salad). We’re thinking it might enhance even a sweeter dish like a fruit salad. This is a truly versatile, beautiful olive oil. And it’s also touted as high-antioxidant. Oh, what is not to love? Try it! SRP – $18 for 100ml.

Imported from Tahiti vanilla products to perfect your desserts

Tahitian Gold Vanilla products

Many of us grew up with that little bottle of grocery store vanilla extract – in many cases labeled “imitation” because the real thing was too expensive. We may know about vanilla beans but never bothered to learn how to use them. Happily we just learned that Tahitian Gold makes a bevy of vanilla products that promise to help your baked goods and desserts shine a little brighter.

Now you may or may not know that somehow, during the pandemic it seems, vanilla bean paste has become a prominent item on American cooking promotion sites. It started regularly appearing as a preferred ingredient in cookie, cake and dessert recipes but perhaps, like many of us, you haven’t tried it yourself yet. It’s not  stiff, but rather  a creamier version of extract. We really enjoyed using Tahitian Gold’s version – like we were using a more luxurious product – and we detected a noticeably richer flavor than  grocery store versions. SRP ~$22.50/4 oz.

You can also dig into Tahitian Gold’s Vanilla Sugar to top your cakes and cookies or mix in your plain Greek yogurt (num!). Or use their ground vanilla beans or vanilla extract to give your desserts the extra oomph of real vanilla products made with imported vanilla beans and designed to deliver maximum flavor even with  smaller quantities. Their vanilla extract is reasonably priced and available in several sizes. Prices on other items reflect the greater amounts of time and care that must be devoted to producing them, but here again the company offers a large size and a smaller, more affordable size. Visit their site for more information: Tahitian Gold. SRP  ~$18.50 for 1 Tahitian vanilla bean

If you haven’t done much research into the differences in vanilla products, here’s an excellent article on the subject from the New York Times (may need subscription).

Parma! Vegan Parmesan by Sister River Foods

Parma vegan parmesan – cheesy, umami

I was excited when I first learned that nutritional yeast made a great topping for popcorn. I’d only been enjoying that combo for about six months when I then discovered something even better. Recently learned about a woman-owned company called Sister River foods that makes products based on nutritional yeast but finessed with other ingredients. Their Parma! Vegan Parmesan is delicious. It’s a combination of nutritional yeast, sunflower, seeds, walnuts, Himalayan crystal salt, and hemp seeds. It has more nutrition and a much more complex and umami flavor than just nutritional yeast.

The company also makes a nut-free version of its plant-based Parmesan – the Garlic Basil version. And oh my goodness, they also make a jalapeño-bacon-flavored nut-free Parmesan (I love jalapeños!). And more. And how about this one? Garlicky Green Parma! has Italian herb flavor with some kelp and some pumpkin and sesame seeds for added nutrition. Who knew you could get so much good nutrition in a super tasty topping that’s actually vegan which – besides working for keto, vegetarian, and every other diet type – further translates into good for the planet. 7-oz sizes go for ~ $12.

Food and drink to raise your holiday spirits

Holidays around the world are almost universally celebrated with special food and drink. This year’s Christmas season arrives with lots of us having spent more time in the kitchen than usual these last few years. And, what with COVID still lurking about, maybe you’re still  cooking more at home than you used to. Anyway, here are a couple of food items and some libations we discovered recently that could help raise your holiday spirits.

BAKON™, by Thrilling Foods, is a new meat substitute that actually chews and tastes like real bacon. It’s made with tofu that’s dry-salt-cured and smoked to produce very nearly the taste, texture, and mouthfeel of the real thing without the harm to animals and the environment. It even looks like bacon and, like bacon, produces fat in the skillet. Just handle it delicately and be sure to watch their video on how to cook Bakon so it’s done the way you like your bacon. If you could help the planet and enjoy “bakon” guilt-free, why not? Spaghetti carbonara, anyone? Or how about this Easy Breakfast Casserole? SRP ~$13 for 8-oz pkg of 8-10 thick strips.

Lot 40 Rye Canadian Whisky, by Northern Border Collection. Distilled in single batches in copper pots, it’s got smooth notes of oak and vanilla and toffee that make you feel like sitting down with a fireplace and some holiday music and maybe, if you are so inclined, a fine cigar. A refreshing and zesty mix.  43% alc. SRP ~$30-40. Prices vary so shop carefully.

Safe Catch Sustainable Seafood. Tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines – all fished for in sustainable ways and packaged in individual servings and in cans. A single-serve envelope in one of their many different flavors makes an easy, protein-rich lunch or snack. Delicious and so convenient – zip open the envelope, drain, and pour out on top of your plate of,  maybe, potato-green bean salad. The tuna in cans is firm and solid and makes maybe the best tuna salad we’ve ever tasted – try this recipe from Culinary Hill. I’m imagining using the canned tuna as a nutritious, delicious sustainably sourced substitute in any casserole or other dish that uses cooked chicken. Oh, yeah, fish tacos, etc. All their products meet much stricter-than-required limits on mercury and are certified safe for pregnant people and children. Salt-free versions available. Sold at Mariano’s, Foxtrot and dozens more. SRP for Elite Tuna ~$22 for 6-pack of 5 oz cans. Check here for other pricing.

Besamim Artisanal Liqueur, by Sukkah Hill Spirits. Absolutely perfect for the holidays – or really any time. “… cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove with a silky, moderately sweet medium body and a gently warming frosted carrot cake and candied spiced nut finish,” says Beverage Tasting Institute. What’s not to love? Now, imagine this in your Santa mug full of egg nog…  37% alc. ~SRP $22+ for 375 ml.

Fireside Straight Bourbon Whiskey, by Mile High Spirits. Distilled in copper in downtown Denver and aged at least two years, this expression is one of a selection of bourbons at Mile High. This version, made with 70% corn, 20% rye, and 10% chocolate malted barley, radiates notes of dark caramel, roasted coffee and smokey brown sugar. Perfect for Old Fashioneds and not bad to sip on its own. It’s not sophisticated but does offer plenty in the its layers of flavor. In a nice nod to sustainability, Mile High says BYOB – bring your own (empty) bottle back to their tasting room and get a drink on the house. 40% alc. SRP ~$50.

Elevate, 6x Distilled Vodka (gluten free), also by Mile High Spirits, A local-corn distillate cut with Rocky Mountain spring water, this expression is smooth and versatile – in your Bloody Mary or any  mixed drink. Smooth enough to drink on its own, too. Same deal with returning the bottle for a free drink. Nice move from the Denver area green people who adore their mountains and want to make sure they’re around for eons to come. 40% alc. SRP ~$20.

Whatever you decide to try, have a good December.

 

The “bad boys” of Scotch whisky – CRAIGELLACHIE

Single malt Scotch whisky is one of the biggest stars in Scotland’s firmament of distilled beverages, each one unique to the region in which it’s distilled. Recently CRAIGELLACHIE showcased in Chicago the newest addition to the line of expressions from its Speyside distillery. [craig-el’la-key, or here’s a fun video explaining how to pronounce CRAIGELLACHIE.]

CRAIGELLACHIE 13 Years Old Armagnac Cask Finish

The CRAIGELLACHIE 13 Years Old Armagnac Cask Finish expression – given special complexity by its marriage with the Armagnac cask – is being released as part of the brand’s Cask Collection. First matured in ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks, it is then rested in Bas-Armagnac casks for just over a year, which is longer than the typical few months. This new expression, a beautiful  clear golden liquid, starts with smoky, toasted marshmallow, baked apples and cinnamon on the nose, then heads towards a slightly floral, pineapple-y finish. Try it straight. Then with an eye-dropper of water. Excellent in cocktails.

And, boy, do the CRAIGELLACHIE Scotch whisky expressions go great with barbeque! The brand ambassador Paul O’Callaghan (in an utterly charming Irish accent) offered them up in special whisky-tasting glasses as perfect accompaniments to the irresistibly rich and spicy barbeque creations of the chefs at Chicago q, 1160 N. Dearborn St. Creations like melt-in-your-mouth Cheddar-Bacon Hush Puppies (the bacon smoked in house), Smoked Corn & Black Bean Salad, along with generous slabs of brisket, pulled pork and ribs served with Honey Butter Cornbread, Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes, and house-made Mac ‘n’ Cheese. So worth the calories…

Others in the brand’s core portfolio include CRAIGELLACHIE 13 Years Old, 17 Years Old and 23 Years Old. These whiskies are known in some quarters as “the bad boys of Scotch whisky.” Kinda makes you feel like you’re sneaking into a Scottish speakeasy, right?

More about CRAIGELLACHIE Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Described as “old-fashioned” even in 1891 when production began, CRAIGELLACHIE stays true to the traditions of founders Peter Mackie and Alexander Edward. Worm tubs (see * note below) are used to cool the spirit, bestowing extra flavor and creating a distinctive muscular character to rival whisky twice its age.

So if you like a little muscle on your Scotch, go taste some of these expressions. Pick your favorite and take home a bottle for your next barbeque – or just to sip by the fireside. ‘Tis the season, after all.

* What is a worm tub?

A “Worm” is the old English term for serpent, the original name for the coiled copper tube used to turn spirit vapor back into liquid.

Only a handful of distilleries still use this old-fashioned method to condense their spirits. They are much more expensive to maintain than the more modern and efficient ‘shell and tube’ approach, but their long tubes provide less copper contact and thus bestow extra flavor with a distinctive, muscular (sulphuric) character.

Slane Irish Whiskey – a new go-to!

Besides its beauty and historic value to Ireland, Slane Castle is known for two important things: being home to the distillery that makes its layered, balanced namesake Irish whiskey and for regularly bringing thousands of people together to enjoy soaring music concerts held on the Slane Castle grounds in Boyne Valley in County Meath, Ireland.

Slane Triple-Casked Irish Whiskey and music are fitting combination when you think about this: Making whiskey and creating music have a powerful common bond – they both seek a perfect balance. Each art/craft is constantly experimenting with components and layers to bring a harmonious new distillation/composition/performance into fruition.

And the good people at Slane know that an important Irish tradition it is to share your whiskey with others in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. They recently set up such an event at a charming Chicago speakeasy-type bar, Storyville, 712 N. Clark St., where the salty, deep-fried and other Cajun comfort foods served family-style are reminiscent of the best of New Orleans fare, and marry perfectly with Slane’s Triple-Casked Irish Whiskey and each of its components.

Representatives from Slane set up the intimate tasting experience and invited attendees to test their blending skills. Tastes of Slane Triple-Casked Irish Whiskey and of the distillations from each of the three barrels that make up the flagship brand’s flavor profile – which includes tasty notes of caramel, red fruits, baking spices, and toasted oat. The first distillation comes from a virgin oak cask – no other liquor aged in that one – American oak medium char milled wood. The second, called “Seasoned,” is from a lighter barrel like the type Jack Daniels is aged in. And the third taste is from a sherry cask. They all tasted delightful, but the combination – the “triple-casked” combo – was especially satisfying.

Savory beignets with crawfish sauce were perfect with the first sips of the whiskey itself, and then more sips of the three cask-fellows that make it up. Next sips were with a big plate of poutine fries covered in cheese and drizzled with sauce. More food followed – Cajun shrimp pasta, Muffeletta, Jambalaya… More whiskey sipping. And then: the blending contest. Attendees were challenged to be a blender and to approximate the taste of Slane flagship Irish whiskey. Using straws, tiny samples of each distillation were to be mixed until you got as close as you could to the original. (I was surprised and delighted to win the competition!)

You can find Slane in Chicago at Binny’s and many indie liquor stores. ~$25/750ml. For best sipping results: Create an intimate shared experience with friends/loved ones to enhance the pleasure. If you’re tasting by yourself, try lighting a baking spice candle…

P.S. In honor of the 40th anniversary of their first rock concert. the distillery has found the perfect balance for its new Slane “Special Edition” Irish Whiskey. In this expression you’ll find similarly complex flavors along with extra vanilla and a slightly higher ABV. Great in cocktails like Jitterbug and Irish coffee. But oh, it’s a sippin’ whiskey, too, for sure. ~$37/750ml. Availability is limited. Check with your favorite liquor dealer.

Instant no-work snack/dessert

Sweet Loren’s makes cookie dough. They sent me some to tell you about. And I’m so happy they did.

Sweet Lorens cookie dough – EAT IT RAW!

First, and most importantly, they taste delicious! Second, check this out. All clean ingredients. No raw eggs – yes, it’s safe to eat raw! and that’s half the fun of it. You open the package and in it are four rolls of stuck-together dough balls. You break off as many as you want to bake, put them on a tray and bake. OR – even more exciting – you break off a 110-calorie ball (or half a ball if you just want a taste) and eat it right out of your hand. These doughs are so tasty, you may never actually bake them.

Exciting, too, is the fact that they keep well in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks and, as long as the package is not opened, they will keep a couple of months in there. I’m guessing that’s because there’s no dairy to spoil. And according to their discussion with a dietician, “Sweet Loren’s Cookie Dough products contain whole grain within their Gluten Free Flour Blend, so you are getting some vitamins and minerals.”

I’m a huge fan of their Oatmeal Cranberry dough. My granddaughter loves the texture of the chocolate chunks in the Fudgy Brownie double-chocolate dough. Mostly we don’t want to actually bake the cookies, though they’re very good when you do. It’s so easy to pull off a hunk and enjoy that luscious shot of sweetness and rich flavor. Just delicious. This is an idea whose time has come. Find it stores at certain Whole Foods, Jewel/Osco, Target and other stores.

Thanks, Sweet Loren’s. Your doughs are now going to be always in my fridge.

Books on Food and Drink – Chicago and elsewhere

Been reading much lately? For some of us, this is one of life’s greatest pleasures and, if truth be told, it works pretty well as an escape, too. And either one of those goals is common in these challenging times. So here are a few books – no particular order – on the joys of food and cooking. Maybe there’s something that’ll work for you.

Books on Food and Drink Chicago – and elsewhere

The Road to Mexico, by Rick Stein. Celebrity chef Stein, author and TV chef, chronicles 100 step-by-step guides to creating simple yet sophisticated dishes inspired by his travels.

Cultural Insurrection: A Manifesto for the Arts, Agriculture, and Natural Wine, by Jonathan Nossiter. This skilled sommelier tells the unexpected story of how these areas intersect when winemakers use their skills to make natural wines.

The 12-Week Diabetes Cookbook: Your Super-Simple Plan for Organizing, Budgeting and Cooking Amazing Dinners, by Linda Gassenheimer. Need help adjusting to a diagnosis of diabetes? This Cordon Bleu-trained chef/author/TV and radio personality offers advice for creating meals that work for diabetics as well as for just plain heart-healthy.

Whole Cooking and Nutrition: An Everyday Superfoods Approach to Planning, Cooking, and Eating with Diabetes, by Katie Cavuto. Enough of the dieting and deprivation says the author who is dietitian for the Philadelphia Flyers and the Phillies. This book inspires you to live a healthy lifestyle and build a positive relationship with food. More than 150 vibrant, flavorful recipes, this cookbook promotes a mindful, pleasurable approach to eating.

Taste Memories: Recipes for Life and Breakfast, by Ina Pinkney. In the absence of a mother or grandmother who liked to cook, the author decided to keep track of all the details when she got her recipes for both life and food. She opened her own restaurant, Ina’s, and happily served her customers for 23 years. Now you can get the benefit of her experiences and her recipes in her new book.

Sicilia: The Cooking of Casa Planeta, Elisia Menduni. Beautiful illustrations will have your mouth watering for a taste of these dozens of delectable recipes for everything from sardine pie, to lemon ice, to pasta with anchovies. Pair with one of this winery’s excellent choices, one of its handmade olive oils, and sip as you read the stories of the country’s people and places.

Recipe for a Delicious Life, by Zipora Einav. The author suggests how to discover your own perfect blend of food and music to stimulate your appetite for lasting health, harmony and joy. It offers a free interactive app, a music CD and more.

5 pandemic luxuries: 2018 Pinot Noirs from Dutton-Goldfield

Some 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.

Happy surprises in Chicago food and drink

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.

5 summer pleasures for home and in Chicago restaurants

Every 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.

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

Chicken 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.