Siepi Chianti Classico wines shine

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Sieti Chianti Classico 2012 (photo: Mazzei Winery)

Luxury wines are in a category outside the experience of the average person in America, and perhaps in most countries. Chicago did get a chance back in 2021 to taste a few of these elegant wines, thanks to Palm Bay importers. Winemaker Francesco Mazzei brought some of his Siepi winery’s Chianti Classico treasures here to Chicago. The vertical tasting, with vintages from 2005 through 2012, was a remarkable experience..And I started this blog post a long time ago and never finished. So even though Acadia (see below) is closed, these wonderful wines are still worth writing about.

All the Siepi vintages were made with Merlot and Sangiovese grapes, yet all were different. He said Merlot is bigger than Sangiovese and produces less acid, but growing in the Chianti region of Tuscany it acquires the character of Chianti. He talked about the season and the harvest for each of the Siepi vintages – fascinating stories of battling frost, drought, storms and global warming rising temperatures.

Francesco said Mazzei’s farming is 99% organic because conditions naturally permit that, and their bigger concern is using sustainable growing practices. “It is about trust,” he said, “and respecting nature. Wines are moody.” Time and oxygen change wines as they age and, in Siepi’s case, makes for wonderful results. He said in a way, it’s unfair to compare vintages to each other since that is not the way people traditionally enjoy wine.

He also pointed out the difference between an intellectual versus a physiological appreciation of wine. Perhaps saying, in effect, people are moody, too. How and where and under what circumstances you taste a wine can have a powerful effect on how you perceive it.

The venue for the tasting was the former two-Michelin-starred Acadia Restaurant, 1629 S. Wabash, now closed, in an out-of-the-way area of South Loop.  I remember how remarkable the setting was: Flower boxes on stands marked the site of the restaurant (dinner-only service Tuesday through Sunday) on the otherwise-semi-empty street. Not promising, but once inside, you basked in the rich but sleek-and-simple decor. The cuisine, paired with three additional non-Siepi wines from Mazzei, was a delightful surprise. Sad to know this restaurant gem is no longer with us.

The green garlic/ramp soup was delicately flavorful, rich and creamy and served with flowers and flourish. Tasting the perfectly cooked farm egg yolk as it spilled over the truffled crispy potato basket was a distinct pleasure.  The wines paired beautifully with the dishes, and the service was unobtrusively excellent.

Read more about all the Siepi vintages here. Read about the many other Mazzei wines here, some as affordable as $15 (e.g., Belguardo Rose 2015 – light and easy to drink).

A couple of the standout Siepi vintages include:

Siepi 2007 – an outstanding vintage that produced excellent quality grapes, well-balanced with soft tannins and concentrated antioxidants and anothcyanins (which contribute to color and stability in a wine – good for aging).

Siepi 2011 – a difficult year with good rainfall but extreme heat and sun. Even the oak leaves were turning from green to brown in the summer.  The fight they put up ended up producing a lovely wine.

Siepi 2012 –  a challenging year with late frost and snow and a dry summer. Production overall was down by nearly 30%, but the quality is high with just a touch of sweetness. This is a good one to age if you have a cellar.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Instant no-work snack/dessert

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Join the cast in #ARecipeforDisaster !

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Chicago Chef Rick Bayless – famous for his PBS television series Mexico: One Plate at a Time with Rick Bayless, and for his several iconic Chicago restaurants – has co-written with the creative team at Windy City Playhouse a super-energetic, immersive comedy about the passion, pitfalls and insanity of the restaurant business as lived out one evening at a fictitious joint called The Contumacious Pig.

It’s called #ARecipeforDisaster and it’s just rollicking good fun. Laughter. Serious action. Behind-the-scenes scheming. Good food.

Not giving away the menu, but the wild mushroom soup veloute-style was rich and utterly delicious. Well, the second version anyway. I won’t tell you what “accidentally” happens to the first version (which isn’t bad anyway). Unassuming, shy, insecure Sous Chef Julian is called upon to replace the Head Chef who’s disppeared this evening. He and the restaurant team go through one calamity and near-disaster after another as the Head Chef and the long-awaited whole pig continue to fail to show up, and then, yes, the Health Inspector, bumptious and slightly randy, unexpectedly comes to visit.

Rick is really good at playing the insecure, shy sous chef, stumbling from missed opportunity to mishap. The two extraordinarily conceited influencers that are part of the play openly express their hots for all the men as the two ladies loudly brag about their number of followers while wandering as if they own the place through the mock-up restaurant where you, as audience member, are yourself seated as a mock influencer. All the other actors are marvelously animated, and they make you feel their characters truly care about each other. Not surprisingly, there’s a happy ending to this fun farce.

Other food for the evening includes items like a creamy, fresh lemon pasta dish with freshly picked herbs (lemon verbena, parsley, cilantro, basil) and a magisterial dish of Potatoes Dauphinoise with a touch of Thai – a nice chance to see how Rick is reaching across the globe to incorporate new influences in his dishes.

Cash bar before the play. Then a little cocktail and two small wine pairings go with the food for the ticket price. Only a few chances left to enjoy this delight at the Windy City Playhouse above Petterino’s. Tickets here through April 24 on W, Th, F, Sa and Su.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

4 more winners from Dutton-Goldfield

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Now firmly ensconced in their new production facility, the folks at Dutton-Goldfield have been busy creating luscious super-premium and luxury wines – especially their elegant Pinot Noirs – in spite of the fires. They did stop production on 2020 Pinots from Sonoma due to smoke. but there are plenty of Pinots from their other vineyards. Below are highlights of three of their late-year 2018 Pinot Noirs and a bone-dry Riesling.

Seafrood lovers rejoice!

Meanwhile, if you’re in the area, near Sebastopol in California, call ahead for an appointment to check out their newly reopened tasting room and sample their unique Wine & Cheese Experience – a whole lineup of local cheeses paired perfectly with a variety of their wines. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

2018 Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir – Sonoma Mountain. Start with dusky aromas of Bing cherry, plum, and dried sage, and a perfume of dried purple flowers. As you let it rest and sip slowly, you’ll notice savory/sweet notes of rhubarb and beet, too. Let it fill your mouth with a robust and sultry experience that’ll remind you of the earth in which the grapes grow – the essence of terroir. Black cherry, spicy sandalwood and black tea mingle with tight, fine tannins. This powerful wine makes a fine cellar option. Alc 13.9% SRP ~$68.

2018 Dutton Ranch Emerald Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir – Green Valley of Russian River Valley. Juicy, plush blueberry fruit framed by sandalwood and lavender come across as opulent, but also have a fresh lift and energy in the nose. Rich blueberry, boysenberry, and black cherry fruits are carried on round but firm black tea tannins. The wine has a rich sweet fruitness that pairs beautifully with savory dishes like herbed pork or fowl, pasta with mushrooms and prosciutto, and cheeses like gruyere and Manchego. Alc 13.8% SRP ~$68.

2018 Deviate Pinot Noir – Sonoma Coast. This wine was first bottled in 2013, at the time the only deviation from the single-vineyard rule. Working with two separate vineyards with different grapes and growing seasons, Dutton-Goldfield created a winner and settled on the name. Notice the rich deep color of this striking and intense wine. Let your nose appreciate the aromas of wild berry preserves cloaked in cigar box spice with a touch of mushroom earthiness. Black cherry and black raspberries don’t overwhelm the fresh acidity. Taste the toffee and caramel on the bright and long finish. Perfect for cellaring. Go with dining pairings on the richer side to match the earthy qualities of the wine: braised pork with mushrooms, herb-rubbed game birds, or pasta with a pancetta and chestnut sauce. For cheeses, try a Gruyere or Taleggio. Alc 14.1% SRP ~$72.

2018 Chileno Valley Vineyard Riesling – Marin County. The long temperate growing season of 2018 let the grapes for this Riesling ripen for a longer time. As a result, lemon, lime, and honeydew melon aromas combine with floral accents to give this wine a textural quality. The bright tart sweet finish along with a touch of oyster shell minerality help this wine reach the typical style of a Riesling as it ages. Perfect with seafood, raw oysters and steamed clams, or spicy ratatouille. Drink it now for white peach and grapefruit fresh acidity, or let it mellow into apricot, lychee and earthy aromas and flavors. Alc 13.3% SRP ~$30.

If you love Pinot Noirs and bright, light wines, acquaint yourself with the sustainably grown grapes, the family-owned vineyards, the people and the dogs of Dutton-Goldfield. You are in for some fun and surprises and fabulous wines.

Twitter: @DuttonGoldfield
IG: @duttongoldfieldwinery

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Falling in love again…with Instant Pot!

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailRemember that old, old song by Marlene Dietrich? Yes, I’ve officially fallen in love again – with another kitchen appliance! Made a miraculous discovery in the last 6 months of pandemic isolation.

I adore roasted potatoes. Can’t make them in my small Chicago apartment oven unless it’s 5 to 10 degrees outside because the entire apartment gets nicely roasted, too. It’s normal for me to get overheated while cooking, but when the hot oven here is on for any length of time, I sweat profusely. Which is why I tend to wear sleeveless shirts all year ’round, right through the winters.

Anyway, my skilled-chef son-in-law and daughter gave me an Instant Pot Duo (henceforth herein called IP) for my birthday last February. I read the instruction book over several times and began to despair that I was ever going to “get it.” Then a friend suggested I look for a video on YouTube. Voila! I found – of all things – a guy who makes videos about cooking with an IP. The scales fell from my eyes at last!

The IP is a small-apartment-with-stove-with-crappy-insulation dweller’s dream come true. I remember my mother’s stovetop pressure cooker when I was a little kid. It always seemed incredibly mysterious, not to mention dangerous. I was probably 8 years old when my father patiently explained how the thing worked, but I never quite understood. And I don’t remember being all that impressed with the food that came out of it, either. But that’s another story.

Last night my son-in-law and daughter and I enjoyed an almost-entirely-IP-prepared 3-course dinner with a delicious bottle of Barolo and a lovely bottle of Dutton-Goldfield Chardonnay. More on that – and my new love affair – soon.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Books on Food and Drink – Chicago and elsewhere

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailBeen 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.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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

Chicago’s Fannie May – 100 years in the business of chocolate

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Fannie May S'Mores Snack Mix
Fannie May S’Mores Snack Mix

With the tsunami of COVID-19 causing a severe reduction in personal shopping these days,  some  retail businesses are scrambling to reach their customers. Wine, for instance, can be shipped, but it’s extremely vulnerable to fluctuating temperature, humidity and movement. Some businesses are better positioned in this fight because their products are shelf stable and can be mailed or shipped with ease.

In the case of Chicago’s own Fannie May chocolates, their products are also a big part of what people need these days – comfort food.  Now, in honor of National Chocolate Day October 28, Fannie May, celebrating its 100th year in business, has revamped its packaging with a new and vibrant signature look that gives a nod to the company’s Chicago heritage.

And along with that, it’s just introduced a new product called Fannie May S’Mores Snack Mix. I must say, the sample they graciously sent falls right near the top of my “Oh, I must have something sweet” options. Although I normally aim for dark chocolate (70%+ cacao, please), it’s not very sweet. This snack mix, however, hits the sugar need perfectly. And I love the contrast of the crunchy graham cracker bits (honied and covered in sweet milk chocolate) with the smooshy sweetness of the marshmallow bits (covered in sweet milk chocolate). Ah, I haven’t had a marshmallow in years. It did bring back memories.

The snack mix comes in bags of three sizes, 2-serving, 5-serving and 17-serving for parties – or just to keep around the house.  Each one-ounce serving is 140 calories. Best to measure out portions ahead of time so you’re not tempted to keep stimulating your taste buds with that lovely mix of tastes and textures and sweetness.

Many thanks to whoever invented the S’More. And many thanks to Fannie May for creating S’Mores Snack Mix and touching our hearts in these troubled times with this convenient way to relive a bit of tasty nostalgia. No open fire required.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Good to know…Some French Market vendors will be open all winter

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailThe restaurant industry has been hard hit by this pandemic. In Chicago, as in many other cities around the world, some have had to close permanently. Fortunately, enough people here are still able to get out and patronize the many restaurants that do remain open.

Sunshine on the awnings at Chicago French Market
Sunshine on the awnings at Chicago French Market

For Metra commuters and office workers who like to come to the city’s beautiful indoor French Market, bad news and good news. In response to the current impacts of reduced traffic in the downtown area, some vendors at the Chicago French Market will enter a period of partial hibernation until March 1 of next year.

“A core group of our vendors at the Chicago French Market (131 N Clinton St, Chicago, IL 60661) will continue to operate throughout the winter months, including Saigon SistersBuen ApetitoKlay Oven KitchenJokers Cajun KitchenA Taste of the Philippines and Cubano Bros , will continue to serve our customers and work together to provide our customers a varied and robust lunch service that will include options for dine in, carry out, curb side pick-up and delivery to the many residential and office buildings that surround our location, “ says Leslie Cahill, Director of Operations and General Manager.

As more and more people return to work, the plan is “to be back in full operation on or before March 1, 2021 and to position the Chicago French Market to come roaring back to the same sold out capacity as we were before the shelter-in-place order was given,” she said.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Chicago chef spreads love to nurture hungry spirits

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Quentin Love community
Quentin Love community

Injustice. Hatred. Racism. Anger. Hunger. Joblessness. Fear. How the hell do we fix this, people? Must not despair. Must think creatively. And leading us by example – without regard for the cost – restaurateur and chef Quentin Love is living by his motto “Healing communities through food.”

Quentin Love – perfect name – transforms his Turkey Chop Gourmet Grill in West Humboldt Park into a soup kitchen every Monday serving nearly 300,000 free meals to date and has given away turkeys and free meals to thousands on the West Side for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Today June 5 1,000 free meals
Today June 5 1,000 free meals

In response to the damage caused by looters during protests over police brutality in America, Love has pledged to serve 1,000 free meals this Friday, June 5, at Turkey Chop Gourmet Grill, 3506 W. Chicago Ave., starting at 2 p.m. FREE meals being served right now.

Many grocers have closed due to violent protests and extensive vandalism to essential businesses such as grocery stores, further limiting options for poor residents living in a food desert.

“No one should have to go hungry,” said Love. “Maybe, if people are shown some love, they will stay at home and stop all this violence and destruction.”

Love witnessed a business being looted and torched a block away. He knows there is no guarantee that his benevolence to the community will safeguard his business. But says, “You can’t worry about the property if you’re not protecting the people.”

Quentin Love Motivational Cook Book

Love, who grew up on both the South and West Sides, believes in healing communities through food and programming. Through his philanthropy, he has developed best practice partnerships to help feed the poor and indigent every Monday at his restaurant. The soup kitchen is an initiative of the Love Foundation, the nonprofit he founded in 2001 to provide afterschool activities and teach non-violence to South Side youth. He is the author of The Motivational Cookbook: Feeding Your Body, Mind and Spirit.

Quentin Love 66 Day Objective
Quentin Love 66 Day Objective

The 66-Day Objective, which discusses how to lock in your goals and or remove habits in 66 days through guided journaling. Love has owned more than 10 restaurants over the last 16 years. In that time, his menu and charitable giving have been geared toward providing healthier food choices to residents living in “food deserts,” communities with scant groceries or access to fresh fruit and vegetables that have high incidence of diabetes and heart disease.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Lovin' how Chicago does it!