Tag Archives: Chicago

Falling in love again…with Instant Pot!

Remember 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.

Osteria La Madia vegetarian wine dinner features Green City produce

Have experienced happy hour at La Madia and been impressed with both food and service – and attitude. If you arrive a little before they open, and you’re standing in the street like a lost puppy, they actually open the door and let you sit down! That is the sign of a place with serious customer service goals.

Tomate durch Hitze mit Grünkragen
Not tomato season yet, BUT… (Tomate durch Hitze mit Grünkragen. Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now Chef/Owner Jonathan Fox and Sous Chefs Matt Reidy and Trevin VanDyke are hosting a 5-course vegetarian dinner with wine pairings to showcase the best produce of summer at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 15. The dinner will have a special focus on produce from the Green City Farmer’s Market and explore the best offerings from local and regional farms.

The Chef’s Table is limited to only 16 guests. The 5-course prix-fixe dinner with wine pairings is $65 plus tax and gratuity. Osteria La Madia is located at 59 W. Grand Ave., Chicago. Tickets may be purchased at Eventbrite or by calling 312-329-0400.

Osteria La Madia, like most places you’ll eat in Italy, focuses on great food and distinctive, delicious wines. Their Italian cuisine features house made pastas, anti pasti, salumi and prosciutto, formaggio, salads, and a full entrée selection. Pick from a generous wine list or order something cool off the cocktail menu from one of their friendly bartenders.


You won’t feel rushed. You’ll love the food. It’s a great location – open to the street in the beautiful weather we’ve been having. Just go.

P.S. Menu items include unique fire-roasted approach to pizza (chef-developed after he tasted many types in the U.S. and Italy). Carnaroli Risotto with Black Alba Truffles and Pecorino; Wood Roasted Whole Branzino with Fennel, Grapefruit and Pine Nuts; Pan Roasted Chicken with Braised Winter Vegetables, Capolini Onions, Apple, Jus; Slow Roasted Leg of Lamb with Acorn Squash and Fingerling Potatoes, and Chianti Braised Short Ribs with Roasted Baby Carrots, Carnaroli Risotto, and Grana Padana Parmigiano. Desserts are all made on premises, in keeping with what is seasonally available.

News-now on 7 Chicago food and drink spots

It’s never a dull day in Chicago for lovers of food and drink. Here are a few tidbits to keep you excited no matter whether spring is really near or not.
The music and the libations are just right at The Lodge Tavern
The music and the libations are just right at The Lodge Tavern

Lodge Tavern, 21 W. Division St., just celebrated 59 years (that’s five-nine, folks) of serving up good drinks in a warm and friendly atmosphere with a great jukebox playing the hits of whatever decade is your favorite (typically people tend to love the music that was popular when they were teenagers – Town Without Pity, anyone?). Customers in a mixed bag of ages make the place feel homier – think: pubs in England and Ireland – than many a hangout for a single age group. And speaking of drinks, besides the full assortment of beers and liquors they serve up chilled mini black bottles of Freixenet Cordon Negro, one of the world’s most popular cavas (that’s Spanish for champagne/sparkling wine).

ONLY 16 places at the table at Osteria la Madia Chef's dinner
ONLY 16 places at the table at Osteria la Madia Chef’s dinner

Get upfront and personal with Osteria La Madia‘s Chef/Owner Jonathan Fox and Sous Chef Matt Reidy. Experience a selection of their new Spring dishes in a very intimate setting, 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 15. The Chef’s Table is limited to only 16 guests. The 5-course prix-fixe dinner with wine pairings is $65 plus tax and gratuity. Osteria La Madia is located at 59 W. Grand Ave., Chicago. Get your tickets at Eventbrite or by calling 312-329-0400.

Even if you already have a favorite ramen spot, keep an open mind and try something new this March. Miku Sushi, 4514 N. Lincoln Ave. in Lincoln Square, has two top-flight ramen dishes at only $8 all month (usually $13 and $14). And/or get half-off any of their Lincoln Square Classic Maki and Traditional Maki all month long between 11 am and 6 pm.
From March 12 to 20, build your own Irish Coffee at THE BAR at Fairmont Chicago, Millennium Park, 200 N. Columbus Dr. Choose a hot beverage (espresso, coffee, hot chocolate or tea) and an adult libation (everything from Jameson to Peppermint Schnapps), then either a cool or steamed mixer of milk or flavored syrup and toppings like whipped cream, chocolate syrup, caramel sauce and cinnamon. All for $14.
Get Smoked with smoky food and drink at 312 Chicago
Get Smoked with smoky food and drink at 312 Chicago

312 Chicago is celebrating its 18th birthday March 21-31, and Chef Luca Corazzina invites you to Get Smoked with a 3-course pre-fixe dinner menu ($18 pp). Optional 2.5 oz smoky cocktail pairing is +$7 per course. Start with warm Smoked Caprese Salad (smoked mozzarella, tomato + basil). Next enjoy Spruce-Smoked Pasta (house-made pasta smoked with spruce branches) served with amatriciana sauce + toasted bread crumbs. And finally Smoked Italia torched chocolate sponge cake, meringue + lemon gelato. Head Bartender Jenn Knott surprises with smoky cocktails like Negroni Smoke (Ardbeg 10 Year, Campari, Punt a Mes and an Orange Peel).

Crispy-tender red snapper (one side) at Oyster Bah
Crispy-tender red snapper (one side) at Oyster Bah

Had a lovely birthday dinner recently at Oyster Bah, 1962 N. Halsted. Cousin to Shaw’s Crab House, it calls itself an East Coast oyster Mecca in Lincoln Park. Surprise: past the oyster bar and through the dining room there is a an entire wall dedicated to hot sauces – made to complement (almost) everything, from oysters and stuffies to calamari and chowder.

The crab bites were delicious – and they only give you the pieces with straight shells so all you have to do is push, and presto! your big chunk of juicy crabmeat comes right out. The One-Sided Red Snapper was delicious, crispy fried flour coating and super-tender, sweet flesh. I forgot how good red snapper can be! And do not fail to order the only dessert available – the chef’s own coconut cake, served with chocolate sauce. Num. Thanks for the candle, guys.

The BEST creamed spinach anywhere at Shaw's
The BEST creamed spinach anywhere at Shaw’s

Speaking of Shaw’s Crab House, 21 E. Hubbard, they do a really bang-up job on Mardi Gras. And please note: all the delicious dishes they serve on Fat Tuesday (except for the crawfish boil) are already on the regular menu, so you can order ’em any time. And the only desserts I’ve tasted at Shaw’s have been the mini versions served at the weekend brunch (available on Saturdays, too, now in addition to Sundays). On Fat Tuesday we  took a chance and ordered the full version of a few desserts. Verdict: scrumptious. We decided we’ll have to save room for dessert now every time we go to Shaw’s.

Unbelievably succulent raspberry pie at Shaw's
Unbelievably succulent raspberry pie at Shaw’s

Wine, women and wonderful food

More and more women are becoming prominent characters in the great pageant that is the food and beverage world. Below are three of note.

Viktorija enjoys sharing her knowledge
Viktorija enjoys sharing her knowledge

Viktorija Todorovska is an author, chef and level III sommelier who owns and operates OlivaCooking.com. She is skilled in the art of helping people appreciate fine wines, including sharing her knowledge about pairing them with food. Her goals are to help make wine approachable and to illuminate the cuisines of other countries.

To those ends, Viktorija regularly conducts seminars and workshops on her own and in conjunction with fine restaurants around the world. During a recent session held at Kendall College in Chicago, her audience included both professionals and amateur wine buffs. She broke down the intricacies of origin, growing conditions and tasting for 2013 vintages of white Burgundies from multiple locatons in Bourgogne, France. She was a model for the proper technique for tasting (roll it around your whole mouth and then spit it out rather than swallow), and explained which tastes are detected by which parts of your mouth and tongue. She showed where the premier (1er) cru and the grand cru wines are grown and explained how the individual climats (delineated plots of land with specific geographical and climate conditions ) determine the characteristics of wines from particular areas. This region is where all seven of the grand cru white burgundies of the world are made. Heady company.
Viktorija is not only incredibly knowledgeable but she’s also an expert at making complex information understandable. For anyone who didn’t already know about white burgundies from St. Aubin or Puligny-Montrachet (do NOT pronounce the “t”) or Chassagne-Montrachet, they were bound to walk away feeling more confident about asking for one of these in a shop or ordering one in a restaurant. In addition, Viktorija is an accomplished chef. Look for her cookbooks—The Sardinian Cookbook, Provence Food and Wine, Risotto Made Easy and more.

Renee Erickson's delightful cookbook
Renee Erickson’s delightful cookbook

Another woman of note, Renée Erickson, came through our city recently where Shaws Crab House Chicago held a full-scale wine dinner to honor her recipes and promote her gorgeous new cookbook, “A Boat, A Whale and A Walrus.” Renee is an acclaimed, James-Beard nominated chef and the owner of several Seattle restaurants: The Whale Wins, Boat Street Café, The Walrus and the Carpenter, and Barnacle. The funny name of the book derives from the names of some of her restaurants. Her cookbook is written in her own voice – a voice that’s gentle, and wise, and clearly in command of the kitchens she oversees in her restaurants. She speaks about the human qualities we all possess, in kind and caring ways that make her seem like someone I could actually enjoy having as a boss.

I love how she explains the tools and techniques she uses and gives a serious resource list for obtaining the ingredients and materials she recommends. She emphasizes that food is all about bringing people together. But clearly taste is important to her – she uses heavy cream in her creations with the same abandon that Jackson Pollock used paint on canvas.
Her book groups recipes by season. For example winter ingredients includes carrots, citrus and kale as well as onions and potatoes. She gives several ways to use each item in dishes that can comprise part of many different menus.
Warning. This cookbook is not for beginners. But it will certainly reward the good cook with creative ideas, fabulous recipes and heart-warming stories.
She carries the spirit of Mia wines around the world
She carries the spirit of Mia wines around the world

Gloria Collell is a beautiful woman who is also the spirit of Mia wines. Freixenet CEO Pedro Ferrer approved her idea for this line of fresh, young wines and entrusted her with its stewardship. She brings to her role as winemaker a deep passion for the process and the life—her initial foray into studying for the law proved less than inspiring—and the traditions of her Barcelona family’s love for and work with wine. Mia is Freixenet’s newest concept—fresh, approachable, slightly sweeter wines designed to appeal to Millennials, many of whose taste preferences run towards craft beers and cocktails mixed of spirits with juices, sodas and other ingredients. The idea was to create wines that are lighter and easier to drink yet still have enough acidity to pair beautifully with foods of all types.

Gloria Collell visits Chicago to share the story of Mia wines
Gloria Collell visits Chicago to share the story of Mia wines

Mia wines include white and rosé sparkling moscatos as well as still wines: white and rosé and a hearty red made with Tempranillo, the ubiquitous Spanish grape that also comprises part or all of the base for so many of the country’s finest robust dry red wines. Mia’s still white wine is a multi-layered blend of four types of grapes indigenous to the Penedés region of Spain. All go beautifully with Spanish tapas of all types. Visit Paolo’s Vinum, 328 S. Jefferson, Suite 120, on Chicago’s near south side to enjoy tapas and Mia wines in a restaurant with charmingly modern yet unassuming Spanish decor and a warm ambiance.

  When asked what brings her the most pleasure from life, Gloria responds, “I suppose you could say I have three passions in my life today – first of course my family, but followed closely by winemaking and the lifestyle of this region, particularly Barcelona. It’s such a wonderful mix of the traditional and the modern. Full of creative people, life, and of course wonderful food and wine.”

Memorial Day 2015 food and fun around Chicago

Shaw’s Crab House (Chicago and Schaumberg locations) kicks off summer Monday, May 25 with 1/2-price oysters in the Oyster Bar all day.  All weekend (May 23rd to May 25th) Shaw’s Chicago has its New England Lobster Boil special (one-pound whole Maine lobster plus Red Bliss potatoes, cole slaw, and corn on the cob) for $38 (plus tax and gratuity). $16 more gets you an additional 1-lb. lobster

Castaways, the bar on North Avenue beach, opens this Memorial Day weekend with live entertainment Saturday through Monday. Come for lunch or dinner or drinks (11 am to 9 pm if it’s not raining). Pick from fresh salads, wraps, sandwiches, and quesadillas and drink a toast to summer with frozen cocktails or even Corona in a can (no bottles on the beach).

Commonwealth Tavern, 2000 W. Roscoe, has brunch 10 to 2 Saturday and Sunday, with a $6 Bloody Mary bar and a $3 Mimosa bar.  Check out the new menu items: Pupusa (breakfast sausage, chihuahua cheese, red sauce, curtido, farm egg), Pig Muffin (maple pig head, farm egg, American cheese, English muffin), and Kentucky Hot Brown (smoked turkey, bacon, tomato, beer cheese, sourdough).

Frontier Tavern, 1072 N. Milwaukee, has an all-you-can-eat crawfish boil complete with potatoes and corn-on-the-cob. Come at 3 pm and pay $25 (plus tax and gratuity). These guys know how to cook proteins.

Lotties Pub, 1925 W. Cortland, roasts a whole pig for Memorial Day. Sunday, May 25 beginning at 2 p.m for $12 all-you-can-eat cured and smoked pig roast, complete with baked beans, potato salad and coleslaw. Drink specials, too.

Stretch Bar and Grill, 3485 N. Clark St.,  Sunday and Monday offers $5 GI Jameson shots and 25% off their bill to all veterans with proof of Military ID. Good for you, guys. And thank you to our servicemen and women.

Watch Chicago hotspots on Best Bars in America

Al Capone. Mugshot information from Science an...
Al Capone. Mugshot information from Science and Society Picture Gallery: Al Capone (1899-1947), American gangster, 17 June 1931. ‘Al Capone sent to prison. This picture shows the Bertillon photographs of Capone made by the US Dept of Justice. His rogue’s gallery number is C 28169’. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BEST BARS IN AMERICA has an upcoming episode featuring Chicago on Wednesday, May 20 at 9/8C! In the episode, Sean and Jay (comedian hosts) meet Esquire drinks editor Dave Wondrich in Al Capone’s old spot Green Mill Cocktail Lounge and get a taste of the local music with Blues legend Buddy Guy at Buddy Guy’s (of course).  They also get a lesson in gin at Scofflaw, head to visit their favorite Maria’s, stop in for a quick hangover IV, get the ‘Picasso’ treatment at neighborhood landmark and legendary comedian hangout the Old Town Ale House, and sip culinary cocktails with fellow comedian Pete Holmes at The Drawing Room.


Look for the Chicago episode on Wednesday, May 20 at 9/8C on Esquire Network (find it on your Dish or DirectTV or cable network).


2 exciting developments on the cocktail/juice/mixers front


Cosmopolitan (cocktail)
Cosmopolitan (cocktail) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These days people, especially women, appreciate lower calories and sometimes even portability in their cocktails. Happily, we’ve had some experts working on those very concepts. Here are two unique ideas that fit the bill perfectly.

Let’s start with Slim Lizzy prepared light alcohol, low-calorie cocktails. I love the story behind the brand. Sean McGirr, CEO and Founder of Slim Lizzy’s, had over 35 years of experience in the juice beverage industry, including 19 years at the helm of North America’s largest bottler of store brand juices and drinks.

One night in early 2013 after he’d retired, Sean took his wife out to dinner. Without a thought, he ordered his usual beer, but his wife was having trouble choosingc. She knew beer would make her feel bloated, wine would make her sleepy, a strong cocktail would leave her feeling too tipsy, and a sugar-infusedy drink would make her feel full. It was that moment when Sean decided that if there was ever an industry in need of disruption, it was the alcoholic beverage industry. They needed to learn to cater to their female customers.

After two years, Slim Lizzy’s 80-calorie pre-made cocktails in cans went to market. The Margarita has 2% fresh lime juice (with just the tiniest bit of metallic aftertaste), but it’s my favorite. The Cosmopolitan has 2% white grape juice and is a delicate pink with cranberry flavor—sweet like a Cosmo should be. Extra sweetness comes from a modest dose of sucralose.

Compare the 80 calories in these drinks to the 150+++ in a typical Margarita or Cosmo. These little guys are also malt and gluten-free. These make good bases, too, for blending with other juices. A 5% alcohol cocktail alternative to high calorie, sugar-infused, bloat inducing beer and vodka drinks. What’s not to love?  Get ’em at select Binny’s or check with your local liquor store or favorite tavern. And see what fun you can have mixing with these Slim Lizzy cocktail recipes.


And here’s another fresh idea. LO!  Fruit Blend beverages are the perfect fix for a little sweetness and fruity flavor. Drink ’em simply as juice or mix with your favorite spirit. Either way you get great flavor but don’t have to load up on calories and sugar (only 35 to 40 calories per 10-ounce bottle). These non-alcoholic juice blends come in recyclable plastic bottles in four varieties: Mango Mojito, Pomegranate, Acai-Blue , and Pomegranate Mojito. What makes these special is that the calories are low because they’re made with agave nectar and stevia, both nature’s sweeteners that’ve been around for centuries. Plus, each variety has a low-glycemic index (great for diabetics and anyone else who likes to avoid sugar or artificial sweeteners). Get ’em at select Walgreen’s, Meijers and online.
Delicious juices with low-glycemic index and low calories
Delicious juices with low-glycemic index and low calories
The flavors are lively and fresh-tasting on their own, and they all make delicious cocktails. Here are simple recipes for a couple of delightful pre- (or during or post-!) Lenten cocktails:
LO! pomegranate juice makes the Scarlet Starlet tangy
LO! pomegranate juice makes the Scarlet Starlet tangy

Scarlet Starlet

  • 2 oz. white rum
  • 4 oz. LO Pomegranate Juice

Shake with ice and strain over fresh ice. Top with a slash of coconut milk and a few pomegranate arils.

LO Fat Tuesday refreshes with mango and lime
LO Fat Tuesday refreshes with mango and lime

LO Fat Tuesday

  • 1 oz vodka
  • 1/2 oz Mango Mojito Fruit Beverage
  • 1/4 oz fresh lime juice
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
Combine all in a glass with ice and garnish with lime wedge. You’ll be delighted.


Merano Wine Tour at Eataly attracts a crowd

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

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

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

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